the Christian Paradox

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our
only necessities.”

Oscar Wilde


(the sad little cherub birdbath has seen better days / Julie Cook / 2017)

Reflecting back over this past and most chaotic year—chaotic on so many levels….
As it has been chaotic, yes, personally but perhaps the correct word there
would be difficult….

Yet chaotic is what it has been, none the less and more importantly, on
a National and Global level….
thus making it more acute because its a sort of chaotic which affects us all.

It has been a year which has seen its fair share of words and acronyms,
some tried and true, some new and biting…each having left us changed.

Words and letters such as BREXIT, Tweet, Trump, Merkel, May,
Hillary, Russia, Putin, LBTGQ, ISIS, snowflakes, cupcakes, harassment,
sexual, misogynist, tolerance, intolerance, conservative, media, fake news,
liberal, Socialist, Nazi, Communist, accept, Democrats, Homophobic, Republicans, e-mails,
leaks, white supremacist, racist, walls, migrants….

On and on the list has grown….
so perhaps the ending of this particular year is coming none too soon.

It has certainly been perplexing watching the shift in dynamics within our Nation
as well as within the world at large.

It has been disconcerting watching this shift in Culture—
particularly in and with what we thought we knew.

It is maddening to be called “phobic” when one simply disagrees with a sinful
lifestyle.

In the latest posting of Anglican Unscripted, Bishop Ashenden was also opining
the same sorts of issues but with a more keen eye on the shift within Christian
Culture and the Church….

The good Bishop notes that there are all sorts of calls emanating from various pulpits,
all the way to Canterbury itself, the ancient seat of the Anglican Church—

Calls are being made for a total acceptance, absolute tolerance and drastic change….
Coupled by the actual accusations towards those who opt not to get on board with the
acceptance, the tolerance and the change….
Actually accusing those who cling to Scriptural Authority as being outdated,
out numbered and flat out wrong.

I can remember when words from various pulpits were words of God, Salvation, Fatih, Sacrifice, Obedience, Jesus, Love, Grace—
not this modern mantra of jumping on the culture train or else…….

Bishop Ashenden notes that it seems as if the majority of the English Clergy,
(and I would include their kissing cousins of the Episcopal Church), are
either outright socialists or of socialist leanings.
While frustratingly the more Orthodox remain silent for fear of reprisals.

As it appears that the majority of both clergy and laity have lost confidence in the Spiritual message of Salvation, that which calls for all humans to repent,
having rather “transferred their allegiance to a political solution.”
Because who wants to be told to repent from a lifestyle that society has
deemed worthy as God has succinctly and resoundingly deemed as sinful?

And what we the Faithful must note….is that within that notion of all things
of a political solution, there is absolutely no call to or for repentance.

Anglican unscripted:

And now we look to the paradoxical…

We look to the counter balance to all of the liberal heavy handed hullabaloo
with the story of the ancient Coptic Church in Egypt.

It is a church whose roots are found in St Mark who brought the Gospel to Egypt
during the reign of the Emperor Nero.
A long suffering church body of Believers who have suffered at the hands of Islam
since Muslims invaded their homeland in 641.

Believers who do not adhere to the cultural gods, but rather adhere only to the
Word of the One Almighty and Omnipotent God…

For there is no demand for change, or tolerance of the sinful, or acceptance of
society’s demands.


(Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church of Egypt)


(The Amir Tadros coptic Church in Minya on Sunday.
The building was set ablaze on Aug. 14)

Consider the following comment….

What kind of faith makes people go back to church immediately after that
church was bombed?
What kind of faith makes people chant the Nicene Creed right after their church
was bombed?
What kind of faith makes a community continue liturgy outside because their church
wasn’t yet safe enough to be in?
What kind of faith makes one go on national TV and tell persecutors that they
are loved and forgiven after they just attacked and killed 28 Christians?
The unshakable faith of Christ.

We mourn.
We are in pain.
We are angry.
We have lost many brothers and sisters in Christ, and their blood continues to flow.
But many of us neglect to remember something –
the Coptic Christians remain undefeated.
They continue to grow.
They continue to inspire and strengthen the faith of Christians around the world.

https://howtoreligion.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/coptic-orthodoxy-and-self-defense/

And so will round out these thoughts with the words of the late Orthodox monk and saint,
Saint Paisios…..

“[St. Paisios responds to the question: ‘Geronda, what is this joy that I feel?
Can it be that I am not aware of my sinfulness?’]

No, my child!
God gives you a chocolate here and there, in order to give you joy.
For now, it’s chocolates; later, it will be wine —
like the wine they drink in Paradise.
Do you know how sweet is the wine they drink there?
Oh my!
If God sees a little philotimo (*), a bit of good disposition,
He offers His Grace abundantly, and it intoxicates you —
even from this life.
The spiritual delight one receives, and the transformation he feels in his heart
when the Grace of God visits him, cannot be given…
even by the best cardiologist in the world.
When you feel such joy, try to hold on to it for as long as you can.”
~+~
(*) – Philotimo, is the spontaneous, self-sacrificing love shown by humble people,
from whom every trace of self has been filtered out,
full of gratitude towards God and their fellow man.
Philotimo comes from a deep, abiding connection with God,
so that one is constantly moved to do and seek that which is good,
right and honorable.
(Although this definition has been repeated many times during these teachings,
the last time was 5 months ago,
I feel it is never too often to remind us of its awesome meaning!)

From Discerning Thoughts

And so we end this year of the humanly chaotic being warned.
For we the faithful are being called.
Called not to be quiet, not to fear reprisals, not to accept that which is wrong
but to hold up to the world the Image of God incarnate in His only begotten son….

His duality is seen in the oldest documented Icon of Christ the Pantocrator.
One side of his face is the Christ who is benevolent, kind and loving,
the other side is of the Christ who sits in judgement….judgement of all mankind.

What those who clamor for all things cultural and accepting have chosen to ignore
that Jesus will indeed sit in judgement.

We are called to repent.
To be repentant.
For in that repentance and in that the turning away from sin is found
the true acceptance of Salvation.


(Christ Pantocrator, the oldest known Icon of Christ, 6th Century AD / St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)

Adequate grasp

The greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain
is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us.
In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell
in him and shine through him.
The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is lack of humility.
The holiest will be the humblest.

Andrew Murray


(the sea is His and He made it / psalm 95:5…Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

“lacking an adequate grasp on the holiness of God…”

As I was reading a fellow bloggers post yesterday morning, this particular line jumped out at me.
It was a profound notion……

adequate,
grasp,
holiness,
God…

Four seemingly simple words…yet when combined…massively powerful…

Chances are that if you’ve bought into the sweeping wash of secularism that is
currently blanketing most of the landscape….
then you do not have an adequate grasp on the holiness of God…
because chances are…
you don’t give much credence to the concept of either holiness or God.

We’ll assume that you certainly know and understand words like ‘adequate’…
and we’ll even wager that you probably don’t much like a word like adequate
because you actually prefer things like big, grand, plentiful, extra, great,
more, bar none, superior….
you don’t like just plain adequate.

You also, hopefully know the word grasp…as in…you get it, you understand it,
you comprehend it…
Yet because you’re a secularist and because secularists don’t like to do
the ‘grasping’ of anything too far and beyond…
preferring rather such notions of a mass acceptance of what is simply sitting right
in front of one’s face, words like grasp don’t go far in your limited view.

And as for matters of holiness and God…well…
those concepts are most likely not much on your radar either…
Because that’s how secularism is…
it separates…
it separates God from everything else…as in…
He’s over there and we and all our stuff are over here…
as in separate, as in secular…..

For secularism has no need of the notion of holiness nor of God because those things
speak of things and beings and places that are ‘other than’…
as in something or someone who is elsewhere and beyond….as in Greater than…

Secularism likes things that are here, now and readily available and easily grasped…
as in less than actually…simple and easy…
Not being bothered with that which is greater than….
because cutting out the greater than makes things easier to handle…

Yet you should know that you can’t cut God out of anything because
He is in and of everything…
As that my friend is more than of an adequate grasp of the holiness of God…

The knowledge that He is of and in absolutely everything…
as in there can be no separation…
no secularization where God is concerned…
because He and His being permeates absolutely everything and therefore
it is impossible to cut Him out of that which He belongs….

and thus…we now have an adequate grasp on the holiness of God……

For thus says the high and lofty One
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15

mysteries

“that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love,
and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding,
resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself”

Colossians 2:2

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew…
I saw all things in God,
and God in all things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg

beb646cd2a15da04d522e8c45617a284
(annunciation from The Book of Hours/ also known as the Black Hours due to the process of first layering the vellum with carbon / 1470 / Bruges, Belgium)

We are a people of mystery who in turn love a mystery…
The stuff of which puts one sitting on the edge of one’s seat…
nail biting and gripping.

The strange and often unexplainable,
yet which,
is always nicely and neatly revealed and eventually solved in the end.

Solved…
as in understood
as in light has been shed,
as in understanding has been gained…

Resulting in…
satisfaction and fulfilment.

Yet how to understand that which is not understandable?
How to solve that which is unsolvable?

The angel went to her and said,
“Greetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.”

Simple enough…

An angel,
an ethereal being,
an otherworldly being…
that which is beyond us…

Strange,
Intriguing,
and Unexplainable…

But the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever;
his kingdom will never end.”

Presented, most matter of factly, is the unexplainable…
as curiosity is piqued.

How will this be,” Mary asked the angel,
“since I am a virgin?

As the strange and the unexplainable is neatly revealed.

The angel answered,
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age,
and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.”

Nail biting.
Intriguing.
Exciting.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Then the angel left her.

The mystery,
the intriguing
the gripping,
the unexplainable….

Revealed…

Explained…

As in solved…
as in understanding is gleaned…

Leading to inviting acceptance…

In turn leading to satisfaction…
as in light has been shed…

And soon…
fulfillment is satisfactorily achieved…
for all involved….

And so it is….

(Luke 1:26-38)

And the sheep were silent…

“The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision.
It is a silent acquiescence to evil.
The Tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction,
while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

DSCN0884
(a sheep farm outside of Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where does one begin…
Where does one look when attempting to sort it all out?
From whence has it come?
What was the root cause?
What was the catalyst?
How did it ever come to this?

Standing in the center of the raging maelstrom
Silent and dumbfounded…
Only a remaining handful are left to sort it out.

As the majority silently chooses to ignore it…

We choose to turn our heads.
We refuse to call truth by its name.
While hoping it all just goes away.

We don’t want to get labeled.
We don’t want to lose our businesses, our jobs, our positions.
We don’t want to be taken to court.
We don’t want to be disliked, unliked or disconnected.
We don’t want to be shamed…

All the while we are being told we’d best accept things or otherwise shut-up.
We are told to get on board or get out.
We are vilified,
We are hated
We are deemed ignorant.
We are considered backwards.
We are called all manner of vile names
We are stalked by the shadows…

That is unless we recant, we back down, we reconsider,
we change our minds, we accept the once unacceptable…
as the bitter taste is no less palatable, yet we swallow for survival.

And it is because of one thing and one thing only…
We carry the name Christian or Jew.
We support the cross, we support Israel and we hold the word of God as just that…
The Truth.

Yet even under that banner there are those who toil
at rewriting and altering ancient words and law in order to
“modernize” them.
“God didn’t mean that, He actually meant this instead….”
As we don’t like thinking about sin and Hell, so let’s
just throw the blanket out covering everyone…as in
it is all indeed good…because we are all about feeling good.

We stand before the manger feeling all warm and fuzzy,
as we look upon that peaceful nurturing scene of Mother and Child…
All the while we throw up our Christmas trees as the media screams at us,
telling us what we must have and actually need under those trees
in order to be forever happy…
never mind what we really need or want….

…simply to love and be loved….
as in forever…

We want our God to be all loving, all caring, all good, all giving
all about us….
He loves everyone no matter what, right?
He tolerates everything right?
He accepts us no matter what right?

Cause if that’s not right, we don’t want Him.

Cause and effect.

Have we forgotten?

For every cause, there is an opposite reaction or effect.
Up, down
push, pull
lift, drop,
climb, fall….

Yet we decide that the law of physics will not apply to us.

We will live as we choose, with a God who we demand will
abide by our choices and our will…or else…
We will simply rewrite Him…

…or deem Him ill suited, outdated, or better yet…
the product of mere myths…

We deem marriage is not just between man and woman.
We decide boys can be girls and girls can be boys.
There is no separation, no division, no balance…
We don’t like results so we kick and scream until we get the results we like.
We don’t like the flag so we burn it.,
We don’t like religion so we ignore it,
We don’t like those over there cause
we are paranoid and think they don’t like us over here….

We are so busy being us and loving us…as in me, myself and I…
that we are failing to see what is happening all around us.

We are so afraid of offending anyone and everyone that we can’t call terrorists what they are.
We can’t admit that radical Islam wants to annihilate us so we instead invite
them to all come live with us.
We bend everything about us…
until we break, all in the name of acceptance and equality.

And yet we still just don’t get it.
We can’t see it.
We don’t want to admit it….
We’d rather just stare at the crib feeling all warm and fuzzy…
as we forget that the road to Bethlehem, and it’s inviting manger, leads directly
to the Via Dolorosa…

Cause and effect.

Birth and death
Life or not…

If we claim to be Christian or Jew.
If we believe in morality as a guiding principle.
If we believe in cause and effect
If we believe that God is God and we are not…

Now is our moment to be silent no more….

DSCN0866
(a sheep being sheared at a sheep farm outside of Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
Acts 18:9-10

Never in all my life….

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.
Leonardo da Vinci

DSCN3239
(a troublesome wild onion allowed to shrivel / Julie Cook / 2016)

Never in all my life have I seen a President of these United States have a more difficult time looking at a clear and present trouble and not being able to address it as such.

Hem and haw….
Fuss and cuss…
Pass the buck…
Play the blame game…
and skirt around the issue…
Anything and everything other than facing this crisis,
And that’s what it’s becoming,
a crisis!
Never meeting it eye to eye…

How many more lives must needlessly be lost?!
How many more innocent people in these western parts of this world of ours
must die needlessly before this western part of this world sees trouble for what it is…
Trouble?!

I don’t know…
Maybe it’s just me…
Maybe I don’t get it…
Maybe I don’t understand…

“Lone wolves” they say
“Random or rogue acts” they say…
I don’t know, they all seem to be saying the same thing to me…
“Allah Akbar”
“Claimed in the name of ISIS”
“This is Jihad”

Yet our leader, our chief defender, busies himself with the mundane minutia of rhetoric.
Twisting the obvious around into something else entirely…as he spins this latest act of Jihad into an issue of gun control….
You can lock up all the guns ever made and yet those who wish to kill us will find their way.
(and not saying something doesn’t need to be done with our guns…
but for now, this is not that, not this time)

A whole lot of good any of this fussing does us…as families once again plan funerals and try to figure out how to live life without those they love because Radical Muslims want to kill us.

“Oh but that’s not a tolerant stance” you say.
“You shouldn’t talk so harshly about our neighbors…”
“Don’t lump everyone into one category…”
“You must be accepting and tolerant”

As how many more of us will randomly be shot, stabbed, blown up, or maimed?

So ok then, you tell me what’s going on.
You tell me why Muslims continue shooting, stabbing, blowing up, and basically destroying lives of westerners….
Given all the news about Orlando you may have missed the stabbing deaths of two married police officers in Paris–an Islamic Extremist broke into their home and stabbed them to death in front of their young child—in the name of all things Holy…

Holy?
Right.

But instead of taking a stance—yes as in actually doing something that says “hey, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” our President fumbles over his words that by calling a duck a duck will not help in the global fight on Terror and takes rather to fussing and cussing a would be presidential candidate. I think Obama has more on his plate then to play tit for tat with Donald Trump—yet Mr Obama seems to think otherwise.
This is not the time for the President of the United States to have a public hissy fit with a rival pundit.

All of this as we, the average citizen, now keeps a constant look out and an ever ready vigilance as we continually glance over our shoulders at sporting events, outdoor venues, airports, concerts, subways, train stations, soccer fields, shopping malls, our offices, our churches, our synagogues and now even in our bars and clubs…

How safe does that feel?
Oh but our leaders just tell us it’s the “new normal”
“The way things just are now”

Radical Muslims hate us, we’ve pretty much figured that one out.
Radical Muslims won’t rest until the West, and that includes Europe, is no more…
as we are now figuring that one out while we’re on the defensive run.

Regular Muslims don’t speak up and seem to take the “I don’t have a dog in that fight” sort of attitude…
But oh yes they do!! as we’ve pretty much figured that one out as well.

Saudia Arabia is our biggest ally in the Middle East, yet many of these “troubled” young men and woman, who keep trying to kill us, seem to have ties all back to Saudi Arabia…
we’ve pretty much figured that one out too…

So if you and I can figure this all out.
Seeing the troubles for what they are and where they are…
Why can’t our leaders????

And don’t try telling me it’s not so simple or that it’s much more complicated…
there is nothing complicated about figuring out one’s troubles…

George Washington could discern this great Nation’s troubles.
Andrew Jackson could discern this great Nations’ troubles.
Theodore Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin could each discern this great Nation’s troubles.
John Kennedy could discern this Nation’s great troubles.
Ronald Reagan could discern this great Nation’s troubles…

So why is it now so hard for this president to discern the troubles laying hold of this great Nation?

And now, we the faithful, call upon the name of God…to deliver this great Nation…
something our President does not like us to do because once again,
that’s not being openminded…

Hear my sighs…

Prayers for all who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of those whose sole desire is our destruction…

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:9-10

the frivolity of the frivolous

Thus it is necessary to commence from an inescapable duality:
the finite is not the infinite.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

The spirit of man can endure only so much and
when it is broken only a miracle can mend it.

John Burroughs

DSCN0241
(statue on the grounds of Christ Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Tis the season to be merry and bright, happy and light, warm and fuzzy…
Christmas and Santa.
It’s all neatly rolled into one within the wrappings of December.
The giddy frivolity of a season which gives way to making merry while paying homage to the birth of a child.

Yet let us look more closely at a single word…

Frivolity– a noun meaning lightness, gaiety, fun, the making of merriment

yet counter that with

Frivolous–an adjective–flippant, glib, lacking worth or merit

One word divided into two of its variations, its various grammatical formations and contexts–each with very different meanings…

Christmas–the olde English—Cristes Maesse–or Mass of Christ
The sacred celebration of the Nativity or birth of Christ…the birth of the One proclaimed as the savior of mankind.

And then there is Christmas of the ho ho ho, jolly ol’ St Nick, the giving of gifts kind of Christmas…

With the introduction of Saint Nicolas, who evolved over time from a 3rd century Greek Catholic saint whose real life story of giving and providing paved the foundation for today’s more secular jolly older bearded, reindeer driving, present giving, hero of both young and old…Christmas the holy joined with Christmas the worldly, as the two became synonymous, joining as one.

And sadly today we see that the world of consumerism has run away with the latter of the two….creating part of our problem.

One word’s united meaning, the celebration of the birth of Christ, as well as the season of Santa and the giving of gifts….
Yet today the word is painfully becoming estranged, polarized and oh so sadly divided.

The Christian faithful throughout the ages have always had a wonderful way of melding traditions taken form the various seasons and times of the year from their various cultures and countries, coupled with the more traditional pagan / secular celebrations of those various countries and cultures, uniting and embracing all with their Christian teachings with the end result being those yearly holy observances which blend both the religious/ holy with secular celebrations.

Lest we forgot the story from the other week regarding the celtic cross…
As St Patrick used the circle around the traditional latin cross as a bridge between the Celtic worship of the sun–uniting both sun and Son together…in turn creating the iconic Celtic Cross.

Yet mankind frustratingly always has had a knack for messing up, distorting and even destroying good intentions.
What was once a time affording all a collective remembrance of the young and less fortunate during a time which was also witness to the faithful’s remembrance of the birth of the Savior—has now tragically morphed into a self consuming monster of advertising, marketing, consumerism and a big business feeding frenzy of madness.

Couple that with the now secular overt political correctness war of words of holiday and winter celebration with the keeping of Santa, as that’s good for the economy, while in turn booting the holy Christ Child totally out of the picture as that has nothing to so with the economy….

Seems as if we greatly prefer material gifts and presents verses the one true gift of a Savior….

It is indeed a truly sad kettle of fish we have going on as law suits now abound where once stockings were hung by the chimney with care—
As the word Christmas is no longer welcomed or allowed to be associated with this “special” time of year… especially in our public governmental sector, schools, colleges, etc—
If it receives any sort of federal funding or assistance, than you can forget Christmas and the whole birth of Christ associated with it.

Lest we offend the Atheists, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Satanists, the Wickens….who if the truth be told, buy and gather to give those “christmas” gifts…

A long long time ago when I was in elementary school, way back in the early 1960s…My school had a healthy mix of both Jewish and “Christian” kids.

When it came to Christmas, with our teacher bringing in the small tree for our classroom, as we excitedly and joyously made ornaments in order to decorate the small tree— ornaments which now poignantly hang on my own tree today, the excitement of one and all was palpable.
Names were drawn for the classroom secret santa party which culminated on the last day of school before the Christmas break.

Our teachers, in their infinite wisdom, did something great.
In addition to our classroom Christmas tree, we also had a classroom menorah. Our Jewish classmates would, for the eight days of Hanukkah, share with us their
“holiday” along with its traditions.

Excitedly each day of Hanukah we’d ooo and ahhh, as only kids in the innocence of wonder do, over the lighting of a single candle—hardly able to contain the excitement until all 9 candles were lit.
It was a reverent event and we appreciated as well as respected the importance that the lighting of those 9 candles meant and what that 8 day observance represented to our Jewish classmates… just as they appreciated our reverence for our classroom’s small nativity scene.

A marvelous teaching tool and key to helping our young minds understand, tolerate, respect as well as allowing us to develop an appreciation for one another’s spiritual customs.
As the spirituality within man is a key component to being human.

We loved hearing our classmates excitement as they shared with the entire class the receiving of each gift on the night prior during their familiy’s observation of the Festival of Light.

We were taught the dreidle song and would play for the chocolate coins while we in turn shared the various customs of Christmases form around the world…
As we would buy our Jewish classmates their secret santa gifts as they, in turn, would buy us ours—
Never was there any resentment, no forbiddance to the right to observe, share or worship, no jealousies, not animosity….but rather a collective joy found in the frivolity of a season so merry and bright, yet sadly now seemingly steeped in what has become the frivolous, the polarized, the secular, the forgotten, the worldly and the empty….

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(statue on the grounds of Christ Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

Stranger in a strange land

And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom:
for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

Exodus 2:22

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(Mrs. Bluebird peeking outward / Julie Cook / 2015)

Have you ever traveled to another country where you did not speak the language?
Immediately upon arriving, jet lagged, tired, disoriented, all previous thoughts
of being ok and of easily getting by suddenly evaporate. Overwhelmed, you stare bleary eyed and lost.
You immediately sense your differentness. A rising sense of panic works to consume you as you feel conspicuous and vulnerable. Uneasiness, dread, foreboding race to devour your remaining sense of wellbeing—-all this transpires in the span of the first 30 seconds upon arrival, all before you can slowly breathe, getting your bearings and allowing common sense to quell the rising panic.

As a Christian, I am beginning to feel that same sense of rising of panic, disorientation, and sense of alienation. I feel as though I am no longer welcome in my own country. . .for I am a stranger now in a very strange land. I am ridiculed and scorned for my beliefs, my faith. I choose to believe in the Bible and what I consider to be the true Word of God and yet I am told to get with the program, come to the 21st century. . .I am told not to be so archaic, stop believing in mythology and fairy tales. I am told that I do not have a right to believe what I believe because it is preposterous, unbelievable, not all inclusive–as my beliefs seem to have limits, it appears my beliefs are saying “no” to certain lifestyles and choices.

. .I am reminded that this is not a time for an either or sort belief system for we are now a people who are all about “it’s all good” and “it’s all ok” sort of life. Tolerance, where is my tolerance I am asked.
Where is my love and acceptance of all. . .

Yet my faith, my beliefs, state that I am to believe in the Word God, the One true God—there is no waffling, no balancing act, no grey areas. . .either I believe or I don’t. Not in little demigods, not in things, not in man, not in little parts or snippets of His word while disregarding others. . .but rather I believe in an Omnipotent God. There is to be no rewriting of His word in order to set things as the world would like things to be written.
His word was stated and set eons ago. . .
there is to be no changing, no rewriting,
no updating to modern times. . .no redo. . .

Yet I am told that my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith are all no longer acceptable.
It’s all outdated, passé, cliche, no longer relevant. . .
Change or be changed I am told.
I must no longer adhere to the mumbo jumbo.
The courts will have their say.
They’ll show me.
They will tell me that I can’t believe.
Television tells me I can’t believe.
Their shows will prove I’m wrong.
Movies and music will all show me.
Step aside I am told.
We don’t want you here.
You can’t pray here.
You can’t say “Amen” here.
You can’t talk about Jesus here. . .
You’ll be fired, removed, shut down, sued, or even beheaded if ISIS has any say.

Bad things happen.
Earthquakes, calamities, tidal waves, tornadoes, floods, volcanos, blizzards,
natural as well as man made disasters. . .
I am asked where is my God.
How dare he allow such suffering. . .
Why doesn’t He stop the madness, the chaos?

But wait, I thought I was told He doesn’t exist, we don’t have room for Him, I was wrong for my belief in Him. . .
We rewrote Him, I reply, remember. . .
We made Him smaller.
We made Him our own.
We didn’t want to be transformed into His likeness, we wanted, rather, to transform Him to our likeness, our image, our idea, our ideal. . .

Hear the words of the ancient psalmist. . .

“You have rebuked the insolent;
cursed are they who stray from your commandments!”

Psalm 119:21

And hear now the words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while he was a prisoner in a Nazi death camp awaiting execution. . .the writing was to be a manuscript written of his reflection of Psalm 119. . .

God hates the insolent, those who despise the Word of God and the faithful. Pride before God is the root of all disobedience, all violence, all irresponsibility. Pride is the root of all rebellion and destruction. Confronting all pride and insolence, however, is a fearful warning, of which the proud themselves comprehend nothing but the faithful do: it is the gospel. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The cross of Jesus Christ, which shows that God is with the weak and the humble, is God’s rebuke to the insolent. They may achieve victory over all human beings, but against God they will come to nought.
Whoever believes in the gospel sees the Word of God hanging over the insolent of this earth. The preaching of the Word of God is the only serious rebuke to a humanity grown proud. But along with his Word, God has also given sign of his might. In the midst of history, here and there, God’s rebuke can be seen, and the community of the faithful look with shuddering and amazement at the proud, who even now in their time fall and are destroyed. They are kept from any hypocritical certainty, however, because they see that innocent people are always destroyed along with the proud; and so the visible judgements of God remain hidden and obscure even for the faithful. Only the Word remains incontrovertibly clear when it pronounces its curse on the godless: “Cursed are they who stray from your commandments!” In the laws it says ” Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut.27:26). Can we speak this word without being convicted by it ourselves? Is it a word only for others and for ourselves? The curse upon the transgressors of the law of God is God’s right and. . .

Bonhoeffer’s words of his manuscript break off at this point. . . he never finished the manuscript. . . on April 9, 1944 he was executed on the direct orders of Adolph Hitler, exactly two weeks before Hitler committed suicide.

The psalm ends. . .Turn from me shame and rebuke,
for I have kept your decrees.
Even though rulers sit and plot against me,
I will meditate on your statutes.
Fro your decrees are my delight,
and they are my counselors.

A stranger in a strange land indeed. . .