consequences…the decisions we make

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest.
That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.
The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which,
a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.
An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge
or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


(a willet makes off with a crab for breakfast /Julie Cook / 2019)

Scanning a local Atlanta’s news feed Sunday, I noted the storyline about a local Army Master Sgt.
passing away ten years after he was initially wounded in Afghanistan.

I stopped to read the story.

It seems that this soldier’s tale is a bit more complicated than that of a soldier being wounded
in the line of duty.

This particular soldier, Master Sargent Mark Allen of Georgia, was shot in the head 10 years ago
after he went out on a search mission for a fellow soldier who had deserted the unit.

The AWOL soldier was Sgt Bowe Bergdahl.

Bergdahl deserted his unit and was eventually captured by the Taliban.
He was in captivity from 2009 until 2014, when then-President Barak Obama
traded 5 Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl.

Master Sargent Mark Allen’s now recent widow Shannon,
did not know that her husband was actually shot while searching for Bergdahl,
not until several years later when President Obama ordered the prisoner exchange.
All she had known was that her husband had been shot in the line of duty and had
suffered a debilitating traumatic brain injury.

Allen was to spend the next 10 years of his life in a wheelchair and unable to
communicate, requiring constant around the clock care.

The full news story is below…followed by a bit of personal reflection…

Georgia soldier injured while searching for Bowe Bergdahl dies 10 years later
By: Chelsea Prince, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A retired Army National Guard officer from metro Atlanta died Saturday,
10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
in Afghanistan.

Master Sgt. Mark Allen was injured in a June 2009 search mission for Bergdahl,
who walked off a U.S. military outpost and was captured by the Taliban.
Military prosecutors said Allen was shot during a firefight that erupted when U.S. forces
and about 50 members of the Afghan National Army were attacked by enemy fighters.

Allen suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him in a wheelchair and
unable to communicate.
His wife, Shannon Allen, told WSB Radio that she did not learn about the circumstances surrounding
her husband’s injuries until 2014, after former President Barack Obama negotiated Bergdahl’s release
in a swap for five Taliban members detained at Guantanamo Bay.
Shannon Allen typically declined interviews,
but she was in the courtroom in October 2017 when Bergdahl pleaded guilty to charges of desertion
and misbehavior before the enemy, The Associated Press reported.
He was later sentenced to a dishonorable discharge from the Army but avoided prison time.

When Allen returned home, after being treated for three years at a military hospital in Florida,
he was honored as a hero.
The father of two was a frequent recipient of local accolades in his Walton County hometown.

According to an obituary printed in the Walton Tribune,
Allen spent 21 years in the Army and the Army National Guard.
He retired in 2013 upon receiving a Purple Heart.
He is survived by his wife, his son, Cody, and a daughter, Journey.

Services are planned for this week.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Tim Stewart Funeral Home in Loganville.
A funeral is set for 11 a.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church of Snellville with a burial to follow.

This story was written by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Stories such as these are hard for all sorts of reasons.
Lives are shattered and forever changed all because of one person’s choice,
action or decision.

Two children lost their dad this past weekend… and if the truth be told,
they actually lost the dad they had known as small children, ten years ago
when he was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban.
There are conflicting reports that upwards of 8 other soldiers were shot and killed
as a direct result of that particular search mission.

The story behind Bergdahl is cloudy.

When President Obama exchanged 5 military prisoners for Bergdahl’s release,
some of the truth behind Bergdahl’s story began to emerge.
Details causing some in our Government’s leadership to question the legality of
President Obama’s prisoner exchange.

Bergdahl was eventually tried in a Military court and pled guilty to desertion.

He was given a dishonorable discharge, demoted in rank and was fined $1000 from his
monthly pay.
He did not face any prison time.

Since then, some have wondered aloud whether or not Bergdahl was actually
an enemy sympathizer.
A disillusioned soldier who decided to take his chances by deserting the Army
and country he served, opting to seek asylum with the enemy…or did he merely desert,
hoping to elude capture and simply “run away” to whatever it is was that he thought
might be a better life.

Bergdahl, however, does not deny deserting.

In a letter to his parents just prior to his desertion, Bergdahl paints
the picture of a young man who was very much disillusioned.
He was angry and had decided that he must wash his hands of any part of the mission and war.
He spoke of “being ashamed to be an American”
He noted that “the US Army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at”
He points to the fact that America and her military are arrogant and even cruel in their actions
against the Taliban and the local people.

His father’s response was for his son to follow his conscience.

Yet one thing history has taught us is that war is not pretty nor is it ever fair.
Wars are bad and bad things happen during such.
Rules of engagement, the Geneva Convention, the UN, all have
been put in place to aid man in fighting his wars fairly…
yet what of any war is ever fair?

But those who are the committed members of our military understand
the mission and in turn work to that end.

And yet in all of this, I am reminded about the matter of consequence.

A man who was once proclaimed as ‘The Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, once noted that
“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”

Ingersoll was not a Christian man however both Christian and nonbeliever can each agree
that from all actions comes consequence.

No matter Bergdahl’s claims as to what took place following his departure from his Unit,
the fact of the matter was, and remains, that the consequences from his decision
and actions that fateful day in 2009 has forever changed a myriad of lives.

Bergdahl made a conscious decision, that many say to this day, was purely selfish.
I happen to be one of those who find Bergdahl’s actions self-absorbed…
and according to Military protocol, even criminal.

His choice to walk away, for whatever reason, set in motion a chain reaction of
life-altering events…perhaps none so great as experienced by the Allen family.

The Bergdahl case remains somewhat fluid as his legal team continues to push that he
be awarded various medals from that of POW survivor to a Purpleheart…
as well that his “Court Martial” be overturned.

Despite whichever side of this case you find yourself, the fact of the matter is
that decisions, actions, and choices all hold weight.

And often that weight is a balance between life and death.
As they directly affect other people…whether we see or not the effect.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Galatians 6:7-8

Ever vigilant

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Thomas Jefferson

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(A statue of an Irish wolfhound stands guard at Ashford Castle / Counties Mayo – Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

We are currently caught in a maelstrom…
a
black
swirling
churning
drastically
changing
moment
in
time …

A time of grave darkness.

It was in 2001 when we first heard the words…“we are winning the war on terrorism….”
words Spoken by George W Bush.
He had first publicly used the term “war on Terror” following the attacks of September 11th.
However we can actually look back to the Reagan administration when the phrase was first used by then President Reagan as he implored Congress to pass legislation to freeze the funds of various terrorist agencies.

Terrorist regimes are not new.

Yet our current President tells us that we are winning, making gains, making great strides, curbing and shutting down this insidious menace….
In May he even boasted that the war on terror was over…Hummm
“The “Global War on Terror” is over, President Barack Obama announced Thursday”
(US New and World Report May 23, 2015)
He again touted that we were winning the war on November 13th, just hours before the deadly attacks in Paris.
He must know something the rest of us don’t. He must see something that the rest of us aren’t seeing.

Somehow I think that San Bernardino and Paris and Brussels and Tel Aviv and Egypt and Russia and Tunisia and London and Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Algeria and Denmark and Canada and Bangladesh and Australia and New York and Texas and Afghanistan and Lebanon and Libya and Turkey and…..
All of which would beg to differ…for each and every one of these cities and or nations has had to clean up the spilt blood of their citizens and guests…of which has been shed at the hands of terrorists— either ISIS, aka Daesh, the Radical Muslim terrorist organization, or their duly inspired henchmen.

It doesn’t seem to get any clearer than that…

As it certainly appears that this war on terrorism is pretty much a global issue…

And it is with great frustration that we continue hearing, listening to and seeing the lamentations and the finger pointing…
The accusatory rhetoric from individuals, various nations, the news media, various heads of states and governments, religious leaders…
the “I told you so”
the “this is all your fault” business…
the “this is what you get for _________” (allowing you to fill in the blank)

The “all of this is all the fault of western civilizations….”
(Then why are so many attacks also happening in the Middle East?)

“all this is the fault of Christianity…” dating all the way back to the first crusade…

“All of this is the fault of the Jews dating back to…to…to…Abraham…”

And maybe that is where much of all of this may have actually come about with that whole Isaac and Ishmael business but that tale of woe is for another day…

Since the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, the governmental powers that be will have issued 3 different, or amended, terror alert systems with the latest one to roll off the shelves within the very near future.

I don’t know how many more steps one can add in between BAD and REALLY BAD.

Today’s young people, age 25 and younger, have been living under this raging war on Terror for the majority of their lives—14 long years
And with each passing year, the sitting president continues telling us we are winning the war.

We are NOT winning the war.

If you think anything differently, you are merely deceiving yourself.
The war is simply morphing, evolving, changing.

However it should come as no surprise to any Christians among us that this menacing business of evil has long been with us…dating back to that whole Adam, Eve and serpent debacle.
For it was in that very moment of disobedience that mankind went to war.
Man went to war with himself, against himself, against his descendants, against his world, against His God…
And Evil has freely walked the face of this earth ever since that fateful day when the gate was slammed shut in Eden.

Yet as Christians, we know that this war may indeed continue being fought as it is raging without a seeming end in sight… it may be bloody, it may be cruel, it may be catastrophic…. but one thing is certain…
there will be no victory for the prince of Darkness.

And whereas there are those who will say that such talk is delusional, it is equally delusional to deny that there is Good and Evil and that we are all in the midst of a battle between Light and Darkness.

Our government calls for vigilance.
This vigilance was initially more pertinent for those who were traveling—be it at home as well as abroad.
Yet now that vigilance blankets our journeys much closer to home…journeys now to the mall, to work, to sporting events, to plays, to the theater….

Vigilance.

As Christians, we are making ready our preparations during this Advent season as we are filled with expectant and ever vigilant hearts…
For we are making ready for the arrival of the One True Light…the birth of all Salvation, of all Hope and of the greatest Victory yet to come…
even so, Come Lore Jesus…..

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

Suffer the little children. . .

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:19

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Nelson Mandela

DSC01277
(a self-portrait by my now grown son when he as a little boy / Julie Cook / 2015)

Over the past weekend, various news reports were extolling the overt covert Delta Force take down of one of the IS masterminds while in the same breath heralded the news that IS had captured Ramadi. . .
Obviously a many headed snake slitters in our midsts.
Cut off one head only to deal with another, and another, and another. . .
It seems like a small gain in an attempt to cripple a monster, while the monster takes another large stride without skipping a step. . .

300px-Medusa_by_Caravaggio_2
(Medusa by Caravaggio / 1597/ The Uffizi Gallery / Florence, Italy )

60 Minutes aired a troubling story last evening—they seem to run a lot of troubling types of stories these days. . .Child Suicide Bombers reported by Lara Logan.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/child-suicide-bombers-lara-logan-60-minutes/

Ms Logan likened today’s suicide bombers as the modern day equivalent to the Japanese Kamikaze pilots from WWII, while noting the fact that a growing number of these misguided souls, suspected to be in the hundreds, are actually children.

And it is a horrific tactic that has been perfected by the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Children as young as 7 are recruited and trained in the sinister art of suicide bombing—as in being wired, going to or being taken to a specific location or “target” and proceeding to detonate oneself as a living bomb. And should the child, at the last minute, decide to change their mind, a “handler” who has taken the child to their target location can actually detonate the child themselves. Meaning an adult can push a button in order to blow up the child purposefully as if they were like a bug to be squashed under foot.

Ms Logan interviewed both a major general in the Pakistani army as well as a Taliban commander with ties to Al Qaeda. One man who is doing all he can do to stop the devastating practice while rescuing as many of the children as possible as the other man, who is hellbent on not only building the practice but advancing it—even to the point of wanting his own 5 year old son, who he claims is mentally ready to make jihad, to become one of the suicide bombers.

What 5 year old child is mentally ready for much of anything except for play???

Jihad, suicide bombs, Paradise, infidels, murder, death, blown to smithereens. . .
verses
Cartoons, super heroes, coloring, playing ball, running, skipping, laughing, loving. . .

I don’t know, is it just me. . .here we have, once again, another global issue of dire concern yet it is but a mere blip on the radar of the conscious world who would prefer to fill their time with the latest music award shows, stories of Johnny Depp’s illegally imported Yorkies into Australia, the latest news anchor or political pundit who didn’t exactly tell the truth, the bizarre fascination with the latest presidential candidates, the latest women to pop up pointing a finger at Bill Crosby, or the summer’s latest suspense psycho thriller showing up on television. . .anything but the real nitty gritty ugly side of humanity that needs to be addressed and stopped!!

Be it Al Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Al-Shabaab. . .the list grows daily of “organizations” that recruit, kidnap and steal children in order to enlist them into the dirty work created by woefully misguided and evil adults.

This doesn’t even touch on the skyrocketing statistics of the human slave trafficking of young girls, and yes young boys as well, for purposes of an explosivly growing global prostitution epidemic.

Or what of the millions of children worldwide living in abysmal poverty who are forced into manual labor, working in outrageous conditions while carrying out deadly and dangerous jobs for little if any pay. . .

I would think, dare to assume, that most parents all over this globe love their children.
They find joy, pride, and pure love in their children. . .
Parents from Russia to Mexico to Brazil to Uzbekistan to Kuwait to the US to China to New Zealand, etc. . .parents who love their children. . .
who are pained when the living conditions are less than desired,
who fret if their children are hungry,
who worry should their child get sick,
who sorrowfully mourn at the loss of a child. . .
Yet there are the parents of these child bombers who send them to do the work of Allah, as in blowing themselves up in order to put an end to the “infidels”— these children who are trained, or better yet brainwashed, to commit jihad. . .

Who are these parents who allow 5, 13, 17 year old boys to strap bombs to themselves and go forth to blow themselves up- – -for what????

Lara Logan asked the Taliban Commander the very same question. . .
“For what? I don’t understand that. . .”
And his response was “You do not know the Quran. You are not a believer”

Well I thought the Koran / Quran espoused of peace and of the great love of Allah. . .
Not, send your children off to go blow themselves up. . .
What kind of “believer” is that who would pack off a 5 year old child to go learn how to get blown up into a million little pieces????

Aren’t parents wired to vehemently defend and protect their children???
To hold their hands as they cross the street?
To run to their beds in the middle of the night to soothe the bad dreams?
To hold cool cloths to fevered brows. . .???

Who for the love of God, gives their kid a bomb and says
“see ya, go off now to paradise”. . .

“Oh but Julie” you say “it’s a different culture, you just don’t understand because you’re a privileged American. . .”

Bullcrap!

I cannot repeat my initial response to that as it would not be rated G. . .
I don’t buy that crap.

Parents the world over love their children—rich or poor, privileged or not, black or white, red or yellow—
Something somewhere is now fatally flawed. . .
And I for one think the free thinking, free world needs to sound a global alarm- – –

Children are not expendable!!!!!

They are not commodities to be sold, bought, stolen or traded!
They are tiny living, breathing human beings who we, you, me, them, have been given charge of for the nurturing and caring of. . .

To “train them up” in the way they should go—and that is to go forward making this world a better place for the generations of children to come. . .

“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”

Mother Teresa

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 18:10

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When life’s reflections, once far, become startling near

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

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Canadian Goose afloat on the waters of the Boston Harbor / Julie Cook / 2014

DSCN6148
This image is from a small portion of a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq–upon stumbling on this makeshift courtyard memorial, just in the shadow of the historic North Church, I caught myself suddenly filling with an overwhelming feeling of emotion–the myriad of tags gave a startling and tangible image of what had been simply numbers—the massive amount of tags, which filled several wire filled walls, equalled suddenly and painfully lives, mostly young, which have seemingly needlessly come and gone—sons, daughters, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers. . .for a war on terror which only seems to be spiraling out of control.

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These two images are from a power pole which is wrapped with a simple crochet reminder of the Boston Marathon Bombing. The crochet piece is wrapped around the power pole on the spot where the second explosion detonated. It has been lovingly placed by an individual in memory of one of the several victims of a senseless act of terrorism–on a simple side walk in front of a handful of restaurants on a single street in a massive city. Reminding us all that no matter where we may be, anything and everything can happen to change our world forever. May we be mindful that God has given us now. That is all we are promised. The next hour, the next day, the next week may bring life altering events beyond our comprehension and control—-it is today, at this very moment that we are to Rejoice and proclaim the Glory of God. For the God of all of Creation is Greater than any act of violence or evil which attempts to batter and beat our faith.

May we all remember that Love is indeed greater than hate.

Pope Paschal I, Iconoclasm and hospitality

rome-santa-prassede-apse-mosaic-pope-paschal-i-st-paul-and-st-praxedis-or-pudentiana_medium
(detail from the mosaic tiled ceiling in the Church of Santa Prassede, Rome, Italy of Pope Paschal 1)

9467-santa-cecilia-trastevere-rome-apse-mosaic-valerian
(a small detail of the mosaic tiled ceiling of St Cecilia’s Church Trastevere, Rome– of Saints Valerian and Cecilia–a church founded by Pope Paschal I)

February 11th, in the Catholic Church, is noted as the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Undoubtedly we’ve all heard of Lourdes, that small town in extreme southern France with the mystical healing waters and the grotto dedicated to the Virgin and of her apparitions to the young peasant girl Bernadette. . . even those of us non Catholics and the most jaded among us are familiar with Lourdes. . .but who, I wonder, has heard of Pope, or should I note saint, Paschal I? — even those die hard hagiographers, those who study the lives of the saints, no doubt gloss over this lesser known saint who sits among the giants of the church.

Yet it must be noted that February 11th is also the feast day Pope Paschal 1

Why in the world would a little known pope from the 9th century, who reigned as pope for approximately 8 short years, be of any consequence to us today?
Good question.
Pope Paschal I is but a blip on the historical map of an ancient church whose history spans 2 thousand years. Some of the popes have certainly been anything but virtuous—more along the lines of scoundrels and scalawags which leaves many modern day observers, especially those of us who are not members of the Catholic Church, wondering why in the world these people (Catholics) would ever venerate, let alone consider to be of any significance, many of these unscrupulous, lecherous, self indulgent men.

Now I cannot comment upon the virtuous life of or lack thereof for Pope Paschal I.
Little is known.
He was born in Rome and served as Pope form 817- 824. His pontificacy is laced with a bit of intrigue and questions of complicity to executions, all of which lead church members, at the time of his death, to not allow the burial of his body to take place in St Peters.
Certainly sounds a bit scandalous.

It is however of one particular incident, of rather some significant importance, which has lead me to dig a bit deeper into the history of this man whose feast day the Church celebrates today. It is upon closer study that one learns that Pope Paschal I was head of the Latin Church (the western branch of Christianity) during a period known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm—or simply the time of The Iconoclast.

A dark time in history when many fanatical members of the Eastern branch of Christianity, including Emperor Leo III, decided that any and all images (Icons, statues, paintings, mosaics. . .) of God, Christ, and other Holy and sacred individuals were considered sinful, idolatry, and must be destroyed— along with many of the artists, owners as well as those who venerated such images. A dark time of vast persecution of a people who had loved the sacred images and had used them as part of their very deep personal services. Photographs, as it were, of a Savior for a people who wanted, and continue to want, to put a face with that of the Mysterious. Do we not still yearn for such images today?

It is in these dark times of such fanatical ignorance, which has been laced throughout much of the history of mankind, that I believe is one of man’s greatest faults. As an art educator and humble historian, the destruction of various Cultures and their artifacts, which simply boils down to the pure essence of the identity of a people is, in my humble opinion, catastrophic.

This ancient sort of destructive “out of sight out of mind” feeding frenzy has actually played out throughout much of history with a few of the more notable and infamous being that of the Italian Dominican monk Savonarola and his Bonfire of the Vanities, to more recent times with the book burnings of the Nazi’s during the early 1940’s, to the more recent destruction of the giant ancient carvings in Afghanistan, those known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, by the Taliban in 2001. A warped mindset that if the powerful can simply destroy the “things” and or creations of a certain people, then the people will also cease to exist. History teaches us that perseverance is more than things..

Pope Paschal I was a sympathizer to those members of the Eastern Orthodox church who not only created the sacred art images but to those who continued to want to display such in churches and in homes. He afforded those who fled the persecution in Greece and Turkey a safe haven. He actually encouraged the creation of mosaics and other sacred art by these individuals in many of the churches in Rome. This during a time of great divide between the two Churches.

This little known Pope overlooked the differences of the two bickering arms of a single faith in order to offer hospitality to those victims of persecution. It is because of the very amnesty offered by and of the preservation afford to such treasured pieces of the Christian faith by such individuals as Pope Paschal I and those long forgotten monks who smuggled many of the sacred images to remote monasteries such as St Catherine’s’ in the southern Sinai Peninsula, that those of us today may glance upon images that date to the very inception of our faith.

So on this Tuesday, February 11, may we be reminded of the lesser known names in the annuals of a history, who, such as Pope Paschal I, have helped to preserve important pieces to the puzzle of our past. To those who have demonstrated moments of brave compassion by offering safety to those suffering the persecution of faith.

Hospitality, compassion, benevolence—words to take to heart on this chilly February morning.

Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B