The 21– Muhammad’s answer to the people of the cross…

“Life itself, without faith, would have been worthless to them. It would be mere existence–
an existence more lowly than that of the animals, for animals are perfect in and of themselves, but humans are imperfect;
their aim for perfection requires divine assistance.”

Martin Mosebach author of the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs


(book cover)

My friends at Plough Publishing have gifted me with another tantalizing morsel
book for perusal and review.
Well, my publishing friend actually was offering several books for sharing but I requested the hard copy of
but one book—
The 21.

It is the story of those murdered and martyred Egyptian Copts on a Libyan seaside in 2015,
at the hands of ISIS—a story that continues to haunt me.

And it seems that I am not alone in feeling haunted by the memory of this heinous act.
The German author, Martin Mosebach is haunted as well.

Obviously, in order to delve into the story, Mr. Mosebach watched the full video of the beheadings
that was still floating around out there somewhere in cyberspace…that odd juxtaposition of
both space and time where nothing seems to die despite any and all humans involved either eventually
or having long since died.

At the time, as well as now, I did not nor do I care to watch such.

There have been many highly publicized videoed beheadings…
all carried out in the name of Allah by ISIS over past 5 or 6 years, but I have not watched them.

And yet oddly millions have been drawn to watching as if having bought a ticket to some macabre
Hollywood blockbuster…mesmerized by the unthinkable…
The unthinkable of one human being ending the life of another human being–
A life that is literally being held in the hands of an executioner…
or better put, a life’s head pulled up by the hair, all in order to sever the neck and eventually
the head more readily from its body.

Mosebach notes in his book how the original ISIS video actually cut away from what became an extended
as well as messy time the executioners were having in literally cutting the heads from the bodies…
not neat and quick as say the swift effortless job of a guillotine.
And it was very apparent that for the sake of the video’s shock value and propaganda,
the executioners desperately needed, as well as wanted, to look as professional, in control
and as efficient as possible.

A messy beheading can give the impression of being amateurish and ISIS wants nothing
to do with appearing amateurish or not being in complete control—as that feeds into their
desire to always appear large and in charge.

After watching the video and studying the odd camera image of the captors marching their
prisoners to the shoreline while appearing as black-clad giants
next to their captives who were wearing the unmistakable orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Islamic
prisoners at Gitanomao, as each captive appeared small and less than–

Mosebach was moved by the posturing of the captors mirrored by the near emotionless
and oddly resigned yet the serene sense of their captives.
Prayers could be seen and heard flowing from the lips of the captives as well as the offered
praise for Jesus Christ despite knowing their fate was soon to be grisly.
There were no cries for mercy or of fear …but only controlled prayers to Jesus.

Early in the book Mosebach wonders aloud whether or not martyrdom and Christianity must
always go hand in hand…as he inquisitively muses
“as long as there are Christians there will also be martyrs?”

Mosebach knew that he must make his way to Egypt to visit the
homes and families of these martyred men.
And that he desperately needed to know more about the Copts and the Coptic faith.

The Copts are as old as Christianity itself–for they are some of the earliest known followers
of the Christian faith. Coptic actually means Egyptian—so these are Egyptian Christians.
They originated in the city of Alexandria and claim the author of the book of Mark,
that being John Mark, as their founder and first ‘bishop.’

Long before there was a Latin West or Eastern faith, long before there was
an East and West spilt in the faith, there were the Copts.

According to gotquestions.com,
Prior to the “Great” East/West Schism of A.D. 1054,
the Coptics were separated from the rest by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The council met to discuss the Incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was
“one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures).
This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant churches from then on Coptic understanding is that Christ is one nature from two natures:
“the Logos Incarnate.”
In this understanding, Christ is from, not in, two natures: full humanity and full divinity.
Some in the Coptic Orthodox Church believe that their position was misunderstood at
the Council of Chalcedon and take great pains to ensure that they are not seen as Monophysitic
(denying the two natures of Christ), but rather “Miaphysitic”
(believing in one composite/conjoined nature from two).
Some believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly,
but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics or due to the rivalry
between the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.
To this day, 95 percent of Christians in Alexandria are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to note that when the Coptics were under the rule of the Roman Empire,
they suffered severe persecution and death for their steadfast faith and beliefs in Christ while
refusing to worship emperors. However, by A.D. 641,
yet another tribulation began when the Arab conquest took place,
overthrowing the Romans’ rule in Egypt and, at first, relieving the Coptic Church from persecution.
What appeared to be their liberty and freedom became yet again bondage.
The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Coptics to endure a major language and
culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Unfortunately,
over the centuries, Christianity lost foothold and most Coptics converted to Islam.

I am only to page 26 in the story and Mosebach has not yet traveled to Egypt—
so I am hopeful to read a story rich in history, Faith, resilience, forgiveness and above all Hope—
Hope despite the choking backdrop of Evil.

Some of his words prick the skin.
I find it difficult reading the words written by those who are not Americans…
those who write about America and our politics…
words about our leaders, our actions, our lack of action,
our complications in world affairs…
because like most Americans, I like to think our hearts are in the right place but I also know that
our National actions and reactions are deeply complicated by our politics.
Actions and reactions that fail not only our hearts and our people but fail those of our world.

I think as Americans we tend to feel a responsibility, albeit it a false responsibility, to
make the world a better place and to be the quintessential Superman for those in need.
We sometimes fail…we fail others and we fail ourselves.
So it does hurt reading the words of those who keenly notice.
But as they say, the truth can often hurt.

Throughout his quest, while seeking truth and information, Mosebach is moved by what he
actually does find…
that being a deeply sincere forgiveness found in the hearts of the Copts.
A century’s long-oppressed people who can find the capacity to truly forgive those
who have brutally killed their own families.

Unlike those of the Islamic State who seek misguided bloody, torturous and grisly revenge…
the Copts literally embrace the words of Christ…to forgive one’s enemies, no matter what.
For it is in forgiveness that we find our true liberation and hope.

Their faith goes beyond what we think of Christianity in the West.
That of an ever-growing, feel good wannabe that is polarizing and lukewarm at best.

The Copts seem to understand that our Faith transcends this earth.
Life on this earth is a blink of an eye that matters not…what matters is Christ and Christ alone.
Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll offer more as I progress as time allows but for now, I will leave us with the
words of Mr. Mosebach…

Much as the brutal nature of their deaths and the firmness,
even stubbornness with which they confessed their faith seem to match one another in context,
we find their fate equally eerie.
Hasn’t the Western world, with its openness toward discussion and dialogue,
long since overcome such life-threatening opposites?
We live in an era of strict religious privatization and want to see it
subjected to secular law.
Society seems to have reached a consensus to reject proselytizing and religious zeal.
Hadn’t all that put an end to the merciless, all-or-nothings alternatives or believe or leave,
renounce your faith or die?

Here is a link to Christianity Today and a story about the Copts and forgiveness.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

On your knees…

Certain thoughts are prayers.
There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body,
the soul is on its knees.

Victor Hugo

lightstock-60129-man-kneeling-in-prayer-in-the-middle-of-a-rural-road
(image courtesy the web)

“On your knees…”

A command that conjures many an image in one’s mind…depending on your age or experiences….

“On your knees…”

A command often dictated by one who is about to behead or otherwise kill another.

“On your knees…”

A common urban phrase used predominantly by a hip hop culture for the demeaning demand that another,
most often a woman, perform a lewed act.

“On your knees…”

A command given once by kings as they prepared to knight their subjects.

“On you knees…”

Children were once known to learn at their mother’s knee.

“On your knees…”

A sign of submission.
As in someone commanding another to…beg…
Begging for mercy,
or for one’s own life…

Yet for me,
upon my knees…
is the only place I long to be…

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

2 Philippians 2:9-11

Show us the way oh Lord. . .

“Others have seen what is and asked why.
I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”

― Pablo Picasso

DSC01159
(a statue of Christ on the Charles Bridge , Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2012)

What is it that sets us apart form the other creatures on this planet our ours?
Other than that opposable thumb business?

What is it that makes us greater, wiser, better. . .?

Is it perhaps our ability to be compassionate and kind?
Perhaps to reason and analyze?
Or is it is our capacity to be creative. . .that ability to dream, to imagine, to think and therefore to compose, to construct, to paint, to sing, to sculpt, to dance and to build. . .

The ability to even take that which has been ruined and destroyed, even by our own hands, and to remake, rekindle and renew. . .?

I had not intended to have such a serious minded post again this week but it appears that forces beyond my control thought better of my initial decision. . .

Today’s news is laced, once again with the heinous beheading by ISIS of another innocent bystander–another victim to their ravenous thirst for innocent blood. This time it was an 82 year old Archeologist taxed with preserving and saving the ruins of Palmyra.
It seems they held this gentleman for the past month, torturing him in an attempt to discover where the vast treasures of this ancient, and to some holy, site were hidden. He never shared that information with his captors, who knows if he even was aware of hidden treasure, so it was another case of “off with their heads”. . .

Here you may find a link to the full story as found on the BBC . . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33984006

In Charles Kaiser’s book “The Cost of Courage” which I shared in yesterday’s post, Mr. Kaiser retells the story of the Vichy Parisian Mayor, Pierre-Charles Taittinger who, following the invasion of Normandy which was the telling realization for the Nazis that their time of Occupation in Paris, as well as all of France, was drawing dangerously to its finale, approached the Nazi’s high commander, General Choltitz, with his final plea for the Germans to spare the city.

It was well known and documented that if Hitler had to relinquish the City of Lights back into the hands of the Allies, then they would not receive a city at all but rather one that had been razed and burnt to the ground. Every bridge crossing the Seine, as well as every monument from the Eiffel Tower to Napoleon’s Tomb had been wired with explosives. The fleeing German troops were to detonate and burn everything in their wake as they left the city.

Monsieur Taittinger implored the General one last time:
“Often it is given to a general to destroy, rarely to preserve,” Taittinger begins.
“Imagine that one day it may be given to you to stand on this balcony as a tourist, to look once more on these monuments to our joys, our sufferings, and to be able to say, “One day I could have destroyed all this, and I preserved it as a gift for humanity.’ General, is not that worth all a conqueror’s glory?”
The General replied, “You are a good advocate for Pairs. You have done your duty well. And likewise I, as a German general, must do mine.”

History tells us that the General was wise enough to know that by now Hitler was indeed a madman and that the war, with the Soviets now advancing from the east, was all but over and that it would not serve the furture of Germany, whatever that further may now hold, to destroy what the French held so dear. There is more to the story, a series of interventions and seemingly miraculous moments which spurred the Allied forces to march upon the city in the nick of time, but I suggest that you read that story on your own as it makes for fascinating reading.

When the church bells rang out echoing across the city, with the deep baritone bells of Notre Dame leading the way, sounding the joyful news of the liberation of Paris, the General was heard to say, “that today I have heard the bells of the death knell of my own funeral. . .” He had sent the troops out from the city with having detonated only the bombs of one of the train stations.

What is it about our splendors and our glories, those monuments we construct, build, make and craft from generation to generation. . . those tombs and treasures we hold so dear and so ever important? So much so that we feel the urgency and need of being tasked with their care, their maintenance, their upkeep and their eventual preservation?
Is it because we see that these manmade wonders are some of the tangible evidence of the better part of our nature? That despite our ability to destroy, to kill and to promote war. . .deep down we know that we strive for the good, the beautiful and the enduring?

These wonders of ours link us to our past civilizations. These monuments of glory, grandeur and beauty of both joy and sorrow allow us to see from where we have come, and in turn we are afforded the opportunity to show future generations the part of us which is better, kinder, gentler, more humane —that side which chose to give rather than to take?

So on this day, when another has fallen victim to a dark and evil menace spreading outward from the Middle East, I am left with the simple prayer, “Oh Lord, show us the way. . .”

CIMG0122
(Duomo di Milano / Milan, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

CIMG0157
(The Bascillica di San Antonio / Padova, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

CIMG0264
(Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore / Firenze, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

CIMG0493
(Basilica Papale di San Francesco / Assisi, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

CIMG0541
( Basilica Papale di San Pietro / The Vatican / Roma, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

DSC00306
(stain glass windows in The Basilica of the Holy Blood / Bruges, Belgium / Julie Cook / 2011)

DSC00478
(Notre Dame / Paris France / Julie Cook / 2011)

DSC00505
(détail, Notre Dame / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

DSC00643
(Eiffel Tower / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

DSC00639
(the cross that sits atop the Eagles Nest or the Berghof overlooking Berchtesgaden, Bavaria which was once Hitler’s private mountain retreat / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC00720
(St Stephens Cathedral/ Vienna, Austria / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01188
St Vitus Cathedral / Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01191
(Rose window, St Vitus Cathedral / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01368
(A section of the Berlin Wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01375
(a section of the Berlin wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01402
(The Brandenburg Gate / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01461
(The interior of the new German Chancellory, the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

DSC01477
Exterior of the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

Compass

A rusty nail placed near a faithful compass,
will sway it from the truth, and wreck the argosy.

Sir Walter Scott

Antique Compass on Map
(image borrowed from the web)

Toward the end of the 1920’s Winston Churchill’s long, illustrious and prolific life in politics seemed to have come crashing down on him much like the global economy of the Great Depression.
For various reasons, such as his support for issues which the majority were not supporting to perhaps his overt sense of confidence as was often perceived as arrogance, Churchill was not reelected to Parliament and was subjected to spending the next 10 years of his life as an ordinary citizen who simply opted for the serendipitous career of a writer—just another politician, past his prime, all but relegated to the annuals of history.

Yet it was during his time of isolation that Churchill continued to sound those cymbals, of which he felt passionate, to any and all who might give him ear— especially his concern for a wounded German nation licking its devastating wounds following its surrender with dishonor at the end of WWI. Woodrow Wilson’s Treaty of Versailles had sealed Germany’s fate as a neutered nation, cast aside and discarded–left to deal with a devastated economy as well as a lost generation of men not to mention the demoralized sense of national identity. A once proud Prussian people were not only globally disgraced but were now left literally starving and alone.

Such grave and severe consequences extracted from and heaped upon the aggressors following the loss of any war usually results in a dark and dangerous vaccum—sterilization and humiliation begets resentment, which left to fester, breeds a seething hate laced with thoughts of revenge and a hunger to dominate those now perceived as the oppressor. . .all of which Churchill was well aware—long before either his fellow MPs or a war weary world were willing to acknowledge.

History affords us a peek at the end of this story of isolation—but not before millions of people had died.
It is estimated that 60 million people were killed during WWII—yet we don’t how accurate that figure is given the brutality and secrecy of the USSR under Stalin’s regime—some historians put that 60 million much higher as it was reported that the USSR lost 8.5 million soldiers and citizens during WWII—yet it is widely believed however that that number is more like 14 million. . .a staggering number lost from what is now known as modern Russia. Such numbers are nearly impossible for the human mind to comprehend.

Yet Churchill had long sounded the alarm, much to the rolling of eyes from politicians and citizens alike. No one wanted to hear his ominous rhetoric preferring life to that of an ostrich who has buried his head in the sand–fingers stuffed in ears as everyone ran about “la-la-laing” taking the mindset of “what we don’t know, or worse– won’t admit, won’t hurt us”. . .

And it is with this look back at Churchill’s plight, of that lone voice crying in the wilderness, that my thoughts turn today. . .to those lone voices sounding the alarm over the growing threat of a militant muslim nation better known as IS or ISIS.

Did you know that ISIS recently beheaded a Croatian man?
He was a typographer out simply working on mapping things when he was kidnapped.
The news coverage was minimal at best as we’ve obviously got too much going on with our own impending election wannabes. . .

I have shared story after story, as well as interview after interview alike, over the past several months regarding the brutality and hatred of a growing menace in the Middle East that has tentacles which are reaching far and wide. Just click on any news feed to see the latest young person deciding to run away to fight in the caliphate.

Here in my little corner of blogland I sound a lone little bell that most folks don’t like to, or preferably don’t want to, hear. . .with the majority thought being it’s a lot to do about nothing.

The systematic killing of Christians and the slow and agonizing death of the human moral compass. . .is, to me, a very big deal.

Here is a link to a recent interview given by the actor John Rhys-Davis on his take of the loss of this proverbial moral compass

http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2015/08/12/lord-of-the-rings-actor-blasts-political-correctness-we-have-lost-our-moral-compass/

And as I was reading this morning a posting by one of my favorite Benedictine monks, not that I know many monks, I was struck by a few things Father Hugh stated so soundly in his morning’s post–of which hit me in the head with the thought of “if not you, who?”

“because what we do here in this fleeting world has direct and potentially irreversible consequences for our lives in the next, and eternal, world. Apart from the fact that basic human decency should bid us have concern for our neighbour wherever and whoever he or she might be, our Christian faith demands that we do. What we do, or fail to do, to our neighbor is done to Christ.”

“Our Christian faith demands that we do”. . .demands, as in commands unequivocally, that we do . . .it is that thought which really struck me this morning as most profound. That it is through my Christian faith, a faith which demands and expects of me a certain duty and moral obligation to my fellow man, that I speak for those who are globally persecuted, for those who are suffering for their belief in the Resurrected Son of God–those who are being attacked, tortured, enslaved, heinously murdered all for their faith. . .

You can read Fr Hugh’s full post which is addressing the whys of our prayers seemingly going unanswered:
https://hughosb.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/why/

Father Hugh’s words, as well as the actions of a seemingly beaten politician some 80 years ago who continued with his warnings against an evil menace as the rest of the world preferred distraction, is encouragement enough to continue to sound the alarm. . .Yet more importantly, it is because of the obligation, duty and demand of faith which is the true catalyst–the very real reason that I or you or any believer should not keep silent in the face of such violent tyranny. I am not an alarmist or naysayer but rather one who hears the thundering hooves of darkness galloping ever closer to my world of contentment–just as our leaders, our news networks, our politicians, our entertainment industry and even those who profess to be believers, prefer to be lulled into a state of neutrality and complacency. . .

I will close with a prayer offered to the Nation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the invasion of Normandy by the allied forces. . .an amazing thought that a President would implore a nation to join in prayer on a nationally aired radio broadcast—what a novel thought. . .as he spoke these words, there were already thousands of soldiers who lay dead and dying as they fought for their lives to keep the evil darkness of their day at bay. . .

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.