freedom or security or maybe both

“Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

That unmistakable musty smell of old books and papers is still lingering in my nose
despite the needed shower in order to purge my skin of the accumulated dust and debris
from a previous life now clinging to my now older self.
The allergies are revving up as I sneeze, I mean type.

We’ve spent the last three days in our attic emptying it of its hoard of boxes and stuff…
most of which has been sitting in the same spot where it was deposited some 20 years ago
when we packed everything up from our first house before departing and moving
to where we are now.

Being the parent to an only child is both blessing and curse.
The curse is found in the saving of each and every little shred of his existence.
What that only child wore, played with, made or accomplished in school.

Treasures of the heart, but way too much stuff.

Throw in the boxes that have cradled mom’s china-head dolls, her tea set from childhood,
three generations of toys and stuffed animals, photographs upon photos,
outdated electronic this and that…add in those boxes of the well-read and dearly loved
books both from those who have called this house home as well as those who have not—

And so we have had a real mess!

I did, however, manage to rescue a few books left over from college.

You see that book sitting on top of my lap?…that Dostoevsky book?
And yes it does smell.

It is a paperback book of the Notes from the Underground and The Grand Inquisitor?
Well, you should know that that single little musty dog-eared book got me in a bad spot
during my sophomore year in college.

I’ve mentioned this tale before but I think given our current day and time, a revisit
just might be warranted.

But first a bit of background regarding the tale of the book…

According to Britanica.com

Dostoevsky’s novel The Brother’s Karamazov is most famous for three chapters that
may be ranked among the greatest pages of Western literature.

Brothers Dmitry, Ivan, Alyosha and the illegitimate Smerdyakov.
Within the story, there is another story…a poem written by Ivan…
that being The Grand Inquisitor.

In “Rebellion,” Ivan indicts God the Father for creating a world in which children suffer.
Ivan has also written a “poem,” “The Grand Inquisitor,” which represents his response to
God the Son.
It tells the story of Christ’s brief return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition.
Recognizing him, the Inquisitor arrests him as “the worst of heretics” because,
the Inquisitor explains, the church has rejected Christ.
For Christ came to make people free, but, the Inquisitor insists,
people do not want to be free, no matter what they say.
They want security and certainty rather than free choice, which leads them to error and guilt.
And so, to ensure happiness, the church has created a society based on “miracle, mystery,
and authority.”
The Inquisitor is evidently meant to stand not only for medieval Roman Catholicism but
also for contemporary socialism.
“Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” contain what many have considered
the strongest arguments ever formulated against God, which Dostoyevsky includes so that,
in refuting them, he can truly defend Christianity.
It is one of the greatest paradoxes of Dostoyevsky’s work that his deeply Christian
novel more than gives the Devil his due.

Here is another look behind this troublemaker of mine…
a quick tutorial thanks to Sparknotes.

I didn’t have Sparknotes back in my day.

If I had, then maybe I would have tempered my more impulsive and defiant self
by having perused the gist of the story before meeting it cold turkey and in turn, going
rogue on a most liberal atheistic professor who pretty much thought he “got me” and my head on a platter.

The story is based on the notion that Christ has come back to earth.
He came to Seville, Spain where he performed miracles and was embraced by the people.
But the head of the Spanish Inquisition comes to town and has Christ immediately arrested.
The story then proceeds with the Inquisitor leading the majority of dialogue of the tale.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Christ that he cannot allow him to do his work on Earth,
because his work is at odds with the work of the Church.
The Inquisitor reminds Christ of the time, recorded in the Bible,
when the Devil presented him with three temptations, each of which he rejected.
The Grand Inquisitor says that by rejecting these three temptations,
he guaranteed that human beings would have free will.
Free will, he says, is a devastating, impossible burden for mankind.
Christ gave humanity the freedom to choose whether or not to follow him,
but almost no one is strong enough to be faithful, and those who are not will be damned forever.
The Grand Inquisitor says that Christ should have given people no choice,
and instead taken power and given people security instead of freedom.
That way, the same people who were too weak to follow Christ, to begin with,
would still be damned, but at least they could have happiness and security on Earth,
rather than the impossible burden of moral freedom.
The Grand Inquisitor says that the Church has now undertaken to correct Christ’s mistake.
The Church is taking away freedom of choice and replacing it with security.
Thus, the Grand Inquisitor must keep Christ in prison,
because if Christ were allowed to go free,
he might undermine the Church’s work to lift the burden of free will from mankind.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Christ that it was Satan, and not Christ, who was in the right during this exchange.
He says that ever since the Church took over the Roman Empire,
it has been secretly performing the work of Satan, not because it is evil,
but because it seeks the best and most secure order for mankind.

Our professor was young, probably 30 if that, teaching a room filled full of late teens and early
20 somethings.
He came to class barefoot.

This was the height of the preppy fashion trend…of which I embraced.
A barefoot instructor was a throwback to about 10 years prior add
my being a conservative Reaganite and I did not have a settled
sense of anything good.

He sat cross-legged, Indian style, on the classroom’s generic desk.
Some day’s he’d take us outside to sit in the grass.

He’d wax and wane over the advanced literature we were to read and discuss.

He rarely gave grades but when he did, what I received were A’s and B’s.
Of which was pretty good for me and I was most pleased.
We were reading challenging tales…some of which captivated me.
If it hadn’t been such…I would have lost interest quickly and then struggled.

He announced on day 1 that he was raised Catholic but was now an ardent Atheist.

“Great”— I felt my eyes roll within my head.

I was a 20-year-old who, despite living that hard balance of lose and large in college,
I was also a conservative and an ardent Christian,
.
For when it came to push or shove, I knew what was my Truth.

When it came to the end of the quarter, we read Dostoyevsky’s book.

Our illustrious professor took on the role of Inquisitor, of course, in the open class discussion
as I embraced that of Christ.

For each dig he offered to the class, I spoke up a counter thought.
For I took on the role of defense attorney for a man who truly needed no defending
but I wasn’t about to let this flippant professor spew falsehoods to a captured
audience.

The final exam was based on the story.
I wrote feverishly for the allotted 3 hours examination time.
I turned in the infamous blue book, walked out, got in my car, and in turn drove home
for the summer.

When the grades were mailed out, as they were back then since these were the days before computers,
my report noted that I had received a D in my Lit class.

WHAT!!!!!!????

I immediately called the University and eventually made my way to the English Department where I was told
that my professor had resigned his post and left to teach in Arizona…taking all of his records with
him.

That was that.

No recourse.
No petition.
No action news interviews.
No legal action as we see so often today.
No “one call, that’s all.”

My GPA dropped and I was crestfallen because it wasn’t that great, to begin with.
My mother knew I had been cheated and therefore did not say a word about the “D”
And I had been cheated for one reason and one reason only, my faith.

I know now that this was to be the beginning of what we currently see today—
that being a staggering indoctrination and persecution of the Christian faith
on college campuses.

And that single frustrating event came flooding back today when I opened that musty old box
full of books.

And so I flipped through the book.
There was underlining and pen scrawled notes in the section dedicated to Notes From the Underground…
“Pope [Alexander] says that if you want to see how to run a society, look at an anthill”
Hummmmm…

As I went back and looked over the premise of the story, I was struck by what the Inquisitor tells
Christ….that the Chruch is seeking “the best and most secure order for mankind”
and I find that exceedingly telling.

Just look at the Episcopal Chruch and the Chruch of England—both desperately trying to appease
man while turning a blind eye to God’s word.
Other denominations now follow suit.

“Satan was right,” the Inquisitor tells Christ—who only politely listens while remaining silent.

With our having been given free will…of which the Inquisitor sees as an inherently impossible burden
for mankind, he ignorantly believes that it is his sole responsibility to thwart what God, and in turn Christ,
afforded man. He does so in the name of the Chruch.
The Bride fighting the Bridegroom for dominance.

Hummmmm…

We see that it is the Inquisitor who knows what is best for humankind, not so much God nor His Son.

Historians agree that Dostoevsky is noted for having a canny understanding of the psychology of man.
In part because of his life and upbringing.
He is also oddly prophetic regarding the future of Russia and her undoing Revolution–
a theme that runs throughout much of his work as he often foretells of a great fall and of man’s ultimate
demise as there is always the struggle between free will and what is perceived as security…
as in what does man really want for his life and living?

I for one find Dostoevsky works most telling for our own day and time.
So much so that I need to reread this “poem”
Because it seems we are currently living the life of the Inquisitor as we prefer a sense of security,
a guarantee of living life in the 21st century rather than that of choice.
The choice of eternal life or eternal death.

In the end, Christ rises to kiss the Inquisitor as He takes His leave.

May He not take His leave of us.

If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not,
let your peace return to you.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,
leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment
than for that town.

Matthew 10:13-15

won’t back down

“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell,
but I won’t back down!”

Tom Petty


(rod iron fence to Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

The first official Christian martyr, or protomartyr,
was Stephen, who was killed in 36 AD.

What we know about Stephen comes to us from the Book of Acts.

A Greek speaking foreign born Jew, Stephen was elected to serve as a deacon to his community. Stephen, along with others, had appealed to the apostles that the
elderly widows within their community were being passed over and forgotten.
So Stephen, along with 6 others, were elected as official deacons who would in turn
attend to these elderly widows.

Yet Stephen was also known for being quite the evangelist.
He was an ardent speaker and witness of a new faith based on the teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Stephen was known to lead many Jews to conversion.

Now we must remember that Stephen was both a Jew, born and raised,
as well as a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
A conundrum in dry and dusty Palestine.
As a Jew, he was still expected to answer to the Jewish governing body.

It was however his gift of speech and witness, along with the numerous conversions
of Jews, that would lead to Stephen’s swift demise.

Stephen was brought before the ruling Sanhedrin on charges of blaspheming.
The council believed Stephen to be nothing more than a heretic.

Eloquently, standing before the tribunal, Stephen presented his case as he spoke
of a natural and holy thread of events spiraling down through the ages as he linked
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the Temple, David and finally culminating with Jesus Christ–
the inevitable final link in the chain.

Stephen continued explaining that the true Son of God who will come again to
judge both the living and the dead….
As he told those gathered that God’s kingdom was not to be found here on earth and
was not to be found in manmade buildings such as the Temple or in earthly accumulated treasures but rather was to be found only in the the risen Son.

Stephen closed his testimony by turning his gaze upward while announcing to those
gathered that
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
(Acts 7:58)
At which point the members of the council descended into chaos as they shouted and
covered their ears against hearing such seditious and heretical talk.

Shadows of Caiaphas tearing his clothes over the words of Jesus…
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the
Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Stephen was immediately sentenced death…being stoned to death.

Remember this was the time of pre Christian Paul–rather this was the dangerous
time of Saul, Paul’s ‘old man’ of persecution and hate…
For it was Saul who was the agent who took keen personal interest in crushing
any and all ‘heretics’ who were promoting the teaching of the crucified Nazarene.

It was Saul who paved the way for Stephen’s death and it was Saul who approved it.

Now imagine if you will what would have happened if Stephen had recanted
his teachings?
What would have happened had Stephen been frightened by the knowledge that he would
be sentenced to death.
What if the thought of having people throwing rocks at him until he died…
a death brought about slowly and painfully from rocks beating against his body,
what if the thought of such a horrific death made him change his mind?
What would have happened had he thought it would best, be easier, if he just opted
to cooperate and renounce his preachings?

What example would be set?
What presedent would then be set as a witness to other followers.
What if other followers had been too afraid?
Afraid for their own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families?
How would those decisions of so long impact today?

But Stephen had seen Christ in all His glory—
there was no backing down.
There was no turning back.
He would stand against the gates of Hell and he would not back down.

…..and it was this tale of Stephen and the sacrifice of faith that came
flooding front and center to my thoughts when I read the follwing
words offered by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson regarding the latest
news coming out of both England and Scotland regarding the Anglican Church.

“The Anglican Church is officially distancing itself from biblical and historic Christianity.”
David Robertson

Whoa!

The Church, the very bride of the Christ the groom, is actually distancing herself
from Jesus Christ???!!
As she is currently turning away from the Word of the God and the tenants of Biblical teaching… choosing rather instead to go the way of the current culture gods….

We are at present witnessing the Church of Western Civilization turning herself
away from her very foundation and yet thankfully, at the same time, we are witnessing
the Church of Africa rising powerfully to the defense and forefront of that same faith…
steeped in the Truth of God’s word….

The Bishop of Uganda has addressed this very issue….

“Archbishop “The British sent missionaries to Africa in the 19th Century telling us to trust the Bible as the Word of God, now they are telling us not to”
Archbishop of Uganda

“It is one way, Henry Orombi says,
of keeping faith with those long-ago Englishmen in muttonchop whiskers who brought
the church to Africa.
“A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world,” Orombi says.
“And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere,
and reached out there, and planted seeds there.
And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. . . .
It now looks like the Western world is tired and old.
But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere,
which is a product of the missionary outreach,
is young and vital and exuberant.
So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them
in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back,
right to the Northern Hemisphere.
It is happening.
It is happening.”
(excerpt from an article in The New Yorker / A Church Asunder April 2017)

As I pray that Bishop Orombi is correct…

May those of us of the Faith, as we find ourselves now standing against the
very gates of Hell, may we hold fast to God’s word, being not afraid of what the world
may do to us as we continue to proclaim His Glory…

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

The Queen Mum speaks

“Your work is the rent you pay for the room you occupy on earth.”
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
― Joseph Conrad

IMG_0668

Oh, you were expecting someone else weren’t you?

queen_mother23_1480343i

Hoping you’re not too terribly disappointed in the selection of queens, I did however, want to share with you the words spoken from this particular queen mother—words which were used to pay homage to the transition of her son, the heir apparent, as well as welcoming words to the addition of his bride into our lives . . .

Obviously this version, the written version, is sans the emotion. The tears, the raw moments which where marked by a mother who would find herself choking up when she had otherwise been the proverbial rock. There is also something very moving, as well as overwhelming, when you find yourself standing before a gathered group of nearly one hundred folks—family friends, who have journeyed near and far in order to be with your family for a celebration.
A very humbling moment indeed.

This is a copy of the “toast” I offered on behalf of Brenton’s dad, Gregory (he just gets too emotional at such moments–remember, I am the rock), and myself as we brought our magical evening to a close. I think I echo the words of most parents out there who find themselves in the position of offering their child, who has suddenly grown up, to another person and family–while, in turn, welcoming another individual and family into their family.
It’s all a matter of transition. . .

And as this special day of ours fell on the 70th anniversary of D Day—-I took the opportunity, before beginning my little “talk”, by offering a brief history lesson—which was geared especially to all the young people gathered in, of all places, a restaurant named Churchill’s in a banquet room known as Number Ten Downing, who I think all need a good dose of reminding of such a monumentally perilous and heroic moment in the history of the free world. . .leave it to the teacher in me. . .

As most of you who know me, know that I express myself best through the written word, tonight shall prove no differently.

Again, Gregory and I would like to thank each of you for making the journey here to Savannah this weekend. We would also like to thank you for making this journey with us a parents—Each and every one of you has had a hand in helping to raise these two very precious individuals who are seated here in this room this evening. Had it not been for all of you and of the role you’ve played in the lives of both Brenton and Abby, this joyous weekend, possibly, may not have ever taken place.

As a teacher, I was always keenly aware of the importance of the role I had in helping to raise children other than my own. It was a role I took very seriously for over 30 years of my life. It is for that very reason that Gregory and I are both so truly grateful to all of you here with us this evening.

I am also keenly aware of those individuals who had a hand, either directly or indirectly, in and with the lives of Brenton and Abby— who are no longer physically with us —in particular Abby’s dad Chris, as well as for my mom Mary Ann and my Uncle Paul.

I don’t know if this was true for any you parents or not, but I believe that when we, as new parents, first hold our freshly delivered baby in our arms, we immediately begin planning.
Planning an illustrious future.
We immediately begin planning when our child will walk.
We plan what sports he or she will play.
We plan their academic success, we plan what college they’ll attend and chances are, we plan their career choice…

We also, no doubt, immediately begin planning, or at least imagining, their wedding.
Who will they meet?
Who will they fall in love with?
Will they have to endure broken hearts?
Will they be happy?

Life and parenthood is truly all about planning.
Planning for ourselves as well as planning for our children.

But as any parent in this room will testify—all that planning can just be thrown out the window because no child will ever live according to the plans or the schedules of any well-intentioned or well-organized parent.

Yet nevertheless, plan I did.

I cannot speak to the parents who have raised multiple children, as Brenton is our only child.
And it should be noted that there is a lot of pressure on only children. They fortunately or unfortunately receive all, and I mean all, of their parent’s love, attention, and planning.

Follow all of that with telling folks your mom’s a teacher and you may multiply that planning and attention by at least a million.

From the time Brenton was born, it was happily always the three of us. We went everywhere and did everything together as a family. The first time Gregory and I ever went away on a weekend trip together, Brenton was a junior high school. I won’t talk about the destroyed freezer, the burn marks on the patio, or the exceeded limit to the “guests” at the house that weekend but just know that the three of us were pretty much a team for most of Brenton’s life.

And in the back of my mind, I always imagined who would one day come into our lives to make our team of 3 a complete team of 4.

So not only was I always planning and imagining, I was always praying.
Praying that God would bring the right girl, one day, into Brenton’s life.

I think He’s certainly answered that prayer.

Not being one who can speak to quick proposals, as my mother would have been the first to tell you, I couldn’t say a word when after only a brief courtship, Brenton told his dad and I that he had found “the one” and wanted to propose to Abby.

The flip side to a quick proposal has been the length of the engagement. Of which I think their friends have begun teasing them, but of which I have found to be a blessing as they have had ample time in the sorting out process.

I like to think that if they’ve made it this far– through the trials of growing together as a couple, having shared joint custody of their beloved Alice, their very sweet black lab, as well as having struggled with schooling, job searches, finding a new home and discovering who they are as both individuals as well as a couple,
then maybe, they are indeed ready for a life as two verses life as one.

We have been truly blessed welcoming Abby to our team of three, as she completes the missing piece of the puzzle, making our family a complete team of four.
The daughter we do not have.

I would like to conclude with a reading taken from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who lost his life at the Flossenbürg Death Camp in 1945. This excerpt is taken from his Letters and Papers from Prison

Marriage for God
“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7)
In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive.
Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as your are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
From the first day of your wedding till the last the rule must be: “Welcome one another. . .for the glory of God.”
That is God’s word for your marriage. Thank God for it; thank God for leading you thus far; ask God to establish your marriage, to confirm it, sanctify it, and preserve it. So your marriage will be “for the praise of God’s glory”

AMEN.

To Brenton and Abby