without excuse

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
his eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20 NIV


(a wagon of days gone by / Cables Mill, Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2020)

“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable.
It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief –
that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us
and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.

Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God.
The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him.
As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him.
We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

revelations

It’s hard for us who live in the West twenty centuries later to appreciate the
meaning of the Book of Revelation.
Our first tendency is to simply plug what we read into our own experiences
without rolling up our sleeves, getting down on our knees,
and trying to understand what it meant back then.

Dr. Scott Hahn
from The End: A Study of the Book of Revelation


(Cades Cove, Cable grist mill / Julie Cook / 20202)

The Book of Revelation has not only a past fulfillment but also an ongoing
fulfillment throughout Christian history.
The fulfillments can be multiple, ever-increasing, escalating, and enlarging.
At some point in the future there will be an even more magnificent
fulfillment of Revelation than there was back in 70 AD.

Dr. Scott Hahn
from The End: A Study of the Book of Revelation

Each man is good in His sight

I am a red man.
If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have
made me so in the first place.
He put in your heart certain wishes and plans,
in my heart he put other and different desires.
Each man is good in his sight.
It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows.

Sitting Bull


(A crow perches in a tree in Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mts National Park / Julie Cook / 2020)

Native American Indians always believed that spirits resided in the beings of
the creatures of the earth…all the way from the mighty bison and bear
to the majestic eagle, the stealthy wolf all the way down to the lowly turtle and snake.

Each animal and creature was aforded various human-like traits.
They protected or watched over the one who claimed them as a ‘spirit guide’
Imparting power to the one they protected or looked over.

One such spirit was that of the crow or raven.
The bird was known as a trickster or prankster,
the mischievous one.

Years ago we took our son, who was about 9 at the time, on a vacation that had us
heading west.
West to places like New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and then up towards
Montana and South Dakota.

Places that a Georgia born native son needed to see and experience.

We stopped at places like the Painted desert, the Badlands, Yellowstone,
the Grand Canyon—we went to cities and towns such as Taos, Sante Fe, Cody,
Salt Lake City, Logan, Cheyenne, Jackson Hole…
while visiting various Pueblos, Reservations, monuments, churches, museums
and national parks…

And yet in all that mighty and grand greatness, there was one small thing that caught
both our eyes.

It was something vastly different from the beautiful landscapes found around this
great nation of ours.

We were each drawn to something that was small yet skillful.
Tiny yet intriguing.

As the art teacher, I was drawn like a magnet to the inticracy…
As a young boy, my son was drawn, as most young boys would be, to all
things of imagination and of cowboys and indians.

The draw you ask…???
They were small tiny stone carvings by Zuni indians known as a fetish.

Tiny carvings of animals created in stone, fossils and shells.
Each held in the palm of one’s hand.

According to the Black Arrow Gallery:
Fetishes, charms, amulets, or simply good luck pieces, call them whatever you would like,
but virtually every culture has them. Fetishes are small carvings made from various materials
by many different Native American Tribes.
These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons
integral to their culture.
As a form of contemporary Native American Art they are sold with non-religious
intentions to collectors worldwide.

Origianal fetishes are no longer available for purchase as they are considered
museum worthy.
Yet there are some very well known tribal artists who continue to create these tiny
artistic treasures to sell.
And the better known artists and their art carvings fetch high prices.

During our trip, as a rememberance from this particular vacation,
my son and I each bought a few affordable carvings.
We were told that the fetish would choose the buyer.
Each fetish supposedly possessed certain characteristics and traits
which would draw the buyer.

Well, I was drawn to several.
A bear, a beaver and yes, a crow.

Crows and Ravens are birds of a feather…with ravens being of the larger feather.
So my crow was most likely a raven…but it was still a small marble black bird
with two turquoise eyes.

Again, according to the Black Arrow Gallery:
The raven is not a traditional fetish but he is carved often, and beautifully,
by a number of artists.
Some artisans will put a stone in the raven’s mouth.
He is generally carved of jet or black marble though he can appear in virtually
any stone of the artist’s choosing.
While considered somewhat of a prankster, he doesn’t have the negative characteristics
associated with the coyote.
The raven can help us work through failure and short-comings by reminding
us that anything we have the courage to face, we have the power to transform.

I imagine that the reason crows / ravens were afforded a place at the tribal table was
in part due the fact that these birds are actually very intelligent.

Those who study crows and ravens know that these birds have a language of calls all their own.
They can actually communicate with one another.
They also have keen memories and have been known to bring “gifts’– various sparkly
found objects to humans who interact with them.

I have had a long love-hate relationship with crows.

I find them irritating when they gang attack a hawk who flies
into their territory.
I’m not a fan of gang activity.
However, I imagine that there is some sort of perceived threat
when a bird of prey intercepts one’s private airspace…I digress.

And yet I love throwing out stale bread for the crows to come gather.
They will often wake me at dawn with their loud raucous caws as
they swoop into a tree outside our bedroom window where the
bread still sits from the prior evening.

So reading the wisdom of Sitting Bull in today’s quote, I am reminded of
that song sung in many a child’s church chapel…Jesus Loves the Little Children

Written by C. Herbert Woolston and George F. Root.

According to hymntime.com
Words: C. Her­bert Wool­ston (1856–1927).
Wool­ston was one of George Root’s fa­vo­rite lyr­i­cists.
Child­ren oft­en sing just the re­frain, which is a song all to itself!

Music: George F. Root, 1864, Root orig­in­al­ly wrote this tune for the Am­er­i­can ci­vil
war song Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.

Jesus calls the children dear,
Come to Me and never fear,
For I love the little children of the world;
I will take you by the hand,
Lead you to the better land,
For I love the little children of the world.

Refrain

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,

All lives matter…both living and yet born.
All lives matter… each man, woman and child…no matter their color or race.
For all are not only good, but rather are most
precious to our God, our Father and Great Creator.

It just takes a crow to remind us of such.


(a camera friendly crow / Cades Cove, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2020)

even when you’re down, look up

“A people who do not honor the deeds of their worthy dead
will do nothing worthy of being honored by their descendants.”

Macalay


(a weathered tombstone, Myers Cemetery, Townsend, TN / Julie Cook / 2020)

It was hot, nearing 90, as the sun beat down on our backs.
The bugs certainly weren’t bothered by the heat as they swarmed around our faces.
My husband kept slapping at his legs to fend off the ravenous bites.

On this particular July 4th, 2020 we found ourselves wandering around the oldest cemetery
in this particular part of Tennessee—
Myers Cemetery in the small sleepy town of Townsend, Tennessee.

Townsend boasts being the quiet side of the Smokies…
a far cry from nearby Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.

We like quiet.

Townsend is one of the gateways to The Great Smokey Mountains National Park…
in particular the gateway to Cades Cove—
One of the first mountain settlements by white European immigrants in what was
originally a part of the Cherokee Nation.

Myers cemetery dates back to 1795, if not even years before.
There are approximately 300 graves, many unknown, and even many unmarked.
Out of the approximate 300 marked graves,
75 graves belong to children under the age of 12.

There was the bittersweet double tombstone of twins born in 1805—
each living 4 and 5 days respectively.

Sheep and lambs that rest atop tombstones, denote the graves of children.

Even the small etched hand, held within a larger hand.

But many of the oldest graves simply have a single stone or piece of slate marking one’s place.

And so when I saw the worn weathered marker of a hand with a finger pointing upward, I couldn’t
help but see the significance that even in death, we are reminded our hope and help
comes from above.

So as we find ourselves currently gripped by all sorts of angst, sorrow, fear and the unknown on this earth, it is here in a quiet mountain cemetery , walking amongst the long dead, that I am pointedly reminded that even in death,
we are to always look up…

“We must pray literally without ceasing— without ceasing—
in every occurrence and employment of our lives…
that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation,
or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant
communication with Him.”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121

Sin and Confession

“No conflict is more pivotal to the heart and soul of America than the sin battle.”
David Fiorazo

“If forces of sexual deviancy prevail, every part of our culture will be corrupted
and contaminated beyond repair…
Religious principle, tolerance, and rights of conscience mean nothing to pro-sodomy advocates.
They will remorselessly crush anyone and anything that gets in their path…
In their quest for cultural domination,
they will relentlessly extinguish the light of sexual normalcy and morality,
as well as the light of Christianity.”

Bryan Fischer
former Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association


(fungus growing on a fallen tree / Cades Cove, TN / Julie Cook / 2018)

Sin.

It’s a word that we take for granted yet it is a word whose actions are destroying us.
For we are its actions and we seem not to even care.

Our culture has opted to expunge the word from our vocabulary while blindly
embracing its very nuances.

And what of the Chruch?

She is either impotently silent or either she busies herself by embracing those
very nuances in order to appear more viable, more likable, more cultural.

And yet sadly, once again, we hear of the scandal and predation from those very
souls who are entrusted to represent this bride of Christ, the Church.

We are betrayed.
We are complicit.
We are quiet.
We are culpable.

The following quote by the martyred Confessing Church pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer could have
easily been stated today rather than 78 years ago.

Bonhoeffer was speaking of Nazi Germany and of the German Lutheran Chruch’s blood
it bore upon it hands… but his words could readily speak to us today…
speaking to the Catholic Chruch, the Anglican and Episcopal Church, the Methodist Chruch,
the Presbyterian Church…
his words could be directed to most of us who claim to be Christians of the 21st century.

We the church must confess that we have not proclaimed often or clearly enough
the message of the One God who has revealed Himself for all time in Christ Jesus,
and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself.

She must confess her timidity, her cowardice, her evasiveness and her dangerous concessions.

She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was
crying aloud to heaven.
The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force,
the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people,
oppression, hatred, and murder.

And that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims.
And has not found a way to hasten to their aid.
The church is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers
of Jesus Christ.
The church must confess that she has desired security and peace, quiet,
possession, and honor to which she has desired security and peace, quiet, possession,
and honor to which she has no right.
She has not born witness to the truth of God and by her silence,
she has rendered herself guilty,
because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1940

Bishop Gavin Ashenden has recently addressed the tragic issue of predation in the church
and of the current need for the Chruch to speak up while she owns up to her responsibility–
finally speaking the Truth while she gets busy with a much-needed Spring cleaning…

Gay predators, telling the truth and spring-cleaning the Church.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sine that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

Hebrews 12:1

living for what?

Everything in this world will pass away.
In eternity only Love will remain.

Pope Benedict XVI
from An Invitation to Faith


(detail of shelf fungs / Cades Cove, TN / Julie Cook/ 2018)


(shelf fungus circles a cut log / Cades Cove, TN,
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park/ Julie Cook/ 2018)

“He who wishes for anything but Christ,
does not know what he wishes;
he who asks for anything but Christ,
does not know what he is asking;
he who works, and not for Christ,
does not know what he is doing.”

St. Philip Neri

glimpses of the rising

“For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes
to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.”

Brennan Manning,
Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging


(blooming clover / Cades Cove, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN / Julie Cook / 2018)

“Think, dear friends,
how the Lord continually proves to us that there will be a resurrection to come,
of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising him from the dead.
Contemplate the resurrection that is always going on.
Day and night declare the resurrection to us.
The night sinks to sleep, and the day rises;
the day departs, and the night comes on.
Look at the crops, how the grain is sown:
the sower goes out and throws it on the ground, and the scattered seed,
dry and bare when it fell on the ground, is gradually dissolved.
Then out of its disintegration the mighty power of the Lord’s providence raises it up again,
and from one seed come many bearing fruit.”

St. Clement

we are your people

“Let all nations know that Thou art God alone,
and that Jesus Christ is Thy Son,
and that we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.”

— St. Clement


(image in Cades Cove, The Great Smoky Mountians National Park, TN /
the lingering morning clouds and mist help give these mountians their name as smoky mountians)

**I’m currently in Atlanta for a few days visiting “The Mayor”…aka babysitting.
We took the show on the road and have a nice “new” Woobooville setup, complete with a new
constituency… Madomeillse Spindly Legs (aka a flamingo in a pink tutu), Piglet, Pooh bear
and Sophie the Giraffe. The office is full and things remain busy…as so it seems with most mayors.

Heading back home Friday so I may be a bit in and out…
The Mayor tends to keep me very busy…

hope in the face of death and evil

As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of
eternal life and holiness.
And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in His cross
and resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life,
nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence,
it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering;
the light of salvation.
Pope John Paul II (Salvifici Doloris)


(the grave of an infant, Hazel Ivaleen Garland born and died Dec 27, 1914, Cades Cove Methodist Chruch)

Today, I had tagged along with my husband as he went down to check on his deer property about
an hour south of home.
And you must note that this is deer property and not dear property…
but perhaps the deer are dear to him…

As I was perched on the back of a 30-year-old Honda four-wheeler, sitting on the “luggage bars”
hanging on for dear life, I felt each rock and downed limb while riding along
the rutted and washed out pig trails…

Bouncing up and down while holding on with one hand while swatting down the spider webs
with the other, webs we kept managing to run smack dab in to…webs strung across the paths
each filled with a giant brown spider sitting in the center hoping for passing insects and
not swatting humans…all the while dodging the saw-briars and
bramble vines readily tearing into any exposed skin…my mind started to wander.

My husband has had this land throughout most of our 35-year marriage…
So to say that I’m pretty familiar with its nuances…its creeks, streams,
woods, and fields would be an understatement.

I thoroughly enjoy traversing such areas…be they close to home or much further away.

Today I thought back to when I rode my aunt on these pig trails in my husband’s Polaris…
think glorified golf cart for hunters but with an engine.

Living in south Florida as she did, being afforded the adventure of riding the trails
on some woodsy and quite hilly property was a real treat.
She’d hold on, like a kid, as we scooted up and down in the middle of nowhere,
enjoying every minute.

I felt warm tears forming while I was still holding on for dear life thinking back over
the adventure I’d shared with her…here.

Obviously, I miss my aunt.
The only member I had left to mother’s branch of my life’s tree.

As there is just so much of what I mindlessly do day to day that my aunt had most often
been along doing with me…going through my mindless motions most often right by my side.

So when suddenly that person who just seemed to always be there is no longer there, well
every little reminder is like those briars…just ready to prick the flesh of the heart.

These thoughts circled through my head as I had just earlier seen a breaking news story
that authorities in Iowa believed they found the body of the young college girl Molly Tibbets
who has been missing now for a month.

And immediately following that breaking news came the news of a more local story
about a missing young college grad who’d gone kayaking on a family camping trip last week
at West Point Lake and whose body was recovered today from what authorities are now saying
was a suicide.

Families, friends, and entire communities now must deal with the haunting questions…
the what ifs, the would haves, should haves, could haves all of the unknown.

And so it seems that today I am reminded, be it for good or bad, of death and evil…
as they just so often seem to walk hand in hand.

Death, loss and the looming presence of evil, that is so often connected to such,
are often the game breakers of people’s faith.

Even the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrestled with the same quandary and seeming
madness over the death of his wife as he riled at God for the loss while famously
lamenting…
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms…
But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain,
and what do you find?
A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.”

Yet over time, Lewis came to realize that God’s love remains a constant whereas life
is what remains in a constant state of flux.

On our recent trip to the mountains and that of Cades Cove, I mentioned that we visited
the old Methodist Chruch that has existed in the cove since the early 1800’s.
The old cemetery still stands and I’ve learned that living relatives of those original
founding families may still be buried in the Chruch’s cemetery if they so wish.

Surveying the tiny little cemetery, whose markers date back to the turn of the century,
I was struck by the smallest of markers…markers I know that denote the graves of children.

For one family alone there were three little headstones all lined up in a row,
each with a little carved lamb sitting on top.


(two of the Sparks family’s infant markers)

This particular collective family lost three infants over an 18 year period.
Many of the infant’s dates denote the birth and death as being the same day.

Life was difficult, precarious and often short back in this lonesome and far removed cove.

I know the pain of loss…but not the same pain and loss of those whose loss has come from
violence and that of pure evil.
Yet what I do know is that all death, and that of the ensuing losses, are all associated
with evil…
because death, the permanent loss of life, is simply the absence of …
with evil being the void.

Robert Velarde from Focus on the Family puts it this way:

Solving the seeming contradiction between a loving God and the reality of evil
is usually referred to as a theodicy.
A theodicy attempts to solve the apparent tensions in what is often termed the problem of evil.
But the problem of evil is really a series of problems.
Like many large problems, sometimes it is helpful to break them down into their components.
Evil, you see, actually extends not only to the moral world, but also to the natural world.
When human beings do bad things to one another, this is moral evil.
But so-called natural disasters are often considered evil as well because of all the
suffering they cause.
Earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, and so forth,
are all examples of what might be termed natural evil.

One helpful approach to solving the problem of evil has to do with defining evil.
Christian thinker Augustine defined evil not as a thing in and of itself,
but as a parasite on good.
Something that is lacking is not a thing in itself.
For instance, if you have a hole in your jacket,
the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking.
Similarly, Augustine considered evil something that is missing.
Indeed, it requires good to exist because it is a parasite.
In this sense, Augustine defined evil as a privation–
a lack of something–rather than a thing or substance.

This solves some important criticisms.
If evil is not an actual thing,
then God cannot be the author of evil.
God is the author of good, but we make moral choices that result in evil.

At some point in all of our lives,
we will be faced with walking through the lonely dark valley of death.
We will hurt and we will raise an angry fist to our unseen God…
some of us will walk away in bitterness and anger while some of us will hold onto the
One who persists in offering saving Grace…despite the pain, the sorrow, the tragedy
of loss, the violence, the accidents, and eventually death…

With the Fall of man…the consequence was not simply pain during childbirth or slithering
snakes or nakedness, nor knowledge…it was and is death.
And in death resides a void of separation…that void is the true consequence.

And in this void of separation precipitated by death, there resides evil…
because a void must be filled…and thus this void was filled by evil.

There was never supposed to be death because death was never God’s intent…
but by offering freewill to the created, the result, as He knew, was inevitable.
And therefore evil filled the void…
the void, created by isolation and separation,
separated the created from the Creator by means of a void.

Enter the necessity of a Savior to bridge the void.

Death and evil will remain on this earth as they fill the void created by a Fall…
yet through God’s Grace found in the sacrifice of Christ…we know death and evil
are not only conquered but actually vanquished…for all eternity.

In her book The Catholic Table–
Finding Joy Where Food and faith Meet
Emily Stimpson Champman sums it up best:

“God revealed to the Israelites why, for all his goodness and the goodness of creation,
things didn’t always seem good. Sickness, death, war, destruction–they didn’t belong to the
original plan. God created man to live in harmony with both him and creation.
But, because God wanted man to love him freely, he gave man free will, the capacity to choose
between God and self. Man chose self, and in doing so, he chose death”

And so we live earthly with our selves and our consequence while knowing there is,
in the end, a beautiful solution.

Special Grace (or a better term Salvific Grace) is the super grace by which God redeems,
sanctifies, and glorifies his people. Unlike ordinary grace, which is universally given,
special salvific grace is bestowed only on those whom God elects to eternal life through
faith in Jesus Christ. (Act 13:48)

excerpt from God’s Ordinary and Salvific Graces

things visible and invisible

From the creed, then, we learn that all creation is caught up in a drama that
sweeps from the beginning of time to its end.
There is a narrative arc to the history not only of humanity,
but of the cosmos—‘all things visible and invisible.’
The cast of this drama includes everyone alive, everyone who ever lived,
and everyone who will live.
All will rise and be judged for the actions and omissions,
small and great, of their everyday lives.

Dr. Scott Hahn
from The Creed


(a fungus among us at Cades Cove, The Great Smoky National Park, TN /Julie Cook / 2018)

“If human beings had really tried to invent a god,
we would never have invented the God of Christianity.
He’s just too terrifying.
Our God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy, and omnipresent.
There’s no place to run and hide from Him,
no place where we might secretly indulge a favorite vice.
We can’t even retreat into the dark corners of our minds to fantasize about
that vice without God knowing it right away.”

Scott Hahn

All images of mushrooms and toadstools–some edible, most not, found in Cades Cove, The
Great Smoky Mountains National Park)