Oh really?

“Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God,
nor is He the best of several ways;
He is the only way.”

A. W. Tozer


(The Stoning of St Stephen by Rembrandt who just happens to make a small cameo appearance in the scene…the awkward face peeking out from just under the raised arm
of the man with the large stone / 1625 / Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon, France

Day before yesterday I wrote a post featuring a story about the first Christian
martyr– Stephen.

I gave a bit of the back story behind what led to Stephen’s martyrdom.
We learned that Stephen would not back down from his conviction of belief even
when faced with his own imminent demise.
He wasn’t about to start back peddling when he knew what the Truth of life
and living actually was all about…despite facing a horrific death.

That truth which was the chief cornerstone to Stephen’s very existence, was a living
and breathing knowledge of God as Father and Christ as Son
and the Spirit as mediator.

Stephen did not waiver or waffle nor did he mince his words to the those in authority
as to what his life’s choice would be…and that was to stand as a man who believed
in Jesus Christ as both his Lord and Savior….there was no thought of cost or hurt feelings or loss…

And yet the cost for him was pretty tremendous as far as the world was concerned..
It cost Stephen his earthly life.

Not his friends, not his job, not his security, not his comfort, but his life.

Conviction….a fixed or firm belief..

Stephen had such conviction.

So yesterday I came across a story in the news about a college in the Oxford
University system there in England that banned a campus Christian organization
from participating in a welcoming fair for the incoming freshman class.

Another rampant example of waffling and wavering.

I can remember when I was a college freshman.
I recall that near ecstatic level of excitement of all that was new.
New faces, new places, new friends, new opportunities…
With some of those opportunities being right up my alley and some of them not…

And isn’t that what something like this is all about…the choices offered to us?
We pick and choose…what looks appealing while discarding that which does not.

Life is like that sort of endless buffet of picking and choosing is it not?
Yet what happens when that buffet is gravely limited due to others deciding options
should not be made available.
It is then that the buffet becomes something very different from
a buffet—it becomes more of a pre fixed plate of flavorless offerings.

The opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth becomes near stagnant
when the powers that be decide the masses might just become too dangerous if they
are given too much choice.

When only the few decide for the many that the freedom of choice and the ability
of personal decision should be a limited offering, then there is no true human growth.

A college of Oxford University banned a student Christian group from appearing at a freshman fair out of fear it would lead to “alienating” students who practice other religions.

Yet did they opt to ban the Jewish organizations, perhaps b’nai b’rith?
What of the Muslim organizations?
Perhaps any sort of pagan organization?
What of the Buddhists?
What of any political organizations?

Here is the reasoning….if one can call such reasoning rational thought….

The Christian Union of Oxford’s Balliol College was initially banned by an
event organizer who felt students might feel “unwelcome” due to what he calls
the Christian religion being “an excuse for homophobia and neo-colonialism,”
The Times of London reported.

Potts added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has
been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice,
and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

At last check, there is a massive difference between something perceived as a
phobia, or irrational fear, verses simply following the tenants of one’s faith.

“Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians,” Potts said, according to The Telegraph.

Ahh, so the issue here is now of overcompensation…
the act of apologizing, once again, on behalf of a past time period…
an act that is neither productive or even necessary as we are not them and they
were not us…as in days gone by….

A time period that is far removed from modern times—

So are those mutton chop young men of all things British Academia,
say the 17th and 18th centuries, during the reign of monarchs who were setting
sail in exporation in the name of the Crown, are those such young men still haunting the halls of places such as Oxford or Cambridge….I think not.

And last I checked, if I wanted to attend school in say Beijing or Riyadh,
I think I would be hard pressed in either city on finding an openly Christian place to
worship…and I would certainly not be surprised at such as neither of these cities
have a deep Christian heritage as say England—- quiet the contrary in fact.

So is this particular school spokesperson suggesting that a predominately historical Christian country, such as England, should now do away with its own heritage in order to bend over backwards…
doing away with Christian houses of worship in order to construct more mosques as a
form of overt appeasement or as some sort of welcome mat?

“A spokesperson with the Church of England told The Times that the ban was not
in line with “freedom of religion and belief,” and “is at odds with the kind of society
we are all seeking to promote.”

Finally is there actually a bit of clarity coming from the Church of England…
really???

“Leaders of the Balliol student body reportedly condemned the ban, and passed a motion calling the ban a “violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom,” according to The Daily Telegraph.

Maybe there does remain a few brave souls not afraid and who will not backdown or recant
the Word of God when push comes to shove….

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/10/11/christian-group-at-oxford-university-banned-from-fair-out-fear-it-would-alienate-students.html

Be on your guard;
stand firm in the faith;
be courageous;
be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

lost between the lines

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(leaded bullseye glass, Cobh, Co Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

My glasses broke.
In more places than one….
They are unrepairable and I am in desperate need of being able to see…clearly.

I did however finally manage to find time for an appointment,
which has come none too soon as
I have considered resorting to adding some super glue and or a little duct tape…
My husband, the jeweler who fixes all types of glasses all the time,
has flatly observed that mine are beyond his help…

In about a week I should have a new pair…
A new pair that will not be hanging on by a prayer.
A pair that will free me from tilting my head and listing dangerously too far to the right…
Plus I’m hoping that everything will be much more clear and focused….

If seeing clearly was only so simple for this world of ours…

If this misguided, skewed, and oh so lost world in which we live…
could simply slap on a pair of super corrected glasses…
then maybe, just maybe, things would come into focus…
And that which has become grey, fuzzy and blurred beyond recognition, would be readily and easily discerned.

Instead we are living in a world, a society and a culture that is confused…
As it knows not as to whether it is coming or going…
for we use to know…
right from wrong…
good from bad…
boys from girls…
girls from boys…
light from dark…
up from down…
too much from too little
respect from disrespect
moderate from extreme
kindness from hate
Hope from despair
Truth from lies
God’s word from no word…

for in this blurry, fuzzy, lack of clarity world…
the word of God has been lost between the lines….

“‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
Leviticus 26:40-42

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

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(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane

Looking for something

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go,
take Christ, because He Himself is the way.

Thomas Aquinas

I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.
Geronimo

DSCN0126
(black bear / Ketchikan, Alaska / Gregory Cook / 2015)

As relentless as this heat continues to be. . .
As hot as the southwesterly winds continue to blow, drying out an overtly parched landscape. . .
As that which was once lush now turns yellow, leggy, dry and spent. . .
Our eyes, our thoughts our desires turn toward a blank horizon, scanning the open vista as if looking for the arrival of a long lost love returning after a lengthy absence. . .

It is that certain time of year, of a waning summer, that a lone black bear wanders,
with intense purpose, his territorial domain in search of food. . .
seeking life sustaining fats in order to build protection from the coming winter’s hibernation.

The calendar reminds us that it is only August, the tail-end of a fleeting summer. . .
yet the bear knows that his time is drawing nigh.
Despite the heat, the bugs, the drying and dying of food, the bear must push ever forward as there is an increasing escalation of persistence.
Looking, seeking, searching. . .all with great intensity.
There is a stealthy determination.
Satisfy the need now and the guarantee of survival rests in his favor.
He seeks with purpose.
Each day has a goal. . .that of survival and life.

Do we seek with the same sense of purpose as the bear?
As though our life depended upon it?
Have we ever sought with that same sense of urgency?

We scan the horizon looking for something or someone,
yet we just can’t seem to put our finger on the what or the who of what that might be. . .
Life verses death. . .
Time being of the essence. . .
Yet we just don’t seem to understand. . .

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Once in a blue moon. . .there is clarity

“The moon in her chariot of pearl”
― Oscar Wilde

“What really matters is:—
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”

― C.S. Lewis

DSC02369
(The blue moon of July / Julie Cook / 2015)

This is a tale about dementia, directions, hair and unbelievable clarity.

My dad has never had, in my opinion, a full head of hair.
It was receding and thinning from the day they brought me home from the adoption agency.

I remember when I was young when he’d proudly ask if I liked his hair cut. I’d respond with a big grin that that’s exactly what it was— a, as in single, hair cut.
Somehow he didn’t find the humor in my observation. . .

The past couple of weeks I’ve noted that dad has desperately needed a hair cut.
What hair he has, which mind you isn’t a gracious plenty, has become almost transparent, wispy and strand-like—a bit of an unkept look–as in derelict. It wasn’t helping his appearance that he’d not shaved.

Time and time again Dad has refused to allow me to take him for a hair cut as he simply refuses to leave the house.
Today, that was going to change. . .

The minute I walked in the house yesterday, I told him that we were going for a hair cut, no ifs, ands or buts. . . as in now.
I asked Gloria where the barber was located, thinking I had a vague idea.

As Dad, my aunt and I headed out in search of the barber, I made a left at the red light thinking I knew where were going. . .my first mistake.

“NO,DON’T GO THIS WAY, Dad shouts as if I was driving off a cliff scaring me to death.
“It’s the other way.”
“Really?”
UGH
“Dad, where exactly is this barber. . . I thought it was in the shopping center with the Fresh Market.”
“You go up at the light and turn left and then drive up that parallel road.”

HUH?

First of all, we’re on Roswell Rd–one of the busiest main thoroughfares in Atlanta running north and south through the city, there are millions of lights and intersections and what in the world is running parallel—
“Do you mean Long Island?”
“I don’t know.
Don’t ask me.
I don’t know anything.”

Hummmmm

“Turn at that light.”
Oooookay
“Just go up this road.”
“How far?”
“Far.”
Ugh. . .

Now you need to know that it’s been 30 years or longer since I’ve traversed most of these back roads.
Progress, which I believe is what they call all of this drastic growth and change to the city, all of which now has me painfully scanning for any sort of remembered landmark.
Alarmingly it dawns on me that all my landmarks have been bulldozed.
It is now officially a blind leading the blind sort of quest for the barber.

“Keep going straight, then turn right at the light.”
“Really?”
“Yes”
“Oh I remember that park, that’s where mom played tennis.”
“Yes”
“Go down this road then turn into that shopping center on the right.”
“No, the NEXT entrance”
“Now turn left”
“I SAID LEFT!”
“Okay dad, my God, you’re scared me to death. It’s just the parking lot.”
“It’s up in the little building on the left. . .”

About 20 minutes later we’re back at the house with my very thin, frail, wispy, 87 year old dad looking rather dapper with his fresh cut hair. . .now if only he’d shave. . .

The mind is an amazing thing.
A deeply cavernous 3 pound mass.
The synapsis fire or they don’t.
Memories mix with current events, confusing past with present.
Sequences flow or jumble, starting and stopping.
Faces are recognized or more often than not–there is frustratingly no recognition.
There may be silence or a profession of irrelevant chatter. . .
With what happened 5 minutes prior suddenly forgotten and gone forever
and yet. . .
a backroad path to an obscure little old fashioned barber shop is clear as a bell. . .
Go figure. . .

Clear trust

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie ten Boom

DSC00599
(a dense fog closes in on the light / Julie Cook / 2015)

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it. . .trust.
And we really don’t like trust do we?
Because we’d rather control wouldn’t we?

Because if we control, then we don’t have to trust.
And if we don’t have to trust, then we can just know (perhaps assume) that things are going to be done as we would have them done, as we don’t particularly like having to trust someone else to do what we know is going to be done right, right?

Can we make certain that things are always done right?
Yes, but only if we do them, right?
Because that’s the only way we’d do these things in the first place, as in right, right?
And of course we don’t have to trust ourselves to do things right because we know ourselves and we, only us, know how to do things right, right?
And we don’t have to trust anyone else because we can just do it all ourselves because we always do it right anyway, right?

And of course we’re going to want it to be our way, because our way is really the best way, the right way and the only way. . .right?
Because if we have to leave it to others, then we’d have to trust others to do things and. . .we just don’t “do” trust remember because we “do” control.
We make certain that we will be doing all things, only as we would do them, of which of course, is the right way and the only way. . .right?
Because we’ve always known that if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, right?

And if, say, this something which needs doing, is something that’s to be happening in advance or in the future. . .then the questions begs.. .how do we really know it’s actually going to be happening in the first place?
How do we know it’s really going to take place?
How do we know we’ll actually get to do whatever it is we’re to be doing if it’s in the future, and knowing there’s no guarantee about that whole future business, as it’s in the future, we’ve got problems, right?

And of course the answer to all of this is, we don’t know.
And as we don’t know the future, what we do know is that there are no guarantees in that whole future business. . .
We just simply trust it’s all going to take place.
We simply trust it’s all going to go on like it normally does and normally should.

Which brings us all back around to that word again, trust.

But remember, we don’t like trust, preferring control and yet. . .we have to trust because we can’t see into the future, which in turn means we simply just have to trust we have a future.
We have to trust in what we think is the unknown, because really there’s no other way, right?
So we agree, right?
There’s simply no getting around the fact that we can’t control the future, right?

Well. . .I suppose we certainly think that perhaps we can lay out the ground work to pretty much have the future as we’d like it to be, prefer it to be, hope it to be, guarantee it to be, right?

Yet that whole best laid plans deal really isn’t a guarantee is it?
As this whole life thing is pretty much open to chance right?
Of course we work really hard to lay a plan, plot a course, chart the waters, setting it all into motion. . .we do this for this, then that for that, because it’s all suppose to follow one step right after another. . .falling all into place making certain we get to where we’re going as we had planned right?

That’s control, right?
But life, what’s that?
That is not control.
Life is life and life happens. . . and when life happens control gets jack-knifed and trust shows back up.
Because in essence we really don’t have much control in this life now do we?
Yet we do have trust.
Trust doesn’t get jack-knifed.
It’s just always steadfastly there, waiting in the wings.
Control, not so much.
And here we are, once again, reminded that we don’t really like to trust, preferring to control because we think we can control, control. . .
However we can’t really do that now can we?
So once again, here we are back to trust.

And that’s all God asks in the first place. . .that we put our trust in Him for it is the Lord your God who is in total control. . .and so. . . now we understand, right?
We understand that we need to simply trust because it is God who is in control, not us, and He has asked one simple thing of us. . . “Trust me”

“But blessed is the
one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8