held to a higher standard

“Who stands fast?
Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom,
or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible
action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God- the responsible man,
who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.
Where are these responsible people?”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The notion of being held to a higher standard is a fast and dying concept.

This sad thought came to mind yesterday as I sat on a non-moving interstate with a screaming
3 month old in the back seat.

There were four lanes on this particular stretch of interstate, with a sea of cars and trucks
inching forward here and there by the slightest margins, while drivers kept jockeying for lane
changes.
The jockeying was due to every driver obviously thinking the other lane was actually moving at a
more rapid snail’s pace than their own.

Suddenly a car in the far left lane had the bright idea to cut all the way over,
over the four lanes of jam-packed cars and trucks, making its way to the far-right exit lane
as in right now this very moment…

As in it was suddenly a brilliant idea to stop all four lanes of traffic because this one
selfish bozo was tired of inching.

The tractor-trailer truck behind me was not having it.
He refused to let them in.
And in his defense, this car was being dangerously aggressive in their maneuvering,
giving very little care to anything or anyone around them.

When this car saw that they weren’t going to be allowed to squeeze in, they shot up two spaces
and actually cut off the cars two up from me and proceeded to cut until they flew up the exit ramp…
all the while, an arm was raised out of the open passenger window which was boldly shooting a bird
to each and all.

I use to think we humans were better than this.

Better than this self-centered, defiant, ‘to hell with you’ mentality we have now become so
smugly accustomed to.
A mentality we are readily, happily and eagerly embracing–
not to mention accepting and even expecting.

I was offended and I felt angry.

I could see they were young and of a minority.

And in my having just said that, the PC police out there have just labeled me a bigot, a racist,
probably a homophobic, xenophobic and out an of touch white supremacist right winger.

Shall we talk about labels…?
I digress.

But why should have I felt offended, let alone angry??

Why should I feel mad at someone who was obviously
an obnoxious self-centered thoughtless jerk who gave no-never-mind that they were
putting everyone’s safety in jeopardy just so they could get the hell out of dodge…
not to mention that they were being offensive with the hand gesture.

We use to be better than this right?

And in being better we actually held others up, thinking of one another with a higher
level of esteem and even feeling that we were all being held to a higher standard.

Meaning we should still know better, act better and be better….
but the thing is we aren’t.

Back during a certain day, we were more considerate,
more thoughtful and not so blatantly mean…and heaven’s forbid, blatantly offensive.

We actually use to take things such as politeness, prudence, judiciousness,
expertise, pride in doing one’s best, courtesies and citizenship all for granted.
We were taking all of these characteristics for granted because we simply expected such
from one another.
We were living our lives to those higher standards.

And maybe that’s our problem today.

But why now, why today should any of this be such a problem?
A problem in that we actually once expected more and received more from one another?

Perhaps it’s a problem because our society has become numb and desensitized to what is
offensive, endangering and even uncivil.

It’s as if someone suddenly clicked a switch and all of that changed…we changed.

We use to hold one another to higher standards and we use to hold various professionals to
higher standards.

We use to think of folks like doctors, members of law enforcement, members of the military,
athletes, youth leaders, coaches, members of the clergy, teachers, etc…as exemplary.

These were all folks that should and could always be held to a higher standard.
These folks were to be respected as were their jobs and roles in life.

Be it due to the amount of study or sacrifice that went into their profession…
to the seriousness in which they took their life’s calling…
or maybe simply because theirs was a choice of sacrifice for others.
They gave up their own time and often wellbeing to serve the rest of us.

Whatever the reason, we had a sense of peace with and for these folks.

We respected folks and their positions, their leadership, their expertise, their
learning, their teaching, their care, their giving of self…

But with time, all of that has eroded as scandal upon scandal had chipped away at each
group.

Sexual molestation.
Sexual predation.
Sexual solicitation.
Drug abuse.
Tax evasion.
Embezzling.
Money laundering.
Advantage taking.
Bullying.
Lying.
Cheating.
Abuse.

The sad little list goes on and on.
As we now view these sorts of folks with sideways glances and curious raised eyebrows.

Instead of rising upward or at least expecting to rise upward, we are sinking downward
and we do so with very little thought to it all.

We hear of something scandalous and we are no longer surprised or as outraged
as we once would have been.
We even produce and name television shows over such..as we sickeningly find it all so
entertaining.

And yet movements like all the hashtags, those movements such as #meto,
merely take us from one extreme to another.

And in lies much of our trouble.

We go rabid.

Because it appears as if rationality also left long ago…along with
both its friends esteem and expectation…
leaving us with only reactionary involuntary knee-jerk responses.
And much like wounded animals…we lash out.

We seek to throw scarlet letters on all perceived offenders.
While frantically searching with our spears and pitchforks for any hint of suspicion
in order to toss everyone in the wagon-cart of shame just so we can parade them around
for all to see.

We only thought we left stockades, pillories and public displays of punishment
behind in darker ages.

So is it surprising that we see no real change from the shaming and the shunning?

Instead, we simply become more and more numb.
It’s as if we’ve come to expect the idea of lowliness and rapidly diminishing expectations.
So much so that it is to the point that we are simply full of smugness and apathy.

We assume the worse.
Yet we continue being tolerant and even hungry for more.

However, all is not lost.

I am reminded that our God continues to hold us, his children, to a higher standard.
He’s never wavered in His expectations.

Despite knowing that we will fall…
Knowing that we will fail time and time again…

He continues to point upward rather than downward.
He continues reminding us that so goes the world, we are not to go.

He also expects us to hold those around us upward as well.
‘Sink not into the abyss’ He admonishes us while expecting us to do unto others
as we would wish done to ourselves.

So before we act and react in ways that are lowly, crude, hurtful,
hateful and dare we say evil…
may we remember to keep our standards set higher while never losing sight of
Godly expectations…

“…obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it,
not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor,
but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:22-24

What more can there be?

“There’s more to getting to where you’re going then
just knowing there’s a road.”

Joan Lowery Nixon


(entry way to a home on Mackinac Island, MI / Julie Cook /2017)

Standing in front of the locked gate,
looking through the cascading tunnel of hydrangeas,
one’s view falls upon a single door.

There is much to be assumed by standing on this other side,
this outside of the locked gate.

Whereas there is no sign stating otherwise, most passerbys would assume that
attempting to open the gate would be considered taboo, a violation, a no no.
There is just something there, with the gate and emptiness from the closed
door, that lacks an invitation or welcome or adventure.

Staring at the door, located at the far end of the walkway,
one does not know if there are residents on the opposite side of the closed door.

Is anyone at home?

Those standing at the gate, staring at the door,
have no idea as to what the interior of the home looks like.
Is it pretty?
Does it have a lovely view?
Is it a permanent home or a vacation home?

So many questions and even more assumptions from simply staring through a
narrow opening while standing before a closed gate.

One might assume, given the mystique found in the almost tunnel-like entry
leading to the yard and walkway, that there is something almost
otherworldly here.
One might assume from the location of the house, which sits on the shores
of the great lake, steps from a historic town, that someone rich and or
famous may live here.

Yet no one can really say…

It is a mystery only heightened by the curious yet lovely sweeping floral
entry gate.

The house… could it be actually vacant, even empty…
or perhaps waiting on the market…
Yet the current condition of the exterior does not appear to signal empty.

So given one’s curious thoughts, generated by merely passing by such
a gate to such a home, all the while being given over to the easily assumed and
imaginative wandering of what could be…
all the while the open-ended assumptions seem much greater than the factual…

So why then, when presented with the idea of a God and of the Resurrection of
His son, the Savior…why would anyone simply assume negating such a presentation,
imagining it be impossible and or implausible when totally uncertain about the facts of truth?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16

More than

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,
there can be no more hurt, only more love.

Mother Teresa

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
― C.S. Lewis

“The harder the conflict,
the more glorious the triumph.”

Thomas Paine

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(remnants of Cong Abbey , County Mayo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It whispers across a cool morning breeze…

Do you hear it?

It’s the sound of a thousand and one voices drifting endlessly across the ages.
It’s the mournful cry of a dove at dawn.
It’s the melodic symphony of an unseen orchestra of crickets on a warm summer’s night.

It rides along the ocean’s waves…

Do you see it?

It’s the wonderment you feel as you gaze upon the night sky awash in a million twinkling lights.
It’s the brilliance of color bathed endlessly across a skylit canvas as the sun offers a joyful good morning.
It’s the overwhelming eruption and dazzling display of a myriad of blooming wildflowers in a quiet hidden meadow…

It’s a familiar scent wafting upwards from somewhere unexpectedly…

Do you smell it?

It’s the fresh scent of grass from a newly mowed lawn
It’s the heavy smell of rain riding in on the winds before a storm.
It’s a long lost memory catching you off guard as you suddenly capture a whiff of your grandmother’s home

It races from touch to touch…

Do you feel it?

It’s caught up in the soothing memories from a now distant childhood.
It’s the sudden chill you feel as the sun dips out of sight on a cool fall’s night.
It’s the welcoming comfort found in an offered smile.

It’s much more than ancient history or the crumbling bits of mortar and stone now abandoned and long forgotten…

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(crumbling remains hidden away deep within Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It’s really more like the bits of sand found in your shoe after a walk along the beach…small and tiny, yet largely distracting,
rather uncomfortable and most difficult to ignore

The curious and the tourist alike each pick their way through the labyrinth of time long past, as they wander about pondering and musing what it all meant and wondering where it all went.

Yet you know don’t you….?

You know it never went anywhere.

It’s been here all along.

Buried deep within your heart.

But it was never meant to stay buried or forgotten.

Never meant to be for tourists or the curious to gawk and pick.

It was never meant to crumble nor decay

For it is living and breathing and yearns to be shared

It’s the gnawing ache felt in each beating heart.

It’s that nagging feeling of being out of sorts as your spirit seems lost in the fray.

It’s in the melancholy and sorrow that shadows a seemingly empty day

It’s the longing for home when you’re already there.

A Spirit most holy yet hidden, longs to hide no more.

A Spirit Loving yet concealed, longs to be revealed.

A Spirit Mighty and Great, longs to be proclaimed

You know It don’t you….?

Because It knows you….

Salutations Madame

“And then, just as Wilbur was settling down for his morning nap, he heard again the thin voice that had addressed him the night before.
“Salutations!” said the voice.
Wilbur jumped to his feet. “Salu-what?” he cried.
“Salutations!” repeated the voice.
“What are they, and where are you?” screamed Wilbur. “Please, please, tell me where you are. And what are salutations?”
“Salutations are greetings,” said the voice. “When I say ‘salutations,’ it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.”

― E.B. White

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(images of a praying mantis resting on a sweet bay / Julie Cook / 2014)

How gracious and kind most creatures seem to be upon first meeting.
It all begins with the startling moment of the initial encounter.
There is an equal and somewhat awkward moment of contemplation.
Not so much a confrontation, but more of a cautious observation.
Both parties wary yet curious.

A wide berth is usually offered by both opposing parties.
Plenty of space with the avoidance of claimed territory.
Eyes remain intently locked on one another’s every move.
No one wants any trouble, as the curiosity remains.
A healthy respect provides a safe barrier.

Heads pivot as glances are exchanged
Each partner vies for the best viewing advantage
One scampers under as the other moves in a bit closer
A minuet of odd dance partners befitting an eloquent choreography.
Slow step in, slow step out, turn, up and under all in 3/4 time.

And just when each entity grows more relaxed, more comfortable,
the exchange is suddenly over,
as each individual returns to the world of other.
Appreciation, respect, wonderment and awe,
it all begins with a simple greeting