What separates Christians from the rest of the pack…

“Life [had] replaced logic.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky


(a soon to bloom peony / Julie Cook /2018)

The image of the bloom used in today’s post is that of a peony.
I call this peony my resurrection plant because I bought it two summers ago, in July.
It was a very expensive plant.
Yet anyone living in the deep South knows you don’t sink a lot of money into a
plant, dig a hole in the hot dry ground, plop in said expensive plant and expect it to live…
especially in July and especially in a summer experiencing a full-blown drought.

I wrote about this plant last spring and the reason as to why I call it a resurrection plant—
of which you can read from the following link…
but that is not the true gist of today’s post

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/resurrections/

Today’s post is a reminder of what the Resurrection is all about…
and if you are a Chrisitan, it’s a reminder of what that exactly means to you.

The reminder rests in the fact that we’ve just celebrated Easter…

Easter being holiest celebration, besides the birth of Christ, within the Christian Chruch…
Some would argue that it is the sole holiest celebration…but I suppose we can’t have a
resurrection of our Savior without his immaculate conception and birth…
all of which supersedes the ability of man’s small mind to grasp and process…
hence so much of the consternation in mankind since that very first miraculous morning.

After watching the latest edition of Anglican Unscripted featuring our favorite
rouge Anglican Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gavin Ashenden, I’ve come to realize that
there are many in our fold who really don’t know what they think about
the Ressurection…
And what is even more startling, many members of the clergy don’t quite
know what to make of it either…

In a nutshell, it is the what which separates Christianity from every other religion.

How in the world can you offer anyone, let alone speak of such things as
Hope, Salvation, Grace, if you can’t find the words to say that you believe, without
a doubt, in the Ressurection of Jesus?

You can’t.

Because the Resurrection is the defining key to our faith.
It is the impetus to faith…the belief in that which is a mystery, undefinable,
and greater than oneself.

Without the Resurrection,
Christianity is nothing… nor is it any different from a myriad of other belief systems.

C.S. Lewis explained this very point in 1950

I heard a man say,
“The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival,
evidence that the human personality survives death.”
On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men,
the difference being that in Christ’s ease we were privileged to see it happening.
This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought.
Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened.
Christ had defeated death.
The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.
This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival.
I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost-survival.
On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion,
Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost.
The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection
as something totally different and new.
The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death;
they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe.
Something new had appeared in the universe:
as new as the first coming of organic life.
This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse”.
A new mode of being has arisen.
That is the story.
What are we going to make of it?
The question is, I suppose,
whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis.
That hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe,
down to manhood—and come up again, pulling it up with Him.
The alternative hypothesis is not legend, nor exaggeration, nor the apparitions of a ghost.
It is either lunacy or lies.
Unless one can take the second alternative (and I can’t) one turns to the Christian theory.

C.S. Lewis,
“What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” (1950)

So if you claim to be a Chrisitan and yet find yourself unable to acknowledge the mystery
and the might behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you need to rethink your allegiance.
And if you are a member of the clergy and find the words and concept uncomfortable,
you need a new profession because the calling, was not for you….

just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

parched

I am the vessel.
The draft is God’s.
And God is the thirsty one.

Dag Hammarskjold

dscn4640
(It is so dangerously dry as we have had no rain since the first of June that even the springs and creek beds, deep in the woods which are always full of flowing waters, are dry and empty / Julie Cook / 2016)

Dry and dusty are the muffled cries of the earth…
which now aches and groans.

The Creator has spoken and yet man’s ears have grown deaf
All the while the faithful are left to wonder…

Man readily dismisses any sign, any reminder of God’s sacred word..

Are the waters now dry?
Do the rocks quiver and shake?
Have the seas overtaken the land?
Are the stars falling from the sky?
Have the storms blotted out the sun…
As man turns away from his God?

May my longing and my thirst,
that only seems to increase during these waning days,
be quenched by You and You alone oh Lord…

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.
I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.
I am ashamed of my lack of desire.
O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing;
I thirst to be made more thirsty still.
Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed.
Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.
Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’
Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up
from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”

A.W. Tozer

erosion

Today’s average American is more apt to rebel against a tennis shoe
not coming in the right color than against the slow erosion
of our democratic freedom.

Marianne Williamson

DSCN3672
(a major project at home/ red Georgia clay / Julie Cook / 2016)

It’s not the moon.
It’s not some foreign land
It’s not a desert….

Yet it feels very much like a desert.
Dry
Rocky
Dusty
With deadly heat radiating up and off.

This forbidding alien landscape, however, is merely an excavated and grated bank in our yard.
Remember our yard is a former pasture.
This is a large, long, dry, hot, rocky bank.
A daunting side project…a resulting spill off project, stemming from a larger project.
A side project, now a major project, demanding immediate attention.

There has been no rain…
Zero…
Nothing of consequence in over a month.
The word drought comes to mind….
And with a large mountain and wall of dirt needing covering….
I am concerned…

If it’s not planted or covered soon, any thunderstorm could spell disaster.

High winds could wickedly whip up the dirt with destructive results.
A downpour would turn a dirt bank into a raging red river of mud.

The only solution is to plant some sort of erosion barrier.
Planting bushy shrubs, adding low growing spreading plants, a few small tress…
and lots and lots of pine straw.
Then the watering upon watering as no real rain is in sight…

A lot of work, but necessary to stop destructive erosion.

After having had a little chat with my fellow southern blogging buddy Wally,
over on Truth in Palmyra ( https://truthinpalmyra.wordpress.com ),
regarding my dilemma of having to get this bank planted,
Wally jokingly told me “whatever you do, don’t plant kudzu!”

Any true southerner knows kudzu.

That noxious weed-like vine that covers the south like….well…
journalists covering this current election business…
Fast,
zealous,
and suffocating….

1gQMyk.So.79
(Image courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader)

It was just a matter of time I suppose…
Time before a Southerner, such as myself, should bring up our dirty little secret…

Kudzu.

According to Wikipedia…
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is an invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (610 km2) annually, “easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually”. This claim, however, has recently been disputed, the United States Forest Service estimating an increase of only 2,500 acres per year. Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences. This has earned it the nickname, “The vine that ate the South”.

The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches, and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended the use of kudzu to help control erosion of slopes which led to the government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government-funded plantings of kudzu which paid $19.75 per hectare. By 1946, it was estimated that 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of kudzu had been planted. When boll weevil infestations and the failure of cotton crops drove farmers to move from rural to urban districts, kudzu plantings were left unattended. The climate and environment of the Southeastern United States allowed the kudzu to grow virtually unchecked. In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from a list of suggested cover plants and listed it as a weed in 1970. By 1997, the vine was placed on the “Federal Noxious Weed List”.Today, kudzu is estimated to cover 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land in the southeastern United States, mostly in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi.

Back in the day, kudzu seemed like a good idea…
It was going to help,
Yet it was left unchecked,
It got out of control…
and now it’s a disaster…

Oddly, or rather with impeccable timing… the morning I was to focus on my sea of red dirt, the morning’s reading was Luke 8:4-15
the parable about the Sower…

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable:
The seed is the word of God.
Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

A morning’s parable, a Heavenly word,
coupled with a giant massive dry area of red dirt needing attention….
was not lost on my thoughts.

I wondered what it is that I was currently doing to stop any erosion of my heart, of my faith, of my spirit and soul…especially in light of the current raging tempests in this world…

The daily assault of violence and hatred…the insidious seducing of our weary psyches by our ancient adversary…the twists and turns of what seemed to be truth now offered up as the placating lies of self.

What of those painfully dry periods of life…those times of isolation, loneliness, emptiness…

Was I allowing the storms of terrorism, violence, and hatred to batter an unprotected, unprepared,
dried-up and dusty spirit?
Had I allowed God’s words to spill forth, only to fall upon a hardened dried-up heart?
Had I prepared, shoring up my faith?
Had I nurtured the faith…
protecting it,
watering it,
fertilizing it…
Had I cared for it in the quiet and calm times, readying it and myself, so that there would be a reservoir of strength and plenty in now this time of grave uncertainty?

And lastly I wondered if I had nurtured that spiritual relationship, that inextricable bond between Creator and created… had I spent, do I spend, the same sort of time and energy on that relationship, because that’s what it is—a relationship, as I was now spending and investing in and on this red bank rising before me….

So much now needing attention, as I grabbed a shovel under a relentless baking sun…

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Corinthians 10:13

Succulent yet tenacious

“Nourish your eye and spirit with inspiring things. They will bloom with your tending.”
S.A.R.K
IMG_0547
(a beautiful tray of succulent plants from the local home improvement store / Julie Cook / 2014)

The word succulent conjures up images of plump juicy, as well as sweet, leaves from such plants as the aloe and the agave, as well for most other sorts of cacti. The obvious object of the thick plump leaves is for the storage of water, as these plants are accustomed to living in very arid, hot, desert like environments. This built-in self watering system makes them rather indestructible as house plants for these plants are most forgiving when a regular watering is inadvertently forgotten.

They are not tall showy plants, boasting vibrant blooms, but are rather short and stocky bloomless alien looking vegetation. They often sport such comical names as hens and chicks and lamb’s tails. Appearing in a wide range of colorful tuberous leaves, many varieties often form beautiful patterns with their concentric circles of leaves.

Succulents may appear to be the more lazy of the plant world as they just simply seem to sit around not doing much. Not all of them bloom or produce flowers. They don’t grow very large in stature and they require very little maintenance, often appearing dormant or even dead.

Yet they are a tenacious lot.

They are not faint of heart as they stand up to extreme heat and drought. They can handle being ignored and often forgotten. They are the type of plant that can certainly take a licking as they simply keep on ticking—they have been around for thousands of years. It is said that a single particular little succulent plant, living at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, dates back to 1780.

There is much to be learned from a succulent, or cactus:
They are self preserving (they gather everything they need, storing it for later)
They are self defending (the prickly varieties)
They can be self healing (as well as healing to others, as in aloe)
They can self nourish (they draw from their stored resources, think of sweet agave sugar)
They hold up under pressure (how well do you do in 120 degrees with a 4 percent rainfall total?)
They hold up under extreme heat (again, back to that 120 thing)
They hold up during the dry spells of life.

So it is, on this new day to this new week of this new season of life, that perhaps we should be mindful of the lowly cacti and succulent. Most often over looked at the garden center.
This hardy bunch of little stumpy leaved plants usually sit off to the side, pushed away making room for the rows and rows of garish flowering plants and shrubs–all as we make a mad rush wanting to purchase the more showy colorful plants as we ready our yards and gardens.

In the long run, which plant out lasts the others?

Those pretty boastful show plants most often need constant pampering and babying. Just the right amount of fertilizer, just the right amount of water–too much or too little and death is quickly at hand. We fret who will water the plants during our time away. Many of these plants are annuals, simply good for a single season which can equate to a costly endeavor.

On the other hand, there is the lowly succulent and the cactus. . .they are hardy, forgiving, tenacious, self sufficient, colorful–yet juicy, sweet, plump and long lasting. A rather good combination for endurance and some rather good attributes to attach to living a productive and prosperous life. We can learn much from these humble plants.

Here is to the succulents and cactus, those lowly and most overlooked of plants, yet some of the most hardy plants to have at home in the garden.
Happy Spring and happy planting. . .

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson