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

the pace now quickens

Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold…

Provers 8:10

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
1 Timothy 1:7

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(St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Anxious, hurried and apprehensive they race along with nervous urgency
as the pace to the journey suddenly quickens.
The moment has drawn nigh and there is no more time to tarry.
The waiting and watching is over.
The benign prosaic observation is no longer available for causal inspection–
As the air is now heavy with the seriousness of what is soon to take place.

The collision of two opposing forces is eminent.
They had seen it foretold in the star.
Only a few will truly understand the overwhelming magnitude of what is to transpire…
For gravity is laced within the expectation.
Two cosmic energies will collide with such tremendous force that the powerful reverberations will spiral outward, affecting all generations across the chasm of time…

There will be a time for joy to be had…as well as heartfelt offerings, homage and gifts.
The time for merrymaking will be at hand as the celebration and toasting will commence.
Yet the excited announcement of these glad tidings brings with it both joy and heavy consequence…

There will be a time of thankfulness, reverence and tenderness
as Hopefulness joyously arrives.
All the while as radiant Light fiercely pierces the blackened veil.
Yet there will also be lingering repercussions for each and everyone,
as the Prince of Darkness will no longer rest,
not while the baby slumbers sweetly unaware.

So hurry on we all must go with urgency in each and every step.
We travel far and wide this day in haste to meet a King.
Yet with this yearly marking of such a grand and festive event,
as mankind is blindly busy making merry within the merriment,
young and old are naively unaware that Time is almost spent.

So sing your glad tidings this grand and hopeful December day…
hurry your way to the manger bare laying down your peace and praise,
for unto you is born this day a child, a Savior and a King
Yet mindful we must all remain…
for there is one who chooses curses rather than to sing

For he waits in the shadows knowing his time is drawing nigh…
as he plots and he schemes for a “A voice was heard in Ramah
of painful crying and deep sadness:
Rachel crying for her children.
She refused to be comforted,
because her children are dead.”

Jeremiah 31:15

For within the innocence of our heartfelt joy lies a fight for every soul…
as the pace for Mankind’s salvation has quickened as one is now born to carry our load.

“an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, because Herod is starting to look for the child so he can kill him. Stay in Egypt until I tell you to return.”
Matthew 2:13

the hustle and bustle of the 4th Sunday in Advent

Just a hurried line…to tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly “Xmas” racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, “Oh Lor’! They bring religion into everything. Look – they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!”
~ C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, Dec. 29, 1958, p80

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(St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

As Christmas day draws nigh…
As you busy yourself with all that must be done…
As you hurry here and there…
Checking off your list each item one by one…
As you travel… drive, fly, rail, sail and wander your way to there and yon
As you wonder what will fill your day come Friday…
Who will you see, what will you do, where will you be….
Make certain that you stop, standing very still at some point along the way…
Being ever mindful, taking hold of what is at the very heart, the epicenter of this season of merry and bright, waiting and watching…
What it is that makes this season as exciting as it is…
Not the visit from Santa
Not the gifts all wrapped up under a tree
Not the lights nor all the decorations
Not the visits from family and friends..
but rather the something, or more exactly the someone, who makes this all exactly what it is…and that being…
Yeshua ben Yosef…
The Christ…

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.

(Micha 5:2)

Expect. . .

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
Henri Nouwen

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(a wet quince bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Driving on Atlanta’s notorious “top end perimeter, otherwise known as 285. . . the oddly shaped loop which circles around Atlanta proper like a cowboy’s lasso around the neck of a steer, is to any driver, the coming together of the perfect storm.
From stopping suddenly, to herkyily jerkily bolting like a bullet en masse along with tractor trailer trucks, buses, motorhomes, dump trucks, pickup trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, cars and emergency vehicles, all dodging and weaving in a precarious dance between speed, traffic and death is unlike any high stress experience imaginable.
And sadly, it seems as if it is indeed a near or complete death experience, on any given day, for any unfortunate motorist. A sometimes unavoidable necessary evil to traverse.

If it’s not the typical snarl of Atlanta’s Rush Hour, which begins around 5AM or better, lasting until around, say the lunchtime hour, only to ramp back up around 2:30 and lasting somewhere between 7 and 8 PM. . .throw in an accident and the constant ongoing road construction or frustratingly the added construction of the Braves brand new state of the art baseball stadium, any time spent on this particular interstate is truly a white knuckle adventure to say the least.

So imagine my double take this morning as I was barreling making my death defying peaceful morning commute into town to Dad’s when glancing, ever so quickly, over at one of those large electronic roadwork signs perched over the interstate which flashed, not the speed limit, not the travel time between the next conjoining piece of interstate but rather flatly reading. . .
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

WHAT? I quickly glanced back over to the sign but the sign was now about a mile behind me as I was keeping up with the manic flow. . .
What a novel thought.
Pertinent information such as weekend hours of construction, lane shift dates and times, road fatalities are the usual fodder for these giant roadway signs. . .not exactly the place for philosophical waxing and waning. . .yet truly not only a good piece of wisdom for the harried motorist, but for the average person simply trying to navigate throughout their day.

Was God trying to tell me something as I made my way to the awaiting and ongoing loon factory at Dad’s?
Expect the Unexpected. . .hummmm

For good or bad, thinking ahead to what could be either figuratively or literally down the road is a good piece of wisdom.
Take nothing for granted, be prepared, think ahead, anticipate, take no prisoners, go forth, keep going and no matter what, go forward, don’t stop and never go backwards. . .

As I continued on my raceway drive to Dad’s, I considered what lay ahead–of me, of my day and of my life. . .
What would be waiting?
Who would be waiting?
How would poor ol Dad be today?
How would the caregiver be fitting into their lives?
What of the loons flying about, laying in wait with those haunting sounds. . .
Thoughts of what could be, what would be. . .
Yet one thought remained. . .
No matter what was down the road, what was around the corner, what was waiting for me at Dads. . .
God was already there. . .
He knew
He knows
And that’s okay by me. . .

I will always expected the unexpected
I will keep a vigilant eye out for what waits down the road. . .
All the while knowing that God is with me, behind me as well as ahead of me,
as I travel to whatever that may be. . .

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:2

Within each cloud exists a thousand possibilities

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
― Thomas Merton

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(dot of clouds litter a mild January day / Julie Cook / 2015)

An endless sea of wispy white puffs dot an expansive sky. . .
Appearing as if from a thousand giant pipes. . .
The exhaled puffs of white smoke, all being released from hidden nostrils,
each at the same exact time.
As far as the eye can see, a continuous blanket of white cotton batting
rides a southeasterly wind streaming nowhere in particular.

It is the kind of day which finds idle heads turning upward,
beckoning the wistful to gaze wantonly into the azure blue sea of sky.
The deep baritone peal of the buoy bell bounces across the wind
As dried leaves scatter along the brown crunchy grass.
It is a day of gentle moods set to a symphony of gentle sounds.

It’s the type of day that asks for nothing in return.
There are no demands.
No one who must be seen.
Nothing must be done.
No places in particular to go.
Just a day to simply be. . .

These are the days of possibilities.
There are no expectations.
No agenda has been set.
And there are no lists of activities to be ticked off one by one.
These are the days of wonder.
Grab it fast, for these are the days of far and in between.

Today the shoulders soften.
The clothes are familiar and cozy
The air purifies the stale lungs of too much time indoors.
Cheeks gain a touch of color
There is simple adulation in breathing.

Grateful souls humbly receive the gift of such a day,
As it is a day when time is but one’s own.
A day when dreams mix with hope
A day when anything and everything is possible
A day when the sky is truly the limit. . .

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The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1