The 21– Muhammad’s answer to the people of the cross…

“Life itself, without faith, would have been worthless to them. It would be mere existence–
an existence more lowly than that of the animals, for animals are perfect in and of themselves, but humans are imperfect;
their aim for perfection requires divine assistance.”

Martin Mosebach author of the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs


(book cover)

My friends at Plough Publishing have gifted me with another tantalizing morsel
book for perusal and review.
Well, my publishing friend actually was offering several books for sharing but I requested the hard copy of
but one book—
The 21.

It is the story of those murdered and martyred Egyptian Copts on a Libyan seaside in 2015,
at the hands of ISIS—a story that continues to haunt me.

And it seems that I am not alone in feeling haunted by the memory of this heinous act.
The German author, Martin Mosebach is haunted as well.

Obviously, in order to delve into the story, Mr. Mosebach watched the full video of the beheadings
that was still floating around out there somewhere in cyberspace…that odd juxtaposition of
both space and time where nothing seems to die despite any and all humans involved either eventually
or having long since died.

At the time, as well as now, I did not nor do I care to watch such.

There have been many highly publicized videoed beheadings…
all carried out in the name of Allah by ISIS over past 5 or 6 years, but I have not watched them.

And yet oddly millions have been drawn to watching as if having bought a ticket to some macabre
Hollywood blockbuster…mesmerized by the unthinkable…
The unthinkable of one human being ending the life of another human being–
A life that is literally being held in the hands of an executioner…
or better put, a life’s head pulled up by the hair, all in order to sever the neck and eventually
the head more readily from its body.

Mosebach notes in his book how the original ISIS video actually cut away from what became an extended
as well as messy time the executioners were having in literally cutting the heads from the bodies…
not neat and quick as say the swift effortless job of a guillotine.
And it was very apparent that for the sake of the video’s shock value and propaganda,
the executioners desperately needed, as well as wanted, to look as professional, in control
and as efficient as possible.

A messy beheading can give the impression of being amateurish and ISIS wants nothing
to do with appearing amateurish or not being in complete control—as that feeds into their
desire to always appear large and in charge.

After watching the video and studying the odd camera image of the captors marching their
prisoners to the shoreline while appearing as black-clad giants
next to their captives who were wearing the unmistakable orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Islamic
prisoners at Gitanomao, as each captive appeared small and less than–

Mosebach was moved by the posturing of the captors mirrored by the near emotionless
and oddly resigned yet the serene sense of their captives.
Prayers could be seen and heard flowing from the lips of the captives as well as the offered
praise for Jesus Christ despite knowing their fate was soon to be grisly.
There were no cries for mercy or of fear …but only controlled prayers to Jesus.

Early in the book Mosebach wonders aloud whether or not martyrdom and Christianity must
always go hand in hand…as he inquisitively muses
“as long as there are Christians there will also be martyrs?”

Mosebach knew that he must make his way to Egypt to visit the
homes and families of these martyred men.
And that he desperately needed to know more about the Copts and the Coptic faith.

The Copts are as old as Christianity itself–for they are some of the earliest known followers
of the Christian faith. Coptic actually means Egyptian—so these are Egyptian Christians.
They originated in the city of Alexandria and claim the author of the book of Mark,
that being John Mark, as their founder and first ‘bishop.’

Long before there was a Latin West or Eastern faith, long before there was
an East and West spilt in the faith, there were the Copts.

According to gotquestions.com,
Prior to the “Great” East/West Schism of A.D. 1054,
the Coptics were separated from the rest by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The council met to discuss the Incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was
“one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures).
This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant churches from then on Coptic understanding is that Christ is one nature from two natures:
“the Logos Incarnate.”
In this understanding, Christ is from, not in, two natures: full humanity and full divinity.
Some in the Coptic Orthodox Church believe that their position was misunderstood at
the Council of Chalcedon and take great pains to ensure that they are not seen as Monophysitic
(denying the two natures of Christ), but rather “Miaphysitic”
(believing in one composite/conjoined nature from two).
Some believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly,
but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics or due to the rivalry
between the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.
To this day, 95 percent of Christians in Alexandria are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to note that when the Coptics were under the rule of the Roman Empire,
they suffered severe persecution and death for their steadfast faith and beliefs in Christ while
refusing to worship emperors. However, by A.D. 641,
yet another tribulation began when the Arab conquest took place,
overthrowing the Romans’ rule in Egypt and, at first, relieving the Coptic Church from persecution.
What appeared to be their liberty and freedom became yet again bondage.
The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Coptics to endure a major language and
culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Unfortunately,
over the centuries, Christianity lost foothold and most Coptics converted to Islam.

I am only to page 26 in the story and Mosebach has not yet traveled to Egypt—
so I am hopeful to read a story rich in history, Faith, resilience, forgiveness and above all Hope—
Hope despite the choking backdrop of Evil.

Some of his words prick the skin.
I find it difficult reading the words written by those who are not Americans…
those who write about America and our politics…
words about our leaders, our actions, our lack of action,
our complications in world affairs…
because like most Americans, I like to think our hearts are in the right place but I also know that
our National actions and reactions are deeply complicated by our politics.
Actions and reactions that fail not only our hearts and our people but fail those of our world.

I think as Americans we tend to feel a responsibility, albeit it a false responsibility, to
make the world a better place and to be the quintessential Superman for those in need.
We sometimes fail…we fail others and we fail ourselves.
So it does hurt reading the words of those who keenly notice.
But as they say, the truth can often hurt.

Throughout his quest, while seeking truth and information, Mosebach is moved by what he
actually does find…
that being a deeply sincere forgiveness found in the hearts of the Copts.
A century’s long-oppressed people who can find the capacity to truly forgive those
who have brutally killed their own families.

Unlike those of the Islamic State who seek misguided bloody, torturous and grisly revenge…
the Copts literally embrace the words of Christ…to forgive one’s enemies, no matter what.
For it is in forgiveness that we find our true liberation and hope.

Their faith goes beyond what we think of Christianity in the West.
That of an ever-growing, feel good wannabe that is polarizing and lukewarm at best.

The Copts seem to understand that our Faith transcends this earth.
Life on this earth is a blink of an eye that matters not…what matters is Christ and Christ alone.
Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll offer more as I progress as time allows but for now, I will leave us with the
words of Mr. Mosebach…

Much as the brutal nature of their deaths and the firmness,
even stubbornness with which they confessed their faith seem to match one another in context,
we find their fate equally eerie.
Hasn’t the Western world, with its openness toward discussion and dialogue,
long since overcome such life-threatening opposites?
We live in an era of strict religious privatization and want to see it
subjected to secular law.
Society seems to have reached a consensus to reject proselytizing and religious zeal.
Hadn’t all that put an end to the merciless, all-or-nothings alternatives or believe or leave,
renounce your faith or die?

Here is a link to Christianity Today and a story about the Copts and forgiveness.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

A void and the Junk Guys

“We become aware of the void as we fill it.”
Antonio Porchia

Mephistopheles: Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortured and remain forever.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.”

Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus


(circa 1985 readers / Julie Cook / 2018)

What you see here is a pair of very dated readers…a pair of reading glasses that date
back to, oh say, about 1985 or thereabouts.

I found them yesterday in an equally dated Etienne Aigner cordovan leather purse.

Etienne Aigner was just one of “the” purses to own back in the late 70’s and 80’s.
It was a designer purse that didn’t totally blow the whole wad such as say a Louis Vuitton
or Gucci bag would have…

It was the type of bag middle American ladies could afford and still feel fashionable
without sinking a small fortune into a bag whose staying power would end by the following
fashion season.
Aigner bags were a bit timeless at this particular time.

It was the type of bag a woman like my mom would have had.

In fact, it was the bag my mom had.

I had something similar as well.
Mine, however, has long since vanished…Mom’s…not so much.

This past week, while I was up in Atlanta keeping a sickly Mayor, who by the way
has graciously shared her sickness with me–her chief aide, I arranged for
The Junk Guys to come to empty out, as much as they could in one day, the basement
to the house, the Mayor calls home.

A house and home that became my house and home in 1962.
I was almost 3 years old when my parents bought the 4-year-old 1958 stately
ranch house on a quiet cul-de-sac in the boomtime of America’s urban sprawl.

Up until then, we had lived in an apartment.
An old-school sort of apartment complex that still stands to this day in Buckhead…
a word that is now synonymous with all that equates to being uber chic and trendy
in Atlanta…a once upon a time simple place that was just merely a junction of a couple
of divergent roadways with a buck’s head mounted on a local watering hole.

It’s an apartment complex that is probably on the National Registry of Historic Places
as the complex has been around a very long time…

Whereas I can vaguely remember the apartment I can, however, remember almost every
nook and cranny of the house.
Recollections of the house that was…not so much of the house that is now.

In 1967, my grandfather died suddenly from an artery surgery gone wrong.
The company he started in the early 1930’s…a business he owned and operated
until his death, was then quickly sold by my dad, the company’s lone salesman.

On a hot humid June day in 1967, a huge Mayflower moving tractor-trailer truck
pulled up outside of our house as men quickly worked moving the contents of a nearly
40-year-old company to our basement.

When they were finished and the basement door was shut behind them,
time immediately stood still in that large section of our basement.
A visible physical reminder of death.

Large wooden desks, metal filing cabinets, metal chairs, leather rolling chairs,
wooden cabinets… all still chocked full of file folders, Rolodexes, business cards,
staplers, gem clips, tacks, hand stamps, mailers, postage stamps, pencils, writing pads,
office signs…all sat still and quiet, in the back half of a dimly lit basement,
collecting dust and cobwebs.

That was until this past Saturday.

Along with that collection of office equipment, a plethora of dinged up and dilapidated
antique chairs, one formal victorian sofa, a couple of vintage dining room tables,
a vast array of rusting tools, circa 1960 metal cabinets filled with
glassware and figurines in various conditions, stacks of vinyl albums dating to the 1940’s,
various beds, Dad’s childhood wormwood bedroom suit, boxes filled with musty books of all
sizes and subject matter, photos and pictures, early computer equipment with heavy monitors and
dial-up modems, cameras, jackets, boxes galore filled with a variety of junk and unsundries,
complete with two giant plywood model train sets had all come to call this basement home.

One family had slowly faded…two by death and one by choice as the lone owner remained…
eventually bringing in a new wife, a new life and new junk to this precarious keeper
of time.

Years, lives and the leftovers of family’s…families who had come and gone,
and all of their forgotten stuff…stuff stuffed down into a dark cavernous basement
left to sit…
But for what reason?

Sentimentality?
Hoarding?
Identity?
Moving?
Life?
Death?

Well, that was until Saturday.

With a new baby on the way…the much-needed purging of previous lives had finally arrived.

When one shuts a door to such a basement…what is in that basement is usually quickly forgotten.
The shutting of a door closes away that which is… as the ‘it’ suddenly becomes what was…
as in the proverbial ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sort of mentality.

Unused space being a prime example of a law found in physics…
a void will eventually be filled…or so it seems.

Before the Junk Guys arrived, I needed to look through a few things…actually a lot of things.
Yet time, this past week, was not my friend as I was needed to tend to a sick baby.
No time to rummage in a cobweb infested musty overflowing time capsule.

On one quick trip down the rickety steep stairway, down just long enough to find a somewhat
hidden away Lord & Taylor box, sitting out of sight in a long since sealed cabinet.
Lifting off that signature colorful box top, I found a box filled with letters.
Letters still in their original envelopes, all addressed to two parents,
who each now seems long gone, were written by their eldest child.
Letters that were written home from college…
written from me to them.

I quickly put the top back on the box.

Mother had saved those letters, yet I wasn’t ready to read over a bunch of trite angst-filled
letters that were written by a shallow self-absorbed younger and more foolish self.
Not yet.

In another cabinet, I pulled out a small box filled full of “do-dads”…
small trinkets that Mother had gathered over the years which had filled her ‘what-not’ shelf
that graced a wall in the kitchen.
Trinkets that were once considered tiny treasures.

As the cleaning committee arrived complete with heavy-duty gloves and boots,
I found the pocket-book.
That same cordovan Aigner bag that I immediately recalled seeing on her shoulder.

It was shoved back on a top shelf of one of those metal cabinets.
Dad had obviously brought it down here to the place where things came to stay,
not necessarily die, but to stay… caught in an odd passage of time and space.
A purgatory of such.
All being oddly caught in a sad surreal stoppage of time.

Everything remained inside, albeit for a wallet— untouched, just as it was on the day dad
rushed her to the hospital that 25th day of July 1986—

And yet she never came home to claim her purse.

I quickly brought the bag upstairs to the light of day, leaving behind the small army
of purgers in that overflowing basement.
I wanted to dump the contents out onto a table where I could actually look at what
a life stopped in time looked like.

Yellowed and faded bank statements, tuition notices for my brother, grocery lists and receipts,
a sterling silver tortoiseshell comb which was a wedding present from dad back in 1953 along
with a couple of pennies, two tubes of lipsticks and a small bottle of Tylenol
all came tumbling out…along with that pair of reading glasses.

Funny, I never remember Mother wearing glasses…only sunglasses.

Quickly I pushed aside the glasses, the comb, a couple of the bank statements and one
grocery receipt before throwing away everything else while carrying the bag back downstairs
to join the host of junk being hauled out to the two moving trucks that were eagerly
ready and waiting to carry away the remnants of the various previous lives that had all
called this house theirs, leaving open space for new lives taking shape.

It would behoove each of us to remember that our lives here on this earth are finite.
Lives that may be painfully short or generously long…
yet each life, regardless of allocated time, is limited…meaning that each of our lives
will be eventually ending…whether we like it or not.

We hold onto things in an odd twisted attempt to keep that which was.
All the stuff becomes the tangible to that which we have lost…
of which is simply fleeting and finite.

Dad’s basement is and was testament of that.
It was the filling of the void.
The proof of resting in purgatory.
Be it good…
Be it bad…
Be it sad…
Be it happy…
or…
Be it simply bittersweet…

All that we have and all that we are will pass away or perhaps worse, simply be discarded…


(a mere portion of the purging basement / Julie Cook / 2018)

Left to being eventually thrown away by The Junk Guys…

What, therefore, you ask, lasts… as we are a people who yearn to last…

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
C.S. Lewis

oh how the times are a changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-cha
ngin’.
Bob Dylan


(the Mayor’s new ride)

Sadly the Mayor has come and gone…having returned to her official office in Atlanta.
In her wake, this satellite Woobooville office is now in a bit of disarray.

There is washing, cleaning, boiling of bottles and rearranging of a few moved rugs…
chores that this aide must attend to which help to ease the bittersweet sting
that comes with the here then there, the ins and outs of grandchildren coming and going.

Like any grandparent, I obviously love my grandchild.
I see so much wonderment and joy in her existence.

And like her parents…the sun rises and sets in this little girl.

So it only makes sense that we as her family look out and around this oddly
changing world of ours a bit warily.
Troubled by what we see and what we hear.

We wish to hold her just a bit tighter.
Holding her in the protection of our arms within a presumed assumption of safety
in this little corner of this world of ours.

As Bob Dylan sang in 1963…the times, they are a changing…

And the changing is not to my liking.

Friday evening I was watching the news.

There was a story complete with video—
because don’t we seem to video everything these days,
don’t we feel we must record every moment rather than simply living it????…
anywhoo, I digress—
…there was a recorded clash between two very different minded individuals…
and the clash was not pretty.

There was a lady standing on a busy street corner in Portland, Oregon who happened to be
wearing an NYPD ballcap.
Some punk, and yes the word punk is most appropriate, came up behind the woman and
began harassing her….all because of the ballcap.

He had a foul angry tirade directed at this woman for her obvious support of law enforcement.

Antifa came to mind and Antifa he was…

He cursed, berated and belittled this woman…He was crude, crass and vile…
all because she seemed linked to the police–a group he obviously held vehement disdain for…

She turned to the punk and told him that the hat was because her husband had been killed in 9/11.
Rather than backing down or even expressing a bit of remorse, his response grew even viler,
cruder and laced with a deep seething hatred.

I immediately felt my own blood pressure shoot up as I wanted to jerk this dude up by
the scruff of his neck and read him my own form of the riot act.

I call it having a ‘Peter moment’…

I really like both Peter and Paul—
I feel very much akin to their often expressed sense of unworthiness due to their faults and sins…
I know all about faults and sins…
all about not living up and yet thankfully all about redemption.

Yet I probably identify more with Peter than I do Paul.
Peter is more of an emotional hot head.
He often lead by the heat of the moment and of his heart whereas Paul was more
calculating in his actions…
he was full of thought and recourse.
A cause and effect sort of leader.

It was Peter during the height of confusion and conflict, on the night in the garden
during the arrest of Jesus, who draws his knife in a fit of rage and proceeds to cut off
the ear of one of the soldiers
He’s reacting as I would…defensive, protecting, frightened and angry.

Jesus screams out to Peter to stop.

Jesus rebukes him and then proceeds to heal the soldier’s ear…
Now why at that moment the soldiers didn’t all drop their swords and run away,
I don’t know… but that wasn’t to be the ending of the story now was it…

But the gist here is that Jesus rebuked that knee-jerk reaction of Peter’s.
Just as he would have rebuked me when I turned and dotted this jackass’s eye…an expression
my students would often say…”I’m going to dot that eye of yours…”

But the woman maintained her cool, for the most part, and only appears to curse the fellow at the
end before the light changes and they both, I assume, go on to cross the street.

That clash, that confrontation bothered me to no end.

First…who whips out a phone to videotape that kind of crap?
Who has a bunch of cronies standing behind them, snickering and laughing
when one of the members tells a widow that he hopes her husband rots in the grave…
all because he’s a cop.

I don’t understand Nancy Pelosi saying that anyone who disagrees with her party’s agenda
will simply be “collateral damage” and that they just don’t matter.

I disagree so therefore I’m collateral damage and I don’t matter.

I don’t understand Eric Holder telling his minions to ‘hit republicans
low and hit um hard’ —because his minions are taking that literally.

I don’t understand Rep Maxine Waters telling crowds to attack any and every republican
that they see out and about…make their lives miserable she extols the crowds.

I don’t understand what is happening.

I don’t understand the loss of civility.

There is a WWI cross memorial in Maryland that has been on public display since the end of the war
erected in 1925 to remember those Maryland boys who had lost their lives in “The Great War”, the war
that was to end all wars…

Its case is coming up for review at the Supreme Court as there is a suit that has been brought forth
attempting to have the cross removed because it now sits on Government property.
Never mind that the cross is a memorial to war dead.

And so now the hairs of the sites are set on Arlington.
What of all those crosses on graves in Arlington?

I think of all those crosses, and stars, in Normandy.
Foreign soil yes, but an Amercian governed Cemetery.

We have forgotten who we are.

From punks on street corners to leaders in office to people who view
memorials…we have lost our humanness… we have lost our sense of sensibility.

Some days I’m left shaking my head.
Some days I just want to keep my head under the covers.
Some days I simply hang my head
But every day, I need to lower my head to pray…
Lord have mercy on our souls…..

**Tomorrow I will have a story about what should and does matter—
It goes far beyond this idiocy we’ve allowed to consume us–
It’s a story that actually has something to do with a kid who loves his
college and his football and whose life is tragically very limited…

http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/10/20/911-widow-harassed-leftist-protester-portland-tucker-carlson-ann-coulter-react

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

alligators and the capitulation of the church

“We need more public Christians, even though being a Christian in public is
getting tougher, says David Robertson, a Presbyterian pastor from Scotland –
a nation that has “secularised quicker than any other nation in history”

Excerpt from an interview with Eternity Magazine in Sydney, Australia


(Gulf coast alligator courtesy the Gaurdian)

The last time I visited the state of Louisiana was in 1982 for the Sugar Bowl.
My Dawgs were playing Pitt…we won’t talk about the outcome…it was such a long
time ago, I think I’ve forgotten.

However, Sugar Bowls or not, for some reason or another,
I’ve always been partial to Louisiana.
At one point I thought I wanted to attend for LSU for college…but then I wouldn’t have
been at the 1982 Sugar Bowl watching my Bulldogs play those Pitt Panthers.

But we’re still not ready to talk about that game so let’s just move on.

I’ve got cousins who call Monroe as well as Lake Charles home.
My dad took us on a visit when I was in the 7th grade.

Maybe it’s her history.
Maybe it’s her food.
Maybe it’s her beauty…
but I’ve just always been partial to Louisiana.

So maybe that’s why I’ve been known to tune into the History Channel’s Swamp People
show from time to time.
That quasi-reality show about those who make their living hunting alligators.

I mean who sits around at a boardroom table in either New York or LA and ruminate over
creating a show around the livelihood of folks whose families have hunted,
for generations mind you, alligators???

But there is just something about these people that I like.

They are real.

Well— relatively real.

If they were really real, I doubt they’d be doing television…but then you’ve
got to consider that a TV supplement is a nice added bonus to a diminishing payout for
alligator hides and meat.
I’m just saying.

These folks are not what most other folks would call refined, well to do, polished,
overly educated or even poised.

Some would call them backward, backwoods or dare we say, white trash.

And that’s why I like them.

They are what they are… a what you see is what you get sort of individual.
Some have had run-ins with the Law, the IRS, the History Channel…
even run-ins with one another…but in the end, they are what they are…
nothing more and nothing less.

Many of them are of Cajun descent.
There is a heavy French Louisiana accent that often prompts the television folks
to provide subtitles.
Really History Channel???
Maybe because I’m from the South, but I don’t need subtitles…

And so it was on a recent episode that one particular fellow was out hunting for wild hogs
(barefoot of course) when he came upon a couple of lost puppies out in the middle of the
nowhere woods.
Lost in the woods in Louisiana is not for the faint of heart.
There are poisonous snakes, wild hogs, coyotes, and yes alligators…
a place I would not be keen to get lost.

The short of this long tale boiled down to this fellow telling the cameraman that
“that’s why God made puppies, they’re just so cute you’ve got to want to take care of them.”

A gem of wisdom found in the backwoods of Louisiana.

A simple faith from a rather rough-hewn individual.

And so his words made me think.

I thought how great that our God was so loving and so thoughtful that He saw fit
to prewire in us an inward drive to take care of those who are smaller,
younger and more vulnerable.

A role I often think of when I think of the Chruch.
For the Chruch, the collective body of Fatih is there to take care of the fold—
which is us. The Believing faithful.
And as we are akin to sheep in many respects, we tend to be sheep-like,
so we certainly need an earthly shepherd.

Enter the Chruch…our ministers, our pastors, our deacons, our priests…
our Spiritual guiding servants of Christ

They are to lead and guide the fold.
They are to offer God’s word to the lost, the wandering and to the hard of hearing.
They are to teach us, inform us and instruct us in the ways of the Master.

They are to set the standard, the bar, the benchmarks for living a “Godly” life.

And yet it is that very body, The Chruch, which is actually letting us down.

The Church is not standing up for God’s word but rather she is capitulating to the
strong-arm tactics of an ever-changing culture…
a culture who is holding her arm behind her back,
having her to bend down before the gods of all things of culture.
Acceptance of one and all regardless of God’s admonition.

“We were known as ‘the land of the people of the book’, the book being the Bible,”
he says about Scotland. “Even as late as the 1950s, you’d have 1.4 million out of
4.5 million people being members of the Church of Scotland,
as well as Catholics and other groups.”

Today the Church of Scotland’s membership is below 300,000.
Scotland is on a rapid slide downhill, both in church attendance numbers and in
“the quality of churches and the impact on society.
We are throwing overboard our Christian heritage right,
left and center and that will come back to bite us.”

Robertson does not blame secularists as the main cause for the decline in
Christianity in Scotland.
The church itself is “the primary reason” for the decline –
and he’s not just talking about liberal Christians, which, as a conservative,
he might have been expected to target.

He says denominations (church groups) such as his own Free Church of Scotland,
a small Presbyterian denomination, became afraid and inward looking with
a tendency towards legalism.
The Church of Scotland, a liberal denomination is also in freefall,
with fewer than 100,000 worshippers out of a population of 5.5 million.

Click the link to continue reading David’s interview…and then pray for our guiding force,
the bride of Christ, the Chruch…

“Don’t be like us” says a true Scotsman – Interview with Eternity magazine

Thoughts no longer your own….

Denouncing your neighbour for a ‘thought-crime’ was a favourite past time
in the old Soviet Union.
The problem for anyone accused of having the ‘wrong thoughts’ is that it’s
impossible to defend yourself.

Bishop Gavin Ashenden


(stock image CNN Soviet Army Parade)

“Well the practice is back.
‘Hate crime’ is the new thought crime.
If someone else’s views makes you feel uncomfortable,
all you need to do is to accuse them of either ‘hate’ or, if you prefer, ‘extremism’,
or best of all, both.”

Bishop Gavin Ashenden

I read the latest posting by Bishop Ashenden this morning as he continues to address the maddening debacle of a Church of England church school kicking out a Christian
organization because parents complained that the group was too Christian for their children.

Remember we’re talking about a Christian church school and a Christian organization…
You may read the post here as I’m still in disbelief:

Hatred, like beauty maybe in the eye of the beholder; cowardice, complicity and the Church of England

And I have found myself ruminating over this whole incident on and off since first
reading about it over on the Wee Flee blog of the Scottish Pastor David Robertson.

https://theweeflea.com

However it was more than what the good Bishop added today to the story that reignited
my ire over all of this, it was what he said about our very thoughts that disturbed
me more than anything else.

You may recall my having mentioned reading the book The Book Thieves
by Anders Rydell
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return A Literary Inheritance

I’ve yet to finish the book.
It is a very difficult read…for all sorts of reasons.
It is a story that I have had to put down for extended periods as it is not easy
processing the sheer overwhelming information—
the tragedies, the unbelievable acts and the mercurial madness of humans
against other humans

Mr Rydell has done an exceptional job with the devastating facts and figures…
that of the cities, the towns, the libraries, both public and private,
that were decimated.
He has traveled extensively all over Europe, as well as into Russia,
in search of recovery efforts.
He has followed the often frustrating breadcrumbs left by owners…trails that
eventually lead to various death camps or simply stopped as abruptly as they
had begun.

Millions of priceless, and the not so priceless, manuscripts, books, torahs, diaries, incurables that were stolen, plundered, confiscated, hidden, burned or reduced to pulp
the for Nazi’s own paper needs…
With many important collections simply being scattered to the four corners
of the globe…
As there is now a race against time underway to reunite families with the
recovered “treasures” of lost, and sometimes forgotten, loved ones.

But the one thing that Mr Rydell has actually unearthed is the reasoning as to why
the Nazis would go to such extensive and meticulous extremes to confiscate books
along with entire libraries across all of Europe and Russia—
a reason which was more than merely amassing of war booty—
it was something so much darker.

It was to be the complete eradication of the spirit and soul of the
People of the Book.

“The Nazis knew how important books were to the Jews. Reading makes you into
a human being. When someone takes it away from you they also steal your thoughts.
They wanted to destroy the Jews by robbing them of what was most important to them”

Michal Bušek

And so today with Bishop Ashenden’s words of recounting the notion of
“thought crimes”–something the Nazi’s and later the Soviets would each attempt
to master, we are reminded that such practice is now alive and well with a key focus
on the Christian thought….

“If it were possible for any nation to fathom another people’s bitter experience
through a book, how much easier its future fate would become and how many
calamities and mistakes it could avoid.
But it is very difficult.
There always is this fallacious belief:
‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’

Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8