high roads

“The high road is something very, very long, of which one cannot see
the end – like human life, like human dreams.
There is an idea in the open road,
but what sort of idea is there in travelling with posting tickets?
Posting tickets mean an end to ideas.
Vive la grande route and then as God wills.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


(on the road to Crater Lake, Oregon / Julie Cook / 2013)

Why should we opt to take the high road in life?

Because it is becoming more and more a road less traveled.

Why should we opt to take the high road in life?

Because our mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers once told us to.

Why should we opt to take the high road in life?

Because taking the high road never means that we’re better than anyone else,
it just means that we’re working that much harder at bettering ourselves.

The high road is a more difficult climb.
The high road is much harder to traverse.
The high road will push us to our limits.
The high road is what we want our children to take.

Yet the high road takers are most often scoffed at by those on the lower roads.
The high road takers are most often forgotten by those on the lower roads.
Because the high road is often very lonely…

Yet the examples of those low road moments are far too numerous these days…

A most recent example was just the other day when a senator from New York was
addressing a crowd at New York University and opted to use her time with a
captive young audience by offering a profanity laced speech about the current
President.
The F word was front and center throughout her speech…
as she flippantly told the crowd that
“it’s okay, because this is a younger audience.”

No, Madame Senator that doesn’t make it ok for you to be lazy with your
choice of words in order to simply make an impact, to shock or garner generational points.
It does not make it okay for you to be trite, foul, offensive,
or seemingly one with your more impressionable audience.
For by taking this lower road, this easier road, you insult the intelligence
of your audience by opting to lower yourself and your standards by dumbing down your
address.

It is never okay to season a delivery with profanity because by doing so
cheapens ones words and ones true meaning.
It is a delivery of less than rather than of real substance

It is to those sound adults who these youthful ones must look as they seek examples
of what they should aspire to emulate.
Examples of grace, dignity, restraint, humility are much more preferable to anger,
crudeness, bitterness as well as a lack of decorum and respect.

Because it takes very little effort and is exceedingly easy to simply drop one’s
self lower rather than exerting the necessary energy to raise everyone else up.
And in so doing a disservice is done to everyone.
Because opting to take the lower road is in actuality a thinly veiled self serving act.

As that is exactly what we are witnessing—a society that prefers to go lower rather
than higher…because it’s the easiest path of the perceived least resistance.

So why should we opt to that higher road?
For it is the high road that helps us to reach our fullest potential as a human being.
And in so doing by taking that higher road,
we do so while following Christ as he carries his cross up the hill of Golgotha.

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

Psalm 15

purpose

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive,
but in finding something to live for.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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( a jar of Pickles from Pickles with a Purpose)

I suppose a jar of pickles and Christmas seem to have nothing much in common…
But as you may know, those of us predisposed to all things Southern, love a good pickle.
As we love the sheer notion of pickling.

We pickle everything from cucumbers to okra to quail eggs, to pigs feet.
And mind you whereas I prefer all things of the cucumber variety, I have been known to
venture out on a limb by trying a pickled green bean as well as an okra,
I simply draw the line however with the eggs and pig’s feet.

I live in a small Georgia town, a growing town, but considered small
none-the-less by the larger city dwellers…
And I should know having grown up in the big city…
we are indeed small, despite having a super Kroger and a Super Wal-Mart.

I don’t like super…super is too big, too generic, too impersonal.

I do like my small town as opposed to the big city.

Whereas the big city has more to offer such as great places to eat,
unique places to shop, and abundant things to do….
the small town is more homey.
And I like the feel of homey.

I was at the pharmacist’s the other day getting a prescription filled.
I like my pharmacy.
It is owned and operated by a local gal whose husband I once worked with at the high school.
I remember when they got married.
They now have boys in junior high.
Time flies in small towns.

Her dad works the counter, while she works at filling the bottles.
It’s nice as in it’s homey, as they know me by name.
They know my husband and they know my son and daughter-n-law.
They order things I need.

So the other day as I was waiting for my perscribtion to be filled, I wandered about
looking at the items she has in for Christmas.

Sitting amongst the ornaments and specialty soaps sat a jar of pickles.
Curious I picked up the jar.
The label simply read Pickles with a Purpose.
The side label gave a listing of ingredients and the fact that they came
from Marietta, Georgia…once a small town of its own,
but Marietta is now a part of the mega growing Cobb County, the
soon to be new home of the Atlanta Braves.
How an Atlanta baseball team can still be known as just that, Atlanta’s baseball team,
when moving out from Atlanta to a neighboring county still has me confused…
but that is not my worry, not today.

There was also a website listed on the back label of the pickles.
A website where one could learn more about the story behind the pickles.

I did however notice a small card propped up by the pickle jars…
so I pulled it out hoping to read a little further into the story.

It seems the idea of the pickles came from a 9 year old boy named Luke
from Marietta, Georgia who felt God wants him to help raise money for an older man
he knows who happens to be homeless.

The young man’s grandmother graciously offered her secret pickle recipe as a means
of having a product to sell in hopes of raising enough money to buy Luke’s
homeless friend a home.
The homeless friend, named Tim, is a middle aged black man whom Luke
had met while helping his mom at a business she manages…

At that point, with tears in my eye and my prescription being ready,
I grabbed up 4 jars… all I could carry, as made my way to the counter to pay.
I was told that the pickles were really great so I went back and grabbed the last jar.

It wasn’t the fact that the pickles were supposedly really good…
It wasn’t because I like pickles…
but rather it was the story behind the pickles that actually inspired me…
as I normally wouldn’t buy jars of pickles to give as Christmas gifts.

Later at home I got on the computer and looked up Pickles with a Purpose and found the
following You Tube video of the young man Luke sharing his plan of raising the money
to buy his friend Tim a home…

I hope Luke’s story will inspire as well bless you as much as it blessed me…
As Luke’s pickle story is really just another reminder of what Christmas is really all about…

I’ll be going back to pick up some more jars of pickles…
Small towns are nice that way….

slow and determined

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to
go right in someone else’s.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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(box turtle / Julie Cook / 2016)

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(brown rabbit / Watercolor Resort, Santa Rosa, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

One thing I’ve never been accused of being is slow.

Determined,
stubborn,
even hell bent…

yes…

but slow….

never.

I’ve never been one to be still for very long.
If I’ve got to be somewhere, I prefer early.
If I’m driving someplace, I drive as if life depends on it…
none of this Sunday driver, leisure business for me.

And it’s not as if I made some conscious decision early on
to take the fast lane in life…
Rather it’s just that I’ve always been like that….like this…
Always seemingly in some sort of quickness or hurry.
Straight from point A to B…no distractions with C, D or E in between…

I have made a point of mostly making the most of my time.
Filling it with as much productiveness as I can….
Maybe that comes from being a teacher as teachers are conditioned
to do so much with so little…
squeezing everything possible into a short space of time…

So you should know that with this disc and nerve business…
slow and determined has oddly become the name of the game and my new normal…
Sigh…
It’s as if my world has suddenly been cast into a slow motion stop frame
of agonizingly slow movement and speed.

As I now have to think long and hard about each and every movement—
nothing herky jerky fast or quick,
lest some shooting, searing new pain emerges out of no where.

And speaking of—this nerve business…

Are you familiar with a cilice?
Something like a hairshirt but worse.

Did you ever see the Dan Brown movie…Angels and Demons?
You may remember the poor monk Silas who wore a metal spiked ban
around his thigh under his habit.
He would tighten the ban as a form of self mortification…
unto bleeding….

I’m all for piousness.
I am gratified and humbled by those Desert Fathers and Mothers
and various saintly ones who have sacrificed both comfort and self
for the union of soul to the Spirit….
but this nerve pain gives new meaning to mortification…

It’s kind of like shingles, without the shingle.
Angry nerves running from the left of the lower back to the top thigh to the groin.

Is it bad if I confess that I have cut the elastic out of my underwear?

And may I add that hasn’t helped?

And that the whole thought of just going naked is making perfect sense…

I had shingles once—long ago—and caught it relatively early enough…
Such that it was short lived.

This disc business however has not been short lived.
And being a modest individual, naked would not be my first choice,
but I am a firm believer in drastic measures for drastic times…

I received notice today in the mail that the insurance company has approved the doctor’s
request to perform a nerve block next week.

How kind of them—

Because I fear if they had not been in agreement,
I might just have found myself in their office holding a cattle prod
asking for the individual who decided I did not need the nerve block.
As perhaps being prodded with electrical pulses from a naked person
might just persuade them otherwise…

I have learned a lot from lying on the floor.
I call it the perspective of a cat.
Not so much that I now know all too clearly that the ceiling fans
need a ladder and dusting…
or that dust bunnies can show up just about anywhere out of nowhere….

but rather that things can look overwhelming when looking up…

Yet the cats are undeterred by their short stature…
It bothers them not that the majority of their world towers over their heads.
They confidently saunter about here and there,
even onto my stomach while I’m flat on my back…
which is not a positive when 17 pounds walks on your stomach
and you’re already in grave pain…

I have even found myself telling my husband that I fear I am no longer earning my keep…
seeing that I’m spending more time on the floor then off the floor.

Now before you feminists out there have a hissy fit,
you need to understand that my take
on marriage is that of a constant continuum of contribution.

Each spouse contributes to the relationship.
My part / his part sort of deal.

When one party feels as if he or she is contributing more and more
as the other gives less and less—-resentment builds.

Ours has always been pretty much unspoken as we each have worked hard at contributing.
Be it going to work to make money to pay the bills…
to actually paying those said bills.
From cooking to cleaning to laundry, to ferrying growing child, to ferrying sick pets,
to cutting the grass—

As there must be balance and an evenness to what is done in a marriage.

Yet there is that whole “in sickness and in health” business….
and sadly ours is a society not too keen on that “in sickness” part.
We can “do” colds but when it comes to catastrophes,
sadly we tend to want to run and hide.

My husband reassured me as he looked down at me on the heating pad on the floor,
that I was very much keepable….

Or I think he was looking at me and not the dust bunny I had found….

So whereas I am not so quick these days, I am gaining in wisdom and appreciation.

I appreciate that I am on the floor by choice and
not because I’ve had one too many drinks to deaden the pain…

I appreciate that I don’t think the ceilings needs repainting…
as that is what I stare at now most of the time…

I appreciate the fact that the cats are well fed and perhaps actually
over weight…
yet love their mommy enough to wonder why she’s on the floor…
obviously there for their enjoyment—
cats are self-centered that way…

I am wise enough now to know that slow and steady are ok and as is often such…
goes to the winner of any race.

I am wise enough to know that things could be worse…
as I think…Dad…

I am wise enough to know that I can cry, and have, but trying to find
something, anything funny, is better…

And I appreciate that I can drive to Dad’s today to met the Hospice Nurse..
thankful and appreciative for people who want to come into people’s lives when life is
looking pretty darn bad…

I think we call that running to the sound of battle rather than from it….

Here’s to not seeing me naked holding a cattle prod as I saunter down the street….

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.
They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly;
I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,
lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Innocence and wonderment…

“In any case, you must remember, my dearest,
that the main strength of innocence is innocence itself.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”
Albert Einstein

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(an alert fawn in the backyard / Julie Cook / 2016)

It is now time that we all just stop for a moment.

Time to stop with all the…
malice and ill intent.

It is time to stop the…
polarization,
the divisions,
the anger,
the lies,
the slandering,
the accusatory nonsense…

It is time we stop just long enough….
Just long enough to remember…
to remember and recall that there is still a world…
a world where we can find…
innocence,
joy,
wonderment,
rapture,

A world still full of the…
amazing
miraculous
mystifying
and the loving…

A world where God’s Grace still remains…

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 8-10

Timely radicalism

“Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.”
― John R.W. Stott

“The ‘average sensual man’ who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a ‘lower’ type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety. But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.”
― C.S. Lewis

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(the crucified Christ/ Fra Angelico / The Convent of San Marco, Florence, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2007)

When I was a sophomore in college I was required to take an upper level Lit class.
Now I’ll admit that I was never the best of students.
School was never terribly easy for me.
I was a slow reader, but yet I greatly enjoyed reading—especially if it was something I found to be relevant—particularly to my Christian spiritual development.

This particular Lit class was taught by a professor who was in his very early 30’s, not much older than his students. A free spirit who would come to class barefoot and sit indian style atop a desk as he lead conversation in whatever it is was we were currently reading.

He let it be known that he was a disenfranchised former Catholic turned atheist.

We read the works of men such as Kafka and Dostoyevsky.
Some of the material was bizarre and boring, others were not so bad.
He wasn’t one much for giving grades but up to the end of the course I was under the impression that I had made A’s, B’s and even a C on my written “critiques” of our readings.
That is until our last book, the book that the final exam would be based on. . .
The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I thought this would be a book right up my alley as I found it intriguing.

I think my mistake was to take issue when this barefoot professor began to expose the questions and role of the Inquisitor against the silent Christ who was on trial, again so it seemed, for his life.
I defended Jesus to the Inquisitor who just so happened to be my professor. We went back and forth.
I later wrote with the same thread of thought when taking the final exam.

This had been the spring quarter so that meant we were all to depart for home at the end of the term.
These were the pre-email, internet, computer days so I would never know what I made on my final as we were all long gone and would merely wait for our grades to be delivered home during the summer via Post.

A couple of weeks went past when my grades finally arrived.
Opening the card and perusing the posted grades, I was shocked when I saw that I had failed the Lit class.
I was not only shocked, I was furious.
This would cause havoc to my GPA.
I had not failed a single paper.
I was never given any indication that I was in any sort of “academic” trouble. . .
How in the world could I have failed the course?
I did all of my assignments.
What grades I did receive were all very satisfactory.
I participated in all class discussions. . .
And that’s when it hit me.

I immediately called the University.
I was told the professor had resigned, moved on to the University of Arizona, taking all of his papers and records with him.
In other words, I had been screwed and there wasn’t a single thing I could do about it—
I couldn’t protest the grade as there was no professor nor “evidence” of paperwork in which to refer.
I get mad to this day just thinking about it all these near 40 years later.

I knew good and well, as I know to this day, that I failed that class because of my outspokenness of my faith and of my thoughts of Dostoyevsky’s Inquisitor verses Christ.

So when I read the Bonhoeffer reflection this morning. . .of his thoughts on radicalism (who else could so intimately understand the evils of radicalism than Bonhoeffer!!), and of his mention of Ivan Karamazov, I thought of a person who had, for whatever reason, grown at odds with God, who had left his faith for the emptiness of nothingness, taking his form of radicalism to the classroom, punishing anyone who stood on the opposite side of his internal angst.

Sadly today we see this same sort of issue of exploding radicalism across the country growing by leaps and bounds as there seems to be a growing intolerance against Christianity on any stage. . .be it on a college campus, in the news, laced throughout our entertainment industry and even in our political arena. We see it not as expected on the shores of foreign lands of the non-believers but we now see it growing on our own shores within our own culture

And yet our friend Bonhoeffer is actually writing into today’s lesson of his concern of that same sinister infiltration of radicalism seeping into the faithful—working to infest the faithful with a smug and pious self-righteous indignation. A radicalism which is witness to Christians using Christ more as a weapon and defense of their own agendas rather than embracing the pure message of selfless Love and of the Salvation found in the cross— and where that now in turn places the believer in the world. . .so now we see radicalism facing us, the Christian, on both our right and on our left. . .each from within and without. . .

The Rise of Radicalism
Radicalism always arises from a conscious or unconscious hatred of what exists. Christinan radicalism, whether it would flee the world or improve it, comes from the hatred of creation. The radical cannot forgive God for having created what is. It is Ivan Karamazov, the one totally at odds with the created world, who creates the figure of a radical Jesus in the legend of the Grand Inquisitor. When evil becomes powerful in the world, it simultaneously injects the Christian with the poison of radicalism. Reconciliation with the world as it is, which is given to the Christian by Christ, is then called betrayal and denial of Christ. In its place come bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for human beings and the world. Love that believes all things, bears all things, and hopes all things, love that loves the world in its dry wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), becomes—by limiting love to the closed circle of the pious—a pharisaical refusal of love for the wicked. The open churn of Jesus Christ, which serves the world to the end, becomes kind of supposed ur-Christian ideal church–community that in turn mistakenly infuse the realization of a Christian idea with the reality the living Jesus Christ. Thus a world that has become evil succeeds in making Christian evil also.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Ethics 155-156