fall from Grace…

“Freedom has been elevated to a total eclipse of a person’s obligations,
to a freedom from any obligation.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

“After the Western ideal of unlimited freedom….
here is the true Christian definition of freedom.
Freedom is self-restriction!
Restriction of the self for the sake of others!”

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

In his book A Pope and A President, Paul Kengor recalls the admonishment of a young senator from Massachusetts to a college audience….

“In 1955…Senator Kennedy told Assumption College that the Communists had a ‘fear’
of Christianity and allowed ‘no room for God.’

In a passage that could have been spoken by President Ronald Reagan thirty years later,
Kennedy said that Communists sought ‘to make the worship of the State the ultimate objective of life’ and could not ‘permit a higher loyalty, a faith in God,
a belief in a religion that elevates the individual, acknowledges his true value,
and teaches him devotion and responsibility to something beyond the here and now.

As president, Kennedy candidly warned America of its “atheistic foe,” the
fanaticism and fury” of communions, and the “communist conspiracy” that
“represents a final enslavement.”
“The enemy is the communist system itself—implacable, insatiable, unceasing
in its drive for world domination,” Declared Kennedy.
“This [is] a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies”
freedom under God versus ruthless, goddess tyranny.”

“Years later President Reagan went to the home of Senator Ted Kennedy…
where he spoke at an endowment fundraiser for the John F. Kennedy Presidential
Library. On hand were Jackie and her two grown children.
Reagan commended JFK for his shrewdness in recognizing the enemy:
“He understood the tension between good and evil in the history of man;
understood, indeed,
that much of the history of man can be seen in the constant working out
of that tension.”

Reagan noted that Kennedy knew that the United States had adversaries,
real adversaries,and they weren’t about to be put off by soft reason and
good intentions.
He tried always to be strong with them and shrewd.”

It’s hard for me, in this very surreal 21st century of ours, to imagine that there
were once two presidents serving roughly 20 years apart—
men from two very different parties,
who each understood who the nation’s collective enemy was.

These two very different men who, despite being decades apart in their service to
their nation as well as being nearly 30 years apart in age…men who were each of
different ideologies could actually collectively agree then on what today has
become a more satirical farce than serious consideration.

And not only did these two very different presidents understand who the
collective enemy was…they also deeply understood the connection between a nation
who rested under God’s dominion verses a nation resting under the dominion of man.

Imagine today the party of Kennedy speaking about an “atheistic foe”…
Or referring to an adversarial nation as having “no room for God”
as well as those who have a fear of a Christian nation—
Imagine that a leader of the party of Kennedy would actually claim the United States
to be a “God fearing, Christian nation”
That there would be those who would speak of godlessness when referring to
oppressive regimes.

Imagine the party of Reagan, in turn, speaking words of agreement…

Oh how far we have fallen from who we once were.

When did it happen?

When did we think it necessary to scorn and scoff the notion of being
collectively under the yoke of an Omnipotent Creator?
When did we decide that we were free of any obligations other than to our own
selfish individual whims?

When did we decide there was no real good nor evil…
rather just the altar of individual humanism?

And what is the irony that the words of a one time Soviet dissident
would remind us, those of us who have lived in and with “freedom” most of our
lives, that our’s is a precious gift…one that we have been entrusted with
to cherish and maintain…as blood has been spilled and lives have been lost
all in the name of this very “freedom.”

So on this Veterans day, it would behoove us as individuals as well as a Nation to
recall, as well as honor, the selfless sacrifices made by those men and women who,
since those early days when we were but a collection of bedraggled colonies,
who down through the decades understood exactly who the enemy always was and
that we as human beings have been called to a greater good…
These very men and these women who have often offered the utter sacrifice–
of both lives and limbs, for a Nation that now is at war with itself…
having lost her way.

May their service never have been in vain.

“…it would have seemed quite impossible, in America,
that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose,
simply for the satisfaction of his whims.
Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in in the west;
a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian
centuries with the great reserve of mercy and sacrifice.”

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

limp or love

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35

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(placard that hangs by my backdoor / Julie Cook / 2016)

Anyone old enough to remember the 1960’s knows that that decade was known as the decade of peace and love…
It was also the decade of war and unrest.
With much of that unrest running rampant on American streets.

The decade began with a dashing new young President who was tragically cut down prematurely in the prime of his life.
Death loomed heavily over the United States as the war in Vietnam continued on and on….
Tensions grew exponentially on our college campuses.
Draft cards were defiantly burned, young men ran away to Canada as wooden coffins continued flying home.

The war was murky and deadly…
As a new type of warfare had been unleashed.
Guerrilla fighters lurked in the jungle and rice patties as Napalm was unleashed on entire villages.
The end goal had gotten lost in Washington and no one really understood why we lingered…
If we couldn’t finish successfully what had been started, then why remain buried in all the carnage.
The country definitely exclaimed that enough was enough.

As the decade wore on, other hopeful voices were silenced…
Bobby Kennedy then Martin Luther King were each snatched away just before the turning point.

Even the Catholic Church was not exempt from the decade of turmoil as the groundwork for the first Vatican Council held in over 100 years, better known as Vatican II, saw sweeping doctrinal change–some welcomed the change, some continue to curse the change to this day.

As the bras burned and the peace signs were hoisted high, as the hair grew longer and the season of love saw a brand new dawn…some wondered if life had simply spun out of control…

In 1966 a parish priest at an inner city church, on Chicago’s south side, needed a song for his youth choir to perform.
However nothing seemed fitting for the kids nor for the times in which they were barley holding on…
Peter Scholtes penned a quick tune he felt appropriate…
It was based on verse 35 of John 13…

Almost two thousand years prior, on a warm Jerusalem evening, the night of the Passover, what we now refer to as the Last Supper, was being observed by a rag tag group of friends.
Jesus had just admonished Judas that if he was to go, to do what he had destined himself to do, he must go quickly in order to get on with it…
The air was heavy as an odd tremendous sense of sorrow hung over those gathered.
This was no ordinary Passover and the disciples all sensed it.

Jesus tells those gathered that in just a short while, he will no longer be with them.
This sends a frantic pulse racing through the group.
A heightened sense of panic now replaces the somber melancholy.

Jesus quickly tamps down the nervous chatter…his words send a powerful calm throughout the room.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus knew what was soon to take place, the disciples had not a clue.
Yet He wanted to leave them with a powerful and clear path once he was gone.

The lasting legacy that Jesus offered that solitary night so long ago for not only those remaining 11 friends gathered around that table is also a continuum offered to us to this day…a continuum of love

That Love, which was culminated on a lone wooden cross, is more than an offering or gift, it is a charge.
A charge that came at a tremendous cost.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of what that cost actually means…“It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

Many believe, and wrongly so, that the love Christians were charged with so long ago is a passively weak sort of oozing emotional goo. A surface sort of feeling that cannot weather the impending storms of life.
And for those who do not truly grasp the depth, the demands and the drive of this said Love…
they are left lost in its wake…for they underestimated its cost and expectation…

Yet in actuality this Love is a hard love and a tough love.

It is a love that demands not a piece or part, but rather the whole…the entirety of self

It is a love that casts out both doubt and fear.

It stands in the wake of pain and suffering as it is the only thing remaining once the dust of the
battlefield of this life has settled.

The love offered by Jesus that night to his disciples, which is the same love offered to both you and me on Calvary, cost not only Jesus his life but it cost God the life of his only son….it was a life sold for 30 pieces of silver… for both you and I…
And it was paid for, for our salvation, which in turn means that we were bought and paid with Love…

So will you be recognized for the Love of Christ which radiates as your guiding force through the minefield of this most turbulent early portion of the 21st millennium or will you be recognized by your limp…

For they will know us by our Love for we are One in the Spirit….

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 14:16-18

Do you know your roots?

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(the emerging roots of root bound paperwhite bulbs / Julie Cook / 2015)

My dad and his family can trace their roots to 13th century Scotland–that being on his dad’s side. His mother’s side documents their early start back to England and that fateful Mayflower couple Pricilla Mullins and John Alden—th wonderful stuff of legends and lore which makes for great stories.

It is however rather forlornly that I often find myself staring at the large copy xeroxed of this giant map-like family tree based on my dad’s family’s journey—always feeling a bit hesitant to claim my tiny branch. Being adopted I often think that there is another tree out there somewhere, in the black hole of my life, missing a tiny limb. . .that being me.

And then there is my mom’s family and their story, all of which is a bit more sketchy. She was of direct Scotch / Irish blood but that’s about all we know. We surmise both families made their way to the United States on the heels of the devastating An Gorta Mór, better known as the Irish potato famine of the mid 1800’s or even further back to the Bliain an Áir, the year of Slaughter which saw an equally devastating demise of the Irish population, due primarily to starvation, in the mid 1700’s.

Mother’s Irish mother, born at the start of new century in 1902, married her Scottish father in 1924. At some point he sadly took to drink and gambling, losing recklessly everything the couple had on that fateful day in 1929 when all the world simply seemed to crash. Eventually locked away to the confines of a TB sanatorium, he died sick, lost and alone in 1941. My grandmother, to my recollection, never spoke of him again. She was left to raise two young girls at the onset of both a global world war and devastating depression.

My grandmother, who forged seemingly emotionless ahead with her two daughters in tow, built both a successful business and comfortable life for her small family. She was never the warm and fuzzy type of grandmother but rather much more matter of fact, frugal and no nonsense. Given her circumstance, it isn’t surprising. Being both weary and cautious became two common threads woven into her fabric.

For whatever reason, she was very leery, or weary, of the Catholic Church as she was convinced that if John F. Kennedy became president, we were all in going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, as God forbid, a Catholic should be president. A bit irrational to say the least and as to where such irrationality originated, I haven’t a clue.

Yet I find it rather ironic, that to this day, there are many a Christian, even in the midst of this modern 21st century of ours, who are indeed equally weary or leery of both the Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Maybe it is because there are many Christians who are actually unfamiliar with the history, our history, of the one true “Church.” Maybe it’s because many Christians fail to remember that there was once but one single body, unlike the multitude of branches we see today splitting off from the once sturdy main trunk, much like a giant family tree.

A quick google search yields staggering numbers in regard to a concise listing of total Christian denominations. . .upwards of 35,000–give or take a couple of hundred depending on the source.
Rather amazing that in roughly 2000 years, approximately 35,000 branches have sprouted from one main trunk—but given the divisive nature of human beings, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.

When we say in our creed, or declaration of faith, that. . .”We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. . .” we are not saying that we believe in the Catholic church in Rome, as so many of the faithful erroneously believe, but rather we are declaring a belief in a global family–a global family tree containing many branches. The word catholic, with a little “c” is a latin word, catholicus, which comes from the Greek adjective καθολικός katholikos, meaning universal. So therefore in our creed we claim to believe in the one holy “universal” and apostolic church, not a church, faith, or denomination based in Rome, Italy.

The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in the one single trunk of Christianity splitting into two branches, each of the same faith–the Latin Church of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East. The splitting hasn’t appeared to slow down all these many years and branches later but to the contrary it seems to be spiraling, splitting and multiplying almost out of control.

Yet it is not my intent today to examine the divisions and differences of opinions within our Christian faith but rather I am merely making an observation about roots and branches as it were, and as to where one may find oneself on a proverbial family tree–be it the tree of one’s genealogy or of one’s spiritual family tree. And since I am adopted, which seems to throw a small monkey wrench into which branch and to which tree I am actually meant to belong, I am sweetly reminded that we are all adopted sons and daughters of Grace–so perhaps that means we are all members of the family tree of Grace and Salvation—which is actually a very welcoming and comforting thought indeed.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith
Galatians 3:26