Should I go or should I stay…

Darlin’ you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Lyrics by the Clash

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(springtime visitor / Julie Cook / 2016)

“The call goes out,
and without any further ado the obedient deed of the one called follows.
The disciple’s answer is not a spoken confession of faith in Jesus.
Instead, it is the obedient deed.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Discipleship

They were busy…
preoccupied with the business of the day.
Counting, looking, figuring, chatting, organizing and arranging.
This day was like any other day…
just like the day before…
And it was safely assumed to be pretty much the same tomorrow.
Life innocently being life.

Friends, customers, coworkers were all coming and going…
each equally busy with the business of the day.
No one sensed that change was in the air…

Was the sun shining or was it overcast…?

It was most likely warm, dry and sunny…
Yet it appears the weather was not to be a factor…
Change was to come with or without the shining sun.

He was accustomed to folks passing by his booth.
Some would stop, having a need of his services, others would pass taking no notice.
Maybe that’s why he looked twice when the stranger approached him.

Was he tired of his business?
Had life dealt him one hand too many?
Or was it something else.
What could it have been about this stranger to have made him simply walk away.

He was a Jew who was accustomed to working with Greek speaking Romans…
yet took the money of the Hebrew Jews.
Why was this stranger, who was also a Jew,
who obviously had no businesses with taxes or a collector of such,
now stopping by his booth?

They had all observed a conversation between the two men.
No exchange of money passed hands…
Just what appeared to be a causal conversation…
Yet what could this stranger have said,
causing Levi to get up, leaving his money and his papers to simply walk away?

He walked away from everything he had known.
His business, his associates, his income, his dealings, his family…
He left it all behind, at his booth, in order to go with this stranger.
“Was that not the Galilean?” one was heard to ask…

We know there was an encounter…as well as a request…

Come…leave…follow…

That simple.
There was no haggling, no convincing, no defending, no arrangements.
Just a simple agreement and in turn, a walking away from the known…
while now entering into the unknown…

It is one thing when asked to simply respond with a causal “Yes. I believe.”
Or even a “yes I can” or “yes I will…”
It takes far greater courage to actually get up, leave, go and do…

The question we must all ask ourselves today–are we willing to get up, leave, go and do?

As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Mark 2:14

Past, Present, Future

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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(the remains of an old telegraph pole found rotting deep in the woods in rural west Georgia/ Julie Cook / 2014)

Have you ever been so consumed by something that has either happened in the past or is about to happen in the future that you really have no thought or concept of today–of the very moment in which you find yourself?

I fear I’ve spent most of my life in a bit of a dither fretting over the future while dragging around chains from the past. I most likely look like something akin to Jacob Marley in the Dickens Classic, Scrooge. An ethereal being wrapped in heavy chains with my vision cast forward, wondering why it is I’m not moving–forward. Oh I can hear him now bemoaning with those wails of his to a wide eyed Ebenezer.

Sadly I must confess that I’ve always been a bit of a worrier— When I was in high school, I can vividly recall a beloved priest once telling me, as I was fretting over something that I obviously had no control over, that my worries were truly all in vain because I could very easily walk out of church in the next five minutes, only to be run over by a dump truck. . . putting all further and future worries on permanent hiatus.

Always looking back or forward but oddly never looking at now—or at any rate, not very long at the now.

Today’s image is that of a very old and long forgotten row of wooden telegraph poles. The rotting remains being reclaimed by a deep thicket of woods in a very rural area located in the mid north western section of our state. Out in the middle of no where, with only acres and acres of deep dense woods– the debris of a different time and era now lying long forgotten. The glass insulator you see pictured is from the Hemingway company. The markings on these insulators, along with our knowledge of this particular area, date this communication line to late 19th century.

A most odd discovery to find in the midst of an old growth area of land in the middle of nowhere rural Georgia. The news, information and communications once carried over the now long gone wires, very much important during the time, now all but forgotten. The statements, observations and requests, that once sped across these lines, most likely carrying word of reconstruction, impending World conflict and news of sickness as well as joy, all but forgotten to the annuals of time.

For dust you are and to dust you shall return is the foreboding observation taken form the book of Genesis, used by the Book of Common Prayer at the service for burial—the ominous reminder that we are not permanent fixtures around this planet. Reminding us that what was, is no more, what will be is yet to be seen, if ever seen, therefore rendering all that there is, as simply now. The only guarantee we have is this exact moment of now.

Even as I type this post, on the afternoon prior to the morning I intend to send it out, there is no guarantee that it will go out—something, God forbid, may transpire curtailing my ability to send it out on its way–all thwarted despite my best intention of action. So there is no guarantee that you’ll even read any of this. Odd thoughts to ponder. Just one more example of how we spend so much of our today’s preparing for tomorrow. Not that planning is a bad thing, but maybe we plan a little too much.

I am reminded, as we all are reminded, that as we allow ourselves to be consumed by the what “weres” and the what are to “bes” that we have only to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your (our) heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life or single cubit to your height? (Matthew 6:26-27 NIV)

Worrying and fretting and regretting, all very human characteristics, do absolutely nothing to and for our betterment nor to and for the betterment of our fellow man. So on this new day, this new morning, if you are indeed reading this– if it did actually get to make the rounds, may we all be mindful that what was, is just that—simply what was. What is to be is simply that, simply what is to be—and the only thing we can be certain of is right now.
May your right now be filled with peace as well as happiness and contentment. . .because it is all either you or I actually have.
Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow 😉

Can we drink from the cup?

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This morning I was reading the entry for May 9 in my Henri J. M. Nouwen book Bread for the Journey A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.
The cup of Life
When the mother of James ad John asks Jesus to give her sons a special place in his Kingdom, Jesus responds, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
“Can we drink the cup?” is the most challenging and radical question we an ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we lift our cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?

Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practice.

Naturally this got me thinking, asking myself the questions Fr. Nouwen posed in today’s passage.
I would like to think that yes, yes I can. That I do so on a daily basis. But given the actual choice of heartache and sorrow, pain and suffering… how many of us raise our hands and say “yes, please, I’d like some of that.” I don’t think very many of us. Jesus said it was not going to be easy–picking up one’s cross. The gate is narrow and those who pass through are few and far between.

I find it odd how so many non-believers think Christians to be weak, sappy, goodie too shoes, perpetually cheery in a phony sort of way, when the truth of the matter is that the Christian actually must be tough and hard, as we, the Christians, are tried in the fire–the fire of our faith.

When I was in college I had to take a metals class as part of my Art Ed. degree. We learned the basics of metlasmithing as well as jewelry design. We learned how to solder, weld and form various metals, as well as the various melting points of each metal. One process, when working with metal, is called annealing. This is a process to actually make metal stronger.

One would think that metal was already strong enough, but actually the more the metal is worked, bammed and hammered, it has less strength and durability—it’s very make-up or integrity is now at risk or compromised. In order to strengthen the metal, making it less brittle, it must be annealed—or heated to a certain temperature then slowly cooled. Hence the expression being tried by fire.

Our fire is this life. At best it is hard, at worst, we see the horror stories on the news. We find ourselves asking how can a loving God allow so much horrendous suffering, pain, evil to exist….those are hard questions. But God didn’t say “here’s the cup I’m offering you, it has death, murder, war, pain, rape, brutality, addictions, stealing, etc… filled to the brim. Would you like a sip?”

What He did say was/is “You will join me in paradise/ in heaven, because I love you. I love you so much that my Father, our Father, sent me to drink the cup you didn’t want to drink from. Be not afraid and follow me because I have already raised the cup and finished what it contained–you no longer have to drink it. But what you do have to do, if you agree to follow, is to continue to show love where there is none, peace where there is none, hope where there is none, grace where there is none, forgiveness where there is none, belief where there is none—this is your cup—you must do this because I am physically not here to do all of that, so I’m asking that you do that for me.”

The bad things will come, the evil is still here but so is the Victory, so is the Grace, so is the Hope, so is the Love. Life is not easy and sometimes it is just very hard and just very bad. But we have been given a promise, we already know the ending…and it’s a good ending. It’s just that the road to the ending is rocky and packed with thorns but it is also sprinkled with joy, happiness, and goodness as well. This is the cup we are to share along this road. The question is are we willing to share it. I hope I am.