What’s wrong with this picture?

“We don’t adore icons,
we us them to adore God”

Fr John Sexton

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( Vasari’s Annunciation / The Louvre / Julie Cook / 2011)

Over the course of this past weekend, an interesting story made its way into the news, which just so happened to catch the eye of this old art teacher.

Now you should know that I was a little more than bothered, as well as troubled, by this story as I have already touched on this sort of subject before and like any decent teacher whose students fail to comprehend the key components of a well delivered lesson, my feathers became just a bit ruffled…yet if the truth be known, this individual “student” had obviously totally skipped class altogether that day.

It seems that someone out there has decided to not only take issue with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but has decided to go so far as to file a law suit—

“For what?”…. I’m hearing you ask…

Well it seems that upon a recent visit to the Met, as this individual was viewing some paintings of the museum’s collection of several Renaissance and Baroque masters depicting Jesus Christ, this said individual suffered “personal stress” as the images contained, typical of the time, images of a “white” Jesus. This individual is now claiming that these images of a white Jesus are racist and should be removed.

I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type.
Imagine that, white Renaissance Northern Europeans painting images of a Jesus which looked just like them!
Shocking??
Not a bit…
But rather indicative of the time, the culture, the history, and the existing knowledge of the world—let us consider the audience of these white Northern European Christian artists…other white Northern European Christian type individuals.

I almost came unglued right then and there as I read, then later watched, the story.
A huge collective “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” should be reverberating as we all read of such lunacy.

If I had a ruler in hand, I would knock this said student upside the head as this is probably the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. But then given this day and age I would be fired as well as sued over such…sigh

First may I just say that this country has so many more glaring issues and concerns and so many more truly needful cases trying to work their way through our already dysfunctional legal system that a suit as frivolous and as ridiculous as this is a shameful waste of both time and money.

Do I feel “personal stress” when I view an exhibit of African Art, Asian Art, Hispanic Art, Native American Art, Muslim Art (although Muslims do not depict images of individuals), etc…
No, of course not.
Can I and do I understand and appreciate that art collections are more often than not, mere representations of various time periods and or cultures?
Of course I can and I do—

This entire story has me shaking my head.

It seems that a case such as this has found its little loopholes of merit as the museum receives federal monies, lots and lots of monies—so this individual and his legal eagles have thought that perhaps there is not only a little issue of separation of Church and state but also a throw back to a 1964 civil rights ruling…that a white painting of Jesus in a federally funded museum violates a civil rights act….

Which in my mind rivals with a giant exasperated “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

It’s one thing that someone out there looks at a painting of Jesus depicted as white and cries foul as that’s not exactly historically accurate. As he wasn’t white–he was a middle eastern Jew. I somehow think that our atheist brethren out there would / could and may have take / taken issue with the whole historical accuracy of all of this as to them, Jesus may or may not have even existed in the first place… and if they agree he did exist as mere mortal, then that whole crucified, dead, buried and risen depiction would and most likely might send them running to lawyer up as it were…

Has this politically correctness business of ours not yet gone too far people??!!!

Stories like this give me a headache because I am incensed that there are people out there who waste precious energies over things that are so trivial and meaningless when we have innocent people dying around this globe due to radical extremist ISIS nuts out there who want us all dead…. and we’re going to waste our time worrying about stress caused when someone looks at a 500 year old painting of a white Jesus in a museum!!!!

What part of any of this story sounds right, rational or makes any sort of logical sense??????

I’m pulling a snippet of that previous lesson I was talking about earlier with a link to the original lesson on an icon….

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

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Historically rich are what our museums are and very well they should be.

Museums are places which thankfully exist around this globe, making available to us the wonders, marvels and lives of those from the past…allowing us to share in our collective history as humans.
And Lord know, the Renaissance was such a rich time in our history as developing human beings!

Who isn’t intrigued by the art work, scientific discoveries, architectural triumphs and sheer wonders of the Renaissance…a pivotal turning point in the history moving man from earthly dark to light…

Woe to this individual who can’t relish in the freedom he has been afforded, along with the readily available access and ability, to be able to go see these historical and beautiful bits and pieces—there are other places, other nations, around this world where there is not the freedom nor ability afforded to see or share in such…how dare he now complain that viewing such has caused him stress—you want stress—go visit the families who lost their children and loved ones 3 years ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as we sorrowfully mark that sad anniversary this week….
Or go to Paris and Belgium and feel the weight of sadness, anger, frustration and worry in the loss of life as the world is still reeling from those horrific attacks as we now mark the one month anniversary to that tragedy.

You don’t like a painting?

Move on from said painting, finding one you do like…it’s that simple.

My hope for this country—and that list is gravely long, is that we can get our act together as a Nation, to truly see what it is that is most important to us as a whole—and that is that we take care of the elderly, the infirmed, the young, the homeless, the hungry, the less fortunate, our environment, the dying and the needy….
That we can stop for just one day from being so utterly self absorbed and self obsessed, that we can reach out beyond our own wants, our incessant need to tweet, post and the taking of one more self absorbed selfie…tossing all of that nonsense and worthlessness aside as we reach outwards, far away from self, outward to those around us who are in desperate need both physically as well as emotionally and more important spiritually….

God have mercy on us all….

Blood of the Lamb

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Agnes Dei / taken for the Church of England’s Common Worship)

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(watercolor / Julie Cook / 2011)

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12:13

God made a promise to His people that when the plagues descended upon Egypt
as a punishment to Egyptian people and their king, Pharaoh,
who kept the Israelites as captive slaves,
that He would spare the homes that were marked with the blood of
the sacrificial animals. . .the Spirit and Shadow of Death would “Pass Over”
the home marked with the blood,
yet woe to the unmarked homes as the Spirit of Death would claim the first born
of each home…

To be marked by the blood of the Lamb,
To be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb
To be saved by the blood of the Lamb.

I claim that blood today and everyday of my life,
to be marked, once again, on the threshold of my own home.
The sacrificial and saving blood of Jesus Christ.

Last evening, Lara Logan of 60 Minutes presented the story entitled Iraq’s Christians Persecuted by ISIS.
This Iraqi sect of Christianity, whose very inception dates to the 1st century–
to the time of the earliest followers of Jesus crucified,
sits precariously perched on the front lines between madness and annihilation.
The spoken language is Aramaic, the same ancient dialect of Jesus–
the only known group of Christians to still worship in His language.
Only a handful of monks remain in the 3rd century monastic stronghold and monastery
of St Matthews whose vista is a beautiful valley as old as time and yet eerily sits four miles from the Islamic State controlled border.

(click on the link to read and view the full story
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/iraq-christians-persecuted-by-isis-60-minutes/ )

These Northern Iraqi Christians, whose existence has flowed out the
fertile Nineveh plains of ancient Mesopotamia for almost 2000 years,
have withstood the kingdoms of Persia, the Ottomans, The Mongols and Kurds,
yet sadly it appears that there is one group who may actually have the final say
in the existence or final death of these ancient Christians…
The Islamic State also known as IS or ISIS or simply in Arabic as Da’esh.

The northern Iraqi city of Mosel now stands front and center as a
symbol of Da’esh occupation.
It is in Mosel, as well as the surrounding villages,
that these ancient Christians have claimed their home for nearly 2000 years.
Within the past several months roughly 125,000 Christians,
as well as clergy and monks, have fled due to Da’esh persecutions.

The homes of known Christians, as well as their churches,
are marked with a red spray painted arabic letter N which is the first
letter of the arabic word for Christian or Nasrani or Nazarene.

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(image taken from the web)

What an interesting irony it is to a different time and occupying force that once identified the homes and worship centers of a different group of people with a single yellow symbol.

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(image used from Virginia Edu.)

Have we not learned?
Does history teach us nothing?

The identified Christians, whose homes are marked,
are told that they must convert, pay exorbitant fees to the occupiers and /
or face “the sword”–the now familiar beheadings of those who oppose IS.
The threat is real as children and wives are often taken as an incentive for
conversion.
IS also states that the Islamic law prescribes that girls age of 10 and older
are to be married off.
Escape seems to be the only option.

The priests and monks who Ms. Logan interviewed are now refugees themselves,
having sought refuge in Kurdistan, as they too have fled their churches.
They left with very little of the holy treasures which have been entrusted to
them for thousands of years which were the very building blocks of their
heritage and faith…which are in turn building blocks to our heritage and faith.

Many articles and manuscripts date back to the 1st century.
Sadly those treasures, those pieces of our global Christian heritage of both
faith and history, which were left behind, have most likely been burned and
destroyed by IS.
Just as we see in the images of the desecration of ancient churches.

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(This image taken from the web, IJReveiw)

This image from the UK’s Daily Mail shows an IS militant taking a sledge hammer
to the tomb of the Prophet Jonah who Christians, Jews and Muslims all revere.

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I just don’t know what the World, the global family of humanity, needs to see,
needs as evidence, in order to stand up… taking not merely an interest
but taking a stand, as to what is currently taking place.

The Obama Administration continues to refuse to call the attacks on the Christians
of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc as “Christian Persecution”

When asked by Logan, Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf responded to what could be done,
what could be done by those “good” Muslims…
he stated that they could “Speak up. Of course, there is good people of
the Islam people. There is not all Muslim people [that] are bad.
I believe. But where is the good people? Where is their voice? Nothing.
Few. Few.

He then adds, “They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.”

This 60 Minutes story comes on the heels of the latest news regarding the
“US Military Hit List” composed by IS.
It is a list of one hundred military personnel and their families—
names, addresses, personal information…
a seemingly harmless list yet actually a vile and sinister list
as it is a list intended for death.
IS has called upon all jihadists to kill these 100 individuals
and their families.

The information however was not hacked, not stolen but rather gathered
easily from Social Networks such as Facebook and even from Governmental
websites.

I just don’t know what it’s going to take for the free world to take
notice of the fact that the freedoms we all seem to take for granted are
sitting on a very fragile glass table and there are those who stand
ready with sledge hammers to smash the table and all that sits upon
it into oblivion. . .

I will close with a favorite quote I’ve often used before…
it is debated if this quote was first used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer or
by Martin Niemöller–both German Lutheran pastors imprisoned in
the Nazi Death Camps–
Bonhoeffer eventually being executed and
Niemöller being released at the end of the war.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to
speak up.”

–Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945

A man and his paints

“Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely”
Sir Winston Churchill

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(photograph of Winston Churchill at his easel taken from the Daily Telegraph Sunday insert 1965 / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is it that defines a man?
What is it that defines greatness?
What sets some men apart from others?
Does eccentricity and genius run merrily along hand in hand?

January 30, 1965, exactly fifty years ago, there was a funeral held to mark the passing of a life from this world to the next. I was a mere 6 years old. There was not the streaming online constant and instant 24 / 7 news coverage in 1965, beaming and streaming live action of the funeral around the globe, but that is not to say that the world did not briefly stop that somber January day, so very long ago, in order to take notice of the silent passing of greatness from one dimension to the next.

It is a rare event in the United Kingdom to afford anyone other than a crowned monarch or consort a state funeral. Rarer still is the assembling of much of the world’s leaders, statesmen, monarchs and dignitaries for the funeral of a mere prime minister. Yet after having lain in state for three days in Westminster Hall, affording the general public a chance to offer a personal farewell, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was honored by both prince and pauper at one of the most memorable state funerals, other than that of Queen Victoria and King George, which the 20th century had ever seen. Within Sir Christopher Wren’s 1675 architectural marvel, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the world bid a splendid farewell to one of the most renowned figures of the 20th century.

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(even the often cold and arrogant honored this giant of a man as witnessed by a final salute offered by General Charles De Gaulle )

However, behind the façade of soldier, commander-in-chief, statesman, historian, author, MP, Prime Minister, husband and father, resided a man whose peace and solace was found quietly behind a canvas.

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These photographs are pulled from several of the English periodicals dating from 1949-65 which are a part of my beloved Churchill collection. It is because of Churchill’s stalwart leadership during World War II which most of the world thinks it knows this enigma of a man—however the true identity of a man is not always found in the obvious places nor within plain sight. This most brilliant and equally eccentric man, who helped to shape much of the modern world as we know it today, was much more than statesman or commander. . .he was more than husband and father, or Victorian dreamer— Winston Churchill was a prolific painter who sought and found inner peace during the turbulence of personal, professional and world tragedies, through the simple art of painting.

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(images of paintings on loan to the Millennial Gate Museum in Atlanta, Georgia offering a tribute of the man and his pairings)

Yet below, in this most famous image of “the Big Three” taken from the conference at Yalta, in the waning months of the war,there is much more taking place than just an orchestrated famous photo op of the three men to whom responsibility fell to mould and remodel a new world. . . There is actually much more going on in this image—there is a hidden and secret dance of diplomacy and duplicity being secretly choreographed by a cold and calculating man who was a master deception–this image is the pure essence of power plays, betrayal, death, and hidden terror all silently playing out before the cameras of a painfully yet hopeful naive world.

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The slight smile on Winston’s face is misleading. Stalin never hid his disdain for the Prime Minister. He also believed he held the President as a puppet in his hands, being able to manipulate a frail shadow of a man as Roosevelt was tired, sick and not much longer for the world. Roosevelt died of a massive stroke only two months following the conference.

Roosevelt came to the conference looking wistfully towards a new world order. At this point he didn’t care what sacrifices had to be made in order to establish his elusive global Nirvana. Winston was more weary, cautious to the resetting of a dangerous chess board with equally deadly results as compared to the game which was in the process of just being played out. Winston felt beaten and betrayed. He had been mislead, left out, manipulated, lied to and betrayed by a dear friend as well as mocked and ridiculed by a wolf, or in this case an angry grizzly bear, in sheep’s clothing. He too was tired as the weight of the world rested upon his aging hunched shoulders.

And it was to his art that Winston would retreat, again and again and again. . .as most often it is to the gift of creativity that a man finds himself turning to, being drawn to, in order to set his world back to balance. In the mere act of painting or to the repetitive laying of brick in order to repair an ancient wall to a family home, Winston found comfort. He was able make sense of often senseless situations. . .in the freedom of putting paint to canvas he could find the easing of mind and solace of spirit both elusive and often battered and bruised from the realities of an often cruel world.

Outlets, diversions, distractions, escape—whatever form of creativity a man seeks, it is all a part of his birth right, a divinely inspired gift of talent and wonderment, bestowed upon him by the one true Master of Divine Creativity. It is what is good in a man. It is what is positive. Just as man works toward waging death and destruction, he works equally towards that which is aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, redeeming and edifying.

Man’s ability to create, to make “art”—is a source of peace and calm. It is a counterbalance in a world bent on death and destruction. It is the tiny piece of hope instilled in man by his Creator which helps to serve the betterment of all of mankind–a gift within an individual which has the ability to ripple outward throughout the ages, resonating to generations yet to be. . . that hope, beauty, good, wonder and joy are indeed alive and well and still very possible as the world continues to allow the dark clouds of death to gather overhead.

It was to this very “gift” that Winston sought his peace, his time of release and his place of balance in a world spiraling out of control. May we all be mindful that such a gift is still very much a part of each of us and has the tremendous ability to heal and comfort in our own equally dizzying time of madness. . .

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A colonial artist and a famous yellow line

When the sword of rebellion is drawn, the sheath should be thrown away
John Singleton Copley

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(statue of John Singleton Copley, Copley Square, Boston, Mass / Julie Cook / 2014)

Well I suppose I made it too easy for you.
Yes it’s true, I’m a tag-a-long on a quick trip to Boston.
I’ve never been to Boston before but being a lover of history, I’m certain I can find enough to keep me happy, as well as entertained.
It also helps that I love lobsta. . .

Have you ever noticed how the New Englanders end all their words with an “a” sound?
Have you also ever noticed how the minute I open my mouth, every one immediately knows I’m from “down there”, as in waaaaayyyy down South?
I swear I do not intentionally add syllables to my words. . .as they probably think the er at the end of a word is pronounced as an “a”—go figure.

And I wouldn’t be a very good art teacher if I didn’t share with you the surprise encounter with a familiar friend, who I accidentally ran into this afternoon. As our hotel is located in what is known as the Back Bay area near Copley Square, I ran into John Singleton Copley–or actually I ran into, not literally mind you, his statue.

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) was a colonial American painter best known for his portrait work. Copley established himself as a successful artist long before our war for Independence.
He is claimed as a favored son of Boston who was born to humble parents. . . who had actually made their way to this fledgling new country by way of Ireland.

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A notable Copley portrait of Paul Revere painted in 1770

Copley’s bronze statue, which I stumbled upon by mere happenstance, is but a stone’s throw from the famous yellow finish line of the famed Boston Marathon. As I walked along the sidewalk, heading back toward our hotel up from the finish line, I was deeply touched noting the small subtle remembrances left behind by individuals who have gently woven tributes into the fabric of this city– small reminders to and for the victims of the Marathon bombings. There remains a palpable determination deeply rooted in “Boston Strong”

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Stay tuned—today there is to be a small personal adventure and quest for the remaining traces of Julia—
“Julia” you ask?
Why of course silly—Julia, as in Julia Child, as in Julia lived in Cambridge and her house is still there —I come to seek the queen of butter. . .I can’t wait!!

Some folks come to Boston in search of Lobster (aka Lobsta), some come for the Red Socks, some come for a tea party, some come to run. . .but I come for the queen of cream. . .

Blind color, color blind

Color which, like music, is a matter of vibrations, reaches what is most general and therefore most indefinable in nature: its inner power…
Paul Gauguin
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During the course of my long career in the classroom, I taught several students who were color blind. This always provided an extra challenge during our painting units as regular color theory lessons, with the various exercises on mixing and blending, became quite complicated. Compensating, in order that these students could benefit along with everyone else, made for challenging unit planning.

There was one young man, I recall, in particular, many years ago, who was busy painting a lovely landscape. He was so excited, as he progressed along, that he came running to me with painting in hand asking for my approval. “Look, look, Mrs. Cook–what do you think?” he asked as he proudly showed me his painting.

I noticed how brown the grass was as I could actually see good and well that he was looking at very green grass. I told him that things appeared to be ‘so far so good’ but that he may want to add a touch more green to the grass (we were working on color theory and realistic color combinations). After a bit longer, the same young man came running back, once again with painting in tow, “What about now?” he triumphantly asks.

This time the grass was a heavy sea of brunt umber. “Hummmm” I silently wondered. I then asked him to show me the bottle from which he was getting his “green” paint. He hands me a bottle of burnt umber paint… “see, dark green” he explains.

Ahhh—I immediately asked if he’s ever been told that he may be color blind–of which he replied “no.” I grab a green bottle of paint and red bottle of paint asking what he sees. Shades of yellow browns he tells me. A note goes home letting his mom know of my suspicion and that she may want to have it checked out professionally.

It is not uncommon for males to be color blind with green and red being the prominent colors to “suffer”—it’s a lovely lesson on the rods and cones of the eye as well as chromosomes–all of which I will leave to the experts to explain.

Years later, in one of the advanced painting classes, I had a young woman come to me the first day of class explaining that she was completely color blind–that she only saw shades of gray. Talk about a challenge. Here we were in an upper level painting class and she tells me she can only denote shades of grey. Wow. I worried about how effective I could be and what I could offer her in order to make the subject matter relevant and meaningful.

I will say however, as we were working with the concept of texture, light and color, while studying Van Gogh, this young woman produced one on the nicest oil pastel drawings based on a self portrait of Van Gogh that I had ever seen. She took a box of multi colored oil pastels, colors that she saw as only black white and various shades of grey, and proceeded to produce a most vibrant textual image–her take on Van Gogh’s use of color. It was a piece I know Vincent would have loved.

I recall all of this as we, in the northern hemisphere, enter the time of year that is most often void of color. Our time of winter grey skies, dull brown yards, leafless trees of varying tones of grey and brown sticks. A time of monotone shades of shadows and shapes.

Yet just when all appears the same lifeless dull tone, as we mindlessly muddle about bundled and wrapped up like mummies on autopilot, there will be a startling burst of color which punctuates the endless emptiness of the void known as winter. Be it a male cardinal hopping about on the snow, holly berries glistening under a fresh coat of ice—it is as if we are momentarily blinded as our eyes must adjust. We squint almost as if in pain, blinded temporarily by the intensity of which we no longer are accustomed.

These small treats and teases of color offer not only visual interest in a barren landscape but they more importantly offer hope; a sort of life saver in an endless sea of emptiness.

Now don’t get me wrong— I certainly do believe beauty is found in winter–as indeed winter has a crisp, pristine clean, loveliness. However, there can be a bit of a white and grey overload—one that can lead to a dulling of the visual senses.

So as we all prepare to hunker down against the raw wet days of white and grey which lay ahead, be mindful that just when we think life is lacking the fresh beauty of flowers and the emerald shades of succulent leaves, Mother Nature throws us a small treat, hoping to tide us over a bit longer to those brighter more colorful days ahead.

Santo Subito

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(Photograph: detail of painting by Julie Cook)

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
― John Paul II

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(Photograph: watercolor/ mixed media painting by Julie Cook)