don’t put a squashed pine cone in your mouth…

“the ‘task of the conscience’– a word of great value in Western civilization,
is to determine what that divine purpose is and then to live
it out irrespective of the cost”

observations about Pope John Paul by George Weigel
excerpt taken from The Divine Plan
John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Dramatic End of the Cold War
by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando

The above image is a picture within a picture…or rather, it’s a still-shot from a video.
And the title is a quote I actually uttered yesterday…
as in, “DO NOT PUT THAT SQUASHED PINECONE IN YOUR MOUTH!!

However, that story will have to wait as I simply needed an
the attention-grabbing title today…
As in I wanted your full and undived attention.

I’ve been spending time with the Mayor and the new Sheriff the past several days,
helping out…and I hate that I’ve not even had the chance to share with you about their
charming encounter with the ocean…
But it seems as if the world has tilted just a bit further off her axis and has needed
a tad more of my attention than merely my chattering on as a doting grandmother
who’s droning on about her grandkids…

But first a quick word to the wise…it is not prudent nor is it wise to pick up a run over
and flattened pinecone and proceed to poke it into your mouth and then bite down…just saying.

But now to the matter at hand.

It seems that there has been a lot of talk as of late…here in the blogosphere, FB
(or so I’m told) as well as on various Christian media outlets about more and more
big-name Christians announcing their seemingly sudden withdrawal from the fold
so to speak.

As in there appears to be a slight uptick in the number of those recanting their faith
all in very public places and on very public platforms.

Odd to want to grandstand over losing one’s faith.
Opting to be vocal and in the spotlight rather than introspective, sad and
living the loss.

Or as IB so aptly noted the other day, in the words of the famous band out of
Athens, GA—REM—grandstanding over ‘Losing My Religion’…

And to be honest…not being one who runs in the evangelical or other
protestant denomination’s circles or one who keeps up with the current mega-church craze,
I can’t say that I’m familiar with many of these recently fallen sheep.

But as I’ve been reading…there is indeed a long, sad, public and very vocal fall
taking place.

I have, however, on the other hand, been a bit more focused on the sexual abuse scandal
rocking the Catholic Chruch as well as the naming of a few notable and now long deceased
Anglican priests whose names have been sullied by the same accusations.

And so as I look out over the horizon of our collective Christian faith—
our denominations far and wide, I can see Satan being very busy as work.

I’ve written about this so many times before that I think I must just be beating my head
against a brick wall but there is a divide and conquer mentality being applied to the
Christian fold and it is being applied fast and furious…
And the thing is… nobody seems to “get it”

I’ve also written that this is indeed a mad world—a mad mad world on so many levels.
Mad as in crazy nuts and mad as in viscerally angry.
We have troubles my friends and I do indeed fret for my darling grandchildren.

The slick lies that are being tossed about fast and loose as truth
from things such as children’s tv and music, to what defines a family, to
legalized murder in delivery rooms, all the way to the odd notion of fluid genders…
it is enough to make me want to grab up my babies and run and hide.

But we cannot hide.

We cannot ignore it any longer.
We cannot turn a blind eye and pretend this isn’t happening.

We are being spoon fed lies as truth.
Lies as legalized truth.

As a once overly zealous teen, when reading the stories of those early Christian martyrs in
places such as Rome and Judea, I would often imagine having been there and how I would have
hoped to have stood up so bravely as those countless men and women who suffered
grievously under torture, mutilation and even death—
suffered almost readily rather than giving in and recanting their faith.

Because their faith was precious.
It was dear.
It was sacred.

Today it seems to be more passe, victimized and tired.

And so when I read of these modern-day Christians recanting their faith
so flippantly and arrogantly, apologizing to the masses of those seemingly innocent souls
who they feel as if they had helped to lead astray, I am more than saddened, I am sickened.

For they have bought into the culture gods hook, line and sinker…
They are now the poster children of a hedonistic and self-absorbed culture…
selling a bad bag of goods to an innocent fold.

There are thousands around this world of ours who continue to die for the Christian faith.
They worship in secret and in whispered tones.
They live in places such as Russia, China, Africa, Myanmar, Yemen, Iran, Iraq…
They love Jesus and are willing to pay the ultimate price for that love.

Their worship is not easy nor is it easy to come by…
not as it is here in the West.

And yet here in the West, we too indeed suffer as well.
It’s just that we suffer on a quieter level.

Our suffering is on a more insidious level.
Our suffering is often more psychological than physical.

We are shunned, ridiculed, threatened with legal action and told we may not utter
the name of God or Jesus as we once did…
Words spoken, along with the right to speak those words, was simply taken for granted.

And maybe that’s part of the problem.
We’ve taken for granted the Precious and the Sacred.
We trivialized our God and made that which is Great, small.

And now Satan is working overtime.

Time is running out.
He knows this.

So, therefore, be not quiet.
Speak up and speak out.
Because it is a mad world…
in all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways…

Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

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(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)

A season of texture and tones

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others.”
Albert Schweitzer

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(Pinecones from Dad’s yard, along with a fungus covered dead branch, Julie Cook 2013)

With the rapidly approaching official arrival of winter we are, no doubt, beginning to feel as if we are spiraling into a type of color withdrawal. Gone are the beautiful scarlets, golds and burnt oranges of Autumn; gone are the golden swaying wheat fields and the intoxicatingly beautiful jasmine and honeysuckle of Summer; gone are the vibrant explosives reds, blues, greens and lavenders, of Spring. For in this deep slumbering shadow of the calendar, we are left with an empty void of nothingness, or for some, a giant blanket of white encasing every living and non-living thing as far as the eye can see.

Yet in this perceived void of lacking and emptiness, there remains a very important component to our field of vision, for suddenly open for the entire world to view, the earth lies naked before both creature and man— exposed, unprotected and vulnerable. Gone are the colorful coverings of flowers and leaves which act as accessorizing baubles and wrappings. Gone are the tall grasses and heavy ladened branches bearing fruit and flower. What remains is an intricately woven skeletal system, the undercarriage of our natural world.

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Cautiously, and a bit weary, we peer out upon this barren landscape, sad and forlorn, fearing that we are doomed to grey gloomy skies, long dark nights and a lack of visual stimulation. But thankfully a slow hesitant joy begins to claim our mood, for upon closer inspection we realize that we are not the helpless victims of Loss and Void, but rather we discover that we have been granted a tiny treasured lagniappe, a treat for all of our senses, for spread out majestically before us is a different type of visual splendor—one which appears more delicate and almost fragile than what had departed–for here, in what we now find at our grasp, is beauty in its most basic simplicity.

Branches, limbs, sticks, stones, straw, bark, cones and moss—these are the bare essentials which Nature generously offers to our visually weary senses. Wonderfully we rejoice for we now know that we have not been flung out helplessly to fester in a world of monotones and dull eyed death. Here in this seemingly cold and barren world– beauty is to be had, to be seen and to be touched. The visual wonders still abound.

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These visual treasures are not the garish over the top harlots of those previous seasons, but rather these beauties remain understated, subtle and quiet. They speak of structure, shape, texture and tone offering us a tactile reminder that our visual needs have not been forgotten. Old man Winter may be hard and harsh, but he is not unkind. As you fight the deep calling to venture outside to a world of cold wind, freezing rain and gloomy grays, do not be discouraged—Nature knows your need and she has provided.

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Beautify the place of my Sanctuary

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(Photograph: The Pacific Rim Trail, a spruce’s pinecones/ Julie Cook/2013)


The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary;
and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

Isaiah 60:13
Revised Standard Version

I hope that at some point this summer, you will be able to get outside, enjoying the wonders of Nature–it is restorative and soothing to whatever ails the spirit…..even if it’s just out around the yard–or sitting on the front porch…. If only to enjoy watching the birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window or the hummingbirds darting about.

I marvel at our almost seemingly dire need for Nature… as is noted by the rising numbers of urban gardens–the abandoned city lots transformed into agricultural wonders complete with raised beds of vegetables galore, the rooftops of apartment and business buildings transformed into urban oasis, the growing surge in chefs desire to produce garden to table meals providing patrons with that oh so fresh experience—which indeed does make a dramatic palate difference.

It seems to be something almost innate, a prewired component—is that why we see such an insurgence in the number of urban pet owners—the pets that require us to get out for a walk, as we decide to take them with us everywhere we go…are they perhaps a small excuse to head to the dog park, the city park, a drive out of town for some “exercise”… 🙂

No matter—the woods, the park, the shore, the mountains, the pasture, the backyard…are all calling—quit reading this and get going….just I must quite writing in order to get going myself 🙂
Happy Trials to you………