Wise men still blessedly seek and know…

“God desires to reveal His heart to us and to build His heart
into us as we seek His face.”

Bill Mills

Something I learned this past week that I didn’t know,
is that as soon as a President becomes President, the planning for his death and funeral
is set in motion.

Being President is such a huge role that it seems that it doesn’t matter when you leave the office—
not nearly as much as it does as when you leave this life.

Shortly after taking the helm, President 41 was approached by his aides that he would need
to sit down in order to write up his final wishes for his funeral service…
orchestrate it, if you will, down to every last detail.

Here he was just settling into the new job and when he’s told he needs to focus on his death.

An odd paradox to any new president to be sure.

Reluctantly President 41 agreed but forlornly mused that he doubted anyone would be
showing up.

He wasn’t being self-deprecating for show…he honestly thought no one would really
want to show up for such a thing as his funeral.

I admit– I hate funerals.
I attend them only if it is absolutely necessary.

I think that goes back to when I was 7 and my grandfather died unexpectantly.
I was crushed because he was so great, so grand, so special…so mine…
So when he died, I had to grow up fast enough to be a “big” girl throughout his
death and funeral.
I next had to witness the very visible downward spiral of my grandmother shortly following…

It was a hard time for a 7-year old little girl who adored her grandparents.

I’ve never cared for funerals since.

I buried my cousin, who was my best friend when I was 21; my mother when I was 26;
my grandmother when I was 26; my other grandmother when I was 29; my brother when I was 35;
my dad when I was 58; my aunt when I 58…
that doesn’t count the numerous friends and colleagues I’ve helped bury nor that of my
husband’s family…it just never seems to end.

So I can understand the reluctance in having to sit down and plan such a thing when such
thoughts seem to need to rest on a back shelf someplace else…
at least for just a little while longer.

I suppose the sense of urgency for a president to plan his own funeral may have come
from the assassination of a youthful John F. Kennedy.
I’ve not researched this so I could be wrong…it may actually go back much further than that
but I just figure after JFK, the suddenness of death didn’t seem so far removed after all.

Yet over the course of this seemingly long week of somberness and grief, I have
actually been sweetly blessed.
I have learned some important lessons.

Lessons such as… allowing one’s life, rather than ones’ words, to be the true witness of
how to live and of how to treat others.

I’ve learned how to be a servant.

I’ve learned how to be gracious in all circumstances.

I’ve learned how humor cures.

I’ve learned the importance of always being gracious and humble.

I’ve learned that there is hope in death.

I’ve learned that age is just a number.

I’ve learned that physical limitations should not be seen as a limitation to living but
rather as an opportunity.

And I’ve learned that as we grow older, we do indeed grow wiser.
Or so should be our hope.

We lose the smugness and arrogance of a more youthful self and we realize that there
are things that are truly greater than ourselves.

I watched many an older gentleman, this past week, speak of a dear old friend in terms
of a knowingness.

These men, most of whom hail from “the Greatest Generation”…
men who were once important and powerful, speak now of their smallness compared to the greatness
of their Creator, their Savior, their God…
He who is much greater than themselves.

I heard them speak of God and His greatness as well as His graciousness.
I heard them speak of humility and lessons learned.

These are men who lived large lives and yet remained grounded.

I told a blogging friend this past week that every time one more member of this Greatest
Generation dies, I feel a little less safe and little less secure.

That was until I heard and saw the visible lessons offered by our 41st president and those
who knew him best…throughout a life well lived and through a slow dying
of which ended with love and grace.

The reflection of a parish priest who witnessed the 60 plus years of a loving friend stroke
the feet of his dying friend.
Of how the President seemed to have slipped into that place between life and death
as those who gathered around him waited.

Yet James Baker stood at the foot of the bed and rubbed the feet of his friend and who
in turn, with eyes closed and no words spoken, smiled.

The priest thought of Jesus who after all had been said and done that Passover evening,
proceeded to wash the feet of his dear friends.

This oh so divided Nation that is rife with its fair share of smugness, arrogance, defiance,
and yes, even hate…a Nation I have been so fretful over…

Well, it was throughout this week that I was reminded that we are capable of being better
when we are needed to be.
We can rise above when necessary…

And so my friends, it is that time…it is the time that we hold ourselves accountable.
We must be wise and not foolish.
As it is imperative that we remember that there is something, Someone, so much greater
than ourselves.

He is our Creator and we are his created and it is time that we seek His grace.

confessionals

“The punishment of every disordered mind is its own disorder.”
St. Augustine of Hippo


(an Italian confessional in St Peter’s / The Vatican, Rome / Julie Cook / 2018)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,
that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16

Let me back up a tad…

Back at the end of June, my husband retired.

He had spent 50 years running a small family business.

It was not how he had wanted to spend his life.
It was not his dream.
But it was his lot in the world of his sense of duty.

So when he made the decision to throw in the towel after 50 long grueling years,
I knew I wanted to do something special.
Something memorable to mark such a monumental occasion.

But what would be special?

A trip perhaps?

And perhaps not just any trip.
Perhaps a bucket list sort of trip.

For my husband, however, his idea of leaving this country has simply been crossing over the
border into Canada.
Not that anything is wrong with wandering into Canada…
but Canada’s border wasn’t in the bucket.

The only time my husband had truly left the country, as in the continent,
was in the mid-1970’s.

He was in his sophomore year of college, playing college football, with his eye set on
dentistry or even coaching…
but at the behest of his father, or more like the demand of an abusive alcoholic father,
he stoically left where he was happiest and went to the Joseph Bulova School
in Queen’s New York where he eventually earned a degree in Horology.
That being the study of watches and watchmaking.
And with that followed studies with the GIA institute to become a gemologist and
diamond graduate.

Never his plan but rather what his father demanded what he was to do with his life as
he felt obliged to do so.

Following two years of surviving ad enduring life in New York,
this small town country boy was then sent to America Somoa where he managed the Bulova Watch Plant
for a year’s time.

It was following this year in absentia, a year of living on a 5-mile wide and long island that he
vowed, that if he ever made it home, he’d never leave the country again.

And that vow stuck…for 50 long years.
With, of course, Canada being excluded.

So now let us fast forward to a man 69 years of age and finally retiring…
I told him that if he would like…if he was willing…
I would make the bucket list trip happen.

And so he actually delightfully agreed.

The bucket list trip had always been to Normandy, France.

Or rather, it was to the beaches and towns of the D-Day invasion.
The places where regular men were to be unknowingly transformed into heroes…
heroes because these average young men willingly gave up their lives for all of
Western Civilization’s precious gift of democracy and freedom—
a gift so woefully tested by our current society.

I will soon write about this personal pilgrimage of sorts within the coming days…
but before I do so, I want to address my concern over a current global obsession.

An obsession that only those living under rocks must be missing.

If you’ve ever found yourself traveling outside of the US and after a long
day or either business or touring, wanting to simply fall onto a bed while flipping on
a television hoping to catch a familiar sound of someone speaking your own language,
chances are your choice has been limited to one of two channels…
CNN International or the BBC International.

Both of which have a heavy dose of progressive liberalism in their slant
on global happenings.

Such was our lot during this recent Supreme Court nomination fiasco.

We were subjected to the willy-nilly, the sky is falling Henny Penny sense of
hysteria coming from the news anchors of CNN International.
I actually caught each and every nuanced slur and sensationalistic little dig.

So I will giddily confess…I was greatly happy to be out of the country during all of the
obsession over the Kavanaugh hearings…
or more aptly put…the grilling, the scrutinizing and the personal persecution
of a seemingly decent man, husband, father and professional.

I will not belabor this latest idiocy of ours as I am sick of it all.
Sick of the latest low we, as a Nation, have sunk to.

That we have actually allowed ourselves to conduct governmental dealings as a sleazy
tabloid trash reality show would do…of which I find disgusting…
disgusted over our irreprehensible assinine behavior…is beyond my soul.

Scintillating and titillating are two words I would never have ever considered using when thinking
about, let alone describing, a hearing process working towards the nomination of a Supreme
Court Justice…
Rather we should consider words steeped deeply in the tedious law-minded legal policies
and ponderings of a judicial system.

If we are now wanting to use the haphazard adolescent behavior from our teenaged years
as benchmark measures for our adult appointments and advancements then I fear every last
human being will be in store for a rude awakening if not a ton of troubles.
For what young person among us hasn’t done something dumb, shameful, wrong, illegal
and or simply arrogantly stupid?

For is that now how we, in part, learn?
Learning from youthful idiotic mistakes and poor choices as we make our way
to adulthood?

We just pray, as do the adults in our lives, that such mistakes and poor youthful judgment calls
are not overly detrimental, utterly devastating or sadistically dubious…
and yet sadly, in many cases, they are…

Consider the adolescent bravado of living fast, furious and large while mixing life and death consequences…
James Dean comes to mind.

And no, we are not talking about pathological psychosis that gives way to bizarre heinous actions.
Here we are talking about poor judgemental actions by, more often than not,
self-centered egotistical youth not the actions of psychopaths.

And so when recently visiting St Peter’s in Rome while passing by a confessional booth…
I was struck immediately by our human sinful nature.
Something that hangs over us like a heavy dusty suffocating curtain.

I grew up in a liturgical church…a church with the prayers of confession and confessions
to a priest…all being the norm.
I for one often found myself on that confessing end, seeking both prayerful wisdom and direction
from those more knowledgeable and wizened than myself as I made my way through the muddy waters of
growing up balancing on the wire between my newly professed faith while finding my way as a willful
teenager.

Absolution.

Absolution which we graciously offer to those who seek forgiveness…
the ultimate absolution granted to each of us from the one who hung on a cross.

“Go and sin no more” said the Jewish rabbi to the adulteress woman.

The confessional is a sacred form of sharing from the penitent to the priest.
It is a protected sharing…protected even in a court of law.
For it is a sharing between penitent, priest and God.
And yet, I somehow sense that our rabid politicians and progressive liberal culture,
coupled with the hyper-rabid news media, would find the confessional null and void
for the sinners among us…as they seem to find themselves above reproach…

Yet who among us is worthy of casting that stone?

My concern is not with what took place 35 years ago by a supposed 16-year-old kid
and those who can and cannot recall the who, what and wheres of cloudy recollections…
but rather with the dubious ploys used by those who simply hate a president and everything
attached to his tenure.

Such that they seek a saint amongst the sinners…

May God have mercy on us all…

If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

what lengths are you willing to go so that no one will ever forget?

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.
Malcolm Muggeridge


(Photo: Getty Images/Ellen van Bodegom)

Maybe you’ve fantasized about living out your days in a Mediterranean villa.
You might have even gone so far as to check listings before the reality of your
bank account forced you to give up on the dream.
Well, despair no longer.
One town on the Italian island of Sardinia is offering the real estate deal of a
lifetime, as long as you’re willing to stick around for the long haul.
In Ollolai, one of several hundred historic homes could be yours for just $1.25 (€1).
Yes, really.
Mayor Efisio Arbau successfully petitioned local residents to turn over their
abandoned homes in the town,
which then put them on the market for the attention-grabbing low price.

The aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known for its
successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.
The village’s population has shrunk from 2,250 to 1,300 over the years,
and the migration of its younger people to larger cities has led to a declining birthrate.
“My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion,”
Arbau told CNN.
“We’ve always been tough people and won’t allow our town to die.”

as seen on Conde Nast Traveler / CNN Travel

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/ollolai-italy-one-euro-homes/index.html

I always love these stories—the ones about the small tranquil village that has witnessed
a tremendous decline in its inhabitants and in turn makes almost outlandish sales offers
in hopes of luring would-be occupants and potential citizens to come own, inhabit and live,
all at very little expense, for a piece of paradise.

And we know that the reasons for these villages slow deaths are for all sorts of troubles…
families move, youth…when grown…move-out and away,
and the Old…well they have simply died…

And so now all these small communities, all over the globe, begin to slowly shrivel up and die…

The young see no growth, no fun, no potential, no reason to stay.
Young families have no real choice in schooling or sound medical care.
Those trying to make a living and livelihood discover that such is nearly nonexistent…
while the Old have hung on for as long as they can, yet are now dying off in large numbers…

It is the visual death knell sounding for small communities worldwide.

And yet there is a real desire that these communities remain for they have existed for eons…
they have been the underpinning, the lynchpins, of our greater society as a whole…

And of course, the catch for the potential buyer is always the caveat of remodeling
and pouring copious amounts of cash into the refurbishing of said piece of paradise.

But I’ll admit, the allure of buying a piece of paradise for all of a buck is pretty darn
appealing…however it’s the copious amounts of cash needed for the remodeling, modernizing
and upkeep that is the killer of the dream.

And so I bring all of this up as I’m still making my way through Andreas Knapp’s book
The Last Christians…Stories of Persecution, Flight, Resilience in the Middle East.

You may remember it was the book that my publishing friend from Plough Publishing House
sent out for my perusal back around Christmas.

It’s not a long book and you’d think I would have finished it ages ago,
but it is a book that demands my full attention—
especially since I take highlighter in hand as I read, along with a notepad
as I make notes while reading.
I cover only a few pages or a chapter a day here and there as time allows…

For meatier stories demand our utmost attention…and this is such a tale because the
subjects of this story deserve nothing less.

And it is not an easy read—it is not easy reading about persecution, murders, terror,
and insanity.

I was struck by what Mayor Efisio Arbauin said in the Conde Nast / CNN article
about why he wants to maintain his dying village in Sardinia.
“the aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known
for its successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.”

Advertise like crazy as we want to maintain an ancient town that stood up against
an aggressive, mighty, powerful and brutal empire…

And yet I marvel at how the world at large will allow the last remaining true
Aramaic Christians, who trace their lineage, which in turn is our lineage,
back to Jesus himself–a world that will allow, nay is allowing,
these Aramaic Christians to be tortured, murdered,
disbanded, scattered and ultimately totally destroyed and wiped from the face of the Earth.

Read the following excerpt offered by the book’s author Fr Knapp along with a
priest and Bishop Petros Mouche who is the leading prelate of a
dispersed and disparaged people:

“Many people in Western countries, he points out, campaign for the protection of
animal species threatened with extinction.
And yet all appeals to halt the loss of the oldest Christian
Culture and its people and language have been ignored by the Western World”

(Bishop Petros Mouche displaced Syriac Catholic)

A young priest along with the Bishop both relate their tales of horror to the author
Fr. Knapp

“He who says nothing implies consent”
Latin Proverb

“How can we rebuild our trust?”
We can’t simply forget what happened.
And how can there be reconciliation with our Muslim neighbors when they haven’t expressed
the slightest regret?
Indeed will Muslims ever be capable of acknowledging any guilt toward us Christians?
Bishop Petros intervenes quietly at this point: “In times like these, we ourselves
can experience feelings of aggression.
We must overcome them.
It is God’s will that we should love our enemies.

I am silent, left speechless by his stance in the face of such a brutal reality.
He shakes his head thoughtfully.
“We can’t just forget what has happened.
But we will ask God to forgive the offenders
and lead them to think differently.”

Still, the white-haired bishop’s face betrays a deep anguish.
With this last oasis of Iraqi Christianity now under IS control,
and a nearly two-thousand-year-old
local church reduced to rubble, Qaraqosh is like a ghost town.
Bishop Petros is especially troubled by the fate of a three-year-old girl and some
young women abducted from the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain who–
like the Yazidi women-face sexual abuse, forced marriages with
Islamic fighters and slavery.

Bishop Petros told me of one eighty-year-old man who asked the terrorists why there wouldn’t
spare his family any food for the children;
their response was to hack off his hands and feet.

And yet the Bishop states that “they may have lost everything else,
but they have never lost their faith.”

What will the world be willing to offer in order to save these last Christians?
What will Christians be willing to offer in order to save these ancient brothers and sisters?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,
who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

Silence, authentic and evil

“The Islamic State’s genocide of Christians in the Middle East is well
documented. Yet this modern atrocity is often judged less newsworthy than the
jihadists’ destruction of the region’s cultural heritage. What are the roots
and human realities of this unfolding tragedy in the birthplace of three
great religions?”

back cover offering of the book The Last Christians by Fr Andreas Knapp


(one of our trees in last week’s snow / Julie Cook / 2017)

Speaking of books arriving via the post….
another bookmailer showed up in my mailbox yesterday…

Dare I say that this most recent book will take us in a vastly different
direction than the children’s book seen in yesterday’s post
If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhofel….
Not to say that there won’t be both poignancy, sorrow and loss…
but such will be on a scale that will touch all of us rather than some of us….

This recent book does not look to be an easy read.
Not that there should be great burdensome amount of academic depth but rather simply
the hard tale of human loss and suffering on an epic and historic proportion….
and yet mostly on an overlooked and even ignored level.

Of which is actually most perplexing given the significance of the situation.

The book is entitled The Last Christians by Andreas Knapp

“For a long time Christians in the Middle East have been condemned to silence.
For centuries they have been discriminated against by a predominantly Muslim
society and, as a minority, they have been forced to quietly accept
injustice and lead an inconspicuous life in the shadows.
Even I, a preist and theologian, was for a long time unaware of the moving story
of Christians in Syria and Iraq.

Two years ago, I met some Christians from the Middle East who now live in my
neighborhood of Grunau, in Leipzig, Germany. Having listened to their stories,
I was so moved I had to write them down.
They may not be entirely politically correct, but they are correct in
the sense that they are authentic.”

Fr Andrea Knapp

It is noted from the publisher that “remarkably, though these last Christians hold
no hope of ever returning to their homes, they also harbor no thirst for revenge.
Could it be that they–along with the Christians of the West, whose interest will
determine their fate–hold the key to breaking the cycle of violence in the region?

Their’s is a story that I have actually written about before…
around the same time Fr Knapp, the German priest,
came to see with his own eyes, then came to write down his interactions
and observations…
but yet this is a story that is still exceedingly timely and necessary to hear.

My origianal post is from March of 2015 and is more informative
than what is offered here today…as it includes a 60 Minutes segment in which
Lara Logan had also gone to visit the region in order to see and hear
first hand the plight of this particular group of ancient Christians.

The post offers images and insight into the barbarism used by ISIS to systematically annihilate this last vestige of the original Christians who have existed in this
region since both the death and resurrection of Christ.

Regarding the book…I have not yet had a chance to delve into it…
but from what I have gleaned from the tantalizing tidbits…
this will be not only a very important tale to Christians but also a hugely important
story for historians, Jews as well as Muslims…as it actually determines the course
of humanity.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/blood-of-the-lamb/

And perhaps ironically today, as I was thinking about these first Christians who are
lined up to be the last of their kind, I caught a very brief, like all of 2 minute,
video clip of an interview of sorts given by the Reformed Presbyterian Minister David Robertson—
a clip where he is responding to the question of
‘How does the existence of Evil undermine the atheistic worldview?

Pastor Robertson notes that in the mind of an atheist, the existence of Evil
is a clear sign that there is no God.
As they will rationalize that if there was a God,
He would in turn be all powerful and therefore He could and would prevent all Evil….
So since there is Evil, there is obviously no God.

Yet on the flip side of all of that is how then does the atheist define Evil
with no moral absolutes?
If there are no rules, no judgements, no afterlife, no God, no way of resolving
or dealing with Evil, how does the atheist actually deal with the concept of
evil in any sort of defining way.
The answer… He cannot.

So the non believer has a conundrum…with the mindset of ‘well, since there is no
God and Evil isn’t Evil, we might as well just live it up….

This as humankind wrestles with what to do about the historic and epic genocides…atrocities which have taken place throughout all of time.

And so you are now asking as to why I would write about such during this time of
Advent—a time of all things full of Expectancy, Anticipation and Christmas…
a time that is to be of softness, love and dare we say, hope…
Why should we worry ourselves over the ugliness of reality as those are problems
not on our particular or given radar—things that are happening over there some
place and out of sight.

Why write about the annihilation of Aramaic Christians, atheists and their fight for disbelief and the very concept of Evil….

‘Please not here, not now, not at Christmas…’ we are each heard to lament.

Well it actually is because it is Advent and the Christmas season that we should be
and need to be most mindful of such….

As those of us who confess to be Believers must not find ourselves falling
into the hole of secularism and the Societal notion of Christmas…
of which we have done.

This secular celebration of all things Christmas that is currently in all
its full glory and regalia is lulling us into a time of contented ignorant bliss.

And just as I reminded us in Tuesday’s Meat and Potatoes post….
this time of year is particularly very loud and very noisy…for a reason…

Do you not think that there is one who delights in the pure distraction
from what is to be our Truth?

Advent….
yes…
be ready,
be watching,
be waiting…
for there are epic things taking place all the while as we busy ourself with
the minutia of the moment while missing the importance of the day…

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15

Meat and potatoes

One gets to the heart of the matter by a series of experiences in
the same pattern, but in different colors.

Robert Graves


(the red snapper at Bud and Alley’s Seaside Beach, Fl / Julie Cook)

Ok, I admit….this is a picture of a fish with potatoes and not a steak.
as in “meat and potatoes”

I did have a lovely picture of a prime rib roast which I had cooked a while back,
but the fish seemed a bit less red and well, meaty…as I know there are those
out there who just really are opposed to “red” meat….despite my knowing there are
those who will grouse over the whole well, whole fish…meaning head and eyes….
but we digress….

I’ve stated before, I’ve always been a meat and potatoes sort of girl.
Be that meat…fowl, pig, lamb, fish or cow…..

Yet today’s post is not about food…meat or starch…
but is a post that we might just call more of a hearty dose of the
Word of God….being sustenance for the soul verses the food for the stomach.
As in getting down to the heart of the matter….

And now that the dust has somewhat settled…as the snows are now melting…
life is settling back into its normal madness of Christmas….
sans any of the distracting, as well as debilitating, white stuff.

Power is now restored.
Limbs are now cut up and stacked.
Cars have been moved to where they belong….
As schools resume to normal schedules today.

So in the madness since late last week, when the snows did begin to fall,
I was literally pulled away from much of my reading and study as my duties
were needed immediately elsewhere—
And I was particularly pulled away from my reading and focusing on the teachings
of those 3 favorite clerics of mine…

And what a delightful hodge podge of spirituality they are—

A renegade Anglican priest, a reformed Presbyterian minister and a Catholic monk…

And may it be known that whereas each one of these men may seem,
from all outward appearances to be vastly different,
when all the pretense of what the world perceives of them is
peeled away, they along with their messages, are but one in the same.

And I for one delight in that.

In my distraction with the snow and writing about such…there has been so much
that has actually taken place that needs not only my attention but yours as well….

Jerusalem is being recognized by the US, at long last, as the capital of Israel…
much to the chagrin of most of the world as well as by many actually in the US
itself.

The Pope, much like our US President, has boldly and perhaps blindly, ventured
to where he may not should have trod, by declaring that the Lords’ Prayer
needs an overhaul….see the perspiration beads forming at my brow….

Sexual harassment continues to prevail in our headlines as it appears to have crept
into the fold….

And my friend who I made mention of the other day…
the one whose family business my family had frequented for the past 25 years or so,
lost her earthly battle early Friday morning.
During the last time we had a chance to chat, which was just a couple of weeks ago,
I noticed that my friend was rather sad and weepy.
I asked what was troubling her….and this 78 year old friend looks me in the eye
and tells me “I miss my momma”—- as I look back at her,
telling her how I understand because I miss mine as well—of which she knew….
So I am uplifted in knowing that both her son and daughter were by her side
when she gave up the earthly ghost and headed on home to be with her mom…

All of this, along with all the other tit for tat that has been happening in what seems
to be my snow encrusted writing absence, will each be addressed in due time…..

But first I wanted to return our focus to Advent.

Because isn’t that what our focus should currently be about?
Advent.
As in The Coming….

I spent some time this morning listening to the 2nd Sunday in Advent’s homily
offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden…I was a day late and a dollar short,
but none the less, blessed.
12 delightful minutes of good meat and potatoes for the soul.

The good bishop reminds us that Advent is a time for making space in our hearts,
more space for Jesus.

He tells us that this is the time that we are to be about repentance…
in order to make sacred space available.

Bishop Ashenden focused on the reading of the day which was taken from the Gospel of
St Mark (Mark 1:1-8) in which there is a good description of John the Baptizer…
a man wearing simple garments and who is sustained by eating wild honey and locust.

The good Bishop admits to having always been a bit perplexed as the why
the locust eating would be so important as to be included in the text….
but a Greek friend noted that the true translation in Greek, as only Greeks would understand it to be, was not that of an insect but rather actually a type of flower—
of which seemed to make much more sense.

So we get the complete picture of John…that he was a simple man,
living off and being sustained by the land.
Not the crazy loner off in the desert howling by the moon at night as he
has often been portrayed—perhaps more mad than wise.

And so as we note–John was very simple—
in turn bound by no worldly trappings what so ever ….

John both proclaimed as well as accused those of his day of having
lives way too full—
and that the time had come to make the choice…

The choice being between holding on to that which gets in the way of God or
to choose to move out and get rid of that which gets in the way…
getting rid of that which is separating ourselves from God and God alone.

Very much what we see society and our culture forcing upon us today—
Especially and particularly this time of year!

Our lives, particularly during Christmas, are so chocked full that we are
practically to our breaking point.

We are so full and overwhelmed with all that must be done to
make the “holidays” just so special, magical and wonderful…
on top of already busy lives with school and work….
that we are actually crowding out Jesus.

Crowding Him out from the very time He is to actually be at the center of
our focus.

Bishop Ashenden notes that John’s message of Metanoia, or that of our total change
and or transformation, is so important because it calls us to a new way of examining
things….

Yet at the same time the good Bishop admonishes us that…dare we say,
there is a spirit of evil actually at work, at this very moment, particularly now…
during this time of year that we are being called…called by God.
It is all so totally opposite of the call of the Holy Spirit.

For there is a force working to counter that call…
countering with the distractions and demands we actually throw upon ourselves
particularly at this time of year.

Shopping, church pageants, visits to Santa, picture taking, card writing and sending,
choir practice, school plays, sporting events, making costumes, wrapping gifts,
sorting, cooking, parties, cleaning, traveling…
all of this on top of the already endless demands of both work and school—
All of this becomes the priority while the true essence of Christ is pushed further
aside.

We fight to pretend and convince ourselves otherwise—
we rationalize that we are doing what we are doing because IT IS Christmas…
yet none of it has one single thing to do truly with Christmas—
or Christ Mass…

None of this is to be about lifestyle and clutter but about having the presence
of God at our forefront…as Bishop Ashenden pointedly asks…
“how much time then do you allot for prayer, the reading of scripture,
and loving the Lord?”…especially now during this chaotic time?

I found that I had to really look at what he was saying…
I had to look closely at what gets pushed aside…looking at what is then
actually pushing its way into being the priority….a false priortiy.
The priorities that society makes of us during this season…

Our culture clamors that we are to be all inclusive…and non discriminatory—
but should we not be exclusive and discriminatory over that which is demanding
to be the forefront of our focus—-all of which is not the true essence of Christ
nor of Christ Himself….

reflective remembrance

“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty;
it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.”

― Coco Chanel


(a slice of the Mile High Pie from Bones in Atlanta / Julie Cook / 2017)

As long as I can remember, my birthday has always fallen on the weekend of the
Georgia / Auburn football game.
Never mind if my birthday was on, say a Wednesday,
the birthday has always been marked by this hallowed grudge match.

A grudge match rivalry game considered, by those who write the history of
collegiate sports, to be the oldest college rivalry
in all of college football dating all the way back to 1892.

So this past weekend was no exception when it came to birthdays and football games…
despite the actual day being a few days after the fact of said game.

And so it would have only seemed to make sense that my beloved Dawgs would have
stepped up to the birthday plate by delivering the best gift possible—
a defeat of this most ancient of foes…putting them one more game closer
to a year of perfection….
Yet alas…
it was not to be….

Yet defeat is not the intent of today’s thoughts but rather the musing of what was,
what is and what will be…

When I turned 21, way back when I was in college at this same beloved college of
which I speak of today, I had been invited by a young man who I really liked at
the time, to travel down to Auburn for the game in honor of my birthday.

But I had a conundrum.

My godparents, the priest of my church and his wife, had already invited me to come
home as they wanted to have a small party in my honor.

Now I don’t know too many 21 year olds who would spend even a second weighing out such proposals…as whether to stay or go—as most any 21 year old in their right mind
would have wholeheartedly opted to go to the football game…
excitedly ready to spend a great weekend with great friends
and a potential great beau all the while living it up as one’s team beats
up another—

I however chose the latter.
I went home.

I really can’t say how many 21 year old kids had the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta,
at the time, bake them a birthday cake, but me…

And yes it was indeed a small intimate gathering… yet one that was, obviously, most memorable.

The game would have been no doubt memorable as well…or maybe not…
because I couldn’t even begin to tell you who won that year…
and I can recall that that young man was only a beau for a short time…
but on the other hand I do remember those other particular individuals who loved me
enough to want to make a special day even more special in their own small way.

And so it is with this day of marking the passage of time,
that I find myself being a bit wistful.
Because isn’t that what we do as we age, we become wistfully reflective.

So in keeping with this notion of being both wistful and reflective,
I am poignantly reminded that this is the first birthday that is to be spent
in 58 years without my dad and aunt.

Mother has been gone since just before I was to turn 26, but Dad and Aunt Martha
have been around throughout of what seems to be the duration of time…

Each of them knew how to make a birthday celebration both special and memorable.
As I remain grateful in recalling the years gone past that they did make a special
day just that— special.
Just as I am sad thinking of a new year without them.

And whereas there will definitely be some sadness on an otherwise momentous day…
besides nursing what could have, should have, been with the Dawgs running the table
on a possible all out rout of a season of wins…
it will be a day marked with a sense of without…
of what was and of what is no more…

Yet as our dear friend Coco Channel so pointedly reminds us—
it is not necessarily a matter of what we may have once been or been given,
rather it will be a matter of who and what we will opt to one day be…

May we opt to be both wiser and kinder….


(my husband with his birthday girl / 2017)

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,

Isaiah 42:2,3,4

the written word

“What is more frightening a totalitarian regime’s destruction of
knowledge or its hankering for it?”

Anders Rydell


(sunset over the Gulf, Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

I’ve come across a most intriguing story.
It is a tale of war, ideologies, plundering, destroying, recovering…
with an eventual attempt to reunite as it were.
And very much a true story.

It is a tale as told in Andres Rydell’s book The Book Thieves
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries And the Race to Return A literary Inheritance

Rydell offers in the forward the idea that “In our time, the book has remained
a symbolic value that is almost spiritual.
Discarding books is still considered sacrilegious.
The burning of books is one of the strongest symbolic actions there is,
correlating with cultural destruction.
While mainly identified with the Nazi book pyres of 1933,
the symbolic destruction of literature is as old as the book itself.

The strong relationship between humans and books relates to the role of the written word in the dissemination of knowledge, feeling, and experience over
thousands of years.
Gradually the written word replaced the oral tradition. We could preserve more
and look further back in time.
We could satisfy our never quite satisfied hunger for more.
…Our simultaneously emotional and spiritual relationship to the book is
about how the book “speaks to us.”
It is a medium connection us to other people both living and dead.

A year before my godfather died, he had me come over in order to help him sort through
his belongings.
He and his wife were soon to move to a much smaller place as the issue of
each ones health, both physical and cognitive, was rapidly failing,
and he was under the clock to purge a lifetime of work and living.

To me this aging man was more than a symbolic godfather.
He had been a priest for over 50 years so he was actually more spiritual father than anything else.

While I was sitting sprawled out on the floor of his study, sorting through files,
DVDs and a mountain of papers, he offered me any of the books that I could carry
from his myriad of covered shelves.

Here was once a widely renowned man in his profession.
A long sought after lecturer and author.
His collection of books was both wide and diverse.
Yet it was to a small copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that drew my eye.
“Jules, if you want it, take it” he nonchalantly told me.
I opened the book and inside the cover was written in fine fountain pen lettering
the follwing inscription:
“To David B. Collins
From Aunt Emma
Dec 25th 1930”

“But,” I stammered…. only for him to reassure me, “take it.”

The book is an illustrated version of the Dickens classic with this particular
edition being published in 1927.
And it had obviously been a Christmas gift to a nephew of 8 from a loving aunt.

Once home, I thumbed through the book.
There was a card, what I first thought was a yellowed notecard, placed between pages
222 and 223, the point in the story when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had taken Scrooge to the churchyard in order to see his own grave marker.

The card was however an altar card from the chapel of The University of the South,
Sewanee, TN—the school that Dean Collins had attended for seminary as well as where he
served as rector.

I imagine the card marked material once used in a sermon.

I share this little story with you because it is just one small fragmented
tale illustrating the importance of not just a story in a book but rather of the book itself… and of the line of people the little book has traversed—
It is really the story a continuum…the continuum from once a loving aunt to
her 8 year old little nephew…and later from aging old man to his equally aging
spiritual God daughter….

But the giving will not have stopped with me…that’s how it is with books.
It’s merely resting for a while before, at some point in the future,
it travels once again,
For we come to understand that books often have a life of their own…

And so what the world witnessed with the Nazis and their fervor to rid themselves
of a certain group of people, with their ultimate hope being to actually rid
the entire world of these people—it was not enough to merely take their belongings, especially their books, and to destroy them or hide them away.

Nor was it enough that they take these very people and burn them, hiding them away…
But the key rather for the Nazis was to take the very essence of these
‘loathsome people’—with that essence being these people’s actual written word.

And if the Nazis could erase their words, then these people would in turn,
cease to exist— or better yet in the minds of the Nazis, cease to have ever
existed at all…..as in a total wiping clean of the slate of the very existence.

Because as Rydell points out “whoever owns the word has the power to not only
interpret it, but also to write history.”

Rydell’s story is rich in history as he gives an in-depth look into how Germany, a highly educated and culturally rich people, came to find themselves being lead blindly by
a madman.

Rydell’s story is a convoluted tale of madness, death, destruction leading to one of
hope and reuniting…linking a past with a future.

For there is a great lesson in his story for us today–especially now.
A lesson it would behoove our society to heed.

And a lesson I will be sharing in the next day or so….

For the word of God is alive and active.
Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,
joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12