enough people…enough is enough

It is not enough for us to restrain from doing evil,
unless we shall also do good.

St. Jerome


(Kayla Mueller before being kidnapped by ISIS)


(Kayla in ISIS captivity)

In February of 2015, 4 long years ago, I wrote two posts about the abducted American
aid worker Kayla Mueller.

I wrote about her again in 2016 when her ISIS abductors finally killed her.

You can say what you want.

You can say that she was foolish for going into such a volatile area.
You can blame what happened to her on her own choice and actions.
You can blame President Trump…becuase you always blame President Trump.
Because don’t we blame President Trump on all our ills?

But President Trump was not president when Kayla was abducted.

President Trump was not president when ISIS emailed Kayla’s parents demanding a ransom.

President Trump was not president when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi personally tortured
and raped Kayla over and over again.

Put yourself in the shoes of Kayla’s parents, her brother, her grandparents.

What and how would you feel knowing your daughter was being so utterly abused
and your own government was not there for you and you were helpless to stop the days,
the weeks and the months of her cruel abuse?

How could you live as a loving parent?
How could you sleep at night knowing your daughter was in constant harm?
This was your child…your baby girl and you were helpless to rescue her.

How could you go on day in and day out, knowing your beautiful, loving and selfless
daughter/granddaughter/sister was being tortured and repeatedly raped by a man of
pure evil because she was the American aid worker in the lot?
The other kidnapped workers all noted that it was Kayla who took the brunt of the
torture and rape because she was an American and they were not.

And so now you’re saying that I’m simply basing my words on emotion.
I’m playing on emotions…

And you’re right, I am.

Why?

Because it is emotional.

It is emotional because a young woman who went to help take care of displaced children
was, in turn, kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed…all because she was an American.

The man who personally took pleasure in her mutilation and sexual abuse was,
this past weekend, trapped in a tunnel…hemmed in by American troops and so in turn,
did what any coward would do, he blew himself up rather than being captured.

Only a coward tortures a young girl and uses her for his twisted sexual pleasures.
Only a coward blows himself up.

Hitler blew his brains out.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blew himself up.

The man who took sadistic pleasure from abusing a young American girl cowardly
blew himself up…just like a man who called for the deaths of countless men, woman, and children
because they were Jews, or Catholics or handicapped, hid in a bunker and blew his brains out.

Evil seems to always self implode when it is cornered.

So Americans should perhaps feel some sense of justification in the news that another
member of evil’s clan is gone.

And yet Congress is up in arms because they didn’t know about the covert military operation.
A ballpark booed a President, chanting “lock him up” …
The Speaker of the House announces that she will call for an impeachment vote this week.

However, in all of this upside-down madness, there are two grieving parents who have thanked
that very same president for finally bringing some sense of justice to the
cruel treatment of their daughter.

No one can bring back their daughter
No one can give back the sense of innocence their daughter once possessed and in turn
lost at the hands of evil.

But at least these two tormented parents now know that someone in the leadership
of their government, our government, remembered their daughter…
someone acknowledged their neverending nightmare and has worked to bring those
responsible to justice.

This is what I wrote back in 2015:
“Kayla had gone to Syria, working with the humanitarian organization Hayata Destek,
Support To Life, in order to help the refugee orphaned children in Syria whose lives
had been displaced and shattered by the ongoing fighting.
Kayla conducted art therapy projects with the kids,
as children can often express themselves in drawings when words cannot be found.
She noted that when the children asked her” where was her world”
–then telling them, they asked why had her people not come to help them…
her response was simply to cry along with and for the children.

This is what I wrote in 2016:

Tuesday night, after having spent much of the day glued to the news and having grieved
along with Kayla’s family, having noted that she was the same age as my son,
having wrestled with the position of the United States in such matters as hostages and war,
I found myself settling in for the evening reading over the Bonhoeffer book that
I have previously mentioned…of my meditating On The Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
translated by David McI. Gracie.

The evenings reading was based on Psalm 34:19
A Sermon on the Suffering of the Righteous
It was a meditation that Bonhoeffer had actually written down and mailed to his dear friend
Eberhard Bethge while Bonhoeffer was a prisoner in Tegel Prison near Berlin—the
first of three different prisons before his subsequent execution.
Bonhoeffer had already been held by the Nazi’s for over a year,
his future uncertain. He had just become engaged prior to his arrest,
and with it now being over a year away from those he loved, the confinement was
wearing on his soul.

Once again, as the created and not being the Creator,
there are those events in life that we simply will never truly understand no matter
how hard we try. We can write them off as this or that,
we can grow bitter and cold or simply empty and numb but there are those moments
when we will find ourselves at a loss for words, a loss of understanding.
It will be there, in the midst of the suffering and sorrow, that we will meet God. . .

I want to offer the following excerpt of the meditation as I find its
subject most timely and most enlightening…
(the translator has chosen to mix up the use of the feminine and masculine pronoun)

Psalm 34:19
The righteous person must suffer many things;
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

1 Peter 3:9
Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing,
but rather bless, and know that you are called to this,
so that you should inherit the blessing.

The righteous person suffers in this world in a way that the unrighteous
person does not.
The righteous person suffers because of many things that for others
seem only natural and unavoidable.
The righteous person suffers because of unrighteousness,
because of the senselessness and absurdity of events in the world.
She suffers because of the destruction of the divine order of marriage and the family.
She suffers not only because it means privation for her,
but because she recognizes something ungodly in it.

The world says: that is how it is, always will be, and must be.
The righteous person says: It ought not to be so; it is against God.
This is how one recognizes the righteous person, by her suffering in just this way.
She brings, as it were, the sensorium of God into the world;
hence, she suffers as God suffers in this world.
“But the Lord delivers him.”

God’s deliverance is not to be found in every experience of human suffering.
But in the suffering of the righteous God’s hope is always there,
because he (the righteous person) is suffering with God.
God is always present with him. The righteous person knows that God allows him to suffer so,
in order that he may learn to love God for God’s own sake.
In suffering, the righteous person finds God. That is his deliverance.
Find God in your separation and you will find deliverance!
The answer of the righteous person to the sufferings that the world causes
her is to bless.

That was the answer of God to the world that nailed Christ to the cross: blessing.
God does repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person.
No condemning, no railing, but blessing.

The world would have no hope if this were not so.
The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of
the righteous person.
Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying:
You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world
that causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out,
despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope,
we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come to you;
may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world,
for you belong to your creator and redeemer.
We have received God’s blessing in our happiness and in our suffering.
And whoever has been blessed herself cannot help but pass this blessing on to the next one;
yes, wherever she is, she must be herself a blessing.
The renewal of the world, which seems so impossible,
becomes possible in the blessing of God.
As Jesus ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his followers.
We hear him speak to us in this hour: “The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Amen

So enough!

Enough of this stupidy that is tearing our nation apart.
Enough of the ignorance and stupidity.

The problem is not President Trump.

Our trouble goes much deeper than that of a single man.
No single man can cause so much divisiveness.

329 million people, give or take a few, cannot be toppled by one single man.
So there is something else going on.

But you’re too proud, to selfish to see it any other way.

It’s time you get over yourself.
Your paranoia.
Your false accusations.
Your inflammatory reactionary foolishness.

It’s time we get back to being a unified United States…because if we don’t…
it will indeed be too late.

Stop to think about the grieving families who have lost loved ones to terrorism…
But you can’t because you’re too busy complaining and blaming a man who really
wasn’t on the scene when this craziness began.

May our prayers and support remain with families like the Muellers.
And all those who we have buried because of terrorism.
Terrorism that was ramping up long before President Trump was president.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/song-for-the-innocents/

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/innocence-and-sorrow/

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/onward-christian-soldier/

lest we never forget….

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Edmund Burke (or George Santayana depending on what sources you read)


(image courtesory the Buffalo News)

I’m pretty much a creature of habit—and I suppose I’ve turned my husband into one as well…
That being for either good or bad…well…the jury is still out on that.

Yet for the majority of our marriage,
we have been pretty much ritualistic in our daily routines.

When I was teaching, I almost always beat my husband home from work.
That was if I wasn’t having to taxi our son someplace following school or stay at meetings
longer than expected.

Once home, hot tea steeping, I’d usually start supper shortly upon arrival home
and we’d eat not long after my husband got home around 7PM or so…

And this was always just in time for the national news.

We’d flip on the news in the den as we’d be having supper in the kitchen—
If something big had happened in the world, we’d then usually balance plates on our laps
as we’d eat while watching the latest world crisis unfold.

I’m not a huge ‘television in every room’ sort of person but growing up,
my dad, on the other hand, was an all-out electronic junkie…
something about being an engineer I suppose.
So growing up, when smaller televisions hit the market, my dad bought one for our kitchen…
along with one in the den and one for everyone’s bedroom…he was overzealous.

So every night while I was growing up, Huntley and Brinkley joined our evening supper table.

This was during the time of the war in Vietnam, so there was always news of the war and the
ensuing protests here at home…and of course,
there were those other stories of life in Washington and news on the president…

News was always current, crucial and informative…delivered by near emotionless professional
individuals who would occasionally smoke on air, as in everyone smoked back then…
including my mom…but that’s another tale for another day.

This was how we learned all about what was going on in the world,
all from the nightly news—as there were no other news outlets other than the newspapers…
None of this current day 24/7 madness.
No breaking alerts emanating from cell phones or computers because there
weren’t any cell phones or home computers…thank the Lord.

And so I offer this little walk down memory lane because my husband and I have happily
given up watching any sort of network national news.
Something about falsehoods and bias….but I digress.

And so the other evening when my husband got in from work,
while I was still putting the finishing touches to supper,
he flipped on the television and there was some sort of war documentary currently airing…
of which was dealing with the war in the Pacific and how we obviously eventually won that fight.
I suppose this was the last channel that the television had been on the night prior.

We opted to keep it on this channel—that being AHC—American Hero Channel—which I
had assumed was just some sort of history type of channel…
that was until I looked up the full name.
Following the show about the War in the Pacific, there was a series of hour-long segments
regarding the war in Europe–with a focus on Stalin and the relationship he had with Churchill,
FDR and later Truman.

The show featured declassified information that wasn’t known, let alone made public,
until after the fall of Communism.
And might I just say, as I’ve said it before, it’s a wonder any of us are even here…
let alone speaking either German or even Russian.

I spent three hours after having finished the dishes watching 3 back to back segments.
Because I was hooked as it was an excellent and thorough history lesson.

I learned more than what I had already known…and I do consider myself well read
when it comes to World War II.

I say all of this because I am once again keenly reminded of the history of what once
was in this fractious world of ours, and where we, as a global community, were back then
once upon a time, and as to where we currently are now and just how hard it was for us
to actually get from there to here…
and I just don’t think this current world of ours, this postmodern, post-Christian
world…gets it.

History, especially that of our Western Civilization history,
is a subject most students will roll their eyes over.
It is also a history that is frighteningly being altered and neutered due to
the current society’s obsession with triggers, homosexual and transgender frenzies,
a fanatically growing feminism, and its distaste for a Nation’s past growing pains
along with the struggles the Nation faces while attempting to find pride in the knowledge
of who that Nation once was.

I worry that our youth will soon forget or cease caring about what was, concentrating instead
on what is or what will be as they have deemed what was as  simply being bad…

And so in reading the story of Edith Fox, I am reminded that I am not alone in wanting
the story of what was, to never be forgotten.

Yet Edith’s story is a horrific story…a story one might imagine anyone who experienced it
would want to forget…
Yet Edith knows that as horrible as her story was, remaining silent and forgetting it would be
even worse…

Edith’s tattooed number on her now 90-year-old arm has long faded, but the memory of her life
spent in Auschwitz is still as startlingly clear as it was when she was taken prisoner
as a young teen.

Please click on the link for her story, as she does not want either you or me to ever forget.

http://buffalonews.com/2018/01/27/holocaust-survivor-breaks-decades-long-silence-to-share-her-horrific-story/

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

the seeds have been planted…

Who stands firm?
Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason,
his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue,
but who is ready to sacrifice all these,
when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action:
the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

DSCN3632
(tigerlilly seeds / Julie Cook / 2016)

The post originally intended for yesterday was to be one of butterflies…
of the lovely, amazing, peaceful and inspiring happy side of life…
It was to be a light and airy, happy and colorful sort of post…

All the images had been taken, chosen and uploaded…
the text had been written…as all was ready for posting…

And then a truck ran into a crowd of holiday revelers in Nice, France…

There were…
Children with dolls and ice-cream…
young couples holding hands…
grandparents remembering when…
tourists basking in the celebration…
as locals relished their independence…

Innocents…contended and happy individuals….much like the butterflies….

And suddenly, just like that, life was no longer about butterflies or anything else lovely, light or etherial…

Reality hit, once again, and it hit hard and fast….

Yet we neither want nor like reality with all of its ugly hard and fast..
We still want the butterflies…
the light, happy, pretty images…
We don’t want to see the macabre surrealism of the mangled bodies of children with their loving dolls keeping silent vigil.

That isn’t why we come to the internet..
We don’t want to see, hear or read the truth of reality..
Rather we prefer to disconnect from Reality as we relish in savoring the pretty,
the colorful, the light, the nice…

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 for taking part in the assassination attempt against Adolph Hitler, it came as a shock to many who had known the young Lutheran pastor…a shock that he would be involved in such an act because he was known for his pacifism…
and how on earth could a pacifist ever take part in the conscious decision to take the life of another….

But what many did not know was that Bonhoeffer, along his Catholic co-conspiritiors of which Pope Pius XII could be counted, had used the writings of St.Thomas Aquinas to justify their taking an active role in the fight against evil and tyrannical powers.

The moral issue here is that of tyrannicide…
the killing of a tyrant, and specifically, the killing of a tyrant by a private person for the common good. Technically, there are two classes of tyrants: a tyrant by usurpation (tyrannus in titulo), a ruler who has illegitimately seized power; and a tyrant by oppression (tyrannus in regimine), a ruler who wields power unjustly, oppressively, and arbitrarily.

The key conditions for a justifiable act of tyrannicide in this case include that the killing be necessary to end the usurpation and restore legitimate authority; that there is no higher authority available that is able and willing to depose the usurper; and that there is no probability that the tyrannicide will result in even greater evil than allowing the usurper to remain in power.

However, if the tyrant by oppression attacks the citizen, jeopardizes the welfare of the community with the intent leading it to destruction or killing the citizens, or commits other evils, then a private citizen can morally commit an act of justifiable tyrannicide. Moreover, if because of the tyrant’s rule, a nation cannot defend itself, is on the course of destruction, and has no lawful means to depose or to condemn the tyrant, then a citizen may commit an act of justifiable tyrannicide. Interestingly, many modern political philosophers would posit that a leader who abuses power and has become tyrannical ipso facto loses legitimacy and becomes an usurper.
(Catholic Resource Education Center / Fr William Saunders)

And whereas it appears in such teachings against the hand of evil that the Church actually condones such acts of killing and assassinations, it must be noted that the Church does not actively teach nor proclaim such concepts…as some detractors may beg to differ.

…yet Aquinas’s writings and teachings remain buried in the layers of the historical fabric within the Church… percolating ever so often upward from the historical depths of time into the present light of a gloomy world as the faithful sit staring, once again, in disbelief at the ongoing images of evil wondering what is truly just…

These seeds of evil and death however were sown a very long time ago.

First with the falling of light into darkness…
Secondly with the determined choice of will in the acceptance of a seemingly simple apple.
and lastly with the death of a brother by the hands of a brother…

Yet the growth of those seeds did not end with the birth of both evil and death.

It has been said that the Magna Carta is one of the single greatest charters ever written by man as it has been the single building block for all civil societies ever since its proclamation and implementation at Runnymede, in England in 1215, by then King John and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon.
Even the American Colonists based their own formation of a constitution on the Magna Carta…

It has struggled throughout the course of the past 800 years. It has been amended, abridged and reassigned, and yet, it has continued as the chief cornerstone of Western Civilization.

This ancient charter, steeped in the protection of the rights of all individuals, has helped to formulate judicial systems as it has directed the workings of all governments rooted in the democratic liberties throughout Western Civilization.
It is a lynchpin to our western civility and society as we know it today.

The same civility and democratic liberty that is in sharp contrast to Muslim Sharia law.

It has always been, in part, the responsibility of the Church, in conjunction with the leading governments, to help protect those very civil liberties of all citizens in a democratic society.
It has been her, the Church’s, moral and ethical responsibility—
Yet she too has often failed at the task.

Yet it is this duty to and for the faithful that often puts her at odds with acting governments as she has often been the last bastion between hope and collapse.
All the while as she has tried to maintain her separation from those very governments of those people both hers and not.

Sharia Law and its use of the word of Mohammad stands in stalk contrast to the civil liberties of Western Civilization as it also stands in sharp contrast to the foundations of our Judaeo / Christian society.
We see this power play struggle daily.

And whereas the Church and her members have long recognized the importance of protecting the liberties of the individual citizen, the current Administration of the United States, as well as its fellow administrations of various governments throughout Western Civilization, has failed and continues to fail to see the correlation or relevance to the contrast between the protection of freedom verses that of the tolerance of tyranny.

The civil liberties, the equality, the judicial process, the democratic freedoms enjoyed by the West are nothing short of polarizing to the Sharia Law of Mohammed–
the two are not and will never be compatible…

And until our leaders can understand that one small fact, we will continue witnessing the repercussion of this massive collision.

All the while as Islamic extremists continue the systematic killing of innocent victims who merely wish to live life in their respective democratic societies.

Sadly yet undeniably the butterflies have been replaced by the ugly reality of the hard and fast truth of our current world.

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18:37

nothing…

Where you have nothing,
there you should want nothing.

Samuel Beckett

images-1
(image of Sgt. Schultz from the 1960’s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes)

If you’re old enough to remember watching Hogan’s Heroes as a kid, then the irony of dear old Sgt. Schultz’s willingness of denial and dismissal of everything and anything taking place under his watch, and under the scrutiny of his “policing,” should not be lost on you today.

For you and I my friend now live in a land in which the people prefer the likes of a Sgt Schultz… complete with his “look the other way” style and lack of scrutiny or action.
“I know Nothing”
“I hear Nothing”
“I see Nothing…”
As in…
Nothing..
Nada…
Nilch…

A society where the old axiom rings true…that the prisoners are running the jail,
or the inmates are running the asylum—
whichever non politically correct version you prefer.

For in that beloved 1960’s childhood sitcom…the WWII prisoners of war were basically running the prison camp…despite always remaining prisoners.

And maybe, just maybe, we now have life imitating art…or rather, life imitating a sitcom–
which may be most apropos given our current mental state over the troubling times of today….

For you see… our youth have become angry.

As even a good many adults may be eagerly added to that list of angry.

Oh, don’t get me wrong…
we have had bad incidents, sad incidents and incredulous incidents.
Terrible lapses in judgement and over zealous actions, throughout our cities and towns,
where both police and governing leaders have made mistakes and even willfully committed crimes.
For there exists both bad and good.

And it is that very thing that many have forgetten—
For there is both good and bad, Evil and Good

But, as we need to be reminded, there remains, as it is most often overlooked, more good than bad….

Our youth, and many of our adults, have decided that choices and consequences no longer matter.
The lines have blurred so that many of them honestly can no longer discern between right or wrong.
Laws broken are to be argued, fussed, cussed, discussed and blatantly ignored and we will tie the hands of the police and authorities in knots.

Never mind respect…
Respect of…
property,
possessions,
position,
age,
stature…
or simply for authority.

As today’s youth will argue and shout “I give respect if I get respect”
Yet I was always taught that if you were younger or lesser or less experienced, or less knowledgeable, you still had to respect the one who was older, in authority or further along—even if they didn’t exactly deserve it—for that was how it was and in the long run, you were the better because of your ability to yield…it was because our day would eventually come…the day in which we would earn the respect of those behind us…in part because we were then older, wiser and had lived longer or were responsible for those “under” us.

That whole mindset got thrown out with the bath water when the baby went out the window…

Many of our youth have developed that “gangsta” loving mentality which is running rife and found in the music, the clothing, the swagger and the very lifestyle they dearly enjoy. As the detractors cry “that’s just cultural” or “you don’t get it, so just shut up and sit down…”

The musicians, the signers, the entertainers, whose feet they do fall prostrate, reflect that all that glitters is truly golden and that everyone wants what they have… and so what if the lyrics, the lifestyle demeans women, promotes violence, relishes all things sexual and touts the use of drugs and all things illegal….who cares?!
for all things legal is just so utterly passé and yesterday’s news…

I hear talk of all of this being this generation’s stance, the movement of their times…
Yet I watch the old guard scratching their heads as to how its all now playing out.
They, the older movers and shakers of a generation long past, are lamenting out loud that there is no real leadership, no cohesiveness, no central theme or message, no bonding in order to rewrite the current wrongs…

Rather there is giddy and glee found in the anarchy, the mayhem, the looting, the violence, the hooliganism, and the vehement anger so loosely directed helter skelter.
Dare we say, no responsibility…
No patience in which to see things through as they yearn to move now, then quickly move on…

The divide is a growing chasm and we, yes we, have let it cleave and fracture wider and wider apart and into pieces as we have opted to see and say nothing in the name of all things of tolerance.

We have swallowed too hard the pill of not rocking the boat lest we upset anyone…. to such an extent and height that the boat has taken on too much water and we are now in peril of drowning.

We’re screamed at that black lives matter, as though the others do not.

Yet the bottom line to that thought is simple…
All lives matter…
as it should never matter the color…
just the breath and beating of the heart.

As the churches all wonder why their pews are sparse come Sunday morning
while the streets are thick the many nights prior …

Yes, we have troubles my friends, that we cannot deny.
As resentment is the only thing everyone seems to agree on
The resentment of one another is growing and dangerously morphing.
All while we continue seeing, hearing and knowing nothing…
Yet as we are slowly opening our eyes and ears, at this too late an hour—
we are finding that we do not like what we are seeing or hearing…
Yet there is nothing we seem to be able to do to stop it.

All the while the mantra of another time and place is whispered on the wind…
“all we are saying is give peace a chance…”

Turning point

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

DSCN8758
(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)

Dear Parents. . .

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

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(presents under the tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

When asked, I suppose most, if not all of us, could tell anyone asking what the best gift was we ever received. Maybe it was a shiny new bike, a much sought after doll, maybe it was a new baby brother or sister, maybe a pair of skates, maybe a car, a smartphone, a precious and greatly anticipated birth of a child, maybe it was a hot meal, a worn but loved coat, maybe it was shelter from a cold and icy night, maybe it was the returning of a loved one who had been gone far too long. . . .

As we find ourselves, at this particular time of the year, with time running out and patience running short. . .
As we dash about here and there in search of the “perfect” gift for those special someones in our lives. . .
As we find ourselves up to our elbows in wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and bows. . .
As we spend entirely too much time and money searching and buying things that folks could most likely do and live without. . .

I was deeply touched by something I read this morning.
It was a letter written to a set of parents. . .

Dear Parents. . .I don’t need to tell you how much I long for freedom and for you all. But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas.
Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties. I believe that those who know they possess such reserves of strength do not need to be ashamed even of softer feelings—which in my opinion are still among the better and nobler feelings of humankind–when remembrance of a good and rich past calls them forth. Such feelings will not overwhelm those who hold fast to the values that no one can take from them.

These words and this message is not only timely but most current as this letter could be written by anyone who may be finding themselves far away from those dearly loved and cherished individuals of one’s life, especially during this time of year. As it always seems to be during the holidays, the certain times of the year which pulls at our hearts more so than any other time of year, when being away and “missing” intensifies to a near maddening unstoppable pain, our thoughts inevitably seem to return to matters of the heart and of cherished memories of times long and not so long past.

The letter was written just before Christmas in 1944 from a Gestapo prison in Berlin. It was written by the young Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was soon to be transferred to the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He spent two Christmases interred by the Nazis before ultimately being hanged two weeks before the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps.

The greatest gift Bonhoeffer’s parents had given him was not a toy or a ball. . .for their gift was not something tangible or of material merit, but rather their gift was a gift of great intrinsic value.

Their greatest gift was actually somewhat multilayered.

Firstly the gift consisted of the deep and abiding love his parents first held for one another and then for each of their children–of which created and fostered a deep sense of security in each child.

A second layer of the gift consisted of time—of both time and energy of which his parents extended to the entire family making certain that each Christmas and holiday season was indeed special for their eight children—Not by showering the children with extravagant gifts and presents, as buying such for 8 children would have been nearly impossible, but by providing their family with the knowledge of the importance of the true meaning of Christmas—the enduring message of Hope and Grace–of doing undo others as they would hope would be done for them, and ultimately the gift and knowledge of Salvation. A gift that would weave its way throughout the year and not merely just at Christmas—for this was a gift which would be carried in each of their children throughout a lifetime which witnessed not only contentment and happiness but that of hardship, sorrow and suffering topped off with the ultimate ending of Joy.

It was to this gift given long ago by his parents which would help to sustain Bonhoeffer during his lowest and darkest days as a Nazi prisoner. Isolated and never knowing if each new day would bring freedom or death, Bonhoeffer lived out the last two years of his relatively young life in a small cell very much alone.

I spent a good bit of time this morning pondering over Bonhoeffer’s letter to his parents and I found myself thinking about what it is to be a “gift giver” and to what constitutes the best gift we can give–especially to our children.

I pray that I may give my child, as well as those I love, the gift which will sustain them all during, not the easy times of joy and happiness, but rather a gift which will help to carry them through the darkness, sorrow, pain and isolation which most often finds all of us at some point in life when we least expect it.

Which brings us back to the initial query at hand. . .indeed, what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received. . .

There is both compassion and malice in this world

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

Every day in the year there comes some malice into the world, and where it comes from is no good place.
Lady Gregory

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(a tiny friend trapped in a garage, weary and waiting for assistance / Julie Cook / 2014)

As I opened the kitchen door, I heard the familiar sound of heavy and intense buzzing–as if a swarm of giant bees was laying siege to my garage. And as it is, I have grown somewhat accustomed to this sound, as I immediately did an about face heading back in the house to fetch the telescopic duster.

For whatever reason, during the summer months, as long as the hummingbirds have taken up residence at my feeders, inevitably one of their clan seems to find its way into my garage yet cannot find its way out.

Our garage / carport is finished on the inside and is painted white. I’ve often wondered about the color white and whether or not the hummingbirds, or birds in general for that matter, have any sort of depth perception as far as color is concerned. Once in the carport, the birds frantically fly about the ceiling, as if they think it is the sky and they should simply be able to take off as it were. Instead, the tiny birds exhaust themselves buzzing along the ceiling, around and around hoping to be free of the invisible barrier. Sometimes they head to the windows with the same flying intensity as if the glass boundary will magically disappear. As the tiny birds grow increasingly fatigued, they often light on the windowsill or garage door lift. This is where I come in. . .

Careening my neck to an almost backwards breaking point, I precariously wander about the carport holding up a telescopic pole used for dusting ceiling fans following the erratic flying pattern, attempting to get near enough to the small lost creature, hoping he or she will grow so weary that they will simply perch on the soft duster at the end of the pole.
I look much like I’m practicing some sort of odd balancing circus act.

Inevitably and thankfully the bird lands. If I’m lucky, I can gently lower the pole, dipping it low enough, past the overhead garage door, allowing the exhausted bird to fly off to freedom. Sometimes they still have just enough energy to panic, taking off again for another round of “fly around the ceiling.” Other times, if the bird lights on the windowsill, I can usually crawl up on the brick ledge, gingerly picking up the weary bird from off the sill and gently carry it out to freedom—as was the case yesterday.

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(a grateful and soon to be liberated friend / Julie Cook / 2014

Happily no one is any worse for the wear as I can often be found later in the day sitting on the back deck reading and watching the feeders when, out of the blue, one of the birds darts under the awning, right up to my face hovering around a bit as if to offer a bit of thanks before darting back out to the feeders. A most humbling interaction with one of Nature’s smallest creatures.

And as I sat yesterday afternoon, thinking about my encounter with a tiny bird in need of a little help, a little human compassion, my thoughts turned to the latest tragedy which unfolded in the Middle East this week with the execution of Steven Sotloff. Was it not just last week that our attentions were turned to the execution of the American journalist James Foley?!

Executions which are more reminiscent of medieval times verses a modern 21st century. The sinister and malicious, if not sadistic, performance of the macabre. It is beyond my soul how a person can raise a knife to another person’s throat and proceed to cut off that individual’s head. I simply can’t wrap my mind around that. And maybe that’s part of the problem. This middle aged American wife, mother, educator, cannot comprehend what it takes, what exists inside of a person, do such a horrific act on another living soul.

Frighteningly, there is obviously a cold and empty detachment.
Perhaps this is the living definition of Evil.

I understand that there are sick individuals out there who commit horrific crimes–for a myriad of reasons all equally twisted and sick. Yet we must be mindful that the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known by its acronym, ISIS, is not composed of a single sick deprived individual—rather, it is a movement. A movement that is growing at an alarming, frighteningly and exponentially rate of high speed.

Oh I suppose we can say what we will about journalists who perhaps get a little too close to the action in the name of capturing “the story.” Some may say that these reporters and journalist know the risks going in. I suppose we may say the same about the aid workers who rush in to war torn and disease ridden countries in order to offer just that–aid, comfort, help and hope to the millions of innocent souls caught in the middle of chaos or those unfortunate enough to live in plague ridden areas with limited medical care. . .

Yet I for one do not buy the excuses of the jaded who write these individuals off as merely folks who unfortunately end up on the wrong side of the statistics of the risk.
No human being deserves to suffer mercilessly at the hand of another human being.
How empty my words sound to the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

About this same time last year, a Paris based organization, Reporters without Borders, reported that the estimate was that there were at least 60 “news providers” being held captive, or “detained”, as well as 110 or more individuals who had already been killed at the hands of Islamic terrorist groups across the globe.

Kidnappings, torture, exorbitant ransoms and ultimately grizzly executions.
All for what?
A new world order?
A new dogma?
World domination?
Sounds all rather Orwellian, yet ominously, it seems to be a very real and swiftly growing worry and threat.

Recently reported by a New York Times investigation, published last month, “Al Qaeda and its affiliates had brought in at least $125 million through ransom payments since 2008, including $66 million in 2013. That money came largely from European governments.”
As reported yerterday in The Guardian, “After telling MPs that the UK would not pay ransoms to secure the release of hostages in the hands of Islamic State militants, the prime minister, David Cameron, said Britain and the US would step up attempts to persuade other governments to cease making such payments.”

There are currently three known aid workers being held by ISIS. One being a 26 year old female American who was kidnapped last year. An Italian and Brit are the other two known captives. The American aid worker, as had her European and British counterparts, had gone to Syria, by her own volition, to offer her help, comfort, support, hope–to countless numbers of refugees, many of whom are children caught up in the tangled web of extremist chaos.

We may choose to sit back, reading our papers and watching our news reports of such stories as these–stories of the ugliness of “over there.” We may have missed the fact that there are now American and European citizens who are counted among the members of this growing extremist movement. We may continue feeling comfortable and safe in our chairs in our homes as we read and watch the news about this latest war. . .over there. . .

What of the aid workers? What dare say we will be their fate at the hands of these depraved terrorists? There has been a confirmed ransom demand of 6.6 million dollars for the American. Our government has long said it will not negotiate with terrorist. I agree. Obviously David Cameron agrees. Yet if I was the mother of that aid worker, I know I would feel differently. I would most likely beg, borrow and steal to have my child safely back in my arms. The question begs to be answered. . .can nations continue paying barbaric thugs astronomical amounts of money, which simply in turn goes to further funding the deepening madness and chaos of thuggery and terrorism. . .a precarious price of extortion and blood money given in the name of buying, albeit a brief, peace of mind?

How long will the cost of that peace of mind last until the next demand of payment to the proverbial piper?
The concern should be that groups such as ISIS will not be content to merely take hold of a town, a city, a country. They are parasitic and they are hungry. Their hunger is ravenous and knows no limit.

The compassion of the innocents, in this case the aid workers, has been met with the malicious hate of evil–in this case, a cohesive malevolent movement. It is merely a matter of time until we learn the next move in this latest and costly game of chess. May our thoughts and prayers remain steadfast for theses individuals and their familiars.

When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.
Pearl S. Buck