life’s separation

“Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

“The accidents of life separate us from our dearest friends,
but let us not despair.
God is like a looking glass in which souls see each other.
The more we are united to Him by love,
the nearer we are to those who belong to Him.”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

chasing monsters

“We are each other’s harvest;
we are each other’s business;
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Gwendolyn Brooks


(the setting sun in a western Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2017)

Like most folks I imagine, here on the east coast, I awoke yesterday to learn that a horrific tragedy had unfolded while I had slept..taking place out west.
In Las Vegas to be exact.

Shock, disbelief, raw and numb…
were just a few of the words used to describe my initial bleary eyed
reaction.

Readying for the day I gravitated between the television and my phone just
trying to glean the latest news coming in as I tried making sense of what
I was hearing, reading and seeing.

My son and I had a day of traveling on our agenda so once in the car, with me driving,
he pulled up the local Atlanta Channel 2 Action New’s live feed so we’d be able to
see and hear the President address the nation.

All I could think about was here was one more president coming before a somber Nation,
once again, to offer words of solace and comfort in the face of madness.
How many times has Trump already done this?
How many times had President Obama done this?
How many times had President Bush……

Below the streaming live feed my son kept watching and reading the scrolling comments
coming into the station from its viewers. He read some of these to me….
and I was sickeningly appalled at the words he shared.

There were no words of bereavement, no words of sorrow but rather words and feelings
from viewers expressing disdain and mockery.

From disgusting, vile and derogatory remarks about the President and his family to the
notion that this latest massacre equated to mere payback to whites….
I was quickly reminded why I shun social media.

One viewer finally expressing what I was feeling—“is there a way in which I can turn
off these terribly offensive and insensitive comments and just listen to the President?”

My son turned his phone off as the comments were simply too distracting…
too inhumane really, too monstrous…so we continued our drive mostly in silence as our minds worked to absorb the enormity of these latest events.

Later in the afternoon, as I finally made my return journey home alone,
I did something I normally don’t do while driving…I turned on the radio to the news.
I usually prefer to drive in silence, lost in my own thoughts sans any music or chatter..
but today was different… I wanted to hear and feel what the Nation, my Nation,
was experiencing.

I caught the live press briefing from the White House.

There is a big difference when listening to something verses watching it—

With the visual imagery being non existent, the words take on more of their true
intended purpose.

The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, came to the podium and offered words of both sorrow and condolence.

She began the briefing by talking about Puerto Rico and The US Virgin Islands and of the ongoing efforts to offer the necessary aid and support to help in the recovery efforts
for these islands following the deadly assault by the hurricanes.

Next her voice began to waver and crack as she began to speak about our common bond
as Americans and the unity of our shared humanity.

She addressed the current unfolding events coming out of Las Vegas.
She shared the various stories of the heroic acts offered during the melee.
The selfless sacrifices freely offered from stranger to stranger throughout the
surreal shooting.
The stories of those who offered their own bodies as shields in an attempt to protect others.
Such acts she noted recalled the verse John 15:13….
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Once finished she turned the remaining time over to the gathered reporters fielding their questions.

I don’t know.

One would think that the heaviness felt from this emotional observation would have been enough to take the wind out of the sails of that most caustic room of reporters.
One would have thought the enormity of what had recently unfolded, just as it continued
to unfold, would have been enough to soften even the most callous and anti-Trump
reporter. One would think, that while our Nation was currently experiencing a tragedy
of epic proportion, it would be reason or should and would be reason enough to have a quieting effect…
but it didn’t.

They did wait until the second question however before falling into their typical
patterns.
The questions began immediately over gun control.

Ms Sanders quickly reminded those in the room that this was a time of National
reflection, National mourning, a time of coming together in our collective
sorrow all the while as the investigation was currently active—it was all too fresh,
too raw and it was NOT the time nor the place to begin the questioning of or for
revisiting policy decisions or for the attacking of a president….the tit for tat of typical partisan politics.

And yet question after question, reporter after reporter began the litany…
There were those who pushed Hillary Clinton to the forefront of conversation with her
less than sympathetic knee jerk tweets regarding the NRA, there were those who revisited the President’s comments from 12 years ago regarding gun control….
on and on they went.

It all reminded me of a friend of mine who just won’t ever take to hearing the word
“no” for an answer.
She’ll turn and twit her query ever so until she gets the answer she wants to hear…
and that’s what this Q & A reminded me of—-someone determined not to hear the word or words “no” or “not now” as they turned and twisted their words over and over,
again and again as they desperately worked to have their affirmative moment…

And yet time and time again, Ms Sanders stoically redirected the focus to the current moment—
to the pain we are all experiencing….not to the what ifs, not to the would haves,
nor to the should haves….

I think I would have just thrown my hands in the air and walked away.
They just didn’t get it—they didn’t get that this is not the time nor the place….

There is however a time and a place…
but today, right now, was / is not that time nor that place for bickering over policies
failed or not. It is not the day to point the fingers.
It is not the day to be accusatory.
It is not a day of politics.
Not the time nor the place for right or left or anarchist…

For today is the day we sort through the shock as we allow ourselves to grieve.
Today is the day we mourn the lives lost and the lives forever changed.
We allow the pain and yes we even allow the anger…
As we mourn another lost piece to the puzzle of our American innocence.
As we digest that life once again, will never be the same as we knew it.

Yet as a Nation, we seem to have forgotten to allow ourselves our own grief.
The press leads the way, our politicians follow suit as now an angry and hate
filled Nation begins the ugly rhetoric.

Did we better grieve or mourn more honestly before this social media of ours—

Before the distractions and the million of tiny soap boxes we each now
climb upon offering up our hateful and accusatory 2 cents as if anyone is really listening…

When was it exactly that we became this way…?

I ponder these thoughts as I hear of the gut wrenching yet heroic tales of selflessness
offered from stranger to stanger—
sheltering, protecting, offering aid to strangers in the crowd… each
caught in the middle of a nightmare.

As a Nation we must allow ourselves time as well as permission for our collective
sorrow, for the shock, for the disbelief and for our own very humanness…
rather than heeding the call by those now jaded and who have forgotten that we are
more than right, more than left, more than anarchist…eschewing their cries in the meida or on social media to gather the pitchforks in pursuit of the monster—
because in our haste, we might just be chasing after the wrong monster…

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort
and relieve your sick servants, and give your power
of healing to those who minister to their needs,
that those for whom our prayers are offered may be
strengthened in their weakness and have confidence
in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

(Book of Common Prayer)

iustificatio / justification

“No creature can be in a position of
justice before its Creator”

Bishop Karol Wojtyla November 1962 (Pope John Paul II)


(a determined visiting box turtle / Julie Cook / 2017)

There is nothing I can add to this reflection by the then acting Bishop of Krakow.
It is a reflection of created and Creator,
man and God…
And that of man’s fallen nature which in turn precipitates the need for Grace
which is provided by and through Jesus Christ.

The dogmatic topic that requires a deeper spiritual reflection is the
mystery of justification (iustificatio).

Man cannot be ‘just’ before God: he can only be’justified’ before Him.

The former is proved by the fact that man is not equal to God, his Creator,
and the latter by Christ and the entire order of Grace.

No creature can be in a position of justice before its Creator.

Man is in a way a synthesis of creatures.

As a creature in general, he and his existence
are unconditionally dependent on his Creator;
he is dependent also by virtue of his nature and, consequently,
unequivocally subordinate.

As a being endowed with vegetative (sensual) life, he is subject to the laws of life
and death (generatio et corruptio) like other creatures.

As a ritual being – a person – he bears a more special resemblance to the Creator,
which obligates him to maintain the order of justice,
i.e. to give to everybody what rightly belongs to them (which also includes paying
religious worship to God).

The fact of personhood does not render invalid man’s vegetativeness and
animalitas (animal nature), which turns him into “ash and nothing” before his Creator.
As a person, man can enter into personal contact with the Creator;
this contact, however, has to be initiated by the Creator.

When He initiates it, it consists (like the act of creation) in an act of mercy,
because man as a creature is fully dependent and subordinate.
In particular, he needs to be justified because of his sin,
which, as an offense to God, does harm to the very essence of this personal
contact understood in the way it is understood and intended by the Creator –
and it is His prerogative to define the essence of the contact He establishes
with His rational creature.

Justification comes through Christ, the Son of God,
who initiates this essential contact and gives it,
to a certain extent, the qualities of His contact with the Father.

Therefore, justification is expressed in us as the new esse (being) –
‘esse ad Patrem’ (being towards the Father) (i.e. sanctifying grace),
and the continuation of this personal contact consists in faith, hope and love.

Bishop Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)
Personal diaries November 1962
In God’s Hands

the observation of love by a wee flea

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed
especially desolating and painful,
with particular satisfaction.
Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five
years in this world,
everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence,
has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…
This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.
And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

Malcolm Muggeridge

Cartoon Flea Success

Cartoon Flea Success

Yesterday I found myself reading over the latest blog offering by the Scottish Pastor
David Robertson….
who once again, expresses so much more eloquently what I feel…

Thoughts and words I’ve been trying to convey here in my little corner of the blogosphere..
for quite sometime, but seem to fall a bit short of his more marvelous observations.

This latest post is entitled The Fallacy of the Fascist Revival–Hope Not Hate

I was barely through the first paragraph when I heard myself shouting “AMEN”

“My concern is not so much with fascism but with the dumbing down of our society,
including our media and political discourse and what that leads to.”

Personally I have become so perplexed with this new global obsession with what seems
to be some sort of new age fascism….
that I am heart sick that so many Americans are now so deluded as to claim that the
other half of their countrymen are now practicing Nazis…
as they truly have no inkling as to what they are accussing
or claiming others to be practicing…..

I have become so incensed that there are actually so many seemingly educated,
yet truly misinformed individuals,
who are clamoring over such nonsense as to the country being overrun with goose-stepping
brown shirts and that a sitting US president is channeling the essence of an
evil demigod and führer.

I am infuriated that there are those who currently think that anyone with a differing opinion
should now be labeled as a fascist…
all without having a true depth of knowledge of what it is that they are labeling and accusing
others of being…..

All of what this has done, this current fanaticism, is but to cheapen the lives of those
who actually suffered and lived through the reality of all that was throughout the 1930’s-1940’s…

Our friend at the “Wee Flea” notes:

As usual Brendan O’Neill puts it far better than I can.

“The word is now used with an ahistoricism and thoughtlessness that are genuinely alarming.
And among the upper echelons of society, not merely by scruffy protesters or online blowhards.
The Archbishop of Canterbury says Trump is part of the ‘fascist tradition’.
Prince Charles has warned darkly of a return of the atmosphere of the 1930s,
and we all know what that means. ‘Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist’,
says New Republic, a magazine that once considered itself a voice of reason among
the paranoid style of American political life. But everyone’s paranoid now.
Everyone now sees fascists.”

Pastor Robertson continues:
“Dumbing down then enables people to become deluded by the delusions.”

“People who are either too lazy, too unthinking, or too self-obsessed with their own delusions,
can’t stand being challenged and so they hate. Even if, in their own eyes,
they are on the side of reason and love they will emote and hate.
In fact its worse than that – its BECAUSE they are on the side of love that they feel
they have the right to hate. And in the age of the internet and social media,
they find it much easier to do this online, than spray painting their neighbours
house.”

So not only are we witnessing this new age lunacy here in the US…
that of our modern day fascist witch hunt…
One that I liken to an ill perceived “War of the Worlds” mass pandemonium,
it just so happens that it is sadly more indicative to the growing hysteria
found across our entire Western Civilization…

“This demonisation has frightening consequences.
Someone from Edinburgh sent me this photo of a poster in Edinburgh he passed the
day after he read my article.”

img_20170214_135429553

Yet perhaps the most troubling aspect to be found in all of this
is to be found in the messages we are now sending
to our young people….
especially as we are hearing such hateful rhetoric spewing
form the mouths of educators…..

“One of the most disturbing series messages I got was from someone who said they were a
history teacher and described the UK government as a fascist government.
Now imagine you are a child who hears that, and hears about the evil of fascism,
and then reads a poster like this.
It’s beyond irony that those who want to use hate speech legislation to suppress all
views except their own, are so often full of hate.”

Pastor Robertson then poses the question that most sane and rational individuals
now find themselves asking, nay imploring….

“Where is the Hope in all of this?”

And in his question…in this search for some semblance of rationality, sanity…
it is our Hope in which we find our answer…..

“I don’t see it in politics.
And I don’t see it in groups like ‘Hope not Hate’, because they too demonise the other,
in order to justify themselves. It seems as though we are in an endless cycle of blame,
guilt and hatred.
But there is a solution.
There is somewhere where ‘the dividing walls of partition’ are broken down,
where people really do become one and where love, harmony, unity and diversity predominate.
I am of course talking about the church of Jesus Christ.”

“Its not an ideology that brings love and unity—
its Christ.
If you want Love not Hate, then you need to know the One who is Love.”

The Fallacy of the Fascist Revival – Hope Not Hate

how shall you be known?

“A lie is a delusion of the mind, while evil is a delusion of the will.
The sign by which one is distinguished from the other is the judgement of God Himself…
that which He teaches a man is the truth;
that which He leads a man to will is the good.
But whatever contradicts this is entirely false, entirely evil.”

St. Nicholas Cabasilas

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“Watch out for false prophets.

They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

By their fruit you will recognize them.

Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit,
but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
(Matthew 7:15-20)

Where it is important that we should be able to recognize what is true, real and pure…
that which is not a falsehood, a lie, an evil…

Is it not equally as important that others should be able to look at us,
both you and me,
and recognize what drives us, guides us, leads us…?

What do they see?

Can they see what we stand for, what directs us, what motivates us…

Are we a mirror, reflecting the Grace, Mercy and determination of Christ

Or do we cast shadows of obscured light…

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(persimmons / Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness
and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Romans 1:18

Hope found in a love that does not seek control

“He is lifted up as a passive victim, so the cross is a sign of desolation.
And he is lifted up in glory, so the cross becomes at the same time a sing of hope.
Suddenly we realize that the glory of God, the divinity of God,
bursts through in Jesus’ passion precisely when he is most victimized.”

Father Henri Nouwen
From Action to Passion
Bread and Wine
Reading for Lent and Easter

RSCN2935
(the blackberries are blooming / Julie Cook / 2016)

Father Henri Nouwen recounts in his reflection From Action to Passion the story of a dear friend who was dying from cancer. This friend, who was in his early 50’s, had been very active his entire life. As an adult he had worked tirelessly as a social activist.
Always doing, always giving…

This once active, constantly moving, individual was now finding himself lost in his illness and the maddening and ever growing frustration of his inability to go, to do, and now simply even to move.
His body weak and ravaged by disease, he was now on the receiving end of constant care by nurses and doctors. He was beginning the downward decent into that dark place of despair…
not knowing how to cope as he was now on the receiving end of life verses the active giving and doing end.

The thought dawned on Fr Nouwen that there were many more like his friend who were suddenly finding themselves at the same crossroads of life…being faced with that haunting question…
“how can I still do?”
Be it illness, accident or age at some point or another we all will be faced with the same challenging question…

Father Nouwen realized that his friend, as well as others, had come to see their self worth based solely in their ability to “do”.
And if they were no longer able to do, then what good were they…

Father Nouwen found his answer, the answer not only for his friend but for all of us, playing out during the final days of Jesus’ life on earth.
It was found in the dark of night, found in the garden of Gethsemane, on the fateful night in which Jesus was handed over to the authorities and arrested on grounds of treason.

It is noted that in the Greek translation of the Bible that Jesus was “handed over.”
Other translations offer the word betrayed…but it is within the phrase “handed over: that we find our answer to our question…

Father Nouwen notes that Jesus’ life can be divided into two very distinct parts and or actions.
The first part of his life and ministry was one of doing..preaching, teaching, traveling, healing..
The second half, and maybe even the most important,
was when he become the recipient or the one who was now “being done to”—
He was now on the receiving end verses the doing end.

His passion in turn became a type of waiting.
Waiting for things to be done to Him…
Waiting for questioning,
Waiting for a trial
Waiting to be flogged
Waiting to be sentenced
Waiting to be executed
Waiting to die
Waiting to rise…
All done with quiet determination, patience and a willingness to wait rather than control the situation.
Whereas Jesus could have easily orchestrated things in His favor, He willingly submitted to “being handed over” and to what all that would entail, even unto death…

So now we all come to see that our life’s vocation(s) can become one of receiving and waiting verses giving and doing.
Yet at the same time we know that there is a very real and difficult relinquishing of this control.
And it is in the ultimate giving of Jesus that we see our own example of action within the waiting and the receiving…

These are hard words to hear for those of us who are active, have found our worth in doing, giving, offering, speaking, teaching, helping…
“How on earth,” we hear ourselves lamenting, “can I be of service, viable, helpful, productive, beneficial, worthy… if I am to become passive, a recipient, a receiver…?”

Yet the answer is found and must be claimed in the Passion of Christ.

To be handed over, willingly…
to relinquish,
to let go,
to let God…

“Into your hands…”
“It is finished…”

We see that it has been a Love freely given…
It is a passionate Love steeped in selflessness
It is a Love that receives as much as it gives
It is a Love that gives of itself rather than seeks control
and it is a patient Love content on waiting

“So together we began to see that in the midst of our suffering and passion,
in the midst of our waiting, we can already experience the resurrection…”

Fr Henri Nouwen

A world on the move and the Sermon on the Mount

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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(a variety of lichen found in the woods / Julie Cook / 2015)

This morning while reading my daily devotional, I was struck by an
interesting question concerning the Sermon on the Mount raised by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1940

Because the individual is always the one placed in the responsibility, the old question–whether the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7) applies to the individual as individual but not to the individual who is responsible for others—is falsely stated. The Sermon on the Mount itself makes people responsible for others and knows no individual only as an individual. It is not satisfied, however, with preparing individuals for their duty in the community; it also lays claim to individuals in their responsible activity itself. It calls them to love that proves itself in acting responsibly toward the neighbor, to love whose origin is the love of God that encloses in itself the whole of reality. Just as there is no limiting the love of God for the world, so also the human love that springs from God’s love is not limited to certain areas and relationships of life. Either the Sermon on the Mount is to be regarded as the word of the world-reconciling love of God everywhere and at all times, or is does not seriously concern us at all. . .The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most compelling proof that God’s love is at all times equally close and equally distant. Jesus died because God loved the whole world. And in this same love—sealed by the cross of Jesus–we are called into the whole world.

As I finished my reading and prayer reflections, I was left with a bit of nagging clarity coupled by some continued questions. This whole concept of who exactly Jesus was addressing in the Sermon of the Mount as well as what I, the individual, was to take away from His instruction, remained in the forefront of my thoughts for most of the morning.

I began pondering the concept of responsibility verses merely being a receptor. . .of my being on the receiving end of Jesus’s words, what with His list explaining who was to be what and why– or–the thought that there is actually to be some sort of prior action on my part which was actually the gist that I was to take away from what He said–That it’s to actually be a “go forth and do” sort of command verses just a nice little reflection of how things are after the fact.

Reading over the day’s latest news stories I stumbled upon this picture of an ominous map attached to a story posted on the BBC regarding the current global migration crisis. I clicked to read the article and was met with a very sobering reality of this now constant global bleeding

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(image courtesy BBC)

This next chart notes where international migrants now live:

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The article, which is just one in a growing litany of articles sounding the warning alarms of a world on the move— with the reasons being not by happy choice.
There is a global crisis that is demanding action to be taken by us all–Europe is almost stretched to its breaking point, and according to other graphs accompanying the article we see that the US is a top end destination for so many of these refugees.
The nagging question remains. . .how are we to apply the Sermon of the Mount to this latest world trouble. . .and what, as Christians, is to be our responsibility?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-32912867