the Christian Paradox

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our
only necessities.”

Oscar Wilde


(the sad little cherub birdbath has seen better days / Julie Cook / 2017)

Reflecting back over this past and most chaotic year—chaotic on so many levels….
As it has been chaotic, yes, personally but perhaps the correct word there
would be difficult….

Yet chaotic is what it has been, none the less and more importantly, on
a National and Global level….
thus making it more acute because its a sort of chaotic which affects us all.

It has been a year which has seen its fair share of words and acronyms,
some tried and true, some new and biting…each having left us changed.

Words and letters such as BREXIT, Tweet, Trump, Merkel, May,
Hillary, Russia, Putin, LBTGQ, ISIS, snowflakes, cupcakes, harassment,
sexual, misogynist, tolerance, intolerance, conservative, media, fake news,
liberal, Socialist, Nazi, Communist, accept, Democrats, Homophobic, Republicans, e-mails,
leaks, white supremacist, racist, walls, migrants….

On and on the list has grown….
so perhaps the ending of this particular year is coming none too soon.

It has certainly been perplexing watching the shift in dynamics within our Nation
as well as within the world at large.

It has been disconcerting watching this shift in Culture—
particularly in and with what we thought we knew.

It is maddening to be called “phobic” when one simply disagrees with a sinful
lifestyle.

In the latest posting of Anglican Unscripted, Bishop Ashenden was also opining
the same sorts of issues but with a more keen eye on the shift within Christian
Culture and the Church….

The good Bishop notes that there are all sorts of calls emanating from various pulpits,
all the way to Canterbury itself, the ancient seat of the Anglican Church—

Calls are being made for a total acceptance, absolute tolerance and drastic change….
Coupled by the actual accusations towards those who opt not to get on board with the
acceptance, the tolerance and the change….
Actually accusing those who cling to Scriptural Authority as being outdated,
out numbered and flat out wrong.

I can remember when words from various pulpits were words of God, Salvation, Fatih, Sacrifice, Obedience, Jesus, Love, Grace—
not this modern mantra of jumping on the culture train or else…….

Bishop Ashenden notes that it seems as if the majority of the English Clergy,
(and I would include their kissing cousins of the Episcopal Church), are
either outright socialists or of socialist leanings.
While frustratingly the more Orthodox remain silent for fear of reprisals.

As it appears that the majority of both clergy and laity have lost confidence in the Spiritual message of Salvation, that which calls for all humans to repent,
having rather “transferred their allegiance to a political solution.”
Because who wants to be told to repent from a lifestyle that society has
deemed worthy as God has succinctly and resoundingly deemed as sinful?

And what we the Faithful must note….is that within that notion of all things
of a political solution, there is absolutely no call to or for repentance.

Anglican unscripted:

And now we look to the paradoxical…

We look to the counter balance to all of the liberal heavy handed hullabaloo
with the story of the ancient Coptic Church in Egypt.

It is a church whose roots are found in St Mark who brought the Gospel to Egypt
during the reign of the Emperor Nero.
A long suffering church body of Believers who have suffered at the hands of Islam
since Muslims invaded their homeland in 641.

Believers who do not adhere to the cultural gods, but rather adhere only to the
Word of the One Almighty and Omnipotent God…

For there is no demand for change, or tolerance of the sinful, or acceptance of
society’s demands.


(Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church of Egypt)


(The Amir Tadros coptic Church in Minya on Sunday.
The building was set ablaze on Aug. 14)

Consider the following comment….

What kind of faith makes people go back to church immediately after that
church was bombed?
What kind of faith makes people chant the Nicene Creed right after their church
was bombed?
What kind of faith makes a community continue liturgy outside because their church
wasn’t yet safe enough to be in?
What kind of faith makes one go on national TV and tell persecutors that they
are loved and forgiven after they just attacked and killed 28 Christians?
The unshakable faith of Christ.

We mourn.
We are in pain.
We are angry.
We have lost many brothers and sisters in Christ, and their blood continues to flow.
But many of us neglect to remember something –
the Coptic Christians remain undefeated.
They continue to grow.
They continue to inspire and strengthen the faith of Christians around the world.

https://howtoreligion.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/coptic-orthodoxy-and-self-defense/

And so will round out these thoughts with the words of the late Orthodox monk and saint,
Saint Paisios…..

“[St. Paisios responds to the question: ‘Geronda, what is this joy that I feel?
Can it be that I am not aware of my sinfulness?’]

No, my child!
God gives you a chocolate here and there, in order to give you joy.
For now, it’s chocolates; later, it will be wine —
like the wine they drink in Paradise.
Do you know how sweet is the wine they drink there?
Oh my!
If God sees a little philotimo (*), a bit of good disposition,
He offers His Grace abundantly, and it intoxicates you —
even from this life.
The spiritual delight one receives, and the transformation he feels in his heart
when the Grace of God visits him, cannot be given…
even by the best cardiologist in the world.
When you feel such joy, try to hold on to it for as long as you can.”
~+~
(*) – Philotimo, is the spontaneous, self-sacrificing love shown by humble people,
from whom every trace of self has been filtered out,
full of gratitude towards God and their fellow man.
Philotimo comes from a deep, abiding connection with God,
so that one is constantly moved to do and seek that which is good,
right and honorable.
(Although this definition has been repeated many times during these teachings,
the last time was 5 months ago,
I feel it is never too often to remind us of its awesome meaning!)

From Discerning Thoughts

And so we end this year of the humanly chaotic being warned.
For we the faithful are being called.
Called not to be quiet, not to fear reprisals, not to accept that which is wrong
but to hold up to the world the Image of God incarnate in His only begotten son….

His duality is seen in the oldest documented Icon of Christ the Pantocrator.
One side of his face is the Christ who is benevolent, kind and loving,
the other side is of the Christ who sits in judgement….judgement of all mankind.

What those who clamor for all things cultural and accepting have chosen to ignore
that Jesus will indeed sit in judgement.

We are called to repent.
To be repentant.
For in that repentance and in that the turning away from sin is found
the true acceptance of Salvation.


(Christ Pantocrator, the oldest known Icon of Christ, 6th Century AD / St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)

Thoughts no longer your own….

Denouncing your neighbour for a ‘thought-crime’ was a favourite past time
in the old Soviet Union.
The problem for anyone accused of having the ‘wrong thoughts’ is that it’s
impossible to defend yourself.

Bishop Gavin Ashenden


(stock image CNN Soviet Army Parade)

“Well the practice is back.
‘Hate crime’ is the new thought crime.
If someone else’s views makes you feel uncomfortable,
all you need to do is to accuse them of either ‘hate’ or, if you prefer, ‘extremism’,
or best of all, both.”

Bishop Gavin Ashenden

I read the latest posting by Bishop Ashenden this morning as he continues to address the maddening debacle of a Church of England church school kicking out a Christian
organization because parents complained that the group was too Christian for their children.

Remember we’re talking about a Christian church school and a Christian organization…
You may read the post here as I’m still in disbelief:

Hatred, like beauty maybe in the eye of the beholder; cowardice, complicity and the Church of England

And I have found myself ruminating over this whole incident on and off since first
reading about it over on the Wee Flee blog of the Scottish Pastor David Robertson.

https://theweeflea.com

However it was more than what the good Bishop added today to the story that reignited
my ire over all of this, it was what he said about our very thoughts that disturbed
me more than anything else.

You may recall my having mentioned reading the book The Book Thieves
by Anders Rydell
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return A Literary Inheritance

I’ve yet to finish the book.
It is a very difficult read…for all sorts of reasons.
It is a story that I have had to put down for extended periods as it is not easy
processing the sheer overwhelming information—
the tragedies, the unbelievable acts and the mercurial madness of humans
against other humans

Mr Rydell has done an exceptional job with the devastating facts and figures…
that of the cities, the towns, the libraries, both public and private,
that were decimated.
He has traveled extensively all over Europe, as well as into Russia,
in search of recovery efforts.
He has followed the often frustrating breadcrumbs left by owners…trails that
eventually lead to various death camps or simply stopped as abruptly as they
had begun.

Millions of priceless, and the not so priceless, manuscripts, books, torahs, diaries, incurables that were stolen, plundered, confiscated, hidden, burned or reduced to pulp
the for Nazi’s own paper needs…
With many important collections simply being scattered to the four corners
of the globe…
As there is now a race against time underway to reunite families with the
recovered “treasures” of lost, and sometimes forgotten, loved ones.

But the one thing that Mr Rydell has actually unearthed is the reasoning as to why
the Nazis would go to such extensive and meticulous extremes to confiscate books
along with entire libraries across all of Europe and Russia—
a reason which was more than merely amassing of war booty—
it was something so much darker.

It was to be the complete eradication of the spirit and soul of the
People of the Book.

“The Nazis knew how important books were to the Jews. Reading makes you into
a human being. When someone takes it away from you they also steal your thoughts.
They wanted to destroy the Jews by robbing them of what was most important to them”

Michal Bušek

And so today with Bishop Ashenden’s words of recounting the notion of
“thought crimes”–something the Nazi’s and later the Soviets would each attempt
to master, we are reminded that such practice is now alive and well with a key focus
on the Christian thought….

“If it were possible for any nation to fathom another people’s bitter experience
through a book, how much easier its future fate would become and how many
calamities and mistakes it could avoid.
But it is very difficult.
There always is this fallacious belief:
‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’

Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Nefarious and sinister

“No sign, so far, of anything sinister—but I live in hope.”
Agatha Christie

Firstly, you must remember that I am from the generation that was before this
over-zealous addiction with technology was a thing…
From a time before cell phones, before DVD’s, before standard air conditioning,
before videos before virtual reality….

Television, with only the standard 3 major networks, broadcast in black and white,
was not a 24/7 happening thing.
Who doesn’t remember the good ol buzzing of the test pattern waiting for the time
in which the day was to crank back up?

I was well into my teaching career when schools began introducing computers
to their teachers.
A hulking behemoth of a thing that had no such thing as a connection to a
world wide web or wifi capability…but rather ran a single electronic grade book system….of which was only as good as the teachers trying input the
averages and grades…

So when it came time for our son to actually need his first computer,
in say maybe his 9th or 10th grade year in high school,
he was sold on needing an Apple.

My dad was always the techie guru of the family…
of which probably had something to do with Dad having been an engineer all his life.
For he was always cutting edge with technology.

When I was young we were the first on our street to get a color television,
the first to move from HiFi to stereo and the first to get a cell phone.
Granted it was basically a plug-in phone in a bag that looked more like a
traditional phone stuck in a black pocketbook…
but it was cutting edge none the less.

When he bought mother her first microwave, a giant monstrosity that took up an
entire kitchen counter, he made us all leave the room when it was on lest we be
radiated…yet it was ok to eat the radiated food…hummm.

So when it came time for folks to get home computers, dad was right there
in the mix…and this must have been where our son got his proclivity for
technology.

Of course it was now the 21st century…
Apple had come a long way from the early
days of the Macintosh…
Apple now presented a clean futuristic take on technology.
They were slick and if you were slick, Apple was what the slick were craving.

So naturally our son eventually sold me on needing an Apple as well…
despite my school still using traditional PCs in the classroom.
“Apples are easier to use and they don’t get viruses mother” he would
frustratingly remind me whenever something went awry at school…
“Plus they’re for the more creative” this being a push to his
art teacher mother.

And so it is…
I’ve been through one large Apple desktop and two iMac lap tops…not to mention
and array of iPhones and one iPad…

And then it happened.

There I was last night having to update my adobe acrobat.
My phone happened to be ringing at the same time.

Answering the phone while trying to update…
as in multitasking has always been an area in which I have always excelled…
Yet suddenly something crazy and terribly wrong had come up on my screen as there
was now a voice coming from my computer with some dude talking to me about virus
detection while my computer had downloaded not adobe acrobat but something else
entirely, something called Safe Finder—
with this actually becoming my new home page.
Safe it was not….

WHAT????? I hear a panicked voice wailing,
realizing the voice was mine.

So I quickly hung up the phone and tried doing everything a limited minded
57 year old knows to do.
I cut my computer off and on.

When some semblance of clarity finally returned to my distraught brain,
I tried uninstalling the blasted thing but it wouldn’t uninstall.

Shades of Equifax now ran through my brain as I heard the Discover Card commercial
Russian sales associate “Peggy” mocking me from somewhere deep in Siberia…
I now believed everything I held dear or what was of importance to my existence as
a humanbeing had just been dumped on that nefarious Dark Web.

I actually looked up “what is the dark web”
And just when you thought the internet was not dark enough,
it gets even darker.

The links that came up were frighting at best.
With the lead link claiming to be able to step by step anyone into the dark web
within 15 minutes allowing you to remain anonymous.
I felt as if it was assuring me that it could happily step by step me
smack dab into the middle of Hell all within 15 minutes…
somehow I don’t think one remains anonymous in Hell.

Naturally I didn’t click on any links because I just wanted to see if it was
really real.
And no I do not need to see if Hell is real…
I’ve already figured that one out.

So I now had a sick feeling in my stomach…a kind of scared to death feeling of
instant doom.

I worked my way into reaching Apple in order to make an appointment at one the
Atlanta stores for the following day but discovered there were no appointments
until Saturday at 5:15.
“Are you freaking kidding me?????”
Again the panicked voice, which was mine, was heard wailing.

By now my husband was home.
I rapidly fired off the retelling of my troubles as he was wondering why
supper was only half way cooked.
“Maybe you should just go buy another one?”
“No” I practically snapped, “this one is only two years old and a new one
would cost an arm and a leg.”
All the while images of viruses being sent out to everyone I knew, or worse,
my identity was now multiplying in places like North Korea, Russia, China….
all dark shadows playing out in my now overstimulated imagination.

After supper I called Apple and left my number for a “miracle worker”
to call me back.
An almost immediately my phone rang with said Apple miracle worker.

I explained my tale of woe.
We ‘share screened’…
(which is scary in itself as we where both in my computer at the same time)
while he walked me through the malware issue.
He found the culprit embedded on my hard drive…hidden well deep within
the labyrinth of the the computer.

We got it, got rid of it and added a Malware program to my computer to
detect and deal with any further issues.

So naturally with all this virus verses no virus business…
along with the hackers, identity theft, and the sinister Dark Web plaguing
my life, I got to thinking….

We live in a world of utterly false protection.
If you think otherwise, it won’t be long until this world makes a believer out of
you as well.

We have been lulled into believing that everything from our identity,
to our credit history to our medical records, to our very safety as an American
are all perfectly safe…
Yet with the big credit companies like Equifax recently being attacked…
While millions of medical records were hacked at Anthem in 2015, with even
the Pentagon being hacked, no one should feel safe.

While credit information is easily stollen at gas stations, restaurants and
even while innocently and mindlessly shopping…
with it all being sold to the highest bidder.

Life is no longer simple nor is it safe.

So while we now work diligently to be ever vigilant protecting what is ours
while living in a world of growing cyber darkness…
we must be equally, if not more so, mindful that our very souls are
just as vulnerable as our credit or our medical records or even our identity ….
for there is indeed a darkness that longs for such…

And should you disagree—there are steps available for taking you just as dark as
you dare go…I think they call that hell…..

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent,
who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—
he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the
authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers
has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word
of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you,
O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”

Revelation 12:9-12

hard words

As fire is not extinguished by fire, so anger is not conquered by anger,
but is made even more inflamed.
But meekness often subdues even the most beastly enemies,
softens them and pacifies them.

Tikhon of Zadonsk

300px-tikhon_of_zadonsk
(icon image of St Tikhon of Zadonsk)

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved.
To look upon another–
his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects–
is to look upon one who is suffering.
He is suffering from negative passions,
from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer.
This is very important:
do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison,
noting the sins you assume you would never commit.
Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer,
a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need.
Help him,
love him,
pray for him,
do unto him as you would have him do unto you.”

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

I caught this quote this morning while playing catch up reading over several blogs.
An Orthodox monk offered the quote and when I read that very first line,
its was if St. Tikhon reached out across space and time,
grabbing me by both shoulders while proceeding to shake me to consciousness.

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved….”

Whoa…
Ruminate over those words for a minute…letting them sink in…

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved…”

Not just that it is a fearful thing to hate, but he adds, whom God loves.
As in doubly significant…

It is an ominous observation that transcends time.

St. Tikhon was a Russian Monk who lived in a monastery in Zadonsk during the 18th century.
He is venerated as a saint within the Orthodox Church.
And his observational words are as timely today as they were in mid 1700’s Russia.

The wisdom of those who have trod the very earth of this planet prior to our own wanderings,
have much to offer those of us today struggling to manage our lives.

Have we as Christians not been told repeatedly that God loves each of us…
each last individual one of us???

All 7,465,271,925…of us
(click on the world population meter and this number will have grown considerably
by the time you are reading these words…
it is almost frightening how fast the counter rolls off number after number…
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ )

Turn on any television,
read andy news feed,
watch any current banter, particularly in the US,
and you will see right fast that there is very little if any love roaming about
this great Nation of ours.

Yet St. Tikhon tells us that it is a fearful thing, as in bad…as in really really bad,
not to love those whom God loves.

And don’t we know, aren’t we told that God loves everyone…
Not just Christians…but Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Muslims…

If you can name them, He loves them…
as well as those you can’t name.

Remember the words of the prophet…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5

Let that sink in.

He knew you…as in you and you alone….
and He knew me and all those people now around us…

He even knows and loves those who you now hold with great disdain….

let that sink in…

For whom you hold with disdain,
for whom you loath,
for whom you distrust,
for whom you can’t stand,
for whom you claim to hate…

He, in turn, knows and loves.

And now remember the words of the saint…

Help them
Love them
Pray for them

And love them as He loves you….

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21

what was…

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

―Søren Kierkegaard

“Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin.”

― Mother Teresa

DSCN1261
(a hodge lodge of broken bits and pieces of stain glass, Bunratty Castel / Co Clare, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

We are not like the generations of the past, you and I.
Those generations before us were often forced to sacrifice, often having to go without.
They were brave yet they would not consider themselves such.
They were merely living the best way they knew how.
Yet we look back to the past and those prior generations…
and what we find is not often to our liking.

So we think that maybe erasing and then rewriting what we don’t like..
Thinking that will make things better…making us better.
We decide to use the lenses of the 21st century to rewrite perceived wrongs of the past.
But what we don’t understand, don’t get, is that those wrongs of the past,
weren’t exactly wrong….back there in the past…or at least they were not perceived as such.
It’s what seemed right for that generation of then…not necessarily for us here in the now.

For good or bad, that’s where it is…or rather where it was.
In the past.
Rewriting it, altering it, hoping to hide it, won’t change it.
Our overt political correctness and our joining of hands in kumbaya over all things tolerance
cannot change what was…no matter how hard we try a re-do.

Flags once flown,
Anthems and songs once sung
Stories once told
Monuments once erected
Wars once fought
all the fodder of the hopes and the dreams of a people now gone.

Do we serve them well by replacing them with us?
In someways and in some laws…perhaps…
Yet we must remember that they are not us, nor are we them…

Their’s was a different time.
Perceptions were different.
People were different
Lands and maps were different.
Hopes and dreams were different…

We can’t erase them, their lives, their moments…
simply because we no longer agree, see eye to eye, or possess the same filters of sight.

Yet we are allowing the loud voices of today to force our compliance in a desecration of a people that simply once were.

History is that….history… as in the past.
We learn from it, we can correct it’s mistakes in our today’s world but we can’t correct what was then in their world…
No matter how we try.

We learn over time…
We learn from experiences and mistakes…
We hope to learn not to repeat the same mistakes of the history of those who went before us.

Germany
Russia
Japan
Great Britain
The US…

We all have dark histories that we are now none to proud to bear.
But part of our responsibility to both those of the past, as to all of us now as to those who are yet to be, is not in hiding what was, whitewashing it into a nonexistent netherworld…
but rather to see it for what it was, good or bad, learn from it and then not to repeat it.

If we whitewash over everything,
pretending it never existed or offer a shoddy job of trying to rewrite it, trying to fix it to meet today’s standards, then we risk a far greater calamity in hiding or changing the truths of the past by exchanging them for the hopes of the future.

It is a dangerous job to pretend things were different when they were not.
It is dangerous to erase what was while changing it in to what is…
because what was can never be what is…
but it can be repeated…with a greater degree of ferocity…

He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

Daniel 2:21

the saint, the sultan and a first in meetings…

DSCN0358
( modern grave markers within the ancient cemetery located within the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In 1219 a humble and simple Italian Franciscan monk ventured across raging seas and hostile lands with the hope of eventually crossing enemy lines in order to meet one of the most feared men of his time, Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt… who also happened to be the nephew of the greatly feared Muslim warrior Saladin.

This was the height of the 5th Crusade. The Holy Roman Empire was embroiled, once agin with Muslim forces, as Jerusalem and what is known to Christianity as the Holy Lands, was under Muslim rule. Pope Innocent III and his successor Pope Honorius III, along with King Andrew II of Hungary and the Grand Duke Leopold VI of Austria launched a Holy Crusade to rid Christianity’s holiest city and her lands of Muslim rule once and for all. The irony here however is that Sultan Malik al-Kamil was actually one of the more tolerant Muslim rulers and allowed Christians living in and traveling to and from Jerusalem safe passage as well as greater freedoms than had previous rulers. Gone were the days of persecution and vast bloodshed. Yet the Catholic Church and most of Europe held the belief that the only good Jerusalem was a free Jerusalem.

Francesco Bernardone, affectionately known to us today as St Francis of Assisi, according to historical record longed to travel to the land of the Saracens not only to witness to the Muslims in the name of Christ but to broker peace. There is much debate over this encounter—had Francis simply wished to die a martyr in his hope to convert the Sultan as some historical documents record or had he hoped to intervene a peaceful solution putting an end to the ages of hostility, violence and bloodshed which had existed between these two religions for hundreds of years…scholars continue to debate these varying schools of thought.

The one fact however greatly agreed upon is that the meeting was one of mutual respect and peace.
Both men departed company with a lasting impression of mutual admiration and an understanding that each honored God…albeit in his own way.

As the world sits and watches the daily violence and mayhem unfolding within the very same region of the encounter of Francis and the Sultan…in Northern Arica and the Middle East, there appears to be an endless rolling wave of violence and bloodshed that seems to have been relentless since the dawn of mankind…as those deadly ripples reverberate ever outward into a gravely unaware world.

And it is during these global dark days in which my thoughts often turn to the teachings of that humble monk from Assisi.
I wonder how St Francis would view the current crisis with the current global assault by ISIS…
As this rising new unbending rule within Islam seems to lack the wisdom and tolerance of the long ago Sultan.

There is a historic meeting which is soon to take place.
It is a meeting between the two leading men who sit on the ancient thrones of their collective branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the western Latin Roman Catholic Church, who is the 266th pope to sit on the throne of St Peter, will meet with his Orthodox counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leading patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This meeting is a first between these two branches of the same tree. Previous popes have attempted to meet with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy but the rift between these two “sister” churches is deep.
All of which indeed goes back to the Great Schism of 1054 when Christianity was divided between the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox.

However with the Russian Orthodox the wariness seems to go even further as the Mother Church of Russia looks at the Latin Church as one who has long hoped to lure away the Russian faithful while the Catholic Church has long wondered how “close” the Russian Orthodox Church has been first with the ruling Tsar’s and then later with the Communist regime…with current continuing questions regarding the relationship and roll between it and Vladimir Putin’s government.

Yet it is with grave mutual concern over the rampant rise in global Christian persecution, especially in the region of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that these two holy men will put aside all differences in order to come together in a greatly historic and unprecedented union in hopes of creating a unified front, while the world watches and wonders how many more must die at the hands of barbarism before someone stands up and says enough is enough.

As the time of this historic meeting fast approaches, may our collective Christian families join together in united prayer for these two men as they prepare to meet later this month in Cuba.
May the Holy Spirit make His presence known and felt as these two men of deep Christian faith, who speak as representatives on the global stage for all of Christianity as well as humanity itself…may they find the necessary common ground within their shared faith, their love of Jesus Christ…may their two voices join as one as they speak for those who cannot speak.
May the world stop long enough to hear these two men’s collective wisdom which is steeped in the wisdom of the One True Spirit of God.
And may all Christians join together in support as we stand together as the Light shining in this every darkening world….

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35500973

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right…

“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.”

Lyrics from Stuck in the Middle with You
Stealers Wheel

“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.”

Martin Luther

DSCN2086
(an abandoned gristmill stone, Cables Mill, Cades Cove, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Townsend, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

A two front war…it’s what Churchill longed for and what Hitler loathed.

As soon as the US threw her hat into the ring, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler had set his sights on Russia, Churchill at long last knew that it was now only a matter of time before Hitler would crumble as the result of fighting a two front war.

History tells us that a two front war is a very difficult prospect for any warring nation as it requires a vast wealth of fresh troops, endless resources, new equipment, ample food, unending ammunition and free flowing cash in order to keep the fighting machine well fed.

It is exhausting and vastly draining on multiple national levels.

It is the ultimate squeeze play…a forcing of the hand…with all cards having to be be played at the same time as there is no longer the luxury of hiding anything…it’s now or never.

And that’s exactly how our ancient adversary enjoys plaguing us most…
Squeezing us on multiple fronts, diverting all of our energies, our attentions, our resources, our nerves, our health, all as we battle multiple opponents on multiple levels simultaneously.

It is disheartening, physically and emotionally exhausting, depressing, and very near crushing.
Defeat almost inevitably appears to be galloping toward us on the horizon as the specter of Death raises his scythe for the final blow….

And it is at that exact moment when we gratefully hear the rallying cry…

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God
words and music by Martin Luther

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46: 1-3,7

(****whereas to many Martin Luther’s name cries of derision, division and contempt, these ancient words speak to all Christians…Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike as we, the collective followers of Christ, continue finding ourselves pitted against an ancient foe who neither tires nor grows weary of making our lives miserable—it behooves us to always remember that we never go into battle alone)

Ever vigilant

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Thomas Jefferson

DSCN1562
(A statue of an Irish wolfhound stands guard at Ashford Castle / Counties Mayo – Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

We are currently caught in a maelstrom…
a
black
swirling
churning
drastically
changing
moment
in
time …

A time of grave darkness.

It was in 2001 when we first heard the words…“we are winning the war on terrorism….”
words Spoken by George W Bush.
He had first publicly used the term “war on Terror” following the attacks of September 11th.
However we can actually look back to the Reagan administration when the phrase was first used by then President Reagan as he implored Congress to pass legislation to freeze the funds of various terrorist agencies.

Terrorist regimes are not new.

Yet our current President tells us that we are winning, making gains, making great strides, curbing and shutting down this insidious menace….
In May he even boasted that the war on terror was over…Hummm
“The “Global War on Terror” is over, President Barack Obama announced Thursday”
(US New and World Report May 23, 2015)
He again touted that we were winning the war on November 13th, just hours before the deadly attacks in Paris.
He must know something the rest of us don’t. He must see something that the rest of us aren’t seeing.

Somehow I think that San Bernardino and Paris and Brussels and Tel Aviv and Egypt and Russia and Tunisia and London and Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Algeria and Denmark and Canada and Bangladesh and Australia and New York and Texas and Afghanistan and Lebanon and Libya and Turkey and…..
All of which would beg to differ…for each and every one of these cities and or nations has had to clean up the spilt blood of their citizens and guests…of which has been shed at the hands of terrorists— either ISIS, aka Daesh, the Radical Muslim terrorist organization, or their duly inspired henchmen.

It doesn’t seem to get any clearer than that…

As it certainly appears that this war on terrorism is pretty much a global issue…

And it is with great frustration that we continue hearing, listening to and seeing the lamentations and the finger pointing…
The accusatory rhetoric from individuals, various nations, the news media, various heads of states and governments, religious leaders…
the “I told you so”
the “this is all your fault” business…
the “this is what you get for _________” (allowing you to fill in the blank)

The “all of this is all the fault of western civilizations….”
(Then why are so many attacks also happening in the Middle East?)

“all this is the fault of Christianity…” dating all the way back to the first crusade…

“All of this is the fault of the Jews dating back to…to…to…Abraham…”

And maybe that is where much of all of this may have actually come about with that whole Isaac and Ishmael business but that tale of woe is for another day…

Since the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, the governmental powers that be will have issued 3 different, or amended, terror alert systems with the latest one to roll off the shelves within the very near future.

I don’t know how many more steps one can add in between BAD and REALLY BAD.

Today’s young people, age 25 and younger, have been living under this raging war on Terror for the majority of their lives—14 long years
And with each passing year, the sitting president continues telling us we are winning the war.

We are NOT winning the war.

If you think anything differently, you are merely deceiving yourself.
The war is simply morphing, evolving, changing.

However it should come as no surprise to any Christians among us that this menacing business of evil has long been with us…dating back to that whole Adam, Eve and serpent debacle.
For it was in that very moment of disobedience that mankind went to war.
Man went to war with himself, against himself, against his descendants, against his world, against His God…
And Evil has freely walked the face of this earth ever since that fateful day when the gate was slammed shut in Eden.

Yet as Christians, we know that this war may indeed continue being fought as it is raging without a seeming end in sight… it may be bloody, it may be cruel, it may be catastrophic…. but one thing is certain…
there will be no victory for the prince of Darkness.

And whereas there are those who will say that such talk is delusional, it is equally delusional to deny that there is Good and Evil and that we are all in the midst of a battle between Light and Darkness.

Our government calls for vigilance.
This vigilance was initially more pertinent for those who were traveling—be it at home as well as abroad.
Yet now that vigilance blankets our journeys much closer to home…journeys now to the mall, to work, to sporting events, to plays, to the theater….

Vigilance.

As Christians, we are making ready our preparations during this Advent season as we are filled with expectant and ever vigilant hearts…
For we are making ready for the arrival of the One True Light…the birth of all Salvation, of all Hope and of the greatest Victory yet to come…
even so, Come Lore Jesus…..

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

What are we to do?

“Make up your mind,” Moab says. “Render a decision. Make your shadow like night – at high noon. Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.”
Isaiah 16:3

DSC02486
(a morning glory found deep in the woods / Julie Cook / 2015)

Both Lucy Lipiner and Gerda Weissmann Klein have a tale to tell. . .

Each woman weaves a story steeped in the sweet innocence of childhood which is suddenly and unimaginably lost in the midst of unspeakable horrors. . .yet thankfully theirs is a tale of eventual survival and of small yet victorious triumphs.

There are a few differences between these two woman of which create two very individual stories. . .
Differences such as their age and the fact that they were each born in different small towns.
Yet it is to the similarities between them that inextricably binds them together for all of eternity.
I am pretty certain that these woman do not personally know one another nor have they ever met, but I somehow think that in many ways they have known one another very well for a very long time as they have both survived the unimaginable stemming from the same wicked source. . .

Each woman was born in Poland and each woman was born into a Jewish family.
Whoever would have imagined that those two seemingly insignificant factors would mark these women for the rest of their lives by placing them in the valley of the shadow of Death. Had they been born say, in America or Canada, or England, their stories would certainly have been less then memorable. Lives lived as mostly anyone else’s.
But because they were born in a country lying in the path of a very hungry and vicious animal, tragedy was to be their lot.

I have finished reading Lucy’s tale and have now begun Gerda’s equally gripping story.
As I waited in the dentist office yesterday, reading until I was called back, I had tears flooding my eyes as I read the story of an individual family, like my own family or anyone’s family, being ripped apart as they stood by helpless to prevent the rupture.

Despite the fact that these two lady’s stories took place over 70 years ago, I have been struck by the similarities of the worldwide current plights now littering our news.

Each was a young girl when The War broke out–when Germany marched forth seizing Poland as its own.
Each girl came from a prominent family within their respective towns. They were loved, nurtured and happy living their lives as innocent children.

I think it is Lucy’s story that I have found to be most relevant to any story I might read in today’s paper—that of any number of families fleeing Syria or Egypt or Turkey or Somalia or Tunisia, or Eritrea, etc.— each seeking refuge from the unspeakable horrors of the upheaval of what was an average life.

Lucy’s family was on the run for almost 10 years. Starting when she was 6 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939– they became just another statistic of families in the throng of the displaced as they sought refuge in the Soviet Union and later Tajikistan then briefly back to Poland and ironically to Germany and eventually to the US.
There was death, violence, sexual abuse, grave hunger, incapacitating illness, loss, sorrow, separation and near madness.

They had been a family like any other family–they had a nice home, nice clothes, nice jewelry. They went to Temple. They enjoyed their extended family. They attended school. They had jobs. They played music as they lived, loved and laughed—-

Suddenly life took a turn beyond their control and they lost everything–they became hunted, like animals. They were reduced to wearing clothes turned to rags as there was no longer choice. They lost weight. They were hungry. They were infested with bugs, inside and out. They ate rotten trash and drank fetid water to quell an endless hunger. They were dirty, they smelled. They were sick both physically, spiritually and mentally.
They were shells of human beings.

Miraculously the family remained intact but it came at a tremendous cost to each member of the family. They survived in part due the kindness of those strangers and individuals encountered along the long and arduous journey who were willing to offer aid, shelter and comfort, as meager as it was. . .to dirty and seemingly unsavory subhuman individuals who were considered enemies of every state simply for being Jewish.

Yesterday’s news ran a story about the discovery of a lorry, or tractor trailer, abandoned on a road in Austria containing at least 70 dead bodies of migrants, or refugees, who were on what they thought to be a journey to freedom.

Today there was the story of another capsized ship losing possibly 500 individuals–men, women and children drowning while on their way to freedom.

There have been the stories of the Chunnel being overrun and shut down, day after day, by the thousands of migrants in Calais seeking asylum and freedom.

There was the story of an arson attack on a migrant shelter in Germany, as Angela Merkel was booed by those Germans not wanting to see Germany overrun by the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safe haven.

It is said that the current influx of migrants from both Africa and the Middle East is the largest exodus of people since World War II.

A humanitarian crisis of epic proportion.

The worry– how will the small European Nations absorb the millions of people running away from tyranny, abuse and horror. . .how will they be able to provide for all of these “other” people as they continue providing for their own. . .?

These refugees are different–culturally, religiously and ethnically.

Later I read a story about the marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The story told the tale of how one group of New Orleans citizens did not want the “other” New Orleans citizens, those who were the evacuees coming from the more disadvantaged areas, to cross the bridge bringing them into the more affluent neighborhoods.

These citizens were afraid of being overrun with what was thought to be unsavory individuals bringing with them drugs, crime and violence—those citizens coming from the areas which were known to be rife with such—
And I suppose some of those feelings may have been justified after we heard the stories of the rapes and murders taking place within the Superdome when it was opened to those evacuating the lower 9th ward.

Is it fear that keeps us weary, holding our arms outward not as arms offering a welcoming embrace but rather as arms pushing away and repelling those who come seeking aid and assistance?

How can we take on an endless sea of people in need–economically absorbing the astronomical costs for healthcare, housing, education, employment and assimilation?

What of the hidden terrorists among the masses?

Are we not told to be hospitable and welcoming–offering sustenance and aid to our fellow human beings who are in desperate need?

Would we not want someone to do the same for us?

One country closes its borders.

Is that fair to the other surrounding countries?

How do we feed them all?

Where will they stay?

What of those who are criminals?

What of the illness and disease they bring with them?

What of the myriad of language barriers?

What will happen to our own way of life when it yields to the incoming masses?

Do we lose ourselves, our identity, while giving of ourselves to the “other?”

I don’t know the answers to these hard questions and I don’t think the rest of the world knows the answers either–
yet I simply keep hearing these words. . .

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 35-40

Lusia’s Long Journey Home
A young Girls’ Memoir of Surviving the Holocaust
by Lucy Lipiner

A Memoir
All But My Life
by Gerda Weissmann Klein

“The Cost Of Courage”

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
“Atticus Finch”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“There is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you.”

― Charles Dickens

“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

DSC02492
(the cover of my most recent read)

According to Merriam Webster, courage, a noun, is defined as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”

Is it something we are born with?
Perhaps something hardwired as well as innate?

It seems as if it’s something that transforms ordinary human beings into the extraordinary–
Beckoning some to run towards a catastrophe. . .while others run as far away as possible.

Yet when it comes to courage, there is always tragically a flip side. That’s the thing about courage, it exacts a toll.
For each act of courage or bravery, the remnants can result in a tremendous cost—a willing sacrifice of everyone and everything which the courageous holds dear. A sacrifice offered up within a nano second, sans decision making, without thoughts of consequence or possibilities of regret–all of which are assumed and accepted rapidly without remorse. . .

Throughout the duration of WWII there are many known stories of bravery and sacrifice offered by ordinary citizens.
Yet for every known account of courage and sacrifice, there are countless tales of the extraordinary that are simply lost to the annuals of time. . .of which stretch from Italy, to Poland, from Russia to Czechoslovakia, From Albania to Turkey, From Japan to Hawaii, from France to Great Britain. . .

I’ve read countless numbers of books about the lives and exploits of those known and unknown average individuals, across the globe, whose private moments of sacrifice changed the course of destiny for vast numbers of the unsuspecting—all of which saved and spared those otherwise doomed.
Sacrifice which often left the courageous individual on the losing end of life.

And that’s the thing about courage and the courageous—the ultimate cost is readily paid with no expectation of reparation.

Author Charles Kaiser has compiled an extraordinary tale of the greatest cost paid by one Parisian family during the Nazi Occupation of Paris. The true story, untold until Kaiser’s personal connection with the family wove itself into a printable format, is but a scant microcosm of the real price paid by the average French citizen during the French Resistance which grew from the defeat and eventual occupation of France by Nazi Germany.

Not only is this a tale about a single family’s war tragedy and of the tiny ensuing triumphs found in liberation and freedom– freedom of which should ensure that life in one’s own county is lived as one culturally and religiously should live—rather it is a tale of all those individuals and families who believed in a life free from murderous tyranny and of the choices they each took to guard against its ultimate conquest.

I think such a story of the sacrifices made for the betterment of not merely one’s self, but rather for the betterment of all of humanity, is so vastly timely as well as important for those of us living today in the 21st century. . .
It is a story that is not only to be shared and remembered, but it is a story which reminds those of us who enjoy the freedom of life today that we owe an endless depth of gratitude to those who once gave so very much. . .

Merci mes amis. . .

A must read. . .