Shepherds—please, lead your flocks

I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless
the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold,
my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way.

St. Jerome


(sheep farm, Killarny Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Firstly—- I read the following July 4th post written by our freind and
most knowledgeable Christian sister IB.

As I read it, I felt warm tears falling down my cheeks.

I too have most recently deeply felt her words.
A sense of pleading that our Chruch leadership does what they are entrusted to do…
that being to lead their flocks—come hell or high water.
Not cower in the corner of current ideologies…

A day later, I read a post by our dear friend and former Anglican Bishop, Gavin Ashenden..
A post that mirrored IB’s thoughts and words but simply written from across the pond.

I’ve cut and copied both posts here.
I hope their words will touch your spirit.

We Aren’t going to “Get Our Freedom Back…”

So listen, I don’t want to sound uncharacteristically somber and serious,
nor do I want people to think I’m a total conspiratress.
I am you know, I do love a good conspiracy theory.
The problem being this isn’t a “theory,” it’s simply common sense.
So, I just want to say, those who are waiting patiently for things to “get back to normal,”
it ain’t happening. It ain’t going to happen.

Those who seem to believe if we just comply enough, just cooperate enough,
just do everything they say, (wear your mask you idiot,
so we can all open back up again) it ain’t going to happen.

If you’re waiting for covid 19 to go away, it ain’t going to happen either.
We could get down to no cases anywhere and there’s another “pandemic” right around
the corner waiting for us.
The media is already on it.

Government and public health officials are already trying to say we’re going to have
to wear masks for years, certainly until we get a mandatory vaccine.
Besides, flu season is coming this fall…

Never in the history of ever has anyone in government voluntarily relinquished
power over others that they have managed to attain.
The only way to get our freedom back is to stop playing the game,
stop the charades, and stop buying into the fear.
We have to say “no,” and we have to say it somewhat collectively.
None of this can continue without our consent.

I’m pleading with Christians who are just sitting there quietly accepting
a ban on singing in church. C’mon on people, some part of you knows this is not okay.
The power of life and death is in our tongues, it says that in the Bible.
If we believe those words, if the singing we do actually means something,
then we have to realize that shutting down churches, mandating we all wear masks,
and telling us it’s too dangerous to sing our praises, are all huge red flags.

I’m pleading with everyone who has ever felt the “benevolent” hand of government,
anyone who still carries trauma from those experiences.
C’mon people, we all know what this is.
It smells just like history trying to repeat itself.
It’s a power play.

We flattened the curve!
Heck, we shut down unused field hospitals and laid people off from our hospitals.
We did not get our freedom back.
We shut our businesses down, we bought the hand sanitizer,
we put on the masks, and we stayed home and we still did not get our freedom back.
It ain’t going to happen. Freedom once taken is not something you just “get” back.
There will be no passively sitting around and waiting for our freedom to be politely
returned to us once we’ve met all the requirements.

We met the requirements. So they just moved the goalposts.
They will continue to do so.

We aren’t going to “get” our freedom back, like it will just be passively
and nicely returned to us based on our compliance. That is a big lie, a total deception,
and has never happened anywhere, in the history of ever. Frankly,
I’m a bit embarrassed people still believe that. Not even God Himself,
and He is Holy, just, and perfect, just “gives” us freedom.
He may open the door to our prison, tear down the walls, and coax us out,
but even then we have to walk out under our own steam.
Or crawl.
Whatever works.
The point being, it is extremely rare we ever get anything without first opening
our hand and reaching out for it.

Jan 22, 2020, is when all of this began in my state.
We are going on seven months now! 7 months. A quarantine is for the sick,
not the healthy, and it should last about two weeks.
To quarantine the healthy is simply tyranny.

Such notions often put me at odds with friends, family,
even some churches. The problem being, I know I’m right,
I know that everything I see points in the direction I am observing.
We get our freedom back when we stop voluntarily consenting to hand it over.
That easy, that simple.

Happy Independence Day!
https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/we-arent-going-to-get-our-freedom-back/

The State, freedom of conscience, and civil disobedience.

The state and the Church have a history in our country.
The relationship status might read “it’s complicated”.
It ranges from the conversion and Christianization of the state to the deepest antipathy
of the State and its persecution of the Church.

Even when Christian, the Church has had to challenge the state.
Becket took on Henry 2nd and won. It cost him his life, but he won.

Thomas More took on Henry 8th. It cost him his life.
While he won the moral argument he lost the legal and political one.

The narrative in this country is of course set in the far wider and more
complex contest for a system of values fought in a variety of states
with a variety of aspects of the Church.

Glancing from the dynamics of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar,
through the Maccabees up to Bonhoeffer and Hitler, Solzhenitsyn and Stalin,
the contest for setting the values by which human beings live,
across states and cultures, defines one of the most powerful narratives in human history.

The pendulum swings from benign to malign.

In our day we are moving with some speed towards the malign.
Any reading of 20C history demonstrates a three-cornered fight between
two totalitarian ambitions, Marxism and Fascism, and Christianity.
All three make absolutist claims on humanity that are irreconcilable.
The anaemic relativism of our decaying culture in the West disguises
the sharp and brutal quality of the contest.

Christians are rightly wary that the in 21st C there is no reason for thinking
that the contest has been suspended. Fascism’s toll of Christians (and Jews)
in Germany and Spain was horrendous but dwarfed by the toll wreaked
by the Soviet Union and Marxist China.

In each period of attrition, the sign that the struggle to the death
had begun was the control of Churches and worship by the authorities.

The beginning of this century has exposed the oncoming depth and intensity
of a cultural revolution of values that are inimical to the faith in the west
and suddenly out of nowhere, for medical rather than political reasons,
the state suddenly closes the churches and prohibits worship.

There are three patterns of Christian response.
The first is the highly secularized and spiritually incompetent one, which says,
“places don’t matter; your private thoughts are everything,
corporate worship is overrated.
We are not worrying about the implications for a weakened church losing financial
and philosophical traction becoming ever more bankrupt in both.
There is nothing to see here, move on, don’t fuss.”

The second response, more literate historically but still
underdeveloped spiritually says “yes it’s a terrible sign that that the churches
have been down unilaterally. Yes, it looks authoritarian and apocalyptic,
but check out the facts. It was a pandemic.
It was medicine and science, not politics.
Calm down.
Nothing to worry about.”

The third group is more inclined to the view,
“if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck,
it may well be a duck”.
There is no value free science; everything has a political dimension;
more importantly, everything has a spiritual temperature,
character and metaphysical flavour or dynamic.
Whether there was intentionality or not, the state took upon itself the right
to close churches, prohibit worship, and deny the autonomy of personal
choice and informed conscience. And although this was a temporary measure (it seems)
it set a precedent which should have been exposed, challenged and repudiated.”

This is not the place to argue that the science on singing, water droplets
and infection is contested, as is the nature of the virus itself.
But it is the place to make common cause with Lord Sumtion and vociferously claim
that civil liberties require us to make a distinction between those who want to withdraw
from public life in order to protect themselves in a situation that is scientifically
and medically ambiguous, and those who chose to take certain risks congruent with a
personal value system and the dictates of their conscience.

It is the place to say that Christians do not recognise the power or authority of
the state to prohibit gathering for worship in ways that are not
medically or scientifically lethal or antisocial.

It is the place for insisting that the bar that state has to cross to
outlaw worship, close churches and outrage Christian conscience is considerably
perhaps impossibly higher than the secular state recognises.

It is, therefore, a legal and moral duty for the Church to challenge
the jurisprudential and ethical authority of the state to have set a precedent
in the authoritarian closing of churches and prohibition of worship.

It is for this reason that Christian Concern and a number of Church leaders
(amongst whom I am the least) have issued a challenge to the government by means
of judicial review to test the legality of this programme of church closure.

Further, if the legal challenge should be lost, many of us believe that Christians
could argue that we had a moral and ethical duty to refuse to acknowledge
the legitimacy of unjust law that not only acted as a threat to civil rights
and liberties that our forebears fought so hard to defend, but also struck
at the heart of our religious, spiritual and moral allegiance and identity.
https://ashenden.org/2020/07/06/the-state-closure-of-churches-and-civil-disobedience/

see, hear then seek….

It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.
Mother Teresa


(image courtesy the web)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—-
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah,the Lord.
This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds
said to one another,
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20

Imagine yourself a rather lonely shepherd sitting watch throughout a long dark night.
Your livelihood is your herd of sheep.
It’s how you make money.
It’s how you care for your family.
It’s how you feed your family.
As your sheep’s existence depends upon you and your existence depends
upon your sheep.

During the passover,
you sell your sheep, the young lambs, to those who want to offer sacrifices for
their faith.
Your sheep are important to you as they are important to the faithful.

You lead the sheep to fertile fields for feeding, you sheer them when its time,
you keep count of the ewes, rams and lambs and you watch out for any predators.

Sheep need tending to—they are considered to be defenseless animals as well as
not very bright or smart.

They eat, sit, stand, sleep…. and they run.
They run if they sense trouble—that’s about the extent of their defenses.
They do not take a stand.
They will not fight to the death.
And they don’t always run far or totally out of harm’s way.
They will scatter, not knowing how to find their way back to the herd.
A lone sheep is a defenseless sheep.
Their adversary is more stealthy, faster and more determined and knows how
to disperse a herd.

So sheep need a shepherd.
They need an overseer.
And thus the shepherd keeps watch, both day and night.
Yet it is in the night that the shepherd must be more keen to watch because
predators prefer to do their hunting in the dark of night.

There are only a few out this night, watching.
Most likely it is you and a few relatives, as this has been how your family has made a living since you grandfather’s father and his father before him made their way.
Maybe tonight it’s just you and your brother-n-law, or maybe it’s an uncle and a cousin
who have joined you during this dark lonely night.

Each of you pull the woolen blankets tighter around your shoulders because the air is
more chilly then usual.
The herd seems a bit agitated.
Do they smell a predator?
Have they heard something edging its way closer?

The moon is not full yet the night sky is oddly bright.
You scan the sprawling and now eerily lit field, looking for any sort of movement.

Looking upward into the inky night sky, you notice a single star casting an
unusual intense direct light.
Are your eyes playing tricks or is the night slowly becoming more like day?
Looking toward to where the light is cast, you can actually make out the far-off
silhouette of Bethlehem—because the star seems to be directly over and actually illuminating the sleepy little quiet town.

You call your kinsmen to come close.
What do they make of the oddly lit sky.
What do they know of Bethlehem.
This town which bore the King David.

And just when you are pondering the oddity of this particular bright star, you are
suddenly aware that you are no longer alone.
It’s no longer just you, your relatives and the sheep on this lonely chilly night.

There is a multitude of beings you have never seen before.
Before you have time to even focus on what you are witnessing, they speak.

“Fear not” they say….

as you suddenly realize you actually have no fear.

They speak with authority and they explain the reason for the star.
They explain good news.
They explain a birth.
They explain salvation.
and not some sort of generic salvation, but….
your salvation.

In that your salvation has just been born and is to be tangibly found—
lying directly underneath the light from the very star that you had
noticed shining over the far distanced town of Bethlehem…..

Oddly you don’t feel the need to decipher or discern…you don’t feel confused or
disoriented.
You are neither overwhelmed or dismayed—rather you are fully alert and
in the minute…the only thing you feel is now a sense of urgency to go to
see this newly born “Salvation”….

As it is now to this star that you know you must now go….

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

A star

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
DSCN2841
(clear, cold winter’s night with the lone shining star / Julie Cook / 2013)

Christmas Night
Arbeau’s Orchésographie of 1588 is a French
treatise on dancing containing a number of
attractive tunes, one of which (the Branle de
l’official) has become universally popular as
the carol Ding dong! merrily on high. The
melody of Christmas Night (the Branle de
Poitou in Arbeau’s treatise) has also been
used in Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite for
string orchestra. The words were
specially written for this melody.

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Tract number 3, taken from Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity, is a beautifully sweet choral “hymn” —sung by what sounds to be a heavenly choir of the cherubim and seraphim which met the shepherds in the field on that single most significant night so very long ago. I often hit repeat in my car as I listen to this most delightful CD. The music is, to me, hauntingly sweet and somewhat other worldly, despite being sung by earthly bound voices with lyrics conceived in these more modern times.
I’ve already posted the lyrics to another tract, but it has been this 3rd “song” that first stirred something deep inside of me, many years ago, when I fist came upon this lovely little CD.
My Christmas gift to you, if I could sing, would be this choral reminder of the significance of why we celebrate this season as we do. . . Merry Christmas


Softly through the winter’s darkness
shines a light,
Clear and still in Bethlehem on Christmas Night
Round the stable where a virgin mother
mild
Watches over Jesus Christ the holy child.

Shepherds kneel in adoration by his bed,
Seraphim in glory hover round his head.
Wise men, guided by the leading of a star,
Bring him gifts of precious treasure from
afar.

Choirs of angels sing to greet his wondrous
birth:
Christ our Lord in human form comes down
to earth.
“Glory to God in highest heav’n” their joyful
strain,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” the glad
refrain.

Lullaby! the child lies sleeping: sing lullaby!
Safe in Mary’s tender keeping: sing lullaby!
Guardian angels keep their watch till break
of day:

Lullaby! sweet Jesus sleeps among the hay.
Alleluia! let the earth rejoice today!
Christ is born to take our sins and guilt
away.

Praise the Lord who sent him down from
heav’n above.
Holy infant, born of God the Father’s love.

Words: John Rutter
Melody from Arbeau’s ‘Orchésographie’ (1588)