Once was blind….

But…and this is a vital truth of the Christian Gospel –
Jesus does not invite and accept ANY of us just as we are.
He came to save us.
He came to make us a new creation.
He came to give us new life.
It makes a mockery of Christ to regard him as some kind of affirming angel
who wants to tell us how good we really are.
Christ did not die on the cross to keep us in our sin,
he died to save us from them!

David Robertson


(blooming loropetalum / Julie Cook / 2018)

It is a hymn written in 1779 that I’d lay money that both Believer and non-beliver alike
could easily and readily recite…

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

I actually prefer the bagpipe rendition myself.

It’s such a familiar tune that we might just find ourselves humming it subconsciously…
unaware that we were even humming…

Yet the back story, as I have discovered with most things that seem larger than life,
is usually far more amazing than the actual “thing”—
and in this case, that thing is a beloved hymn.

Perhaps it is the story that simply adds to the majesty and beauty behind those
haunting words.

In 2006 a wonderful movie come out showcasing the tale behind the famous hymn—
And as with most movies…liberties were undoubtedly taken to “enhance” the emotional
impact upon the viewer.

But the story behind the hymn—involves a man haunted by 20,000 ghosts and another man
who makes his sole mission in life to bring everlasting freedom to countless men,
woman and children.
Colliding tales that need no outside enhancements.

The story, as most already know, focused on William Wilberforce, a young idealist member
of the British Parliment, ardently campaigning to end the British slave trade industry.

The British Empire had been involved in the abducting, buying, selling and trading of
African slaves since the mid 1500’s.
Obviously, this was long before the colonies of a new Nation followed suit.
And yes it was tragically a longstanding yet prolific form of enterprise for the
British Realm…

Slave labor was an integral component in the production of the sugar from the
sugarcane plantations scattered about on the various British owned Caribbean Islands…
Sugarcane equates to sugar which equates to the making of rum.
So the use of slave labor, which was key in the running of the sugarcane plantations,
eventually became an important asset to the early British colonies in
what became the new American settlements in their production of cotton.

And so it was a former English slave ship captain turned Anglican cleric named John Newton
who actually penned the lyrics to what would become the most beloved Christian hymn.
For it was Newton who was the haunted man of the sins of not only his past but of the
past sins of those he had known as well as his own Nation.

Newton and Wilberforce had a long lasting relationship, a relationship that acted as a
catalyst in spurring on the young idealist politician’s lifetime quest as an abolitionist…
A quest which finally in 1807 lead to the eventual end of the British Realm’s
trading in slaves.

Our friend the Wee flea, the Scottish pastor David Robertson, offers a wonderful
observation about a small essay that was written by John Newton concerning his
thoughts and lessons learned about his participation in the slave trading of human beings…
reflections that David believes are just as important for our 21st-century lives and
the current #metoo movement….just as they were almost 200 years ago as an Empire and her people
wrestled with the sins of its past.

#MeToo: 7 lessons for the movement from slave trader John Newton

David follows that post with another equally insightful post concerning the Chruch in Scotland
and it’s reaction to the growing phenomena known as self-identifying along with the transgender
movement which is now invading the lives of the UK’s grammar school children.

Two Churches Struggling with (Gender) Identity

shame healing

“I cry, I cry and I cry again…the religion of Christ, the true faith,
has fallen so low that it is an object of scorn not only to the devil
but to the Jews and Saracens and pagans…
these keep their law, as they believe it;
but we, intoxicated with the world, have deserted our law.”

Pope Gregory VII

Healing and miracles have been a mystery to men of all times.
To some, the phenomenon is frightening, while others find it exhilarating.

Mother Angelica

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_from_hagia_sophia_2240_x_3109_pixels_2-5_mb
Christ Pantocrator / Hagia Sophia / Istanbul,Turkey)

“Our nation will not know healing in any measure through the work of mutual shaming.
There is no life to be found in it, only anger, depression
and the continued darkening of our culture.
Only light gives life.
Creating is difficult, careful work.
Destruction is easy – child’s play.
Forgive those who do not deserve it.
Forgive before they ask.
Forgive as though it is Judgment Day and your own soul will be held to the scrutiny
you extend to others.
It’s ok.
You won’t lose anything through forgiveness.
In holding onto the shame of others you will only increase your own.
Speak kindness.
Be generous.
Set your prisoners free.
No more shame slaves.”

Fr.Stephen Freeman

ears to hear

“Surrender thyself to God and thou shalt find thyself again”
Alfred Delp and originally attributed to Thomas a Kempis

dscn4723
(frozen in time / Julie Cook / 2017)

Humans need freedom.

As slaves, fettered and confined, they are bound to deteriorate.
We have spent a great deal of thought and time on external freedom;
we have made serious efforts to secure our personal liberty and yet
we have lost it again and again.

The worst thing is that eventually humans come to accept the state of bondage—
it becomes habitual and they hardly notice it.
The most abject slaves can be made to believe that the condition in which
they are held is actually freedom.

During these long weeks of confinement I have learned by personal experience
that a person is truly lost, is the victim of circumstances and oppression
only when he is incapable of a great inner sense of depth and freedom.

Human freedom is born in the moment of our contact with God.

What really matters is the fact that we are called and we must
be sufficiently awake to hear the call.

Alfred Delp
Prison Writings

“In my distress I called upon the LORD,
Yes, I cried to my God;
And from His temple He heard my voice,
And my cry for help came into His ears.

2 Samuel 22:7

I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

DSCN3185
(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away