looking for saints in all kinds of places

This is the very perfection of a man,
to find out his own imperfections.

St. Augustine


(St. Augustine of Hippo painting by Philippe de Champaigne, 1650)

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise;
your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning.
And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you –
we who carry our mortality about with us,
carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud.
Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to
praise you.
You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy,
because you have made us and drawn us to yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

The passage above appears to have been written by a person who was painfully aware
of his own mortality and sins yet yearns, nay longs,
to be in the arms of the Beloved Creator.

And so perhaps it might be hard for those of us reading these long ago penned words
to imagine that this person was not always so deeply attuned to
living life worshiping the Triune God.

For the past couple of days, my posts have veered toward the idea of saints.
No particular reason really…and when there seems to be no real rhyme nor reason for my
ramblings, that usually just means the Holy Spirit is at work and not so much
me.

Yesterday’s post offered two quotes summing up the notion of sainthood quite nicely…
yet it was especially the Kierkegaard quote which serves to remind us that God’s mastery
of creation is one thing, but to be able to make saints from sinners…
well, that’s something else altogether.

Augustine of Hippo…
a giant when it comes to thought and theory has been studied down through the ages by
all sorts of students—from theologians and philosophers to literates and historians…
many of whom have been Believers and many who have not.

Yet Augustine was not always one of Christendom’s most learned and revered theologian
turned saint.

According to Wikipedia,
“His first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole
fruit they did not want from a neighborhood garden.
He tells this story in his autobiography, The Confessions.
He remembers that he did not steal the fruit because he was hungry,
but because “it was not permitted.”
His very nature, he says, was flawed.
‘It was foul, and I loved it.
I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.”
From this incident, he concluded the human person is naturally inclined to sin
and in need of the grace of Christ.”

Augustine went on to have a long-lasting affair with a woman who bore him an
illegitimate son.
He later broke off that relationship in order to marry a 10-year-old heiress but had to wait
two years until she was of legal marrying age.
During his wait, he took up with another concubine.

Yet the time came in which Augustine abandoned all concubines and fiancees alike
lamenting“that he was not a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust”

Eventually, at the age of 31, Augustine broke off all his relationships with these
various women because he, like many before and after him, had his Road to Damascus moment.
He was struck from his lofty, self-absorbed, carnal way of living by the
One True Omnipotent God who literally called out to him..

As Augustine later shared
“his conversion was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to
“take up and read” (Latin: tolle, lege), which he took as a divine command to open the Bible
and read the first thing he saw.

Augustine read from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans –
the “Transformation of Believers” section, consisting of chapters 12 to 15 –
wherein Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers,
and the believers’ resulting behaviour.
The specific part to which Augustine opened his Bible was Romans chapter 13,
verses 13 and 14, to wit:

“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness,
not in strife and envying,
but put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

It was at this moment that his life turned.

Augustine eventually penned an autobiography of sorts which many of us,
trained in the classics were at some point, required to read— Confessions.

It is from the pages of his Confessions that we read these beautiful and deeply
haunting words:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou wast with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

And thus what we have learned is that many of those who are known to us today as saints
seem to have, at some point or other figured things out.

Namely, that life isn’t all about them.

But life, rather, is a yearning…and that yearning is the created’s longing to be
one with the Creator.

Some seem to understand this better than others.

Many have been rogues and scallywags.
Some have been liars and drunkards.
Some have been rich and arrogant.
Some started out as cowards and turncoats yet became brave and true.
And some will simply be known only to God and God alone.

And so with all this talk about saints and sinners, I am struck by a current circus of sorts.

Brett Kavanaugh, the latest Supreme Court nominee, has been in the center of a maelstrom.

I don’t know much about him, but from what legal experts and judges on ‘both sides of the
aisle’ have said, he is a stellar wealth of legal prowess.
A fair and just man who is deeply knowledgeable with regards to right and wrong.

Yet his experience, his record, his knowledge, his examples don’t seem to matter to
this pack of hearing committee members who are foaming at the mouth,
as they rip into this man for the simple reason that they hate the man who nominated him.

Desperate Democrats are grasping at ugly straws to do their darndest to stop this nominee’s
chance of confirmation…even resorting to highschool hearsay.

And in so doing…these very politicians who so vehemently cling to the separation of
Church and State and find themselves cringing over the notion that their precious
Roe v Wade would be overturned… these worshipers of all things cultural and secular
now seem to be seeking a saint…a saint who doesn’t exist.
As all of this is just one more example of the irony of man standing at odds with
his blinding self-serving pride.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micha 6:8

don’t mess with Texas….cheerleaders


(image courtesy Click 2 Houston News)

They say that everything is bigger in Texas…
and that also might mean badder…that is, if badder was an actually correct word.

Texas and Texans are known for being tenacious.
As in they can take a ‘licken’ and keep on ‘ticken’ sort of tenaciousness.

As in tumbleweed tenacious.

As in nothing much gets in their way to stop them from doing those Texas things
that they do.

I know this because I have a dear friend in Texas, a tumbleweed of sorts,
who has been fighting the good fight with cancer treatment.

It has not been an easy road, nor a peaceful road, but fight she has.

Unfortunately, life has been such that I have not been the active cheerleader for her as
I wish I could have been or really should have been.

Our ages are slightly different and we happen to currently find ourselves
at different life junctures.

Isn’t that always the way?

Just when she was getting bad news of diagnoses,
I found myself consumed in the care of a new grandbaby.

We were headed in opposite life directions…each going 90 to nothing…

Yet it never left my mind nor heart that she was in the throes of a battle.

I found that prayer was my best recourse because in the end, when all is said and done,
prayer was and is so much better than anything I could have or could continue to offer.

And at last word, she’s hanging tough…

Because that’s how they are in Texas, they are tough.

So just know that I’ve not forgotten you, Natalie.

And so as we speak of Texas and tenacity…I caught a story a few weeks back
about a group of real cheerleaders in Texas.
A group of high school cheerleaders to be exact from the small town of Kountze.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a high school football game but where I come
from, and obviously down in Texas, it is customary for the cheerleaders to paint
a giant run-through banner on a weekly basis as a pre-game ritual.

The banner is usually a sort of visual battle cry that is held aloft just prior to
the team running onto the field.
It’s a banner the cheerleaders hold up, standing on either side holding it taut,
so at just the right moment when the football team comes running onto the field,
they burst through the sign all to the sounds of a roaring enthusiastic crowd.

At this particular school in Texas, the cheerleaders decided they wanted to paint
words of encouragement for their team…Scripturally based words of encouragement…
as in words from the Bible.

The short of this 5-year long story is exactly as you’d think…
the cheerleaders were told by the principal and superintendent that they could not paint
those signs.
Maybe someone complained to the school authorities about a
violation of Church and state…as we all know public schools are state goods.
Or maybe the school administrators were fearful of complaints and they were the ones
to nix the signs.

And as a former teacher, I know first hand that if there is one thing that can strike fear
into a school administration, it is the fear of a lawsuit being filed…in particular
lawsuits that have the potential to be high profile.

And yet this school district’s administration actually decided to fight the girls and their
continued desire to make the Scripturally based run-throughs in court.

I’ve provided the link below to the story as the ending is not what I or you might have expected…
I was actually pleasantly surprised in this story’s end.

Five years have passed.

The girls have all since moved on…only to leave other cheerleaders to carry their torch.

There were filings and hearings in state courts which lead all the way to the Supreme Court,
who actually, just the other week, ruled in favor of the girls.

Ruling that yes the cheerleaders could continue painting Bible verses on the run-throughs
for the football team.

And as Todd Starnes, the author of the article so aptly notes…
“I reckon the Kountze cheerleaders have learned a very important lesson about perseverance
over the past five years. You really can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”

Just as I know my friend Natalie is demonstrating better than most of us!

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/08/31/todd-starnes-texas-cheerleaders-win-victory-for-freedom-religious-expression-praise-lord.html

how a panic gets started…

“I always thought a shipwreck was a well-organized affair,
but I’ve learned the devil a lot in the last five minutes.”

Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania


(a decadent chocolate treat from The Confiserie Sprüngli / Zurich, Switzerland /
Julie Cook / 2012)

I think most of us know that it is unlawful to yell “FIRE” in a crowded
public venue when there is actually no fire.

The original use of the phrase “shouting fire in a crowded theater” actually
dates back to a Supreme Court case from 1919.
It was a case that dealt with the distribution of anti-war pamphlets and whether such
an act was a violation of the original Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 / 1918—
and was such an act in opposition, as well as a violation, of free speech or was it considered ‘a clear and present danger.’

It was actually Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who coined the phrase when
he wrote the unanimous ruling over the case.

And according to Wikipedia:
People have indeed falsely shouted “Fire!” in crowded public venues and
caused panics on numerous occasions, such as at the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall
of London in 1856, a theater in New York’s Harlem neighborhood in 1884,
and in the Italian Hall disaster of 1913, which left 73 dead.
In the Shiloh Baptist Church disaster of 1902, over 100 people died when
“fight” was misheard as “fire” in a crowded church causing a panic and stampede.

All of this came flooding back to the forefront of thought when I saw a news report
with the near cataclysmic title
“Start Hoarding! Chocolate on Track to Disappear in 40 Years”

WHAT????

Chocolate gone in 40 years????

We might just say down here in the South, “thems fighting words”

After reading that title I felt a sudden urge to run to the kitchen, throw open
all the kitchen cabinet doors and take immediate stock of all the chocolate I have
stashed away for baking purposes….
Do I need to run the the grocery store and purge the shelves of 70% Cacao bars for all
my baking and dessert purposes????

Visions of pandemonium breaking out on the candy aisle at the local grocery store
as visions of a bunch of older ladies on walkers and kids with sneakers that light up fighting over bags of M&M’s…not a pretty picture.

And so goes the latest in a string of earth shattering headlines that when all
is shifted and shaked out…are not exactly as life shattering or life ending as
the words allude.

Clicking on the story and reading the tale behind these alarming headlines and
whereas the dwindling supply of chocolate is truly a real concern…
the headlines are not as dismal nor as damning as they lead one to believe.

And therein lies our trouble.

Sensationalism.

The “news” media has learned that they can grab and stir up the masses into
a frenzy of epic proportions with just a couple of carefully lined up words.

And we, the receivers, fall hook, line and sinker to the gurus of verbiage.

The moral of this tale you ask…..
well perhaps it is two fold…..
Firstly do not take headlines at face value….

In education we call such headlines “a hook”—-as in it grabs your audience…
pulling the recipient quickly into a state of curiosity while knowing that they,
your target audience, will be naturally curious… wanting to know more,
experience more, participate more….

And secondly–yes, in the reality of life, the cocoa plant is in peril….
yet is the peril as grave as we are being lead to believe?

I think the jury is still out on that….
and therefore, it would behoove us to be a bit more cautionary when it comes
to feeling the need to race to the store…grabbing up those precious bags of M&Ms
out of the hands of the grandparents and those fighting grandchildren…

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/world/2018/01/02/start-hoarding-chocolate-track-disappear-40-years/109090682/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=usatodaycomworld-topstories

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Honor, obedience and consequence

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

Psalm 33:12

DSCN0437
(Wicklow Mountains / County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“As for me and my house…”
my people
my town
my city
my state
my country
my nation…..

The encompassing and far reaching
me and my and house…

….for the Lord will bless the house of those who are obedient….

Obedience.

We tend to have a bit of a problem with that word now don’t we…?
Obedience.
We labor with its sweeping definition…
or more aptly noted… its underlying connotation of “requirement.”
As in a mandate.
A must.
A no questions asked sort of statement.
No ifs, ands or buts….
The epitome of “just do it”
The proverbial “because I said so” sort of just do it
Because God said so—

Yet we tend to eschew the true meaning preferring to insert our own meaning…which is to be, more or less, obedient to the more applicable me, myself and I…
as in obedient to our own individual wants and desires…

We prefer living our lives doing our own thing without any policing by some sort of heavenly body which may or may not really be watching our every move.

Recently Antonin Scalia, one of the nine US Supreme Court justices, delivered an address to a Catholic high school in Louisiana where he made a very public and now somewhat controversial observation regarding our very touchy and hyper focused obsession with the idea of the separation of church and state.

“God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke his name we do him honor. In presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways,….”

There is nothing wrong with that and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that,”

(You may read the full article here:
http://news.yahoo.com/scalia-dismisses-concept-religious-neutrality-speech-202953789.html)

Now if you adhere to Judeo / Christian beliefs, you easily understand this whole concept of honoring God so that He may in turn offer honor…so therefore this little observation of mine may now end…..

however….
If you are not a believer in God, the repercussions, the fallout and the reverberations for not honoring the one true omnipotent Creator of the Universe, and that of His word, are all most likely looked upon as mere coincidence, happenstance, a run of really bad luck, or just the way the ball bounces..
For you who see no God in turn see no recourse for disobedience.

You simply don’t see any sort of correlation between the concept of decline and disobedience….

Hummmmmm…..

So as I stand on the starting outer edge of this latest new year, surveying this very sad, cantankerous, disjointed, jumbled, discordant, angry, hate filled, distrusting, diminishing nation of ours…
I wonder what really is this relationship between obedience and honor and what does it have to do with us today…perhaps it would behoove us all to consider such…..

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. 31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age…
1 Samuel 2:30

Asleep at the helm

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.
Henry Ward Beecher

Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.
Pope Francis

scott_s_state_of_the_union_add_0_1421844730
(Justice Ginsburg asleep during the State of the Union Address, image taken from Web / 2015)

It is not my intent to delve into the twisted world of the political here on this blog—preferring rather to simply offer a bit of thought, concern and reflection on this thing we call life. . .
However I was recently taken aback when this image of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg made its way in and out of the various news agencies and the meme of various websites as this octogenarian was caught napping, as it were, during the recent State of the Union Address.
Adding a bit of insult to injury was her ensuing explanation—“I wasn’t 100% sober”

OUCH!
Really??!

As a lifelong educator, for me, this entire incident has trouble written all over it. Here we have a member of one of the highest offices in our land doing two things that any other mere mortal human would be strung to the highest yardarm for having done. . .
A) she was sleeping on the job
and
B) she wasn’t sober.

“Ok”, you say, “she’s old, cut her some slack.”
Really?
“She technically wasn’t working, she was attending an albeit, perceived by many, boring sort of speech.”

I would think, however, that when one dons the robes of one of the highest offices in the land, that would pretty much be considered working at the top of one’s professional duty.

And now the mantra begins. . .”She’s been sick, battling cancer. . .She’s a tough old bird. Let her have her wine and sleep. It was just a speech. She’s brilliant. It’s no big deal. . .”

And so it appears that the excuse for her having been caught sleeping, which was more or less an alcoholic induced sleep, is no big deal because she wasn’t driving, wasn’t the speaker, wasn’t actually sitting on a case—making it all fine and dandy, and as some may add, a much ado about nothing sort of moment. . .???

Well, I’m certainly not trying the cast stones as I am far from any paragon of virtue, yet I do know trouble when I see it.

Let’s say that my principal, superintendent or even myself, a lowly teacher, had gone to dinner prior to say some sort of school or other important function, opting to have had a couple of drinks or glasses of wine with the meal—only to later attend said function. Taking either the place of honor on stage or on front row of said function and now feeling and reeling from the full effects of being totally satiated and woozy, coupled with it being toward the end of a long day and it’s now a little too warm, plus I’m now nice and still, subsequently falling asleep—Only to blow it off later as “I ate and drank too much prior to the meeting”—-the general public would demand a head upon a plate as that would have been no way for any professional, let alone educator, to have conducted themselves during a public forum of such.

And yet we think it’s okay for a Supreme Court Justice to do such since she’s older, sickly and probably tired. . . all the while as we, the courts, the justice systems and any adult worth their mettle, tell our kids, as well as the general public, do not drink when driving, working, caring for children or the elderly, operating heavy machinery or making important decisions that effect people’s lives. . .let alone opting to be seen by the general population at a massively public forum. . .and better not to drink in the first place, period. . .

I think we mere mortals do expect, as well as often demand, that our elected officials, our leaders, our doctors, our ministers, our educators, our justices, even our parents, act the part of their said position and if they don’t, we, in turn, are very quick to do one of two things. . .We either quickly excuse and dismiss the poor behavior, attempting to make it all quickly disappear, or we quickly assemble the executioning squad.

It’s just that I don’t ever remember seeing Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, being snapped by press or paparazzi, sleeping while attending any sort of state or governmental function. . .nor even Vladimir Putin, who is often seen shirtless attempting to be a hulking he-man, nor Queen Elizabeth (we won’t discuss her children or grandchildren), or other world leaders. . .Therefore do we not observe that certain positions require one to step it up as it were, appearing above board particularly when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling?

Which brings us to the idea of not being caught asleep while standing at the helm.

A colloquial expression used to express the sage warning that anyone given authority, such as steering a ship, should live up to such responsibility, not shirking one’s duty particularly when the heat is on. . .
I can only imagine the jokes that this viral image has now generated amongst not only ourselves and the late night TV talk shows but to the jokes and mockery from allies and enemies alike.

I don’t think I need to remind any of us that we are currently living in very globally grave times. A time that calls upon us to be ever vigilant, mindful, stalwart and resolute. . .

There is another image out today equally as viral yet this one being most vile. . .

0012211554

This is an image of a group of Coptic Christian men from Egypt, lined up along a beach in Libya, at the hands of their ISIS captors who are about to video the beheading of the men. Beheaded in retaliation for the death of Usama Bin Laden. . .
But wait!
Weren’t we, the US, the ones who actually killed Bin Laden?
These men were guilty of one thing, and one thing only, they were Christians.
Maybe they were actually guilty of two things—they were Middle Eastern and Christian—a deadly combination.

Somehow I do not think we will ever see images of ISIS leaders asleep at the job, claiming that they were not sober, I often wonder if these evil individuals ever sleep.

“But Julie” I hear you implore– “a sleeping Justice has nothing to do with a global terrorism organization that is comprised of thugs! How can you even put these two events within close proximity to one another?! You’re being terribly unfair. . .”

When we see our country wrestling with and waiting on our Supreme Court Justices to figure out such in-country bickering and struggles over who can and can’t smoke pot legally, whether or not homosexuals can or cannot marry legally, or to what extent does a President’s powers reach— all the while as a growing global army of terrorists quickly decide who can and can’t live, let alone who can or cannot practice a religion and life other than that of extreme Islam, I think we’ve got bigger troubles than what we could ever imagine. . .

May we all be mindful of our responsibilities.
May we be mindful of our duties.
May we be mindful that we are often the only example others may have.
May we be the example of that which is just and good.
May we be strong enough to stand above the crowd.
May we take what we do seriously, no matter how insignificant we may think it to be.
May we understand that too causal is not always a good thing.
May we be mature, stepping up to the plate, when the circumstances demand nothing less.
May we not play the blame game but rather “man up” to take the heat when necessary, remembering that often times the buck does indeed stop with us.
May we not be so quick to write everything off so simply.
May we not tolerate everything we do and say for the mere sake of tolerance but rather may we have the courage to pick and choose what we do and say then have the courage to stand behind our beliefs–
May we remember that there was a time in this country when we could disagree, respecting the right to disagree rather than as today when the mentality of “I’m right and you’re wrong and therefore you must change and change now or else” reigns supreme
And may we remember that there are those forces around this globe of ours who look to take away our very way of life and wait in the shadows for when we are asleep at the helm to take advantage of our sleep and distraction, hoping to change our lives forever. . .

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.”

Mark 13:34-36