Obviously the truth

“Today I will do what others won’t,
so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t”

Jerry Rice

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion
against injustice and lying and greed.
If people all over the world…would do this,
it would change the earth.”

― William Faulkner

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out
the whole truth and acting accordingly.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

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(the first butterfly of the season visiting the blueberry blooms / Julie Cook / 2016)

The official word is supposedly to come Thursday.
The long awaited “will they or won’t they….”

Word is that they won’t.

Yet the House has voted…383-0
Unanimous across party lines.
A strong signal to the Administration…

“Last week, ISIS militants killed 16 people, including four Catholic nuns, at a retirement home in southern Yemen,” Ryan said in a statement Monday. “This is the latest in a string of brutal attacks committed by ISIS against Christian and other minorities. Yet the administration has still not called this what it is: A genocide.”
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House

The Senate will vote next.
Yet these votes are symbolic in name only…
Because the final word will come from the White House and the White House alone.

However… no matter whether this Administration confirms that the atrocities waged by ISIS against Christians is indeed genocide… or not….the truth remains…obviously the Truth…

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/03/14/house-poised-to-declare-isis-committing-genocide-against-christians-other-minorities.html?intcmp=hpbt2

These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;
Zechariah 8:16

desensitized

Depictions of violence often glamorize vicious behavior. They offend the Spirit and make you less able to respond to others in a sensitive, caring way. They contradict the Savior’s message of love for one another.
For the Strength of Youth

These data suggest very strongly that participating in the playing of violent video games by children and youth increase aggressive thought and behavior; increase antisocial behavior and delinquency; engender poor school performance; desensitize the game player to violence.
Leland Yee
former California Senator

Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.
David Grossman
Israeli author

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(gargoyle downspout Adare Manor / Adare, Coutny Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Desensitize–a transitive verb—meaning: to make emotionally insensitive or callous; specifically: to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it

Two recent articles about children and young people have each catapulted the word desensitization and its meaning to the forefront of my radar leaving me greatly troubled.

As a retired educator articles which showcase the current and various growing concerns for and of our youth certainly catch my eye as I spent a lifetime living out those very concerns on a daily basis. As any educator will tell you, teachers not only “teach” they also nurture, mentor, direct, guide, care for, comfort, coach, discipline, lead, encourage, help…etc.

Teaching is not a one subject fits all sort of job.
In fact teaching is not a job at all but rather a vocation or a calling. You have to care about kids and their well being in order to want to teach. Those in it for either a paycheck or some sort of job security need look elsewhere.

As a veteran classroom teacher, who spent my entire career working at the high school level, I am very much aware of the often fragile and tenuous tightrope our adolescents walk in their daily lives.

Any parent and educator alike can tell you that raising and educating kids is no easy task especially given today’s growing technological pull and social media draw that is blanketing our youth.

The first story I read yesterday.
It was an article examining a link between the alarming rise of teenage suicide and that of social media usage.

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2016/02/11/is-social-media-fueling-national-epidemic-teen-suicide.html

I found the article both disturbing as well as telling— as I forwarded it to several teachers and counselors who are currently still working with various school systems.

It has often been noted that many in this generation of kids have a very difficult time actually talking to people. It is often observed that they do not make eye contact easily or readily nor are they capable of carrying on any sort of lengthy conversation with a free flowing dialog.

They can be in a room filled with their family or friends yet will be more engaged on their phones rather than those sitting by their side. They will actually opt to text a person in the very same room rather than ask a verbal question or make a verbal comment.

There is a frighting and rapidly growing disconnect between reality and virtual…with kids often preferring the virtual.
Maybe because its as if they feel they can control the virtual better than reality.

Yet the correlation between kids, their social media usage and an increase in the suicide rate is something that should have us all concerned…..

The second article, which includes a short video clip, I actually read today having spotted it on the BBC.
It was an interview conducted by a BBC reporter of two young Syrian boys aged 8 and 10.
The boys were only two out of hundreds who have been living in IS occupied areas of Syria.
Luckily for these two boys, they have made it out of Syria and hopefully out of harms way.

The interview begins with the 8 year old aptly demonstrating how to put on a sucicide vest with as much ease as he would have kicking a soccer ball.

He told the reporter how they had often witnessed beheadings. They would be called by loudspeaker to come witness what was taking place as IS members would behead, in the boy’s case, a neighbor.

It is reported that IS is actually rewritng the textbooks used in classrooms…changing dates as well as “current” geographical maps.

The children, yes young children, are put through a variety of physical military type training and obstacles courses while actually being shot at and yelled at as they maneuver the course.
Of which is probably the most disturbing clip in the video.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35552391

Between our own kids who are drowning in a sea of social media, violent video games and a huge Spiritual disconnect and then the children who fall under the harsh and brutal regimes of hate spreading their insidious indoctrination of hate and destruction all around the globe our future as a human race is looking neither hopeful nor promising…
We need, for their sake as well as our own, to take our children back….


All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.

Isaiah 54:13

Where is the Sacred?

“There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

― Wendell Berry

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(St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough, County Wicklow / Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where is the Sacred,
the Holy,
the Hallowed?

Where has it gone?

Has man lost his connection to the Divine
and what it means to be
reverent,
quiet,
observant….

Oh how it so seems…

Does the mocking of a drowned two year old child, off the coast of Turkey,
make anyone else uncomfortable, distressed or disturbed…
or is it just me?

Does Charlie Hebdo and others who make light over everything and anything,
who use the satirical to…
malgin,
berate,
and draw attention to…

Do they, the magazines, the papers, the comics.. try to make us…
better,
wiser,
more insightful…?

Do they make us think, laugh or simply feel numb?

All with their mocking, ridiculing and disrespect…?

Freedom of speech…
it is the rallying cry is in not…
The defensive call to arms.
Yet whose word is free and whose words are not?

What of….
what of the respect found within that freedom…
what of the cost of human sanctity found within that freedom
what of the spilled blood found within that freedom

Was respect not rooted in the foundation?
Civility?
Courtesy?
Fairness?

What of the respect for…
for life,
for death,
for the living,
for the dying,
for the less than,
for the maligned,
for the young,
the old,
all found within that freedom…

What of the honor to be afforded to all human beings regardless of…
stature,
class,
race,
age,
belief,
Does none of that matter…
Is it all just fodder now for our obsession with the biting satire of our own contagious dark humor?

Oh laugh and chuckle if you will.
That nervous sort of ridiculing and jaded scoffing…
Join the masses of those who have grown numb, cold, closed, shallow, empty…
and so over the top that there is no longer room for the kind, the compassionate, the soul…
the Hallowed,
the Holy
or
the Sacred…

Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

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(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane

Doing the right thing is never easy, but must be done. . .

“It is always darkest just before the day dawneth”
Thomas Fuller

“There are stars who’s light only reaches the earth long after they have fallen appart. There are people who’s remembrance gives light in this world, long after they have passed away. This light shines in our darkest nights on the road we must follow.”
The Talmud

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
Dante Alighieri

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(a tiger swallowtail visits the sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

Ever since we were young, we were always told to “do the right thing”. . .
It seemed to be so much easier when we were younger. . .

As we aged, growing older and it doesn’t appear much wiser, the right thing seemed to become a bit blurry, out of focus and at times, difficult to discern.
We became pressed with increasing dilemmas.
The “right thing” could at times be hurtful to ourselves or worse, to others. . .
It became too much and overwhelming, it turned out to be more than we could bear.
It often seemed as if our very lives could fall into jeopardy over this whole doing the right thing business.
What were we to do?
What were our choices?
Doing the right thing became harder as doing not the right thing became easier.
“What’s a little fudging here and there” we’d rationalize.
We found ourselves justifying what they don’t know won’t hurt them, or rather, we meant us, as in ourselves.
A blind eye, became key.
Turning the proverbial blind eye to the those trivial details known as facts became common place.
Got the ol head stuck down in the sand, looking the other way and ignoring it all, hoping it would all just go away, leaving us and everyone else alone.

Complacency became our safe and happy place, our easy way out.

Yet the stakes, while we were busy not watching, have snuck in under the wire, growing bigger and higher.

To ignore it would be criminal.
To wish it all away, impossible.
To pretend it doesn’t exist, damning.

The children are dying and the world is bleeding and we can no longer afford not doing the right thing. . .

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“A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of an unidentified migrant child, lifting it from the sea shore, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum, Turkey, early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. A number of migrants are known to have died and some are still reported missing, after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized.
(both images courtesy AP)

Full story:
http://news.yahoo.com/distraught-father-of-drowned-syrian-boy-recounts-ill-fated-journey-191139707.html

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in you
Deuteronomy 15:11

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
1 John 3:17

what might a modern day plague look like?

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

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(a ravenous locust passes through the yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

I really don’t know where to begin. . .
I suppose I’ll start with the latter of the two trains of thought, work my way backwards (a little educational approach. . .backwards design) and hope the two will merge into one nice thought. . .

My son was showing me a video clip yesterday by some quasi news/ entertainment group that seems to take current event images out to the average joe on the street in search of reactions. They show random folks some random recent “viralesque” image, ask a question about the image and then record the responses and reactions. My son is 26 and he starts this little show and tell moment with “so this is how dumb folks are these days. . .” and he proceeds to show me a clip. . .the clip is filled with folks his age and a tad younger. . .hummmmm

It seems that with the new Jurassic Park movie having been recently released, Steven Spielberg, feeling a bit nostalgic, posed in front of a triceratops that was used in one of the movies in the series. The automaton dino was apparently dead and laying on its side with a smiling Spielberg sitting down in front of the creature. . .the not REAL creature.
A harmless enough image of some Spielberg nostalgia. . .

This little quasi news group was on the streets of London with microphone and camera in hand showing the picture of Spielberg and his dino and asked random folks, all of which who were young—late teens through mid 20’s, what they thought of the picture. . .

First of all may I just say that I was appalled by the blatant cursing–if someone with a camera and microphone asks me to answer a question for them while they are filming, I don’t think I’m going to pop out with the “F”word or the other lovely litany of expletives these kids spouted. . .

The other troubling thing was, and this was the point of the posting of the video, that none of those kids asked seemed to know A. that that person in the picture was Steven Spielberg and B. that that was a dinosaur, not to mention a nonexistent dinosaur.

It seems they thought how terrible it was that “this man” was posing in front of “his kill” with a sleazy smile. They were all appalled and thought how awful it was that he had shot and killed a rhino or hippo, as was the common assumption, and that he actually seemed happy about it.
Please note that my eyes are rolling around my head. . .

So now I am not only greatly troubled by the lack of decorum, manners and respect demonstrated by young folks on the street, but I am equally troubled that our young folks don’t seem to know the difference between a dead, non existent, triceratops and a rhinoceros or hippopotamus. . .

The other train of thought is even more troubling and has to do with a recent real life news story.

It seems we had a political debate in this country over this past weekend that seems to be all the rage in the world of news and politics.
Now I am not a fan of either politics or politicians—I don’t watch these so called rating topping debates as I could frankly care less. Comments, questions and responses boil down to the adult version of the he said, she said fussing of children.
Petty, bickering, hateful, assumptive. . .
These “professional” adults begin to sound like the teacher on the old Charlie Brown cartoon’s. . .
“waah waah, waah. . .”

This world of ours has some very real problems and some very real troubles yet we’ve got our potential top leader wannabes and our major news agencies babbling on and on about the idiotic comments offered by a bombastic business mogul / reality show personality and that of his loud-mouthed flippant comments during one of these dog and pony shows debates.

Frankly I want to know who really cares??!!

Who cares what a man dubbed “the Donald,” as if he were some sort of ancient royal, has to say about TV personalities or news commentators when we have the sort of troubles raging, in not only our country, but around our fragile world. . .What does this say about our priorities. . . or perhaps more correctly, what does this all say about how out of touch our major news agencies and entertainment shows seem to really be. . .or how really stupid they think the average American must be. . .
My observation. . .no one is on the same page!

The real issues and worries, such as our country’s latest implosion over race, the overt and rampant escalation of violence when people simply feel wronged, the continued killing, kidnapping, raping, torturing of individuals across this globe by militant Muslim extremists. . .all of which seem to me to be taking a backseat to the latest media obsession of men becoming woman, presidential wannabes, debates over flags being the catalyst for hate. . .

All of this as people continue demonstrating, looting, rioting, as if that’s going to help solve the real issue at hand, that people seem to think that it’s okay to kill for a killing’s sake . . . that Christians in the Middle East continue being systematically eliminated one by one, African girls continue being “taken,” Greek bailouts make the global economy nervous, Turkey erupts in violence and what of Ukraine. . .

I don’t know. . .I think those types of issues might be what those presidential contenders ought to be discussing and thinking about rather than the he said, she said stuff of children. . .

I tend to feel a bit like Goldilocks when it comes to reading the News. . .I scour a variety of sites, shifting though the printed stories, hoping to sort out the real stories minus the slants.
The following story concerning the latest attack on Christians in Syria caught my eye.
I can’t help but agree with the author’s concern about what our political leaders seem to be thinking when it comes to the blind eye to the global attack on Christianity.

Is anyone who has any sort of authority ever going to look at any of these latest crises with any sort of real concern. . .cause I really don’t think God needs to send any new plagues to get our attention, I think we’re plague enough . . .but then again when our younger generations can’t tell the difference between a dinosaur and a rhino maybe none of this really matters. . .

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/08/07/more-christians-kidnapped-in-syria.html?intcmp=hpff

Song for the innocents

A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing.
Elizabeth I

The Righteous person must suffer many things; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34

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(field sparrow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Broken hearted,
like a bird’s broken wing,
a soul far too weary, before its time,
longs to lift its voice. . .

Tears freely flow for the innocents,
those who are not so free,
savagely taken in a dark world
now grown callous and cold. . .

Who are these people who gleefully seek
the spilt blood of the Lamb?
Who relish in death and scorn life,
Who long to take rather than give. . .

What is the point in this latest battle?
Consuming each and every life until
there are no more lives to give?
This, as the parents weep
and the Nations grieve. . .

You and You alone hear our anguish,
and You see the captive’s pain.
You stand beside the brokenhearted mothers and fathers,
as the news is delivered. . .
Where does the savagery stop?

Our hope, Oh Lord, is in You and You alone,
as we dwell within a dark and fallen world. . .
Battered minds seek nothing more than to be numb,
burying themselves in things other than the actual,
Thinking that what is not seen or acknowledged,
will all simply disappear. . .

Those with purpose are quickly called. . .
The innocent and clear of conscious,
who ready themselves to do battle. . .
to offer compassion where there is none
To offer hope to the hopeless. . .

When will the just say no to injustice?
When will the children be saved?
When will the captives be set free?
When will the darkness scatter?
When will this madness end?

Our trust is found in Christ, Jesus
The One who overcame death.
The body may perish,
Yet the soul will not be silenced.
As the battles wage on
and evil rejoices,
while the faithful exclaim. . .
“O death where is thy sting”

Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing, but rather bless, and know that you are called to do this, so that you should inherit the blessing.
1 Peter 3:9

****Here is a link to the BBC story featuring the single letter Kayla Mueller, the young kidnapped American, wrote her parents regarding her time in captivity as a prisoner of IS (ISIS). She sent the letter out with fellow prisoners who were released as she was the lone female prisoner kept behind. Kayla turned 26 while in captivity. Kayla had gone to Syria, working with the humanitarian organization Hayata Destek, Support To Life, in order to help the refugee orphaned children in Syria whose lives had been displaced and shattered by the ongoing fighting. Kayla conducted art therapy projects with the kids, as children can often express themselves in drawings when words cannot be found. She noted that when the children asked her” where was her world” –then telling them, they asked why had her people not come to help them. . .her response was simply to cry along with and for the children. . .Prayers for the Mueller family and all the families globally who have been affected by IS —her family noted that Kayla “lived life with purpose”—may we all live with such purpose. . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31376933

There is both compassion and malice in this world

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

Every day in the year there comes some malice into the world, and where it comes from is no good place.
Lady Gregory

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(a tiny friend trapped in a garage, weary and waiting for assistance / Julie Cook / 2014)

As I opened the kitchen door, I heard the familiar sound of heavy and intense buzzing–as if a swarm of giant bees was laying siege to my garage. And as it is, I have grown somewhat accustomed to this sound, as I immediately did an about face heading back in the house to fetch the telescopic duster.

For whatever reason, during the summer months, as long as the hummingbirds have taken up residence at my feeders, inevitably one of their clan seems to find its way into my garage yet cannot find its way out.

Our garage / carport is finished on the inside and is painted white. I’ve often wondered about the color white and whether or not the hummingbirds, or birds in general for that matter, have any sort of depth perception as far as color is concerned. Once in the carport, the birds frantically fly about the ceiling, as if they think it is the sky and they should simply be able to take off as it were. Instead, the tiny birds exhaust themselves buzzing along the ceiling, around and around hoping to be free of the invisible barrier. Sometimes they head to the windows with the same flying intensity as if the glass boundary will magically disappear. As the tiny birds grow increasingly fatigued, they often light on the windowsill or garage door lift. This is where I come in. . .

Careening my neck to an almost backwards breaking point, I precariously wander about the carport holding up a telescopic pole used for dusting ceiling fans following the erratic flying pattern, attempting to get near enough to the small lost creature, hoping he or she will grow so weary that they will simply perch on the soft duster at the end of the pole.
I look much like I’m practicing some sort of odd balancing circus act.

Inevitably and thankfully the bird lands. If I’m lucky, I can gently lower the pole, dipping it low enough, past the overhead garage door, allowing the exhausted bird to fly off to freedom. Sometimes they still have just enough energy to panic, taking off again for another round of “fly around the ceiling.” Other times, if the bird lights on the windowsill, I can usually crawl up on the brick ledge, gingerly picking up the weary bird from off the sill and gently carry it out to freedom—as was the case yesterday.

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(a grateful and soon to be liberated friend / Julie Cook / 2014

Happily no one is any worse for the wear as I can often be found later in the day sitting on the back deck reading and watching the feeders when, out of the blue, one of the birds darts under the awning, right up to my face hovering around a bit as if to offer a bit of thanks before darting back out to the feeders. A most humbling interaction with one of Nature’s smallest creatures.

And as I sat yesterday afternoon, thinking about my encounter with a tiny bird in need of a little help, a little human compassion, my thoughts turned to the latest tragedy which unfolded in the Middle East this week with the execution of Steven Sotloff. Was it not just last week that our attentions were turned to the execution of the American journalist James Foley?!

Executions which are more reminiscent of medieval times verses a modern 21st century. The sinister and malicious, if not sadistic, performance of the macabre. It is beyond my soul how a person can raise a knife to another person’s throat and proceed to cut off that individual’s head. I simply can’t wrap my mind around that. And maybe that’s part of the problem. This middle aged American wife, mother, educator, cannot comprehend what it takes, what exists inside of a person, do such a horrific act on another living soul.

Frighteningly, there is obviously a cold and empty detachment.
Perhaps this is the living definition of Evil.

I understand that there are sick individuals out there who commit horrific crimes–for a myriad of reasons all equally twisted and sick. Yet we must be mindful that the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known by its acronym, ISIS, is not composed of a single sick deprived individual—rather, it is a movement. A movement that is growing at an alarming, frighteningly and exponentially rate of high speed.

Oh I suppose we can say what we will about journalists who perhaps get a little too close to the action in the name of capturing “the story.” Some may say that these reporters and journalist know the risks going in. I suppose we may say the same about the aid workers who rush in to war torn and disease ridden countries in order to offer just that–aid, comfort, help and hope to the millions of innocent souls caught in the middle of chaos or those unfortunate enough to live in plague ridden areas with limited medical care. . .

Yet I for one do not buy the excuses of the jaded who write these individuals off as merely folks who unfortunately end up on the wrong side of the statistics of the risk.
No human being deserves to suffer mercilessly at the hand of another human being.
How empty my words sound to the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

About this same time last year, a Paris based organization, Reporters without Borders, reported that the estimate was that there were at least 60 “news providers” being held captive, or “detained”, as well as 110 or more individuals who had already been killed at the hands of Islamic terrorist groups across the globe.

Kidnappings, torture, exorbitant ransoms and ultimately grizzly executions.
All for what?
A new world order?
A new dogma?
World domination?
Sounds all rather Orwellian, yet ominously, it seems to be a very real and swiftly growing worry and threat.

Recently reported by a New York Times investigation, published last month, “Al Qaeda and its affiliates had brought in at least $125 million through ransom payments since 2008, including $66 million in 2013. That money came largely from European governments.”
As reported yerterday in The Guardian, “After telling MPs that the UK would not pay ransoms to secure the release of hostages in the hands of Islamic State militants, the prime minister, David Cameron, said Britain and the US would step up attempts to persuade other governments to cease making such payments.”

There are currently three known aid workers being held by ISIS. One being a 26 year old female American who was kidnapped last year. An Italian and Brit are the other two known captives. The American aid worker, as had her European and British counterparts, had gone to Syria, by her own volition, to offer her help, comfort, support, hope–to countless numbers of refugees, many of whom are children caught up in the tangled web of extremist chaos.

We may choose to sit back, reading our papers and watching our news reports of such stories as these–stories of the ugliness of “over there.” We may have missed the fact that there are now American and European citizens who are counted among the members of this growing extremist movement. We may continue feeling comfortable and safe in our chairs in our homes as we read and watch the news about this latest war. . .over there. . .

What of the aid workers? What dare say we will be their fate at the hands of these depraved terrorists? There has been a confirmed ransom demand of 6.6 million dollars for the American. Our government has long said it will not negotiate with terrorist. I agree. Obviously David Cameron agrees. Yet if I was the mother of that aid worker, I know I would feel differently. I would most likely beg, borrow and steal to have my child safely back in my arms. The question begs to be answered. . .can nations continue paying barbaric thugs astronomical amounts of money, which simply in turn goes to further funding the deepening madness and chaos of thuggery and terrorism. . .a precarious price of extortion and blood money given in the name of buying, albeit a brief, peace of mind?

How long will the cost of that peace of mind last until the next demand of payment to the proverbial piper?
The concern should be that groups such as ISIS will not be content to merely take hold of a town, a city, a country. They are parasitic and they are hungry. Their hunger is ravenous and knows no limit.

The compassion of the innocents, in this case the aid workers, has been met with the malicious hate of evil–in this case, a cohesive malevolent movement. It is merely a matter of time until we learn the next move in this latest and costly game of chess. May our thoughts and prayers remain steadfast for theses individuals and their familiars.

When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.
Pearl S. Buck

Storm clouds gather on the horizon

“In each age men of genius undertake the ascent. From below, the world follows them with their eyes. These men go up the mountain, enter the clouds, disappear, reappear, People watch them, mark them. They walk by the side of precipices. They daringly pursue their road. See them aloft, see them in the distance; they are but black specks. On they go. The road is uneven, its difficulties constant. At each step a wall, at each step a trap. As they rise the cold increases. They must make their ladder, cut the ice and walk on it., hewing the steps in haste. A storm is raging. Nevertheless they go forward in their madness. The air becomes difficult to breath. The abyss yawns below them. Some fall. Others stop and retrace their steps; there is a sad weariness. The bold ones continue. They are eyed by the eagles; the lightning plays about them: the hurricane is furious. No matter, they persevere.”
Victor Hugo

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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(clouds and sun vie for dominance over the skies of Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

There is a lovely little blog I follow and I do believe I’ve made mention of it before. . .
Dominus mini adjuror (The Lord is my help)
by Father Hugh Somerville-Knapman
http://hughosb.wordpress.com

Father Hugh is an Australian Benedictine monk living at Douai Abbey in Woolhampton Berkshire England.
http://www.douaiabbey.org.uk/index.html

I happened upon Father Hugh’s blog quite sometime ago and despite my not being Catholic, I greatly enjoy reading his posts, as he speaks to not merely the Catholic faithful, but to all of the faithful Christian flock. The only caveat is that Father Hugh is quite a busy monk and can only post as his time and schedule permit.

Father Hugh tells it like it is and I, for one, greatly appreciate that.
In an age of overt political correctness–where we are so terribly afraid to say anything as it seems anything and everything these days causes great offense—as ours is a society constantly in mea culpa mode-it is almost refreshing that there are those who see the world, warts and all, and will offer honest and truthful observation without fear of reprisals, boycotts, assaults, condemnation, social media backlash, etc.

It is the knowledge that Father Hugh’s reflections, those based from his observations of life in this world, are rooted in the fact that his words are steeped in the Truth of the Gospel and that his words merely echo the words of Jesus Christ.

It is Father Hugh’s posting today, “Voices Speaking Silence” that has left my heart deeply troubled.

Father Hugh brings to light a need in awareness of the continued brutal persecution of Christians by the militant Muslim group known as ISIS—or now simply referred to as the Islamic State (IS). It is noted in his post that the News outlets of this world choose not to report on, or merely choose to overlook, the growing number of persecutions of Christians but rather focus their attentions on the brutality unleashed upon other ethnic groups, many varying sects of Islam, as well as the continuing assault in Gaza on the Palestinians (and my question is why have we not heard of the sufferings of the Jews?)— With World attention being brought to these other groups, Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran–as well as elsewhere in this fractured globe of ours, are being assaulted, tortured and killed in numbers that this generation has not witnessed—all going unnoticed, unreported, ignored.

Tortured, beaten, raped, kidnapped, crucified, beheaded. . .horrific atrocities that the World at large would normally rise up in arms against over such barbarism—and yet, what remains is only silence.

All of this, as the face of a young man, head shaven yet held strong and high, eyes tightly shut, mouth drawn down fighting the undeniable deafening fear that has welled up inside of him, is etched in my mind. The image of the young journalist James Foley, who in an orange prison jumpsuit, is kneeling at the hand of his executioner, who gleefully holds a knife. I have not, nor will I, view the video of his death as I am not drawn to witness the macabre—the image of him kneeling in the desert and of his resolute face, at the feet of a knife wielding man is enough to sicken me.

In this oh so modern, sleek, techno savvy and trendy 21st century of ours, that has our every need and whim complete and fulfilled at the touch of a finger, we unbelievably continue to witness the barbarism, such as beheadings and crucifixions, which belongs to the annuals of ancient history.

Not only are those of Western culture at risk for the reprisals and retributions of jihadist terrorism but it is the Global Christian Community that is at greatest risk— not for proselytizing, not for preaching, not for the distribution of clandestine Bibles, but rather simply for believing.

The broad scope and vast number of Christian deaths as a result of simply believing is at such a number that it rivals the days of the Roman Empire.
The following excerpt taken from an article in The Spectator, by John L Allen Jr. dated October 5,2013 echoes these numbers and statistics.

According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

In effect, the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs. The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well.

My question for all of us is how much longer will we pretend that all of this is happening “over there” and has no bearing on our lives here–wherever here and there may be.
How much longer will we continue to ignore the statistics?
How much longer will we allow our Politicians to overlook and our News media to ignore the persecution of Christians as a real and present danger?
How much longer will we remain silent?

May we be mindful that persecution is not always physical.
Will the stifling of the Christian voice in America and throughout Europe, due to the rise of intolerable secularism, be a final straw. . .

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:8-11

“come closer my dear….”

The Praying Mantis
From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

Ogden Nash

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(Photograph: a different Praying Mantis from the other day, different bush/ Julie’s yard / 2013)

As I was pruning the bushes yesterday, chopping away and keeping one eye open for any wasp who decided I was a little too close for comfort, something suddenly came shooting out of the bush. It was low to the ground, scooting right for my legs, which in turn sent me lurching backwards waving the clippers precariously in defense of whatever was on the attack.

It, whatever it was, half flew half ran along the sidewalk right for my feet. “What in the heck is this!!!” my panicked brain attempts to sort out working on hyper speed to identify this eminent threat. It stops short of jumping on my foot. Thank the Lord!

Upon inspection I am somewhat relieved—a praying mantis, the boss of the yard bugs–his bravado is worse than his bite, that is for someone of my size, it would be a different story if we were of equal stature. I have a healthy respect for the mantis. No matter how small a praying mantis may be, it never backs down. They raise those little arms of theirs in defense—ready to “box” a larger opponent, or more effectively will simply bite the head off of an opponent closer to their own size. They police the yard pretty well.

After this one worked to chase me away from the bush, I in turn, worked to chase after him for a picture, sending him eventually scurrying for another bush. A mutual healthy respect. I know a mantis is good for the yard as it keeps the riffraff out of the neighborhood. I leave him alone, he’ll leave me alone. He causes no harm to my world, he’s not destructive, he’s not invasive. We can coexist. I’m good with that.

What did we, as human beings, miss about that concept–be not invasive nor destructive to your neighbor. Be beneficial, coexist. Sounds so simple, so easy. What can we learn, what haven’t we learned from how and from the way we deal with insects and animals—maintain a healthy respect….whatever happened to respecting our neighbor, our fellow man, our global community?

Be it opposing cultures, races, religions—whatever happened to the concept of coexisting? Mutual respect, harmony, live and let live?

I think a lot about this concept of living and let live, about harmony, about coexisting– given the news of the week and the situation in Syria. Very very troubling that all is…troubling for the Syrians indeed, troubling to their immediate neighboring countries, troubling for the global body of worldly neighbors. Oh to know the answers of such, how to handle the ones who don’t get the concept of be not destructive, be not invasive— coexist, live and let live.

And what about the bigger ones, the ones like me as compared to the mantis–I could have easily flattened him but I didn’t—why should I use my being the one “in charge”– the bigger of the two, the stronger more advanced of the two to simply kill him when he did nothing to hamper my life? Why do governments decide not to take their role as the body of those entrusted to care for those under their authority? Why do leaders decide some under their care are expendable while others are not?

Issues as old as time I suppose, you’d think that after the history of “us”– of us as people, we’d learn something from our past–long past and more recent past… obviously, sadly, we are not quick learners…all this thought from the mere encounter with a praying mantis……

I’ll leave my mantis alone, I’ll let him do his thing in my yard and he’ll let me do mine. He won’t eat the wood of my house, he won’t ruin my plants, he won’t bite me or bite off my head, thank goodness…I could kill him, simply removing him from my world as he is expendable, he is just a “bug” you know—but what good would that do….No, we will coexist, we will maintain a healthy respect.

Let us pray for the Syrians….