Reflections, thoughts and books


(one of the bronze dancing cherubs at the city cemetery Mackinac Island / Julie Cook / 2017)

Recently, over on a fellow blogger’s site, I read a most wonderful post written
about our dear friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer…
The following passage jumped right off the page,
right at me as it spoke to me about faith and as it challenged me to consider
what type of faith do I actually possess….
inward or outward….

Faith does not look upon itself but takes hold of that which is outside
itself, Christ.
Bonhoeffer draws on a Latin phrase from an early period of Protestant dogmatics,
actus directus,
as distinguished from actus reflexus,
to characterize the nature of true faith.

The difference here is between a faith that attends to God,
entrusting itself to God to be watched over and kept,
versus a faith that is constantly concerned to oversee itself,
ensuring its own vitality.

For Bonhoeffer, this is a way finally of avoiding faith –
for like Peter in the sea of Galilee,
it takes its eyes off of the living Christ who is the source of our life.

This emphasis upon the outward direction of faith that lays hold of Christ
in pure intentionality,
in a kind of passive reception where the self is kept out,
structures much of Bonhoeffer’s later reflections on ethics.
While we do not see him returning to this phrase,
the concept remains operative.

excerpt from the blog post Freedom in Orthodoxy
http://freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com/2017/07/bonhoeffer-and-role-of-moral-reflection.html

“A faith that attends to God…”

I looked up various synonyms for the word attend and found the word dwell
which I like here as it fits in perfectly…
it fits in such a way that it reminds us that our faith should be such that
we are to dwell in to God….to be a cohabitant within….

Verses a faith that attends to self….
and if we are to use the same word of “dwell” here,
then we are saying that it is a faith that dwells within self…
and somehow that does not sound like faith at all but mostly a self
centered inclination…something much along the lines of today’s culture of the
religion of self.

Bonhoeffer is reminding us that we must constantly work to strive to reach out of
self, out of ourselves…out to the living God…so that we may then, in turn,
dwell within Him and within Him alone…..

Then next, on the same day of perusing, I read another great post by our good
friend the Scottish Pastor David Robertson.
This time he was offering a two part reflection regarding a book that he
most recently read…a review of sorts that due to his often verbose ways, he
opted to review over a period of time.

The book is entitled The Strange Death of Europe by David Murray.

From all outward appearances David Murray and David Robertson are probably polar
opposites of sorts and not exactly on the same page in life…
as Mr. Murray is an openly avowed homosexual as well as ardent Atheist and we know that Pastor David Robertson often writes about both topics…
as to why homosexuality and or atheism, from the Christian perspective,
are both wrong and sinful.

Yet Pastor Robertson read, enjoyed and whole heartedly agreed with Mr. Murray’s
observations regarding Europe and her mad dash to committing a ‘political suicide’
of sorts as she has forgotten,
or better yet recklessly thrown away with ardent abandon,
her Christian roots….

Replacing those long standing roots with a new religion…
that being the religion of humanism, materialism and human rights.
Because isn’t that what this has all become…
that for the majority part of the West, it is the religion of Human Rights…

In all the current melee, Europe is now lost as to what to do with the massive
Islamic influx that is currently and literally sweeping in with the tide….

One passage that Pastor Robertson highlights as brilliant on Murray’s part is the following observation:

in order to incorporate as large and wide number of people as possible it is
necessary to come up with a definition of inclusion that is as wide and
unobjectionable as possible.
If Europe is going to become a home for the world it must search for a
definition of itself that is wide enough to encompass the world.
This means that in the period before this aspiration collapses our values become
so wide as to become meaninglessly shallow.
So whereas European identity in the past could be attributed to highly specific,
not to mention philosophically and historically deep foundations
(the rule of law, the ethics derived from the continent’s history and philosophy),
today the ethics and belief of Europe—
indeed the identity and ideology of Europe–
have become about ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’ and
(most self abrogating of all) ‘diversity’.
Such shallow self definitions may get us through a few more years,
they have no chance at all being able to call on the deeper loyalties that
societies must be able to reach if they are going to survive for long.”
P.7

And I for one see that his observation is not merely a European problem
but rather an American dilemma as well as we are also striving to “redefine” who
and what America actually is and means…
trading our true foundation and founding principles for something vastly
other than…
something humanistic, materialistic and oh so smugly human rights oriented…
As one reviewer wrote about having read Mr Murray’s book and of the dismal
position the West seems to have taken over the current identity crisis…
as in it has no real answers or position because
“modern culture has little to offer a person other than entertainment.”

And it is here where the good pastor leaves us until he comes back for part 2
of his review.

In the meantime, I’ve put the book on my order list.

Here’s a link to Robertson’s full review post…

Douglas Murray – The Strange Death of Europe – Part One – Meaningless Shallowness

So I will leave us today with these various interesting thoughts—
thoughts on faith–inward and outward…
and thoughts on the West’s seemingly mad dash to Western Civilization’s demise…

a conflicting conundrum indeed….

Do not love the world or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
For everything in the world—-the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—-
comes not from the Father but from the world.
The world and its desires pass away,
but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John:15-17

Morality

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who,
in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

Dante Alighieri

DSCN0271
(an empty sarcophagi deep within the bowels of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“But evil does not die, just as history does not end. Like a weed, evil can be cut back but never entirely uprooted. It waits for its chance to spread through the cracks in our vigilance. It can take root in the fertile soil of our complacency, or even the rocky rubble of the fallen Berlin Wall”

In his book, Winter is Coming
(Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped)
Garry Kasparov makes a compelling argument as to why it is dire that those of us in the West should be on our guard…as he truly believes the harsh reality of a very cold unbearable winter is soon to be falling upon our fragile democracy.

The single raised rampart of defense is to be morality.

“We need new, morality-based frameworks to confront the dictatorships in Russia and China now that they have so thoroughly become a part of our globalized world…
These frameworks and alliances must be based on moral principles, the only weapon the enemies of democracy cannot match.”

Yet, as I look around our western societies, I look very hard for what remains of a morale society.

Secularism has taken root and spread like a deadly poison weed…reaching deep within the fabric of society. Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa each observed that western societies now live, as well as embrace, a culture of death.
Even mainstream media reports on the self-centeredness and perpetual quest of all things materialistic and self gratifying within our millennials.

Morality has never been trendy, convenient nor chic.

Excuses are made as to way morality is so passé and out of step with a modern society.
Abortions, Gay unions, declining traditional marriages, rising divorce rates… all work at whittling away at the traditional family unit…the once true anchor and underpinning of a society’s morale fiber.
As today’s society is just too busy with its focus and quest of self fulfillment to be bothered by something as cliche and outdated as morale fiber.

With the current trend of FaceBook, social media, smart phones and all things technological vying for top god position, the quest for this hoped for champion of democracy is growing ever more difficult and elusive. Self satisfaction is raising the victory flag of satiation instead.

Warnings have been issued before to a slumbering world more interested in appeasement and the total denial of Truth….ending every time with deadly and grave consequences…
Things such as Truth, Morality and even God have each become victims in the endless quest of self…

Time is of the essence to heed these current warnings, once again, before we all begin to feel the icy reach of winter….

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

DSCN8758
(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)