Three years of NEO!

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Three years ago this week Nebraskaenergyobserver made its debut on the Internet. So first, congratulations to my dearest friend Neo. Blogs are like Gibbon’s description of empires – they rise and fall and the sands of history cover them and their place knows them no more. It is, as I know myself, easy enough to start up a blog – it is the maintaining it which is the hard part. So, I think three years is something to celebrate.

Neo’s blog is a window on the world. He is part of an America which many of us admire, but which many foreigners (and quite a few Americans) never visit – the ‘fly-over States’. I spent a year in the mid-West twenty years ago, and retain a fondness for it and all it represents; this is one of the reasons I am fond of this place. It is redolent of American virtues: self-reliance; a sense of personal responsibility; but a willingness to do the right thing to help others, even at personal cost. You might say these are human virtues, and I would agree; but they are exemplified by the America which, at great cost, sustained the free world during the Cold War Years, ensuring that the gains from the defeat of Fascism were not lost. Neo, like many of his readers, has an admiration for the ‘greatest generation’ and a keen sense of patriotism. He is proud of America for what it has done and for what it represents. Other countries are countries – America is a dream.

That is why for him, and for so many, the past few years have been ones of grim realisation: realisation that, to use a Churchill quotation, our leaders have failed to ‘rise to the level of events'; we have great events and small men; nor is that a partisan political point; since Reagan and Thatcher the ‘free world’ has wanted a figure of stature.

As we look out from the prairie, the aspect is dark: the ‘Arab spring’ has given way to a winter of discontent, as the whole region is buffeted by the storms of radical Islam, a phenomenon which our secular, liberal elites fail to grasp; yes, these people really do believe women should be neither seen nor heard, they do believe in stoning homosexuals, and they will chop your head off. In Israel, the one democracy in the region is in a permanent state of siege, with only the US really supporting her; and across Europe, the complacency of a political elite is being rudely shattered by the realisation that President Putin is up to something and will not be stopped by being told he is being naughty. Super Powers may want to retire, but when they try, they may find themselves draw back from the plow.

In the meantime, America itself changes, and values which were once universal are relativised; social cohesion, always a difficult thing to achieve, is threatened; and faith in the rule of law is challenged by the rule of lawyers, in whom few place any confidence: the difference between a confidence trickster and a politician is that they both take your money, but only the latter demands you like him for it.

All of these trends Neo covers, but he also provides us with a great historical perspective, good company, good music and great movies, as well as a wry sense of humour which says that even if the world is going to hell in a handcart, it’s five o’clock somewhere – hence the clip – so join me in raising a glass to our friend Neo :)

What’s in a name?

Jessica wrote this post last year around Mother’s Day for us, and I think it to be timeless. It tells us much that we know but maybe only subconsciously about how important our mothers are to all of us, and how very important they are to our development. Think about this, Jess lost her mother when she was seven and yet, from accounts by those who know, she is a great deal like her mother. Last week, I reblogged a post that talked about the things we owe our mother, it was a humorous piece but it struck a nerve with me simply because the sayings contained there could easily have been said (and were) by my mother as well. Some thing are timeless in a society, and the role of mothers is paramount amongst them. Here is Jess. Neo

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When I was little, I would sometimes hear my father say that something or other was ‘like mom and apple pie’ – it was a synonym for everything good in life, and the clear implication was that mom had baked the apple pie. I don’t hear it much nowadays. Being a Mom is not, I think, much argued as a career option for girls, nor valued by teachers, and home baking (not chez Jess) not in fashion either. Here in the UK we are having an argument about how many children a child minder can care for, with all parties arguing the case for it because we need more women out there in the work place. I have several female friends who work and whose entire salary goes on paying for the nanny or the child minder. All the latter are female, but there is a class thing going on there; it is OK for women who couldn’t have a career in, say TV or whatever to mind children; educated middle class women like myself should get out there and have that career; if we get pregnant then we farm the little one out as soon as we can.

That left me thinking about who, then, will do what my mother did in my case, which was pass on values and moral teaching. I don’t recall being taught right from wrong – it was my mother did that for me when I wasn’t looking. It was my mother who took me to church, and, like countless mothers before her, helped pass on the values she had inherited. She had a career, she used to say – CEO the house and family. My Daddy was a determined sort of man, fond of getting his own way; he used to say he wasn’t always right but was never wrong. On the farm, his word was law – in the house, however, he would leave it to my mother – that was her realm. I am sure I did not get my own obsessive tidiness and love of cleaning from Daddy, who used to infuriate my mother by strolling in in muddy boots and leaving his ‘clutter’ everywhere. She gave me those things, and more. My sister (who is really my half sister) said recently, after I had persuaded a workman to do something she wanted done that it was like watching my mother at work. I asked what she meant. She explained that my mother had been an expert at persuading our father to do things in just the way I had. It set me to thinking what else of my mother’s I had absorbed without knowing it?

My mother died when I was seven, and my memories of her are fairly dim. Daddy was my great hero, and I never met a man yet who lived up to him. My sister says I am a man’s woman, and I do prefer male company. But I am my mother’s daughter in more ways than I know, and I am glad she made me part of her career. So, for all those mothers who have passed on so much to so many if us, thanks mom.

Mothers' Day Cake crop

Mothers’ Day Cake crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you spend much time around Jess,  you’ll find that she runs every man in her orbit as well. On her blog she is in the mind of us all at all times, and we’ll do nearly anything to avoid displeasing her. And you know what? It feels completely right and proper to us all, who are mostly twice her age, and some (not me) are quite distinguished in life as well. And that is a part of the reason we love her so. Neo

Happy Mother’s Day

from us both

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Saint John Paul II

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So, today we get that rare thing – two canonizations – John XXIII and John Paul II. A lot of hot air will be generated about Vatican II, child abuse and the whole business of having saints, but if we were looking here simply at the idea of a ‘great man’, then I don’t see how there would be any controversy over John Paul II. Great men don’t have to be perfect, indeed, no less an authority than Lord Acton once said that most great men were bad men; but John Paul II was one of a trio of great figures who helped end the Cold War – President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher being the other two.

We have had quite a bit here about the President and the Prime Minister, but less about the Pope. He was already Pope when I was born, and until is death, I knew no other, and I guess that he will always be the measure against which I will judge his successors.

Now we are on our third non-Italian Pope in succession, it is hard to remember the frisson of surprise when John Paul became Pope – the first non-Italian since the Middle Ages. He became Pope when the Cold War seemed an entrenched part of the world order; not one of those well-paid Kremlinologists or Sovietologists foresaw what was to come. Stalin had famously asked how many divisions the Pope had, meaning it as a symbol of worldly power and domination as against the Church which, in his view, had none. But the world was to see a lesson in the reality of power.

Not even the Kremlin could stop John Paul going to Poland, and once he did, the power that would end Soviet rule was unleashed – the power of people wanting to be free and believing that it could yet be possible. It was a long and a hard road for the Poles, but they did not let their hand drop from the plough or turn aside. Even the attempt to kill the Pope failed, and provided John Paul with a chance to show the true spirit of Christ in forgiving the would-be assassin.

The Soviet regime had no weapons which could prevail against this spirit. President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher matched them with the weapons of this world, and made it clear to the Soviets that they had the determination to resist them; but John Paul II brought something beyond that. Unbowed, himself, by the sufferings he had been through, knowing, from the experience, the nature of the Godless regime which faced Him, John Paul posited against it the Spirit of Hope that comes from Christ.

The spirit of freedom, once kindled, proved unextinguishable.

John Paul II is, like every great man, a figure about whom strong opinions are held. The secular media never quite understood him. They loved his charisma and his openness, but they could not understand how such a man could also abide faithfully by Catholic teaching on the things which this world wants. They almost seemed surprised that he would not approve of contraception, abortion and easy divorce; goodness, the Pope was a Catholic; we see it again now with Pope Francis.

But this was an essential part of John Paul II. He knew what the eternal verities were. Truth was the Risen Christ. There was no compromise with the kingdom of this world. Those who approved of his stand against communism could not, sometimes, understand his opposition to those elements of liberal capitalism which stood against the values of the Church He stood not for the age, but for all ages, and his values were not just those of his time, but for all time. He belongs to the ages now. All of us, Catholic or not, can stand back at this special moment and say: ‘There was a man!”

He is Risen Indeed!

So it is here, the day of days!  For those of us who have observed some Lenten practice, there is almost a mixed feeling – having acquired the habit of giving up something, and taking something on, the challenge is not to give both up. It is some index of the society in which we live that where for Christians this is the greatest day of the year, he secular world, not really knowing what to do with it, prefers Christmas, which is more easily coopted into a spendfest.

He is Risen. What does that mean to each of us? We can only answer for ourselves, although each of us is an integral part of what it means, because Jesus died for each of us. That, for me, is the truly awesome (in its real sense) part of the Easter message. As I prayed at the altar of repose on Thursday night, I knew that I’d have been one of those falling asleep in Gethsemane; on Good Friday amidst the funereal gloom of the Stations of the Cross, there was a sense that my sins were the stripes He bore; much as I flinched from them, it occurred to me to wonder whether I flinched so easily from occasions of sin? At the Easter Vigil last night, as the Church was bathed in light, there was that sense that all had now changed. It changed for us all when He said to the Father ‘thy will be done'; it can change for us when we follow His example.

I live in the UK, a particularly secular part of a secularising Continent; America has more of a sense of what this day means to mankind, and long may that be the case. For all the effects of the culture wars, America still has more Christians than anywhere outside of China, and Christianity is still vital. The shining city on the hill is no secular vision.

Yet, how divided we appear to the world. How unable to take on board His message that we should ‘be one’ and that it would be through our mutual love that we would show the world who our Lord was. We say much, but too often what we say to each other sounds to the listening world negative and limiting. Pope Francis was not saying we should not talk about sexual sins and abortion, indeed he has rightly said abortion is a dreadful crime against humanity, but he was reminding us that there is a media out there which will always take the chance to make us sound as though we are obsessed with negative – ‘do not do this’. Yet we are reminded, on this greatest of days, that Jesus’ formulation of the Law was a positive one:

 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we think of ‘being good’ merely doing no harm, we miss the positive message of the Resurrection. Our love for each other is communicated in action, and if our actions to each other as Christians contradict the message of universal love He brought, then our witness is not only impaired; it is fruitless.

We love Him because He first loved us, though we are sinners. If He can love us, we can try, in His name, to love each other. As dear Dolly Parton sings, “He’s alive, and I’m forgiven, Heaven’s Gates are opened wide.”

A happy Easter to all Neo’s readers.

Happy Birthday Neo!

JessicaHof:

And just so you know – it’s that time again xx Jess

Originally posted on nebraskaenergyobserver:

p1040510 Well here’s a surprise for Neo when he logs in.

Yes, folks, it is a special person’s birthday today, and whilst he’d never tell you and he’d want no fuss, I think as friends we’d just want to tip our hates to the man from Nebraska and to say, in an understated, Jimmy Stewart sort of way, ‘Happy Birthday Pilgrim’.

I’d like to say thank you to Neo for this blog and the range of stuff he covers (how does one guy know all this?), for his generosity to the rest of us, and for his friendship. He’s just there when you need him – and you can’t actually want more in a friend. No fuss, no bother – indeed if there ever was a guy who is really ‘no drama’ you don’t need to look beyond our host here.

Knowing he wouldn’t mention it, and fearing that he might…

View original 54 more words

To Gethsemane

jesus-in-gethsemane[I wanted to say something about Maundy Thursday but, I found whatever I tried to write just wasn't coming out right. So, we'll share in Jessica's from last year, which I think to be excellent.  Neo]

There they had been, camping out as they usually did. We don’t get much of a sense of the daily life of Jesus as He and His disciples tramped the roads of Judea, but the Gospel narratives give us some insight. They settled down for the night in Gethsemane. They’d had a good evening, and only one person at that supper knew why Judas had left early. We get a sense of companionship, and we can grasp something of the feeling of love which Jesus inspired in those close to Him. They were calm and rested, so much so that when Jesus asked them to watch with Him, they fell asleep. Like us all, they had no idea that the their world was about to be torn apart – and that the world and history would be changed forever.

How small a series of events came together that evening as they camped in Gethsemane. The Jewish High Priest had enough. The events of what we call Palm Sunday had warned him that the ever volatile population of Jerusalem might be roused to rebellion – and he knew what the consequences of that would be. Within a generation of the crucifixion Caiaphas’ fears had come to pass, and in AD 70 the Temple would be destroyed and thousands of Jews killed or dispersed; it is easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but he was, by his lights, doing his duty. How often do men of power think it better than one man should die than thousands suffer?

Judas had clearly had enough. Though the Synoptic Gospels tell us he betrayed Jesus for silver, John gives us the clue that it was Mary’s use of expensive oil to anoint Jesus’ feet which pushed him over the edge. It might, of course, be, as John said, that he had been tipping into the till and helping himself to money, but his taking offence was clear enough evidence of what type of man he was.  He was a zealot, a puritan – how dare Jesus allow people to waste oil which could have been spent to help the poor. He, Judas, knew what was right, and he had lost patience with Jesus.

Simon Peter was headstrong, and didn’t always get it right. After supper, when Jesus had said He was going to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protested and said He wouldn’t allow it. But when Jesus told him that if he didn’t, he couldn’t be with Him, Peter didn’t ask for an explanation, he told Jesus he wanted to be washed all over.

Caiaphas and Judas reasoned their way through to a conclusion based on their own insights, and they saw, as we all do, only so far. Peter also reasoned his way to what seemed to him a sensible conclusion, but the love he felt for Jesus opened his heart and he saw further than he had with his intellect. Jesus warned him that he had been handed over to Satan to be ‘sifted’. Peter declared he never would deny Jesus – but Christ knew what was coming.

As the disciples slept and the Romans and the Jewish guard came closer, the silence of that dark night was broken only by the anguish of Jesus. His time had come.

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