Reflections from an unusual year

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A year ago I don’t remember what I was doing. That is a function of the fact I was so ill I don’t remember anything at all; I’m glad I don’t, as what little comes to me from time to time isn’t worth remembering. The only thing that sticks is a memory of the kindness of people. I think that a year ago I was where I am now, in convalescence then. I was sick, and they received me; I was a stranger, and they fed and comforted me; I was in need, and they loved me, quietly but with a fierce determination which stemmed from the fact that they truly believe the Gospel message. I know that the internet meme about St Francis saying ‘Preach the Gospel, use words if you must’ isn’t something he really said, but it was the reality I felt then – and feel now. It wasn’t just the quiet efficiency of trained ‘carers’, it was the depth and quality of the care, which came from their knowing that in tending for me they were tending to Christ. In that there was a purity of heart which moved me then and moves me still. This was and is Christianity. They did not care about theological differences; I was a sick woman and they bound up my wounds and they cared for me.

At some point I began to get up and get about again. They were there, quietly and unobtrusively. When I could, I did some work for them, seeing that their patient could do accounts, they were happy to let me get on with it – not least when it became clear that there were various things they had been missing, and the accounts came in better than ever before. Their love had prompted me to offer what gifts I had, and they benefitted in a way they could never have anticipated. Their appreciation in turn helped heal me, helped me feel I could still be useful and of help. That being so, I did some more for them, and so love fed itself and on itself and our final state was better than our first.

On reflection, it seems to me this is how it could be if we freely give as Christ gave us love and salvation. But we are not Christ, even if we aspire to be like him, and we think – rightly – that we cannot do as he did; but can we not try to get a little closer to him? Can we not think what acts of random kindness we can do for each other every day? Even if it is only a little thing, we don’t know how much of a difference it might make to others. Reflecting on this year, where I have been the recipient of all sorts of kindnesses and help, sometimes, it has been the tiny things – the smile, the lending of a book, the offer of a coffee – which have meant the most in terms of changing my mood.

If we are to adopt a New Year Resolution, that wouldn’t be a bad one!

HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2016  from all here at NEO’s place

Rachel weeping

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_Innocents

Today is the day on which the Church remembers the massacre of the Innocents as recorded in Matthew 2:13-23.

Verse 15 refers to words of Hosea 11:1“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.” 
Just as Israel was preserved from destruction in Egypt, so God’s Son, the hope of Israel, is preserved from destruction; but just as the first-born of Egypt died, so now, do the first born of Israel.

Verses 17 and 18 refer to Jeremiah 31:15

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”

Rachel, the wife of Jacob and thus the mother of Israel, is depicted by the prophet mourning over her descendants who have been slaughtered by the Babylonians. But if we take the whole of Jeremiah 30-33 we can see that either side of these lamentations there is the looking forward to the new Covenant, the new era which the coming of the Messiah will inaugurate.

St. Matthew, steeped as he was in the Jewish Scriptures, sees the parallel for us – that out of this destruction there will come a new life; Jesus is the fulfilment of the words of the prophets. At the end of the chapter there is a reference to Isaiah 11:1, where Jesus, the ‘Stem of Jesse’, the ‘Branch’, and also to Isaiah 6:13 where, after God had cut down the tree of Israel, a little stump was left from which a branch would grow.

Suffering, like the poor, is with us always, and in so far as we alleviate the suffering of the poor, we do it for and to Christ, because he is in every one of us, and we are in his image. Death is something which comes to us all, even if our society conspires to hide the fact. I never knew my mother, who died soon after I was born, and that is a sorrow, but it is one which is in the natural order of things, which is what makes the massacre of the Innocents the more shocking, because it runs against the natural order in two ways: the child dying before the parent, and adults killing rather than caring for children. What can comfort a mother for the loss of her child? And yet in our time, many mothers choose not to have their child, and society, so anxious to shield us from the reality of our own mortality, turns a blind eye and uses smooth words to condone infanticide. We should not, we cannot and must not, judge women who come to that place; we cannot know what drove them there, and everyone is different. But we can lament the slaughter, for that is what it is. If they truly knew what it was they did, then many would not do it.

We have moved from a society which accepted (because it had no choice) that infant mortality would be high, through one which sought to end that situation, to one where we routinely abort millions of children in the name of a spurious ‘right to choose’. I say spurious because no one asks the child in the womb, who gets no choice at all. So, on this feast of the massacre of the Holy innocents, let us pray for all those afflicted by this modern curse of abortion – including the women concerned.

Have yourself a Merry Christmas

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And so we come to the day when the world opens its presents – and we do the same, but we celebrate the greatest present ever – the gift of ever-lasting life. Paul is right, our minds cannot encompass what it means, or what it will be like, but we can know what it is to be covered by the blood of the Lamb and to know that our sins are forgiven, and that our souls are being healed; that’s what Christmas means for us all – it’s just that only some of us ‘get it’.

We’ll alll wish dear Neo ‘Happy Christmas’, back with family in the east, and I hope you will all bear with me as I ‘mind the shop’.

The most (in the proper meaning of the word) awesome aspect of what we celebrate today is that the eternal Word, who was with God from the beginning, who created the world, came into it in human form, assuming our flesh and healing it. We say these things so easily, but how marvellous that the Lord of all things should have condescended to be one of us, to share our fate, to live among us, as one of us. It isn’t surprising that early heresies centred around trying to explain that away, because the ancient world was used enough to gods who took on human form, but it was just that – an act, an appearance, a guise for some purpose (often amorous) which was later dropped. The notion of God as one of us (cue the song) – note that contra the song there is no ‘if’ – he was one of us – was and remains revolutionary. At a stroke, in the twinkling of an eye, we poor sinners are rich beyond our deserts – all that was ruined, all that was broken is made whole.

That is why Christians celebrate this day. It is the day God’s love was incarnate, and the Apostles saw Him, they touched Him, they lived with Him – the Word made flesh dwelt with men and though the world saw Him not, enough did that two thousand yaears on, we celebrate it. This is something we can share with Jesus.

The Lord’s first miracle was at a celebration – a wedding – and it was something which helped the celebration along – good wine at that stage of the proceedings must have been greatly welcomed – and there might have been a few sore heads in the morning. If anyone here has been to a Jewish wedding, you’ll know how joyous it can be, and how the dancing and the eating fuse together into a celebration of life itself. That’s a reminder to us all that the new life we have in Christ is a cause for huge celebration. It is good to go to Church and to give thanks to God for all our blessings – and then to go home and be with some of them – our family and friends.

A very holy and happy Christmas from us here at Neo’s place!

SANTA AND THE MARINE

willys-mb-santa-claus-xtmas-cardI asked Jess if I could put her post back a bit and post this as the early post, just to remind you that I’m still about. Sometimes we get so involved with Christmas that we forget those who can’t be with us, and that some of them never will be again, in this world. So as we open our presents and enjoy our families today, perhaps we should take a moment to remember those men, and women, who have given so much, often all, to keep us free to worship, yes, but also to be greedy jerks. :)

They’ve come from all over America, in all our storied history, but they’ve also come from Jess’ Great Britain, and France, and Germany, Poland, Australia, the Philippines, all the world really. And some of the best haven’t come, but served their own people. They have served us selflessly and well.

We all know this poem; this is (according to Snopes) the original version, published in Leatherneck Magazine in 1991.

Think, and Enjoy

Merry Christmas, My Friend

By James M. Schmidt, a Marine Lance Corporal
stationed in Washington, D.C., in 1986

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.

Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”

One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Reports are that after leaving the Corps, Corporal Schmidt earned a law degree and now serves as an
attorney in Los Angeles and is director of operations for a security consulting firm.

Merry Christmas and Semper Fi,

Guys and gals, we’ll be thinking of you all

And a very Merry Christmas to Jess, and her family, and to all of our readers.

The view from afar

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It will soon be time for Neo to go East – which never seems quite the thing, as I always think of him in terms of the West and the wilds of Nebraska. I recall from being in the States for a year or so in the early 90s that the thing which hit me most was the size!  I remember driving to Abilene from near St Louis, and I71 seemed to go on for ever – and once we got past KC, it was (or so I recall) an endless straight line; it was the first time I’d ever seen cruise control – there’d be no point on English roads.

I was brought up a semi-rural part of Wales, and you could probably fit the whole country into Kansas and have room for France. I’d never had any idea that a country could be that big – and when we flew from St Louis to Sacramento, I remember thinking that it was like going from one country to another – and yet it was one country. I learned in school about how important the flag was (can still recite that pledge) and the language and, though no one I think said it – Christianity.

With so many different nationalities emigrating from all over the world, America could just have become a maze of different cultures – and yet it became a nation – one nation under God. From afar, where I am, that still seems a pretty remarkable achievement and worth examining and defending – not least at a time when migration is high on the political and religious agenda.

As I understand it (so just put me right if that means I understand squat) it was the allegiance to the flag and to ‘these United States’, as well as the need to learn a common language which, along with a common religion, served as the sinews to unite the fledgling nation. At a time when so much writing seems to be about what the USA got wrong – slavery, its treatment of the first nations – it might be worth a little balance here? We lose much if we project our values on to the past and judge it wanting. Go that way, and let’s think what a future where no one kills babies in the womb would think of us?

History has winners and losers, but we are all its heirs. We all want to be the good guys, and it is easy enough to use our value judgments to make ourselves more virtuous than our ancestors. But I guess they did their best, and we have inherited their work – and if we don’t concentrate on the good bits as well, and we see only the bad bits, then what sort of world will we bequeath to the future?

America is an idea, and it is always in development. As you guys enter an election year, it looks as though things will get pretty polarised – but I hope, for all our sakes, that as usual, you’ll do the right thing – even if it is, as Churchill once put it, after doing all the wrong things first.

That journey Neo’s about to take is across the breadth of a great nation – and Americans, not least at this time, might stop and think about those pilgrims who took so long going the other way and in so doing, created a great nation out of a wilderness. I know in our ecological times that’s not a popular viewpoint – but let’s face it, the critics would have nowhere to live or to have been educated without those old white men. So, I’m saying a thank you to them – and wishing Neo a happy journey – and a merry Christmas.

Kipling: Norman and Saxon A.D. 1100

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The Unit commented the other day that Jess’ influence on me was pretty obvious. He’s right, it is, and its all to the good, I suspect. I also notice that many of you go back into our archives to read her articles. (I do too!). I’ve decided we should share some of those articles, which are favorites of mine (and yours) once again on the front page. Enjoy! (Neo)

Of all the poets who have ever written about England and Englishness, Kipling did it best.  There are many poems one could choose to illustrate the theme that Neo and I are dealing with, but this is one of my favourites. I think it should be on the wall of Congress and Parliament:

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will
be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for
share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little
handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice
right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow–with his sullen set eyes
on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon
alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your
Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole
brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained
serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise,
you  will  yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs
and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale
of their own wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they are saying; let them feel
that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes
you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour
of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game
in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well
as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-
at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and
funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish
priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you
fellows’  and  ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em
a lie!”

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