Monthly Archives: September, 2016

Abraham the Friend of God

“Abraham, originally Abram, is the first of the three patriarchs of Judaism.  His story is a center piece of all Abrahamic religions and Abraham plays a prominent role as an example of faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” according to Wikipedia.

“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou loves, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”   Genesis 22:2   KJV

“Ishmael is a figure in the Tanakh and Qur’an and was Abraham’s first son according to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Ishmael was born to Abraham’s and Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar (Genesis 16:3).  According to the Genesis account, he died at the age of 137 (Genesis 25:17),” according to Wikipedia.

Abraham has always been a fascinating historical figure to me.  To think that history illustrates that he is central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity!

Although I have been a Christian for most of my life…Judaism has captivated my attention on many occasions.  Just today I saw a Hasidic family on campus and I admired their dedication to their faith.

As I have noted in previous blogs I have a good friend who worked in my office several years ago who is Muslim.  Alfie was and is an inspiration to me in his dedication to prayer and his peaceful faith…and the good work that it has accomplished in his life.

My friend of over 45 years, Jeff, is of Jewish lineage but is a Christian…a Jew for Jesus.  His love of his birthright and his connection to it is like nothing that I have ever seen…it is inspiring!  Yet, he became a Christian at a young age…and his faith in Christ transformed his life.

I encounter persons of the Muslim faith almost every time I am away from my house..in our University Town.  They are peaceful and lovely people…who respond to kindness with a warm and inclusive heart.

“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.”   Romans 4:16   KJV

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dscn4716DSCN1184thMalala Yousafzaiimg_4387-2This is a Tom Clark artistic creation entitled Abraham.  “The story of Abraham is the story of faith.  I have chosen to sculpt Abraham at a period in his life rarely depicted by the classic religious painters and sculptors.  It is the beginning of the journey that has been called ‘Israel’s first great theological epic,’  (…) I have included a scroll of Genesis 17: 1-8, in which God bestows a new name upon his servant: ‘But thy name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made thee.’  My statue seeks to show the calling of this very human man who is known as the ‘Patriarch of Israel,’ and who remains one of the greatest symbols of faith  for Christian, Judaic and Islamic believers.”  Tom Clark

img_4384img_4385Perhaps we should all think about the origins of our faiths and the one God that we pray to?

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Simple Joys

Please enjoy an uplifting Jonathon Brooks Blog.

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I was born an optimist. There’s the old question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. Mine is always half full, or overflowing, or I’m on my way to refill the cup. It isn’t always easy to embrace optimism. This world bruises or breaks everyone in one way or another. The question then becomes: What do I do with this brokenness? What do we do whenever the glass has fallen from our grip and shattered on the floor?

A key to seeing the best, to practice the art of optimism, is to take joy in the small events and tiny miracles of everyday life. Some of us see life as one incredible moment after another while others grumble and complain about everything. I believe in the incredible moments, small miracles, stout glasses half full, overflowing joy, faith, hope and love. Without these I wouldn’t be myself. My…

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Fascinating London!

Mary Jane and I were calculating how many days we had visited London during our different European adventures.  We think at least seven separate sojourns into fascinating London have transpired during our visits in 2012 and 2016.

I cannot think of a more intriguing city for me than London.  From the engrossing stories of Charles Dickens to the suspense of Jack the Ripper, I have always considered London to be a bigger than life place…and it is!

Just the pageantry and unique history of the British Monarchy..and to be able to visit Buckingham Palace is enough to make your head spin.

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dscn4474dscn4490When we were in London in July we visited again the Tower of London.  The ambiance of this place and the history surrounding it is palpable when you are there.

dscn4400dscn4452dscn4471The Ravens at the Tower were mysterious and mesmerizing.

IMG_3424IMG_3418This is the Monument commemorating the beheading of seven individuals in the courtyard of the Tower of London, including Queen Anne Boleyn in 1536.

Just down from Covent Gardens we stopped into a London Hat Shop and purchased a hat for Mary Jane, Jonathon, and myself.  The hats were hand made and while they stretched mine on an antique hat stretcher I enjoyed complimentary Glenlivet.

img_3786Tower Bridge is such an iconic image…and on this trip we had the good fortune to see it raised…which we are told is seldom seen.

dscn4463dscn4456Tower Bridge seen through a window in the Tower of London.

We attended a performance of the Oscar and Hammerstein classic Showboat and throughly enjoyed it!  Theatre in London is on par with Broadway.

After the show we had a lovely dinner at a Turkish restaurant that had the most unusual and interesting decor that I have seen.

img_3485img_3960img_3494When I am in London I think about what it must have been like in Dickens time?

img_3337img_3523img_3504img_3535img_3502When in London do enjoy a scone and clotted cream.  The combination is to die for!

Also, for a culinary delight…stop at the Pie Shop in Covent Garden.

img_3293They have wonderful Sticky Toffee Pudding!

img_3373img_3392When you visit London…listen closely for the voices of the past…they are hauntingly beautiful.

What Comes Next?

I heard a news commentator say this morning, with some unrealized optimism, that perhaps the Presidential Debates that begin tomorrow night will at long last be the beginning of a “serious Presidential Contest.”

The Los Angeles Times states that, “Scope of Trump’s falsehoods unprecedented for a modern presidential candidate.”

Stephen King says, “Trump Presidency scares me to death.”

Former President George H.W. Bush has said that he will vote for Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post says that Donald Trump,” is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance.”

The Washington Post goes on to say, “He is desperate for affirmation but contemptuous of others’ views.  He also is contemptuous of fact.  Throughout the campaign he has unspooled one lie after another-that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, that his tax cut plan would not worsen the deficit, that he opposed the Iraq War before it started, and when confronted with contrary evidence he simply repeated the lie.  It is impossible to know wether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care.”

It has been my misfortune to be associated with and at times be under the authority of persons who suffered from a narcissistic personality…megalomania.  They were not pleasant experiences.

Traits of megalomania consist in part of, according to Meriam Webster Dictionary: “a mania of great or grandiose performance.  A delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.”

After having been a manager of a large organization for twenty-five years I can attest that good job performance relies upon a steady adherence to the fundamentals of the position that have been tested by time and historically produced good results.

This is not only an unprecedented Presidential Election but could also be a signpost of the beginning of the end for our beloved country and the bedrock principles of inclusion…’freedom of speech…freedom of religion…freedom of fear…and very likely freedom from want,’ that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt enunciated so beautifully during the extremely dark days of his Presidency!

So many Americans feel left out by our elected officials, including me, and seek leaders that will work for our interest rather than their own.  I get it!  We urn for positive change.  This is why Senator Bernie Sander’s message resonated so strongly with so many!

The ‘measure’ that I have used throughout my life and my long career at Southern Illinois University was a statement that my friend and former Chancellor Jo Ann Agersinger said regarding me in a letter she wrote on my behalf many years ago when referring to my department, “Jay has built a house for all peoples.”  I fall far short of being worthy of those kind words…but I… and we must first…care about others.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, the ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  John 13:34 and 35   KJV

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DSCN4805img_3681One of my favorite shows is the original Star Trek.  Mr. Spock was my favorite character.  Mr. Spock’s trademark saying when confronted with statements or situations that did not make sense was that they were not logical.  Synonyms for logical are :reasoned, well reasoned, reasonable, rational, sound, cogent, well thought out, and valid.  When we disregard any standard for evaluating political speech…Mr. Spock would be disappointed.

Edinburgh and the Feeling of Autumn

Last month we were in Edinburgh for five wonderful days.  My good friend Elizabeth asked me, at a meeting of the Civil Service Council earlier this month, what was my most memorable memory about my United Kingdom Adventure?  I replied that it was the coolest weather in July and August that I had ever experienced.

The entire time that we were in Edinburgh I felt like I was experiencing mid to late autumn temperatures, and I throughly enjoyed the experience!

Scotland is a fascinating country and Edinburgh is a mysterious…beautiful…suspenseful city.  We were there during the world renown Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  The Fringe is the world’s largest Arts Festival.  “in 2015 it spanned 25 days and featured 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues,” according to wikipedia.  The Fringe was established in 1947.

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dscn4969When you first arrive at the Fringe the enormity of it is overwhelming!  There are so many eager young people emotionally and adroitly advertising their show and the value of attending it that you feel that you would like to take them all in.

img_3864We attended two or three shows per day while we were there and one of the most unique that we were privileged to witness was, “Jo Jo Bellini,” who sang Tom Jones songs for an hour while she cooked the audience lunch.  The lunch was delicious!

dscn4952We also were in attendance for a lovely magic show performed by Asian actors, entitled ‘Snap,’  that was not only beautiful but also compelling in the mystery of the magic.

img_3812The Play Small Hours…was one of the most thought provoking that I have seen.  It was two women setting in arm chairs…discussing their lives over several sessions…until you discover…that one of them has been deceased for some time…and that her dramatic depiction is the memory of the living member of the friendship.  This clever Play stayed with me long after I left the venue.

img_3816Once again being with our dear friends Jeff and Margo added so much to our European experience.  They have lived in the United Kingdom and France for twelve years or so and to experience the joys of discovery of Europe with them increases our joy ten fold!

img_3871We saw the most delightful Improvisational Comics, Stu and Gary,  who perform year round in Edinburgh.  I marvel at the quickness of wit and agility of Improv performers…they are truly something to behold!

dscn4950dscn4967img_3905The first performance we attended was “Junkk” which consisted of the most talented young men who performed musical numbers on truly what was Junk!  The musical numbers were tremendous and their comic energy and musical professionalism  was inspiring!

img_3903Edinburgh captured my imagination and desire to return to this magical…mysterious…beautiful place.

img_3805img_3840img_3841img_3800It has done me much good and has benefited me beyond measure to travel to other lands and see with my own eyes that God has created a wonderfully diverse humanity that is neither better or worse than American dogma.  It is just different and beautiful…and complex…and to be appreciated and admired as the wonderful gift of the inhabitants of our small blue ball called Earth.

I met a man who was in a wheel chair on the first evening that we were in Edinburgh.  He asked me if I could lend him an arm as he rose to walk through the line of Mexican food ordering that we were in.  His friendliness and genuine humanity touched me and set the tone for my entire visit to Edinburgh.  He said that he wanted to visit the United States but that his partners’ Visa had been denied…although they would reapply.  His warm open nature and his admonishment to me to enjoy all that I could see of the Fringe and Edinburgh…was one of the most significant connections that I have made in my now four visits to Europe.

Borrowers

This past Sunday our Pastor, Rev. Janice West, preached a compelling sermon regarding material riches and our obligation to them.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Mark 10:25 KJV

Donald J. Trump Jr tweeted a picture of a bowl of skittles with the caption, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you three would kill you.  Would you take a handful?  Thats our Syrian refugee problem.”

This past Sunday Mary Jane, Aaron, and I saw the new Oliver Stone movie, Snowden.  “When Edward Snowden left his job with Booze Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor, he flew to Hong Kong and subsequently revealed thousand of classified documents to Guardian newspaper columnist Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill.  Mr. Snowden came to international attention after the Guardian and the Washington Post published the materials,”according to wikipedia.

The classified information that Mr. Snowden revealed was that the United States was collecting information from the American publics’ private phones, computers, and emails in the pursuit of national security.  The question, is Edward Snowden a traitor or a whistle blower and a hero?

More often than not I have found that the rich and powerful were recipients of being in the right place at the right time.  Also, often their riches were aided by a considerable ‘leg up’ by financial gifts and family that were able to put them into contact with influential people to aid them in their success ladder climb.

I have often wondered if the Christ of the Christian faith and the New Testament measures your success as his follower by how much paper money you were able to accumulate?

The marginalization of people who are less fortunate than others is as old as the scriptures.  Does monetary wealth equal adroit leadership skills and political brilliance?  Are suffering members of the human family no more important than a bowl of candy?  If the Skittles analogy is true then it can be used for any group that is outside the Leaders’ definition of Valuable Humanity!

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

All of us are walking the same path of life that we did not ask for, work for, or earn by some special merit of our own…or our hard work.  I wonder sometimes if we are not all in the foyer of a great house…and the Creator is watching us through the peep hole in the door…to see how we treat each other…our brothers and our sisters…our family…before he opens the door?

This life may indeed be the audition…let us play our part well!

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York Minster

The last historic town in the United Kingdom that we journeyed to was York.  This was after nearly three weeks of fun and enjoyable education in Red Hill, London, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Edinburgh during the Arts Festival entitled the Fringe.

As we were setting high in the viewing stands, next to the Castle, to watch the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh…I could feel myself coming down with a cold.  You know the feeling…a creeping malaise…accompanied by a runny nose and a sore throat…and a cough.

dscn5027dscn5028So we enjoyed very much the tremendous show…and returned back to our flat extremely chilled!

York, is fascinating!  When we arrived I was is some disbelief that we were staying behind a large iron gate that was just behind the Minster.  I hate to admit that I first thought that the great cathedral was called the York Minister?  I soon discovered my American error.

The York Minster is the Cathedral and Metropolitical church of St. Peter.  The denomination is the Church of England and the Churchmanship is Anglo-Catholic.  It is one of the largest in Northern Europe.  York has had a christian presence since the fourth century.  “The church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conquerers’ harrying of the North, but the first Norman Archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organized repairs,” according to Wikipedia.

dscn5240dscn5243img_3972We stayed in the Garden House just behind the gate that is just behind the Minster.  It was a lovely flat with the most unique stairs.  We were told that they had been uncovered during the excavation for the basement of the flat and that they dated back at least 600 years.

img_3965img_3968I watched the most intriguing British Television Program entitled, “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” which was based on the best selling novel by Susanna Clarke, that began in York.  The time setting was during the Napoleonic Wars and began with a Magicians Guild in York and the spellbinding conjuring of Mr. Norrell upon bringing to life busts in the Minster.

The Minster had the most resonate majestic bell that sounded on the hour and that we could enjoy fully due to our proximity.

dscn5245On our last night in York my dear friend Jeff had asked me to accompany him to an evening designed to introduce him to prospective employees in his business, in Leeds.  This turned out to be one of my most memorable events during my three weeks in the United Kingdom.  Jeff and I have been friends for 45 years…and I was struck with the malleability of time!  He asked me to say a few words about our beginnings as friends…and it was as if the 45 years had evaporated.

I met some wonderful, sweet people in Leeds and their kindness to me was enriching.

img_3816York has a mystical quality about it.  It is as if you are communing with many souls that were there in earlier times.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell would say that it was magical!

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Trust

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump laid out additional features of his Economic Plan, should he be elected President.  Candidate Trump promises to simultaneously cut the current highest tax bracket from 39.6% to 25% while subsequently requiring companies to give six weeks maternity leave to new mothers and concurrently building up the military to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Candidate Trump pledges 4% growth, which has not been seen in the United States since Bill Clinton was President and that was primarily brought about by the technology revolution.

“Oxford Economics, a British forecasting firm, estimates his proposals would cut 1 trillion a year from the economy, a much bigger hit than occurred during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009,” according to CNN.

Candidate Trump has regularly assured the American people that once his tax returns have been audited that he will release them to the public.  His son, Donald J. Trump Jr, said today that his father might not release the returns saying that, “Because he has got a 12,000 page tax return that would create…financial auditors out of ever person in the country asking questions that would detract from his father’s main message,” according to CNN.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was simply overheated until a bystander took a telling cell phone video that showed her wobbling badly and apparently falling into a vehicle.  Later that day it was revealed that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia.

Former President George W. Bush assured us that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that he had to send troops immediately or the result would be a mushroom cloud.  Later we found that the information was doctored and incorrect and the death of thousands of American men and women was perpetrated on a false idea.

Former President Clinton told us that he did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky…he pointed his finger at us and looked us in the eye.  Later he explained in his deposition that it was all in the meaning of the word is…it was all about what “is is?”

Former President Nixon exclaimed, “I am not a crook!”  Later he resigned in disgrace for choosing to lie and thus making the cover-up of the crime of Watergate much worse than the actual crime.

It is little wonder to me and not a mystery that we are tired of falsehoods…half truths…and having our intelligence insulted.

Donald Trump says the most outrageous statements that I have ever seen a Presidential candidate make.  He has normalized bigotry…misogyny…xenophobia… ridiculing the disabled…and violence towards anyone who does not look and act like what his extreme rhetoric deems worthy of former American greatness.

We are tired of lies…when the truth would have served the teller better and been so much simpler.  Political Double Talk is easy to spot and sickening to listen to.   Before lobbyist, and their pockets lined with money, totally take our democracy into the Twilight Zone…we need clear truth telling and detailed solutions to complex problems.

Believe me…and trust me…are not the answers…but they are selling well in this elections cycle due to the….Black hole…and total vacuum of what politics has become.

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9/11

As I set remembering the 9/11 attacks I am struck with how vivid the memory is.  I was just getting ready to leave for work when The Today Show broke in with a news flash that a plane had apparently hit the World Trade Center and their first inclination was that it must have been a small aircraft.

Quickly it became apparent that it was not a small aircraft due to the size of the gapping hole in the side of the North tower.  Within a few minutes…on live television was the horrendous crash of United Airlines Flight 175 into the South tower.

At this point I alerted my family that our country was being attacked.

At 9:43 a.m. American Airlines 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

At 9:45 a.m. the White House evacuates.

At 10:05 a.m. the South tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

At 10:10 a.m.a portion of the Pentagon collapses.

At 10:28 a.m. the North tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

At 10:48 a.m. a plane crash in Pennsylvania is confirmed.

As I proceeded to Southern Illinois University I seriously wondered if this attack would include locations like SIU.  I spoke with Mary Jane and my friend, the former Chancellor, Jo Ann Argersinger and admonished her to be especially careful as radical elements might be looking for opportunity to hurt University leaders or former leaders.

I waked through the Student Center which was packed with student watching the news coverage.  One student called out, “I am just here to find a Rag Head to kill!”

I was broken hearted and in despair at the genocide that had been perpetrated on our beloved country…and I was frightened at the xenophobia being expressed.

“One day after the September 11 attacks, Le Monde, the famed French newspaper, ran a front page editorial under the headline ‘NOUS SOMMES TOUS AMERICAINS,’ or we are all Americans,” according to Mental_floss.

Buckingham Palace broke with tradition on September 14, 2001 when the Queen allowed her troops to play the Star Spangled Banner to honor the many United States citizens who had died on 9/11.

“Standing beyond the palace railings, many of the 5,000 Americans broke down in tears and held their right hands over their heart in salute,” according to the Telegraph.

The United States Congress joined to sing God Bless America on the Capitol steps on the evening of 9/11.

For two years after 9/11 I wore pins on my suite lapel commemorating the tragic event.

We were united after 9/11.  We all knew that we have to get through this together.  We are stronger united than divided.  Political Party was no longer relevant.  George W. Bush exhibited leadership in his initial response to the terrorist.  New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a study in leadership under extreme stress.

Truly we need the spirit of unity that came to us so naturally in the dark days of 9/11.  Unity in our wonderful country…including all races, creeds, and colors.  Acceptance of religions that are different from ours…and a return to the bedrock belief that the greatness of the United States comes from the embracing of its’ diversity.

 

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Secret Language of Cypress Trees in Provence, France

Please enjoy a wonderful blog written by my friend Margo!

The Curious Rambler

Cypress trees in Provence

Slender, conical cypress trees are everywhere in Provence: they line roads, outline fields, decorate cemeteries, and adorn houses. These sturdy, practical trees protect crops and homes from the fierce mistral wind that whips through this area, but there is more to them than meets the eye. These ubiquitous trees may have a hidden meaning depending on where and how they are planted. Let’s investigate the secret language of the cypress.

In Cemeteries
Since ancient times, the cypress has been a symbol of eternal life: it stays green year round, its wood is resistant to decay, it’s always bearing fruit, it’s fire resistant, and its shape seems to point toward the heavens. For these reasons it is often planted in cemeteries. In days gone by, a solitary tree would be planted in a cemetery for a child, and two trees for a couple. The expression, Dormir sous un cyprès, or…

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