The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Seen

Still image from video shows men purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneeling in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli

I took a picture a couple of years ago, and the object I was photographing nearly took my breath away with its subtle beauty. I looked at it again today, and it made me think of how easy it is to find beauty when you least expect it.

I also saw the image above, and it took my breath away, too. 20 men–all ostensibly believers–about to die for nothing more than believing in a God a large group of extremists hate with a violent passion.

I have seen a lot in my life. There has certainly been a lot in the News this year–plenty for Conservatives and Liberals to chew on, and get angry about. For my part, the image at the top is the most terrible thing I have seen all  year, and maybe all my life.

These men are Egyptian Christians. Taken captive by ISIS for more or less doing nothing other than worshipping what this group of individuals thinks is the wrong God. I think the terrorists called this video something like “A message signed in blood to the People of the Cross.” Erudite, these people are not.

I found the image online, as well as an article and an accompanying video I will never be able to unsee. I didn’t intend to watch it, but the article mentioned the men crying out at the end, and I felt compelled to bear witness to that. They are marched down a deserted beach, and made to kneel on the sand. The man in the camo with the knife gives his shpiel and  near the end, mentions who the men are (without naming any of them), and what’s going to happen to them. He tells them to cry out to their God. They do cry out here and there, and then are forced into a prostrate position, and their heads are sawed off with knives.

There was even a link to an article quoting Pope Francis that mentioned the men crying out to Jesus in their last few seconds.

They really did die for their faith. Scripture promises they will be raised up again in Revelation 4. After Jesus, I want to meet these people and others who died for the God they believed in (I am not numbering the multitudes of idiots who blew themselves up for Allah among them).

Anyway, that image really made me think–long and hard–about what’s coming. I know many of you don’t believe in a literal bible, and that’s your choice.

That doesn’t change what’s coming, for those who believe and those who do not. In the movie Return of the King, Aragorn says something to Théoden like “Open war is upon you, whether we would risk it or not.” And that’s where we are today. It doesn’t matter much what the President chooses to do (or more accurately, not do), I don’t think.

And I have been wondering all year, what would I do for my faith?

Will I die for it?

Would I cry out for Jesus as some jackal with a knife executes me?

I hope so.

And then I’ve been wondering where all the beauty in the world went off to? Is there any left?

Turns out there is, and it’s everywhere. The world is terrible and wonderful at the same time. And amongst all the strife abroad, or here at home, there are nuggets of beauty among the ashes. I will do my best to consider the beauty that still exists, and the God that has a hand and heart in everything. And I will wait for whatever is coming, knowing that I will not go through it alone.

The image at the bottom of this post is what I was talking about at the beginning. I took it on a patch of dirt and gravel, next to a pile of old and rusted metal and a dumpster.

Beauty amongst trash. It exists. And it’s comforting. It comforts me because to me, in my heart and mind–it is evidence that God also exists. I didn’t need it, but it’s wonderful to see.

And it makes the rest…more bearable.

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Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes

I heard noises coming from my kitchen this morning, or at least I thought I did. They were not the kind of noises from someone breaking in, or stealing, because I know my otherwise worthless dogs would have barked up a storm, and they were not making any noise at all. It was not my wife, because she was sleeping next to me. It seemed more like the sound of someone moving about and getting ready for their day—the sound of small dishes clinking together, a radio coming on softly. I looked at my bedside clock and it was 0330 exactly (shortly before I normally get up).

I got out of bed and wandered down the hall in my boxers, because why not? I immediately saw a light on in the kitchen, and when I came around the corner, my mother was there in a bathrobe, frying something in a skillet. She turned to look at me and said my name, “Tommy.”

I haven’t been Tommy in a number of years, but this morning I was. I started to respond, but then I realized my bladder was really full, and I rolled over and looked at my clock, and it was exactly 0330.

Although I realized it was a dream right away, it also occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother since 1987, and the last time she’d been in a morphine coma. She looked pretty good today, all things considered.

So I sat on the couch, and I read a little. I had a couple microwave pancakes. I was restless, and I couldn’t concentrate, so I pulled up an episode of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Kono was lost at sea on a catamaran trip she began in honor of her mother. There were a lot of flashbacks with Kono and her mom, where the mom would relay this…homespun Hawaiian wisdom to her that helped her survive. “For crying out loud,” I thought. What on earth kind of morning was this going to be?

I guess I was supposed to think about my mother. Which I do almost every day, anyway. So that is what I’ve been doing.

I don’t have a lot of stories of mom passing along wisdom—I don’t remember her that well, honestly.

But I remember she loved old-school country music. In San Diego, the station was called KSON. I don’t know if it still is.

I know she liked to dance—I remember seeing her cut a rug with her brothers when I was very small. We have a couple home movies as well.

I remember rainy picnics on the kitchen floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating PB & J as my mom sang “rain, rain, go away.”

Other times she taught me this snippet of a George MacDonald poem called Baby. “Where did you come from, baby dear?”

To which my response was “out of everywhere into here.” My sister tells me she had this old book, and it came from there.

I do have one of her old books, though, and I really treasure it. It’s an old and falling-apart Living Bible, featuring marks she made with a fading felt-tip. It was given to her by my aunt Cathy back in 1979. I don’t know how much she read it then—I don’t remember seeing her with it until the months before her death.

There was one psalm she underlined in several places, and I just found that a couple of weeks ago. 31 years after she died. Amazing. And very comforting. Here is Psalm 116, which she underlined in purple, at some point before the end.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,     I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me;     the terrors of the grave[a] overtook me.     I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:     “Please, Lord, save me!” How kind the Lord is! How good he is!     So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith;     I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again,     for the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death,     my eyes from tears,     my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence     as I live here on earth! 10 I believed in you, so I said,     “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” 11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,     “These people are all liars!” 12 What can I offer the Lord     for all he has done for me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation     and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 14 I will keep my promises to the Lord     in the presence of all his people.

15 The Lord cares deeply     when his loved ones die. 16 O Lord, I am your servant;     yes, I am your servant, born into your household;     you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving     and call on the name of the Lord. 18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord     in the presence of all his people— 19 in the house of the Lord  in the heart of Jerusalem.”

So today I will remember my mom all I can. I will thank the Lord for the time I did have—18 years. Not all good, but good enough. There were struggles, but there were also a great many blessings. I’m grateful for them. If anyone I know reads this, I’ll show you that old bible next time you’re at the house. It’s awesome.

I just remembered my mom used to talk to people on a CB radio my dad put in the kitchen. Her handle was “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to my dad.

That’s awesome, too.

Not trying to be sad, or make anyone tear up. Just remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes.

A good thing to do.

On Extremism, and Starting a Conversation

Not everyone dressed like this is a terrorist, or (according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation) radicalized Muslims. A hijab and a taqiya are just articles of clothing.

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These people were, however, and did carry out their plan, although probably not to the degree they wished, thanks to a hail of bullets and a tactical vehicle.

For some reason—although they were known to the FBI very soon after their deed was done—it was determined by someone not to release information regarding their identities right away. I can actually imagine why without straining my brain too hard. The powers-that-be did not want to create anti-Islamic paranoia while blood was still hot over what had been done, which was, of course, murder motivated by terrorism and perpetrated by people taken captive by a hateful ideology.

No, I am not talking about the GOP. In spite of what many of our liberal friends might think.

(I am not planning to address Donald Trump’s remarks here. That’s for another post)

Personally, I do not know any practitioners of the Muslim faith. No, I do not believe they all want to kill me. I would say, of course, that some do. It would be foolish to deny that.

But certainly not all, and nowhere near a majority.

That said, what do we do? Do we round them up? Kick them out of the country? I don’t know. It makes me think of Japanese internment during WWII to an extent, and that was wrong. It feels the same way here.

BUT.

Radicalized Japanese people were not coming to the U.S. under a peaceful guise and murdering people at office Christmas parties.

Also, I understand how left-leaning purveyors of social justice might be worried about citizens getting all exclusion-y and prejudiced regarding Islamic people in the U.S. I get that—and they probably should worry, to an extent. Many people do and say stupid things, especially when people have been murdered.

I don’t know what the answer to that is. I don’t know how to keep people from feeling like they are the arbiters of justice, social or otherwise.

I think this is a dialogue the country needs to (and hopefully will) have.

But I also think it is liberal-minded folly to behave as if NO Islamic extremism has occurred in the U.S. since 9/11.

Sure, the U.S. can be held captive by ideology, too. It isn’t just GOP, though. Extremism exists in every country, every faith, and it is beyond dangerous.

I’m just trying to recall the last time folks from the U.S. got dressed up in their cowboy hats and baseball caps and took their game to Islamic countries….nope, I got nothing.

We just need to stop denying what’s going on. And we need to have a reasoned conversation, and not a blame party. Are we honestly supposed to believe San Bernardino was because of the NRA? Come on, folks. Pretending there is no danger domestically, doesn’t mean there is not. It just means it isn’t only ostriches who bury their heads in the sand.

Let’s put our respective agendas aside, and figure this nightmare out.