Their Blood Runs in Mine

Our friend Dennis Aubrey posted “The Destruction of History” today on Via Lucis, lamenting the latest in the sordid history of religion destroying history and art.

Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKey love beauty, history, and the religious architecture of Gothic and Romanesque churches they photograph in Europe. Sometimes, like today, they express a profound despair over the destruction done in the name of religion.

“Now we have word that ISIS has defaced and destroyed artifacts in Mosul, including Assyrian statues of winged bulls from the Mesopotamian cities of Ninevah and Nimrud. Video released by the newest barbarians to assault the cultural history of humanity shows a man using a power drill to deface the works.

“As so often throughout history, the excuse was religion. ‘The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.’  How many times in our work at Via Lucis have we read variations of these words from Catholics, Huguenots, Calvinists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, and military leaders?”

Years ago during a sabbatical in St. Andrews, Scotland, the destruction wrought there by my Scottish reformation forebear John Knox and his followers chilled my soul. The people who bred and raised me – Presbyterians of Scottish descent and religious sentiment – did this. They took the commandment to have no other gods as license to destroy, maim, and burn church art and heretics. Their blood runs in mine. Their DNA is mine. And, if confession has any meaning or merit whatsoever, the children of such crimes must say we’re sorry. Really sorry. Repentant. No more destruction. No more following the orders of bully prophets, no matter whose name they claim to honor.

Thank you, Dennis, for your post. On behalf of my ancestors and in the spirit of spirituality of beauty, love, and peace on the other side of destruction, thank you for your artist’s eyes. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for the hope in something better in a barbaric time.

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian minister Honorably Retired, Chaska, MN, March 4, 2015.

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Jewish Voices for Peace

Jewish Voices for Peace (“JVP”) asked its constituency to thank those who will pay a price for their public refusal to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the Joint Session of Congress yesterday. Here’s the letter:

Thank you for taking a principled stance against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inappropriate speech.

Netanyahu, who has presided over a 23% increase in illegal settlement building and a brutal assault on the people of Gaza that killed over 2,000 Palestinians, should not have been given this platform to speak to US elected leaders.

It was unacceptable for a foreign leader who has repeatedly snubbed US officials to come to Washington to directly challenge President Obama’s diplomatic efforts, promote his own reelection campaign, and try to drag us into war.

Thank you for courageously taking a stand against the speech.

The Board and staff of Jewish Voices for Peace fully recognize the continuing cancer of Anti-Semitism. Like the Prime Minister and Elie Wiesel, they, too, would surely say “Never again!” to the Holocaust (“Shoa”). They, too, are concerned for the survival of Israel. They, too, love Israel, but they love it differently, the way the Hebrew prophets did – in the way that lovers quarrel, critically and self-critically.

U.S. Senator Al Franken (MN) is one of those who yesterday exercised the lover’s quarrel. By not taking his seat, perhaps he could hear the sound of a different clapping from Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Micah.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

As one of your constituents, thank you, Senator Franken for standing tall for justice,mercy, and humility.

 

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A Letter to Mr. Netanyahu

Dear Sir,

Speaker Boehner’s invitation, your acceptance, and your appearance today before a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress insult the Office of President here in the U.S. and the American people.

Whether you like our President is beside the point. International protocol is clear: Heads of States deal with other Heads of States. They don’t go around them. The don’t go under them. They don’t instruct their Ambassadors to lie or hide the truth from other Ambassadors while they negotiate with a Speaker of the House. They don’t. And on rare occasions when they do, and when they get caught manipulating and invitation to the floor of the U.S. Congress, thoughtful Americans – regardless of religious persuasion – don’t like it.

Today an estimated 57 Senators and Representatives have chosen not to attend the Joint Session of Congress. Your speech will be broadcast around the world. It will come into our living rooms this morning at 10:45 a.m. EST. You will do your best to convince your listeners that you mean no disrespect for Mr. Obama, that your appearance is not partisan here in the U.S. and has nothing to do with your campaign for re-election in Israel. You will get loud applause from those in attendance because America’s support for the survival and wellbeing of the State of Israel is bi-partisan.

You will not hear criticism of your occupation of the West Bank or your sabotaging of the peace process with Palestinians. You will not hear from the President of the United States who is more attentive to international protocols and the spirit of friendship than his Israeli colleague.

You will not hear the dull thud echoing across America in the homes of those who turn on C-SPAN to watch and hear you. You will speak. But you will not hear.

With all due respect, Sir, today you deserve no respect.

Sincerely,

An American Citizen

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 3, 2015

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Nullify ALL Gun Laws! Seriously?

Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R), MN House of Representatives

Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R), MN House of Representatives

The same MN State Representative who made the news for 1) packing a loaded gun in the parking lot of Planned Parenthood and 2) berating a constituent who  asked his support for Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans (click HERE for the CBS new story), is making headlines again.

Heather Martin, Executive Director Protect Minnesota issued the following news release today, March 2, 2015:

PROTECT MINNESOTA STRONGLY OPPOSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO NULLIFY ALL GUN LAWS
Proposal would jeopardize public safety

SAINT PAUL — HF 1289, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Rep. Tom Hackbarth today, is a serious threat to public safety in Minnesota. Cloaked in a nice-sounding name, it is a brazen attempt to fool the public by misnaming a constitutional amendment that would nullify every gun law on the books in Minnesota. “This is not a ‘right to bear arms’ amendment. This a ‘nullify-all-gun-laws’ amendment,” said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence.

“I am incredulous that the same people who passed a law last year to get guns away from domestic abusers are now proposing to repeal that law, and all Minnesota gun laws, by constitutional amendment,” Martens said.

The proposed amendment reads, “The right of individuals to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms, including firearms, knives, other weapons as well as ammunition, components, and accessories for any of them, for defense of life, liberty, self, family, and others, sanctity of dwelling, and for all other purposes, is fundamental and shall not be denied, infringed, or curtailed. Any restriction must be subjected to strict scrutiny. Registration, mandatory licensing, special taxation, fees, or any other measure, regardless of type, manner, or purpose, that suppresses or discourages the free exercise of this right, is void.

Sec. 2. SUBMISSION TO VOTERS.

(a) The proposed amendment must be submitted to the people at the 2016 general election. The question submitted must be:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to protect the right of individuals to keep and bear arms?”

Protect Minnesota will be urging all Minnesotans to voice their strong opposition to this proposed amendment.

How a ballot question is worded often determines its passage or defeat. The proposed MN Constitutional Amendment has nothing to do with the hotly debated Second Amendment right to bear arms of the U.S. Constitution. It’s something else.

My, oh, my, oh, my! Salute the gun manufacturers and pass the ammunition!

M&R Photography

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Slender, cross-eyed, and handsome

The Rev'd George Whitefield

The Rev’d George Whitefield

“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” – George Whitefield (1714-1770)

A preacher’s search for a new church home following retirement is often an exercise in sin, a prolonged, prideful discontent with the state of the churches one visits.

George Whitefield seems to have spent his whole ministry offending and displeasing, although the huge crowds he drew outside the church walls lead me question how offensive or displeasing his sermons were.

 

Perhaps the photograph of this heralded Anglican priest, “the Father of the Great Awakening,” and this PBS documentary description of him illuminate why the preacher who offended and made his hearers displeased with themselves drew the crowds.

“Slender, cross-eyed and handsome, George Whitefield was an Anglican priest and powerful orator with charismatic appeal.”

While others were reading their sermons from prepared manuscripts, George knew that good preaching is different from a public reading at the book store. He memorized his sermons or spoke extemporaneously with gestures considered too dramatic by the more stoic New England preachers. But one suspect there may have been something more to his success. Perhaps his eyes communicated a real human being, someone unable to hide behind being merely slender or handsome, a man whom frail and vulnerable human beings didn’t mind hearing an honest word that offended and or made them displeased with their own posturing games of pretense.

In honor of George Whitefield, a recently retired pretentious Presbyterian preacher worshiped at a nearby Episcopal Church. The word from the pulpit was deliciously real. He didn’t commit the preacher’s sin. He’s going back next Sunday.

 

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An Axe for the Frozen Sea Inside Us

Writer Franz Kafka discusses books worth reading.

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, The Castle, and posthumously published The Trial and Parables and Paradoxes wound and stab us. They “wake us up with a blow on the head.”  They “open the frozen sea inside us”.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 28, 2015, in tribute to Franz Kafka.

 

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The Cock-Fight

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

Uh, Oh! Cock-fight!!! 

The GOP House and Senate roosters are at it with each other.

And the loser is…national security and the public image of the GOP. There is no hen house in Congress. Ever tried to herd a bunch of roosters? Cock-a-doodle-do and death to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

 

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How do you know?

How do you know you’re a writer? Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Virginia Wolff might have “known” because other writers, publishers, and Broadway and Hollywood producers heaped praise on their writings. But the operative word is might. Existential knowing is a different sort of knowing.

Like great athletes, composers, and musicians, great writers are rarely satisfied with their work. They are always reaching beyond themselves. Often they operate from the depths of depression, despair, obsessed with death, the dark depths of the human psyche and the world’s instinct toward self-destruction. Some of the greatest – Hemingway, Wolff, Sylvia Plath, and Edgar Allan Poe – do themselves in.

How do you know you’re a writer? Some would say you “know” it existentially by the ebb and flow between times of creativity and nothingness. When I feel down and the well runs dry as a bone, I know existentially…I might be a writer.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN Feb. 28, 2015, inspired by tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida.

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Brothers

Our Dad would take a bathroom scale
in both his calloused hands and squeeze
200 pounds. He said his boys
should also press their weight. To fail
meant hearing yet again how he
when in the Navy chinned himself
a hundred times a day. His laugh
at photos when he was skinny
before he read the Charles Atlas
booklet reminded each of us
of Dynamic Tension. We’d take
a towel and pull and tug to make
each tiny bicep that we had
grow big to be as strong as Dad.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 27, 2015

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

A month in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, makes clear that history is a strange thing. History is the past, but it’s also the telling of it, the renderings of it. The English language does not distinguish between the two – the past as it was – and the past as remembered and interpreted. Only the interpreted past is available to us.

Historians distinguish between the two with the word ‘history’ (the past) and ‘historiography’, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the study of historical writings or the writing of history”.

Example of ACCORD Freedom Trail plaques

Example of ACCORD Freedom Trail plaques

Most interesting during our one-month stay in St. Augustine were the different historiographies of the Civil Rights Movement.

Tourists in St. Augustine walk past homes and churches with plaques like this one that tell the story of the brave civil rights history of the ’50s and ’60s on what’s called The Freedom Trail.

The casual tourist is unlikely to notice that the Freedom Trail story is not the only one in town. There are two different sets of plaques. The groups that wrote and erected them represent different, often competing, historiographies.

The more prominent set of plaques the define The Freedom Trail were created by ACCORD.  They highlight the role of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The other is the project of a group of local citizens led by the Eubanks family, whose father, the Rev. Goldie M. Eubanks, Sr, was Vice President of the St. Augustine Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whose work predated and continued after the arrival of Dr. King and the SCLC in St. Augustine.

The NAACP is the oldest civil rights organization in America. In the 1950s and ’60s, many civil rights leaders came to regard it as too passive, too conservative. The word ‘Colored’ in its name labelled it as out of touch with Back pride.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) arose as a bolder, more activist organization, although the the SCLC and the NAACP represented by Dr. King and Roy Wilkins, respectively, worked closely together. To the left of SCLC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), arrived on the national scene.

While in St. Augustine, we lived next door to a home on The Freedom Trail identified by ACCORD as important to the Movement in St. Augustine. Some of the men who gathered there every mid-morning until dark seem to identify with Dr. King and the SCLC. Others seem resentful that Dr. King and the SCLC got the praise for the work of Rev. Eubanks, Rev. Thomas, and Dr. Robert Hayling, a courageous local dentist, who paved the way for national media attention to the plight in St. Augustine. The historiography of the latter group is posted on the alternative plaques that focus more on the indigenous leaders who put their lives on the line every day as citizens of St. Augustine.

History and historiography are like that. The four Gospels of the New Testament look at the same time period and events with different memories and different angles on the Jesus story.  The nature of history is that it always leaves itself to interpretation. And the nature of historiography is that it raises the question of the story-teller’s angle.

In light of Dr. King’s later speeches about the intrinsic connection between capitalism, the War in Vietnam, and militarism, it seems a great paradox that it was the Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the largest Department of Defense contractors, that funded the ACCORD project centered on Dr. King. History and historiography are always strange. Always they involve some concoction of our better selves, self-interest, pride, and sometimes, a heavy dose of irony.

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Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes (Dennis Aubrey)

Gordon C. Stewart:

Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture is a Views from the Edge favorite because of its ability to synthesize art, history, theology, and social commentary centering on the deeper things of the human spirit and the awe of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. In the midst of this post, Dennis Aubrey draws attention to the lion which appears to be spewing foliage. I proposed to Dennis that perhaps the lion is “eating straw like the ox” in Isaiah 11 and 65, Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom, an interpretation that seems to go well with the church’s sculptural rendering Jesus’ Parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25.

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes’s Last Judgment scene suggests an artistic interpretation that eliminates the divide between sheep (saved) and goats (damned), a pictorial witness to the final judgment as universal forgiveness and salvation. To enjoy the original, complete with photographs, scroll down and click on “View the Original”.

Originally posted on Via Lucis Photography:

The church of Saint Jouin de Marnes is known as the Vézelay Poitevin, a tribute to its importance and beauty. It was named after a 4th century hermit named Jovinus from Mouterre-Silly near Loudun. Desiring a retired, contemplative life, he settled on a site of a Roman camp near the road from Poitiers to Angers, ten miles southwest of Mouterre-Silly. The site was called Ension and was in the swamps of the river Dives which flows two miles to the east. In 342 he founded an oratory church which attracted a modest religious community. By the time he died in 370, Jovinus had achieved a great reputation for sanctity and miracles. Over the years, his small community grew in importance, but eventually there was another decline.

In 843, however, the monks of Saint-Martin-de-Vertou in Brittany were forced to abandon their monastery by depredations of the Vikings. With the help…

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Lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp

Felix's Fish Camp near Mobile, Alabama

Felix’s Fish Camp near Mobile, Alabama

Driving home to Minnesota from Key West, Florida, Kay and I stop for lunch near Mobile, Alabama. Trip Advisor ranks Felix’s Fish Camp the #8 most highly recommended of 581 restaurants in Mobile, right on the waterfront. An old fish shack; our kinda place!

Our waiter has Southern DNA written all over him. His style is the epitome of Southern hospitality: unhurried, gracious, warm, personable, respectful, friendly. “Yes, Ma’am. No, Sir.”

In his late-2os, Brian is very tall. He kneels down beside the table to get acquainted. He introduces us to Felix’s, talks about the menu, asks about our tastes, and zeroes in on the dishes we might like most.

The man in the next booth overhears the conversation.  He’s smiling. Getting to his feet with the help of his cane, he comes by to say hello. Turns out he’s from Duluth, Minnesota, a traditional stronghold of the Democrat Farm Labor Party. He and his wife closed their chiropractor office in Duluth three years ago to retire near his son in Mobile. He asks what brings us here and what we did for a living. He smiles. “You’re a pastor. You like people. What church?” “Presbyterian,” I say.  “I’m a Lutheran,” he says. “What’s your favorite Scripture? Mine is Psalm 91. I learned it as a child and can still recite it from memory.”

Lunch at Felix's Fish Camp, Mobile, Alabama

Lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp, Mobile, Alabama

Brian delivers the fish, topped with fried oyster, shrimp with cheese grits, and side dishes of almond green beans, cheese grits, and turnip greens to die for.

At just the right moment, as skilled waiters do, Brian returns to ask whether we’d like desert, maybe some lemon pie or Key Lime Pie. The lemon is more unique to Felix’s but he thinks perhaps we might prefer the Key Lime.

After the Key Lime pie, we thank Brian for his extraordinary hospitality and service, promise to write a review on TripAdvisor, pay the bill, and say goodbye.

The relocated Minnesota couple leave at the same time. As the four of us walk way out together, our new friend wishes us a safe trip home and then says “Before you go, I have a question for you. Which Republican do you like for 2016?”

His wife grimaces. We just smile. Maybe he’s forgotten that he’s from Duluth, or maybe he’s being playful one last time…or maybe he’s confusing Christian and Republican. We’ll never know. Life is funny like that.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 26, 2015

 

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Privatization: the Death of Public Life

Dennis Aubrey, photographer of great religious architecture, brought to our attention this edgy view from The Guardian on the deleterious effects of privatization on the city of London.

Photo of Europe's tallest building, The Shard, Lorenzo Piano, architect

Photo of Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, Lorenzo Piano, architect

Click The city that privatized itself to death and ponder the meaning of “us” and the political economy of greed in the U.S.A.

 

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Hey Chicago, waddya say?

Long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans like Steve Shoemaker are excited about this season. The Cubs look like a serious contender in 2015. The club’s new owners have invited fans to write a new song for home games at Wrigley Field. Steve explains his contribution. “Steve Goodman in 1984 wrote ‘Go Cubs Go’.  It is sung by surprised fans after each Cub win. It does not really fit since Goodman wrote it to ENCOURAGE the Cubs. Instead of writing a new song, here is my revision of Goodman’s classic.” Click HERE for a YouTube video of Steve Goodman’s original Go Cubs Go. Here’s Steve’s new rendition:

Go Cubs Go

Baseball season’s underway
We hope ya got ready for a brand new day!
Hey Chicago waddya say?
The Cubs have gone and won today!

We’re singing:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

They got the power, they got the speed,
They are the best in the National League!
Well this is the year and the Cubs are real,
So join us here at Wrigley Field!

We’re singing now:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Baseball time is here again–
We just saw another win!
So stomp your feet and clap your hands!
Chicago Cubs got the greatest fans!

We’re singing now:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 23, 2015

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Roosters in the Republican Barnyard

Roosters crowing

Roosters crowing

The cocks are crowing again.

Former failed Republican Presidential aspirant Rudy Giuliani started it by saying he isn’t sure President Obama loves America. He quickly tried to backtrack, explaining he wasn’t questioning Mr. Obama’s patriotism.

My, oh my!

No sooner had the old rooster crowed than that nasty old press asked the young roosters who are strutting and crowing to rule the Republican barnyard to chime in on Giuliani’s cock-a-doodle-do. Scott Walker, who was at the dinner where Giuliani made his statement, refused to comment on Giuliani’s statement one way or the other.

Days later while the issue was still live, a reporter again asked Walker to comment.

Leaning on the strategy that the best defense is a good offense, Walker blamed the press for making too much of statements like Giuliani’s. But it wasn’t the press who said that Mr. Obama wasn’t a native-born American citizen, or that he’s a secret Muslim, or that he hates America. It was members of Walker’s party who said those things. The press asked Mr. Walker if he thought the President was a Christian. In light of the history of character assassination leveled at the President, posing the question “Is President Obama a Christian?” to a young Rooster strutting around the barnyard with his eye on the Oval Office doesn’t seem like a fowl question.

Walker cried fowl. He replied that such questions are why people hate the press. People are tired of the media asking questions the American people don’t care about. Hmmm. Like whether a professing Christian President who quotes the New Testament in his speeches is a secret Muslim? The press card is very much like the race card. You only pull it out when you have no real defense.

In “The Insiders: Why would anyone think Obama doesn’t love America? Plenty of reasons,” a follow-up to the Giuliani story by Ed Rogers in The Washington Post argues that “Obama’s policies, declarations and overall conduct in office make some think he is dissatisfied with America and its self-image.”

Love and satisfaction are two different things. Can one love a country, a person, a group, a party, and be dissatisfied? If the answer is no, say good-bye to Martin Luther King, Jr. Say good-bye to Edward R. Murrow and Daniel Schorr. Say good-bye to the biblical prophet Amos whose tongue was sharper than Al Sharpton’s not because he hated his country but because he genuinely loved it.

The cocks are crowing in the barnyard. “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Roosters and the betrayal of truth have a long history. Whenever a rooster struts and crows, listen carefully.

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Home is where your dog is

When we arrived last evening the little guy couldn’t contain himself. He ran back and forth between us, wagging his tail and jumping for joy. Barclay’s been accident-free for more than a year. When I picked him up the second time, his tummy was slightly wet. He was so relieved to have us home and we were equally relieved. -:) So was Kristin, his care-giver since Dec. 30, who announces our homecoming in this video.

Home is where your dog is.

 

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Verse – The Trinity?

One form, but multiplicity…
Motion, immutability…
Can we glimpse God.
So weird, so odd,
In limerick theology?!

Is the Divine One one or three?
Is He a he or She a she?
A comedy!
A mystery!
One was and is and Three will be!

Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015

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Magic Wars

There’s no record the wars of the Bible
Found in Exodus are that reliable
Historically.
Fortunately
Hebrews found Holy Land bloodlessly…

(This written as a FaceBook comment in response to a comment protesting a post by the brilliant & perverse Nina Paley about her newest feature length animated movie, “Seder Masochism“–retelling the Exodus story, like she retold the Hindu tales in “Sita Sings the Blues”, portions of the latest, and all of the former can be seen FREE many places on line!)

– Steve Shoemaker,  Urbana, IL, Feb. 22, 2015

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Twins

We know that seeing never can
be believing. We fool the eye
of all who look at us and see
the other. Mother left the band
upon our wrist that gave our name
for weeks after our birth, but then
began always to dress Brian
in blue. One day we switched–I came
out in his shirt–she called him Chris!
St. Thomas was a twin and so
when he heard that his friends were sure
they’d seen the risen Lord, of course
he doubted that was true. But then
he heard the word…although a twin.

Steven Shoemaker
Urbana, Illinois, Feb. 21, 2015

[These poems may be used, copied, or published as you will. It would be nice
if you included my name, city, and State]

NOTE: Readers unfamiliar with Christian Scripture will find it helpful to know the biblical text behind Steve’s poem. Click Jesus and Thomas, the Twin for the story in the Gospel of John.

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God, Guns and Gravy

J.H. is an astute student of partisan politics. He wrote this response to yesterday’s post on the Confederate flag flying in northern Florida:

Lincoln, TR, Eisenhower, could not be nominated for anything in the old south Republican, Tea Party havens. The Southern Strategy worked for Reagan. The Civil Rights & Voting Rights bills caused a huge shift from Johnson’s Democratic Party.

Reagan’s opening speech for his re-election campaign was in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He called it “New Federalism.”

That and the Robertson Christian Coalition & Jerry Falwell – Cal Thomas Moral Majority linked the evangelicals to the Catholic’s Right to Life. The Reagan, Robertson-Ralph Reed, Falwell-Thomas team crushed the tradition of Lincoln in the Republican Party and kept the battle flag flying. The Obama is a Muslim, he hates America, under-educated Faux Views watching angry white over 50 man is represented in the South.

“God, Guns & Gravy” is alive under that flag.

J. H.

 

 

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Two Flags

Confederate flag, Lake City, FL

Confederate flag, Lake City, FL

A huge Confederate flag waved high over the interstate north of Lake City, Florida in stark contrast to Steve Shoemaker’s verse about Lincoln (posted earlier the same day).

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps America’s most revered President. The spirit of Lincoln is still with us. So is the spirit of John Wilkes Booth and the KKK.

It’s not everywhere in the South you will see the Confederate flag flying. You won’t see it in Key West, the southernmost spot in the United States of America. But some things die hard, and other things never seem to die. Like guns. Like white supremacy. Like war.

– Gordon C. Stewart, writing from Jackson, MS, Feb. 21, 2015

 

 

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Verse – I Pray for Insomnia

The nightmares! Terrors! Dreams so deep
I drown! I fall! No rest I keep.
But so much worse,
And such a curse,
Are dreams that I can’t fall asleep!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 20, 2015

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Verse – Lincoln Today

Republicans quote Honest Abe,
But he would jump out of his grave,
Rip off his cravat
And vote Democrat
After seeing the mess George Bush made!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 20, 2015

 

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Verse – A Sign for Locker Rooms

The best coaches in sports are all teachers,
Although some it’s true also are preachers,
But the one that we fear
And try not to go near
Is the coach that consistently screeches.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 19, 2015

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One Animal Family

One Human Family  bumper sticker, Key West

One Human Family bumper sticker, Key West

“One Human Family” is Key West’s motto. Key Westers take pride in their LGBTQ, racial, and cultural diversity. Whoever you are, you’re celebrated here, the quirkier and the boring. “We’re one human family.”

Key West Rooster on car hood

Key West Rooster on car hood

Recently an amended version has become popular. “We are one animal family.”

The roosters and chickens that roam the island, walking through the restaurants and grounds, ignoring the pedestrian crosswalks on the street are protected by law. Choke a rooster or a chicken here in Key West and you’re in big trouble!

The open air restaurants welcome the roosters and chickens and the penny-less cats and dogs as naturally as they do the cruise ship shoppers with their American Express cards. The spirit of Ernest Hemingway (Papa) is alive all these years later.

Key West rooster cemetery Ernest Hemingway

Key West rooster cemetery
Ernest Hemingway

Every creature is protected here. After the cruise ships take the 3,000 shoppers out to sea in the late afternoon, the island belongs to all the Key Westers, human and otherwise.

We are one animal family.

– Gordon C. Stewart writing from Key West, FL after visiting the Ernest Hemingway House, Key West, FL, Feb. 17, 2015.

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Verse – Morning Passion

(Still Embarrassing the Kids)

At our age the sex is best
AFTER a long night of rest.

– Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 17, 2015

NOTE from Gordon from Key West, Florida:

Key West Rooster

Key West Rooster

Years ago an 80 year old resident of the retirement facility next door informed me that he made no appointments before 9:00 a.m. Morning was the only time he and his wife had “energy” for each other. After a long night’s rest, he greeted the morning with cheerful hope that this could be the day.

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The Neighbors in St. Augustine

The men gather late in front of the house every morning before the resident gets up.

Mostly in their 60s and early 70s, they arrive on bicycles or on foot with paper bags scrunched close at the top. The minority, the younger ones in their 20s, don’t use bags. They don’t hide the beer can or the pint. They pull the cheap, green, plastic chairs from the yard out to the sidewalk to start the day.

The older ones survived the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement of the early 60s and the violent reaction of the white city fathers of St. Augustine to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  They tell stories. The younger men don’t seem to care.

I walk next door most every day to say hello. The conversations become windows into humanity, disparate perspectives, and history itself.

Why did the once young men who waded in at Butler Beach in 1964, survived the fire bombing of their homes and the beatings by theKu Klux Klan end up here bleary-eyed with paper bags?

They grow louder as the day wears on. One of them stands in the middle of the street blocking traffic as if to say to passersby, “This is OUR neighborhood!” Several times a day a car pulls up to the curb, opens the window, and exchanges something with the men. They disappear, one by one, into the house for a time.

At noon one day I walk next door and find myself in the middle of what appears to be an argument between one of the older men sitting in the yard and a 20-something man sitting on the sidewalk with his back turned to the street. I come by to say hello. The older man greets me. We say good morning. “You’re a Reverend, right?”

“Well, yes. Sort of..,” I smile, “more or less reverent.” We enjoy a good laugh.

“So,” he says, pointing to the young man holding his open Pabst Blue Ribbon, “doesn’t the Bible say ‘Instead of giving a man a fish, you should teach him how to fish?'”

“Well, no. The Bible doesn’t say that, but it’s pretty close to some of what the Bible teaches.”

“See,” says the young man, “I told you the Bible doesn’t say that!”

The Civil Rights Movement survivors recall how some of their classmates got out of town and left them behind. One of them owns upscale hotels in Atlanta and Miami. He comes home in his big Mercedes every five years or so. According to the men next door, he and others who got out look down their noses at the shrimp boat workers who lived hand-to-mouth existences in the old neighborhood where they grew up together.

The Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine is still a matter of debate both among its veterans and among the young men who have no living memory of it.  For young and old alike, the men who gather daily next door are a community to each other. They have taken their “place” in the post Civil Rights Movement era of St. Augustine.

They are part of America’s left behind. They’re going nowhere their feet or bicycles can’t take them. They care about each other. They are without pretense. They have each other, old friends and younger ones who are going nowhere. They are a local chapter of the community of the stuck. Their numbers are growing all across America.

 

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Morning Moon

just a muslim scimitar
but no single star in sight
clouds obscure the rest of sky

three so young are killed by hate
trusting they opened their door
though they’d seen his gun before

today’s dawn they will not see
moonlike from behind the clouds
they observe us as we cry

– Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 15, 2015

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Verse – Skin in the 1960s

Each month the Playboy magazine
would come in a brown envelope.
I was in Seminary then
and Hefner sent it free to keep
the clergy up on all his thoughts
(he called it his philosophy.)

The stories actually had plots,
some jokes were good, but I would see
the women first, the centerfold,
the air-brushed flawless, pale white skin.
Penthouse and Hustler were more bold,
showed pink as if it were a sin,

but Sports Illustrated was best
(because bikinis revealed less.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 12, 2014

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Look what the ocean coughed up

What the ocean coughed upLook what washed up on Palm Beach this morning.

Like the whale that coughed up Jonah into the sea, the ocean is coughing up Halls cough drops along with a Portuguese Man-o’-War on the beach.

But there’s a difference. The sun and time will disintegrate the dead Man-o’-War in a few days time; the cough drop package, still zip-locked with three plastic wrapped fresh lemon menthol cough drops, will be around until who knows when.

The Halls cough drops and other plastics manufactured by a Pomethean species at war with Nature were found a few feet from the decaying Man-o’-War. Click Plastic Pollution for more information about the effects of plastics on the ocean, sea mammals, and the land. The ocean is coughing. But Nature always wins; it always has the last cough.

Coughed up on the beach

Coughed up on the beach

– Gordon C. Stewart, beautiful Palm Beach, FL, Feb. 11, 2015

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Verse – 2018

Remember before the great internet fail,
We all were connected, each head to a tail,
But then that world virus
Began to excite us
To chew one another by texts and email.

Our data was stolen, our passwords were known,
Our bank accounts empty, our credit had flown
Out into cyberspace.
Now the whole human race
Starts in again fighting just over a bone.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL , Feb, 11, 2015

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Burdened

Gordon C. Stewart:

Scroll down to “View Original” and click the link for Joshi Daniel’s photo of the man carrying a heavy burden.  If inspired, share a comment on what you see and the human condition.

Originally posted on Joshi Daniel Photography | Images Of People:

Old man in Trivandrum carrying a big load on his head Old man carrying a big load | Trivandrum, Kerala, India

View original

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Verse for bird lovers

Parakeets
(Budgies to you Aussies)

From Down Under
Now they chatter
To bird lovers
Everywhere

In and out of
Cages flying
Chatting chirping
Pretty bird

Green and yellow
Happy fellow
Shakes a feather
Talks to you

Sits on finger
Lampshade shoulder
Scolds then perches
On your head

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 7, 2015

 

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Wading in the Water

St. Augustine Beach, Feb. 4, 2015

St. Augustine Beach, Feb. 4, 2015

So here we are, both newly retired, wading in the water of St. Augustine Beach in the Florida sun. Today the beach is peaceful. It was not always so quiet on these white sands.

Barclay in cold Minnesota

Barclay in cold Minnesota

Back home in Minnesota it’s cold. This photo of Barclay looking out the window into the world of white arrived this morning. Barclay knows where he is. We’re not sure we do.

Away from home and all familiar routines here on the white sand beach,  we’re getting our feet wet on the very beach where national news coverage pushed the Civil Rights Act over the top in 1964.

Kay and I each wondered what the world beyond work would feel like. Now we know. It’s weird. The world is still very much with us. Every day I talk with  some of those arrested on St. Augustine Beach who gather next door to our rental home in St. Augustine. We’re all still wading in the water.

 

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“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash”

My generation grew up with former Vaudeville comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Red Skelton, and Jimmy Durante. Jimmy signed off every show with “Good Night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” No one knows for sure who Mrs. Calabash was.

Good night from Views from the Edge. See you in the morning.

 

 

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Gender Economics: It used to be even worse

 When I Was a Grad Student

The lowest legal wage
was all I made
as part-time teller
in a city bank.
No teller could receive
a tip–if paid
the cameras would see,
you know… “Your back
pocket. The cash you stole!”
At end of day
your balance true would not
be evidence
of innocence no matter
what you’d say.

My wife made ten times
what I did, and hence
in 1968 she applied for
a credit card. No way–
she was not head
of our household. At Field’s
she tried once more:
a woman manager
was brave and said
the card could be in her
own name. My wife
was a real person, too,
with her own life…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 5, 2015

Editor’s Note: Steve was a student at McCormick Seminary in Chicago. Nadja was a research scientist at Northwestern.

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Not “Good-bye” – just “Goodnight”

Last night we signed off with “Say ‘Good Night”, a video of George Burns and Gracie Allen ending their show with George saying to Gracie, “Say ‘Good Night'” and Gracie saying “Good Night” to the audience. A comment arrived this morning:

“I will miss this blog. Unpredictable, funny, inspiring, occasionally depressing, thought-provoking, and more. A sad farewell to Views from the Edge.”

Carolyn and I have been friends since kindergarten. I responded:

Carolyn, Rumors of the death of Views from the Edge are premature -:). It was just going to bed for the night. I kid you not, Ms. kidder. “Good night, Gracie!”

The moral of the story? Don’t get too cute if you want to hold an audience, unless you’re George and Gracie.

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Say “Good Night”

After a long day, it’s time for Views from the Edge to say “Good Night” and “Thanks for dropping by today”.

 

 

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The prayer from hell

June Griffin, Cumberland Missionary Society, praying      invocation opening Tennessee Senate session, 2015.

June Griffin, Cumberland Missionary Society, praying invocation opening Tennessee Senate session, 2015.

Not even Saturday Night Live or Bill Maher could make up.

Open the Link to Christian minister opens Tennessee Senate with prayer and SCROLL DOWN to watch the video of June Griffin’s anti-government Prayer of Invocation opening a session of the Tennessee Senate.

There used to institutions for people like this.  I used to visit the patients there, but those state hospitals were closed years ago. Today they’re sitting legislators or offering the invocation praying for a Christian-American version of ISIL.

 

 

 

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The Concert Goers – I Fib You Not!

Below is a “Fib” – shorthand for a Fibonacci - explained HERE on The Poetry Foundation website.

The number of syllables in each line of the “The Concert Goers” should be 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and 34. Unfortunately this blog post does not permit the 34 syllable line to be read as a single line. Let your eyes do the trick of combining the last two lines into one.

The Concert Goers

O
the
joyful
harmonies
whose orchestras and
choristers draw longing, lonely
specks of stardust to the hall to join as one to hear
the yet-to-be-voiced dots and lines and signs played and sung by drums, piano,
clarinets, piccolos, triangle, timpani, trumpets, sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses to the magic of the Maestro’s baton!

 – Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 4, 2015

Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra

Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra

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Life begins on the other side of despair

It was Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist novelist, philosopher, and playwright, who declined the Nobel Peace Price for Literature in 1964, who said it. “Life begins on the other side of despair.”

Sartre’s statement resonates with those who have stood at the edge of the abyss of the loss of life’s meaning. Some don’t make it to the other side. Some move to the other side of the abyss with no faith but faith in themselves to create meaning they once ascribed to God or some objective moral order. Others arrive on the other side with their inherited faith not only deconstructed, but re-constructed. I am one of the latter.

Reading of the shooting suicide of a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran philosophy student in the library at Mankato State University takes me back to Sartre’s statement about life and despair. Timothy Lee Anderson was an honorably discharged U.S. Army gunner in Iraq. His picture in The Daily Mail shows him in an Iraqi combat zone with his weapon. In the background of the photo, Iraqi women in traditional Muslim dress appear to be crossing the street. How, I ask, does a guy who served as a gunner in the Iraq War choose philosophy as his major when he comes home to the U.S.A.?

Philosophy is not a popular choice these days. Unlike computer science, it’s not job- related. The word ‘philosophy’ derives from two Greek words meaning love (‘philo‘) of wisdom (‘sophia‘). Philosophy is the love of, and the search for, wisdom.

Wisdom is born of experience, not inheritance. It’s not hard to imagine the dashed, unexamined, inherited convictions of a young Army recruit: a world dependent on American goodness and might; an America with a manifest destiny in the global order; an exceptional nation privileged and responsible, whether by religious or political creed, to bring its blessings to the rest of an ignorant, unenlightened, uncivilized, and sometimes terroristic and defiant world.

Nor is it hard to imagine a soldier’s despair upon return, reflecting on his experience in search for greater wisdom among the philosophers. The early reports of Timothy Lee Anderson’s life experience point to a less than comfortable homecoming with arrests for marijuana and violation of an order for protection. The gun shot he fired at himself on the second floor of the Mankato State University library was a shot of despair, whatever the immediate reasons or circumstances.

The great sorrow is a life that ended too early on the despair side of the yawning abyss of collapsed meaning. It remains to the survivors and the rest of us who look with sadness on Timothy’s tragic departure is to learn the wisdom that claims to religious-national exceptionalism and wisdom go together about as well as bombs and day-care, guns and libraries.

– Gordon C. Stewart, February 3, 2015.

 

 

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In Memoriam: the MSU Philosophy Student

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Cicero

The philosophy student who shot himself in the library at Mankato State University yesterday could have been me many years ago. Or is it “could have been ‘I’”? I or me is a question of grammar without much consequence. Philosophy is a question of meaning. Grammarians don’t shoot themselves. Some philosophers do.

I know nothing about the 27-year-old philosophy major at MSU. I don’t need to know more for tears to fall while reading the Star Tribune news report over morning coffee.

A Minnesota State University Mankato student shot and killed himself Monday afternoon in the campus library.

Police were called about 4 p.m. to the library after receiving a report of a suicidal man. After searching Memorial Library, police found the 27-year-old man, a junior philosophy student, on the second floor. Police said he turned the gun on himself and shot.

Police said no one else was in any danger during the incident.

The library was open Monday evening but with access only to the lower level, first and third floors.

I feel sick. It’s sad enough when anyone takes his or her life. It’s sadder still, at least for me, to learn that he was studying philosophy and that he appears to have found a solitary place on the second floor, perhaps among the stacks in the philosophy section of the library, as I imagine it.

He was a junior, as I was when the course in contemporary philosophy plunged me into deep despair. Psychology majors might have called it depression because it looked like that on my face. But there’s a difference between depression and existential despair.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, No Exit and The Flies, and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial were like nothing I had ever read or heard. They blew my mind to smithereens, leaving me very much alone with the sense of nothingness.

By the time I hit the books in the library that junior year, I ate, drank, and slept philosophy. Of the 18 hours of courses I had decided to carry, only the philosophy course seemed important. Raised in a Christian home, I had always prayed, more or less, giving thanks and asking for blessings on those I loved and the less fortunate. But now prayer seemed a cruel hoax, “bad faith” as Jean-Paul Sartre put it. Why I would return from class and kneel down beside my bed not for “now I lay me down to sleep” but to tell God to go to hell is one of the great ironies, a question grammarians cannot answer.  Had I had a gun that afternoon, my roommate might have found me on the floor in Room 301 of Carnegie Hall.

I know nothing of the circumstances or state of mind of the 27-year-old MSU philosophy student. Perhaps no one will ever know for sure. It may be that his experience bears little or no resemblance to mine all those years ago. It’s not for me to know.

I don’t even know your name, but I sure do feel you! And I feel for those who mourn your loss. “That God does not exist, I cannot deny,” wrote Sartre, “That my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget” - Jean-Paul Sartre.

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on You, they may know the consolation of Your love. [The Book of Common Prayer]

Rest in Peace

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota (an hour from Mankato), Feb. 3, 2015.

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The Man who Knew

He knows who he is! He is not ignorant; he’s smart. He knows the visiting rabbi is both “the Holy One of God” and the one who has “come to destroy us”.

It is because he knows this that he ends up shrieking. He knows better than those around him, all the others who have come at sundown to observe the Friday Shabbat and Torah study.

He takes his customary place among his neighbors in the Capernaum synogogue. He does not expect much to happen. Everyone, including he, knows that he’s a little strange. Off balance, as the kinder of them say.  Not the norm. Both they and he know his place. None of them yet knows Annie Dillard’s advice that worshipers “should wear crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” [Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper and Row, 1982, quoted here from Wikiquote.]

They have no need for crash helmets, life preservers, or signal flares. Like the ones who are better balanced, he likes his safety. He is safe in his customary place among the customary people expecting a customary teaching from a customary teacher who teaches like a copy-editor (a scribe). He expects to leave the same way he has come: bored and boring in the daily-ness of it all.

They look at him. He looks at them. They all yawn.  Until the guest rabbi takes his seat to teach and says nothing. Jesus just looks at them, reading their faces, reading their minds, looking into their hearts. They are uncomfortable with the long silence. He is reading them like a book he’s read too many times.

When finally the rabbi speaks, he astounds them. He reads the Torah and the prophets as living texts, not history. He is alive and expectant. He is not bored or boring. He teaches with authority. He commands the attention of everyone in the room. They want him, but do not want him. They haven’t brought crash helmets. They’ve come for safety.

He catches the eye of the man who’s a little off balance whose frequent uninvited outbursts   long ago placed him in the back row of the assigned seating.  Although the rabbi’s eyes are working the room from left to right and back again, seeing all the faces there, it is as though he is staring at him alone. They are all a bit on edge now, drawn to his voice and the content of his teaching, his unparalleled authority, but they are also becoming nervous that he is messing with them in ways they had not expected.

The man in the back senses this. He knows this, and he begins to twitch and make strange sounds. He is agitated, disturbed, out of his comfort zone, like everyone else.

His face twitching with the familiar tic, he struggles to his feet from his back row seat, shoving from his shoulders the hands of the ushers stationed on either side of him to prevent the man with Tourettes Syndrome from disturbing them and making a fool of himself.

He points at the rabbi and shrieks at him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Jesus moves from the center to the back row. He tells the body guards to leave him alone. He stands eye-to-eye with him. “Be silent,” he says, “Come out of him” as though speaking not to the man himself but to others who torment him from the inside.

The whole synagogue is on their feet watching. They know that the Tourettes man with the tic and uncontrollable speech has spoken for all of the normal ones as well. “Have you come to destroy us?”

The man screams and convulses, but it is not the man who is convulsing; it is the hostage-takers whose powers are being broken that are convulsing: the fear of losing one’s assigned place, the customary despair and despairing comfort that robs him and all of them of the joy of the extraordinary in ordinary life.

Perhaps the story of “the man with the evil spirit” comes so early in the Gospel of Mark because it is the story of us all. The Holy One of God does come to destroy us as well as heal us. The next time you go to the synagogue for Sabbath rest or to church on a Sunday morning, take a crash helmet and expect something great to happen!

Click Gospel of Mark 1:21-28 for the story on which this sermonic reflection is based.

– Gordon C. Stewart, St. Augustine, FL, February 2, 2015.

 

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Preaching to Myself

The longer I live, the less I know. The less I have lived, the more I think I know.

“Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.”(I Cor. 8:1b)

These words seem strange to those of us who value education. But peeking into the internal squabble within the First Century CE Corinthian church (First Corinthians 8:1-13) may also give us an unexpected peek into ourselves in 2015.

There is a tension between knowledge and love. The better educated among us see the relation between knowledge and love as complimentary. Love and knowledge grow together into ever expanding circles of freedom, like snakes shedding their skins and lobsters shedding their shells for bigger skins and shells that can hold their more mature selves.

Yet we are sometimes scornful of the less educated, the concrete thinkers, the legalists who are certain about what little knowledge they have. We are quick to join Paul’s opinion that “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge ….” (I Corinthians 8:2). A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. True education leads not only to increasing knowledge but to increasing awareness of one’s own vast ignorance.

We think of Copernicus and Galileo who challenged the prevailing knowledge, and those who judged them for their unbelief, a new “knowledge” that has changed the human view of our place in a vast, expanding universe. Or we think of Darwin and the Scopes Trial – the showdown between the knowledge of evolution and the ignorance of the creationists. We think of the difference between enlightened biblical scholarship that interprets Scripture through the eyes of love’s expansion and the biblical inerrantists who insist that the Bible be taken literally, such that the book is closed on matters of human sexuality.

“‘All of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.” 

Paul makes a masterful move here in the chess game of the knowers. He says that all the “knowers” know little, and that those who know more – the stronger in faith – are in greater danger than those who know less – the weaker in faith.

He is writing to the strong, the ones who are more advanced in the knowledge of the liberty to which Christ has set them free. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Knowledge itself puts us on trial, the trial of humility, the trial of love. Paul calls for the stronger to be humble lest what they assume to know become the new idolatry that places Christ’s weaker followers on the cross of educated privilege.

The Christian claim of faith is not our knowledge, no matter how great or small. The claim of the disciples of Jesus is God’s knowledge of us. It is God’s knowing us that is the heart of faith for followers of the crucified, risen Christ. It is God’s knowledge -the wisdom of love – into which we are baptized as novices. One might even say, we die to every claim but love.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. For the likes of me and my progressive friends and colleagues in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for members of the church who are choosing to leave the PC(USA) because of what they regard as excessive liberty, knowledge sometimes becomes the new “works” that substitute for justification by grace.

To be justified (i.e. made “right” with God) by grace through faith, as Paul understood it, represents a 180 degree repentance, a reversal of the direction and flow of the human-divine encounter from us to God to from God to us. Paul later speaks of the practical implications of love with respect to all claims of knowledge:

“And if I ….understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I. Co. 13:2)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 4-7)

I am among those who remain puzzled by what to do. It’s far from simple. Paul’s description of the Christ-like life is centered, but it’s not simple. The patience and kindness come hard when faced with what I am sure are the weaker, more homophobic folks whose view of Scripture supports their opposition to the full inclusion of LGBTQ members. I boast of a greater knowledge based on love. In the name of love, I become arrogant. I am rude. I have a short fuse. I want to separate myself and the more enlightened from the less enlightened, the weaker, as Paul might say. In their presence I quickly become irritable, resentful of their presence in the Body of Christ. I do not bear all things. I do not believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I do not believe that if I understand all mysteries and have all knowledge but have not love, I am nothing.

Though Paul was writing his letter to the tumultuous church at Corinth in the middle of the First Century CE, his words still speak. They arrive unexpectedly like a surgeon’s scalpel removing a cancer for the sake of the Body of Christ. The gospel cuts with a knife, but it is always for the sake of healing, a dying to ego for the sake of the resurrected Body of Christ.

Gracious Lord, by your healing mercy, keep me in the knowledge of Your love.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015.

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My Soul Waits in Silence

A contemplative reflection on Psalm 62 at Saint Augustine Beach, Saint Augustine, FL.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. I wait in silence. [Psalm 62:5 NRSV]

I wait in silence.

Withdrawing from the noisy men next door in Saint Augustine, I am like the Hermit Crab crawling into the borrowed snail shell on Saint Augustine Beach.

This is the same beach brave souls dared to integrate in 1964, a place where then there was no place to hide, the public white beach where the Hermit Crabs refused to hide when the billy clubs swing to drive them from the white man’s beach. There are no billy clubs on the beach today but the shouting of the world we call civilized still hurts by ears.

How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? [Ps. 62:3 NRSV]

The world is noisy. Loud. Cacophonous. Bellowing blasts, bewailing, and bedlam in Beirut, Baghdad, and Boston hurt my ears. Hoping to leave it, I come to the beach where the tides know nothing of the color of my skin, my income, my worries or fears.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  [Ps. 62: 5-7 NRSV]

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

At low tide I crawl inside the borrowed shell looking for a respite from the noonday heat, my deliverance, my refuge, my fortress. But, even here, the noise follows me.

The blasts, buzzes, and bellowing echo inside the shell. Silence eludes me. Even here, I am a poor man, a mere breath, walking among the vendors and hawkers, resentful, angry, beset, a man of low estate.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. [Ps. 62:9-10 NRSV]

Here I am a breath stripped from the delusions of high estates indulged on the other side of the sand dunes that separate the beach from the street.

I wait in silence.

I ponder the speed outside the Hermit Crab’s temporary home, the abandoned snail shell, the speed that is itself an illusion, a flight of hubris washed away by the tides of time. I remember the race to nowhere, the myths of ownership, invulnerability, control, and superiority that race through the minds of low and high estates alike.

I hear the distant shouts and screams from the integration of Saint Augustine Beach that still plunge the despondent men next door into the oblivion of cheap booze, dope, and, maybe, crack. But the longer I wait and listen, my heart grows strangely calmer. Quieter. More at peace.

I come into the deeper Silence of the Breath once heard by the psalmist.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work. [Ps. 62: 11-12 NRSV]

In the wordless silence I hear the Word I’ve come to the beach to hear:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” [Ps. 46:10 NRSV]

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saint Augustine, Florida, January 31, 2015

 

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Basking in the Light – “What a good boy!”

Apologies to you who foolishly stopped by today looking for something serious! We’ve been thinking about lesser things the last few days.

Like about cats and dogs and humans. It started with a verse from Steve Shoemaker about an old man and his dog, followed by a humorous fight between cat-lovers and dog-lovers on the social media site that begins with an ‘f’ and ends with a ‘k’. Then came Steve’s verse about his old cat, the Queen Cat, and this morning’s “Kennel-Mates, After Work” about a young Irish Wolfhound (Steve) and a tabby cat (Nadja). A few hours later the video of Sleepy Head Barclay reached us through cyberspace from back home in Minnesota.

While Kay and I are basking in the sun in St. Augustine, FL, Barclay the Soccer Dog had some quiet time this morning under an artificial SAD (“Seasonal Affect Disorder”) light back home in cold Minnesota. The voice belongs to his older sister Kristin. We’re not into philosophy, theology, politics, or global news this morning. I hope your world is lighter peeking behind the curtain of intimacy, you break into a smile for 35 seconds.

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Kennel-mates, After Work

At first when they paired-off, the dog and cat
would fight when they got home from work. His bark

was silent almost the whole day, and that
made the young Irish wolfhound want to speak

so badly he would arf and yowl when she
came through the door. The tabby, though had heard

enough already, thank you, from the three
cats and five dogs in her small lab, and would

soon scratch at him “Can’t you leave me alone?!”
Their love made them negotiate, in time:

he gave her thirty minutes to wind down,
and then would softly smooth her fur… When tame,

she’d purr, and they would share their different days:
his reading, her solving squabbles between

the strange and varied, feisty animals
at work. Neither the dog nor cat was mean

at heart. There didn’t have to be a spat
each day…even between a dog and cat.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 30, 2015

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Verse – Queen Cat

Our old cat never comes when we call.
She sits regal and won’t move at all,
But if we don’t kowtow
To her every meow,
She will stomp all four paws down the hall.

– Steve Shoemaker, Jan. 29, 2015

 

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Ever wish you were a dog?

The voice in this video is Barclay’s favorite sister, Kristin, who’s “babysitting” while Barclay the soccer dog’s parents are away. Sometimes I wish I could turn on a dime and have this much fun entertaining myself. Listen for the “Woof!” in reply to Kristin’s “Good boy!”  We miss you, little guy!

 

 

 

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Mr. Netanyahu, Stay Home!

Speakers of the House sometimes get confused. Under the U.S. Constitution the Speaker of the House is second in line behind the Vice President in the event something happens, God forbid, to the President. Sometimes Speakers – and foreign Heads of State running for their lives in elections back home – speak and act out of turn.

Read Mother Jones’ article Has Netanyahu Finally Gone Too Far with His Contempt for Obama? 

 

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Dear Mr. Netanyahu

You gave a great speech. Congratulations. Too bad it was in the wrong country.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On accused Netanyahu of lying to Congress and trying to scare Israelis.

“He didn’t present anything positive, nor can he,” she said. “It’s chutzpah to stand in Congress and tell Americans their president is making a bad deal.” – Israeli News 

Sincerely,

An American Citizen

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 3, 2015.

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