The Paradox of Pentecost — Presence and Absence

A stranger than strange text for today’s Feast of Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the coming of the Spirit, the Advocate, reads:

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you…” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

It is Jesus in John’s Gospel who speaks these words to his disciples. They scratch their heads, like confused children being dropped off at camp against their will. They already sense the homesickness that will come. The thought of being abandoned brings anguish, the foreboding of oncoming forlornness.

The experience of absence, endemic to the human condition, is essential to faith. The feeling of anguished forlornness builds courage, and faith, of one sort or another, with or without an advocate.

Enter Jean-Paul Sartre’s reflections on anguish and forlornness. Fully conscious without religious crutches, I experience the anguish of my responsibility for myself and others, and the forlornness that realizes that I am alone in my decision-making. The decisions are mine along. No one but I am responsible.

Like the disciples, we want it to be otherwise. Some of us pray as though the feelings were a hoax, the Devil’s trickery or God’s pre-ordaining, as though our course were charted by another decision-maker disbelieved by Sartre. But regardless of our faith or faith denials, the truth is that to be human is to know this sense of anguish and forlornness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian imprisoned and executed by the Third Reich, caught the sense of it in a letter he wrote from a prison cell.

“The only way to be honest is to recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur. And this is just what we do see — before God! So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation visa a vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as [people] who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). God who makes us live in the world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, which is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. Mark 8:17 makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and his suffering.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pp 219-220, McMillan Company, 1953, translated from German by Reginald H. Fuller.]

Bonhoeffer’s writing acknowledges the anguish and forlornness that precede the disappearance of the divine usurper of human freedom and responsibility. In place of the bad-faith God who keeps her children in diapers, there comes the advantage of Christ’s going away — the arrival of the Advocate who brings the unexpected joy of coming of age.

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2015 – Feast of Pentecost.

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Two Line Verse

Verse – Soul Food

Flowers in soil
Feed the soul

Soul Food Flowers

Soul Food Flowers

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL May 24, 2015.

 

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The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.

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Daily Riches: Your Enemy the Savage (Thomas Merton, Martin Niemöller and Richard Rohr)

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

“It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” Martin Niemöller

Today, if African American protests turn into riots, the offenders are often referred to as “animals.” In the early American West, native Americans were called “savages”, and wartime slurs dehumanized Jews, Germans, and Japanese. Richard Rohr reminds us that we all have a viewpoint, and that each viewpoint is “a view from a point.” Consequently, he says “…we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the full truth.” To love our enemies, as Jesus commands, and to escape our own unconscious biases, we will need such a critique.

“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are…

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Bible a key to murder case

A friend called to tell me about the murder of his friend Earl Olander soon after it happened. Hollis knew the victim, 90 year-old Earl Olander, mercilessly beaten in his Carver County farm house.

Why would anyone would do this [i.e., tie him up, beat him with a shotgun, ransack his farm house, leave him half-dead] to a sweet-spirited old man like Earl?

A new use for the Bible appeared as the lead headline on the front page of this morning’s StarTribune:

“Stolen Bible leads police to suspects in death of 90 year-old Carver County man: After 90 year-old man was beaten to death, his stolen Bible led police to two suspects.” – StarTribune

Though a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, charges have been brought against the two suspects based, in part, on the discovery of the victim’s large European Bible containing two savings bonds a cleaning agent found in a vacated apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

The Bible has many uses. It speaks of grace, of sin, of homicide, of betrayal, brutality, denial, mercy, and more. Now, in the murder of 90 year-old Earl Olander that defies explanation, it serves as the primary piece of evidence in a court of law.

“Before the attackers fled,” says the StarTribune, “they ransacked Olander’s home and stole the Bible, as well as coins, old silverware, and two-dollar bills.

“[A neighbor of Olander] said he found it ‘quite ironic that it was the Bible’ that helped investigators make the arrests. ‘Think about that.'” [Star Tribune story]

“The book to read is not the book that thinks of you, but the one that makes you think.  No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee, author, To Kill a Mockingbird

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2015.

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Verse – Annals of Aging #12

There was an old man with weak prostate,
Who overnight could not stay prostrate
For more than two hours
Without golden showers
In porcelain towers. His poor mate

Could never reach REM sleep all night,
And so every morning they’d fight
Till each took a bedroom
With a private bathroom,
And now everything is all right.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 14, 2015

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Just In – Classic Motorcycle for Sale

Classic Motorcycle ad

Classic Motorcycle ad

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Quote of the day; Stories . . .

Gordon C. Stewart:

Scroll down to read Day Parker’s quote about stories. Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest who died of a heart attack at the age of 55. His writings were of some controversy, such that Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) investigated de Mello’s views 11 years after his death, concluding that some of his writings were “inconsistent with the teachings” of the Faith. The Indian magazine Outlook claimed it was an attempt by Rome to undermine the clergy in Asia and indicative of widening fissures between Rome and the Eastern Church. Like Elie Wiesel, Father de Mello knew that stories, not investigations and pronouncements, are the (appropriate) currency of human contact.

Originally posted on Day Parker:

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
― Anthony de Mello

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A Blogger’s Dilemma – Words and Silence

Although no two days are the same, they divide themselves between up and down, loquacious and dumb, wordy and wordless.

Some days the words greet me in the morning. They pour out through my fingertips before I know what they’ll say. Other mornings the words play dead or hide-and-seek.

The words don’t come when the news is bad…when the world itself is too wordy, when the sacredness of words is profaned by jabber and chatter and pretentious prognostications about … just about everything. Some of those days and weeks I know enough to keep silent. On others I try to write and publish something here on Views from the Edge despite the inner voice that whispers “Shhhh! Not now. Maybe later the words will come. Shhhh!”

Although no two days are ever the same, they group themselves between “Not now; not yet!” and “Good morning! Today’s the day!”

Whether the words know when to be written is another thing altogether. Neither they nor the keyboard knows, and so some days I write in hopes they won’t profane the sacredness of words and silence.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 7, 2015

 

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Reunion after 50 Years

Some will come we never knew
Others we knew well have died
Some faces have never changed
Eyes that smile or smiles that kiss

Age has bent and broken some
Motorcycles carry some
Others have three legs or six
Hair is gone or colored now

Eyes see less and ears have hair
Some wear aids and others should
Minds remember hearts recall
Or we cannot think at all

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 7, 2015

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Good News! Goodbye fossil fuels

Tesla Energy’s announcement of a global solar solution to carbon pollution is a potential game changer. Imagine the world where carbon pollution is nipped in the bud. Tesla Energy has agreed to share its technology in the interest of the planet itself. What a breath of fresh air.

Click Tesla’s Elon Musk just changed the world to hear the story.

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

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Verse – Grandma’s Garden

To make grape jelly, she began
three years before by planting vines
along the back fence in her yard.

And now she lets her young grandson
pick purple clumps with his small hands.
With grandma he is never bored,

he helps her cook, and even clean.
She marks the doorway when he stands
to check his growth, just like the plants.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 3, 2015.

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Don and Jesus in the Hospital

Word came this morning that a dear friend, Don, was rushed to the emergency room yesterday with internal bleeding. His hemoglobin count had dropped to a woefully low 5.5. Don is one of six classmates who gather each year for renewal of friendship, reflection, good food, a game of softball, and morning prayers.

Don’s hospitalization drew me back to an as yet unpublished follow up to the “Jesus in the Hospital” post from several weeks back on the weird dream of Jesus as a patient in the hospital.

Some readers stop reading when they see the name Jesus. Others like the name Jesus and are curious to read the story. Yet another group is distraught or confused by the thought of Jesus as a patient in the hospital. He might be the doctor or the healer, but not the patient.

This brief post is written for the latter group of readers.

Biblical scholars and theologians interpret the church’s sacred writings (Holy Scripture) according to the different genres of literature. They also differentiate between Jesus of history (Jesus of Nazareth), and the Jesus of faith (the crucified-risen Christ of believers). In Christian scripture the two are welded together. The Jesus story is told by four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A gospel is by its very nature a witness to faith, written by faith to elicit faith in the reader, not an objective eye-witness account of events in the life of Jesus as a video camera might have given us. The only access we have to Jesus of Nazareth is through the eyes of faith.

The theological tradition of the church has always insisted on the full humanity of Jesus. His humanity was only half the Chaledonian Formula (fully divine, fully man), but Jesus’ humanity is the starting place for any claim to the Formula’s other half: the divinity of Jesus Christ. Time after time there have arisen fanciful representations of Jesus. In some of these, the historical Jesus is, for all intents, obliterated.  He wears flesh and blood the way an actor playing a part assumes a costume to draw into audience into the play. In these versions of Christian faith, the bodily Jesus is a disguise for God.

But a Jesus who was never sick a day in his life, a Jesus without bodily functions, pains, and hungers, a Jesus who didn’t feel the hammer slam his thumb at his carpenter’s bench, a Jesus who couldn’t be admitted to the emergency room with 5.5 hemoglobin and the need for transfusions is a not one of us. That Jesus is a figment of imagination.

Why I dreamt of Jesus in the hospital remains a mystery. What I know is that the dream wouldn’t have come without a deep sense of Jesus, the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. The only way I know to love Jesus is to love those who could end up in the hospital or hospice care. They are Jesus. Jesus is us.

One of the six friends who call ourselves the Old Dogs wrote a prayer for Don:

O Great and Merciful God, hold our brother Don in Your strong and loving hands. Lift him. O Jesus, Lord of the universe, as you did so often and so naturally to the sick and infirm in ancient Palestine, bring new health and healing to Don. And Holy Spirit of Power that tombs cannot contain, be with the Dog we all wish we were with right now, with him, with him. Amen.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 2, 2015.

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Verse – what we are supposed to hate

wanting everyone to know
just how great we really are

or denying to ourselves
and to everybody else
that we have the skills and smarts
that could win 10,000 hearts

treating others as beneath
us or even inhuman

being irresponsible
for myself or for the world

worse is not caring at all
being dead before we fall
finally into our graves
death is god’s last enemy

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 2, 2015

 

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“Gut Feelings” – of brains and bowels

Scientific research adds a new dimension to the discussion of the bowels as the seat of the emotions in Property and Compassion – Plato and Luke (VFTE, 4/29/15). Our friend Gary, who frequently comments on Views from the Edge, brought it to our attention with his response to the Property and Compassion post:

I find it interesting that the intestines were considered the seat of emotions [in the Bible]. I read a couple months ago that we now know that the intestines actually are lined with neurons, i.e., brain cells. “Gut feeling” is more than a metaphor….

Click Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication  to read the full article. Or scroll down two-thirds of the way through the article to read get the essence of the gut-brain connection.

The Hebrew location of the emotions was the bowels, also translated “inner parts” – stomach and intestines. The instinctive response to human need is a pit in the bottom of the stomach, a visceral response. One has to be carefully taught not to feel it. As the author of the New Testament epistle asked,

…whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? [I John 3:17 KJV].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 1, 2015.

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Black Beatings – White Policemen

How do you explain this? Watch and read Steve’s explanation.

Verse – We Serve & Protect

Sadly, some white policemen
serve themselves, their deepest fears,
on the streets American,
by protecting their ideas:
they think they hear their wives say,
I choose a black man today.

(Only this sort of a Freudian analysis, I think, can explain the extreme anger and violence.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 1, 2015

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Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

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Compassion expressed or withheld – Plato and Luke

The question of the relation between compassion and property and the emotional-psychological-spiritual results of expressing or withholding compassion came to the fore several Sundays ago after hearing a reading from The Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” [Acts 4:32].

The whole group, i.e. the early disciples of Jesus, were putting into practice the political philosophy Plato recommended centuries before to legislators in the Greek republic:

“The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues—not faction, but rather distraction—there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth.”

– Plato, Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.E.)

The idea of a ceiling on the accumulation of wealth is a democratic socialist principle. So is a floor to prevent poverty.

Interestingly, Plato seemed to think distraction was a greater plague than factionalism. Distraction from what? The good, the true, and the beautiful perhaps, the trinity of cardinal virtue, perhaps.

Material security becomes an obsessive distraction. Hoarding becomes a way of life. “More” becomes life’s purpose. More ad infinitum until more is no more  when il morte levels the rich and the poor to their shared destiny of dust and ashes.

The distribution of wealth is a profound spiritual issue, both publicly and psychologically. How wealth is distributed in any society is a measure of its compassion. The New Testament texts have a jarring way of discussing this. They discuss compassion as originating in “the bowels”.

Though the more recent versions translate the First Epistle of John in a sanitized way – “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” – the original Greek text is better translated by the KJV: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” [I John 3:17].

The words “of compassion” are added by the King James translator for purposes of giving the English reader the original sense of the Greek text. “Shutting up one’s bowels” toward someone in need is the equivalent of walling one’s self off from the common lot of humankind.

The Hebrew location of the emotions was the bowels, also translated “inner parts”  – stomach and intestines. The instinctive response to human need is a pit in the bottom of the stomach, a visceral response. One has to be carefully taught not to feel it.

The word “bowels” appears also in the Book of Acts description of the tragic death of Judas, whose bowels (compassion) had not gone out to Jesus until it was too late. Luke, the author of The Book of Acts, paints a gruesome picture intended, perhaps, to draw the psychic consequences of withholding compassion. Judas goes out and buys a field with the 30 pieces of silver he received for guiding the authorities to Jesus at the Mount of Olives. The description of Judas’ death leaves a choice of interpretation of a Greek word [prenes] that can be translated “falling headlong” or “swelling up” and splagchnon, the word for bowels, inward parts, entrails. A literal translation and choices are:

“Now indeed [Judas] acquired a field with the wages of unrighteousness. And having become prostrate/prone/flat on his face/ swelling up, he burst-open in the middle and all his bowels/inward-parts/entrails spilled-out.”

The bowels, not the heart, were regarded as the seat of human emotion. Seeing another person starving or injured leaves a pit in the stomach. Unresolved guilt or violation of one’s own moral standards or integrity often produces ulcers and intestinal problems.

Whether one translates prenes as becoming prostrate (the position of a penitent) or swollen, Luke’s picture of Judas’ death is a kind of internal combustion, a psychic explosion with societal implications.  The field that Judas bought became known as Akel’dama, the Field of Blood, so labeled from the Psalm (69:25) which Luke loosely renders, “Let his estate become desolate, and let no one be dwelling in it.”

Plato and Luke were both political philosophers. Plato, the elitist philosopher of the philosopher kings, and Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, seem to agree that we are meant for compassion and that extremes of wealthy and poverty were injurious to personal and societal health.

We are built for community. We are so constructed that buying a field is no substitute for the release of compassion. Compassion will release itself one way or the other. When withheld, it swells up to burst open a person or a society from the inside out. In that spirit, a society that legislates a ceiling on accumulated wealth and a floor of economic well-being is a field worth dwelling in.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 29, 2015.

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Verse – The Physical

The annual report
says I’m alive,
but my most memorable
recent dream
is of a portico
that’s unattached,
that leads nowhere, that needs
to be rebuilt.

The parts no longer fit
together. They
may still look strong and sound,
but lie there in
the dirt and will not move.
The contractors
I hire all do their best,
to no avail.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 26, 2015

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Tax Wall Street speculation

What we forget often hurts us. Sometimes remembering helps turn the tide.

Establishing a 0.03 percent Wall Street speculation fee, similar to what we had from 1914-1966, would dampen the dangerous level of speculation and gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy and reduce the deficit by more than $350 billion over 10 years.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Wealth for the Common Good, a movement of America’s wealthiest people with a conscience, is calling for the same:

Tax Wall Street Speculation

We, the undersigned investors, business owners and executives, call on the President and Congress to institute a modest federal tax on trades of stocks, futures, credit default swaps, and options. This modest levy would dampen speculation that threatens financial markets while also raising more than $150 billion annually in revenue for the US Treasury.

– See more at Wealth for the Common Good

In the run up to the 2016 national elections, citizen support for re-establishing the speculation fee is one specific way to register voters’ desire for economic fairness and democracy.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 25, 2015.

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Verse – Sweep, vacuum, dust

Sweep, Vacuum, Dust
(with presbyopia)

We’re not in a health club–we have no cool shirt.
We don’t go to yoga–nor live in a yurt.
In our house, we clean,
And try to stay lean,
But now with our old eyes, we see much less dirt!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 24, 2015

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The Day after Earth Day

The day after Earth Day the world is returning to business-as-usual. Which opens the door to a commentary on the nature of the human species within the order of nature, and the way religion supports or belittles the Earth.

Two days ago we posted about a curious and rather humorous dream of Jesus as a patient in the hospital (Jesus in the Hospital).

Some readers likely stopped reading when they saw the name Jesus. Others like or are neutral about or curious to read the story. Yet another group is distraught or confused by the thought of Jesus as a patient in the hospital; it might be okay for him to appear in the dream as the doctor, but the thought of Jesus as a patient seems over the top.

The picture of Jesus in a hospital bed is a day-after-Earth-Day issue, an every day question of how we see ourselves, the world, and Eternity.

A Jesus who was never sick a day in his life, a Jesus without bodily functions, pains, and hungers, a Jesus who didn’t feel the hammer slam his thumb at his carpenter’s bench, is a not one of us. That Jesus is a figment of imagination.

The theological tradition of the church has always insisted on the full humanity of Jesus. His humanity was only half the Chaledonian Formula (fully divine-fully man), but Jesus’ humanity is the starting point for any claim to the formula’s other half: the divinity of Christ. From roughly 70 C.E. until now fanciful representations of Jesus have diminished Jesus’ humanity. The historical Jesus is, in effect, obliterated by a dualism that views spirit and matter as mutually exclusive, as are immortality and morality, eternity and finitude. Jesus wears flesh and blood the way an actor playing a part assumes a costume to draw an audience into the play. In these versions of Christian faith, the bodily Jesus is a disguise for God, but not fully human as we are.

According to Hebrew Scripture the human species is of the earth. The human being is named “adam” (Hebrew for “earthling”). We are one with the dirt, the earth, nature. Likewise, our end is dust. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes” we say at the end, as we do every Ash Wednesday to remind ourselves before the end.

Strangely, the dream I had the other night didn’t seem strange at the time. A friend who knows the Byron who appeared in the dream wrote that she laughed and laughed because “I could totally hear you and Byron having that conversation” about whether a member of the church staff had visited Jesus in the hospital and whether to announce his hospitalization from the pulpit and pray for Jesus in the morning prayers.

The day after Earth Day I still don’t know what prompted the dream. What I do know is that the dream wouldn’t have come without a deep sense of Jesus as flesh and blood, an “adam” like us.  Only a deeper appreciation of our complete oneness with nature will open our eyes to the real Jesus, the real us, and the sacredness of creation. Matter is not evil; matter is sacred.

Jesus in the hospital is a game changer – a view of human frailty and mutual dependence in a world that too often confuses the goal of religion as the escape from mortality, the soul’s release from the prison of material existence. This dualism is notably errant and it is dangerous to the planet.

Earth is in the hospital. Will we work and pray for healing – a kind of planetary resurrection? Or will we go back to a deadly dualism – business-as-usual – the day after Earth Day?

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2015.

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Verse – And now they both have Ph.Ds

Well, everyone liked him, but she
had only been 16, (“Almost
was 17!” she still would say),
when he met both her parents first
and said, “Yes, I am 25,
but can I take your daughter out?”

They made him wait six months, and have
what then was called a double date,
and bring her back by ten. But when
she was in college and told them
it’s his ring on her finger, then
they almost made her stay at home.

He promised she would graduate,
and so they set their wedding date.
In spite of strong parental fears,
they have been married for ten years.

[For M and K, whose life has been
only somewhat like this.]

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 23, 2015

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Jesus in the Hospital

Jesus is in the hospital.

I had one of those nocturnal throw-back dreams retired people sometimes have.

It’s a Sunday morning. I’m the Senior Minister just returned from being out-of-town. The other ministerial staff and I are robing for worship. Though I’m the preacher for the morning, I am totally unprepared.  In addition, I remember that we are scheduled to receive new members from the new members class during worship. I ask Byron (a wonderful former colleague who shows up in the dream) for an update. He is clueless. He fears the members of the class haven’t been notified. Perhaps no one will be joining, though the reception of new members is clearly listed as part of the morning Order of Worship. We wonder how to handle an embarrassing situation.

Then Byron says, “Oh…and I just learned Jesus is in the hospital.”

“Which hospital?”

“I think it’s Star,” he says.

“What’s Star? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh,” says Byron, “it’s a private wing of Christ Hospital for public figures concerned about their privacy.”

“When was he admitted, and why? What’s the diagnosis?

“I don’t know; I just learned of it a moment ago from John (the custodian).”

“Well… what should we do?  The congregation’ll be shocked, but we should announce it. We should remember Jesus in the Prayers of Church, don’t you think?”

The idea of Jesus being in the hospital didn’t strike me as that strange in the dream, but it did pose its own kind of curious scenario. I’d never imagined Jesus sick. I wonder if Jesus was ever in the hospital? There was something strangely comforting about the thought of Jesus in the hospital, one of the flock for whom  we could pray.

Dreams, they say, are ways the subconscious works on things the conscious mind dares not address. What if Jesus had died in the hospital?

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 20, 2015.

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The Race to the White House 2016

Ted Cruz, Ron Paul, Marco Rubio, and Hillary Clinton are taking their places in the starting gates for the horse race to the White House in 2016. Smiles and frowns all around, emails asking “Are you IN?“with a request for money from the partisan Yea-Sayers and Nay-Sayers. But the fact is that every horse they ride – conservative and liberal – is owned by Wall Street.

Painting of Governor Floyd B. Olson

Painting of Governor Floyd B. Olson

I’m not “IN” until a candidate rides a different horse into the starting gate. Until someone acts and sounds like Floyd B. Olson.

Click What would Floyd B. do? to find a candidate who puts them all the declared candidates to shame.

Floyd B. Olson was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He was the first third party candidate elected Governor of Minnesota as the candidate of the progressive Farmer-Labor Party. Years later the Farmer-Labor Party joined with the Democratic Party to form the Democratic Farm-Labor Party (DFL).

I am not a liberal. I am what I want to be — a radical,” said Governor Olson to the 1934 Farmer-Labor party convention. A radical is not an ideologue. It’s a person who insists on going to the root of things. Olson was the nemesis of Wall Street, a champion of the people.

The Farmer-Labor party, a loose and, at times, tenuous coalition of farmers, workers, socialists, isolationists and progressives, coalesced around the idea that working together they would bring about a fairer distribution of income for themselves and increase social justice for the larger society. – Russell Fridley, Minnesota Law & Politics.

If and when someone like Floyd B. Olson rides a different horse into the starting gate for the 2016 White House horse race, I’ll be IN with both feet.  Until then, I’m not IN.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 18, 2015.

Posted in America, Economics, Politics, Social Commentary, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Verse – House Concert

House concert(April 17, Michael Hammer
piano)

so many keys played carefully
one at a time or recklessly
in clumps in chords in runs in scales
hands bouncing fingers waggling trills
yet knowing each composer’s need
for a performer’s sloth or speed
for piano or fortissimo
to Hammer or to gently go

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 18, 2015

Posted in music, Poetry | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Liberation Limerick

It’s sexist, demeaning, though hard to explain
That a positive adjective can be a pain:
The papers we scan
Don’t say Jane’s handsome man,
It’s always Joe Blow and his lovely wife, Jane.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 16, 2015

Posted in Life, Poetry, Sexism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Verse – Annals of Aging, No. 14

On Snoring

I wake and my lips are all chapped,
My sinuses completely stopped.
Breath through my nose is what’s missing.
My biggest regret: no kissing.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 15, 2015

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Verse – A Cliche Expanded

What I believe
and state firmly
does not matter
nearly as much
as my actions
in revealing my
character.

Who I am
can be seen:
much more clearly
by observers
than learned by
hearers or readers
of my words,
so carefully chosen.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 12, 2015

Posted in Life, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Verse – Buzzkill

Buzzkill

Five in a line in our family
(all of them females, of course),
have the name Bee in the middle
(between their last and their first.)

Half of the bees in our country
died over winter last year.
One out of three of our foodstuffs
need bees or will disappear.

Einstein may not be who said it
(no one has proved it was he),
that we will die, yes, each family
within two years of the bee.

We need more prairies and fruit trees,
(that are not sprayed from above.)
Honey from new hives can happen:
we need to give bees our love.

[written in 9 minutes early this morning after hearing a PechaKucha 20-slides-each-20 seconds talk last night by Urbana, Illinois, beekeeper Maggie Wachter at a Sola Gratia Farm dinner.]

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 12, 2015

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“Minnesota Nice” and Better – John Skogmo

Minnesotans are known for Minnesota Nice, a phrase that describes Minnesota’s Scandinavian culture of civility. Sometimes Minnesota Mean lies just below the surface. Other times civility and gentleness pervade a person’s character. John Skogmo was Minnesota Nice at its best. There was no meanness in him.

Minnesotans also don’t like fanfare. That Minneapolis is called “the little apple” refers not only to the city’s size compared to “the Big Apple” but also to Minnesotan’s disdain for big splashes, big stages, and floodlights. ‘Ego’ and ‘Minnesotan’ belong together in the Thesaurus as antonyms.

Working back stage behind-the-scenes is what Minnesotans are about at their best.  John Skogmo’s obituary, laced with subtle humor, is a great tribute. John was a man without guile; his faith was the foundation of the quiet stature universally recognized by his family, friends, church, and work colleagues.

Obituary, published April 12, 2015 [highlights added by VFTE]

John Gunderson Skogmo died April 4, 2015 of cancer. Born in Fergus Falls, MN, July 15, 1947, to James Bertram and Joyce Shirley Skogmo.

John found his calling at age nine, reading his father’s issues of Kiplinger’s financial magazine. He became fascinated with compounding interest and saw the benefits of delayed gratification. As a teenager he ran a concession that sold popcorn, cotton candy, and caramel apples at local events. At the end of the day he laundered money-at the kitchen sink, to get the sugar and grease off his cash intake. He used his earnings to buy shares in the Security State Bank of Fergus Falls and was frequently excused from school to attend shareholders’ meetings.

After graduation he left for the Cities to attend Macalester College, where he received a treasured liberal arts education. He earned a J. D. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1972 and went to work immediately in the three-person legal department at Northwestern National Bank. Except for a summer at the Cornell University School of Business as a 1978 Bush Foundation Fellow and the bank’s temporary displacement by the 1982 fire, John spent his entire career at the corner of 7th and Marquette, as NWNB became Norwest and then Wells Fargo. He was fortunate to work in several departments before finding his true home in 1989 in Wealth Management, where he applied his stellar relationship skills to helping individuals and families. He was set to retire in June 2015 after 43 years with the bank.

John Skogmo’s volunteer work, much of it behind-the-scenes, helped assure the solvency and stability of some important organizations. As a trustee of Macalester College, he reinvigorated the Alumni Fund at a critical juncture. He worked with Artspace to maintain affordable housing and workspace in gentrifying neighborhoods and was instrumental in establishing the Cowles Center. He served as president of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library and was appointed by the city council to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.

His proudest achievement was his long-term service to Westminster Presbyterian Church as a deacon, trustee, elder, and treasurer. John’s was the voice of prudence in many crucial financial decisions, and his steadfast leadership earned respect for Westminster’s endowment as one of the most wisely managed church funds in the country.

He was predeceased by his parents and a grandniece, Lily Irene Martyn, and is survived by Tom Morin, his partner of 32 years and husband of 1 year; his sister, Shirley Nelson; niece Sharri Martyn and her daughter Claire; nephew Trevor Steeves (Jana) and his children, Elizabeth (Kyle) and Joshua; half-brothers Phillip Skogmo (Yukiko) and David Skogmo (Linda); two aunts and many cousins. Memorial service on Friday, May 1, 2015, at 3:00 PM, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette, Minneapolis. Reception following at the Minneapolis Club. Memorials preferred to Westminster or donor’s choice. No Flowers Please. www.Washburn-McReavy.com Edina Chapel 952-920-3996.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 13, 2015

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Verse – Rising Early

Our April morning
sky, ribbed in violet,
now becomes

magenta fading into
dusty blue without
a single white cloud

to distract our horizon gaze
waiting for our spinning
globe to show the sun.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 12, 2015

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The Day the School Burned Down

“Where were you on April 9, 1956?” The answers are pouring in from the Class of 1960.

Marple-Newtown Junior High-Senior High School Fire, April 9, 1956

Marple-Newtown Junior High-Senior High School Fire, April 9, 1956

We were in the 8th grade of Marple-Newtown Junior-Senior High School. On that day we were eating lunch, getting ready for our next class when the fire alarm sounded. Must be a fire drill. We knew the drill. So did the teachers. The teachers led us outside, hand-in-hand in the continuous line processional we’d learned in those ridiculous fire drills. The school was going up in flames.

One of my classmates, Dave, remembers it this way:

The Boys’ Room was crowded with guys smoking cigarettes before class, the air was filled with a cloud of tobacco smoke and smells, so we didn’t have any indication that a fire was building below the first floor. Hearing the fire alarm, we stepped out into the hallway to see a trickle of smoke rising from each plank of the hardwood flooring. Seeing that smoke, we knew that the school and the students were facing a serious fire emergency. An orderly evacuation began and although it was a cold day, no one was permitted to go back to their homerooms for their coats.

To a chorus of cheers, we all stood outside shivering for what seemed to be a long time and watched the fire fully consume the building. To a chorus of boos, the fire trucks finally arrived and the volunteer firemen had trouble hooking up the hoses and getting water on the destructive blaze.

The school building was obviously a total loss and since I was cold, I decided to hitchhike home. It was about lunchtime, when I arrived home. My mother immediately descended on me, “…why are you home, are you playing hooky and where is your leather jacket?” “No,” I said. “It wasn’t my fault,” I blurted out, before feeling the back of her hand across my face. “Tell me the truth,” she demanded. I said,”the school burned down,” just before getting a fresh one on the other cheek.

One of the memories we share is the picture of Mr. Harvey, still inside the building, handing the typewriters out the upstairs window from his typing class to Seniors who were ascending and descending a firetruck ladder to save the typewriters until he had to come down himself to loud gasps and cheers.

Fred, remembers being “in typing class a year later using one of those ‘saved’ machines with melted keys.”

Ellie, who wasn’t in the building when the first started, adds something else:

I was approaching the school entrance after lunch at the pizza shop and was met by students rushing out to safety. Still remember that once we were all assembled by homerooms Mr. Rathey went tearfully from group to group checking whether we were all accounted for.

What a surreal day!

Mr. Rathey pointing

Mr. Rathey pointing

The miracle is that we all made it out safely. Before Mr. Rathey, shown here pointing to the school, could see his charges walk across the stage at graduation, he was diagnosed with cancer. The Class of 1960 presented him with a gold watch at his early retirement. Ellie reminded us today of Mr. Rathey’s tearful care on the day the school burned down and in the years that followed.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 9, 2015.

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When it rains…

… it sometimes pours.

News came today of the death of John, followed hours later by news of the death of Jerry, and the impending demise of two more friends. Life is like that, or so I tell myself. But it doesn’t help much, if at all, because grief has its own way. Grief wends its course through the soul the way a river eventually ignores the man-made routes and dams imposed to keep it in its place. Nature always wins.

Loss is always hard, even for those who believe, as the Creed does, “in the life everlasting.” I look to the presence of the Eternal in this life, this side of death, this side of my mortal end, as the heart of things, knowing that love continues, no matter how many deaths and sorrows it suffers.

On days like today when it pours, a familiar hymn often sings itself in me, and I am strangely comforted.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away, we fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.

“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be Thou our Guide while life shall last, and our eternal Home.”

I pray the same comfort for John’s and Jerry’s spouses, relatives and friends, and for the readers of Views from the Edge, in whatever circumstance you find yourself tonight.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 8, 2015.

 

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Verse – My Familiar Voice

Her voice is low and very resonant,
but now, with age, I often cannot hear
each word. She rightly takes offense at that
and thinks me inattentive. If my ear
is turned away, or if I do not see
her moving lips, the sounds are often lost.
For other women there is jealousy
since I can hear them fine. It is not lust
for at the string trio tonight, the sound
of violin was clear, cello was round,
but viola was lost in the background…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL April 8, 2015

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The Choir – emblem of hope in a world at odds with itself

Listen in on John Rutter, one of the world’s great composers, discuss the choir as “a kind of emblem for what we need in this world, when so much of the world is at odds with itself….”

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Verse – The Male

When I am mowing grass between
the growing Christmas trees,
I often see the red-winged bird
perched high observing me.

If I turn the loud mower off
I’ll hear his scolding cry
a Konk-la-ree, a Konk-la-ree,
and then away he’ll fly.

Is he critiquing how I mow?:
Hey you there! Watch-that-tree!
No, there’s a female nesting near,
Come-to-me, Come-to-me…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 6, 2015

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The Tree of Life and the Other Tree

Something happened in church yesterday on Easter. Call it an “aha” moment.

Hidden away in the first reading of Easter is a curious reference that draws no attention: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him…” [Acts of the Apostles 2:5]. Yesterday the “tree” shined like a diamond attracting full attention.

The reference to “a tree” seemed strange. This wasn’t a lynching in Mississippi – they hadn’t hanged him from a tree. It was a crucifixion. The Roman cross was made of wood, but why would Peter call it a tree? Unless, perhaps, the tree calls something else to mind, a reference point within Hebraic scripture and theology that puts the cross in the greater light of a tree. Like the stories of creation and fall in Genesis 1 and 2.

There are three references to a tree in the Genesis narrative.

The first is from the third day of creation:

“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.” [Gen. 1:11-12]

The second reference juxtaposes two trees. One gives life. The other is the tree of death.

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” [Gen. 2:8-9]

The third reference describes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as the one tree that is forbidden in the garden:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:15)

It is always the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that gets us into trouble. It is the tree of divine presumption. Hubris. The tree that produces not life but death. It destroys, almost always in the name of goodness, and what goodness seeks to kill is evil. The knowledge of good and evil is beyond human capacity.

The Jesus who is hanged from this killing tree exposes the folly of the tree on which he hangs. As foe to the global imperial claims of the Roman Empire, his killing tree becomes for one and all the tree of life.  On the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the crucified-risen One becomes the tree of life, “yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind; and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.”

Perhaps that’s the rich history, the diamond, that shines like a diamond in the Easter text from The Book of Acts. No one would know the juxtaposition better than Peter, the only disciple to deny knowing Jesus, and the only disciple specifically named in the instructions to the three women at the empty tomb: “Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him… [Gospel of Mark 16:7]

Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; The third day he was raised again from the dead” [Apostles’ Creed]. And by this fruit of creation restored is all creation blessed.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 6, 2015

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A Verse for Easter

Readers unfamiliar with Christian scripture will find it helpful to learn that the original Gospel of Mark ended abruptly and curiously, not the way one would expect good news to end. Upon discovering the stone rolled away from the tomb and the tomb empty, Mark ends not with triumphal joy but with fear. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for fear and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Here’s Steve’s verse for Easter:

The Short Ending of Mark

Most scholars think that first came Mark,
then Matthew, or perhaps St. Luke,
but Mark is shortest of the three
and it takes work for brevity.

The empty tomb is found in Mark,
but in the first draft of the book
no resurrected Christ appears–
his followers are left in fear.

The Gospels four all tell the tale
of thousands fed by miracle,
but only Mark will tell it twice–
this Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Young Mark assumes from Chapter One
that Jesus is the Son of God
the Christ-Messiah, Holy One.
His faith was fed by wine and bread.

Mark must believe that doubts and fears
can turn to trust when he appears.

[Mark 16:1-8]

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 5, 2015

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Do unto others…

It’s not often we follow up of Steve’s poems. But today’s post (“Verse – Indiana”) on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) merits further comment on Holy Saturday.

some so-called Christians change the
Golden Rule:
Do unto others what hate did to you.

Steve and I are both Presbyterian ministers. We’re Protestants. We’re not proud of it; it’s just who we are. At this point in his life, Steve restricts his social commentary to poems and verses.

Here are the earlier stanzas of of “Indiana” that succinctly set the Indiana religious Freedom Restoration Act in its ironic historical context:

To America came the Protestants.
In England they could not live
as they would.
They were despised by ruling residents
and fled to freely worship their own God.

Conservatives want to preserve the past,
forgetting which side they were on…
They now
discriminate against those who resist
and say, “To your beliefs we will not bow.”

Tomorrow Steve will celebrate Easter in Illinois. I will celebrate Easter in Minnesota. The symbol of the stone rolled away will be front and center. There can be no hate at the empty tomb. Governor Pence and legislators, pay close attention. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s hard to believe they didn’t know what they were doing, but in the sense in which the prayer from the cross was uttered, they really didn’t know`1.

 

Posted in America, Discrimination, Faith, Poetry, Religion, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Verse – Indiana

To America came the Protestants.
In England they could not live
as they would.
They were despised by ruling residents
and fled to freely worship their own God.

Conservatives want to preserve the past,
forgetting which side they were on…
They now
discriminate against those who resist
and say, “To your beliefs we will not bow.”

Instead of helping people to be free
to live and love as God made them to be,
some so-called Christians change the
Golden Rule:
“Do unto others what hate did to you.”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 4, 2015

Posted in America, Discrimination, Poetry, Religion | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A memory of Ken

The first Good Friday following retirement from active ministry is filled with the memory of a friend named Ken.

On Good Fridays from 2006 through 2013 Ken Beaufoy was the one member of the congregation I could count on to be with me in the Chapel from noon to 3:00 p.m. There were years when there were three or four. But most Good Fridays, it was just the two of us.

The pattern for the three-hours was very simple. Each half-hour began with a reading from the passion narratives of Gospels. A five minute silence followed, ending with a movement from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. A brief prayer was spoken aloud. Another contemplative silence ended the half-hour segment.

There were times when I looked at Ken and felt as though I knew him the way his beloved wife, Ilse, had known him. Isle had been the third person in the pews before her death in 2007. Ken and Ilse were like no other couple I’d ever known and not only because theirs was the most unlikely of loves. Ken, a British soldier during the occupation of German following the end of World War II, and Ilse, a German soldier decorated with the German Silver Cross for bravery, fell in love during the occupation and made a life together against all odds. Their marriage was a sign of the power of reconciling forgiveness and love.

Two people never adored each other more than Ken and Ilse. During Ilse’s demise, when hope was scarce and hard decisions were made, I saw Ken’s faith up close and personal in his Good Friday moment of saying goodbye to his Ilse. As often happens between a pastor and a congregant, we became blood brothers until Ken died quietly in his sleep.

Today I’m remembering Ken and those six half-hour segments in the Chapel. I read the readings, listen to the movements of Faure’s Requiem – Introit et Kyrie, Offertory, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei et Lux aeterna, Libera me, and In Paradisum – pray the prayers, and give thanks for a communion deeper than words. It still endures.

 

 

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Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 3, 2015.

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Even our best intentions…

As Sesame Street’s Kermit the Frog croaks that it’s not easy being green, today reminds me that it’s not easy being right, whatever “right” is.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently amended the Church’s constitutional definition of marriage as a commitment between two people. It was a good day for those of us who have discussed, debated, and advocated for full inclusion over the last 40 years.

It represents something akin to the civil rights movement – institutionalization of the same ethic that refused any longer to deny equal rights to African-Americans in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was the right thing to do.

But nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Collateral consequences accompany every controversial decision, and sometimes those collateral consequences place us in conflict between two highly prized commitments.

No sooner did the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitutional change make the news than the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) announced its decision to break fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Click HERE for the story. The NBCI claim that the PC(USA) has abandoned or “manipulated” sacred text is not a new charge, but it’s a mistaken one. Said NBCI’s President, the Rev. Anthony Evans:

“No church has the right to change the Word of God. By voting to redefine marriage PCUSA automatically forfeits Christ’s saving grace. There is always redemption in the body of Christ through confession of faith and adhering to Holy Scripture.

“In this case, PCUSA deliberately voted to change the Word of God and the interpretation of holy marriage between one man and one woman. This is why we must break fellowship with them and urge the entire Christendom to do so as well.”

But the PC(USA) did not alter Scripture. It amended its understanding of the Word of God, as we did when we repented of the biblically acceptable practice of slavery. Scripture and tradition without the guidance of the Holy Spirit are not the sine qua non of the Christian faith. It was and is through the guidance of the Spirit of the Living God that we are called to read the Bible through the eyes of Christ, the eyes of love and human dignity, to bring the church and society into a greater light.

It seems, as best I can tell, that there are two grounds on which opposition to the PC(USA)’s full embrace of GLBT members is based. One is psychological (fear). Whenever fear appears, we are called to be compassionate. To understand and walk in the fearful one’s shoes. The second ground is intellectual, as in arguing against biblical interpretation. To argue that one’s biblical literalism is the only faithful reading of the Bible is intellectually dishonest. It’s buried in denial, but it no less intellectually dishonest if it were spoken from unfettered consciousness.

Life is messy. Theology, ethics, and morality are messy. Every decision is contextual, and in that complex set of competing claims and valued, we stand responsible for our decisions of interpretation, faith, and action.

The “breaking of fellowship” by the National Black Church Initiative and its 36,000 African American congregations cuts to the bone of a church for whom racial justice and reconciliation has long been a mandate of the gospel of Jesus. Racism is America’s great sin. Its forms are personal and institutional.

The PC(USA) Confession of 1967 declared the ending of discrimination as of first important to the church’s mission of reconciliation, a confession of faith we now apply to discrimination against the GLBT community.  Section 4 on Reconciliation in Society, begins as follows:

In each time and place there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. The following are particularly urgent at the present time.

a. God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love he overcomes the barriers between brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all men to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.

It was in that same spirit of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ that the Presbyterian Church (USA) slowly moved over the last 40 years to the position of full inclusion of GLBT members, culminating in the marriage amendment.

It’s not easy being green. It’s not easy being right, whatever right means, especially when one right creates another wrong, or is perceived as sin.

This Wednesday  of Holy Week, we once again move with Jesus toward the cross. Green, black, white, yellow, red, and brown, straight and gay; the certain and the confused. Sin is everywhere, even in our best intentions, and often it hides in the corners of our own claims of righteousness. Only a vast love and mercy can overcome the gulfs of estrangement that divide us. Some sins are plain to us, some escape us, some we cannot face. Even our best intentions…. Johan Hermann’s text “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended” (1630) set to music by Johann Cruger’s “Herzliebster Jesu” (1640) is a heartfelt prayer for the whole Church and for the world itself as we move through confession on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday toward Easter this Holy Week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus and Indiana’s Religious Freedom law

Yesterday, March 31, Christian Theological Seminary released President Matthew Myer Boultons statement on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The statement represents the official position of the CTS Board of Trustees. Views from the Edge is pleased to re-print it today:

“Christian Theology Seminary (CTS) believes deeply in religious liberty. But we witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth — the one every Christian disciple seeks to follow — calls us not to a freedom to exclude, or a freedom to discriminate, or a freedom to create an atmosphere where prejudice may flourish. On the contrary, again and again, Jesus calls us to a freedom of inclusion, equality, justice, and profound respect for the dignity of all.

“CTS opposes this act, then, not only because it represents an offense to the spirit of civil rights; not only because it cuts against the best of Hoosier hospitality; and not only because it has created a public relations crisis for the state of Indiana. CTS opposes RFRA primarily because it violates the Christian values we hold dear: values of inclusion, equality, justice, and the dignity of all people, including our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

“The Christian Gospels are replete with examples of these values. In the Gospel According to Luke, in response to the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ a lawyer asks Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ It is a clannish question, a question that seeks to draw a circle around one group we are required to love and serve, creating another group we supposedly may exclude as outsiders.

“But Jesus will have none of it. In his response — the parable of the Good Samaritan — Jesus flips the question on its head, as if to say, ‘Don’t waste your time asking the clannish question of who your neighbor is; instead, go and BE an excellent neighbor, serving all with mercy and justice.’

“Three weeks ago, I was a keynote speaker at a church service rallying against RFRA. In conversations afterward, many of us who attended, including some of the event’s organizers, lamented that it appeared the bill was headed for passage. I take heart today at the bipartisan, statewide, nationwide outcry against this unwise, unjust legislation. And I continue to be inspired by the many Christians and other religious people who stand against RFRA as a matter of faith, conviction, and genuine religious liberty.

“Real damage has been done, but together we can and must begin the work of repair. Indeed, for Christians, as we move ever deeper into Holy Week, we can only be challenged and encouraged that God is a God of hope and resurrection.”

Matthew Myer Boulton
President and Professor of Theology
Christian Theological Seminary

NOTE: Christian Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and its neighbor, Butler University, founded and co-host the Desmond Tutu Center.  The Desmond Tutu Center is North America’s only academic center in a university and seminary context named for Archbishop Emeritus Tutu. The center, launched on September 12, 2013, focuses on leadership development in social justice and reconciliation, international relationships, and interreligious bridge-building. South African churchman, theologian, and anti-Aparteid leader Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak is the Tutu Center’s Executive Director.

FURTHER PERSONAL NOTE: Matthew Myer Boulton is the son of  Wayne and Vicki Boulton whose friendship has blessed us since Wayne and I met as roommates in 1964 at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.  Steve and I  could not be prouder of Matt’s leadership and witness for justice and peace.

 

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Disciples of Christ opposed Indiana RFRA

Before the national hubbub about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) leaders sent this letter to Indiana Governor Mike Pence urging him to veto the the bill.

March 25, 2015

The Honorable Michael R. Pence
Governor of the State of Indiana
200 W. Washington Street, Room 206
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Dear Governor Pence,

We write with respect to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). We urge you to veto the bill.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been headquartered in Indianapolis for nearly 100 years. Although Butler University is no longer affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), its founder, Ovid Butler, was a Disciple and a noted abolitionist. The college, in keeping with our values, admitted women in a time when that was rare. We are the church that founded Christian Theological Seminary. Our offices are located on North Meridian. Our Indiana regional offices are located in Indianapolis as well.

Every two years our general assembly, a gathering of over 6000 people from across the United States and Canada, is held in a US city. In 2017 it is scheduled to be in Indianapolis as it was in 2009 and 1989. Like so many other host cities, we find Indianapolis to be a hospitable and enjoyable location for our people. Many of our leaders are citizens of this city, and we take particular pride when our selection process makes it possible to bring the assembly to our home town.

However, the recent passage in the state legislature of the RFRA bill is distressing to us. It is causing us to reconsider our decision to hold our 2017 gathering in Indianapolis.

Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith – as well as to our national and Hoosier values. Our nation and state are strong when we welcome people of many backgrounds and points of view. The free and robust exchange of ideas is part of what makes our democracy great.

As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow – one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table. Our members and assembly-goers are of different races and ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They have in common that they love Jesus and seek to follow him.

We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race.

We are following closely the progress of this legislation. It will be a factor in whether we continue with our plans to hold an assembly in Indianapolis in 2017. We urge you to veto the bill.

Respectfully,

Sharon E. Watkins  Julia Brown Karimu, President    Ronald J. Degges, Pres. Gen.Minister & Pres.     Div. of Overseas Ministries    Disciples Home Mission

After Governor Pence signed the bill, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) took further action reported by The Huffington Post. Click “Disciples of Christ Church Threatens a Boycott Over New Law … that Allows GLBT Discrimination” to read the story.

Sometimes disciples of Jesus stand up for the rule of love. Do I hear hands clapping for the Disciples of Christ?

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Nothing talks like money!

No sooner had Indiana enacted its new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) than leaders of the Indiana Senate and House announced they would work to “clarify” the law’s intent by amendment.

How did this happen so  quickly? Money. Money. Money. Corporations, organizations and groups declaring they would boycott Indiana – no more conventions, meetings, etc. – meaning a huge economic hit to Indiana – because the new law opens the door to GLBT discrimination based on claims of religious scruples. Click HERE to read Views from the Edge‘s earlier post.

Real speech – words spoken and written – against the law is not new. The criticism was voiced loudly during the debated.  It passed anyway. Then, suddenly, another form of speech – money – entered the scene. Suddenly Indiana leaders are racing to the microphones to declare the law was meant to be inclusive, not exclusive.

Click HERE for the Washington Post video of Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R) and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) feigning surprise and promising to do their best to rally their caucus to make clear the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 31, 2015

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Confession is good for the soul

Tears welled up last Sunday listening to the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday: Palm Sunday. The reading was LONG, but it didn’t matter. It pierces the heart, step by step –  the human psyche revealed under an electron microscope, humanity on parade. All in one long reading. The tears that welled up Sunday didn’t fall, but they will later this week during Tenebrae, the service of Light and Shadow by the end of which the church is left in darkness, every worshiper’s candle extinguished by recognition of our participation in betrayal, sleeplessness, flight, and denial. One by one, the individual candles get blown out. All of them.

Holy Week for liturgical Christians is a solemn time of confession. There is no escaping our participation in the passion: our readiness to betray, doze off when asked to “watch with me one hour”, flee in fear for security, throw the switch, consciously or unconsciously, into psychological and public denial. Yet there is, at the same time over it all, the faithfulness, the wakefulness, the courage, the embrace of reality in its horror for the sake of love’s transforming power, the light of Christ himself.

Christians live in the dynamic paradox of faithlessness and faithfulness, sin and grace. We include a Prayer of Confession in the Sunday liturgy. Last Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, the Prayer of Confession, which came following a dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative, expressed the conscious and unconscious nature of sin and grace.

God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Some sins are plain to us, some sins escape us, some we cannot face. We repent of the sin that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil don on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may not turn from your love, but serve only your will. Amen.

We barely know ourselves. Some sins are plain to us. Some escape us. Others are too painful to face. Holy Week is time to wade into the waters of self-reflection, confident that these waters are the healing waters of the deeper Self, the crucified-risen One who cannot finally be betrayed, fled, denied, or killed.

Sunday’s liturgy ended with the singing of the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown,” lyrics by Samuel Crossman, 1664, music composed by John Ireland. 

 

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Ask much of us

“Ask much of us,

expect much of us,

enable much by us,

encourage many through us.”

These words from the prayer that followed Holy Communion yesterday (the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday) at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota leaped from the page. They are part of the congregation’s Post-Communion Prayer, prayed aloud by all worshipers.

In deep gratitude for this moment,

this meal, and for these people,

we give ourselves to you, most holy God.

Take us out into the world

to live as changed people

because we have shared the Living Bread

and cannot remain the same.

Ask much of us,

expect much from us,

enable much from us,

encourage many through us.

May we dedicate our lives to your glory.

Amen.

I needed that. I need daily to be reminded, asked, enabled, and encouraged to live actively in gratitude.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 30, 2015

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Memorial Day and the soldier’s helmet

Japanese soldier's helmet

Japanese soldier’s helmet

Memorial Day once honored the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers. They called it “Decoration Day” when they laid wreathes and flowers on the graves of the dead soldiers.

When I learned this in elementary school, it struck me as more than a little strange. My father had served as a Chaplain on Saipan. My father was a good guy. The people he went to war against were not. How strange to honor soldiers who fought against each other, “heroes” all, killing each other, especially when one side was good and the other was evil. And then, on top of that it seemed to pay homage to something we were also taught to scorn: war itself. It was more than a little confusing.

Many years later, it’s a Monday morning. I’m a pastor. (The person in this story is since deceased.)

A 70-something year old ex-Marine calls the church office. He’s a big ma, what tough guy call “a man’s man,” a World War II Marine, 6’2”. 250 lbs, part of the invasion of Saipan in the South Pacific when he was 17.

“My wife’s out of town. Can you come over tonight for a drink?”

I’ve never been to their home. I’m guessing he wants to talk about his marriage.

He takes my coat. We sit down. He pours us each a Scotch.

“You know, your first couple of years here I didn’t come to church much. I didn’t like your preaching. I’m not one of these peace guys. But something made me keep coming back. I started to listen and I kept coming, and all this peace stuff and Jesus stuff started to get to me. It’s been a long time now. That’s why I called you. I hate the Japs! I know I’m not supposed to call ‘em ‘Japs’. I hate them! But I can’t hate them anymore.”

He gets up and walks over to the mantel above the huge stone fireplace.

“My wife has no idea what’s in this box. I’ve never told her. I can’t tell her. I don’t want it anymore. I’m asking you to take it. I can’t live with it anymore.”

He takes the box from the mantel, places it on the ottoman in front of me, and opens the locked box with a key. He is shaking now and crying.

“This poor bastard! I killed this [expletive] with my bear hands!”

His whole body shakes as, one by one, he removes the contents from the box –

a soldier’s helmet;
a lock of hair;
two eye teeth;
dog tags, and
a gun –

that had belonged to the Japanese soldier he killed in hand-to-hand combat on Saipan.

“All these years of hate. And this poor bastard was just doing the same thing I was. He was just doing his duty to his country. How will God ever forgive me? I just want this stuff out of my house. I want it out of my life! How will God ever forgive me? I can’t hate any more. I can’t.”

We stand in the middle of his living room. I hold him like a baby: a grown man – a “man’s man” – sobbing and shaking with guilt, sorrow, and grief.

I take the box and the contents home. I give the gun to a friend who’s a gun collector. I have no memory of what I did with the box or the artifacts of what remained of the Japanese soldier. Memory is like that. It was too personal. It was too hot.

_____________

So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

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