Verse – But when…

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John Dixon/The News-Gazette Steven Shoemaker, a retired pastor who attends the Philo Presbyterian Church, wrote a letter to the editor saying the Philo church leaders would be discussing hosting a syrian refugee family, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s stance on the issue. Shoemaker was photographed at his home in south of Urbana on Wednesday Nov. 25, 2014.

But when…

But when will you die? asked my two kids.
In sleep, my Doc said, are the best odds.
But I will not die,
I’ve propped open each eye,
But the toothpicks keep hurting my eyelids!

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, 11:58 p.m., Feb. 11, 2016

Two hours after Steve posted this on his CaringBridge page, one of his old friends with an equal sense of sardonic humor commented:

I think it is sly
to prop open each eye
and frustrate the doctor’s prognosis
What a wonder to see
that the powers that be
can be limited in their diagnosis

Death and dying are NOT fun or funny, but humor is one of God’s greatest gifts.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 12, 2016

2016 American politics and Bob Jones University

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The NY Times reports today that “four Republican presidential candidates [Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio] are expected to appear at Bob Jones University, an evangelical institution in Greenville, S.C., for a forum.

When I was a child no politician would consider – even for a second – seeking the support of Bob Jones, the President of the fundamentalist Bible college named after him. All these years later, Bob Jones and Bob Jones University have become part of what is considered “normal” in America. It’s not normal. I’m sorry. It’s not normal. It’s nuts! See for yourself.

Did I mention…this is nuts?! 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 12, 2016 [at least 54 years before “the Rapture” according to Bob Jones, regarded by his followers as the prophet vested with the “100 Year Prophecy”].

 

Verse – When Cancer Patients Cry

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It may mean nothing when you see
The tears, or when you hear the voice
Begin to catch and whisper. The
Strong drugs for pain remove the poise
And self control. Emotions rule.

Or

The patient, for some reason, may
Regret the loss of family
And friends… Feel sorrow not to stay
In this the known world, possibly
The only world. Hope fades, Faith flees.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 11, 2016

Note: Views from the Edge followers recall that Steve was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in November with death expected no later than mid-January. He’s outlived the original prognosis by a month. His home   on the Illinois plains has become a hotel for family and friends from around the world.

Steve posted this verse last night on his CaringBridge page. The sentence that introduced it said:

[Bad day. 2nd in a row. I’ll try to be funny tomorrow…]

 

 

Disingenuous Endorsement Tactic

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Moments after posting a proposed list of questions for tonight’s debate moderators, Views from the Edge found this video. This video exposes the corporate lobbying connections of the PAC that claims to speak for the Congressional Black Caucus. Decide for yourself.  Rep. Keith Ellison is a friend who served as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis before becoming a Minnesota legislator, U.S. Congressman, and Bernie Sanders supporter.

Moderator questions for tonight’s debate

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If we could whisper in the ears of tonight’s Democratic Presidential Primary Debate moderators, we suggest a few questions. Since we don’t have their ear, we print the questions here for the millions who read Views from the Edge.

Question for both Sen. Sanders and Secretary Clinton:

You both support action on climate change. Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to President Obama’s climate change regulation, an action that places the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in jeopardy. If you were President today, what actions would you take?

Question for Secretary Clinton:

Senator Sanders’ campaign announced it has raised 6 million dollars following Monday’s win in New Hampshire, all from small donations. During this same period your campaign has sent fundraisers to Mexico City. After all the discussion about campaign finance reform and Senator Sanders’ refusal to accept such money, doesn’t the Mexico fundraising trip substantiate the criticism that your campaign depends upon, and is beholden to, big money?

Question for Senator Sanders:

This week you met with Rev. Al Sharpton in New York. Meanwhile, John Lewis was belittling your claim to involvement in the civil rights movement and announced that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC has endorsed Secretary Clinton. Rep. Keith Ellison, one of Congress’s most progressive African American leaders serving as Vice President of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent out a tweet explaining that the Caucus has NOT endorsed a candidate, and that the action was taken by a PAC separate from the Congressional Black Caucus. What will it take for you to win the votes of African Americans?

Question for Secretary Clinton:

Secretary Clinton, you say that Senator Sanders would undo the Affordable Care Act and start all over to implement a program of universal health care. But Senator Sanders has argued to replace the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicare to cover all people regardless of age. Medicare already exists. Do you stand by your statement, and if so, why?

Question for both candidates:

Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed piece in the New York Times cites a Gallop Poll from a year ago measuring American biases as they affect electability. According to the poll,  50% said they would not vote for a socialist. Only 60% said they could support an atheist. It’s now one year later and Senator Sanders came from 50 points down in Iowa to a virtual tie, and won the New Hampshire primary by 21 points. How do you explain these results – was the poll mistaken or have we changed that much in one year?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Moderator, Nobody’s Listening Broadcasting System (NLBS), Chaska, MN, Feb. 11, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Who has the edge? Bernie or Hillary?

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Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times Op-Ed piece “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” asks:

Can you translate your bold vision into reality?

Can you get elected? Or would your nomination make a President Cruz more likely?

Both good questions. Serious questions raised by a journalist who first talked with Bernie after Bernie had been elected Mayor of Burlington, VT. It was a phone conversation with someone in the Mayor’s Office. Mr. Kristof, an intern with the New York Times, ended the conversation by asking the aide for his name. “Oh, I’m Bernie Sanders.” That was 1981.

Kristof’s editorial cites a Gallop Poll from a year ago that seems to give the edge to someone else: to Hillary in the Democratic primary, and to a Republican opponent in the general election. Why? According to the Gallop Poll one year ago, Americans show the most negative bias toward socialists (50%) and atheists (40%) when asked how various factors would affect their vote for a presidential candidate.

As a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I have supported Bernie Sanders from the day he announced his candidacy for President. I support him because he boldly proclaims a social vision that is consistent with my faith. Democratic Socialism is not, as often supposed, an oxymoron. Democracy is a political form of government in which the people rule. Not corporations. Not big money. Not oligarchs. The people.  Socialism is a form of economics that places emphasis on a fair standard of living, quality of life for all, and that narrows the gap in the distribution of wealth. A Democratic Socialist is someone who promotes 1) the return of the integrity of the electoral system to the general population (big money out of politics), and 2) the general wellbeing of everyone in the society rather than leaving it to be settled by the vicissitudes of the free market.

My religious tradition puts the public square front and center as a matter of faith and ethics. The first question of any candidate is what s/he would do if elected. It is not whether they profess my religious faith. “Would the world be a better place?” is the most important question. As I listened to Bernie speaking at Liberty University, I was struck again by how deeply he represents the best of the Jewish-Christian tradition and how respectful he was of the evangelical audience he was addressing. Both his demeanor and his thoughtful engagement of common ground with his audience’s Christian faith and practice defined the meaning of civility and respectful discussion. The atheistic Jewish Democratic Socialist was the opposite of the fears that paint any socialist as an anti-religious demagogue. His message could have been delivered from the pulpits of many churches and synagogues in America.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who by the measures of the Gallop Poll, is much more electable than Bernie. Hillary’s not a self-proclaimed socialist, not Jewish, and not an atheist. She’s a Christian heavily influenced by the United Methodist youth group she credits with turning her from right-wing politics into a social gospel progressive. On that question of electability, Hillary holds the edge.

But there’s another edge to Hillary that people are reticent to address. Although she has the edge on Bernie by the Gallop Poll measures, she has “an edge” to her that is off-putting, an air of self-righteousness that reduces her likability.

Remember the 2007 presidential primary debate in which Obama quipped “You’re plenty likable, Hillary”? Candidate Obama was criticized at the time, and rightly so, for being condescending. Nevertheless, his sarcastic quip exposed a truth about Hillary’s likability.  She’s not. Too often her facial expression is smug and condescending. Research in the communications field reminds speakers that 90% of what people take away comes from the speaker’s body language.  That’s a problem. It’s a thing she does with her eyes and mouth that seems to disdain those who disagree or ask a hard question. Hillary’s “edge” gives Bernie the edge on likability.

Bernie also gets the edge for his consistency over 35 years in public office. People are seeing in him a quality nearly absent from ordinary politics. What you see is what you get. When you believe that what you’re seeing is what they’re going to get, you’re much more likely to trust that person. Whether or not you like such a candidate, you view him or her as trustworthy. Hillary not so much. Edge to Bernie.

Turning from the question of electability to the question of Bernie’s and Hillary’s respective abilities to get things done, the edge tends toward Hillary.

Both she and Bernie are experienced politicians, but their experiences are different. Bernie’s only executive experience was years ago as Mayor of Burlington, VT. Congresspeople and Senators are legislators, not executives. The transition to the Oval Office from the Senate Office Building is a steep climb into another set of skills, power, and authority. Hillary is familiar with the Oval Office and executive responsibility. She occupied the White House for eight years, watching the patterns, discussing the most vexing problems with her husband and the press, and she served as Secretary of State managing the Department of State. On the level of executive experience, the edge goes to Hillary.

Although a fighter like Bernie, Hillary is connected by history and experience with congressional Representatives, Senators, Governors, party operatives, and leaders in the private sector on Wall Street and beyond. People owe her – even the most unlikely supporters like Senator Al Franken (D-MN), as close to Bernie’s democratic socialism as they come – because she came to their sides in hard-fought campaigns. Bernie, the Democratic Socialist, on the other hand, has always maintained his partisan independence while allying himself with the Democratic Caucus. Bernie would bring few IOUs to the White House. Edge to Hillary.

If politics is the art of the possible and the do-able, Hillary seems to have the edge. In the current oligarchic world of un-democratic American politics and capitalist economics, a more likable and trustworthy Democratic Socialist will have a tough time hold his edge. And that’s a crying shame.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 11, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somebody has my ashes!

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It’s Ash Wednesday. I put on my ministerial robe 15 minutes before the traditional Service that marks the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes and go the drawer of the credenza.

Ash Wednesday“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!” 

Every year I store the ashes in the credenza in my office. I’ve forgotten that we’d moved the credenza from my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival!

“Somebody has our ashes!”

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

We begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even with signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the font for the waters of baptism, the waters of the renewal of life.”

We have some fun justifying the change in the Service, focusing on the that part of the Gospel text for the day – the words of Jesus himself. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen my others….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret…”(Mt. 6:16-18).

People come to the font, one-by-one, for “the Imposition of … [Water]”. I dip my hand into the font. “Pat, (making the sign of the cross on her forehead), “Dust to dust; ashes to ashes. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. You are a child of God. Live in this peace.”

After the Service is over, one of the worshipers asks whether anyone has done the same for me. She reaches her hand into the font. “Gordon, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Remember…You are a child of God…..”

I’ll never forget it. Neither will they. And somewhere in this world a stranger has a credenza with a sack full of ashes. Whoever you are, feel free to keep them. They’re all yours.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 10, 2016 – a memoir from 2012 at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN

 

Call it regressive, call it progressive…

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….or call it conservative. Call today’s message what you will….:

citizens-united“President Obama is ‘strongly considering’ signing an executive order against secret money in elections – and could announce this action as early as this week!

“This executive order is the single biggest thing the President can do on his own to fight back against Citizens United. With the stroke of a pen, he could require companies that have contracts with the federal government — which include a huge number, if not most, of America’s largest corporations — to disclose their political spending.” -People for the American Way (PFAW).

Taking elections back from big money – PACs that allow dark money to hide in secret contributions that sway voters with costly television, internet and print media campaigns – is a conservative or even a regressive (as in, returning to a former state) agenda that restores the electoral process to the people  themselves. It’s a progressive idea that restores and conserves the integrity of the Constitution.

I signed on the PFAW petition to President Obama. Constitutionally speaking, I may be right or I may be wrong to support the proposed executive order. But it seems like a no-brainer for anyone who cherishes the idea of a real democratic republic of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Thanks for coming by for two cents worth one.

-Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 8, 2016

 

Conservative, Progressive, or….

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the True Believer?

Republican and Democratic candidates for President all have the same problem. They’re focusing on one of two words.

Who’s REALLY conservative? Who’s REALLY progressive?

The buzz words, which mean little or nothing without clear definition, have become the litmus tests. No can define what they mean exactly. But on both sides of the aisle, what is at stake is a new kind of true belief, a new form of orthodoxy (i.e., right thinking) – the true believer. Or, as it is described in my tradition, ‘the righteousness.

The claim to righteousness is a soul-numbing claim. In the face of it, Micah shifts the conversation from righteousness to goodness:

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

What would happen if we considered policy/program proposals and political candidates by the standards of goodness: justice, kindness, and humility?

Micah test is both conservative and progressive. It conserves a core ancient teaching of the western tradition, and it puts social justice, kindness, and humility at the center of public life.

What’s not to like about that?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 8, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Bowl Halftime

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It’s halftime. It’s a FOOTBALL FIELD. Football players play on this field. Except at halftime when the field becomes a hug stage – a plastic-wood-steel or something stage rolled out to the middle of the field. That can’t be good for the grass.

On the grass itself are marching bands, Beyonce and 40 other women with boots bouncing around on the football player’s field.

This can’t be good for the guys in the locker room, wondering which hole they might step into in the second half.

Has the NFL Players Union asked for an end to this? Has the union stood up for the players’ safety? Nope. It’s about money, not concussions, hips, or legs – except for Beyonce’s.

I confess. I love football. I know I shouldn’t. But I do. I don’t like concussions. I don’t like halftimes. But I still like a great play. Great plays take place in the first and second halves. I regret that halftime entertainment makes the second half less safe than the first.

  • Just a thought from an as yet unrepentant football fan waiting for the second half in 2016. Go Payton. Finish the game without injury. Then run for your life from the NFL! Gordon C. Stewart, Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babe Ruth and the American Dream

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Beer_mug_transparent“Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams.

“If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.'”

Regarded as “incorrigible at the age of seven (7), George was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage of the Christian Brothers. 

Brother Matthias Boutlier, a disciplinarian and fine baseball player, taught him baseball and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

“If I didn’t drink this beer….”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 6, 2016.

It was the shoes!

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In the middle of the night after taking a sudden fall at the gas pump, it occurred to me: “It was the shoes!”

These shoes – or should I call them ‘boots’? – are HEAVY. The expensive, indestructible H.S. Trasks weigh five pounds.

shoesAfter wearing myself out on the gym treadmill walking @ three miles an hour for 14 minutes (up two minutes from the last vigorous workout) in my newly purchased near-0-pound black Skecher Pillar sneakers, I re-shoed my feet with the H.S. Tracks, recommended by my brother-in-law Craig years ago, for the trip to Costco.

Maybe it was the shoes that caused the fall over the gas hose. Maybe not. But if it was the shoes, which pair was to blame? The new light-weight gym shoes? Or the five pound Trasks I’ve worn five years without falling?

I rolled over and went back to sleep. “Nah, I’m not going to blame the shoes. It’s my story and I’m sticking with it: it was the exercise. It’s bad for my health!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 6, 2016.

 

 

 

Exercise is BAD for my health!

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Silver Sneakers Logo

Silver Sneakers Logo

So…I wrote earlier today about slowing down. I’m trying. But my doctor and Kay insist I not slow down too fast or I may come to a dead stop. Begrudgingly, I’ve started to take their advice. I joined the health club as a Silver Sneaker or something like that.

This morning Kay and I worked out before going to Costco to get the Prius’s tires rotated, a precautionary move similar to exercise – regular tire rotation will keep the tires from dying before their time.

The tire rotation appointment is for 1:00. It takes 45 minutes. We walk around Costco, get a few groceries, have a bite of lunch, pick up the car, load the groceries, start driving home, and remember we need gas.

It’s after 2:00 p.m. now, past time for my nap with Barclay, but I pull into the gas station, pull up to the pump, stop the car, do the credit card thing, insert the gas hose, and start pumping. Then it occurs to me to check out the windshield for cleaning.

“Are you okay, Sir? Are you okay?” asks the young man who’s come to my aid.

I’m face down feeling old and foolish. “Damn gas hose!” The hose was too high for leg muscles exhausted from working out. I had tripped over the gas hose.

Kay is oblivious to all this, sitting quietly in the passenger seat, her head down, traveling elsewhere in the universe, texting someone not lying on the ground next the car.

“What happened?” she asks as I get back in the car. “I fell. It must have been the exercise. I’ve NEVER tripped like that before. I told you. Exercise is bad for my health!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 5, 2016

Slowing life down

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Life moves at break-neck speed. Are we built for speed, pressure, stress of this magnitude?

My Amish Rocking Chair

My Amish Rocking Chair

I answered “Yes!” until hearing impairment garbled the sounds, muted the music, confused conversations, and made solitary moments my preferable times of day. I chose slowness over speed, ease over pressure, peace over stress – an end to the vocation of active ministry with a loving congregation.

“How’s retirement?”

Life is slower. I share the quiet with Kay and our canine friend Barclay. I write a lot, which was my intention as the hearing loss progressed.

Still, I’m addicted to speed. Between my MacBook Air and iMac, I’m still dependent on speed – the speed of the internet. The speed of instantaneous communication. The speed of news makes my head ache. I can’t keep up. The pressure builds in my head. My heart gets heavy. Not a good thing, I think, for a privileged person who chose solitude over crowds, silence over confusion, low-pressure and low-stress over high-pressure and high-stress.

Slowing life down is a spiritual thing. The Amish rocking chair in our living room reminds me of the virtue of spiritual simplicity. But I rarely sit in it. I rarely sit and rock without my MacBook Air. The speed, pressure, and stress are in my head or, as the Hebrew ancients would say, in my heart. My heart and head don’t easily un-learn what they’ve been taught. But it seems now that un-learning, not learning, is the privilege and task of solitude.

“Barclay, want to go up and take a nap with Dad?” Barclay races up the stairs and takes his place at the foot of the bed. If I’m late with the invitation, he comes to get me for our intimate hour with no speed, no pressure, no stress – and no MacBook Air!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 5, 2016.

 

Sermon on most divisive Christian claim

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“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me [Jesus]” is sometimes used as a billy club, as in, “if you believe, you’re ‘in’ – if you don’t, you’re ‘out’.” According to Matthew Myer Boulton, the statement has nothing to do with belief. Read in context, this line in the Gospel According to John is the opposite: an assurance of divine comfort and inclusion.

Matthew (“Matt”) Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, is the son of Wayne and Vicki Boulton, friends of Gordon and Steve for 51 years. Matthew’s leadership is a source of great joy. He is the author of God Against Religion and Life in God.

Last Night’s Iowa Caucus Results

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What a difference a year makes. Last night, Senator Bernie Sanders virtually tied Secretary Hillary Clinton in the Iowa Democratic Caucuses. In April 2015 a Views from the Edge post began:

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 requests 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.

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

“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.

Most Americans have never heard of Floyd B. Olson, the popular Minnesota Governor regarded at the time as President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s successor before his untimely death. The Views from the Edge piece concluded:

“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.

That was before Bernie Sanders came on the scene.

Last night’s Iowa Democratic Caucuses resulted in a dead heat between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. Unlike all other candidates, Senator Sanders is not funded by Wall Street. He’s supported by over 3,000,000 small donations by people drawn to his clear message, unwavering consistency on the issues, integrity, courage, and a populism like that of Floyd B. Olson.

In Minnesota many people ask, “What would Wellstone do?” referring to Sen. Paul Wellstone who demonstrated the same straight-talking as Floyd B. Olson, and who, like his progressive predecessor, died too early to run for President.

What would Wellstone do? What would Floyd B. Olson do? Ask Bernie Sanders.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 2, 2016

Making the nation great again?

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Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037

Prisoners exercising in the Yard – Vincent Van Gogh

Might Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the Prisoners Exercising have been inspired by conflicting biblical texts, like the ones read in many churches two Sundays ago?

The reading from the Book of Nehemiah tells the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

In the absence of leadership, the people’s confidence – their sense of national destiny – has been shaken. The citizens have intermarried. They’ve welcomed and married foreigners. Now Jerusalem’s exiled leaders have returned to restore the nation’s religious identity, to rebuild a nation that has lost its way. Ezra, the priest, and Nehemiah, the governor, are rallying the people to make the nation great again.

Sound familiar?

Jesus, Ezra, and Nehemiah shared a common faith. They were children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their lives were rooted in Torah. Each interpreted Scripture in his own time, according to his own lights. Ezra and Nehemiah re-built the wall. Jesus doesn’t like walls.

Jesus returns to his home town synagogue in Nazareth. He opens the scroll to the Book of Isaiah, and selects the reading announcing good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.

There is nothing about building walls. Nothing about isolation. Nothing about privilege. Nothing about rebuilding the nation. Nothing about the nation at all. Nothing about building the walls of a self-imposed penitentiary.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. – Luke 4: 16-18

No more prison. No more wall. No more other! Every Other is a BrOther. Otherwise, we’re all exercising in the prison yard.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 31, 2016

Verse – Brothers

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tuhmb_refugee

Steve Shoemaker

Our parents clearly could control our births:
Each one of us born three and a half years
After the other–boys, four boys… Our baths
Could hold two squirrelly kids, but always tears
Would start to stream, if three or more. Now all
Of us at sixty-two to seventy-three
Swim in our own oceans at home, but still
Can shower at the beach house by the sea
In our own room. Our ten grand-kids will scream
As they run up and down the halls, fly kites,
Stomp through the castles in the sand, and dream
Of being oldest, strongest–win the fights
That always happen when the cousins dart
Around–all born three or four years apart.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 31, 2016

NOTE: Steve and his his brothers are together this weekend in Urbana, still three and a half years apart! But very much together.

Elizabeth Warren Speaks

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As presidential candidates scramble to win Iowa, Senator Elizabeth Warren, in this opinion piece in the New York Times, reminds voters why the choice is so important.

Click “For whom does the government work? Presidents decide.”

Protected and Secured?

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You receive a mailing. Snail mail. Addressed to you. It looks official.

The upper left hand corner reads:

PROTECTED AND SECURED
PER CURIUM DOCUMENT ENCLOSED
RECEIPT MUST BE AUTHENTICATED

You open the envelope. The letterhead – with a picture of the U.S. Capitol dome – reads:

United States
Investigative Unit

OMG, you’re being investigated by the United States Federal Government!

You’re 80 years old and scared. You call a friend who knows something about the law. The friend is not scared. He looks at the bottom of the stationery which reads in small light colored font:

 

Project of Policy Issues Institute. Not affiliated with the federal government
5405 Alton Pkwy, Suite 5A #369 Irvine CA 92604
http://www.policyissuesinstitute.com (202) 558-6491

The enclosed letter and URGENT RESPONSE form asking for money “to support the fight to impeach Barack Obama” is to be returned to a different address:

UNITED STATES INVESTIGATIVE UNIT, a
Project of PII, P.O. Box 96444,
Washington, D.C. 20090-6444

Your friend assures you this is a hoax. He does a google search. He finds a blog that exposes the details of the work of the Policy Issues Institute.

To be PROTECTED AND SECURED against the United States Investigative Unit, click Drowning in Junk Mail – How to Opt-out of Junk Mail from Policy Issues Institute (PII) and to learn more about the meaning of sinister.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 29, 2016

 

 

 

 

Loving, Obituary Humor

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Nick Harris“Multi-talented and always interested in mechanics and construction, Nick continually renovated the house at Olson Gulch. He was especially interested in various heating methods and experimented with solar, waste oil burners and various wood-based fuels. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave the instruction manual.

“After graduating from high school and spending some time in college, Nick joined the Army in 1953 and was stationed in South Korea. Nick never said much about the two years he spent serving his country, except to say that he was cold the whole time, the kimchee smelled terrible and the water was unusable!” 

A construction and ironworker, Nick “started at the Anaconda Job Corps in 1983, as a maintenance mechanic where he enjoyed working with the staff and students until his retirement in 1995.”

– Excerpts from the Montana Standard obituary published January 26, 2016.

Allyn “Nick” Harris, 82, of Anaconda passed away surrounded by family on Jan. 25, 2016. 

Nick was a “mainstay” at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel, the summer chapel overlooking Georgetown Lake. Blessings and peace to the experimenter’s wife, Lois, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN who shares Nick’s love for St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel and its people, January 29, 2016.

 

 

Quote Me: More than Words

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“The characteristic place to find Christians is among their enemies. The first place to look for Christ is in Hell.” – William Stringfellow (1928–1985), author, My People Is the Enemy.

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateThese aren’t just words. After Harvard Law School, Constitutional attorney Bill Stringfellow moved into an East Harlem tenement apartment on the block the New York Times then called the “worst” in the city, turning down lucrative NYC corporate law firm job offers. The first of his many books, My People Is the Enemy – a theological reflection on racism and poverty in America- opens with an unusual sentence:

“The stairway smelled of piss.”

All these years later, Stringfellow’s words sound strange to many Christians and non-Christians alike who see the Christian life as the search for moral purity and the climb into a Hell-free afterlife. You want to meet Christ? According to the author of An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, Christ will meet you from among your enemies and in the Hell of human suffering racism and wealth create.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 27, 2016

I’m hearing voices in my head

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This original composition by Momoh Freeman is inspired by Momoh’s fellow Liberian refugee who lost his entire family. Scroll down for what the lyrics and what inspired the song.

“It was the morning of August, 1995 in Liberia when my friend went out to look for some food for him and his family. When he got back, he met the bodies of his family laying there. They were killed by the rebels. He moved to the U.S. in 1997 still carrying the pain and suffering he saw that day. One day he called me and asked me if I could come visit him at the Mental Institution. I said yes. So I went there. He told me what was going on and that he hears voices in his head and all this stuff, so I wrote a song about it. Hope you like it and thanks for watching.” – Momoh Freeman

Lyrics (copyrighted)

V1. I’m hearing voices in my head.
They are telling me I’m not good enough.
I asked myself what’s going on…… I think my
mind is playing tricks on me… can it be I’m going
crazy…? don’t want to go near insanty.

Bridge: If I loose my mind, where does that leave me
will I be a shell of what I used to be?
send down the rain, and wash away my fear
send down the rain and set me free

V2. I don’t think that I can take this alone
I need some help from above
I can hear them getting louder
and these voices are driving me crazy.

V3. What can I do to get these voices out of my head
I can’t sleep, as if monsters under my bed….
I need some help to get me through the night…
what can I do not to be afraid anymore…..

PERSONAL NOTE:

Momoh’s works in a group home for mentally-challenged adults, serves as Music Director at Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Branch, MN, and performs in various venues on weekends.

Momoh and I served Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska for eight years. He defines for me “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” In his voiced response to his friend’s voices, I hear God. Thank you, Momoh, for the privilege.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 26, 2016

 

Not Lemonade

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“When life gives you lemons… make something else. Tell us about a time you used an object or resolved a tricky situation in an unorthodox way.” – Not Lemonade

The invitation brought to mind an altogether different memory. It’s unorthodox, but not what the Daily Post had in mind.

The memory is “Lemonade-on-the-Lawn” at Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. During the summer months worshipers gathered on the church lawn at the corner of Observatory and Michigan for conversation over lemonade.

Visitors frequently misunderstood the pulpit announcements to be an invitation to eliminate on the lawn. They were relieved to learn about the lemonade.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, former Pastor, Knox Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, January 26, 2016.

 

 

 

Spell check chuckle

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Kosuke Koyama, Ph.D

Kosuke Koyama, Ph.D

Was the professor’s career distinguished or disguised?

Last night’s post stated that Kosuke Koyama had “a disguised career as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.”

The distinguished professor would get a chuckle.

Thanks to Carolyn Kidder (no pun intended) who had a disguised career as a music librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, for arresting the spell check error in the fourth paragraph.

  • Gordon, Chaska, MN, Ja. 26, 2016

The Varieties of Religious Appearance

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Pulpits and lecterns are “One size fits all!”
Visiting preachers will cover the wall.
A very short woman,
She carries her step in
I’m very tall, so I carry a hole…

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 25, 2016

NOTE: These photographs of Steve kneeling (l) and standing (r) were taken several years ago at the historic pulpit of Sheldon Jackson in Colorado.Sheldon_Jackson Sheldon was a smaller guy with a big heart. Steve’s has the same heart and is likely much more humorous than Sheldon, but who’s to say?

America’s Original Sin?

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Jim Wallace’s new book America’s Original Sin: Race and White Privilege & the Bridge to New America takes a hard look at the origins of the Euro-transplant nation that supplanted America’s indigenous people. Jim Wallace argues that the United States was born of White Privilege. It is the nation’s original sin: it’s America’s first and enduring sin.

It seems no matter how much things progress, or seem to progress, the original sin is always crouching at our door, as the Genesis story of Cain and Abel puts it. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it”.

But is the issue race? Or is it class? Or something else, a fatal flaw in the human psyche and the social psyche? Are racism and White Privilege what they seem, or are they manifestations of something more basic?

“There is only one sin, said Kosuke Koyama, and it is exceptionalism.” Born in Tokyo in 1929, Koyama saw in the Japanese Empire the myth of exceptionalism. To his great sorrow, he saw the same myth in the United States, the second home where he finished a distinguished career as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christiankosuke-koyama-2ity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Beneath White Privilege lies the election doctrine that arrived on these shores with America’s European settlers. Their theology was wrapped around the belief that the true believers, the elect, were exceptional to the rest of humankind. The result was genocide against America’s indigenous peoples followed shortly by the institution of chattel slavery, both the racial sins of White Privilege of which Jim Wallis writes.

In the larger scheme of things in 2016, one can argue convincingly that exceptionalism has been a primary contributor to climate change. The sin of exceptionalism is the illusion that we, the human species, are superior to nature. In  honor of Koyama: Could it be that there is only one sin: exceptionalism?

I wish Jim and Ko could have spent time with each other. It would have been so enlightening to have sat in not their conversations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 25, 2016.

No Problem!

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When was the last time you heard “You’re welcome” or “I’m sorry”?  “No problem” used to mean there was a problem. Someone had made a mistake or had inconvenienced you. 

The Restaurant

Would you like a refill?
Yes, please. That’d be great.
NO PROBLEM.
Thank you.
NO PROBLEM.

Can you tell me where I might find the Rest Room?
NO PROBLEM. [Wait person gives directions.]
Thank you.
NO PROBLEM.

I’m sorry. I ordered the ribeye medium rare. This is a NY strip well-done.
NO PROBLEM.

Vacation Rentals

I just checked out the rental car. It’s a mess. There are dents and scratches everywhere.
NO PROBLEM.

We have a reservation. We’d like to check in.
NO PROBLEM.

I’m sorry. I have a hearing problem.
NO PROBLEM.

The plastic deck chair on the balcony just broke apart. I’m lucky my hip’s not broken.
NO PROBLEM.

The handle on the toilet just broke.
NO PROBLEM.

The Supermarket

Can you please help me find the Splenda. It’s not next to the coffee and CoffeeMate.
NO PROBLEM.  [Employee says it’s in Aisle 4.]
Thanks so much.
NO PROBLEM.

I hate to butt in, but I think it’s your son who just tipped over a row of canned fruit in Aisle #8.
NO PROBLEM.

Do you have a _____ Reward Card?
No.
NO PROBLEM.

The Airlines

Um. I don’t mean to be an alarmist. But the pilot just boarded the plane with dark sunglasses, a white cane, and a seeing eye dog.
NO PROBLEM.

Would you like coffee, water, Sprite, Diet Coke, regular Coke, orange juice, or tomato juice?
Coffee please, with two Splendas and cream.
NO PROBLEM.
Thank you.
NO PROBLEM.

_____________________________________________________

Gordon: Thank you very much for coming by Views from the Edge!”

Steve: NO PROBLEM!

Pops Warfel and the School Playground

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“Pops” Warfel, the Principal at Marple Elementary School in Broomall, PA, was like a prison warden. Every prison warden has his guards, his ‘goons’, as the prisoners call them. Every school back in the 1950s had its Safeties, the Principal’s goons who wandered the Yard during recess to keep the students in line. Real guys. Like Sammy Peacock.

schools_trainer_safeties_1935-36

School Safeties

In the 3rd Grade Sammy, attired in his Safety outfit, “arrested” his classmate Gordon during recess for cursing. “I DIDN’T curse,” said I.

“You did, too,” said Sam. “You said a bad word. I’m taking you to the Principal’s Office!”

Pops Wafel asked his Goon what happened out in the Yard. “Gordon, you know better than that. You father’s a minister! He wouldn’t approve of you using language like that. We’ll keep this between us just this once. But if it happens again, I’ll have to tell your father.”

Long before I read Kafka’s The Trial, I experienced existential guilt – the feeling of guilt for something I never did – the guilt of being alive. I was Josef K in The Trial.

Meanwhile, Pops Warfel was violating one of the prison rules daily: no eating in class. Pops often reached into his desk drawer, and, pretending to cough, would pop in a jelly bean. No one dared say a word.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Marple Elementary Inmate #00056789, Jan. 22, 2016

1-The-Trial

 

 

Ah, Finally a Florida Vacation!

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Three couples rented a house this week in Florida. We selected the place after an extensive search using criteria of natural setting, water-front, quiet, three bedrooms, fully-equipped kitchen, views, kayaks/canoes provided, cost with a no-smoking policy. The house is on an estuary with manatees, ospreys, pelicans, egrets, Great Blue Herons, oyster-catchers, and advertised a million dollar view. It was too cool for the manatees, but that’s understandable. All 10 of the renters who rated their experience gave it ***** out of five. Hmmm.

QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT WANT TO ASK BEFORE BOOKING A VACATION RENTAL.

Do the owners live on the lower level?

  1. Do the owners smoke?
  2. If they smoke, how many packs/day do they smoke?
  3. Does the smoke seep up through the floors into the closets of the rental unit?
  4. Do they smoke anything else?
  5. How do we get up to the rental unit?
  6. Are the steps inside or outside?
  7. If outside, are they protected from high winds and torrential rains?
  8. Do the beds squeak?
  9. Is there an odor and standing water around the house that’s related to nature, but not the estuary?
  10. Are you on the city sewer system, or do you have a septic tank?
  11. If septic tank, has it been pumped out in the last year or two?
  12. Is there a limit on the number of showers we can take per day?
  13. What’s the meaning of a “quick” shower?
  14. Is there a limit on the number of times we can flush the toilet before it runs down the driveway?
  15. What kind of deck and balcony furniture is provided?
  16. If it’s made of plastic, how long has it been weathering?
  17. Has any of the plastic chairs on the balcony crumbled underneath a renter recently?
  18. chair on balcony
  19. Do you have drinking glasses? How many?
  20. Do you have coffee cups? How many?
  21. Do you have enough forks, knives, and spoons for six people to all eat at the same time or must we eat in shifts?
  22. Do you have a dishwasher?
  23. Will we need to buy Imodium because of the drinking water?
  24. When it rains, does the rain pour through the top of the west-facing window frames?
  25. Does the wind echo through the house like a freight train?
  26. Once you lower yourself the kayak from the deck, is there a way to get out without injuring yourself?
  27. Did you build the house yourself with the proper building permits?
  28. Was the house built with salvaged materials?

On the plus side, when we asked the owner for more plates, bowls, and coffee cups – there were four or five of each – he said he’d go downstairs and tell his wife. Nothing happened. Later in the day, before dinner, we asked again. “Oh,” he said “I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” He returned from Marshalls with newly purchased plates and glasses. We were grateful. He went back for the coffee cups, and everyone was happy! 

Now…about that  broken plastic chair that still sits the bedroom balcony!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, FL, January 22, 2016

 

Word for the Day: Semiotics

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The word for the day was suggested by a former Kindergarten classmate. Carolyn, a retired university music librarian, brought Semiotics to our attention after reading yesterday’s posts on hermeneutics. She knew the word but had had to look it up at least seven times, but could no longer remember what it meant.

The request took us online to the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Semiotics.

Semiotics, also called Semiology, the study of signs and sign-using behaviour. It was defined by one of its founders, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, as the study of “the life of signs within society.” Although the word was used in this sense in the 17th century by the English philosopher John Locke, the idea of semiotics as an interdisciplinary mode for examining phenomena in different fields emerged only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the independent work of Saussure and of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.

Click HERE for the Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s one page entry, ending with references and links to the influence of Semiotics in the fields of aesthetics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, communications, and semantics. The Britannica doesn’t mention hermeneutics, although the relation between them is that of kissing cousins. Both understand us humans as meaning-makers who create meaning by means of signs and language.

Most students of hermeneutics and semiotics disagree with religious fundamentalism’s view that meaning already exists and that the human task is to find it, as in the statement often made at times of death that “God has a better plan.” The role of the divine, if one supposes it, is as creative Spirit beneath the human spirit, always creating, never finished, never pre-determined. Scholars in theology, philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics can no longer do their work honestly without going through the Semiotics door of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Tampa, FL, January 22, 2016

Verse – The Word-Supple Couple

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OR “THE BIRTH OF HERMENEUTICS”

There once was a dissatisfied couple
whose way with words was quite supple.
An Ermine was he; a Eunice was she.
“I hate being “Ermine,” said he;
“I hate being Eunice,” said she.
With Plato in hand, they looked
and they looked for a new name
to couple the word-supple couple,
so it was that Ermine and Eunice gave
birth to the world’s first Hermeneutics.

  • Gordon (with apologies!), Tampa, FL, Jan. 21, 2016

NOTE: Read “Hermeneutics” posted moments ago.

 

Hermeneutics

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Never heard of it? It’s not one of the big words we hear every day. But ‘hermeneutics’ is a basic activity we’re engaged in every day. It’s like breathing – one of those basic things we don’t notice until someone disagrees with us.

The word’s origins date back to Greek philosophy, long before Peewee Herman, Herman Goehring, or George Herman (“Babe”) Ruth did it. But I digress. Their names were spelled with an ‘a’; there was no ancestor named Hermen.

But Peewee, Herman, and George each engaged in hermeneutics, the theory and practice of interpretation. They interpreted life, respectively, as comedy, tragedy, and sport. They looked at the human experience through their own interpretative lenses.

Every time we read a text, watch a film, listen to a speech, or view a painting, we interpret it. We are doing hermeneutics. We put into practice the largely unconscious principles that shape how we experience the world.

The study of hermeneutics, a Latinized version of the Greek hermeneutice, reaching back to Plato and Aristotle, has been part of the great thinkers of Western civilization down to our own times. Click The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the history of the term.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Tampa, FL, January 21, 2016.

Thanks to Wonderfulwordsblog for inviting readers to create a post on a lesser known word.

 

 

 

Two Guys from Corinth

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The students at Liberty University heard about the two guys from Corinth yesterday. Guest speaker Donald Trump quoted 2 Corinthians, confirming his Christian credentials to the scripture-based evangelical Christian audience at Liberty University.

There were snickers. People who know the New Testament don’t call Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians “TWO Corinthians”; they use the short hand “Second Corinthians.”

Most other places Trump’s mention of Two Corinthians would make a great opening line for a story.

A guy walks into a bar and says, “‘Hey, listen up. Two Corinthians were walking in mid-Manhattan, and the one guy says to the other, ‘You know what? This Trump guy comes up to me at 86th and Fifth Avenue and starts talking like he knows our town.’

“‘Yeah?’says the second guy from Corinth. ‘He did the same with me. But does he speak Greek?’

“‘What’s the matter with you! As long as he tells stories about Two Corinthians, I don’t care. The guy’s makin’ us famous. The people at Liberty love us. Besides, Greece is in big trouble. Maybe Trump can fix Greece, too!'”

 

 

 

I want to be an Egret

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image1In the estuary 100 yards from our deck, 18+ Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Wood Storks have gathered in mid-day prayer at low tide.

They’re facing the same direction like worshipers in a mosque, or a church, or a choir facing a Maestro before the downbeat that opens the symphony. They stand perfectly still. Their heads are raised, looking up, focused on the sun as it moves the day from sunrise to mid-day to sundown to the night that will be broken again, as always, with daybreak.

The estuary is part of a tidal river that leaves the wide bay beyond our porch shallow and nearly empty at low tide. A feast of mud, oysters, clams, and small fish enough to satisfy them all. In the morning they turn their prayer mats to the East and give thanks for the new day. From noon to three, they look up, slowly turning their mats from East to South to West, unaware of the smell of smoke billowing up into the VRBO renters’ temporary shelter from the owners below, the cheap plastic chair that broke under me on the balcony, or the sceptic tank that overflowed onto the driveway after five inches of rain the other day.

Today I want to be an Egret or a Great Blue Heron. We came here to sit in the sun like the birds, to be more natural at thanksgiving, freer from the plastic, the smoke, the greed, the cold. I’ve decided to be a Great Blue Heron, an Egret, or maybe one of the forgiving, cooing mourning doves perched on the telephone wire between our place and the estuary bay.

Life is good! Life is for the birds!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Snowbird, Tampa, FL, January 20, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way We Eat

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A prompt on Modern Families got me to thinking. 

“If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?” 

How would you answer? Here’s my shot at the question. 

Well…for starters, most folks don’t join each other for dinner anymore.

My grandparents and parents honored a long-standing family tradition.  They ate dinner around the dining room table. ALL of them. At the same time. In the same place.

But we didn’t just eat together. We lingered together. We served each other. We passed the food in large bowls – mashed potatoes, green beans, peas, stuffing, salad – family style. No one ate until all had been served.

In their generations, the roles were clearly defined. Mom wore and apron and cooked the meal. She sat at one end of the table. Dad, sitting  at the opposite end (the head of the table) with the carving knife served the entree on plates to the other members of the family. If it was a turkey, for instance, he carved the bird in front of us at the table.

“Skip, you like dark meat.” He’d carve from the thigh or the leg. “Don, you like both white and dark.” “Bob, you like the leg and a wing.” And so it went, until we all had been served according to our liking, and we all had served each other.

Mom and Dad lived long enough to see the change in their children’s family eating habits and graciously, if sadly, accepted the fact that there was no longer a set time for dinner, there were soccer games, Little League games, concerts, and the demands of this, that, and the other that tore apart the cherished hour when the kids and parents all checked in on the day and discussed the big issues of the news.

My grandparents would be shocked by the fraying of common life, the loss of careful attentiveness to each member of the family’s preferences, likes and dislikes, the substitution of the automat for the dining room table.

If they came back from the dead, they would wonder how and why sharing and serving around the table and nightly dinner conversations have vanished, replaced by family members staring at their iPhones, texting people who aren’t in the room. They might re-frame Shakespeare’s question in Hamlet, “To be, or not to be?” They might say:

“To eat alone, quickly, or to eat at the dinner table with others, slowly?” – that is the question.

I think I’ll turn on the TV, go to the fridge to see what’s there, send a text or two, and enjoy the ballgame.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 18, 2016

 

About Us: One Little Corner

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I’ve always had a sense of living at the edge of the world. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s just the way it’s always been for me. But, as I watch and listen from my little corner of the world, something’s changed. I have a growing sense of blah, blah, blah, both others’ and my own.

Ours is an anxious time that cries out for a foothold. Speech is the primary way we establish a foothold in changing times.

“Threatened by nonbeing, by chaos, and meaninglessness, man looks for a foothold in the Imperishable,” wrote Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg years ago in Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry.

Influenced by Zuurdeeg’s work, I look and listen for the footholds – unspoken convictions that rarely get discussed – in the battlefield of ideas “where ignorant armies clash by night” (Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach“). Just below the words, or between them, lie the ideological, prejudicial, cultural, national, class, political, religious, and economic ideals and convictions (footholds) by which we secure our existence in the face of the threat of nonexistence.

My friend and colleague Steve Shoemaker adds his poetry and verse – unique voice that draws readers to Views from the Edge. Over the years, our number of posts have been about the same with Steve’s being the more popular by far.  The frequency of Steve’s contributions has decreased in the past few months following diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer. His recent posts on death and dying continue the joyful sense of humor and play that draw people to his poetry and verse.

Whether Views from the Edge (VFTE) contributes to thoughtful social criticism and a deeper appreciation of life, or adds more to the blah, blah, blah, is for readers to decide. Like other writers, we just can’t help ourselves!

NOTE: This post About Us is part of an assignment for a three-week course with WordPress.com. I’m also re-doing the tagline and the platform. Thanks for your patience.

 

 

 

The Green Man

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Every generation tends to think of itself as superior to its predecessors. Ours is no different. Sometimes we’re right. Often, we’re wrong. We ignore or don’t know history.

Take, for example, the consciousness of green and climate change – the discovery, or is it the re-discovery, of nature as the context of human life. We tend to think it’s a new consciousness that sets aside the longer consciousness by which the human race justified ravaging the earth.

The Green Man in Clermont-Ferrant, Photo by Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

The Green Man in Clermont-Ferrant, Photo by Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

But, then, along comes the forgotten Green Man of Romanesque churches build in the Medieval Period, one version of which is featured in Dennis Aubrey’s post “A Green Man in Clermont-Ferrand” on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture.

I turn to Via Lucis whenever I feel the need to get out of my skin, to shed the ignorant arrogance of the 21st Century presumption of progress and superiority.

The whole human story is captured in the various Medieval renderings of The Green Man, the human race fatally mis-perceived as “man over nature” and properly conceived as “man within nature”. 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 13, 2016

Four Big Questions – I don’t “get” it

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I don’t get it. Or maybe I do, but don’t want to.

Some things jade a person’s spirit.  Like the poisonous, partisan punditry that made a lot of noise responding to last night’s State of the Union Address. Blah, blah, blah; blah, blah, blah!

“I don’t get” why, or how, a thoughtful listener could disparage the FOUR BIG QUESTIONS that framed the President’s speech. 

► “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?”

► “How do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?”

► “How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?”

► “How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election, President Obama’s last State of the Union Address spelled out the philosophical-ethical questions that every candidate should be asking and answering. Will we, the citizens – the voters – take the cue? Will we test every candidate for President, the Senate, and House of Representatives to assure ourselves that they “get it”: governing in the United States of America requires thoughtful reflection on complex matters that do not lend themselves to simple solutions or demonizing an opponent.

If we, the people,  don’t “get that”, it won’t be because we can’t. It will be because we prefer the poison of partisan blah, blah, blah.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Jan. 13, 2016.

 

 

A New Government of National Concentration

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Adolf Hitler rose to power by playing to the fears, anxieties, and anger of the German people. His strategy was to play the strongman who would fix it, make Germany great again. A nation that had regarded itself as exceptional had lost its way, humiliated by defeat in World War I. Hitler focused that anger at the weakness of the post-World War I Weimar Republic whose inept Chancellor and Reichstag (i.e. Congress) he blamed for the nation’s drift. He blames Marxist thinking and Communists. He declares Christianity to be the religion of the German state. By narrowing and scapegoating, he focuses the people’s fears and anxieties on visible targets. It was only a matter of time before Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies joined the ranks of those to be eliminated in a purified Aryan state.

Notice how quietly, how slowly this speech begins. He waits for the crowd to be quiet before he continues to speak. He is taming them. Mesmerizing them. Training them for Fascism. And when he has brought them to heel, he unleashes a tirade that taps into the people’s volcanic desire for a return to national exceptionalism.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 11, 2016.

Verse – Church Bells Ringing

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Sunday Morning Chimes

Three Church bells ring in Philo,
The Catholic Mass is first,
The Presbyterians
Are next, then Martin
Luther takes his stand.

The steeples point like preachers
To blue sky up above
But storms will soon be coming
If we don’t act with love
And follow that sweet dove.

Yes, Jesus is our teacher,
We hear his bell ring true,
you sound and I am singing
You speak and I speak, too.
Bells ring for me and you.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 10, 2016

The Three Kings [aka Stooges]

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Wednesday evening three old friends from Texas, Arizona, and northern Illinois descended on the Shoemaker home in Urbana, IL to sing their own semi-humorous re-write of the traditional Epiphany hymn We Three Kings. They concluded by presenting gold, frankincense, and myrrh to our mutual friend Steve Shoemaker. There’s a video of the trio on Steve’s FaceBook page for those want to watch and sing along. Steve, diagnosed with terminal cancer, is feeling remarkably well – even got up to make oatmeal for the guys the next morning!

EPIPHANY 2016

A Tribute to the Rev. Dr. Steve Shoemaker (Harry Lee Strong)
(Tune: Three Kings of Orient; John Henry Hopkins, 1857)

We three friends from north, south, and west
Gather here as your grateful guests.
Pardon our singing – gifts we are bringing,
Just hoping not to be pests.

O … Husband, father, poet, bard:
How we loathe your journey hard!
If we could, you know we would
Make this damn disease retard!

It’s so good to see you again
Here at home on your Illinois plain,
Still with humor, despite tumors,
Teaching to die is to gain.

O … Talk show host and scholar bright:
Few compete with your great height!
On the air and through your care,
Keepin’ Faith both day and night.

Only God can possibly know
How many lives you’ve enabled to grow:
Words and actions, breaking down factions,
Allowing your light to show.

O … Classmate, preacher, prophet bold:
No respect do we withhold!
From our coffers we now offer
Frankincense and myrrh and gold.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 8, 2016. Wish I’d been there.

Verse – Mary’s Bastard Child

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It’s dark and drear on the way
to Bethlehem where relatives
abound with rooms to spare
to welcome our coming.

Why are the lights all out,
the doors locked, the knocks
unanswered, no candles lit for
us from out of town?

Has news of the coming illegitimate
child scared them off, driven them
way inside bolted doors named fear
and blame and shame?

Has the buzz been mean, the
relatives praying to stay clean
of bedsheets soiled of a bastard
birth and bloody after-birth?

Have the men in town gathered
stones and the women
shrunk back from mid-wifing
Mary’s child into life?

A flop house on the other side
of town welcomes us with fires
outside the barn for black
sheep guests from Nazareth.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 7, 2016

Grandpa’s letter to Ruby

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Dear Ruby,

Barclay and I loved playing with you yesterday. I think you enjoyed it too!

You and Barclay aren’t old enough to understand all the things I know. Both of you are only two-and-a-half years old. But, from the looks of yesterday’s play time, you both enjoy life more than Grandpa. Watching you and Barclay do his tricks was such fun!  “Barclay, sit!” “Barclay, down.” “Leave it.” “Roll over.”

You were the alpha dog, the commander-in-chief, Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To this day, no woman has ever held any of those positions.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You don’t know all that stuff. You don’t know what an alpha dog is, or a Commander-in-Chief, or Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or President. You’ll learn all that stuff soon enough, and, if this were the world I would like for you, there wouldn’t be any Commanders-in-Chiefs, or Joint Chiefs of Staff. There would be grandchildren like you and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels like Barclay who play together with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas without worrying about the reasons we have Commanders-in-Chief and Chairwomen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Watching the two of you yesterday made me think about how much of what I know I wish I could un-learn. My head and heart are crammed full of things that don’t belong there, like the time your Great Uncle Bob drank the Drano and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.

Drano container - POISON

Drano container – POISON

Older people your Uncle Bob and me have drunk the poison of thinking we’re smarter and better than dogs and cats, and trees and birds and blue skies and clouds and rivers and ponds and oceans. We drank the poison. I hope you’ll grow up remembering your play time with Barclay whenever the can of Drano sits on the back of the toilet.

I go to the toilet a lot more these days. You’re still wearing diapers. If you’re lucky you’ll learn from Barclay what my generation never learned: never poop in your own kennel. The world, the planet, is your kennel, Ruby! This whole wide world. We need to take care of it. Enjoy it. Not be mean to it or hurt it.

As you get older, remember how you and Barclay looked right in each other’s eyes and smiled. Remember the love. If you do, the world will be a better place than the one I’m passing on to you. And, when I pass on, remember that our big wonderful kennel doesn’t go anywhere. It just keeps going long after we’ve been here. Be nice to it. Be nice to yourself. Keep playing, and, please, don’t swallow the Drano!

Love you,

Grandpa Stewart

Another Use for Vaseline in 2016

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Three gifts are mentioned in the story of the Three Kings, aka the Wise men, and the Magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Moments ago, on Epiphany, three seminary friends arrived at Steve and Nadja Shoemaker’s home on the prairie near Urbana, Illinois. It’d be a stretch to call Harry, Bob, and Don the Three Kings or the Wise Men. More like three wise guys, not from the East, but from the West and North – Corsicana, Texas; Prescott, Arizona; and Highland Park, Illinois – bringing a lighter touch to Steve, the patient with the terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Harry, the musician among them, will lead them in his own freshly-written lyrics to the tune of the Epiphany hymn “We Three Kings” – a trio of bass and baritone voices – bringing laughter to the room Kay and I can hear all the way in Minnesota.

Many years ago, a similar thing happened in New York City where Episcopal lay theologian William (Bill) Stringfellow was in Surgical Intensive Care following near fatal pancreatic surgery.

Entering the room following the surgery, Stringfellow’s close friend Bishop James A. Pike exclaimed, “Well, I’m a bishop. I should do something!” He promptly disappeared. Moments later he returned with Bill’s attending nurse and a large bottle of petroleum jelly. He consecrated the jelly, declaring to the nurse with typical Pike humor that “this substance has now been set apart for uses other than those ordinary and familiar for Vaseline.”

“Taking a thumbful of this freshly made urgent, he came to the bedside and anointed me,” wrote Stringfellow, “signing my forehead with the cross, and saying:

“‘I anoint you in the name of God; beseeching the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all your pain and sickness of body being put to flight, the blessing of health may be restored to you. Amen.'” [William Stringfellow, A Second Birthday, Doubleday & Company, 1970]

The bishop’s prayer of unction for the sick was near verbatim from The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

When the surgeon told the patient that his recovery was spectacular, Stringfellow replied, “That doesn’t surprise me at all. I was anointed by Bishop Pike! – what else would you expect?”

This Day of Epiphany, I hope the Three Wise Men, Steve and Nadja may enjoy the same fellowship, humor, and prayer all these years later. They bring no gold, frankincense or myrrh, but everyone in the Urbana gathering tonight knows that when the end is in sight, only the frankincense, the myrrh, and telling stories only dear friends call tell are appropriate. The third gift – gold – no longer matters, if it ever did!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2016

 

Being Human – nothing more, nothing less

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The ISIL fundamentalist extremists who terrorized Paris, San Bernardino, Beirut, and elsewhere in the name of God believe in an eternal reward for sacrificing themselves for a holy cause. Though it may seem strange to many of us in the West, they share two beliefs widely held by others who are not terrorists:

  1. God (Allah, in Arabic) is a being — the Supreme Being, but ‘a being’ nonetheless.
  2. Death is not the end of mortal life; we are destined for immortality – Heaven or Hell, eternal states of bliss or punishment.

It’s not just the jihadists who deny our mortality, our perishable nature within the order of Nature.

In Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry, philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg wrote:

“Threatened by nonbeing, by chaos, and meaninglessness, man looks for a foothold in the Imperishable.”

The “soldiers of the caliphate” are young. Paradoxically, as hideous, grotesque, and deranged as their thinking is, their massacres are performed in the name of an ideal. They are idealists claiming “a foothold in the Imperishable”.

Seeking to rid the world of evil, they succumb to evil. In the name of heaven and the Imperishable, they create hell on earth.

But what if God is not a being? What if, as Paul Tillich argued, God does not “exist” as a thing or person exists, but instead is Being-Itself or the Ground of Being or the God above god?

What if we are mortal? What if death is the end, not a doorway to heavenly reward or eternal punishment? What if no St. Peter stands at the pearly gates to separate sheep and goats? What if no vestal virgins are waiting? What if life and death are what they seem?

John Lennon’s “Imagine” strikes a chord in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali. Imagine there’s no religion. But imagining won’t erase the problem of religion or the anxiety endemic to the human condition. We are suckers for certainty desiring the end of complexity and ambiguity.

“Finitude,” wrote Paul Tillich, “means having no definite place; it means having to lose every place finally, and with it, to lose being itself.”  [Systematic Theology, Vol. I., p. 195, University of Chicago Press]

The appeal of fundamentalist certainty, whatever its form, is the promise of a secure foothold, place in immortality – a purpose bigger than life itself, the escape from ambiguity.

When faith is ill-conceived as acting to end the ambiguities represented by the enemies of God, instead of as coping with life’s inherent ambiguities, we create what we seeks to escape. We create a foothold in what will not hold.

What if to be human is not to escape mortality, but to embrace it thankfully and to live courageously within the boundaries of time, of mortal flesh filled with the Eternal in the midst of time?

“Being holy . . . does not mean being perfect but being whole; it does not mean being exceptionally religious or being religious at all; it means being liberated from religiosity and religious pietism of any sort; it does not mean being morally better, it means being exemplary; it does not mean being godly, but rather being truly human.” ― William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 9, 2016