White Privilege (with a Twist)

In the year that brought us “Hands up!” and “die-ins” that drew national attention once again to race in America, the SALT Project produced this video.

Thanks to Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton and the SALT Project for permission to blog their commentary. Click HERE for the SALT Project website. Matthew is President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Liz, like Matthew, is an ordained minister of the Church of Christ (Disciples) and leading light of the SALT Project.

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Verse – An Old Man and His Dog

He limps as the other clicks
along the sidewalk beside him.
Slowly, they walk together,
And loneliness falls behind a few paces.
They partake of one spirit.
They know the mystery of
growing old together.

Ah yes, there’s a world beyond them,
But now they know more
Of a priceless world between them.
One glance, and a thousand worlds
spring form the depths
Knowing a direction far beyond
the concrete way beneath them.

- Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) from the window of a care center, Grand Rapids, MI.

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Cuba: The Embargo Wall

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

- Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Two human beings passed abreast through a wall yesterday: the invisible wall between the U.S. and Cuba.

The wall was built by human hands. It’s coming down by human hands. Like the Berlin Wall and “the Iron Curtain” that went up during the Cold War between the East and West.

Here in the States the story was that the wall and the curtain had gone up to keep people in. And that’s what I thought until the summer of 1966 while living “behind” the wall with the Schulz family in Bratislava as The Experiment in International Living’s Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

A visitor from the West was immediately struck by the absence of bill boards. There were no advertisements like in Chicago. Bratislava struck me at first glance as a gray place, a dull place, a colorless place, a depressing place. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“The wall isn’t there to keep us in,” said my hosts at the third floor walk-up apartment at #7 Legionarska Street. “It there to keep you OUT.” Their story was altogether different. They were trying to keep Western materialism, Western greed and commercialism on the other side of the wall.

They build the wall, they said, to make possible the building of a new character: a more generous, less predatory, more social community beyond the old desaparities of wealth and poverty.

“Today Robert Fronts-Diaz, who owns a Twin Cities translation and communications business, says the U.S. embargo was ‘an opportunity for Cuba to build character… Since I was a little kid, I wanted the Cuban embargo to be lifted,’ Fonts-Diaz said, his voice breaking with emotion. ‘I am very deeply touched that my request has been fulfilled,’” [“For state’s Cuban, change was a long time coming,” StarTribune, Dec. 18, 2014]

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall….” In the end, over time, they all come down

[Eternity] “spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

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Two Verses – Different Moods

Two good friends write verse and poetry. Yesterday Steve Shoemaker’s “Anticipation” arrived. Having just re-discovered the verses of our mutual friend Dale Hartwig (1940-2012), it seemed right and good to place the two  voices together as part of a greater whole.

Anticipation: a Pagan Poem by Steve Shoemaker

(Virgil, b 70 BC, wrote farmers
should breed oxen while
the ox’s “lusty youth lasts.”
This reminded him that for
humans our “best days
go quickly,” then on “creep
diseases and gloomy age.”)

When injured, or sick,
animals may well know
something is wrong,
without knowing
they are dying.
We humans often know
even at a young age,
even when healthy,
that we will die.

When old, we breathe
death daily, wondering
if the next shuffled step,
the next irregular heartbeat
will be our last.

Will our last word
be remembered
or even heard?

Sudden Death by Dale Hartwig (1941-2012), written on the occasion of the untimely death of George Spriggs.

So sudden death comes
With raptor claws
To pilfer our world
Break our laws.

Abruptly breath stops
To quiet the stay.
So silent the night,
So numb the day.

The heavens are rent
But little is heard
Save soft moot whispers
Of Life’s absurd.

But wait! I hear
A tiny Babe’s cries
Of Life anew
And death that dies.

And Christ is come
To walk our way,
A Man who knows
With heart, our stay.

NOTE: Some days are like the one Steve was having. Others like the one Dale was having when a voice cries “Wait!” Dale and Steve were and are painfully familiar with “stays” in the Absurd, but also with the courage and joy of “a Man who knows With heart, our stay.”

Dale served only one church in his life, a small church in Concord, Michigan where he also became the chaplain to the village over coffee.  He was one of seven seminary classmates who gather each year for renewal of friendship and for theological reflection. He died in the long-term care center in Grand Rapids where his advanced Parkinson’s had taken him several years earlier.

At the last gathering he attended in Chicago, he left copies of his poetry with us. I thought I had lost them until they suddenly reappeared when my colleague at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Kathy, presented me with a bag of “stuff” she’d found while cleaning out my office before my retirement.

Look for more of Dale, as well as Steve, on Views from the Edge today and in the days to come.

- Gordon C. Stewart, December 16, 2014

 

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Cuba – Finally a Breakthrough

Goliath’s bullying is almost over. After 53 years, by the good offices of Pope Francis and Canada, and  by order of U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, the U.S.A. and Cuba are taking steps to normalize relations. At long last, Cuba and we will be neighbors again.

FLASHBACK:

It’s later afternoon in 1979. A 37-year-old minister/college pastor from Wooster, Ohio is mixing with other guests from all over the world at a social hour on the veranda of the residence of the Rev. Dr. Jose Arce Martinez, Dean of the ecumenical Protestant seminary in Matanzas, Cuba.

Thirteen years earlier, the young minister, then a seminarian, had been sent by the City of Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living to live for three months in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. There he had participated in the Christian-Marxist Dialogue founded by Czech theologian and former Princeton Theological Seminary Professor of Theology Josef Hromadka. In Bratislava he had lived with the Schulz family.Mr. and Mrs. Schulz were employed by the Department of Economics and the Department of Justice. Pan (Mr.) Schulz, after welcoming him to their home with a shot of Slivovitz (plum brandy), had said with a a smile, “I’m a whole lot Marxist…but still a little bit Lutheran.”

The 75 international guests at the Matanzas seminary are Christian theologians, bishops, and pastors from Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Peru, the U.S.S.R, East and West Germany, France, and the U.S.A. They’ve been convened at the invitation of the seminary with the consent of the government of Cuba following the Pope’s conference on human development at Puebla, Mexico.

Earlier that day the guests had stood on the lonely beach of Playa Girón, site of the Bay of Pigs invasion, where the air was still heavy from the deaths of the CIA-led invasion of Cuba that had failed. Being at Playa Playa Girón had been chilling. A Cuban Pentecostal minister who lost a leg in the battle at Playa Girón explained the scene of the American invasion to his North America visitor.

That afternoon, they return to the seminary for the social hour where they are joined by a small number of members of the Cuba government. The young minister engages in a conversation with someone named Raúl who asks him what it means to him to be a Christian. He answers that to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, and that to be a disciple of Jesus means to give oneself to the Kingdom of God. He tells Raul that Marx’s classless society is borrowed from Jesus’s teaching and that he shares that vision.

Raúl smiles and says that they will have to see whether it is of God or of Man that it comes. Only time will tell. They shake hands as brothers in a common cause to end human misery and agree that only time will tell.

Today Raúl Castro and Barack Obama agreed to pursue normal relations between little David and the giant Goliath.

Thanks you, Barack. Thank you, Raúl. Thank you, Canada. Thank you, Pope Francis. Thank you, God!

 

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The Lonely Blogger and Steve Martin

It’s been lonely. Traffic is down on Views from the Edge. I ask myself why. But I suspect I know the answer. I’ve broken blogging rule #1. Blogs are mostly about entertainment, not serious stuff . People go to blogs to get away from serious stuff. Not that this one is all that serious, but it’s hardly a rendition of Steve Martin’s happy feet.

Then two comments arrive. The first is from Gary who shares the experience of being influenced early on by Ernest Becker’s seminal work, The Denial of Death.  The second comes from Jim, a former classmate. Both Gary and Jim went on to become teachers.

Gary wrote:

The book title Amusing Ourselves To Death by educator Neil Postman comes to mind. Postman believes we have reduced most values to equate with entertainment. Education he says has to be entertaining. We demand constant amusement through sports, films, travel etc. There is a constant search for entertaining experiences to make us feel alive. It is as though our existence is so fraught with escaping death that the only antidote to dying is amusement. Just as everyone uses humor to take the edge off of awkward social encounters, humor has become the background context of existence. Humor is used as a cover for what human nature really is about and that is “Real Politic” or the feeling that what needs to be done is whatever is practical to survive.

Two other books by Peter Gay and Karl Marx come to mind: Gay’s The Enlightenment: The New Paganism and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Gay suggests the Enlightenment led to a loss of traditional religious metaphors to live by, resulting in new forms of paganism arising to supplant the old worldviews. These include everything from “consumerism” to “new age” religions like Scientology. Karl Marx says in his “Manifesto” that “capitalism will destroy all that is permanent”. I think we can say Groucho Marxism seems to be the preferred way to analyze our culture’s ills. Everything has to be couched in humor or it is considered boring. At best we can say humor functions as the sigh of the oppressed as we try to take the edge off of everyday existence that seems to be all about a belief in human society as a survival of the fittest existence. We all want something better but science has been hijacked by capitalism for its own need to constantly revolutionize production to keep novel products arriving to allow us to feel alive when we no longer can see loving people as the real antidote to a preoccupation with fending off death. That was Christ’s reason for sacrificing himself in the face of a pagan Roman Empire. We have come full circle. Hopefully the Coliseum isn’t next as we escalate the need to amuse ourselves to death.

Jim wrote:

Folks get twisted in knots over things which they have neither read nor understood. Back in the days of teaching I had students read a writer who argued that under pure capitalism if profits are to be maximised there are several alternatives: Raise prices; Lower Wages. Then you have a product your workers cannot afford to buy. Because there are more workers than capitalists they will soon suffer. They liked the argument until they learned its author was Lenin.

Thanks, Steve Martin. Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Jim. I feel better.

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Four-letter Words

Two four letter words are clean as a whistle until placed side by side.

‘Karl’ could be just another guy, like George Karl, the NBA coach, Karl Malden…or maybe Karl Rove.

‘Marx’ could be Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or maybe Richard. Or it could be mistaken for the word ‘marks’ as in grades in school. Or for targets, as in ‘marksmanship’.

Each name by itself has four letters but is not yet a four-letter word. Either can be spoken out loud. But speak the two together, as in ‘Karl Marx’, and heads will turn, fingers will wag, charges will be brought, electronic ears will be listening.

It’s popular to be a Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or Richard. It’s not so safe if your name is Karl, unless your last name happens to be Rove.

The older Karl grew up in a white house in Trier, Germany, but he never occupied the White House

Karl Marx Haus in Trier

Karl Marx Haus in Trier

The White House

The White House

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Verse – One State, Two States?

Jesus was a Palestinian,
born, by some accounts,
in the West Bank town
of Bethlehem.
If the sobriquet
Jesus of Nazareth
is more accurate,
that region of Judea
is also Palestinian today.

He was born in poverty,
not privilege, in a territory
occupied by a cruel
and ruthless military.
His family was taxed, but had
no voice. He was a target
of official violence
and brutality from his birth
to the last week of his life.

Born of a Jewish mother,
Jesus was a son of David
as well: was circumcised,
studied and taught
in the Jerusalem Temple,
was called Rabbi.

With whom would Jesus
identify today?

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 16, 2014

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Blogging RULE #1:

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Never, ever, ever mention the name Marx! Americans hate that. Especially in a sermon. [See yesterdays’ “In the Footsteps of Mary“].

Unless it’s Groucho.

“All people are born alike – except Republicans and Democrats.” – Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

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In the Footsteps of Mary

A sermonic reflection on America today, Dec. 14, 2014.

Today’s texts speak indirectly to the national outrage over the deaths in Ferguson, Cleveland, and Staten Island and to the larger context of the economic Law – Capitalism – under which they’ve taken place.

The Spirit falls upon Isaiah

…to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit….They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Is. 61:2-4)

I am in mourning. Even in the midst of Zion. Though I already taste the fruit of the Kingdom of God which is yet to come in fullness, I am in mourning. In ashes. Faint in spirit. Living among the ancient ruins, the former devastations, the ruined cities, the devastations brought on by many generations including my own.

There is anger out there. Lots of it. There are calls for justice out there. There are “die-ins” on Interstate Highways blocking traffic, interrupting business as usual. And it’s good. It’s right. It’s an American thing to do.

But, like most movements, this one will pass in a few weeks or maybe months. It will go the way of Occupy Wall Street.

For while protesters were were being hand-cuffed for “die-ins”, Congress was taking the hand-cuffs off Wall Street and the “too-big-to-fail” banks. The Dodd-Frank restrictions enacted following the 2008 meltdown were being quietly removed by hidden-away paragraphs in the down-to-the-wire spending bill. There will be no more hand-cuffs. No more probation. No more accountability to the American people. The legal limits on dealing in the “derivatives” market were being deleted on Capitol Hill, and, perhaps worse, the Dodd-Frank provision prohibiting a second government bailout was replaced by a commitment to bail them out again.

While on Capitol Hill the Law was being re-written to deliver automatic bail to Wall Street, individuals protesting law enforcement tyranny on the streets were hauled off to jail hoping a friend would bail them out.

Only within the larger economic puzzle do the various pieces begin to make sense.

For all of America’s national wealth, we are among the poorest of nations. We are a classist society bordering on a caste society. Class has always been the issue in America. Race and class have always gone hand-in-hand, but classism has other hands as well.

The wider context surrounding the law enforcement racial divide is the classism embedded in a global capitalist economic structure.

We are living still amid the “ancient” devastations brought on by rich white slave traders who captured Africans like animals for a zoo to work their plantations for profit. Racism is a class issue, an ownership issue, an issue of economic privilege, before it is anything else. The coupling of race and class is as clear now as it ever was, despite the Civil Rights Movement and the election of America’s first African American president.

Capitalism is the issue. The accumulation of wealth. The increasing concentration of wealth. The hoarding of wealth. Wealth disparity, power disparity, racial disparity, electoral disparity, legal disparity; what’s enforced and what’s not; who’s in handcuffs and who’s not; who’s bailed out and who’s not; who’s charged and who isn’t; who’s in prison for what and who’s not; who’s on probation or parole and who’s not; who’s elected to Congress and who’s not; who owns what and who doesn’t; who can pay for an election and who can’t – are all about class, the control of the means of production and capital and the expropriation of cheap labor and natural resources that can’t talk back.

Enter now into this world the psalmist of today’s readings who dared to dream of a great reversal of fortunes:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”[Psalm 126:1-6]

The tears of weeping bear the seeds for sowing and reaping of the sheaves of the new economic order. It is no accident that the psalmist mixes the metaphors of weeping, seeds, sowing, and shouts of joy, and sheaves. It is, as it were, a vision for the Earth itself. Honest weeping is the beginning – the sowing – that leads to earthly transformation and shouts of joy.

Mary, the newly pregnant peasant girl, becomes the representative, singing her song amid the ancient devastations, announcing the hope that will engage the powers of class “to provide for those who mourn” [Is.61:1]:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” [Luke 1:46b-55]

Put differently by Philip Clayton, Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology, we are living

“…at the dawn of a new form of human civilization. Individuals, societies, and nations are now deciding whether to keep fighting to preserve the dying order, or whether to take leadership in building the new. It’s not a matter of waiting for more data; we already know what the old practices are doing to our planet, and we know what it takes to build a global society that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. The ones who make the greatest difference are those who work and live with wisdom, with diplomacy, and with restraint, placing the good of the whole planet first.” [Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr, Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe, Process Century Press, 2014]

I’m still mourning. But I feel better. I know that the mourning is a holy thing, the hint of a coming “garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” and so, I write. I pray. I sing. I mourn to the tune of Isaiah. I march to the dream of the Psalmist. I walk in the footsteps of Mary.

- Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Honorably Retired, Views from the Edge, Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14, 2014.

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America Compromised: the Budget Bill of 2014

The Congressional omnibus budget bill is a compromise – a BIG compromise. It turns the clock back on regulations put in place after the financial market meltdown in 2008 had taken us to the brink of another Great Depression. It undoes the core provision of Dodd-Frank and increases the limit for wealthy giving to political campaigns.

Cover on John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire in which "Sorrow" the family dog floats to the surface after the plane crash.

Cover on John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow” the family dog floats to the surface after the plane crash.

The dog we hoped we’d buried still floats, as Views from the Edge published on MinnPost a year after the 2008 crisis.

Click Sorrow Floats: the Healthy-Deregulated-Capitalism Myth Just Keeps Resurfacing.

Sorrowfully, memory is short, and, because the American electorate chooses amnesia to consciousness, the old dog still haunts us.

 

 

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The Funeral at the Megachurch

“Jesus, you’re the best…” he said.
His open collar showed his chest
was tan even in December.
“We just want to thank you, Lord,
for taking Joe to be with you.
We’ll miss him, but we know it’s best
for him to be in heaven.”

We sang Amazing Grace, but Joe,
it seemed, had clawed his way up high
through generous gifts to the church,
by staying married, raising kids,
and praying often. He would reach
the Golden Gates, receive the pie
in the sky. Not so, you and I.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 10, 2014

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What salesmen do for a living

This story is told by my cousin Dennis, originally from South Paris, Maine. Our grandmother was a tea-totaler, a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) that struck fear in every drinking man! Here’s the story in his own words.

Every Christmas our family would have our tree in the morning, go to church and then go to grandma’s house on Main St. All the Titus uncles and aunts would be there with their children. We would nosh on pastries baked by Aunt Muriel and then do the tree.

The aunts and uncles plus us children would get two or three gifts from each family and be done with opening our gifts in 15 minutes. Then our grand parents would methodically open each gift from all of us there and all their far flung friends and relatives. There would be mounds of gifts for them. Grandma was very precise, she would cut off all the bows and have a box to put them in for next year. Likewise all the wrapping paper. Then she would write in a book who gave the present and what it was. This process meant that everybody sat for hours watching them open all their gifts. You would see everybody nodding off or going to the dining room to get pastries and coffee.

After about an hour of this gift opening by Grandma, I noticed one of more of my uncles would get up and disappear for a half hour or so. Being the curious person that I am, I followed my Uncle Roy. I noticed that he went through the kitchen out into the barn. [Note to the reader: the barn was attached to the house through a pantry by the kitchen].

So I waited a few minutes and went out into the barn too. They were all gathered in a separate room with the door shut.

I opened the door and surprised them. They were drinking beer and smoking. They quickly tried to hide the beer cans and butt their cigarettes hoping I didn’t notice. I just stood there frozen in my tracks. Finally Uncle Roy said this was not place for me and I should return to living room.  As I turned to leave, Uncle Alva said “Wait a minute.” He came over to me and asked what had I seen. I told them I saw that they had been smoking and drinking, in a smug sort of way.

Uncle Alva was building a boat at that time, so he asked if I would like to go fishing with him and Bill [i.e. Alva’s son; Dennis’ cousin] next spring? Of course I said I sure would. Being the salesman he is, he proposed a deal to me. If I go back to the living room and keep my mouth shut, he would take me on the maiden voyage of his boat on Thompson Lake and we would go fishing for Lake Trout. I looked at him with wide eyes and a big smile and said “Uncle Alva you got a deal!” My other uncles pulled their beer out and took a big swallow and laughed. I shook hands with all of them and left with a grin that didn’t come off until I went home that night (laughing to myself all the next day).

When my mother asked where I had been as I returned to the living room, I told her in front of everybody I had to go to the bathroom real bad. No one was ever the wiser…. I went fishing with Bill and Uncle Alva on their maiden voyage laughing all the way. That’s when I learned what salesmen do for a living!

Dennis Smith, Whitewater, WI, December 10, 2014

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Isaiah and Elizabeth Warren

After news about the “spending bill” came out yesterday, I took the liberty of re-writing scripture. Readers unfamiliar with Jewish and Christian Scripture may not have heard of Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-8) that began his campaign to reform his nation in the year that King Uzziah died. Here’s the re-write for December 10, 2014:

In the year that [Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed a “spending bill” that overturns banking regulations put in place after the near financial meltdown 0f 2008 and raises the cap on individual campaign contributions], I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
vthe whole earth is full of his glory!

And the foundations of the [nation’s] thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Where’s Isaiah when we need him? Then I read Elizabeth Warren’s objection to the bill. Click HERE for the story. Then call your Representative and Senators.  When they ask your name, just say “Isaiah!” When they ask how you happened to call, tell ‘em God sent ya.

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Wall Street and Washington

Click HERE to read what’s in the detail of the bipartisan compromise spending bill announced yesterday. A spending bill is necessary to prevent another government shutdown. This one will make your teeth itch.

The unregulated derivatives trading that led to the bailout of the “too-big-to-fail” banks and investment firms are back. Wall Street wins. The American people lose, again. Do I hear a veto coming from the White House? Or is every house in the Wall Street pocket?

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Harry Reid (with the turned-in left foot), and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Harry Reid (with the turned-in left foot), and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

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Victoria’s Secret Angels

All the reports say people
who see real Angels fear them.
They blaze in glory from bringing
their message from the Holy One.
There are no descriptions
of high heels or underwear.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 9, 2014

EDITOR’S REFLECTION

Readers unfamiliar with Jewish and Christian Scripture may not have heard of Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-8) that begins his work to reform his nation:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord [“the Holy One] sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim [“angels”]. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
vthe whole earth is full of his glory!

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

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Good News and Hard News – Nature and Capitalism

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN: "Man and nature belong together in their created glory - in their tragedy and in their salvation."

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN: “Man and nature belong together in their created glory – in their tragedy and in their salvation.”

A spiritual reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014.

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news, according to John the Baptist, calling people out into the wilderness. “We must change,” he said.  “Repent” by which the Judeo-Christian tradition means a 180 degree turn. “About face!” Only by turning will we be delivered from the consequences of the actions that have led us here.

For John the Baptist and the writer of the Gospel of Mark’s opening paragraph (Mark 1:1-8) the system at issue was Roman imperialism, an economic system centered in Rome, expanding out, and enforced by, military invasions, subjugation, religious tolerance (so long as the religious practice did not interfere with Roman prerogatives) and occupation.

One could repeat the sentence in 2014 with little change: “the system at issue [is [American] imperialism, an economic system centered in [Washington] expanding out, and enforced by, military invasions, subjugation, religious tolerance (so long as the local religious practice [does] not interfere with [American] prerogatives) and occupation.”

It is our spiritual, moral, economic, cultural and political captivity to a global system that cannot satisfy our real needs or the world’s that produces a longing in our hearts, a readiness to make the lonely trip to the wilderness.

We’re a weary people in 2014. Wearied and still disheartened 11 years after the “Shock and Awe” that took down Saddam Hussein on the pretense that he had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that threatened us, the Administration’s manufactured association of Saddam Hussein as the cause of 9/11. We’re wearied of lies and misrepresentations. Weary from budget fights that barely reference 10 years of un-budgeted military expenses, the loss of thousands of American soldiers’ lives and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a military venture undertaken on the assumption that the Iraqi people would welcome our presence as the beginning of democracy and a “free market” economy that would lift them all up.

That belief in the goodness of American intentions hit the rocks as quickly as Saddam’s statue hit the pavement in Baghdad. All the while we were wearied by the earlier invasion of Afghanistan, whose original justification was a quick elimination Osama bin Ladin and Al-Qaida untempered by realistic knowledge of the long history of the military interventions that mired the invaders in quagmires such as the Soviet Union found itself before leaving in defeat. To the Afghans it didn’t matter whether the troops were Soviet or American. They were the same. They were the occupation forces of an imperial power destined to fail.

In the midst of the weariness about what was happening abroad, the financial system at home took the American economy to the brink of disaster in 2008. Occupy Wall Street rose to the top of the news cycles. Although the movement fizzled over time, as such movements inevitably do, it caught the attention of television viewers, internet surfers, and newspaper and magazine readers. Occupy Wall Street and the spot light it placed on “crony capitalism” became a hot topic around water coolers at work and the table in the coffee shops.

For the first time in recent memory, capitalism was no longer sacred, no longer off limits. Time’s front cover asked the question whether Capitalism was dead. But, as with Occupy, public attention is short-lived. Amnesia sets in when people are weary. How soon we forget…until some new John the Baptist issues the cry for a 180 degree turn for the sake of something better.

Maybe Naomi Klein is edition of John the Baptist. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, reviewed by the New York Times – places the over-riding systemic issue squarely before the general public again. Senator Bernie Sanders, America’s only socialist Senator who names climate action as among his four top priorities, is gaining attention as a possible presidential candidate. Elizabeth Warren, the Senate’s bulldog on holding Wall Street accountable is creating a wave of populist momentum. Put them with Bill McKibbon and 350.org and you begin to hear the echo of John’s all to the hard truth that is the beginning of the good news.

The hard truth that precedes good news is the discovery of the myth that has coupled democracy with capitalism in the American psyche, while demonizing socialism as democracy’s opposite. Ideological blinders are to nations and peoples what blinders are to horses on a race track: they limit vision to the straight-ahead narrow limits of the track. Ideological blinders prevent the owners’ horses from thoughts of anything but the track on which they’ve been placed to race each other.

But when the climate is changing our track in ways that compel our attention, and when we ask how we will make it through the changes together, the bigger question of the economic system – the race track itself – comes into view by virtue of necessity. It calls us off the track into the wilderness of Nature.

The words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek words for ‘house’ and ‘the management of the household’.  Economics not about markets, free or otherwise, or about the technicians and pundits who monitor investments and predict quarterly outcomes. It is not an academic discipline, the exclusive province of experts on Wall Street or in university Economics departments who understand how the free market works.

Economics is a spiritual perspective like the one on Paul Tillich’s marker in Tillich Park in New Harmony, Indiana. “Man and nature,” he said, “belong together in their created glory – in their tragedy and in their salvation.” There is no humanity with nature; the human calling of our time is to reshape our lives for the wellbeing of the one house in which all life lives.

During this Advent season of longing expectation, John the Baptist with his axe aimed at the root of the tree reminds us that economics is the spiritual issue of the first order. The good news is what the Hebrew Bible calls “the Day of the Lord” and John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth called “The Kingdom [i.e. Society] of God”. The hard news is we’ve been running on the wrong track, or, you might say, barking up the wrong tree.

The planet – this home we call “nature”, without which no person, society or form of life exists – is an economy that requires different management. The economy for which our hearts long is the one house imagined by the psalmist and announced by John in the wilderness beyond the Pax Romana: the good news awaiting our longing hearts to embrace it, a planetary home where “righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10) and wars will be no more.

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 7, 2014

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The Human Menagerie

The reference is to Carl Sandberg’s poem.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where; it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

After 14 years of living at home,  my cousin Alan was institutionalized. His Cerebral Palsy had finally come to the point of seizures at all hours of the day and night.

For 14 years Alan’s bed was just outside the open door between his room and his parents, my Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bob in South Paris, Maine. His mother slept with an ear open for any change in Alan’s breathing pattern. She had come to learn the breathing changes that preceded a seizure. She would hear the change and rush to Alan’s side.

Alan required round-the-clock care. The years when my Aunt and Uncle felt secure in leaving him alone for shopping or running an errand had now become a wistful memory. My cousin Gwen remembers that their mother could no longer go outside to hang the laundry without calling a neighbor to stay with Alan for 10 minutes. Alan’s care became the all-consuming center of family life to the neglect of Alan’s younger siblings, Dennis (11) and Gwen (7) and the deteriorating health of Uncle Bob and Aunt Gertrude.

In the 14 year of Alan’s life, when things had gone beyond the point where they could care for him adequately, they made the hardest decision of their lives. They admitted him to the Pownal State School and Training Center in New Gloucester, Maine where he spent the last five years of his life with other severely disabled residents. Members of the family made the hour-and-a-half trip to New Gloucester twice a week to be with Alan at Pineland. During those next five years Alan’s friends at Pineland became friends to the entire Smith family.

My cousin Dennis describes the scene at Pownal in words of his own:

These were children with Downs Syndrome, dwarfs of all kinds, microcephalics, hydrocephalics, people we used to call morons, idiots, and imbeciles, and non-ambulatory people like Alan. All of natures mistakes in one big room.

When my mother and I would do concerts for them, they would bring Alan in on a gurney. They would sway to and fro to the music trying to sing or moan to the melody. At first their responses raised the hackles on the back of my neck. It was like a scene out of a Hollywood movie.

Some of the residents assisted in Alan’s care. In his room they would talk to him like dear friends and Alan would respond to them with his familiar ‘ah’s and laughter. I grew to understand he was in his element there with constant attention by those he knew and trusted…. I’m convinced he died a happy, contented young man who was free at last to be himself. Just another human being surrounded with friends who loved him.

The human species itself is what Carl Sandburg said each one of its members is: a menagerie.  We are all in the menagerie, the most ‘abled’ and the least ‘abled’ of us. Every attempt to engineer a species without “mistakes” – a purified race, a super race, a genetically modified species – is a mistake doomed to fail. The wilderness always prevails.

Those who have met the zoo within themselves come to understand that we all come from the wilderness just outside the castle walls and moats of human pride and self-deception:

“…it [i.e., the zoo inside my ribs] came from God-Knows-Where; it is going to God-Knows-Where….I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.”

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Capitalism, Socialism, and the Earth

The online Oxford Dictionary defines democracy as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives….”

But it immediately biases the discussion with the following sentence to illustrate the word democracy: “capitalism and democracy are ascendant in the third world.” That is, capitalism and democracy go together. Wherever capitalism goes, democracy goes. The ascend together as was imagined to be the case in the Arab Spring.

To the contrary, the online Oxford Dictionary defines capitalism as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”

The Oxford Dictionary identifies what we are coming to realize in America. We do not live in a democracy. We live under “the economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than by the state.” Neither are they controlled by the people of the state, the body politic.

The presumed ideological kinship between capitalism and democracy has existed in America culture as long as most of us can remember. It wasn’t always so in the 1920s and ‘30s, but, as we are beginning to understand again by virtue of circumstance, democracy does not depend upon a capitalist economy. In fact, democracy and capitalism are contradictions in terms. They are philosophically incompatible.

The more natural kin of democracy is socialism, as defined by the online Oxford Dictionary: “A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

Democracy is the rule of the people, “a system of government by the whole population….” or, “the community as a whole.”

Finally in America an intelligent discussion is afoot about democratic rule and economics. Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate takes the discussion to a new level that views global capitalism as “the most profound threat humanity has ever faced: the war our economic model is waging against life on earth.”

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Voices

NOTE: This e-mail was shared among friends from my wife Kay’s high school days. When asked how best to introduce her, Kathy replied, “just another person seeking to understand how to respond.”

“It’s so hard to make sense sometimes of all the voices, the messages, that break into a usual day.

“Downtown, I heard the sound of a ragtag bunch of demonstrators on the next block, chanting in one voice, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’, in solidarity with protesters all around the country. I saw an armored police vehicle, moving quietly, on the next block, seemingly trying to get ahead of where the protesters would be coming next. There was no sound at all coming from the twelve or fifteen police who were mounted around the outside of the vehicle, like so many tin soldiers, with protective gear and plexiglas shields. If they were speaking, it wasn’t for us to hear. On the next block, at least two dozen police on bicycles were making their way up a crowded sidewalk; probably more in total than the group of protesters.

“Somewhat shaken, and wondering, as I often do, whether I belong out there with the marchers, and where is my place in the confusing discussion. What does my own voice need to say? I made my way back home. After all, there was no place to leave my car in our crowded downtown if I wanted to join the marchers. I was not “dressed” for a protest. I said to myself, “a walk in the park is what I need, even though it is getting dark. It’s not raining, and it’s mild and not windy”.

“As I walked up the slope around the corner from our house, I heard chanting again, this time happy voices. I couldn’t quite make out the words at first, but soon I realized it was three girls singing “Come on down to our holiday sale, our holiday sale, our holiday sale”. Of course, that group was much easier for me to join, and there were most certainly no police in sight. The girls had hot cocoa, gingerbread cookies, and origami birds for sale. Conversation was easy. One girl told me she was raising money for ‘cancer’, the next for the ‘pet shelter,’ and the last for ‘homeless’.

“I had to offer a prayer of gratitude for everyone who is working to make this longing world a more just and welcome place.”

Kathy Elliott
Portland, Oregon
December 7, 2014

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Verse – Limerick: We Racists

We racists know we can’t treat laws like a joke,
We’d all go to jail if WE kill all those folk
That we hate and we fear,
But we secretly cheer
That if I’m a COP I can beat, shoot, or choke.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, December 8, 2014

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He had his own means of communication

My cousin Dennis sent this following the post about his older brother Alan who was paralyzed with Cerebral Palsy. See the earlier two posts on Views from the Edge for background information.

“For all the limitations Alan suffered, he was so loved by all of us and in his own way could express his love with ‘ah’s and laughter and joy that came through his facial expressions, vocal inflections and expressive eyes. He had his own means of communication which Gwen and I grew to understand. He could express all the human emotions. Alan could speak in his own special way. He called our Dad ‘fata’.

“I learned so much about life and what real love is from growing up with him. We never felt him a burden in any way. We all helped feed him, bathe him and change his diapers.  It was a family project that we all did willingly.

“When he was put in an institution we missed his laughter and grieved for him deeply as a family. I don’t think any member of my family was loved and admired more than Alan.

“My father, mother and sister would be so proud of this blog.  Their hearts would soar knowing Alan is part of the real world again and a living example of God’s love for us all.  Alan did not live in vain.  He was a courageous person who had to battle through his palsy to be just another human being like you and me.

“No father cared more for a son than my  Dad.  He was entirely devoted to him.  And Alan looked up to him with adoration in his eyes.  Alan could utter several words much like a one year old. He used his throat and lips to utter a very gutteral sound that few could understand but the immediate family.  His ‘ah’s were his method of communicating his emotions and it varied depending on the circumstance.  He understood everything you said to him and he would respond in his own way to let you know that he understood what you were saying.  His eyes and facial expressions spoke a thousand words.”

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Joy and Gratitude – my cousin Alan

Over lunch today my 89 year-old friend asked what had drawn my attention to my paralyzed first cousin Alan who never spoke a word due to Cerebral Palsy (see Views from the Edge’s  post “Father and Son – Bob and Alan”).

Alan was completely helpless. His body was rigid. He had no control over his bodily functions or anything else. He was utterly dependent on his family. He could not feed himself. He couldn’t speak. Even so, his eyes communicated joy.

The joy of kinship and love came from inside himself in spite of all.  I want the joy and gratitude that emanated from Alan’s eyes and smile whenever we came into each other’s presence. Control is a debilitating disability – an isolating illusion – among the “abled”.

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The Streets of Ferguson, Cleveland, NYC, Minneapolis

A 19 year-old African American walks into the Legal Rights Center (LRC). He insists on seeing the Executive Director.

He’s a large man, his speech is fast, his eyes are angry. He pulls up his shirt to show the swastika he alleges the police carved on his back while he lay on the street in North Minneapolis.

There are witnesses. Three women and a man who saw it happen  during another man’s arrest. “Raymond”, we’ll call him, was objecting to the arrest when two officers took him down to the pavement, face down, while one of the officers used his key to etch the Swastika into his flesh. He was not arrested.

Police abuse of power, racial profiling, the use of unreasonable force, shootings, and prosecutors and grand juries looking the other way always have been the way it is in America.  What’s new is the public outcry, the jarring of consciousness and conscience among those who do not live in places like North Minneapolis, Ferguson, or one of the poorer African-American neighborhoods in Cleveland or New York City.

After several years of the LRC Executive Director referring complainants to the Minneapolis Police Civilian Review Board without satisfaction of remedy, I proposed something out of the ordinary. We went directly to the commanding officer of the 4th Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The Commander’s attention seemed to wander as I introduced myself and Raymond until Raymond pulled up his shirt. The Commander asked if Raymond got the number of the squad car or remembered the badges of the officers. He didn’t. The Commander then, to my great surprise, named a number of officers, asking if Raymond recognized any of the names. Those officers were well-known for terrorizing the North Minneapolis African-American community.

“This is way beyond Internal Investigation,” he said. “You need to take this to the F.B.I.”

Raymond didn’t trust the F.B.I. any more than he trusted the Minneapolis Police Department. He decided to let it go.

Lots of people like Raymond have decided over the years to let it go. Until Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson and a grand jury decided not to indict him. Until 12-year old Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer in Cleveland. Until Eric Garner died of a police officer’s choke hold saying, “I can’t breath!” The inferno of anger boiling over across the streets of America is new only in the breadth of consciousness and conscience.

It will take time. It will take a change of heart and mind. But, mostly, it will NOT change until America gets it straight that for most African-Americans being black is also an issue of class. Class is about power and powerlessness. Only when what we call “the middle class” understands that its interests lie with African-Americans in Ferguson, Cleveland, NYC, and Minneapolis will thing change in America.

Attorney General Eric Holder just released a Department of Justice Investigation report. Click HERE for the story.

It’s all about the economics: up or down. There really is no middle. “Hands up!” “I can’t breath!”

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The Dancing Dog Eatery and Juicery

An Acrostic Tribute

The vegetarians love it!
How do omnivores love it too,
Even though all is vegan food?

Delicious, each bite of the pies!
Animal friends happy outside!
Nice, the waiters are always nice!
Chips and fish, the menu says,
Inside is plant-based tasty food,
Never cooked from any other!
Good! And never had a mother!

Delicious, I use the word twice!
Orange, apple, grape, amazing juice!
Good wine and beer, let’s give a cheer!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 4, 2014. The Dancing Dog is in Urbana, IL. Here’s a link to the restaurant.

The Dancing Dog Eatery and Juicery

The Dancing Dog Eatery and Juicery

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Father and Son – Bob and Alan

Bob Smith and his first-born child, my cousin Alan, never had what you and I would call a normal conversation. But I suspect they “talked”more deeply in their own father-son ways.

Alan’s tongue and body were held captive from birth by Cerebral Palsy. He never spoke a word that I could understand.

Each morning Alan’s mother, my Aunt Gertrude, and his father, my Uncle Bob, lifted Alan from his bed, cared for his morning needs with tender respectfulness, carried him downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. Sitting on his father’s lap, the spoon and fork came to his mouth from the hand of his father. Uncle Bob would then carry Alan to the parlor, the back room on the first floor of the house on Porter Street, where Alan would lie until lunch. Uncle Bob came home from the Oxford County Court House for lunch every day  to be with Alan, Gertrude, and Alan’s young brother and sister, my cousins Dennis and Gwen. He would go to the den, lug Alan to the kitchen, feed him lunch…. Repeat, repeat, repeat at dinner. Carry Alan upstairs, prepare him for bed, and, as I imagine it, say a prayer that Alan could hear and understand but could not speak. He did that for 14 years.

My time with Uncle Bob and Alan dates back to my earliest years. Every summer I stayed at my uncle and aunt’s house for a week while the rest of my family stayed with my grandparents. My relationship with my cousin Dennis, only six months older than I, was special enough to separate me out for special time at the house on Porter Street.

Looking back on it now awakens me to the sense of heaviness that came over me watching Alan, seeing the joy in his eyes and the contorted smile that broke out on his face, and listening to the moans of greeting and sheer delight that came from his palsied vocal chords whenever he and I would see each other after the long year’s absences between my family’s vacations.

There was a bond deeper than words. The bond of eyes and smiles. The bond of kinship and shared joy, as well as sorrow. I always wondered what was going on in Alan’s head. Aunt Gertrude, an elementary school teacher, claimed he was very intelligent, but there was no way to measure it. Had he been born 40 years later Alan might have been a Stephen Hawking “talking” by other means, but he wasn’t. He was born in 1939. And if there was a silent bond of awkwardly expressed love between two cousins whose visits were annual, how much deeper and familiar was that bond between the father and his son?

I’ve often wondered what it was like being Alan. I’ve scolded myself in times of self-pity, and sought the deep courage and joy that emanated from Alan.

I’ve also marveled at Uncle Bob, a wrrior in the trenches, fighting despair over Alan’s plight, what might have been and would never be for him, rising to the daily-ness of it all, some days resenting it, some days wishing he could take his family of vacations like other families, some days finding comfort and courage playing a great sacred music piece on the organ of First Congregational Church of South Paris where he served as Organist and Choir Master for 40 years. Perhaps the familiar hymn tune “Serenity” set to John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Immortal Love, Forever Full”, encouraging the love he bore for his speechless son:

Im-mort-al Love, for-ev-er full,
For-ev-er flow-ing free,
For-ev-er shared, for-ev-er whole,
A nev-er ebb-ing sea!

The heal-ing of [Christ’s] seamless dress
Is by our beds in pain;
We touch Him in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole a-gain.

At the end of really good days when joy was high with thanksgiving for the father-son bond with Alan, I imagine him walking down Main Street to the darkened church, taking his seat on the organ bench with the lights out except for the organ light, his feet pumping the pedals, his fingers flying over the keyboards and reaching for the stops to play the Widor Toccata he played every Easter, a lush oasis “in life’s throng and press.”

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The Politics of Vision

Voter turnout in the November election was the lowest since 1942. Many folks have given up on the political establishment. The know that Citizens United baptized the privilege and power of the billionaire class.

Very few candidates stood up against the pejorative, demagogic ad campaigns that painted progressive candidates with a red brush. Most campaign ads focused on what the candidate opposed. Very few put forward what they stood for, as well as against.

But what if…. What if a candidate answered the question “What do you stand for?” very clearly? Something like this:

YES to raising the minimum wage.

YES to a massive jobs program rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

YES to transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels.

YES to pay equity for women workers. YES to overturning Citizens United.

NO to cuts in Social Security.

NO to cuts in Medicaid.

NO to converting Medicare into a voucher program.

NO to new trade legislation that sends our jobs overseas and hammers our middle-class workers.

NO to cuts to nutrition programs, education, or environmental protection.”

Someone did say this. Senator Bernie Sanders, (I), Vermont. How does America’s only socialist Senator from the small state of Vermont manage to get elected? How does it happen that conservative Vermont farmers and small business owners support him?

His “Yes” means “YES” and his “No” means “NO”. He is honest. He has a message. He doesn’t fudge the way Mitch McConnell’s Democratic opponent did in Kentucky when she re-made herself to sound tougher than Sen. McConnell on immigration enforcement.

Clarity of message is everything. So is honesty. Boldness. “Where there is no vision the people perish” [Proverbs 29:18]. Where there is (a good) vision, the people follow and thrive.

Traditional American values were not up for debate in 2014. Disgust was the issue. Anger was the issue. Distrust was the issue. Cynicism took over. Between now and 2016 we can expect more of the same. But there is also a national debate brewing about the vision.

“Write the vision and make it plain, so he may run who reads it.” [Habakkuk 2:2]

Thanks you, Bernie Sanders, for writing yours so clearly. I look forward to hearing others’ plain Yeses and No’s, such that might inspire us to run to the polls next time.

 

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Prayer in Public Schools – Letter to the Editor

Uncle Bob's letter to the Editor - 1963

Uncle Bob’s Letter to the Editor – 1963

Does this look old? It is. Typed on a manual typewriter in 1963. Some things are worth their weight in gold. This Letter to the Editor is one of them.

Robert Smith, my Uncle Bob, sent this Letter to the Editor of the local paper in South Paris in Oxford County, the poorest county in the State of Maine.  A native of Kennebunk, Maine, he was a relative of John Smith of the legendary tale of Pocahontas, who  married my mother’s sister, Gertrude, after graduating first in his class at Harvard Law. He opened a law office in South Paris, met the love of his life and courageously raise a family: my first cousins Alan (who never spoke a word because of Cerebral Palsy), Dennis, and Gwen.

He became the District Attorney and then the Probate Judge in Oxford County. A Republican of the Nelson Rockefeller brand, he wrote his Letter to the Editor after the U.S. Supeme Court ruled that prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional. To the chagrin of many of his neighbors, he supported the Supreme Court decision.

His daughter, my cousin, Gwen, sent this to me. with a note:

“I am amazed at how ‘global’ his thinking was, especially when you think of South Paris! I couldn’t wait to get out as I saw it as being so insulated from the real world…knew there was something better out there. Dad would be drummed out of the Republican party he so strongly supported with this thinking, but all politicians could take a lesson in civility from this!”

Bob Smith died of a cerebral hemorrhage leading a congregational meeting of the First Congregational Church of South Paris where he was the President of the Congregation, Choir Master and Organist. He died the way he lived – with the courage of his convictions and a faith in Divine providence that does not depend upon or favor the tyranny of the majority.

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Keep Awake – Undelivered sermon #1

KEEP AWAKE!

First Sunday in Advent, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” [attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Mark 13:37].

It’s hard to stay awake in times like these. To be conscious means grief, helplessness, anger at the state of the world.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is supposed to bring comfort but it doesn’t, unless the heaven and earth of which Jesus speaks are the ones our pride has created. The imaginary ones. The heavenly and earthly projects that rise out of human insecurity as in the Genesis story of Babel, the story of what never was but always is, according to which the building of the ideal city is interrupted and the tower “with its top in the heavens” is “left off”.

But the word – the story about it – has not passed away. It endures. As fresh today as it was when first shared around a campfire as a way of telling each generation the respective places of God and man (humankind).

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

Fourteen years after the World Trade Towers collapsed in NYC, a new tower, “One World Trade Center” – taller, stronger, bolder – stands where the old towers fell on 9/11.

One World Trade Center, symbolizes a resurrection of the crashed myth. Standing a few blocks from Wall Street, where the global economy is reconstructed every day, One World Trade Center re-erects the myth of national supremacy, benign goodness, and the virtue of the American economic system. Which is different from a resurrection.

We could have left Ground Zero empty, void of monoliths and phallic symbols. We could have turned it into a plaza, a memorial to the error of pride, a turning away from global arrogance. A repentance from the economic-military-religious complex that expropriated the oil fields in the Middle East, assassinated the elected President of Iran in 1958, installed the Shah in his place, ignored the human rights of Palestinians, supported and installed western-friendly oligarchies and strong men in Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Saddam Hussein), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) until, except for Saudi Arabia, they turned against us.

Instead of listening to the word that does not pass away, we Americans, to the sorrow of New Yorkers like Michael Kimmelman (” A Soaring Emblem of New York, and Its Upside-Down Priorities, NY Times, Nov. 29, 2014), opted for the old words and worn-out scripts that have failed us.

The Arab Spring in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia did not do what the NeoCon exporters of Western democracy had imagined. It unleashed a seething volcano of anti-American resentment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria, have become desert quagmires – Vietnams without jungles.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warning of an emerging military-industrial complex is all but forgotten as One World Trade Center stands like a phoenix raised up…and up…and up from the ashes, the world’s tallest building, symbol of global dominance re-erected from the horrifying deadly collapse of 9/11.

Words and symbols are everything in this world.

As Mr. Kimmelman put,

“…[The World Trade Center Twin Towers] never really connected with the rest of Lower Manhattan. There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center re-development including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood, at a human scale, where the windswept plaza at the foot of the twin towers had been.”

It’s all about human scale. A plaza. Not a tower with its top in the heavens.

Staying awake is hard. Being attuned to what is not passing away takes faith. It takes hope. I takes courage. Maybe even love.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” [Mark 13:28]

Jesus often seems to have said that the word we need to hear is spoken by nature. Learn from the fig tree. It waits through the dormant season to become tender again, to put forth its leaves toward summer when it produces its sweet figs.

Nature is calling. Nature is our home. Nature is what is – the real heaven and earth – the word that will not pass away, the word that will survive when we are gone. We need to love nature again. Awaken to nature. Re-imagine ourselves as part of nature, “creatures” like all the other creatures. Our words will pass away, even the best of them. Our Creator’s word will not.

During Advent – this most puzzling of seasons, the season of wakeful, wait-ful anticipation of a Coming in fullness – I find myself crying out like Isaiah. “You have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” [Isaiah 64:7]

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations [the ‘ethnoi’ in New Testament Greek, i.e.” the peoples”] might tremble at your presence!” [Isaiah 64:1-2]

The “nations” have always been God’s adversaries, closed in on themselves, puffed up, defensive against intruders foreign and domestic, plunderers of nature and other nations, hostile to the foreigner, both human and Divine.

In this season of “economic recovery” when the poor continue to get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class shrinks, I pray “Good Lord, deliver us, from ‘the hand of our own iniquity’. Remember, ‘O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ [Isaiah 64:8]”

This word is the only word that lasts.

Stay awake, my soul. Stay awake to the whole of it, all of it – the sorrow and the grief of it, the loneliness of it, the anger in it, the guilt of it, the finger pointing out and away and the finger pointing back at me, a nation to myself, and the presence of the Potter – and my soul will be well.

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The World according to Ruby

You gotta be kidding!

You gotta be kidding!

This is the picture of my lovely grand-daughter Ruby hearing the shocking news from the grand jury in the Ferguson case.

That’s not right. That prosecutor was naughty!

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Father and Son – the Audi

2005 Audio A4 2.0 AWD Quattro Wago

2005 Audio A4 2.0 AWD Quattro Wagon

Anxiety wears many masks. Sometimes it looks like a car shopper. Sometimes the car shopper is like his Dad.

I’m at a new stage in life. Our income will be cut by 40% in 27 days when we are both retired. We are excited by the freedom to enjoy life together without the obligations and distractions but are also anxious about finances and the unknown.

So what am I doing at a car dealership, trading the 11 year old Toyota Avalon for a nine year old Audi?

I rationalize laying out $9,000 with reasoning that I “know” is convoluted and self-defeating. It goes like this.

We’ll be on the road for two months. The Avalon has 120,000 miles on it. Can we trust it?

The Avalon needs $1,000 worth of body work to repair the damage done when it’s getting-older driver swiped the side of the garage.

But… we could leave the scrape the way it is and save the $1,000. After all, it’s 11 years old, and we don’t even know whether we will need two cars in retirement. We could sell the Avalon and pocket the $7,500 to add to our small nest egg.

The Audi has only 83,000 miles on it. It’s All Wheel Drive, great for driving in winter conditions. It gets better gas mileage. Sure it takes Premium fuel, but that’s only 30 – 40 cents more than regular.

But it is an Audi. I’ve never owned an Audi.

It’s confusing for a guy who loves cars, a guy addicted to car shopping. My brother does it too. It runs in the family.

Dad's 1983 Buick Skylark

Dad’s 1983 Buick Skylark

When my father could no longer walk without a walker and long after my mother had (sort of) prevailed to stop him from getting behind the wheel of the 12 year-old Buick Skylark, Dad continued to insist he could still drive. He suffered increasing dementia as the Parkinson’s wore on. He also continued to insist he could still play golf. “Ken,” Mom would say, “You can’t even stand up. How are you going to swing a golf club?” “Just take me over. I can still hit the ball.” He also never gave up his role as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, wanting to preach until a few months before he died.

Despite the very limited financial resources which my mother managed like a cookie-baker who hides the cookie jar from kids on sugar highs, Dad always wanted to buy a new car. “Skip, let’s run over and look at that new Buick. I saw it on TV. It’s a beauty!”

Dad dropped by car dealerships as naturally as a sex addict drops by the adult store. Maybe there’s a relationship. The both sell toys.

Tom, the Audi dealer, is a very nice guy. No pressure. “Take it home and show Kay. She’s going to love it. It’ll be the perfect fit for your retirement road trips. Keep it overnight. Just bring it back tomorrow. We can finish up the paper work in the morning.” I leave the Avalon with Tom and leave with the Audi.

Driving the Audi home I begin to notice that the suspension is sportier, which makes for a great driving machine – the Germans make the best – but also means that the ride is stiffer. I remember how I’ve always come back to an Avalon because of the seat and the soft ride. But this is an Audi. I’ve never owned an Audi, and it has all at the bells and whistles. Like the Audi guy says, “You’re retired; you deserve a great car! You goin’ to feel really good in this.”

On the way home, it dawns on me: “So…that’s what this is about.

As of November 10 I no longer have a position. I no longer have a public roll. I am no longer capable of confusing public standing with personhood. I’m anxious, unconsciously fearful. “Retirement” means old age. Loss. Hearing loss. Teeth in a cup. Memory loss. The road to the loss of everything.

The next morning, I take the Audi back to Tom.

Buying an Audi has its own kind of logic, but it makes no good sense, given our finances.  Even with an extended warranty. Because we, the drivers, don’t have “extended warranties”. Getting older can also mean getting wiser. Getting more comfortable being ourselves without status or position and their sex symbols. It’s time to practice what I’ve always preached: We don’t own a thing. We wear out beyond repairs and maintenance. It’s all about anxiety.

I chuckle and imagine a smile on Dad’s face. God doesn’t need an Audi or a Buick. Neither did Dad. Neither do I! I’ll ease on down the road in the Avalon.

- Gordon C. Stewart, Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2014

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Verse – the Latest Thing

One holiday, my granddaughter
found the old, black, Royal typewriter
that was used by my grandfather
to write his first successful book.

She had learned how to hunt-and-peck
on her Mom’s and Dad’s computer,
so I found her some white paper,
and pushed the sliding carriage back

and forth for her. A fifth-grader,
she typed notes to her “Dear Mother,”
and, of course, to her “Dumb Brother.”
She did not seem to mind the lack

of some electrical power:
“It’s got its own built-in printer!”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 25, 2914

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You might not believe this

Mark Andrew after shopping at the Mall of America

Mark Andrew after shopping at the Mall of America

A year ago Mark Andrew was beaten within an inch of his life. We commented on the assault at the Mall of America at the time and are moved to comment now on the unusual sentence handed down yesterday in the case of his primary assailant.

Click “Young woman who beat Mark Andrews receives no jail time – at his request” – for the story aired yesterday by All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio.

Mark Andrew, man of compassionate wisdom

Mark Andrew, man of compassionate wisdom

There is judgment and there is mercy. Mark Andrew is a man of faith. He was taught and he believes that God’s judgment is always a function of God’s love, and, as Cornel West puts it, that “justice is what love looks like in public.”

 

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Every head was bowed

A reader of yesterday’s “On the Ship and on the Train” left a comment. The post featured this photograph of my father and his Army Air Force unit on board ship on the high seas on their way to Saipan in World War II.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

Karin wrote:

“I clicked on the picture which made it large enough to fill my screen… I was amazed. Every man’s head was bowed. That brought a realization that they all knew what they were headed towards. Profound.”

My father was the Chaplain leading the prayer. Indeed, EVERY HEAD WAS BOWED.

Prayer came naturally to him. My brothers and I were blessed by his prayers every night at the dinner table. His head would bow. My mother’s head would bow. Our heads would bowed. There was a short, reverent silence – a time for centering, as we would call it today – followed by words. He addressed the Divine as “Thou”, not the familiar “you”. Antiquarian by contemporary standards, there was never any question that the “Thees” and “Thous” were not spoken to another one of us.

A remnant of his prayers – a sample of the kind of prayer by which he led the soldiers on the ship – was left in my possession in his old Bible.

God our Father, who hath commended thy love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us: worthy was the Lamb that was slain to receive honor and glory and blessing.

Remembering once again him again whom we have pierced by our selfishness and folly, we acknowledge our sins and beseech thy forgiveness. We would learn of thee to forgive,  with thee to suffer, and in thee to overcome. Lord, in thy great mercy we ask that thou remember us now in thy kingdom – confirm our faith.

Forbid that we forget among our earthly comforts the mortal anguish our Lord Jesus endured for our salvation. As we behold him following the way of faith and duty even to the crown of thorns and the cross, grant us grace that we may learn the sterner lessons of life.

So endue us with power from on high that taking up our cross and following our Savior in his patience and humility we may enter in the fellowship of his sufferings and come at last to dwell with him in his eternal Kingdom.

I learned to pray at my father and mother’s table. Over time his theology changed in many ways, but his faith in Divine Goodness never waned.

In my last conversation with him before he died, I asked, “How are you doing with your faith?”

“Good,” he said with the heartiest smile his Parkinson’s would allow. He died two days later. His head was bowed.

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Father and Son – the Pasternaks

Leonid Pasternak painting of his sons Boris and Alex

Leonid Pasternak painting of his sons Boris and Alex

Thinking about father – son relationships led me to the Pasternaks, starting with the son, Boris.  Boris is seated to the left in this painting, done by his father. One wonders whether Boris and Alex were as angry as the father has painted them, or whether the father only imagined them to be resentful about sitting for the portrait. Father-son relationships are often hard to figure out. They’re about perceptions.

The name Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960), the Nobel Laureate who declined the award in 1958, is etched in the annals of Russian literature.

So is the name of his father, Leonid (1865-1945), the revered Russian painter and illustrator, friend of Rainer Maria Rilke and Leo Tolstoy, among others. Leonid’s drawings illustrated Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Resurrection.  

Can you see the father in the sons, and the sons in the father who painted them?

Photo of Leonid Pasternak, Russian painter.

Photo of Leonid Pasternak, Russian painter.

Why, then, would the sons’ father leave them behind?

In 1921 when Leonid Pasternak left Russia for eye surgery in Berlin, he took his wife and two daughters, Lydia and Josephine, leaving Boris and Alex behind in Russia. He never returned. He, his wife, and the girls remained in Berlin until 1938 when he fled from the Nazis to England. The sons remained in Russia.

According to the Pasternak Trust, “Leonid Pasternak was the friend and illustrator of Tolstoy.

Leonid Pasternak illustration in Tolstoy's Resurrection.

Leonid Pasternak illustration in Tolstoy’s Resurrection.

His portraits include studies from life of writers (Tolstoy, Gorky, Rilke, Remizov, Hauptmann); musicians in performance (Scriabin, Chaliapin, Busoni, Rachmaninov); other distinguished contemporaries including Einstein, Hoffman, Gordon Craig and Lenin.

“Sketches of family scenes – his wife at the piano, and their four children reading and playing – are among his most intimate and charming works. His landscapes stretch from the Black Sea to the Bavarian Alps and Palestine.” – Excerpt from The Pasternak Trust.

Although Leonid never returned to Russia, it was his brush that painted Boris into life as a painter whose brush was words, and one can imagine it was his mother’s music that lulled him to sleep even as an adult His mother was a concert pianist.

“‘What is history?” wrote Boris in Doctor Zhivago.

“Its beginning is that of the centuries of systematic work devoted to the solution of the enigma of death, so that death itself may eventually be overcome. That is why people write symphonies, and why they discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves.”

 

- Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago (English translation by Nikolay Nicholayevich, 1957), Chapter 1, Section 5.

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On the Ship and on the Train

I was 18 months old when my father shipped out for Saipan in the Mariana Islands of the South Pacific in WW II.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

My father, the Chaplain, leading worship on board ship to Saipan, WW!!.

I don’t remember the ship. But I remember the emotional wake its departure left behind: the memory of my mother crying on a train. The sounds of the clicketty-clack of the wheels rolling down the track and the whistle blowing like a lost child in the night still plunge me into existential loneliness.

Late in her life, I shared with my mother the memory or her crying on the train.

Because I was so young when it happened, she was surprised that I remembered it, She confirmed it in great detail.

Dad felt “a call” to stand with the brave men who were risking their lives in the war against fascism and imperialism. With my mother’s blessing, he resigned his pastorate in Mechanicsburg, PA to enlist as an Army Air Force Chaplain. After six-months in the States, he left my mother and me behind.

While he was preaching on board ship, my mother and I were on a train from Los Angeles, his point of departure, to Boston, the home of my paternal grandparents.

I never saw the photo or thought of him aboard ship until a phone call and subsequent picture arrived by email from a researcher of my father’s unit on Saipan last month.  Dad was tending his “flock” on board ship. I never knew. Some things, like wine, take time.

Not everything is as it seems or feels. We do the best we can and pray it’s good enough.

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The Reign of Christ

I’ve often wondered
why he included
me

in parables of goat
and sheep, of tare and
wheat

of a woman on a floor
to find her one
lost coin

of a manly crowd
with stones to throw at
“her”

of ramming rams and
bleating ewes and one
little lamb

of pride and loathing
of specks and logs in
eyes

of sight and light
of day and sleepless
nights

of father running to
greet his son from
empty sty

of water and wine
and miracles that healed
the sick and

called forth Lazarus
from the tomb, unwrapping
him and me

- GCS, Nov. 24, 2014 – early Monday morning the day following Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday.

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Sheep and Goats

Being without a pulpit doesn’t stop the yearning for study and communication. Today Dean Seal stood for the first time in the pulpit where I once stood. I rejoice with Dean and the dear people of Shepherd of the Hill as they begin this new ministry together.

But I also sense the loss of the community that has been Kay and my home for the past eight and a half years. So I do what I have always done. I look at the texts for the day, ponder their meaning, and write about them.

The Hebrew Bible text for today – the last Sunday in the Christian liturgical calendar, “the Reign of Christ” Sunday – is from Ezekiel 34. It reads, in part:

I myself  [i.e. God] will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,

I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

 

- Ezekiel 34:15-22

Ezekiel is spoken to the exiles, the aliens in a strange land – you might call them “immigrants” or “exiles” or “refugees”. Or “undocumented workers” who labor for peanuts without the protection of the law.

Ezekiel’s 34th chapter looks to David, the leader of the nation, to be God’s agent to rescue them. Or maybe, in our time, a distant relative named Barack.

During the time I worked outside the church at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, a group of undocumented workers came to the Center. The Hispanic/Latino Community Advocate had identified their need and had convinced them that the LRC was a safe place to bring their case.

Six Mexican “employees” of a cleaning service that sub-contracted for janitorial services at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota had not received their wages for the past six weeks. The company knew their workers had no recourse. The law was against them; deportation was always one step away. The employer was confident in its privileged position. Those who withheld their wages had not yet read Ezekiel’s proclamation: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”

It took one phone call to the employer to get these men the wages they and their families had been wrongfully denied.

Let those who oppose Immigration reform legislation in the United States of America read Ezekiel, or sit in on the conversation at the Legal Rights Center. Then let them think again about President Obama’s compassionate speech on immigration policy reform and pass the bipartisan bill languishing the House of Representatives.

 

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The Distant Murmurs of Prayer

“In our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer,” wrote Dennis Aubrey in his post “In Seclusio at Thines” posted on Via Lucis Photography.

Listening for the distant murmurs immediately brought to mind a hymn composed by Anne Quigley in 1992. The tune is LONGING. The textual refrain is:

“There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us. There is a longing in our hearts for love we only find in you, O God.”

It was the recollection of the text that drew me to LONGING. I searched YouTube for possible videos for this post but found that the lightness of the tune, like so much contemporary Christian music, left me longing for “the distant murmur of prayers” that echo down the ages in the Gregorian Chants once sung in the now empty or mostly empty monasteries and churches that inspired Dennis to conclude “In Seclusio in Thines”:

“[PJ and I] … hear the echoes of sandaled footsteps in lonely churches long deprived of their monastic communities. And in our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer.”

I long for gravitas awakened by the beauty of silence.

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Two Presidents – November 22, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), 35th President of the United States of America.

Who killed JFK remains a question for the ages. Someday, perhaps, we will learn the truth of why and by whom he died, but for now the story must be told again, remembered for what it was and for what might have been.

Some things are,
or, so it seems,
“not meant
to be”

Things like
Jack and us
that almost
were

Yet some things,
I repose,
never fade
or die away

Some things not
“meant to be”
like Jack and me,
live on

As things that are,
I surmise,
not meant
to die

For love is not
a thing,
an object that
can die

It hangs around,
like time,
in spaces all
its own

- GCS, Nov. 22, 2014

 

It must be remembered and mourned afresh today when hatred for his successor runs rampant and “lapses” in White House security inexplicably abound. One theory of President Kennedy’s assassination includes not only a rogue element of the CIA but also the Secret Service, charged to protect the President. Prayers are in order for the President who stood tall this week in his speech on immigration reform.

For our President, Barack, for the leaders of the nations, and for all in authority, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

For the poor and the oppressed, for the unemployed and the destitute, for prisoners and captives, and for all who remember and care for them, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

Defend us, deliver us, and in Thy compassion protect us, O Lord, by Thy grace. Lord have mercy.

[Excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer, Form I, 1979 Pew Edition, page 384.]

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Verse – How and Why?

Some say “God has a
plan for you.” But I say,
“There is no plan. There is
no meaning we find;
only the meaning we make.”

But how do 12 Bald Eagles circle
overhead during simultaneous
memorial services for the slain
children of Red Lake – six over
Red Lake; six over Saint Paul?

Why does the Egret wading in
the pond suddenly stop its fishing
and fly across to the window on
the other side where a mother
grieves her daughter’s death?

Are you and I the only makers
of meaning or is there Another
outside or inside of nature,
a Meaning-Maker inside, between
and among everything that is?

- Gordon C. Stewart, November 22, 2014

 

 

 

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The President’s Speech

President Obama rang the bell last night in his speech on immigration. The President is a Constitutional lawyer. He is also a man of faith, a thoughtful Christian who interprets the Bible the way Abraham Lincoln did, and, like Lincoln before him, the President preached to a divided nation from the White House.

He used the bully pulpit to stop the bullying.

“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”

This morning Speaker of the House John Boehner, who for the past year-and-a-half has personally blocked a vote in the House on the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, filed a lawsuit, alleging the President has exceeded his authority. Mr. Boehner and others also threaten impeachment.

Very few of us understand the Constitutional separation of powers well enough to assess knowledgeably whether the President has or has not exceeded his executive authority, but given similar actions by every recent President, both Democrat and Republican, the Las Vegas odds-makers would surely lay heavy odds in favor of the Constitutional lawyer in the White House.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and secular humanist leaders have led the fight for immigration reform for many years. They have commended the President’s actions and have renewed the call for Congress to pass bipartisan reform.

Because they’re not bomb-throwing religious extremists, there likely will be little media coverage of these religious leaders support for the President’s speech and actions. Like Mr. Obama, their faith, and the faith of the people and congregations they represent, are thoughtful and fairly quiet in demeanor. They don’t make headlines. But once in a while, one of gets to preach from the White House.

In the habit of some preachers who invite response from the pews following prayers or a sermon, “Let all the people say ‘Amen!’

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Idealism and Terror

When one thinks of idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi comes to mind. Moral and spiritual giants who stand for ideals that make the world a better place. We think of Idealism as good in the face of evil, or of ideals lifting us up from the dirt of reality, purifying life from its toxins. Ah, but there lies the fatal flaw in idealism itself.

George Will’s Washington Post opinion piece “A Murderer’s Warped Idealism” looks afresh at idealism and evil, not just evil masquerading as idealism, but idealism as a source and form of evil itself.

Will’s commentary zooms in on Adolf Eichmann, executed at midnight 1961 for his role in the German State’s systematic extermination of 6,000,000 Jews. During the trial in Jerusalem Eichmann minimized his role in the Holocaust, presenting himself as a thoughtless functionary carrying out the orders of his superiors.

Referring to newly discovered writings by Eichmann which form the backbone of a new book by German philosopher Bettina Stangneth, Will writes:

Before he donned his miniaturizing mask in Jerusalem, Eichmann proclaimed that he did what he did in the service of idealism. This supposedly “thoughtless” man’s devotion to ideas was such that, Stangneth says, he “was still composing his last lines when they came to take him to the gallows.” (Bolding added by Views from the Edge)

Eichmann and Hitler were not without ideas or ideals. They were not thoughtless. Nor were they irrational, as those who believe that reason can sea us believe. They were idealists who sought to lift up a super race, burning away the world’s impurities as their deranged hearts conceived of them.

The late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. shone a different light on idealism and the remedy for human madness. He put it this way in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of the we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”

Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler were idealists. Nationalist extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. Whether behind the banner of the State, or of religion, gender, ideology, scientism, or rationalism – idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as “the other” while fleeing “the sore point” that we conscious animals seek to avoid.

Only the God who meets us at the sore point of our shared animality can save us from fantasies. In his last book, Remembered Bliss ((Lapwing Publications: 2014), Dom Sebastian told the reader, “I’m ninety-six, and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, the search for God as real.” RIP.

 

 

 

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Verse – Invitations

Invitations once came in the post,
Now emails & voicemails are lost
Amid FaceBook & Twitter,
In Texts & e-clutter:
I can’t RSVP the host!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 20, 2014

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Finding Our Tree

We walk the rows of silent trees,
some smell of resin, some of lime
or lemon–six varieties.
Young families rush, we take our time,

enjoy the shades of green, the feel
of needles, sharp or soft into
our mittens. We will cut the real
tree with the saw, then shake a few

brown needles to the frozen ground.
At home the Christmas tree will light
the room and spread love all around
to neighbors who will catch the sight

of the one tree that spoke to you
and said, “It is for you I grew.”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 18, 2014

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Prayer

“She saw him standing in the parlor with his beautiful old head bowed down…praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret.”
-Lila, p. 95, Marilynne Robinson, 2014

Head bowed is the posture of humility, the position of a supplicant, petitioner, intercessor, or giver-of-thanks that looks to the eyes of the misinformed like grief or shame or regret. There is certainly all of that in those who pray, but it’s so much more, so much deeper, so much more reassuring.

We are often our own worst enemies. Every experience of the Beloved causes the head to bow and a tear to fall.

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Via Lucis (way of light)

Funny how things slip away. Not really funny. Just strange and sad.

Dennis Aubrey’s posts on Via Lucis Photography have been meaningful to me over the past few year. But because i’m technically challenged and just a bit lazy, Via Lucis has slipped out of site. Until tonight. Wondered why Via Lucis was not popping up on my email notifications. I went to see what Dennis Aubrey and P.J McKay were saying, and there it was. Another thoughtful post , on Weeping for Zion, about which Views from the Edge recently published,

If you haven’t yet noticed Via Lucis Photography, it’s worth your time. Few other authors offer such deep insights into the human condition.

Thank you, Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKay.

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Verse – The Choir

The choir’s BASS was to be the Foundation,
And his low “C” was quite the sensation,
But so flat was he,
His “C” was a “B,”
So elation became consternation.

The ALTO could sing like a bird.
And her beauty the males all allured,
But her tempo was slow,
And her voice was so low,
She never could really be heard.

The TENOR was a prima donna;
His tux had bright diamonds upon a
Stud here and there,
But when we’d despair,
His voice would shake all of La Scala!

Our conductor said “I am the BOSS!
Without me you all would be lost.
So watch me explore
This musical score:
The fast notes will make your eyes cross!”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 14, 2014

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Verse – The Accompanist

On the piano bench talent just landed
Bragging “A band I replaced, single-handed!”
He plays for our choir,
But he is a liar:
I watched, and he plays DOUBLE-handed!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 15, 2014

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Incredibly American: the ARU

“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“It” is the National Basketball Association’s salary cap policy. The speaker is Michele Roberts, the new executive of the NBA Players’ Association (NBAPA), speaking in an interview with ESPN. Click HERE to hear the voice and read more. It’s hardly the DNA of America’s union movement.

pullman newsThe NBAPA is the spoiled great-grandchild of America’s early union movement and costly strikes like the American Railway Union’s sympathy strike in the Pullman strike in 1894.

Professional sports in America is just like America. Sort of. A little bit. Kind of.

There’s management and there’s labor. The NBA team owners (management) and the NBA players (labor) are sparring in preparation for their next big event: re-negotiation of the NBA collective bargaining agreement in 2017.

So, In that regard, the NBA is sort of like the rest of America, except for the likes of Walmart where there is no players’ union, just a company without “incredibly un-American” things like salary caps because they pay their employees peanuts.

But NBA players aren’t making peanuts. They’re making millions. A lot of millions!

It’s hard to feel sorry for a player hauling in an $80,000,000 contract, even if his name is LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. It’s also hard to feel respect for a union that represents only the elitest of the elites while other team employees are picking up the peanut shells after the games and working at Walmart.

My DNA is offended by that. It’s offended by the 1%. It’s offended by the owners. It’s offended by the players’ union. It’s offended by the greed and the self-absorption that sees the fair distribution of extravagant wealth among a small fraction of America’s 1% as a justice issue.

Justice is salary caps and earning caps at the top and an earnings floor at the bottom for the folks who pick up the peanut shells after the NBA games and have no bargaining rights at Walmart.

“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“There is certainly…something wrong in that form of unionism whose leaders are the lieutenants of capitalism.”—Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) who, while serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary following the Pullman Strike, received more than a million votes as Socialist candidate for President.

 

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Poem #5 – Dale Hartwig (1940-2012)

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890  with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890 with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Dale Hartwig stood out from the crowd. He wrote for himself. His was a rich inner world, a necessity for survival as Parkinson’s shrank his world to the size of his room at the care center. His writings, shared with a group of six close friends, deserve a larger audience.

Dale’s verses and poetry often echo the Hebrew psalmists. They are visceral, sometimes crying out  like Vincent Van Gogh exercising in his asylum at Saint-Remy, and at other times delighting at the sight of a fluttering leaf or falling snowflake outside his care center window. None of Dale’s pieces have titles.

Like prisoners, they only have numbers – the order in which he wrote them, as best we can tell.

Poem #5

Behind and before, Thou goest, O Lord.
Like the wind I cannot see.
But why so silent in ways of my need?
To let you but walk to trust in me.
O my steps are oft frozen from fear,
And my thoughts locked to the darkness around.
O God, only You can move me beyond
The prison that seems to abound.
Come, Lord, and move me, just one small step
Toward the One who would give me so much.
I am who I am, so little sometimes
But, with You, so much, so much.

The last time Dale joined the annual Gathering of classmates in Chicago, he surprised us. He wasn’t supposed to leave “home” – but he did. He somehow managed to get himself to the train station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, board a train for Chicago, and make his way from Union Station to Hyde Park by public transportation carrying a suitcase on the stiffening legs he still exercised daily.

When it came his time to share what had been happening in his life, he handed me a sheaf of papers and pointed to the number 5 on one of the pages he had typed. I read it aloud for him. Every face was wet. “I am who I am, so little sometimes But, with You, so much, so much.”

 

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