Singularity and SALT — a short film

Video

Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton of The SALT Project granted permission to share this short (4:29 min.) animated production.

Produced by the SALT Project.

Click HERE to learn more about SALT.

Matthew Myer-Boulton is the son of long-time friends Wayne (RIP) and Vicki Boulton.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2020.

Where the Wounds Are

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Memorial Day is different today

At Indian Town Gap National Cemetery, where my mother and father are buried, “Taps” from a single bugle will ring over the silence of the fallen. That is as it should be. No band. No orchestra. No choir. No parades. No “bombs bursting in air.” Just a single bugler breaking the silence “in the dawn’s early light.”

Other tears will fall today for those who did not die or serve in war — 98,035 and still climbing here in the U.S.A. ( ); 345,000+ and climbing worldwide. They were sent to their graves by a deadly virus that knows nothing about wars and borders between nations. You can’t shoot or bomb a virus. Calling the new coronavirus an ‘enemy’ may strike up the band to rally the troops for a crusade, but it’s easily misused to divide the living and the dead. This is a time for Taps, not “”Reveille.”

You will find me where the wounds are

The lock-down to protect ourselves from exposure to COVID-19 led me to the strange encounter between the Crucified-Risen Christ and Thomas — and for all who come to faith in future time: “Blessed are those who have not seen but believe.” The following interpretation is original and speaks for no one else.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas 
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610 
Record number: [54170] 

Faith: throwing ourselves into the wounds

Caravaggio’s painting of Thomas putting his finger in the wound in the Risen Christ’s side is exquisite, but no painting can capture the strangeness of the invitation to Thomas in The Gospel of John (Jn. 20:26-29).

Translating New Testament Greek texts into English often involves a translator’s decision as to the meaning of a word. The story of Thomas is one such text. Most often βάλε in English becomes ‘place’ or ‘put — a rendering that paints a beautiful word picture of a unique moment of tenderness with Thomas. But “put your hand in my side” avoids the jarring sense of the Greek text — “Bring your hand and βάλε (thrust/throw [it] into) my side.”

The Wounds, the Marks, and the Type

“See the τυπος (marks) in my hands.” τυπος can mean ‘wound’ or ‘mark’ but it has another meaning – ‘type’. A τυπος originally meant a mark created by a blow or impression. Eventually it came to mean a mold or form into which something is shaped. Those who are being molded into the life of the Crucified-Risen Christ are called to behold the marks and throw themselves into the enduring gaping wound in Christ’s side.

The Jesus of Locked Doors

John tells the story found in no other Gospel. He tells it in the present tense, drawing the reader into the scene as it is happening. It is not an event happening only then. It is happening now. “Jesus έρχεται (is coming). Th syntax raises the question of how to render the placement of the word κεκλισμενων (‘locked’). Does the text describe the physical circumstances of an unrepeatable moment? Or does ‘locked’ modify Jesus? “Jesus of locked doors/gates έρχεταιs (is-coming) into the midst of them.” and us?

Becoming Faithful: Encountering God in the Wounds

“Do not γίνου (be becoming) faithless (ἄπιστος) but πιστός (faithful),” Jesus is saying to Thomas, and to all who will never see the historical Jesus directly, that faith and faithfulness are more than mental constructs and belief systems. To follow Christ is to throw ourselves into the gaping wound in Christ’s side all around us. He will meet us there.

The story of Thomas is the final word in the original of the most metaphorical Gospel. It is as though John is leaving us with another way of telling the Parable of the Last Judgment, turning our lives from distant observation and hiding ourselves from the wounds to throw ourselves into the place where we come to faith and faithfulness. “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was in prison and you visited me. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me”. (Gospel according to Matthew 25:25-26)

The Life of Compassion

Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the Christian life as an ongoing conformation into the pattern of Christ, “the Man for Others.” Writing from prison cell #6 of Tegel Prison where he awaiting state execution two days before the defeat of the German Third Reich, Bonhoeffer wrote the poem that addressed the question of where Christ is today. The three stanzas move from crying out from distress (“when we are sore bested”) to “standing with God in God’s hour of grieving” to God “hanging dead for Christians, pagans alike . . . and both alike forgiving.”

Men go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to him for succour, for his peace, for bread,
For mercy for them sick, sinning, or dead;
All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

Men go to God when he is sore bestead,
Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,
Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead;
Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

God goes to every man when sore bestead,
Feeds body and spirit with his bread;
For Christians, pagan alike he hangs dead,
And both alike forgiving.

There is no life inside locked doors, and if we lock them out of fear or for protection, the Jesus of the Locked Doors will find us and break us free.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C.Stewart, Memorial Day 2020, Chaska, MN.

The Presence in Solitary Confinement

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Years before the coronavirus pandemic put us in lock down, Tennessee Williams observed that each of us is condemned to solitary confinement for life, and, long before Tennessee Williams the Gospel of Luke spoke of the surprising presence of the risen Christ at the breaking of the bread.

Sermon “The Presence” — Tennessee Williams and the breaking of the bread.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon (May 24, 2020)

About Gordon

Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is a public theologian, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), former Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska; guest commentator on “All Things Considered” (MPR), MinnPost, Presbyterian Outlook, Star Tribune, Sojourners’ “Blogging with Jim Wallace and Friend” and Day1.org.

Faith, Patriotism, and the Administered Consciousness

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Working all week to complete a Views from the Edge autobiographical reflection on faith as I understand it, I laid it aside. This 2014 sermon on faith and patriotism is the best I can do during the the coronavirus pandemic and getting back to Americans’ favorite activity: shopping.

Sermon on radical imagination beyond the administered consciousness

Thanks for dropping by Views from the Edge: To See More Clearly. Grace and peace to you, Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), writing from home in Chaska, Minnesota.

‘Mocker’ is his name — Proverbial Wisdom

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Watching the White House coronavirus daily briefings, I have felt like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I scratch my head, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if something made sense for a change?” The Mad Hatter, who knows nothing about medicine, presumes to know better than his team of health professionals. As Dr. Fauci and others are removed from center stage amid the president’s self-contradictory statements about the future of the White House coronavirus task force, I hear from the offstage whirring of a shredder, shredding the Constitution’s separation of powers. I watch the president fly into rage, shouting down or mocking the White House press corp journalist for violating the table manners by asking a ”nasty question.”

Artist's drawing of extreme despair and insolent fury.
Typical illustration in a 19th century book about Physiognomy — prayer (o)
reyesallenhermosura@angelicum.edu.ph (ClinicalPsychology)

Anxious to find wisdom from a less subjective source, I turned to the Book of Proverbs, the collection of ancient biblical wisdom sayings, and come to a proverb that strikes home.

The proud and arrogant person—’Mocker’ is his name — behaves with insolent fury.

Book of Proverbs 21:24

The person whose name is ‘Mocker’ is condescending (proud) and disdainful of social inferiors (arrogant), and behaves with rude and disrespectful (insolent) wild or violent anger (fury). Scroll down to the Addendum for a list of Presidential actions over the last two days.

Pride, Arrogant, and Insolent Fury

The search for a video that would illustrate the president’s mocking of the White House press corps led to something else equally, if not more, troubling: an ad for The Epoch Times on YouTube.

Epoch Times YouTube ad

The Epoch Times ad appeared when opening this video yesterday. Today it is gone.

The President Looking for a New News Outlet

President Trump’s trust in FoxNews to do his bidding has waned. “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” (DJT tweet, August 8, 2019). “Watch,” he tweeted more recently, “this will be the beginning of the end for Fox, just like the other two which are dying in the ratings.” FoxNews can no longer be trusted as the president’s department of propaganda.

The Epoch Times

Enter the The Epoch Times media blitz. “Are you tired of the media spinning the truth and pushing false narratives upon you?” Every day Mr. Trump sounds like The Epoch Times, or The Epoch Times sounds like him. Who funds The Epoch Times? Who or what holds them accountable for what they publish? Where do its ads appear?

Late last summer, YouTube users began noticing a surge of ads for an obscure news outlet called The Epoch Times. One ad touted an exposé of “Spygate,” a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that President Barack Obama and his allies placed a spy inside President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Another praised Mr. Trump’s interest in buying Greenland as a shrewd strategic move. A third claimed that the opioid epidemic in the United States was the result of a chemical warfare plot by the Chinese Communist Party.

Epoch Times, Punished by Facebook, Gets a New Megaphone on YouTube” by Kevin Roose, New York Times, Feb. 5, 2020.

The Book in the Bedroom

Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. It’s a hackneyed aphorism, but it’s over-used because it’s true. The first Mrs. Trump (Ivana) remembers Mein Kamp in her husband’s bedroom. She thought it was strange. I think it’s telling. It’s its own kind of playbook, filled with successful strategies that managed to dismantle the post-WWI German constitutional democratic republic. Hitler tells us about the importance of the press as a propaganda machine that “combats the parliamentary (congressional) madness” and replaces it with the victorious “strong man.”

Excerpts from the Book in the Bedroom on “the Strong Man”

“Nations which no longer find any heroic solution for such distress can be designated as impotent, while we see the vitality of a people, and the predestination for life guaranteed by this vitality, most strikingly demonstrated when, for a people’s liberation from a great oppression, or for the elimination of a bitter distress, or for the satisfaction of its soul, restless because it has grown insecure – Fate some day bestows upon it the man endowed for this purpose, who finally brings the long yearned-for fulfillment. . . . .

“A movement that wants to combat the parliamentary madness must itself be free of it. Only on such a basis can it win the strength for its struggle.

“A movement which in a time of majority rule orients itself in all things on the principle of the leader idea and the responsibility conditioned by it will some day with mathematical certainty overcome the existing state of affairs and emerge victorious.

“In December, 1920, we acquired the Völkischer Beobachter. This paper, which, as its name indicates, stood on the whole for folkish interests even then, was now to be transformed into the organ of the NSDAP. At first it appeared twice a week, at the beginning of 1923 became a daily, and at the end of August, 1923, it received its large format which later became well known.

“As a total novice in the field of journalism, I sometimes had to pay dearly for my experience in those days.

“The mere fact that in comparison with the enormous Jewish press there was hardly a single really significant folkish paper gave food for thought…”

– Adolf Hitler, Chapter 8: “The Strong Man Is Mightier Alone,” Mein Kampf

‘Mocker’ is his name

Additional Proverbs

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
(17:27)

It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.
(20:3)

‘MOCKER’ IS HIS NAME

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska. MN, April 8, 2020.

Addendum: Administration Actions in the Last 48 Hours

Shredded the Center for Disease Control public health guidelines CDC scientists prepared to protect the American public while the economy “opens up” against their advice about social distancing.
The Department of Justice suddenly moved to drop charges against former Trump Administration national security advisor Michael Flynn despite Flynn’s court pleas of guilty. “The unraveling of Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI came after senior political appointees in the Justice Department determined lower-level prosecutors and agents erred egregiously in the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” says the Washington Post. Those who defended the DOJ action claimed Flynn’s ‘guilty’ plea came as a result of FBI investigators’ pressure to do so. Michael Flynn is not a flincher! He’s a retired General.
– Commenting on the DOJ move to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn, the president accused the Obama administration of treason. The White House transcript of the conversation quotes the President verbatim: “What they did — what the Obama administration did is unprecedented. It’s never happened. Never happened. A thing like this has never happened before, in the history of our country. And I hope a lot of people are going to pay a big price because they’re dishonest, crooked people. They’re scum. And I say it a lot: They’re scum. They’re human scum. This should never have happened in this country. A duly elected President….The Obama administration Justice Department was a disgrace. And they got caught. They got caught. Very dishonest people. But much more than dishonest; it’s treason. It’s treason.
– A Presidential valet who had ignored “President Trump’s Guidelines” for all Americans tested positive for the coronavirus. Like President Trump and VP Pence, the President’s valet had not worn a mask.
– The President appointed a partisan loyalist to lead the U.S. Postal Service which he has threatened to shutter it. Say good-bye to consideration of election by mail.
Another inspector general has been removed for doing his job of upholding the Rule of Law –the foundation on which a democratic republic is built and protected from kings, oligarchs, and despots, i.e. the strong man.
– Former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Dr. Rick Bright filed a public whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser role as retaliation for speaking the truth about the administration’s late response to intelligence alerts about coronavirus and for resisting Trump administration pressure to allow widespread use of the non-FDA approved malarial drug hydroxychloroquine against the consensus of medical science.

Like a Lamp Shining in a Dark Place

Video

In spite of the deepening chasm that divides us, the American people on both sides of the abyss might agree that we are living in a dark night.

This sermon was preached on the Sunday of the Transfiguration. A friend suggested posting it Sunday morning.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), available in paperback or kindle from the publisher and through Amazon and Goodreads.

Donald Trump and the Spiritual Virus

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The Deadlier Virus

There is a deadlier virus than the coronavirus, and a deadlier disease than COVID-19. Donald Trump is its most visible symptom, just the cover of the book we have yet to read. The virus without a name has been eating the soul of the American people for a long time. Two Georges — George Will and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans’s pseudonym) — take us to the heart of the matter.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

photo of the cover of George Eliot's The Mill and the Floss.

The George who wasn’t a George put the words “don’t judge a book by its cover” on the lips of Mr. Tolliver, the character in her ground-breaking psychological novel The Mill on the Floss, referring to Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil, observing how beautifully Defoe’s book is bound.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Why? The cover may be beautiful. What’s inside may be ugly.

Which takes us to the later George’s description of what lies inside the book with a photo of Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the cover.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence

George Will, the classical conservative who bolted from the Republican Party because it had abandoned any semblance of philosophical or moral principle, spoke of the problem in his Washington Post column. “Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying. . . . Pence is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.” (If you’re wondering what lickspittle means, click lickspittle.)

Trump did not invent it

Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole put it this way in The Irish Times:

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted. …

Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fintan O’Toole, “Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again,” The Irish Times, April 26, 2020.

How else does one make sense of the irreconcilable contradiction of “I have total authority” and “I don’t take responsibility at all”?

An Insidious, Deadly Virus

“It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster,” says Mr. O’Toole,”quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time — willfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors for this pestilence.”

The Spiritual Virus at the Mayo Clinic

Pence calls on Mayo, but spurns mask” reads the StarTribune front page story about Vice President Pence’s visit to the Mayo Clinic yesterday, ignoring the clinic’s request that all visitors wear face masks. Wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is also part of the guidelines developed by the Coronavirus Response Teams which the Vice President leads. Call him hypocritical. Call his refusal arrogant, stupid, disrespectful, or, like George Will, call him ‘oleaginous’. “His [Pense],” wrote Will, “is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”

But it goes much deeper than that. It’s not a partisan matter. It’s a soul matter. Slowly, but surely, a virus eats away all things soulful. Whatever our differences in America, there was, or we thought there was, widespread agreement that integrity, honesty, respect, compassion and humility sprang up from a sacred ground water that gives life meaning and defines who we are, or who we aspire to be. The virus infects and twists the human spirit until deceit replaces integrity, cunning replaces honesty, disrespect ridicules respect, the Rule of Gold replaces the Golden Rule, and self-importance stands where a social compact once stood.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rupert Murdock and the ascendance of Fox News are visible symptoms and willing transmitters of this more lethal threat to public life. Future cultural anthropologists may look back to a time before this deadlier virus took hold and suggest that, with all our religious diversity, Micah 6:8 expressed the deepest qualities that make and keep life human. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”

Not everyone believes in God, and those who do call the Ineffable different names, but doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly were essential threads of our common life. Some treasures — soul-sized things that neither moth nor rust consume — cannot be bought by wealth, privilege, or power. What profit is there if a nation gains the world but loses its soul?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), available in kindle and paperback from Wipf and Stock and from Amazon, Chaska, MN, April 29, 2020.

Continuing through the Disruptive Conjunction

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The gift of Psalm 31 and Walter Brueggemann

During this strange time, I’d been engaged with Psalm 31. Before posting the reflection on Psalm 31, I checked to see what Walter Brueggemann might have written about it. This sermon from the pulpit of Duke University Chapel fits our experience in 2020 as much as it did in 2009. Here are the opening words:

The young woman who sits across from me at Church is there every Sunday. She sits in a wheelchair close to the pulpit. She cannot control the movement of her legs, and mostly not her arms either. She groans and occasionally shrieks. My priest tells me she is fed only with a feeding tube. One of her parents must sleep on the floor of her room every night. She takes a fragment of the Eucharist every Sunday. Her mother said, reported my priest, “Do you think I am bad person if sometimes I wish this were all over?” The priest answered, “You would be a pitiful person if you did not think that sometimes.”

I do not know what the young woman is thinking when she communes. But I have thought, perhaps, that she is reciting Psalm 31 . . . ,a complaint to God about the experience of unbearable suffering and a sense of social isolation . . . . 

Walter Brueggemann, Sermon "Continuing through the Disruptive Conjunctive" - Duke University Chapel, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2009.  
Walter Brueggemann sermon “Continuing though the Disruptive Conjunction,”Duke University Chapel

About Walter Brueggemann & most recently published Books

The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. Click HERE for more information on the official website of Walter Brueggemann, or click the following titles titles for his latest publications.

Grace and Peace to all,

Gordon C. Stewart, host of Views from the Edge, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness ((2007, Wipf and Stock.), available through Amazon, April 27, 2020.


The Art of the Deal with the Devil

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The Faustian Bargain

The daily White House updates on the coronavirus pandemic bring to mind the Medieval folklore of Faust’s bargain with Mephistopheles (the devil). Faust surrenders his soul for the diabolical blessings of wealth, power, and fame.

Dr. Fauci, Dr. Trump, and Dr. Birx

We see and hear POTUS Donald Trump; then we see and hear Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx. Two of three have M.D. degrees required to diagnose and dispense medication. The other has no degree and no license to practice medicine but repeatedly ignores and contradicts Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.

Yesterday’s White House update (April 23) offers the latest conflict between knowledge and what seems like insanity. The president referred to “emerging” research showing that the increased sunlight and higher humidity of spring and summer kill the virus. Past studies have not found good evidence to support the theory. But that’s not the worst of it.

Noting unidentified research into the effects of disinfectants on killing the virus, the president went further off the rails by wondering aloud whether a disinfectant could be injected into people because the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” Where is Sigmund Freud when we need him?

Sigmund Freud’s Case Study in Demonic Neurosis

We are children of the Enlightenment. Few of us believe in real life Faustian bargains with the Devil. But Sigmund Freud became intrigued by Johann Christoph Haizmann (1651-1700), a Bavarian-born Austrian painter, after reading Haizmann’s newly recovered narrative description (L) and triptych painting (below) of his Faustian bargain.

Haizmann’s personal description of his experience became the occasion for Sigmund Freud’s and Gaston Vandendriessche’s research on “the Haizmann case” became a part of the study of psychology and psychiatry.

photograph of triptych by Johann Christoph Haizmann
Votive triptych by Johann Christoph Haizmann’s (1651/52 – 14 March 1700). Left: Satan is depicted as a fine burgher, while Haizmann signs a pact with ink. Right: The Devil reappears a year later and forces Haizmann to sign another pact with his own blood. Middle: The Virgin Mary makes the Devil return the second pact during an exorcism.

The Burgher and the Deal with the Devil

Of interest to us here is Haizmann’s depiction of the Devil as “a fine burgher” in the left panel of Haizmann’s triptych. ‘Burgher’ was a title of the medieval a privileged social class. Public officials were drawn from among the burgher class of medieval towns and cities. Haizmann’s choice of a burgher as the Devil in disguise is its own repudiation of wealth, privilege, and power. Only the Virgin Mary could free him from the pact with the Devil.

Freud de-mythologized the religious language and metaphors by which Haizmann had understood himself and his world. In 2020 only a quack would speak of demonic possession! Yet the biblical pictures of demonic possession still have a way of reaching parts of us we cannot explain or escape. Every one of us is a little insane at night, or locked in during the coronavirus pandemic. Few of us keep our twitter feeds on the pillow to push away the darkness. Few of us belong go the burgher class, yet there is something about Donald Trump that was with us before is election and will remain with us after he is gone: the age-old demonic dreams of wealth, privilege, and power.

We speak of neuroses and psychoses instead of demons or the devil the way Haizmann did. But still, there is the haunting memory of King Saul dropping into the abyss of insanity, throwing his spear at David, and the man who had been possessed by the Legion of demons before Jesus asked his name and sent them into the herd of swine. What is happening to us in America defies rational explanation. How does it happen that we allow a soul-less burgher who imagines injecting Lysol into our veins to take the world stage with Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci?

The Art of the Deal and the Deal with the Devil

The Art of the Deal put Donald Trump on the world stage. Art of the Deal is an autobiography. But it’s not. According to the publisher and the book’s ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, Mr. Trump never wrote a line, but continues to say he was he author. Now that the coronavirus has shut down the economy he tricks himself into being a doctor who always knows best.

By way of contrast, Johan Christoph Haizmann, relieved from the frantic need for the burghers’ recognition. He joined the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, aka, the Brothers of Mercy to spend the rest of his life serving the poor, and the sick of body and mind.

Manuel Gómez-Moreno González: San Juan de Dios salvando a los enfermos de incendio del Hospital Real (English: Saint John of God saving the sick from fire at the Royal Hospital)

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, host of Views from the Edge: to See More Clearly, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, April 24, 2020.

Water is wider than blood

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Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker
But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood.

Aldous Huxley, Ninth Philosopher’s Song, 1920

When Aldous Huxley turned the adage “blood is thicker than water” on its head there was no Earth Day. No COVID-19. No economy stuck in idle at the brink of the cliff. No orders or guidelines to stay home and wash your hands. But he had been the flu pandemic of 1918.

Makeshift hospital for flu patients, Oakland, CA, 1918.
Makeshift hospital for “Spanish” flu patients, 1918

Blood Brothers — Teddy Bonsall and I

“Blood is thicker than water” is about family ties, or becoming ‘blood-brothers’ the way Teddy Bonsall and I did when we drew blood with our pen-knives, and put our cut fingers together to mix our five year old blood. Maybe something in our little minds knew that ‘blood’ described the bond between soldiers in battle. Blood-brothers — soldiers who risked their lives, as our fathers had in World War II — were closer than brothers and sisters born of the same womb. The world was a war zone. Teddy and I would go down together, whatever new war might come along. We were blood brothers.

A virus doesn’t know about ‘blood-brothers’

The day after Earth Day 2020 tests the way we frame who and what we humans are and will, or will not, be on a planet on its way to boiling both blood and water. We are not blood brothers or blood sisters. We can no longer frame ourselves as warriors in wars between our nation and their nation(s) without committing species suicide. No more blaming the Spanish for the 1918 flu pandemic or China for the new coronavirus. There will be no great America without a green planet. Everyone is a child of water — the amniotic fluid of every mother’s womb, and the water that is wider than blood (the oceans, rivers, and water tables) that keep the ‘pale blue dot’ blue and green.

The Daily Briefings

Most afternoons I tune in to the president’s coronavirus pandemic team’s daily updates, but I can’t do it anymore. I’ve run out of Maalox, and I refuse to fill a glass or two from the liquor cabinet. This is no time to self-medicate. I’ve watched the climate-change-denying president and his ‘oleaginous’ vice president and administration re-frame COVID-19 as a foreign invasion — the ‘Chinese’ flu — to be ‘defeated’ by an army of American blood brothers. The updates are not COVID-19 updates. They are 2020 presidential campaign rallies with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx thrown in to provide cover for the medical disinformation no doctor or scientist can support. Day by day, the conflict between the president and the medical professionals becomes increasingly apparent in the faces of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx barely able to conceal their professional and moral in the face of a kind of medical malpractice they once could not imagine.

While the members of the coronavirus team stand shoulder to shoulder without masks, members of the White House press corps practice the social distancing guidelines the people with the microphone do not. Spaced six feet apart, the correspondents ask the questions that publicly trap the president in his own lies and contradictions. The medical professionals become more outspoken, less likely to say what the president expects them to say.

The White House press corps occasionally rises to the expectations of the First Amendment, offering slivers of hope that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will go away before the Earth is left to the viruses.

The Voice that cannot be silenced

photo of Aldous Huxley

I imagine Aldous Huxley in the last row of the White House correspondents section. He’s the only one in the room who brings wisdom from the “Spanish Flu” pandemic a hundred years ago.

He’s had his hand up for 20 minutes. No one will call on him.

Finally, in exasperation, he whispers in hopes someone watching might remember the greater threat to Earth itself:

“Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker
But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood!”

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, April 23, the day after Earth Day 2020.

The School of Misery

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Home-schooled in misery — Oh, for the wisdom of Aeschylus

Photo of Roman bust of Aeschylus after Greek bronze hermaphroditism (340-320 BCE).

I, schooled in misery, know many purifying rites, and I know where speech is proper and where silence.”

Aeschylus, Greek playwright known as the Father of Tragedy (c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BCE)

In the school of misery, we know to wash our hands. Knowing when and where to speak one’s minds or hold one’s tongue is harder. In Aeschylus’ time, it required the wisdom of the gods or the wisdom of Solomon.

The Intelligence Test

“COVID-9 is not just a disease. It’s an intelligence test,” wrote sportswriter Jim Souhan in response to Major League Baseball’s idea of bringing all 32 MLB teams to Phoenix where they could play out the 2020 season. The teams would be quarantined at night in area hotels; the stadium seats would be empty to keep the players safe. “COVID-19 is not just a disease. It’s an intelligence test.”

Easy speech is not only pointless in 2020. It is dangerous. But so is silence. In the school of misery more than one kind of intelligence is required. Maintaining emotional balance in a time of plague is a test of courage and compassion. Albert Camus’s The Plague, whose heroic character is not the priest, but the doctor serving among the sick and the dying, comes quickly to mind. So does the crucified-resurrected Jesus’s strange encounter with Thomas.

The Courage of Compassion Test

The Incredulity of Thomas — Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610

Caravaggio paints what readers unschooled in misery are not likely to see in the text –the continuing presence and voice of the crucified-risen Christ in the Gospel of John 20:27: “Thereafter he is saying to Thomas . . . .”

Known for his gritty realism, Caravaggio has Jesus grasping the hand of the apostle Thomas and thrusting it deep within the wound at his side, powerfully aligning Jesus’ and St. Thomas’ hands to form a lance. St. Thomas’ face expresses profound surprise as his finger thrusts deep into Jesus’ wound. Perhaps, the surprise has to do with his unbelief. It could also be surprise at the realization that he, too, is pierced. Indeed, St. Thomas appears to clutch his side as if he becomes aware of a wound at his side as well. And we who wince at this gritty depiction feel a wound at our side as well.” — Edwin David Aponte, Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, Chalice Press, 2007.

“I will meet you there — wherever the wounds are.” “My Lord, and my God!”

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, April 21, 2020.

Getting through the tight squeeze

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The kidney stone

This is not your usual Views from the Edge commentary. I’ve found myself unable to write anything that might be worth passing on to others. But inspiration arrives from the most unlikely sources, like last Sunday’s painful visit to the Emergency Room. The CT scan revealed the kidney stone that became the inspiration for this quirkier-than-usual Views from the Edge piece. The doctor assured me the stone was small. It would pass with time. The nurse gave me a little bottle to save the stone when it passes.

Who cares if you pass a kidney stone?

Let’s say you’re a writer. Okay, a blogger. You’ve struggled for weeks to write a piece on the daily assault of propaganda coming into our living rooms every weekday afternoon, but it hasn’t come. It just sits there, like a kidney stone that doesn’t pass. You’re sure it will never get out, and that, even if it does, no one will care. Why should they? What you want to say is not unique. A kidney stone’s a kidney stone. You’re also bored.

You don’t believe in horoscopes, but they’re a way to pass the time. You’re a Leo.

It’s like you’re trying to move a couch into a room with a small door. Once inside, everything will work out nicely. But getting through this tight squeeze will take some doing. What needs to be released in order to move forward?

Horoscope by Holiday Mathis, StarTribune, April 17, 2020.

You’re excited! Permission has to write has been granted. What needs to be released is your fear. Squeeze your ego through that small door! Just take it outside. Forget who cares. Just do it! Put it out there! You sit down to write. Returning to the newspaper for the exact quote, you realize you had read the wrong horoscope, the one for a Libra. Your reading disability has tricked you again. You saw the ‘L’ and assumed it was for you. It wasn’t. it was for a Libra.

You go back to the paper to read the right horoscope — the one for you, the Leo.

“There was a time when you didn’t believe you could actually change your circumstances by merely observing them differently. Now you believe it, and you do it on a daily basis. Today brings proof.”

You wonder whether the people who write this stuff know something you don’t. Don’t they know that not even a Leo can change some circumstances by observing them differently?

When you pass a kidney stone, you put it in a little bottle and take it to your doctor who sends it to the lab. You never see your kidney stone again. But there are exceptions. Some folks keep their kidney stones next to the computer keyboard. What’s the use of passing a kidney stone if you can’t be proud of passing it or experience the joy of sharing it virtually?

You’re curious what else is in the Horoscope section. If you’re a Taurus, “you are mysterious, and all the more attractive for your secrets.” You like that. But by the end, you wonder whether you’re really a Pisces.

OriginalPisces illustration -- Symbole du signe astrologique des poissons.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Just because something goes unspoken doesn’t mean it’s unspeakable . . . .

Who knows? The piece you can’t pass today may pass tomorrow. If it turns out to be unspeakable, put it in the bottle, send it to the lab, or throw it away. If what has gone unspoken seems speakable, ask yourself, “Who else cares if you pass a kidney stone?”

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 17, 2020.

P.S. Last night the stone did pass.

Easter Morning

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The painter’s brush, the poet’s pen, and the musician’s composing take the heart and mind into the space of wonder and joy that is Easter.

Easter Morning verse

EASTER MORNING
a double acrostic 


Either Jesus really did rise or
All his followers made up the worst
Series of lies in history... Poor
Thomas certainly was right to doubt
Even after hearing tales: what four
Reached the tomb (or five?) Who saw him first

Matthew says two women; Mark says three
Or was it just one, as said by John?
Reports of what eye-witnesses can see
Or was it just one, as said by John?
Never can be trusted. Luke said one
In the road joined two who could not see --
Not until he broke the bread...No one 
Got the story straight! Conspiracy?

Even grade school kids could do as well.
And Luke throws in Peter saw him too --
Somewhere unreported... Who could tell
That this jumble of accounts could do
Enough to give faith and hope to all.
Resurrection? Who could think it true?

Maybe just the simple: those whose eyes
Open to the light through grief, through tears…
Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…
Needing to be fed, hands out for bread ...
Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head
Grow visions: life can come from the dead.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, 2012 

Text set to music by Palestrina (1591)

“The strife is o’er, the battle won; the victory of life is won . . . . The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed: let loud shouts of holy joy outburst.

[“The Strife is o’er” is often sung to the tune Victory, adapted from a 1591 setting of the Gloria Patri by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina from a Magnificat tertii toni. An additional Alleluya refrain was set to music by William Henry Monk.”

Grace and Peace to you this Easter in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Life can come from the dead!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2020, Easter morning.

Black Saturday, Blackmail, and Andrew Cuomo

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Black Saturday — a deafening Silence

Black Saturday isn’t part of everyone’s experience; even many Christians don’t know it by that name. They know it as Holy Saturday, the day of dreadful silence that follows Good Friday. Jesus is dead. “It is finished.” It’s dark. There is not yet a resurrection. Jesus’s words of horror hurt our ears. Not the consoling words: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Nor his reply to the penitent hanging to his right, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Nor his care for his mother: “Woman, behold your son.” and to the un-named apostle, “Behold your mother.”

On Black Saturday we remember what we easily forget on other days: Jesus’s wrenching cry of god-forsakenness. Eloi, Eloi! Lema sebachtani? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; the thrust of the centurion’s spear opening a gash his side. “It is finished.”

Black Saturday and Shouts of Blackmail

Black Saturday feels darker this year by the ascendancy of the scapegoat mechanism at work in the trial and execution of Jesus, i.e. the consolidation of power by creating the scapegoat which must be sacrificed/killed to save the nation. But as the Alleluias will remind us tomorrow, you cannot kill love. You cannot kill goodness. You cannot kill the truth. Today’s White House “Resolute Reads” repeats the scapegoating with this quote from The New York Post:

“These left-leaning outlets don’t even care that their covering for Dems is so blatant. The Times took heat just this month for changing a headline, “Democrats Block Action” on the $2.2 trillion rescue plan, to “Partisan Divide Threatens Deal.” Yet that didn’t stop Thursday’s changeroo.

“No wonder Dems are so willing to resort to blackmail: They can count on their puppets in the press to never report it that way.”

New York Post April 9 editorial quoted in the White House daily update.

Black Saturday and Easter Sunday — Ego cannot defeat Soul

Into this Black Saturday reflection a stranger’s post arrives with a positive note that strikes a chord with me. Perhaps it will with you.

Andrew Cuomo’s Faith for All

Andrew Cuomo today is a phenomenon. He speaks every day about the coronavirus and his press conferences have become must-see tv. Why? Many reasons, but at heart he speaks to spiritual yearning in all people, a yearning that focuses not on religion and/or God, but on the truth and depth of our common humanity.

The Governor of New York State has become the voice of leadership and compassion during the coronavirus pandemic. His daily talks have become a time to hear the facts, face the reality, and listen to a calm voice of reason, hope and challenge. Beyond the arena of New York politics, about which most Americans know nothing, he has been received by the nation as a man to whom we can relate. He helps us transcend political divisiveness and helps us realize that we are all human beings.

He is a Roman Catholic, but one that many in his church would choose to excommunicate. Under his guidance, New York recognizes gay marriage and has the most humane abortion law to be found in America. It is clear from his presence that he is a man of deep faith, but also one whose faith is not determined by institutional religious authority. One might argue that his ability to speak to everyone is a result of decades of honing his political acumen, but that would be a shallow understanding. At least in these press conferences, Cuomo strikes a deep spiritual chord that resonates with most people.

To begin with, he respects everyone, whatever their religion or lack thereof, whether they celebrate Passover, Easter, Christmas, Ramadan or Kwanza, and you cannot help but feel that his respect is genuine. For public safety, however, public gatherings are prohibited. There is no exception for religious services, weddings or funerals. The kind of flagrant violation of stay-at-home policy exhibited by arrogant ministers in other states is strictly forbidden by Cuomo in NY.

Along with his acceptance of respectful others is a self-confidence that enables honest straight talk, incorporating a stature that can empathize with those who are hurting, both emotionally and physically. Essential to this data-driven attitude is a refusal to speculate, whether about the future of the pandemic or indeed about anything that might be called mysterious or mystical. His boldest statement about mystery asserted that although we are socially distanced we are spiritually connected, but he didn’t know how.

The only use of the word “God” is in the context of describing someone who risks their life for others. “God bless them”. God is also intimated in the phrase “keeping them in our thoughts and prayers”. But in both instances, the phrase seems to be more a term of popular culture than an actual assertion of faith. The closest Cuomo gets to a confession of faith is in his assertion that love wins. Love wins out over fear and anger. It also wins out over economic considerations. And to the calls by right wing voices to let the old and infirm die because they contribute nothing to society anyway, Cuomo responds with scorn and utter disbelief. No one is expendable. Loving and caring for one another is the essence of our humanity. Life is not reducible to numbers. This holds true not only for the elderly and infirm, but also for the outcast of society, the poor and the weak, those who labor for naught and strive in vain. If there is any refrain in his speaking, it is Cuomo’s prophetic insistence that no one will be left behind, that love reaches out to all and compels us to create a just society.
This is a moment, he says, for the world, for our country and state, for us as individuals. “Moment” is a word that he uses often, referring to a time in our lives when great change becomes possible. Stripped of diversions and escapes, we are free to explore our inner angels, to learn, to read, to listen in silence to the silence. The great danger, Cuomo believes, is giving in to the fear of the unknown that awaits us vis a vis both the virus as well as our own future. Too easily reason succumbs to fear and is overtaken by irrationality and panic. It is at this point that he says that this not the NY way, by which he means that this is not the human way, the way of strength, smartness, unity, and…love.

This is a message that reverberates across the country and probably around the world. It does not say, hey look at me and my needs. It says we are all in this together. And it does not say: learn how to do yoga, or meditate, or pray, or become a mystic. It simply says, appreciate the moment, accept the pain, do good, look ahead and celebrate the time when you can be together again with friends and loved ones, and, most importantly, share your love with all.

Many Americans, it seems, hear and understand. 

Carl E. Krieg, Ph.D, University of Chicago is a retired United Church of Christ pastor and professor with living in Ridgway, CO; author of The Void and the Vision: The New Matrix (2007, Wipf and Stock) and host of Carl E. Krieg’s Blog: Just Wondering.

Easter Sunday Worship Recommendations

If you’d welcome a live-streamed Easter celebration, click HERE for the 10:30 a.m. CT service of Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, or HERE for The House of Hope Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul, MN.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Black Saturday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. CST.


Reflections for Good Friday

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The sounds from the cross are too hard to hear. They still echo down the years to this moment when COVID-19 has locked us in our homes . . . if we have a home. Poetry not only echoes the sounds we do not wish to hear; it helps us to hear a Deeper Voice, the divine whisper beneath the clamor. What follows are the Stations of the Cross, courtesy of poet Malcolm Guite.

!I. Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice
With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers
Of perception and discrimination, choice,
Decision, all his years, his days and hours,
His consciousness of self, his every sense,
Are given by this prisoner, freely given.
The man who stands there making no defence,
Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.
And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels
That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts
It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.
He gives himself again with all his gifts
Into our hands. As Pilate turns away
A door swings open. This is judgment day.
Painting of Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner by Antonio Ciseri (1760-1828)
Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner – Antonio Ciseri (1760-1828)

II. Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts
And now we give him something in return.
He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,
Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,
And from these elements he forged the iron,
From strands of life he wove the growing wood,
He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion
He saw it all and saw that it is good.
We took his iron to edge an axe's blade,
We took the axe and laid it to the tree,
We made a cross of all that he has made,
And laid it on the one who made us free.
Now he receives again and lifts on high
The gifts he gave and we have turned awry.
Ecce Homo - "Here is the Man" Albrecht Durer
“Ecce Homo” Albrecht Durer

Click HERE for the rest of Malcolm Guite’s Stations of the Cross, or HERE for Malcolm’s book Sounding the Seasons.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 10, 2020 — Good Friday.

My Yoke Is Easy and My Burden Is Light

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“They tell us,” said the pilot, “there’s a good bit of weather between here and Akron-Canton and the air traffic control people don’t want us to go until the weather moves out of the area. So it may be a while before we take off. Loosen your seat belts, have a drink and relax. It may be a while.”

Forty years later, we’re all strapped in at home, waiting for COVID-19 to move out. The Center for Disease Control says it’ll be a while.

Sermon at McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster — original manuscript

Sermon page 1
Sermon page 2
Sermon page 3
Sermon page 4
Sermon page 5
Sermon page 6
Sermon page 7
Sermon 1980, Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 9, 2020, Maundy Thursday

Letters from an American

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The news I might not hear

Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American: the History Behind the Politics is waiting for me every morning. It brings me up-to-date on news-worthy events that often fly under the radar — like today’s report about the late-night firing of the Intelligence Community Inspector General — another end-run around Congress and further violation of law.

Letters from an American latest newsletter

April 3, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson
8 hr

Quite the Friday night news dump today. At about ten o’clock tonight, Trump notified Congress he has fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
 
In September 2019, Atkinson made sure Congress knew that then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was illegally withholding from the congressional intelligence committees a whistleblower complaint. Atkinson had examined the complaint, as required by law, and had determined it was “credible” and “urgent” and so sent it on to the acting DNI, who was supposed to send it to Congress. Instead, Maguire took it to the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Barr stopped the transmission by arguing that since it was a complaint about the president, and since the president was not a member of the intelligence community, the complaint shouldn’t go forward. And we know where it went from there.
 
Now Trump has fired Atkinson.... 

Click Letters from an American to read the rest of the story and to subscribe to Letters from an American. Ignore the video at the top of the screen to reading her column. Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College.

Thanks for coming by,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 4, 2020

Trump ghost writer Tony Schwartz tells his story on YouTube

Video

Tony Schwartz knows Donald Trump in a way no one else does. Ten (10) days before the 2016 election, he shared his experience at an Oxford University public forum preserved on YouTube.

Click HERE to listen in on what you knew and didn’t know before listening to the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, the book that put a 38 year-old real estate developer on the NYT Best Sellers list and onto the world stage.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (49 two to four page social commentaries on faith and the news), Chaska, MN, April 4, 2020.

No Easter Bunny Easter this year

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Open for business by Easter

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full [on Easter]? You know the churches aren’t allowed, essentially, to have much of a congregation there,” said President Trump in a Fox News interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

Christianity Lite

It won’t happen. Except, maybe, at the Tampa Bay megachurch, whose pastor’s arrest made headlines. But if it should happen that the churches are packed this Eastern, they would be filled with six-packs of “Christianity Lite” — the religion of “The Life of Brian” (Monty Python) and “Happy Feet” (Steve Martin).

The book cover for Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life draws laughs because comedy routines like “Happy Feet” are wonderfully outrageous critiques of real life rip-offs that masquerade as Easter joy -“the power of positive thinking” and “the prosperity gospel” — that replace the real joy that comes out of horror.

Out of sorrow and death

“Agony in the Garden” from door of cathedral in Beaumont, Texas

Easter is not about the Easter Bunny and Happy Feet. It’s the Church’s celebration of the resurrection of the Jesus who was “crucified, dead, and buried” (Apostles Creed). It’s not “happy”; it’s thoughtfully joyful.

Easter comes after Holy Week’s contemplation on the Passion, focusing the mind and heart on Jesus moving steadily toward his own state execution while his closest companions betray him, deny knowing him, fail to stay awake with him, abandon him in the moment he feels utterly abandoned — Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — and return home in that dead silence when nothing but death seems certain.

Reaping what we sow

Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries is a White House “faith advisor” who leads a weekly Bible study attended by White House staff, members of the House and Senate, their staff, and other federal workers. He and Paula White, the other “faith advisor” in the White House, have the President’s ear. That’s deeply troubling.

As COVID-19 circles the globe ignoring national boundaries and borders, Mr. Drollinger attributes the coronavirus pandemic to “the consequential wrath of God.” We are reaping the consequences of what we have sown: radical “environmentalism” that goes against our Creator”; “the suppression of truth” by atheists and those who don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God; and the acceptance of what he calls “a sensation toward homosexuality.”

The Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Matthew

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” -- Matthew 13:3-9 NRSV
Pieter Bruegel's painting, The Parable of the Sower
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 -1569 ) Parable of the Sower

The focus of the parable is not “the consequential wrath of God” and, perhaps, we are not the sowers but the soil into which God sows the seed. The Parable of the Sower offers an invitation to live now as the good soil that produces a joyful harvest in the Sower’s field.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2020.

Toward Truth and Wisdom

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Time governed by Wisdom

In the time of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, prudence (wisdom) was still held in high regard. People were no less foolish in Emerson’s time than we are in ours and folks lied back then, but truth was the measure against which speech and opinion were tested. Emerson’s essay on “Prudence” speaks of truth and the damage to the self and society when truth is violated.

Every violation of truth is not only
a sort of suicide in the liar,
but is a stab at the health of society.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
ESSAYS: FIRST EDITION (1841)

Emerson’s essay on Prudence put to paper what Titian (1490-1576) had painted on canvas in his “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” four centuries before.

The old man on the left (Titian himself) is turned toward the past. The boldest figure at the center (Titian’s oldest son, Orazio) represents the present. His cousin, Marco Vecellio, at the right is facing the future. The triple-headed beast — wolf, lion, and dog — represent the cardinal virtue Prudence.

In classical western philosophy dating to Plato’s Republic, Prudence (Wisdom) has been regarded as the thoughtful supervisor or manager of the other three moral virtues (Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice). Prudence (Wisdom) brings the insight to distinguish between the semblance of reality and reality itself, and the considered intelligence to act accordingly.

Titian’s painting, like Emerson’s essay, offers guidance during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Why? There is a parallel. Titian and his heir both died in the same year during the Plague.

Reality and the semblance of reality; truth and the distortion of truth

We in our time face a threat of two simultaneous plagues: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the violation of truth that “stabs a society” and commits “a sort of suicide in the liar.” Little attention is paid to the past or the future. A society without the Wisdom to discern the difference between truth and falsehood, reality and the semblance of reality, temperance and impulse, fortitude and facades, justice and privilege, and between a democratic republic and autocracy is a society in trouble. How we manage our way through the COVID-19 pandemic will determine the American character and the nation’s future.

The postcard

In the last two weeks, every home received the post card guiding the American public through the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year, one might expect the guidelines to arrive from an authoritative source — the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, perhaps in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service.

But 2020 is not a normal year. It’s and election year. The President who called the coronavirus threat a hoax, played to the myth of national exceptionalism with references to “the Chinese virus,” assaults the patriotism of the Speaker of the House, members of the opposition party, and the Fourth Estate (the free press of the First Amendment), substitutes his personal feelings for the knowledge of the medical science professional, and puts himself at the microphone and television cameras of the daily coronavirus updates — this is the President who sends a post card presuming to provide guidance by post card to every American household at taxpayer expense.

Post card offering guidance for America, paid for by taxpayer money

Emerson knew that truth-telling was an essential virtue that protected the American republic from homicide and its citizens from killing their own souls. Prudence and imprudence in government were not strangers to Emerson or those whose genius crafted the balance of powers the became the U.S. Constitution.

How does a wounded country heal?

How and why it happened requires a look at American history. How we move forward leaves many of us scratching our heads. But one thing is certain. If we allow our disparate passions and partisan allegiances to replace Wisdom, we will have chosen personal suicide and societal homicide.

Emerson’s essay and Titian’s “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” found a friend in Anglican priest and poet Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (June 27, 1883 – March 8, 1929), the WWI British Chaplain nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willie’ for the Woodbine cigarettes he gave injured and dying soldiers.

After World War I Studdert Kennedy became a pacifist and a socialist whose books and sermons were on the front line of the political-economic debate over the country’s future. He stood for his convictions, but saw himself as a member of a commonwealth who, like all other citizens, was called to search for wisdom “outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

There is, and there must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon questions arising out of our wider human relations, social questions, that is, apart from and above party prejudice and sectional interest. If that is not so, and there is no such plane, and we can not think of these big questions outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife, then it is safe to assert that there will never be a solution of the problem whatsoever. The idea that politics in the true sense — that is, the art of managing our human relationships on a large scale — must remain a separate department of life, distinct from morals and religion, is ultimately irrational and absurd.

One of the great public and religious dangers of the day is the use of the words socialism and capitalism without any real attempt to define their meaning.

– G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, “The Church in Politics” sermon preached at the 1926 annual meeting of the Industrian Christian Fellowship at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

This April Fools Day, may God grant courage to all us fools to let Prudence lead us to find Truth again and save us for each other and our better selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaka, MN, April 1, 2020

Rescued by a Virus – COVID-19 and the Chain-Link Fence

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Two buddies and the chain-link barbed wire fence

I was five years old the morning I screamed from the top of the new chain-link barbed-wire fence that separated my next door buddy, Buddy Singleton, and me. Moments before, we had been speaking through the fence Buddy’s father had just put up to protect his property. We were friends. We wanted to play.What to do? One of us had to scale the chain-like fence. Clinging to the chain links, I climbed to the top where the barbed wire was. I lost my footing and screamed, hanging by one hand from the barbed wire that had spiked my hand. I hung there until my mother heard the screams and rushed to take me down. I never climbed a chain-link barb-wire fence again. The scar on my left hand reminds me every day.

Creative Commons photo of barbed wire by درفش کاویانی uploaded from Wikimedia.

Making Mistakes and the Consequences

Making mistakes is part of life. It’s just human. Sometimes our mistakes hurt ourselves, sometimes they hurt others. Sometimes they hurt both. But mistakes also teach us to look closely before trying to climb over a fence, no matter how lofty our intentions.

Today the fence I’d like to get over is harder to scale. “C’mon over,” says Buddy. “I can’t!” I say. “Sure you can. Just climb over the fence!” I’ve learned not to listen to a dangerous invitation. Having made that mistake, I now look up to the top, see the barbed wire, and decide to stay safe in my yard on my side of the fence. I don’t understand the Singletons, the Singletons don’t understand me, but each of us is sure we do.

Fences and neighbors

Today the invitations to “c’mon over” are hard to find. It’s not so much that we’re cowards; it’s that we don’t want each other in our yards. The Shadow’s question “What evil lurks in the hearts of men?” is no longer a question about all of us; it has become specific: “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Singletons?” “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Stewarts?” We no longer talk through the chain links. We call each other names, sure that, whatever evil is, its place is the other side of the fence. We get our news from different sources. We tell stories about the fence that separates good and evil, and the people on the other side of it. We don’t just see things differently. We see different things. We buy the stories about the fence and the people on the other side of it. The Stewarts watch MSNBC and listen to NPR; the Singletons tune into FOXNews and Rush Limbaugh. We’re worlds apart. Or so it seems, but . . .

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall [a chain-link barb-wire fence] (Robert Frost in “Mending Wall”) bubbles up from a deeper memory in the year a virus locks us in our homes on both sides of the fence. COVID-19 knows nothing about fences and walls, good and evil, or state and national borders. Sometimes it takes a poet to take us to our deeper selves.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
- Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Gordon C. Stewart, at home in Chaska, MN, March 31, 2020.

Elijah shares his pizza with Grampa

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Sharing comes naturally to Elijah. In this scene recorded by Gramma, Elijah surprises Grampa (Wumpa) with a piece of his pizza. Elijah has no knowledge of hoarding. He demonstrates the generosity of the widow of Zarephath who shared her last provisions with Elijah.

Elijah offers a piece of his pizza to Grandpa (“Wumpa”)
Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
-Isaiah 58:6a-7 NRSV

Gordon C. Stewart (“Wumpa”) with Elijah and Gramma in Chaska, MN, March 26, 2020 in this period of social distancing.

Elijah and the Green Smoothies

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A Feel-good Story in Self-Isolation

Feel-good stories are becoming fewer during this period of self-isolation. There’s a virus out there that has kept us alone at home for 10 days, but we still talk with the two year-old grandchildren on Skype — or drop in on Elijah at daycare. Remotely, of course.

Elijah at daycare on St. Patrick’s Day

Elijah loves his daycare. What’s not to like? He has close friends. There are only four other playmates. They all adore Lidia, their daycare provider. Lidia only speaks Spanish — of the Cuban variety. Elijah and his friends speak only Spanish in Lidia’s home. But on St. Patrick’s Day Lidia make green smoothies. She called them “immunity drinks”. If it weren’t for the language and the ages, you’d think they were in a pub with a pint. Take a look.

Elijah and friends with Lidia at daycare.

A Brief Conversation — Elijah and Grampa (Bumpa)

Elijah, it makes me happy to see you like daycare so much.

No me gusta la guardería, abuelo.

I’m sorry, Grampa only speaks English. What did you say?

I said, “I don’t like daycare.”

Sure you do.

No! Amo la guardería. Oops, I’m sorry, I forgot. I said “No! I don’t. I LOVE daycare!”

I can see that. I used the wrong word.

It’s okay Grampa, you and Gramma never had daycare, right? You never learned Spanish, right?

Right.

So you didn’t have a girlfriend til you were really old, huh?

Do you have a girlfriend, Elijah? You’re only two.

I’m almost three! My girlfriend’s older. I LOVE Nora and Nora loves me.

A feel-good story for the homebound, brought to you by Elijah’s abuerlo, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2020.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

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No, not THAT Tea Party –the one that turned Boston Harbor into a sea of tea; and not THAT Tea Party — the 20th Century movement to strip government to its bare bones. THIS one is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Daily Briefings

Watching the White House daily briefings on the coronavirus, I feel like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I mutter to myself, “if something made sense for a change?”

The Mad Hatter, who recently cut the pandemic disease office of the National Security Council as fat and who has no medical education or expertise, presumes to know better than Dr. Anthony Fauci and the other health professionals standing behind him. I talk to the president through the television broadcast to explain what I see and hear.

Photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci

“When you’re at the microphone facing the cameras, you can’t see what I see on the faces of the doctors standing behind you. You don’t see the stares or feel the energy it takes to hide their disdain. They cringe when you give assurances that everything is under control, declare with authority that the risks are minimal to none, and make announce remedies that don’t exist or are dangerous to our health.”

I shout at the television, “‘If you don’t think . . . , you shouldn’t talk.’ You haven’t made sense since you called the coronavirus a hoax. We’re all guests at your Tea Party, doing our best to be respectful while kicking each other under the table, winking, and passing notes with the scones and tea cozy.

“Those who know their history have read the book(s) your co-author Tony Schwartz and first wife, Ivana, claim to have seen in your bedroom. We know that history repeats itself for those who ignore their history. Our grandparents and great-grandparents risked their lives and died to save us from the day when those books might become America’s Bible. We hear in your manner of speaking, repetition of phrases, framing the free press as America’s great enemy, and see in your facial expressions and body posture, the projection of the Strong Man. What you say and how you say it has a ring to it.”

The Strong Man’s Script

“As the last factor I must in all modesty describe my own person: Irreplaceable. Neither a military man nor a civilian could replace me. Attempts at assassination may be repeated. I am convinced of my powers of intellect and of decision. Wars are always ended only by the annihilation of the opponent. Anyone who believes differently is irresponsible. Time is working for our adversaries. Now there is a relationship of forces which can never be more propitious for us. No compromises. Hardness toward ourselves. I shall strike and not capitulate. The fate of the Nation depends only on me. No one has ever achieved what I have achieved. My life is of no importance in all this. I have led [the nation] to a great height, even if the world does hate us now.”

“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.”

“The Strong Man is mightiest alone.”

“Strength lies not in defense, but attack.”

“Do not compare yourself to others. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.”

“The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth. ”

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

“But the most brilliant propaganda technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.” 

“I know that fewer people are won over by the written word than by the spoken word and that every great movement on this earth owes its growth to great speakers and not to great writers.”

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”

“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”

“Life doesn’t forgive weakness.” 

“Strength lies not in defense but attack.”

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”

“To truly ‘learn’ history means to open your eyes and discover the forces that cause historical events to happen. The art of reading and of learning means remembering the important parts and forgetting the unimportant.”

All the above are quotations from Mein Kampf or speeches of Hitler

There Will Be No Throne Here

The original Tea Party threw the tea into Boston Harbor to protest a colonial power’s taxation of the colonists without representation. They were telling the King of England to go home. There would be no palace or gilded throne in the new American Republic.

portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm III

Little could the colonists at the original Tea Party have imagined a king rising from American soil — a free electorate allowing a would-be king to shred its own Constitution.

Neither could they have imagined another democratic republic which de-throned Kaiser Wilhelm II turn back the clock for the Strong Man promised to make Germany great again and re-paint the Jewish Jesus as an Aryan-race anti-Jewish fighter who gave his blessing to the nationalist purge and purification we now call the Holocaust.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of 2020 is not in Germany, and pundits have been well-advised to refrain from any comparisons, especially when the need to unite is so apparent. But we cannot pretend not to see what we see and hear what we hear.

“That’s very important,” the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: “Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,” he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

“Unimportant, of course, I meant,” the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, “important—unimportant–unimportant–important–” as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down “important,” and some “unimportant.” Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; “but it doesn’t matter a bit,” she thought to herself.

Members of the Jury: “important . . . unimportant . . . important”?

The danger to an America locked down to safeguard public health is greater than the coronavirus. It is the threat that we will come to see the Boston Tea Party and the U.S. Constitution as partisan mistakes, and plug our ears lest we hear even the faintest hint of the shredding of the Constitution and see no similarity to the Strong Man’s Script.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, available in paperback and kindle through Wipf and Stock and Amazon.

Every day is the last judgment

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There’s no need to hang about
waiting for the Last Judgement —
it takes place every day.

Albert Camus, The Fall (1956)

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was not the first and will not be the last. Historical contexts, memory, and what we believe make a difference to how we live/die in the 2020 pandemic.The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than all the deaths in World War I. “It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351” – Stanford Encyclopedia.

In the United States, 195,000 Americans lost their lives in the month of October, 1918 alone. The influenza of 1918-19 became known as “the Spanish Flu” after it took the life of the King of Spain, but it was no more Spanish than COVID-19 is Chinese. A virus is a virus. It pays no attention to nations or the propensity of nations and peoples to target a scapegoat — another nation unlike one’s own — as though a virus knows the difference.

Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 13:31-46)

First appearances can be deceptive, few more so than the teachings of Jesus. The Parable of the Last Judgment is not what it seems –it is not about future end of time. It’s a parable inviting the listeners to get their heads out of the clouds and put their feet on the ground. Its message? Pay attention to people in front of you, or nearby, living under the interstate bridge in the dead of winter. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoners — put yourself squarely in the midst of human suffering.

We might say, the measure of life is compassion in the midst of a world that makes no good sense. What happens at the end is not yours to know. Pay attention to today. Every day is the Last Judgment.

But there’s something else that goes unnoticed in individualistic cultures. Jesus’s parable it is not about the individual. The parable is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s a story that calls the nations to account for their behavior. In that sense, the parable is political. It’s about the polis and its values. There are no privileged nations. All are measured by one standard. The last judgment– the judgment of compassion, kindness, and humility — takes place every day.

The Opportunity of Trouble

Like the Influenza pandemic of 2018-19, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a crisis in the Chinese sense of the word — danger and opportunity. The danger seems obvious, but perhaps the opportunity is greater. We are at war with each other across the U.S.A., shouting across a deep chasm that the other is a goat. We are in very deep trouble, but we’re in it together because of a deadly virus. In hopes we will come to the deeper knowledge of who we are.

“The human mind and the human heart move to truth through trouble,” said Irish Anglican priest G.A. Studdert Kennedy. “It does not really matter what sort of truth you seek. Bunyan faced with the problem of the soul, and Newton faced with the problem of the stars, are both alike in this: they are troubled spirits. They brood over a mass of apparently unconnected, unrelated, and meaningless facts. Bunyan mutters, ‘There is no health in me’; and Newton mutters, ‘There is no sense in them.’ For both it is dark, and they do not know the way. Both walk at times into the dungeon of despair. The pilgrim’s progress of the scientist and of the saint is made along much the same road, and it begins with a troubled brooding, and a heavy heavy burden at the back of the mind and heart. We must all start there. Life begins in Lent. But there comes to both a supreme and splendid moment, the moment when they cry, ‘I see! I see!’ Bunyan sees a Cross and a Man who hangs in agony upon it. Newton sees an apple falling to the ground. But into the minds of both there comes a blaze of light.” — G.A. Studdert Kennedy (“Woodbine Willie”) sermon “The Word with God.”

Perhaps a blaze of light will flood this moment of trouble, we will rediscover each other, find our better selves, and cry out with fresh joy, “I see! I see!”

1918 flu epidemic: the Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital. The photograph depicts volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2020.

Elijah writes Mr. Hannity about Torona Biris

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Dear Mr. Hannity,

This is Elijah. I want to be your friend, but grampa says I can’t be. Maybe if we can’t be friends we can talk like this on our iPads on my way to daycare.

I hope you’re staying safe like gramma and grampa. They won’t go out of the house anymore because the germs are outside. They’re old, like you. We haven’t seen each other for a week because of the torona biris. Mommy says I won’t get it cause I’m just two, but I might carry the biris into gramma and grampa’s house and make them sick and die. How do you carry something you can’t see?

Grampa says he hopes you get the biris. I told him that’s not nice! But he says you’re the one who’s not nice. A lot of people listen to you on TB. They believe you, and sometimes you confuse them. Like when you said the torona biris was a hokes grampa made up, but then changed your mind and said it was real, that it used to be a hokes, but now it’s not. Did you lie? Did you really believe grampa was bad?

You owe grampa and Nancy an apology. So does Mr. Limball. Grampa says Mr. Limball is a lot like you. He throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks and it gets all over people who believe him on the radio. But Mr. Limball has cancer. We’re supposed to pray for him. Grampa prays for you and Mr. Limball all the time. He says you’re both cancers and we should pray for those who prosecute us. He prays you will just shut up. But his prayers are never answered. Do you believe in prayer?

Have you told everybody you were wrong about grampa and Nancy and the torona biris? Grampa says you should confess. You changed your mind about the biris. So did the president. That’s good. But you still owe grampa and Nancy an apology. Grampa says it’s easy. Just tell them you’re sorry, stop prosecuting them, ask for their forgibnis, and then tell the truth, and tell Mr. Limball to do it too.

Anyway, I hope you listen to grampa. Stay in your house, and don’t say a thing to anybody except Mrs. Hannity about anything until the torona biris is gone. That will make life more peaceful for grampa, and what’s good for grampa and gramma is good for me.

Your friend,

Elijah

“Love your enemies and pray for those who prosecute you.”

Quarantined to Find Each Other

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photo of Food and Drug Administration poster warning milk trucker not to pick up milk on farms with contagious diseases

Everything is shutting down. Almost. But not memory, and not love.

This story of a quarantine is not from the 1930s or the quarantines social-distancing of 2020. It happened in 1950, but, in some respects, it feels the same.

THE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT

Live & Learn‘s post quoting Pat Schneider’s “Blessing of a Writer” (see below) brought back the memory of a two-week quarantine as an eight year-old diagnosed with Scarlet Fever.

For the next 14 days, the second floor bedroom of the 120 year-old house on Church Lane was dark. Pulled shades and extra drapes blocked the light. Fourteen dark days and nights of enforced solitude.

May you hear in your own stories
the moan of wind around the corners
of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember…

– Pat Schneider, from “Blessing for a Writer” 

“DURATION OF THE INFECTION IN SCARLET FEVER,” JANUARY 1, 1950, ANNALS OF INTERNAL MEDICINE

Abstract

In Illinois after the diagnosis of scarlet fever and other hemolytic streptococcal infections of the upper respiratory tract is made, "Isolation is required for a minimum period of 14 days after onset and thereafter until the nose, throat, glands, and ears are normal on inspection or until the physician reports complete clinical recovery."1
Other states have essentially the same regulation except that the minimum quarantine period is 21 days instead of 14. 

SILENCE IN THE HALF-FORGOTTEN HOUSE

The house on Church Lane was in Pennsylvania, not in Illinois, but the Scarlet Fever and the quarantines were the same. No baseball. No backyard games of hide-and-seek or tag. No evenings with the fireflies. No school. Not everything felt like a curse.

To prevent blindness, the room was dark. Other than Mom delivering meals, checking the fever, and reminding me not to scratch, the room was empty and quiet with one exception: the purring of Buddy, the cross-eyed cat with the crooked tail. Even a cat needs company sometimes. I like silence. A lot! But not that much. We’re not meant to be alone. Everyone needs a friend like Buddy.

FINDING OURSELVES IN SOLITUDE

Old memories return in times that awaken them. Live & Learn’s gift of a “Blessing for a Writer” came at just the right time. I fancy myself a writer, but words worth writing have been hiding during the spread of the latest pandemic when the fever and isolation are everywhere..

Might the solitude lead us to find each other?

“Only in solitude do we find ourselves;
and in finding ourselves,
we find in ourselves
all our [neighbors] in solitude.”

— Miguel de Unamuno, “Solitude,” Essays and Soliloquies (1924), tr. J.E. Crawford Finch.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 16, 2020.

Casting out myself

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Narcissus of the Greek myth slowly wastes away. Refusing to look away from his reflection in the pond, he dies of thirst and starvation.

The myth assumes that the pond is placid. There are no ripples. But what if a storm troubles the waters, rippling the pond –something like a virus that does not notice Narcissus’s need to see his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus mutters to himself until, at last, his voice falls silent, except for Echo, repeating his words, forgetful of what she had surrendered to his power: the confidence and beauty that come only from within.

Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole
And, casting out myself, become a soul.

- Richard Wilbur, “The Aspen and the Stream,”
Advice to a Prophet (1961)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2020.

Woolly Mammoths and Woodbine Willie

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Coronavirus & the truth we rarely face

There is Only One House

Legitimate fears, on the one hand, and the false assurances, on the other, expose a truth we rarely face. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pays no attention to political parties, economic status, or national borders. Viruses do not discriminate. One human being is the same as the next. Viruses like this are familiar with homo sapiens stupidity that ignores our mortal frailty. They know better than we that there is only one economy — one house, one planet — in which what happens in one room (one class, one race, one culture, one nation) affects everyone in every room of the house.

A Time for Solitude

The closing of schools, businesses, sports venues, cancellations of political rallies, social gatherings et.al. will separate us until the current siege passes. But is it too much to hope that the threat of a virus would bring our species to its senses and rouse us to action in the face of the bigger pandemic threat, the health and habitability of the planet itself? The viruses will be fine; we may become the latest Woolly Mammoths to die of thirst.

The experience of separation will be either lonely or solitary. Loneliness is its own kind of despair; solitude offers opportunity to step away to reflect. How much we reflect deeply depends in part on learning from previous generations the kind of wisdom that does not shrink or shrivel when there are real reasons to fear. One of those sources of wisdom is G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), the Irish Anglican priest, poet, author, and World War I British Army chaplain affectionately known as ‘Woodbine Willie’.

‘Studdert Kennedy became ‘Woodbine Willie’ after insisting on serving in the trenches, moving among the injured and dying, distributing “Willis’s Woodbine’ cigarettes as part of his pastoral care. “Our first job,” he advised a newly commissioned chaplain, “is to go beyond the men in self-sacrifice and devotion. . . . There is very little spiritual work — it is all muddled and mixed — but it is all spiritual. Take a box of [cigarettes] in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart, and go to them, live with them. You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”

The modern cult of cheeriness: deadly fear of sadness

G. A. Studdert Kennedy left behind a word for our troubles in 2020. He called called people to think and feel. He demands that we get real. “Thinking, he said, “begins with trouble in the mind.

“Thinking begins with trouble in the mind. There is no thought without tears. ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ The modern cult of cheeriness is largely due to the fact that we are deadly afraid of being sad. We want Easter without Lent. But we cannot have it. The human mind and the human heart — you cannot separate one from the other — God has joined them together and no one can put them asunder.”

There’s no such thing as thought which does not feel,
If it be real thought, and not thought’s ghost
All pale and sicklied o’er with dead conventions,
Abstract truth, which is a lie upon this
Living, loving, suffering Truth which pleads
And pulses in my very veins. The blue
Blood of all beauty and the breath of life itself.

--G.A. Studdert Kennedy sermon, The Word with God, 1926.

Coming Next: more wisdom from ‘Woodbine Willie’

In days to come, Views from the Edge will feature more of G. A. Struddert Kennedy as it applies to this moment for thoughtful solitude to reflect on who we are and who we choose to become. Coming next:

“There is, and must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon the questions. . . apart from . . . the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

Thanks for coming by,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 10, 2010.

Dear Mr. President — it’s me again, Elijah

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Dear President Trump, I’m sorry to bother you again. I know you must be very busy on Super Market Tuesday. I meant to send this picture of me but I forgot, like Bumpa. Mommy gave me this Medal of Freedom after seeing you give one to Rush Limmba. She gave me mine last week after I put it in the potty. I bet you have one too.

Elijah

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Elijah’s Super Market Tuesday Letter to the President

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Dear Mr. President,

My Gamma and Bumpa helped me with this letter. I love Gamma and Bumpa! Please don’t tell them that I changed it a little. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. When I showed it to the kids at daycare in show and tell, they said it was too nice. They hurt my feelings. I told them we’re Minnesotans. We’re nice here in Minnesota. We don’t say mean things. They say our generation needs to be more honest and pretend we’re not Minnesotans.

Anyway, Bumpa and Gamma don’t like you. They say you need to see the doctor and lie on the couch. I don’t know why. I’ve been to the doctor and she doesn’t have a couch. Maybe you need sleep? Sometimes I do. Like last night. I couldn’t sleep, so I climbed out of my bed and woke up Mommy. Mommy said it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Then we cuddled in her bed. I wish you could sleep better. Do you get to cuddle?

You have a lot on your mind. Like all the germs from China and the Bidens. That’s a lot! I’m glad I’m not president. I think the germs are coming from Russia. Whatever! You said on tv not to worry. It’s just a bad cold. But then, yesterday, Mr. Pence said you’ve put all hands on deck. I asked Mommy what that means. She just shook her head and told me to go back to sleep.

Today is Super Market Tuesday here in Minnesota. Amy quit yesterday, so you don’t need to worry about Amy anymore. She didn’t want to come in second or third behind Bernie and Joe, and Elizabeth in her own state. That wouldn’t be very nice. So she quit and flew to Texas to help Joe and stop Bernie. That’s kinda weird, don’t ya think? But maybe not. Bumpa thinks she’s sucking up to Joe so Joe will pick her for his wife.

Anyway, the kids at day care are mad at you and Mr. Pence. You say climate change is a hoax. We like the Green New Deal! It’s not a hoax. You said not to worry about the germs from China and blamed the Democrats and television ’cause it’s just another way to make you look bad. You’re not saying that anymore. You lied. I’m just 2, but I know that.

The doctors say the crownaviris germs will go after old people. Yesterday Bumpa and Gramma got masks. They’re going to wear them to vote today. They won’t tell me whether it’s Joe, Bernie, or Elizabeth they’re voting for, but definitely not you. They say you’re not very nice.

I don’t like you, but we’re Christians. We will pray for you to get a good night’s sleep, or sleep on the doctor’s couch if you have a tummy ache, or cuddle with your mommy at home.

Your fellow American.

Elijah

The Lure of Splendor

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Cliff Notes of Being Human

Some stories never happened but are always happening. Like the Matthew and Luke stories of the 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. If everything in Christian scripture should become lost, except for the narratives of the wilderness temptation, we would still have the story to glean what it means, and does not mean, to be human.

The narratives of Jesus in the wilderness are a kind of Cliff Notes on the ways mortal life gets twisted. They condense the challenges of the Christ and of all of us. The Devil is a Trickster, the Liar, twisting the good out of shape.

Is it about power? Or is it about splendor?

As many times as I have read and preached about them, the word ‘splendor’ has seemed incidental to the temptation of power. Or so I thought until this morning.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if . . . .”

Gospel according to Matthew 4:8-9 NRSV

The genius of scripture is that it brings fresh things to light that speak to new socio-reliigious-political circumstances. Perhaps it is the dark and darkening sky of 2020 that drew my eye to the ‘splendor’ of the kingdoms (nations) as more than incidental. The Greek word is ‘doxa’ (glory, splendor). Perhaps power is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of self-glorification. There could be no greater splendor than owning/controlling all the nations of this world. Yet the Gospel writers knew what we easily forget, until the illusion of power vanishes into nothing. “Glory is like a circle in the water/ which never ceaseth to enlarge itself/ till by broad spreading it disperse to naught.” — William Shakespeare, Henry VI.

The Lure of Splendor

The effort to be splendid or glorious arises from the human condition, but isn’t it a fair guess that the search for splendor by means of power is not the temptation of migrants in detention camps, or starving children and parents, or patients suffering a pandemic? They find within and among themselves whatever shreds of hope and self-regard remain. The third wilderness temptation visits the abundant who are tempted to get to the very high mountaintop of personal power and splendor.

It is no accident that ‘splendor’ caught my attention the First Sunday of Lent following the news of the coronavirus, the threat if a global pandemic, the president’s attempts at minimization or denial, the plunge of the stock market, and the apparent preoccupation of the world’s most powerful man with his own splendor. No person or kingdom is divine, no matter how hard we imagine. Deep down, something in us knows.

“All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him

Gospel of Matthew 4:9-11 NRSV

Prayer for Public Officials

Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Prayer for Public Officials” is preserved by Prayers of the Social Awakening, published in 1909.

We give the thanks that by the free institutions our country the tyrannous instincts of the strong may be curbed to the patient service to the commonwealth.

Strengthen the sense of duty in our political life. Grant that the servants of the state will feel ever more deeply that any diversion of their public powers for private ends is a betrayal of their country. Purge our cities and states and nation of the deep causes of corruption which have so often made sin profitable and uprightness hard. Bring to an end the stale days of party cunning.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “For Public Officers,” Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2020.

Music for the Whirling Soul

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Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song” is a rendering of Psalm 121. It also calls to mind “Blessed are the pure of heart” — the Beatitude from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s music that calms my whirling soul among the clanging cymbals.

A Simple Song — The Bernstein Mass

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 29, 2020.

The President and a Letter to an A__hole.

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Horace’s Reassurance

One can’t help but wonder why a president with no medical knowledge would contradict the doctors and research scientists standing next to him at a news conference meant to address the coronavirus. Aaron James’s “Letter to an Asshole” reminds the reader of Homer’s wise counsel:

“You should be open to wise counsel — if not from me, then maybe from Horace. ‘All swollen up with love of glory, are you?’ Horace offers ironic reassurance:

“No one’s so far gone in savagery —
A slave of envy, wrath, lust, drunkenness, sloth — 
That he can’t be civilized, if he’ll only listen
Patiently to the doctor’s good advice.”
- Aaron James, Assholes: A Theory (Anchor Books, 2014)

My Annual Physical

I’m accustomed to ignoring the doctor’s advice. “You’re overweight. I’d like you to lose 10 pounds by our next annual visit. You need to eat smaller portions and walk a mile every day,” advises my doctor.  I thank her, hop in the car, and drive one block to the ice cream parlor for a banana split. Refusing to listen is common to us all, but few of us are surrounded by the props of glory that allow us to deny our savagery. 

Chicken Little’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little goes for his annual physical. “Well,” says the doctor who has been the family doctor for years, “before we begin, is there anything you’d to discuss?” Chicken Little tells the doctor the same story he tells every year. “I’m depressed, doctor. “I need an anti-depressant. Nobody listens to me anymore.” “Let’s hold that thought for discussion after the physical exam,” says the doctor. “Remember . . . I don’t do that glove thing,” says Chicken Little. After the physical exam, the doctor addresses Chicken Little’s concern. “Chicken Little, we’ve known each other for years. We know each other pretty well. Today I want to do what a good friend does. I want to tell you the truth no one else will tell you. If you want people to listen, you need to stop yelling ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling’. It drives people crazy and no one listens to you because the know science. They know the sky can’t fall.” The doctor gives him a postcard to keep with him at all times. Chicken Little ignores the postcard; an hour later, he’s yelling about the sky falling. He can’t help himself.

Chicken Little’s Cousin’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little’s cousin visits the same doctor. He, too, makes up reality. But there is a difference. While Chicken Little proclaims gloom and doom, even on the best of days, Chicken Little’s cousin never sees a cloud, even on the darkest days. His annual physical ends with the doctor’s good counsel. “You and Chicken Little think you’re opposites, but you’re just alike. Chicken Little lies every day: ‘Fire! Fire! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ and no one listens. You, on the other hand, tell people what they want to hear, no matter how real the danger. ‘Everything is fine. Nothing can go wrong!’ If and when something goes wrong, you’ll be as responsible as Chicken Little. Neither of you has been open to good advice.’”

As he had done with Chicken Little, he hands the cousin the postcard to keep him in touch with reality, but unlike Chicken Little, he reads it.

Let us settle ourselves, and work and
wedge our feet downward through the
mud and slush of opinion and prejudice
. . . till we come to a hard bottom and
rocks in place, which we can call reality.
-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

The Coronavirus News Conference

The sky is not falling, but neither is it cloudless. The coronavirus has made people anxious. The general public needs reassurance, someone to settle them by cutting through the mud and slush of opinion and prejudice. They want a leader who will tell them the truth, someone who stands on the hard bottom of reality.

The President of the United States, accompanied by the nation’s leading medical experts, steps behind the White House podium to address an anxious nation. He blames the press for exaggerating the danger and driving down the stock market. This is the same president who calls climate change a hoax, regardless of international scientific consensus; eliminated the National Security Council’s pandemic disease team’s leading specialist; and proposes slashing the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He reassures the people that the threat to this country is very low — “very, very low” — not much more than the common cold, and that it will be gone in a couple of months, and that a vaccine is weeks away.

He offers the microphone to the public health experts and steps behind and to the side of the podium. His body posture says he’s ill-at-ease. His eyes are squinting as though he cannot see something from afar but they are blank. One after another, the medical ‘experts’ express deep concern and uncertainty. They correct the disinformation about the timing of developing a vaccine for coronavirus. Vaccines are not developed quickly. The question is not whether the virus will spread; it’s a question of when it will spread.

The President returns to the podium, thanks the staff, and repeats Chicken Little’s cousin’s insistence that Chicken Little is wrong. The sky is not falling. But, just in case it does, he is appointing Mike Pence to coordinate the different teams addressing it. ”[Mike] is really very expert at the field,” he says. ”Mike will be working with the professionals and doctors and everybody else that’s working. The team is brilliant.”

Letter to Chicken Magnus

You face grave risks. If I may say so, as you are, it is as though you sit, squatting, defiant, and starving, in a dark cave of your own making. You prefer to be feared, if not respected. In that way you strive for a pale copy of true moral recognition. … You would not like the epitaph I would write for you…. Or maybe you aren’t bothred. Either way, please accept my honest concern for your health and safety. One could easily pity your condition, and so I hope you change it.

Aaron James,”Letter to an Asshole,”Assholes: a Theory

Is there a doctor anywhere in the house?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28, 2020.

Plagiarism or a Blank Page?

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Today, Ash Wednesday, is a solemn day that calls for distraction from frivolous distractions, you might say.

Photo of Steve Shoemaker welcoming  President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, IL.

Entertainment cultures shun solemnity. Ash Wednesday interrupts our flight from the knowledge of our mortality: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Steve Shoemaker, seen here welcoming President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, shared a poem that leads me a decision Ash Wednesday: plagiarize or leave the page (Views from the Edge) blank?

I HAVE NOTHING

I have nothing…
nada…zilch…zero…

no thoughts, no ideas
no inspiration.

Worse, only clichés
crowd my mind:

stock images
standard phrases,

or remembered words
wielded by real writers.

Feeling only frustration,
tempted by alliteration,

or worse, rhyme…
Theft?

Is it worse to plagiarize
than to leave a blank page?

— Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 6, 2013
Photo of ashes drawn on a forehead

In memory and thanksgiving for Steve’s faithful solemnity and smile,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

I will give up ______ for Lent?

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photo of 6'8" poet Steve Shoemaker crammed into seat of an airplane.

Seen here with his 6’8″ frame squeezed into his seat on a flight to somewhere, Steve Shoemaker (1942-2016) wrote poetry. Often the verses came to him in the dark. At 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. Steve would turn to his right side so as not to disturb Nadja, and commit the verses to his iPhone. The poem was waiting in the in-box in the morning.

Often he led the reader through the lines to a surprising last line that shined a humorous light on all that had come before.

LENT

I will give up writing poems for Lent.

I will give up eating desserts for Lent.

I will give up sex for Lent.

I will give up thinking about sex for Lent.

I will give up lying for Lent.

I will give up bragging for Lent.

I will give up exaggerating for Lent.

I will give up self-centeredness for Lent.

________________________________

I will give up self-denial for Lent.

— Steve Shoemaker RIP, Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2013.

Steve Shoemaker sitting on an ancient bristlecone pine at 1,000+ feet in Colorado.

In this era of ill-humor and self-indulgence, Steve’s tongue-in-cheek verses ring the bell on the distortions of our best intentions and our shared need to focus on what lies beyond the self.

This photograph shows Steve sitting on an ancient bristlecone pine at 11,000+ feet in Colorado. — GCS, Feb. 25, 2020.

A Memoir: Selma to Montgomery

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Former seminary classmate Jim Haugh wrote this response to “John Lewis: ‘What did you do?'” published with his permission by Views from the Edge earlier this morning.

1965

I took the Illinois Central train from Chicago to Montgomery.

Photo of postage stamp honoring The National Guard of the U.S.

I remember the three Army National Guard Officers with bayonets fixed and their pointy ends against my sternum.

I remember Jerry’s admonition. “If you find yourself in trouble and go to a high steeple church expecting help, You Will Be Killed.”

I remember speaking at Lawndale Presbyterian (Clarence Lennon, Pastor) after returning to Chicago. I said something to the effect “the parable of the Good Samaritan to the Alabama Black is a myth. The victims got out of the ditch and picked each other up.” An ancient woman approached me after the service. “I hated you until this morning.”

2020

I have a friend in Norfolk who took her children to Selma in 2015 when Obama and John Lewis spoke. The KKK was leafleting the city.

We now live adjacent to the City of Baltimore. 500,000 people have fled from its peak. Segregation ordinance of 1910, redlining (still) Brown vs Board of Education 1954, White Flight.

Of the 150 public schools 12 have water students can drink. 138 schools have lead pipes.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan says a program supported by the Kirwan Commission will bankrupt the state. 35% of the students who graduate cannot read at the 4th grade level. One-third of that number are incarcerated in Maryland Prisons.

The struggle against Structural Racism continues. The struggle has just begun. Even though the Constitution of Maryland requires funding for every school district in accordance with the needs of the students.

Best,
Jim

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2020.

P. S. “When we pray, we move our feet.”

John Lewis — “what did you do?”

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MARTIN LUTHER KING AND JOHN LEWIS

Photo of John Lewis (1964)

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. John Lewis was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Aaron. If Dr. King was the face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

PANCREATIC CANCER AND A MEMORY OF SELMA

News of his Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that calls for national reflection, thanksgiving for his witness, and prayers of intercession that “his suffering be minor and his transition easy.”

Pancreatic cancer is no stranger to the seven old seminary friends who gather annually for friendship and study. Steve Shoemaker and Wayne Boulton pancreatic cancer diagnosis preceded John Lewis. We are down to four and counting, but the memories of walking from Selma to Montgomery in March,1965 did not pass with Steve and Wayne; they are alive and fresh among the busload of seminary students who rode the bus from Chicago to Selma, AL to walk with Moses (Martin Luther King Jr) and Aaron (John Lewis) across the Pettus Bridge to Montgomery.

CANCER, CALENDARS, AND CLOCKS

John Lewis knows that some cancers metastasize. America’s “original sin,” i.e., deep-rooted and omnipresent, never quite goes away. It may appear to be in remission. It may hide awhile, but it is always there.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Day after day — hour by hour, now — the calendar and clock are turned back against the dream. But there is different calendar and clock beyond the control of white nationalism. Until his last breath, John Lewis will bear witness to a better life on the other side of America’s original sin. It falls to all of us afflicted to walk across the bridge Pettus Bridge with confession resistance, and joyful hymns of praise.

BE THOU OUR GUARD WHILE TROUBLES LAST

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

— Isaac Watts

What did you do?” – Congressman John Lewis. “Come on, now. We can do better than this!” – Congressman Elijah Cummings (RIP), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 22, 2020.

The World as a Beehive

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That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees.


— Marcus Aurelius (A.D, 121-180), Meditations

60 MINUTES SPECIAL ON AUSTRALIA

”Everyone has known this,” said former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “We’ve been warned by the climate scientists. Everyone has been aware of this except for those who, well, the climate change deniers are aware of it, but they choose to deny reality.”

The fires in Australia are out of control, burning 27 million acres to the ground, and killing an estimated billion animals and 33 people. He was warned, he said, during his term in office (2015 – 2018) that fires in his country were getting worse because of climate change.

Malcom Turnbull is a member of Australia’s conservative party, whose growing right wing turned against him for braking ranks with his party’s denial of climate change.  He was replaced by a climate-denying party loyalist, Scott Morrison, whose hand few people shook after he took a vacation as the fires raged.

“The right wing climate deniers treat an issue of science and physics and fact as though it was a question of ideology, and their conduct is not just idiotic,” Turnbull said. “It is downright dangerous. Dangerous for us here in Australia and around the world.”

“You’re talking about people in your own party,” Williams said.

“Of course I am. Yeah. Absolutely,” Turnbull confirmed.

“Dangerous and idiotic,” Williams said.

“Well, of course it is dangerous and idiotic not to be taking the strongest action to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions,” Turnbull said.

LITTLE BOY BLUE ON AIR FORCE ONE

The 60 Minutes’s special report on Australia competed with the NBA All-Star game in Chicago, and NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in Daytona when the focus on basketball and racing were trumped by an eye-catching stunt. 

Air Force One was strafing Daytona, drawing everyone’s attention to the entertaining climate-denying president blowing his horn in the air.

It was a Little Boy Blue scene from “Mother Goose.” –1901 illustration by William Wallace Denslow.

Little boy blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow,
The cow's in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack,
Fast asleep.

-- Mother Goose

While the Aussies were asking the whereabouts of the Little Boy Blue they elected to look after their sheep and meadows, cows and corn, kangaroos, and koala bears, America’s own Little Boy Blue was strafing Daytona at dangerously low altitude, summoning media attention to Air Force One spewing emissions while the fires burn and the floods rise across his country. It was dangerous and idiotic.

WHAT IS THE ECONOMY?

“This is the greatest economy in the history of the world,” boasts the American president and his party in the U.S.A. 

It’s not.

Science and theology now agree with Marcus Aurelius that what’s not good for the beehive is not good for the bees. Economic success is not measured by stock markets or unemployment rates. It is measured by the health of the beehive and the bees.

The origins of the English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ date back to the classical Greek words oikos (house), and oikonomia (household management). “Before anything else, economics is a perspective, a frame of reference. Economics concerns the well-being of the residents of the same house. Before it decides anything about household management, it knows that there is only one house. Good household management  — good economics — pays attention to the entire house and all of its residents.” –“The Economy: Only One House,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

THE PLANET IS OUR BEEHIVE

The planet is our beehive. The bees are in trouble everywhere. “In the long-term,” said Mollie Beatty, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s unenvironmental, it’s uneconomical. That is a rule of nature.”

“When we forget what an economy and economics really are, we enshrine greed as the essential virtue, ignoring and imperiling everyone else and the house in which we all live.” — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2020.

“Madness is in the saddle now”

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“Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness: open your eyes and look around you — madness is in the saddle anyhow.”

Norman O. Brown,“Apocalypse: the Place of Mystery in the Mind” address at Columbia University, May 31, 1960

Every one of us is at least a little bit mad: sanctum and sputum

People of my Judeo-Christian tradition are prone to agree with Franz Kafka’s out of the ordinary observation: “the Bible is a sanctum; the world, sputum.” But, whether religious or not, many whose eyes are open and looking around agree with the sentiment that what we see in the world of 2020 is sputum.

The Bible which Kafka called a ‘sanctum’ was not the witness to wrath and vengeance. Nor was ‘the world’ the planet. It was society as we humans have configured it. I write with the Bible in one hand and Kafka’s works in the other. As I read their texts, It seems clear that madness is in the saddle in America and that this madness has turned to vengeance against those who voted to convict him, and to pardons and interference with the justice system, on a rampage. This madness has a history. So does resistance to it. You cannot serve two masters.

Belief means decision

Photograph of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his confirmation class, provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) addressed his Confirmation class (seen in this picture) in a sermon preached after when a minority party and widening fear had put a madman in the saddle.

“You have only one master now…But with this ‘yes’ to God belongs just as clear a ‘no.’ Your ‘yes’ to God requires your ‘no’ to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor, to all ungodliness, and to all mockery of what is holy. Your ‘yes’ to God requires a ‘no’ to everything that tries to interfere with your serving God alone, even if that is your job, your possessions, your home, or your honour in the world. Belief means decision.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Gift of Faith,” sermon to confirmation class, Germany, April 9, 1938.

Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness

Yesterday the American president granted a commutation and pardons to men whose offenses look like his own: abuse of power, betraying public trust, soliciting a quid pro quo, fudging tax returns, and lying to investigators. The timing of that announcement is cunning, coming as it does days following, and in the midst of a storm of protest about the president’s or attorney general’ intervention in sentencing of Mr. Trump’s loyal dirty-trickster friend Roger Stone.

Belief means decision

“Open your eyes and look around you.” Madness is in the saddle anyhow. Only a people seeking a ‘holy madness’ can knock him off our horse.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, Feb. 19, 2020.

EMERGENCY MEETING TODAY

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Today is not any other day. It’s the day the Federal Judges Association Executive Committee meets in EMERGENCY SESSION to protect and defend the federal courts from political interference.

EXCERPT FROM HUFFINGTON POST

“An association of federal judges is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to address concerns about the interventions in politically sensitive cases by Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump, USA Today reported.

“The Federal Judges Association, which has about 1,100 members, called for the meeting last week after Trump attacked federal prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for his longtime pal and convicted felon Roger Stone and then soon after the Justice Department pulled back the recommendation. 

“Trump also criticized the judge who is presiding over Stone’s case.” — Huffington Post, 2.18.20.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR’S RESIGNATION

E-mails and tweets to members of the FJA Board of Directors will show public support. Click this LINK for FJA officers, executive committee members. Unfortunately, the list does not provide contact information, but I can say with certainty that your computer skills exceed mine.

Thanks for listening,

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2020.

P.S. If you are a lawyer, please ask the U.S. Bar Association and Federal Bar Association to call for Attorney General Barr’s immediate resignation.

The Ghost Writer — Mrs. Roger Stone’s Letter

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“‘Do you see me now through my dis-gweeze… dis-gwize? Dis-quize?’ Man! This guy writes some weird letters!” – Hector Carrero

How and why the e-mail came to me is a mystery. I don’t know Mrs. Stone. Or her husband Roger, except for the documentary Get Me Roger Stone. I’ve never known a wife repeatedly refer to her husband by his full name, as a reporter would. I found it curious. Its timing was equally curious.

photo of Roger Stone flashing his Nixon V-sign after his indictment.

Department of Justice “senior officials” interfering with the DOJ’s prosecutors’ sentence recommendation is anathema to the administration of “blind justice” under the Rule of Law, especially when the interference immediately follows the president’s tweets calling the Roger Stone case a miscarriage of justice.

The tone and language of the e-mail from “Mrs. Roger Stone” sounded familiar. Who, I wondered, is the ghost writer? Who was the writer in ‘dis-quize’? Then I remembered Ridley Pearson’s line from Hard Fall about the instincts and timing of a cornered snake:

President Trump's hand pointing

“He had the instincts and timing of a cornered snake.” -Ridley Pearson, Hard Fall.

E-MAIL FROM “MRS. ROGER STONE” featuring DJT TWEET — FEB. 14, 2020

Dear Gordon, 

On February 10th, the Federal Prosecutors in the case of my husband Roger Stone recommended a prison sentence of 7 to 9 years! The President himself said it was a miscarriage of Justice in a tweet! 

__________________________________________


DJT: THIS IS A HORRIBLE AND VERY UNFAIR SITUATION. THE REAL CRIMES WERE ON THE OTHER SIDE, AS NOTHING HAPPENS TO THEM. CANNOT ALLOW THIS MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE.
CHUCK ROSS: PROSECUTORS RECOMMEND UP TO NINE YEARS IN PRISON. THEY CALL  ELECTION INTERFERENCE A "DEADLY ADVERSARY" EVEN THOUGH ST....

1:48 AM  02/11/20  TWITTER FOR IPHONE
7008  SHARES  23.7 LIKES

_____________________________________________


We learned the Forewoman of the Jury was an active Democrat who ran for Congress and had posted anti-Roger Stone and Anti-Trump posts on Facebook and Twitter and lied about it during Jury selection. His whole trial was rigged! 

Without a pardon or a new trial Roger Stone will die in prison! The President hasn’t said whether he will issue a pardon to my husband. We must be prepared to file a motion in Court for a new trial immediately. 

Sentencing is next Thursday! We must act now!

HELP US NOW> (link)

Unfortunately, virtually every penny in our Legal Defense Fund was used in the first trial which was rigged by a far-Left Obama Judge who stacked the ALL DEMOCRAT DC Jury! 

Will you help us raise the badly needed funds for an immediate legal motion for a new trial based on the misconduct of this juror?

Because of the Fake News black-out of Roger Stone’s trial very few Americans know how flimsy the charges against him are, how biased the Judge was and how a DC Jury was carefully stacked with Trump-hating Democrats. Now the truth is coming out! 

Few people know that my husband could have saved his own skin by agreeing to provide false testimony against the President regarding 25 phone calls between them in 2016. He was prosecuted because he refused to lie. 

HELP US NOW>

He was convicted of lying to Congress when there was no Russian Collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration to lie about! It was a total set-up perjury trap by Congressman Adam Schiff! 

Meanwhile Comey, Brennan, McCabe, Hillary, Rosenstein and Mueller himself lied to Congress under oath but face no charges. 

God bless you for all you have done for my husband and the President. We are fighting for Roger's life

MRS. ROGER STONE

PS – As you know the Judge has a strict gag order on Roger Stone. He is not allowed to defend himself while CNN and MSNBC attack us with lies and smears. This emergency e-mail is from me and I mean every word of it.

PAID FOR BY
THE ROGER STONE
DEFENSE FUND

FYI: The links take you to gopfortrump.com.

“You never felt that you saw all around him; you always suspected . . . some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness.” — H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Man, this guy . . . or the GOP for Trump . . . writes some weird letters! But no one can be dis-quized forever!

By Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 15, 2020

Blazing Bright or Brightly Blazing?

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The phrase “blazing bright” in the 2020 State of the Union Address, followed by the Senate’s impeachment acquittal, the president’s claim of total exoneration, and his promise to take revenge on “evil people” prompt this reflection.

THE ROMAN EMPEROR-ENTERTAINER

Bust of Nero

Whether Nero ( 37 CE – 68 CE) burned Rome to the ground is disputed, but Suetonius claimed he did, and that’s good enough for me. Suetonius’s claim that Nero was mad, devious, and cruel entertainer remains undisputed.

Suetonius tells the story of the Rome brightly blazing:

Pretending to be disgusted by the drab old buildings and narrow, winding streets of Rome, he brazenly set fire to the City; and though a group of ex-consuls caught his attendants, armed with oakum and blazing torches, trespassing on their property, they dared not interfere. He also coveted the sites of several granaries, solidly built of stone, near the Golden House [Nero’s palace]; having knocked down their walls with seige-engines, he set the interiors ablaze. The terror lasted for six days and seven nights, causing many people to take shelter in the tombs . . . . Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called “the beauty of the flames; then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang “The Fall of Ilium” from beginning to end.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69 – c. 130/140 CE)

BRIGHTLY BLAZING

Centuries after Nero’s demise, the president of the new republic claimed a greatness that would have reminded Nero and the Roman Senators of themselves and the burning of Rome. “America’s enemies are on the run,” said the president, “America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright” [DJT State of the Union Address, 2020].

The president was right. The future is blazing bright . . . in California and Australia . . . . Belittling his predecessor’s belief in the climate change, the president attributes the fires to someone’s failure to rake the leaves.

CANCELLING HIS PREDECESSOR’S EDICTS AND DECREES

Among Nero’s first acts as emperor was to cancel many of Claudius’ edicts and decrees, referring to his predecessor as a “doddering old fool.” To the general public Nero was a welcomed change. Like those before him, the early part of Nero’s reign was considered by many to be a mini-golden age; the populace believed him to be generous, kind, and accessible. There were lavish games, plays, concerts, chariot races and gladiatorial tournaments, and taxes were even reduced. He restored much of the Roman Senate’s power that had been lost over the years, but this restoration had a hidden agenda; it was only done to enable the young emperor to pursue his worldly pleasures, to sing (he did not possess a great voice) and play his lyre. While he sang, no one in the audience was permitted to leave the performance.

Nero, Wikipedia summary of Suetonius and Tacitus.

MICHELANGELO AND THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES

As Nero prepared to commit suicide with the assistance of his aide, he paced rhe halls, repeating the line that boasted of his greatness as an entertainer: greatness as an entertainer: “Qualis artifex pereo!” (“What an artist dies in me!”). First and last, the emperor was an entertainer.

Years later, a REAL artist, Michelangelo, was painting The Last Judgment fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel when Biagio da Cesena, the pope’s master of ceremonies, pestered him for a special privilege: a glimpse of the veiled painting. Michelangelo finally acceded to his request, after which Biagio complained to the pope that a painting of nudes was inappropriate for so holy a place.

When the finished fresco was unveiled, Biagio da Cesena — with donkey ears, and a snake covering his nakedness — appeared prominently among the damned in hell, tormented by devils. When he complained to Pope Paul III, the pope replied, “God has given me authority in heaven and on earth, but my writ does not extend to hell. You will just have to put up with it.”

In 2020, the paint on the fresco is still wet. How “Blazing Bright” will be finished remains a work in process. The American people will finish the painting in November. Between now and then the world is Brightly Blazing while Nero continues to celebrate his greatness as an entertainer: “Qualis artifex pereo!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 8, 2020

The Big Lie and Spasms of Spite

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IF I ONLY HAD A SHOE

The president’s spasms of spite at Friday’s post-acquittal White House celebration sent my soul into spasms of its own. Hearing the president claiming that the impeachment trial’s acquittal exonerates him of all wrongdoing, calling out Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff as “evil people” on his enemies list, and belittling the conscience and religious conviction of Sen. Mitt Romney — his party’s only senator to break ranks — with the cheering peanut gallery that knows, but will not publicly recognize, the president’s sociopathic character was more than I could take. The party that swallowed a fly gave credence to the lie.

“Telling a big enough lie, and telling it often enough that people will believe it” has a history. So do spite and scapegoating. If in Germany the scapegoats were communists, Jews, gypsies, and “homosexuals”; and if in the McCarthy Era, they were leftist traitors hiding within the federal government, the entertainment industry, and the media, today in the Trump Era the scapegoats are Muslims, Central American migrants, “illegal aliens,” sanctuary cities, climate change believers, Congress, the courts, politicians, previous presidents, “the Deep State,” Democrats and … and traitors like Mitt Romney.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Feb. 9, 1950 Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.

I couldn’t watch. I was 10 years old watching Joseph McCarthy. We paid good money for that television. I had to walk away.

A FUNDAMENTAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM

Donald Trump does have a fundamental psychological problem. He needs to be loved all the time, he needs to have power over everyone all the time. Once you get that idea down, the rest of his behavior and his speech makes sense…

He also doesn’t have any respect for the truth or for honesty. They don’t mean anything to him because he can’t care about them. His focus, again, is always on himself and to be — to care about being honest to people rather than lying to them means you’d have to care about your effect on them. Are you going to harm them? Are you going to mislead them? But since he has no conscience for that kind of thing, he never expresses regret.

He does terrible things to people, the children who are being detained in cages are a good example…The children, of course, really amount to a crime against humanity. If you think about it psychologically, this is what some of us once called soul murder. That’s what he’s doing to these children. His ability to do that fits perfectly with this kind of very deep sickness where other people don’t matter, and he can hurt them to whatever extent he wants.

-- Harvard Professor of Psychiatry,

“We may liken an adult’s temper tantrum to that of a ‘big baby’,” writes Garret Keizer in The Enigma of Anger, “but even a big baby does not yet know what it truly means to be angry. I say this because I define anger as an emotion of extreme frustration (something a baby knows) poised at the possibility of action (something a baby cannot know, or cannot fully know.). … Might the purpose of anger be to enable us to break loose, to struggle free, and at the most basic level to survive?”

“ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME”

Spasms do not rise to the level of anger. They indicate frustration, but they do not yet qualify as anger as Keizer defines it, or as the Gospel of John points to it in the scene of Jesus’s raid of the money-changers who were scalping the poor in the Temple. The raid in the Temple was not impulsive. It was not a spasm. Jesus first braided a whip of cords before he turned over the money-changers’ tables and drove out their merchandise.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers sitting there. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. He poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.

Gospel of John 2:13-17 MEV

It was the monetary system that abuse the poor that Jesus was attacking. “He said to those who sold doves (the only sacrifice the poor could afford) that Jesus addresses his words: “Take these things (the doves) away! Don not make of my Father’s house a house of merchandise!”

The event described by John is not a temper tantrum. Jesus did not throw his shoe at the television. He paused to turn his extreme frustration into anger at the monetary system that turned a profit on the poor who could only afford a bird:–“Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!”

STRIKING AT THE ROOT

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who strikes at the root,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. There still are, and I’m one of them. How do we strike at the root of evil?

Emotional spasms of extreme frustration (something a baby knows) are not anger until they lead the American people to make the whip to drive out the money-changers. In a constitutional republic the whip is woven from elections, or revolutions, that strike at the roots of an economy of geed, the Big Lie, and soul murder.

In the year 2020, the house desecrated by merchandise is bigger than a temple, church, mosque, or nation. The desecrated house is the planet itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 7, 2020

A Time for Anger

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MITT ROMNEY’S ACT OF CONSCIENCE

Mitt Romney’s speech as a Senator-juror in the impeachment trial came as a surprise because he broke with his party’s ranks, and because he appealed to conscience and religion. No Senator-juror in the history of impeachment had stepped out of line from the party line. Citing the seriousness of the articles of impeachment against President Trump, Mr. Romney explained his reasons for voting to convict the president:

As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

Senate Mitt Romney (R), February 5, 2020

VIOLATION, DESPAIR, AND ANGER

Jesus cleansing the temple painting

In The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin Garrett Keizer offers a description of ‘anger’ that fits the moment.

Anger is an emotion arising from a refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.”

REFUSAL TO PERMIT VIOLATION

One might say the dissenting senator’s vote rose from a refusal to permit violation of the Constitution, a violation the Republican House minority and Senate Majority at first denied without exception. Later, after the House managers presented a compelling case, the Republicans changed their position from complete denial of the allegations to arguing that, though they were wrong, they did not “rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors”. All members of the president’s party held their noses, crossed their fingers, and voted for acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment. Except for one betrayer who is now the target of the man he voted to convict.

“I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

The oath of office and the subsequent impeachment trial oath to “do impartial justice” places the mantle of conscience on the shoulders of all who “solemnly swear” them. Repeated violations of the oath of office have driven public trust in Congress and the Presidency to a point of despair or anger. Only a public recovery of anger, as Keizer defines it, will lift us from the reign of despair and tyranny.

Views from the Edge called attention to James Madison, John Winthrop, and ethical principles of conscience (“God alone is Lord of the conscience”), and truth (“Truth is in order to goodness. Nothing is more pernicious or absurd than the opinion that truth and falsehood exist upon a level, and that it is of no consequence what a man’s [sic] opinions are”). Conscientious pursuit of truth and courage to speak truth have become the exceptions to the prevailing norms of power and privilege, and the pursuit and maintenance of them.

FRUSTRATION READY TO BECOME ACTION

Mitt Romney’s exceptional vote for what has gone out of style (integrity) is akin to Garret Keizer’s case for what has gone out of style in religion, mischaracterized by the ranting street corner preacher who thunders about the fires of hell: the wrath of God.

“I am unwilling to commit to any messiah who does not knock over tables,” writes Keizer, referencing the scene of Jesus with the money-changers. “The wrath of God is not the wrath of the abusive parent or of power abused. It is the absolute claim of personhood asserting itself in the face of power and chaos alike.”

“There is such a thing as killing someone with kindness. The thoroughly gentle God, the unceasingly kind God, the God of the unalterable smile is also the fairy God, the clown God, the stuffed animal God — perhaps not a great deal more helpful than the threadbare giraffe that a child clutches in his dark room….”

Garret Keizer, The Enigma of Anger

THE WRATH OF GOD AND DELIVERANCE FROM OUR DARK ROOM

For years I have felt the folly of a theology which deletes the first part of the biblical claim that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” leaving the abused woman or child, or nation to swim in empty concrete pools of kindness unfilled without the tears of justice.

Our country has become a dark room. But occasionally, as happened yesterday on the Senate floor, a candle is lit for justice, goodness, and truth. This room need not stay dark if we, the abused, claim again the wrath of God and the place of anger: “the refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.” To refuse anger will kill us with kindness, leaving us each clutching our stuffed animals in a dark room owned by a tyrant.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017 Wipf & Stock) — available in kindle and paperback through the publisher or Amazon — Chaska, MN Feb. 6, 2020

The Clearing in the Forest

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TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

Forgetfulness increases as the number of our days decreases. Strolling down a narrow wooded path, you marvel at the beauty all around you. You walk along the trail, mesmerized by light and shadow playing hide-and-seek among the oaks, maples, and fir trees. You’ve never been here. Or so you think. Everything feels fresh and new. It’s an e.e. cummings kind of day.

THE CLEARING IN THE FOREST

The path opens into a clearing in the forest. The clearing is empty except for a rough-hewn bench waiting for you. The bench invites you to lay your burden down. You sit and stare, wondering why, in all your days and years, you’ve never been here. “Have a seat,” says the bench. “Sit and rest awhile.”

You fall asleep lying on the bench hewn from a maple tree, and wake from your nap with the sense that you’ve been here before. You look for the path that will take you farther to your desired destination. You see a weathered cedar sign: “Welcome home. You’ve been here before. Come again.” The path that will lead you forward is behind your back, the same path that brought you here.

AUTOBIOGRAHICAL RUMINATIONS

I’d forgotten that I’d been on the bench many times. Calendars and clocks often hide real time: existential time. In the rush of days and years, we forget where we’ve been before.

All our ruminations are matters of autobiography and social context. We walk again through light and shadow toward the clearing we have forgotten. We have slipped back into imagining ourselves as independent operators free of any pack; independence/freedom is our mantra. Yet something in us knows. Something about us knows better but cannot remember what it is.

Returning to the forest clearing again after many forgotten earlier visits leads me home to who I have always been. I have never been free. I’ve always been a member of a pack. I’ve always looked up to the equivalents of alpha dogs. My parents and grandparents. Public heroes like Edward R. Murrow and Martin Luther King, Jr. Teachers Harold Miller and Esther Swenson. Giants of faith Josef Hromadka, William Stringfellow, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Jurgen Moltmann, James Cone, William Sloane Coffin, and many others set the standards for who I wanted to become.

Suddenly, lying on the bench again, I realize the obvious. Each and all of them were acolytes of faith on the way to the clearing in the forest. Each lit the way to what I forget or refuse to remember — we are part of a covenant community in which faithful compassion is a way of life. I am a member of a community kept together not by anything I have thought, said or done, but by covenants I did not make. “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

In the clearing, I know again what I was taught in childhood: My community is not the cult of the Strong Man. It’s a community born at the cross, the covenant community of compassion and conscience that leads us down the path to the clearing of conscience and home again with thanksgiving for the shadows, as well as the light.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 4, 2020.

“Sham on you!” — a word from the Founders

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A WORD TO SENATORS ABOUT PUBLIC TRUST

Public trust that you will tell the truth and seek the truth, no matter where it leads, was already dangerously low. Although we know that it is your constitutional right to set the rules for an impeachment trial, the American people know that a “trial” without witnesses and evidence is not a trial. Those still paying attention knew how it would end. Majority Leader McConnell told us. Some of us have stopped watching because we don’t care anymore. Others care but have tuned out to manage their blood pressure and keep their dinners down. We all could use an infusion of wisdom to guide us through this national crisis.

JOHN WITHERSPOON and JAMES MADISON

I write as a pastor in the tradition of John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was the only religious leader to sign the Declaration of Independence, whose moral philosophy influenced James Madison, the Founding Father of the U.S. Constitution. As President of The College of New Jersey (Princeton), Witherspoon taught moral philosophy. James Madison and other students took Witherspoon’s “Common Sense” philosophy of public morality into the courtrooms of 37 judges (including three Supreme Court justices), and onto the floors of the Continental Congress (12), the U.S. House of Representatives (49), and the United States Senate (28 Senators) where you now serve.

THE CONSTITUTION AND PRELIMINARY PRINCIPLES

In 1787 John Witherspoon participated in two simultaneous national meetings within four blocks from each other in Philadelphia. At Independence Hall the Continental Congress was preparing the U.S. Constitution. Down the street, the first national assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Unites States of America was adopting the “Preliminary Principles” to guide the church through times of divided opinion and disharmony. There are eight (8) Preliminary Principles. I lift up for your attention the First (conscience) Fourth (truth) , and Fifth (mutual forbearance) Preliminary Principles.

PRINCIPLE: CONSCIENCE

“God alone is Lord of the conscience…” — First Preliminary Principle (1787)

One morning Henry Ward Beecher cut himself shaving. He didn’t like what he saw in the mirror. The public man and the private man were at odds. Public scandal and conscience formed the razor’s edge that cut through his defenses.

Everything hinges on the right and duty of conscience. One need not believe in God to avow the primacy of conscience.

The tight internal discipline and uniformity of the GOP caucus against calling witnesses and admitting evidence in the impeachment trial looks no different from the enforced cohesiveness of the Mafia, the Gangster Disciples, and other street gangs. Step out of line and you’re “going to go through some things.” Courage and conscience are not part of the code. Compliance and scheming have taken their place. We, the people, lose hope watching the gang-banging in the highest places of authority and power.

PRINCIPLE: TRUTH AND GOODNESS

“Truth is in order to goodness….” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787)

Truth-telling and truth-seeking are essential building blocks of a good society. The road to goodness is not falsehood, misinformation, disinformation, and concealment. Without truth-telling and truth-seeking we become a society built on quicksand.

“The Fourth Principle continues:

No opinion can be either more pernicious or absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s (sic) opinions are.” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787)

Some opinions are pernicious (highly injurious or destructive: deadly). Others are simply absurd (ridiculous, silly, incredible). Some opinions are both. The exercise of one’s duties by means of falsehood is injurious to goodness. Truth is the plumb line against which an opinion is tested. Truth matters. Falsehood matters. Facts matter. Reality matters. There is no such thing as an alternative facts.

“On the contrary, we are persuaded, that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth, or to embrace it.” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787 –)

There is a direct connection between truth-telling, truth-seeking, and public life. The connection is essential for a civil society. When partisan interests displace truth and conscience, the result is a society with neither a moral code nor a functional Constitution. Watching the Senate impeachment trial tells a different story to the American people: power trumps principle.

PRINCIPLE: MUTUAL FORBEARANCE

“There are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies, to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” — Fifth Preliminary Principle (1787)

‘Forbearance’ — i.e., patience, tolerance, continuing in relationship — is no longer a household word in 2020. Neither is it frequently practiced. Mutual forbearance is rarer still. Mutual forbearance is essential to achieving E pluribus unum (i.e. “one out of many), which Cicero saw as basic to relational bonds and thriving societies and states.

If God alone is Lord of the conscience, those who differ with respect to those “truths and forms” that are not universally accepted, i.e. political philosophy, owe it to each other and to the body politic to continue in respectful, peaceful relationship.

WHAT IS AT STAKE IN THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL?

Mutual forbearance with people of good character and principles is embedded in the history of the Senate. But your good character is on trial. The impeachment trial is a test of the Senate’s conscience, commitment to truth and goodness, character and principles, and mutual forbearance. The great institution in which you are privileged to serve, and a general population that expects a trial to be a trial are at stake in your decisions. The Senate’s good character and principles, as well as Donald Trump’s, is on trial in the court of public opinion. Those who know their history can hear a long shout from James Madison and John Winthrop:

“Sham on you!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Chaska, MN, February 3, 2020.

The Impeachment Tiebreaker: Four Thoughts

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INTRODUCING GUEST COMMENTATOR

John Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org. The Views from the Edge is pleased to republish this social commentary. Photographs have been added by Views from the Edge.

COMMENTARY BY JOHN MILLER: The Impeachment Tiebreaker: Four Thoughts

This short essay was begun on Saturday morning, Jan. 25, 2020, starting at 12:27 AM. This was after the writer had nearly overdosed on the prosecutors’ wrap-up, and listening to the three major cable news networks’ commentary on the proceedings.

The House Managers (i.e., the prosecution) finished their presentation on Friday evening at about 10 PM, Jan. 24,  in what has been alleged to be the impeachment trial of President Trump. On Saturday afternoon the President’s lawyers (i.e., the defense) will begin their presentation regarding the defendant (i.e., the President).

The House of Representatives prosecution team has claimed almost ad infinitum that the President has prevented more important witnesses and documents from appearing in the Senate trial. They claim he desperately does not want anyone to testify, or to have any incriminating documents to be placed into the trial record. Therefore, they say, with no further evidence presented, there can be no proper trial. 

Up to now nearly all CNN/MSNBC/FoxNews talking heads have said they think that none of the 53 Republican Senators will capitulate on the impeachment vote, and that the President therefore will be cleared of all charges. The CNN/MSNBCers postulate that will prevent a genuine impeachment trial if witnesses and documents are suppressed. The FoxNewsers are delighted if the suppression occurs, because “the impeachment hatchet job” will have ended.

But let us suppose that the magical number of three Republicans were to vote to allow witnesses and documents. Further, imagine that no suddenly timorous Democrats were to vote to suppress the potentially damaging evidence. Then what would happen?

Thought Clump # 1

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to hurry this trial through to its conclusion as soon as politically practicable. Might the sitting judge in the trial, Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, rule that constitutionally an honest impeachment trial necessitates that witnesses and documents be provided? Should he conclude that? Constitutionally, could he make that ruling? He will have heard every word uttered in this historic proceeding, and thus such thoughts might be running through his head. No one can know at the moment what he is thinking, nor perhaps is it yet fully formed within his brilliant mind. Nevertheless, those might be very interesting questions upon which Mr. Roberts might now be cogitating.

Thought Clump # 2

If a majority of at least 51 Senators of both parties vote to produce new witnesses and documents, Chief Justice Roberts would not be the tiebreaker on that issue. Instead, the 51+ Senators would assume that role. Thus witnesses and documents would be subpoenaed.

Thought Clump # 3

If Adam Schiff and the House Managers are as effective as CNN and MSNBC (but certainly not Fox News) say they are, and witnesses and documents are subpoenaed, there is a very slight possibility that a two-thirds majority of at least 67 Senators might convict Donald John Trump of the two Articles of Impeachment after a considerably-longer-than-predicted genuine trial. Mr. Trump then would be removed from office. This, however, is so slight a possibility that those who favor such an eventuality should probably stifle such apparently outlandish thoughts.

RADICAL Thought Clump # 4

Should the Senate exonerate the President, as expected, in effect the entire constitutional concept of separation of powers itself will then indirectly have failed in the impeachment trial. Are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches separate but equal? However, the Senate will astonishingly have found that the executive branch has the sole ultimate power in American government, with Congress and the federal courts clearly being only also-rans in constitutional governmental authority. It could be argued that such a conclusion might even be colossally irresponsible. The Chief Justice might also conclude that before the trial concludes.

In that instance, Chief Justice Roberts, representing his understanding of the Constitution and the judiciary, might rule that the Senate is constitutionally required to subpoena witnesses and documents before the impeachment trial can end.

Furthermore, the Chief Justice might decide such a ruling would eliminate the appearance of political partisanship, which in these rancorous times would be a Very Good Thing. He might say that only then would the Senate be a in a valid position as a one-hundred-person jury to vote fairly and equitably on the innocence or guilt of Defendant Trump.

Were any of these hypotheticals actually to happen, would that be a completely unforeseen result in these tense, tedious days, or what? Keep listening and watching, citizens. The fate of the republic hangs in the balance of Lady Justice.

Competing Obsessions: Impeachment and Car Shopping

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A READER’S COMMENT

The comment left by a reader in reply to yesterday’s post on the impeachment trial (“This Day in History“) expresses a more widely held sentiment.

“I watched most of the Congressional hearings, but watching the Republican Senate pretend that ‘everything is JUST FINE” and there was NOTHING WRONG and NO CRIME is madly depressing. I am not handling this well. I’m trying to believe it will all work out, but I don’t really believe it. It has been a hard, hard, hard few years. Doesn’t it feel so much longer than that?”

Views from the Edge reader’s Comment in reply to “This Day in History” (Jan. 21, 2010)

LOSING OUR FOOTING

The first day of the Senate impeachment trial left me scrambling for sure footing in a world whose foundations are shaking, a condition familiar to the Psalm on which I had focused early yesterday morning. ‘Evil’, ‘the righteous’, and ‘evildoers’ are words of judgment readers of Views from the Edge do not expect to hear here. We do best to steer clear of these words of spiritual pride. Dividing the world into good and evil, sheep and goats, is the opposite of a gospel of reconciliation. But the words of an ancient Psalm gave expression to what I felt watching the Senate’s resistance to “doing impartial justice”.

1 Do not fret because of the evildoers;
    do not be envious of those who do wrong,
for they will soon wither like the grass,
    and like the green grass fade away.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who succeed in evil schemes.
[Psalm 37:1-2,7]

My faith tradition practices the Confession of Sin before the One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” There are sins of omission (“we have left undone the things which we ought to have done”) and there are sins of commission (“and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”).

My father and mother taught us the spiritual practice of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and “the amendment of life.” But it’s often hard to tell when one is committing or omitting. Obsession manages to succeed at both. What dawned on me yesterday was my obsession with evil schemes.

COMPULSIVE OBSESSIONS – IMPEACHMENT AND CAR-SHOPPING

Can I, should I, will I part ways with my beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon? It’s an existential dilemma.

My beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS (171,773 miles)

A person’s relationship with a car isn’t “BREAKING NEWS!” No one cares about my three-week long obsession with a car! Not even when it replaces my obsession with writing for Views from the Edge. Who cares?

Preoccupation with the sirens that call me to sell or trade my faithful Avalon may be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but this car thing feels familiar. It has a history. I’ve been here before.

THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE: finding and staying with the Avalon

Maybe it’s in my DNA. “Let’s go out and look at that new Buick,” Dad would say. It didn’t matter that Parkinson’s and the Department of Motor Vehicles had put the car thing in his rear view mirror; Mom and Dad’s Buick Skylark was 21 years old. “Oh, Ken, for heaven’s sake!” We don’t need a new car! You can’t even walk anymore, and, besides, we don’t have the money for a new car.” It didn’t matter. When the car itch took over, he had to scratch it.

Mom and Dad’s 1983 Buick Skylark

Finding the Avalon nine years ago was completely unexpected. I dropped by Total Auto, a mom-and-pop used car dealer, to look at a one-owner Subaru Legacy. I took the Legacy for a test drive, but didn’t like it. But there was another car, covered with snow and ice, a one-owner 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS traded at a Lexus dealer after 115,000 miles. We dug it out of the snow and took it for a spin. It drove like a dream. What’s not to like about a low-miles, loaded top-of-the-line Avalon XLS?

All these years later, after nine good years together, the car itch returned. I’ve been scratching it every day over the last month. But it occurs to me that obsession is a spiritual and mental health thing, and that the return of Dad’s car itch may have been a healthy substitute for the three-year obsession about which I have no control: the rogue president and the political party obsessed with pleasing him and protecting him with evil schemes that prevent a trial.

REGAINING SOLID FOOTING

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    
 23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

… and the U.S. Constitution, division of powers, and a faltering Republic may yet survive. You can’t trade the Constitution for a new car.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, day two of the Senate Impeachment, January 22, 2020.

This Hour of History — What would Martin Luther King say?

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What the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might say today to the Senators who have pledged to “do impartial justice” as jurors of the Senate’s impeachment trial requires no imagination.

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. Behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was John Lewis. If Dr. King was the primary face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

News of Congressman John Lewis’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that shocked the heart of America’s better self. On the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, John Lewis’s voice echoes those of his Moses and his late Congressional friend and colleague, the Honorable Elijah Cummings who chaired the House Oversight Committee.

John Lewis knows now what he learned in the years after he was beaten on the Pettus Bridge: some cancers metastasize and change into new forms and symptoms that defy treatment. America’s “original sin” of white racism — the presumption of white supremacy and the rights of white privilege — continues to re-create itself in the American psyche. John Lewis knew that the original sin would not be destroyed by passage of the Voter Rights Act. He knows how quickly a victory for justice can be overturned by Congress, the Courts, and a President. He knew how quickly the cancer of white supremacy turns Black Lives Matter to dust and ashes. Like Elijah Cummings and Martin Luther King, Jr,, he will leave this world shaking his head, refusing to hate, and praying for the nation’s repentance, healing, and redemption on the other side of America’s original sin.

“TODAY IS NOT A DAY OF JOY”

The House Articles of Impeachment sent to the Senate for trial were framed in no small part as the result of the work of Elijah Cummings, the integrity of whose oath of office gained respect on both sides of the political aisle. Like Elijah and Martin, John Lewis will continue to bear the authentic witness to “the right side of history” until his last breath and far beyond in the annals of American history.

Congressman John Lewis addressing the U,S. House of Representatives re: Impeachment of Donald. Trump
This hour in history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gordon C. Stewart, author, “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (Wipf and Stock, 2017), Chaska, MN, January 22, 2020.