Open Letter to President Trump

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November 15, 2018

Dear Mr. President,

I’m concerned for the country. I’m also worried about you. The two go hand in hand, yet they are not the same. Though we have never met, we share something: we were baptized in Presbyterian churches. Neither of us can remember that moment. We were infants. We had no choice.

Because we do have a choice now, I write to share with you the story of another person who, unlike us, was old enough to choose.

Kosuke Koyama was 15 years old at the time. Japan was his country. Tokyo was his home. The United Church of Japan was his church family. The scene of his baptism could not be more different from ours. It was 1945 during the American fire bombing of Tokyo. The worshipers could heard the bombs exploding all around the church. Through the windows they saw the flames.

His pastor gently took  Koyama’s face in his hands, looked him in the eye, and charged him with words that succinctly say what baptism into Christ means:”Kosuke, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your enemies. Even the Americans.” It was a defining moment for the rest of Kosuk’s life.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2018 “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:23) RIP

Through the eyes of faith, Koyama later plumbed the depths of that moment, and came to a deeper understanding of what had happened to his native country. Japan had come to see itself as exceptional –a singularly superior nation and culture. Japan had made itself into a house god. They had twisted love of country (patriotism) into nationalism, and nationalism gave license for imperialist adventures with unimaginable horific consequences. In 1967 the United Church of Japan issued a Confession of Responsibility During World War II as a way of restoring the church’s integrity

Kosuke Koyama died in 2009 after a distinguished professional career that officially ended with his retirement from the John D. Rockefeller Chair of World Religion at Union Theological Seminary in your home city. Robert McAfee Brown, who wrote the book you and I were assigned to read in confirmation class, The Bible Speaks to You, was Koyama’s faculty colleague. During his 14 years at Union Seminary, and following his retirement, Dr. Koyama created a legacy that lives on his books (Water Buffalo Theology, Mount Fuji and Most Sinai, No Handle on the Cross, and others) and in those of us influenced by his teaching and humble character.

World War I centenary

World War I Centenary, Paris, France, Nov. 11, 2018

Today you call yourself a nationalist. You have embraced the great sin that Kosuke came to see so clearly in his native country. Watching you at the Arc de Triomphe last week for the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, I saw you through Koyama’s lens of faith. You sat among the company of other world leaders, but you looked very alone. Sitting very nervously away from the spotlight, you waved back to someone, as if to assure yourself of your importance. I saw a very lonely man without the company of friends and allies. In that moment, I felt a bit of sympathy for you. I wished you could slip away to a nearby cafe where we could talk, just the two of us as pastor and president.

Trump and Macron III July 2017Then I heard the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, step to the podium to issue a rebuke to nationalism as “a betrayal of patriotism” that eliminates what makes a nation great: its moral compass. While my heart leaped for joy, I wondered what you were feeling and thinking all alone there in Paris.

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying “our interests first, who cares about the others,” we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.

I thought again of Koyama and wondered whether it would have made a difference if your pastor had baptized you during a bombing raid when you were old enough to choose, looked you in the eye, and said, “Donald, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your [friends] and enemies, even the French.” New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, a short walk from the White House, was President Abraham Lincoln’s home church. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln worshiped there to hear a good word from a pulpit they knew the President did not command. It could become a home for you, Melania, and Baron.

I will pray for you. I will love our country. But I will not worship it. Neither should you.

Respectfully,

Gordon C. Stewart

Retired Minister (HR), Presbyterian Church (USA), Chaska, MN

 

 

 

No other gods — Je suis Français!

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Je suis Français! Remember when Je suis Français (I am French) was everywhere on Facebook? That was three years ago after the November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. Americans identified with the French. Yesterday I felt like that again.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I — “the War to End all Wars” — at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the chaos and death unleashed by nationalism. Here’s an English translation of an excerpt:

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying “our interests first, who cares about the others,” we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.

One need not be French to applaud Mr. Macron’s statement. Days before the national election in America, I wrote a piece on nationalism as the rising god of our time.  A wise friend advised against publishing it. He likely was right at the time. But Mr. Macron’s words at the Arc de Triomphe lead me to share a bit of what has been burdening my conscience.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009) RIP

Those of you who have followed Views from the Edge know how I see the world through the lens of faith. Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock) is dedicated to Japanese theologian Kosuka Koyama. “There is only one sin,” he said during a casual lunch. “Exceptionalism.” Born in 1929, Koyama had grown up with the myth of Japanese exceptionalism. The emperor could do no wrong. Japan had become its own god. Ko saw the same myth rising in America where he had settled with his his wife, Lois, a native Minnesotan.

Paul Tillich observed that whatever is one’s “ultimately concern” is a person’s or nation’s god. Tillich was one of earliest critics of the rising god of German nationalism that led to World War II and the Holocaust. Dismissed from his professorship at the University of Frankfurt i 1933, Paul Tillich, like Koyama, was invited to join the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York. It was Reinhold Niebuhr of Moral Man and Immoral Society who paved the way for Tillich, and later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to join the theological work of the academy on American soil.

My Christian understanding of faith and life is rooted in Niebuhr, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer’s friend Paul Lehmann, and Koyama. Only Koyama lived long enough to observe the old dead god rising to life again on American soil. All of them would have applauded Mr. Macron’s statement that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. “History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course again.”

To be human is by nature to be anxious. We know we are not God. We are mortal. Our time is mortal. “Time, like an ever-flowing stream, Soon bears us all away. We fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the opening day.” People who profess faith in the tradition of Abraham — Jews, Christians, Muslims — understand how quickly we turn to the “other gods” for our identity and security.

Rembrandt Moses and Commandments

Rembrandt’s painting of Moses crashing the Ten Commandments

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” says the First Commandment. “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

The “house of bondage” is not limited to geography or time. It is any nation that exalts itself as exceptional, any nation that practices hardness of heart to the foreigner, the alien, and sojourner. The First Commandment identifies “the house of bondage” as a god from which the LORD God of heaven and earth sets a person, a nation, and a planet, free.

I am an American. I love my country. But I don’t worship it. Today I say, again, “Je suis Français!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 12, 2018

 

Two Minute Silence

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Veterans Day poster 2018

Veterans Administration poster

I remember standing with my classmates at Marple Elementary School for a period of silence on November 11. It was Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I.

Observing the silence was hard! It wasn’t happy; it was sad. It was an enforced unhappy silence to remember what none of us kids wanted to remember: those who had died in an antique time in service to their country, and the horrors of war itself. I must have wondered why our teachers would enforce a sad silence that made us unhappy. In 1954 Armistice Day became Veterans Day in America. (Click HERE for information about the change.)In Canada, Europe, Great Britain, and Australia, November 11 is called Remembrance Day.

Malcolm Guite — Anglican priest, song writer and poet in Cambridge, England — recalls his experience of the public Two Minutes Silence of Remembrance Day in Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day,

On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio . . . when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. Suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily, wrote this sonnet. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it on November 11th three years ago, minutes after having composed it, by clicking . . . clicking on the title.

Silence

November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth, and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

— Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons

Blake_Cain_Fleeing_from_the_Wrath_of_God_(The_Body_of_Abel_Found_by_Adam_and_Eve)_c1805-1809

William Blake painting of “Cain fleeing from the wrath of God “as Adam and Eve look on in horror following the fratricide.

All these years later, I still struggle with silence on November 11, and on days like yesterday, the 80th anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht). Yet, as a person of faith who knows darkness as well as light, I have learned over the years to silence the radio for an unenforced Two Minute Silence.

Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2018.

The Night of Broken Glass

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Krystallacht Magdeburg

Photo from Magdeburg, Germany, Nov. 9-10, 1938, Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass)

Today marks the 80th anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

The smiling man and woman in the photo are strolling past the broken glass of raided shops of the Jewish shopkeepers in the otherwise tranquil city of Magdeburg, Germany. The passers-by likely have never heard of Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th Century mystic beguine who had declared that “No one can burn the truth,” nor had they heard the screams or seen the tears of the shopkeepers or synagogue worshipers. Those screams are silent now. (Scroll down for information on  Krystallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass.)

Like the synagogues of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had been a quiet place. The sound of broken glass were heard only during from the traditional breaking of a glass at Jewish weddings. Tree of Life was a sacred place of worship. But the memory of Kristallnacht and the long history of anti-Semitic pograms were, and are, never far away.

The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht deserves greater attention in the U.S.A. this year when the evil of white nationalism has shattered the glass of the ‘others’ in synagogues, churches, and public gathering places with the weapons of destruction. Today I hear the echoes from The Night of Broken Glass and see the faces of smiling passers-by.  I stand still again in the face of evil and bow my knee before the Eternal Silence of the compassionate God we cannot kill.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 10, 2018.

U.S. Holocaust Museum account of Kristallnacht

On the night of November 9, 1938, violent anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out across Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Nazi officials depicted the riots as justified reactions to the assassination of German foreign official Ernst vom Rath, who had been shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old Polish Jew distraught over the deportation of his family from Germany.

Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs, spurred by antisemitic exhortations from Nazi officials, destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burning or desecrating Jewish religious artifacts along the way. Acting on orders from Gestapo headquarters, police officers and firefighters did nothing to prevent the destruction. All told, approximately 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and 91 Jews were murdered. An additional 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Nazi officials immediately claimed that the Jews themselves were to blame for the riots, and a fine of one billion reichsmarks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) was imposed on the German Jewish community.

The Nazis came to call the event Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,” or, “The Night of Broken Glass”), referring to the thousands of shattered windows that littered the streets afterwards, but the euphemism does not convey the full brutality of the event. Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.

 

 

 

Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

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Thomas Merton’s quotation on religion and privilege arrived following a national campaign with loud cheers and boisterous rallies that turn Christianity into white nationalism. “…Faith in God . . . becomes in fact faith in [one’s] own nation, class or race.”

Richer By Far

“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system–when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith…

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It’s not a Caravan

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Camel caravan

Caravan in the Jordan Valley

Does anything seem strange about ‘caravan’ as the word to describe the migrants now moving on foot toward the United States’s southern border? ‘Caravan’ is the word used everywhere without a second thought.

The etymology of the word ‘caravan’ is Persian. “From Middle French caravane, from Old French carvane, from Persian کاروان (kârvân), from Middle Persian kʾlwʾn’(kārawān), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ker- (army) (whence Old English here). The word was used to designate a group of people who were travelling by camel or horse on the Silk Road.” (Wiktionary)

Language matters. Words matter. “Language: A Mechanism of Social Control” — Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC tutorial for political candidates — knows this better than most. Words like ‘caravan’ have overtones and undertones. They allude to things that awaken hope or fear. There’s nothing like the warning of a caravan to awaken associations with Middle Easterners coming to our Southern border.

Have you ever heard of a Christian caravan? Or a Jewish caravan? Caravans in the American mind have nothing to do with the western hemisphere or western culture. Caravans belong to Persians (Iran) and the Arabs we have come to fear. No American fears a camel caravan! But we do remember the Crusades. We remember the waging of religious war between Christians and Muslims. We call to mind Al Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The linguistic manipulators of language use such emotive allusions as weapons in election campaigns and underscore the words by sending U.S. Army troops to the border — to keep us safe – to beat back the barbarian Middle Eastern terrorists from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador now walking slowly several hundred miles from the border in hopes of a better life. They know fear works. They know that threats to our freedom and national security will take our imaginations back in time to Arabian desert nomads whose camels carried them — fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents — from here to there without settling anywhere. They know we will think of a caravan as an army, not a caravan of nomads.

Language matters. Words matter. Don’t let the dispatch of troops to the Mexican border and the language of social control make fools of those who have never met a camel or walked on bandaged feet with bloodied hands pushing broken baby-strollers in hopes for as terror-less life. It’s not a caravan!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2018.

 

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

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Mary Oliver’s “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” — a poem of love for the world in the season of autumn leaves and shorter days — arrived this morning from Canadian David Kanigan’s blog.

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was, is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but what
else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

~ Mary Oliver, “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” in A Thousand Mornings 


Notes: Poem source – Thank you Karl @ Mindfulbalance. Photo via afaerytalelife

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Tree of Life and All Souls

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Day of the Dead William Adolphe Bouguereau(1825-1905)

“Day of the Dead” – William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

The death of 11 worshipers in the sacred space of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh is no longer the latest heinous act of gun violence in America. There is more to come in a country where the rhetoric of fear and hate divide us with lies and diatribes.

All Souls Day on the Christian calendar calls for deeper reflection about the living and the dead — not just some of us, but all of us: Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform); Muslim (Shia, Sunni, Sufi); Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholic, Protestant); Hindu, Buddhist, Jaianist, humanist, animist, agnostic, and atheist — all of us.

There is only one of us. Humankind. A species free to eat from the Tree of Life that blesses or the Tree of Death that turns us into twos and threes, this or that, with words and arms that send 11 Tree of Life worshipers to their graves with forked tongues about good and evil and the planet itself.

Old_olive_tree_in_Karystos,_Euboia,_GreeceThe people of the Tree of Life know this. They named their place or worship after the Torah story of Humankind (Book of Genesis 2-3). Now in the deadly silence following the death of Abel, the people of the Tree of Life hear the different Voice that cries out, in love, for Cain. “Humankind, who are you? Your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground. There is only one Earth. There is only One of you — one Soul, one Breath — not two, or three, or….” (Genesis 4).

“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part and particle is related, The Eternal One.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson , Essays.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 3, 2018

 

 

Clowning Around

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IMG_4321

Clown Selfie @ The Porterhouse, Oct. 31, 2018

“People tell me they feel so much more available to life once they learn how to clown around. That’s what being a clown is about; it’s about touching your soul and finally giving it room to laugh.” —Arina Issacson

— Gordon C. Stewart, 20th wedding anniversary, Halloween, 2018

 

Tikkun Olam

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Fourth Presbyterian chicago

Fourth Presbyterian Church – Chicago

John Buchanan looks to the Jewish concept “tikkun olam” amid the alarms of 2018. Dr. Buchanan is Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago, past Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and former editor of the The Christian Century. “Hold to the Good” is now his pulpit in retirement.

Hold to the Good

For years, at the conclusion of public worship, I have used words that come from St. Paul, written 2,000 years ago.

“Go into the world in peace and courage.
Hold to the Good.
Honor all God’s children.
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Last Sunday, as a guest preacher at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I came to the words “Hold to the Good” I almost couldn’t go on. The news from Pittsburgh Saturday morning stood as a contradiction to those words and to everything I hold dear and regard as essential to our life together….

…the trust that in the eternal struggle between good and evil, good will ultimately prevail,

…the trust that the heart of the nation I love, its government and politicians, is essentially fair, honest and good,

…the hope that the long arc of history bends, as Martin…

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The Press and the People

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Breckwoldt prüfung

The Ordeal – Sculpture by Edith Beckwoldt, St. Nikolai, Hamburg, Germany.

“No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” —  Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotation inscribed on Edith Beckwoldt’s sculpture “The Ordeal”.

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…” — Donald J. Trump tweet, 6:03 AM – 29 Oct 2018.

 

 

Mein Kampf dust jacket“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.” ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Many advise against any and all such comparisons. As a public theologian raised on Bonhoeffer’s witness, theology and ethics, I ask, “How, in good conscience, can we not?” The playbook today is the same as it was in Bonhoeffer’s time. According to The Art of the Deal’s ghost writer, the speeches of Hitler were prominent in the penthouse bedroom of Trump Tower.

Enter Charlie Chaplin’s parody of the unlikely rise of the Fuhrer and the call to national unity.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018

What do politics have to do with me?

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It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Unspeakable Speech: 2018

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What happened across America last week is unspeakable. But these unspeakable acts of violence have a long history in speech itself. The bombs mailed from Florida did not come out of a speechless void. Nor did Saturday’s attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation

If ever the Hebrew proverb was true that those with a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king for their friend (Book of Proverbs 22:11), it is true no longer in 2018. The massacre of Jewish worshipers on Shabbat does not come out of a vacuum. Hate speech once uttered cannot be put back. It has a murderous history we dare not forget, and casts a long dark shadow into the future we dare not abide.

Words are powerful. Speech is powerful. Silence is powerful. Acquiescence is powerful. When the words come from the President of the United States — or when they do not come, or when they come only in part — they contribute to the worst in us. They cast their shadow far into the American future. White nationalism/Christian nationalism is the forbidden fruit of the tree from which we must not eat. It is not the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 3). It is the fruit of the tree of death.

As the city officials and Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh prepare for the President’s controversial visit the day they begin burying their loved ones, we offer a rabbi’s voice to help the rest of us understand.

Reb Arthur WaskowHealing for the Stricken Community,
for the Shaken Jewish People,
and for Our Deeply Wounded Country

Dear friends,

There are many disastrous levels to the murderous massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

There is the immediate personal disaster of eleven lives destroyed, others wounded, families and friends bereft, a neighborhood traumatized.  To all these, The Shalom Center as a body and I individually send blessings of swift refuah (healing) for the wounded,  deep respect and grief for the dead, and loving care for those bereaved.

There is the broader disaster of shock to the American Jewish community, until now so profoundly joyful to have found full acceptance in America these last several generations, after millennia of persecution elsewhere and elsewhen.
Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming affluent, even wealthy, even powerful. Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming social critics, progressives, even radicals.

Less comfort as critics than as powerful, of course – but comfortable that all the clauses of the First Amendment affirmed our worth as Jews, as sacred fringes on conventional assumptions, as challengers who could wrestle not only with God (as our name “Yisrael” describes us) but with the rigidified habits of ourselves and others.

And even worse, the broader disaster of facing an American government that our immigrant forebears who came here for freedom’s sake could not have fathomed:

A government honeycombed with white supremacism, moving into neofascism,  calling forth from the shadows into boastful visibility those who concoct bombs to enforce their racism, who can openly revel in their contempt for women, who can turn hatred of foreigners into willingness to rip babies from their mothers’ breasts,  who can turn their greed for hyperwealth into willingness to torch the Earth that is our common home, our only home  — and who can turn their latent anti-Semitism into mass murder.

How do we respond to these layered levels of disaster?

-Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA

Following a week of unspeakable violence, Rabbi Waskow’s question addresses all of us. Today in Pittsburgh is a day to keep silence before a Word of comfort and direction deeper than our own. Tomorrow and November 6 is time for all of us to speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2018

A New Heart and a New Spirit

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“Darkness cannot cast out darkness. Only light can do that” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’re longing for some light and for change, watch and listen to Buddy Guy leading Playing for Change. Skip the ad, and think of Ezekiel’s hope for a nation of the dry bones.

The story of Ezekiel’s vision for the valley of the dry bones is timeless and timely 10 days before the American electorate goes to the polls November 6.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – The promise for the dry bones in the Valley of the Bones (Ezekiel 36:26).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2018.

 

 

 

Remember me according to . . .

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Opening up the cabin after a month away, the temperature was a bit chilly before we built the fire in the wood-burning stove. What warms me more than the fire is the stillness of the place. I read the Psalms differently here. I take time to ponder them.

Psalm 25 is the one I pondered this morning. At first it struck me as the kind of religion that’s killing us — the prayer of religious pride. A second and third reading took me deeper. 

BCP“Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…” (Psalm 25:2-4a, Book of Common Prayer paraphrase). 

Truth and falsehood. The ways of shamelessness and its opposite — treacherous schemes — collide in this psalm. I come to the cabin to get away from the treacherous schemes. I’m for truth and goodness, not treacherous schemes! That’s Trump, not I! Like the psalmist, I claim what no one can honestly claim: “in you have I trusted all the day long” (25:4c) But the psalmist is wiser.

Truth and Falsehood

Truth and Falsehood, Iza Bella [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s as though the psalmist suddenly realizes it’s not true. He shifts his eyes from himself to the One who forgives sin. Maybe s/he’s confused? Maybe he has a split personality? Or maybe just a concrete thinker whose immaturity leaves no room for shades of gray? Or maybe he suddenly remembers something beyond the self and its righteous posturing.

“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Psalm 25:5-6). 

When you look at me, see me through the eyes of eternal compassion, the eyes of your steadfast love. See me the way a grandfather can’t help but see his 17 month-old grandson, Elijah, after Elijah has opened the kitchen cabinets he’s been told repeatedly not to open. See the look on the grandson’s face when he’s caught and his mother tells him “NO!” Watch Grandpa cover his face with his hand to hide to his smile and giggle as he sees the defiant look on Elijah’s little face. 

Perhaps God is like that. The LORD of life (the Breath) is Mishomis —Ojibwe for ‘Grandfather’! See grandson Elijah playing  peek-a-boo with his Mom from his car seat.

Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, Mishomis.

  • Grandpa Gordon, in the wilderness with The Book of Common Prayer, October 22, 2018

Full Moon by the Wetland

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FlomaxFew of my closest male friends still get up in the middle of the night. Most have had surgery or are on Flomax. They sleep through the night. While they’re sleeping, I’m getting up three of four times, on a good night. Last night it was five!

You might think they’re luckier than I am. But sometimes, like last night when I got up five times, there’s a blessing to it. There are windows on three sides of the loft. On a clear night, I look out and up at Orion’s belt — it’s always there — and feel all’s right with the world. I saw Orion belt again last night, but there was a brighter blessing – a full moon throwing a wide swath of moonlight across the wetland onto the yard and through the cabin’s windows.

SupermoonThe swath of light shifted with each trip down the handcrafted maple staircase the A-frame’s builder — a Saint Paul fireman — had rescued before the old firehouse was torn down. It’s a beautiful work of art, and, when the evening sun or a full moon shines its light on the maple, those who see it can’t help but be thankful the old fireman rescued it from its fateful trip to the landfill. The angle of the light moves with the moon to create changing patterns formed by the light from above and the different shaped shadows cast by the thin, leaf bare birches and aspens, and by the bigger oaks and maples whose leaves have not yet fallen — each of the five trips up and down the staircase unlike the one before. I thought of all my friends who no longer need to make trips in the night because of surgery or Flomax, or the end of their time under the full moon among the trees and wetlands. 

Someday I’ll make my last trip down that stairwell, but the blessing of the full moon in late October 2018 will stay as long as my memory holds out — an heavenly taste of earth, an experience of the Ineffable, a non-Flomax night of bliss!

After brewing a pot of coffee this morning, I turn my attention back to the book I’d been reading before bed, Marilynne Robinson’s Gideon, the story of a dying old preacher writing a memoir for his young son. I come to a page that speaks of what I felt seeing the full moon. “I am trying to decide,” says the Reverend John Ames, “what I have never before put into words. … It was one day while listening to baseball that it occurred to me how the moon actually moves, in a spiral, because while it orbits the earth, it also follows the orbit of the earth around the sun. This is obvious, but the realization pleased me. There was a full moon outside my window, icy white in a blue sky, and the Cubs were playing Cincinnati.”

Crosley Field

Crosley Field, 1969, home of the Cincinnati Reds

Funny thing about that. Years ago, as a youth, I, like Reverend John Ames — and maybe John’s creator, Marilynne Robinson, listened to Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasts before drifting off to sleep hundred miles away.  The broadcasts came through clear as a bell in Broomall, Pennsylania. There were nights when the Cubs — or my Phillies — were playing Cincinnati.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland after a full moon, October 23, 2018.

Of Kings and Jesters

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King George III in coronation robes

King George III’s in gold coronation attire

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Jester – “Keying Up” by William Merritt Chase

The kingdoms of former times were ruled by kings. The kings appointed court jesters who acted the fool to bring the king pleasure and keep him honest. Some of the kings were what Rex Tillerson called the king, but, for the most part, those who were loyal kept the secret as best they could. Even the kings who were clinically insane didn’t confuse their roles with the jester’s. They knew who was king. They left it to the jesters to play the fool. They knew the difference between governing and entertaining. Throughout history, however, there were kings who may have been as entertaining as their court jesters, and there were kings who were insane, but they never had television cameras.

King Charles VI of France (1368–1422) became known as Charles le Fou (Charles the Mad) for a strange psychosis that included the medical diagnosis “glass delusion.” Crossing the forest in Le Mans, King Charles VI mistook his protectors for enemies and attacked them with his sword.

King Charles VI

“Madness of Charles_VI” (15th Century)

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King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig)

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Mad King Ludwig later in life.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (ruled 1864–1886) became known as “Mad King Ludwig,” thought to have suffered from  frontotemporal dementia, schizotypal personality disorder or Pick’s disease.

And there was King George III (see above), remembered for losing American colonies midway through his reign (1760–1820), alternating between eruptions of volcanic rage and sinking into panic attacks, delusions and visual and auditory hallucinations.

None of these kings had a television to assure him he was not about to shatter like a broken glass. None of them had Fox News applauding pantomimes of physically challenged reporters or terrified women who claimed sexual abuse. Nor did any of the kings have to wonder what to do when their favorite TV station no longer covered every rally after their Neilsen Ratings dropped.

What to do? 

Schedule a Thursday lunch with Kanye West and invite the White House press corps for the live, not to be missed, impromptu Oval Office visit with Kanye. But first, go on the road to Erie. Hold a rally. Pack the house with loyal subjects. Do the old campaign schtick. Attack the wicked pretender to the throne: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Crooked Hillary!” Ramp up the act. Make faces. Poke fun at the terrified woman whose story had stolen the spotlight. Bring the ratings back. Play the jester and the king. Prove to Fox you’re still entertaining.

The house in Erie isn’t packed. The schtick is old. But there’s always tomorrow’s photo op with the court jester he can count on to assure him he’s not a glass about to shatter. The Oval Office is packed! The king sits behind his desk for a little entertainment. Kanye is bizarre. Ludicrous. Off the wall. Delusional. Clearly not well.

Which was worse — the Wednesday campaign rally in Erie or Thursday’s intimate moment with the jester on steroids — is hard to say. Both lent credence to Rex Tillerson’s alleged demeaning slur. Mad King Donald — Donald the Mad — made a fool of himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2018.

Over and Over, We Forget

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The Wall Street Bull

The public’s memory is very short. The panic of near economic collapse 10 years ago is all but wiped from public memory two weeks before the Nov. 6 American national election. We publish the following chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock), which first appeared as a guest column on MinnPost.com September 10, 2009.

SORROW FLOATS

Concepts, like individuals, have their histories

and are just as incapable of withstanding

the ravages of time as individuals. But in and

through all this they retain a kind of homesickness

for the scenes of their childhood 

[Soren Kierkegaard]

“Sorrow floats.”

Perhaps the line from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow,” the stuffed family dog preserved by a taxidermist, floats to the surface of the lake after a plane crash, helps explain what is happening in America.

Something dear to the American family died in September/October, 2008. Prior to the series of chilling events of that period, most of us had lived with the illusion of relative economic and financial health. Then, suddenly, Sorrow was rushed to the emergency room for government resuscitation.

Since then our memories of that pre-October 2008 world have taken a turn that families often take at funerals when the eulogies bear little resemblance to the reality of the deceased. We’re quarreling over what was real and what is mythical reconstruction.

Following the plane wreck that takes the lives of the Berry family parents in Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, the stuffed family pet bobs to the surface of the lake, floating among the wreckage. Sorrow floats. So does the thing we lost last fall.

What died? A ruling assumption

What died last year was the ruling assumption that an unregulated free-market system was the best way to organize an economy and that laissez-faire capitalism is democracy’s natural ally. The market almost crashed. It didn’t crash only because the federal government intervened to prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. Sometime between mid-September and October seventh, when Congress passed its bill to stabilize the financial markets, the myth of the virtue of deregulated capitalism died. It was stuffed by the taxidermy of government intervention, but it still floats.

When a conviction or a myth dies, it doesn’t go away. It continues to bob to the surface. Sometimes, as in the case of the Berry family, the old dog is much easier to love after it is dead. Sorrow—obese, lethargic, and persistently flatulent in its old age—no longer waddles through the dining room to foul the air and ruin everyone’s dinner. In the public psyche, the unpleasant memories of the real life Sorrow give way to the stuffed Sorrow, a thing of nostalgia that lives on . . . even after it’s dead, and long after the plane has crashed.

Over and over, we forget

Sorrow and its old illusions float every time the reconstructed memory, forgetting the real Sorrow, barks about “socialism.” Sorrow floats every time we shout each other down in town-hall meetings. Sorrow floats every time nostalgia forgets that it was only by government intervention with our tax dollars that Sorrow is still around. Sorrow floats every time we forget the voracious appetite, unscrupulous predatory practices, insatiable greed, and the obesity that led to the deaths of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns, not to mention insurance giant AIG and all the banks that had taken the plunge into a market of deregulated derivatives and mortgages that led to the epidemic of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, pension-fund collapses, and job losses. Sorrow, the old dog that failed us, still floats and still barks a year after the crash when the mind forgets and nostalgia remembers a system we thought was working in our interest.

Old ideas and convictions die hard. The powerful economic forces that grew fat during the years when government was viewed as the people’s enemy will stoke the fires of public anxiety and anger, taking advantage of the floating Sorrow that reminds us of something that we love more in retrospect than we did the day it died of its own obesity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2018.

Though the cause of evil prosper…

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No one holds the patent right on lying. At some point everyone is a liar. Little white lies or hug lies; they’re lies just the same. But truth is my judge and yours.

I cannot recall a moment in the America of my lifetime when truth been as scorned as it is today. I remember presidents who lied. Some more than others. But never was truth itself under assault as it is in America today. As a child I asked how Germany could have fallen for the rhetoric and incivility of a madman. Finally I’m coming to understand.

I was raised on the great hymns of the church. Among them was Once to Every Man and Nation with lyrics by James Russell Lowell (1845). The newer hymnals have excluded it, most likely because of the black and white thinking between good and evil or because it’s language is not gender inclusive. But I turn to it today in ways I never have before, and I’m left to wonder whether somethings are just plain evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2018.

Beauty and Truth: Adjoining Rooms

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view outside the window

These days leave me cold. I feel the need for beauty and for truth. The beauty I can see just outside the window at sunrise and sunset, in the maples, oaks, red osier and prairie grasses waving in the wind I cannot see. But inside the human house where lies freely fly, truth is scorned and hard to find. Only the poets give voice to what I feel.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson, I died for beauty but was scarce
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Emily Dickinson headstone in family plot

 ` Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2018

 

 

 

Barbara Streisand and G.K. Chesterton

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G. K. Chesterton, by Ernest Herbert Mills, 1909

00-PEN-777x437Posting Barbara Streisand’s “Don’t Lie to Me” last night brought to mind the hymn lyrics from G. K. Chesterton’s “O God of Earth and Altar”on which my generation was raised in the church of my childhood. In times like this, I return to it often for solace and strength.

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

  • G. K. Chesterton

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 14, 2018.

Don’t Lie to Me

Video

Thank you, Barbara Streisand, for speaking the truth in a way only an artist can. Suffer through the short ad to get to the video. Then share with your friends.

Everyone answers to someone. Share with your friends. Leave a comment. Vote!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 13, 2018.

Supreme Court Chief Justice refers Kavanaugh ethics questions

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Chief Justice Roberts

A friend drew our attention to this article in Forbes  — IMHO, worth the read. Click the link below.

Chief Justice Roberts requests tenth circuit investigate Kavanaugh ethics questions.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness” — Desmond Tutu.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 13, 2018

Why I Wake Early

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This photograph of early dawn and Mary Oliver‘s poem “Why I Wake Early” greeted me early this morning, as did Aldous Huxley‘s wisdom about walking more lightly, thanks to David Kanigan‘s “I Can’t Sleep” post.

Photograph by spanishlandia re-blogged on Live & Learn

I’ve been feeling heavy lately. Not on the bathroom scales — that weight is down — but on the scales of the soul, the psyche, my spirit. That weight is up. Every day I get heavier. I don’t know what to do. Maybe you don’t either. The news is dark and heavy. The UN climate change report just gave us a decade to act before we trip over the edge of global warming. These are scientists with no vested interest in producing conclusions that would make us smile. Meanwhile, as the latest storm weighs heavily on the hearts of people across the country, a President who insists that climate change is a hoax calls the press and television camera crews into the Oval office to show his concern and assure television viewers that he’s on top of it.

Mike (a retired federal investigator) and I catch a bit of the live coverage. The President is sitting behind his desk. Two members of his Administration are standing near his desk. The President crosses his arms over his chest. “He’s defensive,” says Mike. “He’s hiding something. He’s feeling threatened. He’s feeling exposed.” Later in the day, while Hurricane Michael storms its way through the South, the President boards Air Force One for another photo with a cheering crowd in Erie, Pennsylvania. Before the crowd, the cameras again focus on the President. His arms no longer fold across this chest. His hands are free. His face is smug. I feel sick. I feel heavy. I go to bed. I toss and turn. I can’t sleep.

This morning I rise at 4:00 A.M., go downstairs to make a pot of coffee and check my emails. David Kanigan’s post on  I Can’t Sleep: Live & Learn is waiting to greet me. I open it. The beauty of the photograph lightens my spirit, chases away the heaviness. I read Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” and Aldous Huxley’s words, written just for me, or so it seems, and, maybe just for you.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them” — Aldous Huxley.

I’ve finished my third cup of coffee and determine to try not to try so hard, to walk more lightly, even when feeling deeply.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2018.

Lightly Child, Lightly

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Earlier today we re-blogged this Lightly Child, Lightly post and promptly moved on to write a reflection it inspired. We moved too quickly. We forgot to “stick it” on Views from the Edge’s “front page”. This afternoon, we’re making amends by putting it on our front page with an apology, and with deep thanks to our friend up in Canada, David Kanigan, host of Live & Learn.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts
certainties
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.

-Mary Oliver, from “Bone” in “Why I Wake Early


Notes:

  • Photo: spanishlandia
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

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The Urgent First Priority

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This morning I went back to see what we’ve said about climate change. Here’s an audio guest commentary from June, 2010 on All Things Considered. Click the red link below for  the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) site with the commentary.

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A lesson learned out on the Gulf of Mexico. Then click LISTEN to hear the three minute reflection prompted by the day on the skipjack with Earl, the oysterman.

November 6 mid-term election opens the door for the American electorate — irrespective of party affiliation — to demand of candidates that they their parties, and the nation itself make climate change action their urgent first priority.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October

Climate Change and the Golden House

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256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11Have you sometimes felt you’d be better off not knowing? But you can’t help knowing what you know, or think you know?

This is a time like that. It doesn’t just feel like that. It is a time like that. I know, for instance, that the over-riding challenge of our time is climate change. I also know that the ruling party in my country denies that climate change is real, and that neither major party sees climate change action as Priority #1. I know from articles like the one in yesterday’s Phys.org (“Carbon tax gets renewed attention but still faces resistance“) and the U.N. report that the clock is ticking. We’re fiddling while the Earth burns.

NeroThe story of Nero burning down Rome appears to be apocryphal. I know that now. But before I knew that, I wondered what the Roman Senate was doing. Did the members of the Senate follow Nero’s lead? Did they light their own matches? Did they applaud? Did any of them head for the well for the water buckets to douse the fire?

The real Nero Claudius was much different, but also, it turns out, much the same as the one I thought I knew. Britannica speaks as “infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.” Its biography of Nero offers the following on the burning of Rome and the aftermath.

The great fire that ravaged Rome in 64 illustrates how low Nero’s reputation had sunk by this time. Taking advantage of the fire’s destruction, Nero had the city reconstructed in the Greek style and began building a prodigious palace—the Golden House—which, had it been finished, would have covered a third of Rome. During the fire, Nero was at his villa at Antium 35 miles (56 km) from Rome and therefore cannot be held responsible for the burning of the city. But the Roman populace mistakenly believed that he himself had started the fire in Rome in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the city’s subsequent reconstruction. — “Nero: Biography and Accomplishments,” Britannica.com.

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Trump Hotel with gold-infused glass, Las Vegas, NV

Today, Nero and the U.S. Senate mock what I know: climate change is real and action on climate change should be priority #1 for every political political party and nation. Knowing Jesus’ parable about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise one who built his house upon the rock, I keep hammering on the door of the Golden House that’s built on sand. “Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness,” said Jacob Christoph Blumhardt long ago. “They must oft be repeated. Not a single stroke is wasted.”

I add my little hammer-strokes to those of Governor Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club for the rescue of the rain forests, the oceans, and all things green from the Golden House that threaten to entomb us. I can only live by what I know: the cry and hope that the hammer-strokes are not too late.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” canto 54

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 10, 2018.

A Prayer for Courts & Legislators

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The language is from an earlier time in America culture. Monday, October 8, 2018, the sentiment is on the cutting-edge.

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Walter Rauschenbusch, “father of the Social Gospel Movement”

 We beseech thee for those who are set to make and interpret the laws of our nation. Grant to all lawyers a deep consciousness that they are called of God to see justice done, and that they prostitute a holy duty if ever they connive in its defeat. Fill them with a high determination to make the courts of our land a strong fortress of defense of the poor and weak, and never a castle of oppression for the hard and cunning. [Walter Rauschenbusch, Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1910].

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 7, 2018

Faith, Patriotism, and the Administered Consciousness

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After a week of contentious struggle in the U.S. Senate that left the nation not just red and blue, but black-and-blue, I harkened back to “the administered consciousness” (Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man) that mutes Cain’s question after he had slain his brother Abel: “Am I, or am I not, my neighbor’s keeper?” And “who is my neighbor?”

Government by Minority Rule

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115th Congress Senate party membership by state. Vermont and Maine have one independent senator each, Bernie Sanders and Angus King respectively. [Wikipedia]

INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edge publishes “Government by Minority Rule” with the kind permission of its author, Constitutional law scholar David Rudenstine.

“A minority of the national population now controls all three branches of the nation’s government. Or, in other words, in a democracy where the majority presumably rules, current American politics has turned this basic rule upside down and permits the minority to control the majority.

“The president lost the popular vote. The senate is in the hands of senators representing a minority of the overall population. While one-person-one vote requires that the election districts in the house be equal in population, gerrymandering permits the minority party — the Republicans — to control the house. And now the Supreme Court is in the hands of justices four of whom were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote and who were confirmed by an undemocratic institution — the senate.

“The US constitution was designed to be anti-democratic in nature. Every state regardless of its population has two votes in the senate; the electoral college selects the president without constraints imposed by the majority vote; a majority of the Supreme Court justices invalidates legislation adopted by politically accountable legislators. The intention was to build safe-guards into the governing system to counter the effects of populism and the mobilized public mob.

“But it is unlikely that anyone who designed the system in the 18th century had the current radically distorted allocation of political power in mind, and I cannot recall the last time the current condition existed — perhaps in the 1920s and1930s. Certainly not since Hoover lost to FDR in 1932.

“And now Kavanaugh will be on the high court joining Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, to make a conservative majority that will more than likely be pro-business, anti-environmental laws, against abortion, hostile to climate change laws and rules, opposed to rights of the LBGT community, rejecting of affirmative action, favoring of the entanglement of religion and government, favoring presidential power, rejecting of the rights of immigrants, and more.

“But after his screed on the left wing Democratic Party political conspiracy Kavanaugh claimed was out to destroy him, his career, and his family, how can Kavanaugh possibly participate in these and other cases which are laced with divisions that mirror Kavanaugh’s own conspiratorial views?

“That was the point that former Justice Stevens made a few days ago. The Supreme Court is possibly hog-tied if one of the nine frequently must recuse himself because of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and it would seem that is what Kavanaugh must do if finally confirmed — not participate in any case that his political screed encompased.

“Unfortunately, the answer may be that Kavanaugh may just tough it out. Scalia did that in a case involving Cheney after Scalia and Cheney went duck hunting together. Rehnquist participated in the design of an Army surveillance program aimed at domestic civilian political dissidents and refused to recuse himself in a 5 to 4 vote almost a half century ago.

“Impeachable? Not likely. Activities that are impeachable are four — treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors. Of course, Jerry Ford famously stated that those words mean whatever congress says they mean. But then we don’t want Democrats paying games with the impeachment power.

“Now it is true that Kavanaugh’s situation is different from Scalia and Rehnquist’s. In his screed, he has taken on the Democratic Party establishment, and, properly understood, that should cause him to recuse himself in many cases that will be routinely on the Supreme Court’s docket. That in turn will greatly injure the Supreme Court.

“But I doubt if Kavanaugh will recuse himself, and his failure to do so will do great damage to the Court’s legitimacy, as did its 5 to 4 decision in Bush v. Gore.

“Is there a remedy if Kavanaugh does not recuse himself? Perhaps, but I cannot now point to one with any confidence except to secure preferred political outcomes in 2018 and 2020, and then assess matters when Democrats may hold political remedial power.”

— David Rudenstine, Sheldon H. Solow Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, author of The Age of Deference: The Supreme Court, National Security, and the Constitutional Order (2016, Oxford University Press).

 

Hope in dark times

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In times like these, I often turn to the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 90 from 1719. Today I turned to it again for solace and hope. All the singers are white, but, hey, so am I, and there is hope even for the likes of I.

Psalm 90 in its entirety is a song of lament, but hope — and a call to personal responsibility — rise from despair.

Years ago I was given a copy of The Book of Psalms and Scottish Hymnal (1879) with the cursive signature of the man who used it: “John Campbell, Blair Mill, 1886.” (My middle name is Campbell.) I dusted it off this morning to read it through. The rendition of Psalm 90 John Campbell sang in 1886 ends with a prayer that recognizes our own responsibility for “the works of our hands”:

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: Our handy-work establish Thou, establish them each one” (Psalm 90:17).

  • Gordon Campbell Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 7, 2018.

Elijah plays Peek-a-Boo!

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BOO! And a good day to you. Sixteen-month-old Elijah’s strapped in his carseat for the drive to day care. Mom initiates some fun. Elijah imitates her babbling. Then, on his own initiative, he suddenly takes off his knit cap to play Peek-a-Boo, like the children in Georgios Jakovides‘s 1895 Peek-a-Boo painting from Germany. Some games are timeless and ubiquitous. Peek-a-Boo!🤗

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 6, 2018

Lightly Child, Lightly

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David Kanigan’s post arrived this morning. I’m turning to it after events this afternoon. P.S. David writes from Canada.

I pause under that summer tree, the one that feels like a friend, as my dog wonders why we’ve stopped. She was trotting in such rhythm. But when this still, I wonder what part of me, way down, remains untouched by dream or memory? What drop of being remains out of reach of the opinions of others? When up close, each thing reveals its shimmer. And it’s the unexpected closeness that holds everything together. The light spreads across my dog’s face, her eyes so devoted to wherever I want to go.

Can I be this devoted to the pull of life?  

Mark Nepo, from “Speechless” in Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living


Notes:

  • Photo: Bill Leslie with Groovy Times
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying…

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What’s at Stake in the Kavanaugh Decision?

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The Senate’s vote on the confirmation of the President’s appointment to the Supreme Court is more than a partisan matter. At stake is the trust of the American public in its most basic institutions.

Reasons to consider irrespective of partisan interests and loyalties:

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First Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay (1785-1789) — Gilbert Stuart portrait

1. Public confidence in the foundational institutions of the American republic has plummeted. The success of a democratic republic depends on its citizens’ faith in the integrity of the Senate, the Presidency, and, most of all, the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Any appointment to the Supreme Court should increase rather than erode public confidence in the Court as the final arbiter and interpreter of the law.

512px-Panorama_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_Building_at_Dusk3. The myth of the Supreme Court as standing on the lofty heights of objectivity is a myth, but it is a myth and aspiration worth preserving. Without public trust in the Justices’ commitment and disposition to rule without prejudice, the Rule of Law is viewed as the partisan Rule of Power and Prejudice.

4. Judge Kavanaugh’s behavior during last week’s hearing violated the standards of judicial ethics re: nonpartisanship and calm judicial temperament. Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment will further erode trust in the Supreme Court as an objective arbiter and interpreter of the law.

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Dr. Christine Ford

5. While the President declared publicly to the press that the FBI was free to go wherever it needed — with no restrictions placed on its background check — the White House already had limited the FBI to a handful of people. The President’s statements were duplicitous and deceptive.

6. Names of corroborating witnesses provided during the FBI interviews with the nine people the White House had authorized were ignored. They include high school and college classmates who publicly refute Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding excessive drinking and allegations of sexual misconduct.

7. The majority party’s and the president’s shifts from belief in Dr. Ford’s credibility to public mockings of Dr. Ford and angry allegations of a partisan plot to destroy Judge Kavanaugh raise red flags about a predominantly male Senate’s ability to take women seriously.

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Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens official portrait

8. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (Ret.) yesterday urged disapproval of confirmation based on the nominee’s partisan and aggressive testimony before the Judiciary Committee. Retired Justices don’t do that. Stevens did, for the sake of the Court’s reputation and integrity.

9. Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee who has declared his position that the law prevents a sitting president from being indicted, and who, in his testimony, refused to say he would recuse himself on such a case, gives the appearance of prejudicing the Court in favor of any case that might come before it.

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Yale yearbook photo of Brett Kavanaugh

 

10. Judge  Kavanaugh’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal is welcome. The admission of inappropriate conduct before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week neither erases the behavior nor qualifies him for appointment to the Supreme Court.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 5, 2018.

Elijah asks for Bumpa

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During a recent visit to our house, Elijah’s mother had taped a moment between grandson and grandpa. Yesterday, Kristin wanted to show Elijah the video. He calls Grandpa Gordon “Bumpa” — take a peek.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018.

My Dog’s Happy Hour

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Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling in the car

There’d been no intention of a Happy Hour yesterday when I decided to go to Target for a short errand. “Barclay,” I asked, “wanna go for a ride in the car?” Barclay cocked his head, ran for the door to the underground garage, and leaped for joy. We drove to Target. I cracked open the windows, left Barclay in the car. In the parking lot, I see my friend Chuck, whom I’d been with an hour earlier on a business matter where I’d asked whether he’d ever been to Ike’s. He hadn’t. “Why do you ask? Is it good?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been there,” I’d said. “My neighbor Michael tells me it has the best Martini in town — not one of those tiny Martinis you get at most places around here. It’s big, and they give you the shaker, too.”

Inside Target, Chuck and I take our places in the line for picking up prescriptions. The line is long. Neither of us is good at waiting. We decide, on the spur of the moment, to go to Ike’s Happy Hour for a different prescription. We leave Target and join Barclay for the trip to Ike’s. At Ike’s I again leave Barclay in the car, opening all four windows a little more than I had at Target. As he always does, Barclay smiles. He knows the routine. He lies down on the driver’s seat.

Sitting at the bar for our nonprescription drugs, we notice the wind has come up and it’s pouring rain outside. “Do you think Barclay’s okay?” asks Chuck. “He’ll be fine,” I say, “nothing flusters him. He’s not afraid of storms.” The Martini is everything Michael had said it would be. So is the Happy Hour food he’d recommended: two mouth-watering beef tenderloin sliders with grilled onions and horseradish sauce, one on pumpernickel, the other on sourdough, for $7.50. We love this place!

We pay the tab and head back to the car. Barclay is calm until Chuck opens the passenger door. Barclay sits up, smothers Chuck with kisses, and says, “I was worried about you guys!” Both seats are partially wet from the storm. Barclay is dry. We are not.

Barclay on chest

Barclay

We leave Ike’s parking lot and drive back to Target where Chuck had left his car. Chuck goes in for his prescription. Barclay and I call it a day and head home. Safe at home in the underground garage, Barclay stays put like a petulant child. “Dad, why can’t I stay in the car? I love Happy Hour!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018

 

 

A Responsible Electorate

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

During last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview, Sen. Jeff Flake was asked if he could have done what he did last week in the Supreme Court confirmation process if her were running for re-election. He was quick to respond. “No!” He and his colleague from the other side of aisle, Chris Coons, confirmed what many Americans have come to lament: the tar and feathering of compromise — the art on which a democratic republic depends.

In the simplified mindset of good versus evil, there is no room for compromise. The Judiciary hearing room was a room like that. But the behavior we saw in the hearing room wasn’t really about good versus evil. Jeff Flake’s “No” tore off the mask. It’s about money — the ability of candidates to secure financing for their campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Any candidate running for election in 2018 would be foolish to reach across the aisle, even though conscience might lead to do so. Sen. Mitch McConnell later put it bluntly: any Republican who votes not to confirm Kavanaugh will no longer receive campaign money. The Republican National Committee (RNC) will turn off the faucet.

256px-GOP_SquareMeanwhile, RNC money and dark money pours into the race in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District. I’ve waded through mud many times over the years, but this is the dirtiest campaign I’ve ever experienced. Yesterday’s snail mail, for example, contained TWO slick negative ads funded by the Republican National Committee, slandering the Democratic candidate. These same ads leap out from my computer monitor whenever I open a YouTube video. Someone has mastered cyber analytics, and it’s not the Russians. The RNC-sponsored, complete with “I [Erik Paulsen] approve this message,” approved by Erik  paint Dean Phillips, as a monster, A hypocrite. They twist facts. The real message? Erik is the “good guy”; Dean is the “bad guy”.

Yet only Dean Phillips refuses to accept money from the PACs, special interests, and lobbyists that elects partisan loyalists who surrender conscience and the courage to compromise. The “good guy” refused to join the “bad guy” in that pledge. The money is pouring into the 3rd District from outside Minnesota — like fire trucks and rescue squads responding to a 5-alarm fire. The hoses spew mud.

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It’s the responsibility of the electorate to slog through the mud and take off our waders before entering the voting booth.

Gordon C. Stewart, Minnesota 3rd Congressional District, October 3, 2018.

The Two Parts of Wisdom

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A Facebook comment led me to recall the words of a 16th century theologian most people today regard as an old fuddy-duddy. First the old fuddy-duddy:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

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John Calvin (1504-1564) was no more a Calvinist than Jesus was a Christian. You can’t follow yourself. He didn’t. He sought wisdom. Many times his search led him to disconcerting conclusions, and actions that trouble me. But the quotation from the very first paragraph of the first page of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is pure gold. It’s stayed with me as priceless. They could have come from Carl Jung!

Prodigal Son Rembrandt drawing

The return of the prodigal son – Rembrandt drawing

Recognition of the inseparable connection between the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God is as old as philosophy and theology themselves. Augustine of Hippo wrote about coming to the knowledge of God through the knowledge of himself. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee,” wrote St. Augustine after leading an unsavory life like the one portrayed in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Only by delving into the self that was deeper than his squandering was Augustine able to write his Confessions and The City of God. The search for knowledge of himself and for the knowledge of God were of one piece.

Anticipating the FBI’s expanded background check of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I began to wonder what we’re seeing and how we’re seeing it in light of the two kinds of knowledge that give birth to “the true and solid Wisdom.” Then, almost by accident, I stumbled across a remarkable personal reflection on sexual abuse and sexuality on Facebook. I’d never heard of the writer until this morning. But I do know his mother, a ministerial colleague, who appears to have raised him to search for two parts of wisdom.

With the writer’s permission, we share here the LINK to the personal reflection on Facebook. It’s long, but well worth the read.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 1, 2018.

 

 

Find your Fire

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Fire, in this case, is passion. If you want to be a successful blogger, find your fire.

The advice comes from The Art of Blogging. I wish I’d read that before launching Views from the Edge years ago. But, hey, it’s never too late, right?

Thanks to fellow-blogger Marilyn Armstrong for the photo. I’m musing on the lily pad!

So, what, I’m asking myself, is my passion? What’s the fire in my belly? The thing that makes me tick? The thing that makes me come alive? It’s a simple question. A clarifying question. But the answer’s not so simple. Not so clear.

Writing that last incomplete sentence led me to my fire, my life passion: To see more clearly!

Life is strange. Truth is almost always strange, sometimes stranger than fiction (Lord Byron). Searching for what’s real — cutting through the appearances, illusions, shams, and socially acceptable convictions and beliefs — has always been my fire. I am naturally skeptical of things that seem normal and claims that call for my allegiance.

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garden fish pond

Since the day I plunged to the bottom of Dickie Tinsley’s fish pond after Mrs. Thomas told our Vacation Bible School kindergarten class that Peter could walk on water because he had faith, my fire has been a quest to get to what is real — to see more clearly.

I used to be a preacher man. Now I’m a blogger. According to The Art of Blogging, anyone who wants to be a successful blogger needs to pay as much attention to a post’s ending as to its beginning. I need to end not with a preacher’s declaration but with a philosopher’s query that invites readers to engage and respond from their own experience. So here’s the question that invites your response:

What’s your fire? What’s your passion?

  • Gordon, Chaska, MN, September 30, 2018.

Elijah the 16 month-old walks the dog!

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Elijah and Kay swingYesterday 16 month-old Elijah and his mom came by to visit Grandma and Bumpa (Grandpa). But mostly he wanted to play with his friend Barclay, the five year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He took Barclay for a walk and a little conversation on the parking lot, stopping to point to the sky, step up to the sidewalk, leash in hand, and walk Barclay as no one else ever has.

  • Elijah, Barclay, and Bumpa, September 30, 2018.

I’D RATHER BE A JUDGE THAN A MINER: BEYOND THE FRINGE – Marilyn Armstrong

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It’s been quite a week! We need some laughter. Here’s hoping Marilyn Armstrong’s post will lighten your day as it did mine. Click the link below — Serendipity: Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth — to open the post and view the video of Peter Cook’s droll humor.

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

We now, after almost 350 years of nationhood, have a president who thinks mining — coal mining — is a good idea and a fine way to make a living. Oddly enough, someone else had this idea years ago.

It was hilarious — and stupid — then. It is no less stupid and hilarious now.

BEYOND THE FRINGE – Peter Cook
Why I’d Rather Be A Judge Than A Miner


I think it might really be funnier now than it was in 1964.

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The Leap from the Wall

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Mutter Erde photo of “thinking nude boy” at the entrance of Friedrich-Paulsen-Gymnasium, Berlin-Steglitz, Gritznerstr uploaded from Wikimedia Commons.

A childhood memory flashed to mind watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week.

I’m seven years old again. My mother is screaming. She has gone down to the cellar to do the laundry. A rat stared at her from the huge hole in the cellar wall that connects our home to the open cistern. My mother is terrified.

My father grabs the shotgun he’d borrowed for just such an occasion. Dad goes down the stairs to the cellar. I follow him. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. What if the rat leaps at my father before my father shoots? Filled with fear, I watch from the bottom step.

The rat is staring from the wall, his beady yellow eyes shining in the dimly lit cellar. My father is perhaps eight feet away. He takes aim and fires the shot. The rat leaps through the air for my father’s jugular. My father ducks. The rat died. My father cements shut the hole and the cistern.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar official portrait

Yesterday Sen. Amy Klobuchar fired the question at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Judge leaped for her jugular. Amy ducked. Senator Klobuchar survives. The nominee is alive on the floor, but badly wounded.

I’ll always be a “thinking nude boy” trying to make sense of life.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 29, 2018.

No one can burn the truth

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The most telling point in yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was the sudden shift away from Rachel Mitchell, the experienced prosecutor of sex crimes whom the Republican all male majority had appointed to examine the accuser and the accused on their behalf. It was an unprecedented protocol.

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Professor Christine Blasey Ford

All morning, during the testimony of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the members of the majority ceded their five-minutes to Ms. Mitchell. She, not they, did all the questioning. Then, early in the afternoon session with Kavanaugh, the protocol disappeared.

Ms. Mitchell’s impartial inquiry came to a sudden end when Sen. Lindsay Graham lit the match that shifted the focus from Ms. Mitchell’s methodical inquiry. The protocol for “getting at the truth” went up in flames. Ms. Mitchell never was called upon again. The men who had brought her from Arizona to Washington, D.C. brushed her aside without explanation or comment by anyone of the committee. She was no longer useful to the majority’s purposes.

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Sen. Lindsay Graham (R)

Experts in the field of sexual violence have eyes and ears — and a sixth sense — most of us don’t have. They know the typical behaviors of victims and perpetrators. Belligerence is one of the behaviors of perpetrators. Judge Kavanaugh’s less than judicial demeanor — his unrestrained anger and belligerent attack on Sen. Klobuchar’s legitimate, pertinent  questions about the use of alcohol — would have rung a familiar bell. Ms. Mitchell’s attempt to get at the truth had gotten too close.

The Judiciary Committee appears ready to recommend confirmation. Majority Leader McConnell has pledged to push it through the full Senate.

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The Universal Man, Liber Divinorum Operum of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1165)

Last night the American Bar Association, which endorsed Judge Kavanaugh as highly qualified, called for what the chair, majority members, and the nominee himself have steadfastly refused to do: suspend the process and call for the FBI to re-open its independent investigation of the facts.

It’s enough to make me hope that Mechtild von Magdeburg, the lesser known medieval mystic contemporary of Hildegard von Bingen was right:

“No one can burn the truth.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 28, 2018.

Elijah gets an alignment

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Elijah and conceal and carry

Elijah and Bumpa

Bumpa, I’m 16 today!

Elijah, I’m so proud of you on your 16th birthday.

Me, too, Bumpa. Let’s go get my driver’s permit! I’m tired of my carseat!

No, you’re 16 months old, not 16 years old, and yesterday you had a meltdown at Target.

Target logo

Target Corporation Logo

Yeah, Grandma had to take me out of the store and walk me around outside Target to calm me down. She was crying, too. I couldn’t tell why. I was too busy screaming. But I saw tears in her eyes. I love Grandma!

I’m so sorry, Elijah. Grandma loves you too. And you have the best Mom in the world!

I know. But it was two o’clock, Bumpa! I was tired. We’d been out since 7:00 A.M. We’d been out all day getting Mom new tires, new brakes and an alignment, then lunch at Panera, and then shopping at Target. I was really good until a half hour tromping around Target. We should have gone home right after the alignment. I needed a nap. I want my own car!

At your age that’s a long time to be good. It was time to hit the brakes.

Mom and Grandma thought so, too, before I grabbed that thing off the shelf and didn’t let go and wouldn’t stop screaming when they tried to take it away.

I’m so sorry you didn’t get your nap. You’re only 16 months old. You need your naps.

I love you, Bumpa! You understand better than Mom and Grandma! They don’t take a LONG nap every day like you and me. You’re 76. I’m only 16. We get an alignment every afternoon at one o’clock, right Bumpa?

Right, Elijah. Sometimes our wheels get out of alignment. Sometimes we need new tires. And when the tires get worn, we need an alignment. Nothing aligns a person better than a nap! A good nap is a good brake.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, “Bumpa”, September 27, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa’s car is 15 years old. Grandpa’s car got an alignment yesterday.

The Kavanaugh Nomination and the Founders’ Hope

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512px-Panorama_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_Building_at_DuskMost deeply at stake in the decision regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation is the further erosion of public trust in the institutions on which this democratic republic was founded. The Supreme Court was the one institution intended to do its work high above the cock fights of special interest, prevailing winds, and partisanship.

256px-Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1Democratic republics are built on trust. The American people’s trust in the republic’s institutions was the bedrock on which the U.S. Constitution was framed and adopted. The genesis of American independence and sovereignty lay in a hope yet to be tested: whether the American experiment would meet the test of being a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The experiment would depend on the American people’s readiness to trust — and the trustworthiness of those institutions.

No institution of government was more important than the U.S. Supreme Court. While the legislative and executive branches are blown by the winds of the American electorate, the Supreme Court was to more objective, above the influence of partisan agendas and popular winds. The Supreme Court was the guardian of the Constitution, the final decision-maker of cases of that came to it from disputed cases in the lower courts.

In previous eras of the American republic, the justices of the Supreme Court worked behind the screen of public scrutiny. As America morphed into an entertainment culture, the justices’ personal lives and views came out from behind the screen of the legal holy of holies onto the stage of public scrutiny. They made speeches. They heard applause. They became either heros or villains. Like the Wizard of Oz, their humanity frailty came was eposed. A sacred hope — the trust in the Court to stand above the cockfights down the in the valley — died.

Judge_Brett_KavanaughTomorrow (Thursday) the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing will be at the top of the news. One of the three women who accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault or abuse will be examined by an prosecuting attorney selected by the ruling party majority. The cameras will then turn to Judge Kavanaugh expected denial, the equivalent of a court rebuttal. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has scheduled a vote Friday morning.

One need not be a partisan to object to the process. One need only think of the bedrocks of the people’s trust in their government’s institutions and our perception of their trust-worthiness. The founders’ hope for the American experiment is at risk because of the very institutions established by the U.S. Constitution.

Hope is IN SPITE OF Troubles!

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Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“You have to be hopeful; you have to give them hope.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I can’t give anyone else hope. Hope comes from within.”

Hope seems harder in 2018 than it was when Kosuke Koyama advised the younger preacher to stay positive. Years later, it was to Dr. Koyama that Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness was dedicated for many reasons. Maintaining hope was one of them. His humility was another. His characteristic kindness and compassion reached out when friends were scarce. But nothing became more impactful than the statement he made over lunch: “There is only one sin: exceptionalism.”

Years before his death in 2009, Koyama (“Ko”) had begun to view the environmental crisis through the lens of humankind’s presumption: the mistaken belief that we, the human species, are the exception to Nature. For Ko it was a form of idolatry.

In light of this week’s avalanche of news, I’ve wondered what Ko would say. He still would bless us with his smile. He would encourage us to resist the claim of American exceptionalism, the confusion of nationalism (worship of country) with patriotism (love of one’s country), any border policy that takes children from their parents arms in the name of national security, every energy policy that feeds the coffers of the fossil fuel industry (“God is green,” said Ko), every exaltation of greed, every distortion of truth, every tax policy that keeps the poor poor while lining the pockets of the 1%, and any President and Congress that reminded him of Emperor Hirohito and the cult of national exceptionalism he grew up with in Tokyo. The god of empire, he observed, never says no. The God of the Bible says no: “You are a stiff-necked people!”

But amid all the issues that deserve our attention, I believe Ko would urge us to keep our eye on the biggest of sin — the mega sin — the sin against Nature that imperils the planet as we know it. His legacy invites us to bow our stiff necks to that which is bigger, longer lasting, and more encompassing than ourselves. Everything less is built on sinking sand.

Ko spoke in metaphors and parables. I believe he would remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock versus the foolish one who built his house upon the sand. “And the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

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NASA satellite photo of clouds created by the exhaust of ship smokestacks.

 

He would rally behind Bill McKibben’s declaration that “climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The one thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.” The only way to stop it is to turn from the the mega sin — the idol of human exceptionalism, the worship of ourselves.

“[T]hrough endurance, to feel that life is surrounded by the warm approval of God, will that not be the experience of hope? Hope is in spite of troubles. There is not hope apart from troubles. There is no automatic hope, no easy hope. Hope is hope against all odds.” — Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 25, 2018.

 

Finding Bigfoot

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“Americans are the best entertained and least informed people in the world.” – Neil Postman.

AmusinghknI still watch football. I’m sorry — mea culpa — but I do. Always have. But it’s different this season. Though my hopes for my teams have always been subject to injuries, something worse gets injured every two years: truth.

Watching the Gophers (University of Minnesota) and Minnesota Vikings (NFL) last weekend, most of the ads were what we’ve come to expect. They sell us products by entertaining ads that create our appetites for what we don’t need.

But there were other well-placed ads during breaks in the action: “information” ads meant to stir my righteous anger by painting Dean Phillips (D) — the candidate running against Congressman Erik Paulsen (R) in my district (Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District) — as an immoral hypocrite. It’s not information; it’s carefully crafted disinformation meant to evoke outrage and fear. The campaign season and football season are a lot alike with one big difference: football has penalties. There are referees and umpires.

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business appeared way back in 1985, years before Citizens United uncorked the tightly secured laboratory vile containing the life-threatening, infectious virus of unaccountable slander, and released the contents into electoral stream of a democratic republic.

We Americans pride ourselves in being a nation “under the rule of Law.” Everyone is equal “under the rule of law.” Citizens United exposed the dirty little secret that we’re not. Slowly over time, the American democratic republic has become an oligarchy. Dark money — big money from unnamed deep-pockets, vested interest sources — was legitimized under the rule of law by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision. The rule of law became more explicitly the rule of oligarchs, who buy presidencies and congresses with their campaign contributions, and who spend big money for ads like the one they hope will keep Rep. Erik Paulsen in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Paulsen represents my district. I know him. Well, I don’t really know him. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him face-to-face. During his eight year tenure in Congress, he never held a town hall meeting before candidate Dean Phillips made an issue of his inaccessibility to the people who elected him to represent us. While others across the country held town hall forums in their districts, Rep. Paulsen refused to hold one. Finally, after increasingly public criticism, Rep. Paulsen offered an alternative: a telephone conference call. My phone would ring at 7:00 P.M. “Hello, This is Congressman Erik Paulsen inviting you to join me in a live conversation . . . Press 1 to participate….” I couldn’t bring myself to press the button lest I contribute to his claim of accessibility. Finally, after his unwillingness became a bigger issue in the Paulsen-Phillips debate, Erik Paulsen held his first face-to-face town hall meeting in eight years.

Yesterday we shared the ads that interrupt my football watching. The Paulsen ads interrupt far more often than the Phillips ads. There’s a reason for that. Money. The Paulsen campaign is well-funded by the unaccountable deep pockets uncorked by Citizens United. The Paulsen ad we posted yesterday is dark in tone and slanderous in content. The Phillips campaign refuses PAC, special interest, or federal lobbyist money. They too are carefully crafted to tell the truth with humor.

Football couch potatoes in MN District 3 are the best entertained voters in the country.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 20, 2018.

Falsifying Reality: the Road to Power

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[George] Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily about changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power.” – Adam Gopnik.* Here’s an example from my congressional district.

Big money for Erik Paulsen‘s re-election is pouring in from PACs, special interests, and federal lobbyists. Dean Phillips refuses dark money. Ads like the one below are funded by small donations from little guys like me who don’t like falsifying reality.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, courtesy of the coffee shop wifi, 20 minutes away from the cabin by the wetland, September 19, 2018.

*Adam Gopnik is author of “Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Trump’s America” Click the LINK.

Thanks to William (Bill) Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings for bringing my attention to the quotation, one of several by Gopnik, Thomas Merton, Noam Comsky, and the Apostle Paul (“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”). Bill’s daily menu is worth the price!

Hammer-strokes against the darkness

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We are living in what J. C. Blumhardt called “the wasted fields of mankind.” The fields of humankind are being laid waste in our time, as they were in his (1805 – 1880). What to do?

I’ve made phone calls. I’ve written. I’ve posted here and on FaceBook. I’ve written a book on collective madness. I’ve even tweeted! But none of it seems to have mattered much until I remembered the words of Johann Christoph Blumhardt, the German pastor who pioneered in the field of religion and mental illness at Bad Boll.

Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness; they must be oft repeated. Many years can pass by, even a number of generations die away, before a breakthrough occurs. However, not a single hit is wasted; and if they are continued, then even the most secure wall will fall. Then the glory of God will have a clear path upon which to stride forth with healing and blessing for the wasted fields of mankind.

Write. Write, Write. Make phone calls to congressional representatives, the White House, the princes who exercise public power and authority. Phone again if the voicemail box is full. Write again. But sustain all the activity with the hammer-strokes of prayer against the princes of darkness for the healing and blessing of the wasted fields of humankind. Live by the hope that not a single hit is wasted and that even the most secure wall will fall.

Thank you, Mom, for the faith to hammer on. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017