Readers of Views from the Edge know we’ve been offline for a while. There’s enough gloom in the world, and I’ve been feeling kind of gloomy. No one needs one more Gloomy Gus. So I’ve kept the words to myself, reading and writing for edification and a character adjustment.
You might say, I haven’t been home lately. Except for moments with grandson Elijah, whose latest word is ‘home’, laughter has come harder than words. Elijah sends me home to the self I’d almost lost — the childlike self not yet weighed down by adult concerns. Then, this morning, something akin to Elijah’s joy hit me. Turning again to William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings, it was almost as though I had been commanded home to joy.
“When I imagine Jesus, it is not simply as a person who heals the sick, raises the dead, stills the storm, and preaches good news. It’s also as a man of great goodwill and compassion, with a zest for life . . . brimming with generous good humor. Full of high spirits. Playful. Even fun. Interestingly, in the past few decades two images of a joyful Jesus have enjoyed some popularity. The first is The Laughing Christ by Willis Wheatley, a sketch that shows Jesus’s head throw back in open-mouthed laughter. The second is The Risen Christ by the Sea, a colorful portrait of Jesus wearing a broad smile and standing beside a fishing net, painted by Jack Jewell, a seascape artist in the 1990s. These two paintings, among others, serve to counteract countless images of the gloomy Messiah. . . . But I wonder if some eschew these portraits because of . . . their subject material. Is there something about a smiling Jesus that threatens our understanding of the man?”
James Martin, Between Heaven and Mirth
“Okay, “I said. I’ve been AWOL for a while, painting myself in the likeness of the faithful man of sorrows who weeps over the city, a serious, joyless man who didn’t smile much and laughed rarely, if at all, on the way to the cross.
Reading Jesus’ response to his critics gives a clue to a different character more like The Laughing Christ. Jesus’s rebuke to his critics — “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners “(Mt 11:18 NIV) — offers a clue to a laughing Jesus. There’s a glimpse of truth in most criticisms. Many Christians quickly rise to Jesus defense. We’re okay with the criticism that he ate and drank with sinners; we’re not okay with the accusation that he was a glutton and a drunkard. We become like my six year-old cousin and I charging up the stairs to tell Aunt Gertrude (Dennis’s mother) we’d discovered a six-pack in the basement refrigerator we were forbidden to go near: “I didn’t know my father was a drinkin’ man!” said Dennis. Surely Jesus was not a drinking man! “ There was never any beer in Jesus’s refrigerator. “Jesus was not a glutton and a drunkard!”
Both criticisms must have had a hint of truth to them. “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharises; but yours eat and drink?” (Luke 5:13.) Jesus must have savored the taste of a home-cooked meal, and lifted a glass or two in light-hearted moments at a party, not just at the Last Supper. The alternative to Jesus’s critics is not that Jesus never got a little tipsy or ate too much at a party. It would be ludicrous to criticize a tea-totaller on Weight Watchers for being “a glutton and a drunkard”! Jesus was no Gloomy Gus who never laughed. He wasn’t solemn or holy enough for his critics.
So here I am today, back online, opening my eyes to “The Laughing Christ” and “The Risen Christ by the Sea” that challenge the gloomy spirituality of gloom and doom, on my way home to a more buoyant joyful spirit the news can’t take away.
THE BACK STORY: Introduction to Martin Gonzalez Sostre
It was during our weekly Wednesday evening program with prisoners in Dannemora, NY that I first learned about the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre, held in solitary confinement in resistance to dehumanizing prison practices, and joined the campaign for his release.
A year later at the Gunnison Memorial Chapel of St. Lawrence University I delivered a sermon inspired by a fresh reading of the Book of Revelation and what I had learned about Martin. The sermon – “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom” – was published by The Christian Century in March, 1974.
The first half of the “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom” introduces the hearer/ reader to Martin Sostre’s resistance as a political prisoner incarcerated in solitary confinement at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, known as “New York’s Siberia” or, as the inmates refer to it, “the Hell Hole of the New York Prison system”.
THE CONTINUING STORY: resistance as worship
Excerpts from “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom:
“Incarcerated on the Aegean Island of Patmos, a penal settlement of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., was a political prisoner named John. He wrote a political-religious manifesto declaring open resistance to the Roman Empire. The Revelation to John – the Apocalypse, the last book of the Bible – is the earliest extant Christian tract deliberately and openly directed against the pretensions of the world’s greatest power. In the Revelation to John, resistance to Roman power and authority is so inextricably bound together with worship of God that they constitute two sides of the same coin. Worship and resistance are the twin sides of faith’s freedom to celebrate God’s gift of life. The unity of resistance and worship is expressed with notable clarity in the passage where the fall of mighty Babylon occasions a celebration in heaven. The destruction of Babylon is joined to the salvation of the world itself and is the sign of God’s power and righteous rule over the nations. Only those who profit by Babylon’s wealth, power and injustice have reason to mourn her fall, while those who have ‘come out of her’ – who have disentangled themselves from her oppression, corruption and imperial claims – have cause to worship God and sing joyful hymns of praise.”
“Babylon is the state or nation in its presumption to be God. Babylon is any state, nation, or constellation of principalities and powers, which attempts to rule as final judge of persons and nations. Babylon is any such power – in any time or place – which makes its people subjects, calling them into idolatry of the nations, and any state or nation that persecutes its prophets of righteousness, peace and justice while rewarding the aggressive supporters and the silent ones who acquiesce. America is Babylon.”
“Envision once more a visit to Clinton Correctional Facility. Remember the disorienting sensation of having left everything familiar on the other side of the wall, the feeling of walking out of a real world into a nightmare, the shock induced by the size of the walls and the presence of the guards – strange and terrifying.
“But the closer one gets to the prison reality, the more one comes to realize that it is not so strange, that it is simply a more exaggerated and visible form of our own everyday reality in the face of death. Here on the outside, the walls are not visible, but they are much higher. Out here the guards do not stand poised with machine guns, but they are real and far more powerful – the guards our own fears provide.”
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins…’” (Rev. 18:4 RSV).
THE FRONT STORY: 2017
I see more clearly now what I took into the pulpit at St. Lawrence in 1974, magnified a thousand times over in the name of a false patriotism that turns love of country into worship of America. “We’re going to make America great again!”
In the Book of Revelation Babylon is the mythic city that dehumanizes its people, the “bad” city (to use a favorite word of our current president) which people of faith and conscience are called to resist. Worship requires it. Without resistance, worship is dead. So is the U.S. Constitution and a democratic republic.
Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis became a friend after we found each other’s work through the web. As he has many times before, Dennis has spoken for me.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
And they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Psalm 137:1-4 (King James Version)
When I lived in Los Angeles from 1972 to 2000, the city was filled with men and women who lived and died on the streets. It seemed an inevitable part of urban life, where displaced humanity would collect in the hidden corners of our cities. Facilities for the mentally ill had closed, prices for homes had accelerated and more people lost their ability to own or even rent. I knew what was happening in the rust…
This brief video addresses questions that continue to stump me. Will we ever get it back? Whatever one’s view of Barack Obama, one cannot refute the flagrant juxtapositions between the values the current Republican Party professes and the real life disdain for those same values.
It’s time to stop the White House’s frontal assault on the equality among the three branches of federal government defined under the U.S. Constitution. Time for us, the American people, to tell those in Congress to do what Congress is supposed to do. Contempt of Congress is partisan. It is contempt for the institution itself, and for the Constitution that establishes and protects the American experiment under the rule of law. It’s time for boldness.
Anyone who witnessed Attorney General Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee saw and heard the AG’s disdain for truth-telling. He lied. The next day he refused to appear before the House Committee. This is not time for patience. It’s time for Congress to act swiftly and boldly with arrests for contempt of Congress.
“I notice that as soon as writers broach this question, they begin to quote. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals
If we don’t say what we know, what happens next will be on us. We can’t let that happen.
The question to which Ralph Waldo Emerson referred in his journal was different from the one we broach now, but — with apologies for the quotation he would have hated — his challenge to us would be the same: Tell me what you know. If we don’t speak what we know, the shredding of the U.S. Constitution’s system if checks-and-balances among three equal branches of government will be on us.
Emerson was referring to immortality. He knew what many others did not. No one reallyknows about immortality. Not first-hand. His advice can be understood differently by reading the last sentence aloud, stessing different words— tell me what you know, or tell me what you know — but no matter where you put the emphasis, Emerson’s point seems to have been the same. Don’t speculate. Speak of what you know from your own experience..
What you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with you nose can be delusional, but seeing, hearing, and smelling are the ways mere mortals know whatever we know, or think we know.
What my EYES know
Whenever Donald Trump comes into view — I see a peacock. A peacock’s feathers are stunning. They’re beautiful. And they know it. They strut. A peacock commands everyone’s attention. You can’t help but look. Such confidence! Look at all those eyes!
But, as I Iearned years ago visiting wealthy parishioners whose peacocks had free reign on the grounds of their estate, you keep your distance from a peacock. If you get too close, they make a ruckus. They shriek to put you on notice. Come closer and you will pay the price. Peacocks are mean.
Watching the current American president feels like that. I see facial expressions when he tells an audience what he knows they want to hear instead of what he knows. He’s lying. Even his secure base knows it. I see the 2020 rallies, the crowds cheering for a peacock strutting around, fanning his feathers.
What my EARS know
You don’t need to have stood in the Rose Garden to know when a peacock is feeling cocky. Or threatened. You know from the sound. Bring a friendly television camera crew to show off his feathers by fanning his tail, and give him a microphone with free range and the peacock is in his glory. Camera crews permitted on his property have taken orher photos of the peacock strutting across the lawn with one of his harem, knowing the cameras already are rolling to show other TV-watching peacocks what he has that they don’t — except in their dreams — a hen with feathers like that! The peahen is all show. She never makes a squack. She only speaks out to shine the light on school bullies, guys like Daryl at my elementary school and like whoever bullied her peacock before he learned to preen and parade his way to the world’s biggest playground.
The peacock hardly ever tells the truth. Everyone knows he lies all the time. He may know it; he may not. It’s hard to tell. He speaks convincingly as one who knows, and knows more than all the other peacocks and members of the camera crews. He never quotes anyone, routinely referring to himself in the third person, as though someone else is speaking about him. What we hear is very strange. Ornotholigists provide a more objective description of the peacock’s behavior.
The peacock’s behavior is a common cause for fear. They are known to be aggressive, fiercely territorial birds…. The peacock’s low intelligence has caused wild peacocks in urban areas to attack dark-colored luxury cars: the birds see their reflections, interpret it as a second bird and attack. Peacocks have also been seen chasing people to take their food. At the same time, when a peacock is angry they have a tendency to spread themselves out – and seeing a bird your size or larger fan out, with feathers that could be misconstrued as eyes, is more than enough to cause a child to develop a long-standing phobia.
I hear loud shrieks as the peacock chases the camera crews off the property. But the shrieks are not loud enough to drown out the sound of paper shredders shredding the papers the camera crews have come to see.
What my NOSE knows
I have a long-standing fear of fire. I remember watching the flames and smelling the smoke from the four alarm fire I watched through my bedroom window. My father, a volunteer fireman, had left home that night to put out the fire. I was afraid he wouldn’t come back.
I’m no longer five years old, but my nose knows the smell and knows that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I smell smoke coming from the White House. I smell the Constitution burning, and see a peacock running loose, attacking his own reflection on the presidential limousine.
Leave YOUR COMMENT to widen the conversation. Tell me what you know.
–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 26, 2019.
Donald Trump Photo Attribution: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 201; photo by Greg Skidmore.
I remember my mother’s tears on this day, Good Friday, and wondering why she was so sad. Jesus had been crucified a long, long time ago. It wasn’t happening now. But, to Mom, it was. Like the three Mary’s at the foot of the crosses, Mom was weeping in her pew. I remember the white handkerchief dabbing the cornerS of her eyes.
I was five or six years old the first time I saw Mom at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. The Marys were all gone. Only Mom and her white handkerchief continued the vigil, and it happened every year on Good Friday. It was in junior high school that I began to get under the tears and weep them for myself. I “got” the cruelty of it.
The pounding of nails into wrists and feet. The soldiers laughing at him while they gambled for his clothes. If they were gambling for his clothes, was Jesus naked in front of the whole world? Was the crown of thorns the only thing he wore? Were the thorns cutting into his head? “I thirst.” They give him vinegar on the end of stick! He looks down at John. “Behold your mother; woman, behold your son.” Take my mother home! Mary doesn’t go home. She stays by him until the end. She winces at the nightmare she cannot end: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabstachtani?” (My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?), watches as a soldier puts a hole in his side; weeps inconsolably when it is finished, and they take him away.
How could Mom not cry hearing that? How could anyone not reach for a handkerchief?
“GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”
Years later, Ken and Ilse Beaufoy and I observed Good Friday in the pews of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. Aside from one or two others who dropped by for a short time each year, we were alone in the church. Beginning at noon, at half hour intervals, we read aloud a portion of the Passion narratives paused in silence, listened to the corresponding movement from Rutter’s Requiem, spoke a brief prayer, and sat in the silence until the next half hour.
The Good Fridays with Ken (and Ilse, before she died) were unique. An American Presbyterian minister with a married couple, Ken a former Biitish soldier, and Ilse, a former member of the Luftwaffe, one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross. Ken and Ilse met at a dance sponsored by the occupying forces following WW II. Ilse was one of two women Luftwaffe soldiers awarded the Iron Cross for standing her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.
Despite objections and death threats from family members, Ken and Ilse committed themselves to the bonds of marriage. What else but the reconciling love of God could bridge the gulf of former enemy combatants? Five decades later, Ilse died moments after hearing the words of permission that would only have meaning to a decorated war hero who had stayed at her anti-aircraft post atop the Hamburg bunker to protect the civilians below. “You no longer need to stand your post. You no longer need to fight. It’s time to go home. Go in peace.” From that day on, there were just the two of us staying by the cross from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.
Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” did not explain the crucifixion or the peace it brought Ken and Ilse Beaufoy. It didn’t need to. Some things cannot be explained. They can only be lived…with thanksgiving for abounding grace while dabbing the corner of your eyes with a handkerchief.
— Gordon C. Stewart by the wilderness, Minnesota, Good Friday, April 19, 2019
At daybreak, far from the ranting and raving that hurt my ears, I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for silence, interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring.
For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.
I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until he had to light the kerosine lamps inside.
I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for The Book of Common Prayer that belonged to Sue Kahn until the day she gave it to me. Sue had relocated to Cincinnati to be nearer her daughter after macular degeneration had left her functional sightless. A lifelong Episcopalian who savored the language of The Book of Common Prayer, she joined her her daughter for worship with the Presbyterians. She asked one day whether I had a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. A week later, Sue stayed after worship. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing it in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it as much as I.”
I open to the appointed Psalm for this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.
Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition.
It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.
Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace because of my cares.
The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and it’s selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into th unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.
But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy; and by the pressure of the wicked…
I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less develped morality that has not yet recognized the inertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.
For they have cast an evil spirit upon me, and are set against me in fury.
l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.
My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me.
I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.
And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee to a far off place and make my lodging in the wilderness.”
The crackling from the fire and the trumpet calls of the trumpeter swans across the wetland break the silence of daybreak. In this far off place, I am at rest. II make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil.
— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019
“…Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
Watching BBC/Netflix series The Fall — all three seasons in one huge gulp — led me to recall Arthur Miller’s play by the same title, the Genesis story, and the works of Herman Melville, William Golding … or even John Calvin. The brief appearance mid-way through the series of a 20£ bill with a note scrawled across it in red ink — He who does not love abides in death — and its unanticipated re-appearance in the series’ final scene seemed to this Presbyterian preacher like the subtext from which Allan Cubitt create The Fall.
Great literature likeMoby Dick, and insightful sermons, films and television series are sometimes rooted in, and explicate, a text, a line, an aphorism. Allan Cubitt’s choice of the series’ title calls to mind Arthur Miller’s The Fall and the Hebraic biblical story of humankind’s attempt to master paradise by the raid on what belongs to the Creator alone — the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-8) — that quickly results in fratricide between humankind’s first children.
Cain murders his brother Abel. Abel is blown away. Only Cain remains. But the echo of Abel’s horror remains to spoil the good earth: “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10). Allan Cubbit’s title points to the Genesis story. Likewise, his work, The Pool of Bethesda, is taken from Christian scripture.
Film critic reviews like Sophie Gilbert’s “Netflix’s ‘The Fall’ Comes to a Maddening End in its Third Season” (Nov. 5, 2016) in The Atlantic — express disappointment that The Fall “forgot” to answer “the questions [The Fall] raises about misogyny, madness, and obsession.” They see the bill as a glimpse into the deranged mind of Paul Spector, the serial killer, but nothing more.
The final scene of the final episode of the series begs for more. Stella, the detective who has cracked the case, has returned to solitude in her bloodless London flat. She pours herself a glass of red wine and reads again the red ink message: ”He who does not love abides in death,” the verbatim biblical quotation carefully plucked from the New Testament epistle that focuses on love as life itself, and lovelessness as death (I John 3:14). The note’s reappearance is more than a reminder of the bloody horror Stella seems to have escaped, or a return to the vexing inner workings of Paul Spector’s lethal psyche. It serves a larger purpose: to expose the series’ subtext, throwing a light backward on the inexplicable darkness and obsession with death and raising the question of Stella’s own loveless psyche and future, leaving the viewers to ponder for ourselves the complexities of love and life, lovelessness and death.
Works of art do not give answers. Neither does Cubitt’s The Fall. They do not explain reality; they describe it — the mystifying entanglement of lovelessness and love, of evil and goodness, the inexplainable complexity of all the sisters and brothers of Cain. Cubitt’s own reflection on the BBC calls attention to another scene midway through the series in which the serial killer’s Intensive Care nurse, Sheridan, tells him she will pray for him. “My idea is that the line ‘I will pray for you’ is provocative,” said the author. “Surely he is beyond redemption? It seems Sheridan [Spector’s ICU nurse] doesn’t think so. Has anyone ever prayed for Spector before?”
This and other scenes are, by design, “subtle and nuanced and ambiguous, open to all kinds of interpretations, replete with possibilities.”
“…and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” ― Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
— Gordon C. Stewart, a Presbyterian cracked head, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2019.
Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.
Albert Einstein to George Sylvester Viereck, 1921.
There is a world of difference between nationalism and patriotism. Patriots love their country. Nationalists idolize it.
WHO IS DISLOYAL IN AMERICA?
Who are the really disloyal? Those who inflame racial hatreds, who sow religious and class dissensions. Those who subvert the Constitution by violating the freedom of the ballot box. Those who make a mockery of majority rule by the use of the filibuster. Those who impair democracy by denying equal educational facilities. Those who frustrate justice by lynch law or by making a farce of jury trials. Those who deny freedom of speech and of the press and of assembly. Those who demand special favors against the interest of the commonwealth. Those who regard public office merely as a source of private gain. This who would exalt the military over the civil. Those who for selfish and private purposes stir up national antagonisms and expose the world to the ruin of war.
Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (…) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (…) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (…) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (…) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (…) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.
In this short video Karl Barth addresses the question of how the German people were led to sacrifice a democratic constitutional republic for the dream of Adolf Hitler.
NOW: VIOLATION OF THE OATH OF OFFICE
What we see in the U.S.A. in 2019 is chilling. During his visit to the U.S.–Mexican border the American President violated his oath of office “… to the best of my Ability, to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” (Article II, Section One, Clause 8, U.S. Constitution). If, during his recent visit to Calexico, the President advised U.S. Border Patrol officers to pay no attention to judges, as reported by CNN and Jake Tapper, the President committed an impeachable offense. He not only did not serve and protect the Constitution. He openly defied it. He put himself above the law.
EYE DISEASE and THE LORDLESS POWERS
It takes what Barth called “eye disease” not to seethe systematic erosion of the rule of law by what Barth called “political absolutisms and lordless [i.e. unaccountable] powers” built around a charismatic madman’s dream. The parallels between then and now smack us in the face every day: requiring from cabinet members a sworn loyalty oath and breach of silence agreement; telling the U.S. border patrol to ignore the law and the courts and do what he says; ignoring the law and court orders upholding the legal and human rights of asylum-seekers; separating migrant children and their parents; declaring that his knowledge of world affairs superior to career State Department, Department of Defense, military, and intelligence professionals; ignoring wise advice and counsel; ridiculing past presidents as inferior to himself; assaulting freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment; encouraging violence by refusing to criticize white supremacy, white nationalism, and white hate groups; replacing legitimate patriotism — love of one’s country — with national idolatry; putting personal and family wealth, power, and fame ahead of the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution.
SEEING THROUGH OBFUSCATION AND DELAY
Wednesday’s (April 10) news further to the sense of a kind of coup d’état — the bloodless undermining of the rule of law in this constitutional republic by those sworn to uphold it. Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to answer questions posed by a Congressional committee re: his decisions about redaction and release of the Mueller Report, and Treasury Secretary Munchen’s deferral to the Department of Justice re: the Congressional demand from the IRS for the past six years of President Trump’s tax returns led me back to Barth.
FAITH AND ETHICS: UNMASKING THE LORDLESS POWERS
“We do not know what we are doing when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ namely that, negatively at least, we are asking for the gracious unmasking, overcoming, and ultimate abolition of these absolutisms that rule us per neras [i.e. by wrong].” – Karl Barth, The Christian Life, p. 219.
What can be said that isn’t being said over and over and over again and that adds something of value to public reflection on our time? Fellow Presbyterian minister John Buchanan’s personal story of worshiping with his granddaughter took me by the hand and led me home to church.
I sat beside Rachel in worship Sunday. Rachel is my 24-year-old granddaughter. She is a young woman with Down Syndrome. She is part of a remarkable program at National Louis University, lives in university housing, works part time with infants and toddlers in a day care center. She rides the El and the Chicago Transport Authority buses, loves to sing, knows the titles and words to every Beatles song and can dance for hours. Rachel starred in a motion picture, The Spy Who Knew Me, in which all the actors have special needs. It was produced by A.B.L.E.- Actors Breaking Limits and Expectations, which also puts on several stage productions per year including Shakespearean plays and original work. Many of the volunteers who work with the actors are from the Chicago theater community. Rachel greets me with more enthusiasm than anyone else, throws her arms around me as if…
A friendly reader suggested that “Get Off My Corner” (Be Stil! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 133-36)is more poignant today than the day it was written during the Obama presidency. With nothing better to say, we lay humility aside — a very Minnesotan thing to do, but, increasingly a very un-American thing to do.
GET OFF MY CORNER!
Let us hope and pray that the vast intelligence, imagination, humor, and courage will not fail us. Either we learn a new language of empathy and compassion, or the fire this time will consume us.
— Cornel West, Race Matters
I’m sitting calmly in my office when the phone rings. It’s a parishioner who lives near the downtown post office. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she says, “but there’s some kind of ruckus on the corner. There’s some kind of booth on the corner.”
I drive to the Post Office. I park the car half a block away and see a large booth on the street corner. The woman handing out literature is yelling at a man who’s crossing the street, and he’s yelling back. I can’t hear what they’re saying until I draw closer. A man crossing the street to get away from the booth is shouting over his shoulder. “You’re not only anti-Semitic! You’re anti-American!”
The booth features . . . [a photograph] of the President of the United States. But this is no ordinary photograph. There’s a mustache imposed on President Obama’s picture, the mustache of Adolf Hitler and a call for his impeachment, “Dump Obama!”
I approach the booth.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
She slides a flyer toward me across the counter. “Read it,” she says. I put my finger on the mustache. “You don’t want to hear what we have to say. You’re a spy!” she says as she steps backward, tilts her head in the air, and bellows out “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesty, Above the fruited plain. America! America! God shed His grace on thee….” But before she sings the last line of the stanza – “and crown thy good with brotherhood…” – she stops and orders me off her corner. “Get off my corner!”
She is carrying the message of Lyndon LaRouche, a perpetual candidate for President whose only consistency over a long checkered history of ideological swings on the political spectrum is the red-hot lava of righteous rage.
The behavior of the woman at the Post Office, like that of the Florida pastor whose threat to burn Qur’ans nearly set the world on fire several years ago, is bizarre. But the rage she expresses is not unique to her. Because it is so outrageous, it shines a light into the darkness of the widespread incivility of our time, an incivility that erupts from a core conviction hidden below the surface of our consciousness.
We’re street brawling over what kind of America we will be, and “Can’t we all just get along”- the plea of Rodney King as he witnessed the Los Angeles riots following the “innocent” verdict exonerating the police officers whose beatings of him had been aired repeatedly on national television– is long forgotten. We’re dividing ourselves into true believers and heretics, patriots and traitors, suspicious of each other all the way to the White House.
This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic would a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.
This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic was to be a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.
As the new nation was being conceived, demagoguery often replaced politics, i.e. the art of compromise, as it often does now. One does not compromise with the enemy. One eliminates him. Rodney King’s plea is regarded as the way of the ill-informed, cowards, heretics, and Anti-Americans.
The lava of anger originates from a hidden, unexamined conviction that the United States is the chosen people, the messianic people whose job is to eliminate evil within and without in the war of good against evil. It is an idea born of the rape of the Judeo-Christian tradition by nationalism which installs America as the exception to history, the nation divinely ordained to banish Anne Hutchinson in 1637, hang Mary Dyer in 1670, and destroy the reputations of decent people as un-American in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purge of secret communists in the early 1950s. It’s the belief that America is the exception…and that the real America is only some of us, the righteous believers.
In the unspoken consciousness of our collective memory, “You are the light of the world” becomes the declaration of fact spoken about America, not an itinerant preacher’s call to a small band of first-century disciples to persist in the hard politics of love and peace in a time of hate and violence. The ensuing lines from the primary text, The Sermon on the Mount – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ but I say to you, love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you” – are forgotten, ignored, torn out, blacked out or burned on the altar of messianic nationalism.
Even more ironic is that those who attack others, including a sitting president, as un-American – i.e. heretics who do not bow to the idea of America as the collective messiah of history– scream against government and taxes as enemies, socialist intrusions on their individual freedom to hoard what is theirs. The biblical city is no longer for a community of sharing of the wealth and care for the least; it becomes a sandbox of greed and competition where the highest value is my freedom to get and keep what is mine.
The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact. And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” – the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment.
The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact. And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” – the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment.
In times like these when ugliness replaces beauty, America the beautiful is, as it always has been, a courageous aspiration and prayer for sanity in the midst of collective madness.
— Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR) available for reviewing and purchase through the publisher or Amazon Prime.
Whatever the Mueller Report’s findings, recommendations and conclusions, our work is the same. Like the midwives, we continue the vocation of compassionate resistance. This sermon is long, but more timely now than the day it was preached (2014). If you decide to take the time to listen, please leave a comment to let the preacher know what you’re thinking.
“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Exodus 1:17).
For further reflection on the vocation of compassion in an anxious time, read “Being Human: Nothing Less and Nothing More,” p.40-41, in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock). Click HERE to take a look inside Be Still!
The line from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem came to mind while digging into the encounter between Jesus and the people of the perfect offerings. That’s right, the Jewish Leonard and the Jewish Jesus drank from the same well: Jewish scripture and tradition.
It was Leonard Cohen’s line about a “perfect offering” that led me to think of Jesus’s encounter with the perfectionists about terrorism — see James Tissot’s The Tower of Siloam — and the parable of the withered fig tree.
Jesus’s parable then led to the memory of Professor Lewis (Lew) Briner who would have read the text the way he read everything else in the New Testament — in Greek. As students, Wayne Boulton and I sat in the Briner kitchen to discuss theology or the news of the day. If we didn’t knock on their door, Lew would come to get us.
Following the memorial service for Wayne, Vicki asked if I had any pictures of Lew and Mil Briner. I did not. She entrusted two photographs to my keeping. Years after those nightly conversations over a beer or scotch, only one of us remains. Memories of Lew’s hospitality, scholarship, wit . . . and facial expressions are un-forgettable.
Lew chaired the ecumenical committee that resulted in the Revised Common Lectionary. Discussing a New Testament text was an education in itself. Seeing his picture again with Wayne, I wondered what Lew might say about this week’s Gospel — Jesus’s encounter with the “perfect offering” folks who compared themselves with sinners, like the 18 terrorists killed in the sabotage of the Tower of Siloam. What might Lew say about that, and the parable of the the withered fig tree that follows his confrontation with the perfect (innocent) people?
“Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.” –Luke 13:4-6 NRSV
Sometimes Lew would shift our attention to something he’d noted in the Greek New Testament text that English translators sanitized because it didn’t pass Miss Manners’ Victorian sense of moral propriety. It disturbed him when a Greek word was mis-translated into what the translators considered the English vernacular. Words like “manure”!
“You want to know what it really says?” Lew would ask, lowering his head to peer over the top of his glasses, slightly raising and lowering his eyebrows several times with a twinkle in his eye, with an unmistakably mischievous smile. We knew something earthy was coming.
I can see the twinkle in Lew’s eyes. “Give me a year and let me dig around it and throw s—t on it!” If you really want to translate the Greek into the vernacular, use the vernacular! Sanitizing it wipes it clean. It removes the jolt. Besides, only farmers use the word “manure” these days, and the farmers have become fewer and fewer. Unless they have a garden, urban and suburban people might have to look up “manure”. No one needs a dictionary to look up “s—t”!
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That’s how the light gets in
There’s nothing like old friends. Once there were seven. Now there are four. We call ourselves The Dogs, old friends and classmates at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Yesterday Harry Strong, Bob Young, Don Dempsey, our spouses, and I, gathered with Vicki Boulton and the Boulton family and friends at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis to sing God’s praise and to give thanks for the classmate who brought us all together again in 2004 for what we call The Gatherings.
Wayne Boulton was my best friend, dating back to 1964 when we were assigned to be roommates in Alumni Hall. Wayne has been the Dean of the Dogs who arranged our gatherings over the years: places, dates, the daily schedule, books and topics, and guests who would join us for a morning or afternoon. Since 1964, Wayne and Vicki, the love of his life, have been a continuous thread of friendship.
As much as I wanted to sing the hymns that are as close as the next drawn breath — O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; There Is a Balm in Gilead; and For All the Saints Who from their Labors Rest — I couldn’t. I shut my mouth (which is rare), and opened my ears to hear the deep resonance of the organ and the congregation singing the hymns. I trusted the gathered community to lift me from the sorrows of dust and ashes. And lift me they did — without knowing it, except for Kay, and with no other intention than to sing to the glory of God and give thanks for Wayne.
The next day, the four surviving friends gathered for our own time of remembrance, wearing the Chicago Dogs t-shirts Don had given us all. We sang hymns. We read from Wayne’s books and email exchanges with us, prayed, and hung on the edges of laughter and, and listened to Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, Going Home, If It Be Your Will. Leonard reminded us again that there is a crack in everything, and “that’s how the light gets in.”
In this period of Narcissism, it is a matter of no small thanksgiving that Wayne did not call attention to himself. He was without guile, and as playful as a child. “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4 NRSV). Would that the same might be true for all of us lesser lights.
As the four old friends and our wives took Vicki to dinner the night following the memorial service, the crack in us had been wedged open wider, but, against the cynic’s logic, the light was brighter. As Leonard said, “That’s how the light gets in.”
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.
G.K. Chesterton‘s lyrics come to mind again in this strange year of 2019. Our earthly rulers falter, and the wall of gold entomb us.
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 honour and the sword, from sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!
The God to Whom Chesterton cried out was not a god that never says “No!”. Nor was it the god of Western culture that justified colonial invasions and occupations, the god of God in Christ shrunk to fit the mortal confines of creed, race, and nation rolled into one. Brutal terrors of white supremacy and white nationalism like the attacks on mosques and synagogues, and the terrors in high places gilded in gold and wrapped in lies of tongue and tweet drive us to our knees. They lead us to speechlessness, or to cry out for the God Who does say “No!”
“Bow down, O God of earth and altar; bow down, and hear our cry. Good Lord, deliver us!”
Llightning struck down 50 worshipers and injured another 50 In Aotearoa — the Land of the Long White Cloud — the Maori name for their home before foreign invaders re-named New Zealand.
The mind of western white nationalism makes few, if any, distinctions between Muslims and Jews. Although we rightly think of anti-Semitism as responsible for the gas ovens of Nazi Germany and the long history of anti-Jewish pograms, the term ‘Semite’ applies more broadly to the Hebrew- and Arab-speaking people of the Middle East. Whether gathered at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh or in the mosques of New Zealand makes no difference. Their existence is a threat to the mindset of white superiority and, more lately, western nationalism.
A 72 page white nationalist manifesto did not know, or chooses not to know, that the original invaders were not dark skinned people. They were not Middle Easterners. They were not Semites. They were not Muslim. It was the Dutch and English colonizers who “discovered” and then invaded the Maori “Land of the Long White Cloud” (English translation) that turned the Maori homeland into the land of their own displacement, subjugation, and long-suffering. The invaders were white Europeans who considered it their right and calling to spread their religion and culture around the world.
Judaism and Islam claim a common family origin in Abraham, but they do not same the same maternal lineage. They do not claim the same mother. Jews and Christians see themselves as the children of Sarah, the mother of Isaac. Muslims claim Hagar, Sarah’s banished slave woman, the mother of Ishmael, as their mother. Neither Sarah nor Hagar, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Ishmael was “white.” The predominant religion of the western culture is rooted in Middle Eastern people and cultures. And, the scriptures Jews, Christians, and Muslims share in common the memory that the estrangement between the Isaac and Ishmael ended when the re-united to bury father Abraham.
One can suppose with near certainty that yesterday’s attack on mosques in New Zealand, like the bombing of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh arose from the cauldron of anti-Semitism, hatred toward the children of Abraham — Isaac, the son of Sarah, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar. So apparently different, and yet the same.
Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge that feigns ignorance is a fools’ paradise that turns long white clouds of an otherwise blue sky into dark clouds of smoke, dust and smog.
Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s conversation greeted me today in Marilyn Armstrong’s “What’s the Point of It All?” Some mornings I’m like Charlie Brown. Other days I’m like Snoopy.
More often than I’d like, I’m the human being on the left side of the dock — a morose Gloomy Gus. But I’ve most always been blessed by a Snoopy. A Maggie. A Sebastian. And, then, after Maggie and Sebastian died, a Barclay who looks on the bright side of life. How about you?
Charles Schulz was a native Minnesotan. I never met Charles, but his cartoon of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting at the end of the dock looking out to the far horizon leads me to suppose two things about him. 1) Charles Schulz had a dog as his philosophical partner. Like me, he had a Maggie, Sebastian, or a Barclay. 2) He spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA), paddling a canoe through a narrow channel between the rocks, or sitting with his dog at the end of a Kawishiwi cabin dock . . . or nestled in a hammock . . . pondering the meaning of it all, and feeling more like Snoopy than a Gloomy Gus.
“Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” – Charles Schulz
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero
— Gordon C. Stewart and Barclay, Chaska, MN, March 14, 2019.
Some people in pulpits are skeptics as well as believers. I am one of them. Of the 12 apostles, I feel the deepest kinship with the Thomas, who refused to take someone else’s word for what lay beyond his empirical verification. But there are moments when someone shows up unexpectedly to coax a Thomas into the realm of the Ineffable. Dennis Aubrey’s Via Lucis description of his day in the Romanesque Church of the Magdalene was a moment like that. It wasn’t until early this morning, that I noticed the Via Lucis site still recommends a link to the sermon evoked by Dennis’s “Elle Chante, Pere!” (The Stones Are Singing.) The words of Jesus about the stones — “if these [people] keep silent, the very stones will cry out’ — has always been close to my heart.
“The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. … We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.”
Judge T.S. Ellis’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort came as a jolt. It should not have. I know better. So do you.
I am an ordained minister of the gospel who has spent lots of time in courtrooms. It was a short step from pulpits of privilege to a criminal defense law firm founded by the American Indian Movement and African-American civil rights center. I left the pulpit, but the faith that points to an essential human dignity went with me. Irrespective of the seriousness of the charges and crimes, I saw, or tried to see, a dignity and worth in defendants no court sentence can take away.
Legal Rights Center clients convicted of serious crimes were sentenced to the state prisons, about as far from the comforts of federal prisons as their neighborhoods were from gated communities and country clubs.
Unlike the inmates of Faribault and Stillwater who have been found guilty of street crimes, a great number of the guests of the federal correctional system are doing time for white collar crimes. There’s a world of difference. Yet, as to sentence disparity, they are the same.
Comparing Judge Ellis’s 13 year sentence of African-American Congressman William J. Jefferson (D) from Louisiana in 2009 with the 47 month sentence of the former chair of the president’s presidential campaign committee draws attention to the ugly realities of race and class we often see but quickly forget or choose not to see at all.
We do not live in a democracy; we live in an oligarchy— “government by the few, especially despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes.” I’ve been waiting for people in high places to say it.
Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations4 brought the elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.
A democratic republic is a constitutional form of government where the people rule through their elected representatives gathered in deliberative bodies. The faces and voices of Goldman Sachs’s executives demonstrated the intransigent arrogance of the private institutional concentration of the wealth and power of deregulated capitalism.
The matter is growing more serious.
The “small and privileged group” that operates corruptly and selfishly knows that elections are bought and sold in America. No one gets elected without big money. Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations brought the elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.
Nine years after publishing The American Oligarchy, the reality is, for the most part, the same. But there is a difference. The selfishness of “despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes” (Encylopaedia Brittanica definition of oligarchy) feels heavier now. The judge’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort caught me off-guard. How quickly we forget!
Yesterday’s light sentence of Paul Manafort leads observers to wonder what happened. Why would Judge T. S. Ellis depart from the federal sentencing guidelines (19-24 years)? Why would a judge depart so egregiously to render a sentence of 47 months?
These questions and the judge’s remarks painting Mr. Manafort as an ill-fated first-time offender who had led a blameless life beg for answers.
Searching the internet for cases of judicial bias or misconduct led to the case of Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida that brought an unexpected laugh.
Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida, made headlines in June 2014, when he was recorded on camera challenging a public defender to a fistfight. Andrew Weinstock, the public defender acting in the normal course of representation, had refused to have his client waive the right to a trial. This set off a number of heated remarks which included Judge Murphy stating: “You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now.” When Weinstock refused to sit down, Judge Murphy then told him: “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”
Deputy Bryon Griffin, who was at the scene, described it as follows: “I stepped into the back hallway and saw the two of them grabbing ahold of each other’s suitcoat, pushing each other back and forth…I heard Judge Murphy say, ‘Do you wanna f-ck with me, do you?’ and I heard Mr. Weinstock say, ‘Alright.’ I immediately stepped in and separated the two of them as they still had a grasp on each other.”
We need a laugh in times like this when different ones of us might welcome a good fist fight in the back hall, but the humor is momentary. An article in Forbes this morning suggests political bias behind Judge Ellis’s lenient sentence of Manafort when compared with a similar case of a Democrat in 2009:
Take a comparison of the Manafort case with another prosecution of a political figure, a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana named William J. Jefferson. …
Manafort may have gotten off easy with four years, but Ellis threw the book at Jefferson. In 2009 Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years, the longest sentence of any Congressman to that date. … It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager, he did not sympathize with Jefferson.
Describing Paul Manafort at yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Ellis cedited Mr. Manafort for having been “a good friend” and “a generous person” who “has lived a blameless life” and “earned the admiration of a number of people.” It’s commendable judicial practice to offer some hope to the person being sent to prison. But might not these same attributes have been said of Al Capone, John Gotti, or Gordon Liddy, all good, generous family men who, until they were caught, had led “blameless lives”?.
Given Judge Ellis’s disrespectful remarks and angry outbursts against the Mueller investigator prosecutors, and his rulings against the admission of evidence, is it unthinkable to imagine the “Caesar of his own little Rome,” challenging the prosecutor to a fist fight in the back hallway behind the bar?
Steve Shoemaker (1942-2016) shared equal time on Views from the Edge until his untimely death. Steve’s genre was poetry. Often his poems and verses led readers by the nose through his lines to the surprising last line that shed a humorous light on all that had come before. Steve was a 6’8″ gentle giant who lay on his side at night, quietly typing a new inspiration into his iPhone in the dark so as not to disturb his wife Nadja at 3:00 A.M. Poems like this one were waiting in my in-box in the morning.
Steve lived to write and craved desserts (especially his nightly bowl of ice cream) and sex, matters about which, so far as I could tell, he hadn’t lied. Nor did he brag or exaggerate. Of the seven friends who knew each other well over four decades, Steve was the least self-centered with the wryest sense of humor. He never denied himself a bowl of ice cream!
I will give up writing poems for Lent
I will give up eating desserts for Lent.
I will give up sex for Lent.
I will give up thinking about sex for Lent.
I will give up lying for Lent.
I will give up bragging for Lent.
I will give up exaggerating for Lent.
I will give up self-centeredness for Lent.
I will give up self-denial for Lent.
– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL
March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday)
In this era of ill-humor and self-indulgence, Steve’s tongue-in-cheek verse again rings the bell on the betrayals of our best intentions, and our common need for repentance and forgiveness.
We are drowning in a sea of lies, but the ocean has a way of caring for itself. Without exception, all life is part of the Ocean. If it seems strange to be talking about water on Ash Wednesday, perhaps a memory will bring water and ashes together for you, as it did for me.
The Ash Wednesday I’m remembering, I robed 20 minutes or so before the 7:00 PM Ash Wednesday. There was plenty of time. I went to fetch the the little ZipLock bag of ashes. I’d forgotten that the credenza where I’d always stored the ashes had been moved from my office to the church basement. I rushed to the basement to where the credenza had re-located. There was no credenza. Finally it dawned me that the credenza had been sold at for a couple of bucks at the annual festival-flea market last fall.
“Somebody has my ashes,” I thought, “and they’ll probably treat them like dirt! Or maybe they’ll freak out, thinking the ashes are somebody’s cremains!”
What to do? Burn some newspapers! Smoke a cigar! No time for that. There would be no imposition of ashes. No outward, visible sign that we are dust and we return to the dust — the thing we never want hear. It was then that the missing ashes were turned into water.
We filled the baptismal font with water and marked each worshiper with the waters of baptism. “[Carol, Bob, Judi, Clyde], you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”
The last worshiper to leave that Ash Wednesday Service offered to do for me what had been done for her.
“Gordon,” she said, marking my forehead with water, “you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”
Like the miracle at Cana where water was turned into wine at a wedding, the turning of ashes into water became an unexpected moment of joy in the communion of saints.
Today, when we feel overwhelmed by a sea of lies, remember that everything empties in the Ocean. I wish you an Ash Wednesday when your ashes are turned to water, and a few drops of the vast Ocean wash away what you’ve lost and welcome you home for a sacred communion.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Chaska, MN.
Photograph is the baptistery in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Monza, Italy, uploaded from Wikipedia.
Today levels the playing field. Our differences make no difference today. What you have become is beside the point today. All the quarrels and distinctions are beside the point. Ash Wednesday is the leveler. The eraser. The antidote. The reminder that we are mortal. That I am living my death as you are living yours and dying my life while you are dying yours. Today, the roosters comb their heads with ashes and stop crowing.
If it often seems that the roosters are in charge of the barnyard, today reminds them and us that, in the end, they are not. Neither are we. Ash Wednesday levels us all to the baseline of zero. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” No matter whether you’ve crowed or cowered, no matter the story you tell yourself about yourself in comparison to others, you are no exception. Every reason for pride or self-loathing, and division, is erased by a pencil bigger than our mortal selves.
Whether our stories are re-written by a better Author will continue to be one more matter of dispute and division, but there can be no reasonable doubt about our mortality. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In the meantime, before the roosters stop strutting and crowing and all the cock combs fall to the leveling plain, those who see the face of God in the compassion of Jesus remember the ethic appropriate to those still living in the barnyard:
“As they were arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The roosters strut and crow, and you think you are dependent on them. Don’t be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.”– (Luke 22: 24-26, GCS translation)
Today, I offer my forehead for the imposition of ashes and pray that in the citadels of power someone else will do the same, for the sake of life itself.
Days before reading and re-publishing Linn Ullman’s lines about memory and the loss of it (“You just can’t think too deeply about it”), one of the four remaining classmates of what we’ve called The Chicago Seven, The Gathering, and now The Old Dogs, sent the rest of us an article on Alzheimer’s our latest deceased brother, Wayne, had published years ago.
As Wayne had imagined his ship going over the far horizon, his worst thought was not death. It was that he would live on, like his father had, without remembering how to tie his shoelaces and without recognizing Vicki, the love of his life, his sons Matt and Chris, daughters-in-law Liz and Libby, and the grandchildren who brought him such joy.
That nightmare didn’t happen. He went out with his mind in tact, as much as a hospice patient’s mind is ever fully there. Aside from his last few days, Wayne’s mind was clear and his heart was full. The article Harry sent the three other surviving Dogs is a reflection on Psalm 90:10, 12 (RSV):
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
When he died in 1989, the sum of Dad’s years came closer to fourscore than to threescore and ten. With the psalmist, I attribute this number to his strength, but I would not wish the manner of his death on anyone. He died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.
It was my first experience with the death of an immediate family member, so I was no veteran. I found myself up against a more complicated reality than I had anticipated. I remember thinking at the time that some portion of this is just plain death: nasty, sad, the way death always is. But it is not natural death. It is something else. In the words of Martin Luther’s signature hymn, the disease threw every member of Dad’s little nuclear family—his wife, daughter-in-law, and myself—into a “flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
“Amid the Flood,” Wayne G. Boulton, Reformed Review, Western Theological Seminary, December 1, 2000.
Wayne died the way he lived and lived the way he died. Faithful son, husband, grandfather, and friend. Wise. Compassionate. Pastoral. Realistic. Hopeful. Consoler. Prayerful. Private. Counselor. Social critic. Political wonk. Brilliant Christian theologian-ethicist. Follower of truth wherever it led him. All of that and so much more. But, if I had the pen to engrave his epitaph on the simple grave stone in the cemetery of the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, if might read,
A sheep of Your own fold, a lamb of Your own flock, a sinner of Your own redeeming, humble servant his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ amid the flood of mortal ills.
Consolation following a loved one’s death comes hard sometimes. Wayne died of pancreatic cancer. But his greatest fear was that he would die the way his father did: living with Alzheimer’s, staring at his shoes. He still remembered how to tie his shoelaces. ~ Gordon, remembering Wayne G. Boulton (1941-2019).
Think about the work that goes into tying your shoelaces. It calls for physical exertion, dexterity, and cleverness, any child between the ages of six and nine years old knows it, early in life it is a serious matter, the bow the greatest mystery, the fingers, the hands, the laces, altogether an apparently unsolvable riddle. But once you have mastered it, you forget how complicated it is, the years pass until one day—having put your socks on—you look down at your feet, unsure of how to proceed.
1. PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate. Result: An energetic, goal-oriented society.
2. CHANGE / MOBILITY Change is seen as positive and good. This means progress, improvement and growth. Result: An established transient society geographically, economically and socially.
3. TIME AND ITS IMPORTANCE Time is valuable - achievement of goals depends on the productive use of time. Result: An efficient and progressive society often at the expense of interpersonal relationships.
4. EQUALITY / EGALITARIANISM People have equal opportunities; people are important as individuals, for who they are, not from which family they come. Result: A society where little deference is shown or status is acknowledged.
5. INDIVIDUALISM, INDEPENDENCE AND PRIVACY People are seen as separate individuals (not group members) with individual needs. People need time to be alone and to be themselves. Result: Americans may be seen as self-centered and sometimes isolated and lonely.
6. SELF-HELP Americans take pride in their own accomplishments. Result: Americans give respect for self achievements not achievements based on rights of birth.
7. COMPETITION AND FREE ENTERPRISE Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise leads to progress and produces success Result: Competition is emphasized over cooperation.
8. FUTURE ORIENTATION / OPTIMISM Americans believe that, regardless of past or present, the future will be better and happier. Result: Americans place less value on past events and constantly look ahead to tomorrow.
9. ACTION AND WORK ORIENTATION Americans believe that work is morally right; that it is immoral to waste time. Result: There is more emphasis on "doing" rather than "being". This is a no-nonsense attitude toward life.
10. INFORMALITY Americans believe that formality is "un-American" and a show of arrogance and superiority. Result: A casual, egalitarian attitude between people is more accepted.
11. DIRECTNESS / OPENNESS / HONESTY One can only trust people who "look you in the eye" and "tell it like it is". Truth is a function of reality not of circumstance. Result: People tend to tell the "truth" and not worry about saving the other person's "face" or "honor".
12. PRACTICALITY / EFFICIENCY Practicality is usually the most important consideration when decisions are to be made. Result: Americans place less emphasis on the subjective, aesthetic, emotional or consensual decisions.
13. MATERIALISM / ACQUISITIVENESS Material goods are seen as the just rewards of hard-work, the evidence of "God's favor." Result: Americans are seen as caring more for things than people or relationships.
Thoughtful people may quibble with Robert Kohl’s list. But few would erase the 11th value — honesty/trustworthiness –as bedrock to the American experiment in democracy.
The Magician’s Bargain
Looking each other in the eye and “telling it like it is” has been chipped away, replaced by the twists of tongue and cunning to get and hold power. In our time, truth has been reduced to a function of circumstance in the road to power. We live with the consequences of what C.S. Lewis called the magician’s bargain.
It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.
The surrender of soul in return for power is the seismic shift in the America of 2019. Honesty/openness/directness have never been a fact of our common life. The 11th traditional value is aspirational. There have been and always will be lies. But never in my lifetime has truth-telling been less valued than it is today in the highest places of government. To the chagrin and sadness of George Willand other principled traditional conservatives, it is the children of Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority who engage the moral magician’s bargain.
The Irony of the American Magician’s Bargain
Michael Cohen testified last week before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. The minority members of the Committee attacked the credibility of the convicted criminal who had served for 10 years as the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and chose to ignore the hard evidence the president’s “rat” had placed before them.
The only difference between Michael Cohen and those who refused to exercise their duty to uphold the Constitution was that Michael had confessed.
Do we feel the rumbling of the common ground beneath the partisan divide?
How deep is the loss! How much greater the challenge. Ben Franklin would have a cow!
“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.
When the killer of 11 Shabbat worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was admitted to the hospital emergency room, he had no idea the E.R. nurse who showed him compassion was Jewish. In this piece, Ari Mahler, R.N. writes of his experience. It was originally published on Blogspot.com.
“The Jewish Nurse”
I am The Jewish Nurse.
Yes, that Jewish Nurse. The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, “Death to all Jews,” as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life.
To be honest, I’m nervous about sharing this. I just know I feel alone right now, and the irony of the world talking about me doesn’t seem fair without the chance to speak for myself.
When I was a kid, being labeled “The Jewish (anything)”, undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it. That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term. As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying “I’m not that religious,” makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish – especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi. “I’m not that religious,” is like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,” and like clockwork, people don’t look at me as awkwardly as they did a few seconds beforehand.
I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid. It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others. Sure, there were a few Jewish kids at my school, but no one else had a father who was a Rabbi. I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, “Die Jew. Love, Hitler.” It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now. I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse.
Regardless, the fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me. To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens. History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility. Even before this shooting took place, there’s no real evidence supporting otherwise. The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them. I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving.
So now, here I am, The Jewish Nurse that cared for Robert Bowers. I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS, and the local news stations. I’ve read articles mentioning me in the NY Times and the Washington Post. The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish. Even more so because my dad’s a Rabbi.
To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bower’s eyes. I saw something else. I can’t go into details of our interactions because of HIPAA. I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher. This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide. The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival.
I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?
Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.
Ari Mahler, RN. 4th December 2018
A follow-up post will appear on Views from the Edge.
Elijah spoke yesterday. Elijah preached yesterday. Elijah spoke from the heart yesterday. Elijah was kind yesterday. Elijah warned us yesterday. Elijah spoke of destiny yesterday. Elijah challenged all of us yesterday:
“C’mon now! We’re better than this! We really are!
This morning Michael Cohen testifies publicly before the House Oversight Committee. He’s lied before. Will he lie again? Whether he does or doesn’t, how does one discern what’s true and what’s not?
Michael Cohen walks in the long shadow of Roy Cohn (R in this photo), right-hand man and fixer for Sen, Joseph McCarthy (C in photo), and the lawyer, fixer, mentor for Donald Trump.
Roy Cohn continued to practice law and “fix” things until his fixing led to disbarment five weeks before he died. Like Roy, Michael Cohen will never practice law again. Unlike Roy Cohen, Michael Cohen may yet redeem himself from the darkness and unqualified public scorn.
Michael Cohen is going away for three years. But am I imagining that I see a different countenance since his sentence? That his face looks different — less troubled — and his walk lighter because he has little reason deny or twist the truth? Who’s to say?
Watching Michael on C-Span today, the Leonard Cohen’sThere Is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In will play in my head. Will Michael be a Roy or a Leonard? Will Michael “sing” or sing? Or are “singing” and singing the same thing when there’s a crack in everything?
When was the last time you had time to waste before boarding a flight? The uber drops you off at the curb in plenty of time. You check your bag. You pass through security. You have an hour or so to kill before the 11:10 boarding of your flight on Concourse C.
You haven’t had breakfast. You go to the food court, buy a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and take a seat at a small table in the food court. You reach for your iPhone to check the time, read the texts and tweets, and read the e-edition of your favorite news source. But it’s missing! You rummage though your pockets or your purse. You’ve forgotten or, God forbid, lost your iPhone. You never do that. Never, never, never!
You scarf down the coffee and croissant sandwich and go across the hall for a newspaper. You buy a copy of today’s New York Times, return to the table in the food court, read the front page headlines, open to the sections of interest, and get absorbed in the latest news or this morning’s crossword puzzle or sudoku.
Suddenly, you realize you’ve lost track of time. You reach for your iPhone and remember. You look for a clock, but there are no clocks. You leave the food court in search of a clock. There are no clocks.
You race down the concourse toward your gate, looking for a clock to see whether you’re late for your flight. But there are no clocks. None. Anywhere. Not even on the flight arrival and departure boards. The flight boards display the schedule and whether your flight is on time, delayed, or cancelled, but they do not tell you what time it is now.
Arriving at the gate, there is no line for boarding. You breathe a sigh of relief when you learn you’re not too late. You sit down in the waiting area and sheepishly ask a stranger for the time. She checks her phone and gives you the time, while you explain that you’ve left home without your new iPhone6, or maybe you’d lost it, as though she cares.
On board the flight, you fasten your seat belt and break the rule of privacy. “Hi, my name’s Bob. Is this home, or do you live in Denver?” “Denver,” he says without looking up from his smartphone. You might as well have asked for his Social Security number. This flight will be a long exercise with silence, a chance for meditation, but you can’t do meditation without the meditation app on your iPhone.
After take-off, you take out the New York Times. It’s been awhile since you read a newspaper in print, and you’d missed out on an aisle seat where you could spread out. Your left arm is flush against the window. As you unfold the newspaper, you intrude again into the space of the guy from Denver in the middle seat. He looks up and shakes his head. You apologize for your rudeness and carefully fold the newspaper in half the way commuters do on trains on their way to work in the city. You settle down with the properly-folded newspaper. A headline leaps from the page:
Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched my Phone and Unbroke My Brain”(Kevin Roose, Feb. 23, NYT) comes to the rescue. It begins:
“My name is Kevin, and I have a phone problem. And if you’re anything like me — and the statistics suggest you probably are, at least where smartphones are concerned — you have one, too.”
I do! Yes! I do! you say to yourself. You wonder whether Kevin also has a clock problem. Whether he’ll lament our isolation in a world missing the one thing we all had in common before smartphones: public clocks on the tower of the old village square . . . and in airports!
On the way to baggage claim, the problem is bigger than the absence of a friendly clock. You’re in a strange city without information on where you’re supposed to go. The address of your hotel, how to get there, contacts, e-mail and text information, phone numbers, and the name of the restaurant where you’re to meet the headhunter for the job interview are carefully stored on your iPhone.
What to do? At baggage claim, a stranger takes pity on you. She lends you her smartphone. A family member answers your call, finds your phone, follows your instructions for unlocking your iPhone, and begins to give you the information you’ve asked for. But the phone to take down the information, you’re still helpless!
“Hold on a minute,” you tell the family member back home, and return to the stranger. “I’m sorry to disturb you again, but do you have a pencil and a piece of paper?”
David Kanigan’s Monday Morning Wake-Up Call popped up this morning while pondering a reference to Jacques Ellul’s “meditation on inutility” cited in a footnote of Walter Brueggemann’s The Psalms and the Life of Faith. The sentence which leads the reader to the Ellul footnote on inutility reads, “In the end — not before, but in the end — praise is a useless act.” (p.122, footnote 21)
Thank you, David for drawing attention to this current meditation in praise of inutility by Kevin Roose in the New York Times. Jacques Ellul and Walter Brueggemann would call it an act of praise.
For the rest of the week, I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that, for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.
Mostly, I became aware of how profoundly uncomfortable I am with stillness. For years, I’ve used my phone every time I’ve had a spare moment in an elevator or a boring meeting. I listen to podcasts and write emails on the subway. I watch YouTube videos while folding laundry. I even use an app to pretend to meditate.
If I was going to repair my brain, I needed to practice doing nothing…
For those of us who live far from the U.S. southern border, John Buchanan’s impression of the daily humaneness of Mexican and American workers, families, shoppers, and visitors crossing the bridge provides a visual of hope.
We drove down from San Diego to the border last week. It’s a huge operation. Long lines of automobiles are lined up on both sides, driving south from the United States into Mexico and north from Mexico into the United States. 70,000 people cross that border every day; more than 1,000 walk over the border bridge. Many Mexicans have jobs in the United States and return to their Tijuana homes nightly. It was a Sunday afternoon and we watched a steady stream of men, women and children crossing the border bridge after shopping at the Outlet Malls on the American side.
I was impressed with the simple, ordinary humanness of it all. Families walking toward the bridge, elderly on walkers, babies in strollers, children eating ice cream cones following their parents, adults carrying their purchases. I know our brief visit did not reveal the complexity nor the danger associated with…
Matthew Arnold‘s poem The Future came to mind this week in light of the eulogy for local artist and gardener Lynn Niskanen. Click HEREfor the obituary. Scroll down for her brother-in-law’s poem honoring Lynn’s life.
The Future [excerpt]
But what was before us we know not, And we know not what shall succeed.
Haply, the river of Time— As it grows, as the towns on its marge Fling their wavering lights On a wider, statelier stream— May acquire, if not the calm Of its early mountainous shore, Yet a solemn peace of its own.
And the width of the waters, the hush Of the grey expanse where he floats, Freshening its current and spotted with foam As it draws to the Ocean, may strike Peace to the soul of the man on its breast— As the pale waste widens around him, As the banks fade dimmer away, As the stars come out, and the night-wind Brings up the stream Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.
In your abandoned garden
Lynn, in your abandoned garden your presence - like sunlight - can still be felt.
At your invitation the butterflies, hummingbirds and cardinals your absence still unknown to them, keep returning.
In your abandoned garden the purple iris - by your own hand planted, sleeps tonight beneath her snowy cover,
and awaits the divine kiss of rain.
-- Will Niskanen, brother-in-law. Excerpt from Will's Eulogy for Lynn Niskanen, Feb. 18, 2019, at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church Chaska, MN
Although Lynn was “a practitioner and bringer of light,” as Will described her, she did not draw to attention to herself. The pews and church parking lot overflowed their banks.
I always know there’s a bird on the other side of the feeder by the way it swings in the air. A lot of the ladderback woodpeckers like to stay where they can’t see me … and I can’t take pictures. I also know they are there because sometimes I see a feather sticking out of somewhere or suddenly a beak — or even the bird’s head appears, then vanishes.
I sometimes stand for half an hour with the camera aimed and focused … and there’s nothing. I give up, put the camera down, turn around and there are half-a-dozen birds. Cardinals, woodpeckers, and a whole flock of goldfinches. And more.
Today, there were a lot of birds when I got to the kitchen and almost none after that. It was a warm but drippy day. It wasn’t exactly raining, but it wasn’t exactly not raining. We had to put…
King George III is remembered as the “mad” British king responsible for losing the American colonies that became the United States of America, a constitutional democratic republic. The cause of George’s illness continues to be a matter of dispute.
The new American constitutional republic turned its back on King George III [shown here in Allan Ramsay’s portrait“King George III in coronation robes”] and on any future British royals who might re-claim the American colonies. But old habits die hard, and, it seems, old Kings never die.
Mad kings like King George III occasionally re-appear in dark suits and red ties without their coronation robes when a free people forgets its origins. “Mad King George” disguises himself as the people’s sole protector against barbarian invaders who threaten his realm. “Mad King George” throws a fit as defender of the republic, and once again raids the nation’s treasury to protect an anxious people from the threat that comes from his head.
This morning, King George III, acting under the limited powers granted a president by the U.S. Constitution, declared a national emergency to stop the invasion from the southern border. Announcing his decision in the White House Rose Garden, he declared, as he had centuries before in England:
“Anyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.”
I never believed in ghosts, but I do believe experience is our best teacher. Some ghosts come back to haunt us. After all these years, the ghost of “Mad King George” has emigrated to the colonies to reclaim the subjects he once lost.
“Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.
“For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.
“So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.
“Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.
“I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.
“But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.
Trump is a troll
And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.
And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.
There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.
Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.
Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.
And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.
Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.
He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.
He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.
And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.
That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.
There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.
So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.
This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.
After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form;
he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit
His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.
God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.
He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart
In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.
And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:
‘My God… what… have… I… created?
If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.
“She’s confused — and he’s confusing,” said my son, following lunch with an old married couple he’d met for the first time. Remove the gender specificity (‘he’ and ‘she’) peculiar to that lunch conversation, and it could describe many conversations across America in 2019. Our talk is confusing, and our hearing is confused.
Daily conversations — real ones in real time at Starbucks or virtual ones like Twitter — often take me back me to that scene that in the restaurant, and Douglas’ Readers Digest condensed version of it. Which of us is confusing? Which of us is confused? Confusing and confusion are now epidemic in America. Like the old married couple who made no sense to each other, we seem resigned to living in separate stalls at opposite ends of the barn.
For people like my son who want to avoid the confused-confusion conundrum of their parents’ generation, The Guardian published a a spoof story announcing the roll-out of a new app promising to bring better match-ups for prospective partners. It’s called “Tudder”.
Click “Tinder-style app for cows tries to help the meat market” to open the link to BBC story. If Tudder succeeds in matching up bovines with compatible, un-confusing or un-confused stall mates, might Tudder work for us? Tudder’s Chief Executive Officer doesn’t think so. He offers the opinion that matching breeding livestock “should be even easier than matching people.”
But don’t you have to wonder whether human Match-Up apps might improve their effectiveness by adopting the template of Tudder, or would the patent theft only contribute further to the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic in the barn called America?
— Gordon C. Stewart, writing from a stall in Chaska, MN, Feb. 13, 2019.
Viewing former NASA Space Shuttle Pilot Mark Kelly‘s video this morning, the day we face the possibility of another government shutdown, inspires hope for a wiser future. NASA photograph of Earth as the Blue Marble invites us to recognize we’re all in this together.
Click Full Speed Ahead for Mark Kelly’s announcement of his candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2020. Mark Kelly is joined by his wife, former U.S. Congressional Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose formal public service came to an abrupt end with a near-fatal shot to the head on January 8, 2011. Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly became leading voices for responsible gun control in the U.S.
It’s gloomy out here. The snow. Temperatures to freeze a polar bear or roast a pig. Another government shutdown looming. Mistrust and hate hanging like storm clouds over family reunions, Washington, D.C, and your state capitol. Regardless of differing persuasions, we could use some rays of sunlight — things to cheer us up. Things to help us take ourselves a little less seriously.
2. Have dinner at Chik-fil-A to support biblical principles
1. Move to Moscow
Whether you’re blue or red or purple, be positive. Cheer up. It could get worse. Do your civic duty.
Stay right where you are. Take deep breaths. Don’t drink or smoke too much . . . well, maybe just a little. Eat healthy meals. Take a nap every day. Listen deeply. Speak, as best you can, in ways that won’t send Uncle George or Aunt Gladys out the door in a huff. Be as patient with others as your dog is with you. And, when all else fails, remember the question put to those who were certain they were right. “How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? Before you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own” [Jesus of Nazareth; Gospel of Matthew 7:4-5 NRSV].
If you want to stop turning red as a beet and getting the blues, remember that logs — like eyes and skin — come in many colors. Be gentle with others. Be gentle with yourself. Thanks for coming by Views from the Edge.
Thomas Wolfe had it right. “You can’t go home again.” But he was only half right. Memory is the gauge of the deepest affections that feel like home. For 11 years Knox Church in Cincinnati was my spiritual home. That was 25 years ago (1983-1994), but by memory and affection, it was yesterday. Calendars and clocks mean nothing to the time of the heart.
Preparing for the visit, I recalled Charlie Chaplin‘s surprise when he reportedly entered a Charlie Chaplin Look-Alike Contest in Monte Carlo and came in third. Would I come in third in my own look-alike contest? Whose faces would I recognize after all these years? Would they recognize me? Would my slow pace and weathered face contradict memory’s sense of home-coming?
Back at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport (MSP), a golf cart driver who assists less abled passengers had given me a ride to the farthest gate of Concourse E. “Where you headed?” he’d asked. “Gate so-and so, Terminal E,” I answered. “Hop on. You’d never been able to walk that far,” he said with a smile, and began to weave through the pedestrian passengers down the interminable corridor to the last gate of Concourse E.
Knox members Bob and Connie had been assigned to welcome home their old friend at baggage claim. At the Cincinnati Airport, there was not a golf cart in sight for passengers with a bad back or hips. Limping along the long concourse toward baggage claim, the story of Charlie in Monte Carlo lightened my load.
Tired and sore from the second long walk, I spotted a man on a balcony looking down at the arriving passengers. By the time I came into his view, the other passengers from Delta Flight 5277 had come and gone. The Bob I knew years ago was immaculately dressed — gray suit, white shirt and tie, and a well-polished pair of Allen Edmonds. The man on the balcony was casually dressed in a polo shirt and khakis. As I drew closer, I looked up; he looked down. I squinted. He squinted. After a closer look, visions of Simon and Garfunkel singing “Old Friends” danced in my head. I waved to Bob. Bob waved to me, two old retired friends together again after 25 years.
Walking to the car, I noticed something unusual. Bob was wearing my shoes! I’d had my mousy-looking Ecco walking shoes for five years. Never, never, never had I seen them on someone else’s feet. They’re ugly, and as far from Allen Edmonds as my Gate was from baggage claim! “Most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn,” said Bob.
After all these years, Knoxfit like an old shoe. Thomas Wolfe never had it so good. Thomas Wolfe never flew home to Cincinnati!
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 11, 2019.