Winners and Losers

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Minnesotans were big losers last night. The Vikings lost 38-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau, “Grumpy Old Men”

Floridians were also losers. The Jacksonville Jaguars lost 24-20 to the New England Patriots.

Minnesotans and the North Floridians are both grumpy today. But there’s on big difference between the grumpy old men facing a depressing winter on the Florida coast and the Minnesotans up north in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

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Minnesota ice fishing houses

We get to go ice fishing!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018

 

Philadelphia Mean and Minnesota Nice

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Being candid is not always wise. But, some days, like today, it feels like a requirement.

Yesterday my adopted team, the Minnesota Vikings, brought “Minnesota Nice” — everyone’s supposed to be “nice” in Minnesota — into the stadium of Philadelphia Mean. Philadelphia fans are as known for their meanness as Minnesotans are for Minnesota Nice.

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Philadelphia Eagles fan throwing beer bottle

Philadelphia fans weren’t nice! They threw beer bottles at Vikings fans. They ridiculed their Minnesota guests by chanting “Skol!” when the Vikings did belly-flops. And that was just up in the stands! Down on the field, it was worse. The Eagles were mean. The Vikings didn’t play football. They played nice, and they got whooped!

In case you’re wondering why Views from the Edge is spending time on a football game, let me explain.

I’m a relative newcomer to Minnesota Nice, a 1994 transplant from Philadelphia Mean. But I was never an Eagles fan. Phillies? Yes. Eagles? No. But my brothers and high school friends are. They love the Eagles. So a part of me is happy for my brothers Bob and Don and my old Philadelphia classmates. I’m trying to be nice, but it doesn’t come naturally.

It gets more complicated. The New England Patriots will bring New England Haughty to U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis for the Super Bowl that was supposed to include the Minnesota Vikings. My family roots are in Boston (my father) and Maine (my mother). All my relatives — ALL of them — except for brothers Bob and Don, will be cheering for the New England Haughties on Feb. 4.

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U.S. Bank Stadium, host of the 2018 Super Bowl

When the Eagles take the field against the Patriots in the Vikings’ home stadium, I’ll be a bit conflicted. But, here’s the thing, to be quite candid. I’ll be in Florida with my less conflicted brothers Bob and Don. I’ll shout “Skol!” for the Eagles and privately give thanks that being patriotic isn’t Patriot-ic, and that life is not a football game.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018.

Different Shutdowns

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Edward Hicks — Peaceable Kingdom

There are shutdowns that make us cringe and there are shutdowns that bring us to our better selves. This year the two kinds overlapped. Both shutdowns are about economics, i.e., how we live together in the one house in which we all dwell for a speck of time on a small planet in a vast universe. The English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek word for ‘house’ and the management, or governance, of the one house in which we live.

In previous essays on Views from the Edge and chapters of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, we have sought to point to this saner view of life together in the nation and the planet. Saying it again feels like banging my head against a wall, but the coalescence of the government shutdown date and the Jewish Sabbath commandment to shut everything down — Shabbat — prompts this reflection.

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Shabbat meal

 

The Hebrew word ‘Shabbat’ comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The shutdown in Washington, D.C. and the Fourth Commandment shutdown could not be more different. The one is a product of control; the latter is about ending the illusions that come from production.

“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God.  You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” — Exodus 20:8-11 [Complete Jewish Bible].

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Migrant workers in someone else’s field.

You don’t have to be a seven-day creationist to “get” the meaning of the Hebrew Scripture’s call to stop and think. Step back. Pause. Respect your son, your daughter, your workers, the animals, and the foreigners within your national borders. Shabbat is not just the owners of the means of production but for ALL who labor under the yoke — an enduring sign and call of a better household management (economics) yet to come in the one house (the economy) in which we all live.

Practicing his Jewish faith, Jesus of Nazareth kept Shabbat and aligned himself with the laborers when he invited would be followers to join him in a kind of revolution that would turn the tables on the money-changers and lift up the have nots: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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Oxen laboring under a heavy yoke

 

Jesus was comparing the landless poor to oxen in the the fields of production, driven hard under a yoke that chafes and cuts into the oxen’s neck and shoulder, the yoke of economic cruelty and the burden that is anything but light. Rabbi Jesus was invoking the substance of the Fourth Commandment: the vision and practice of Shabbat economics.

Could the juxtaposition of the different shutdowns be clearer than when they are invoked on the same day of the week?

Shabbat Shalom,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018

 

 

 

 

Prayer for the Nation 1/20/18

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Fold your hands this January 20, 2018 — even if you think prayer is for the birds. The language is dated. But on the day of the shutdown one year after the Inauguration, Walter Rauschenbusch’s 1909 prayer “Against the Servants of Mammon” is as current as current can be.

Against the Servants of Mammon

We cry to thee for justice, O Lord, for our soul is weary with the iniquity of greed. Behold the servants of Mammon, who defy thee and drain their fellow men and women for gain; who grind down the strength of the workers by merciless toil and fling them aside when they are mangled and worn; who rack-rent the poor and make dear the space and air which thou has made free; who paralyze the hand of justice by corruption and blind the eyes of the people by lies; who nullify by their craft the merciless laws which nobler people have devised for the protection of the weak; who have made us ashamed of our dear country by their defilements and have turned our holy freedom into a hollow name; who have brought upon thy Church the contempt of men [and women] and have cloaked their extortion with the gospel of Christ.

“For the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy now do thou arise, O Lord; for because thou art love, and tender as a mother to the weak, therefore thou art the great hater of iniquity and thy doom is upon those who grow rich on the poverty of thy people.

O God, we are afraid, for the thundercloud of thy wrath is even now black above us. In the ruins of dead empires we have read how thou hast trodden the wine-press of thine anger when the measure of their sin was full. We are sick at heart when we remember that by the greed of those who enslaved a weaker race that curse was fastened upon us all which still lies black and hopeless across the land, though the blood of a nation was spilled to atone. Save our people from being dragged down into vaster guilt and woe by men who have no vision and know no law except their lust. Shake their souls with awe of thee that they may cease. Help us with clean hands to tear the web which they have woven about us and to turn our people back to thy law, lest the mark of the beast stand out on the right hand and forehead of our nation and our feet be set on the downward path of darkness from which there is no return.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “Against the Servants of Mammon” published in Prayers of the Social Awakening, Pilgrim Press, 1910.

Like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, most of us don’t use the word ‘Mammon’ anymore, but its odor is no less foul than when Jesus spoke of it in the first century of the Common Era. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

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— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2018.

 

 

Visual Poetry: Go fly a kite

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A kite flying above the Illinois prairie invites the viewer to hear the Sound of Silence.

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“Visual Poetry” – Photo by Steve Shoemaker, 2014

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Steve Shoemaker welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana. IL

Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ kite-flying poet whose poetry blessed Views from the Edge readers, shared this photo from the Shoemaker prairie home near Urbana, Illinois in 2014.

Steve didn’t live to see the changing of the guard one year ago today. On the anniversary of the 2017 inauguration, pancreatic cancer has silenced Steve’s Views from the Edge posts, but his poetry and “Visual Poetry,” as he called this photograph, still speak clearly. Like the kite in the photograph and the photo of Steve towering over President Bill Clinton, Steve still invites us to “go fly a kite” for a better time. RIP.

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

 

RAPIDLY. BLINKING.

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Elijah laughing with Grandma – pure joy

A good laugh is medicine for the soul. Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY post “RAPIDLY. BLINKING.” brought Norman Cousins to mind the day of the shutdown.

SERENDIPITY

I was standing next to the bed. Blinking. Rapidly. Garry looked at me. I must have appeared to be in pain or something because he said: “Are you okay?”

He can’t blink.

“Yes,” I said, blinking and frowning. “I was putting the gunk on my rash? So after that, I washed my hands. I must not have washed them enough, because I think I touched my eyes and now my eyes are burning. I suppose I got some of the gunk in my eyes.”

By then, I was trying to rub my eyes with the back of my wrists since apparently my fingers were not eye-worthy.

Garry started to laugh. Then I started to laugh. We both kept laughing.

“One thing always leads to another,” I cackled.

He went back to watching the movie. I found the eye drops. Everything is hilarious. Of course, I suppose it could also be tragic and dramatic.

It’s…

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Grandpa, what’s a shutdown?

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Elijah with Grandpa: “I don’t like that, Grandpa!”

Watching the news last night, Elijah was worried.

Grandpa! What’s a shutdown?

Well, Elijah, let me think. You’re just eight-months old. Let’s try this. If your Mom decided not to feed you anymore, that would be a shutdown.

Mom’s not going to feed me anymore? Mom and I were on the NEWS?

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Elijah with Mom

No, no, Mom’s not going to shutdown your feeding. She loves you very much. I’m just saying that’s what a shutdown is like.

So, who’s being shutdown?

The government.

What’s a government?

It’s what keeps us together in a democracy.

What’s a democracy?

Actually, I mis-spoke. We’re not a democracy. We’re a democratic Republic, a representative democracy. We govern ourselves by electing people to represent us in Congress and the Presidency.

Did all those people die? Did they get shutdown?

No, Elijah, they’re the ones who are threatening to shutdown the government.

Why, Grandpa?

Because they’ve forgotten why they’re there. They’re confusing government with a sandbox. It’s not. The government belongs to the American people. They’re acting like kindergarteners throwing sand at each other in the kindergarten sandbox. If they keep doing this, there’s be no sand left. The sandbox itself will be gone. It’ll all be shut down.

I don’t like that, Grandpa, and I don’t like the way you’re talking. You’re making fun of kindergarteners!

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Kindergarteners working together in the sandbox

You’re right, Elijah, I shouldn’t make fun of kindergarteners. Kindergarteners are better than that. They’re adults. They’re not acting like children. If they acted like children, we might be better off. Like the psalmist said,

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 82:3)

Thanks, Grandpa. I like the psalmist. Will their Moms shut them down if they shut down the government?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 19, 2018.

AN AMERICAN DILEMMA

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Kay Stewart in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Gordon has asked me to write a post encouraging readers to feed their brains a most remarkable, very long, edited version of The Age of Outrage, a lecture by Professor Jonathan Haidt.

Once I disciplined myself to stay with it, I couldn’t get enough. Brain food provided by a most remarkable mind-chef. Haidt has thought about our present state of polarized dialogue for a long time.

This lecture illuminates and translates and fascinates. Best of all, it frustrates FEAR and illustrates HOPE—something sorely needed in our current collective stalemate.  Power-packed with research, it articulates the issues clear as a bell. But, only if you are patient and keep reading.

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Haidt provided me brain food, lifting me from maze-filled conundrums of ugliness to a way to some light at the end of a well worn tunnel called civilization.

I do have hope and always have—this Eeyore-soul of mine just can’t live in doom for very long while alive—but I now see an articulated way through the despair, as this wise professor has a bigger brain than any I’m used to reading. So wise. So substantial.

Lifting up a few highlights from my personal enthusiasm:

  1. For years, I have been saying “If we don’t educate our children, teach them how to think, we simply won’t have a democracy to save.” Haidt says it too. Vindication is sweet. Of course others have said it many times, repeatedly, yet it still remains on the bottom of the list of our national priorities and funding
  2. Raising our children to handle “undifferentiated play”. When my youngest was in a progressive Austin, Texas elementary school, the school district eliminated the only free time in his entire day—20 minutes on the playground after lunch. The rest of his day was organized, supervised and regulated. Since the Vietnam War Moratorium days, it was the closest I ever came to carrying a protest sign in front of the school with other mothers who cared deeply about their kids getting a chance to develop social wisdom, a skill cultivated by kinds when allowed to be themselves with a pocket of free time all among equals on the school playground. A skill they will be required to be good at in negotiating the rest of their social lives.

So, in a nutshell, I recommend you read this transcript. Print it out and carry it around. Anchor it, tether it to the status quo. Believe in the power of a changing paradigm. We sorely need it about now.

  • Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN

Click “The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities” to read and comment on Jonathan Heidt’s reflections.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 19, 2018.

 

 

 

Just when we thought …

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Just when those of us schooled in progressive schools of thought had become confident that the old schools of thought were dead, that old doctrine we love to hate — original sin — begs for reconsideration.

Progressives of every stripe view original sin as toxic waste material best left behind in the guarded cemetery of bad ideas. Whether secular humanist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, animist, atheist, agnostic or whatever progressive school of thought, the idea of progress in one form or another has united us against the nay-saying disparagers of basic human goodness.

Then along comes the American election of 2016 and the year that leaves us in shock. January 20, 2017 the nation’s first African-American President handed the Oval Office and the nuclear codes to the primary funder and spokesperson of the Birther-movement determined to erase all things Obama.

Suddenly the reign of sin and death has made a comeback. The sins are ‘original’ both in the old sense of infecting the entire body and freshly creative beyond imagination.

The idea of “sin” itself —  not just “original” sin — had fallen into disrepute, a relic of unenlightened religious orthodoxy until it started to best describe the behaviors of the Oval Office. The arc of the new American administration and Congress looked anything like a rainbow.

“Sin, guilt, neurosis; they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge.” Sound like unenlightened orthodoxy paraphrasing the story of the Garden of Eden?

51F+WLhaYmL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_It was Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Cancer and other books were blacklisted by American publishers as obscene, who looked deeply into himself and the human condition, sounding like the Genesis writer. Or, God forbid, St. Augustine of Hippo or John Calvin.

Neither Augustine nor Calvin meant by original sin or total depravity that life is without an underlying goodness. Like Miller, they pointed to something that is as without explanation as the sudden appearance of the serpent in the Garden of Eden story: our inexplicable proneness to evil and slothfulness in good.

 J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the bomb, lamented, as though peering ahead to 2017-2018 when two little boys in the White House and North Korea would call each other names while playing with nuclear matches:

  • Despite the vision and farseeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists have felt the peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons as they were in fact used dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
    • Physics in the Contemporary World, Arthur D. Little Memorial Lecture at M.I.T. (25 November 1947)

The old biblical serpent is never far away. The vulgarity of sin and death is the story of our time.

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1909 painting The Worship of Mammon, the New Testament representation and personification of material greed, by Evelyn De Morgan.

Eating from the ONE and only tree of all the trees from which we cannot eat without bringing on our own destruction —  the forbidden Promethean kind of knowledge that divides the world into good (us) and evil (them) — we now wonder how the Seven Deadly Sins not only sit upon the throne of the enlightened democratic republic we thought we knew but infect all who, quite originally, only see evil outside ourselves.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….” – Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 18, 2018

A speck in the sand

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Sometimes I feel like a speck in the sand. My insignificance to the shifting sands of time once led me to despair. But the shifting sands of later years have turned the sense of smallness into awe and gratitude. Joshi Daniel’s photo “A Speck in the Sand” inspires a joyful meditation.

Joshi and I met at The College of Wooster. My recollection is that Joshi cleverly disguised himself as an empty pew while I was in the pulpit in McGaw Chapel.  Just two specks in the sand temporarily shifted to India and Minnesota.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 16, 2018

Joshi Daniel Photography

Photograph of Dinu Varghese sitting on a sand dune in United Arab Emirates Dinu Varghese | United Arab Emirates

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With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The photo of the Haitian immigrant’s son graduating at West Point is worth a thousand words, but the words place the tears in context on Martin Luther King Day. “Only love can do that.”

Live & Learn

As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear.

He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”

“I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me.

“Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Idrache wrote. “I could not help but…

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Martin Luther King Day 2018 – Making America Great Again

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Today Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream seems further from reality than it was a year ago. Events of 2018 have turned America into an international horror show, a source of ridicule among our closest traditional allies, and the home less of the brave than of white supremacy and white nationalist movements that are making America small again.

Dr. King called for making America great. Not great according the past reign of white supremacy and nationalism which we thought we’d overcome, but great as a lofty aspiration and spiritual-moral-economic task.

Every day we choose what greatness is. Every day we choose what to believe. Every day we choose who we are and who we will become. Dr. King’s own voice says it best.

“The long arc of history bends toward justice.” I do believe. I have to believe deep in my heart that we shall overcome someday. To do less would be to die before I die.

— Gordon C. Stewart, MLK Day, January 15, 2018.

 

Grandpa, who’s chasing you?

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Grandpa being chased

What are you talking about, Elijah? No one’s chasing me.

You just said you were being chased. So, who’s chasing you?

No, I didn’t say I was chased. I said I was chastened.

What’s that? Isn’t that like a pluperfect of chased?

No, it’s different, but it does make me want to run away. I don’t like being chastened. You won’t either when you’re old enough to be chastened, although, come to think of it, I’ve already chastened you for keeping Mom up all night.

I remember that. You made me feel bad. That wasn’t right, Grandpa! I just needed to eat! You don’t care about my needs! Mom’s going to chasten you!

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Elijah & 7.5 months

You’re right, Elijah. You just chastened me and I feel rightly chastened.

Good. So you won’t do that again, right?

I wish I could promise you that I won’t, but it wouldn’t be right to promise. I’m sure you’ll be chastened many times over your lifetime. Sometimes you’ll be chastened even by your Mom. And, if I think you’re doing something hurtful, I will chasten you for your own good.

Okay, Grandpa. I’ll do the same.

That’s a deal.

So who made you feel chastened this week? Was it Grandma?

No, it was two professional colleagues. Bill chastened me on Facebook for something I’d written on Views from the Edge. Here’s what Bill said on Facebook. It hurt my feelings.

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Andy Borowitz

“Borowitz does satire better, and this piece is just wishful thinking, which isn’t really satire. We need people to focus on actually changing our national discourse.”

That’s over my head, Grandpa? Who’s Borowitz? What’s wishful thinking? What’s satire? What’s national discourse?

We’ll get to those questions later, Elijah. We don’t have time now. Here’s the second chastening.

Kara Root — she’s another minister here in Minneapolis — wrote something to her congregation that made me feel chastened. She invited the members of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church to join her in prayer for our country every Friday morning.

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Kara Root

Here’s what Kara said:

“I’m going to pray for the nation this morning. Every Friday morning this is happening in our sanctuary. It helps me remember what I know to be true. It helps me let go of the noise, and the vitriol, and the division we feed, and feed on, so eagerly.

“This practice feels brave. And healing. And important. Sometimes I find gratitude, and even tenderness, for the people that make up this country, every single one of them.”

Yeah! Every single one of them! That’s good, Grandpa. Not like President You-Know-Who!

Ahhhh, but here’s the thing, Elijah. It does include President Trump. “Every single one of us” includes Donald. That’s what makes me feel chastened. All my life I’ve felt chased by Adolf Hitler. I always wondered whether I would have had the courage to stand up against him. Standing up to Hitler has been like a lifelong preoccupation. Anytime I see things that remind me of Adolf, I go a little crazy.

So someone IS chasing you, but you’ve stopped running! That’s good.

No, it’s not. Like Bill’s criticism of me on Facebook said, we need to change our national discourse.

I’m not praying for President You-Know-Who! I’m standing my ground!

You can’t stand your ground yet, Elijah. You can’t even stand without help. None of us can. Jesus talked about loving our enemies. He said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Okay, I’ll pray for Bill and Kara ’cause they chastened you, but I won’t pray for You-Know-Who!

You have to, Elijah. We all have to.

No we don’t. I’m not do it! I don’t like You-Know-Who!

Praying for President Trump doesn’t mean you like him or accept his behavior. It means hoping for a change in his character. It means hoping that Donald will have a change of heart and mind, that he’ll stop running from whoever’s chasing him. That he’ll settle down. Be calm.

Maybe Donald also being chased by Hitler. I don’t know.

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If we refuse to pray for ALL people, instead of just the people we like, we’re running away from our best selves. That doesn’t do any good, Elijah. It allows evil to chase us. It contributes to evil, and we should be chastised. If we don’t pray like Kara and the good people of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, all our talk about faith, love, and hope is meaningless.

Kara Root, Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 2018

Okay, Grandpa. If I have to, I’ll try to be more like Kara. I want to be good, but this faith, love, and hope stuff is really, really hard!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Granda), Chaska, MN, January 14, 2018.

I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing

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This piece opened my day. Maybe it will open yours — and your sense of joy — also. Its sensibility is akin to watching the Manatees in “Stillness at Blue Spring” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 3-4). Thanks to Kay and her friend Mary for bringing it to my attention. It’s pure joy!

Live & Learn

A few years ago in a forest in northeast India, I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounded meteorological, but it was the wingbeats of a pair of great hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They had massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they looked like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clambered around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, I found myself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It had nothing to do with what I wanted or what I possessed. It was the sheer gorgeous fact of the great hornbill, which couldn’t have cared less about me.

The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value. They are always among us but never of us. They’re the other world-dominating animals that evolution has…

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Elijah: “Grandpa, What’s Hope?”

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Elijah @ seven-an-half months

Grandpa and Elijah’s conversation about love and faith led to further conversation about hope. Like most conversations between a seven-and-a-half month old grandson and a 75 year old grandfather, it’s a bit convoluted.

Grandpa, now that I know all about love and faith, tell me about hope.

I hope you don’t mind my saying so, Elijah, but you’ll never know all about love or faith or hope, but that’s okay. You’ll learn later how little even the oldest people on the planet know.

We’re on a planet?!!!

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

NASA photo of planet Earth

Yes, we’re on planet Earth.

Wow! Where’s Earth? Will I ever get to go somewhere else?

No, I don’t think so. We’re Earthlings. Earth is our home.

Uh-uh. Edina’s my home! Mom said so. And my daycare’s somewhere else. You’re messing with my brain, Grandpa!

Well, Edina and Chaska aren’t planets. They’re tiny towns on planet Earth in the Milky Way in a vast universe.

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Milky Way galaxy

Mom loves Milky Ways. I hope someday I can have one. I hope Mom will share one of her Milky Ways when I start eating solids.

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Milky Ways

Aha! See, you ALREADY know what hope is!

So hope’s like hunger?

Sort of. I hadn’t thought of it as hunger, but I guess it is in a way. Hope is food for the soul. Hope is desire for something you don’t yet have, or for what you haven’t yet become.

Like being able to walk, right?

Yes. Like that. Hope is always ahead of us. We’re always reaching toward it. Hope requires us to crawl rather than run. It’s a slow crawl. It’s hard. It’s the opposite of despair.

Pretty soon I’ll be done with hope! I’ll just need faith and love, right? I’m going to walk pretty soon. I can just feel it in my bones! I’m certain of it. I don’t need hope!

Yes you do, Elijah. You do. You can’t be certain of anything. You could get hit by a car and die before you learn to walk and talk.

That’s mean, Granda! Why’d you say that? So life is cruel. God’s mean! I’m going be an atheist!

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Hope and Despair

Well, you can be, if you want. But atheism is its own kind of certainty. Certainty is the opposite of faith, Elijah, and, like we already talked about, everyone has some kind of faith. And despair is the opposite of hope. Everyone has some kind of faith and hope. Otherwise we’d be in despair. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

Yeah, like the planet. We can’t see the planet, right, Granda? We have faith and hope for the planet, right?

Right. Planet Earth is in danger right now, Elijah. I want you to grow up on the good green Earth the way I did, and I’m sad because I’m afraid you won’t. The Milky Way’s not in danger, but Earth is.

Yeah! I sure hope Mom drives carefully on the way to daycare! I’ll tell her to leave her Milky Ways in tiny Edina. Otherwise Earth might get eaten up!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa), Chaska, MN, January 13, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future Perfect President

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Elijah and Grandma are playing peek-a-boo this morning after his mother texted last night that Elijah is “the p-e-r-f-e-c-t baby.” He’s not. He has a cold, and Grandma doesn’t have Kleenex or a handkerchief. She needs your help. Get some Kleenex or a hanky and  take a good look at America’s future perfect President.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, hours before Elijah’s doctor’s appointment this afternoon, January 12, 2018.

 

White makes right! Right, Grandpa?

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Yesterday’s conversation between seven-and-a-half month old Elijah and Grandpa while Grandpa was oohing-and-awing reading aloud “The Lowest White Man” (Charles M. Blow, NYT, Jan. 11, 2018) in Elijah’s presence. This was before the evening news of the President calling African nations ‘sh**hole nations’.

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Elijah and Grandma Kay

Grandpa, we’re right, right?

About what, Elijah? Right can mean lots of things.

Like what?

It can mean ‘correct’. Right can be a direction, like “turn right” instead of left. In politics right means the opposite of left, like the alt-Right. There’s an old saying that Might makes right, but it doesn’t, Elijah.

Yeah. But we’re right, right?

Sometimes we are. Sometimes we aren’t. And when we aren’t we need to change.

Change what? Mom changes my diapers. Change what? What do you mean ‘we’? Who’s ‘we’?

Well, you heard what Charles M. Blow just said, and Charles Blow wasn’t blowing smoke, Elijah. He spoke the truth, like W.E.B. Dubois and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Yeah, we’re white, right? That makes us right!

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President Obama, Jan. 5, 2016

No, you’re not white. You’re like President Obama. You weren’t listening to Charles. Listen again:

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

(Charles M. Blow, ‘The Lowest White Man’ NYT)

Wow! White doesn’t make right! What’s a colored man, Grandpa? 

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon), Chaska, MN, January 12, 2018.

 

 

 

 

IS THERE LIFE WITHOUT COMPUTERS?

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Cabin life is nice when I can get it, but Marilyn Armstrong’s wonky SERENDIPITY sense of reality (SCROLL DOWN) did it again this morning. It brought me to my senses with a chuckle.

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Author David McCullough at manual typewriter

Only David McCullough with his manual typewriter is exempt. David does all his writing from his trusty manual typewriter. No word processor cutting, pasting, erasing.

I’m no David McCullough! Neither is Marilyn. But only one of us is forthright about the computer addiction.

Marilyn and I have never met face-to-face. We became “friends” through the blogosphere. But I did meet David McCullough years ago while hosting him as Moderator of the Westminster Town Hall Forum. Wise. Genuinely self-effacing. Humble. And wise in an “old-fashioned” sort of way.

Enjoy Marilyn’s lovely post,

Gordon

SERENDIPITY

You see stuff online — Facebook mostly — about “could you live in this lovely (log cabin) house (in the middle of really nowhere) without WiFi? And everyone says “Oh sure! I could live in that great little house — in the middle of a huge woods by a cold lake where the nearest shopping center is 50 miles on dirt roads — forever without so much as a VOIP phone.

Sure you could. NOT.

I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t even want to try. Because that’s not life or at least not my life.

There was a time when I could imagine a life without computers. I think that was before I owned a computer, before every house everywhere had one or many computers. Before every single thing in the house got “connected” and computerized in some way. Before your toilet got so smart you have to argue with…

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Grandpa, what’s faith?

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Grandpa, who’s Faith?

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Elijah reading

She’s our good friend, Elijah. We don’t see her very often. You’ve only met her once. You were too little to remember Faith. You were just a newborn.  Why are you asking about Faith? Was Grandma talking with Faith on the phone?

No. You were just talking about her! Sometimes I wonder, Grandpa. You just said her name! Remember?

Oh, THAT faith! That’s not Faith. That’s faith.

Are you in love with Faith, Grandpa?

No, THAT kind of faith isn’t Faith, it’s right next to love, but it’s not that kind of love.

Grandma says you sometimes preached over peoples’ heads. I asked Grandma what preaching over peoples’ heads means. She told me. I think you’re doing it again in retirement. Grandma says you can’t help yourself. I bet Faith thinks the same thing. That’s why she doesn’t come around anymore.

Elijah, you’re getting a little sassy this morning. That diminishes my faith in our ability to have a good conversation. Maybe we put faith away for awhile until after we’ve taken our naps.

Okay. What’s sassy?

Sassy is smart-alecky, being too big for your britches. It’s not nice. It’s not like love.

I’m sorry, Grandpa. What are britches?

They’re pants. They’re what you wear over your Huggies. Being too big for your britches is like forgetting you’re little.

Okay. What about Hope? Is she coming over?

No, hope isn’t a person. Hope is like the faith Grandpa was reading about this morning. It’s what Paul was talking about: faith, hope, and love.

I don’t mean to be sassy, but Paul wasn’t here this morning! Only Grandma, you, and me, Grandpa!

Oh, not THAT Paul. Not our next door neighbor. This Paul’s been dead now for two thousand years, but he’s still speaking. We still read his letters from Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus. I was reading from his letter about faith, hope, and love. Remember?

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Probably Valentin de Boulogne – Saint Paul Writing His Epistles – Google Art Project

Yeah. But I still don’t know what faith is. What’s faith?

You know how when you wake up in the morning you trust that Mom’s going to take good care of you? That’s faith. Faith is trust. And faith doesn’t stop after we’re out of our diapers. Faith lasts a lifetime; it’s one of life’s essentials. We all have faith of some sort or another. But like Paul says, it’s still not as great as love. Love’s the best.

“Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” – Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13:13  [CEB]

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I love you, Grandpa, and I have faith in you. But you’re making me really tired. And, because you love me, too, I hope we can take a nap sooner rather than later before things get sassy again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon) with seven-and-a-half-month-old Grandson, Elijah, Chaska, MN, January 10, 2018.

 

 

 

Oprah, Donald, and Jesse Ventura

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, it got wackier.

A new candidate is being pushed to run for President in 2020. Maybe the last two digits of 2020 — or the first two, for that matter — offer a 20/20 look back at what’s happened to American society.

Maybe a personal anecdote from my 2003 Toyota Avalon experience will shed some light on the weirdness. Bear with me.

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2003 Toyota Avalon XLS 

The Avalon’s a great car. But, like the American Republic, it’s getting older. A month ago, the Avalon’s muffler died. I took it to the nearest shop, Arboretum Tire and Auto (yes, I’m using the real name here, rebuking any fear of a law suit), which replaced the muffler for $412.90 with tax. I thought all was well until a few days later a hard-to-describe grinding sound appeared and grew louder on a seven-hour drive to Chicago for New Year’s weekend with friends.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are not good times for car repairs. The Tuesday following New Year’s, Northbrook Toyota squeezed this out-of-towner into an over-crowded schedule for a look. The mechanic and I took the Avalon for a test drive. He was certain it wasn’t the engine or the transmission. “Sounds like a shield is loose underneath.”

Back at the shop, he put it up on the rack where he discovered the problem. The muffler had not been installed properly. He took photos that visually confirmed what he had found and assured me that I could get home to Minnesota with no problem. It would be an annoyance, but it was safe to drive home to Chaska.

Northbrook Toyota did not charge me for its hour of labor. Not a nickel!

The morning after returning to Minnesota, I took the Avalon to a different shop than the one that had installed the muffler. It was closing time at Chaska Auto Repair, but Jeff welcomed me to the shop, looked at the photos from Northbrook Toyota, saw the problem, and said he could fix it.

So now I had two skilled mechanics who confirmed the noise was caused by an improperly installed muffler.

I took the Avalon back to Arboretum Tire and Auto, explained the problem, and showed them the pictures and the diagnostic note from the Toyota dealer. “I don’t see it,” said the proprietor. “You can’t see it? The Toyota dealer could see it. Chaska Auto’s mechanic can see it. Even I can see it now, and I’m not a mechanic.” “Did Chaska Auto or the Toyota dealer say they would fix it? Get an estimate and give me a call. I don’t see it.”

This morning Jeff at Chaska Auto Repairs did the repairs. No springs had been inserted to cushion vibration, the bolts between two plates had been forced and stripped, and one of the braces that hold the muffler in place was loose, causing the vibration.

I drove back to Arboretum Tire and Auto with a copy of the Chaska Auto Repair receipt for $76.88 including tax that described the work just completed: “Exhaust rattle: Repaired muffler bolts with proper spring bolts and shortened one rear hanger.” Arboretum offered to give me a credit toward future repairs, or they could send me a check. I took the check and told them I wouldn’t be back.

So…back to the point this anecdote intends to illustrate.

Training, skill, experience, hard work, honesty, and a track record of competence in one’s field are no less important for electing people to public office than they are for choosing a mechanic. Oprah and Donald have never held elected office. Ever. They’re entertainers. So was Jesse Ventura, but at least Jesse had served the public as a mayor as well as a wrestler before becoming governor.

There’s a noisy muffler vibrating under America these days. It just got louder last night. Having learned nothing from recent experience, another billionaire entertainer with no qualifications for public office  — who doesn’t love Oprah! How can you not love Oprah! — was cheered on to run for President against the other billionaire entertainer in 2020.

If you want a country that works, get a real mechanic. One who is trained, skilled, experienced, hard working, and honest with a track record that demonstrates competence in the field. Otherwise, you may get a “credit” for future repairs done by a high profile entertainer or a bad business. Public office is not a show. Not a prize. Not a popularity contest. And it’s not dirty! It’s a nothing less than a sacred calling.

481px-Snellen_chart“Civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.” — John Calvin, 1559 version of Institutes of the Christian Religion.

On the way to 2020, maybe a little hindsight may help create 20/20 vision in America before it gets even wackier than it just got.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 9, 2018.

Elijah: “Grandpa, What’s Love?” (Part 2)

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Elijah, our conversation about love fell short. It missed the boat.

What boat? Were you playing in my bathtub?

No, it’s an expression. To miss the boat means our discussion fell short.

What’s wrong with that? I’m short. So are you, Grandpa!

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Elijah talking with Grandpa about love.

No. Not that kind of short, Elijah. Lots of people are short. Again, it’s just an expression. It means it didn’t quite get where I should have taken the conversation.

Yeah, I love expressions. Let’s stick with expressions. I’m too little for adult conversation.

Well, that’s what I want to talk about. You’re still little, but your view of yourself and the world is being shaped every day by the adult world, and my answer to your question fell short.

Did you fall again, Grandpa? I heard a noise but I didn’t know you fell! You should be more careful on those stairs. Like Grandma says all the time, you should tie your shoelaces!

Okay. No, Grandpa didn’t fall. I mean we never got to the deeper meanings of love. I slipped by stopping short of introducing you to the deeper philosophical meanings of love. I left you with the impression that love is attraction. We never got to agápē. Our culture suffers from a very shallow concept of love.

Oh, boy! Here we go! You’re going to get all philosophical and stuff. Just like Aunt Bonnie says, sometimes you talk over our heads! She hates philosophy. People don’t like that, Grandpa. Grandma says that’s why you retired from preaching. You were missing the boat of clear communication. Grandma was hoping you’d finally tied those shoelaces when you hung up your boots to retire. You didn’t. That’s why you’re still falling!

Aha! You just made my point, Elijah! That’s because Grandma loves me! She doesn’t just love me romantically. That kind of love is eros. She demonstrates agápē love, the highest form of love. It’s the form of love that is unconditional, like the love of God for us. It doesn’t depend on pleasant circumstances. It takes sacrifices to live with me. Big ones! I’m a lot to put up with, Elijah! Every day Grandma goes the second mile.

What’s a mile? If you go there twice, does it make you philosophical?

Yes, it does. Philosophy is wisdom, Elijah. It’s the love of wisdom. All forms of love are important. Philia is important. Eros is important. And agápē is important. They’re all part of who we are as the children of God, grandchildren and grandparents, cousins like you and Calvin, husbands and wives, and neighbors, but, like Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, agápē is the greatest of them all.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love (agapēseis) your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love (agapāte) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?

— Matthew 5:43-46

Wow, Grandpa!  That’s really hard. That doesn’t miss the boat! That’s really philosophical. So…Grandma already has her reward! I want to be like Grandma. Did Jesus get to retire from preaching, like you?

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Sermon on the Mount — Carl Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, January 8, 2018.

Elijah: “Grandpa, what’s love?”

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Elijah love

Photos of Elijah

Grandpa, everywhere I go people say they love me. What’s love?

If I were wise, I’d take a month to read up on it before answering a big question like that, but I’m not, and instant gratification is too slow for a seven-and-a-half month-old grandson, so I’ll give it a shot.

Thanks, Grandpa, gimme your best shot, but don’t hurt me!

Not that kind of shot, Elijah. It’s just one of those expressions.

Yeah, Mom expresses before I go to daycare.

No, not that kind of expression. “I’ll give it a shot” means “I’ll try.”

Okay, try to give it a shot. What’s love?

Well, Elijah, like Frank Sinatra said, love is a many splendored thing. Love means MANY things to many different people.

Grandpa, you’re not giving me your best shot. You’re using a shot gun. Take out your rifle and give it to me straight! What’s love?

Like I said, it’s one of those words that requires lots of thought. We throw it around to express all kinds of feelings but most of them aren’t really love. Like “I love ice Ben and Jerry’s ice cream” and “I love ‘How to Get Away with Murder'” and ‘I love ‘Sesame Street’ or “I love my ‘Huggies’.

Yeah, like I love Lammie!

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You do, Elijah. You do! You express great affection for Lammie. You have a thing between you. The way you feel about Lammie is the way we all feel about you. Everyone just wants to hold you. You make us feel like children again. Your smile makes us smile. Your laugh makes us laugh.

Yeah, like Barclay makes me laugh. I love Barclay. He’s even better than Lammie. He can give me his paw! I love that! “Sit, Barclay! Sit!” 

Yes, I know. Lammie is a stuffed animal. Barclay’s a real one. He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He loves you. But he doesn’t love you and you don’t love him because you can order him around, Elijah.

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Barclay the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Remember, no matter how much you love Lammie, now matter how much you love Barclay, and no matter how much I say I love you, I always love you more than that!

Thanks, Grandpa. That’s a many splendid answer. I’ll always love you, too. But I love Mom more! She expresses herself much more clearly than you do!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, January 7, 2018.

 

 

Trump Cabinet invokes 25th Amendment

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25th_imageNEWS RELEASE

The Dissociative Press
January 7, 2018

Today White House Chief of Staff John Kelly announced the decision of the Trump Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove President Donald J. Trump from office.

The decision to begin the process of removal from office follows the Cabinet members’ review of the report of the president’s medical examination by an Army physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, a report and decision that move the country closer to  a constitutional crisis.

While the Cabinet was acting on the Army physician’s conclusive medical findings of a personality disorder, rapidly progressing early dementia and other evidence of cognitive impairment, President Trump sent out a series of tweets calling the Walter Reed report a conspiracy by the military, the FBI, and the CIA, the equivalent of a military coup, and declaring he will not leave office under any circumstances.

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Mr. Trump immediately fired Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Generals at the center of what Mr. Trump called the military establishment, declaring that the Generals had ordered the Army physician to issue the faux report. Moments later Mr. Trump fired his lawyer and his entire Cabinet with the exception of Attorney General Jeff Session, who had abstained during the 25th Amendment vote, citing potential conflict of interest. Vice President Pence was out of the country for the week.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly called a 10:00 A.M. news conference but was escorted off the White House grounds at 9:31 A.M. by members of the Secret Service. Loyal to the President, Ms. Sanders met White House correspondents on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the gates to the White House property while the President continued to tweet from the White House living quarters to which he and the First Lady had retreated.

Ms. Sanders confirmed Mr. Trump’s assertion that the medical report is a hoax, arguing that the president had reluctantly yielded to General Kelly’s insistence that the medical examination be done at Walter Reed rather than by Mr. Trump’s long-time personal physician to avoid any public perception of a fraudulent report. Ms. Sanders drew the White House correspondents’ attention to Mr. Trump’s 9:47 A.M. re-tweet from his personal physician in New York declaring full confidence in Mr. Trump’s mental competence. “Donald Trump is the sanest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “He’s a genius, and a very stable one, at that.”

A further incoming tweet at 10:07 A.M. quoting First Lady Melania Trump interrupted Ms. Sander’s remarks, which Ms. Sanders read aloud to the press corps:

“I am a political prisoner. Politics is nothing but a cops and robbers game. I know dirty things. I saw dirty things. I am not going to stand for all those dirty tricks that go on. I am sick and tired of the whole operation.They threw me down on the bed, five men, and stuck a needle in my behind. A doctor stitched my fingers after the battle with five guards.”

martha_mitchellHearing Ms. Sanders read aloud the words alleged to have come from the First Lady, a member of the press whose White House coverage dates back to the Nixon Administration opined that the First Lady’s words sounded vaguely familiar before realizing the tweet was a verbatim quotation from Martha Mitchell, wife of the Nixon Administration Attorney General John Mitchell, claiming she had been kidnapped.

“It’s a hoax,” said the White House Correspondent. “Those aren’t the words of the Mrs. Trump. They are the words of Martha Mitchell during the Nixon Administration The tweet is plagiarism!”

Ms. Sanders replied that she had no idea who Martha Mitchell was, that she wasn’t even born until eight years after Nixon resigned, and that the reporter was making stuff up to cover up the faux medical exam and the coup taking place inside the White House. She ended the conference by calling on President Trump’s supporters to take to the streets in defense of the Constitution and the greatest president ever to serve the country.

220px-Charlottesville_Unite_the_Right_Rally_(35780274914)Within minutes the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was crowded with arm-to-arm Trump supporters carrying guns and signs with photos of the President’s personal physician, Dr. Strangeglove, and the confederate flag, calling for the resumption of the revolution to Make America Great Again that had been delayled in Charlottesville.

  • Gordon Stewart reporting for Dissociative, Jan. 7, 2018.

Living on the Edge

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An email from Joshi Daniel Photography arrived today, the first anniversary of the publication of 40,000 words. Searching back into the site’s archives, Joshi’s self-portrait “Living on the Edge” seemed to capture the sense of the 40,000 words of Be Still! in one photograph. Joshi and I share a heritage. We are both preacher’s kids who met at The College of Wooster where Joshi was a student. Joshi perched himself on the rock at arms length from my perch on the pulpit of McCaw Chapel. All these years later, Joshi’s still living on the edge with photographs worth a thousand words.

Joshi Daniel Photography

Self-portrait of joshi daniel sitting on the cliff by Bondi beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Self-portrait | Bondi beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A GoProSelf-portrait taken on the cliff by Bondi beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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Epiphany 2018

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One day in advance of Epiphany, we bring you a reading from an unauthorized revision of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23, which some call the GCS Translation:

Now after the wise men from Iran had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, Maria, by night, and went to Canada, and remained there until the impeachment of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Canada I have called my son.”

The Round-Up of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men from Iran, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to round up all the children in and around Charlottesville who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Canada

After Herod had been impeached, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to José in Canada and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the U.S.A., for those who were seeking the child’s life are no more. Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the U.S.A. 

But when José heard that Pence was ruling in place of Herod, he was afraid to go there.

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Statue of Liberty in Nazareth, Texas

And after being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the high plains of the Llano Estacado of Castro County in the State of Texas. There José made his home in a town called Nazareth (pop. 311), so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 — GCS, Chaska, MN, January 5 (the Eve of the Epiphany), 2018.

 

Elijah’s confusion about buttons

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Elijah is confused by the exchange of words about buttons. The following conversation ensued at Grandpa and Grandma’s.

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Big red buttons and little buttons

Grandpa, what’s a button?

Oh, that’s an easy one, Elijah, Every morning your Mom buttons the buttons, or snaps the snaps, on your clothing after she changes your diapers.

I still don’t know what a button is. Is it a verb or a noun? And what’s a ‘snap’?

Okay. Good point. That wasn’t very clear. You asked a simple question. You deserve a simple answer.

Yeah, simple like in “understandable” — not simple like in “stupid”, like we talked about before. Right?

Right. So . . . put your hand on your chest. You’ll feel several round things. They’re called ‘buttons’. Each one of those round things on your outfit is a button.

Okay! I get it. But bigger buttons are better than little buttons, right, Grandpa? My buttons are little. Yours are better.

No, buttons are just buttons. No matter how big or small they are, they’re equally important. They just do the same thing snaps do. Why?

There you go again, Grandpa! Now we’re back to snaps. Are you losing your mind like President You-Know-Who says Steve Bannon did?

No, Elijah, I’m sorry. Forget the snaps. Why are you asking about big buttons and small buttons?

47B5F7F500000578-5232539-President_Donald_Trump_hit_back_at_North_Korea_after_its_leader_-a-15_1515004349600‘Cause Rocketman and President You-Know-Who are talking like they’re the only ones in the whole world who have buttons and the president says his is bigger and more powerful than Rocketman’s, and that his works.  If all buttons are equal, Grandpa, that’s kind of weird, isn’t it?

It is, Elijah. We’re only four days into the new year and it’s already weirder than it was at the end of 2017. It just keeps getting weirder every day. But before we talk more about buttons I want you to be clear that we don’t insult the leader of another country by calling him ‘Rocketman’.

Yeah, it’s hard to be clear. I’m only seven-and-a-half months old! I’m confused ’cause you’re confusing. Give it to me straight. Is the president incontinent?

Where’d you get the idea the president’s incontinent, Elijah?

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Mika Bryzinsky

They said so on ‘Morning Joe’! Mika said President-You-Know-Who’s doctor could find him incontinent next week during his physical exam. Then they could get rid of him with the 25th Amendment and we wouldn’t have to worry any more.

Elijah, I think you’re confusing ‘incontinent’ with ‘incompetent’, although they seem closely related. A president can be removed from office if he’s declared incompetent to serve.

Anyway.  You asked about buttons. I was wrong about buttons. President You-Know-Who — we don’t call him ‘You-Know-Who’ to insult him; we just don’t want his name to be spoken any more than it already is, if we can help it — and Kim Jong un of North Korea have BIG buttons of a different kind. Each of them has a big RED button. Actually, they aren’t buttons but people call them that! If they push those buttons, they can blow up bombs and kill lots of people.

Why?!!! Why would they want to do that?

We’re all wondering that, Elijah. It seems it’s because the big red buttons make them feel powerful. That’s how it is with some really sick people. They like the idea of snapping their fingers and the world goes poof!

Why? I don’t get it! Why would you want to kill lots of people? That’s mean! Quick, Grandpa, get their mothers on Facebook and tell them they’re incontinent. I mean incompetent. Tell their Moms to change their diapers and then give them clothes with little yellow buttons like mine! Maybe President-You-Know-Who and Kim Jong un will feel better without those big red buttons.

Tell their Mom’s to be like Mom! My Mom’s the best!

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Elijah and his Mom

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 4, 2017.

 

 

 

Our Dwelling Place and the Wrath of God

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Six old friends have arrived from Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois for New Year’s Eve in the Dempsey’s living room. A seventh unbidden visitor — pancreatic cancer managed by chemotherapy — makes us freshly aware of our mortality.

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We read aloud Psalm 90 (NRSV), pausing to reflect on each section.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

The great theologian Paul Tillich called this dwelling place “Being-Itself” or “the Ground of Being.”

You turn us back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

We are increasingly aware that we are dust. We are mortals. Our yesterdays far outnumber any tomorrows. But the friend threatened by the cancer that almost always kills is quietly at peace with being turned back to dust. He has always known we are dust.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

Like our late friend Steve, whose life ended with pancreatic cancer, his faith is in something greater than himself, not because he is certain of what will happen when he takes his last breath, but because he is thankful for the days he has been given and trusts that whatever his place may be now, or then, it lies within the Dwelling Place. It is as it should and will be.

For we are consumed by your anger;
    by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    our years come to an end  like a sigh.

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We are unaccustomed to talk of the the wrath of God or the fear of it. We talk of the love of God. We are not of the religion right.

But California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent use of the word springs to the center of the conversation. After a year of a public cancer — lies, name-calling, climate change denial, Charlotteseville, the alt-Right, obscene wealth, greed, and narcissistic grandiosity of little boys with toys threatening nuclear holocaust while eating away the healthy institutional cells on which a democratic republic depends — we have a fresh sense of wrath.

“I don’t think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility,” said Jerry Brown in a ’60 Minutes’ interview. “And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed.”

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.

Who considers the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.

We are students of aging, learning to count our days, aware of the dust to which we turned a blind eye in younger years while establishing ourselves as adults, raising children, and making names for ourselves. In our late 60s and mid-70s life is less a matter of the mind than it is of the heart. We are more aware of the Dwelling Place. Counting our days — and giving thanks for this one day — is the new arithmetic of the wisdom of the heart.

Turn, O Lord! How long?
    Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and prosper for us the work of our hands—
    O prosper the work of our hands!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, January 1, 2018.

Elijah asks about New Year’s

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Elijah asks Grandpa about New Year’s and murder

Grandpa, what’s “murder”?

Oh, my, Elijah, why are you asking about murder on New Year’s Eve? What brought that up?

Marissa, my baby-sitter did. Okay, Grandpa, forget that. What’s a year?

Well, a year is 12 months.

So I’ll be a year older tomorrow?

No. You’re only seven-and-a-half months old.

But tomorrow’s a new year, so I’ll be a year older, right?

No. You can’t be a year older when you’re not yet one year old. You’ll be one year-old on your birthday in four-and-a-half months. Then, a year from your first birthday, you’ll be able to say you’re a year older.

Sometimes you’re really confusing Grandpa! I ask two simple questions and I’m more confused than before I asked you. So the New Year is only for old folks?

new-years-eve-2900120_1280No, it’s for everyone. It just doesn’t have anything to do with being a year older unless you’re already a year old and were born on January 1. But New Year’s isn’t about your birthday. You were born in May.

Okay. So what’s a “new year”? And what’s an old year? Is it like you and me?

It’s not like us, Elijah. It’s different. New Year’s is about hope. It happens every January first, the first day of the new year on the calendar, another 12 months, another 365 days like we’ve never known before. New Year’s is a fresh start! The old year is finished.

No it’s not, Grandpa. What about murder?

This is sounding like a circular argument, Elijah. Somehow you’ve brought us full circle to murder?

Yeah, ‘cause everything got murdered in 2017!

No it didn’t Elijah! You were born in 2017! That’s the opposite of murder. That’s new birth. That’s hope and joy. You’ve brought me joy and hope this last eight months and I hope we have lots of years to talk like this before Grandpa buys the farm.

You’re buying a farm? We already have a cabin. When are you buying the farm?

It’s just an expression, Elijah. “Buying the farm” is a way of talking about death. When you’ve bought the farm, you’re dead.

What’s dead, Grandpa?

It’s like all the stuff that got murdered in 2017 — things like truth — and there’ll be a lot more murders in 2018. But hope springs eternal.

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Yeah! I hope you and truth don’t buy a farm in 2018! Happy New Year, Grandpa!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, December 31, 2017 (the year of murder)

MARTYR – I’M NOT AND YOU AREN’T EITHER

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Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY piece on martyrs and not-martyrs brought smiles, a few chuckles, and nods of the head. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

SERENDIPITY

I don’t know any martyrs. Historically, there are plenty to choose from, but in the context of “real life,” I don’t know any.

I’m not a martyr. Not even close. Whatever sacrifices I have made on behalf of my beliefs, they never came anywhere near martyrdom. Discomfort or disruption to your normal life does not make you a martyr. Taking care of your kids, working at jobs you don’t like, or struggling to survive? None of these make you a martyr.

This is one of those greatly overused words, along with “awesome,” “resonate,” and the ubiquitous “back in the day.”

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How many times have I read “I’m a martyr to housework.” Really? What strange belief system do you follow?

You are not a martyr, even if you are depressed and miserable. If merely being miserable were enough for martyrdom … well … who wouldn’t be one? These days, there…

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New Year’s Gift from the Lutherans

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The First Quarter 2018 Issue of Currents in Theology and Mission published today a review of Be Still!. Currents is the quarterly theological journal of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Click Book Reviews for the review by Edward F. (Ted) Campbell, McCormick Theological Seminary Professor of Old Testament Emeritus.

ELCA-Logo-VerticalThanks to Currents in Theology and Mission editors Craig Nessan (Wartburg Theological Seminary) and Kathleen Billman (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Chicago), and “Book Reviews” editors Ralph Klein, Troy Troftgruben, and Craig Nessen for featuring Be Still! as the first among Currents‘ “Book Reviews” for the First Quarter 2018.

Prayers for grace, peace, stillness, and for small victories of “prophetic” madness over collective madness in 2018.

  • Gordon C. Stewart,  Chaska, MN, December 29, 2017.

 

To Initiate a Contemplative Mood

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Thom Hickey’s The Immortal Jukebox is like no other jukebox. Tune out the noise and turn up the volume. Enjoy this gift for the season from a blogger in Surrey, England. Click the link at the bottom for all the music of this lovely post.

And breathe! To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’. Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist. I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time […]

via Contemplative Christmas 1 — The Immortal Jukebox

Christmas 2017

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And so it came to pass that a child was born in a stalled car in Charlottesville. And the angels sang under the viaduct of joy and peace on earth, good will to all. And a squad car stopped to see what was the matter, and saw the child and his Mexican parents huddled in the car with an expired license.

And when the officer saw the scene, he didn’t ask for identification or give the parents a ticket or turn them over to ICE.  He held the child in his arms, invited the family into his warm squad car, and radioed ahead to his wife to prepare for them the room they had decorated for the infant child they had just lost.

And so it was that on Christmas in the year 2017, another child was born and cared for by strangers whose better angels ignored Herod’s reign of terror to make a home for the homeless God.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christmas Day, 2017.

 

 

Seasons Greetings

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This Christmas Eve we write to thank you for reading Views from the Edge and to share with our readers this Seasons Greetings letter and photos sent to those nearest and dearest to us.happy-holidays

Dear Friends,

2017 brought into our lives two new grandsons, Elijah (7 mos.) and Calvin (one mo.) and the joy that comes with the innocence of children. Fortunately for us, Kristin (with Elijah), and Andrew and Alice (with Calvin) live 20 minutes from Chaska. We only wish we could shower the same affection on outstate grandkids Jack (17), Amelia (14) KY, and Ruby (4) CA, and sons John (CA) and Doug (NYC, VT) and their spouses, Jen and Jason.

Other notable events?

These two news events have long-lasting importance: 1) Last January’s publication of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click the link), Gordon’s collection of essays, and 2) August’s moment of temporary insanity when we raided our retirement funds to buy a small four-season A-Frame on a wetland two and a half hours north in Minnesota.

Buying the cabin while we grow closer to buying the farm felt a bit foolish. But, hey, we got the impulse, acted on it, and are loving the simplicity of rough-cut pine, wildlife (trumpeter swans, beaver, deer, skunks, and owls), and total isolation from all electronic distractions. We build a fire in the wood stove, break out a book, write what we feel like writing, take naps, and walk Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel now 4 yrs. old) down the dirt road to see what’s happening. It’s a simpler life that we savor as novel and precious.

Although Season’s Greetings normally steer clear of things political, we would be untrue to ourselves without commenting on the over-riding fact of daily life since January 20. Elijah calls the president “You-Know-Who” because we refuse to name him except in blog posts of conversations between Elijah and Grandpa about what faith calls for in the face of greed and collective madness. The cover of Be Still! — Vincent van Gogh’s, Prisoners Exercising, painted during his time in Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy — could not have been better chosen.

We count ourselves among the fortunate who have family and dear friends whose love and kindness keep our spirits focused on justice, mercy, and humility. We are so grateful for your friendship, and wish you and yours the very best of life in the Second Year of the You-Know-Who Era. Fortunately, God’s patience is longer than ours, but, as California Governor Jerry Brown said recently about climate change denial, so is God’s wrath. 😳

In the belief and hope that the cries in the wilderness count and that Love wins,

Seasons Blessings and Happy New Year,

Gordon and Kay

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Cabin

Andrew and Calvin

Andrew and Calvin

Gordon and Kay

Kay and Gordon

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Cabin wetland

Kristin and E

Kristin and Elijah

  • Gordon and Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 24, 2017.

Elijah and the baby Jesus

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Seven-month-old Grandson, Elijah, spent this afternoon with his Uncle Andrew while his Mom and Grandma went to so something special for Grandma’s birthday.

As Uncle Andrew learned, caring for a child who has just learned to crawl poses new challenges for care-givers. Elijah began to crawl earlier this week.

Last night Elijah arrived early at Grandpa and Grandma’s house for Grandma’s birthday party. We had a quick chat before Uncle Andrew and Aunt Alice arrived with his Elijah’s cousin, Calvin (named after Calvin in “Calvin and Hobbes”).

“Grandpa,” asked Elijah with a puzzled look, “what’s a monster?”

Oh, my! You’re too little to know about monsters, Elijah. Monsters are creepy and ugly and really, really scary!  Who told you about monsters?

Uncle Andrew! He said I was becoming a monster! Am I scary, Grandpa?

Did Uncle Andrew laugh when he said you’re becoming a monster? It sounds like humor.

IMG_9340That’s not funny, Grandpa. I wasn’t being a monster. I was just checking stuff out, like the wires to the television and the computer and the lamps and the door to the apartment, just normal stuff I’ve been wanting to check out for a long, long, long, long time. I wasn’t being a monster. 

Sometimes people like Uncle Andrew are kidding with you, Elijah. Like when you surprise them by crawling and getting into things your Mom, Grandma, Uncle Andrew and I didn’t have to worry about before you started crawling.

Whew! So baby Jesus was a monster, too, in Bethlehem. We love Jesus, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. But Jesus didn’t become a monster in Bethlehem. He learned to crawl somewhere in Egypt after Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to escape from King Herod who wanted to kill him (Gospel of Matthew 2:13-23).

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William Blake ( 1757- 1827) — “The Flight into Egypt” (c.1799)

Wow, that’s awful, Grandpa! Why would a king want to kill a baby? Either King Herod was a real monster or he thought baby Jesus was a scary monster. I’m crawling but I guess I still have lots to learn before I can walk and talk like you, Grandpa.

It’s part of the pattern, Elijah. Like the Christmas Carol we heard this morning on NPR from the King’s College Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols says,

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Grandma Kay’s birthday, Dec. 23, 2017.

The Light Shines in the Darkness

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“Hold to the Good” once again speaks clearly what so many of us are feeling as Christmas nears. Thank you, John Buchanan and Marilynne Robinson. By all means, hold to the good, hold to the light the darkness cannot overcome.

Hold to the Good

I’m finding it difficult to be hopeful this Christmas. The slow, steady, daily attacks on what I hold dear and what I cherish about my country are eroding my spirit, even the week before Christmas.

My government is….
– loosening regulations designed to protect my grandchildren from the effects of environmental degradation,
– lifting restrictions on mining and drilling that will endanger wildlife and reduce the precious areas of stunning national beauty every president before this one, all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt, regarded as national treasures to be protected and preserved,
-alienating long-time traditional allies, asserting “America First” at the expense of the welfare of all people and all nations,
– turning away from empirical science about climate change and human responsibility for global warming which the vast majority of scientists, and even the Pentagon, regard as real threats to life on our planet,
-attacking any information it…

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The Paradox of Parables

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After finishing daily readings of Be Still! during Advent, Craig Nessen, Academic Dean and Professor of Contextual Theology at the Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, IA, posted a lovely five-star review of Be Still! on Amazon.

Parables to Transform the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

This book conveys challenging messages about the meaning of faith through reflections on the events of the day. The author writes with an economy of precise, colorful language to tell parables which transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. This is a timely message about the public vocation of the Christian movement to address this time of collective madness.The author assists the reader to remain centered in core convictions for living in resistance and hope.

Would be excellent for personal study, devotions, or group discussion!

The best of lives are humble. They don’t promote themselves. They don’t hawk their own goods. Authorship is its own kind of curse: self-promotion, self-deception, and the narcissistic illusion that you and your work are very, very important. It’s very un-Christ-like.

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James J. Tissot, “Pardoning of the Good Thief” (1886-1894)

But perhaps you will forgive me as Christ forgave the thief from the cross, though, unlike the thief, I know what I’m doing: growing the sins and sorrows whose doom is secured and assured in the meekness of the child of Bethlehem and man of Golgotha.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Maybe in spite of the author’s sin and by the grace of God and people like Craig Nessan,  “Be Still! may become for someone else “parables to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.”

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With thanks to Craig Nessan,

Blessings and Peace,

Gordon, Chaska, MN, December 23, 2017.

 

The World at Christmas

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“He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove….” (“Joy to the World“) will ring out again this Christmas. But, does “He”?

Isaac Watts‘ Christmas carol celebrates faith in the future by looking back at the most unlikely of places: an animal feeding trough, a manger, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

In 2017 it’s hard to sing. In too many ways, it’s not true. Not yet. Herod’s search for the child, Herod’s lies and the slaughter of children that led Mary and Joseph to become refugees in Egypt feel more familiar than the rule of grace and truth. The nations do not prove the glories of His righteousness or the wonders of His love. The world continues to be ruled by deception and greed.

Even so, whether singing “Joy to the World” or listening to Handel’s Messiah, as Martha Ann Kennedy shared in her “The Messiah” post, we sometimes find ourselves going where only music takes us — the longing of the human heart whose aching seems to echo a promise that evokes it, a subjectivity inspired by a longer objectivity, as it were — the victory of goodness over evil, beauty over ugliness, and truth over falsehood.

The curse is not yet removed, but it is countered by a promise and a command: the hope for the rule of grace and truth over the nations.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

It falls to us to act responsibly in the face of the sins and sorrows that still grow, the thorns that infest the ground and threaten the planet; to be channels of truth and grace through which His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 22, 2017.

MISOGYNY FROM THE 1950’S TO TODAY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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This gallery contains 9 photos.

Originally posted on SERENDIPITY:
I was a child in the 1950’s and a teenager in the 1960’s. So I should be well versed in the misogynistic attitudes that were, and in some ways still are, ingrained in the American psyche.…

The Infinite Interior (Dennis Aubrey)

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Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography

Dennis Aubrey’s Via Lucis photographic reflection on the different between Gothic and Romanesque architecture opens the Infinite Interior I needed this morning.

If you, too, are looking for light in the midst of darkness of whatever sort, this is for you. If you read nothing else, scroll down to the last paragraph and ponder our own infinite interior.

Dennis Aubrey, PJ McKey and Via Lucis are Views from the Edge‘s favorite companions on the way.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 21, 2017

Via Lucis Photography

The subconscious is ceaselessly murmuring, and it is by listening to these murmurs that one hears the truth. ― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie

Basilique Saint Austremoine, Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey Basilique Saint Austremoine, Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

There is a conceptual difference between Gothic and Romanesque churches and cathedrals. While the Romanesque builders paved the way for the Gothic, there is a deep and wide chasm between the two worlds. It starts on the outside – Gothic cathedrals make you want to sit on a bench and admire the exterior. One enters later and experiences the wonders of the soaring internal architecture.

The exterior of Romanesque church architecture is different, much simpler. It is dominated by three features – the clocher, west front, and the chevet. The clocher (or belltower), like the contemporary church steeple, identifies the structure from the distance as a church.

Église Saint-Révérien, Saint-Révérien (Nièvre) Photo by PJ McKey Église Saint-Révérien, Saint-Révérien (Nièvre) Photo by PJ…

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Elijah asks Grandpa about taxes

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taxreformGrandpa, do we like taxes?

Why are you asking about taxes, Elijah?

‘Cause they’re all over the news. I don’t get it. Are taxes bad or are they good, Grandpa?

It all depends, Elijah.

You always say stuff like that! Depends on what? I wear Huggies!

We’ve already talked about that. I don’t mean that kind of Depends. I mean it depends on what kind of taxes.

Yeah, like the tax of Caesar Augustus that made Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem. Mom’s been getting me ready for my first Christmas. Look at this picture of Caesar Augustus, Grandpa. He did the same thing with his hand president You-Know-Who does! And he didn’t care about that little baby. Maybe that little baby is Jesus!

Statue-Augustus

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. – Gospel According to Luke 2:1-6 KJV.

Yes, Elijah, it was because of a Roman census for purposes of levying Roman taxes on the country they occupied. The tax system wasn’t fair.

Hmmm. So taxes are bad!

No, they’re not. Like I said, Elijah, it all depends.

On what?

On whether the taxes are fair. Taxes are good so long as they fairly distribute the financial burden for maintaining life together in a good society: things like health care, roads, fire-fighters like the ones battling the fires in California, and economic assistance for the disabled, children, the poor, and retired people like Grandma and Grandpa who depend like Social Security.

So fair taxes are good? Unfair taxes are bad?

Yes, sort of. Tax systems that don’t require the wealthy to pay their fair share are like Roman taxes and like the British taxes that caused the American Revolution. The tax wasn’t fair. And tax systems measure what a country values. So even if the tax burden is fairly distributed, they can be bad if the money is used badly.

Yeah, just like Mary said, “He lifted up the lowly, and the rich he has sent empty away!” Liddle Bob Corker is lowly but he just voted for tax reform that Marissa says isn’t fair.

Yes, he did, Elijah. Senator Corker was a hold-out who agreed to vote for the tax bill after it was amended in a way that favored his real estate interests so he wouldn’t be so little anymore.

You own real estate, right? Are you going to vote for the tax bill, Grandpa?

No, Elijah, I really don’t own any real estate. The bank owns Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. We still make mortgage payments. And I don’t get to vote on it. Members of the House of Representatives and Senate represent us in Congress. Only they get to vote, and the president can then sign it or veto it.

Hmm. So you’re going to be liddler than liddle Bob Corker. But in my eyes, you’ll always be big, Grandpa. Remember Joseph and Mary and Jesus in liddle old Bethlehem.

I will, Elijah. Here’s a more hopeful picture for you to remember. Mary and the baby Jesus are at the top. At the bottom are prophetess named Sybil and Caesar Augustus, but it doesn’t look anything Caesar. It’s the Byzantine emperor Manuel II from the 15 Century that the artist viewed as the new Caesar. Every empire has its emperor, and every one of them is soon forgotten, but the story of Christmas is eternal.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

— Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 20, 2017.

 

Grandpa, what’s joy?

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Grandpa, what’s joy? Is it like happiness?

Good morning, Elijah! What brought that up?

Mom keeps singing “Joy to the world”! What’s joy? What’s the world?

Joy is deep gladness, Elijah. Happiness is like joy, but joy is deeper. It has to do with who you and and an inexplainable assurance about you, your Mom, and the world. It’s a deep inner gladness. You show it to me every day.  Don’t let the world take away your gladness, Elijah!

Okay, Grandpa! But what’s with that third stanza, that thing about the curse?

Oh, that! “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

Yeah, that. What’s the curse, Grandpa? We’re not supposed to curse, right?

Right. But this is a different kind of curse. It’s the curse of selfishness and greed that bring sorrow to the world.

Isaac Watts — he’s the one who wrote the words to “Joy to the World” for Christmas — knew all about selfishness and greed when he wrote “Joy to the World” way back in 1719. Isaac was English. He knew all about colonialism and the nations.

Yeah, my baby-sitter really loves that last stanza about the nations! She says American exceptionalism is a curse. She really likes that fourth stanza. “He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, December 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elijah on the seven words

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Grandpa, what are the seven last words?

Oh, my, Elijah, that’s a strange question for this season.

Why? What’s a ‘season’?

A season is a period of days or weeks, a period of time. Right now we’re in the Advent season and Christmas season is almost here.

IMG_1889Okay, thanks. So . . .  why is a question about the seven words strange for this season?

Because the Seven Last Words are from Good Friday. This isn’t Holy Week; we’re getting ready for Christmas. 

That’s not what my baby-sitter says! She says the seven last words are diversity, fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based, and evidence-based. We’re never ever supposed to use those words again. Are those curse words, Grandpa?

HHS_CDC_cmylogoNo, Elijah, they’re not curse words. But the ones who told the Center for Disease Control not to use seven words anymore are cursers. They’re substituting their seven words for Jesus’s seven last words.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly received a list from the Trump administration on Dec. 14 consisting of seven words or phrases that will be banned in all official documents prepared for 2018’s budget. Many in the U.S., both those who work in public health and concerned citizens alike, are struggling to come to grips with the nature of the terms that are being censored.

The seven forbidden words or phrases are: “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.”– Futurism.com.

Grandpa, I was a fetus just seven months ago. Oops! I shouldn’t have used that word!

Yes, and you’re still very vulnerable. But, according to the You-Know-Who Administration, we’re not supposed to talk about that. 

So those are the ‘Seven Last Words’?

No, those are seven words that the CDC is not supposed to use anymore in its 2018 budget preparations, but the “Seven Last Words” are very different. We’re Christians, Elijah. We listen to the news with the Seven Last Words from the cross ringing in our ears.

So…we’re supposed to consider the ‘seven words’ of the You-Know-Who Administration in light of the ‘Seven Last Words’?

Yes, Elijah. Yes. And they’re very different.

So…was Jesus a scientist? What did he say from the cross, Grandpa, and what’s a cross?

No, Jesus wasn’t a scientist, but he loved the truth, just like real scientists do. A cross was the means of a state execution, Elijah. It was the way the Roman Empire killed people who got in the way of their agenda. Lots of people were executed during Jesus’s time. Jesus was executed. In our tradition, there are seven words he spoke from the cross.

Okay, I’m starting to get the picture. So what were the ‘Seven Last Words’?

Okay. Remember these and share them with Marissa tomorrow at day care.

  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • Today you will be with me in paradise.
  • Behold your son: behold your mother.
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  • I thirst.
  • It is finished.
  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
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James Tissot, What Jesus Saw from the Cross, Brooklyn Museum of Art

So does God forgive the You-Know-Who Administration because they don’t know what they’re doing?

Hmmm. Good question, Elijah. Sure looks to me like they know exactly what they’re doing, but even when we think we know what we’re doing, I guess we really don’t. And “Behold your son; behold your mother” was a ‘word’ spoken to Jesus’s vulnerable mother and his best friend, but, according to the You-Know-Who Administration we can’t say ‘vulnerable’ any more. All those words are ‘finished’.

Yeah! And that’s not right! I’m still little but I pay attention to the ‘Seven Last Words’. I’m going to  be like Jesus’s friend. I’m going to take care of my vulnerable mother, Grandpa. Mom and I are vulnerable. Who’s going to take care of us if the You-Know-Who Administration doesn’t?

Like Jesus said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Remember, Elijah, the cross doesn’t have the last word. No one expected Easter. We live in resistance to cruelty with hope in a better tomorrow. It’s also the season of Chanuka, the Festival of Lights when our Jewish friends — always remember, Elijah, that Jesus was a Jew — light a new candle of hope every day to remember how an occupying power like the You-Know-Who Administration in the second century BCE was brought down by the Maccabean revolt. Thus us a season for hope, Elijah.

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Child lighting candle of Chanukah menorah

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon), Chaska, MN, Dec. 19, 2017

Elijah asks Grandpa about race

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Grandpa, Grandma just called you a racist!

No, she didn’t, Elijah. She said I’m a Sadist. She was just kidding.

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What’s a sadist?

It’s a husband who doesn’t do his fair share of the housework.

Is that like a racist?

Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of it, Elijah, but now that you mention it, I suppose it is.

How’s that?

Well, a Sadist is mean. So is a racist. They both demean others they regard as less important than themselves.

So you’re both.

Both what?

A sadist and a racist.

Now that you mention it, I suppose I am, Elijah. I’m a descendant of the Mayflower.

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Voyage of the Mayflower

What’s a ‘Mayflower’, Grandpa? Is it the like the flowers you give Grandma?

No. What are you talking about? I only give flowers to Grandma on our anniversary.

Why? You may, if you want, and you should, Grandpa. But first you should help with the dishes and the housework. Otherwise you’ll be both a racist and a sadist. I feel bad for Grandma! You’re not only a sadist; you’re a misogynist!

Where’d you pick up that word?

I hear lots of stuff you don’t know about, Grandpa. I pick up a lot of words at Marissa’s house. She’s really mad at a bunch of guys. She watches lots of CNN and MSNBC — Harvey What’s-His-Name in Hollywood, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, and You Know Who. She really likes Rachel. She’s hoping that woman who got thrown out of the White House tells on the Chief Racist-Sadist-Mesogynist. Marissa says Omorosa could bring down You Know Who.

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I do know who Who is, Elijah, and Omorosa, and I love Marissa. But you need to be careful not to swallow everything other people says about others. You don’t want to be self-righteous, Elijah. None of us is righteous.

There you go again, Grandpa, slipping out of the noose. Excuses, excuses, excuses! You should be more righteous. Give Grandma some mayflowers, unload the dishwasher, and be a better husband around the house. Otherwise you’ll just be like You Know Who!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 16, 2017.

Elijah on the worst of the worst

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Elijah talking about his day with Marissa

Grandpa, Marissa threw her shoe at the television this morning.

Did she break the television?

No, actually, it was a slipper but she thew it hard.

Why’d she throw her slipper at the TV, Elijah?

She thew it at the President.

Why? What was he doing?

He was talking bad to the FBI! He said people like Marissa are “the worst of the worst,” Grandpa! Before I could understand what he’d said, her slipper sailed by my play pen and hit the TV!

Wow! That must have been scary!

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manual labor roofing a house for a roofer

Yeah, but what Marissa said he said was scarier. Marissa said the President’s either evil or ignorant and that he should come to Minnesota to see what her cousins do. He should meet some immigrants. They’re not the worst of the worst. Miguel works up on roofs in the hot sun 16 hours a day all summer long, Grandpa.

HOUSEKEEPER-BATHROOMHer other cousin, Maria, makes minimum wage cleaning toilets and making beds for a hotel. It’s not enough to live on. She works hard, Grandpa. So does Marissa. They’re not the worst of the worst. They work harder than you do!

So I have an idea, Grandpa.

Okay, Elijah. Let’s hear it. “Out of the mouths of babes….”

I’m not a baby anymore, Grandpa. I crawled today. I’m seven.

Well, you’re not seven. You’re seven-months. But it doesn’t matter. You’re very wise. Let’s hear it.

Okay, Grandpa, here’s my idea. Everyone elected to office in the United States should have to pass a six-week orientation re-roofing houses and cleaning toilets to qualify for taking the oath of office. That way people like the President will stop insulting good hard-working people like Marissa, Miguel, and Maria, like he did this morning, and Marissa won’t break here television. She can’t afford a new one.

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Freshman Class of 115th Congress, January 2017

What a great idea, Elijah! That’s a GREAT idea. Maybe an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a six-month orientation working in minimum-wage jobs before the oath of office is administered as a hedge against evil, ignorance and the worst of the worst serving in office.

Yeah! Let’s amend the Constitution! What’s a Constitution?

Sometimes, Elijah, you make me smile, even on cruel days when I don’t feel like it.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 15, 2017.

 

 

 

Darwinian Creationism

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original-545728-1Irony is the word for this out-of-sorts time where the anti-Darwinian creationists are the proponents of the survival of the fittest. Think net neutrality. Think tax policy that favors the strongest. Think disregard for the weak, those less able to survive if left to the forces of a survival of the fittest free market. Think selective readings of the Bible.

Think rabbits and owls. Not the way we usually think of them, but the way I thought of them the other night after hearing what I thought was a child screaming. It was a blood-curdling cry from the sidewalk just outside our home.

Going outside to see what had happened, what did I see but a large bird (an owl) flying from the tree overhead, dropping the rabbit it had just attacked for dinner. The rabbit never had a  chance. Aside from its kin somewhere in a nearby briar patch and the “superior species” who heard the screams, the rabbit’s disappearance was without consequence. It’s nature doing its thing.

buboLike the economy of Darwinian creationists. There is a mindset beneath the surface of the socio-economic policies being enacted into law by Congress. Creation versus science when it comes to climate change. Creation versus compassion when it comes to the human equivalents of rabbits and owls, hawks and field mice, coyotes and puppies. The strongest will survive. The weak will not. And it’s all part of God’s plan. It must be. Or it wouldn’t be. And, as for the Hebrew prophets who say otherwise — Amos, who thundered divine judgment of the rich who slept of beds of ivory made from the tusks of slaughtered elephants while they trampled on the poor; Micah, who summarized good religion as doing justice, loving kindness/mercy, and walking humbly; and Jesus of Nazareth, who gathered 5,000 hungry people for a free lunch, lifted up the poor, reached out to the maimed, the sick, the leper, the foreigner, and declared “Woe to you are rich!”and ““Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” — their cries on behalf of the rabbits fall on the deaf ears of the Darwinian creationists.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569) – Greed

“Let those with ears hear,” said Jesus. Who among us has ears to hear and eyes to see?

“Pieter Bruegel Bruegel . . .  castigated  human weakness . . .  with avarice and greed as the main targets of his criticism that was ingeniously expressed in the engraving The Battle Between the Money Bags and Strong Boxes” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The great irony of the theological creationist-economic Darwinians is that the human species has developed talons but lost our ears as the strong who are meant to have dominion over the weak and over nature itself.

 

So long as we avoid the faith issue here, the rabbit will lose. It fall to those of us who espouse the Judeo-Christian faith and biblical tradition, to do in our time what Pieter Bruegel the Elder did in his: engage the discussion with those within the same tradition whose hearing seems impaired.

Without that discussion, the rabbits in America and around the globe will be left to predators whose ironic Darwinian economics have nothing to do with informed biblical faith, the survival of anything worth saving, or reality itself. All will be left to the battle between empty money bags and rusted strong boxes.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Battle of the Money Bags and the Strong Box

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 15, 2017.

 

 

 

 

The End of Neutrality

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Today’s FCC vote to end net neutrality is but the latest act in the tsunami of greed that is eliminating all things neutral.

Neutral in the case of the internet means non-favoring, as in protecting a fair playing field that does not favor large providers while dis-favoring others and looking out for the interests of the general public that uses the internet.

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But it’s not just in the internet debate that neutrality is in trouble in America. Our traditional allies in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, among others scratch their heads and wonder what’s happened to America.

In Washington, D.C. the President and Congress are “reforming” the American tax code by lowering the taxes for corporations and America’s wealthiest individuals who are already reaping record profits on the pretext of lowering taxes on the middle class. The tax reform is anything but neutral. It’s greedy. It continues to widen the divide between the well-to-do and those who aren’t doing so well.

While a tax system that is anything but neutral moves forward, Congress and the President strategically malign the integrity of the independent counsel assigned the odious task of investigating foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The attack on Robert Mueller’s neutrality is undertaken in the name of neutrality, portraying the former FBI Director most everyone once respected as part of a partisan Democrat plot to embarrass and unseat the President.

There is, of course, no such thing as neutrality. Never has been and never will be. But the attempt to be neutral, the attempt to put our biases and vested self-interests behind us for the sake of the greater good is a bedrock principal of a civil society and of a democratic republic.

In the American thesaurus, neutrality and fairness are kissing cousins. So are power and abuse. American history is being re-written as we speak.

jeffersonbible2Thomas Jefferson took a razor to the Bible and cut out texts from the New Testament that seemed unreasonable according to the canons of the Enlightenment — things like miracles. But he never cut the teachings of Jesus — the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke — “Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers” — the Golden Rule  –“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — or “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” or the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Today in America those in power are cutting these most sacred texts from the Jefferson Bible in the name of God and country. Any semblance of neutrality, fairness, or compassion are being erased. But one text from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Job will yet have the last word beyond the scissors of greed that scorn even the slightest attempts toward neutrality.

If you have understanding, hear this;
    listen to what I say.
Shall one who hates justice govern?
    Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty,
 who says to a king, ‘You scoundrel!’
    and to princes, ‘You wicked men!’;
 who shows no partiality to nobles,
    nor regards the rich more than the poor,
    for they are all the work of his hands?
  – Book of Job 34:16-19, NRSV.

 

May we all live to see the day.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 14, 2017.

Elijah brings mirth and laughter

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Before Elijah goes to bed, he likes to explore things. Sometimes he explores his hands. Sometimes he explores his feet. Sometimes he explores Barclay’s tail. Sometimes he explores Grandpa’s face.

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Elijah explores Grandpa’s face

Elijah is curious. Everything in life is new, even if it’s old to me. Maybe especially when it’s old to me. Things like an old gnarly face.

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Elijah is like a visitor in a children’s zoo or museum that allows him to touch whatever interests him. An old chin. A nose. A wrinkled neck. A light spot where the dermatologist has removed something suspicious. A mouth from which he brings words and laughter.

Elijah brings his own laughter. Especially when he doesn’t mean to. Joy is like that. “And a little child shall lead them.”

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, December 14, 2017.

 

 

 

God and the gods in Alabama

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The Alabama Senate race was mostly about God and the gods. The election of Doug Jones over Roy Moore shows that, though God and the gods were often confused, Alabamians declared by a very slight margin that God may not be white.

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Some things die hard. In America, no core convictions die harder than 1) white supremacy, white superiority, white exceptionalism, and 2) male supremacy, male superiority, male exceptionalism.  It’s not just in Alabama. It’s not just in the mind of Roy Moore. It elected a president who, like Roy Moore, dismisses all claims of sexual harassment as a partisan media hoax, supported Moore’s candidacy, and issues a tweet that suggests Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has called for his resignation, is what misogynists see as the only alternative to the Virgin Mary.

Doug Jones beat Roy Moore yesterday by a hair. But, as a defiant Roy Moore rightly said, it’s not over. Nor will it be over if and when the President resigns or is successfully impeached and removed from office.

Core cultural convictions  — gods — don’t die so easily. They go underground, as they did during the eight years of the Obama Presidency, until they spy another opening to claim their turf.

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Through it all the choice is to reach up to the God who is above and beyond the dying gods of gender, racial, religious, cultural, and national exceptionalism, or remain their prey.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 13, 2017.

 

 

The beginning of the good news of …

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I need a bath. Wait! Wait! Stay with me!

“The good news according to Caesar, the Son of God” was the beginning of imperial announcements by Caesar throughout the Roman Empire.

Into this imperial world comes “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ” (Gospel of Mark 1:1). For the First Century hearers, the irony was clear. This was a counter-narrative to the narrative of empire — a rebuke of it, and a revolutionary alternative to it. But the announcement was also only the beginning of the good news.

Unlike the imperial messengers dressed in official garb, the announcer of this good news in Mark’s Gospel (in the time it was written the term “gospel” had not yet been used to describe a book such as we know today: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wears no royal clothing. He wears camel hair and eats locusts and honey. He appears in the wilderness, far from the centers of religious authority in Jerusalem and policial-economic power in Rome. There is no advance warning of his appearance. He appears suddenly, without explanations, and without trumpets.

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John the Baptizer

“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”  John is one odd duck! Not the kind of figure one expects to win friends and influence people. Unless the people were ready for his message: the overthrow of the reign of Caesar, the “Son of God” according to the imperial cult.

Flash forward to 2017.

“It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again, says the President of the United States, as if restoring Christianity as the established religion of the United States of America and everywhere else in the world that is part of Pax Americana. Strange how a gospel whose beginnings offered a counter-narrative to Caesar and the empire’s divine claims of national exceptionalism would be used to scorn the original beginning of the good news in Mark’s revolutionary Gospel.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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President Donald J. Trump and Senate candidate Roy Moore

In the First Century of the Common Era, a ritual bath represented a cleansing from sin and the act of repentance, embarking on a new way. Twenty centuries after the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” I’m baptized. So are the president and a senatorial candidate from Alabama. It’s confounding. I feel dirty all over.

I need a bath!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 11, 2017.

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

CalvinThe word ‘awe’ has fallen into disrepair in the English vocabulary of North America. David Kanigan’s lovely post featuring the picture of a naked infant and Arthur Powers’ poem out awe in Juarez, gives hope that the lapsed vocabulary is temporary and that the children, and our love for them, may yet lead us.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Jan. 22, 2018

Live & Learn

go to
some foreign place,
Juarez, say,
in Mexico,
and listen
to a large woman,
a powerful
laughing mother,
talk about
her children
crawling bare assed
on the dirt floor,
and about the way
roses grow
trellised on
an adobe wall,

and then
try to write it down
in a letter to a friend,
in English –
try to catch
the words
as she said them

until you recognize
there is no way
– no way at all –
to do it

except to take
your friend by the hand,
returning to Juarez,
and go to the woman,
the laughing woman,
and yes,
humbly,
listen
with awe.

Arthur Powers, “If You Would Read the Bible” from EchotheoReview


Notes: Poem Source – 3quarksdaily.com. Photo: George Marks

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