Elijah and Pumphouse Creamery

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Elijah’s Mom, and Grandma just learned of  Pumphouse Creamery.  They’re getting excited. They want Grandpa to drive them to the Pumphouse for ice cream.ElijahIMG_5621

Elijah’s never had ice cream.

In a pinch, he’s had pumped milk, but he’s never been to the Pumphouse.  Listening to Grandma talk about all the flavors and the Sundaes, Elijah’s starting to get excited.

Elijah, they have special flavors at the Pumphouse.

Like what?

Like Madagascar Vanilla, Fresh Rhubarb, and Belgian Chocolate.

Are they organic? I can only do organic.

Yes, Elijah, they’re mostly organic. It’s handcrafted ice cream that starts with natural, organic and locally-sourced ingredients. It says so right on the Pumphouse website.

Grandma, do I have to go in that car seat?

Yes. We’ll take you in your car seat.

I’m going to tell Grandpa! I hate my car seat! Sometimes Mom pumps right here in our own little pump house!

  •  Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 26, 2017

 

 

Grandpa, this is boring!

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Grandpa IMG_5556Grandpa, who are the Twins? What’s baseball?

Well, Elijah, the Twins are Grandpa’s team.

What’s a team?

That’s a little like us – more than two people working for the same goal.

Yeah, like us! Trying to sleep through the night so Mom can get some sleep. Right, Grandpa?

Right! Because you and Mom are on the same team. She’s the Manager. You’re her only player.

I thought you said we were Twins. How can I be the only player if I’m a Twin?

Well, you and I are Twins. Mom, not so much. Mom likes basketball.

We’re twins?! How’d that happen? You’re old. REALLY old. Poor mom! She must have been in labor a long time. Wow! How old is Mom?

No, Mom’s a lot younger. We’re not twins like that. We’re Twins FANS. We watch baseball. The Twins are our favorite team. When I was your age I was a Boston Red Sox fan . . . but I didn’t know it yet. Then we moved to Philadelphia and Grandpa became a Phillies fan. And then a Cleveland Indians, fan; and then a Cincinnati Reds fan; and now I’m a Twins fan. We love baseball.

e2aad2db16c6beb64a94489477ec11c8Yeah. That’s what we’re watching, right, Grandpa? BORING!

It is, Elijah. Baseball’s much more fun to play that it is to watch. Some day you’re going to be a slugger! But remember our conversation yesterday about day and night? You need to stay awake until it’s bedtime so you and Mom can sleep through the night. Mom’s the Manager. Without Mom you don’t have a team. You’re on Mom’s team.

Yeah. I’m on Mom’s team. And we’re twins. And night is when the sun goes to sleep. The sun went to sleep hours ago. Good-night, Grandpa.

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

 

“Elijah, Grandpa is God talking!”

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Elijah is confused. He thinks night is day and day is night. Which is very inconsiderate of his mother. 

Elijah, you’re three weeks old now. You need to start sleeping at night.

What’s night, Grandpa?

Well, night is when it gets dark. It’s when the sun goes to sleep.

I like to sleep in the light. It makes me feel safe. Mom’s happier in the light.

No, she’s not. She’s really not. You need to be more considerate.

Uh uh! Mom’s afraid of the dark!

No, Elijah, she likes the dark. She just wants to sleep all the way through the night.

But what about me? I get hungry in the night! I need Mom.

I know you do. And she needs you. She trying to teach you something important.

Like what?

Well, like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When you don’t sleep at night, you’re not treating Mom the way you want to be treated.

Grandpa, I just get hungry a lot. Mom loves me as she loves herself . . .  . Doesn’t she?

She does, Elijah. She does! But she needs your help. Mom needs her sleep. She just needs you to get into a biblical rhythm, like it says in the Bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Wow! God can talk?!

Yes. And right now Grandpa is God talking. If you want Mom to treat you the way you want be treated, you need to sleep through the night. Otherwise you won’t get fed. There will be a formless void and darkness all the time!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 21, 2017.

 

The Best and Worst Sellers Lists

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Publishing is a pain in the neck; marketing what’s been published moves the pain down the spine to a lower place of an author’s anatomy. Unless, of course, the book makes the Best Sellers’ List because your publisher is one of the decreasing number of corporate giants who do the marketing and have the connections.

Small publishing houses like Wipf and Stock and its authors are ancestors of the poor man Lazarus left to pick up the crumbs from the rich man’s table. We do what we can to catch the reading public’s attention with an occasional success. But, without divine intervention, few, if any, make it to the New York Times Best Sellers list.

So, for the sake of all things just and fair, we herby propose an “alternative” list: The Worst Sellers List, and offer readers one of the “dog-eared” crumbs that fell from the table yesterday to a dog on The Worst Sellers List:

My reason for this email is to let you know that I have just finished reading your wonderful BE Still. We all need a “Departure from Collective Madness” and your book has been such a breath of sanity in the midst of this messy world. I’m grateful to you for your book. I read it, as someone else who has a copy is also reading theirs – one entry at a time on any given day.

I began to read your book and the very first thing I underlined was the instruction from “The Brothers of Opal Street.”*[see explanatory note below] I can’t tell you how many people I have told of that instruction of theirs, and the very wise pastor who passed on the message to us. The idea that we must change things where we live, instead of being the saviors to the poor in the ghetto, is such a powerful message.

Following from that, I went on to dog-ear the prayer from the Book of Common Worship. That prayer is so familiar to me and I love it. It’s not part of any prayers I learned in the Catholic school, but probably one I picked up from the “religion” of the other side of my family. As you may remember, or not, my parents came from two different backgrounds. Mom was very Catholic. My dad’s side followed no particular religious persuasion, with grandpa and my aunt never seeming to attend any church. My paternal Grandma Allie was Baptist, Presbyterian, or Congregational, depending on the Minister and the music. She loved the traditional hymns of her earlier years and they were often heard by me as she listened to her radio when she couldn’t get about and lived with us in our home. Also, Grandma had my mother join her Congregational church group aptly named The Friendly Circle, where every meeting began with a hymn and a Bible verse. I often went along to these meetings. There were probably no baby sitters available. As I grew older I went to baby sit the younger children there.

My underlining and “dog-earing” pages increased as I read of your liberal philosophy, your concern for the direction of this country and humanity as a whole, and your concern for all people of various colors, and persuasions. This diversity thing has become probably my greatest issue and concern. It’s so good to read the views of someone who shares the same perspective. With grandchildren who are half Afghan and whose Grandfather spent much time in Gaza working with USAID, a daughter who teaches the Ojibwe language and mentors Native students, another daughter married to a fellow who is Jewish, I have come to appreciate various perspectives and religions. I am thankful for all this learning. I find it goes a long way when dealing with folks who can be quite narrow in their thinking and really have no experience with other perspectives on a one to one basis.

Before this gets any longer I just want to say, “thanks again for the wonderful book.”

* The Brothers of Opal Street are honored in Be Still!‘s Acknowledgements. Remembering them again so many years later is appropriate to the date on the calendar: Juneteenth.

Last, but by no means least, is a group of men who would be shocked to find themselves mentioned anywhere but in a courtroom.

“The Brothers of Opal Street,” as they called themselves, eight black homeless former inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary, had a farewell conversation at the end of August, 1962 with me, a naive nineteen year-old church street outreach worker. As we sat on the stoop of a boarded up tenement on Opal Street, they said good-bye with a startling instruction not to return to the ghetto. “Go back to ‘your people’ and change things there. Only when things change there will there be hope for the people here.” What they called “my people” were in the white western suburb of Philadelphia. I have come to believe that lsat day on Opal Street was its own kind of ordination. This book is in memory of them. – Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. xiv.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 19 — Juneteenth — 2017.

“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

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“A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

“Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.” – StarTribune, June 17, 2017.

The acquittal of the officer Jeronimo Yanez opens again the pandora’s box of racial profiling, justice, law, police training, jury instructions, and race in America.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Minnesota State Senator Tina Liebling, a candidate for governor, sent the following email.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Philando Castile, and to all who mourn him. His killing was a tragedy that should not have happened and the verdict today brings back the pain and horror of that day. While I share the outrage of many over the unnecessary killing and its aftermath, I do not blame the jury or even Officer Yanez. The law itself is to blame, and this is something that can and must be changed.

Minnesota law allows police to use deadly force “only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm” and to prevent death or great bodily harm to others. Whether the officer believes the force is “necessary” is examined only in the moment when the officer reacts, and it is hard for a jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not have that fear at the moment he fired the gun.

Our law should require officers to avoid creating the situation in the first place-and police agencies should train and reward them for doing so. The officer’s first obligation should be to protect the life and safety of everyone involved in an incident-whether a suspect, victim, or the officer-as it is in many other nations. This may mean waiting for backup before approaching a vehicle, setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect, or similar tactics. If we are to reduce the horrible killings of innocent people by police, we must change our laws.

Serving as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center (1998-2006), I experienced daily the tilting of the scales of justice against African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, and other people of color. LRC was born of the shared commitment of north Minneapolis African-American civil rights leaders and south Minneapolis American Indian founders of the American Indian Movement to righting the scales of justice. Racial profiling on the streets, racial bias in the courtroom, and finding ways to overcome those disparities of law and justice were and still are Legal Rights Center’s reason d’être.

On days like this, I remember who we are and who we are not. I remember the reality of the law and justice that are not blind, the jury members, all who weep, those who speak and protest in whatever nonviolent ways they can, and hope and pray we will yet find a reason d’être way in America to move beyond “not guilty” to a time that has become harder to imagine.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2017.

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

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The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga

The Shooter

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the-latest-pence-speaks-with-victims-of-ballpark-shooting“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Yet tread we must the day after the shooter aimed his rifle through the ballpark’s chain-linked fence at members of the U.S. Congress and their staff.

It’s a temptation to tread heavily, claiming only shock when, in fact, we all heard verbal shots before we heard the the gun shots from Alexandria, VA. Moral righteousness doesn’t help on a day like this because it is moral righteousness that pointed the rifle at the Congressional Representatives the shooter regarded as the unrighteous.

2631978_ThumbOne man decided to defend the American republic with a rifle, a horrendous offense that points the finger back at the rest of us who have tread heavily against the evils we deplore or who have tread less heavily in a seething wordless silence.

There is, of course, a huge difference between a rifle and a sentence. We have spoken out here about that difference. We proudly use words, not guns.

Yet, we must confess that, in the interest of defending the America we love, Views from the Edge has fired its own shots in the appalling era yesterday’s shooter sought to end with his rifle. As a follower of Christ immersed in scripture, we have known but have sometimes failed to heed the wise caution of the Letter of James (“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And “tongue is a fire” [Js. 3:5-6]) or the counsel of the Hebrew proverb (“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”[Proverbs 12:18]).

Moral righteousness wears a multiplicity of masks and uses many vocal disguises that hide its ugliness. Today we step back a few paces to ponder the question:

“How do we speak and act responsibly in ways that bear witness to what we believe in this time that puts our better angels to the test?”

We have no answers. Only a question.

Maybe today’s Congressional baseball game will speak louder than rifles or words.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 15, 2017.

 

Jake’s bench visitor

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The stranger sits alone on Jake’s’ bench under the elm tree in the grassy area behind the seasonal Mexican food truck parked at the edge of the Cooper’s Food parking lot.

It’s not everyone who comes to sit on Jake’s bench. I wonder whether he knows of Jake and whether he’s read the inscription etched into the marble:

“Now Jake is a man who wonders why the world is torn asunder. Better worlds he plans, where joy is at hand, and people can live in peace and plenty”.

Mexican food truck 55d36cc8485e9.imageHis back is turned to the picnic table where I eat my taco from the food truck. I only see him from the back, which, come to think of it, is how one sees Jake here – the way Elijah saw God from a cave while God passed by: from the back, the mystery of the Presence maintained against every mortal effort to control, define, or reduce a mystery to a thing.

A bedroll and a pair of well-worn shoes sit on the ground under the inscription. A pair of dirty, wet socks sits on the bench beside him. Clearly he’s been on the road. Is he a hiker on a long trek? A traveler passing through Chaska? Does he have a home somewhere else? Is he homeless and torn asunder in this world?  Or maybe he’s a rare fellow-traveler pausing in the company of Jake on Jake’s bench.

CoopersFoods1Jake’s bench is meant for the weary traveler.

Jake Cooper was an American socialist, the second generation of Cooper’s Foods.

Cooper’s still sits there today, hosting the Mexican food truck, a witness to an era when care for a stores’s customers were more important than updating its physical appearance and service to the community was as important as profits. Cooper’s is the most generous business in Chaska, the go-to supplier of food for community events and good causes. Coopers is a community institution. Its Deli offers complete meals for under $6.70 with portions large enough to provide dinner for two with some left over. Best little restaurant in Chaska! It’s not a money-maker, but it pretty much pays for itself, says Jake’s latest successor at Cooper’s – and it serves the people who can’t afford higher end restaurants or who just know good food at a great price. An example of the spirit of American democratic socialism to whose dream Jake’s bench still bears witness behind the Mexican food truck.

Whether the stranger sitting at Jake’s bench came by chance or came to pay his respect to Jake, he is like most of us in this day and time: a weary traveler who wonders why the world is so torn asunder, and hopes for a better world of peace and plenty.

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

 

 

Tapering off my MacBook Air

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The word ‘taper’ is today’s Daily Post prompt, i.e. a topical challenge to writers.

43A1720B-BC80-0060-873FBDFD04548E20Since watching last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” episode on “Brain Hacking” — an essay on cell-phone addiction — I’ve been trying to taper off how often I turn to my MacBook Air. Okay, so it’s not a cell phone, but I’m as addicted to the MacBook Air as cell phone owners are to cell phones. Time away does weird things to the brain, like withdrawal from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Since Sunday night, I’ve been trying to taper off.

apple-laptop-notebook-notesBut I can’t. Writing is what I do. I can’t stop. The MacBook Air is my lifeline, my unfailing connection with my imaginary friend, the addict’s needle, always within arms reach. Besides, like Echo in the myth of Narcissus, the MacBook Air always tells me what I want to hear – my own voice . . . except when the beep beep of an uninvited text interrupts our conversations.

I’ve been trying to taper off on the emails and texts, as well as the writing. But I don’t taper off easily. It’s not in my DNA.

Speaking of DNA, learning last week that some relatives inherited a gene that has left them vulnerable to auto-immune diseases left me wondering about my PMR, an auto-immune thing, and the Prednisone I’ve been taking for three months. No other drug addresses the symptoms of PMR.  But it’s a short-term fix with its a long list of side-effects. There’s no assurance the PMR will be gone when I taper off the Prednisone.

91d40efa6017040fa5159b5e83aa94b7Thursday’s appointment with the rheumatologist will determine whether I taper off again from 10 mg to eight from the original 20. If so, I might take it as a sign to limit the MacBook Air time to eight hours per day, or to make Views from the Edge readers happy by posting no more than eight times a day . . .  until I leave you completely alone with your brain-hacking cell phone when I taper off completely . . . into complete withdrawal.

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

Elijah’s third birthday

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Elijah IMG_0078

“Grandpa, I’ve already learned to swim, and pretty soon I get to go to kindergarten, right? Will my kindergarten teacher teach me everything I need to know, like Miss Britten and Robert Fulghum taught you before you got to be decrepit?

“Remember, Grandpa, what Rev. Fulghum said? ‘Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.'”

When I’m old like you, will I still smile? Or will I be a frowning curmudgeon?

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

 

 

 

The Adult American Kindergarten

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“All I really need to know . . . I learned in kindergarten,” wrote Robert Fulghum.

Way back in Miss Britten’s kindergarten class, we learned to play, learn, and grow together. We didn’t like:

  • playground bullies,
  • two-faced liars,
  • braggarts,
  • belittlers,
  • the selfish,
  • the greedy,
  • the mean,
  • the arrogant
  • big-shots,
  • the spoiled rich kid.

That was a long time ago.

All these years later, I wonder whether Miss Britten had it right that “It is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together” – Robert Fulghum, All  I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

In today’s adult American kindergarten, I take comfort in holding hands and sticking together going back out into the world I barely recognize.

 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 12, 2017.

 

 

Ever wonder about your DNA?

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How much of you is written already by the latest rendition of the old doctrine of predestination? Not so much by religious predestination as by your DNA? Or are predestination and DNA the same?

Reconnecting with the second cousin from the Andrews family raises the questions. I’d only met her once sixty years ago, yet, like twins separated by distance and circumstance, the parallels of perception, pencraft, and psyche are unmistakable.

Mr. Rogers assured the children that each of them was special. I like the sentiment but have preferred the word ‘unique’. None of us is nearly as ‘special’ as we’re prone to think we are, but, come to think of it, neither is any of us quite as unique as ego might lead us to think.

As Carl Sandburg reminded me, “O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie inside my ribs!” Many of the creatures in my zoo were not of my choosing. They were, you might say, predestined. They predetermined me. Some of them date back to the Andrews family in Andrews Hollow, Maine, and as farther back into time than memory can follow.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 12, 2017

 

Who’s taking the pictures? Who’s singing?

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Re-blogging Dennis Aubrey’s photographic essay today (see previous post) took me back to the sermon Dennis inspired years ago with his experience in the basilica dedicated to Mary Magdalene in Vizelay, France.

At the end of a week in Chaska when my cup has been overflowing with reasons to touch again the power of the non-rational that is deeper than what goes on in my spinning head, we republish “The Stones Are Singing” in thanksgiving for Dennis’s and PJ McKee’s influence on me and Dom Angelico’s influence on them.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 11, 2017.

The Monk in the Morvan Forest (Dennis Aubrey)

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We post Dennis Aubrey’s latest epistle for a number of reasons. Readers of Views from the Edge may recall that the Via Lucis photographic essay on the stones singing at Vizelay inspired a sermon on the stones singing. Here the monk who wrote the history of these Romanesque churches comes out from the shadows in a lovely tribute by Dennis, complete with pictures of PC and Dom Angelico Surchamp.

Via Lucis Photography

We are finally home again after two months photographing in France, Spain, and even a little bit of Italy. We drove 6,960 kilometers during that time at an arrive speed of 51 kilometers an hour, which translates to 4,344 miles and a dazzling 32 miles per hour. This demonstrates the narrowness of the country roads where we drive and the amount of time we spent in the Pyrénées and Alps. Until we hit the highway returning to Paris, the average speed was 48 kilometers per hour!

The trip ended in Vézelay at the Crispol hotel, which is almost like home to us. The Schori family is always so welcoming and the addition of the two children Max and Clémence makes it even brighter. It is always bittersweet leaving France. We love it there but we are always anxious to return home, this time to our new house amidst the Amish

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Revelation at Andrews Hollow

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After several days away from writing for Views from the Edge, today’s Daily Post invitation to write something about ‘revelation’ struck a familiar chord, so to speak.

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Earlier this week an email arrived from a complete stranger who believed we were family. In a google search she had come across Views from the Edge’s photograph of the Andrews’ family property.

What’s that have to do with ‘revelation’?

It revealed a blood relative I didn’t know existed and led to the correspondence with the second-cousin I’d only met once on the old Andrews’ homestead years ago but had never forgotten.

The emails we’ve exchanged have removed the cover (i.e., ‘revealed’) from family origins that had remained hidden for almost 75 years.

The reflections of the second-cousin who grew up on the ancestral property of the Andrews family help explain both the sense of homesickness and forlornness I felt while visiting “The Hollow” last month. The latest visit confirmed the feeling expressed in “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” in “Be Still!”

Until this week’s correspondence, I hadn’t know the property was “The Hollow” to the relatives who grew up there, or as “Andrews Hollow” to the those whose relatives’ funerals had been handled by the Andrews family. It all came as a revelation.

So, today I take time out to write this post in reply to The Daily Post’s invitation. Perhaps life itself is a life-long pilgrimage of revelation – the unveiling of the deeper chords and cords of the DNA that lives on in the tissues and bloodstreams of later generations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 10, 2017.

The Guarantor of “America Second”

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Introduction: Today we share this essay by John Miller (“the OLD Philosopher”), pastor of the Chapel without Walls, Hilton Head, South Carolina, U.S.A.

“THE GUARANTOR OF ‘AMERICA SECOND'” or: “How Much Time Will It Take, and How Much Time Should He Be Given?”, June 7, 2017

For the past few weeks I firmly resolved both as a preacher and as a citizen to refrain from directly addressing vital issues prompted by the actions or statements of the President of the United States. However, as both Isaiah (62:1&6 and 64:12) and Jeremiah (4:19) said, I can no longer keep silent.

Almost immediately after being sworn into office, the President made an executive order greatly inhibiting immigration and travel to the United States by anyone from Muslim-majority nations. That was immediately struck down by two federal courts, and the Supreme Court is about to render its decision regarding the constitutionality of his action.

Then President Trump proposed to revoke and to reform the Affordable Health Care Act. The details were sparse, but the intent was there: a major tax break for the very wealthy, higher insurance premiums for many, fewer people would be covered who had pre-existing conditions, and eventually, depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, from twenty to fifty million additional Americans, in addition to those already not covered, would lose their health insurance altogether. It was dismaying. Yet it was unashamedly touted as health care reform.

Then tax reform. There would be fewer tax brackets than previously, and all taxes would go down. The biggest advantage would go to the wealthiest Americans. Millions of Americans would have to pay only 15% in taxes on their income, because they could incorporate themselves as individuals and pay the 15% corporate tax instead of the individual tax. For many taxpayers, that would lower their taxes by more than half. But again, very few details were offered.

Neither health care reform nor tax reform has gone anywhere in Congress. It is not only because of Democratic opposition; many Republicans are also opposed. How can anyone vote on something which is not clearly spelled out? Because most of the White House staff are political novices, they have no idea of how to negotiate the inscrutable but essential process of getting legislation passed. The President attempts to manage them by threatening to fire staff members. After all, he did that each week on his reality television show.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Peggy Noonan, the longtime Republican insider, wrote, “It is absurd to think the president can solve his problem by firing his staff. They are not the problem. He is the problem. They’re not the A-Team, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. They’re the island of misfit toys. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately.”

Charles Krauthammer is a longtime conservative columnist. He was unrelenting in his attacks on Donald Trump during the Republican presidential primaries. A few weeks after Mr. Trump was elected, Krauthammer wrote, “With near unanimity, my never-Trump friends confess a sense of relief. It could have been worse….Admittedly, this is a low bar. And this is not to deny the insanity, incoherence and sheer weirdness emanating daily for the White House, with which we’ve all come up with our own coping techniques. Here’s mine: I simply view President as the Wizard of Oz. Loud and bombastic. Nothing behind the screen – other than the institutional chaos that defines his White House and the psychotic chaos that governs his ever changing mind.”

These are not the opinions of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. These are lifelong Republicans writing these sentiments.

Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian Air Force base. By doing that his plummeting ratings went up several points for several days, before plummeting again. But many citizens were pleased that the President had finally made what seemed like a sensible decision and actually carried through on it. Its sensibility is debatable.

He ordered the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb to be dropped on an ISIS complex of caves in eastern Afghanistan. He approved a shipment of arms to a group of Kurdish rebels in Turkey, despite the strong objections of the Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The US has tried to keep a strong relationship with the increasingly autocratic Erdogan for years, because Turkey has been one of our strongest allies since the Korean War. That did not deter our President from taking an arbitrary action which greatly peeved Erdogan.

Diplomacy does not seem to be one of the President’s long suits. Still, it is surprising the President forged ahead to take a step he should have known would anger Erdogan. Despite that, he seems to relate better to dictators than to democratically-elected heads of state. But no one can predict what he will do, or why he will do it.

Trump attempted to prevent any tourists or immigrants entering our country from several Muslim nations where terrorists and terrorism are in abundance. Many of these are refugees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which American troops have been engaged for years. Most of these particular refugees also supported our side in those conflicts. If they are not admitted into the US, some of them will surely be killed by our enemies in these wars. But because they are Muslims, and because they were born in Muslim states where terrorists find refuge, they are prevented from applying for asylum in America. It makes no sense.

In late May the Secretary of State announced that the State Department would be breaking a two-decades-long tradition of holding a reception in Foggy Bottom to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Trump considers radical Islam to be our primary enemy, as he has often stated, and he seems quickly to have acquired an extraordinary skill in creating many other radical Muslims.

The President insisted that General Michael Flynn become his National Security adviser, despite strong objections from many quarters, including Republicans in Congress. Within fifteen days Flynn was fired because of allegations over improper contacts with the Russian government prior to and after the presidential election.

Having complimented FBI director James Comey on his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation regarding the Bengazi attack and her email problems, the President fired Mr. Comey within weeks of his compliment when the director apparently refused to stop the investigation into the growing instances of the so-called Russian Connection with the President. Early in his presidency, Donald Trump has gained the reputation of man who threatens to end or who actually ends the employment of many high-level government officials. He is a first-class firer.

It is bruited that life in the Trump administration feels secure for almost no one, save for family members. Now, even they, or at least one of them, may be in jeopardy.

The President hailed his first trip abroad as a great success. He met with members of the Saudi leadership, with Benyamin Netanyahu in Israel, and with the Pope. When he got to the NATO meeting, he managed to alienate nearly every head-of-state of every western liberal democracy gathered there. Even to hint that the US might be less committed to the major alliance in which we have been a signatory since the end of World War II is a huge military and diplomatic blunder. But he did that with no hesitation. The looks on the faces of his international counterparts spoke volumes of how very negatively his remarks were received.

A week later, after having previously alerted the press that after giving climate change more thought, he would soon be making an announcement about the Paris Accord on Climate Change. And shortly thereafter the President indeed made his statement  before a collection of sycophants. Previously there were only two nations in the world which had refused to affirm the Paris Accord: Syria and Nicaragua. Now, by his action, he rescinded the American official commitment. “So we’re getting out,” he proudly declared. But then, to honor the title of his book, he added, “We will start to negotiate, and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”

There is no way to minimize the massive damage of the President’s speech at the NATO summit and his remarks on the lawn of the White House. His impetuous, ill-considered words are disastrous for American foreign policy. NATO was the main means of containing Soviet aggression from 1945 to 1989. It has held the line against Russian aggression from the time Putin succeeded Yeltsin as leader of Russia to the present.

As for the Paris Accord, it was never envisioned as a panacea in guaranteeing planetary environmental health. But it was widely accepted as an enormous step in the right direction. Now one unpredictable and misguided man may have erased the efforts of hundreds of diplomats to garner widespread agreement to move forward, if only in small increments. And by his impetuosity, he may also encourage other nations to back out.

*****

From the earliest days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump trumpeted “America First” as his campaign motto. As President, he has persisted in maintaining that stance.

Trump has often stated that he wants an emphasis on American jobs, American products, and American power. Overtly and covertly, he turned away from internationalism in trade and diplomacy to unvarnished nationalism.

It is ironic that our President insists on “America First” as our national and international policy. The irony is that unless his policies are reversed, and quickly, we shall inevitably become “America Second.”

In only a few months, three of his pronouncements have especially eroded America’s position as Number One in the world. His attempt to ban Muslim tourists and immigrants, his thumbing his nose at NATO, and his cavalier removal of the United States from the Paris Accord have all had the unavoidable effect of elevating China into the world’s Number One position.

China, under the adroit if also autocratic leadership of Xi Jinping, has taken many long strides economically in the past few years. Their GDP has grown geometrically. Since Deng Shiaopeng led the Middle Kingdom from Maoist ideological communism into state-managed capitalism in the 1960s, China has quickly moved into second place in the world economy. Now, courtesy of the major mistakes of Donald Trump, it could be argued that suddenly China has politically moved into the Number One position. Trump has effectively knocked us out of that position all by himself.

Clearly the President never intended to do that. But just as clearly, he gave no thought to the results of the Muslim immigrant ban, the deliberate undermining of NATO, and the American removal from the Paris Accord. Donald Trump does not carefully calculate the results of anything he does; he just does it, on impulse.

*****

Elections in democracies are, by definition, democratic. Ultimately the people rule, by means of their votes. However, in the USA, the Electoral College rules, but that is the topic of another essay. By the uniquely American constitutional compromise of its Constitution, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, even if he received three million fewer votes than his chief opponent.

After the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama said, with an uncharacteristic gloat, “Elections have consequences.” Nevertheless, no one could have adequately imagined the unintended consequences of the 2016 American presidential election.

It is constantly evident that the President’s actions are still approved by the great majority of his political “base.” It is less evident that other Republicans, particularly Republican Members of Congress, are becoming increasingly alarmed by the President’s capricious and sometimes outrageous behavior. Nonetheless, recently more notable Republican office-holders have been willing to speak out against some of the more clearly egregious actions Mr. Trump has taken as President.

It is not possible for any of us to have a detailed knowledge of every American presidency. But surely no previous President has ever begun his time in office under such a cyclone of controversy as has this President. Everyone other than the most dedicated of Trump supporters would have to admit some if not many reservations about some of the things the man has said and done.

Because of who Donald Trump is, and because of who he very likely shall continue to be, he has thrust America into a totally uncharted situation in our history. If advisors were able to deter him from his impulsive behavior, it certainly would have happened by now. But they cannot and it shall not.

We are in the midst of a unique constitutional crisis in our national history. There is nothing thus far that warrants an impeachment trial of the President. But demands for impeachment increase by the week. The demands themselves add to the gravity of our constitutional crisis, because what is demanded cannot come to pass under current conditions.

There are three “Russian Connection” investigations presently underway, the two in the two Houses of Congress and the special one by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. If any of these probes quickly turns up evidence of any “high crimes and misdemeanors” (the constitutional necessity for even contemplating impeachment), then an impeachment trial could quickly begin. Such a rapid discovery of irrefutable evidence, however, is quite improbable. By its very nature, impeachable evidence is difficult to obtain.

In the meantime, the national dis-ease grows. Most who supported Mr. Trump from the early stages of his campaign continue to support him, and apparently very few have fallen away. Many of those who were neutral about him remain neutral, though some have openly begun to question or even to denounce him. Those who were viscerally opposed to him since late 2014 are even more opposed in mid-2017. Politically the American people are fraying very badly.

John Gartner is a practicing psychologist who has taught in the Department of Psychiatry of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for nearly thirty years. He has founded an organization which includes hundred of mental health professionals. The group is called Duty to Warn.

Dr. Gartner wrote a recent article in USA Today. It was entitled “Diagnosis: Malignant Narcissism.” Here are two paragraphs from his startling monograph.

“Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Erich Fromm, who invented the diagnosis of malignant narcissism, argues that it ‘lies on the borderline between sanity and insanity.’ Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg defined malignant narcissism as having four components: narcissism, paranoia, anti-social personality and sadism. Trump exhibits all four….

Some say it is unethical to dare to diagnose the president, but hundreds of mental health professionals have come together to found Duty to Warn. We believe that just as we are ethically and legally obligated to break confidentiality to warn a potential victim of violence, our duty to warn the public trumps all other considerations.”

These are extremely serious allegations. Professional mental health experts would be very hesitant to affirm such statements unless they were truly convinced of their accuracy.      

Countless Americans are gravely concerned about the behavior of our President. The longer they remain silent, the more likely it is that behavior shall continue unabated. Political caution may incur incalculable damage as long as caution is the national modus operandi. How long will it take, and how much time should he be given?

At the present time, there is probably nothing that can be done to deflect the President from impulsive and disastrous tendencies. But sensibility should tell us that it is no longer either acceptable or wise to remain silent.

An enormous public outcry for the President to resign will only heighten the crisis. A man of his stubborn temperament will never resign. But also to say nothing only further encourages more of his outrages. We are faced with a massive political dilemma.

The President has had more than enough time to learn the essentials of statecraft. He has proven himself incapable of learning even the most elementary of lessons. The American people at large do themselves no service by continuing quietly to give the leader of our nation more time to conduct himself properly in his office. By now it is evident that shall never happen.

The presidency of Donald J. Trump has become a carbuncle boil on the American body politic. Until it is lanced, the problem will only get worse. Who does the lancing and when and how it is done are the questions that shall vex us until something is done.

Shall it be the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that solves our dilemma? How shall the boil be cured? How shall the republic be saved?

Everyone of good will has a duty to join the chorus of alarm. But what shall result from the growing turmoil is anyone’s guess.

 

John Miller is a writer, author, lecturer, and preacher-for-over-fifty-years who is pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC.

 

 

 

Who will you stand with today?

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Dear Folks,

There is a custom at a little church in the Midwest that goes like this. Whenever a person is about to be baptized, the minister calls out to the congregation, “Who stands with this child?” and the extended family or close friends rise from their seats and offer an outward and visible testimony of their inward commitment.  They stand, hearts brimming and knees shaking, even though they know sometimes their love might seem compromised or limited or unreciprocated.  They rise to pledge that they’ll do the best they can. These are the folks in the child’s life who know that growing up has never been easy, the people who know that being a parent is hard work in the best of circumstances.

And this custom of folks popping up here and there in the pews at a baptism makes the church feel cozy and warm and like a family, but I want to warn us from easy sentimentality, from striving to build a church in which it would be simple to guess who might stand for whom.  The community of faith is more than a family.  The measure of our vibrancy is not when we gather amiable people to stand with their neighbors… rather the church is created when enemies break bread together, when one broken-hearted outcast stands up for another, when a queen kneels before a poor, unwed mother or a recovering addict, and calls her sister.

That is the society that we are trying to create here and beyond, at home and at work and at play.  The community of saints is both more welcoming and more challenging than most of our biological families.  Our litmus test is not blood, but the spirit, and when we are at our best, the spirit of God is breathing through us wherever we go.

A child named Matthew was presented for baptism at an Episcopal church a few years back, and I imagine a group of folks stood to support him and his family as they gathered around the font.  But that same Matthew, child of God, was beaten and left for dead as a young man, tied to a fence post like yesterday’s garbage, because his way of being challenged some people’s idea of family values.  He loved “the wrong person,” another man, and that made some of his neighbors mad.  So one dark night, two very scared and confused young people, also God’s children, acted out of their own brokenness, and their fear turned murderous.

It would not have surprised me if Matthew’s parents had settled into their own murderous rage, mirroring the worst of their son’s killers, looking for vengeance, an eye for an eye.  But his parents did something extraordinary.  They asked for their son’s killers to be forgiven.  They stepped beyond the narrow circle of family of blood into the family of the spirit, and saw another son staring back at them through the eyes of their enemy.

Our true brothers and sisters are as likely to be our so-called enemies as our friends.  Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right and merciful, because that is what the human family looks like and feels like and hurts like.  Jesus is describing us.  We belong to each other.  Any walls we build between us, of race and class and gender, of sexuality and nationality and ethnicity, of political party and religious tribe, are walls of fear.  Each of us has been a wanderer and a stranger, and our call is to make the world feel more like home for all.

Who will you stand with today?

I wish I were a newborn…

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. . . like two-week-old grandson Elijah.

Without malice. Or guile. Insincerity. Envy. Or slanderous speech. A disciple of Jesus who has been fed by the Beatitudes, and by First Peter to:

“Rid yourselves . . . of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation . . . (I Peter 2:1-2a).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017.

When and how will it stop?

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Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States of America, a clear and present danger to a constitutional republic and the world itself.

Whatever the reason(s) for his un-precedented un-presidential behavior — irrationality resulting from mental illness, character disorder(s) or early-onset dementia, or a calculated political strategy to destroy government itself, or something else  — he has proven repeatedly that he is unfit to occupy the Oval Office.

Terse tweets are not the way presidents communicate, especially when the tweets rip a phrase out of context to rip into the Mayor of London when the moment calls for support. Especially when he insists on calling his travel ban a ‘ban’ after his own Department of Justice lawyers have chosen to use different wording, knowing that the word ‘ban’ would kill the case before the Supreme Court as clearly un-Constitutional. Especially when Mr. Trump, with no apparent reason, suddenly calls for the privatization of air-traffic control, the latest step in the systematic dismantling of government.

Whether Mr. Trump’s apparently erratic behavior results from a character disorder over which he has no control or some other mental impairment or whether it results from the illlogic in an apocalyptic view like that of Steve Bannon should not affect the conclusion that he is not fit for the most public and most powerful of the world’s public offices.

Thursday, June 8 the fired former Director of the FBI, James Comey, will testify before the U.S. Senate, drawing world-wide attention for his testimony’s potential consequences for the future of the Trump presidency. Whatever Mr. Comey has to say Thursday, the world can be certain that twitter shots will be fired from the White House. Leaders of America’s closest allies in England, France, and Germany will be watching and wondering whether members of Congress will honor their oaths to defend the Constitution of the Unites States of America by setting in motion impeachment proceedings against a rogue president of its own majority party.

How and when will it stop?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaka, MN, June 6, 2017

 

Grandpa, who’s Mr. Rogers?

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Well-fed Elijah has become curious about television. He has a new topic and questions.

“Grandpa, Mom’s been watching CNN. What’s CNN?”

“It’s a 24-hours-a-day news channel, one of many television channels.”

“Yeah, my great uncle John doesn’t like CNN. He told Mom she should be watching FOX. What’s FOX, Grandpa?”

“Well, Elijah, it’s too early for that discussion. There are more choices than CNN and FOX.

“Yeah, like MSNBC and Rachel Maddow! I like Rachel! I don’t like Sean Hannity. He’s mean!”

“I understand. But you need to be careful. Both Rachel and Sean only do one-way conversations.”

“Yeah, like ours, right Grandpa?”

“Sort of. But you get to talk back to me. Sort of. I can hear you. Rachel and Sean can’t and they don’t care what you have to say. When you get older you can choose your own television channel. You don’t have to watch the news all the time. But no matter what you end up watching, you’ll always have Grandpa.”

“But, Grandpa! There’s a lot of scary stuff out there in the big world. When I grow up, do I have to go out there?”

Big_bird_book_kids“Yes, Elijah, but this isn’t the time to worry about that.”

Ask Mom to turn on Sesame Street. There are lots of fun people on Sesame Street, like Big Bird, to help you get ready for the big world. Or you can come to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house and watch re-runs of Mr. Rogers.”

“Who’s Mr. Rogers?”

“Well, Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister.  Like Grandpa.”

“What’s a Presbyterian?”

“Well, that depends on who you ask, Elijah. Some people call us ‘God’s frozen chosen’  ’cause they think we think we’re special and we don’t show a lot of emotion in worship. But for me, a Presbyterian is someone just like Mr. Rogers.

“So . . . will you help me to tie my shoelaces when I get shoes?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 1, 2017.

Grandpa, are you famous?

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Earlier this morning, 11 day-old Elijah saw David Ellis’s author interview with his grandfather when he awakened from his morning nap. Hours later, Elijah harkened to his grandfather’s voice, smiled, and did his best to focus his eyes on mine for another conversation.

Grandpa and Elijah1“Grandpa, are you famous?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not famous. If anything, I’m infamous!”

“Are you infamous in England? David Ellis lives in England. Mom says that’s far away from Minnesota.”

“No, actually, I’m infamous in Minnesota but David in England must think I’m famous ’cause I wrote a book.”

“Yeah! Mom told me last night. She said I should follow Grandpa’s advice. She said I should ‘Be still!’ What’s that mean, Grandpa?

“Well, it means be calm, be quiet. Did you keep Mom up again last night?”

“Yeah! I should be quiet at night so Mom can sleep.  That’s what Grandma said. Otherwise Mom might lose it and use another bad word. She might tell me to ‘shut up! Don’t be a cry-baby!’ I’m not a cry-baby, am I Grandpa?

“No, Elijah, you’re not a cry-baby. You’re just a baby — the grandson of an author who’s famous in England and infamous in the United States of America.”

“What’s the United States of America, Grandpa?”

“I’ve been wondering that myself lately, Elijah. I’ve been wondering myself.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 3, 2017.

 

 

 

Author Interview – Gordon C. Stewart – “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” (Poetic Theological Essays on Politics, Pop Culture, Economy and Much More)

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David Ellis (an English award-winning poet, novelist, writer, and host of “Too Full to Write”) reached across “the pond” following publication of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness”. Thank you, David.

toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

Howdy folks.

So happy that you could make it to through to Friday, our favourite day of the week, in one piece 🙂

For tonight’s author interview extravaganza, let me introduce to you all my good friend, theologian and author Gordon C. Stewart, as he regales us with his writing experiences, his engagingly witty collection of essays blended together in a volume for our reading pleasure and what ultimately influences his writing thoughts and processes.

Enjoy the show and have a fantastic weekend packed full of fun, food, drinks and frolics galore, thanks for reading 🙂

Hi there Gordon, thank you for joining us to discuss your written works, writing experiences, passions and influences.

Let’s start with debut anthology “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness”, a collection of poetic essays based on a variety of topics such as politics, economy and popular culture to name a few. Can you elaborate more…

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Trump’s Paris betrayal: the stupidest decision of the 21st century.

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SERENDIPITY re-blogged Sean Munger’s post on the president’s decision to abandon the Paris accord on climate change. Here’s a taste:

“Fighting climate change is not about choosing ‘helping the Earth’ over job security or economic prosperity for Americans. Fighting climate change is job security and economic prosperity for Americans.”

SERENDIPITY

I don’t often write blog articles with the sole purpose of commenting on news items, but as a decision today by President Donald Trump deeply implicates climate change–without a doubt the most serious problem facing every American and every person on earth right now–I felt I couldn’t let it go by without at least a few words. My academic expertise is in the history of climate change, I’ve taught courses on the history of climate change (and wrote about them, here and here), and most post-academic career involves climate change, so I believe I’m qualified to speak on the subject.

Trump’s decision to abrogate the Paris climate change accord, at least where the United States is concerned, is not merely a strategic misstep (though it is), a betrayal of American trust and power…

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Grandpa, you said a bad word!

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My new grandson, 11 day-old Elijah, was asking Grandpa questions again after screaming all night.

“Grandpa, why was Mom crying all night? She doesn’t seem very happy.”

“Well, Elijah, it’s complicated.”

“That’s a big word! What’s ‘complicated’?”

“Well, ‘complicated’ is sort of like ‘complex‘ but a little different. I know it’s confusing at your age, but lots of people my age also find ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ confusing. We prefer ‘simple’ answers.”

“What’s ‘simple‘?

“Well, ‘simple’ can be good or it can be bad. I know that’s confusing, too, Elijah, but I want you to grow up knowing the difference between ‘simple’ as ‘guileless’ and ‘simple’ as ‘stupid’.”

“Mom said “Never call anyone ‘stupid‘! You just said a bad word, Grandpa!”

“She’s right, Elijah. Grandpa was bad.”

“But why? Why would you use that word Mom says I’m not supposed to use? I’m confused and you’re confusing!”

“I’m sorry, Elijah. I’m not setting a good example. Yesterday was a rough day because of disappointing news on climate change.”

“Did you cry all night too, Grandpa?”

“I did, Elijah, I did! The reason’s pretty simple.”

 

 

 

 

“We’re still in! You’re Wacked out!”

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June 1, 2017 was a day of moral, spiritual, and economic bankruptcy.

What a much beloved president once called “the better angels of our nature” are weeping. They know that you can’t mess with nature without consequence, that in the world of nature’s economy, less is almost always better than more, and that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. They know a fool when they see one. They mourn a people and a world when the fool isn’t fooling and when there’s no separation between the king’s fool and the king himself. The king’s a fool but doesn’t know it. All that matters is the theater spotlight.

Meanwhile our better angels have been rehearsing a new musical with a massive chorus that opened late yesterday on Broadway and across the world:

“We’re Still In!”

Among the better angels joining to produce “We’re still in!” are scientists and religious leaders. Neither kings nor fools, two of them immediate issued official responses to the president’s Rose Garden announcement:

The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Episcopal Church.

Yesterday the foolish king extended the right hand of fellowship to our new closest allies — Syria and Nicaragua — while raising his fisted left hand in a power salute to traditional friends after putting a match to a cherished line from the American canon of Scripture:

“The mystic chords of memory . . .  will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  – Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address.

But you can’t burn away American memory with a match.

On June 1, 2017 the stage lights centered on a kingly fool. But no sooner had the curtain come down on the White House Rose Garden than the new musical of our better nature was premiering under the lights in the king’s home town on Broadway . . .  and in London, Paris, Berlin, Ottawa, Mexico City, Moscow, Brussels, Pretoria, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Beijing, and everywhere else across the planet . . . except Managua and Damascus:

“You’re wacked out! We’re still in!”

Ich bin ein Berliner

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President Kennedy in Berlin, June 26, 1963[10]It was an American president who said it years ago standing in front of a wall that needed to come down. “I am a Berliner,” said John F. Kennedy.

The world applauded.

Decades later another American president kept his words and his hands to himself when his German guest from Berlin, German Chancellor Andrea Merkel, asked,

“Do you want to have a handshake?”

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The world frowned, remembering the student of American character Alexis de Tocqueville‘s observation. “When the past no longer enlightens the future, the spirit walks in darkness.”

Older Americans, recalling with pride the old president’s “handshake” at the wall, found ourselves speaking German.

“Heute, Herr Präsident, Sie haben uns peinlich gemacht. Heute sine wir Berliner –“Today, Mr. President, you embarrassed us. Today we are Berliners!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 31, 2017.

Five men in a living room

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Funny how things come to consciousness slowly over time until, in a flash of light, what should have been obvious all along comes clearly into view.

Learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not air as expected on Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” because of its length, I went back to read it and hear it again over morning coffee.

Hearing the ending again –“three men in a living room — two Americans and on dead Japanese….” — I realized there were more than three. There were five.

Without the influence of the missing two, “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not have been written. It was as though the pen I had thought was in my hand had been in theirs. They had written the piece.

Who were the missing two?

My American father, the former World War II Army Air Force Chaplain on Saipan, and Kosuke Koyama, the teenage Japanese survivor of the American  firebombing of Tokyo.

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

A father casts a long shadow over a son’s life.

Except for a poem he had written on Saipan about the flames of war lighting the night skies of the South Pacific, Dad didn’t talk about the war. During his 18 years as pastor of the Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall, Pennsylvania, Korean and Japanese students from Princeton Theological Seminary were frequent weekend guests in our home.

 

Kosuke Koyama – RIP

Kosuke Koyama, who had been a student at Princeton Seminary during my teenage years, came into my life decades later in 1996 when he moved to Minneapolis following his retirement as John D. Rockefeller, Jr Professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Might Ko have been a guest in our home way back when?

That my father and Ko might have known each other is a happy thought.

But, whether they occupied the same physical space is not as important as the large space they opened in the inheritor of their influence. Two invisible men in a living room brought the other three together in the bonds of sacred silence and the hope of something better for us all.

Funny thing! If the recording had aired yesterday on “All Things Considered”, I might still be in the dark!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, in honor of Kenneth Campbell Stewart and Kosuke Koyama, May 30, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Round Up 58

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This street scene from Tuscany was waiting in this morning’s inbox – an invitation to appreciate the beauty of architecture, age, and historical preservation, cobblestone  streets, sun light, an unhurried conversation, and a walk with a dog.

Dutch goes the Photo!

Welcome to the 58th round up of the Tuesday Photo Challenge!

You took to the streets and provided a great deal of wonderful insight!  I really appreciate the great posts that you provided and particularly enjoyed your creative way to approach some of the subtleties that make for great photographs of streets and street photography.

Thank you for all those wonderful posts and providing me with some inspiring posts to read!

Now that I’m back (and spent a good part of the day off-loading my images and organizing them), I took a quick stab at this view of one of the streets in Volterra…

20170522-Volterra_DSF1356_7_8_tonemappedStreets of Volterra

Volterra is a town that should be on everyone’s must visit list in Tuscany; it has a true charm and great variety of sites to visit all well within walking distance.  From Etruscan to Roman and Renaissance, there is wonderful representation within Volterra.

The…

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Taps in different keys

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Sixty-three years ago, the American Legion recruited two 12 year-old trumpet players to play “Taps” for the Memorial Day Service at the Glenwood Memorial Cemetery in Broomall, Pennsylvania.

It was a rare privilege granted the few. One of us would play a short refrain — “da ta daaaah…”; the other would echo it from below the wall.  The next refrain would follow, as would the echo until the special rendering of “Taps” had moved everyone to the respectful silence appropriate to Memorial Day.

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It was a nice idea. We practiced. All went well. Very dramatic! Until Memorial Day when Alex’s echo came back in a different key.

The 12 year-olds lost it!!! The only sounds were a few choked back laughs. There was no “Taps” that year. The 12 year-old weren’t invited back when they were 13.

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

Memorial Day – a Call to Silence

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Memorial Day calls more for silence than for speeches — the silence of the living standing before the graves of fallen soldiers.

Silence alone is golden today — a deep silence broken only by the haunting sound of a bugle calling us into the presence of that which is deeper than many words.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Memorial Day, May 29, 2017.

MEMORIAL DAY 2017 – REMEMBERANCE

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Moment after learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” was too long to air today on MPR’s “All Things Considered,” Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY Memorial Day 2017 stood out from the in-box. Best wishes for a thoughtful Memorial Day.

SERENDIPITY

Memorial Day


Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day ) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

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Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at…

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Blind Christopher opens eyes

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Some things bring tears to even the hardest of hearts. Christopher Duffley, the blind autistic 11 year-old does that here. Even those with hearts of stone might shed a tear “seeing” Christopher sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart”.

Mom! Stop treating me like Martin!

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Elijah doesn’t like being confined. He’s screaming for release from his swaddle!

Maybe Elijah already knows about Martin Sostre held in solitary confinement at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, and the warden who allowed him only one hour of freedom in the prison yard . . . or about the 2016 prison revolt when the Dannemora inmates refused to return to their cells from the exercise yard.

“Mom! Stop acting acting like a warden! I love to drink and stuff… but I’m not a fetus anymore! I need some exercise! And stop calling me Elijah; my name is Martin!”

Perhaps the swaddle is to little Elijah’s mind what solitary confinement was to the protesting Martin: a violation of the human rights to the free exercise of speech and bodily movement for the purpose of allowing the warden . . .  or the Mom . . .  to sleep securely through the night.

But there’s a big difference between the two. When Martin Sostre made a lot of noise, Marin was confined to his swaddle while the warden slept soundly miles away.  When Elijah – or is it Martin? – protests every hour or so through the night –“Mom! I’m not a fetus anymore!”– his mother is crying in the same cell.

Elijah smiling in swaddleThis morning their roles have switched. Elijah’s sleepless mother is a weary protester; the well-fed rioter is sleeping happily in his swaddle.

  • Shared against prison regulations by an adoring grandfather in Chaska, MN, May 28, 2017.

 

 

 

Boundary-breaking God

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Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009) R.I.P.

INTRODUCTION: The Japanese theologian to whom Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness is dedicated delivered these words a decade ago from the pulpit of House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St Paul, Minnesota. Contrary to popular misconception, the biblical prophets did not fore-tell the future; they rather forth-told a word greater than their own. Kosuke Koyama‘s experience led him to hear something quite clearly – a word he could not have known would be more important in 2017 than the day he spoke it.

THE SERMON, June 6, 2006. Texts: Leviticus 19:33, Psalm 139: 7-10, and Luke 14: 1-6. [Bold type added by Views from the Edge.]

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. – Lev. 19:33.

This is a challenging suggestion for the immigration and naturalization policy of any nation. God does not discriminate between citizens and aliens. The God of the Bible is more concerned about the welfare of the aliens, the weak, than of citizens, the strong.

Remember your own experience in Egypt! “Love the alien as yourself!” Jesus is even more emphatic when he says, “Love your enemies!” We think of aliens and enemies as potential threats to our community. They must be kept outside of our boundaries.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” observes the New England poet, with sharp insight. Something there is in the gospel of Christ that dismantles walls. Jesus “has broken down the dividing walls,” we read in the Epistle to the Ephesians. (2:14)
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“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) – This Word, the truthful Word, “breaks down the dividing walls” by making honest dialogue possible. When communication breaks down peace breaks down. It takes a great deal of dialogue to come to mutual understanding between peoples of different language, religions, racial and cultural practice. Often the choice is between dialogue and mutual destruction, between diplomacy and war. The alternative to dialogue is taking the sword. Jesus says; “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt.26:52). Our “sword” today is incredibly destructive! Our fear, today, is of nuclear proliferation. We fear it because we started it! “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”! (Dt.30:19)
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The brief gospel text for this morning is a record of a profound dialogue. The story is honest and transparent. We can understand it very well. The dumfounded lawyers and Pharisees only reveal the sincere quality of the story. In conversation with Jesus, the man of total honesty, human hypocrisy is exposed and expelled.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” but they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this (Luke 14:1-6).

How boldly Jesus simplifies and zeroes-in on the central issue! “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” This is the question that distinguishes the gospel from religion. This story is only one of a number of “Sabbath controversies” told in the gospels. The gospel breaks boundaries. Religion often insists on boundaries. The gospel opens windows in hope. Religion may shut windows in fear. The gospel is “scandalously” inclusive. Religion often is piously exclusive. “You shall love the alien as yourself” expresses the spirit of the gospel. Religion tends to question whether everyone deserves to be loved.

The Sabbath is a holy institution commemorating the holy rest God has taken after creating “heaven and earth.” Sabbath is mentioned as one of the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it” (Ex.20: 8-11).

“On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered” (Lk. 6:6) “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight” (13:10,11).

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, … Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy” (the disease of the swelling from abnormal fluid retention ). A man of withered hand, a woman who is bent over, and a man with dropsy appear “on the Sabbath in front of him.”

Jesus cures them. Jesus “works” on the Sabbath! Some for whom it is important to “keep” the sabbath complain, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day”(Lk.13:14). Jesus, for whom the persons with need are more important than the rule, responds, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?”

Jesus comes to heal the broken human community. He is the embodiment of direct love-action and action-love. He cures sick people publicly on the Sabbath with unassailable authority and freedom. The people are amazed – ecstatic – and praise God. Representing the God of compassion, Jesus breaks the boundary attached to the sacred Sabbath tradition. In his “boundary breaking” he restores the authentic purpose of the sabbath – that is, to bring health to human community. The Sabbath is for healing. “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath,” says Jesus (Mk.2:27). What a freedom he exhibits!

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The gospel of Jesus Christ is “scandalous,” says the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1: 18-25) for he is “the man who fits no formula” (Eduard Schweizer, (Jesus, chap. 2). Creeds, doctrine, theology, or tradition cannot domesticate Jesus. No one can confine Jesus within walls. Let me quote from a Swiss New Testament scholar:

“…teaching in itself does not convey the living God. It may even hinder his coming, though it (the teaching) may be totally correct. It is exactly the most correct and orthodox teaching that would suggest that we had got hold of God. Then he can no longer come in his surprising ways” (Eduard Schweizer, Luke: A Challenge to Present Theology p.58)

We feel uneasy when Jesus breaks the boundaries we make, because boundaries are a part of our accepted culture. “Good fences make good neighbors.” Yet, fences can never be the final word. Tragically in our real lives fences work more in the direction of mutual alienation than mutual embrace. “Before I build a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out” – says the poet. That is a good question!

When I was in my early teens, Japan followed her gods who were rather poorly educated in international relations. They were parochial. They spoke only Japanese. They did not criticize Japanese militarism. They endorsed the inflated idea that Japan is a righteous empire. Trusting these parochial gods, the people recited, to paraphrase: “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, behold the glory of the divine emperor of Japan is there!” Japan broke international boundaries in pursuit of self-glorification and aggrandizement. Without any threat from her Asian neighbors, Japan attacked and invaded them. The Japanese gods approved and Japan ruined herself. Blessed are nations that have a God who criticize what they do! The God of Israel said to God’s own people: “You are a stiff-necked people!”

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The infant Jesus “was placed in a manger – “for there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Being thus edged out even from a human birth place, Jesus breaks a boundary. When he “eats with sinners and tax collectors” (Mk.2:16) he breaks a boundary. Crucified, nailed to the cross, – completely immobilized – he breaks a boundary. Dying between two criminals, becoming a member of this community of three crosses, he breaks a boundary. Being “numbered with the transgressors”, to quote from the Book of Isaiah (53:12), he breaks boundaries. This is an amazing story. The one who is totally vulnerable, disarmed, non-violent, and immobilized and humiliated has broken all the boundaries, which threaten the health of human community.

With our geopolitical realities, we may think that the way of Christ is romantic and not realistic. Then we must know that the alternative is the historical fact of 5000 years of human civilization replete with constant warfare. Should we continue this state of endless destruction for another 5000 years? Gandhi’s practice of non-violence has done more to increase the welfare of humanity upon the earth than many wars put together. Martin Luther King Jr. says: “Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival”! (Strength to Love, p.47) “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God‘s weakness is stronger than human strength” cries the apostle Paul (1 Cor.1:25).

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“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus says. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). The birds of the air and the Father who feeds them are free from all boundaries. Climate change – global warming – has no boundaries. The light of the sun and the air that sustain all living beings know no boundaries. The Berlin Wall of 96 miles was there for 28 years up to 1989. The racial wall of the South African Apartheid existed for 46 years and ended in 1994. In their limited existence, these walls have done immeasurable damage to humanity on the both sides of the wall. The Orthodox Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West did not speak to each other for 911 years from 1054 to 1965. The Great Wall of China and Check Point Charlie in Berlin are tourist spots today. “One cannot dehumanize others without dehumanizing oneself” says James Baldwin. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we pray. It is this prayer that breaks the boundaries in a way that is pleasing to God.

 

Elijah’s face

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Elijah calm

Five day old Elijah

Looking at the contentment on Elijah’s face, do you suppose he’s already read grandpa’s Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness or has memorized grandpa’s favorite psalm, Psalm 46? I wish I could be this calm, this cool, this collected, this still.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
    though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

[Psalm 46, NRSV]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2017

The Amish Pope with the Trumps

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The Amish don’t like cameras. Humility tells them to shun photographs. Why? Because a photograph draws attention to oneself. Christ calls a human being to be humble. Christ calls a person to be modest. Christ calls a person to take a place in the community and to shun “the English” love of ostentation and self-aggrandizement.

There are no Bentleys or Fords among the Amish, no one-percent and 99 percent, or, if there is the latter, no one can tell it by the buggies they drive. It’s the community that counts. They all wear black.

Maybe the president and his family thought the Pope was Amish? Although the Pope is robed in white linen, the Pope’s facial expression leaves one to wonder whether perhaps the Trumps were right.

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American Gothic and the Amish Pope

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2017.

A very sad little man

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A video is worth a thousand words. A push. A “get outta my way” shove. The quickly changing facial expression. The peacock fanning his tail. So much for the conversation with Pope Francis: “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” It stuck like silly putty. Or…like water off the back of a very sad little man. The President misunderstood the Pope’s quotation from John 14. “In my Father’s house there’s only enough room for me.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2017.

Do newborns smile?

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Taking his first bath, newborn Elijah Andrew smiled his deep dimple smile, looking toward his mother cooing to him from her hospital bed following emergency surgery.

Newborns don’t really smile, I’ve been told. Their faces change because of gas or for some other bodily reason. But, looking at Elijah’s face, how can anyone doubt that Elijah is smiling at the sound of his mother’s voice?

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Elijah Andrew, 8.1 lbs., 21 inches with huge shoulders and smile and dimpled smile.

After smiling at his mother, Elijah was heard to say to the nurse who was bathing him, “What you talking about? Baby’s DO smile! I’d know that voice anywhere. I’ve been with her everywhere she’s gone for almost nine months.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2017.

Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet

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“Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” is read aloud here from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (p. 10f.). This recording is not as professional as it will be this weekend when it airs on Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” This practice run starts out a little mushy! But it’s good enough that Day1.org posted it yesterday on their site.

Many thanks to Chuck Lieber for making it possible to turn “Be Still!” into a podcast.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2017.

Shout! Shout! Elijah rocks!

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Elijah fought his way into the world yesterday with the push of a very weary mother. His middle name is Andrew, named after his uncle, his mother Kristin’s younger brother.

Excited by the birth, I phoned a friend. “Hey,” I said, “I’m a grandson! Kristin just had a grandfather!” The grandson weighs 190. The grandfather 8.1.

Shout! Shout!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Mah 23, 2017

Naming the (step)grandchild

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When the Chinese waitperson who has mixed two Kettle One martinis with twists and a yellowfin tuna roll listens carefully to the reason you’re at Sake Sushi — your pregnant step-daughter is being induced into labor two weeks before her due date because of high blood pressure — responds to your inappropriate question about a good name for the baby (it’s a boy) with “PETER!”, could she be the voice of God?

Just wondering. I’ve enjoyed two Kettle One martinis!

By morning I expect the baby to leave the womb. We shall see whether he is Jackson, Elijah, Eli, Micah. . . or Peter!

Pray for the mother, the child, and the weary grandmother at the hospital.

  • Gordon, safely home from Sake Sushi in Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

When a megalomaniac is cornered

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150th anniversary logo of The Nation

Sasha Abramsky’s article “Trump is a Cornered Megalomaniac — and That’s a Grave Danger to the Country” (The Nation, May 21) examines the growing crisis in the White House and the clear and present danger it poses.

“Men like Trump,” says Abramsky, “do not fade gently into their political night. Rather, with all nuance sacrificed in pursuit of their senescent need for the spotlight, they scrabble and scratch, lash out and fight. With no self-limiting or self-correcting moral gyroscope, they go down whatever paths they believe offer them the best chance of survival.”

I read Abramsky’s article yesterday and recalled a brief conversation last December aboard ship on The Nation Annual Cruise.

This morning the President was playing from the script, doing Abramsky warned he would: fighting back, lashing out at the “fake media” who don’t want him to “drain the swamp of Washington bureaucrats” in order to “make America great again,” the media who have treated him worse than anyone in American history, against those who keep making stuff up like “the Russian thing.” Donald Trump was using “all the tricks of the demagogue as he fights for his survival” (Abramsky).

A Facebook “Friend” posted a Trump call for readers to rise up in support of the victimized people’s President. This afternoon I can’t seem to find it and wonder whether perhaps Facebook, which revised its policy that allowed splattering false news in the 2016 election, had censored the post as faux news. Whatever the reason for the post’s disappearance, the reason for its initial appearance was clear.

But three things seem clear.

  1. The game is on. “Donald Trump’s grotesque presidency now hangs by a thread. By the hour, it seems, the possibility of impeachment, of him being declared incompetent to govern—or, at the very least, of his own party bringing irresistible pressure on him to resign—grows.” (Abramsky)
  2. This President has shown repeatedly that he is capable of almost anything, including, God forbid, creating or exacerbating an international crisis of epic proportions, in the megalomaniacal struggle to survive.
  3. My Facebook “Friend” doesn’t agree with any of that. She still believes in the President. She’s a good person, a fallen-away Catholic. We’re still “friends” on Facebook and in real life.

But, hey, who knows what may happen?

The President’s trip includes a meeting with the Pope. Maybe Pope Francis will hear his confession, convince the beleaguered, lapsed Presbyterian president to resign, and convince the likes of my lapsed Catholic Facebook Friend that wise people don’t confuse demagogues with victims.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Frederick Buechner

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Today Day1.org features “The Seagull and the Rainbow” right beside Frederick Buechner, whose writings influenced me as a young preacher and pastor.

Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner

Thanks to Peter Wallace of Day1 for putting the student next to a man he unconsciously aspired to be. I’m older now . . .  and the distant iconic mentor who had no reason to know his mentee’s name is older still but no less alive to faith and life!

Years ago the Council of Churches in Cincinnati invited a Canadian publisher to publish “The Cincinnati Prayer Book,” a collection of prayers for the year by Cincinnati religious leaders. I was Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church at the time. The publisher asked whether I would be interested in publishing a collection of sermons.

I recall the conversation in my office as if it were yesterday. I thought I smelled a rat.

“Are you a vanity press?” I asked.

They assurance me they were not. “The Startling Kindness of God” moved forward, including an endorsement from Frederick Buechner. But Fred’s letter to me included a private comment that changed how I preached and wrote. The sermons were good, he said, followed by a devastating “but”: “but I find them rather bloodless. I want to see some of your blood in them.”

Listening to your lifeI learned laster that he was working on Listening to Your Life. Reading my sermons, he seemed to sense I was not listening to mine. I wasn’t.

When the final contract appeared, the publisher required that I sell 300 copies of the sermon collection. I tore up the contract. The bloodless sermons are in a box in my closet, wondering why they were never published.

I have no reason to believe Fred Buechner has any recollection of that or that he remembers my name. But his combination of affirmation and warning began to change the way I preach and write. To appear next to Frederick Buechner today is a serendipitous occasion of joy and thanks. Thank you, Fred. I’m holding out a goldfish after all these years.

Thank you, Peter, for posting “The Seagull and the Rainbow” on Day1.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, May 20, 2017, Chaska, MN.

 

 

 

 

Glooming Gus at the Precipice

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This otherwise cheerful morning – the sun is bright, the sky is blue, the air is brisk, the flowers are blooming – I open my eyes to find myself standing again before the precipice.

“I don’t know whether we’re on the edge of the precipice,” said Louis de Guidos, “but we’re in in a very, very, very difficult situation.”

He was speaking of the Spanish and European economy, but his description is suited to the crisis in which the world now finds itself in the aftermath of a global cyber attack and men-children in North Korea and the U.S.A. with nuclear arsenals at their fingertips.

“At times, we forget the magnitude of the havoc we can wreak by off-loading our minds onto super-intelligent machines, that is, until they run away from us, like mad sorcerers’ apprentices, and drag us up to the precipice for a look down into the abyss.” – Richard Dooling.

A lesser known author wrote on this topic:

“It’s one thing to play with toys. It’s something else when the toys are nuclear bombs and missiles.

“Our time is perilously close to mass suicide. Unless and until we get it straight that I and we are not the center of the universe, the likes of Kim Jong-un – and his mirror opposites but like-minded opponents on this side of the Pacific – will hold us hostage to the madness that lurks in human goodness.

“‘Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else?’ asked Dr. King. ‘The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.'” -“Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: Little Boys with Toys,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 77.

Just because a person’s a gloomy Gus doesn’t mean it’s not gloomy. 🙄

  • Gordon C. Stewart, gloomy Gus, at the precipice in Chaska, MN, May 17, 2016.

Hinges: Wisdom and Discretion

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Yesterday’s “Why do we feel so unhinged?” – an attempt at a philosophical post outside the partisan political fray – cries out this morning for a less dispassionate follow-up.

Much of the reason for feeling unhinged is unhinged behavior in the White House that violates prudence (wisdom) and temperance (restraint, self-control), two of the Four Cardinal Virtues featured in “Why do we feel so unhinged?”

trump-lavrov2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724The latest Washington Post news concerning the POTUS’s off-script conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador about a highly sensitive foreign intelligence and national security matter offers the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s imprudence and lack of restraint.

The American people and the people of the world should expect wisdom and self-control (restraint) from the most powerful man in the world. But when a society’s traditional values get obliterated by an entertainment culture whose entertainment President gets his news from watching “Good Morning, Joe” and Fox News and tweets warning shots at the FBI Director he’s just fired, the greater tragedy may be that America got a mirror image of ourselves. Until finally the question former First Lady Michelle Obama asked after the new president signed an executive order undoing the Obama Administration’s healthy school lunch program: “What is wrong with you?”

The question goes all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero in ancient Greece and Roma, and to Thomas Aquinas, who was schooled in the Four Cardinal Virtues at the University of Paris in the 12th Century.

As previously noted (see “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 101-102), it’s a long way from the University of Paris to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where the the new president delivered his first commencement address last Saturday.

Trump and FalwellLiberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. urging Liberty students and faculty to buy guns to teach the Muslims a lesson when they show up at Liberty is a far cry from Jesus’s teaching that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. While Liberty’s President, like the Liberty’s commencement speaker, measures life by what is the greatest and the biggest – Liberty boasts of being the biggest university in the world – Jesus spoke about “the least of these,” by which he did not mean the least qualified, the least accredited and least academically respected educational institution. No, he was talking about the down-trodden, the poor, the meek of the earth, the sick, the dying, the friendless, not the successful elect, the saved, the righteous, the true believers, or the well-off. This is the school President Trump chose to address last week.

Here again are the Four Cardinal Virtues on which the western moral tradition claims the good life and the good society hing. They are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word cardo (‘hing’) because the door to the good life and the healthy society hinges on them.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Today is another day in America. Another day in whatever as yet un-masked country provided the highly classified intelligence report to which the President off-handedly referred in the Oval Office while bragging about his “great intel” to the dismay of an onsite witness wise enough to blow the whistle on the latest example of imprudence and intemperance that put the world at risk.

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to thy Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts…. Amen
[Book of Common Prayer]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 16, 2017.

 

Why do we feel so unhinged?

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Vertus cardinales par Germain Pilon (Louvre)

Yesterday a friend reminded me of the Four Cardinal Virtues:

  1. prudence (wisdom),
  2. justice,
  3. temperance, and
  4. courage.

They are called ‘cardinal’ (Latin cardo; English: ‘hinge’) because they are the ‘hinges’ of the good life and the good society. These are the hinges on which the door to the good life opens.

We don’t think much about ‘virtue’ in the Ayn Rand society. We have learned to recoil at the smugness of those who claim to be virtuous. Even so, one is led to wonder whether we recoil at the imprudent, ill-tempered tweetings and firings in the news because of lingering respect and yearning for the Four Cardinal Virtues, the traditional moral hinges of our cultural heritage.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Justice (Greek: δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia) is the moral and economic balance between selfishness and selflessness, between having more and having less than one’s fair share.

Courage (Greek: ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitude) means not only fortitude/strength, but forbearance, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Could it be that the daily unhinged violation of the Four Cardinal (hinge) Virtues is why we feel so unhinged?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the Ides of March, 2017

 

Hammer-strokes against the darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoo-woo! I hear a rumblin’

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Some days, when I’m weary, I hear the rumblin’ wheels of the gospel train rolling through the land. The song of the American slaves speaks its hope to me in this later age of collective madness.

The Gospel train’s comin’
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheel rumblin’
And rollin’ thro’ the land

Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There’s room for many more

I hear the train a-comin’
She’s comin’ round the curve
She’s loosened all her steam and brakes
And strainin’ ev’ry nerve

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Whoo-wooing for the fairer train from Chaska, MN, May 11, 2017.

 

My Father’s Portrait

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We’re all cut from our parents’ cloth. It falls to each of us to finish their unfinished business.

Following my mother’s death, it fell to the three sons and our spouses to clean out the apartment and arrange for distribution or disposal of the belongings.

My father had died two years earlier.

Don, Bob and I spent an afternoon alone in the apartment using a rotation method to divide the belongings.  By order of birth, we would each choose what we wanted. Round one: Gordon, Don, Bob; round two: Gordon, Don, Bob – I-2-3; 1-2-3 – until everything  any of us wanted was chosen.  The rest would go to auction or to Goodwill.

Among my parents’ personal art was an oil painting of my father. In my early years, I loved that painting.  Handsome man. Robed in his clergy robe, dignified, smiling, tender eyes, a man of stature, our Dad. The painting had been in the family for as long as I can remember and, as best I can recall, had hung in Dad’s pastor’s office at Marple Church when I was a teenager. Now it hung in the narrow hallway just inside the entrance to my parents’ apartment. It was the first thing a visitor saw – a reminder to all who entered that Dad had once been someone special, a man of the cloth.

One-two-three, we chose our favorite pieces.  We agreed that monetary value made no difference to our selection process. All that mattered the value each of us placed on an item.  The grandfather clock was clearly worth the most in dollars, but the clock had been purchased late in our parents’ marriage; it bore only the most recent memories, not the memories of home.  It could not compare with the knicknacks – one of our mother’s Hummel figurines, a Baltimore Oriole paper weight, my father’s dog tags from World War II, a dish, a lamp, a photo, or the original painting given by a parishioner that reminded me of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” – artifacts of precious times now gone except for memory.

But there was another painting, a portrait of Dad in his ministerial robe.

As we went around the room, the painting didn’t move. Nobody picked it. Finally, Don asked with a smile, “Who wants Dad’s painting?” Deferring to me, Bob chimed in. “You’re the oldest! You should have it. It’s okay with me. I don’t want it!” “Sure,” said Don, “I don’t want it. Go ahead, Gord, you should have it. You’re the oldest!”

We all looked at each other and began to laugh about the elephant that had been sitting for years in the living room.

I looked at the picture. There was Dad, clear as day, a keepsake that had meant so much to  our father and mother, and we didn’t want his picture?  “I don’t want it,” I said, and  started to say more but couldn’t get the words out. Grief had overcome me. I couldn’t speak. I shuddered with sobbing. My brothers watched and waited in silence. When finally I composed myself enough to complete the thought through the tears, the words came out slowly . . . in staggered gulps. “I hate that thing! I always wanted to rip that robe off him! He never took it off!  He was always the minister. I just wanted him to be his own naked self. I just wanted him to be Dad.”

Reflecting on it years later, that moment was one of many breakthrough moments of taking off my own robe. I hadn’t worn mine for five years and hadn’t missed it. I began to find my own naked self bereft of the robe while working for a poverty criminal defense law firm founded by African American civil rights activists and founders of the American Indian Movement. Unconditional love was not a creedal statement; it was a daily fact of life, the treasure of grace held by many kinds of vessels. “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels….”

I took the painting of Dad and took him with me on the long flight home to the Legal Rights Center.  When I got there, I put the painting in storage, as a reminder that the work isn’t finished for me or my offspring. Who knows, someday one of the great-grandchildren may bring Dad’s painting out of the closet.

TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Garry Armstrong, the veteran reporter pictured here with Tip O’Neill, offers an insider view to the stress of a reporter’s life with a humorous touch.

SERENDIPITY

Isn’t it too early to be drinking? by Garry Armstrong

I heard these lines recently in a movie. They made me laugh.


“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” he said.
“No,” she said. ” I’m awake.”

The line had stayed with me many years after the laughter faded, replaced by memories of work, reporters, bars, and pubs from New York to Saigon.

As a reporter, I covered Presidential politics from 1962 to 2001. From JFK to Bush, Jr. As a newbie reporter, I saw veteran correspondents fueling up with multiple Bloody Marys as we began our day on the political or campaign trail. I was impressed. During my rookie year, I summoned up enough courage to question one famous reporter who had begun his career working with Edward R. Murrow. He was on his third Bloody Mary — in one 10-minute period.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?”…

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