In stillness I wait

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fd102fe612128b9da9857f58e5286d30I see things in the wilderness I do not notice at home.

Last night the sky was lit by lightning on every side —north and south, east and west— but the lightning was flashing from far away. There was no sound. There was no thunderstorm within miles of the A-frame under the stars.

The cabin by the wetland is like that — a place apart for a news-weary soul. A humble shelter of rough-cut pine without electronic devices among the crows, owls, white-tailed deer, skunks, and swans. Yes, the skunks are here, digging for grubs at night, but the skunks here don’t stink up the place like humans do back home, and, like the crows, owls, deer, and swans, they know nothing of the world I’m trying to leave behind.

1928_bcpThis morning’s Psalm from the Daily Office of The Book of Common Prayer brings its own kind of light from afar.

We give you thank, O God, we give you thanks,
calling upon your Name and declaring your wonderful deeds.

“I will appoint a time,” says God,
“I will judge with equity.

“Though the earth and all its inhabitants are quaking,
I will make its pillars fast.

“I will say to the boasters, ‘Boast no more,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not toss your horns;

“‘Do not toss your horns so high,
nor speak with a proud neck.’”

[Psalm 75:1-5, Book of Common Prayer]

The lightning flashes from ages ago, calling me to hope for such a time.

In the morning stillness of the wilderness, I wait.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, uploading at the truck stop 12 miles away, September 23, 2017.

 

The owl in the wilderness

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An owl greeted Kay this morning from a tree outside the door of the wilderness cabin next to the wetland with the swans’ nest before we turned to the wisdom of the Psalm assigned for today by The Book of Common Prayer.

But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped;
I had almost tripped and fallen;

Because I envied the proud
and saw the prosperity of the wicked:

For they suffer no pain,
and their bodies are sleek and sound;

In the misfortunes of others they have no share;
they are not afflicted as others are;

Therefore, they wear their pride like a necklace
and wrapt their violence about them like a cloak.

Their iniquity comes from gross minds,
and their thoughts overflow with wicked thoughts.

They scoff and speak maliciously;
out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.

They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their evil speech runs through the world.

And so the people turn to them
and find in them no fault.

They say, “How should God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

So then, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase their wealth.
….

Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord,
when you arise you will make their image vanish.

[Psalm 73:2-12, 20]

Having almost tripped and fallen into despair, I hear in the psalmist’s voice the hoot of the owl in the wilderness and pray that the evil speech that ran through the world from the podium of the United Nations and the mage of the violent and the haughty will vanish.

Elijah’s letter to the President

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Seventeen week old Elijah dictated the following letter for Grandpa to send to President Trump after hearing the President’s United Nations speech. Here’s the letter:

September 21, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

I’m little but my Grandpa says I have rights under the First Amendment and that I should exercise my right of free speech to tell you what’s on my mind. I hope that’s okay with you. Grandpa says you’re bigger on the Second Amendment than the First Amendment, but they’re all part of the U. S. Constitution, right?

I’ve thought many times of writing you but decided not to until hearing your speech to the United Nations this week.

You may wonder why a kid like me would send a letter to the President, but there’s more than one good reason.

Infant_Baptism_Christian-217x300We have a connection you may not about, although my Grandpa is very famous, like you. You and Grandpa were baptized as babies in the Presbyterian Church. Your pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens took you in his arms and baptized you “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” But before your parents put you in the pastor’s arms, they had to answer a question: “Do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

I asked Grandpa what nurture and admonition meant. He said nurture is like when Mom breastfeeds me. Admonition, he says, is an old word we don’t use anymore and that’s a shame because you could use a good admonishing. Admonition, Grandpa says, is a way of setting boundaries on a child’s behavior; it’s part of the discipline necessary to raising a child toward responsible adulthood. Admonishing is telling a child “No. You can’t do that. You’re a child of God, but you’re not the only one.” Grandpa tells me that all the time. I wonder if your mother and father ever did that with you before they sent you off to the military academy.

So you and Grandpa are both baptized Christians. But there’s even more of a connection!

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McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster

Grandpa became a Presbyterian minister. He knows one of your church’s former pastors at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica. Before Rev. Dr. Raymond Schwartzbach (Grandpa calls him ‘Ray’) came to your church in New York City, he served the college church at The College of Wooster which Grandpa served six years after Ray.

Grandpa says Ray was really special and that he left Wooster because he wanted to get back to the city. He told Grandpa that your church was the most multicultural church in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 32 different languages — the most in the whole country!

Trump at United NationsWatching you speak to all those different languages at the United Nations made me wonder what happened to you after your pastor held you in his arms and baptized you into the way of Christ. Did your parents nurture you? Did they admonish you? Or were you left on your own? Did they teach you not to call people names? Did they admonish you when you did? Did they teach you the first article of the Westminster Catechism, that  “the chief end of man is to glorify God…” and not yourself? Did they teach you the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek? Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Did they teach you that Presbyterians value simplicity and modesty, and that they dislike ostentation? Did they teach you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? Did they teach you the difference between loving your country and worshiping it? Did they teach you that nationalism is sin, that the nation is not God?

I’m just little and I haven’t been baptized yet like you and Grandpa. But I have questions. I’m not sure I want to be baptized if being baptized means I have to be admonished as well as nurtured. Maybe you feel the same.

Please answer if you have time. I know you’re very busy with Kim Jung un and Robert Mueller stuff, but Grandpa says some things in life are too important to ignore.

Respectfully yours,

Elijah

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the president say that?

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Elijah and HarveyElijah and I were watching the President’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly when suddenly Elijah sat bolt upright.

Grandpa, did he really say that?

Say what, Elijah? He’s said a lot of things.

Trump at United NationsDid he just call Kim Jung Un “Rocket Man”?

Yes, he did, Elijah.

That’s not right! You told me never to call people names. Then he said he would destroy his country! He sounds like a bully. You taught me bullying’s bad, right Grandpa?

Right. Bullying is bad. It’s always bad. The president just embarrassed every American.

And then he insulted all our allies whose countries are socialist. All our European allies are socialist, right Grandpa? Israel’s socialist, right Grandpa?

That’s right, Elijah. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He still believes in the Boogeyman.

Boogeyman_posterWell, I think he’s acting like the Boogeyman. Don’t ever leave me in the same room with the president, Grandpa. He’s mean. He’s scary!

Don’t worry, Elijah, President Trump will never take care of you. Mom will. Grandma and I will. Your baby sitter will. And the world leaders will babysit Mr. Trump.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, September 21, 2017.

 

That would Ted do?

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Conversations with a best friend newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer led to me back this morning to Ted Gill, whose obituary we republish here.

Why? Because my friend, like Ted Gill, served as president of an institution of theological education, participated in the civil rights movement, and is finding fresh meaning in the communion of saints, that strange article of the Christian creed that connects the living and the dead as we have never been gathered in time.

People in Minnesota often ask “What would Wellstone do?” Paul Wellstone was a child of the Iron Range. So was Ted Gill who was born in the town where the Wellstone’s plane crashed.

In light of Ted Gill’s obituary — “Late in his life, Ted Gill remarked that ‘the high point of my career in the ministry was the week that I cost my seminary five million dollars’” — we might well ask, “What would Ted do?”

Theodore A. Gill, Sr.
Presbyterian Pastor, Theologian, and Educator

Rev. Dr. Theodore Alexander GillThe Rev. Dr. Theodore Alexander Gill, a former president of San Francisco Theological Seminary and later provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York (CUNY), died at the age of 85 on Friday, June 10 following a lengthy illness, in Princeton, New Jersey.

Born in Eveleth, Minnesota on January 7, 1920, Ted Gill was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Seminary in New York City, and the University of Zurich where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Recent Protestant Political Theory.” His teachers included Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Josef Hromadka, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich. He was awarded six honorary doctorates during his career. In his time at the San Francisco seminary, he became one of the founders of the Graduate Theological Union based in Berkeley.

After serving Presbyterian parishes in New Rochelle, New York and West End Presbyterian church in New York City, he became professor of religion and dean of the chapel at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, and subsequently managing editor of The Christian Century magazine in Chicago and editor of its sister publication The Pulpit. He was president of San Francisco Theological Seminary from 1958 to 1966, leaving that position to occupy the higher education desk of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. Following a return to the parish in Detroit, he joined the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a CUNY college in midtown Manhattan, where he remained from 1971 through 1989. In retirement, he served as theologian in residence at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.

Ted Gill’s passion was for the link between religion and the arts, and over the years he served as a part-time leader of such organizations as Art, Religion, and Contemporary Culture – founded by Paul Tillich – and American Summer Institutes, a series of annual seminars on theology and the arts in locations that included Rome, Berlin, Budapest, and St. Andrews. As president of the San Francisco seminary, he organized a ground-breaking program on theology and theatrical arts. He also served on Presbyterian judicial commissions in the northeast and on national church committees that produced The Worshipbook of 1970 and commissioned the seal or logo of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1985. At the time of his death, he was a retired member of the Presbytery of New York City.

From the early days of the US civil rights struggle, Ted Gill publicly supported equal rights for all and openly opposed segregationist practices in both southern and northern states. In 1963-64, he was regional chair of California’s “No on Proposition 14” campaign against discriminatory housing legislation, and in 1965 he marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in support of voting rights. As he and dozens of students and faculty members from San Francisco Theological Seminary participated in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march of 1965, promises of millions of dollars in endowments to the institution he led were withdrawn in protest by potential donors. Late in his life, Ted Gill remarked that “the high point of my career in the ministry was the week that I cost my seminary five million dollars.” In later years, he voiced support for the full participation of gays and lesbians in church and society.

51N4rqkX+bL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_He was the author or editor of numerous books, journals, and articles. Among his books were The Sermons of John Donne (1958), Memo for a Movie: A Short Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1971), and, with Robert Bellah and Krister Stendahl, Religion and the Academic Scene (1975).

He was noted for editorial columns and sermons that were featured in church magazines and on radio’s “The Protestant Hour.” Preaching in a sermon series titled “Christian Clichés,” Ted Gill told his listeners:

“I have known and loved too many of the victims of the old-fashioned version of the ‘Christian’ life: wonderful, juicy human beings who were persuaded by a misguided church that they had to veil their vividness, bank their fires, dehydrate their interest, denature their enthusiasms, if they wanted to be Christian. No, the old idea will not do… The Christian life is not the life that is made to fit the legalistic box, that is forced to fit into the pattern. The Christian life is life lived in a certain direction – in, through, around, above whatever temperamental, physical, psychological obstacles any of us may have. But always in that direction – the direction which is assigned to us by what we know of God, by what we know in Jesus Christ of the character and nature of the realest real, by what we know in Jesus of God and the love of God. The Christian life is life lived in appropriate reaction to God’s action for us. The Christian life will be described in terms of the direction we are headed, and of how well we keep going in that direction, no matter how often we trip and fall.”

At the 1968 assembly of the World Council of Churches, Ted Gill gave a speech on “The Great Convergence” of education and the churches. Reflecting on student demonstrations in universities that spring, he revealed his discomfort with patterns of conformity in higher education:

“On the campuses, a generation erupted, an important piece of society let fly. The protest might have begun on the field of general education, but it was a wild shout, a rough rejection of education-in-general, of everything taken for granted by all the elements now molding people, coercing society, determining the future. The real adversary was not this or that administrator or this or that teacher or this or that course. The real adversaries were that rigid vice-chancellor, the status quo; those sternly directive professors, government and industry; that intolerable bore, academic tradition; those long courses in accommodation… Some of the brightest and best of our youth flame now in revolutionary dissatisfaction with the goals they see accepted by those who teach them, affect them, direct them. They distrust the values commonly invoked. They defy the system which ever more efficiently instructs the new generation in means that they see leading straight to inhuman ends: unendurable inequities, intolerable narrowing of human possibilities, blasphemous vulgarizations of spirit.” (“The Great Convergence,” The Ecumenical Review 20.4 [Oct. 1968], 385-94.)

In the April 1958 issue of The Pulpit, editor Gill reflected on the intricacies of theology in light of his father’s recent death: “We squabble and we rant about all the picayune details we assign to mysteries completely beyond our assessing, when all we really have to tell the world, all we really have to live on is the good news that God is love… But now, the love of God that gets us through our hard days is for more than funerals. It is for living along. When you know in your bones that the most real knows you and loves you, that beyond the vicissitudes of experience and the catastrophes of existence the ground of all being has declared itself for you, there should be a relief and a release in your living, a new inventiveness and zest in your living, a new pleasure, a more confident participation in life and its precious fascinations.”

Due to a blockage of his carotid artery in May 1994, he lost the capacity for speech and began a gradual decline in health. His wife of 57 years, Katherine Yonker Gill, died in July 2002. He is survived by a daughter, Laurie Melissa Keeran of Brewster, Massachusetts; a son, the Rev. Theodore A. Gill, Jr. of Geneva, Switzerland; a grand-daughter, Elizabeth Katherine Gill of Durham, North Carolina; and longtime caregiver Ben Mensah of New York City. A memorial service will be held at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey and is being planned for Monday, June 20.

Click HERE to read the NYT obituary.

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

Book Review of “Be Still!”

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A gloomy, rainy day in Chaska is brightened by today’s posting of Donald Shriver’s review of Be Still! in the digital edition of The Presbyterian Outlook.

Thanks to editor and to Donald Shriver for the sunshine.

 

Deputizing the Cisco Kid and Poncho

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Pancho and the Cisco Kid

Troubled by criticism that he doesn’t love all the children — red and yellow, black and white, the way he was taught in Sunday School — and with loud cries criticizing his pardon of convicted former sheriff Joe Arpaio still haunting his sleep, President Trump had one of those “Aha!” moments from childhood television last night.

First thing this morning he tweeted an order to his Secretary of Homeland Security to look for help across the Mexican border from Cisco and Poncho of The Cisco Kid.

Be sure to watch to the end.

Then he broke out in song and sent the selfie to the faux news media and his newest friends, Charlie and Nancy: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.'”

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

 

The Light Show

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The moonless night beyond the picture window contrast with the candles that wash a warm glow on the orange rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame cabin in a place without a name.

flightA flock of Canadian geese flew over the wetland before dusk, honking their way south before winter comes to the Upper Midwest, while inside the cabin walls the Blue Jays had flown south from Toronto to Minneapolis over the radio to play a ballgame with the Twins. Unlike the Canadian geese, the Blue Jays are going nowhere; the Minnesota Twins are preparing for a long flight to the World Series.

votive-candlesThere is something strange about being alone in a remote wilderness cabin without a remote or internet, but some things stay close. Like the radio I bring to listen to the Twins games, and my canine companion Barclay who doesn’t care about the Twins or the radio but does care about candlelight. Barclay had headed for his kennel for the night an hour after the Twins had broken the sacred silence—until the sound of a match drew him back to the sofa to watch the candlelight flicker against the walls.

Sometimes I wish I were a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel instead of a lone silly goose who needs a radio to stay sane in an otherwise silent night in a warm-lit cabin in a place without a name.

d6dbdcca-1865-4dbf-b1dc-9cfda368e47d.1By the seventh inning stretch, I’m tired of the Twins game, blow out all the candles, see Barclay to his kennel, and head up the ladder to the loft in the darkness. Only then do I notice the light show beyond the cabin walls: the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, a natural light show no World Series can match. Through the loft window I watch the light that knows nothing of matches, candles, or our whereabouts off the human map.

Sometimes, when awe reduces me to lightening bug, it feels good to be human.

 

Nothing to say

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These last few days have been days like that.

I’m still learning in the quiet of the woods without phone or internet access. When I have nothing to say . . .  it’s best not to say it! 🦉

– Gordon C. Stewart, Speechless-in-Minnesota.

An Absence of Humility

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Hold to the Good

153 Evangelical leaders convened recently in Nashville under the auspices of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood and issued a statement on sexuality. Signers include some of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Evangelical family: James Dobson, Richard Land, James Robinson, Tony Perkins. The statement targets gay, lesbian and transgender persons but also Christians, Christian churches and organizations that do not exclude gay, lesbian and transgender people from membership and leadership, and everyone who comes to different conclusions about sexuality and sexual morality.

The first section of the statement reads:

“We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

The hubris of that statement is breathtaking. Not only does it reaffirm the traditional evangelical position that any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, it also sweeps anyone…

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The World as a Waiting Room

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ERB-logo-Color-SmallToday The Englewood Review of Books published its book review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

Click The World as a Waiting Room to read the review.

Thanks to Chris Smith, The Englewood Review‘s editor, for including Be Still!, and to Madeline Cramer, the reviewer, for close attention to its themes and substance.

Be StillMs. Cramer’s review is the first to lift up the deep affinity between the book’s cover, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Prisoners Exercising”, and the book’s elaboration of the less obvious forms of imprisonment, and our searches, alone and together, for sanity and stillness.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 7, 2017.

 

 

The Dreamers’ Psalm

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da2dbf9601aa6f870584206f878d8ba8Steve Shoemaker’s poetry reminded Views from the Edge readers that there is “A Song for Each Kind of Day” [April 12, 2012].

On an ordinary day, today’s assigned reading from The Book of Common Prayer would have sent me scurrying for something brighter. But today is darkened by the cruelty of the announced intention to end legal protection of the ‘Dreamers’.

I hear in the psalmist’s voice the cries of the Dreamers.

 tThose who seek after my life lay snares for me;

those who strive to hurt me speak of my ruin

and plot treachery all the day long. [Ps. 38:12]

Blitzer-Trump-DACAThose who are my enemies without cause are mighty,

and many in number are those who hate me. [Ps. 38:19]

There is a song for each kind of day.

“O Lord, you know all my desires,

and my sighing is no hidden from you.” [Ps. 38:9]

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“Make haste to help me,

O God of my salvation.” [Ps. 38:22]

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

Respite off the map

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Sanity demands solitude.

thoreau quoteHenry David Thoreau withdrew to Walden Pond to come to his senses. His time was much simpler than mine. He never got out of bed to check his emails or search the internet. But even in that less over-stimulated time he felt the need to leave everything that distracts the human spirit from the deeper truth about itself.

Solitude loves silence.

The wilderness cabin in northern Minnesota feels a bit like Henry’s place on Walden Pond. The wetland separates it from the small pond that has no name on a map. There are no sounds here other than the loons’ calls, Barclay’s bark, and the occasional mooing from a mile or two away when the wind is right.

Solitude puts me in touch with nature.

Not all the sounds are calming. In the night darkness, the howls of a nearby coyote and the scratching sounds of skunks digging for grubs remind me that nature is not as altogether sweet as romantics sometimes make it out to be. The cabin provides a respite from the human howls and odors that startle me in the world beyond these woods.

I ponder with the psalmist the societal ills that drove Henry to Walden Pond and have driven me here.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
eyes have they, but they cannot see;

They have ears, but they cannot hear;
noses, but they cannot smell;

They have hands, but they cannot feel;
feet, but they cannot walk;
they make no sound with their throat.

Those who make them are like them,
and so are all who put their trust in them.
[Psalm 115:4-8, The Book of Common Prayer]

fd102fe612128b9da9857f58e5286d30I become aware of the light dancing on the aspen leaves in a gentle breeze, the yellow oak leaf signaling the turn of summer toward fall, the sudden gust of wind from across the nameless pond, the osprey circling overhead on currents I cannot see, the ice-cold water hand-pumped from the well, the warmth of the fire in the wood stove, the feel of dirt from the flower beds—the living silence of a dead stop.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Walden Pond, MN, September 2, 2017.

When the news goes away

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Days away from internet access brings a calmer reflection. Being in touch isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Out of touch with bad news is relief to the body.

220px-Tipi_bij_daglichtIf living in the developed world means being on edge all the time, I’d prefer a less developed one — maybe a teepee with smoke signals for communication. Anxiety is real enough without the constant sting of bad news from far away and beyond my small sphere of influence.

Madison Avenue loves my anxiety. Admen prey on what can only be prayed about. An ad agency is no praying mantis! It’s color is green but its antennae look for the anxious selves who will buy the things we do not need if we believe we only exist by buying them.

Stillness and being are not their thing. Selling is their game. They don’t pray. They prey on well-trained dogs, ringing Pavlov’s bell for manufactured tastes and smells, while down on Wall Street Monday’s opening bell opens the hornets’ nest for the frenzy.

Praying_mantis_indiaLike the praying mantis, the non-preying prayers live far from the bells. In touch with what’s worth much more than it’s cracked up to be: a less bad news world where humans live teepee- lives in touch with the body . . . in the stillness of time.

“Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, but the LORD is their refuge.” [Psalm 14:6, The Book of Common Prayer]

  •  Gordon C. Stewart, wilderness cabin, northern Minnesota, September 3, 2017

What would Bill say?

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What_Would_Wellstone_Do_-254x300“What would Wellstone do?” is a question often heard in Minnesota after the un-timely death of Senator Paul Wellstone. Most people can make a well-educated guess at the answers.

What would Bill say?” is the question I’m pondering this morning, looking for light in the darkness of the chemical eco-catastrophe  in Crosby, Texas.

Bill Gibson — click William E. Gibson to read Bill’s obituary — was a campus ministry colleague in the mid-’70s.

41XX644YJ4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of 27 campus ministers in New York State under the auspices of United Ministries in Higher Education*, Bill was “doing his own thing” at Cornell. His own thing — “eco-justice“– resulted in Eco-Justice — the Unfinished Journey. Click the title to read from the book Bill edited.

 

Like Paul Wellstone, Bill Gibson was a trailblazer. Unlike the senator, he worked away from the floodlights, quietly taking the path less taken on what has proven to be humanity’s great unfinished business.

Thank you, Bill. Rest in Peace.

Bill-Gibson-1Your joy and light still shine.

 

 

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

*Click HERE for the history of United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE), the ecumenical ministry jointly funded by the American Baptist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal, Moravian, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Brethren, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist churches.

Harvey, Houston, and the Holy

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The urgency of a rescue operation is not the time for anything but compassion.

Timing and perception are everything in this startling time of Hurricane Harvey, 500-year floods, and the chemical plant explosions now taking place in Houston. Watching a helicopter rescue the elderly and disabled from the rising waters of a flood that has put people at risk is not the time to say I told you so.

But sooner or later it is time to speak about the unnatural crisis hidden behind the crisis of nature. In times like this, everyone becomes a socialist, and, if we’re seeing straight, no one stays a climate change-denier in the city big oil built.

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Chemical plant explosions are the latest horrific news that graphically illustrate a national crisis that is more than ‘natural’. The crisis is anthropological and theological.

“Man over nature” was always an illusion. A hoax. A faux understanding of the human species’ relationship with the rest of nature — “man (sic.) over nature,” as though the first were separate from the latter — that leads to destruction and self-destruction.

The chemicals are exploding because the plants that make them cannot keep them cool. Keeping them cool requires an operative electrical grid, or, when the grid goes down, an emergency generator that isn’t vulnerable to flooding. When the grid and backup generators fail, the chemicals heat and explode.

Timing and perception are everything.

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Not much more than a year ago Standing Rock was being touted as the emerging symbol of the revised understanding, the shift in consciousness, and the new behavior required of humankind in the age of climate departure. The oil pipeline from Canada to Texas refineries was stopped in the name of nature itself.

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That was before the 2016 election, and the 2017 appointment of a climate change-denier to gut the EPA, presidential executive orders stripping away regulations on the fossil fuel industry, and America’s spiritual retreat from the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Texas, not Standing Rock, was in charge again. Or so it seemed until Harvey came ashore to wash away the illusion of “man over nature.”

It’s time now for a clearer perception. Time to hold next to each other a picture of flooded Texas chemical plant explosions and the peaceful protest of Standing Rock,  and ask ourselves which picture is truer than the other. Or perhaps the truth is better seen when both are held together side-by-side: two anthropologies and two theologies. According to the one, humankind and the human city are the measure of reality itself. According to the other, God (i.e. the Eternal, Being-Itself) is the “natural” context — the mysterium tremendum et fascinans* — in which we live, and move, and have our being.

Today is, and tomorrow will still be, time for compassion and help for the people of Houston. It is also time to perceive something much deeper and wider. The rescued people of Houston, southeast Texas, and Louisiana are but the latest victims of the tragedy of the human mind and spirit: the fanciful illusion and creation of an alt-world of species superiority to nature.

Could the trembling of this horrific moment lead us to a holier fascination with reality itself?

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Rudolf Otto (1869-1937)

The people of Standing Rock and Rudolf Otto are watching.

*Rudolf Otto‘s Latin term for the human experience with the Mystery beyond all taming that both fascinates and causes us mortals to tremble. (Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.)

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

 

 

 

 

A Hymn for Houston

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Watching rescue workers, the Red Cross, FEMA workers, and volunteers serving in Houston brings to mind a rare hymn that focuses on the city in a time of despair.

Click HERE for the lyrics.

Erik Routley’s rendering of Charleston, an American folk tune, honors all who love and serve the city, all who bear its daily stress.

Across America — from tiny churches in Appalachia, the bayous of Louisiana, and Sitka, Alaska to Memorial Church at Harvard — prayers are lifted and hymns are being sung in thanks for all who love and serve the city.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 30, 2017.

 

 

A Moment of National Decision

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Pastors sometimes view the world differently. Pondering the President’s visit to Houston today, the lines from three hymns come to mind.

“In an age of twisted values we have lost the truth we need. In sophisticated language we have justified our greed.”

“We have built discrimination on our prejudices and fear. Hatred swiftly turns to cruelty if we hold resentments dear.”

And these lines from James Russell Lowell‘s old chestnut, “Once to Every Man and Nation”:

“Once to every man and nation/ Comes the moment to decide/ In the strife of truth with falsehood/ For the good or evil side;/ Some great cause, some great decision/ Offering each the bloom or blight,/ And the choice goes by forever/ ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.”

If John Newton, the former slave ship captain, could be turned into an abolitionist by the amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me,” who’s to say amazing things can’t happen on August 29, 2017?

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

Singing through the storm?

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Watching the floods in Texas, I don’t feel like singing. But, while weeping for the people of south Texas, I hear the song of Pete Seeger wading through the storms and lamentations.

When Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wrote “How Can I Keep from Singing,” Pete Seeger (1919-2014) hadn’t been born, but Lowry’s music found a voice in Pete and others who listen amid life’s storms and lamentations.

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Rev’d Robert Lowry, preacher and hymn writer

A reporter once asked him what was his method of composition— “Do you write the words to fit the music, or the music to fit the words?” His reply was:

“I have no method. Sometimes the music comes and the words follow, fitted insensibly to the melody. I watch my moods, and when anything good strikes me, whether words or music, and no matter where I am, at home or on the street, I jot it down. Often the margin of a newspaper or the back of an envelope serves as a notebook. My brain is a sort of spinning machine, I think, for there is music running through it all the time. I do not pick out my music on the keys of an instrument. The tunes of nearly all the hymns I have written have been completed on paper before I tried them on the organ. Frequently the words of the hymn and the music have been written at the same time.”

Robert Lowry regarded “Weeping Will Not Save Me” as the best hymn he ever wrote.

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

 

Who is Joe Arpaio?

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This is the convicted former sheriff President Trump has pardoned before he served a day of time.

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The president just thumbed his nose at the rule of law under the constitution he swore to protect. This is Joe Arpaio’s longer story of a convicted lawless lawman who forced prisoners to wear pink underwear under the hot sun.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

Grandpa, I’m special, right?

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On his 14th (week) birthday Elijah was watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood this morning.

51IO0pzdoqL._AC_UL320_SR226,320_Grandpa, Mr. Rogers says I’m special! I love Mr. Rogers!

We all love Mr. Rogers, Elijah. We all do!

Yeah! He’s a Presbyterian minister just like you, right Grandpa?

Yes, he was. And, like all Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Rogers made mistakes.

Like what?

Like telling you you’re ‘special’.

What you talking’ about? I AM special. Mr. Rogers makes me feel good.

I understand that and I’m glad. I just wish he’d used a different word than ‘special’ because none of us is ‘special’. You’re unique, Elijah. No one will ever be just like you. But that doesn’t mean you’re ‘special’.

You don’t like Mr. Rogers! I don’t like you! You’re a poop-head!

Sometimes I am, Elijah. I know I’m a poop-head sometimes. We all are, and that’s my point. We’re all in this together. None of us is special. Each of us is precious. Each of us is loved. I just wish he’d said ‘precious’ instead of ‘special’ because ‘special’ leads people to think they’re ‘exceptional’. You know, better than anyone else.

Mr. Rogers doesn’t mean that! Everyone’s welcome in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, even Mr. McFeely!

Well, even Mr. Rogers is a sinner, Elijah. He should never have named the mailman Mr. McFeely.

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, are we safe?

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Grandpa and Elijah are talking while pictures of Hurricane Harvey are disturbing 14-week old Elijah.

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“Grandpa, are we safe? Are we in Houston?”

“No, Elijah. Not to worry. We’re in Minnesota, a long way from Texas. It’s ‘nice’ in Minnesota.”

“Okay, I feel safer. But am I legal?”

“What do you mean, legal?”

“Like . . .  can I be arrested?”

“No, you’re not going to be arrested. You’re not illegal.”

“We’re a country of law, right, Grandpa?”

“Yes, we’re a constitutional republic. We live under the protection of the law.”

Elijah and Harvey

Elijah, “Uh-uh!”

“Uh-uh! That Sheriff profiled people in Arizona! He broke the law and the President pardoned him! Pardon me, but that’s not law. Why’d the President do that when there’s a natural disaster in Texas?”

“Well, the timing of it is scary, Elijah. Maybe we’re not so safe after all.”

“What do ya mean? Is Hurricane Harvey coming here? Is Joe Arpaio coming to Minnesota to look for illegals?”

“No, they’re not coming here, Elijah. The issue is the rule of law itself. Charles Kaiser argues that “Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the real beginning of the coming constitutional crisis in America.” It’s a piece by Charles Kaiser. I read it this morning on Bill Moyers & Company.”

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio and President Trump

“What’s a constitutional crisis? Is that worse than Hurricane Harvey?”

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

All us bastards

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“Rev. Will D. Campbell, Maverick Minister in Civil Rights Era, Dies at 88” read the New York Times obituary. Will Campbell (1924-2013) was more than unusual. He was idiosyncratic.

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When the nine black school children walked through the hostile crowds attempting to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, Will Campbell was one of four adults at their side. A civil rights leader, his life was threatened repeatedly over the years.

But there was something unusual about him. Will Campbell was “a good ol’ boy” from the white backwaters of Mississippi who became one of Martin Luther King’s closest confidants, the ONLY white person present at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that led the charge for Civil Rights in America.

In 1964 Will founded the Committee of Southern Churchmen, the successor to the all but defunct Fellowship of Southern Churchmen that had been created in the 1930’s to combat injustices in labor, politics, and race relations.

The Committee of Southern Churchmen created a new journal Katallagate — Greek New Testament for “Be reconciled!”) — which reached a national audience in the conviction that the underlying issues were beyond regional.

With the passage of the Civil Right Act, Will did something few but his friend Martin Luther King, Jr. could have imagined. He re-directed his ministry to the newly defeated hooded enemies of all things good, the Ku Klux Klan.

fc68a5171519678c41618146c96931a9--rustic-porches-country-porchesNo one but Will Campbell seemed to consider such a thing, let alone do it. But he did. Will headed for the rocking chairs on the front porches of the Klan to sip some moonshine and sit a spell. He became the civil rights chaplain to the KKK, returning to his roots as poor white trash raised in the backwaters of Mississippi.

51ZqWjXVehL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Looking back on his life and ministry, he wrote in Brother to a Dragonfly, after the tragedy of his brother’s death:

“I had become a doctrinaire social activist without consciously choosing to be. And I would continue to be some kind of social activist. But there was a decided difference. Because from that point on I came to understand the nature of tragedy. And one who understands the nature of tragedy can never take sides.”

He confused his critics equally – first the Right and then the Left – insisting that his soul did not belong to anyone’s team – racial, political, religious, cultural, national. There was only one team:  humankind standin’ in the need of prayer. There is only one rightful place for a soul: the Kingdom of God.

“We’re all bastards,” he was often heard to say, “but God loves us anyway.”

He meant both things.

The belief “but God loves us anyway” reorganized his hierarchy of values around a non-elitist, non-righteous compassion. It was that compassion that had led him to campaign for racial equality in the Civil Rights Movement, and it was compassion that later led him to sip whiskey with the cross-burners in the rocking chairs on their front porches. His was a ministry of reconciliation, a living, idiosyncratic example of the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s own Self: katallagete!

contentWhile Will continued to drink whiskey on the porches of America’s new legal bastards, Katallagete reached a wider national audience with a “who’s who” of religious, academic, political, and cultural luminaries: Thomas Merton, William Stringfellow, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Vernard Eller, Jacques Ellul, W.H. Ferry, Duncan Gray, John Howard Griffin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Joe Hendricks, Jim Herndon, Christopher Lasch, Julius Lester, John Lewis, J. Louis Martyn, Reinhold Neibuhr, Walker Percy, and Robert Penn Warren.

Although I never met Will Campbell, Katallagete was must reading until it ceased publication, and I’ve been thinking more lately about what Will would say today.  His memory reminds me all these years later how hard it is to be a disciple of Jesus, how hard it is not to hate in 2017. How hard it is to love my neighbor as myself. How hard it is to love the enemies, especially when the neighbor and the enemy is the illegitimate bastard self on the rocking chair of my front porch.

Would that all us bastards were as idiosyncratic as Will.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 27, 2017.

Alt-News: President resigns

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My Fellow Americans,

I stand before you today to announce my resignation, effective tomorrow at noon E.T.

To all of you who supported my campaign to drain the swamp in Washington, this decision will come as a huge disappointment, but it will not come as a surprise.

6a00e554dac08588330115702f407e970c-320wiAs a real estate developer I know that some swamps can’t be drained. As the Bible teaches, the wise man built his house upon the rock; the foolish man built his house upon the swamp. And the rains came down, and the rains came down, just like they’re coming down now in Texas, and the floods came up and washed the foolish man’s house away.

I’m no fool. I’m a developer. I know when to get in, and I know when to get out.

No matter how hard I’ve tried to lead you out of this swamp, the evil press continues to undermine my efforts — efforts greater than anyone in history before me and, I’m sad to say, greater than anyone who will ever come after me — to rid the country of the snakes, alligators, and crocodiles that are destroying our beloved country and undermining my promise to make America great again.

Donald Trump

America will never be great again. Our best days are behind us.

You elected me because you wanted a winner. I’m a winner! Hillary lost. She lost big! She’s a sore loser. Just the other day she whined about our debate. “Donald stalked me; he stalked me!” Wa-wa-wa! I won. She lost. But the America I ran to save can only be saved by you, the American people. It can only be saved when you rise up to empty the whole swamp of Washington.

Tomorrow I will turn over the swamp to Vice President Mike Pence. Mike is a man who knows the swamp as well as anyone. He came to his office from Congress and will fit right in.

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Pincely Diamond Suite, Hotel Hermitage, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Melania, Barron, Ivanka, Jarod, and I will be moving to Monaco at the invitation of Prince Albert II. Monaco is a principality, but it’s already great! The Prince has invited the Trump family to live as his guests in the Princely Diamond Suite of the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo where our beloved Grace Kelly — remember the beautiful Grace Kelly, sooo beautiful; she was drop-dead gorgeous — found a home outside her country as Princess of Monaco, and has invited me to be the grand marshal of the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, the world’s most famous grand prix.

I love you all. I love America. I wish you well. I’m not a loser. I’m a winner like Prince Albert II whom the press also tried to destroy with vicious allegations of sexual exploits and illegitimate children.

Finally, I say to the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and all the other fake news media, Mitch McConnell — what a loser! — to Hillary and Bill (whose campaigns, by the way, I generously supported over the years without a word of thanks), Mr. Comey, and Mr. Mueller, as President of the United States of America, I hereby absolve myself of all responsibility for the swamp by issuing a presidential pardon of Joe Arapio and of myself for all alleged offenses past, present future.

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May God bless Joe, may God bless what could have been the United States of America, and may God bless the son of our beloved Grace Kelly.

  • Oh, my, it felt so good to write this! Ghost writer, Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 26, 2017.

 

 

Square pegs and round holes?

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Are you a square peg in a round hole, or a round one in a square hole?

squarePegWith apologies to Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being square . . .  or round” or whatever other strange shape we may be.

It takes years to understand who we are or, for that matter, what your book is really about.

“What’s the book about?” folks ask, and I stammer away, fumbling to answer in a word or two. How do you summarize a collection of 48 essays on multiple themes and topics other than to answer, “Well . . .  it’s a collection of 48 essays on multiple themes and topics. It’s about blah, blah, blah”?

Readers find what they’re looking for by selecting an aisle or category in a book store or on an online menu that fits their taste.

But what if a book doesn’t fit the square and round hole categories into which publishers and the book-sellers squeeze a book?

More perplexing, what if an author himself doesn’t know whether he’s square or round? Doesn’t know why he writes, and can’t explain what the book’s about, or why, in this world of verbal assaults, anyone should pick his blah-blah-blah off a book-seller’s shelf? What if the author wakes up in the morning looking in the world’s square/round-peg-square/round hole mirror and sees only a confused face looking back?

Then, suddenly, after 75 years of wondering, six months after his book has hit the shelves, he looks into the brand new mirror created by readers and reviews, and sees something altogether new and different.

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An octopus!

Be Still! and I are an octopus! A searching digesting center with tentacles reaching out in all directions gathering food for thought, spitting out the toxins, and growing more or less mature in the sea of societal madness.

But wait! Wait! Maybe not! Maybe they’re Kermit on a lily pad.

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Frog on a lily pad

“Have you ever stopped to wonder how a frog, obviously heavier than a lily pad, can manage to stay above water and not sink a lily pad?” – Frog on a Lily Pad

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 25, 2017.

 

Playing Chicken over a Wall

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indian-game-chickens-featureIn Phoenix President Trump threatened to play Chicken with Congress. If the bill to keep the federal government open for business does not include funding for the border wall he promised Mexico would pay for, he threatened to use his veto power to shut down the federal government.

The president was hawkish.

“Bully for you!” roared the crowd.

The older folks in the crowd will roar again when their Social Security checks no longer arrive.

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It’s time to grow up.

Something there is that makes children love the game of Chicken, and something there is that loves a wall — unless the hawk and the wall turn out to be between a rock and a hard place: me and my Social Security benefit.

Chicken Game Over Dont Look

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

The Scapegoat

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Sometimes a line leaps from the page to arrest me.

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.”

Sitting in the pew the week following the horrors of Charlottesville, this line from the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving of the sacrament of holy communion begged for deeper reflection.

Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick people on the streets of Charlottesville? Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick watching the news, tweeting, texting, yelling, screaming, retreating, turning off, tuning out? Who were the poor waiting good news?

Surely, I’m not poor. Am I? I love the outcasts, the sinners, the sick, don’t I, Jesus? I am among the counter-demonstrators, the despisers of white supremacy, the champions of racial equality, the scorners of the KKK and their white supremacist and white nationalist cousins. My anger boils over watching these sick people turning back the clock.

Preparing for the bread and cup, I am aware of my poverty, my thirst for good news. Failing, or refusing, to see the faces and listen more carefully to the shouting of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, I have cast them out as hopeless sinners: the outrageously sick representatives of white supremacy, America’s original sin.

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“Christ of St. John of the Cross” – 1951, Salvador Dali 

I consider not receiving communion today.

Then I recall René Girard‘s work on the crucified Jesus as the scapegoat whose life, death, and resurrection dismantles the scapegoat mechanism of religion and society.

“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”
René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes

I ponder the ways capitalism turns us against each other: privileged and poor, insiders and outcasts, scapegoaters and scapegoats, sheep and goats — the company of sinners in need of the better news that there is, in reality, no division among us.

I remember Salvador Dali’s painting of the cosmic Christ and read again the lines of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving:

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.

“He [the Scapegoat] yearned to draw all the world to himself, yet were heedless  of his call to walk in love.”

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

The Shadow of Fred Trump

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150202142706-new-york-times-profit-780x439To a degree greater than his Oval Office predecessors, President Trump is waging perpetual war with the press, especially the New York Times.

Why?

Like Father, Like Son

Sons who reflect deeply on what makes them tick eventually wade in the muddy waters of their relationships with their fathers.

Although psychotherapists warn against armchair diagnosis, especially by those not trained in the DSM and diagnostic practice, some things have always been in the public domain of human wisdom. Among them is the existential relationship of a father and a son.

It’s taken 75 years of self-reflection to reach the little clarity I have about my father and me. Along the way I have listened to men, young and old, wrestling with — or refusing to wrestle with —their fathers.

Sometimes the fathers are alive. Sometimes they’re dead. But a father never dies. He lives on in the son who looks to him for approval, for legitimacy, for love.

The Story of Jacob

Although we are not trained in clinical diagnosis like our psychology counterparts, rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams, rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams are privileged to wade in these sacred waters with other waders and wrestlers.

We are schooled in a companion tradition to the DSM, the ancient wisdom passed on from generation to generation by the Torah like the story of Jacob wrestling with the night visitor by the ford of the Jabbok.

The back story of Jacob’s night of wrestling is Jacob’s tricking his blind father Isaac into giving him the father’s blessing meant for Esau and Jacob’s crafty theft of Esau’s birthright.

“After that Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing from Isaac. He thought to himself, ‘My father will soon die, and I will be sad for him. Then I will kill Jacob.’” [Genesis 27:41.]

Esau’s fury has sent Jacob into flight fearing for his life. Now, after years of running for his life, Jacob is about to meet the brother he assumes intends to kill him.

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Jacob wrestling with the angel – Eugene Delacroix 

It is the night before Jacob’s encounter with Esau.

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’

So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” [Genesis 32:24-31 NRSV.]

Jacob’s dark night of the soul appears at first to be his unresolved sin against his brother Esau. But beneath the obvious, what the Genesis narrator sets up as a life-and-death moment between the two estranged brothers is a night-dream resolution of Jacob’s very being — his grounding in God . . . and his father.

Jacob is not the only one who has wrestled alone in the night. No night is bleaker than the absence of love, and the darkest of them come when the absence comes from one’s mother or father.

The memory of a father like Isaac casts a long shadow over a man like Jacob. No matter how far Jacob runs from his brother, he cannot walk outside the shadow of Isaac’s disapproval. So long as we run, we miss the holy limp that results from the wrestling.

Perhaps in the light of a son’s relationship with his father we see something much deeper than politics in the behavior and speech of Donald j. Trump.

Walking with a Limp

Jacob’s night of wrestling leaves him permanently injured. Forever after he walks with a limp. After his night by the ford of the Jabbok and the next day when Esau embraces him against every expectation, Jacob and Esau join together to bury their dead father.

For Donald Trump’s sake and for all the brothers and sisters the president has managed to estrange across the world in 2017, one can pray, and hope against hope, that Fred Tump’s heir would finally bury his father’s fight with the New York Times.

FredTrumpArrest

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

 

Getting smart with sick people

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Pictures like this from Charlottesville, Virginia send chills down the spine. White supremacy, white nationalism, the KKK, and the Neo-Nazis sometimes evoke a reptilian response in me. I hate the haters.

I am like the psalmist in the psalm I learned as a child.

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.

For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.

Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. [Psalm 139:19-22 KJV].

They are evil, pure and simple! I hate them with a perfect hatred.

Then I remember the conclusion of the psalmist’s reflection immediately that strangely comes on the heels of hating God’s enemies with a perfect hatred. These last lines of Psalm 139 come only after the psalmist takes a very deep breath — a more contemplative introspective pause.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. [Psalm 139:23-24 KJV]

Evil is not only out there. It’s also in here. In me. It’s like an infection. It’s pandemic. Comparing myself with the most egregious white supremacists leaves me among the righteous, but, as an old professor observed, comparison is the Devil’s work.

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Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

Andrew Young, August 16, 2017.

reptilian brain

The reptilian brain uploaded from http://www.collectiveevolution.com

Click How to By-Pass Your Reptilian Brain and Restore Your Creative Powers, or Controlling Anger Before It Controls You on the American Psychological Association web site, and remember Andrew young. “Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

Or just remember the psalmist in light of the snake’s deception in the biblical myth of the Garden of Eden: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil!”

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

General Pershing and the Commander-in-Chief

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waponews

These Letters to the Editor (August 19) responding to President Trump’s tweet that invoked a debunked legend about Gen. John J. Pershing subduing Muslim rebels in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig blood deserve an audience beyond the readership of the Star Tribune.

I won’t stand for fake news about my cousin, Gen. John Pershing

“I don’t usually express my political opinions in public, which may or may not be a good thing. But now it’s personal. When a sitting president tries to spread fake news about my relative, Gen. John J. Pershing, I take it personally. (“Under siege, Trump turns fire on GOP,” front page, Aug. 18).

“Cousin John was an exemplary general, most notably because of the humane and respectful way he treated the African-American soldiers under his command. To even suggest that the general displayed hateful behavior is, at best, ill-informed or, at worst, vicious and ignorant.

“In this case, President Donald Trump is propagating fake facts to make a fine, upstanding historical figure look like a white supremacist. Totally not true, as historian after historian has repeatedly said. The events that the president is using to make a point simply did not happen.

“This is just another example of the bullying behavior Trump has shown over and over. If he can’t get his way, he finds someone else to put down or uses fake news to make his point — even if the point has no merit.

“Melania Trump has said she wants to fight bullying while she is First Lady. I suggest that she start at home.”

  • Susan Wiesler Dean, Northfield, MN [fourth cousin of Gen. John J. Pershing]

220px-General_John_Joseph_Pershing_head_on_shouldersThis Letter to the Editor followed.

“Long story short.

“Trump has defamed and slandered the good name of Gen. John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing.

“Short story longer.

“He and George Washington are the only two people to be named General of the Armies. As a young man, Pershing taught at an all-black school. He was given the nickname ‘Black Jack’ as a pejorative because he treated the black students fairly, and he works the ‘insult’ proudly. When he arrived in the Philippines, he gave a copy of the Qur’an to the local leaders and offered to assist in building mosques. During World War I, he had the command of the segregated 369th and was respected and admired by the black troops.

“While Pershing was apolitical, the treatment that blacks received from him and their fellow French troops gave hope to the civil rights struggle of returning black vets between the wars. He was never an Islamaphobe.”

  • Ernie Neve, Minneapolis

The same day the Star Tribune published the letters, the president waved to his departing chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a warrior against fake news:

“Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews…maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!” – Donald J. Trump.

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Religion and Race in America

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A.R. Bernard, Easter Sunday, Christian Cultural Center, NYC.

“Megachurch pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical council” reads the headline in today’s Washington Post about the resignation of A.R. Bernard. Other council members are staying put for now.

The term ‘evangelical‘ is a hot word for folks like me from what were once called America’s ‘mainline churches“. We understand the gospel differently from our Christian sisters and brothers who claim the term and sit on the President’s evangelical advisory council.

Mainline Protestants were a majority of all Christians in the United States until the mid-20th century, but they now constitute a minority among Protestants. Mainline churches include the so-called Seven Sisters of American Protestantism—the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (not to be confused with Confessional Lutheranism), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ—as well as the Quakers, Reformed Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other churches. – –  “Mainline Protestant” Wikipedia.

Among the differences between the evangelical churches and the mainline churches is the meaning of euangelion (the Greek New Testament word which translates into English as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’).

From this writer’s perspective, the Good News/Gospel is the conquering of sin by the power of Love, the victory of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty, of oneness over division, of mercy over viciousness, of reconciliation over racism.

Or, as I have more recently come to think of it, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the counter-narrative to every exceptional or superior claim — national exceptionalism, racial exceptionalism, cultural exceptionalism, gender exceptionalism, species exceptionalism, and — yes — religious exceptionalism.

A.R. Bernard’s decision to leave the the President’s evangelical advisory council in the wake of the news in Charlottesville is worthy of national news coverage. A.R. Bernard’s decision bears witness to the gospel’s counter-narrative.

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President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

While the members of the President’s evangelical advisory council like Jerry Falwell, Jr. have stayed put, mainline church leaders like Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have stepped up with statements that fly beneath the attention of national publicity.

Here’s an excerpt from Herbert Nelson’s word to leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the aftermath of President’s remarks following the white nationalist, white supremacist nightmare in Charlelottesville, “Are we complicit in the racism of the alt-right?” (August 14, 2017) .

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Dr. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:15–16).This word advocate comes from the Greek word advocare, which means to “stand beside or stand with.” Its connotation is akin to a lawyer standing beside a client. Jesus is preparing them to live a life in faith without his physical presence, while reminding them that the spiritual presence that guided him will still be with them; will stand beside them; will be an advocate for them. We use the words justice advocacy to explain the power of walking beside the victimized in our society. Racism represents a historic ill and victimization of people of color in this nation. It is a cancer in the soul of our country that can be driven out only by love. This love makes both the believer and nonbeliever uncomfortable, because it causes us to recognize that we can do more when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on the Almighty.

“White supremacy will not be eradicated until faith leaders become willing to risk their very lives (professional and otherwise) for the sake of the gospel. The Scriptures remind us that “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Our denomination must be willing to lose its life for the sake of eradicating more than 400 years of white supremacy in the United States.

Perhaps today I may be forgiven for taking a little comfort — very little — in being part of a non-exceptional dying church that bears witness to the counter-narrative gospel in spite of itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

White supremacy, America’s original sin, is demonic. Always has been. Always will be.

Rarely does evil show up as visibly as it did last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and in the days that have followed.

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

In the fight of good with evil the first impulse is to kill it. Get rid of it. Banish it from from existence itself.

The snake’s aside in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden whispers anew its eternal invitation to self-deception: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You cannot kill a demon. If you try to kill it, you end up killing your brother, your sister, your neighbor as your enemy.

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee on the public squares of the former Confederacy bear witness to the unfinished business of America’s Civil War, or, as it is known in the South, The War Between the States.

Should they all come down? Does right-mindedness — a new public consciousness beyond the evil of white supremacy — demand we do the same with them the people of Iraq and our troops did with the statue of Saddam Hussein to celebrate the end of the reign of terror: take them down?

Knowing how near the serpent of deception is, Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B, invites a more ambiguous response in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of  we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Preserving Memory

Pulling down the statues from their pedestals feels like a catharsis to many of us. To others it feels like an assault. But we do ourselves no favor by framing the issue as one of anti-racist versus racist, pitting the righteous against the sinners.

Historians, spiritual guides, and social psychologists know that societies and individuals that bury their pasts are doomed to repeat them in one form or another. The demons never disappear.  You cannot kill a demon. It always come back to haunt you — all the mores when you think you’ve killed it.

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

The statues serve as channel markers that keep us on the way to a consciousness beyond the America’s original sin of white supremacy instead of symbols of our reverence for what we have come to despise.

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Rev. Dr. Andrew Young and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is in this spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colleague Andrew Young takes the unexpected view that the statues should remain.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

You cannot kill a demon. It’s always whispering in the shadows of our flight from the evil that lies so close. Don’t get mad, get smart.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 18, 2017.

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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“Grandpa, they think I’m a baby. I don’t like all these stuffed animals!”

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“I can see that, Elijah. But, ya know . . .  you’re still a baby.”

“I’m not, Grandpa. I’m not a baby! I’m 12!”

“Well, I understand that you feel that way. You have very little control. You’re still very vulnerable at 12 weeks. You have no defense against Mom and Grandma putting stuffed animals in your arms whether you want them or not. But you’re not ready for independence.”

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

“No, you’re really not. You still need your diapers changed.”

“So what? So does the President! He’s just a baby, Grandpa. How come nobody’s helping him? You could give him one of my stuffed animals to help him be calm. He can have this one. Except for black eyes, it’s all white and kinda cuddly, and it is an elephant!”

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

 

The President’s hand

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Listening includes watching. Do the words match the body language? If they’re different, what does the body language tell us that the words do not?

I’ve been watching the president’s hands lately. He’s doing something different with them. With palm facing the rest of the world, his fingers are spread apart, as when one pushes someone or something away. Other times they seem to be waving something away.

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There are fewer closed circles with pointed fingers, although they still appear at moments that are just as telling as his facial expressions.

Every one of us is a community of voices from the past — the community of DNA and family culture — and it is not unusual for the voice of a father to shout in a son’s ear even at the age of 71.

 

FredTrumpArrestWhen one grew up in the shadow of a father who had been arrested and discharged, rightly or wrongly alleged to have marched with the KKK, and years later had been investigated by a U.S. Senate committee for wartime profiteering and by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for civil rights violations, what is the son to say and do following the nation’s focus on Charlottesville, Virginia?

Publicly slap his father, give him the back of his hand? Defend him by feuding again with the “faux media” that wrongfully accused his innocent father of being a KKK marcher and white supremacist? Push the rest of the world away from the family whose patriarch’s reputation as a tenant landlord drew the scornful attention of Woody Guthrie?

Only Donald or members of his closest family can tell us. But, like most families, this one knows how to keep its secrets.

For the nation’s sake and for his, one might pray and hope that those within Mr. Trump’s closest circle — not the circle of his public persona of closed certainty, but the intimate circle of those who him best and love him — will take the President’s hand the way a mother takes the hand of a frightened child and walk him to Trump Tower . . . or to a hospital where he can get the care he needs.

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

 

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

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I’d never thought about groceries back in Broomall. We’d drive to the Acme, fill the grocery cart, and bring the bags home. It was just part of daily life. Or so I thought.

groceriesI was 17 the day I learned about groceries in America.

Tony and I had become friends at Pennington Island, the church camp in the Delaware River, after meeting each other on the Saturday several years before when the junior-high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church and Berean Presbyterian Church had met during a service project at the Green Street Settlement House.

NLIOn Pennington Island the kids from Philadelphia and the Philadelphia suburbs spent nights together in the same cabins, rose early for “morning watch”, played games, ate the same food at the same tables in the mess hall, swam in the same swimming pool, and sang hymns and spirituals like Jacob’s Ladder. We were living in the same economy while climbing somewhere together.

After the week or two on Pennington Island, the members of his ideal economy would say good-bye and return to the disparate circumstances whose differences we preferred not to know.

Ignorance was bliss. Until the day Tony visited our home in Broomall, 15 miles west of Philadelphia, and watched my mother pull into the driveway with the groceries. My mother spoke of it years later as one of those moments that opened her eyes.

7769907-1955-buick-special-std-cAs we began to unload the groceries from the ’55 Buick, Tony’s eyes grew bigger. There was more than one bag. Never had he seen multiple grocery bags. When the Lewises had a little money, they’d bring home what they needed for the day…or maybe two, on a good day. There were never five, six, seven bags of groceries.

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus,” we had sung in the egalitarian economy of Pennington Island where we were climbing higher together. But unloading the grocery bags that day in Broomall, the difference in groceries seemed more like a symptom of sin – the gulf of separation between two worlds. One home was much “higher” than the other — one white, one black; one privileged, one not — in a black and white economy.

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

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

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President Trump’s statement and silence about white supremacy following the terror in in Charlottesville prompted a brief but telling conversation in Minnesota.

IMG_5234“Grandpa, the President just said he wants me to feel safe to play outside, right?”

“Right, Elijah, that’s what he said. That had nothing to do with the reason for the violence in Charlottesville, but, yes, he did say that.”

“Yeah, if he cares about all the children, why didn’t he say the words?”

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

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

 

White supremacy @ Charlottesville and Bedminster

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Speaking from his Bedminster Golf Club after domestic terrorism at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the President of the United States spoke not the words the nation needed to hear. He used his bully pulpit to call for a more generic end to hate, referring to himself as a victim of it.

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There are no Confederate flags or statues there. No Ku Klux Klan hoods, neo-Nazi swastikas, or old pick-up trucks with gun racks in the parking lot of the summer White House. The members of Bedminster arrive in Bentleys, Ferraris, or a poor man’s Mercedes or Audi to yell “fore!” to warn other members in danger of getting hit by an errant golf ball. They ride on manicured fairways in their golf carts. They don’t drive cars into crowds.

But as Bedminster’s celebrity addressed the nation last night, didn’t what he didn’t say leave you wondering whether he is constitutionally unable to speak aloud the name of the bully ideology that summoned the white nationalists to the event of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville?

Can you say “white supremacy”? Can you say “white nationalist domestic terrorism”?  Or do you see only yourself everywhere?

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Donald Trump crashing a wedding at Bedminster Golf Club

“’We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back,’ said Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.” (August 12, 2017, NYT)

The President sees only himself everywhere. Unfortunately, he’s not alone!

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

 

Into a dense fog: Sinner, do you love my Jesus?

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The descent from my suburban home in Broomall to serve the “less fortunate” on Green Street sent me home looking into a dense fog.

The Wanderer

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog –  Caspar David Friedrich, c.1818

I had given up a Saturday as a youthful answer to the song I learned has a child. “If you love him, why not serve him?”  Serving Jesus meant serving those who were less fortunate than we, as we used to describe the difference.

The kids from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall were aware that Jacob’s Ladder and the other spirituals we sang rose from the slave fields of the white Southern plantations, but the plantations were in the south. We were northerners. We were the abolitionists. We were part of the solution, not the problem.

The day on Green Street knocked me off my ladder. Those few hours on the calendar time of Chronos were a pivotal Kairos moment that placed me before a dense fog searching for answers to how and why life was so different for the two junior high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall and Berean Presbyterian Church in north Philadelphia.

How and why was it that Tony was born into poverty while I was born into relative economic wellbeing in a suburb became a daunting question. I was looking into a dense fog.

Prior to the plunge to Green Street I hadn’t paid much attention to the first word of the stanza about loving Jesus: “Sinner… do you love my Jesus?” Although I knew myself to be a sinner — I had told a lie or two and not been kind to my younger brothers — I was no Judas! I was a soldier of the cross. “If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?”

Suddenly, the fog was not just outside of me. It was inside me, a jarring sense that I and “my people” were self-deceived sinners.

But what is sin and what is a sinner? Institutional slavery was sinful.  The slaveowners were sinners. I knew that. The slaveowners were white. The slaves were black. I knew that. The slaveowners were Christians. I knew that. The slaves were Christians. I knew that — or thought I knew it.

I didn’t learn until much later that the slaves were forced into the Christian faith no less than they had been herded like cattle onto slave ships, or that the difference in the churches was as different as it had been on the slave ships. The difference was that on board the slave ships, the slaves were chained together in the hold while the slave traders were up above; in the churches, the slaves were up above in the rear balcony, looking down on the sea of whiteness on the main floor. Until Richard Allen led the revolt from the balcony to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But the kids from Berean Presbyterian Church were not African Methodist Episcopalians. They were Presbyterians in the theological tradition of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the doctrine of predestination.

Was Tony predestined to poverty in north Philadelphia? Was I predestined to white privilege in Broomall? Or was predestination a hoax, the idea of sinners washing their hands like Pilate that had nothing to do with the will of God?

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Frau am Fenster
Caspar David Friedrich, 1818–1822
Öl auf Leinwand
44,0 × 37,0 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

I was no longer standing on the heights of innocence overlooking the landscape. I was a child of privilege, confined and alone, looking through a very small window at the world beyond what had belonged to “my Jesus”. I was pondering the ships of past and future and the dense fog that went on as far as my eye could see. It has lasted my whole lifetime.

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

 

My lifelong Quest

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Some things take a lifetime. More or less.

It took until a few days before my 75th birthday to become clear about my lifelong quest. Some would call it my “vocation” in life, my “calling” as we say. Others might call it an obsession. In either case, it’s taken this long to say a word about it.
In a nutshell, my life’s occupation has been, and still is — are you ready? — theological anthropology.
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“Whoah! What’s that?” my 11-week-old grandson Elijah is asking.
Theological anthropology, like all anthropology, is the search for understanding of the human species. The term  ‘anthropology’ is the combination of the Greek words  anthropos (human) and logos (word). Anthropo-logy is ‘the word’ about ‘humankind’.
Theological anthropology is the study of humankind in the context of ‘theos’, i.e. ‘G-d’ — which Paul Tillich translated as Being-Itself, the Ground of Being, that which is ultimately Real.
Anthropos is contingent; Being-Itself is not. Like all species, ours has a very short lifespan in the aeons of eternity. We are a small part of the All or the Whole (Friedrich Schleiermacher), creatures of time with the rest of moral nature who can be understood, if at all, only in light of this larger timeless Whole.
The Psalmist question –“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4 KJV) — is my life-long question.
Who are we as a species? Who am I as a member of it? Who are the Andrews, the Tituses, the Campbells, the Stewarts among the vast assortment of homo sapiens? Who am I in relation to Barclay, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel friend, the forests, the flowers, the birds, and the rest of the species of dust and ashes holding our breath before the majesty of life itself?
Why theological anthropology?
You can take the human species out of the universe and the universe will go on as it did aeons before anthropos came along. We can’t say the opposite. Essential to the human experience is the terror of contingency and the wonder of of it all, what Rudolf Otto called “mysterium tremendous et fascinans”.
The idea of “man (the human species) over nature” is a deadly illusion, a flight from reality itself, an escape from the trembling that comes with our vulnerability, our transience, our mortality, the final limit of all human creativity (the “image of God”).
After only one cup of coffee on my 75th birthday, that’s the best I can do.
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Muriel Titus Stewart

This afternoon I’ll be in the Philosophy Lounge at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN at the invitation of a philosophy professor, a long way away from the delivery room and the loving, laboring mother who pushed me into the world (the philosopher’s lounge) back in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks, Mom!
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 10, 2017.

If you love him, why not serve him?

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Fourth in a series on “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

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The time with Tony on Green Street changed my life in ways I could not have expected when the junior high youth group had left Broomall that morning to do a good deed for “the less fortunate” — an act of Christian service, as we would have called it — in north Philadelphia.

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Chronos and his Child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, a 17th century depiction of Titan Cronus as “Father Time,” wielding a harvesting scythe

Time is a funny thing. Chronos (clock time) and Kairos (existential time) both happen on the clock but they are not the same.

Chronological time ticks forward, leaving every previous moment behind; Kairos stops time and re-orients the future.

The hours on Green Street are as fresh at the three-quarter century mark as the day they happened.

“If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?” asks Jacob’s Ladder of all who aspire to follow Jesus. If Jesus could stoop down to wash his disciples’ feet, surely we could go down to Green Street for a day.

The kids from Marple Church in Broomall left that morning to do just that. We went to serve as a different kind of army, the philanthropic foot-washing soldiers of goodness giving up a Saturday to carry heavy furniture at a ghetto settlement house with other young soldiers of the cross from the inner city African-American Berean Presbyterian Church.

“If you love him, why not serve him?”

We put on our work clothes, travelled to Green Street, and rolled up our sleeves in the strange new world of the Green Street Settlement House.

Although we knew spirituals like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” we had little if any idea of their socio-economic-policitical origins or implications. Although we were conscious of their origins in chattel slavery, we were northerners. We knew nothing of W.E. DuBois, and Michael Harrington’s The Other America, William Stringfellow’s My People Is the Enemy, James Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues and Black Theology and Black Power were years away from being published. Reading them would come years later.

During an afternoon break, the woman who organized the day asked Tony to go home to get something they needed. Perhaps it was a screwdriver. Or maybe a rubber band. It doesn’t matter. I went “home” with Tony. “When we get home,” said Tony as best I can recall it, “my brother might be there. If he’s there, he’ll be sitting in the corner. Just ignore him and you’ll be okay. He won’t like you being there.”

What_s_in_a_name_-_The_Problem_with_the__Nation_of_Islam__(part_1_of_2)_001Tony’s older brother Danny didn’t like white people. He had left the church to become a convert to The Nation.

The furthest thing from the mind of the loving servants of Jesus from Broomall was that someone might not like white people.  Or that Tony’s brother would see Christian “service” as servile — a demeaning attack on black dignity and pride — or see the “soldiers of the cross” as the problem, not the solution. Danny didn’t look up during our brief visit to the Lewis’s home.

The day with Tony shook my sense of innocence to its foundations. It was a Kairos moment — a deconstruction and reconstruction of faith and consciousness that continues at age 75.

But each person’s autobiography is distinct. I didn’t realize until this morning how much my memory of the day is a guy‘s memory of it. I was lifting heavy furniture with a kid named Tony, getting to know each other carrying sofas and chairs from one location to the next. Although neither Tony nor I was big or strong, my diminutive friend Carolyn was smaller . . .  and she was a member of the “weaker sex,” as it was called by some back then.

Only yesterday did I learn that my dear Broomall friend Carolyn was having anything but a Kairos moment scrubbing a toilet on Chronos time all by herself. Carolyn’s email reads as follows:

I had a very strange time. It seemed to them, and I’m sure they were correct, that I couldn’t do some of the heavy lifting, so they set me to sandpapering a few layers of awful paint off the toilet seat. I worked hard at it all day, and only got about half done when they remembered I was there and I was embarrassed that in all that time I had not finished my only project. They were very nice about it. But I didn’t get a chance to meet any of the Berean folks except the lady who gave me the job.

Reading Carolyn’s memory takes me in different directions that change the intent of this reflection: the difference gender, as well as racial privilege, seems to have made scraping multiple layers of paint and who knows what else from a crusty toilet seat, a task that may have been all too familiar to the woman who assigned the job to Carolyn.

maidSome Chronos moments are Kairos moments, as the day with Tony was for me. Others are time bent over a toilet seat. The difference is as clear as black and white, poor and rich. How many of the women from Berean rose every morning to put on their maid uniforms to catch the subway and the Red Arrow bus to become invisible, forgotten “soldiers of the cross” in the wealthy homes on the Main Line an hour’s ride west of Philadelphia?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 9, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Yellow Taxi and climate science

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Songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” rise from memory so many years later when an EPA climate scientist report reaches the New York Times before it gets edited or killed and all the scientists get the word “You’re fired!”

We won’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 9, 2017.

“My Jesus”

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Part 3 of “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus?”

The day I met Tony Lewis, “my Jesus” fell off the ladder.

Ladder-5The Jesus of my childhood was white. He was kind and loving, having descended from heaven, like the angels on the ladder between heaven and earth.  My Jesus had made me a soldier of the cross whose job it was to stay on the ladder to heaven and carry others with me.

Until the day I met Tony, I had no idea my faith in the descended Jesus also was condescending, the creation of white privilege.

The day my love for “my Jesus” died was the day my church’s junior-high youth group from Marple Presbyterian Church spent helping move furniture at the Green Street Settlement House in Philadelphia.

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North Philadelphia street scene

Green Street was the ghetto. We had gone there from our middle-class suburb of Broomall, the home of all things white and Christian, to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We had no knowledge that our Minister and the Minister of the Berean Presbyterian Church on Green Street had conspired to join together the white Marple and the black Berean church youth groups with the excuse of “helping” move the Green Street Settlement House furniture down the street to its newly purchased location.

That was the day I met Tony, whose Jesus was not a suburban white guy with blue eyes and blond hair taking me up the ladder to a white heaven.

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Tony’s Jesus had descended from God the Father and had made him a “soldier of the cross” — but the Jesus Tony loved was neither white nor condescending.

“Sinner,” he seemed to ask without an once of hubris, “do you love my Jesus?”

I became conscious of sin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 7, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

“Every round goes higher, higher”

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Part 2 of “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

As a child and youth, Jacob’s Ladder touched something deep within me. I couldn’t have described what it was or why at the time.

Looking back, it was a happy song. We were all climbing. Getting older meant climbing higher, getting taller, becoming mature, successful adult “soldiers of the cross.”

“Every round goes higher, higher.”

It expressed a joyful innocence and confidence. I had no knowledge of the economic-political origins of the ‘spiritual’ until much later.

The connection between the slaves’ faith, or their understanding of what it meant to be a “soldier of the cross” — the struggle for economic-political liberation, climbing “higher” to freedom in the North — was as far from consciousness as white is from black.

As a 13 year-old, Jacob’s Ladder expressed an innocent childhood hope during those hormone-challenging years when ascending the ladder toward adult self-sufficiency felt like a fireman trying to save  an 800-pound gorilla in a raging fire. All I could do was stay on the ladder, hoping that human equivalents of angels might be there to catch me when I fell.  The closest thing to angels were people like Mr. and Mrs. Kidder and friends who encouraged my upward progress from childhood to adulthood. Surely some progress must be made.

Faith still meant climbing higher on a ladder that was going someplace, as the Genesis story (Genesis 28:10-19a) of the ladder between heaven and earth seemed to say. We were on the upward ladder.

Then, something happened.

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

 

Jacob’s Ladder at almost 75

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Sometimes I can’t get it out of my head. I go to sleep with it. Wake up with it. Walk the dog with it. It’s been over a month now.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” begs for my attention.

So this morning I surrender. What will come out on the page is a mystery until it’s written.

I ask myself, “Why this song?”

This stretch of time has been anxious. Unsettling, restless, down, bored, and struggling with my own inner demons and the bigger demons of human madness around the world.

Jacob’s Ladder has been with me my whole life, like an old friend who shows up when I need her. Like her cousins “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” there’s something about the tune that brings comfort, placing me in the good company of the slaves whose faith and hope are timeless though they themselves are long gone.

It’s the melody, the music – the language of the soul – that gets me. But it’s also the words. Words like ‘climbing, ‘higher’, ‘soldier’, ‘cross’, ’sinner’, ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘serve’. Words that have stuck in my throat at different times in my life journey as either highly objectionable or as deeply expressive of what I know and feel to be ‘true’. “Jacob’s Ladder” feels like a summary of where I’ve been, where I am now, and a strange kind of invitation to resolve the contradictions as I move forward after three-quarters of a century.

So this morning and in the days to come I will have a conversation with Jacob and his ladder, stopping at each stanza and phrase to dig deeper into what is crying for attention.

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Jacob’s Dream, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54650 [retrieved August 6, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/.

“Listen to your life,” wrote Frederick Buechner in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

At almost 75 and no longer climbing, I’ve been pondering grace itself.

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

 

The Dumpster-Diver — Johnny Appleseed

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There are many ways to write a counter-narrative to America’s throw-away consumer culture.

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It could be this spoken narrative critique by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Or it could be the unpublished daily dumpster-diving exploits in a city’s back alleys by a 21st Century Johnny Appleseed, the dumpster-diver whose birthday today is worth a more public salute and a joyful celebration.

Chris’s narrative is written in the indelible ink of daily dives that rescue our society’s “junk” from trips to the maxed-out landfills of America’s throw-away consumer culture.

Chris is anything but a back alley throw-away in our family. He’s our Johnny Appleseed — our Walter Brueggemann!

Happy birthday, Chris!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.

Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

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Thanks to executive producer Peter Wallace of Day1.org for featuring the podcast of “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” in advance of the August 8 Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Click HERE to sign up and listen on Day1.org.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

This meditation, an excerpt from Be Still!, reflects on Hiroshima  in the greater light of the Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese peacemaking theologian to whom the collection of essays is dedicated.

Kosuke (pronounced ‘KO-soo-kay’) Koyama was 15 years old when it happened, and was baptized during the firebombing of Tokyo.

The horror of the bombings led him to see something else about us: the sin of exceptionalism that knows no limits.

nuclear-bombHis last published book — Theology and Violence: Towards A Theology of Nonviolent Love awaits translation into English from the original Japanese.  We wait on bended knee.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.

 

 

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump, Part II

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The Unacceptable Risk of Impeachment

Second in a four-part series on The Resignation of Donald J. Trump by john M. Miller. Graphics and links have been added by Views from the Edge.

President Trump must be convinced it is in the nation’s interest and his own personal interest to resign the presidency. Having made that brazen assertion, it must be noted it is totally impossible under current circumstances that will happen anytime soon.

narcissism2As was stated in the first of this series of four essays, our President has a very serious personality disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the most commonly used sourcebook to designate and describe various mental diseases and abnormalities. Its enumeration of the symptoms of narcissism is clear and lengthy.

Donald Trump fits every single one of those symptoms in astonishing and easily quantifiable detail. He constantly exhibits severely narcissistic behavior.

One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is that they are fully convinced they are rarely and perhaps never wrong. Because of that terribly unfortunate characteristic, it is almost certain that Mr. Trump would never resign anytime soon. From his standpoint, why would he? Why should he? He is convinced has done nothing wrong. Any narcissist who does no wrong does not resign, ever, especially if he is Donald Trump.

If the nation refuses to recognize and affirm that the President must leave office, and soon, we place ourselves in grave danger. Do we consciously intend to do that?

Not long ago the columnist Charles Krauthammer renounced his membership in the Republican Party. He did so, among other reasons, because he finds it incomprehensible that the GOP itself has not renounced Donald Trump for his “pathological need to display dominance.” Charles Krauthammer has been a lifelong Republican and is a very gifted political thinker. If someone such as he takes a position such as this, it is a vitally important statement, whether or not anyone agrees with its essence.

By no means is there presently a sufficiently widespread resistance to the President’s conduct in order for any person or group of people to persuade him to resign. But what about impeachment? Might he be found guilty in a constitutionally-provided impeachment trial?

The Four Major Presidential Investigations

Section 4 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution says this: “The President, Vice-President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes or Misdemeanors.” A two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress is required for conviction in an impeachment trial.

There are at least four important investigations being conducted regarding potentially impeachable actions of the President before or after being sworn into office.

170608104254-07-comey-testify-0608-exlarge-169The FBI, under its then-director James Comey, was already conducting an investigation of activities by Mr. Trump before his election. It has not divulged the nature of that investigation.The President fired Mr. Comey precisely because of the existence of that inquiry, and a new director was named. The FBI is continuing its investigation. At some point, presumably, they shall publicize their findings.

In addition, within weeks of the President taking his oath of office, the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees started looking into what were alleged irregularities by the President with respect to his dealings with foreign governments, particularly Russia. Since each of those committees has a majority of Republican members, and since Donald Trump is a Republican, understandably neither committee is working at the swiftest possible pace. If they discovered and could prove that the President had violated any laws, it is difficult to imagine that they would immediately report their findings. For their own protection, The Republican committee members would drag their feet as long as possible.

170518_ASSESS_Mueller.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2In the meantime, Congress named Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to look into possible breaches of law by the President. As soon as Mr. Mueller was designated as Special Counsel ( not Special Prosecutor, as in the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton), Mr. Trump has threatened on numerous occasions to fire Mr. Mueller. Thus far the President has reluctantly followed very powerful advice not to do that because of the potentially disastrous political fallout it would almost certainly evoke.

It is unrealistic for any citizen or elected government official to imagine that any of these four investigations will rush to judgment. They might not be ethically inclined to do that if the one being investigated was a low-level clerk in a government department accused of wrongdoing, let alone the President of the United States. None of these investigations, as thorough as they may be, is likely to turn up anything of legally verifiable substance in the next several months or for the next year or more. The wheels of justice, with very good reason, grind exceedingly slowly.

Furthermore, if any of the four investigations were shortly to recommend an impeachment trial of the President, it would never succeed. Republicans, and perhaps some Democrats as well, would see to that. Such a result would further solidify the unshakeable conviction of the fiercely loyal Trump base that an evil cabal of enemies are conspiring to scuttle the attempts of a genuine reformer who is seeking to re-establish a true government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

lead_960If things are bad now, they would be infinitely worse in the event of a failed attempt for an impeachment trial. The uproar of the Trump base would be deafening.

Narcissism 165639-170250Unless or until key leaders of Congress and the most respected members of the President’s Cabinet convince him to resign, he shall not give up his office. His narcissism will surely prevent that. Meanwhile, every day everyone in the news media spends inordinate time and space covering the latest unpredictable actions of Mr. Trump. His huge (“’uge”) ego can never receive too much of this attention, negative as it may be. Why would the sufferer of such an extreme personality disorder voluntarily relinquish the continual coverage in which he luxuriates?

The Unacceptable Risk of the 25th Amendment

Ah, but what about the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution? Does it not offer an alternative means of removing a President from office, other than by resignation or impeachment?

Indeed it does. Its first three sections address a presidential vacancy by death or resignation, and how the Vice President constitutionally is then empowered to assume the office of President.

It is the Fourth Section of Amendment XXV that offers a Congressional alternative to removing a President if he neither dies nor resigns. Reading the Constitution can be fascinating, but it also can be befuddling. Section Four of Amendment XXV is one of those befuddling parts. After some mystifying, muddled language (you can read it for yourself), it says that Congress must “determine by a two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

164868-kjnsdvdgvIf the wheels of justice grind slowly, the wheels of Congress to remove a President for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” for medical reasons would grind inordinately slowly. And if extreme narcissism is the unfortunate condition which is purported to render Mr. Trump incapable of continuing as President, trying to employ Amendment XXV right now would be an unimaginable disaster.

Suppose that any of the ongoing four large-scale investigations into presidential wrongdoing were quickly to conclude that in fact the President had committed high crimes or misdemeanors. Even more unlikely, suppose they decided his criminal actions were the result of his mental derangement. There is far too little political or ethical support currently for Congress to initiate the politically treacherous procedure whereby the President might be found unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

There is an undeniable political polarization which has paralyzed Congress for far too many years. Any effort presently to remove the President by constitutional impeachment provisions or by Amendment XXV would be doomed to acrimonious failure, and would only further polarize the electorate. That would be particularly true among those who continue to support Mr. Trump to the greatest degree possible.

Many congressional Democrats would be delighted for partisan political reasons to seek the President’s removal from office on the basis of his being mentally unable to fulfill his office. They believe it could assist in their next re-election. For precisely the same partisan political reasons, many congressional Republicans would do everything they could to prevent the removal of the President by means of Amendment XXV, because they believe their resistance to the effort would enhance their own re-election. That indicates how partisan all of them are in their thinking, and how little they are considering what is best for the country.

Far too many professional politicians perceive the Trump presidency as a purely political issue. It is not. It is a constitutional issue. There is an increasingly rapid growing threat afoot to undermine American democracy.

Donald Trump, Abdel Fattah al-SisiUnder Donald Trump, we are all witnessing the USA turning into a dictatorship. However, too many of us are too distracted by the daily news cycle to admit that alarming truth. We are becoming a Russia, a China, a Syria, a Turkey, a Philippines, or a Venezuela. Yet we steadfastly ignore the obvious trend because of our daily distractions and our cowardly timidity.

How can we exit this potentially if not actually catastrophic situation?

  • John M. Miller, August 3, 2017

[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. For Views from the Edge readers, John is a personal friend, ministerial colleague, and author. We share the same alma mater.] 

 

The DOJ on BLACK Privilege

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Attorney General Jeff Sssions

Apparently the Trump Administration Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hopes to balance the scales of racial injustice in America where it believes white black privilege prevails.

“The Trump Administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admission policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants. . . .” (News Service, Aug. 2, 2017).

Enter the Rev. William Barber of Moral Monday and interviewer Charlayne Hunter Gault, the civil rights movement activist and award-winning reporter, in this PBS News Hour Special Report.