Telling the Truth — the Journey of Repair

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An earlier Views from from the Edge post featured a brief summary of an unusual step: a Board of Trustees’ $27.6M action plan to redress institutional entanglement in institutional slavery and ongoing institutional racism. Here’s the full press release from Princeton Theological Seminary (founded in 1819) in Princeton, New Jersey.

Photograph of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1879
Princeton Theological Seminary in 1879

PRESS RELEASE, Princeton, NJ, October 18, 2019

PRINCETON, N.J., October 18, 2019 – Princeton Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the implementation of a multi-year action plan to repent for its ties to slavery. The approved series of new initiatives, ranging from increased student financial assistance to curriculum changes to added support for the Center for Black Church Studies, is a direct response to a report the Seminary published in October 2018 after conducting a two-year historical audit.

“The report was an act of confession,” says John White, dean of students and vice president of student relations. “These responses are intended as acts of repentance that will lead to lasting impact within our community. This is the beginning of the process of repair that will be ongoing,” says White.

White served as chair of the historical audit recommendations task force, which included trustees, faculty, administrators, students, and alumni, who led a deliberative process to provide opportunities for the campus community to discuss and respond to the audit report. The task force hosted more than 25 events, meetings, and conversations on the campus in the previous academic year. Feedback gathered from students, faculty, administrators, and alumni was incorporated in the recommendations presented to the Seminary’s board. The Board of Trustees also conducted a year-long process of study.

“From the beginning,” says White, “the Board of Trustees has encouraged a thorough process of understanding our history that would lead to meaningful response.”

With an immediate rollout of the plan and continuation through 2024, the Seminary intends to make meaningful and lasting change with the more than 20 approved initiatives, including:

  • Offering 30 new scholarships, valued at the cost of tuition plus $15,000, for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups
  • Hiring a full-time director of the Center for Black Church Studies
  • Hiring a new faculty member whose research and teaching will give critical attention to African American experience and ecclesial life
  • Changes in the Seminary curriculum, including a required cross-cultural component and integrating into the first-year curriculum for every master’s student sustained academic engagement with the implications of the historical audit
  • Designating five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups
  • Naming the library after Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the first African American to attend and graduate from Princeton Seminary
  • Naming the Center for Black Church Studies after Betsey Stockton a prominent African American educator in Princeton during the antebellum North and a Presbyterian missionary in the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii). Prior to gaining freedom, Stockton was owned by the chair of Princeton Seminary’s Board of Trustees.
  • Enhancing community partnerships and supporting historically disenfranchised communities in and around Princeton
  • Ensuring every member of the Princeton Seminary community understands its history
  • A committee has been established to oversee the implementation of the plan and will regularly report progress to the board. The program costs for the responses represent a commitment of more than $1 million annually on an ongoing basis. To sustain this programming in perpetuity, $27.6 million will be reserved in the endowment.

“The Seminary’s ties to slavery are a part of our story. It is important to acknowledge that our founders were entangled with slavery and could not envision a fully integrated society,” says Princeton Seminary President M. Craig Barnes. “We are committed to telling the truth. We did not want to shy away from the uncomfortable part of our history and the difficult conversations that revealing the truth would produce.”

The historical audit uncovered that the Seminary did not own slaves and its buildings were not constructed with slave labor. Yet, the Seminary benefited from the slave economy, both through investments in Southern banks in the mid-19th century and from donors who profited from slavery. Also, founding faculty and leaders used slave labor at some point in their lives. Several of the first professors and board members were deeply involved in the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending free blacks to Liberia.

“Our response to the historical audit is the beginning of our community’s journey of repair as we seek to redress historic wrongs and to help the Seminary be more faithful to our mission as a school of the church, both now and in the years to come,” says Barnes. “We are taking tangible action to write a new chapter in our story.”

CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE: VIEWS FROM THE EDGE COMMENTARY ON CONTEXT OF PRESBYTERIAN ETHOS

A Prayer of Confession of Sin for “what we have done” and “what we have left undone“– like the one below — is an essential component of Presbyterian Church (USA) services of worship. We do it every Sunday as a habit.

Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you
with our whole heart and soul
and mind and strength.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

In your mercy,
forgive what we have been,
help us amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be,
so that we may delight in your will
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your holy name.

[Book of Common Worship]

Sometimes a habit is more than habitual. Sometimes we mean what we ask: “help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be….” Sometimes, with God’s help, we do it.

Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Minister of Word and Sacrament H.R., Chaska, MN, November 12, 2019.

The last refuge of the scoundrel

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THIS MOMENT IN TIME

At long last, this Wednesday (Nov. 13, 2019) we will see the faces, hear the voices, and watch the body language of the members of the House Intelligence Committee and those who testify. Witnesses to the quid pro quo — we’re no longer arguing whether there was a quid pro quo — will bring their testimonies. Members of the Committee will examine, weigh the evidence, and decide whether to recommend impeachment.

This Wednesday we will be ushered to our seat in the observer section through different doors chosen by the flip of remote to select the door that suits the conclusions to which we have already come. Some will be ushered in by Fox; some by MSNBC or CNN; a few who prefer no pundits, will watch it on C-Span. Those who walk through different doors to the left or the right will watch the same thing so differently that an outside observer might wonder whether we were seeing different things.

THE QUESTION AND THE VOICE OF THE DEAD

The question at issue is whether the President violated his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. As each of us considers the gravity of Mr. Trump’s quid pro quo with Mr. Zelensky, we might do well to listen to the dead. Our ancestors no longer belong to a political party. Some of the dead were patriots, others were not. The harshest critic sometime was a patriot while the one who talked incessantly of patriotism turns out to have been a scoundrel. G.K. Chesterton is among the dead who speak from the grave with wisdom and wit and a twinkle in his eye:

I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism, I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.

G.K. Chesterton, The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III.

WHAT KIND OF “QUID PRO QUO?

Michael Mulvaney was right, and he was wrong in saying that quid pro quo‘s “happen all the time.” “Something for something” is not evil. I want an apple; you want an orange. II give you one of my apples; you give me one of your oranges. “We do it all the time.” “I’ll support the funding bill for bridge repair in your district, if you support the bill for road repair in my district.” We do it all the time. That’s the nature of politics in a democratic republic. We elect public servants to serve us within the wider context where local self-interests convene to get thing done by the art of compromise.

But this alleged wrongdoing is not that kind of legitimate quid pro quo between equals. There is nothing inherently unconstitutional in a “something for something” transaction to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The question is whether the President’s “something” (release of $300+ Million of military assistance with an invitation to the White House) in exchange for a conditional “something” (Ukrainian investigation of a likely opponent in the 2020 U.S. election with a public announcement by Mr. Zelensky) was in the best interest of the United States or whether it served his own personal purposes for re-election.

THE DEMOCRACY OF THE DEAD

The American Republic is still young among the nations, but we have a tradition, an inheritance of self-government under the Constitution and the rule of law. Tradition and freedom are not opposites. “Tradition means giving voice to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors,” wrote Chesterton, sounding like an Ojibwe teaching his people to make decisions after looking back seven generations of the ancestors and forward seven future generations yet unborn. “[Tradition] is the democracy of the dead.” — G.K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy.

Was the President’s quid pro quo an act of patriotism, or was it the behavior of a scoundrel. If Donald Trump was a scoundrel, does the offense rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors”?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2019.

Elijah with Grandpa and the Postage Stamp Monologue

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Two year-old grandson Elijah engages grampa in a telling conversation

Good morning, Elijah. Whatcha doin’?

Playing etch-a-sketch on our iPad. Did you draw when you were liddle?

I did. But not like that.

Like what, then? Was it a different App? What kind of Mac did you play with in your carseat on the way to day care?

It was a long time ago, Elijah. A very long time ago. It was a different world. We didn’t have day care. We didn’t have iPads and cell phones. We used to lick postage stamps back in the day.

picture of U.S. postage stamps

What’s a stamp and why did you have to lick it? Were you being punished for being bad?

No, it wasn’t anything like that. We didn’t tweet back then. The only thing that tweeted in our world was Tweetie Bird on Loony Tunes.

How’d you talk if you couldn’t tweet? I tweet all the time. Watch! Mom hates it when I do this. I like FaceTime better. It’s more personal.

We sent letters. We wrote them with a pencil or a pen, put them in envelopes, licked the back of the postage stamps — if you had lots of letters, it took a long time — and we took them to the Post Office. The letters would arrive in two or three days, sometimes a week. We had to be patient back then. Everything was slower.

And we dialed phone numbers on rotary phones. I still remember our number on Church Lane, EL6-1490. Teddy Bonsall’s was EL6-1476. And sometimes, when I’d pick up the phone to dial Teddy, somebody else was already talking to somebody else on our phone. It was called “a party line“.

Wow! Did you have parties every day?

It’s hard to explain, Elijah. Maybe this will help. Search for the Postage Stamp Monologue on Mom’s iPad for a better feel for how grampa feels most of the time in your world.

“The Postage Stamp Monologue” from Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a play by Christopher Durang, performed at the Goodman Theater.

Wow! He’s really mad, grampa! I’m glad you don’t have to lick postage stamps anymore or dial 999-999-9999, like Vanya. I got an idea! Let’s FaceTime Uncle Andrew and Calvin!

Uncle Andrew and cousin Calvin answering FaceTime call.

Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa), Chaska, MN, Nov. 7, 2019.

Where’s my Elliot Richardson?

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BREAKFAST WITH ELLIOT RICHARDSON

Why a memory bubbles up in a particular moment often is a mystery. Other times an explanation does not require a Freudian or Jungian analyst.

I’m having breakfast at the Hyatt in downtown Minneapolis with former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Just the two of us. We are meeting to get acquainted before the noon Westminster Town Hall Forum when I will introduce him to a packed house and the radio audience of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).

“VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: KEY ISSUES IN ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE”

A singular moment of American history qualifies Elliot Richardson for the public forum that features “Voices of Conscience: Key Issues in Ethical Perspective.” Elliot Richardson was the United States Attorney General in the Nixon Administration, a lifelong Republican remembered for refusing President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate affair. The memory of Elliot Richardson’s act of courage is still fresh in the hearts and minds of those who respect the courage of conscience in American public life. Elliot Richardson refused to sell his soul to the White House.

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

The turmoil of 2019 seems explanation enough for the reappearance of the memory from twenty-two years ago.

Bill Barr became the Trump Administration Attorney General after Jeff Session angered the president for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That was after FBI Director James Comey had been fired after a one-on-one private dinner at the White House when the president asked for Comey’s pledge of personal loyalty.

In the midst of failed attempts to secure personal loyalty, and nostalgic for the fealty of his former lawyer, whom Alan Derschowitz described as “the quintessential fixer,” the president’s is reported by the New York Times to have cried in a moment of exasperation, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”

ROY COHN AND THE TACTICS OF JOSEPH MCCARTHY

Roy Cohn had been front and center stage on national television as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Committee hearings hunting for Communists and Communist sympathizers allegedly hidden in the U.S. military, government agencies, and the entertainment industry.

Edward R. Murrow‘s televised commentary featuring Army defense lawyer Joseph Welsh’s rebuke of McCarthy and his tactics brought McCarthy to a screeching halt:

“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welsh, Esq. statement to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, 1954.

THE LONG ARM OF ROY COHN

In the wake of Murrow’s broadcast and the turning of public opinion against McCarthy’s character assassinations of America’s political left as unpatriotic, Roy Cohn left McCarthy’s side to go into private practice. During the 30 years that followed, his clients were a rare assortment of the famous (the Archdiocese of New York, the New York Yankees and the team’s owner, George Steinbrenner; Aristotle Onassis) and the infamous (mob bosses “Fat Tony” Salerno, Carmine “the Cigar” Galante, extortionist “Teflon Don” John Gotti, and the owners of Studio 54 convicted of tax evasion, among others.

Roy Cohn became Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, mentor, and fixer, the master teacher who taught his disciple how to succeed in public life: require absolute loyalty, strike fear in anyone who dare oppose you, manipulate the media, attack harder when attacked, and demonize your opponents as public enemies. In the end, the disciple did to Cohn what Cohn had taught him to do. After the New York Supreme Court disbarred Roy Cohn and Cohn was dying from complications reportedly related to AIDS, the lawyer-fixer-mentor’s friend was no longer useful. The mentee dropped his loyal “friend” like a rock.

ELLIOT RICHARDSON and THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE

Roy Cohn and Elliot Richardson had three things in common. They were lawyers. They had their moments in the national spotlight. They worked closely Republican Presidents. But they stand on opposite sides of history.

But, if “the arc of the moral universe is long, but … bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Theodore Parker), the shadow of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn is short and fleeting, and the memory of a courageous Republican who refused to sell his soul to the White House may yet awaken the party he would not recognize to surrender the question “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” for a different question:

Where’s my Elliot Richardson?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2019.

The “Prosperity Gospel” and White House “spiritual warfare”

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Thursday’s New York Times (Oct. 31) reported that “Paula White, a televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump whom he has known since 2002, has joined the Trump administration in an official capacity.” The White House announced the news the same day the House authorized its impeachment procedures.

If you’re an embattled president about to be impeached for betraying your oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” you might welcome a spiritual advisor who, though lacking theological education credentials, confirms your view that you are engaged in spiritual warfare.

As one observer put it, “If you’re wealthy like Donald Trump is, and you have a preacher who says your wealth is a sign God approves of you, you’re probably going to like that preacher. And if there is one major element in Donald Trump’s religious beliefs, it would be this prosperity gospel.” — Tom Gjelten.

PAULA WHITE’S MESSAGE OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE

THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL IS NOT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS

Whatever the differences between evangelical Christians and progressive Christians on Biblical interpretation, there is general agreement that the gospel of Jesus and the “prosperity gospel” are very different gospels.

The Book of Amos and the Letter of James scorn the worship of wealth and privilege, and the teaching of Jesus consistently calls people to make friends with their enemies rather than seek their defeat. “You have heard it was said ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies’. But I say to you ‘love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you.'”

CREDENTIALS

Furthermore, there is the matter of credentials. The majority of American Christian churches — progressive, orthodox, or evangelical — require three years of theological education beyond a Bachelor of Arts/Science as qualification for ordination. My denomination — Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) requires courses in Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were written, as a qualification for ordination. Why? Because the people in the pews deserve preachers and teachers who know what they’re talking about before they set foot in the pulpit — or step on stage.

Paula White has no such credentials. She falsely claims to have a doctorate. Not even close. She never finished college, let alone graduate school. She’s an entertainer and a fraud whose performances belong on The Apprentice. “You’re fired!”

PAULA WHITE QUOTATIONS

  • There are many different ways that people get licensed or ordained through different ministries, denominations, etc. So – but for myself, there was no formal seminary.
  • I have nothing to be sorry about.
  • God takes what the enemy meant for your bad and turns it for your good! It wasn’t a set back but a set up! Wait and see what God is getting ready to do for you!
  • Some people left you for dead. They thought it was over. They said you’re hopeless, you’re helpless. You can’t be used. You’re not ministry material. You’re going to be poor. You’re going to be messed up. But guess what? Tell the devil, go to hell. You’re a liar.
  • YOU are on the verge of a complete breakthrough in every area of your life. Spiritually, Financially, and Relationally God has shown me that this is a season of victory for His people. As I went deeper in the Spirit the Lord revealed that before the breakthrough comes, certain things must be dealt with. Specifically, there must be a complete defeat of your enemies!
  • I don’t go where I’m tolerated. I go where I’m celebrated.
  • What I might have considered good, good doesn’t mean every day is going to be perfect, you’re going to have bad breath, your hair is not going to be in perfect place.

THE WAR ON THE CONSTITUTION

By most indications, the American constitutional crisis will only get worse as the White House continues to stonewall Congress and publicly whitewash itself with the likes of the appointment of Paula White. It could be worse. It could be Ms. White’s dear friend, Benny Hinn. It remains to be seen whether the American people will fall for it.

NBC Dateline exposure of televangelist Benny Hill

— Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN.

Do you have the time?

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When my most intimate companion failed to respond as normal, I feared she had suffered a stroke like the cerebral hemorrhage that took Uncle Bob years ago. Uncle Bob was the smartest guy in South Paris, the Harvard Law valedictorian who, against all expectation, had made South Paris his home until he suddently dropped dead leading the Congregational Church’s Annual Meeting. He had shown no signs of stress during worship, directing the Choir from the organ bench as he had for 25 years. Church meetings are like that — they often raise a leader’s blood pressure — but this was different! All of a sudden he was gone.

Like Uncle Bob, she showed no signs of stress before retiring last night. She is the one who has done the most of anyone to encourage my writing and publishing — filing things away until I needed them, flagging a mis-spelled word or correcting faulty grammar. I’ve depended on her every day for the past six years. She is more than an assistant. Since the day we met, I’ve turned her on. This morning is different. Nothing turns her on.

I  gently carry her to the garage, cover her with a blanket, and drive to the Urgent Care at the Southdale Mall. They admit her for tests and suggest I return in an hour in an hour or so.

“Do you have the time?” I ask.

He gives me a strange look and checks his iPhone. “It’s 10:30. We’ll text you when we’re done. Where can I reach you? What’s your number?”

“I don’t have a number.”

“Okay, how about an email?”

“I don’t have a mobile phone. You know, there are no public clocks anywhere anymore. Everybody’s in a bubble.” 

He pauses and looks up. “Hmmm. You know . . .I hadn’t thought about that! Come to think of it, I guess you’re right. “Okay . . .well, just be back by 11:30.”

Anxious and alone with an hour to kill, I wander the corridor from shop to shop before going into Macy’s. It’s easy to distract yourself shopping, and Macy’s is just the place. You can find anything at Macy’s…except a clock. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” I ask the clerk in the men’s shoe department. It’s not a question he gets anymore. He glances at his iPhone, looks up, and, with a strange look, gives me the time: “10:45.”

With forty-five minutes to spare, I remember Macy’s famous Lakeside Grille and follow the confusing signs to catch a late breakfast or early lunch. I tell the waitperson I have an important appointment at 11:30 and ask for the time. “10:50,” he says. “I don’t have a phone. Would you be so kind as to give me a heads up when it’s 11:15?” He takes my order and agrees to notify me. I scarf down the Oktoberfest special of pork schnitzel, spaetzl, and green beans, wondering what time it is. The waitperson is nowhere to be seen. I ask another waitperson, “I’m sorry. Do you have the time?”

I rush back to Urgent Care, anxious about the test results. “Mr. Stewart,” says the neurologist, “I’m sorry. We ran all the tests and the news is not good, but it’s not beyond hope.” I breathe a sigh of relief, waiting for what comes next. “She’s still alive, but she needs immediate surgery. We have a neurologist standing by.” “What’s the cost,” I ask, knowing she has no insurance. “We can replace her keyboard for $485 so you can turn her on again, but she’s old. It’s only a matter of time before she goes. Or you can buy a new one for an additional six-hundred dollars or so. Your call.”

End of life decisions, like putting down my canine companion after fourteen years– are harder than others. For months after Maggie’s death, I swore I’d never get another dog. There’d never be another Maggie. I couldn’t bear the thought of holding another Maggie in my arms when her time would come.

“I’m a writer,” I say. “Like lots of other writers, I have ADHD and sometimes, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I drink too much. I’m completely dependent on her for filing and saving my work. She keeps it all in her head. Besides she’s the only one I’ve ever turned on.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Stewart. If you leave her with us for 24 hours, we’ll be glad to download her memory to the new MacBook Air. We’ll treat her with great respect. We’ll take good care of things. We’ll be glad to recycle her free of charge. As Hemingway said, ‘Time is the last thing we have.'”

I leave her behind to be downloaded and recycled, grieving my loss, but consoled by the knowledge that, life Uncle Bob and Maggie, she will be in a safe place.

 — Gordon C. Stewart, author of NYT Worst Seller List Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, dedicated to my late assistant, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2019.

An honest to God real time act of reparation

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IT HAPPENED IN NEW JERSEY

New Jersey is not the first place one expects to hear a public confession of slavery with an action plan to make reparations for institutional racism. It may, therefore, come as a surprise that Princeton Theological Seminary, the nation’s second oldest graduate school (1812), has put New Jersey on the map of the national debate about reparations.

REPENTANCE FOR TIES TO SLAVERY

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a plan that commits $27,000,000 for a five-year Reparations Action Plan and $1,000,000 each year thereafter in perpetuity.

EXCERPTS FROM PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY NEWS RELEASE

“’The Seminary’s ties to slavery are a part of our story. It is important to acknowledge that our founders were entangled with slavery and could not envision a fully integrated society,’ says Princeton Seminary President M. Craig Barnes. ‘We are committed to telling the truth. We did not want to shy away from the uncomfortable part of our history and the difficult conversations that revealing the truth would produce.

“The historical audit uncovered that the Seminary did not own slaves and its buildings were not constructed with slave labor. Yet, the Seminary benefited from the slave economy, both through investments in Southern banks in the mid-19th century and from donors who profited from slavery. Also, founding faculty and leaders used slave labor at some point in their lives. Several of the first professors and board members were deeply involved in the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending free blacks to Liberia.

“’Our response to the historical audit is the beginning of our community’s journey of repair as we seek to redress historic wrongs and to help the Seminary be more faithful to our mission as a school of the church, both now and in the years to come,’ says Barnes. ‘We are taking tangible action to write a new chapter in our story.’”

— Princeton Theological Seminary, PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY, October 18, 2019

Princeton is the oldest seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Its announcement gives meaning to the prayer of confession and acts of repentance, strengthening hope that all religious communities and the nation itself will take responsibility for systemic institutional racism and move toward a just and equitable society.

Rev’d Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Minister (HR), author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click HERE for a look), Chaska, MN, October 29, 2019.

Elijah and Cousin Calvin

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Introducing Elijah’s cousin Calvin

Followers of Views from the Edge know Elijah from his conversations with “Bumpa” (Grandpa), but have not been introduced to Elijah’s six month younger first cousin and buddy, Calvin.

The cousins are talking up a storm with impressive vocabularies — many more words than the occasional “Mine!” but they need some help with grammar.

Conversation among Elijah, Calvin, and Grandpa

Grandpa: Good morning, Elijah! Good morning, Calvin! How’d you sleep last night?

Calvin: Not so good. I cried all night. Elijah was dead! I saw it TV.

Grandpa: I’m so sorry Calvin. But look — Elijah’s standing right. He’s alive. The Elijah on TV was a United States Congressman. Elijah Cummings was 68 years old.

Calvin: Phew! That makes me happy.

Grandpa: How about you, Elijah. How was your night?

Elijah: Great! I went right to bed after me and Mom played in the bathtub.

Grandpa: Wonderful. But I want you to learn to put others before yourself.

Elijah: You mean Calvin?

Grandpa: No, I’m talking about talking, I want you to grow up saying “Mom and I”.

Elijah: I just did! I just told you! I went to bed after me and Mom played in the tub. You don’t hear so good, Bumpa.

Grandpa: Well, I did hear you, and it’s “well“, not good. “You don’t hear so well.” It a common mistake. I want you boys to grow up with good grammar. That’s why I want you to say “Mom and I.”

Elijah: I just said that!!! Didn’t I, Calvin?

Calvin: Nope. You said “me and Mom.” You didn’t say “Mom and I.” You’re selfish! You always put yourself first. Everything’s ‘Mine, mine, mine’. ‘Me, me, me!’ You always put yourself first!

Elijah: Do not!

Calvin: Do, too!

Grandpa: Okay, boys. This isn’t that important. I’m talking about talking. I want you grow up learning good grammar.

Calvin: We already love Granmma!

Elijah: Yea, Bumpa! Me and Calvin love Granmma. Me and him love Gramma more than you!

Gordon C. Stewart (Bump), Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click THIS LINK to explore on Amazon), Chaska, MN, Oct. 26, 2019

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

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This awkward moment

Today a rare mixture of people momentarily lay aside their differences to gather in Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church to give thanks to God for the life of Elijah Cummings. This is a community like few others — members of Congressman’s home church, constituents of his Congressional District, colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the powerless and the powerful, the homeless and and the well-housed, the hungry and the well-fed; elected officials and career civil servants, maids and nannies and those who employ, red and yellow, back and white, all precious in God’s sight — convened at this most awkward moment when the Congressional impeachment inquiry, led by the deceased, has been called a ‘lynching’ by a child of white privilege.

James Cone — The Cross and the Lynching Tree

In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the late Professor and author James Cone of Union Theological Seminary in NYC elucidates the blindness of white Christians who see no relation between the cross of Jesus and the lynching tree.

“In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.”

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

“The cross can heal and hurt; it can be empowering and liberating but also enslaving and oppressive. There is no one way in which the cross can be interpreted. I offer my reflections because I believe that the cross placed alongside the lynching tree can help us to see Jesus in America in a new light, and thereby empower people who claim to follow him to take a stand against white supremacy and every kind of injustice.”

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Is it too much to hope and pray that today’s awkward moment in Baltimore help white Christians see the cross in the lynching tree, understand the sordid history of lynched (black) and lynchers (white), lay aside glib talk of a lynching, whether ignorant or intentional, and find our way beyond the collective sin of white supremacy.

Thank you, Elijah and James, for your witness and wisdom. The chariot has come to take you home. RIP.

Lying in State – “I will pray for you” – Hon. Elijah Cummings

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The Honorable Elijah Cummings, the first African American to lie in State in the U.S. Capitol, was the son of sharecroppers. However courageous his parents and grandparents were, they knew that the lynching tree was just a breath away. They would have seen white nationalism up close. Neither they nor their son nor any other black man, woman, or child spoke of lynchings metaphorically. A lynching was a lynching; the body hanging from the tree was always black. The lynchers were always white.

NOT A LYNCHING

Elijah Cummings knew the difference between an impeachment inquiry and a lynching. As Chair of the powerful U. S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, he oversaw his committee’s impeachment inquiry with great care and due respect, as an honorable man who knew the difference between a bi-partisan investigation of facts and a one-party lynch mob. He was a Democrat committed to the truth, due process, and justice.

CONDOLENCES TWEET: VERY HARD TO REPLACE

Shortly after the Congressman’s death was announced, the president did a very presidential thing. He paid his respects:

  My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”

BEFORE CONDOLENCE TWEET


@realDonaldTrump
· Jul 27, 2019
Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA……

@realDonaldTrump
….As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.

AFTER CONDOLENCES: WHITE PRIVILEGE, LYNCHINGS, AND TIT FOR TAT

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN! (1 day ago).

MAKING SENSE OUT OF WHAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE

With the exception of the group of psychiatric professionals who have expressed their diagnoses about the President’s mental health, most professionals adhere to the strict protocol resisting diagnosing a person the practitioner does not know. If a professional in the field cannot and should not diagnose, neither should we. Yet we know Donald Trump better than many people know their own families. I’m a retired clergyman, not a psychiatrist, but I recognize the behavioral signs of mental illness.

ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER (ASPD)

Common signs to be aware of include:

  • socially irresponsible behavior
  • disregarding or violating the rights of others
  • inability to distinguish between right and wrong
  • difficulty with showing remorse or empathy
  • tendency to lie often
  • manipulating and hurting others
  • recurring problems with the law
  • general disregard towards safety and responsibility
  • a tendency to take risks,
  • reckless behavior,
  • being deceitful with frequent lying.

Someone exhibiting this behavior may also:

  • lack deep emotional connections,
  • have a superficial charm about them,
  • be very aggressive,
  • and get very angry sometimes.

Other behaviors that may be signs of ASPD include:

  • don’t care if they have hurt someone,
  • are impulsive and abusive and lack remorse.
  • In the case of ASPD, abusive doesn’t necessarily mean violent.

“I WILL PRAY FOR YOU”

To call a Congressional impeachment inquiry a “lynching” insults Elijah Cummings, all descendants of chattel slavery, and the U.S. Constitution’s provision for removal of a president from office after a public trial. An impeachment trial is not a lynching. Few people know that better than the Congressman who lies in State while the President lies.

Elijah Cummings was a man of character who practiced his faith, an exception to the rule of retaliation. The beloved Congressman from Baltimore is one of only two people on “the Hill” I’ve heard say of the president, “I will pray for you.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Oct. 23, 2019

The Vegetable Prayer

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Max Coots was our family’s John Muir, Robert Frost, and Wendell Berry. He was a naturalist and poet whose whimsy and wit lifted people from the doldrums of the harsh winters of the New York North Country. Max’s Seasons of the Self spoke to me years ago. His poem “A Harvest of People” — found during an internet search — put me again in the presence of his wit, wisdom, and gentle spirit.

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For generous friends, with smiles as bright as their blossoms.
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them.
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn; and the others as plain as potatoes and as good for you.
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter.
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time.
For young friends, who wind around like tendrils and hold us.

We give thanks for friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might live.


Rev’d Max Coots (1927-2009) “A Harvest of People” Canton, New York

Max Coots was Minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Canton, New York for thirty-five years. Every August, he found solitude along the Grasse River in the barn board retreat he’d built with materials he’d rescued from the dump. Max had a solar shower in 1973.

The other twelve months, Max was an old beech tree, providing shade in summertime and dropping beech nuts from the pulpit that kept alive a host of chipmunks and squirrels in wintertime.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 22, 2019.

Elijah Cummings and the Blue Note Gospel

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Photo of antique copy go Thomas a Kemis' Imitation of Christ.

“No one can be a speaker without risk to his soul unless first he is fulfilled when he says nothing….”Who enjoys tranquility? “The one who doesn’t take seriously either praise or lack of it from people.” – Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471)

Thomas à Kempis‘ words from the Imitation of Christ describe the human challenge to each of us: to be one person… everywhere…every day…all the time.

EVERYWHERE, EVER DAY, ALL THE TIME

Elijah Cummings never seemed to get too big for his britches. He seemed unaffected by praise or the lack of it — “a speaker” whose soul was uncorrupted by the need for public praise.

The child of sharecroppers, he stayed grounded in the black church in the “rat and rodent infested” city of Baltimore where he was free to be just another brother moaning the Blues and shouting the gospel shout in a stormy world, as Otis Moss III put it, while those enjoying the ease of white privilege were quiescent and mum, or worse.

America is living stormy Monday, but the pulpit is preaching happy Sunday. The world is experiencing the Blues, and pulpeteers are dispensing excessive doses on nonprescription prosaic sermons. . . . The church is becoming a place where Christianity is nothing more than capitalism in drag.

Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor of Trinity United Church, author of Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World.

THE BLUES MOAN AND THE GOSPEL SHOUT

Every year, every week, every year for 40 years, Elijah Cummings went back and forth between a different kind of church the mixes the Blues Moan and the Gospel Shout in such a way that they cannot be separated, and his chair in the United States Congress, where being yourself everywhere everyday all the time poses a daunting challenge. His long-time friend and pastor at New Psalm Baptist Church, Bishop Walter Thomas, said of him:

He’s the congressman, but to members, he is Brother Elijah Cummings. … He’s one of us. . . He sits in Congress. He has major concerns and issues he has to solve in the world Monday through Friday, and he sits beside them on Sunday morning. He seeks the same place to be fed as they do. To them, he is their brother in Christ.

Baltimore Sun, October 17, 2019

On stormy Mondays at the Capitol in recent weeks, we observed the Chair of the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee fulfill his oath of office by demanding the truth from those in power while expressing compassion for those whom others scorn. The only ‘t’ he knew was ‘truth’; the only club to which he belonged had no entry fee. Insisting on the truth, he was a lion who roared like the Hebrew prophet Amos. “Come on now! We can do better!”

THE BLUE NOTE GOSPEL

When speaking to the “fixer” who had told the truth, the lion became as gentle as a lamb, expressing God’s anguish like the prophet Hosea. Speaking directly to Michael, he was a grandfather who practiced the Blue Note Gospel.

“I don’t know why this is happening for you. But it’s my hope that a small part of it is for our country to be better.”

Let me tell you the picture that really, really pained me. You were leaving the prison, you were leaving the courthouse, and, I guess it’s your daughter, had braces or something on. Man, that thing—man, that thing hurt me. As a father of two daughters, it hurt me. And I can imagine how it must feel for you. But I’m just saying to you—I want to first of all thank you. I know that this has been hard. I know that you’ve faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.

Whether speaking with Michael or challenging those of his colleagues who returned home to the tees and greens of privilege, Elijah Cummings was the same. He was one person everywhere every day all the time. His integrity stayed intact.

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”

“Come on now! We can do better than this!”

Elijah Cummings to the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2019. For commentaries on the blues of white privilege, see “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” (p.71) and “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” (66f.) in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR).

The Riddle in the Mirror

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It’s 4:02 A.M. I should be asleep. I’m wrestling with an enigma, the one that looks back from the mirror. Shortly before calling it a day last night, I came upon the enigma, and having found it, couldn’t let it go, or it could be said that finding me, it wouldn’t let me go.

Looking at the clock next to the bed moments ago brought to mind the line from Chaim Potok about the “four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions.” Potok’s four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions arose from the dissonance of a traditional Hasidic Jew in a modern culture that does not know the Torah and the Talmud.

I brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup, sit down with my MacBook Air, and return to the enigma I met last night.

The riddle in my mirror

For now [in our immaturity] we see in a mirror [an αίνιγμα — ‘enigma/riddle’], but then [when we come to maturity] we will see face to face. Now I know in part [in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].

First Corinthians 13:12, GCS Greek to English translation

The Greek word αίνιγμα has nothing to do with dimness or poor eyesight (“now we see in a mirror dimly“). It’s deeper than that. It’s vexation. We are puzzles to ourselves, knowing some pieces of ourselves, but not having all the pieces of the puzzle(s). And the Greek text is better translated as ‘mature’ rather than ‘perfect’.

No question is more puzzling than the ancient question of who we are. Who am I, the man who cuts himself shaving in the mirror? Who are we, this evolving species changing day by day in this time of climate departure when the future of life on the planet is uncertain? Who and what are we becoming?

Sixteenth Century reformer John Calvin began his theological opus with these laser-like sentences at the tender age of 27 years old:

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

Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

How I came to see life is rooted in this theological tradition. Like the characters of Potok’s novels who feel alone wrestling with the ancient Hebrew texts (Torah and Talmud), in one hand, and the culture of a very different time and place, those of us who still get up early in the morning with excitement of exploring an ancient Greek text highjacked by the Christian Right often feel placeless. Vexation is not popular, but, like Chaim Potok, I tell myself that wrestling with the riddle is who we are.

The face of my father

Looking in the mirror, I know less than I once thought, about the huge vexing questions of 2019. I’ll never have all the pieces or solve the enigma, but I do have some guiding fragments. I see my father’s kindly face looking back at me and reach up to the bookshelf to fetch the Bible which contains a pearl of great price: the prayer written by his own hand in pencil:

photo of prayer by Kenneth Campbell Stewart (my father) written in his Bible in pencil.

O Thou before whom ages pass away like minutes and in whose sight the mighty hosts of men are like a sparrow in the hand, keep our faith strong in Thee, confidence unshaken — Give clear insight as [we] face the days ahead. Help us so to entrust ourselves to Thy hands that in the awareness of Thy faithfulness we find all the security we need and in Thy service all our peace.

Elijah Cummings

Then the news broke in that Elijah Cummings died at approximately 2:45 A.M. this morning at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Congressman Cummings was a man of deep faith, a beacon of compassion and integrity who spoke kindly words of hope to Michael Cohen about the power of forgiving grace while chairing a House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing. Elijah Cummings died in the city he loved and served as a public servant in service to his Lord.

First Corinthians 13 concludes with words of consolation and hope, the clue to living the riddle. “So faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2019

Fake news from the Pearly Gates

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Maid exposes Peter in the courtyard. The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (1622-24)

Saint Peter: Greetings, Donald. I’ve been expecting you, but not so soon. I have a few questions before you go through the Pearly Gates to the streets of gold.

Donald: Sure, fire away. I’m very familiar with pearly gates. It can’t be much better than Mar-a-Lago. Fire away!

Mar-a-Lago Club entrance gate

Okay, Donald. But I have to warn you–everyone up here is equal. There are no private clubs. No towers. No penthouses. No White Houses. No barrios. No borders. No trade restrictions. No nations. No classes other than the de-programming and re-training classes. Everyone has free medical care. No one is rich. No one is poor. It’s a lot like Karl Marx hoped society would be … except for God. Karl was surprised. Are you ready?

Are you serious!!! Why would I want to go in there? This is crazy. Karl Marx was evil. Communism was evil. Socialism is evil. Obama’s evil. Nancy’s evil! Are they here?

Barack and Nancy haven’t arrived yet, but, when their time comes, we’ll treat them the same way we treat everyone else. Lots of your friends are here in the re-training course: Joe [McCarthy], Roy [Cohn], other members of the Trump family.

What about Karl? He’s been dead a long time.

Karl is enjoying the pleasures of the equality he preached while still with you. Karl’s big surprise was that there is a God.

I don’t want to be any place where Karl is welcome. Jerry [Falwell] and Franklin [Graham] told me all about the Judgment. No way Karl is here! No way!

I guess that’s a matter of judgment, don’t you think?

Right. I’m President. I make the judgments. I decide.

I see. It seems you don’t quite get it, Donald. There are no presidents here. No one owns any property here. Everyone here is a child, just like Jesus said. Can I call you ‘Donnie’?

No. I hate that! Mother called me ‘Donnie’. My dad called me ‘Don’.

Okay, Don, I won’t call you ‘Donnie’.

And don’t call me ‘Don’. Dad kicked me out of the house and sent me away to a military academy. I hated that!

But your dad did help you avoid the draft, right? That bone spur thing. Remember?

I did have bone spurs! They were terrible!

Do you still have them? Show me your foot. Everyone up here has bare feet. There are no shoes. Nothing is hidden. Let me see your foot.

No, they’re gone!

Donald, bone spurs don’t just go away, and, when they’ve been removed, the foot will bear the scars from surgery. Show me your foot.

I don’t have a scar! My sister came to the rescue with EZorb. It went away! I’m not hiding anything. I don’t hide things like the fake news and the whistleblowers.

I see. Donald we have a truth problem. Your sister couldn’t have given you EZorb. It didn’t exist when the draft board gave you the deferments. Truth is truth up here, Donald.

That’s fake news! Fake news! You’re part of the deep state that was out to get me.

I’m sorry you feel that way, Donald. Here it doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what you did. Only facts matter here.

I was making America great again. I’m not like you. I never let a maid expose me out in the courtyard!

You’re in for a great surprise. This is not Mar-a-Largo. Here the maids who spoke truth in the courtyards and cleaned the toilets, and all the undocumented workers, are equal to everyone else. It’s only a matter of time before your family’s driver and all those people at the border join the maids and me up here.

You believe everything you read in the Times? What driver?

Zoltan Tamas, who’s been in ICE lock-up for the last six months.

I don’t know anything about that! It’s all fake news. All fake news!

I’m sorry, Donald. You’ve failed the test. But, like I said, there’s grace here. Feel free take a seat here outside the Pearly Gates until your family’s driver and all the other ICE detainees arrive. In the meantime, a little scripture might help prepare you for the re-training.

I don’t need re-training by a loser, a big time lose just like Judas! Anyway, I didn’t bring my Bible.

I know! You don’t have a Bible, Donald. So…Click THIS LINK for Jesus’s surprising story of the sheep and the goats, the parable of the Last Judgment, to help you understand why people go through re-training here. The Losers turn out to be Winners, and the Winners are Losers. We do our best up here to keep hell empty!

— Gordon C. Stewart. public theologian, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2019

American Crisis

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THE AMERICAN CRISIS TODAY

Whether the American constitutional republic survives the present crisis depends on us no less than it did when Thomas Paine challenged the American public at the beginning of the American experiment.

THE AMERICAN CRISIS: THOMAS PAINE

Photograph of original text of The American Crisis Number 1 by the author of COMMON SENSE, Thomas Paine.

These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. – Common Sense.

Thomas Paine was the American Revolution journalist whose pamphlets by the title “Common Sense” supported independence from the British crown. Paine published those words on December 19, 1776 in Pennsylvania Journal. He spoke them to the American Continental Army one week later.

SHRINKING OR STANDING

The American crisis then was the survival of a dream. Would the American people stand up or would they be fair-weather patriots — summer soldiers and sunshine patriots?

In April 1775 the colonists had begun the rebellion against King George and all things royal, but the temptation to return to monarchical rule has never be far away. The result of the revolution was a democratic republic based on a non-monarchical constitution that divided the powers of government into three separate and equal branches — congressional, executive, and judicial. The U.S. Constitution was crafted to establish limits on executive authority. There would be no king in the new American democratic republic.

BEN FRANKLIN WARNING

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, – if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.

BEN FRANKLIN, SPEECH TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, JUNE 28, 1787.

“WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED”

Well-administered government is necessary for us. The success of the American experiment. i.e. a non-monarchical democratic republic, depended on an uncorrupted electorate and uncorrupted administration of the three equal branches under the new U.S. Constitution.

Government itself is not evil. Despotism is. Despotic government is the end product of a corrupted people incapable of the uncertain complexities of the separation of powers. The desire for a strong man in times of uncertainty like ours is only checked by the protections of the U.S. Constitution. A strong man is not King George. Franklin saw the elevation of a corrupt despot by a corrupted people above the equal powers of Congress and the judiciary as the nation’s greatest threat. The longing for the return of King George was the stuff of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

THE KNOT OF CRUELTY AND RECKLESSNESS

The knot in my stomach has a history. I remember the same knot while watching Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn until Joseph Welch spoke the lines that would stop McCarthy: “Until this moment . . . . I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . . You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency left?”

The U.S. Senate later censured McCarthy for his reckless character assassinations of his fellow citizens whose left-of-center politics he suspected of communist sympathies or allegiances. McCarthy all but disappeared. Roy Cohn did not. Cohn went on to become the lawyer for media mogul Rupert Murdoch ; Mafia figures Tony SalernoCarmine Galante, and John Gotti;and real estate developer Donald Trump. “In 1986, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Cohn for unethical and unprofessional conduct, including misappropriation of clients’ funds, lying on a bar application, and pressuring a client to amend his will.” (Roy Cohn, Wikipedia)

CONSCIENTIOUS PERSISTANCE

Only an informed electorate that persistently demands uncorrupted government under the division of powers of the U.S. Constitution will save us from the despotic government a corrupted people deserve. This is a time that tries our souls. Those who stand now will be loved and thanked by their children and grandchildren.

— Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (Jan. 2017, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, October 15, 2019.

Collective Delusion

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AN UNLIKELY COINCIDENCE

“What’s the book about?” asked friends while preparing Be Still! for publication. I would scratch my head and answered as best I could: “It’s about a certain kind of calm and resistance in a world gone mad.” The release of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, through no intention of the publisher or the author, coincided with the inauguration of a new president (January 2017).

QUIET! BE STILL!

The title “Be Still!” is taken from Psalm 46 — “Be still, and know that I am God” — and from the Gospel according to Mark story of the command to the storm-tossed sea: “Quiet! Be still!” Both the psalm and “the stilling of the storm” address our plight — the mass dehumanization which Holocaust surviver Elie Wiesel called “collective madness”.

How to explain the Holocaust is a life-long question for my generation. Elie Wiesel‘s “collective madness” comes as close as any other to the daunting question of why the German people fell for a madman and stayed quiet.

COLLECTIVE SELF-DELUSION

[F]ew Germans after the war would confess having given any loyalty to the Nazi movement. This was not a lie in the soul of the German nation; it was a part of a collective delusion that all the fascist movements brought upon their followings. It was as if the movements themselves, as things independent of the men that embodied them, were responsible for the things that happened.

Gilbert Allardyce, The Place of Fascism in European History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971)

SOMEDAY THEY WILL SAY, “WE DID NOT KNOW”

Well-publicized among Germans, already before Hitler came to power and during a period when he still depended on their consent rather than coercion, were the many actual deeds of butchery…. Some day the same Germans, now cheering Hitler’s strut into Paris, will say to their American friends and to their brave German anti-Nazi friends: “We did not know what went on, we did not know” and when that day of know-nothing comes, there will be laughter in hell.

Peter Viereck, German-American Scholar, Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind, rev. ed. (1941; New York: Capricorn, 1965), 318

PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Epistle to the Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)

The language of the Bible regarding principalities – the ruling authorities, the angelic powers, the demons, and the like – sounds, I suppose, strange in modern society, but these words in fact refer to familiar realities in contemporary life. The principalities refer to those entities in creation which nowadays are called institutions, ideologies, and images. Thus a nation is a principality. Or the Communist ideology is a principality. Or the public image of a human being, say a movie star or a politician, is a principality. The image or legend of Marilyn Monroe or Franklin Roosevelt is a reality, distinguishable from the person bearing the same name, which survives and has its own existence apart from the existence of the person.

William Stringfellow, Instead of Death (Expanded version)

THIRTY-THREE MONTHS AND COUNTING

Thirty-three months after the release of Be Still!, many of my generation hear echos from 1933. Though the “enemies” are different, the tactics and the language of national purification are the same, defying rational explanation. The principalities and powers which survive have their own existence apart from the persons who come under the spell of collective delusion and collective madness.

DISARMING THE PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS

We humans are social creatures. but we are do not do well when herds become the substitute for self-critical community. The still, small Voice is heard away from the clamor. The life of a nation and every other principality and power is a spiritual matter before and after it is a political matter.

“Be still! Shut up! and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations” (Psalm 46).

Elijah and Mr. Quisling

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UNCLE GARY’S LETTER

Photo of Mr. Quisling (c. 1919)

Elijah’s Uncle Gary sent a letter for Elijah from Norway.

Uncle Gary “met” Vidkun Quisling, Norway’s WWII fascist traitor, at the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo. The Center is housed in Mr. Quisling‘s former home, Villa Grande.

CONVERSATION BETWEEN BUMPA AND ELJAH

How was daycare today, Elijah?

You should have been there, Bumpa. You’d love daycare!

Well, we didn’t have daycare when I was your age, but daycare may be in my future.

I sure hope so. You’ll love the slide, Bumpa!

Elijah, I slide every day, but not the way you do.

Where? You and Gamma live in a condo. You don’t have a yard like we have at daycare. You don’t have a slide. You don’t have a swing either.

Oh, I do, Elijah. I do! It’s hard to understand at your age. It’s a metaphor. Bumpa swings up and down, back and forth, and slides further down the rabbit hole every day. Our country’s in big trouble.

You should read Uncle Gary’s letter again, Bumpa. You’ll feel a lot better.

Why’s that?

Mr. Quisling died a long time ago far, far away in Norway. Uncle Gary says he was execrated as a traitor. You don’t have to worry anymore about him, Bumpa. Was Mr. Quisling ever depeached?

  • Gordon C. Stewart (two year-old Elijah’s Grandfather [“Bumpa”]), Chaska, MN, October 11, 2019

Three Guys in a Bar

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THE FIRST DUTY OF LOVE

Americans say the word ‘love’ a lot! Nearly all of us do. But, except for members of the armed forces, we don’t much like the word ‘duty‘. How is it, then, that one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century known for his often inscrutable philosophical theology, Paul Tillich, put ‘love’ and ‘duty’ together in one short sentence?

The first duty of love is to listen.

Perhaps Tillich’s German culture might help explain his coupling duty and love. Duty is higher on German culture’s ladder of human virtues than in Tillich’s adopted home in the United States where ‘freedom’ rather than ‘duty’ is seen as love’s companion.

WATCHING LESTER HOLT AT THE RESTAURANT BAR

Lester Holt of NBC’s Nightly News is on the television screens behind the bar. Kay sits to my left; a stranger is on my right. We can’t hear the sounds, but the visuals leave no doubt about the day’s lead stories:

  • Sixteen year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg is at the podium of the United Nations, issuing an urgent call for action now, before it’s too late.
  • The President of the USA drops by the meeting on climate change . . . for 15 minutes;
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces an impeachment inquiry, a decision taken in consideration of the Trump-appointed Inspector-General’s finding that a whistleblower’s complaint appears credible and is of urgent concern to national security.
  • Away from the television cameras and microphones, President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy meet to discuss matters of common interest.

FAILING LOVE’S FIRST DUTY AT THE BAR

The guy sitting to my right watches in silence. He looks neither happy nor unhappy. He seems perplexed, staring at Lester and the verbal summaries of each news item.

Finally he shakes his head and breaks the silence. “Just like that Mueller thing. They already wasted thirty-million dollars on that Russian thing, and they got nothing. Now they’re going to waste our tax money again.” I shake my head “No” and ask whether he knows that the Mueller report does not exonerate the president on the question of obstruction of justice. He listens and says he didn’t know that. I continue, rather politely, or so I thought, until reading the note my wife slipped in front of me:

You’ve just ruined this place for us.

The 20-something bartender chimes in from behind the bar. “I don’t care about politics. All I know is — any politician who doesn’t take a paycheck is okay by me. I’m good with that.” I bite my lip and order a second Manhattan. Being human is hard!

LOVE’S FIRST DUTY: JESUS, A PHARISEE, AND W.H. AUDEN

The guys at the bar don’t know I’m a Presbyterian and couldn’t care less if they did. But I should have told them! A bit like the Friends (“Quakers”), we hold a high respect for the right and duty of conscience. We stand up for what is right, true, and good, as we understand it. In doing so, we are often guilty of ignoring the log in our own eye while pointing to the speck in our neighbor’s. Given that I’d ruined our favorite place, it’s not likely we’ll see each other again. And that’s a shame, all because I’d forgotten that the deepest duty of conscience is to love, and the first duty of love is to listen.

The Pharisee was right when he answered Jesus’s question about the summary of the Law. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, as W.H. Auden put it:

You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.

“Either we serve the Unconditional/Or some Hitlerian monster will supply/ An iron convention to do evil by.”

W.H. Auden

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 30, 2019.

Elijah asks about craters and creezin

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A conversation between two year-old Elijah and old Grandpa (Bumpa)

Bumpa, you’re old. You know LOTS of stuff. What’s a crater?

Where’d you hear about craters, Elijah? Have you been watching the nature channel at daycare?

We don’t have the nature channel at daycare. We watch stuff for kids on PBS.

I don’t think we have any craters here in Minnesota.

Whew! So we don’t have to look out for craters?

Are you sure you have the right word?

Yeah. It’s all over the news this week. Didn’t you watch Adam Sniff?

Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Let’s look it up.

Yeah, let’s look it up. You want to do it? Or you want me to do it?

Let’s do it together on my iPad. I’ll be right back.

You don’t to have go upstairs, Bumpa. I don’t want ya falling. I have Mom’s iPhone right here. I use it all the time.

Okay, just google the word ‘crater’ and let’s see what comes up.

I don’t spell yet. I’m still liddle, but I know my ABCs. Sometimes in my car seat I punch a bunch of buttons and somebody Mom doesn’t know talks to me on FaceTime!

Okay. Let Bumpa do it. I’m 77. Okay?

Okay.

Let’s just google crater and see what we learn.

Finding Wikipedia satellite photo in Google search

There we go, Elijah. Here’s a picture of Crater Lake in Oregon. Gandpa and Grandma have been to see it.

Crater Lake satellite photo.

Here’s what it says on Wikipedia:

Around 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in Oregon, disgorging 15 cubic miles of magma over the western United States. It took a quarter of a millennium of snow and rain to fill the caldera with the serene waters wanderlust hikers now know as Crater Lake. Image from a RapidEye satellite.

Wikipedia Crater lake description.

I don’t get it, Bumba! So why would anyone call somebody a ‘crater’? We’re not sposed to call people names, right?

Right! Maybe you have the wrong word. Or the wrong spelling. What was the other word you asked about?

Elijah asks about creezins

Yeah. Creezin! It’s like craters! Don’t you ever listen to the news?

I do. I listen to MPR when I’m driving.

Yeah, Mom and I do too on the way to daycare and on the way home. We get lots of news. It’s an hour drive each way. It’s like ‘crater’.

I see. Was there a volcanic eruption? I must have missed it.

Geez! It’s all over the news. Creezin! Everybody’s talking about it. Don’t ya know?

You mean raisins? Granpa eats raisin bran every morning.

Uh-oh! Are they going to throw you and Gamma out? Are they going to de-peach you cause you eat raisin bran? You’re white, but don’t live in a white house, right? Did you commit creezin?

Not to worry, Elijah. We’re safe. Grandma and are not going to be de-peached. Any other word you don’t understand?

Elijah asks Bumpa about cranes

photo of U.S.  Postage 3-cent Wildlife Conservation postage stamp of whooping cranes.

Yeah. Ucrane. We have sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans at the cabin, right? Are there any ucranes?

We have sandhill cranes and frumpeter swans on the wetland, Elijah. So far as we know, there are no cranes by rhe cabin. It’s a long way from the news.

We’re like Greta, right? We’re conservationists, right, Bumpa? Do ucranes whistle? Or do they also whoop and honk?

–Conversation between Grandpa (Bumpa) and 2 yr.-old grandson (Elijah), Chaska, MN, September 28, 2019.

The Measures of Ourselves

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Midtown Manhattan viewed from Weehauken, NJ, photo by Dmitry Avdeev.

THE FOUNDATION AND THE MORTAR

Who are we? Can we suspend shouting long enough to reflect on who and what we in the United States aspire to be? By what social norms do we measure a person’s or a nation’s well-being? A culture’s shared values form the foundation on which a society is built. Every culture is both an inheritance and a work in process. Without thoughtful care, time and neglect eat away the mortar between the foundation’s bricks.

FOUNDATIONS OF A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

The Constitution represents the boundaries of that consensus. If we didn’t know it before, we know in 2019 that the constitutional republic we call the United States of America is no Eden. Lord knows, Abel’s blood still cries out from our history and Cain’s inexplicable, impulsive violence will stain our hands again. Repeatedly. Sin is like that. It crouches at the door as in the Genesis legend. There is no perfect culture or society. Although we miss the mark (which is what the biblical word ‘sin’ means) by intention or by inattention, it falls on each of us to reaffirm and refresh the cultural code and ethical norms by which we measure ourselves personally and collectively. These measures are not abstract.

TRADITIONAL CULTURAL’S MORTAR — NORMS AND MEASURES

  • Be respectful
  • Don’t call people names.
  • Don’t make fun of people
  • Be kind
  • Be honest/tell the truth
  • Your word is your bond
  • Deal fairly with each other
  • Show compassion
  • Empathize with those less fortunate than yourself
  • Be generous with your money
  • Help those who suffer
  • Be true to yourself, but be ready to compromise
  • Settle disagreements peacefully
  • Don’t get too big for your britches
  • Be humble
  • Do not show off
  • Be above board in your dealings with others
  • Love your family
  • Respect the individual right to religious belief and practice
  • Honor the principle of free speech
  • Protect a free press
  • Be courageous and patient

TUCKPOINTING THE MORTAR

stone mason tuck pointing the mortar

Check out the mortar. Is it holding? Where does it need tuck pointing? Re-assess traditional culture’s tangible ways of measuring the quality of human life. Delete those you consider outdated. Add other measures you believe should be added. Then look in the mirror. Look at your behavior. Look at what you choose to watch and hear. Think again about who and what you want us to be. See the mortar crumbling. But don’t stop there. Despair is no excuse. Get up and do something to repair the foundation of humankind’s best nature.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland, September 16, 2019

Rubbing My Eyes: How Long, Lord? How Long?

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“Watching Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas while being hit by an avalanche of tweets that treat tragedy as a television opportunity has left me speechless. Nothing from the White House connects the dots — the growing frequency of 100 year storms, floods, and fires (weather) — with an urgent call to act now on climate change. The planet’s lungs are on fire in the Amazon while the man who promises to make american great again shreds established regulations put in place to protect water, air, our forests, and soil. Meanwhile $3.1 B are stripped from FEMA and national security to pay for the wall for which we were promised the Mexican government would pay. I feel like the psalmist. ‘How long, Lord? How long?'”

Those words went up on FB yesterday, breaking a long silence on FB and here on Views from the Edge. That was before reading Katha Pollitt’s piece in The Nation. “Almost Everything Bad that Trump Did This Summer” details some of the Trump Administration behavior between June 3 and September 1, 2019.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 6, 2019

Elijah on The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

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ELIJAH WATCHING THE BIG BAD PIG ON MOM’s iPAK

Photo of Elijah in bed watching the story of The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig on an iPad.
Two year old Elijah learns of The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

CONVERSATION OF ELIJAH AND BUMPA (GRAMPA) ABOUT THE BIG BAD PIG

Good morning, Elijah! You look happy this morning. Whatcha doin’?

Watchin’ a story on Mom’s iPak. I love Mom’s iPak. This one’s REALLY good, Bumpa!

You mean ‘iPad’. What’s it about?

Three liddle wolves and the big bad pig. You know the story!

Hmmm. Well, I do know a story, but I think you have the characters backwards. It’s three little PIGS and a big bad WOLF!

Uhuh! I’m watching it right now, Bumpa. It’s real! The Big Bad Pig destroys the three houses of the three liddle wolves.

There’s a story Bumpa and Gamma grew up with, but it’s the Big Bad Wolf who’s bad. The Big Bad Wolf huffs and he puffs and he blows down two of the three little pigs’ houses but can’t blow down the third little pig’s house because the third little pig build his house of brick. The Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow it down.

Nope! Different story! This is about the Big Bad Pig. Pigs are greedy, Bumpa. Pigs are nasty! The Big Bad Pig blows up all the houses, even the one made with brick and the one made of concrete. But then the three liddle wolves give up on security. They build a house made of flowers!

So they’re hippies!

What?

Hippies. Hippies were the “flower children.” People who wanted to make America better by ending the Big Bad Pig’s war in Vietnam. Hippies wanted peace.

That’s over my head, Bumpa! I don’t know about Vietnam! Gamma doesn’t talk like that. She knows I’m just liddle. She still changes my diapers. You never ever change my diapers! I like Gamma better!

I’m so sorry, Elijah. Gamma is a much better person than Bumpa.

But here’s the thing. The Big Bad Pig is at the G-7 meeting insulting America’s friends, and we’ll be stuck with his mess!

READ ALONG WITH ELIJAH ON MOM’S IPAK.

Gordon C. Stewart (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, August 24, 2019

In Search of Rest

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“To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself with established goals. … To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there top put it right.” - David Whyte, Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
photograph of cabin by the wetland showing orange wall with morning light.

In search of rest, I retreat from the world of 2019 and my “already exhausted will”. The walls inside the cabin by the wilderness are rough-cut pine, the natural color of the president’s orange hair. Alas! The world comes with me, even by the wetland: I cannot rest from comparisons and disdaining thoughts of orange hair and Greenland.

I’m worrying and fretting, wanting to put the world right: rescue the English language from the words that paint the world orange: words like ‘bad’…’good’ … ’nasty’ … ‘nice’ …’not nice’ … ‘loyal’ … ‘disloyal’, that divide, blame, simplify, stereotype, scapegoat, and choke the best in us. Words do matter. The unexamined underlying meaning of words matters most.

First thing in the morning, while Barclay is still asleep in his kennel, I do what I once disdained as flight from action. The word ‘devotional’ has a different meaning now. A ‘devotional’ is not an escape from responsibility. The half-hour devotional is what it says: to devote attention to the Source of consolation and solace in the world that makes my head hurt. Here at the cabin, I devote my attention to the Psalm before checking the mouse trap.

Sometimes the Psalm consoles; other days it does not. When something in the Psalm whets my appetite for the underlying meaning of the words, I turn to the Paraphrases of the Church of Scotland. The Paraphrases, like scripture itself, take me to an earlier time that knew nothing of the United States, Greenland, Denmark, or Mexico, orange hair, or the “summer camps” for migrant children along the border.  I read the Paraphrase of Psalm 146:

The stranger’s shield, the widow’s stay,
     the orphan’s help is he:
  But yet by him the wicked’s way
     turned upside down shall be. 
  — Psalm 146:9, Paraphrases

Consoled and nearly comforted by David Whyte and the old Scot paraphrase of the ancient Psalm, I put down the Paraphrases to fill Barclay’s bowl with fresh dog food before freeing him from his kennel, remembering the One,

Who righteous judgment executes
   for those oppress’d that be,
 Who the hungry giveth food;
   God sets the pris’ners free.
-- Ps. 146:7

But first I free from the trap the orange mouse my dog shall never see.

– Gordon C. Stewart, by the Minnesota wetland, August 22, 2019.

Who owns Greenland?

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The Song in My Head

Have you ever found yourself humming a tune when you wake up in the morning? Sometimes the tune reaches back to childhood. My small church in the small town west of Philadelphia sang hymns that became childhood favorites. As I grew into adulthood, some of them drop away as childish.

One answer to why I would hum “This Is my Father’s world” all these years later suggested itself over coffee. The featured story of The Washington Post’s National Weekly: “Extreme climate change is here” accompanied by a map of rising temperatures across the United States.

front page, Washington Post National Weekly in collaboration with Star Tribune, 8/18/19

Climate Change and the Illusion of Property

While the planet’s oceans warm, the glaciers of Glacier National Park, polar ice caps melt beyond the tipping point, fires ravage the redwood forests, hundred year floods have become frequent, and the pale blue dot turns brown, “our listening ears” hear talk of buying Greenland. The Greenlanders and the Danes are too occupied with the melting ice and rising sea levels to be distracted by a foolish real estate offer.

The simple childhood hymn no longer sounds childish. It feels more child-like, full of the wonder that is the antidote to adult presumptions of property ownership. “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, his hand the wonders wrought.”

Faith, Nature, and God

Climate change is the challenge of our time. Not just one of many challenges. It is both the most urgent, i.e., it cries out for action NOW, and the most important to the future of all that lives on this planet hanging among the spheres. Believing that Earth is a divine gift placed in our hands as stewards of nature, and wanting to remember the words of “This is my Father’s world,” I took out the Presbyterian hymnal of my childhood and the 1982 hymnal of the Episcopal Church.

From Wonder to Responsible Action

The last stanza in both hymnals ends with our responsibility, as though a century ago Maltbie Babcock (1858-1901), the lyric’s author, had anticipated the island of trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. This hymn on which my childhood friends and I were raised moves from wonder (awe) through recognition that “the wrong is great and strong” toward responsibility for the planet. “This is my Father’s world, oh let us not forget that though the wrong is great and strong, God is our Father yet. He trusts us with his world, to keep it clean and fair, all earth and trees, all skies and seas, all creatures everywhere.”

It is likely that Maltbie Babcock did not think what he wrote overlooking Niagara Falls was worthy of dissemination. It remained private until published by his wife after his death. Maltbie Babcock seems to have viewed “This is my Father’s world” as a personal expression of wonder beneath the literary standards of good poetry. But ”This is my Father’s world” strikes a chord at the tipping point of climate departure.

photo of Niagara Falls

It is likely that Maltbie Babcock did not think what he wrote overlooking Niagara Falls was worthy of dissemination. It remained private until his wife published it after his death. Maltbie Babcock seems to have viewed “This is my Father’s world” as a personal expression of wonder beneath the literary standards of good poetry. But ”This is my Father’s world” strikes a child-like chord standing at the tipping point of climate departure in 2019.

No one owns Niagara Falls. No one owns Greenland. No one owns the world.

— Gordon C. Stewart, heading north to the wilderness retreat, August 19, 2019.

Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners

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Consider the contrast between Live and Learn‘s appreciation for Earth’s seasons and Franklin Graham’s focus on heaven in a recent Fox radio interview chastising public figures who openly reject or express doubts about their Christian faith.

“I’m going to keep telling people how they can have a relationship with God how they can have their sins forgiven and how it can make and have that hope of heaven one day by putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”

Franklin Graham, Fox radio interview with Todd Starnes Click THIS LINK for more.

Although the Live and Learn quote from Sarah Dessen’s That Summer is not specifically theological, it captures the contrast between two kinds of religion. One celebrates life (“So much in one summer, stirring up like the storms that crest at the end of each day, blowing out all the heat and dirt to leave everything gasping and cool”) and seeks to live responsibly on the planet.

The other kind of religion sees faith as the ticket to heaven (a paradisal life after life), instead of eternal punishment in you know what, while the sweet smell of honeysuckle is overcome by the smell of sizzling asphalt and the porpoises wash ashore because of plastic.

Click HERE for he post “Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners” on Live and Learn.

The Hoodie in the Hood

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The Hoodie at Four A.M. – Washington D.C.

It’s four o’clock in the morning. He’s wide awake, his mind swirling. He puts on the hoodie disguise to walk from his white house to the tenement in the ‘hood’ he’s visited before. He avoids the Secret Service and television cameras. He enters the building, takes a deep breath, and lowers himself to climb the rusting metal stairs to the fifth floor walk-up apartment in hopes no one will recognize him.

The tenement-dweller has been waiting for him since their last visit months before. The door is ajar. The tenement-dweller never locks the door. No one needs to knock. The homeless, “women of the night”, pimps, people on the other side of the law, and cops who enforce it, alcoholics and drug addicts, the opioid and heroin dealers, and people in high white places are always welcome here.

The Tenement-Dweller: the Man in the Hood

“Welcome, friend,” says the tenement-dweller. “I’ve wondered when you might come for another visit.” He points to the dumpster chairs — the folding wood chair with the missing slat and the torn red leather wingback to the left and right of the small cardboard box end table. The night visitor chooses the high wingback.

“Can I get you something to drink?” asks the tenement dweller. “I have a nice variety of perfectly good teas. Not to worry; they’re from the dumpster, but they’re still in their wrappers,” he says with a smile. “Camomile is good for a restless night.” The night visitor nods his assent and watches his counselor walk past the rat traps to the Coleman stove and return with the kettle, an assortment of tea bags, two chipped cups, and a small plate of ginger snaps he’d put together for whatever guest might come that morning.

“There’s not much room on this table,” says the tenement dweller, pointing to the cardboard box with the small lamp between the chairs. “Would you mind removing that book to make room for the tray?” The tenement dweller pours the hot water into the cups, and, with a warm smile, gestures toward the tea bags and ginger snaps.

A Privileged Conversation

“Things haven’t gone so well for you since our last visit. You’re still wearing that hoodie! I like that! So … what brings you this morning?”

The night visitor removes his hood.

“I’m a stranger in my own house. I’m more alone than ever. My beautiful wife and beautiful daughter are upset about the thing at the border, and now the Epstein thing. And . . . yesterday the Scaramucci thing. And who knows what’s going to come out of Michael’s big mouth! I can’t even trust FOX any more.”

There is a silence before the tenement-dweller responds.

“Well, that’s a lot to carry.”

“It is. I’m weary and heavy-laden.That’s why I’m here. I’m taking you at your word.”

“I see. I’m glad you remembered, and I’m glad you came back to lay your burden down. But first, I need to clear the air a bit. You hurt my feelings when you attacked Elijah Cummings with those tweets about his district and his character. You called his district a rat and rodent-infested mess. Take a look around, Donald. What do you see? That’s where you are. Take a look at me. What color do you think I am?

“And all those people in concentration camps at the border, the wink-winks toward the gun lobby after all these mass shootings, and the cruelty of calling poor people fleeing for their lives ‘invaders.’ You know as well as I do that there is no invasion at the border. The people in those camps and the people in my neighborhood are as dear to me as you are. And now this thing with Israel and two Muslim congresswomen. It’s off the rails, Donald. If I didn’t know your need, I would have assumed you’d never put on the hoodie again.

The Book on the Box

“That book from the table, the one on your lap, I got just for you, Donald. I want you to take it home and read it.”

“I don’t read much. I’m a slow reader.”

“I know, and you hide it. You’re embarrassed by it. But it’s just the two of us here.  So, let’s do this. You don’t have to read the whole book. Just turn to the bookmarked page and read the highlighted sections I marked for you after our last visit. Read it out loud while we’re still together.”

Donald opens the book and reads aloud:

“The more insecure, doubtful, and lonely we are, the greater our need for popularity and praise. Sadly … the more praise we receive, the more we desire. The hunger for human acceptance is like a bottomless barrel….The search for spectacular glitter is an expression of doubt in God’s complete and unconditional acceptance of us. It is, indeed, putting God to the test. It is saying, ‘I am not sure that you really care, that you really love me, that you really consider me worthwhile. I will give you a chance to show it by soothing my fears with human praise and by alleviating my sense of worthlessness by human applause….’ The….experience of God’s acceptance frees us from our needy self and thus creates new space where we can pay selfless attention to others. This new freedom in Christ allows us to move in the world uninhibited by our compulsions….”

Henri Nouwen, The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life

“You got this thinking of me? You think I’m insecure? You think I’m moving in the world compulsively? I don’t need praise, but look at the applause! They love me. They support me. I could shoot somebody in broad daylight standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they’d still love me. I can do whatever I want.”

“Take the book with you, Donald. What I know that you don’t yet know is in the other sections I highlighted just for you. Applause is not love. If applause were love, you wouldn’t have disguised yourself. You wouldn’t have risked coming here. Love is something else. In the end, love is all there is. Think about that on your walk back, and read those pages over and over. Read them every morning before you think about tweeting. Only then will you not feel homeless.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, by the wetland, MN, August 16, 2019.

The River of Consciousness

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How and why the mind works the way it does came to mind these past few days. My mind has been like a river pouring over rapids and waterfalls, splitting into two or three paths around the islets that still rise from the riverbed, and then returning from two or three to one river with a single flow.

Niagara Falls

Integrating one’s plunges over the falls, side trips around the islets, and tumbling over rapids is what the mind does as it looks back upstream from down river. More often than not, one’s life is a blur. We move with the flow downstream. But once in while, what happened upstream invites or demands reflection.

No moment in the river’s journey is superfluous. Daily routines in periods of calm dull our awareness of the river itself and lay aside questions of its whence and whither until another event, or a memory, moves us to clear the blur. One event or memory leads to others we thought we had forgotten, pushed aside, or left behind.

The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.

Richard Rohr, Yes

Think a moment of all the events and encounters that have shaped you most deeply and lastingly. How many did you see coming? How many did you engineer, manufacture, chase down? How many were interruptions? . . . The span between life as we intend it and life as we receive it is vast. Our true purpose is worked out in that gap. It is fashioned in the crucible of interruptions.

Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.
Aerial view: confluence of the Yukon River (lighter color) and the Koyukuk River (darker), Alaska

All moments are part of the river of whence that flows over rocks and waterfalls, splits, and returns to one on its way to a whither beyond our knowing.

Gordon C. Stewart, by the wetland, Minnesota, August 12, 2019.

‘Trouble’ is God’s middle name

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Robert McAfee Brown is not a household name for most folks, but it is for a dwindling multitude shaped by his life and teaching. Few of us sat in his classes at Macalester College, Union Theological Seminary in New York, or at Stanford, and few of us marched with him for civil rights or an end to the Vietnam War. Although we never met him, he seemed to know who were, and spoke of God in ways that struck a chord with adolescent ears itching to change the world.

One of the people who did know him personally was Jo Bede. Jo knew him up close as his student assistant at Macalester College, typing the manuscripts for the books he published. All these years later, Jo is in a Memory Care Center here in Minnesota. Like many other members of the multitude, she no longer remembers his name or the name of her alma mater.

Unlike many members of the Robert McAfee Brown multitude, Jo remembered everything until Alzheimer’s stole’s her powers of recognition. Many other members remain unaware of their membership, though they read (or didn’t read) Brown’s book used in Presbyterian confirmation classes all across the United States. Like most kids that age, we didn’t pay attention to the author. We didn’t want to be ‘churchy’. But if The Bible Speaks to You sounds ‘churchy’ to you today, it’s likely because ‘church’, as Robert McAfee Brown understood it, bore no resemblance to the churches that decades later would replace intelligent faith with platitudes in the era of Donald Trump.

Some things are stranger than strange. In 2019 few things feel as strange as the likelihood that a young Donald Trump had become part of the multitude as a member of the confirmation class at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica Heights, NYC. He was just another kid who didn’t give a thought to Robert McAfee Brown or crack the book we were supposed to read.

“We can be sure that ‘Trouble’ is God’s middle name,” he wrote, “and that such a God will be alongside us in the midst of trouble rather than off in a remote heaven practicing neutrality. And if we begin to make that most difficult switch of all — away from the gods of middle-class values and upward mobility, and gilt-edged retirement plans — and if we can explore, even tentatively and gingerly, what it would be like to think and act for those who are the victims, we just might uncover ‘the most unexpected news’ of all: that God got there before we did.”

All these years later, I imagine Bob Brown inviting all of us to his home in Palo Alto for a reunion of the crowd we didn’t know. Jo, Donald, and I are in the Browns’ living room. He begins the welcome by turning to Jo, whose head is down and who appears to be asleep. “Jo, it’s so good to see you after all these years! Do you still have that typewriter?” Jo lifts her head and smiles at the sound of her old teacher’s voice. “And, Donald and Gordon, Carolyn, Woody, Ted, Bob, Dottie, and David, I can’t wait to hear what you’ve done with your lives.” We go around the circle, introducing ourselves to each other from across the country. After the last of introduction, there is a silence while all eyes return to our host.

“So . . .,” he begins with a kindly smile, “how are all of you doing with the God whose middle name is ‘Trouble?'” All eyes lower into a deafening silence. Before any of us speak, he asks the second question for which he has brought us together:

“‘How are you doing with the switch?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, from the wilderness, August 10, 2019.

Toni Morrison to Dayton: “Just turn your backs!”

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Toni Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate and beloved national treasure Americans mourn today, wrote and spoke words fit for the crowd of people who will stand before the president today in Dayton, OH.

“Anger … it’s a paralyzing emotion … you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don’t think it’s any of that — it’s helpless … it’s absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers … and anger doesn’t provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever.”

[Interview with CBS radio host Don Swaim, September 15, 1987.]”
― Toni Morrison

anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind…. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up

Toni Morrison

Remember that Narcissus depends on applause and cameras. “Don’t get mad. Don’t yell and scream and lose control. STAND TALL and speak with single voice. JUST TURN YOUR BACKS when he speak!

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 7, 2019.

The “invaders” — a psalmic reflection

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The Power of Language for good and for evil

According to the New York Times, the Trump 2020 re-election campaign has run 2,000+ Facebook ads framing the national conversation by calling the migration at our southern border “an invasion”.

Introducing an exercise

It gets harder every day. The carnage is in full sight. So are the tweets. It’s depressing. In times like this a Psalm sometimes comes along that expresses the emotions. They laments. The anger at cruelty. Hope for something better beyond what we can see as possible.

Psalm 79: How Long, O Lord?

 O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple;
    they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

America today is not the sweet land of liberty of whom we sing. We grieve amid the latest ruins in El Paso and Dayton. We lament the human sacrifice that defile the good green Earth,Your holy temple, the inheritance of global grace.

  They have given the bodies of your servants
    to the birds of the heavens for food,
    the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They trade doves for vultures, and olive branches for military materiele on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul, El Paso, and Dayton, Virginia Beach, Aurora, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Santa Fe, Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Burlington, Orlando, San Bernardino, Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, Sandy Hook . . . . Mankato and Wounded Knee.

They have poured out their blood like water
    all around Jerusalem,
    and there was no one to bury them.

  We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.

The invaders call the tired and the poor, yearning to breathe free; the homeless, and tempest-tossed “invaders” — caravans of an invasion crossing the southern border. The vultures prey on fathers and daughters drowned and lying face-down on the Texas bank of the Rio Grande. In the name of national security they take nursing children far from their mothers’ breasts, separate families, and forget where they have placed the invaders’ children, while the authorities retreat to golf courses and sent their children to fancy summer camps.

Let the groans of the prisoners come before You;
    according to Your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

May the groans that hurt Your ears rouse the nation’s conscience to close the prisons and preserve all those White Nationalism dooms to die.

“National extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. . . . Idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as ‘the other’ while flying ‘the sore point’ in ourselves that we conscious animals seek to avoid.”

“Idealism and Terror,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), p. 33-39

Return sevenfold into the lap of [their captors]
    the taunts with which they have taunted You, O Lord!
But we Your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will give thanks to You forever;
    from generation to generation we will recount Your praise.

“I’m ninety-six,” wrote Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore of Downside Abbey, introducing his last book, “and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, a search for God as real.”

Dom Sebastian Moore, OSB, Remembered Bliss (2014, Lapwing Publications)
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2019

America’s silent colossal National Lie

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“The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairnesses that afflict the peoples—that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at.” — Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain).

The National Lie of white supremacy may lie silent for a time, but it doesn’t die easily. It was the unspoken lie behind the invasion and slaughter of people it called ‘savages’ to justify stealing America’s indigenous peoples’ continent and herding them onto federal reservation. The conquerers were white. The indigenous peoples were ‘red’. The invaders spoke English. Those they conquered did not. The same colossal National Lie rationalized the invasion of “the dark continent” to capture men, women, and children as slave labor to work the plantation owners’ cotton fields. The faces of the Lie wore white hoods, lit crosses on lawns, and hanged their former slaves from the lynching trees. And on and on it goes. It lives on in 2020, no longer silent, branding brown, Spanish-speaking migrants fleeing for safety “invaders” who must be stopped.

It’s a long way from El Paso TX to Dayton OH — a 22-hour drive through Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. It took less than 13 hours for El Paso and Dayton to become twin cities suffering together “all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairnesses that inflict the people” while the lie of White Nationalism carries on.

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” — Mark Twain.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN

My People and the 19th Hole

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How we look at the world is a matter of personal experiences and how we integrate them. Each new experience confirms or changes how we see and what we see. Reading exchanges about Baltimore took me back to a shattering of perception at the end of a summer internship as a street outreach worker with Corinthian Avenue Chapel in North Philadelphia. The acknowledgements of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness take the reader back to “the Brothers of Opal Street”:

Last, but by no means least, is a group of men who would be shocked to find themselves mentioned anywhere but in a courtroom. “The Brothers of Opal Street,” as they called themselves — eight black homeless former inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary in North Philadelphia — had a farewell conversation in late August 1962, with me, a naive nineteen year-old street outreach worker. As we sat on the stoop of a boarded up tenement on Opal Street, they said good-bye with a startling instruction not to return to the ghetto. “Go back to ‘your people’ and change things there. Only when things change there will there be hope for the people here.”

What they called “my people” lived in the white western suburbs of Philadelphia. I have come to believe that last day on Opal Street was its own kind of ordination. This book is in memory of them.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), p. xiv

Opal Street was one-block long with no traffic. The far end of the street was boarded in the same way the street’s tenements were. At the far end was the yellow chalk outline of a body. Half way between the entrance to Opal Street and the police chalk mark sat the men on wood orange crates, passing the bottle or the jug to numb themselves against the world that had no regard for their dignity or the stories that had brought them there.

“‘Go back to your people and change things there” sent me home and off to college asking existential questions about who ‘my people’ were and what the relationship was between the manicured lawns, rash-free streets, and country clubs of the Mainline western suburbs and the “rat and rodent infested mess” I had left behind in North Philadelphia.

entrance gate to Mar-a-Largo

Some moments last a lifetime. Some experiences forever change what we see as much as how we see. It’s hard to see Opal Street over drinks at the 19th hole.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 29, 2019.

Silence and Faith

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Views from the Edge is pleased to share this recording of Max Picard’s The World of Silence read aloud by David Juda of Voetica Poetry Spoken.

Here’s a taste of Picard:

The silence of God is different from the silence of men. It is not opposed to the word: word and silence are one in God. Just as language constitutes the nature of man, so silence is the nature of God; but in that nature every- thing is clear, everything is word and silence at the same time.

Excerpt from Silence and Faith of Max Picard, read by David Juda on Voetica Poetry Spoken

Click Silence and Faith and turn up the volume.

Thank you, David!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 29, 2019

Before the gods I will sing

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Many gods? More than one?

Why does the psalmist speak of ‘gods’ — “before the gods I will sing Your praise” (Ps.138:1) –as though there is more than the One the psalmist proclaims? Why does the First Commandment of the Ten Commandments say, “You shall have no other gods before Me”?

These ‘gods’ are real. They do not exist only in our imagination. They make their appeals to our human need and aspirations in the midst of time. Like the First Commandment, Psalm 138 recognizes the ‘gods as contenders with the One God of heaven and earth. It goes to the heart of the human longing for closer-at-hand gods, the imposters of God that charm us with their melodies and promises.

...before the gods I will sing Your praise.” (Ps. 138:1 NIV)

We live among the ‘gods’. We see them with our own eyes. We hear them with our own ears.

  • Children held in squalid ‘detention’ camps in the name of national security. Parents whose children have been kidnapped and lost in the name of national security. The multitudes walking on blistered feet in hopes of crossing the Rio Grande to safety. The asylum-seekers fleeing cruel regimes. They are all living under the siege of the ‘gods’, resistance to which is commanded the First Commandment.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods. I will not sing in silence. I will not praise You in hiding. I will publicly defy the ‘gods’ that solicit my praise and obedience. I will place my hope and trust where it belongs. Before the gods that divide and terrorize I will sing Your praise.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of national security that kidnap babies, separate families, and stereotype those seeking safety as criminals, drug runners, rapists and terrorists.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods and not be silent when my president deceives the public, announcing that asylum-seekers may now apply for asylum in Guatemala, one of the nations from which the poor flee for safety because of human rights violations, whose military we train and whose arms we supply.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of homophily that erase the American aspiration of e pluribus from e pluribus unum, leaving the unum of whiteness.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of my country’s original sins: stealing the continent from its indigenous peoples’, and stealing African men, women, and children to become slaves.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods under which the constitutional checks and balances that protect a democratic republic from totalitarian rule are eroded.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of fossil fuel profiteers and a government that denies climate change, removes restraints protecting clean air and water, and scorns international cooperation necessary for responsible action in the face of climate change.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of greed that amass wealth, consolidate power, and skirt Congress to proved arms to Saudi Arabia in spite of an American journalist’s dismemberment and supplying arms for continuance of a proxy war in Yemen.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of racist nationalism that excite the masses — Mein Kampf, the speeches of Hitler, and strategies for the seizure of power — now echoing from the Oval Office and campaign rallies.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods that divert attention from atrocities at the Southern border with tweets describing the congressional district represented by the Chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” immediately following the Rep. Elijah Cummingspointed criticism of inhumane conditions for which the Trump Administration is responsible.
I will praise You, LORD, with all my heart;
      before the gods I will sing Your praise. (Ps/ 138:1 NIV)
 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
      but the haughty he knows from afar. (Ps. 138:6 NRSV)

Before the gods: Jesus of Nazareth

One of them . . . tested [Jesus] with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40 NIV)

Before these ‘gods’ — and so many more — I will sing Your praise.

  • So help me God, in the name of Jesus, Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 28, 2019

Truth-making and the Lie-making Machine

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress brings a sliver of hope that truth will prevail. Living in a surreal era where absurdity is the rule rather than the exception led me back to words from an earlier time and another country, the description offered by French novelist and absurdist philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960).

Never before has the individual stood so alone before the lie-making machine. We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives, that is inside ourselves.

Albert Camus, Notebooks

If you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, you can be sure it didn’t get there by itself.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 24, 2019

Rest in Peace, Dennis

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This remembrance of Dennis Aubrey, written by Dennis’s brother for Via Lucis, touches the heart and soul, and the expansive brilliance known by those whose lives have been deepened and enriched by him. There is opportunity to comment or leave your condolences for PJ and members of PJ and Dennis’s family.

IMG_2049

It is with infinite sadness that I must tell you that Dennis passed away suddenly last Friday. I write this on behalf of his wife and partner, PJ.

With his passing, Dennis leaves a gaping abyss in our lives. He was a man larger than life, zestful in his embrace of all that life offered. Readers of this blog enjoyed the excellence of PJ and Dennis’s photographic art, and the enlightening and entertaining musings that accompanied those featured photographs.

The power of Dennis’s writing derived from his encyclopedic brain: he brought his vastly read knowledge to every subject he wrote about, whether history, or philosophy, religion or geometry, music or poetry. Via Lucis isn’t simply a photography blog. It isn’t simply an art and architecture blog. It is a brief—and intriguing—glimpse into the mind of one of the artists who brings these Romanesque churches to life through photograph and word.

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I’m having a hard time . . .

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“I’m having a hard time ...”
 he said with a scowl
 coming through the line
 to shake the hand 
 of the preacher who had
 preached his first sermon
 at the church judged
 to be the leading voice in
 the civil rights and peace
 movements in the city.
 
 “I’m having a hard time
 not hitting you,” he said,
 holding back his right arm
 with his left hand as the
 new 26 year-old anti-war 
 pastor reached to shake 
 his hand.  

 “Pools of Blood” had packed 
 a punch with the chair of the
 City Human Rights Commission.

GCS, July 20, 2019

Written in response to today’s Weekend Writing Prompt challenge to write a poem or prose on the word “judge” with exactly 95 words.

We sat down over coffee later that week.

Criticism and Dissent: Why don’t you just leave?

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It’s almost always wise to take a deep breath. Step back as though you’re looking in from the outside, rather ‘objectively’ you might say, in order to see more clearly what’s happening.

“Why don’t you just leave/ go back where you came from?” has a certain logic and a history. Click HERE for the entire Wikipedia article on propaganda.

Ergo decedo (traitorous critic fallacy)

Ergo decedoLatin for “therefore leave” or “then go off”, a truncation of argumentum ergo decedo, and colloquially denominated the traitorous critic fallacy,[1] denotes responding to the criticism of a critic by implying that the critic is motivated by undisclosed favorability or affiliation to an out-group, rather than responding to the criticism itself. The fallacy implicitly alleges that the critic does not appreciate the values and customs of the criticized group or is traitorous, and thus suggests that the critic should avoid the question or topic entirely, typically by leaving the criticized group.[2]

Argumentum ergo decedo is generally categorized as a species of informal fallacy and more specifically as a species of the subclass of ad hominem informal fallacies.

In politics

Argumentum ergo decedo is directly related to the tu quoque fallacy when responding to political criticism. As whataboutism is used against external criticism,  is used against internal criticism.

Examples

Critic: “I think we need to work on improving Nauru‘s taxation system. The current system suffers from multiple issues that have been resolved in other places such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

Respondent: Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave and go somewhere you think is better?”

Critic: “Our office’s atmosphere is unsuitable for starting constructive conversations about reforms for the future of the company. A number of improvements are needed.

Respondent: “Well, if you don’t like the corporate system, then why are you here? You should just leave!”

A Personal Reflection

A Personal Reflection

Last night’s campaign rally in North Carolina sent chills up my spine. “Send her back! Send her back!” has a history. It paints criticism of the nation’s policies and behavior as unpatriotic. But patriotism (love on one’s country) is not nationalism. Patriotism is love of country. Nationalism makes the nation god.

We’ve heard these words before. I heard them used during the reign of terror fired up by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. II heard them in response to Ruby Bridges in Little Rock. I heard them from George Wallace and sheriffs, Selma, and Chicago. I heard them again when criticizing our policy in Vietnam War. Back then it was “America: Love it or leave it!” Now, as then, the cry to go home is not a criticism; it’s ergo deceto –a bullying response to criticism. Constitutional democratic republics assume a baseline of respect between and among people who disagree. No scapegoating. No name calling. No dismissal of each other as enemies, and a full, thoughtful discussion of policy and criticism. Wherever criticism is met with the traitorous critic fallacy, constitutional democratic republics are put to the brink of fascism.

Flash back: March 9, 1954: Dissent and Loyalty

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. . . . (McCarthy’s actions) “have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Good night and good luck.

Edward R. Murrow, March 9, 1954, CBS; Commentary credited with stopping McCarthyism.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 18, 2019.

You bet your life! Who said it?

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photo of Groucho Marx, host of You 
Bet Your Life
Publicity photo portrait of Groucho Marx, host of You Bet Your Life

“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”

“Do not compare yourself to others. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.”

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth. ”

“The only preventative measure one can take is to live irregularly.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”

“______________ will start winning again, winning like never before.

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

“. . . People can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

“I know that fewer people are won over by the written word than by the spoken word and that every great movement on this earth owes its growth to great speakers and not to great writers.”

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”

“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.”

“We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

“The highest form of vanity is love of fame.”

Don’t be shy! Who said what?

photograph of grandson Elijah asking you to send your answers to grandpa before he takes his nap.

Thought for the day.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”– George Santayana, The Life of Reason.

Tell me what ya know. I’m still little. I just learned my ABC’s. I’ll take history when I’m three! Send Grandpa your answers. quick. . . before he takes his nap!

S

Dennis Aubrey – Via Lucis

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Light through a window of the Basilica of the Madeline in Vézelay, France – Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Reason only partially explains why and how some people become friends.

“Reason, you’ll always be half blind,” said Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th century German mystic beguine, author of The Flowing Light of Divinity.

Friendship

There are reasons that partially explain why and how Dennis Aubrey and I became friends. Cyberspace is how we met. I can’t recall which of us started the conversation. I do know that finding Via Lucis: Photography of Religious Architecture was like a window opening a dark room to light and air. Why one of us reached out to comment on the other’s site had its reasons. Each of us was wading in the same waters, asking the same questions. Dennis did it by means of professional photography and commentaries on Romanesque and Gothic churches in France and Germany. I did it through commentaries on faith and public life.

Wading in the same waters differently led us to each other. Although I have always loved beautiful architecture, I knew little about Romanesque and could not have cared less about the Medieval period when the Romanesque cathedrals, basilicas, and churches were built. These structures were the waters in which Dennis sought and found light. The ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian scripture were the waters in which I did the same. Discovering each other wading in the same waters differently led to an eight year friendship in person at Dennis and PJ’s new home in Ohio, by internet comments on each other’s work, and the kind of phone calls peculiar to close friends.

Last Saturday I called Dennis to discuss his latest posted on Via Lucis. There was no answer. Perhaps I’d called too early. Perhaps he and PJ were in France. Perhaps they had driven to the Amish farm stand where the Amish adolescent sold them organic vegetables or had gone to the Amish auction. Or maybe Dennis had silences his cell phone. I left a voicemail. An hour later at 9:43 A.M. the return call came from Dennis’s cell phone number. But the voice was not Dennis’s, it was PJ’s. “I can’t believe you called,” she said. “Dennis died last night.” Our worlds suddenly became smaller.

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? [Psalm 42:1-2 KJV]

Panting after the water brooks

Faith takes many forms. Which forms, if any, are grounded in reality is a lifelong quest for some of us. A cynic may dismiss all forms of faith as ungrounded — floating in the clouds of human imagination and illusion. Yet there remain those murmurings from within or the majesty one sees outside the self in nature or great works of art. Dennis and PJ posted an an announcement and invitation to a new exhibit July 29 bearing the artists’ witness to imagination: “This exhibition is not about the iconographic programs of medieval historiated capitals, but rather an appreciation of the human imagination that created these sculptures.”

The search for authentic faith — trust in something greater than the self and all that we can see, feel, taste, smell, or touch — is not a straight line. It spirals between opposites. We disbelieve and believe. We believe and disbelieve. We fall and we get back up. We gasp for air and we gasp in awe. We turn our backs on the past and embrace it again as though we’d never met it.

When shall I come before Thee?

St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. Like faith itself, what the Hebrew psalmist called the soul’s ‘panting’’ and Augustine called ‘restlessness’, takes many forms. Sometimes, as in the parable of the lost son, it takes us far away from the water brooks; sometimes it goes numb; sometimes it draws us closer to the water brooks. But even there by the side of the water brooks, like Narcissus, we refuse to drink.

Dennis was on a lifelong search for what the psalmist likened to a deer thirsty for water — longing for union with the Ineffable that was shrouded in mystery but given to his eyes in a shaft of light reflecting on a stone wall at dusk, or on one of the capitals the craftsmen of a by-gone time invited his imagination and research. He shared in photography and commentary moments where his panting desire for God was quenched by the stones themselves: the song of Mary Magdeline echoing from the stones of the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, and the sounds of uncluttered simplicity and beauty of Gregorian chant that calls us to remember who and Whose we are.

His last words on Via Lucis were posted in reply to his latest and most personal post. “Judy, thank you so much. It is the ineffable sensation of that spirituality that drives both PJ and me when we photograph.”

Deep calleth unto deep at the sound of Thy waterspouts.

Dennis was joyful. He was attuned to the calling of the Deep. He was reverent before the abyss, the yawning hole in existence itself, the nights haunted by the 3:00 o’clock in the morning questions that beg for answers. He shared those times of wrestling with PJ and with Rudy, the cat on his lap in whom he took such delight, and, sometimes, with readers of Via Lucis. I could only say “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Opening one of his posts on Via Lucis was like meeting the twin brother I didn’t know I had. No matter how deep into the Deep his blog posts would go, there was always the echo of the Divine calling to him from the depths.

My soul is cast down within me.

Dennis had an eye for beauty and the camera and words to reflect what he saw when he took the shot. It was a rare gift. The antidote to sleepless nights was a day with PJ in a Romanesque Basilica like the one at Vezelay, waiting for the precise moment when the light and shadows would be just right. The beauty was already there in the stone walls and buttresses, the choirs, chancels, the side chapels built to the glory of God by artisans whose names were forever lost to future generations. I think Dennis saw himself as one of them, creating works of art that drew attention not to himself but to his subject.

Only wonder comprehends anything

Looking back after he has left us, it occurs to me that Dennis’s faith was of the Eastern (Byzantine) tradition of Christianity much more than of the Western (Roman) tradition in which he was raised. Dennis could well have spoken the words of Gregory of Nyssa.

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”

He was horrified by what had been done in the name of Christ: the Crusades that swept through the world like a wild fire, destroying towns and villages, and disobedient monastic sites because their concepts were not right.

The kind of thing that sunshine is

Concepts are ‘cataphatic’; wonder is ‘apophatic’. Cataphatic religion is logical — it lives in the head. Apophatic spirituality is awake to what cannot be reduced to a concept. Dennis’s artistic spirit was apophatic — awake to the beauty all around him and cringing at human cruelty produced by the idols in our heads.

Just as many questions might be started for debate among people sitting up at night as to the kind of thing that sunshine is, and then the simple appearing of it in all its beauty would render any verbal description superfluous, so every calculation that tries to arrive conjecturally at the future state will be reduced to nothingness by the object of our hopes, when it comes upon us.

Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 CE)

Dennis’s writing respected the ineffability of sunshine with words that helped us see the beauty his apophatic eyes had seen.

“I shall yet praise him”

The poetry of Psalm 42 was akin to the poetic imagination by which the Hebrew prophet Isaiah described his experience in the temple:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Isaiah 6:1-4 (KJV)

In the 20th and 21st centuries Isaiah’s temple was a Romanesque church Dennis and PJ experienced in ways best expressed in poetic prose and photograph. Their art brought to life our sense of the seraphim soaring above the throne of the Holy One. Those gasping for air found ourselves gasping with awe at what the eye of this gentle soul had seen. Sometimes the Ineffable takes our breath away and drops us to our knees in an empty church where the sun still shines its light on the stones, the stones cry out, and the Magdeleine still sings.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 15, 2019.

Pepé Le Pew and the Big Parade

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Pepé Le Pew in our back yard

A strange thing happened this morning, July 4. I kid you not. True story. We had a visitor in our yard for the very first time in the two years we’ve been coming to the cabin by the wetland. Pepé Le Pew chose July 4 to say hello — a skunk just beyond the deck in broad daylight, strolling toward the woods.

American Civics 101

We’re nowhere near a television this Fourth of July, and that’s a good thing. It allows for memory and imagination. I remember all those years when we prided ourselves in not doing what they were doing in Red Square during the Cold War. Tanks and missile rolled through Red Square, a demonstration of military might in a world of nuclear threats. The generals sat and stood in the places of honor.  In Washington, D.C. there was no show of military power on the Fourth of July. We didn’t do that in a democracy. I “knew” that because my teachers, parents, and church all told me so. We prided ourselves that in America the military was under civilian rule; the Secretary of Defense was a civilian, not a general. That was just who we were, and who we were not, said our teachers, parents, faith communities, and those we elected to represent us in Congress or the White House. They’re all dead now.

The Big Parade years later

The Fourth of July parades in our nation’s capitol, like the thousands of smaller parades in American cities and towns, had no special VIP section for the wealthier folks who could afford the price of sittting there. The thought never crossed our minds. We were one nation that declared E pluribus unum. The rest of the year we were poor, middle class, or rich, eating in soup kitchens, Big Boy’s, or country clubs, but on this day we were the same. We were just Americans. We had no caste system like India. And we were all the same, irrespective of political affiliations, at the ballot box. No one’s vote was greater or smaller than another’s.

The only people who made money at Fourth of July parades stood behind the hot dog stands and the popcorn stands, but even then, most of the profits went to charity. No one made money on the Fourth of July. I knew this because our teachers, parents, faith communities, and elected officials told us so. 

How soon we forget

President Dwight David Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warned us. The retired General who had commanded the largest military force in history during Word War II was a military hero who hated war. The greatest threat to democracy, he said was not communism or any other threat from beyond our borders. The great threat to democracy itself was the “the military-industrial complex.” 

Yesterday Eisenhower’s latest successor communicated with the nation in a tweet:

Big 4th of July in D.C. ‘Salute to America.’ The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World. Incredible Flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks!

Donald J. Trump, July 3, 2019
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN July 4, 2019.

Independence Day 2019: Who shall we become?

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A NATIONAL HOLIDAY: “WHO ARE WE? WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?

image 0f U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol logo

Pulitzer Prize critic photographer Philip Kennicott‘s “We used to think photos like this could change the world. What needs to change is who we are” discusses the disparate responses to the photograph of the father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. This Fourth of July it raises questions that deserve a thoughtful national conversation.

Kennicott’s op ed was a week ago, which means it’s mostly out-of-mind. Other photos, video coverage, and news stories have come to the fore, but our responses to them are as different as Kennicott described:

There is a fundamental difference between these two interpretations: One requires time and effort, an act of engaged empathy, while the other is a quick judgment that reaffirms an existing sense of the world. The power of a photograph like this depends on the time we devote to it and our basic sense of who these people are.

PhilipKennicott, Who are we? What have we become?, Washington Post, June 36, 2019

People of my ilk gasp with horror at the sight of real people lying face down on the shore of the river they had hoped to cross, the exodus from hopelessness to a better life in the land of promise on this side of the shore. Others see the father and child as the consequence of having paid the price for breaking the law.

THE FAULTLINE AND ABYSS

Stories that have replaced the photo from the shore of the Rio Grande come so quickly we don’t have time to stop and think about what we’re seeing, or hearing, and why we’re seeing or hearing them the way we are. The focus of the faultline of public perception is Donald Trump. We either love him or hate him with little room between visceral disgust and vociforous affirmation. Bridging the two sides of the chasm is anathema to both sides of the political-cultural chasm. If we don’t stop and find a way forward in the USA, all of us will fall into the abyss.

OXYMORONIC PERCEPTIONS

News of Mr. Trump crossing into North Korea last week is a case in point. The US President breaks precedent by stepping across the dividing line between the two halves of the Korean Penninsula.

Perception One:

People of my persuasions immediately dismiss it as one more stunt. The North Korean leader who called Mr. Trump a baby and threatened a nuclear attack and the American President who called Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” have laid aside their schoolyard name-calling and bullying. But it’s confusing. We are the anti-war people. We stand for peace. We are the peacemakers who likely would applaud if it were some other president. Mr. Trump just did what my faith tradition called for in 1967:

The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of humankind.

Confession of 1967, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim shocked the world by doing what the Confession of 1967 called for. Whatever reasons underlie what happened, whether the handshakes were genuine or disingenuous, when something happens that we see as good, should we not encourage more, not less, of the same?

PERCEPTION TWO:

People who support President Trump applaud him for singularly bold leadership, daring to do what no previous president has done. Mr. Trump has once again defied the operations of “the deep state” in a way that puts the faux news media back on their heels. Calling Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to obliterate North Korea were strategic steps that made the breakthrough possible. This is no ordinary president. Mr. Trump is a patriot’s patriot, strong, strategic, and deserving of the nation’s unconditional support.

But it’s confusing.This support rises from historic Cold War perceptions of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union as godless enemies of all that is good in the West. Being tough on communism was required to make us secure in a world where softness would mean surrender — the end of freedom, free markets, religious freedom. Insuring national security comes first, and national security means elimination of the enemy, not accommodation.

MOSQUITOES AND FLY SWATTERS

When a people becomes anxious, when up is down one day and left is up is down the next day, the mind gets scrambled in search of solid ground.

Reason and civility become the pests in the living room. The fly swatters come out. Hard lines get drawn. Some of us are mosquitoes; some of us are fly swatters. There is no room for conversation between mosquitoes and fly swatters.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The Fourth of July comemorates the Declaration of Independence, the birth of the American Republic. There will be parades in cities and small downs across America, and a huge parade in the nation’s capitol sure to further divide an indivisible nation. The American flag will fly everywhere. Who we are, what we have become, and who we shall become beg for reasonable discussion. Without it we will be a swarm of mosquitoes with fly swatters and a nuclear arsenal.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 3, 2019

Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers

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REMEMBER CITY “SLICKERS” AND COUNTRY “BUMPKINS”?

Mickey Mouse comicstrip panel of Mickey reading invitation to Blaggard Mansion at 10o'clock tonight.
Comic strip panel from Mickey Mouse, “In the Interest of Science,” created by Floyd Gottfredson and published December 1932

Remember when folks who lived in the country called people from the city “city slickers” and the city slickers called the people on farms and in small towns “country bumpkins”? Stereotypes contain some kernel of truth, which makes it harder to make sense of what is happening in America today.

HONESTY AND NEIGHBORLINESS

When was the last time you went shopping for groceries, went to checkout only to discover you’d forgotten your wallet or purse — you have no plastic or cash — and the clerk says, “No problem. Just pay me when you can. We only take cash”?

It happens in the country where “a man’s word is his bond.” Yes, means ‘yes’ and No means ‘no’. Honesty is expected. Country folks don’t take kindly to snake oil salesmen all gussied-up in fancy Sacks Fifth Avenue suits, custom-made white shirts, silk ties, gold Gucci watches, and highly polished black Louis Vuitton Manhattan Richelieu Men’s Shoes. The city slickers don’t usually wear tractor hats or track in manure from the fields and barn on their boots.

Driving on a country road where the Trump campaign flag has replaced the American flag on a home’s front yard flagpole, I wonder what’s happening. The folks who expect honesty are following a city slicker — not just any city slicker — a really slick city slicker. The house with the flagpole is as down-to-earth as Trump Tower is uppity. Rusted-out pick-up trucks litter the yard amid the weeds. The “lawn” is worlds away from manicured fairways of Mar-a-Largo. I scratch my head, wondering how it happens that someone whose bond is his word hoists a slicker’s flag.

MR. SLICKER AND THE EGG ROBBERS — 1930 AND 2019

Looking back to Floyd_Gottfredson‘s Great Depression comic strip “Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers,” I wonder whether the Trump supporters in 2019 have noticed that someone’s been stealing the eggs from the old fashioned honor code roadside stand his children replenish every morning.

“Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers” was set in Mouston, where Mickey Mouse opens up a miniature golf course on his farm. Soon a very tall mouse, Mr. Slicker, wows the citizens of Mouston, tries to woo Minnie away from Mickey, steals Minnie’s family’s farm eggs, and comes to Marcus Mouse’s (Minnie’s father) rescue when a draught and the egg thefts leave him unable to pay the mortgage. Mr. Slicker offers to pay off the family’s debt, but only if Minnie will marry him. When Mickey comes to the rescue with savings from his miniature golf course, a stange thing happens. The Mouston Bank is robbed. Mr. Slick goes to the police to pin the robbery on Mickey.

Long story short — if you want the full story, click THIS LINK — Mickey, surmising that Mr. Slicker is behind the egg thefts and the bank robbery, convinces Slicker’s right hand man that Mr. Slicker has no intention of cutting the robbers in on the heist. Slicker and the robbers are arrested, and Minnie throws a dinner party for Mickey, her hero!

REDEEMING THE COIN OF THE REALM

It’s an old story from 1930 but it still brings a smile to those who are not fooled by slickers in high places who seem never to have learned what most country folks have always known but now seem to have forgotten: honesty is the coin of the realm. Please, take Slicker down from the flagpole where the American flag once waved.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 27, 2019.

NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

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Hours before authorization for military strikes oft Iran (and sudden reversal), an email from RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW‘s arrived in my inbox. Views from the Edge republishes it without further comment.

Although the focus of Rabbi Waskow’s epistle is Iran, the opening paragraph distills into a few words a perspective we share. There are “three urgent impending disasters:” war with Iran; the war that threatens to deport “millions” of immigrants; and the war against Mother earth.

EMERGENCY: NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

“Dear Gordon, This morning I started writing a Shalom Report letter that addressed three urgent impending disasters: A Trumpist war against Iran; a Trumpist war against immigrants living in American cities and towns, whom he just threatened with imminent sudden mass deportations of “millions”; and an escalation of the Trumpist war against Mother Earth.

“The Trumpist obsession with subjugating others is at a tipping point – between utter lethal disaster or the deepening and broadening of resistance.

“I thought we had about a week. I went to an eye-doc appointment. It turned out we had only hours. setting aside the other emergencies. Still with dilated eyses, I am trying to see clearly, and I am for the moment

“I ask you right now, as soon as your receive this, to act against the Trumpists’ plans to attack Iran. After that, please read the rest of this letter where I will outline what I think is going on..

“What to do now:

{“contact.first_name, please call your members of Congress. Here’s what I invite and encourage you to do:

“1) Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Call three times, for your two Senators and one Congressperson. (If you live in DC and have no Senators, call Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader.)

“2) Ask the Capitol operator for your representative/senators, and when connected say your own version of this:

“‘My name is _ and I am a constituent living at [your address]. I’m calling to urge [Congressperson/Senator X] to publicly oppose U.S. military attacks on Iran. I urge [her/him] to tell the president he does not have constitutional authority for any attacks.’

“‘[Congressperson/ Senator X ] should point out any retaliatory strike on Iran for what happened to the U.S. drone could spiral out of control. Instead, I strongly urge [[Representative/Senator X] to call for the U.S. to return to diplomacy, including supporting a convening of the UN Security Council to work to defuse tensions in this global crisis.'”

“Gordon, I urge you to step up your activism today to prevent all-out war with Iran. The Shalom Center will have a number of suggestions for actions you can take over the next few days, but today I urge you to call Congress right away as critical meetings are happening in D.C. right now.

“A potential U.S. retaliatory strike is likely being discussed in the White House as I write this. The White House has said they will be briefing Congressional leaders later today and that is often a sign that an attack is imminent. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called a caucus meeting of Democrats for later today. Members of Congress will be the key here and active peace-loving people need to push them to stand in Trump’s way.

“The only way to pull us out of this spiral toward war is for supporters of peace like you to get active and push Congress to stand up to the president and tell him clearly that he has no authority to go to war.

“Please call now.

“Background:

“But the Trumpist Regime worsened the sanctions. They were aimed at totally disrupting the Iranian economy and literally starving the Iranian people. They were beginning to damage daily life –- all because the Trumpists could not bear an Obama-initiated agreement that offered hope for bringing Iran back into the international community. Faced with enormous US pressure, the Europeans began to cave in.

"Third big step on the road to war: Trump threatened nuclear war if Iran were to resist by interfering with oil shipments in its Gulf.

 "It is not clear whether the claims of such interference are lies as blatant as the “Tonkin Gulf attacks” in 1964 that never happened; but even if they were real, they were defenses against a devastating economic war imposed by the Trump regime.

"Now it is clear – Iran and the US agree – that Iran shot down an unmanned drone. Iran says it was flying over Iranian territory.The Trumpist regime claims it was over the Gulf. No matter where it was, cause not for war but for diplomacy. And given the history of those in Washington now unleashing the mad dogs of war, veterans of the lies about Iraqi nuclear weapons, and given the history of Trumpist efforts to provoke a war, I very much doubt the US claim. It would fit Trumpist policy to send a drone over Iranian territory.

“There are more thoughts about the past that few Americans remember but practically all Iranians do:

“The CIA’s overthrow of a democratically elected New Dealish Iranian government in 1953 to prop up a tyrannical Shah who used torture against his critics. Why this CIA/ US action? Because the Mossadeq government intended to nationalize American oil companies that were draining Iran of its resources for US profits.

“When the Islamic Revolution succeeded in 1979 and the Shah fled, the US refused to extradite him to stand trial for his crimes. Americans remember only that Iranians reacted by detaining dozens of Embassy staff for a year.

“In 1980, Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. The US supported Saddam, even aiding him in using chemical weapons against Iran. The war ended in 1988. The death toll on both sides was about 500,000.

“This is not a history likely to inspire trust for the US government on Iran’s part. Add the
Trumpist abandonment of the nuclear-disarmament agreement so painstakingly negotiated and enforced.

“And the history of Trumpism does not inspire much trust among most of the American people in the truthfulness of the Trump regime.

“That’s the background. If you have not already made your calls to Congress, please do so now: 1202-224-3121

“Thanks!! And given the burdens this unfolding disaster is liable to put upon our ability to resist, please contribute through the maroon “Contribute” budget just below
sohl [that is “peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran], paz, peace! — Arthur
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.”

Thank you, Arthur,

Gordon

GORDON C STEWART, CHASKA, MN, JUNE 21, 2019

Mending the Torn World: Sympathy and Civilization

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A Ripped Tapestry in Need of Mending

Harvard Divinity School New Testament Professor Krister Stendahl taught his students to think of the world as a beautiful tapestry in need of mending. A tapestry is comprised of a diversity of threads. It’s beauty is marred whenever a thread is broken or falls away from the whole. ‘Sin’ is both a condition — a torn tapestry — and an act of tearing the tapestry.

To be human is to be part of this tapestry, never the whole of it! Sin is the tearing of the tapestry. The human vocation is to mend creation.

Morning Chapel with Krister Stendahl

The morning I’m remembering, a Japanese Buddhist monk — one of four residents Divinity Hall residents who cooked and shared dinner together each evening — asked to go with me to experience the chapel service.

Krister presided at a weekly Chapel service at Harvard Divinity School. Thirty participants was a crowd. It was a quiet gathering that required a sense of humility: speaking aloud the Prayer of Confession of Sin; hearing Krister’s gracious Asssurance of Pardon; singing in unison the sung responses; listening for a word from God in the readings of Holy Scripture brought to life by Krister’s gentle and bold interpretaton; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, gathered in the single circle surrounding the Table to which Christ had invited us; receiving the consecrated elements of bread and wine in a sacred silence when we could feel the mending by the Weaver of the tapesty of Creation.

The Japanese Buddhist at the Communion Table

When it came time to form the circle around the table, my Buddhist friend showed no hesitation. He took his place and stood erect and still in a quiet posture of prayer, his fingers pointing skyward, his palms together in the center of his chest. When Krister offered him the consecrated bread and wine of this uniquely Christian sacrament, he bowed to Krister, his neck and torso bending low, a sign of respect for Krister and reverence for the sacrament itself.

Koyama bowing to his junior

Kosuke Koyama (1926 - 2009)

Years later Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke (“Ko” to his friends) Koyama and I stood together behind the Lord’s Table at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. As we took our places behind the table, Ko did what the Buddhist monk had done with Krister.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence like the one I’d experienced with my Japanese friend in circle at Andover Chapel years ago.

Sympathy and Civilization

Kosuke Koyama died in 2009, but he still speaks. He still teaches us Americans to bow. Sorting through old files, a personal letter and 28 page manuscript — Ko’s lecture notes, “How Many Languages does God speak? — Sympathy and Civilization,” the six-week course Ko had taught — leaped from the drawer.

How strange that the author of a book dedicated to his memory would have forgotten the treasure of Ko’s letter and unpublished manuscript. Peggy Shriver’s tribute to Ko is the first thing to meet the eyes of a reader of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness:

In Memory of Kosuke (Ko) Koyama
(1929–2009)

Gentle and strong as trees
Bend gracefull in wind,
You stand — I bow.

— Peggy Shriver, 2009 oo

looking ahead

In the weeks ahead, Views from the Edge will feature excerpts from “How Many Languages Does God Speak? — Sympathy and Civilization.”

Gordon C. Stewart 6-21-19

What’s wrong with the world?

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Photograph of G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton

The look on G.K. Chesterton‘s face could be ours. But who would think to give Chesterton’s answer to the question raised by a London newspaper, “What’s wrong with the world”? Chesterton wrote back two words: “I am“.

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article “What’s wrong with the world.”

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterton

The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Chesterton knew intuitively and by study that there’s something not right that defies description and prescription, a kind of universal virus that included him.

What ever happened to sin?

Psychologist Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic began his book Whatever Became of Sin with a funny story:

“On a sunny day in September, 1972, a stern-faced, plainly dressed man could be seen standing still on a street corner in the busy Chicago Loop. As pedestrians hurried by on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm, and pointing to the person nearest him, intone loudly the single word ‘GUILTY!’

“Then, without any change of expression, he would resume his still stance for a few moments before repeating the gesture. Then, again, the inexorable raising of his arm, the pointing, and the solemn pronouncing of the one word ‘GUILTY!’

“The effect of this strange accusatory pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again; then hurriedly continue on their ways.

“One man, turning to another who was my informant, exclaimed: ‘But how did he know?’”

The sense of broken relatedness

“No word in the Christian vocabulary is so badly understood, in the world and in the church, as the word sin” (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context). Sin is a condition — the state of separation, broken relationship, estrangement from the Other, other people, and one’s self. This state manifests itself in particular acts of broken relatedness, “an active nonbeing, a refusal, a rejection, a no to the other: the other who is God, the author of life; the other who is the neighbor, he partner in life; the other that is creation itself, the context of life. … The recovery of relationality in Christian preaching and teaching is not a” concession to modernity or postmodernity; it is a recovery of the original Hebraic and early Christian ontology . . . .

To sin is to act in defiance of this essential relatedness of all living creatures. It is characteristic of sinful acts that the sinner points away from one’s self to shift responsibility elsewhere — the political, economic, or cultural system that shapes our behavior, or another person. It is only a mature soul who would think to answer the question “what’s wrong with the world” with two words: “I am”.

The Seven Social Evils of the World

Mohandas Gandhi made popular the “The Seven Social Evils of the World” first spoken by the Rev’d Canon Frederick Lewis Donaldson in a sermon at Westminster Abbey on March 20, 1925. Gandhi re-published them seven months later in his weekly newspaper, The Young Indian:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

The Seven Social Evils “Blunders” of the World

Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson later re-named them “The Seven Social Blunders of the World.”

The grandfather knew they were more than blunders. A blunder is a momentary slip — a mistake resulting usually from stupidity, ignorance, or carelessness. Mohandas Gandhi knew what Frederick Lewis Donaldson knew: there is something within each and all of us that makes our heads turn when the man on the street corner points in our direction and says, “Guilty.” No other word compares with the word ‘sin’ to describe what’s wrong with the world. We all are. “I am.”

Few people make much difference to the shape of the world. But every one of us, by turning from the seven social sins, contributes to the mending of the world.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2019.

The Oath: “I do solemnly swear….”

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Interview in the Oval Office

George Stephanopoulos’ Oval Office interview with President Trump is going viral. For the first time in history an American president sees nothing wrong with a candidate for public office accepting a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent.

Oaths of office

Every member of Congress knows that’s illegal. However how wide the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on this president or the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election (“Mueller Report”), there should be no question about this one. President Trump handed Congress an issue on which its members are sworn to act. Either the President was ignorant of the federal law that protects the integrity of the American electoral system or he was consciously defying the rule of law.

Republicans for the rule of law and the Constitution

Today Republicans for the Rule of Law begins airing “THE OATH” — a TV ad calling on Congress to act. Click HERE for more on THE OATH. Bill Kristol, serves as director of Republicans for the Rule of Law

photo go Bill Kristol, Director of Republicans for the Rule of Law

Today Republicans for the Rule of Law begins airing “THE OATH” — a TV ad calling on Congress to take action. Click HERE for more on THE OATH.

Bill Kristol, a conservative highly respected in Republican Party circles, is director of Republicans for the Rule of Law.

Previous Views from the Edge commentaries on impeachment

As always, leave a comment to join the conversation, if you wish.

If you’ve come by Views from the Edge, you know where we stand. If you haven’t visited us before today, Click our May 25 commentary In the winkling of an Eye: Impeach or Wait? Or click Impeach or Wait: It’s an Oath of Office Question for MinPost’s republication and reader comments.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 14, 2019.

That the Rabbits Might Live

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This morning’s headlines drew me back to the conversation with Psalm 55. Reflecting on the Psalm led to think of myself as a rabbit. Thinking of the rabbit brought to mind Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit led to think of the Africans, Cherokees, and African-Americans who identified with Brer Rabbit in the briar patch.

And I said, “O that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

I am not at rest. I want to get away. To another place. Another time when the wind is not raging and I am not enraged. A place and time that no longer hurts my ears and my eyes red. Like a rabbit, I freeze, hoping I will not be seen. When they see me on the sidewalk of their civilization, I scurry away in search of the briar patch.

Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.

I love words. I know the power of words. They heal, and they destroy. They honor truth and trust; they lie and deceive, and boast of what they have. The preponderance of words are not civil. They are not kind. They dish out strife with a smile. They keep us in turmoil. They despise the rabbits. They erase the line between truth and falsehood, reality and hallucination, America the beautiful and America the ugly. “O Lord, confound their speech.”

10 Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,

The Lady in the harbor and Emma Lazarus are weeping. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”” The lamp burns dimly. ICE and the border patrol walk the walls like prison guards.

and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11     ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace.

The walls where the lamp once stood beside the golden door are not built to keep others out. Nor do they protect us. They protect the market of oppression and fraud. A system gone awry. The road of generous compassion is paved over with fear and greed, iniquity and fraud, inside imaginary walls patrolled by guards of wealth and power. Oppression and fraud are not outside the walls. They are within them. They never leave the marketplace of Wall Street and Washington where commercial entertainment displaces the traditional landmarks of character. The human city is a mess mesmerized by the lies we mistake for truth, the delusional reality for reality itself. The ruin is in the city’s midst. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us,” said Pogo.

It is not enemies who taunt me—
    I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—

If it were those from beyond the city walls that were intent on doing us harm, I could bear that. But It’s what’s happening within the walls — the rule of entertainment and nihilism across all divisions; the loud applause for what is insolent and vile — that taunt me, drip by drip, tweet by tweet, byte by byte. We all know what Pogo said, but we don’t believe it: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

Hope cannot be overcome. Like a cork on water, hope always bobs to the surface. Brer Rabbit lives in the briar patch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 11, 2019

Two Minute Silence

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Veterans Day poster 2018

Veterans Administration poster

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

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

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

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

Silence

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

— Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons

Blake_Cain_Fleeing_from_the_Wrath_of_God_(The_Body_of_Abel_Found_by_Adam_and_Eve)_c1805-1809

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

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

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

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

Two Birds of the Secret Heart

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59476eb9d98ab50256137e216d23f129--scripture-art-psalms

“Create in me a clean heart, O God…” is a well-known prayer from the Psalms.  It’s context — its back-story — is not so familiar.

Psalm 51 is a prayer attributed to David. It is not a quiet prayer. It is a wrenching, sobbing prayer, the words tumbling from David’s mouth in halting phrases and stammers with tears flooding his eyes, streaming down his cheeks.

The Inward Being

“Behold, You seek truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6)

Is the secret heart the deepest place in us, the place where God is: the equivalent or synonym for “the inward being” – a poetic parallelism of Hebrew poetry? Or is it, perhaps, the secret place where we hide from God: the hiding place where we go off to a different heart than the Divine heart? Or could it be both at the same time?

David’s secret heart is dirty and he knows it. He cannot wash the stain of blood from his hands. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” he cries out, “and cleanse from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” It is a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Out, damn spot! OUT, I say…. all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”

The Hebrew Psalms are like that. They are not sanitized. They plunge the reader into the conflict between the reader’s inmost being, the true secret heart, you might say – the heart that pumps life into us – and the secret heart of our flight from truth and goodness, the heart of deception and self-deception.

Why is David crying out? What has he done? What is the sin that is ever before him, the blood he can’t wash from his own hands?

A Response to Accusation

Psalm 51 comes in response to an accusation that has exposed the bloody behavior his secretive heart has produced. It is Nathan, David’s commander on the battlefront, who confronts David with the truth.

Nathan has just returned from the front to tell David that Uriah, the King’s next door neighbor, a man of impeccable loyalty valor, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David’s scheming heart has sent off to war, is dead! His blood is on David! Nathan has spoken the truth to power.

There is no wisdom in David’s secret heart. There is treachery there.

“Purge me!” cries David. Imagine Richard Burton at his most dramatic. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow!” (Ps. 51:7)

Hyssop, the foliage of an aromatic plant named in the Passover story (Exodus 12:21-27), was used in the cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 4:51).

Two Small Birds

The rite of cleansing centers on two small birds. One bird is killed. The other bird is washed in the blood of the other under the flow of water and the sweetness of hyssop. The one bird dies. The second bird lives.

“Thus he (the priest) shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedarwood and hyssop and the scarlet stuff; and he shall let the living bird go out of the city into the open field; so he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.” (Lev. 14:52-53)

“Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation” cries Uriah’s killer curled up in a ball, hoping against all hope, “and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance.” (Ps. 51:14)

Release Into the Open Field

David is both birds. He is the one who deserves to die. He is also the one who is living. He lives not because of the secretive heart that had conspired against Uriah, betraying his own inward being – “Against You only have I sinned…” (Ps. 51:4). He lives on because there is more mercy in God (the inward being) than there is sin in him.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God,” he concludes with tears, is “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

His body quivers as he imagines himself as the bird released into the open field by mercy alone, “according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy.” (Ps. 51:1)

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

What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?

North American culture of 2019 is like a house on fire. Words like ‘holy’ and holiness’ are . . . well… relics of tradition. We’re free thinkers, not … not like that!

It was, I suppose, a coincidence that this post caught my eye while reading G.K. Chesterton’s view of democracy and tradition, yet the two readings strike me leading upstream to the same source.

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead,” wrote 34 year-old Chesterton nearly a century ago in a book with an arcane title (Orthodoxy) that sends us free thinkers running from a house fire.

Although it seemed outdated at the time, I now remember with nostalgia the rest I knew as a child on Sundays when the noise and distractions were stilled. We opened the windows, breathed fresh air, gave thanks we were still breathing, and went down for a long afternoon nap.

Click THIS LINK to open Live and Learn’s post featuring Margaret Renkl, from “What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?” (NY Times, October 21, 2019).

Thanks for dropping by Views from the Edge to see more clearly,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 10, 2019.