A Search for Comfort and Courage

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After an extended period of dismay and bewilderment, Psalm 39 opened a vein to write again.

Image of hermit crab crawling inside an empty shell.
Hermit Crab crawling into an abandoned shell

A Psalmic Meditation of a Hermit Crab

I said, “I will be careful how I act
    and will not sin by what I say.

I have been careful. A hermit crab at low tide, I sidle into a borrowed shell, not too big and not too small, to hide from birds of prey. I stuff myself inside. When the tide comes in, I may leave this shell. But not now. The sand is hot. The gulls are feeding.

 I will be careful what I say
    around wicked people.”

It’s not just the birds of prey that keep me here. Whatever I say outside will make it hotter for crabs like me. I’m crabby and cranky. “Keep your words to yourself! The world doesn’t need more heat. We all need to cool down.” 

So I kept very quiet.
    I didn’t even say anything good,
    but I became even more upset.

Despair is a horrible thing. “If you can’t  say something nice, don’t say it. Stay in your room until you have something nice to say. You have to be positive.” I have nothing good to say. Nothing calm. Nothing of value. Nothing to cool the beach at noon. Nothing to lower the blistering heat rising in me.

I became very angry inside,
    and as I thought about it, my anger burned.

Glass shattering, Stop the Steal, Hang Mike Pence, Execute Nancy, Make America Great Again, sounds of threats and violence, cries for help, and the silence from the White House still hurt my ears.

Then I remember how Jeremiah wept. Truth, he said, was dark and deep, and bought a worthless plot of land where hope could live. 

The prophet Jeremiah, Michelangelo fresco, Sistine Chapel

So I spoke:

“Lord, tell me when the end will come
    and how long I will live.
    Let me know how long I have.

You have given me only a short life;
    my lifetime is as nothing in your sight;
    Even those who stand erect are
but a puff of wind.

It’s hard alone outside the shell. The wind is stiff. The sky is dark. Light is White and right; Black is dark and wronged again. Truth sways by a noose from the lynching tree.

When will this end? When will it stop? How will it stop? I’m an old man; my time is short, this short puff of air, soon to disappear.

People are like shadows moving about.
    All their work is for nothing;
    they collect things but don’t know who will get them.

My kind and I are like ghosts sidling along the wall of shadows we faintly see in Plato’s cave. We find no respite from the heat and clamor into which we once could crawl — or thought we could. We leave behind a scorched gift to generations yet to come.

“So, Lord, what hope do I have?
    You are my hope.”

Sea levels have rise, the tides are higher, the forests burning, the rivers drying, fields once lush and green now parched and brown, the planet spinning out of control, like a top our hands have spun. These mortal selves, this factory of gods our hearts conceive, cannot hide from Thee, O Lord, the “I AM” without end, the Breath of Life that breathes a breath through me.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), host of Views from the Edge: To see More Clearly, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 23, 2023.

A Slip of the Tongue

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Gordon C. Stewart, January 22, 2022

“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue."
— Zeno of Citium (c. 300 BCE)

About stumbling and slipping

We all stumble occasionally. Who hasn’t slipped while trying to say what we mean? But some slips aren’t slips. Those slips reveal what we mean.

After last night’s Senate blocked the voting right bill from moving forward to debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tongue slipped when trying to tamp down any concern about Black voter suppression.

The concerns are misplaced, he demurred. Why? Because “African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

About Speech

“I hate all bungling like sin, but most of all bungling in state affairs, which produces nothing but mischief to thousands and millions.”

GOETHE, quoted in Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe, March 1832.

“We all stumble in many ways,” wrote the James of The Epistle of James. “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check.” (James 3:2 NIV). There is no such person, he writes, for no human being can tame the tongue. The tongue’s small size is disproportionate to it power. It’s like the rudder of a ship. It guides the ship in whatever direction the pilot directs. In yet another metaphor, the tongue is a little member of the body, “and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small spark!”

A restless evil

With the tongue we praise God and curse others created in God’s image; “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water….”

Wisdom and hypocrisy

“Let those who desire wisdom show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ is not wisdom. It does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

A Life’s project on the tip of the tongue

Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead. John Lewis is dead. Their life project is not. It will sit on the tip of my tongue long after the slip that wasn’t a slip, however long it takes.

O, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
In Memoriam A.H. H. (1850)

Faith and the Administered Consciousness

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“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'”

Gospel according to Matthew 11:16-17.

Having nothing new to say on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I scrolled back to this sermon on Faith and Patriotism which re-awakened my appreciation for Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man and his analysis of a culture of “administered consciousness”.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” — Eugene Debs/Thomas Paine?

Love of country is a good thing. Worshiping it is not. In the hands of a scoundrel, patriotism becomes an idol.

Faith and Patriotism

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, January 19, 2022

When Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets

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“Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” — Book of Isaiah 59: 14b-15a

The Press Conference

Moments ago House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy performed a Fred Astaire song-and- dance act, after which a “press corp” composed of theater critics, ballet dancers, singers, and actors from Broadway had time to asked embarrassing questions. The Minority Leader was frequently off-key. Every other step was a diversion. Some taps were an About-Face. It’s hard to tap dance in hip-boot waders.

Tap dancing in hip-boots

Mr. McCarthy offered no explanations for his well-documented changes of mind, reversals and U-Turns. If you were listening carefully, you might have heard an off-stage prompter’s cue from an unhappy puppeteer: “A b o u t Face!” But the tap dancer didn’t know which way to face. Without a moral compass it’s easy to get lost.

"No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity." -- Isaiah 59:4a

I watched it live on C-Span. No pundit told me what I was seeing and hearing, and no “Breaking News!” announcements made my heart race.

Truth is not an artifact

Truth-telling never was popular. Yet it was a founding virtue in American culture. “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” We didn’t, of course, but we said we did. Truth was the premise of all that followed in the Declaration of Independence. In 2022 truth is a relic, a dead virtue like Latin, rolling in the dust; nothing is self-evident. Or could it be that truth abides in America; you just have to hunt for it? Yet, even hunting for truth for the sake of goodness can be a u-turn toward evil, as it did seven decades ago until a truth-teller named Welsh and a truth-seeking reporter named Murrow confronted the demonic crusading behind the pretense of goodness.

"They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil." -- Isaiah 59:4

A sense of decency

When Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) attacked a young attorney in Mr. Welsh’s law firm as a suspected communist or communist sympathizer, Welsh had had enough, and said so: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?“

“See It Now”

March 9, 1954 Murrow’s “Report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy” aired on his popular CBS program “See It Now” featuring excerpts in which the junior Senator from Wisconsin repeatedly contradicted himself. Joseph Welsh’s rebuke — “Let us not … Have you left no sense of decency”— swept across the country. Viewer letters to CBS ran 15-1 in favor of Murrow’s report.

Attack on the Press as “a Jackal Pack”

When Murrow offered the senator a full half-hour on “See It Now” to respond to the report in any way he might choose, McCarthy delayed his appearance until April 6. McCarthy did not appear in person. Instead, he provided CBS with a filmed response, accusing Murrow of being a communist-sympathizer, or worse. The transcript of McCarthy’s defense included an attack on the press as “jackal pack”:

Ordinarily, I would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer Murrow. However, in this case I feel justified in doing so because Murrow is a symbol, a leader, and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual Communists and traitors.

Excerpt, Sen. Joseph McCarthy rebuttal on “See It Now” (April 6, 1953)
"They hatch the eggs of vipers, and spin a spider's web." -- Isaiah 59:5a

Murrow later noted that McCarthy “made no reference to any statements of fact that we made” and addressed McCarthy’s accusations against himself. If the best defense is a good offense, McCarthy’s single-note smear strategy was no match for truth. Senator McCarthy was censured by the Senate, but his spirit and appeal to fear never left.

Common Decency

This sordid history is embedded in American culture. We’ve become a culture of distrust, suspicion, accusation, and division. There is no Edward R. Murrow, and if there is one or many, the multiplicity of news sources insures that the American public will no longer see or hear the same things across the political divide.

"So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes." -- Isaiah 59:10a

The descendants of Joseph McCarthy are feeding truth, decency, and the Constitution through the shredder. If you want to see reality with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears, tune in to C-Span and C-Span 2 to discern truth from falsehood, good from evil, transparency from obfuscation, a ballet from a tap dance in hip boots.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, Jan. 12, 2022.

January 6 — Epiphanies

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A Day of Infamy

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, POTUS Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…” he began. His oft-cited words could have been repeated the day after the attack on the U. S. Capitol January 6, 2020.

The POTUS defeated in the 2020 election called no special session of Congress on January 7, 2021. The day before (Jan. 6, 2021) the President stayed in the Oval Office dining room watching the rampage through the halls of Congress, and Capitol Police rushing Members of Congress, the Vice President and their staff members into hiding. He kept his eyes glued to the unfolding images as if watching contestants on Jeopardy.

When finally he spoke after 187 minutes of silence, he told those who had breached the Capitol “…So go home. We love you, you’re very special. We’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home, and go home in peace.” There was no special session of Congress, as on the day after Pearl Harbor. Congress impeached Mr. Trump for the second time over the objection of Jim Jordan (pictured below), Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others. Loyalist senators voted to acquit him. January 6, 2020 will be remembered as the day the Big Lie and Stop the Steal almost stole democracy.

Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸
@mtgreenee

  1. We must remove Adam Schiff from Congress.
    It’s not enough to take him off committees.
    He has heinously abused power & LIED repeatedly to the American people to weaponize the government to attack his political enemies.
    He’s a Communists.
    All Communists must be expelled.
    10:03 AM · Dec 15, 2021·Twitter for iPhone

Blacklisted – on the LIST (Click Here)

Painting public figures as Communists has a history. In 1952 and following, the right wing of the Republican Party created a “blacklist” of Communists and Communist sympathizers.

The List

10 PUBLIC FIGURES

Helen Keller
Leonard Bernstein
Burl Ives
Pete Seeger
Artie Shaw
Zero Mostel
Charlie Chaplin
Langston Hughes
Orson Welles
Dolores del Rio

+Adam Schiff (added 12/15/22

Epiphany

The date of the 2021 Capitol insurrection coincided with the Feast of the Epiphany which my church celebrates every January 6th, no matter the current circumstances. On Epiphany the heart is lifted by the Gospel of Matthew’s story of the Magi (wisdom figures) who have come from afar, kneeling before a newborn as fragile as any newborn to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

It was and is a question of kneeling

Prior to their arrival at Bethlehem, these sages from the East go to “Herod the king” asking for directions to the place where the new king has been born. A “troubled” King Herod summons his advisors to gather information. He then summons the “wise men” secretly to ascertain from them when the star had appeared. Herod gives them directions to Betlehem, and tells them to come back to him when they have found the child, “that I too may come and worship him.”

The Magi do not return to Herod. “And warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.” Herod is furious. Herod never disappears. Cunning and deceit never end. Darkness remains. But the Light –the star shining over an animal shelter — remains. Last year Epiphany there was darkness and there was light. A would-be king trembles and flies into a slaughter of innocents. For years to come, January 6 the memory of a violent insurrection and the Feast of the Epiphany will sit side-by-side. May we have the wisdom to follow the Light that cannot overcome the darkness.

Pete Seeger

The two competing images of the wise visitors to Bethlehem and of Herod’s cunning will through light on reality as it is. If Burl Ives and Pete Seeger were branded as Communists, I wonder about Dolly Parton. Dolly did appear with Big Bird on Sesame Street.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is an old favorite of Protestant Christians. Pete Seeger (RIP) knew what happens when we look to Congress to save us.

For more information on the history of blacklisting, click Blacklisting by the House Un-America Affairs Committee.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN 55443.

Star of Wonder

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Adam Fronczek’s “Star of Wonder” sermon at Knox Church – Cincinnati comes as healing balm after a year when truth and wonder have been hard to come by. I needed this. Perhaps you do, too. You are not alone. Thank you, Adam. Thank you Knox.

Scroll forward to 22:58 to listen.

YouTube broadcast of Knox Church-Cincinnati, OH, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2021

Best wishes for a truthful, wonder-filled Christmas,

Gordon. C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, December 24, 2021.

Have We Forgotten How to Listen?

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About the Author

Thanks to Janet Morrison of Harrisburg, NC for accepting our invitation to elaborate on her comment on Harry Strong’s Biases series. Janet is a writer, blogger, and published author. Information about Janet and her work is available on Janet’s Writing Blog or Janet Morrrison Books.com. Views from the Edge added the headings and graphics to the original text of “Have We Forgotten How to Listen?”

Have We Forgotten How to Listen?

by Janet Morrison

Throughout much of 2021 I participated in an online group discussion of LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens, M.A. The recent “Blind Biases” series of posts by Harry L. Strong on Gordon C. Stewart’s “Views from the Edge” blog reminded me of Ms. Givens’ thought-provoking book. 

How do we have that difficult conversation with someone with whom we disagree? 

Our nation is more polarized now than in any other time in my life. The assassination of a U.S. President, the Civil Rights Movement, the racial desegregation of the public school I attended, the “Cold War,” the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the near-eradication of polio, the “space race” with the U.S.S.R., the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the advent of the internet, 9/11, global warming, and an attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol have been the soundtrack of my life.

From verbal filters to open floodgates

Whereas, polite society used to dictate a level of restraint in public discourse, social media and a former U.S. President who demonstrated no such verbal filter, opened the floodgates for anyone and everyone to voice their opinions as often and as loudly as they desired. 

The result of this shift is that the individuals with the most extreme views feel emboldened to not only voice their opinions but to launch vile personal attacks against anyone who dares to disagree. With all filters turned off, we have transitioned into a country in which everyone is expressing their opinions and no one is listening.

LEAPFROG

The “L” in Ms. Givens’ LEAPFROG book stands for listening. It made me think about the necessity of listening if we’re to have a productive conversation on any level.

In our compulsion to force our ideas down the throats of others, we’ve lost our ability to listen. 

When’s the last time you listened to someone whose views on politics differed from yours? No. I mean, did you really listen? Or were you so wrapped up in your viewpoint and your desire to convert the other person to your way of thinking that you didn’t genuinely listen to the other party?

We’re all guilty. We’ve not only brought all our biases to the table; we’ve forgotten our table manners. 

We’ve forgotten how to listen.

Alert and ready for the Unexpected 

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 2001 defines the word listen as follows: “(1) to pay attention to sound…; (2) to hear something with thoughtful attention:  give consideration…; (3) to be alert to catch an expected sound.” If I may be so bold, I would add a fourth: to be alert to catch an unexpected sound, or word, or explanation. 

Our modern lives are filled with noise. The TV is always on at home. The radio is always on in the car, often tuned into talk radio. Music or a cellphone conversation is always playing in our ears. We’re so attuned to hearing something 24/7 that we can’t go grocery shopping or jogging without having earbuds in our ears. Silence makes us uneasy. Without being aware of it, we’ve trained ourselves to listen to what we want to hear, and this training has conditioned us not to have to listen to anything we don’t want to hear.

Our modern lives are filled with noise. The TV is always on at home. The radio is always on in the car, often tuned into talk radio. Music or a cellphone conversation is always playing in our ears. We’re so attuned to hearing something 24/7 that we can’t go grocery shopping or jogging without having earbuds in our ears. Silence makes us uneasy. Without being aware of it, we’ve trained ourselves to listen to what we want to hear, and this training has conditioned us not to have to listen to anything we don’t want to hear.

Let that sink in. Has our desire to surround ourselves and our very ears only with those sounds we want to hear led us to become closed-minded to truly listening to “the other side” when it comes to the difficult issues of the day? Have we lost our ability to listen? Have we lost our curiosity?

I’m Guilty

I’m guilty. I don’t watch the cable news channels that I know espouse political views with which I disagree. When I hear someone whose viewpoints are in opposition to mine, my knee-jerk reaction is to get angry and make judgments. I admit that I don’t care why their world view is so different from mine. I can’t fathom why they think the way they do, and I’m guilty of not trying to see things from their perspective.

I grew up in a fairly homogeneous community. There weren’t any rich kids in my school. Most people went to church. Most people obeyed the law. As far as I knew, until a few years ago, everyone I grew up with saw the world pretty much the way I did. When I was growing up, I knew there were Republicans and Democrats, but people rarely advertised their political affiliation.

People of various political leanings could be friends. Those who made a point to reveal their political party registration didn’t demonize those of the other party. They could socialize and attend church together. They could even discuss politics and remain friends. They could display the American flag at their homes without being labeled as agreeing with a particular political party. They could get vaccinated against diseases without being ostracized.

One of the sad things for me in this era of polarization is learning that people I thought I knew well, I don’t really know. How can children who were raised like I was raised become adults with whom I have nothing in common?

The most frightening thing about this is that we each love our country; however, we love it in ways that mean we can’t have a civil conversation about it. We not only aren’t listening to each other, we have lost the patience, the energy, the tolerance, and the curiosity to listen to one another.

Until we listen

Two people in a heated argument about religion when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University. Photo by David Shankbone, uploaded from Wikimedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Until we learn to listen, family gatherings will escalate into shouting matches and hurt feelings. Congregations will divide into cliques and inflict wounds on our collective Body of Christ. Knowing another person’s political affiliation will influence all our dealings and interactions with them.

Until we recapture our ability to listen and want to know why the other person sees things the way they do, we’re spinning our wheels.

Until both parties to the conversation bring honesty, frankness, and a genuine curiosity to the discussion, our country is not going to move out of this predicament we find ourselves in.

Until we are willing to listen, we can’t call it a conversation. 

Until we listen, we won’t discover what we have in common. 9/11 did that for us. I pray it doesn’t take such a tragedy to reunite us.

Tell us what you’re thinking. Let’s talk.

Gordon C. Stewart, host of Views from the Edge, author of Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Dec. 20, 2021.

Getting ready for the day

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I’ve never met David Kanigan, but his latest Live & Learn post greets me every morning. Thank you, David.

Lightly Child, Lightly

Live & Learn, David Kanigan, Dec. 16, 2021

He felt at peace only in the hour before dawn, when the darkness seemed to give way slowly to a mist, and it was at this hour that he would wake and sit by his window.

—  Peter Ackroyd, from Hawksmoor (Hamish Hamilton, May 25, 2010)


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you The Hammock Papers
  • Photo: DK  @ Daybreak. 6:35 a.m. Sunday, August 25, 2021. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Thanks for dropping by Views From the Edge and Live & Learn — Gordon (Sitting by the window before dawn)


To bow or not to bow is not the question

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Rising of a Thunderstorm (Washington Allston)

Reverence is an ennobling sentiment; it is felt to be degrading only
by the vulgar mind, which would escape the sense of its own littleness
by elevating itself into an antagonist of what is above it. He that has
no pleasure in looking up is not fit so much as to look down.

Washington Allston (1779—1843)

Human Beings and Being Human

Not everyone believes in God, and those of us who do call the Ineffable different names. But doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly (Micah 6:8) expresses in a few words the shared moral foundation of healthy common life. Some treasures — soul-sized things that neither moth nor rust consume — cannot be bought or stolen by wealth, privilege, or power. An economy and culture that enshrine greed, ownership and domination bow before and dance around a Golden Calf.

Jesus’s question about treasures is front and center in 2021. “What profit is there if a person [or nation] gains the world but loses its soul?” What difference does it make if we’re standing in quicksand? “The rain fell dow, and the floods came up, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!”

Cathedral of St. Lazare, Autun, France — Relief sculpture, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Bowing Lower

It has taken a lifetime to see more clearly what I believe and why I believe it. Some stories are so deeply embedded in our psyches that we are barely conscious of them until experience brings them back into focus. The parable of the wise and foolish builders has been bedrock for me as far back as memory can reach. I heard it as a child. I sang it as a child. I moved my arms and hands to the rain pouring down and the flood coming up. Mrs. Thomas, our 90-year-old Vacation Bible School teacher laid out the choice between standing on the firm foundations of wisdom or sinking on the quicksands of foolishness.

A Larry David Teaching Moment

Jesus’ parable meant more to old Mrs. Thomas than it did to wide-eyed kindergartners with our whole lives ahead of us. Closer now to Mrs. Thomas’ age, experience has taught me that I am never far from foolishness.

But I didn’t quite “get it” until this year watching an old episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which a clueless Larry David insults a Korean shop owner with his bow. Bowing has a protocol of who bows lower.

A child bows lower to an adult; the younger of two adults bows lower to an elder. A student bows lower to a teacher as the outward sign of respect and honor. Larry had his purchases; what he didn’t have was his wallet. He couldn’t buy a thing.

The honorable Korean shop owner trusts Larry to take the goods and to return later to cover the cost. When Larry returns, the shop owner bows to Larry. Larry mirrors the shop owner’s bow. The two exchange bows repeatedly, but the shop owner grows angry with Larry’s persistent mirroring. Larry insulted the shop owner. Out of respect, Larry should have bowed lower.

My Clueless Insult of Kosuke Koyama

My own Larry David insult took place as Professor Emeritus theologian of World Christianity Kosuke Koyama and I moved to our places behind the communion table at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, Minnesota to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I’m not used to bowing. I shake hands, but we Americans don’t bow. We bow to no one.

Professor Koyama’s greeting caught me by surprise. He honored me with a bow. The internationally respected Japanese liberation theologian twenty years my senior, author of 100+ books and scholarly articles, bowed low to his lesser colleague. I did what I thought was good and right. I returned the bow. But I did not bow lower! If my superior was offended, he never showed it. He never shamed me. Ten years after Ko’s death, Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” taught me what I had done. have been a to reflect on faith itself as bowing lower, to the Highest, the God of Mount Fiji and Mount Sinai, and Golgotha, the Hill of Skulls.

Photo of Professor Kosuke Koyama

If Kosuke had taken offense, he never showed it. He never shamed me. Ten years after Ko’s death, Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” taught me what I had done.

The years since have been a reflection on faith itself as bowing lower, to the Highest, the God of Mount Fiji and Mount Sinai, and Golgotha, the Hill of Skulls.

Bowing while Refusing to Bow

To be human is to bow. Before whom or what we are bowing — not whether we will bow —is a different rendering of Jesus’s challenging question. What is happening today in the United States and across the world — the storms that turn democratic republics into footstools for totalitarians hoisted to their thrones by myths of racial and national exceptionalism — widens the chasm between guarded white communities and the homeless shelters and detention camps at our southern border; and builds more prisons that house a disproportionally low percentage of people who look like me, the people of white privilege.

But most important is the ravaging of nature — unprecedented forest fires reducing natural habitats to ash heaps, homes and towns in Washington, Oregon, and California, New Orleans, and Texas; hurricanes, tornadoes and straight-line winds — puts the parable of the wise and foolish builders squarely before us We are the species that always bows to someone or something, but refuses to bow lower. “Evil is in antagonism with the entire creation,” wrote German-Swiss author and civil servant Heinrich Zschokke (1771-1848). What is humankind that you are mindful of us, asked the Hebrew psalmist.

Bowing with Jesus to the Origin and End of Life Itself

“The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the traditional shorthand for Christian faith. The Jewish Jesus bows before that which is greater than he: the Creator and Sustainer of life.

The “I AM” of the burning bush — YHWH, a Name/Reality so holy, so Other, so far beyond human comprehension that the children of Moses would not speak the Name aloud — is the Origin and End of life itself. It was I AM — the source and end of life itself — before whom Jesus of Nazareth bowed in prayer and daily decision-making. Jesus was a faithful member of the covenant community born at the burning bush that dropped Moses to his knees.

Bowing before the Ineffable

The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith cannot be understood apart from this bowing. Jesus bows before his Lord and Father, the Holy One of the First Commandment and the Shema of his Jewish faith tradition. The Christian confession “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” is a one-line cliff note for “the Jesus who bowed low in reverence and humility before the Eternal and Ineffable” is the human one people like me seek to follow. The bowing Jesus is for Christians called Lord and Savior — because he bows lower to the Origin and End of life itself, the I Am of the bush that burns but is not consumed.

Let More of Reverence in Us Dwell

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam
Prologue, st. 7

Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian, Brooklyn Park, MN, Dec. 9, 2021

Blind Biases 3

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Third of the four-part series Blind Biases” by Harry L. Strong

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”

— Brian McLaren

Catching Up to Lean Forward

Today we turn to the final four (4) of thirteen (13) biases identified by author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, which, McLaren believes, contribute significantly to the hatred, hostility, and polarization that pervades so much of our nation and world today.  Previously, we have noted nine (9) additional biases that McLaren suspects explain partially why we see things so differently from one another.  These include Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias.  To glean a more thorough understanding of what these biases entail and how they create stumbling blocks to healthy communication and understanding among people with conflicting opinions, the reference appears below to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  So, what are four other biases that can dramatically impact our views of life and the world?  McLaren cites these:

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Ca$h Bia$: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators. [1]

A Window and a Mirror

Did any one of these prompt you to think to yourself: “Oops!  ‘Never thought about that before, but that sounds like ME!”  If you identified one (or more) of those biases in yourself, good for you!  Give yourself a pat on the back for your openness and your vulnerability!  That’s one of the reasons McLaren published his e-book in the first place – so readers like us (you and I) would see our reflection in a mirror and ask: “OK, so now what?  Now that I’ve acknowledged this blind spot, how can I do something about it?  What can I do to change my perspective?”  The other reason McLaren believed his literary venture had some merit was so he could inspire folks like us to recognize biases in others who may not view the world the same way we do AND to motivate us to take the courageous step of looking out our window and reaching out to our sisters and brothers in pursuit of understanding and healing.

Contact Bias: Guilty as Charged

If you zeroed in on “Contact Bias” the way I did, perhaps that’s already occurred to you.  When I was serving as a pastor in a university community like Ames, Iowa, or State College, Pennsylvania, or in an urban setting like Trenton, New Jersey, or Memphis, Tennessee, daily I found myself encountering people who were not like me in appearance, heritage, values, economic status, lifestyle, faith perspective, and a myriad other ways.  Now, living in a golf course community in a town of 20,000 on the western slope of Colorado, hard as it is to hear: “When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with ‘the other,’ my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.”  Contact bias: guilty as charged.

So, if like me, you’ve identified Contact Bias as one likely impediment to your ability to understand and appreciate why other people may see things differently than you do, what can we (you and I) do about it? Fortunately, our instructor/mentor, Brian McLaren, can help.  His e-book is not just an academic analysis of our polarization plight.  Brian offers us some very practical bridge-building guidelines, at least one for each of the thirteen (13) biases he identifies.  What does he suggest related to Contact Bias?

Beyond Myopia (Nearsightedness)

Diagram of Myopia (Nearsightedness)

McLaren points us to Jesus and his intentional, unique way of reaching out to the other, including the other at the table, and putting the other in the spotlight by giving the other a voice.

We may protest: “But how does that help us when there are so few “others” in our geographical area?”  

I think McLaren might say something like this: “Maybe you need to reassess your definition of “others.”  The conflicts that plague our nation are not all related to racial ethnic, socio-economic, or religious differences.  No matter how homogeneous you may think your community is, topics like vaccinations, masking, gun control, individual rights vs. the common good, states’ rights vs. federal mandates are just a few of the issues that are traumatizing and polarizing our nation these days.  No matter how isolated and insulated you think you are where you live, what if you were to broaden your horizons a bit by exploring books, magazines, websites, blogs, news channels, and other venues that are outside your community?  

Remember that Community Bias? “It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.”  “Community” can refer to like-minded folks as well as to geography.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, but, one-on-one or in small groups, you can humanize the other by giving people with diverse opinions a spotlight and a voice.  Be intentional about trying to facilitate understanding and deeper relationships.  Again, like Jesus, engage people in storytelling and active, conscious listening.”

Sneak Peak

Wouldn’t it be great if we could conclude our consideration of Blind Biases by identifying Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See?  Guess what?  Brian McLaren can make that happen!  I look forward to getting together with you one more time for Blind Biases 4.  Meanwhile, let’s reflect on these wise words from Stephen Covey (which McLaren quotes in his chapter on Contact Bias): “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.  That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  Harry

)[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself), Self-published: 2019), e-book.

BLIND BIASES 2

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Second in a four-part series on BLIND BIASES 2 by Harry L. Strong

If you joined me for “Biases 1,” welcome back!

If you didn’t, you may be wondering: “So then, why should I keep reading?

Not a Problem. Let me “catch you up” in a hurry.

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Catching Up

Author, activist, and public theologian Brian D. McLaren has created a remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another.  McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world and lead them to such polarizing conclusions from one another.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”  

Previously, we took a quick look at how McLaren labels Biases 1 through 5: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; & Competency Bias.  In a moment we’ll consider Biases 6-9.  I’ll choose one and tell you what I learned about myself as I considered my own reflection in my “Bias Mirror.”  Then, if you so choose, you may do the same.  Chances are, we’ll be much more charitable and effective in inviting another into a conversation about why we view a topic so differently if we’ve tried to remove our own “blinders” first.

A Conversation with Larry

But before I share with you Brian’s second set of Biases, let me tell you about a brief conversation I had with a neighbor last week.  While I was out walking my dog, I ran into Larry who asked me what I’d been up to lately.  I told him I was writing a series of articles about “Biases.”  Can you guess what he said next?  “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything!”

I don’t think Larry is alone.  I’m guessing most folks become defensive if someone insinuates they are biased or prejudiced.  The conversation prompted me to come home and “ask Mr. Webster” [1} how he would define all four of Larry’s words.  Here’s what I learned:

Bias: “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; bent.”

Prejudice: “a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known (or in disregard of facts that contradict it); preconceived idea, favorable, or, more usually, unfavorable; unreasonable bias.”

Opinion: “a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind.”

Perspective: “a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events, especially one that shows them in their true relations to one another.”

Fascinating!  I couldn’t help but notice the phrase “unreasonable bias” in the definition of prejudice.  That would seem to suggest that there IS such a thing as reasonable bias.”  Granted, most of us, as we ponder our conclusions about life and the world, are far more comfortable with the less judgmental and less inflammatory terms “opinion” and “perspective.”

McLaren’s Biases Six through Nine

            I’ve likely devoted far too much time to this little grammar-aside.  Let’s invite Brian McLaren back to the lectern to tell us about Biases 6 through 9 that he has identified.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now.  But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false.  I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth. [2]

            I’m choosing to confess what I perceive to be the most potentially controversial and explosive bias of the four: Conservative/Liberal Bias.  I concede, without apology, that I bring a “Liberal Bias” to my keyboard.  Having said that, I want to underscore McLaren’s phrase “lean toward.”  (Remember, Mr. Webster used the same term.)  To quote my neighbor, Larry, in trying to be “as objective as possible,” the Conservative/Liberal Bias definition may seem to imply that if I champion fairness and kindness, I discount, purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority OR that if I focus my attention on purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, I’m unfair and unkind!  Remember, McLaren is about building bridges, not walls!   He clarifies this point in Chapter 24 on Conservative/Liberal Bias, when he discusses how Jesus might have wrestled with this issue:  “Jesus neither absolutized nor ignored the four primarily conservative moral values, but instead, he included them and integrated them with the values of fairness and kindness, or justice and compassion … all in service of love.” 

            It’s BOTH/AND – not EITHER/OR!  Again, it’s “lean toward.”  It’s a matter of “where do you put the accent?” 

My Conservative/Liberal Bias

I spend a lot more time viewing CNN and MSNBC than I do watching Fox News or the 700 Club.  I subscribe to Christian Century and Sojourners.  I do not subscribe to Christianity Today or Christian Living.  I realize that puts me at odds with a number of my sisters and brothers in the evangelical Christian community as well as those in the Republican Party.  It also means that many of them have access to “opinions” and “perspectives” that I do not.  If, bravely and vulnerably, we risk entering into a conversation with one another to try to build a bridge of understanding, I won’t say neither of us is “playing with a full deck,” but we definitely are not “playing with the same deck.”

Invitation to Lean Forward

            If you’re willing and able to spend the time, would you please take one more look at those above Biases (Consciousness; Comfort or Complacency; Conservative/Liberal; and Confidence Bias) and then ask yourself: “Does that sound like me?”  The next step is even harder.  In quest of peace and understanding, would you be willing to share what you learned with someone you know who may not view the world quite the same way that you do?

            If not, maybe one of McLaren’s “final four” Biases might be easier to address.  Could we make a date to sit down together again in Blind Biases 3?  Harry

——————————————

[1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Third Edition; Macmillan USA, 1997.

[2] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Blind Biases #1

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A four part series and the author

Most of us are having a hard time talking with people on the other side of fence from us. A conversation with classmate, colleague, and friend Harry Strong led to this series on Blind Biases. Thanks to Harry for his willingness to do what I could not. — Gordon

Harry L. Strong is a retired Presbyterian Church USA pastor, originally from Chicago. Over the past 50 years, since his graduation from Blackburn College and
McCormick Theological Seminary, he has served congregations in Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Colorado. Harry and his wife, Anna, currently make their home in Montrose, Colorado.



BLIND BIASES #1

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Former English teacher, pastor and current author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, has created a thoughtful and remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another. Given the intensity of hatred, hostility, and violence in our society today, rarely have such tools for bridge-building and healing been so desperately needed.  

A Time-Machine Vexation

Perhaps if we had a time machine to take us back to the 1860s, we would be able to observe a similar, or even greater, degree of polarization among the citizens of our nation; however, since none of us was alive during the “Civil War” (or what the Confederacy called the “War of Northern Aggression”), our current divisions provide ample evidence of the need for increased understanding and reconciliation.

Come to think of it, those two different ways of labeling our mid-19th century national conflict (Civil War vs. War of Northern Aggression) provide an ideal opportunity for me to reintroduce Brian McLaren, because those “different ways of seeing” what happened in The United States of America between 1861 and 1865 illustrate our “biases.”

Inside the Walls of Bias

Says McLaren:  

“People’s biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion.  No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias.”  

Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”

A Window and a Mirror

Before I invite Brian to share these with us, I’d like to propose that we try to “look and listen” with a window in one hand and a mirror in the other. 

painting of woman looking at herself in a mirror

In other words, as we ponder these various biases that (other) people bring to their perspective on life and the world, let us be open, honest, and vulnerable enough to recognize that we do the same thing.

At the conclusion of this post, I have provided the reference to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It?  Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  I highly recommend Brian’s book if you’d like to explore this topic at more depth!  Before he introduces the 13 biases, McLaren quotes these wise words from Francois Fenelon: “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others, as, by self-examination, thoroughly to know our own.”

As your host and guide for this blog and the three to follow, I pledge to try to remember that, and also to trust you with a few less-than-flattering discoveries that I have made about my own biases.  In so doing, perhaps, I’ll expose a reflection in your mirror that you had not previously considered.

Thirteen (13) biases seem a bit overwhelming, don’t they?  That’s why I’d like to distribute them over three separate posts, and then add a fourth and final piece to try to address what is probably the most important dimension of this subject: What issues do YOU care about?  Where do you want to make a positive difference?  Where do you want to help others “get it?”  And what are your next steps in quest of understanding and reconciliation?

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it?  Indeed – but I hope it will be worth our time together. So – here are McLaren’s first five (5) biases.  Then, I’ll close with a personal note.

Introducing McLaren’s bias framework

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities.  As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours.  If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know.  In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are.  As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence. [1]

            As promised, before we conclude our first “class” on Blind Biases, let me show you what I saw in MY Confirmation Bias mirror.  Soon I’ll be entering my 9th decade on this planet.  I’ve been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA for over 5 of those decades, but I continue to read and learn and be challenged.  Almost daily, I’m introduced to new perspectives by names like Bass and Borg, Bourgeault and Delio, Greenway, Rohr, and Wilber, and others.  I confess the “new ideas” don’t always “fit in with and confirm” the ones I gleaned from many of my “trusted authorities,” professors, mentors, and role models.  Yes, I get it.  I can appreciate why my sisters and brothers frequently are confronted by new ideas that don’t confirm their “framing story” and that those ideas are jarring, troubling, offensive, and can evoke resistance and even hostility!

So, which form of “bias” do you choose to reflect on?  CONFIRMATION, or one of the others?  Remember, if you’d like a “sneak peek” at Biases 6-9, you can always access Brian’s e-book!  I’ll “see you” in Blind Biases 2. — Harry

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Harry Strong, Montrose, CO, 11/26/2021

Rebranding Reality: Blackwater and Facebook

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Spider-Man

Elijah was Spider-Man this Halloween. No one was fooled. Everyone knows Spider-Man isn’t a four years-old and that Spider-Man exists only in the comics. As It turned out, Elijah’s head was too big for the mask! Elijah’s not the only one whose head is too big for its mask. Facebook is trick-or-treating with a new mask, hoping we won’t see or remember what’s under it.

Rebranding

Re-branding has a history. Not every company is as lucky as Apple. Who doesn’t like apples? Facebook’s new name — Meta — doesn’t change what’s under the mask any more than Xe Services changed Blackwater U.S.A two years after Blackwater “security” guards killed 17 un-armed Iraqi civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad in 2007. When Blackwater changed its name to Xe in 2009, Views from the Edge highlighted the danger of a privately-owned standing army for-hire on American soil. Click here for the article re-published by Minnpost.com.

From Blackwater to Academi

Changing a name doesn’t change a thing. In 2011, Xe Services was rebranded “Academi”– a training center for military and police special operations. In 2014, Academi merged with Triple Canopy, a rival security company owned by the Constellis Group. But it was and still is a “private security company” of well-trained Army Special Operations personnel, Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, MARSOC Critical Skills Operators, and other retired armed forces personnel, operating away from public scrutiny in the black waters of its 6,000-acre training ground in North Carolina.

From Facebook to Meta

The same is true of Facebook. Rebranded last week after a whistleblower exposed Facebook and the founder with an ego is too big to hide behind a mask, Facebook is still what it was before it re-presented itself as “Meta”. The rebranding doesn’t remove the spider or erase the algorithm spiderweb in which Facebook users are forever trapped. You can put a mask on a spider but it’s still a spider. In fact, it makes it worse. It “creates” a “metaverse” of “avatars,” and “afterparties” that bring users closer than we dared imagine. “Horrison” is the name of the new “Meta” platform.

Time will tell

If rebranding Blackwater as Academi and Facebook as Meta succeeds in fooling us, it will be because they know better than we how short the American memory is. The companies founded by Erik Prince and Mark Zuckerberg have placed their bets that the American public won’t remember what’s behind the masks. They believe we’re stupid. Only time will tell.



Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), November 2, 2020.

The Fanatical Situation

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Under the Fence: Everything Is Shaking

Everything is shaking. And it’s not because of the fence that now divides us. No matter how high the fence between Trump-ers and Never-Tump-ers, the earth shakes under the fence and on both sides of the fence. The ground itself is quivering, seizing, lurching, caving in on itself, like a sinkhole that stops traffic on a street we assumed to be secure. Everything is up-for-grabs.

Deeper and Wider than Politics

What haunts us across America is not primarily political. All politics rise from something deeper. Like oak trees and poison ivy, the shape and substance of what we see spring from depths we cannot see.

Photograph of Willem Zuurdeeg.

Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg, author of Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born of a Cry, and An Analytical Philosophy of Religion (APR), uses a phrase that may seem strange.

Until we pause to think about it.

Search for solid ground

”The establishment of one’s existence is the background against which imperialistic and fanatical claims have to be understood.”

Zuurdeeg, An Analytical philosophy of religion, p. 89

To ‘establish’ one’s existence is to ‘secure’ it, to keep it from blowing away. We become fanatical and aggressive because we are insecure. We grab for something solid. When we feel the ground shaking, anxiety grabs for something solid. Something that will stay still. Everything is soul-sized. Something in us gasps at the knowledge of human frailty, our mortality, the inevitability of death. The gasps turn into grasps for a secure foothold.

Fanatical Zeal from Hidden Anxieties and Insecurity

Professor Zuurdeeg proposes that we speak of “fanatical claims” rather than “fanatics.” Like most books published in 1958, An Analytical Philosophy of Religion‘s speaks in the gender specific male pronouns. We cite the following paragraphs from page 81:

We have to say: The 'fanatical claimer' sees his own group as more than just a group. It is a fanum. The word "fanatic" is derived from the Latin fanaticus, and this word is related to fanum, a temple, a sanctuary. Fanaticus meant: first, pertaining to a temple; second, inspired by a divinity, especially with the meaning of a frantic zeal for such a divinity. We can say that for the fanatical claimer his group is such a fanum, a sanctuary, a privileged domain which relieves him of his hidden anxieties and insecurity. 

The fanatical Nazi is "the victorious German nation" (his fanum); the Orthodox Dutch Calvinist of the war against Spain (1568-1648) is the Chosen Nation, and is his God of Old Testament wrath. The fanatical claimer cannot permit his basic presuppositions to be questioned because such questioning would imply a doubting not only of these convictions but of the whole structure (his own person, his fanum, his God) cemented together by the process of identification.

-- An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, p.81

It is through the lens crafted in Zuurdeeg’s workshop that I have come to see the world. In the days following the 2020 election, stunned by the “alternative fact” alleging that the election was rigged and stolen, watching the mob storm the Capitol January 6, and hearing the deadly silence of the President of the United States of America betraying his oath of office to enjoy the show, I saw the frantic zeal of a fanum.

The Focus

But there is more. Drawing from French existentialist philosopher-playwright Gabriel Marcel‘s Man Against Mass Society (1952), Zuurdeeg expanded his analysis:

“Marcel justly points out that there is still another element in the convictional situation of the fanatical claimer, the focus. Marcel suggests that such a focus is an individual; and that is sometimes the case, as with Hitler or Stalin.” (APR, p. 81-2)

Photo of Gabriel Marcel (c. 1951)

America 2021

Everything is up-for grabs. The ground is shaking under our feet. We look for someplace solid, a sure foothold against the chaos. I see the world — or try to — in these terms. But the wise professor and the playwright-philosopher urge us to go deeper than what can be seen and managed, for we are “complex and ambiguous being(s)” who only know ourselves partially. “We are therefore not allowed to speak of a non-fanatical person.” (APR, 84). Although I think I know what Zuurdeeg and Marcel would say if they could see us now, they caution me that only a “fanatical claimer” is without doubt.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief commentaries on faith and public life, Brooklyn Park, MN, October 20, 2021.

The Barbed-Wire Fence

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A Childhood Memory: Buddy and I

No fence divided the neighboring properties on Church Lane the day my family arrived in Broomall. The little girl next door and I quickly became playmates. We went back-and-forth with no thought of things like property lines. My yard was her yard; her yard was mine. Until the day the Singletons bought the property and she was gone.

Buddy Singleton was five years-old. So was I. Buddy and I soon became playmates. We played freely in each other’s yards. No one owns a tree. Buddy climbed our Red Maple, I climbed Buddy’s old Oak tree. Until the day the fence went up. Buddy could no longer get to me; I could not get to him. The gate locked Buddy in and kept me out.

Every day we talked through the chain link fence with the barbed wire at the top. “C’mon over,” said Buddy. The only way to “come over” was to climb the fence. So I did! Until my foot slipped near the top. The barbed wire punctured my left hand and left me hanging like a banana nor yet ripe for falling. My mother heard the screaming and lifted me from the fence. I still have the scar to prove it happened.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Then and Now

The fence that separates neighbors is higher now. Rarely do we we talk through the fence that separates us. We’ve learned to stay on our side of the fence. I no longer climb your Oak tree. You no longer climb my Red Maple. Neither of us invites the other to “c’mon over” and, if they do, we decline. Once you’ve hung from the barbed wire, you learn not to try it again. But the fence is not all barbed wire. It’s a chain-link fence. We can talk with each other through the fence without impaling ourselves, if we have the will to engage with the other. “The time for talking is past,” said an old friend. “I’m done! The time for thinking is over. You can’t talk to these people. It’s time for the barricades.”

The Barricades?

I know the feeling. But the time for talking is never over. The time for thinking is never over. However strongly I disagree with or despise the neighbor on the other side of the fence, however deeply I agree with Eugene Robinson’s question — “How dumb can a nation get and still survive?”(Washington Post, October 7, 2021) — as much as I want to back away from the fence to the club house in my Maple tree, something nags me to remember the commandment I prefer to ignore: to love my neighbor as myself. If I dare to look, I will find the enemy I despise inside myself.

Talking through the Chain-Links of the Barbed-Wire Fence

The time for contemplation and self-criticism is always now. It’s always time for thinking. It’s still the time for talking through the fence and trying to understand how and why people on opposite sides of the fence think, feel, and act as we do. Barbed-wire fences do not make good neighbors! “Something there is that doesn’t love a [fence].”

Brian Maclaren offers a way to talk through the openings if the chain-links fence.

People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Brian Mclaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)
(Self-published: 2019), e-book.

To be continued with a look at Brian McLaren’s 13 walls of bias that shape how and why we see ourselves, each other, and the world at the barbed-wire fence.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 18, 2021.

What I was and am not; what I am and wasn’t

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This reflection is dated, but it still speaks for me with one huge exception. The 2020 election was still to come. There had been no “Stop the Steal,” no refusal to concede, no attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power, no January 6 attempted coup d’etat, no widespread threats and assaults against local school board members, etc.

TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

Seeing more clearly takes time. It takes experience. It demands patience — with myself and with others — and it takes courage. Courage to let go of ideas we took for granted: who we are, what we aspired to become, our place in the cosmos.

Paul Tillich knew about courage and patience. The first professor to be dismissed from his teaching position during the rise of the Third Reich, Tillich came to see faith as “the courage to be” — and “to be” means being in motion, growing, changing, dying, leaving parts of ourselves behind. Neither courage alone nor patience alone is the courage to be.

Which leads me back to where we began. If you now see homophobia, anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and climate change-denial as offensive, what do you do in relation to a homophobic anti-Semitic white nationalist climate change-denier?

SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-CRITICISM

I have never been a white nationalist. Neither have you, I suspect. But, looking back, I see that my classmates and I drank from the well of white nationalism. Every school day began with our hands over our hearts, facing the flag.

Photo of school children reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Although we might have wondered why we were pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth, we didn’t give it much thought. We took it less as a statement of national aspiration than as a statement of national exceptionalism, a statement of fact.

But it wasn’t a fact. We learned that America was deeply divisible — between white western slave traders and the African men, women, and children they kidnapped, bought, and sold on the slave blocks; between the European settlers and the North American continent’s first people, cheated of their treaty rights, stripped of their land, religious practices, sovereignty, and civil rights; between professing Puritan Christians and the “witches” of Salem, burned at the stake as people “unfit for our society”; between the real Americans — the Christians — and the Christ-killers; between the straight majority and the LGBTQ minority who suffered alone in silence; between the landed aristocracy of the founding fathers and the laborers who bled picking cotton in the cotton fields in the south and worked without labor bargaining power and protections in the factories of the industrial north.

That was the “world” in which I lived, and that was the world that lived in me. As I continued through the years, I did my best to replace naïveté with consciousness, challenging the myth of American exceptionalism as a reformer, social critic, and activist.

I learned in time that unless I wanted to be a pompous ass, patience was required with others and with myself. “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation” is the Bible’s version of Plutonium-239’s half-life of 24,000 years. It describes the toxic waste passed down river from one generation to the next.

BALANCING COURAGE AND PATIENCE

Nuclear waste doesn’t disappear. Neither does the sin of exceptionalism in its racial, economic, gender, religious, and national manifestations. The toxic waste of exceptionalism — the conviction that one’s nation, race, culture, creed, gender, class . . . or species . . . is the exception to history and nature — is the unacknowledged original sin we manage to make original every day by exalting ourselves over others and over nature itself.

FEMA photograph of helicopter fighting California forest fire.
FEMA photograph of helicopter over California forest fire.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE REPUBLIC

As the climate change clock ticks toward midnight, patience seems less of a virtue than courage acting now. We who pledged allegiance to the flag “and to the Republic for which it stands” are losing patience with each other. We are ‘indivisible’ only if we decide we are. If we and those we elect place our flawed understandings of our personal interests above our responsibility to honor and maintain the Republic, our not-so original original sin may be our last.

It takes courage to confess one’s participation in the evils we deplore. And it takes patience with those who seem to have logs in their eyes. “If we say we have no sin,” declared the minister Sunday mornings in the church of my childhood, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The minister who invited us to own up to sins of omission and commission was the man I knew at home as Dad. I wonder what Dad would do if he could see us now.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 30, 2019.

Listening through the Stethoscope

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I’m not ready for this. I’m not wired for a world gone haywire. Like the psalmist, I am “old and gray” (Ps. 71:18), living in a frantic world that makes no sense, knowing that speaking what little I think I have come to know will not reach beyond what remains of a shrinking circle of influence. Even so, I continue to write in the vain hope it may make a difference.

Photo of doctor's stethoscope, laptop, and pair of eye glasses
Aerial view of doctor stethoscope and computer laptop

Listening through the stethoscope

Sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper/blank computer screen is the morning exercise to find my deeper self again. Writing is like a stethoscope to hear what’s inside my chest. Writing taps into the deeper stream of consciousness — sighs and groans too deep for words.

Some days begin and end with a blank page. Other mornings the groaning and sighing summon me to write. Not just for myself, but for others as well. That’s what public theologians do.

Reality and illusion

The Psalter is always close by. The psalms take me deeper. Only then can I go wider. The Psalms are poetry. They are not prescriptions. They are the naked, honest, unfiltered, uncensored expressions of what the psalmist feels and thinks in that moment. The psalmist is exposed. No secret is hidden. No pride left unmasked. Every Illusion of grandeur blown away by the wind.

The three year-old and the-man-in-the-radio

The poet of Psalm 71 is old and gray. So am I. Listening through the stethoscope, I hear unresolved sighing and groaning from early childhood.

I am three years-old, sitting around the dining room table with my grandparents and my mother. My mother and I are living with Grandpa and Grandma Stewart in Chestnut Hill, MA. My father is in the big war somewhere far, far away. Every night, Grandpa looks at his watch, stops eating, leaves the table, and walks over to the big brown radio. He pushes a button to let the man-in the-radio talk to us. “Shhhhh,” says Grandpa, as I continue talking. “We need to be real quiet so we can hear the news.” The man-in-the-radio begins to talk. He’s serious. He’s not fun, but no one is afraid of him. Everyone listens carefully.

Some nights the man-in-the-radio stops to let another man in the radio talk. The other man is not nice. He’s not kind. He’s mean. He’s angry. He’s scary. Even for Grandpa! I watch the faces of my mother, grandpa and grandma as they listen for news about the big war far, far away where my father is the Army Chaplain. My father is the only one on Saipan who doesn’t have a gun. He may not make it home or he might come home dead.

Photo of my father, the Chaplain, leading worship on Saipan.
Protestant Service on Saipan, end of WWII.

Honoring a promise

I am old and gray and hard of hearing, but I have a stethoscope. I still hear the groaning and sighing in my chest and I still hear the madman in the radio. I determined early in life that if Adolf Hitler won the war and came to Chestnut Hill, I would not be silent. I would not stay seated. I would stand up. I would speak up! I would tell what I know and not let go, for the sake of generations yet to come.

 And now that I am old and grey-headed, O God, do not forsake me,
     til I make known Your strength to this generation
     and Your power to all who are to come. (Ps. 71:18 BCP).

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 3, 2021.

Elijah asks Grandpa about facts

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This “conversation” between Grandpa (Bumpa) and Elijah took place during the Senate’s first impeachment trial. It’s been buried in the draft file. Elijah was two-and-a-half at the time. But some things are still true when Elijah is four.

Elijah and Bumpa (Grandpa) in Elijah’s room

Elijah: I don’t get it, Bumpa! I have questions.

Grandpa: What questions, Elijah? Shoot!

I don’t want to! We don’t like guns at daycare!

I’m sorry, Elijah. I don’t mean shoot. I meant it as a “figure of speech”.

Yeah! We like figures. One, two, free, four, . . . l, m, n, o, p. . .

I’m so proud of you!, Elijah! You know your numbers and your ABCs! But “a figure of speech” is different, it’s an idiom.

Like what?

Like . . . you might say that somebody “lies like a rug.” So what are your question?

We hate lying, We like facts, right Bumpa?

Yes. We do, Elijah.

So we don’t like the Publicans. They lie like rugs, right?

Publicans?

Yeah, Publicans, like the ones on TV who hate facts and get all angry on TV.

I see.

We’re not Publicans! We like Jesus, right?

Well, yes, sort of. You’ll come to your own faith as you grow older. The Publicans collected taxes for the Romans. It would be like Americans working for a foreign government.

Okay. But we’re not publicans. We don’t like craters and creezin, right?

Creezin? Are you sure you have the right words?

Geez, Bumpa! Don’t ya know? C r e e z i n ! Like you and Grandma have for breakfast every morning.

Ah, now I get it. We eat Raisin Bran. R a i s i n B r a n. You mean treason! T r e a s o n.

Yeah! Are they going to de-peach you? Did you commit creezin? Are you and Gamma craters who should be de-peached? Publicancraters?

Those are big words you’ll learn about in school. No, we can’t be impeached, and we’re not Publicans. We try to stick with the facts, not lie like a rug. Any other questions?

Yeah. Ucranes. We have Ucranes at the cabin. Do Ucranes whistle?

  • Grandpa and Elijah, Dec. 4, 2019.

American Perception

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Introduction

A recent Minnesota Poll sent me back to the “draft” file to retrieve John M. Miller’s one-page commentary reflecting on results of a Pew Research Center poll asking where people get their news in 2021. John is an old friend and colleague influenced by Dutch philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg, Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. John is a voracious reader who reads widely, but his writing makes clear that he listened more carefully than most to his old professor.

Reading too much — thinking too little

Each student is in danger of reading too much and thinking too little. If one section of this book should commend itself especially to the reader, he (sic) should not begin with reading more about this topic, but first of all reconsider his own thinking on the subject. A bibliography tempts the student to extend his reading and to postpone his own philosophizing.

— Willem Zuurdeeg, author of An Analytical Philosophy of Religion and Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born of a Cry.


Some Highly Distressing Statistics re: “The News”

by John M. Miller

The Pew Research Center recently published the sources from which Americans prefer to receive the news. From the highest percentage to the lowest, here are the results:             

Television – 35%
News websites or apps – 26%;
Search engines – 12%;
Social media – 11%;
Radio – 7%;
Print publications – 5%;
Podcasts – 3%;
No news source – 1%.

This means that 87% of the respondents to the poll prefer to get their news on a screen, either a computerized screen or a TV screen. To me that is simply astonishing. For generations print publications were virtually the only source of news. Then radio, and then television, came along. But this poll says it is the Internet that is now the dominant source for news (news websites and apps, search engines, social media, and podcasts.)

Short and Simple

It also is painfully disheartening to me that only 5% of Americans prefer to read news in vetted written form: newspapers or news magazines. They are the only media that truly give thorough coverage of any news stories, yet 95% of the American public prefer brief, less detailed information about what is happening in the world. They want it kept simple.  

Liminal and Subliminal Biases: Talking without pause

Almost all news that is available on television or the Internet has a recognizable bias: Republican/Democrat; conservative/liberal; local/state; national/international. etc. That is true in many news publications as well, but the bias there is “liminal” as opposed to subliminal. The “hot medium” of a screen does more of a number on us than print does, because we can read at our own pace and reflect on what we are reading to whatever depth we choose. However, the faces on the screen just keep talking without pause. 

Little Time to Ponder

If we are watching news on a screen, subconsciously we are swept along at whatever pace the news is being reported, and either it does or does not fully register with us. In other words, we may or may not completely absorb what is said, but we have very little time to ponder it if we intend to hear and see what is next reported.

Deliberate Ignorance

One percentage number in this poll is a total sham. That is the one per cent of everyone who responded by saying they avail themselves of no news sources at all. Were that an accurate number, it would be highly encouraging, but surely it is untrue. Far more than 1% of Americans are deliberately ignorant of “the news.” Therefore the rest of the numbers are somewhat skewed. But the lowest poll number is highly suspect.

News Sources and American Perception

What happens when these news sources genuinely reflect the American perception of the news? Donald Trump: that’s what. It is not surprising that Trump won in 2016. On the other hand, it is therefore amazing that Joe Biden won in 2020. Maybe Americans have learned that it is imperative to pay more attention to real news. If so, what a wondrous advancement that is!  

        – March 16, 2021

John M. Miller, the OLD Philosopher, is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org. Republished by Views from the Edge, Saturday, October 2, 2021.



Gordon

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief reflections on faith and life, available from the publisher HERE and from Amazon HERE; Chaska, MN,


Morning Walk by the Shrinking Wetland Pond

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THE WETLAND POND

The wetland pond is shrinking.
Dark-chocolate cattails and 
summer-green milkweed pods 
burst into the white cotton 
balls they always do when
autumn comes, a cotton 
field of wisps and puffs that 
match the color of my hair.

The sumacs are changing into
the red dress they always wear
this time of year, a royal
crimson robe, glistening in 
the morning sun before
frost and snow turn their 
fleeting autumn puffs from 
regal red to winter white. 
 
I see no yellow on the wetland
pond beside this dirt road that 
has no name or dot on anyone’s 
map. The yellow lilies on the 
lily-pads have gone to sleep
to greet the Spring again if
the pond is still here. 

--GCS, September morning walk
September 27, 2021.
O LORD, what are we that You should care for us?
     mere mortals that You should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind;
     our days are like a passing shadow.
Do not cast me off in my old age.
     (Psalm 144:3,4; 71:9 BCP)

.

America at the Precipice

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Two American Founders

The Founders Archives of the National Archives preserves a letter to Ben Franklin eighteen months before the Declaration of Independence was issued. Ben Franklin became a household name. Charles Thomson did not, and that’s a shame. Thomson was the Secretary of the First and Second Continental Congress, a quiet leader on the road from colonial rule to an independent democratic republic. The official Declaration of Independence had only two signatures, the President and the Secretary of First Continental Congress: John Witherspoon and Charles Thomson.

Charles Thomson Letter to Benjamin Franklin

“When I look back,” wrote Charles Thomson, “and consider the warm affection which the colonists had for Great Britain till the present reign, the untainted loyalty unshaken fidelity and cheerful confidence that universally prevailed till that time, and then view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, ‘Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,’ who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?”
Thomson Letter to Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774

Charles Thomson and Cato, A Tragedy


The poet whose words Thomson cited were from James Addison, the anti-royalist English poet-playwright, whose play,“Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read and often quoted by the Founders of the new nation. Whether intentionally or inadvertently — memory will do that to memory—Thomson changed the “Cato” text from singular to plural to suit the circumstances that enraged him. “Blast the Man” (the king) and “Blast those Men” (i.e. Parliament) who had violated the rights and freedoms of the American colonies’ rights and freedoms under British law.

Dragging their Country into Ruin

The circumstances of November 1, 1774, and January 6 and September 18,2021 are different, but Charles Thomson’s outburst is as fresh as the day he wrote to Franklin. The longing for a king exceeds the bounds of time. The anxiety that hangs over us makes our heads swim; we long for solid ground, something solid that does not change. So it is that a political party and a portion of the American public have come to mistake treason with patriotism, a bully with a savior, a quack with a swan, and have followed the strong man’s quackery into the halls and offices of the Congress that makes America a democratic republic. When we confuse patriotism with terrorism, Charles Thomson’s letter from the Founders Archives is more than archival.

Teetering on the Edge of the Precipice

When a hollow man and hollow party hollow out the core of what we have thought we valued, the question from Cato’s tragedy rumbles like thunder from the heavens. Charles Thomson’s renderings from Cato fit the eve of a threatened sequel to January 6, when the democratic republic once again “teeters on the very edge of the precipice.”

Toward Healing the Wounds

Will we in 2021 share the hope and prayer with which Charles Thomson ended his letter of November 1, 1774: “Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice. I am sir your affectionate Friend and humble Servant.– Chas Thomson”

--Gordon C. Stewart, Public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), September 17, 2021.

The Killer Cop and a Love Supreme

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A psalmic reflection on Derek Chauvin in light of Psalm 32 and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!
Blessed/happy is the one to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,and in whose spirit there is no deceit!

He is guilty. It was his knee that pressed George Floyd’s neck against the pavement. I saw it with my own eyes. I watch his eyes during the trial. I see no hint of remorse. No sense of guilt. He sheds no tears. His mouth stays shut. He does not speak.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
    Your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Is he silent now in solitary confinement? Does he have conversations with himself? Does he scream at the jury for failing to vindicate him? Does he talk with God? Is he restless all day and all night? Does he feel a heavy hand pressing down on him the way his knee had pressed down on George Floyd’s neck? Is he wasting away, groaning all day long?

You are my hiding place;
You preserve me from trouble;
    You surround me with shouts of deliverance.

He is not preserved from trouble in maximum security. The shouts of other inmates on the solitary confinement cell block are taunts, not shouts of deliverance: “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe, Mr. Officer! Get your White knee off my Black neck!” There is no hiding in this place where only perps, not cops, do time. There is no solitude. There are no shouts of deliverance.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;
    I will guide you with My eye.

Does he sense a presence waiting to instruct and guide him into a way beyond the White/Black—Innocent/Guilty—Cop/Perp—Top/Bottom—Up/Down-World his eyes are trained to see? Does he sense the presence of a different Eye, a greater I than he?

“Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding;
     Whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
     else it will not stay near you."

John Coltrane: Deliverance by a Love Supreme

Will he bow his head to be fit with the long-suffering patience that reins in deluded mules and bucking broncos? Will the solitary cop in orange shift from wailing in the minor key of down-and-out-over-and-done to the glad shouts of deliverance by an I greater than he? Does he hear the the chant — “a love supreme…a love supreme…a love supreme” — of a bridled Coltrane resounding off the walls in this not-so-God-forsaken place?

In this place where cops are perps and perps are cops with heads bowed by the law, will the killer cop bow the knee that killed George Floyd? Will he bow his head to be fit with the bit and bridle of a Love Supreme that delivers the soul from every illusion of supremacy?

A Love Supreme

Click HERE and scroll forward to 6:00 minute to hear Coltrane’s unexpected chant, a love supreme, a love supreme.

— Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), a reflection on Psalm 32 (GCS Unauthorized Version), and the solitary confinement of Derek Chauvin, August 9, 2021.

I wish I were a lily pad

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Early morning reflection from the dirt road by the wetland pond

Walking the off the map dirt road where nothing much happens, it’s quiet. The only sounds are bird songs; the only things that lie here are the lily pads lying on the shrinking wetland pond bordered by the cattails and wild flowers between the pond and the unpaved road. Nothing toils or spins. Nothing is anxious here. Not this morning.

Lily pads on a wetland pond

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet, I tell [all of] you [human beings], even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:28b-29.)

There are no Solomons here. No kings. No countries. No states. Nothing seduced by the will-to-power. No illusions of sovereignty. No delusions of grandeur or control. No toiling and spinning like the mind observing it all from the dirt road. Everything is what it is: Yellow Goat’s-Beard, Yarrow, and Golden Clubs; Sweetflag, White Sweet Clover, and Butterfly-Weed; Bugle-Weed, Cuckoo-Flowers that aren’t cuckoo, and Bullhead-Lilies that don’t bully; pink Storkbills, Wild Sorels, Common Milkweeds, and blue-violet Pickerelweed.

Water lily –Photo by Hiu1ebfu Hou00e0ng on Pexels.com

Only the hunting-blind on the distant hill gives evidence of other spinning heads that toil for the mastery we cannot have. The hunting-blind on stilts high about the pasture waits for trigger fingers. Soon buckshots from the tower will fire babel that breaks the silence of this place. The flowers of the field — the Butterfly-Weed, the Bugle-Weed, and the Cuckoo-Flowers, the Lilies, and the lily pads — are not anxious. They are what they are. What is is what is. What will be will be. They neither toil nor spin.

— Gordon C. Stewart, from the wetland, August 3, 2021

A Radiating Presence Everywhere

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We Saw No Tears – gods are strong and cold

We saw no tears during the daily coronavirus updates. Narcissus could not lift his head from his image in the pond. The inner well of empathy was empty. Eternal and solitary, he was imperial and impervious to suffering. Gods don’t cry. Narcissus is strong and cold. He bows to no one but himself. To him every knee must bow. He does not know the truth: Illusion always dies.

A Daffodil Blooms Where Illusion Died

Photo of daffodil

The Resurrection of Empathy

On the spot where vanity dies of thirst, beauty raises its head again. A daffodil breaks through the tamped-down place where Narcissus bowed to himself, and lifts its head to the sky as a silent Ode to Joy.

Compassion floods the Reflecting Pool and radiates from candles on the White House steps in honor of the dead. The wordy self is hushed. Heads are bowed in solemn silence in recognition of what is greater than ourselves. Tears flow. The well of empathy is full again.

Hanging by a Thread — The Pressure of Being and Holiness

One moment I was alone in the room, myself the centre of my own little self-constructed world, the next it was as though I had been flung an infinite distance to some edge or margin, to make room for the enormous  presence and pressure of sheer Being and Holiness that filled the room. I felt the ground go from beneath my feet and suddenly realized that I was utterly dependant, that I was hanging by a thread. But I was content to hang by a thread if only to know that there was, at the heart of things, and radiating everywhere, this Holy Presence.

Malcolm GuiteInterview series with Malcolm Guite — Part I, May 2012.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief reflections on faith and life, available from the publisher HERE and from Amazon HERE; Chaska, MN, March 5, 2021.

Insurrection and Faith (Part 4)

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A State of Mind: Patriots and Traitors

The maximum capacity crowd at the First Tuesday Dialogue did not have a crystal ball. It was February 1, 2013, eight years before the insurrection that would come eight years later. QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, Wolverine Watchmen, Oath Keepers, and other White nationalist militias that traveled to Washington, D.C. to “Stop the Steal!” were unknown, but the mindset was already there.

Some Mindsets Never Really Die

Some states of mind are like toxic waste. They have long shelf lives. Before two people in the crowd took the floor to read aloud from the John Birch Society Blue Book and newsletter, it had been years since I last thought of the John Birch Society (JBS). What we thought had ended with the public shaming of Sen. Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism had not died. Like a baton that changes hand in a mile relay race, the mindset of McCarthyism was passed into the hand of the John Birch Society.

Like McCarthy’s search for traitors hiding in government and the entertainment industry the Birch Society’s conspiratorial mindset was ludicrous. The JBS had alleged that President Dwight Eisenhower (“Ike”) was not to like. Ike, his brother, Milton, and Allen Dulles, director of the CIA were closet Communists or Communist sympathizers.

When the John Birch Society Blue Book and newsletter were quoted on February 1, 2013, those who knew their history recognized the old voice we thought had died in the mid-1960s.

The Jack Ash Society lyrics (Mary Brooks)

A bunch of jack ashes at large in this land
 Have suffered a terrible fright
 They looked under their beds and discovered such reds
 As Allen and Milton and Dwight
 

 If more you would know of this Jack-Ash credo
 See the blue book, the black book, the white
 If you do you will find we're all Reds of some kind,
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 Joe McCarthy is dead, so Jack Ash instead
 Leads the anti-Communist fight;
 U. S. Reds he has found swarming all around.
 (179 million so far)
 Including Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 If you believe in more hospitals, housing, and schools,
 New highways and civil rights,
 The Ashites will add you to the un-American list,
 Along with Allen and Milton and Dwight
 

 Social security's a Bolshevik plot
 Cooked up by some shrewd Muscovite.
 So go naked you must or be security risk
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 Beware of good pay and the minimum wage,
 It's part of the Socialist blight;
 Created by conspirators bold,
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.

Pete Seeger and the “Jack Ash Society”

Pete Seeger performing The Jack Ash Society

The Berkeley Pit

Photo by William Rosmus uploaded from Wikipedia. Shot of telephone poles used to show scale of the flooded Berkeley Open Pit mine site, with respect to the photo ‘Composite fish eye view of the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana’ (Butte_MT_Berkeley_Pit_April_2005_Composite_Fisheye_View.jpg). The poles are just slightly right of centre in the larger composite fish eye picture of this flooded open pit mine.

Long Shelf Lives

An uninformed passer-by may assume the Berkeley Pit is a swimming hole, a place to swim and fish. It’s not. Nothing lives there. The Berkeley Pit is a pool of deadly toxins left behind by the Atlantic Richfield Company which bought the site from Anaconda Copper. Anaconda Copper left long ago, but the Berkeley Pit is still there. The Pit is not managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation. It’s an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, one of the largest, if not the largest in the land of the free.

The Call for Patriots

By 2013 the John Birch Society’s had made a quiet comeback in American political-cultural. It had not perished. The toxins from its Superfund clean-up site had seeped into the stream of American consciousness. It has never been cleaned up.

Now, more than ever, your patriotic leadership is needed. Is this the America our Founders envisioned? Their principles, and the Constitution itself, are under attack by forces that include socialists, Marxists, globalists, and the Deep State. We’ve created some great resources for you to educate Americans and stand for freedom. May we count on your help? We, as Americans, cherish our God-given liberties. We stand for a free and independent nation that fully abides by the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ values. The John Birch Society provides a national program designed to counter the Deep State/Big Government agenda and to restore our rights.

John Birch Society website

The Birther Movement and “Stop the Steal!” Call for Patriots

2010 billboard displayed in South Gate, California, questioning the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and by extension his eligibility to serve as President of the U.S. The billboard was part of an advertising campaign by WorldNetDaily.

The “Birther” and “Stop the Steal!” movements repeat the Birch Society call for real patriots to fight against “socialists, Marxists, globalists, and the Deep State.”

During Barack Obama’s campaign for president in 2008, throughout his presidency, and afterwards, “there was extensive news coverage of Obama’s religious preference, birthplace, and of the individuals questioning his religious belief and citizenship—efforts eventually known as the ‘birther movement‘”, by which name it is widely referred to across media. The movement falsely asserted Obama was ineligible to be President of the United States because he was not a natural-born citizen of the U.S. as required by Article Two of the Constitution. Birther conspiracy theories were predominantly held by conservatives and Republicans, as well as individuals with anti-black attitudes.

“Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories,” Wikipedia

The Pit of American Toxic Waste

Donald Trump tapped into that toxic stream in which right is wrong and wrong is right, truth is wrong and falsehood is right, information is wrong and disinformation is right, reality is wrong and fantasy is right, science is wrong and ignorance is right, confession is wrong and denial is right, Howdy Doody is wrong and Mr. Bluster is right.

But some things stay the same. White is still right and Black is still wrong. Barack Obama had no birth certificate. He had been elected, but his presidency was illegitimate. So was the election of 2020. Donald Trump is legitimate. Real patriots know they wish to believe. Real patriots stand back and stand by until the time is right to fight.

The toxins in American culture reach far back into our history, and the Pit is deep. The prevailing myths of White supremacy and national exceptionalism were here from the start. The Founding Fathers’ and Mothers’ values are both healthy and toxic.

Cleaning Up the Superfund Site

Only we can clean up the mess. The toxins in the Berkeley Pit still poison the American mind and turn hearts to stone. American culture and politics will be clean when we embrace our history as the continuing struggle between truth and falsehood, reality and fantasy, and all the hard truths we prefer not to see.

Bob Dylan, like Mary Brooks and Pete Seeger, may have thought the Birch Society was terminal. Or perhaps Bob, like Mary and Pete, knew that some toxins continue to make us blue.

John Birch Paranoid Blues — Bob Dylan

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) — 49 two-four page social commentaries on faith and life — Chaska, MN, Feb. 24, 2021.

Ashes, ashes . . . we all fall down

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Ring-a-round the Rosie

No one really knows the origins of “Ring-a-round the Rosie.” Some say the nursery rhyme sprang from the Black Plague, the epidemic that took children as well as adults, kings as well as paupers. Others say it has different origins, but I don’t care. This is my blog, and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to! “We all fall down.”

It’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in a QAnon world when reality doesn’t mean much anymore. Truth is a fiction. Choose your fantasy. It doesn’t matter anymore. We may fall down, but, like corks thrown into the sea, we bob up again. Or so some think. We never really fall down. Yet something in us knows that how Narcissus dies bowing to his own reflection, and that the flower only blooms when he and his loyal Echo return to dust.

What stories shall we tell ourselves in a time when the pond we thought was ours is drying up, when there is no up or down on a spinning Big Blue Ball floating in space that feels upside-down and falling back to dust and ashes? 

The Parable of the Madman

When the madman in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science parable steps into the marketplace with his lantern lit on a bright morning seeking God, and later announces, “God is dead! God is dead. And we have killed him, you and I,” those who view God as a phantasm laugh in derision. You can’t kill what never was. The believers don’t laugh. They throw him out when he enters the church to sing his requiem for God, leaving him to ask, “What are these churches but the sepulchres of God?”

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” asks the madman. “What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” — The Gay Science, Book 2 (1882)

What stories do we tell ourselves?

Ash Wednesday brings every fantasy to a halt. There is no higher history than all history before us. There is life and there is death. Both are real. Where do we find a footing? What stories do we tell ourselves? What does a disciple of Jesus do when the Jesus hanging on a cross crying out that the horror of god-forsakenness has been re-shaped into a positive thinker, a White supremacist, a Christian nationalist? What to do in a reality denying QAnon world in the aftermath of January 6, 2021?

Where your treasure is

“Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).

The imposition of ashes

Ring-a-round the Rosie seems different this Ash Wednesday, but it’s not. It’s always the same. Going forward for the imposition of ashes I acknowledge the reality I flounder to avoid. “Dust to dust; ashes to ashes.” The ashes that smudge my forehead always have to be imposed. We all fall down.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 short commentaries on faith and life; Chaska, Minnesota, February 17, 2021.

Insurrection and Faith (Part 3)

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“World history would be different if humanity did more sitting on its rear.” — Bertolt Brecht, Drums in the Night (1922).

Dialogues Series cancelled

The Epidemic of Gun Violence in America three-part series ended where it began. The first event was also the last.

“examining critical public issues locally and globally”

In addition to concerns outlined in “Insurrection and Faith (Part 2), the featured presenters of different positions on the Second Amendment and gun control withdrew. Each refused to appear on the same stage as the other. Each regarded the other as a fanatic.

The Shepherd of the Hill Church board came to a rueful decision to cancel the Dialogues series. A public letter accompanied the press release. NOTE: “The church with the rocking chair” refers to the large Amish rocker created for Shepherd of the Hill’s front lawn after the Amish School massacre at Nickel Mines, PA.

Public Letter from the Board of Shepherd of the Hill Church
 February 8, 2013

"This the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts….” – Zechariah 4:6 (NRSV)
 
In this spirit we at Shepherd of the Hill – the church with the rocking chair – have chosen to cancel the First Tuesday Dialogues previously announced for Feb. 19 and March 5 on Gun Violence in America.
 
The First Tuesday Dialogues serve a single purpose: examination of critical public issues locally and globally with respectful listening and speaking in the search for common ground and the common good. The program expresses our own Christian tradition (Presbyterian) whose Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) call us to honor individual conscience and direct us toward kindness and mutual patience.
 
The First Principle -“God alone is Lord of the conscience…“- upholds “the still, small voice” in the midst of social earthquakes, winds and fires. It requires us to listen. Ours is a tradition that honors dissent. The voice of one may be where the truth lies. The Dialogues are meant to give space for that voice on critical public issues.
 
The Fifth Principle declares that “There are forms and truths with respect to which people of good character and conscience may differ, and, in all these matters, it is the duty of individuals and of societies to exercise mutual forbearance.”  It is our tradition’s answer to Rodney King’s haunting question: Can’t we all just get along?
 
These historical principles are not only our historical tradition. They represent a daily interpretation of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors in the present moment. One can only love God, whom no man or woman has seen, wrote the Apostle Paul, if we love the neighbor we do see.  How we treat the neighbor is how we treat God.
 
The success of Shepherd of the Hill’s community programs depends upon a wider acceptance of these principles of respectful listening and exchange among individuals in dialogue. They also assume a group small enough to engage each other more personally and thoughtfully.
 
If numbers were the only measure of success, last Tuesday’s Dialogues event on gun violence … was a huge success. 138 people attended. The Chapel was filled. I thought perhaps it was Easter!  But it wasn’t Easter. There was tension in the room. The established habit of the Dialogues program – one person speaks at a time without interruption or rebuttal, no clapping, and respectful listening – gave way to a sense of one team versus another. When a woman dared to stand to ask how many people in the room had lost a loved one to gun violence and proceeded to tell her story of personal tragedy, she was not met with compassion. She was met with shouts that her story was irrelevant. … She deserved better.
 
We all deserve better than to be shouted down, no matter what our experiences or views are. One first-time visitor who had come to oppose gun control shared his puzzlement over the treatment of the woman. “How could anyone not have compassion for her pain?” he asked. “Everyone should be moved to compassion by her story of personal tragedy, no matter what we think about the Second Amendment.”
 
America always jeopardizes its promise as a place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when might and power rule. To the extent that we fear that we are unsafe, it will be because we have chosen to ignore the wise word to Zerubbabel to live not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit reflected in the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Gathering Storm: eight years later

Marjorie Taylor Greene brings QAnon to Congress and threatens the life of her colleagues. A mob storms the the U.S. Capitol, injuring and killing Capitol Police; Representatives and Senators are whisked away to a secure place. The Speaker of the House and the Vice President are moments and a few yards away from being assassinated.

The POTUS who had ridden the wave of the Birther Movement to the White House in 2016; had legitimized armed White supremacists in Charlottesville and tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” while armed White militia occupied of the Michigan State Capitol and threatened to execute the Governor; had stayed silent following the murder of George Floyd and cleared Lafayette Park of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest for a photo op with a Bible before declaring himself the law-and-order president; had stayed silent following the school massacre at Parkland; had declared the new coronavirus a hoax; and had told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” for a stolen election, and lit the match that nearly destroyed the foundations of the American Republic. The POTUS is impeached a second time, acquitted by a Senate vote of 57 guilty to 43 innocent, nine short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction.

Our language going forward

Braver Angels

L.K. Hanson’s cartoon brings this historic moment into focus. How do we reduce the temperature of our language? Can we talk? If so, when, where, and how? Braver Angels offers an opportunity to soften the rhetoric and find the lost common ground we thought we shared. Click the link to learn about Braver Angels and consider joining them.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, Minnesota, February 16, 2021.

Insurrection and Faith (Part 2)

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Flashback and Portent — The Epidemic of Gun Violence

Flashing back to February 1, 2013 feels like a flash forward to America in 2021. An evening in a small church in Chaska, Minnesota on gun violence gave hints of what was coming in eight years later. It was a glimpse into the apocalyptic mind and heart that led to the insurrection of January 6.

February 1, 2013 Opening of First Tuesday Dialogues’ series on gun violence

The parking lot was full. Until that night, First Tuesday Dialogues’ attendance had ranged between 35-75 people. Attendance that night was 138.

The threat of disruption and violence did not materialize. Everyone entered respectfully. But there was a storm cloud hovering over the room. I wondered when the thunder and lightning would come.

I welcomed the crowd, laid out Dialogues’ simple practices and ground rules — respectful listening and speaking with no interruption, no cheering, no booing, no clapping.

The evening began with a half-hour exchange between the city’s Chief of Police and the Carver County Sheriff expressing different views on the increase of massacres like the one at Sandy Hill in Newtown.

The tone was set for a respectful conversation.

The Invisible Guest named John

A Q&A with the chief and sheriff was allotted 20 minutes. A woman in the last row was the first to raise a hand. She was handed the microphone and began by expressing anger that we were having such a discussion. The Second Amendment was the Second Amendment. No government was going to take away her guns. She then began reading from a John Birch Society manuscript. Lots of people clapped and shouted their approval.

A woman a across the aisle was in tears. I gave her the microphone. She stood to ask a question. “Has anyone here lost a loved one to gun violence?”

Four or five hands went up, but before she could tell her story, the first speaker shouted at her, “That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment!” Shouts again rang out. I reminded everyone of the Dialogues’ expectations. If you are holding the microphone, the floor is yours. When you are not holding the microphone, you listen. No rebuttals. No clapping. No shouting. No us versus them.

The woman who’d been crying answered her own question. “I have,” she said, and told the wrenching story story from her childhood. Her story was chilling. The wounds were still fresh. The room was quiet.

The Coming Apocalypse

Two voices later voices foreshadowed America eight years later. The first spoke with passion. Obama and the feds were coming to take his guns. The government is going down. The economy will collapse. The dollar won’t have any value. Grocery store shelves would be empty. Those who are not prepared would have no food to feed their families. We need to get ready for the chaos that’s coming.

The man who next held the microphone agreed. The economy is built on sand. It will collapse. It will be “every man for himself.” If you don’t have a secure bunker full of food to last you a year, you’re in trouble. If you don’t have a secure bunker, build one. Now! When your neighbor comes asking for food, too bad. Have your guns ready.

Like the person who had turned the Q&A into a time for monologues, this speaker had a manuscript from which he quoted. His apocalyptic tone and message felt like the street corner preacher’s citing The Revelation to Saint John, the last book of the Christian Bible, shouting about the end of the world, but this apocalypse was different. Real god-fearing patriots don’t rant on street corners. They don’t preach, and they don’t kneel. They rise up to expose and overthrow the communists, socialists and other collectivists who control of the world. Real patriots stand and fight He was reading from the John Birch Society manual.

The evening ended peacefully. There was no physical violence. Gun rights advocates were thankful and looking forward to the next event. Others participants expressed fear of violence or discomfort with the rudeness. They would not be back for the next event in the series.

A Dilemma

If Dialogue’s programs success were measured by attendance, the first evening had exceeded expectations. If drawing people of opposing views were the measure, the evening had been a success. Although there had been raw moments that tested the Dialogues norms, the expressions of opinion had been honest. Nothing was left on the table or kept under the table.

During the days that followed, we learned that an estimated 180 people had chosen to attend a public hearing on gun control at the state Capitol. There would be hearing to keep them away from the Feb. 19 program focusing on the Second Amendment. Those who had been at the Capitol were reported to be less respectful and more extreme. We should expect the crowd to double on the 19th.

Stay tuned for “Insurrection and Faith (Part 3).

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 short (2-4 pages) social commentaries on public life. Chaska, Minnesota, February 13, 2021

Hitler’s former maid breaks her silence

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92 year-old Elisabeth Kalhammer tells her story of serving as Hitler’s maid. The interview includes rare film footage of her boss at his mountain retreat after he knew he’d been defeated.

Historic moments begin with nonchalance

Every U.S. Senator is now a juror in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, and we, the people, are witnesses again, as we were watching the events of January 6.

The mark of the historic is the nonchalance with which it picks up an individual and deposits him in a trend, like a house playfully moved by a tornado.

Mary McCarthy, “My Confession,” On the Contrary (1961)
“The Berghof” on the Obersalzberg, the house of Adolf Hitler. In the foreground, the gate house.

We have need of history in its entirety, not to fall back into it, but to see if we can escape from it.

– Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

I know an Old Party that swallowed a lie … I guess she’ll die.

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“All parties die at last of swallowing their own lies” — John Arbuthnot

Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667-1735) became a household name in Great Britain for writing The History of John Bull. John Bull soon became the British equivalent of America’s Uncle Sam.

Although John Arbuthnot was the ground-breaking mathematician said to have inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Alexander Pope’s Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry, John Arbuthnot was a biographer’s nightmare.

“Dr. Arbuthnot,” as he was known with great affection, left behind little information for a biographer who might praise him. So deep was his humility that, according to Alexander Pope, Arbuthnot allowed his children to play with and burn his manuscripts. He didn’t toot his own horn.

Dr. Arbuthnot may seem irrelevant in 2021. He knew nothing of The Apprentice, the Birther Movement, the Grand Old Party (GOP), or Donald J. Trump. Nothing of COVID-19, fake news, stolen elections, the Deep State, Q, or QAnon. He couldn’t imagine watching from Cambridge the live coverage of a mob insurrection in Washington, D.C. He knew nothing of the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Boys, Wolverine Watchmen, Roger Stone, Marjorie Taylor Greene, or the GOP’s duplicitous response to Rep. Greene’s endorsements of domestic terrorism to save America from Satan and from Jews sending laser beams down from outer space to light the fires in California.

The creator of John Bull didn’t need to know our particulars to understand what is happening to Uncle Sam’s country in 2021.

Like the cartoonist of the garish satirical cartoon of “John Bull” with the head of Napoleon held high on a pitch fork, he didn’t need to sit in on the second impeachment trial to read the fear on the faces of GOP senators. He knew that every political party dies swallowing its own lies.

Two days before U.S. Senators become jurors, one can only hope! “Come, John Arbuthnot, Come!” “Come, Lord Jesus!, Come!” “Come, Sojourner Truth, Come!”

John Arbuthnot’s choice of a text from which to speak during a time of deep division reveals what he considered most important in life. The Elizabethan language is no longer ours, and its spirit is at risk, but its truth and wisdom abide. So does courage, if only the Senate Jurors and we, the people, seek it.

Better is he that laboureth, and aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself, and wanteth bread. My son, glorify thy soul in meekness, and give it honour according to the dignity thereof. Who will justify him that sinneth against his own soul? and who will honour him that dishonoureth his own life? The poor man is honoured for his skill, and the rich man is honoured for his riches. He that is honoured in poverty, how much more in riches? and he that is dishonourable in riches, how much more in poverty?” –Ecclesiasticus 10:27-31.

A sermon preach’d to the people at the Mercat Cross of Edinborough on the subject of the union. Ecclesiastes, Chapter 10, verse 27 (King James Version)

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 7, 2021

Insurgency and Faith (Part 1)

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THE BACK STORY 

After the Newtown school massacre, the church in Chaska hosted a carefully prepared program of respectful conversations on The Episode of Gun Violence. The first of three consecutive Tuesday evenings would begin with the local police chief and sheriff who represented pro- and anti-gun control positions.

The three of us met over morning coffee to go over last-minute details of that first event, but the conversation took a different turn. The chief and sheriff recommended we cancel the program because of real threats of organized disruption and, perhaps, violence. The good news was they were coming. The bad news was they were coming with guns. The church decided to proceed, and declined the chief’s offer of uniformed officers to ensure peace and security. Later that day, I did as I was taught. I held a meeting with myself to clear my head and prepare for what might come. The letter from myself to myself is still on file. The rubrics have been added.

LETTER TO MYSELF (THE MODERATOR)

How do we have this conversation? Can we talk? Can we all get along?

Every word, every phrase, is a powder keg. All speech is suspect. We listen not with open ears to hear a different point of view. We approach each other with suspicion, reacting defensively or aggressively to any hint that the conversation might be prejudiced against one’s own point of view. Even a title is a land mine.

Guns and I

I love the U.S. Constitution. I also don’t like guns. My only experiences with guns have been negative. The assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln in the Booth Theater and JFK in Dallas; Martin Luther King, Jr. supporting the striking sanitation workers in Memphis; presidential candidate Senator Robert Kennedy. A gun has only one purpose: to shoot something or someone. It has no other use. Violence is often committed with one’s own fist. But capacity to hurt or destroy does not define a hand. A foot may kick, but that’s not why we have feet. A baseball bat picked up in a moment of rage is a lethal weapon, but it is not by definition a weapon; its purpose is to hit a baseball within the rules of baseball. A car can become a lethal weapon in the hands of a car bomber, but its purpose is transportation, to get us from here to there and back.

Prone to evil and slothful in good

The human capacity for violence is deep and ineradicable. It’s in our DNA. The story of Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel is not about the beginning of human history; it is one of the defining facts of human nature itself. As my tradition puts it in a Prayer of Confession, “We are prone to evil and slothful in good.”

My tendency toward evil is often the conviction that I am right. I need to be reminded that my experience with guns is not the same as it is for those who grew up on a farm or a ranch where guns serve the purpose of killing a wolf or coyote or of putting down an injured horse out of mercy. The experience in rural America is different from the small town outside a major city in which I was raised, and it is different from urban centers by reason of low population density. My ownership of a gun on the farm is not a threat to the person next door in a tenement or in the housing development of the suburb. Guns in rural America serve different purposes. And, it seems to me, the split and the suspicion regarding guns and violence in America is to a great extent defined by these two very different social experiences, demographics, and cultures.
You cannot love God unless . . .

Beyond fear and suspicion

Having spent the past two weeks trying to organize a series of respectful conversations in the wake of Newtown has brought home how difficult it is to have conversation. Fear of the other is rampant. “I won’t appear on the same program with him. He’s an extremist.” Or, “I don’t think I’ll come. I don’t like trouble.” Or, “You bet I’ll be there. We’re going to pack the house!”

But the gospel of Jesus which is the center of Christian faith calls us to live by the Spirit of the Living God, not by fear or suspicion. Christ himself was the human “other” – the one on whom every side projected its hatred of the other side – and ultimately the representative of the “Wholly Other” who is other to us all.

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (First Letter of John 4:20-21).

First Letter of John 4:20-21 NRSV

Mutual Respect and Forbearance

I also find wisdom in the organizing principles of my religious tradition. The Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) give some advice for how to conduct ourselves when we strenuously disagree. They are called preliminary because they lay the theological-ethical foundation for life together. They are aspirational principles to guide church members and local churches in how we interact as disciples of Jesus. As children of God, we believe:

…” that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good character and principles may differ. In all these it is the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted at the organizing of the Presbyterian Church USA in 1789).

Can we have a respectful conversation?

I’m trying my best to do my duty. Can the pastor with strong personal views also serve as the Moderator? Can I exercise and promote mutual forbearance toward each other?  Can we talk? Tonight we will give our own answer to Rodney King’s haunting question: “Can’t we all just get along?”

 Lord, take my hand, and lead us on toward  the light.

____________________________________

The question remains and has become more urgent now. Stay tuned for the rest of the story, Gordon. February 2, 2021

Gandhi and Cornel West on the Challenge at the Crossroad

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America and the world stand at a crossroads between love and hate, democracy and despotism, and some would say, good and evil. Mohandas Gandhi and Cornel West offer reflections on what’s happening to us and how to move forward in a Qanon world.

Loving evil too much to give it up

“Must I do all the evil I can before I learn to shun it? Is it not enough to know the evil to shun it? If not, we should be sincere enough to admit that we love evil too well to give it up.

— Mohandas Gandhi, NON-VIOLENCE IN PEACE AND WAR (1948), 2.74

A crucial crossroads: Making a positive difference

We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.

Cornel West, Race Matters

A Memory of Cornel West

Cornel West’s guest appearance at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis stands apart less for what he said to the crowd than for what he said and to whom he said it before the Forum. At his request, he met each member of the church staff. He greeted each person with the unconditional respect due a human being without regard for role, title, or social standing.

He didn’t save the world that day. He lit up the faces of the strangers he knew were his sisters and brothers.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ― Mohandas Gandhi

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 28, 2021.

Busting Up America — a Tale for a Tail

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Conspiring to Bust up a Country

“Traters, I will here remark, are an onfortunit class of peple. If they wasn’t, they wouldn’t be traters. They conspire to bust up a country — they fail, and they’re traters. They bust her, and become statesmen and heroes.” — Artemus Ward, “The Tower of London,” Artemus Ward in London (1872).

A Tale for a Tail

There’s an elephant in the living room. It looks like an elephant, but it’s not. Elephants have long memories. This beast has none. Like the taxidermist’s safari trophies, only the remains remain. It had a trunk and tusks, but what it once symbolized is no more. The tail that shooed away the fleas and flies has been replaced by a tale.

Some folks who remember the elephant know what happened. But even they are divided on what the elephant was.

This political cartoon by Thomas Nast, taken from a 1879 edition of Harper’s Weekly, was an early use of the elephant and the donkey to symbolize the Republican and Democratic parties. [Photo Credit: Kean Collection/ Archive Photos/Getty Images]

Some remember and weep over the tale now told in its name. Others have no memory or revise their memories to suit the patriot’s tale of the trophy hunter.

How totalitarianism happens, according to Hanna Arendt

L. K. Hanson 1.2021 quoting Hanna Arendt, German-American political theorist (Star Tribune 1.25.2012)

Every Violation of Truth is . . .

“The great masses of the people . . . will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one,” wrote Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf in 1924.

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” Essays: First Series (1841).

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 25, 2021.

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold — a Sermon

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Friend and ministerial colleague John M. Miller spoke these words following the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.

A sermon by John Miller, Chapel Without Walls, Hilton Head Island, SC – January 10, 2021

Text – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 (RSV)

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold

    January 6, 2021, like December 7, 1941, is a date that shall live in infamy. Four days ago  American democracy was shaken to its very foundations. It happened in the United States Capitol building, the seat of government of a nation which proudly proclaims itself the strongest democracy in the history of the world. But on January 6, our democracy endured its most damaging test since April 12 of 1861, and it was prompted by the nation’s president.

    In 1919, after the War to End All Wars had finally ended, and the foolhardy Treaty of Versailles was being thrust upon the barely-defeated nations of World War I, William Butler Yeats wrote what is perhaps his most famous poem. It is called The Second Coming. For his whole lifetime, the Irish poet had lived through injustices forced upon his fellow countrymen by the English. The people of the Emerald Isle had been kept in British bondage for centuries. In 1919 the world was in the grip of a major pandemic, the worst one in six centuries. Life could have not been more bleak for a brilliant, sensitive, and mystical bard.

    The Second Coming is a dark and ambiguous poem. Nonetheless several lines from it have been used to describe events around the world ever since Yeats wrote the poem. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” We feel ourselves being drawn into a metaphorical swirling whirlpool or tornado, and we become severely disoriented.

    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

    In the late morning of January 6 the head of state of the American government addressed several thousand of his most avid supporters near the White House. He had been carefully cultivating his cult for more than four years. (The two words are linguistically yoked.) Since November 3, 2020, he had been telling them that the election had been stolen, and he instructed them that they must try to stop Congress from counting and affirming the votes of the Electoral College. Taking him at his word, they began their march to the capitol as both Houses of Congress were in session, doing what the Constitution requires after every presidential election.

    “The best lack conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” Most of the people then meeting in the Senate and House of Representatives intended to approve the electoral count that would affirm Joseph Biden, Jr. as the next President of the United States. However, ten Republican Senators and a hundred and thirty-nine Representatives objected to the tallies sent to Congress from a few states whose citizens had chosen Mr. Biden. These were politicians who by now should clearly have known that Donald Trump would stop at nothing to avoid having to leave the presidency. Shortly after the process was begun, the capitol was breached by force, and the excited hordes stormed into it, streaming out in every direction. The Members of Congress were told to shelter in place, a new phrase in our ever-changing lexicon, usually reserved for another matter altogether. Most of them quickly went to their offices and locked the doors.

    Those of us who saw these events live on television watched the beginning of the formalities in the two chambers. But soon the networks were displaying videos from outside the capitol building, with growing crowds pressing forward, then breaking through the barriers and rushing into the capitol. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ …The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ …The best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Though the electoral numbers were unassailable, the congressional objectors stood ready to make their case, until the mobs appeared at the doors of the House and Senate. We looked on with increasing dread, fearful of where the chaos was leading.

    Three or four days before Jesus was crucified, Matthew tells us he gave a lengthy monologue to his disciples. In it he very obliquely focused on what he perceived would be his imminent death and its aftermath. Matthew, chapter 24, is highly apocalyptic. The Greek word apocalypsos means “to uncover.” The meaning of an important future event is inevitably hidden, and the cryptic apocalyptic words are supposed to uncover their meaning to those who have eyes and ears to understand them. Apocalypticism was familiar to the people who wrote and who were the first readers of the Bible. Unfortunately, most of us find such words merely bewildering.

    “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” [except most of us who read this don’t understand much at all of what Jesus was saying] “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mt. 24:15-16).

The problem for us is that we are far too removed from first-century Judea, and we don’t understand. In several places in the Gospels, Jesus spoke of what would precede his Second Coming after he had died. Matthew 24 is an example of that. For us 20 centuries later it may be too cryptic, too veiled. Furthermore, Jesus likely didn’t say everything Matthew said he said.

    Jesus hinted in several places in the Gospels that he would return again to the earth after he had died. Yeats took that imagery and wrote a very ambiguous and foreboding poem, but with no religious meaning at all. I am using both the Yeats poem and the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus as the basis for this sermon. No Christians can be absolutely certain about what Jesus meant by the Second Coming, but millions have been drawn to it like moths to a flame, with a great variety of interpretations regarding this phenomenon. “And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:22). (Calvinists love that and all other verses which contain the word “elect.”)

    Did Jesus actually say all these things? I am convinced  he said some of them. Whatever else he was (and he was many other things), he was surely a first-century Jewish apocalyptic preacher.

    Jesus told his disciples, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt. 24:19). When Jesus said that, was he predicting January 6, 2021, or Dec, 7, 1941, or April 12, 1861? Absolutely not. But he was predicting that things like that would occur. If we live, we will all experience wars and riots and plagues. It cannot be otherwise. Apocalyptic teachings proclaim that truth in their own uniquely strange manner.

    It is a certainty that millions of supporters of the president, as well as many Members of Congress, will not change their minds one scintilla about the best direction for this nation to follow as a result of what happened on January 6th. Fierce opinions don’t change readily.     

Many of the talking heads on television were aghast that there were not more police to prevent the mob from breaking into the capitol building. In the providence of God, we can be very grateful it was mainly the Capitol Police who were there to try to stop them. Had it been the DC police or the DC National Guard, it might have been a disastrously different story.  The capitol police are more like guides than they are like guards. They are not trained to quell riots, and fortunately, they didn’t stop the invasion. Put lots of guns into the hands of lots of males, and you’ll get lots of people shot. Had the capitol police fired many guns, instead of five deaths (only two caused by firearms), there could have been hundreds  injured and scores killed if armed police and National Guardsmen and armed demonstrators had  started blazing away at each other. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate Second Amendment intensity. As awful as it was, it is amazing there was not far more bloodshed and vandalism within the nation’s seat of government. Most of the people on both sides of the conflict were relatively peaceful, considering how volatile the situation actually was, and who the assailants were.

Elections may be mocked, voters may be mocked, and democracy may be mocked. All of that happened on January 6. A tragically lifelong narcissistic president cannot do what our president did without severely damaging the body politic. For six years (two years of campaigning, nearly four years of being in office, and two months of incessant attempts to undermine the validity of a properly conducted election), he did what was natural to him. He attempted to expand his political base to support his “governance,” such as it is. That is all this tragic man knows how to do. He has shown himself incapable of being presidential, but he is extremely capable of being Donald J. Trump. Now he is being widely discredited, but most of all he should be pitied. He is not the worst person in history by any means, but he is obviously full of passionate intensity.

Though elections might be mocked, God is not mocked, even though on January 6 God and Jesus appeared to be mocked. One demonstrator carried a hand-written sign saying, “Jesus Saves.” Another carried a flag which said “Jesus 2020.” You may not have realized it, but Jesus also apparently was up for election in 2020, and in the Capitol Assault of January 6. Many of these people truly believe they represented Jesus in their actions. That is as sad as it is dangerous.

In my opinion, most in the mob were not intentional terrorists. They didn’t mean to terrorize Congress as such. They were simply duped by their leader into thinking their unruly presence would somehow nullify the Electoral College vote. That tells you how well the leader understands and respects the Constitution. But it also shows how brilliant he is at duping people.

Millions of Americans and thousands of Republicans elected to various offices throughout America, plus many Democrats as well, have doggedly supported President Trump up to and beyond January 6. When upcoming elections occur, remember the names of any such people. “Fool me once, and shame on you. Fool me twice, or indefinitely, and shame on me.” Donald Trump is not a monster, although he is a man with a severe personality disorder and/or mental illness. All of us should have realized and admitted that before now. The man should have been convicted of the articles of impeachment by an overwhelming vote in Congress last February, but it didn’t happen. Shame on the members of the party which kept him in office. As it was, January 6 turned out to be Three Cheers for the Democrats Day because of the president’s failed attempt to sway the voters of Georgia. He didn’t; it backfired. If Mike Pence had been the President for the past ten months, the Grand Old Party might have averted a very slim Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. A Republican president still in office became the Republican downfall.

However, the Democrats have little to crow about. Both parties have rendered it almost impossible to work with the other party amicably, and they are equally guilty of allowing this deadly impasse to have evolved. Democrats may think they stand on the moral high ground, but they have an uncanny knack of regularly cutting the ground out beneath their clay feet. Bernie Sanders and the now-famous AOC are examples of how they allow that to happen. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an immense job on their hands, though they may be the two Democrats most capable of uniting us once again. Let us hope and pray it may come to pass.

Does January 6 represent the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ? Certainly not, although probably many fundamentalist Christians think so. But it will go down as one of the darkest days in American history. An assault on the nation’s capitol building was incited by a president who imagined a mob somehow could overturn an election whose results he refused to accept. Had he succeeded in his ploy, democracy would have failed, with incalculable chaos. 

However, that surely was not what Jesus was talking about on a spring day in the first third of the first century of the Common Era. Apocalyptic words can be interpreted in a wide fashion, but January 6 was not apocalyptic, either via Jesus or William Butler Yeats.

Nonetheless, Jesus does return to us in a continual Second Coming. We encounter him in the form of exhausted health care workers toiling on behalf of people dying from COVID-19. He is a poverty-stricken mother feeding her children all the food she has, saving none for herself. He is a demonstrator for the civil rights of oppressed people, and a policeman trying to maintain order among the demonstrators. Jesus comes back as a bricklayer, a minimum-wage child care worker, a fast-food worker, and a street sweeper. He can be seen in Members of Congress from both parties, carefully striving to do the nation’s business, clearly knowing that they can never achieve widespread acclaim among all the people.  

A chastened nation needs to emerge from January 6.The best lacked conviction on what to do when it should have been done five years or ten months earlier. Those who were the worst-equipped to do anything positive seized the January 6 headlines. The Georgia special election should have made January 6 a totally different kind of news day, but an out-of-control president and an uncontrolled throng of his supporters prevented that from happening.

A great American once said, “It’s never over till it’s over.” January 6 is not over. It will take years before it’s over. Even after order was restored in Congress and the Electoral College tallies were approved, there were still one hundred and forty-nine Republicans who voted against doing what Congress was required to do. This isn’t over. The Trump Phenomenon existed long before Donald Trump existed. It was there is the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Massachusetts during the Articles of Confederation period. It was there at Fort Sumter in 1861. It was there is the obliteration of Reconstruction in the truly rigged election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. It was there is the Tea Party movement of the 1990s onward, and it may even have been the precipitating factor in the Boston Tea Party of 1773. It will require all the wisdom, courage, perseverance, and forgiveness the American people and their elected representatives can muster for one another if we are to emerge from the political nightmare we have endured for the past four years. As Lincoln said, “with malice toward none, with charity for all”, we must move beyond the partisanship we have so perversely allowed not only to exist but to cultivate among ourselves. 

America has become two giant tribes with two very different concepts on how to govern the third most populous nation on earth. There shall be no earthly messiahs to bring us together. But we must hope and pray that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the two ordinary humans who become the greatest unifiers we have available to us. That, after all, is what elections are about. 

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:20). Not literally, not visibly, but metaphorically, poetically, yet visible to the eyes of faith. Maranatha; come swiftly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Second Siege — Martin Luther King Weekend

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Capitol Sieges during Martin Luther King Weekend

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be different this year. “Stop the Steal” mass gathering are scheduled to convene in state capitols, as well as returning to the nation’s capitol.

After Twitter’s shut down Donald Trump’s Twitter account, The Washington Post published “Capitol siege was planned online. Trump supporters now planning the next one.” “Twitter said it was particularly concerned about contributing to a possible ‘secondary attack’ on the U.S. Capitol and state government facilities the weekend of Jan. 16-17.”

Time will tell whether this weekend will bring a secondary attack, or whether history will regard the second attack as primary. News coverage since the January 6 insurrection has focused mostly on how the U.S. Capitol was left so unprotected — a plan said to have “failed” because of a series of miscommunications, or whether the plan had succeeded, pointing the finger of blame higher up the chain of command on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Washington Post

Less attention has been paid to Martin Luther King weekend with which the “Stop the Steal!” campaign coincides. Competing events will ring the bell for freedom: MLK’s call to “Let freedom ring!” from shore to shore for all God’s children, and DJT’s call to “Stop the Steal!” that will ring out from the clank of a bell crafted by a despot’s lies.

How Could This Happen?

Dutch philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg was driven by a question that deserves our attention again. What is it about being human that led Germany to salute and fall in line behind a madman? His work offers insight into how and why people, religions, and nations become fanatical. Views from the Edge will turn to Zuurdeeg’s understanding in the weeks to come.

For now, the call for deeper reflection by each of us leaps from the final paragraphs of his description of fanatical claims and the “fanatical situation”:

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness acknowledges Zuurdeeg’s work as “the indelible ink in which Be Still! is written.” Be Still!‘s essay “Our Anxious Time” (p.16-18) looks through the lenses of Zuurdeeg and Paul Tillich. Little did I know that the week before and during the 2021 Martin Luther King weekend observance the clanking bell would ring again or that I would be so ready to surrender to my own rampage of rage.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN. January 11, 2021

The Storm Is Passing Over

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What’s happening to America and Americans?

The storm that blew through the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday has not passed. What America will be and who we will be in the midst of the storm are always the questions on Martin Luther King Day, but this year the choice will be clearer.

Life on the stormy sea

Thunder and Lightning on MLK Weekend

If intelligence reports come to pass, the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, Aryan Brotherhood, and other well-armed White nationalist groups will again storm through the nation’s Capitol to “liberate” their country, as did the Wolverine Watchmen who gathered in Lansing, burst into the Michigan Capitol, and would have kidnapped, tried, and executed Governor Gretchen Whitmer had the FBI not foiled the plot with advance intelligence.

Freedom and the Covenant of Mutual Responsibility

Will we be a people preoccupied by the pernicious insistence on unaccountable individual freedom? “You can’t make me wear a mask!” Will we confuse liberty with freedom from restraint, or will we place freedom where it belongs — within the context of a social covenant, a Constitutional republic — that holds the indivisible tension between freedom and responsibility for our neighbors?

The Blue Note Gospel and the Storm Passing Over

The Black church in America lives out that tension of freedom and covenant, individual liberty and community. It has a history and tradition few others share. The descendants of slavery can teach us about living in the storm while the storm passes over. They neither deny the storm nor succumb to it. As Otis Moss III describes it, the Black church preaches “the Blue-Note gospel” born of the cross of Jesus and can “Shouts the Gospel shout” because it knows the blues.

This morning, we share the soulful sound of resilience in the midst of the storm.

The Storm Is Passing Over, Detroit Mass Choir

Martin Luther King and the Storm

This Martin Luther King Weekend the storm of America’s original sin will sweep through, and the resilience of the Blue-Note Gospel will carry us through.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 10, 2021.

Stop this NOW whether guilty, or not guilty be reason of insanity.

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Today Martin Luther King Jr’s successor was elected to the U.S. Senate. It was also the day Senators and Representatives wore gas masks in their chambers of the nation’s Capitol. Yesterday’s elections of Rafael Warlock and Jon Ossof in Georgia is an historic moment never to be forgotten by historians. Whether it will become a footnote depends in part on the Trump far-right occupation of the Capitol where the work of representative democracy tales place.

“We’re still fighting, and you’re going to see what’s going to happen.”

Donald J. Trump to rally in Dalton, GA, Monday, January 4, 2021.

Today we saw what was going to happen

“Liberate Michigan,” “Stay back and stand by (Proud Boys)”, and get ready for “trial by combat” (Rudy Giuliani today) beg for answers. How and why was the U.S. Capitol security left so insecure?

The President was silent until a tepid text and video that stoked the fire he lit. Where was Homeland Security? Where was the U.S. Attorney General? Where were the federal agents who cleared Lafayette Park so the president could hold up a Bible the book in front of the Saint James Episcopal Church, and return to declare himself “your law-and-order President”?

The violent insurrection that invaded the U.S Capitol today is an act of domestic terrorism orchestrated by domestic enemy #1 and supported by 12 cowardly senators and 100-plus representatives who broke their oaths of office.

Stopping it now

May Congress re-convene tonight to finish its constitutional responsibility of approving the Electoral College certification of the 2020 election. But do not stop there. Ask how and why the Capitol was so unprotected, and move now to remove the president before he does worse in the two weeks he will remain at the desk of the Oval Office: Declare Marshal Law as the guardian of law-and-order, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear research sites, and who knows what else.

Who needs foreign enemies when you have a law-and-order domestic terrorist inciting a coup d’etat in the homeland? Do it now. Before it’s too late. Do it, members of the House and Senate, before America becomes the cuckoo’s nest. Impeach him and send the men in white coats before the country loses its soul to Mein Kampf.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2021.

Two Epiphanies: the Return of the Wise

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An epiphany is the manifestation or unveiling of what is not obvious to the naked eye. Today is Epiphany on the western Church calendar celebrating the epiphany of the Magi (the Wise). One does not expect to find anything of much value in an animal shelter, let alone a child wrapped in cloth whose crib is an animal feeding trough.

Stefano di Giovanni (1392-1450) Journey of the Magi

Returning to Our Own Country by Another Way

If the appearance of the Magi (wisdom figures) bearing expensive gifts to an animal shelter far from the levers of wealth and power calls for special attention, the refusal of these wisdom figures to return to Herod represents the wisdom of the wise of all ages.

Those who are Wise refuse to be informers of a schemer. The Magi do not return to Herod, as Herod has instructed. Instead “they returned to their own country by another way” — and so must we this Day of Epiphany.

Two Epiphanies — Two Unveilings

This Epiphany there will be two epiphanies, two unveilings or manifestations, one the celebration of good news to all, the other the recognition of Herod’s scheming. “And when you have found him (the new-born king), return to me that I too may worship him.”

In the churches of Western Christianity, hymns will be sung to a babe destined to be buried the way he was born — in a borrowed place. Meanwhile, a Herodian crowd with guns drawn will gather at the Capitol In Washington D.C. while a group of Senators and Representatives, whether fearful of Herod or acting on their own ambitions to become him, will continue the schemes that threaten to leave their country in ruins.

In Atlanta, Georgia, Congressman John Lewis’s pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, will take the Wisdom of his predecessor, at Ebenezer, Martin Luther King, Jr., to the U.S. Senate floor.

Rev. Rafael Warnock on Death Row

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Georgia voters today render a verdict on Rafael Warnock. Verdicts are more familiar to Rev. Warnock than they are to most of us. Some verdicts leave a person standing. Others verdicts end a life by state execution.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis was one of the latter. The eve before his execution by the state of Georgia, Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired this personal reflection on capitol punishment. CLICK HERE to open the MPR site; then click the AUDIO to listen to the commentary on Troy Davis in light of Innocent Project pro bono appeals attorney Joe Margulies who represented Betty Beets.

The pastor on Georgia’s death row

The Rev. Dr. Rafael Warnock, Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, minister on death row

Nine years later, reading his guest article on mercy in an alumni journal, I leaned the name of the pastor who became the death row pastor to Troy Davis. Rafael Warnock is not a showman. No matter whether in the public eye as the latest successor of Martin Luther King, Jr., the home church of the late Hon. John Lewis, or out of sight standing by a condemned man on death row, Rafael Warnock has the heart of a pastor.

Georgia verdict today

Today the people of Georgia are rendering a verdict on his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Tomorrow, Jan. 6, as the Proud Boys “stand by” a treasonous defeated president on the streets of Washington, D.C. with guns drawn, another verdict on who we are, and who we will stand by in America will be debated on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

I wish Troy Davis could vote today!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 5, 2021.

Beating the Dead Horse

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StarTribune cartoon quoting Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004), January 4, 2021

You Don’t Say

L.K. Hanson’s cartoon “YOU DON’T SAY” arrived just in time. Had I not seen it, I would have trashed this commentary on beating a dead horse.

Beating a Dead Horse

“You can’t beat a dead horse.” But some dead horses, and those who have bet on them, don’t recognize they’re dead. The neighing continues weeks after the vet has filed their death certificates. Only the horse’s faithful admirers hear the neighs that come into my inbox two or three times a day. Somehow, some way, the dead horse’s fan base mistook me for one of them.

You Can’t Silence a Dead Horse

Before the mistaken identity solicitations began arriving, I did my best to refrain from name-calling. Insulting each other is not what friends do, if we want to preserve the friendship, and it is a bad practice that jeopardizes the mutual forbearance essential to a civil society and a democratic republic. Name-calling is even less acceptable spiritually and morally.

Then the email solicitations confusing me as one of the faithful gave me repeated peeks inside the stable of the dead horse. Because the substance and tone of the email solicitations are unknown to those of us who move in other circles and because the half-billion dollars they have raised stuns me to disbelief, Views from the Edge shares two emails.


Beating the hoaxes we play on ourselves

“When to be informed is to be knowledgeable about pseudo-events, the line between knowledge and ignorance is blurred as never before.”

Daniel Boorstin, The Image: a Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1982

If the Republic is to survive . . .

Some dead horses must be beaten again and again and again, if the republic and its institutions are not to be declared dead by those who will kill it.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith, life, and politics. Chaska, MN, January 4, 2021.

It’s up to us

Thanks for dropping by,

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith, life, and politics. Chaska, MN, January 4, 2021.

Why Treason Prospers

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Treason doth never prosper; what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

John Harington (1560-1612), Epigrams, Book IV, Epistle 5

Letter to Ben Franklin

Few people recognize John Harington, which seems a bit odd at the end of a year we’d like to leave behind us. Harington invented the first toilet. Just as few remember Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress whose Minutes and correspondence are preserved in the U.S. National Archives. But everyone remembers Ben Franklin.

Charles Thomson’s letter to his revolutionary colleague Ben Franklin leaps from the National as though he written it to us on New Year’s Day 2020.

When I look back . . . and view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, “Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,” who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?

Charles Thomson, Secretary of Continental Congress to Franklin (Nov. 1, 1774)

“The poet” from whose work Thomson drew was English poet, author and playwright Joseph Addison, whose “Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read among the colonial leaders as they moved toward the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomson changed Addison’s text from singular (“the Man”) to plural “(those Men”), perhaps inadvertently — memory will do that — or intentionally to fit the circumstances at hand, i.e., the English Parliament’s violations of the American colonists’ rights and freedoms under British law. Addison’s reference is singular.

Oh Portius, is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the Man
Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?

Joseph Addison, Cato, a Tragedy 1:1:21–4

Dealing with Madness — Singular and Plural

Both singular and plural fit our circumstances on New Year’s Day 2021.The post-monarchical Constitutional people’s republic of Ben Franklin and Charles Thomson teeters “on the very edge of the precipice.” Some of us wonder whether there a hidden thunder of wrath that will blast the Man who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin and when it will blast the Men who refuse to recognize the certified election results of every state and and the District of Columbia, and the certification of the Electoral College.

Clearing Our Eyes

Act V of Addison’s play raises the question the heirs of the American revolution have nearly forgotten to ask. But this tumultuous in-between time of transition of power puts this most important question to us, the heirs of Franklin and Thomas:

The honors of this world, what are they
But puff, and emptiness, and peril of falling?

Joseph Addison, Cato, Act IV, scene IV

New Year’s 2021 — Hope on the Edge of the Precipice

Thomson’s letter to Franklin ends with a realistic warning and a hope.

“Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may yet be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice.”

Two Ways of Being Human; Two Kind of National Character

Looking into the precipice of national ruin, we face two alternate ways of being a nation and two ways of being human: compassionate/heartless; arrogant/modest; honest/scheming; caring/uncaring; vulnerable/invulnerable; phony/authentic; realistic//illusionary; serving others/serving oneself — seem clearer than when things were “normal.” The precipice is real. So is Thomson’s adaptation of Cato’s quote from singular to plural. Treason can never prosper unless we, the people, accept treason.

A Hope and a Prayer from 1774 for 2021

Even yet the wounds may be healed and peace and love be restored.

Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congresses, Letter to Benjamin Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 1, 2021.


It’s all there in the Christmas story

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It’s Christmas Eve 2020. The issues have not changed much in the last seven years. The gospel is like that! Economics and politics are spiritual matters. I’m no longer in the pulpit, but, thanks to the generous people of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, some of the sermons are preserved.

A Sermon: It’s All There in the Christmas Story

Season’s Greetings

May you find confidence in the light, walk in the light, and hold to the good,

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN December 24, 2020.

Meeting Diabolos (the Diabolical)

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Prefatory Note to readers

This commentary has been in process for days. It hasn’t been posted here because I find it impossible to keep up with the news –anything I might say is already passé — or because sources like Heather Richardson’s daily Letters from an American do what I attempt to do better. But this period of social turmoil has led to me to see what should have been obvious. I write from a faith perspective that seeks to writeI from a faith perspective but not to a faith perspective. I write as a public theologian; write for anyone who cares to listen.

Encountering the Diabolical

You don’t have to believe in a Devil with horns and a pitchfork to recognize the diabolical. The Greek word in the New Testament is diabolos. The diabolical is “characteristic of the Devil, or so evil as to be suggestive of a Devil” (Oxford online dictionary). Synonyms include fiendish, heinous, hellish, vicious, vile, cruel, wicked (Thesaurus.com). Like the calls to action from Conservative Direct that confused me for a friend.

December 10, 8:42 A.M.
 
 Friend,

 We will not bend.
 We will not break.
 We will not yield.
 We will never give in.
 We will never give up.
 We will never back down.
 We will NEVER, ever surrender!
 
We are Americans, and our hearts bleed RED, WHITE, AND BLUE.
 
The Left is trying to TAKE the White House from YOUR President, and, for the sake of our Country’s future, I need YOU to step up and help us SECURE THE SENATE!

 THE LEFT WILL TRY TO STEAL THE ELECTION!
 PRESIDENT TRUMP NEEDS YOU TO FIGHT BACK

 [photo of angry DJT]
  [CONTRIBUTION LINK]
 
Please contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to FIGHT FOR AMERICA and to PROTECT the Senate from the Radical Left.
  
 ---
 Thank you,

 Donald J. Trump
 President of the United States
  
 CONTRIBUTE $45

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The gift of Mistaken Identity

I don’t know how Conservative Direct put me on its email list, but I’m glad they did. Now I know. The emails to Donald Trump’s “Friends” and “BEST Supporters” provide a look inside a narrative that helps explain how good people get caught swept up in what the Bible calls the demonic, the diabolical, the satanic twisting that turns goodness into evil.

I meet diabolos every day. in heinous tweets and news clips. The list of the diabolical speech and action is long and endless. (“It’s a hoax. The coronavirus is a Democrat hoax,” he says to the American public while telling Robert Woodward he knew but didn’t want the American people to panic. “I don’t know the woman. I’ve never met the woman. You’ll have to ask Michael.” “I don’t know anything about that. Ask Rudy.” “There’s no quid pro quo.” “I won the election! It was stolen.” Iconic Civil Rights leaders Elijah Cummings and John Lewis go unacknowledged while the First Lady drapes the medal over Rush Limbaugh to loud applause from the Right side and the silence of disbelief from the other. And that’s doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Echoes from Narcissus and Joe McCarthy

The Conservative Direct emails call conscientious patriots to fight against Leftists — people like me — while echoing the desperate cry of a thirsty Narcissus in the snarly tone of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn whose early ’50s campaign saw Communists like Pete Seeger hiding in the entertainment industry, the U.S. military, and government offices until Army defense counsel Joseph Welch stood up to McCarthy with the rebuke that rang out across the American public in Edward R. Murrow’s nightly news broadcast.

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, June 9, 1954.
McCarthy Hearing photo of Sen. Joseph McCarty (R) and exasperated Army Counsel Joseph Welsh (L)

Earlier that same day, Welch had challenged Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s staff attorney, to give the FBI and Department of Defense McCarthy’s list of 130 alleged subversives “before the sun goes down.” McCarthy fired back, claiming that Fred Fisher, a young member of Welch’s law firm, had Communist ties. Welch called out McCarthy in words that many American citizens wish we could say to the President and elected representatives of the GOP who fear being on Mr. Trump’s hit list:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”

Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy after McCarthy sullied the character of Fred Fisher.

Roy Cohn later tutored a young Donald Trump and signed on in the capacity later held by Michael Cohn. Like Michael, Roy was thrown under the bus when he was no longer useful.

Diabolos and Democracy

A week ago the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the frivolous lawsuit alleging fraud in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2020 election. The Court’s unanimous decision without comment was a sharp rebuke by all nine Justices, included Mr. Trump’s three appointments to the Court. Yet the public relations legal charade did not end there. The narrative continued with the Texas Attorney General’s suit against the States of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. Seventeen other GOP State attorneys general filed amicus briefs and 106 GOP Congressional Representatives put their names on the Trump support list knowing full well that no state has legal standing to challenge another state’s election process, let alone void other States elections.

Tonight the Supreme Court put an end to it. The U.S. Supreme Court — six Justices appointed by Republican presidents and three by Democratic presidents — did its job. They exercised their oath to maintain the rule of law in faithfulness under the U.S. Constitution.

The president refuses to acknowledge his defeat. He is delusional. So is his party. Every member of the U.S. Congress — every Senator and Representative — owes it to the American people to fulfill their oaths to uphold the Constitution — not to seditious Commander-in-Chief or his party. To stay silent while the president eviscerates the institutions on which democracy depends, firing competent public servants and replacing them with incompetent sycophants loyal to him is to be guilty of aiding and abetting treason.

A Leech and a Wrecking Ball

Every day that passes is another day we hear the clanging of the wrecking ball. Every day we wonder whether you, the members of Congress, hear it too. We hope against hope that you stand up for us, for democracy, and for yourselves, that you have the courage to remove Diabolos, the leech that is sucking America dry. That you will do what the president has failed or refused to do: “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic.” You will be on the list, but you will stand tall as a patriot. No foreign country has the power to incite violence on American soil or to invoke Marshall Law to restore law and order to void an election. Only a domestic enemy can do that.

It’s not over til it’s over

The Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, Wolverine Watchman, Aryan Brotherhood, other well-armed white supremacist, and, God forbid it should become so, Blackwater Xi, the private for-hire mercenary “security” operation whose employees former U.S. special forces personnel — click here for Views from the Edge’s previous Minnpost commentary on Blackwater Xi — are staying back and standing down, waiting for the whistle to take the streets.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (Wipf and Stock, 2017) and host of Views from the Edge.

ADDENDUM: PRIORITY ACCESS TO MILANIA TRUMP’S 2020 CALENDAR

Dec. 10 9:00 P.M. SPECIAL INVITATION

Friend,

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  Thank you,

The sound of the trumpet in the morning

Video

Campaigns in the 2000s have a way of repeating themselves. So do sermons, like this one from the week before the 2012 election that draws on a Jewish legend about Satan’s sense of loss after being expelled from heaven. What he missed the most was the sound of the trumpet in the morning.

This moment in American history is like no other. We are living under the cloud of the diabolical. The New Testament word “diabolos” gets translated as “the devil.” I’m not into the Devil but I encounter the diabolical reading the news every morning. I find hope listening for the sound of the trumpet (the shofar).

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 4, 2020.

Sheep and Goats — A Timely Sermon

Video

Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats is not what it seems. It is not a crystal ball, an early peek into the end of time and history. A arable is an act of imagination that draws listeners into the substance of the story. It invites us to see life differently; it brings us up short. In his sermon “Sheep and Goats,” Adam Fronczek, Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, interprets the parable for today.

A Sermon: Sheep and Goats

“First They Came …” — Martin Niemoller during Nazi reign of terror

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Martin Niemoeler, German pastor

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 29, 2020.

The Clear Call of Conscience

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There is no innocence in staying silent when evil stares you in the face. Silence may come from cowardice. It may indicate the absence of conscience. Sometimes silence is complicity. GOP Georgia election official Gerald Sterling broke the silence yesterday.

Conscience, Confession, and Courage: the enduring witness of Martin Niemöller

German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller supported Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich before his eyes opened to its horror in the late 1930s.

For his outspoken opposition, he became a prisoner in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945. His poem “First they came…” still calls silent acquiescence to account.

First they came…

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Who’ll be a witness?

Martin Niemöller was not without sin. Nor is Gerald Sterling. They were and are no less flawed than we who carry the burdens of conscience and complicity. Because they are no more saintly than we, their witnesses to truth and goodness remain long after the silence was broken.

“I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this, and every American, every Georgian, Republican and Democrat alike, should have that same level of anger.

“Someone’s going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed!

“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up.”

Gerald Sterling, GOP Georgia Department of State official, December 1, 2020

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 2, 2020.

Endurance in the Divided House

Video

Words do not come easily to old preachers in the aftermath of the 2020 election. When we are dumbfounded, some of us have the blessing, or curse, of finding our voice in recorded sermons.

This video begins with the reading from the Gospel of Luke (printed below) and a brief story. To go straight to the substance of the sermon, move the cursor to the six minute mark.

All Saints Day sermon “Endurance in the Divided House, “Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Chaska, MN

Text

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
 father against son
     and son against father,
 mother against daughter
     and daughter against mother,
 mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law,
     and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

--Gospel according to Luke 12:51- 59 NRSV

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 23, 2020.

Mr. President, “No más!” Please, no more!

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Dear Mr. President,

In the last seconds of the eighth round of his championship fight with “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto Durán turned his back to Leonard, and quit. The referee quoted Durán. “No más” (No more)! It’s time for you to do the same for the sake of the American people and the foundations of democracy, as well as for your legacy.

“No más. No más!”

No more tweets. No more denials of reality. No more claims that you won. No more frivolous law suits. No more rallies. No more “Stole the Election” demonstrations on the streets. No more congregating your fans with no masks or social distancing. No more emails like the ones you’ve been broadcasting three or four times a day since your defeat. No more assumptions that I am your best friend. No more emails like the ones your campaign, National Republican Committee, and Conservative Direct, like this one with the subject line about telling the truth.

HERE"S THE TRUTH

You've always been one of my strongest supporters, which is why I'm coming to you now with an urgent request.

I've activated the Official Election Defense Fund and I need EVERY PATRIOT, including YOU, to step up and make sure we have enough resources to PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF OUR ELECTION.

(Insert request for money)

I need YOUR HELP to STOP the Left-wing MOB from undermining our Election.

I'm counting on you right now, Friend.

Only YOU can save America from the Radical Left. Don't let your Country down.

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States

I feel obliged to tell you the truth about my response to your emails. 1) The subject line — “HERE’S THE TRUTH” — is propaganda. 2) I have never been “one of [your] strongest supporters.” 3) You confuse patriotic duty with support for you. I see patriotism differently. The U.S.A. is bigger than any occupant of the Oval Office. 4) Patriotism is love of country. I love America. I love the Constitution. I love democracy. I love the constitutionally protected right and duty to engage in an on-going a lover’s quarrel. 5) I wince when any of us confuses America with what serves one’s own self-interests. 6) I turn red when a president makes groundless claims that undermine public trust in the electoral process. I respect losers who do what parents teach our children to do: accept defeat gracefully as part of life.

Grateful for the Mistake

Finally, I am grateful for the mistake. Had I not seen your pleas to “STOP the Left-wing MOB from undermining our election” and “to save America from the Radical Left,” I would be less privy to how you speak to your base and deceive your supporters to see people like me as the great threat to America.

Roberto Durán was tenacious. He was a World Champion. He also knew when it was time to admit defeat. He knew when to walk away. There’s wisdom there. For the sake of the country and a smooth transition to a new administration, I hope and pray you will do the same. Tell the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and Wolverine Watchmen to go home and put away their rifles. Tell them this is America.

No más. Please, no more.

Sincerely,

Gordon C. Stewart

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, November 16, 2020.

Bloody Noses and the American Seesaw

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ON THE SEE-SAW

The 2020 American Election weighs in the balance. Whether the American seesaw continues to teeter or falls more heavily to one end or the other, the seesaw is where we are and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. No is ever the winner on the seesaw. Maybe that’s where the healing is.

Playground seesaw (teeter-totter)

SOCRATES ON PUBLIC AND PERSONAL HAPPINESS

Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide…cities will have no rest from evils…there can be no happiness, either public or private, in any other city.

Attributed to Socrates in Plato’s The Republic

Some of Socrates’ ideas brought ridicule from the men of Athens. There should be philosopher-queens, he argued, as well as philosopher-kings who govern in civil society. But the common consensus allowed no such thing. There were only kings — not philosopher kings and certainly not philosopher queens. Philosophers were like today’s monks — because they were people least likely to wish for power, they were best qualified; only philosophers could can be trusted to govern.

THOMAS MERTON: DETACHED OBSERVATION

“Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” — Thomas Merton (OSCO) (1915 – 1968)

STAYING ON THE PLAYGROUND: ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS

It’s not easy to detach from deeply held perspectives and commitments, but no one said life would be easy? The playmates at both sides of the seesaw need to get off our respective ends of the seesaw — FOXNews, MSNBC, CBS, ABC; twitter silos; and hate radio — in order to play the game more wisely. No less than in the Athens of Socrates and Plato, we bloody-nosed Americans could use some detached observation of the “pertinent questions” at the fulcrum of the seesaw.

MICHAEL LERNER ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS OF THE SEESAW

One of the people who sits on my end of the seesaw is Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish interfaith journal, and philosopher of “the politics of meaning.”

Click THIS LINK to hear the Westminster Town Hall Forum with Rabbi Lerner.

The topic was “Transcending Racism and Hate.” The date was March, 1997. Some things don’t change much. The voices of sanity and compassion still call us to our better selves.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Nov. 5, 2020.

America the Morning After

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INTRODUCTION

Words don’t come easily this morning. Some 2020 election results seem firm. Others are yet to be determined. Whatever happens will leave America more black-and-blue than red and blue. There will be no “winners” when all the votes are counted.

If we are to escape a future of delusion and confusion, we need more distance, some space and time outside the ropes of the wrestling ring to ask the deeper questions about what is happening to us. In hope of contributing to that reflection, we offer this earlier Views from the Edge commentary.

What’s Happening to us: Postman, Orwell, Huxley and Us

Funny how things come together, crisscross, intersect, lead us down roads no one has ever walked before. Neil Postman offers insight into what’s happening. I read it one morning last week at the cabin, away from everything that entertains and distracts me from that little plot of land on the edge of the wetland in Central Minnesota.

William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readingsexcerpts from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business painted a picture that felt true, like a revelation pealing back the curtain to find that Lewis Carroll’s walk down the yellow brick road with Alice, the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow is outdated. Oz is no longer a harmless little old man.

Neil Postman on Orwell and Huxley

Contrary to popular belief. . . Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley fears was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much those that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centripetal bumblepuppy . . . . In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

The wetland pond, the flyway, and return home

At the cabin, the water in the wetland is unusually high this year because of record-breaking rainfall. The flocks of Buffleheads and other non-diving ducks have by-passed their familiar stop on the flyway; the water is too deep to for them to reach the food sources below. Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the diving Loons and Mergansers that can reach the bottom have stopped by this year.

Leaving the cabin and the wetland lead home to the world Huxley feared where the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance. We settle back into the lounge chairs in front of the television and flip through Netflix, YouTube, and other means of entertainment in what Postman later called the Technopolis in which our capacity for critical thought is numbed.

The new normal

We turn on the evening news and see two very different versions of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking to the press. One is real. The other is altered by technology that deceives viewers into believing the Speaker is drunk, on drugs, or mentally impaired by slowing and altering the pace of her speech. The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of what will become the new normal.

The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of ... the new normal.

We’re not in make-believe Mayberry anymore. What we love — entertainment — is drowning us. In the world foreseen by Huxley, Orwell, and Postman, truth is hard to find. “Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” wrote Thomas Merton in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice.

Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the smaller, deep-diving Loons and Mergansers can reach or swim to the bottom to see what’s real and what’s not in the Technopolis. William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins with Neil Postman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Thomas Merton took me there this morning.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 4, 2020 (originally published May 26, 2019)

Thunder and a Gentle Breeze (Clyde Bellecourt)

Yesterday the thunder stopped. This morning’s Star Tribune announced the death of Clyde Bellecourt —Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun — (“Thunder Before the Storm”). Time will not silence the echo of his thunder. History will not erase the evidence that Clyde was here.

America’s First People see and hear things I do not. Ojibwe spirituality says the Clyde is not gone. Not yet. Before he “departs” from us, his spirit will hover for three days, visiting loved ones and friends. If the Ojibwe have it right, perhaps I’ll sense a presence wafting across my path.

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Clyde Bellecourt (L) watching Stephanie Autumn honor Legal Rights Center co-founder and first Director Doug Hall during MN Restorative Justice Campaign picnic in Wabasha, MN.

A Living Legacy

Clyde’s obituary is long and storied. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere. Every chapter of his life will paint him as the warrior that he was, fighting in the streets and speaking truth to power in courts, city halls, governors’ offices, Congressional offices, and the United Nations, standing for the rights of America’s First People and an end to the myth of White superiority and supremacy. His voice was the voice of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) Football fans in Washington, D.C. no longer rout for “the Redskins” and baseball fans in Cleveland will forget over time that it was Clyde who led the national campaign to change the teams’ names. The results of the Storm will not blow away.

Thunder Is the Sound of Kindness

What will not be said of him is more important than his victories. Clyde Bellecourt did thunder, but his thunder came from kindness. When my life had fallen into public shame, it was Clyde and the board of the law center he co-founded whose kindness lifted me from life under the bridge. For seven-and-a-half years I came to know him in ways the public did not. He did not always thunder; he was also quiet. The demonstrations, marches, and speaking the truth to power were only the loudest moments of his life. In quiet moments it was Clyde who searched for people living under the viaduct and became their trusted friend and advocate.

Thunder and Wind-Chimes

After an off-duty MPD policer officer had reportedly dumped an intoxicated man on the pavement behind Little Earth Housing and defiled him, those who had witness it turned to Clyde and the Legal Rights Center. No one knew the victim. In the days that followed, it was Thunder-Before-the-Storm who worked the grapevine to find the man, and when he found him, he quietly arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police and MPD investigators re: the case, and to change how things are for people of color on the streets. In those moments, Clyde worked quietly out of kindness. The sound was more like wind-chimes.

If you feel a gentle breeze and hear the sound of wind-chimes, who knows? It just may be the Thunder Before the Storm.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 12, 2022.

Isabell’s Smile

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” wrote Albert Einstein. “It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” 

Albert Einstein

Isabell’s Wonder and her Grandfather’s Wondering

Christmas felt different this year. Until four-month-old granddaughter Isabell smiled, gurgled, and giggled back from the blanket on the floor. Before that I had been stuck in the soul-wrecking kind of wonder, not the wondrous kind of wonder Einstein described. No sugar plums danced in my head.

Photograph of Isabell Smiling
Four-month-old Isabell, Christmas day, 2021

Events of the past year were tumbling over each other. I hear the sound of a paper shredder and wonder whether any copies of the Constitution will survive the shredders. I see the Mother of Exiles, her lamp still held high, but dimming, while the torches of hate grow bright to erase Emma Lazarus’s poem welcoming “the poor, huddled masses, and tempest-tost, yearning to be free.” I hear the torch-bearers chanting in Charlottesville “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” and hear the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in my language. I see the party of Lincoln riding the wave of the Big Lie and wonder when patriotism became treasonous and “open carry” the closest synonym of freedom. I see the gallows outside the Capitol, hear the shouts “Hang Mike Pence” and “Execute Nancy,” and wonder how individual freedom was severed from responsibility, and who decided only whites neighbor. I wonder what happened to the Golden Rule and the parable of the Good Samaritan. I wonder whether the demons of national exceptionalism and white supremacy can be exorcized, and if and when the 100-year fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods will knock sense into climate change-deniers before the murder-suicide pact leaves no one to be replaced. I wonder what will become of us. I have to wonder.

Bethlehem and an Empty Chair for Elijah

We are no closer to Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom than the day Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Hebrew prophets’ “Day of the Lord” or its New Testament equivalent, “the Kingdom of God” is harder to imagine when Herod seems closer than the wisdom of the Wise. Elijah’s empty chair at the annual Seder meal is kept empty as a sign of hope against hope that the Messianic kingdom of Isaiah’s vision and Jesus’ preaching are more than pipe dreams.

Isabell knows nothing about any of this. She does not wonder the way I do. Shel smiles back at her grumpy grandfather, wiggling, gurgling, and giggling with joy. Isabell is no stranger to Einstein’s “beautiful thing” — the ‘thing’ that is not a ‘thing’.

The Experience of the Sacred

Fred and Jo never met Isabell. They were in their mid-90s and mid-80s when she first opened her eyes. She never saw Jo and Fred walking hand-in-hand around the retirement center. If it weren’t for the gray hair and hint of a limp, on onlooker might mistake them for teenagers. Their love was as fresh as the morning dew. The luster of love’s delight had not dimmed or faded until Jo’s daily greeting —“Good morning, Dear. How are you today?”— stopped. Two years later, her heart stopped also.

When the funeral home attendants arrived at the Memory Care Center, Fred had settled himself in the chair at the foot of the bed. Respecting his grief and wanting to protect him from viewing their work, the attendants invited him to leave the room until they were finished. Fred declined their invitation. He stayed in the room to watch each step of the process of preparing the deceased’s body, and followed the attendants and the body down the elevator and out to the hearse.

When asked later what his experience had been watching the whole process while deep in grief, Fred looked at me and paused. . . for a long time. The look on his face was quizzical. “I’m looking for the right words,” he said. “I can’t explain it. “‘Wondrous’ is the only word that comes to mind.” “I can’t explain it.” “It was ‘wondrous’!”

In that moment 90-year-old Fred and four-month-old Isabell were on the same page, alive and pausing in wonder at the beauty of it all.

“There are in life a few moments so beautiful that even words are a sort of profanity.” (Diana Palmer)

Diana Palmer

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (217 Wipf & Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Dec. 29, 2021.