The Shadow of Fred Trump

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

Why?

Like Father, Like Son

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

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

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

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

The Story of Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

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Jacob wrestling with the angel – Eugene Delacroix 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with a Limp

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

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

FredTrumpArrest

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

 

Getting smart with sick people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

“In 1936.

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

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

Andrew Young, August 16, 2017.

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

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

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

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

General Pershing and the Commander-in-Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

220px-General_John_Joseph_Pershing_head_on_shouldersThis Letter to the Editor followed.

“Long story short.

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

“Short story longer.

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

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

  • Ernie Neve, Minneapolis

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

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

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Religion and Race in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

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

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

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

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

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

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

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

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

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

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

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

Preserving Memory

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

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

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

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

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

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

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

“In 1936.

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

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

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

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

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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

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

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

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

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

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

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

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

 

The President’s hand

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

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

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

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

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

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

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

 

White supremacy @ Charlottesville and Bedminster

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump crashing a wedding at Bedminster Golf Club

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Wanderer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My lifelong Quest

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Some things take a lifetime. More or less.

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

Muriel Titus Stewart

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

If you love him, why not serve him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you love him, why not serve him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Yellow Taxi and climate science

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

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

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

“My Jesus”

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

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus?”

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

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

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

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

Opal Street

North Philadelphia street scene

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

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

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

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

I became conscious of sin.

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

 

 

 

 

 

“Every round goes higher, higher”

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

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

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

“Every round goes higher, higher.”

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

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

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

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

Then, something happened.

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

 

Jacob’s Ladder at almost 75

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

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

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

I ask myself, “Why this song?”

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

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

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

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

Chagall_jacobs-ladder2_Nice-medium

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

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

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

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

 

The Dumpster-Diver — Johnny Appleseed

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday, Chris!

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

Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

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

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

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump, Part II

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The Unacceptable Risk of Impeachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Major Presidential Investigations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unacceptable Risk of the 25th Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • John M. Miller, August 3, 2017

[John Miller is a writer, author, lecturer, and preacher-for-over-fifty-years who is pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. For Views from the Edge readers, John is a personal friend, ministerial colleague, and author. We share the same alma mater.] 

 

The DOJ on BLACK Privilege

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Attorney General Jeff Sssions

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

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

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

A Good Kick from a stagnant place

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This idea that sometimes we need a good kick in order to advance from a stagnant place is not new and does not always find biblical inspiration. Nietzsche said in 1888 “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker”– “From the war school of life – what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” – Peter Luijendijk, Dec. 21, 2016.

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Friedrich Nietzsche

How I got to Peter Luijendijk, the rabbinical student at Leo Baeck College, and the controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), he quotes would take too long to explain. Suffice to say it was a serendipitous event inspired by a 3:30 A.M. awakening. I didn’t know of Peter Luijendijk, until this morning when I rushed off a “friend” request on FaceBook.

Although a good kick is always good for advancing me from my stagnant place on the couch with my best friend, the MacBook Air, it was a search for the source of the Nietzsche quote that introduced me, so to speak, to Peter.  “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker” had caught my attention moments before as one of three quotations featured on a college religion professor’s faculty page.

Not many religion professors quote Nietzsche to introduce themselves on a college website. Nietzsche is one of those philosophers pious religious types love to hate, in no small part because of his parable of the prophetic madman — the eccentric town crier who announces to the town that God is dead and “we have killed him!”– in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Go back now to where this reflection started — the quotation by Peter Luijendijk is part of a Chanukah reflection on the Leo Baeck College (London) online publication. It appeared there as part of a commentary on the Genesis story of Joseph’s survival (Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23).

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Overbeck, Johann Friedrich, 1789-1869. Joseph sold into slavery, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=47452 [retrieved August 2, 2017]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

It turns out that Peter, like Joseph’s painter, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, and Willem Zuurdeeg, the pioneering philosopher of  religion whose work so heavily influences me, is Dutch. Nietzsche’s parable of the madman was pivotal for Zuurdeeg as well. Is there something about being Dutch that leads a Jewish or Christian scholar back to Nietzsche for a good kick in order out of a stagnant place?

This morning the world is making us all Dutch, sending us back to Nietzsche and the town crier who announces that the god of our illusions is dead, leading us to post the quote on a faculty page intro in hopes of a being stronger, more courageous, and perhaps . . . therefore even more biblical.

Peter Luijendijk’s online reflections on the Joseph story concludes with a word of hope in a time of deep darkness like our own:

I guess what I am trying to say is “Kol zeh ya’avor” this all will pass – it will become better. When Rabbi Lionel Blue z’’l talked about the festival of Chanukah in 2013 at the Chanukah reception in Parliament he “commented on a modern miracle – the social change that is leading to widespread acceptance for LGBT people in our society – by saying “Chanukah is a festival of wonder, and tonight is truly a wonder”.*  Chanukah celebrates survival, hope and the promise that the world’s natural AND spiritual light WILL come back. That, my friends, is the hope imbedded in Chanukah and that is the hope imbedded in the story of Joseph and his family.

At 3:30 A.M. this morning, I feel stronger and very, very Dutch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10-week-old Elijah & Grandpa

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Eli at 10 IMG_0753“Grandpa, I’m big. I’m 10 weeks old today! How old are you?”

“Well, Elijah, there are lots of ways to calculate that. Usually we tell a person’s age in years. Kinda hard for a 10-week-old to understand, huh?”

“Yeah. What’s a year?”

“Like I said, it’s kinda hard to understand but let’s try. Okay?”

“Give me your best shot!”

“Okay, a year is 12 months and…”

“What’s a month?”

“A month is four weeks and usually a few days. It’s always four weeks (27 days) but, depending on the month, it can be four weeks and three days like November, April, June, and September; it can be four weeks and one one day like February, except every four years when it’s Leap Year. All the rest of the months have 31 days.”

“Grandpa, why are you talking like this? You’re not making any sense. Are you senile? Does being old mean you can’t answer a simple question, Grandpa? This conversation started with a simple question: How old are you? I’m 10-weeks-old. So…how old are  you?”

“I’m almost 75, Elijah.”

Eli 10 IMG_0754“Wow! You’re 7.5 times older than I am!

“Actually, the difference is a LOT bigger than that. Let’s think of the years as weeks. There are 52 weeks in a year.

“Yeah! I’m 10. How many are you?”

“I’m 3,899 weeks OLDER than you, almost three-quarters of a century, Elijah.”

“Wow! What’s a century?”

  • Grandpa Gordon, August 1, 2017.

 

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump

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This first installment in “The Resignation of Donald J. Trump,” a four-part series by John M. Miller, is published without comment. The photographs have been added.

I. The Presidential Personality Disorder.

DSMThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is, if you will “parson” the expression, the Bible of psychiatrists and psychologists. Here is what it says about the narcissistic personality disorder:

“The essential is a Personality Disorder in which there are  grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; characteristic responses to threats of self-esteem; and characteristic disturbances in interpersonal relationships, such as feelings of entitlement, interpersonal exploitativeness, relations that alternate between the extremes of over-idealization and devaluation, and lack of empathy. The exaggerated sense of self-importance may be manifested as extreme self-centeredness and self-absorption.”

No one familiar to any American citizen could more completely fit that description than the President of the United States of America. Donald J. Trump has a serious personality disorder. He exhibits it on a daily, often on an hourly, basis. His actions are classic examples of narcissism.

Mental health professionals declare narcissism to be one of several personality and mental disorders. Not all psychiatrists agree that a personality disorder is a form of mental illness. However they do agree that narcissism is sufficiently abnormal that it can be classified as a mental disorder.

narcissus-caravaggio-300x363Narcissists seek attention. They crave attention. For them to feel fulfilled, full-blown narcissists believe everything going on around them must be about them. If anyone or anything else is the focus of attention, they feel diminished and thwarted. Because that behavior is so aberrant, it is categorized as a mental disorder.

The United States of America and the entire world are in a burgeoning crisis because of the increasingly erratic behavior of the American President. We are being led, and far more frequently misled, by an utterly unpredictable human being. His unpredictability is the result of his narcissism.

It is an extremely provocative statement for anyone to claim that the American President has a mental disorder. That is particularly true when an elderly preacher with little formal training in psychology is the one making the claim. Yet for more than half a century this elderly preacher has observed many parishioners and others who were narcissists. All of them were relatively harmless. Donald Trump is anything but harmless.

It is amazing that millions of American voices have not joined in a cacophonous chorus of citizens who also have unhappily identified the sober and somber condition of our President. His actions verify that he has a severe, and rapidly growing, mental disorder. Recently Charles Krauthammer wrote that the President has “a pathological need to display dominance.” Would that other widely-read columnists would also join their colleague in his accurate assessment.

Why isn’t there a much more widely acknowledged demand for steps to be taken to overcome the grave threat facing us? Many newscasters are concerned, and Democrats in Congress are nearly apoplectic. Yet the American people as a whole thus far are passive bystanders. The danger facing us because of the President’s flawed perception of reality is as great as it was in World War II or in the Cold War, although it is a very type of danger. But we are still a nation of Neros, fiddling while Rome burns. And remember: It was Nero himself who set Rome ablaze.

Every day the President lights matches and throws political bombs both large and small. His rants and tweets and insults indicate his instability, but there is no concerted movement to force him to resign. Why?

The basic explanation for our hesitation is that our nation has never been in a situation like this before. The President declares himself to be the greatest President since Abraham Lincoln. He claims to have passed more legislation during his first six months than any previous President. These and many other such statements are undeniably delusions. They are not the mere braggadocio of a television reality-show host; Mr. Trump honestly believes these statements. His most zealous supporters apparently also believe them.

During the past century, several other narcissistic men like Donald Trump crossed the stage of history, leaving a huge and bloody swath behind them. Four such fellow narcissists were Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein.

President Trump is determined to remake America in his own image. That is what narcissists with unlimited political power invariably do. Power goes to the heads of the all-powerful. Hitler became Nazi Germany, and Nazi Germany was Hitler. Stalin became the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union was Stalin. Mao became China, and China was Mao. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Saddam became Iraq, and Iraq was Saddam. People who seek complete political power may not have been narcissists before they initiated their lofty seizure of total control, but they become extreme narcissists during the pursuit.

Almost all narcissists are content to seek attention on small stages, because that is where they live. Gigantic narcissists seek attention on a huge stage. And in the process they require opulent palaces and dachas and country or city or beachside estates to keep them satisfied in their narcissism.

Let us be clear. This is no attempt at this point to equate President Trump to the aforementioned four infamous dictators. His behavior up to the present is not nearly as draconian as theirs. But I am suggesting it is inevitable that a particular kind of personality disorder when yoked with growing or unquestioned political power can exacerbate that disorder into an enormous and potentially disastrous mental imbalance.  That is the tragic and dangerous path our President is quickly traversing.

Dictators rarely begin their political careers as dictators. They are shrewd enough to realize that totalitarian power must be seized carefully and slowly. Eventually, however, care and a leisurely pace are jettisoned for a complete seizure of all the authority the state is able to command.

Any authoritarian who is utterly inured to the sufferings they cause their own people is, by definition, a severe narcissist. The history of totalitarian regimes is the history of unlimited narcissism in the pursuit of unlimited power.

Probably no two of the four autocrats herein cited had exactly the same kind of personality disorder as Donald Trump. By their very nature, personality disorders are likely completely individualized. Nevertheless, by their behavior authoritarian autocrats manifest a distinctive kind of illness which apparently afflicts only those who are given or who acquire unrestricted political power.

Donald Trump is no more to be blamed for his mental disorder than are people with physical illnesses to be blamed for their maladies. The President deserves compassion and sympathy. He is not an inherently evil man, though that is what many of his detractors think. Nor did he choose in his early years to become cantankerous and a deliberate promoter of chaos, though he is extremely cantankerous and chaotic. But he displays those qualities because of his personality disorder, not because of any carefully considered choices. In truth, it seems that few or none of his choices are carefully considered, which is another glaring index of his illness.

It is easy to denigrate Donald Trump, but one should not denigrate someone suffering from a serious personality instability. His daily behavior verifies the magnitude of his malady. However, when the most powerful man on our planet is afflicted with what clearly should be widely perceived as a dangerous mental imbalance, something must be done to rectify an intolerable situation.

To say that the President is mentally unstable is not to say that he is an unable person. He is incredibly able, amazing able, astoundingly able.

In a fairly narrowly circumscribed but very successful strategy, Donald Trump became a partisan political genius, like many other such previous narcissistic political geniuses. He is demonstrably a master salesman, having exhibited the art of the ultimate political deal by becoming President of the United States. He has astonishingly solidified what he loves to call his “base.” And he closed that “deal” over the year and a half that he campaigned for the Republican nomination as President, the three months he campaigned as the Republican nominee, and the six months he has served as President. Over eighty percent of those who voted for him are still extraordinarily enthusiastic about him.

That unflagging support is an enigma to the 60+ percent of the population who now disapprove of his performance as President. Still, it is the positive proof of his extraordinary political acumen that his base has scarcely lost one scintilla of their zeal for their man.

We need to remember, though, that the same phenomenon was observed in the millions of Germans, Russians, Chinese and Iraqis who were so committed to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Saddam during their bloody reigns of terror. No one can seek and maintain total power in an authoritarian state without strong endorsement from a sizable percentage of the population, even if the support is based on unmitigated fear.

The Multiple Firings, Dictatorial Decisions,

and the Beleaguered Jeff Sessions

The many people who have already been fired in the Trump Administration is an example of how serious his illness is. Literally no one in his right mind would fire so many key people in such a short span of time, and for such spurious peccadilloes, unless his judgment had become badly impaired. It is not a brain tumor which has caused this behavior, but it is surely the result of an impairment in his brain, namely, his major personality disorder.

The President demands complete loyalty from everyone serving “at his pleasure.” If he detects the slightest disloyalty, even if his assessment is completely mistaken, the “offender” is gone. There is no point in listing the names of the many people who have unceremoniously been ejected from the Trump administration. Nor is there any purpose in trying to guess the reasons for any of the political bloodletting. No reason was needed, and usually no plausible one was offered. If the President suspected disloyalty, the person was out.

No completely sane leader of any organization would dismiss so many key members of that organization in so short a time. It is obviously disruptive and demoralizing to everyone in his administration. Unfortunately, very talented irrational people often do become leaders of organizations, but irrationality and effective leadership are always in constant conflict. To allow such behavior in the chief executive of the United States government is politically and organizationally irresponsible. It is not a reality show the President is overseeing; it is the American government.

_93836096_037486020-1The number of presidential executive decisions, apparently made in consultation with no one, is incomprehensible. The volume of the rumblings in the White House and throughout the various federal departments is rapidly growing. The military have been caught off guard and have been deeply embarrassed several times by ill-conceived presidential orders. The entire federal government and bureaucracy are constantly forced to wonder what shall happen next.

Those who have remained loyal to the President firmly believe it is his carefully considered intention to act as he does. They imagine that he wants to keep everyone in suspense. His presidency is, he proudly informs us, “a new kind of presidency.” That is a statement no one would or could dispute.

But it should be obvious to everyone that Donald Trump does not carefully consider anything. He acts solely on impulse. By all accounts, he does not devote much time to study reports or recommendations, including his daily intelligence reports. Nonetheless, with cavalier disregard, he instantly makes decisions which affect not only the policies of the USA, but of our allies and the entire world. He has frequently undercut time-tested policies which have been in place for decades, without even attempting to explain why he did it. He just does it. It is what narcissists do.

When he was the CEO of his own corporation, living by his own rules, he had the authority and the unrestrained ability to do such things. As President of the United States, this bizarre behavior guarantees nothing but enormous political apprehension and uncertainty. It cannot and must not be tolerated.

Mr. Trump’s incurable narcissism is surely the subconscious explanation for his bizarre actions. He knows he shall be excoriated in the news every hour of every day on the 24/7 news networks, except on Fox, his and his base’s favorite news network. He loves Fox and detests the others, but if the others are decrying his every move, he is ecstatic, because they are criticizing him. He must be the center of every controversy in order for his giant, fragile ego to be nourished.

Bad coverage is always preferable to no coverage for a narcissist, and he guarantees himself bad coverage. If everyone is talking about him, he is happy, regardless of what is being said.

The President’s treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an incomprehensible example of the President’s skewed behavior. For weeks he has been berating him and accusing him of being disloyal. And he does this to the first major politician to endorse him early in the Republican primary campaign. It is inexplicable — except that it isn’t.

170720142106-26-jeff-sessions-life-and-career-gallery-super-169Mr. Sessions will probably refuse to resign. If so, the President may fire him. Mr. Sessions and the United States Congress are well aware that could foment a constitutional crisis. Apparently Mr. Trump does not understand that, nor does he seem to care.

No stable, even-tempered, thoughtful, rational person would do the things Donald Trump continues to do every single day. Only an unstable, ill-tempered, thoughtless, irrational person would do that. A mentally healthy person would never act the way our President acts repeatedly and frequently.

The man is mentally unstable. There is great peril for the nation if we allow the current situation to continue. Four years of this presidency are unimaginable. Mr. Trump must resign. We, and he, have no other alternative.

But Donald Trump being Donald Trump, how shall that ever happen?

  • July 29, 2017

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

Future installments are:

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump: II – The Unacceptable Danger of Impeachment

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump: III – Only GOP Leaders Can Convince Mr. Trump to Resign

The Resignation of Donald J. Trump: IV – The Twitter-in-Chief

 

 

A Cheerful Note from Baylor

Video

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W. Hulitt Gloer, Professor, Truett Theological Seminary Baylor University

It takes awhile to discover where, if anywhere, a book like Be Still! will land. When published in January there seemed to be three potential homes: readers like the audience of NPR’s “All Things Considered”; college, university, and divinity school classes in philosophy, theology, homiletics, creative writing, and freshman studies programs; and church adult education programs. But you never know until the book has seen some air time.

Slowly but surely, the critical reviews and publicity are coming in, thanks to Bob Todd Publicity.

Day1.org with Peter Wallace has published four essays from Be Still! or from Views from the Edge and will feature a sermon for the First Sunday of Lent in 2018.

Anglican Journal (Anglican/Episcopalian), CURRENTS in Theology and Mission (Lutheran), and The Presbyterian Outlook (Presbyterian [USA}) will publish reviews this summer or fall. Day1.org has re-published four essays from Be Still or from Views from the Edge and will feature a sermon for the First Sunday of Lent in 2018.

And then there is the word from today all the way from Texas — this lovely, encouraging email from W. Hulitt Gloer, Professor of Preaching and Scripture at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University:

I have found your essays to be provocative, challenging, refreshing and inspiring. I am planning to use it in one of my courses this fall, assigning an essay a day for reflection and discussion. I think it may become standard.
Many thanks for this wonderful volume. I hope it will be but the first of many!

Thank you, Professor Gloer. You made my day! Next book up with the working title “Don’t Be Weary, Traveler” is ready to look for a publisher.

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

 

 

Elijah against the Establishment

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Elijah back to work“Grandpa, HELP! Mom’s taking me to day care! She’s going to leave me with a stranger!!!”

“I know, Elijah. Mom has to go back to work.

“What’s work? WHY?!!! She’s never gone to work before!!!”

“Well, work is what adults do. They can’t just stay home all the time.”

“What you talking about? You stay home all the time!”

“Yes, but Grandpa’s different. I’m retired.”

“What’s ‘retired’?”

“It means I’m older than Mom. I don’t have to work anymore. Mom is young. She has to go back to work. You’re nine weeks old now.”

“That’s not night! In Denmark or Croatia Mom could stay home with me for one whole year with full pay!”

“I know, Elijah, but we don’t live in Denmark or Croatia. We live in the U.S.A. Stop crying in your milk and get ready for day care.”

“No!! I’m not going!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but you don’t have much choice, Elijah. This is America and Mom has to feed you. She has to go back to work tomorrow — or you’ll be homeless.”

“Uhuhh! You’ll see! She’ll be sorry. I’m going to scream my head off in the car seat and all day long at the baby sitter’s! We’re in America, Grandpa. I’m sticking by my right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!’ You’re part of the establishment!”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 27, 2017.

 

 

Elijah back to work

Taking America’s Temperature

Video

Is America’s temperature changing, or is it about the same as Gore Vidal claimed 36 years ago?

“Americans understand that the game is rigged, and they’ve had enough of it. They’re ready to fight back. They want a Washington that works for them, I think that people are getting more engaged, politically, and they’re seeing through a lot of the rhetoric that politicians have been throwing out there for a long time. They want to see some real change, and I think that’s what we need to work on.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren, 2017.

 

The Hustler

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“In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.”Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

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Gore Vidal – Dobson’s Improbable Quote of the Day

After driving four hours Tuesday to lead a discussion of being still while resisting social madness, and spending the night alone in the Super 8 parking lot in Storm Lake, Iowa, the 2003 Toyota Avalon returned home yesterday with all the books still in the trunk. Its driver failed at hustling Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

Had she read The Guardian‘s tribute to Gore Vidal following the controversial writer’s death, the Avalon would never have left Minnesota. 

His quick wit and acid tongue made him a sought-after commentator; he himself once quipped: “I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.” A stint on ABC opposite William Buckley, covering the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, degenerated into abuse, with Vidal calling Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”, Buckley suggesting that the “queer … [should] go back to his pornography”, further attacks in the magazine Esquire, and suits for libel on both sides. The same refusal to back down characterised his dispute with Norman Mailer, whose attitudes towards women had brought rebukes from Gloria Steinem and Kate Millett. Vidal entered the fray with an article suggesting there was “a logical progression” from Henry Miller to Mailer to Charles Manson. Mailer responded at a Manhattan dinner party in 1977 by throwing a glass of whiskey in Vidal’s face, head-butting him and then throwing a punch. Vidal is said to have replied: “Lost for words again, Norman?”

USA - Portraiture - Gore Vidal

The Avalon’s licking the whiskey from its face before trying again!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318.

 

 

 

ALERT! TURKEY LEAKS SECRETS …

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The world is really weird these days, as Marilyn Armstrong demonstrates here.

SERENDIPITY

So I saw this headline:


Turkey Leaks Secret Locations of U.S.
Troops in Syria


and I thought — “What a strange business. Turkeys don’t usually have media ties.”

It took me a few minutes to remember that Turkey is a nation and not necessarily a gobbling bird trying to avoid Thanksgiving. This probably speaks to my overall loss of sanity regarding the world in which I live. I’m pretty sure that in earlier days, I’d have instantly recognized Turkey as the nation and not the bird.

Sanity is gone. What is left is a sense of being desperately short of sleep, broke … and holding a list of things I need to fix that exceeds any rational likelihood of doing them. Ever.

What to do next?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had more reality than I can handle. I’m going to read a book. Take me away…

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Who am I?

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

Who am I,

this whirling

dervish of a self,

toying with nature,

twirling to and fro

the past that lives

in this whirling

blood and bones?

[GCS]

When “this whirling dervish of a self” came to mind at 3:45 A.M., the image came without forethought as expressing an endless search, the self spinning in search for what John Calvin called the knowledge of the self and of God. It had nothing to do with the phrase’s origins in the Sufi “whirling dervishes” who whirled in ecstatic union with the Divine.

A dervish performs the Sema Ceremony

Turkish whirling dervish with right hand up (heaven-ward) and left hand down (earth-ward) in love.

Who we are – where we come from, who we’ve been, who we’re becoming, and where we’re going – “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  [First sentence of the first paragraph of the much maligned John Calvin, the 16th century whirling dervish of the much misunderstood The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536].

The more I learn, the less I know. I remain a mystery to myself, a whirling dervish.

  • Gordon C. Stewart [GCS], Chaska, MN, July 24, 2017.

 

 

 

Rocking on or off my fanny?

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Rocking in a rocking chair or throwing rocks is the question.

The choice is between a quieter reflection and bold resistance to the evils I deplore. Between sitting in the Amish rocker Jacob Miller built to the dimensions of my fanny, rocking in hopes of seeing things more clearly, or getting up off my fanny to throw some rocks.

rock

More years ago than the one when Jacob Miller built his Amish rocker to fit my fanny, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater threw a rock through a store window during a peace demonstration in downtown Whitewater against all pre-march instructions and agreements.

Such moments cause one to sit and rock awhile when the rocks are flying.

Philosophy has become a four-letter word in our time and that’s a shame. Not philosophy as fruitless speculation or obtuse abstraction, as in the American anti-intellectual prejudice against it. We mean philosophy as the search for reality, the plumbing of the depths for the deeper currents that flow beneath the thin surface of what we think, believe, and do.

Sit and reflect awhile

Amish Rocking chair

The news of another killing of an unarmed civilian here in the Greater Twin Cities of Minnesota and of moral and spiritual madness in the White House leads me to reach for the rocks. Active resistance is required. But there will be no effective resistance to the madness without rocking on our fannies together to get to the bottom of our collective madness. Otherwise there will be only the rock-throwing. We’ll be off our fannies . . . and off our rockers.

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

 

 

 

Everything You Want

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Two poems by Pat Cegan on the theme of contentment greeted us this morning while enduring a third day of unexpected silence in response to a property offer on the wilderness cabin we want as our own.

Who cares about the property? We never have had it. If the “seller” sells it, we won’t really “own” it – no one really owns a thing! – and the better part of wisdom is being content with what we have.

Source of Inspiration

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What would you do
if you had the perfect body
unlimited money
a loving family
all your wishes come true?

Would you be happy, satisfied
never again feel that yearning
deep within? Would you be free
of fear and doubt?
Love unconditionally?

Would having everything you want
make you who you want to be?

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A Question of Life for Us

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“Our heart glows, and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.” – Carl Jung

Ever wonder where you come from — why some things ring a bell, make the heart race, or bring you to a place of sadness you barely understand?

Things like the mill built over a stream or river where your mother took you as a little child to visit your great grandfather.

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, Maine

Our lives are a matrix of billions of dots. For every dot of which we are conscious, there are millions and millennia of which we know little or nothing. Sometimes the dots connect in ways we could not expect. A line reaches across time to connect two dots, or three, or more, and what was unconscious blossoms into consciousness.

Or it might be a book that’s been sitting on your bookshelf for 20 years that leaps off the shelf for attention, like the one that did this morning in Chaska, Minnesota. The Book of Psalms in Metre and the Scottish Hymnal with Tunes belonging to “John Campbell, Blair Mill, 1880” had made its way across the Atlantic from Blair Mill, Scotland to the  antique book store in the U.S.A.

It could be that the book connects you to another mill, as it did this morning in a google search for John Campbell of Blair Mill:

blair-atholl-watermill

John Campbell (1844-1914) operated the Blair Atholl Mill. He also was the “presenter” (the song leader) of his local church in Blair Mill for 40 years.

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Blair Atholl Mill, Scotland

I remain a mystery to myself and always will. But some things stand out — photographs of old mills, in my case — that connect the dots of two sides of ancestral history, the Andrews and the Campbells.

A 19th book connects two mills in the dot matrix of a 21st century life, and blossoms into a greater consciousness. I remain a mystery to myself.

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

 

This Is Home!

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“An ancient gift to you this morning,” read the email from my friend Wayne with a link to Gaelic Psalm-singing.

You can be pretty sure someone with the name Gordon Campbell Stewart is a Scot, or, at least, has a Scottish heritage. Three clans – and not all of them friendly to each other – combined in one name, is perhaps its own kind of DNA symbol of worldly reconciliation.

Seeing the YouTube of the Gaelic Psalm-singing that lives in my DNA brings tears to my eyes. Watching the faces, hearing the voices, longing for the simplicity of the Psalm-singing takes me to another place. This is home!

While visiting a church like this on the Isle of Skye, the faces and voices were much the same. Before the Presenter began the congregational singing, you could hear a pin drop. The worshipers observed a sacred silence. The singing voiced a Word that speaks to a noisy world out of a Deep Silence. This is home!

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

Grandpa, Who’s John Burroughs?

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Elijah overhears Grandpa and Grandma talking about John Burroughs.

“Grandpa, who’s John Burroughs?”

“Well, Elijah, there’s John Burroughs and then there’s the John Burroughs. We’re not talking about the John Burroughs.”

EliC43CF607-9499-4D51-BF55-CFCEB806711C“I’m confused, and you’re confusing!”

“I understand. It is confusing. I can see why you’d be confused.”

“I’m only eight-weeks old, Grandpa! I shouldn’t have be be confused already. I have plenty of time to get like you.”

“Okay. I apologize. Grandma and I shouldn’t be talking about this in your presence. We’ll try to be more careful.”

“Thanks, Grandpa. I don’t want to be as confused as you are! So, who’s John Burroughs?”

“Okay, like I said, there are two John Burroughs. There’s a guy named John Burroughs who wrote a nice review of Grandpa’s book, and there’s the John Burroughs who’s famous. That John Burroughs died a long time ago. This John Burroughs is still alive. I know nothing about him. He likes my book.”

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The John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist (1837-1921)

“Wow! You don’t know anything about John Burroughs, but he knows about your book? Maybe John Burroughs knows you quote John Muir, the John Burroughs’ close friend! Maybe this John Burroughs is the John Burroughs’ grandson!”

“No, Elijah. Not everyone who is the grandson of someone famous!”

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

 

 

 

John Burroughs’ Review

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Today we received notice of an unexpected review by John Burroughs.

Burroughs’ Bookshelf

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness
Gordon C. Stewart
Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960
http://wipfandstock.com
9781532600678, $41.00, HC, 190pp, http://www.amazon.com

Synopsis: In “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness”, author and public theologian “Gordon C. Stewart echoes the call of the Navajo sage and the psalmist who invited their hearers to stop — “If we keep going this way, we’re going to get where we’re going” — and be still — “Be still, and know. . . .”.

Like pictures in a photo album taken from a unique lens, the 48 succinctly presented essays zoom in on singular moments of time where the world is making headlines, drawing attention to the sin of exceptionalism in its national, racial, religious, cultural, and species manifestations.

Informed by Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama, Elie Wiesel, Wendell Berry, and others, “Be Still!” invites the reader to slow down, be still, and depart from “collective madness” before the Navajo sage is right. Told in the voice familiar to listeners of All Things Considered and Minnesota Public Radio, these poetic essays sometimes feel as familiar as an old family photo album, but the pictures themselves are taken from a thought-provoking angle.

Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is an extraordinary read that is enhanced for scholarship with the inclusion of a six page Bibliography and a twelve page Index. While unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that “Be Still!” is also available in a paperback edition (9781532600654, $21.00) and in a Kindle format ($9.99). – John Burroughs, July, 2017, Reviewer’s Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review.

Some days are good days. Although the John Burroughs who wrote the review is not the famous naturalist of encyclopedic fame, he’s the only John Burroughs who has noticed “Be Still!”, and, for that reason, he goes to the top of this author’s friendly strangers. Every author depends on the kindness of strangers!

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

Grandpa, you gonna answer that?

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When the area code on the caller ID is unfamiliar, do you take the call or let it to go into voicemail?

EliIMG_6311

“Grandpa, did you put your hearing aids in this morning?”

“Yes, Elijah. Why?”

“‘Cause the phone’s ringing!”

“I know. It’s annoying.”

“Then why don’t you answer it?”

“I don’t recognize the number on the caller ID. I get lots of calls from solicitors.”

“What’s a solicitor, Grandpa?”

“Well, a solicitor can be lots of things. But, in this case, it’s someone who’s selling something over the phone. They intrude on my privacy.”

“Yeah, we like privacy, right, Grandpa? Just you and me! just the two of us after I’ve been fed.”

“Right.”

“But the phone keeps ringing. Just because you don’t recognize the area code doesn’t mean it’s a solicitor. It could be good news, like you won the Lottery or something! Maybe it’s the New York Times Book Review or The New Yorker telling you they’re going to review your book!”

 

“Okay, good point, Elijah!”

I pick up the phone.

“Mr. Stewart, this is Jane from the Anglican Journal. I’m calling to let you know that we’ll be reviewing Be Still! this fall.”

Eli C43CF607-9499-4D51-BF55-CFCEB806711C“Wow, Grandpa! What’s the Anglican Journal? Is it like the New York Times?”

“No, Elijah, it’s Canadian. Jane was calling from Toronto.”

“From Canada?! You got a call from the Anglicans in Canada and you almost didn’t take it? Next time the phone rings, you’d better answer it. It could be the New York Times!”

“It’s not going to be the New York Times, Elijah! Trust me!”

“Why? You’re a minister, right? You’re supposed to know your Bible!!! Jesus said you should listen to me. It says so right there in Matthew 21:16:

have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself?’?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 19, 2019

Elijah’s dimpled smile

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On his eight-week birthday, Elijah lights up the world with a dimpled smile for Grandma.

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Elijah on his eight-week birthday

Elijah knows nothing of adult dangers, toils, and snares — like his mother’s seven weeks of sleepless nights or the evening news that seem to erase dimples from older cheeks.

He lives completely in the moment. Today’s a really special day. The first thing Elijah saw when he opened his eyes was a different kind of dimpled smile he’d not yet seen on Mom’s face.

He and Mom are celebrating the long-suffering love that has brought them safely through the night to his eight-week birthday, the day after their first nearly full night’s sleep.

“Grandma! Look what I did!”

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

Announcing “Be Still!” Program

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Be Still“BE STILL! To See More Clearly

This six-session program for churches invites you to re-examine the faith perspective (“lens”) through which you have come to “see” yourself and the world with brief selected readings from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

“To see clearly, to see clearly, to see clearly–such is the great impulse and drive you meet on every page.” – Introduction to Be Still!  by Wayne. G. Boulton, Ph.D., former president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education.

“Such essays are an eloquent rebuke to the prejudice that theological writing is abstraction from the concretions of life. I think of Stewart as an incarnational theologian like Bonhoeffer, who insisted that we pay attention to God’s presence in the concretions of our history.” – Donald Shriver, Ph.D., President Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary (NYC).

SIX One-1.5 hour SESSIONS using Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness

ONE—What is “public theology? Read and discuss the “Foreword” (ix-x), “Introduction” (xv-xviii), and Psalm 46.

TWO—The Author’s Lens. Read and discuss “The Preface (xi-xii), and the last paragraph of the “Acknowledgements” (xiv) about the Brothers of Opal Street.

THREE—Exceptionalism as Sin. Read and discuss “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” (110-113) and “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet “ (10-12).

FOUR—Toward an Incarnational Theology. Read and discuss “Stillness at Blue Spring” (3-5) and “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” (5-7).

FIVE—No Gospel without the Blues. Read and discuss “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” (66-70) and “My Soul Waits in Silence” (98-100).

SIX—The Economy of God. Read “The Economy: Only One House” (114-115), “The World in an Oyster” (94-97), and “The Bristlecone Pines” (143-145).

ENDORSERS of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness

Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University:

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary:

”This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.’’

Barrie Shepherd, author of Between Mirage and Miracle:

“Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!”

 Michael McNally, Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders:

”Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”

Frank M. Yamada, President, American Theological Society, former President, McCormick Theological Seminary:

”In Be Still! Stewart masterfully spins a counter-narrative to the collective madness that is gripping our world. Like the psalmist, Stewart prays thoughtfully through metaphors and religious tradition, meshing theologians with news headlines to lead the reader to a deeper, more sustained truth. Be Still! reads like part op-ed and part parable. In these troubling and anxious times, may we, who have ears to hear, listen!”

Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College:

“Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open—much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it’s what the world needs now, more than ever.”

ORDERING THE BOOK, INQUIRIES & SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness is available from Amazon (paperback @$21 [shipping included w/Amazon Prime] or kindle @ $9.99), and from Wipf and Stock Publishers (paperback @$16.80 + shipping, or E-Book @$16.80). Churches and groups within 50 miles of Chaska, MN may order the book from the author @ a reduced rate.  A Study Guide is available at no cost.

Contact Gordon C. Stewart @ gordoncstewart@comast.net for speaking engagements, questions, or requests for more information.

The Hiding Place

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Visiting St. John’s Abbey for the first time years ago just before noon, one of the Benedictine monks invited the guest to join the monks for mid-day prayer.

Abbey Church, St. John's University | Collegeville, MN | Marcel

St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Moments after declining the offer, I changed my mind. Risking the embarrassment of unfamiliarity with the Benedictine rite, I quietly made my way up the right side aisle toward the Chancel choir loft where the monks were gathering.

St John's Abbey hurch

Interior of St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Anxious and wanting to be as invisible as possible, I slid up the steps of the choir loft like a cockroach and found a suitable hiding place, the seat in the far corner of the top row (far right in the photograph).

I felt a tug on my left shirt sleeve. “I don’t think you want to sit there,” said the kindly Benedictine Brother with a twinkling eye, “unless you want to be the Abbot!”

Any early childhood protestant prejudice that monasteries are places where people of lesser faith go to hide came tumbling down! There is no hiding place in a Benedictine monastery. No one is a cockroach.

During a crisis years later, I returned to St. john’s for spiritual guidance and took a more lowly place in the choir loft.

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

 

 

 

Intoxicated with Success

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“[People] are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity, for when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success.”

This bit of wisdom from what many will consider an unlikely source invites reflection in these days when one of America’s most successful has met adversity from his peers at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

421DA3B800000578-4674150-image-a-95_1499432704494He sits by himself at the table while others mingle. The chairs of China and the United Kingdom, whose leaders he has scorned, stay empty until they will be filled, begrudgingly, at the very last minute. One may hope it is a sobering moment of adversity.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back . . . ” – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis.

As an infant, Donald Trump was baptized by a Presbyterian church in Queens, New York in the tradition of the controversial 16th century theologian John Calvin. Perhaps all these years later, after all the success, but suddenly regarded as a cockroach, feeling like Gregor Samsa, he’s reading the passage from John Calvin and remembering who he really is.

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

 

When Hope Wavers

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“We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.”

Plugging the ears, closing the eyes, looking away have become standard practice in response to the growing sense of despair provoked by the bellicose behavior of current occupant of the Oval Office. Each day further chips away the objective grounds for hope that the insanity and inanity will stop. Hope grows smaller, wavers, goes into hiding, becomes weak, and, on the worst of days, feels overthrown.

Is it surprising that a word from the 16th Century serves to encourage the weary?

CalvinInstitutio

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Is it surprising that it comes from the pen of Jean  Calvin, the lawyer-theologian of the Genevan branch of the protestant reformation, the author of the The Institutes of the Christian Religion who had more than his fair share of days when hope was small, and whose little hope was shrunk by the many haughty, small-minded people who claimed to follow him?

I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility”; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.

There is no inconsistency when God raises up those who have fallen prostrate.[John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]

Holy One, increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown. Amen.

Elijah’s Joy: Life is beautiful!

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Elijah no longer watches CNN or any other news channels. He’s become a Gopher — a Minnesota Gopher fan, but he doesn’t care about sports or any kind of competition. He’s all smiles watching his mobile characters stroll across his crib, enjoying the music and his mother’s and grandmother’s voices.

We should all be so happy!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017

Double Vision

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Thomas and Peter are this writer’s favorite apostles. Thomas because he refused to believe unless he saw with his own eyes and confirmed “an idle tale” with his own hand; Peter because he was impetuous, quickly stepping onto the sea at Christ’s invitation only to plunge like a stone when his faith failed him.

It was through these two very different eyes — one of Thomas, the other of Peter — that we viewed Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s Two Churches in the Cliffs on Via Lucis this morning.

The two churches on the cliffs appeared differently to these different eyes of faith.

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Apse, Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) Photo by PJ McKey

The apse of Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its narrow vertical window immediately elicited a Petrine sense of immediate belief. It held Peter’s eye for a long time.

Perhaps it was held by the yearning for the vertical, that which transcends the horizontal banality to which a mass culture has shrunk everything not of its own making. Perhaps it is the delight of hope from above that trembles the spine of the despairing. Or perhaps it’s the beauty of the apse’s proportionality, the genius of the central Christian symbol: the intersection of the horizontal by the more gracious vertical — the horror of human cruelty interrupted and transformed by the unexpected shaft of light and the still small Voice heard by Elijah in his cave.  Or all of the above and more.

But Thomas is never far beyond Peter. It is the Thomas in us that asks the hard questions, insists on separating fact from fiction, reality from illusion, good faith from what Sartre called bad faith. It is Thomas whose faith couldn’t make itself piggy-back on the shoulders of the other apostles’ story of having met the risen Christ. It was Thomas who insisted that he see for himself the evidence for “seeing” or believing in hope beyond the horror of the suffering, cruelty, and death his eyes had seen days before on the Hill of Skulls.

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Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence ) Photo by ICE-Marseille, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

 

Which brings us to the second church on the cliff — the story of the stillborn in Via Lucis‘ post that awakens Thomas’ skepticism.

“Notre Dame de Beauvoir was known for its suscitations – stillborn children were carried up and baptised there, at which time they would immediately come to life and would be granted a place in heaven. This was a well-known phenomenon in the region and also known at two neighboring churches.”

While the thought of stillborn children immediately coming back to life appeals to Peter, it offends Thomas as an idle tale for the feeble of heart and mind. It’s either true or it’s not. And, if it’s true, what kind of cruel God would deny the same to the stillborn children and grieving parents who have not carried them up the steps to Notre Dame de Beauvoir for suscitations? Or is the tradition of Notre Dame de Beauvoir a sacred story of love and hope beyond what the empiricist eye of Thomas can see?

We have a left brain and a right brain, and sometimes it is true that never the twain shall meet. Likewise, faith has two eyes: Peter the believer, and Thomas the doubter — its own kind of double vision — looking out and up from one small brain.

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

 

 

An Echo from Lockerbie

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Pan_Am_Flight_103._Crashed_Lockerbie,_Scotland,_21_December_1988With the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in the news yesterday, we share this excerpt from James Whyte’s sermon for the mourners at the Lockerbie Memorial Service 1988.
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That such carnage of the young and of the innocent should have been willed by men in cold and calculated evil, is horror upon horror. What is our response to that?

The desire, the determination, that those who did this should be detected and, if possible, brought to justice, is natural and is right. The uncovering of the truth will not be easy, and evidence that would stand up in a court of law may be hard to obtain.

Justice is one thing. But already one hears in the media the word ‘retaliation’. As far as I know, no responsible politician has used that word, and I hope none ever will, except to disown it. For that way lies the endless cycle of violence upon violence, horror upon horror. And we may be tempted, indeed urged by some, to flex our muscles in response, to show that we are men. To show that we are what? To show that we are prepared to let more young and more innocent die, to let more rescue workers labour in more wreckage to find the grisly proof, not of our virility, but of our inhumanity. That is what retaliation means.

The  Right Rev. James Whyte was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, still suffering from grief and physical fatigue following his wife’s death. He had recently retired as Principal and Professor of Practical Theology at the University of St. Andrews’ divinity school, St. Mary’s. The full text of the Lockerbie Memorial  sermon was published in Laughter and Tears: Thoughs on Faith (Reflections), pp. 92–5.

Every Thursday afternoon in the summer of 1991 the Right Rev. Professor James (“Jim”) Whyte brewed a pot of tea and served scones to the complete stranger he’d welcomed to St. Andrews, an American Presbyterian minister seeking his tutelage in practical theology during a sabbatical from pastoral duties at Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. His hand-written prayers delivered at Hope Park Church in St. Andrews remain a priceless treasure.

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

 

Elijah’s hunger strike!

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carseatFullSizeRenderElijah is not happy when he arrives at Grandpa’s and Grandma’s at dinner time.  Adult dinner-time, not his! Elijah still eats every two hours, all day, all night.

He hates his car seat.

He yells and screams at Mom for the 20-minute drive from Mom’s to his Grandparents’ home in Chaska.

The conversation begins while removing the straps of his straitjacket.

“Elijah, Mom needs you to be quiet when she’s driving. You need to be more respectful. Mom has needs, too.”

“No she doesn’t! Mom’s a warden! I hate that cell!!!”

“No, Mom loves you! She’s not a warden; the car is not a prison; and your car seat is nothing like a prison cell.”

“Uh-huh!!! I thought you were my friend! You’re just like Mom! You don’t care about me. You think I’m just a thing, like my car seat. I’m not coming here anymore.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. Do you want me to get you out of your car seat or not?”

carseatNo! I’m staying here just like Martin Sostre did in solitary confinement because he refused to submit to the warden’s rules.”

“Well, Martin’s case was altogether different. Martin was a political prisoner at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. Chaska’s a long way from Dannemora.”

“You loved Martin more than you love me, and Martin wasn’t even your grandson!”

“Well, there’s a big difference between you and Martin. Martin was a man of courage. He didn’t scream and yell. He didn’t cry. Martin didn’t terrorize his mother.”

“You care more about people who aren’t members of the family than you do about me! That’s not right! Martin was a criminal. I’m a prisoner, but I’m no criminal.”

“Elijah, there’s a big difference. Martin was an adult. He wasn’t in solitary for his own safety. He was put there to humiliate him. Mom puts you in your car seat to keep you safe.”

“Uh-huh! And because she’s enforcing the law! Mom’s a warden and you’re a guard! How come you won’t help me! I’m your grandson! I’m gonna go on a hunger strike!”

“Well, okay. But remember. If you go on a hunger strike, you’ll still get strapped in your car seat. The only things a hunger strike would change are you’ll make Mom happy ’cause she doesn’t have to feed you every two hours . . . and you’re going to starve.”

“That’s not fair!””

“No, it’s not, Elijah. Life’s not fair. As my old football coach used to say, ‘Life is tough! You must learn to adjust.”

“Not in my car seat!”

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

 

 

 

Grandpa, we’re with Mika, right?

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Eli and baseball IMG_5753Elijah and Grandpa had just read the President’s tweet about Mika Brzezinski when Elijah said a bad word.

“You need to be more respectful of the President!”

“Why?” asked Elijah. “He’s not my President! Look what he just did to Mika! What’s he have to do that for! He’s mean, Grandpa!”

“I wish I knew, Elijah. Most of his tweets happen when he wakes up early in the morning.”

“Maybe he needs to be nursed as soon as he wakes up. That always calms me down.”

170629123255-trump-tweets-assualt-on-brzezinski-1024x576.jpg“Well, I’m afraid Donald Trump’s mother is way beyond being able to nurse him. She’s really old, way older than Grandpa, Elijah.”

“Then you should call the White House. They should give him a bottle as soon as he wakes up before he attacks another mother! When he stops tweeting insults at women like Mika, I’ll stop calling him a mother.”

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

 

 

 

Operation Popeye and Leonardo da Vinci

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Scientist and artist John Lince-Hopkins responded to Geoengineering and Nature Itself:

“Don’t forget that the U.S. was the first (and so far, only) world power to weaponize climate during the Viet Nam War (Operation Popeye).

“Whither now?”

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s article on Operation Popeye:

The cloud seeding operation during the Vietnam War ran from March 20, 1967 until July 5, 1972 in an attempt to extend the monsoon season, specifically over areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The operation was used to induce rain and extend the East Asian Monsoonseason in support of U.S. government efforts related to the War in Southeast Asia.

The former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, was aware that there might be objections raised by the international scientific community but said in a memo to the president that such objections had not in the past been a basis for prevention of military activities considered to be in the interests of U.S. national security.

The chemical weather modification program was conducted from Thailand over Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and allegedly sponsored by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA without the authorization of then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who had categorically denied to Congress that a program for modification of the weather for use as a tactical weapon even existed.[1]

Click Operation Popeye for a history of Operation Popeye’s attempt at weaponizing the climate.

Then join John in asking “Whither now?” John’s no Leonardo da Vinci, but he represents the wisdom of the master artist from an earlier era:

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” – Leonardo da Vinci. 

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

Geoengineering and Nature Itself

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John Hopkins paintingThis morning John Lince-Hopkins of Lynx North Studio brought to our attention Technological Fixes for Climate Change.

We share below one theologian’s response to Technological Fixes for Climate Change.

Regarding “geoengineering”, maybe it’s just my depression, but I think not. The Tower of Babel has always been one of my go-to texts because it holds the paradox of the human condition. All attempts at “engineering” our way to security will fail.

There is an architecture that eludes our engineering when it comes to the planet. It’s called Nature. We are living in the time of what Bill McKibben calls “the end of Nature”. To what extend the end of Nature is the result of human disruption conceived in Western terms as “man over nature,” and to what extend climate change is attributable to non-human factors makes little difference IMHO to the call of the human species within Nature.

The Human Vocation

There are two very different creation stories in the Book of Genesis. Chapter one comes from the priestly (P) tradition.

It was the genius of the Priestly tradition’s creation story (Genesis 1) that they saw the balance of Nature as “Good”  (“and God saw…and it was good!”). The artchitecture of creation is a beautiful piece of art that inspires praise and awe. To imagine something else would be to fall from praise. You might say the P writers were more like scientists who beheld and marveled at the intricate web of natural life.

No sooner do we read Chapter One that we come to the second very different creation story from the perspective of what biblical scholars call “J”,  so called because of the use of the writer’s Name for God.

Genesis two and three read more like novels, expressing in very earthy terms the earth-bound character of human nature and human creature’s resistance to creaturely life — the inexplicable choice of the archetypal “earthlings” to eat the fruit of the ONLY tree among all the trees of the garden based in humankind’s tragic urge of to become “like God, knowing good and evil.”

Only when they fail to stand in awe and thanksgiving in the midst of the Good (a good which includes nature’s “limits” on their behavior) do they invoke the curse that renders them shamefully conscious of their nakedness (their naturalness) and sends them into a hiding from their Creator. Fratricide (Cain’s slaying of Abel) quickly follows their expulsion from Eden.

The continuing human calling is to see Earth itself as the theater of a glory not of our own making and to resist the illusion of the serpent: “if you eat of the one tree which is forbidden, you will become like God.” It’s the second part of that statement that is the temptation – refusing to live with the limits of Nature itself. One might even say “the Fall” is an attempt at geoengineering.

Genesis 1-11 is called the Primeval History — a history that never was but always is. The Primeval History concludes with the story of Tower of Babel — human engineering for the purpose of “making a name for ourselves”, i.e., establishing and securing our existence in time in the face of chaos.

Now it’s “GEO-engineering” – the illusion that we can fix this, that we can “engineer” our way out of the mess our geoengineering on behalf of a more perfect world has created. There’s a HUGE difference between geoengineering and being responsible. The former disturbs Nature. The latter works collaboratively with Nature…or whatever is left of her. Anything else is Babel. It is doomed to fail.

John captures in paint what his word say of his intention.

jr-3“Environmentally focused paintings and other art forms from the early 21st century build a foundational historic context for future generations.  They are documents of the time of ‘the first awareness’ by the human species about the course and implications of climate disruption. As this awareness settles in, climate disruption in the form of weather (as it affects biodiversity, human society and the physical planet) has become, for me, a main topic of my work.”

Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say that John Lince-Hopkins, the scientist and the painter, combines in the 21st Century the ancient wisdoms of the P writer and the J writer — the awe of Genesis 1 and the earthy calling and tragedy of Genesis 2, 3, and 11. Would that we might all do the same.

Click Art Wander for more on how John views his work as a climate change scientist and artist.

Thankful for the friendship,

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

 

 

 

THE SECOND COMING – W. B. YEATS

Thanks to Marilyn Armstrong for sharing W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming” today.

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THE SECOND COMING – William Butler Yeats


The Second Coming” is a poem written by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer.

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No More Silence

JohnMBuchananPastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and former publisher of The Christian Century John M. Buchanan shares his inner struggle following events in Charlottesville.

Other religious leaders’ reflections will follow here on Views from the Edge.

Hold to the Good

At first I thought that David Brooks was on to something in his New York Times editorial, August 8, 2017: “Getting Trump Out of My Brain.” I nodded in sympathy with Brooks’ observation: “For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it is not interested in devoting neurons to that guy. There’s nothing more to be learned about Trump’s mixture of ignorance, insecurity and narcissism. Every second spent on his bluster is degrading rather than informative.” I’ve abided by that sentiment for a while. I have been so overwhelmed by what I have seen happen to my country and its institutions that I simply haven’t known what to say. But I remembered whose I am and who I follow, and my own Christian saints and mentors, and I cannot remain silent.

After the violence and murder…

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