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.

BlairAtholl-mill_8905

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.”

John_Burroughs_1909.jpg

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.

ElismilingIMG_6310

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.

800px-Chapelle_Notre-Dame_de_Beauvoir

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 Parents, the son, and the girlfriend

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She was homeless when he welcomed her into his parents’ new townhouse. So far as the parents knew, she was “sort of” their adult son’s “girlfriend” but they weren’t exactly sure what their relationship was. It was strange. It didn’t seem romantic. She seemed different.

Among the neighbors everything seemed fine until the squad cars’ flashing red lights lit up the street and four uniformed police officers ran by their homes reaching for their holsters. Something was different.

The parents of the son who’d invited the son’s “girlfriend” to live with them had called 911 after a screaming meltdown in the upstairs bathroom where their guest had poked huge holes in the walls with the towel fixtures she had yanked from the walls and had threatened to kill everyone in the house.

When the police arrived and called upstairs, she calmly came downstairs, curious to see what the ruckus was about, appearing calm as a cucumber, without a care in the world while the son’s mother sat trembling with her head between her hands and the 35 year-old son stepped outside for a smoke.

No charges were filed. The parents had come to realize over time that the girlfriend had “some problems” and thought they could help her. The four of them continued to occupy the house after the incident was “resolved” by the police visit.

Two months later the red lights appeared again after another upstairs commotion left the son’s face looking like Rocky Balboa after his fight with Apollo Creed. This time the girlfriend was no Adrian. Adrian  had acted like Apollo…with a knife.

This time Rocky was rushed to the emergency room. Adrian was taken away in handcuffs, screaming at the officers, the boyfriend, and his parents, for another committal to a mental health facility for violation of probation resulting from previous domestic assaults. The parents stayed where they are, dumbfounded how compassion can turn out so badly.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time,” said Carl Sandburg, “and sometimes you weep.”

 

Bill in the Waiting Room

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cardiac-investigations-for-acute-coronary-syndrome-5-638He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.

“Where you from?” he asks, welcoming the gowned stranger who’s come for a stress test.

“Chaska,” I answer.

Where?” he asks over the whine from his hearing aids.

I’m not anxious to strike up a conversation. I’m here for a stress test. I’m an introvert. Talking with strangers when I’m going inside to cope with stress is the last thing I want in the waiting room.

“Chaska!” I repeat.

“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”

He gives a broad smile as though we’re related. (Waconia and Chaska are neighbors in Carver County, MN.)

His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, interrupts the flow of the conversation.

“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”

“94,” she the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”

“Chaska’s the county seat. That’s where i was sworn in.” [Clearly, he’s an extrovert.]

“World War II?”

“February 6, 1942. Eighty of us. A lot of guys from Chaska.”

“Where’d you serve?”

“He was part of D-Day,” answers Jane. Bill’s head sinks toward his lap. His chin begins to quiver. A long pause follows.

“Only 15 of us came back.”

“Were you injured?”

“No,” he says, forming his hands in prayer and looking up. “I don’t know why.” He falls again into silence.

DDay120606121335-d-day-01-horizontal-large-galleryHe’s back on the beach at Normandy.

“That a lot of death. A lot of killing. A lot of loss,” I say.

He looks up and nods before dropping his head again.

Posttraumatic Stress,” I say quietly to Jane. “I’m a pastor. I’ve seen it so many times with Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans.”

“I think so,” she says. “He still can’t talk about it after all these years.”

The technician calls my name. “Mr. Stewart?”

As I leave the waiting room, he reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the young guy from Chaska.

I get on the treadmill, reminded that there’s stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison and thankful for a few moments with 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elijah and Pumphouse Creamery

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

Elijah’s never had ice cream.

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

Elijah, they have special flavors at the Pumphouse.

Like what?

Like Madagascar Vanilla, Fresh Rhubarb, and Belgian Chocolate.

Are they organic? I can only do organic.

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

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

Yes. We’ll take you in your car seat.

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

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

 

 

Grandpa, this is boring!

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

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

What’s a team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Elijah, Grandpa is God talking!”

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

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

What’s night, Grandpa?

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

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

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

Uh uh! Mom’s afraid of the dark!

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

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

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

Like what?

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

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

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

Wow! God can talk?!

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

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

 

The Best and Worst Sellers Lists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have no answers. Only a question.

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

Grace and Peace,

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

 

Jake’s bench visitor

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

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

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

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

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

CoopersFoods1Jake’s bench is meant for the weary traveler.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Tapering off my MacBook Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elijah’s third birthday

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Elijah IMG_0078

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Adult American Kindergarten

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

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

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

That was a long time ago.

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

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

 

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

 

 

Ever wonder about your DNA?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Monk in the Morvan Forest (Dennis Aubrey)

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

Via Lucis Photography

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

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

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Revelation at Andrews Hollow

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

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guarantor of “America Second”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Who will you stand with today?

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Dear Folks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will you stand with today?

I wish I were a newborn…

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

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

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

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

When and how will it stop?

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

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

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

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

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

How and when will it stop?

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

 

Grandpa, who’s Mr. Rogers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, like ours, right Grandpa?”

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

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

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

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

“Who’s Mr. Rogers?”

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

“What’s a Presbyterian?”

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

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

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

Grandpa, are you famous?

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

Grandpa and Elijah1“Grandpa, are you famous?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

Howdy folks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SERENDIPITY

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

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

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Grandpa, you said a bad word!

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

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

“Well, Elijah, it’s complicated.”

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

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

“What’s ‘simple‘?

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you cry all night too, Grandpa?”

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

 

 

 

 

“We’re still in! You’re Wacked out!”

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

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

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

“We’re Still In!”

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

The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Episcopal Church.

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

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

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

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

“You’re wacked out! We’re still in!”

My Father’s Portrait

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

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

My father had died two years earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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