Letters from an American

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The news I might not hear

Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American: the History Behind the Politics is waiting for me every morning. It brings me up-to-date on news-worthy events that often fly under the radar — like today’s report about the late-night firing of the Intelligence Community Inspector General — another end-run around Congress and further violation of law.

Letters from an American latest newsletter

April 3, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson
8 hr

Quite the Friday night news dump today. At about ten o’clock tonight, Trump notified Congress he has fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
 
In September 2019, Atkinson made sure Congress knew that then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was illegally withholding from the congressional intelligence committees a whistleblower complaint. Atkinson had examined the complaint, as required by law, and had determined it was “credible” and “urgent” and so sent it on to the acting DNI, who was supposed to send it to Congress. Instead, Maguire took it to the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Barr stopped the transmission by arguing that since it was a complaint about the president, and since the president was not a member of the intelligence community, the complaint shouldn’t go forward. And we know where it went from there.
 
Now Trump has fired Atkinson.... 

Click Letters from an American to read the rest of the story and to subscribe to Letters from an American. Ignore the video at the top of the screen to reading her column. Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College.

Thanks for coming by,

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

Trump ghost writer Tony Schwartz tells his story on YouTube

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Tony Schwartz knows Donald Trump in a way no one else does. Ten (10) days before the 2016 election, he shared his experience at an Oxford University public forum preserved on YouTube.

Click HERE to listen in on what you knew and didn’t know before listening to the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, the book that put a 38 year-old real estate developer on the NYT Best Sellers list and onto the world stage.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (49 two to four page social commentaries on faith and the news), Chaska, MN, April 4, 2020.

No Easter Bunny Easter this year

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Open for business by Easter

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full [on Easter]? You know the churches aren’t allowed, essentially, to have much of a congregation there,” said President Trump in a Fox News interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

Christianity Lite

It won’t happen. Except, maybe, at the Tampa Bay megachurch, whose pastor’s arrest made headlines. But if it should happen that the churches are packed this Eastern, they would be filled with six-packs of “Christianity Lite” — the religion of “The Life of Brian” (Monty Python) and “Happy Feet” (Steve Martin).

The book cover for Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life draws laughs because comedy routines like “Happy Feet” are wonderfully outrageous critiques of real life rip-offs that masquerade as Easter joy -“the power of positive thinking” and “the prosperity gospel” — that replace the real joy that comes out of horror.

Out of sorrow and death

“Agony in the Garden” from door of cathedral in Beaumont, Texas

Easter is not about the Easter Bunny and Happy Feet. It’s the Church’s celebration of the resurrection of the Jesus who was “crucified, dead, and buried” (Apostles Creed). It’s not “happy”; it’s thoughtfully joyful.

Easter comes after Holy Week’s contemplation on the Passion, focusing the mind and heart on Jesus moving steadily toward his own state execution while his closest companions betray him, deny knowing him, fail to stay awake with him, abandon him in the moment he feels utterly abandoned — Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — and return home in that dead silence when nothing but death seems certain.

Reaping what we sow

Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries is a White House “faith advisor” who leads a weekly Bible study attended by White House staff, members of the House and Senate, their staff, and other federal workers. He and Paula White, the other “faith advisor” in the White House, have the President’s ear. That’s deeply troubling.

As COVID-19 circles the globe ignoring national boundaries and borders, Mr. Drollinger attributes the coronavirus pandemic to “the consequential wrath of God.” We are reaping the consequences of what we have sown: radical “environmentalism” that goes against our Creator”; “the suppression of truth” by atheists and those who don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God; and the acceptance of what he calls “a sensation toward homosexuality.”

The Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Matthew

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” -- Matthew 13:3-9 NRSV
Pieter Bruegel's painting, The Parable of the Sower
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 -1569 ) Parable of the Sower

The focus of the parable is not “the consequential wrath of God” and, perhaps, we are not the sowers but the soil into which God sows the seed. The Parable of the Sower offers an invitation to live now as the good soil that produces a joyful harvest in the Sower’s field.

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

Toward Truth and Wisdom

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Time governed by Wisdom

In the time of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, prudence (wisdom) was still held in high regard. People were no less foolish in Emerson’s time than we are in ours and folks lied back then, but truth was the measure against which speech and opinion were tested. Emerson’s essay on “Prudence” speaks of truth and the damage to the self and society when truth is violated.

Every violation of truth is not only
a sort of suicide in the liar,
but is a stab at the health of society.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
ESSAYS: FIRST EDITION (1841)

Emerson’s essay on Prudence put to paper what Titian (1490-1576) had painted on canvas in his “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” four centuries before.

The old man on the left (Titian himself) is turned toward the past. The boldest figure at the center (Titian’s oldest son, Orazio) represents the present. His cousin, Marco Vecellio, at the right is facing the future. The triple-headed beast — wolf, lion, and dog — represent the cardinal virtue Prudence.

In classical western philosophy dating to Plato’s Republic, Prudence (Wisdom) has been regarded as the thoughtful supervisor or manager of the other three moral virtues (Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice). Prudence (Wisdom) brings the insight to distinguish between the semblance of reality and reality itself, and the considered intelligence to act accordingly.

Titian’s painting, like Emerson’s essay, offers guidance during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Why? There is a parallel. Titian and his heir both died in the same year during the Plague.

Reality and the semblance of reality; truth and the distortion of truth

We in our time face a threat of two simultaneous plagues: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the violation of truth that “stabs a society” and commits “a sort of suicide in the liar.” Little attention is paid to the past or the future. A society without the Wisdom to discern the difference between truth and falsehood, reality and the semblance of reality, temperance and impulse, fortitude and facades, justice and privilege, and between a democratic republic and autocracy is a society in trouble. How we manage our way through the COVID-19 pandemic will determine the American character and the nation’s future.

The postcard

In the last two weeks, every home received the post card guiding the American public through the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year, one might expect the guidelines to arrive from an authoritative source — the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, perhaps in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service.

But 2020 is not a normal year. It’s and election year. The President who called the coronavirus threat a hoax, played to the myth of national exceptionalism with references to “the Chinese virus,” assaults the patriotism of the Speaker of the House, members of the opposition party, and the Fourth Estate (the free press of the First Amendment), substitutes his personal feelings for the knowledge of the medical science professional, and puts himself at the microphone and television cameras of the daily coronavirus updates — this is the President who sends a post card presuming to provide guidance by post card to every American household at taxpayer expense.

Post card offering guidance for America, paid for by taxpayer money

Emerson knew that truth-telling was an essential virtue that protected the American republic from homicide and its citizens from killing their own souls. Prudence and imprudence in government were not strangers to Emerson or those whose genius crafted the balance of powers the became the U.S. Constitution.

How does a wounded country heal?

How and why it happened requires a look at American history. How we move forward leaves many of us scratching our heads. But one thing is certain. If we allow our disparate passions and partisan allegiances to replace Wisdom, we will have chosen personal suicide and societal homicide.

Emerson’s essay and Titian’s “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” found a friend in Anglican priest and poet Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (June 27, 1883 – March 8, 1929), the WWI British Chaplain nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willie’ for the Woodbine cigarettes he gave injured and dying soldiers.

After World War I Studdert Kennedy became a pacifist and a socialist whose books and sermons were on the front line of the political-economic debate over the country’s future. He stood for his convictions, but saw himself as a member of a commonwealth who, like all other citizens, was called to search for wisdom “outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

There is, and there must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon questions arising out of our wider human relations, social questions, that is, apart from and above party prejudice and sectional interest. If that is not so, and there is no such plane, and we can not think of these big questions outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife, then it is safe to assert that there will never be a solution of the problem whatsoever. The idea that politics in the true sense — that is, the art of managing our human relationships on a large scale — must remain a separate department of life, distinct from morals and religion, is ultimately irrational and absurd.

One of the great public and religious dangers of the day is the use of the words socialism and capitalism without any real attempt to define their meaning.

– G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, “The Church in Politics” sermon preached at the 1926 annual meeting of the Industrian Christian Fellowship at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

This April Fools Day, may God grant courage to all us fools to let Prudence lead us to find Truth again and save us for each other and our better selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaka, MN, April 1, 2020

Rescued by a Virus – COVID-19 and the Chain-Link Fence

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Two buddies and the chain-link barbed wire fence

I was five years old the morning I screamed from the top of the new chain-link barbed-wire fence that separated my next door buddy, Buddy Singleton, and me. Moments before, we had been speaking through the fence Buddy’s father had just put up to protect his property. We were friends. We wanted to play.What to do? One of us had to scale the chain-like fence. Clinging to the chain links, I climbed to the top where the barbed wire was. I lost my footing and screamed, hanging by one hand from the barbed wire that had spiked my hand. I hung there until my mother heard the screams and rushed to take me down. I never climbed a chain-link barb-wire fence again. The scar on my left hand reminds me every day.

Creative Commons photo of barbed wire by درفش کاویانی uploaded from Wikimedia.

Making Mistakes and the Consequences

Making mistakes is part of life. It’s just human. Sometimes our mistakes hurt ourselves, sometimes they hurt others. Sometimes they hurt both. But mistakes also teach us to look closely before trying to climb over a fence, no matter how lofty our intentions.

Today the fence I’d like to get over is harder to scale. “C’mon over,” says Buddy. “I can’t!” I say. “Sure you can. Just climb over the fence!” I’ve learned not to listen to a dangerous invitation. Having made that mistake, I now look up to the top, see the barbed wire, and decide to stay safe in my yard on my side of the fence. I don’t understand the Singletons, the Singletons don’t understand me, but each of us is sure we do.

Fences and neighbors

Today the invitations to “c’mon over” are hard to find. It’s not so much that we’re cowards; it’s that we don’t want each other in our yards. The Shadow’s question “What evil lurks in the hearts of men?” is no longer a question about all of us; it has become specific: “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Singletons?” “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Stewarts?” We no longer talk through the chain links. We call each other names, sure that, whatever evil is, its place is the other side of the fence. We get our news from different sources. We tell stories about the fence that separates good and evil, and the people on the other side of it. We don’t just see things differently. We see different things. We buy the stories about the fence and the people on the other side of it. The Stewarts watch MSNBC and listen to NPR; the Singletons tune into FOXNews and Rush Limbaugh. We’re worlds apart. Or so it seems, but . . .

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall [a chain-link barb-wire fence] (Robert Frost in “Mending Wall”) bubbles up from a deeper memory in the year a virus locks us in our homes on both sides of the fence. COVID-19 knows nothing about fences and walls, good and evil, or state and national borders. Sometimes it takes a poet to take us to our deeper selves.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
- Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Gordon C. Stewart, at home in Chaska, MN, March 31, 2020.

Elijah shares his pizza with Grampa

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Sharing comes naturally to Elijah. In this scene recorded by Gramma, Elijah surprises Grampa (Wumpa) with a piece of his pizza. Elijah has no knowledge of hoarding. He demonstrates the generosity of the widow of Zarephath who shared her last provisions with Elijah.

Elijah offers a piece of his pizza to Grandpa (“Wumpa”)
Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
-Isaiah 58:6a-7 NRSV

Gordon C. Stewart (“Wumpa”) with Elijah and Gramma in Chaska, MN, March 26, 2020 in this period of social distancing.

Elijah and the Green Smoothies

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A Feel-good Story in Self-Isolation

Feel-good stories are becoming fewer during this period of self-isolation. There’s a virus out there that has kept us alone at home for 10 days, but we still talk with the two year-old grandchildren on Skype — or drop in on Elijah at daycare. Remotely, of course.

Elijah at daycare on St. Patrick’s Day

Elijah loves his daycare. What’s not to like? He has close friends. There are only four other playmates. They all adore Lidia, their daycare provider. Lidia only speaks Spanish — of the Cuban variety. Elijah and his friends speak only Spanish in Lidia’s home. But on St. Patrick’s Day Lidia make green smoothies. She called them “immunity drinks”. If it weren’t for the language and the ages, you’d think they were in a pub with a pint. Take a look.

Elijah and friends with Lidia at daycare.

A Brief Conversation — Elijah and Grampa (Bumpa)

Elijah, it makes me happy to see you like daycare so much.

No me gusta la guardería, abuelo.

I’m sorry, Grampa only speaks English. What did you say?

I said, “I don’t like daycare.”

Sure you do.

No! Amo la guardería. Oops, I’m sorry, I forgot. I said “No! I don’t. I LOVE daycare!”

I can see that. I used the wrong word.

It’s okay Grampa, you and Gramma never had daycare, right? You never learned Spanish, right?

Right.

So you didn’t have a girlfriend til you were really old, huh?

Do you have a girlfriend, Elijah? You’re only two.

I’m almost three! My girlfriend’s older. I LOVE Nora and Nora loves me.

A feel-good story for the homebound, brought to you by Elijah’s abuerlo, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2020.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

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No, not THAT Tea Party –the one that turned Boston Harbor into a sea of tea; and not THAT Tea Party — the 20th Century movement to strip government to its bare bones. THIS one is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Daily Briefings

Watching the White House daily briefings on the coronavirus, I feel like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I mutter to myself, “if something made sense for a change?”

The Mad Hatter, who recently cut the pandemic disease office of the National Security Council as fat and who has no medical education or expertise, presumes to know better than Dr. Anthony Fauci and the other health professionals standing behind him. I talk to the president through the television broadcast to explain what I see and hear.

Photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci

“When you’re at the microphone facing the cameras, you can’t see what I see on the faces of the doctors standing behind you. You don’t see the stares or feel the energy it takes to hide their disdain. They cringe when you give assurances that everything is under control, declare with authority that the risks are minimal to none, and make announce remedies that don’t exist or are dangerous to our health.”

I shout at the television, “‘If you don’t think . . . , you shouldn’t talk.’ You haven’t made sense since you called the coronavirus a hoax. We’re all guests at your Tea Party, doing our best to be respectful while kicking each other under the table, winking, and passing notes with the scones and tea cozy.

“Those who know their history have read the book(s) your co-author Tony Schwartz and first wife, Ivana, claim to have seen in your bedroom. We know that history repeats itself for those who ignore their history. Our grandparents and great-grandparents risked their lives and died to save us from the day when those books might become America’s Bible. We hear in your manner of speaking, repetition of phrases, framing the free press as America’s great enemy, and see in your facial expressions and body posture, the projection of the Strong Man. What you say and how you say it has a ring to it.”

The Strong Man’s Script

“As the last factor I must in all modesty describe my own person: Irreplaceable. Neither a military man nor a civilian could replace me. Attempts at assassination may be repeated. I am convinced of my powers of intellect and of decision. Wars are always ended only by the annihilation of the opponent. Anyone who believes differently is irresponsible. Time is working for our adversaries. Now there is a relationship of forces which can never be more propitious for us. No compromises. Hardness toward ourselves. I shall strike and not capitulate. The fate of the Nation depends only on me. No one has ever achieved what I have achieved. My life is of no importance in all this. I have led [the nation] to a great height, even if the world does hate us now.”

“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.”

“The Strong Man is mightiest alone.”

“Strength lies not in defense, but attack.”

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

“The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

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

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

“But the most brilliant propaganda technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.” 

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

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

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

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

“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”

“Life doesn’t forgive weakness.” 

“Strength lies not in defense but attack.”

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

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”

“To truly ‘learn’ history means to open your eyes and discover the forces that cause historical events to happen. The art of reading and of learning means remembering the important parts and forgetting the unimportant.”

All the above are quotations from Mein Kampf or speeches of Hitler

There Will Be No Throne Here

The original Tea Party threw the tea into Boston Harbor to protest a colonial power’s taxation of the colonists without representation. They were telling the King of England to go home. There would be no palace or gilded throne in the new American Republic.

portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm III

Little could the colonists at the original Tea Party have imagined a king rising from American soil — a free electorate allowing a would-be king to shred its own Constitution.

Neither could they have imagined another democratic republic which de-throned Kaiser Wilhelm II turn back the clock for the Strong Man promised to make Germany great again and re-paint the Jewish Jesus as an Aryan-race anti-Jewish fighter who gave his blessing to the nationalist purge and purification we now call the Holocaust.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of 2020 is not in Germany, and pundits have been well-advised to refrain from any comparisons, especially when the need to unite is so apparent. But we cannot pretend not to see what we see and hear what we hear.

“That’s very important,” the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: “Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,” he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

“Unimportant, of course, I meant,” the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, “important—unimportant–unimportant–important–” as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down “important,” and some “unimportant.” Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; “but it doesn’t matter a bit,” she thought to herself.

Members of the Jury: “important . . . unimportant . . . important”?

The danger to an America locked down to safeguard public health is greater than the coronavirus. It is the threat that we will come to see the Boston Tea Party and the U.S. Constitution as partisan mistakes, and plug our ears lest we hear even the faintest hint of the shredding of the Constitution and see no similarity to the Strong Man’s Script.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, available in paperback and kindle through Wipf and Stock and Amazon.

Every day is the last judgment

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There’s no need to hang about
waiting for the Last Judgement —
it takes place every day.

Albert Camus, The Fall (1956)

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was not the first and will not be the last. Historical contexts, memory, and what we believe make a difference to how we live/die in the 2020 pandemic.The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than all the deaths in World War I. “It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351” – Stanford Encyclopedia.

In the United States, 195,000 Americans lost their lives in the month of October, 1918 alone. The influenza of 1918-19 became known as “the Spanish Flu” after it took the life of the King of Spain, but it was no more Spanish than COVID-19 is Chinese. A virus is a virus. It pays no attention to nations or the propensity of nations and peoples to target a scapegoat — another nation unlike one’s own — as though a virus knows the difference.

Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 13:31-46)

First appearances can be deceptive, few more so than the teachings of Jesus. The Parable of the Last Judgment is not what it seems –it is not about future end of time. It’s a parable inviting the listeners to get their heads out of the clouds and put their feet on the ground. Its message? Pay attention to people in front of you, or nearby, living under the interstate bridge in the dead of winter. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoners — put yourself squarely in the midst of human suffering.

We might say, the measure of life is compassion in the midst of a world that makes no good sense. What happens at the end is not yours to know. Pay attention to today. Every day is the Last Judgment.

But there’s something else that goes unnoticed in individualistic cultures. Jesus’s parable it is not about the individual. The parable is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s a story that calls the nations to account for their behavior. In that sense, the parable is political. It’s about the polis and its values. There are no privileged nations. All are measured by one standard. The last judgment– the judgment of compassion, kindness, and humility — takes place every day.

The Opportunity of Trouble

Like the Influenza pandemic of 2018-19, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a crisis in the Chinese sense of the word — danger and opportunity. The danger seems obvious, but perhaps the opportunity is greater. We are at war with each other across the U.S.A., shouting across a deep chasm that the other is a goat. We are in very deep trouble, but we’re in it together because of a deadly virus. In hopes we will come to the deeper knowledge of who we are.

“The human mind and the human heart move to truth through trouble,” said Irish Anglican priest G.A. Studdert Kennedy. “It does not really matter what sort of truth you seek. Bunyan faced with the problem of the soul, and Newton faced with the problem of the stars, are both alike in this: they are troubled spirits. They brood over a mass of apparently unconnected, unrelated, and meaningless facts. Bunyan mutters, ‘There is no health in me’; and Newton mutters, ‘There is no sense in them.’ For both it is dark, and they do not know the way. Both walk at times into the dungeon of despair. The pilgrim’s progress of the scientist and of the saint is made along much the same road, and it begins with a troubled brooding, and a heavy heavy burden at the back of the mind and heart. We must all start there. Life begins in Lent. But there comes to both a supreme and splendid moment, the moment when they cry, ‘I see! I see!’ Bunyan sees a Cross and a Man who hangs in agony upon it. Newton sees an apple falling to the ground. But into the minds of both there comes a blaze of light.” — G.A. Studdert Kennedy (“Woodbine Willie”) sermon “The Word with God.”

Perhaps a blaze of light will flood this moment of trouble, we will rediscover each other, find our better selves, and cry out with fresh joy, “I see! I see!”

1918 flu epidemic: the Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital. The photograph depicts volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2020.

Elijah writes Mr. Hannity about Torona Biris

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Dear Mr. Hannity,

This is Elijah. I want to be your friend, but grampa says I can’t be. Maybe if we can’t be friends we can talk like this on our iPads on my way to daycare.

I hope you’re staying safe like gramma and grampa. They won’t go out of the house anymore because the germs are outside. They’re old, like you. We haven’t seen each other for a week because of the torona biris. Mommy says I won’t get it cause I’m just two, but I might carry the biris into gramma and grampa’s house and make them sick and die. How do you carry something you can’t see?

Grampa says he hopes you get the biris. I told him that’s not nice! But he says you’re the one who’s not nice. A lot of people listen to you on TB. They believe you, and sometimes you confuse them. Like when you said the torona biris was a hokes grampa made up, but then changed your mind and said it was real, that it used to be a hokes, but now it’s not. Did you lie? Did you really believe grampa was bad?

You owe grampa and Nancy an apology. So does Mr. Limball. Grampa says Mr. Limball is a lot like you. He throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks and it gets all over people who believe him on the radio. But Mr. Limball has cancer. We’re supposed to pray for him. Grampa prays for you and Mr. Limball all the time. He says you’re both cancers and we should pray for those who prosecute us. He prays you will just shut up. But his prayers are never answered. Do you believe in prayer?

Have you told everybody you were wrong about grampa and Nancy and the torona biris? Grampa says you should confess. You changed your mind about the biris. So did the president. That’s good. But you still owe grampa and Nancy an apology. Grampa says it’s easy. Just tell them you’re sorry, stop prosecuting them, ask for their forgibnis, and then tell the truth, and tell Mr. Limball to do it too.

Anyway, I hope you listen to grampa. Stay in your house, and don’t say a thing to anybody except Mrs. Hannity about anything until the torona biris is gone. That will make life more peaceful for grampa, and what’s good for grampa and gramma is good for me.

Your friend,

Elijah

“Love your enemies and pray for those who prosecute you.”

Quarantined to Find Each Other

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photo of Food and Drug Administration poster warning milk trucker not to pick up milk on farms with contagious diseases

Everything is shutting down. Almost. But not memory, and not love.

This story of a quarantine is not from the 1930s or the quarantines social-distancing of 2020. It happened in 1950, but, in some respects, it feels the same.

THE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT

Live & Learn‘s post quoting Pat Schneider’s “Blessing of a Writer” (see below) brought back the memory of a two-week quarantine as an eight year-old diagnosed with Scarlet Fever.

For the next 14 days, the second floor bedroom of the 120 year-old house on Church Lane was dark. Pulled shades and extra drapes blocked the light. Fourteen dark days and nights of enforced solitude.

May you hear in your own stories
the moan of wind around the corners
of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember…

– Pat Schneider, from “Blessing for a Writer” 

“DURATION OF THE INFECTION IN SCARLET FEVER,” JANUARY 1, 1950, ANNALS OF INTERNAL MEDICINE

Abstract

In Illinois after the diagnosis of scarlet fever and other hemolytic streptococcal infections of the upper respiratory tract is made, "Isolation is required for a minimum period of 14 days after onset and thereafter until the nose, throat, glands, and ears are normal on inspection or until the physician reports complete clinical recovery."1
Other states have essentially the same regulation except that the minimum quarantine period is 21 days instead of 14. 

SILENCE IN THE HALF-FORGOTTEN HOUSE

The house on Church Lane was in Pennsylvania, not in Illinois, but the Scarlet Fever and the quarantines were the same. No baseball. No backyard games of hide-and-seek or tag. No evenings with the fireflies. No school. Not everything felt like a curse.

To prevent blindness, the room was dark. Other than Mom delivering meals, checking the fever, and reminding me not to scratch, the room was empty and quiet with one exception: the purring of Buddy, the cross-eyed cat with the crooked tail. Even a cat needs company sometimes. I like silence. A lot! But not that much. We’re not meant to be alone. Everyone needs a friend like Buddy.

FINDING OURSELVES IN SOLITUDE

Old memories return in times that awaken them. Live & Learn’s gift of a “Blessing for a Writer” came at just the right time. I fancy myself a writer, but words worth writing have been hiding during the spread of the latest pandemic when the fever and isolation are everywhere..

Might the solitude lead us to find each other?

“Only in solitude do we find ourselves;
and in finding ourselves,
we find in ourselves
all our [neighbors] in solitude.”

— Miguel de Unamuno, “Solitude,” Essays and Soliloquies (1924), tr. J.E. Crawford Finch.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 16, 2020.

Casting out myself

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Narcissus of the Greek myth slowly wastes away. Refusing to look away from his reflection in the pond, he dies of thirst and starvation.

The myth assumes that the pond is placid. There are no ripples. But what if a storm troubles the waters, rippling the pond –something like a virus that does not notice Narcissus’s need to see his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus mutters to himself until, at last, his voice falls silent, except for Echo, repeating his words, forgetful of what she had surrendered to his power: the confidence and beauty that come only from within.

Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole
And, casting out myself, become a soul.

- Richard Wilbur, “The Aspen and the Stream,”
Advice to a Prophet (1961)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2020.

Woolly Mammoths and Woodbine Willie

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Coronavirus & the truth we rarely face

There is Only One House

Legitimate fears, on the one hand, and the false assurances, on the other, expose a truth we rarely face. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pays no attention to political parties, economic status, or national borders. Viruses do not discriminate. One human being is the same as the next. Viruses like this are familiar with homo sapiens stupidity that ignores our mortal frailty. They know better than we that there is only one economy — one house, one planet — in which what happens in one room (one class, one race, one culture, one nation) affects everyone in every room of the house.

A Time for Solitude

The closing of schools, businesses, sports venues, cancellations of political rallies, social gatherings et.al. will separate us until the current siege passes. But is it too much to hope that the threat of a virus would bring our species to its senses and rouse us to action in the face of the bigger pandemic threat, the health and habitability of the planet itself? The viruses will be fine; we may become the latest Woolly Mammoths to die of thirst.

The experience of separation will be either lonely or solitary. Loneliness is its own kind of despair; solitude offers opportunity to step away to reflect. How much we reflect deeply depends in part on learning from previous generations the kind of wisdom that does not shrink or shrivel when there are real reasons to fear. One of those sources of wisdom is G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), the Irish Anglican priest, poet, author, and World War I British Army chaplain affectionately known as ‘Woodbine Willie’.

‘Studdert Kennedy became ‘Woodbine Willie’ after insisting on serving in the trenches, moving among the injured and dying, distributing “Willis’s Woodbine’ cigarettes as part of his pastoral care. “Our first job,” he advised a newly commissioned chaplain, “is to go beyond the men in self-sacrifice and devotion. . . . There is very little spiritual work — it is all muddled and mixed — but it is all spiritual. Take a box of [cigarettes] in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart, and go to them, live with them. You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”

The modern cult of cheeriness: deadly fear of sadness

G. A. Studdert Kennedy left behind a word for our troubles in 2020. He called called people to think and feel. He demands that we get real. “Thinking, he said, “begins with trouble in the mind.

“Thinking begins with trouble in the mind. There is no thought without tears. ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ The modern cult of cheeriness is largely due to the fact that we are deadly afraid of being sad. We want Easter without Lent. But we cannot have it. The human mind and the human heart — you cannot separate one from the other — God has joined them together and no one can put them asunder.”

There’s no such thing as thought which does not feel,
If it be real thought, and not thought’s ghost
All pale and sicklied o’er with dead conventions,
Abstract truth, which is a lie upon this
Living, loving, suffering Truth which pleads
And pulses in my very veins. The blue
Blood of all beauty and the breath of life itself.

--G.A. Studdert Kennedy sermon, The Word with God, 1926.

Coming Next: more wisdom from ‘Woodbine Willie’

In days to come, Views from the Edge will feature more of G. A. Struddert Kennedy as it applies to this moment for thoughtful solitude to reflect on who we are and who we choose to become. Coming next:

“There is, and must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon the questions. . . apart from . . . the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

Thanks for coming by,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 10, 2010.

Dear Mr. President — it’s me again, Elijah

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Dear President Trump, I’m sorry to bother you again. I know you must be very busy on Super Market Tuesday. I meant to send this picture of me but I forgot, like Bumpa. Mommy gave me this Medal of Freedom after seeing you give one to Rush Limmba. She gave me mine last week after I put it in the potty. I bet you have one too.

Elijah

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Elijah’s Super Market Tuesday Letter to the President

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Dear Mr. President,

My Gamma and Bumpa helped me with this letter. I love Gamma and Bumpa! Please don’t tell them that I changed it a little. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. When I showed it to the kids at daycare in show and tell, they said it was too nice. They hurt my feelings. I told them we’re Minnesotans. We’re nice here in Minnesota. We don’t say mean things. They say our generation needs to be more honest and pretend we’re not Minnesotans.

Anyway, Bumpa and Gamma don’t like you. They say you need to see the doctor and lie on the couch. I don’t know why. I’ve been to the doctor and she doesn’t have a couch. Maybe you need sleep? Sometimes I do. Like last night. I couldn’t sleep, so I climbed out of my bed and woke up Mommy. Mommy said it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Then we cuddled in her bed. I wish you could sleep better. Do you get to cuddle?

You have a lot on your mind. Like all the germs from China and the Bidens. That’s a lot! I’m glad I’m not president. I think the germs are coming from Russia. Whatever! You said on tv not to worry. It’s just a bad cold. But then, yesterday, Mr. Pence said you’ve put all hands on deck. I asked Mommy what that means. She just shook her head and told me to go back to sleep.

Today is Super Market Tuesday here in Minnesota. Amy quit yesterday, so you don’t need to worry about Amy anymore. She didn’t want to come in second or third behind Bernie and Joe, and Elizabeth in her own state. That wouldn’t be very nice. So she quit and flew to Texas to help Joe and stop Bernie. That’s kinda weird, don’t ya think? But maybe not. Bumpa thinks she’s sucking up to Joe so Joe will pick her for his wife.

Anyway, the kids at day care are mad at you and Mr. Pence. You say climate change is a hoax. We like the Green New Deal! It’s not a hoax. You said not to worry about the germs from China and blamed the Democrats and television ’cause it’s just another way to make you look bad. You’re not saying that anymore. You lied. I’m just 2, but I know that.

The doctors say the crownaviris germs will go after old people. Yesterday Bumpa and Gramma got masks. They’re going to wear them to vote today. They won’t tell me whether it’s Joe, Bernie, or Elizabeth they’re voting for, but definitely not you. They say you’re not very nice.

I don’t like you, but we’re Christians. We will pray for you to get a good night’s sleep, or sleep on the doctor’s couch if you have a tummy ache, or cuddle with your mommy at home.

Your fellow American.

Elijah

The Lure of Splendor

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Cliff Notes of Being Human

Some stories never happened but are always happening. Like the Matthew and Luke stories of the 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. If everything in Christian scripture should become lost, except for the narratives of the wilderness temptation, we would still have the story to glean what it means, and does not mean, to be human.

The narratives of Jesus in the wilderness are a kind of Cliff Notes on the ways mortal life gets twisted. They condense the challenges of the Christ and of all of us. The Devil is a Trickster, the Liar, twisting the good out of shape.

Is it about power? Or is it about splendor?

As many times as I have read and preached about them, the word ‘splendor’ has seemed incidental to the temptation of power. Or so I thought until this morning.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if . . . .”

Gospel according to Matthew 4:8-9 NRSV

The genius of scripture is that it brings fresh things to light that speak to new socio-reliigious-political circumstances. Perhaps it is the dark and darkening sky of 2020 that drew my eye to the ‘splendor’ of the kingdoms (nations) as more than incidental. The Greek word is ‘doxa’ (glory, splendor). Perhaps power is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of self-glorification. There could be no greater splendor than owning/controlling all the nations of this world. Yet the Gospel writers knew what we easily forget, until the illusion of power vanishes into nothing. “Glory is like a circle in the water/ which never ceaseth to enlarge itself/ till by broad spreading it disperse to naught.” — William Shakespeare, Henry VI.

The Lure of Splendor

The effort to be splendid or glorious arises from the human condition, but isn’t it a fair guess that the search for splendor by means of power is not the temptation of migrants in detention camps, or starving children and parents, or patients suffering a pandemic? They find within and among themselves whatever shreds of hope and self-regard remain. The third wilderness temptation visits the abundant who are tempted to get to the very high mountaintop of personal power and splendor.

It is no accident that ‘splendor’ caught my attention the First Sunday of Lent following the news of the coronavirus, the threat if a global pandemic, the president’s attempts at minimization or denial, the plunge of the stock market, and the apparent preoccupation of the world’s most powerful man with his own splendor. No person or kingdom is divine, no matter how hard we imagine. Deep down, something in us knows.

“All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him

Gospel of Matthew 4:9-11 NRSV

Prayer for Public Officials

Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Prayer for Public Officials” is preserved by Prayers of the Social Awakening, published in 1909.

We give the thanks that by the free institutions our country the tyrannous instincts of the strong may be curbed to the patient service to the commonwealth.

Strengthen the sense of duty in our political life. Grant that the servants of the state will feel ever more deeply that any diversion of their public powers for private ends is a betrayal of their country. Purge our cities and states and nation of the deep causes of corruption which have so often made sin profitable and uprightness hard. Bring to an end the stale days of party cunning.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “For Public Officers,” Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2020.

Music for the Whirling Soul

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Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song” is a rendering of Psalm 121. It also calls to mind “Blessed are the pure of heart” — the Beatitude from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s music that calms my whirling soul among the clanging cymbals.

A Simple Song — The Bernstein Mass

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

The President and a Letter to an A__hole.

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Horace’s Reassurance

One can’t help but wonder why a president with no medical knowledge would contradict the doctors and research scientists standing next to him at a news conference meant to address the coronavirus. Aaron James’s “Letter to an Asshole” reminds the reader of Homer’s wise counsel:

“You should be open to wise counsel — if not from me, then maybe from Horace. ‘All swollen up with love of glory, are you?’ Horace offers ironic reassurance:

“No one’s so far gone in savagery —
A slave of envy, wrath, lust, drunkenness, sloth — 
That he can’t be civilized, if he’ll only listen
Patiently to the doctor’s good advice.”
- Aaron James, Assholes: A Theory (Anchor Books, 2014)

My Annual Physical

I’m accustomed to ignoring the doctor’s advice. “You’re overweight. I’d like you to lose 10 pounds by our next annual visit. You need to eat smaller portions and walk a mile every day,” advises my doctor.  I thank her, hop in the car, and drive one block to the ice cream parlor for a banana split. Refusing to listen is common to us all, but few of us are surrounded by the props of glory that allow us to deny our savagery. 

Chicken Little’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little goes for his annual physical. “Well,” says the doctor who has been the family doctor for years, “before we begin, is there anything you’d to discuss?” Chicken Little tells the doctor the same story he tells every year. “I’m depressed, doctor. “I need an anti-depressant. Nobody listens to me anymore.” “Let’s hold that thought for discussion after the physical exam,” says the doctor. “Remember . . . I don’t do that glove thing,” says Chicken Little. After the physical exam, the doctor addresses Chicken Little’s concern. “Chicken Little, we’ve known each other for years. We know each other pretty well. Today I want to do what a good friend does. I want to tell you the truth no one else will tell you. If you want people to listen, you need to stop yelling ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling’. It drives people crazy and no one listens to you because the know science. They know the sky can’t fall.” The doctor gives him a postcard to keep with him at all times. Chicken Little ignores the postcard; an hour later, he’s yelling about the sky falling. He can’t help himself.

Chicken Little’s Cousin’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little’s cousin visits the same doctor. He, too, makes up reality. But there is a difference. While Chicken Little proclaims gloom and doom, even on the best of days, Chicken Little’s cousin never sees a cloud, even on the darkest days. His annual physical ends with the doctor’s good counsel. “You and Chicken Little think you’re opposites, but you’re just alike. Chicken Little lies every day: ‘Fire! Fire! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ and no one listens. You, on the other hand, tell people what they want to hear, no matter how real the danger. ‘Everything is fine. Nothing can go wrong!’ If and when something goes wrong, you’ll be as responsible as Chicken Little. Neither of you has been open to good advice.’”

As he had done with Chicken Little, he hands the cousin the postcard to keep him in touch with reality, but unlike Chicken Little, he reads it.

Let us settle ourselves, and work and
wedge our feet downward through the
mud and slush of opinion and prejudice
. . . till we come to a hard bottom and
rocks in place, which we can call reality.
-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

The Coronavirus News Conference

The sky is not falling, but neither is it cloudless. The coronavirus has made people anxious. The general public needs reassurance, someone to settle them by cutting through the mud and slush of opinion and prejudice. They want a leader who will tell them the truth, someone who stands on the hard bottom of reality.

The President of the United States, accompanied by the nation’s leading medical experts, steps behind the White House podium to address an anxious nation. He blames the press for exaggerating the danger and driving down the stock market. This is the same president who calls climate change a hoax, regardless of international scientific consensus; eliminated the National Security Council’s pandemic disease team’s leading specialist; and proposes slashing the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He reassures the people that the threat to this country is very low — “very, very low” — not much more than the common cold, and that it will be gone in a couple of months, and that a vaccine is weeks away.

He offers the microphone to the public health experts and steps behind and to the side of the podium. His body posture says he’s ill-at-ease. His eyes are squinting as though he cannot see something from afar but they are blank. One after another, the medical ‘experts’ express deep concern and uncertainty. They correct the disinformation about the timing of developing a vaccine for coronavirus. Vaccines are not developed quickly. The question is not whether the virus will spread; it’s a question of when it will spread.

The President returns to the podium, thanks the staff, and repeats Chicken Little’s cousin’s insistence that Chicken Little is wrong. The sky is not falling. But, just in case it does, he is appointing Mike Pence to coordinate the different teams addressing it. ”[Mike] is really very expert at the field,” he says. ”Mike will be working with the professionals and doctors and everybody else that’s working. The team is brilliant.”

Letter to Chicken Magnus

You face grave risks. If I may say so, as you are, it is as though you sit, squatting, defiant, and starving, in a dark cave of your own making. You prefer to be feared, if not respected. In that way you strive for a pale copy of true moral recognition. … You would not like the epitaph I would write for you…. Or maybe you aren’t bothred. Either way, please accept my honest concern for your health and safety. One could easily pity your condition, and so I hope you change it.

Aaron James,”Letter to an Asshole,”Assholes: a Theory

Is there a doctor anywhere in the house?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28, 2020.

Plagiarism or a Blank Page?

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Today, Ash Wednesday, is a solemn day that calls for distraction from frivolous distractions, you might say.

Photo of Steve Shoemaker welcoming  President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, IL.

Entertainment cultures shun solemnity. Ash Wednesday interrupts our flight from the knowledge of our mortality: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Steve Shoemaker, seen here welcoming President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, shared a poem that leads me a decision Ash Wednesday: plagiarize or leave the page (Views from the Edge) blank?

I HAVE NOTHING

I have nothing…
nada…zilch…zero…

no thoughts, no ideas
no inspiration.

Worse, only clichés
crowd my mind:

stock images
standard phrases,

or remembered words
wielded by real writers.

Feeling only frustration,
tempted by alliteration,

or worse, rhyme…
Theft?

Is it worse to plagiarize
than to leave a blank page?

— Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 6, 2013
Photo of ashes drawn on a forehead

In memory and thanksgiving for Steve’s faithful solemnity and smile,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

I will give up ______ for Lent?

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photo of 6'8" poet Steve Shoemaker crammed into seat of an airplane.

Seen here with his 6’8″ frame squeezed into his seat on a flight to somewhere, Steve Shoemaker (1942-2016) wrote poetry. Often the verses came to him in the dark. At 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. Steve would turn to his right side so as not to disturb Nadja, and commit the verses to his iPhone. The poem was waiting in the in-box in the morning.

Often he led the reader through the lines to a surprising last line that shined a humorous light on all that had come before.

LENT

I will give up writing poems for Lent.

I will give up eating desserts for Lent.

I will give up sex for Lent.

I will give up thinking about sex for Lent.

I will give up lying for Lent.

I will give up bragging for Lent.

I will give up exaggerating for Lent.

I will give up self-centeredness for Lent.

________________________________

I will give up self-denial for Lent.

— Steve Shoemaker RIP, Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2013.

Steve Shoemaker sitting on an ancient bristlecone pine at 1,000+ feet in Colorado.

In this era of ill-humor and self-indulgence, Steve’s tongue-in-cheek verses ring the bell on the distortions of our best intentions and our shared need to focus on what lies beyond the self.

This photograph shows Steve sitting on an ancient bristlecone pine at 11,000+ feet in Colorado. — GCS, Feb. 25, 2020.

A Memoir: Selma to Montgomery

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Former seminary classmate Jim Haugh wrote this response to “John Lewis: ‘What did you do?'” published with his permission by Views from the Edge earlier this morning.

1965

I took the Illinois Central train from Chicago to Montgomery.

Photo of postage stamp honoring The National Guard of the U.S.

I remember the three Army National Guard Officers with bayonets fixed and their pointy ends against my sternum.

I remember Jerry’s admonition. “If you find yourself in trouble and go to a high steeple church expecting help, You Will Be Killed.”

I remember speaking at Lawndale Presbyterian (Clarence Lennon, Pastor) after returning to Chicago. I said something to the effect “the parable of the Good Samaritan to the Alabama Black is a myth. The victims got out of the ditch and picked each other up.” An ancient woman approached me after the service. “I hated you until this morning.”

2020

I have a friend in Norfolk who took her children to Selma in 2015 when Obama and John Lewis spoke. The KKK was leafleting the city.

We now live adjacent to the City of Baltimore. 500,000 people have fled from its peak. Segregation ordinance of 1910, redlining (still) Brown vs Board of Education 1954, White Flight.

Of the 150 public schools 12 have water students can drink. 138 schools have lead pipes.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan says a program supported by the Kirwan Commission will bankrupt the state. 35% of the students who graduate cannot read at the 4th grade level. One-third of that number are incarcerated in Maryland Prisons.

The struggle against Structural Racism continues. The struggle has just begun. Even though the Constitution of Maryland requires funding for every school district in accordance with the needs of the students.

Best,
Jim

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2020.

P. S. “When we pray, we move our feet.”

John Lewis — “what did you do?”

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MARTIN LUTHER KING AND JOHN LEWIS

Photo of John Lewis (1964)

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. John Lewis was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Aaron. If Dr. King was the face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

PANCREATIC CANCER AND A MEMORY OF SELMA

News of his Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that calls for national reflection, thanksgiving for his witness, and prayers of intercession that “his suffering be minor and his transition easy.”

Pancreatic cancer is no stranger to the seven old seminary friends who gather annually for friendship and study. Steve Shoemaker and Wayne Boulton pancreatic cancer diagnosis preceded John Lewis. We are down to four and counting, but the memories of walking from Selma to Montgomery in March,1965 did not pass with Steve and Wayne; they are alive and fresh among the busload of seminary students who rode the bus from Chicago to Selma, AL to walk with Moses (Martin Luther King Jr) and Aaron (John Lewis) across the Pettus Bridge to Montgomery.

CANCER, CALENDARS, AND CLOCKS

John Lewis knows that some cancers metastasize. America’s “original sin,” i.e., deep-rooted and omnipresent, never quite goes away. It may appear to be in remission. It may hide awhile, but it is always there.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Day after day — hour by hour, now — the calendar and clock are turned back against the dream. But there is different calendar and clock beyond the control of white nationalism. Until his last breath, John Lewis will bear witness to a better life on the other side of America’s original sin. It falls to all of us afflicted to walk across the bridge Pettus Bridge with confession resistance, and joyful hymns of praise.

BE THOU OUR GUARD WHILE TROUBLES LAST

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

— Isaac Watts

What did you do?” – Congressman John Lewis. “Come on, now. We can do better than this!” – Congressman Elijah Cummings (RIP), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 22, 2020.

The World as a Beehive

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That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees.


— Marcus Aurelius (A.D, 121-180), Meditations

60 MINUTES SPECIAL ON AUSTRALIA

”Everyone has known this,” said former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “We’ve been warned by the climate scientists. Everyone has been aware of this except for those who, well, the climate change deniers are aware of it, but they choose to deny reality.”

The fires in Australia are out of control, burning 27 million acres to the ground, and killing an estimated billion animals and 33 people. He was warned, he said, during his term in office (2015 – 2018) that fires in his country were getting worse because of climate change.

Malcom Turnbull is a member of Australia’s conservative party, whose growing right wing turned against him for braking ranks with his party’s denial of climate change.  He was replaced by a climate-denying party loyalist, Scott Morrison, whose hand few people shook after he took a vacation as the fires raged.

“The right wing climate deniers treat an issue of science and physics and fact as though it was a question of ideology, and their conduct is not just idiotic,” Turnbull said. “It is downright dangerous. Dangerous for us here in Australia and around the world.”

“You’re talking about people in your own party,” Williams said.

“Of course I am. Yeah. Absolutely,” Turnbull confirmed.

“Dangerous and idiotic,” Williams said.

“Well, of course it is dangerous and idiotic not to be taking the strongest action to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions,” Turnbull said.

LITTLE BOY BLUE ON AIR FORCE ONE

The 60 Minutes’s special report on Australia competed with the NBA All-Star game in Chicago, and NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in Daytona when the focus on basketball and racing were trumped by an eye-catching stunt. 

Air Force One was strafing Daytona, drawing everyone’s attention to the entertaining climate-denying president blowing his horn in the air.

It was a Little Boy Blue scene from “Mother Goose.” –1901 illustration by William Wallace Denslow.

Little boy blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow,
The cow's in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack,
Fast asleep.

-- Mother Goose

While the Aussies were asking the whereabouts of the Little Boy Blue they elected to look after their sheep and meadows, cows and corn, kangaroos, and koala bears, America’s own Little Boy Blue was strafing Daytona at dangerously low altitude, summoning media attention to Air Force One spewing emissions while the fires burn and the floods rise across his country. It was dangerous and idiotic.

WHAT IS THE ECONOMY?

“This is the greatest economy in the history of the world,” boasts the American president and his party in the U.S.A. 

It’s not.

Science and theology now agree with Marcus Aurelius that what’s not good for the beehive is not good for the bees. Economic success is not measured by stock markets or unemployment rates. It is measured by the health of the beehive and the bees.

The origins of the English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ date back to the classical Greek words oikos (house), and oikonomia (household management). “Before anything else, economics is a perspective, a frame of reference. Economics concerns the well-being of the residents of the same house. Before it decides anything about household management, it knows that there is only one house. Good household management  — good economics — pays attention to the entire house and all of its residents.” –“The Economy: Only One House,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

THE PLANET IS OUR BEEHIVE

The planet is our beehive. The bees are in trouble everywhere. “In the long-term,” said Mollie Beatty, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s unenvironmental, it’s uneconomical. That is a rule of nature.”

“When we forget what an economy and economics really are, we enshrine greed as the essential virtue, ignoring and imperiling everyone else and the house in which we all live.” — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2020.

“Madness is in the saddle now”

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“Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness: open your eyes and look around you — madness is in the saddle anyhow.”

Norman O. Brown,“Apocalypse: the Place of Mystery in the Mind” address at Columbia University, May 31, 1960

Every one of us is at least a little bit mad: sanctum and sputum

People of my Judeo-Christian tradition are prone to agree with Franz Kafka’s out of the ordinary observation: “the Bible is a sanctum; the world, sputum.” But, whether religious or not, many whose eyes are open and looking around agree with the sentiment that what we see in the world of 2020 is sputum.

The Bible which Kafka called a ‘sanctum’ was not the witness to wrath and vengeance. Nor was ‘the world’ the planet. It was society as we humans have configured it. I write with the Bible in one hand and Kafka’s works in the other. As I read their texts, It seems clear that madness is in the saddle in America and that this madness has turned to vengeance against those who voted to convict him, and to pardons and interference with the justice system, on a rampage. This madness has a history. So does resistance to it. You cannot serve two masters.

Belief means decision

Photograph of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his confirmation class, provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) addressed his Confirmation class (seen in this picture) in a sermon preached after when a minority party and widening fear had put a madman in the saddle.

“You have only one master now…But with this ‘yes’ to God belongs just as clear a ‘no.’ Your ‘yes’ to God requires your ‘no’ to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor, to all ungodliness, and to all mockery of what is holy. Your ‘yes’ to God requires a ‘no’ to everything that tries to interfere with your serving God alone, even if that is your job, your possessions, your home, or your honour in the world. Belief means decision.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Gift of Faith,” sermon to confirmation class, Germany, April 9, 1938.

Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness

Yesterday the American president granted a commutation and pardons to men whose offenses look like his own: abuse of power, betraying public trust, soliciting a quid pro quo, fudging tax returns, and lying to investigators. The timing of that announcement is cunning, coming as it does days following, and in the midst of a storm of protest about the president’s or attorney general’ intervention in sentencing of Mr. Trump’s loyal dirty-trickster friend Roger Stone.

Belief means decision

“Open your eyes and look around you.” Madness is in the saddle anyhow. Only a people seeking a ‘holy madness’ can knock him off our horse.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, Feb. 19, 2020.

EMERGENCY MEETING TODAY

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Today is not any other day. It’s the day the Federal Judges Association Executive Committee meets in EMERGENCY SESSION to protect and defend the federal courts from political interference.

EXCERPT FROM HUFFINGTON POST

“An association of federal judges is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to address concerns about the interventions in politically sensitive cases by Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump, USA Today reported.

“The Federal Judges Association, which has about 1,100 members, called for the meeting last week after Trump attacked federal prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for his longtime pal and convicted felon Roger Stone and then soon after the Justice Department pulled back the recommendation. 

“Trump also criticized the judge who is presiding over Stone’s case.” — Huffington Post, 2.18.20.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR’S RESIGNATION

E-mails and tweets to members of the FJA Board of Directors will show public support. Click this LINK for FJA officers, executive committee members. Unfortunately, the list does not provide contact information, but I can say with certainty that your computer skills exceed mine.

Thanks for listening,

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2020.

P.S. If you are a lawyer, please ask the U.S. Bar Association and Federal Bar Association to call for Attorney General Barr’s immediate resignation.

The Ghost Writer — Mrs. Roger Stone’s Letter

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“‘Do you see me now through my dis-gweeze… dis-gwize? Dis-quize?’ Man! This guy writes some weird letters!” – Hector Carrero

How and why the e-mail came to me is a mystery. I don’t know Mrs. Stone. Or her husband Roger, except for the documentary Get Me Roger Stone. I’ve never known a wife repeatedly refer to her husband by his full name, as a reporter would. I found it curious. Its timing was equally curious.

photo of Roger Stone flashing his Nixon V-sign after his indictment.

Department of Justice “senior officials” interfering with the DOJ’s prosecutors’ sentence recommendation is anathema to the administration of “blind justice” under the Rule of Law, especially when the interference immediately follows the president’s tweets calling the Roger Stone case a miscarriage of justice.

The tone and language of the e-mail from “Mrs. Roger Stone” sounded familiar. Who, I wondered, is the ghost writer? Who was the writer in ‘dis-quize’? Then I remembered Ridley Pearson’s line from Hard Fall about the instincts and timing of a cornered snake:

President Trump's hand pointing

“He had the instincts and timing of a cornered snake.” -Ridley Pearson, Hard Fall.

E-MAIL FROM “MRS. ROGER STONE” featuring DJT TWEET — FEB. 14, 2020

Dear Gordon, 

On February 10th, the Federal Prosecutors in the case of my husband Roger Stone recommended a prison sentence of 7 to 9 years! The President himself said it was a miscarriage of Justice in a tweet! 

__________________________________________


DJT: THIS IS A HORRIBLE AND VERY UNFAIR SITUATION. THE REAL CRIMES WERE ON THE OTHER SIDE, AS NOTHING HAPPENS TO THEM. CANNOT ALLOW THIS MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE.
CHUCK ROSS: PROSECUTORS RECOMMEND UP TO NINE YEARS IN PRISON. THEY CALL  ELECTION INTERFERENCE A "DEADLY ADVERSARY" EVEN THOUGH ST....

1:48 AM  02/11/20  TWITTER FOR IPHONE
7008  SHARES  23.7 LIKES

_____________________________________________


We learned the Forewoman of the Jury was an active Democrat who ran for Congress and had posted anti-Roger Stone and Anti-Trump posts on Facebook and Twitter and lied about it during Jury selection. His whole trial was rigged! 

Without a pardon or a new trial Roger Stone will die in prison! The President hasn’t said whether he will issue a pardon to my husband. We must be prepared to file a motion in Court for a new trial immediately. 

Sentencing is next Thursday! We must act now!

HELP US NOW> (link)

Unfortunately, virtually every penny in our Legal Defense Fund was used in the first trial which was rigged by a far-Left Obama Judge who stacked the ALL DEMOCRAT DC Jury! 

Will you help us raise the badly needed funds for an immediate legal motion for a new trial based on the misconduct of this juror?

Because of the Fake News black-out of Roger Stone’s trial very few Americans know how flimsy the charges against him are, how biased the Judge was and how a DC Jury was carefully stacked with Trump-hating Democrats. Now the truth is coming out! 

Few people know that my husband could have saved his own skin by agreeing to provide false testimony against the President regarding 25 phone calls between them in 2016. He was prosecuted because he refused to lie. 

HELP US NOW>

He was convicted of lying to Congress when there was no Russian Collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration to lie about! It was a total set-up perjury trap by Congressman Adam Schiff! 

Meanwhile Comey, Brennan, McCabe, Hillary, Rosenstein and Mueller himself lied to Congress under oath but face no charges. 

God bless you for all you have done for my husband and the President. We are fighting for Roger's life

MRS. ROGER STONE

PS – As you know the Judge has a strict gag order on Roger Stone. He is not allowed to defend himself while CNN and MSNBC attack us with lies and smears. This emergency e-mail is from me and I mean every word of it.

PAID FOR BY
THE ROGER STONE
DEFENSE FUND

FYI: The links take you to gopfortrump.com.

“You never felt that you saw all around him; you always suspected . . . some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness.” — H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Man, this guy . . . or the GOP for Trump . . . writes some weird letters! But no one can be dis-quized forever!

By Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 15, 2020

Blazing Bright or Brightly Blazing?

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The phrase “blazing bright” in the 2020 State of the Union Address, followed by the Senate’s impeachment acquittal, the president’s claim of total exoneration, and his promise to take revenge on “evil people” prompt this reflection.

THE ROMAN EMPEROR-ENTERTAINER

Bust of Nero

Whether Nero ( 37 CE – 68 CE) burned Rome to the ground is disputed, but Suetonius claimed he did, and that’s good enough for me. Suetonius’s claim that Nero was mad, devious, and cruel entertainer remains undisputed.

Suetonius tells the story of the Rome brightly blazing:

Pretending to be disgusted by the drab old buildings and narrow, winding streets of Rome, he brazenly set fire to the City; and though a group of ex-consuls caught his attendants, armed with oakum and blazing torches, trespassing on their property, they dared not interfere. He also coveted the sites of several granaries, solidly built of stone, near the Golden House [Nero’s palace]; having knocked down their walls with seige-engines, he set the interiors ablaze. The terror lasted for six days and seven nights, causing many people to take shelter in the tombs . . . . Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called “the beauty of the flames; then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang “The Fall of Ilium” from beginning to end.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69 – c. 130/140 CE)

BRIGHTLY BLAZING

Centuries after Nero’s demise, the president of the new republic claimed a greatness that would have reminded Nero and the Roman Senators of themselves and the burning of Rome. “America’s enemies are on the run,” said the president, “America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright” [DJT State of the Union Address, 2020].

The president was right. The future is blazing bright . . . in California and Australia . . . . Belittling his predecessor’s belief in the climate change, the president attributes the fires to someone’s failure to rake the leaves.

CANCELLING HIS PREDECESSOR’S EDICTS AND DECREES

Among Nero’s first acts as emperor was to cancel many of Claudius’ edicts and decrees, referring to his predecessor as a “doddering old fool.” To the general public Nero was a welcomed change. Like those before him, the early part of Nero’s reign was considered by many to be a mini-golden age; the populace believed him to be generous, kind, and accessible. There were lavish games, plays, concerts, chariot races and gladiatorial tournaments, and taxes were even reduced. He restored much of the Roman Senate’s power that had been lost over the years, but this restoration had a hidden agenda; it was only done to enable the young emperor to pursue his worldly pleasures, to sing (he did not possess a great voice) and play his lyre. While he sang, no one in the audience was permitted to leave the performance.

Nero, Wikipedia summary of Suetonius and Tacitus.

MICHELANGELO AND THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES

As Nero prepared to commit suicide with the assistance of his aide, he paced rhe halls, repeating the line that boasted of his greatness as an entertainer: greatness as an entertainer: “Qualis artifex pereo!” (“What an artist dies in me!”). First and last, the emperor was an entertainer.

Years later, a REAL artist, Michelangelo, was painting The Last Judgment fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel when Biagio da Cesena, the pope’s master of ceremonies, pestered him for a special privilege: a glimpse of the veiled painting. Michelangelo finally acceded to his request, after which Biagio complained to the pope that a painting of nudes was inappropriate for so holy a place.

When the finished fresco was unveiled, Biagio da Cesena — with donkey ears, and a snake covering his nakedness — appeared prominently among the damned in hell, tormented by devils. When he complained to Pope Paul III, the pope replied, “God has given me authority in heaven and on earth, but my writ does not extend to hell. You will just have to put up with it.”

In 2020, the paint on the fresco is still wet. How “Blazing Bright” will be finished remains a work in process. The American people will finish the painting in November. Between now and then the world is Brightly Blazing while Nero continues to celebrate his greatness as an entertainer: “Qualis artifex pereo!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 8, 2020

The Big Lie and Spasms of Spite

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IF I ONLY HAD A SHOE

The president’s spasms of spite at Friday’s post-acquittal White House celebration sent my soul into spasms of its own. Hearing the president claiming that the impeachment trial’s acquittal exonerates him of all wrongdoing, calling out Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff as “evil people” on his enemies list, and belittling the conscience and religious conviction of Sen. Mitt Romney — his party’s only senator to break ranks — with the cheering peanut gallery that knows, but will not publicly recognize, the president’s sociopathic character was more than I could take. The party that swallowed a fly gave credence to the lie.

“Telling a big enough lie, and telling it often enough that people will believe it” has a history. So do spite and scapegoating. If in Germany the scapegoats were communists, Jews, gypsies, and “homosexuals”; and if in the McCarthy Era, they were leftist traitors hiding within the federal government, the entertainment industry, and the media, today in the Trump Era the scapegoats are Muslims, Central American migrants, “illegal aliens,” sanctuary cities, climate change believers, Congress, the courts, politicians, previous presidents, “the Deep State,” Democrats and … and traitors like Mitt Romney.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Feb. 9, 1950 Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.

I couldn’t watch. I was 10 years old watching Joseph McCarthy. We paid good money for that television. I had to walk away.

A FUNDAMENTAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM

Donald Trump does have a fundamental psychological problem. He needs to be loved all the time, he needs to have power over everyone all the time. Once you get that idea down, the rest of his behavior and his speech makes sense…

He also doesn’t have any respect for the truth or for honesty. They don’t mean anything to him because he can’t care about them. His focus, again, is always on himself and to be — to care about being honest to people rather than lying to them means you’d have to care about your effect on them. Are you going to harm them? Are you going to mislead them? But since he has no conscience for that kind of thing, he never expresses regret.

He does terrible things to people, the children who are being detained in cages are a good example…The children, of course, really amount to a crime against humanity. If you think about it psychologically, this is what some of us once called soul murder. That’s what he’s doing to these children. His ability to do that fits perfectly with this kind of very deep sickness where other people don’t matter, and he can hurt them to whatever extent he wants.

-- Harvard Professor of Psychiatry,

“We may liken an adult’s temper tantrum to that of a ‘big baby’,” writes Garret Keizer in The Enigma of Anger, “but even a big baby does not yet know what it truly means to be angry. I say this because I define anger as an emotion of extreme frustration (something a baby knows) poised at the possibility of action (something a baby cannot know, or cannot fully know.). … Might the purpose of anger be to enable us to break loose, to struggle free, and at the most basic level to survive?”

“ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME”

Spasms do not rise to the level of anger. They indicate frustration, but they do not yet qualify as anger as Keizer defines it, or as the Gospel of John points to it in the scene of Jesus’s raid of the money-changers who were scalping the poor in the Temple. The raid in the Temple was not impulsive. It was not a spasm. Jesus first braided a whip of cords before he turned over the money-changers’ tables and drove out their merchandise.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers sitting there. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. He poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.

Gospel of John 2:13-17 MEV

It was the monetary system that abuse the poor that Jesus was attacking. “He said to those who sold doves (the only sacrifice the poor could afford) that Jesus addresses his words: “Take these things (the doves) away! Don not make of my Father’s house a house of merchandise!”

The event described by John is not a temper tantrum. Jesus did not throw his shoe at the television. He paused to turn his extreme frustration into anger at the monetary system that turned a profit on the poor who could only afford a bird:–“Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!”

STRIKING AT THE ROOT

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who strikes at the root,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. There still are, and I’m one of them. How do we strike at the root of evil?

Emotional spasms of extreme frustration (something a baby knows) are not anger until they lead the American people to make the whip to drive out the money-changers. In a constitutional republic the whip is woven from elections, or revolutions, that strike at the roots of an economy of geed, the Big Lie, and soul murder.

In the year 2020, the house desecrated by merchandise is bigger than a temple, church, mosque, or nation. The desecrated house is the planet itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 7, 2020

A Time for Anger

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MITT ROMNEY’S ACT OF CONSCIENCE

Mitt Romney’s speech as a Senator-juror in the impeachment trial came as a surprise because he broke with his party’s ranks, and because he appealed to conscience and religion. No Senator-juror in the history of impeachment had stepped out of line from the party line. Citing the seriousness of the articles of impeachment against President Trump, Mr. Romney explained his reasons for voting to convict the president:

As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

Senate Mitt Romney (R), February 5, 2020

VIOLATION, DESPAIR, AND ANGER

Jesus cleansing the temple painting

In The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin Garrett Keizer offers a description of ‘anger’ that fits the moment.

Anger is an emotion arising from a refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.”

REFUSAL TO PERMIT VIOLATION

One might say the dissenting senator’s vote rose from a refusal to permit violation of the Constitution, a violation the Republican House minority and Senate Majority at first denied without exception. Later, after the House managers presented a compelling case, the Republicans changed their position from complete denial of the allegations to arguing that, though they were wrong, they did not “rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors”. All members of the president’s party held their noses, crossed their fingers, and voted for acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment. Except for one betrayer who is now the target of the man he voted to convict.

“I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

The oath of office and the subsequent impeachment trial oath to “do impartial justice” places the mantle of conscience on the shoulders of all who “solemnly swear” them. Repeated violations of the oath of office have driven public trust in Congress and the Presidency to a point of despair or anger. Only a public recovery of anger, as Keizer defines it, will lift us from the reign of despair and tyranny.

Views from the Edge called attention to James Madison, John Winthrop, and ethical principles of conscience (“God alone is Lord of the conscience”), and truth (“Truth is in order to goodness. Nothing is more pernicious or absurd than the opinion that truth and falsehood exist upon a level, and that it is of no consequence what a man’s [sic] opinions are”). Conscientious pursuit of truth and courage to speak truth have become the exceptions to the prevailing norms of power and privilege, and the pursuit and maintenance of them.

FRUSTRATION READY TO BECOME ACTION

Mitt Romney’s exceptional vote for what has gone out of style (integrity) is akin to Garret Keizer’s case for what has gone out of style in religion, mischaracterized by the ranting street corner preacher who thunders about the fires of hell: the wrath of God.

“I am unwilling to commit to any messiah who does not knock over tables,” writes Keizer, referencing the scene of Jesus with the money-changers. “The wrath of God is not the wrath of the abusive parent or of power abused. It is the absolute claim of personhood asserting itself in the face of power and chaos alike.”

“There is such a thing as killing someone with kindness. The thoroughly gentle God, the unceasingly kind God, the God of the unalterable smile is also the fairy God, the clown God, the stuffed animal God — perhaps not a great deal more helpful than the threadbare giraffe that a child clutches in his dark room….”

Garret Keizer, The Enigma of Anger

THE WRATH OF GOD AND DELIVERANCE FROM OUR DARK ROOM

For years I have felt the folly of a theology which deletes the first part of the biblical claim that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” leaving the abused woman or child, or nation to swim in empty concrete pools of kindness unfilled without the tears of justice.

Our country has become a dark room. But occasionally, as happened yesterday on the Senate floor, a candle is lit for justice, goodness, and truth. This room need not stay dark if we, the abused, claim again the wrath of God and the place of anger: “the refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.” To refuse anger will kill us with kindness, leaving us each clutching our stuffed animals in a dark room owned by a tyrant.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017 Wipf & Stock) — available in kindle and paperback through the publisher or Amazon — Chaska, MN Feb. 6, 2020

The Clearing in the Forest

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TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

Forgetfulness increases as the number of our days decreases. Strolling down a narrow wooded path, you marvel at the beauty all around you. You walk along the trail, mesmerized by light and shadow playing hide-and-seek among the oaks, maples, and fir trees. You’ve never been here. Or so you think. Everything feels fresh and new. It’s an e.e. cummings kind of day.

THE CLEARING IN THE FOREST

The path opens into a clearing in the forest. The clearing is empty except for a rough-hewn bench waiting for you. The bench invites you to lay your burden down. You sit and stare, wondering why, in all your days and years, you’ve never been here. “Have a seat,” says the bench. “Sit and rest awhile.”

You fall asleep lying on the bench hewn from a maple tree, and wake from your nap with the sense that you’ve been here before. You look for the path that will take you farther to your desired destination. You see a weathered cedar sign: “Welcome home. You’ve been here before. Come again.” The path that will lead you forward is behind your back, the same path that brought you here.

AUTOBIOGRAHICAL RUMINATIONS

I’d forgotten that I’d been on the bench many times. Calendars and clocks often hide real time: existential time. In the rush of days and years, we forget where we’ve been before.

All our ruminations are matters of autobiography and social context. We walk again through light and shadow toward the clearing we have forgotten. We have slipped back into imagining ourselves as independent operators free of any pack; independence/freedom is our mantra. Yet something in us knows. Something about us knows better but cannot remember what it is.

Returning to the forest clearing again after many forgotten earlier visits leads me home to who I have always been. I have never been free. I’ve always been a member of a pack. I’ve always looked up to the equivalents of alpha dogs. My parents and grandparents. Public heroes like Edward R. Murrow and Martin Luther King, Jr. Teachers Harold Miller and Esther Swenson. Giants of faith Josef Hromadka, William Stringfellow, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Jurgen Moltmann, James Cone, William Sloane Coffin, and many others set the standards for who I wanted to become.

Suddenly, lying on the bench again, I realize the obvious. Each and all of them were acolytes of faith on the way to the clearing in the forest. Each lit the way to what I forget or refuse to remember — we are part of a covenant community in which faithful compassion is a way of life. I am a member of a community kept together not by anything I have thought, said or done, but by covenants I did not make. “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

In the clearing, I know again what I was taught in childhood: My community is not the cult of the Strong Man. It’s a community born at the cross, the covenant community of compassion and conscience that leads us down the path to the clearing of conscience and home again with thanksgiving for the shadows, as well as the light.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 4, 2020.

“Sham on you!” — a word from the Founders

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A WORD TO SENATORS ABOUT PUBLIC TRUST

Public trust that you will tell the truth and seek the truth, no matter where it leads, was already dangerously low. Although we know that it is your constitutional right to set the rules for an impeachment trial, the American people know that a “trial” without witnesses and evidence is not a trial. Those still paying attention knew how it would end. Majority Leader McConnell told us. Some of us have stopped watching because we don’t care anymore. Others care but have tuned out to manage their blood pressure and keep their dinners down. We all could use an infusion of wisdom to guide us through this national crisis.

JOHN WITHERSPOON and JAMES MADISON

I write as a pastor in the tradition of John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was the only religious leader to sign the Declaration of Independence, whose moral philosophy influenced James Madison, the Founding Father of the U.S. Constitution. As President of The College of New Jersey (Princeton), Witherspoon taught moral philosophy. James Madison and other students took Witherspoon’s “Common Sense” philosophy of public morality into the courtrooms of 37 judges (including three Supreme Court justices), and onto the floors of the Continental Congress (12), the U.S. House of Representatives (49), and the United States Senate (28 Senators) where you now serve.

THE CONSTITUTION AND PRELIMINARY PRINCIPLES

In 1787 John Witherspoon participated in two simultaneous national meetings within four blocks from each other in Philadelphia. At Independence Hall the Continental Congress was preparing the U.S. Constitution. Down the street, the first national assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Unites States of America was adopting the “Preliminary Principles” to guide the church through times of divided opinion and disharmony. There are eight (8) Preliminary Principles. I lift up for your attention the First (conscience) Fourth (truth) , and Fifth (mutual forbearance) Preliminary Principles.

PRINCIPLE: CONSCIENCE

“God alone is Lord of the conscience…” — First Preliminary Principle (1787)

One morning Henry Ward Beecher cut himself shaving. He didn’t like what he saw in the mirror. The public man and the private man were at odds. Public scandal and conscience formed the razor’s edge that cut through his defenses.

Everything hinges on the right and duty of conscience. One need not believe in God to avow the primacy of conscience.

The tight internal discipline and uniformity of the GOP caucus against calling witnesses and admitting evidence in the impeachment trial looks no different from the enforced cohesiveness of the Mafia, the Gangster Disciples, and other street gangs. Step out of line and you’re “going to go through some things.” Courage and conscience are not part of the code. Compliance and scheming have taken their place. We, the people, lose hope watching the gang-banging in the highest places of authority and power.

PRINCIPLE: TRUTH AND GOODNESS

“Truth is in order to goodness….” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787)

Truth-telling and truth-seeking are essential building blocks of a good society. The road to goodness is not falsehood, misinformation, disinformation, and concealment. Without truth-telling and truth-seeking we become a society built on quicksand.

“The Fourth Principle continues:

No opinion can be either more pernicious or absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s (sic) opinions are.” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787)

Some opinions are pernicious (highly injurious or destructive: deadly). Others are simply absurd (ridiculous, silly, incredible). Some opinions are both. The exercise of one’s duties by means of falsehood is injurious to goodness. Truth is the plumb line against which an opinion is tested. Truth matters. Falsehood matters. Facts matter. Reality matters. There is no such thing as an alternative facts.

“On the contrary, we are persuaded, that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth, or to embrace it.” — Fourth Preliminary Principle (1787 –)

There is a direct connection between truth-telling, truth-seeking, and public life. The connection is essential for a civil society. When partisan interests displace truth and conscience, the result is a society with neither a moral code nor a functional Constitution. Watching the Senate impeachment trial tells a different story to the American people: power trumps principle.

PRINCIPLE: MUTUAL FORBEARANCE

“There are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies, to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” — Fifth Preliminary Principle (1787)

‘Forbearance’ — i.e., patience, tolerance, continuing in relationship — is no longer a household word in 2020. Neither is it frequently practiced. Mutual forbearance is rarer still. Mutual forbearance is essential to achieving E pluribus unum (i.e. “one out of many), which Cicero saw as basic to relational bonds and thriving societies and states.

If God alone is Lord of the conscience, those who differ with respect to those “truths and forms” that are not universally accepted, i.e. political philosophy, owe it to each other and to the body politic to continue in respectful, peaceful relationship.

WHAT IS AT STAKE IN THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL?

Mutual forbearance with people of good character and principles is embedded in the history of the Senate. But your good character is on trial. The impeachment trial is a test of the Senate’s conscience, commitment to truth and goodness, character and principles, and mutual forbearance. The great institution in which you are privileged to serve, and a general population that expects a trial to be a trial are at stake in your decisions. The Senate’s good character and principles, as well as Donald Trump’s, is on trial in the court of public opinion. Those who know their history can hear a long shout from James Madison and John Winthrop:

“Sham on you!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Chaska, MN, February 3, 2020.

The Impeachment Tiebreaker: Four Thoughts

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INTRODUCING GUEST COMMENTATOR

John Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org. The Views from the Edge is pleased to republish this social commentary. Photographs have been added by Views from the Edge.

COMMENTARY BY JOHN MILLER: The Impeachment Tiebreaker: Four Thoughts

This short essay was begun on Saturday morning, Jan. 25, 2020, starting at 12:27 AM. This was after the writer had nearly overdosed on the prosecutors’ wrap-up, and listening to the three major cable news networks’ commentary on the proceedings.

The House Managers (i.e., the prosecution) finished their presentation on Friday evening at about 10 PM, Jan. 24,  in what has been alleged to be the impeachment trial of President Trump. On Saturday afternoon the President’s lawyers (i.e., the defense) will begin their presentation regarding the defendant (i.e., the President).

The House of Representatives prosecution team has claimed almost ad infinitum that the President has prevented more important witnesses and documents from appearing in the Senate trial. They claim he desperately does not want anyone to testify, or to have any incriminating documents to be placed into the trial record. Therefore, they say, with no further evidence presented, there can be no proper trial. 

Up to now nearly all CNN/MSNBC/FoxNews talking heads have said they think that none of the 53 Republican Senators will capitulate on the impeachment vote, and that the President therefore will be cleared of all charges. The CNN/MSNBCers postulate that will prevent a genuine impeachment trial if witnesses and documents are suppressed. The FoxNewsers are delighted if the suppression occurs, because “the impeachment hatchet job” will have ended.

But let us suppose that the magical number of three Republicans were to vote to allow witnesses and documents. Further, imagine that no suddenly timorous Democrats were to vote to suppress the potentially damaging evidence. Then what would happen?

Thought Clump # 1

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to hurry this trial through to its conclusion as soon as politically practicable. Might the sitting judge in the trial, Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, rule that constitutionally an honest impeachment trial necessitates that witnesses and documents be provided? Should he conclude that? Constitutionally, could he make that ruling? He will have heard every word uttered in this historic proceeding, and thus such thoughts might be running through his head. No one can know at the moment what he is thinking, nor perhaps is it yet fully formed within his brilliant mind. Nevertheless, those might be very interesting questions upon which Mr. Roberts might now be cogitating.

Thought Clump # 2

If a majority of at least 51 Senators of both parties vote to produce new witnesses and documents, Chief Justice Roberts would not be the tiebreaker on that issue. Instead, the 51+ Senators would assume that role. Thus witnesses and documents would be subpoenaed.

Thought Clump # 3

If Adam Schiff and the House Managers are as effective as CNN and MSNBC (but certainly not Fox News) say they are, and witnesses and documents are subpoenaed, there is a very slight possibility that a two-thirds majority of at least 67 Senators might convict Donald John Trump of the two Articles of Impeachment after a considerably-longer-than-predicted genuine trial. Mr. Trump then would be removed from office. This, however, is so slight a possibility that those who favor such an eventuality should probably stifle such apparently outlandish thoughts.

RADICAL Thought Clump # 4

Should the Senate exonerate the President, as expected, in effect the entire constitutional concept of separation of powers itself will then indirectly have failed in the impeachment trial. Are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches separate but equal? However, the Senate will astonishingly have found that the executive branch has the sole ultimate power in American government, with Congress and the federal courts clearly being only also-rans in constitutional governmental authority. It could be argued that such a conclusion might even be colossally irresponsible. The Chief Justice might also conclude that before the trial concludes.

In that instance, Chief Justice Roberts, representing his understanding of the Constitution and the judiciary, might rule that the Senate is constitutionally required to subpoena witnesses and documents before the impeachment trial can end.

Furthermore, the Chief Justice might decide such a ruling would eliminate the appearance of political partisanship, which in these rancorous times would be a Very Good Thing. He might say that only then would the Senate be a in a valid position as a one-hundred-person jury to vote fairly and equitably on the innocence or guilt of Defendant Trump.

Were any of these hypotheticals actually to happen, would that be a completely unforeseen result in these tense, tedious days, or what? Keep listening and watching, citizens. The fate of the republic hangs in the balance of Lady Justice.

Competing Obsessions: Impeachment and Car Shopping

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A READER’S COMMENT

The comment left by a reader in reply to yesterday’s post on the impeachment trial (“This Day in History“) expresses a more widely held sentiment.

“I watched most of the Congressional hearings, but watching the Republican Senate pretend that ‘everything is JUST FINE” and there was NOTHING WRONG and NO CRIME is madly depressing. I am not handling this well. I’m trying to believe it will all work out, but I don’t really believe it. It has been a hard, hard, hard few years. Doesn’t it feel so much longer than that?”

Views from the Edge reader’s Comment in reply to “This Day in History” (Jan. 21, 2010)

LOSING OUR FOOTING

The first day of the Senate impeachment trial left me scrambling for sure footing in a world whose foundations are shaking, a condition familiar to the Psalm on which I had focused early yesterday morning. ‘Evil’, ‘the righteous’, and ‘evildoers’ are words of judgment readers of Views from the Edge do not expect to hear here. We do best to steer clear of these words of spiritual pride. Dividing the world into good and evil, sheep and goats, is the opposite of a gospel of reconciliation. But the words of an ancient Psalm gave expression to what I felt watching the Senate’s resistance to “doing impartial justice”.

1 Do not fret because of the evildoers;
    do not be envious of those who do wrong,
for they will soon wither like the grass,
    and like the green grass fade away.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who succeed in evil schemes.
[Psalm 37:1-2,7]

My faith tradition practices the Confession of Sin before the One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” There are sins of omission (“we have left undone the things which we ought to have done”) and there are sins of commission (“and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”).

My father and mother taught us the spiritual practice of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and “the amendment of life.” But it’s often hard to tell when one is committing or omitting. Obsession manages to succeed at both. What dawned on me yesterday was my obsession with evil schemes.

COMPULSIVE OBSESSIONS – IMPEACHMENT AND CAR-SHOPPING

Can I, should I, will I part ways with my beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon? It’s an existential dilemma.

My beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS (171,773 miles)

A person’s relationship with a car isn’t “BREAKING NEWS!” No one cares about my three-week long obsession with a car! Not even when it replaces my obsession with writing for Views from the Edge. Who cares?

Preoccupation with the sirens that call me to sell or trade my faithful Avalon may be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but this car thing feels familiar. It has a history. I’ve been here before.

THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE: finding and staying with the Avalon

Maybe it’s in my DNA. “Let’s go out and look at that new Buick,” Dad would say. It didn’t matter that Parkinson’s and the Department of Motor Vehicles had put the car thing in his rear view mirror; Mom and Dad’s Buick Skylark was 21 years old. “Oh, Ken, for heaven’s sake!” We don’t need a new car! You can’t even walk anymore, and, besides, we don’t have the money for a new car.” It didn’t matter. When the car itch took over, he had to scratch it.

Mom and Dad’s 1983 Buick Skylark

Finding the Avalon nine years ago was completely unexpected. I dropped by Total Auto, a mom-and-pop used car dealer, to look at a one-owner Subaru Legacy. I took the Legacy for a test drive, but didn’t like it. But there was another car, covered with snow and ice, a one-owner 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS traded at a Lexus dealer after 115,000 miles. We dug it out of the snow and took it for a spin. It drove like a dream. What’s not to like about a low-miles, loaded top-of-the-line Avalon XLS?

All these years later, after nine good years together, the car itch returned. I’ve been scratching it every day over the last month. But it occurs to me that obsession is a spiritual and mental health thing, and that the return of Dad’s car itch may have been a healthy substitute for the three-year obsession about which I have no control: the rogue president and the political party obsessed with pleasing him and protecting him with evil schemes that prevent a trial.

REGAINING SOLID FOOTING

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    
 23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

… and the U.S. Constitution, division of powers, and a faltering Republic may yet survive. You can’t trade the Constitution for a new car.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, day two of the Senate Impeachment, January 22, 2020.

This Hour of History — What would Martin Luther King say?

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What the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might say today to the Senators who have pledged to “do impartial justice” as jurors of the Senate’s impeachment trial requires no imagination.

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. Behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was John Lewis. If Dr. King was the primary face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

News of Congressman John Lewis’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that shocked the heart of America’s better self. On the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, John Lewis’s voice echoes those of his Moses and his late Congressional friend and colleague, the Honorable Elijah Cummings who chaired the House Oversight Committee.

John Lewis knows now what he learned in the years after he was beaten on the Pettus Bridge: some cancers metastasize and change into new forms and symptoms that defy treatment. America’s “original sin” of white racism — the presumption of white supremacy and the rights of white privilege — continues to re-create itself in the American psyche. John Lewis knew that the original sin would not be destroyed by passage of the Voter Rights Act. He knows how quickly a victory for justice can be overturned by Congress, the Courts, and a President. He knew how quickly the cancer of white supremacy turns Black Lives Matter to dust and ashes. Like Elijah Cummings and Martin Luther King, Jr,, he will leave this world shaking his head, refusing to hate, and praying for the nation’s repentance, healing, and redemption on the other side of America’s original sin.

“TODAY IS NOT A DAY OF JOY”

The House Articles of Impeachment sent to the Senate for trial were framed in no small part as the result of the work of Elijah Cummings, the integrity of whose oath of office gained respect on both sides of the political aisle. Like Elijah and Martin, John Lewis will continue to bear the authentic witness to “the right side of history” until his last breath and far beyond in the annals of American history.

Congressman John Lewis addressing the U,S. House of Representatives re: Impeachment of Donald. Trump
This hour in history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gordon C. Stewart, author, “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (Wipf and Stock, 2017), Chaska, MN, January 22, 2020.

Jump start down by the old Mill stream

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My battery went dead on January 8. I had no interest. Nothing to say. Views from the Edge was dead as a doornail. I wondered if the juices would ever flow again, but didn’t much care whether they did.

Then a funny thing happened. A stranger dropped by with the comment that jump-started the battery:

The Man Who Loved Graves

Howdy. Seems the whippersnapper is selling you family’s mill. Thought you might be interested in seeing the current pix of it posted in the listing at the weblog linked below. Cheers! J

https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2020/01/14/1864-mill-in-bryant-pond-me/
Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME
Andrews Casket Company Mill, South Woodstock, ME featured in “The Man Who Loved Graves”

Click HERE to view the current photographs of the real estate listing ($85,000) for the Mill and 2.7 acres on Mill Pond in my ancestral home of Andrews Hollow, the same property described in “The Man Who Loved Graves” (Views from the Edge, 2012) back when the battery was fresh. The photographs did more than take me back to childhood. They took where I’ve never been: inside the Mill, which I’d assumed had gone to rot — and living quarters that come as a complete surprise.

By January 13 the number of Views from the Edge daily visits had fallen to an all-time low of 20. The battery was dead. But life is a funny thing. The next day the number jumped to 495. All because a stranger dropped by with jumper cables that jump-started a dead battery down by the old Mill stream.

Thank you, J, whoever and wherever you are,

Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2020.

Daughter and Dad

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Painting by Ukranian artist Lilia Mazurkevich.

January 8, 2020 — The Day After Iran’s Retaliation

“Dad, before you bray on FOX this morning, I want you to remember how much I adore you. You’re the greatest president ever! No matter how much of a jackass the world thinks you are or what Tucker Carlson said, I know you killed that Iranian guy to end a war, not to start one. I’ll always love you.”

“But they’re going to say I did another dumb thing! I have to be tough!”

“Don’t even think about it, Dad. Just be yourself. Everyone knows you’re kidding!”

The Contested State of Truth

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The dawn of a new year is like turning the page in a bad novel, believing it will get better. No one likes a gloomy Gus! But reality is what it is. Or maybe it’s not. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. A toddler playing with matches at his country club threatens to set the world on fire. The toddler and his playmates pretend not to see the bigger fire raging all around them. Only toddlers would believe they can win the game of “Chicken” when their opponent is Nature itself.

THE REAL AND COPIES OF COPIES OF THE REAL

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But faith gets harder when what you can see turns your hair white.

“In postmodernity of Late Capitalism,” writes professor David White in “The Contested Status of Truth, “the [facsimile] precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. There is only the simulation . . . Fictional representations — copies of copies of the real — are rapidly replacing the real in our experience.” (Insight: the Faculty Journal of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Fall 2019.)

Fictional representations repeated repeatedly remove us from what is real. The representation creates its own reality . . . ‘alternative facts’. When comedian Lewis Black tells his audience, “You can’t just make sh-t up,” the auditorium comes alive because the audience knows it’s true.

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.

Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 NRSV

IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING, THE OLD MAN IS SNORING

While global warming accelerates beyond previous expectations — and those earlier scenarios were already ominous and urgent — the party in control of American policy is snoring. Environmental standards that clean air, water, and soil are erased with the stroke of a pen.

It’s not a hoax, Mr. President. Not a hoax, Mr. McConnell, et.al. History will remember you as the climate change deniers intent on partisan control while the planet turned brown.

Likewise, you, Mr. McConnell, will be remembered as the Senate Majority Leader who ended discussion and debate on the Senate floor, and worked hand-in-glove with the impeachment defendant to assure that Mr. Trump is acquitted.

[Blessed are they]
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe
against the innocent.

Psalm 15: 4b-5a

WHO ARE YOU CALLING CHICKEN?

Had you forgotten, or did you not know, what the people of Iran have never forgotten: the CIA engineered the 1953 coup d’etat that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president and put the Shah in power for the next 25 years . . . until the Iranian Revolution paid back the insults with American hostage-taking. Iran has a long memory, a proud history, and rich culture that is many centuries old. The new insult — assassinating an Iranian state official — stokes the embers of smoldering fires, leaving our allies scratching their heads once again, wondering what you were thinking, if you were thinking at all. Did you consider that, by assassinating the Iranian General, you also would eliminate a strange but highly effective ally in our common campaign against ISIS?

TOWARD A CULTURE OF GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, DELIGHT, AND JOY

“Perhaps the resources of our culture — organized around the priority of spectacle and commodity and power — have been exhausted. . . . They cannot deliver the flourishing they claim. They cannot foster a culture of gratitude, appreciation, delight, and joy. They can only foster a culture of hatred, suspicion, and fear.” — David White, Insight.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 7, 2020.

Climate Change–Everyone is a long story

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David Kanigan’s Sunday Morning introduced me to Niall Williams’s words and a photograph of architecture from Berlin. “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story….” — Niall Williams, History of the Rain.

HEARING AND TELLING STORIES

Pondering Williams’ short sentence reminded me of Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. We don’t just have stories. We ARE our stories. And our stories contain secrets.

I’m imagining a scene that will not happen in real time. There is a large room. Folding wooden chairs have been arranged in a huge circle. Members of Congress and their staff members are sitting there. There is no assigned seating. Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are there.

Adam Schiff and Doug Collins are there. Scattered among the tailored suits and silk ties are members of the Capitol cleaning and custodial staff, the barbers and stylists, the shoe shiners, the cooks, kitchen assistants, table waiters, and dishwashers are all there. The mailroom clerks, the Capitol Guard, and Secret Service are there. No chair is different than another. Shaker-like oak chairs, every one the same. There is no dais. No microphone. No television cameras. All cell phones are off. There are no distractions. The room is quiet.

All eyes are fixed on the Ojibwa dancer sitting alone in the empty space created by the circle formation. All ears are listening to the story the Ojibwa Elder is telling through his flute. Everyone hears the story and his prayers to the Great Spirit offered without words through his drumming. Then he begins to sing toward the four directions. They watch his body turn to the West, and follow his lead, all turning as he turns.

Look towards the West
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the North
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the East
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the South
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look up above (upwards)
God (“Great Spirit”) sits above us
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the Earth
Your Grandmother lies beneath us
Pray to Her, pray to Her!
She is laying there listening (to your Prayers).

Everyone is both curious and caught up in the moment. The OIjibwa is on bended knee. He kisses the Earth. He lifts his eyes upwards. With his right hand he cups his left ear, listening for the voice of the ancestors who looked toward the four directions. The people in the circle begin to hear what he is hearing. The Ojibwa, like Moses parting the waters, is creating a path into the center of the circle, as the sounds draw closer. The Ojibwa shaman open to the doors for the Gathering of Nations, dancing and singing because they know what the people in the wood chairs do not: No one owns land. No one can own a Grandmother.

We are our stories. We tell them, including the secrets we’ve dared not tell, to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. Humankind is a long story.

“You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”

Greta Thunberg, US Congress, Washington DC, September 17, 2019.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 28, 2019.

Christmas: He has scattered the proud!

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This Christmas we share a chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock) first aired on MPR’s “All Things Considered” during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Today there is no Occupy Wall Street. There are no tents. No camps. No protests. But Mary, and the hope she sings in her Magnificat, will never goes away.

Mary of Occupy

He has shown strength with his arm; 
 he has scattered the proud 
 in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful 
 from their thrones,and lifted up the lowly; 
 he has filled the hungry with good things, 
 and sent the rich away empty.
 - Gospel of Luke 1:53-55
 

in other cultures, and other times, the young woman would be called a peasant. But here and now, she is a protester, one of a dwindling number of ragged young people on the government plaza. She moves among the occupier sleeping bags and protest signs in the cold of winter, singing her song of hope and joy.

She makes no demands, which is confusing to some. Hers is a different way: a bold announcement that the old order, symbolized by Wall Street, is already finished. Her purity and her message are impervious to the game of demand-and-response that serves only to tweak and tinker with the old system of greed and financial violence.

She simply affirms the great new thing that will come to pass. to her it is more real than much of what she sees.

A song like hers is being sung this season in churches through- out the world. The song rejoices in a new world order about to be born. The “same old, same old” world, the one defined by who’s up and who’s down, by social pride and social humiliation, by the overfed and underfed, by extremes of extravagant wealth and pov- erty—that world is over. The mountains of greed are brought down and the pits of desperation are raised up to the plain.

The song celebrated in churches is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, a composition of the Gospel of luke. it has special meaning to Christians who believe that Mary bore in her womb the savior of us all. But the Luke story also serves as a metaphor for the compassionate character of a new society about to be born.

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings this peasant girl living in the time of the Roman empire’s foreign occupation. She is full of the One who “has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts,” who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of low degree,” the leveling God of mercy and justice.

Imagine for a moment an opera house. At one end of the stage stands Mary, the voice of prophetic madness, her tender voice softly rejoicing in the hope growing inside her. At the other end stands a massive chorus, in tuxedos and gowns, thundering its hymn of praise for the market, for its grandeur, for the preservation of the status quo.

“He has filled the hungry with good things,” the girl sings, “and the rich he has sent empty away.” Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns out the mighty chorus.

As Mary’s song is read in churches this Sunday, some anonymous girl will slip unnoticed into the back pew. She will listen to the reading of luke’s Magnificat, and she will hope, like Mary, that the world will hear the message.

Merry Christmas from Views from the Edge.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska MN, Dec. 25, 2019

Christianity Today Yesterday

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EVANGELICAL REBELLION OR A HICCUP?

Christianity Today, the flagship journal of conservative evangelicals in the U.S.A., has called for Donald Trump’s removal from office.

[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

The New York Times saw Mr. Galli’s criticism of the president as a crack in the evangelical voting bloc’s foundation, but not the beginning of the end of evangelical support.

Barring the unforeseen, Mr. Trump will be the first American president to face voters after being charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. One voting bloc voicing criticism this week: evangelicals. But the critics remain a minority in a political movement that Mr. Trump has reshaped in his own mold.

NYT, Dec. 20, 2019

DISCLAIMER

I am a Christian. I don’t read Christianity Today. I don’t even read The Christian Century, the progressive counterpoint to Christianity Today. I’m too old and ornery for flagships. Any sort of flag-waving, especially when done in the name of Jesus, turns me into what I don’t want to be: just another noisy name-caller. What do I know? I could be dead wrong in my understanding of faith and public life. But I still would vainly hope that what Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote about Thomas Hobbes might be said of me. “Greater than the horror his strange kerygma arouses is the praise he deserves for not being blind and stupid . . . and for his vision and knowledge. It should be part of Christian vigilance to see and know what [Hobbes] saw and knew.” — Karl Barth, The Christian Life.

I’ve never attended a Billy Graham crusade. I always found it ironic that evangelicals who believe that everything boils down to an individual decision rely on mass rallies.

TRUMP RALLIES AND MINDS WITHOUT COMPASSION

Watching Mr. Trump’s facial expression and body language, listening to speech that dehumanizes, humiliates, treats his critics as enemies of the nation itself makes my skin crawl. Only the knowledge that some in the crowd claim to follow Jesus is more disturbing. How can people hoot and holler on cue from a man with orange hair who makes fun of disabled people, lies so often no one keeps count anymore, throws away women, lawyers and fixers like bubble gum, builds a wall against Central American refugees and takes children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms at the border, fattens the rich and sends the needy away, and alienates America’s traditional democratic allies with insults with the swagger of Vladimir Putin?

How can people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior applaud a well-coifed billionaire madman dressed in a starched white shirt with gold cuff links, a silk tie, and a suit that costs more than the people standing behind him make in a month? How will they sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” this Christmas Eve when a poor woman doesn’t get to gently lay her child lowly in a manger because the nation to which she had fled for safety has taken her child away?

Crowds have always been a refuge for people driven by demagogues into the arms of fear, which may explain why in the Christmas story the angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), and why, centuries later, the early Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch answered the question how and why such a thing as a rally happens.

In the hateful, hostile mob (O strange vagary!)
 My only port and refuge can I find,
 Such is my fear to find myself alone.
 
- Petrarch, “Laura Living,” Conzanier 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 23, 2019

Is Recusal in Order?

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has greater reason to recuse himself from participation in the Senate impeachment trial than Jeff Sessions had for recusing himself from the DOJ investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

An online dictionary defines ‘recuse’ as “the withdrawal of a judge, prosecutor, or juror from a case on the grounds that they are unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.”

Until the day Mr. Sessions made his announcement, the terms ‘recuse’ and ‘recusal’ were unfamiliar to most Americans who work outside the court system. Though Mr. Sessions’ decision angered the president, it was the right thing to do. Senate Majority Leader McConnell should do the same.

U.S. Senate floor

If public perception is nine-tenths of reality, a Senate trial that is not a trial will deepen and spread the cynicism that threatens the survival of this Constitutional Republic. Unless the Senators act like Senators willing to lay aside partisan rancor for the sake the greater good, the distrust in America’s foundational institutions and democracy itself will widen further into a chasm that no one can cross. We need to believe that our better angels have not left us.

Senator McConnell’s view that impeachment is a partisan sham is a matter of public record. Sen. McConnell has established the rules for the trial in close collaboration with the White House, which seems unusual. He has decided there will be no witnesses. The trial will be short. The verdict appears to be in before the trial begins,

No trial is more important than an impeachment trial. The Senate is composed of women and men as flawed as the rest of us. But is it too much to ask that the Senators approach this moment of crisis the way American jurisprudence expects a jury of peers to assess the evidence before coming to verdict? Prospective jurors for a trial on Main Street who have come to conclusions of guilt or acquittal are dismissed during voir dire as unfit for jury duty.

Members of the Senate will serve as the only jurors, after swearing an oath many Senators cannot take in good conscience: “I solemnly swear [or affirm, as the case may be] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [the person being impeached], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

This oath taken before an impeachment trial is secondary to the Oath of Office to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” There is a remedy for any Senator who cannot honestly swear the oath “to do impartial justice. . . . So help me God” in an impeachment trial. It’s called recusal.

A jury and trial that are shams will stab at the heart of who we thought ourselves to be. Pogo will again prove right. But this time, the consequences are odious. We will have met the enemy and discover he is us.

Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska, MN, December 19, 2019

An Open Letter to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives

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December 18, 2019


Today you will decide whether to advance articles of impeachment to the Senate. Sadly, we who will watch the debate on the House floor know what to expect. Republicans will be Republicans. Democrats will be Democrats. Only a handful of Members, if any, will break ranks with their party lines.

My generation grew up believing America was different from those we were taught to fear. We were not a one-party State of Hitler or Stalin which allowed no dissent. We did not pledge allegiance to a party, or so we thought; we and those who represent us owed our loyalty to the Constitution of a democratic republic.

In times of stress, I spend time alone in the pre-dawn stillness. In the days to come, I encourage you to begin each day with a copy of your Oath of Office, the Constitution, and the official seal of your office with the nation’s long-standing motto, E pluribus unum.

The motto is thought to point back to Cicero’s paraphrase of Pythagoras in De Officiis where he discusses essential bonds that keep together a family or a society. “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many (unus fiat ex pluribus), as Pythagoras wishes things to be in friendship.”

If today’s debate is a shouting match between two party scripts with no room for dissent, the essential bonds of friendship, mutual respect, and trust will tear even farther, and the Constitution you have sworn to preserve and protect will be well on its way to becoming a fiction. Let your conscience guide you to speak and act with wisdom and courage.

Respectfully,

Gordon C. Stewart
Chaska, MN

Boris Trump and Donald Johnson

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INTRODUCING THE GUEST COMMENTATOR

Views from the Edge occasionally publishes a guest commentary that speaks with a different voice. John Miller begins most every morning reading through newspapers that represent diverse perspectives, left, right, and center. John’s readers respect his astute social criticism, and enjoy John’s unexpected turns of phrase, quick wit, and inveterate habit of going where angels fear to tread . . . all in the name of the LORD, of course! Views from the Edge added the photograph to the original commentary.

“BORIS TRUMP AND DONALD JOHNSON”

by John D. Miller

The British people have had three elections thrust upon them in the past year. After two of those elections, the new prime minister turned out to be Boris Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has had a long, colorful, and unpredictable career as a politician. To Americans, he was best known as the Mayor of London. After that he was elected to Parliament, where he was appointed foreign minister by Theresa May. Having Boris Johnson as foreign minister would be like making Bernie Madoff the Secretary of the Treasury. Neither man would be naturally well suited to the office.

When Mrs. May was rejected by her fellow Conservatives in Parliament, Mr. Johnson rose to the pinnacle of British political power. He was unable to keep the natives from becoming overly restless, however. In an attempt to solidify his position, he called the third election of 2019, which he won, predictably, on December 11, because his opponent as leader of the Labour Party was even more odious, or ineffective, than he. Jeremy Corbyn would probably be an horrendous PM.

When Donald Trump became President of the United States in early 2017, he had never held a political office, unlike Boris Johnson, who had been in politics for many years. Trump was a billionaire real estate developer and television reality show host. Both men were very popular populists, each attaining his popularity in his own singular, inscrutable ways.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are so much alike in most ways that their names could be transposed. Donald Trump could be Boris Trump or Donald Johnson, and Boris Johnson could be Donald Johnson or Boris Trump. I have chosen to call them Boris Trump and Donald Johnson.

Both men look alike. They think alike. They act alike. They speak alike.

Photograph of Boris Trump and Donald Johnson at 2019 G7 Summit.
Aug. 26, 2019, in Biarritz, France, site of the G7 Summit. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Obviously they are not exactly alike. For example, Donald Trump has his own hair, and lots of it, and he combs it into a unique coif. Boris Johnson also has his own hair, but it looks like he never combs it. It appears to be a jostled nest in which several birds have recently roosted.

Nevertheless, both men are highly narcissistic. (Anyone who chooses to call that much attention to himself is a classic narcissist.) They are astoundingly unpredictable in what they say, except that they both have said so many unpredictable things their pronouncements have become quite predictable in their unpredictability. That is no way to govern reasonably or well.

Boris Johnson will lead the United Kingdom into disaster when shortly he promotes the Brexit vote, urging his zealous lemming followers to leap into the sea. Almost certainly the vote shall pass, and Britain will be catapulted into its worst crisis since World War II. British voters knew all this when they elected him. But they did it anyway.

Welcome to our world, British voters! Now you will know in your churned innards how half of your electorate feels. You chose someone you knew was a lethal wild card, also knowing exactly what he would do to undermine your political system and your economy. But you went ahead and elected him, because you thought the other choice was worse, which he probably was.

Fortunately, American voters still have eleven months closely to observe Boris Trump before our election is held. The UK will not be prevented from their plunge, which is already a tragically foregone conclusion. However, the USA still has a chance to come to its senses.

John D. Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.

Elijah shares his pizza

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ELIJAH SHARES WITH GRANDPA

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” – Ruth Reichl

Turn up the volume to hear Elijah, Grandma, and Grandpa

Elijah’s pizza

THE FULL VALUE OF JOY

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” — Mark Twain, Notebook (1935)

Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, celebrating Elijah at Elijah’s house, Dec. 16, 2019.

Elijah and the Mad Men

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Grandpa and Elijah

Grandpa, why’s that man so mad?

Well, he’s the senior member of the minority.

So, he’s mad because he’s old?

No, he’s mad because he’s lying.

Do all old people lie and get mad?

Not all, and not just old people. Some liars are young.

Yeah, I heard ’em yelling on C-Span.

You watch C-Span at day care?

We do, Grandpa. We’re Americans!

Well, not all Americans watch C-Span. Some watch MSNBC, CNN, or FOXNews.

Yeah. We don’t. We want to make up our own minds about de-peachment.

Grandpa Gordon and two-year-old grandson Elijah

Political parties die swallowing their own lies

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John Arbuthnot (1667-1735) is not a household name, but this much we know: he was as disgusted as many of us in America in December, 2019.

A contemporary and friend of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, physician-mathematician-writer John Arbuthnot, wrote satire flavored by his Scottish sense of humor. In 1713, Arbuthnot wrote “Proposals for printing a very curious discourse… a treatise of the art of political lying, with an abstract of the first volume” which systematized “a rhetoric of bad thinking and writing. He proposes to teach people to lie well.” — Wikipedia.

He also wrote this line that encourages all who now grieve for America:

“All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.”

There is hope. Have a good day,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 14, 2019.

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

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TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

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

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

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

SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-CRITICISM

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

Photo of school children reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance.

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

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

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

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

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

BALANCING COURAGE AND PATIENCE

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

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

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE REPUBLIC

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

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

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

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

Human Packs and Alpha Dogs –Part 2

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AMERICA 2019: PUZZLING AND CONFOUNDING

We are in the midst a constitutional crisis in the U.S.A. that leads most of us scratching our heads. How did we get here? How will we get out of it? No one knows.

Part 1 of this three-post series suggested kinship with dogs who, by nature, live in packs led by Alpha Dogs. In Part 2, we turn to a time-honored voice from an earlier time.

AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Karl Barth‘s way of seeing and hearing offers one such perspective. Barth was one of great theologians of the 20th Century, known for his brilliance, and for his early opposition to the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler and the nationalist ideology of the Third Reich.

Barth saw what those with “eye disease” did not. Idolatry, not atheism, is the issue for the human creature.

In Adolf Hitler and nationalist party that ended a constitutional republic, Barth saw what he called “the lordless powers” that have no Lord but themselves. They allow for no superiors. They submit to nothing and to no one. They are what Barth’s American friend William Stringfellow called “imposters of God” that prey on our anxiety, powers greater than ours, in effect a ‘lord’ — an Alpha Dog — to protect us and conquer what threatens us.

“DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES”

As a Christian theologian, Barth professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. This Lord is no victor. For Barth, Jesus Christ was the man for others who stooped to wash others’ feet, a chore assigned to household slaves; unmasked the lordless powers of empire; wept over the city, and rode into it “humble and riding on an ass” in counterpoint to the emperor entering the city on his white stallion; proclaimed a kingdom of infinite compassion not built by ‘the lordless powers’; prayed on his knees to the Lord of lords and King of kings of all the lesser packs; and bent his back to the soldier’s whip and Roman execution, and reached out to the rebel on the cross next to his.

The Jesus of Nazareth who bowed his head to no other power than YHWH — the Ineffable One, the Eternal One, the Lord beyond the lordless that rise and fall and are forgotten — represents humankind in our proper relationship with God.

“The demonism of politics consists in the idea of ’empire’, which is always human as such.

The Nazi Party and its Alpha Dog were ‘Lordless’ because they were accountable to no one and to nothing. Their authority and power were absolute. Everyone in the pack was ordered to yield to a headstrong man and a “headstrong dream.”

Barth’s theological anthropology offers insight into our vulnerability in an anxious world.

Man’s (sic.) alienation from God at once carries with it his self-alienation: the denaturalizing of the humanity and fellow humanity of is own existence, the contraction of the determination, inalienably given to him as God’s creature, that he should belong to God and have in God his Lord, the beginning of speech, action, and therefore existence, which are headstrong because they have no Lord.

Karl Barth, The Christian Life, 213-14.

Knowing that social control requires consent of the pack, Hitler and the Third Reich systematically transposed the prevailing religious belief system into the key of nationalist supremacy. The religion that proclaimed the elusive Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as Lord was brought to Heel: Heel! Sit! Down! Off! Leave it it!

The church that prayed “Thy Kingdom come” bowed the knee to the nearer-to-hand kingdom, raising its arm to salute the national messiah. “Heil Hitler!” and Sieg Heil” replaced Handel’s ‘Messiah’.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:5).

Handel’s Messiah

As for the Jews? It’s much harder to bring to heel a people whose faith looks to YHWH, the Holy One, and does not regard any human being as a divine incarnation. They would need to be removed from the fictional Aryan pack. They were stripped of every constitutional protection, herded onto trains, and delivered to concentration camps as people unfit for German society.

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”

Like the Germans in the lead up to 1933, we in America in 2019 are manipulated by well-calibrated propaganda and disinformation campaigns that ‘denaturalize’ and turn neighbors into enemies in the age of cyberspace.

Slogans are simply vents with whose help ideologies surface and in the form of loud whistles call for general applause and acknowledgment. Let us not be deceived: we all listen to the most varied catchwords, we all use them more or less merrily, and in so doing show that we ourselves are people who have been struck and stabbed and snared by systematized ideologies.

Propaganda is putting things in black and white. … What they have to push systematically is their own excellence and usefulness, and by way of background must show how utterly valueless and harmful their rivals and opponents are.

THE TRUMP PHENOMENON

Classical Christian theology is clear about the need for an Alpha Dog. Its understanding of human being is sometimes called theological anthropology. Our mortal human nature is best understood in light of our submission — witting or unwitting — to this, that, or another power. When an Alpha Dog rises to claim the allegiance of a pack, we are thrown back.

Most of us in Roman Catholicism and progressive protestant churches have moved beyond patriarchal metaphors and talk of kings, kingdoms, and lords. We speak instead of ‘kin-doms’ without kings — horizontal societies without authority, what Barth called “the Lordless powers.” The reign of compassion is upended and replaced by an Alpha Dog who reigns absolutely, using propaganda, fear, hate, and cruelty to bring the pack to Heel.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 12, 2019

I will look for You – a Psalmic reflection

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WHY AM I AWAKE?

The comforter feels heavy. My body is sore. So is my spirit. I shift from one side to the other and turn on my back, but it doesn’t help.

picture of digital clock

I look over to the night table at the old digital clock that once told my parents the time of day or night — the inheritance with the BIG red numbers that glow in the dark to help old folks read them.

The red numbers read 3:13.

I throw off the covers, stumble down the 18 steps to the first floor, make a pot of coffee, pour myself a cup, turn on the small table lamp by the fireplace, and sit down for an early morning conversation with the psalmist in the copy of The Book of Common Prayer Sue Kahn put in my hand years ago.

MEDITATION ON PSALM 5 (SELECTED VERSES)

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.[v.3]
Art work by Andrej Mashkotsev with Tower of Babel in the backgound adds visual weight to "the little kings and usurpers.

I will put my trust in You. I will not surrender to powers that know no higher power.

You, Lord, are the Breath that breathes in all and makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and unjust — “Lord of lords and King of kings,” the Eternal One from Whom the little kings and usurpers cannot flee.

“AN EMPIRE” – ANDREJ MASHKOTSEV

I make my appeal to You for Whom the darkness is as light. Things are dark here in America. We are divided. The future looks dark. Although my faith tells me You are present everywhere, I do not feel hopeful. It seems as though You have left us to our own devises.

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
and evil cannot dwell with You. [v.4]

Though it feels as though You are hiding, I have to believe You do not take pleasure in wickedness, and that the partisan evil, as bold and obvious as the big red numbers on my parents’ digital clock at 3:13 A.M, will not prevail. Evil cannot dwell with You.

Braggarts cannot stand in your sight; you hate all those who work wickedness. [v.5]

Does it matter to You?

If braggarts cannot stand in Your sight, come into sight. Show Yourself. Take Your seat on the judgment throne to hold the braggarts accountable for their treason against You and all that breathes. Summon the braggarts to stand before You before it is too late.

Do You hate wickedness? Does Love also hate? Do You shrug and let it go?

PAINTING “JOHN” BY LILIA MAZURKEVICH 

But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy I will go into your house;
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. (v.7)

I will bow down in awe of You. The good green Earth is Your temple. I will look to the greatness of Your mercy. When it feels as though You are hiding, I will seek You. I will remember the wisdom of the Hasidic grandfather teach his grandson about You, when young Yechiel came home in tears because his friend had stopped looking for him in a game of hide-and-seek.

artwork "Hide-and-Seek" by Marieke Peters - Visual Artist adds visual impact to the Buber story and intent of the post.

“Rebbe Barukh caressed Yechiel’s face, and with tears welling up in his eyes, he whispered softly, ‘God too Yechiel, God too is weeping. For, He too has been hidden with no one looking for Him’.” (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim).

HIDE-AND-SEEK, MARIEKE PETERS

I will look for You.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 6, 2019.

i used to run through fields

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photo of grandson Elijah with the spoon he's just begun to use.
Grandson Elijah enjoying his new soon.

“Bubbles” – at 4:00 A.M.

 i used to run through fields
laughing, blowing bubbles
floating up, up, away
off to Who-knows-where

now I watch the bubbles
burst, burst, burst –
dreams, illusions, hopes,
bursting into air

time and death bursting
all our bubbles
for we are puffs of air
but for a time

till some child runs
again through fields
of green, blowing bubbles
that float … up and up

swelling, rising, not yet bursting
each bubble its own
never to be repeated self
precious beyond belief

while we in our old age
move toward the end of time
evaporating into eternity
Whence we came.

"Bubbles"

– Gordon C. Stewart (@)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 4, 2019