America at the Precipice

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Two American Founders

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

Charles Thomson Letter to Benjamin Franklin

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

Charles Thomson and Cato, A Tragedy


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

Dragging their Country into Ruin

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

Teetering on the Edge of the Precipice

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

Toward Healing the Wounds

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

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

The Killer Cop and a Love Supreme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Coltrane: Deliverance by a Love Supreme

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

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

A Love Supreme

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

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

I wish I were a lily pad

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Early morning reflection from the dirt road by the wetland pond

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

Lily pads on a wetland pond

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

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

Water lily –Photo by Hiu1ebfu Hou00e0ng on Pexels.com

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

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

A Radiating Presence Everywhere

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We Saw No Tears – gods are strong and cold

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

A Daffodil Blooms Where Illusion Died

Photo of daffodil

The Resurrection of Empathy

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

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

Hanging by a Thread — The Pressure of Being and Holiness

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

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

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

Insurrection and Faith (Part 4)

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A State of Mind: Patriots and Traitors

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

Some Mindsets Never Really Die

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

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

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

The Jack Ash Society lyrics (Mary Brooks)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Seeger and the “Jack Ash Society”

Pete Seeger performing The Jack Ash Society

The Berkeley Pit

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

Long Shelf Lives

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

The Call for Patriots

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

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

John Birch Society website

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

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

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

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

“Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories,” Wikipedia

The Pit of American Toxic Waste

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

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

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

Cleaning Up the Superfund Site

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

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

John Birch Paranoid Blues — Bob Dylan

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

Ashes, ashes . . . we all fall down

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Ring-a-round the Rosie

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

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

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

The Parable of the Madman

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

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

What stories do we tell ourselves?

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

Where your treasure is

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

The imposition of ashes

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

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

Insurrection and Faith (Part 3)

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

Dialogues Series cancelled

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

“examining critical public issues locally and globally”

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

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

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

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

The Gathering Storm: eight years later

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

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

Our language going forward

Braver Angels

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

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

Insurrection and Faith (Part 2)

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Flashback and Portent — The Epidemic of Gun Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tone was set for a respectful conversation.

The Invisible Guest named John

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

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

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

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

The Coming Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

A Dilemma

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

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

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

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

Hitler’s former maid breaks her silence

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

Historic moments begin with nonchalance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurgency and Faith (Part 1)

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THE BACK STORY 

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

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

LETTER TO MYSELF (THE MODERATOR)

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

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

Guns and I

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

Prone to evil and slothful in good

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

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

Beyond fear and suspicion

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

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

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

First Letter of John 4:20-21 NRSV

Mutual Respect and Forbearance

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

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

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

Can we have a respectful conversation?

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

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

____________________________________

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

Gandhi and Cornel West on the Challenge at the Crossroad

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

Loving evil too much to give it up

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

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

A crucial crossroads: Making a positive difference

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

Cornel West, Race Matters

A Memory of Cornel West

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

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

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

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

Busting Up America — a Tale for a Tail

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Conspiring to Bust up a Country

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

A Tale for a Tail

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

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

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

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

How totalitarianism happens, according to Hanna Arendt

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

Every Violation of Truth is . . .

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

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

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

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold — a Sermon

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

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

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

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Siege — Martin Luther King Weekend

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Capitol Sieges during Martin Luther King Weekend

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

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

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

Washington Post

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

How Could This Happen?

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

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

The Storm Is Passing Over

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What’s happening to America and Americans?

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

Life on the stormy sea

Thunder and Lightning on MLK Weekend

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

Freedom and the Covenant of Mutual Responsibility

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

The Blue Note Gospel and the Storm Passing Over

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

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

The Storm Is Passing Over, Detroit Mass Choir

Martin Luther King and the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today we saw what was going to happen

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

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

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

Stopping it now

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

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

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

Two Epiphanies: the Return of the Wise

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

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

Returning to Our Own Country by Another Way

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

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

Two Epiphanies — Two Unveilings

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

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

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

Rev. Rafael Warnock on Death Row

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

Troy Davis

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

The pastor on Georgia’s death row

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

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

Georgia verdict today

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

I wish Troy Davis could vote today!

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

Beating the Dead Horse

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

You Don’t Say

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

Beating a Dead Horse

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

You Can’t Silence a Dead Horse

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

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


Beating the hoaxes we play on ourselves

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

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

If the Republic is to survive . . .

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

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

It’s up to us

Thanks for dropping by,

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

Why Treason Prospers

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

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

Letter to Ben Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Madness — Singular and Plural

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

Clearing Our Eyes

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

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

Joseph Addison, Cato, Act IV, scene IV

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

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

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

Two Ways of Being Human; Two Kind of National Character

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

A Hope and a Prayer from 1774 for 2021

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

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

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


It’s all there in the Christmas story

Video

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

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

Season’s Greetings

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

Grace and Peace,

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

Meeting Diabolos (the Diabolical)

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Prefatory Note to readers

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

Encountering the Diabolical

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

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

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

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

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

 Donald J. Trump
 President of the United States
  
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The gift of Mistaken Identity

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

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

Echoes from Narcissus and Joe McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diabolos and Democracy

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

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

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

A Leech and a Wrecking Ball

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

It’s not over til it’s over

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

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

ADDENDUM: PRIORITY ACCESS TO MILANIA TRUMP’S 2020 CALENDAR

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

Friend,

 I have something special for you.

 Our incredible First Lady, Melania Trump, handpicked the beautiful photos for our BRAND NEW 2021 Trump Calendar. She said to me, “Darling, I want all of your BEST supporters to have PRIORITY-ACCESS to get the calendar FIRST.”
  That's right - YOU are one of my strongest allies, so I'm saving one of our ICONIC calendars for you. All you have to do is contribute $30 RIGHT NOW to claim yours.
  I can only hold your 2021 Trump Calendar for a short time before I give it to the next Patriot in line. Get yours now before it's too late.
  Contribute $30 or more NOW to get your Official 2021 Trump Calendar. >>
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  Thank you,

The sound of the trumpet in the morning

Video

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

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

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

Sheep and Goats — A Timely Sermon

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

A Sermon: Sheep and Goats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Niemoeler, German pastor

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

The Clear Call of Conscience

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

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

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

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

First they came…

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Who’ll be a witness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endurance in the Divided House

Video

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

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

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

Text

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Mr. President,

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

“No más. No más!”

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

HERE"S THE TRUTH

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

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

(Insert request for money)

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

I'm counting on you right now, Friend.

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

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States

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

Grateful for the Mistake

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

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

No más. Please, no more.

Sincerely,

Gordon C. Stewart

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

Bloody Noses and the American Seesaw

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ON THE SEE-SAW

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

Playground seesaw (teeter-totter)

SOCRATES ON PUBLIC AND PERSONAL HAPPINESS

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

Attributed to Socrates in Plato’s The Republic

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

THOMAS MERTON: DETACHED OBSERVATION

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

STAYING ON THE PLAYGROUND: ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS

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

MICHAEL LERNER ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS OF THE SEESAW

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

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

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

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

America the Morning After

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INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Postman on Orwell and Huxley

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

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

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

The wetland pond, the flyway, and return home

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

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

The new normal

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Election: Reality or Holograms

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Reality in the Post-Truth Era

The new normal in America is variously called the Post-Truth Era, the Post-Fact Era, the Post-Reality Era. We are left with our opinions unloosed from any objective measure.

“Half our sweet illusions are conscious illusions,” wrote George Eliot, “like effects of colour that we know to be made up of tinsel, broken glass and rags.” In order to be published in a man’s world, Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) consciously created the public illusion that she was a George.

Between Rainbows and Tinsel, Reality and Holograms

The line between substance and illusion is as thin as the line between reality and appearance. The history of humankind is a tale of an idiot, humankind’s conscious preference for the “sweet illusions” that glimmer from tinsel, broken glass, and oily rags for the colors of a rainbow.

“It seems to be the contention of the Trump campaign that nothing is really true,” wrote Jack Holmes in the September 26, 2016 issue of Esquire; “it only matters what enough people believe, and whether you can dangle enough shiny objects in front of them until the clock runs out on November 8.”

Today is four years later, November 3, 2020, in the Post-Reality Era where we choose between the holograms that glitter from tinsel, broken glass, and oily rags, and the search for what is good, true, and beautiful.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

Vote for Elijah . . . and His Future

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Three year-old grandson Elijah’s a joy. He’s joyful! He’s loving. He’s funny. He makes me smile with his summersaults, singing and dancing. He makes me proud of him every morning when he helps fill Barclay’s bowl with his prescription dog food. Like Barclay, Elijah sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil, but he recoils at the sound of meanness.

Elijah isn’t mean. He loves Nora; Nora loves him. Elijah doesn’t know he’s Black; Nora doesn’t know she’s White. No one is superior at daycare.

Elijah doesn’t know what a country is, let alone that there’s something wrong with it, or how to make it great. He hasn’t learned to fear people like those who lynched 14 year-old Emmett Till in 1955, or their White nationalist offspring: the Boogaloo Bois, the Wolverine Watchmen, and the Proud Boys “staying back and standing by” with their pistols and rifles loaded if things don’t go their way in the 2020 election.

My grandson is too young to know the names of Medgar Evers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Dubois, Paul Robison, Congressmen John Lewis and Elijah Cummings, President Barack Obama . . . or Trevon Martin, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, and countless other unarmed people like him who were killed by the police.

Elijah is three years-old. He didn’t see President Obama award the Presidential Medal of Honor to Civil Rights Movement hero Congressman John Lewis, or President Trump bestow the same honor on Rush Limbaugh whose daily radio broadcasts are seances with Joe McCarthy.

Rush Limbaugh awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

When I came home from voting with the bright red sticker I VOTED, Elijah recognized the letters. He knows his ABC’s. Someday I’ll tell him I voted for him and for all his friends and enemies.

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

Prediction re: Presidential Debate

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STAY TUNED TONIGHT

LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” and campaign rally chants to “LOCK HER (i.e., the Governor of Michigan) UP!” would be disturbing under any circumstances. But the mantras that stir up domestic terrorists like the Proud Boys and the Wolverine Watchmen don’t come from two guys in a bar or members of a school PTAs in Michigan or Virginia. They come straight from the mouth of the President of the United States of America (POTUS) fighting to stay in the Oval Office where he will remain immune from criminal prosecution..

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

President’s Oath of Office

“TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY”

When the oath-taker who swears to execute the duties of office “to the best of my abilities” has little or no ability to execute them, there is a problem. If a next-door neighbor’s sister and niece were to risk warning the neighbor that their brother and uncle is a skillful con-artist who cheated his own family out of their inheritance — a man with no moral standards, no respect for reality or truth, no conscience for establishing a fake university and fleecing the students who trusted him with their money — ordinary people would pay close attention. The neighbor might not be surprised when, several years later, well-armed militias swarm the neighborhood on orders of the “law-and-order” president of the homeowners’ association. But, even then, they might stay silent to protect themselves.

When the oath-taker who swears to execute the duties of office “to the best of my abilities” has little or no ability to execute them, there is a problem.

If a next-door neighbor’s sister and niece were to risk warning the neighbor that their brother and uncle is a skillful con-artist who cheated his own family out of their inheritance — a man with no moral standards, no respect for reality or truth, no conscience for establishing a fake university and fleecing the students who trusted him with their money — ordinary people would pay close attention.

The neighbor might not be surprised when, several years later, well-armed militias swarm the neighborhood on orders of the “law-and-order” president of the homeowners’ association. But, even then, they might stay silent to protect themselves.

The president of the association who walked out of the 60-Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl is railing now that tonight’s debate moderator and debate commission are biased and unfair in their decision to shut down his microphone during the two minute periods when his opponent is speaking. He will participate according to the rules to the best of his (limited) ability.

At tonight’s debate, Mr. Trump’s sister and niece will not be surprised when their brother and crazy uncle throws a fit and stomps off the stage in a rant.

As the president often says, when he knows something will happen, “We’ll see what happens.” When it happens, remember to tell your friends you first heard it on Views from the Edge. -:)

UPDATE: THE DAY AFTER THE DEBATE (OCT. 23)

Oops! Our prediction didn’t happen. We stand by the rest of the commentary as free-lance effort to highlight the American dilemma now and as far as the eye can see.

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

Hamlet’s Ghost in 2020

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Of Fathers and Sons

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, many a son is driven mad by a father’s ghost. Although most of our fathers were not murdered, as was Hamlet’s, our fathers whisper through the air long after they have ceased to be. We hear a voice that defies us to be as big as they or to exceed their stature, or to fill the void of emptiness and their sense of shame and shortcomings they took to the grave, or to find the love they withheld from us as children. A father’s ghost sometimes drives a son mad.

Hamlet tries to show his mother Gertrude his father’s ghost (artist: Nicolai A. Abildgaard, c. 1778).

We are our father’s sons.  Appearances to the contrary, madness is never far away. 

“That he is mad, ’tis true; ’tis true ’tis pity;
And pity ’tis ’tis true —a foolish figure….”
— Plutonius to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.)

The healthier sons among us still see our father’s ghost without being stuck in a room where his is the only voice that keeps us captive. We write a wider narrative that puts the father’s ghost where it belongs within the expanding narrative to which experience over time leads us to write. The less fortunate walk through life in “the hollow inner space where the story should be, but never was.” (Dan P. McAdams, The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump.)

The hollow inner space where the story should be

People without a redemptive narrative of the self — a life-story written in one’s own blood: the defeats no less than the successes, the release from the father’s ghost, the changes that unmute the helpless child’s cry for love and integrate the conscious changes that awake us from sleep-walking — deserve our pity and prayers. 

A truly authentic fake

“Trump is always acting, always on stage,” writes McAdam, “— but that is who he really is, and that is all he really is. He is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. He does not go deep into his mind; he does not travel back to the past; he does not project far into the future. He is always on the surface, always right now.

“In his own mind, he is more like a persona than a person, more like a primal force or superhero, rather than a fully realized human being.”

Glitter and compassion

Hamlet mistakenly stabs Polonius (Artist: Coke Smyth, 19th century).

Long before the chairs and drapes in the Oval Office were glittered with yellow-gold, Edgar Alan Poe wrote in his Philosophy of Furniture, “Glitter — and in that one word how much of all that is detestable do we express.”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy too detestable to express: a trail of tears created by a son’s inability to write a narrative that integrates and moves beyond obsession with his father’s ghost.

The hollow inner spaces of others bring a tear to God’s eye, and call us to compassion in hopes that a new narrative of redemption. Truly authentic fakes who hide their emptiness with glitter deserve our pity and our prayers. They do not deserve applause or votes.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2020. 

When Words Fail Me

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Any responsible citizen keeps track of the news. No American can honestly claim ignorance about matters of utmost national importance, like a white supremacist domestic terrorist plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, or the invitation to a domestic terrorist group to “stand back, and stand by” . . . or the lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anyone who can’t — or won’t — answer the question whether it is legal to interfere with and intimidate citizens’ Constitutional right to vote; anyone who can’t, or won’t, say unequivocally that the Constitution does not grant a president the authority or power to prevent the peaceful transfer of power; anyone who claims not to know President Trump’s frequently declared three-fold litmus test for filling the vacant seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brings to mind the wisdom of Albert Einstein, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, and St. Augustine.

The lie was raised to the dignity of a political instrument.

Albert Einstein

Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr,

All sin is a kind of lying.

attributed to Saint Augustine

If only they could hear us now!

Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner - Antonio Ciseri

“What is truth?”

Pontius Pilate

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 14, 2020.

Time to Straighten what is Crooked

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For everything there is a season and a time

It’s not easy to love one’s enemies and to pray for those who persecute you in 2020. It’s hard not to cheer when the president who has shown no grief for the 214,000 American dead or compassion for the sick and mourning succumbs to the virus he once called a hoax. But this is not a time for cheering. No amount of cheering will fix what ails us.

“For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven,“ wrote the ancient Hebrew sage (Ecclesiastes 3:1) centuries before a young Donald Trump found direction in Norman Vincent Peal’s gospel of the Power of Positive Thinking that vaccinates a person or nation against self-defeating thoughts that block success. No longer is there a season or time for weeping. No time for mourning. No time for Ecclesiastes’ sullen declaration that “all is vanity” or the depths of despair in the Psalms, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, or the “Woes” of Amos and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Evil is shrunk to the size of a thimble — the temptation of thinking negatively about success. Slowly but surely, the prosperity gospel without a cross replaces the ethic of the Golden Rule — “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and the Sermon on the Mount’s “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Good Intentions

“[T]he struggle against evil can make us evil,” wrote biblical scholar Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers, “and no amount of good intentions automatically prevents its happening.”

Good intentions have been hard to find, and, when we think we’ve found them, they sometimes become evil in disguise. The “vanity” of Ecclesiastes is never far away. The Hebrew word “hehbel” is a breath of air, or of the mouth — evanescent, empty, puffed up, wicked, false, and often idolatrous.

Evil as a Parasite

Like other parasites, evil does not breathe on its own. It requires a host. It exists only because of goodness. Rarely candid or self-identifying before its work is done, evil is pernicious. It slowly sucks the oxygen out of goodness. It wears the masks of saviors whose agendas are destruction. Evil is an arsonist masquerading as the fire department that will rescue us, while it strikes the matches that turn forests and homes into cinders and ashes. It assures us that the scent we smell is not real. It presents itself as what is the straight-forward talk that warps what is straight into something crooked.

The Scent of Smoke

Sometimes the scent and sight of smoke rise from a constitution in flames. A crook with Covid-19 lights a match in the name of law-and-order while encouraging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and saying not a mumbling word after the federal and state agents uncover a white supremacist plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and spark civil war.

Though the parasite of evil starts slowly, its threat to our health cannot remain hidden forever. Eventually the power of positive thinking has to face the greater power it denies. The longing for goodness, truth and beauty may yet lead vanity to the operating room where a real doctor removes the parasite from the body politic.

This is a season to straighten what is crooked, to resist evil, while always reminding ourselves that the struggle against evil can make us evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2020

A Letter to Red States

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WARNING TO READERS

If you applauded the president’s message to the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when the 2020 election doesn’t go his way, don’t read this tongue-in-cheek letter. If you find it chilling and need a good laugh, this epistle may bring a smile and a chuckle.

Dear Red States…

We’ve decided we’re leaving.

We intend to form our own country, and we’re taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren’t aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast.

We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of New Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Washington D.C.

We also get Costco and Boeing.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches.

We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Branson, Missouri.

We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.

We get 85 percent of America’s venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition’s, we get a bunch of happy families.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we’re going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once.

If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they’re apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don’t care if you don’t show pictures of their children’s caskets coming home.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country’s fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation’s fresh fruit, 95 percent of America’s quality wines (you can serve French wines at state dinners) 90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools, plus . . . Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT.

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes,

99 percent of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Rand Paul. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 62 percent of you believe life is sacred unless we’re discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

Oh, and you can have all the new Corona cases since you’re too dumb and self- centered to wear a mask.

Peace out,

People of the blue states

Views from the Edge: To See More Clearly, by the wetland, MN, October 1, 2020.

Drinking Drano — Who Will Pump America’s Stomach?

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It ends before a paragraph is written. Anything I might say seems so obvious. Trite. I feel like Chicken Little! How many times can I warn that “the sky is falling!”? Why bother?

Once a preacher always a preacher? The people I most want to reach are professing Christians who leave me gasping for air: the part of the American electorate that seems so out of touch with their spiritual-moral core that they cannot see clearly the gaping chasm between their faith and their politics.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN12 – Jim Wallis (L), President and Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners, USA; Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-making, is captured during the session ‘Trust and the Social Contract’ at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2012. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Monika Flueckiger

Can we find common ground?

Christians of all sorts read the same Bible. We read different translations, and we read it differently, but we read it. We cherry pick parts of the Bible that support our viewpoint and black out what we prefer to ignore. A search for a small patch of solid ground that could become the common ground for respectful conversation about faith and politics landed on Paul’s good counsel to the Philippians.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Letter of Paul to the Philippians 4:8

Letter to the Philippians 4:8

We all need more of goodness. Less ugliness. Greater attention to the things that are excellent and worthy of praise; less attention to things that are worthy of scorn; more love, less hate. These qualities of character are a succinct guide in all areas of life. But no sooner do we agree with Paul’s wisdom than the divisions re-create themselves.

Christians, nones, dones, agnostics, and atheists

Yet no sooner do we shake hands in agreement with Paul’s advice, than we retun to the fight that brought us to this moment. In 2020, what do we deem truthful, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable/worthy of praise, and how do the these qualities of character guide professing Christians as we make decisions in public life?

It troubles me that the nones, dones, agnostic and atheist friends practice what Paul advised more than the growing number who have read Paul’s letter. How does a professing disciple of Jesus become deaf to the shrillness, the ugliness, the smirk, the self-serving manipulation of the sacred, the drip-by-drip erosion of trust, the disappearance of what we once regarded as admirable?

White House Press Conference 09/23/2020

WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to a peaceful transition of power if you lose the election?” The President: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that.”

WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to making sure there is a peaceful transfer of power?” The President: “We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

Campaign mailing to homes in Minnesota

In our mailbox: Front page of mailing “Paid for by the Republican Party of Minnesota” Inside: “THIS IS THE TRUTH: President Trump helped families struggling the most under the coronavirus. When Democrats in Washington walked away from a deal and turned their backs on American families, PRESIDENT TRUMP DELIVERED.”

“To serve, protect, and defend the Constitution”

It’s hard to turn attention to whatever is excellent and worthy of praise when I see the American ancestors of the Philippian church applauding the desecration of what Paul taught, to say nothing of ignoring the violation of the President’s oath of office “to protect, serve, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Getting it wrong and not getting it

But those who support Mr. Trump are not the only ones in need of re-reading the Letter to the Philippians. Progressive evangelical theologian and social justice activist Jim Wallis summarizes the American political scene in God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it (2005, Harper-Collins). Who of us is not poisoned in 2020?

In need of a stomach pump

The 2020 American electoral campaign reminds me of the day my two-year-old brother swallowed Drano before being rushed to the hospital emergency room where they pumped his stomach before the poison could kill him.

Current logo for Drano

Who will pump our stomach before the Drano burns away the things that are commendable — and American constitutional republic — from inside out?

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, September 24.

The Woodpecker inside the House

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TRUE STORY

We’ve had chipmunks and mice join us in the cabin next to the wetland, but never a woodpecker. Until last night.

The A-frame cabin is a quiet place. On an autumn day, we open all the doors and windows to let the breezes in, and to hear the sounds of trumpeter swans, ducks, geese . . . and various sorts of woodpeckers, like the Pileated Woodpecker that left a stump where an old oak tree stood three years ago.

This time of year there is a different sound: the pinging of acorns falling against the metal siding. It has no beat, rhythm, or staccato, like the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker. Last night the pecking was coming from near the apex of the rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame.

How does a woodpecker get inside a cabin? We concluded it had come through the screen door we had mistakenly left open. The woodpecker spent the night and next day with us until it came down from the rafters and flew back outside.

Early this morning, living with a woodpecker felt like a metaphor America before, and perhaps after, the November election.

A METAPHOR

Woodpeckers don’t belong inside the people’s house. If, by our neglect or a fluke of nature, a woodpecker should fly in through the screen door (the Electoral College) and is destroying the house peck by peck, the owners must usher him out before he does further damage. If they refuse to remove him, or he refuses to leave, the woodpecker will turn the rough-cut pine interior walls of a constitutional republic into sawdust. The metal siding may continue to stand, but the structure will be an empty shell occupied by a woodpecker.

Woodpeckers use their beaks to communicate as much as they do to find food. In a code all its own, a pecker’s Morse Code may signal personal distress or warn others of the same ilk against the cabin-dwellers conspiracy to take away their freedom and their Second Amendment right to defend themselves.


How the story unfolds is in our hands. If you’re a person of faith who has not decided how to cast your ballot, here’s some pointed guidance: Vote the Golden Rule rather than the Rule of Gold. You cannot serve two masters.

God help us all!

Gordon C. Stewart, by the wetland, September 22, 2020.

The Normalization of Evil

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Can you hear the tablets breaking? Does it matter anymore?

As soon as [Moses] came near the camp and saw the [Golden] calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. — Book of Exodus 32:19 NRSV

Gustave Doré (1832-1883), Moses breaks the tablets of the Law – Exodus 32:19

The artist’s in the portrait below seems to be wondering how we will answer in this election: Can you still hear the shattering of common decency? Is it making you sick?

Port
Portrait of Gustave Doré (1832-1883),

You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain ( Exodus 20:7) explained

According to Hebrew Bible scholar W. Gunther Plaut, the commandment against using the divine Name for vain purposes “forbids man [sic] in every respect to use God’s name wrongly or in vain. [M]urder, adultery and theft are circumscribed by opportunity and fear, but misuse of God’s name, once it becomes a habit will proliferate ‘and in the end one’s every assertion will be preceded by using the Name’. The result is a devaluation of awe and respect, and in time the holiness of God has no further meaning.

“On the whole… Jewish tradition treated the prohibition with utmost regard. It frowned on a all secular or self-serving use of the Name.” — The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, NY, 1981.

President Donald Trump holding Bible in front of St. John’s Church after clearing clearing Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. and declaring, “I am your law and order President.”

And hast thou sworn on every slight pretense,
Till perjuries are common like bad pence,
While thousands, careless of the damning sin,
Kiss the books outside, who never look’d within.

– W. Cowper (1731-1800 CE) cited by The Torah: A Modern Commentary

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ninth Commandment)

Michael Caputo

According to a report in Politico, Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured officials to alter the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a long-running weekly journal that features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks. Caputo has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” against Trump, according to The New York Times. His Facebook page has since been made private. The officials pressured CDC to change the reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump’s often rosier public statements about the coronavirus, Politico reported. — Excerpts from article by Andrew O’Reilly, Fox News

Yesterday Mr. Caputo apologized to CDC staff for his accusations and disrespect for CDC scientists.

Attorney General Bill Barr

In Barr’s eyes . . . it’s the Democrats who are actually doing what Barr’s critics allege of him.

“You know [how] liberals project,” Barr told Kass. “All this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I’ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They are projecting. They are creating an incendiary situation where there will be loss of confidence in the vote.” In a moment of supreme irony, Barr then immediately hypothesized a fanciful scenario where unnamed figures rigged the vote in a battleground state. —Matt Ford, The New Republic, “Bill Barr’s Titanic Lack of Self-Awareness, The New Republic, Sept. 17, 2020.

Human Nature and the Normalization of Wickedness: Wisdom from Hannah Arendt

Arendt considers one particularly pernicious breed of liars — “public-relations managers in government who learned their trade from the inventiveness of Madison Avenue.” In a sentiment arguably itself defeated by reality — a reality in which someone like Donald Trump sells enough of the public on enough falsehoods to get gobsmackingly close to the presidency — she writes:

“The only limitation to what the public-relations man does comes when he discovers that the same people who perhaps can be ‘manipulated to buy a certain kind of soap cannot be manipulated — though, of course, they can be forced by terror — to ‘buy’ opinions and political views. Therefore the psychological premise of human manipulability has become one of the chief wares that are sold on the market of common and learned opinion…

“The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.”

Maria Popova, Lying in Politics, Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization.

Election 2020: Who are we? What shall become of us? Who is “us”?

November 3, 2020 is about who we have become and who we choose to be.

The sound of Moses’ tablets breaking was heard again within minutes of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the Court remain empty until after January 2021 — after the inauguration of 46th President.

Before prayers could be offered for the dead, we could see a vulture swooping to prey on a fresh corpse before the family had time to offer prayers for the dead and for themselves. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke the respectful silence most Americans observe following a death, no matter your differences. You show respect for the dead and for the grieving.

McConnell immediately announced his disagreement with a dying wish that her seat on the Court remain empty until after inauguration of the 46th President in January 2021. Justice Ginsburg’s request had precedent. The Majority Leader had prevented President Obama from appointing a successor to Justice Scalia on the grounds that no SCOTUS vacancy should be filled during the last year of a president’s term. In the waning days of President Trump’s term of office, McConnell announced he would welcome an appointment and put it on the Senate floor for a vote.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency, not a moment of silence that normal follows death –in this case, a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

With a crassness that breaks the common observance of respectful silence following a death in the community, practice Senator Mitch McConnell Senate and President Trump immediately declared his disagreement with Justice Ginsburg’s last wish. Her desire has precedent. The Senate will welcome a nomination during the remainder of President Trump’s term of office — an “about face” from his refusal to honor the nomination of President Barack Obama 11 months before the next President would take office.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency that shows compassion for those who grieve and that respect for the deceased — a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

“@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

– DJP tweet

VOTE on or before November 3. It matters. Our character and this experiment in democracy are on the ballot as never before.


Finally Climate Change Is on the Front Burner

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Climate change just jumped from the back of the stove to the front burner of our national conversation, where it belongs. Without weighing in on this bizarre campaign seasons, we bring re-post this commentary of October 10, 2018.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE GOLDEN HOUSE — October 10, 2018

256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11Have you sometimes felt you’d be better off not knowing? But you can’t help knowing what you know, or think you know?

This is a time like that. It doesn’t just feel like that. It is a time like that. I know, for instance, that the over-riding challenge of our time is climate change. I also know that the ruling party in my country denies that climate change is real, and that neither major party sees climate change action as Priority #1. I know from articles like the one in yesterday’s Phys.org (“Carbon tax gets renewed attention but still faces resistance“) and the U.N. report that the clock is ticking. We’re fiddling while the Earth burns.

NeroThe story of Nero burning down Rome appears to be apocryphal. I know that now. But before I knew that, I wondered what the Roman Senate was doing. Did the members of the Senate follow Nero’s lead? Did they light their own matches? Did they applaud? Did any of them head for the well for the water buckets to douse the fire?

The real Nero Claudius was much different, but also, it turns out, much the same as the one I thought I knew. Britannica speaks as “infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.” Its biography of Nero offers the following on the burning of Rome and the aftermath.

The great fire that ravaged Rome in 64 illustrates how low Nero’s reputation had sunk by this time. Taking advantage of the fire’s destruction, Nero had the city reconstructed in the Greek style and began building a prodigious palace—the Golden House—which, had it been finished, would have covered a third of Rome. During the fire, Nero was at his villa at Antium 35 miles (56 km) from Rome and therefore cannot be held responsible for the burning of the city. But the Roman populace mistakenly believed that he himself had started the fire in Rome in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the city’s subsequent reconstruction. — “Nero: Biography and Accomplishments,” Britannica.com.

Las-Vegas-Trump-Hotel-8480

Trump Hotel with gold-infused glass, Las Vegas, NV

Today, Nero and the U.S. Senate mock what I know: climate change is real and action on climate change should be priority #1 for every political political party and nation. Knowing Jesus’ parable about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise one who built his house upon the rock, I keep hammering on the door of the Golden House that’s built on sand. “Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness,” said Jacob Christoph Blumhardt long ago. “They must oft be repeated. Not a single stroke is wasted.”

I add my little hammer-strokes to those of Governor Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club for the rescue of the rain forests, the oceans, and all things green from the Golden House that threaten to entomb us. I can only live by what I know: the cry and hope that the hammer-strokes are not too late.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” canto 54

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 10, 2018.

Calmness and Resistance

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Staying Calm and Active in the Storm

At least two things stay the same: 1) The wisdom of the elders, whose walks over the hot coals of turmoil have brought them to a deeper serenity, and 2) history repeating itself when memory of a previous era is almost gone. We begin with a moment my elders in a Care Center.

Serenity in the Care Center

Click Conversation in the Care Center to read and hear the All Things Considered (Minnesota Public Radio, 91.1FM) ) commentary written during an earlier campaign season not that different from today’s. The MPR page includes an audio link.

Is history repeating itself?

American historian David McCullough answered “Yes” when asked at a Westminster Town Hall Forum whether history repeats itself. Things do come ’round again. They go away until they’re nearly forgotten. 2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the political party that turned a floundering democracy into a totalitarian state built on a fictional master race.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler vide

Do two things at once. Stay calm and resist evil with goodness. In the words often heard by congregations as they leave Presbyterian worship to exercise their faith in public life,

“Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold onto what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted . . . .”

Grace and Peace,

Gordon

All my Springs are in You

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Reading Psalm 87 recently was one of those “Aha” moments when eyebrows raise at the sound of music you did not expect to hear. This psalm of Zion struck a different chord.

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
   the Lord loves the gates of Zion
   more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
   O city of God.

A Memory of Willie

Willie got the willies when the congregation sang “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” in McGaw Chapel at The College of Wooster. The professor of German language and literature, a naturalized American citizen, was flashing back to “the Fatherland” where he’d been born, momentarily paralyzed by the memories that haunted him. The Third Reich of Willie’s childhood had usurped Josef Haydn‘s musical setting of Psalm 87 for its own grandiose purposes. Deutschland had become the new Zion, the city of God, of which glorious things are spoken.

A Rebuke of nationalist exceptionalism

Psalm 87 is the poetry of a different theology and politics that startles those looking for religious and national exceptionalism. No nation, especially those that hide their sin behind the lofty goals of “unity, justice, and freedom,” is the Holy City Uber Alles.

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia —
‘This one was born there,’ they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
‘This one and that one were born in it’;
for the Most High himself will establish it.

Psalm 87 is striking for what it is and for what it is not

This Hebrew psalm looks above and beyond the pretensions of nation, ethnicity, and religion. Not everyone in the glorious city if God is Hebrew. Not everyone is a Moses, Aaron, or Joshua. Sure, it names Rahab — the Canaanite prostitute who provided cover for the Hebrew spies as they prepared to conquer Canaan. But Rehab in Psalm 87, say the biblical scholars, represents Egypt, the nation of Hebrew enslavement prior to the exodus. And there are Babylon, the land of exile, and Philistia, whose better armed giant Goliath fell with a thud from the shot from little David’s slingshot? What are the Philistines doing in this Hebrew song? And Tyre and Ethiopia?

The Most High will build the city into which, looking back from the future, all nations will see and know they were born there.

The Lord records, as he registers the peoples,
‘This one was born there.’

Singers and dancers alike say,
‘All my springs are in you.’

No nation is ‘Uber Alles.” No nation is accountable only to itself. The One whose Name is too Other, too Holy, to be spoken aloud — the eternal Presence, “I Am Who I Am” — registers the disparate peoples as citizens of Zion, the birthplace of the world.

The likes of Willie will no longer despair of a sacred hymn turned into a national anthem that idolizes a nation as the city of God, deluding its citizens to believe that “this one or that one” from elsewhere was not born there. Is it too much to imagine a day when all the peoples will sing and dance alike and say of Zion, “All my springs are in You”?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 15, 2020.

Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco Forty-Niners quarterback, blacklisted by NFL teams for taking a knee during one nation’s national anthem as a way of saying Black Lives Matter.

My country, ’tis of thee I [Still] Sing

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Letters from an American

American historian Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the latest political developments. Each morning she draws from multiple news sources, but she speaks only for herself. She has no need to shout. No need to draw attention to herself. Like a neurosurgeon in an operating room, she speaks softly while opening the patient’s skull in hopes of healing. What she finds in America today is life-threatening. She also offers hope. We re-post her reflections from last Monday. Click the link below to read it online.

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, September 6, 2020

Letters from an American
September 6, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him.

He is right to be worried.

Just the past few days have demonstrated that key aspects of democracy are under attack.

Democracy depends on the rule of law. Today, we learned that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who rose to become a Cabinet official thanks to his prolific fundraising for the Republican Party, apparently managed to raise as much money as he did because he pressured employees at his business, New Breed Logistics, to make campaign contributions that he later reimbursed through bonuses. Such a scheme is illegal. A spokesman said that Dejoy “believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations,” but records show that many of DeJoy’s employees only contributed money to political campaigns when they worked for him.

Democracy depends on equality before the law. But Black and brown people seem to receive summary justice at the hands of certain law enforcement officers, rather than being accorded the right to a trial before a jury of their peers. In a democracy, voters elect representatives who make laws that express the will of the community. “Law enforcement officers” stop people who are breaking those laws, and deliver them to our court system, where they can tell their side of the story and either be convicted of breaking the law, or acquitted. When police can kill people without that process, justice becomes arbitrary, depending on who holds power.

Democracy depends on reality-based policy. Increasingly it is clear that the Trump administration is more concerned about creating a narrative to hold power than it is in facts. Today, Trump tweeted that “Our Economy and Jobs are doing really well,” when we are in a recession (defined as two quarters of negative growth) and unemployment remains at 8.4%.
This weekend, the drive to create a narrative led to a new low as the government launched an attempt to control how we understand our history. On Friday, the administration instructed federal agencies to end training on “critical race theory,” which is a scary-sounding term for the idea that, over time, our laws have discriminated against Black and brown people, and that we should work to get rid of that discriminatory pattern.

Today, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether California schools are using curriculum based on the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which argues that American history should center on the date of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Chesapeake shores. Anyone using such curriculum, he said, would lose funding. Government interference in teaching our history echoes the techniques of dictatorships. It is unprecedented in America.

Democracy depends on free and fair suffrage. The White House is trying to undermine our trust in the electoral system by claiming that mail-in ballots can be manipulated and will usher in fraud. While Trump has been arguing this for a while, last week Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist, also chimed in, offering a false story that the Justice Department had indicted a Texas man for filling out 1700 absentee ballots. In fact, in 2017, one man was convicted of forging one woman’s signature on a mail-in ballot in a Dallas City Council race. Because mail-in ballots have security barcodes and require signatures to be matched to a registration form, the rate of ballot fraud is vanishingly small: there have been 491 prosecutions in all U.S. nationwide elections from 2000 to 2012, when billions of ballots were cast.

Interestingly, an intelligence briefing from the Department of Homeland Security released Friday says that Russia is spreading false statements identical to those Trump and Barr are spreading. The bulletin says that Russian actors “are likely to promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in Democratic institutions and election outcomes.” They are spreading these claims through state-controlled media, fake websites, and social media trolls.
At the same time, we know that the Republicans are launching attempts to suppress Democratic votes. Last Wednesday, we learned that Georgia has likely removed 200,000 voters from the rolls for no reason. In December 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State said officials had removed 313,243 names from the rolls in an act of routine maintenance because they were inactive and the voters had moved, but nonpartisan experts found that 63.3% of those voters had not, in fact, moved. They were purged from the rolls in error.

And, in what was perhaps an accident, in South Carolina, voters’ sample ballots did not include Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, although they did include the candidates for the Green, Alliance, and Libertarian parties. When The Post and Courier newspaper called their attention to the oversight, the State Election Commission, which is a Republican-majority body appointed by a staunch Trump supporter, updated the ballots.

Democracy depends on the legitimacy of (at least) two political parties. Opposition parties enable voters unhappy with whichever group of leaders is in power to articulate their positions without undermining the government itself. They also watch leaders carefully, forcing them to combat corruption within their ranks.

This administration has sought to delegitimize Democrats as “socialists” and “radicals” who are not legitimate political players. Just today, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats, together with the corrupt Fake News Media, have launched a massive Disinformation Campaign the likes of which has never been seen before.”

For its part, the Republican Party has essentially become the Trump Party, not only in ideology and loyalty but in finances. Yesterday we learned that Trump and the Republican National Committee have spent close to $60 million from campaign contributors on Trump’s legal bills. Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer for Republican presidential candidates, told the New York Times, “Vindicating President Trump’s personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party they are one and the same — and that includes the legal fights the party is paying for now.”

The administration has refused to answer to Democrats in Congress, ignoring subpoenas with the argument that Congress has no power to investigate the executive branch, despite precedent for such oversight going all the way back to George Washington’s administration. Just last week, a federal appeals court said that Congress has no power to enforce a subpoena because there is no law that gives it the authority to do so. This essentially voids a subpoena the House issued last year to former White House counsel Don McGahn, demanding he testify about his dealings with Trump over the investigation into the ties of the Trump campaign to Russia. (The decision will likely be challenged.)

On September 4, U.S. Postal Service police officers refused Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) entry to one USPS facility in Opa-Locka, Florida and another in Miami. Although she followed the procedures she had followed in the past, this time the local officials told her that the national USPS leadership had told them to bar her entry. “Ensuring only authorized parties enter nonpublic areas of USPS facilities is part of a Postal Police officer’s normal duties, said Postal Inspector Eric Manuel. Wasserman Schultz is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

And finally, democracy depends on the peaceful transition of power. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he will not leave office because the Democrats are going to cheat.

So we should definitely worry.

But should we despair? Absolutely not.

Convincing people the game is over is one of the key ways dictators take power. Scholars warn never to consent in advance to what you anticipate an autocrat will demand. If democracy were already gone, there would be no need for Trump and his people to lie and cheat and try to steal this election.

And I would certainly not be writing this letter.

Americans are coming together from all different political positions to fight this attack on our democracy, and we have been in similar positions before. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke under similar circumstances, and noted that Americans who disagreed on almost everything else could still agree to defend their country, just as we are now. Ordinary Americans “rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork-- a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver,” he said. And “when the storm shall be past,” the world “shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”

Click HERE and scroll down to review the sources for this issue or to SUBSCRIBE to Letters from an American.

Some might call it treason and mistreason to do and to ignore what they cannot help but know: the strategic sabotage of a constitutional democratic republic some “losers and suckers” (DJT) still serve and some of us still pray and sing.

With thanks to Heather Cox Richarrdson,

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, September 9, 2020.

Inflammatory Rhetoric

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INTRODUCTION

After posting “The Incendiary President” yesterday, someone with better memory than I remembered the guest commentary aired by Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered 10 years ago. Some things don’t change. The audio has vanished, but MPR’s archives preserves the text. In 2020, we are reaping the harvest of what we’ve sown.

When political rhetoric poisons . . .” – All Things Considered (MPR), March 29, 2010

Our nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric. How else does one explain the sending of a used condom to a Minnesota congresswoman, or the phone message left on Rep. Keith Ellison’s answering machine: “Timothy McVeigh said dead government workers are good government workers. Goodbye, Sambo”?

And that’s just here in Minnesota.

The success of a democratic republic depends upon the civility of its citizens and their respect for the offices of public servants, regardless of who occupies the office. Unless we clean up the language of our civil discourse, we are inviting unimaginable tragedy.

According to a Harris Interactive Poll taken this month, “more than 20 percent believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy’ of whom the U.S. Constitution speaks, that he is racist and aynti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20 percent think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14 percent believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13 percent think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.'” 

Though I distrust the percentages of any poll, whatever the real percentages of such views, this cocktail is lethal. But it is not new. The acrid taste is familiar to my generation We grew up in another time when the civil discourse was being poisoned.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy was dumping poison — instigating a national witch hunt for communists and communist sympathizers in government, the entertainment industry, and labor unions. In the spring of 1954, McCarthy’s crusade of insinuation, innuendo and guilt by association was brought to an end by journalist Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welsh, attorney for the U.S. Army.

Sharpening his teeth to devour his adversary by character assassination, McCarthy snarled and reminded Welch that one of Welch’s colleagues had belonged to an organization suspected of communist sympathies. Welch replied with words we all need to hear again: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Welch’s words took our breath away back then. They still do. A sense of decency is the only thing that will strengthen us to escape the politics of assassination and allow us to seek solutions in a difficult time. In Murrow’s words, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from the fearful.”

Painting the president of the United States or members of Congress with McCarthy’s sloppy brush as domestic enemies — let alone as the Antichrist — gives deranged minds a license to send used condoms or hateful voicemails. Or even to plot an assassination.

I am a pastor. The use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate are the hardest to take. The Christian life takes evil seriously, but there may be no greater evil than ill-informed, loud spirituality. All the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John, which, incidentally, is the only place in all of Christian Scripture that the idea of the Antichrist appears. “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.”

Where are the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welsh now? We need them again.

———————————–

Gordon C. Stewart, Minnesota Public Radio (91.1 FM), March 29, 2010. Re-posted September 4, 2020.

Support MPR or your nearest NPR affiliate.

The Incendiary President

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Good cartoons pack a wallop. They go to the heart of the matter. They squeeze book into a small picture frame. Steve Sack’s “GOT A LIGHT?” in Saturday’s Star Tribune does that. As we enter the home-stretch toward Election Day 2020, “Got a light?” cuts through the smoke and mirrors to issue a warning: “Don’t be stupid!”

Don’t strike the match that fuels the Trump campaign. Don’t be stupid!

Steve Sack cartoon showing a person a man in black standing in the rubble left from a riot, holding a torch, and broadly grinning Donald Trump offering the rioter the fuse that that will ignite the fuel for his "Trump Campaign" rocket.
Steve Sack, Star Tribune, August 29, 20

White Supremacy dressed in Black: “Umbrella Man”

The backdrop for “Got a Light?” is the moment alleged to have turned a lawful citizen protest following George Floyd’s murder into a lawless scene of window-breaking, looting, and torching of the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department. A cell phone video preserved the provocative behavior of an unidentified white man dressed in black, wearing a gas mask, and holding an open umbrella on a sunny day. The video went viral.

The StarTribune reported that, before he smashed the store windows on Lake Street with a 4-pound sledge-hammer, “Umbrella Man” had spray-painted “free [expletive] for everyone” on the doors of AutoZone. Who was the white provocateur who lit the match that turned a peaceful protest into a riot? Why was he there so conspicuously?

"Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the MPD identifying him as a member of the Hells Angels biker gang who 'wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double doors.'

“Subsequent Investigation claims his association with the Aryan Cowboys Brotherhood, ‘a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minneapolis and Kentucky.'”

Agent Provocateur

Whether or not those claims are true, one thing is certain. The white man dressed in black holding an open umbrella on a sunny day appeared suddenly, shattered windows, and casually slipped away. He came from somewhere. He returned to somewhere. Umbrella Man was not a demonstrator. He did not come to protest the killing of George Floyd. He was a provocateur.

Both “agent provocateur” and the shortened “provocateur” can refer to someone (such as an undercover police officer or a political operative) whose job is to incite people to break the law so that they can be arrested, but only “provocateur” is used in English with the more general sense of “one who provokes.”

Synonyms: agitator, demagogue (also demagog), exciter, firebrand, fomenter, incendiary, inciter, instigator, kindler, rabble-rouser

“provocateur,” Miriam-Wester.com Dictionary, Accessed 9/1/2020

American White Alt-Right nationalist provocateurs like Umbrella Man may seem strange, but they are not new. The difference is they longer wear white hoods, carry torches, or burn crosses on the lawns of Black houses. They have no need to work under cover of darkness. The occupant of the White House permits encourages them to light matches in broad daylight to provoke the civil unrest that will rally an electorate to heed his call to establish law and order.

During the press conference the eve before his visit Kenosha, a President of the United States of America again refused to denounce the lawless abuse of power that killed Jacob Blake. Today, defying the expressed request of the grieving family, the mayor, the Governor and other Wisconsin elected officials, the president made his appearance, praising the police and adding further insult by answering a journalist’s question directed to the grieving parents of Jake Blake. The president again stoked the fires of white supremacist lawlessness, encouraging white men holding umbrellas on a bright sunny day to create the civil turmoil that will get him re-elected. “I am your law-and-order President!” “Russia, if you’re listening . . .

Provocateurs and the Rise to Power

The Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler rode to power on the civil unrest created by the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, whose acts of violence they blamed on Leftists, anarchists, traitors, and non-Aryans created a climate that would welcome the Strong Man.

Once in office, Hitler no longer needed the SA or their commander, Ernst Röhm, whose loyalty he had come to doubt. When Herman Göring and Heinrich Himmler alleged that Röhm was organizing a coup, Hitler authorized and led the covert operation that became known as the Night of the Long Knives, the murder of SA leaders, including Röhm, whom Hitler had ordered to gather at a hotel in Bad Wiessee, a small town far from public notice. Eighty-five SA officers were murdered on the spot, or, like Röhm, taken to Berlin to be executed.

Cruelty Does Not Stay Masked Forever

Some things cannot be kept quiet. When the press began to learn of the purge, Reich “Minister Without Portfolio” Joseph Göring ordered newspapers not to publish the names of the dead, and ordered police stations to burn “all documents concerning the action of the past two days.” Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Hermann Goebbels went on the radio to announce to the nation that Hitler had prevented traitors from overthrowing the government and throwing the country into turmoil. Eleven days later (July 13, 1934) Hitler gave the nationally broadcast speech to the Reichstag (the German equivalent of the U.S. Congress) in which he conflated the nation and himself. The strong man who has promises to make Germany great again proclaimed himself “the Supreme Judge of the German people” and called those who opposed him traitors.

If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this. In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.

Adolf Hitler, broadcast speech to the Reichstag, July 13, 1934.

Concerned with the potential resistance of the Reichstag and the courts, Hitler’s cabinet pasted a veneer of legality over the purge: “The measures taken on June 30, July 1 and 2 to suppress treasonous assaults are legal as acts of self-defense by the State.”

Germany Then and America Now

There is no official equivalent of the SA in the USA. But neither the president nor his storm troopers need a command structure to carry out the mission they share. Provocateurs like Umbrella Man need the the Commander-in-Chief to stay silent and shift the blame to the non-Aryans among us.

Is it unreasonable to suppose a president with no moral compass, fearful of losing his bid for re-election, at risk of losing his fight to keep his tax returns from public scrutiny, and facing multiple felony indictments after leaving office would use the provocateur’s playbooks his first ex-wife and the co-author allege to have been only books in his bedroom, Mein Kampf and The Speeches of Hitler?

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

Living as Midwives of Compassion During the Reign of Cruelty.

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Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska preserved some of the sermons from our seven years together. This sermon on Pharaoh’s midwives’ rescue of Moses from the bullrushes in defiance of the pharaoh’s order to kill Hebrew babies was preached in 2014. The biblical story speaks for itself in every time and place. In 2020 it again calls compassionate people to resist the policies of cruelty in the name of a compassionate God.

Footnote: the story of Katherine (Katie) refers my late stepdaughter, Katherine Slaikeu (RIP).

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 30, 2020.

“We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives . . . inside ourselves.” ~ Albert Camus

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This re-blogged post featuring Bill Moyers’ interview with American poet W.S. Merwin (1927–2019) caught my attention while preparing a Views from the Edge reflection (yet to be published) that will draw from Albert Camus’ statement about war living inside ourselves.

The YouTube featured by this blogger was an unexpected gift. Ponder and enjoy!

Lola's Curmudgeonly Musings

Fire Clouds by Chris Pastella (Pixdaus)

                   

 

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” ~ Albert Einstein

From a June 26, 2009 interview with Bill Moyers:

[..  BILL MOYERS: When we confirmed this meeting, you suggested that I read a poem in here called “Rain Light.” Why did you suggest that one?

W.S. MERWIN: I don’t know, I just — that seems to be a very close poem to me.

BILL MOYERS: Here it is.

W.S. MERWIN:

“All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches…

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A Burglar’s Narrative on the White House Lawn

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A Singular Achievement

During 3+ years in the Oval Office, Donald Trump has succeeded in doing what no president before him had accomplished. He’s told more lies than the cumulative lies of all his predecessors, an accomplishment that history will remember as his singular achievement.

Burglar Narratives

The stories we tell about ourselves shape our reality. Facts may or may not matter. Objective reality may or may not matter. The trustworthiness of the story-teller may or may not matter. It’s the narrative that matters. Even the best convictions are vulnerable to burglary.

Chart of Donald Trump’s “False or misleading claims” (The Washington Post) and “False claims” by Daniel Dale (Toronto Star, later CNN)

Burglars rob houses that belong to other people. They don’t claim to own the houses they’ve burgled. They don’t occupy the houses they burgle. They don’t break tradition by making nationally televised speeches on the lawn of the house they’ve burgled.

The 2020 Campaign Speech — a Burglar’s Narrative on the People’s Lawn

Last night some owners of the burgled house on Pennsylvania Avenue heard the “law-and-order” candidate for re-election sound the alarms against “violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals” who threaten to occupy the house he thinks he owns.*

– Gordon C. Stewart, author of a different narrative — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) — Chaska, Minnesota, August 28, 2020.

Missing from the Narrated Crown

*There were no chairs on the South Lawn for former National Security Advisors Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, and John Bolton, Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” Maddox, long-time attorney-fixer Michael Cohen, old friends Jeffery Epstein (RIP) and Ghislaine Maxwell, family members Mary Trump (niece) and older sister Maryanne, grieving relatives of police shootings and of the 175,000 Covid-19 dead, or Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Attitude is caught, not taught – – David McCullough & Mr. Rogers

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David McCullough now seems as much a “seer” peering ahead as an American historian.

Click this LINK to hear “American Society: Civil and Uncivil” at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.

Scroll the recording forward to 2:58 for the beginning “American Society: Civil and Uncivil.”

If “attitude is caught, not taught,” what are America’s children catching in 2020?

– Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, August 17, 2020.

Living with the Wild Beasts

We’re All Samuel Clemons (“Mark Twain”)

Samuel Clemons (“Mark Twain”) wrote in his autobiography words akin to the Gospel of Mark’s briefest description of Jesus’s 40 days and nights in the wilderness:

“With the going down of the sun my faith failed and the clammy fears gathered about my heart. Those were awful nights, nights of despair, nights charged with the bitterness of death. In my age as in my youth, night brings me many a deep remorse.

None of us is ever quite sane in the night. Our faith fails. The clammy fears gather in our hearts. Despair descends. It is into this primitive night of the soul that Jesus enters when Mark describes Jesus’s wilderness temptation with one line:

“He was with the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.”

Living with the Wild Beasts

Christ in the Wilderness -Kramskoi

The Gospel of Mark says nothing about three temptations, as in the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Mark cuts to the heart of the matter. Jesus enters the frightening solitude which Gerard Manley Hopkins described as a miserable soul “gnawing and feeding on its own miserable self.”

The wild beasts of Mark and of the Hebrew Scripture are symbols representing the violence and arrogance of nations and empires: the lion that threatened David’s sheep; the lion with wings, and a bear gnawing insanely on its own ribs in Daniel’s dream; a leopard and a dragon with great iron teeth destroying everything in its way. The beasts of Daniel and the Hebrew Scripture symbolize the deepest threats, threats to human wellbeing and existence itself. In Daniel’s dream, when the Ancient of Days takes his judgment seat and gathers the nations (wild beasts), they are as nothing before him, but “of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Like Samuel Clemons, with the going down of the sun [our] faith fails and the clammy fears gather about my heart.

The Primal Cry

In his book Man Before Chaos Dutch philosopher-theologian Willem Zuurdeeg argues that all philosophy and religion is born in a cry. Whether the great philosophies of Plato or Aristotle or Hegel, whether Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity or what we arrogantly describe as ‘primitive’ religions; whether the political philosophy of Western democracy or Islamic theocracy or one or another economic theory – capitalist, socialist, communist, or communitarian – all philosophy and religion is born in a cry for help. It is the primal cry of human vulnerability, our  contingency, our finitude, our mortality. It is the cry for order, protection and meaning in the face of the chaos without and within.

Separated from all social structure and from all the answers that express or muffle the cry, removed from civilization and all distraction – no computers, no video games, no reading material, no play stations, no TV, no artificial noise, nothing unreal to distract him – in the wilderness of time, “he was with the wild beasts.”

The One Line Cliff Note

“He was with the wild beasts” is a kind of cliff notes for Jesus’ entire life and ministry. He would dwell among the wild beasts – the unruly principalities and powers that defy the ways of justice, love and peace.  He lived and died among the wild beasts that mocked him at his trial – “Hail, King of the Jews!” – stripped him of his clothing, plaited a crown of thorns believing they had seen the end of him. But after the beasts of empire had torn him to shreds, he become for us the crucified-risen King whose love would tame us all.

There are times for each of us when the beasts are all too real, moments when faith falters, nights in the darkness when despair gnaws and paws at us, and hope has all but disappeared.

Beasts and Angels in the Atlanta Airport

A young woman sits in the Atlanta airport. She is returning home from a year of study abroad. All flights have been delayed because of a storm. She is anxiously awaiting the final leg of her journey home. But home as she had known it no longer exits. Her mother and father have separated. Her father has entered treatment for alcoholism. She has entered a wilderness not of her own choosing. The beasts are tearing her apart. Her ordered universe has fallen apart.

She goes to the smoking lounge to catch a smoke. A stranger, her father’s age, sits down. He jolts her out of her fog. “Do you have the time?” he asks. As strangers are sometimes wont to do, they begin to talk. Unaware of her circumstances, he tells her that he is a recovering alcoholic, a former heavy drinker whose drinking was destroying his marriage until his wife became pregnant. The impending birth of his daughter snapped him into treatment and sobriety. “I thought I was going to die,” he says, “but it was the beginning of a resurrection, a whole new life.”

The young woman begins to feel a burden lifting. The stranger finishes his cigarette and disappears. She never gets his name. The loudspeaker announces her flight’s departure. She boards her flight, and as the plane rises through the clouds, she finds herself momentarily sandwiched between two sets of clouds – one below, one above – and the space between is filled with rainbow light, a world whose grandeur and grace exceed all reasons for despair. She is strangely calm in the face of what lies ahead. A sense of peace descends. She is sure that the man has been given to her as a gift. She has been with the wild beasts. An angel has ministered to her.

Dreaming with Daniel

During these 40 days and nights of Lent we live more consciously with the wild beasts, praying that the angels of our better nature will minister to us in the wilderness of time, dreaming with Daniel and Jesus of the Ancient of Days taking his judgment seat and gathering the nations. They are as nothing before him, but of his kingdom there shall be no end.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2021.