Criticism and Dissent: Why don’t you go just leave?

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It’s almost always wise to take a deep breath. Step back as though you’re looking in from the outside, rather ‘objectively’ you might say, in order to see more clearly what’s happening.

“Why don’t you just leave/ go back where you came from?” has a certain logic and a history. Click HERE for the entire Wikipedia article on propaganda.

Ergo decedo (traitorous critic fallacy)

Ergo decedoLatin for “therefore leave” or “then go off”, a truncation of argumentum ergo decedo, and colloquially denominated the traitorous critic fallacy,[1] denotes responding to the criticism of a critic by implying that the critic is motivated by undisclosed favorability or affiliation to an out-group, rather than responding to the criticism itself. The fallacy implicitly alleges that the critic does not appreciate the values and customs of the criticized group or is traitorous, and thus suggests that the critic should avoid the question or topic entirely, typically by leaving the criticized group.[2]

Argumentum ergo decedo is generally categorized as a species of informal fallacy and more specifically as a species of the subclass of ad hominem informal fallacies.

In politics

Argumentum ergo decedo is directly related to the tu quoque fallacy when responding to political criticism. As whataboutism is used against external criticism,  is used against internal criticism.

Examples

Critic: “I think we need to work on improving Nauru‘s taxation system. The current system suffers from multiple issues that have been resolved in other places such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

Respondent: Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave and go somewhere you think is better?”

Critic: “Our office’s atmosphere is unsuitable for starting constructive conversations about reforms for the future of the company. A number of improvements are needed.

Respondent: “Well, if you don’t like the corporate system, then why are you here? You should just leave!”

A Personal Reflection

A Personal Reflection

Last night’s campaign rally in North Carolina sent chills up my spine. “Send her back! Send her back!” has a history. It paints criticism of the nation’s policies and behavior as unpatriotic. But patriotism (love on one’s country) is not nationalism. Patriotism is love of country. Nationalism makes the nation god.

We’ve heard these words before. I heard them used during the reign of terror fired up by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. II heard them in response to Ruby Bridges in Little Rock. I heard them from George Wallace and sheriffs, Selma, and Chicago. I heard them again when criticizing our policy in Vietnam War. Back then it was “America: Love it or leave it!” Now, as then, the cry to go home is not a criticism; it’s ergo deceto –a bullying response to criticism. Constitutional democratic republics assume a baseline of respect between and among people who disagree. No scapegoating. No name calling. No dismissal of each other as enemies, and a full, thoughtful discussion of policy and criticism. Wherever criticism is met with the traitorous critic fallacy, constitutional democratic republics are put to the brink of fascism.

Flash back: March 9, 1954: Dissent and Loyalty

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. . . . (McCarthy’s actions) “have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Good night and good luck.

Edward R. Murrow, March 9, 1954, CBS; Commentary credited with stopping McCarthyism.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 18, 2019.

You bet your life! Who said it?

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photo of Groucho Marx, host of You 
Bet Your Life
Publicity photo portrait of Groucho Marx, host of You Bet Your Life

“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”

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

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

“The only preventative measure one can take is to live irregularly.”

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

“______________ will start winning again, winning like never before.

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

“. . . People can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

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

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

“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.”

“We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

“The highest form of vanity is love of fame.”

Don’t be shy! Who said what?

photograph of grandson Elijah asking you to send your answers to grandpa before he takes his nap.

Thought for the day.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”– George Santayana, The Life of Reason.

Tell me what ya know. I’m still little. I just learned my ABC’s. I’ll take history when I’m three! Send Grandpa your answers. quick. . . before he takes his nap!

S

Dennis Aubrey – Via Lucis

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Light through a window of the Basilica of the Madeline in Vézelay, France – Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Reason only partially explains why and how some people become friends.

“Reason, you’ll always be half blind,” said Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th century German mystic beguine, author of The Flowing Light of Divinity.

Friendship

There are reasons that partially explain why and how Dennis Aubrey and I became friends. Cyberspace is how we met. I can’t recall which of us started the conversation. I do know that finding Via Lucis: Photography of Religious Architecture was like a window opening a dark room to light and air. Why one of us reached out to comment on the other’s site had its reasons. Each of us was wading in the same waters, asking the same questions. Dennis did it by means of professional photography and commentaries on Romanesque and Gothic churches in France and Germany. I did it through commentaries on faith and public life.

Wading in the same waters differently led us to each other. Although I have always loved beautiful architecture, I knew little about Romanesque and could not have cared less about the Medieval period when the Romanesque cathedrals, basilicas, and churches were built. These structures were the waters in which Dennis sought and found light. The ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian scripture were the waters in which I did the same. Discovering each other wading in the same waters differently led to an eight year friendship in person at Dennis and PJ’s new home in Ohio, by internet comments on each other’s work, and the kind of phone calls peculiar to close friends.

Last Saturday I called Dennis to discuss his latest posted on Via Lucis. There was no answer. Perhaps I’d called too early. Perhaps he and PJ were in France. Perhaps they had driven to the Amish farm stand where the Amish adolescent sold them organic vegetables or had gone to the Amish auction. Or maybe Dennis had silences his cell phone. I left a voicemail. An hour later at 9:43 A.M. the return call came from Dennis’s cell phone number. But the voice was not Dennis’s, it was PJ’s. “I can’t believe you called,” she said. “Dennis died last night.” Our worlds suddenly became smaller.

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? [Psalm 42:1-2 KJV]

Panting after the water brooks

Faith takes many forms. Which forms, if any, are grounded in reality is a lifelong quest for some of us. A cynic may dismiss all forms of faith as ungrounded — floating in the clouds of human imagination and illusion. Yet there remain those murmurings from within or the majesty one sees outside the self in nature or great works of art. Dennis and PJ posted an an announcement and invitation to a new exhibit July 29 bearing the artists’ witness to imagination: “This exhibition is not about the iconographic programs of medieval historiated capitals, but rather an appreciation of the human imagination that created these sculptures.”

The search for authentic faith — trust in something greater than the self and all that we can see, feel, taste, smell, or touch — is not a straight line. It spirals between opposites. We disbelieve and believe. We believe and disbelieve. We fall and we get back up. We gasp for air and we gasp in awe. We turn our backs on the past and embrace it again as though we’d never met it.

When shall I come before Thee?

St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. Like faith itself, what the Hebrew psalmist called the soul’s ‘panting’’ and Augustine called ‘restlessness’, takes many forms. Sometimes, as in the parable of the lost son, it takes us far away from the water brooks; sometimes it goes numb; sometimes it draws us closer to the water brooks. But even there by the side of the water brooks, like Narcissus, we refuse to drink.

Dennis was on a lifelong search for what the psalmist likened to a deer thirsty for water — longing for union with the Ineffable that was shrouded in mystery but given to his eyes in a shaft of light reflecting on a stone wall at dusk, or on one of the capitals the craftsmen of a by-gone time invited his imagination and research. He shared in photography and commentary moments where his panting desire for God was quenched by the stones themselves: the song of Mary Magdeline echoing from the stones of the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, and the sounds of uncluttered simplicity and beauty of Gregorian chant that calls us to remember who and Whose we are.

His last words on Via Lucis were posted in reply to his latest and most personal post. “Judy, thank you so much. It is the ineffable sensation of that spirituality that drives both PJ and me when we photograph.”

Deep calleth unto deep at the sound of Thy waterspouts.

Dennis was joyful. He was attuned to the calling of the Deep. He was reverent before the abyss, the yawning hole in existence itself, the nights haunted by the 3:00 o’clock in the morning questions that beg for answers. He shared those times of wrestling with PJ and with Rudy, the cat on his lap in whom he took such delight, and, sometimes, with readers of Via Lucis. I could only say “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Opening one of his posts on Via Lucis was like meeting the twin brother I didn’t know I had. No matter how deep into the Deep his blog posts would go, there was always the echo of the Divine calling to him from the depths.

My soul is cast down within me.

Dennis had an eye for beauty and the camera and words to reflect what he saw when he took the shot. It was a rare gift. The antidote to sleepless nights was a day with PJ in a Romanesque Basilica like the one at Vezelay, waiting for the precise moment when the light and shadows would be just right. The beauty was already there in the stone walls and buttresses, the choirs, chancels, the side chapels built to the glory of God by artisans whose names were forever lost to future generations. I think Dennis saw himself as one of them, creating works of art that drew attention not to himself but to his subject.

Only wonder comprehends anything

Looking back after he has left us, it occurs to me that Dennis’s faith was of the Eastern (Byzantine) tradition of Christianity much more than of the Western (Roman) tradition in which he was raised. Dennis could well have spoken the words of Gregory of Nyssa.

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”

He was horrified by what had been done in the name of Christ: the Crusades that swept through the world like a wild fire, destroying towns and villages, and disobedient monastic sites because their concepts were not right.

The kind of thing that sunshine is

Concepts are ‘cataphatic’; wonder is ‘apophatic’. Cataphatic religion is logical — it lives in the head. Apophatic spirituality is awake to what cannot be reduced to a concept. Dennis’s artistic spirit was apophatic — awake to the beauty all around him and cringing at human cruelty produced by the idols in our heads.

Just as many questions might be started for debate among people sitting up at night as to the kind of thing that sunshine is, and then the simple appearing of it in all its beauty would render any verbal description superfluous, so every calculation that tries to arrive conjecturally at the future state will be reduced to nothingness by the object of our hopes, when it comes upon us.

Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 CE)

Dennis’s writing respected the ineffability of sunshine with words that helped us see the beauty his apophatic eyes had seen.

“I shall yet praise him”

The poetry of Psalm 42 was akin to the poetic imagination by which the Hebrew prophet Isaiah described his experience in the temple:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Isaiah 6:1-4 (KJV)

In the 20th and 21st centuries Isaiah’s temple was a Romanesque church Dennis and PJ experienced in ways best expressed in poetic prose and photograph. Their art brought to life our sense of the seraphim soaring above the throne of the Holy One. Those gasping for air found ourselves gasping with awe at what the eye of this gentle soul had seen. Sometimes the Ineffable takes our breath away and drops us to our knees in an empty church where the sun still shines its light on the stones, the stones cry out, and the Magdeleine still sings.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 15, 2019.

Pepé Le Pew and the Big Parade

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Pepé Le Pew in our back yard

A strange thing happened this morning, July 4. I kid you not. True story. We had a visitor in our yard for the very first time in the two years we’ve been coming to the cabin by the wetland. Pepé Le Pew chose July 4 to say hello — a skunk just beyond the deck in broad daylight, strolling toward the woods.

American Civics 101

We’re nowhere near a television this Fourth of July, and that’s a good thing. It allows for memory and imagination. I remember all those years when we prided ourselves in not doing what they were doing in Red Square during the Cold War. Tanks and missile rolled through Red Square, a demonstration of military might in a world of nuclear threats. The generals sat and stood in the places of honor.  In Washington, D.C. there was no show of military power on the Fourth of July. We didn’t do that in a democracy. I “knew” that because my teachers, parents, and church all told me so. We prided ourselves that in America the military was under civilian rule; the Secretary of Defense was a civilian, not a general. That was just who we were, and who we were not, said our teachers, parents, faith communities, and those we elected to represent us in Congress or the White House. They’re all dead now.

The Big Parade years later

The Fourth of July parades in our nation’s capitol, like the thousands of smaller parades in American cities and towns, had no special VIP section for the wealthier folks who could afford the price of sittting there. The thought never crossed our minds. We were one nation that declared E pluribus unum. The rest of the year we were poor, middle class, or rich, eating in soup kitchens, Big Boy’s, or country clubs, but on this day we were the same. We were just Americans. We had no caste system like India. And we were all the same, irrespective of political affiliations, at the ballot box. No one’s vote was greater or smaller than another’s.

The only people who made money at Fourth of July parades stood behind the hot dog stands and the popcorn stands, but even then, most of the profits went to charity. No one made money on the Fourth of July. I knew this because our teachers, parents, faith communities, and elected officials told us so. 

How soon we forget

President Dwight David Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warned us. The retired General who had commanded the largest military force in history during Word War II was a military hero who hated war. The greatest threat to democracy, he said was not communism or any other threat from beyond our borders. The great threat to democracy itself was the “the military-industrial complex.” 

Yesterday Eisenhower’s latest successor communicated with the nation in a tweet:

Big 4th of July in D.C. ‘Salute to America.’ The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World. Incredible Flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks!

Donald J. Trump, July 3, 2019
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN July 4, 2019.

Independence Day 2019: Who shall we become?

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A NATIONAL HOLIDAY: “WHO ARE WE? WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?

image 0f U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol logo

Pulitzer Prize critic photographer Philip Kennicott‘s “We used to think photos like this could change the world. What needs to change is who we are” discusses the disparate responses to the photograph of the father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. This Fourth of July it raises questions that deserve a thoughtful national conversation.

Kennicott’s op ed was a week ago, which means it’s mostly out-of-mind. Other photos, video coverage, and news stories have come to the fore, but our responses to them are as different as Kennicott described:

There is a fundamental difference between these two interpretations: One requires time and effort, an act of engaged empathy, while the other is a quick judgment that reaffirms an existing sense of the world. The power of a photograph like this depends on the time we devote to it and our basic sense of who these people are.

PhilipKennicott, Who are we? What have we become?, Washington Post, June 36, 2019

People of my ilk gasp with horror at the sight of real people lying face down on the shore of the river they had hoped to cross, the exodus from hopelessness to a better life in the land of promise on this side of the shore. Others see the father and child as the consequence of having paid the price for breaking the law.

THE FAULTLINE AND ABYSS

Stories that have replaced the photo from the shore of the Rio Grande come so quickly we don’t have time to stop and think about what we’re seeing, or hearing, and why we’re seeing or hearing them the way we are. The focus of the faultline of public perception is Donald Trump. We either love him or hate him with little room between visceral disgust and vociforous affirmation. Bridging the two sides of the chasm is anathema to both sides of the political-cultural chasm. If we don’t stop and find a way forward in the USA, all of us will fall into the abyss.

OXYMORONIC PERCEPTIONS

News of Mr. Trump crossing into North Korea last week is a case in point. The US President breaks precedent by stepping across the dividing line between the two halves of the Korean Penninsula.

Perception One:

People of my persuasions immediately dismiss it as one more stunt. The North Korean leader who called Mr. Trump a baby and threatened a nuclear attack and the American President who called Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” have laid aside their schoolyard name-calling and bullying. But it’s confusing. We are the anti-war people. We stand for peace. We are the peacemakers who likely would applaud if it were some other president. Mr. Trump just did what my faith tradition called for in 1967:

The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of humankind.

Confession of 1967, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim shocked the world by doing what the Confession of 1967 called for. Whatever reasons underlie what happened, whether the handshakes were genuine or disingenuous, when something happens that we see as good, should we not encourage more, not less, of the same?

PERCEPTION TWO:

People who support President Trump applaud him for singularly bold leadership, daring to do what no previous president has done. Mr. Trump has once again defied the operations of “the deep state” in a way that puts the faux news media back on their heels. Calling Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to obliterate North Korea were strategic steps that made the breakthrough possible. This is no ordinary president. Mr. Trump is a patriot’s patriot, strong, strategic, and deserving of the nation’s unconditional support.

But it’s confusing.This support rises from historic Cold War perceptions of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union as godless enemies of all that is good in the West. Being tough on communism was required to make us secure in a world where softness would mean surrender — the end of freedom, free markets, religious freedom. Insuring national security comes first, and national security means elimination of the enemy, not accommodation.

MOSQUITOES AND FLY SWATTERS

When a people becomes anxious, when up is down one day and left is up is down the next day, the mind gets scrambled in search of solid ground.

Reason and civility become the pests in the living room. The fly swatters come out. Hard lines get drawn. Some of us are mosquitoes; some of us are fly swatters. There is no room for conversation between mosquitoes and fly swatters.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The Fourth of July comemorates the Declaration of Independence, the birth of the American Republic. There will be parades in cities and small downs across America, and a huge parade in the nation’s capitol sure to further divide an indivisible nation. The American flag will fly everywhere. Who we are, what we have become, and who we shall become beg for reasonable discussion. Without it we will be a swarm of mosquitoes with fly swatters and a nuclear arsenal.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 3, 2019

Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers

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REMEMBER CITY “SLICKERS” AND COUNTRY “BUMPKINS”?

Mickey Mouse comicstrip panel of Mickey reading invitation to Blaggard Mansion at 10o'clock tonight.
Comic strip panel from Mickey Mouse, “In the Interest of Science,” created by Floyd Gottfredson and published December 1932

Remember when folks who lived in the country called people from the city “city slickers” and the city slickers called the people on farms and in small towns “country bumpkins”? Stereotypes contain some kernel of truth, which makes it harder to make sense of what is happening in America today.

HONESTY AND NEIGHBORLINESS

When was the last time you went shopping for groceries, went to checkout only to discover you’d forgotten your wallet or purse — you have no plastic or cash — and the clerk says, “No problem. Just pay me when you can. We only take cash”?

It happens in the country where “a man’s word is his bond.” Yes, means ‘yes’ and No means ‘no’. Honesty is expected. Country folks don’t take kindly to snake oil salesmen all gussied-up in fancy Sacks Fifth Avenue suits, custom-made white shirts, silk ties, gold Gucci watches, and highly polished black Louis Vuitton Manhattan Richelieu Men’s Shoes. The city slickers don’t usually wear tractor hats or track in manure from the fields and barn on their boots.

Driving on a country road where the Trump campaign flag has replaced the American flag on a home’s front yard flagpole, I wonder what’s happening. The folks who expect honesty are following a city slicker — not just any city slicker — a really slick city slicker. The house with the flagpole is as down-to-earth as Trump Tower is uppity. Rusted-out pick-up trucks litter the yard amid the weeds. The “lawn” is worlds away from manicured fairways of Mar-a-Largo. I scratch my head, wondering how it happens that someone whose bond is his word hoists a slicker’s flag.

MR. SLICKER AND THE EGG ROBBERS — 1930 AND 2019

Looking back to Floyd_Gottfredson‘s Great Depression comic strip “Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers,” I wonder whether the Trump supporters in 2019 have noticed that someone’s been stealing the eggs from the old fashioned honor code roadside stand his children replenish every morning.

“Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers” was set in Mouston, where Mickey Mouse opens up a miniature golf course on his farm. Soon a very tall mouse, Mr. Slicker, wows the citizens of Mouston, tries to woo Minnie away from Mickey, steals Minnie’s family’s farm eggs, and comes to Marcus Mouse’s (Minnie’s father) rescue when a draught and the egg thefts leave him unable to pay the mortgage. Mr. Slicker offers to pay off the family’s debt, but only if Minnie will marry him. When Mickey comes to the rescue with savings from his miniature golf course, a stange thing happens. The Mouston Bank is robbed. Mr. Slick goes to the police to pin the robbery on Mickey.

Long story short — if you want the full story, click THIS LINK — Mickey, surmising that Mr. Slicker is behind the egg thefts and the bank robbery, convinces Slicker’s right hand man that Mr. Slicker has no intention of cutting the robbers in on the heist. Slicker and the robbers are arrested, and Minnie throws a dinner party for Mickey, her hero!

REDEEMING THE COIN OF THE REALM

It’s an old story from 1930 but it still brings a smile to those who are not fooled by slickers in high places who seem never to have learned what most country folks have always known but now seem to have forgotten: honesty is the coin of the realm. Please, take Slicker down from the flagpole where the American flag once waved.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 27, 2019.

NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

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Hours before authorization for military strikes oft Iran (and sudden reversal), an email from RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW‘s arrived in my inbox. Views from the Edge republishes it without further comment.

Although the focus of Rabbi Waskow’s epistle is Iran, the opening paragraph distills into a few words a perspective we share. There are “three urgent impending disasters:” war with Iran; the war that threatens to deport “millions” of immigrants; and the war against Mother earth.

EMERGENCY: NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

“Dear Gordon, This morning I started writing a Shalom Report letter that addressed three urgent impending disasters: A Trumpist war against Iran; a Trumpist war against immigrants living in American cities and towns, whom he just threatened with imminent sudden mass deportations of “millions”; and an escalation of the Trumpist war against Mother Earth.

“The Trumpist obsession with subjugating others is at a tipping point – between utter lethal disaster or the deepening and broadening of resistance.

“I thought we had about a week. I went to an eye-doc appointment. It turned out we had only hours. setting aside the other emergencies. Still with dilated eyses, I am trying to see clearly, and I am for the moment

“I ask you right now, as soon as your receive this, to act against the Trumpists’ plans to attack Iran. After that, please read the rest of this letter where I will outline what I think is going on..

“What to do now:

{“contact.first_name, please call your members of Congress. Here’s what I invite and encourage you to do:

“1) Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Call three times, for your two Senators and one Congressperson. (If you live in DC and have no Senators, call Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader.)

“2) Ask the Capitol operator for your representative/senators, and when connected say your own version of this:

“‘My name is _ and I am a constituent living at [your address]. I’m calling to urge [Congressperson/Senator X] to publicly oppose U.S. military attacks on Iran. I urge [her/him] to tell the president he does not have constitutional authority for any attacks.’

“‘[Congressperson/ Senator X ] should point out any retaliatory strike on Iran for what happened to the U.S. drone could spiral out of control. Instead, I strongly urge [[Representative/Senator X] to call for the U.S. to return to diplomacy, including supporting a convening of the UN Security Council to work to defuse tensions in this global crisis.'”

“Gordon, I urge you to step up your activism today to prevent all-out war with Iran. The Shalom Center will have a number of suggestions for actions you can take over the next few days, but today I urge you to call Congress right away as critical meetings are happening in D.C. right now.

“A potential U.S. retaliatory strike is likely being discussed in the White House as I write this. The White House has said they will be briefing Congressional leaders later today and that is often a sign that an attack is imminent. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called a caucus meeting of Democrats for later today. Members of Congress will be the key here and active peace-loving people need to push them to stand in Trump’s way.

“The only way to pull us out of this spiral toward war is for supporters of peace like you to get active and push Congress to stand up to the president and tell him clearly that he has no authority to go to war.

“Please call now.

“Background:

“But the Trumpist Regime worsened the sanctions. They were aimed at totally disrupting the Iranian economy and literally starving the Iranian people. They were beginning to damage daily life –- all because the Trumpists could not bear an Obama-initiated agreement that offered hope for bringing Iran back into the international community. Faced with enormous US pressure, the Europeans began to cave in.

"Third big step on the road to war: Trump threatened nuclear war if Iran were to resist by interfering with oil shipments in its Gulf.

 "It is not clear whether the claims of such interference are lies as blatant as the “Tonkin Gulf attacks” in 1964 that never happened; but even if they were real, they were defenses against a devastating economic war imposed by the Trump regime.

"Now it is clear – Iran and the US agree – that Iran shot down an unmanned drone. Iran says it was flying over Iranian territory.The Trumpist regime claims it was over the Gulf. No matter where it was, cause not for war but for diplomacy. And given the history of those in Washington now unleashing the mad dogs of war, veterans of the lies about Iraqi nuclear weapons, and given the history of Trumpist efforts to provoke a war, I very much doubt the US claim. It would fit Trumpist policy to send a drone over Iranian territory.

“There are more thoughts about the past that few Americans remember but practically all Iranians do:

“The CIA’s overthrow of a democratically elected New Dealish Iranian government in 1953 to prop up a tyrannical Shah who used torture against his critics. Why this CIA/ US action? Because the Mossadeq government intended to nationalize American oil companies that were draining Iran of its resources for US profits.

“When the Islamic Revolution succeeded in 1979 and the Shah fled, the US refused to extradite him to stand trial for his crimes. Americans remember only that Iranians reacted by detaining dozens of Embassy staff for a year.

“In 1980, Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. The US supported Saddam, even aiding him in using chemical weapons against Iran. The war ended in 1988. The death toll on both sides was about 500,000.

“This is not a history likely to inspire trust for the US government on Iran’s part. Add the
Trumpist abandonment of the nuclear-disarmament agreement so painstakingly negotiated and enforced.

“And the history of Trumpism does not inspire much trust among most of the American people in the truthfulness of the Trump regime.

“That’s the background. If you have not already made your calls to Congress, please do so now: 1202-224-3121

“Thanks!! And given the burdens this unfolding disaster is liable to put upon our ability to resist, please contribute through the maroon “Contribute” budget just below
sohl [that is “peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran], paz, peace! — Arthur
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.”

Thank you, Arthur,

Gordon

GORDON C STEWART, CHASKA, MN, JUNE 21, 2019

Mending the Torn World: Sympathy and Civilization

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A Ripped Tapestry in Need of Mending

Harvard Divinity School New Testament Professor Krister Stendahl taught his students to think of the world as a beautiful tapestry in need of mending. A tapestry is comprised of a diversity of threads. It’s beauty is marred whenever a thread is broken or falls away from the whole. ‘Sin’ is both a condition — a torn tapestry — and an act of tearing the tapestry.

To be human is to be part of this tapestry, never the whole of it! Sin is the tearing of the tapestry. The human vocation is to mend creation.

Morning Chapel with Krister Stendahl

The morning I’m remembering, a Japanese Buddhist monk — one of four residents Divinity Hall residents who cooked and shared dinner together each evening — asked to go with me to experience the chapel service.

Krister presided at a weekly Chapel service at Harvard Divinity School. Thirty participants was a crowd. It was a quiet gathering that required a sense of humility: speaking aloud the Prayer of Confession of Sin; hearing Krister’s gracious Asssurance of Pardon; singing in unison the sung responses; listening for a word from God in the readings of Holy Scripture brought to life by Krister’s gentle and bold interpretaton; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, gathered in the single circle surrounding the Table to which Christ had invited us; receiving the consecrated elements of bread and wine in a sacred silence when we could feel the mending by the Weaver of the tapesty of Creation.

The Japanese Buddhist at the Communion Table

When it came time to form the circle around the table, my Buddhist friend showed no hesitation. He took his place and stood erect and still in a quiet posture of prayer, his fingers pointing skyward, his palms together in the center of his chest. When Krister offered him the consecrated bread and wine of this uniquely Christian sacrament, he bowed to Krister, his neck and torso bending low, a sign of respect for Krister and reverence for the sacrament itself.

Koyama bowing to his junior

Kosuke Koyama (1926 - 2009)

Years later Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke (“Ko” to his friends) Koyama and I stood together behind the Lord’s Table at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. As we took our places behind the table, Ko did what the Buddhist monk had done with Krister.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence like the one I’d experienced with my Japanese friend in circle at Andover Chapel years ago.

Sympathy and Civilization

Kosuke Koyama died in 2009, but he still speaks. He still teaches us Americans to bow. Sorting through old files, a personal letter and 28 page manuscript — Ko’s lecture notes, “How Many Languages does God speak? — Sympathy and Civilization,” the six-week course Ko had taught — leaped from the drawer.

How strange that the author of a book dedicated to his memory would have forgotten the treasure of Ko’s letter and unpublished manuscript. Peggy Shriver’s tribute to Ko is the first thing to meet the eyes of a reader of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness:

In Memory of Kosuke (Ko) Koyama
(1929–2009)

Gentle and strong as trees
Bend gracefull in wind,
You stand — I bow.

— Peggy Shriver, 2009 oo

looking ahead

In the weeks ahead, Views from the Edge will feature excerpts from “How Many Languages Does God Speak? — Sympathy and Civilization.”

Gordon C. Stewart 6-21-19

What’s wrong with the world?

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Photograph of G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton

The look on G.K. Chesterton‘s face could be ours. But who would think to give Chesterton’s answer to the question raised by a London newspaper, “What’s wrong with the world”? Chesterton wrote back two words: “I am“.

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article “What’s wrong with the world.”

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterton

The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Chesterton knew intuitively and by study that there’s something not right that defies description and prescription, a kind of universal virus that included him.

What ever happened to sin?

Psychologist Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic began his book Whatever Became of Sin with a funny story:

“On a sunny day in September, 1972, a stern-faced, plainly dressed man could be seen standing still on a street corner in the busy Chicago Loop. As pedestrians hurried by on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm, and pointing to the person nearest him, intone loudly the single word ‘GUILTY!’

“Then, without any change of expression, he would resume his still stance for a few moments before repeating the gesture. Then, again, the inexorable raising of his arm, the pointing, and the solemn pronouncing of the one word ‘GUILTY!’

“The effect of this strange accusatory pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again; then hurriedly continue on their ways.

“One man, turning to another who was my informant, exclaimed: ‘But how did he know?’”

The sense of broken relatedness

“No word in the Christian vocabulary is so badly understood, in the world and in the church, as the word sin” (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context). Sin is a condition — the state of separation, broken relationship, estrangement from the Other, other people, and one’s self. This state manifests itself in particular acts of broken relatedness, “an active nonbeing, a refusal, a rejection, a no to the other: the other who is God, the author of life; the other who is the neighbor, he partner in life; the other that is creation itself, the context of life. … The recovery of relationality in Christian preaching and teaching is not a” concession to modernity or postmodernity; it is a recovery of the original Hebraic and early Christian ontology . . . .

To sin is to act in defiance of this essential relatedness of all living creatures. It is characteristic of sinful acts that the sinner points away from one’s self to shift responsibility elsewhere — the political, economic, or cultural system that shapes our behavior, or another person. It is only a mature soul who would think to answer the question “what’s wrong with the world” with two words: “I am”.

The Seven Social Evils of the World

Mohandas Gandhi made popular the “The Seven Social Evils of the World” first spoken by the Rev’d Canon Frederick Lewis Donaldson in a sermon at Westminster Abbey on March 20, 1925. Gandhi re-published them seven months later in his weekly newspaper, The Young Indian:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

The Seven Social Evils “Blunders” of the World

Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson later re-named them “The Seven Social Blunders of the World.”

The grandfather knew they were more than blunders. A blunder is a momentary slip — a mistake resulting usually from stupidity, ignorance, or carelessness. Mohandas Gandhi knew what Frederick Lewis Donaldson knew: there is something within each and all of us that makes our heads turn when the man on the street corner points in our direction and says, “Guilty.” No other word compares with the word ‘sin’ to describe what’s wrong with the world. We all are. “I am.”

Few people make much difference to the shape of the world. But every one of us, by turning from the seven social sins, contributes to the mending of the world.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2019.

The Oath: “I do solemnly swear….”

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Interview in the Oval Office

George Stephanopoulos’ Oval Office interview with President Trump is going viral. For the first time in history an American president sees nothing wrong with a candidate for public office accepting a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent.

Oaths of office

Every member of Congress knows that’s illegal. However how wide the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on this president or the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election (“Mueller Report”), there should be no question about this one. President Trump handed Congress an issue on which its members are sworn to act. Either the President was ignorant of the federal law that protects the integrity of the American electoral system or he was consciously defying the rule of law.

Republicans for the rule of law and the Constitution

Today Republicans for the Rule of Law begins airing “THE OATH” — a TV ad calling on Congress to act. Click HERE for more on THE OATH. Bill Kristol, serves as director of Republicans for the Rule of Law

photo go Bill Kristol, Director of Republicans for the Rule of Law

Today Republicans for the Rule of Law begins airing “THE OATH” — a TV ad calling on Congress to take action. Click HERE for more on THE OATH.

Bill Kristol, a conservative highly respected in Republican Party circles, is director of Republicans for the Rule of Law.

Previous Views from the Edge commentaries on impeachment

As always, leave a comment to join the conversation, if you wish.

If you’ve come by Views from the Edge, you know where we stand. If you haven’t visited us before today, Click our May 25 commentary In the winkling of an Eye: Impeach or Wait? Or click Impeach or Wait: It’s an Oath of Office Question for MinPost’s republication and reader comments.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 14, 2019.

That the Rabbits Might Live

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This morning’s headlines drew me back to the conversation with Psalm 55. Reflecting on the Psalm led to think of myself as a rabbit. Thinking of the rabbit brought to mind Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit led to think of the Africans, Cherokees, and African-Americans who identified with Brer Rabbit in the briar patch.

And I said, “O that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

I am not at rest. I want to get away. To another place. Another time when the wind is not raging and I am not enraged. A place and time that no longer hurts my ears and my eyes red. Like a rabbit, I freeze, hoping I will not be seen. When they see me on the sidewalk of their civilization, I scurry away in search of the briar patch.

Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.

I love words. I know the power of words. They heal, and they destroy. They honor truth and trust; they lie and deceive, and boast of what they have. The preponderance of words are not civil. They are not kind. They dish out strife with a smile. They keep us in turmoil. They despise the rabbits. They erase the line between truth and falsehood, reality and hallucination, America the beautiful and America the ugly. “O Lord, confound their speech.”

10 Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,

The Lady in the harbor and Emma Lazarus are weeping. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”” The lamp burns dimly. ICE and the border patrol walk the walls like prison guards.

and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11     ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace.

The walls where the lamp once stood beside the golden door are not built to keep others out. Nor do they protect us. They protect the market of oppression and fraud. A system gone awry. The road of generous compassion is paved over with fear and greed, iniquity and fraud, inside imaginary walls patrolled by guards of wealth and power. Oppression and fraud are not outside the walls. They are within them. They never leave the marketplace of Wall Street and Washington where commercial entertainment displaces the traditional landmarks of character. The human city is a mess mesmerized by the lies we mistake for truth, the delusional reality for reality itself. The ruin is in the city’s midst. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us,” said Pogo.

It is not enemies who taunt me—
    I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—

If it were those from beyond the city walls that were intent on doing us harm, I could bear that. But It’s what’s happening within the walls — the rule of entertainment and nihilism across all divisions; the loud applause for what is insolent and vile — that taunt me, drip by drip, tweet by tweet, byte by byte. We all know what Pogo said, but we don’t believe it: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

Hope cannot be overcome. Like a cork on water, hope always bobs to the surface. Brer Rabbit lives in the briar patch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 11, 2019

Old Mrs. Thomas and the Goslings

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The three trumpeter swan goslings are a sight to behold. I look through the field glasses for a closer look. The parents are huge; they are tiny. Their parents are protectors; they need protection. The parents are trustworthy; the goslings are trusting.

Watching the trumpeter swan family slowly paddling on the wetland’s open water next to the cabin makes me stop my restless paddling. I come to a dead stop to drink in the serene beauty of the swans on the wetland waters.

photo of the wetland pond viewed from the cabin in the wilderness.
View from the cabin in autumn

Later in the day I remember Mrs. Thomas. Ninety-one years old Mrs. Thomas who introduced my kindergarten Vacation Bible School to the Psalm 100. David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and I were the goslings. Old Mrs. Thomas was not our parent, and she knew it. She was building our trust in what would endure long after she was gone.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness:
Come before his presence with singing.

It’s ‘the lands’ — all the lands, not just the lands’ human inhabitants, red and yellow, black and white — that are summoned to sing and give praise. The LORD — in upper case LORD is speaking, the LORD whom our Lord (lower case) Jesus revealed and served. It’s every square inch of Earth that is called to be joyful and to serve the One who cannot be seen but must be trusted.

Know ye that the LORD, he is God:
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves:
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

“Ninety-one year old Mrs. Thomas, the old lady with a big hat and a dead mink with its head still on draped around her shoulders like Grandma, talks funny! Nobody says ‘ye’ or ‘hath’ anymore. We say ‘you’, not ‘ye’. We know more than Mrs. Thomas”. But something gets lost when ‘ye’ becomes ‘you’. ‘You’ doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, the way Hebrew does. ’Ye’ makes it clear the psalmist is talking to ‘us’, not just ‘I’, not just ‘me’.

“Know ye” — David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and Gordy! — what Mrs. Thomas knows: that the LORD is God, and that we didn’t make ourselves. The LORD is the Creator; we are among the creatures of the land. Like sheep safely grazing in the shepherd’s pasture, or goslings paddling under their parents’ watchful care.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
And into his courts with praise:
Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Mrs. Thomas calms our fears. She assures us we’re not going to jail, and that God is not mean like the school principal or his ‘safety patrol’ prowling the schoolyard at recess to find the rule-breakers.

School Safeties

God wasn’t sending us to Pops Warfel’s office and we weren’t going to prison. The “courts of the LORD” are not courtrooms; they’re something else. What they are remains a mystery, like heaven! Or maybe they’re not a mystery. Maybe the ‘lands’ — the nations and places of Earth — are the courts of the LORD. Who really knows? Who can know the Breath that blows the breath of life into every living creature and land and sea everywhere all the time?

For the LORD is good: his mercy is everlasting:
And his truth endureth through all generations.

The goslings place their trust in their parents. It does not occur to them to distrust them. We kindergartners paddle along by Mrs. Thomas’ side, learning the difference between ‘us’ and ‘me, ‘we’ and ‘I’, and the mercy that is much older and much longer-lasting than Mrs. Thomas.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland, June 6, 2019

A Feel Good Story: It’s not about me anymore

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The grateful nine year-old

Devin Smeltzer had never expected to pitch in the Major Leagues. He was diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine. A softball-sized tumor required surgery, chemotherapy, and a feeding tube. Since leaving Philadelphia’s St. Christopher Hospital for Children, wrote Ben Rohrbach after Devin started pitching in the minor leagues two years ago,

he’s scrawled the names of those who have inspired him on his cap — friends and family members diagnosed with cancer and the many children he’s seen pass through the doors at St. Christopher’s upon volunteering each month.

Ben Rohrbach

Then it happened. The Twins called him up from the Pensacola Wahoos, the Twins’ Double-A affiliate in Florida, to stand in for the fifth member of their pitching rotation who’d been placed on the Disabled List for a short while.

Twenty-three year-old lefty Devin Smeltzer, the cancer patient in remission, blew through six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the toughest lineups in the League. He performed like an Ace — think Sandy Koufax, Ryan Nolan, Steve Carleton — allowing no runs, just three hits, and seven strikeouts in six full innings.

A second start

Tonight in Cleveland, Devin Smeltzer will take the mound for a second start in a Minnesota Twins uniform. As he has done since rejoining his Little League team following his release from St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Devin will not take the mound alone. The cancer patients, his family, and medical staff will go with him under the bill of his cap.

Devin Smeltzer is a singularly remarkable life story. Equally remarkable, no matter how he pitches tonight or whether he makes it as a major league pitcher, is his humility and gratitude.

“My story’s not about me anymore.”

“My story isn’t about me anymore,” he told CBS Philadelphia this past spring. “My story is about giving hope to other people. There was a kid almost the same age as me. He didn’t make it. The hardest thing about going through cancer is meeting all these amazing people, and those people passing away and you moving on. I remember Frankie. There was Baby Lea, and it was hard to hear when she passed away. She was under 2. That’s the hard part. I beat cancer, but the battle is still there. I’ll always have it. You have to help the people that have helped you — and there are a lot of people that have been there for me.”

Ben Rohrbach, Yahoo Sports

Not many of us write the names of others under the bills of our caps or make it to the Big Leagues. But there are more like him. Mostly unseen. Behind the scenes showing the same gratitude, humility, courage, and compassion that quietly bless others every day without the cheering of the crowd.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 2, 2019

A Red Leather Gift

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At daybreak far from the maddening world on CNN, MSNBC, Politico or — God fobid! . . .FOXNews — I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for the silence interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring. For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.

Back home in the Twin Cities, the shouting turns me ice-cold or red-hot, depending on the moment. Here ice and heat are natural: the ice on the wetland pond is almost gone; the only red-hot thing is the fire in the wood stove. There’s something sacred about the synchronicity of the fire inside and the melting ice just outside the A-frame. It’s peaceful here.

I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until going inside to make the fire or light the kerosene lamps. Jacob Miller’s Amish rocking chair is where the world slows down.

I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for my copy of the Book of Common Prayer. It hasn’t always been mine. It belonged to Sue Kahn, a lifelong Episcopalian, before the day she gave it to me. Sue had suffered the inelegance of Presbyterian language after failing eye sight had led her to Cincinnati to be with her Presbyterian daughter. She could no longer read her prayerbook, but had committed to memory many of its prayers. After two years of worshiping with the Presbyterians, Sue began to refer to me an ‘Episcoterian” — a high Presbyterian — who also appreciated fine language. Looking back it, I think she may have hoped it would improve my prayers from the lecture Sunday mornings. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing her small red leather-bound Book of Common Prayer in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it.” Sue sits beside me in Jacob’s rocker every morning.

I open to the appointed psalm Sue would have contemplated today, this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.

Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.

It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.

Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace because of my cares.

The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and it’s selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into th unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.

But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.

I am shaken by the noise of the enemy;
and by the pressure of the wicked…

I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less developed morality that has not yet recognized the intertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.

For they have cast an evil spirit upon me,
and are set against me in fury.

l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.

My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have befallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.

I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.

And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee to a far off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.”

Before ending the morning prayer time made possible by the gifts from Sue and Jacob, I turn again to the back page of Sue’s red-leather prayer book to read again the words she had written in her own hand before she gave it to me:

Christ was the Word who spake it. He took the bread and broke it. And what his Word did make it – that I believe. . . and take it.

The crackling of the fire and the trumpeting of the trumpeter swans from the far side of the wetland break into the fading darkness at dawn. I fly away again to where I really live — a far-off place — and make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil, us and them.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019

A Memorial Day Memory Re-visited

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Today my brother Bob and sister-in-law Janice will drive to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery to lay flowers on Dad’s grave.

Protestant Service on Saipan led by my father, Kenneth Campbell Stewart, end of WWII.

Our father served as the Army Air Force chaplain for troops in the South Pacific before, during, and after the bombing of Tokyo. During Dad’s absence, my mother and I lived with my grandparents in Boston and South Paris, Maine, where Dad’s safe return was foremost in prayers before every meal.

I was three-and-a-half when Dad came home at the end of the war. The memory is clear as a bell. I watched as my father emerge from the B-29 bomber, walked down the ramp and across the tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport. When he picked me up and took me in his arms, I reared back and asked “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said, “and I’m never going away again.”

All these years later, my hair has turned white, my skin is wrinkled, the world is mute without the hearing aids, my bones ache, and my head hurts most days. But I’m still the three year-old who felt the heavy weight of concern around my grandparents’ table listening for news from the South Pacific

It takes a lifetime for some memories to become clear. “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet,” published two years ago in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), offers a Memorial Day example.

Today I’m remembering again that night when the burly WWII Marine veteran unburdened himself of the locked box of hidden artifacts from the Japanese soldier he’d killed in hand-to-hand combat during the American invasion of Saipan. The ending of the story written just a few years ago is sorely incomplete.

So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, a day to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.12

This Memorial Day the three-year-old who waited for his father’s return remembers how strange memory is. As Bob and Janice lay flowers on Dad’s grave today, I am more conscious of a glaring omission. There were not three men in the living room that night. There were four. Dad was the first man there. Bless you, Dad. RIP.

photo of Indiantown Gap National Cemetery
Entrance to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, East Hanover Township, PA

Grace and Peace,

Gordon

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 31, 2019

Commentary Published Today

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Publication of Views from the Edge social commentary

Thanks to MinnPost.com for today’s publication of Views from the Edge commentary on impeachment. Click Impeach or Wait? It’s an Oath-of-Office Question to read the piece and reader comments.

About MinnPost

MinnPost is a nonprofit online newspaper in Minneapolis, founded in 2007, with a focus on Minnesota news. “MinnPost is a nonprofit, nonpartisan enterprise whose mission is to provide high-quality journalism for people who care about Minnesota. We publish online at http://www.minnpost.com Monday through Friday with a limited edition on Saturday and a Sunday Review.” Wikipedia’s description adds further information.The site does not endorse candidates for office or publish unsigned editorials representing an institutional position. MinnPost encourages broad-ranging, civil discussion from many points of view, subject to the discretion of a moderator.

Thanks for visiting,

Gordon

May 30. 2019, Chaska, MN

Elijah and Mom’s iPhone

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Good morning, Elijah!

Morning, Bumpa!

Whatcha doin’ there?

Just playin’.

But we’re on FaceTime!

Yeah, we’re on the way to work and daycare.

Aha! You’re playing with Mom’s iPhone?

Yeah. Playin’ with Mom’s fone is fun. Mom doesn’t need it. She doesn’t need the GPS. We do this every day.

I see. How long’s the drive?

You k n o w, Bumpa! You’re playing’ with me! Forty-five minutes ’til Mom drops me off at day care. Depends on traffic.

That’s a long time to be alone in the back seat strapped in your car seat.

Yeah, but it’s fun! I get to play! Mom just drives. I have to bigger before I can drive, right, Bumbpa?

Right. You just turned two last Wednesday.

Yeah, I’m two! Two YEARS this time, not two months.

Yes, and we’re so proud of you!

Yeah, I get to do adult stuff like you and Mom.

I hope you won’t take this as an insult, Elijah, but how did you get me on FaceTime?

Don’t ya know, Bumbpa? I push the buttons on Mom’s iPhone. I love talking with people! It’s fun. They’re always surprised! Sometimes they come up on FaceTime. That’s really fun!

So. . . You’re just scrolling through Mom’s contact list?

We don’t use the stroller anymore! I’m two!

I’m sorry. I didn’t say ‘stroller‘. I said ‘scroller‘ with a ‘c’.

Yup. And I’m only through the ‘C’s! ABCDEFG, HIJKLMNOP. QRS TUV! Hold it, Bumpa. I got another call coming’ in. Can I put you on hold?

— Gordon C. Stewart (Bump) with Elijah, May 28, 2019.

What’s happening to us: Postman, Orwell, and Huxley

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INTRODUCTION

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

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, May 26, 2019

In the Twinkling of an Eye: Impeach or Wait?

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A Constitutional Republic

It’s no longer a partisan question. It becomes clearer every day. It’s not a strategic question. It’s no longer a question of how much more, or when is enough enough. It’s a constitutional question. It’s an oath of office question, the oath taken by every member of Congress under the U.S. Constitution.

Image "We the People" from original U.S. Constitution

U.S. Constitution Article VI. clause 3

“The Senators and Representatives … and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution . . .”— U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3

Oath of Office, Article VI, clause 3

“I, __, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

The Integrity of Office and Democratic Republic

With every passing day, some who have taken the oath of office side-step the duties of their offices by “purpose of evasion” in the face of the growing constitutional crisis. It is no longer a question of which side of the aisle you are on. Supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution means, at very least, upholding the constitutional checks and balances among executive, congressional, and judicial branches designed to protect a democratic republic from its implosion. Assaults and circumventions around that division of powers are assaults on the Constitution and the rule of law it protects.

Purpose of evasion

EVASION. A subtle device to set aside the truth, or escape the punishment of the law; as if a man should tempt another to strike him first, in order that he might have an opportunity of returning the blow with impunity. He is nevertheless punishable, because he becomes himself the aggressor in such a case. Wishard, 1 H. P. C. 81 Hawk. P. C. c. 31, Sec. 24, 25; Bac. Ab. Fraud,

Loyal Opposition and Loyal Majority

The British idea of “loyal opposition” — loyalty to the nation and to the oath to “support and defend” the Constitution — is a long-standing tradition. The loyalty is to the Constitution. Faithfulness to one’s oath of office, not loyalty to a person. Loyal opposition holds the party in power accountable. Loyal opposition infers loyalty to the Constitution by members of whatever party is the majority.

Patisan stone-walling against the Constitutional duty of Constitutional oversight — whether by a President, the House of Representatives, or the U.S. Senator — constitutes violation of the oath of office by “purpose of evasion”.

The Twinkling of an Eye: No time to blink

Some argue that an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives, regardless of its findings, is destined to fail because the majority party in the Senate will exonerate the President of the majority party.

We do well to remember the wisdom of an earlier American President:

Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

John Adams

Some things cannot wait. Some things have time limits. Constitutions, the rule of law, and democratic republics can disappear in the twinkling of an eye.

This is no time to blink.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 25, 2019

Synchronizing tolerance and intolerance

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Holding together two opposite thoughts and feelings is a challenge these days.

I’m trying to synchronize very different things I “know” to be true.

So far, I’m failing –one is almost always taller and stronger than the other.

Or maybe being out of sync isn’t a failure. Perhaps insisting on synchronicity is childish. Maybe being all grown up and stuff means being able to listen to Beethoven while watching a baseball game. Some things you don’t have to synchronize. Some contrasts don’t have to be resolved. Some opposites are worth maintaining for one’s mental health.

Take, for instance, tolerance and intolerance. Is it possible, or morally permissible, to be tolerant or intolerant, or do we have to synchronize them, and, if we do, what would that look like? You can’t be tolerant and intolerant of everything! Some decisions must be made. But maybe you still can synchronize them according some deeper sense of self and world — like the search for beauty, truth, and goodness.

Intolerant people whip up my intolerance for intolerance.

It’s very hard to synchronize when you feel like your country is drowning!

Gordon C. Stewart, May 24, 2019, “drowning in Chaska” MN.

The Inland Sea

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Black-eyed Susans

Do the Black-eyed Susans
above the seawall hear
the pounding of the waves
or do they only see the
tumult of the Inland Sea?

Do they know their October
eyes are only for a season
while they themselves abide
through winter storms to
bloom again in summer?

Do they resent the coming
freeze that buries them all
above the wall or do they
wait in a Black-eyed Susan
Inland Sea for eyes to see?

— Gordon C. Stewart, North Shore of Lake Superior, Two Harbors, MN, copyright, 2014

Elijah’s Second Birthday . . . Again

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Happy Birthday, Elijah!

Thanks, Bumpa! I’m two again for the first time!

I know. Grandma and I are coming over to celebrate your second birthday with you and Mom.

Right now?

First I have to finish cooking the bacon.

Why?

Why what?

I was already two!

I know. You were. You were two MONTHS old. It’s confusing. Today you’re two YEARS!

Yeah, I don’t know stuff like that yet. I’m still liddle. But I’m not a baby!!!

So . . . Whatcha doin’, Elijah?

Baking cookies!

You’re baking cookies?

Well . . . Mom’s baking the cookies. I’m helping. I love Mom!

That makes me happy. How are you helping?

I’m gonna take the cookies out of the oven, Bumpa! You’ll see when you come over.

Wow! You couldn’t do that the first time you were two. Be careful, okay?

I am, Bumpa. HOT, HOT! I’ll put my mittens on. Happy Birthday to me!!!

Elijah and Mom baking cookies for Elijah’s second birthday party

Gordon C. Stewart (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, May 19, 2019

Smiling on the Way Home

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Readers of Views from the Edge know we’ve been offline for a while. There’s enough gloom in the world, and I’ve been feeling kind of gloomy. No one needs one more Gloomy Gus. So I’ve kept the words to myself, reading and writing for edification and a character adjustment.

You might say, I haven’t been home lately. Except for moments with grandson Elijah, whose latest word is ‘home’, laughter has come harder than words. Elijah sends me home to the self I’d almost lost — the childlike self not yet weighed down by adult concerns. Then, this morning, something akin to Elijah’s joy hit me. Turning again to William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings, it was almost as though I had been commanded home to joy.

The Laughing Christ

“When I imagine Jesus, it is not simply as a person who heals the sick, raises the dead, stills the storm, and preaches good news. It’s also as a man of great goodwill and compassion, with a zest for life . . . brimming with generous good humor. Full of high spirits. Playful. Even fun. Interestingly, in the past few decades two images of a joyful Jesus have enjoyed some popularity. The first is The Laughing Christ by Willis Wheatley, a sketch that shows Jesus’s head throw back in open-mouthed laughter. The second is The Risen Christ by the Sea, a colorful portrait of Jesus wearing a broad smile and standing beside a fishing net, painted by Jack Jewell, a seascape artist in the 1990s. These two paintings, among others, serve to counteract countless images of the gloomy Messiah. . . . But I wonder if some eschew these portraits because of . . . their subject material. Is there something about a smiling Jesus that threatens our understanding of the man?”

James Martin, Between Heaven and Mirth

“Okay, “I said. I’ve been AWOL for a while, painting myself in the likeness of the faithful man of sorrows who weeps over the city, a serious, joyless man who didn’t smile much and laughed rarely, if at all, on the way to the cross.

Reading Jesus’ response to his critics gives a clue to a different character more like The Laughing Christ. Jesus’s rebuke to his critics — “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners “(Mt 11:18 NIV) — offers a clue to a laughing Jesus. There’s a glimpse of truth in most criticisms. Many Christians quickly rise to Jesus defense. We’re okay with the criticism that he ate and drank with sinners; we’re not okay with the accusation that he was a glutton and a drunkard. We become like my six year-old cousin and I charging up the stairs to tell Aunt Gertrude (Dennis’s mother) we’d discovered a six-pack in the basement refrigerator we were forbidden to go near: “I didn’t know my father was a drinkin’ man!” said Dennis. Surely Jesus was not a drinking man! “ There was never any beer in Jesus’s refrigerator. “Jesus was not a glutton and a drunkard!”

Both criticisms must have had a hint of truth to them. “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharises; but yours eat and drink?” (Luke 5:13.) Jesus must have savored the taste of a home-cooked meal, and lifted a glass or two in light-hearted moments at a party, not just at the Last Supper. The alternative to Jesus’s critics is not that Jesus never got a little tipsy or ate too much at a party. It would be ludicrous to criticize a tea-totaller on Weight Watchers for being “a glutton and a drunkard”! Jesus was no Gloomy Gus who never laughed. He wasn’t solemn or holy enough for his critics.

So here I am today, back online, opening my eyes to “The Laughing Christ” and “The Risen Christ by the Sea” that challenge the gloomy spirituality of gloom and doom, on my way home to a more buoyant joyful spirit the news can’t take away.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 17, 2019.

America as Babylon

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THE BACK STORY: Introduction to Martin Gonzalez Sostre

It was during our weekly Wednesday evening program with prisoners in Dannemora, NY  that I first learned about the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre, held in solitary confinement in resistance to dehumanizing prison practices, and joined the campaign for his release.

A year later at the Gunnison Memorial Chapel of St. Lawrence University I delivered a sermon inspired by a fresh reading of the Book of Revelation and what I had learned about Martin. The sermon – “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom” – was  published by The Christian Century in March, 1974.

The first half of the “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom” introduces the hearer/ reader to Martin Sostre’s resistance as a political prisoner incarcerated in solitary confinement at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, known as “New York’s Siberia” or, as the inmates refer to it, “the Hell Hole of the New York Prison system”.

THE CONTINUING STORY: resistance as worship

Excerpts from “Worship and Resistance: The Exercise of Freedom:

“Incarcerated on the Aegean Island of Patmos, a penal settlement of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., was a political prisoner named John. He wrote a political-religious manifesto declaring open resistance to the Roman Empire. The Revelation to John – the Apocalypse, the last book of the Bible – is the earliest extant Christian tract deliberately and openly directed against the pretensions of the world’s greatest power. In the Revelation to John, resistance to Roman power and authority is so inextricably bound together with worship of God that they constitute two sides of the same coin. Worship and resistance are the twin sides of faith’s freedom to celebrate God’s gift of life. The unity of resistance and worship is expressed with notable clarity in the passage where the fall of mighty Babylon occasions a celebration in heaven. The destruction of Babylon is joined to the salvation of the world itself and is the sign of God’s power and righteous rule over the nations. Only those who profit by Babylon’s wealth, power and injustice have reason to mourn her fall, while those who have ‘come out of her’ – who have disentangled themselves from her oppression, corruption and imperial claims – have cause to worship God and sing joyful hymns of praise.”

….

“Babylon is the state or nation in its presumption to be God. Babylon is any state, nation, or constellation of principalities and powers, which attempts to rule as final judge of persons and nations. Babylon is any such power – in any time or place – which makes its people subjects, calling them into idolatry of the nations, and any state or nation that persecutes its prophets of righteousness, peace and justice while rewarding the aggressive supporters and the silent ones who acquiesce. America is Babylon.”

….

“Envision once more a visit to Clinton Correctional Facility. Remember the disorienting sensation of having left everything familiar on the other side of the wall, the feeling of walking out of a real world into a nightmare, the shock induced by the size of the walls and the presence of the guards – strange and terrifying.

“But the closer one gets to the prison reality, the more one comes to realize that it is not so strange, that it is simply a more exaggerated and visible form of our own everyday reality in the face of death. Here on the outside, the walls are not visible, but they are much higher. Out here the guards do not stand poised with machine guns, but they are real and far more powerful – the guards our own fears provide.”
….
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins…’” (Rev. 18:4 RSV).

THE FRONT STORY: 2017

I see more clearly now what I took into the pulpit at St. Lawrence in 1974, magnified a thousand times over in the name of a false patriotism that turns love of country into worship of America. “We’re going to make America great again!”

In the Book of Revelation Babylon is the mythic city that dehumanizes its people, the “bad” city (to use a favorite word of our current president) which people of faith and conscience are called to resist. Worship requires it. Without resistance, worship is dead. So is the U.S. Constitution and a democratic republic.

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

By the Rivers of Babylon (Dennis Aubrey)

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Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis became a friend after we found each other’s work through the web. As he has many times before, Dennis has spoken for me.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
And they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Psalm 137:1-4 (King James Version)

When I lived in Los Angeles from 1972 to 2000, the city was filled with men and women who lived and died on the streets. It seemed an inevitable part of urban life, where displaced humanity would collect in the hidden corners of our cities. Facilities for the mentally ill had closed, prices for homes had accelerated and more people lost their ability to own or even rent. I knew what was happening in the rust…

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Truth and Lies

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This brief video addresses questions that continue to stump me. Will we ever get it back? Whatever one’s view of Barack Obama, one cannot refute the flagrant juxtapositions between the values the current Republican Party professes and the real life disdain for those same values.

President Barack Obama to Republican supporters of Donald Trump.

It’s time to stop the White House’s frontal assault on the equality among the three branches of federal government defined under the U.S. Constitution. Time for us, the American people, to tell those in Congress to do what Congress is supposed to do. Contempt of Congress is partisan. It is contempt for the institution itself, and for the Constitution that establishes and protects the American experiment under the rule of law. It’s time for boldness.

Anyone who witnessed Attorney General Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee saw and heard the AG’s disdain for truth-telling. He lied. The next day he refused to appear before the House Committee. This is not time for patience. It’s time for Congress to act swiftly and boldly with arrests for contempt of Congress.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 3, 2019.

Tell me what you know

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“I notice that as soon as writers broach this question, they
begin to quote. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

If we don’t say what we know, what happens next will be on us. We can’t let that happen.

The question to which Ralph Waldo Emerson referred in his journal was different from the one we broach now, but — with apologies for the quotation he would have hated — his challenge to us would be the same: Tell me what you know. If we don’t speak what we know, the shredding of the U.S. Constitution’s system if checks-and-balances among three equal branches of government will be on us.

Emerson was referring to immortality. He knew what many others did not. No one really knows about immortality. Not first-hand. His advice can be understood differently by reading the last sentence aloud, stessing different words— tell me what you know, or tell me what you know — but no matter where you put the emphasis, Emerson’s point seems to have been the same. Don’t speculate. Speak of what you know from your own experience..

What you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with you nose can be delusional, but seeing, hearing, and smelling are the ways mere mortals know whatever we know, or think we know.

What my EYES know

Whenever Donald Trump comes into view — I see a peacock. A peacock’s feathers are stunning. They’re beautiful. And they know it. They strut. A peacock commands everyone’s attention. You can’t help but look. Such confidence! Look at all those eyes!

But, as I Iearned years ago visiting wealthy parishioners whose peacocks had free reign on the grounds of their estate, you keep your distance from a peacock. If you get too close, they make a ruckus. They shriek to put you on notice. Come closer and you will pay the price. Peacocks are mean.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.

Watching the current American president feels like that. I see facial expressions when he tells an audience what he knows they want to hear instead of what he knows. He’s lying. Even his secure base knows it. I see the 2020 rallies, the crowds cheering for a peacock strutting around, fanning his feathers.

What my EARS know

You don’t need to have stood in the Rose Garden to know when a peacock is feeling cocky. Or threatened. You know from the sound. Bring a friendly television camera crew to show off his feathers by fanning his tail, and give him a microphone with free range and the peacock is in his glory. Camera crews permitted on his property have taken orher photos of the peacock strutting across the lawn with one of his harem, knowing the cameras already are rolling to show other TV-watching peacocks what he has that they don’t — except in their dreams — a hen with feathers like that! The peahen is all show. She never makes a squack. She only speaks out to shine the light on school bullies, guys like Daryl at my elementary school and like whoever bullied her peacock before he learned to preen and parade his way to the world’s biggest playground.

The peacock hardly ever tells the truth. Everyone knows he lies all the time. He may know it; he may not. It’s hard to tell. He speaks convincingly as one who knows, and knows more than all the other peacocks and members of the camera crews. He never quotes anyone, routinely referring to himself in the third person, as though someone else is speaking about him. What we hear is very strange. Ornotholigists provide a more objective description of the peacock’s behavior.

The peacock’s behavior is a common cause for fear. They are known to be aggressive, fiercely territorial birds…. The peacock’s low intelligence has caused wild peacocks in urban areas to attack dark-colored luxury cars: the birds see their reflections, interpret it as a second bird and attack. Peacocks have also been seen chasing people to take their food. At the same time, when a peacock is angry they have a tendency to spread themselves out – and seeing a bird your size or larger fan out, with feathers that could be misconstrued as eyes, is more than enough to cause a child to develop a long-standing phobia.

–Blake Flournoy, “Reasons to Fear Peacocks,” Sciencing, 2018.

I hear loud shrieks as the peacock chases the camera crews off the property. But the shrieks are not loud enough to drown out the sound of paper shredders shredding the papers the camera crews have come to see.

What my NOSE knows

I have a long-standing fear of fire. I remember watching the flames and smelling the smoke from the four alarm fire I watched through my bedroom window. My father, a volunteer fireman, had left home that night to put out the fire. I was afraid he wouldn’t come back.

I’m no longer five years old, but my nose knows the smell and knows that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I smell smoke coming from the White House. I smell the Constitution burning, and see a peacock running loose, attacking his own reflection on the presidential limousine.

Leave YOUR COMMENT to widen the conversation. Tell me what you know.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 26, 2019.

Donald Trump Photo Attribution: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 201; photo by Greg Skidmore.

Elijah asks Grandpa about lying

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Bumpa, put your hearings in. I got a question. It’s serious.

Okay. Just a minute. Now, what’s your question, Elijah?

We’re not supposed to lie, right?

Right. We should always tell the truth. We don’t want be liars.

Why? Everybody’s doing it?

No they’re not, Who’s everybody?

The mean guys!

What mean guys?

The Publicans!

You mean Republicans?

Yea, them. The Publicans.

Where’d you get that, Elijah?

I saw it on Rachel!. We couldn’t watch Simple Songs at daycare!

What did you see?

The Publicans putting little Mexican children in prison. I saw it on TV.

Okay, I see. Anything else?

Yes. Marissa says we don ‘t have to worry about dictators. We shouldn’t have to worry about dictators. Right, Bumpa? What’s a dictator?

Ah, I see. Dictators do whatever they want. They lie and cheat and get away with murder. Their countries don’t have constitutions to check their power. Understand?

We live in America, right?

Well, yes. We live in North America, like Canada, but yes, our country is called The United States of America. Does that make sense?

Bumpa, I’m only 23!

No, you’re not 23. You’re almost two. You’re 23 months, not years. You have 16 more years before you can vote.

That’s not fair! One last question before you clean your hearing aids, and don’t make it complicated.

Okay, shoot. Try me.

You said we don’t have a dictator. Do we really have a constitution?

Preamble of the United States of America

— Gordon (Bumpa) and Elijah, Chaska, MN, April 27, 2019.

The Miracle of Reconciliation– Two Memories of Good Friday

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MY M0THER AND THE THREE MARYS

I remember my mother’s tears on this day, Good Friday, and wondering why she was so sad. Jesus had been crucified a long, long time ago. It wasn’t happening now. But, to Mom, it was. Like the three Mary’s at the foot of the crosses, Mom was weeping in her pew. I remember the white handkerchief dabbing the cornerS of her eyes.

I was five or six years old the first time I saw Mom at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. The Marys were all gone. Only Mom and her white handkerchief continued the vigil, and it happened every year on Good Friday. It was in junior high school that I began to get under the tears and weep them for myself. I “got” the cruelty of it.

The pounding of nails into wrists and feet. The soldiers laughing at him while they gambled for his clothes. If they were gambling for his clothes, was Jesus naked in front of the whole world? Was the crown of thorns the only thing he wore? Were the thorns cutting into his head? “I thirst.” They give him vinegar on the end of stick! He looks down at John. “Behold your mother; woman, behold your son.” Take my mother home! Mary doesn’t go home. She stays by him until the end. She winces at the nightmare she cannot end: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabstachtani?” (My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?), watches as a soldier puts a hole in his side; weeps inconsolably when it is finished, and they take him away.

How could Mom not cry hearing that? How could anyone not reach for a handkerchief?

“GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”

Years later, Ken and Ilse Beaufoy and I observed Good Friday in the pews of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. Aside from one or two others who dropped by for a short time each year, we were alone in the church. Beginning at noon, at half hour intervals, we read aloud a portion of the Passion narratives paused in silence, listened to the corresponding movement from Rutter’s Requiem, spoke a brief prayer, and sat in the silence until the next half hour.

The Good Fridays with Ken (and Ilse, before she died) were unique. An American Presbyterian minister with a married couple, Ken a former Biitish soldier, and Ilse, a former member of the Luftwaffe, one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross. Ken and Ilse met at a dance sponsored by the occupying forces following WW II. Ilse was one of two women Luftwaffe soldiers awarded the Iron Cross for standing her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.

Despite objections and death threats from family members, Ken and Ilse committed themselves to the bonds of marriage. What else but the reconciling love of God could bridge the gulf of former enemy combatants? Five decades later, Ilse died moments after hearing the words of permission that would only have meaning to a decorated war hero who had stayed at her anti-aircraft post atop the Hamburg bunker to protect the civilians below. “You no longer need to stand your post. You no longer need to fight. It’s time to go home. Go in peace.” From that day on, there were just the two of us staying by the cross from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.

Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” did not explain the crucifixion or the peace it brought Ken and Ilse Beaufoy. It didn’t need to. Some things cannot be explained. They can only be lived…with thanksgiving for abounding grace while dabbing the corner of your eyes with a handkerchief.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the wilderness, Minnesota, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

The Trumpeter Swans and I

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At daybreak, far from the ranting and raving that hurt my ears, I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for silence, interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring.

For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.

My Rocking Chair

I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until he had to light the kerosine lamps inside.

I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for The Book of Common Prayer that belonged to Sue Kahn until the day she gave it to me. Sue had relocated to Cincinnati to be nearer her daughter after macular degeneration had left her functional sightless. A lifelong Episcopalian who savored the language of The Book of Common Prayer, she joined her her daughter for worship with the Presbyterians. She asked one day whether I had a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. A week later, Sue stayed after worship. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing it in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it as much as I.”

I open to the appointed Psalm for this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.

Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.

It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.

Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace because of my cares.

The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and it’s selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into th unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.

But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.

I am shaken by the noise of the enemy;
and by the pressure of the wicked…

I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less develped morality that has not yet recognized the inertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.

For they have cast an evil spirit upon me,
and are set against me in fury.

l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.

My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.

I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.

And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee to a far off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.”

The crackling from the fire and the trumpet calls of the trumpeter swans across the wetland break the silence of daybreak. In this far off place, I am at rest. II make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019

Cracked heads in need of mending

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“…Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

Watching BBC/Netflix series The Fall — all three seasons in one huge gulp — led me to recall Arthur Miller’s play by the same title, the Genesis story, and the works of Herman Melville, William Golding … or even John Calvin. The brief appearance mid-way through the series of a 20£ bill with a note scrawled across it in red ink — He who does not love abides in death — and its unanticipated re-appearance in the series’ final scene seemed to this Presbyterian preacher like the subtext from which Allan Cubitt create The Fall.

Great literature likeMoby Dick, and insightful sermons, films and television series are sometimes rooted in, and explicate, a text, a line, an aphorism. Allan Cubitt’s choice of the series’ title calls to mind Arthur Miller’s The Fall and the Hebraic biblical story of humankind’s attempt to master paradise by the raid on what belongs to the Creator alone — the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-8) — that quickly results in fratricide between humankind’s first children.

Cain murders his brother Abel. Abel is blown away. Only Cain remains. But the echo of Abel’s horror remains to spoil the good earth: “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10). Allan Cubbit’s title points to the Genesis story. Likewise, his work, The Pool of Bethesda, is taken from Christian scripture.

Film critic reviews like Sophie Gilbert’s “Netflix’s ‘The Fall’ Comes to a Maddening End in its Third Season” (Nov. 5, 2016) in The Atlantic — express disappointment that The Fall “forgot” to answer “the questions [The Fall] raises about misogyny, madness, and obsession.” They see the bill as a glimpse into the deranged mind of Paul Spector, the serial killer, but nothing more.

The final scene of the final episode of the series begs for more. Stella, the detective who has cracked the case, has returned to solitude in her bloodless London flat. She pours herself a glass of red wine and reads again the red ink message: ”He who does not love abides in death,” the verbatim biblical quotation carefully plucked from the New Testament epistle that focuses on love as life itself, and lovelessness as death (I John 3:14). The note’s reappearance is more than a reminder of the bloody horror Stella seems to have escaped, or a return to the vexing inner workings of Paul Spector’s lethal psyche. It serves a larger purpose: to expose the series’ subtext, throwing a light backward on the inexplicable darkness and obsession with death and raising the question of Stella’s own loveless psyche and future, leaving the viewers to ponder for ourselves the complexities of love and life, lovelessness and death.

Works of art do not give answers. Neither does Cubitt’s The Fall. They do not explain reality; they describe it — the mystifying entanglement of lovelessness and love, of evil and goodness, the inexplainable complexity of all the sisters and brothers of Cain. Cubitt’s own reflection on the BBC calls attention to another scene midway through the series in which the serial killer’s Intensive Care nurse, Sheridan, tells him she will pray for him. “My idea is that the line ‘I will pray for you’ is provocative,” said the author. “Surely he is beyond redemption? It seems Sheridan [Spector’s ICU nurse] doesn’t think so. Has anyone ever prayed for Spector before?”

This and other scenes are, by design, “subtle and nuanced and ambiguous, open to all kinds of interpretations, replete with possibilities.”

“…and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

— Gordon C. Stewart, a Presbyterian cracked head, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2019.

Who is loyal to America?

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Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.

Albert Einstein to George Sylvester Viereck, 1921.

There is a world of difference between nationalism and patriotism. Patriots love their country. Nationalists idolize it.

WHO IS DISLOYAL IN AMERICA?

Who are the really disloyal? Those who inflame racial hatreds, who sow religious and class dissensions. Those who subvert the Constitution by violating the freedom of the ballot box. Those who make a mockery of majority rule by the use of the filibuster. Those who impair democracy by denying equal educational facilities. Those who frustrate justice by lynch law or by making a farce of jury trials. Those who deny freedom of speech and of the press and of assembly. Those who demand special favors against the interest of the commonwealth. Those who regard public office merely as a source of private gain. This who would exalt the military over the civil. Those who for selfish and private purposes stir up national antagonisms and expose the world to the ruin of war.

–Henry Steele Commager, Who Is Disloyal to America? HARPER, 1947

THE ART OF PROPAGANDA

Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (…) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (…) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (…) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.

Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (…) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (…) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.

— Adolf hitler, Mein Kampf, chapter vi

Respectfully submitted for consideration in 2019,

Gordon C. Stewart

Germany in 1933 and the U.S.A. in 2019 — Then and Now

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THEN

In this short video Karl Barth addresses the question of how the German people were led to sacrifice a democratic constitutional republic for the dream of Adolf Hitler.

Karl Barth, theologian, professor, author, founder of the Confessing Church which refused to participate in the surrender of faith to the ideology of the Third Reich, and author of The Declaration of Barmen.

NOW: VIOLATION OF THE OATH OF OFFICE

What we see in the U.S.A. in 2019 is chilling. During his visit to the U.S.–Mexican border the American President violated his oath of office “… to the best of my Ability, to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” (Article II, Section One, Clause 8, U.S. Constitution). If, during his recent visit to Calexico, the President advised U.S. Border Patrol officers to pay no attention to judges, as reported by CNN and Jake Tapper, the President committed an impeachable offense. He not only did not serve and protect the Constitution. He openly defied it. He put himself above the law.

EYE DISEASE and THE LORDLESS POWERS

It takes what Barth called “eye disease” not to see the systematic erosion of the rule of law by what Barth called “political absolutisms and lordless [i.e. unaccountable] powers” built around a charismatic madman’s dream. The parallels between then and now smack us in the face every day: requiring from cabinet members a sworn loyalty oath and breach of silence agreement; telling the U.S. border patrol to ignore the law and the courts and do what he says; ignoring the law and court orders upholding the legal and human rights of asylum-seekers; separating migrant children and their parents; declaring that his knowledge of world affairs superior to career State Department, Department of Defense, military, and intelligence professionals; ignoring wise advice and counsel; ridiculing past presidents as inferior to himself; assaulting freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment; encouraging violence by refusing to criticize white supremacy, white nationalism, and white hate groups; replacing legitimate patriotism — love of one’s country — with national idolatry; putting personal and family wealth, power, and fame ahead of the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution.

SEEING THROUGH OBFUSCATION AND DELAY

Wednesday’s (April 10) news further to the sense of a kind of coup d’état — the bloodless undermining of the rule of law in this constitutional republic by those sworn to uphold it. Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to answer questions posed by a Congressional committee re: his decisions about redaction and release of the Mueller Report, and Treasury Secretary Munchen’s deferral to the Department of Justice re: the Congressional demand from the IRS for the past six years of President Trump’s tax returns led me back to Barth.

FAITH AND ETHICS: UNMASKING THE LORDLESS POWERS

“We do not know what we are doing when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ namely that, negatively at least, we are asking for the gracious unmasking, overcoming, and ultimate abolition of these absolutisms that rule us per neras [i.e. by wrong].” – Karl Barth, The Christian Life, p. 219.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 12, 2019


Church With Rachel

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What can be said that isn’t being said over and over and over again and that adds something of value to public reflection on our time? Fellow Presbyterian minister John Buchanan’s personal story of worshiping with his granddaughter took me by the hand and led me home to church.

Hold to the Good

I sat beside Rachel in worship Sunday. Rachel is my 24-year-old granddaughter. She is a young woman with Down Syndrome. She is part of a remarkable program at National Louis University, lives in university housing, works part time with infants and toddlers in a day care center. She rides the El and the Chicago Transport Authority buses, loves to sing, knows the titles and words to every Beatles song and can dance for hours. Rachel starred in a motion picture, The Spy Who Knew Me, in which all the actors have special needs. It was produced by A.B.L.E.- Actors Breaking Limits and Expectations, which also puts on several stage productions per year including Shakespearean plays and original work. Many of the volunteers who work with the actors are from the Chicago theater community. 

Rachel greets me with more enthusiasm than anyone else, throws her arms around me as if…

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The Rape of the Sermon on the Mount

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A friendly reader suggested that “Get Off My Corner” (Be Stil! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 133-36) is more poignant today than the day it was written during the Obama presidency. With nothing better to say, we lay humility aside — a very Minnesotan thing to do, but, increasingly a very un-American thing to do.

GET OFF MY CORNER!

Let us hope and pray that the vast intelligence,
imagination, humor, and courage will not fail us.
Either we learn a new language of empathy and
compassion, or the fire this time will consume us.

— Cornel West, Race Matters

I’m sitting calmly in my office when the phone rings. It’s a parishioner who lives near the downtown post office. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she says, “but there’s some kind of ruckus on the corner. There’s some kind of booth on the corner.”

I drive to the Post Office. I park the car half a block away and see a large booth on the street corner. The woman handing out literature is yelling at a man who’s crossing the street, and he’s yelling back. I can’t hear what they’re saying until I draw closer.  A man crossing the street to get away from the booth is shouting over his shoulder. “You’re not only anti-Semitic! You’re anti-American!”

Lyndon LaRouche Photo reads "Is This Your President"

The booth features . . . [a photograph] of the President of the United States. But this is no ordinary photograph. There’s a mustache imposed on President Obama’s picture, the mustache of Adolf Hitler and a call for his impeachment, “Dump Obama!”

I approach the booth.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

She slides a flyer toward me across the counter. “Read it,” she says. I put my finger on the mustache. “You don’t want to hear what we have to say. You’re a spy!” she says as she steps backward, tilts her head in the air, and bellows out “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesty, Above the fruited plain. America!  America! God shed His grace on thee….” But before she sings the last line of the stanza – “and crown thy good with brotherhood…” – she stops and orders me off her corner. “Get off my corner!”

She is carrying the message of Lyndon LaRouche, a perpetual candidate for President whose only consistency over a long checkered history of ideological swings on the political spectrum is the red-hot lava of righteous rage.

The behavior of the woman at the Post Office, like that of the Florida pastor whose threat to burn Qur’ans nearly set the world on fire several years ago, is bizarre. But the rage she expresses is not unique to her. Because it is so outrageous, it shines a light into the darkness of the widespread incivility of our time, an incivility that erupts from a core conviction hidden below the surface of our consciousness.

We’re street brawling over what kind of America we will be, and “Can’t we all just get along”- the plea of Rodney King as he witnessed the Los Angeles riots following the “innocent” verdict  exonerating the police officers whose beatings of him had been aired repeatedly on national television– is long forgotten. We’re dividing ourselves into true believers and heretics, patriots and traitors, suspicious of each other all the way to the White House.

This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic would a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.

This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic was to be a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.

As the new nation was being conceived, demagoguery often replaced politics, i.e. the art of compromise, as it often does now.  One does not compromise with the enemy. One eliminates him.   Rodney King’s plea is regarded as the way of the ill-informed, cowards, heretics, and Anti-Americans.

The lava of anger originates from a hidden, unexamined conviction that the United States is the chosen people, the messianic people whose job is to eliminate evil within and without in the war of good against evil. It is an idea born of the rape of the Judeo-Christian tradition by nationalism which installs America as the exception to history, the nation divinely ordained to banish Anne Hutchinson in 1637, hang Mary Dyer in 1670, and destroy the reputations of decent people as un-American in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purge of secret communists in the early 1950s. It’s the belief that America is the exception…and that the real America is only some of us, the righteous believers.

In the unspoken consciousness of our collective memory, “You are the light of the world” becomes the declaration of fact spoken about America, not an itinerant preacher’s call to a small band of first-century disciples to persist in the hard politics of love and peace in a time of hate and violence. The ensuing lines from the primary text, The Sermon on the Mount – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ but I say to you, love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you” – are forgotten, ignored, torn out, blacked out or burned on the altar of messianic nationalism.

Even more ironic is that those who attack others, including a sitting president, as un-American – i.e. heretics  who do not bow to the idea of America as the collective messiah  of history– scream against government and taxes as enemies, socialist intrusions on their individual freedom to hoard what is theirs.  The biblical city is no longer for a community of sharing of the wealth and care for the least; it becomes a sandbox of greed and competition where the highest value is my freedom to get and keep what is mine.

The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact.  And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” –  the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment.

The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact. And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” – the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment.

In times like these when ugliness replaces beauty, America the beautiful is, as it always has been, a courageous aspiration and prayer for sanity in the midst of collective madness.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR) available for reviewing and purchase through the publisher or Amazon Prime.

Midwife Resistance in 2019

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Whatever the Mueller Report’s findings, recommendations and conclusions, our work is the same. Like the midwives, we continue the vocation of compassionate resistance. This sermon is long, but more timely now than the day it was preached (2014). If you decide to take the time to listen, please leave a comment to let the preacher know what you’re thinking.

But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Exodus 1:17).

For further reflection on the vocation of compassion in an anxious time, read “Being Human: Nothing Less and Nothing More,” p.40-41, in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock). Click HERE to take a look inside Be Still!

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2019.

Forget your perfect offering

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The line from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem came to mind while digging into the encounter between Jesus and the people of the perfect offerings. That’s right, the Jewish Leonard and the Jewish Jesus drank from the same well: Jewish scripture and tradition.

It was Leonard Cohen’s line about a “perfect offering” that led me to think of Jesus’s encounter with the perfectionists about terrorism — see James Tissot’s The Tower of Siloam — and the parable of the withered fig tree.

Jesus’s parable then led to the memory of Professor Lewis (Lew) Briner who would have read the text the way he read everything else in the New Testament — in Greek. As students, Wayne Boulton and I sat in the Briner kitchen to discuss theology or the news of the day. If we didn’t knock on their door, Lew would come to get us.

Following the memorial service for Wayne, Vicki asked if I had any pictures of Lew and Mil Briner. I did not. She entrusted two photographs to my keeping. Years after those nightly conversations over a beer or scotch, only one of us remains. Memories of Lew’s hospitality, scholarship, wit . . . and facial expressions are un-forgettable.

L to R: Wayne Boulton, Mil Briner, Lew Briner

Lew chaired the ecumenical committee that resulted in the Revised Common Lectionary. Discussing a New Testament text was an education in itself. Seeing his picture again with Wayne, I wondered what Lew might say about this week’s Gospel — Jesus’s encounter with the “perfect offering” folks who compared themselves with sinners, like the 18 terrorists killed in the sabotage of the Tower of Siloam. What might Lew say about that, and the parable of the the withered fig tree that follows his confrontation with the perfect (innocent) people?

“Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.” –Luke 13:4-6 NRSV

Sometimes Lew would shift our attention to something he’d noted in the Greek New Testament text that English translators sanitized because it didn’t pass Miss Manners’ Victorian sense of moral propriety. It disturbed him when a Greek word was mis-translated into what the translators considered the English vernacular. Words like “manure”!

You want to know what it really says?” Lew would ask, lowering his head to peer over the top of his glasses, slightly raising and lowering his eyebrows several times with a twinkle in his eye, with an unmistakably mischievous smile. We knew something earthy was coming.

I can see the twinkle in Lew’s eyes. “Give me a year and let me dig around it and throw s—t on it!” If you really want to translate the Greek into the vernacular, use the vernacular! Sanitizing it wipes it clean. It removes the jolt. Besides, only farmers use the word “manure” these days, and the farmers have become fewer and fewer. Unless they have a garden, urban and suburban people might have to look up “manure”. No one needs a dictionary to look up “s—t”!

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

anthem, leonard cohen
In the Orchard, Vincent van Gogh, 1883.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 23, 2019

That’s how the light gets in

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There’s nothing like old friends. Once there were seven. Now there are four. We call ourselves The Dogs, old friends and classmates at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Yesterday Harry Strong, Bob Young, Don Dempsey, our spouses, and I, gathered with Vicki Boulton and the Boulton family and friends at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis to sing God’s praise and to give thanks for the classmate who brought us all together again in 2004 for what we call The Gatherings.

L to R: Bob Young, Gordon, Don Dempsey & Harry Strong with photo of Wayne.

Wayne Boulton was my best friend, dating back to 1964 when we were assigned to be roommates in Alumni Hall. Wayne has been the Dean of the Dogs who arranged our gatherings over the years: places, dates, the daily schedule, books and topics, and guests who would join us for a morning or afternoon. Since 1964, Wayne and Vicki, the love of his life, have been a continuous thread of friendship.

As much as I wanted to sing the hymns that are as close as the next drawn breath — O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; There Is a Balm in Gilead; and For All the Saints Who from their Labors Rest — I couldn’t. I shut my mouth (which is rare), and opened my ears to hear the deep resonance of the organ and the congregation singing the hymns. I trusted the gathered community to lift me from the sorrows of dust and ashes. And lift me they did — without knowing it, except for Kay, and with no other intention than to sing to the glory of God and give thanks for Wayne.

The next day, the four surviving friends gathered for our own time of remembrance, wearing the Chicago Dogs t-shirts Don had given us all. We sang hymns. We read from Wayne’s books and email exchanges with us, prayed, and hung on the edges of laughter and, and listened to Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, Going Home, If It Be Your Will. Leonard reminded us again that there is a crack in everything, and “that’s how the light gets in.”

L to R: Harry Strong, Gordon, Don Dempsey & Bob Young gathered around Wayne’s photo.

In this period of Narcissism, it is a matter of no small thanksgiving that Wayne did not call attention to himself. He was without guile, and as playful as a child. “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4 NRSV). Would that the same might be true for all of us lesser lights.

As the four old friends and our wives took Vicki to dinner the night following the memorial service, the crack in us had been wedged open wider, but, against the cynic’s logic, the light was brighter. As Leonard said, “That’s how the light gets in.”

With Vicki Boulton following dinner, March 19, 2019. Old friends since 1964. In 1966, Vicki became Wayne’s roommate … for life.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Anthem, Leonard Cohen

A Cry for Help!

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G.K. Chesterton‘s lyrics come to mind again in this strange year of 2019. Our earthly rulers falter, and the wall of gold entomb us.

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

G.K. Chesterton, O God of Earth and Altar. stanzas 1 and 2.

The God to Whom Chesterton cried out was not a god that never says “No!”. Nor was it the god of Western culture that justified colonial invasions and occupations, the god of God in Christ shrunk to fit the mortal confines of creed, race, and nation rolled into one. Brutal terrors of white supremacy and white nationalism like the attacks on mosques and synagogues, and the terrors in high places gilded in gold and wrapped in lies of tongue and tweet drive us to our knees. They lead us to speechlessness, or to cry out for the God Who does say “No!”

O God of Earth and Altar hymn Y0uTube reproduction.

“Bow down, O God of earth and altar; bow down, and hear our cry. Good Lord, deliver us!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 19, 2019.

For further reflection, see “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” p. 110-13, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR).

The Invaders of the Land of the Long White Cloud

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Llightning struck down 50 worshipers and injured another 50 In Aotearoa — the Land of the Long White Cloud — the Maori name for their home before foreign invaders re-named New Zealand.

Evening scene of the Maori people on the banks of the Waikato River, Land of the Long White Cloud, 1847

The mind of western white nationalism makes few, if any, distinctions between Muslims and Jews. Although we rightly think of anti-Semitism as responsible for the gas ovens of Nazi Germany and the long history of anti-Jewish pograms, the term ‘Semite’ applies more broadly to the Hebrew- and Arab-speaking people of the Middle East. Whether gathered at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh or in the mosques of New Zealand makes no difference. Their existence is a threat to the mindset of white superiority and, more lately, western nationalism.

A 72 page white nationalist manifesto did not know, or chooses not to know, that the original invaders were not dark skinned people. They were not Middle Easterners. They were not Semites. They were not Muslim. It was the Dutch and English colonizers who “discovered” and then invaded the Maori “Land of the Long White Cloud” (English translation) that turned the Maori homeland into the land of their own displacement, subjugation, and long-suffering. The invaders were white Europeans who considered it their right and calling to spread their religion and culture around the world.

Judaism and Islam claim a common family origin in Abraham, but they do not same the same maternal lineage. They do not claim the same mother. Jews and Christians see themselves as the children of Sarah, the mother of Isaac. Muslims claim Hagar, Sarah’s banished slave woman, the mother of Ishmael, as their mother. Neither Sarah nor Hagar, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Ishmael was “white.” The predominant religion of the western culture is rooted in Middle Eastern people and cultures. And, the scriptures Jews, Christians, and Muslims share in common the memory that the estrangement between the Isaac and Ishmael ended when the re-united to bury father Abraham.

One can suppose with near certainty that yesterday’s attack on mosques in New Zealand, like the bombing of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh arose from the cauldron of anti-Semitism, hatred toward the children of Abraham — Isaac, the son of Sarah, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar. So apparently different, and yet the same.

Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge that feigns ignorance is a fools’ paradise that turns long white clouds of an otherwise blue sky into dark clouds of smoke, dust and smog.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 19, 2019.

A Snoopy Philosophy — the Blessing of a Dog

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“Life” according to Peanuts by Charles Schultz.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s conversation greeted me today in Marilyn Armstrong’s “What’s the Point of It All?” Some mornings I’m like Charlie Brown. Other days I’m like Snoopy.

More often than I’d like, I’m the human being on the left side of the dock — a morose Gloomy Gus. But I’ve most always been blessed by a Snoopy. A Maggie. A Sebastian. And, then, after Maggie and Sebastian died, a Barclay who looks on the bright side of life. How about you?

Sebastian and Maggie with Kay

Charles Schulz was a native Minnesotan. I never met Charles, but his cartoon of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting at the end of the dock looking out to the far horizon leads me to suppose two things about him. 1) Charles Schulz had a dog as his philosophical partner. Like me, he had a Maggie, Sebastian, or a Barclay. 2) He spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA), paddling a canoe through a narrow channel between the rocks, or sitting with his dog at the end of a Kawishiwi cabin dock . . . or nestled in a hammock . . . pondering the meaning of it all, and feeling more like Snoopy than a Gloomy Gus.

Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area
Kay in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area

“Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” – Charles Schulz

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

— Gordon C. Stewart and Barclay, Chaska, MN, March 14, 2019.

The Stones Are Singing

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Some people in pulpits are skeptics as well as believers. I am one of them. Of the 12 apostles, I feel the deepest kinship with the Thomas, who refused to take someone else’s word for what lay beyond his empirical verification. But there are moments when someone shows up unexpectedly to coax a Thomas into the realm of the Ineffable. Dennis Aubrey’s Via Lucis description of his day in the Romanesque Church of the Magdalene was a moment like that. It wasn’t until early this morning, that I noticed the Via Lucis site still recommends a link to the sermon evoked by Dennis’s “Elle Chante, Pere!” (The Stones Are Singing.) The words of Jesus about the stones — “if these [people] keep silent, the very stones will cry out’ — has always been close to my heart.

“Sermon “The Stones Are Singing” at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Chaska, MN

“The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. … We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2019.

what it isn’t.

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Good Morning, Daylight Savings Time. Time is a funny thing!

I didn't have my glasses on....

“in the time it takes to say ‘now,’ now is already over.

it’s already ‘then.’ ‘then’ is the opposite of ‘now.’

so saying ‘now’ obliterates its meaning,

turning it into exactly what it isn’t.” 

-ruth ozeki, a tale for the time being

my life’s interpretation of the above passage from ruth’s beautiful book :

by the time i get my clocks reset,

the time will change back again to the time it was when i started

like it never happened

until it happens again.

 daylight saving time has arrived once again

image credit: pinterest, photographer unknown

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Sentencing Disparity in the American Oligarchy

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Judge T.S. Ellis’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort came as a jolt. It should not have. I know better. So do you.

I am an ordained minister of the gospel who has spent lots of time in courtrooms. It was a short step from pulpits of privilege to a criminal defense law firm founded by the American Indian Movement and African-American civil rights center. I left the pulpit, but the faith that points to an essential human dignity went with me. Irrespective of the seriousness of the charges and crimes, I saw, or tried to see, a dignity and worth in defendants no court sentence can take away.

Legal Rights Center clients convicted of serious crimes were sentenced to the state prisons, about as far from the comforts of federal prisons as their neighborhoods were from gated communities and country clubs.

Unlike the inmates of Faribault and Stillwater who have been found guilty of street crimes, a great number of the guests of the federal correctional system are doing time for white collar crimes. There’s a world of difference. Yet, as to sentence disparity, they are the same.

Comparing Judge Ellis’s 13 year sentence of African-American Congressman William J. Jefferson (D) from Louisiana in 2009 with the 47 month sentence of the former chair of the president’s presidential campaign committee draws attention to the ugly realities of race and class we often see but quickly forget or choose not to see at all.

We do not live in a democracy; we live in an oligarchy—
“government by the few, especially despotic power exercised
by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish
purposes.” I’ve been waiting for people in high places to say it.

Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the
Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations4 brought the
elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.

A democratic republic is a constitutional form of government
where the people rule through their elected representatives
gathered in deliberative bodies. The faces and voices of Goldman
Sachs’s executives demonstrated the intransigent arrogance of the
private institutional concentration of the wealth and power of deregulated capitalism.

The matter is growing more serious.

The “small and privileged group” that operates corruptly and
selfishly knows that elections are bought and sold in America. No
one gets elected without big money. Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations brought the elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.

Excerpt, gordon c. stewart, “The american oligarchy — 4/29/10,” p.126, Be Still! Departure from collective madness (2017, wipf & stock).

Nine years after publishing The American Oligarchy, the reality is, for the most part, the same. But there is a difference. The selfishness of “despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes” (Encylopaedia Brittanica definition of oligarchy) feels heavier now. The judge’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort caught me off-guard. How quickly we forget!

“The American Oligarchy” was first published by MinnPost.com with the title “They may squirm in hearings, but Wall Street Oligarchs know who has he power.” With Minnpost’s generous copyright permission, it became one of Be Still!’s 49 essays on faith and the news.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 9, 2019.

Judicial Bias: the fight in the back hallway

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Yesterday’s light sentence of Paul Manafort leads observers to wonder what happened. Why would Judge T. S. Ellis depart from the federal sentencing guidelines (19-24 years)? Why would a judge depart so egregiously to render a sentence of 47 months?


These questions and the judge’s remarks painting Mr. Manafort as an ill-fated first-time offender who had led a blameless life beg for answers.

Searching the internet for cases of judicial bias or misconduct led to the case of Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida that brought an unexpected laugh.

Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida, made headlines in June 2014, when he was recorded on camera challenging a public defender to a fistfight. Andrew Weinstock, the public defender acting in the normal course of representation, had refused to have his client waive the right to a trial. This set off a number of heated remarks which included Judge Murphy stating: “You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now.” When Weinstock refused to sit down, Judge Murphy then told him: “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

Deputy Bryon Griffin, who was at the scene, described it as follows: “I stepped into the back hallway and saw the two of them grabbing ahold of each other’s suitcoat, pushing each other back and forth…I heard Judge Murphy say, ‘Do you wanna f-ck with me, do you?’ and I heard Mr. Weinstock say, ‘Alright.’ I immediately stepped in and separated the two of them as they still had a grasp on each other.”

Top 5 list of real-life judicial misconduct, Ballotpedia

We need a laugh in times like this when different ones of us might welcome a good fist fight in the back hall, but the humor is momentary. An article in Forbes this morning suggests political bias behind Judge Ellis’s lenient sentence of Manafort when compared with a similar case of a Democrat in 2009:

Take a comparison of the Manafort case with another prosecution of a political figure, a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana named William J. Jefferson. …

Manafort may have gotten off easy with four years, but Ellis threw the book at Jefferson. In 2009 Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years, the longest sentence of any Congressman to that date. … It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager, he did not sympathize with Jefferson.

Charles Tiefer, “Judge who let manafort off easy with 47 months has conservative pedigree,” forbes, March 7, 2019.

Describing Paul Manafort at yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Ellis cedited Mr. Manafort for having been “a good friend” and “a generous person” who “has lived a blameless life” and “earned the admiration of a number of people.” It’s commendable judicial practice to offer some hope to the person being sent to prison. But might not these same attributes have been said of Al Capone, John Gotti, or Gordon Liddy, all good, generous family men who, until they were caught, had led “blameless lives”?.

Given Judge Ellis’s disrespectful remarks and angry outbursts against the Mueller investigator prosecutors, and his rulings against the admission of evidence, is it unthinkable to imagine the “Caesar of his own little Rome,” challenging the prosecutor to a fist fight in the back hallway behind the bar?

— Gordon C. Stewart

“Lent” – a Verse by Steve Shoemaker

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Steve Shoemaker (1942-2016) shared equal time on Views from the Edge until his untimely death. Steve’s genre was poetry. Often his poems and verses led readers by the nose through his lines to the surprising last line that shed a humorous light on all that had come before. Steve was a 6’8″ gentle giant who lay on his side at night, quietly typing a new inspiration into his iPhone in the dark so as not to disturb his wife Nadja at 3:00 A.M. Poems like this one were waiting in my in-box in the morning.

Steve lived to write and craved desserts (especially his nightly bowl of ice cream) and sex, matters about which, so far as I could tell, he hadn’t lied. Nor did he brag or exaggerate. Of the seven friends who knew each other well over four decades, Steve was the least self-centered with the wryest sense of humor. He never denied himself a bowl of ice cream!

LENT

I will give up writing poems for Lent

I will give up eating desserts for Lent.

I will give up sex for Lent.

I will give up thinking about sex for Lent.

I will give up lying for Lent.

I will give up bragging for Lent.

I will give up exaggerating for Lent.

I will give up self-centeredness for Lent.


I will give up self-denial for Lent.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday)

In this era of ill-humor and self-indulgence, Steve’s tongue-in-cheek verse again rings the bell on the betrayals of our best intentions, and our common need for repentance and forgiveness.

The Day the Ashes Were Turned into Water

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We are drowning in a sea of lies, but the ocean has a way of caring for itself. Without exception, all life is part of the Ocean. If it seems strange to be talking about water on Ash Wednesday, perhaps a memory will bring water and ashes together for you, as it did for me.

The Ash Wednesday I’m remembering, I robed 20 minutes or so before the 7:00 PM Ash Wednesday. There was plenty of time. I went to fetch the the little ZipLock bag of ashes. I’d forgotten that the credenza where I’d always stored the ashes had been moved from my office to the church basement. I rushed to the basement to where the credenza had re-located. There was no credenza. Finally it dawned me that the credenza had been sold at for a couple of bucks at the annual festival-flea market last fall.

“Somebody has my ashes,” I thought, “and they’ll probably treat them like dirt! Or maybe they’ll freak out, thinking the ashes are somebody’s cremains!”

What to do? Burn some newspapers! Smoke a cigar! No time for that. There would be no imposition of ashes. No outward, visible sign that we are dust and we return to the dust — the thing we never want hear. It was then that the missing ashes were turned into water.

We filled the baptismal font with water and marked each worshiper with the waters of baptism. “[Carol, Bob, Judi, Clyde], you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”

The last worshiper to leave that Ash Wednesday Service offered to do for me what had been done for her.

“Gordon,” she said, marking my forehead with water, “you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”

Like the miracle at Cana where water was turned into wine at a wedding, the turning of ashes into water became an unexpected moment of joy in the communion of saints.

Today, when we feel overwhelmed by a sea of lies, remember that everything empties in the Ocean. I wish you an Ash Wednesday when your ashes are turned to water, and a few drops of the vast Ocean wash away what you’ve lost and welcome you home for a sacred communion.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Chaska, MN.

Photograph is the baptistery in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Monza, Italy, uploaded from Wikipedia.

The Level Playing Field: Ash Wednesday

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Today levels the playing field. Our differences make no difference today.  What you have become is beside the point today. All the quarrels and distinctions are beside the point. Ash Wednesday is the leveler. The eraser. The antidote. The reminder that we are mortal. That I am living my death as you are living yours and dying my life while you are dying yours. Today, the roosters comb their heads with ashes and stop crowing.

Roosters strutting and crowing in the barnyard

If it often seems that the roosters are in charge of the barnyard, today reminds them and us that, in the end, they are not. Neither are we. Ash Wednesday levels us all to the baseline of zero. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” No matter whether you’ve crowed or cowered, no matter the story you tell yourself about yourself in comparison to others, you are no exception. Every reason for pride or self-loathing, and division, is erased by a pencil bigger than our mortal selves.

Whether our stories are re-written by a better Author will continue to be one more matter of dispute and division, but there can be no reasonable doubt about our mortality. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In the meantime, before the roosters stop strutting and crowing and all the cock combs fall to the leveling plain, those who see the face of God in the compassion of Jesus remember the ethic appropriate to those still living in the barnyard:

“As they were arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The roosters strut and crow, and you think you are dependent on them. Don’t be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.”– (Luke 22: 24-26, GCS translation)

Today, I offer my forehead for the imposition of ashes and pray that in the citadels of power someone else will do the same, for the sake of life itself.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 14, 2018.

Amid the Flood

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Days before reading and re-publishing Linn Ullman’s lines about memory and the loss of it (“You just can’t think too deeply about it”), one of the four remaining classmates of what we’ve called The Chicago Seven, The Gathering, and now The Old Dogs, sent the rest of us an article on Alzheimer’s our latest deceased brother, Wayne, had published years ago.

Chicago Seven Gathering L to R: Wayne Boulton, Harry Strong, Gordon, Steve Shoemaker, Dale Hartwig, Don Dempsey, Bob Young@ McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2004.

As Wayne had imagined his ship going over the far horizon, his worst thought was not death. It was that he would live on, like his father had, without remembering how to tie his shoelaces and without recognizing Vicki, the love of his life, his sons Matt and Chris, daughters-in-law Liz and Libby, and the grandchildren who brought him such joy.

That nightmare didn’t happen. He went out with his mind in tact, as much as a hospice patient’s mind is ever fully there. Aside from his last few days, Wayne’s mind was clear and his heart was full. The article Harry sent the three other surviving Dogs is a reflection on Psalm 90:10, 12 (RSV):

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away. teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

When he died in 1989, the sum of Dad’s years came closer to fourscore than to threescore and ten. With the psalmist, I attribute this number to his strength, but I would not wish the manner of his death on anyone. He died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

It was my first experience with the death of an immediate family member, so I was no veteran. I found myself up against a more complicated reality than I had anticipated. I remember thinking at the time that some portion of this is just plain death: nasty, sad, the way death always is. But it is not natural death. It is something else. In the words of Martin Luther’s signature hymn, the disease threw every member of Dad’s little nuclear family—his wife, daughter-in-law, and myself—into a “flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

Amid the Flood,” Wayne G. Boulton, Reformed Review, Western Theological Seminary, December 1, 2000.

Wayne died the way he lived and lived the way he died. Faithful son, husband, grandfather, and friend. Wise. Compassionate. Pastoral. Realistic. Hopeful. Consoler. Prayerful. Private. Counselor. Social critic. Political wonk. Brilliant Christian theologian-ethicist. Follower of truth wherever it led him. All of that and so much more. But, if I had the pen to engrave his epitaph on the simple grave stone in the cemetery of the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, if might read,

A sheep of Your own fold, a lamb of Your own flock, a sinner of Your own redeeming, humble servant his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ amid the flood of mortal ills.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 5, 2019.

You just can’t think too deeply about it

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Consolation following a loved one’s death comes hard sometimes. Wayne died of pancreatic cancer. But his greatest fear was that he would die the way his father did: living with Alzheimer’s, staring at his shoes. He still remembered how to tie his shoelaces. ~ Gordon, remembering Wayne G. Boulton (1941-2019).

Live & Learn

Think about the work that goes into tying your shoelaces. It calls for physical exertion, dexterity, and cleverness, any child between the ages of six and nine years old knows it, early in life it is a serious matter, the bow the greatest mystery, the fingers, the hands, the laces, altogether an apparently unsolvable riddle. But once you have mastered it, you forget how complicated it is, the years pass until one day—having put your socks on—you look down at your feet, unsure of how to proceed.

Linn Ullmann, ”Unquiet: A Novel” (W. W. Norton & Company, January 15, 2019)


Notes: Photo titled Self Perfection by Randy’sPhotography

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