“A Soulless Coward”

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The President’s lies about former presidents Obama and Bush in reaction to criticism that he had not made presidential calls to the families of four soldiers killed in Niger struck me as just one more example of his unfitness for office.

Then The Nation exclusive interview — “‘A Soulless Coward’: Coach Gregg Popovich Responds to Trump” — popped into my inbox. “[T]o lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House.”

Gregg Popovich, the United States Air Force Academy alumnus and head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is affectionately called “Pop” but one has to wonder how long the affection will last after calling the president a soulless coward.

The interviewer, Dave Zirin, The Nation‘s sports writer, concludes the article: “Should be one hell of an NBA season.”

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

 

 

 

Open Letter to NFL Owners

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To: Mark and Zygi Wilf, owners, Minnesota Vikings
Cc: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

October 17, 2017

Today’s NFL owners meeting is a watershed moment. The agenda item  that would change the NFL’s rules limiting player behavior during the national anthem requires a courage stance informed by history.

As the sons of parents who were survivors of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Poland, you are in a unique position to lead this discussion as owners of the Minnesota Vikings.

I applaud your initial response to the issue of taking a knee during the national anthem. By linking arms with Vikings management and players, and by your official statement on the matter, you supported players’ First Amendment right to free speech. You refused to buckle to the White House demagoguery that confuses taking a knee on behalf of racial justice with disrespect for the country.

I was pleased that you and the NFL stood up for a bedrock American principle. Principle trumped profits . . . momentarily. Now filling pockets threatens to empty the initial commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

If the NFL owners today accede to the president’s bullying, I, for one, will take a knee. I will turn off the television Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays . . . as a matter of principle . . . and will invite everyone I know to do the same. Some things are more important than football. They learned that in Germany. I thought we had, too.

Perish the thought, but . . . if the national anthem pre-game ritual requires the equivalent of a “Sieg Heil!” salute that abrogates the right to free speech, maybe it’s time to end the pre-game ritual and just play football.

I hope and pray this morning that our Jewish friends lead the way today to honor the dead from the history we dare not forget and to stand up for the principle of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

And, while you have the floor, I hope you will bring to the league’s attention the duplicity of having defended the league against the president’s criticism of taking the knee while, at the same time, the owners appear to collude to exclude the original kneeler, Colin Kaeppernick, from taking the practice field.

Sincerely,

Gordon C. Stewart
Chaska, Minnesota

Neighborly Economics

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Mindfulness —the latest topic around the water coolers — helps in times like these. While some use Yoga or some other eastern meditation to become more mindful, my practice is to contemplate the poetry of the Book of Psalms. I open Psalm 146 in hopes of putting my anxious soul at ease from this moment of history.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God as long as I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:1-3)

The psalmist assures me that this moment will not last forever. The elevation of the rich and the assault on the poor, the game of matches lit near the fuses of nuclear devices on two sides of a vast ocean, the name calling between the two narcissists whose Echoes sound the same despite the differences in language, the scenes from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, the burned-out forests, homes, and vineyards in northern California, the undermining of the hope for universal health care, and the disregard for the Paris Accord addressing climate change have ground me down. There is no help in the White House or Capitol Hill. But, their time, the psalmist declares, is but a breath, a moment. Their thoughts will perish.

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cabin by the wetland

In the solace of the cabin by the wetland far from the news, I am breathing easier. Away from the rulers in whom the psalm urges me to place no trust, my mind is calmer. I am in need of no great thing.

But, after lighting the fire in the wood stove, it dawns on me that we’ve forgotten some supplies for the weekend. We have no bread. Or ice cream!

I remember a sign for “DON & DAVE’S: Groceries and Gas — 4 Miles.”

IMG_8514Don & Dave’s is a throw-back to the day Don founded it 70 years ago. From the looks of the exterior, although it is well-kept, I imagine little except for the “ATM Inside” sign has changed since 1947.

“You must be Don or Dave,” I say to the man inside. “I’m Dave,” he says with a smile. I’m Don’s son.” Dave is in his late ‘60s. Don was his father, killed in a car accident years ago. Dave joined his father in the business in 1977. I introduce myself as the owner of the A-frame by the wetland, but he already knows from Shirley, our only neighbor within a quarter of a mile of the cabin.

I take a look around the store, pick up a $1.59 loaf of locally made wheat bread, notice the ice cream freezer, pick up a large tub of Neopolitan ice cream, notice a Hershey milk chocolate with almonds bar, and take them to the check-out counter where Don meets me.

I take out my credit card. “We don’t take plastic,” says Don. “Just cash or check.” I tell him I don’t have either. “Well, we have an ATM,” he says. “I don’t do ATM’s,” I say. You need a PIN for that. I have no idea what the PIN is; Kay does that. I don’t have a clue.” He laughs and invites me to take the bread, ice cream, and Hershey bar without paying. “No problem. Please take it. You can pay me when you come back.”

He takes out a slip of scrap paper, writes down my name, the amount I owe, and the date, and wishes me a good weekend.

Four hours later I return with the cash just before 6:00 P.M., hoping Don and Dave’s is still open on a Saturday night. Turns out they open at 8:00 A.M. and closes at 10:00 P.M. seven day a week! I learn from the young woman who greets me that Don has left for the day, and explain that I’m here to pay my bill. She asks my name, and fetches the piece of paper from a shelf below the cash register. “What should I do with this? Tear it up?”

“No,” I say, “I want Don to know I came back and I want to say thanks. Just write ‘paid’ with today’s date and let me add a word of thanks.”

I had learned earlier from Don that there are four Walmarts with a 60 mile radius of Don & Dave’s. I wonder when the last time was Walmart sent an empty-handed customer away with so much as a loaf of bread, a tub of ice cream, and a candy bar.

I’m very mindful. In the moment. 1947 never looked better!

Between Here and There

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A CNN report caught my attention this morning. Anticipating today’s Congressional vote on the president’s $36.5 billion disaster relief aid package, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said the following.

“People want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. They know these are awfully genuine needs,” he said, arguing that Republicans simply want to fund the measure in a “prudent” way.

Early this morning the president took to twitter with a series of tweets about Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of…..

..accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend….

We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

Rep. Cole spoke truth that “people want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. We  “know these are awfully genuine needs….” But the “here” is a question. Where is “here“? Is “here” Houston, northern California, Puerto Rico? All of them? Or only some of them?

Or is “here” Congress and the Oval Office, the seats of authority and power in a constitutional republic — the branches of government where the television-watching American public hopes against hope that those we elect to represent us get their information from something other than their televisions.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, unlike Houston and the wine country of northern California, is poor. Its history is that of a pawn in the chess game of powerful nations.

The Smithsonian website article “Puerto Rico — History and Heritage” — offers a brief history of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico remained an overseas province of Spain until the Spanish-American war, when U.S. forces invaded the island with a landing at Guánica. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam) to the U.S.

As a result, the turn of the century saw Puerto Rico under United States sovereignty. At that time, Puerto Rico’s economy relied on its sugar crop, but by the middle of the century, an ambitious industrialization effort, called Operation Bootstrap, was underway. Cheap labor and attractive tax laws attracted American companies, and soon the Puerto Rican economy was firmly grounded in manufacturing and tourism. Today, Puerto Rico is a leading tourist destination and manufacturing center; the island produces high-tech equipment and many top-selling American pharmaceuticals.

Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. The issue of political status is one under constant debate, with some in favor statehood, others independence, and still others the continuation of commonwealth status.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy purchased two thirds of the island to use as a naval base. The Navy used the area for military exercises and bombing practice for nearly 60 years until a civilian was killed during a bombing exercise in the 1990s. This sparked a wave of protests that finally ended when the base closed in 2003. Since then, the Navy’s lands have become wildlife reserves.

Today Congress faces a moral issue that begins with the question of where “here” is and with a couple of early morning tweets that divide the world between here and there, and want to leave “there” behind, ignoring the wisdom of The Letter of James:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [i.e., the world divided by here and there; us and them; rich and poor]. – James 1:26-27.

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

 

 

 

 

Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

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Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

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Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

The Planet and Puerto Rico: Unincorporated Territories

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Much of Puerto Rico is still without power. But it may be that Puerto Rico will lead the way for the U.S. mainland by developing a renewable energy power grid that replaces its dependence on fossil fuels.

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While Elon Musk of Tesla proposes building a new renewable energy power grid to replace the destroyed carbon-producing fossil fuel-dependent grid, the Trump administration is shoring up the fossil fuel grid back on the U.S. mainland.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, on Monday said he would sign a proposed rule Tuesday rescinding Obama’s Clean Power Plan, established in 2015 to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Pruitt spoke at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Hazard, Kentucky — coal country.

“Here’s the president’s message: The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers.” – Yahoo Finance, Oct. 9, 2017

Coal and oil are shipped at great expense to Puerto Rico from the mines of Hazard, Kentucky and the oil refineries of Houston. Puerto Rico, an unincorporated third world U.S. Territory, has been the loser. So have the people of Hazard who’ve been led to believe that winning the the war on coal will secure their future.

In the world of climate departure — not just climate change, but departure with no way back to what we considered normal — we’re all losers when the departure is denied.

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Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Elon Musk

The sun, on the other hand, is indigenous to Puerto Rico.

Could it be that a poor unincorporated Territory in the dark without power would lead the world by building a new grid lit by a source that shines without discrimination on winners and losers in Puerto Rico and in Hazard?

Perhaps, if the Governor of Puerto Rico comes to an agreement with the Elon Musk and the Tesla Corporation, the light may yet go on across the world that the planet itself is an unincorporated territory.

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

 

 

The beginning of an uprising

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“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

Question: Who said that?

Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me! Choose one (click the names for more information):

 

Or . . . someone else?

Answer: We know it’s not Bill Maher, though Bill does call for an uprising, but the uprising would be against religion itself as the source of disorder, even though Bill often invites Cornel West to be his guest on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Cornel West clasps his hands in prayer and, like Bill, rises up to resist the present order/disorder, but it’s not Cornel.

So maybe it’s Karl Barth. The statement often is attributed to Barth, the Swiss theologian who resisted Hitler and the Third Reich in the name of Christ. But a more-or-less careful internet search yields no confirmation of its source.

Because no one really seems to know for sure, perhaps the correct answer is someone else from an altogether unexpected different source.

Like someone’s twitter account.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fly that Would not Flee

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In the pre-dawn pastel glow

Outside the lakeside window,

The fly inside is very still.

pre-sunrise glow

Lake Superior pre-dawn pastel glow.

 

For the half hour before the sun

Pokes its yellow head over

The brim of Superior’s horizon,

The fly does not move.

 

Perhaps the fly is dead, I think,

And gently touch it from below.

It does not fly away.

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It takes a few steps forward,

An inch or two higher on the window —

This oratory the intruder has disturbed

In the hour of morning prayer.

 

Only after the sun has risen

Does it leave the window

But not before completing

 

Its sun-dance: turning from east

To south, to west, to north, and

Back to East again to greet the day.

 

The observing intruder from whose

Finger the fly did not flee reads

from The Book of Common Prayer:

 

“Deliver me, O Lord, from evil-doers;

Protect me from the violent,

Who desire evil in their hearts

And stir up strife all day long.”

[Psalm 140:1-2]

 

A fly lands on the prayer book.

I swat the fly away.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, the intruder, Encampment Forest, Lake Superior, MN, October 6, 2017

 

 

 

 

Things too hard for me

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Momentary access to the world-wide-web leads away from many words toward reflection on an ancient text.

O Lord, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child on its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,

from this time forth and for evermore. 

[Psalm 33, Book of Common Prayer psalm for the morning]

sunrise-over-lake-superior

I wake before dawn to see the sun rise over the far horizon beyond Lake Superior, shining its rays across the waves, a beauty beyond compare. I do not occupy myself with “great things” that matter less and things too hard for me. I am not proud.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Encampment Forest, Two Harbors, MN, October 5, 2017.

Elijah, Las Vegas, and The Big Truck

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Elijah recoiled at the pictures from Las Vegas.

“Marissa, estamos seguros? Estamos en Las Vegas?” (“Marissa, are we safe? Are we in Las Vegas?”)

las-vegas-shooting-carry-gty-ps-171002_12x5_992Marissa assured him that he wasn’t in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is far, far away, and they were nowhere near a casino.

Elijah was feeling calmer until Marissa’s husband came home for lunch.

Ese hijo de puto! Sólo le interesan los casinos,” said Pablo. “¿Qué tiene que ver un casino con Dios? ¡No habla de Dios cuando habla de Puerto Rico! Él no es un creyente. Es un falso. Es todo gringo!” (“That son-of-a-bitch! He only cares about casinos. What’s a casino got to do with God? He doesn’t talk about God when he talks about Puerto Rico! He’s not a believer. He’s a fake. He’s all gringo.”)

Later that evening, 19-week-old Elijah visited his grandparents.

¿Abuelo, qué es un casino?” he asked.

“Elijah, I’m sorry. Grandpa doesn’t speak Spanish. What did you say?

“Grandpa,” he asked, “I forgot. ‘What’s a casino?'”

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Las Vegas casino slot machines

“Well, let me tell you a story about a casino, Elijah. A casino is a place where people gamble.”

“What’s ‘gamble’?”

“Actually gamble is a verb; the noun is gambling. You’ll learn the difference later. Gambling is when a person takes a risk with their money. Gamblers get a charge out of taking the risk that they’ll make lots of money, but they usually lose what they have. The casino is the business that makes lots and lots of money from gamblers.”

“Yeah, it’s like uncle Bob. He’s a gambler. He goes to the casino, right?”

“Right. Grandpa doesn’t like it, but, yes, he does. He’s gambled at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

“Why don’t you like gambling?”

“Well, that’s the story I want to tell you.”

“I love stories! Is this the one about the Big Truck?

“No, it’s different. It’s a story that kinda rhymes with ‘big truck’ but it’s not a happy story. Years ago Grandpa went to a casino here in Minnesota to pick up a big check – thousands of dollars – that the casino was donating to Grandpa’s nonprofit poverty law firm.

“Because the casino belonged to an American Indian tribe, I asked an American Indian who worked with me at the law firm to go with me to pick up the check. I wanted the tribal chief, who was also the CEO of the casino, to hand the check to Richard instead of me.

“But you know what happened, Elijah?”

“What? You saw the Big Truck! I bet you saw the Big Truck on the way to the casino.”

“No, but it does rhyme with big truck. Here’s what happened. When Richard and I started to go into the casino, Richard wouldn’t go in.  He just stood there! Like he was frozen. Like he’d had a stroke or something.

“I asked what was happening.

“‘I can’t go in there,’ he said. ‘My wife’s going to be in there at the slot machines. She’s here every day. We’re separated. We’re losing our house. We’re going bankrupt. I hate this place!!!’

“Richard’s wife took the casino bus from downtown Minneapolis every morning and spent the day at the casino hoping she’s get rich. She just got poorer day by day, week by week.

“That’s what a casino is, Elijah. A place that takes people’s money by making false promises that they’ll get rich.”

“Marissa’s husband’s like Richard. He hates casinos, but what’s a casino got to do with the President?”

“Well, Elijah, before Donald Trump became President, he was a real estate developer. He built a casino in Atlantic City in 1990 and put his name on it. Trump Taj Mahal cost $1.2 billion! He called Trump Taj Mahal ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’”

TAJ-MAHAL-LIQUIDATION-SALE“But it failed, Elijah. It failed. The deal failed. He sold it for $50 million to a company named Hard Rock International.”

“Wow, Grandpa! No wonder Pablo called the President a hijo de puto. Pablo said the President only understands business. He doesn’t care about people like the poor in Puerto Rico who are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, did you ever get the check from the casino?”

“We did, Elijah. I was Richard’s boss. I convinced him to go in. We went in and got the check from the Big Truck.”

  • Grandpa Gordon, October 3, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elijah: “Dear Mr. President”

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Elijah’s Letter to the President

September 30 , 2017

Dear Mr. President,

I’m in my carseat for my first road trip to the cabin up north, but Grandpa shared with me the letter he just sent you. I’m proud of my grandpa and I want to be proud of you. Grandpa says you’re sort of like an uncle because you went through Presbyterian confirmation class like grandpa.

But my babysitter doesn’t like you. She speaks Spanish. During the day with Marissa, we’ve been watching CNN for news from Puerto Rico, and she’s said a lot of bad words about you.

She clapped when Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz called you out. Then, this morning, she cursed again after you admonished the Carmen. Marissa’s with Carmen.

I’m only 18 weeks old. I’m still trying to understand what’s real and what’s not. Right now I’m not sure of much of anything. I trust Grandpa and I trust Marissa. They both love me and take care of me. Both Grandpa and Marissa are as upset with you as the Mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

I see the pictures from Puerto Rico and think you must, too, because you watch a lot of television, even if you consider CNN fake news. I’m little and don’t know much yet, but the pictures don’t look fake to me. And it’s not just pictures. It’s all over the radio. Marissa listens to NPR.

NPR’s Manadalit del Barco spoke to 8-year-old Yan Anthony Hernandez who is staying at a shelter in the city of Aguadilla on Puerto Ruco’s northwestern coast. The boy had a message for Trump.

“Stop tweeting and come help the people.”

Marissa wants to know whether you really care about Yan, the Mayor, and the rest of the people of Puerto Rico or just want them to go away like the undocumented workers you’re sending back to Mexico.

Sometimes Marissa sings to me. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world — red and yellow, black and white — all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the wold.” Grandpa says maybe your babysitter sang that song for you when you were little like me, but I wonder.

If you have time to write back, I’ll share your response with Marissa and Grandpa and have them make another copy to send to Carmen in Puerto Rico.

Respectfully,

Elijah (18 weeks old)

Grandson of Grandpa Stewart

 

 

 

Dear Brother Donald

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Letter to President Donald J. Trump

September 30, 2017

Dear Don,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Don. You can call me Gordy; only those close to me in grade school called me that, but, so did the kids in my confirmation class. Since we were both confirmed in Presbyterian churches, I think it makes sense to call each other Don and Gordy.

brown-psr-3-300-394After writing you yesterday, I wondered whether your confirmation class read the same book mine did. Did you read Robert McAffee Brown‘s The Bible Speaks to You? I have to confess I didn’t read much of it at the time. I faked it. Maybe you did, too. I think we were probably a lot alike that way, don’t you think?

Anyway, this morning I went online and found The Bible Speaks to You in Google Books — Google, like Twitter, is amazing, don’t you think? — to see what we were supposed to be reading and to get a sense again of what we were being taught. Even way back when we were in confirmation class, we were being taught that Jesus was killed by the coalescence of two mistakes that seem to be the opposite of each other: nationalism, on the one hand, and imperial rule, on the other. They went hand-in-hand in deciding Jesus has to go.

Do you remember that?

Jesus wasn’t big on either nationalism or or empire; he saw both as substitutes for God, idols manufactured by the human heart to provide a false sense of security and importance. I suspect you may have skipped those chapters of the New Testament, but this wouldn’t be the first time the crucifixion was erased from consciousness. It happened in the German Church in the 1930s when the majority Christian population blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and homosexuals for Germany’s fall from greatness. Make Germany great again was the agenda back then and Jesus was weeping all the way through it — in the concentration camps and in the cattle cars of the trains that removed from the nation everyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, an idol of exceptionalism that, like all idols, had no foothold in reality itself.

Do you remember how we hated Hitler and all that stuff in confirmation class, how we thought of ourselves as Christians who would never do that because we were disciples of Jesus, and as Americans who would never do that because … well, we were Americans? We were better than that!

Funny how things change sometimes if we don’t pay attention, don’t you think? Maybe we paid too much attention to that period of world history and not enough attention to Robert McAfee Brown and the Bible. Long after we finished confirmation class to become disciples of Jesus, Robert McAfee Brown said something I’m remembering now:

Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are.

I wonder who you’re listening to, where you stand on all of this, and write you now because, as your brother in Christ, I went on to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his American friends,Paul Louis Lehmann, William Sloane Coffin, and, yes, our old confirmation class author Robert McAfee Brown, who all claimed that what we do determines who we are.

The Bible speaks to you

Original cover of The Bible Speaks to You used in Presbyterian church confirmation classes in the 1950s and ’60s.

Don, if you can find a moment this morning, you can click this  Amazon LINK to The Bible Speaks to You, click “Look Inside” and scroll down to what neither of us can remembers now that we’re over 70 years old and forgetting much of what we learned. Take a look at pages 11 and 12 about the Marine Corporal following Robert McAfee Brown, the Marine Chaplain, back to his quarters after a Bible study on the Gospel of John story of Lazarus:

“Chaplain,” he said, “I felt as thought everything we read this morning was pointed right at me. I’ve been living in hell for the last six months, and for the first time I feel as though I’ve gotten free.”

You’ve been in the White House for nine months now, and I suspect it may feel like a hell you’ve never experienced. Maybe the same thing can happen with you as happened with the Marine.

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“The Raising of Lazarus” — Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1318-1319)

Remember, Don, every one of us has had at least a taste of hell these last nine months, but I’m looking to you for something different to rise from the ashes of our confirmations: a refutation of nationalism and empire. As Robert McAfee Brown said when he was much older, “What you do determines not only who you are but who we are. ” Take a close look at the picture of Robert McAfee Brown and at . It feels as though he’s looking at us to see whether we’re with Jesus and Lazarus.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart (“Gordy”), Your Brother in Christ

Chaska, Minnesota

A Brother’s Letter to the President

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September 25, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

I write to introduce myself as the brother you didn’t know you had.

baby_baptism_1368526cAs my grandson Elijah’s letter to you following your speech to the United Nations mentioned, you and I were baptized as infants in churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) — you in New York City and I in Pennsylvania. Your parents and mine both answered ”We do” to the question “Do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

As Elijah said, we don’t use the word ‘nurture’ much these days and ‘admonition’ has disappeared from our vocabulary — not the kind of positive-thinking that fits well with the prosperity gospel that has displaced what you and I were taught in Confirmation Class. But maybe the old church had it right that both nurture and admonition are essential to Christian faith and practice.

One of your home church’s pastors, Ray Schwartzbach, served as senior minister of the College Church and Pastor to The College of Wooster before going to First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica where you were baptized and confirmed. When Ray returned to Wooster for a visit, I had become his successor.

I remember his description of your church as the most diverse congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 32 different languages spoken among its membership. That was the church where your parents promised to nurture and admonish you in the faith. It is also the church whose members committed to partner with your parents as the extended family that would raise you in the way of Christ.

Among his peers in the Presbyterian Church, Ray was to his ministerial colleagues what John Gresham’s “Street Lawyer” was among his peers. He was a rough and ready street minister more at home among the poor — on the streets among the homeless and in the tenements and public housing — than in the places of white privilege in Wooster or downtown Manhattan. He admonished the rich and nurtured the powerless in the name of Christ. Ray Schwartzbach was bigger on the cross and resurrection than he was on Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking that came to influence you as an adult at Marble Collegiate Church.

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McGaw Chapel

It was into this “nurture and admonition of the Lord” as Ray understood them that you and I were baptized as brothers in Christ before either of us could raise a finger to protest it. As the great Christian ethicist Paul Lehmann, may he rest in peace, told the students from the pulpit of McGaw Chapel at The College of Wooster during my tenure there, “Your parents played a dirty trick on you. They baptized you as a child of God and a disciple of Christ before you could object to it. Whatever you would do from that day forward, the declaration made at your baptism will always identify you.”

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Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America – Getty Image.

Since our infant baptisms, you have gone on to become the President of the United States of America, a position without peer. But, as a brother, we are still peers in the same family. I write you in that spirit, remembering an exchange years ago between a new president of St. Olaf College here in Minnesota and a lowly faculty member just before the new president’s inauguration.

The new president from Norway with a heavy accent and a young faculty member, each in his impressive academic garb, found themselves standing next to each other in the men’s room moments before the ceremony. “In yust a moment,” said the soon-to-be installed Norwegian President of St. Olaf, “I will be the president and you will still be yust a yunior faculty member, but here we are both yust peers.”

849537016As your brother in Christ, your speech at the United Nations took a toll on me. I watched and listened, hoping to see and hear something that might reflect the spirit of the faith tradition we share. Instead I saw finger pointing and frowns, and heard harsh words of admonition of North Korea that embarrassed me, my church, and my country.

I am just a junior faculty member five years your senior, retired, and without question the less accomplished of the two of us. Although we have never stood next to each other, we do know each other from a distance through the shared history of our baptisms in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Whether or not either of us likes it, I am your brother in Christ, a peer.

In that spirit, I owe it to you to speak a gentle word of admonition. As the brother you didn’t know you have, I wished you had remembered your baptism. I wish you had remembered that we’re all just peers before you missed the urinal and hit the whole world we were nurtured and admonished to love.

Your Brother in Christ,

Gordon C. Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

In stillness I wait

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fd102fe612128b9da9857f58e5286d30I see things in the wilderness I do not notice at home.

Last night the sky was lit by lightning on every side —north and south, east and west— but the lightning was flashing from far away. There was no sound. There was no thunderstorm within miles of the A-frame under the stars.

The cabin by the wetland is like that — a place apart for a news-weary soul. A humble shelter of rough-cut pine without electronic devices among the crows, owls, white-tailed deer, skunks, and swans. Yes, the skunks are here, digging for grubs at night, but the skunks here don’t stink up the place like humans do back home, and, like the crows, owls, deer, and swans, they know nothing of the world I’m trying to leave behind.

1928_bcpThis morning’s Psalm from the Daily Office of The Book of Common Prayer brings its own kind of light from afar.

We give you thank, O God, we give you thanks,
calling upon your Name and declaring your wonderful deeds.

“I will appoint a time,” says God,
“I will judge with equity.

“Though the earth and all its inhabitants are quaking,
I will make its pillars fast.

“I will say to the boasters, ‘Boast no more,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not toss your horns;

“‘Do not toss your horns so high,
nor speak with a proud neck.’”

[Psalm 75:1-5, Book of Common Prayer]

The lightning flashes from ages ago, calling me to hope for such a time.

In the morning stillness of the wilderness, I wait.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, uploading at the truck stop 12 miles away, September 23, 2017.

 

The owl in the wilderness

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An owl greeted Kay this morning from a tree outside the door of the wilderness cabin next to the wetland with the swans’ nest before we turned to the wisdom of the Psalm assigned for today by The Book of Common Prayer.

But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped;
I had almost tripped and fallen;

Because I envied the proud
and saw the prosperity of the wicked:

For they suffer no pain,
and their bodies are sleek and sound;

In the misfortunes of others they have no share;
they are not afflicted as others are;

Therefore, they wear their pride like a necklace
and wrapt their violence about them like a cloak.

Their iniquity comes from gross minds,
and their thoughts overflow with wicked thoughts.

They scoff and speak maliciously;
out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.

They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their evil speech runs through the world.

And so the people turn to them
and find in them no fault.

They say, “How should God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

So then, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase their wealth.
….

Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord,
when you arise you will make their image vanish.

[Psalm 73:2-12, 20]

Having almost tripped and fallen into despair, I hear in the psalmist’s voice the hoot of the owl in the wilderness and pray that the evil speech that ran through the world from the podium of the United Nations and the mage of the violent and the haughty will vanish.

Elijah’s letter to the President

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Seventeen week old Elijah dictated the following letter for Grandpa to send to President Trump after hearing the President’s United Nations speech. Here’s the letter:

September 21, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

I’m little but my Grandpa says I have rights under the First Amendment and that I should exercise my right of free speech to tell you what’s on my mind. I hope that’s okay with you. Grandpa says you’re bigger on the Second Amendment than the First Amendment, but they’re all part of the U. S. Constitution, right?

I’ve thought many times of writing you but decided not to until hearing your speech to the United Nations this week.

You may wonder why a kid like me would send a letter to the President, but there’s more than one good reason.

Infant_Baptism_Christian-217x300We have a connection you may not about, although my Grandpa is very famous, like you. You and Grandpa were baptized as babies in the Presbyterian Church. Your pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens took you in his arms and baptized you “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” But before your parents put you in the pastor’s arms, they had to answer a question: “Do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

I asked Grandpa what nurture and admonition meant. He said nurture is like when Mom breastfeeds me. Admonition, he says, is an old word we don’t use anymore and that’s a shame because you could use a good admonishing. Admonition, Grandpa says, is a way of setting boundaries on a child’s behavior; it’s part of the discipline necessary to raising a child toward responsible adulthood. Admonishing is telling a child “No. You can’t do that. You’re a child of God, but you’re not the only one.” Grandpa tells me that all the time. I wonder if your mother and father ever did that with you before they sent you off to the military academy.

So you and Grandpa are both baptized Christians. But there’s even more of a connection!

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McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster

Grandpa became a Presbyterian minister. He knows one of your church’s former pastors at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica. Before Rev. Dr. Raymond Schwartzbach (Grandpa calls him ‘Ray’) came to your church in New York City, he served the college church at The College of Wooster which Grandpa served six years after Ray.

Grandpa says Ray was really special and that he left Wooster because he wanted to get back to the city. He told Grandpa that your church was the most multicultural church in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 32 different languages — the most in the whole country!

Trump at United NationsWatching you speak to all those different languages at the United Nations made me wonder what happened to you after your pastor held you in his arms and baptized you into the way of Christ. Did your parents nurture you? Did they admonish you? Or were you left on your own? Did they teach you not to call people names? Did they admonish you when you did? Did they teach you the first article of the Westminster Catechism, that  “the chief end of man is to glorify God…” and not yourself? Did they teach you the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek? Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Did they teach you that Presbyterians value simplicity and modesty, and that they dislike ostentation? Did they teach you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? Did they teach you the difference between loving your country and worshiping it? Did they teach you that nationalism is sin, that the nation is not God?

I’m just little and I haven’t been baptized yet like you and Grandpa. But I have questions. I’m not sure I want to be baptized if being baptized means I have to be admonished as well as nurtured. Maybe you feel the same.

Please answer if you have time. I know you’re very busy with Kim Jung un and Robert Mueller stuff, but Grandpa says some things in life are too important to ignore.

Respectfully yours,

Elijah

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the president say that?

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Elijah and HarveyElijah and I were watching the President’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly when suddenly Elijah sat bolt upright.

Grandpa, did he really say that?

Say what, Elijah? He’s said a lot of things.

Trump at United NationsDid he just call Kim Jung Un “Rocket Man”?

Yes, he did, Elijah.

That’s not right! You told me never to call people names. Then he said he would destroy his country! He sounds like a bully. You taught me bullying’s bad, right Grandpa?

Right. Bullying is bad. It’s always bad. The president just embarrassed every American.

And then he insulted all our allies whose countries are socialist. All our European allies are socialist, right Grandpa? Israel’s socialist, right Grandpa?

That’s right, Elijah. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He still believes in the Boogeyman.

Boogeyman_posterWell, I think he’s acting like the Boogeyman. Don’t ever leave me in the same room with the president, Grandpa. He’s mean. He’s scary!

Don’t worry, Elijah, President Trump will never take care of you. Mom will. Grandma and I will. Your baby sitter will. And the world leaders will babysit Mr. Trump.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, September 21, 2017.

 

That would Ted do?

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Conversations with a best friend newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer led to me back this morning to Ted Gill, whose obituary we republish here.

Why? Because my friend, like Ted Gill, served as president of an institution of theological education, participated in the civil rights movement, and is finding fresh meaning in the communion of saints, that strange article of the Christian creed that connects the living and the dead as we have never been gathered in time.

People in Minnesota often ask “What would Wellstone do?” Paul Wellstone was a child of the Iron Range. So was Ted Gill who was born in the town where the Wellstone’s plane crashed.

In light of Ted Gill’s obituary — “Late in his life, Ted Gill remarked that ‘the high point of my career in the ministry was the week that I cost my seminary five million dollars’” — we might well ask, “What would Ted do?”

Theodore A. Gill, Sr.
Presbyterian Pastor, Theologian, and Educator

Rev. Dr. Theodore Alexander GillThe Rev. Dr. Theodore Alexander Gill, a former president of San Francisco Theological Seminary and later provost of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York (CUNY), died at the age of 85 on Friday, June 10 following a lengthy illness, in Princeton, New Jersey.

Born in Eveleth, Minnesota on January 7, 1920, Ted Gill was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Seminary in New York City, and the University of Zurich where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Recent Protestant Political Theory.” His teachers included Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Josef Hromadka, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich. He was awarded six honorary doctorates during his career. In his time at the San Francisco seminary, he became one of the founders of the Graduate Theological Union based in Berkeley.

After serving Presbyterian parishes in New Rochelle, New York and West End Presbyterian church in New York City, he became professor of religion and dean of the chapel at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, and subsequently managing editor of The Christian Century magazine in Chicago and editor of its sister publication The Pulpit. He was president of San Francisco Theological Seminary from 1958 to 1966, leaving that position to occupy the higher education desk of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. Following a return to the parish in Detroit, he joined the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a CUNY college in midtown Manhattan, where he remained from 1971 through 1989. In retirement, he served as theologian in residence at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.

Ted Gill’s passion was for the link between religion and the arts, and over the years he served as a part-time leader of such organizations as Art, Religion, and Contemporary Culture – founded by Paul Tillich – and American Summer Institutes, a series of annual seminars on theology and the arts in locations that included Rome, Berlin, Budapest, and St. Andrews. As president of the San Francisco seminary, he organized a ground-breaking program on theology and theatrical arts. He also served on Presbyterian judicial commissions in the northeast and on national church committees that produced The Worshipbook of 1970 and commissioned the seal or logo of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1985. At the time of his death, he was a retired member of the Presbytery of New York City.

From the early days of the US civil rights struggle, Ted Gill publicly supported equal rights for all and openly opposed segregationist practices in both southern and northern states. In 1963-64, he was regional chair of California’s “No on Proposition 14” campaign against discriminatory housing legislation, and in 1965 he marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in support of voting rights. As he and dozens of students and faculty members from San Francisco Theological Seminary participated in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march of 1965, promises of millions of dollars in endowments to the institution he led were withdrawn in protest by potential donors. Late in his life, Ted Gill remarked that “the high point of my career in the ministry was the week that I cost my seminary five million dollars.” In later years, he voiced support for the full participation of gays and lesbians in church and society.

51N4rqkX+bL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_He was the author or editor of numerous books, journals, and articles. Among his books were The Sermons of John Donne (1958), Memo for a Movie: A Short Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1971), and, with Robert Bellah and Krister Stendahl, Religion and the Academic Scene (1975).

He was noted for editorial columns and sermons that were featured in church magazines and on radio’s “The Protestant Hour.” Preaching in a sermon series titled “Christian Clichés,” Ted Gill told his listeners:

“I have known and loved too many of the victims of the old-fashioned version of the ‘Christian’ life: wonderful, juicy human beings who were persuaded by a misguided church that they had to veil their vividness, bank their fires, dehydrate their interest, denature their enthusiasms, if they wanted to be Christian. No, the old idea will not do… The Christian life is not the life that is made to fit the legalistic box, that is forced to fit into the pattern. The Christian life is life lived in a certain direction – in, through, around, above whatever temperamental, physical, psychological obstacles any of us may have. But always in that direction – the direction which is assigned to us by what we know of God, by what we know in Jesus Christ of the character and nature of the realest real, by what we know in Jesus of God and the love of God. The Christian life is life lived in appropriate reaction to God’s action for us. The Christian life will be described in terms of the direction we are headed, and of how well we keep going in that direction, no matter how often we trip and fall.”

At the 1968 assembly of the World Council of Churches, Ted Gill gave a speech on “The Great Convergence” of education and the churches. Reflecting on student demonstrations in universities that spring, he revealed his discomfort with patterns of conformity in higher education:

“On the campuses, a generation erupted, an important piece of society let fly. The protest might have begun on the field of general education, but it was a wild shout, a rough rejection of education-in-general, of everything taken for granted by all the elements now molding people, coercing society, determining the future. The real adversary was not this or that administrator or this or that teacher or this or that course. The real adversaries were that rigid vice-chancellor, the status quo; those sternly directive professors, government and industry; that intolerable bore, academic tradition; those long courses in accommodation… Some of the brightest and best of our youth flame now in revolutionary dissatisfaction with the goals they see accepted by those who teach them, affect them, direct them. They distrust the values commonly invoked. They defy the system which ever more efficiently instructs the new generation in means that they see leading straight to inhuman ends: unendurable inequities, intolerable narrowing of human possibilities, blasphemous vulgarizations of spirit.” (“The Great Convergence,” The Ecumenical Review 20.4 [Oct. 1968], 385-94.)

In the April 1958 issue of The Pulpit, editor Gill reflected on the intricacies of theology in light of his father’s recent death: “We squabble and we rant about all the picayune details we assign to mysteries completely beyond our assessing, when all we really have to tell the world, all we really have to live on is the good news that God is love… But now, the love of God that gets us through our hard days is for more than funerals. It is for living along. When you know in your bones that the most real knows you and loves you, that beyond the vicissitudes of experience and the catastrophes of existence the ground of all being has declared itself for you, there should be a relief and a release in your living, a new inventiveness and zest in your living, a new pleasure, a more confident participation in life and its precious fascinations.”

Due to a blockage of his carotid artery in May 1994, he lost the capacity for speech and began a gradual decline in health. His wife of 57 years, Katherine Yonker Gill, died in July 2002. He is survived by a daughter, Laurie Melissa Keeran of Brewster, Massachusetts; a son, the Rev. Theodore A. Gill, Jr. of Geneva, Switzerland; a grand-daughter, Elizabeth Katherine Gill of Durham, North Carolina; and longtime caregiver Ben Mensah of New York City. A memorial service will be held at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey and is being planned for Monday, June 20.

Click HERE to read the NYT obituary.

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

Book Review of “Be Still!”

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A gloomy, rainy day in Chaska is brightened by today’s posting of Donald Shriver’s review of Be Still! in the digital edition of The Presbyterian Outlook.

Thanks to editor and to Donald Shriver for the sunshine.

 

Deputizing the Cisco Kid and Poncho

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Pancho and the Cisco Kid

Troubled by criticism that he doesn’t love all the children — red and yellow, black and white, the way he was taught in Sunday School — and with loud cries criticizing his pardon of convicted former sheriff Joe Arpaio still haunting his sleep, President Trump had one of those “Aha!” moments from childhood television last night.

First thing this morning he tweeted an order to his Secretary of Homeland Security to look for help across the Mexican border from Cisco and Poncho of The Cisco Kid.

Be sure to watch to the end.

Then he broke out in song and sent the selfie to the faux news media and his newest friends, Charlie and Nancy: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.'”

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

 

The Light Show

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The moonless night beyond the picture window contrast with the candles that wash a warm glow on the orange rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame cabin in a place without a name.

flightA flock of Canadian geese flew over the wetland before dusk, honking their way south before winter comes to the Upper Midwest, while inside the cabin walls the Blue Jays had flown south from Toronto to Minneapolis over the radio to play a ballgame with the Twins. Unlike the Canadian geese, the Blue Jays are going nowhere; the Minnesota Twins are preparing for a long flight to the World Series.

votive-candlesThere is something strange about being alone in a remote wilderness cabin without a remote or internet, but some things stay close. Like the radio I bring to listen to the Twins games, and my canine companion Barclay who doesn’t care about the Twins or the radio but does care about candlelight. Barclay had headed for his kennel for the night an hour after the Twins had broken the sacred silence—until the sound of a match drew him back to the sofa to watch the candlelight flicker against the walls.

Sometimes I wish I were a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel instead of a lone silly goose who needs a radio to stay sane in an otherwise silent night in a warm-lit cabin in a place without a name.

d6dbdcca-1865-4dbf-b1dc-9cfda368e47d.1By the seventh inning stretch, I’m tired of the Twins game, blow out all the candles, see Barclay to his kennel, and head up the ladder to the loft in the darkness. Only then do I notice the light show beyond the cabin walls: the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, a natural light show no World Series can match. Through the loft window I watch the light that knows nothing of matches, candles, or our whereabouts off the human map.

Sometimes, when awe reduces me to lightening bug, it feels good to be human.

 

Nothing to say

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These last few days have been days like that.

I’m still learning in the quiet of the woods without phone or internet access. When I have nothing to say . . .  it’s best not to say it! 🦉

– Gordon C. Stewart, Speechless-in-Minnesota.

An Absence of Humility

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Hold to the Good

153 Evangelical leaders convened recently in Nashville under the auspices of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood and issued a statement on sexuality. Signers include some of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Evangelical family: James Dobson, Richard Land, James Robinson, Tony Perkins. The statement targets gay, lesbian and transgender persons but also Christians, Christian churches and organizations that do not exclude gay, lesbian and transgender people from membership and leadership, and everyone who comes to different conclusions about sexuality and sexual morality.

The first section of the statement reads:

“We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

The hubris of that statement is breathtaking. Not only does it reaffirm the traditional evangelical position that any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, it also sweeps anyone…

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The World as a Waiting Room

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ERB-logo-Color-SmallToday The Englewood Review of Books published its book review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

Click The World as a Waiting Room to read the review.

Thanks to Chris Smith, The Englewood Review‘s editor, for including Be Still!, and to Madeline Cramer, the reviewer, for close attention to its themes and substance.

Be StillMs. Cramer’s review is the first to lift up the deep affinity between the book’s cover, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Prisoners Exercising”, and the book’s elaboration of the less obvious forms of imprisonment, and our searches, alone and together, for sanity and stillness.

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

 

 

The Dreamers’ Psalm

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da2dbf9601aa6f870584206f878d8ba8Steve Shoemaker’s poetry reminded Views from the Edge readers that there is “A Song for Each Kind of Day” [April 12, 2012].

On an ordinary day, today’s assigned reading from The Book of Common Prayer would have sent me scurrying for something brighter. But today is darkened by the cruelty of the announced intention to end legal protection of the ‘Dreamers’.

I hear in the psalmist’s voice the cries of the Dreamers.

 tThose who seek after my life lay snares for me;

those who strive to hurt me speak of my ruin

and plot treachery all the day long. [Ps. 38:12]

Blitzer-Trump-DACAThose who are my enemies without cause are mighty,

and many in number are those who hate me. [Ps. 38:19]

There is a song for each kind of day.

“O Lord, you know all my desires,

and my sighing is no hidden from you.” [Ps. 38:9]

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“Make haste to help me,

O God of my salvation.” [Ps. 38:22]

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

Respite off the map

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Sanity demands solitude.

thoreau quoteHenry David Thoreau withdrew to Walden Pond to come to his senses. His time was much simpler than mine. He never got out of bed to check his emails or search the internet. But even in that less over-stimulated time he felt the need to leave everything that distracts the human spirit from the deeper truth about itself.

Solitude loves silence.

The wilderness cabin in northern Minnesota feels a bit like Henry’s place on Walden Pond. The wetland separates it from the small pond that has no name on a map. There are no sounds here other than the loons’ calls, Barclay’s bark, and the occasional mooing from a mile or two away when the wind is right.

Solitude puts me in touch with nature.

Not all the sounds are calming. In the night darkness, the howls of a nearby coyote and the scratching sounds of skunks digging for grubs remind me that nature is not as altogether sweet as romantics sometimes make it out to be. The cabin provides a respite from the human howls and odors that startle me in the world beyond these woods.

I ponder with the psalmist the societal ills that drove Henry to Walden Pond and have driven me here.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
eyes have they, but they cannot see;

They have ears, but they cannot hear;
noses, but they cannot smell;

They have hands, but they cannot feel;
feet, but they cannot walk;
they make no sound with their throat.

Those who make them are like them,
and so are all who put their trust in them.
[Psalm 115:4-8, The Book of Common Prayer]

fd102fe612128b9da9857f58e5286d30I become aware of the light dancing on the aspen leaves in a gentle breeze, the yellow oak leaf signaling the turn of summer toward fall, the sudden gust of wind from across the nameless pond, the osprey circling overhead on currents I cannot see, the ice-cold water hand-pumped from the well, the warmth of the fire in the wood stove, the feel of dirt from the flower beds—the living silence of a dead stop.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Walden Pond, MN, September 2, 2017.

When the news goes away

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Days away from internet access brings a calmer reflection. Being in touch isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Out of touch with bad news brings relief to the body.

220px-Tipi_bij_daglichtIf living in the developed world means being on edge all the time, I’d prefer a less developed one — maybe a teepee with smoke signals for communication. Anxiety is real enough without the constant sting of bad news from far away and beyond my small sphere of influence.

Madison Avenue loves my anxiety. It preys on what can only be prayed about. An ad agency is no praying mantis! It loves green but its antennae hunt for the anxious selves who confuse wants with needs, buying the things we do not need if we believe we only exist by having them.

Stillness and being are not their thing. Selling is their game. They don’t pray. They prey on well-trained animals, ringing Pavlov’s bell for manufactured tastes and smells, while down on Wall Street Monday’s opening bell opens the door of hornets’ nest.

Praying_mantis_indiaLike the praying mantis, the non-preying prayers live far from the bells. In touch with what’s worth much more than it’s cracked up to be: a less bad news world where humans live teepee-lives in touch with the body . . . in the stillness of time.

“Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, but the LORD is their refuge.” [Psalm 14:6, The Book of Common Prayer]

  •  Gordon C. Stewart, wilderness cabin, northern Minnesota, September 3, 2017

What would Bill say?

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What_Would_Wellstone_Do_-254x300“What would Wellstone do?” is a question often heard in Minnesota after the un-timely death of Senator Paul Wellstone. Most people can make a well-educated guess at the answers.

What would Bill say?” is the question I’m pondering this morning, looking for light in the darkness of the chemical eco-catastrophe  in Crosby, Texas.

Bill Gibson — click William E. Gibson to read Bill’s obituary — was a campus ministry colleague in the mid-’70s.

41XX644YJ4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of 27 campus ministers in New York State under the auspices of United Ministries in Higher Education*, Bill was “doing his own thing” at Cornell. His own thing — “eco-justice“– resulted in Eco-Justice — the Unfinished Journey. Click the title to read from the book Bill edited.

 

Like Paul Wellstone, Bill Gibson was a trailblazer. Unlike the senator, he worked away from the floodlights, quietly taking the path less taken on what has proven to be humanity’s great unfinished business.

Thank you, Bill. Rest in Peace.

Bill-Gibson-1Your joy and light still shine.

 

 

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

*Click HERE for the history of United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE), the ecumenical ministry jointly funded by the American Baptist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal, Moravian, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Brethren, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist churches.

Harvey, Houston, and the Holy

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The urgency of a rescue operation is not the time for anything but compassion.

Timing and perception are everything in this startling time of Hurricane Harvey, 500-year floods, and the chemical plant explosions now taking place in Houston. Watching a helicopter rescue the elderly and disabled from the rising waters of a flood that has put people at risk is not the time to say I told you so.

But sooner or later it is time to speak about the unnatural crisis hidden behind the crisis of nature. In times like this, everyone becomes a socialist, and, if we’re seeing straight, no one stays a climate change-denier in the city big oil built.

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Chemical plant explosions are the latest horrific news that graphically illustrate a national crisis that is more than ‘natural’. The crisis is anthropological and theological.

“Man over nature” was always an illusion. A hoax. A faux understanding of the human species’ relationship with the rest of nature — “man (sic.) over nature,” as though the first were separate from the latter — that leads to destruction and self-destruction.

The chemicals are exploding because the plants that make them cannot keep them cool. Keeping them cool requires an operative electrical grid, or, when the grid goes down, an emergency generator that isn’t vulnerable to flooding. When the grid and backup generators fail, the chemicals heat and explode.

Timing and perception are everything.

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Not much more than a year ago Standing Rock was being touted as the emerging symbol of the revised understanding, the shift in consciousness, and the new behavior required of humankind in the age of climate departure. The oil pipeline from Canada to Texas refineries was stopped in the name of nature itself.

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That was before the 2016 election, and the 2017 appointment of a climate change-denier to gut the EPA, presidential executive orders stripping away regulations on the fossil fuel industry, and America’s spiritual retreat from the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Texas, not Standing Rock, was in charge again. Or so it seemed until Harvey came ashore to wash away the illusion of “man over nature.”

It’s time now for a clearer perception. Time to hold next to each other a picture of flooded Texas chemical plant explosions and the peaceful protest of Standing Rock,  and ask ourselves which picture is truer than the other. Or perhaps the truth is better seen when both are held together side-by-side: two anthropologies and two theologies. According to the one, humankind and the human city are the measure of reality itself. According to the other, God (i.e. the Eternal, Being-Itself) is the “natural” context — the mysterium tremendum et fascinans* — in which we live, and move, and have our being.

Today is, and tomorrow will still be, time for compassion and help for the people of Houston. It is also time to perceive something much deeper and wider. The rescued people of Houston, southeast Texas, and Louisiana are but the latest victims of the tragedy of the human mind and spirit: the fanciful illusion and creation of an alt-world of species superiority to nature.

Could the trembling of this horrific moment lead us to a holier fascination with reality itself?

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Rudolf Otto (1869-1937)

The people of Standing Rock and Rudolf Otto are watching.

*Rudolf Otto‘s Latin term for the human experience with the Mystery beyond all taming that both fascinates and causes us mortals to tremble. (Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

A Hymn for Houston

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Watching rescue workers, the Red Cross, FEMA workers, and volunteers serving in Houston brings to mind a rare hymn that focuses on the city in a time of despair.

Click HERE for the lyrics.

Erik Routley’s rendering of Charleston, an American folk tune, honors all who love and serve the city, all who bear its daily stress.

Across America — from tiny churches in Appalachia, the bayous of Louisiana, and Sitka, Alaska to Memorial Church at Harvard — prayers are lifted and hymns are being sung in thanks for all who love and serve the city.

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

 

 

A Moment of National Decision

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Pastors sometimes view the world differently. Pondering the President’s visit to Houston today, the lines from three hymns come to mind.

“In an age of twisted values we have lost the truth we need. In sophisticated language we have justified our greed.”

“We have built discrimination on our prejudices and fear. Hatred swiftly turns to cruelty if we hold resentments dear.”

And these lines from James Russell Lowell‘s old chestnut, “Once to Every Man and Nation”:

“Once to every man and nation/ Comes the moment to decide/ In the strife of truth with falsehood/ For the good or evil side;/ Some great cause, some great decision/ Offering each the bloom or blight,/ And the choice goes by forever/ ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.”

If John Newton, the former slave ship captain, could be turned into an abolitionist by the amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me,” who’s to say amazing things can’t happen on August 29, 2017?

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

Singing through the storm?

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Watching the floods in Texas, I don’t feel like singing. But, while weeping for the people of south Texas, I hear the song of Pete Seeger wading through the storms and lamentations.

When Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wrote “How Can I Keep from Singing,” Pete Seeger (1919-2014) hadn’t been born, but Lowry’s music found a voice in Pete and others who listen amid life’s storms and lamentations.

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Rev’d Robert Lowry, preacher and hymn writer

A reporter once asked him what was his method of composition— “Do you write the words to fit the music, or the music to fit the words?” His reply was:

“I have no method. Sometimes the music comes and the words follow, fitted insensibly to the melody. I watch my moods, and when anything good strikes me, whether words or music, and no matter where I am, at home or on the street, I jot it down. Often the margin of a newspaper or the back of an envelope serves as a notebook. My brain is a sort of spinning machine, I think, for there is music running through it all the time. I do not pick out my music on the keys of an instrument. The tunes of nearly all the hymns I have written have been completed on paper before I tried them on the organ. Frequently the words of the hymn and the music have been written at the same time.”

Robert Lowry regarded “Weeping Will Not Save Me” as the best hymn he ever wrote.

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

 

Who is Joe Arpaio?

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This is the convicted former sheriff President Trump has pardoned before he served a day of time.

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The president just thumbed his nose at the rule of law under the constitution he swore to protect. This is Joe Arpaio’s longer story of a convicted lawless lawman who forced prisoners to wear pink underwear under the hot sun.

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

Grandpa, I’m special, right?

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On his 14th (week) birthday Elijah was watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood this morning.

51IO0pzdoqL._AC_UL320_SR226,320_Grandpa, Mr. Rogers says I’m special! I love Mr. Rogers!

We all love Mr. Rogers, Elijah. We all do!

Yeah! He’s a Presbyterian minister just like you, right Grandpa?

Yes, he was. And, like all Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Rogers made mistakes.

Like what?

Like telling you you’re ‘special’.

What you talking’ about? I AM special. Mr. Rogers makes me feel good.

I understand that and I’m glad. I just wish he’d used a different word than ‘special’ because none of us is ‘special’. You’re unique, Elijah. No one will ever be just like you. But that doesn’t mean you’re ‘special’.

You don’t like Mr. Rogers! I don’t like you! You’re a poop-head!

Sometimes I am, Elijah. I know I’m a poop-head sometimes. We all are, and that’s my point. We’re all in this together. None of us is special. Each of us is precious. Each of us is loved. I just wish he’d said ‘precious’ instead of ‘special’ because ‘special’ leads people to think they’re ‘exceptional’. You know, better than anyone else.

Mr. Rogers doesn’t mean that! Everyone’s welcome in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, even Mr. McFeely!

Well, even Mr. Rogers is a sinner, Elijah. He should never have named the mailman Mr. McFeely.

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, are we safe?

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Grandpa and Elijah are talking while pictures of Hurricane Harvey are disturbing 14-week old Elijah.

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“Grandpa, are we safe? Are we in Houston?”

“No, Elijah. Not to worry. We’re in Minnesota, a long way from Texas. It’s ‘nice’ in Minnesota.”

“Okay, I feel safer. But am I legal?”

“What do you mean, legal?”

“Like . . .  can I be arrested?”

“No, you’re not going to be arrested. You’re not illegal.”

“We’re a country of law, right, Grandpa?”

“Yes, we’re a constitutional republic. We live under the protection of the law.”

Elijah and Harvey

Elijah, “Uh-uh!”

“Uh-uh! That Sheriff profiled people in Arizona! He broke the law and the President pardoned him! Pardon me, but that’s not law. Why’d the President do that when there’s a natural disaster in Texas?”

“Well, the timing of it is scary, Elijah. Maybe we’re not so safe after all.”

“What do ya mean? Is Hurricane Harvey coming here? Is Joe Arpaio coming to Minnesota to look for illegals?”

“No, they’re not coming here, Elijah. The issue is the rule of law itself. Charles Kaiser argues that “Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the real beginning of the coming constitutional crisis in America.” It’s a piece by Charles Kaiser. I read it this morning on Bill Moyers & Company.”

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio and President Trump

“What’s a constitutional crisis? Is that worse than Hurricane Harvey?”

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

All us bastards

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“Rev. Will D. Campbell, Maverick Minister in Civil Rights Era, Dies at 88” read the New York Times obituary. Will Campbell (1924-2013) was more than unusual. He was idiosyncratic.

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When the nine black school children walked through the hostile crowds attempting to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, Will Campbell was one of four adults at their side. A civil rights leader, his life was threatened repeatedly over the years.

But there was something unusual about him. Will Campbell was “a good ol’ boy” from the white backwaters of Mississippi who became one of Martin Luther King’s closest confidants, the ONLY white person present at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that led the charge for Civil Rights in America.

In 1964 Will founded the Committee of Southern Churchmen, the successor to the all but defunct Fellowship of Southern Churchmen that had been created in the 1930’s to combat injustices in labor, politics, and race relations.

The Committee of Southern Churchmen created a new journal Katallagate — Greek New Testament for “Be reconciled!”) — which reached a national audience in the conviction that the underlying issues were beyond regional.

With the passage of the Civil Right Act, Will did something few but his friend Martin Luther King, Jr. could have imagined. He re-directed his ministry to the newly defeated hooded enemies of all things good, the Ku Klux Klan.

fc68a5171519678c41618146c96931a9--rustic-porches-country-porchesNo one but Will Campbell seemed to consider such a thing, let alone do it. But he did. Will headed for the rocking chairs on the front porches of the Klan to sip some moonshine and sit a spell. He became the civil rights chaplain to the KKK, returning to his roots as poor white trash raised in the backwaters of Mississippi.

51ZqWjXVehL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Looking back on his life and ministry, he wrote in Brother to a Dragonfly, after the tragedy of his brother’s death:

“I had become a doctrinaire social activist without consciously choosing to be. And I would continue to be some kind of social activist. But there was a decided difference. Because from that point on I came to understand the nature of tragedy. And one who understands the nature of tragedy can never take sides.”

He confused his critics equally – first the Right and then the Left – insisting that his soul did not belong to anyone’s team – racial, political, religious, cultural, national. There was only one team:  humankind standin’ in the need of prayer. There is only one rightful place for a soul: the Kingdom of God.

“We’re all bastards,” he was often heard to say, “but God loves us anyway.”

He meant both things.

The belief “but God loves us anyway” reorganized his hierarchy of values around a non-elitist, non-righteous compassion. It was that compassion that had led him to campaign for racial equality in the Civil Rights Movement, and it was compassion that later led him to sip whiskey with the cross-burners in the rocking chairs on their front porches. His was a ministry of reconciliation, a living, idiosyncratic example of the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s own Self: katallagete!

contentWhile Will continued to drink whiskey on the porches of America’s new legal bastards, Katallagete reached a wider national audience with a “who’s who” of religious, academic, political, and cultural luminaries: Thomas Merton, William Stringfellow, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Vernard Eller, Jacques Ellul, W.H. Ferry, Duncan Gray, John Howard Griffin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Joe Hendricks, Jim Herndon, Christopher Lasch, Julius Lester, John Lewis, J. Louis Martyn, Reinhold Neibuhr, Walker Percy, and Robert Penn Warren.

Although I never met Will Campbell, Katallagete was must reading until it ceased publication, and I’ve been thinking more lately about what Will would say today.  His memory reminds me all these years later how hard it is to be a disciple of Jesus, how hard it is not to hate in 2017. How hard it is to love my neighbor as myself. How hard it is to love the enemies, especially when the neighbor and the enemy is the illegitimate bastard self on the rocking chair of my front porch.

Would that all us bastards were as idiosyncratic as Will.

 

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

Alt-News: President resigns

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My Fellow Americans,

I stand before you today to announce my resignation, effective tomorrow at noon E.T.

To all of you who supported my campaign to drain the swamp in Washington, this decision will come as a huge disappointment, but it will not come as a surprise.

6a00e554dac08588330115702f407e970c-320wiAs a real estate developer I know that some swamps can’t be drained. As the Bible teaches, the wise man built his house upon the rock; the foolish man built his house upon the swamp. And the rains came down, and the rains came down, just like they’re coming down now in Texas, and the floods came up and washed the foolish man’s house away.

I’m no fool. I’m a developer. I know when to get in, and I know when to get out.

No matter how hard I’ve tried to lead you out of this swamp, the evil press continues to undermine my efforts — efforts greater than anyone in history before me and, I’m sad to say, greater than anyone who will ever come after me — to rid the country of the snakes, alligators, and crocodiles that are destroying our beloved country and undermining my promise to make America great again.

Donald Trump

America will never be great again. Our best days are behind us.

You elected me because you wanted a winner. I’m a winner! Hillary lost. She lost big! She’s a sore loser. Just the other day she whined about our debate. “Donald stalked me; he stalked me!” Wa-wa-wa! I won. She lost. But the America I ran to save can only be saved by you, the American people. It can only be saved when you rise up to empty the whole swamp of Washington.

Tomorrow I will turn over the swamp to Vice President Mike Pence. Mike is a man who knows the swamp as well as anyone. He came to his office from Congress and will fit right in.

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Pincely Diamond Suite, Hotel Hermitage, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Melania, Barron, Ivanka, Jarod, and I will be moving to Monaco at the invitation of Prince Albert II. Monaco is a principality, but it’s already great! The Prince has invited the Trump family to live as his guests in the Princely Diamond Suite of the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo where our beloved Grace Kelly — remember the beautiful Grace Kelly, sooo beautiful; she was drop-dead gorgeous — found a home outside her country as Princess of Monaco, and has invited me to be the grand marshal of the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, the world’s most famous grand prix.

I love you all. I love America. I wish you well. I’m not a loser. I’m a winner like Prince Albert II whom the press also tried to destroy with vicious allegations of sexual exploits and illegitimate children.

Finally, I say to the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and all the other fake news media, Mitch McConnell — what a loser! — to Hillary and Bill (whose campaigns, by the way, I generously supported over the years without a word of thanks), Mr. Comey, and Mr. Mueller, as President of the United States of America, I hereby absolve myself of all responsibility for the swamp by issuing a presidential pardon of Joe Arapio and of myself for all alleged offenses past, present future.

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May God bless Joe, may God bless what could have been the United States of America, and may God bless the son of our beloved Grace Kelly.

  • Oh, my, it felt so good to write this! Ghost writer, Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 26, 2017.

 

 

Square pegs and round holes?

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Are you a square peg in a round hole, or a round one in a square hole?

squarePegWith apologies to Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being square . . .  or round” or whatever other strange shape we may be.

It takes years to understand who we are or, for that matter, what your book is really about.

“What’s the book about?” folks ask, and I stammer away, fumbling to answer in a word or two. How do you summarize a collection of 48 essays on multiple themes and topics other than to answer, “Well . . .  it’s a collection of 48 essays on multiple themes and topics. It’s about blah, blah, blah”?

Readers find what they’re looking for by selecting an aisle or category in a book store or on an online menu that fits their taste.

But what if a book doesn’t fit the square and round hole categories into which publishers and the book-sellers squeeze a book?

More perplexing, what if an author himself doesn’t know whether he’s square or round? Doesn’t know why he writes, and can’t explain what the book’s about, or why, in this world of verbal assaults, anyone should pick his blah-blah-blah off a book-seller’s shelf? What if the author wakes up in the morning looking in the world’s square/round-peg-square/round hole mirror and sees only a confused face looking back?

Then, suddenly, after 75 years of wondering, six months after his book has hit the shelves, he looks into the brand new mirror created by readers and reviews, and sees something altogether new and different.

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An octopus!

Be Still! and I are an octopus! A searching digesting center with tentacles reaching out in all directions gathering food for thought, spitting out the toxins, and growing more or less mature in the sea of societal madness.

But wait! Wait! Maybe not! Maybe they’re Kermit on a lily pad.

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Frog on a lily pad

“Have you ever stopped to wonder how a frog, obviously heavier than a lily pad, can manage to stay above water and not sink a lily pad?” – Frog on a Lily Pad

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 25, 2017.

 

Playing Chicken over a Wall

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indian-game-chickens-featureIn Phoenix President Trump threatened to play Chicken with Congress. If the bill to keep the federal government open for business does not include funding for the border wall he promised Mexico would pay for, he threatened to use his veto power to shut down the federal government.

The president was hawkish.

“Bully for you!” roared the crowd.

The older folks in the crowd will roar again when their Social Security checks no longer arrive.

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It’s time to grow up.

Something there is that makes children love the game of Chicken, and something there is that loves a wall — unless the hawk and the wall turn out to be between a rock and a hard place: me and my Social Security benefit.

Chicken Game Over Dont Look

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 24, 2017.

The Scapegoat

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Sometimes a line leaps from the page to arrest me.

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.”

Sitting in the pew the week following the horrors of Charlottesville, this line from the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving of the sacrament of holy communion begged for deeper reflection.

Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick people on the streets of Charlottesville? Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick watching the news, tweeting, texting, yelling, screaming, retreating, turning off, tuning out? Who were the poor waiting good news?

Surely, I’m not poor. Am I? I love the outcasts, the sinners, the sick, don’t I, Jesus? I am among the counter-demonstrators, the despisers of white supremacy, the champions of racial equality, the scorners of the KKK and their white supremacist and white nationalist cousins. My anger boils over watching these sick people turning back the clock.

Preparing for the bread and cup, I am aware of my poverty, my thirst for good news. Failing, or refusing, to see the faces and listen more carefully to the shouting of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, I have cast them out as hopeless sinners: the outrageously sick representatives of white supremacy, America’s original sin.

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“Christ of St. John of the Cross” – 1951, Salvador Dali 

I consider not receiving communion today.

Then I recall René Girard‘s work on the crucified Jesus as the scapegoat whose life, death, and resurrection dismantles the scapegoat mechanism of religion and society.

“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”
René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes

I ponder the ways capitalism turns us against each other: privileged and poor, insiders and outcasts, scapegoaters and scapegoats, sheep and goats — the company of sinners in need of the better news that there is, in reality, no division among us.

I remember Salvador Dali’s painting of the cosmic Christ and read again the lines of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving:

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.

“He [the Scapegoat] yearned to draw all the world to himself, yet were heedless  of his call to walk in love.”

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

The Shadow of Fred Trump

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

Why?

Like Father, Like Son

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

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

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

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

The Story of Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

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Jacob wrestling with the angel – Eugene Delacroix 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with a Limp

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

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

FredTrumpArrest

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

 

Getting smart with sick people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

“In 1936.

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

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

Andrew Young, August 16, 2017.

reptilian brain

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

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

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

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

General Pershing and the Commander-in-Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

220px-General_John_Joseph_Pershing_head_on_shouldersThis Letter to the Editor followed.

“Long story short.

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

“Short story longer.

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

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

  • Ernie Neve, Minneapolis

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

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

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Religion and Race in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

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

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

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

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

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

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

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

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

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

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

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

Preserving Memory

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

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

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

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

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

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

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

“In 1936.

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

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

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

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

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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

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

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

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

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

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

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

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

 

The President’s hand

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Values Worth Fighting For

John Buchanan’s “Values Worth Fighting For” articulates clearly so much of what my seminary classmates and I are thinking and feeling as we prepare for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in the midst of the era of Donald Trump.

Hold to the Good

Churches across the globe, Protestant but also Roman Catholic, will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation later this month. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theology professor, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church door served as the community bulletin board and Luther’s Theses – or propositions- were in the form of an invitation to debate. There has always been some uncertainty about whether Luther actually nailed the document to the church door. What is not uncertain is the effect they had. The 95 Theses had to do with traditional church doctrine and practice that, in Luther’s mind, needed to be reexamined and reformed. The result was the Reformation, in Marilynne Robinson’s words, “a movement that touched or transformed thought and culture across the breadth of empire.” (The Givenness of Things, p.17). Before it was over…

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