Bumpa, what’s faith?

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Elijah and Bumpa (i.e. Grandpa) are talking after the Vikings-Packers game.

Elijah and Grandpa talking

Bumpa, what’s faith?

Why are you asking about faith, Elijah?

Mom just said it. She said that word again, just like she did last week.

Said what?

She said “You gotta have faith.” Maybe you should turn up your hearing aids.

I see. Mom was talking about Bumpa’s attempt to lose weight.

Yeah. I hate to wait!

Well, waiting is different but it does require faith. Bumpa can’t just wait to lose weight. I have to work at it.

You’re drivin’ me crazy! I asked you a simple question: “What’s faith?”

Okay. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

What’s assurance?

It’s a little like confidence, Elijah. Or believing things will turn out well even when everything looks bad.

So that rookie kicker needed faith, right?

Yes. He lost his faith right there on the football field…THREE times. He lost his confidence. He didn’t believe it was going to turn out well, and he blew nine points. Nine points!!! All because he lacked faith.

Yeah, his coach lost faith in him and he lost faith in himself, right Bumpa?

Right. But faith is about more than football, Elijah. It’s about life. It’s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.

What’s conviction? So we believe in ghosts?

No, Elijah. Remember when Barclay let you play with his ball and didn’t bite? It’s a little like that. Faith is trust. I hope you never lose your faith!

  • Bumpa and Elijah, Chaska, MN, September 17, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Living with Myself

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Anthony de Mello (1931-1937)

Living with myself is hard sometimes. Almost as hard as it is to live with me. I need lots of help to be a better person.

This morning, Anthony de Mello‘s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s reflections featured in William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings brought me up short.

Saʿdī of Shiraz tells this story about himself: “When I was a child I was a pious boy, fervent in prayer and devotion. One night I was keeping vigil with my father, the Holy Koran on my lap. Everyone else in the room began to slumber, and soon was sound asleep. So I said to my father: ‘None of these sleepers opens his eyes or raises his heart to say his prayers. You would think that they were all dead.’ My father replied, ‘My beloved son, I would rather you were asleep like them than slandering.’” (Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird)

My own father and Saʿdī’s father were much the same. I can’t help wondering what Dad might say today of all the slandering and the sleeping.

To my unredeemed slandering heart and mind, the sleepers (those who refuse to stay awake to what is happening in America) are readily identifiable by their choice of a news channel. The sleepers, I say to myself, are not awake…like me. Oops! The voices of Saʿdī’s father and mine alert me to my habitual slandering. They call me to a lead a more gracious, fuller, life.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

But the way of living with myself and others consciously and respectfully seems impossible. It’s not simple. Slander is a sin of commission. Consenting to evil is the sin of omission. One is still called to act, but without slandering.

“Who stands firm?” asked Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his German prison cell following a failed plot to assassinate Hitler to end World War II. “Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call” (Letters and Papers from Prison).

While the masses had fallen asleep to the horror of the German Third Reich, Bonhoeffer “stood firm” and paid the ultimate price — state execution — for committing the sin of commission: resistance to Hitler and mass madness and slaughter. One might suppose that a man like Bonhoeffer’s disdained the character of those who fell asleep. But it was this same Bonhoeffer who instructed the students of his underground seminary the lesson Saʿdī’ father and mine tried to teach us.

“By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace to which others are just as entitled as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

It’s hard to live with myself! I need all the help I can get. Bill Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings is a hidden treasure worth the price for anyone feeling the need to “stand up” without slandering.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, September 12, 2018.

9/11/18: A Defining Moment

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WTCmemorialJune2012Today, the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the subway station that was buried by the fall of the World Trade Center towers, has reopened to loud cheers. Hope survives! So does the question “What have we learned since we trembled in horror and disbelief 17 years ago?”

The 9/11 Anniversary in 2018 coincides with the release of Bob Woodward’s FEAR exposing the moral abyss that is the White House; National Security Advisor John Bolton’s “America First” attack of the legitimacy of the international court; and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s statement urging immediate action on climate change.

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U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. … Far too many of leaders have refused to listen.

If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change. [Antonio Guterres]

The collapse of the World Trade Center brought us to a dead stop. We could see it. First responders touched it. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani became “America’s mayor”.

We Americans wondered what sense of morality would lead someone to highjack commercial aircrafts and turn them into weapons of mass destruction. All these years later, morality is still the question. “America’s mayor” today declares that truth is not truth, while we ignore a greater threat, less visible to the naked eye — climate change — exceeds the geographically limited horror of 9/11. 9/11/18 is a defining moment in a sea of moral amnesia requiring a voice from beyond the spiritual-moral morass America has become.

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Václav Havel

“The worst thing,” wrote the Czech writer and former President Václav Havel, as though peering ahead into the American of 9/11/18, “is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We feel morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension” (bold added by Views from the Edge).

In this defining moment, hope again rises against hope with its own kind of prayer for the end of the planetary moral madness:

“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”
― Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, 9/11/18.

 

 

 

A Window of Opportunity: Rosh Hashanah

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Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that celebrates the birth of humankind with the blowing of the shofar (AUDIO LINK).

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Rosh Hashanah’s meaning takes me back to last week’s Jewish wedding in Boston Symphony Hall, the kind of joyful occasion that’s good for the weary soul. Although I might have anticipated meeting a Holocaust survivor in his/her 90s, I did not expect the survivor to be my age.

Stephen and I were born two months apart in very different words — the Warsaw ghetto under Nazi occupation, and the U.S.A., respectively. Stephen and his mother survived. His father and the rest of his family died in the gas ovens of Auschwitz. His father arranged for two-year-old Steve and his mother’s to escape and survive under the clandestine protection of Polish Christian. How Stephen’s father made the arrangements is a mystery lost in time and the ashes of Auschwitz.

Rosh Hashanah is marked by the blowing of the shofar that starts the 10 High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

What is Rosh Hashanah all about? In addition to its meaning as the “head of the year”, we also refer to it as the “Day of Judgment”. What, in fact, did the Rabbis tell us to do on Rosh Hashanah? Curiously, there is virtually no mention of our own personal judgment in the Rosh Hashanah prayers. Instead, the prayers are all about the general condition of the world. – Rabbi Asher Resnick.

The Jewish sense of time is different from the dominant understanding of time in the West. Time spirals. It loops back and forward. Rosh Hashanah cycles back in order to spiral forward. It is, like every other Jewish holiday, “a metaphysical window of opportunity” (Rabbi Asher Resnick).

Meeting Stephen, the retired doctor in Princeton, New Jersey, in Boston at a Jewish wedding opened a different kind of metaphysical window of opportunity. The rapport was immediate, the window of opportunity opened between us as if we were long-lost friends. Such times redefine time. They spiral back to fetch hope for a new humanity and carry it forward in another dark time. This Rosh Hashanah I sound the shofar for Stephen, his family, all victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and the Polish Christian family that protected Stephen and his mother until the horror was (more or less) over and a mad world repents.

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the shofar (ram’s horn)

Shana Tova!

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

 

 

 

 

Elijah and Grandpa Walkin’ and Talkin’

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Elijah and Grandpa are walkin’ and “talkin'” on the way to his car seat.

“I’m walkin’, yes indeed, and I’m talkin’ ’bout you and me
I’m hopin’ that you’ll come back to me (yes)
I’m lonely as I can be, I’m waitin’ for your company
I’m hopin’ that you’ll come back to me….” – Fats Domino

Click this link — I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino (1957). All these years later, I’m walking’ and talkin’ ’bout Elijah, hopin’ he’ll come back to me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa). September 10, 2018

Elijah with Johnny Cash and Grandpa

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Elijah sways to all kinds of music from Verdi’s Te Deum and Widor’s Toccata to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. He moves his body to the rhythms. Always has. After a YouTube of The Flight of the Bumble Bee, I turned to Johnny Cash. “San Quentin, I hate every inch of you!”

Elijah doesn’t know that Grandpa and Grandma Stewart each served among the inmates of maximum security prisons like San Quentin in New York and Trenton, N.J.  It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Elijah already dances to the music of justice. Whenever I’m with Elijah, I experience a joyful Toccata!

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Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, NY (“the hell hole of the New York prison system”) where Grandpa once led weekly programs for inmates (1975-1977).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 9, 2018.

The identity of the NYT op-ed author

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“Treason Toddy” cartoon (1865) of Benedict Arnold and Jefferson Davis with Satan.

For the moment, the Trump cabinet member alleged to have written the NYT editorial remains anonymous. His or her identity is unknown to the public and to the president. But can one really suppose the author’s cry was not part of a larger strategy to remove the president from office?

25th_imageThe president’s immediate response was expected, a silly reprise of Muhammed Ali: “I am the greatest!” Ali was having fun. The president is not, and this morning he is serious, though increasingly isolated and without friends in the search to identify his betrayer. The cabinet members may all turn out to be accomplices of the anonymous author, the  first cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Presidents don’t gain personal loyalty by calling members of their cabinets names. Woodward’s book is filled with quotes in which the president belittles his own closest colleagues, the men and women he himself has appointed to serve the country with him as the Trump Administration.

Whether the NYT author is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff John Kelley, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Security Dan Coats, or — sound the alarms — Director of National Security Bolton, or someone else makes little difference.

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Nathan Hale (patriot spy) postage stamp

Was the NYT op-ed anonymous because the author is a cowardly traitor like Benedict Arnold? Or is s/he an American patriot like Nathan Hale (“I regret that I have only one life to lose for my country”) but choosing temporary anonymity for the purpose of preparing the American public for the Trump cabinet decision to invoke the 25th Amendment?

Bob Woodward’s new book, FEAR, cites former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus calling the presidential bedroom, where Trump’s early morning and late night tweets originate, “the devil’s workshop,” and dubbing early mornings and Sunday nights in the White House bedroom “the witching hour.”

The next few days may tell the story. If the cabinet votes for allegiance to the country over allegiance to a deranged president, it will happen very quickly. If it succeeds, we will see “A Proper Family Re-Union” welcoming a fourth member of the club. If not…America and the world can expect something far worse than a twitter storm, the likes of which we’ve never seen. Perish the thought!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 6, 2018

Trump Cabinet invokes 25th Amendment

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25th_imageViews from the Edge published this tongue-in-cheek “news release” in January. It was a spoof. We were a little early, but can anyone suppose that the Trump administration author of the NYT op-ed doesn’t know the difference between a tactics and strategy? Published on the heels of Bob Woodward’s FEAR is a tactic that prepares the American public for what’s coming: the Trump cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. Here’s the spoof we published in January at the time of the president’s medical exam.

NEWS RELEASE

The Dissociative Press
January 7, 2018

Today White House Chief of Staff John Kelly announced the decision of the Trump Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove President Donald J. Trump from office.

The decision to begin the process of removal from office follows the Cabinet members’ review of the report of the president’s medical examination by an Army physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, a report and decision that move the country closer to  a constitutional crisis.

While the Cabinet was acting on the Army physician’s conclusive medical findings of a personality disorder, rapidly progressing early dementia and other evidence of cognitive impairment, President Trump sent out a series of tweets calling the Walter Reed report a conspiracy by the military, the FBI, and the CIA, the equivalent of a military coup, and declaring he will not leave office under any circumstances.

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Mr. Trump immediately fired Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Generals at the center of what Mr. Trump called the military establishment, declaring that the Generals had ordered the Army physician to issue the faux report. Moments later Mr. Trump fired his lawyer and his entire Cabinet with the exception of Attorney General Jeff Session, who had abstained during the 25th Amendment vote, citing potential conflict of interest. Vice President Pence was out of the country for the week.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly called a 10:00 A.M. news conference but was escorted off the White House grounds at 9:31 A.M. by members of the Secret Service. Loyal to the President, Ms. Sanders met White House correspondents on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the gates to the White House property while the President continued to tweet from the White House living quarters to which he and the First Lady had retreated.

Ms. Sanders confirmed Mr. Trump’s assertion that the medical report is a hoax, arguing that the president had reluctantly yielded to General Kelly’s insistence that the medical examination be done at Walter Reed rather than by Mr. Trump’s long-time personal physician to avoid any public perception of a fraudulent report. Ms. Sanders drew the White House correspondents’ attention to Mr. Trump’s 9:47 A.M. re-tweet from his personal physician in New York declaring full confidence in Mr. Trump’s mental competence. “Donald Trump is the sanest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “He’s a genius, and a very stable one, at that.”

A further incoming tweet at 10:07 A.M. quoting First Lady Melania Trump interrupted Ms. Sander’s remarks, which Ms. Sanders read aloud to the press corps:

“I am a political prisoner. Politics is nothing but a cops and robbers game. I know dirty things. I saw dirty things. I am not going to stand for all those dirty tricks that go on. I am sick and tired of the whole operation.They threw me down on the bed, five men, and stuck a needle in my behind. A doctor stitched my fingers after the battle with five guards.”

martha_mitchellHearing Ms. Sanders read aloud the words alleged to have come from the First Lady, a member of the press whose White House coverage dates back to the Nixon Administration opined that the First Lady’s words sounded vaguely familiar before realizing the tweet was a verbatim quotation from Martha Mitchell, wife of the Nixon Administration Attorney General John Mitchell, claiming she had been kidnapped.

“It’s a hoax,” said the White House Correspondent. “Those aren’t the words of the Mrs. Trump. They are the words of Martha Mitchell during the Nixon Administration. The tweet is plagiarism!”

Ms. Sanders replied that she had no idea who Martha Mitchell was, that she wasn’t even born until eight years after Nixon resigned, and that the reporter was making stuff up to cover up the faux medical exam and the coup taking place inside the White House. She ended the conference by calling on President Trump’s supporters to take to the streets in defense of the Constitution and the greatest president ever to serve the country.

220px-Charlottesville_Unite_the_Right_Rally_(35780274914)Within minutes the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was crowded with arm-to-arm Trump supporters carrying guns and signs with photos of the President’s personal physician, Dr. Strangeglove, and the confederate flag, calling for the resumption of the revolution to Make America Great Again that had been delayled in Charlottesville.

  • Gordon Stewart reporting for Dissociative Press, Jan. 7, 2018.

Elijah’s Fist Puddle Play

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Do you remember your first puddle? Do you remember splashing around in a puddle? Elijah will. His mother taped the moment so he’ll remember his playful self when he grows old, forgetful, and not so naturally playful, like Grandpa (“Bumpa”).

Puddle stomping is child’s play. Avoiding puddles is adult play; joy and the smiles are fewer. I hope Elijah playing in his first puddle brings out your inner child and a smile.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sept. 5, 2018

Spam, Scrapple, and Stocks

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“We’re having SPAM tonight!” my mother would announce, as if it were a rare treat.

Spam_can By Qwertyxp2000 [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Mom was a genius at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at the end of the month. Her children never knew our family lived from paycheck to paycheck, or that the paychecks were often late. When they were late, she’d announce with enthusiasm, “Tonight, we’re having Scrapple!”

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Spam and Scrapple were part of our vocabulary. Stocks? Only from the news. Mom’s shopping at the Acme in working class Broomall created little family interest in the stock market. Wall Street and stock portfolios were for people a few miles away in Bryn Mawr, Merion, and Wynnwood on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

My brothers and I had no idea what Spam and Scrapple were. We knew Mom bought them at the Acme. They came in cans. They smelled delicious while frying, and we devoured them as though they were filet mignons. It was many years later we learned that scrapple is made from hog offal, i.e., what remains of a pig after the ham and bacon are removed, and the makings of Spam are only a little better.

We knew even less about the stock market than about the Spam and Scrapple Mom served up in a pinch. People with stocks didn’t pinch pennies at the Acme or buy their children’s back-to-school clothes at the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop. We didn’t feel bad about having no stocks; we just knew stocks weren’t meant for us. The closest we got to the stock market was driving through wealthier Philadelphia Mainline neighborhoods, admiring the Christmas light displays of showcase homes. At school we imagined living in one of those wealthier communities.

Today, all these years later, I have a stock portfolio. I no longer eat Scrapple or Spam. But I know spam when I see it. It arrives every morning in tweets that equate the country’s wellbeing with today’s stock market value, and spams illusions of filet mignons to the Acme- and thrift shop-shoppers who still pinch pennies on Spam and Scrapple.

MomMom would have a cow!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 5, 2018

 

 

 

Trapped in the Schemes They Have Devised

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Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

Over the years I’ve had a problem with the “us versus them” voice of some psalms of the Book of Psalms. The division of humankind into the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’ leaves me cold. Often I have wanted to recommend to the psalmist a session or two on a Jungian analyst’s couch to get in touch with the ‘shadow’. But, in other times, like the one through which we’re living in America, the psalmist’s poetry is without parallel in giving voice to what I feel. Psalm 10 is one of them.

Psalm 10 is a cry for help in a time of trouble when God seems far off, as though hiding, while “the wicked arrogantly persecute the poor” (v.1), but it also holds a conviction that the persecution is only for the moment. Why? Because, already, the arrogant “are trapped in the schemes they have devised” (verse 2).

Their ways are devious at all times; 

Your judgments are far above out of their sight; 

they defy all their enemies.

They say in their heart, “I shall not be shaken;

no harm shall come to me ever” (v.5).

….

Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and oppression;

under their tongue are mischief and wrong (v. 7).

…. 

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless. 

They lie in wait, like a lion in a covert,

they lie in wait to seize upon the lowly

they seize the lowly and drag them away in their net.

The innocent are broken and humbled before them;

the helpless fall before their power (vs. 7-9).

Sometimes the most poignant insights come from the psalmist’s couch. I read the Psalms most every day. I still remember what I’ve learned from Jung about my ‘shadow’ and the fear within me that paints ‘the other’ as wicked, wrong, or wretched. I know that the finger that accuses others often points back at my own sorry self. But the faith I was taught and still practice equally reminds me that anger has a rightful place when the lowly are broken, humbled, and dragged away in the net of the powerful. I remember the ‘righteous’ anger of Amos and the rest of the prophets. I remember Jesus.

Elijah in high chair

Grandson Elijah safe at home.

I see my grandson, Elijah, safe at home with his family in Minnesota, and think of all the children wrenched from their parents arms at the Mexican border. I live in hope that, though innocent children have been carried away to unknown places by the Administration’s net, it is only a matter of time before those who have made them orphans are themselves “trapped in the schemes they have devised.”

– Gordon C. Stewart in the wilderness, August 29, 2018.

GROWING UP WITH McCARTHY – Garry Armstrong

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Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame journalist Garry Armstrong shares a very personal memory that casts a light on the current moment of American history.

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Antoine (l) and Gary (r) Armstrong at the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame ceremony.

Like Garry, I remember Eric Sevareid. I also remember Garry for his reporting from Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Garry’s SERENDIPITY memory came to my attention this morning after a McCarthy type threatening comment appeared in response to Views from the Edge‘s post contrasting the character and behavior of Senator John McCain and the president who disdained him. Garry and I are the same generation. Our experiences are parallel. We both wear hearing aids, but we still believe our eyesight is as keen as it was when Joe McCarthy threatened a democratic republic. – Gordon C. Stewart, August 28, 2018.

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

This is one I never intended to share. It had been buried in the deepest part of the memory chest I never planned to revisit.

I was branded a “pinko” as a kid.

I grew up in an era when the name McCarthy was first associated with Edgar Bergen’s puppet pal,  Charlie McCarthy. We followed Bergen and McCarthy on their radio show, religiously, along with Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope and the other funny people of a more innocent era.

All of that changed when “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy unleashed his witch hunt of everyone in the guise of ferreting out Communist sympathizers. It was part of a bleak period when Cold War angst followed World War 2.

McCarthy is news again because of the current White House occupant and his apparent fondness for McCarthy’s tactics.

I didn’t understand why people shied away from talking about something called “The…

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The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back

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256px-John_McCain_official_photo_portraitIt’s a familiar idiom from the old proverb that “it’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

The last straw is not the only straw. It’s the seemingly insignificant weight added to all the accumulation of straws. Wikipedia describes it as “the seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions. This gives rise to the phrase ‘the last straw’ or ‘the final straw’, meaning the last in a line of unacceptable occurrences, provoking a seemingly sudden strong reaction.”

 

The American public is deeply divided. Though the number of straws placed on the president’s back increased daily with the straws of guilty pleas and convictions of his inner circle, his support remains strong among his base. The president can do no wrong. He can lie. He can cheat. He can slam the press. He can belittle the disabled. He can blame ‘the deep state’. He can paint himself as a victim. But, then, something happens. One more straw appears that draws a gasp. Even on FOXNews, as in Brit Hume tweet yesterday, “Still not a kind word about McCain himself.”

Whatever one’s political leanings, people have learned that you respect the dead. You don’t speak ill of the dead. However much you may not have liked the deceased, common decency demands something different.

Donald Trump, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

President Donald Trump listens to a question during a town hall with business leaders in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This morning the Washington Post reports that an official White House tribute prepared in advance of John McCain’s expected death, was squelched by the president. In its place the president issued the insensitive tweet that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

No matter what other news the president creates this week, John McCain’s casket in the capitol rotunda and the funeral to which the president has been disinvited will dominate the news irrespective of any particular medium’s political bent. John McCain, the POW whom the Donald Trump viewed as a loser, the former Republican Party candidate for president, will lie in state with nothing more than a disrespectful tweet from the President and Commander-in-Chief.

Some things are deeper than politics. Some things we can all understand. Some things — like the violation of the most basic civil code most Americans understand — have a way of provoking a seemingly sudden reaction.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 27, 2018.

 

Elijah Shares with his Younger Cousin

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Elijah joy IMG_9566Elijah is the apple of more than two eyes. Long before he’s old enough to do anything for which he might merit his Views from the Edge fame, he exhibits a spirit of joy and generosity that runs against the grain of grumpiness and greed. Not only does he strut (see yesterday’s post); Elijah SHARES.

He doesn’t have much, but he shares what little he has. He shares his ‘Cheerios’ with the less fortunate, and it seems to come naturally. Like a mother Robin stuffing worms in a baby Robin’s mouth, Elijah shares his Cheerios with his six month younger cousin, Calvin (10 months). Take a look.

“Love has its own color, Share it with someone before it fades away.” — Nishan Panwar

“All who joy would win must share it. Happiness was born a Twin.” — Don Juan Canto II, Lord Byron ((1788 – 1824)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 27, 2018.

Elijah Struts with Grandma

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Elijah is now 16 — sixteen months, that is — but walking like the boss. He struts, hands behind his back, swaying to the music in his head, waving his arms while making a guest appearance with the Boston Symphony to conduct the debut of his latest composition.

“Grandpa, isn’t life great!” he seems to say. Then he throws out his arms to be picked up and give Grandpa a kiss. “I’m gonna be like Winton Marsalis, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder. Grandma says maybe I’m a Mozart or a Benjamin Britton. Mom says J.S. Bach but I say Bach’s too boring, too inside the box. I’m a composer but I’m no Bach, and I’m a conductor, too.

Spike_Jones_1948“I play outside the box, Grandpa, like Spike Jones! Spike was both a composer and a conductor. Maybe I’ll be like Spike, pick up some trash at the park, bring back the City Slickers Band, and take America back to the 1950s! But Spike was weird, and he didn’t move his arms like a real conductor. He just put together some old tin cans and junk and pulled together some honky instruments and band members that made America laugh. I like making people laugh, but I’m no Spike Jones. I want to be Leonard Bernstein.

Grandpa and Grandma will be in Boston next month for a wedding in Boston Symphony Hall. As we witness the exchange of “I do’s”, we’ll imagine Elijah as a City Slicker with a baton in hand, strutting to the stage to conduct the debut of his latest composition with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Gordon, August 26, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Profile in Cowardice

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News of Senator John McCain’s death highlights the contrast between John McCain and Donald Trump, who belittled McCain’s service, never mentioned his name at the recent announcement of the defense bill that bears McCain’s name, and sent a terse condolence to the McCain family on the occasion of his death:

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

The ‘respect’ was for the family, not for the Senator, one more back-handed slap at the now deceased senator. What kind of person expresses ‘respect’ for a grieving family?

JFK

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

President Trump’s disrespectful tweet calls to mind President Kennedy’s autobiography, Profiles in Courage. Whatever one thought of JFK’s claim of war heroism, and whether or not one supported John McCain’s politics and candidacies for president, the chasm between the two men of courage and Donald J. Trump is unfathomable. But fathom it we must.

Can you imagine John McCain announcing his decision to fire a staff member with a tweet without a face-to-face meeting? Announcing a firing in a tweet, as Trump has done repeatedly, violates the most basic moral norms of common decency. Firing someone in cyberspace without meeting eyeball-to-eyeball in real space and time is not only insensitive. It is everything John McCain was not; it is cowardly.

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President Donald Trump

Senator John McCain was no fan of Donald Trump and Donald Trump was no fan of John McCain. The late Senator criticized Mr. Trump openly on matters of public policy; the president impugned McCain’s character as a loser. Big difference.

Before his death, Senator McCain requested that President Trump not attend his funeral and asked that Mr. Trump’s predecessors, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush deliver the eulogies. Click this link for more information.

President Obama’s condolences to the McCain family include the following tribute to Senator McCain:

[W]e shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.

Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.

The American people salute John McCain’s honest character, and his courageous service to his country before and after he endured five years as a POW. The late senator leaves office as a winner.

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Photo of newly elected members of Congress.

Meanwhile, the president who disrespected him remains in the White House until Congress fires him face-to-face, and Presidential historian Michael Beschloss publishes the biography of Donald J. Trump, Profile in Cowardice: High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 26, 2018.

 

The Day America Changed

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How did we get here?

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The National ENQUIRER and other tabloids at a supermarket checkout counter

Looking back at what led to the election of Donald J. Trump, historians and cultural anthropologists may mark the day in the 1960s when the National ENQUIRER first appeared at supermarket checkout counters, where Americans buy our groceries, as a turning point in American culture.

The National ENQUIRER (click the link) is not a newspaper. It’s not the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times. It’s a tabloid that substitutes sensational photos and titillating headlines for responsible journalism. The National ENQUIRER and the Star, both owned by American Media, Inc., are not driven by the search for truth. They’re driven by profits that appeal to shoppers’ appetite for entertainment — sex, scandals, and alien visitations — purchased at check-out counters across America.

The story of the ENQUIRER’s origins and sudden omnipresence at America’s checkout counters one day in the late 1960s is captured in the following summary of Paul David Pope’s book, The Deeds of My Fathers. The book’s subtitle — How My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Today” — tells the story of those deeds.

Thrown upon his own devices, Gene [Pope] spies a newspaper he wants to run, the New York Enquirer. With a loan from “Uncle Frank”—mobster Frank Costello, his real-life godfather—Gene buys the paper, reinvents it as the National Enquirer, and forces its distribution onto grocery checkout counters nationwide. With an unerring sense of his audience, Gene sees his newspaper as appealing to a prototypical female reader dubbed “Missy Smith.” Increasingly tyrannical and eccentric, he scolds reporters who hand in weak copy: “I’m not crying,” which meant Missy Smith wouldn’t be, either. Gene gives readers what they want, as he covers the paranormal, medical cures, celebrities, ever mindful of the dreams and fears of everyday Americans. The result: a new species of modern media—the supermarket tabloid. Circulation soars, peaking with the 7 million copies sold of the Enquirer’s 1977 exposé on the death of Elvis Presley.

This week we learned that David Pecker, CEO of American Media, Inc., the parent company of the ENQUIRER, has accepted immunity from federal prosecutors in New York for agreeing to cooperate regarding the ENQUIRER‘s “hushing” of salacious stories about Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 national election.

American Media, Inc describes the ENQUIRER’s editorial mission on its website.

Enquiring Minds Want To Know!

The National ENQUIRER has a proud 92-year history. Insatiable headlines, scandals and unforgettable stories have made this title a household name! We report the unvarnished stories about celebrities: their antics, celebrations, loves, mishaps.

Plus, the ENQUIRER covers high profile national and international scandals like no other with exclusive breaking news. If it’s a gritty true crime story, or political scandal, no matter what is reported, National ENQUIRER readers are first to know!

Enquiring minds might wish to have read Karen McDougal’s suppressed story before casting votes in November 2016. But money is money, profits are profits, and supermarket tabloids like the National ENQUIRER remain indebted to “Uncle Frank”.

 

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“Uncle Frank” — Frank Costello, American mobster, testifying before The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), 1950.

How did we get here? We got here as a result of contracts with supermarkets and drug stores that slowly erode the fabric of the culture on which a democratic republic depends. The ENQUIRER’s longer history includes open support for fascism and a not-so-open deal with Uncle Frank whereby the ENQUIRER would never criticize the mafia.

The 2016 national election says as much about the change in American culture — our obsession with entertainment and entertainment culture’s preference of crying over thinking — as it does about the National ENQUIRER or about a sitting president who rants about “fake news” while whittling away at what still remains of our respect for truth, decency, real news . . . and the rule of law.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 25, 2018.

GARRY DESERVES THE DUKE, BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

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Marilyn Armstrong’s story of retired journalist Garry Armstrong and his dog Duke offers a great way to greet a Saturday. I’ve often wondered lately whether canines are superior to humans. The joy on Garry’s face leads to a different conclusion: humans and canines are meant for mutual play with no thought of superiority or species exceptionalism. Enjoy!

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

Duke is not our first dog. We’ve had a big selection of hounds, terriers, and mutts of various backgrounds, sizes, ages. Somehow or other they have all fit in here because anyone or anything can fit in here, assuming they want to. For years, there has been great howling and yapping and barking in this house and that’s the way we seem to like it.

Duke

The thing we’ve never had, however, are truly obedient dogs. We don’t demand obedience, so we don’t get it. I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian as a mom, either.

Discipline makes me feel guilty. Who am I to demand obedience? Who do I think I am anyway?

Garry is worse. Garry was born with a gene that says “whatever you tell me to do, I won’t do it.” It’s a special piece of DNA that screams “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?” Even in…

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The Day My Head Hurt

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images_headache-drawing-12You’ve had days like this. I know you have. Days when everything hurts. Days when you open your eyes and can’t see, or wish you couldn’t see. Days when, if you have hearing aids, you put them away. Days when your head hurts, though you have no headache. Days when what you cherish is belittled, twisted, misrepresented, and assaulted.

The dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was a day like that. NPR ran the story that gave voice to why it hurts so badly in 2018. The American Administration’s selection of Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, both evangelical religious exclusivists with views that are marginal to the American mainstream, rubbed against the grain of traditional American values of respect, propriety, and decency. At no time in my memory has the United States handed the people’s microphone to representatives know for insulting the host nation’s religion and way of life. But NPR can’t voice the part that hurts this writer.

I look and listen as a retired Christian pastor who claims the same tradition President Trump calls his own. We were both confirmed in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Some of us remember what the president seems to have forgotten in confirmation classes. The Presbyterian-Reformed tradition of the Christian faith does not claim exceptional status among the world’s many religions. It calls for respect. The Presbyterian Church’s Confession of 1967 expresses it this way.

Christians find parallels between other religions and their own and must approach all religions with openness and respect. Repeatedly God has used the insight of non-Christians to challenge the church to renewal. But the reconciling word of the gospel is God’s judgment upon all forms of religion, including the Christian. [Confession of 1967, 9.24]

God is bigger than any belief, creed, or religion. Claims to divine favoritism that confine the Divine within the borders of national or religious geography blaspheme God’s ubiquitous presence and freedom. As the late Kosuke Koyama put it, the God of Jesus is a spacious God! Not a house god or national god.

We also believe that the reconciling gospel of Christ calls the church and its people search actively  for cooperation and peace, “even at risk to national security“.

C 67The president’s overtures to North Korea and Russia have given reason to wonder whether perhaps he is following that spirit of The Confession of 1967. But, then, I hear the name calling, the insults, the braggadocio, and remember the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the headache threatens to become a migraine. But I have learned over the years since confirmation class that, though the loudest voices often hold the microphone, there is an inverse relation between loudness and truth, volume and good sense, loud clashing cymbals and the still small Voice that cannot be silenced.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 20, 2018,

 

Elijah at the Airport

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It’s been awhile since Elijah and Grandpa had an online conversation. Although this month-old video isn’t exactly a conversation, Elijah was inviting one. He was at the airport with Kristin, his wonderful mother, waiting to get on the big plane for the flight to Texas. Elijah loves his mom; his mom adores him. And…they’re excited.

While waiting to board the plane, Kristin sends exciting news to Grandma that Elijah is using a spoon! Elijah’s excited, too, but wants to be sure Grandpa’s part of the conversation. He adds a ‘word’ of his own. “Bumpaa?

 

  • Grandpa (Bumpaa) Gordon, August 19, 2018.

 

 

No one owns a woodpecker!

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Pileated Woodpecker

It was only a matter of time. Its girth was huge — much too big to get our arms around. Its top had fallen off. What remained was filled with gaping holes, but still standing at the southwest edge of the land with the cabin by the wetland. 

The tree had stood here decades before we imagined ourselves to be its owners last August. We paid good money to buy the property, including the naked tree that had not yet fallen. It was only a matter of time before it fell. It concerned us that it would topple on someone playing on the back of the yard — Barclay, the canine member of the family, one of the grandchildren, or the grounds-keeper who comes by every three weeks — but not enough to take it down. It continued to stand there with a still attached heavy limb causing it to lean slightly toward he east. It would fall of its own weight or by a lightning strike in due time. 

IMG_1546Tom, the Mennonite grounds-keeper, found the upper parts of the dead tree on the lawn last week while we were away. Its five-feet girth logs now serve as a barrier between the woods and the open space where the cabin sits. There’s no one left to remember how old the tree was, and what remains of it is too rotten to identify the rings. But the fallen tree that once fed the pileated woodpeckers continues to serve the community as a grocery for ground-feeding birds and other animals that feast on the termites and carpenter ants that once drew the woodpeckers.

IMG_1547Property is only a matter of time. No one owns a woodpecker. No one owns an insect!

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, August 16, 2018.

Priming the Pump

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The pump that wouldn’t pump

The outdoor pump at the cabin didn’t work this spring. It worked late last summer when we bought the cabin, but the spigot was bone dry this spring and into the summer. When I shared my tale of woe with the 10:00 AM gathering of Sylvan Shores residents, one of the men asked, “Have you primed the pump?”

City folks know nothing about priming the pump, except for the adage about getting something started. Sometimes, as during days and weeks when a writer has nothing to say, you need to prime the pump by reading or just shushing the distractions to get the water flowing again.

“How do you prime a pump?” I ask. What’s that?” Good natured smiles and laughter break out around the table.

“Well, do you have one well or two wells?”

“Got me,” I said. “All I know is when I pull up the handle, nothing happens. It worked last summer. How do I prime the pump?”

“You gotta pour water down it before the water will come up from the well. Just pour some water down the pump until it’s primed.”

Seemed simple enough. But there was no place on the red pump crank to pour water. Maybe I needed to take the handle mechanism off the top of the pipe in order to pour water into the pump, but it was rusted onto the pipe. The question about two wells led me to wonder.

IMG_1536 I went back to the cabin and took the cap off the well that supplies water to the cabin’s indoor plumbing fixtures. What I found was an electrical system. Wires interconnected and programmed to pump the water from the well into wherever it was programmed to go. Since the well controlled electronically hadn’t been re-programmed, and the outside pump with the red handle wasn’t working, I concluded the pump in the yard had a separate well and that it needed to be primed. Or, perhaps, the hand-pumped well had gone dry over the winter.

Once again, I pumped the red handle up and down repeatedly with the same results. No water to water the shrubs and flowers. We were doomed. This pump wouldn’t prime!

Then Bud and JoAnne dropped by for an altogether unexpected visit. Bud wasn’t supposed to be out and about. He’d been homebound following quadruple by-pass surgery and serious complications that followed it. They hadn’t been at the coffee hour and, so far as I knew, didn’t know the story about my ignorance.

We pulled out a chair in the yard for Bud to sit. I told him about trying to prime the pump. “I don’t think there’s a separate well for that pump,” he said. “I think there’s just one well. Let me try it.”

Bud stood up, took hold of the red handle, and pulled it all the way up, and, like the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness of Meribah, the water gushed from the pump.

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The pump that pumped. No priming needed!

It was a miracle! There’d been no need to prime the pump. I just needed to force the handle all the way up, which I had feared doing lest I break it.

Now the Ninebark and the few flowers we planted are watered between rainfalls, and the miracle of the well that never needed to be pumped gives hope to a writer that one extra tug on the handle can get the water flowing again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the cabin, August 14, 2018.

Remembering the Music Man

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Turning 76 reminds me of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man. Every town loves a parade. What’s a town without a parade? Or a big marching band? The Music Man, Harold Hill, arrives in peaceful little town of River City, and convinces its citizens that “they got troubles”. He’s a con man who sells musical instruments, promising to create the greatest marching band the world has ever seen, led by 76 trombones.

Sound and look familiar? No parades. Please, no parades.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 12, 2018.

The Pied Piper 2018

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Children of my generation learned the story of the Pied Piper. It’s one of those Grimm fairy tales lodged in our brains.

The Pied Piper is a kind of public savior who, during the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages, was freeing the city of Hamlin of the source of the plague that was killing them: rats. Thousands of them followed the music of his flute. But when the city reneged on its agreement to pay him, the Pied Piper led the children out of the city, instead of the rats. Only the irresponsible adults … and the rats were left in the town.

The recent dream of brain surgery shared here on Views from the Edge in which the surgeon was removing a rat from my brain led me to ponder why such a dream would wait until 2018, so many years after I had been freed from the rat-infested house on Church Lane.

Then it occurred to me. Six decades later, I am living again in a rat-infested house. The President charged with protecting the people and its Constitution is a rat, and the rat’s not just out THERE; the rat has gotten inside our heads. Every day. Every night. America is living through a nightmare.

Where is the legitimate Pied Piper who will lead the rats out? More importantly, will the adults care more about their children and the constitutional republic than the rat they confuse with the Pied Piper?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2018.

The Dream of Brain Surgery

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It was just a dream. Or was it?

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‘Josef K.’ in the film rendition of Franz Kafka’s The Trial

It woke me three nights ago, but it won’t go away. Against every conscious attempt to push it away, it is still demanding my full attention.

I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. A surgeon opened my brain and was pulling an animal from the side of my head: a big, brown rat, resisting the surprised surgeon’s efforts, and then another, while the other part of me in the dream watched and cringed. That was it. That was the dream.

From the time I was very young, nothing frightens me as much as a rat. I was five years old when I saw my first rat after the family moved into the 120 year-old house on Church Lane — the one with the open cistern and the huge hole in the basement wall. A rat would scurry across the kitchen floor after leaping from the kitchen cabinet my mother had just opened. At night I could hear the rats moving in the wall next to my bed in the upstairs bedroom. Occasionally a family cat would kill one and offer it to my mother as a present; the sight of the gift sent chills up my mother’s spine as much as if it had been alive. Mom was scared to death of rats. So was I.

The rats I learned to hate were not pet rats or the white rats of laboratory experiments. They were sewer rats who lived in the open cistern with the tunnel to our basement, like the beady-eyed creature that leaped at my father when he blew him out of the opening in the basement wall with a shotgun. I’ll be 76 in a few days, but in my mind, it happened yesterday. 

Which brings me back to the brain surgery dream three nights ago. The pain in my head came from the rat that lived there. The rat wasn’t leaping from a cupboard or scurrying through the walls; it lived inside my head. I was helpless to remove it. It took surgical intervention, and its presence in my head surprised the surgeon as much as the part of me that was observing the procedure.

The rat represents everything I don’t want to be. It’s ugly. It’s dirty. It’s sneaky. It’s vile. It doesn’t operate in the daylight. It does it’s business in the dark of night. And, if you don’t kill it, it may kill you. Even if you shoot it, it will leap for your jugular.

It doesn’t take a Jungian dream interpreter to “get” the symbolism of the rat inside my head. I have been, and still am, my own worst enemy. You can run from the evil inside you, but the guilt remains. Betrayal, deceit, denial, divorce, hiding in kitchen cupboards, scurrying in bedroom walls, living in the cistern beside the house where the human beings live.

I’ve long known the truth of Carl Sandburg’s poem “The Wilderness”: “O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head…”. Like the rest of the human race, I, too, have a wolf in me, and a fox, a hog, a baboon, a fish, an eagle, and a mockingbird in me. But I have an animal not listed in Sandburg’s menagerie. I got a rat inside my bony head.

Childhood fears never die. And, like a former pope who hated his predecessor so much that he became him, if one isn’t careful, one becomes what one fears and hates.

Where is the surgeon who can remove it? What practices can pull the rat from my head and the free me of the horror inside my ribs? Or, is the challenge to live with it the same way I’ve come to terms with the other members of the menagerie of me — to go face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, and, after all these years of running from it, muster the courage to make friends with my own worst enemy?

Rat on a green background

The rats of my childhood disappeared when the opening in the basement wall was closed with brick and mortar and the cistern was filled with concrete. It will take more than bricks and concrete to remove the one in my head, but the process has started, and for that, I’m thankful.

“The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death. I was both the subject and the object in the dream, the self relating to its own self. There is light in the darkness. Hope abounds.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2018.

Walking. Solus, with the Light-House.

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“This light-house, a single firefly illuminating the dark.”

Andrew familyLike the “single firefly” (a family on a front porch) in today’s I Can’t Sleep post, Andrew, Alice, and grandson Calvin are being more natural at the cabin this weekend. I’Il think of them in light of David Kanigan’s commentary (scroll down to read) and The Fireflies that lit up the pitch dark sky above the wilderness cabin almost a month ago.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, August 4, 2018.

It was a week ago. An otherwise unforgettable day, but for a moment, a single firefly with its other worldly bioluminescence, which keeps circling back.

“Do you want a ride home?”

It’s a short walk home from the train station, ~2000 steps. One hour in the quiet car on Metro North didn’t quench it, the thirst for more solitude, more Alone, more decompression. I walk.

The torso leans forward, the feet step one-two-one-two.  Lean forward? A tip from a Youtube fitness coach who explained that it propels you forward. So I lean forward. If he told you to hop on your right foot and rub your stomach round and round with your left hand, you’d do it.

It’s humid. God, it’s Humid. Torso leans forward, thick air pushes back, slowing forward motion. Thunderheads build in the distance.

The neck tie is in my brief case. The slim fit button down…

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Elijah and Barclay’s Ball

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Some things bring a smile. This short clip of Elijah and our dog Barclay playing with Barclay’s ball is one of them. Turn up the volume and smile.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon with Grandma Kay, the movie producer. August 1, 2018

Elijah, the next Andrew Zimmern

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Elijah and his spoon

Elijah has a palate like the host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. It doesn’t discriminate, and he LOVES food. His tastes are far-reaching and wide-ranging. Mexican? Chinese? German? American? French? Escargot or a grub or tasty earthworm from the lawn? It makes no difference.

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Andrew Zimmern

Like Andrew, who, BTW, lives in the same town, Elijah would try it. He loves it all.

The big news is that Elijah is eating with a spoon, as well as his fingers, and he’s proud of it! 

Who cares if he drops a few peas, or some applesauce, or gets a little food in his hair, or shares his spoon with the family dog!

  • Grandpa Gordon (‘Bumpaa’), Chaska, MN, July 31, 2018.

 

Elijah love and joy with Grandma

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There’s love and there’s joy. The two go together. But not always. Sometimes love brings sadness. Likewise, sometimes joy — or, rather, what seems like joy (self-indulgent self-satisfaction — knows nothing of love. We live for the moments when love and joy are joined at the hip.

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Elijah and Grandma joined at the hip

This photo of Elijah and Grandma on the swing serves as a reminder that love and joy really do belong together. Could two people enjoy each other more than Elijah and his Grandma?

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 29, 2018

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

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“[T]here is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion….” The photo and words by Oliver Sacks on David Kerrigan’s post rang a familiar bell this morning. We’re back in ‘civilization’ — far from the stillness and peace of the wetland, the birches, oaks, and pines — but knowing the senses of awe and intrusion of which the writer speaks. Thank you, David, for sharing. Thank you, Oliver. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sunday morning, July 29, 2018.

I find myself walking softly on the rich undergrowth beneath the trees, not wanting to crack a twig, to crush or disturb anything in the least — for there is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion… The beauty of the forest is extraordinary — but “beauty” is too simple a word, for being here is not just an esthetic experience, but one steeped with mystery, and awe… Standing here…I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.

~ Oliver SacksThe Island of the Colorblind


Notes:

  • Quote Source: Brainpickings
  • Photo: Pine trees stand forming a forest near Briesen, Germany, on Thursday. Brandenburg’s forests produce sustainable wood resources of roughly a million cubic meters. (Patrick Pleul, wsj.com, January…

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Elijah and his Cheerios with Grandpa

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Elijah and his truck

14 month-old Elijah 

It’s been a while since Elijah and Grandpa had a conversation on Views from the Edge. Elijah celebrated first birthday in late May, and has had a lot to say to Grandpa (“Bumpaa”). His words continue to cheer me. But it’s his baby Cheerios that bring the greater joy. His actions speak louder than words.

Elijah loves Cheerios! He carries them around the house in a plastic cup, plunges his hand into the cup, and pulls out two or three Cheerios. He loves them almost as much as light sockets, computer wires, and the remote to the television. But, when he eats his Cheerios, no one tells him to stop.

Kay and I been out of town last week, enjoying a lovely week at the cabin in the low 70s with breezes from across the wetland, but we missed the little guy! Yesterday Grandma resumed her Friday routine of caring for Elijah. He ran to Grandma and threw his arms in the air asking her to picked him up before he went back for his cup of Cheerios.

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Elijah and his Cheerios with Bumpaa

When Grandma sent word that Elijah was calling for me — “Bumpaa? Bumpaa ?” — I joined the two of them at Kristin’s apartment. During our time together, Elijah was dipping his hand into the Cheerios. But he wasn’t just feeding himself. He was sharing his Cheerios. One by one, he reached out his hand to place his precious Cheerios into Grandpa’s mouth. He was doing what human beings are meant to do. He was sharing his Cheerios with Bumpaa, and it came naturally, years before he learns the commandment to love his Bumpaa as himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 28, 2018.

Words to Live by in the Twitter Era

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Every day brings a new idea for a T-Shirt. We shared T-Shirt #1 yesterday. We weren’t thinking of a new product line at the time. But this morning another psalmic line caught our eyes and led to the idea of a T-Shirt franchise. We could call it ‘Psalms to Live by in the Twitter Era’ and advertise on Facebook and Twitter. T-Shirt idea #2 reads:

You have loosed your lips for evil,

and harnessed your tongue to a lie. 

(Psalm 50:19)

1*wH41mwA4_K9A6Zr26Pq6_wThen, later this morning, we learned that Twitter’s most prominent tweeter is now accusing Twitter of being biased against conservative Senators and senatorial candidates, which led to a second line of T-shirts: ‘Proverbs to Live by in the Era of DJT’. T-Shirt #1 of Proverbs to Live by in the Era of DJT would read: 

The man of integrity walks securely,

but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

He who winks maliciously causes grief,

and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

(Book of Proverbs 10:9-10)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, where the only chattering and tweeting come from red-wing blackbirds and bluebirds, July 26, 2018.

Ancient wisdom on the art of deception

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Sojourner Truth and President Abraham Lincoln

Monday, after we’d read aloud Psalm 52, Kay proposed we create T-shirts with a simple message: ‘Psalm 52’. She was joking, of course. We’re not the sort to wear our religion on our chests! She had in mind the following lines.

You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness

…all day long?

You plot ruin;

your tongue is like a sharpened razor,

O worker of deception.

You love evil more than good

and lying more than speaking the truth.

You love all words that hurt,

O you deceitful tongue.

O that God would demolish you utterly,

topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling…!

Yesterday we picked up a copy of the latest Star Tribune. The editorial, “Trump practices art of deception,” called Sunday night’s sharpened razor tweet from the White House to Iranian President Rouhani “another alarming distraction to take the spotlight from other news, such as the fiasco in Helsinki…” (Star Tribune, July 24, 2018).

Ancient wisdom is called ‘ancient’ because it’s old. It’s called ‘wisdom’ because it speaks plainly to things that never seem to go away. But you can’t put a whole psalm or an editorial on a T-shirt! The above picture of President Lincoln and Sojourner Truth would get the truth part. But a simple psalm # points to the ongoing tension between truth and the practiced art of deception.

‘PSALM 52!’

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, July 25, 2018

Leave Rage Alone

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Stillness defines life at the cabin. It’s quiet. The only sounds are bird calls. It is this stillness that draws us here by the wetland. But my heart is not still. It’s preoccupied with evil. This morning’s assigned psalm from The Book of Common Worship (BCW) speaks to my condition.

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers…

For they shall soon wither like the grass…

Be still before the LORD…

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,

the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;

do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil. (Ps. 37, BCW)

“Leave rage alone.” 

Last night, after a quiet swim, I put my hearing aids back in, returned to the cabin for dinner, and listened to last Monday’s episode of The Beat, a podcast downloaded from a to Kay’s iPhone by means of WiFi earlier in the day. Back home in Chaska, we watch The Beat with Ari Melber because it suits our outrage over what is happening to America. But listening to the podcast welcomed back the toxic rage I forsake for the quiet beauty of the disconnected cabin on the wetland. It felt like a fatal assault.

1947 Pontiac hearse

Steve Shoemaker’s 1947 Hearse

Midway through the podcast, I removed my hearing aids to distance myself from the sceptic fret of rage. I was swimming in poison. It was the tone of voice that felt like death or a foreign invasion. 

The pond and the wetland are changing every day. So is the world. The Trumpeter Swans that brought such joy a month ago are gone. So are the red-wing blackbirds that earlier had feasted on the cat-n-nine tails. And the grass? Like the cat-n-nine tails, the grass is green and growing again. But the psalm reminds me that the green grass will fade to brown this autumn about the time the Trumpeter Swans return from Canada.

Meanwhile the calendar reminds me to call the company that empties the sceptic tank before it gets full and no longer works.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland, July 19, 2018.

Helsinki Transcript Released

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The following verbatim transcript of President Trump’s and President Putin’s closed meeting in Helsinki was provided to MickeyLeaks by the English-Russian translator at the meeting. 

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Obama: “Get your planes off our border!.” Putin: “Try and stop us, Black Boy!”

Mr. Trump: It’s good to have this time together. Things are tightening up at home. It’s not been a good week.

Mr. Putin: Da! Mueller’s on it, Donald, and that’s not good for either of us. The twelve GRU indictments. Mike Flynn turning on you. I remember very fondly the dinner with Mike. He knew which side buttered his bread. He’s a lot like you, Mr. President.

Mr. Trump: I thought Mike would stay loyal even though I had to fire him.

Mr. Putin: Da! How many times do I have to tell you? Never trust anyone! If you want to be a leader, you have to trust yourself. No one else!

Mr. Trump: My father told me that same thing. Everyone is a potential enemy. We’re not enemies, right, Vladimir?

Mr Putin: Da! We’re very much alike. You speak English; I speak Russian. But we both speak the same language: “Deny, deny. deny; attack, attack, attack; deflect, deflect, deflect”.

Mr. Trump: Language is a funny thing, isn’t it? The media think life’s about reason and logic. That people are convinced by facts and rational arguments. They don’t understand human nature. People are simple. They want short sentences. They want strength. They want certainty, not doubt. That’s what we give them.

Mr. Putin: Da! In Russia it’s easier. We have a legislature but it’s a joke. It’s one thing on paper. It’s another thing in practice, but you’re making progress in the U. S., Donald. Congress has become your rubber stamp.

Donald trump hand

Mr. Trump: I’m getting closer. Or I was. But did you see the television clip of Pompeo and Kelly in Brussels? They rolled their eyes and looked away when I yelled at the guy from NATO. Members of my own cabinet sometimes act like Democrats. They don’t speak up, but they don’t look loyal. I can’t fire everybody.

Mr. Putin: Da! Not a problem in Russia. And you have Mueller. In Russia, there wouldn’t be a problem. There’d just be an accident.

Mr. Trump: The CIA used to do that. Just like the KGB. You were KGB, and you have the GRU to do your dirty work. I only have the CIA and the FBI. And now I have Cohen and Roger Stone to worry about. If Michael and Roger flip, I’m toast, Vladimir.

Mr. Putin: Da! But not so much to worry, Donald. Julian’s already talked to Roger. He won’t flip. He knows Mother Russia will always welcome its friends. If you’re impeached, or if you resign because they’re getting too close to the truth, do not be anxious. Look what I did for Eric Snowden. If I did it for him, I can do it for you. I’ll grant you asylum…and then citizenship. There’ll be no extradition. The Russian people love you, Donald. You can build Trump Tower in Moscow. In the meantime, before Mueller releases his report, transfer all your personal wealth and business assets from the United States to Russian.

Mr. Trump: What about the press conference? We’re going out there in ten minutes. We have to get our stories straight. The press is waiting. They’re hungry for fake news. How do we handle the press conference?

Mr. Putin: Not to worry. You’re a showman. We’re friends. We show them we’re friends. You speak English. I’ll speak Russian. They think we need a translator. But you and I won’t need a translator. Only we will know we’re speaking the same language: “Deny, deny. deny; attack, attack, attack; deflect, deflect, deflect”. Remember, people love the strong man. People love friendship! People love FaceBook! Most people couldn’t care less about elections. They want us to be friends.

  • MickeyLeaks, Helsinki, Finland, July 18, 2018

 

A Case of Mistaken Identity

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Sixty years ago I learned to speak inclusively of God. God is not a He any more than He’s a She. God is beyond gender. Or, as Paul Tillich, described it, the Ground-of-Being, or Being-Itself, includes male and female and is beyond male and female. Since being awakened to the danger of gender-specific religious language, I’ve done my best to shed the male pronouns  and images on which I was raised. 

But there has been a sense of loss that has been harder to define — a less immediate, less intimate, more distant relationship in prayer and meditation. As I have come to reflect on it over the years, other things also have troubled me, not the least of which is my haughtiness, my sense of superiority to those who still use the old pronouns. More than that, however, has been a re-examination of the nature of religious language. Is some religious language good and others bad; some enlightened and others unenlightened; one right and another wrong?

And what to do with the old biblical chestnuts: “The Lord is my shepherd…He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23)? 

Then, several months ago, along came a publisher’s invitation to endorse William G. Britton’s Wisdom from the Margin: Daily Readings, that includes voices from a wider spectrum of religious language than the circle in which I live. Britton’s collection includes writers who speak of He and Him. Names like Dallas Willard, Paul Pearsall, and Peter Scazzero are new to me. Others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Kathleen Norris, and Thomas Merton are part of my daily bread, but even excerpts from their writings remind me that they were not as cautious as I in their language for God. They understood that the genre of prayer is psalmic poetry, the language of the heart. “He leadeth me… beyond the closed circles of righteousness.”

In what turned out to be the book’s only endorsement, I wrote:

Wisdom from the Margins is what it says it is. It’s that rare collection of readings from the wisest voices, like a menu of gourmet small bites in the quick-fix fast food world where wisdom is made homeless. Each small bite will stay with you throughout the day. If the current American religious landscape is giving you a stomach ache, Wisdom from the Margins is for you.

The publisher mistakenly attributed the endorsement to “Gordon Stewart, producer and co-host of ‘Lug Nutzz Radio’”. Click Gordon ‘Lug Nutzz’ Stewart for the mistaken identity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, July 18, 2018

To Preserve, Protect, and Defend

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The day a former Director of the CIA publicly declares that a U. S. president’s behavior constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” and calls it “treasonous” is not just another day in American politics. John Brennan’s tweet ended with the question for those who continue to support the president: “Where are you?” 

It is a question for every U. S. Senator and Congressional Representative who assumed their positions after taking the Congressional oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The president’s oath is a bit different. I do solemnly swear…. to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Although it seems unlikely that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison imagined a future president of the new constitutional republic acting as the nation’s domestic enemy, the framers of the U. S. Constitution were cautious about human nature. They were neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They were realists. They included provisions for Congress to remove a president from office. 

Which is why John Brennan asks members of Congress, “Where are you?” It’s one thing to wait for the report of the Special Counsel on Russian interference in a U. S. election; it’s another to ignore the president’s joint press conference with the leader of the country accused of interfering in the 2016 election. 

Following a private two hour one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, Donald J. Trump preferred Mr. Putin’s denial of Russian interference to his own Department of Justice latest indictments of twelve Russian intelligence officers for covert operations to influence the 2016 election. The president who took the oath of office to defend and protect the U. S. Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic, had chosen to take his stand against his own government.

For a former CIA director to take the spotlight runs counter to the low-profile culture of the CIA.  John Brennan is not a partisan. His question “Where are you?” will be answered in the weeks to come, as will the other questions: “What will you call it?” and “What — or whom — will you faithfully support and defend?”

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Betsy Ross are listening.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, July 17, 2018.

Remember me according to …

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Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner’s invitation to “listen to your life” is wise counsel any day, but especially the day after a jarring dream has screamed about what the psalmist called “the sins of my youth.” 

The psalmist was lucky. The sins for which he prayed for release happened in his youth; mine are the less innocent ones of adulthood. But the final plea is the same: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to Your love, and for the sake of Your goodness…” (Psalm 25:6).

Dreams have a different way of remembering. They have a logic of their own, a logic of the unconscious fetching from the hidden reservoir of past experience the guilts and griefs we sought to drown from conscious awareness. Dreams remind us that nothing is lost. Sometimes a dream is its own kind of prayer — the Spirit bearing witness within our spirits; a kind of holy groaning — to be remembered “according to Your love, and for the sake of Your goodness” rather than according to our sins and transgressions.

FranzKafka

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka wrote in a letter to his father, “Life is more than a Chinese puzzle.” Kafka knew that life is at least that — a perplexing puzzle. The pieces of one’s life are hard to fit together into a cohesive whole, perhaps because some of them have shapes and sharp edges we can’t remember or refuse to recognize.

Sometimes these pieces appear in a dream according to a different logic of the deeper listening that remembers us according to a Goodness greater than our own. Only by such grace could the psalmist imagine the recovery of integrity, i.e., the re-integration of the disparate parts of his life history: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in You” (Psalm 25:20).

“Listen to your life…because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace” (Frederick Buechner, Now and Then).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, July 16, 2018.

Fred Was Right

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A father sometimes knows his son better than his son knows himself. Occasionally — but rarely — he knows him better than the boy’s mother. Parental conversations leading to decisions about a troubled child’s welfare are private. But the outcomes of  decisions are sometimes a matter of public record.

Mary_Anne_Trump

Mary Anne

Imagine, for instance, a conversation between Fred and Mary Anne about their difficult son whose behavior at school was bringing shame to the family name. Mary Anne, a Scottish-born immigrant raised in a small fishing village on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Lewis, was aghast at her son’s rude behavior.

A product of her Scottish Presbyterian heritage, Mary Anne had a high sense of right and wrong, and a low sense of human nature — and of the British crown. “Fred,” she said, “I don’t like the Queen! Donald thinks he’s a king! I don’t like that! I didn’t raise my son to be a Brit, let alone a monarch!”

“Mary,” said Fred, “it is troubling and he’s troubled. He needs discipline. He needs boundaries. If we don’t act soon, he’ll be sent off to reform school by the end of the year.”

“Fred, if your strict discipline here at home hasn’t reformed him,” said Mary, ”a reform school won’t do any better. I think we need to think outside the box. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of his insults, and the faces he makes. He makes fun my work with kids who have cerebral palsy and adults with intellectual disabilities. They’re not ‘crips’ and ‘morons’! And I’m not ‘illegal’. He thinks he’s the Queen! If you don’t agree with him, you’re just a Scot from the Outer Hebrides, a chamber maid working in his palace.”

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“Well, dear, it’s hard to remember that you were working as a maid when we met at the dance. Donald knows right where to get you. He knows your Achilles heel. He’s taken that ability with him to school and that’s what’s getting him in trouble: finding people’s sore points, their weaknesses, and calling them names. The only times he responds to my discipline is when I call him a name.”

“Like what, Fred? I can’t hear your conversations from the kitchen.”

“I hesitate to tell you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings more than he’s already hurt them. I’ve tried different names. Some work; some don’t. I thought calling him ‘Adolf’ or ‘Benedetto’ might get to him, but he didn’t take it as an insult. He’s a chip off the old block. He likes being strong like Hitler and Mussolini. But he hates it when I call him ‘Scottie’! He thinks Scots are sissies — crossdressers, running around in tartan kilt and knee socks. Sorry to say, dear. He’s not proud to be a MacLeod.”

“That breaks my heart, Fred. I know he doesn’t respect me. He treats me like dirt. He treats me the same way he bullies vulnerable kids at school.

“There’s only one answer I can see, Mary. A military academy. I put in a call to New York Military Academy this morning. They’ve agreed to take him on probation on condition that we not interfere with their discipline. We can visit once a month on the weekend and take him to church.”

“He doesn’t like church, Fred. He hated confirmation class. He says church is for losers.”

512px-Norman_Vincent_Peale_NYWTS

Norman Vincent Peale

“I know. We won’t take him back to First Pres. The neighborhood is changing. I’ll take him into Manhattan to hear Norman Vincent Peale. We’re dealing with some hard facts, Mary. So is Donald. He needs some positive thinking. Like Dr. Peale says, ‘Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you 

“Norman Vincent Peale is President Eisenhower’s favorite preacher, Mary. Who knows? If someone like Donald learns to face facts by thinking positively about himself, he could become president.”

“God forbid, Fred! How could we have raised a son like that?”

Years later, the son returned to Scotland. Over dinner he paid tribute to his mother at the Turnberry Hotel of his Turnberry Golf Club.

“Her loyalty to Scotland was incredible,” he said. “She respected and loved the Queen.”

Trump_Turnberry_Hotel_-_geograph.org.uk_-_5273443

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 11, 2018.

 

Fireworks and a Fifth on the Fourth

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This Fourth of July we retreated from the parades and fireworks to the wilderness cabin by the wetland. Although the trumpeter swans left several weeks ago, heading north to Canada for friendlier, cooler climes, the loons and hooded mergansers are still our nearest neighbors — along with the newest arrivals: Yellowjackets!

Last night was quiet. The only sounds were the bull frogs, the loon calls and the faint rustling of the aspen leaves heard through the screen doors and windows. The only light came from the soft rays of the setting sun. It was peaceful. Quiet. Natural. Until the sun went down and the sound and flashes of firecrackers from distant neighbors preferring a noisy celebration of bombs bursting in air lit up, and echoed across, the wetland from afar.

As we were wondering how the loons and mergansers were managing the Fourth of July, we turned on the lights inside the cabin, and were joined by a Yellowjacket that had made its way through the screens that protect us from unwanted neighbors. While the fireworks exploded and flashed outside, the Yellowjacket was drawn to the reading light next to my chair. Reaching for the flyswatter, I took a swipe but missed, and then another before losing sight of the invader. Until, wham! I felt the sting through my shirt!

Suddenly I wished I had a Fifth on the Fourth!

Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, the Fifth of July, 2018.

Memories (Dennis Aubrey)

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Dennis Aubrey’s writing is as fine as his photography, fathoming the depth and height of the human experience. This Via Lucis piece on the power and complexity of memory shouted out to be shared on Views from the Edge.

Via Lucis Photography

Recognizing truth is a matter of experience because it involves distinguishing the real from the illusory. Experience itself is a product of memory. And memory is even more complex than truth. And so the pattern gets more multi-faceted the deeper we look, like one of Mandlebrot’s mathematical phantasms. What appears at first simple becomes infinitely complicated and intricate.

Side aisle, Basilique Saint Remi, Reims (Marne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Some memories we remember as dreams, in the present tense; others as historical phenomena that stay safely in the past. Some memories carry their meaning with them. Others mean something because of their relationship with something that occurred in the past. Others depend on the future to reveal their significance. This is the web that is woven back and forth, across and through time.

North side aisle, Eglise Saint-Étienne, Vignory (Haute-Marne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Some memories lie dormant until something…

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The Whopper at the Burger King

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A friendly young man at the Burger King — I don’t eat Whoppers; I drive to the Burger King in rural Minnesota for the free WiFi — draws my attention. “What’s going on?” he asks, staring at the television monitor behind me and my MacBook Air. I assume he is responding to the breaking news I’d heard moments before on the drive from the cabin to the Burger King — the shooting of journalists in the office of an Annapolis newspaper. He is. He shakes his head; I shake mine. Then the words spill out. “I guess this is what happens when the press is targeted as public enemy number one.” He shakes his head again and walks away.

MARYLAND NEWSPAPER SHOOTINGA few minutes later he returns to speak his support for the Second Amendment and the president. “All this gun stuff . . . we’ve always had guns in school and stuff, only now the media’s making a big deal of it. They’re blowing it up.”

We’re coming up on July 4th weekend. Celebrating the nation’s independence feels different this year. America is different. It’s the First Amendment that is at risk, not the Second.

The free press, sometimes called “The Fourth Estate” — the people’s independent watchdog of government — has saved us from our worst selves many times. It was the Fourth Estate that brought into our living rooms Edward R. Murrow’s report that stopped Senator Joseph McCarthy’s pernicious attacks on the integrity of American citizens whose political stripe wasn’t his. It was the Fourth Estate’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers that exposed the dirty secrets behind the Vietnam War, leading Lyndon Baines Johnson to become a one-term president. It was the Washington Post’s publication of Woodward and Burnstein’s investigative report on the Nixon administration’s break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that led to the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon.

CapTimesThe Fourth Estate exists as the instrument of the people to hold accountable those we elect, and the government agencies they are responsible to oversee on the people’s behalf. The First Estate (the executive branch) and the Second Estate (the legislative branch) have often been critical of the Fourth Estate. Because the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press from state control, the Third Estate (the judicial branch) has protected it from the other two branches of government. The Supreme Court has been the court of last resort to protect free speech from Presidents and other elected officials have been wary of it.

There is a world of difference between wariness and assault. The current occupant of the Oval Office has used the nation’s Bully Pulpit to stir up good people like the guy at the Burger King to believe the minority party, once referred to as the “loyal opposition,” is out to destroy their freedom under the Second Amendment. Public perception has been altered. The public enemy no longer is communism, as it was in the McCarthy period. The target is much more in clear public view: the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS. Every member of the Fourth Estate except FOX News and — who would ever have imagined it? — The National Enquirer. Joe McCarthy is smiling.

Hope-Despair-Public-Domain

A civil society has quickly become less civil. The Bully Pulpit we once expected to give voice to the unity that underlies our pluralism (e pluribus unum); appeal to “the better angels of our nature” (Lincoln); respect the public and private institutions that make us who we are; and mourn tragic events such as today’s shooting in Annapolis, is used to create the public perception that the president’s critics are America’s enemies. This is an abrupt departure from the commonly accepted norms and expectations for civil discourse on which I remember being raised.

Increasingly, we tend to shout in anger or fall silent. Between the anger and the silence stands a chasm of despair. To some, America is becoming great again. To others, America in 2018, feels more like the aftermath of a coup d’état than a moment of celebration.

1*wH41mwA4_K9A6Zr26Pq6_wThe young man at the Burger King was an adolescent when Donald Trump funded the Birther movement alleging that Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was illegitimate, a charge not based in fact, “faux” news that stirred the latent fear of poor white Americans to believe President Obama was out to take away their rights. Long before the Electoral College elected him President, Donald Trump had a bully pulpit of his own, and he bullied many into believing the lies about the need to rescue the country from the alleged black Muslim socialist who wanted to take away our guns —until the day he suddenly declared, without apology for his error, that President Obama had been born in the U.S.A, as though the Oracle of truth had spoken definitively — years after his false claim movement had accomplished its aim.

Earlier today, before news of the shooting of journalists in Annapolis, the free press informed the American public of U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire, leaving the vacancy on the Court for the President to nominate and the Republican Congress to give, or withhold, its consent and confirmation. The Founders’ intention of a nonpartisan, independent Third Estate — the necessary third leg of the stool of checks and balances that make for the American democratic republic — was idealistic, to be sure, but an independent judiciary is essential to the architecture of the U.S Constitution.

As we prepare for this Fourth of July observance, we do well to remember the architecture meant to preserve the nation by means of legislative and judicial boundaries that put constrain a bully from running away with the country. Doing my best to be hopeful, I still wonder: can a Whopper accomplish a coup d’état without bloodshed — within the architecture of the American democratic republic?

The Fourth of July 2018 celebration goes down hard. Hold the onions!

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the Burger King

A Clear and Present Danger

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We Americans are living in the face of evil. I do not speak easily of ‘evil’. Even now, I hesitate using the word.

But I can find no better word to describe what I hear in the tone of voice and the language that distorts truth, idolizes the nation, insults neighbors and allies, reveres the strong men of North Korea and Russia, presents himself as superior to all his predecessors, withdraws from multinational peacemaking and climate accords, divides the world into winners and losers, refuses to criticize white supremacists, separates poor children of color from their parents at the border, demonizes his adversaries, puts an anti-Semitic preacher from the farthest edge of the religious right on the world stage to represent the American people at the dedication of the U. S. embassy’s re-location to Jerusalem, and does it all in the name of making America secure and great again.

In Christian theology, evil has no standing of its own. It is the twisting of the good, the warping of truth, the abandonment of self-knowledge, the rebellion against accountability, the transfer of free-floating anxiety onto an object of fear that can be defeated, and the illusion of the power of the strong man’s to rescue the good.
Th strong man is the opposite of the preacher from Nazareth who lifted up the poor, the meek, the mourning, the leper, the alien, the foreigner, the religiously different (the ‘good’ Samaritan), declaring that the kingdom of God belongs to them, not to the rich, the proud, the well, the patriots, the people of his religion.

How a disciple of Jesus hears the voice of Jesus in the voice of the strong man is a puzzle whose pieces remain hidden until they are exposed for review. Promotion of the good includes the unmasking of evil, the wisdom to discern when the good is turned upside down, and when truth is twisted by the serpent’s trickery.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is the cry from the pews of most every Christian church across the world, the echo of the prayer the soon to be crucified Jesus taught his disciples. Tempted to surrender better selves into the hands of evil, how does a disciple of Jesus manage to salute the strong man in the Oval Office and the party that obeys his will? Every day, I scratch my head, but also try to remember.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, June 27, 2018.

Long before the children were separated

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He will look with favor on the prayers of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea. (Ps. 102:17)

It was the psalmist who said it (Psalm 102:17). Not the New York Times or the Washington Post. Long before the children were separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

I lie awake and groan:

I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. (Ps. 102:7)

The loneliness is known. Expressed. Likened to a small bird alone on some else’s house-top. The plight is seen from the place above every house-top. The groans of the captive are heard on high.

The LORD looked down from his holy place on high;

from the heavens he beheld the earth;

that he might hear the groan of the captive,

and set free those condemned to die… (Ps. 102:19-20)

The voice from the holy place on high echoes among the people who had forgotten who they are. The partisan and the complacent hear the children crying in the Pit of cruelty. They remember their better selves. Because of a national outcry across party lines the separation policy that began six weeks ago comes to a sudden end with an overdue stroke of a pen.

He redeems your life from the Pit;

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness. (Ps. 103:4)

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

Families will no longer be separated at the Mexican border. But 2,300-plus children who have been separated from their parents remain at-large, their identities and whereabouts unknown. Their plight makes America less again.

Every day I turn to psalms for sanity.

Gordon C. Stewart, June 22, 2018

White Privilege

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Trumpeter Swans
know nothing of
white privilege

White is what they are
down under and above
the down

Except for beaks
as black as ebony
on ivory

Their trumpet calls
are not the honks
of honky privilege

Proud cobs and pens
teach their cygnets
that down is up

With no guile or sneer
at loons and redwing
blackbirds

Ebony and ivory
nesting on the marsh
they share

Beyond the gates
where honkies honk
of privilege

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, loons, and redwing blackbirds, June 21, 2018

Four Tubes in a Wind Chime

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Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

– Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Four old friends — we call ourselves the Old Dogs — descended last week on the Minnesota cabin by the wetland for our annual Gathering. The lyrics and recorded voice of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” became the focal point for reflection one week ago tonight. 

We gave up the illusion of a perfect offering years ago, though a stifled striving for it continues just the same. The “perfect offering” has gone underground where the sirens of perfection hide when those they’ve beckoned plug their ears to block the torment of lost ideals and shattered aspirations. None of us occupies a pulpit any longer, and the folks whose hands we once shook at the church door are shaking other hands where we once stood. Any dream of a perfect offering was cracked a long time ago, and it was the crack in our respective egos that let the light come in. 

Old Dogs from Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota know there’s a crack in everything, and we know we never were what we were cracked up to be. We’re not so sure the bells still can ring. Much of the social progress we worked for during five decades of ministry is being overturned. The separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border; the insults of neighboring nations and traditional allies; the admiration for Vladimir Putin; the twisting of fact and disregard for truth; the “fake news” war of words against the American Fourth Estate; the blatant encouragement of white supremacist movements; the shifting of blame to the opposing party and past administrations for present policies and actions; the resurgence of the Christian right and American exceptionalism, and so much more gave worn us down, leaving us wondering whether it makes any difference to still ring the bell.

Leonard Cohen’s gravely voice fills the cabin by the wilderness wetland.

We asked for signs

The signs were sent

The birth betrayed

The marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

Of every government

Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more

With the lawless crowd

While the killers in high places

Say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

A thundercloud

And they’re going to hear from me

Leonard Cohen’s’ “Anthem” brought a sliver of light into The Gathering of Old Dogs. Leonard’s gone, of course, without his suit — gone home without his burden behind the curtain without the costume that he wore — but we heard his voice deep and drear and true — like a wind chime rung by a breeze from the far side of the wetland. Then came the thundercloud summoning the weary to ring the bells again while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud.

I love to speak of Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him

Even though it isn’t welcome

He just doesn’t have the freedom

To refuse.

– Leonard Cohen, “Going Home”

Four lazy bastards depart for separate states to ring the bells anew — four tubes of a larger wind chime.

– Gordon C. Stewart on the Minnesota wetland, June 20, 2018

You’re reading from MY book!

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Six trumpeter swan cygnets (babies) have joined their parents on the pond next to the cabin by the wetland. Their family is intact. It’s as beautiful to behold as separating children is ugly. The swans are lucky. So am I.

IMG_9456The cabin by the wetland is a place of privilege. There are no other humans here. But the news has a way of following me to this natural sanctuary that invites a deeper silence. The world doesn’t need another political honker, I tell myself. But my head hurts keeping inside me the need to cry out against cruelty, dishonesty, and bad religion in the nation’s capitol.

I respond to Attorney General Sessions’ twisting of the Bible (Romans 13) the way Jewish comedian Lewis Black responded to Christian televangelists who pretend to know the Jewish Bible: “You’re reading from MY book! If you want to know about MY book, ask a Jew, and he will tell you! You Christians don’t see one of my guys reading YOUR book (i.e. the New Testament) and telling you what it means. Do you?”

Like Lewis Black, I’m not big on televangelists who misuse the Hebrew Bible. I’m even less fond of institutional powers and authorities that use MY book, the New Testament, to justify a policy that is beyond justification.

Romans 13 commends to its first century C.E. readers a proper respect for the civil order represented by the office of the emperor. But it is respect for the office, not its occupant, and not an endorsement of illegitimate uses of the office, nor of unjust laws promulgated by the civil authorities. To presume otherwise, as Mr. Sessions does, ignores the location from which the Letter to the Romans was written and why its author was there. Paul was in jail. Paul was a prisoner of conscience.

The current U.S. Administration’s abuse of Holy Scripture hurts my ears, even on the wetland. If you’re going to use Romans 13, continue to read beyond what you claim supports your argument. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves the neighbor has fulfilled the law. … The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13: 8-10). A thoughtful reader of the letter penned from a Roman jail cell might conclude that it was Saul of Tarsus (Paul), who gave Cornel West his definition of justice: “Justice is love made public”.

Love made public does not separate children from their parents. Love doesn’t do it anywhere in any century. Cruelty does. Fascism does. Hypocrisy does. White privilege does. National idolatry does. Willful religious ignorance does.

Before you site MY book as your authorization for cruelty, zoom in on the scene of Jesus’ rebuke of his mistaken disciples:

“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Gospel of Mark 10:14-16).

jesus-weptImagine Jesus taking the children on his knee again — the loving, crucified Jesus —in an ICE detention center on the Mexican border. Or buy yourself a ticket to the Minnesota wetland to spend a day with the trumpeter swans who do better than we at caring for children.

—  Gordon C. Stewart with the trumpeter swans on the wetland beyond our boundaries, June 20, 2018.

 

The Fireflies

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No unnatural light disturbs the night here by the wetland. The night in this sacred wilderness is pitch dark. But last night the lights were everywhere. Click HERE for photos of fireflies, aka, lightning bugs.

THE DANCE OF FIREFLIES

Children frolic to catch you
in midair as you light up
backyards before bedtime
to watch you blink and glitter
in our peanut butter jars
until your little lights go out.

Grown-up children wake at night
in need of different jars and
by fate or chance catch
through the window a glimpse
of your midnight dance and glitter
on the wetland beyond all jars.

And children on canes and walkers
watch and wonder why we
with such little jars once sought
to capture you and make ours
the dance of fireflies that glitter
before and after our lights go out.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at The Pea Pod with the sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, herons, loons, redwing blackbirds — and fireflies. June 11, 2018.

 

Tribute to Slowness

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Toronto_Star_paperboy_Whitby

Earlier we published “Reflections of a Paper Boy” by 78 yr. old John Miller who still delivers newspapers as he did when he became a paper boy way back when.

John’s reflections struck me as evidence that it’s a good thing a human lifespan is short. No one wants to hear another lament about “the way it was when I was a kid.”

Like my old friend, John, I’m getting long in the tooth. I’m not as quick as I used to be. Much of what I once did I can no longer do.  I no longer wear the catcher’s mask, and i couldn’t make the throw back to the pitcher, let alone to second base to catch a base-stealer. My body won’t cooperate. And the mind? Oh yes, the mind. Never mind!

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William Sloane Coffin memorial photo

But slowing down has its advantages. Civil rights and peace movement leader William Sloan Coffin. Jr. observed toward the end of his life,

“I find I am less intentional and much more attentional.”

Click HERE for information on Bill Coffin, one of the great spiritual and moral leaders of our time.

‘Attentional’ isn’t in the dictionary but it should be. Paying attention means being where you really are — a very specific place like no other — right now –– not future or past. Attentiveness to mortal things like place and time is soul food for the speed-sick mortal. The slowness of delivering newspapers on a bicycle or on foot seems good for the soul.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 20, 2018.

 

Trump Cabinet invokes 25th Amendment

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25th_imageViews from the Edge published this tongue-in-cheek “news release” in January. It was a spoof. We were a little early, but can anyone suppose that the Trump administration author of the NYT op-ed doesn’t know the difference between a tactics and strategy? Published on the heels of Bob Woodward’s FEAR is a tactic that prepares the American public for what’s coming: the Trump cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. Here’s the spoof we published in January at the time of the president’s medical exam.

NEWS RELEASE

The Dissociative Press
January 7, 2018

Today White House Chief of Staff John Kelly announced the decision of the Trump Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove President Donald J. Trump from office.

The decision to begin the process of removal from office follows the Cabinet members’ review of the report of the president’s medical examination by an Army physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, a report and decision that move the country closer to  a constitutional crisis.

While the Cabinet was acting on the Army physician’s conclusive medical findings of a personality disorder, rapidly progressing early dementia and other evidence of cognitive impairment, President Trump sent out a series of tweets calling the Walter Reed report a conspiracy by the military, the FBI, and the CIA, the equivalent of a military coup, and declaring he will not leave office under any circumstances.

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Mr. Trump immediately fired Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Generals at the center of what Mr. Trump called the military establishment, declaring that the Generals had ordered the Army physician to issue the faux report. Moments later Mr. Trump fired his lawyer and his entire Cabinet with the exception of Attorney General Jeff Session, who had abstained during the 25th Amendment vote, citing potential conflict of interest. Vice President Pence was out of the country for the week.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly called a 10:00 A.M. news conference but was escorted off the White House grounds at 9:31 A.M. by members of the Secret Service. Loyal to the President, Ms. Sanders met White House correspondents on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the gates to the White House property while the President continued to tweet from the White House living quarters to which he and the First Lady had retreated.

Ms. Sanders confirmed Mr. Trump’s assertion that the medical report is a hoax, arguing that the president had reluctantly yielded to General Kelly’s insistence that the medical examination be done at Walter Reed rather than by Mr. Trump’s long-time personal physician to avoid any public perception of a fraudulent report. Ms. Sanders drew the White House correspondents’ attention to Mr. Trump’s 9:47 A.M. re-tweet from his personal physician in New York declaring full confidence in Mr. Trump’s mental competence. “Donald Trump is the sanest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “He’s a genius, and a very stable one, at that.”

A further incoming tweet at 10:07 A.M. quoting First Lady Melania Trump interrupted Ms. Sander’s remarks, which Ms. Sanders read aloud to the press corps:

“I am a political prisoner. Politics is nothing but a cops and robbers game. I know dirty things. I saw dirty things. I am not going to stand for all those dirty tricks that go on. I am sick and tired of the whole operation.They threw me down on the bed, five men, and stuck a needle in my behind. A doctor stitched my fingers after the battle with five guards.”

martha_mitchellHearing Ms. Sanders read aloud the words alleged to have come from the First Lady, a member of the press whose White House coverage dates back to the Nixon Administration opined that the First Lady’s words sounded vaguely familiar before realizing the tweet was a verbatim quotation from Martha Mitchell, wife of the Nixon Administration Attorney General John Mitchell, claiming she had been kidnapped.

“It’s a hoax,” said the White House Correspondent. “Those aren’t the words of the Mrs. Trump. They are the words of Martha Mitchell during the Nixon Administration. The tweet is plagiarism!”

Ms. Sanders replied that she had no idea who Martha Mitchell was, that she wasn’t even born until eight years after Nixon resigned, and that the reporter was making stuff up to cover up the faux medical exam and the coup taking place inside the White House. She ended the conference by calling on President Trump’s supporters to take to the streets in defense of the Constitution and the greatest president ever to serve the country.

220px-Charlottesville_Unite_the_Right_Rally_(35780274914)Within minutes the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was crowded with arm-to-arm Trump supporters carrying guns and signs with photos of the President’s personal physician, Dr. Strangeglove, and the confederate flag, calling for the resumption of the revolution to Make America Great Again that had been delayled in Charlottesville.

  • Gordon Stewart reporting for Dissociative Press, Jan. 7, 2018.

T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long week. (Beyond Comprehension…)

87 Elephants Slaughtered in One of the Largest Poaching Incidents in Africa (Sept 3, 2018, LiveScience.com)


(Photo via Newthom)

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