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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

fred_trump_ap_605_605

“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.

 

FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

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“Not only is it cruel and unAmerican – the federal policy of separating children from their immigrant, asylum seeking parents — it’s a basic cause of future mental disorders that affect not only the victim. It’s the perfect situation to create attachment disorder.

via FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

  • Thanks to Mona Gustafson Affinito, clinical psychiatrist; Professor Emerita, Southern Connecticut State University, for bringing this to light.

A Uniquely Grateful Graduate

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Some people’s stories are priceless. Austin Wu’s is one of those. Austin shared his last night at Chaska High School’s commencement.

Austin is a neighbor and friend recognized in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, published in 2017. He will begin his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in September.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 9, 2018.

Wilbur and the New Neighbors

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We have new neighbors.

They poked their heads up from under the deck outside the screen door of the a-frame. Woodchuck (groundhog) pups making themselves at home.

woodchucks

Woodchucks at the cabin

It was Groundhog day all over again at the cabin. Years before we inhabited the place, a woodchuck had decided to come inside the cabin. The humans were away when Wilbur  — we’ll call him Wilbur — abandoned the family under the deck to settle more comfortably inside the cabin. Maybe Wilber needed to get away awhile.

Kay and I come to the cabin to get away. Now we want to get away from the woodchucks — or have Wilbur and his family taken far away from us in traps baited with luscious carrots, fresh lettuce, celery, and other yummies that doesn’t grow naturally here along the marsh’s edge.

The pups are kind of cute, in a non-dog kind of way, if you love all Nature. “Something there is that loves a [woodchuck],” wrote Robert Frost one night, revising his “Mending Wall” poem when three woodchuck pups after he’d had too much wine. Or maybe Frost had just read Psalm 50, as I did this morning, the day after the pups introduced themselves to Kay: “All the beasts of the forest are mine…. I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures under your deck are in my sight” (Psalm 50:10-11).

Many years ago a woodchuck was eating all the lettuce in the Broomall Nursing Home garden up the street from my boyhood home on Church Lane. When Wade, the nursing home caretaker, complained about the disappearing lettuce, two excited eight year-olds decided to become the good stewards of Wade’s garden. With Wade’s help, Ted Bonsall and I built a box trap of wood and hardware wire, and caught the woodchuck. But, hey, what do you do with the woodchuck you just removed from the nursing home garden? Ted and I were advanced planners, we had built a large cage of wood and chicken wire in the backyard. Having succeeded as trappers, we turned the woodchuck loose from the box-trap into the large cage loaded with carrots, broccoli, and lettuce. The next morning, the cage was empty!

There’s a reason they call a woodchuck a woodchuck. It had gnawed through the wood and the chicken wire on its way to freedom, relieving us of having to answer the bigger question of what to do with a woodchuck when the snow starts falling. The woodchuck got away from us before we wanted to get away from it.

Sixty-seven years later, I wonder whether the Wilbur in Minnesota ever made a prison break in Pennsylvania.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, northern Minnesota, June 8, 2018.

She makes me content

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IMG_9456

The marsh in northern Minnesota

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays offer the perfect complement to the sights and sounds of the marsh at dawn. Like his contemporary Henry David Thoreau, Emerson expressed a profound reverence for Nature. His eyes and ears were tuned differently. Emerson’s essay “Nature” helps interpret my experience by the marsh here in northern Minnesota. It provides spiritual context to the breaking of the day.

He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves, to back their faulty personality with these strong accessories.

Like Thoreau writing at Walden Pond, Emerson invites the common man and woman to rouse from our confusion of wealth with royalty. Emerson wrote, “When the rich tax the poor with servility and obsequiousness, they should consider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! If the rich were rich as the poor fancy riches!”

The public mind does a very strange thing. While despising the one percent who disdain the poor and steal the worker’s wages, something in us aspires to be among them. We envy their Mara-Largo’s and penthouses. We want to be the ones who hire and fire. Emerson stripped away the illusion that the rich are truly rich.

Yet, despite his praise of Nature, Emerson continued to believe that we humans stand atop Nature’s pyramid as the exceptional species. In this time of climate departure, I part ways with him and turn more toward Thoreau.

Thoreau gets closer to how I feel at the Walden Pond-like site next to the wetland. I’m glad to get away awhile to be among the trumpeter swans, wood ducks, loons, hooded mergansers, great blue herons, and redwing blackbirds.

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

Narcissus has no place here. No “faulty personality” but my own. The trumpets are the swans’. I think I just saw a daffodil bloom where Narcissus once knelt! “[Nature] makes me content.”

narcissus-flower

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 30, 2018

 

 

My Father’s Voice

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I lied. I can’t keep quiet! One more post — a follow-up to “Memorial Day 2018” — before retreating to the north woods.

Dad on board ship

Rev. Kenneth Campbell Stewart, my father the chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, World War II.

My father was the Army Air Force Chaplain leading worship for the troops on board ship on their way to the South Pacific in World War II. Dad is buried in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Pennsylvania.

He was honored with a 21 gun salute, which, years later, I blamed for my hearing loss.
“Have you worked around loud noises? You have the ears of a forty-five year-old jack hammer operator,” said the audiologist. “No,” I said, “my mother’s deaf as a post.”

But my mother and I did listen to Dad’s preaching after he returned from the war. His words were soft-spoken. Peaceful and comforting. But there were times when his words from the pulpit afflicted the comfortable and rattled the saber-rattlers who glorified war and militarism. He preached the gospel, and, because he did and I heard it, I chose to follow in his footsteps. I chose to preach the gospel.

On Memorial Day 2018 on my way to the Minnesota wetland, I hear the echo of Taps from a bugler at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and remember Dad and the fallen he buried. Sometimes the dead still speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2018.

 

Memorial Day 2018

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Views from the Edge has been silent for awhile. Given my state of mind, it probably should stay quiet longer. But Memorial Day gives the dumb a hook on which to hang some of what’s been banging around my weary head.

Flags are everywhere today. American flags. They decorate the graves of the fallen in our national cemeteries and wave in front yards across America. But things are different this year.

While driving to the cabin by the wetland here in Minnesota, I see a different flag — a blue one with the name of the current president — waving from a homeowner’s flagpole where the red, white, and blue stars-and-stripes rippled stood before 2017. The dead we honor on Memorial Day didn’t die for this substitution. They fought against it.


Trump flagThe dead are unable to see the American flags posted at their graves or hear the sobering “Taps” that honors their sacrifice. Nor can they see the other flag that has taken its place on the flag pole where Old Glory once waved on Memorial Day. They didn’t die for this.

Like the dead, Memorial Day 2018 leaves me speechless.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 28 (Memorial Day), 2018.

Mother Earth and the devil’s dung

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Pope Francis documentaryOn Mothers Day 2018, “60 Minutes” featured an interview with the film-maker of “A Man of His Word,” the new documentary on Pope Francis in which Pope Francis speaks boldly about Mother Earth, the mother of all life.

Views from the Edge visitors and the readers of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness will recognize our long-standing position that all other moral, social, economic, political, and spiritual issues pale in comparison with the stewardship of the web of life we call nature. Like Pope Francis, we have contended that the planetary crisis is not just one issue among others; it is the singular overarching challenge to everyone everywhere all the time. We agree with Pope Francis. It is a faith crisis like no other.

In advance of the release of the documentary, we offer this excerpt of Franciscan Media summaries of Pope Francis’s previously published statements.

“Our common home is at risk. Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.

“The earth, entire peoples, and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea—one of the first theologians of the Catholic Church—called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules.

“This is the ‘dung of the devil.’ The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, Sister and Mother Earth.” – Pope Francis.

The Pope’s position also reminds us of another man of his word, Bolivian President Evo Morales who observed the following relation between Mother Earth, the devil’s dung” (money/greed), and the human species.

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.” – Evo Morales.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2018.

Grandmother’s Day

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Mothers Day brought together three mothers and one grandmother. Kristin is the mother of Elijah (11 months). Alice is the mother of Calvin (five months). Kay is the mother of Kristin and Andrew (Calvin’s father) and grandmother of Elijah and Calvin.

Kay Mothers Day

Elijah, Grandma Kay, and Calvin

It’s only a matter of time before Mark Twain’s description of his relationship with his mother will describe Elijah’s and Calvin’s relationship with their mothers and grandmothers:

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she rather enjoyed it.”

Grandma is having a great time with these little guys. Already Elijah is wearing her out chasing him around the house to protect him from his curious self. Calvin is not yet peripatetic, but he already offers his own kind of trouble. He’s huge and heavy for Grandma to carry. But, when all is said and done, when Elijah and Calvin are able to talk and look back on Grandma Kay, they will echo the serious complement Mark Twain paid his mother.

As Andrew’s picture from Mothers Day illustrates, I think she rather enjoys it.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the day after Mothers Day, May 14, 2018.

This Unfathomed Secret

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 “At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

What do I know?

Is what I know back in the city — outside the gates of the forest — more “knowledgeable” than the knowledge of the forest and the farm? Is knowing different from imagining? What is the relation between knowledge and imagination? Are they opposites, kin, companions, enemies? Is one kind of knowledge superior to another? Is one more civilized than the other? Are they of equal value, each in its own right? Or is it all relative, a fool’s question in this world of relativity where one person’s perspective and opinion is as good as another’s, one person’s truth and wisdom another person’s fanciful imagination and foolishness?

Publishing “The Bovine Chorus” yesterday brought the questions to mind. After a day seeking knowledge about the loud mooing that overwhelmed the bird calls on the wetland, I realize my imagination got the better of me. The last conversation was with a retired dairy farmer. “Probably needed to be milked,” he said. “They’ll let you know! Or the farmer was taking a calf away. They can be really loud!” Memory flashed back to my dairy farmer friend Bruce, who showed up on Sunday with a broken hand from having punched a cow. What does a city slicker know about cows and the life of a dairy farmer!

I wasn’t always a city slicker and I’m not much of one now. If I were, I wouldn’t prefer this remote cabin on the wetland. It’s less civilized here. Some would say it’s less knowledgable. Others might say, more given to faulty imagination. Like imagining a bovine herd singing Friedrich Handel’s Magnificat to celebrate a cow birth in Bethlehem only to learn from my old musicologist friend Carolyn that Handel never composed a Magnificat, so far as she could recall, and from my new retired dairy farmer friend that the mooing was probably a protest by cows whose udders ached or who lamented a calf being kidnapped from the holy family.  

“Woe am I!” say I, like Isaiah overwhelmed by the smoke that filled the Temple. “I am a man of unclean [stupid] lips!” [Isaiah 6:5a]. I know nothing worth knowing. My imagination has deceived me. Remember Carolyn back in the city, and the retired dairy farmer. And then there are the books I’ve brought here from the city. Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colin’s Birds of North America and Greenland with pictures that help identify the Brown Thrasher feeding on the ground and train the eye to distinguish the Trumpeter Swans here from the Tundra Swans, and Mute Swans. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays on history, nature, experience, politics, et al., and The Book of Common Prayer bring the wisdom of the ages that ground me in both nature and tradition, knowledge and a better imagination, a pair of spectacles alongside the binoculars next to the wetland in the time of climate change. I read Emerson again.

“We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her fruits and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. … Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen.” 

The Bovine Chorus

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It’s quiet this morning just after dawn. I ponder the line “Happy are they who know the festal shout!” [Psalm 19:15]. A sound I’ve never heard here interrupts the bird calls and my daily reading.

The single loud moo from miles to the west drowns out the sounds of the wetland. A few minutes later the solo becomes a bovine chorus!  A festal shout — celebration perhaps? A bovine Handel’s “Magnificat“? Perhaps a mother has given birth to her calf? The herd is cheering!

Minutes later the shouting is over. The mooing stops. But I heard it — both the solo and the herd — the strange interruption of the wetland’s native sounds. An osprey flies overhead. The sounds are as they were before: the woodpeckers’ pecks and red-wing blackbirds’s song. All is quiet again. The cattle are lowing; the poor baby sleeps!

Maybe the wind has shifted. Or perhaps the Madonna and the rest of the cows are sleeping after the exhaustion of the birth and the festal shout. Or maybe my ears had tricked me. I think of Otis Moss III’s reflection on singing the blues and “the gospel shout” [Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World]. Only those who sing the blues can shout the gospel (i.e. good news) shout.

Then I drive into town. Had I been hearing the festal shout followed by the cattle lowing? Or had the bovine chorus ended in tragedy? “Probably a wolf or bear!” says a stranger at the hardware store. “Cows can raise quite a ruckus; they can become very aggressive when a bear threatens the herd.”

Whether the sound rose from the blues or from joy, my imagination prefers the festal shout, the bovine Magnificat. I could be wrong. The guy in town could be right. Whatever it was my ears heard this morning, I want to take it one step deeper: before and after the shout, there was and is the Great Silence from which comes every sound.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, May 8, 2018

Elijah’s first time at the park

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Elijah, a usually confident, bold,11 month old, animated, happy-go-luck jokester of the last few months, was dramatically transformed as soon as we arrived. Instantly he turned into a watchful, tentative, cautious and slightly intimidated new little guy.

This persona was rare for him and a sight to behold. He was almost—if I could say one so young could be instantly so sophisticated—humble. He began computing this new playground environment right away. When lowered to the ground outside the car (no stroller for baby today), equipped with his brand new sandals, (and brand new hat!) it was as if he forgot how to walk. He was tentative, almost clumsy. I get it how new sandals could freak anyone out—but this was more than coordination— Elijah was processing information and it was taking all the “hard drive” his little brain had on board. All brain cylinders were required. You could almost see the wheels turning, experiencing every morsel of new information inside his gaze, one newly captured gaze after the other. The kids. The equipment. The mommys. The daddys. The wind. The sun. The grass. The sidewalk’s cement. 

He required carrying, the “walking thing” just wasn’t working. Mommy was up higher in a more controlled setup, providing more time to figure this whole thing out. The look on his face was precious beyond measure. He was just plain serious. His confident persona was nowhere to be found. 

We first chose to sit by a gray “teeter-totter” contraption. It looked like metal, but was made of some polymer material that would not absorb the heat of the hot sun, would not sting the skin on little grasping fingers. Elijah needed to sit on mommy who sat on the teeter-totter. He was all eyes. It became clear that moving slowly would be required in this new world of park. Intuitively we chose not to look him in the eye. He was grounding himself, it was not a time for him to be distracted. I took some pictures of course—this precious face could not escape record. He sat on Kristin’s lap, his left arm held snug to Kristin under her protective right arm. This way of facing outward would be less exposed. I must say he wasn’t scared in the classic sense of being afraid. There was no sense he was ready to cry. Definitely okay with him to be right where he was. He was definitely in his own body—but his body was attached to his Mom, his safety net of record. 

IMG_6678The whole time in the park his mouth never cracked a smile, it never even opened. It stayed solemn, determined, right in the center of his gaze. The only animation of this whole experience was when he decided the leather molded baby-swing he had been lowered into, which he accepted initially, was really not that much fun after all—way too far away from mommy. Right after that, though he was ok to be seated in the big molded chair hung onto an overhead glider-thing (new high tech park!), because he could see mommy right in front of him.  She taught him to hang onto the chains right beside him—indeed, like a big boy.  

 

Elijah never cracked a smile the whole park experience until walking towards the car to go home. Still being held by his mom, he finally gave out a little tiny smile as Grandma made a funny face like her routine baby-joke. It broke the serious persona and he began to return to his old self again.

Elijah joy IMG_9566

Elijah’s smile

The whole park experience was classic Elijah—he is fundamentally a full-time observer. I thought to myself “I bet he is going to sleep well tonight—an exuberant but exhausting first trip to the park!”

  • Grandma Kay (Kay Stewart), Chaska, MN, May 6, 2018.

One day tells its tale to another

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It’s quiet this morning. The only sounds are from the birds.

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The wetland by the wilderness cabin

Redwing blackbirds feed on the cat-n-nine tails. Woodpeckers peck the trees. Canadian geese honk to stake their claim to what remains of the beaver lodge. Trumpeter swans blow their trumpets to shoo away the geese. The loons warble a primordial language, an echo of a time we cannot remember but dare not forget. The first sounds from a primordial Silence.

At daybreak at the edge of the wetland, I read from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

“One day tells its tale to another

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.”

[Psalm 19:2-4]

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

The pale blue dot — our island home

I come to the wetland on this “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) in a vast universe to hear the primordial echo away from the human crowing, honking, and pecking that hurt my ears back home. Barclay, the ever faithful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel companion, lives by his own natural rhythm at home as well as here at the cabin, but his wagging tail and constant smile here tell me he prefers this place where the only sounds come from the air and the wetlands.

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling on way to the cabin

Barclay professes no particular creed, yet he seems to know better what my faith tradition, ducks, geese, swans, and loons know:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament God’s handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] and “the whole Earth is the Theater of the God’s glory” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]. With the help of The Book of Common Prayer, hearing aids, and binoculars, I sense it too.

Glorify the [Primordial Silence], O springs of waters, seas, and streams,

O whales, and all that move in the waters,

All birds of the air, glorify the [Primordial Silence],

Glorify God and praise God forever. 

[“Song of Creation” excerpt, Morning Prayer, BCP, p.89, amended by GCS]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, The Pea Pod, Northern Minnesota, May 6, 2018.

Elijah Learns about Gravity

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Enjoying a snack with his Mom yesterday, Elijah learned about gravity.

Mom, what happened?

You turned the bag upside down.

So?

You can’t turn it upside down unless you want the snacks to fall to the floor.

Why?

It’s called gravity. Gravity pulls everything down.

Uh-uh!

Uh-huh!

Uh-uh!

Uh-huh!

Uh-uh! Doesn’t pull me down! I’ll just reach for my snacks!!! Nothing takes me down!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, May 2, 2018.

 

The Eleventh Commandment

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“Thou shalt not even think about using a chain saw.”

IMG_9456At the cabin next to the wetland we love quiet candle-lit evenings by the wood-burning stove. The candles are easy. We buy them. The wood for the fires is harder. We gather the logs and the kindling from the surrounding woods, drag them next to the deck, and break or cut them into pieces to fit the dimensions of the small wood stove. In a week or two, a friend and I will get out the chain saw to cut up large oaks that have fallen in the woods. But that will come later.

This morning Kay and I gathered what we could carry from the woods and were breaking the breakable pieces into kindling. It felt good to be making progress on our first spring work day. Barclay, the five year-old ever cheerful, light-chasing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was entertaining himself on the ground above the septic system. He doesn’t know there’s a sceptic system under there, and, if perchance he did know, wouldn’t care as long as there were light and shadows, squirrels, chipmunks, birds flitting around him and soaring over the wetland. Back by the deck, Kay and are enjoying the creative act of turning twigs into kindling and tree limbs into logs for the wood stove. It occurred to only one of us to stand at the edge of the pile instead of in the center of the cluster branches twisting every which way. The other who is typically less aware of his surroundings suddenly lost his balance and hit the deck, so to speak.   

Unruffled by my failure at even the smallest of tasks, I lay still for a moment as Kay rushed to my side, asked if I had hurt myself, and extended a loving hand to pull me to my feet. Barclay never noticed. Then came the eleventh commandment:

ten commandmentsThou shalt not even think of using a chain saw, for in the day that you use it, you shall surely die! 

“No chain saw for you,” said Kay. “Don’t even think about it!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart writing from the wilderness, April 29, 2018.

The Beauty of the Swamp

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Quite serendipitously, you might say, The Pea Pod — the-small A-frame cabin by the wetland — became ours last August. It came into view in an internet search for an affordable lake or river-front property within easy driving distance from the metro area.

cabin IMG_6563Before stepping foot on the property we thought it was on a small lake, not a swamp on outskirts of the Silvan Shores Association. We immediately fell in love with the quiet serenity of the place and the simplicity of the wood cabin.

We soon learned that some of the Silvan Shores folks gather regularly at the association’s clubhouse at 10 A.M for coffee and conversation. Although we’ve chosen the Pea Pod by the wetland as a full retreat from all things civilized, we want to be good neighbors, and it’s a chance to meet others and pick their knowledge who who to call for various homeowner matters. At our first coffee hour Kay and I introduce ourselves by name and by the property’s location next to ‘the wetland’ just north of Turtle Lake.

Oh! You mean ‘the swamp’!” says Judy. We all have a good laugh.

Call it what you will — swamp, wetland, or marsh (remember Sydney Lanier’s “The Marshes of Glynn”?) — , the little cat-tailed not-quite pond with the trumpeter swans, great blue herons, mallards, loons, and beavers next to the equally unenviable cabin is its own sacred place for two peas in a pod.

This morning, eight months months after the ‘wetland’ turned into a ‘swamp’, I wake with the morning sun and see the beauty of the wetland other folks don’t get to see. Oh, they too might have a fat robin making her nest in the oak tree outside their patio doors, but they don’t experience dawn next to the beaver lodge and the loons paddling by in plain sight while the mallards, wood ducks, and the buffleheads greet the day with play near the wetland’s far side.

We prefer the wetland to the five lakes of the association. There are no boats here on the swamp. No motors to disturb the silence. No water-skiers. No anglers. No noisy humans. Within days the Trumpeter Swans will break the silence. The only oars on the water belong to the waterfowl and the flat tail of the beavers. It’s an uncivilized place that reminds us of the incivility of civilization and the beauty of nature’s frailty and glory.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the Swamp, April 29, 2018.

Elmer Fudd’s Earth Day

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Burning Bush

“burning bush” in Autumn

This year, on Earth Day, something has stripped the bark from the burning bushes of our homeowners’ association. It’s sad to see the butchered bark of these beautiful burning bushes.

It couldn’t have been rabbits! The bark isn’t only stripped near the ground. There are lots of rabbits here at Village Point, but rabbits aren’t like squirrels. They can’t climb two feet from the ground. But, like Elmer Fudd, some of us are a little slow on the uptake. “They didn’t have to climb,” said a friend. “We’ve had several feet of snow!”

Darn those wabbits!

So, here we are on Earth Day 2018 celebrating the natural web of life on which the rabbits, the burning bushes, and human beings depend. But I’m confused which to prefer: the bushes or the rabbits.

Elmer Fudd: Got you, you wabbit stew, you.
Bugs Bunny: Look, Doc. Are you looking for trouble? I’m not a stewing rabbit. I’m a fricasseeing rabbit.
Elmer Fudd: Fwicasseeing wabbit?
Bugs Bunny: Have you got a fricasseeing rabbit license?
Elmer Fudd: Well, no. I…
Bugs Bunny: Do you happen to know what the penalty is for shooting a fricasseeing rabbit without a fricasseeing rabbit license?

Burning Bush bark

“burning bush” stripped bark

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., EPA regulations are cast said as frivolous; big oil and coal are back; the Paris Climate Accord is trashed; the lakes, rivers, oceans and forests become part of Elmer Fudd’s stew pot on Earth Day. Everything is fair game for wabbit stew!

So, we are left to play the part of Bugs Bunny with Elmer Fudd, putting the question to Director of the E.P.A.Scott Pruitt and all climate change deniers:

“Do you happen to know what the penalty is for shooting a fricasseeing rabbit without a fricsaseeing rabbit license?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 22, 2018

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, do I need lawyers?

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Oh, my! Why would you think you need a lawyer, Elijah?

IMG_0255I didn’t say ‘lawyer’, Grandpa. I said ‘lawyers.’ Sometimes you don’t hear so well or just don’t listen. But that’s okay. So, how many lawyers should I have? How many do you and Grandma have?

Right now we don’t have a lawyer, Elijah. We don’t need one.

Why? 

Well, we don’t have need for one, and our lawyer retired, so she’s no longer practicing law.

You have to practice to be a lawyer? Can we practice being lawyers?

It’s confusing. Practice doesn’t mean trying, like trying to walk or say ‘Grandpa’ or throwing the ball to Barclay. It’s a different kind of practice.

FredTrumpArrest

Fred Trump

Yeah, and you can’t practice alone if you’re a lawyer, right? I’ve been watching Ari on The Beat. Michael Cohen’s a lawyer and he has lots of lawyers. President Trump has lots of lawyers. He keeps hiring and firing them. So how many lawyers should we have, Grandpa. You need at least ONE.

Okay, I see where you’re going. But Grandpa doesn’t need a lawyer right now. Neither does Grandma or your Mom. We’re not in any trouble.

I’m in trouble, Grandpa. ICE is coming to my daycare! I know my rights under the Constitution! But Juan and Carlos don’t have rights like me. Their parents don’t either. We’ve been practicing what to do if ICE comes to our daycare. I’m going to be a lawyer when I grow up!

Good for you, Elijah. But before you think about practicing law, let’s practice saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Grandpa’. So far ‘Uh-oh!” is your only word. You need more words, not more lawyers.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2018.

Barbara Bush and President Chance

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The day following former First Lady Barbara Bush‘s death, we offer these clips of Chance (“Chauncey”) Gardiner, the gardener of a rich estate whose simple answers are thought to qualify him as the political leader who can fix the world. Barbara Bush had no use for the current occupant of the Oval Office whose world is shaped by television, as was Chance Gardiner’s (Peter Sellers) in Being There (1979). “I like to watch,” said Chance.

In February of 2016 the former First Lady pulled no punches. She said she was “sick of him [i.e. Donald Trump]. He doesn’t give many answers to how he would solve problems. He sort of makes faces and says insulting things. He’s said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military. I don’t understand why people are for him, for that reason.”

First Lady Melania Trump will attend the former First Lady’s funeral. Whether the candidate for whom Barbara Bush had no use will pay his respects is still an open question as of the publication of this post. Maybe he’ll stay home to watch it on Fox.

Thank you, Roger Ebert (RIP) for your review of  Being There. Thank you, Chance (Peter Sellers), for your clairvoyance. Thank you, Barbara Bush. RIP.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, April 19, 2018.

Elijah’s first word

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Elijah and Kristin are home alone again today, snow-bound by the blizzard that’s hit Minnesota. Elijah is entertaining himself with the car Grandma gave him. His Mom looks on as Elijah’s speaking his first word — well, not exactly a word. Or is it?

“Uh-oh!”

Elijah’s daycare provider only speaks Spanish. “Uh-oh!” is the universal language at daycare. It’s also becoming the first word of those trying to keep up with Elijah at home or at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’ll be a long day for Kristin. Say a prayer there won’t be too many reasons to say “Uh-oh!”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2018.

Elijah’s Splish Splash

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Elijah emptying a drawer.

The sound of a big splash came in the split second his Mom turned her back in the bedroom. Elijah had scurried down the hall a few feet to the bathroom, just a quick crawl or walk from the bedroom and his favorite dresser drawer. He’s walking now and he’s into everything. Every drawer. Every light socket. Every everything.

“SPLASH!”

Elijah loves water. He loves his bath. He loves his rubber ducky.

“SPLISH! SPASH!”

Elijah’s no Bobby Darin. He wasn’t taking his bath. There was no rubber ducky in the toilet. To a 10 month old, the whole house is a playground.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 14, 2018.

 

Ruminations of an Old Paper Boy

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INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edge publishes this reflection of John D. Miller, a fellow curmudgeon who looks at where and HOW we’re getting our news these days. John is serious, but he always has a twinkle in his eye. The links and photo have been added by Views from the Edge.

I was twelve years old when I got my first real job. I became a paper boy for The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin. It was an afternoon newspaper.

CapTimesMy bundles of papers would be dropped off at a certain place on the east side of the city. After school, I would fold them and put them into a big wire basket I bought for my bike. It was first business expense I ever had, but I did not know that at the time. Besides, Uncle Sam would not have cared.

I would peddle my papers in a six-square-block area between East Washington Avenue and East Johnson Street. About a third of the families in my entrepreneurial domain were subscribers.

On Sundays there was no Capital Times. Instead, I delivered The Wisconsin State Journal.The Times strongly leaned Democratic; the Journal was Republican. On Sundays, everybody in Madison was a Republican, I assumed.

This employment lasted for a year, until our family moved from the East Side to the West Side. Then, instead of peddling and reading The Capital Times, I just read it. When you’re in eighth grade, you don’t peddle papers any longer, for heaven’s sake, especially on the west side.

It is surprising that my parents, particularly my father, subscribed to the Times rather than the Journal, because they were Republicans. But Dad went to work before the State Journal could arrive. Neither he nor Mom had the time or inclination to read the paper in the morning, if there was one in our home to read. They wanted their news as fresh as possible in the late afternoon or evening when they sat down to read the paper. (This was before television came to Madison.)

In the nearly seventy years that have passed since I was a paper boy, the newspaper business has changed dramatically. In medium-sized cities, like Madison, there used to be at least two competing newspapers, a morning one and an afternoon one. In large cities there were three or more competing papers.

Now, in nearly every community large enough to sustain a daily newspaper, there is only one  paper, which is half the size it used to be. It also has well less than half the number of subscribers it used to have. Perhaps there might be another small struggling competitor on life support.

* * * *

My wife and I live in The Seabrook, a Hilton Head Island retirement community. When we first moved there, we had a young woman who delivered our Island Packet and USA Today to our door.  Before we moved to the retirement home, we also subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. I gave it up, though, because it was taking me at least two hours every morning just to read three newspapers, and I decided that was obsessively ridiculous.

After a while, our faithful, always-on-time young woman took another job. Then the papers began arriving at 8 AM or 9 AM or noon, or maybe not at all. We and our geezer neighbors were complaining. Geezers have taken a lifetime to learn how to become experts in the new avocation of their golden years, and they do it well.

So, unbeknownst to me, my wife called The Packet and said that if they would deliver all the newspapers for our entire retirement community to the door of our retirement building, WE would deliver the papers. Later, after I recovered from my shock of learning about my new journalistic position, she informed me that it is a community service, which it is, sort of. Its main drawback as a community service is that it begins at an ungodly hour each morning.

Thus, a year and a half ago, not long before I became 78 years old, I became a paper boy once again. I guess I’ll be one as long as I am able to wheel my sturdy wagon down the halls of The Seabrook.

* * * *

Since 1951, when The Capital Times depended on me to get the news to citizens in a six-square-block area just west of the East High School in Madison, Wisconsin, the news business has changed enormously. Television came in, much later cable network television came in, the Internet came in, and Facebook et alalso came in.

When cable news and the Internet were launched, newspapers started to lose subscribers. It was because they were an arm of the “cool media,” and thus were old-fashioned. Who knew?

In 1964, the Canadian philosopher and student of media Marshall McLuhan published an essay about the then relatively new medium of television. Soon thereafter he wrote a book which expanded on the essay. He intended to call it The Medium Is the Message.

When the proof for the book came back to him, the title has been miscopied. The typesetter had written The Medium Is the Massage. McLuhan was so delighted with the mistake that it became the new title for his book.

McLuhan’s thesis was that television is what he described as a “hot” medium. That is, it creates a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the screen. This does not happen in the print media, he said — newspapers, magazines, and books. The reason he went with the typo in the title is that he said that television “massages” us as the print media do not.

Most of us would probably agree with that. Surely that is correct for most of us. However, it should also be alarming to us, especially if we are easily massaged by television.

Furthermore, we would have to acknowledge that movies, live theater, speeches, lectures, and similar experiences affect us in ways that are markedly different from the way the printed word affects us.

On the other hand, for some of us there is something about reading words on a printed page that the hot media can never match. I shall call it “The Tactile Transfer.”

The word tactile has to do with touch. Physically to touch something is to engage in a tactile act of communication.

Reading is a tactile activity. We have to touch the pages to keep the newspaper, magazine, or book open.

But there is more to it than just that. Psychologically and mentally, some of us find reading a “hotter” way of gathering and storing information than the supposedly hot media provide us. By touching whatever we are reading, a transfer takes place to our memory and our brain. Reading, to us, is “cooler,” in the late twentieth century sense of that word, than it is for us to watch television or a movie or a play.

Only when I began writing this essay did I finally realize after several decades why I object almost so irrationally to the “technological media.” I would rather get my information from something I can actually touch than from the images or words on a screen, which I cannot touch; I can only touch the screen. The words are less “real” if they are digitalized than if they are imprinted onto paper.

I cannot scientifically explain the Tactile Transfer, but I can verify that for me it has happened for my entire life. For that reason there were many years I subscribed to as many as a dozen or fifteen magazines at a time. For the same reason I have read countless hundreds of books. Let me touch information with my fingers, and it transfers into my head far more readily than if I see it on a screen.

* * * *

Democracy is in trouble because newspapers are going out of business all over the world. For Tactile Transfer thinkers, that is a tragedy. We are convinced that all of us need newspapers and magazines. Everybody needs to touch printed news; it is the only news you can be fairly sure in accurate. Television and other such technological media will not be sufficient for us.

But why should democracy be in trouble if newspapers, magazines, and books become far less frequently employed as media for dispelling information? It is because we then will be forced to rely solely on the “hot media” to learn about the news of the world. And, as we have seen in the last few weeks, the Facebook debacle suggests that the hot media cannot be trusted as much as the “vetted media.”

To “vet” the news means that there are editors and experts and academics who look at news stories before they get publicized to determine whether what is proposed to go press or to go “viral” is accurate. To use a phrase much in the news for the past couple of years, is it fake news or is it real news? Is it truthful, or is it deliberately misleading?

Viral “news” can go out instantaneously from any computer operating anywhere in the world. There is no mechanism for checking its validity. It need not be accurate, and often it is not.

Nevertheless, increasing millions of people, perhaps in order to avoid having to pay for their news, are getting their news on-line. It is increasingly evident that they are not getting the straight scoop, to use a term of newspapers from long ago.

News that puts smudges of ink on your fingers is far more likely to contain vetted, accurate news than the Internet or your cell phone. Very unfortunately, hot media people have not yet widely admitted that. And until that happens, democracy will be in trouble, because elections can be won by means of what must be termed “genuinely fake news.”

All over the country most afternoon newspapers have gone out of business or have merged with the morning newspapers in those communities. Previously, one paper in those cities leaned toward the Republicans and the other toward the Democrats.

A friend emailed an article from The Washington Post that she had read on-line. Because it was from the Post, I considered it well vetted and thus reliable.

The article was entitled A once unimaginable scenario: no more newspapers. It was written by two Canadians, and it referred more to Canadian newspapers than American ones. They noted that two major newspaper publishing companies in Canada have gobbled up most of the newspapers there. They said it is predicted that one of those mega-journalistic enterprises will have fallen into insolvency within five years.

The writers also said that since 1994, American weekday print circulation of newspapers has gone from 60 million subscribers to 35 million subscribers. In that same period, advertising revenue dropped from $65 billion to $19 billion. No wonder newspaper corporations are consolidating or going bankrupt.

Who will uphold verification and balance in the news when newspapers are gone, the two writers wondered. Who will differentiate between vetted news and truly fake news if no professional journalists are involved in that process?

Many decades ago The Capital Times gave up the ghost in Wisconsin’s capital city. Now the Wisconsin State Journal is neither Republican nor Democratic; it is too much a blandly independent newspaper.

* * **

This morning I started my paper route in The Seabrook at the Fraser Center, our nursing wing, as I always do. The people there are up earlier than nearly everyone else in our neck of the woods.

When I walked by the nursing station, I saw a very elderly woman sitting in her wheelchair by the desk. She is 103 years old. I have known her for 39 years.

I asked her what she was doing at the nurses’ desk. In a typical humorous whispered aside, yet also with some degree of seriousness, she told me she was being held hostage there. A nurse overheard her, and said she had become confused, and had been trying to get out of bed. So they were keeping an eye on her until she became herself again, as she always does.

I tried to assure her everything would be all  right, but she seemed skeptical, and not altogether convinced. So I gave her her paper, and went to deliver papers to other patients. When I came back, she was busily scanning the pages of The Island Packet, as she has been doing for the past half-century, seeking the tactile transfer.

Old folks still love to read the paper. Too many people under sixty years of age do not. Part of the reason so many newspapers are going under is because too many of their elderly subscribers are going under the ground, and too few younger citizens are filling the gap.

It is dangerous for anyone to rely solely on the Internet or even on network televised news or cable news networks for their news. It behooves all of us as citizens to read newspapers and news magazines.

Being a paper boy was my first job. Being a paper boy may also be my last one. I’ll keep doing it as long as my elderly lower limbs will carry me.

Maybe McClatchy Newspapers should hire only old paper people to deliver papers. They are the ones who still believe in newspapers, and read them, and they want to read them early. However, no applicants should assume they will able to retire and live happily ever after in a retirement community on the remuneration thereof.

Nevertheless, as my wife correctly reminds me, it is a community service.

  — The Rev. John M. Miller has been the pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island for fifteen years. Prior to that he was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church from 1979 to 1996.

 

Grandpa, am I safe?

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Ten (10) month old Elijah has been listening to the news at his Spanish-speaking day care provider’s.

Grandpa, What’s a tweet?

Well, Elijah, a tweet is something like a chirp. It’s real short.

Marissa’s short but she doesn’t like tweets.

No, not short like “not tall”; a tweet is short like a flash.

IMG_0255Yeah, that’s what Marissa’s worried about — a flash, like the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico and tweets that make her cry.

Is Marissa Puerto Rican, Elijah?

No. She was crying a lot about tweets before Maria hit Puerto Rico. “Maria!” she’d say every time a tweet showed up on CNN about ice coming to the dock to round up kids here in Minnesota.

I think you might have misunderstood, Elijah. When Marissa says “Maria!” it’s like praying. She’s calling for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And ice isn’t frozen water like we still have around the docks here in Minnesota. She’s talking about ICE and DACA, not ice and docks.

So we’re safe around the docks?

Yes, but you need to be careful. The ice is starting to melt around the docks and you could fall in.

I’ll tell Marissa and all the kids at day care. Stay away from the ice around the docks. Stay away from all tweets. Just say “Maria!” every time CNN talks about another tweet.

  • Elijah and Grandpa, Chaska, MN, April 8, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Elijah and his cracker

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Does 10 month old Elijah already enjoy a sense of humor? Can he say “bang”? Does he know what he make a quick recovery with his grape cracker? Click the video of Elijah and his cracker to judge for yourself.

I rest my case!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 7, 2018