Reviews as a dating service

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Reviews and re-republication do for books what dating services do. They match books and readers who might like each other.

Thanks to James A. Cox, publisher of Midwest Book Review and MBR reviewer Able Greenspan for this review in the April 2017 edition:

Synopsis: “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” by Gordon C. Stewart (a public theologian and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA) echoes the call of the Navajo sage and the psalmist who invited their hearers to stop — “If we keep going this way, we’re going to get where we’re going” — and be still — “Be still, and know. . . .”

Like pictures in a photo album taken from a unique lens, these essays zoom in on singular moments of time where the world is making headlines, drawing attention to the sin of exceptionalism in its national, racial, religious, cultural, and species manifestations. Informed by Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama, Elie Wiesel, Wendell Berry, and others, Stewart invites the reader to slow down, be still, and depart from “collective madness” before the Navajo sage is right.

Told in the voice familiar to listeners of All Things Considered and Minnesota Public Radio, these poetic essays sometimes feel as familiar as an old family photo album, but the pictures themselves are taken from a thought-provoking angle.

Critique: Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is a consistently engaging and impressively memorable read from cover to cover. Thoroughly ‘reader friendly’ in organization and presentation, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is unreservedly recommended and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library Religion/Spirituality collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for seminary students and the general reading public with an interest in the subject that “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is also available in a paperback edition (9781532600654, $20.98) and in a Kindle format ($9.99).

This Friday, April 28, Day1 will feature “Homeland Militarization,” a chapter from the book.

Day1 describes itself as “the voice of the mainline Protestant churches, presenting outstanding preachers from the mainline Protestant denominations, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American Baptist Churches, and others.” It began as “The Protestant Hour” in 1945.

Thanks to Peter Wallace, Day1’s executive producer and host, for introducing “Be Still! to a new audience. And thanks to Bob Todd of Bob Todd Publicity for making the connections.

And, if you haven’t yet dated “Be Still!” . . . . make a lonely author happy over steak with the paperback for $20.98 or over an expensive cup of coffee with the Kindle/eNook, only $9.99 on AmazonBarnes & Noble or your local bookstore.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 25, 2017.

Christopher’s blogger is not so smart

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I’m not very smart!

Charles Smart was Smart” – posted this morning – used the wrong name! I was distracted, or so I tell myself. Hours later I realized the mistake: his name is Christopher Smart!

Somewhere there’s a Charles Smart wondering whether he, like Christopher, or some other Charles Stewart is the famous poet who was institutionalized in the Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.

Be that as it may, I have some assurance of Christopher’s forgiveness for my faulty frailty through the lyrics of his Christmas manger hymn, “Where Is This Stupendous Stranger?”:

O Most Mighty! O Most Holy! Far beyond the seraphs’ thought: art thou then so weak and lowly as unheeded prophets [i.., humble shepherds] taught?

O the magnitude of meekness! Worth from worth immortal sprung; O the strength of infant weakness, if eternal is so young!

With apologies to all poets and musicians more knowledgable than I, and with thanks to Christopher Smart for his patience with one who’s not so smart.

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

Christopher Smart was Smart

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Christopher_Smart_Pembroke_portraitChristopher Smart (1722-1771) was an English incurable pauper poet institutionalized in Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics whose poetry, like Vincent Van Gogh’s art, continues long after his death in spite of, or perhaps because of, what we now call mental illness.

Smart’s poetry is not as widely known as Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. But it is well-known among other poets, musicians like Benjamin Britten, and worshipers who sing from the Episcopal Church Hymnal, as I did yesterday on the Second Sunday of Easter.

The fourth stanza of “Awake, Arise, Lift up your Voice” leaped from the page, as fresh today as it was the day Smart wrote it:

His [Christ’s] enemies had sealed the stone as Pilate gave them leave,

lest dead and friendless and alone he should their skill deceive.

Smart sees Christ as “dead and friendless and alone” under his enemies’ lock and key as the authorities of collective madness had given them leave, lest Christ – locked away dead and friendless and alone – should deceive their power to seal shut the tomb (or asylum cell).

And then the fifth stanza:

O Dead, arise! O Friendless stand by seraphim adored!

O Solitude again command your host from heaven restored!

At the very moment Christopher Smart was coming to my attention, the French were casting their votes, confused and fearful in the wake of England’s Brexit, wailing sirens on the Champs-Élysées, and candidates loudly debating whether sanity demands sealing the nation’s borders.

St_Lukes_Hospital_for_Lunatics,_LondonChristopher Smart’s biographers suggest that today Christopher would be diagnosed as bi-polar. He was committed to the Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics after episodes when, it is said, Christopher would suddenly drop to his knees on the street in prayer, loudly inviting by-standers to join him, a different kind of street preacher who causes saner people to cross to the other side of the street.

But sometimes “the lunatics” are smarter than we. They see what those of us who avoid them often fail to see: the Dead and Friendless One meeting us, like Christopher and Vincent, in times of lock-down madness, until we sing Smart’s hymn two-and-a-half centuries later on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Christopher Smart was smart.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 24, 2017.

Vive la France?

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French soldier & GOne year ago the French soldier in Paris said, “I love America. Very patriotic!” I wondered what he meant. You Americans love your country? Or something else?

Today’s French election offers a moment to reflect more philosophically about the social, cultural and political dynamics that divide the French and Americans alike.

For starters, there is the age old question of the relation of the part to the whole. In this case, the part is a particular, and often unique, culture: French! French culture shares many similarities with its European neighbors, but the old joke about Hell – “Hell is a place where the police are German, the chefs are English, the car mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all organized by the Italians” – has some grounding in the real differences in the distinctive history and culture of each national culture.

The European Union is the sum of its distinctive parts; the parts make up the whole. The European Union created a common currency, relaxed the borders, and eliminated trade barriers among the member states of the E.U., a thing to celebrate in a world where it becomes increasingly clear that the planet itself is our home.

But what happens when the distinctiveness of the parts – the French in this case – are morphing quickly into something unrecognizable? What happens to the psyche of the traditional French citizen when the languages in the cafe, on the Metro, and in the apartment next door are not French – or the visiting German, Italian, English, and Spanish of tourists on holiday at the Louvre or on the beaches of Nice – but Arabic, Parsi, or Urdu spoken by Syrians, Moroccans, Indians, or Pakistanis?

A culture is a home, a kind of safe nesting place. A cardinal is not a robin, a wren, or flicker, and it’s not easy for any of them when they perceive their nests as under threat by the European Starling that would rousts them from their nests.

“I love America. Very patriotic!” said the Parisian French soldier guarding the Jewish synagogue against a terrorist attack while the headlines from America featured Donald Trump’s rise in the polls in May 2016. “Make America great again!” was the word from the  across the pond. “Which America?” I wondered then, as I wonder now what “Make France great again” means today in the French election.

Was the patriotic America in the mind of the French soldier the America that speaks Spanish, Parsi, Urdu, and Arabic as well as English or the one that speaks only English? The one that is white European in origin? The one where African-Americans take their seats again in the back of the bus? The America where there are no mosques; no sombreros; no anti-American leftists or immigrants – only starlings?  The America where being “very patriotic” means returning the U.S.A. to what it was before the starlings raided its nest?

Philosophically, the issues are not as simple as they sometimes seem. The question of the relation of the parts to the whole is as vexing today as at time in the course of human development. A year ago the world celebrated the signing of the Paris Accord on climate change in recognition that the whole is bigger than its parts and that every part depends on the well-being of the whole.

A parable of Jesus holds together the relation between the part and the whole: distinctive nests (cultures) in the the branches same shrub (world):

“The kingdom of heaven [the whole] is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” – Gospel of Matthew 13: 31-32.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 23, 2017.

Earth Day 2017 in France and the USA

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Today on Earth Day 2017 it’s hard to believe it was just one year ago today (April 22, 2016) that the world celebrated 195 nations signing of the Paris Accord on climate change.

Marine Le PenExactly one year later to the day, it is both Earth Day and Election Day in Paris, where the French go to the polls following another chilling terrorist attack that boosts the candidacy of far right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen who would “Make France great again!”

Here on the other side of the Atlantic and across the world, scientists and supporters of science are casting their votes with their feet, signs, and speeches in the wake of the 2016 American election of a climate change-denying President and Congress unravelling the Paris Accord while concentrating of erection of a border wall.

March for ScienceThe March for Science stands with Albert Einstein. “We cannot,” said Einstein, “solve our problems with the same thinking by which we created them.”

The thinking that has led to our problems includes bad religion, bad scientific, bad politics, and bad economics that ignore reality, bend and shrink reality to the size of the human will to power, and sacrifice creative imagination beyond the boundaries of the thinking that had led to our problems.

Today it will take prayerful people on both sides of the Atlantic to vote for the Earth in whatever way we can. Good science, good religion, good politics, and good economics go hand-in-hand.

On Earth Day 2017 pray for the Earth. Pray for yourself, for others, and for all creatures great and small. The Planet has no borders. It’s all the same house.

Albert Einstein

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Earth Day 2017.

The woman outside the window

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She paces the sidewalk a few feet beyond our kitchen window, talking loudly to someone who’s not there, smoking a joint to calm her down, moving in sudden jolts as though someone has sent a spike through her less than cogent mind.

I watch and wonder who she is, this neighbor who lives behind us still three weeks after being served by the authorities with an eviction notice following a “break” in which she tore loose two towel bars and poked holes in the bathroom wall as uninvited as the screams of rage that harmonized with the spikes in the wall.

The police at the time of the incident told the owners there was little they could do without pressing charges, which they declined to do. She is a guest in their house, the girlfriend of sorts of their 35-year old son, a young man of consummate compassionate who took pity on her homelessness and invited her in.

Responding to the 911 call, the police had been greeted by an altogether sane young woman who presented a calm, cool, and collected self who seemed to wonder what the fuss was all about. The 50-something year-old homeowners and the police agreed to call it a night on the “domestic dispute”, the young woman in question going peacefully upstairs to lock herself in her room, the three squad cars driving back to the police station where the officers would write up their incident reports, the husband and wife homeowners sitting in the living room staring past each other into blank space, and their compassionate generous adult son who lives in denial stepping outside for a much-needed smoke of something.

His invited houseguest had been institutionalized a number of times but he doesn’t know why or for what. Her father, he says, is some sort of pentecostal preacher. She’s badly scarred by her home experience – the “black sheep” of the family of Christian sheep who follow the lead of the ram who heads the household.

A lamb spiked by the ram in her old sheep-fold, she looks for other pastures and sheep-folds where her a damaged soul might find repose beyond a 911 call. But the spikes of terror keep coming, as they will, until, by some process of grace and merciful intervention, her reality breaks open the self that now walks in torment outside our kitchen window.

Until then, she walks in the valley of the shadow of her own kind of death, as do the members of the family who has given her temporary shelter, crying out for green pastures and still waters that would restore their wounded souls.

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

 

 

 

The Make-Up Artist

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Make-up artists in show business are the cosmeticians in the off-stage dressing rooms who paint the performers. In plays and films they make sure the actors look their parts. In television they apply make-up to the likes of Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly.

Donald TrumpBut today ‘make-up artist’ takes on different meaning: “one who makes stuff up.” Like a Commander-in-Chief whose administration tells the world the USS Carl Vinson and its Navy fleet are headed for the coast of North Korea, knowing full well they’re still headed toward Australia. When the crews heard the news from news outlets, they must have wondered. Who or what was lying: their compasses or their Commander-in-Chief and his administration?

Make-up artists serve a purpose in stage productions and television programs like “The Apprentice”; they have a role to play behind the scenes of make-believe.

DI-Chicken-Little-9But when a made-up president makes stuff up that causes the armed forces he commands to choose between their compasses and their commander, the Commander-in-Chief becomes the Liar-in-Chief who commands as much credibility as did Chicken Little after announcing too many times that the sky was falling.

I wish to Heaven this was all made up.

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

A Review and a Request

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Today marks the first public review of the book that was born three months ago.

Click “Essays to explain collective madness” to read former Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus’s review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. And HERE for his citation from Be Still! in his column yesterday “When the forces of fear rule”.

Then, if you’re feeling kind toward a postpartum depression author dependent on the kindness of friends to help his baby grow up, use your email or FB page to share the review. If you’re on FaceBook, you can also “Share” the review from Bill Tammeus’s or Bob Todd’s FB pages.

Thanks for considering and have a great day!

Gordon in Chaska, MN, April 19, 2017.

 

 

Jesus’s Last Wish

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As Kay and I walked through the passion narrative in the Gospel according to John Friday night in the quiet of our living room, we paused a number of times to share questions or observations about what we were reading.

Few of the church’s traditional “seven last words” from the cross appear in John, the last written of the New Testament Four Gospels. Four of the “words” we expect to hear from having read Matthew, Mark, and Luke are missing in John:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34)
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
  3. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
  4. Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

The first three are altogether missing. A fourth “word” – the seventh of the traditional last words, becomes a third person description by the narrator, as it had been in Mark and Matthew: “. . .  he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Brooklyn_Museum_-_What_Our_Lord_Saw_from_the_Cross_(Ce_que_voyait_Notre-Seigneur_sur_la_Croix)_-_James_Tissot

“What Jesus saw from the cross” – James Tissot

But while John’s Gospel offers less of what we have come to expect in light of the earlier Synoptic Gospels, it adds three words:

1.”I thirst,”

2.”It is finished,” and

3. this strikingly intimate conversation with his mother and an un-named “disciple whom he loved” within the hearing of “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (i.e. Jesus’s aunt), and Mary Magdalene:

“‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the un-named disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John. 19:27-28)

This startling exchange – this strangely intimate “last wish” normally reserved for the bedside of a dying patient – shifts the focus of John’s crucifixion narrative from the horror of Jesus’s torment to the primacy of the community: the familial bond between his mother and the beloved disciple which would survive him.

It is this beloved and loving community which carries forward the teaching and ministry of the Logos, the Word made flesh in him and in us, by the creative working of the Spirit of the Living God. “Woman, behold your son!” “Disciple, Behold your mother!”

The Good Friday conversation in our living room shifted from the anticipated tears of torment to the hope that rises whenever the invitation from the cross becomes reality, whenever we, in our time, become the beloved community of the un-named disciple: the transformed and transforming home for Mary and all her un-named children.

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

 

 

 

Beyond an intelligent hell or a stupid paradise

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“Rebranding, long a strategy in the business world, is taking off in congregations hoping to attract newcomers, update their images and shed any negative perceptions of their denominations.” – Jean Hopfensperger, “Churches trade old names for new and younger members,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 15, 2017.

 

Perhaps a retired Presbyterian minister might be forgiven for weighing in on a religious controversy. Or, maybe not, since insatiable controversy has led many faithful church-goers to spend Sunday mornings over coffee, and has created the growing negative perceptions of church as a perpetual civil war and a societal curse. But, for just these reasons, this controversy seemed to beg for comment.

It is the churches that have shed their traditional denominational names that have been growing. No more off-putting denominational names. Like Baptist. Or Presbyterian. Hopfensperger writes:

Evangelical churches have been at the forefront of the trend, with two-thirds of those surveyed by the National Association of Evangelicals saying their names no longer include their denominations.

The Baptists are a case in point. About 160 of the 253 Baptist churches in Minnesota and Iowa don’t have the “Baptist” on their doors, said the Rev. Dan Carlson, executive minister at Converge North Central — previously called the Baptist General Conference.

10yugo-630opBut here’s the thing — unless a car is re-engineered under the hood, it’s the same old car. If a Yugo is re-branded the Go-Go, it’s still a Yugo. It may have more chrome, a new eye-catching paint color, a less tinny-sounding horn, a sexy model standing beside it on the showroom floor, and an American flag draped over it, but, under the hood, it’s still a Yugo.

Many of the fast-growing churches in America are wrapped in the flag with sexy come-ons, but under the hood is a belief kept under wraps from buyers except in the fine print Affirmation of Faith locked away in a private compartment in the trunk: belief in “the eternal felicity of the righteous,” and “the endless perpetual suffering of the wicked.” The church’s public gatherings celebrate God’s love with rousing Christian music, but they don’t tell you that if you don’t come ’round, God will roast you for eternity, a thought that leaves many loving un-churched people to conclude with Victor Hugo that

“an intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.”

But buyers who haven’t done their homework on what’s under the hood and behind the praise music enjoy an apparently benign celebration that, so far as they can tell, leaves the old negative doctrines in the dust.

If that sounds judgmental, it is. Just because Jesus said “judge not that you not be judged,” doesn’t translate to the abandonment of the search for good judgment – the critical thought process that assesses what we see, think, and feel. We use our best judgment at the grocery store, comparing cost, food quality, and the consequences of our purchases for our health. We do the same when kicking the tires of a car. Whether we realize it or not, we do the same with religion. With churches. With teachings and ideas. Like the folks who have left church, or would never darken the door of one because of their “negative perceptions”, a retired Presbyterian minister makes judgments all the time. I’m as tired of the controversies as anyone else, but I am, after all, an un-rebranded Presbyterian in search of personal and societal health.

Just as I’m thinking these thoughts, along comes the New York Times Sunday Review Op-Ed piece Save the Mainline by an unabashed self-identified Roman Catholic, Ross Dothan, calling for those who have left the traditional “mainline” Protestant churches to get back to church this Easter, and inviting those who espouse the liberal cultural and political values to return to the mainline protestant religious roots on which a genuine liberal spirit’s continuing future depends.

Dothan writes:

The campus experience of late suggests that liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor. The wider experience of American politics suggests that as liberalism de-churches it struggles to find a nontransactional organizing principle, a persuasive language of the common good. And the experience of American society suggests that religious impulses without institutions aren’t enough to bind communities and families, to hold atomization and despair at bay.

Then, yesterday on Easter, a FaceBook “friend” posted the following about one of those un-rebranded denominational churches.

Worshipped at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. They had a 6:00 a. m. Sunrise service and three morning services – 8:00 a. m., 9:30 a. m., 11:30 a. m. – and a 4:00 p. m. jazz service. The three morning services were preceded with people lining up for admission up to an hour before the service. The order, preaching and music was great and inspiring.

Why were people lined up and waiting before a worship service at Fourth Presbyterian?

What leads people to stand on the sidewalk in downtown Chicago for “admission”? A good show? A great concert? Being with the aesthetically elite of high culture and a sermon laced with literary references? Or something else?

The answers are as varied as the people who stood in line. But the Order for Worship for Easter morning gives a peek into what they found once inside.

Was it the classical music by great composers: Dietrich Buxtehude, G. F. Handel, and Charles-Marie Widor, and the excellence of its organ and choral music?

Was it an entertaining sermon that palliates the conscience of the upper classes and invites the upwardly mobile young to join its exclusive club, or was it the thoughtful, gracious, biblical Word for which Fourth is known which they expected to hear from its pulpit?

Was it a theology of the righteous few? Or a theology in which the horror of eternal punishment of the wicked has been overthrown along with the money-changers’ tables, devouring every hell, as reflected in Charles Stanford’s Choral Anthem?

“Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem” Charles V.  Stanford

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ, the Paschal victory
to hymn, in strains of holy joy. For Judah’s lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent’s head; and cries aloud through death’s domains to wake the imprisoned dead. Devouring depths of hell their prey at his command restore; his ransomed hosts pursue their way where Jesus goes before. Triumphant in his glory now to him all power is given; to him in one communion bow all saints in earth and heaven. While we, his people, praise our King, his mercy we implore, within his palace bright to bring and keep us evermore. All glory to the Father be, all glory to the Son, all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee; while endless ages run. Alleluia. Amen.

There is no sourness of eternal punishment hidden between the sweet notes of the Paschal victory hymn. Fourth Church offers a place for the likes of Victor Hugo where you the choice is not between an intelligent hell or a stupid paradise, a place where the people on the sidewalk get what they otherwise might not: a God Who, though crucified by human hands and pierced by imperious swords, eternally refuses to yield to the baser instincts of our negative perceptions of God, others, and ourselves.

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, be with you all this Easter Monday!

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

 

 

Easter

Aside

Artists often say it best. Jacopo da Pontormo‘s painting of the peaceful Christ rising above “the guards who shook and became like dead men” (see text below) invites us this Easter to ponder afresh Christ’s hidden reign in the world in which violence, militarism, and imperial ambitions still feign to rule.

Jacopo_Pontormo_026-medium

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556)

For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”  [Gospel according to Matthew 28:4-10]

Jacopo da Pontormo helps me see what the mind cannot fathom. Christ is Risen! In spite of all appearances to the contary, Christ is Risen! Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!

Gordon C. Stewart, in Galilee of Chaska, MN, Easter, April 16, 2017.

A world holding its breath

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Today the world is holding its breath, waiting in helpless silence as we’ve done many times before.

Last year we published a reflection following news of the terror in Brussels, Belgium. Today the darkness that clouds our hearts and minds comes from the madness of a two little boys playing with nuclear toys. (See “North Korea hits back at Trump ahead of Day of the Sun“.)

Nuclear-explosionNot since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has a nuclear bomb been used, but, today, Holy Saturday, the people of Japan are living in the memory of that holocaust, holding their breath as the bellicose standoff between Kim Jong-un and the man who promises to take care of him plunges them again under the nuclear cloud of post-traumatic stress of 1945, their peculiar Friday and Holy Saturday.

On Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, we experience the silence of nothingness.

The sounds of hammers, taunts, and screams, and the sight of three dead men very different in life but equal now in death leave us face-to-face with all that is cruel, hopeless, meaningless – the darkness of despair.

This Holy Saturday the world is on full alert. Dread and fear spread. We who live in the aftermath of the latest terror in Brussels experience Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter, knowing that only a resurrection can redeem a Good Friday world. – Views from the Edge, Holy Saturday, 2016

One short year ago on Holy Saturday the world knew of one little boy playing with nuclear toys. This year there are two. And the Easter story of the empty tomb remains either a fanciful illusion or the good news of a deeper reality beneath the silence: the descent from the cross by a Word greater than every reason for dark despair.

Pontormo, Jacopo da, 1494-1556. Descent from the Cross,

Descent from the Cross – Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Good Friday 2017 in light of 1553

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In his Ten Rules for Writing author Elmore Leonard advised,

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Good Friday is one of those parts in the Christian story. Who wouldn’t want to skip over betrayal, denial, abandonment, and brutality, the opposite of happiness? But we don’t get to joy without going through them. Steve Martin’s Happy Feet offers a memorable parody of faux happiness. You don’t get to Easter with happy feet.

In a sermon preached on Good Friday, 1553, the Rev. John Bradford asked his hearers to draw close to the cross, inviting them to look upon the death of Christ as the very presence of God, the part “that we people want to skip”.

As the very pledge of God’s love toward thee,
whosoever thou art, how deep so ever thou hast sinned,
See, God’s hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee;
his feet also, he cannot run from thee.
His arms are wide open to embrace thee.

Happy feet are no remedy for sore feet. Whatever view one takes of the classical Christian formula of Christ’s full humanity and divinity, John Bradford, Elmore Leonard, and Steve Martin’s Happy Feet invite the imagination to stop and pay attention to the God who embraces humankind in the very darkness we deny.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Good Friday, April 14, 2017.

Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

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Mom

Muriel Titus Stewart

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought her handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 14, 2017. Originally published April 3, 2015.

The Widower and the Wife

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THE WIDOWER

Ninety-year old “John” still drives to church. He comes alone now, one month after his wife died.

He parks his car on the street, as he has for forty years.

“Good morning, John! Good to see you. Am I remembering correctly that you lost your wife recently?”

“Yes,” he says. It would have been 62 years next month.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. These days must be very lonely.”

“Yes. Very,” he says, his gentle eyes seemingly thankful for the momentary recognition of his plight, followed by a pause. “I don’t know why I’m still here,” he says.  “I’m ready to go. I’m not saying I want to go, but I’m ready.”

“Old age ain’t for the faint of heart, is it, John?” “It sure isn’t,” he says.

THE WIFE

During his wife’s long illness, she, too, had spoken about being “ready to go.”

“I want to die,” she’d said, “before you have to put me in memory care.”

The thought of transfer from independent living to the lock-down memory care unit seemed worse than death. She’d made too many visits there. Seen too many old friends get lost in there, taking food that no longer nourishes, spoonfuls of institutional food administered for the purpose of keeping inmates alive for no reason but to prolong bodies that can’t remember their own names.

“I wish I could just walk off into the woods,” she’d said, “the way other animals do. This is unreal. I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid of becoming a burden.”

“DEATH IN THE WOODS”- Thomas MacDonagh

When I am gone and you alone are living here still,
You’ll think of me when splendid the storm is on the hill,
Trampling and militant here — what of their village street?–
For the baying of winds in the woods to me was music sweet.

Oh, for the storms again, and youth in my heart again!
My spirit to glory strained, wild in this wild wood then,
That now shall never strain — though I think if the tempest should roll
I could rise and strive with death, and smite him back from my soul.

But no wind stirs a leaf, and no cloud hurries the moon;
I know that our lake to-night with stars and shadows is strewn–
A night for a villager’s death, who will shudder in his grave
To hear — alas, how long! — the winds above him rave.

How long! Ah, Death, what art thou, a thing of calm or of storms?
Or twain — their peace to them, to me thy valiant alarms?
Gladly I’d leave them this corpse in their churchyard to lay at rest,
If my wind-swept spirit could fare on the hurricane’s kingly quest.

And sure ’tis the fools of knowledge who feign that the winds of the world
Are but troubles of little calms by the greater Calm enfurled:
I know then for symbols of glory, and echoes of one Voice dread,
Sounding where spacious tempests house the great-hearted Dead.

And what but a fool was I, crying defiance to Death,
Who shall lead my soul from this calm to mingle with God’s very breath!–
Who shall lead me hither and perhaps while you are waiting here still,
Sighing for thought of me when the winds are out on the hill.

  • Thomas MacDonagh (1 February 1878 – 3 May 1916 / Cloughjordan / Ireland), executed by firing squad 3 May 1916 at the age of 39 for participation in the Irish rebellion called “Easter Rising”.

John now visits his wife among the ashes he’s scattered in the wooded glen behind their home, in the greater Calm under the old oak tree, among the animals, “sighing for thought of [her] when the winds are out on the hill.”

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

 

Toward a Deeper Self-Knowledge

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In two days Christian churches will observe Maundy Thursday, focusing on Jesus’s last meal with this disciples, “the Last Supper”.

A QUESTION

Reading the Gospel texts afresh each year often raises new questions and, occasionally, yields fresh insight. This year it was a line in Matthew’s text.

Jesus and the twelve apostles are at table. They have all washed their hands before the meal, a ritual practice before the meal. They will all use their hands to eat and share the food in common. All hands must be clean. Or, perhaps, Matthew is referring to the bowl of herbs and spices into which they had all dipped their hands.

Jesus has been speaking of betrayal. “‘Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were greatly distressed and they began to say him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ He answered,

“‘the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.'” – Matthew 26:21-23 NRSV.

ONE? Only ONE?

All of them – all 12 – had dipped their hands into the bowl.

Matthew does not say “One of you.” It says “the one.”

The reply “Surely not I, Lord,” assumes innocence. “Not I!”

THE WIDER MEANING OF ‘BETRAY’

The Greek word we translate into English as ‘betray’ has multiple meanings: hand over/arrest/betray. “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will hand me over” or “. . .  arrest me” are alternative translations to the “. . . betray me” preferred by Christian translators.

But, whereas Judas alone asks the question that begs a positive reply – “Is it I, Lord?” – the story that follows shows all the apostles handing him over. The possible exception is Peter who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant at Jesus’s arrest, but following the arrest, Peter, like Judas, betrays him. “I do not know the man!” he says three times in the the High Priest’s courtyard.

Only Judas at the last supper responds in a way that indicates guilt. “Is it I, Lord?”

Jesus responds, “You have said so.”

A DEEPENING SELF-KNOWLEDGE

The dominant interpretations of Judas’s act of handing Jesus over to the authorities single him out as the one betrayer, the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl. But is it not worth considering that Matthew’s narrative offers every one of us a somber reflection on universal culpability and a window into one’s own denial and lack of self-knowledge?

Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.” – John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 1.

“The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”

“Is it I, Lord? Is it I?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Tuesday of Holy Week, April 11, 2017.

 

 

John Doe, Judas, and a Secure Promise: Potter’s Field

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Sermon on Judas’s Great Legacy

Text: Gospel of Matthew 27:3-8

Then Judas the traitor, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, repented and took the thirty silver pieces to the chief priests and elders of the people. “I have sinned by betraying an innocent man!” he said. But they replied, “How does that concern us? That is your affair.” Throwing down the silver pieces toward the Most Holy Place, he withdrew and went away and hanged himself. Picking up the silver pieces, the chief priests said, “It is unlawful to put this into the treasury, for it is blood money.” Therefore, after coming to an agreement about it, they used the money to buy Potter’s Field as a burying place for foreigners, and to this day that field is known as “The Field of Blood.” – Matthew 27:3-8, Anchor Bible translation by W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann

I have always felt that Judas got a bum rap.

The tradition has not treated him well, even according to its own standards. Yes, he bore responsibility for betraying his Lord with a kiss in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. And, yes, he committed suicide. But little or no attention has been paid to the small detail of Judas’ repentance or the depth of the sorrow that led to his suicide.

Matthew’s Judas is repentant. Listen:

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, Judas repented…and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver toward The Holy Place, Judas departed; and he went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:1-5)

Judas’ suicide, like most if not all suicides, issues from an irrecoverable despair.
He had changed his mind and had tried to turn back, but the dice had already been thrown, as they would be thrown again by the soldiers, rolling the dice over who would get to keep Jesus’ clothing. Not even throwing down the silver pieces at the feet of the religious authorities could change the course of events his betrayal had set in motion.

Some believe the deal Judas cut with the ruling religious authorities was a craps shoot. He had gambled that leading Jesus’s opponents to the secret place where Jesus gathered with his apostles would force Jesus to be the kind of violent revolutionary king he had wrongly supposed he would become. By arranging a face-to-face confrontation between Jesus and the Temple police, he imagined he could force Jesus’s hand toward a violent insurrection, and it appears he was not alone in that expectation. For, after Judas had led the temple police to him, Peter had drawn his dagger and cut off an ear of the high priest’s slave, only to hear Jesus rebuke the way of violence with an order to put away the sword. As a result, says Matthew, “all the disciples abandoned him and fled.” No one remained to stand with him as the witness to a different course than the way violence and terror. Jesus alone is innocent of the way of blood-taking.

By the time we see Judas throwing down the silver coins at the feet of the temple authorities his head was spinning. His expectation of a grand seizure of power – a kind of coup d’état that would overthrow the Roman colonizers and replace their temple collaborators – had crashed. What does one do when one’s great dream dies? What does one do when a grandiose scheme crumbles?

Either you revise the dream or you fall hopelessly into despair. We might wonder whether perhaps Judas’ biggest mistake was not the betrayal so much as it was not subsequently trusting a divine providence greater than his sin and more powerful than his ability to thwart it. Awash in guilt and sorrow, he threw down what Matthew calls “the blood money” toward the Most Holy Place – that is, the Holy of Holies, regarded as the most sacred of all places in the universe – and took his life.

The “blood money” never went back into the sacred treasury. It was dirty. So instead, the chief priests and the elders, not wanting to be sacrilegious, took the money that had secured Judas’s cooperation in the plot against Jesus – the “blood money” that purchased Jesus’s crucifixion – to buy “the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.” What is called the “Field of Blood “is also called “the Potter’s Field.” Why?

Why the Potter’s Field?

Matthew does a strange thing. He quotes a text found in the Book of  Zechariah (Zech. 10:12-13) but attributes its source to Jeremiah. Although the Book of Zechariah speaks of the Field of Blood which is also called the Potter’s Field, the text there never explains why it is called a potter’s field.

What would a potter’s field be? A potter uses clay to make pottery. The site referred to in Matthew is known traditionally as Akeldama, in the valley of Hinnom, which was a source of potters’ clay. It’s where the potter, the sculpting artist, gets the clay.  It’s an artist’s field. Jeremiah compares God to a potter and of us as the potter’s clay. So perhaps it is called Potter’s Field as a witness to the truth that the John and Mary Doe’s who eventually will land in the pauper’s cemetery belong to the Potter every bit as much as those society regards as worthy of burial in a more distinguished cemetery, a sacred place, if you will.

There is a great irony here in Matthew’s telling of the story: Judas returns the soiled holy money taken from the temple treasury, throws it back at the inner sanctum where only Oz was allowed to enter, the Holy of Holies from which the chief priests pulled the levers intended to keep Judas and Dorothy and every other mystified traveler in line with fear – and that soiled not-so-sacred money buys the Field of Blood for the less than holy, also known as “the Potter’s Field”.

Potter’s Field in New York City

In the City of New York there is a cemetery called Potter’s Field. It’s the place where the indigent are buried. It’s the place where the homeless and the unidentified, the John Doe’s and the Jane Doe’s , are buried by the City of New York. One might call it Pauper’s Cemetery, an act of charity for those who, at the end, like the Son of Man, had nowhere to lay their heads.

Potter’s Field has been moved four times since it was founded early the 19th century.
Today Potter’s Field is managed by the City of New York Department of Corrections. The Department’s website describes its history.

The City of New York has undertaken the responsibility of laying to rest the bodies of those in the City who died indigent or un-befriended, since the early part of the 19th century, when they were interred at Washington Square in Greenwich Village. In 1823, these remains were removed to Fifth Avenue and 40 – 42 Streets, Manhattan. When this site was selected for a reservoir, the remains were again removed to Fourth Avenue and 50th Street, this ground being later granted to the Women’s Hospital. In 1857, the remains of 100,000 paupers and strangers were transferred to Ward’s Island, 75 acres of which were allocated for this purpose.

Today Potter’s Field, the latest place for the internment of the un-befriended poor is on Hart’s Island where it has been since n 1869, next to a prison.

Thirty inmates from the N.Y.C. Reception and Classification Center for Men… are charged with burial and upkeep of the entire cemetery at present. They are carefully interviewed to ascertain that they can perform these services without becoming emotionally upset.

In 1948 the inmates of the prison next door to Potter’s Field on Hart Island, many of whom were without friends and families, appealed to the Warden and offered to build a monument to the un-befriended dead. In cooperation with the custodial staff, they erected a 30-foot high monument in the center of the burial site. On one side is engraved a simple cross, on the other is the word ‘Peace.'”

In my mind’s eye Judas is buried there – on the ground sanctified for the outcasts for whom Christ lived and died. He’s buried in some Potter’s Field where the Potter in mercy welcomes the broken pieces of the pottery He has made, gathers up the shards of broken schemes and grandiose schemes, and takes whatever is left to make something altogether beautiful.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me:  Can I not do with you . . . just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand . . . . [Jeremiah 18:1-6].

Christ’s words – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – are a plea to the Father, the Potter, for his beloved, betraying friend, Judas, and for every other Judas to come down the pike through all the centuries since. By God’s strange providence alone the 30 silver pieces of “blood money” that Judas threw back down toward the Most Holy Place became the unwitting source of the witness to God’s unconditional love and mercy, “Potter’s Field.”

Judas made two mistaken bets. The first ended in Jesus’s execution, the end of a grandiose dream. The second was concluding too early that despair and guilt have the final word – that there was no mercy strong enough to re-claim him.

The learning for us latter-day Judases? Perhaps it is that, although life is full of risk-taking and tragedy, its meaning and destiny are more than a craps-shoot. The destiny of every broken dream and every broken soul is not determined by our gambling or our failures. It’s determined by a secure promise that now and at the end we are in the hands of the Potter Who owns all the clay of Potter’s Field.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2017

The Unusual Trio – Maher, King, and Thomas – singing in one accord.

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Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,’ as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. – Bill Maher.

“Willful Ignorance” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.103-105) begins with an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963):

Martin Luther King, Jr.“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The essay concludes with the hope of something better than being blindly agreeable:

aquinas -Botticelli

Thomas Aquinas by Botticelli

“Placed under the scrutiny of a public that refuses to be willfully ignorant, the loud shouts of demagoguery will be swept up by the vacuum of a citizenry schooled in due diligence. And the United States of America, refusing to wallow in the mire of purposeful ignorance, of which Thomas Aquinas, and we ourselves, can be proud.” – Be Still!, p.105.

Wouldn’t Thomas Aquinas and Bill Maher be surprised to be on the same page? Martin Luther King, Jr. is a bridge between the two. Maher, King, and Thomas: a tenor, baritone, and bass in one accord.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to write something on today’s Daily Prompt word, “Blindly“.

 

 

The Stubborn Donkey and the Asses

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“[T]hey brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” – Matthew 21:7

In advance of today’s annual Palm Sunday parade through downtown Excelsior, Trinity Episcopal‘s e-newsletter issued the sad, tongue-in-cheek announcement:

Between services the Trinity community will come together in a joyful parade, with music, laughter, and bubbles! Unfortunately, the donkey that was going to lead us is being a bit stubborn so he will not be with us.

Jesus on two donkey’s – Jean de Limbourg (c. 1385-1416)

Perhaps today’s cancellation serves as a reminder that the donkey is stubborn by nature, and that, if you manage to tame one, there will always be another nearby waiting to take its place.

Some churches today celebrate only Palm Sunday – “the Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. It’s all about palm-waving and “Hosannas!” shouted and sung to the victorious King of kings and Lord of lords.

Other churches honor the paradox of palms and fists, stubborness and spears, appearance and reality: the king who refused to be King who rode an ass (or two) into the city that wanted something more than the mortal it could raise on a cross.

Today there will be no donkey on the streets of Excelsior. The donkey is just being stubborn. Or perhaps it refuses to participate in this year’s re-enactment when palms and hosannas take her rider to the cross again in a world where asses still rule.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Passion/Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017.

 

Barclay and his Big Sister

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Barclay and his Big Sister

Barclay and his big sister pausing on the walking path.

Lonely folks cruise the internet hoping for a good match. Websites pair strangers looking for love. They meet in coffee shops, bars, parks, and restaurants.

On rare occasions the two make for a good match. NEVER are they better matched than Barclay and his big sister.

We should all be so lucky! Forget the internet. Get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and some pink shoes, and enjoy the mutual admiration on a good walk, healing and heeling at the same time.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Barclay’s Dad, Chaska, MN, April 9, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to share a photograph and commentary on the theme “A Good Match“.

Rover and his Master

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The English language can be very confusing. Some English words are pronounced identically, but their meanings are altogether different.

Take the words ‘heal‘ and ‘heel‘, for instance.

A walk in the parkYou might say, “I sure hope you heal quickly” to someone with an injured heel.” But you might also say to Rover,”I sure wish you’d learn to heel,” which could really confuse Rover; or say to Rover’s master – who’s healing slowly from an injured achilles heel – and to Rover, “Good morning, Sir! Good morning, Rover! So good to see you both he-ling so well,” but it wouldn’t be the same – all because of one little letter that doesn’t get pronounced. Then again, you might call Rover’s master with the healing achilles heel a real heel if he beats Rover with the heel of his hand or heel of his shoe when Rover fails to heel.

Tell me again. Why do we speak English? Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, written this April 8, 2017 when, while healing from PMR, I had nothing better to do than respond to The Daily Post‘s invitation to write a post on the word ‘heal’.

 

 

The Outlier

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Here I lie inside, peering painlessly through pane-glass window at the world of trees and paths, signs and pavement . . . and the cardinal’s and robin’s nests.

9781118143308.pdfI am, by nature itself, an outlier to the virtual sights and sounds of the iMac, phones, microwave, iPads, and ringtones of “messages” to and from other insiders.

I am an outlier, trained to lie to myself, peering in pain through pane-glass virtual Windows in search of the world outside my window.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 7, 2017. Written in reply to The Daily Prompt invitation to write a post on the word ‘outlier’.

Blessed are the not so pure

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There is a kind of purity that is not pure: partisan purity, which bears no resemblance to the purity of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .”

The U.S. Senate is poorer today because of partisan purity on both sides of the political aisle. Politics is a brutal game made more civil by rules that seek to set boundaries on partisan purity. The 60-40 rule was one of those long-standing Senate rules that helped insure some measure of long-term wisdom by the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

The onus of responsibility for weakening the Senate – lowering the bar for simple majority votes on matters once believed to be of such gravity as to require a higher threshold – falls to both purist parties. The one for pushing the envelope knowing the consequences, the other for rescinding the rule. From now on, whichever party is in the majority shall rule without restraint.

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) asks officers to promise “to further the peace, purity, and unity” of the church in recognition that though, in an ideal world, peace, purity, and unity are in accord, they are often in conflict in the real world.

This week the U.S. Senate exercised a different kind of purity that violates all three values – peace and unity, as well as purity – leaving the country the poorer in restraint and wisdom.

Blessed are the not so pure.

 

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

 

 

The Dog Park

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Every day at 4:00 the 91 year-old with the weathered face and halting gate – we’ll call her Mabel – arrives at the dog park. She walks slowly, but more or less steadily, on her cane with her elderly companion Missy – the 16 year-old Pomeranian-Yorkie mix.

56199a5048cdf96c4318a36d9271153cMissy, who suffered a stroke a year ago and walks with difficulty, sniffs the grass. She dutifully does her business, looking up at Mabel. She stays very close, almost like a shepherd caring for an aging sheep whose needs she lives to tend.

Mabel and her dog. Companions for life. For now. And, it seems, each thankful for the other for whatever time they have.

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

Like a Mustard Seed

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I needed John Buchanan’s commentary this morning. Maybe you do too.

Hold to the Good

I was in a pew with in the Kensington Community Church, United Church of Christ, with our San Diego family last Sunday. The preacher, the Rev. Darryl Kistler, reminded us that Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God and that whenever he was asked about the Kingdom, when it was coming and what it would look like, his answers were enigmatic, not at all what people expected or wanted. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” he said once. On another occasion he said that the Kingdom would be quiet, almost invisible: like a tiny mustard seed or like the yeast that does its important work in bread baking without fanfare.

It was the reminder I needed this morning because I am worried about the particular kingdom I am currently living in. It has not been an easy, hopeful time since the presidential inauguration in January. Not long…

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To all my cheap friends . . .

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display-graeters01With nothing else to say today, I take this anniversary eve (see below) to beg all my cheap friends: “Get out your credit card and spring for Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, and I’ll buy you a Graeter’s ice cream Sundae next time I’m in a state that has Graeter’s.” Otherwise, I’ll just owe you. I’m as cheap as I am vain.

Be Still! costs $20.98 in paperback or $9.99 on kindle. But if you subtract the cost of a free Graeter’s Sundae ($5.25 + tax), the kindle would only cost you a net $4.74 (even less when including the tax on the Sundae)!

Publishers increasingly depend on their authors’ vanity – the sinful self-promotion that has consumed me since Be Still!‘s release January 6, 2017, three months ago tomorrow.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, begging in vain without apology from Chaska, MN, April 5, 2017.

 

Frame Up! Remembering Martin Sostre

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Yesterday Views from the Edge published several posts re: the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre. Today we post this documentary film that jars the memory and human sensibilities. Martin Sostre speaks on camera about the recanted testimony of Arto Williams and the Erie County Sheriff Department frame-up. Sortre’s appeal was denied in March, 1974.  Seven months later The Christian Century published the sermon “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom”; 20 months later New York Governor Hugh Carey commuted his sentence.

This story is especially useful for younger generations whose experience may lend to the belief that the concerns that led to Black Lives Matter are of recent origin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2017.

America as Babylon

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THE BACK STORY: Introduction to Martin Gonzalez Sostre

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

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

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

THE CONTINUING STORY: resistance as worship

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

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

….

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

….

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

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

THE FRONT STORY: 2017

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

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

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

“Robert” who?

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Portrait_of_Martin_Sostre-1446413395m

2002 Portrait of Martn Sostre by Jerry Rice

Ordinarily we meet people face-to-face with a handshake. Sometimes we “meet” them over the phone. Sometimes we meet “friends” on FaceBook.

This is a tale of a different kind of meeting with a man named Martin and another man named Robert who seemed to know me, though I’d never heard of him and never heard from him again.

I met Martin Gonzalez Sostre face-to-face after a guard at Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora, New York confided that the internationally famous prisoner-rights advocate held in perpetual solitary confinement beyond the reach of visitors was being transferred temporarily the next day to the Federal Detention Center in Lower Manhattan (NYC) for purposes of testifying as a witness in another prisoner’s trial.

THE TRIP TO THE FEDERAL DETENTION CENTER

Two days later I make the eight-hour drive from our home in Canton, NY to New York City, unsure whether Martin will agree to see a stranger – an unknown Presbyterian minister coming to visit his Anarchist Muslim parishioner!

Entering the newly-opened Metropolitan Corrections Center, it feels like stepping into a different world.  At the reception desk, the clerk asks my business.

“I’m here to visit Martin Gonzalez Sostre.”

“Do you have an appointment?” “No.” “What’s your relation to the inmate?” Pointing to the clerical collar I’ve worn for just this reason, I answer, “I’m his pastor.” My heart leaps and my stomach does a flip-flop. What if Martin doesn’t play the game? What if he says he doesn’t have a pastor, that he’s a Muslim, and that whoever it is in the waiting room is a fraud? What happens then?

TWO HOURS BEFORE: A CALL FROM “ROBERT”

Before going to the Federal Detention Center I had stopped by the NYC office of New York United Ministries in Higher Education (NY/UMHE) to say hello to three campus ministry colleagues in New York City. I had never been to their office before.

While visiting with Dave in Dave’s office, the receptionist spoke through the intercom. “There’s a call on line 2 for Gordon Stewart.”

“There can’t be,” I said. “No one knows I’m here.” “Well, the call’s for you. They asked for you by name.”

I took the call, thinking perhaps my family was trying to reach me about a family emergency, hoping against hope that my colleagues at the NY/UMHE office might have some contact with me. It wasn’t my family.

“This is Robert ________. I’m calling to ask your help. I’m calling from Riker’s Island . . . . ”

My mind quickly becomes an atom smasher. No one knows I’m here. I’ve never stepped foot in this office. How does an inmate at Riker’s Island know I’m here? How does he know to call this number? How does he know my name? How does anyone know I’m here? Who’s playing with my head and why?

“Robert” is calling me – an unknown campus minister from Northern New York – for legal assistance?

THE VISIT WITH MARTIN

By the time I arrive at the Federal Detention Center, I’m more than a little anxious; the possibility that Martin might reject the visitation increases it.

They lead me into the prisoner visitation room – a long hall of small booths with glass between the visitor and the inmates in front of them and glass on either side of the booth that separates adjacent visitors while allowing the guards full visibility of every interaction.

I take my seat in the visitation booth and wait. One by one the inmates descend a metal staircase to my far left. “How will I know Martin? I know him by reputation only as a man with a sense of dignity, but I’ve never seen a picture. How will he know me? I have no idea what he looks like. He doesn’t know me. How will he know which visitor is his? I remember the clerical collar and hope that’s enough.

A man comes down the stairs. His posture is erect. His head shaved. This is a man of self-respect. His appearance resolute. His eyes searching. When he sees the collar, he makes his way to the other side of the glassed booth. He looks me in the eye, smiles broadly, and   puts his right hand up to the glass! I place my left hand against the glass to “meet” his, a different kind of handshake.

He picks up the phone. I pick up mine. “How you doing, brother!” he says. “Thanks for coming. Everything we say here is monitored. . . . It’s so good to see my pastor!” We both smile, acknowledging the coded communication. I bring him greetings from the group in Northern New York who are working publicly for his release by the Governor. We talk about his well-being, his hopes, and whatever messages he wants me to carry back to his (unknown and un-named) friends. The visit is short. When the time is up, he puts his hand up again on the glass. I follow his lead. “Keep the faith,” he says, with a smile. “We will. I promise. Peace!”

Sostre remained in prison until his sentence was commuted in 1975 by Governor Hugh Carey amidst political pressure from Amnesty International and dozens of Martin Sostre Defense Committees throughout the country. Of all Sostre’s contributions to the prisoners’ rights movement – establishing the constitutional rights of prisoners, fighting for access to legal materials, and establishing unions and advocating a minimum wage – his greatest contribution was to understand the relationship between state repression and prisoner radicalism. As he wrote following the Attica Uprising in 1971: “If Attica fell to us in a matter of hours despite it being your most secure maximum security prison-fortress equipped with your latest repressive technology, so shall fall all your fortresses, inside and out. Revolutionary spirit conquers all obstacles.”13 

THE PRISON INSIDE AND THE PRISON OUTSIDE

On the drive home from the visit with Martin, I sensed in my bones that there was a very thin line between the maximum security prison-fortress equipped with its latest repressive technology and the one outside.

Dannemora prison

Dannemora, New York, home of Clinton Correctional Facility

Martin was transferred back to Dennemora and solitary confinement. Martin kept the faith inside. His Defense Committee kept the faith outside.

On Christmas Day 1975 New York Governor Hugh Carey granted Martin clemency, releasing him to the larger prison population beyond the walls of Dannemora.

I never learned who Robert was. But I learned that “Robert” is never far away from the telephone. Nor is the dignity and courage of Martin. In the surveillance society only fear commits us to solitary confinement; courage releases us.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 1, 2017 (April Fools Day) – no joke!

Yesterday’s NYT reports a class action law suit on behalf of three death row prisoners at Angola State Prison in Louisiana that would overturn the state’s solitary confinement practices as cruel and unusual punishment.

The Con Man: Presidential Bait-and-Switch

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Bill Maher goes right to the heart of the matter – truth spoken clearly with biting humor grounded in the bait-and-switch FACTS of Donald Trump’s own words – campaign promises – compared with reality itself and what he’s doing as President.

Click THIS LINK for Bill Maher’s “New Rules” segment following failure of the American Health Care Act.

Bill Maher often breaks the rules of social propriety. But one rule he never breaks: tell the honest truth as best you’re able.

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

 

On not becoming what I hate

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These days I get pretty angry and it’s not pretty! I’m in need of a good meditation. Like this one.

“We have the wrong perception that we are separate from the other…. So in a way Trump is a product of a certain way of being in this world so it is very easy to have him as a scapegoat. But if we look closely, we have elements of Trump in us and it is helpful to have time to reflect on that.” – Brother Phap Dung, quoted in “A Zen Master’s Advice on Coping with Trump,” Huffington Post.

It gives reason for the likes of me (or is it “I?) to stop and look within as well as out.

Click Zen and the Art of Activism for a “good meditation”.

Peace,

Gordon

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

With the stroke of a pen

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Yesterday the stroke of a pen appeared to erase wisdom. But, as Kenneth K. Mayer’s With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power reminds us, appearance and reality are sometimes different. There’s a difference between the stroke of a pen and an eraser.

00-PEN-777x437Mr. Trump signed the executive order that defies climate science, diminishes responsible federal action on climate change, and promotes a hoax: more jobs and a stronger economy.

The news coverage of the President proudly displaying the executive order to the “audience” while surrounded by smiling fossil fuel corporate executives and climate change deniers left me feeling sick.

 

Fortunately, thanks to a political system of checks-and-balances, and organizations like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)*, there’s more to reality than the stroke of a pen and what meets the eye from a television camera.

Read U.S. Climate Actions Can’t Be Stopped With the Stoke of a Pen and enjoy a better day than yesterday.

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

* NRDC works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

 

When the hearing aid goes dumb

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I have two hearing aids. I need them both.

All of a sudden there was no sound in the left ear. Nada! The hearing aid just quit while listening to a sermon in church. No idea what was said from that point on.

I went home. Changed the battery. Nada. Changed the little white insert at the end of the receiver thinking it might be clogged. Still no sound.

Monday morning, while waiting at the hearing clinic for a verdict on the problem, an older man and his daughter took the seats across from me in the waiting area. They started a conversation. I pointed to my left ear, saying I couldn’t hear. The daughter said something and pointed to her father who also said something I couldn’t understand. Then I said, “I can’t hear,” and smiled. “Sometimes I like the silence. The world is very noisy.” The man laughed. The daughter nodded and smiled knowingly.

It was a momentary communion of glorious shared silence.

The result? The hearing aid has been sent off to the manufacturer for repair of a twisted wire inside the hearing mold. My left ear now wears a loaner, a rental from Herz until my vehicle returns at the cost of $250. I re-imagine the text of the sermon I couldn’t hear:

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28

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

The foreign visitor

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In this acrostic verse Steve Shoemaker imagined Simon of Cyrene, the innocent foreign (Libyan) bystander conscripted to help carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus of Nazareth was found guilty of “subverting the nation and refusing to pay tribute to Caesar.”

SIMON OF CYRENE 

Since I was in Jerusalem for Passover,

I  bought nice gifts both for my wife and the two boys.

Money I had, position in Cyrene, power…

Only meaning was missing, reason for my days.

Now my bags are knocked down and a Roman soldier

Orders me to carry a young condemned man’s cross.

From deep within his eyes I see a place of peace.

Crying women followed us all along the road.

Years later I could still recall, he turns and says,

Remove your tears for me, there are for you ahead

Even worse times to come:  no men,  no pregnancies,

No children, no city–for battles, sieges, war

End families, prosperity, leave just the poor.

  • – Acrostic Verse  – Steve Shoemaker – Urbana, IL, April 22, 2012

Steve (1943-2016) continued the work of Simon of Cyrene. He lived his life on behalf of the poor. We’re missing him today.

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

Climate Change has no boundaries

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kosuke-koyama-2

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“Climate change – global warming – has no boundaries. The light of the sun and the air that sustain all living beings know no boundaries. The Berlin Wall of 96 miles was there for 28 years up to 1989. The racial wall of the South African Apartheid existed for 46 years and ended in 1994. In their limited existence, these walls have done immeasurable damage to humanity on the both sides of the wall. The Orthodox Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West did not speak to each other for 911 years from 1054 to 1965. The Great Wall of China and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin are tourist spots today.

Mezzanine_924-2

James Baldwin (L)  MLK, Jr.

“’One cannot dehumanize others without dehumanizing oneself,’ says James Baldwin. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,’ we pray. It is this prayer that breaks the boundaries in a way that is pleasing to God.”

Whatever talents I possess

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DylanThomas

Dylan Thomas

“I am at the most transitional period now,” wrote Dylan Thomas to his friend. “Whatever talents I possess may suddenly diminish or suddenly increase. I can with ease become an ordinary fool. I may be one now. But it doesn’t do to upset one’s own vanity.”

In that spirit, I accede to my dear friend Bob’s suggestion to post author “endorsements” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness on Views from the Edge. “Why not?” I said to myself. “It’s your book! If you don’t promote it, who will? Who cares if you’re a fool! If you don’t do it now, your limited talents may suddenly decrease!”

Be Still! coverAUTHOR ENDORSEMENTS

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”
Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University

”These are lovely, powerful, centering essays–messages from and for a fragile but beautiful planet.”
Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

”This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.”
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Author of Remember You Are Dust, The Prophetic Imagination, and many other books.

”Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!
J. Barrie Shepherd
Author of Between Mirage and Miracle and many others

Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”
Michael McNally, Ph.D
Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders: Aging, Authority, and Ojibwe Religion

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open–much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it s what the world needs now, more than ever.”
Joyce Sutphen
Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College

”In Be Still! Stewart masterfully spins a counter-narrative to the collective madness that is gripping our world. Like the psalmist, Stewart prays thoughtfully through metaphors and religious tradition, meshing theologians with news headlines to lead the reader to a deeper, more sustained truth. Be Still! reads like part op-ed and part parable. In these troubling and anxious times, may we, who have ears to hear, listen!”
Frank M. Yamada
President, McCormick Theological Seminary, Author of Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives 

joanna-baillie-1

Joanna Baillie (1762-1851)

Then, after heeding my friend Bob’s and Dylan Thomas’s advice, I heard the reassuring voice of Joanna Baillie speaking from long ago:

“Pampered vanity is a better thing perhaps than starved pride.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2017.

 

 

WORSE THAN WATERGATE

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We’re pleased to re-blog Marilyn’s SERENDIPITY post. The information from this Rachel Maddow Show clip merits broad dissemination.

SERENDIPITY

This was too good not to post. If you’ve already watched it, then you know and of course, if you’ve been following U.S. national events, you also know. But this is a very good wrap up and I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. Both? Because this is the worst of times for the U.S. … but maybe, if we prove we have a country that can withstand the worst, maybe it’s after all, a good time. The world is a crazy place and this is one crazy time to be living in it.

http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_maddow_atrump_170324

Someone commented yesterday (I wish I remembered who and I apologize) that “When you elect a game show host without any experience in government or legislation to run the United States, what could possibly go wrong?”

I think we are beginning to see an answer to that.

I feel so young again. Just like…

View original post 50 more words

Whistleblowers, traitors, or patriots?

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Watching and listening to Rep. Trey Gowdy during last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSC Director Mike Rogers was  deja vu for those of us old enough to remember Joseph McCarthy’s use of the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917.

Trey-Gowdy-1200x6301With stern face and the determined voice of a righteous prosecutor Gowdy shifted the focus of the hearing away from the question of outside foreign interference in the election process to the leaks coming from inside the intelligence community itself, and the need to find and prosecute the leakers under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. A breach of secrecy of classified material is punishable by as much as 10 year prison sentence.

A google search led to an article by a whistleblower published by The Guardian criticizing the Obama Administration with prosecuting whistleblowers while turning a blind eye to leaks of classified material by members of the Administration itself. Click “Obama’s abuse of the Espionage Act is modern-day McCarthyism” for The Guardian story from 2013 that moves the conversation beyond partisanship to the issue of the national security state and the new McCarthyism.

mccarthy1McCarthyism began with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s conviction that the communists had infiltrated the federal government as well as the left-leaning entertainment industry and the media. He was looking for spies and traitors, American citizens whose nefarious purposes posed the greatest threat to the United States of America.

Twenty years later, Daniel Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 and charges of conspiracy and theft for “leaking” to the New York Times what became known as the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, a crime with a total maximum sentence of 115 years. On May 11, 1973, the judge in the case dismissed all charges on the grounds of  government misconduct and illegal evidence gathering.

What we had then, and what have now, is an ethical issue of the first order.

Edward_Snowden-2Are there times when a government employee’s loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and and the duty of conscience supersedes the vow of secrecy under which she works? Are whistleblowers traitors? Patriots? Or something in between?

“Sometimes the scandal is not what law was broken, but what the law allows.” – Edward Snowden [quoted from Brainyquotes.com]

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

 

The Party of No votes No on itself

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Today America’s “Party of No” didn’t have the votes to vote Yes on its own bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After consulting with the President, Speaker Ryan “pulled” its own health care bill.

During the Obama Administration the Republican Party voted repeatedly to repeal The Affordable Care Act, called pejoratively “Obamacare”. But in 2017, holding majorities in the House and Senate and occupying the White House, “The Party of No” couldn’t agree to say Yes to its own health care bill.

Saying Yes is harder than saying No. Governing is hard! So…instead of working in a bipartisan way to improve the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to “let Obamacare explode,” said President Trump, while magnanimously declaring that “some Democrats are good people.”

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

Sir, don’t forget your wallet!

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Kwik Trip’s jobs brochure was sitting on the counter when I stopped by for gas and a fish sandwich ($1.49) this noon.

Kwik trip

The first thing that meets the eyes of a job applicant are Kwik Trip’s CORE VALUES:

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY

We are honest in all our business interactions with our co-workers and business partners and expect the same in return.

RESPECT

We show respect for everyone in what we say and do.

EXCELLENCE

We strive to excel in everything we do. We are committed to producing high quality products and services at a superior value for our customers.

HUMILITY

We are grateful for our success and share our appreciation with our co-workers, but we do not seek public recognition.

Two other values – Innovation and Work Ethic – complete the list.

When I first saw the Kwik Trip marquis several years ago, I objected to the name. I don’t like quick! Everything is quick or, now, “kwik”! I’m slowing down. I prefer slow. But I since learned that the people inside Kwik Trip are much different from the name on the marquis. The people behind the cash registers demonstrate honesty and integrity (“Sir, don’t forget your wallet! Sir . . . !”), respect, commitment to doing their jobs well (excellence), and a humble spirit.

When I finished my sandwich I took the brochure home with the thought of publishing a post here and recommending to the President White a crash course in Kwik Trip Core Values and training. Then I remembered one of the the President’s most outrageous quick insights into his Core Values:

Trump-climatechange-tweet

And, just as quickly, I plunged from a high hope to reality – “Never mind. Some things are hopeless!” And, as the House prepares to vote today on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, I’m keeping especially close watch on my wallet.

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

 

 

 

Climate Departure Roadmap

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This article on climate change and the roadmap of the Paris Accord goals brings to mind the Navajo saying that inspired Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness begins: “If we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to get where we’re going.”

Read Scientists made a detailed “roadmap” for meeting the Paris climate goals. It’s eye-opening and call your Congressperson, Senator, and the White House to open more eyes.

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

 

 

The church shoppers

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According to recent polls the “nones” (people who indicate no religious preference) are growing quickly. It’s an interesting phenomenon explainable in many ways. The causes are many.

Protestant Christian churches once considered “mainline” or mainstream (e.g, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Congregational) have fallen on hard times. Their numbers have decreased precipitously as the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and the nones have increased.

So what is church exactly in the shopping market of consumer capitalism?

This video offers a delightful, humorous look at a young couple looking for a church that fits their needs and tastes.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, snobby happily returned preacher with shirt still tucked in believer in women in ministry, lover of Bach, Buxtehude, John Rutter, and traditional liturgy.

 

America’s socio-psychic health

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Thanks to MinnPost.com for publishing this opinion piece on socio-psychic dynamics of the American political culture in 2017 as seen through the ancient myth of Narcissus.

Click Recalling Narcissus -and the roles of Echo and the pond to read the story on MinnPost. Then, if you choose, leave a comment on the MinnPost page or here on Views from the Edge.

In any case, as always, thanks for dropping by the evaporating pond!

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

An [un]Avoidable Conflict

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The day following the U.S. House hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 American election, Reuters reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip the NATO meeting in Brussels because the meeting dates conflict with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit at the President’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida.

The Secretary of State will pay a visit to Russia immediately following the meeting in Mar-a-Largo.

The scheduling conflict with NATO was avoidable, according to sources in the article:

“A former U.S. official and a former NATO diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the alliance offered to change the meeting dates so Tillerson could attend it and the Xi Jinping talks but the State Department had rebuffed the idea.”

Click “Exclusive: Tillerson Plans to Skip NATO meeting, visit Russian in April – Sources” to read the Reuters story.

Warning: If you believe news reports from non-government news sources like Reuters are “faux news” or discredit the value and role of a free press as the watchdog of government in a democratic republic, don’t read the story.

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

 

Pure Joy

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Lucinda is a five year old. Barclay is almost four. But Barclay is much older than Lucinda. In the human equivalent to Lucinda’s age, Barclay will be 28 in May.

Here’s a glimpse into Barclay’s playful spirit from when he was two (i.e., 14).

Last night, around the dinner table at the birthday party for the much older 36 year old and the 31 year old, there was lively conversation. But down on the floor, and sometimes under the table, there was pure joy – a little girl and the favorite dog she lives to visit.

Lucinda is a very active little girl. She never stops. She’s here; she’s there; she’s everywhere. She demands to be the center of attention. But she loses herself and gains it with Barclay whose great blessing is that he knows he’s not the center of the universe. He has to wait for others to play with him – and sometimes, on the best of days, the other is Lucinda, the favorite playmate who brings him pure joy for an hour or two.

The smiles on Barclay’s and Lucinda’s faces were as unmistakable as the light from the candles on the cake.

Sadly, moments after Lucinda’s family left our home last night, her cries and screams pierced the darkness on the sidewalk outside. Barclay was very sad, too. But he’s also the older and wiser of the two playmates. Cocking his head and looking up at me, he said, “Poor Lucinda. She’s still very young. She doesn’t understand yet that ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ – Psalm 30, right Dad?”

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

 

 

The Prison Church of the Good Thief

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The Church of the Good Thief, Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, NY

The Church of the Good Thief, Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, NY

Dannemora, New York, home of Clinton Correctional Facility

Dannemora, New York, home of Clinton Correctional Facility

Within the forbiddingly high walls of the NY State Prison in Dannemora, New York stands a remarkable structure: The Church of St. Dismas (the Good Thief).

The prison is now known as “Clinton Correctional Facility” but to the inmates across the state of New York it is known as “the Hell Hole” of the New York prison system – “New York’s Siberia” – because it is cold in the northeast corner of New York. The inmates of Attica think of Dannemora the way people on the outside the system think of Attica – the most dreaded place in the New York prison system.

The Church of St. Dismas was built by the prisoners between the years of 1939 and 1941 as a witness to God’s presence within the walls of prison. It bears witness to the thief whom the crucified Jesus, also condemned by the State as a criminal, pardoned and promised Paradise.

On the Wednesday evenings between 1974 and 1977 I drove across the Adirondacks from our home in Canton, New York to Dennemora where a group of churches, college students, and university faculty put on programs and visited with prisoners. The times with the inmates confirmed what I had read in Kai Erickson’s incisive book, Wayward Puritans: a Study in the Sociology of Deviance , in which he argued that society creates and maintains deviance as a means to identifying itself as the opposite of “the other”.

I often found among the prisoners in the Hell Hole the voice of “the good thief” next to Jesus on his cross and gave thanks for a greater encompassing mercy.

The two-hour treks across the mountains to and from Dannemora became times of clarified perception about the folly of the presumption of righteousness among the free and the essential oneness between the prison “yard” and the yards we mowed back home in Canton where the walls were invisible.

Later I learned the Taize Community (France) chanted prayer of “the penitent thief’ set to music: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom”.

April 16, 2012

Alt-Facts and the ‘Anti-Christ’

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Talk radio host

Talk radio host

Views from the Edge re-publishes this piece on Maundy Thursday, 2017. It first appeared here on March 24, 2010. Sadly, nothing much has changed. The U.S. was sucker-punched by the apocalyptic spirituality of the alt-right politics of Rush Limbaugh and Steve Bannon.

Something from the Christian tradition – the idea of ‘the Anti-Christ’ – is lifting its ugly head, a word and concept that could trigger unthinkable tragedy unless we clean up our civil discourse.

According to Harris Interactive Poll taken between March 1 and 8, “more than 20% believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,’ that he is racist and anti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20% think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14% believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13% think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.”

The poll reflects what we all know: our civic health as a nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. This toxic disregard for truth lies behind the results of the Harris Poll. Trigger words like ‘socialist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘anti-American,’ and ‘the Anti-Christ’ and the allegation that America’s first black president is the nation’s chief domestic enemy take us beyond the McCarthyism of the ‘50s. This cocktail is lethal.

As a Christian pastor I rue the use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate. The Christian life – or spiritual life of any sort, for that matter – is a life of discernment about the powers that shape ordinary life. It is not blind to evil. But loud spirituality is an oxymoron. We need to be reminded that all the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” and “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”

Labeling the President of the United States ‘the Anti-Christ” gives deranged minds a license to kill . . . in the name of the non-violent, crucified Jesus. If some deranged American patriot like the Marine who plotted to assassinate the President should succeed . . . God forbid! . . . the blood will be on the hands of all who remained silent when the hate speech was being poured into the public stream of consciousness. And if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, get yourself to church Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to ground yourself again in the love that conquers hate and fear.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Maundy Thursday morning, Chaska, MN.

The foreign visitor

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In this acrostic verse Steve Shoemaker imagined Simon of Cyrene, the innocent foreign (Libyan) bystander conscripted to help carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus of Nazareth was found guilty of “subverting the nation and refusing to pay tribute to Caesar.”

SIMON OF CYRENE 

Since I was in Jerusalem for Passover,

I  bought nice gifts both for my wife and the two boys.

Money I had, position in Cyrene, power…

Only meaning was missing, reason for my days.

Now my bags are knocked down and a Roman soldier

Orders me to carry a young condemned man’s cross.

From deep within his eyes I see a place of peace.

Crying women followed us all along the road.

Years later I could still recall, he turns and says,

Remove your tears for me, there are for you ahead

Even worse times to come:  no men,  no pregnancies,

No children, no city–for battles, sieges, war

End families, prosperity, leave just the poor.

  • – Acrostic Verse  – Steve Shoemaker – Urbana, IL, April 22, 2012

Steve (1943-2016) continued the work of Simon of Cyrene. He lived his life on behalf of the poor. We’re missing him today.

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