I’m a guy. A white guy. A member of the race and gender that is reeling these days after bringing the world centuries of bad stuff. I’m not African-American, Hispanic, or American Indian. I’ve never been racially profiled, though I have worked for a nonprofit law firm that belongs to the people.
In 2017 my first book was published. Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock Publishers).
Be Still! is a collection of social commentaries on public life viewed through the eyes of faith, many of which first aired on MPR’s All “Things Considered” and MinnPress.com. It’s on the NY Times Worst Seller List, available from Amazon (click HERE) and from Wipf & Stock.
Falling in fishponds: How I got to be me
At the age of five I plunged to the bottom of a neighbor’s fish pond after 90 year-old Mrs. Thomas, my kindergarten teacher at Vacation Bible School, had told us that Peter could walk on water because he had faith. I tested my faith on Dicky Tinsley’s fish pond, sank like a stone, and ran home crying. I was going to Hell! My mother rescued me with quick thinking when I ran home sobbing, soaked with muddy water. “Gordon Campbell Stewart,” said Mom,” what on earth happened to you?” I explained through my tears that Mrs. Thomas had told us Peter could walk on water because he had faith. “I don’t have faith!” “Yes, dear,” said Mom, “but Jesus didn’t tell YOU to walk on the water!” Nice save, Mom! I’ve never read the Bible the same way since that day.
In college I again fell into a fish pond. The reading assignments in Professor Esther Swenson’s contemporary philosophy class — Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and The Flies, Albert Camus’ The Plague, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot — pushed me back into the fish pond, despairing over God’s absence. Religion was what Marx had said it was: the opiate of the people, and I’d been on drugs. It was also Esther’s hand that rescued my faith, introducing me to 20th Century theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and the man whose thought would most deeply influence me, Esther’s mentor and colleague, the Dutch theologian-philosopher Willem F. Zuurdeeg, Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Zuurdeeg’s An Analytical Philosophy of Religion (Abingdon Press, 1958) makes the case that the human being, anxious and conscious of the limit of death, “establishes his/her existence” by means of powerful convictions.
The human being is Homo Loquens (man-who-speaks} but more profoundly we are Homo Convictus (man-who-is-convicted, i.e. profoundly grasped by a convictor). Following Zuurdeeg’s untimely death at the age of 57, it was Esther who completed his unfinished work under the title Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry.
Zuurdeeg wrote that by the term ‘conviction’ he meant “all persuasions concerning the meaning of life; concerning good and bad; concerning gods and devils; concerning representations of the ideal man, the ideal state, the ideal society; concerning the meaning of history, of nature, and the All” (An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, p. 26).
In these anxious times I read the news or listen to a speech, I listen with ears tuned by Zuurdeeg and Esther. I live and breathe philosophy and theology, listening for the open and hidden convictions that hold us captive or give us life. The “A Way of Seeing” and the “Sermons” page tell you more about how I construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the world. If I could be anyone other than myself today, it would be Bill Moyers, Cornell West, or the late Daniel Schorr,who each unmasked the convictors that shape public and private life.
My life journey has taken me from Broomall to higher education in Tennessee and Chicago; ecumenical campus ministries at UW-Whitewater, and and the northern tier of New York State, and The College of Wooster in Wooster, OH. Along the way, I have been blessed by churches that called me to serve them: First Presbyterian Church in Decatur IL; Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH; Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, MN; and, in retirement, Shepherd of he Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN, following seven years as Executive Director of Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit criminal and restorative justice law firm founded by the American Indian Movement in Minneapolis.
Kay and I live in Chaska, MN in the greater Twin Cities Area with five year old Barclay, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, within 15 minutes of our youngest grandchildren Elijah and Calvin, and too far from sons John (Mendocino CA) and Douglas (NYC), their spouses, and grandchildren Jackson, Amelia, and Ruby.