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. And I’ve never known what it is to go through labor or give birth to a child…until my first book was born last year.
Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017,Wipf and Stock Publishers), a collection of essays on public life viewed through the eyes of faith, is available from Amazon (click HERE) and from Wipf & Stock.
How I got here
Very early in life I was full of faith who became Thomas, the doubting disciple. At the age of five I plunged to the bottom of the neighbor’s fish pond after 90 year-old Mrs. Thomas, my kindergarten teacher at Vacation Bible School, told us that Peter could walk on water because he had faith. I tested my faith on Dicky Tinsley’s fish pond and 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 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.
Of Convictional language, 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 of 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 unmasked the convictors that shape public and private life.
My life journey took me from Broomall to school in Tennessee and Chicago; to campus and pastoral ministries in Decatur, IL, Whitewater, WI, Canton, NY, Wooster, OH, Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, and Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN, to seven years as Executive Director of Legal Rights Center, MN, followed by eight years as pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church.
My wife Kay and I live in Chaska, MN in the greater Twin Cities Area where I’m slowly becoming a Minnesota Grumpy Old Man, loosened up by Kay and Barclay, our five year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and the two grandchildren, Elijah and Calvin, who live nearby. The other three grandchildren, Jackson (Jack), Amelia, and Ruby, live in Kentucky and California.