About Gordon C. Stewart

I've always liked quiet. And, like most people, I've experienced the world's madness. "Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan. 2017) distills 47 years of experiencing stillness and madness as a campus minister and Presbyterian pastor (IL, WI, NY, OH, and MN), poverty criminal law firm executive director, and social commentator. Our dog Barclay reminds me to calm down and be much more still than I would be without him.

Stay Woke!

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A prefatory word of introduction

This sermon has been dormant since 2014. It was written the first Sunday following retirement. It has never been spoken from the pulpit, no ears have heard it, no one has read it until now. Noah Bieman’s Los Angeles Times editorial, “The Great Divide” (republished today by the Star Tribune), offers reason to post it. Jesus of Nazareth never heard of Florida or its governor’s description of it: “a refuge of sanity, a place “where woke goes to die.”

“KEEP AWAKE!”

First Sunday in Advent, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 13:37, NIV)

It’s hard to stay awake in times like these. To be conscious means grief, helplessness, anger at the state of the world and the stupidity of the human race.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is supposed to bring comfort, but it doesn’t, unless the heaven and earth of which Jesus speaks are the ones our pride has created: the imaginary ones, the heavenly and earthly projects that rise out of human insecurity, as in the Genesis story of Babel, the story of what never was but always is, according to which the building of the ideal city is interrupted and the tower “with its top in the heavens” is “left off”. But the Word — the story about it — has not passed away. It endures. As fresh today as it was when first shared around a campfire as a way of teaching a new generation the respective places of God and humankind.

Fourteen years after the World Trade Center Twin Towers collapsed, a new tower, One World Trade Center — taller, stronger, bolder — stands where the old towers crumbled on 9/11. One World Trade Center resuscitates a national myth on life support.

Standing a few blocks from Wall Street, where the global economy is reconstructed every day, One World Trade Center picks up the pieces of the myth of national supremacy, benign goodness, and presumed virtue of the American economic system.

We could have left Ground Zero empty of monoliths. Turned it into a memorial to the error of undue pride, a turning away from national arrogance. A repentance from the economic-military-religious-technological complex that expropriated the oil fields in the Middle East, assassinated the elected President of Iran in 1958, installed the Shah in his place, ignored the human rights of Palestinians, supported and installed western-friendly oligarchies and strong men in Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Saddam Hussein), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) until, except for Saudi Arabia, they turned against us.

Instead of listening to the word that does not pass away, we Americans, to the sorrow of New Yorkers like Michael Kimmelman (“The Great Divide,” NY Times, Nov. 29, 2014), opted for the old words and worn-out scripts that had failed us. The Democratic Spring in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia did not do what the NeoCon exporters of Western democracy had imagined. It unleashed a seething volcano of anti-American resentment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria became desert quagmires – Vietnams without jungles.

Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warning of the emerging “military-industrial complex” is a pessimistic memory we ignore as the phoenix of One World Trade Center is raised up…and up…and up out of the ashes, symbol of global dominance to fool ourselves again.

Human scale –truer neighborhoods

“But it [i.e. the World Trade Center] never really connected with the rest of Lower Manhattan. There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center re-development including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood, at a human scale, where the windswept plaza at the foot of the twin towers had been.”

Michael Kimmelman, “The Great Divide,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 2014

What is at issue is human scale, a windswept plaza, or a tower of divine proportions with “its top in the heavens.” Our words will pass away, even the best of them.

Keeping awake

Keeping awake is hard. Staying attuned to what is not passing away takes courage in search of wisdom. It takes faith. It takes hope. It takes love.

During this most puzzling of seasons — the Season of Advent, the season of wakeful anticipation of a Coming in fullness — I find myself crying out with Isaiah. It feels as though “you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” [Isaiah 64:7]

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations [the ethnoi in NT Greek, i.e. the peoples] might tremble at your presence!

Isaiah 64:1-2

The ‘nations’ have always been God’s adversaries, closed in on themselves, puffed up, defensive against intruders, plunderers of nature and other nations, hostile to the foreigner, both human (the other) and Divine (the Other).

Deliver us from ourselves

In this season of ‘economic recovery’ when the poor continue to get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class shrinks, deliver us, good Lord, from “the hand of our own iniquity.

”Remember, “O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” [Isaiah 64:8]

This word is the only word that lasts. Stay awake, my soul. Stay awake to the whole of it — all of it: the sorrow and the grief of it, the loneliness of it, the anger toward it, the guilt of it, the finger pointing that points back at me, a nation to myself, and the presence of the Potter — and my soul shall be well, new and fresh every morning.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2027, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, November 20, 2022.

When a critic attacks

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“What is your life?” asks the Letter of James. “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Letter of James 4:14b (NIV)

When a megalomaniacal public figure fears that his Echo is growing faint, and that the spotlight is fading, or turning against him, an ingrained and well-practiced defense mechanism kicks in, as surely as night follows day:

When a critic attacks, project onto your critic what you yourself are, and fear becoming.

Former Director of Homeland Security, later chosen to serve as White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly, claims that his boss tried to use the FBI, the IRS, and other federal agencies as weapons against the president’s perceived enemies — former FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, among them.

Photo of Mike Pence swearing in of retired Marine Corps General John Kelley to the office of Secretary of Homeland Security.
John F. Kelly is ceremonially sworn in prior to President Trump’s speech at DHS Headquarters on January 25, 2017. Kelly was actually sworn in five days prior.

The former president’s current spokesperson refutes Kelly’s claim with the defense mechanism to which Americans have become accustomed:

"It’s total fiction created by a psycho, John Kelly, who . . . made it up just because he’s become so irrelevant.”

“You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?” asks the Epistle of James. “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James

A Letter to the Editor

A Letter to the Editor in today’s Star Tribune (Nov. 17, 2020) asks and answers a few vexing questions about fiction, psychos, and irrelevance.

Photocopy of Letter to the Editor, Star Tribune (Nov. 17, 2022)
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, November 17, 2022

Stillness and the Septic Tank — The Day After

About this piece

"Leave Rage Alone" aired yesterday as a podcast recorded during a rare moment when all of us were in the same boat, waiting for the 2022 election returns. The text for the podcast is printed below."Leave Rage Alone" was written and posted four years ago before Kay and I re-located from Chaska to Brooklyn Park MN to be near grandson Elijah. We share it here in hopes it still speaks.

Searching for stillness

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

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers…
For they shall soon wither like the grass…
Be still before the LORD…
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37 BCP

Leave rage alone.

Last night, after a quiet swim, I put my hearing aids back in, returned to the cabin for dinner, and listened to a podcast of The Beat with Ari Melber which Kay had downloaded on her iPhone. Back home in Chaska, we watch The Beat because it suits our outrage over what is happening to America. But listening to the podcast re-awakened the rage from which I seek relief in the quiet beauty of the disconnected cabin by the wetland. Listening to the podcast disturbed the serenity of the place. It felt like a fatal assault, a return to hell.

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

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

Meanwhile the calendar reminds me. It’s time to call the guy who empties the septic tank, before it gets full and no longer works. — July 19, 2018.


Afterword

The day after the election day, the boat of anxiously awaiting the election results is over. The shared experience of unknowing was perhaps its own kind of sacred moment, a suspension of the lethal spirituality of winners and losers. Is it too much to ask, for the sake of everyone’s health, that we come together again to empty the septic tank before it gets full?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith and public life; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 9, 2022.

Can Crocodiles Fly?

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What is real?

Tomorrow’s 2022 election is about reality. Some appearances are real, others are not. Some things are fixable, other are not. Some illnesses are curable, others are terminal.

Which is climate change? Which is democracy? Though the ballots do not ask these questions, the results of this election will tell us what we think is real, fIxable, and curable or unreal, unfixable, and terminal.

Priorities: a habitable planet

Climate change belongs at the top of every ballot. Check one: climate change is real/not real. Check one: A habitable planet is/is not more important than everything else on this ballot. Check one: My vote does/does not matter.

All other legitimate concerns, irrespective of partisan perspectives — the economy, capitalism or socialism, taxation, race, nation, human rights, war, peace, women’s rights, end of life decisions, agriculture, integrity, truth, qualifications for office, religion, crime, integrity, distribution of wealth, poverty, hunger, ability, and energy — count for nothing without a habitable planet.

Fame is not a qualification for public office

Fame/infamy does not qualify or disqualify a candidate for public service. Personal integrity, character, experience, a sense of humility, and vision for the future — not media visibility or public popularity — are appropriate considerations for a voters decisions.

If media visibility and popularity qualify people for public office, I’d bet on Oprah. Odds would be lower for Kanye West, Elon Musk, Eric Zuckerberg, or Jeff Bozos.

Celebrities on the 2022 ballot include a Hall of Fame football player in Georgia; a retired cardiovascular surgeon-television entertainer in Pennsylvania; a high-profile Phoenix TV news anchor in Arizona. All of them join a higher profile entertainer in denying the legitimacy of the 2020 election, denying that climate change is real, and defending the continuance of fossil fuel producers.

Crocodiles can’t fly or lie

If you believe crocodiles are harmless, and that crocodiles can fly, take a deep breath before you vote. What most distinguishes crocodiles from humans is simple. Crocodiles can have you for lunch, but can’t get their heads around climate change or democracy, and they can’t lie any more than they can fly.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, writer and author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Nov.6, 2022.

Where’s Nancy?

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Truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

Isaiah 59:15 NIV

Eighty-two year old Paul Pelosi, hit in the head by an intruder’s hammer, undergoes emergency surgery for a fractured skull. An intruder admits to breaking into the Pelosi home and hitting Mr. Pelosi with a hammer. He is looking for Nancy.

I read the morning paper, “Right-wing figures rush to spread Pelosi lies,” is the lead story. “The push is on to sow doubt, distrust over attack.”

The same defense-by-offense attack machine whose Willie Horton ad hit the bull’s-eye of white fear to smear Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as “soft on crime” kicks into gear again in an election year. Fox News’ quickly shifts into another gear, deflecting attention from the specifics of the attack — this was the home of the Speaker of the House for whom the January 6 “tourists” had shouted, “Where’s Nancy?” — to launch into the same mode that produced the Horton ad. It could have happen to any of us!

Steve Bannon’s War Room plants seeds of doubt and deceit: “Very strange new details on Paul Pelosi attack,” says the War Room, knowing the 78,000 War Room subscribers are likely to respond: “Gosh, I wonder what those strange new details could be?” Roger Stone weighs in on Telegram, referring to the attack as an “alleged attack” and calls readers to smell the “stench” of mainstream news reporting. Elon Musk posts on Twitter “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” pointing his readers’ to a far right source known for spreading far right disinformation. Elon Musk has 112,000,000 Twitter followers. Hours later, with no explanation, he takes down the post.

Donald Trump stays silent…sort of. On “Truth Social” there is no mention of the event, no expression of sorrow and request for prayers for Mr. Pelosi’s full recovery, no word of sympathy for the Speaker of the House or the rest of a traumatized family, no condemnation of violence, no call for the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other militias to stop the violence, no reference to the rule of law, no recognition of responsibility for unleashing the beasts of hate and terror. Truth Social repeatedly repeats narcissistic lamentations, blaming the Left for conspiring against him.

A numbing detachment and destructive disposition

Not even news of a cracked skull breaks through some skulls. We live, one might argue, in a web of narcissism and nihilism. “[W]e are coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important of all) lovelessness,” wrote Cornel West in Race Matters.

The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world.

Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a cold-hearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.
Cornel West, Race Matters (1993, Vintage Press)

A disease and cure of the soul

“Is there really any hope,” asks West,”given our shattered civil society, market-driven corporate enterprises, and white supremacy? If one begins with concrete narcissism, one must talk about some kind of politics of conversion…Narcissism is a disease of the soul.”

It will take something more than partisan politics to change it. Even so, we are not without Even so, we are not without sources of wisdom, hope, and guidance. Neither truth nor honesty is dead, nor is the way to recover of the public square. An ancient collection of wisdom offers a way forward. The Book of Proverbs names seven things that are detestable to God:

  • haughty eyes,
  • a lying tongue,
  • hands that shed innocent blood,
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes,
  • feet that are quick to rush into evil,
  • a false witness who pours out lies, and
  • a person who stirs up dissension among brothers and sister.

Flip the proverbs to the other side of the coin, and consider the practices that keep a society from falling.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), a collection of social commentaries through eyes of faith; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 2, 2022.

Life in America: I am not a Jellyfish!

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Apologies to By-the-Wind Sailors for calling them jellyfish. They are not jellyfish. A by-the wind sailor has a sail. Jellyfish have no sail; they just bob around.

My life is blown up and down in all directions. Right-side up, down-side-up north, east, south, west. But I am not a jellyfish. I am not a gelatinous blob.

Like the by-the-wind sailors along the Pacific coast, I have a sail that catches the wind. But what use is a sail without a keel and rudder?

I am not a by-the-wind sailor: I don’t get to choose my neighbor

The winds of time blow in different directions and are forever shifting. When it comes from the south, it blows me north. When it comes from the north, it blows me south. Most often it’s the west wind that pushes me and my by-the-sea sailors community east. No one can break ranks! Did I mention that by-the-wind sailors live in colonies. Like members of a political party in 2022, they live in colonies at the mercy of the wind.

But I have a mind that can, and does, make decisions. “Don’t just do something,” said Fr. Dan Berrigan, “stand there!” Sometimes I’m feel torn the Golden Rule (Do to others as you would have them to you) and “standing there” on things that matter, even at the risk of driving a wedge between my neighbor and me. To be loving does not mean becoming a by-the-wind sailor or a jellyfish. It takes a keel and rudder to tack against the wind. By-the-wind sailors have neither the heart to love nor the courage to move against the wind.

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

He [Jesus] said to him [the lawyer], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Stand Firm

I have what no by-the-wind sailor or jelly fish has. I have a rudder. I can go with the wind, or, by trimming the sail, tacking, or putting down anchor, I can go with, or resist, whatever wind is blowing. I can go with the flow or tack to a distant shore when the wind would drive me back, or I can put down anchor. I can do nothing but stand there.

"For freedom Christ has set you free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." [Letter to the Galatians 5: 1].

To move with the wind is neither free nor responsible. It is a peculiar form of slavery. The freedom of Christ breaks the yoke of slavery. Slavery to what? The 59th chapter of the Book of Isaiah expresses in vivid metaphors the anguished heart of God over how poorly we treat each other. How do I love those “who rely on empty arguments and speak lies,” when they “conceive trouble and give birth to evil, when they hatch the eggs of vipers and spin the spider’s web”? How do I love those who seem like by-the-wind sailors, going with a colony blown toward destruction by storms of misinformation, disinformation, lies, misplaced faith, and certainty?

Prayer as Political

A recent week on Block Island, Rhode Island, the home of theologian, lawyer, civil rights and peace activist, author, and friend, William (Bill) Stringfellow and poet Anthony Towne, drew me back to A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning when Bill, at the invitation of the Block Island Writers Workshop, remembered Anthony:

I consider that Anthony regarded the use of the languages the distinguishing feature between that which is civil and human and that which is brutal and dehumanized. The culture, he had noticed long since, had gone the latter way, and its debasement of language, indeed, its promotion of jargon, verbosity, redundancy, deceit, doublespeak and similar babel is evidence of a profound decadence.

His vocation -- as distinguished from his occupation -- was, in principle, monastic, as is my own. (That is the explanation of our relationship.) That is, he and I have understood that we had been called to a life of prayer, and that the practice of prayer is essentially political -- a matter of attention to events and of advocacy for the  needs of human life and of the life of the whole Creation. Prayer, in this sense, is not pietistic, but, on the contrary, radical involvement in the world as it is, prompted in the Word of God. -- William Stringfellow, A Simplicity of Faith (Wipf and Stock), p. 51-2.

November 8 and the Practice of Prayer

The 2022 national election is its own kind of prayer. Either we will vote to surrender our humanity to the prevailing wind of brutality, deceit, nationalism, authoritarianism, violence and hate, or we will choose to tack against the wind toward the horizon only prayer as politics can take us.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 21, 2022.

The Gift of Barclay

Monday, August 22, 2022

This morning is filled with emptiness. Those who have had to say good-bye to the dog in the family understand. Others may wonder how a pet’s death can cause such deep grief and sadness.

Barclay as a puppy

Yesterday morning it became clear that Barclay, our nine year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was laboring and less able to enjoy life. He took his last ride in the car, wagged his tail going into the veterinary clinic, and sat on my lap while Kay and I faced the decision we did not want to make. As he did the first time I held him — he was (3.5 lbs.), he licked my face and nibbled my left ear, expressing that same love and trust with Kay before they gave him the first shot that tranquillized him.

Five days later

The feeling now is emptiness, and, of course, the irrational sense of guilt for “putting him down,” as they say. Kay and I are teary and sad. I have a flood of tears and gasps about to break through the dam. The absence of daily routines — the morning kiss and gentle nibble on my left ear, wiping his eyes, taking him out to do his business (he NEVER had an accident in the house; never, ever), watching him chasing light and shadow, moths and butterflies at the cabin next to the wetland where the Trumpeter Swans live, barking at the deer, the sound of lapping from his water dish, telling us when he needed or wanted something —usually his ball and a playful game of soccer (he was a goalie! You couldn’t get the ball by him), his presence one step behind me going down the stairs (never beside or in front) like an on-site paramedic ready for an accident, sitting patiently to lick peanut butter from our fingers or from the table knife, rolling over on his back for a tummy rub, his complete stillness when Kay groomed him, herding us downstairs when it was time to watch Ari, have a cocktail, play ball, and replenish his prescription dog food, licking the dishes as they were placed in the dishwasher, running and leaping, unencumbered by a leash (“run, run, run!”) at the cabin, his sheer delight with Elijah, following the commands he liked from training — sit, down, heel, leave it — while regarding the rest as suggestions to consider.

To call Barclay “precious” understates his sweetness and goodness.

Six days later

It’s been six days since Barclay died. I haven’t been able to shake the sorrow. The tears remain locked up behind the dam in the reservoir of tears kept over a lifetime. The feelings are particular to this moment in time, but the reservoir feels deeper and darker than the loss of Barclay. The picture of his last moment — lying on the veterinarian’s table with his paws hanging over the edge, trusting us with his life — still haunts me. The feelings are what they always are: neither rational nor irrational. Reason can measure the width and depth of things, but it has no access to the depths of the non-rational which only the heart knows.

If my DNA follows my parents’ lifespan, I have six or eight years left to release the tears of sorrow, guilt, and shame, and to re-fill the reservoir with the tears of joy and thanksgiving for the gift of Barclay and of life itself.

The Gift of Barclay

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Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)

Those who have had to say good-bye to the dog in the family understand. Others may wonder how a pet’s death can cause such deep sadness.

August 22, 2020

Yesterday morning it became clear that Barclay, our nine year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was laboring and less able to enjoy life. We knew he has the heart condition many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels develop and have seen signs Barclay is slowing down. He isn’t his playful self.

Barclay took his last ride in the car, wagged his tail going into the veterinary clinic, and sat on my lap while Kay and I faced the decision we did not want to make. As he did the first time I held him — he was (3.5 lbs.), he licked my face and nibbled my left ear, expressing that same love and trust with Kay before they gave him the first shot that tranquillized him.

Five days later, August 27

The feeling now is emptiness and the irrational sense of guilt for “putting him down,” as they say. Kay and I are teary and sad. I have a flood of tears behind the dam of denial. I miss his presence: the morning kiss and nibble on my ear; walking one step behind me going down the stairs, like a paramedic ready for a rescue; his delight chasing light and shadows, moths and butterflies; throwing his ball at our feet for a game of soccer (he was a goalie; you couldn’t get the ball past him); alerting us when it was time to watch Ari, have a cocktail, and play two or three minutes of soccer; his gentleness with grandson Elijah; practicing the training commands he liked — sit, down, heel, leave it — while regarding the rest as suggestions to consider; sitting patiently to lick the peanut butter from our fingers.

To call Barclay “precious” understates his sweetness and goodness.

Six days later, August 28

It’s been six days since Barclay died. I haven’t been able to shake the sorrow. The tears remain locked behind the dam in the reservoir of sorrow filled by the tears a lifetime. These feelings are particular to this moment in time, but the reservoir feels deeper and darker than the loss of Barclay. The picture of his last moment —lying on the veterinarian’s table with his paws hanging over the edge, trusting us with his life — still haunts me.

These feelings are what they always are: neither rational nor irrational. Reason can measure the width and depth of things, but it has no access to the depths of the non-rational, known only to the heart.

Twelve Days Later, September 3

It’s time for the evening news. Barclay is missing; Donald Trump is not. I’m struck by the contrast. Barclay never lied. There was no pretense in him. Lying and pretense were as far from Barclay’s character as honesty and humility are from the former president. During Barclay’s nine years with us, he never had an accident. Not once. Donald Trump made a mess of the White House, and continues to smear the media with his excreta every day. There is no good reason one would confuse the stench from a pigsty with the aroma wafting from a bakery. When everything is shaking, reason does not stop the quivering. Shaking and calmness are matters of the heart.

At my age, the reservoir has its share of grief and sadness. Much of the sorrow is of my own making, things I have done and left undone that hurt others and myself. Mixed with those tears are the gasps of a global lament: the mess we are leaving to our grandchildren; the horror of January 6 and the relentless disinformation that erodes the public trust on which the survival of democratic republic depends; the Big Lie swallowed and promoted by those who know it’s not true; the return of the hangman’s noose and the hanging tree, weapons of mass destruction, war, and guns concealed and carried freely in public; the insanity of the Strong Man pummeling Ukraine into submission, and the former American president who, like Putin, knows no other words than MINE; the fundamentalist churches’ exchange of the gospel of the crucified Jesus, the Loser, for the prosperity gospel for winners.

How much the reservoir is personal and how much is public is hard to tell, but I also know there are tears of joy and love in my deepest self. All that’s left at the end is love. If my DNA follows my parents’ lifespans, I have six or eight years left to release the sorrow, guilt, and shame, and re-fill the reservoir with tears of joyful thanksgiving for the gift of Barclay and of life itself. Love never ends.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, September 7, 2022

Do You Know How it Feels?

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Straightforward integrity

The House Select Committee hearings are studies of character. What we have seen seems courageous. It takes courage to bear witness to the truth when thugs are threatening your life over and over and over again, and when you can’t use your name any longer because it might bring harm to your mother, your grandmother, and yourself. But what we are looking at goes deeper than courage.

Integrity in high and low places

We have been looking at the integrity of those who did the right thing under pressure from the highest rung of American power. Integrity is the still point from which courage comes. Character that is true to itself was once expressed in the adage, “A man’s (sic) word is his (sic) bond.” Integrity is the alignment of word and deed, the plumb-line of conscience and responsibility. Almost two centuries ago, American writer Charles Caleb Colton wrote,

“Nothing so completely baffles one who is full of trick and duplicity…as straightforward and simple integrity in another.”

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon (1985), 2.14.

Straightforward and Simple Integrity

We have witnessed straightforward and simple integrity in high places — Secretaries of State Rusty Bowers (AZ) and Brad Raffensperger (GA); former Attorney General Bill Barr; the President’s daughter, Ivanka; leaders of the US Department of Justice, the White House Attorney — and in low places where most of us live and do our jobs without public recognition, people like Ms Shaye Moss and her mother, “Lady Ruby,” in Fulton County (GA).

Integrity and trustworthiness are the brick and mortar that keep a house from falling. Tricks and duplicity, like termites and carpenter ants, slowly destroy the foundations and eat away the framework of the house we take for granted. The infestation — Donald Trump’s Constitutional mischief; the once-upon-a-time Grand Old Party’s steadfast complicity in promoting of the Big Lie; three Supreme Court justices who were confirmed only after well-scripted assurances that they regarded Roe v Wade as settled precedent, and, as such, would not overturn Roe v Wade— is eating away the trust and respect without which a house creaks and crumbles.

Securing the House: “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to”

Moments before Rep. Bennie Thomson gaveled the June 21 hearing to order, Republican Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bower received a letter from the 45th President of the United States of America “remind” Mr. Bower of something he never said. Speaker Bower testified under oath that he had never, ever, at any time, anywhere, under any circumstances said the election was rigged. The reminder was a lie.

Mr. Bower’s resistance to repeated pressure from the White House was an act of integrity. “It’s a central tenet of my faith,” he said.” Violating the Constitution is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.” In his diary he had written, “It is painful to have friends…turn on me with such rancor.” But “I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.”

“I know sage, wormwood, and hyssop, but I can’t smell character unless it stinks.

edward dahlberg, “On Human Nature,” Reasons of the Heart, 1965.

The View from Above and the View from Below

Some people view the world from above. They see through eyes of power, possession and privilege. Most of us see life from the lower places of the dis-enfranchised, the dispossessed, the powerless, the forgotten, and those who feed their children, struggle to make the month’s rent, pay the utility bills, find a doctor or a warm blanket in a homeless shelter. They do not call attention to themselves.

Among those who see the world from below are Ms. Shaye Moss, an election worker for the past 10 years in Fulton County, Georgia, and her mother “Lady Ruby,” whose lives were turned upside down by a phone call from the President to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Video of Ruby Freeman’s testimony from below and the phone call from the top.

When asked what had passed between them at the poling site, Shaye Moss, looking over her shoulder at Lady Ruby and smiled. She answered, “A ginger mint.”

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), writing from Brooklyn Park, MN, June 22, 2022.

Faith and a “Clear and Present Danger”

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I had never heard of the Faith and Freedom (F&F) Coalition before hearing Donald Trump would be the keynote speaker for F&F’s “Road to Majority” conference in Nashville, TN.

Did the Faith and Freedom organizers remember the 2016 presidential candidate’s unintended exposure of biblical ignorance when he called Second Corinthians “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University? Liberty is the Bible-believing school founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr., as a Christian counter-weight to the godless universities that were eroding America’s foundations. And, if Faith and Freedom is about freedom, why invite the president who drove a lawful peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration from Lafayette Park with tear gas — in order to pose in front of an historic Episcopal Church holding a borrowed Bible upside down?

Wisdom calls aloud in the street, 
      she raises her voice in the public squares; 
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, 
     in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: 

“How long will you simple ones love 
    your simple ways? 
How long will mockers delight in mockery
   and fools hate knowledge?’” — Book of Proverbs 1:20-22.

What would Donald Trump say after the House Select Committee on January 6 had held its first three public hearings, providing irrefutable evidence of intense pressure on Vice President Pence? What would he say to the sworn testimony of former Attorney General Bill Barr and others that there was no evidence of fraud, that the election had not been stolen? What would he say about Ivanka’s sworn testimony that she believed the Attorney General because she trusted him. How would Mr. Trump respond to Barr’s sworn testimony that the president appeared to be “out of touch with reality”?

A clear and present danger

How would he rebut Conservative Republican retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig’s live testimony? The judge testified that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was part of a “well-developed plan by the former president to overturn the 2020 election at any cost, so that he could cling to power that the American people has decided to confer upon his successor,” and that he considers Trump and his “Big Lie” legitimizers “a clear and present danger”?

The Speech for “Road to Majority”

From the podium of the Faith and Freedom convention, he practiced what Roy Cohn and Roger Stone had taught him. Always go on offense; never go to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. “Mike Pence had a chance to be great,” he said. “He had a chance to be historic. Mike Pence did not have the courage to act!” He said nothing about his last phone call with the vice president on January 6 in which he called Pence a “wimp” and worse, according to the sworn testimony of his daughter Ivanka, the White House Attorney, and White House staff who were in the Oval Office. In his speech to the Faith and Freedom convention, Trump disparaged the vice president as a “human conveyor belt” for going forward with counting the votes that would certify results of the election. He had considered calling Pence a “robot.”

Historical Flashback by historian Heather Cox-Richardson

On August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first president in American history to resign.

[Barry} Goldwater, along with House Republican Leader John Jacob Rhodes and Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott, entered the Oval Office around 5 p.m. The Arizona senator sat directly in front of Nixon’s desk, the others to the side. Goldwater told Nixon he had perhaps 16 to 18 Senate supporters left – too few to avoid ouster. Congressman Rhodes said House support was just as soft.

Rather than admit guilt, though, he told the American people he had to step down because he no longer had the support he needed in Congress to advance the national interest. He blamed the press, whose “leaks and accusations and innuendo” had been designed to destroy him. His disappointed supporters embraced the idea that there was a “liberal” conspiracy, spearheaded by the press, to bring down any Republican president.

When his replacement, Gerald Ford, issued a preemptive blanket pardon for any crimes the former president might have committed against the United States, he guaranteed that Nixon would never have to account for his illegal attempt to undermine his Democratic opponent, and that those who thought like Nixon could come to think they were above the law.

“What I admire about Nixon was his resilience,” one of Nixon’s 1972 operatives told a reporter decades later, ‘It’s attack, attack, attack!’ “

That operative, who sports a tattoo of Nixon on his back, was Roger Stone, who went on to advise Donald Trump’s political career.

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from and American, June 17,2022

Leave no Stone unturned

Not every resilient thing is worthy of praise. Roger Stone is resilient. Nuclear waste is resilient. Attack, attack, attack is resilient. Never defend! “Repeat, repeat, repeat. Attack, attack, attack! Never show weakness. Only show strength!

Who will remove the Stone? What congressional delegation will do for America what John Jacob Rhodes, Hugh Scott, and Barry Goldwater did when they walked into the Oval Office to tell President Richard Nixon it was time to resign? Who will go to Mar-a-Largo to tell Donald Trump that his game is over, that he can no longer lie his way out of the sand trap, that they will not pull him out to put him back on the course? When and how will the Republican National Committee (RNC) re-gain enough respect for the U.S. Constitution to tell the world that the “Big Lie” was a lie? When will Faith and Freedom become faithful to the Lord it professes?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, June 21, 2022.