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 without him.

Getting smart with sick people

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Pictures like this from Charlottesville, Virginia send chills down the spine. White supremacy, white nationalism, the KKK, and the Neo-Nazis sometimes evoke a reptilian response in me. I hate the haters.

I am like the psalmist in the psalm I learned as a child.

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.

For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.

Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. [Psalm 139:19-22 KJV].

They are evil, pure and simple! I hate them with a perfect hatred.

Then I remember the conclusion of the psalmist’s reflection immediately that strangely comes on the heels of hating God’s enemies with a perfect hatred. These last lines of Psalm 139 come only after the psalmist takes a very deep breath — a more contemplative introspective pause.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. [Psalm 139:23-24 KJV]

Evil is not only out there. It’s also in here. In me. It’s like an infection. It’s pandemic. Comparing myself with the most egregious white supremacists leaves me among the righteous, but, as an old professor observed, comparison is the Devil’s work.

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Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

Andrew Young, August 16, 2017.

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The reptilian brain uploaded from http://www.collectiveevolution.com

Click How to By-Pass Your Reptilian Brain and Restore Your Creative Powers, or Controlling Anger Before It Controls You on the American Psychological Association web site, and remember Andrew young. “Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

Or just remember the psalmist in light of the snake’s deception in the biblical myth of the Garden of Eden: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil!”

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

General Pershing and the Commander-in-Chief

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These Letters to the Editor (August 19) responding to President Trump’s tweet that invoked a debunked legend about Gen. John J. Pershing subduing Muslim rebels in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig blood deserve an audience beyond the readership of the Star Tribune.

I won’t stand for fake news about my cousin, Gen. John Pershing

“I don’t usually express my political opinions in public, which may or may not be a good thing. But now it’s personal. When a sitting president tries to spread fake news about my relative, Gen. John J. Pershing, I take it personally. (“Under siege, Trump turns fire on GOP,” front page, Aug. 18).

“Cousin John was an exemplary general, most notably because of the humane and respectful way he treated the African-American soldiers under his command. To even suggest that the general displayed hateful behavior is, at best, ill-informed or, at worst, vicious and ignorant.

“In this case, President Donald Trump is propagating fake facts to make a fine, upstanding historical figure look like a white supremacist. Totally not true, as historian after historian has repeatedly said. The events that the president is using to make a point simply did not happen.

“This is just another example of the bullying behavior Trump has shown over and over. If he can’t get his way, he finds someone else to put down or uses fake news to make his point — even if the point has no merit.

“Melania Trump has said she wants to fight bullying while she is First Lady. I suggest that she start at home.”

  • Susan Wiesler Dean, Northfield, MN [fourth cousin of Gen. John J. Pershing]

220px-General_John_Joseph_Pershing_head_on_shouldersThis Letter to the Editor followed.

“Long story short.

“Trump has defamed and slandered the good name of Gen. John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing.

“Short story longer.

“He and George Washington are the only two people to be named General of the Armies. As a young man, Pershing taught at an all-black school. He was given the nickname ‘Black Jack’ as a pejorative because he treated the black students fairly, and he works the ‘insult’ proudly. When he arrived in the Philippines, he gave a copy of the Qur’an to the local leaders and offered to assist in building mosques. During World War I, he had the command of the segregated 369th and was respected and admired by the black troops.

“While Pershing was apolitical, the treatment that blacks received from him and their fellow French troops gave hope to the civil rights struggle of returning black vets between the wars. He was never an Islamaphobe.”

  • Ernie Neve, Minneapolis

The same day the Star Tribune published the letters, the president waved to his departing chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a warrior against fake news:

“Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews…maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!” – Donald J. Trump.

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Religion and Race in America

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A.R. Bernard, Easter Sunday, Christian Cultural Center, NYC.

“Megachurch pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical council” reads the headline in today’s Washington Post about the resignation of A.R. Bernard. Other council members are staying put for now.

The term ‘evangelical‘ is a hot word for folks like me from what were once called America’s ‘mainline churches“. We understand the gospel differently from our Christian sisters and brothers who claim the term and sit on the President’s evangelical advisory council.

Mainline Protestants were a majority of all Christians in the United States until the mid-20th century, but they now constitute a minority among Protestants. Mainline churches include the so-called Seven Sisters of American Protestantism—the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (not to be confused with Confessional Lutheranism), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ—as well as the Quakers, Reformed Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other churches. – –  “Mainline Protestant” Wikipedia.

Among the differences between the evangelical churches and the mainline churches is the meaning of euangelion (the Greek New Testament word which translates into English as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’).

From this writer’s perspective, the Good News/Gospel is the conquering of sin by the power of Love, the victory of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty, of oneness over division, of mercy over viciousness, of reconciliation over racism.

Or, as I have more recently come to think of it, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the counter-narrative to every exceptional or superior claim — national exceptionalism, racial exceptionalism, cultural exceptionalism, gender exceptionalism, species exceptionalism, and — yes — religious exceptionalism.

A.R. Bernard’s decision to leave the the President’s evangelical advisory council in the wake of the news in Charlottesville is worthy of national news coverage. A.R. Bernard’s decision bears witness to the gospel’s counter-narrative.

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President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

While the members of the President’s evangelical advisory council like Jerry Falwell, Jr. have stayed put, mainline church leaders like Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have stepped up with statements that fly beneath the attention of national publicity.

Here’s an excerpt from Herbert Nelson’s word to leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the aftermath of President’s remarks following the white nationalist, white supremacist nightmare in Charlelottesville, “Are we complicit in the racism of the alt-right?” (August 14, 2017) .

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Dr. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:15–16).This word advocate comes from the Greek word advocare, which means to “stand beside or stand with.” Its connotation is akin to a lawyer standing beside a client. Jesus is preparing them to live a life in faith without his physical presence, while reminding them that the spiritual presence that guided him will still be with them; will stand beside them; will be an advocate for them. We use the words justice advocacy to explain the power of walking beside the victimized in our society. Racism represents a historic ill and victimization of people of color in this nation. It is a cancer in the soul of our country that can be driven out only by love. This love makes both the believer and nonbeliever uncomfortable, because it causes us to recognize that we can do more when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on the Almighty.

“White supremacy will not be eradicated until faith leaders become willing to risk their very lives (professional and otherwise) for the sake of the gospel. The Scriptures remind us that “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Our denomination must be willing to lose its life for the sake of eradicating more than 400 years of white supremacy in the United States.

Perhaps today I may be forgiven for taking a little comfort — very little — in being part of a non-exceptional dying church that bears witness to the counter-narrative gospel in spite of itself.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

White supremacy, America’s original sin, is demonic. Always has been. Always will be.

Rarely does evil show up as visibly as it did last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and in the days that have followed.

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

In the fight of good with evil the first impulse is to kill it. Get rid of it. Banish it from from existence itself.

The snake’s aside in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden whispers anew its eternal invitation to self-deception: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You cannot kill a demon. If you try to kill it, you end up killing your brother, your sister, your neighbor as your enemy.

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee on the public squares of the former Confederacy bear witness to the unfinished business of America’s Civil War, or, as it is known in the South, The War Between the States.

Should they all come down? Does right-mindedness — a new public consciousness beyond the evil of white supremacy — demand we do the same with them the people of Iraq and our troops did with the statue of Saddam Hussein to celebrate the end of the reign of terror: take them down?

Knowing how near the serpent of deception is, Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B, invites a more ambiguous response in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of  we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Preserving Memory

Pulling down the statues from their pedestals feels like a catharsis to many of us. To others it feels like an assault. But we do ourselves no favor by framing the issue as one of anti-racist versus racist, pitting the righteous against the sinners.

Historians, spiritual guides, and social psychologists know that societies and individuals that bury their pasts are doomed to repeat them in one form or another. The demons never disappear.  You cannot kill a demon. It always come back to haunt you — all the mores when you think you’ve killed it.

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

The statues serve as channel markers that keep us on the way to a consciousness beyond the America’s original sin of white supremacy instead of symbols of our reverence for what we have come to despise.

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Rev. Dr. Andrew Young and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is in this spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colleague Andrew Young takes the unexpected view that the statues should remain.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

You cannot kill a demon. It’s always whispering in the shadows of our flight from the evil that lies so close. Don’t get mad, get smart.

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

 

No More Silence

JohnMBuchananPastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and former publisher of The Christian Century John M. Buchanan shares his inner struggle following events in Charlottesville.

Other religious leaders’ reflections will follow here on Views from the Edge.

Hold to the Good

At first I thought that David Brooks was on to something in his New York Times editorial, August 8, 2017: “Getting Trump Out of My Brain.” I nodded in sympathy with Brooks’ observation: “For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it is not interested in devoting neurons to that guy. There’s nothing more to be learned about Trump’s mixture of ignorance, insecurity and narcissism. Every second spent on his bluster is degrading rather than informative.” I’ve abided by that sentiment for a while. I have been so overwhelmed by what I have seen happen to my country and its institutions that I simply haven’t known what to say. But I remembered whose I am and who I follow, and my own Christian saints and mentors, and I cannot remain silent.

After the violence and murder…

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Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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“Grandpa, they think I’m a baby. I don’t like all these stuffed animals!”

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“I can see that, Elijah. But, ya know . . .  you’re still a baby.”

“I’m not, Grandpa. I’m not a baby! I’m 12!”

“Well, I understand that you feel that way. You have very little control. You’re still very vulnerable at 12 weeks. You have no defense against Mom and Grandma putting stuffed animals in your arms whether you want them or not. But you’re not ready for independence.”

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

“No, you’re really not. You still need your diapers changed.”

“So what? So does the President! He’s just a baby, Grandpa. How come nobody’s helping him? You could give him one of my stuffed animals to help him be calm. He can have this one. Except for black eyes, it’s all white and kinda cuddly, and it is an elephant!”

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

 

The President’s hand

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Listening includes watching. Do the words match the body language? If they’re different, what does the body language tell us that the words do not?

I’ve been watching the president’s hands lately. He’s doing something different with them. With palm facing the rest of the world, his fingers are spread apart, as when one pushes someone or something away. Other times they seem to be waving something away.

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There are fewer closed circles with pointed fingers, although they still appear at moments that are just as telling as his facial expressions.

Every one of us is a community of voices from the past — the community of DNA and family culture — and it is not unusual for the voice of a father to shout in a son’s ear even at the age of 71.

 

FredTrumpArrestWhen one grew up in the shadow of a father who had been arrested and discharged, rightly or wrongly alleged to have marched with the KKK, and years later had been investigated by a U.S. Senate committee for wartime profiteering and by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for civil rights violations, what is the son to say and do following the nation’s focus on Charlottesville, Virginia?

Publicly slap his father, give him the back of his hand? Defend him by feuding again with the “faux media” that wrongfully accused his innocent father of being a KKK marcher and white supremacist? Push the rest of the world away from the family whose patriarch’s reputation as a tenant landlord drew the scornful attention of Woody Guthrie?

Only Donald or members of his closest family can tell us. But, like most families, this one knows how to keep its secrets.

For the nation’s sake and for his, one might pray and hope that those within Mr. Trump’s closest circle — not the circle of his public persona of closed certainty, but the intimate circle of those who him best and love him — will take the President’s hand the way a mother takes the hand of a frightened child and walk him to Trump Tower . . . or to a hospital where he can get the care he needs.

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

 

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

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I’d never thought about groceries back in Broomall. We’d drive to the Acme, fill the grocery cart, and bring the bags home. It was just part of daily life. Or so I thought.

groceriesI was 17 the day I learned about groceries in America.

Tony and I had become friends at Pennington Island, the church camp in the Delaware River, after meeting each other on the Saturday several years before when the junior-high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church and Berean Presbyterian Church had met during a service project at the Green Street Settlement House.

NLIOn Pennington Island the kids from Philadelphia and the Philadelphia suburbs spent nights together in the same cabins, rose early for “morning watch”, played games, ate the same food at the same tables in the mess hall, swam in the same swimming pool, and sang hymns and spirituals like Jacob’s Ladder. We were living in the same economy while climbing somewhere together.

After the week or two on Pennington Island, the members of his ideal economy would say good-bye and return to the disparate circumstances whose differences we preferred not to know.

Ignorance was bliss. Until the day Tony visited our home in Broomall, 15 miles west of Philadelphia, and watched my mother pull into the driveway with the groceries. My mother spoke of it years later as one of those moments that opened her eyes.

7769907-1955-buick-special-std-cAs we began to unload the groceries from the ’55 Buick, Tony’s eyes grew bigger. There was more than one bag. Never had he seen multiple grocery bags. When the Lewises had a little money, they’d bring home what they needed for the day…or maybe two, on a good day. There were never five, six, seven bags of groceries.

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus,” we had sung in the egalitarian economy of Pennington Island where we were climbing higher together. But unloading the grocery bags that day in Broomall, the difference in groceries seemed more like a symptom of sin – the gulf of separation between two worlds. One home was much “higher” than the other — one white, one black; one privileged, one not — in a black and white economy.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 14, 2017.

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

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President Trump’s statement and silence about white supremacy following the terror in in Charlottesville prompted a brief but telling conversation in Minnesota.

IMG_5234“Grandpa, the President just said he wants me to feel safe to play outside, right?”

“Right, Elijah, that’s what he said. That had nothing to do with the reason for the violence in Charlottesville, but, yes, he did say that.”

“Yeah, if he cares about all the children, why didn’t he say the words?”

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

White supremacy @ Charlottesville and Bedminster

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Speaking from his Bedminster Golf Club after domestic terrorism at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the President of the United States spoke not the words the nation needed to hear. He used his bully pulpit to call for a more generic end to hate, referring to himself as a victim of it.

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There are no Confederate flags or statues there. No Ku Klux Klan hoods, neo-Nazi swastikas, or old pick-up trucks with gun racks in the parking lot of the summer White House. The members of Bedminster arrive in Bentleys, Ferraris, or a poor man’s Mercedes or Audi to yell “fore!” to warn other members in danger of getting hit by an errant golf ball. They ride on manicured fairways in their golf carts. They don’t drive cars into crowds.

But as Bedminster’s celebrity addressed the nation last night, didn’t what he didn’t say leave you wondering whether he is constitutionally unable to speak aloud the name of the bully ideology that summoned the white nationalists to the event of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville?

Can you say “white supremacy”? Can you say “white nationalist domestic terrorism”?  Or do you see only yourself everywhere?

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Donald Trump crashing a wedding at Bedminster Golf Club

“’We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back,’ said Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.” (August 12, 2017, NYT)

The President sees only himself everywhere. Unfortunately, he’s not alone!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.