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.

“A Soulless Coward”

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The President’s lies about former presidents Obama and Bush in reaction to criticism that he had not made presidential calls to the families of four soldiers killed in Niger struck me as just one more example of his unfitness for office.

Then The Nation exclusive interview — “‘A Soulless Coward’: Coach Gregg Popovich Responds to Trump” — popped into my inbox. “[T]o lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House.”

Gregg Popovich, the United States Air Force Academy alumnus and head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is affectionately called “Pop” but one has to wonder how long the affection will last after calling the president a soulless coward.

The interviewer, Dave Zirin, The Nation‘s sports writer, concludes the article: “Should be one hell of an NBA season.”

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

 

 

 

Open Letter to NFL Owners

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To: Mark and Zygi Wilf, owners, Minnesota Vikings
Cc: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

October 17, 2017

Today’s NFL owners meeting is a watershed moment. The agenda item  that would change the NFL’s rules limiting player behavior during the national anthem requires a courage stance informed by history.

As the sons of parents who were survivors of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Poland, you are in a unique position to lead this discussion as owners of the Minnesota Vikings.

I applaud your initial response to the issue of taking a knee during the national anthem. By linking arms with Vikings management and players, and by your official statement on the matter, you supported players’ First Amendment right to free speech. You refused to buckle to the White House demagoguery that confuses taking a knee on behalf of racial justice with disrespect for the country.

I was pleased that you and the NFL stood up for a bedrock American principle. Principle trumped profits . . . momentarily. Now filling pockets threatens to empty the initial commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

If the NFL owners today accede to the president’s bullying, I, for one, will take a knee. I will turn off the television Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays . . . as a matter of principle . . . and will invite everyone I know to do the same. Some things are more important than football. They learned that in Germany. I thought we had, too.

Perish the thought, but . . . if the national anthem pre-game ritual requires the equivalent of a “Sieg Heil!” salute that abrogates the right to free speech, maybe it’s time to end the pre-game ritual and just play football.

I hope and pray this morning that our Jewish friends lead the way today to honor the dead from the history we dare not forget and to stand up for the principle of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

And, while you have the floor, I hope you will bring to the league’s attention the duplicity of having defended the league against the president’s criticism of taking the knee while, at the same time, the owners appear to collude to exclude the original kneeler, Colin Kaeppernick, from taking the practice field.

Sincerely,

Gordon C. Stewart
Chaska, Minnesota

Neighborly Economics

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Mindfulness —the latest topic around the water coolers — helps in times like these. While some use Yoga or some other eastern meditation to become more mindful, my practice is to contemplate the poetry of the Book of Psalms. I open Psalm 146 in hopes of putting my anxious soul at ease from this moment of history.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God as long as I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:1-3)

The psalmist assures me that this moment will not last forever. The elevation of the rich and the assault on the poor, the game of matches lit near the fuses of nuclear devices on two sides of a vast ocean, the name calling between the two narcissists whose Echoes sound the same despite the differences in language, the scenes from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, the burned-out forests, homes, and vineyards in northern California, the undermining of the hope for universal health care, and the disregard for the Paris Accord addressing climate change have ground me down. There is no help in the White House or Capitol Hill. But, their time, the psalmist declares, is but a breath, a moment. Their thoughts will perish.

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cabin by the wetland

In the solace of the cabin by the wetland far from the news, I am breathing easier. Away from the rulers in whom the psalm urges me to place no trust, my mind is calmer. I am in need of no great thing.

But, after lighting the fire in the wood stove, it dawns on me that we’ve forgotten some supplies for the weekend. We have no bread. Or ice cream!

I remember a sign for “DON & DAVE’S: Groceries and Gas — 4 Miles.”

IMG_8514Don & Dave’s is a throw-back to the day Don founded it 70 years ago. From the looks of the exterior, although it is well-kept, I imagine little except for the “ATM Inside” sign has changed since 1947.

“You must be Don or Dave,” I say to the man inside. “I’m Dave,” he says with a smile. I’m Don’s son.” Dave is in his late ‘60s. Don was his father, killed in a car accident years ago. Dave joined his father in the business in 1977. I introduce myself as the owner of the A-frame by the wetland, but he already knows from Shirley, our only neighbor within a quarter of a mile of the cabin.

I take a look around the store, pick up a $1.59 loaf of locally made wheat bread, notice the ice cream freezer, pick up a large tub of Neopolitan ice cream, notice a Hershey milk chocolate with almonds bar, and take them to the check-out counter where Don meets me.

I take out my credit card. “We don’t take plastic,” says Don. “Just cash or check.” I tell him I don’t have either. “Well, we have an ATM,” he says. “I don’t do ATM’s,” I say. You need a PIN for that. I have no idea what the PIN is; Kay does that. I don’t have a clue.” He laughs and invites me to take the bread, ice cream, and Hershey bar without paying. “No problem. Please take it. You can pay me when you come back.”

He takes out a slip of scrap paper, writes down my name, the amount I owe, and the date, and wishes me a good weekend.

Four hours later I return with the cash just before 6:00 P.M., hoping Don and Dave’s is still open on a Saturday night. Turns out they open at 8:00 A.M. and closes at 10:00 P.M. seven day a week! I learn from the young woman who greets me that Don has left for the day, and explain that I’m here to pay my bill. She asks my name, and fetches the piece of paper from a shelf below the cash register. “What should I do with this? Tear it up?”

“No,” I say, “I want Don to know I came back and I want to say thanks. Just write ‘paid’ with today’s date and let me add a word of thanks.”

I had learned earlier from Don that there are four Walmarts with a 60 mile radius of Don & Dave’s. I wonder when the last time was Walmart sent an empty-handed customer away with so much as a loaf of bread, a tub of ice cream, and a candy bar.

I’m very mindful. In the moment. 1947 never looked better!

Values Worth Fighting For

John Buchanan’s “Values Worth Fighting For” articulates clearly so much of what my seminary classmates and I are thinking and feeling as we prepare for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in the midst of the era of Donald Trump.

Hold to the Good

Churches across the globe, Protestant but also Roman Catholic, will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation later this month. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theology professor, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church door served as the community bulletin board and Luther’s Theses – or propositions- were in the form of an invitation to debate. There has always been some uncertainty about whether Luther actually nailed the document to the church door. What is not uncertain is the effect they had. The 95 Theses had to do with traditional church doctrine and practice that, in Luther’s mind, needed to be reexamined and reformed. The result was the Reformation, in Marilynne Robinson’s words, “a movement that touched or transformed thought and culture across the breadth of empire.” (The Givenness of Things, p.17). Before it was over…

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Between Here and There

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A CNN report caught my attention this morning. Anticipating today’s Congressional vote on the president’s $36.5 billion disaster relief aid package, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said the following.

“People want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. They know these are awfully genuine needs,” he said, arguing that Republicans simply want to fund the measure in a “prudent” way.

Early this morning the president took to twitter with a series of tweets about Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of…..

..accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend….

We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

Rep. Cole spoke truth that “people want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. We  “know these are awfully genuine needs….” But the “here” is a question. Where is “here“? Is “here” Houston, northern California, Puerto Rico? All of them? Or only some of them?

Or is “here” Congress and the Oval Office, the seats of authority and power in a constitutional republic — the branches of government where the television-watching American public hopes against hope that those we elect to represent us get their information from something other than their televisions.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, unlike Houston and the wine country of northern California, is poor. Its history is that of a pawn in the chess game of powerful nations.

The Smithsonian website article “Puerto Rico — History and Heritage” — offers a brief history of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico remained an overseas province of Spain until the Spanish-American war, when U.S. forces invaded the island with a landing at Guánica. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam) to the U.S.

As a result, the turn of the century saw Puerto Rico under United States sovereignty. At that time, Puerto Rico’s economy relied on its sugar crop, but by the middle of the century, an ambitious industrialization effort, called Operation Bootstrap, was underway. Cheap labor and attractive tax laws attracted American companies, and soon the Puerto Rican economy was firmly grounded in manufacturing and tourism. Today, Puerto Rico is a leading tourist destination and manufacturing center; the island produces high-tech equipment and many top-selling American pharmaceuticals.

Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. The issue of political status is one under constant debate, with some in favor statehood, others independence, and still others the continuation of commonwealth status.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy purchased two thirds of the island to use as a naval base. The Navy used the area for military exercises and bombing practice for nearly 60 years until a civilian was killed during a bombing exercise in the 1990s. This sparked a wave of protests that finally ended when the base closed in 2003. Since then, the Navy’s lands have become wildlife reserves.

Today Congress faces a moral issue that begins with the question of where “here” is and with a couple of early morning tweets that divide the world between here and there, and want to leave “there” behind, ignoring the wisdom of The Letter of James:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [i.e., the world divided by here and there; us and them; rich and poor]. – James 1:26-27.

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

 

 

 

 

Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

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Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

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Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

The Planet and Puerto Rico: Unincorporated Territories

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Much of Puerto Rico is still without power. But it may be that Puerto Rico will lead the way for the U.S. mainland by developing a renewable energy power grid that replaces its dependence on fossil fuels.

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While Elon Musk of Tesla proposes building a new renewable energy power grid to replace the destroyed carbon-producing fossil fuel-dependent grid, the Trump administration is shoring up the fossil fuel grid back on the U.S. mainland.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, on Monday said he would sign a proposed rule Tuesday rescinding Obama’s Clean Power Plan, established in 2015 to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Pruitt spoke at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Hazard, Kentucky — coal country.

“Here’s the president’s message: The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers.” – Yahoo Finance, Oct. 9, 2017

Coal and oil are shipped at great expense to Puerto Rico from the mines of Hazard, Kentucky and the oil refineries of Houston. Puerto Rico, an unincorporated third world U.S. Territory, has been the loser. So have the people of Hazard who’ve been led to believe that winning the the war on coal will secure their future.

In the world of climate departure — not just climate change, but departure with no way back to what we considered normal — we’re all losers when the departure is denied.

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Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Elon Musk

The sun, on the other hand, is indigenous to Puerto Rico.

Could it be that a poor unincorporated Territory in the dark without power would lead the world by building a new grid lit by a source that shines without discrimination on winners and losers in Puerto Rico and in Hazard?

Perhaps, if the Governor of Puerto Rico comes to an agreement with the Elon Musk and the Tesla Corporation, the light may yet go on across the world that the planet itself is an unincorporated territory.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 10, 2017.

 

 

The beginning of an uprising

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“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

Question: Who said that?

Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me! Choose one (click the names for more information):

 

Or . . . someone else?

Answer: We know it’s not Bill Maher, though Bill does call for an uprising, but the uprising would be against religion itself as the source of disorder, even though Bill often invites Cornel West to be his guest on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Cornel West clasps his hands in prayer and, like Bill, rises up to resist the present order/disorder, but it’s not Cornel.

So maybe it’s Karl Barth. The statement often is attributed to Barth, the Swiss theologian who resisted Hitler and the Third Reich in the name of Christ. But a more-or-less careful internet search yields no confirmation of its source.

Because no one really seems to know for sure, perhaps the correct answer is someone else from an altogether unexpected different source.

Like someone’s twitter account.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 9, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fly that Would not Flee

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In the pre-dawn pastel glow

Outside the lakeside window,

The fly inside is very still.

pre-sunrise glow

Lake Superior pre-dawn pastel glow.

 

For the half hour before the sun

Pokes its yellow head over

The brim of Superior’s horizon,

The fly does not move.

 

Perhaps the fly is dead, I think,

And gently touch it from below.

It does not fly away.

200px-Simulium_trifasciatum_adult_(British_Entomology_by_John_Curtis-_765)

It takes a few steps forward,

An inch or two higher on the window —

This oratory the intruder has disturbed

In the hour of morning prayer.

 

Only after the sun has risen

Does it leave the window

But not before completing

 

Its sun-dance: turning from east

To south, to west, to north, and

Back to East again to greet the day.

 

The observing intruder from whose

Finger the fly did not flee reads

from The Book of Common Prayer:

 

“Deliver me, O Lord, from evil-doers;

Protect me from the violent,

Who desire evil in their hearts

And stir up strife all day long.”

[Psalm 140:1-2]

 

A fly lands on the prayer book.

I swat the fly away.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, the intruder, Encampment Forest, Lake Superior, MN, October 6, 2017

 

 

 

 

Things too hard for me

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Momentary access to the world-wide-web leads away from many words toward reflection on an ancient text.

O Lord, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child on its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,

from this time forth and for evermore. 

[Psalm 33, Book of Common Prayer psalm for the morning]

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I wake before dawn to see the sun rise over the far horizon beyond Lake Superior, shining its rays across the waves, a beauty beyond compare. I do not occupy myself with “great things” that matter less and things too hard for me. I am not proud.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Encampment Forest, Two Harbors, MN, October 5, 2017.