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.

Different Shutdowns

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Edward Hicks — Peaceable Kingdom

There are shutdowns that make us cringe and there are shutdowns that bring us to our better selves. This year the two kinds overlapped. Both shutdowns are about economics, i.e., how we live together in the one house in which we all dwell for a speck of time on a small planet in a vast universe. The English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek word for ‘house’ and the management, or governance, of the one house in which we live.

In previous essays on Views from the Edge and chapters of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, we have sought to point to this saner view of life together in the nation and the planet. Saying it again feels like banging my head against a wall, but the coalescence of the government shutdown date and the Jewish Sabbath commandment to shut everything down — Shabbat — prompts this reflection.

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Shabbat meal

 

The Hebrew word ‘Shabbat’ comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The shutdown in Washington, D.C. and the Fourth Commandment shutdown could not be more different. The one is a product of control; the latter is about ending the illusions that come from production.

“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God.  You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” — Exodus 20:8-11 [Complete Jewish Bible].

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Migrant workers in someone else’s field.

You don’t have to be a seven-day creationist to “get” the meaning of the Hebrew Scripture’s call to stop and think. Step back. Pause. Respect your son, your daughter, your workers, the animals, and the foreigners within your national borders. Shabbat is not just the owners of the means of production but for ALL who labor under the yoke — an enduring sign and call of a better household management (economics) yet to come in the one house (the economy) in which we all live.

Practicing his Jewish faith, Jesus of Nazareth kept Shabbat and aligned himself with the laborers when he invited would be followers to join him in a kind of revolution that would turn the tables on the money-changers and lift up the have nots: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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Oxen laboring under a heavy yoke

 

Jesus was comparing the landless poor to oxen in the the fields of production, driven hard under a yoke that chafes and cuts into the oxen’s neck and shoulder, the yoke of economic cruelty and the burden that is anything but light. Rabbi Jesus was invoking the substance of the Fourth Commandment: the vision and practice of Shabbat economics.

Could the juxtaposition of the different shutdowns be clearer than when they are invoked on the same day of the week?

Shabbat Shalom,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018

 

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

CalvinThe word ‘awe’ has fallen into disrepair in the English vocabulary of North America. David Kanigan’s lovely post featuring the picture of a naked infant and Arthur Powers’ poem out awe in Juarez, gives hope that the lapsed vocabulary is temporary and that the children, and our love for them, may yet lead us.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Jan. 22, 2018

Live & Learn

go to
some foreign place,
Juarez, say,
in Mexico,
and listen
to a large woman,
a powerful
laughing mother,
talk about
her children
crawling bare assed
on the dirt floor,
and about the way
roses grow
trellised on
an adobe wall,

and then
try to write it down
in a letter to a friend,
in English –
try to catch
the words
as she said them

until you recognize
there is no way
– no way at all –
to do it

except to take
your friend by the hand,
returning to Juarez,
and go to the woman,
the laughing woman,
and yes,
humbly,
listen
with awe.

Arthur Powers, “If You Would Read the Bible” from EchotheoReview


Notes: Poem Source – 3quarksdaily.com. Photo: George Marks

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Prayer for the Nation 1/20/18

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Fold your hands this January 20, 2018 — even if you think prayer is for the birds. The language is dated. But on the day of the shutdown one year after the Inauguration, Walter Rauschenbusch’s 1909 prayer “Against the Servants of Mammon” is as current as current can be.

Against the Servants of Mammon

We cry to thee for justice, O Lord, for our soul is weary with the iniquity of greed. Behold the servants of Mammon, who defy thee and drain their fellow men and women for gain; who grind down the strength of the workers by merciless toil and fling them aside when they are mangled and worn; who rack-rent the poor and make dear the space and air which thou has made free; who paralyze the hand of justice by corruption and blind the eyes of the people by lies; who nullify by their craft the merciless laws which nobler people have devised for the protection of the weak; who have made us ashamed of our dear country by their defilements and have turned our holy freedom into a hollow name; who have brought upon thy Church the contempt of men [and women] and have cloaked their extortion with the gospel of Christ.

“For the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy now do thou arise, O Lord; for because thou art love, and tender as a mother to the weak, therefore thou art the great hater of iniquity and thy doom is upon those who grow rich on the poverty of thy people.

O God, we are afraid, for the thundercloud of thy wrath is even now black above us. In the ruins of dead empires we have read how thou hast trodden the wine-press of thine anger when the measure of their sin was full. We are sick at heart when we remember that by the greed of those who enslaved a weaker race that curse was fastened upon us all which still lies black and hopeless across the land, though the blood of a nation was spilled to atone. Save our people from being dragged down into vaster guilt and woe by men who have no vision and know no law except their lust. Shake their souls with awe of thee that they may cease. Help us with clean hands to tear the web which they have woven about us and to turn our people back to thy law, lest the mark of the beast stand out on the right hand and forehead of our nation and our feet be set on the downward path of darkness from which there is no return.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “Against the Servants of Mammon” published in Prayers of the Social Awakening, Pilgrim Press, 1910.

Like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, most of us don’t use the word ‘Mammon’ anymore, but its odor is no less foul than when Jesus spoke of it in the first century of the Common Era. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

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— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2018.

 

 

Visual Poetry: Go fly a kite

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A kite flying above the Illinois prairie invites the viewer to hear the Sound of Silence.

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“Visual Poetry” – Photo by Steve Shoemaker, 2014

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Steve Shoemaker welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana. IL

Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ kite-flying poet whose poetry blessed Views from the Edge readers, shared this photo from the Shoemaker prairie home near Urbana, Illinois in 2014.

Steve didn’t live to see the changing of the guard one year ago today. On the anniversary of the 2017 inauguration, pancreatic cancer has silenced Steve’s Views from the Edge posts, but his poetry and “Visual Poetry,” as he called this photograph, still speak clearly. Like the kite in the photograph and the photo of Steve towering over President Bill Clinton, Steve still invites us to “go fly a kite” for a better time. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2018.

 

RAPIDLY. BLINKING.

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Elijah laughing with Grandma – pure joy

A good laugh is medicine for the soul. Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY post “RAPIDLY. BLINKING.” brought Norman Cousins to mind the day of the shutdown.

SERENDIPITY

I was standing next to the bed. Blinking. Rapidly. Garry looked at me. I must have appeared to be in pain or something because he said: “Are you okay?”

He can’t blink.

“Yes,” I said, blinking and frowning. “I was putting the gunk on my rash? So after that, I washed my hands. I must not have washed them enough, because I think I touched my eyes and now my eyes are burning. I suppose I got some of the gunk in my eyes.”

By then, I was trying to rub my eyes with the back of my wrists since apparently my fingers were not eye-worthy.

Garry started to laugh. Then I started to laugh. We both kept laughing.

“One thing always leads to another,” I cackled.

He went back to watching the movie. I found the eye drops. Everything is hilarious. Of course, I suppose it could also be tragic and dramatic.

It’s…

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Grandpa, what’s a shutdown?

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Elijah with Grandpa: “I don’t like that, Grandpa!”

Watching the news last night, Elijah was worried.

Grandpa! What’s a shutdown?

Well, Elijah, let me think. You’re just eight-months old. Let’s try this. If your Mom decided not to feed you anymore, that would be a shutdown.

Mom’s not going to feed me anymore? Mom and I were on the NEWS?

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Elijah with Mom

No, no, Mom’s not going to shutdown your feeding. She loves you very much. I’m just saying that’s what a shutdown is like.

So, who’s being shutdown?

The government.

What’s a government?

It’s what keeps us together in a democracy.

What’s a democracy?

Actually, I mis-spoke. We’re not a democracy. We’re a democratic Republic, a representative democracy. We govern ourselves by electing people to represent us in Congress and the Presidency.

Did all those people die? Did they get shutdown?

No, Elijah, they’re the ones who are threatening to shutdown the government.

Why, Grandpa?

Because they’ve forgotten why they’re there. They’re confusing government with a sandbox. It’s not. The government belongs to the American people. They’re acting like kindergarteners throwing sand at each other in the kindergarten sandbox. If they keep doing this, there’s be no sand left. The sandbox itself will be gone. It’ll all be shut down.

I don’t like that, Grandpa, and I don’t like the way you’re talking. You’re making fun of kindergarteners!

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Kindergarteners working together in the sandbox

You’re right, Elijah, I shouldn’t make fun of kindergarteners. Kindergarteners are better than that. They’re adults. They’re not acting like children. If they acted like children, we might be better off. Like the psalmist said,

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 82:3)

Thanks, Grandpa. I like the psalmist. Will their Moms shut them down if they shut down the government?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 19, 2018.

AN AMERICAN DILEMMA

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Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Kay Stewart in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Gordon has asked me to write a post encouraging readers to feed their brains a most remarkable, very long, edited version of The Age of Outrage, a lecture by Professor Jonathan Haidt.

Once I disciplined myself to stay with it, I couldn’t get enough. Brain food provided by a most remarkable mind-chef. Haidt has thought about our present state of polarized dialogue for a long time.

This lecture illuminates and translates and fascinates. Best of all, it frustrates FEAR and illustrates HOPE—something sorely needed in our current collective stalemate.  Power-packed with research, it articulates the issues clear as a bell. But, only if you are patient and keep reading.

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Haidt provided me brain food, lifting me from maze-filled conundrums of ugliness to a way to some light at the end of a well worn tunnel called civilization.

I do have hope and always have—this Eeyore-soul of mine just can’t live in doom for very long while alive—but I now see an articulated way through the despair, as this wise professor has a bigger brain than any I’m used to reading. So wise. So substantial.

Lifting up a few highlights from my personal enthusiasm:

  1. For years, I have been saying “If we don’t educate our children, teach them how to think, we simply won’t have a democracy to save.” Haidt says it too. Vindication is sweet. Of course others have said it many times, repeatedly, yet it still remains on the bottom of the list of our national priorities and funding
  2. Raising our children to handle “undifferentiated play”. When my youngest was in a progressive Austin, Texas elementary school, the school district eliminated the only free time in his entire day—20 minutes on the playground after lunch. The rest of his day was organized, supervised and regulated. Since the Vietnam War Moratorium days, it was the closest I ever came to carrying a protest sign in front of the school with other mothers who cared deeply about their kids getting a chance to develop social wisdom, a skill cultivated by kinds when allowed to be themselves with a pocket of free time all among equals on the school playground. A skill they will be required to be good at in negotiating the rest of their social lives.

So, in a nutshell, I recommend you read this transcript. Print it out and carry it around. Anchor it, tether it to the status quo. Believe in the power of a changing paradigm. We sorely need it about now.

  • Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN

Click “The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities” to read and comment on Jonathan Heidt’s reflections.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 19, 2018.

 

 

 

Just when we thought …

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Just when those of us schooled in progressive schools of thought had become confident that the old schools of thought were dead, that old doctrine we love to hate — original sin — begs for reconsideration.

Progressives of every stripe view original sin as toxic waste material best left behind in the guarded cemetery of bad ideas. Whether secular humanist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, animist, atheist, agnostic or whatever progressive school of thought, the idea of progress in one form or another has united us against the nay-saying disparagers of basic human goodness.

Then along comes the American election of 2016 and the year that leaves us in shock. January 20, 2017 the nation’s first African-American President handed the Oval Office and the nuclear codes to the primary funder and spokesperson of the Birther-movement determined to erase all things Obama.

Suddenly the reign of sin and death has made a comeback. The sins are ‘original’ both in the old sense of infecting the entire body and freshly creative beyond imagination.

The idea of “sin” itself —  not just “original” sin — had fallen into disrepute, a relic of unenlightened religious orthodoxy until it started to best describe the behaviors of the Oval Office. The arc of the new American administration and Congress looked anything like a rainbow.

“Sin, guilt, neurosis; they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge.” Sound like unenlightened orthodoxy paraphrasing the story of the Garden of Eden?

51F+WLhaYmL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_It was Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Cancer and other books were blacklisted by American publishers as obscene, who looked deeply into himself and the human condition, sounding like the Genesis writer. Or, God forbid, St. Augustine of Hippo or John Calvin.

Neither Augustine nor Calvin meant by original sin or total depravity that life is without an underlying goodness. Like Miller, they pointed to something that is as without explanation as the sudden appearance of the serpent in the Garden of Eden story: our inexplicable proneness to evil and slothfulness in good.

 J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the bomb, lamented, as though peering ahead to 2017-2018 when two little boys in the White House and North Korea would call each other names while playing with nuclear matches:

  • Despite the vision and farseeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists have felt the peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons as they were in fact used dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
    • Physics in the Contemporary World, Arthur D. Little Memorial Lecture at M.I.T. (25 November 1947)

The old biblical serpent is never far away. The vulgarity of sin and death is the story of our time.

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1909 painting The Worship of Mammon, the New Testament representation and personification of material greed, by Evelyn De Morgan.

Eating from the ONE and only tree of all the trees from which we cannot eat without bringing on our own destruction —  the forbidden Promethean kind of knowledge that divides the world into good (us) and evil (them) — we now wonder how the Seven Deadly Sins not only sit upon the throne of the enlightened democratic republic we thought we knew but infect all who, quite originally, only see evil outside ourselves.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….” – Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 18, 2018

A speck in the sand

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Sometimes I feel like a speck in the sand. My insignificance to the shifting sands of time once led me to despair. But the shifting sands of later years have turned the sense of smallness into awe and gratitude. Joshi Daniel’s photo “A Speck in the Sand” inspires a joyful meditation.

Joshi and I met at The College of Wooster. My recollection is that Joshi cleverly disguised himself as an empty pew while I was in the pulpit in McGaw Chapel.  Just two specks in the sand temporarily shifted to India and Minnesota.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 16, 2018

Joshi Daniel Photography

Photograph of Dinu Varghese sitting on a sand dune in United Arab Emirates Dinu Varghese | United Arab Emirates

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With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The photo of the Haitian immigrant’s son graduating at West Point is worth a thousand words, but the words place the tears in context on Martin Luther King Day. “Only love can do that.”

Live & Learn

As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear.

He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”

“I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me.

“Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Idrache wrote. “I could not help but…

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