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.

Elijah and Pumphouse Creamery

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Elijah’s Mom, and Grandma just learned of  Pumphouse Creamery.  They’re getting excited. They want Grandpa to drive them to the Pumphouse for ice cream.ElijahIMG_5621

Elijah’s never had ice cream.

In a pinch, he’s had pumped milk, but he’s never been to the Pumphouse.  Listening to Grandma talk about all the flavors and the Sundaes, Elijah’s starting to get excited.

Elijah, they have special flavors at the Pumphouse.

Like what?

Like Madagascar Vanilla, Fresh Rhubarb, and Belgian Chocolate.

Are they organic? I can only do organic.

Yes, Elijah, they’re mostly organic. It’s handcrafted ice cream that starts with natural, organic and locally-sourced ingredients. It says so right on the Pumphouse website.

Grandma, do I have to go in that car seat?

Yes. We’ll take you in your car seat.

I’m going to tell Grandpa! I hate my car seat! Sometimes Mom pumps right here in our own little pump house!

  •  Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 26, 2017

 

 

Grandpa, this is boring!

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Grandpa IMG_5556Grandpa, who are the Twins? What’s baseball?

Well, Elijah, the Twins are Grandpa’s team.

What’s a team?

That’s a little like us – more than two people working for the same goal.

Yeah, like us! Trying to sleep through the night so Mom can get some sleep. Right, Grandpa?

Right! Because you and Mom are on the same team. She’s the Manager. You’re her only player.

I thought you said we were Twins. How can I be the only player if I’m a Twin?

Well, you and I are Twins. Mom, not so much. Mom likes basketball.

We’re twins?! How’d that happen? You’re old. REALLY old. Poor mom! She must have been in labor a long time. Wow! How old is Mom?

No, Mom’s a lot younger. We’re not twins like that. We’re Twins FANS. We watch baseball. The Twins are our favorite team. When I was your age I was a Boston Red Sox fan . . . but I didn’t know it yet. Then we moved to Philadelphia and Grandpa became a Phillies fan. And then a Cleveland Indians, fan; and then a Cincinnati Reds fan; and now I’m a Twins fan. We love baseball.

e2aad2db16c6beb64a94489477ec11c8Yeah. That’s what we’re watching, right, Grandpa? BORING!

It is, Elijah. Baseball’s much more fun to play that it is to watch. Some day you’re going to be a slugger! But remember our conversation yesterday about day and night? You need to stay awake until it’s bedtime so you and Mom can sleep through the night. Mom’s the Manager. Without Mom you don’t have a team. You’re on Mom’s team.

Yeah. I’m on Mom’s team. And we’re twins. And night is when the sun goes to sleep. The sun went to sleep hours ago. Good-night, Grandpa.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 22, 2017.

 

“Elijah, Grandpa is God talking!”

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Elijah is confused. He thinks night is day and day is night. Which is very inconsiderate of his mother. 

Elijah, you’re three weeks old now. You need to start sleeping at night.

What’s night, Grandpa?

Well, night is when it gets dark. It’s when the sun goes to sleep.

I like to sleep in the light. It makes me feel safe. Mom’s happier in the light.

No, she’s not. She’s really not. You need to be more considerate.

Uh uh! Mom’s afraid of the dark!

No, Elijah, she likes the dark. She just wants to sleep all the way through the night.

But what about me? I get hungry in the night! I need Mom.

I know you do. And she needs you. She trying to teach you something important.

Like what?

Well, like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When you don’t sleep at night, you’re not treating Mom the way you want to be treated.

Grandpa, I just get hungry a lot. Mom loves me as she loves herself . . .  . Doesn’t she?

She does, Elijah. She does! But she needs your help. Mom needs her sleep. She just needs you to get into a biblical rhythm, like it says in the Bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Wow! God can talk?!

Yes. And right now Grandpa is God talking. If you want Mom to treat you the way you want be treated, you need to sleep through the night. Otherwise you won’t get fed. There will be a formless void and darkness all the time!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 21, 2017.

 

The Best and Worst Sellers Lists

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Publishing is a pain in the neck; marketing what’s been published moves the pain down the spine to a lower place of an author’s anatomy. Unless, of course, the book makes the Best Sellers’ List because your publisher is one of the decreasing number of corporate giants who do the marketing and have the connections.

Small publishing houses like Wipf and Stock and its authors are ancestors of the poor man Lazarus left to pick up the crumbs from the rich man’s table. We do what we can to catch the reading public’s attention with an occasional success. But, without divine intervention, few, if any, make it to the New York Times Best Sellers list.

So, for the sake of all things just and fair, we herby propose an “alternative” list: The Worst Sellers List, and offer readers one of the “dog-eared” crumbs that fell from the table yesterday to a dog on The Worst Sellers List:

My reason for this email is to let you know that I have just finished reading your wonderful BE Still. We all need a “Departure from Collective Madness” and your book has been such a breath of sanity in the midst of this messy world. I’m grateful to you for your book. I read it, as someone else who has a copy is also reading theirs – one entry at a time on any given day.

I began to read your book and the very first thing I underlined was the instruction from “The Brothers of Opal Street.”*[see explanatory note below] I can’t tell you how many people I have told of that instruction of theirs, and the very wise pastor who passed on the message to us. The idea that we must change things where we live, instead of being the saviors to the poor in the ghetto, is such a powerful message.

Following from that, I went on to dog-ear the prayer from the Book of Common Worship. That prayer is so familiar to me and I love it. It’s not part of any prayers I learned in the Catholic school, but probably one I picked up from the “religion” of the other side of my family. As you may remember, or not, my parents came from two different backgrounds. Mom was very Catholic. My dad’s side followed no particular religious persuasion, with grandpa and my aunt never seeming to attend any church. My paternal Grandma Allie was Baptist, Presbyterian, or Congregational, depending on the Minister and the music. She loved the traditional hymns of her earlier years and they were often heard by me as she listened to her radio when she couldn’t get about and lived with us in our home. Also, Grandma had my mother join her Congregational church group aptly named The Friendly Circle, where every meeting began with a hymn and a Bible verse. I often went along to these meetings. There were probably no baby sitters available. As I grew older I went to baby sit the younger children there.

My underlining and “dog-earing” pages increased as I read of your liberal philosophy, your concern for the direction of this country and humanity as a whole, and your concern for all people of various colors, and persuasions. This diversity thing has become probably my greatest issue and concern. It’s so good to read the views of someone who shares the same perspective. With grandchildren who are half Afghan and whose Grandfather spent much time in Gaza working with USAID, a daughter who teaches the Ojibwe language and mentors Native students, another daughter married to a fellow who is Jewish, I have come to appreciate various perspectives and religions. I am thankful for all this learning. I find it goes a long way when dealing with folks who can be quite narrow in their thinking and really have no experience with other perspectives on a one to one basis.

Before this gets any longer I just want to say, “thanks again for the wonderful book.”

* The Brothers of Opal Street are honored in Be Still!‘s Acknowledgements. Remembering them again so many years later is appropriate to the date on the calendar: Juneteenth.

Last, but by no means least, is a group of men who would be shocked to find themselves mentioned anywhere but in a courtroom.

“The Brothers of Opal Street,” as they called themselves, eight black homeless former inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary, had a farewell conversation at the end of August, 1962 with me, a naive nineteen year-old church street outreach worker. As we sat on the stoop of a boarded up tenement on Opal Street, they said good-bye with a startling instruction not to return to the ghetto. “Go back to ‘your people’ and change things there. Only when things change there will there be hope for the people here.” What they called “my people” were in the white western suburb of Philadelphia. I have come to believe that lsat day on Opal Street was its own kind of ordination. This book is in memory of them. – Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. xiv.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 19 — Juneteenth — 2017.

TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Garry Armstrong, the veteran reporter pictured here with Tip O’Neill, offers an insider view to the stress of a reporter’s life with a humorous touch.

SERENDIPITY

Isn’t it too early to be drinking? by Garry Armstrong

I heard these lines recently in a movie. They made me laugh.


“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” he said.
“No,” she said. ” I’m awake.”

The line had stayed with me many years after the laughter faded, replaced by memories of work, reporters, bars, and pubs from New York to Saigon.

As a reporter, I covered Presidential politics from 1962 to 2001. From JFK to Bush, Jr. As a newbie reporter, I saw veteran correspondents fueling up with multiple Bloody Marys as we began our day on the political or campaign trail. I was impressed. During my rookie year, I summoned up enough courage to question one famous reporter who had begun his career working with Edward R. Murrow. He was on his third Bloody Mary — in one 10-minute period.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?”…

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“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

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“A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

“Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.” – StarTribune, June 17, 2017.

The acquittal of the officer Jeronimo Yanez opens again the pandora’s box of racial profiling, justice, law, police training, jury instructions, and race in America.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Minnesota State Senator Tina Liebling, a candidate for governor, sent the following email.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Philando Castile, and to all who mourn him. His killing was a tragedy that should not have happened and the verdict today brings back the pain and horror of that day. While I share the outrage of many over the unnecessary killing and its aftermath, I do not blame the jury or even Officer Yanez. The law itself is to blame, and this is something that can and must be changed.

Minnesota law allows police to use deadly force “only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm” and to prevent death or great bodily harm to others. Whether the officer believes the force is “necessary” is examined only in the moment when the officer reacts, and it is hard for a jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not have that fear at the moment he fired the gun.

Our law should require officers to avoid creating the situation in the first place-and police agencies should train and reward them for doing so. The officer’s first obligation should be to protect the life and safety of everyone involved in an incident-whether a suspect, victim, or the officer-as it is in many other nations. This may mean waiting for backup before approaching a vehicle, setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect, or similar tactics. If we are to reduce the horrible killings of innocent people by police, we must change our laws.

Serving as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center (1998-2006), I experienced daily the tilting of the scales of justice against African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, and other people of color. LRC was born of the shared commitment of north Minneapolis African-American civil rights leaders and south Minneapolis American Indian founders of the American Indian Movement to righting the scales of justice. Racial profiling on the streets, racial bias in the courtroom, and finding ways to overcome those disparities of law and justice were and still are Legal Rights Center’s reason d’être.

On days like this, I remember who we are and who we are not. I remember the reality of the law and justice that are not blind, the jury members, all who weep, those who speak and protest in whatever nonviolent ways they can, and hope and pray we will yet find a reason d’être way in America to move beyond “not guilty” to a time that has become harder to imagine.

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

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

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The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga

The Shooter

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the-latest-pence-speaks-with-victims-of-ballpark-shooting“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Yet tread we must the day after the shooter aimed his rifle through the ballpark’s chain-linked fence at members of the U.S. Congress and their staff.

It’s a temptation to tread heavily, claiming only shock when, in fact, we all heard verbal shots before we heard the the gun shots from Alexandria, VA. Moral righteousness doesn’t help on a day like this because it is moral righteousness that pointed the rifle at the Congressional Representatives the shooter regarded as the unrighteous.

2631978_ThumbOne man decided to defend the American republic with a rifle, a horrendous offense that points the finger back at the rest of us who have tread heavily against the evils we deplore or who have tread less heavily in a seething wordless silence.

There is, of course, a huge difference between a rifle and a sentence. We have spoken out here about that difference. We proudly use words, not guns.

Yet, we must confess that, in the interest of defending the America we love, Views from the Edge has fired its own shots in the appalling era yesterday’s shooter sought to end with his rifle. As a follower of Christ immersed in scripture, we have known but have sometimes failed to heed the wise caution of the Letter of James (“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And “tongue is a fire” [Js. 3:5-6]) or the counsel of the Hebrew proverb (“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”[Proverbs 12:18]).

Moral righteousness wears a multiplicity of masks and uses many vocal disguises that hide its ugliness. Today we step back a few paces to ponder the question:

“How do we speak and act responsibly in ways that bear witness to what we believe in this time that puts our better angels to the test?”

We have no answers. Only a question.

Maybe today’s Congressional baseball game will speak louder than rifles or words.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 15, 2017.

 

Jake’s bench visitor

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The stranger sits alone on Jake’s’ bench under the elm tree in the grassy area behind the seasonal Mexican food truck parked at the edge of the Cooper’s Food parking lot.

It’s not everyone who comes to sit on Jake’s bench. I wonder whether he knows of Jake and whether he’s read the inscription etched into the marble:

“Now Jake is a man who wonders why the world is torn asunder. Better worlds he plans, where joy is at hand, and people can live in peace and plenty”.

Mexican food truck 55d36cc8485e9.imageHis back is turned to the picnic table where I eat my taco from the food truck. I only see him from the back, which, come to think of it, is how one sees Jake here – the way Elijah saw God from a cave while God passed by: from the back, the mystery of the Presence maintained against every mortal effort to control, define, or reduce a mystery to a thing.

A bedroll and a pair of well-worn shoes sit on the ground under the inscription. A pair of dirty, wet socks sits on the bench beside him. Clearly he’s been on the road. Is he a hiker on a long trek? A traveler passing through Chaska? Does he have a home somewhere else? Is he homeless and torn asunder in this world?  Or maybe he’s a rare fellow-traveler pausing in the company of Jake on Jake’s bench.

CoopersFoods1Jake’s bench is meant for the weary traveler.

Jake Cooper was an American socialist, the second generation of Cooper’s Foods.

Cooper’s still sits there today, hosting the Mexican food truck, a witness to an era when care for a stores’s customers were more important than updating its physical appearance and service to the community was as important as profits. Cooper’s is the most generous business in Chaska, the go-to supplier of food for community events and good causes. Coopers is a community institution. Its Deli offers complete meals for under $6.70 with portions large enough to provide dinner for two with some left over. Best little restaurant in Chaska! It’s not a money-maker, but it pretty much pays for itself, says Jake’s latest successor at Cooper’s – and it serves the people who can’t afford higher end restaurants or who just know good food at a great price. An example of the spirit of American democratic socialism to whose dream Jake’s bench still bears witness behind the Mexican food truck.

Whether the stranger sitting at Jake’s bench came by chance or came to pay his respect to Jake, he is like most of us in this day and time: a weary traveler who wonders why the world is so torn asunder, and hopes for a better world of peace and plenty.

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

 

 

Tapering off my MacBook Air

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The word ‘taper’ is today’s Daily Post prompt, i.e. a topical challenge to writers.

43A1720B-BC80-0060-873FBDFD04548E20Since watching last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” episode on “Brain Hacking” — an essay on cell-phone addiction — I’ve been trying to taper off how often I turn to my MacBook Air. Okay, so it’s not a cell phone, but I’m as addicted to the MacBook Air as cell phone owners are to cell phones. Time away does weird things to the brain, like withdrawal from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Since Sunday night, I’ve been trying to taper off.

apple-laptop-notebook-notesBut I can’t. Writing is what I do. I can’t stop. The MacBook Air is my lifeline, my unfailing connection with my imaginary friend, the addict’s needle, always within arms reach. Besides, like Echo in the myth of Narcissus, the MacBook Air always tells me what I want to hear – my own voice . . . except when the beep beep of an uninvited text interrupts our conversations.

I’ve been trying to taper off on the emails and texts, as well as the writing. But I don’t taper off easily. It’s not in my DNA.

Speaking of DNA, learning last week that some relatives inherited a gene that has left them vulnerable to auto-immune diseases left me wondering about my PMR, an auto-immune thing, and the Prednisone I’ve been taking for three months. No other drug addresses the symptoms of PMR.  But it’s a short-term fix with its a long list of side-effects. There’s no assurance the PMR will be gone when I taper off the Prednisone.

91d40efa6017040fa5159b5e83aa94b7Thursday’s appointment with the rheumatologist will determine whether I taper off again from 10 mg to eight from the original 20. If so, I might take it as a sign to limit the MacBook Air time to eight hours per day, or to make Views from the Edge readers happy by posting no more than eight times a day . . .  until I leave you completely alone with your brain-hacking cell phone when I taper off completely . . . into complete withdrawal.

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