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 through the tight squeeze

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The kidney stone

This is not your usual Views from the Edge commentary. I’ve found myself unable to write anything that might be worth passing on to others. But inspiration arrives from the most unlikely sources, like last Sunday’s painful visit to the Emergency Room. The CT scan revealed the kidney stone that became the inspiration for this quirkier-than-usual Views from the Edge piece. The doctor assured me the stone was small. It would pass with time. The nurse gave me a little bottle to save the stone when it passes.

Who cares if you pass a kidney stone?

Let’s say you’re a writer. Okay, a blogger. You’ve struggled for weeks to write a piece on the daily assault of propaganda coming into our living rooms every weekday afternoon, but it hasn’t come. It just sits there, like a kidney stone that doesn’t pass. You’re sure it will never get out, and that, even if it does, no one will care. Why should they? What you want to say is not unique. A kidney stone’s a kidney stone. You’re also bored.

You don’t believe in horoscopes, but they’re a way to pass the time. You’re a Leo.

It’s like you’re trying to move a couch into a room with a small door. Once inside, everything will work out nicely. But getting through this tight squeeze will take some doing. What needs to be released in order to move forward?

Horoscope by Holiday Mathis, StarTribune, April 17, 2020.

You’re excited! Permission has to write has been granted. What needs to be released is your fear. Squeeze your ego through that small door! Just take it outside. Forget who cares. Just do it! Put it out there! You sit down to write. Returning to the newspaper for the exact quote, you realize you had read the wrong horoscope, the one for a Libra. Your reading disability has tricked you again. You saw the ‘L’ and assumed it was for you. It wasn’t. it was for a Libra.

You go back to the paper to read the right horoscope — the one for you, the Leo.

“There was a time when you didn’t believe you could actually change your circumstances by merely observing them differently. Now you believe it, and you do it on a daily basis. Today brings proof.”

You wonder whether the people who write this stuff know something you don’t. Don’t they know that not even a Leo can change some circumstances by observing them differently?

When you pass a kidney stone, you put it in a little bottle and take it to your doctor who sends it to the lab. You never see your kidney stone again. But there are exceptions. Some folks keep their kidney stones next to the computer keyboard. What’s the use of passing a kidney stone if you can’t be proud of passing it or experience the joy of sharing it virtually?

You’re curious what else is in the Horoscope section. If you’re a Taurus, “you are mysterious, and all the more attractive for your secrets.” You like that. But by the end, you wonder whether you’re really a Pisces.

OriginalPisces illustration -- Symbole du signe astrologique des poissons.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Just because something goes unspoken doesn’t mean it’s unspeakable . . . .

Who knows? The piece you can’t pass today may pass tomorrow. If it turns out to be unspeakable, put it in the bottle, send it to the lab, or throw it away. If what has gone unspoken seems speakable, ask yourself, “Who else cares if you pass a kidney stone?”

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 17, 2020.

P.S. Last night the stone did pass.

Easter Morning

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The painter’s brush, the poet’s pen, and the musician’s composing take the heart and mind into the space of wonder and joy that is Easter.

Easter Morning verse

EASTER MORNING
a double acrostic 


Either Jesus really did rise or
All his followers made up the worst
Series of lies in history... Poor
Thomas certainly was right to doubt
Even after hearing tales: what four
Reached the tomb (or five?) Who saw him first

Matthew says two women; Mark says three
Or was it just one, as said by John?
Reports of what eye-witnesses can see
Or was it just one, as said by John?
Never can be trusted. Luke said one
In the road joined two who could not see --
Not until he broke the bread...No one 
Got the story straight! Conspiracy?

Even grade school kids could do as well.
And Luke throws in Peter saw him too --
Somewhere unreported... Who could tell
That this jumble of accounts could do
Enough to give faith and hope to all.
Resurrection? Who could think it true?

Maybe just the simple: those whose eyes
Open to the light through grief, through tears…
Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…
Needing to be fed, hands out for bread ...
Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head
Grow visions: life can come from the dead.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, 2012 

Text set to music by Palestrina (1591)

“The strife is o’er, the battle won; the victory of life is won . . . . The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed: let loud shouts of holy joy outburst.

[“The Strife is o’er” is often sung to the tune Victory, adapted from a 1591 setting of the Gloria Patri by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina from a Magnificat tertii toni. An additional Alleluya refrain was set to music by William Henry Monk.”

Grace and Peace to you this Easter in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Life can come from the dead!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2020, Easter morning.

Black Saturday, Blackmail, and Andrew Cuomo

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Black Saturday — a deafening Silence

Black Saturday isn’t part of everyone’s experience; even many Christians don’t know it by that name. They know it as Holy Saturday, the day of dreadful silence that follows Good Friday. Jesus is dead. “It is finished.” It’s dark. There is not yet a resurrection. Jesus’s words of horror hurt our ears. Not the consoling words: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Nor his reply to the penitent hanging to his right, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Nor his care for his mother: “Woman, behold your son.” and to the un-named apostle, “Behold your mother.”

On Black Saturday we remember what we easily forget on other days: Jesus’s wrenching cry of god-forsakenness. Eloi, Eloi! Lema sebachtani? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; the thrust of the centurion’s spear opening a gash his side. “It is finished.”

Black Saturday and Shouts of Blackmail

Black Saturday feels darker this year by the ascendancy of the scapegoat mechanism at work in the trial and execution of Jesus, i.e. the consolidation of power by creating the scapegoat which must be sacrificed/killed to save the nation. But as the Alleluias will remind us tomorrow, you cannot kill love. You cannot kill goodness. You cannot kill the truth. Today’s White House “Resolute Reads” repeats the scapegoating with this quote from The New York Post:

“These left-leaning outlets don’t even care that their covering for Dems is so blatant. The Times took heat just this month for changing a headline, “Democrats Block Action” on the $2.2 trillion rescue plan, to “Partisan Divide Threatens Deal.” Yet that didn’t stop Thursday’s changeroo.

“No wonder Dems are so willing to resort to blackmail: They can count on their puppets in the press to never report it that way.”

New York Post April 9 editorial quoted in the White House daily update.

Black Saturday and Easter Sunday — Ego cannot defeat Soul

Into this Black Saturday reflection a stranger’s post arrives with a positive note that strikes a chord with me. Perhaps it will with you.

Andrew Cuomo’s Faith for All

Andrew Cuomo today is a phenomenon. He speaks every day about the coronavirus and his press conferences have become must-see tv. Why? Many reasons, but at heart he speaks to spiritual yearning in all people, a yearning that focuses not on religion and/or God, but on the truth and depth of our common humanity.

The Governor of New York State has become the voice of leadership and compassion during the coronavirus pandemic. His daily talks have become a time to hear the facts, face the reality, and listen to a calm voice of reason, hope and challenge. Beyond the arena of New York politics, about which most Americans know nothing, he has been received by the nation as a man to whom we can relate. He helps us transcend political divisiveness and helps us realize that we are all human beings.

He is a Roman Catholic, but one that many in his church would choose to excommunicate. Under his guidance, New York recognizes gay marriage and has the most humane abortion law to be found in America. It is clear from his presence that he is a man of deep faith, but also one whose faith is not determined by institutional religious authority. One might argue that his ability to speak to everyone is a result of decades of honing his political acumen, but that would be a shallow understanding. At least in these press conferences, Cuomo strikes a deep spiritual chord that resonates with most people.

To begin with, he respects everyone, whatever their religion or lack thereof, whether they celebrate Passover, Easter, Christmas, Ramadan or Kwanza, and you cannot help but feel that his respect is genuine. For public safety, however, public gatherings are prohibited. There is no exception for religious services, weddings or funerals. The kind of flagrant violation of stay-at-home policy exhibited by arrogant ministers in other states is strictly forbidden by Cuomo in NY.

Along with his acceptance of respectful others is a self-confidence that enables honest straight talk, incorporating a stature that can empathize with those who are hurting, both emotionally and physically. Essential to this data-driven attitude is a refusal to speculate, whether about the future of the pandemic or indeed about anything that might be called mysterious or mystical. His boldest statement about mystery asserted that although we are socially distanced we are spiritually connected, but he didn’t know how.

The only use of the word “God” is in the context of describing someone who risks their life for others. “God bless them”. God is also intimated in the phrase “keeping them in our thoughts and prayers”. But in both instances, the phrase seems to be more a term of popular culture than an actual assertion of faith. The closest Cuomo gets to a confession of faith is in his assertion that love wins. Love wins out over fear and anger. It also wins out over economic considerations. And to the calls by right wing voices to let the old and infirm die because they contribute nothing to society anyway, Cuomo responds with scorn and utter disbelief. No one is expendable. Loving and caring for one another is the essence of our humanity. Life is not reducible to numbers. This holds true not only for the elderly and infirm, but also for the outcast of society, the poor and the weak, those who labor for naught and strive in vain. If there is any refrain in his speaking, it is Cuomo’s prophetic insistence that no one will be left behind, that love reaches out to all and compels us to create a just society.
This is a moment, he says, for the world, for our country and state, for us as individuals. “Moment” is a word that he uses often, referring to a time in our lives when great change becomes possible. Stripped of diversions and escapes, we are free to explore our inner angels, to learn, to read, to listen in silence to the silence. The great danger, Cuomo believes, is giving in to the fear of the unknown that awaits us vis a vis both the virus as well as our own future. Too easily reason succumbs to fear and is overtaken by irrationality and panic. It is at this point that he says that this not the NY way, by which he means that this is not the human way, the way of strength, smartness, unity, and…love.

This is a message that reverberates across the country and probably around the world. It does not say, hey look at me and my needs. It says we are all in this together. And it does not say: learn how to do yoga, or meditate, or pray, or become a mystic. It simply says, appreciate the moment, accept the pain, do good, look ahead and celebrate the time when you can be together again with friends and loved ones, and, most importantly, share your love with all.

Many Americans, it seems, hear and understand. 

Carl E. Krieg, Ph.D, University of Chicago is a retired United Church of Christ pastor and professor with living in Ridgway, CO; author of The Void and the Vision: The New Matrix (2007, Wipf and Stock) and host of Carl E. Krieg’s Blog: Just Wondering.

Easter Sunday Worship Recommendations

If you’d welcome a live-streamed Easter celebration, click HERE for the 10:30 a.m. CT service of Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, or HERE for The House of Hope Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul, MN.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Black Saturday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. CST.


Reflections for Good Friday

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The sounds from the cross are too hard to hear. They still echo down the years to this moment when COVID-19 has locked us in our homes . . . if we have a home. Poetry not only echoes the sounds we do not wish to hear; it helps us to hear a Deeper Voice, the divine whisper beneath the clamor. What follows are the Stations of the Cross, courtesy of poet Malcolm Guite.

!I. Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice
With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers
Of perception and discrimination, choice,
Decision, all his years, his days and hours,
His consciousness of self, his every sense,
Are given by this prisoner, freely given.
The man who stands there making no defence,
Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.
And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels
That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts
It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.
He gives himself again with all his gifts
Into our hands. As Pilate turns away
A door swings open. This is judgment day.
Painting of Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner by Antonio Ciseri (1760-1828)
Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner – Antonio Ciseri (1760-1828)

II. Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts
And now we give him something in return.
He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,
Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,
And from these elements he forged the iron,
From strands of life he wove the growing wood,
He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion
He saw it all and saw that it is good.
We took his iron to edge an axe's blade,
We took the axe and laid it to the tree,
We made a cross of all that he has made,
And laid it on the one who made us free.
Now he receives again and lifts on high
The gifts he gave and we have turned awry.
Ecce Homo - "Here is the Man" Albrecht Durer
“Ecce Homo” Albrecht Durer

Click HERE for the rest of Malcolm Guite’s Stations of the Cross, or HERE for Malcolm’s book Sounding the Seasons.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 10, 2020 — Good Friday.

My Yoke Is Easy and My Burden Is Light

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“They tell us,” said the pilot, “there’s a good bit of weather between here and Akron-Canton and the air traffic control people don’t want us to go until the weather moves out of the area. So it may be a while before we take off. Loosen your seat belts, have a drink and relax. It may be a while.”

Forty years later, we’re all strapped in at home, waiting for COVID-19 to move out. The Center for Disease Control says it’ll be a while.

Sermon at McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster — original manuscript

Sermon page 1
Sermon page 2
Sermon page 3
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Sermon 1980, Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 9, 2020, Maundy Thursday

Letters from an American

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The news I might not hear

Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American: the History Behind the Politics is waiting for me every morning. It brings me up-to-date on news-worthy events that often fly under the radar — like today’s report about the late-night firing of the Intelligence Community Inspector General — another end-run around Congress and further violation of law.

Letters from an American latest newsletter

April 3, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson
8 hr

Quite the Friday night news dump today. At about ten o’clock tonight, Trump notified Congress he has fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
 
In September 2019, Atkinson made sure Congress knew that then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was illegally withholding from the congressional intelligence committees a whistleblower complaint. Atkinson had examined the complaint, as required by law, and had determined it was “credible” and “urgent” and so sent it on to the acting DNI, who was supposed to send it to Congress. Instead, Maguire took it to the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Barr stopped the transmission by arguing that since it was a complaint about the president, and since the president was not a member of the intelligence community, the complaint shouldn’t go forward. And we know where it went from there.
 
Now Trump has fired Atkinson.... 

Click Letters from an American to read the rest of the story and to subscribe to Letters from an American. Ignore the video at the top of the screen to reading her column. Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College.

Thanks for coming by,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 4, 2020

Trump ghost writer Tony Schwartz tells his story on YouTube

Video

Tony Schwartz knows Donald Trump in a way no one else does. Ten (10) days before the 2016 election, he shared his experience at an Oxford University public forum preserved on YouTube.

Click HERE to listen in on what you knew and didn’t know before listening to the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, the book that put a 38 year-old real estate developer on the NYT Best Sellers list and onto the world stage.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (49 two to four page social commentaries on faith and the news), Chaska, MN, April 4, 2020.

No Easter Bunny Easter this year

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Open for business by Easter

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full [on Easter]? You know the churches aren’t allowed, essentially, to have much of a congregation there,” said President Trump in a Fox News interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

Christianity Lite

It won’t happen. Except, maybe, at the Tampa Bay megachurch, whose pastor’s arrest made headlines. But if it should happen that the churches are packed this Eastern, they would be filled with six-packs of “Christianity Lite” — the religion of “The Life of Brian” (Monty Python) and “Happy Feet” (Steve Martin).

The book cover for Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life draws laughs because comedy routines like “Happy Feet” are wonderfully outrageous critiques of real life rip-offs that masquerade as Easter joy -“the power of positive thinking” and “the prosperity gospel” — that replace the real joy that comes out of horror.

Out of sorrow and death

“Agony in the Garden” from door of cathedral in Beaumont, Texas

Easter is not about the Easter Bunny and Happy Feet. It’s the Church’s celebration of the resurrection of the Jesus who was “crucified, dead, and buried” (Apostles Creed). It’s not “happy”; it’s thoughtfully joyful.

Easter comes after Holy Week’s contemplation on the Passion, focusing the mind and heart on Jesus moving steadily toward his own state execution while his closest companions betray him, deny knowing him, fail to stay awake with him, abandon him in the moment he feels utterly abandoned — Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — and return home in that dead silence when nothing but death seems certain.

Reaping what we sow

Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries is a White House “faith advisor” who leads a weekly Bible study attended by White House staff, members of the House and Senate, their staff, and other federal workers. He and Paula White, the other “faith advisor” in the White House, have the President’s ear. That’s deeply troubling.

As COVID-19 circles the globe ignoring national boundaries and borders, Mr. Drollinger attributes the coronavirus pandemic to “the consequential wrath of God.” We are reaping the consequences of what we have sown: radical “environmentalism” that goes against our Creator”; “the suppression of truth” by atheists and those who don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God; and the acceptance of what he calls “a sensation toward homosexuality.”

The Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Matthew

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” -- Matthew 13:3-9 NRSV
Pieter Bruegel's painting, The Parable of the Sower
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 -1569 ) Parable of the Sower

The focus of the parable is not “the consequential wrath of God” and, perhaps, we are not the sowers but the soil into which God sows the seed. The Parable of the Sower offers an invitation to live now as the good soil that produces a joyful harvest in the Sower’s field.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2020.

Toward Truth and Wisdom

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Time governed by Wisdom

In the time of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, prudence (wisdom) was still held in high regard. People were no less foolish in Emerson’s time than we are in ours and folks lied back then, but truth was the measure against which speech and opinion were tested. Emerson’s essay on “Prudence” speaks of truth and the damage to the self and society when truth is violated.

Every violation of truth is not only
a sort of suicide in the liar,
but is a stab at the health of society.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
ESSAYS: FIRST EDITION (1841)

Emerson’s essay on Prudence put to paper what Titian (1490-1576) had painted on canvas in his “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” four centuries before.

The old man on the left (Titian himself) is turned toward the past. The boldest figure at the center (Titian’s oldest son, Orazio) represents the present. His cousin, Marco Vecellio, at the right is facing the future. The triple-headed beast — wolf, lion, and dog — represent the cardinal virtue Prudence.

In classical western philosophy dating to Plato’s Republic, Prudence (Wisdom) has been regarded as the thoughtful supervisor or manager of the other three moral virtues (Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice). Prudence (Wisdom) brings the insight to distinguish between the semblance of reality and reality itself, and the considered intelligence to act accordingly.

Titian’s painting, like Emerson’s essay, offers guidance during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Why? There is a parallel. Titian and his heir both died in the same year during the Plague.

Reality and the semblance of reality; truth and the distortion of truth

We in our time face a threat of two simultaneous plagues: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the violation of truth that “stabs a society” and commits “a sort of suicide in the liar.” Little attention is paid to the past or the future. A society without the Wisdom to discern the difference between truth and falsehood, reality and the semblance of reality, temperance and impulse, fortitude and facades, justice and privilege, and between a democratic republic and autocracy is a society in trouble. How we manage our way through the COVID-19 pandemic will determine the American character and the nation’s future.

The postcard

In the last two weeks, every home received the post card guiding the American public through the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year, one might expect the guidelines to arrive from an authoritative source — the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, perhaps in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service.

But 2020 is not a normal year. It’s and election year. The President who called the coronavirus threat a hoax, played to the myth of national exceptionalism with references to “the Chinese virus,” assaults the patriotism of the Speaker of the House, members of the opposition party, and the Fourth Estate (the free press of the First Amendment), substitutes his personal feelings for the knowledge of the medical science professional, and puts himself at the microphone and television cameras of the daily coronavirus updates — this is the President who sends a post card presuming to provide guidance by post card to every American household at taxpayer expense.

Post card offering guidance for America, paid for by taxpayer money

Emerson knew that truth-telling was an essential virtue that protected the American republic from homicide and its citizens from killing their own souls. Prudence and imprudence in government were not strangers to Emerson or those whose genius crafted the balance of powers the became the U.S. Constitution.

How does a wounded country heal?

How and why it happened requires a look at American history. How we move forward leaves many of us scratching our heads. But one thing is certain. If we allow our disparate passions and partisan allegiances to replace Wisdom, we will have chosen personal suicide and societal homicide.

Emerson’s essay and Titian’s “Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” found a friend in Anglican priest and poet Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (June 27, 1883 – March 8, 1929), the WWI British Chaplain nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willie’ for the Woodbine cigarettes he gave injured and dying soldiers.

After World War I Studdert Kennedy became a pacifist and a socialist whose books and sermons were on the front line of the political-economic debate over the country’s future. He stood for his convictions, but saw himself as a member of a commonwealth who, like all other citizens, was called to search for wisdom “outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

There is, and there must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon questions arising out of our wider human relations, social questions, that is, apart from and above party prejudice and sectional interest. If that is not so, and there is no such plane, and we can not think of these big questions outside the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife, then it is safe to assert that there will never be a solution of the problem whatsoever. The idea that politics in the true sense — that is, the art of managing our human relationships on a large scale — must remain a separate department of life, distinct from morals and religion, is ultimately irrational and absurd.

One of the great public and religious dangers of the day is the use of the words socialism and capitalism without any real attempt to define their meaning.

– G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, “The Church in Politics” sermon preached at the 1926 annual meeting of the Industrian Christian Fellowship at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

This April Fools Day, may God grant courage to all us fools to let Prudence lead us to find Truth again and save us for each other and our better selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaka, MN, April 1, 2020

Rescued by a Virus – COVID-19 and the Chain-Link Fence

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Two buddies and the chain-link barbed wire fence

I was five years old the morning I screamed from the top of the new chain-link barbed-wire fence that separated my next door buddy, Buddy Singleton, and me. Moments before, we had been speaking through the fence Buddy’s father had just put up to protect his property. We were friends. We wanted to play.What to do? One of us had to scale the chain-like fence. Clinging to the chain links, I climbed to the top where the barbed wire was. I lost my footing and screamed, hanging by one hand from the barbed wire that had spiked my hand. I hung there until my mother heard the screams and rushed to take me down. I never climbed a chain-link barb-wire fence again. The scar on my left hand reminds me every day.

Creative Commons photo of barbed wire by درفش کاویانی uploaded from Wikimedia.

Making Mistakes and the Consequences

Making mistakes is part of life. It’s just human. Sometimes our mistakes hurt ourselves, sometimes they hurt others. Sometimes they hurt both. But mistakes also teach us to look closely before trying to climb over a fence, no matter how lofty our intentions.

Today the fence I’d like to get over is harder to scale. “C’mon over,” says Buddy. “I can’t!” I say. “Sure you can. Just climb over the fence!” I’ve learned not to listen to a dangerous invitation. Having made that mistake, I now look up to the top, see the barbed wire, and decide to stay safe in my yard on my side of the fence. I don’t understand the Singletons, the Singletons don’t understand me, but each of us is sure we do.

Fences and neighbors

Today the invitations to “c’mon over” are hard to find. It’s not so much that we’re cowards; it’s that we don’t want each other in our yards. The Shadow’s question “What evil lurks in the hearts of men?” is no longer a question about all of us; it has become specific: “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Singletons?” “What evil lurks in the hearts of the Stewarts?” We no longer talk through the chain links. We call each other names, sure that, whatever evil is, its place is the other side of the fence. We get our news from different sources. We tell stories about the fence that separates good and evil, and the people on the other side of it. We don’t just see things differently. We see different things. We buy the stories about the fence and the people on the other side of it. The Stewarts watch MSNBC and listen to NPR; the Singletons tune into FOXNews and Rush Limbaugh. We’re worlds apart. Or so it seems, but . . .

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall [a chain-link barb-wire fence] (Robert Frost in “Mending Wall”) bubbles up from a deeper memory in the year a virus locks us in our homes on both sides of the fence. COVID-19 knows nothing about fences and walls, good and evil, or state and national borders. Sometimes it takes a poet to take us to our deeper selves.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
- Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Gordon C. Stewart, at home in Chaska, MN, March 31, 2020.