When a megalomaniac is cornered

Featured

The-Nation-magazine-Logo-150-years-620x425

150th anniversary logo of The Nation

Sasha Abramsky’s article “Trump is a Cornered Megalomaniac — and That’s a Grave Danger to the Country” (The Nation, May 21) examines the growing crisis in the White House and the clear and present danger it poses.

“Men like Trump,” says Abramsky, “do not fade gently into their political night. Rather, with all nuance sacrificed in pursuit of their senescent need for the spotlight, they scrabble and scratch, lash out and fight. With no self-limiting or self-correcting moral gyroscope, they go down whatever paths they believe offer them the best chance of survival.”

I read Abramsky’s article yesterday and recalled a brief conversation last December aboard ship on The Nation Annual Cruise.

This morning the President was playing from the script, doing Abramsky warned he would: fighting back, lashing out at the “fake media” who don’t want him to “drain the swamp of Washington bureaucrats” in order to “make America great again,” the media who have treated him worse than anyone in American history, against those who keep making stuff up like “the Russian thing.” Donald Trump was using “all the tricks of the demagogue as he fights for his survival” (Abramsky).

A Facebook “Friend” posted a Trump call for readers to rise up in support of the victimized people’s President. This afternoon I can’t seem to find it and wonder whether perhaps Facebook, which revised its policy that allowed splattering false news in the 2016 election, had censored the post as faux news. Whatever the reason for the post’s disappearance, the reason for its initial appearance was clear.

But three things seem clear.

  1. The game is on. “Donald Trump’s grotesque presidency now hangs by a thread. By the hour, it seems, the possibility of impeachment, of him being declared incompetent to govern—or, at the very least, of his own party bringing irresistible pressure on him to resign—grows.” (Abramsky)
  2. This President has shown repeatedly that he is capable of almost anything, including, God forbid, creating or exacerbating an international crisis of epic proportions, in the megalomaniacal struggle to survive.
  3. My Facebook “Friend” doesn’t agree with any of that. She still believes in the President. She’s a good person, a fallen-away Catholic. We’re still “friends” on Facebook and in real life.

But, hey, who knows what may happen?

The President’s trip includes a meeting with the Pope. Maybe Pope Francis will hear his confession, convince the beleaguered, lapsed Presbyterian president to resign, and convince the likes of my lapsed Catholic Facebook Friend that wise people don’t confuse demagogues with victims.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Whoo-woo! I hear a rumblin’

Featured

Some days, when I’m weary, I hear the rumblin’ wheels of the gospel train rolling through the land. The song of the American slaves speaks its hope to me in this later age of collective madness.

The Gospel train’s comin’
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheel rumblin’
And rollin’ thro’ the land

Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There’s room for many more

I hear the train a-comin’
She’s comin’ round the curve
She’s loosened all her steam and brakes
And strainin’ ev’ry nerve

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Whoo-wooing for the fairer train from Chaska, MN, May 11, 2017.

 

The 101st Day – What to do?

Featured

Today, following the first 100 days of President Trump’s inauguration, we offer a non-partisan invitation to focus on a phrase from a familiar prayer:

deliver us from evil“and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.” 

Most days we pray the prayer without much reflection. Like many other things we repeat by rote memory, we give little thought to temptation or the need to be delivered from evil. But today the phrase calls out for deeper self-examination and reflection about the world in which we live.

“This was the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting American president,” said Republican former advisor to four presidents David Gergen in response to President Trump’s speech celebrating his first 100 days in office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“He treated [those who are disturbed about him or oppose him] basically as ‘I don’t care, I don’t give a damn what you think, because you’re frankly like the enemy,'” said Gergen. “I think it was a deeply disturbing speech.”

The Lord’s Prayer (aka “the Our Father” and “the Jesus Prayer”) will be prayed in churches throughout the world today.

“Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven…”

“Forgive us our sins (the acts and states of mind that separate/divide us from/ hurt others) as we forgive those who sin against us.” 

“Lead us not into temptation (or “the time of testing”/”time of trial”), but deliver us from evil.”

Amen. May it be so! Lord, save us, and the world You love, from our worst selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 30, 2017.

 

This incessant business

Featured

John MuirJohn Muir, father of America’s National Park System, wrote:

God has cared for these trees,
Saved them from drought, disease,
and a thousand tempests and floods,
but he cannot save them from fools.
[John Muir, Our National Parks, 1903]

President Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Department of Interior yesterday and signed an executive order freeing up use of public lands, land “which belongs to the people, which truly belongs to us.”

Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau wrote in 1863:

I think there is nothing, not even crime,
more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

[Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle, 1863]

 

 

The Muir and Thoreau quotes lead the chapters  “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” and “The Bristlecone Pines” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. God bless the memory of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. We are increasingly without principle. They’d turn over in their graves. It’s up to us to honor their principles.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, April 27, 2017,

 

Vive la France?

Featured

French soldier & GOne year ago the French soldier in Paris said, “I love America. Very patriotic!” I wondered what he meant. You Americans love your country? Or something else?

Today’s French election offers a moment to reflect more philosophically about the social, cultural and political dynamics that divide the French and Americans alike.

For starters, there is the age old question of the relation of the part to the whole. In this case, the part is a particular, and often unique, culture: French! French culture shares many similarities with its European neighbors, but the old joke about Hell – “Hell is a place where the police are German, the chefs are English, the car mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all organized by the Italians” – has some grounding in the real differences in the distinctive history and culture of each national culture.

The European Union is the sum of its distinctive parts; the parts make up the whole. The European Union created a common currency, relaxed the borders, and eliminated trade barriers among the member states of the E.U., a thing to celebrate in a world where it becomes increasingly clear that the planet itself is our home.

But what happens when the distinctiveness of the parts – the French in this case – are morphing quickly into something unrecognizable? What happens to the psyche of the traditional French citizen when the languages in the cafe, on the Metro, and in the apartment next door are not French – or the visiting German, Italian, English, and Spanish of tourists on holiday at the Louvre or on the beaches of Nice – but Arabic, Parsi, or Urdu spoken by Syrians, Moroccans, Indians, or Pakistanis?

A culture is a home, a kind of safe nesting place. A cardinal is not a robin, a wren, or flicker, and it’s not easy for any of them when they perceive their nests as under threat by the European Starling that would rousts them from their nests.

“I love America. Very patriotic!” said the Parisian French soldier guarding the Jewish synagogue against a terrorist attack while the headlines from America featured Donald Trump’s rise in the polls in May 2016. “Make America great again!” was the word from the  across the pond. “Which America?” I wondered then, as I wonder now what “Make France great again” means today in the French election.

Was the patriotic America in the mind of the French soldier the America that speaks Spanish, Parsi, Urdu, and Arabic as well as English or the one that speaks only English? The one that is white European in origin? The one where African-Americans take their seats again in the back of the bus? The America where there are no mosques; no sombreros; no anti-American leftists or immigrants – only starlings?  The America where being “very patriotic” means returning the U.S.A. to what it was before the starlings raided its nest?

Philosophically, the issues are not as simple as they sometimes seem. The question of the relation of the parts to the whole is as vexing today as at time in the course of human development. A year ago the world celebrated the signing of the Paris Accord on climate change in recognition that the whole is bigger than its parts and that every part depends on the well-being of the whole.

A parable of Jesus holds together the relation between the part and the whole: distinctive nests (cultures) in the the branches same shrub (world):

“The kingdom of heaven [the whole] is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” – Gospel of Matthew 13: 31-32.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 23, 2017.

The Make-Up Artist

Featured

Make-up artists in show business are the cosmeticians in the off-stage dressing rooms who paint the performers. In plays and films they make sure the actors look their parts. In television they apply make-up to the likes of Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly.

Donald TrumpBut today ‘make-up artist’ takes on different meaning: “one who makes stuff up.” Like a Commander-in-Chief whose administration tells the world the USS Carl Vinson and its Navy fleet are headed for the coast of North Korea, knowing full well they’re still headed toward Australia. When the crews heard the news from news outlets, they must have wondered. Who or what was lying: their compasses or their Commander-in-Chief and his administration?

Make-up artists serve a purpose in stage productions and television programs like “The Apprentice”; they have a role to play behind the scenes of make-believe.

DI-Chicken-Little-9But when a made-up president makes stuff up that causes the armed forces he commands to choose between their compasses and their commander, the Commander-in-Chief becomes the Liar-in-Chief who commands as much credibility as did Chicken Little after announcing too many times that the sky was falling.

I wish to Heaven this was all made up.

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

Faux reality on Maundy Thursday

Views from the Edge re-publishes this piece from March 24, 2010. In November 2016 the American people were sucker-punched by an alarmist apocalyptic spirituality underlying the alt-right politics of Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon, and the candidate for president who led and funded “the birther movement”.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday call for sober reflection on the difference between faux-reality and reality. We republish it here without updates or edits – except for a new title – for the sake of historical perspective. – GCS

Ecce homo -  "Here is the man" Albrecht Durer

“Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), Albrecht Durer

Something from the Christian tradition – the idea of ‘the Anti-Christ’ – is lifting its ugly head, a word and concept that could trigger unthinkable tragedy unless we clean up our civil discourse.

According to Harris Interactive Poll taken between March 1 and 8, “more than 20% believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,’ that he is racist and anti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20% think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14% believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13% think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.”

The poll reflects what we all know: our civic health as a nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. This toxic disregard for truth lies behind the results of the Harris Poll. Trigger words like ‘socialist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘anti-American,’ and ‘the Anti-Christ’ and the allegation that America’s first black president is the nation’s chief domestic enemy take us beyond the McCarthyism of the ‘50s. This cocktail is lethal.

As a Christian pastor I rue the use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate. The Christian life – or spiritual life of any sort, for that matter – is a life of discernment about the powers that shape ordinary life. It is not blind to evil. But loud spirituality is an oxymoron. We need to be reminded that all the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” and “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”

Labeling the President of the United States ‘the Anti-Christ” gives deranged minds a license to kill . . . in the name of the non-violent, crucified Jesus. If some deranged American patriot like the Marine who plotted to assassinate the President should succeed . . . God forbid! . . . the blood will be on the hands of all who remained silent when the hate speech was being poured into the public stream of consciousness. And if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, get yourself to church Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to ground yourself again in the love that conquers hate and fear.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Maundy Thursday morning, Chaska, MN.

The Unusual Trio – Maher, King, and Thomas – singing in one accord.

Featured

Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,’ as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. – Bill Maher.

“Willful Ignorance” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.103-105) begins with an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963):

Martin Luther King, Jr.“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The essay concludes with the hope of something better than being blindly agreeable:

aquinas -Botticelli

Thomas Aquinas by Botticelli

“Placed under the scrutiny of a public that refuses to be willfully ignorant, the loud shouts of demagoguery will be swept up by the vacuum of a citizenry schooled in due diligence. And the United States of America, refusing to wallow in the mire of purposeful ignorance, of which Thomas Aquinas, and we ourselves, can be proud.” – Be Still!, p.105.

Wouldn’t Thomas Aquinas and Bill Maher be surprised to be on the same page? Martin Luther King, Jr. is a bridge between the two. Maher, King, and Thomas: a tenor, baritone, and bass in one accord.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to write something on today’s Daily Prompt word, “Blindly“.

 

 

Blessed are the not so pure

Featured

There is a kind of purity that is not pure: partisan purity, which bears no resemblance to the purity of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .”

The U.S. Senate is poorer today because of partisan purity on both sides of the political aisle. Politics is a brutal game made more civil by rules that seek to set boundaries on partisan purity. The 60-40 rule was one of those long-standing Senate rules that helped insure some measure of long-term wisdom by the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

The onus of responsibility for weakening the Senate – lowering the bar for simple majority votes on matters once believed to be of such gravity as to require a higher threshold – falls to both purist parties. The one for pushing the envelope knowing the consequences, the other for rescinding the rule. From now on, whichever party is in the majority shall rule without restraint.

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) asks officers to promise “to further the peace, purity, and unity” of the church in recognition that though, in an ideal world, peace, purity, and unity are in accord, they are often in conflict in the real world.

This week the U.S. Senate exercised a different kind of purity that violates all three values – peace and unity, as well as purity – leaving the country the poorer in restraint and wisdom.

Blessed are the not so pure.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 7, 2017.

 

 

Like a Mustard Seed

Featured

I needed John Buchanan’s commentary this morning. Maybe you do too.

Hold to the Good

I was in a pew with in the Kensington Community Church, United Church of Christ, with our San Diego family last Sunday. The preacher, the Rev. Darryl Kistler, reminded us that Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God and that whenever he was asked about the Kingdom, when it was coming and what it would look like, his answers were enigmatic, not at all what people expected or wanted. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” he said once. On another occasion he said that the Kingdom would be quiet, almost invisible: like a tiny mustard seed or like the yeast that does its important work in bread baking without fanfare.

It was the reminder I needed this morning because I am worried about the particular kingdom I am currently living in. It has not been an easy, hopeful time since the presidential inauguration in January. Not long…

View original post 632 more words