Elijah asks Grampa why Santa’s in Congress

Featured

ELIJAH (5 yrs. old): Bumpa, now that Santa Claus is in Congress, will he still come next Christmas?

BUMPA: Santa Claus isn’t in Congress.

Uh-hu! He’s all over the news. He’s very conventional. Don’t you watch the News Hour or listen to NPR?

I do. Grandma and I watch the News Hour every night. I think maybe you meant ‘controversial’.

Then you saw him with your own two eyes. He looks different ‘cause he shaved his beard and his hair’s not white, but it’s definitely Santa. You forgot to put your ears in again, didn’t ya.

You mean my hearing aids.

Yeah. your ears. Maybe you need to change the batteries.

Elijah, there must be a misunderstanding. Santa isn’t real.

Whoah! You don’t believe in Santa and Rudolph? I’m going to tell Mommy! You’re an atheist!

I think you’re confusing religion and politics. I have a lot in common with Atheists and a lot of differences. I go to church. They don’t. I worship God. They don’t. But we both believe Santa is a fantasy. He’s an illusion. Congress is different. Congress is no illusion. Congress is real.

You went to school, right, Bumpa?

Yes.

Mommy says you used to say the Pledge of Illusion every morning. 

We did, Elijah. But it’s the Pledge of Allegiance, not the pledge of illusion. It’s important to get that straight. 

What’s a pledge?

Well, it’s pretty simple, Elijah. A pledge is a promise. 

Like when I promise Santa every Christmas that I’ll be good next year.

Right. Now you’re getting the hang of it. If you’re bad, Santa won’t bring any presents. You’ll get coal in your stocking. The Pledge of Allegiance is sort of like that. It’s a promise to do the right thing for your country. 

Yeah, and it’s not an illusion, right?

Right.

What’s an illusion?

It’s something that isn’t real. Like Santa Claus. An illusion is something that isn’t there. You can’t make a promise to an illusion ‘cause it’s not real.

Our country’s real, right, Bumpa? 

Right.

And so is Congress, right?

Right.

But Santa isn’t?

Right.

He is too, Bumbpa! Santa’s real! He’s a member of Congress who pledges allegiance. He was just put on two committees. 

Okay, it’s taken me a long time to get what you’re talking about.  The new Congressman isn’t Santa. His name is Santos.

And Santos is real, right?

Well, yes and no, Elijah. Yes, Santos really is in Congress, and, No, he lied to get there. None of what he said about himself is true. It was all an illusion, and everyone knows it.

So, Santos will get coal in his stocking next Christmas?

Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian, Author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, January 19, 2023.

The day prayers set off the hospital fire alarm

Featured

Some memories blur over time. Others, like the hospital visit with Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun (Clyde Bellecourt, Jr), still ring the fire alarm.

Photo of Clyde F. Bellecourt, co-founder of the American Movement (AIM) and the Legal Rights Center.

I had come to visit Clyde — Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun (“Thunder Before the Storm”) — in the cardiac care unit after he had suffered a minor heart attack. It had been Clyde and the Legal Rights Center (LRC) Board who invited me to step in as LRC’s interim executive director. LRC and I were in the same boat: our boats were sinking. I stayed at LRC for the next seven years.

LRC is the creation of Black and American Indian community civil right leaders as an “outside the system” community-based public defense corporation belonging to, managed by, and serving low-income African-American and American Indian defendants in the courts of Hennepin County.

I had been in Clyde’s room in the cardiac care unit no more than 10 minutes when an Anishinabe Midew arrived to offer prayers for healing to Gitche Manitou (the Great Spirit). She brought sage and sweetgrass, the herbs for ‘smudging’ in preparation for prayer. Smudging serves the purposes of cleansing, keeping evil away, and providing a spirit of calm and peacefulness.

The Midew had, of course, come with matches to bring the herbs to a smolder to create the smoke for smudging. She lit the match, and the smoke triggered the hospital fire alarm throughout Hennepin County Medical Center. The alarm stopped a few minutes later when an attending nurse smelled the sweet smell of smudging, and sent the word that stopped the alarms. We never did get to the prayers.

If we had gotten beyond the preparation for prayer, the Midew would have offered something like this Ojibwe prayer for the healing of each other and the healing of the planet:

Grandfather,
 look at our brokenness.
 We know that in all creation
 only the human family
 has strayed from the Sacred Way.
 We know that we are the ones
 who are divided
 and we are the ones
 who must come back together
 to walk the Sacred Way.
 Grandfather, 
 Sacred One,
 teach us love, compassion, and honor
 that we may heal the earth
 and heal each other. 
 (Ojibwe prayer)

The Legacy of Thunder Before the Storm

Clyde is gone now (RIP), but his legacy will live on. Though he could not end the racism or heal America of the trail of broken promises, he did what a human being is called to do. Because he did, his thunder is still heard. Professional sports teams no longer bear the names or wear the logos that dehumanize America’s first peoples. Although fans of the Cleveland ‘Guardians’ (MLB) and the Washington ‘Commanders’ (NFL) may not know or care why, when, and how their teams took their names, those who know will not forget the persistence that blew away the insults. Soon no one will remember, with a chuckle, the day preparation for prayer set off the fire alarms. No one will know that security systems can’t be smudged.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, host of Views from the Edge, Author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), writing from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, December 19, 2022.

Pinocchio’s World in January 2023

Featured

It’s a new year according the calendar, but it’s the same world we had hoped to leave behind on New Year’s Eve. It’s still Pinocchio’s world. Pinocchio’s nose has grown longer each year. Those who have mistaken insurrection for patriotism, and party loyalty for fidelity to the Constitution have all but forgotten Jiminy Cricket. The voice of conscience is missing. All that’s left is the song meant to encourage children:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Optimism and the hand grenade

Before taking the oath of office, a prerequisite for the new Congress to convene, is sworn in, the new majority pulled the pin on the hand grenade before throwing it, leaving the House a mess without a Speaker.

THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The worst of it is the failure to face and act upon the reality of climate change. Whether by willful ignorance, misinformation, blind optimism, despair, or humankind’s Achilles’ Heel — our mortal propensity toward illusion — there is a deafening silence, louder than the calamity of war, that will not go away in 2023 and the years that follow.

Jiminy’s optimism has faded and the voice of conscience is weaker now. If Pinocchio’s nose had grown longer in private, it would be less consequential. No one would follow him. But Pinocchio cannot stand living without a stage and applause. The audience has come to the theater wanting Pinocchio to be more than someone’s puppet. Whoever is managing the strings, one thing is certain. It is not Gipetto. Pinocchio never goes on stage without Jiminy Cricket.

My father’s absence, return, and absence again

What child does not find hope in Jiminy Cricket’s calm invitation to wish upon a star, no matter who you are? But what adult can believe it “makes no difference who you are/ Anything your heart desires/Will come to you/If your heart is in your dream”? Does it? Does fate step in? Will fate see us through 2023? Fanciful thinking won’t get us through.

Questions of reality and illusion have been part of me since the day my father stepped from the B-29 Bomber at Logan International Airport. My mother and grandparents had assured me that I did have a daddy, but they had also prayed for his safety, and listen to the radio, hoping there would be no bad news about American troops in the South Pacific.

When my father stepped from the B-29 at Logan Airport and scooped me up in his arms, I pulled back. “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said. “And I’m never going away again!” The next morning, he was gone. What child knows the difference between “I’m never going away again!” and leaving the next day to be honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps? 

Skepticism in Pinocchio’s world never left me. What is, and is not, trustworthy; what is real and what is illusion; what are faith, hope, and love in a Pinocchio world? In the adult world of 2023, Jiminy Cricket has changed his tune, but his call to conscience remains. Fate and destiny are not the same. Optimism is not the same as hope. Faith is a leap of faith, hope, and love that plunges into a sea of not-knowing and not-yet for the sake of a destiny greater than fate.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and social commentator, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 5, 2023

The Benefit of the Doubt

Featured

Dismay and a wider view

Stepping back from my dismay that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not yet indicted Donald Trump brings into view the wider context that suggests good reason to give AG Merrick Garland and the DOJ the benefit of the doubt.

In the executive branch of federal government, the Department of Justice is responsible for protecting and enforcing “the rule of law” but the DOJ cannot do its job by itself. The Attorney General would be foolish to indict Donald Trump without careful planning with other departments and agencies that bear responsibility for domestic civil order and national security. How, when, and where to take Donald Trump into custody are daunting questions the DOJ cannot answer alone. The likelihood of January 6 on steroids received cheers just a few days ago when Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene stoked the embers of January 6.

“I tell you what,” she said, “if Steve Bannon and I had organized that [i.e., January 6], we would have won, not to mention we would’ve been armed.”

The necessity and threat of collaboration

Collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, Capitol Police, Speaker of the House and Minority Leader, Senate Majority and Minority Leader, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and the Secret Service would seem wise and prudent. Donald Trump is no longer in the Oval Office, but his fingerprints everywhere in the executive branch of government, in Congress, and in the judiciary. One slip, one leak could trigger a greater horror than January 6.

There are ‘moles’ — Far Right operatives — embedded in the institutions meant to protect the Constitution and we, the people. No interagency plan is secure. The DOJ is in a pickle. The pickle is green, but it’s not Kosher. It’s only green inside, with different shades of green we don’t see in ordinary times, green as in Marjorie … and Peter Navarro’s “The Green Bay Sweep.”

This week, the House Special Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol will make public its referrals for criminal investigation and release its final report. The Republican Party, led by the Freedom Caucus, will call it a witch hunt. Jim Jordan, soon to become chair of the House Judiciary Committee, will fulfill his pledge to investigate the investigators and impeach Attorney General Garland and the president who “stole the election” of 2020.

Reservation and purpose of evasion

January 3, every elected member of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will take the Constitutional Oath of Office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic… without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion….”

The Constitution has already been undermined by Far Right members of Congress who cross their fingers while mouthing the words about domestic enemies. Once again, they will have no scruples taking the Oath without reservation or purpose of evasion.

Nothing feels sane these days because it isn’t. Doubt is always in order.‘Thinking outside the box’ requires us to keep our eyes fixed on what is happening inside the box — the institutions meant to uphold and preserve the rule of law, guard the nation from enemies foreign and domestic, and protect the future of democracy.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, Author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, December 18, 2022.

The Darkness of the Limelight

Featured

The Nihilism of which Cornel West wrote in Race Matters describes American culture across all lines of division. 

Nihilism is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine that there are no rational ground for legitimate standards of authority; it is, far more, a lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and [most important of all) lovelessness. The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world. Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a cold-hearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.

Cornel West, Race Matters, p. 22-23

A Lived Experience

Years before meeting Cornel West, Professor Paul Lehmann, spoke of him as a brilliant rising star, and advised me to keep my eyes open for him as a source of wisdom worthy of attention.

A decade later, Cornel was the guest speaker of the Westminster Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.

Shunning the Limelight

Of all the Forum speakers, Cornel West made the most lasting impression. It wasn’t what he said. It’s what he did. He wanted to meet the rest of the church staff, and he did. He eagerly greeted each and every one as if that person were the apple of God’s eye. With Al in the basement boiler room office, members of Al Cooper’s custodial staff, administrative support staff, associate pastors, he greeted them eagerly, as though they, not he, were the honored guest.

That was then. This is now. Some things are different; other things have not changed. For both good and ill, the present moment springs from our roots. To turn a blind eye to the past is to become blind to the present.

American history is a tinderbox of unresolved contradictions. We inherit a legacy of both neighborliness and violence, compassion and cruelty, wisdom and folly, love and hate, aspirations toward a more equitable society and persistence of the pecking order. Underneath every contradiction lies the fear of our mortality, the denial of death that spills the blood of Abel. Abel’s blood still cries out from the ground where kidnapped Africans lived and died as property of White slave owners deluded by the same presumption of racial, religious, and cultural superiority that committed mass murder of America’s indigenous peoples after coming here to practice religious freedom and build the biblical “city set upon a hill.”

The Politics of the Limelight

No nation is exceptional. Every nation that imagines itself to be the city set upon a hill rises by, and falls on, its own sword. The rise and fall of the myth of national exceptionalism has turned Ukraine into a killing field. Once the strongmen had been Stalin and Hitler. Now, their protégé continues the propaganda of lies and fears to establish himself and Russia as exceptions to the tides of history.

We cannot point to Vladimir Putin as unusual. He’s not. While Putin seeks to rescue Russia from the ashes of history, the defeated president who gathered the wood and lit the match on January 6, 2022, continues his campaign of arson that will Make America Great Again, free of criminal indictment and prosecution to stop him. In the meantime, the people he has seduced into conflating America and himself feed the “rule of law” and the Constitution through the paper shredder.

The Politics of Cultural Conversion

People like Al in the boiler room, and administrative assistants like Eloise, Mary, and Sharon quietly stand guard over the boiler and the paper shredder, remembering the moment when Cornel West shined a light on them. With no need for recognition, they practice “the politics of [cultural] ]conversion that shuns the limelight — a limelight that solicits status seekers and ingratiates egomaniacs.” (West, p. 31)

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, Author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, December 14, 2022.

Stillness and the Septic Tank — The Day After

About this piece

"Leave Rage Alone" aired yesterday as a podcast recorded during a rare moment when all of us were in the same boat, waiting for the 2022 election returns. The text for the podcast is printed below."Leave Rage Alone" was written and posted four years ago before Kay and I re-located from Chaska to Brooklyn Park MN to be near grandson Elijah. We share it here in hopes it still speaks.

Searching for stillness

Stillness defines life at the cabin. It’s quiet. The only sounds are bird calls. It is this stillness that draws us here by the wetland. But my heart is not still. It’s preoccupied with evil. This morning’s assigned psalm from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) speaks to my condition.

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers…
For they shall soon wither like the grass…
Be still before the LORD…
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37 BCP

Leave rage alone.

Last night, after a quiet swim, I put my hearing aids back in, returned to the cabin for dinner, and listened to a podcast of The Beat with Ari Melber which Kay had downloaded on her iPhone. Back home in Chaska, we watch The Beat because it suits our outrage over what is happening to America. But listening to the podcast re-awakened the rage from which I seek relief in the quiet beauty of the disconnected cabin by the wetland. Listening to the podcast disturbed the serenity of the place. It felt like a fatal assault, a return to hell.

Midway through the podcast, I removed my hearing aids again to distance myself from the septic fret of rage. It was the tone of voice that felt like death or a foreign invasion. I was swimming in my own body waste.

The pond and the wetland are changing every day. So is the world. The Trumpeter Swans that brought such joy a month ago are gone. So are the red-wing blackbirds that had feasted on the cat-n-nine tails. And the grass? The grass is green and growing again. But the psalm reminds me that green will fade to brown in autumn until the swans return.

Meanwhile the calendar reminds me. It’s time to call the guy who empties the septic tank, before it gets full and no longer works. — July 19, 2018.


Afterword

The day after the election day, the boat of anxiously awaiting the election results is over. The shared experience of unknowing was perhaps its own kind of sacred moment, a suspension of the lethal spirituality of winners and losers. Is it too much to ask, for the sake of everyone’s health, that we come together again to empty the septic tank before it gets full?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith and public life; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 9, 2022.

Where’s Nancy?

Featured

Truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

Isaiah 59:15 NIV

Eighty-two year old Paul Pelosi, hit in the head by an intruder’s hammer, undergoes emergency surgery for a fractured skull. An intruder admits to breaking into the Pelosi home and hitting Mr. Pelosi with a hammer. He is looking for Nancy.

I read the morning paper, “Right-wing figures rush to spread Pelosi lies,” is the lead story. “The push is on to sow doubt, distrust over attack.”

The same defense-by-offense attack machine whose Willie Horton ad hit the bull’s-eye of white fear to smear Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as “soft on crime” kicks into gear again in an election year. Fox News’ quickly shifts into another gear, deflecting attention from the specifics of the attack — this was the home of the Speaker of the House for whom the January 6 “tourists” had shouted, “Where’s Nancy?” — to launch into the same mode that produced the Horton ad. It could have happen to any of us!

Steve Bannon’s War Room plants seeds of doubt and deceit: “Very strange new details on Paul Pelosi attack,” says the War Room, knowing the 78,000 War Room subscribers are likely to respond: “Gosh, I wonder what those strange new details could be?” Roger Stone weighs in on Telegram, referring to the attack as an “alleged attack” and calls readers to smell the “stench” of mainstream news reporting. Elon Musk posts on Twitter “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” pointing his readers’ to a far right source known for spreading far right disinformation. Elon Musk has 112,000,000 Twitter followers. Hours later, with no explanation, he takes down the post.

Donald Trump stays silent…sort of. On “Truth Social” there is no mention of the event, no expression of sorrow and request for prayers for Mr. Pelosi’s full recovery, no word of sympathy for the Speaker of the House or the rest of a traumatized family, no condemnation of violence, no call for the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other militias to stop the violence, no reference to the rule of law, no recognition of responsibility for unleashing the beasts of hate and terror. Truth Social repeatedly repeats narcissistic lamentations, blaming the Left for conspiring against him.

A numbing detachment and destructive disposition

Not even news of a cracked skull breaks through some skulls. We live, one might argue, in a web of narcissism and nihilism. “[W]e are coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important of all) lovelessness,” wrote Cornel West in Race Matters.

The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world.

Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a cold-hearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.
Cornel West, Race Matters (1993, Vintage Press)

A disease and cure of the soul

“Is there really any hope,” asks West,”given our shattered civil society, market-driven corporate enterprises, and white supremacy? If one begins with concrete narcissism, one must talk about some kind of politics of conversion…Narcissism is a disease of the soul.”

It will take something more than partisan politics to change it. Even so, we are not without Even so, we are not without sources of wisdom, hope, and guidance. Neither truth nor honesty is dead, nor is the way to recover of the public square. An ancient collection of wisdom offers a way forward. The Book of Proverbs names seven things that are detestable to God:

  • haughty eyes,
  • a lying tongue,
  • hands that shed innocent blood,
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes,
  • feet that are quick to rush into evil,
  • a false witness who pours out lies, and
  • a person who stirs up dissension among brothers and sister.

Flip the proverbs to the other side of the coin, and consider the practices that keep a society from falling.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), a collection of social commentaries through eyes of faith; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 2, 2022.

Life in America: I am not a Jellyfish!

Featured

Apologies to By-the-Wind Sailors for calling them jellyfish. They are not jellyfish. A by-the wind sailor has a sail. Jellyfish have no sail; they just bob around.

My life is blown up and down in all directions. Right-side up, down-side-up north, east, south, west. But I am not a jellyfish. I am not a gelatinous blob.

Like the by-the-wind sailors along the Pacific coast, I have a sail that catches the wind. But what use is a sail without a keel and rudder?

I am not a by-the-wind sailor: I don’t get to choose my neighbor

The winds of time blow in different directions and are forever shifting. When it comes from the south, it blows me north. When it comes from the north, it blows me south. Most often it’s the west wind that pushes me and my by-the-sea sailors community east. No one can break ranks! Did I mention that by-the-wind sailors live in colonies. Like members of a political party in 2022, they live in colonies at the mercy of the wind.

But I have a mind that can, and does, make decisions. “Don’t just do something,” said Fr. Dan Berrigan, “stand there!” Sometimes I’m feel torn the Golden Rule (Do to others as you would have them to you) and “standing there” on things that matter, even at the risk of driving a wedge between my neighbor and me. To be loving does not mean becoming a by-the-wind sailor or a jellyfish. It takes a keel and rudder to tack against the wind. By-the-wind sailors have neither the heart to love nor the courage to move against the wind.

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

He [Jesus] said to him [the lawyer], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Stand Firm

I have what no by-the-wind sailor or jelly fish has. I have a rudder. I can go with the wind, or, by trimming the sail, tacking, or putting down anchor, I can go with, or resist, whatever wind is blowing. I can go with the flow or tack to a distant shore when the wind would drive me back, or I can put down anchor. I can do nothing but stand there.

"For freedom Christ has set you free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." [Letter to the Galatians 5: 1].

To move with the wind is neither free nor responsible. It is a peculiar form of slavery. The freedom of Christ breaks the yoke of slavery. Slavery to what? The 59th chapter of the Book of Isaiah expresses in vivid metaphors the anguished heart of God over how poorly we treat each other. How do I love those “who rely on empty arguments and speak lies,” when they “conceive trouble and give birth to evil, when they hatch the eggs of vipers and spin the spider’s web”? How do I love those who seem like by-the-wind sailors, going with a colony blown toward destruction by storms of misinformation, disinformation, lies, misplaced faith, and certainty?

Prayer as Political

A recent week on Block Island, Rhode Island, the home of theologian, lawyer, civil rights and peace activist, author, and friend, William (Bill) Stringfellow and poet Anthony Towne, drew me back to A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning when Bill, at the invitation of the Block Island Writers Workshop, remembered Anthony:

I consider that Anthony regarded the use of the languages the distinguishing feature between that which is civil and human and that which is brutal and dehumanized. The culture, he had noticed long since, had gone the latter way, and its debasement of language, indeed, its promotion of jargon, verbosity, redundancy, deceit, doublespeak and similar babel is evidence of a profound decadence.

His vocation -- as distinguished from his occupation -- was, in principle, monastic, as is my own. (That is the explanation of our relationship.) That is, he and I have understood that we had been called to a life of prayer, and that the practice of prayer is essentially political -- a matter of attention to events and of advocacy for the  needs of human life and of the life of the whole Creation. Prayer, in this sense, is not pietistic, but, on the contrary, radical involvement in the world as it is, prompted in the Word of God. -- William Stringfellow, A Simplicity of Faith (Wipf and Stock), p. 51-2.

November 8 and the Practice of Prayer

The 2022 national election is its own kind of prayer. Either we will vote to surrender our humanity to the prevailing wind of brutality, deceit, nationalism, authoritarianism, violence and hate, or we will choose to tack against the wind toward the horizon only prayer as politics can take us.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 21, 2022.

Do You Know How it Feels?

Featured

Straightforward integrity

The House Select Committee hearings are studies of character. What we have seen seems courageous. It takes courage to bear witness to the truth when thugs are threatening your life over and over and over again, and when you can’t use your name any longer because it might bring harm to your mother, your grandmother, and yourself. But what we are looking at goes deeper than courage.

Integrity in high and low places

We have been looking at the integrity of those who did the right thing under pressure from the highest rung of American power. Integrity is the still point from which courage comes. Character that is true to itself was once expressed in the adage, “A man’s (sic) word is his (sic) bond.” Integrity is the alignment of word and deed, the plumb-line of conscience and responsibility. Almost two centuries ago, American writer Charles Caleb Colton wrote,

“Nothing so completely baffles one who is full of trick and duplicity…as straightforward and simple integrity in another.”

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon (1985), 2.14.

Straightforward and Simple Integrity

We have witnessed straightforward and simple integrity in high places — Secretaries of State Rusty Bowers (AZ) and Brad Raffensperger (GA); former Attorney General Bill Barr; the President’s daughter, Ivanka; leaders of the US Department of Justice, the White House Attorney — and in low places where most of us live and do our jobs without public recognition, people like Ms Shaye Moss and her mother, “Lady Ruby,” in Fulton County (GA).

Integrity and trustworthiness are the brick and mortar that keep a house from falling. Tricks and duplicity, like termites and carpenter ants, slowly destroy the foundations and eat away the framework of the house we take for granted. The infestation — Donald Trump’s Constitutional mischief; the once-upon-a-time Grand Old Party’s steadfast complicity in promoting of the Big Lie; three Supreme Court justices who were confirmed only after well-scripted assurances that they regarded Roe v Wade as settled precedent, and, as such, would not overturn Roe v Wade— is eating away the trust and respect without which a house creaks and crumbles.

Securing the House: “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to”

Moments before Rep. Bennie Thomson gaveled the June 21 hearing to order, Republican Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bower received a letter from the 45th President of the United States of America “remind” Mr. Bower of something he never said. Speaker Bower testified under oath that he had never, ever, at any time, anywhere, under any circumstances said the election was rigged. The reminder was a lie.

Mr. Bower’s resistance to repeated pressure from the White House was an act of integrity. “It’s a central tenet of my faith,” he said.” Violating the Constitution is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.” In his diary he had written, “It is painful to have friends…turn on me with such rancor.” But “I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.”

“I know sage, wormwood, and hyssop, but I can’t smell character unless it stinks.

edward dahlberg, “On Human Nature,” Reasons of the Heart, 1965.

The View from Above and the View from Below

Some people view the world from above. They see through eyes of power, possession and privilege. Most of us see life from the lower places of the dis-enfranchised, the dispossessed, the powerless, the forgotten, and those who feed their children, struggle to make the month’s rent, pay the utility bills, find a doctor or a warm blanket in a homeless shelter. They do not call attention to themselves.

Among those who see the world from below are Ms. Shaye Moss, an election worker for the past 10 years in Fulton County, Georgia, and her mother “Lady Ruby,” whose lives were turned upside down by a phone call from the President to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Video of Ruby Freeman’s testimony from below and the phone call from the top.

When asked what had passed between them at the poling site, Shaye Moss, looking over her shoulder at Lady Ruby and smiled. She answered, “A ginger mint.”

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), writing from Brooklyn Park, MN, June 22, 2022.

Faith and a “Clear and Present Danger”

Featured

I had never heard of the Faith and Freedom (F&F) Coalition before hearing Donald Trump would be the keynote speaker for F&F’s “Road to Majority” conference in Nashville, TN.

Did the Faith and Freedom organizers remember the 2016 presidential candidate’s unintended exposure of biblical ignorance when he called Second Corinthians “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University? Liberty is the Bible-believing school founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr., as a Christian counter-weight to the godless universities that were eroding America’s foundations. And, if Faith and Freedom is about freedom, why invite the president who drove a lawful peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration from Lafayette Park with tear gas — in order to pose in front of an historic Episcopal Church holding a borrowed Bible upside down?

Wisdom calls aloud in the street, 
      she raises her voice in the public squares; 
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, 
     in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: 

“How long will you simple ones love 
    your simple ways? 
How long will mockers delight in mockery
   and fools hate knowledge?’” — Book of Proverbs 1:20-22.

What would Donald Trump say after the House Select Committee on January 6 had held its first three public hearings, providing irrefutable evidence of intense pressure on Vice President Pence? What would he say to the sworn testimony of former Attorney General Bill Barr and others that there was no evidence of fraud, that the election had not been stolen? What would he say about Ivanka’s sworn testimony that she believed the Attorney General because she trusted him. How would Mr. Trump respond to Barr’s sworn testimony that the president appeared to be “out of touch with reality”?

A clear and present danger

How would he rebut Conservative Republican retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig’s live testimony? The judge testified that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was part of a “well-developed plan by the former president to overturn the 2020 election at any cost, so that he could cling to power that the American people has decided to confer upon his successor,” and that he considers Trump and his “Big Lie” legitimizers “a clear and present danger”?

The Speech for “Road to Majority”

From the podium of the Faith and Freedom convention, he practiced what Roy Cohn and Roger Stone had taught him. Always go on offense; never go to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. “Mike Pence had a chance to be great,” he said. “He had a chance to be historic. Mike Pence did not have the courage to act!” He said nothing about his last phone call with the vice president on January 6 in which he called Pence a “wimp” and worse, according to the sworn testimony of his daughter Ivanka, the White House Attorney, and White House staff who were in the Oval Office. In his speech to the Faith and Freedom convention, Trump disparaged the vice president as a “human conveyor belt” for going forward with counting the votes that would certify results of the election. He had considered calling Pence a “robot.”

Historical Flashback by historian Heather Cox-Richardson

On August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first president in American history to resign.

[Barry} Goldwater, along with House Republican Leader John Jacob Rhodes and Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott, entered the Oval Office around 5 p.m. The Arizona senator sat directly in front of Nixon’s desk, the others to the side. Goldwater told Nixon he had perhaps 16 to 18 Senate supporters left – too few to avoid ouster. Congressman Rhodes said House support was just as soft.

Rather than admit guilt, though, he told the American people he had to step down because he no longer had the support he needed in Congress to advance the national interest. He blamed the press, whose “leaks and accusations and innuendo” had been designed to destroy him. His disappointed supporters embraced the idea that there was a “liberal” conspiracy, spearheaded by the press, to bring down any Republican president.

When his replacement, Gerald Ford, issued a preemptive blanket pardon for any crimes the former president might have committed against the United States, he guaranteed that Nixon would never have to account for his illegal attempt to undermine his Democratic opponent, and that those who thought like Nixon could come to think they were above the law.

“What I admire about Nixon was his resilience,” one of Nixon’s 1972 operatives told a reporter decades later, ‘It’s attack, attack, attack!’ “

That operative, who sports a tattoo of Nixon on his back, was Roger Stone, who went on to advise Donald Trump’s political career.

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from and American, June 17,2022

Leave no Stone unturned

Not every resilient thing is worthy of praise. Roger Stone is resilient. Nuclear waste is resilient. Attack, attack, attack is resilient. Never defend! “Repeat, repeat, repeat. Attack, attack, attack! Never show weakness. Only show strength!

Who will remove the Stone? What congressional delegation will do for America what John Jacob Rhodes, Hugh Scott, and Barry Goldwater did when they walked into the Oval Office to tell President Richard Nixon it was time to resign? Who will go to Mar-a-Largo to tell Donald Trump that his game is over, that he can no longer lie his way out of the sand trap, that they will not pull him out to put him back on the course? When and how will the Republican National Committee (RNC) re-gain enough respect for the U.S. Constitution to tell the world that the “Big Lie” was a lie? When will Faith and Freedom become faithful to the Lord it professes?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, June 21, 2022.