It’s about time!

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TIMELY REFLECTIONS OF AN ANACHRONIST

Original movie poster for Being ThereRobert Mueller III’s and the Southern District of New York’s court filings, and the President’s response, confirm that “Individual-1” never should have been administered the oath of office “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” The people around the Oval Office are the only brakes on the man who, like Chauncey (“Chance”) Gardner played by Peter Sellers in the humorous film Being There, spends his days watching his favorite television shows, doesn’t read, and reduces complexity to the simplest of terms. 

Ron Steigler: Mr. Gardner, uh, my editors and I have been wondering if you would consider writing a book for us, something about your um, political philosophy, what do you say?

Chance: I can’t write.

Ron Steigler: Heh, heh, of course not, who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my children. Look uhh, we can give you a six figure advance, I’ll provide you with the very best ghost-writer, proof-readers…

Chance: I can’t read.

Ron Steigler: Of course you can’t! No one has the time! We, we glance at things, we watch television…

Chance: I like to watch TV.

Ron Steigler: Oh, oh, oh sure you do. No one reads!

MY SON’S QUESTION

Wooden_hourglass_3Soon after my young son learned to read, he asked a philosophical question: “What’s time?” “Time is what we have” was the best I could do. The other day a photograph of an ill-cared for, deteriorating church with a clock that still works led me back to Douglas’s question. I’m older now. Not wise. Just older. But I tell myself that length of years sometimes brings us closer to the outskirts of wisdom than when our years were few and our days seemed longer. At my age, when speed and virtual reality fill our lives, I would add an addendum: “Time is what we have but refuse to recognize.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

In Being There, Louise, who has raised Chance from early childhood, is watching Chance on television with other poor black seniors.

Louise: “It’s for sure a white man’s world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I’ll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th’ ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you’ve gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. Gobbledy-gook!”

Chance and Donald are a lot alike. Neither reads. Both watch television all day. Both are white. Both are stuffed with rice pudding between their ears. Both speak gobbeldy-gook. Yet they are also very different. One strikes us as funny. The other does not. One is a pure soul. The other is cunning. One is entertaining. The other is dangerous. 

IT’S ABOUT TIME!

256px-Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1It’s time to recognize what time it is. Time for Congress to speak aloud the real name of Individual-1.  Time to act on the sworn testimonies of Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Manafort, et. al. alleging behavior that “subverts and attacks the Constitution of the United States of America.” Time to care for, and restore, the deteriorating rule of law under the Constitution.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 8, 2018,

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn!

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And so it came to pass in the third century of a democratic republic that the Wise Men returned to the countries from which they had come. Their sudden departure came the same way they had come: they had seen a star rising in the West. 

The original star that invited them to follow it was a sign of great promise. It was a lofty promise — a bright star in a dark sky — beckoning them to go and see this great thing that had come to pass. Leaving behind their camels, they boarded ship with only a trace of frankincense, gold, myrrh, and a translator, and followed the star to a foreign continent.

Statue of Liberty –NY Harbor

Having braved the high seas, they saw a statue over which the star stood still. A torch held high in the Lady’s hand burned as brightly as the star that shone above her, and a plaque was there they could not read. “Send these . . . tempest-tossed to me,” read the translater, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” And, hearing the words of welcome . . . they opened their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and with exceeding great joy set foot upon the land and settled there.

There would be times when the Wise Men and their descendants continued to see the star shining still above the Lady of welcome, and times when the star was covered by clouds and the Lady stood battered by storms, but the flame seemed eternal. 

Then, suddenly, in the third century of their sojourn, the different kind of star appeared — an entertainer who scoffed at the modest amounts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which the tempest-tossed Wise Men had presented the Lady to whom the star had led them. And so it came to pass in the republic’s third century that the Wise Men’s descendants boarded ship for the East, escaping the new star who was wrestling babies from their parents’ arms, extinguishing the torch over which the star once had stood, and replacing the plaque at the foot of the Lady with a new message:

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 29, 2018

The Night of Broken Glass

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Krystallacht Magdeburg

Photo from Magdeburg, Germany, Nov. 9-10, 1938, Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass)

Today marks the 80th anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

The smiling man and woman in the photo are strolling past the broken glass of raided shops of the Jewish shopkeepers in the otherwise tranquil city of Magdeburg, Germany. The passers-by likely have never heard of Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th Century mystic beguine who had declared that “No one can burn the truth,” nor had they heard the screams or seen the tears of the shopkeepers or synagogue worshipers. Those screams are silent now. (Scroll down for information on  Krystallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass.)

Like the synagogues of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had been a quiet place. The sound of broken glass were heard only during from the traditional breaking of a glass at Jewish weddings. Tree of Life was a sacred place of worship. But the memory of Kristallnacht and the long history of anti-Semitic pograms were, and are, never far away.

The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht deserves greater attention in the U.S.A. this year when the evil of white nationalism has shattered the glass of the ‘others’ in synagogues, churches, and public gathering places with the weapons of destruction. Today I hear the echoes from The Night of Broken Glass and see the faces of smiling passers-by.  I stand still again in the face of evil and bow my knee before the Eternal Silence of the compassionate God we cannot kill.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 10, 2018.

U.S. Holocaust Museum account of Kristallnacht

On the night of November 9, 1938, violent anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out across Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Nazi officials depicted the riots as justified reactions to the assassination of German foreign official Ernst vom Rath, who had been shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old Polish Jew distraught over the deportation of his family from Germany.

Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs, spurred by antisemitic exhortations from Nazi officials, destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burning or desecrating Jewish religious artifacts along the way. Acting on orders from Gestapo headquarters, police officers and firefighters did nothing to prevent the destruction. All told, approximately 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and 91 Jews were murdered. An additional 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Nazi officials immediately claimed that the Jews themselves were to blame for the riots, and a fine of one billion reichsmarks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) was imposed on the German Jewish community.

The Nazis came to call the event Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,” or, “The Night of Broken Glass”), referring to the thousands of shattered windows that littered the streets afterwards, but the euphemism does not convey the full brutality of the event. Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.

 

 

 

It’s not a Caravan

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Camel caravan

Caravan in the Jordan Valley

Does anything seem strange about ‘caravan’ as the word to describe the migrants now moving on foot toward the United States’s southern border? ‘Caravan’ is the word used everywhere without a second thought.

The etymology of the word ‘caravan’ is Persian. “From Middle French caravane, from Old French carvane, from Persian کاروان (kârvân), from Middle Persian kʾlwʾn’(kārawān), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ker- (army) (whence Old English here). The word was used to designate a group of people who were travelling by camel or horse on the Silk Road.” (Wiktionary)

Language matters. Words matter. “Language: A Mechanism of Social Control” — Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC tutorial for political candidates — knows this better than most. Words like ‘caravan’ have overtones and undertones. They allude to things that awaken hope or fear. There’s nothing like the warning of a caravan to awaken associations with Middle Easterners coming to our Southern border.

Have you ever heard of a Christian caravan? Or a Jewish caravan? Caravans in the American mind have nothing to do with the western hemisphere or western culture. Caravans belong to Persians (Iran) and the Arabs we have come to fear. No American fears a camel caravan! But we do remember the Crusades. We remember the waging of religious war between Christians and Muslims. We call to mind Al Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The linguistic manipulators of language use such emotive allusions as weapons in election campaigns and underscore the words by sending U.S. Army troops to the border — to keep us safe – to beat back the barbarian Middle Eastern terrorists from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador now walking slowly several hundred miles from the border in hopes of a better life. They know fear works. They know that threats to our freedom and national security will take our imaginations back in time to Arabian desert nomads whose camels carried them — fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents — from here to there without settling anywhere. They know we will think of a caravan as an army, not a caravan of nomads.

Language matters. Words matter. Don’t let the dispatch of troops to the Mexican border and the language of social control make fools of those who have never met a camel or walked on bandaged feet with bloodied hands pushing broken baby-strollers in hopes for as terror-less life. It’s not a caravan!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2018.

 

Tikkun Olam

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Fourth Presbyterian chicago

Fourth Presbyterian Church – Chicago

John Buchanan looks to the Jewish concept “tikkun olam” amid the alarms of 2018. Dr. Buchanan is Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago, past Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and former editor of the The Christian Century. “Hold to the Good” is now his pulpit in retirement.

Hold to the Good

For years, at the conclusion of public worship, I have used words that come from St. Paul, written 2,000 years ago.

“Go into the world in peace and courage.
Hold to the Good.
Honor all God’s children.
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Last Sunday, as a guest preacher at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I came to the words “Hold to the Good” I almost couldn’t go on. The news from Pittsburgh Saturday morning stood as a contradiction to those words and to everything I hold dear and regard as essential to our life together….

…the trust that in the eternal struggle between good and evil, good will ultimately prevail,

…the trust that the heart of the nation I love, its government and politicians, is essentially fair, honest and good,

…the hope that the long arc of history bends, as Martin…

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What do politics have to do with me?

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It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Unspeakable Speech: 2018

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What happened across America last week is unspeakable. But these unspeakable acts of violence have a long history in speech itself. The bombs mailed from Florida did not come out of a speechless void. Nor did Saturday’s attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation

If ever the Hebrew proverb was true that those with a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king for their friend (Book of Proverbs 22:11), it is true no longer in 2018. The massacre of Jewish worshipers on Shabbat does not come out of a vacuum. Hate speech once uttered cannot be put back. It has a murderous history we dare not forget, and casts a long dark shadow into the future we dare not abide.

Words are powerful. Speech is powerful. Silence is powerful. Acquiescence is powerful. When the words come from the President of the United States — or when they do not come, or when they come only in part — they contribute to the worst in us. They cast their shadow far into the American future. White nationalism/Christian nationalism is the forbidden fruit of the tree from which we must not eat. It is not the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 3). It is the fruit of the tree of death.

As the city officials and Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh prepare for the President’s controversial visit the day they begin burying their loved ones, we offer a rabbi’s voice to help the rest of us understand.

Reb Arthur WaskowHealing for the Stricken Community,
for the Shaken Jewish People,
and for Our Deeply Wounded Country

Dear friends,

There are many disastrous levels to the murderous massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

There is the immediate personal disaster of eleven lives destroyed, others wounded, families and friends bereft, a neighborhood traumatized.  To all these, The Shalom Center as a body and I individually send blessings of swift refuah (healing) for the wounded,  deep respect and grief for the dead, and loving care for those bereaved.

There is the broader disaster of shock to the American Jewish community, until now so profoundly joyful to have found full acceptance in America these last several generations, after millennia of persecution elsewhere and elsewhen.
Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming affluent, even wealthy, even powerful. Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming social critics, progressives, even radicals.

Less comfort as critics than as powerful, of course – but comfortable that all the clauses of the First Amendment affirmed our worth as Jews, as sacred fringes on conventional assumptions, as challengers who could wrestle not only with God (as our name “Yisrael” describes us) but with the rigidified habits of ourselves and others.

And even worse, the broader disaster of facing an American government that our immigrant forebears who came here for freedom’s sake could not have fathomed:

A government honeycombed with white supremacism, moving into neofascism,  calling forth from the shadows into boastful visibility those who concoct bombs to enforce their racism, who can openly revel in their contempt for women, who can turn hatred of foreigners into willingness to rip babies from their mothers’ breasts,  who can turn their greed for hyperwealth into willingness to torch the Earth that is our common home, our only home  — and who can turn their latent anti-Semitism into mass murder.

How do we respond to these layered levels of disaster?

-Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA

Following a week of unspeakable violence, Rabbi Waskow’s question addresses all of us. Today in Pittsburgh is a day to keep silence before a Word of comfort and direction deeper than our own. Tomorrow and November 6 is time for all of us to speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2018

A New Heart and a New Spirit

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“Darkness cannot cast out darkness. Only light can do that” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’re longing for some light and for change, watch and listen to Buddy Guy leading Playing for Change. Skip the ad, and think of Ezekiel’s hope for a nation of the dry bones.

The story of Ezekiel’s vision for the valley of the dry bones is timeless and timely 10 days before the American electorate goes to the polls November 6.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – The promise for the dry bones in the Valley of the Bones (Ezekiel 36:26).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2018.

 

 

 

Over and Over, We Forget

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wall-street-bull

The Wall Street Bull

The public’s memory is very short. The panic of near economic collapse 10 years ago is all but wiped from public memory two weeks before the Nov. 6 American national election. We publish the following chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock), which first appeared as a guest column on MinnPost.com September 10, 2009.

SORROW FLOATS

Concepts, like individuals, have their histories

and are just as incapable of withstanding

the ravages of time as individuals. But in and

through all this they retain a kind of homesickness

for the scenes of their childhood 

[Soren Kierkegaard]

“Sorrow floats.”

Perhaps the line from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow,” the stuffed family dog preserved by a taxidermist, floats to the surface of the lake after a plane crash, helps explain what is happening in America.

Something dear to the American family died in September/October, 2008. Prior to the series of chilling events of that period, most of us had lived with the illusion of relative economic and financial health. Then, suddenly, Sorrow was rushed to the emergency room for government resuscitation.

Since then our memories of that pre-October 2008 world have taken a turn that families often take at funerals when the eulogies bear little resemblance to the reality of the deceased. We’re quarreling over what was real and what is mythical reconstruction.

Following the plane wreck that takes the lives of the Berry family parents in Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, the stuffed family pet bobs to the surface of the lake, floating among the wreckage. Sorrow floats. So does the thing we lost last fall.

What died? A ruling assumption

What died last year was the ruling assumption that an unregulated free-market system was the best way to organize an economy and that laissez-faire capitalism is democracy’s natural ally. The market almost crashed. It didn’t crash only because the federal government intervened to prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. Sometime between mid-September and October seventh, when Congress passed its bill to stabilize the financial markets, the myth of the virtue of deregulated capitalism died. It was stuffed by the taxidermy of government intervention, but it still floats.

When a conviction or a myth dies, it doesn’t go away. It continues to bob to the surface. Sometimes, as in the case of the Berry family, the old dog is much easier to love after it is dead. Sorrow—obese, lethargic, and persistently flatulent in its old age—no longer waddles through the dining room to foul the air and ruin everyone’s dinner. In the public psyche, the unpleasant memories of the real life Sorrow give way to the stuffed Sorrow, a thing of nostalgia that lives on . . . even after it’s dead, and long after the plane has crashed.

Over and over, we forget

Sorrow and its old illusions float every time the reconstructed memory, forgetting the real Sorrow, barks about “socialism.” Sorrow floats every time we shout each other down in town-hall meetings. Sorrow floats every time nostalgia forgets that it was only by government intervention with our tax dollars that Sorrow is still around. Sorrow floats every time we forget the voracious appetite, unscrupulous predatory practices, insatiable greed, and the obesity that led to the deaths of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns, not to mention insurance giant AIG and all the banks that had taken the plunge into a market of deregulated derivatives and mortgages that led to the epidemic of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, pension-fund collapses, and job losses. Sorrow, the old dog that failed us, still floats and still barks a year after the crash when the mind forgets and nostalgia remembers a system we thought was working in our interest.

Old ideas and convictions die hard. The powerful economic forces that grew fat during the years when government was viewed as the people’s enemy will stoke the fires of public anxiety and anger, taking advantage of the floating Sorrow that reminds us of something that we love more in retrospect than we did the day it died of its own obesity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2018.

Though the cause of evil prosper…

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No one holds the patent right on lying. At some point everyone is a liar. Little white lies or hug lies; they’re lies just the same. But truth is my judge and yours.

I cannot recall a moment in the America of my lifetime when truth been as scorned as it is today. I remember presidents who lied. Some more than others. But never was truth itself under assault as it is in America today. As a child I asked how Germany could have fallen for the rhetoric and incivility of a madman. Finally I’m coming to understand.

I was raised on the great hymns of the church. Among them was Once to Every Man and Nation with lyrics by James Russell Lowell (1845). The newer hymnals have excluded it, most likely because of the black and white thinking between good and evil or because it’s language is not gender inclusive. But I turn to it today in ways I never have before, and I’m left to wonder whether somethings are just plain evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2018.