“Legitimacy” on Martin Luther King Day – 2017

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr days before the 2017 inauguration of a new president begs for serious national reflection.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights leader some people once hated was “legitimized” after he was no longer a threat—re-fashioned into a single issue  icon. The real Martin, the disturbing prophetic preacher calling for justice and peace, has been muted —reduced to an icon on postage stamps and in editorials of the same newspapers that scolded him for breaking the law in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, St. Augustine, and Memphis. The real Martin—the real human treasure worth preserving—and his legacy look on our time and ask how we chose to return to the law-and-order-society.

John Lewis and other survivors whose heads were bloodied on Pettus Bridge by the enforcers of an unjust law-and-order society scratch their heads and wonder. They know that Martin Luther King, Jr’s life and witness exceeded the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He was an early opponent of the War in Vietnam, the military-industrial complex, the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the propaganda machine that kept the public befuddled and confused about reality.

By the time Dr. King while was shot standing with the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he had connected all the dots we have yet to connect: white privilege, excessive wealthy, poverty, capitalism, foreign military interventions, and assassinations.

No one can say whether Martin Dr. King would join his voice to his old friend John Lewis’s, the Civil Rights leader become Congressman who has declared the incoming Presidency “illegitimate”, but imagining King’s dismay at the results of the 2016 election requires no great skill. We know enough to say with certainty that the dream for which Dr. King lived and died is no less at stake today than it was the day a bullet silenced him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968.

Martin Luther King Day 2017 just days before the inauguration asks all Americans what kind of nation we want to be — one that chooses to put out the lights of its real luminaries or a nation that, having seen a bright star on a dark night, walks forward with pink knit hats toward a compassionate Dream worth living and dying for.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 15, 2017

Sierra Club: “#BlackLivesMatter!”

Sierra Club, the nation’s highly respected environmental conservation and preservation non-profit, weighed in on the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this week with this statement by Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune:

“It is impossible to not be outraged by the devastating images of black people being gunned down by police on a shockingly regular basis and it should be impossible to remain silent in the face of this sustained injustice any longer. Sadly, the tragedies that are unfolding before our eyes are just a fraction of the violence that has been happening off camera in our nation for far too long.

“The Sierra Club believes all people deserve a healthy planet with clean air and water, a stable climate and safe communities. That means all people deserve equal protection under the law and the right to a life free of discrimination, hatred and violence. Unfortunately, those aspirations and goals are not a reality in our country, and that is why that is why the Sierra Club stands in solidarity with all of those saying #‎BlackLivesMatter, demanding justice, accountability, and action to confront the racism and inequality that has allowed these tragedies to persist. We can do better and by standing together to work for the changes that are needed, we will.”

The violence on the street and the violence to the environment are cut from the same cloth.

Thanks to Sierra Club’s executive director for making the connection and taking the risks of fallout among purists donors who don’t want the Club to stray outside of its core environmental mission.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, writing from Georgetown, MT, July 8, 2016.

Old Joe Hill and Old Doug Hall

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

I dreamed I saw Doug Hall last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Doug, you’re 11 years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

If Doug Hall had heroes, foremost among the candidates were Joe Hill, the labor organizer and Paul Robeson, whose rendition of Old Joe Hill was his Doug’s favorite. Willie Nesbitt echoed Robeson’s versions of Old Joe Hill and Old Man River at Doug’s Memorial Celebration November 14, 2004.

Those who live and die for economic justice never die. They live on through those who pick up the shovels when they’re gone.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 13, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: A Review

Watchman-Mockingbird

A Review: Go Set a Watchman 

by Emily Hedges*, September 3, 2015

Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird have already heard—Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Harper Collins July 2015) doesn’t reflect well on everyone’s hero, Atticus Finch. The timing couldn’t be worse. With the Charleston shootings still on our minds and the phrase “black lives matter” as a rallying cry instead of an obvious truth, we needed him. We needed Atticus’s courage and ethics to be a sign of hope. Maybe that’s why we were all so ready to accept the story of a found manuscript after all these years. We felt the gods were sending us a sign, like Mockingbird was for the Civil Rights South.

Watchman was written and set in the mid-1950’s in the aftermath of Brown vs. Board of Education. Atticus, who was willing to sacrifice everything to defy the racist establishment in Mockingbird, set in 1936, now sees a different threat looming over the South. Grown up Scout returns home and finds Atticus part of the Macomb County Citizens’ Council, an organization he knows is racist, but feels is their only protection against the federal government (and organizations like the NAACP) usurping the community’s right to determine what and how institutional changes are made.

The fact that Watchman is more about state’s rights than civil rights was always going to be disappointing to me and many fans of Mockingbird, but it’s the preachy way it’s done that makes the novel unpalatable. I think this happens because the story is more about groups than individuals. Where Watchman gives us “negros,” Mockingbird gave us Tom Robinson; where Watchman gives us racists, Mockingbird gave us Bob Ewell; where Watchman gives us the Old Sarum folks (poor whites), Mockingbird gave us Mr. Cunningham. I think this lack of compelling, fully developed characters is what forced Lee to resort to long stretches of didactic dialogue to carry her political message. This is particularly evident in Parts V, VI, and VII where Atticus’s brother, Dr. Jack, is portrayed as a two-dimensional interlocutor, a patient, patriarchal figure that forbears Jean Louise’s passionate tirades about race, guiding the exchanges with patronizing questions and long-winded homilies. There is nothing of the tender charm found in interactions between Scout and Atticus from Mockingbird.

For all its faults and disappointments, it’s almost worth reading Watchman just for Scout’s childhood flashbacks, a few precious scenes where we can once again romp through a lazy, hot summer afternoon with Scout, Jem and Dill. It’s like watching deleted scenes from your favorite movie. In these moments especially, and throughout the novel, Lee’s voice visits you like an old friend. Passages like this:

“Alexandra had been married for thirty-three years; if it had made any impression on her one way or another she never showed it. She had spawned one son, Francis, who in Jean Louise’s opinion looked and behaved like a horse, and who long ago left Macomb for the glories of selling insurance in Birmingham. It was just as well.”

I think it’s obvious that Watchman was the place Lee fine-tuned her characters and worked through plot and point-of-view. For that, we should appreciate that Watchman helped make Mockingbird a masterpiece. Appreciate it, but don’t publish it.

There was just too much money to be made. More than 1.1 million copies sold in the first week. As a recent New York Times op-ed pointed out, it’s no coincidence the manuscript was “discovered” within months after the death of Lee’s old protector (her sister Alice Lee) by her new protector, a woman who worked in Alice’s law office. Supposedly Lee, 89 years old and suffering from dementia in a nursing home, granted consent.

Since publication everyone has wondered, and worried, how Go Set a Watchman will taint the legacy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Many have said they don’t think it will, but I don’t agree. I can’t help feeling like a character from my other favorite American novel, The Great Gatsby, a character whose “count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” I wish I could go back and un-read this book. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel guilty of shooting a mockingbird, because Atticus was right—it is a sin.

*A native of Muskogee, OK, Emily Hedges is a published writer in a master’s program at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.  Emily lives in Lebanon, NH with husband Joe and three beautiful children. Thank you, Emily, for setting the bar for insightful literary criticism and for trusting Views from the Edge to publish your work. – Gordon

 

 

 

President Obama’s Letter to the NYT

President Obama’s Letter to the Editor of The New York Times today responds to a thoughtful NYT article by Jim Rutenberg on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Click HERE for a link to the NYT’s coverage of the President’s letter and the article that inspired it.

Views from the Edge posted the following comment on the NYT website:

Arguments that the key provision of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary are what the President says they are. State decisions to remove the Confederate flag demonstrate greater sensitivity to the continuing presence of white supremacist assumptions than is apparent in the U.S. Supreme Court and among the Republican caucus in the U.S. Congress. The President persistently keeps before the American people the historic aspiration “in Order to form a more perfect Union” and, in so doing, does the nation a great service. This president is balanced, historicaly-informed, philosophical, articulate, and personally grounded. After years of swallowing his tong in hopes of reaching bi-partisan solutions, President Obama is making use of his last years in office in ways that will place him among the greats of American history.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 12, 2015.

The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.

Religious Freedom in Indiana – the new face of discrimination

Dear IndianaThe Governor of Indiana just signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (SB 101) that brings to mind the pre-civil rights movement segregated lunch counters. In the era of expanding civil rights for GLBT people, Indian’s altogether unnecessary “Restoration Act” turns back the clock on the right to discriminate.

This May six Presbyterian ministers, all former seminary classmates, will spend our annual five-day retreat in Indianapolis at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS), a religious leader in welcoming, inclusive, nondiscriminatory belief and practices. CTS understands Christian freedom as the freedom for which Christ has set them free: freedom to love.

Wherever we go we will do as Amelia Aldred proposes in her blog post. Click SB101: Let’s make it awkward to read her thoughtful piece and to comment.

Wayne, Bob, Harry, Don, Steve, and I are from Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota. We’ll be courteous, but we will exercise our religious freedom and responsibility by making it awkward to discriminate.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 28, 2015.

Barack Obama after the Presidency?

Quote

Ever wondered what President Barack Obama will do after he leaves office? 

The President’s 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” speech in Selma, Alabama is a masterpiece in the tradition of the Church of the Bridge (see earlier post “The Church as Bridge” on Views from the Edge). Think of the President as pastor-preacher in the prophetic preaching tradition that speaks truth to power, celebrates hope, honors courage, and preaches a gospel that calls us all to cross the Pettus Bridge toward the world for which our hearts yearn.  The President’s speech was, in fact, a sermon rooted in Hebrew and Christian Scripture, freely quoted from memory.

Click HERE to hear the President on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The Church on the Bridge

Pettus Bridge, Selma to Montgomery

Pettus Bridge, Selma to Montgomery

If some churches are like opium dens, others are like Pettus Bridge, the bridge over the Alabama River you must cross to get from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

In the history of America’s civil rights movement, Pettus Bridge and the events of “Bloody Saturday” represent a crossing over from the society addicted to violence, hatred, and war to “the peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah. Think Jesus. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. Think Congressman John Lewis. Think all the anonymous souls who dared to cross the bridge from here to there.

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies — or else? The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” [The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]

I suspect Karl Marx never knew a church like that. What he saw was religion as a tool of the powerful, an ideological overlay on reality to keep their subjects compliant with the existing social order.

The church of the bridge is no opium den. No one is doped up. No one is in a stupor. People don’t go there to hide. It is by nature a place that calls for commitment and action. The Church as Pettus Bridge is spiritually, economically, politically, and culturally revolutionary. It requires far-reaching transformation of people, structures, and systems. It’s a risky place. The church on the bridge requires you to put your whole body, mind, and soul on the line – on the  bridge – fully conscious that the troops the old social order will come after you. It is the church of Jesus and the prophets, and of Paul at his best:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Epistle to the Romans 12: 1-2, NRSV]

Every time the Church of the Bridge gathers for worship, the pews are filled with people wearing crash helmets. They expect something real to happen. They expect to make it happen. When they gather around the Lord’s Table for Eucharist, they know what they are celebrating: “the peaceable kingdom”, the City of God on the other side of violence, hatred, and war that puts them on the bridge.

 

 

 

American Sniper, Selma, and Jesus

Sometimes, as the saying goes, a preacher goes from preaching to “meddling”. The sermon disturbs the listeners. Chaplain Randy Beckum preached a sermon like that in the Chapel of MidAmerica Nazarene University, a conservative evangelical college in Kansas. Focusing on the way of Jesus and American culture’s addiction to violence, Beckum’s sermon included comparison of the exceeding popularity, according to box office receipts, of American Sniper compared with Selma, the story of the Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King and the non-violent way of Jesus.

Views from the Edge had never heard of Randy Beckum or MidAmerica Nazarene University until this sermon went viral after the university president relieved the preacher of his additional role as Vice President of the MNU Foundation. Some sermons are hard to give and, apparently, they’re even harder to hear. That’s when you know a preacher’s worth his/her salt.