The Contested State of Truth

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The dawn of a new year is like turning the page in a bad novel, believing it will get better. No one likes a gloomy Gus! But reality is what it is. Or maybe it’s not. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. A toddler playing with matches at his country club threatens to set the world on fire. The toddler and his playmates pretend not to see the bigger fire raging all around them. Only toddlers would believe they can win the game of “Chicken” when their opponent is Nature itself.

THE REAL AND COPIES OF COPIES OF THE REAL

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But faith gets harder when what you can see turns your hair white.

“In postmodernity of Late Capitalism,” writes professor David White in “The Contested Status of Truth, “the [facsimile] precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. There is only the simulation . . . Fictional representations — copies of copies of the real — are rapidly replacing the real in our experience.” (Insight: the Faculty Journal of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Fall 2019.)

Fictional representations repeated repeatedly remove us from what is real. The representation creates its own reality . . . ‘alternative facts’. When comedian Lewis Black tells his audience, “You can’t just make sh-t up,” the auditorium comes alive because the audience knows it’s true.

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.

Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 NRSV

IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING, THE OLD MAN IS SNORING

While global warming accelerates beyond previous expectations — and those earlier scenarios were already ominous and urgent — the party in control of American policy is snoring. Environmental standards that clean air, water, and soil are erased with the stroke of a pen.

It’s not a hoax, Mr. President. Not a hoax, Mr. McConnell, et.al. History will remember you as the climate change deniers intent on partisan control while the planet turned brown.

Likewise, you, Mr. McConnell, will be remembered as the Senate Majority Leader who ended discussion and debate on the Senate floor, and worked hand-in-glove with the impeachment defendant to assure that Mr. Trump is acquitted.

[Blessed are they]
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe
against the innocent.

Psalm 15: 4b-5a

WHO ARE YOU CALLING CHICKEN?

Had you forgotten, or did you not know, what the people of Iran have never forgotten: the CIA engineered the 1953 coup d’etat that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president and put the Shah in power for the next 25 years . . . until the Iranian Revolution paid back the insults with American hostage-taking. Iran has a long memory, a proud history, and rich culture that is many centuries old. The new insult — assassinating an Iranian state official — stokes the embers of smoldering fires, leaving our allies scratching their heads once again, wondering what you were thinking, if you were thinking at all. Did you consider that, by assassinating the Iranian General, you also would eliminate a strange but highly effective ally in our common campaign against ISIS?

TOWARD A CULTURE OF GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, DELIGHT, AND JOY

“Perhaps the resources of our culture — organized around the priority of spectacle and commodity and power — have been exhausted. . . . They cannot deliver the flourishing they claim. They cannot foster a culture of gratitude, appreciation, delight, and joy. They can only foster a culture of hatred, suspicion, and fear.” — David White, Insight.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 7, 2020.

Climate Change–Everyone is a long story

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David Kanigan’s Sunday Morning introduced me to Niall Williams’s words and a photograph of architecture from Berlin. “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story….” — Niall Williams, History of the Rain.

HEARING AND TELLING STORIES

Pondering Williams’ short sentence reminded me of Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. We don’t just have stories. We ARE our stories. And our stories contain secrets.

I’m imagining a scene that will not happen in real time. There is a large room. Folding wooden chairs have been arranged in a huge circle. Members of Congress and their staff members are sitting there. There is no assigned seating. Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are there.

Adam Schiff and Doug Collins are there. Scattered among the tailored suits and silk ties are members of the Capitol cleaning and custodial staff, the barbers and stylists, the shoe shiners, the cooks, kitchen assistants, table waiters, and dishwashers are all there. The mailroom clerks, the Capitol Guard, and Secret Service are there. No chair is different than another. Shaker-like oak chairs, every one the same. There is no dais. No microphone. No television cameras. All cell phones are off. There are no distractions. The room is quiet.

All eyes are fixed on the Ojibwa dancer sitting alone in the empty space created by the circle formation. All ears are listening to the story the Ojibwa Elder is telling through his flute. Everyone hears the story and his prayers to the Great Spirit offered without words through his drumming. Then he begins to sing toward the four directions. They watch his body turn to the West, and follow his lead, all turning as he turns.

Look towards the West
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the North
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the East
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the South
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look up above (upwards)
God (“Great Spirit”) sits above us
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the Earth
Your Grandmother lies beneath us
Pray to Her, pray to Her!
She is laying there listening (to your Prayers).

Everyone is both curious and caught up in the moment. The OIjibwa is on bended knee. He kisses the Earth. He lifts his eyes upwards. With his right hand he cups his left ear, listening for the voice of the ancestors who looked toward the four directions. The people in the circle begin to hear what he is hearing. The Ojibwa, like Moses parting the waters, is creating a path into the center of the circle, as the sounds draw closer. The Ojibwa shaman open to the doors for the Gathering of Nations, dancing and singing because they know what the people in the wood chairs do not: No one owns land. No one can own a Grandmother.

We are our stories. We tell them, including the secrets we’ve dared not tell, to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. Humankind is a long story.

“You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”

Greta Thunberg, US Congress, Washington DC, September 17, 2019.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 28, 2019.

Elijah asks about craters and creezin

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A conversation between two year-old Elijah and old Grandpa (Bumpa)

Bumpa, you’re old. You know LOTS of stuff. What’s a crater?

Where’d you hear about craters, Elijah? Have you been watching the nature channel at daycare?

We don’t have the nature channel at daycare. We watch stuff for kids on PBS.

I don’t think we have any craters here in Minnesota.

Whew! So we don’t have to look out for craters?

Are you sure you have the right word?

Yeah. It’s all over the news this week. Didn’t you watch Adam Sniff?

Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Let’s look it up.

Yeah, let’s look it up. You want to do it? Or you want me to do it?

Let’s do it together on my iPad. I’ll be right back.

You don’t to have go upstairs, Bumpa. I don’t want ya falling. I have Mom’s iPhone right here. I use it all the time.

Okay, just google the word ‘crater’ and let’s see what comes up.

I don’t spell yet. I’m still liddle, but I know my ABCs. Sometimes in my car seat I punch a bunch of buttons and somebody Mom doesn’t know talks to me on FaceTime!

Okay. Let Bumpa do it. I’m 77. Okay?

Okay.

Let’s just google crater and see what we learn.

Finding Wikipedia satellite photo in Google search

There we go, Elijah. Here’s a picture of Crater Lake in Oregon. Gandpa and Grandma have been to see it.

Crater Lake satellite photo.

Here’s what it says on Wikipedia:

Around 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in Oregon, disgorging 15 cubic miles of magma over the western United States. It took a quarter of a millennium of snow and rain to fill the caldera with the serene waters wanderlust hikers now know as Crater Lake. Image from a RapidEye satellite.

Wikipedia Crater lake description.

I don’t get it, Bumba! So why would anyone call somebody a ‘crater’? We’re not sposed to call people names, right?

Right! Maybe you have the wrong word. Or the wrong spelling. What was the other word you asked about?

Elijah asks about creezins

Yeah. Creezin! It’s like craters! Don’t you ever listen to the news?

I do. I listen to MPR when I’m driving.

Yeah, Mom and I do too on the way to daycare and on the way home. We get lots of news. It’s an hour drive each way. It’s like ‘crater’.

I see. Was there a volcanic eruption? I must have missed it.

Geez! It’s all over the news. Creezin! Everybody’s talking about it. Don’t ya know?

You mean raisins? Granpa eats raisin bran every morning.

Uh-oh! Are they going to throw you and Gamma out? Are they going to de-peach you cause you eat raisin bran? You’re white, but don’t live in a white house, right? Did you commit creezin?

Not to worry, Elijah. We’re safe. Grandma and are not going to be de-peached. Any other word you don’t understand?

Elijah asks Bumpa about cranes

photo of U.S.  Postage 3-cent Wildlife Conservation postage stamp of whooping cranes.

Yeah. Ucrane. We have sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans at the cabin, right? Are there any ucranes?

We have sandhill cranes and frumpeter swans on the wetland, Elijah. So far as we know, there are no cranes by rhe cabin. It’s a long way from the news.

We’re like Greta, right? We’re conservationists, right, Bumpa? Do ucranes whistle? Or do they also whoop and honk?

–Conversation between Grandpa (Bumpa) and 2 yr.-old grandson (Elijah), Chaska, MN, September 28, 2019.

Rubbing My Eyes: How Long, Lord? How Long?

“Watching Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas while being hit by an avalanche of tweets that treat tragedy as a television opportunity has left me speechless. Nothing from the White House connects the dots — the growing frequency of 100 year storms, floods, and fires (weather) — with an urgent call to act now on climate change. The planet’s lungs are on fire in the Amazon while the man who promises to make american great again shreds established regulations put in place to protect water, air, our forests, and soil. Meanwhile $3.1 B are stripped from FEMA and national security to pay for the wall for which we were promised the Mexican government would pay. I feel like the psalmist. ‘How long, Lord? How long?'”

Those words went up on FB yesterday, breaking a long silence on FB and here on Views from the Edge. That was before reading Katha Pollitt’s piece in The Nation. “Almost Everything Bad that Trump Did This Summer” details some of the Trump Administration behavior between June 3 and September 1, 2019.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 6, 2019

Who owns Greenland?

The Song in My Head

Have you ever found yourself humming a tune when you wake up in the morning? Sometimes the tune reaches back to childhood. My small church in the small town west of Philadelphia sang hymns that became childhood favorites. As I grew into adulthood, some of them drop away as childish.

One answer to why I would hum “This Is my Father’s world” all these years later suggested itself over coffee. The featured story of The Washington Post’s National Weekly: “Extreme climate change is here” accompanied by a map of rising temperatures across the United States.

front page, Washington Post National Weekly in collaboration with Star Tribune, 8/18/19

Climate Change and the Illusion of Property

While the planet’s oceans warm, the glaciers of Glacier National Park, polar ice caps melt beyond the tipping point, fires ravage the redwood forests, hundred year floods have become frequent, and the pale blue dot turns brown, “our listening ears” hear talk of buying Greenland. The Greenlanders and the Danes are too occupied with the melting ice and rising sea levels to be distracted by a foolish real estate offer.

The simple childhood hymn no longer sounds childish. It feels more child-like, full of the wonder that is the antidote to adult presumptions of property ownership. “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, his hand the wonders wrought.”

Faith, Nature, and God

Climate change is the challenge of our time. Not just one of many challenges. It is both the most urgent, i.e., it cries out for action NOW, and the most important to the future of all that lives on this planet hanging among the spheres. Believing that Earth is a divine gift placed in our hands as stewards of nature, and wanting to remember the words of “This is my Father’s world,” I took out the Presbyterian hymnal of my childhood and the 1982 hymnal of the Episcopal Church.

From Wonder to Responsible Action

The last stanza in both hymnals ends with our responsibility, as though a century ago Maltbie Babcock (1858-1901), the lyric’s author, had anticipated the island of trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. This hymn on which my childhood friends and I were raised moves from wonder (awe) through recognition that “the wrong is great and strong” toward responsibility for the planet. “This is my Father’s world, oh let us not forget that though the wrong is great and strong, God is our Father yet. He trusts us with his world, to keep it clean and fair, all earth and trees, all skies and seas, all creatures everywhere.”

It is likely that Maltbie Babcock did not think what he wrote overlooking Niagara Falls was worthy of dissemination. It remained private until published by his wife after his death. Maltbie Babcock seems to have viewed “This is my Father’s world” as a personal expression of wonder beneath the literary standards of good poetry. But ”This is my Father’s world” strikes a chord at the tipping point of climate departure.

photo of Niagara Falls

It is likely that Maltbie Babcock did not think what he wrote overlooking Niagara Falls was worthy of dissemination. It remained private until his wife published it after his death. Maltbie Babcock seems to have viewed “This is my Father’s world” as a personal expression of wonder beneath the literary standards of good poetry. But ”This is my Father’s world” strikes a child-like chord standing at the tipping point of climate departure in 2019.

No one owns Niagara Falls. No one owns Greenland. No one owns the world.

— Gordon C. Stewart, heading north to the wilderness retreat, August 19, 2019.

The Urgent First Priority

This morning I went back to see what we’ve said about climate change. Here’s an audio guest commentary from June, 2010 on All Things Considered. Click the red link below for  the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) site with the commentary.

Skipjack_EPA

A lesson learned out on the Gulf of Mexico. Then click LISTEN to hear the three minute reflection prompted by the day on the skipjack with Earl, the oysterman.

November 6 mid-term election opens the door for the American electorate — irrespective of party affiliation — to demand of candidates that they their parties, and the nation itself make climate change action their urgent first priority.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October

Climate Change and the Golden House

256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11Have you sometimes felt you’d be better off not knowing? But you can’t help knowing what you know, or think you know?

This is a time like that. It doesn’t just feel like that. It is a time like that. I know, for instance, that the over-riding challenge of our time is climate change. I also know that the ruling party in my country denies that climate change is real, and that neither major party sees climate change action as Priority #1. I know from articles like the one in yesterday’s Phys.org (“Carbon tax gets renewed attention but still faces resistance“) and the U.N. report that the clock is ticking. We’re fiddling while the Earth burns.

NeroThe story of Nero burning down Rome appears to be apocryphal. I know that now. But before I knew that, I wondered what the Roman Senate was doing. Did the members of the Senate follow Nero’s lead? Did they light their own matches? Did they applaud? Did any of them head for the well for the water buckets to douse the fire?

The real Nero Claudius was much different, but also, it turns out, much the same as the one I thought I knew. Britannica speaks as “infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.” Its biography of Nero offers the following on the burning of Rome and the aftermath.

The great fire that ravaged Rome in 64 illustrates how low Nero’s reputation had sunk by this time. Taking advantage of the fire’s destruction, Nero had the city reconstructed in the Greek style and began building a prodigious palace—the Golden House—which, had it been finished, would have covered a third of Rome. During the fire, Nero was at his villa at Antium 35 miles (56 km) from Rome and therefore cannot be held responsible for the burning of the city. But the Roman populace mistakenly believed that he himself had started the fire in Rome in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the city’s subsequent reconstruction. — “Nero: Biography and Accomplishments,” Britannica.com.

Las-Vegas-Trump-Hotel-8480

Trump Hotel with gold-infused glass, Las Vegas, NV

Today, Nero and the U.S. Senate mock what I know: climate change is real and action on climate change should be priority #1 for every political political party and nation. Knowing Jesus’ parable about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise one who built his house upon the rock, I keep hammering on the door of the Golden House that’s built on sand. “Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness,” said Jacob Christoph Blumhardt long ago. “They must oft be repeated. Not a single stroke is wasted.”

I add my little hammer-strokes to those of Governor Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club for the rescue of the rain forests, the oceans, and all things green from the Golden House that threaten to entomb us. I can only live by what I know: the cry and hope that the hammer-strokes are not too late.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” canto 54

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

Hope is IN SPITE OF Troubles!

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“You have to be hopeful; you have to give them hope.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I can’t give anyone else hope. Hope comes from within.”

Hope seems harder in 2018 than it was when Kosuke Koyama advised the younger preacher to stay positive. Years later, it was to Dr. Koyama that Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness was dedicated for many reasons. Maintaining hope was one of them. His humility was another. His characteristic kindness and compassion reached out when friends were scarce. But nothing became more impactful than the statement he made over lunch: “There is only one sin: exceptionalism.”

Years before his death in 2009, Koyama (“Ko”) had begun to view the environmental crisis through the lens of humankind’s presumption: the mistaken belief that we, the human species, are the exception to Nature. For Ko it was a form of idolatry.

In light of this week’s avalanche of news, I’ve wondered what Ko would say. He still would bless us with his smile. He would encourage us to resist the claim of American exceptionalism, the confusion of nationalism (worship of country) with patriotism (love of one’s country), any border policy that takes children from their parents arms in the name of national security, every energy policy that feeds the coffers of the fossil fuel industry (“God is green,” said Ko), every exaltation of greed, every distortion of truth, every tax policy that keeps the poor poor while lining the pockets of the 1%, and any President and Congress that reminded him of Emperor Hirohito and the cult of national exceptionalism he grew up with in Tokyo. The god of empire, he observed, never says no. The God of the Bible says no: “You are a stiff-necked people!”

But amid all the issues that deserve our attention, I believe Ko would urge us to keep our eye on the biggest of sin — the mega sin — the sin against Nature that imperils the planet as we know it. His legacy invites us to bow our stiff necks to that which is bigger, longer lasting, and more encompassing than ourselves. Everything less is built on sinking sand.

Ko spoke in metaphors and parables. I believe he would remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock versus the foolish one who built his house upon the sand. “And the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11

NASA satellite photo of clouds created by the exhaust of ship smokestacks.

 

He would rally behind Bill McKibben’s declaration that “climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The one thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.” The only way to stop it is to turn from the the mega sin — the idol of human exceptionalism, the worship of ourselves.

“[T]hrough endurance, to feel that life is surrounded by the warm approval of God, will that not be the experience of hope? Hope is in spite of troubles. There is not hope apart from troubles. There is no automatic hope, no easy hope. Hope is hope against all odds.” — Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 25, 2018.

 

The Spiral Staircase

Simone_Weil_1921

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

French playwright-novelist-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about “the hole” in me, the hole in you, the hole of nothingness in the midst of mortal being. To live authentically is to live courageously in spite of the threat of nothingness. Sartre’s French contemporary Simone Weil offered a similar observation: “All sins are attempts to fill voids.”

Today their perspectives speak to the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. The spiral stairway we climb up toward the mastery of nature also spirals down to dust and ashes — the death of the planet as we know it.

512px-Mangkhut_2018-09-14_0750ZWe are not content to live as mortals on the plain of nature, along clean streams, rivers, and oceans, or in lush valleys, in the desert or on nature’s mountaintops. We must go higher, higher, higher — up, up, up — to no real anywhere.

Our climb to mastery reaches where no other species can go — above the storm clouds, where we look to DNA manipulation to rid us of nature’s mistakes, and where satellites search for other sentient life light years away — above the clouds of Mother Earth’s torrential storms and rains that remind us of the void. The higher we climb, the closer we get to the bottom, the irreversible plunge into Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘nothingness’, Simone Weil’s ‘sins’ that attempt to fill the void’, the Bible’s ‘dust and ashes’.

António_Guterres_in_London_-_2018_(41099390345)_(cropped)U. N. General-Secretary Antonio Guterres calls for immediate international action on the Paris Climate Change Accords and much more. Days ago, he tweeted:

My condolences to all those affected by storms in East Asia and the United States. We need urgent #ClimateAction to prevent an irreversible spiral into catastrophic climate change. bit.ly/2MHvZkV

Here in the United States the White House and Congress ignore his plea. Funded by dark money legitimized by Citizens United, and forgetting the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008, our elected officials and dominant political parties continue to measure the nation’s health by the stock market’s rises and declines. Crony capitalism provides the electorate with what we demand: positive thinking, silence about the void, and the stuff that keeps us busy shopping at the mall.

1024px-9.3.07GardenStatePlazaMallbyLuigiNovi

 

“America’s favorite weekend activity,” writes American Quaker Robert Lawrence Smith, “is not participating in sports, gardening, hiking, reading, visiting with friends and neighbors. It’s shopping…. We leave boredom and emptiness behind as we browse through (the mall’s) glittering corridors of stuff. Yet many of us have learned that acquiring too much stuff can get in the way of happiness, lead us back to boredom and emptiness, corrupt our children’s values.”

We stay on the stairway, deaf to the Secretary-General’s startling cry, and blind to the planetary clock ticking closer to midnight. We Americans are positive thinkers who disdain the idea of nothingness and the void that belong to the French philosophers and other negative thinkers. We dare not stop to think.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, September 18, 2018

PS. “The economy’s never been better.” I think I’ll head over to the mall or swing by the Porsche dealership.

9/11/18: A Defining Moment

WTCmemorialJune2012Today, the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the subway station that was buried by the fall of the World Trade Center towers, has reopened to loud cheers. Hope survives! So does the question “What have we learned since we trembled in horror and disbelief 17 years ago?”

The 9/11 Anniversary in 2018 coincides with the release of Bob Woodward’s FEAR exposing the moral abyss that is the White House; National Security Advisor John Bolton’s “America First” attack of the legitimacy of the international court; and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s statement urging immediate action on climate change.

António_Guterres_in_London_-_2018_(41099390345)_(cropped)

U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. … Far too many of leaders have refused to listen.

If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change. [Antonio Guterres]

The collapse of the World Trade Center brought us to a dead stop. We could see it. First responders touched it. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani became “America’s mayor”.

We Americans wondered what sense of morality would lead someone to highjack commercial aircrafts and turn them into weapons of mass destruction. All these years later, morality is still the question. “America’s mayor” today declares that truth is not truth, while we ignore a greater threat, less visible to the naked eye — climate change — exceeds the geographically limited horror of 9/11. 9/11/18 is a defining moment in a sea of moral amnesia requiring a voice from beyond the spiritual-moral morass America has become.

256px-Vaclav_Havel_cropped

Václav Havel

“The worst thing,” wrote the Czech writer and former President Václav Havel, as though peering ahead into the American of 9/11/18, “is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We feel morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension” (bold added by Views from the Edge).

In this defining moment, hope again rises against hope with its own kind of prayer for the end of the planetary moral madness:

“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”
― Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, 9/11/18.