Lordless Powers at Play

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How can a human being be so cruel?

We wipe the tears from our cheeks watching the ruthless cruelty unleashed on Ukraine. This can’t be real! But it is. How can any nation do this to another? How could anyone do this?

The depth of the question

The question is not political. It’s not ideological. It’s deeper than that. So much deeper that few dare go there. The fortunate emerge from the darkness to see light again. They may or may not hold any scripture sacred, but they have sensed something of the psalmist’s view. “Even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to You” Psalm 139:12). Darkness has no life of its own.

An Allegory of Repentance or Vanitas; AKA Tasso in the Madhouse

Others of us never find a way out. Like the joyful little girl who had taken such joy handing her latest drawing to her pastor on Sunday mornings, they find the world’s suffering too much to bear. Sadness and despair take the place where joy once lived. Empathic hearts are broken by the sufferings of others. They thrash in a sea of dark foreboding that douses the wicks of beauty, truth, and goodness. They take a final plunge sensing that “Hell is empty and all the demons are here.” (Shakespeare, The Tempest, (Act 1, Scene 2). With hearts broken by too much cruelty, they take a final step to get away from the demons here.

Quoting Scripture as cover for sin

My young friend did not stay among the demons long enough to hear Vladimir Putin quoting Jesus. “As the scriptures say,” said Putin to the crowd in the Moscow amphitheater, “‘Greater love has no man than this: that he give up his life for his friends.'” It was their children and extended families, not he, who were “laying down their lives for their friends” in Ukraine.

If Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, other priests, and biblically literate lay people were listening in that amphitheater or on national television, they would recall the context of the line Mr. Putin was using from the Gospel According to John.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

Gospel according to john 15:11-14

Joy and Love

The stadium in Moscow was not full of joy. If the old saw is true that the devil can quote scripture to serve the devil’s purposes, the high-jacked quotation ripped from its biblical context was evidence of it. It was they, not he, who were laying down their lives on orders of the Commander-in-Chief.

Mr. Putin’s presentation of himself as a Bible-quoting Christian may have impressed biblically illiterate members of the Russian Orthodox Church, American far-right evangelicals, and media propagandists Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon, but biblically literate Christians of whatever stripe or nationality could feel their toes curl and their jaws clenching. People in the stadium that night were free to curl their toes so long as they didn’t clench their jaws. Curling toes are hidden by Shoes. Clenched jaws can’t hide.

How does it happen?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, March 24, 2022.

When All That’s Left Is Love by Rabbi Allen Maller

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WHEN ALL THAT'S LEFT IS LOVE

When I die
If you need to weep
Cry for someone
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and
Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.

-- Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Rabbi’s Maller’s website — rabbimiller.com — is a treasure trove of Jewish tradition and biblical interpretation.

Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian and social commentator, host of Views from the Edge; author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Feb. 8, 2022.

Yearning

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Last night’s documentary of Congressman Jamie Raskin before and after the tragic loss of his beloved son, showed qualities of character in short supply: personal integrity, moral-spiritual courage, a playful spirit, and faithfulness to his oath of office to uphold the Constitution. Those qualities were evident before and after the tragic death of his son “Tommy” whose funeral was the day before the January 6 attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol.

Thomas (“Tommy”) was 25 when he took his life. Thomas fell within the 18 – 29 year-old age range of the Harvard-Kennedy Center Youth Poll taken in the autumn of 2021. The poll’s findings are staggering.

When one in four young adults between ages18 and 29 think of doing harm to themselves more than once in a two-week period (Oct. 26- Nov. 8, 2021) something is terribly wrong.

More than half (51%) of young Americans report having felt down, depressed, and hopeless — and 25% have had thoughts of self-harm — at least several times in the last two weeks.

Fall 2021 Harvard kennnedy center Youth poll, december 1, 2021

The Post- 9/11 Generation

The youngest participants in the poll were one year-olds when the Twin Towers fell in 9/11, 2001. Tommy was four. The oldest were eight years old, old enough to be terrorized and fearful of the world around them. Even the children at the lower end of the poll’s range would not have escaped sensing their parents’ emotions — shock, fear, panic, despair, anger, dread.

Thomas Raskin and His Peers

No stranger can know what broke in Tommy on New Years Eve. But we do know this. Whatever mixture of clinical depression and despair over a dark world he could not repair, we know from the Harvard-Kennedy Center Youth Poll that Tommy lived and died as one of a host of young adults struggling to make it through the day.

Tom Raskin’s generation has been served an omelet of violence, fear, distrust, and hatred for breakfast. Every day. They have never known a time of peace. Terror has broken into their homes and schools, synagogues, churches, mosques, malls, supermarkets, music concerts with a frequency and rapidity unknown to my generation.

The events of their lifetime blow the hinges off my generation’s prevailing sense of innocence. The America they experience is the scene of madness, splintered into camps of trust or distrust in one another and the institutions on which democracy depends. They encounter a world of cruel absurdity. Election to office is not public service. Partisanship is more about power and greed than about governing wisely. Driving Black or walking Black puts target on your back, and the man with the badge puts his knee on your neck until you can’t breathe. A president of the United States of America sweeps a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest off the plaza for a photo op, proudly holding up a Bible he doesn’t read. This generation knows that White’s not right. White privilege weighs on people like Tommy, as it always has on African Americans and America’s First People for whom Whiteness meant slave-ownership and genocide.

On top of all that, there is Donald Trump, and there is QAnon

Any pastor who visits congregants in psychiatric hospitals or hospitals for the criminally insane is not shocked when religion becomes the host of insanity. Often the patient suffered illusions of grandeur. Some think of themselves as Jesus Christ, or feel the burden of saving people from a cruel world. Some hear voices. Some live in a endless nightmare of conspiracy. I would like to say I’ve never seen anything close to QAnon, but I can’t say that.

Many of the patients I’ve visited know where they are; some know why there are there. But the years of my pastoral visits ended before Donald Trump and QAnon. I’ve met the likes of Donald several times in a hospital for the criminally insane, but I never met anyone who imagined a satanic conspiracy of a cabal of child-kidnapping, child-molesting, sex-trafficking cannibals intent on destroying a president.

Why would it surprise us that 51% of young adults in the poll feel “down, depressed, and hopeless” or that 25% of them have had “thoughts of self-harm — at least several times in the last two weeks?” Twenty-five year old Thomas Raskin was one them.

There is a Yearning for Meaning, Integrity, and Courage in the Storm

Thomas’s father writes in Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of Democracy reflects on how January 6, 2021 would have affected Tommy. That “stomach-churning, violent insurrection; that desecration of American democracy would have wrecked Tommy Raskin.

“So as a congressman and a father of a lost son and two living daughters, I would take a stand, with everything I had left, against that violent catastrophe in the memory and spirit of Tommy Raskin, a person I have, alas, not even begun to properly render in words.”

Rep. jamie raskin, unthinkable: trauma, truth, and trials

While a criminally insane former president remains free, Tommy’s father and every prosecutor who can hold him to account have bull’s eyes on their backs. Perhaps, by the grace of God and the stand of a grieving father, the Constitution will continue and the Oath of Office be honored.


Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Feb. 7, 2022

Thunder and a Gentle Breeze (Clyde Bellecourt)

Yesterday the thunder stopped. This morning’s Star Tribune announced the death of Clyde Bellecourt —Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun — (“Thunder Before the Storm”). Time will not silence the echo of his thunder. History will not erase the evidence that Clyde was here.

America’s First People see and hear things I do not. Ojibwe spirituality says the Clyde is not gone. Not yet. Before he “departs” from us, his spirit will hover for three days, visiting loved ones and friends. If the Ojibwe have it right, perhaps I’ll sense a presence wafting across my path.

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Clyde Bellecourt (L) watching Stephanie Autumn honor Legal Rights Center co-founder and first Director Doug Hall during MN Restorative Justice Campaign picnic in Wabasha, MN.

A Living Legacy

Clyde’s obituary is long and storied. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere. Every chapter of his life will paint him as the warrior that he was, fighting in the streets and speaking truth to power in courts, city halls, governors’ offices, Congressional offices, and the United Nations, standing for the rights of America’s First People and an end to the myth of White superiority and supremacy. His voice was the voice of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) Football fans in Washington, D.C. no longer rout for “the Redskins” and baseball fans in Cleveland will forget over time that it was Clyde who led the national campaign to change the teams’ names. The results of the Storm will not blow away.

Thunder Is the Sound of Kindness

What will not be said of him is more important than his victories. Clyde Bellecourt did thunder, but his thunder came from kindness. When my life had fallen into public shame, it was Clyde and the board of the law center he co-founded whose kindness lifted me from life under the bridge. For seven-and-a-half years I came to know him in ways the public did not. He did not always thunder; he was also quiet. The demonstrations, marches, and speaking the truth to power were only the loudest moments of his life. In quiet moments it was Clyde who searched for people living under the viaduct and became their trusted friend and advocate.

Thunder and Wind-Chimes

After an off-duty MPD policer officer had reportedly dumped an intoxicated man on the pavement behind Little Earth Housing and defiled him, those who had witness it turned to Clyde and the Legal Rights Center. No one knew the victim. In the days that followed, it was Thunder-Before-the-Storm who worked the grapevine to find the man, and when he found him, he quietly arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police and MPD investigators re: the case, and to change how things are for people of color on the streets. In those moments, Clyde worked quietly out of kindness. The sound was more like wind-chimes.

If you feel a gentle breeze and hear the sound of wind-chimes, who knows? It just may be the Thunder Before the Storm.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 12, 2022.

The Normalization of Evil

Can you hear the tablets breaking? Does it matter anymore?

As soon as [Moses] came near the camp and saw the [Golden] calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. — Book of Exodus 32:19 NRSV

Gustave Doré (1832-1883), Moses breaks the tablets of the Law – Exodus 32:19

The artist’s in the portrait below seems to be wondering how we will answer in this election: Can you still hear the shattering of common decency? Is it making you sick?

Port
Portrait of Gustave Doré (1832-1883),

You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain ( Exodus 20:7) explained

According to Hebrew Bible scholar W. Gunther Plaut, the commandment against using the divine Name for vain purposes “forbids man [sic] in every respect to use God’s name wrongly or in vain. [M]urder, adultery and theft are circumscribed by opportunity and fear, but misuse of God’s name, once it becomes a habit will proliferate ‘and in the end one’s every assertion will be preceded by using the Name’. The result is a devaluation of awe and respect, and in time the holiness of God has no further meaning.

“On the whole… Jewish tradition treated the prohibition with utmost regard. It frowned on a all secular or self-serving use of the Name.” — The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, NY, 1981.

President Donald Trump holding Bible in front of St. John’s Church after clearing clearing Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. and declaring, “I am your law and order President.”

And hast thou sworn on every slight pretense,
Till perjuries are common like bad pence,
While thousands, careless of the damning sin,
Kiss the books outside, who never look’d within.

– W. Cowper (1731-1800 CE) cited by The Torah: A Modern Commentary

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ninth Commandment)

Michael Caputo

According to a report in Politico, Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured officials to alter the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a long-running weekly journal that features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks. Caputo has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” against Trump, according to The New York Times. His Facebook page has since been made private. The officials pressured CDC to change the reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump’s often rosier public statements about the coronavirus, Politico reported. — Excerpts from article by Andrew O’Reilly, Fox News

Yesterday Mr. Caputo apologized to CDC staff for his accusations and disrespect for CDC scientists.

Attorney General Bill Barr

In Barr’s eyes . . . it’s the Democrats who are actually doing what Barr’s critics allege of him.

“You know [how] liberals project,” Barr told Kass. “All this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I’ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They are projecting. They are creating an incendiary situation where there will be loss of confidence in the vote.” In a moment of supreme irony, Barr then immediately hypothesized a fanciful scenario where unnamed figures rigged the vote in a battleground state. —Matt Ford, The New Republic, “Bill Barr’s Titanic Lack of Self-Awareness, The New Republic, Sept. 17, 2020.

Human Nature and the Normalization of Wickedness: Wisdom from Hannah Arendt

Arendt considers one particularly pernicious breed of liars — “public-relations managers in government who learned their trade from the inventiveness of Madison Avenue.” In a sentiment arguably itself defeated by reality — a reality in which someone like Donald Trump sells enough of the public on enough falsehoods to get gobsmackingly close to the presidency — she writes:

“The only limitation to what the public-relations man does comes when he discovers that the same people who perhaps can be ‘manipulated to buy a certain kind of soap cannot be manipulated — though, of course, they can be forced by terror — to ‘buy’ opinions and political views. Therefore the psychological premise of human manipulability has become one of the chief wares that are sold on the market of common and learned opinion…

“The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.”

Maria Popova, Lying in Politics, Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization.

Election 2020: Who are we? What shall become of us? Who is “us”?

November 3, 2020 is about who we have become and who we choose to be.

The sound of Moses’ tablets breaking was heard again within minutes of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the Court remain empty until after January 2021 — after the inauguration of 46th President.

Before prayers could be offered for the dead, we could see a vulture swooping to prey on a fresh corpse before the family had time to offer prayers for the dead and for themselves. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke the respectful silence most Americans observe following a death, no matter your differences. You show respect for the dead and for the grieving.

McConnell immediately announced his disagreement with a dying wish that her seat on the Court remain empty until after inauguration of the 46th President in January 2021. Justice Ginsburg’s request had precedent. The Majority Leader had prevented President Obama from appointing a successor to Justice Scalia on the grounds that no SCOTUS vacancy should be filled during the last year of a president’s term. In the waning days of President Trump’s term of office, McConnell announced he would welcome an appointment and put it on the Senate floor for a vote.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency, not a moment of silence that normal follows death –in this case, a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

With a crassness that breaks the common observance of respectful silence following a death in the community, practice Senator Mitch McConnell Senate and President Trump immediately declared his disagreement with Justice Ginsburg’s last wish. Her desire has precedent. The Senate will welcome a nomination during the remainder of President Trump’s term of office — an “about face” from his refusal to honor the nomination of President Barack Obama 11 months before the next President would take office.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency that shows compassion for those who grieve and that respect for the deceased — a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

“@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

– DJP tweet

VOTE on or before November 3. It matters. Our character and this experiment in democracy are on the ballot as never before.


Every day is the last judgment

There’s no need to hang about
waiting for the Last Judgement —
it takes place every day.

Albert Camus, The Fall (1956)

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was not the first and will not be the last. Historical contexts, memory, and what we believe make a difference to how we live/die in the 2020 pandemic.The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than all the deaths in World War I. “It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351” – Stanford Encyclopedia.

In the United States, 195,000 Americans lost their lives in the month of October, 1918 alone. The influenza of 1918-19 became known as “the Spanish Flu” after it took the life of the King of Spain, but it was no more Spanish than COVID-19 is Chinese. A virus is a virus. It pays no attention to nations or the propensity of nations and peoples to target a scapegoat — another nation unlike one’s own — as though a virus knows the difference.

Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 13:31-46)

First appearances can be deceptive, few more so than the teachings of Jesus. The Parable of the Last Judgment is not what it seems –it is not about future end of time. It’s a parable inviting the listeners to get their heads out of the clouds and put their feet on the ground. Its message? Pay attention to people in front of you, or nearby, living under the interstate bridge in the dead of winter. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoners — put yourself squarely in the midst of human suffering.

We might say, the measure of life is compassion in the midst of a world that makes no good sense. What happens at the end is not yours to know. Pay attention to today. Every day is the Last Judgment.

But there’s something else that goes unnoticed in individualistic cultures. Jesus’s parable it is not about the individual. The parable is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s a story that calls the nations to account for their behavior. In that sense, the parable is political. It’s about the polis and its values. There are no privileged nations. All are measured by one standard. The last judgment– the judgment of compassion, kindness, and humility — takes place every day.

The Opportunity of Trouble

Like the Influenza pandemic of 2018-19, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a crisis in the Chinese sense of the word — danger and opportunity. The danger seems obvious, but perhaps the opportunity is greater. We are at war with each other across the U.S.A., shouting across a deep chasm that the other is a goat. We are in very deep trouble, but we’re in it together because of a deadly virus. In hopes we will come to the deeper knowledge of who we are.

“The human mind and the human heart move to truth through trouble,” said Irish Anglican priest G.A. Studdert Kennedy. “It does not really matter what sort of truth you seek. Bunyan faced with the problem of the soul, and Newton faced with the problem of the stars, are both alike in this: they are troubled spirits. They brood over a mass of apparently unconnected, unrelated, and meaningless facts. Bunyan mutters, ‘There is no health in me’; and Newton mutters, ‘There is no sense in them.’ For both it is dark, and they do not know the way. Both walk at times into the dungeon of despair. The pilgrim’s progress of the scientist and of the saint is made along much the same road, and it begins with a troubled brooding, and a heavy heavy burden at the back of the mind and heart. We must all start there. Life begins in Lent. But there comes to both a supreme and splendid moment, the moment when they cry, ‘I see! I see!’ Bunyan sees a Cross and a Man who hangs in agony upon it. Newton sees an apple falling to the ground. But into the minds of both there comes a blaze of light.” — G.A. Studdert Kennedy (“Woodbine Willie”) sermon “The Word with God.”

Perhaps a blaze of light will flood this moment of trouble, we will rediscover each other, find our better selves, and cry out with fresh joy, “I see! I see!”

1918 flu epidemic: the Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital. The photograph depicts volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2020.

World AIDS Day – a Memory

From the pulpit I could see him in the last pew. He always arrived late — usually during the first hymn — and left early, during the last hymn. Some people prefer to be anonymous, for all kinds of reasons.

For months, I wondered who he was.

Then, one day, he stayed through the closing hymn, the benediction, and what we Presbyterians call “The Charge” to follow in the way of Christ that begins, “Go into the world in peace; have courage . . . .”

“Go into the world in peace; have courage; hold to what is good; do not return evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the suffering; honor all people; love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”

He heard the words but left as quickly as before.

Then, one day, he found the courage to introduce himself at the door. As best I can recall, he said with a smile, “You may have wondered who I am. “My name is Sam. I’m dying of AIDS.”

Sam was my up-close-and-personal introduction to AIDS and the HIV/AIDS community. Months later, he became the first and only patient to offer me the Charge and Benediction.

Thank you, Sam, for your courage, for keeping the light of faith burning where others sought to blow it out, and for your gracious Charge and Benediction. Rest in peace.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN Dec. 1, 2019

Rest in Peace, Dennis

This remembrance of Dennis Aubrey, written by Dennis’s brother for Via Lucis, touches the heart and soul, and the expansive brilliance known by those whose lives have been deepened and enriched by him. There is opportunity to comment or leave your condolences for PJ and members of PJ and Dennis’s family.

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It is with infinite sadness that I must tell you that Dennis passed away suddenly last Friday. I write this on behalf of his wife and partner, PJ.

With his passing, Dennis leaves a gaping abyss in our lives. He was a man larger than life, zestful in his embrace of all that life offered. Readers of this blog enjoyed the excellence of PJ and Dennis’s photographic art, and the enlightening and entertaining musings that accompanied those featured photographs.

The power of Dennis’s writing derived from his encyclopedic brain: he brought his vastly read knowledge to every subject he wrote about, whether history, or philosophy, religion or geometry, music or poetry. Via Lucis isn’t simply a photography blog. It isn’t simply an art and architecture blog. It is a brief—and intriguing—glimpse into the mind of one of the artists who brings these Romanesque churches to life through photograph and word.

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The Miracle of Reconciliation– Two Memories of Good Friday

MY M0THER AND THE THREE MARYS

I remember my mother’s tears on this day, Good Friday, and wondering why she was so sad. Jesus had been crucified a long, long time ago. It wasn’t happening now. But, to Mom, it was. Like the three Mary’s at the foot of the cross, Mom was weeping in her pew. I remember the white handkerchief dabbing the corners of her eyes.

I was five or six years old the first time I saw Mom at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. The Marys were all gone. Only Mom and her white handkerchief continued the vigil, and it happened every year on Good Friday. It was in junior high school that I began to get under the tears and weep them for myself. I “got” the cruelty of it.

The pounding of nails into wrists and feet. The soldiers laughing at him while they gambled for his clothes. If they were gambling for his clothes, was Jesus naked in front of the whole world? Was the crown of thorns the only thing he wore? Were the thorns cutting into his head? “I thirst.” They give him vinegar on the end of stick! He looks down at John. “Behold your mother; woman, behold your son.” Take my mother home! Mary doesn’t go home. She stays by him until the end. She winces at the nightmare she cannot end: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabstachtani?” (My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?), watches as a soldier puts a hole in his side; weeps inconsolably when it is finished, and they take him away.

How could Mom not cry hearing that? How could anyone not reach for a handkerchief?

“GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”

Years later, Ken and Ilse Beaufoy and I observed Good Friday in the pews of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. Aside from one or two others who dropped by for a short time each year, we were alone in the church. Beginning at noon, at half hour intervals, we read aloud a portion of the Passion narratives, paused in silence, listened to the corresponding musical movement from Rutter’s Requiem, spoke a brief prayer, and sat in the stillness until the next half hour.

The Good Fridays with Ken (and Ilse, before she died) were unique. An American Presbyterian minister with a married couple, Ken, a former Biitish soldier, and Ilse, a former member of the Luftwaffe. Ken and Ilse met at a dance sponsored by the Allied occupation that followed the end of WW II.

Ilse was one of two women soldiers awarded the Iron Cross for standing her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.

Despite objections and death threats from family members, Ken and Ilse committed themselves to the bonds of marriage. What else but the reconciling love of God could bridge the gulf of former enemy combatants? Five decades later, Ilse died moments after hearing the words of permission that would only have meaning to a decorated war hero who had stayed at her anti-aircraft post atop the Hamburg bunker to protect the civilians below. “You no longer need to stand your post. You no longer need to fight. It’s time to go home. Go in peace.” From that day on, there were just the two of us staying by the cross from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.

Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” did not explain the crucifixion or the peace it brought Ken and Ilse Beaufoy. It didn’t need to. Some things cannot be explained. They can only be lived…with thanksgiving for abounding grace while dabbing the corner of your eyes with a handkerchief.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the wilderness, Minnesota, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

That’s how the light gets in

There’s nothing like old friends. Once there were seven. Now there are four. We call ourselves The Dogs, old friends and classmates at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Yesterday Harry Strong, Bob Young, Don Dempsey, our spouses, and I, gathered with Vicki Boulton and the Boulton family and friends at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis to sing God’s praise and to give thanks for the classmate who brought us all together again in 2004 for what we call The Gatherings.

L to R: Bob Young, Gordon, Don Dempsey & Harry Strong with photo of Wayne.

Wayne Boulton was my best friend, dating back to 1964 when we were assigned to be roommates in Alumni Hall. Wayne has been the Dean of the Dogs who arranged our gatherings over the years: places, dates, the daily schedule, books and topics, and guests who would join us for a morning or afternoon. Since 1964, Wayne and Vicki, the love of his life, have been a continuous thread of friendship.

As much as I wanted to sing the hymns that are as close as the next drawn breath — O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; There Is a Balm in Gilead; and For All the Saints Who from their Labors Rest — I couldn’t. I shut my mouth (which is rare), and opened my ears to hear the deep resonance of the organ and the congregation singing the hymns. I trusted the gathered community to lift me from the sorrows of dust and ashes. And lift me they did — without knowing it, except for Kay, and with no other intention than to sing to the glory of God and give thanks for Wayne.

The next day, the four surviving friends gathered for our own time of remembrance, wearing the Chicago Dogs t-shirts Don had given us all. We sang hymns. We read from Wayne’s books and email exchanges with us, prayed, and hung on the edges of laughter and, and listened to Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, Going Home, If It Be Your Will. Leonard reminded us again that there is a crack in everything, and “that’s how the light gets in.”

L to R: Harry Strong, Gordon, Don Dempsey & Bob Young gathered around Wayne’s photo.

In this period of Narcissism, it is a matter of no small thanksgiving that Wayne did not call attention to himself. He was without guile, and as playful as a child. “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4 NRSV). Would that the same might be true for all of us lesser lights.

As the four old friends and our wives took Vicki to dinner the night following the memorial service, the crack in us had been wedged open wider, but, against the cynic’s logic, the light was brighter. As Leonard said, “That’s how the light gets in.”

With Vicki Boulton following dinner, March 19, 2019. Old friends since 1964. In 1966, Vicki became Wayne’s roommate … for life.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Anthem, Leonard Cohen