The Barbed-Wire Fence

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A Childhood Memory: Buddy and I

No fence divided the neighboring properties on Church Lane the day my family arrived in Broomall. The little girl next door and I quickly became playmates. We went back-and-forth with no thought of things like property lines. My yard was her yard; her yard was mine. Until the day the Singletons bought the property and she was gone.

Buddy Singleton was five years-old. So was I. Buddy and I soon became playmates. We played freely in each other’s yards. No one owns a tree. Buddy climbed our Red Maple, I climbed Buddy’s old Oak tree. Until the day the fence went up. Buddy could no longer get to me; I could not get to him. The gate locked Buddy in and kept me out.

Every day we talked through the chain link fence with the barbed wire at the top. “C’mon over,” said Buddy. The only way to “come over” was to climb the fence. So I did! Until my foot slipped near the top. The barbed wire punctured my left hand and left me hanging like a banana nor yet ripe for falling. My mother heard the screaming and lifted me from the fence. I still have the scar to prove it happened.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Then and Now

The fence that separates neighbors is higher now. Rarely do we we talk through the fence that separates us. We’ve learned to stay on our side of the fence. I no longer climb your Oak tree. You no longer climb my Red Maple. Neither of us invites the other to “c’mon over” and, if they do, we decline. Once you’ve hung from the barbed wire, you learn not to try it again. But the fence is not all barbed wire. It’s a chain-link fence. We can talk with each other through the fence without impaling ourselves, if we have the will to engage with the other. “The time for talking is past,” said an old friend. “I’m done! The time for thinking is over. You can’t talk to these people. It’s time for the barricades.”

The Barricades?

I know the feeling. But the time for talking is never over. The time for thinking is never over. However strongly I disagree with or despise the neighbor on the other side of the fence, however deeply I agree with Eugene Robinson’s question — “How dumb can a nation get and still survive?”(Washington Post, October 7, 2021) — as much as I want to back away from the fence to the club house in my Maple tree, something nags me to remember the commandment I prefer to ignore: to love my neighbor as myself. If I dare to look, I will find the enemy I despise inside myself.

Talking through the Chain-Links of the Barbed-Wire Fence

The time for contemplation and self-criticism is always now. It’s always time for thinking. It’s still the time for talking through the fence and trying to understand how and why people on opposite sides of the fence think, feel, and act as we do. Barbed-wire fences do not make good neighbors! “Something there is that doesn’t love a [fence].”

Brian Maclaren offers a way to talk through the openings if the chain-links fence.

People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Brian Mclaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)
(Self-published: 2019), e-book.

To be continued with a look at Brian McLaren’s 13 walls of bias that shape how and why we see ourselves, each other, and the world at the barbed-wire fence.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 18, 2021.

Listening through the Stethoscope

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I’m not ready for this. I’m not wired for a world gone haywire. Like the psalmist, I am “old and gray” (Ps. 71:18), living in a frantic world that makes no sense, knowing that speaking what little I think I have come to know will not reach beyond what remains of a shrinking circle of influence. Even so, I continue to write in the vain hope it may make a difference.

Photo of doctor's stethoscope, laptop, and pair of eye glasses
Aerial view of doctor stethoscope and computer laptop

Listening through the stethoscope

Sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper/blank computer screen is the morning exercise to find my deeper self again. Writing is like a stethoscope to hear what’s inside my chest. Writing taps into the deeper stream of consciousness — sighs and groans too deep for words.

Some days begin and end with a blank page. Other mornings the groaning and sighing summon me to write. Not just for myself, but for others as well. That’s what public theologians do.

Reality and illusion

The Psalter is always close by. The psalms take me deeper. Only then can I go wider. The Psalms are poetry. They are not prescriptions. They are the naked, honest, unfiltered, uncensored expressions of what the psalmist feels and thinks in that moment. The psalmist is exposed. No secret is hidden. No pride left unmasked. Every Illusion of grandeur blown away by the wind.

The three year-old and the-man-in-the-radio

The poet of Psalm 71 is old and gray. So am I. Listening through the stethoscope, I hear unresolved sighing and groaning from early childhood.

I am three years-old, sitting around the dining room table with my grandparents and my mother. My mother and I are living with Grandpa and Grandma Stewart in Chestnut Hill, MA. My father is in the big war somewhere far, far away. Every night, Grandpa looks at his watch, stops eating, leaves the table, and walks over to the big brown radio. He pushes a button to let the man-in the-radio talk to us. “Shhhhh,” says Grandpa, as I continue talking. “We need to be real quiet so we can hear the news.” The man-in-the-radio begins to talk. He’s serious. He’s not fun, but no one is afraid of him. Everyone listens carefully.

Some nights the man-in-the-radio stops to let another man in the radio talk. The other man is not nice. He’s not kind. He’s mean. He’s angry. He’s scary. Even for Grandpa! I watch the faces of my mother, grandpa and grandma as they listen for news about the big war far, far away where my father is the Army Chaplain. My father is the only one on Saipan who doesn’t have a gun. He may not make it home or he might come home dead.

Photo of my father, the Chaplain, leading worship on Saipan.
Protestant Service on Saipan, end of WWII.

Honoring a promise

I am old and gray and hard of hearing, but I have a stethoscope. I still hear the groaning and sighing in my chest and I still hear the madman in the radio. I determined early in life that if Adolf Hitler won the war and came to Chestnut Hill, I would not be silent. I would not stay seated. I would stand up. I would speak up! I would tell what I know and not let go, for the sake of generations yet to come.

 And now that I am old and grey-headed, O God, do not forsake me,
     til I make known Your strength to this generation
     and Your power to all who are to come. (Ps. 71:18 BCP).

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 3, 2021.

America at the Precipice

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Two American Founders

The Founders Archives of the National Archives preserves a letter to Ben Franklin eighteen months before the Declaration of Independence was issued. Ben Franklin became a household name. Charles Thomson did not, and that’s a shame. Thomson was the Secretary of the First and Second Continental Congress, a quiet leader on the road from colonial rule to an independent democratic republic. The official Declaration of Independence had only two signatures, the President and the Secretary of First Continental Congress: John Witherspoon and Charles Thomson.

Charles Thomson Letter to Benjamin Franklin

“When I look back,” wrote Charles Thomson, “and consider the warm affection which the colonists had for Great Britain till the present reign, the untainted loyalty unshaken fidelity and cheerful confidence that universally prevailed till that time, and then view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, ‘Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,’ who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?”
Thomson Letter to Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774

Charles Thomson and Cato, A Tragedy


The poet whose words Thomson cited were from James Addison, the anti-royalist English poet-playwright, whose play,“Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read and often quoted by the Founders of the new nation. Whether intentionally or inadvertently — memory will do that to memory—Thomson changed the “Cato” text from singular to plural to suit the circumstances that enraged him. “Blast the Man” (the king) and “Blast those Men” (i.e. Parliament) who had violated the rights and freedoms of the American colonies’ rights and freedoms under British law.

Dragging their Country into Ruin

The circumstances of November 1, 1774, and January 6 and September 18,2021 are different, but Charles Thomson’s outburst is as fresh as the day he wrote to Franklin. The longing for a king exceeds the bounds of time. The anxiety that hangs over us makes our heads swim; we long for solid ground, something solid that does not change. So it is that a political party and a portion of the American public have come to mistake treason with patriotism, a bully with a savior, a quack with a swan, and have followed the strong man’s quackery into the halls and offices of the Congress that makes America a democratic republic. When we confuse patriotism with terrorism, Charles Thomson’s letter from the Founders Archives is more than archival.

Teetering on the Edge of the Precipice

When a hollow man and hollow party hollow out the core of what we have thought we valued, the question from Cato’s tragedy rumbles like thunder from the heavens. Charles Thomson’s renderings from Cato fit the eve of a threatened sequel to January 6, when the democratic republic once again “teeters on the very edge of the precipice.”

Toward Healing the Wounds

Will we in 2021 share the hope and prayer with which Charles Thomson ended his letter of November 1, 1774: “Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice. I am sir your affectionate Friend and humble Servant.– Chas Thomson”

--Gordon C. Stewart, Public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), September 17, 2021.

Insurrection and Faith (Part 3)

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“World history would be different if humanity did more sitting on its rear.” — Bertolt Brecht, Drums in the Night (1922).

Dialogues Series cancelled

The Epidemic of Gun Violence in America three-part series ended where it began. The first event was also the last.

“examining critical public issues locally and globally”

In addition to concerns outlined in “Insurrection and Faith (Part 2), the featured presenters of different positions on the Second Amendment and gun control withdrew. Each refused to appear on the same stage as the other. Each regarded the other as a fanatic.

The Shepherd of the Hill Church board came to a rueful decision to cancel the Dialogues series. A public letter accompanied the press release. NOTE: “The church with the rocking chair” refers to the large Amish rocker created for Shepherd of the Hill’s front lawn after the Amish School massacre at Nickel Mines, PA.

Public Letter from the Board of Shepherd of the Hill Church
 February 8, 2013

"This the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts….” – Zechariah 4:6 (NRSV)
 
In this spirit we at Shepherd of the Hill – the church with the rocking chair – have chosen to cancel the First Tuesday Dialogues previously announced for Feb. 19 and March 5 on Gun Violence in America.
 
The First Tuesday Dialogues serve a single purpose: examination of critical public issues locally and globally with respectful listening and speaking in the search for common ground and the common good. The program expresses our own Christian tradition (Presbyterian) whose Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) call us to honor individual conscience and direct us toward kindness and mutual patience.
 
The First Principle -“God alone is Lord of the conscience…“- upholds “the still, small voice” in the midst of social earthquakes, winds and fires. It requires us to listen. Ours is a tradition that honors dissent. The voice of one may be where the truth lies. The Dialogues are meant to give space for that voice on critical public issues.
 
The Fifth Principle declares that “There are forms and truths with respect to which people of good character and conscience may differ, and, in all these matters, it is the duty of individuals and of societies to exercise mutual forbearance.”  It is our tradition’s answer to Rodney King’s haunting question: Can’t we all just get along?
 
These historical principles are not only our historical tradition. They represent a daily interpretation of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors in the present moment. One can only love God, whom no man or woman has seen, wrote the Apostle Paul, if we love the neighbor we do see.  How we treat the neighbor is how we treat God.
 
The success of Shepherd of the Hill’s community programs depends upon a wider acceptance of these principles of respectful listening and exchange among individuals in dialogue. They also assume a group small enough to engage each other more personally and thoughtfully.
 
If numbers were the only measure of success, last Tuesday’s Dialogues event on gun violence … was a huge success. 138 people attended. The Chapel was filled. I thought perhaps it was Easter!  But it wasn’t Easter. There was tension in the room. The established habit of the Dialogues program – one person speaks at a time without interruption or rebuttal, no clapping, and respectful listening – gave way to a sense of one team versus another. When a woman dared to stand to ask how many people in the room had lost a loved one to gun violence and proceeded to tell her story of personal tragedy, she was not met with compassion. She was met with shouts that her story was irrelevant. … She deserved better.
 
We all deserve better than to be shouted down, no matter what our experiences or views are. One first-time visitor who had come to oppose gun control shared his puzzlement over the treatment of the woman. “How could anyone not have compassion for her pain?” he asked. “Everyone should be moved to compassion by her story of personal tragedy, no matter what we think about the Second Amendment.”
 
America always jeopardizes its promise as a place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when might and power rule. To the extent that we fear that we are unsafe, it will be because we have chosen to ignore the wise word to Zerubbabel to live not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit reflected in the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Gathering Storm: eight years later

Marjorie Taylor Greene brings QAnon to Congress and threatens the life of her colleagues. A mob storms the the U.S. Capitol, injuring and killing Capitol Police; Representatives and Senators are whisked away to a secure place. The Speaker of the House and the Vice President are moments and a few yards away from being assassinated.

The POTUS who had ridden the wave of the Birther Movement to the White House in 2016; had legitimized armed White supremacists in Charlottesville and tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” while armed White militia occupied of the Michigan State Capitol and threatened to execute the Governor; had stayed silent following the murder of George Floyd and cleared Lafayette Park of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest for a photo op with a Bible before declaring himself the law-and-order president; had stayed silent following the school massacre at Parkland; had declared the new coronavirus a hoax; and had told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” for a stolen election, and lit the match that nearly destroyed the foundations of the American Republic. The POTUS is impeached a second time, acquitted by a Senate vote of 57 guilty to 43 innocent, nine short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction.

Our language going forward

Braver Angels

L.K. Hanson’s cartoon brings this historic moment into focus. How do we reduce the temperature of our language? Can we talk? If so, when, where, and how? Braver Angels offers an opportunity to soften the rhetoric and find the lost common ground we thought we shared. Click the link to learn about Braver Angels and consider joining them.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, Minnesota, February 16, 2021.

Gandhi and Cornel West on the Challenge at the Crossroad

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America and the world stand at a crossroads between love and hate, democracy and despotism, and some would say, good and evil. Mohandas Gandhi and Cornel West offer reflections on what’s happening to us and how to move forward in a Qanon world.

Loving evil too much to give it up

“Must I do all the evil I can before I learn to shun it? Is it not enough to know the evil to shun it? If not, we should be sincere enough to admit that we love evil too well to give it up.

— Mohandas Gandhi, NON-VIOLENCE IN PEACE AND WAR (1948), 2.74

A crucial crossroads: Making a positive difference

We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.

Cornel West, Race Matters

A Memory of Cornel West

Cornel West’s guest appearance at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis stands apart less for what he said to the crowd than for what he said and to whom he said it before the Forum. At his request, he met each member of the church staff. He greeted each person with the unconditional respect due a human being without regard for role, title, or social standing.

He didn’t save the world that day. He lit up the faces of the strangers he knew were his sisters and brothers.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ― Mohandas Gandhi

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 28, 2021.

Busting Up America — a Tale for a Tail

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Conspiring to Bust up a Country

“Traters, I will here remark, are an onfortunit class of peple. If they wasn’t, they wouldn’t be traters. They conspire to bust up a country — they fail, and they’re traters. They bust her, and become statesmen and heroes.” — Artemus Ward, “The Tower of London,” Artemus Ward in London (1872).

A Tale for a Tail

There’s an elephant in the living room. It looks like an elephant, but it’s not. Elephants have long memories. This beast has none. Like the taxidermist’s safari trophies, only the remains remain. It had a trunk and tusks, but what it once symbolized is no more. The tail that shooed away the fleas and flies has been replaced by a tale.

Some folks who remember the elephant know what happened. But even they are divided on what the elephant was.

This political cartoon by Thomas Nast, taken from a 1879 edition of Harper’s Weekly, was an early use of the elephant and the donkey to symbolize the Republican and Democratic parties. [Photo Credit: Kean Collection/ Archive Photos/Getty Images]

Some remember and weep over the tale now told in its name. Others have no memory or revise their memories to suit the patriot’s tale of the trophy hunter.

How totalitarianism happens, according to Hanna Arendt

L. K. Hanson 1.2021 quoting Hanna Arendt, German-American political theorist (Star Tribune 1.25.2012)

Every Violation of Truth is . . .

“The great masses of the people . . . will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one,” wrote Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf in 1924.

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” Essays: First Series (1841).

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 25, 2021.

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold — a Sermon

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Friend and ministerial colleague John M. Miller spoke these words following the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.

A sermon by John Miller, Chapel Without Walls, Hilton Head Island, SC – January 10, 2021

Text – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 (RSV)

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold

    January 6, 2021, like December 7, 1941, is a date that shall live in infamy. Four days ago  American democracy was shaken to its very foundations. It happened in the United States Capitol building, the seat of government of a nation which proudly proclaims itself the strongest democracy in the history of the world. But on January 6, our democracy endured its most damaging test since April 12 of 1861, and it was prompted by the nation’s president.

    In 1919, after the War to End All Wars had finally ended, and the foolhardy Treaty of Versailles was being thrust upon the barely-defeated nations of World War I, William Butler Yeats wrote what is perhaps his most famous poem. It is called The Second Coming. For his whole lifetime, the Irish poet had lived through injustices forced upon his fellow countrymen by the English. The people of the Emerald Isle had been kept in British bondage for centuries. In 1919 the world was in the grip of a major pandemic, the worst one in six centuries. Life could have not been more bleak for a brilliant, sensitive, and mystical bard.

    The Second Coming is a dark and ambiguous poem. Nonetheless several lines from it have been used to describe events around the world ever since Yeats wrote the poem. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” We feel ourselves being drawn into a metaphorical swirling whirlpool or tornado, and we become severely disoriented.

    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

    In the late morning of January 6 the head of state of the American government addressed several thousand of his most avid supporters near the White House. He had been carefully cultivating his cult for more than four years. (The two words are linguistically yoked.) Since November 3, 2020, he had been telling them that the election had been stolen, and he instructed them that they must try to stop Congress from counting and affirming the votes of the Electoral College. Taking him at his word, they began their march to the capitol as both Houses of Congress were in session, doing what the Constitution requires after every presidential election.

    “The best lack conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” Most of the people then meeting in the Senate and House of Representatives intended to approve the electoral count that would affirm Joseph Biden, Jr. as the next President of the United States. However, ten Republican Senators and a hundred and thirty-nine Representatives objected to the tallies sent to Congress from a few states whose citizens had chosen Mr. Biden. These were politicians who by now should clearly have known that Donald Trump would stop at nothing to avoid having to leave the presidency. Shortly after the process was begun, the capitol was breached by force, and the excited hordes stormed into it, streaming out in every direction. The Members of Congress were told to shelter in place, a new phrase in our ever-changing lexicon, usually reserved for another matter altogether. Most of them quickly went to their offices and locked the doors.

    Those of us who saw these events live on television watched the beginning of the formalities in the two chambers. But soon the networks were displaying videos from outside the capitol building, with growing crowds pressing forward, then breaking through the barriers and rushing into the capitol. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ …The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ …The best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Though the electoral numbers were unassailable, the congressional objectors stood ready to make their case, until the mobs appeared at the doors of the House and Senate. We looked on with increasing dread, fearful of where the chaos was leading.

    Three or four days before Jesus was crucified, Matthew tells us he gave a lengthy monologue to his disciples. In it he very obliquely focused on what he perceived would be his imminent death and its aftermath. Matthew, chapter 24, is highly apocalyptic. The Greek word apocalypsos means “to uncover.” The meaning of an important future event is inevitably hidden, and the cryptic apocalyptic words are supposed to uncover their meaning to those who have eyes and ears to understand them. Apocalypticism was familiar to the people who wrote and who were the first readers of the Bible. Unfortunately, most of us find such words merely bewildering.

    “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” [except most of us who read this don’t understand much at all of what Jesus was saying] “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mt. 24:15-16).

The problem for us is that we are far too removed from first-century Judea, and we don’t understand. In several places in the Gospels, Jesus spoke of what would precede his Second Coming after he had died. Matthew 24 is an example of that. For us 20 centuries later it may be too cryptic, too veiled. Furthermore, Jesus likely didn’t say everything Matthew said he said.

    Jesus hinted in several places in the Gospels that he would return again to the earth after he had died. Yeats took that imagery and wrote a very ambiguous and foreboding poem, but with no religious meaning at all. I am using both the Yeats poem and the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus as the basis for this sermon. No Christians can be absolutely certain about what Jesus meant by the Second Coming, but millions have been drawn to it like moths to a flame, with a great variety of interpretations regarding this phenomenon. “And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:22). (Calvinists love that and all other verses which contain the word “elect.”)

    Did Jesus actually say all these things? I am convinced  he said some of them. Whatever else he was (and he was many other things), he was surely a first-century Jewish apocalyptic preacher.

    Jesus told his disciples, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt. 24:19). When Jesus said that, was he predicting January 6, 2021, or Dec, 7, 1941, or April 12, 1861? Absolutely not. But he was predicting that things like that would occur. If we live, we will all experience wars and riots and plagues. It cannot be otherwise. Apocalyptic teachings proclaim that truth in their own uniquely strange manner.

    It is a certainty that millions of supporters of the president, as well as many Members of Congress, will not change their minds one scintilla about the best direction for this nation to follow as a result of what happened on January 6th. Fierce opinions don’t change readily.     

Many of the talking heads on television were aghast that there were not more police to prevent the mob from breaking into the capitol building. In the providence of God, we can be very grateful it was mainly the Capitol Police who were there to try to stop them. Had it been the DC police or the DC National Guard, it might have been a disastrously different story.  The capitol police are more like guides than they are like guards. They are not trained to quell riots, and fortunately, they didn’t stop the invasion. Put lots of guns into the hands of lots of males, and you’ll get lots of people shot. Had the capitol police fired many guns, instead of five deaths (only two caused by firearms), there could have been hundreds  injured and scores killed if armed police and National Guardsmen and armed demonstrators had  started blazing away at each other. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate Second Amendment intensity. As awful as it was, it is amazing there was not far more bloodshed and vandalism within the nation’s seat of government. Most of the people on both sides of the conflict were relatively peaceful, considering how volatile the situation actually was, and who the assailants were.

Elections may be mocked, voters may be mocked, and democracy may be mocked. All of that happened on January 6. A tragically lifelong narcissistic president cannot do what our president did without severely damaging the body politic. For six years (two years of campaigning, nearly four years of being in office, and two months of incessant attempts to undermine the validity of a properly conducted election), he did what was natural to him. He attempted to expand his political base to support his “governance,” such as it is. That is all this tragic man knows how to do. He has shown himself incapable of being presidential, but he is extremely capable of being Donald J. Trump. Now he is being widely discredited, but most of all he should be pitied. He is not the worst person in history by any means, but he is obviously full of passionate intensity.

Though elections might be mocked, God is not mocked, even though on January 6 God and Jesus appeared to be mocked. One demonstrator carried a hand-written sign saying, “Jesus Saves.” Another carried a flag which said “Jesus 2020.” You may not have realized it, but Jesus also apparently was up for election in 2020, and in the Capitol Assault of January 6. Many of these people truly believe they represented Jesus in their actions. That is as sad as it is dangerous.

In my opinion, most in the mob were not intentional terrorists. They didn’t mean to terrorize Congress as such. They were simply duped by their leader into thinking their unruly presence would somehow nullify the Electoral College vote. That tells you how well the leader understands and respects the Constitution. But it also shows how brilliant he is at duping people.

Millions of Americans and thousands of Republicans elected to various offices throughout America, plus many Democrats as well, have doggedly supported President Trump up to and beyond January 6. When upcoming elections occur, remember the names of any such people. “Fool me once, and shame on you. Fool me twice, or indefinitely, and shame on me.” Donald Trump is not a monster, although he is a man with a severe personality disorder and/or mental illness. All of us should have realized and admitted that before now. The man should have been convicted of the articles of impeachment by an overwhelming vote in Congress last February, but it didn’t happen. Shame on the members of the party which kept him in office. As it was, January 6 turned out to be Three Cheers for the Democrats Day because of the president’s failed attempt to sway the voters of Georgia. He didn’t; it backfired. If Mike Pence had been the President for the past ten months, the Grand Old Party might have averted a very slim Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. A Republican president still in office became the Republican downfall.

However, the Democrats have little to crow about. Both parties have rendered it almost impossible to work with the other party amicably, and they are equally guilty of allowing this deadly impasse to have evolved. Democrats may think they stand on the moral high ground, but they have an uncanny knack of regularly cutting the ground out beneath their clay feet. Bernie Sanders and the now-famous AOC are examples of how they allow that to happen. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an immense job on their hands, though they may be the two Democrats most capable of uniting us once again. Let us hope and pray it may come to pass.

Does January 6 represent the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ? Certainly not, although probably many fundamentalist Christians think so. But it will go down as one of the darkest days in American history. An assault on the nation’s capitol building was incited by a president who imagined a mob somehow could overturn an election whose results he refused to accept. Had he succeeded in his ploy, democracy would have failed, with incalculable chaos. 

However, that surely was not what Jesus was talking about on a spring day in the first third of the first century of the Common Era. Apocalyptic words can be interpreted in a wide fashion, but January 6 was not apocalyptic, either via Jesus or William Butler Yeats.

Nonetheless, Jesus does return to us in a continual Second Coming. We encounter him in the form of exhausted health care workers toiling on behalf of people dying from COVID-19. He is a poverty-stricken mother feeding her children all the food she has, saving none for herself. He is a demonstrator for the civil rights of oppressed people, and a policeman trying to maintain order among the demonstrators. Jesus comes back as a bricklayer, a minimum-wage child care worker, a fast-food worker, and a street sweeper. He can be seen in Members of Congress from both parties, carefully striving to do the nation’s business, clearly knowing that they can never achieve widespread acclaim among all the people.  

A chastened nation needs to emerge from January 6.The best lacked conviction on what to do when it should have been done five years or ten months earlier. Those who were the worst-equipped to do anything positive seized the January 6 headlines. The Georgia special election should have made January 6 a totally different kind of news day, but an out-of-control president and an uncontrolled throng of his supporters prevented that from happening.

A great American once said, “It’s never over till it’s over.” January 6 is not over. It will take years before it’s over. Even after order was restored in Congress and the Electoral College tallies were approved, there were still one hundred and forty-nine Republicans who voted against doing what Congress was required to do. This isn’t over. The Trump Phenomenon existed long before Donald Trump existed. It was there is the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Massachusetts during the Articles of Confederation period. It was there at Fort Sumter in 1861. It was there is the obliteration of Reconstruction in the truly rigged election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. It was there is the Tea Party movement of the 1990s onward, and it may even have been the precipitating factor in the Boston Tea Party of 1773. It will require all the wisdom, courage, perseverance, and forgiveness the American people and their elected representatives can muster for one another if we are to emerge from the political nightmare we have endured for the past four years. As Lincoln said, “with malice toward none, with charity for all”, we must move beyond the partisanship we have so perversely allowed not only to exist but to cultivate among ourselves. 

America has become two giant tribes with two very different concepts on how to govern the third most populous nation on earth. There shall be no earthly messiahs to bring us together. But we must hope and pray that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the two ordinary humans who become the greatest unifiers we have available to us. That, after all, is what elections are about. 

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:20). Not literally, not visibly, but metaphorically, poetically, yet visible to the eyes of faith. Maranatha; come swiftly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Silent Soldiers and Sedition

Blackwater/Xe and silent professionals

The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a pre-emptive statement declaring their refusal to put boots on the street in the event the Commander-in-Chief declares Marshall Law. Even so, President Trump is not left without options. He has other troops, like the stormtroopers who stormed through the Capitol, threatened to hang the Vice President, kill the Speaker of the House, and succeeded in driving Congress into a secure bunker, while their commander-in-chief watched the news coverage and observed an unholy silence.

More dangerous than the motley mob believes the election was stolen are later intelligence reports of the presence and front-line leadership of soldiers well trained in military tactics, whether a random collection of ex-military personnel, or something more organized, like the “silent professionals” of Blackwater/Xe and other privately owned security companies. Click Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army for Jeremy Scahill’s Polk Award book (2007, Nation Books), or take a look at this excerpt from a New York Times Worst Seller List author.

We have a private army on our own soil. Its personnel are built around U.S. military Special Forces personnel who have joined Xe. They are snipers, demolition experts and former intelligence officers, both Army and CIA. Xe has its own intelligence department that hires out to corporations and the CIA, for profit. Does anything bother us about that?

Rev. Godon C. Stewart, “Blackwater/Xe: “How did it happen that the U.S. came to rely on mercenaries,” MinnPost, July 3, 2009

The Minnpost article was written eleven years ago. It bothered me then. It bothers me more now. I have no evidence that Blackwater/Xe or some similar “security” and training center was involved in the planning and execution of the January 6 insurrection. All I have is questions about “silent professionals” and the memory of a question asked in 2019. Within days of the Capitol attack, intelligence sources identified trained professionals as leaders who led those untrained in military equipment and tactics.

Pardons and Shadows

Blackwater/Xe, pictured here in Afghanistan (since re-branded Academi) still operates in the shadows under government contracts with the U.S. Department of State to protect U.S. embassies and with the DOD in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But there are moments — like the presidential pardons of four Blackwater “guards” found guilty of a massacre of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad — when Blackwater comes into public view. Following Trump’s pardon, the lawyer representing the victims’ families in Baghdad spoke to an NPR reporter.

The Slaughter of Innocents

“This was Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday,” she said. “This was the slaughter of innocent civilians who were merely going about their day when a Blackwater convoy rolled through a traffic circle after having violated orders to stand down and not exit the Green Zone — and began firing indiscriminately into cars that were carrying people going to work.” A member of a victim’s family lamented pardons, calling the Blackwater guards “criminals, murderers and thugs. expressed his shock. “Today we were surprised that the American president issued a decision to pardon these criminals, murderers and thugs. I’m really shocked. … The American judiciary is fair and equitable. I had never imagined that Trump or any other politician would affect American justice.”

Pardoned Felon Gen. Mike Flynn returns as Trump confidante and advisor

Retired General Mike Flynn, the 25th U.S. National Security Advisor, fired, indicted, and convicted felon, later pardoned as a “great patriot,” has the president’s ear again. According to multiple news reports, Flynn and Sidney Powell have advised the president to invoke Marshall Law to order the confiscation of voting machines in the states he claims to have won. Given the president’s state of mind and knowing that he will face multiple criminal indictments and civil suits after vacating the Oval Office, and knowing the nationwide civil unrest his supporters will create this weekend, is it far-fetched to imagine him declaring Marshall Law under the guise of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Paying attention

Such forces, unaccountable to the people, could, if they so chose, operate in black water for purposes that are anything but democratic. The current heated rhetoric of the far right is pouring toxins of fear and hate into the political water table, the poisons of a new McCarthyism with innuendos and bumper stickers that paint a popularly elected president as the nation’s internal public enemy. Our nation’s history of assassinations and assassination attempts requires that we pay attention to what’s happening under our noses right now. A company willing to hire on as trained killers and intelligence experts under the flag of democracy and freedom is also presumably capable of hiring on for insidious purposes.

Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, “Blackwater/Xe: How did it happen that the U.S. came to rely on mercenaries?” MINNPOST, July 3, 2009.

Privatizing the War in Afghanistan

Eight years after selling Blackwater/Xe in 2009, Erik Prince broke the silence of silent professionals in 2017 with an op ed in the Wall Street Journal. “The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan” (May 31, 2017) criticized the DOD’s restrictive Rules of Engagement and proposed appointment of a Viceroy with freedom to privatize the war in Afghanistan as he saw fit. The Viceroy would report directly to the President, thereby by-passing the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

By the time of the WSJ column, Mr. Prince had sold Blackwater/Xe, and founded Project Veritas, a private intelligence company that recruits former British spies and CIA agents to conduct secretive intelligence-gathering and infiltrations of the Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter, liberal movements, groups, and labor unions hostile to the Trump agenda. Among the botched Project Veritas cases targeted was the American Federation of Teachers. Erik Prince is the younger brother of Betsy Prince DeVos, the Trump Administration Secretary of Education until her recent resignation.

Blackwater/Xe and Project Veritas are two among a host of right-of-center “security” companies that hire out trained military, intelligence, and police personnel through public and private contracts.

Days before a second wave of domestic terror hits the US Capitol and state capitols this Martin Luther King Day and the January 20 Inauguration, does any of that bother you?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 13, 2021.

Stop this NOW whether guilty, or not guilty be reason of insanity.

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Today Martin Luther King Jr’s successor was elected to the U.S. Senate. It was also the day Senators and Representatives wore gas masks in their chambers of the nation’s Capitol. Yesterday’s elections of Rafael Warlock and Jon Ossof in Georgia is an historic moment never to be forgotten by historians. Whether it will become a footnote depends in part on the Trump far-right occupation of the Capitol where the work of representative democracy tales place.

“We’re still fighting, and you’re going to see what’s going to happen.”

Donald J. Trump to rally in Dalton, GA, Monday, January 4, 2021.

Today we saw what was going to happen

“Liberate Michigan,” “Stay back and stand by (Proud Boys)”, and get ready for “trial by combat” (Rudy Giuliani today) beg for answers. How and why was the U.S. Capitol security left so insecure?

The President was silent until a tepid text and video that stoked the fire he lit. Where was Homeland Security? Where was the U.S. Attorney General? Where were the federal agents who cleared Lafayette Park so the president could hold up a Bible the book in front of the Saint James Episcopal Church, and return to declare himself “your law-and-order President”?

The violent insurrection that invaded the U.S Capitol today is an act of domestic terrorism orchestrated by domestic enemy #1 and supported by 12 cowardly senators and 100-plus representatives who broke their oaths of office.

Stopping it now

May Congress re-convene tonight to finish its constitutional responsibility of approving the Electoral College certification of the 2020 election. But do not stop there. Ask how and why the Capitol was so unprotected, and move now to remove the president before he does worse in the two weeks he will remain at the desk of the Oval Office: Declare Marshal Law as the guardian of law-and-order, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear research sites, and who knows what else.

Who needs foreign enemies when you have a law-and-order domestic terrorist inciting a coup d’etat in the homeland? Do it now. Before it’s too late. Do it, members of the House and Senate, before America becomes the cuckoo’s nest. Impeach him and send the men in white coats before the country loses its soul to Mein Kampf.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2021.

Why Treason Prospers

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Treason doth never prosper; what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

John Harington (1560-1612), Epigrams, Book IV, Epistle 5

Letter to Ben Franklin

Few people recognize John Harington, which seems a bit odd at the end of a year we’d like to leave behind us. Harington invented the first toilet. Just as few remember Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress whose Minutes and correspondence are preserved in the U.S. National Archives. But everyone remembers Ben Franklin.

Charles Thomson’s letter to his revolutionary colleague Ben Franklin leaps from the National as though he written it to us on New Year’s Day 2020.

When I look back . . . and view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, “Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,” who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?

Charles Thomson, Secretary of Continental Congress to Franklin (Nov. 1, 1774)

“The poet” from whose work Thomson drew was English poet, author and playwright Joseph Addison, whose “Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read among the colonial leaders as they moved toward the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomson changed Addison’s text from singular (“the Man”) to plural “(those Men”), perhaps inadvertently — memory will do that — or intentionally to fit the circumstances at hand, i.e., the English Parliament’s violations of the American colonists’ rights and freedoms under British law. Addison’s reference is singular.

Oh Portius, is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the Man
Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?

Joseph Addison, Cato, a Tragedy 1:1:21–4

Dealing with Madness — Singular and Plural

Both singular and plural fit our circumstances on New Year’s Day 2021.The post-monarchical Constitutional people’s republic of Ben Franklin and Charles Thomson teeters “on the very edge of the precipice.” Some of us wonder whether there a hidden thunder of wrath that will blast the Man who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin and when it will blast the Men who refuse to recognize the certified election results of every state and and the District of Columbia, and the certification of the Electoral College.

Clearing Our Eyes

Act V of Addison’s play raises the question the heirs of the American revolution have nearly forgotten to ask. But this tumultuous in-between time of transition of power puts this most important question to us, the heirs of Franklin and Thomas:

The honors of this world, what are they
But puff, and emptiness, and peril of falling?

Joseph Addison, Cato, Act IV, scene IV

New Year’s 2021 — Hope on the Edge of the Precipice

Thomson’s letter to Franklin ends with a realistic warning and a hope.

“Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may yet be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice.”

Two Ways of Being Human; Two Kind of National Character

Looking into the precipice of national ruin, we face two alternate ways of being a nation and two ways of being human: compassionate/heartless; arrogant/modest; honest/scheming; caring/uncaring; vulnerable/invulnerable; phony/authentic; realistic//illusionary; serving others/serving oneself — seem clearer than when things were “normal.” The precipice is real. So is Thomson’s adaptation of Cato’s quote from singular to plural. Treason can never prosper unless we, the people, accept treason.

A Hope and a Prayer from 1774 for 2021

Even yet the wounds may be healed and peace and love be restored.

Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congresses, Letter to Benjamin Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 1, 2021.