Frame Up! Remembering Martin Sostre

Video

Yesterday Views from the Edge published several posts re: the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre. Today we post this documentary film that jars the memory and human sensibilities. Martin Sostre speaks on camera about the recanted testimony of Arto Williams and the Erie County Sheriff Department frame-up. Sortre’s appeal was denied in March, 1974.  Seven months later The Christian Century published the sermon “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom”; 20 months later New York Governor Hugh Carey commuted his sentence.

This story is especially useful for younger generations whose experience may lend to the belief that the concerns that led to Black Lives Matter are of recent origin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2017.

Coming up for air

Hello there!

It’s been forever since we posted something of our own here. For very different reasons.

Steve is still with us but only writing on CaringBridge and FaceBook to keep friends up-to-date about his daily life with pancreatic cancer. A group of seminary friends will swoop in on the Shoemakers’ from Texas, Colorado, northern Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota to groan and moan together at the September 26 presidential debate.

Gordon is still with us, too, but has been under water preparing Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness for publication by Wipf and Stock Publishers (Eugene, OR). Steve’s poetry is featured in the book as well as Gordon’s essays on religion, culture, and the  news. He hit the “send” button Sunday evening for final submission.

At this moment, Steve is in the hospital, which is both a concern and a hope. He was admitted because he needed immediate medical attention the required surgery. But Steve has joined Jimmy Carter as a beneficiary of the cancer protocol credited with saving Jimmy’s life. Last night he wrote on Caring Bridge:

Family, friends, neighbors, church, Synagogue, mosque,
Club members–what would sick folks do without you?
New friends from nurses, Doctors, aides, who move in with skills, caring, short-term help help, help!
How to say thanks?  $ helps a little.  But who are the poorest of helpers?  Some of the poorest cannot even receive tips, gifts, or gratuities…
Mutual kindness…charity…love…

Hours before Steve’s latest CaringBridge post, the “statement of faith” by Lisa Larges arrived in Gordon’s in-box.

Why mention Lisa, a complete stranger to most Views readers?

The Presbyterian Church (USA), Steve and my church, denied ordination to Lisa Larges many years ago because of sexual orientation. Some changes take a very long time. Lisa’s statement on love itself illustrates love’s forbearance. It speaks of love, as does Steve’s CaringBridge post, and it’s all the more telling because of who said it.

Love wins.

Not indifference. Not fear.

Love wins.

Lisa’s statement will be posted next on Views from the Edge.

Simply Being Kind

If you’re not big on churches, read to the end of Hold to the Good‘s post re-blogged here on Views from the Edge. The author, John Buchanan, is Pastor-Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church – Chicago, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and recently retired Publisher of The Christian Century.

Hold to the Good

One of the occupational hazards of the preaching vocation is that not everyone likes, or agrees with, what we say – particularly when we push on beyond the words of scripture to the behavioral and social ramifications. On occasion, rare to be sure, listeners tell us, in no uncertain terms that they did not like what we said at all. Sometimes it happens during that hoary church custom of greeting the preacher after the worship service, standing in line, shaking hands and saying, “Good morning, Reverend. I enjoyed your sermon.” It is heartfelt sometimes and sometimes it is simply a rote part of the greeting ritual but the sad fact is that we preachers become addicted to compliments however and whenever they come. When someone chooses the occasion to let us know they didn’t like the sermon at all, it hits us like a physical blow and we think about…

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Go Set a Watchman: A Review

Watchman-Mockingbird

A Review: Go Set a Watchman 

by Emily Hedges*, September 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

President Obama’s Letter to the NYT

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

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

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

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

Bible a key to murder case

A friend called to tell me about the murder of his friend Earl Olander soon after it happened. Hollis knew the victim, 90 year-old Earl Olander, mercilessly beaten in his Carver County farm house.

Why would anyone would do this [i.e., tie him up, beat him with a shotgun, ransack his farm house, leave him half-dead] to a sweet-spirited old man like Earl?

A new use for the Bible appeared as the lead headline on the front page of this morning’s StarTribune:

“Stolen Bible leads police to suspects in death of 90 year-old Carver County man: After 90 year-old man was beaten to death, his stolen Bible led police to two suspects.” – StarTribune

Though a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, charges have been brought against the two suspects based, in part, on the discovery of the victim’s large European Bible containing two savings bonds a cleaning agent found in a vacated apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

The Bible has many uses. It speaks of grace, of sin, of homicide, of betrayal, brutality, denial, mercy, and more. Now, in the murder of 90 year-old Earl Olander that defies explanation, it serves as the primary piece of evidence in a court of law.

“Before the attackers fled,” says the StarTribune, “they ransacked Olander’s home and stole the Bible, as well as coins, old silverware, and two-dollar bills.

“[A neighbor of Olander] said he found it ‘quite ironic that it was the Bible’ that helped investigators make the arrests. ‘Think about that.'” [Star Tribune story]

“The book to read is not the book that thinks of you, but the one that makes you think.  No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee, author, To Kill a Mockingbird

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2015.

Do unto others…

It’s not often we follow up of Steve’s poems. But today’s post (“Verse – Indiana”) on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) merits further comment on Holy Saturday.

some so-called Christians change the
Golden Rule:
Do unto others what hate did to you.

Steve and I are both Presbyterian ministers. We’re Protestants. We’re not proud of it; it’s just who we are. At this point in his life, Steve restricts his social commentary to poems and verses.

Here are the earlier stanzas of of “Indiana” that succinctly set the Indiana religious Freedom Restoration Act in its ironic historical context:

To America came the Protestants.
In England they could not live
as they would.
They were despised by ruling residents
and fled to freely worship their own God.

Conservatives want to preserve the past,
forgetting which side they were on…
They now
discriminate against those who resist
and say, “To your beliefs we will not bow.”

Tomorrow Steve will celebrate Easter in Illinois. I will celebrate Easter in Minnesota. The symbol of the stone rolled away will be front and center. There can be no hate at the empty tomb. Governor Pence and legislators, pay close attention. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s hard to believe they didn’t know what they were doing, but in the sense in which the prayer from the cross was uttered, they really didn’t know`1.

 

Verse – Indiana

To America came the Protestants.
In England they could not live
as they would.
They were despised by ruling residents
and fled to freely worship their own God.

Conservatives want to preserve the past,
forgetting which side they were on…
They now
discriminate against those who resist
and say, “To your beliefs we will not bow.”

Instead of helping people to be free
to live and love as God made them to be,
some so-called Christians change the
Golden Rule:
“Do unto others what hate did to you.”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 4, 2015

Even our best intentions…

As Sesame Street’s Kermit the Frog croaks that it’s not easy being green, today reminds me that it’s not easy being right, whatever “right” is.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently amended the Church’s constitutional definition of marriage as a commitment between two people. It was a good day for those of us who have discussed, debated, and advocated for full inclusion over the last 40 years.

It represents something akin to the civil rights movement – institutionalization of the same ethic that refused any longer to deny equal rights to African-Americans in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was the right thing to do.

But nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Collateral consequences accompany every controversial decision, and sometimes those collateral consequences place us in conflict between two highly prized commitments.

No sooner did the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitutional change make the news than the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) announced its decision to break fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Click HERE for the story. The NBCI claim that the PC(USA) has abandoned or “manipulated” sacred text is not a new charge, but it’s a mistaken one. Said NBCI’s President, the Rev. Anthony Evans:

“No church has the right to change the Word of God. By voting to redefine marriage PCUSA automatically forfeits Christ’s saving grace. There is always redemption in the body of Christ through confession of faith and adhering to Holy Scripture.

“In this case, PCUSA deliberately voted to change the Word of God and the interpretation of holy marriage between one man and one woman. This is why we must break fellowship with them and urge the entire Christendom to do so as well.”

But the PC(USA) did not alter Scripture. It amended its understanding of the Word of God, as we did when we repented of the biblically acceptable practice of slavery. Scripture and tradition without the guidance of the Holy Spirit are not the sine qua non of the Christian faith. It was and is through the guidance of the Spirit of the Living God that we are called to read the Bible through the eyes of Christ, the eyes of love and human dignity, to bring the church and society into a greater light.

It seems, as best I can tell, that there are two grounds on which opposition to the PC(USA)’s full embrace of GLBT members is based. One is psychological (fear). Whenever fear appears, we are called to be compassionate. To understand and walk in the fearful one’s shoes. The second ground is intellectual, as in arguing against biblical interpretation. To argue that one’s biblical literalism is the only faithful reading of the Bible is intellectually dishonest. It’s buried in denial, but it no less intellectually dishonest if it were spoken from unfettered consciousness.

Life is messy. Theology, ethics, and morality are messy. Every decision is contextual, and in that complex set of competing claims and valued, we stand responsible for our decisions of interpretation, faith, and action.

The “breaking of fellowship” by the National Black Church Initiative and its 36,000 African American congregations cuts to the bone of a church for whom racial justice and reconciliation has long been a mandate of the gospel of Jesus. Racism is America’s great sin. Its forms are personal and institutional.

The PC(USA) Confession of 1967 declared the ending of discrimination as of first important to the church’s mission of reconciliation, a confession of faith we now apply to discrimination against the GLBT community.  Section 4 on Reconciliation in Society, begins as follows:

In each time and place there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. The following are particularly urgent at the present time.

a. God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love he overcomes the barriers between brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all men to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.

It was in that same spirit of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ that the Presbyterian Church (USA) slowly moved over the last 40 years to the position of full inclusion of GLBT members, culminating in the marriage amendment.

It’s not easy being green. It’s not easy being right, whatever right means, especially when one right creates another wrong, or is perceived as sin.

This Wednesday  of Holy Week, we once again move with Jesus toward the cross. Green, black, white, yellow, red, and brown, straight and gay; the certain and the confused. Sin is everywhere, even in our best intentions, and often it hides in the corners of our own claims of righteousness. Only a vast love and mercy can overcome the gulfs of estrangement that divide us. Some sins are plain to us, some escape us, some we cannot face. Even our best intentions…. Johan Hermann’s text “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended” (1630) set to music by Johann Cruger’s “Herzliebster Jesu” (1640) is a heartfelt prayer for the whole Church and for the world itself as we move through confession on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday toward Easter this Holy Week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus and Indiana’s Religious Freedom law

Yesterday, March 31, Christian Theological Seminary released President Matthew Myer Boultons statement on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The statement represents the official position of the CTS Board of Trustees. Views from the Edge is pleased to re-print it today:

“Christian Theology Seminary (CTS) believes deeply in religious liberty. But we witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth — the one every Christian disciple seeks to follow — calls us not to a freedom to exclude, or a freedom to discriminate, or a freedom to create an atmosphere where prejudice may flourish. On the contrary, again and again, Jesus calls us to a freedom of inclusion, equality, justice, and profound respect for the dignity of all.

“CTS opposes this act, then, not only because it represents an offense to the spirit of civil rights; not only because it cuts against the best of Hoosier hospitality; and not only because it has created a public relations crisis for the state of Indiana. CTS opposes RFRA primarily because it violates the Christian values we hold dear: values of inclusion, equality, justice, and the dignity of all people, including our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

“The Christian Gospels are replete with examples of these values. In the Gospel According to Luke, in response to the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ a lawyer asks Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ It is a clannish question, a question that seeks to draw a circle around one group we are required to love and serve, creating another group we supposedly may exclude as outsiders.

“But Jesus will have none of it. In his response — the parable of the Good Samaritan — Jesus flips the question on its head, as if to say, ‘Don’t waste your time asking the clannish question of who your neighbor is; instead, go and BE an excellent neighbor, serving all with mercy and justice.’

“Three weeks ago, I was a keynote speaker at a church service rallying against RFRA. In conversations afterward, many of us who attended, including some of the event’s organizers, lamented that it appeared the bill was headed for passage. I take heart today at the bipartisan, statewide, nationwide outcry against this unwise, unjust legislation. And I continue to be inspired by the many Christians and other religious people who stand against RFRA as a matter of faith, conviction, and genuine religious liberty.

“Real damage has been done, but together we can and must begin the work of repair. Indeed, for Christians, as we move ever deeper into Holy Week, we can only be challenged and encouraged that God is a God of hope and resurrection.”

Matthew Myer Boulton
President and Professor of Theology
Christian Theological Seminary

NOTE: Christian Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and its neighbor, Butler University, founded and co-host the Desmond Tutu Center.  The Desmond Tutu Center is North America’s only academic center in a university and seminary context named for Archbishop Emeritus Tutu. The center, launched on September 12, 2013, focuses on leadership development in social justice and reconciliation, international relationships, and interreligious bridge-building. South African churchman, theologian, and anti-Aparteid leader Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak is the Tutu Center’s Executive Director.

FURTHER PERSONAL NOTE: Matthew Myer Boulton is the son of  Wayne and Vicki Boulton whose friendship has blessed us since Wayne and I met as roommates in 1964 at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.  Steve and I  could not be prouder of Matt’s leadership and witness for justice and peace.