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.

Elijah asks Grandpa about facts

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This “conversation” between Grandpa (Bumpa) and Elijah took place during the Senate’s first impeachment trial. It’s been buried in the draft file. Elijah was two-and-a-half at the time. But some things are still true when Elijah is four.

Elijah and Bumpa (Grandpa) in Elijah’s room

Elijah: I don’t get it, Bumpa! I have questions.

Grandpa: What questions, Elijah? Shoot!

I don’t want to! We don’t like guns at daycare!

I’m sorry, Elijah. I don’t mean shoot. I meant it as a “figure of speech”.

Yeah! We like figures. One, two, free, four, . . . l, m, n, o, p. . .

I’m so proud of you!, Elijah! You know your numbers and your ABCs! But “a figure of speech” is different, it’s an idiom.

Like what?

Like . . . you might say that somebody “lies like a rug.” So what are your question?

We hate lying, We like facts, right Bumpa?

Yes. We do, Elijah.

So we don’t like the Publicans. They lie like rugs, right?

Publicans?

Yeah, Publicans, like the ones on TV who hate facts and get all angry on TV.

I see.

We’re not Publicans! We like Jesus, right?

Well, yes, sort of. You’ll come to your own faith as you grow older. The Publicans collected taxes for the Romans. It would be like Americans working for a foreign government.

Okay. But we’re not publicans. We don’t like craters and creezin, right?

Creezin? Are you sure you have the right words?

Geez, Bumpa! Don’t ya know? C r e e z i n ! Like you and Grandma have for breakfast every morning.

Ah, now I get it. We eat Raisin Bran. R a i s i n B r a n. You mean treason! T r e a s o n.

Yeah! Are they going to de-peach you? Did you commit creezin? Are you and Gamma craters who should be de-peached? Publicancraters?

Those are big words you’ll learn about in school. No, we can’t be impeached, and we’re not Publicans. We try to stick with the facts, not lie like a rug. Any other questions?

Yeah. Ucranes. We have Ucranes at the cabin. Do Ucranes whistle?

  • Grandpa and Elijah, Dec. 4, 2019.

Elijah knows his ABCs

Video

Oops! Editorial Correction: Wrong Birthday!

Elijah’s joy reciting his ABCs, posted moments ago, was Not on Elijah’s birthday! It was his mother’s.

Elijah says his ABCs

Thanks for dropping by for Mommy’s birthday party,

Elijah and Bumpa, July 15, 2020

Elijah shares his pizza with Grampa

Video

Sharing comes naturally to Elijah. In this scene recorded by Gramma, Elijah surprises Grampa (Wumpa) with a piece of his pizza. Elijah has no knowledge of hoarding. He demonstrates the generosity of the widow of Zarephath who shared her last provisions with Elijah.

Elijah offers a piece of his pizza to Grandpa (“Wumpa”)
Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
-Isaiah 58:6a-7 NRSV

Gordon C. Stewart (“Wumpa”) with Elijah and Gramma in Chaska, MN, March 26, 2020 in this period of social distancing.

Elijah and the Green Smoothies

A Feel-good Story in Self-Isolation

Feel-good stories are becoming fewer during this period of self-isolation. There’s a virus out there that has kept us alone at home for 10 days, but we still talk with the two year-old grandchildren on Skype — or drop in on Elijah at daycare. Remotely, of course.

Elijah at daycare on St. Patrick’s Day

Elijah loves his daycare. What’s not to like? He has close friends. There are only four other playmates. They all adore Lidia, their daycare provider. Lidia only speaks Spanish — of the Cuban variety. Elijah and his friends speak only Spanish in Lidia’s home. But on St. Patrick’s Day Lidia make green smoothies. She called them “immunity drinks”. If it weren’t for the language and the ages, you’d think they were in a pub with a pint. Take a look.

Elijah and friends with Lidia at daycare.

A Brief Conversation — Elijah and Grampa (Bumpa)

Elijah, it makes me happy to see you like daycare so much.

No me gusta la guardería, abuelo.

I’m sorry, Grampa only speaks English. What did you say?

I said, “I don’t like daycare.”

Sure you do.

No! Amo la guardería. Oops, I’m sorry, I forgot. I said “No! I don’t. I LOVE daycare!”

I can see that. I used the wrong word.

It’s okay Grampa, you and Gramma never had daycare, right? You never learned Spanish, right?

Right.

So you didn’t have a girlfriend til you were really old, huh?

Do you have a girlfriend, Elijah? You’re only two.

I’m almost three! My girlfriend’s older. I LOVE Nora and Nora loves me.

A feel-good story for the homebound, brought to you by Elijah’s abuerlo, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2020.

Elijah writes Mr. Hannity about Torona Biris

Dear Mr. Hannity,

This is Elijah. I want to be your friend, but grampa says I can’t be. Maybe if we can’t be friends we can talk like this on our iPads on my way to daycare.

I hope you’re staying safe like gramma and grampa. They won’t go out of the house anymore because the germs are outside. They’re old, like you. We haven’t seen each other for a week because of the torona biris. Mommy says I won’t get it cause I’m just two, but I might carry the biris into gramma and grampa’s house and make them sick and die. How do you carry something you can’t see?

Grampa says he hopes you get the biris. I told him that’s not nice! But he says you’re the one who’s not nice. A lot of people listen to you on TB. They believe you, and sometimes you confuse them. Like when you said the torona biris was a hokes grampa made up, but then changed your mind and said it was real, that it used to be a hokes, but now it’s not. Did you lie? Did you really believe grampa was bad?

You owe grampa and Nancy an apology. So does Mr. Limball. Grampa says Mr. Limball is a lot like you. He throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks and it gets all over people who believe him on the radio. But Mr. Limball has cancer. We’re supposed to pray for him. Grampa prays for you and Mr. Limball all the time. He says you’re both cancers and we should pray for those who prosecute us. He prays you will just shut up. But his prayers are never answered. Do you believe in prayer?

Have you told everybody you were wrong about grampa and Nancy and the torona biris? Grampa says you should confess. You changed your mind about the biris. So did the president. That’s good. But you still owe grampa and Nancy an apology. Grampa says it’s easy. Just tell them you’re sorry, stop prosecuting them, ask for their forgibnis, and then tell the truth, and tell Mr. Limball to do it too.

Anyway, I hope you listen to grampa. Stay in your house, and don’t say a thing to anybody except Mrs. Hannity about anything until the torona biris is gone. That will make life more peaceful for grampa, and what’s good for grampa and gramma is good for me.

Your friend,

Elijah

“Love your enemies and pray for those who prosecute you.”

Dear Mr. President — it’s me again, Elijah

Dear President Trump, I’m sorry to bother you again. I know you must be very busy on Super Market Tuesday. I meant to send this picture of me but I forgot, like Bumpa. Mommy gave me this Medal of Freedom after seeing you give one to Rush Limmba. She gave me mine last week after I put it in the potty. I bet you have one too.

Elijah

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Elijah’s Super Market Tuesday Letter to the President

Dear Mr. President,

My Gamma and Bumpa helped me with this letter. I love Gamma and Bumpa! Please don’t tell them that I changed it a little. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. When I showed it to the kids at daycare in show and tell, they said it was too nice. They hurt my feelings. I told them we’re Minnesotans. We’re nice here in Minnesota. We don’t say mean things. They say our generation needs to be more honest and pretend we’re not Minnesotans.

Anyway, Bumpa and Gamma don’t like you. They say you need to see the doctor and lie on the couch. I don’t know why. I’ve been to the doctor and she doesn’t have a couch. Maybe you need sleep? Sometimes I do. Like last night. I couldn’t sleep, so I climbed out of my bed and woke up Mommy. Mommy said it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Then we cuddled in her bed. I wish you could sleep better. Do you get to cuddle?

You have a lot on your mind. Like all the germs from China and the Bidens. That’s a lot! I’m glad I’m not president. I think the germs are coming from Russia. Whatever! You said on tv not to worry. It’s just a bad cold. But then, yesterday, Mr. Pence said you’ve put all hands on deck. I asked Mommy what that means. She just shook her head and told me to go back to sleep.

Today is Super Market Tuesday here in Minnesota. Amy quit yesterday, so you don’t need to worry about Amy anymore. She didn’t want to come in second or third behind Bernie and Joe, and Elizabeth in her own state. That wouldn’t be very nice. So she quit and flew to Texas to help Joe and stop Bernie. That’s kinda weird, don’t ya think? But maybe not. Bumpa thinks she’s sucking up to Joe so Joe will pick her for his wife.

Anyway, the kids at day care are mad at you and Mr. Pence. You say climate change is a hoax. We like the Green New Deal! It’s not a hoax. You said not to worry about the germs from China and blamed the Democrats and television ’cause it’s just another way to make you look bad. You’re not saying that anymore. You lied. I’m just 2, but I know that.

The doctors say the crownaviris germs will go after old people. Yesterday Bumpa and Gramma got masks. They’re going to wear them to vote today. They won’t tell me whether it’s Joe, Bernie, or Elizabeth they’re voting for, but definitely not you. They say you’re not very nice.

I don’t like you, but we’re Christians. We will pray for you to get a good night’s sleep, or sleep on the doctor’s couch if you have a tummy ache, or cuddle with your mommy at home.

Your fellow American.

Elijah

Elijah shares his pizza

ELIJAH SHARES WITH GRANDPA

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” – Ruth Reichl

Turn up the volume to hear Elijah, Grandma, and Grandpa

Elijah’s pizza

THE FULL VALUE OF JOY

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” — Mark Twain, Notebook (1935)

Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, celebrating Elijah at Elijah’s house, Dec. 16, 2019.

Elijah and the Mad Men

Grandpa and Elijah

Grandpa, why’s that man so mad?

Well, he’s the senior member of the minority.

So, he’s mad because he’s old?

No, he’s mad because he’s lying.

Do all old people lie and get mad?

Not all, and not just old people. Some liars are young.

Yeah, I heard ’em yelling on C-Span.

You watch C-Span at day care?

We do, Grandpa. We’re Americans!

Well, not all Americans watch C-Span. Some watch MSNBC, CNN, or FOXNews.

Yeah. We don’t. We want to make up our own minds about de-peachment.

Grandpa Gordon and two-year-old grandson Elijah