Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

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Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

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Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

Elijah: “Dear Mr. President”

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Elijah’s Letter to the President

September 30 , 2017

Dear Mr. President,

I’m in my carseat for my first road trip to the cabin up north, but Grandpa shared with me the letter he just sent you. I’m proud of my grandpa and I want to be proud of you. Grandpa says you’re sort of like an uncle because you went through Presbyterian confirmation class like grandpa.

But my babysitter doesn’t like you. She speaks Spanish. During the day with Marissa, we’ve been watching CNN for news from Puerto Rico, and she’s said a lot of bad words about you.

She clapped when Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz called you out. Then, this morning, she cursed again after you admonished the Carmen. Marissa’s with Carmen.

I’m only 18 weeks old. I’m still trying to understand what’s real and what’s not. Right now I’m not sure of much of anything. I trust Grandpa and I trust Marissa. They both love me and take care of me. Both Grandpa and Marissa are as upset with you as the Mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

I see the pictures from Puerto Rico and think you must, too, because you watch a lot of television, even if you consider CNN fake news. I’m little and don’t know much yet, but the pictures don’t look fake to me. And it’s not just pictures. It’s all over the radio. Marissa listens to NPR.

NPR’s Manadalit del Barco spoke to 8-year-old Yan Anthony Hernandez who is staying at a shelter in the city of Aguadilla on Puerto Ruco’s northwestern coast. The boy had a message for Trump.

“Stop tweeting and come help the people.”

Marissa wants to know whether you really care about Yan, the Mayor, and the rest of the people of Puerto Rico or just want them to go away like the undocumented workers you’re sending back to Mexico.

Sometimes Marissa sings to me. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world — red and yellow, black and white — all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the wold.” Grandpa says maybe your babysitter sang that song for you when you were little like me, but I wonder.

If you have time to write back, I’ll share your response with Marissa and Grandpa and have them make another copy to send to Carmen in Puerto Rico.

Respectfully,

Elijah (18 weeks old)

Grandson of Grandpa Stewart

 

 

 

Dear Brother Donald

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Letter to President Donald J. Trump

September 30, 2017

Dear Don,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Don. You can call me Gordy; only those close to me in grade school called me that, but, so did the kids in my confirmation class. Since we were both confirmed in Presbyterian churches, I think it makes sense to call each other Don and Gordy.

brown-psr-3-300-394After writing you yesterday, I wondered whether your confirmation class read the same book mine did. Did you read Robert McAffee Brown‘s The Bible Speaks to You? I have to confess I didn’t read much of it at the time. I faked it. Maybe you did, too. I think we were probably a lot alike that way, don’t you think?

Anyway, this morning I went online and found The Bible Speaks to You in Google Books — Google, like Twitter, is amazing, don’t you think? — to see what we were supposed to be reading and to get a sense again of what we were being taught. Even way back when we were in confirmation class, we were being taught that Jesus was killed by the coalescence of two mistakes that seem to be the opposite of each other: nationalism, on the one hand, and imperial rule, on the other. They went hand-in-hand in deciding Jesus has to go.

Do you remember that?

Jesus wasn’t big on either nationalism or or empire; he saw both as substitutes for God, idols manufactured by the human heart to provide a false sense of security and importance. I suspect you may have skipped those chapters of the New Testament, but this wouldn’t be the first time the crucifixion was erased from consciousness. It happened in the German Church in the 1930s when the majority Christian population blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and homosexuals for Germany’s fall from greatness. Make Germany great again was the agenda back then and Jesus was weeping all the way through it — in the concentration camps and in the cattle cars of the trains that removed from the nation everyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, an idol of exceptionalism that, like all idols, had no foothold in reality itself.

Do you remember how we hated Hitler and all that stuff in confirmation class, how we thought of ourselves as Christians who would never do that because we were disciples of Jesus, and as Americans who would never do that because … well, we were Americans? We were better than that!

Funny how things change sometimes if we don’t pay attention, don’t you think? Maybe we paid too much attention to that period of world history and not enough attention to Robert McAfee Brown and the Bible. Long after we finished confirmation class to become disciples of Jesus, Robert McAfee Brown said something I’m remembering now:

Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are.

I wonder who you’re listening to, where you stand on all of this, and write you now because, as your brother in Christ, I went on to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his American friends,Paul Louis Lehmann, William Sloane Coffin, and, yes, our old confirmation class author Robert McAfee Brown, who all claimed that what we do determines who we are.

The Bible speaks to you

Original cover of The Bible Speaks to You used in Presbyterian church confirmation classes in the 1950s and ’60s.

Don, if you can find a moment this morning, you can click this  Amazon LINK to The Bible Speaks to You, click “Look Inside” and scroll down to what neither of us can remembers now that we’re over 70 years old and forgetting much of what we learned. Take a look at pages 11 and 12 about the Marine Corporal following Robert McAfee Brown, the Marine Chaplain, back to his quarters after a Bible study on the Gospel of John story of Lazarus:

“Chaplain,” he said, “I felt as thought everything we read this morning was pointed right at me. I’ve been living in hell for the last six months, and for the first time I feel as though I’ve gotten free.”

You’ve been in the White House for nine months now, and I suspect it may feel like a hell you’ve never experienced. Maybe the same thing can happen with you as happened with the Marine.

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“The Raising of Lazarus” — Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1318-1319)

Remember, Don, every one of us has had at least a taste of hell these last nine months, but I’m looking to you for something different to rise from the ashes of our confirmations: a refutation of nationalism and empire. As Robert McAfee Brown said when he was much older, “What you do determines not only who you are but who we are. ” Take a close look at the picture of Robert McAfee Brown and at . It feels as though he’s looking at us to see whether we’re with Jesus and Lazarus.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart (“Gordy”), Your Brother in Christ

Chaska, Minnesota

Grandpa, did the president say that?

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Elijah and HarveyElijah and I were watching the President’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly when suddenly Elijah sat bolt upright.

Grandpa, did he really say that?

Say what, Elijah? He’s said a lot of things.

Trump at United NationsDid he just call Kim Jung Un “Rocket Man”?

Yes, he did, Elijah.

That’s not right! You told me never to call people names. Then he said he would destroy his country! He sounds like a bully. You taught me bullying’s bad, right Grandpa?

Right. Bullying is bad. It’s always bad. The president just embarrassed every American.

And then he insulted all our allies whose countries are socialist. All our European allies are socialist, right Grandpa? Israel’s socialist, right Grandpa?

That’s right, Elijah. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He still believes in the Boogeyman.

Boogeyman_posterWell, I think he’s acting like the Boogeyman. Don’t ever leave me in the same room with the president, Grandpa. He’s mean. He’s scary!

Don’t worry, Elijah, President Trump will never take care of you. Mom will. Grandma and I will. Your baby sitter will. And the world leaders will babysit Mr. Trump.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, September 21, 2017.

 

Grandpa, I’m special, right?

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On his 14th (week) birthday Elijah was watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood this morning.

51IO0pzdoqL._AC_UL320_SR226,320_Grandpa, Mr. Rogers says I’m special! I love Mr. Rogers!

We all love Mr. Rogers, Elijah. We all do!

Yeah! He’s a Presbyterian minister just like you, right Grandpa?

Yes, he was. And, like all Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Rogers made mistakes.

Like what?

Like telling you you’re ‘special’.

What you talking’ about? I AM special. Mr. Rogers makes me feel good.

I understand that and I’m glad. I just wish he’d used a different word than ‘special’ because none of us is ‘special’. You’re unique, Elijah. No one will ever be just like you. But that doesn’t mean you’re ‘special’.

You don’t like Mr. Rogers! I don’t like you! You’re a poop-head!

Sometimes I am, Elijah. I know I’m a poop-head sometimes. We all are, and that’s my point. We’re all in this together. None of us is special. Each of us is precious. Each of us is loved. I just wish he’d said ‘precious’ instead of ‘special’ because ‘special’ leads people to think they’re ‘exceptional’. You know, better than anyone else.

Mr. Rogers doesn’t mean that! Everyone’s welcome in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, even Mr. McFeely!

Well, even Mr. Rogers is a sinner, Elijah. He should never have named the mailman Mr. McFeely.

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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“Grandpa, they think I’m a baby. I don’t like all these stuffed animals!”

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“I can see that, Elijah. But, ya know . . .  you’re still a baby.”

“I’m not, Grandpa. I’m not a baby! I’m 12!”

“Well, I understand that you feel that way. You have very little control. You’re still very vulnerable at 12 weeks. You have no defense against Mom and Grandma putting stuffed animals in your arms whether you want them or not. But you’re not ready for independence.”

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

“No, you’re really not. You still need your diapers changed.”

“So what? So does the President! He’s just a baby, Grandpa. How come nobody’s helping him? You could give him one of my stuffed animals to help him be calm. He can have this one. Except for black eyes, it’s all white and kinda cuddly, and it is an elephant!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 17, 2017

 

The President’s hand

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Listening includes watching. Do the words match the body language? If they’re different, what does the body language tell us that the words do not?

I’ve been watching the president’s hands lately. He’s doing something different with them. With palm facing the rest of the world, his fingers are spread apart, as when one pushes someone or something away. Other times they seem to be waving something away.

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There are fewer closed circles with pointed fingers, although they still appear at moments that are just as telling as his facial expressions.

Every one of us is a community of voices from the past — the community of DNA and family culture — and it is not unusual for the voice of a father to shout in a son’s ear even at the age of 71.

 

FredTrumpArrestWhen one grew up in the shadow of a father who had been arrested and discharged, rightly or wrongly alleged to have marched with the KKK, and years later had been investigated by a U.S. Senate committee for wartime profiteering and by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for civil rights violations, what is the son to say and do following the nation’s focus on Charlottesville, Virginia?

Publicly slap his father, give him the back of his hand? Defend him by feuding again with the “faux media” that wrongfully accused his innocent father of being a KKK marcher and white supremacist? Push the rest of the world away from the family whose patriarch’s reputation as a tenant landlord drew the scornful attention of Woody Guthrie?

Only Donald or members of his closest family can tell us. But, like most families, this one knows how to keep its secrets.

For the nation’s sake and for his, one might pray and hope that those within Mr. Trump’s closest circle — not the circle of his public persona of closed certainty, but the intimate circle of those who him best and love him — will take the President’s hand the way a mother takes the hand of a frightened child and walk him to Trump Tower . . . or to a hospital where he can get the care he needs.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 17, 2017.

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

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President Trump’s statement and silence about white supremacy following the terror in in Charlottesville prompted a brief but telling conversation in Minnesota.

IMG_5234“Grandpa, the President just said he wants me to feel safe to play outside, right?”

“Right, Elijah, that’s what he said. That had nothing to do with the reason for the violence in Charlottesville, but, yes, he did say that.”

“Yeah, if he cares about all the children, why didn’t he say the words?”

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

The Dumpster-Diver — Johnny Appleseed

There are many ways to write a counter-narrative to America’s throw-away consumer culture.

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It could be this spoken narrative critique by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Or it could be the unpublished daily dumpster-diving exploits in a city’s back alleys by a 21st Century Johnny Appleseed, the dumpster-diver whose birthday today is worth a more public salute and a joyful celebration.

Chris’s narrative is written in the indelible ink of daily dives that rescue our society’s “junk” from trips to the maxed-out landfills of America’s throw-away consumer culture.

Chris is anything but a back alley throw-away in our family. He’s our Johnny Appleseed — our Walter Brueggemann!

Happy birthday, Chris!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.