It’s all there in the Christmas story

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It’s Christmas Eve 2020. The issues have not changed much in the last seven years. The gospel is like that! Economics and politics are spiritual matters. I’m no longer in the pulpit, but, thanks to the generous people of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, some of the sermons are preserved.

A Sermon: It’s All There in the Christmas Story

Season’s Greetings

May you find confidence in the light, walk in the light, and hold to the good,

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN December 24, 2020.

The sound of the trumpet in the morning

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Campaigns in the 2000s have a way of repeating themselves. So do sermons, like this one from the week before the 2012 election that draws on a Jewish legend about Satan’s sense of loss after being expelled from heaven. What he missed the most was the sound of the trumpet in the morning.

This moment in American history is like no other. We are living under the cloud of the diabolical. The New Testament word “diabolos” gets translated as “the devil.” I’m not into the Devil but I encounter the diabolical reading the news every morning. I find hope listening for the sound of the trumpet (the shofar).

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 4, 2020.

All my Springs are in You

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Reading Psalm 87 recently was one of those “Aha” moments when eyebrows raise at the sound of music you did not expect to hear. This psalm of Zion struck a different chord.

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
   the Lord loves the gates of Zion
   more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
   O city of God.

A Memory of Willie

Willie got the willies when the congregation sang “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” in McGaw Chapel at The College of Wooster. The professor of German language and literature, a naturalized American citizen, was flashing back to “the Fatherland” where he’d been born, momentarily paralyzed by the memories that haunted him. The Third Reich of Willie’s childhood had usurped Josef Haydn‘s musical setting of Psalm 87 for its own grandiose purposes. Deutschland had become the new Zion, the city of God, of which glorious things are spoken.

A Rebuke of nationalist exceptionalism

Psalm 87 is the poetry of a different theology and politics that startles those looking for religious and national exceptionalism. No nation, especially those that hide their sin behind the lofty goals of “unity, justice, and freedom,” is the Holy City Uber Alles.

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia —
‘This one was born there,’ they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
‘This one and that one were born in it’;
for the Most High himself will establish it.

Psalm 87 is striking for what it is and for what it is not

This Hebrew psalm looks above and beyond the pretensions of nation, ethnicity, and religion. Not everyone in the glorious city if God is Hebrew. Not everyone is a Moses, Aaron, or Joshua. Sure, it names Rahab — the Canaanite prostitute who provided cover for the Hebrew spies as they prepared to conquer Canaan. But Rehab in Psalm 87, say the biblical scholars, represents Egypt, the nation of Hebrew enslavement prior to the exodus. And there are Babylon, the land of exile, and Philistia, whose better armed giant Goliath fell with a thud from the shot from little David’s slingshot? What are the Philistines doing in this Hebrew song? And Tyre and Ethiopia?

The Most High will build the city into which, looking back from the future, all nations will see and know they were born there.

The Lord records, as he registers the peoples,
‘This one was born there.’

Singers and dancers alike say,
‘All my springs are in you.’

No nation is ‘Uber Alles.” No nation is accountable only to itself. The One whose Name is too Other, too Holy, to be spoken aloud — the eternal Presence, “I Am Who I Am” — registers the disparate peoples as citizens of Zion, the birthplace of the world.

The likes of Willie will no longer despair of a sacred hymn turned into a national anthem that idolizes a nation as the city of God, deluding its citizens to believe that “this one or that one” from elsewhere was not born there. Is it too much to imagine a day when all the peoples will sing and dance alike and say of Zion, “All my springs are in You”?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 15, 2020.

Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco Forty-Niners quarterback, blacklisted by NFL teams for taking a knee during one nation’s national anthem as a way of saying Black Lives Matter.

John Lewis: “we all live in the same house”

Giving thanks for Congressman John Lewis

So much can and should be said following the death of Congressman John Lewis, but every attempt to pay tribute to him here on Views from the Edge fails to reach the high bar of tribute and thanksgiving to which he is entitled. Into this wordless void came a message sharing Eric Whitacre’s virtual global choir singing “Sing Gently” – the sound of hope and gentleness that sings what words cannot say.

The Congressman’s words after watching video of George Floyd’s death reach are as deep and wide as Eric Whitacre’s musical testimony (scroll down).

“We’re one people,” he said, “we’re one family. We all live in the same house, not just the American house but the world house.”

YouTube of virtual global choir singing Eric Whitacre’s composition “Sing Gently”

They cracked his skull at the Pettus Bridge; his character remained unbroken

John Lewis’s skull was cracked by officers enforcing the law-and-order of white supremacy and white nationalism, but his faith and Christ-like character could not be broken. He was as gentle as he was strong.

Sing boldly. Sing gently. If John Lewis found the strength and courage to sing his way through all the troubled waters his world was making, who am I to keep from singing?

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) available on the publisher’s website and on Amazon, Chaska, MN, July 20, 2020.

Elijah shares his pizza with Grampa

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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.

Quarantined to Find Each Other

photo of Food and Drug Administration poster warning milk trucker not to pick up milk on farms with contagious diseases

Everything is shutting down. Almost. But not memory, and not love.

This story of a quarantine is not from the 1930s or the quarantines social-distancing of 2020. It happened in 1950, but, in some respects, it feels the same.

THE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT

Live & Learn‘s post quoting Pat Schneider’s “Blessing of a Writer” (see below) brought back the memory of a two-week quarantine as an eight year-old diagnosed with Scarlet Fever.

For the next 14 days, the second floor bedroom of the 120 year-old house on Church Lane was dark. Pulled shades and extra drapes blocked the light. Fourteen dark days and nights of enforced solitude.

May you hear in your own stories
the moan of wind around the corners
of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember…

– Pat Schneider, from “Blessing for a Writer” 

“DURATION OF THE INFECTION IN SCARLET FEVER,” JANUARY 1, 1950, ANNALS OF INTERNAL MEDICINE

Abstract

In Illinois after the diagnosis of scarlet fever and other hemolytic streptococcal infections of the upper respiratory tract is made, "Isolation is required for a minimum period of 14 days after onset and thereafter until the nose, throat, glands, and ears are normal on inspection or until the physician reports complete clinical recovery."1
Other states have essentially the same regulation except that the minimum quarantine period is 21 days instead of 14. 

SILENCE IN THE HALF-FORGOTTEN HOUSE

The house on Church Lane was in Pennsylvania, not in Illinois, but the Scarlet Fever and the quarantines were the same. No baseball. No backyard games of hide-and-seek or tag. No evenings with the fireflies. No school. Not everything felt like a curse.

To prevent blindness, the room was dark. Other than Mom delivering meals, checking the fever, and reminding me not to scratch, the room was empty and quiet with one exception: the purring of Buddy, the cross-eyed cat with the crooked tail. Even a cat needs company sometimes. I like silence. A lot! But not that much. We’re not meant to be alone. Everyone needs a friend like Buddy.

FINDING OURSELVES IN SOLITUDE

Old memories return in times that awaken them. Live & Learn’s gift of a “Blessing for a Writer” came at just the right time. I fancy myself a writer, but words worth writing have been hiding during the spread of the latest pandemic when the fever and isolation are everywhere..

Might the solitude lead us to find each other?

“Only in solitude do we find ourselves;
and in finding ourselves,
we find in ourselves
all our [neighbors] in solitude.”

— Miguel de Unamuno, “Solitude,” Essays and Soliloquies (1924), tr. J.E. Crawford Finch.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 16, 2020.

Plagiarism or a Blank Page?

Today, Ash Wednesday, is a solemn day that calls for distraction from frivolous distractions, you might say.

Photo of Steve Shoemaker welcoming  President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, IL.

Entertainment cultures shun solemnity. Ash Wednesday interrupts our flight from the knowledge of our mortality: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Steve Shoemaker, seen here welcoming President Clinton to Champaign-Urbana, shared a poem that leads me a decision Ash Wednesday: plagiarize or leave the page (Views from the Edge) blank?

I HAVE NOTHING

I have nothing…
nada…zilch…zero…

no thoughts, no ideas
no inspiration.

Worse, only clichés
crowd my mind:

stock images
standard phrases,

or remembered words
wielded by real writers.

Feeling only frustration,
tempted by alliteration,

or worse, rhyme…
Theft?

Is it worse to plagiarize
than to leave a blank page?

— Steve Shoemaker, Feb. 6, 2013
Photo of ashes drawn on a forehead

In memory and thanksgiving for Steve’s faithful solemnity and smile,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

A Time for Anger

MITT ROMNEY’S ACT OF CONSCIENCE

Mitt Romney’s speech as a Senator-juror in the impeachment trial came as a surprise because he broke with his party’s ranks, and because he appealed to conscience and religion. No Senator-juror in the history of impeachment had stepped out of line from the party line. Citing the seriousness of the articles of impeachment against President Trump, Mr. Romney explained his reasons for voting to convict the president:

As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

Senate Mitt Romney (R), February 5, 2020

VIOLATION, DESPAIR, AND ANGER

Jesus cleansing the temple painting

In The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin Garrett Keizer offers a description of ‘anger’ that fits the moment.

Anger is an emotion arising from a refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.”

REFUSAL TO PERMIT VIOLATION

One might say the dissenting senator’s vote rose from a refusal to permit violation of the Constitution, a violation the Republican House minority and Senate Majority at first denied without exception. Later, after the House managers presented a compelling case, the Republicans changed their position from complete denial of the allegations to arguing that, though they were wrong, they did not “rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors”. All members of the president’s party held their noses, crossed their fingers, and voted for acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment. Except for one betrayer who is now the target of the man he voted to convict.

“I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

The oath of office and the subsequent impeachment trial oath to “do impartial justice” places the mantle of conscience on the shoulders of all who “solemnly swear” them. Repeated violations of the oath of office have driven public trust in Congress and the Presidency to a point of despair or anger. Only a public recovery of anger, as Keizer defines it, will lift us from the reign of despair and tyranny.

Views from the Edge called attention to James Madison, John Winthrop, and ethical principles of conscience (“God alone is Lord of the conscience”), and truth (“Truth is in order to goodness. Nothing is more pernicious or absurd than the opinion that truth and falsehood exist upon a level, and that it is of no consequence what a man’s [sic] opinions are”). Conscientious pursuit of truth and courage to speak truth have become the exceptions to the prevailing norms of power and privilege, and the pursuit and maintenance of them.

FRUSTRATION READY TO BECOME ACTION

Mitt Romney’s exceptional vote for what has gone out of style (integrity) is akin to Garret Keizer’s case for what has gone out of style in religion, mischaracterized by the ranting street corner preacher who thunders about the fires of hell: the wrath of God.

“I am unwilling to commit to any messiah who does not knock over tables,” writes Keizer, referencing the scene of Jesus with the money-changers. “The wrath of God is not the wrath of the abusive parent or of power abused. It is the absolute claim of personhood asserting itself in the face of power and chaos alike.”

“There is such a thing as killing someone with kindness. The thoroughly gentle God, the unceasingly kind God, the God of the unalterable smile is also the fairy God, the clown God, the stuffed animal God — perhaps not a great deal more helpful than the threadbare giraffe that a child clutches in his dark room….”

Garret Keizer, The Enigma of Anger

THE WRATH OF GOD AND DELIVERANCE FROM OUR DARK ROOM

For years I have felt the folly of a theology which deletes the first part of the biblical claim that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” leaving the abused woman or child, or nation to swim in empty concrete pools of kindness unfilled without the tears of justice.

Our country has become a dark room. But occasionally, as happened yesterday on the Senate floor, a candle is lit for justice, goodness, and truth. This room need not stay dark if we, the abused, claim again the wrath of God and the place of anger: “the refusal to permit violation…poised at the place where frustration is ready to become action.” To refuse anger will kill us with kindness, leaving us each clutching our stuffed animals in a dark room owned by a tyrant.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017 Wipf & Stock) — available in kindle and paperback through the publisher or Amazon — Chaska, MN Feb. 6, 2020

Jump start down by the old Mill stream

My battery went dead on January 8. I had no interest. Nothing to say. Views from the Edge was dead as a doornail. I wondered if the juices would ever flow again, but didn’t much care whether they did.

Then a funny thing happened. A stranger dropped by with the comment that jump-started the battery:

The Man Who Loved Graves

Howdy. Seems the whippersnapper is selling you family’s mill. Thought you might be interested in seeing the current pix of it posted in the listing at the weblog linked below. Cheers! J

https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2020/01/14/1864-mill-in-bryant-pond-me/
Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME
Andrews Casket Company Mill, South Woodstock, ME featured in “The Man Who Loved Graves”

Click HERE to view the current photographs of the real estate listing ($85,000) for the Mill and 2.7 acres on Mill Pond in my ancestral home of Andrews Hollow, the same property described in “The Man Who Loved Graves” (Views from the Edge, 2012) back when the battery was fresh. The photographs did more than take me back to childhood. They took where I’ve never been: inside the Mill, which I’d assumed had gone to rot — and living quarters that come as a complete surprise.

By January 13 the number of Views from the Edge daily visits had fallen to an all-time low of 20. The battery was dead. But life is a funny thing. The next day the number jumped to 495. All because a stranger dropped by with jumper cables that jump-started a dead battery down by the old Mill stream.

Thank you, J, whoever and wherever you are,

Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2020.

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.