When the hearing aid goes dumb

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I have two hearing aids. I need them both.

All of a sudden there was no sound in the left ear. Nada! The hearing aid just quit while listening to a sermon in church. No idea what was said from that point on.

I went home. Changed the battery. Nada. Changed the little white insert at the end of the receiver thinking it might be clogged. Still no sound.

Monday morning, while waiting at the hearing clinic for a verdict on the problem, an older man and his daughter took the seats across from me in the waiting area. They started a conversation. I pointed to my left ear, saying I couldn’t hear. The daughter said something and pointed to her father who also said something I couldn’t understand. Then I said, “I can’t hear,” and smiled. “Sometimes I like the silence. The world is very noisy.” The man laughed. The daughter nodded and smiled knowingly.

It was a momentary communion of glorious shared silence.

The result? The hearing aid has been sent off to the manufacturer for repair of a twisted wire inside the hearing mold. My left ear now wears a loaner, a rental from Herz until my vehicle returns at the cost of $250. I re-imagine the text of the sermon I couldn’t hear:

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 28, 2017.

The foreign visitor

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In this acrostic verse Steve Shoemaker imagined Simon of Cyrene, the innocent foreign (Libyan) bystander conscripted to help carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus of Nazareth was found guilty of “subverting the nation and refusing to pay tribute to Caesar.”

SIMON OF CYRENE 

Since I was in Jerusalem for Passover,

I  bought nice gifts both for my wife and the two boys.

Money I had, position in Cyrene, power…

Only meaning was missing, reason for my days.

Now my bags are knocked down and a Roman soldier

Orders me to carry a young condemned man’s cross.

From deep within his eyes I see a place of peace.

Crying women followed us all along the road.

Years later I could still recall, he turns and says,

Remove your tears for me, there are for you ahead

Even worse times to come:  no men,  no pregnancies,

No children, no city–for battles, sieges, war

End families, prosperity, leave just the poor.

  • – Acrostic Verse  – Steve Shoemaker – Urbana, IL, April 22, 2012

Steve (1943-2016) continued the work of Simon of Cyrene. He lived his life on behalf of the poor. We’re missing him today.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 28, 2017.

Climate Change has no boundaries

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Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“Climate change – global warming – has no boundaries. The light of the sun and the air that sustain all living beings know no boundaries. The Berlin Wall of 96 miles was there for 28 years up to 1989. The racial wall of the South African Apartheid existed for 46 years and ended in 1994. In their limited existence, these walls have done immeasurable damage to humanity on the both sides of the wall. The Orthodox Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West did not speak to each other for 911 years from 1054 to 1965. The Great Wall of China and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin are tourist spots today.

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James Baldwin (L)  MLK, Jr.

“’One cannot dehumanize others without dehumanizing oneself,’ says James Baldwin. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,’ we pray. It is this prayer that breaks the boundaries in a way that is pleasing to God.”

Whatever talents I possess

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Dylan Thomas

“I am at the most transitional period now,” wrote Dylan Thomas to his friend. “Whatever talents I possess may suddenly diminish or suddenly increase. I can with ease become an ordinary fool. I may be one now. But it doesn’t do to upset one’s own vanity.”

In that spirit, I accede to my dear friend Bob’s suggestion to post author “endorsements” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness on Views from the Edge. “Why not?” I said to myself. “It’s your book! If you don’t promote it, who will? Who cares if you’re a fool! If you don’t do it now, your limited talents may suddenly decrease!”

Be Still! coverAUTHOR ENDORSEMENTS

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”
Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University

”These are lovely, powerful, centering essays–messages from and for a fragile but beautiful planet.”
Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

”This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.”
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Author of Remember You Are Dust, The Prophetic Imagination, and many other books.

”Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!
J. Barrie Shepherd
Author of Between Mirage and Miracle and many others

Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”
Michael McNally, Ph.D
Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders: Aging, Authority, and Ojibwe Religion

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open–much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it s what the world needs now, more than ever.”
Joyce Sutphen
Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College

”In Be Still! Stewart masterfully spins a counter-narrative to the collective madness that is gripping our world. Like the psalmist, Stewart prays thoughtfully through metaphors and religious tradition, meshing theologians with news headlines to lead the reader to a deeper, more sustained truth. Be Still! reads like part op-ed and part parable. In these troubling and anxious times, may we, who have ears to hear, listen!”
Frank M. Yamada
President, McCormick Theological Seminary, Author of Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives 

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Joanna Baillie (1762-1851)

Then, after heeding my friend Bob’s and Dylan Thomas’s advice, I heard the reassuring voice of Joanna Baillie speaking from long ago:

“Pampered vanity is a better thing perhaps than starved pride.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2017.

 

 

The Party of No votes No on itself

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Today America’s “Party of No” didn’t have the votes to vote Yes on its own bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After consulting with the President, Speaker Ryan “pulled” its own health care bill.

During the Obama Administration the Republican Party voted repeatedly to repeal The Affordable Care Act, called pejoratively “Obamacare”. But in 2017, holding majorities in the House and Senate and occupying the White House, “The Party of No” couldn’t agree to say Yes to its own health care bill.

Saying Yes is harder than saying No. Governing is hard! So…instead of working in a bipartisan way to improve the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to “let Obamacare explode,” said President Trump, while magnanimously declaring that “some Democrats are good people.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.

Sir, don’t forget your wallet!

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Kwik Trip’s jobs brochure was sitting on the counter when I stopped by for gas and a fish sandwich ($1.49) this noon.

Kwik trip

The first thing that meets the eyes of a job applicant are Kwik Trip’s CORE VALUES:

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY

We are honest in all our business interactions with our co-workers and business partners and expect the same in return.

RESPECT

We show respect for everyone in what we say and do.

EXCELLENCE

We strive to excel in everything we do. We are committed to producing high quality products and services at a superior value for our customers.

HUMILITY

We are grateful for our success and share our appreciation with our co-workers, but we do not seek public recognition.

Two other values – Innovation and Work Ethic – complete the list.

When I first saw the Kwik Trip marquis several years ago, I objected to the name. I don’t like quick! Everything is quick or, now, “kwik”! I’m slowing down. I prefer slow. But I since learned that the people inside Kwik Trip are much different from the name on the marquis. The people behind the cash registers demonstrate honesty and integrity (“Sir, don’t forget your wallet! Sir . . . !”), respect, commitment to doing their jobs well (excellence), and a humble spirit.

When I finished my sandwich I took the brochure home with the thought of publishing a post here and recommending to the President White a crash course in Kwik Trip Core Values and training. Then I remembered one of the the President’s most outrageous quick insights into his Core Values:

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And, just as quickly, I plunged from a high hope to reality – “Never mind. Some things are hopeless!” And, as the House prepares to vote today on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, I’m keeping especially close watch on my wallet.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.

 

 

 

The church shoppers

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According to recent polls the “nones” (people who indicate no religious preference) are growing quickly. It’s an interesting phenomenon explainable in many ways. The causes are many.

Protestant Christian churches once considered “mainline” or mainstream (e.g, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Congregational) have fallen on hard times. Their numbers have decreased precipitously as the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and the nones have increased.

So what is church exactly in the shopping market of consumer capitalism?

This video offers a delightful, humorous look at a young couple looking for a church that fits their needs and tastes.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, snobby happily returned preacher with shirt still tucked in believer in women in ministry, lover of Bach, Buxtehude, John Rutter, and traditional liturgy.

 

The Smoke Signaler

Long before Europeans landed on the North American continent, America’s indigenous people often used smoke signals to send up messages understood by those who knew the signals.

Much later other signals came to America. Baseball signals – “signs” – from a third base coach sent to the batter: bunt, take for a strike, hit away, etc. Only members of that team knew what the signs – a right hand twice touches the left ear; the left hand scratches the right shoulder; the head nods in a certain way – mean.

1297937479160_ORIGINALWatching today’s U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence my eye was drawn to a man sitting behind the two witnesses, FBI Director James Comey, and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Like a good baseball coach or intelligence officer, the man in the dark yellow tie and the French cuffs was stone-faced. But it appeared he was giving smoke signals or baseball signs to someone on the Congressional panel asking the questions.

There were times when his head nodded slightly in agreement with a witness’s testimony. There were times when his hand went to his nose, his mouth, an ear, or his eyes moved right or left. As the hearing wore on, I became more curious. Who is he? Why is he in the center of the C-SPAN camera?  Why did his eyes just blink twice? Did he just all for a hit-and-run or a stolen base? Why is he pulling on his cuff? Why are his cuffs French? Is he French foreign Intelligence?

Is he there to alert a team – the Republicans or the Democrats – that the witness had just blown smoke, signaling someone on the panel to follow up with another question? Or was he there as the watchdog if the professional U.S. intelligence community, or the President himself, to remind Comey and Rogers who was over their shoulder them?

The Smoke signaler and RogersToday in America there’s a lot of smoke but the meanings of the signals are known only by a few. And those of us who watch a televised hearing as citizens of a democratic republic are left to watch, listen, and smell our way to what’s real and what’s not.

We do so in the hope that U.S. intelligence agencies, the President of the United States, and the U.S House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence use smoke signals we can all understand to inform us whether a witness or a Congressional Representative is sending a secret message or just blowing smoke. Who knows? Maybe the Poker-faced man with the nice yellow-black tie was just one of us. Maybe a member of the press who arrived early enough to get a great seat!  Hope springs eternal.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 20, 2017.

Pure Joy

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Lucinda is a five year old. Barclay is almost four. But Barclay is much older than Lucinda. In the human equivalent to Lucinda’s age, Barclay will be 28 in May.

Here’s a glimpse into Barclay’s playful spirit from when he was two (i.e., 14).

Last night, around the dinner table at the birthday party for the much older 36 year old and the 31 year old, there was lively conversation. But down on the floor, and sometimes under the table, there was pure joy – a little girl and the favorite dog she lives to visit.

Lucinda is a very active little girl. She never stops. She’s here; she’s there; she’s everywhere. She demands to be the center of attention. But she loses herself and gains it with Barclay whose great blessing is that he knows he’s not the center of the universe. He has to wait for others to play with him – and sometimes, on the best of days, the other is Lucinda, the favorite playmate who brings him pure joy for an hour or two.

The smiles on Barclay’s and Lucinda’s faces were as unmistakable as the light from the candles on the cake.

Sadly, moments after Lucinda’s family left our home last night, her cries and screams pierced the darkness on the sidewalk outside. Barclay was very sad, too. But he’s also the older and wiser of the two playmates. Cocking his head and looking up at me, he said, “Poor Lucinda. She’s still very young. She doesn’t understand yet that ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ – Psalm 30, right Dad?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 20, 2017.