The Tale of a Onfortunit Peple

Conspiring to Bust up a Country

“Traters, I will here remark, are an onfortunit class of peple. If they wasn’t, they wouldn’t be traters. They conspire to bust up a country — they fail, and they’re traters. They bust her, and become statesmen and heroes.” — Artemus Ward, “The Tower of London,” Artemus Ward in London (1872).

A Tale for a Tail

There’s an elephant in the living room. It looks like an elephant, but it’s not. Elephants have long memories. This beast has none. Like the taxidermist’s safari trophies, only the remains remain. It had a trunk and tusks, but what it once symbolized is no more. The tail that shooed away the fleas and flies has been replaced by a tale.

Some folks who remember the elephant know what happened. But even they are divided on what the elephant was.

This political cartoon by Thomas Nast, taken from a 1879 edition of Harper’s Weekly, was an early use of the elephant and the donkey to symbolize the Republican and Democratic parties. [Photo Credit: Kean Collection/ Archive Photos/Getty Images]

Some remember and weep over the tale now told in its name. Others have no memory or revise their memories to suit the patriot’s tale of the trophy hunter.

How totalitarianism happens, according to Hanna Arendt

L. K. Hanson 1.2021 quoting Hanna Arendt, German-American political theorist (Star Tribune 1.25.2012)

Every Violation of Truth is . . .

“The great masses of the people . . . will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one,” wrote Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf in 1924.

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Prudence,” Essays: First Series (1841).

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 25, 2021.

Rev. Rafael Warnock on Death Row

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Georgia voters today render a verdict on Rafael Warnock. Verdicts are more familiar to Rev. Warnock than they are to most of us. Some verdicts leave a person standing. Others verdicts end a life by state execution.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis was one of the latter. The eve before his execution by the state of Georgia, Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired this personal reflection on capitol punishment. CLICK HERE to open the MPR site; then click the AUDIO to listen to the commentary on Troy Davis in light of Innocent Project pro bono appeals attorney Joe Margulies who represented Betty Beets.

The pastor on Georgia’s death row

The Rev. Dr. Rafael Warnock, Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, minister on death row

Nine years later, reading his guest article on mercy in an alumni journal, I leaned the name of the pastor who became the death row pastor to Troy Davis. Rafael Warnock is not a showman. No matter whether in the public eye as the latest successor of Martin Luther King, Jr., the home church of the late Hon. John Lewis, or out of sight standing by a condemned man on death row, Rafael Warnock has the heart of a pastor.

Georgia verdict today

Today the people of Georgia are rendering a verdict on his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Tomorrow, Jan. 6, as the Proud Boys “stand by” a treasonous defeated president on the streets of Washington, D.C. with guns drawn, another verdict on who we are, and who we will stand by in America will be debated on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

I wish Troy Davis could vote today!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 5, 2021.

Beating the Dead Horse

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StarTribune cartoon quoting Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004), January 4, 2021

You Don’t Say

L.K. Hanson’s cartoon “YOU DON’T SAY” arrived just in time. Had I not seen it, I would have trashed this commentary on beating a dead horse.

Beating a Dead Horse

“You can’t beat a dead horse.” But some dead horses, and those who have bet on them, don’t recognize they’re dead. The neighing continues weeks after the vet has filed their death certificates. Only the horse’s faithful admirers hear the neighs that come into my inbox two or three times a day. Somehow, some way, the dead horse’s fan base mistook me for one of them.

You Can’t Silence a Dead Horse

Before the mistaken identity solicitations began arriving, I did my best to refrain from name-calling. Insulting each other is not what friends do, if we want to preserve the friendship, and it is a bad practice that jeopardizes the mutual forbearance essential to a civil society and a democratic republic. Name-calling is even less acceptable spiritually and morally.

Then the email solicitations confusing me as one of the faithful gave me repeated peeks inside the stable of the dead horse. Because the substance and tone of the email solicitations are unknown to those of us who move in other circles and because the half-billion dollars they have raised stuns me to disbelief, Views from the Edge shares two emails.


Beating the hoaxes we play on ourselves

“When to be informed is to be knowledgeable about pseudo-events, the line between knowledge and ignorance is blurred as never before.”

Daniel Boorstin, The Image: a Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1982

If the Republic is to survive . . .

Some dead horses must be beaten again and again and again, if the republic and its institutions are not to be declared dead by those who will kill it.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith, life, and politics. Chaska, MN, January 4, 2021.

It’s up to us

Thanks for dropping by,

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith, life, and politics. Chaska, MN, January 4, 2021.

Sheep and Goats — A Timely Sermon

Video

Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats is not what it seems. It is not a crystal ball, an early peek into the end of time and history. A arable is an act of imagination that draws listeners into the substance of the story. It invites us to see life differently; it brings us up short. In his sermon “Sheep and Goats,” Adam Fronczek, Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, interprets the parable for today.

A Sermon: Sheep and Goats

“First They Came …” — Martin Niemoller during Nazi reign of terror

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Martin Niemoeler, German pastor

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 29, 2020.

The Clear Call of Conscience

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There is no innocence in staying silent when evil stares you in the face. Silence may come from cowardice. It may indicate the absence of conscience. Sometimes silence is complicity. GOP Georgia election official Gerald Sterling broke the silence yesterday.

Conscience, Confession, and Courage: the enduring witness of Martin Niemöller

German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller supported Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich before his eyes opened to its horror in the late 1930s.

For his outspoken opposition, he became a prisoner in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945. His poem “First they came…” still calls silent acquiescence to account.

First they came…

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Who’ll be a witness?

Martin Niemöller was not without sin. Nor is Gerald Sterling. They were and are no less flawed than we who carry the burdens of conscience and complicity. Because they are no more saintly than we, their witnesses to truth and goodness remain long after the silence was broken.

“I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this, and every American, every Georgian, Republican and Democrat alike, should have that same level of anger.

“Someone’s going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed!

“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up.”

Gerald Sterling, GOP Georgia Department of State official, December 1, 2020

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 2, 2020.

Endurance in the Divided House

Video

Words do not come easily to old preachers in the aftermath of the 2020 election. When we are dumbfounded, some of us have the blessing, or curse, of finding our voice in recorded sermons.

This video begins with the reading from the Gospel of Luke (printed below) and a brief story. To go straight to the substance of the sermon, move the cursor to the six minute mark.

All Saints Day sermon “Endurance in the Divided House, “Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Chaska, MN

Text

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
 father against son
     and son against father,
 mother against daughter
     and daughter against mother,
 mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law,
     and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

--Gospel according to Luke 12:51- 59 NRSV

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 23, 2020.

Mr. President, “No más!” Please, no more!

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Dear Mr. President,

In the last seconds of the eighth round of his championship fight with “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto Durán turned his back to Leonard, and quit. The referee quoted Durán. “No más” (No more)! It’s time for you to do the same for the sake of the American people and the foundations of democracy, as well as for your legacy.

“No más. No más!”

No more tweets. No more denials of reality. No more claims that you won. No more frivolous law suits. No more rallies. No more “Stole the Election” demonstrations on the streets. No more congregating your fans with no masks or social distancing. No more emails like the ones you’ve been broadcasting three or four times a day since your defeat. No more assumptions that I am your best friend. No more emails like the ones your campaign, National Republican Committee, and Conservative Direct, like this one with the subject line about telling the truth.

HERE"S THE TRUTH

You've always been one of my strongest supporters, which is why I'm coming to you now with an urgent request.

I've activated the Official Election Defense Fund and I need EVERY PATRIOT, including YOU, to step up and make sure we have enough resources to PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF OUR ELECTION.

(Insert request for money)

I need YOUR HELP to STOP the Left-wing MOB from undermining our Election.

I'm counting on you right now, Friend.

Only YOU can save America from the Radical Left. Don't let your Country down.

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States

I feel obliged to tell you the truth about my response to your emails. 1) The subject line — “HERE’S THE TRUTH” — is propaganda. 2) I have never been “one of [your] strongest supporters.” 3) You confuse patriotic duty with support for you. I see patriotism differently. The U.S.A. is bigger than any occupant of the Oval Office. 4) Patriotism is love of country. I love America. I love the Constitution. I love democracy. I love the constitutionally protected right and duty to engage in an on-going a lover’s quarrel. 5) I wince when any of us confuses America with what serves one’s own self-interests. 6) I turn red when a president makes groundless claims that undermine public trust in the electoral process. I respect losers who do what parents teach our children to do: accept defeat gracefully as part of life.

Grateful for the Mistake

Finally, I am grateful for the mistake. Had I not seen your pleas to “STOP the Left-wing MOB from undermining our election” and “to save America from the Radical Left,” I would be less privy to how you speak to your base and deceive your supporters to see people like me as the great threat to America.

Roberto Durán was tenacious. He was a World Champion. He also knew when it was time to admit defeat. He knew when to walk away. There’s wisdom there. For the sake of the country and a smooth transition to a new administration, I hope and pray you will do the same. Tell the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and Wolverine Watchmen to go home and put away their rifles. Tell them this is America.

No más. Please, no more.

Sincerely,

Gordon C. Stewart

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, November 16, 2020.

Bloody Noses and the American Seesaw

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ON THE SEE-SAW

The 2020 American Election weighs in the balance. Whether the American seesaw continues to teeter or falls more heavily to one end or the other, the seesaw is where we are and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. No is ever the winner on the seesaw. Maybe that’s where the healing is.

Playground seesaw (teeter-totter)

SOCRATES ON PUBLIC AND PERSONAL HAPPINESS

Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide…cities will have no rest from evils…there can be no happiness, either public or private, in any other city.

Attributed to Socrates in Plato’s The Republic

Some of Socrates’ ideas brought ridicule from the men of Athens. There should be philosopher-queens, he argued, as well as philosopher-kings who govern in civil society. But the common consensus allowed no such thing. There were only kings — not philosopher kings and certainly not philosopher queens. Philosophers were like today’s monks — because they were people least likely to wish for power, they were best qualified; only philosophers could can be trusted to govern.

THOMAS MERTON: DETACHED OBSERVATION

“Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” — Thomas Merton (OSCO) (1915 – 1968)

STAYING ON THE PLAYGROUND: ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS

It’s not easy to detach from deeply held perspectives and commitments, but no one said life would be easy? The playmates at both sides of the seesaw need to get off our respective ends of the seesaw — FOXNews, MSNBC, CBS, ABC; twitter silos; and hate radio — in order to play the game more wisely. No less than in the Athens of Socrates and Plato, we bloody-nosed Americans could use some detached observation of the “pertinent questions” at the fulcrum of the seesaw.

MICHAEL LERNER ASKING THE PERTINENT QUESTIONS OF THE SEESAW

One of the people who sits on my end of the seesaw is Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish interfaith journal, and philosopher of “the politics of meaning.”

Click THIS LINK to hear the Westminster Town Hall Forum with Rabbi Lerner.

The topic was “Transcending Racism and Hate.” The date was March, 1997. Some things don’t change much. The voices of sanity and compassion still call us to our better selves.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Nov. 5, 2020.

America the Morning After

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INTRODUCTION

Words don’t come easily this morning. Some 2020 election results seem firm. Others are yet to be determined. Whatever happens will leave America more black-and-blue than red and blue. There will be no “winners” when all the votes are counted.

If we are to escape a future of delusion and confusion, we need more distance, some space and time outside the ropes of the wrestling ring to ask the deeper questions about what is happening to us. In hope of contributing to that reflection, we offer this earlier Views from the Edge commentary.

What’s Happening to us: Postman, Orwell, Huxley and Us

Funny how things come together, crisscross, intersect, lead us down roads no one has ever walked before. Neil Postman offers insight into what’s happening. I read it one morning last week at the cabin, away from everything that entertains and distracts me from that little plot of land on the edge of the wetland in Central Minnesota.

William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readingsexcerpts from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business painted a picture that felt true, like a revelation pealing back the curtain to find that Lewis Carroll’s walk down the yellow brick road with Alice, the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow is outdated. Oz is no longer a harmless little old man.

Neil Postman on Orwell and Huxley

Contrary to popular belief. . . Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley fears was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much those that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centripetal bumblepuppy . . . . In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

The wetland pond, the flyway, and return home

At the cabin, the water in the wetland is unusually high this year because of record-breaking rainfall. The flocks of Buffleheads and other non-diving ducks have by-passed their familiar stop on the flyway; the water is too deep to for them to reach the food sources below. Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the diving Loons and Mergansers that can reach the bottom have stopped by this year.

Leaving the cabin and the wetland lead home to the world Huxley feared where the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance. We settle back into the lounge chairs in front of the television and flip through Netflix, YouTube, and other means of entertainment in what Postman later called the Technopolis in which our capacity for critical thought is numbed.

The new normal

We turn on the evening news and see two very different versions of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking to the press. One is real. The other is altered by technology that deceives viewers into believing the Speaker is drunk, on drugs, or mentally impaired by slowing and altering the pace of her speech. The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of what will become the new normal.

The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of ... the new normal.

We’re not in make-believe Mayberry anymore. What we love — entertainment — is drowning us. In the world foreseen by Huxley, Orwell, and Postman, truth is hard to find. “Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” wrote Thomas Merton in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice.

Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the smaller, deep-diving Loons and Mergansers can reach or swim to the bottom to see what’s real and what’s not in the Technopolis. William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins with Neil Postman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Thomas Merton took me there this morning.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 4, 2020 (originally published May 26, 2019)

2020 Election: Reality or Holograms

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Reality in the Post-Truth Era

The new normal in America is variously called the Post-Truth Era, the Post-Fact Era, the Post-Reality Era. We are left with our opinions unloosed from any objective measure.

“Half our sweet illusions are conscious illusions,” wrote George Eliot, “like effects of colour that we know to be made up of tinsel, broken glass and rags.” In order to be published in a man’s world, Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) consciously created the public illusion that she was a George.

Between Rainbows and Tinsel, Reality and Holograms

The line between substance and illusion is as thin as the line between reality and appearance. The history of humankind is a tale of an idiot, humankind’s conscious preference for the “sweet illusions” that glimmer from tinsel, broken glass, and oily rags for the colors of a rainbow.

“It seems to be the contention of the Trump campaign that nothing is really true,” wrote Jack Holmes in the September 26, 2016 issue of Esquire; “it only matters what enough people believe, and whether you can dangle enough shiny objects in front of them until the clock runs out on November 8.”

Today is four years later, November 3, 2020, in the Post-Reality Era where we choose between the holograms that glitter from tinsel, broken glass, and oily rags, and the search for what is good, true, and beautiful.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.