America in the Stress Test Waiting Room

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Last week I asked a psychiatrist friend whether he has been seeing increased levels of stress in his patients. “Yes,” he said with no pause or hesitation. “Universally.”

Our political stripes could hardly be more different today as we watch the House impeachment hearings. But we’re all under stress, and we’re all Americans. When we’re stressed, we do strange things. Some of us clam up. Some of us scream and shout. Some of us need company. Which led me to think again this morning about to the stress test waiting room with a World War II veteran named Bill. I wonder what Bill might say.

Bill in the Stress Test Waiting Room

visual image of hospital waiting room

He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.

“Where you from?” he asks, as if welcoming the stranger who’s come to his home for a stress test.

“Chaska.”

Where?” he asks over the whine from his hearing aids.

I’m not anxious to strike up a conversation. I’m here for a stress test. I’m an introvert. Chatting with strangers when I’m gathering myself when I’m under stress, waiting for a stress test, is the last thing I want.

C h a s k a!” I repeat.

“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”

He gives a broad smile as though we’re related. (Waconia and Chaska are neighbors in Carver County, MN.)

His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, returns from her stress test.

“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”

“Ninety-four,” says the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”

“Chaska’s the county seat,” says Bill. “That’s where i was sworn in.” (Clearly, he’s an extrovert. He feels better when he has guests.)

“World War II?”

“February 6, 1942. Eighty of us. A lot of guys from Chaska.”

“Where’d you serve?”

“He was part of D-Day,” answers Jane. Bill’s head sinks toward his lap. His chin begins to quiver. A long pause follows.

D-Day, WWII.

Only 15 of us came back.”

“Were you injured?”

“No,” he says, forming his hands in prayer and looking up. “I don’t know why.” He falls again into silence.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minnesota

Bill’s body is with us, but he’s not here. He’s back at Normandy Beach on D-Day.

“That’s a lot of death,” I say. “A lot of killing. A lot of loss.”

He looks up, nods, and drops his head again.

Post-traumatic Stress,” I say quietly to Jane. “I’m a pastor. I’ve seen it so many times with Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans.”

“I think so,” she says. “He still can’t talk about it after all these years.”

The technician calls my name. “Mr. Stewart?”

As I stand to leave the stress test waiting room, Bill reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the whippersnapper from Chaska.

Robert Davis of Clarkston has an outpatient stress test run by exercise physiologist’s Richard Andrevzzi and Donna McCollom in the Royal Oak hospital.

I leave the waiting room and get on the treadmill, reminded that there is stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison to Bill’s and thankful for a few moments with a 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.

Today and tomorrow, as I tune into the televised public hearings on impeachment, I’m wondering what would Bill say?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 13, 2019.

Elijah with Grandpa and the Postage Stamp Monologue

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Two year-old grandson Elijah engages grampa in a telling conversation

Good morning, Elijah. Whatcha doin’?

Playing etch-a-sketch on our iPad. Did you draw when you were liddle?

I did. But not like that.

Like what, then? Was it a different App? What kind of Mac did you play with in your carseat on the way to day care?

It was a long time ago, Elijah. A very long time ago. It was a different world. We didn’t have day care. We didn’t have iPads and cell phones. We used to lick postage stamps back in the day.

picture of U.S. postage stamps

What’s a stamp and why did you have to lick it? Were you being punished for being bad?

No, it wasn’t anything like that. We didn’t tweet back then. The only thing that tweeted in our world was Tweetie Bird on Loony Tunes.

How’d you talk if you couldn’t tweet? I tweet all the time. Watch! Mom hates it when I do this. I like FaceTime better. It’s more personal.

We sent letters. We wrote them with a pencil or a pen, put them in envelopes, licked the back of the postage stamps — if you had lots of letters, it took a long time — and we took them to the Post Office. The letters would arrive in two or three days, sometimes a week. We had to be patient back then. Everything was slower.

And we dialed phone numbers on rotary phones. I still remember our number on Church Lane, EL6-1490. Teddy Bonsall’s was EL6-1476. And sometimes, when I’d pick up the phone to dial Teddy, somebody else was already talking to somebody else on our phone. It was called “a party line“.

Wow! Did you have parties every day?

It’s hard to explain, Elijah. Maybe this will help. Search for the Postage Stamp Monologue on Mom’s iPad for a better feel for how grampa feels most of the time in your world.

“The Postage Stamp Monologue” from Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a play by Christopher Durang, performed at the Goodman Theater.

Wow! He’s really mad, grampa! I’m glad you don’t have to lick postage stamps anymore or dial 999-999-9999, like Vanya. I got an idea! Let’s FaceTime Uncle Andrew and Calvin!

Uncle Andrew and cousin Calvin answering FaceTime call.

Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa), Chaska, MN, Nov. 7, 2019.

Where’s my Elliot Richardson?

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BREAKFAST WITH ELLIOT RICHARDSON

Why a memory bubbles up in a particular moment often is a mystery. Other times an explanation does not require a Freudian or Jungian analyst.

I’m having breakfast at the Hyatt in downtown Minneapolis with former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Just the two of us. We are meeting to get acquainted before the noon Westminster Town Hall Forum when I will introduce him to a packed house and the radio audience of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).

“VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: KEY ISSUES IN ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE”

A singular moment of American history qualifies Elliot Richardson for the public forum that features “Voices of Conscience: Key Issues in Ethical Perspective.” Elliot Richardson was the United States Attorney General in the Nixon Administration, a lifelong Republican remembered for refusing President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate affair. The memory of Elliot Richardson’s act of courage is still fresh in the hearts and minds of those who respect the courage of conscience in American public life. Elliot Richardson refused to sell his soul to the White House.

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

The turmoil of 2019 seems explanation enough for the reappearance of the memory from twenty-two years ago.

Bill Barr became the Trump Administration Attorney General after Jeff Session angered the president for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That was after FBI Director James Comey had been fired after a one-on-one private dinner at the White House when the president asked for Comey’s pledge of personal loyalty.

In the midst of failed attempts to secure personal loyalty, and nostalgic for the fealty of his former lawyer, whom Alan Derschowitz described as “the quintessential fixer,” the president’s is reported by the New York Times to have cried in a moment of exasperation, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”

ROY COHN AND THE TACTICS OF JOSEPH MCCARTHY

Roy Cohn had been front and center stage on national television as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Committee hearings hunting for Communists and Communist sympathizers allegedly hidden in the U.S. military, government agencies, and the entertainment industry.

Edward R. Murrow‘s televised commentary featuring Army defense lawyer Joseph Welsh’s rebuke of McCarthy and his tactics brought McCarthy to a screeching halt:

“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welsh, Esq. statement to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, 1954.

THE LONG ARM OF ROY COHN

In the wake of Murrow’s broadcast and the turning of public opinion against McCarthy’s character assassinations of America’s political left as unpatriotic, Roy Cohn left McCarthy’s side to go into private practice. During the 30 years that followed, his clients were a rare assortment of the famous (the Archdiocese of New York, the New York Yankees and the team’s owner, George Steinbrenner; Aristotle Onassis) and the infamous (mob bosses “Fat Tony” Salerno, Carmine “the Cigar” Galante, extortionist “Teflon Don” John Gotti, and the owners of Studio 54 convicted of tax evasion, among others.

Roy Cohn became Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, mentor, and fixer, the master teacher who taught his disciple how to succeed in public life: require absolute loyalty, strike fear in anyone who dare oppose you, manipulate the media, attack harder when attacked, and demonize your opponents as public enemies. In the end, the disciple did to Cohn what Cohn had taught him to do. After the New York Supreme Court disbarred Roy Cohn and Cohn was dying from complications reportedly related to AIDS, the lawyer-fixer-mentor’s friend was no longer useful. The mentee dropped his loyal “friend” like a rock.

ELLIOT RICHARDSON and THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE

Roy Cohn and Elliot Richardson had three things in common. They were lawyers. They had their moments in the national spotlight. They worked closely Republican Presidents. But they stand on opposite sides of history.

But, if “the arc of the moral universe is long, but … bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Theodore Parker), the shadow of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn is short and fleeting, and the memory of a courageous Republican who refused to sell his soul to the White House may yet awaken the party he would not recognize to surrender the question “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” for a different question:

Where’s my Elliot Richardson?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2019.

Do you have the time?

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When my most intimate companion failed to respond as normal, I feared she had suffered a stroke like the cerebral hemorrhage that took Uncle Bob years ago. Uncle Bob was the smartest guy in South Paris, the Harvard Law valedictorian who, against all expectation, had made South Paris his home until he suddently dropped dead leading the Congregational Church’s Annual Meeting. He had shown no signs of stress during worship, directing the Choir from the organ bench as he had for 25 years. Church meetings are like that — they often raise a leader’s blood pressure — but this was different! All of a sudden he was gone.

Like Uncle Bob, she showed no signs of stress before retiring last night. She is the one who has done the most of anyone to encourage my writing and publishing — filing things away until I needed them, flagging a mis-spelled word or correcting faulty grammar. I’ve depended on her every day for the past six years. She is more than an assistant. Since the day we met, I’ve turned her on. This morning is different. Nothing turns her on.

I  gently carry her to the garage, cover her with a blanket, and drive to the Urgent Care at the Southdale Mall. They admit her for tests and suggest I return in an hour in an hour or so.

“Do you have the time?” I ask.

He gives me a strange look and checks his iPhone. “It’s 10:30. We’ll text you when we’re done. Where can I reach you? What’s your number?”

“I don’t have a number.”

“Okay, how about an email?”

“I don’t have a mobile phone. You know, there are no public clocks anywhere anymore. Everybody’s in a bubble.” 

He pauses and looks up. “Hmmm. You know . . .I hadn’t thought about that! Come to think of it, I guess you’re right. “Okay . . .well, just be back by 11:30.”

Anxious and alone with an hour to kill, I wander the corridor from shop to shop before going into Macy’s. It’s easy to distract yourself shopping, and Macy’s is just the place. You can find anything at Macy’s…except a clock. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” I ask the clerk in the men’s shoe department. It’s not a question he gets anymore. He glances at his iPhone, looks up, and, with a strange look, gives me the time: “10:45.”

With forty-five minutes to spare, I remember Macy’s famous Lakeside Grille and follow the confusing signs to catch a late breakfast or early lunch. I tell the waitperson I have an important appointment at 11:30 and ask for the time. “10:50,” he says. “I don’t have a phone. Would you be so kind as to give me a heads up when it’s 11:15?” He takes my order and agrees to notify me. I scarf down the Oktoberfest special of pork schnitzel, spaetzl, and green beans, wondering what time it is. The waitperson is nowhere to be seen. I ask another waitperson, “I’m sorry. Do you have the time?”

I rush back to Urgent Care, anxious about the test results. “Mr. Stewart,” says the neurologist, “I’m sorry. We ran all the tests and the news is not good, but it’s not beyond hope.” I breathe a sigh of relief, waiting for what comes next. “She’s still alive, but she needs immediate surgery. We have a neurologist standing by.” “What’s the cost,” I ask, knowing she has no insurance. “We can replace her keyboard for $485 so you can turn her on again, but she’s old. It’s only a matter of time before she goes. Or you can buy a new one for an additional six-hundred dollars or so. Your call.”

End of life decisions, like putting down my canine companion after fourteen years– are harder than others. For months after Maggie’s death, I swore I’d never get another dog. There’d never be another Maggie. I couldn’t bear the thought of holding another Maggie in my arms when her time would come.

“I’m a writer,” I say. “Like lots of other writers, I have ADHD and sometimes, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I drink too much. I’m completely dependent on her for filing and saving my work. She keeps it all in her head. Besides she’s the only one I’ve ever turned on.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Stewart. If you leave her with us for 24 hours, we’ll be glad to download her memory to the new MacBook Air. We’ll treat her with great respect. We’ll take good care of things. We’ll be glad to recycle her free of charge. As Hemingway said, ‘Time is the last thing we have.'”

I leave her behind to be downloaded and recycled, grieving my loss, but consoled by the knowledge that, life Uncle Bob and Maggie, she will be in a safe place.

 — Gordon C. Stewart, author of NYT Worst Seller List Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, dedicated to my late assistant, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2019.

Elijah and Cousin Calvin

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Introducing Elijah’s cousin Calvin

Followers of Views from the Edge know Elijah from his conversations with “Bumpa” (Grandpa), but have not been introduced to Elijah’s six month younger first cousin and buddy, Calvin.

The cousins are talking up a storm with impressive vocabularies — many more words than the occasional “Mine!” but they need some help with grammar.

Conversation among Elijah, Calvin, and Grandpa

Grandpa: Good morning, Elijah! Good morning, Calvin! How’d you sleep last night?

Calvin: Not so good. I cried all night. Elijah was dead! I saw it TV.

Grandpa: I’m so sorry Calvin. But look — Elijah’s standing right. He’s alive. The Elijah on TV was a United States Congressman. Elijah Cummings was 68 years old.

Calvin: Phew! That makes me happy.

Grandpa: How about you, Elijah. How was your night?

Elijah: Great! I went right to bed after me and Mom played in the bathtub.

Grandpa: Wonderful. But I want you to learn to put others before yourself.

Elijah: You mean Calvin?

Grandpa: No, I’m talking about talking, I want you to grow up saying “Mom and I”.

Elijah: I just did! I just told you! I went to bed after me and Mom played in the tub. You don’t hear so good, Bumpa.

Grandpa: Well, I did hear you, and it’s “well“, not good. “You don’t hear so well.” It a common mistake. I want you boys to grow up with good grammar. That’s why I want you to say “Mom and I.”

Elijah: I just said that!!! Didn’t I, Calvin?

Calvin: Nope. You said “me and Mom.” You didn’t say “Mom and I.” You’re selfish! You always put yourself first. Everything’s ‘Mine, mine, mine’. ‘Me, me, me!’ You always put yourself first!

Elijah: Do not!

Calvin: Do, too!

Grandpa: Okay, boys. This isn’t that important. I’m talking about talking. I want you grow up learning good grammar.

Calvin: We already love Granmma!

Elijah: Yea, Bumpa! Me and Calvin love Granmma. Me and him love Gramma more than you!

Gordon C. Stewart (Bump), Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click THIS LINK to explore on Amazon), Chaska, MN, Oct. 26, 2019

Lying in State – “I will pray for you” – Hon. Elijah Cummings

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The Honorable Elijah Cummings, the first African American to lie in State in the U.S. Capitol, was the son of sharecroppers. However courageous his parents and grandparents were, they knew that the lynching tree was just a breath away. They would have seen white nationalism up close. Neither they nor their son nor any other black man, woman, or child spoke of lynchings metaphorically. A lynching was a lynching; the body hanging from the tree was always black. The lynchers were always white.

NOT A LYNCHING

Elijah Cummings knew the difference between an impeachment inquiry and a lynching. As Chair of the powerful U. S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, he oversaw his committee’s impeachment inquiry with great care and due respect, as an honorable man who knew the difference between a bi-partisan investigation of facts and a one-party lynch mob. He was a Democrat committed to the truth, due process, and justice.

CONDOLENCES TWEET: VERY HARD TO REPLACE

Shortly after the Congressman’s death was announced, the president did a very presidential thing. He paid his respects:

  My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”

BEFORE CONDOLENCE TWEET


@realDonaldTrump
· Jul 27, 2019
Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA……

@realDonaldTrump
….As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.

AFTER CONDOLENCES: WHITE PRIVILEGE, LYNCHINGS, AND TIT FOR TAT

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN! (1 day ago).

MAKING SENSE OUT OF WHAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE

With the exception of the group of psychiatric professionals who have expressed their diagnoses about the President’s mental health, most professionals adhere to the strict protocol resisting diagnosing a person the practitioner does not know. If a professional in the field cannot and should not diagnose, neither should we. Yet we know Donald Trump better than many people know their own families. I’m a retired clergyman, not a psychiatrist, but I recognize the behavioral signs of mental illness.

ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER (ASPD)

Common signs to be aware of include:

  • socially irresponsible behavior
  • disregarding or violating the rights of others
  • inability to distinguish between right and wrong
  • difficulty with showing remorse or empathy
  • tendency to lie often
  • manipulating and hurting others
  • recurring problems with the law
  • general disregard towards safety and responsibility
  • a tendency to take risks,
  • reckless behavior,
  • being deceitful with frequent lying.

Someone exhibiting this behavior may also:

  • lack deep emotional connections,
  • have a superficial charm about them,
  • be very aggressive,
  • and get very angry sometimes.

Other behaviors that may be signs of ASPD include:

  • don’t care if they have hurt someone,
  • are impulsive and abusive and lack remorse.
  • In the case of ASPD, abusive doesn’t necessarily mean violent.

“I WILL PRAY FOR YOU”

To call a Congressional impeachment inquiry a “lynching” insults Elijah Cummings, all descendants of chattel slavery, and the U.S. Constitution’s provision for removal of a president from office after a public trial. An impeachment trial is not a lynching. Few people know that better than the Congressman who lies in State while the President lies.

Elijah Cummings was a man of character who practiced his faith, an exception to the rule of retaliation. The beloved Congressman from Baltimore is one of only two people on “the Hill” I’ve heard say of the president, “I will pray for you.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Oct. 23, 2019

The Vegetable Prayer

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Max Coots was our family’s John Muir, Robert Frost, and Wendell Berry. He was a naturalist and poet whose whimsy and wit lifted people from the doldrums of the harsh winters of the New York North Country. Max’s Seasons of the Self spoke to me years ago. His poem “A Harvest of People” — found during an internet search — put me again in the presence of his wit, wisdom, and gentle spirit.

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For generous friends, with smiles as bright as their blossoms.
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them.
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn; and the others as plain as potatoes and as good for you.
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter.
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time.
For young friends, who wind around like tendrils and hold us.

We give thanks for friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might live.


Rev’d Max Coots (1927-2009) “A Harvest of People” Canton, New York

Max Coots was Minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Canton, New York for thirty-five years. Every August, he found solitude along the Grasse River in the barn board retreat he’d built with materials he’d rescued from the dump. Max had a solar shower in 1973.

The other twelve months, Max was an old beech tree, providing shade in summertime and dropping beech nuts from the pulpit that kept alive a host of chipmunks and squirrels in wintertime.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 22, 2019.

Elijah Cummings and the Blue Note Gospel

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Photo of antique copy go Thomas a Kemis' Imitation of Christ.

“No one can be a speaker without risk to his soul unless first he is fulfilled when he says nothing….”Who enjoys tranquility? “The one who doesn’t take seriously either praise or lack of it from people.” – Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471)

Thomas à Kempis‘ words from the Imitation of Christ describe the human challenge to each of us: to be one person… everywhere…every day…all the time.

EVERYWHERE, EVER DAY, ALL THE TIME

Elijah Cummings never seemed to get too big for his britches. He seemed unaffected by praise or the lack of it — “a speaker” whose soul was uncorrupted by the need for public praise.

The child of sharecroppers, he stayed grounded in the black church in the “rat and rodent infested” city of Baltimore where he was free to be just another brother moaning the Blues and shouting the gospel shout in a stormy world, as Otis Moss III put it, while those enjoying the ease of white privilege were quiescent and mum, or worse.

America is living stormy Monday, but the pulpit is preaching happy Sunday. The world is experiencing the Blues, and pulpeteers are dispensing excessive doses on nonprescription prosaic sermons. . . . The church is becoming a place where Christianity is nothing more than capitalism in drag.

Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor of Trinity United Church, author of Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World.

THE BLUES MOAN AND THE GOSPEL SHOUT

Every year, every week, every year for 40 years, Elijah Cummings went back and forth between a different kind of church the mixes the Blues Moan and the Gospel Shout in such a way that they cannot be separated, and his chair in the United States Congress, where being yourself everywhere everyday all the time poses a daunting challenge. His long-time friend and pastor at New Psalm Baptist Church, Bishop Walter Thomas, said of him:

He’s the congressman, but to members, he is Brother Elijah Cummings. … He’s one of us. . . He sits in Congress. He has major concerns and issues he has to solve in the world Monday through Friday, and he sits beside them on Sunday morning. He seeks the same place to be fed as they do. To them, he is their brother in Christ.

Baltimore Sun, October 17, 2019

On stormy Mondays at the Capitol in recent weeks, we observed the Chair of the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee fulfill his oath of office by demanding the truth from those in power while expressing compassion for those whom others scorn. The only ‘t’ he knew was ‘truth’; the only club to which he belonged had no entry fee. Insisting on the truth, he was a lion who roared like the Hebrew prophet Amos. “Come on now! We can do better!”

THE BLUE NOTE GOSPEL

When speaking to the “fixer” who had told the truth, the lion became as gentle as a lamb, expressing God’s anguish like the prophet Hosea. Speaking directly to Michael, he was a grandfather who practiced the Blue Note Gospel.

“I don’t know why this is happening for you. But it’s my hope that a small part of it is for our country to be better.”

Let me tell you the picture that really, really pained me. You were leaving the prison, you were leaving the courthouse, and, I guess it’s your daughter, had braces or something on. Man, that thing—man, that thing hurt me. As a father of two daughters, it hurt me. And I can imagine how it must feel for you. But I’m just saying to you—I want to first of all thank you. I know that this has been hard. I know that you’ve faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.

Whether speaking with Michael or challenging those of his colleagues who returned home to the tees and greens of privilege, Elijah Cummings was the same. He was one person everywhere every day all the time. His integrity stayed intact.

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”

“Come on now! We can do better than this!”

Elijah Cummings to the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2019. For commentaries on the blues of white privilege, see “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” (p.71) and “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” (66f.) in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR).

The Riddle in the Mirror

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It’s 4:02 A.M. I should be asleep. I’m wrestling with an enigma, the one that looks back from the mirror. Shortly before calling it a day last night, I came upon the enigma, and having found it, couldn’t let it go, or it could be said that finding me, it wouldn’t let me go.

Looking at the clock next to the bed moments ago brought to mind the line from Chaim Potok about the “four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions.” Potok’s four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions arose from the dissonance of a traditional Hasidic Jew in a modern culture that does not know the Torah and the Talmud.

I brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup, sit down with my MacBook Air, and return to the enigma I met last night.

The riddle in my mirror

For now [in our immaturity] we see in a mirror [an αίνιγμα — ‘enigma/riddle’], but then [when we come to maturity] we will see face to face. Now I know in part [in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].

First Corinthians 13:12, GCS Greek to English translation

The Greek word αίνιγμα has nothing to do with dimness or poor eyesight (“now we see in a mirror dimly“). It’s deeper than that. It’s vexation. We are puzzles to ourselves, knowing some pieces of ourselves, but not having all the pieces of the puzzle(s). And the Greek text is better translated as ‘mature’ rather than ‘perfect’.

No question is more puzzling than the ancient question of who we are. Who am I, the man who cuts himself shaving in the mirror? Who are we, this evolving species changing day by day in this time of climate departure when the future of life on the planet is uncertain? Who and what are we becoming?

Sixteenth Century reformer John Calvin began his theological opus with these laser-like sentences at the tender age of 27 years old:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

How I came to see life is rooted in this theological tradition. Like the characters of Potok’s novels who feel alone wrestling with the ancient Hebrew texts (Torah and Talmud), in one hand, and the culture of a very different time and place, those of us who still get up early in the morning with excitement of exploring an ancient Greek text highjacked by the Christian Right often feel placeless. Vexation is not popular, but, like Chaim Potok, I tell myself that wrestling with the riddle is who we are.

The face of my father

Looking in the mirror, I know less than I once thought, about the huge vexing questions of 2019. I’ll never have all the pieces or solve the enigma, but I do have some guiding fragments. I see my father’s kindly face looking back at me and reach up to the bookshelf to fetch the Bible which contains a pearl of great price: the prayer written by his own hand in pencil:

photo of prayer by Kenneth Campbell Stewart (my father) written in his Bible in pencil.

O Thou before whom ages pass away like minutes and in whose sight the mighty hosts of men are like a sparrow in the hand, keep our faith strong in Thee, confidence unshaken — Give clear insight as [we] face the days ahead. Help us so to entrust ourselves to Thy hands that in the awareness of Thy faithfulness we find all the security we need and in Thy service all our peace.

Elijah Cummings

Then the news broke in that Elijah Cummings died at approximately 2:45 A.M. this morning at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Congressman Cummings was a man of deep faith, a beacon of compassion and integrity who spoke kindly words of hope to Michael Cohen about the power of forgiving grace while chairing a House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing. Elijah Cummings died in the city he loved and served as a public servant in service to his Lord.

First Corinthians 13 concludes with words of consolation and hope, the clue to living the riddle. “So faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2019

Fake news from the Pearly Gates

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Maid exposes Peter in the courtyard. The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (1622-24)

Saint Peter: Greetings, Donald. I’ve been expecting you, but not so soon. I have a few questions before you go through the Pearly Gates to the streets of gold.

Donald: Sure, fire away. I’m very familiar with pearly gates. It can’t be much better than Mar-a-Lago. Fire away!

Mar-a-Lago Club entrance gate

Okay, Donald. But I have to warn you–everyone up here is equal. There are no private clubs. No towers. No penthouses. No White Houses. No barrios. No borders. No trade restrictions. No nations. No classes other than the de-programming and re-training classes. Everyone has free medical care. No one is rich. No one is poor. It’s a lot like Karl Marx hoped society would be … except for God. Karl was surprised. Are you ready?

Are you serious!!! Why would I want to go in there? This is crazy. Karl Marx was evil. Communism was evil. Socialism is evil. Obama’s evil. Nancy’s evil! Are they here?

Barack and Nancy haven’t arrived yet, but, when their time comes, we’ll treat them the same way we treat everyone else. Lots of your friends are here in the re-training course: Joe [McCarthy], Roy [Cohn], other members of the Trump family.

What about Karl? He’s been dead a long time.

Karl is enjoying the pleasures of the equality he preached while still with you. Karl’s big surprise was that there is a God.

I don’t want to be any place where Karl is welcome. Jerry [Falwell] and Franklin [Graham] told me all about the Judgment. No way Karl is here! No way!

I guess that’s a matter of judgment, don’t you think?

Right. I’m President. I make the judgments. I decide.

I see. It seems you don’t quite get it, Donald. There are no presidents here. No one owns any property here. Everyone here is a child, just like Jesus said. Can I call you ‘Donnie’?

No. I hate that! Mother called me ‘Donnie’. My dad called me ‘Don’.

Okay, Don, I won’t call you ‘Donnie’.

And don’t call me ‘Don’. Dad kicked me out of the house and sent me away to a military academy. I hated that!

But your dad did help you avoid the draft, right? That bone spur thing. Remember?

I did have bone spurs! They were terrible!

Do you still have them? Show me your foot. Everyone up here has bare feet. There are no shoes. Nothing is hidden. Let me see your foot.

No, they’re gone!

Donald, bone spurs don’t just go away, and, when they’ve been removed, the foot will bear the scars from surgery. Show me your foot.

I don’t have a scar! My sister came to the rescue with EZorb. It went away! I’m not hiding anything. I don’t hide things like the fake news and the whistleblowers.

I see. Donald we have a truth problem. Your sister couldn’t have given you EZorb. It didn’t exist when the draft board gave you the deferments. Truth is truth up here, Donald.

That’s fake news! Fake news! You’re part of the deep state that was out to get me.

I’m sorry you feel that way, Donald. Here it doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what you did. Only facts matter here.

I was making America great again. I’m not like you. I never let a maid expose me out in the courtyard!

You’re in for a great surprise. This is not Mar-a-Largo. Here the maids who spoke truth in the courtyards and cleaned the toilets, and all the undocumented workers, are equal to everyone else. It’s only a matter of time before your family’s driver and all those people at the border join the maids and me up here.

You believe everything you read in the Times? What driver?

Zoltan Tamas, who’s been in ICE lock-up for the last six months.

I don’t know anything about that! It’s all fake news. All fake news!

I’m sorry, Donald. You’ve failed the test. But, like I said, there’s grace here. Feel free take a seat here outside the Pearly Gates until your family’s driver and all the other ICE detainees arrive. In the meantime, a little scripture might help prepare you for the re-training.

I don’t need re-training by a loser, a big time lose just like Judas! Anyway, I didn’t bring my Bible.

I know! You don’t have a Bible, Donald. So…Click THIS LINK for Jesus’s surprising story of the sheep and the goats, the parable of the Last Judgment, to help you understand why people go through re-training here. The Losers turn out to be Winners, and the Winners are Losers. We do our best up here to keep hell empty!

— Gordon C. Stewart. public theologian, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2019