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!
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] andFranklin [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!
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?
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
Americans say the word ‘love’ a lot! Nearly all of us do. But, except for members of the armed forces, we don’t much like the word ‘duty‘. How is it, then, that one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century known for his often inscrutable philosophical theology, Paul Tillich, put ‘love’ and ‘duty’ together in one short sentence?
The first duty of love is to listen.
Perhaps Tillich’s German culture might help explain his coupling duty and love. Duty is higher on German culture’s ladder of human virtues than in Tillich’s adopted home in the United States where ‘freedom’ rather than ‘duty’ is seen as love’s companion.
WATCHING LESTER HOLT AT THE RESTAURANT BAR
Lester Holt of NBC’s Nightly News is on the television screens behind the bar. Kay sits to my left; a stranger is on my right. We can’t hear the sounds, but the visuals leave no doubt about the day’s lead stories:
Sixteen year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg is at the podium of the United Nations, issuing an urgent call for action now, before it’s too late.
The President of the USA drops by the meeting on climate change . . . for 15 minutes;
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces an impeachment inquiry, a decision taken in consideration of the Trump-appointed Inspector-General’s finding that a whistleblower’s complaint appears credible and is of urgent concern to national security.
The guy sitting to my right watches in silence. He looks neither happy nor unhappy. He seems perplexed, staring at Lester and the verbal summaries of each news item.
Finally he shakes his head and breaks the silence. “Just like that Mueller thing. They already wasted thirty-million dollars on that Russian thing, and they got nothing. Now they’re going to waste our tax money again.” I shake my head “No” and ask whether he knows that the Mueller report does not exonerate the president on the question of obstruction of justice. He listens and says he didn’t know that. I continue, rather politely, or so I thought, until reading the note my wife slipped in front of me:
You’ve just ruined this place for us.
The 20-something bartender chimes in from behind the bar. “I don’t care about politics. All I know is — any politician who doesn’t take a paycheck is okay by me. I’m good with that.” I bite my lip and order a second Manhattan. Being human is hard!
LOVE’S FIRST DUTY: JESUS, A PHARISEE, AND W.H. AUDEN
The guys at the bar don’t know I’m a Presbyterian and couldn’t care less if they did. But I should have told them! A bit like the Friends (“Quakers”), we hold a high respect for the right and duty of conscience. We stand up for what is right, true, and good, as we understand it. In doing so, we are often guilty of ignoring the log in our own eye while pointing to the speck in our neighbor’s. Given that I’d ruined our favorite place, it’s not likely we’ll see each other again. And that’s a shame, all because I’d forgotten that the deepest duty of conscience is to love, and the first duty of love is to listen.
The Pharisee was right when he answered Jesus’s question about the summary of the Law. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, as W.H. Auden put it:
You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.
“Either we serve the Unconditional/Or some Hitlerian monster will supply/ An iron convention to do evil by.”
A conversation between two year-old Elijah and old Grandpa (Bumpa)
Bumpa, you’re old. You know LOTS of stuff. What’s a crater?
Where’d you hear about craters, Elijah? Have you been watching the nature channel at daycare?
We don’t have the nature channel at daycare. We watch stuff for kids on PBS.
I don’t think we have any craters here in Minnesota.
Whew! So we don’t have to look out for craters?
Are you sure you have the right word?
Yeah. It’s all over the news this week. Didn’t you watch Adam Sniff?
Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Let’s look it up.
Yeah, let’s look it up. You want to do it? Or you want me to do it?
Let’s do it together on my iPad. I’ll be right back.
You don’t to have go upstairs, Bumpa. I don’t want ya falling. I have Mom’s iPhone right here. I use it all the time.
Okay, just google the word ‘crater’ and let’s see what comes up.
I don’t spell yet. I’m still liddle, but I know my ABCs. Sometimes in my car seat I punch a bunch of buttons and somebody Mom doesn’t know talks to me on FaceTime!
Okay. Let Bumpa do it. I’m 77. Okay?
Let’s just google crater and see what we learn.
Finding Wikipedia satellite photo in Google search
There we go, Elijah. Here’s a picture of Crater Lake in Oregon. Gandpa and Grandma have been to see it.
Here’s what it says on Wikipedia:
Around 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in Oregon, disgorging 15 cubic miles of magma over the western United States. It took a quarter of a millennium of snow and rain to fill the caldera with the serene waters wanderlust hikers now know as Crater Lake. Image from a RapidEye satellite.
Wikipedia Crater lake description.
I don’t get it, Bumba! So why would anyone call somebody a ‘crater’? We’re not sposed to call people names, right?
Right! Maybe you have the wrong word. Or the wrong spelling. What was the other word you asked about?
Elijah asks about creezins
Yeah. Creezin! It’s like craters! Don’t you ever listen to the news?
I do. I listen to MPR when I’m driving.
Yeah, Mom and I do too on the way to daycare and on the way home. We get lots of news. It’s an hour drive each way. It’s like ‘crater’.
I see. Was there a volcanic eruption? I must have missed it.
Geez! It’s all over the news. Creezin! Everybody’s talking about it. Don’t ya know?
You mean raisins? Granpa eats raisin bran every morning.
Uh-oh! Are they going to throw you and Gamma out? Are they going to de-peach you cause you eat raisin bran? You’re white, but don’t live in a white house, right? Did you commit creezin?
Not to worry, Elijah. We’re safe. Grandma and are not going to be de-peached. Any other word you don’t understand?
Elijah asks Bumpa about cranes
Yeah. Ucrane. We have sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans at the cabin, right? Are there any ucranes?
We have sandhill cranes and frumpeter swans on the wetland, Elijah. So far as we know, there are no cranes by rhe cabin. It’s a long way from the news.
We’re like Greta, right? We’re conservationists, right, Bumpa? Do ucranes whistle? Or do they also whoop and honk?
–Conversation between Grandpa (Bumpa) and 2 yr.-old grandson (Elijah), Chaska, MN, September 28, 2019.
Uhuh! I’m watching it right now, Bumpa. It’s real! The Big Bad Pig destroys the three houses of the three liddle wolves.
There’s a story Bumpa and Gamma grew up with, but it’s the Big Bad Wolf who’s bad. The Big Bad Wolf huffs and he puffs and he blows down two of the three little pigs’ houses but can’t blow down the third little pig’s house because the third little pig build his house of brick. The Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow it down.
Nope! Different story! This is about the Big Bad Pig. Pigs are greedy, Bumpa. Pigs are nasty! The Big Bad Pig blows up all the houses, even the one made with brick and the one made of concrete. But then the three liddle wolves give up on security. They build a house made of flowers!
We are drowning in a sea of lies, but the ocean has a way of caring for itself. Without exception, all life is part of the Ocean. If it seems strange to be talking about water on Ash Wednesday, perhaps a memory will bring water and ashes together for you, as it did for me.
The Ash Wednesday I’m remembering, I robed 20 minutes or so before the 7:00 PM Ash Wednesday. There was plenty of time. I went to fetch the the little ZipLock bag of ashes. I’d forgotten that the credenza where I’d always stored the ashes had been moved from my office to the church basement. I rushed to the basement to where the credenza had re-located. There was no credenza. Finally it dawned me that the credenza had been sold at for a couple of bucks at the annual festival-flea market last fall.
“Somebody has my ashes,” I thought, “and they’ll probably treat them like dirt! Or maybe they’ll freak out, thinking the ashes are somebody’s cremains!”
What to do? Burn some newspapers! Smoke a cigar! No time for that. There would be no imposition of ashes. No outward, visible sign that we are dust and we return to the dust — the thing we never want hear. It was then that the missing ashes were turned into water.
We filled the baptismal font with water and marked each worshiper with the waters of baptism. “[Carol, Bob, Judi, Clyde], you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”
The last worshiper to leave that Ash Wednesday Service offered to do for me what had been done for her.
“Gordon,” she said, marking my forehead with water, “you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Live in his love and serve him. And never forget to be grateful.”
Like the miracle at Cana where water was turned into wine at a wedding, the turning of ashes into water became an unexpected moment of joy in the communion of saints.
Today, when we feel overwhelmed by a sea of lies, remember that everything empties in the Ocean. I wish you an Ash Wednesday when your ashes are turned to water, and a few drops of the vast Ocean wash away what you’ve lost and welcome you home for a sacred communion.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Chaska, MN.
Photograph is the baptistery in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Monza, Italy, uploaded from Wikipedia.