Pope Francis gets it!

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I love this Pope. I’m a non-hierarchical Presbyterian, but I love Pope Francis.

TOPSHOT – Members of the faithful take photos of Pope Francis, as he arrives to lead the Liturgy of Penance in St Peter’s basilica at the Vatican on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

He “gets” relationships as well as he “gets” worship. He “gets” distraction and what a “60 Minutes” investigative report exposed: a form of technological addiction built into cell phones to make the user as anxious as a nursing infant torn away from its mother when you’ve put down your cell phone for more than eight minutes.

Lift up your hearts,” he said, not “Lift up your cell phones to take a picture,” referring to the use of cell phones in worship. “Mass is not a show!”

Francis is not an abstainer. He has a cell phone and he uses it.

Susan Hogan of The Washington Post reminds readers of Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in which he urged Catholics last year to use discretion in using electronic devices. “We know that sometimes they can keep people apart, rather than together, as when at dinner time everyone is surfing on a mobile phone, or when one spouse falls asleep waiting for the other who spends hours playing with an electronic device.”

Pope Francis might have added the fact that we humans are mammals, not invisible spirits. Mammals are flesh and blood creatures who use all five senses. For tactile creatures who live in a single place in real time, cyberspace relationships and distractions are no substitute for face-to-face, body-to-body, eye-to-eye, hand-in-hand physical presence to each other. Whales don’t take pictures. Neither do dogs, cats, or chimpanzees.

“Lift up your hearts! Not your cell phones!” says the author of The Joy of Love.

Three cheers for the pope who took the name of Francis of Assisi whose community included other mammals — whales, dogs, cats, chimps, and humans — and, of course, birds who found a resting place on his shoulder.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 10, 2017.

 

Elijah reviews his Mom

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Grandpa, what’s a ‘review’?

Where’d you get that word, Elijah? How are you spelling it? There are two spellings and they’re very different. One I can tell you about. The other I can’t until you’re old enough to handle it.

IMG_5767I don’t know how to spell yet! All I know is Mom picked me up from work this afternoon and she was really happy. She told Marissa she had a really good review.

That’s wonderful, Elijah! I knew her review was coming and that she was a little anxious about it. Everyone’s anxious before a review.

Sometimes I worry, Grandpa, that you’re not completely tuned in. You go off on tangents and forget the question. You don’t even remember. I asked you a QUESTION! Like I said — What’s a review?

Well, it’s a time when a boss and an employee sit down to discuss how work is going. How well the employee is doing at her job.

So which is Mom, the boss or an employee? I think Mom must be the boss.

No, she’s the employee. She works for the boss.

Okay, I think I get it. So Mom did really well?

She did, Elijah. She got a raise and the boss said all kinds of good things about your Mom.

Yeah, she’s the best Mom in the whole world, Grandpa! She’s really smart and she’s pretty and stuff but she’s also the best diaper-changer. Don’t tell Grandma I said that, okay? I don’t want to give Grandma a bad review. I don’t want to hurt Grandma’s feelings. But Mom knows me best. She knows just how I want my diapers changed. And she doesn’t get mad when I wake her up all night every hour ‘cause I’m hungry and can’t turn myself over and stuff like that. Well, sometimes, she gets maybe a little unhappy, but I bet she’s way more patient than any other Mom.

That’s a great review, Elijah. You’ve got the hang of it.

Okay! There’s one more thing, Grandpa, just between us guys.

IMG_8782 Elijah

Mom says she’s not pretty any more. She says none of her clothes fit and she thinks she’s fat. She’s not, Grandpa! She’s beautiful! She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Don’t tell Grandma I said that, okay? She’s pretty too, and she’s Mom’s Mom, so I bet she was really pretty, too, before she got old and wrinkly like you. Don’t tell her I said that, okay? You can take it, ‘cause you’re a guy and you know you’re old and wrinkly and fat and you don’t care. Anyway, we’re reviewing Mom here, not Grandma. Grandma’s second best in the whole world. But Mom’s a superstar. As her boss, I’d give her a big raise!

IMG_7979You just did, Elijah. You just gave her the kind of big raise a mother lives for. Now, if you can just start sleeping through the night, that would be an even bigger raise you could give Mom. You’ll be her most favorite boss ever. Her one and only!

 

  • Grandpa Gordon with 5 month old Elijah, November 4, 2017.

 

Saint Giovanni of the Pillows

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John Thomas Stewart appears on no other list of Saints but mine. I called him Grandpa.

He wasn’t famous like Saint John of the Gospel or Saint John of the Cross, but his life quietly bore witness. To sacred silence. And laughter.

By the time I came into his life he’d retired from driving his team of horses through the streets and alleys of east Boston to deliver fifty gallon drums of oil to the mostly Italian-speaking shop owners.

Grandpa Stewart was not Italian. But the shop owners wouldn’t have guessed. He learned to speak Italian while making his daily rounds. “Buongiorno, Giovanni!”

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And so his day went until he drove the horses and his wagon back to the company barn, fed them, groomed them, put them in their stalls for the night, and walked home to #11 Tremont Street.

In retirement he had moved from Tremont Street to live in my Uncle Harold’s palatial home in Chestnut Hill across the street from Boston College. It was to the house on Hobart Road that my fondest memories return.

During the years my father was in the South Pacific, my mother and I lived with Grandpa and Grandma Stewart in the house of Hobart Road in Chestnut Hill. Uncle Harold, too, was in the war, somewhere on a ship. We never knew where.

We didn’t know much of anything in those years between 1943 and the end of the war. Everything was uncertain. But at least two things I could count on put my grandfather on the list of Saints worth remembering.

PILLOWS IS ONE.

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We played a game with pillows. On the floor with the Persian rug that filled the living room on Hobart Road, I’d cover Grandpa’s entire body with all the pillows we could gather from everywhere. Once I’d completely covered him — “no peeking, Grandpa — he’d lie there for various amounts of time until the time seemed just right. Then — “Boo!” — he’d say suddenly throwing off the the pillows. “Boo!” To a two year-old, his resurrection from the dead was always a surprise. We’d laugh and laugh and laugh. Then I would take my turn under the pillows to scare Grandpa: “Boo!” He’d act surprised every time. It never got old.

“Boo!” never sounded so good. Grandfathers are like that.

Otherwise, he didn’t say much. “Boo!” was one of the few words I remember Grandpa speaking. Most of the time, he didn’t say boo. He was quieter than quiet, like a rock to a family at the edge of quick sand — one news story from the radio away or a knock on the door that might tell us Harold or my father had been killed in the war.

CHURCH IS THE OTHER.

During the summers we lived in Uncle Harold’s cottage on Harridan Avenue in Rockport, Massachusetts, just a block up from Old Garden Beach and a mile from Dock Square, Bearskin Neck, and the First Congregational Church in the heart of Rockport.

My mother and Grandma failed in their first attempt to take me to church when the otherwise quiet two year-old suddenly interrupted the long sacred silence that followed the minister’s “Let us pray” with words of my own — “Mom!! Big grunt!!!” — sending the church into giggles that seemed to irk the minister by bringing everyone back to earth, so to speak. My older cousin Gina snatched my up and ushered me out. That was the end of church for awhile. They were not about to cause a scene again.

Grandpa was a different story.

I remember walking with him to church in Rockport. He didn’t say boo; he just walked. But it was the way he walked, and why he was walking on a Sunday morning, that puts him in my catalogue of saints. He walked with dignity and purpose.

Grandpa’s posture was erect. Perfectly straight. Dressed in a starched white shirt, tie, dark suit, and wearing a fedora, the man with a sixth grade education who’d run away from domestic abuse when he was 12 years old seemed like what I imagined President Roosevelt must look like. Dignity was everywhere: his posture, his gate, his attire — on the way to the place and time that gave substance, shape, and meaning to his life: Sunday morning worship, “The Lord’s Day,” as he called it.

Sunday morning was sacred time.

Fifty years after the walk to church with Grandpa in Rockport, I visit a small, white, wood-frame church on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, the land from which Grandpa’s father had emigrated to Prince Edward Island where Grandpa was born.

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I arrive ten minutes before the beginning of worship. The usher in the tiny 6’x8’vestibule welcomes me with a wordless smile, gives me a copy of The Book of Psalms and Paraphrases, opens the door to the large sanctuary that looks out on the natural beauty of Loch Snizort, and quietly ushers me to a pew among the silent members of the congregation. The man to my left smiles and nods. In a minute or two he offers his copy of The Book of Psalms and Paraphrases, opened to the first hymn posted on the small hymn board.

No one speaks in these minutes before worship. There is no prelude. No music plays. Even the children are quiet and seem at home in it. The silence is not empty. It is as full as any place I’d ever been or ever would be again: the fullness of faith, hope, and love waiting to break into song together as one voice in four-part harmony:

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

I stand erect, like Grandpa, to sing God’s praise and sense a faint echo of a joyful chuckle time cannot erase — “Boo!” — rising from under the pillows of the Communion of Saints.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, at the cabin, November 1, 2017, All Saints Day.

 

 

Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

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Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

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Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

Elijah: “Dear Mr. President”

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Elijah’s Letter to the President

September 30 , 2017

Dear Mr. President,

I’m in my carseat for my first road trip to the cabin up north, but Grandpa shared with me the letter he just sent you. I’m proud of my grandpa and I want to be proud of you. Grandpa says you’re sort of like an uncle because you went through Presbyterian confirmation class like grandpa.

But my babysitter doesn’t like you. She speaks Spanish. During the day with Marissa, we’ve been watching CNN for news from Puerto Rico, and she’s said a lot of bad words about you.

She clapped when Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz called you out. Then, this morning, she cursed again after you admonished the Carmen. Marissa’s with Carmen.

I’m only 18 weeks old. I’m still trying to understand what’s real and what’s not. Right now I’m not sure of much of anything. I trust Grandpa and I trust Marissa. They both love me and take care of me. Both Grandpa and Marissa are as upset with you as the Mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

I see the pictures from Puerto Rico and think you must, too, because you watch a lot of television, even if you consider CNN fake news. I’m little and don’t know much yet, but the pictures don’t look fake to me. And it’s not just pictures. It’s all over the radio. Marissa listens to NPR.

NPR’s Manadalit del Barco spoke to 8-year-old Yan Anthony Hernandez who is staying at a shelter in the city of Aguadilla on Puerto Ruco’s northwestern coast. The boy had a message for Trump.

“Stop tweeting and come help the people.”

Marissa wants to know whether you really care about Yan, the Mayor, and the rest of the people of Puerto Rico or just want them to go away like the undocumented workers you’re sending back to Mexico.

Sometimes Marissa sings to me. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world — red and yellow, black and white — all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the wold.” Grandpa says maybe your babysitter sang that song for you when you were little like me, but I wonder.

If you have time to write back, I’ll share your response with Marissa and Grandpa and have them make another copy to send to Carmen in Puerto Rico.

Respectfully,

Elijah (18 weeks old)

Grandson of Grandpa Stewart

 

 

 

Elijah’s letter to the President

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Seventeen week old Elijah dictated the following letter for Grandpa to send to President Trump after hearing the President’s United Nations speech. Here’s the letter:

September 21, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

I’m little but my Grandpa says I have rights under the First Amendment and that I should exercise my right of free speech to tell you what’s on my mind. I hope that’s okay with you. Grandpa says you’re bigger on the Second Amendment than the First Amendment, but they’re all part of the U. S. Constitution, right?

I’ve thought many times of writing you but decided not to until hearing your speech to the United Nations this week.

You may wonder why a kid like me would send a letter to the President, but there’s more than one good reason.

Infant_Baptism_Christian-217x300We have a connection you may not about, although my Grandpa is very famous, like you. You and Grandpa were baptized as babies in the Presbyterian Church. Your pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens took you in his arms and baptized you “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” But before your parents put you in the pastor’s arms, they had to answer a question: “Do you promise, in dependence on the grace of God, to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

I asked Grandpa what nurture and admonition meant. He said nurture is like when Mom breastfeeds me. Admonition, he says, is an old word we don’t use anymore and that’s a shame because you could use a good admonishing. Admonition, Grandpa says, is a way of setting boundaries on a child’s behavior; it’s part of the discipline necessary to raising a child toward responsible adulthood. Admonishing is telling a child “No. You can’t do that. You’re a child of God, but you’re not the only one.” Grandpa tells me that all the time. I wonder if your mother and father ever did that with you before they sent you off to the military academy.

So you and Grandpa are both baptized Christians. But there’s even more of a connection!

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McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster

Grandpa became a Presbyterian minister. He knows one of your church’s former pastors at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica. Before Rev. Dr. Raymond Schwartzbach (Grandpa calls him ‘Ray’) came to your church in New York City, he served the college church at The College of Wooster which Grandpa served six years after Ray.

Grandpa says Ray was really special and that he left Wooster because he wanted to get back to the city. He told Grandpa that your church was the most multicultural church in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with 32 different languages — the most in the whole country!

Trump at United NationsWatching you speak to all those different languages at the United Nations made me wonder what happened to you after your pastor held you in his arms and baptized you into the way of Christ. Did your parents nurture you? Did they admonish you? Or were you left on your own? Did they teach you not to call people names? Did they admonish you when you did? Did they teach you the first article of the Westminster Catechism, that  “the chief end of man is to glorify God…” and not yourself? Did they teach you the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek? Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Did they teach you that Presbyterians value simplicity and modesty, and that they dislike ostentation? Did they teach you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? Did they teach you the difference between loving your country and worshiping it? Did they teach you that nationalism is sin, that the nation is not God?

I’m just little and I haven’t been baptized yet like you and Grandpa. But I have questions. I’m not sure I want to be baptized if being baptized means I have to be admonished as well as nurtured. Maybe you feel the same.

Please answer if you have time. I know you’re very busy with Kim Jung un and Robert Mueller stuff, but Grandpa says some things in life are too important to ignore.

Respectfully yours,

Elijah

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, I’m special, right?

On his 14th (week) birthday Elijah was watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood this morning.

51IO0pzdoqL._AC_UL320_SR226,320_Grandpa, Mr. Rogers says I’m special! I love Mr. Rogers!

We all love Mr. Rogers, Elijah. We all do!

Yeah! He’s a Presbyterian minister just like you, right Grandpa?

Yes, he was. And, like all Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Rogers made mistakes.

Like what?

Like telling you you’re ‘special’.

What you talking’ about? I AM special. Mr. Rogers makes me feel good.

I understand that and I’m glad. I just wish he’d used a different word than ‘special’ because none of us is ‘special’. You’re unique, Elijah. No one will ever be just like you. But that doesn’t mean you’re ‘special’.

You don’t like Mr. Rogers! I don’t like you! You’re a poop-head!

Sometimes I am, Elijah. I know I’m a poop-head sometimes. We all are, and that’s my point. We’re all in this together. None of us is special. Each of us is precious. Each of us is loved. I just wish he’d said ‘precious’ instead of ‘special’ because ‘special’ leads people to think they’re ‘exceptional’. You know, better than anyone else.

Mr. Rogers doesn’t mean that! Everyone’s welcome in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, even Mr. McFeely!

Well, even Mr. Rogers is a sinner, Elijah. He should never have named the mailman Mr. McFeely.

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

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Thanks to executive producer Peter Wallace of Day1.org for featuring the podcast of “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” in advance of the August 8 Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Click HERE to sign up and listen on Day1.org.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

This meditation, an excerpt from Be Still!, reflects on Hiroshima  in the greater light of the Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese peacemaking theologian to whom the collection of essays is dedicated.

Kosuke (pronounced ‘KO-soo-kay’) Koyama was 15 years old when it happened, and was baptized during the firebombing of Tokyo.

The horror of the bombings led him to see something else about us: the sin of exceptionalism that knows no limits.

nuclear-bombHis last published book — Theology and Violence: Towards A Theology of Nonviolent Love awaits translation into English from the original Japanese.  We wait on bended knee.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.

 

 

Everything You Want

Two poems by Pat Cegan on the theme of contentment greeted us this morning while enduring a third day of unexpected silence in response to a property offer on the wilderness cabin we want as our own.

Who cares about the property? We never have had it. If the “seller” sells it, we won’t really “own” it – no one really owns a thing! – and the better part of wisdom is being content with what we have.

Source of Inspiration

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What would you do
if you had the perfect body
unlimited money
a loving family
all your wishes come true?

Would you be happy, satisfied
never again feel that yearning
deep within? Would you be free
of fear and doubt?
Love unconditionally?

Would having everything you want
make you who you want to be?

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Elijah’s dimpled smile

On his eight-week birthday, Elijah lights up the world with a dimpled smile for Grandma.

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Elijah on his eight-week birthday

Elijah knows nothing of adult dangers, toils, and snares — like his mother’s seven weeks of sleepless nights or the evening news that seem to erase dimples from older cheeks.

He lives completely in the moment. Today’s a really special day. The first thing Elijah saw when he opened his eyes was a different kind of dimpled smile he’d not yet seen on Mom’s face.

He and Mom are celebrating the long-suffering love that has brought them safely through the night to his eight-week birthday, the day after their first nearly full night’s sleep.

“Grandma! Look what I did!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 18, 2017.