Do newborns smile?

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Taking his first bath, newborn Elijah Andrew smiled his deep dimple smile, looking toward his mother cooing to him from her hospital bed following emergency surgery.

Newborns don’t really smile, I’ve been told. Their faces change because of gas or for some other bodily reason. But, looking at Elijah’s face, how can anyone doubt that Elijah is smiling at the sound of his mother’s voice?

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Elijah Andrew, 8.1 lbs., 21 inches with huge shoulders and smile and dimpled smile.

After smiling at his mother, Elijah was heard to say to the nurse who was bathing him, “What you talking about? Baby’s DO smile! I’d know that voice anywhere. I’ve been with her everywhere she’s gone for almost nine months.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2017.

Shout! Shout! Elijah rocks!

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Elijah fought his way into the world yesterday with the push of a very weary mother. His middle name is Andrew, named after his uncle, his mother Kristin’s younger brother.

Excited by the birth, I phoned a friend. “Hey,” I said, “I’m a grandson! Kristin just had a grandfather!” The grandson weighs 190. The grandfather 8.1.

Shout! Shout!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Mah 23, 2017

Naming the (step)grandchild

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When the Chinese waitperson who has mixed two Kettle One martinis with twists and a yellowfin tuna roll listens carefully to the reason you’re at Sake Sushi — your pregnant step-daughter is being induced into labor two weeks before her due date because of high blood pressure — responds to your inappropriate question about a good name for the baby (it’s a boy) with “PETER!”, could she be the voice of God?

Just wondering. I’ve enjoyed two Kettle One martinis!

By morning I expect the baby to leave the womb. We shall see whether he is Jackson, Elijah, Eli, Micah. . . or Peter!

Pray for the mother, the child, and the weary grandmother at the hospital.

  • Gordon, safely home from Sake Sushi in Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

Two Shores – the wands of joy and pain

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monheganharbor

I left Maine behind with the DownEaster’s dream of being on Monhegan Island yet to be. Knowing how way leads on to way (Frost), I wondered whether I ever would.

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,
Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,
And lead us to the houses where we keep
Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain
That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain
Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;
Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—
Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!
They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest
Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam
Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.
Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,
The proof if heaven be, or only seem,
That we forever choose what we will dream!

“Dreams” – Helen Hunt Jackson, Amherst, MA (1830)

 

I’ll imagine Mohegan’s lure from the North Shore of Lake Superior, putting off the dream to welcome two new-born Minnesotans who might use a DownEast step-grandfather’s softened hand to guide them into the knowledge of themselves toward the choices they alone will dream.

North Shore

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 8, 2017.

 

 

A Burst of Yellow

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Four days with old friends on the coast of Maine is tonic for the weary soul.

sometimes I feel all blue
sad sorry blue
all down in minor key
a rhapsody in blue.

Purple yellow Iris

Purple-Yellow Iris

sometimes when blue
begins to play in me
its melody the minor
turns to major key –

blue bursts into purple
and, leaping into joy,
a burst of sun-burst yellow
pushes the blues away

and I feel un-blued
almost whole, more up,
a purple-yellow rhapsody,
an off-beat Ode to Joy.

The days with Ted Campbell, McGaw Professor (Emeritus) of Old Testament at our alma mater, became a burst of yellow joy for us all. We awarded Ted an honorary dogtorate and made him an honorary member of the Dogs with a Goofy yellow hat.

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Goofy hat

The Seagull and a double rainbow

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seagull in ScarboroughA double rainbow appeared last evening over the tidal river beyond the house where five seminary classmates and our spouses are staying this week on the coast of Maine.

It happened after a full day feasting with our seminary Old Testament professor, Edward F. (Ted) Campbell, Jr. and poet J. Barrie Shepherd on William Greenway’s For the Love of All Creatures: the Story of Grace in Genesis in this time of climate departure. The five seminary friends, once seven, who call ourselves “The Old Dogs” or “The Gathering” have convened annually from Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Arizona, and Minnesota for study and fellowship for the past 20 years.

pepperidge-farm-goldfish-cheddar-DbXv3l-clipartJust moments before the rainbows appeared, we were entertained by two seagulls begging for treats. One of them ate a Pepperidge Farm “goldfish” our of my hand – twice. Snatch! The goldfish was gone. Down the seagull’s gullet. My hand was fine.

Then the first rainbow appeared. Followed by another. Almost as beautiful was the reflection of the sun from the yellow grasses on the far shore of the tidal river at the foot of the rainbows. The seagull and the rainbows were like exclamation points to Greenway’s case that we are seized by the love of all creatures.

“Maybe there really IS a God 😂!” I said to my seminary roommate. “You know there is,” Mr. Stewart,” said Wayne.

Early this morning at dawn there is a very aggressive seagull incessantly banging on the sliding glass door between my living room chair and the deck demanding more cheddar goldfish!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Scarborough, Maine, May 2, 2017.

 

The woman outside the window

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She paces the sidewalk a few feet beyond our kitchen window, talking loudly to someone who’s not there, smoking a joint to calm her down, moving in sudden jolts as though someone has driven a spike through her less than cogent mind.

I watch and wonder who she is, this neighbor who lives behind us still three weeks after being served by the authorities with an eviction notice following the psychic “break” when she tore loose two towel bars and poked holes in the bathroom wall as uninvited as the screams of rage that harmonized with the spikes in the wall.

The police at the time of the incident told the owners there was little they could do without pressing charges, which they declined to do. She is a guest in their house, the girlfriend “of sorts” of their 35-year old son, a young man of consummate compassionate who had taken pity on her homelessness and invited her in.

Responding to the 911 call, the police had been greeted by an altogether sane young woman who presented a calm, cool, and collected self who came downstairs wondering what the fuss was all about. The 50-something year-old homeowners and the police agreed to call it a night on the “domestic dispute,” the young woman in question going peacefully upstairs to lock herself in her room, the three squad cars driving back to the police station where the officers would write up their incident reports, the husband and wife homeowners sitting in the living room staring past each other into blank space, and their generous adult son who lives in denial stepping outside for a much-needed smoke of something.

His invited houseguest had been institutionalized a number of times but he doesn’t know why or for what. Her father, he says, is some sort of pentecostal preacher. She’s badly scarred by her home experience – the “black sheep” of the family of Christian sheep wounded by the ram who rules the household.

A lamb spiked by the ram in her old sheep-fold, she looks for other pastures and sheep-folds where her damaged soul might find repose beyond a 911 call. But the spikes of terror keep coming, as they will, until, by some process of grace and merciful intervention, her reality breaks open the self that now wanders in torment outside our kitchen window.

Until then, she walks in the valley of the shadow of her own kind of death, as do the members of the family which has given her temporary shelter, crying out for green pastures and still waters that would restore their wounded souls.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2017.

 

 

 

Jesus’s Last Wish

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As Kay and I walked through the passion narrative in the Gospel according to John Friday night in the quiet of our living room, we paused a number of times to share questions or observations about what we were reading.

Few of the church’s traditional “seven last words” from the cross appear in John, the last written of the New Testament Four Gospels. Four of the “words” we expect to hear from having read Matthew, Mark, and Luke are missing in John:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34)
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
  3. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
  4. Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

The first three are altogether missing. A fourth “word” – the seventh of the traditional last words, becomes a third person description by the narrator, as it had been in Mark and Matthew: “. . .  he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Brooklyn_Museum_-_What_Our_Lord_Saw_from_the_Cross_(Ce_que_voyait_Notre-Seigneur_sur_la_Croix)_-_James_Tissot

“What Jesus saw from the cross” – James Tissot

But while John’s Gospel offers less of what we have come to expect in light of the earlier Synoptic Gospels, it adds three words:

1.”I thirst,”

2.”It is finished,” and

3. this strikingly intimate conversation with his mother and an un-named “disciple whom he loved” within the hearing of “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (i.e. Jesus’s aunt), and Mary Magdalene:

“‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the un-named disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John. 19:27-28)

This startling exchange – this strangely intimate “last wish” normally reserved for the bedside of a dying patient – shifts the focus of John’s crucifixion narrative from the horror of Jesus’s torment to the primacy of the community: the familial bond between his mother and the beloved disciple which would survive him.

It is this beloved and loving community which carries forward the teaching and ministry of the Logos, the Word made flesh in him and in us, by the creative working of the Spirit of the Living God. “Woman, behold your son!” “Disciple, Behold your mother!”

The Good Friday conversation in our living room shifted from the anticipated tears of torment to the hope that rises whenever the invitation from the cross becomes reality, whenever we, in our time, become the beloved community of the un-named disciple: the transformed and transforming home for Mary and all her un-named children.

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

 

 

 

Good Friday 2017 in light of 1553

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In his Ten Rules for Writing author Elmore Leonard advised,

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Good Friday is one of those parts in the Christian story. Who wouldn’t want to skip over betrayal, denial, abandonment, and brutality, the opposite of happiness? But we don’t get to joy without going through them. Steve Martin’s Happy Feet offers a memorable parody of faux happiness. You don’t get to Easter with happy feet.

In a sermon preached on Good Friday, 1553, the Rev. John Bradford asked his hearers to draw close to the cross, inviting them to look upon the death of Christ as the very presence of God, the part “that we people want to skip”.

As the very pledge of God’s love toward thee,
whosoever thou art, how deep so ever thou hast sinned,
See, God’s hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee;
his feet also, he cannot run from thee.
His arms are wide open to embrace thee.

Happy feet are no remedy for sore feet. Whatever view one takes of the classical Christian formula of Christ’s full humanity and divinity, John Bradford, Elmore Leonard, and Steve Martin’s Happy Feet invite the imagination to stop and pay attention to the God who embraces humankind in the very darkness we deny.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Good Friday, April 14, 2017.

Faux reality on Maundy Thursday

Views from the Edge re-publishes this piece from March 24, 2010. In November 2016 the American people were sucker-punched by an alarmist apocalyptic spirituality underlying the alt-right politics of Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon, and the candidate for president who led and funded “the birther movement”.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday call for sober reflection on the difference between faux-reality and reality. We republish it here without updates or edits – except for a new title – for the sake of historical perspective. – GCS

Ecce homo -  "Here is the man" Albrecht Durer

“Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), Albrecht Durer

Something from the Christian tradition – the idea of ‘the Anti-Christ’ – is lifting its ugly head, a word and concept that could trigger unthinkable tragedy unless we clean up our civil discourse.

According to Harris Interactive Poll taken between March 1 and 8, “more than 20% believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,’ that he is racist and anti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20% think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14% believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13% think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.”

The poll reflects what we all know: our civic health as a nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. This toxic disregard for truth lies behind the results of the Harris Poll. Trigger words like ‘socialist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘anti-American,’ and ‘the Anti-Christ’ and the allegation that America’s first black president is the nation’s chief domestic enemy take us beyond the McCarthyism of the ‘50s. This cocktail is lethal.

As a Christian pastor I rue the use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate. The Christian life – or spiritual life of any sort, for that matter – is a life of discernment about the powers that shape ordinary life. It is not blind to evil. But loud spirituality is an oxymoron. We need to be reminded that all the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” and “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”

Labeling the President of the United States ‘the Anti-Christ” gives deranged minds a license to kill . . . in the name of the non-violent, crucified Jesus. If some deranged American patriot like the Marine who plotted to assassinate the President should succeed . . . God forbid! . . . the blood will be on the hands of all who remained silent when the hate speech was being poured into the public stream of consciousness. And if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, get yourself to church Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to ground yourself again in the love that conquers hate and fear.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Maundy Thursday morning, Chaska, MN.