Elijah’s dimpled smile

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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.

Elijah’s Joy: Life is beautiful!

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Elijah no longer watches CNN or any other news channels. He’s become a Gopher — a Minnesota Gopher fan, but he doesn’t care about sports or any kind of competition. He’s all smiles watching his mobile characters stroll across his crib, enjoying the music and his mother’s and grandmother’s voices.

We should all be so happy!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017

The Parents, the son, and the girlfriend

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She was homeless when he welcomed her into his parents’ new townhouse. So far as the parents knew, she was “sort of” their adult son’s “girlfriend” but they weren’t exactly sure what their relationship was. It was strange. It didn’t seem romantic. She seemed different.

Among the neighbors everything seemed fine until the squad cars’ flashing red lights lit up the street and four uniformed police officers ran by their homes reaching for their holsters. Something was different.

The parents of the son who’d invited the son’s “girlfriend” to live with them had called 911 after a screaming meltdown in the upstairs bathroom where their guest had poked huge holes in the walls with the towel fixtures she had yanked from the walls and had threatened to kill everyone in the house.

When the police arrived and called upstairs, she calmly came downstairs, curious to see what the ruckus was about, appearing calm as a cucumber, without a care in the world while the son’s mother sat trembling with her head between her hands and the 35 year-old son stepped outside for a smoke.

No charges were filed. The parents had come to realize over time that the girlfriend had “some problems” and thought they could help her. The four of them continued to occupy the house after the incident was “resolved” by the police visit.

Two months later the red lights appeared again after another upstairs commotion left the son’s face looking like Rocky Balboa after his fight with Apollo Creed. This time the girlfriend was no Adrian. Adrian  had acted like Apollo…with a knife.

This time Rocky was rushed to the emergency room. Adrian was taken away in handcuffs, screaming at the officers, the boyfriend, and his parents, for another committal to a mental health facility for violation of probation resulting from previous domestic assaults. The parents stayed where they are, dumbfounded how compassion can turn out so badly.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time,” said Carl Sandburg, “and sometimes you weep.”

 

Grandpa, this is boring!

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Grandpa IMG_5556Grandpa, who are the Twins? What’s baseball?

Well, Elijah, the Twins are Grandpa’s team.

What’s a team?

That’s a little like us – more than two people working for the same goal.

Yeah, like us! Trying to sleep through the night so Mom can get some sleep. Right, Grandpa?

Right! Because you and Mom are on the same team. She’s the Manager. You’re her only player.

I thought you said we were Twins. How can I be the only player if I’m a Twin?

Well, you and I are Twins. Mom, not so much. Mom likes basketball.

We’re twins?! How’d that happen? You’re old. REALLY old. Poor mom! She must have been in labor a long time. Wow! How old is Mom?

No, Mom’s a lot younger. We’re not twins like that. We’re Twins FANS. We watch baseball. The Twins are our favorite team. When I was your age I was a Boston Red Sox fan . . . but I didn’t know it yet. Then we moved to Philadelphia and Grandpa became a Phillies fan. And then a Cleveland Indians, fan; and then a Cincinnati Reds fan; and now I’m a Twins fan. We love baseball.

e2aad2db16c6beb64a94489477ec11c8Yeah. That’s what we’re watching, right, Grandpa? BORING!

It is, Elijah. Baseball’s much more fun to play that it is to watch. Some day you’re going to be a slugger! But remember our conversation yesterday about day and night? You need to stay awake until it’s bedtime so you and Mom can sleep through the night. Mom’s the Manager. Without Mom you don’t have a team. You’re on Mom’s team.

Yeah. I’m on Mom’s team. And we’re twins. And night is when the sun goes to sleep. The sun went to sleep hours ago. Good-night, Grandpa.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 22, 2017.

 

“Elijah, Grandpa is God talking!”

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Elijah is confused. He thinks night is day and day is night. Which is very inconsiderate of his mother. 

Elijah, you’re three weeks old now. You need to start sleeping at night.

What’s night, Grandpa?

Well, night is when it gets dark. It’s when the sun goes to sleep.

I like to sleep in the light. It makes me feel safe. Mom’s happier in the light.

No, she’s not. She’s really not. You need to be more considerate.

Uh uh! Mom’s afraid of the dark!

No, Elijah, she likes the dark. She just wants to sleep all the way through the night.

But what about me? I get hungry in the night! I need Mom.

I know you do. And she needs you. She trying to teach you something important.

Like what?

Well, like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When you don’t sleep at night, you’re not treating Mom the way you want to be treated.

Grandpa, I just get hungry a lot. Mom loves me as she loves herself . . .  . Doesn’t she?

She does, Elijah. She does! But she needs your help. Mom needs her sleep. She just needs you to get into a biblical rhythm, like it says in the Bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Wow! God can talk?!

Yes. And right now Grandpa is God talking. If you want Mom to treat you the way you want be treated, you need to sleep through the night. Otherwise you won’t get fed. There will be a formless void and darkness all the time!

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

 

Elijah’s third birthday

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Elijah IMG_0078

“Grandpa, I’ve already learned to swim, and pretty soon I get to go to kindergarten, right? Will my kindergarten teacher teach me everything I need to know, like Miss Britten and Robert Fulghum taught you before you got to be decrepit?

“Remember, Grandpa, what Rev. Fulghum said? ‘Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.'”

When I’m old like you, will I still smile? Or will I be a frowning curmudgeon?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 13, 2017.

 

 

 

Who will you stand with today?

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Dear Folks,

There is a custom at a little church in the Midwest that goes like this. Whenever a person is about to be baptized, the minister calls out to the congregation, “Who stands with this child?” and the extended family or close friends rise from their seats and offer an outward and visible testimony of their inward commitment.  They stand, hearts brimming and knees shaking, even though they know sometimes their love might seem compromised or limited or unreciprocated.  They rise to pledge that they’ll do the best they can. These are the folks in the child’s life who know that growing up has never been easy, the people who know that being a parent is hard work in the best of circumstances.

And this custom of folks popping up here and there in the pews at a baptism makes the church feel cozy and warm and like a family, but I want to warn us from easy sentimentality, from striving to build a church in which it would be simple to guess who might stand for whom.  The community of faith is more than a family.  The measure of our vibrancy is not when we gather amiable people to stand with their neighbors… rather the church is created when enemies break bread together, when one broken-hearted outcast stands up for another, when a queen kneels before a poor, unwed mother or a recovering addict, and calls her sister.

That is the society that we are trying to create here and beyond, at home and at work and at play.  The community of saints is both more welcoming and more challenging than most of our biological families.  Our litmus test is not blood, but the spirit, and when we are at our best, the spirit of God is breathing through us wherever we go.

A child named Matthew was presented for baptism at an Episcopal church a few years back, and I imagine a group of folks stood to support him and his family as they gathered around the font.  But that same Matthew, child of God, was beaten and left for dead as a young man, tied to a fence post like yesterday’s garbage, because his way of being challenged some people’s idea of family values.  He loved “the wrong person,” another man, and that made some of his neighbors mad.  So one dark night, two very scared and confused young people, also God’s children, acted out of their own brokenness, and their fear turned murderous.

It would not have surprised me if Matthew’s parents had settled into their own murderous rage, mirroring the worst of their son’s killers, looking for vengeance, an eye for an eye.  But his parents did something extraordinary.  They asked for their son’s killers to be forgiven.  They stepped beyond the narrow circle of family of blood into the family of the spirit, and saw another son staring back at them through the eyes of their enemy.

Our true brothers and sisters are as likely to be our so-called enemies as our friends.  Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right and merciful, because that is what the human family looks like and feels like and hurts like.  Jesus is describing us.  We belong to each other.  Any walls we build between us, of race and class and gender, of sexuality and nationality and ethnicity, of political party and religious tribe, are walls of fear.  Each of us has been a wanderer and a stranger, and our call is to make the world feel more like home for all.

Who will you stand with today?

Grandpa, who’s Mr. Rogers?

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Well-fed Elijah has become curious about television. He has a new topic and questions.

“Grandpa, Mom’s been watching CNN. What’s CNN?”

“It’s a 24-hours-a-day news channel, one of many television channels.”

“Yeah, my great uncle John doesn’t like CNN. He told Mom she should be watching FOX. What’s FOX, Grandpa?”

“Well, Elijah, it’s too early for that discussion. There are more choices than CNN and FOX.

“Yeah, like MSNBC and Rachel Maddow! I like Rachel! I don’t like Sean Hannity. He’s mean!”

“I understand. But you need to be careful. Both Rachel and Sean only do one-way conversations.”

“Yeah, like ours, right Grandpa?”

“Sort of. But you get to talk back to me. Sort of. I can hear you. Rachel and Sean can’t and they don’t care what you have to say. When you get older you can choose your own television channel. You don’t have to watch the news all the time. But no matter what you end up watching, you’ll always have Grandpa.”

“But, Grandpa! There’s a lot of scary stuff out there in the big world. When I grow up, do I have to go out there?”

Big_bird_book_kids“Yes, Elijah, but this isn’t the time to worry about that.”

Ask Mom to turn on Sesame Street. There are lots of fun people on Sesame Street, like Big Bird, to help you get ready for the big world. Or you can come to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house and watch re-runs of Mr. Rogers.”

“Who’s Mr. Rogers?”

“Well, Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister.  Like Grandpa.”

“What’s a Presbyterian?”

“Well, that depends on who you ask, Elijah. Some people call us ‘God’s frozen chosen’  ’cause they think we think we’re special and we don’t show a lot of emotion in worship. But for me, a Presbyterian is someone just like Mr. Rogers.

“So . . . will you help me to tie my shoelaces when I get shoes?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 1, 2017.

Conversation with Elijah #1

Elijah and GordonElijah is 10 today. That would be 10 DAYS old. Just the right age for a good conversation like the one with my fiancée years ago. When that one finished, I said “that was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had!”

“Do you know I haven’t spoke a word for the last three hours?” she said with a forgiving smile.

I enjoy “talking” with Elijah. He asks the questions. I give the answers.

“Grandpa, you look really old! Were you ever born?

“Yes, Elijah, I was born too, a long time ago.”

“And you’re a Christian, too, right Grandpa?”

“Yes, Elijah, I was born, and yes, I’m a Christian.”

“So . . .  that means you got born twice?”

“Well, Elijah, not quite.”

“Grandpa, am I a Christian?”

“Well, Elijah, no, not yet. But you are a child of God.”

“Whew!”

“But, Grandpa, if I want to be a Christian like you, do I have to get born all over again? I hated that!!!”

“No, Elijah. You won’t ever have to do that ever again. That’s behind you now.”

“But, Grandpa . . .  what about being born again? What about being saved? Don’t I have to get saved?”

“No, Elijah. The second ‘birth’ doesn’t change the first one. It just makes you thankful for it and makes you responsible for other children of God like you.”

“Whew! So, like when I’m falling asleep at Mom’s breast, I’m like ‘born again’? I’m already a Christian, just like you, Grandpa! I’m getting kinda hungry, Grandpa.

Where’s Mom?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 1, 2017.

Five men in a living room

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Funny how things come to consciousness slowly over time until, in a flash of light, what should have been obvious all along comes clearly into view.

Learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not air as expected on Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” because of its length, I went back to read it and hear it again over morning coffee.

Hearing the ending again –“three men in a living room — two Americans and on dead Japanese….” — I realized there were more than three. There were five.

Without the influence of the missing two, “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not have been written. It was as though the pen I had thought was in my hand had been in theirs. They had written the piece.

Who were the missing two?

My American father, the former World War II Army Air Force Chaplain on Saipan, and Kosuke Koyama, the teenage Japanese survivor of the American  firebombing of Tokyo.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!. RIP

A father casts a long shadow over a son’s life.

Except for a poem he had written on Saipan about the flames of war lighting the night skies of the South Pacific, Dad didn’t talk about the war. During his 18 years as pastor of the Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall, Pennsylvania, Korean and Japanese students from Princeton Theological Seminary were frequent weekend guests in our home.

 

Kosuke Koyama – RIP

Kosuke Koyama, who had been a student at Princeton Seminary during my teenage years, came into my life decades later in 1996 when he moved to Minneapolis following his retirement as John D. Rockefeller, Jr Professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Might Ko have been a guest in our home way back when?

That my father and Ko might have known each other is a happy thought.

But, whether they occupied the same physical space is not as important as the large space they opened in the inheritor of their influence. Two invisible men in a living room brought the other three together in the bonds of sacred silence and the hope of something better for us all.

Funny thing! If the recording had aired yesterday on “All Things Considered”, I might still be in the dark!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, in honor of Kenneth Campbell Stewart and Kosuke Koyama, May 30, 2017.