A Cry for Help!

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G.K. Chesterton‘s lyrics come to mind again in this strange year of 2019. Our earthly rulers falter, and the wall of gold entomb us.

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

G.K. Chesterton, O God of Earth and Altar. stanzas 1 and 2.

The God to Whom Chesterton cried out was not a god that never says “No!”. Nor was it the god of Western culture that justified colonial invasions and occupations, the god of God in Christ shrunk to fit the mortal confines of creed, race, and nation rolled into one. Brutal terrors of white supremacy and white nationalism like the attacks on mosques and synagogues, and the terrors in high places gilded in gold and wrapped in lies of tongue and tweet drive us to our knees. They lead us to speechlessness, or to cry out for the God Who does say “No!”

O God of Earth and Altar hymn Y0uTube reproduction.

“Bow down, O God of earth and altar; bow down, and hear our cry. Good Lord, deliver us!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 19, 2019.

For further reflection, see “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” p. 110-13, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR).

Tell Out My Soul

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by;
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight
;
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

“Tell Out My Soul” rang out across the world yesterday, the last Sunday of Advent and the first Sunday of the government shut-down in the USA. The third stanza (above) expresses a timeless and timely hope.

In the immortal words of Timothy Cratchet (Tiny Tim) to Ebenezer Scrooge’s “Bah, humbug!” (A Christmas Carol): “God bless us, every one!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 23, 2018.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

“Darkness cannot cast out darkness. Only light can do that” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’re longing for some light and for change, watch and listen to Buddy Guy leading Playing for Change. Skip the ad, and think of Ezekiel’s hope for a nation of the dry bones.

The story of Ezekiel’s vision for the valley of the dry bones is timeless and timely 10 days before the American electorate goes to the polls November 6.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – The promise for the dry bones in the Valley of the Bones (Ezekiel 36:26).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2018.

 

 

 

Though the cause of evil prosper…

No one holds the patent right on lying. At some point everyone is a liar. Little white lies or hug lies; they’re lies just the same. But truth is my judge and yours.

I cannot recall a moment in the America of my lifetime when truth been as scorned as it is today. I remember presidents who lied. Some more than others. But never was truth itself under assault as it is in America today. As a child I asked how Germany could have fallen for the rhetoric and incivility of a madman. Finally I’m coming to understand.

I was raised on the great hymns of the church. Among them was Once to Every Man and Nation with lyrics by James Russell Lowell (1845). The newer hymnals have excluded it, most likely because of the black and white thinking between good and evil or because it’s language is not gender inclusive. But I turn to it today in ways I never have before, and I’m left to wonder whether somethings are just plain evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2018.

Don’t Lie to Me

Video

Thank you, Barbara Streisand, for speaking the truth in a way only an artist can. Suffer through the short ad to get to the video. Then share with your friends.

Everyone answers to someone. Share with your friends. Leave a comment. Vote!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 13, 2018.

Elijah and Grandpa Walkin’ and Talkin’

Elijah and Grandpa are walkin’ and “talkin'” on the way to his car seat.

“I’m walkin’, yes indeed, and I’m talkin’ ’bout you and me
I’m hopin’ that you’ll come back to me (yes)
I’m lonely as I can be, I’m waitin’ for your company
I’m hopin’ that you’ll come back to me….” – Fats Domino

Click this link — I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino (1957). All these years later, I’m walking’ and talkin’ ’bout Elijah, hopin’ he’ll come back to me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa). September 10, 2018

Elijah with Johnny Cash and Grandpa

Elijah sways to all kinds of music from Verdi’s Te Deum and Widor’s Toccata to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. He moves his body to the rhythms. Always has. After a YouTube of The Flight of the Bumble Bee, I turned to Johnny Cash. “San Quentin, I hate every inch of you!”

Elijah doesn’t know that Grandpa and Grandma Stewart each served among the inmates of maximum security prisons like San Quentin in New York and Trenton, N.J.  It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Elijah already dances to the music of justice. Whenever I’m with Elijah, I experience a joyful Toccata!

Clinton_correctional_facility,_Dannemora,_NY,_2007

Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, NY (“the hell hole of the New York prison system”) where Grandpa once led weekly programs for inmates (1975-1977).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 9, 2018.

Elijah Struts with Grandma

Video

Elijah is now 16 — sixteen months, that is — but walking like the boss. He struts, hands behind his back, swaying to the music in his head, waving his arms while making a guest appearance with the Boston Symphony to conduct the debut of his latest composition.

“Grandpa, isn’t life great!” he seems to say. Then he throws out his arms to be picked up and give Grandpa a kiss. “I’m gonna be like Winton Marsalis, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder. Grandma says maybe I’m a Mozart or a Benjamin Britton. Mom says J.S. Bach but I say Bach’s too boring, too inside the box. I’m a composer but I’m no Bach, and I’m a conductor, too.

Spike_Jones_1948“I play outside the box, Grandpa, like Spike Jones! Spike was both a composer and a conductor. Maybe I’ll be like Spike, pick up some trash at the park, bring back the City Slickers Band, and take America back to the 1950s! But Spike was weird, and he didn’t move his arms like a real conductor. He just put together some old tin cans and junk and pulled together some honky instruments and band members that made America laugh. I like making people laugh, but I’m no Spike Jones. I want to be Leonard Bernstein.

Grandpa and Grandma will be in Boston next month for a wedding in Boston Symphony Hall. As we witness the exchange of “I do’s”, we’ll imagine Elijah as a City Slicker with a baton in hand, strutting to the stage to conduct the debut of his latest composition with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Gordon, August 26, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Music Man

Video

Turning 76 reminds me of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man. Every town loves a parade. What’s a town without a parade? Or a big marching band? The Music Man, Harold Hill, arrives in peaceful little town of River City, and convinces its citizens that “they got troubles”. He’s a con man who sells musical instruments, promising to create the greatest marching band the world has ever seen, led by 76 trombones.

Sound and look familiar? No parades. Please, no parades.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 12, 2018.

Four Tubes in a Wind Chime

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

– Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Four old friends — we call ourselves the Old Dogs — descended last week on the Minnesota cabin by the wetland for our annual Gathering. The lyrics and recorded voice of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” became the focal point for reflection one week ago tonight. 

We gave up the illusion of a perfect offering years ago, though a stifled striving for it continues just the same. The “perfect offering” has gone underground where the sirens of perfection hide when those they’ve beckoned plug their ears to block the torment of lost ideals and shattered aspirations. None of us occupies a pulpit any longer, and the folks whose hands we once shook at the church door are shaking other hands where we once stood. Any dream of a perfect offering was cracked a long time ago, and it was the crack in our respective egos that let the light come in. 

Old Dogs from Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota know there’s a crack in everything, and we know we never were what we were cracked up to be. We’re not so sure the bells still can ring. Much of the social progress we worked for during five decades of ministry is being overturned. The separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border; the insults of neighboring nations and traditional allies; the admiration for Vladimir Putin; the twisting of fact and disregard for truth; the “fake news” war of words against the American Fourth Estate; the blatant encouragement of white supremacist movements; the shifting of blame to the opposing party and past administrations for present policies and actions; the resurgence of the Christian right and American exceptionalism, and so much more gave worn us down, leaving us wondering whether it makes any difference to still ring the bell.

Leonard Cohen’s gravely voice fills the cabin by the wilderness wetland.

We asked for signs

The signs were sent

The birth betrayed

The marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

Of every government

Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more

With the lawless crowd

While the killers in high places

Say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

A thundercloud

And they’re going to hear from me

Leonard Cohen’s’ “Anthem” brought a sliver of light into The Gathering of Old Dogs. Leonard’s gone, of course, without his suit — gone home without his burden behind the curtain without the costume that he wore — but we heard his voice deep and drear and true — like a wind chime rung by a breeze from the far side of the wetland. Then came the thundercloud summoning the weary to ring the bells again while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud.

I love to speak of Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him

Even though it isn’t welcome

He just doesn’t have the freedom

To refuse.

– Leonard Cohen, “Going Home”

Four lazy bastards depart for separate states to ring the bells anew — four tubes of a larger wind chime.

– Gordon C. Stewart on the Minnesota wetland, June 20, 2018