A New Heart and a New Spirit

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“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…

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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

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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

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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

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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

March for Our Lives

Yesterday’s conversation with the rheumatologist took an unexpected turn. “I need some positive energy,” he said. “The kids from Parkland are amazing. I’m going to the march to the State Capitol tomorrow.”

The weather forecast called for heavy snow in Saint Paul. “I don’t care,” he said. He was going. No matter what! He would be there at 9:00 a.m. and stay until the crowd disperses in the afternoon. (Click this link for CNN’s coverage of the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and around the world.)

“I’m so tired. I want to do something positive,” said my doctor. “The younger generation will lead us. You stay home! It wouldn’t be good for you. I’ll do the marching for both of us.”

Leaving the doctor’s office, I felt better. My thoughts turned to Siyahamba, the marching song that helped end Apartheid in South Africa. This morning I found Siyahamba‘s hopeful sound in this children’s choir in Westminster, Maryland.

He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 [NRSV]

Thank you, Doctor. Thank you, Isaiah. Thank you, students from Parkland. Thank you, all who will march today in the light of God.

Siyahamba! March for our lives!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2018.

 

Women’s Day Tribute to Two Women

Celebrating International Women’s Day we celebrate two artists whose female identity was kept in the shadows because only men were published.

So far as the general public knew, Mel Bonis was a guy, another Mel like Mel Brooks and Mel Torme. Only later did it become known that Mel was a woman, Mélanie Hélène Bonis (1853-1937), composer of more than 300 compositions, who had shared the piano bench with Claude Debussy at the Paris Conservatoire.

Then there was the poet Lydia H. Sigourney (1791-1865) who first published as L.H. Sigourney before she “came out” as a woman. Lydia did unthinkable. She started a seminary for women.

Her poem “To the Ocean” are the very first words on page one of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

Therefore, I bend to thy resounding tides,

And list the echo of they countless waves,

A lone disciple, if perchance, my soul

That poor shell-gatherer, on the shores of time,

May by thy lore instructed, learn of God

  • L. H. Sigourney (1850)

Thanks for dropping by on International Women’s Day.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 8, 2018