“We’re still in! You’re Wacked out!”

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June 1, 2017 was a day of moral, spiritual, and economic bankruptcy.

What a much beloved president once called “the better angels of our nature” are weeping. They know that you can’t mess with nature without consequence, that in the world of nature’s economy, less is almost always better than more, and that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. They know a fool when they see one. They mourn a people and a world when the fool isn’t fooling and when there’s no separation between the king’s fool and the king himself. The king’s a fool but doesn’t know it. All that matters is the theater spotlight.

Meanwhile our better angels have been rehearsing a new musical with a massive chorus that opened late yesterday on Broadway and across the world:

“We’re Still In!”

Among the better angels joining to produce “We’re still in!” are scientists and religious leaders. Neither kings nor fools, two of them immediate issued official responses to the president’s Rose Garden announcement:

The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Episcopal Church.

Yesterday the foolish king extended the right hand of fellowship to our new closest allies — Syria and Nicaragua — while raising his fisted left hand in a power salute to traditional friends after putting a match to a cherished line from the American canon of Scripture:

“The mystic chords of memory . . .  will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  – Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address.

But you can’t burn away American memory with a match.

On June 1, 2017 the stage lights centered on a kingly fool. But no sooner had the curtain come down on the White House Rose Garden than the new musical of our better nature was premiering under the lights in the king’s home town on Broadway . . .  and in London, Paris, Berlin, Ottawa, Mexico City, Moscow, Brussels, Pretoria, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Beijing, and everywhere else across the planet . . . except Managua and Damascus:

“You’re wacked out! We’re still in!”

This incessant business

John MuirJohn Muir, father of America’s National Park System, wrote:

God has cared for these trees,
Saved them from drought, disease,
and a thousand tempests and floods,
but he cannot save them from fools.
[John Muir, Our National Parks, 1903]

President Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Department of Interior yesterday and signed an executive order freeing up use of public lands, land “which belongs to the people, which truly belongs to us.”

Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau wrote in 1863:

I think there is nothing, not even crime,
more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

[Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle, 1863]

 

 

The Muir and Thoreau quotes lead the chapters  “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” and “The Bristlecone Pines” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. God bless the memory of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. We are increasingly without principle. They’d turn over in their graves. It’s up to us to honor their principles.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, April 27, 2017,

 

A Murmuration of Starlings

Click HERE for a moment of murmuration wonder and delight, compliments of The Atlantic and Carolyn Kidder, who brought it to our attention.

My mother didn’t like Starlings, but she never saw anything quite like this.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.

I wanna be an Orangutan!

I wake up too early this morning. The first thing I see is an orangutan making a hammock in his zoo cage. I identify with the orangutan.

The orangutan has always been my favorite animal. Those eyes. That mouth. Those teeth. That smile. Okay, so she needs a groomer, but, hey, so do I. How can you not love an orangutan? So smart. So . . .  human. So . . . technological!

Not only are they endearing personalities; they don’t make bombs or burn coal. They use their creative resources to make hammocks to rock away the day and turn their world upside-down . . . or right-side up. They invent. They make it up. They play.  They have no need of the smoke and mirrors of the zoo keepers’s world.

I wanna be an Orangutan!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 7, 2017

You will be like God

“There is only one sin,” suggested Kosuke Koyama, “Exceptionalism.”

Looking again at the Genesis stories of creation and fall (Gen.1-4) through these eyes seems to go to the heart of the story of humanity and the rest of nature.

The Garden of Eden is a natural paradise. All the creatures are living in harmony within the limits of nature itself.

Then, without explanation, a pernicious idea intrudes. The serpent suggests to the humans that they can become the exception to creaturely existence. “You will be like God! You will be the exception to the rest of us. You will know what no creature can know. You will be like the Creator. You will know good and evil.”

There has been no thought of evil in the Genesis paradise before the sin of exceptionalism breaks the unity of all creatures under the reign of the glad Creator who had declared it all ‘good”.

Only two chapters later, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” [Gen. 6:5-6].

In a similar vein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb, declared, “There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.”

With a wisdom and passion akin to the Genesis writer, Oppenheimer opined after watching the first nuclear explosion, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

One can hope and pray that the wisdom of Genesis, Oppenheimer, and Koyama will turn those with their fingers on the buttons of nuclear arsenals away from the power of the serpent’s deception, and make a sad Creator glad again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 11, 2017.

Wrong swamp – trumpery

“Drain the swamp” had a nice ring to it, until you realize that a swamp is an essential part of nature. Think Everglades. Think nature undisturbed. Think the spaces that have been drained and filled by real estate developers – pristine places we humans once regarded as wasteland waiting to be cultivated by a more civilized, more cultured species than tadpoles, frogs, alligators and crocodiles.

When Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, some hearers believed he was talking about the human swamp of Wall Street and corrupted politicians.

Now we know he meant something else. His cabinet appointments are Wall Street billionaires and corporate executives with histories of destroying the natural swamp for the purposes of real estate development, fossil fuel industry profit, and profit.

The Oxford online dictionary defines “trumpery“as:

“Showy but worthless: ‘trumpery jewellery’
“1.1 Delusive or shallow:
“[as modifier] ‘that trumpery hope which lets us dupe ourselves’”

Before getting excited about draining the swamp, ask for clarification about which swamp will be drained, who is going to drain it, and for what purpose. Otherwise, it’s all trumpery, and we’ve been duped.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 4, 2017

Why a Manger?

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” [Gospel of Luke]

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Tintoretto, 1518-1594. The Nativity from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Why a manger, the animals’ feeding trough? Why does Tintoretto’s babe seem to be so interested in the animals? Why are the animals so comfortable around him?

Luke is doing theology, which is not everyone’s cup of tea! But we all engage in it. It’s about Reality and what we believe most deeply about it.

“Good” theology — if we may be permitted to use the word in a world which is of the opinion that one opinion is just as “good” as another — seeks to connect the dots between the past, the present, and the future. Traditional Christian theology arcs back to the “goodness” of the beginning (creation) and anticipates the redemption of all things in light of the Christ-event – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As often happens, I heard Luke’s birth narrative this year in ways I had yet to put into words.

Could Luke himself have been arguing for what we now know in light of climate change: that we humans are of the same order as the cows, the chickens, goats, and sheep among whom Jesus of Nazareth was born? That is, we are not a superior species. We are not the exception to nature. And the redemption of reality itself includes the entirety of nature — the rescuing of nature from its despair and destruction by human hands.

So it was to poor shepherds, tending their flocks by night that the angel said,

“Do not be afraid; for see -I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Joyous Nowell, Merry Christmas, Happy Earth Day,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.

 

Falling

Fall is the season of falling. Falling leaves. Sap no longer running. Flowers fading. Red, yellow, purple dying into brown.

Each season reflects the movement of the soul, the eternal motion of the tides we sense within ourselves. Over a lifetime we move from the temporary wrinkles of birth to the etched wrinkles of aging. We love to look at babies. Old folks not so much.

More than a century ago Adalbert Stifter wrote of this in Der Nachsommer (English translation –The Indian Summer):

“Great beauty and youth capture our attention, excite a deep pleasure; however, why shouldn’t our souls gaze at a countenance over which the years have passed? Isn’t there a story there, one unknown, full of pain or beauty, which pours its reflection into the features, a story we can read with some compassion or at least get a slight hint of its meaning? The young point toward the future; the old tell of a past.”

Fall is a favorite season for many of us. At my age, I no longer wonder why.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever. [Isaiah 40:7-8]

Fall

Leaves are falling. The sap is finished running. Flowers fade — red,  green, yellow, purple falling into brittle brown.

Each season reflects the eternal motion of the seasons we sense within ourselves. Over a lifetime we move from the temporary wrinkles of the newborn babe to the well-worn lines and wrinkles of aging. We love to look at babies; old folks not so much.

In 1857 Adalbert Stifter pondered this in Der Nachsommer (The Post-Summer) published in English under the title Indian Summer:

“Great beauty and youth capture our attention, excite a deep pleasure; however, why shouldn’t our souls gaze at a countenance over which the years have passed? Isn’t there a story there, one unknown, full of pain or beauty, which pours its reflection into the features, a story we can read with some compassion or at least get a slight hint of its meaning? The young point toward the future; the old tell of a past.”

Fall is the favorite time for many of us. At my age, I no longer wonder why.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318

Time is what we have

“What is time?” asked the 11 year-old son of his father.  Finally, the father, who was supposed to know about such things, offered the briefest of answers. “Time is what we have.”

The answer  begged for more explanation, but it spoke out loud the frailty and wonder of the human condition. What is time? It’s what we have but, like everything else mortals have, or think we have, time runs out. Time is like the sand in the hour-glass. It sifts slowly through the funnel from top to bottom until there is nothing left. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The relation of time to eternity is the relation between mortality and immortality. Our hour-glass contains eternity but it does not define it or confine it. We experience eternity in the now of time as we look at the heavens on a starry night, feel a gentle breeze or the rush of a mighty wind, or watch the shorelines of human construction eroding, pushing back the illusion of ownership and control of nature and of time.

My poet friend and Views from the Edge colleague Steve Shoemaker is coming to the end of his time. After many decisions that prolonged his life far beyond the original prognosis, he opted last Saturday to give way to time. Steve chose to spend whatever days are left at home at Prairie Haven on the plains of Illinois.

The news came less than a week after five old friends who call ourselves the Dogs traveled from Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota to gather one last time with Steve at Steve’s room in the care center. We barked and growled watching the first presidential debate. We laughed. We sang some hymns. We prayed with and for Steve, Nadja, and their children, Daniel and Marla. We prayed for ourselves. The time was right.

When news arrived only days later that Steve had opted to end further medical treatment to go home, the conversation with my 11 year-old son years ago and Steve’s verse “When to Stop Praying” (April 2, 2016) came quickly to mind. The prayer now is for an end of striving. An end of pain. “Pray for my peace, not my life.” The end of time.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 5, 2016.