C’mon now! We can do better!

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“…The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”

THE REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., Memphis, TN, April 4, 1969

The world was messed up on April 4, 1969, the night the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke these words in his last speech. America was sick. It was troubled, confused and confusing, shrouded in darkness. Is it less messed up now? Is America in 2023 healthier now? Are we less troubled? Less confused, and less confusing? Do we agree that it is only in deep darkness that we can see the stars?

The Plumb-line and the bob

“Let justice roll down like waters,” implored Amos in the 8th Century BCE, “and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos’s imagery became a poetic plumb-line of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the civil rights movement. The plumb-line, kept taut by the heavy bob of righteousness and justice, was the moral standard in a crooked world.

Martin Luther King, Jr called America to stay true to the plumb-line of justice and righteousness that keeps a society aligned with its better self. Just as gravity pulls a weighted string taut, straight and vertical from top to bottom, the plumb-line of Amos and Martin is the moral plumb-line that sets the standard for a just society.

What is the plumb-line in America? Is there any plumb-line left by which to assess the world and America? What worth is a plumb-line if it stays hidden, is pushed to the side, stored in a museum of artifacts from another time? What happens to a society when the national plumb-line is hung by the hand of greed and weighted at the bottom with a bob of material wealth that moths consume and thieves break in and steal? What happens to the soul of a person or a society that builds a house without a plumb-line?

To the civil rights movement, justice meant following Jesus in turning over the tables of the money-changers with non-violent action that would recognize the intrinsic structural connection of love and justice. “Justice,” ways Cornel West, “is Love made public.” The movement of non-violent social transformation was a movement of faithful souls willing to pay the price. Though the great host of those who honored the plumb-line never stood in the limelight, the names of Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, C. T. Vivian, Ruby Bridges, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, Fannie Lou Hamer, Hosea Williams, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, and John Lewis will never be forgotten.

Most of the freedom riders of the 1950s and ’60 are dead and buried, but America’s original sin is not. Neither is the plumb-line of righteousness and justice.

Though we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the darkness, we are not without light. The darkness is the same. The darkness is White, as it has been since the genocide of America’s First Peoples and the day White kidnappers loaded African hostages on slave ships as cargo to be bought and sold on the slave market.

America’s original sin and its darkness remain the same, but so does the light of blackness. Amos’s plumb-line calls us to our better selves. Congressmen Elijah Cummings, John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, Hakim Jeffries, and Bennie Thompson still insist that a better America can only be built with a weighted plumb-line, not a pendulum, or a string without a bob.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2019/oct/17/elijah-cummings-memorable-speeches

Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 18, 2023.

Why I Stayed Home this Christmas

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Christmas felt different this year. I did not feel the Light shining in darkness. It feels as though the darkness has overcome the light. I feel the heaviness of bombed out, homeless Ukrainians more than Zelenkov’s resistance lightens my spirit. “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Love overflows the banks of hope, and no hope that ignores reasons for despair is worth a damn.

So I stayed home on Christmas Eve. In the morning, the NPR annual broadcast of the Festival of Lessons and Carols that lifted my soul in years past, was silent. I didn’t turn it on. Everything was off. Fairy tales can be true, or they can be delusive. Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud’s critiques of religion as illusion crashed the place where sugar plumbs once danced in my head.

Faith is a Leap — Reality is Existential

So much of what passes for Christian faith is nonsense. It doesn’t take a Ludwig, a Karl, or a Sigmund to ask what is real; it’s not a head trip. The difference between illusion and reality is existential — a disturbance of the stomach, a migraine, or a numbness that won’t go away.

Eight years into retirement, I have stopped looking for a church home. Nowhere is the darkness darker than in the churches that profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior while following a stand-in savior who fabricates and perpetuates the lie that he has been robbed of his legitimate authority. The embrace of QAnon conspiracy theory — the latest iteration of the division of the world between the saved Bible-believing patriots, and the damn pedophiles, child kidnappers, and sex traffickers of the Deep State — fits like a glove, but it is a betrayal the churches profess.

I was never big on Satan. Over the years, the division of the human species between good (heaven-bound) and evil (hell-bound) made less and less sense until it made no sense at all. Belief in life after death, or, as William Stringfellow called it, “after-death life,” struck me as a comforting delusion, the fanciful escape from death, the limit of every mortal creature.

Who we are, and what we’re not

The Book of Genesis parable of humankind’s tragedy in the Garden of Eden goes straight to the heart of the matter. The temptation is to know what only God knows, namely, the difference between good and evil that would make them like God, i.e., the illusion that they, the human creatures, would never die. The great sin is refusing to be what we are — trying to be what we are not.

The Day after Christmas in Minnesota

December 26, 2022, marked the 160th anniversary of the Mankato Massacre when 38 Dakota were hanged on a platform built for public shaming. The white European settlers gathered to observe the largest execution ever to take place on American soil.

They came to watch the ultimate shaming, but, before the execution, they heard what they did not expect. The heard voices from the gallows, chanting a prayer to the Great Spirit:

Wakantanka taku
nitawa
tankaya qaota;
mahpiya kin eyahnake ca,
makakin he duowanca.
Mniowanca sbeya wanke cin,
hena ovakihi.

Dakota hymn

Many and great, O God, are Thy works,
Maker of earth and sky;
Thy hands have set the heavens with stars,
Thy fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at Thy word the waters were formed;
Deep seas obey Thy voice.
Grant unto us communion with Thee,
Thou star-abiding One;
Come unto us and dwell with us:
With Thee are found the gifts of life.
Bless us with life that has no end,
Eternal life with Thee.

Mankato was not calm the day after Christmas in 1862. No bright star shone down on the gallows. No angels sang. No babe in swaddling cloths. No shepherds knelt. No cattle were lowing. No ‘kings’ brought gifts. No carols rang out from the churches.

The day after Christmas was a time for crucifixion (a state execution) by White Christian Nationalists. Even so–or perhaps because it was a crucifixion — a Dakota hymn of faith, hope, and love still echoes from a gallows in Mankato. Love overflows the banks of hope, and no hope that ignores reasons for despair is worth a damn.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and social commentator, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn, MN, December 26, 2022.

Pinocchio’s World in January 2023

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It’s a new year according the calendar, but it’s the same world we had hoped to leave behind on New Year’s Eve. It’s still Pinocchio’s world. Pinocchio’s nose has grown longer each year. Those who have mistaken insurrection for patriotism, and party loyalty for fidelity to the Constitution have all but forgotten Jiminy Cricket. The voice of conscience is missing. All that’s left is the song meant to encourage children:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Optimism and the hand grenade

Before taking the oath of office, a prerequisite for the new Congress to convene, is sworn in, the new majority pulled the pin on the hand grenade before throwing it, leaving the House a mess without a Speaker.

THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The worst of it is the failure to face and act upon the reality of climate change. Whether by willful ignorance, misinformation, blind optimism, despair, or humankind’s Achilles’ Heel — our mortal propensity toward illusion — there is a deafening silence, louder than the calamity of war, that will not go away in 2023 and the years that follow.

Jiminy’s optimism has faded and the voice of conscience is weaker now. If Pinocchio’s nose had grown longer in private, it would be less consequential. No one would follow him. But Pinocchio cannot stand living without a stage and applause. The audience has come to the theater wanting Pinocchio to be more than someone’s puppet. Whoever is managing the strings, one thing is certain. It is not Gipetto. Pinocchio never goes on stage without Jiminy Cricket.

My father’s absence, return, and absence again

What child does not find hope in Jiminy Cricket’s calm invitation to wish upon a star, no matter who you are? But what adult can believe it “makes no difference who you are/ Anything your heart desires/Will come to you/If your heart is in your dream”? Does it? Does fate step in? Will fate see us through 2023? Fanciful thinking won’t get us through.

Questions of reality and illusion have been part of me since the day my father stepped from the B-29 Bomber at Logan International Airport. My mother and grandparents had assured me that I did have a daddy, but they had also prayed for his safety, and listen to the radio, hoping there would be no bad news about American troops in the South Pacific.

When my father stepped from the B-29 at Logan Airport and scooped me up in his arms, I pulled back. “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said. “And I’m never going away again!” The next morning, he was gone. What child knows the difference between “I’m never going away again!” and leaving the next day to be honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps? 

Skepticism in Pinocchio’s world never left me. What is, and is not, trustworthy; what is real and what is illusion; what are faith, hope, and love in a Pinocchio world? In the adult world of 2023, Jiminy Cricket has changed his tune, but his call to conscience remains. Fate and destiny are not the same. Optimism is not the same as hope. Faith is a leap of faith, hope, and love that plunges into a sea of not-knowing and not-yet for the sake of a destiny greater than fate.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and social commentator, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 5, 2023

The Kidnapping of Satan

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As a retired ordained minister born and bred in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I find the embrace of QAnon among ‘evangelical’ Christians staggering, but I am not stunned.

QAnon’s Satan

Satan is the central character of QAnon conspiracy theory. Satan conspires from deep within the Deep State from which an anonymous snitch exposes the truth — a Satanic plot of pedophiles, child molesters, sex-traffickers, cannibals, and kidnappers conspiring against the savior of freedom, righteousness, and truth, Donald Trump.

The historical roots of QAnon

‘Christian nationalism’ has a long history. A group of expatriating British citizens, seeking refuge to practice their faith without government interference, planted its flag on Native American soil. They brought with them two myths: white supremacy and Christian exceptionalism, essential building blocks to build the city set upon a hill, a holy nation, God’s own people, the New Jerusalem. It is not incidental that Satan, ‘the prince of this world,’ the source of evil, arrived with them.

Wayward Puritans

Sociologist Kai Erikson’s Wayward Puritans: a Study of Social Deviance offers insight into the psycho-social dynamics of social cohesion and deviance. Social deviance is a tool of insuring a society’s cohesion. The Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth consensus was fraying. At Mrs. Anne Hutchinson’s trial, Presiding Judge, Gov. John Winthrop, expressed the reason the defendant had been brought to trial: “troublesomeness of spirit and the danger of her course amongst us, which is not to be suffered.”

“Unfit for our society”

“Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.” Judge, Gov. John Winthrop.

Anne Hutchinson accepted the court’s sentence and left the Bay Colony to co-founded, with Roger Williams, the state of Rhode Island.

Others were not so lucky. Quaker Mary Dyer was banished, and hanged in 1660 on Boston Common after three times violating the court’s banishment.

At Salem, between 1662 and ’63, women, men, and girls (19 female and six males) accused of practicing witchcraft, were executed as unfit for (a Christian) society.

The First Amendment: no to Christian Nationalism

A century later, when the Founders adopted the First Amendment establishing the right of religious freedom, the memory of this intolerance and the horrors of the idea of a Christian nation informed and shaped their conscience.

The idea of Satan has been kidnapped

How, then, did it come to pass that some professing Christians have embraced the Satan of QAnon? Only Satan knows. But there lies the problem. Satan doesn’t know, and can’t know, because there is no ‘being’ named Satan. QAnon misconstrues references to Satan in the Bible. The Hebrew שָׂטָן (śāṭān) is variously translated into English as accuser, adversary, liar, slanderer. Accusation, lying, and slandering are behaviors, not a name. Nearly always, the article ‘the’ precedes Satan: the accuser, the adversary, the trickster, the slanderer.

Delusion, illusion, and self-glorification

The New Testament Gospel narratives of Jesus alone with the Devil τοῦ διαβόλοß (Koine Greek rendering שָׂטָן śāṭān) for forty days in the wilderness are not about a being named ‘Satan’. They are about Jesus and the rest of us in our propensities toward illusion, delusion, and self-glorification. Will Jesus do what no other human being can do — turn stones into bread, leap from the Temple without a fatal fall, refuse power over the nations — as what defines him?

The scene of Synoptic Gospel narratives is the wilderness; the circumstance is mortal vulnerability: unassuaged weariness and hunger. The adversary beckons Jesus to become what he is not. The wilderness narratives paint pictures marking the difference between honoring the truth of our finite (limited) mortal nature, and confusing one’s self with what we are not: Infinite and Immortal. Jesus refuses to glory himself.

The beasts fo the human spirit

The Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the New Testament Gospels describes the wilderness experience without the three temptations added later added by Matthew and Luke. “The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tested by the Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.”

Christian faith and QAnon

This is the Jesus professing Christians proclaim as Lord and Savior. It is this way of living that is the way of Christ. This is the Christ who leads us through the wilderness toward and beyond Golgotha (the Hill of Skulls). This is the savior who tells the śāṭān to go away when Peter acts as the Satan, the adversary, the liar who tells Jesus he will never die.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, host of Views from the Edge, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Nov. 30, 2022.

Stay Woke!

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A prefatory word of introduction

This sermon has been dormant since 2014. It was written the first Sunday following retirement. It has never been spoken from the pulpit, no ears have heard it, no one has read it until now. Noah Bieman’s Los Angeles Times editorial, “The Great Divide” (republished today by the Star Tribune), offers reason to post it. Jesus of Nazareth never heard of Florida or its governor’s description of it: “a refuge of sanity, a place “where woke goes to die.”

“KEEP AWAKE!”

First Sunday in Advent, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 13:37, NIV)

It’s hard to stay awake in times like these. To be conscious means grief, helplessness, anger at the state of the world and the stupidity of the human race.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is supposed to bring comfort, but it doesn’t, unless the heaven and earth of which Jesus speaks are the ones our pride has created: the imaginary ones, the heavenly and earthly projects that rise out of human insecurity, as in the Genesis story of Babel, the story of what never was but always is, according to which the building of the ideal city is interrupted and the tower “with its top in the heavens” is “left off”. But the Word — the story about it — has not passed away. It endures. As fresh today as it was when first shared around a campfire as a way of teaching a new generation the respective places of God and humankind.

Fourteen years after the World Trade Center Twin Towers collapsed, a new tower, One World Trade Center — taller, stronger, bolder — stands where the old towers crumbled on 9/11. One World Trade Center resuscitates a national myth on life support.

Standing a few blocks from Wall Street, where the global economy is reconstructed every day, One World Trade Center picks up the pieces of the myth of national supremacy, benign goodness, and presumed virtue of the American economic system.

We could have left Ground Zero empty of monoliths. Turned it into a memorial to the error of undue pride, a turning away from national arrogance. A repentance from the economic-military-religious-technological complex that expropriated the oil fields in the Middle East, assassinated the elected President of Iran in 1958, installed the Shah in his place, ignored the human rights of Palestinians, supported and installed western-friendly oligarchies and strong men in Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Saddam Hussein), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) until, except for Saudi Arabia, they turned against us.

Instead of listening to the word that does not pass away, we Americans, to the sorrow of New Yorkers like Michael Kimmelman (“The Great Divide,” NY Times, Nov. 29, 2014), opted for the old words and worn-out scripts that had failed us. The Democratic Spring in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia did not do what the NeoCon exporters of Western democracy had imagined. It unleashed a seething volcano of anti-American resentment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria became desert quagmires – Vietnams without jungles.

Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warning of the emerging “military-industrial complex” is a pessimistic memory we ignore as the phoenix of One World Trade Center is raised up…and up…and up out of the ashes, symbol of global dominance to fool ourselves again.

Human scale –truer neighborhoods

“But it [i.e. the World Trade Center] never really connected with the rest of Lower Manhattan. There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center re-development including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood, at a human scale, where the windswept plaza at the foot of the twin towers had been.”

Michael Kimmelman, “The Great Divide,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 2014

What is at issue is human scale, a windswept plaza, or a tower of divine proportions with “its top in the heavens.” Our words will pass away, even the best of them.

Keeping awake

Keeping awake is hard. Staying attuned to what is not passing away takes courage in search of wisdom. It takes faith. It takes hope. It takes love.

During this most puzzling of seasons — the Season of Advent, the season of wakeful anticipation of a Coming in fullness — I find myself crying out with Isaiah. It feels as though “you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” [Isaiah 64:7]

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations [the ethnoi in NT Greek, i.e. the peoples] might tremble at your presence!

Isaiah 64:1-2

The ‘nations’ have always been God’s adversaries, closed in on themselves, puffed up, defensive against intruders, plunderers of nature and other nations, hostile to the foreigner, both human (the other) and Divine (the Other).

Deliver us from ourselves

In this season of ‘economic recovery’ when the poor continue to get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class shrinks, deliver us, good Lord, from “the hand of our own iniquity.

”Remember, “O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” [Isaiah 64:8]

This word is the only word that lasts. Stay awake, my soul. Stay awake to the whole of it — all of it: the sorrow and the grief of it, the loneliness of it, the anger toward it, the guilt of it, the finger pointing that points back at me, a nation to myself, and the presence of the Potter — and my soul shall be well, new and fresh every morning.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2027, Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, November 20, 2022.

When a critic attacks

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“What is your life?” asks the Letter of James. “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Letter of James 4:14b (NIV)

When a megalomaniacal public figure fears that his Echo is growing faint, and that the spotlight is fading, or turning against him, an ingrained and well-practiced defense mechanism kicks in, as surely as night follows day:

When a critic attacks, project onto your critic what you yourself are, and fear becoming.

Former Director of Homeland Security, later chosen to serve as White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly, claims that his boss tried to use the FBI, the IRS, and other federal agencies as weapons against the president’s perceived enemies — former FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, among them.

Photo of Mike Pence swearing in of retired Marine Corps General John Kelley to the office of Secretary of Homeland Security.
John F. Kelly is ceremonially sworn in prior to President Trump’s speech at DHS Headquarters on January 25, 2017. Kelly was actually sworn in five days prior.

The former president’s current spokesperson refutes Kelly’s claim with the defense mechanism to which Americans have become accustomed:

"It’s total fiction created by a psycho, John Kelly, who . . . made it up just because he’s become so irrelevant.”

“You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?” asks the Epistle of James. “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James

A Letter to the Editor

A Letter to the Editor in today’s Star Tribune (Nov. 17, 2020) asks and answers a few vexing questions about fiction, psychos, and irrelevance.

Photocopy of Letter to the Editor, Star Tribune (Nov. 17, 2022)
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, November 17, 2022

Stillness and the Septic Tank — The Day After

About this piece

"Leave Rage Alone" aired yesterday as a podcast recorded during a rare moment when all of us were in the same boat, waiting for the 2022 election returns. The text for the podcast is printed below."Leave Rage Alone" was written and posted four years ago before Kay and I re-located from Chaska to Brooklyn Park MN to be near grandson Elijah. We share it here in hopes it still speaks.

Searching for stillness

Stillness defines life at the cabin. It’s quiet. The only sounds are bird calls. It is this stillness that draws us here by the wetland. But my heart is not still. It’s preoccupied with evil. This morning’s assigned psalm from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) speaks to my condition.

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers…
For they shall soon wither like the grass…
Be still before the LORD…
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37 BCP

Leave rage alone.

Last night, after a quiet swim, I put my hearing aids back in, returned to the cabin for dinner, and listened to a podcast of The Beat with Ari Melber which Kay had downloaded on her iPhone. Back home in Chaska, we watch The Beat because it suits our outrage over what is happening to America. But listening to the podcast re-awakened the rage from which I seek relief in the quiet beauty of the disconnected cabin by the wetland. Listening to the podcast disturbed the serenity of the place. It felt like a fatal assault, a return to hell.

Midway through the podcast, I removed my hearing aids again to distance myself from the septic fret of rage. It was the tone of voice that felt like death or a foreign invasion. I was swimming in my own body waste.

The pond and the wetland are changing every day. So is the world. The Trumpeter Swans that brought such joy a month ago are gone. So are the red-wing blackbirds that had feasted on the cat-n-nine tails. And the grass? The grass is green and growing again. But the psalm reminds me that green will fade to brown in autumn until the swans return.

Meanwhile the calendar reminds me. It’s time to call the guy who empties the septic tank, before it gets full and no longer works. — July 19, 2018.


Afterword

The day after the election day, the boat of anxiously awaiting the election results is over. The shared experience of unknowing was perhaps its own kind of sacred moment, a suspension of the lethal spirituality of winners and losers. Is it too much to ask, for the sake of everyone’s health, that we come together again to empty the septic tank before it gets full?

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 two-four page essays on faith and public life; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 9, 2022.

Can Crocodiles Fly?

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What is real?

Tomorrow’s 2022 election is about reality. Some appearances are real, others are not. Some things are fixable, other are not. Some illnesses are curable, others are terminal.

Which is climate change? Which is democracy? Though the ballots do not ask these questions, the results of this election will tell us what we think is real, fIxable, and curable or unreal, unfixable, and terminal.

Priorities: a habitable planet

Climate change belongs at the top of every ballot. Check one: climate change is real/not real. Check one: A habitable planet is/is not more important than everything else on this ballot. Check one: My vote does/does not matter.

All other legitimate concerns, irrespective of partisan perspectives — the economy, capitalism or socialism, taxation, race, nation, human rights, war, peace, women’s rights, end of life decisions, agriculture, integrity, truth, qualifications for office, religion, crime, integrity, distribution of wealth, poverty, hunger, ability, and energy — count for nothing without a habitable planet.

Fame is not a qualification for public office

Fame/infamy does not qualify or disqualify a candidate for public service. Personal integrity, character, experience, a sense of humility, and vision for the future — not media visibility or public popularity — are appropriate considerations for a voters decisions.

If media visibility and popularity qualify people for public office, I’d bet on Oprah. Odds would be lower for Kanye West, Elon Musk, Eric Zuckerberg, or Jeff Bozos.

Celebrities on the 2022 ballot include a Hall of Fame football player in Georgia; a retired cardiovascular surgeon-television entertainer in Pennsylvania; a high-profile Phoenix TV news anchor in Arizona. All of them join a higher profile entertainer in denying the legitimacy of the 2020 election, denying that climate change is real, and defending the continuance of fossil fuel producers.

Crocodiles can’t fly or lie

If you believe crocodiles are harmless, and that crocodiles can fly, take a deep breath before you vote. What most distinguishes crocodiles from humans is simple. Crocodiles can have you for lunch, but can’t get their heads around climate change or democracy, and they can’t lie any more than they can fly.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, writer and author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, Nov.6, 2022.

Where’s Nancy?

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Truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

Isaiah 59:15 NIV

Eighty-two year old Paul Pelosi, hit in the head by an intruder’s hammer, undergoes emergency surgery for a fractured skull. An intruder admits to breaking into the Pelosi home and hitting Mr. Pelosi with a hammer. He is looking for Nancy.

I read the morning paper, “Right-wing figures rush to spread Pelosi lies,” is the lead story. “The push is on to sow doubt, distrust over attack.”

The same defense-by-offense attack machine whose Willie Horton ad hit the bull’s-eye of white fear to smear Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as “soft on crime” kicks into gear again in an election year. Fox News’ quickly shifts into another gear, deflecting attention from the specifics of the attack — this was the home of the Speaker of the House for whom the January 6 “tourists” had shouted, “Where’s Nancy?” — to launch into the same mode that produced the Horton ad. It could have happen to any of us!

Steve Bannon’s War Room plants seeds of doubt and deceit: “Very strange new details on Paul Pelosi attack,” says the War Room, knowing the 78,000 War Room subscribers are likely to respond: “Gosh, I wonder what those strange new details could be?” Roger Stone weighs in on Telegram, referring to the attack as an “alleged attack” and calls readers to smell the “stench” of mainstream news reporting. Elon Musk posts on Twitter “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” pointing his readers’ to a far right source known for spreading far right disinformation. Elon Musk has 112,000,000 Twitter followers. Hours later, with no explanation, he takes down the post.

Donald Trump stays silent…sort of. On “Truth Social” there is no mention of the event, no expression of sorrow and request for prayers for Mr. Pelosi’s full recovery, no word of sympathy for the Speaker of the House or the rest of a traumatized family, no condemnation of violence, no call for the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other militias to stop the violence, no reference to the rule of law, no recognition of responsibility for unleashing the beasts of hate and terror. Truth Social repeatedly repeats narcissistic lamentations, blaming the Left for conspiring against him.

A numbing detachment and destructive disposition

Not even news of a cracked skull breaks through some skulls. We live, one might argue, in a web of narcissism and nihilism. “[W]e are coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important of all) lovelessness,” wrote Cornel West in Race Matters.

The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world.

Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a cold-hearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.
Cornel West, Race Matters (1993, Vintage Press)

A disease and cure of the soul

“Is there really any hope,” asks West,”given our shattered civil society, market-driven corporate enterprises, and white supremacy? If one begins with concrete narcissism, one must talk about some kind of politics of conversion…Narcissism is a disease of the soul.”

It will take something more than partisan politics to change it. Even so, we are not without Even so, we are not without sources of wisdom, hope, and guidance. Neither truth nor honesty is dead, nor is the way to recover of the public square. An ancient collection of wisdom offers a way forward. The Book of Proverbs names seven things that are detestable to God:

  • haughty eyes,
  • a lying tongue,
  • hands that shed innocent blood,
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes,
  • feet that are quick to rush into evil,
  • a false witness who pours out lies, and
  • a person who stirs up dissension among brothers and sister.

Flip the proverbs to the other side of the coin, and consider the practices that keep a society from falling.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), a collection of social commentaries through eyes of faith; Brooklyn Park, MN, November 2, 2022.

Life in America: I am not a Jellyfish!

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Apologies to By-the-Wind Sailors for calling them jellyfish. They are not jellyfish. A by-the wind sailor has a sail. Jellyfish have no sail; they just bob around.

My life is blown up and down in all directions. Right-side up, down-side-up north, east, south, west. But I am not a jellyfish. I am not a gelatinous blob.

Like the by-the-wind sailors along the Pacific coast, I have a sail that catches the wind. But what use is a sail without a keel and rudder?

I am not a by-the-wind sailor: I don’t get to choose my neighbor

The winds of time blow in different directions and are forever shifting. When it comes from the south, it blows me north. When it comes from the north, it blows me south. Most often it’s the west wind that pushes me and my by-the-sea sailors community east. No one can break ranks! Did I mention that by-the-wind sailors live in colonies. Like members of a political party in 2022, they live in colonies at the mercy of the wind.

But I have a mind that can, and does, make decisions. “Don’t just do something,” said Fr. Dan Berrigan, “stand there!” Sometimes I’m feel torn the Golden Rule (Do to others as you would have them to you) and “standing there” on things that matter, even at the risk of driving a wedge between my neighbor and me. To be loving does not mean becoming a by-the-wind sailor or a jellyfish. It takes a keel and rudder to tack against the wind. By-the-wind sailors have neither the heart to love nor the courage to move against the wind.

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

He [Jesus] said to him [the lawyer], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Stand Firm

I have what no by-the-wind sailor or jelly fish has. I have a rudder. I can go with the wind, or, by trimming the sail, tacking, or putting down anchor, I can go with, or resist, whatever wind is blowing. I can go with the flow or tack to a distant shore when the wind would drive me back, or I can put down anchor. I can do nothing but stand there.

"For freedom Christ has set you free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." [Letter to the Galatians 5: 1].

To move with the wind is neither free nor responsible. It is a peculiar form of slavery. The freedom of Christ breaks the yoke of slavery. Slavery to what? The 59th chapter of the Book of Isaiah expresses in vivid metaphors the anguished heart of God over how poorly we treat each other. How do I love those “who rely on empty arguments and speak lies,” when they “conceive trouble and give birth to evil, when they hatch the eggs of vipers and spin the spider’s web”? How do I love those who seem like by-the-wind sailors, going with a colony blown toward destruction by storms of misinformation, disinformation, lies, misplaced faith, and certainty?

Prayer as Political

A recent week on Block Island, Rhode Island, the home of theologian, lawyer, civil rights and peace activist, author, and friend, William (Bill) Stringfellow and poet Anthony Towne, drew me back to A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning when Bill, at the invitation of the Block Island Writers Workshop, remembered Anthony:

I consider that Anthony regarded the use of the languages the distinguishing feature between that which is civil and human and that which is brutal and dehumanized. The culture, he had noticed long since, had gone the latter way, and its debasement of language, indeed, its promotion of jargon, verbosity, redundancy, deceit, doublespeak and similar babel is evidence of a profound decadence.

His vocation -- as distinguished from his occupation -- was, in principle, monastic, as is my own. (That is the explanation of our relationship.) That is, he and I have understood that we had been called to a life of prayer, and that the practice of prayer is essentially political -- a matter of attention to events and of advocacy for the  needs of human life and of the life of the whole Creation. Prayer, in this sense, is not pietistic, but, on the contrary, radical involvement in the world as it is, prompted in the Word of God. -- William Stringfellow, A Simplicity of Faith (Wipf and Stock), p. 51-2.

November 8 and the Practice of Prayer

The 2022 national election is its own kind of prayer. Either we will vote to surrender our humanity to the prevailing wind of brutality, deceit, nationalism, authoritarianism, violence and hate, or we will choose to tack against the wind toward the horizon only prayer as politics can take us.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 21, 2022.