Tell that Fox

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Most every day I get up around 4:30, go downstairs, brew a pot of coffee, and begin to percolate. The percolations always sound about the same. With one difference. Coffee doesn’t stew. I do.

Looking in from the outside, you might say “You can take a man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man,” and you would be partly right. But I have no desire to stand in a pulpit. I loved the early mornings when a sermon began to percolate — pausing over a biblical text while world events swirled around my head. I still do. You can’t take that part of the pulpit out of the man.

SWIRLING AND STEWING

The world is always swirling, but these days the swirling feels different. More like a tornado. I go to bed with the news storming in my head and I get up early with it still swirling. But, no matter how ominous the news is, I know I can always take time out to get a better grip, to settle the spinning, to go into the eye of the storm I have become. 

Some mornings, it’s a word that pops up to hold my attention. Yesterday it was two words: serpents and doves. This morning there are three: serpents, doves, and a fox. Stay with me. Views from the Edge is my pulpit in retirement; it’s my pulpit, and I’ll cry if I want to! But this morning the words don’t lead me to cry. They inspire hope and define the way forward.

It began yesterday with serpents and doves. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” says Jesus to his disciples. 

“WISE AS SERPENTS”?  

Get yourselves educated. Become intimately familiar with the world you’re walking into. Be wise to the culture of cunning.” 

“INNOCENT AS DOVES”? 

Become like the dove that brings the olive branch back to the ark; work on whatever is not peaceful in your own hearts.”

Then this morning, along came the fox. “Go and tell that fox. . . ,” says Jesus to those who have come to warn him. 

“GO AND TELL THAT FOX”?

It’s not quite what it seems. The word is hard to render in English. In the culture of the times, it was a derogatory term, a slap in the face, according to biblical linguist Randall Both. Sort of like ‘pipsqueak’. Or small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart. 

The ‘fox’ is Herod Antipas, the despised tetrarch, a Jewish national who feathered his own nest, a turncoat who served at the pleasure of the Roman Emperor Tiberias. He had ingratiated himself to Tiberias by changing the name of the Sea of Galilee to the Lake of Tiberias and by building a new city with a lush vacation palace on the site of a Jewish cemetery. Herod was a turncoat to his faith and his country. Herod was a usurper. 

“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow . . . .”

“DEMONS AND HEALING”?

The ‘demons’ in the New Testament are not creepy little creatures, although they are creepy. They are twisters of goodness and truth, liars and tricksters who take possession of a person or a society. Sometimes they hold power and authority, building palatial palaces and private clubs, ingratiating themselves to a foreign power by changing the name and language of a local treasure. The demons make us sick. Healing comes as a result of throwing out the demons to end the demonic occupation. Driving out demons and healing is the continuing work of the community gathered around Jesus.

Like I said, you can take the man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man. Sometimes in the storm that is America today, a word pops up and percolates with the coffee: serpents, doves, and foxes. Five minutes before going back upstairs for my afternoon nap, I hear the words with which Jesus often ended an obscure parable:

“Let those with ears hear.” Хорошего дня.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 30, 2018.

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn!

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And so it came to pass in the third century of a democratic republic that the Wise Men returned to the countries from which they had come. Their sudden departure came the same way they had come: they had seen a star rising in the West. 

The original star that invited them to follow it was a sign of great promise. It was a lofty promise — a bright star in a dark sky — beckoning them to go and see this great thing that had come to pass. Leaving behind their camels, they boarded ship with only a trace of frankincense, gold, myrrh, and a translator, and followed the star to a foreign continent.

Statue of Liberty –NY Harbor

Having braved the high seas, they saw a statue over which the star stood still. A torch held high in the Lady’s hand burned as brightly as the star that shone above her, and a plaque was there they could not read. “Send these . . . tempest-tossed to me,” read the translater, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” And, hearing the words of welcome . . . they opened their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and with exceeding great joy set foot upon the land and settled there.

There would be times when the Wise Men and their descendants continued to see the star shining still above the Lady of welcome, and times when the star was covered by clouds and the Lady stood battered by storms, but the flame seemed eternal. 

Then, suddenly, in the third century of their sojourn, the different kind of star appeared — an entertainer who scoffed at the modest amounts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which the tempest-tossed Wise Men had presented the Lady to whom the star had led them. And so it came to pass in the republic’s third century that the Wise Men’s descendants boarded ship for the East, escaping the new star who was wrestling babies from their parents’ arms, extinguishing the torch over which the star once had stood, and replacing the plaque at the foot of the Lady with a new message:

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 29, 2018

What We Have in Common

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over coffee at Starbucks following the 2018 American mid-term election, a psychiatrist observed an epidemic of stress among his patients, regardless of their political leanings. They’re like inexperienced swimmers doing the doggie paddle in a tsunami.

The tension, the angry tone, the incivility, the name-calling, the smirks, the mocking impersonations, the barrage of lies and twisted truth are leading many of us to Sigmund or Anna Freud’s couch. Or to a fifth. Or pills. And to acts of verbal or physical violence of our own. We’re brawling in America and we wonder how we got here.

Sigmund and Anna Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and today’s practitioners of therapy know something about stress. So do the wisdom traditions of religion — the Tao that bridges the differences that divide us. It is this deeper sense of the Tao that is the source of human goodness. The Tao (Way) of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism guides individuals, cultures, and nations to flourish across all the walls we erect to separate us from each other.

C.S.Lewis Belfast

In his The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, to whom Ross Wilson‘s  statue pays tribute, wrote that without the perspective of the Tao, which calls us to something more than brute emotion, “…the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, confront one another, and no rapprochement is possible.”

Today in America, emotions are displacing the Tao. Narcissim and nihilism increasingly divide us into what Lewis called “trousered apes” and “urbane blockheads” who call each other names from different sides of a dividing wall. Like Lewis in his time and place, public philosopher-theologian Cornel West identifies nihilism as the plague let loose in America in his book Race Matters. “Nihilism is a natural consequence of a culture (or civilization) ruled and regulated by categories that mask manipulation, mastery and domination of peoples and nature.

Cornel West by Gage Skidmore

Cornel West photo by Gage Skidmore

“We need … the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”

When the common ground binding a society together is shopping, we step out on nothing, just hoping to land on something. Everything is up for grabs. A culture which turns its back on a spiritual-moral compass we didn’t make up, and that connects us to something greater than oneself, soon leaves its people flailing in an emotional and cognitive tusanami.

We [America]are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately,” says West. “Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”

The therapist’s couch in my friend’s office will never be empty. Some stress is part of life. But is it too much to hope that his clients may go there in sesarch of the Tao hidden beneath the false choice of being a trousered ape or an urbane blockhead, less patient with evil and more patient with people to meet the challenge of our time?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November

The Night of Broken Glass

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Krystallacht Magdeburg

Photo from Magdeburg, Germany, Nov. 9-10, 1938, Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass)

Today marks the 80th anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

The smiling man and woman in the photo are strolling past the broken glass of raided shops of the Jewish shopkeepers in the otherwise tranquil city of Magdeburg, Germany. The passers-by likely have never heard of Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th Century mystic beguine who had declared that “No one can burn the truth,” nor had they heard the screams or seen the tears of the shopkeepers or synagogue worshipers. Those screams are silent now. (Scroll down for information on  Krystallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass.)

Like the synagogues of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had been a quiet place. The sound of broken glass were heard only during from the traditional breaking of a glass at Jewish weddings. Tree of Life was a sacred place of worship. But the memory of Kristallnacht and the long history of anti-Semitic pograms were, and are, never far away.

The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht deserves greater attention in the U.S.A. this year when the evil of white nationalism has shattered the glass of the ‘others’ in synagogues, churches, and public gathering places with the weapons of destruction. Today I hear the echoes from The Night of Broken Glass and see the faces of smiling passers-by.  I stand still again in the face of evil and bow my knee before the Eternal Silence of the compassionate God we cannot kill.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 10, 2018.

U.S. Holocaust Museum account of Kristallnacht

On the night of November 9, 1938, violent anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out across Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Nazi officials depicted the riots as justified reactions to the assassination of German foreign official Ernst vom Rath, who had been shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old Polish Jew distraught over the deportation of his family from Germany.

Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs, spurred by antisemitic exhortations from Nazi officials, destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burning or desecrating Jewish religious artifacts along the way. Acting on orders from Gestapo headquarters, police officers and firefighters did nothing to prevent the destruction. All told, approximately 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and 91 Jews were murdered. An additional 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Nazi officials immediately claimed that the Jews themselves were to blame for the riots, and a fine of one billion reichsmarks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) was imposed on the German Jewish community.

The Nazis came to call the event Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,” or, “The Night of Broken Glass”), referring to the thousands of shattered windows that littered the streets afterwards, but the euphemism does not convey the full brutality of the event. Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.

 

 

 

Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

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Thomas Merton’s quotation on religion and privilege arrived following a national campaign with loud cheers and boisterous rallies that turn Christianity into white nationalism. “…Faith in God . . . becomes in fact faith in [one’s] own nation, class or race.”

Richer By Far

“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system–when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith…

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It’s not a Caravan

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Camel caravan

Caravan in the Jordan Valley

Does anything seem strange about ‘caravan’ as the word to describe the migrants now moving on foot toward the United States’s southern border? ‘Caravan’ is the word used everywhere without a second thought.

The etymology of the word ‘caravan’ is Persian. “From Middle French caravane, from Old French carvane, from Persian کاروان (kârvân), from Middle Persian kʾlwʾn’(kārawān), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ker- (army) (whence Old English here). The word was used to designate a group of people who were travelling by camel or horse on the Silk Road.” (Wiktionary)

Language matters. Words matter. “Language: A Mechanism of Social Control” — Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC tutorial for political candidates — knows this better than most. Words like ‘caravan’ have overtones and undertones. They allude to things that awaken hope or fear. There’s nothing like the warning of a caravan to awaken associations with Middle Easterners coming to our Southern border.

Have you ever heard of a Christian caravan? Or a Jewish caravan? Caravans in the American mind have nothing to do with the western hemisphere or western culture. Caravans belong to Persians (Iran) and the Arabs we have come to fear. No American fears a camel caravan! But we do remember the Crusades. We remember the waging of religious war between Christians and Muslims. We call to mind Al Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The linguistic manipulators of language use such emotive allusions as weapons in election campaigns and underscore the words by sending U.S. Army troops to the border — to keep us safe – to beat back the barbarian Middle Eastern terrorists from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador now walking slowly several hundred miles from the border in hopes of a better life. They know fear works. They know that threats to our freedom and national security will take our imaginations back in time to Arabian desert nomads whose camels carried them — fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents — from here to there without settling anywhere. They know we will think of a caravan as an army, not a caravan of nomads.

Language matters. Words matter. Don’t let the dispatch of troops to the Mexican border and the language of social control make fools of those who have never met a camel or walked on bandaged feet with bloodied hands pushing broken baby-strollers in hopes for as terror-less life. It’s not a caravan!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2018.

 

Tree of Life and All Souls

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Day of the Dead William Adolphe Bouguereau(1825-1905)

“Day of the Dead” – William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

The death of 11 worshipers in the sacred space of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh is no longer the latest heinous act of gun violence in America. There is more to come in a country where the rhetoric of fear and hate divide us with lies and diatribes.

All Souls Day on the Christian calendar calls for deeper reflection about the living and the dead — not just some of us, but all of us: Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform); Muslim (Shia, Sunni, Sufi); Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholic, Protestant); Hindu, Buddhist, Jaianist, humanist, animist, agnostic, and atheist — all of us.

There is only one of us. Humankind. A species free to eat from the Tree of Life that blesses or the Tree of Death that turns us into twos and threes, this or that, with words and arms that send 11 Tree of Life worshipers to their graves with forked tongues about good and evil and the planet itself.

Old_olive_tree_in_Karystos,_Euboia,_GreeceThe people of the Tree of Life know this. They named their place or worship after the Torah story of Humankind (Book of Genesis 2-3). Now in the deadly silence following the death of Abel, the people of the Tree of Life hear the different Voice that cries out, in love, for Cain. “Humankind, who are you? Your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground. There is only one Earth. There is only One of you — one Soul, one Breath — not two, or three, or….” (Genesis 4).

“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part and particle is related, The Eternal One.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson , Essays.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 3, 2018

 

 

Tikkun Olam

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Fourth Presbyterian chicago

Fourth Presbyterian Church – Chicago

John Buchanan looks to the Jewish concept “tikkun olam” amid the alarms of 2018. Dr. Buchanan is Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago, past Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and former editor of the The Christian Century. “Hold to the Good” is now his pulpit in retirement.

Hold to the Good

For years, at the conclusion of public worship, I have used words that come from St. Paul, written 2,000 years ago.

“Go into the world in peace and courage.
Hold to the Good.
Honor all God’s children.
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Last Sunday, as a guest preacher at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I came to the words “Hold to the Good” I almost couldn’t go on. The news from Pittsburgh Saturday morning stood as a contradiction to those words and to everything I hold dear and regard as essential to our life together….

…the trust that in the eternal struggle between good and evil, good will ultimately prevail,

…the trust that the heart of the nation I love, its government and politicians, is essentially fair, honest and good,

…the hope that the long arc of history bends, as Martin…

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The Press and the People

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Breckwoldt prüfung

The Ordeal – Sculpture by Edith Beckwoldt, St. Nikolai, Hamburg, Germany.

“No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” —  Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotation inscribed on Edith Beckwoldt’s sculpture “The Ordeal”.

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…” — Donald J. Trump tweet, 6:03 AM – 29 Oct 2018.

 

 

Mein Kampf dust jacket“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.” ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Many advise against any and all such comparisons. As a public theologian raised on Bonhoeffer’s witness, theology and ethics, I ask, “How, in good conscience, can we not?” The playbook today is the same as it was in Bonhoeffer’s time. According to The Art of the Deal’s ghost writer, the speeches of Hitler were prominent in the penthouse bedroom of Trump Tower.

Enter Charlie Chaplin’s parody of the unlikely rise of the Fuhrer and the call to national unity.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018

What do politics have to do with me?

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It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.