The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

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No, not THAT Tea Party –the one that turned Boston Harbor into a sea of tea; and not THAT Tea Party — the 20th Century movement to strip government to its bare bones. THIS one is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Daily Briefings

Watching the White House daily briefings on the coronavirus, I feel like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I mutter to myself, “if something made sense for a change?”

The Mad Hatter, who recently cut the pandemic disease office of the National Security Council as fat and who has no medical education or expertise, presumes to know better than Dr. Anthony Fauci and the other health professionals standing behind him. I talk to the president through the television broadcast to explain what I see and hear.

Photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci

“When you’re at the microphone facing the cameras, you can’t see what I see on the faces of the doctors standing behind you. You don’t see the stares or feel the energy it takes to hide their disdain. They cringe when you give assurances that everything is under control, declare with authority that the risks are minimal to none, and make announce remedies that don’t exist or are dangerous to our health.”

I shout at the television, “‘If you don’t think . . . , you shouldn’t talk.’ You haven’t made sense since you called the coronavirus a hoax. We’re all guests at your Tea Party, doing our best to be respectful while kicking each other under the table, winking, and passing notes with the scones and tea cozy.

“Those who know their history have read the book(s) your co-author Tony Schwartz and first wife, Ivana, claim to have seen in your bedroom. We know that history repeats itself for those who ignore their history. Our grandparents and great-grandparents risked their lives and died to save us from the day when those books might become America’s Bible. We hear in your manner of speaking, repetition of phrases, framing the free press as America’s great enemy, and see in your facial expressions and body posture, the projection of the Strong Man. What you say and how you say it has a ring to it.”

The Strong Man’s Script

“As the last factor I must in all modesty describe my own person: Irreplaceable. Neither a military man nor a civilian could replace me. Attempts at assassination may be repeated. I am convinced of my powers of intellect and of decision. Wars are always ended only by the annihilation of the opponent. Anyone who believes differently is irresponsible. Time is working for our adversaries. Now there is a relationship of forces which can never be more propitious for us. No compromises. Hardness toward ourselves. I shall strike and not capitulate. The fate of the Nation depends only on me. No one has ever achieved what I have achieved. My life is of no importance in all this. I have led [the nation] to a great height, even if the world does hate us now.”

“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.”

“The Strong Man is mightiest alone.”

“Strength lies not in defense, but attack.”

“Do not compare yourself to others. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.”

“The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth. ”

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

“But the most brilliant propaganda technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.” 

“I know that fewer people are won over by the written word than by the spoken word and that every great movement on this earth owes its growth to great speakers and not to great writers.”

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”

“Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.”

“Life doesn’t forgive weakness.” 

“Strength lies not in defense but attack.”

“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.”

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”

“To truly ‘learn’ history means to open your eyes and discover the forces that cause historical events to happen. The art of reading and of learning means remembering the important parts and forgetting the unimportant.”

All the above are quotations from Mein Kampf or speeches of Hitler

There Will Be No Throne Here

The original Tea Party threw the tea into Boston Harbor to protest a colonial power’s taxation of the colonists without representation. They were telling the King of England to go home. There would be no palace or gilded throne in the new American Republic.

portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm III

Little could the colonists at the original Tea Party have imagined a king rising from American soil — a free electorate allowing a would-be king to shred its own Constitution.

Neither could they have imagined another democratic republic which de-throned Kaiser Wilhelm II turn back the clock for the Strong Man promised to make Germany great again and re-paint the Jewish Jesus as an Aryan-race anti-Jewish fighter who gave his blessing to the nationalist purge and purification we now call the Holocaust.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of 2020 is not in Germany, and pundits have been well-advised to refrain from any comparisons, especially when the need to unite is so apparent. But we cannot pretend not to see what we see and hear what we hear.

“That’s very important,” the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: “Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,” he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

“Unimportant, of course, I meant,” the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, “important—unimportant–unimportant–important–” as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down “important,” and some “unimportant.” Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; “but it doesn’t matter a bit,” she thought to herself.

Members of the Jury: “important . . . unimportant . . . important”?

The danger to an America locked down to safeguard public health is greater than the coronavirus. It is the threat that we will come to see the Boston Tea Party and the U.S. Constitution as partisan mistakes, and plug our ears lest we hear even the faintest hint of the shredding of the Constitution and see no similarity to the Strong Man’s Script.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, available in paperback and kindle through Wipf and Stock and Amazon.

Every day is the last judgment

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There’s no need to hang about
waiting for the Last Judgement —
it takes place every day.

Albert Camus, The Fall (1956)

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was not the first and will not be the last. Historical contexts, memory, and what we believe make a difference to how we live/die in the 2020 pandemic.The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than all the deaths in World War I. “It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351” – Stanford Encyclopedia.

In the United States, 195,000 Americans lost their lives in the month of October, 1918 alone. The influenza of 1918-19 became known as “the Spanish Flu” after it took the life of the King of Spain, but it was no more Spanish than COVID-19 is Chinese. A virus is a virus. It pays no attention to nations or the propensity of nations and peoples to target a scapegoat — another nation unlike one’s own — as though a virus knows the difference.

Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 13:31-46)

First appearances can be deceptive, few more so than the teachings of Jesus. The Parable of the Last Judgment is not what it seems –it is not about future end of time. It’s a parable inviting the listeners to get their heads out of the clouds and put their feet on the ground. Its message? Pay attention to people in front of you, or nearby, living under the interstate bridge in the dead of winter. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoners — put yourself squarely in the midst of human suffering.

We might say, the measure of life is compassion in the midst of a world that makes no good sense. What happens at the end is not yours to know. Pay attention to today. Every day is the Last Judgment.

But there’s something else that goes unnoticed in individualistic cultures. Jesus’s parable it is not about the individual. The parable is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s a story that calls the nations to account for their behavior. In that sense, the parable is political. It’s about the polis and its values. There are no privileged nations. All are measured by one standard. The last judgment– the judgment of compassion, kindness, and humility — takes place every day.

The Opportunity of Trouble

Like the Influenza pandemic of 2018-19, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a crisis in the Chinese sense of the word — danger and opportunity. The danger seems obvious, but perhaps the opportunity is greater. We are at war with each other across the U.S.A., shouting across a deep chasm that the other is a goat. We are in very deep trouble, but we’re in it together because of a deadly virus. In hopes we will come to the deeper knowledge of who we are.

“The human mind and the human heart move to truth through trouble,” said Irish Anglican priest G.A. Studdert Kennedy. “It does not really matter what sort of truth you seek. Bunyan faced with the problem of the soul, and Newton faced with the problem of the stars, are both alike in this: they are troubled spirits. They brood over a mass of apparently unconnected, unrelated, and meaningless facts. Bunyan mutters, ‘There is no health in me’; and Newton mutters, ‘There is no sense in them.’ For both it is dark, and they do not know the way. Both walk at times into the dungeon of despair. The pilgrim’s progress of the scientist and of the saint is made along much the same road, and it begins with a troubled brooding, and a heavy heavy burden at the back of the mind and heart. We must all start there. Life begins in Lent. But there comes to both a supreme and splendid moment, the moment when they cry, ‘I see! I see!’ Bunyan sees a Cross and a Man who hangs in agony upon it. Newton sees an apple falling to the ground. But into the minds of both there comes a blaze of light.” — G.A. Studdert Kennedy (“Woodbine Willie”) sermon “The Word with God.”

Perhaps a blaze of light will flood this moment of trouble, we will rediscover each other, find our better selves, and cry out with fresh joy, “I see! I see!”

1918 flu epidemic: the Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital. The photograph depicts volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2020.

Casting out myself

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Narcissus of the Greek myth slowly wastes away. Refusing to look away from his reflection in the pond, he dies of thirst and starvation.

The myth assumes that the pond is placid. There are no ripples. But what if a storm troubles the waters, rippling the pond –something like a virus that does not notice Narcissus’s need to see his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus mutters to himself until, at last, his voice falls silent, except for Echo, repeating his words, forgetful of what she had surrendered to his power: the confidence and beauty that come only from within.

Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole
And, casting out myself, become a soul.

- Richard Wilbur, “The Aspen and the Stream,”
Advice to a Prophet (1961)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2020.

Woolly Mammoths and Woodbine Willie

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Coronavirus & the truth we rarely face

There is Only One House

Legitimate fears, on the one hand, and the false assurances, on the other, expose a truth we rarely face. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pays no attention to political parties, economic status, or national borders. Viruses do not discriminate. One human being is the same as the next. Viruses like this are familiar with homo sapiens stupidity that ignores our mortal frailty. They know better than we that there is only one economy — one house, one planet — in which what happens in one room (one class, one race, one culture, one nation) affects everyone in every room of the house.

A Time for Solitude

The closing of schools, businesses, sports venues, cancellations of political rallies, social gatherings et.al. will separate us until the current siege passes. But is it too much to hope that the threat of a virus would bring our species to its senses and rouse us to action in the face of the bigger pandemic threat, the health and habitability of the planet itself? The viruses will be fine; we may become the latest Woolly Mammoths to die of thirst.

The experience of separation will be either lonely or solitary. Loneliness is its own kind of despair; solitude offers opportunity to step away to reflect. How much we reflect deeply depends in part on learning from previous generations the kind of wisdom that does not shrink or shrivel when there are real reasons to fear. One of those sources of wisdom is G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), the Irish Anglican priest, poet, author, and World War I British Army chaplain affectionately known as ‘Woodbine Willie’.

‘Studdert Kennedy became ‘Woodbine Willie’ after insisting on serving in the trenches, moving among the injured and dying, distributing “Willis’s Woodbine’ cigarettes as part of his pastoral care. “Our first job,” he advised a newly commissioned chaplain, “is to go beyond the men in self-sacrifice and devotion. . . . There is very little spiritual work — it is all muddled and mixed — but it is all spiritual. Take a box of [cigarettes] in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart, and go to them, live with them. You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”

The modern cult of cheeriness: deadly fear of sadness

G. A. Studdert Kennedy left behind a word for our troubles in 2020. He called called people to think and feel. He demands that we get real. “Thinking, he said, “begins with trouble in the mind.

“Thinking begins with trouble in the mind. There is no thought without tears. ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ The modern cult of cheeriness is largely due to the fact that we are deadly afraid of being sad. We want Easter without Lent. But we cannot have it. The human mind and the human heart — you cannot separate one from the other — God has joined them together and no one can put them asunder.”

There’s no such thing as thought which does not feel,
If it be real thought, and not thought’s ghost
All pale and sicklied o’er with dead conventions,
Abstract truth, which is a lie upon this
Living, loving, suffering Truth which pleads
And pulses in my very veins. The blue
Blood of all beauty and the breath of life itself.

--G.A. Studdert Kennedy sermon, The Word with God, 1926.

Coming Next: more wisdom from ‘Woodbine Willie’

In days to come, Views from the Edge will feature more of G. A. Struddert Kennedy as it applies to this moment for thoughtful solitude to reflect on who we are and who we choose to become. Coming next:

“There is, and must be, a plane upon which we can think and reason together upon the questions. . . apart from . . . the prejudices and passions that arise in party strife.”

Thanks for coming by,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 10, 2010.

The Lure of Splendor

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Cliff Notes of Being Human

Some stories never happened but are always happening. Like the Matthew and Luke stories of the 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. If everything in Christian scripture should become lost, except for the narratives of the wilderness temptation, we would still have the story to glean what it means, and does not mean, to be human.

The narratives of Jesus in the wilderness are a kind of Cliff Notes on the ways mortal life gets twisted. They condense the challenges of the Christ and of all of us. The Devil is a Trickster, the Liar, twisting the good out of shape.

Is it about power? Or is it about splendor?

As many times as I have read and preached about them, the word ‘splendor’ has seemed incidental to the temptation of power. Or so I thought until this morning.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if . . . .”

Gospel according to Matthew 4:8-9 NRSV

The genius of scripture is that it brings fresh things to light that speak to new socio-reliigious-political circumstances. Perhaps it is the dark and darkening sky of 2020 that drew my eye to the ‘splendor’ of the kingdoms (nations) as more than incidental. The Greek word is ‘doxa’ (glory, splendor). Perhaps power is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of self-glorification. There could be no greater splendor than owning/controlling all the nations of this world. Yet the Gospel writers knew what we easily forget, until the illusion of power vanishes into nothing. “Glory is like a circle in the water/ which never ceaseth to enlarge itself/ till by broad spreading it disperse to naught.” — William Shakespeare, Henry VI.

The Lure of Splendor

The effort to be splendid or glorious arises from the human condition, but isn’t it a fair guess that the search for splendor by means of power is not the temptation of migrants in detention camps, or starving children and parents, or patients suffering a pandemic? They find within and among themselves whatever shreds of hope and self-regard remain. The third wilderness temptation visits the abundant who are tempted to get to the very high mountaintop of personal power and splendor.

It is no accident that ‘splendor’ caught my attention the First Sunday of Lent following the news of the coronavirus, the threat if a global pandemic, the president’s attempts at minimization or denial, the plunge of the stock market, and the apparent preoccupation of the world’s most powerful man with his own splendor. No person or kingdom is divine, no matter how hard we imagine. Deep down, something in us knows.

“All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him

Gospel of Matthew 4:9-11 NRSV

Prayer for Public Officials

Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Prayer for Public Officials” is preserved by Prayers of the Social Awakening, published in 1909.

We give the thanks that by the free institutions our country the tyrannous instincts of the strong may be curbed to the patient service to the commonwealth.

Strengthen the sense of duty in our political life. Grant that the servants of the state will feel ever more deeply that any diversion of their public powers for private ends is a betrayal of their country. Purge our cities and states and nation of the deep causes of corruption which have so often made sin profitable and uprightness hard. Bring to an end the stale days of party cunning.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “For Public Officers,” Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2020.

The President and a Letter to an A__hole.

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Homer’s Reassurance

One can’t help but wonder why a president with no medical knowledge would contradict the doctors and research scientists standing next to him at a news conference meant to address the coronavirus. Aaron James’s “Letter to an Asshole” reminds the reader of Homer’s wise counsel:

“You should be open to wise counsel — if not from me, then maybe from Horace. ‘All swollen up with love of glory, are you?’ Horace offers ironic reassurance:

“No one’s so far gone in savagery —
A slave of envy, wrath, lust, drunkenness, sloth — 
That he can’t be civilized, if he’ll only listen
Patiently to the doctor’s good advice.”
- Aaron James, Assholes: A Theory (Anchor Books, 2014)

My Annual Physical

I’m accustomed to ignoring the doctor’s advice. “You’re overweight. I’d like you to lose 10 pounds by our next annual visit. You need to eat smaller portions and walk a mile every day,” advises my doctor.  I thank her, hop in the car, and drive one block to the ice cream parlor for a banana split. Refusing to listen is common to us all, but few of us are surrounded by the props of glory that allow us to deny our savagery. 

Chicken Little’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little goes for his annual physical. “Well,” says the doctor who has been the family doctor for years, “before we begin, is there anything you’d to discuss?” Chicken Little tells the doctor the same story he tells every year. “I’m depressed, doctor. “I need an anti-depressant. Nobody listens to me anymore.” “Let’s hold that thought for discussion after the physical exam,” says the doctor. “Remember . . . I don’t do that glove thing,” says Chicken Little. After the physical exam, the doctor addresses Chicken Little’s concern. “Chicken Little, we’ve known each other for years. We know each other pretty well. Today I want to do what a good friend does. I want to tell you the truth no one else will tell you. If you want people to listen, you need to stop yelling ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling’. It drives people crazy and no one listens to you because the know science. They know the sky can’t fall.” The doctor gives him a postcard to keep with him at all times. Chicken Little ignores the postcard; an hour later, he’s yelling about the sky falling. He can’t help himself.

Chicken Little’s Cousin’s Annual Physical

Chicken Little’s cousin visits the same doctor. He, too, makes up reality. But there is a difference. While Chicken Little proclaims gloom and doom, even on the best of days, Chicken Little’s cousin never sees a cloud, even on the darkest days. His annual physical ends with the doctor’s good counsel. “You and Chicken Little think you’re opposites, but you’re just alike. Chicken Little lies every day: ‘Fire! Fire! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ and no one listens. You, on the other hand, tell people what they want to hear, no matter how real the danger. ‘Everything is fine. Nothing can go wrong!’ If and when something goes wrong, you’ll be as responsible as Chicken Little. Neither of you has been open to good advice.’”

As he had done with Chicken Little, he hands the cousin the postcard to keep him in touch with reality, but unlike Chicken Little, he reads it.

Let us settle ourselves, and work and
wedge our feet downward through the
mud and slush of opinion and prejudice
. . . till we come to a hard bottom and
rocks in place, which we can call reality.
-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

The Coronavirus News Conference

The sky is not falling, but neither is it cloudless. The coronavirus has made people anxious. The general public needs reassurance, someone to settle them by cutting through the mud and slush of opinion and prejudice. They want a leader who will tell them the truth, someone who stands on the hard bottom of reality.

The President of the United States, accompanied by the nation’s leading medical experts, steps behind the White House podium to address an anxious nation. He blames the press for exaggerating the danger and driving down the stock market. This is the same president who calls climate change a hoax, regardless of international scientific consensus; eliminated the National Security Council’s pandemic disease team’s leading specialist; and proposes slashing the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He reassures the people that the threat to this country is very low — “very, very low” — not much more than the common cold, and that it will be gone in a couple of months, and that a vaccine is weeks away.

He offers the microphone to the public health experts and steps behind and to the side of the podium. His body posture says he’s ill-at-ease. His eyes are squinting as though he cannot see something from afar but they are blank. One after another, the medical ‘experts’ express deep concern and uncertainty. They correct the disinformation about the timing of developing a vaccine for coronavirus. Vaccines are not developed quickly. The question is not whether the virus will spread; it’s a question of when it will spread.

The President returns to the podium, thanks the staff, and repeats Chicken Little’s cousin’s insistence that Chicken Little is wrong. The sky is not falling. But, just in case it does, he is appointing Mike Pence to coordinate the different teams addressing it. ”[Mike] is really very expert at the field,” he says. ”Mike will be working with the professionals and doctors and everybody else that’s working. The team is brilliant.”

Letter to Chicken Magnus

You face grave risks. If I may say so, as you are, it is as though you sit, squatting, defiant, and starving, in a dark cave of your own making. You prefer to be feared, if not respected. In that way you strive for a pale copy of true moral recognition. … You would not like the epitaph I would write for you…. Or maybe you aren’t bothred. Either way, please accept my honest concern for your health and safety. One could easily pity your condition, and so I hope you change it.

Aaron James,”Letter to an Asshole,”Assholes: a Theory

Is there a doctor anywhere in the house?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28, 2020.

A Memoir: Selma to Montgomery

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Former seminary classmate Jim Haugh wrote this response to “John Lewis: ‘What did you do?'” published with his permission by Views from the Edge earlier this morning.

1965

I took the Illinois Central train from Chicago to Montgomery.

Photo of postage stamp honoring The National Guard of the U.S.

I remember the three Army National Guard Officers with bayonets fixed and their pointy ends against my sternum.

I remember Jerry’s admonition. “If you find yourself in trouble and go to a high steeple church expecting help, You Will Be Killed.”

I remember speaking at Lawndale Presbyterian (Clarence Lennon, Pastor) after returning to Chicago. I said something to the effect “the parable of the Good Samaritan to the Alabama Black is a myth. The victims got out of the ditch and picked each other up.” An ancient woman approached me after the service. “I hated you until this morning.”

2020

I have a friend in Norfolk who took her children to Selma in 2015 when Obama and John Lewis spoke. The KKK was leafleting the city.

We now live adjacent to the City of Baltimore. 500,000 people have fled from its peak. Segregation ordinance of 1910, redlining (still) Brown vs Board of Education 1954, White Flight.

Of the 150 public schools 12 have water students can drink. 138 schools have lead pipes.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan says a program supported by the Kirwan Commission will bankrupt the state. 35% of the students who graduate cannot read at the 4th grade level. One-third of that number are incarcerated in Maryland Prisons.

The struggle against Structural Racism continues. The struggle has just begun. Even though the Constitution of Maryland requires funding for every school district in accordance with the needs of the students.

Best,
Jim

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2020.

P. S. “When we pray, we move our feet.”

John Lewis — “what did you do?”

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MARTIN LUTHER KING AND JOHN LEWIS

Photo of John Lewis (1964)

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. John Lewis was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Aaron. If Dr. King was the face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

PANCREATIC CANCER AND A MEMORY OF SELMA

News of his Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that calls for national reflection, thanksgiving for his witness, and prayers of intercession that “his suffering be minor and his transition easy.”

Pancreatic cancer is no stranger to the seven old seminary friends who gather annually for friendship and study. Steve Shoemaker and Wayne Boulton pancreatic cancer diagnosis preceded John Lewis. We are down to four and counting, but the memories of walking from Selma to Montgomery in March,1965 did not pass with Steve and Wayne; they are alive and fresh among the busload of seminary students who rode the bus from Chicago to Selma, AL to walk with Moses (Martin Luther King Jr) and Aaron (John Lewis) across the Pettus Bridge to Montgomery.

CANCER, CALENDARS, AND CLOCKS

John Lewis knows that some cancers metastasize. America’s “original sin,” i.e., deep-rooted and omnipresent, never quite goes away. It may appear to be in remission. It may hide awhile, but it is always there.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Day after day — hour by hour, now — the calendar and clock are turned back against the dream. But there is different calendar and clock beyond the control of white nationalism. Until his last breath, John Lewis will bear witness to a better life on the other side of America’s original sin. It falls to all of us afflicted to walk across the bridge Pettus Bridge with confession resistance, and joyful hymns of praise.

BE THOU OUR GUARD WHILE TROUBLES LAST

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

— Isaac Watts

What did you do?” – Congressman John Lewis. “Come on, now. We can do better than this!” – Congressman Elijah Cummings (RIP), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 22, 2020.

The World as a Beehive

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That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees.


— Marcus Aurelius (A.D, 121-180), Meditations

60 MINUTES SPECIAL ON AUSTRALIA

”Everyone has known this,” said former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “We’ve been warned by the climate scientists. Everyone has been aware of this except for those who, well, the climate change deniers are aware of it, but they choose to deny reality.”

The fires in Australia are out of control, burning 27 million acres to the ground, and killing an estimated billion animals and 33 people. He was warned, he said, during his term in office (2015 – 2018) that fires in his country were getting worse because of climate change.

Malcom Turnbull is a member of Australia’s conservative party, whose growing right wing turned against him for braking ranks with his party’s denial of climate change.  He was replaced by a climate-denying party loyalist, Scott Morrison, whose hand few people shook after he took a vacation as the fires raged.

“The right wing climate deniers treat an issue of science and physics and fact as though it was a question of ideology, and their conduct is not just idiotic,” Turnbull said. “It is downright dangerous. Dangerous for us here in Australia and around the world.”

“You’re talking about people in your own party,” Williams said.

“Of course I am. Yeah. Absolutely,” Turnbull confirmed.

“Dangerous and idiotic,” Williams said.

“Well, of course it is dangerous and idiotic not to be taking the strongest action to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions,” Turnbull said.

LITTLE BOY BLUE ON AIR FORCE ONE

The 60 Minutes’s special report on Australia competed with the NBA All-Star game in Chicago, and NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in Daytona when the focus on basketball and racing were trumped by an eye-catching stunt. 

Air Force One was strafing Daytona, drawing everyone’s attention to the entertaining climate-denying president blowing his horn in the air.

It was a Little Boy Blue scene from “Mother Goose.” –1901 illustration by William Wallace Denslow.

Little boy blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow,
The cow's in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack,
Fast asleep.

-- Mother Goose

While the Aussies were asking the whereabouts of the Little Boy Blue they elected to look after their sheep and meadows, cows and corn, kangaroos, and koala bears, America’s own Little Boy Blue was strafing Daytona at dangerously low altitude, summoning media attention to Air Force One spewing emissions while the fires burn and the floods rise across his country. It was dangerous and idiotic.

WHAT IS THE ECONOMY?

“This is the greatest economy in the history of the world,” boasts the American president and his party in the U.S.A. 

It’s not.

Science and theology now agree with Marcus Aurelius that what’s not good for the beehive is not good for the bees. Economic success is not measured by stock markets or unemployment rates. It is measured by the health of the beehive and the bees.

The origins of the English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ date back to the classical Greek words oikos (house), and oikonomia (household management). “Before anything else, economics is a perspective, a frame of reference. Economics concerns the well-being of the residents of the same house. Before it decides anything about household management, it knows that there is only one house. Good household management  — good economics — pays attention to the entire house and all of its residents.” –“The Economy: Only One House,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

THE PLANET IS OUR BEEHIVE

The planet is our beehive. The bees are in trouble everywhere. “In the long-term,” said Mollie Beatty, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s unenvironmental, it’s uneconomical. That is a rule of nature.”

“When we forget what an economy and economics really are, we enshrine greed as the essential virtue, ignoring and imperiling everyone else and the house in which we all live.” — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2020.

“Madness is in the saddle now”

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“Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness: open your eyes and look around you — madness is in the saddle anyhow.”

Norman O. Brown,“Apocalypse: the Place of Mystery in the Mind” address at Columbia University, May 31, 1960

Every one of us is at least a little bit mad: sanctum and sputum

People of my Judeo-Christian tradition are prone to agree with Franz Kafka’s out of the ordinary observation: “the Bible is a sanctum; the world, sputum.” But, whether religious or not, many whose eyes are open and looking around agree with the sentiment that what we see in the world of 2020 is sputum.

The Bible which Kafka called a ‘sanctum’ was not the witness to wrath and vengeance. Nor was ‘the world’ the planet. It was society as we humans have configured it. I write with the Bible in one hand and Kafka’s works in the other. As I read their texts, It seems clear that madness is in the saddle in America and that this madness has turned to vengeance against those who voted to convict him, and to pardons and interference with the justice system, on a rampage. This madness has a history. So does resistance to it. You cannot serve two masters.

Belief means decision

Photograph of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his confirmation class, provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) addressed his Confirmation class (seen in this picture) in a sermon preached after when a minority party and widening fear had put a madman in the saddle.

“You have only one master now…But with this ‘yes’ to God belongs just as clear a ‘no.’ Your ‘yes’ to God requires your ‘no’ to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor, to all ungodliness, and to all mockery of what is holy. Your ‘yes’ to God requires a ‘no’ to everything that tries to interfere with your serving God alone, even if that is your job, your possessions, your home, or your honour in the world. Belief means decision.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Gift of Faith,” sermon to confirmation class, Germany, April 9, 1938.

Our real choice is between holy and unholy madness

Yesterday the American president granted a commutation and pardons to men whose offenses look like his own: abuse of power, betraying public trust, soliciting a quid pro quo, fudging tax returns, and lying to investigators. The timing of that announcement is cunning, coming as it does days following, and in the midst of a storm of protest about the president’s or attorney general’ intervention in sentencing of Mr. Trump’s loyal dirty-trickster friend Roger Stone.

Belief means decision

“Open your eyes and look around you.” Madness is in the saddle anyhow. Only a people seeking a ‘holy madness’ can knock him off our horse.

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Chaska, MN, Feb. 19, 2020.