“She’s confused — and he’s confusing,” said my son, following lunch with an old married couple he’d met for the first time. Remove the gender specificity (‘he’ and ‘she’) peculiar to that lunch conversation, and it could describe many conversations across America in 2019. Our talk is confusing, and our hearing is confused.
Daily conversations — real ones in real time at Starbucks or virtual ones like Twitter — often take me back me to that scene that in the restaurant, and Douglas’ Readers Digest condensed version of it. Which of us is confusing? Which of us is confused? Confusing and confusion are now epidemic in America. Like the old married couple who made no sense to each other, we seem resigned to living in separate stalls at opposite ends of the barn.
For people like my son who want to avoid the confused-confusion conundrum of their parents’ generation, The Guardian published a a spoof story announcing the roll-out of a new app promising to bring better match-ups for prospective partners. It’s called “Tudder”.
Click “Tinder-style app for cows tries to help the meat market” to open the link to BBC story. If Tudder succeeds in matching up bovines with compatible, un-confusing or un-confused stall mates, might Tudder work for us? Tudder’s Chief Executive Officer doesn’t think so. He offers the opinion that matching breeding livestock “should be even easier than matching people.”
But don’t you have to wonder whether human Match-Up apps might improve their effectiveness by adopting the template of Tudder, or would the patent theft only contribute further to the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic in the barn called America?
— Gordon C. Stewart, writing from a stall in Chaska, MN, Feb. 13, 2019.
It’s gloomy out here. The snow. Temperatures to freeze a polar bear or roast a pig. Another government shutdown looming. Mistrust and hate hanging like storm clouds over family reunions, Washington, D.C, and your state capitol. Regardless of differing persuasions, we could use some rays of sunlight — things to cheer us up. Things to help us take ourselves a little less seriously.
2. Have dinner at Chik-fil-A to support biblical principles
1. Move to Moscow
Whether you’re blue or red or purple, be positive. Cheer up. It could get worse. Do your civic duty.
Stay right where you are. Take deep breaths. Don’t drink or smoke too much . . . well, maybe just a little. Eat healthy meals. Take a nap every day. Listen deeply. Speak, as best you can, in ways that won’t send Uncle George or Aunt Gladys out the door in a huff. Be as patient with others as your dog is with you. And, when all else fails, remember the question put to those who were certain they were right. “How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? Before you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own” [Jesus of Nazareth; Gospel of Matthew 7:4-5 NRSV].
If you want to stop turning red as a beet and getting the blues, remember that logs — like eyes and skin — come in many colors. Be gentle with others. Be gentle with yourself. Thanks for coming by Views from the Edge.
This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration comes in the fifth week of the American federal government partial shut-down over a wall. In the name of the Beloved Community — the just and peaceable society — Dr. King and Dr. Barth had things to say about building walls.
Karl Barth and Martin Luther King, Jr. are formative influences on my life. I hadn’t realized until this morning how fully their theology and ethic were in the warp and woof of last Sunday’s sermon at Knox Church in Cincinnati. With apologies to these two great figures, we post an excerpt from a sermon of one of the many lesser lights who live in their long shadows.
Something there is in the Beloved that doesn’t love a wall. Something there is in Jesus that tears down the walls between neighbors and turns enemies into friends, brick by brick, stone by stone — between the Judeans and the Samaritans, and between the male apostles and the Canaanite woman; between the “righteous” who choose purity over compassion and the “good” Samaritan who binds up the wounds of the one in the ditch; between the publicly scorned blind beggar and the charitable nickel-and-dimers who passed by on their way to secure homes and lavish parties; the crowds on the street and the sinful Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree; between the Beloved Son and the hosts of sinners who flocked to him for acceptance, forgiveness, healing, hope, and compassion.
For Jesus, love was not a private thing. Love must be made public. As Cornel West puts it, “Justice is love made public.”
Going through airport security recently, I thanked the TSA employees for working. Other passengers did the same. It’s an odd thing to do. We expect employees to show up for work. We also expect their employers to pay them for their work. No one can expect employees to work without compensation.
These TSA workers have families. Their needs are not shut down. Only the paychecks that pay the rent and utility bills, the public transportation to and from work, groceries, insurance, prescriptions, and day care for their families are shut down.
“Thank you for working,” said the passengers going through the security procedures put in place to prevent another high-jacking like those on 9/11. Their work is essential to national security. Looking back on it, I’m ashamed of myself. You don’t thank hostages for being hostages. You free them from their hostage-taker . . . without paying the $5.1 Billion ransom to make America safe again.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 20, 2019
“Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves” (see yesterday’s post) brought to mind the following piece written in 2007.
Do you ever feel invisible? Ever wonder whether you’re really there? I do. People walk by on the street or in the mall…it’s like I’m not there. People walk by like ghosts talking to ghosts. They don’t see me. They’re somewhere else, not really there. They walk like people; they talk like people; they look like people. But their eyes and ears are somewhere else . . . in some far off place. Their heads down, reading or writing a text or staring into space, babbling to someone who’s not there. I’ve become invisible.
I have the same experience driving to and from work. Drivers cut in front of me or run up behind me. They laugh and smile and wildly gesture, but there’s no one else in the car! When their driving puts me in jeopardy, I honk. They just keep talking. They don’t look and they don’t hear anything but the voice on the other end of the cell phone. Even my Toyota’s invisible; it’s become a non-material world.
It’s nothing new really. Western spirituality has always been dualistic. It says that we have a body and we have a soul – the physical and the spiritual. We have these bodies for a while, and then we die, but we don’t really die; we just escape these bodies, like birds set free from our cages. This dualistic understanding of life made its way from classical Greek philosophy into the writings of St. Paul as the war between “the flesh” and the spirit. “I’ll fly away,” often sung at funerals, expresses the underlying philosophy. “When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly. I’ll fly away.” The rudeness on the highways, in the malls, coffee shops and restaurants — and even in our homes — is the latest expression of this deprecation of bodily existence.
We don’t see each other anymore. The voice on the other end of the phone is more important than the person in front of me, and the ones I cannot see or hear or receive a text from are unreal…in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else I decide to hang up and nuke their worlds into the permanent invisibility of nonexistence or the fires of hell.
I sit quietly at the airport gate, waiting for my flight. Used to be people would at least acknowledge one another’s existence – the bare fact that you were really there and not somewhere else or nowhere – but now they’re on their phones, babbling away as though the room were empty except for them. Because, I suppose, we’re ancient Greeks with head sets, cell phones, and iPads, seduced by the old idea that we are meant for non-embodied existence. It’s just me and my invisible world, and you with yours, a rude collection of loud mouths with headsets, alone in the crowd, bereft of the silent pauses between the noises that make us anxious.
Touch is a basic need. My dog knows it. I know it. Hearing and speaking are important. But the most important communication comes by touch. An animal that goes untouched becomes mad as a March hare. So do we.
In this world of disembodied spirits, we crave the gift of touch. But to touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. It reminds us of our embodied selves, our mortal selves, our dependent and interdependent selves. The non-material world is safer. Unlike the body, the worlds in our head are invulnerable.
In my faith tradition, the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the day the babbling stopped, the day the Spirit shifted the crowd’s eyes and ears out of the lonely silos of self-absorption and self-deception — away from their iPhones, iPads, and headsets.
The sound of a mighty wind was so profound, so inescapable and unmistakable, that the company of lonely strangers stopped babbling around the phone tower and noticed the other people around them.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2019
Yesterday President Donald Trump said the government shut-down could go on for months or even years. There will be no end to the Mexican standoff until Congress agrees to fund his campaign promise to build a wall on our southern border.
That’s not what he promised. The campaign promise had two parts. 1) A wall would be built on the Mexican border, and 2) Mexico would pay for it. It wouldn’t cost American taxpayers a dime. If it didn’t happen, he would issue an apology to the electorate.
Mexico refused to pay for the wall. There’s been no apology. What the nation gets instead is a tantrum.
Later in the day, the president pulled out a trump card from his sleeve. He could invoke the National Emergencies Act to declare a national emergency. “I can do it if I want to,” he said at today’s press conference.
The border wall built by Mexico was always a hoax. Now, it’s also a distraction. The wall that’s needed is not made of steel or concrete. It’s built of an informed electorate, on the one hand, and an invisible cyber wall that protects the integrity of the American electoral system and the security of at-risk power grids, nuclear silos, and communication and command networks.
The government shutdown is based on a Big Lie. Or two. Or three.
The Big Truth
There is a real national emergency. It occupies the Oval Office, stands before microphones, and sends out daily tweets to garner attention and continue the hoax. It sits in the offices of the president’s cabinet members who have not the courage to invoke the 25th Amendment that would remove the threat from the Oval Office. It sits in a Congress that has failed to exercise its constitutional duty to oversee the integrity of the government institutions. It comes in threats to Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 American election process.
Joseph Goebbels, Chancellor of Nazi Germany, wrote of the Big Lie as a propaganda technique in reference to the English in “Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik” (English: “From Churchill’s Lie Factory”) dated January 12, 1941: “The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (“From Churchill’s Lie Factory”), January 12, 1941.
Seventy-eight years after Goebbel’s publication on the lie factory, and 75 years after Joseph McCarthy used the Big Lie here in America, the Big Lie again stares us in the face. So does The Big Truth, as American poet James Russell Lowell expressed it during the American Civil War in his poem “The Present Crisis.” I was raised on the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” with the lyrics from Lowell’s poem. It etched in my heart and mind that the decisions we take make a difference to this world.
“Once to every nation Comes the moment to decide In the strife of truth with falsehood. . . .Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ’tis truth alone is strong. . . . ” — James Russell Lowell (1819-1895), “The Present Crisis.”
What goes around comes around. And some things going around now will come around sooner or later. No one knows when or how. We live between what is coming around and what is now going around.
I’ve been reading a gift from son-in-law Christopher that leads me to break the recent silence on Views from the Edge. It’s the result of investigative journalism that zooms in on one of the most prominent figures of American life.
What’s My Line?
Years ago What’s My Line?, featuring celebrity guests like Groucho Marx and a brilliant panel, took over my family’s living room. Moderated by John Charles Daly, members of the panel, which always included Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, and Bennett Cerf, were blind-folded before the mystery guest came on stage to answer the panel members’ questions. The mystery guests disguised their voices, and provided the blind-folded panel a tidbit of information as a clue to their identities.
All these years later, What’s My Line? is gone. Now I listen to Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!Wh
His purpose is power and his strategy to “keep his name in the papers at all costs.”
Patient research into the techniques of his campaigns results in the conclusion that his one all-dominating consideration has been to win at any cost.
To achieve his ends he has failed to repudiate support from . . . some of the most disreputable, hate-mongering, fascist-minded groups in the nation on the far right.
Our danger is that ____ism will gradually grow into a homespun variety of totalitarianism, and will destroy our liberties as surely as Communism would. The antics of ____ism are made to order for the propaganda purposes of international Communism. I am sure that ——ists are not intentionally aiding the international conspiracy of … Communism, but if they were Communist agents they could not be doing a more useful job, from Russia’s viewpoint. The wider ____ism grows, the weaker they leave America, and the stronger the possibility of international Communism.
The Senators unanimously concluded that the ____ election “brought into sharp focus certain campaign tactics and practices that can best be described as. . . destructive of fundamental American principles.”
It was, the report continued, a “despicable back street type of campaign which usually, if exposed in time, backfires.”
Removing the blind-folds
Now we remove the blind-folds. Each of the above clues is a quotation cited in the 92 page 45th Anniversary edition of The Progressive, April 1954 on Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism. “McCarthyism: A Documentary Record” concludes with these words of counsel:
We of The Progressive are convinced that our best chance to keep the lamps of hope and liberty burning brightly in a world hungry for light and leadership is to deal head-on with the conditions which create the doubts and fears on which McCarthy and Malenkov thrive. The first great step down that road of hope must be to replace “The Big Lie” of Communism and McCarthyism with “The Big Truth” of a working democracy.
What goes around comes around. The Big Lie and the Big Truth come and go with the tides of history.
The Word that cannot be domesticated keeps showing up in the strangest places, even where the culture has turned the crucified Jesus into a plastic babe in a manger. Or Santa Claus, at whose coming “there arose such a clatter . . . .” (A Visit from Saint Nicholas). But sometimes the Word that makes such a clatter comes from a pulpit, as it did this Christmas Eve where two unexpected visitors came to kneel before the manger at the National Cathedral (Episcopal) in Washington, D.C.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love. – Joy to the World.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night,
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 26, 2018.