Sir, don’t forget your wallet!

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Kwik Trip’s jobs brochure was sitting on the counter when I stopped by for gas and a fish sandwich ($1.49) this noon.

Kwik trip

The first thing that meets the eyes of a job applicant are Kwik Trip’s CORE VALUES:

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY

We are honest in all our business interactions with our co-workers and business partners and expect the same in return.

RESPECT

We show respect for everyone in what we say and do.

EXCELLENCE

We strive to excel in everything we do. We are committed to producing high quality products and services at a superior value for our customers.

HUMILITY

We are grateful for our success and share our appreciation with our co-workers, but we do not seek public recognition.

Two other values – Innovation and Work Ethic – complete the list.

When I first saw the Kwik Trip marquis several years ago, I objected to the name. I don’t like quick! Everything is quick or, now, “kwik”! I’m slowing down. I prefer slow. But I since learned that the people inside Kwik Trip are much different from the name on the marquis. The people behind the cash registers demonstrate honesty and integrity (“Sir, don’t forget your wallet! Sir . . . !”), respect, commitment to doing their jobs well (excellence), and a humble spirit.

When I finished my sandwich I took the brochure home with the thought of publishing a post here and recommending to the President White a crash course in Kwik Trip Core Values and training. Then I remembered one of the the President’s most outrageous quick insights into his Core Values:

Trump-climatechange-tweet

And, just as quickly, I plunged from a high hope to reality – “Never mind. Some things are hopeless!” And, as the House prepares to vote today on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, I’m keeping especially close watch on my wallet.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.

 

 

 

America @ Middleburg: the Celebration of Ignorance

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Allison StangerThis NYT Op Ed piece by Middlebury College Professor Allison Sanger (L) – now in a neck brace resulting from this attempted civil conversation with Charles Murray – is a must read for our time.

Dominant and counter-cultural narratives

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Idolatry is the elevation of something relative and finite to the absolute and infinite. Theologian Walter Brueggemann speaks clearly and concisely about the anxiety produced by the dominant the military-consumerist narrative of the American national security state, and the gospel’s counter-cultural narrative.

I sure wish I could say that so clearly! Thank you, Walter.

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

 

 

 

Should we pray for the President?

“Should we pray for Trump?” asks The Washington Post Saturday Opinions piece by Colbert I. King.

While it’s well worth the read, we draw your attention to After Presidential power shifts, Episcopalians ask: How should we pray? which looks deeply within a single Christian denomination for a look at the meaning of prayer for the President in this time of deep national division.

Over the last eight years of ministry in a Presbyterian (USA) local church, we often used the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer‘s Prayers of the People. It became our practice to pray for the president, governor, and mayor by their first names, not because we voted for them, liked them, agreed with them, or approved of them, but because the public trust was in their hands; they, like us, were human – weak and frail, and in need of guidance; and, even though we may have despised one o them, we were called to pray for our enemies.

Increasingly I sense beneath our new President’s bravado a deep insecurity and fear, a deeply troubled, as well as troubling man. I see a lonely little boy desperate for approval playing with some very big toys. I’m doing my best to pray for him even as I pray for the world. I cannot pray for the world without praying for him. In the end he’s just Donald, and I’m just Gordon, and only God is God. God, help us all.

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

 

 

Tuesday’s Tide Pool

High tide washed a wondrously diverse group of sea creatures into the same small tide pool last Tuesday, and at low tide (7:00 p.m.), we began to discover and celebrate each other.

Thanks to Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church for hosting the Tuesday Dialogue and Book Launch for Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

By 9:30 p.m. the momentary tide pool was empty. But the brief time we had together refreshed us all with hope for better times and with a greater appreciation for the larger ocean and the tides of history.

As the author whose book publication the rest of us creatures came to celebrate, I could look from my old pulpit at the faces in the tide pool, a gathering unique to its moment in time. Not better than other times. Not exceptional. No tide pool or creature is exceptional – no group, no nation, no race, no religion, no class, no gender, no culture, no species – but each one, like this one, is distinct to its moment in time.

There were star fish large and small, green, pink, red, and brown; crabs and lobsters, sea anemones, periwinkles, muscles, a young salmon, and a bunch of old barnacles.

This tide pool is a small church existing along the shore of eternity, a place of Christian worship that washes up a bunch of Presbyterians every Sunday morning.

But Tuesday there were agnostics, atheists, seekers, and other Christians (Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians); white, black, and red; venture capitalist and struggling to survive in the trailer court; Democrat, Republican, Socialist, and Communist; Ph.Ds and high school drop-outs; co, a five year-old and a 96 year-old; the co-founder of the American Indian Movement, other Standing Rock campers, and couch potatoes; those with TVs and those without them, with cell phones and without them, those who’ve been homeless and those who haven’t, the able and the less abled, the hard of hearing and the sound of hearing; a group of creatures such as will never again be in the same tide pool.

Time in the tide pool meant the world to me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 9, 2017

 

 

 

 

God will not be found in our mirror

I crave solitude.

I’m tired of public conflict. Tired of politics. Tired of the parades of vanity. Turned off by the newspaper headlines. Turned off by the stories that pop up when I turn on the internet. Tired of visual and verbal assaults that dissipate the capacity for solitude and ridicule losers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson must have felt something like this when he wrote

“The people are to be taken in very small doses. If solitude is proud, so is society vulgar.” – Society and Solitude (1870).

We pick our poison: the pride of solitude or the vulgarity of society. Today the vulgarity of society is driving me deeper into the pride of solitude.

Views from the Edge is a title that seeks to balance society and solitude. The views are from the edge of society. It is a proud title that assumes a place apart from the vulgarity of mass movements of society’s collective madness.

But so often lately the voice that seeks to speak from the edge echoes the whirlwind into which I had sought to speak. My voice is proud in its solitude and as vulgar as the society to which I wish to speak. It’s a rare accomplishment to do both at the same time!

Pondering Emerson’s aphorism led me to think more about pride. Pride is vanity. Vanity is pride. The equivalence of pride and vanity led me to one of the Ten Words Moses brought down from Mr. Sinai: “You shall not take the Name of the LORD (YHWH – the Name that cannot be spoken aloud because it is too holy, too sacred, too hidden from human knowing, for human naming) your God in vain.” ‘Vain’ as in proud?

The commandment about vanity is commonly misunderstood as a commandment against vulgar speech, i.e, You shall not curse. That would be easy. Just use the word “God” carefully and you will have fulfilled the commandment.

But the Ten words of Moses are not that cheap, this one perhaps least of all because it speaks to how, and whether or not, we honor the Reality that is beyond every reason for human pride, individually or collectively, in our solitude or in society itself.
Solitude is proud and society is vulgar, not the other way around, according to Emerson, and we need to get away. “The people are to be taken in very small doses.”

Elie Wiesel’s story of a Hasidic Rabbe’s conversation with his grandson Yahiel expresses the dilemma of solitude and society (Four Hasidic Master sand Their Struggle Against Melancholy, University of Notre Dame Press, 1978).

Yahiel comes to his grandfather in tears. He’s been playing Hide-and-Seek with his friend. “He cheats!” says Yahiel. “I hid so well that he couldn’t find me. So he gave up; he stopped looking. And that’s unfair!”

“Rebbe Barukh began to caress Yahiel’s face, and tears well up in his eyes. ‘God too, Yahiel,’ he whispered softly,. . . God too is unhappy. He is hiding and man is not looking for Him. Do you understand, Yahiel? God is hiding and man is not even searching for Him.’”

Yahiel had been playing the game our society loves to play. His friend had left him alone in solitude. His friend was a cheater because he abandoned the search.
Meantime, we in 2017 play our own games of Hide-and-Seek. We seek to balance solitude and society, self and nation, individual liberty and national security, personal responsibility and care of the neighbor. So often the voices are proud and the society is vulgar.

Vulgarity and pride are Siamese twins. They go together. Pride point to Vulgarity as sinful; Vulgarity shifts the blame to Pride. Each is the mirror image of the other. They spend their time looking in the same mirror. All the while they abandon the search for the God whose Name is used and abused by mortal Pride and mortal Vulgarity alike.

God will not be found in our mirror.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 5, 2017.

Prayer for Immigrants

Sometimes it helps to step outside our little moment in American life to seek wisdom from an earlier time.

Among the few books on my desk top is a collection of prayers first published in 1910. This morning we share part of one of those prayers.

For Immigrants

O thou great Champion of the outcast and the weak, we remember before thee the people of other nations who are coming to our land, seeking  bread, a home, and a future. …

We, too, are the children of immigrants, who came with anxious hearts and halting feet on the westward path of hope.

We beseech thee that our republic may no longer fail their trust. We mourn for the dark sins of past and present, wherein men who are in honor among us made spoil of the ignorant and helplessness of the strangers and sent them to an early death. In a nation dedicated to liberty may they not find the old oppression and the fiercer greed. May they never find that the arm of the law is but the arm of the strong. …

Make our great commonwealth once more a sure beacon-light of hope and a guide on the path which leads to the perfect union of law and liberty.

  • Walter Rauschenbusch, Prayers of the Social Awakening, The Pilgrim Press, New York and Chicago, 1925 (originally published by The Phillips Publishing Company in 1910.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 2, 2017.

The American Cuckoo’s Nest

The past week brings back memories of visiting inmates of state mental hospitals, including a state hospital for the criminally insane. I was their pastor.

As we sat together within these secure institutions, it was clear to them and to me which of us was free to leave. I was sane. They were not. I could leave. They could not.

On the way home I pondered the similarities between life outside the gates and inside the secured walls of these institutions, and the slim thread of difference that separates the outside from the inside.

080715-cuckoos-nest-hmed-1p-grid-6x2During the last two weeks, it feels as though the thin thread line has disappeared.

We are all in the insane asylum now.

The difference between Ken Kesesy’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and America today is that Randle McMurphy, who organized the inmate revolt, is in charge, re-writing all the rules, ordering a lock-down that appalls the rest of the world.

The world looks on with horror. No visitors allowed. And we’re all inmates locked inside without a vote or effective voice.

Who will be our pastor now?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 29, 2017.

 

Meryl Streep@ Golden Globe Awards

Last night Meryl Streep received the Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award with this unusual acceptance speech. The center of her speech was the ridicule of a disabled member of the press during the 2016 presidential campaign. By recalling that sobering moment, Meryl Streep brought common decency into what, God forbid, threatens to be “the new normal”.

“Though the cause of evil prosper”

During a moment bordering on lunacy, the group of narcissistic McCormick Theological Seminary friends who call ourselves “The Old Dogs” considered a letter to President Obama suggesting he consider whether he might be called to the pulpit at the end of his second term as President.

Barack Obama shares our theological-ethical tradition which understands Christian faith and practice as intrinsically related to the health of public life. Faith is not a private thing. It’s individual but never private. Every form of faith and practice has implications for the neighbor(s) — the wellbeing of the general public.

“Once to Every Man and Nation” is a hymn on which my seminary friends and I grew up. President Obama learned of it after Rev. Jeremiah Wright took him under his wing at Trinity United Church of Christ while the young Barack was working as a community organizer in Chicago’s impoverished south side.

On this New Year’s Eve, James Russell Lowell‘s hymn strikes me as the hymn of choice for facing 2017 and the post-Obama era in Washington, D.C.  Lowell published this poem — originally 90 line long — under the title “The Present Crisis” in the December 11, 1845 issue of The Boston Courier in protest of America’s War with Mexico. We share here one stanza of Lowell’s poem, adapted for the hymnal, in hopes it might bring some small measure of good cheer for folks who, like us Old Dogs, are concerned  about public life and the world itself of the Eve of 2017:

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.

Faith does not promise a rose garden. It calls us to behold the thrones of wrong and honor truth at all costs.

Grace and Peace to you this New Year’s Eve,

Gordon