Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

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The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga

Jake’s bench visitor

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The stranger sits alone on Jake’s’ bench under the elm tree in the grassy area behind the seasonal Mexican food truck parked at the edge of the Cooper’s Food parking lot.

It’s not everyone who comes to sit on Jake’s bench. I wonder whether he knows of Jake and whether he’s read the inscription etched into the marble:

“Now Jake is a man who wonders why the world is torn asunder. Better worlds he plans, where joy is at hand, and people can live in peace and plenty”.

Mexican food truck 55d36cc8485e9.imageHis back is turned to the picnic table where I eat my taco from the food truck. I only see him from the back, which, come to think of it, is how one sees Jake here – the way Elijah saw God from a cave while God passed by: from the back, the mystery of the Presence maintained against every mortal effort to control, define, or reduce a mystery to a thing.

A bedroll and a pair of well-worn shoes sit on the ground under the inscription. A pair of dirty, wet socks sits on the bench beside him. Clearly he’s been on the road. Is he a hiker on a long trek? A traveler passing through Chaska? Does he have a home somewhere else? Is he homeless and torn asunder in this world?  Or maybe he’s a rare fellow-traveler pausing in the company of Jake on Jake’s bench.

CoopersFoods1Jake’s bench is meant for the weary traveler.

Jake Cooper was an American socialist, the second generation of Cooper’s Foods.

Cooper’s still sits there today, hosting the Mexican food truck, a witness to an era when care for a stores’s customers were more important than updating its physical appearance and service to the community was as important as profits. Cooper’s is the most generous business in Chaska, the go-to supplier of food for community events and good causes. Coopers is a community institution. Its Deli offers complete meals for under $6.70 with portions large enough to provide dinner for two with some left over. Best little restaurant in Chaska! It’s not a money-maker, but it pretty much pays for itself, says Jake’s latest successor at Cooper’s – and it serves the people who can’t afford higher end restaurants or who just know good food at a great price. An example of the spirit of American democratic socialism to whose dream Jake’s bench still bears witness behind the Mexican food truck.

Whether the stranger sitting at Jake’s bench came by chance or came to pay his respect to Jake, he is like most of us in this day and time: a weary traveler who wonders why the world is so torn asunder, and hopes for a better world of peace and plenty.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 14, 2017.

 

 

Who will you stand with today?

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Dear Folks,

There is a custom at a little church in the Midwest that goes like this. Whenever a person is about to be baptized, the minister calls out to the congregation, “Who stands with this child?” and the extended family or close friends rise from their seats and offer an outward and visible testimony of their inward commitment.  They stand, hearts brimming and knees shaking, even though they know sometimes their love might seem compromised or limited or unreciprocated.  They rise to pledge that they’ll do the best they can. These are the folks in the child’s life who know that growing up has never been easy, the people who know that being a parent is hard work in the best of circumstances.

And this custom of folks popping up here and there in the pews at a baptism makes the church feel cozy and warm and like a family, but I want to warn us from easy sentimentality, from striving to build a church in which it would be simple to guess who might stand for whom.  The community of faith is more than a family.  The measure of our vibrancy is not when we gather amiable people to stand with their neighbors… rather the church is created when enemies break bread together, when one broken-hearted outcast stands up for another, when a queen kneels before a poor, unwed mother or a recovering addict, and calls her sister.

That is the society that we are trying to create here and beyond, at home and at work and at play.  The community of saints is both more welcoming and more challenging than most of our biological families.  Our litmus test is not blood, but the spirit, and when we are at our best, the spirit of God is breathing through us wherever we go.

A child named Matthew was presented for baptism at an Episcopal church a few years back, and I imagine a group of folks stood to support him and his family as they gathered around the font.  But that same Matthew, child of God, was beaten and left for dead as a young man, tied to a fence post like yesterday’s garbage, because his way of being challenged some people’s idea of family values.  He loved “the wrong person,” another man, and that made some of his neighbors mad.  So one dark night, two very scared and confused young people, also God’s children, acted out of their own brokenness, and their fear turned murderous.

It would not have surprised me if Matthew’s parents had settled into their own murderous rage, mirroring the worst of their son’s killers, looking for vengeance, an eye for an eye.  But his parents did something extraordinary.  They asked for their son’s killers to be forgiven.  They stepped beyond the narrow circle of family of blood into the family of the spirit, and saw another son staring back at them through the eyes of their enemy.

Our true brothers and sisters are as likely to be our so-called enemies as our friends.  Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right and merciful, because that is what the human family looks like and feels like and hurts like.  Jesus is describing us.  We belong to each other.  Any walls we build between us, of race and class and gender, of sexuality and nationality and ethnicity, of political party and religious tribe, are walls of fear.  Each of us has been a wanderer and a stranger, and our call is to make the world feel more like home for all.

Who will you stand with today?

MEMORIAL DAY 2017 – REMEMBERANCE

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Moment after learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” was too long to air today on MPR’s “All Things Considered,” Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY Memorial Day 2017 stood out from the in-box. Best wishes for a thoughtful Memorial Day.

SERENDIPITY

Memorial Day


Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day ) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

72-Flags-Party_07

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at…

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A very sad little man

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A video is worth a thousand words. A push. A “get outta my way” shove. The quickly changing facial expression. The peacock fanning his tail. So much for the conversation with Pope Francis: “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” It stuck like silly putty. Or…like water off the back of a very sad little man. The President misunderstood the Pope’s quotation from John 14. “In my Father’s house there’s only enough room for me.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2017.

When a megalomaniac is cornered

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150th anniversary logo of The Nation

Sasha Abramsky’s article “Trump is a Cornered Megalomaniac — and That’s a Grave Danger to the Country” (The Nation, May 21) examines the growing crisis in the White House and the clear and present danger it poses.

“Men like Trump,” says Abramsky, “do not fade gently into their political night. Rather, with all nuance sacrificed in pursuit of their senescent need for the spotlight, they scrabble and scratch, lash out and fight. With no self-limiting or self-correcting moral gyroscope, they go down whatever paths they believe offer them the best chance of survival.”

I read Abramsky’s article yesterday and recalled a brief conversation last December aboard ship on The Nation Annual Cruise.

This morning the President was playing from the script, doing Abramsky warned he would: fighting back, lashing out at the “fake media” who don’t want him to “drain the swamp of Washington bureaucrats” in order to “make America great again,” the media who have treated him worse than anyone in American history, against those who keep making stuff up like “the Russian thing.” Donald Trump was using “all the tricks of the demagogue as he fights for his survival” (Abramsky).

A Facebook “Friend” posted a Trump call for readers to rise up in support of the victimized people’s President. This afternoon I can’t seem to find it and wonder whether perhaps Facebook, which revised its policy that allowed splattering false news in the 2016 election, had censored the post as faux news. Whatever the reason for the post’s disappearance, the reason for its initial appearance was clear.

But three things seem clear.

  1. The game is on. “Donald Trump’s grotesque presidency now hangs by a thread. By the hour, it seems, the possibility of impeachment, of him being declared incompetent to govern—or, at the very least, of his own party bringing irresistible pressure on him to resign—grows.” (Abramsky)
  2. This President has shown repeatedly that he is capable of almost anything, including, God forbid, creating or exacerbating an international crisis of epic proportions, in the megalomaniacal struggle to survive.
  3. My Facebook “Friend” doesn’t agree with any of that. She still believes in the President. She’s a good person, a fallen-away Catholic. We’re still “friends” on Facebook and in real life.

But, hey, who knows what may happen?

The President’s trip includes a meeting with the Pope. Maybe Pope Francis will hear his confession, convince the beleaguered, lapsed Presbyterian president to resign, and convince the likes of my lapsed Catholic Facebook Friend that wise people don’t confuse demagogues with victims.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Why do we feel so unhinged?

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Vertus_cardinales_par_Germain_Pilon_(Louvre)

Vertus cardinales par Germain Pilon (Louvre)

Yesterday a friend reminded me of the Four Cardinal Virtues:

  1. prudence (wisdom),
  2. justice,
  3. temperance, and
  4. courage.

They are called ‘cardinal’ (Latin cardo; English: ‘hinge’) because they are the ‘hinges’ of the good life and the good society. These are the hinges on which the door to the good life opens.

We don’t think much about ‘virtue’ in the Ayn Rand society. We have learned to recoil at the smugness of those who claim to be virtuous. Even so, one is led to wonder whether we recoil at the imprudent, ill-tempered tweetings and firings in the news because of lingering respect and yearning for the Four Cardinal Virtues, the traditional moral hinges of our cultural heritage.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Justice (Greek: δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia) is the moral and economic balance between selfishness and selflessness, between having more and having less than one’s fair share.

Courage (Greek: ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitude) means not only fortitude/strength, but forbearance, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Could it be that the daily unhinged violation of the Four Cardinal (hinge) Virtues is why we feel so unhinged?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the Ides of March, 2017

 

Hammer-strokes against the darkness

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My heart aches over what J. C. Blumhardt called “the wasted fields of mankind.” The fields of humankind are being laid waste in our time, as they were in his (1805 – 1880). What to do?

I’ve made phone calls. I’ve written. I’ve posted here and on FaceBook. I’ve written a book on collective madness. But none of it seems to have mattered much until I remembered the words of Johann Christoph Blumhardt, the German pastor who pioneered in the field of religion and mental illness at Bad Boll.

Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness; they must be oft repeated. Many years can pass by, even a number of generations die away, before a breakthrough occurs. However, not a single hit is wasted; and if they are continued, then even the most secure wall will fall. Then the glory of God will have a clear path upon which to stride forth with healing and blessing for the wasted fields of mankind.

Write. Write, Write. Make phone calls to congressional representatives, the White House, the princes who exercise public power and authority. Phone again if the voicemail box is full. Write again. But sustain all the activity with the hammer-strokes of prayer against the princes of darkness for the healing and blessing of the wasted fields of humankind. Live by the hope that not a single hit is wasted and that even the most secure wall will fall.

Thank you, Mom, for the faith to hammer on. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017

The Make-Up Artist

Make-up artists in show business are the cosmeticians in the off-stage dressing rooms who paint the performers. In plays and films they make sure the actors look their parts. In television they apply make-up to the likes of Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly.

Donald TrumpBut today ‘make-up artist’ takes on different meaning: “one who makes stuff up.” Like a Commander-in-Chief whose administration tells the world the USS Carl Vinson and its Navy fleet are headed for the coast of North Korea, knowing full well they’re still headed toward Australia. When the crews heard the news from news outlets, they must have wondered. Who or what was lying: their compasses or their Commander-in-Chief and his administration?

Make-up artists serve a purpose in stage productions and television programs like “The Apprentice”; they have a role to play behind the scenes of make-believe.

DI-Chicken-Little-9But when a made-up president makes stuff up that causes the armed forces he commands to choose between their compasses and their commander, the Commander-in-Chief becomes the Liar-in-Chief who commands as much credibility as did Chicken Little after announcing too many times that the sky was falling.

I wish to Heaven this was all made up.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 19, 2017.

The Unusual Trio – Maher, King, and Thomas – singing in one accord.

Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,’ as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. – Bill Maher.

“Willful Ignorance” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.103-105) begins with an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963):

Martin Luther King, Jr.“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The essay concludes with the hope of something better than being blindly agreeable:

aquinas -Botticelli

Thomas Aquinas by Botticelli

“Placed under the scrutiny of a public that refuses to be willfully ignorant, the loud shouts of demagoguery will be swept up by the vacuum of a citizenry schooled in due diligence. And the United States of America, refusing to wallow in the mire of purposeful ignorance, of which Thomas Aquinas, and we ourselves, can be proud.” – Be Still!, p.105.

Wouldn’t Thomas Aquinas and Bill Maher be surprised to be on the same page? Martin Luther King, Jr. is a bridge between the two. Maher, King, and Thomas: a tenor, baritone, and bass in one accord.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to write something on today’s Daily Prompt word, “Blindly“.