MLK: We Have a Choice

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MLK imagesCACBW2T7This 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we offer an excerpt from Dr. King’s own words from the pulpit of Riverside Church exactly one year before his death, April 4, 1967. Today is the 51st Anniversary of “Beyond Vietnam.” April 4 is a double anniversary.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this often misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu, Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

‘Let us love one another; for love is God and everything that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth no knoweth no God; for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the God of Hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’ Unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Kayam is right, ‘The moving finger writes, and having written moves on…’ We still have a choice today, non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

The “Beyond Vietnam” speech and the assassination seem like yesterday, perhaps because they’re both happening 51 and 50 years later to the day. His voice and the shot echo down the corridors of time. “Tomorrow is today.”

Click HERE to listen to Dr. King’s first words at Riverside Church: “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me with no other choice.”

“We still have a choice today….” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 4, 2018.

 

 

 

Easter and April Fools’ Day

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Creation – Day 5 (detail), mid-12th Century, Palermo, Italy,

Today is Easter Sunday and April Fools’ Day. Easter celebrates the victory of life over the power of death, or, as a Medieval hymn put it, “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain. April Fools Day dates back to the 1500s when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar. Those who forgot that April 1 was no longer the beginning of a new year were called “April Fools”. They were fools because they were living in the past.

The threat and reign of death in the midst of time plunge us into death’s grip long before we die. Though the canonical Gospels’ descriptions of the resurrection vary in their details, all of them make it clear that a cruel state execution has met its match and more. The evidence is an empty death garment and armed guards who “quaked and became like dead men.” Those who issued the orders and followed them are made to look like fools. A new ordering of things had begun.

However one interprets the resurrection — physical or metaphorical — the Easter story is intrinsically theological and political in the most profound senses of both words. It proclaims of the victory of life over the moral power of death exercised by ill-informed institutional power and authority.

A participant in last week’s Lenten Series “Be Still To See More Clearly” asked the question you may be asking. “What’s theology got to do with politics?” I answered “Everything! Theology is intrinsically political and all politics is theological. What did Jesus preach? He pointed beyond himself to the Kingdom of God which is here in part but yet to come in fulness. A kingdom is a society. Societies are people. Jesus’ good news was the society that is not captive to the up-down world. Jesus was the model of non-exceptional ethics and morality. He was not a prisoner of the politics of death. He insisted that there is only ONE house with many rooms and called his disciples to live and die for the house that unites us all as the benefactors of creaturely interdependence.”

This Easter and April Fools’ Day a case of the shingles keeps me away from the hymns of glad rejoicing and publicly expressed hope for the world. This morning’s news from the Washington Post reminds me that the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is as real as it was two days before Easter. On Easter morning tweets went out repeating the folly of Good Friday.

Trump says ‘no more’ to DACA deal, threatens to cancel NAFTA to force Mexico to secure the border.

President Trump said on Twitter that there would be no deal to legalize the status of millions of “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, stating that the U.S. border with Mexico was “getting more dangerous” and directing congressional Republicans to pass tough new anti-immigration legislation.

Trump also lashed out on Twitter at Mexico and threatened to “stop” the North American Free Trade Agreement in retaliation for Mexican authorities not doing enough in the president’s estimation to secure its border with the United States. – Washington Post, April 1, 2018.

This Easter and April Fools’ Day many husbands will leave their golf clubs home to sing the hymns of love’s triumph over the moral power of death. One can always hope there will be one more. Stranger things have happened before at the 19th Hole.

“Now the green blade rises from the buried grain. Love is come again.”  Christ is risen! Happy Easter. No joke!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Easter and April Fools’ Day, Chaska, MN, Aril 1, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday Kind of Grief

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Good Friday is not a happy day. It’s a day to stand at the abyss of hopelessness and to turn what Otis Moss III and his father Otis Moss, Jr. call “pathetic grief” into “prophetic grief” that lifts up others.

Good Friday is a day for heart-felt reflection. A day to stop talking. A day to listen carefully to the Gospel readings and the Requiems of Gabriel Fauré or Maurice DurufléA day to let the tears well up in us. A day to stop pretending. A day to experience afresh the pathetic grief that links us with all the world until is becomes the prophetic grief that turns the world right-side up.

I wish you a meaningful Good Friday.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Good Friday, March 30, 2018.

Truth Be Told

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Steve Shoemaker

Steve Shoemaker

Steve Shoemaker rushed into mind today. I searched for what Steve had to say on Palm Sunday here on Views from the Edge. Little could Steve have known in 2012 that Palm Sunday in 2018 would be topped off by a “60 Minutes” interview with a porn star refuting claims of “fake news” coming from the man in the Oval Office.

The Donkey: a Kid’s Verse

The coats the folks are throwing down

sure make it hard for me to walk

especially carrying this clown

whose feet are almost to the ground.

“Hosannah King!” is all the talk,

but this guy seems to be as poor

as I am–no one could mistake

him for a Royal–he’s just a fake!

They wave palm branches, and they roar,

but my long ears can hear the real

parade across the city square:

the General, the Priests, the score

of war horses–the whole grand deal.

This pitiful parade will fail

to save a soul, and soon the yell

will change from “Hail!” to…”Kill!”

[Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 28, 2012]

Jesus and Barabbas

Release of Barabbas – artwork by Wenceslas Coehergher

The donkey that carried “the clown” stands in deliberate contrast to Caesar’s war horses. All these years later, Jesus of the donkey and the donkey continue to speak truth to power. Today I lay my coat on the road for the humble king of kings.

Thank you, Steve. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, March 25, 2018.

 

 

Silence on Palm Sunday

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Centuries after the original Palm Sunday parade, the silence has been broken again.

Some [of the critics] said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” – Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 19:39-41.

Yesterday, the students spoke. The NRA was silenced.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Palm Sunday, 2018

 

 

March for Our Lives

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Yesterday’s conversation with the rheumatologist took an unexpected turn. “I need some positive energy,” he said. “The kids from Parkland are amazing. I’m going to the march to the State Capitol tomorrow.”

The weather forecast called for heavy snow in Saint Paul. “I don’t care,” he said. He was going. No matter what! He would be there at 9:00 a.m. and stay until the crowd disperses in the afternoon. (Click this link for CNN’s coverage of the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and around the world.)

“I’m so tired. I want to do something positive,” said my doctor. “The younger generation will lead us. You stay home! It wouldn’t be good for you. I’ll do the marching for both of us.”

Leaving the doctor’s office, I felt better. My thoughts turned to Siyahamba, the marching song that helped end Apartheid in South Africa. This morning I found Siyahamba‘s hopeful sound in this children’s choir in Westminster, Maryland.

He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 [NRSV]

Thank you, Doctor. Thank you, Isaiah. Thank you, students from Parkland. Thank you, all who will march today in the light of God.

Siyahamba! March for our lives!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2018.

 

Elijah in the Mirror

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Yesterday Elijah discovered himself in the mirror. He recognized the image as himself. He couldn’t be more delighted.

 

He shows no sense of shame. Or guilt. Or grief. He’s getting a kick out of himself. Meanwhile, Grandma is on the other side of the room recording the moment for posterity. When Elijah reaches a stage when shame, guilt, and grief threaten to sink his spirit, we’ll pull out the video to remind him of his lovable, adorable self.

Between now and that day which will surely come, we enjoy Grandma’s video, and pray the rest of us find our way to similar joy looking back at us from the mirror.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 22, 2018

Elijah Rocks!

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“Breaking Silence” brought requests for more from Elijah, my nine-month old grandson. Today, we’ll let Elijah “speak” for himself from his carseat. He’s enjoying a “conversation” with his Mom. Turn up the sound and enjoy Elijah and Kristin.

 

Elijah is named after the prophet Elijah for whom a seat is left empty at every Seder, the Jewish celebration of Passover. But it’s not just the Jewish community who leaves an empty chair for Elijah.

Thanks for coming by. Elijah rock, Shout! Shout! Keep hope alive!

Grace and Peace,

Grandpa, Elijah, and Mahalia, Chaska, MN, March 8, 2018.

Hardening Our Schools

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Donald Trump and I were baptized and confirmed in the Presbyterian Church. I went on to become a Presbyterian minister. Donald went on to become President of the United States of America. Speaking to the nation’s governors yesterday in the aftermath of the latest school massacre in Parkland, Florida, Mr. Trump called for turning grief into action.

“Most importantly, we want to discuss the public safety in schools and public safety, generally. But school safety. We can’t have this go on,” the President said.

“But we will turn our grief into action,” President Trump continued. “We have to take steps to harden our schools so that they are less vulnerable to attack.”

The Presbyterian churches of our youth taught us the way of Jesus. They told us road to invulerability leads to the loss of the good. Hearts of flesh reacting in fear become stone. They reach for whatever weapons the reptilian brain leads us to believe will make us less vulnerable to attack.

I was raised on an old text that looked forward to hard hearts turning to hearts of flesh. Cold hearts turning warm. Violent hearts turning peaceful. “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” are the words the writer of Ezekiel places on the lips of God. And then there was the puzzling logic that strength comes out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.

Pondering the tragedy of escalating violence in American society often leaves me speechless. I observe and listen. I hear the students crying, “No More!” and want to join them. After turning over the money-changers’ tables in the Temple, the authorities and those who presume themselves righteous criticize the children who have been cheering for him. When the critics tell him to silence the children, Jesus asks, “have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” Shouts of goodness and truth are pouring from the mouths of America’s youth.

But I also know how quickly emotion can turn to despair. I hear the NRA and ask how anyone raised in a church, synagogue, or mosque can embrace the money-changers the NRA bankrolls, or the simplistic morality of “good guy”s getting rid of “the bad guys” it uses to make the case for the least regulation of military-style weapons.

And I hear impractical dreamers like me wishing we could wipe the world clean of all firearms and weapons more dangerous than a caveman’s club. But quickly realize none of has any more answer to the question of how to “fix” this than the Genesis writer had for why Cain picked up a rock and slew Abel.

I don’t know much. But I learned as a child in a Presbyterian Church that hardened hearts will not conquer hate; hearts that harden etch evil in stone. All these years later, I can still hear 90 year-old Mrs. Thomas teaching our first grade Sunday School class at Marple Presbyterian Church. I find myself wondering whether there was a Mrs. Thomas for Donald at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in New York City.

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.” — Jesus of Nazareth, Gospel According to Matthew 34:33-35.

Taking steps “to harden our schools so that they are less vulnerable to attack” moves us farther down the road to the heartless world none of us wants. Where’s Mrs. Thomas was we need her?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2018.

 

If you see a turtle on a fence post…

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It’s not every day a stranger gives one a lift. When they do, we owe them our gratitude. Last September Peter Wallace, host of Day1, invited me to Atlanta. In December we recorded Day1’s radio program for the the second week of February for first Sunday of Lent.

My thanks to Peter and Day1 for the privilege and my thanks to any of you who choose to  take a look or open an ear. Here’s how to access it.

  1. Click THIS LINK to open the Day1 website.
  2. On the top right hand of the page, click on the link “Launch Day1 Playlist”.
  3. A window will open showing the last three episodes of Day1.
  4. Click on “Gordon Stewart: He was With the Wild Beasts” and you can stream the program on your computer.

The 40 minute podcast is in three parts: 1) an interview with Peter Wallace, 2) the sermon for the First Sunday of Lent (“He as with the wild beasts”), and a follow-up dialogue with Peter.

Readers of Views from the Edge may remember the earlier post about the complete stranger who helped me navigate the Atlanta Metro system on my way to the 10:00 a.m. appointment at the Day1 studio. As the old saying goes, “If you see a turtle up on a fencepost, you can be pretty darn sure it didn’t get up there by itself.”

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 15, 2018.