NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

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Hours before authorization for military strikes oft Iran (and sudden reversal), an email from RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW‘s arrived in my inbox. Views from the Edge republishes it without further comment.

Although the focus of Rabbi Waskow’s epistle is Iran, the opening paragraph distills into a few words a perspective we share. There are “three urgent impending disasters:” war with Iran; the war that threatens to deport “millions” of immigrants; and the war against Mother earth.

EMERGENCY: NO WAR AGAINST IRAN

“Dear Gordon, This morning I started writing a Shalom Report letter that addressed three urgent impending disasters: A Trumpist war against Iran; a Trumpist war against immigrants living in American cities and towns, whom he just threatened with imminent sudden mass deportations of “millions”; and an escalation of the Trumpist war against Mother Earth.

“The Trumpist obsession with subjugating others is at a tipping point – between utter lethal disaster or the deepening and broadening of resistance.

“I thought we had about a week. I went to an eye-doc appointment. It turned out we had only hours. setting aside the other emergencies. Still with dilated eyses, I am trying to see clearly, and I am for the moment

“I ask you right now, as soon as your receive this, to act against the Trumpists’ plans to attack Iran. After that, please read the rest of this letter where I will outline what I think is going on..

“What to do now:

{“contact.first_name, please call your members of Congress. Here’s what I invite and encourage you to do:

“1) Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Call three times, for your two Senators and one Congressperson. (If you live in DC and have no Senators, call Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader.)

“2) Ask the Capitol operator for your representative/senators, and when connected say your own version of this:

“‘My name is _ and I am a constituent living at [your address]. I’m calling to urge [Congressperson/Senator X] to publicly oppose U.S. military attacks on Iran. I urge [her/him] to tell the president he does not have constitutional authority for any attacks.’

“‘[Congressperson/ Senator X ] should point out any retaliatory strike on Iran for what happened to the U.S. drone could spiral out of control. Instead, I strongly urge [[Representative/Senator X] to call for the U.S. to return to diplomacy, including supporting a convening of the UN Security Council to work to defuse tensions in this global crisis.'”

“Gordon, I urge you to step up your activism today to prevent all-out war with Iran. The Shalom Center will have a number of suggestions for actions you can take over the next few days, but today I urge you to call Congress right away as critical meetings are happening in D.C. right now.

“A potential U.S. retaliatory strike is likely being discussed in the White House as I write this. The White House has said they will be briefing Congressional leaders later today and that is often a sign that an attack is imminent. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called a caucus meeting of Democrats for later today. Members of Congress will be the key here and active peace-loving people need to push them to stand in Trump’s way.

“The only way to pull us out of this spiral toward war is for supporters of peace like you to get active and push Congress to stand up to the president and tell him clearly that he has no authority to go to war.

“Please call now.

“Background:

“But the Trumpist Regime worsened the sanctions. They were aimed at totally disrupting the Iranian economy and literally starving the Iranian people. They were beginning to damage daily life –- all because the Trumpists could not bear an Obama-initiated agreement that offered hope for bringing Iran back into the international community. Faced with enormous US pressure, the Europeans began to cave in.

"Third big step on the road to war: Trump threatened nuclear war if Iran were to resist by interfering with oil shipments in its Gulf.

 "It is not clear whether the claims of such interference are lies as blatant as the “Tonkin Gulf attacks” in 1964 that never happened; but even if they were real, they were defenses against a devastating economic war imposed by the Trump regime.

"Now it is clear – Iran and the US agree – that Iran shot down an unmanned drone. Iran says it was flying over Iranian territory.The Trumpist regime claims it was over the Gulf. No matter where it was, cause not for war but for diplomacy. And given the history of those in Washington now unleashing the mad dogs of war, veterans of the lies about Iraqi nuclear weapons, and given the history of Trumpist efforts to provoke a war, I very much doubt the US claim. It would fit Trumpist policy to send a drone over Iranian territory.

“There are more thoughts about the past that few Americans remember but practically all Iranians do:

“The CIA’s overthrow of a democratically elected New Dealish Iranian government in 1953 to prop up a tyrannical Shah who used torture against his critics. Why this CIA/ US action? Because the Mossadeq government intended to nationalize American oil companies that were draining Iran of its resources for US profits.

“When the Islamic Revolution succeeded in 1979 and the Shah fled, the US refused to extradite him to stand trial for his crimes. Americans remember only that Iranians reacted by detaining dozens of Embassy staff for a year.

“In 1980, Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. The US supported Saddam, even aiding him in using chemical weapons against Iran. The war ended in 1988. The death toll on both sides was about 500,000.

“This is not a history likely to inspire trust for the US government on Iran’s part. Add the
Trumpist abandonment of the nuclear-disarmament agreement so painstakingly negotiated and enforced.

“And the history of Trumpism does not inspire much trust among most of the American people in the truthfulness of the Trump regime.

“That’s the background. If you have not already made your calls to Congress, please do so now: 1202-224-3121

“Thanks!! And given the burdens this unfolding disaster is liable to put upon our ability to resist, please contribute through the maroon “Contribute” budget just below
sohl [that is “peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran], paz, peace! — Arthur
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.”

Thank you, Arthur,

Gordon

GORDON C STEWART, CHASKA, MN, JUNE 21, 2019

Mending the Torn World: Sympathy and Civilization

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A Ripped Tapestry in Need of Mending

Harvard Divinity School New Testament Professor Krister Stendahl taught his students to think of the world as a beautiful tapestry in need of mending. A tapestry is comprised of a diversity of threads. It’s beauty is marred whenever a thread is broken or falls away from the whole. ‘Sin’ is both a condition — a torn tapestry — and an act of tearing the tapestry.

To be human is to be part of this tapestry, never the whole of it! Sin is the tearing of the tapestry. The human vocation is to mend creation.

Morning Chapel with Krister Stendahl

The morning I’m remembering, a Japanese Buddhist monk — one of four residents Divinity Hall residents who cooked and shared dinner together each evening — asked to go with me to experience the chapel service.

Krister presided at a weekly Chapel service at Harvard Divinity School. Thirty participants was a crowd. It was a quiet gathering that required a sense of humility: speaking aloud the Prayer of Confession of Sin; hearing Krister’s gracious Asssurance of Pardon; singing in unison the sung responses; listening for a word from God in the readings of Holy Scripture brought to life by Krister’s gentle and bold interpretaton; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, gathered in the single circle surrounding the Table to which Christ had invited us; receiving the consecrated elements of bread and wine in a sacred silence when we could feel the mending by the Weaver of the tapesty of Creation.

The Japanese Buddhist at the Communion Table

When it came time to form the circle around the table, my Buddhist friend showed no hesitation. He took his place and stood erect and still in a quiet posture of prayer, his fingers pointing skyward, his palms together in the center of his chest. When Krister offered him the consecrated bread and wine of this uniquely Christian sacrament, he bowed to Krister, his neck and torso bending low, a sign of respect for Krister and reverence for the sacrament itself.

Koyama bowing to his junior

Kosuke Koyama (1926 - 2009)

Years later Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke (“Ko” to his friends) Koyama and I stood together behind the Lord’s Table at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. As we took our places behind the table, Ko did what the Buddhist monk had done with Krister.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence.

Two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament around whom the circle was formed and by whom the worshipers were offered bread and wine . . . in a sacred silence like the one I’d experienced with my Japanese friend in circle at Andover Chapel years ago.

A : Sympathy and Civilization

Kosuke Koyama died in 2009, but he still speaks. He still teaches us Americans to bow. Sorting through old files, a personal letter and 28 page manuscript — Ko’s lecture notes, “How Many Languages does God speak? — Sympathy and Civilization,” the six-week course Ko had taught — leaped from the drawer.

How strange that the author of a book dedicated to his memory would have forgotten the treasure of Ko’s letter and unpublished manuscript. Peggy Shriver’s tribute to Ko is the first thing to meet the eyes of a reader of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness:

In Memory of Kosuke (Ko) Koyama
(1929–2009)

Gentle and strong as trees
Bend gracefull in wind,
You stand — I bow.

— Peggy Shriver, 2009 oo

looking ahead

In the weeks ahead, Views from the Edge will feature excerpts from “How Many Languages Does God Speak? — Sympathy and Civilization.”

Gordon C. Stewart 6-21-19

What’s wrong with the world?

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Photograph of G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton

The look on G.K. Chesterton‘s face could be ours. But who would think to give Chesterton’s answer to the question raised by a London newspaper, “What’s wrong with the world”? Chesterton wrote back two words: “I am“.

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article “What’s wrong with the world.”

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterton

The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Chesterton knew intuitively and by study that there’s something not right that defies description and prescription, a kind of universal virus that included him.

What ever happened to sin?

Psychologist Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic began his book Whatever Became of Sin with a funny story:

“On a sunny day in September, 1972, a stern-faced, plainly dressed man could be seen standing still on a street corner in the busy Chicago Loop. As pedestrians hurried by on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm, and pointing to the person nearest him, intone loudly the single word ‘GUILTY!’

“Then, without any change of expression, he would resume his still stance for a few moments before repeating the gesture. Then, again, the inexorable raising of his arm, the pointing, and the solemn pronouncing of the one word ‘GUILTY!’

“The effect of this strange accusatory pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again; then hurriedly continue on their ways.

“One man, turning to another who was my informant, exclaimed: ‘But how did he know?’”

The sense of broken relatedness

“No word in the Christian vocabulary is so badly understood, in the world and in the church, as the word sin” (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context). Sin is a condition — the state of separation, broken relationship, estrangement from the Other, other people, and one’s self. This state manifests itself in particular acts of broken relatedness, “an active nonbeing, a refusal, a rejection, a no to the other: the other who is God, the author of life; the other who is the neighbor, he partner in life; the other that is creation itself, the context of life. … The recovery of relationality in Christian preaching and teaching is not a” concession to modernity or postmodernity; it is a recovery of the original Hebraic and early Christian ontology . . . .

To sin is to act in defiance of this essential relatedness of all living creatures. It is characteristic of sinful acts that the sinner points away from one’s self to shift responsibility elsewhere — the political, economic, or cultural system that shapes our behavior, or another person. It is only a mature soul who would think to answer the question “what’s wrong with the world” with two words: “I am”.

The Seven Social Evils of the World

Mohandas Gandhi made popular the “The Seven Social Evils of the World” first spoken by the Rev’d Canon Frederick Lewis Donaldson in a sermon at Westminster Abbey on March 20, 1925. Gandhi re-published them seven months later in his weekly newspaper, The Young Indian:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

The Seven Social Evils “Blunders” of the World

Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson later re-named them “The Seven Social Blunders of the World.”

The grandfather knew they were more than blunders. A blunder is a momentary slip — a mistake resulting usually from stupidity, ignorance, or carelessness. Mohandas Gandhi knew what Frederick Lewis Donaldson knew: there is something within each and all of us that makes our heads turn when the man on the street corner points in our direction and says, “Guilty.” No other word compares with the word ‘sin’ to describe what’s wrong with the world. We all are. “I am.”

Few people make much difference to the shape of the world. But every one of us, by turning from the seven social sins, contributes to the mending of the world.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2019.

That the Rabbits Might Live

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This morning’s headlines drew me back to the conversation with Psalm 55. Reflecting on the Psalm led to think of myself as a rabbit. Thinking of the rabbit brought to mind Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit led to think of the Africans, Cherokees, and African-Americans who identified with Brer Rabbit in the briar patch.

And I said, “O that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

I am not at rest. I want to get away. To another place. Another time when the wind is not raging and I am not enraged. A place and time that no longer hurts my ears and my eyes red. Like a rabbit, I freeze, hoping I will not be seen. When they see me on the sidewalk of their civilization, I scurry away in search of the briar patch.

Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.

I love words. I know the power of words. They heal, and they destroy. They honor truth and trust; they lie and deceive, and boast of what they have. The preponderance of words are not civil. They are not kind. They dish out strife with a smile. They keep us in turmoil. They despise the rabbits. They erase the line between truth and falsehood, reality and hallucination, America the beautiful and America the ugly. “O Lord, confound their speech.”

10 Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,

The Lady in the harbor and Emma Lazarus are weeping. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”” The lamp burns dimly. ICE and the border patrol walk the walls like prison guards.

and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11     ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace.

The walls where the lamp once stood beside the golden door are not built to keep others out. Nor do they protect us. They protect the market of oppression and fraud. A system gone awry. The road of generous compassion is paved over with fear and greed, iniquity and fraud, inside imaginary walls patrolled by guards of wealth and power. Oppression and fraud are not outside the walls. They are within them. They never leave the marketplace of Wall Street and Washington where commercial entertainment displaces the traditional landmarks of character. The human city is a mess mesmerized by the lies we mistake for truth, the delusional reality for reality itself. The ruin is in the city’s midst. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us,” said Pogo.

It is not enemies who taunt me—
    I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—

If it were those from beyond the city walls that were intent on doing us harm, I could bear that. But It’s what’s happening within the walls — the rule of entertainment and nihilism across all divisions; the loud applause for what is insolent and vile — that taunt me, drip by drip, tweet by tweet, byte by byte. We all know what Pogo said, but we don’t believe it: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

Hope cannot be overcome. Like a cork on water, hope always bobs to the surface. Brer Rabbit lives in the briar patch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 11, 2019

Old Mrs. Thomas and the Goslings

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The three trumpeter swan goslings are a sight to behold. I look through the field glasses for a closer look. The parents are huge; they are tiny. Their parents are protectors; they need protection. The parents are trustworthy; the goslings are trusting.

Watching the trumpeter swan family slowly paddling on the wetland’s open water next to the cabin makes me stop my restless paddling. I come to a dead stop to drink in the serene beauty of the swans on the wetland waters.

photo of the wetland pond viewed from the cabin in the wilderness.
View from the cabin in autumn

Later in the day I remember Mrs. Thomas. Ninety-one years old Mrs. Thomas who introduced my kindergarten Vacation Bible School to the Psalm 100. David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and I were the goslings. Old Mrs. Thomas was not our parent, and she knew it. She was building our trust in what would endure long after she was gone.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness:
Come before his presence with singing.

It’s ‘the lands’ — all the lands, not just the lands’ human inhabitants, red and yellow, black and white — that are summoned to sing and give praise. The LORD — in upper case LORD is speaking, the LORD whom our Lord (lower case) Jesus revealed and served. It’s every square inch of Earth that is called to be joyful and to serve the One who cannot be seen but must be trusted.

Know ye that the LORD, he is God:
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves:
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

“Ninety-one year old Mrs. Thomas, the old lady with a big hat and a dead mink with its head still on draped around her shoulders like Grandma, talks funny! Nobody says ‘ye’ or ‘hath’ anymore. We say ‘you’, not ‘ye’. We know more than Mrs. Thomas”. But something gets lost when ‘ye’ becomes ‘you’. ‘You’ doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, the way Hebrew does. ’Ye’ makes it clear the psalmist is talking to ‘us’, not just ‘I’, not just ‘me’.

“Know ye” — David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and Gordy! — what Mrs. Thomas knows: that the LORD is God, and that we didn’t make ourselves. The LORD is the Creator; we are among the creatures of the land. Like sheep safely grazing in the shepherd’s pasture, or goslings paddling under their parents’ watchful care.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
And into his courts with praise:
Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Mrs. Thomas calms our fears. She assures us we’re not going to jail, and that God is not mean like the school principal or his ‘safety patrol’ prowling the schoolyard at recess to find the rule-breakers.

School Safeties

God wasn’t sending us to Pops Warfel’s office and we weren’t going to prison. The “courts of the LORD” are not courtrooms; they’re something else. What they are remains a mystery, like heaven! Or maybe they’re not a mystery. Maybe the ‘lands’ — the nations and places of Earth — are the courts of the LORD. Who really knows? Who can know the Breath that blows the breath of life into every living creature and land and sea everywhere all the time?

For the LORD is good: his mercy is everlasting:
And his truth endureth through all generations.

The goslings place their trust in their parents. It does not occur to them to distrust them. We kindergartners paddle along by Mrs. Thomas’ side, learning the difference between ‘us’ and ‘me, ‘we’ and ‘I’, and the mercy that is much older and much longer-lasting than Mrs. Thomas.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland, June 6, 2019

A Red Leather Gift

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At daybreak far from the maddening world on CNN, MSNBC, Politico or — God fobid! . . .FOXNews — I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for the silence interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring. For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.

Back home in the Twin Cities, the shouting turns me ice-cold or red-hot, depending on the moment. Here ice and heat are natural: the ice on the wetland pond is almost gone; the only red-hot thing is the fire in the wood stove. There’s something sacred about the synchronicity of the fire inside and the melting ice just outside the A-frame. It’s peaceful here.

I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until going inside to make the fire or light the kerosene lamps. Jacob Miller’s Amish rocking chair is where the world slows down.

I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for my copy of the Book of Common Prayer. It hasn’t always been mine. It belonged to Sue Kahn, a lifelong Episcopalian, before the day she gave it to me. Sue had suffered the inelegance of Presbyterian language after failing eye sight had led her to Cincinnati to be with her Presbyterian daughter. She could no longer read her prayerbook, but had committed to memory many of its prayers. After two years of worshiping with the Presbyterians, Sue began to refer to me an ‘Episcoterian” — a high Presbyterian — who also appreciated fine language. Looking back it, I think she may have hoped it would improve my prayers from the lecture Sunday mornings. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing her small red leather-bound Book of Common Prayer in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it.” Sue sits beside me in Jacob’s rocker every morning.

I open to the appointed psalm Sue would have contemplated today, this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.

Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.

It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.

Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace because of my cares.

The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and it’s selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into th unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.

But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.

I am shaken by the noise of the enemy;
and by the pressure of the wicked…

I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less developed morality that has not yet recognized the intertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.

For they have cast an evil spirit upon me,
and are set against me in fury.

l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.

My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have befallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.

I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.

And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee to a far off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.”

Before ending the morning prayer time made possible by the gifts from Sue and Jacob, I turn again to the back page of Sue’s red-leather prayer book to read again the words she had written in her own hand before she gave it to me:

Christ was the Word who spake it. He took the bread and broke it. And what his Word did make it – that I believe. . . and take it.

The crackling of the fire and the trumpeting of the trumpeter swans from the far side of the wetland break into the fading darkness at dawn. I fly away again to where I really live — a far-off place — and make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil, us and them.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019

What’s happening to us: Postman, Orwell, and Huxley

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INTRODUCTION

Funny how things come together, crisscross, intersect, lead us down roads no one has ever walked before. Neil Postman offers insight into what’s happening. I read it one morning last week at the cabin, away from everything that entertains and distracts me from that little plot of land on the edge of the wetland in Central Minnesota.

William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readingsexcerpts from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business painted a picture that felt true, like a revelation pealing back the curtain to find that Lewis Carroll’s walk down the yellow brick road with Alice, the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow is outdated. Oz is no longer a harmless little old man.

Neil Postman on Orwell and Huxley

Contrary to popular belief. . . Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley fears was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much those that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centripetal bumblepuppy . . . . In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

The wetland pond, the flyway, and return home

At the cabin, the water in the wetland is unusually high this year because of record-breaking rainfall. The flocks of Buffleheads and other non-diving ducks have by-passed their familiar stop on the flyway; the water is too deep to for them to reach the food sources below. Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the diving Loons and Mergansers that can reach the bottom have stopped by this year.

Leaving the cabin and the wetland lead home to the world Huxley feared where the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance. We settle back into the lounge chairs in front of the television and flip through Netflix, YouTube, and other means of entertainment in what Postman later called the Technopolis in which our capacity for critical thought is numbed.

The new normal

We turn on the evening news and see two very different versions of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking to the press. One is real. The other is altered by technology that deceives viewers into believing the Speaker is drunk, on drugs, or mentally impaired by slowing and altering the pace of her speech. The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of what will become the new normal.

The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of ... the new normal.

We’re not in make-believe Mayberry anymore. What we love — entertainment — is drowning us. In the world foreseen by Huxley, Orwell, and Postman, truth is hard to find. “Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” wrote Thomas Merton in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice.

Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the smaller, deep-diving Loons and Mergansers can reach or swim to the bottom to see what’s real and what’s not in the Technopolis. William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins with Neil Postman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Thomas Merton took me there this morning.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2019

Smiling on the Way Home

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Readers of Views from the Edge know we’ve been offline for a while. There’s enough gloom in the world, and I’ve been feeling kind of gloomy. No one needs one more Gloomy Gus. So I’ve kept the words to myself, reading and writing for edification and a character adjustment.

You might say, I haven’t been home lately. Except for moments with grandson Elijah, whose latest word is ‘home’, laughter has come harder than words. Elijah sends me home to the self I’d almost lost — the childlike self not yet weighed down by adult concerns. Then, this morning, something akin to Elijah’s joy hit me. Turning again to William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings, it was almost as though I had been commanded home to joy.

The Laughing Christ

“When I imagine Jesus, it is not simply as a person who heals the sick, raises the dead, stills the storm, and preaches good news. It’s also as a man of great goodwill and compassion, with a zest for life . . . brimming with generous good humor. Full of high spirits. Playful. Even fun. Interestingly, in the past few decades two images of a joyful Jesus have enjoyed some popularity. The first is The Laughing Christ by Willis Wheatley, a sketch that shows Jesus’s head throw back in open-mouthed laughter. The second is The Risen Christ by the Sea, a colorful portrait of Jesus wearing a broad smile and standing beside a fishing net, painted by Jack Jewell, a seascape artist in the 1990s. These two paintings, among others, serve to counteract countless images of the gloomy Messiah. . . . But I wonder if some eschew these portraits because of . . . their subject material. Is there something about a smiling Jesus that threatens our understanding of the man?”

James Martin, Between Heaven and Mirth

“Okay, “I said. I’ve been AWOL for a while, painting myself in the likeness of the faithful man of sorrows who weeps over the city, a serious, joyless man who didn’t smile much and laughed rarely, if at all, on the way to the cross.

Reading Jesus’ response to his critics gives a clue to a different character more like The Laughing Christ. Jesus’s rebuke to his critics — “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners “(Mt 11:18 NIV) — offers a clue to a laughing Jesus. There’s a glimpse of truth in most criticisms. Many Christians quickly rise to Jesus defense. We’re okay with the criticism that he ate and drank with sinners; we’re not okay with the accusation that he was a glutton and a drunkard. We become like my six year-old cousin and I charging up the stairs to tell Aunt Gertrude (Dennis’s mother) we’d discovered a six-pack in the basement refrigerator we were forbidden to go near: “I didn’t know my father was a drinkin’ man!” said Dennis. Surely Jesus was not a drinking man! “ There was never any beer in Jesus’s refrigerator. “Jesus was not a glutton and a drunkard!”

Both criticisms must have had a hint of truth to them. “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharises; but yours eat and drink?” (Luke 5:13.) Jesus must have savored the taste of a home-cooked meal, and lifted a glass or two in light-hearted moments at a party, not just at the Last Supper. The alternative to Jesus’s critics is not that Jesus never got a little tipsy or ate too much at a party. It would be ludicrous to criticize a tea-totaller on Weight Watchers for being “a glutton and a drunkard”! Jesus was no Gloomy Gus who never laughed. He wasn’t solemn or holy enough for his critics.

So here I am today, back online, opening my eyes to “The Laughing Christ” and “The Risen Christ by the Sea” that challenge the gloomy spirituality of gloom and doom, on my way home to a more buoyant joyful spirit the news can’t take away.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 17, 2019.

Cracked heads in need of mending

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“…Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

Watching BBC/Netflix series The Fall — all three seasons in one huge gulp — led me to recall Arthur Miller’s play by the same title, the Genesis story, and the works of Herman Melville, William Golding … or even John Calvin. The brief appearance mid-way through the series of a 20£ bill with a note scrawled across it in red ink — He who does not love abides in death — and its unanticipated re-appearance in the series’ final scene seemed to this Presbyterian preacher like the subtext from which Allan Cubitt create The Fall.

Great literature likeMoby Dick, and insightful sermons, films and television series are sometimes rooted in, and explicate, a text, a line, an aphorism. Allan Cubitt’s choice of the series’ title calls to mind Arthur Miller’s The Fall and the Hebraic biblical story of humankind’s attempt to master paradise by the raid on what belongs to the Creator alone — the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-8) — that quickly results in fratricide between humankind’s first children.

Cain murders his brother Abel. Abel is blown away. Only Cain remains. But the echo of Abel’s horror remains to spoil the good earth: “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10). Allan Cubbit’s title points to the Genesis story. Likewise, his work, The Pool of Bethesda, is taken from Christian scripture.

Film critic reviews like Sophie Gilbert’s “Netflix’s ‘The Fall’ Comes to a Maddening End in its Third Season” (Nov. 5, 2016) in The Atlantic — express disappointment that The Fall “forgot” to answer “the questions [The Fall] raises about misogyny, madness, and obsession.” They see the bill as a glimpse into the deranged mind of Paul Spector, the serial killer, but nothing more.

The final scene of the final episode of the series begs for more. Stella, the detective who has cracked the case, has returned to solitude in her bloodless London flat. She pours herself a glass of red wine and reads again the red ink message: ”He who does not love abides in death,” the verbatim biblical quotation carefully plucked from the New Testament epistle that focuses on love as life itself, and lovelessness as death (I John 3:14). The note’s reappearance is more than a reminder of the bloody horror Stella seems to have escaped, or a return to the vexing inner workings of Paul Spector’s lethal psyche. It serves a larger purpose: to expose the series’ subtext, throwing a light backward on the inexplicable darkness and obsession with death and raising the question of Stella’s own loveless psyche and future, leaving the viewers to ponder for ourselves the complexities of love and life, lovelessness and death.

Works of art do not give answers. Neither does Cubitt’s The Fall. They do not explain reality; they describe it — the mystifying entanglement of lovelessness and love, of evil and goodness, the inexplainable complexity of all the sisters and brothers of Cain. Cubitt’s own reflection on the BBC calls attention to another scene midway through the series in which the serial killer’s Intensive Care nurse, Sheridan, tells him she will pray for him. “My idea is that the line ‘I will pray for you’ is provocative,” said the author. “Surely he is beyond redemption? It seems Sheridan [Spector’s ICU nurse] doesn’t think so. Has anyone ever prayed for Spector before?”

This and other scenes are, by design, “subtle and nuanced and ambiguous, open to all kinds of interpretations, replete with possibilities.”

“…and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

— Gordon C. Stewart, a Presbyterian cracked head, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2019.

Germany in 1933 and the U.S.A. in 2019 — Then and Now

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THEN

In this short video Karl Barth addresses the question of how the German people were led to sacrifice a democratic constitutional republic for the dream of Adolf Hitler.

Karl Barth, theologian, professor, author, founder of the Confessing Church which refused to participate in the surrender of faith to the ideology of the Third Reich, and author of The Declaration of Barmen.

NOW: VIOLATION OF THE OATH OF OFFICE

What we see in the U.S.A. in 2019 is chilling. During his visit to the U.S.–Mexican border the American President violated his oath of office “… to the best of my Ability, to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” (Article II, Section One, Clause 8, U.S. Constitution). If, during his recent visit to Calexico, the President advised U.S. Border Patrol officers to pay no attention to judges, as reported by CNN and Jake Tapper, the President committed an impeachable offense. He not only did not serve and protect the Constitution. He openly defied it. He put himself above the law.

EYE DISEASE and THE LORDLESS POWERS

It takes what Barth called “eye disease” not to see the systematic erosion of the rule of law by what Barth called “political absolutisms and lordless [i.e. unaccountable] powers” built around a charismatic madman’s dream. The parallels between then and now smack us in the face every day: requiring from cabinet members a sworn loyalty oath and breach of silence agreement; telling the U.S. border patrol to ignore the law and the courts and do what he says; ignoring the law and court orders upholding the legal and human rights of asylum-seekers; separating migrant children and their parents; declaring that his knowledge of world affairs superior to career State Department, Department of Defense, military, and intelligence professionals; ignoring wise advice and counsel; ridiculing past presidents as inferior to himself; assaulting freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment; encouraging violence by refusing to criticize white supremacy, white nationalism, and white hate groups; replacing legitimate patriotism — love of one’s country — with national idolatry; putting personal and family wealth, power, and fame ahead of the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution.

SEEING THROUGH OBFUSCATION AND DELAY

Wednesday’s (April 10) news further to the sense of a kind of coup d’état — the bloodless undermining of the rule of law in this constitutional republic by those sworn to uphold it. Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to answer questions posed by a Congressional committee re: his decisions about redaction and release of the Mueller Report, and Treasury Secretary Munchen’s deferral to the Department of Justice re: the Congressional demand from the IRS for the past six years of President Trump’s tax returns led me back to Barth.

FAITH AND ETHICS: UNMASKING THE LORDLESS POWERS

“We do not know what we are doing when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ namely that, negatively at least, we are asking for the gracious unmasking, overcoming, and ultimate abolition of these absolutisms that rule us per neras [i.e. by wrong].” – Karl Barth, The Christian Life, p. 219.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 12, 2019