Competing Obsessions: Impeachment and Car Shopping

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A READER’S COMMENT

The comment left by a reader in reply to yesterday’s post on the impeachment trial (“This Day in History“) expresses a more widely held sentiment.

“I watched most of the Congressional hearings, but watching the Republican Senate pretend that ‘everything is JUST FINE” and there was NOTHING WRONG and NO CRIME is madly depressing. I am not handling this well. I’m trying to believe it will all work out, but I don’t really believe it. It has been a hard, hard, hard few years. Doesn’t it feel so much longer than that?”

Views from the Edge reader’s Comment in reply to “This Day in History” (Jan. 21, 2010)

LOSING OUR FOOTING

The first day of the Senate impeachment trial left me scrambling for sure footing in a world whose foundations are shaking, a condition familiar to the Psalm on which I had focused early yesterday morning. ‘Evil’, ‘the righteous’, and ‘evildoers’ are words of judgment readers of Views from the Edge do not expect to hear here. We do best to steer clear of these words of spiritual pride. Dividing the world into good and evil, sheep and goats, is the opposite of a gospel of reconciliation. But the words of an ancient Psalm gave expression to what I felt watching the Senate’s resistance to “doing impartial justice”.

1 Do not fret because of the evildoers;
    do not be envious of those who do wrong,
for they will soon wither like the grass,
    and like the green grass fade away.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who succeed in evil schemes.
[Psalm 37:1-2,7]

My faith tradition practices the Confession of Sin before the One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” There are sins of omission (“we have left undone the things which we ought to have done”) and there are sins of commission (“and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”).

My father and mother taught us the spiritual practice of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and “the amendment of life.” But it’s often hard to tell when one is committing or omitting. Obsession manages to succeed at both. What dawned on me yesterday was my obsession with evil schemes.

COMPULSIVE OBSESSIONS – IMPEACHMENT AND CAR-SHOPPING

Can I, should I, will I part ways with my beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon? It’s an existential dilemma.

My beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS (171,773 miles)

A person’s relationship with a car isn’t “BREAKING NEWS!” No one cares about my three-week long obsession with a car! Not even when it replaces my obsession with writing for Views from the Edge. Who cares?

Preoccupation with the sirens that call me to sell or trade my faithful Avalon may be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but this car thing feels familiar. It has a history. I’ve been here before.

THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE: finding and staying with the Avalon

Maybe it’s in my DNA. “Let’s go out and look at that new Buick,” Dad would say. It didn’t matter that Parkinson’s and the Department of Motor Vehicles had put the car thing in his rear view mirror; Mom and Dad’s Buick Skylark was 21 years old. “Oh, Ken, for heaven’s sake!” We don’t need a new car! You can’t even walk anymore, and, besides, we don’t have the money for a new car.” It didn’t matter. When the car itch took over, he had to scratch it.

Mom and Dad’s 1983 Buick Skylark

Finding the Avalon nine years ago was completely unexpected. I dropped by Total Auto, a mom-and-pop used car dealer, to look at a one-owner Subaru Legacy. I took the Legacy for a test drive, but didn’t like it. But there was another car, covered with snow and ice, a one-owner 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS traded at a Lexus dealer after 115,000 miles. We dug it out of the snow and took it for a spin. It drove like a dream. What’s not to like about a low-miles, loaded top-of-the-line Avalon XLS?

All these years later, after nine good years together, the car itch returned. I’ve been scratching it every day over the last month. But it occurs to me that obsession is a spiritual and mental health thing, and that the return of Dad’s car itch may have been a healthy substitute for the three-year obsession about which I have no control: the rogue president and the political party obsessed with pleasing him and protecting him with evil schemes that prevent a trial.

REGAINING SOLID FOOTING

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    
 23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

… and the U.S. Constitution, division of powers, and a faltering Republic may yet survive. You can’t trade the Constitution for a new car.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, day two of the Senate Impeachment, January 22, 2020.

The Contested State of Truth

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The dawn of a new year is like turning the page in a bad novel, believing it will get better. No one likes a gloomy Gus! But reality is what it is. Or maybe it’s not. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. A toddler playing with matches at his country club threatens to set the world on fire. The toddler and his playmates pretend not to see the bigger fire raging all around them. Only toddlers would believe they can win the game of “Chicken” when their opponent is Nature itself.

THE REAL AND COPIES OF COPIES OF THE REAL

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But faith gets harder when what you can see turns your hair white.

“In postmodernity of Late Capitalism,” writes professor David White in “The Contested Status of Truth, “the [facsimile] precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. There is only the simulation . . . Fictional representations — copies of copies of the real — are rapidly replacing the real in our experience.” (Insight: the Faculty Journal of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Fall 2019.)

Fictional representations repeated repeatedly remove us from what is real. The representation creates its own reality . . . ‘alternative facts’. When comedian Lewis Black tells his audience, “You can’t just make sh-t up,” the auditorium comes alive because the audience knows it’s true.

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.

Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 NRSV

IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING, THE OLD MAN IS SNORING

While global warming accelerates beyond previous expectations — and those earlier scenarios were already ominous and urgent — the party in control of American policy is snoring. Environmental standards that clean air, water, and soil are erased with the stroke of a pen.

It’s not a hoax, Mr. President. Not a hoax, Mr. McConnell, et.al. History will remember you as the climate change deniers intent on partisan control while the planet turned brown.

Likewise, you, Mr. McConnell, will be remembered as the Senate Majority Leader who ended discussion and debate on the Senate floor, and worked hand-in-glove with the impeachment defendant to assure that Mr. Trump is acquitted.

[Blessed are they]
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe
against the innocent.

Psalm 15: 4b-5a

WHO ARE YOU CALLING CHICKEN?

Had you forgotten, or did you not know, what the people of Iran have never forgotten: the CIA engineered the 1953 coup d’etat that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president and put the Shah in power for the next 25 years . . . until the Iranian Revolution paid back the insults with American hostage-taking. Iran has a long memory, a proud history, and rich culture that is many centuries old. The new insult — assassinating an Iranian state official — stokes the embers of smoldering fires, leaving our allies scratching their heads once again, wondering what you were thinking, if you were thinking at all. Did you consider that, by assassinating the Iranian General, you also would eliminate a strange but highly effective ally in our common campaign against ISIS?

TOWARD A CULTURE OF GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, DELIGHT, AND JOY

“Perhaps the resources of our culture — organized around the priority of spectacle and commodity and power — have been exhausted. . . . They cannot deliver the flourishing they claim. They cannot foster a culture of gratitude, appreciation, delight, and joy. They can only foster a culture of hatred, suspicion, and fear.” — David White, Insight.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 7, 2020.

Climate Change–Everyone is a long story

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David Kanigan’s Sunday Morning introduced me to Niall Williams’s words and a photograph of architecture from Berlin. “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story….” — Niall Williams, History of the Rain.

HEARING AND TELLING STORIES

Pondering Williams’ short sentence reminded me of Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. We don’t just have stories. We ARE our stories. And our stories contain secrets.

I’m imagining a scene that will not happen in real time. There is a large room. Folding wooden chairs have been arranged in a huge circle. Members of Congress and their staff members are sitting there. There is no assigned seating. Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are there.

Adam Schiff and Doug Collins are there. Scattered among the tailored suits and silk ties are members of the Capitol cleaning and custodial staff, the barbers and stylists, the shoe shiners, the cooks, kitchen assistants, table waiters, and dishwashers are all there. The mailroom clerks, the Capitol Guard, and Secret Service are there. No chair is different than another. Shaker-like oak chairs, every one the same. There is no dais. No microphone. No television cameras. All cell phones are off. There are no distractions. The room is quiet.

All eyes are fixed on the Ojibwa dancer sitting alone in the empty space created by the circle formation. All ears are listening to the story the Ojibwa Elder is telling through his flute. Everyone hears the story and his prayers to the Great Spirit offered without words through his drumming. Then he begins to sing toward the four directions. They watch his body turn to the West, and follow his lead, all turning as he turns.

Look towards the West
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the North
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the East
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the South
Your Grandfather is looking this way
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look up above (upwards)
God (“Great Spirit”) sits above us
Pray to Him, pray to Him!
He is sitting there looking this way!
Look towards the Earth
Your Grandmother lies beneath us
Pray to Her, pray to Her!
She is laying there listening (to your Prayers).

Everyone is both curious and caught up in the moment. The OIjibwa is on bended knee. He kisses the Earth. He lifts his eyes upwards. With his right hand he cups his left ear, listening for the voice of the ancestors who looked toward the four directions. The people in the circle begin to hear what he is hearing. The Ojibwa, like Moses parting the waters, is creating a path into the center of the circle, as the sounds draw closer. The Ojibwa shaman open to the doors for the Gathering of Nations, dancing and singing because they know what the people in the wood chairs do not: No one owns land. No one can own a Grandmother.

We are our stories. We tell them, including the secrets we’ve dared not tell, to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. Humankind is a long story.

“You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”

Greta Thunberg, US Congress, Washington DC, September 17, 2019.
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 28, 2019.

Christmas: He has scattered the proud!

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This Christmas we share a chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock) first aired on MPR’s “All Things Considered” during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Today there is no Occupy Wall Street. There are no tents. No camps. No protests. But Mary, and the hope she sings in her Magnificat, will never goes away.

Mary of Occupy

He has shown strength with his arm; 
 he has scattered the proud 
 in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful 
 from their thrones,and lifted up the lowly; 
 he has filled the hungry with good things, 
 and sent the rich away empty.
 - Gospel of Luke 1:53-55
 

in other cultures, and other times, the young woman would be called a peasant. But here and now, she is a protester, one of a dwindling number of ragged young people on the government plaza. She moves among the occupier sleeping bags and protest signs in the cold of winter, singing her song of hope and joy.

She makes no demands, which is confusing to some. Hers is a different way: a bold announcement that the old order, symbolized by Wall Street, is already finished. Her purity and her message are impervious to the game of demand-and-response that serves only to tweak and tinker with the old system of greed and financial violence.

She simply affirms the great new thing that will come to pass. to her it is more real than much of what she sees.

A song like hers is being sung this season in churches through- out the world. The song rejoices in a new world order about to be born. The “same old, same old” world, the one defined by who’s up and who’s down, by social pride and social humiliation, by the overfed and underfed, by extremes of extravagant wealth and pov- erty—that world is over. The mountains of greed are brought down and the pits of desperation are raised up to the plain.

The song celebrated in churches is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, a composition of the Gospel of luke. it has special meaning to Christians who believe that Mary bore in her womb the savior of us all. But the Luke story also serves as a metaphor for the compassionate character of a new society about to be born.

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings this peasant girl living in the time of the Roman empire’s foreign occupation. She is full of the One who “has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts,” who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of low degree,” the leveling God of mercy and justice.

Imagine for a moment an opera house. At one end of the stage stands Mary, the voice of prophetic madness, her tender voice softly rejoicing in the hope growing inside her. At the other end stands a massive chorus, in tuxedos and gowns, thundering its hymn of praise for the market, for its grandeur, for the preservation of the status quo.

“He has filled the hungry with good things,” the girl sings, “and the rich he has sent empty away.” Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns out the mighty chorus.

As Mary’s song is read in churches this Sunday, some anonymous girl will slip unnoticed into the back pew. She will listen to the reading of luke’s Magnificat, and she will hope, like Mary, that the world will hear the message.

Merry Christmas from Views from the Edge.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska MN, Dec. 25, 2019

Christianity Today Yesterday

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EVANGELICAL REBELLION OR A HICCUP?

Christianity Today, the flagship journal of conservative evangelicals in the U.S.A., has called for Donald Trump’s removal from office.

[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

The New York Times saw Mr. Galli’s criticism of the president as a crack in the evangelical voting bloc’s foundation, but not the beginning of the end of evangelical support.

Barring the unforeseen, Mr. Trump will be the first American president to face voters after being charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. One voting bloc voicing criticism this week: evangelicals. But the critics remain a minority in a political movement that Mr. Trump has reshaped in his own mold.

NYT, Dec. 20, 2019

DISCLAIMER

I am a Christian. I don’t read Christianity Today. I don’t even read The Christian Century, the progressive counterpoint to Christianity Today. I’m too old and ornery for flagships. Any sort of flag-waving, especially when done in the name of Jesus, turns me into what I don’t want to be: just another noisy name-caller. What do I know? I could be dead wrong in my understanding of faith and public life. But I still would vainly hope that what Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote about Thomas Hobbes might be said of me. “Greater than the horror his strange kerygma arouses is the praise he deserves for not being blind and stupid . . . and for his vision and knowledge. It should be part of Christian vigilance to see and know what [Hobbes] saw and knew.” — Karl Barth, The Christian Life.

I’ve never attended a Billy Graham crusade. I always found it ironic that evangelicals who believe that everything boils down to an individual decision rely on mass rallies.

TRUMP RALLIES AND MINDS WITHOUT COMPASSION

Watching Mr. Trump’s facial expression and body language, listening to speech that dehumanizes, humiliates, treats his critics as enemies of the nation itself makes my skin crawl. Only the knowledge that some in the crowd claim to follow Jesus is more disturbing. How can people hoot and holler on cue from a man with orange hair who makes fun of disabled people, lies so often no one keeps count anymore, throws away women, lawyers and fixers like bubble gum, builds a wall against Central American refugees and takes children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms at the border, fattens the rich and sends the needy away, and alienates America’s traditional democratic allies with insults with the swagger of Vladimir Putin?

How can people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior applaud a well-coifed billionaire madman dressed in a starched white shirt with gold cuff links, a silk tie, and a suit that costs more than the people standing behind him make in a month? How will they sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” this Christmas Eve when a poor woman doesn’t get to gently lay her child lowly in a manger because the nation to which she had fled for safety has taken her child away?

Crowds have always been a refuge for people driven by demagogues into the arms of fear, which may explain why in the Christmas story the angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), and why, centuries later, the early Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch answered the question how and why such a thing as a rally happens.

In the hateful, hostile mob (O strange vagary!)
 My only port and refuge can I find,
 Such is my fear to find myself alone.
 
- Petrarch, “Laura Living,” Conzanier 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 23, 2019

What I was and am not; what I am and wasn’t

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TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

Seeing more clearly takes time. It takes experience. It demands patience — with myself and with others — and it takes courage. Courage to let go of ideas we took for granted: who we are, what we aspired to become, our place in the cosmos.

Paul Tillich knew about courage and patience. The first professor to be dismissed from his teaching position during the rise of the Third Reich, Tillich came to see faith as “the courage to be” — and “to be” means being in motion, growing, changing, dying, leaving parts of ourselves behind. Neither courage alone nor patience alone is the courage to be.

Which leads me back to where we began. If you now see homophobia, anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and climate change-denial as offensive, what do you do in relation to a homophobic anti-Semitic white nationalist climate change-denier?

SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-CRITICISM

I have never been a white nationalist. Neither have you, I suspect. But, looking back, I see that my classmates and I drank from the well of white nationalism. Every school day began with our hands over our hearts, facing the flag.

Photo of school children reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Although we might have wondered why we were pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth, we didn’t give it much thought. We took it less as a statement of national aspiration than as a statement of national exceptionalism, a statement of fact.

But it wasn’t a fact. We learned that America was deeply divisible — between slave traders and plantation owners, and the African slaves they kidnapped, bought, and sold on the slave blocks; between the European settlers and the North American continent’s first people, cheated of their treaty rights, stripped of their land, religious practices, sovereignty, and civil rights; between professing Puritan Christians and the “witches” of Salem, burned at the stake as people “unfit for our society”; between the real Americans — the Christians — and the Christ-killers; between the straight majority and the LGBTQ minority who suffered alone in silence; between the landed aristocracy of the founding fathers and the laborers who bled picking cotton in the cotton fields in the south and worked without labor protections in the factories of the industrial north.

That was the “world” in which I lived, and that was the world that lived in me. As I continued through the years, I did my best to replace naïveté with consciousness, challenging the myth of American exceptionalism as a reformer, social critic, and activist.

I learned in time that unless I wanted to be a pompous ass, patience was required with others and with myself. “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation” is the Bible’s version of Plutonium-239’s half-life of 24,000 years. It describes the toxic waste passed down river from one generation to the next.

BALANCING COURAGE AND PATIENCE

Nuclear waste doesn’t disappear. Neither does the sin of exceptionalism in its racial, economic, gender, religious, and national manifestations. The toxic waste of exceptionalism — the conviction that one’s nation, race, culture, creed, gender, class . . . or species . . . is the exception to history and nature — is the unacknowledged original sin we manage to make original every day by exalting ourselves over others and over nature itself.

FEMA photograph of helicopter fighting California forest fire.
FEMA photograph of helicopter over California forest fire.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE REPUBLIC

As the climate change clock ticks toward midnight, patience seems less of a virtue than courage acting now. We who pledged allegiance to the flag “and to the Republic for which it stands” are losing patience with each other. We are ‘indivisible’ only if we decide we are. If we and those we elect place our flawed understandings of our personal interests above our responsibility to honor and maintain the Republic, our not-so original original sin may be our last.

It takes courage to confess one’s participation in the evils we deplore. And it takes patience with those who seem to have logs in their eyes.. “If we say we have no sin,” declared the minister Sunday mornings in the church of my childhood, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The minister who invited us to own up to sins of omission and commission was the man I knew at home as Dad. I wonder what Dad would do if he could see us now.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 30, 2019.

Human Packs and Alpha Dogs –Part 2

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AMERICA 2019: PUZZLING AND CONFOUNDING

We are in the midst a constitutional crisis in the U.S.A. that leads most of us scratching our heads. How did we get here? How will we get out of it? No one knows.

Part 1 of this three-post series suggested kinship with dogs who, by nature, live in packs led by Alpha Dogs. In Part 2, we turn to a time-honored voice from an earlier time.

AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Karl Barth‘s way of seeing and hearing offers one such perspective. Barth was one of great theologians of the 20th Century, known for his brilliance, and for his early opposition to the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler and the nationalist ideology of the Third Reich.

Barth saw what those with “eye disease” did not. Idolatry, not atheism, is the issue for the human creature.

In Adolf Hitler and nationalist party that ended a constitutional republic, Barth saw what he called “the lordless powers” that have no Lord but themselves. They allow for no superiors. They submit to nothing and to no one. They are what Barth’s American friend William Stringfellow called “imposters of God” that prey on our anxiety, powers greater than ours, in effect a ‘lord’ — an Alpha Dog — to protect us and conquer what threatens us.

“DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES”

As a Christian theologian, Barth professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. This Lord is no victor. For Barth, Jesus Christ was the man for others who stooped to wash others’ feet, a chore assigned to household slaves; unmasked the lordless powers of empire; wept over the city, and rode into it “humble and riding on an ass” in counterpoint to the emperor entering the city on his white stallion; proclaimed a kingdom of infinite compassion not built by ‘the lordless powers’; prayed on his knees to the Lord of lords and King of kings of all the lesser packs; and bent his back to the soldier’s whip and Roman execution, and reached out to the rebel on the cross next to his.

The Jesus of Nazareth who bowed his head to no other power than YHWH — the Ineffable One, the Eternal One, the Lord beyond the lordless that rise and fall and are forgotten — represents humankind in our proper relationship with God.

“The demonism of politics consists in the idea of ’empire’, which is always human as such.

The Nazi Party and its Alpha Dog were ‘Lordless’ because they were accountable to no one and to nothing. Their authority and power were absolute. Everyone in the pack was ordered to yield to a headstrong man and a “headstrong dream.”

Barth’s theological anthropology offers insight into our vulnerability in an anxious world.

Man’s (sic.) alienation from God at once carries with it his self-alienation: the denaturalizing of the humanity and fellow humanity of is own existence, the contraction of the determination, inalienably given to him as God’s creature, that he should belong to God and have in God his Lord, the beginning of speech, action, and therefore existence, which are headstrong because they have no Lord.

Karl Barth, The Christian Life, 213-14.

Knowing that social control requires consent of the pack, Hitler and the Third Reich systematically transposed the prevailing religious belief system into the key of nationalist supremacy. The religion that proclaimed the elusive Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as Lord was brought to Heel: Heel! Sit! Down! Off! Leave it it!

The church that prayed “Thy Kingdom come” bowed the knee to the nearer-to-hand kingdom, raising its arm to salute the national messiah. “Heil Hitler!” and Sieg Heil” replaced Handel’s ‘Messiah’.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:5).

Handel’s Messiah

As for the Jews? It’s much harder to bring to heel a people whose faith looks to YHWH, the Holy One, and does not regard any human being as a divine incarnation. They would need to be removed from the fictional Aryan pack. They were stripped of every constitutional protection, herded onto trains, and delivered to concentration camps as people unfit for German society.

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”

Like the Germans in the lead up to 1933, we in America in 2019 are manipulated by well-calibrated propaganda and disinformation campaigns that ‘denaturalize’ and turn neighbors into enemies in the age of cyberspace.

Slogans are simply vents with whose help ideologies surface and in the form of loud whistles call for general applause and acknowledgment. Let us not be deceived: we all listen to the most varied catchwords, we all use them more or less merrily, and in so doing show that we ourselves are people who have been struck and stabbed and snared by systematized ideologies.

Propaganda is putting things in black and white. … What they have to push systematically is their own excellence and usefulness, and by way of background must show how utterly valueless and harmful their rivals and opponents are.

THE TRUMP PHENOMENON

Classical Christian theology is clear about the need for an Alpha Dog. Its understanding of human being is sometimes called theological anthropology. Our mortal human nature is best understood in light of our submission — witting or unwitting — to this, that, or another power. When an Alpha Dog rises to claim the allegiance of a pack, we are thrown back.

Most of us in Roman Catholicism and progressive protestant churches have moved beyond patriarchal metaphors and talk of kings, kingdoms, and lords. We speak instead of ‘kin-doms’ without kings — horizontal societies without authority, what Barth called “the Lordless powers.” The reign of compassion is upended and replaced by an Alpha Dog who reigns absolutely, using propaganda, fear, hate, and cruelty to bring the pack to Heel.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 12, 2019

I will look for You – a Psalmic reflection

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WHY AM I AWAKE?

The comforter feels heavy. My body is sore. So is my spirit. I shift from one side to the other and turn on my back, but it doesn’t help.

picture of digital clock

I look over to the night table at the old digital clock that once told my parents the time of day or night — the inheritance with the BIG red numbers that glow in the dark to help old folks read them.

The red numbers read 3:13.

I throw off the covers, stumble down the 18 steps to the first floor, make a pot of coffee, pour myself a cup, turn on the small table lamp by the fireplace, and sit down for an early morning conversation with the psalmist in the copy of The Book of Common Prayer Sue Kahn put in my hand years ago.

MEDITATION ON PSALM 5 (SELECTED VERSES)

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.[v.3]
Art work by Andrej Mashkotsev with Tower of Babel in the backgound adds visual weight to "the little kings and usurpers.

I will put my trust in You. I will not surrender to powers that know no higher power.

You, Lord, are the Breath that breathes in all and makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and unjust — “Lord of lords and King of kings,” the Eternal One from Whom the little kings and usurpers cannot flee.

“AN EMPIRE” – ANDREJ MASHKOTSEV

I make my appeal to You for Whom the darkness is as light. Things are dark here in America. We are divided. The future looks dark. Although my faith tells me You are present everywhere, I do not feel hopeful. It seems as though You have left us to our own devises.

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
and evil cannot dwell with You. [v.4]

Though it feels as though You are hiding, I have to believe You do not take pleasure in wickedness, and that the partisan evil, as bold and obvious as the big red numbers on my parents’ digital clock at 3:13 A.M, will not prevail. Evil cannot dwell with You.

Braggarts cannot stand in your sight; you hate all those who work wickedness. [v.5]

Does it matter to You?

If braggarts cannot stand in Your sight, come into sight. Show Yourself. Take Your seat on the judgment throne to hold the braggarts accountable for their treason against You and all that breathes. Summon the braggarts to stand before You before it is too late.

Do You hate wickedness? Does Love also hate? Do You shrug and let it go?

PAINTING “JOHN” BY LILIA MAZURKEVICH 

But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy I will go into your house;
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. (v.7)

I will bow down in awe of You. The good green Earth is Your temple. I will look to the greatness of Your mercy. When it feels as though You are hiding, I will seek You. I will remember the wisdom of the Hasidic grandfather teach his grandson about You, when young Yechiel came home in tears because his friend had stopped looking for him in a game of hide-and-seek.

artwork "Hide-and-Seek" by Marieke Peters - Visual Artist adds visual impact to the Buber story and intent of the post.

“Rebbe Barukh caressed Yechiel’s face, and with tears welling up in his eyes, he whispered softly, ‘God too Yechiel, God too is weeping. For, He too has been hidden with no one looking for Him’.” (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim).

HIDE-AND-SEEK, MARIEKE PETERS

I will look for You.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 6, 2019.

i used to run through fields

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photo of grandson Elijah with the spoon he's just begun to use.
Grandson Elijah enjoying his new soon.

“Bubbles” – at 4:00 A.M.

 i used to run through fields
laughing, blowing bubbles
floating up, up, away
off to Who-knows-where

now I watch the bubbles
burst, burst, burst –
dreams, illusions, hopes,
bursting into air

time and death bursting
all our bubbles
for we are puffs of air
but for a time

till some child runs
again through fields
of green, blowing bubbles
that float … up and up

swelling, rising, not yet bursting
each bubble its own
never to be repeated self
precious beyond belief

while we in our old age
move toward the end of time
evaporating into eternity
Whence we came.

"Bubbles"

– Gordon C. Stewart (@)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 4, 2019

Humans, Packs, and Alpha Dogs – Part 1

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INVITATION TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

In times like these, it helps to step outside the box.

My canine friend Barclay and his predecessors, Maggie and Sebastian (RIP), offered an opportunity to see ourselves and others differently.

REFLECTIONS OF AN ALPHA DOG

I love dogs. No one loves dogs more than I, except for Mark, and he and his latest golden retriever are in Maine. Like Mark, I have to have a dog! Living with Barclay, I’ve noticed the same thing I saw with Maggie and Sebastian.

Barclay is calmest when the Alpha Dog establishes and maintains authority: Heel Sit! Stay. Down. Off. Leave it. Fetch. Get the ball! Drop it.

Photograph of my dog friend Barclay in the car, looking at his Alpha Dog.

Barclay loves his human Alpha Dog. It’s in his nature to submit to the pack’s Alpha Dog.

Without an Alpha Dog, Barclay is a mess.

We tell ourselves we’re not canines; we’re human beings. We’re not members of a pack, and we don’t have Alpha Dogs. We are the Alpha Dogs who give the commands that house-train Maggie not to look you in the eye and squat on the Persian rug, and Sebastian and Barclay to lift their legs on fire hydrants instead of the legs of the dining room table. The Alpha Dog’s house is not their ‘loo‘, as the British say.

Maggie and Sebastian playing in the snow.

Dogs seem happiest when the pack’s Alpha Dog has established clear limits and boundaries.

HUMANS, PACKS, AND ALPHA DOGS

Living with Maggie, Sebastian, and Barclay while obsessing over events in the U.S.A. recently lead me to wonder: Is there much difference between canines and humans? Are we also pack animals in need of an Alpha Dog?

Members of 12-Step groups answer yes. They join anonymous packs whose participants recognize that an addiction has taken over their lives — “My name is Bob/Harriet, and I’m an alcoholic/heroin addict” — and encourage each other in their shared day-by-day surrender to a higher power, however each member defines it.

Twelve-Step programs do not have a theology, but they do have an anthropology and a philosophy that runs counter to a dominant culture which, if is certain about anything, it’s that we’re not members of a dog pack. We don’t submit to anything; we’re the Alpha Dogs!

PARTS TWO and THREE

Part Two will look through the eyes of Paul Tillich, Willem Zuurdeeg, and Karl Barth as their wisdom applies the American scene in 2019.

Thanks for dropping by. Leave a comment, if you wish, to widen and deepen the conversation.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), available on Amazon in kindle and paperback, Chaska, MN, Dec. 3, 2019