The walls of gold entomb us!

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The lyrics of G. K. Chesterton are set to the Welsh tune Llangloffan in this YouTube from Lincoln, Nebraska. God help us all in the first year of A.T. 1 (Anno Trump) when we are face with the threat that “the walls of gold [will] entomb us”.

Early Morning Shape Notes

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I wake up with a tune in my head. It’s lovely. It’s simple. It’s familiar. But I can’t remember the words except for something about going through deep waters. Grinding the coffee beans, more of the line comes to consciousness.

“When through the deep waters I cause thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with thee thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

It’s an American “shape notes” folk tune that voices lyrics written earlier by an unidentified author named ‘K-‘ in a collection by John Rippon from 1787.

The subconscious knows better than the conscious mind. It deals with deep waters. It knows better our deep sorrows threatening to overflow the banks. It knows about troubles and deepest distress. It also knows something else: a kind of unreasonable assurance, a hope against every reason to hope that something deeper than our fears and anxiety will shape the notes, will shift the shape of things to come.

Shape notes, sometimes called ‘character notes’ and ‘patent notes’, reflect our deeper character, but none of us holds the patent-right.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 16, 2017, 5:34 a.m.

 

Somebody has my ashes!

Views from the Edge

It’s Ash Wednesday. I put on my ministerial robe 15 minutes before the traditional Service that marks the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes and go the drawer of the credenza.

Ash Wednesday“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!” 

Every year I store the ashes in the credenza in my office. I’ve forgotten that we’d moved the credenza from my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival!

“Somebody has our ashes!”

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

We begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even with signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the…

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A Time to Weep

Faith and hope come hard sometimes. Four days living next to the abyss brought the wisdom of Ecclesiastes came to mind:

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven . . .  a time to weep, and the time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . .” – Ecclesiastes 3:3-4

I’m not laughing or dancing. I’m weeping and mourning over what’s happening in America. This is the time, the season, for weeping and mourning. Maybe I’m sane after all?

Faith lives next to the abyss.

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

 

 

Hope for light on Epiphany

Today is the Day of the Epiphany when western Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (the “Wise”) at the manger in Bethlehem.

In this dark time of anxiety we look again for the light of an epiphany – a new awakening, a dawning of the light through the shadows – that will help us to circumvent Herod’s cruel way.

Sometimes light comes from the blind, as it did from Fanny Crosby (1890-1920), a poet and hymn writer who lost her sight when she was six-weeks old. Ms. Crosby was educated at the New York Institution for the Blind. She went on to teach English grammar, rhetoric, and American history. She never learned to tweet, but she left us more than one worthy thought that seems apt for this Day of Epiphany when a meeting is taking place on gold-plated chairs in a New York City penthouse.

Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Wealth that can never be told;
Riches exhaustless or mercy and grace,
Precious, more precious than gold!

May God grant to our blindness the wealth that can never be told – the wisdom and light seen by Fanny Crosby.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2017

Heeding the dream in 2017

Today is a day of searching for wisdom. This period between the November 2016 American election and January 20 presidential inauguration is what Carl Jung called a pause moment. An interruption of the normal to seek a deeper wisdom.

This year two calendars converge. It’s the first day of a new year on the secular calendar, which coincides this year with the First Sunday after Christmas on the Christian liturgical calendar.  This coalescence invites the kind of pause of which Jung spoke. Here’s an excerpt from the assigned Gospel reading for today from the Gospel of Matthew.

 

Now after [the Wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. – Matthew 2:13-16

Several things leaped out from the text this year:

  1. The wise men “tricked” Herod. The Greek word translated here as “tricked” derives from sports – the wise men sported, played, mocked, or made a fool of Herod. Whenever Herod sends out agents for the children, wise people find a way to play him.
  2. These “wise men” – magoi in the Greek text – are foreigners from the East. These foreign visitors with a different religious tradition (astrology) are outsiders to the myths of religious and national exceptionalism. They bring gifts for the Christ child before “returned to their own country by another way,” side-stepping Herod and his agenda.
  3. Joseph’s dream and flight into Egypt reverses every expectation. It was from Egypt that Moses and the Hebrew laborers had fled. Now it to Egypt that they flee from Herod, the puppet king of Roman occupation, who had made a mockery of Passover and Exodus. In this pause of 2017, perhaps the angels will forgive updating the text:”Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada (or) Mexico, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the children to deport them.”
  4. The Holy Family become refugees.

Interpreting biblical texts is a dangerous thing, and sometimes the interpretations go a bit to far! Though that be the case, this Gospel of Matthew text for the First Sunday after Christmas and January 1, 2017 offers an interesting opportunity to do what Carl Jung suggested. Engage the pause. Join the wise. Refuse cooperation with agendas that mock the good news. Take time out from the collective madness to be found again by what is holy and sane.

Grace, Peace, and a Blessed New Year,

Gordon

 

 

 

“Though the cause of evil prosper”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon

 

 

 

Prayer for the New Year

I invite you to consider lighting a candle and offer a prayer this New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in the quiet style of the Friends (Quakers) or by using a format such as the one below, slightly adapted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Prayer For The New Year

On New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, the household gathers at the table or at the Christmas tree or manger scene. Many people make New Year’s Day a day of prayer for peace.

Leader: Let us praise the Lord of days and seasons and years, saying:
Glory to God in the highest!
Response: And peace to his people on earth!

The leader may use these or similar words to introduce the blessing:

Our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years,
for we are part of a universe of suns and moons and planets.
We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we
praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days.

Then read the the Scripture from the Book of Genesis 1:14-19:

God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.

(The family’s Bible may be used for an alternate reading such as Psalm 90:1-4.)

Reader: The Word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

After a time of silence, members of the household offer prayers of thanksgiving for the past year, and of intercession for the year to come …. In conclusion, all join hands for the Lord’s Prayer.

Then the leader continues: “Let us now pray for God’s blessing in the new year.”

After a short silence, parents may place their hands on their children in blessing as the leader says:

Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.
R/. Amen.

Another prayer for peace may be said:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Response: Amen.

—Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Leader: Let us bless the Lord.

All respond: Thanks be to God.

The prayer may conclude with the singing of a Christmas carol.

Whether or not you choose to light a candle and no matter how you do it, if you do, my old friend Steve Shoemaker and his surviving Views from the Edge seminary friend wish you peace of heart and mind as we enter the storm tossed-sea of 2017.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 30, 2016.

Why a Manger?

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” [Gospel of Luke]

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Tintoretto, 1518-1594. The Nativity from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Why a manger, the animals’ feeding trough? Why does Tintoretto’s babe seem to be so interested in the animals? Why are the animals so comfortable around him?

Luke is doing theology, which is not everyone’s cup of tea! But we all engage in it. It’s about Reality and what we believe most deeply about it.

“Good” theology — if we may be permitted to use the word in a world which is of the opinion that one opinion is just as “good” as another — seeks to connect the dots between the past, the present, and the future. Traditional Christian theology arcs back to the “goodness” of the beginning (creation) and anticipates the redemption of all things in light of the Christ-event – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As often happens, I heard Luke’s birth narrative this year in ways I had yet to put into words.

Could Luke himself have been arguing for what we now know in light of climate change: that we humans are of the same order as the cows, the chickens, goats, and sheep among whom Jesus of Nazareth was born? That is, we are not a superior species. We are not the exception to nature. And the redemption of reality itself includes the entirety of nature — the rescuing of nature from its despair and destruction by human hands.

So it was to poor shepherds, tending their flocks by night that the angel said,

“Do not be afraid; for see -I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Joyous Nowell, Merry Christmas, Happy Earth Day,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.