Hope in dark times

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In times like these, I often turn to the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 90 from 1719. Today I turned to it again for solace and hope. All the singers are white, but, hey, so am I, and there is hope even for the likes of I.

Psalm 90 in its entirety is a song of lament, but hope — and a call to personal responsibility — rise from despair.

Years ago I was given a copy of The Book of Psalms and Scottish Hymnal (1879) with the cursive signature of the man who used it: “John Campbell, Blair Mill, 1886.” (My middle name is Campbell.) I dusted it off this morning to read it through. The rendition of Psalm 90 John Campbell sang in 1886 ends with a prayer that recognizes our own responsibility for “the works of our hands”:

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: Our handy-work establish Thou, establish them each one” (Psalm 90:17).

  • Gordon Campbell Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 7, 2018.

Hope is IN SPITE OF Troubles!

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Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“You have to be hopeful; you have to give them hope.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I can’t give anyone else hope. Hope comes from within.”

Hope seems harder in 2018 than it was when Kosuke Koyama advised the younger preacher to stay positive. Years later, it was to Dr. Koyama that Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness was dedicated for many reasons. Maintaining hope was one of them. His humility was another. His characteristic kindness and compassion reached out when friends were scarce. But nothing became more impactful than the statement he made over lunch: “There is only one sin: exceptionalism.”

Years before his death in 2009, Koyama (“Ko”) had begun to view the environmental crisis through the lens of humankind’s presumption: the mistaken belief that we, the human species, are the exception to Nature. For Ko it was a form of idolatry.

In light of this week’s avalanche of news, I’ve wondered what Ko would say. He still would bless us with his smile. He would encourage us to resist the claim of American exceptionalism, the confusion of nationalism (worship of country) with patriotism (love of one’s country), any border policy that takes children from their parents arms in the name of national security, every energy policy that feeds the coffers of the fossil fuel industry (“God is green,” said Ko), every exaltation of greed, every distortion of truth, every tax policy that keeps the poor poor while lining the pockets of the 1%, and any President and Congress that reminded him of Emperor Hirohito and the cult of national exceptionalism he grew up with in Tokyo. The god of empire, he observed, never says no. The God of the Bible says no: “You are a stiff-necked people!”

But amid all the issues that deserve our attention, I believe Ko would urge us to keep our eye on the biggest of sin — the mega sin — the sin against Nature that imperils the planet as we know it. His legacy invites us to bow our stiff necks to that which is bigger, longer lasting, and more encompassing than ourselves. Everything less is built on sinking sand.

Ko spoke in metaphors and parables. I believe he would remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock versus the foolish one who built his house upon the sand. “And the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11

NASA satellite photo of clouds created by the exhaust of ship smokestacks.

 

He would rally behind Bill McKibben’s declaration that “climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The one thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.” The only way to stop it is to turn from the the mega sin — the idol of human exceptionalism, the worship of ourselves.

“[T]hrough endurance, to feel that life is surrounded by the warm approval of God, will that not be the experience of hope? Hope is in spite of troubles. There is not hope apart from troubles. There is no automatic hope, no easy hope. Hope is hope against all odds.” — Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 25, 2018.

 

Bumpa, what’s faith?

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Elijah and Bumpa (i.e. Grandpa) are talking after the Vikings-Packers game.

Elijah and Grandpa talking

Bumpa, what’s faith?

Why are you asking about faith, Elijah?

Mom just said it. She said that word again, just like she did last week.

Said what?

She said “You gotta have faith.” Maybe you should turn up your hearing aids.

I see. Mom was talking about Bumpa’s attempt to lose weight.

Yeah. I hate to wait!

Well, waiting is different but it does require faith. Bumpa can’t just wait to lose weight. I have to work at it.

You’re drivin’ me crazy! I asked you a simple question: “What’s faith?”

Okay. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

What’s assurance?

It’s a little like confidence, Elijah. Or believing things will turn out well even when everything looks bad.

So that rookie kicker needed faith, right?

Yes. He lost his faith right there on the football field…THREE times. He lost his confidence. He didn’t believe it was going to turn out well, and he blew nine points. Nine points!!! All because he lacked faith.

Yeah, his coach lost faith in him and he lost faith in himself, right Bumpa?

Right. But faith is about more than football, Elijah. It’s about life. It’s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.

What’s conviction? So we believe in ghosts?

No, Elijah. Remember when Barclay let you play with his ball and didn’t bite? It’s a little like that. Faith is trust. I hope you never lose your faith!

  • Bumpa and Elijah, Chaska, MN, September 17, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Trapped in the Schemes They Have Devised

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Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

Over the years I’ve had a problem with the “us versus them” voice of some psalms of the Book of Psalms. The division of humankind into the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’ leaves me cold. Often I have wanted to recommend to the psalmist a session or two on a Jungian analyst’s couch to get in touch with the ‘shadow’. But, in other times, like the one through which we’re living in America, the psalmist’s poetry is without parallel in giving voice to what I feel. Psalm 10 is one of them.

Psalm 10 is a cry for help in a time of trouble when God seems far off, as though hiding, while “the wicked arrogantly persecute the poor” (v.1), but it also holds a conviction that the persecution is only for the moment. Why? Because, already, the arrogant “are trapped in the schemes they have devised” (verse 2).

Their ways are devious at all times; 

Your judgments are far above out of their sight; 

they defy all their enemies.

They say in their heart, “I shall not be shaken;

no harm shall come to me ever” (v.5).

….

Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and oppression;

under their tongue are mischief and wrong (v. 7).

…. 

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless. 

They lie in wait, like a lion in a covert,

they lie in wait to seize upon the lowly

they seize the lowly and drag them away in their net.

The innocent are broken and humbled before them;

the helpless fall before their power (vs. 7-9).

Sometimes the most poignant insights come from the psalmist’s couch. I read the Psalms most every day. I still remember what I’ve learned from Jung about my ‘shadow’ and the fear within me that paints ‘the other’ as wicked, wrong, or wretched. I know that the finger that accuses others often points back at my own sorry self. But the faith I was taught and still practice equally reminds me that anger has a rightful place when the lowly are broken, humbled, and dragged away in the net of the powerful. I remember the ‘righteous’ anger of Amos and the rest of the prophets. I remember Jesus.

Elijah in high chair

Grandson Elijah safe at home.

I see my grandson, Elijah, safe at home with his family in Minnesota, and think of all the children wrenched from their parents arms at the Mexican border. I live in hope that, though innocent children have been carried away to unknown places by the Administration’s net, it is only a matter of time before those who have made them orphans are themselves “trapped in the schemes they have devised.”

– Gordon C. Stewart in the wilderness, August 29, 2018.

Mother Earth and the devil’s dung

Pope Francis documentaryOn Mothers Day 2018, “60 Minutes” featured an interview with the film-maker of “A Man of His Word,” the new documentary on Pope Francis in which Pope Francis speaks boldly about Mother Earth, the mother of all life.

Views from the Edge visitors and the readers of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness will recognize our long-standing position that all other moral, social, economic, political, and spiritual issues pale in comparison with the stewardship of the web of life we call nature. Like Pope Francis, we have contended that the planetary crisis is not just one issue among others; it is the singular overarching challenge to everyone everywhere all the time. We agree with Pope Francis. It is a faith crisis like no other.

In advance of the release of the documentary, we offer this excerpt of Franciscan Media summaries of Pope Francis’s previously published statements.

“Our common home is at risk. Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.

“The earth, entire peoples, and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea—one of the first theologians of the Catholic Church—called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules.

“This is the ‘dung of the devil.’ The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, Sister and Mother Earth.” – Pope Francis.

The Pope’s position also reminds us of another man of his word, Bolivian President Evo Morales who observed the following relation between Mother Earth, the devil’s dung” (money/greed), and the human species.

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.” – Evo Morales.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2018.

Good Friday Kind of Grief

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

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

I wish you a meaningful Good Friday.

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

Truth Be Told

 

Steve Shoemaker

Steve Shoemaker

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

The Donkey: a Kid’s Verse

The coats the folks are throwing down

sure make it hard for me to walk

especially carrying this clown

whose feet are almost to the ground.

“Hosannah King!” is all the talk,

but this guy seems to be as poor

as I am–no one could mistake

him for a Royal–he’s just a fake!

They wave palm branches, and they roar,

but my long ears can hear the real

parade across the city square:

the General, the Priests, the score

of war horses–the whole grand deal.

This pitiful parade will fail

to save a soul, and soon the yell

will change from “Hail!” to…”Kill!”

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

Jesus and Barabbas

Release of Barabbas – artwork by Wenceslas Coehergher

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

Thank you, Steve. RIP.

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

 

 

Silence on Palm Sunday

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

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

Yesterday, the students spoke. The NRA was silenced.

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

 

 

Hardening Our Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prayer for the Nation 1/20/18

Fold your hands this January 20, 2018 — even if you think prayer is for the birds. The language is dated. But on the day of the shutdown one year after the Inauguration, Walter Rauschenbusch’s 1909 prayer “Against the Servants of Mammon” is as current as current can be.

Against the Servants of Mammon

We cry to thee for justice, O Lord, for our soul is weary with the iniquity of greed. Behold the servants of Mammon, who defy thee and drain their fellow men and women for gain; who grind down the strength of the workers by merciless toil and fling them aside when they are mangled and worn; who rack-rent the poor and make dear the space and air which thou has made free; who paralyze the hand of justice by corruption and blind the eyes of the people by lies; who nullify by their craft the merciless laws which nobler people have devised for the protection of the weak; who have made us ashamed of our dear country by their defilements and have turned our holy freedom into a hollow name; who have brought upon thy Church the contempt of men [and women] and have cloaked their extortion with the gospel of Christ.

“For the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy now do thou arise, O Lord; for because thou art love, and tender as a mother to the weak, therefore thou art the great hater of iniquity and thy doom is upon those who grow rich on the poverty of thy people.

O God, we are afraid, for the thundercloud of thy wrath is even now black above us. In the ruins of dead empires we have read how thou hast trodden the wine-press of thine anger when the measure of their sin was full. We are sick at heart when we remember that by the greed of those who enslaved a weaker race that curse was fastened upon us all which still lies black and hopeless across the land, though the blood of a nation was spilled to atone. Save our people from being dragged down into vaster guilt and woe by men who have no vision and know no law except their lust. Shake their souls with awe of thee that they may cease. Help us with clean hands to tear the web which they have woven about us and to turn our people back to thy law, lest the mark of the beast stand out on the right hand and forehead of our nation and our feet be set on the downward path of darkness from which there is no return.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “Against the Servants of Mammon” published in Prayers of the Social Awakening, Pilgrim Press, 1910.

Like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, most of us don’t use the word ‘Mammon’ anymore, but its odor is no less foul than when Jesus spoke of it in the first century of the Common Era. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_12x5_1600

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2018.