Good Friday Kind of Grief

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

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

I wish you a meaningful Good Friday.

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

Addition by Subtraction: Leveling the Playing Field

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Today levels the playing field. Our differences make no difference today.  Whether you are religious, agnostic or atheist is beside the point today. All the quarrels and distinctions are beside the point.

“One is still what one is going to cease to be,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea, “and already what one is going to become. One lives one’s death. One dies one’s life.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the leveler. The eraser. The reminder that we are mortal. That I am living my death as you are living yours and dying my life while you are dying yours.

This year more close friends and classmates are closer to dust and ashes. As I ponder the meaning of it all, my appreciation of the religion into which I was born increases. “I have always said that often the religion you were born with becomes more important to you as you see the universality of truth.” — Ram Dass. Born into and raised in the Christian faith has led me to the universality of truth.  Today the church’s practice reduces the size of my ego. Ash Wednesday levels me to a universal truth: the baseline of zero.

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Ash Wednesday ashes

The imposition of ashes — “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” — is the reminder of the universal truth of our shared mortality.  Wisdom embraces the math of addition by subtraction: the erasure of every source of hubris and division. Today, I will offer my forehead for the imposition of ashes and pray that in the citadels of power someone else will experience the same, for the sake of life itself.

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

Grandpa, Is this the End?

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Grandpa and Elijah

Grandpa, is this the end?”

The end of what, Elijah? You seem anxious. That’s not like you. End of what?

End of the world! Don’t you know? You’re the preacher!

You didn’t hear that from me. Where’d you hear about the end of the world? Who said that? Who got you all stirred up?

Mom did! I heard her!

What exactly did Mom say? And to whom did she say it?

She said it to Grandma. I heard it. I hear stuff, Grandpa. I don’t need hearing aids. You miss a lot of stuff. I heard it with my own ears.

Touché! But let’s step back a second to make sure you got it straight. What did Mom say?

Mom said “It’s over. Our world’s coming to an end!

What were you doing when Mom said that?

I was just crawling like I have all day, and playing with some wires. Mom didn’t like it.

Aha! I see. “Our world’s coming to an end” is different from the world coming to an end.

Uh-uh! She called me a terrorist! I’m not, Grandpa!

Oh, my! There are terrorists and there are terrorists, Elijah. Was Mom laughing when she said you were a terrorist and that the world had come to an end?

Yes. She was. But before she laughed, she’d been crying a lot. That’s when she called Grandma.

What did Mom say to Grandma? How did the conversation start?

NagasakibombShe said, “Mom, I’m so tired! He’s getting into everything! He started crawling! I have to follow him every second. I can’t let him out of my sight; I’m exhausted! Our world’s coming to an end!”

Well, Elijah, there are worlds and there are worlds. And one person’s terrorist is another person’s child. It’s confusing to a little guy.

Yeah! This morning I pulled myself up. Pretty soon I’m going to walk. The beginning of life for me. The end of the world for Mom.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 13, 2018.

 

 

 

Prayer for the Nation 1/20/18

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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.”

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

 

 

Darwinian Creationism

original-545728-1Irony is the word for this out-of-sorts time where the anti-Darwinian creationists are the proponents of the survival of the fittest. Think net neutrality. Think tax policy that favors the strongest. Think disregard for the weak, those less able to survive if left to the forces of a survival of the fittest free market. Think selective readings of the Bible.

Think rabbits and owls. Not the way we usually think of them, but the way I thought of them the other night after hearing what I thought was a child screaming. It was a blood-curdling cry from the sidewalk just outside our home.

Going outside to see what had happened, what did I see but a large bird (an owl) flying from the tree overhead, dropping the rabbit it had just attacked for dinner. The rabbit never had a  chance. Aside from its kin somewhere in a nearby briar patch and the “superior species” who heard the screams, the rabbit’s disappearance was without consequence. It’s nature doing its thing.

buboLike the economy of Darwinian creationists. There is a mindset beneath the surface of the socio-economic policies being enacted into law by Congress. Creation versus science when it comes to climate change. Creation versus compassion when it comes to the human equivalents of rabbits and owls, hawks and field mice, coyotes and puppies. The strongest will survive. The weak will not. And it’s all part of God’s plan. It must be. Or it wouldn’t be. And, as for the Hebrew prophets who say otherwise — Amos, who thundered divine judgment of the rich who slept of beds of ivory made from the tusks of slaughtered elephants while they trampled on the poor; Micah, who summarized good religion as doing justice, loving kindness/mercy, and walking humbly; and Jesus of Nazareth, who gathered 5,000 hungry people for a free lunch, lifted up the poor, reached out to the maimed, the sick, the leper, the foreigner, and declared “Woe to you are rich!”and ““Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” — their cries on behalf of the rabbits fall on the deaf ears of the Darwinian creationists.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569) – Greed

“Let those with ears hear,” said Jesus. Who among us has ears to hear and eyes to see?

“Pieter Bruegel Bruegel . . .  castigated  human weakness . . .  with avarice and greed as the main targets of his criticism that was ingeniously expressed in the engraving The Battle Between the Money Bags and Strong Boxes” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The great irony of the theological creationist-economic Darwinians is that the human species has developed talons but lost our ears as the strong who are meant to have dominion over the weak and over nature itself.

 

So long as we avoid the faith issue here, the rabbit will lose. It fall to those of us who espouse the Judeo-Christian faith and biblical tradition, to do in our time what Pieter Bruegel the Elder did in his: engage the discussion with those within the same tradition whose hearing seems impaired.

Without that discussion, the rabbits in America and around the globe will be left to predators whose ironic Darwinian economics have nothing to do with informed biblical faith, the survival of anything worth saving, or reality itself. All will be left to the battle between empty money bags and rusted strong boxes.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Battle of the Money Bags and the Strong Box

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 15, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Christ the King

Poet Malcolm Guite’s poetry holds the essential paradox of the Christian faith and life. Open the re-blogged piece to read and listen to his poem for the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday.

Malcolm Guite

20111119-111210We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But alongside such images we must also set the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King…

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Thanksgiving for The Boston Declaration

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for The Boston Declarationissued several days ago by 300+ Christian theologians on the state of Christianity in the United States in 2017 and a call for repentance by evangelical Christians.

Susan Thistlethwaite’s Huffington Post article gives the background and more detail on The Boston Declaration. Click Original Signatories for a listing of the original signers of the Declaration.

Boston Declaration original signatories.

I’m thankful for Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams, Associate Professor of Ethics at my alma mater, McCormick Theological Seminary, and author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance, one of the original signers. Reggie is the tall one in the center of the photo.

Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams, professor of ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary, talked of the heavy hearts carried by himself and other African-Americans in this current moment. “These are sinister times, but they are not new. As a black person educated in Evangelical Christian institutions, I am familiar with a Christianity that has a history of ignoring my being, and providing theological justification for my non-being.”

But, he emphasized, what is “new in my lifetime to have such an over embrace of it.” How can people say it is Christianity “to proclaim good news to the rich or push the differently embodied person to the margins? Now is the time to follow Jesus the poor Jewish prophet whose teaching of the Kingdom was the inspiration for the Boston Declaration.” – Susan Thistlethwaite, Huffington Post.

The Trump Administration’s 18-month deadline for 60,000 Haitian refugees to leave the U.S. strikes me as the latest confirmation of white supremacy as the nation’s “original sin.” The order makes no sense apart from shoring up a base that sees white supremacy in peril. What’s happening in America today is only secondarily ‘political’. The primary  issue is theological and ethical — how we understand ultimate reality (God) and ourselves. It is what the Boston Declaration says it is.

Grace and Peace to all on this Thanksgiving holiday.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 23, 2017.

 

 

Between Here and There

A CNN report caught my attention this morning. Anticipating today’s Congressional vote on the president’s $36.5 billion disaster relief aid package, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said the following.

“People want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. They know these are awfully genuine needs,” he said, arguing that Republicans simply want to fund the measure in a “prudent” way.

Early this morning the president took to twitter with a series of tweets about Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of…..

..accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend….

We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

Rep. Cole spoke truth that “people want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. We  “know these are awfully genuine needs….” But the “here” is a question. Where is “here“? Is “here” Houston, northern California, Puerto Rico? All of them? Or only some of them?

Or is “here” Congress and the Oval Office, the seats of authority and power in a constitutional republic — the branches of government where the television-watching American public hopes against hope that those we elect to represent us get their information from something other than their televisions.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, unlike Houston and the wine country of northern California, is poor. Its history is that of a pawn in the chess game of powerful nations.

The Smithsonian website article “Puerto Rico — History and Heritage” — offers a brief history of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico remained an overseas province of Spain until the Spanish-American war, when U.S. forces invaded the island with a landing at Guánica. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam) to the U.S.

As a result, the turn of the century saw Puerto Rico under United States sovereignty. At that time, Puerto Rico’s economy relied on its sugar crop, but by the middle of the century, an ambitious industrialization effort, called Operation Bootstrap, was underway. Cheap labor and attractive tax laws attracted American companies, and soon the Puerto Rican economy was firmly grounded in manufacturing and tourism. Today, Puerto Rico is a leading tourist destination and manufacturing center; the island produces high-tech equipment and many top-selling American pharmaceuticals.

Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. The issue of political status is one under constant debate, with some in favor statehood, others independence, and still others the continuation of commonwealth status.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy purchased two thirds of the island to use as a naval base. The Navy used the area for military exercises and bombing practice for nearly 60 years until a civilian was killed during a bombing exercise in the 1990s. This sparked a wave of protests that finally ended when the base closed in 2003. Since then, the Navy’s lands have become wildlife reserves.

Today Congress faces a moral issue that begins with the question of where “here” is and with a couple of early morning tweets that divide the world between here and there, and want to leave “there” behind, ignoring the wisdom of The Letter of James:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [i.e., the world divided by here and there; us and them; rich and poor]. – James 1:26-27.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 12, 2017.

 

 

 

 

The beginning of an uprising

“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

Question: Who said that?

Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me! Choose one (click the names for more information):

 

Or . . . someone else?

Answer: We know it’s not Bill Maher, though Bill does call for an uprising, but the uprising would be against religion itself as the source of disorder, even though Bill often invites Cornel West to be his guest on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Cornel West clasps his hands in prayer and, like Bill, rises up to resist the present order/disorder, but it’s not Cornel.

So maybe it’s Karl Barth. The statement often is attributed to Barth, the Swiss theologian who resisted Hitler and the Third Reich in the name of Christ. But a more-or-less careful internet search yields no confirmation of its source.

Because no one really seems to know for sure, perhaps the correct answer is someone else from an altogether unexpected different source.

Like someone’s twitter account.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 9, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Brother Donald

Letter to President Donald J. Trump

September 30, 2017

Dear Don,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Don. You can call me Gordy; only those close to me in grade school called me that, but, so did the kids in my confirmation class. Since we were both confirmed in Presbyterian churches, I think it makes sense to call each other Don and Gordy.

brown-psr-3-300-394After writing you yesterday, I wondered whether your confirmation class read the same book mine did. Did you read Robert McAffee Brown‘s The Bible Speaks to You? I have to confess I didn’t read much of it at the time. I faked it. Maybe you did, too. I think we were probably a lot alike that way, don’t you think?

Anyway, this morning I went online and found The Bible Speaks to You in Google Books — Google, like Twitter, is amazing, don’t you think? — to see what we were supposed to be reading and to get a sense again of what we were being taught. Even way back when we were in confirmation class, we were being taught that Jesus was killed by the coalescence of two mistakes that seem to be the opposite of each other: nationalism, on the one hand, and imperial rule, on the other. They went hand-in-hand in deciding Jesus has to go.

Do you remember that?

Jesus wasn’t big on either nationalism or or empire; he saw both as substitutes for God, idols manufactured by the human heart to provide a false sense of security and importance. I suspect you may have skipped those chapters of the New Testament, but this wouldn’t be the first time the crucifixion was erased from consciousness. It happened in the German Church in the 1930s when the majority Christian population blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and homosexuals for Germany’s fall from greatness. Make Germany great again was the agenda back then and Jesus was weeping all the way through it — in the concentration camps and in the cattle cars of the trains that removed from the nation everyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, an idol of exceptionalism that, like all idols, had no foothold in reality itself.

Do you remember how we hated Hitler and all that stuff in confirmation class, how we thought of ourselves as Christians who would never do that because we were disciples of Jesus, and as Americans who would never do that because … well, we were Americans? We were better than that!

Funny how things change sometimes if we don’t pay attention, don’t you think? Maybe we paid too much attention to that period of world history and not enough attention to Robert McAfee Brown and the Bible. Long after we finished confirmation class to become disciples of Jesus, Robert McAfee Brown said something I’m remembering now:

Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are.

I wonder who you’re listening to, where you stand on all of this, and write you now because, as your brother in Christ, I went on to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his American friends,Paul Louis Lehmann, William Sloane Coffin, and, yes, our old confirmation class author Robert McAfee Brown, who all claimed that what we do determines who we are.

The Bible speaks to you

Original cover of The Bible Speaks to You used in Presbyterian church confirmation classes in the 1950s and ’60s.

Don, if you can find a moment this morning, you can click this  Amazon LINK to The Bible Speaks to You, click “Look Inside” and scroll down to what neither of us can remembers now that we’re over 70 years old and forgetting much of what we learned. Take a look at pages 11 and 12 about the Marine Corporal following Robert McAfee Brown, the Marine Chaplain, back to his quarters after a Bible study on the Gospel of John story of Lazarus:

“Chaplain,” he said, “I felt as thought everything we read this morning was pointed right at me. I’ve been living in hell for the last six months, and for the first time I feel as though I’ve gotten free.”

You’ve been in the White House for nine months now, and I suspect it may feel like a hell you’ve never experienced. Maybe the same thing can happen with you as happened with the Marine.

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“The Raising of Lazarus” — Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1318-1319)

Remember, Don, every one of us has had at least a taste of hell these last nine months, but I’m looking to you for something different to rise from the ashes of our confirmations: a refutation of nationalism and empire. As Robert McAfee Brown said when he was much older, “What you do determines not only who you are but who we are. ” Take a close look at the picture of Robert McAfee Brown and at . It feels as though he’s looking at us to see whether we’re with Jesus and Lazarus.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart (“Gordy”), Your Brother in Christ

Chaska, Minnesota