Tell that Fox

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Most every day I get up around 4:30, go downstairs, brew a pot of coffee, and begin to percolate. The percolations always sound about the same. With one difference. Coffee doesn’t stew. I do.

Looking in from the outside, you might say “You can take a man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man,” and you would be partly right. But I have no desire to stand in a pulpit. I loved the early mornings when a sermon began to percolate — pausing over a biblical text while world events swirled around my head. I still do. You can’t take that part of the pulpit out of the man.

SWIRLING AND STEWING

The world is always swirling, but these days the swirling feels different. More like a tornado. I go to bed with the news storming in my head and I get up early with it still swirling. But, no matter how ominous the news is, I know I can always take time out to get a better grip, to settle the spinning, to go into the eye of the storm I have become. 

Some mornings, it’s a word that pops up to hold my attention. Yesterday it was two words: serpents and doves. This morning there are three: serpents, doves, and a fox. Stay with me. Views from the Edge is my pulpit in retirement; it’s my pulpit, and I’ll cry if I want to! But this morning the words don’t lead me to cry. They inspire hope and define the way forward.

It began yesterday with serpents and doves. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” says Jesus to his disciples. 

“WISE AS SERPENTS”?  

Get yourselves educated. Become intimately familiar with the world you’re walking into. Be wise to the culture of cunning.” 

“INNOCENT AS DOVES”? 

Become like the dove that brings the olive branch back to the ark; work on whatever is not peaceful in your own hearts.”

Then this morning, along came the fox. “Go and tell that fox. . . ,” says Jesus to those who have come to warn him. 

“GO AND TELL THAT FOX”?

It’s not quite what it seems. The word is hard to render in English. In the culture of the times, it was a derogatory term, a slap in the face, according to biblical linguist Randall Both. Sort of like ‘pipsqueak’. Or small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart. 

The ‘fox’ is Herod Antipas, the despised tetrarch, a Jewish national who feathered his own nest, a turncoat who served at the pleasure of the Roman Emperor Tiberias. He had ingratiated himself to Tiberias by changing the name of the Sea of Galilee to the Lake of Tiberias and by building a new city with a lush vacation palace on the site of a Jewish cemetery. Herod was a turncoat to his faith and his country. Herod was a usurper. 

“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow . . . .”

“DEMONS AND HEALING”?

The ‘demons’ in the New Testament are not creepy little creatures, although they are creepy. They are twisters of goodness and truth, liars and tricksters who take possession of a person or a society. Sometimes they hold power and authority, building palatial palaces and private clubs, ingratiating themselves to a foreign power by changing the name and language of a local treasure. The demons make us sick. Healing comes as a result of throwing out the demons to end the demonic occupation. Driving out demons and healing is the continuing work of the community gathered around Jesus.

Like I said, you can take the man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man. Sometimes in the storm that is America today, a word pops up and percolates with the coffee: serpents, doves, and foxes. Five minutes before going back upstairs for my afternoon nap, I hear the words with which Jesus often ended an obscure parable:

“Let those with ears hear.” Хорошего дня.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 30, 2018.

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn!

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And so it came to pass in the third century of a democratic republic that the Wise Men returned to the countries from which they had come. Their sudden departure came the same way they had come: they had seen a star rising in the West. 

The original star that invited them to follow it was a sign of great promise. It was a lofty promise — a bright star in a dark sky — beckoning them to go and see this great thing that had come to pass. Leaving behind their camels, they boarded ship with only a trace of frankincense, gold, myrrh, and a translator, and followed the star to a foreign continent.

Statue of Liberty –NY Harbor

Having braved the high seas, they saw a statue over which the star stood still. A torch held high in the Lady’s hand burned as brightly as the star that shone above her, and a plaque was there they could not read. “Send these . . . tempest-tossed to me,” read the translater, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” And, hearing the words of welcome . . . they opened their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and with exceeding great joy set foot upon the land and settled there.

There would be times when the Wise Men and their descendants continued to see the star shining still above the Lady of welcome, and times when the star was covered by clouds and the Lady stood battered by storms, but the flame seemed eternal. 

Then, suddenly, in the third century of their sojourn, the different kind of star appeared — an entertainer who scoffed at the modest amounts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which the tempest-tossed Wise Men had presented the Lady to whom the star had led them. And so it came to pass in the republic’s third century that the Wise Men’s descendants boarded ship for the East, escaping the new star who was wrestling babies from their parents’ arms, extinguishing the torch over which the star once had stood, and replacing the plaque at the foot of the Lady with a new message:

Go home! There’s no room for you in this inn.”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 29, 2018

My Dog’s Happy Hour

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Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling in the car

There’d been no intention of a Happy Hour yesterday when I decided to go to Target for a short errand. “Barclay,” I asked, “wanna go for a ride in the car?” Barclay cocked his head, ran for the door to the underground garage, and leaped for joy. We drove to Target. I cracked open the windows, left Barclay in the car. In the parking lot, I see my friend Chuck, whom I’d been with an hour earlier on a business matter where I’d asked whether he’d ever been to Ike’s. He hadn’t. “Why do you ask? Is it good?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been there,” I’d said. “My neighbor Michael tells me it has the best Martini in town — not one of those tiny Martinis you get at most places around here. It’s big, and they give you the shaker, too.”

Inside Target, Chuck and I take our places in the line for picking up prescriptions. The line is long. Neither of us is good at waiting. We decide, on the spur of the moment, to go to Ike’s Happy Hour for a different prescription. We leave Target and join Barclay for the trip to Ike’s. At Ike’s I again leave Barclay in the car, opening all four windows a little more than I had at Target. As he always does, Barclay smiles. He knows the routine. He lies down on the driver’s seat.

Sitting at the bar for our nonprescription drugs, we notice the wind has come up and it’s pouring rain outside. “Do you think Barclay’s okay?” asks Chuck. “He’ll be fine,” I say, “nothing flusters him. He’s not afraid of storms.” The Martini is everything Michael had said it would be. So is the Happy Hour food he’d recommended: two mouth-watering beef tenderloin sliders with grilled onions and horseradish sauce, one on pumpernickel, the other on sourdough, for $7.50. We love this place!

We pay the tab and head back to the car. Barclay is calm until Chuck opens the passenger door. Barclay sits up, smothers Chuck with kisses, and says, “I was worried about you guys!” Both seats are partially wet from the storm. Barclay is dry. We are not.

Barclay on chest

Barclay

We leave Ike’s parking lot and drive back to Target where Chuck had left his car. Chuck goes in for his prescription. Barclay and I call it a day and head home. Safe at home in the underground garage, Barclay stays put like a petulant child. “Dad, why can’t I stay in the car? I love Happy Hour!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018

 

 

The Leap from the Wall

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Mutter Erde photo of “thinking nude boy” at the entrance of Friedrich-Paulsen-Gymnasium, Berlin-Steglitz, Gritznerstr uploaded from Wikimedia Commons.

A childhood memory flashed to mind watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week.

I’m seven years old again. My mother is screaming. She has gone down to the cellar to do the laundry. A rat stared at her from the huge hole in the cellar wall that connects our home to the open cistern. My mother is terrified.

My father grabs the shotgun he’d borrowed for just such an occasion. Dad goes down the stairs to the cellar. I follow him. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. What if the rat leaps at my father before my father shoots? Filled with fear, I watch from the bottom step.

The rat is staring from the wall, his beady yellow eyes shining in the dimly lit cellar. My father is perhaps eight feet away. He takes aim and fires the shot. The rat leaps through the air for my father’s jugular. My father ducks. The rat died. My father cements shut the hole and the cistern.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar official portrait

Yesterday Sen. Amy Klobuchar fired the question at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Judge leaped for her jugular. Amy ducked. Senator Klobuchar survives. The nominee is alive on the floor, but badly wounded.

I’ll always be a “thinking nude boy” trying to make sense of life.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 29, 2018.

Bumpa, what’s faith?

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.

 

 

 

 

9/11/18: A Defining Moment

WTCmemorialJune2012Today, the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the subway station that was buried by the fall of the World Trade Center towers, has reopened to loud cheers. Hope survives! So does the question “What have we learned since we trembled in horror and disbelief 17 years ago?”

The 9/11 Anniversary in 2018 coincides with the release of Bob Woodward’s FEAR exposing the moral abyss that is the White House; National Security Advisor John Bolton’s “America First” attack of the legitimacy of the international court; and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s statement urging immediate action on climate change.

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U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. … Far too many of leaders have refused to listen.

If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change. [Antonio Guterres]

The collapse of the World Trade Center brought us to a dead stop. We could see it. First responders touched it. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani became “America’s mayor”.

We Americans wondered what sense of morality would lead someone to highjack commercial aircrafts and turn them into weapons of mass destruction. All these years later, morality is still the question. “America’s mayor” today declares that truth is not truth, while we ignore a greater threat, less visible to the naked eye — climate change — exceeds the geographically limited horror of 9/11. 9/11/18 is a defining moment in a sea of moral amnesia requiring a voice from beyond the spiritual-moral morass America has become.

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Václav Havel

“The worst thing,” wrote the Czech writer and former President Václav Havel, as though peering ahead into the American of 9/11/18, “is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We feel morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension” (bold added by Views from the Edge).

In this defining moment, hope again rises against hope with its own kind of prayer for the end of the planetary moral madness:

“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”
― Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, 9/11/18.

 

 

 

A Window of Opportunity: Rosh Hashanah

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that celebrates the birth of humankind with the blowing of the shofar (AUDIO LINK).

Jemenittisk_sjofar_av_kuduhorn

Rosh Hashanah’s meaning takes me back to last week’s Jewish wedding in Boston Symphony Hall, the kind of joyful occasion that’s good for the weary soul. Although I might have anticipated meeting a Holocaust survivor in his/her 90s, I did not expect the survivor to be my age.

Stephen and I were born two months apart in very different words — the Warsaw ghetto under Nazi occupation, and the U.S.A., respectively. Stephen and his mother survived. His father and the rest of his family died in the gas ovens of Auschwitz. His father arranged for two-year-old Steve and his mother’s to escape and survive under the clandestine protection of Polish Christian. How Stephen’s father made the arrangements is a mystery lost in time and the ashes of Auschwitz.

Rosh Hashanah is marked by the blowing of the shofar that starts the 10 High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

What is Rosh Hashanah all about? In addition to its meaning as the “head of the year”, we also refer to it as the “Day of Judgment”. What, in fact, did the Rabbis tell us to do on Rosh Hashanah? Curiously, there is virtually no mention of our own personal judgment in the Rosh Hashanah prayers. Instead, the prayers are all about the general condition of the world. – Rabbi Asher Resnick.

The Jewish sense of time is different from the dominant understanding of time in the West. Time spirals. It loops back and forward. Rosh Hashanah cycles back in order to spiral forward. It is, like every other Jewish holiday, “a metaphysical window of opportunity” (Rabbi Asher Resnick).

Meeting Stephen, the retired doctor in Princeton, New Jersey, in Boston at a Jewish wedding opened a different kind of metaphysical window of opportunity. The rapport was immediate, the window of opportunity opened between us as if we were long-lost friends. Such times redefine time. They spiral back to fetch hope for a new humanity and carry it forward in another dark time. This Rosh Hashanah I sound the shofar for Stephen, his family, all victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and the Polish Christian family that protected Stephen and his mother until the horror was (more or less) over and a mad world repents.

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the shofar (ram’s horn)

Shana Tova!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 10, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Spam, Scrapple, and Stocks

“We’re having SPAM tonight!” my mother would announce, as if it were a rare treat.

Spam_can By Qwertyxp2000 [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Mom was a genius at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at the end of the month. Her children never knew our family lived from paycheck to paycheck, or that the paychecks were often late. When they were late, she’d announce with enthusiasm, “Tonight, we’re having Scrapple!”

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Spam and Scrapple were part of our vocabulary. Stocks? Only from the news. Mom’s shopping at the Acme in working class Broomall created little family interest in the stock market. Wall Street and stock portfolios were for people a few miles away in Bryn Mawr, Merion, and Wynnwood on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

My brothers and I had no idea what Spam and Scrapple were. We knew Mom bought them at the Acme. They came in cans. They smelled delicious while frying, and we devoured them as though they were filet mignons. It was many years later we learned that scrapple is made from hog offal, i.e., what remains of a pig after the ham and bacon are removed, and the makings of Spam are only a little better.

We knew even less about the stock market than about the Spam and Scrapple Mom served up in a pinch. People with stocks didn’t pinch pennies at the Acme or buy their children’s back-to-school clothes at the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop. We didn’t feel bad about having no stocks; we just knew stocks weren’t meant for us. The closest we got to the stock market was driving through wealthier Philadelphia Mainline neighborhoods, admiring the Christmas light displays of showcase homes. At school we imagined living in one of those wealthier communities.

Today, all these years later, I have a stock portfolio. I no longer eat Scrapple or Spam. But I know spam when I see it. It arrives every morning in tweets that equate the country’s wellbeing with today’s stock market value, and spams illusions of filet mignons to the Acme- and thrift shop-shoppers who still pinch pennies on Spam and Scrapple.

MomMom would have a cow!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 5, 2018

 

 

 

GROWING UP WITH McCARTHY – Garry Armstrong

Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame journalist Garry Armstrong shares a very personal memory that casts a light on the current moment of American history.

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Antoine (l) and Gary (r) Armstrong at the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame ceremony.

Like Garry, I remember Eric Sevareid. I also remember Garry for his reporting from Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Garry’s SERENDIPITY memory came to my attention this morning after a McCarthy type threatening comment appeared in response to Views from the Edge‘s post contrasting the character and behavior of Senator John McCain and the president who disdained him. Garry and I are the same generation. Our experiences are parallel. We both wear hearing aids, but we still believe our eyesight is as keen as it was when Joe McCarthy threatened a democratic republic. – Gordon C. Stewart, August 28, 2018.

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

This is one I never intended to share. It had been buried in the deepest part of the memory chest I never planned to revisit.

I was branded a “pinko” as a kid.

I grew up in an era when the name McCarthy was first associated with Edgar Bergen’s puppet pal,  Charlie McCarthy. We followed Bergen and McCarthy on their radio show, religiously, along with Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope and the other funny people of a more innocent era.

All of that changed when “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy unleashed his witch hunt of everyone in the guise of ferreting out Communist sympathizers. It was part of a bleak period when Cold War angst followed World War 2.

McCarthy is news again because of the current White House occupant and his apparent fondness for McCarthy’s tactics.

I didn’t understand why people shied away from talking about something called “The…

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GARRY DESERVES THE DUKE, BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Marilyn Armstrong’s story of retired journalist Garry Armstrong and his dog Duke offers a great way to greet a Saturday. I’ve often wondered lately whether canines are superior to humans. The joy on Garry’s face leads to a different conclusion: humans and canines are meant for mutual play with no thought of superiority or species exceptionalism. Enjoy!

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

Duke is not our first dog. We’ve had a big selection of hounds, terriers, and mutts of various backgrounds, sizes, ages. Somehow or other they have all fit in here because anyone or anything can fit in here, assuming they want to. For years, there has been great howling and yapping and barking in this house and that’s the way we seem to like it.

Duke

The thing we’ve never had, however, are truly obedient dogs. We don’t demand obedience, so we don’t get it. I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian as a mom, either.

Discipline makes me feel guilty. Who am I to demand obedience? Who do I think I am anyway?

Garry is worse. Garry was born with a gene that says “whatever you tell me to do, I won’t do it.” It’s a special piece of DNA that screams “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?” Even in…

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