Grandpa, Who’s John Burroughs?

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Elijah overhears Grandpa and Grandma talking about John Burroughs.

“Grandpa, who’s John Burroughs?”

“Well, Elijah, there’s John Burroughs and then there’s the John Burroughs. We’re not talking about the John Burroughs.”

EliC43CF607-9499-4D51-BF55-CFCEB806711C“I’m confused, and you’re confusing!”

“I understand. It is confusing. I can see why you’d be confused.”

“I’m only eight-weeks old, Grandpa! I shouldn’t have be be confused already. I have plenty of time to get like you.”

“Okay. I apologize. Grandma and I shouldn’t be talking about this in your presence. We’ll try to be more careful.”

“Thanks, Grandpa. I don’t want to be as confused as you are! So, who’s John Burroughs?”

“Okay, like I said, there are two John Burroughs. There’s a guy named John Burroughs who wrote a nice review of Grandpa’s book, and there’s the John Burroughs who’s famous. That John Burroughs died a long time ago. This John Burroughs is still alive. I know nothing about him. He likes my book.”

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The John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist (1837-1921)

“Wow! You don’t know anything about John Burroughs, but he knows about your book? Maybe John Burroughs knows you quote John Muir, the John Burroughs’ close friend! Maybe this John Burroughs is the John Burroughs’ grandson!”

“No, Elijah. Not everyone who is the grandson of someone famous!”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 20, 2017.

 

 

 

The Hiding Place

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Visiting St. John’s Abbey for the first time years ago just before noon, one of the Benedictine monks invited the guest to join the monks for mid-day prayer.

Abbey Church, St. John's University | Collegeville, MN | Marcel

St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Moments after declining the offer, I changed my mind. Risking the embarrassment of unfamiliarity with the Benedictine rite, I quietly made my way up the right side aisle toward the Chancel choir loft where the monks were gathering.

St John's Abbey hurch

Interior of St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Anxious and wanting to be as invisible as possible, I slid up the steps of the choir loft like a cockroach and found a suitable hiding place, the seat in the far corner of the top row (far right in the photograph).

I felt a tug on my left shirt sleeve. “I don’t think you want to sit there,” said the kindly Benedictine Brother with a twinkling eye, “unless you want to be the Abbot!”

Any early childhood protestant prejudice that monasteries are places where people of lesser faith go to hide came tumbling down! There is no hiding place in a Benedictine monastery. No one is a cockroach.

During a crisis years later, I returned to St. john’s for spiritual guidance and took a more lowly place in the choir loft.

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

 

 

 

An Echo from Lockerbie

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Pan_Am_Flight_103._Crashed_Lockerbie,_Scotland,_21_December_1988With the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in the news yesterday, we share this excerpt from James Whyte’s sermon for the mourners at the Lockerbie Memorial Service 1988.
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That such carnage of the young and of the innocent should have been willed by men in cold and calculated evil, is horror upon horror. What is our response to that?

The desire, the determination, that those who did this should be detected and, if possible, brought to justice, is natural and is right. The uncovering of the truth will not be easy, and evidence that would stand up in a court of law may be hard to obtain.

Justice is one thing. But already one hears in the media the word ‘retaliation’. As far as I know, no responsible politician has used that word, and I hope none ever will, except to disown it. For that way lies the endless cycle of violence upon violence, horror upon horror. And we may be tempted, indeed urged by some, to flex our muscles in response, to show that we are men. To show that we are what? To show that we are prepared to let more young and more innocent die, to let more rescue workers labour in more wreckage to find the grisly proof, not of our virility, but of our inhumanity. That is what retaliation means.

The  Right Rev. James Whyte was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, still suffering from grief and physical fatigue following his wife’s death. He had recently retired as Principal and Professor of Practical Theology at the University of St. Andrews’ divinity school, St. Mary’s. The full text of the Lockerbie Memorial  sermon was published in Laughter and Tears: Thoughs on Faith (Reflections), pp. 92–5.

Every Thursday afternoon in the summer of 1991 the Right Rev. Professor James (“Jim”) Whyte brewed a pot of tea and served scones to the complete stranger he’d welcomed to St. Andrews, an American Presbyterian minister seeking his tutelage in practical theology during a sabbatical from pastoral duties at Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. His hand-written prayers delivered at Hope Park Church in St. Andrews remain a priceless treasure.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 5, 2017.

 

Grandpa, we’re with Mika, right?

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Eli and baseball IMG_5753Elijah and Grandpa had just read the President’s tweet about Mika Brzezinski when Elijah said a bad word.

“You need to be more respectful of the President!”

“Why?” asked Elijah. “He’s not my President! Look what he just did to Mika! What’s he have to do that for! He’s mean, Grandpa!”

“I wish I knew, Elijah. Most of his tweets happen when he wakes up early in the morning.”

“Maybe he needs to be nursed as soon as he wakes up. That always calms me down.”

170629123255-trump-tweets-assualt-on-brzezinski-1024x576.jpg“Well, I’m afraid Donald Trump’s mother is way beyond being able to nurse him. She’s really old, way older than Grandpa, Elijah.”

“Then you should call the White House. They should give him a bottle as soon as he wakes up before he attacks another mother! When he stops tweeting insults at women like Mika, I’ll stop calling him a mother.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 30, 2017.

 

 

 

The Parents, the son, and the girlfriend

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She was homeless when he welcomed her into his parents’ new townhouse. So far as the parents knew, she was “sort of” their adult son’s “girlfriend” but they weren’t exactly sure what their relationship was. It was strange. It didn’t seem romantic. She seemed different.

Among the neighbors everything seemed fine until the squad cars’ flashing red lights lit up the street and four uniformed police officers ran by their homes reaching for their holsters. Something was different.

The parents of the son who’d invited the son’s “girlfriend” to live with them had called 911 after a screaming meltdown in the upstairs bathroom where their guest had poked huge holes in the walls with the towel fixtures she had yanked from the walls and had threatened to kill everyone in the house.

When the police arrived and called upstairs, she calmly came downstairs, curious to see what the ruckus was about, appearing calm as a cucumber, without a care in the world while the son’s mother sat trembling with her head between her hands and the 35 year-old son stepped outside for a smoke.

No charges were filed. The parents had come to realize over time that the girlfriend had “some problems” and thought they could help her. The four of them continued to occupy the house after the incident was “resolved” by the police visit.

Two months later the red lights appeared again after another upstairs commotion left the son’s face looking like Rocky Balboa after his fight with Apollo Creed. This time the girlfriend was no Adrian. Adrian  had acted like Apollo…with a knife.

This time Rocky was rushed to the emergency room. Adrian was taken away in handcuffs, screaming at the officers, the boyfriend, and his parents, for another committal to a mental health facility for violation of probation resulting from previous domestic assaults. The parents stayed where they are, dumbfounded how compassion can turn out so badly.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time,” said Carl Sandburg, “and sometimes you weep.”

 

Bill in the Waiting Room

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cardiac-investigations-for-acute-coronary-syndrome-5-638He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.

“Where you from?” he asks, welcoming the gowned stranger who’s come for a stress test.

“Chaska,” I answer.

Where?” he asks over the whine from his hearing aids.

I’m not anxious to strike up a conversation. I’m here for a stress test. I’m an introvert. Talking with strangers when I’m going inside to cope with stress is the last thing I want in the waiting room.

“Chaska!” I repeat.

“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”

He gives a broad smile as though we’re related. (Waconia and Chaska are neighbors in Carver County, MN.)

His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, interrupts the flow of the conversation.

“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”

“94,” she the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”

“Chaska’s the county seat. That’s where i was sworn in.” [Clearly, he’s an extrovert.]

“World War II?”

“February 6, 1942. Eighty of us. A lot of guys from Chaska.”

“Where’d you serve?”

“He was part of D-Day,” answers Jane. Bill’s head sinks toward his lap. His chin begins to quiver. A long pause follows.

“Only 15 of us came back.”

“Were you injured?”

“No,” he says, forming his hands in prayer and looking up. “I don’t know why.” He falls again into silence.

DDay120606121335-d-day-01-horizontal-large-galleryHe’s back on the beach at Normandy.

“That a lot of death. A lot of killing. A lot of loss,” I say.

He looks up and nods before dropping his head again.

Posttraumatic Stress,” I say quietly to Jane. “I’m a pastor. I’ve seen it so many times with Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans.”

“I think so,” she says. “He still can’t talk about it after all these years.”

The technician calls my name. “Mr. Stewart?”

As I leave the waiting room, he reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the young guy from Chaska.

I get on the treadmill, reminded that there’s stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison and thankful for a few moments with 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 27, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jake’s bench visitor

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The stranger sits alone on Jake’s’ bench under the elm tree in the grassy area behind the seasonal Mexican food truck parked at the edge of the Cooper’s Food parking lot.

It’s not everyone who comes to sit on Jake’s bench. I wonder whether he knows of Jake and whether he’s read the inscription etched into the marble:

“Now Jake is a man who wonders why the world is torn asunder. Better worlds he plans, where joy is at hand, and people can live in peace and plenty”.

Mexican food truck 55d36cc8485e9.imageHis back is turned to the picnic table where I eat my taco from the food truck. I only see him from the back, which, come to think of it, is how one sees Jake here – the way Elijah saw God from a cave while God passed by: from the back, the mystery of the Presence maintained against every mortal effort to control, define, or reduce a mystery to a thing.

A bedroll and a pair of well-worn shoes sit on the ground under the inscription. A pair of dirty, wet socks sits on the bench beside him. Clearly he’s been on the road. Is he a hiker on a long trek? A traveler passing through Chaska? Does he have a home somewhere else? Is he homeless and torn asunder in this world?  Or maybe he’s a rare fellow-traveler pausing in the company of Jake on Jake’s bench.

CoopersFoods1Jake’s bench is meant for the weary traveler.

Jake Cooper was an American socialist, the second generation of Cooper’s Foods.

Cooper’s still sits there today, hosting the Mexican food truck, a witness to an era when care for a stores’s customers were more important than updating its physical appearance and service to the community was as important as profits. Cooper’s is the most generous business in Chaska, the go-to supplier of food for community events and good causes. Coopers is a community institution. Its Deli offers complete meals for under $6.70 with portions large enough to provide dinner for two with some left over. Best little restaurant in Chaska! It’s not a money-maker, but it pretty much pays for itself, says Jake’s latest successor at Cooper’s – and it serves the people who can’t afford higher end restaurants or who just know good food at a great price. An example of the spirit of American democratic socialism to whose dream Jake’s bench still bears witness behind the Mexican food truck.

Whether the stranger sitting at Jake’s bench came by chance or came to pay his respect to Jake, he is like most of us in this day and time: a weary traveler who wonders why the world is so torn asunder, and hopes for a better world of peace and plenty.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 14, 2017.

 

 

Revelation at Andrews Hollow

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After several days away from writing for Views from the Edge, today’s Daily Post invitation to write something about ‘revelation’ struck a familiar chord, so to speak.

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Andrews Casket Company mill in Woodstock, ME

Earlier this week an email arrived from a complete stranger who believed we were family. In a google search she had come across Views from the Edge’s photograph of the Andrews’ family property.

What’s that have to do with ‘revelation’?

It revealed a blood relative I didn’t know existed and led to the correspondence with the second-cousin I’d only met once on the old Andrews’ homestead years ago but had never forgotten.

The emails we’ve exchanged have removed the cover (i.e., ‘revealed’) from family origins that had remained hidden for almost 75 years.

The reflections of the second-cousin who grew up on the ancestral property of the Andrews family help explain both the sense of homesickness and forlornness I felt while visiting “The Hollow” last month. The latest visit confirmed the feeling expressed in “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” in “Be Still!”

Until this week’s correspondence, I hadn’t know the property was “The Hollow” to the relatives who grew up there, or as “Andrews Hollow” to the those whose relatives’ funerals had been handled by the Andrews family. It all came as a revelation.

So, today I take time out to write this post in reply to The Daily Post’s invitation. Perhaps life itself is a life-long pilgrimage of revelation – the unveiling of the deeper chords and cords of the DNA that lives on in the tissues and bloodstreams of later generations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 10, 2017.

MEMORIAL DAY 2017 – REMEMBERANCE

Moment after learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” was too long to air today on MPR’s “All Things Considered,” Marilyn Armstrong’s SERENDIPITY Memorial Day 2017 stood out from the in-box. Best wishes for a thoughtful Memorial Day.

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Memorial Day


Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day ) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

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Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at…

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Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet

“Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” is read aloud here from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (p. 10f.). This recording is not as professional as it will be this weekend when it airs on Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” This practice run starts out a little mushy! But it’s good enough that Day1.org posted it yesterday on their site.

Many thanks to Chuck Lieber for making it possible to turn “Be Still!” into a podcast.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2017.