Giovanni’s Buffet Mirror

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“Buffet Lunch: All You Can Eat” says the sign.

I decide to try it. “Eight dollars with soda; $7 with water,” says the woman at the counter.

Sugar makes me fat and frantic. I choose the water.

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The buffet is loaded. Full salad bar. Spaghetti with meatballs and your choice of meat or meatless marinara sauce. Garlic toast. And four kinds of pizza – fattening … and more fattening.

I pass up the salad bar and load up on spaghetti with meatballs, meat sauce, and, of course, garlic toast. I love garlic toast.

Since I’m alone, there’s plenty of time to look around while I eat. You’re not supposed to stare at people, so I don’t. I’m careful not to stare. But I can’t help but look. There’s no one to talk with. My dog’s outside in the car. So is my MacBook Air. There are no distractions. So my eyes scan the room for something of interest.

Eventually I realize a common characteristic to the buffet diners — obesity. I think of Richard Simmons, Oprah, and Michelle Obama, and their attempts to get people to eat better and less.

I fill up my plate with a second helping of spaghetti, and add two slices of pizza. It’s good. Really good! All that gooey cheese, and a great crust — just like the pizza I’d had as a child at Fonzo’s Pizzeria in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But this isn’t Philadelphia and this isn’t the 1950s. I’m at Giovanni’s Pizza in Staples, Minnesota almost a year after Michelle’s White House school obesity initiative went the way of all flesh.

“They’re all fat!” I think to myself. I take another sip of water before getting up to pay my bill.

Next to the cash register is somebody’s idea of a joke: a full-length mirror. I see an ugly guy with a belly staring back at me and think I hear a voice scream: “You’re fat too!”

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I pay the $7 with tip, swallow hard, and begin to digest an old biblical teaching:

“Before you criticize the pounds on others, first remove the ton from your own abdomen.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, November 3, 2017.

Neighborly Economics

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Mindfulness —the latest topic around the water coolers — helps in times like these. While some use Yoga or some other eastern meditation to become more mindful, my practice is to contemplate the poetry of the Book of Psalms. I open Psalm 146 in hopes of putting my anxious soul at ease from this moment of history.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God as long as I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:1-3)

The psalmist assures me that this moment will not last forever. The elevation of the rich and the assault on the poor, the game of matches lit near the fuses of nuclear devices on two sides of a vast ocean, the name calling between the two narcissists whose Echoes sound the same despite the differences in language, the scenes from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, the burned-out forests, homes, and vineyards in northern California, the undermining of the hope for universal health care, and the disregard for the Paris Accord addressing climate change have ground me down. There is no help in the White House or Capitol Hill. But, their time, the psalmist declares, is but a breath, a moment. Their thoughts will perish.

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cabin by the wetland

In the solace of the cabin by the wetland far from the news, I am breathing easier. Away from the rulers in whom the psalm urges me to place no trust, my mind is calmer. I am in need of no great thing.

But, after lighting the fire in the wood stove, it dawns on me that we’ve forgotten some supplies for the weekend. We have no bread. Or ice cream!

I remember a sign for “DON & DAVE’S: Groceries and Gas — 4 Miles.”

IMG_8514Don & Dave’s is a throw-back to the day Don founded it 70 years ago. From the looks of the exterior, although it is well-kept, I imagine little except for the “ATM Inside” sign has changed since 1947.

“You must be Don or Dave,” I say to the man inside. “I’m Dave,” he says with a smile. I’m Don’s son.” Dave is in his late ‘60s. Don was his father, killed in a car accident years ago. Dave joined his father in the business in 1977. I introduce myself as the owner of the A-frame by the wetland, but he already knows from Shirley, our only neighbor within a quarter of a mile of the cabin.

I take a look around the store, pick up a $1.59 loaf of locally made wheat bread, notice the ice cream freezer, pick up a large tub of Neopolitan ice cream, notice a Hershey milk chocolate with almonds bar, and take them to the check-out counter where Don meets me.

I take out my credit card. “We don’t take plastic,” says Don. “Just cash or check.” I tell him I don’t have either. “Well, we have an ATM,” he says. “I don’t do ATM’s,” I say. You need a PIN for that. I have no idea what the PIN is; Kay does that. I don’t have a clue.” He laughs and invites me to take the bread, ice cream, and Hershey bar without paying. “No problem. Please take it. You can pay me when you come back.”

He takes out a slip of scrap paper, writes down my name, the amount I owe, and the date, and wishes me a good weekend.

Four hours later I return with the cash just before 6:00 P.M., hoping Don and Dave’s is still open on a Saturday night. Turns out they open at 8:00 A.M. and closes at 10:00 P.M. seven day a week! I learn from the young woman who greets me that Don has left for the day, and explain that I’m here to pay my bill. She asks my name, and fetches the piece of paper from a shelf below the cash register. “What should I do with this? Tear it up?”

“No,” I say, “I want Don to know I came back and I want to say thanks. Just write ‘paid’ with today’s date and let me add a word of thanks.”

I had learned earlier from Don that there are four Walmarts with a 60 mile radius of Don & Dave’s. I wonder when the last time was Walmart sent an empty-handed customer away with so much as a loaf of bread, a tub of ice cream, and a candy bar.

I’m very mindful. In the moment. 1947 never looked better!

Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

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Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

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Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

Elijah, Las Vegas, and The Big Truck

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Elijah recoiled at the pictures from Las Vegas.

“Marissa, estamos seguros? Estamos en Las Vegas?” (“Marissa, are we safe? Are we in Las Vegas?”)

las-vegas-shooting-carry-gty-ps-171002_12x5_992Marissa assured him that he wasn’t in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is far, far away, and they were nowhere near a casino.

Elijah was feeling calmer until Marissa’s husband came home for lunch.

Ese hijo de puto! Sólo le interesan los casinos,” said Pablo. “¿Qué tiene que ver un casino con Dios? ¡No habla de Dios cuando habla de Puerto Rico! Él no es un creyente. Es un falso. Es todo gringo!” (“That son-of-a-bitch! He only cares about casinos. What’s a casino got to do with God? He doesn’t talk about God when he talks about Puerto Rico! He’s not a believer. He’s a fake. He’s all gringo.”)

Later that evening, 19-week-old Elijah visited his grandparents.

¿Abuelo, qué es un casino?” he asked.

“Elijah, I’m sorry. Grandpa doesn’t speak Spanish. What did you say?

“Grandpa,” he asked, “I forgot. ‘What’s a casino?'”

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Las Vegas casino slot machines

“Well, let me tell you a story about a casino, Elijah. A casino is a place where people gamble.”

“What’s ‘gamble’?”

“Actually gamble is a verb; the noun is gambling. You’ll learn the difference later. Gambling is when a person takes a risk with their money. Gamblers get a charge out of taking the risk that they’ll make lots of money, but they usually lose what they have. The casino is the business that makes lots and lots of money from gamblers.”

“Yeah, it’s like uncle Bob. He’s a gambler. He goes to the casino, right?”

“Right. Grandpa doesn’t like it, but, yes, he does. He’s gambled at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

“Why don’t you like gambling?”

“Well, that’s the story I want to tell you.”

“I love stories! Is this the one about the Big Truck?

“No, it’s different. It’s a story that kinda rhymes with ‘big truck’ but it’s not a happy story. Years ago Grandpa went to a casino here in Minnesota to pick up a big check – thousands of dollars – that the casino was donating to Grandpa’s nonprofit poverty law firm.

“Because the casino belonged to an American Indian tribe, I asked an American Indian who worked with me at the law firm to go with me to pick up the check. I wanted the tribal chief, who was also the CEO of the casino, to hand the check to Richard instead of me.

“But you know what happened, Elijah?”

“What? You saw the Big Truck! I bet you saw the Big Truck on the way to the casino.”

“No, but it does rhyme with big truck. Here’s what happened. When Richard and I started to go into the casino, Richard wouldn’t go in.  He just stood there! Like he was frozen. Like he’d had a stroke or something.

“I asked what was happening.

“‘I can’t go in there,’ he said. ‘My wife’s going to be in there at the slot machines. She’s here every day. We’re separated. We’re losing our house. We’re going bankrupt. I hate this place!!!’

“Richard’s wife took the casino bus from downtown Minneapolis every morning and spent the day at the casino hoping she’s get rich. She just got poorer day by day, week by week.

“That’s what a casino is, Elijah. A place that takes people’s money by making false promises that they’ll get rich.”

“Marissa’s husband’s like Richard. He hates casinos, but what’s a casino got to do with the President?”

“Well, Elijah, before Donald Trump became President, he was a real estate developer. He built a casino in Atlantic City in 1990 and put his name on it. Trump Taj Mahal cost $1.2 billion! He called Trump Taj Mahal ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’”

TAJ-MAHAL-LIQUIDATION-SALE“But it failed, Elijah. It failed. The deal failed. He sold it for $50 million to a company named Hard Rock International.”

“Wow, Grandpa! No wonder Pablo called the President a hijo de puto. Pablo said the President only understands business. He doesn’t care about people like the poor in Puerto Rico who are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, did you ever get the check from the casino?”

“We did, Elijah. I was Richard’s boss. I convinced him to go in. We went in and got the check from the Big Truck.”

  • Grandpa Gordon, October 3, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, are we safe?

Grandpa and Elijah are talking while pictures of Hurricane Harvey are disturbing 14-week old Elijah.

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“Grandpa, are we safe? Are we in Houston?”

“No, Elijah. Not to worry. We’re in Minnesota, a long way from Texas. It’s ‘nice’ in Minnesota.”

“Okay, I feel safer. But am I legal?”

“What do you mean, legal?”

“Like . . .  can I be arrested?”

“No, you’re not going to be arrested. You’re not illegal.”

“We’re a country of law, right, Grandpa?”

“Yes, we’re a constitutional republic. We live under the protection of the law.”

Elijah and Harvey

Elijah, “Uh-uh!”

“Uh-uh! That Sheriff profiled people in Arizona! He broke the law and the President pardoned him! Pardon me, but that’s not law. Why’d the President do that when there’s a natural disaster in Texas?”

“Well, the timing of it is scary, Elijah. Maybe we’re not so safe after all.”

“What do ya mean? Is Hurricane Harvey coming here? Is Joe Arpaio coming to Minnesota to look for illegals?”

“No, they’re not coming here, Elijah. The issue is the rule of law itself. Charles Kaiser argues that “Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the real beginning of the coming constitutional crisis in America.” It’s a piece by Charles Kaiser. I read it this morning on Bill Moyers & Company.”

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio and President Trump

“What’s a constitutional crisis? Is that worse than Hurricane Harvey?”

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  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 28, 2017.

 

 

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

I’d never thought about groceries back in Broomall. We’d drive to the Acme, fill the grocery cart, and bring the bags home. It was just part of daily life. Or so I thought.

groceriesI was 17 the day I learned about groceries in America.

Tony and I had become friends at Pennington Island, the church camp in the Delaware River, after meeting each other on the Saturday several years before when the junior-high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church and Berean Presbyterian Church had met during a service project at the Green Street Settlement House.

NLIOn Pennington Island the kids from Philadelphia and the Philadelphia suburbs spent nights together in the same cabins, rose early for “morning watch”, played games, ate the same food at the same tables in the mess hall, swam in the same swimming pool, and sang hymns and spirituals like Jacob’s Ladder. We were living in the same economy while climbing somewhere together.

After the week or two on Pennington Island, the members of his ideal economy would say good-bye and return to the disparate circumstances whose differences we preferred not to know.

Ignorance was bliss. Until the day Tony visited our home in Broomall, 15 miles west of Philadelphia, and watched my mother pull into the driveway with the groceries. My mother spoke of it years later as one of those moments that opened her eyes.

7769907-1955-buick-special-std-cAs we began to unload the groceries from the ’55 Buick, Tony’s eyes grew bigger. There was more than one bag. Never had he seen multiple grocery bags. When the Lewises had a little money, they’d bring home what they needed for the day…or maybe two, on a good day. There were never five, six, seven bags of groceries.

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus,” we had sung in the egalitarian economy of Pennington Island where we were climbing higher together. But unloading the grocery bags that day in Broomall, the difference in groceries seemed more like a symptom of sin – the gulf of separation between two worlds. One home was much “higher” than the other — one white, one black; one privileged, one not — in a black and white economy.

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

 

 

 

Into a dense fog: Sinner, do you love my Jesus?

The descent from my suburban home in Broomall to serve the “less fortunate” on Green Street sent me home looking into a dense fog.

The Wanderer

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog –  Caspar David Friedrich, c.1818

I had given up a Saturday as a youthful answer to the song I learned has a child. “If you love him, why not serve him?”  Serving Jesus meant serving those who were less fortunate than we, as we used to describe the difference.

The kids from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall were aware that Jacob’s Ladder and the other spirituals we sang rose from the slave fields of the white Southern plantations, but the plantations were in the south. We were northerners. We were the abolitionists. We were part of the solution, not the problem.

The day on Green Street knocked me off my ladder. Those few hours on the calendar time of Chronos were a pivotal Kairos moment that placed me before a dense fog searching for answers to how and why life was so different for the two junior high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall and Berean Presbyterian Church in north Philadelphia.

How and why was it that Tony was born into poverty while I was born into relative economic wellbeing in a suburb became a daunting question. I was looking into a dense fog.

Prior to the plunge to Green Street I hadn’t paid much attention to the first word of the stanza about loving Jesus: “Sinner… do you love my Jesus?” Although I knew myself to be a sinner — I had told a lie or two and not been kind to my younger brothers — I was no Judas! I was a soldier of the cross. “If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?”

Suddenly, the fog was not just outside of me. It was inside me, a jarring sense that I and “my people” were self-deceived sinners.

But what is sin and what is a sinner? Institutional slavery was sinful.  The slaveowners were sinners. I knew that. The slaveowners were white. The slaves were black. I knew that. The slaveowners were Christians. I knew that. The slaves were Christians. I knew that — or thought I knew it.

I didn’t learn until much later that the slaves were forced into the Christian faith no less than they had been herded like cattle onto slave ships, or that the difference in the churches was as different as it had been on the slave ships. The difference was that on board the slave ships, the slaves were chained together in the hold while the slave traders were up above; in the churches, the slaves were up above in the rear balcony, looking down on the sea of whiteness on the main floor. Until Richard Allen led the revolt from the balcony to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But the kids from Berean Presbyterian Church were not African Methodist Episcopalians. They were Presbyterians in the theological tradition of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the doctrine of predestination.

Was Tony predestined to poverty in north Philadelphia? Was I predestined to white privilege in Broomall? Or was predestination a hoax, the idea of sinners washing their hands like Pilate that had nothing to do with the will of God?

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Frau am Fenster
Caspar David Friedrich, 1818–1822
Öl auf Leinwand
44,0 × 37,0 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

I was no longer standing on the heights of innocence overlooking the landscape. I was a child of privilege, confined and alone, looking through a very small window at the world beyond what had belonged to “my Jesus”. I was pondering the ships of past and future and the dense fog that went on as far as my eye could see. It has lasted my whole lifetime.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 11, 2017.

 

My lifelong Quest

Some things take a lifetime. More or less.

It took until a few days before my 75th birthday to become clear about my lifelong quest. Some would call it my “vocation” in life, my “calling” as we say. Others might call it an obsession. In either case, it’s taken this long to say a word about it.
In a nutshell, my life’s occupation has been, and still is — are you ready? — theological anthropology.
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“Whoah! What’s that?” my 11-week-old grandson Elijah is asking.
Theological anthropology, like all anthropology, is the search for understanding of the human species. The term  ‘anthropology’ is the combination of the Greek words  anthropos (human) and logos (word). Anthropo-logy is ‘the word’ about ‘humankind’.
Theological anthropology is the study of humankind in the context of ‘theos’, i.e. ‘G-d’ — which Paul Tillich translated as Being-Itself, the Ground of Being, that which is ultimately Real.
Anthropos is contingent; Being-Itself is not. Like all species, ours has a very short lifespan in the aeons of eternity. We are a small part of the All or the Whole (Friedrich Schleiermacher), creatures of time with the rest of moral nature who can be understood, if at all, only in light of this larger timeless Whole.
The Psalmist question –“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4 KJV) — is my life-long question.
Who are we as a species? Who am I as a member of it? Who are the Andrews, the Tituses, the Campbells, the Stewarts among the vast assortment of homo sapiens? Who am I in relation to Barclay, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel friend, the forests, the flowers, the birds, and the rest of the species of dust and ashes holding our breath before the majesty of life itself?
Why theological anthropology?
You can take the human species out of the universe and the universe will go on as it did aeons before anthropos came along. We can’t say the opposite. Essential to the human experience is the terror of contingency and the wonder of of it all, what Rudolf Otto called “mysterium tremendous et fascinans”.
The idea of “man (the human species) over nature” is a deadly illusion, a flight from reality itself, an escape from the trembling that comes with our vulnerability, our transience, our mortality, the final limit of all human creativity (the “image of God”).
After only one cup of coffee on my 75th birthday, that’s the best I can do.
Mom

Muriel Titus Stewart

This afternoon I’ll be in the Philosophy Lounge at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN at the invitation of a philosophy professor, a long way away from the delivery room and the loving, laboring mother who pushed me into the world (the philosopher’s lounge) back in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks, Mom!
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 10, 2017.

If you love him, why not serve him?

Fourth in a series on “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

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The time with Tony on Green Street changed my life in ways I could not have expected when the junior high youth group had left Broomall that morning to do a good deed for “the less fortunate” — an act of Christian service, as we would have called it — in north Philadelphia.

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Chronos and his Child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, a 17th century depiction of Titan Cronus as “Father Time,” wielding a harvesting scythe

Time is a funny thing. Chronos (clock time) and Kairos (existential time) both happen on the clock but they are not the same.

Chronological time ticks forward, leaving every previous moment behind; Kairos stops time and re-orients the future.

The hours on Green Street are as fresh at the three-quarter century mark as the day they happened.

“If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?” asks Jacob’s Ladder of all who aspire to follow Jesus. If Jesus could stoop down to wash his disciples’ feet, surely we could go down to Green Street for a day.

The kids from Marple Church in Broomall left that morning to do just that. We went to serve as a different kind of army, the philanthropic foot-washing soldiers of goodness giving up a Saturday to carry heavy furniture at a ghetto settlement house with other young soldiers of the cross from the inner city African-American Berean Presbyterian Church.

“If you love him, why not serve him?”

We put on our work clothes, travelled to Green Street, and rolled up our sleeves in the strange new world of the Green Street Settlement House.

Although we knew spirituals like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” we had little if any idea of their socio-economic-policitical origins or implications. Although we were conscious of their origins in chattel slavery, we were northerners. We knew nothing of W.E. DuBois, and Michael Harrington’s The Other America, William Stringfellow’s My People Is the Enemy, James Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues and Black Theology and Black Power were years away from being published. Reading them would come years later.

During an afternoon break, the woman who organized the day asked Tony to go home to get something they needed. Perhaps it was a screwdriver. Or maybe a rubber band. It doesn’t matter. I went “home” with Tony. “When we get home,” said Tony as best I can recall it, “my brother might be there. If he’s there, he’ll be sitting in the corner. Just ignore him and you’ll be okay. He won’t like you being there.”

What_s_in_a_name_-_The_Problem_with_the__Nation_of_Islam__(part_1_of_2)_001Tony’s older brother Danny didn’t like white people. He had left the church to become a convert to The Nation.

The furthest thing from the mind of the loving servants of Jesus from Broomall was that someone might not like white people.  Or that Tony’s brother would see Christian “service” as servile — a demeaning attack on black dignity and pride — or see the “soldiers of the cross” as the problem, not the solution. Danny didn’t look up during our brief visit to the Lewis’s home.

The day with Tony shook my sense of innocence to its foundations. It was a Kairos moment — a deconstruction and reconstruction of faith and consciousness that continues at age 75.

But each person’s autobiography is distinct. I didn’t realize until this morning how much my memory of the day is a guy‘s memory of it. I was lifting heavy furniture with a kid named Tony, getting to know each other carrying sofas and chairs from one location to the next. Although neither Tony nor I was big or strong, my diminutive friend Carolyn was smaller . . .  and she was a member of the “weaker sex,” as it was called by some back then.

Only yesterday did I learn that my dear Broomall friend Carolyn was having anything but a Kairos moment scrubbing a toilet on Chronos time all by herself. Carolyn’s email reads as follows:

I had a very strange time. It seemed to them, and I’m sure they were correct, that I couldn’t do some of the heavy lifting, so they set me to sandpapering a few layers of awful paint off the toilet seat. I worked hard at it all day, and only got about half done when they remembered I was there and I was embarrassed that in all that time I had not finished my only project. They were very nice about it. But I didn’t get a chance to meet any of the Berean folks except the lady who gave me the job.

Reading Carolyn’s memory takes me in different directions that change the intent of this reflection: the difference gender, as well as racial privilege, seems to have made scraping multiple layers of paint and who knows what else from a crusty toilet seat, a task that may have been all too familiar to the woman who assigned the job to Carolyn.

maidSome Chronos moments are Kairos moments, as the day with Tony was for me. Others are time bent over a toilet seat. The difference is as clear as black and white, poor and rich. How many of the women from Berean rose every morning to put on their maid uniforms to catch the subway and the Red Arrow bus to become invisible, forgotten “soldiers of the cross” in the wealthy homes on the Main Line an hour’s ride west of Philadelphia?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Jesus”

Part 3 of “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus?”

The day I met Tony Lewis, “my Jesus” fell off the ladder.

Ladder-5The Jesus of my childhood was white. He was kind and loving, having descended from heaven, like the angels on the ladder between heaven and earth.  My Jesus had made me a soldier of the cross whose job it was to stay on the ladder to heaven and carry others with me.

Until the day I met Tony, I had no idea my faith in the descended Jesus also was condescending, the creation of white privilege.

The day my love for “my Jesus” died was the day my church’s junior-high youth group from Marple Presbyterian Church spent helping move furniture at the Green Street Settlement House in Philadelphia.

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North Philadelphia street scene

Green Street was the ghetto. We had gone there from our middle-class suburb of Broomall, the home of all things white and Christian, to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We had no knowledge that our Minister and the Minister of the Berean Presbyterian Church on Green Street had conspired to join together the white Marple and the black Berean church youth groups with the excuse of “helping” move the Green Street Settlement House furniture down the street to its newly purchased location.

That was the day I met Tony, whose Jesus was not a suburban white guy with blue eyes and blond hair taking me up the ladder to a white heaven.

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Tony’s Jesus had descended from God the Father and had made him a “soldier of the cross” — but the Jesus Tony loved was neither white nor condescending.

“Sinner,” he seemed to ask without an once of hubris, “do you love my Jesus?”

I became conscious of sin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 7, 2017.