Four Tubes in a Wind Chime

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Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

– Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Four old friends — we call ourselves the Old Dogs — descended last week on the Minnesota cabin by the wetland for our annual Gathering. The lyrics and recorded voice of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” became the focal point for reflection one week ago tonight. 

We gave up the illusion of a perfect offering years ago, though a stifled striving for it continues just the same. The “perfect offering” has gone underground where the sirens of perfection hide when those they’ve beckoned plug their ears to block the torment of lost ideals and shattered aspirations. None of us occupies a pulpit any longer, and the folks whose hands we once shook at the church door are shaking other hands where we once stood. Any dream of a perfect offering was cracked a long time ago, and it was the crack in our respective egos that let the light come in. 

Old Dogs from Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota know there’s a crack in everything, and we know we never were what we were cracked up to be. We’re not so sure the bells still can ring. Much of the social progress we worked for during five decades of ministry is being overturned. The separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border; the insults of neighboring nations and traditional allies; the admiration for Vladimir Putin; the twisting of fact and disregard for truth; the “fake news” war of words against the American Fourth Estate; the blatant encouragement of white supremacist movements; the shifting of blame to the opposing party and past administrations for present policies and actions; the resurgence of the Christian right and American exceptionalism, and so much more gave worn us down, leaving us wondering whether it makes any difference to still ring the bell.

Leonard Cohen’s gravely voice fills the cabin by the wilderness wetland.

We asked for signs

The signs were sent

The birth betrayed

The marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

Of every government

Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more

With the lawless crowd

While the killers in high places

Say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

A thundercloud

And they’re going to hear from me

Leonard Cohen’s’ “Anthem” brought a sliver of light into The Gathering of Old Dogs. Leonard’s gone, of course, without his suit — gone home without his burden behind the curtain without the costume that he wore — but we heard his voice deep and drear and true — like a wind chime rung by a breeze from the far side of the wetland. Then came the thundercloud summoning the weary to ring the bells again while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud.

I love to speak of Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him

Even though it isn’t welcome

He just doesn’t have the freedom

To refuse.

– Leonard Cohen, “Going Home”

Four lazy bastards depart for separate states to ring the bells anew — four tubes of a larger wind chime.

– Gordon C. Stewart on the Minnesota wetland, June 20, 2018

Wilbur and the New Neighbors

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We have new neighbors.

They poked their heads up from under the deck outside the screen door of the a-frame. Woodchuck (groundhog) pups making themselves at home.

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Woodchucks at the cabin

It was Groundhog day all over again at the cabin. Years before we inhabited the place, a woodchuck had decided to come inside the cabin. The humans were away when Wilbur  — we’ll call him Wilbur — abandoned the family under the deck to settle more comfortably inside the cabin. Maybe Wilber needed to get away awhile.

Kay and I come to the cabin to get away. Now we want to get away from the woodchucks — or have Wilbur and his family taken far away from us in traps baited with luscious carrots, fresh lettuce, celery, and other yummies that doesn’t grow naturally here along the marsh’s edge.

The pups are kind of cute, in a non-dog kind of way, if you love all Nature. “Something there is that loves a [woodchuck],” wrote Robert Frost one night, revising his “Mending Wall” poem when three woodchuck pups after he’d had too much wine. Or maybe Frost had just read Psalm 50, as I did this morning, the day after the pups introduced themselves to Kay: “All the beasts of the forest are mine…. I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures under your deck are in my sight” (Psalm 50:10-11).

Many years ago a woodchuck was eating all the lettuce in the Broomall Nursing Home garden up the street from my boyhood home on Church Lane. When Wade, the nursing home caretaker, complained about the disappearing lettuce, two excited eight year-olds decided to become the good stewards of Wade’s garden. With Wade’s help, Ted Bonsall and I built a box trap of wood and hardware wire, and caught the woodchuck. But, hey, what do you do with the woodchuck you just removed from the nursing home garden? Ted and I were advanced planners, we had built a large cage of wood and chicken wire in the backyard. Having succeeded as trappers, we turned the woodchuck loose from the box-trap into the large cage loaded with carrots, broccoli, and lettuce. The next morning, the cage was empty!

There’s a reason they call a woodchuck a woodchuck. It had gnawed through the wood and the chicken wire on its way to freedom, relieving us of having to answer the bigger question of what to do with a woodchuck when the snow starts falling. The woodchuck got away from us before we wanted to get away from it.

Sixty-seven years later, I wonder whether the Wilbur in Minnesota ever made a prison break in Pennsylvania.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, northern Minnesota, June 8, 2018.

The Eleventh Commandment

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“Thou shalt not even think about using a chain saw.”

IMG_9456At the cabin next to the wetland we love quiet candle-lit evenings by the wood-burning stove. The candles are easy. We buy them. The wood for the fires is harder. We gather the logs and the kindling from the surrounding woods, drag them next to the deck, and break or cut them into pieces to fit the dimensions of the small wood stove. In a week or two, a friend and I will get out the chain saw to cut up large oaks that have fallen in the woods. But that will come later.

This morning Kay and I gathered what we could carry from the woods and were breaking the breakable pieces into kindling. It felt good to be making progress on our first spring work day. Barclay, the five year-old ever cheerful, light-chasing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was entertaining himself on the ground above the septic system. He doesn’t know there’s a sceptic system under there, and, if perchance he did know, wouldn’t care as long as there were light and shadows, squirrels, chipmunks, birds flitting around him and soaring over the wetland. Back by the deck, Kay and are enjoying the creative act of turning twigs into kindling and tree limbs into logs for the wood stove. It occurred to only one of us to stand at the edge of the pile instead of in the center of the cluster branches twisting every which way. The other who is typically less aware of his surroundings suddenly lost his balance and hit the deck, so to speak.   

Unruffled by my failure at even the smallest of tasks, I lay still for a moment as Kay rushed to my side, asked if I had hurt myself, and extended a loving hand to pull me to my feet. Barclay never noticed. Then came the eleventh commandment:

ten commandmentsThou shalt not even think of using a chain saw, for in the day that you use it, you shall surely die! 

“No chain saw for you,” said Kay. “Don’t even think about it!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart writing from the wilderness, April 29, 2018.

Elijah’s ninth birthday wish

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Elijah in high chair

Elijah in his high chair

Grandpa, my ninth birthday’s coming up next week! Are we going to have a party and stuff?

Well, Elijah, we only celebrate birthdays annually. That means once a year. You’re going to be nine months old, not nine years old.  The day you turn one year old, we’ll do something special for your birthday. I promise.

That’s not right! I have to wait for my presents?

Not necessarily. Grandma and I love to give presents. Do you have something special in mind?

Yeah! I’ve been thinking a lot about it. So can I have it now?

Sure, what have you been dreaming about?

Safety.

Okay. What about it.

Can I have a bomb like Kim Jun un and the President?

Oh for heaven’s sake, Elijah, where’d you get the idea you could have a bomb?

The Second Amendment, Grandpa. The right to bear arms!

Remember our discussion yesterday about the origins of the Second Amendment? 

The Supreme Court doesn’t agree with you. The Supreme Court says I have the “right to bear arms”. “Arms” are weapons, Grandpa, so why are we just talking about guns? Arms are what armies and state militias have. I’m stickin’ up for my rights! This is America, Grandpa! We get to protect ourselves. I need a bomb to protect Mom and the family!

  • Elijah and Grandpa, Chaska, MN, February 16, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visual Poetry: Go fly a kite

A kite flying above the Illinois prairie invites the viewer to hear the Sound of Silence.

Visual poetry

“Visual Poetry” – Photo by Steve Shoemaker, 2014

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Steve Shoemaker welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana. IL

Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ kite-flying poet whose poetry blessed Views from the Edge readers, shared this photo from the Shoemaker prairie home near Urbana, Illinois in 2014.

Steve didn’t live to see the changing of the guard one year ago today. On the anniversary of the 2017 inauguration, pancreatic cancer has silenced Steve’s Views from the Edge posts, but his poetry and “Visual Poetry,” as he called this photograph, still speak clearly. Like the kite in the photograph and the photo of Steve towering over President Bill Clinton, Steve still invites us to “go fly a kite” for a better time. RIP.

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

 

Grandpa, who’s chasing you?

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Grandpa being chased

What are you talking about, Elijah? No one’s chasing me.

You just said you were being chased. So, who’s chasing you?

No, I didn’t say I was chased. I said I was chastened.

What’s that? Isn’t that like a pluperfect of chased?

No, it’s different, but it does make me want to run away. I don’t like being chastened. You won’t either when you’re old enough to be chastened, although, come to think of it, I’ve already chastened you for keeping Mom up all night.

I remember that. You made me feel bad. That wasn’t right, Grandpa! I just needed to eat! You don’t care about my needs! Mom’s going to chasten you!

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Elijah & 7.5 months

You’re right, Elijah. You just chastened me and I feel rightly chastened.

Good. So you won’t do that again, right?

I wish I could promise you that I won’t, but it wouldn’t be right to promise. I’m sure you’ll be chastened many times over your lifetime. Sometimes you’ll be chastened even by your Mom. And, if I think you’re doing something hurtful, I will chasten you for your own good.

Okay, Grandpa. I’ll do the same.

That’s a deal.

So who made you feel chastened this week? Was it Grandma?

No, it was two professional colleagues. Bill chastened me on Facebook for something I’d written on Views from the Edge. Here’s what Bill said on Facebook. It hurt my feelings.

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Andy Borowitz

“Borowitz does satire better, and this piece is just wishful thinking, which isn’t really satire. We need people to focus on actually changing our national discourse.”

That’s over my head, Grandpa? Who’s Borowitz? What’s wishful thinking? What’s satire? What’s national discourse?

We’ll get to those questions later, Elijah. We don’t have time now. Here’s the second chastening.

Kara Root — she’s another minister here in Minneapolis — wrote something to her congregation that made me feel chastened. She invited the members of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church to join her in prayer for our country every Friday morning.

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Kara Root

Here’s what Kara said:

“I’m going to pray for the nation this morning. Every Friday morning this is happening in our sanctuary. It helps me remember what I know to be true. It helps me let go of the noise, and the vitriol, and the division we feed, and feed on, so eagerly.

“This practice feels brave. And healing. And important. Sometimes I find gratitude, and even tenderness, for the people that make up this country, every single one of them.”

Yeah! Every single one of them! That’s good, Grandpa. Not like President You-Know-Who!

Ahhhh, but here’s the thing, Elijah. It does include President Trump. “Every single one of us” includes Donald. That’s what makes me feel chastened. All my life I’ve felt chased by Adolf Hitler. I always wondered whether I would have had the courage to stand up against him. Standing up to Hitler has been like a lifelong preoccupation. Anytime I see things that remind me of Adolf, I go a little crazy.

So someone IS chasing you, but you’ve stopped running! That’s good.

No, it’s not. Like Bill’s criticism of me on Facebook said, we need to change our national discourse.

I’m not praying for President You-Know-Who! I’m standing my ground!

You can’t stand your ground yet, Elijah. You can’t even stand without help. None of us can. Jesus talked about loving our enemies. He said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Okay, I’ll pray for Bill and Kara ’cause they chastened you, but I won’t pray for You-Know-Who!

You have to, Elijah. We all have to.

No we don’t. I’m not do it! I don’t like You-Know-Who!

Praying for President Trump doesn’t mean you like him or accept his behavior. It means hoping for a change in his character. It means hoping that Donald will have a change of heart and mind, that he’ll stop running from whoever’s chasing him. That he’ll settle down. Be calm.

Maybe Donald also being chased by Hitler. I don’t know.

hitler-speech-1935

If we refuse to pray for ALL people, instead of just the people we like, we’re running away from our best selves. That doesn’t do any good, Elijah. It allows evil to chase us. It contributes to evil, and we should be chastised. If we don’t pray like Kara and the good people of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, all our talk about faith, love, and hope is meaningless.

Kara Root, Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 2018

Okay, Grandpa. If I have to, I’ll try to be more like Kara. I want to be good, but this faith, love, and hope stuff is really, really hard!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Granda), Chaska, MN, January 14, 2018.

Grandpa, what’s faith?

Grandpa, who’s Faith?

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Elijah reading

She’s our good friend, Elijah. We don’t see her very often. You’ve only met her once. You were too little to remember Faith. You were just a newborn.  Why are you asking about Faith? Was Grandma talking with Faith on the phone?

No. You were just talking about her! Sometimes I wonder, Grandpa. You just said her name! Remember?

Oh, THAT faith! That’s not Faith. That’s faith.

Are you in love with Faith, Grandpa?

No, THAT kind of faith isn’t Faith, it’s right next to love, but it’s not that kind of love.

Grandma says you sometimes preached over peoples’ heads. I asked Grandma what preaching over peoples’ heads means. She told me. I think you’re doing it again in retirement. Grandma says you can’t help yourself. I bet Faith thinks the same thing. That’s why she doesn’t come around anymore.

Elijah, you’re getting a little sassy this morning. That diminishes my faith in our ability to have a good conversation. Maybe we put faith away for awhile until after we’ve taken our naps.

Okay. What’s sassy?

Sassy is smart-alecky, being too big for your britches. It’s not nice. It’s not like love.

I’m sorry, Grandpa. What are britches?

They’re pants. They’re what you wear over your Huggies. Being too big for your britches is like forgetting you’re little.

Okay. What about Hope? Is she coming over?

No, hope isn’t a person. Hope is like the faith Grandpa was reading about this morning. It’s what Paul was talking about: faith, hope, and love.

I don’t mean to be sassy, but Paul wasn’t here this morning! Only Grandma, you, and me, Grandpa!

Oh, not THAT Paul. Not our next door neighbor. This Paul’s been dead now for two thousand years, but he’s still speaking. We still read his letters from Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus. I was reading from his letter about faith, hope, and love. Remember?

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Probably Valentin de Boulogne – Saint Paul Writing His Epistles – Google Art Project

Yeah. But I still don’t know what faith is. What’s faith?

You know how when you wake up in the morning you trust that Mom’s going to take good care of you? That’s faith. Faith is trust. And faith doesn’t stop after we’re out of our diapers. Faith lasts a lifetime; it’s one of life’s essentials. We all have faith of some sort or another. But like Paul says, it’s still not as great as love. Love’s the best.

“Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” – Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13:13  [CEB]

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I love you, Grandpa, and I have faith in you. But you’re making me really tired. And, because you love me, too, I hope we can take a nap sooner rather than later before things get sassy again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon) with seven-and-a-half-month-old Grandson, Elijah, Chaska, MN, January 10, 2018.

 

 

 

Epiphany 2018

One day in advance of Epiphany, we bring you a reading from an unauthorized revision of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23, which some call the GCS Translation:

Now after the wise men from Iran had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, Maria, by night, and went to Canada, and remained there until the impeachment of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Canada I have called my son.”

The Round-Up of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men from Iran, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to round up all the children in and around Charlottesville who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Canada

After Herod had been impeached, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to José in Canada and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the U.S.A., for those who were seeking the child’s life are no more. Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the U.S.A. 

But when José heard that Pence was ruling in place of Herod, he was afraid to go there.

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Statue of Liberty in Nazareth, Texas

And after being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the high plains of the Llano Estacado of Castro County in the State of Texas. There José made his home in a town called Nazareth (pop. 311), so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 — GCS, Chaska, MN, January 5 (the Eve of the Epiphany), 2018.

 

Elijah asks Grandpa about race

Grandpa, Grandma just called you a racist!

No, she didn’t, Elijah. She said I’m a Sadist. She was just kidding.

sadist

What’s a sadist?

It’s a husband who doesn’t do his fair share of the housework.

Is that like a racist?

Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of it, Elijah, but now that you mention it, I suppose it is.

How’s that?

Well, a Sadist is mean. So is a racist. They both demean others they regard as less important than themselves.

So you’re both.

Both what?

A sadist and a racist.

Now that you mention it, I suppose I am, Elijah. I’m a descendant of the Mayflower.

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Voyage of the Mayflower

What’s a ‘Mayflower’, Grandpa? Is it the like the flowers you give Grandma?

No. What are you talking about? I only give flowers to Grandma on our anniversary.

Why? You may, if you want, and you should, Grandpa. But first you should help with the dishes and the housework. Otherwise you’ll be both a racist and a sadist. I feel bad for Grandma! You’re not only a sadist; you’re a misogynist!

Where’d you pick up that word?

I hear lots of stuff you don’t know about, Grandpa. I pick up a lot of words at Marissa’s house. She’s really mad at a bunch of guys. She watches lots of CNN and MSNBC — Harvey What’s-His-Name in Hollywood, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, and You Know Who. She really likes Rachel. She’s hoping that woman who got thrown out of the White House tells on the Chief Racist-Sadist-Mesogynist. Marissa says Omorosa could bring down You Know Who.

misogyny

I do know who Who is, Elijah, and Omorosa, and I love Marissa. But you need to be careful not to swallow everything other people says about others. You don’t want to be self-righteous, Elijah. None of us is righteous.

There you go again, Grandpa, slipping out of the noose. Excuses, excuses, excuses! You should be more righteous. Give Grandma some mayflowers, unload the dishwasher, and be a better husband around the house. Otherwise you’ll just be like You Know Who!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 16, 2017.

Elijah on the worst of the worst

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Elijah talking about his day with Marissa

Grandpa, Marissa threw her shoe at the television this morning.

Did she break the television?

No, actually, it was a slipper but she thew it hard.

Why’d she throw her slipper at the TV, Elijah?

She thew it at the President.

Why? What was he doing?

He was talking bad to the FBI! He said people like Marissa are “the worst of the worst,” Grandpa! Before I could understand what he’d said, her slipper sailed by my play pen and hit the TV!

Wow! That must have been scary!

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manual labor roofing a house for a roofer

Yeah, but what Marissa said he said was scarier. Marissa said the President’s either evil or ignorant and that he should come to Minnesota to see what her cousins do. He should meet some immigrants. They’re not the worst of the worst. Miguel works up on roofs in the hot sun 16 hours a day all summer long, Grandpa.

HOUSEKEEPER-BATHROOMHer other cousin, Maria, makes minimum wage cleaning toilets and making beds for a hotel. It’s not enough to live on. She works hard, Grandpa. So does Marissa. They’re not the worst of the worst. They work harder than you do!

So I have an idea, Grandpa.

Okay, Elijah. Let’s hear it. “Out of the mouths of babes….”

I’m not a baby anymore, Grandpa. I crawled today. I’m seven.

Well, you’re not seven. You’re seven-months. But it doesn’t matter. You’re very wise. Let’s hear it.

Okay, Grandpa, here’s my idea. Everyone elected to office in the United States should have to pass a six-week orientation re-roofing houses and cleaning toilets to qualify for taking the oath of office. That way people like the President will stop insulting good hard-working people like Marissa, Miguel, and Maria, like he did this morning, and Marissa won’t break here television. She can’t afford a new one.

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Freshman Class of 115th Congress, January 2017

What a great idea, Elijah! That’s a GREAT idea. Maybe an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a six-month orientation working in minimum-wage jobs before the oath of office is administered as a hedge against evil, ignorance and the worst of the worst serving in office.

Yeah! Let’s amend the Constitution! What’s a Constitution?

Sometimes, Elijah, you make me smile, even on cruel days when I don’t feel like it.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 15, 2017.