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

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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.

SERENDIPITY

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.

72-Flags-Party_07

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

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“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.

Not good! Not good!

Learning to trust my eyes and ears took years. But now, I’m old, and I do.

What I see looking at the President’s face and body language and what I hear from his mouth send chills down my spine. I’ve seen and heard it before . . . inside the gates of  locked down psychiatric institutions.

As the President said during Friday’s press conference to shut up a reporter:

“Not good! Not good! Not good!”

Lord help us all.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2017.

Tuesday’s Tide Pool

High tide washed a wondrously diverse group of sea creatures into the same small tide pool last Tuesday, and at low tide (7:00 p.m.), we began to discover and celebrate each other.

Thanks to Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church for hosting the Tuesday Dialogue and Book Launch for Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

By 9:30 p.m. the momentary tide pool was empty. But the brief time we had together refreshed us all with hope for better times and with a greater appreciation for the larger ocean and the tides of history.

As the author whose book publication the rest of us creatures came to celebrate, I could look from my old pulpit at the faces in the tide pool, a gathering unique to its moment in time. Not better than other times. Not exceptional. No tide pool or creature is exceptional – no group, no nation, no race, no religion, no class, no gender, no culture, no species – but each one, like this one, is distinct to its moment in time.

There were star fish large and small, green, pink, red, and brown; crabs and lobsters, sea anemones, periwinkles, muscles, a young salmon, and a bunch of old barnacles.

This tide pool is a small church existing along the shore of eternity, a place of Christian worship that washes up a bunch of Presbyterians every Sunday morning.

But Tuesday there were agnostics, atheists, seekers, and other Christians (Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians); white, black, and red; venture capitalist and struggling to survive in the trailer court; Democrat, Republican, Socialist, and Communist; Ph.Ds and high school drop-outs; co, a five year-old and a 96 year-old; the co-founder of the American Indian Movement, other Standing Rock campers, and couch potatoes; those with TVs and those without them, with cell phones and without them, those who’ve been homeless and those who haven’t, the able and the less abled, the hard of hearing and the sound of hearing; a group of creatures such as will never again be in the same tide pool.

Time in the tide pool meant the world to me.

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

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Year Everything Shook

The theme of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness represents a life-long search. Yesterday the sermon below reappeared from a lost  thumb-drive. Like Be Still!’s first chapter, “Of Tides and the Ocean,” the metaphor is the shoreline. Here’s the sermon preached at Olivet Congregational Church in Saint Paul, MN in 2004 on the text of Isaiah 6:1-8. “On the Shore of Time” was the original title.

It’s not uncommon for people to have a favorite spot for peace and mediation.  Mine is a rock in Rockport, Massachusetts.  For as long ago as I can remember I have perched on Old Table Rock on Old Garden Beach.  The rock was large to a child’s eyes. Big enough for my cousin Gina and I to saunter down the street to Old Table to spread out the feast of gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mother had made for the just the two of us.

In part, my fondness for Old Table Rock no doubt was the companionship of Gina, nine years old than I, and the abundant, tangible evidence of my mother’s love.  Old Table represents a kind of safe place hard to find in this world.

But that memory is only one of many memories of sitting on the rock.  When I sit on Old Table I am much more alert – and, at the same time, peaceful – than is normal for my anxious soul.  As a teenager Old Table offered a familiar place that knew me when my body was much less complicated than it had become.  It was a place that never seemed to change in spite of the waves that lapped or crashed against it, secure on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean’s ever-changing tides and currents, protecting the creatures that nestled beside it in the tide pools but never keeping them from going back out to sea.

I would sit on Old Table and watch the world go by: the great sea creatures, the lobsters and the crabs, the star fish and the periwinkles, the seaweeds and the mosses, green and yellow and the waving red kelp, the seagulls hovering over a lobster boat returning to the harbor or a single gull perched on the rock next door, waiting in vain hopes that we would throw it the sacramental elements of peanut butter and bread the signified my mother’s love.  It was a magical place.  Actually, not magical at all.  It was a place to ponder reality as it was and as it could be.

If Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple, I saw the Lord high and lifted up by the edge of the Atlantic.  It is as though the world had stopped.  And the vast ocean that reached farther over the horizon than my eyes could see or my ears could hear was a mere teacup in the hand of the Creator.  The whole earth was filled with God’s glory.

When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, it was the year that King Uzziah died.  It was a time of national crisis.  The people had lost their king.  After years of comfortable living, everything was in flux.  Everything was swirling.   But in that anxious moment for the people of Judah, Isaiah turned his eye to something else.  He turned his eye to the One whose throne is in the heavens, high and lifted up, the mere train of whose robe fills the temple.  Just the train, the outskirt of his robe, just the hem of his garment, completely fills the temples human hands have made.  This is no domesticated god.  This is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who spun the planets and put them in their places.  And Isaiah saw the heavenly creatures covering their faces from the glorious light of God’s holiness, hovering above the throne, singing in chorus a song of praise:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

“The whole earth is filled with his majesty.”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”

All this was in the year that King Uzziah died.  It was the death of the old earthly king that cleared the way for Isaiah to see the heavenly King, the Lord of hosts.  Perhaps it could have been said of Isaiah and his people that their lips were unclean because they had forgotten the King of kings and had relied instead on Uzziah for their peace and security.  Perhaps their lips were unclean because of Uzziah’s arrogance.  Or because they had not had the courage to speak their own truth to the old king.  Or perhaps their lips were unclean because no human mouth is ever quite capable of expressing the praise properly due God’s Name.  Perhaps Isaiah was thinking along the lines of Soren Kierkegaard who recoiled at the banality of his conventional Christian countrymen for whom morality was the highest virtue, but who never felt a even a twinge of awe or reverence.  Perhaps Isaiah could say of the lips of his people in the year that King Uzziah died what Kierkegaard would later say of his Danish countrymen:

Their ethics are a short summary of police ordinances; for them the most important thing is to be a useful member of the state, and to air their opinions in the club of an evening; they have never felt homesickness for something unknown and far away, nor the depth which consists in being nothing at all, of walking out of Norreport with a penny in one’s pocket and a cane in one’s hand…” (The Journals, July 14, 1837)

In the year that King Uzziah died, the state itself was in jeopardy.  There was a growing sense of homesickness for something unknown and far away, a sense of the depth of the threat of being nothing at all, of having nothing but a penny and a cane in one’s hand.  Everything was at risk.

It had been Uzziah who had mended the defenses of Jerusalem.  It had been Uzziah who had reorganized and reequipped the Judean army.  It had been Uzziah who had won and maintained control over the caravan routes to the South.  It had been Uzziah who had extended Judah’s frontiers at the expense of neighboring Philistines and Edomites.

When Uzziah had become king at the age of 16, a tutor named Zechariah had “instructed him in the fear of God” (2 Chronicles 26:5) and Uzziah had found favor in the eyes of God.  But somewhere toward the end of his 53-year reign, the king’s pride led to his own undoing (26:16).

Here’s how the Chronicler of Second Chronicles tells the story of how the great King Uzziah became a leper.

“But when (Uzziah) was strong he grew proud, to his destruction.  For he was false to the Lord his God, and he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.”  Burning incense in the temple was the sole responsibility and privilege of the priests, whose role Uzziah now usurped.  His political and military grandiosity now spilled over into spiritual entitlement and boundless authority.  Uzziah no longer needed the priests.  Uzziah no longer needed anybody but himself, and perhaps the God whose blessing he could commandeer by offering the incense.  There was still a part of Uzziah that was homesick for something unknown and far away. But his habits as commander and chief confused him into believing that everything was within his control.

Well, as the king entered the sanctuary of the temple – the place where only the priests had authority to enter – to burn the incense, “Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense.  Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’

“Then” says the Chronicler, “Uzziah was angry.  Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.  And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead!  And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.  And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 26:16-21a).

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah, by way of contrast, stands humbly in the temple.  He smells the sweet incense offered by the priests.  He sees the Lord high and lifted up.  He is struck dumb by the infinite distance between all human claims to power and authority and the power and authority of the King of kings and Lord of hosts.  He feels the foundations shaking, senses that he is lost and cries out “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:1-5.

Who of us has not shared something of Isaiah’s and Uzziah’s experience?  Who of us, like Uzziah, has not confused God’s favor for a blank check to do our bidding?  Yet who has not sensed the imponderable distance between God’s holiness and our unworthiness?  Who of us has not been jolted and jarred by the infinite distinction and discrepancy between the majestic holiness and rule of God sung by the seraphim and our banality as thankless children of privilege? Who of us has not felt the foundations of the threshold shake?  Who of us has not smelled the smoke and whispered, if not cried out loud, with Isaiah “Who is me!”

Ours is a time like that.  No king has died.  But there is a sense that things are out of our control.  There is also the sense that those who would lead us and those who campaign for them have used religion to further their own political ambitions.  Where are the eighty priests who will call them up short to stop them from burning the incense on a national altar. And, if truth be told, we are as angry as Uzziah was the day he broke out in leprosy.  Anger eats away at our souls.

Troubled by the impending death of a dear friend and mentor, and angry about an election that seems to slay truth more often than honoring it, Kay and I recently welcomed the opportunity to spend a few days with some old friends on the shores of Lake Superior.

The days on Lake Superior were reminiscent of the days in Rockport.  The granite rock formations, the clearness of the water like the clearness of the North Atlantic of my childhood.  Walking to the point of rocks that reminded me of my favorite place to meditate, my eyes fell upon a fragment of jawbone, washed white by the lake that had washed onto the shore.  I picked it up and cupped it in my hand as if its life had been my own.

Sitting on the rock, the animal fragment and I sat in the gentle stillness and rhythm of wave on rock.  I held in my hand the tiny physical reminder of a creature once wild, searching, finding, running, pulsing with life, now long since gone, and contemplated what it was and how it went.

Did you love this vast lake as I?  Enjoy its calm?  Scurry for cover in a storm?  Did you once sit upon this rock in stillness and wonder?

Did you stare, transfixed, into the endless motion of this inland sea and wonder how it came to be, and who you are to be a witness to it all, a tiny, momentary witness to it all?  Did you smell the sweetness of the temple’s incense?

Did you ever watch the rock and waves, lost in wonder at the beauty and the miracle of having eyes to see it just for today, just for now?  Did you ever hear the seraphim’s song that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?

Slowly as I meditated, the distress and importance of this election slipped away as insignificant.  The liturgy of lies and half-truths, of innuendo and character assassination gave way to an older hymn of the Christian liturgy, Isaac Watts’ “Our God, our help in Ages Past”:

            Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast

And our eternal home.

 

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Soon bears us all away;

We fly forgotten as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

 

Waves lapping,

Swelling, washing over Rock

Impervious, indifferent

To all change,

No dreams dying or forgotten.

 

Rock and water,

Yin and Yang,

Solid and fluid,

Changeless, ever changing,

Bear us all away.

 

One swirling, constant movement

Quarks on quarks in symphony,

Storm and calm, dark and light

Play each upon the other

All in motion without emotion.

 

On the shore of time

A jawbone relic of what once was

A creature of the movement

Lies in whitewashed stillness,

Inert, returning quark to quark.

 

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while troubles last,

And our Eternal Home.

In the end, there is only the Holy One whose train fills the temple.  Therefore, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to your span of life?

“Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.  For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.”

Then I thought I heard the Lord’s call to Isaiah in the temple, asking “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN,  January 18, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE SHORE OF TIME

Gordon C. Stewart

October 17, 2004

 

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 104:1-4, 24-35

Luke 12:22-34

 

It is not uncommon for people to have a favorite spot for peace and mediation.  Mine is a rock in Rockport, Massachusetts.  For as long ago as I can remember I have perched on Old Table Rock on Old Garden Beach.  The rock was large to a child’s eyes.  Big enough for my cousin Gina and I to saunter down the street to Old Table to spread out the feast of gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mother had made for the just the two of us.

 

In part, my fondness for Old Table Rock no doubt was the companionship of Gina and the abundant evidence of my mother’s love.  It represents a kind of safe place hard to find in this world.

 

But that memory is only one of many memories of sitting on the rock.  When I sit on Old Table I am much more alert – and, at the same time, peaceful – than is normal for my anxious soul.  As a teenager Old Table offered a familiar place that knew me when my body was much less complicated than it had become.  It was a place that never seemed to change in spite of the waves that lapped or crashed against it, secure on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean’s ever-changing tides and currents, protecting the creatures that nestled beside it in the tide pools but never keeping them from going back out to sea.

 

I would sit on Old Table and watch the world go by: the great sea creatures, the lobsters and the crabs, the star fish and the periwinkles, the seaweeds and the mosses, green and yellow and the waving red kelp, the seagulls hovering over a lobster boat returning to the harbor or a single gull perched on the rock next door, waiting in vain hopes that we would throw it the sacramental elements of peanut butter and bread the signified my mother’s love.  It was a magical place.  Actually, not magical at all.  It was a place to ponder reality as it was and as it could be.

 

If Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple, I saw the Lord high and lifted up by the edge of the Atlantic.  It is as though the world had stopped.  And the vast ocean that reached farther over the horizon than my eyes could see or my ears could hear was a mere teacup in the hand of the Creator.  The whole earth was filled with God’s glory.

 

When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, it was the year that King Uzziah died.  It was a time of national crisis.  The people had lost their king.  After years of comfortable living, everything was in flux.  Everything was swirling.   But in that anxious moment for the people of Judah, Isaiah turned his eye to something else.  He turned his eye to the One whose throne is in the heavens, high and lifted up, the mere train of whose robe fills the temple.  Just the train, the outskirt of his robe, just the hem of his garment, completely fills the temples human hands have made.  This is no domesticated god.  This is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who spun the planets and put them in their places.  And Isaiah saw the heavenly creatures covering their faces from the glorious light of God’s holiness, hovering above the throne, singing in chorus a song of praise:

 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is filled with his majesty.”

 

“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”

 

All this was in the year that King Uzziah died.  It was the death of the old earthly king that cleared the way for Isaiah to see the heavenly King, the Lord of hosts.  Perhaps it could have been said of Isaiah and his people that their lips were unclean because they had forgotten the King of kings and had relied instead on Uzziah for their peace and security.  Perhaps their lips were unclean because of Uzziah’s arrogance.  Or because they had not had the courage to speak their own truth to the old king.  Or perhaps their lips were unclean because no human mouth is ever quite capable of expressing the praise properly due God’s Name.  Perhaps Isaiah was thinking along the lines of Soren Kierkegaard who recoiled at the banality of his conventional Christian countrymen for whom morality was the highest virtue, but who never felt a even a twinge of awe or reverence.  Perhaps Isaiah could say of the lips of his people in the year that King Uzziah died what Kierkegaard would later say of his Danish countrymen:

 

Their ethics are a short summary of police ordinances; for them the most important thing is to be a useful member of the state, and to air their opinions in the club of an evening; they have never felt homesickness for something unknown and far away, nor the depth which consists in being nothing at all, of walking out of Norreport with a penny in one’s pocket and a cane in one’s hand…” (The Journals, July 14, 1837)

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, the state itself was in jeopardy.  There was a growing sense of homesickness for something unknown and far away, a sense of the depth of the threat of being nothing at all, of having nothing but a penny and a cane in one’s hand.  Everything was at risk.

 

It had been Uzziah who had mended the defenses of Jerusalem.  It had been Uzziah who had reorganized and reequipped the Judean army.  It had been Uzziah who had won and maintained control over the caravan routes to the South.  It had been Uzziah who had extended Judah’s frontiers at the expense of neighboring Philistines and Edomites.

 

When Uzziah had become king at the age of 16, a tutor named Zechariah had “instructed him in the fear of God” (2 Chronicles 26:5) and Uzziah had found favor in the eyes of God.  But somewhere toward the end of his 53-year reign, the king’s pride led to his own undoing (26:16).

Here’s how the Chronicler of Second Chronicles tells the story of how the great King Uzziah became a leper.

 

“But when (Uzziah) was strong he grew proud, to his destruction.  For he was false to the Lord his God, and he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.”  Burning incense in the temple was the sole responsibility and privilege of the priests, whose role Uzziah now usurped.   His political and military grandiosity now spilled over into spiritual entitlement and boundless authority.  Uzziah no longer needed the priests.  Uzziah no longer needed anybody but himself, and perhaps the God whose blessing he could commandeer by offering the incense.  There was still a part of Uzziah that was homesick for something unknown and far away. But his habits as commander and chief confused him into believing that everything was within his control.

 

Well, as the king entered the sanctuary of the temple – the place where only the priests had authority to enter – to burn the incense, “Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense.  Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’

“Then” says the Chronicler, “Uzziah was angry.  Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.  And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead!  And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.  And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 26:16-21a).

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah, by way of contrast, stands humbly in the temple.  He smells the sweet incense offered by the priests.  He sees the Lord high and lifted up.  He is struck dumb by the infinite distance between all human claims to power and authority and the power and authority of the King of kings and Lord of hosts.  He feels the foundations shaking, senses that he is lost and cries out “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

 

Who of us has not shared something of Isaiah’s and Uzziah’s experience?  Who of us, like Uzziah, has not confused God’s favor for a blank check to do our bidding?  Yet who has not sensed the imponderable distance between God’s holiness and our unworthiness?  Who of us has not been jolted and jarred by the infinite distinction and discrepancy between the majestic holiness and rule of God sung by the seraphim and our banality as thankless children of privilege? Who of us has not felt the foundations of the threshold shake?  Who of us has not smelled the smoke and whispered, if not cried out loud, with Isaiah “Who is me!”

 

Ours is a time like that.  No king has died.  But there is a sense that things are out of our control.  There is also the sense that those who would lead us and those who campaign for them have used religion to further their own political ambitions.  Where are the eighty priests who will call them up short to stop them from burning the incense on a national altar. And, if truth be told, we are as angry as Uzziah was the day he broke out in leprosy.  Anger eats away at our souls.

 

 

Troubled by the impending death of a dear friend and mentor, and angry about an election that seems to slay truth more often than honoring it, Kay and I recently welcomed the opportunity to spend a few days with some old friends on the shores of Lake Superior.

 

The days on Lake Superior were reminiscent of the days in Rockport.  The granite rock formations, the clearness of the water like the clearness of the North Atlantic of my childhood.  Walking to the point of rocks that reminded me of my favorite place to meditate, my eyes fell upon a fragment of jawbone, washed white by the lake that had washed onto the shore.  I picked it up and cupped it in my hand as if its life had been my own.

 

Sitting on the rock, the animal fragment and I sat in the gentle stillness and rhythm of wave on rock.  I held in my hand the tiny physical reminder of a creature once wild, searching, finding, running, pulsing with life, now long since gone, and contemplated what it was and how it went.

 

Did you love this vast lake as I?  Enjoy its calm?  Scurry for cover in a storm?  Did you once sit upon this rock in stillness and wonder?

 

Did you stare, transfixed, into the endless motion of this inland sea and wonder how it came to be, and who you are to be a witness to it all, a tiny, momentary witness to it all?  Did you smell the sweetness of the temple’s incense?

 

Did you ever watch the rock and waves, lost in wonder at the beauty and the miracle of having eyes to see it just for today, just for now?  Did you ever hear the seraphim’s song that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?

 

Slowly as I meditated, the distress and importance of this election slipped away as insignificant.  The liturgy of lies and half-truths, of innuendo and character assassination gave way to an older hymn of the Christian liturgy, Isaac Watts’ “Our God, our help in Ages Past.

 

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast

And our eternal home.

 

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Soon bears us all away;

We fly forgotten as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

 

 

Waves lapping,

Swelling, washing over Rock

Impervious, indifferent

To all change,

No dreams dying or forgotten.

 

Rock and water,

Yin and Yang,

Solid and fluid,

Changeless, ever changing,

Bear us all away.

 

One swirling, constant movement

Quarks on quarks in symphony,

Storm and calm, dark and light

Play each upon the other

All in motion without emotion.

 

On the shore of time

A jawbone relic of what once was

A creature of the movement

Lies in whitewashed stillness,

Inert, returning quark to quark.

 

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while troubles last,

And our Eternal Home.

 

In the end, there is only the Holy One whose train fills the temple.  Therefore, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to your span of life?

 

“Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.  For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still! Departing from Collective Madness

Writing Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (scheduled for release by Wipf and Stock Publishers in January), I had a growing sense of its prescience. The subtitle “departure from collective  madness” is anchored in the works of Elie Wiesel and Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, and the Gospel of Matthew’s story of the Wise Men (sic) who “departed” for their own country by another way.

As the date for final submission of the Be Still! manuscript drew near, I saw a madman running for the highest office of the land but underestimated the extent of the collective madness that would be drawn like iron to a magnet. The billionaire television personality who puts his name on everything his hands have touched, gave voice to people who have felt groped by the system.

Michael Moore, a champion of America’s forgotten working class, saw this coming. He was in touch with the many sources of anger that found a voice in Donald Trump, and he warned the Democratic Party to get in touch with it before it was too late.

Now it is history. I felt sick Wednesday morning. By yesterday evening, I was able to calm down. Today’s sense of nausea is worse than yesterday’s after reading “Meet Trump’s Cabinet-in-Waiting” – a cabinet which will put the country back into the hands Wall Street, big oil, climate change-deniers, and the likes of Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Rudy Gulliani (Attorney General candidate), loose-talking groper Newt Gingrich (Secretary of State candidate), and CEOs.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have called for the country to unite for an orderly transition. I believe in orderly transitions. I applaud them. A democratic republic depends upon such transitions. I support that. But I will not be united behind a madman or absorbed into a collective madness that bodes evil. I will not turn over cars. I will not stop traffic. I will not burn things. I will write. And write. And write knowing, as this election has reaffirmed, that words DO matter.

I will do my best to be still. I will follow the example the biblical Wise Men (sic) who “being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, . . . departed into their own country another way”[Matthew 2:12 KJV]. Herod was a strongman in whom there was no refuge. There was and is another way.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

[Psalm 46]

Amen. May it be so.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 10, 2016

 

 

 

Now (regretfully) I Know

Exhausted by the 2016 election, and knowing that undecided voters are few and are unlikely to be persuaded by anything I might say, I nevertheless decided to speak up one last time here. There’s a knot in my stomach. Silence only makes it worse. Silence – even for a day – would contribute to evils I’ve long deplored.

From the time I became conscious of the world, I have asked how Hitler could rise to power.

Now I know.

A child of World War II, I have learned that the questions are more important than the answers, and that sometimes the answers don’t come. Yet, as I look back on my life story, the question was not about Hitler. It was about the German people who elected him.

It still is. But this year, it’s not about the Germans. It’s about us, the Americans.

I’ve spent a lifetime living in the shadow of Adolf Hitler and the societal madness that elected him, determined from very early in life to oppose the darkness, the terror, the long shadow of Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. Of nationalism, militarism, Arian racial superiority, global imperialism, and the startling echoes that still ring out from the gas chambers and gallows of the same society that bequeathed the world with the high culture of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schopenhauer, Hegel, and Thomas Mann. How, I have asked myself forever, could this have happened? I’ve looked inside myself and wondered what I might have felt and done during the rise of the German Third Reich.

Now I know.

The question is no longer hypothetical. No longer abstract. No longer just philosophical, psychological, or sociological. It’s immediate and practical. It’s staring me in the face every day as I watch the crowds clapping for a presidential candidate whose name is on everything he’s ever touched as a businessman and who has made it his business to put his hands where they have not been welcome.

The crowds that support Donald Trump are drawn by an irresistible force to make America great again. In Germany it was the same. It’s a page out of Hitler’s playbook, but the differences between the United States in 2016 and Germany in 1930s are strikingly different. Germany had been defeated in World War I. America was victorious. Its economy was in shambles. Ours is the envy of the world. Germany’s post-war sovereignty was limited.Ours is not. The German people perceived the Weimar Republic as weak, powerless, and ineffective, a refrain echoed in the American far right’s cacophonous contradictions that charge the Obama Administration with too much power in domestic policies, on the one hand, and weakness against international terrorism.

During the 1920s and early ‘30s, the people of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Hegel felt humiliated, their national pride had been assaulted. But. . . assaulted by whom?

Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals became the scapegoats against which the pure Germans could define themselves and make Germany great again. Today in America Muslims, Mexicans, and LGBTQ have become the equivalent scapegoats of the Donald Trump campaign, and a copy of Hitler’s speeches is in the Trump master bedroom.

If the German people were drawn like iron to a magnet by a charismatic personality who gave singular voice to their grief and anger, it was not the last time a nation would go down that road to fascist madness. It begins as a kind of love affair. Looking into the human psyche, Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) wrote:

The ultimate aim of all love affairs … is more important than all other aims in man’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation …. (The World as Will and Representation, Supplements to the Fourth Book).

The next generation and generations to come are at stake in the U.S.A. on November 8, 2016.

As every American president has said, “May God bless the United States of America.” I add, and may God save us all from the worst in ourselves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2016

The first best thing…

We’ve been silent recently on Views from the Edge. The world doesn’t need one more blah-blah-blah pundit.

But when a candidate (we won’t use the name because the media are flooded with it, to his advantage) tells a crowd there would be “nothing you could do” to stop his opponent from stacking the Supreme Court with anti-gun justices, and follows with “although, the Second Amendment people,  maybe there is, I don’t know,” a memory seems worth sharing.

During a 2013 public dialogue (First Tuesday Dialogues in Chaska, MN) to discuss the Second Amendment in light of gun violence in America, a participant proudly cited a Facebook posting that “the second best thing that could happen to Obama would be for him to be impeached.”

The speaker continues, “And we all know what the first best thing would be….”

What was said the other day in North Carolina is not new. Mr. ____ blamed the media for the widespread criticism of his remark. “Give me a break!” he said.

Insinuations of assassinations never deserve a break. It didn’t deserve a break in 2013. t does not deserve a break in  2016. It’s not a joke. It’s not funny!

Enough said. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 11, 2016.

 

 

 

Farmer walking through fields in Kumta

Scroll down for Joshi Daniel’s photograph that inspired this reflection.

Tourists and residents see things differently. Actually, it’s more than that. They see different things, like the farmer walking through the field in Kumta, and this tourist website that introduces would-be visitors to Kumta.

Today we’re tourists in Beynac-et-Cazenac, one of the loveliest places we’ve ever experienced. Well, i,e. experienced as tourists. But even a tourist (we’ve rented a house      for the week (pictures to follow) recognizes the slower pace of this medieval town on the banks of the Dordogne River.

The Experiment in International Living (EIL) offered a deeper way of seeing the world forty years ago. That summer I lived with a host family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Immersed in the daily life of my Slovakian family and students at the university, I was not a tourist. I cared nothing about the sites a tourist might visit. I walked everywhere, paying attention to where I was, looking more deeply, more thoughtfully – being more present, one might say – less disembodied, less virtual, less distracted, not as entertained, but so much happier in my body.

Like the Experiment in International Living, Kosuke Koyama encouraged me to slow down, to walk instead of run by, drive past, or fly over – to see the dailyness and the natural field of the man Joshi’s photograph. God, said Kosuke, is a three-mile-an-hour God who meets us at the pace of human being walking.

Momentarily, we’ll walk very slowly down the steep hill into the village on Sunday morning in this beautiful place. If we go to fast, we’ll fall on our faces.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Beynac-et-Cazenac, June 12, 2016.

Joshi Daniel Photography

A farmer walking through fields in Hegde, Karnataka while holding a basket Farmer walking through the fields | Hegde, Kumta, Karnataka, India

If you would like to buy a print of any of the images, get in touch with me here.

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