This incessant business

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John MuirJohn Muir, father of America’s National Park System, wrote:

God has cared for these trees,
Saved them from drought, disease,
and a thousand tempests and floods,
but he cannot save them from fools.
[John Muir, Our National Parks, 1903]

President Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Department of Interior yesterday and signed an executive order freeing up use of public lands, land “which belongs to the people, which truly belongs to us.”

Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau wrote in 1863:

I think there is nothing, not even crime,
more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

[Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle, 1863]

 

 

The Muir and Thoreau quotes lead the chapters  “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” and “The Bristlecone Pines” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. God bless the memory of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. We are increasingly without principle. They’d turn over in their graves. It’s up to us to honor their principles.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, April 27, 2017,

 

Reviews as a dating service

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Reviews and re-republication do for books what dating services do. They match books and readers who might like each other.

Thanks to James A. Cox, publisher of Midwest Book Review and MBR reviewer Able Greenspan for this review in the April 2017 edition:

Synopsis: “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” by Gordon C. Stewart (a public theologian and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA) echoes the call of the Navajo sage and the psalmist who invited their hearers to stop — “If we keep going this way, we’re going to get where we’re going” — and be still — “Be still, and know. . . .”

Like pictures in a photo album taken from a unique lens, these essays zoom in on singular moments of time where the world is making headlines, drawing attention to the sin of exceptionalism in its national, racial, religious, cultural, and species manifestations. Informed by Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama, Elie Wiesel, Wendell Berry, and others, Stewart invites the reader to slow down, be still, and depart from “collective madness” before the Navajo sage is right.

Told in the voice familiar to listeners of All Things Considered and Minnesota Public Radio, these poetic essays sometimes feel as familiar as an old family photo album, but the pictures themselves are taken from a thought-provoking angle.

Critique: Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is a consistently engaging and impressively memorable read from cover to cover. Thoroughly ‘reader friendly’ in organization and presentation, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is unreservedly recommended and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library Religion/Spirituality collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for seminary students and the general reading public with an interest in the subject that “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is also available in a paperback edition (9781532600654, $20.98) and in a Kindle format ($9.99).

This Friday, April 28, Day1 will feature “Homeland Militarization,” a chapter from the book.

Day1 describes itself as “the voice of the mainline Protestant churches, presenting outstanding preachers from the mainline Protestant denominations, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American Baptist Churches, and others.” It began as “The Protestant Hour” in 1945.

Thanks to Peter Wallace, Day1’s executive producer and host, for introducing “Be Still! to a new audience. And thanks to Bob Todd of Bob Todd Publicity for making the connections.

And, if you haven’t yet dated “Be Still!” . . . . make a lonely author happy over steak with the paperback for $20.98 or over an expensive cup of coffee with the Kindle/eNook, only $9.99 on AmazonBarnes & Noble or your local bookstore.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 25, 2017.

Christopher Smart was Smart

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Christopher_Smart_Pembroke_portraitChristopher Smart (1722-1771) was an English incurable pauper poet institutionalized in Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics whose poetry, like Vincent Van Gogh’s art, continues long after his death in spite of, or perhaps because of, what we now call mental illness.

Smart’s poetry is not as widely known as Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. But it is well-known among other poets, musicians like Benjamin Britten, and worshipers who sing from the Episcopal Church Hymnal, as I did yesterday on the Second Sunday of Easter.

The fourth stanza of “Awake, Arise, Lift up your Voice” leaped from the page, as fresh today as it was the day Smart wrote it:

His [Christ’s] enemies had sealed the stone as Pilate gave them leave,

lest dead and friendless and alone he should their skill deceive.

Smart sees Christ as “dead and friendless and alone” under his enemies’ lock and key as the authorities of collective madness had given them leave, lest Christ – locked away dead and friendless and alone – should deceive their power to seal shut the tomb (or asylum cell).

And then the fifth stanza:

O Dead, arise! O Friendless stand by seraphim adored!

O Solitude again command your host from heaven restored!

At the very moment Christopher Smart was coming to my attention, the French were casting their votes, confused and fearful in the wake of England’s Brexit, wailing sirens on the Champs-Élysées, and candidates loudly debating whether sanity demands sealing the nation’s borders.

St_Lukes_Hospital_for_Lunatics,_LondonChristopher Smart’s biographers suggest that today Christopher would be diagnosed as bi-polar. He was committed to the Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics after episodes when, it is said, Christopher would suddenly drop to his knees on the street in prayer, loudly inviting by-standers to join him, a different kind of street preacher who causes saner people to cross to the other side of the street.

But sometimes “the lunatics” are smarter than we. They see what those of us who avoid them often fail to see: the Dead and Friendless One meeting us, like Christopher and Vincent, in times of lock-down madness, until we sing Smart’s hymn two-and-a-half centuries later on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Christopher Smart was smart.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 24, 2017.

Earth Day 2017 in France and the USA

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Today on Earth Day 2017 it’s hard to believe it was just one year ago today (April 22, 2016) that the world celebrated 195 nations signing of the Paris Accord on climate change.

Marine Le PenExactly one year later to the day, it is both Earth Day and Election Day in Paris, where the French go to the polls following another chilling terrorist attack that boosts the candidacy of far right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen who would “Make France great again!”

Here on the other side of the Atlantic and across the world, scientists and supporters of science are casting their votes with their feet, signs, and speeches in the wake of the 2016 American election of a climate change-denying President and Congress unravelling the Paris Accord while concentrating of erection of a border wall.

March for ScienceThe March for Science stands with Albert Einstein. “We cannot,” said Einstein, “solve our problems with the same thinking by which we created them.”

The thinking that has led to our problems includes bad religion, bad scientific, bad politics, and bad economics that ignore reality, bend and shrink reality to the size of the human will to power, and sacrifice creative imagination beyond the boundaries of the thinking that had led to our problems.

Today it will take prayerful people on both sides of the Atlantic to vote for the Earth in whatever way we can. Good science, good religion, good politics, and good economics go hand-in-hand.

On Earth Day 2017 pray for the Earth. Pray for yourself, for others, and for all creatures great and small. The Planet has no borders. It’s all the same house.

Albert Einstein

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Earth Day 2017.

The woman outside the window

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She paces the sidewalk a few feet beyond our kitchen window, talking loudly to someone who’s not there, smoking a joint to calm her down, moving in sudden jolts as though someone has sent a spike through her less than cogent mind.

I watch and wonder who she is, this neighbor who lives behind us still three weeks after being served by the authorities with an eviction notice following a “break” in which she tore loose two towel bars and poked holes in the bathroom wall as uninvited as the screams of rage that harmonized with the spikes in the wall.

The police at the time of the incident told the owners there was little they could do without pressing charges, which they declined to do. She is a guest in their house, the girlfriend of sorts of their 35-year old son, a young man of consummate compassionate who took pity on her homelessness and invited her in.

Responding to the 911 call, the police had been greeted by an altogether sane young woman who presented a calm, cool, and collected self who seemed to wonder what the fuss was all about. The 50-something year-old homeowners and the police agreed to call it a night on the “domestic dispute”, the young woman in question going peacefully upstairs to lock herself in her room, the three squad cars driving back to the police station where the officers would write up their incident reports, the husband and wife homeowners sitting in the living room staring past each other into blank space, and their compassionate generous adult son who lives in denial stepping outside for a much-needed smoke of something.

His invited houseguest had been institutionalized a number of times but he doesn’t know why or for what. Her father, he says, is some sort of pentecostal preacher. She’s badly scarred by her home experience – the “black sheep” of the family of Christian sheep who follow the lead of the ram who heads the household.

A lamb spiked by the ram in her old sheep-fold, she looks for other pastures and sheep-folds where her a damaged soul might find repose beyond a 911 call. But the spikes of terror keep coming, as they will, until, by some process of grace and merciful intervention, her reality breaks open the self that now walks in torment outside our kitchen window.

Until then, she walks in the valley of the shadow of her own kind of death, as do the members of the family who has given her temporary shelter, crying out for green pastures and still waters that would restore their wounded souls.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2017.

 

 

 

The Make-Up Artist

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Make-up artists in show business are the cosmeticians in the off-stage dressing rooms who paint the performers. In plays and films they make sure the actors look their parts. In television they apply make-up to the likes of Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly.

Donald TrumpBut today ‘make-up artist’ takes on different meaning: “one who makes stuff up.” Like a Commander-in-Chief whose administration tells the world the USS Carl Vinson and its Navy fleet are headed for the coast of North Korea, knowing full well they’re still headed toward Australia. When the crews heard the news from news outlets, they must have wondered. Who or what was lying: their compasses or their Commander-in-Chief and his administration?

Make-up artists serve a purpose in stage productions and television programs like “The Apprentice”; they have a role to play behind the scenes of make-believe.

DI-Chicken-Little-9But when a made-up president makes stuff up that causes the armed forces he commands to choose between their compasses and their commander, the Commander-in-Chief becomes the Liar-in-Chief who commands as much credibility as did Chicken Little after announcing too many times that the sky was falling.

I wish to Heaven this was all made up.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 19, 2017.

A Review and a Request

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Today marks the first public review of the book that was born three months ago.

Click “Essays to explain collective madness” to read former Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus’s review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. And HERE for his citation from Be Still! in his column yesterday “When the forces of fear rule”.

Then, if you’re feeling kind toward a postpartum depression author dependent on the kindness of friends to help his baby grow up, use your email or FB page to share the review. If you’re on FaceBook, you can also “Share” the review from Bill Tammeus’s or Bob Todd’s FB pages.

Thanks for considering and have a great day!

Gordon in Chaska, MN, April 19, 2017.

 

 

Easter

Aside

Artists often say it best. Jacopo da Pontormo‘s painting of the peaceful Christ rising above “the guards who shook and became like dead men” (see text below) invites us this Easter to ponder afresh Christ’s hidden reign in the world in which violence, militarism, and imperial ambitions still feign to rule.

Jacopo_Pontormo_026-medium

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556)

For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”  [Gospel according to Matthew 28:4-10]

Jacopo da Pontormo helps me see what the mind cannot fathom. Christ is Risen! In spite of all appearances to the contary, Christ is Risen! Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!

Gordon C. Stewart, in Galilee of Chaska, MN, Easter, April 16, 2017.

A world holding its breath

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Today the world is holding its breath, waiting in helpless silence as we’ve done many times before.

Last year we published a reflection following news of the terror in Brussels, Belgium. Today the darkness that clouds our hearts and minds comes from the madness of a two little boys playing with nuclear toys. (See “North Korea hits back at Trump ahead of Day of the Sun“.)

Nuclear-explosionNot since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has a nuclear bomb been used, but, today, Holy Saturday, the people of Japan are living in the memory of that holocaust, holding their breath as the bellicose standoff between Kim Jong-un and the man who promises to take care of him plunges them again under the nuclear cloud of post-traumatic stress of 1945, their peculiar Friday and Holy Saturday.

On Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, we experience the silence of nothingness.

The sounds of hammers, taunts, and screams, and the sight of three dead men very different in life but equal now in death leave us face-to-face with all that is cruel, hopeless, meaningless – the darkness of despair.

This Holy Saturday the world is on full alert. Dread and fear spread. We who live in the aftermath of the latest terror in Brussels experience Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter, knowing that only a resurrection can redeem a Good Friday world. – Views from the Edge, Holy Saturday, 2016

One short year ago on Holy Saturday the world knew of one little boy playing with nuclear toys. This year there are two. And the Easter story of the empty tomb remains either a fanciful illusion or the good news of a deeper reality beneath the silence: the descent from the cross by a Word greater than every reason for dark despair.

Pontormo, Jacopo da, 1494-1556. Descent from the Cross,

Descent from the Cross – Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Good Friday 2017 in light of 1553

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In his Ten Rules for Writing author Elmore Leonard advised,

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Good Friday is one of those parts in the Christian story. Who wouldn’t want to skip over betrayal, denial, abandonment, and brutality, the opposite of happiness? But we don’t get to joy without going through them. Steve Martin’s Happy Feet offers a memorable parody of faux happiness. You don’t get to Easter with happy feet.

In a sermon preached on Good Friday, 1553, the Rev. John Bradford asked his hearers to draw close to the cross, inviting them to look upon the death of Christ as the very presence of God, the part “that we people want to skip”.

As the very pledge of God’s love toward thee,
whosoever thou art, how deep so ever thou hast sinned,
See, God’s hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee;
his feet also, he cannot run from thee.
His arms are wide open to embrace thee.

Happy feet are no remedy for sore feet. Whatever view one takes of the classical Christian formula of Christ’s full humanity and divinity, John Bradford, Elmore Leonard, and Steve Martin’s Happy Feet invite the imagination to stop and pay attention to the God who embraces humankind in the very darkness we deny.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Good Friday, April 14, 2017.