Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

White supremacy, America’s original sin, is demonic. Always has been. Always will be.

Rarely does evil show up as visibly as it did last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and in the days that have followed.

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

In the fight of good with evil the first impulse is to kill it. Get rid of it. Banish it from from existence itself.

The snake’s aside in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden whispers anew its eternal invitation to self-deception: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You cannot kill a demon. If you try to kill it, you end up killing your brother, your sister, your neighbor as your enemy.

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee on the public squares of the former Confederacy bear witness to the unfinished business of America’s Civil War, or, as it is known in the South, The War Between the States.

Should they all come down? Does right-mindedness — a new public consciousness beyond the evil of white supremacy — demand we do the same with them the people of Iraq and our troops did with the statue of Saddam Hussein to celebrate the end of the reign of terror: take them down?

Knowing how near the serpent of deception is, Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B, invites a more ambiguous response in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of  we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Preserving Memory

Pulling down the statues from their pedestals feels like a catharsis to many of us. To others it feels like an assault. But we do ourselves no favor by framing the issue as one of anti-racist versus racist, pitting the righteous against the sinners.

Historians, spiritual guides, and social psychologists know that societies and individuals that bury their pasts are doomed to repeat them in one form or another. The demons never disappear.  You cannot kill a demon. It always come back to haunt you — all the mores when you think you’ve killed it.

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

The statues serve as channel markers that keep us on the way to a consciousness beyond the America’s original sin of white supremacy instead of symbols of our reverence for what we have come to despise.

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Rev. Dr. Andrew Young and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is in this spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colleague Andrew Young takes the unexpected view that the statues should remain.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

You cannot kill a demon. It’s always whispering in the shadows of our flight from the evil that lies so close. Don’t get mad, get smart.

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

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

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“Grandpa, they think I’m a baby. I don’t like all these stuffed animals!”

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“I can see that, Elijah. But, ya know . . .  you’re still a baby.”

“I’m not, Grandpa. I’m not a baby! I’m 12!”

“Well, I understand that you feel that way. You have very little control. You’re still very vulnerable at 12 weeks. You have no defense against Mom and Grandma putting stuffed animals in your arms whether you want them or not. But you’re not ready for independence.”

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

“No, you’re really not. You still need your diapers changed.”

“So what? So does the President! He’s just a baby, Grandpa. How come nobody’s helping him? You could give him one of my stuffed animals to help him be calm. He can have this one. Except for black eyes, it’s all white and kinda cuddly, and it is an elephant!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 17, 2017

 

White supremacy @ Charlottesville and Bedminster

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Speaking from his Bedminster Golf Club after domestic terrorism at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the President of the United States spoke not the words the nation needed to hear. He used his bully pulpit to call for a more generic end to hate, referring to himself as a victim of it.

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There are no Confederate flags or statues there. No Ku Klux Klan hoods, neo-Nazi swastikas, or old pick-up trucks with gun racks in the parking lot of the summer White House. The members of Bedminster arrive in Bentleys, Ferraris, or a poor man’s Mercedes or Audi to yell “fore!” to warn other members in danger of getting hit by an errant golf ball. They ride on manicured fairways in their golf carts. They don’t drive cars into crowds.

But as Bedminster’s celebrity addressed the nation last night, didn’t what he didn’t say leave you wondering whether he is constitutionally unable to speak aloud the name of the bully ideology that summoned the white nationalists to the event of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville?

Can you say “white supremacy”? Can you say “white nationalist domestic terrorism”?  Or do you see only yourself everywhere?

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Donald Trump crashing a wedding at Bedminster Golf Club

“’We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back,’ said Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.” (August 12, 2017, NYT)

The President sees only himself everywhere. Unfortunately, he’s not alone!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

My lifelong Quest

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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.
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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.

GOP Leaders MUST Convince the President to Resign

“The Resignation of Donald J. Trump,” Part 3 by John M. Miller.

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GOP Leaders MUST Convince the President to Resign

Donald J. Trump is an extreme narcissist. As such, he is in the highest possible position to do the greatest amount of damage to the United States of America. Already he has thrown American government and politics into an unprecedented quandry.

The President must leave the presidency at the earliest possible date. More and more people in the news media, in Congress, and in the American public are stating this with undisguised candor and concern.

Neither an impeachment trial in Congress nor congressional action utilizing Amendment XXV can occur nearly quickly enough to evade the increasing and inevitable  chaos which awaits our nation and the world should the President continues in office for another three-plus years. America cannot afford to wait until the election of 2020 to resolve this crisis at the ballot box. It must be firmly addressed and terminated soon.

Mr. Trump is clearly so mentally debilitated that his continuation in office inevitably nourishes a rapidly-growing malignancy on the presidency. Our democracy simply shall not survive in its present form, because Mr. Trump is dismantling it far too quickly. His erratic behavior is undermining political structures that have taken decades or centuries to erect. For the healthy future of America, the President must resign, and as soon as possible.

But how can such a monumental step be arranged? Because of the nature of his mental condition, the President will not voluntarily resign unless he is subjected to such extreme pressure he realizes he has no other option. And there are no publicized concerted measures being taken to insure that herculean option shall occur anytime soon.

The Singular Historical Precedent and the Current Situation

Within a few days and weeks of his assuming the presidency, a few news pundits and others began comparing the Watergate scandal to the avalanche of Trump alleged illegal or unwise actions. Months ago, however, most students of political history said President Trump’s activities were of quite a different character from those of President Nixon, and the Watergate analogy was widely dismissed.

6401745-nixon-cover-upThe Watergate scandal is the only such abuse of presidential power in the nation’s history that forced the resignation of an American President. But as the Trump presidency has rapidly plummeted, it is painfully instructive to compare 2016-17 to 1972-74.

The full breadth of Watergate could not be evident when the July, 1972 break-in occurred at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building in Washington. What was described by President Nixon as a third-rate burglary actually seemed like a third-rate burglary at the time, a failed caper of an inept gang who couldn’t shoot straight. But then the story slowly began to grow.

Before the election of 2016, there were isolated rumblings about a dubious Russian connection in the Trump campaign. After Mr. Trump’s election, the rumblings grew louder. Investigative reporters in the news media kept bringing up stories that appeared to validate the suspicions of Russian skullduggery in the 2016 election, possibly encouraged by candidate Trump himself.

In a televised speech in August of 1973, President Nixon denied any White House involvement in Watergate. Most Americans believed him.

In a string of speeches and tweets since early 2017, President Trump has denied any Russian irregularities or illegalities. Initially, many American believed him, but many others were viscerally unwilling to believe anything he said. As personalities, Nixon and Trump are mentally and temperamentally more unalike than alike, even though there are many similarities.

In the fall of 1972 Nixon ordered the CIA to impede the FBI’s investigation. In the meantime, seven Watergate conspirators were indicted. Five pled guilty to avoid a trial, and two were convicted at trial in January of 1973.

In mid-2017 President Trump ordered FBI Director James Comey to stop the FBI investigation into the Russia connection and other potential irregularities or illegalities. When Comey refused, he was fired. A new FBI director was eventually approved. In the meantime, Congress appointed a Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to begin an investigation of President Trump. The President has threatened to fire Mueller, but on the very strong advice of many White House and congressional counselors he has refrained thus far from doing so.

In the fall of 1972, the Senate formed its own committee to investigate Watergate. Judge John Sirica, who presided at the trial of the Watergate conspirators, began to demand more information as the trial proceeded.

In the spring of 2017 the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees began their own investigations into allegations regarding Russia and other potential improprieties in the Trump administration.

John Dean, President Nixon’s White House attorney, revealed under oath that President Nixon secretly taped every White House conversation he ever had with anyone. Judge Sirica demanded that the tapes be turned over. In the summer and early fall of 1973, Mr. Nixon postulated that executive privilege allowed him to refuse to do so. Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor who had been named, Judge Sirica, and the Senate Investigating Committee again demanded the turnover of the tapes.

In the summer of 2017, many people have asked whether all presidential conversations in the White House are taped. To date Mr. Trump has declared there are no such tapes, and even if there were, he said executive privilege would protect them from outside investigation.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAuMAAAAJGNlNzQ2NGEyLWI4YjMtNGJhZC04MzYwLTgwYzQyMDhlMWVmMAOctober 23, 1973 was the date of the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.” In it Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox. Several high-ranking Republicans in the Justice Department resigned in protest.

Since he took office, Donald Trump has fired several key members of his administration. Regularly he hints at firing even more.

On March 1, 1974, after much legal wrangling, President Nixon finally turned over most, but not all, of the White House tapes. A grand jury also indicted seven White House aides, referring to the President “an un-named co-conspirator.”

In July of 1974 the Supreme Court ordered all the White House audio tapes to be released. Mr. Nixon resisted the order, and the House of Representatives initiated an impeachment trial against him.

On August 5, 1974 Mr. Nixon at last relinquished all the tapes. They proved his part in the Watergate cover-up beyond any doubt. On August 8, after consultation with his closest associates, the President resigned.

The English political philosopher Edmund Burke made a statement which has rung true ever since he said it almost three centuries ago: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Relationship of Donald Trump to the GOP

When there were seventeen people vying for the Republican nomination for the presidency, sixteen of those candidates declared in varying ways and with varying words that Donald Trump was not really a Republican. His behavior during the campaign and since his election has sometimes, but not always, proven them correct. Mr. Trump’s appeal is based on populism, not on traditional Republican principles, although many of his decisions in office certainly do reflect a time-honored conservative philosophy.

The Wall Street Journal has probably been a Republican-leaning newspaper as long as it has existed. During the primary campaign, their opposition to Mr. Trump was very obvious. Since his election, their support of his policy decisions has been squeamishly tepid at best.

Recently, WSJ published a story about the President’s remarks to a group of law enforcement officers in which he urged them, “Don’t be too nice” when arresting “thugs.” Other law enforcement officials took strong issue with the President’s get-tough remarks. The Journal article seemed to side with the more irenic observations of the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association than with the President.

  Another WSJ story had the headline, “Trump Deepens GOP Divide.” It cited how the President’s attacks on the attorney-general, the collapse of the GOP health bill, the demand to bar transgender people from the military, and the White House staff shake-ups have caused serious fissures in the Republican Party. It quoted former Rep. John Jolly, a Republican from Florida, who said, “Particularly among some of my former colleagues in the House, there is a frustration and lament about opportunities squandered in what should be a prime time for the Republican legislative agenda.”

A recent USA Today story was entitled “War with his own party risks isolating Trump.” The writer, Susan Page, wrote, “(The President’s) ability to reach voters drawn by his personal appeal rather than his party affiliation has been a source of his political strength and possibility in a nation where allegiance to Republicans and Democrats has eroded.”

Therein lies a major factor in the unique political dilemma Donald Trump represents. He is as strong as ever with his base. But his base cannot be equated to the traditional Republican base. Instead it is solely the Trump base of support and not the wider Republican base.

Daily he tweets to his base. When under severe attack, he immediately stages a rally of his supporters to cheer him up and cheer him on, as he did recently in West Virginia. His tweet that transgender people should not be allowed into the military appealed to many of his most ardent followers. But because it was simply a tweet, and not an official presidential order, the military has very noticeably done nothing and apparently intends to do nothing to implement the mercurial twitter.

Mr. Trump’s erratic actions are enormously disruptive. They often represent no carefully-considered or official policies. Instead, they represent only the momentary mental meanderings of an unstable mind.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in PhoenixDonald Trump is a bully. Every objective biography of the man chronicles that he has been a lifelong bully. Narcissists usually exhibit that behavior. Typically, bullies are defeated only when confronted by the employment of overwhelming force or by the threat of overwhelming force. Before tanks surround the White House, there is a logical and increasingly obvious means of resolving the Trump Dilemma.

Donald Trump cannot be faulted for being an irremediable narcissist. No one with any mental disorder would ever choose it. But it is inadvisable, unpredictable, and unacceptable for any government, especially a democratic one, to enable someone who is mentally unstable to remain in its highest office.

No one knows Donald Trump’s long-range intentions, including Donald Trump. Probably he is mentally too flighty to have any long-range political plans. But his day-to-day decisions are so damaging that for the sake of American stability, he must quickly be removed from the presidency.

Very soon, a sizable coalition of Congressional Republican leaders plus some of the highest members of the Trump administration must confront the President, demanding his resignation. The nation cannot afford the lengthy time it would take to go through an impeachment trial or an Amendment XXV congressional hearing. And we certainly cannot risk waiting forty-plus months to vote Mr. Trump out of the White House.

Whether Donald Trump is a genuine Republican is, and always will be, debatable. But he ran for the presidency as a Republican, he won as a Republican, and, at least for the present, he has not disavowed the Republican Party.

Therefore it is only Republican leaders who can bully the bully into resignation. If they fail to do that, they shall irreparably damage their party in the 2018 congressional election and the 2020 presidential and congressional election.

This country needs two responsible political parties. Whether the Democrats are currently acting responsibly is also a debatable and ongoing question. But fact is this: The necessity for restoring the political health of our nation now rests primarily on the backs of the most influential Republican leaders.

Throughout the tumultuous Trump presidency, there has been a widespread sanguine opinion that the USA will survive Donald Trump, whatever might happen in the next three and a half years. We have managed to survive numerous other crises in our 240+ years of history. But when you consider what has happened in just the last seven months, it may be a very sanguine view that we shall inevitably muddle through once again.

It took more than two full years for Watergate to be resolved. The past seven months feel like seven years. If we wait nearly three and a half more years, it will seem like an eternity. Remember Edmund Burke.

A sanguine attitude toward the current crisis could be the correct one. If so, the dark musings of these three essays are all in vain. If such a view is incorrect, however, a laissez faire opinion may eventually be perceived to incur as much guilt and condemnation as the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

  • John Miller is a writer, author, lecturer, and preacher-for-over-fifty-years who is pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC

 

Big Yellow Taxi and climate science

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Songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” rise from memory so many years later when an EPA climate scientist report reaches the New York Times before it gets edited or killed and all the scientists get the word “You’re fired!”

We won’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

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

“My Jesus”

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

“Every round goes higher, higher”

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Part 2 of “Jacob’s Ladder at Almost 75”

As a child and youth, Jacob’s Ladder touched something deep within me. I couldn’t have described what it was or why at the time.

Looking back, it was a happy song. We were all climbing. Getting older meant climbing higher, getting taller, becoming mature, successful adult “soldiers of the cross.”

“Every round goes higher, higher.”

It expressed a joyful innocence and confidence. I had no knowledge of the economic-political origins of the ‘spiritual’ until much later.

The connection between the slaves’ faith, or their understanding of what it meant to be a “soldier of the cross” — the struggle for economic-political liberation, climbing “higher” to freedom in the North — was as far from consciousness as white is from black.

As a 13 year-old, Jacob’s Ladder expressed an innocent childhood hope during those hormone-challenging years when ascending the ladder toward adult self-sufficiency felt like a fireman trying to save  an 800-pound gorilla in a raging fire. All I could do was stay on the ladder, hoping that human equivalents of angels might be there to catch me when I fell.  The closest thing to angels were people like Mr. and Mrs. Kidder and friends who encouraged my upward progress from childhood to adulthood. Surely some progress must be made.

Faith still meant climbing higher on a ladder that was going someplace, as the Genesis story (Genesis 28:10-19a) of the ladder between heaven and earth seemed to say. We were on the upward ladder.

Then, something happened.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2017.

 

Jacob’s Ladder at almost 75

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Sometimes I can’t get it out of my head. I go to sleep with it. Wake up with it. Walk the dog with it. It’s been over a month now.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” begs for my attention.

So this morning I surrender. What will come out on the page is a mystery until it’s written.

I ask myself, “Why this song?”

This stretch of time has been anxious. Unsettling, restless, down, bored, and struggling with my own inner demons and the bigger demons of human madness around the world.

Jacob’s Ladder has been with me my whole life, like an old friend who shows up when I need her. Like her cousins “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” there’s something about the tune that brings comfort, placing me in the good company of the slaves whose faith and hope are timeless though they themselves are long gone.

It’s the melody, the music – the language of the soul – that gets me. But it’s also the words. Words like ‘climbing, ‘higher’, ‘soldier’, ‘cross’, ’sinner’, ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘serve’. Words that have stuck in my throat at different times in my life journey as either highly objectionable or as deeply expressive of what I know and feel to be ‘true’. “Jacob’s Ladder” feels like a summary of where I’ve been, where I am now, and a strange kind of invitation to resolve the contradictions as I move forward after three-quarters of a century.

So this morning and in the days to come I will have a conversation with Jacob and his ladder, stopping at each stanza and phrase to dig deeper into what is crying for attention.

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Jacob’s Dream, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54650 [retrieved August 6, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/.

“Listen to your life,” wrote Frederick Buechner in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

At almost 75 and no longer climbing, I’ve been pondering grace itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2017.