The Best and Worst Sellers Lists

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Publishing is a pain in the neck; marketing what’s been published moves the pain down the spine to a lower place of an author’s anatomy. Unless, of course, the book makes the Best Sellers’ List because your publisher is one of the decreasing number of corporate giants who do the marketing and have the connections.

Small publishing houses like Wipf and Stock and its authors are ancestors of the poor man Lazarus left to pick up the crumbs from the rich man’s table. We do what we can to catch the reading public’s attention with an occasional success. But, without divine intervention, few, if any, make it to the New York Times Best Sellers list.

So, for the sake of all things just and fair, we herby propose an “alternative” list: The Worst Sellers List, and offer readers one of the “dog-eared” crumbs that fell from the table yesterday to a dog on The Worst Sellers List:

My reason for this email is to let you know that I have just finished reading your wonderful BE Still. We all need a “Departure from Collective Madness” and your book has been such a breath of sanity in the midst of this messy world. I’m grateful to you for your book. I read it, as someone else who has a copy is also reading theirs – one entry at a time on any given day.

I began to read your book and the very first thing I underlined was the instruction from “The Brothers of Opal Street.”*[see explanatory note below] I can’t tell you how many people I have told of that instruction of theirs, and the very wise pastor who passed on the message to us. The idea that we must change things where we live, instead of being the saviors to the poor in the ghetto, is such a powerful message.

Following from that, I went on to dog-ear the prayer from the Book of Common Worship. That prayer is so familiar to me and I love it. It’s not part of any prayers I learned in the Catholic school, but probably one I picked up from the “religion” of the other side of my family. As you may remember, or not, my parents came from two different backgrounds. Mom was very Catholic. My dad’s side followed no particular religious persuasion, with grandpa and my aunt never seeming to attend any church. My paternal Grandma Allie was Baptist, Presbyterian, or Congregational, depending on the Minister and the music. She loved the traditional hymns of her earlier years and they were often heard by me as she listened to her radio when she couldn’t get about and lived with us in our home. Also, Grandma had my mother join her Congregational church group aptly named The Friendly Circle, where every meeting began with a hymn and a Bible verse. I often went along to these meetings. There were probably no baby sitters available. As I grew older I went to baby sit the younger children there.

My underlining and “dog-earing” pages increased as I read of your liberal philosophy, your concern for the direction of this country and humanity as a whole, and your concern for all people of various colors, and persuasions. This diversity thing has become probably my greatest issue and concern. It’s so good to read the views of someone who shares the same perspective. With grandchildren who are half Afghan and whose Grandfather spent much time in Gaza working with USAID, a daughter who teaches the Ojibwe language and mentors Native students, another daughter married to a fellow who is Jewish, I have come to appreciate various perspectives and religions. I am thankful for all this learning. I find it goes a long way when dealing with folks who can be quite narrow in their thinking and really have no experience with other perspectives on a one to one basis.

Before this gets any longer I just want to say, “thanks again for the wonderful book.”

* The Brothers of Opal Street are honored in Be Still!‘s Acknowledgements. Remembering them again so many years later is appropriate to the date on the calendar: Juneteenth.

Last, but by no means least, is a group of men who would be shocked to find themselves mentioned anywhere but in a courtroom.

“The Brothers of Opal Street,” as they called themselves, eight black homeless former inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary, had a farewell conversation at the end of August, 1962 with me, a naive nineteen year-old church street outreach worker. As we sat on the stoop of a boarded up tenement on Opal Street, they said good-bye with a startling instruction not to return to the ghetto. “Go back to ‘your people’ and change things there. Only when things change there will there be hope for the people here.” What they called “my people” were in the white western suburb of Philadelphia. I have come to believe that lsat day on Opal Street was its own kind of ordination. This book is in memory of them. – Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. xiv.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 19 — Juneteenth — 2017.

Grandpa, are you famous?

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Earlier this morning, 11 day-old Elijah saw David Ellis’s author interview with his grandfather when he awakened from his morning nap. Hours later, Elijah harkened to his grandfather’s voice, smiled, and did his best to focus his eyes on mine for another conversation.

Grandpa and Elijah1“Grandpa, are you famous?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not famous. If anything, I’m infamous!”

“Are you infamous in England? David Ellis lives in England. Mom says that’s far away from Minnesota.”

“No, actually, I’m infamous in Minnesota but David in England must think I’m famous ’cause I wrote a book.”

“Yeah! Mom told me last night. She said I should follow Grandpa’s advice. She said I should ‘Be still!’ What’s that mean, Grandpa?

“Well, it means be calm, be quiet. Did you keep Mom up again last night?”

“Yeah! I should be quiet at night so Mom can sleep.  That’s what Grandma said. Otherwise Mom might lose it and use another bad word. She might tell me to ‘shut up! Don’t be a cry-baby!’ I’m not a cry-baby, am I Grandpa?

“No, Elijah, you’re not a cry-baby. You’re just a baby — the grandson of an author who’s famous in England and infamous in the United States of America.”

“What’s the United States of America, Grandpa?”

“I’ve been wondering that myself lately, Elijah. I’ve been wondering myself.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 3, 2017.

 

 

 

Author Interview – Gordon C. Stewart – “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” (Poetic Theological Essays on Politics, Pop Culture, Economy and Much More)

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David Ellis (an English award-winning poet, novelist, writer, and host of “Too Full to Write”) reached across “the pond” following publication of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness”. Thank you, David.

toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

Howdy folks.

So happy that you could make it to through to Friday, our favourite day of the week, in one piece 🙂

For tonight’s author interview extravaganza, let me introduce to you all my good friend, theologian and author Gordon C. Stewart, as he regales us with his writing experiences, his engagingly witty collection of essays blended together in a volume for our reading pleasure and what ultimately influences his writing thoughts and processes.

Enjoy the show and have a fantastic weekend packed full of fun, food, drinks and frolics galore, thanks for reading 🙂

Hi there Gordon, thank you for joining us to discuss your written works, writing experiences, passions and influences.

Let’s start with debut anthology “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness”, a collection of poetic essays based on a variety of topics such as politics, economy and popular culture to name a few. Can you elaborate more…

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“We’re still in! You’re Wacked out!”

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June 1, 2017 was a day of moral, spiritual, and economic bankruptcy.

What a much beloved president once called “the better angels of our nature” are weeping. They know that you can’t mess with nature without consequence, that in the world of nature’s economy, less is almost always better than more, and that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. They know a fool when they see one. They mourn a people and a world when the fool isn’t fooling and when there’s no separation between the king’s fool and the king himself. The king’s a fool but doesn’t know it. All that matters is the theater spotlight.

Meanwhile our better angels have been rehearsing a new musical with a massive chorus that opened late yesterday on Broadway and across the world:

“We’re Still In!”

Among the better angels joining to produce “We’re still in!” are scientists and religious leaders. Neither kings nor fools, two of them immediate issued official responses to the president’s Rose Garden announcement:

The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Episcopal Church.

Yesterday the foolish king extended the right hand of fellowship to our new closest allies — Syria and Nicaragua — while raising his fisted left hand in a power salute to traditional friends after putting a match to a cherished line from the American canon of Scripture:

“The mystic chords of memory . . .  will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  – Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address.

But you can’t burn away American memory with a match.

On June 1, 2017 the stage lights centered on a kingly fool. But no sooner had the curtain come down on the White House Rose Garden than the new musical of our better nature was premiering under the lights in the king’s home town on Broadway . . .  and in London, Paris, Berlin, Ottawa, Mexico City, Moscow, Brussels, Pretoria, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Beijing, and everywhere else across the planet . . . except Managua and Damascus:

“You’re wacked out! We’re still in!”

Thank you, Frederick Buechner

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Today Day1.org features “The Seagull and the Rainbow” right beside Frederick Buechner, whose writings influenced me as a young preacher and pastor.

Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner

Thanks to Peter Wallace of Day1 for putting the student next to a man he unconsciously aspired to be. I’m older now . . .  and the distant iconic mentor who had no reason to know his mentee’s name is older still but no less alive to faith and life!

Years ago the Council of Churches in Cincinnati invited a Canadian publisher to publish “The Cincinnati Prayer Book,” a collection of prayers for the year by Cincinnati religious leaders. I was Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church at the time. The publisher asked whether I would be interested in publishing a collection of sermons.

I recall the conversation in my office as if it were yesterday. I thought I smelled a rat.

“Are you a vanity press?” I asked.

They assurance me they were not. “The Startling Kindness of God” moved forward, including an endorsement from Frederick Buechner. But Fred’s letter to me included a private comment that changed how I preached and wrote. The sermons were good, he said, followed by a devastating “but”: “but I find them rather bloodless. I want to see some of your blood in them.”

Listening to your lifeI learned laster that he was working on Listening to Your Life. Reading my sermons, he seemed to sense I was not listening to mine. I wasn’t.

When the final contract appeared, the publisher required that I sell 300 copies of the sermon collection. I tore up the contract. The bloodless sermons are in a box in my closet, wondering why they were never published.

I have no reason to believe Fred Buechner has any recollection of that or that he remembers my name. But his combination of affirmation and warning began to change the way I preach and write. To appear next to Frederick Buechner today is a serendipitous occasion of joy and thanks. Thank you, Fred. I’m holding out a goldfish after all these years.

Thank you, Peter, for posting “The Seagull and the Rainbow” on Day1.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, May 20, 2017, Chaska, MN.

 

 

 

 

Day One – and the Last Day

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Peter Wallace, Day1.org

Good news came early this morning from Peter Wallace of Day1.org.

“It (i.e. The Seagull and the Double Rainbow, previously published on Views from the Edge) will be on our homepage Saturday May 20—Saturdays are our biggest traffic day.”

Thanks to Bob Todd for introducing Peter Wallace to Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness and to Peter for featuring “Homeland Militarization” on Day1 several weeks ago.

seagull in ScarboroughEarlier today we published Dan Balz Washington Post piece on the firing of James Comey and the need to search for the truth behind the firing. Maybe the insistent seagull that kept banging away on the glass door is a model for people seeking the truth behind the curiously-timed, sudden firing that sent White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer into hiding in the White House bushes.

Maybe at the same time we could look at the beauty of the rainbow for a quieter critical perspective. Stillness comes hard on days like this. Anger and confusion come more easily. But the friendly word from Peter Wallace, and that moment last week on the Maine coast with the seagull and the double rainbow remind me that no day, in the end, belongs to the darkness or the proud.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2017

 

The Firing of James Comey

danbalz_0Dan Balz has always struck me as among the best of professional journalists. He asks the questions and searches for truth wherever it may lead.

At 8:49 P.M. last night, within hours of President Trump’s surprising firing of FBI Director James Comey, he managed to write and publish the piece that greeted readers of The Washington Post this morning.

Click HERE to read Dan Balz’s hastily gathered thoughts on the curious firing of the controversial FBI Director, its historical context and future implications. Anyone who can write that cogently in a little more than a heartbeat is a writer’s writer.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2017.

 

Never judge a book by its cover

The location of the Maine bed and breakfast we’d booked for Friday night stumped the GPS. The voice kept saying “Stop and walk from here,” but we couldn’t just stop – we were driving 55 mph in traffic in the rain, and there was no place to pull over – and we had not a clue where “there” was.

After being lost for half-an-hour in who-knew-where, Kay called the owner . . . who turned out to be at a wedding 2,000 miles away in Colorado. Her husband (we’ll call him “Bob”) would be expecting us, she said, but she could reach him. “He might be down with the chickens.”

Bed and Breakfast slippersBob was nowhere in sight. Still uncertain we were “there”, we let ourselves in through the big green door. Kay called Colorado again to confirm we were at the right house – the one with a green door. Yup! We were “there” but there was no Bob. A pair of men’s slippers at the foot of the staircase told us he couldn’t be far.

Twenty minutes later Bob, in his early 30s, appeared from the basement. His long flowing hair and “Oh, Wow!” come whatever may persona flashed our memories back to Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s. We were staying in the palatial home of a 30 year-old hippie. Some things don’t compute easily.

BandB upstairsThe chicken-tender turned out to be a great host, and the land and house far exceeded our expectations – 16 pristine acres of meadow and woods, and an 8,200 square feet mid-century modern house with indoor swimming pool, hot tub, Wifi, old phonograph, and an enormous suite with a to-die-for kind bed and a huge beautifully tiled bathroom.

The next morning over coffee, Bob and I had an hour alone where he began to unfold his story which, at the beginning, bore little likeness with the anti-war counter-culture I’d known in the 1960s. Bob had served in the U.S. Air Force!

After a year-long immersion in Pashtun in Monterey, CA, he had served as an Air Force translator based in Qatar, flying reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan. Of the 25 member crew on flights that listened in on the Afghan conversations on the ground, Bob was the only one who could translate the language which advanced technology allowed them to overhear.

I asked him how good his language skills were, whether he was confident in the accuracy of his translations. He smiled and shook his head. There were so many colloquialisms that were not part of his year-long Air Force Pashtun language immersion, he could not be certain. His job, as he came to see it, was to keep innocent people from getting killed.

After discharge from Air Force, Bob returned to Maine and got involved in politics.

Were you a Bernie guy?” I asked. “No,” he said, “I worked for the Ron Paul campaign.” Later he made a run for State Assemblyman in 2012, but his libertarian positions on gay rights and legalization of marijuana cut into his popularity with his Republican base. “I’m done with politics!”

When I said we need to get money out of politics, Bob suggested another way of seeing it –  “We need to get politics out of money” he said – and described the alternative Bitcoin economy of which he is a member, complete with the Bitcoin Visa card he uses to buy groceries and other purchases in the controlled world of the Fed and other national and international monetary systems.

After his 2012 run for the Assembly, Bob and his girlfriend lived two years in Chile, followed by two more years in Colorado before before bringing their world experience home to Maine.

Now trusted old friends, Bob asked, “Would you like to go down to see the chickens?”

Maine chickensThe chickens were in the basement – 30 young chicks being raised under the lights – next to an equal number of cannabis plants.

Bed and Breakfast pot

Bob was as tender with the chickens as he’d been watchful for the Pashtun peasants below his reconnaissance flights in Afghanistan.

“Oh, Wow!” I said.

Moral of the story? “Never judge a book by its cover. The story is much more interesting and worth the read. It’s a short walk from here to there. “Stop and walk from here.”

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

 

 

 

 

A Burst of Yellow

Four days with old friends on the coast of Maine is tonic for the weary soul.

sometimes I feel all blue
sad sorry blue
all down in minor key
a rhapsody in blue.

Purple yellow Iris

Purple-Yellow Iris

sometimes when blue
begins to play in me
its melody the minor
turns to major key –

blue bursts into purple
and, leaping into joy,
a burst of sun-burst yellow
pushes the blues away

and I feel un-blued
almost whole, more up,
a purple-yellow rhapsody,
an off-beat Ode to Joy.

The days with Ted Campbell, McGaw Professor (Emeritus) of Old Testament at our alma mater, became a burst of yellow joy for us all. We awarded Ted an honorary dogtorate and made him an honorary member of the Dogs with a Goofy yellow hat.

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Goofy hat

Reviews as a dating service

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.