No other gods — Je suis Français!

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Je suis Français! Remember when Je suis Français (I am French) was everywhere on Facebook? That was three years ago after the November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. Americans identified with the French. Yesterday I felt like that again.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I — “the War to End all Wars” — at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the chaos and death unleashed by nationalism. Here’s an English translation of an excerpt:

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying “our interests first, who cares about the others,” we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.

One need not be French to applaud Mr. Macron’s statement. Days before the national election in America, I wrote a piece on nationalism as the rising god of our time.  A wise friend advised against publishing it. He likely was right at the time. But Mr. Macron’s words at the Arc de Triomphe lead me to share a bit of what has been burdening my conscience.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009) RIP

Those of you who have followed Views from the Edge know how I see the world through the lens of faith. Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock) is dedicated to Japanese theologian Kosuka Koyama. “There is only one sin,” he said during a casual lunch. “Exceptionalism.” Born in 1929, Koyama had grown up with the myth of Japanese exceptionalism. The emperor could do no wrong. Japan had become its own god. Ko saw the same myth rising in America where he had settled with his his wife, Lois, a native Minnesotan.

Paul Tillich observed that whatever is one’s “ultimately concern” is a person’s or nation’s god. Tillich was one of earliest critics of the rising god of German nationalism that led to World War II and the Holocaust. Dismissed from his professorship at the University of Frankfurt i 1933, Paul Tillich, like Koyama, was invited to join the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York. It was Reinhold Niebuhr of Moral Man and Immoral Society who paved the way for Tillich, and later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to join the theological work of the academy on American soil.

My Christian understanding of faith and life is rooted in Niebuhr, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer’s friend Paul Lehmann, and Koyama. Only Koyama lived long enough to observe the old dead god rising to life again on American soil. All of them would have applauded Mr. Macron’s statement that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. “History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course again.”

To be human is by nature to be anxious. We know we are not God. We are mortal. Our time is mortal. “Time, like an ever-flowing stream, Soon bears us all away. We fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the opening day.” People who profess faith in the tradition of Abraham — Jews, Christians, Muslims — understand how quickly we turn to the “other gods” for our identity and security.

Rembrandt Moses and Commandments

Rembrandt’s painting of Moses crashing the Ten Commandments

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” says the First Commandment. “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

The “house of bondage” is not limited to geography or time. It is any nation that exalts itself as exceptional, any nation that practices hardness of heart to the foreigner, the alien, and sojourner. The First Commandment identifies “the house of bondage” as a god from which the LORD God of heaven and earth sets a person, a nation, and a planet, free.

I am an American. I love my country. But I don’t worship it. Today I say, again, “Je suis Français!”

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 12, 2018

 

Impressions of Paris 3

From Day 2, Saturday, June 4, 2016

French soldier & GIt’s Saturday morning. We’re standing in front of our apartment complex, waiting for arrival of an Uber car. Twenty feet to our left, two soldiers holding machine guns across their chests stand on either side of the entrance to the building next door. I decide to speak to the nearer soldier.

“Bonjour.”

“Bonjour,” he replies.

“Military, oui?” I ask.

“Oui. Jews,” he says, pointing to the building behind him.

“Synagogue?” I ask. “Jews,” he says.

“Ummm, synagogue?” I try again. He doesn’t understand. I continue: “Eglise pour Jews?”

“Yes, a church for Jews,” he says. “Terrorists.” They’re protecting Jewish worshipers from a potential Islamist extremist attack on the synagogue on Shabbat.

A man walks by talking loudly to the air. He is obviously mentally disturbed and maybe into his cups or on something as well. “Crazy man!” says the soldier says, showing me the taser gun, which he carries in case “the crazy man causes trouble.”

He asks where I am from. “U.S.A.”

“I like U.S.A.,” he says.

I ask whether he has been to the U.S.A. He has not but says, “I like U.S.A. Patriotic.!” I wonder what he means.

What goes through the mind of a 20-something French soldier on a Paris street protecting the Jewish minority from Islamic extremists who have successfully attacked Paris? Why does he think America is patriotic? Is he thinking of an American businessman who has captured the news in Europe by promising to make America great again by closing the borders to Muslims and building a wall against immigrants, returning America to the real Americans?

Anti-immigrant sentiment is not new to France. It has fed the political right in recent years. No one knows what the young soldier thinks. I like him. He seems to like me. Whatever the answer may be to what goes on in his head and heart, we’re dealing with the same world and the same issues. But I do wonder whether he might think that French patriotism would mean taking his country back from those who are not really French?

And who might the really French or the real Americans be?

American Indians?

Wóablakela, Paix, Shalom, Salaam, Peace!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Paris, France.

Rising tides threaten to sink all boats

The New York Times published Austrian Election Is a Warning to the West drawing attention to the rising right-wing tide sweeping across Europe and the U.S.A. It’s chilling, and most of the time we don’t like to be chilled. But sometimes the truth is chilling, and only the truth will set us free from our worst selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, May 21, 2016

A New Government of National Concentration

Video

Adolf Hitler rose to power by playing to the fears, anxieties, and anger of the German people. His strategy was to play the strongman who would fix it, make Germany great again. A nation that had regarded itself as exceptional had lost its way, humiliated by defeat in World War I. Hitler focused that anger at the weakness of the post-World War I Weimar Republic whose inept Chancellor and Reichstag (i.e. Congress) he blamed for the nation’s drift. He blames Marxist thinking and Communists. He declares Christianity to be the religion of the German state. By narrowing and scapegoating, he focuses the people’s fears and anxieties on visible targets. It was only a matter of time before Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies joined the ranks of those to be eliminated in a purified Aryan state.

Notice how quietly, how slowly this speech begins. He waits for the crowd to be quiet before he continues to speak. He is taming them. Mesmerizing them. Training them for Fascism. And when he has brought them to heel, he unleashes a tirade that taps into the people’s volcanic desire for a return to national exceptionalism.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

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

Respect for Religious Freedom

“In a time when hard actions and sharp words have been directed at our Muslim neighbors,” (see text below), The Minnesota Council of Churches issued this statement today:

Respect for Religious Freedom and Love of Neighbor: A Call to Offer These Christmas Gifts

As Christian leaders who serve as the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, we want to speak to our communities of faith and to the larger community of people living in Minnesota.

To begin, we want to address the members of all our communities of faith. We call on people to speak with respect in a tender time when we all feel vulnerable and unsafe after acts of mass violence. “Be not afraid…” is an exhortation in the Bible, again and again. Let that be the deep value in which we rest. Courageously reaching out to our neighbors, learning more about their stories, and supporting our newest neighbors is a gift worth giving in this Advent and Christmas season.

Secondly, we express appreciation for and commend consideration of all candidates in our political process who are respectfully engaging the issues of how we best build up the life of our state and nation and serve the common good. We encourage people in political conversations in family, communities and work contexts to speak with care. Our words matter. Let us commit to refrain from using speech that reflects hatred of others and contributes to the division of our society.

We also ask media outlets to tell the stories of candidates, who in their campaigns, debates and addresses are offering constructive proposals for our shared life together. Your choice of stories matters and can build up or tear down the common good. When we focus only on the negative or inflammatory, we do not have time to hear the larger conversation and participate in discernment about our shared future together.

Most importantly, in a time when hard actions and sharp words have been directed at our Muslim neighbors, we want to speak a word of support and pledge to walk with them and support their freedom to practice their religion.

This country is built on that freedom. We pledge to walk respectfully and to learn from one another. The Islamic community in Minnesota is vibrant and diverse, contributing much to the state – as citizens, teachers, police officers, medical workers, tradespersons, community leaders, mothers and fathers. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim communities of Minnesota and are ready to denounce the vitriol that comes their way. As Christians, we are called to love all our neighbors. Muslims are our neighbors, and we love them.

Finally, we are committed to continuing our long experience of working with diverse faith communities and of welcoming refugees into our midst, without regard for religion or ethnicity. We are committed to building communities of respect. We call for respect, support and helpful curiosity, instead of critique and attack, in the days to come from all people as we seek to build the best Minnesota possible.

We invite the sharing of this statement

MCC Members – Minnesota Jurisdictions of the following:

African Methodist Episcopal Church
American Baptist Churches, USA
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Church of God in Christ
Church of the Brethren
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Mennonite Church
Moravian Church
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches

National Baptist Convention
Pentecostal World Assemblies
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church

 

Donald: Pray for THESE things

Donald Trump proposes a travel ban on all Muslims. We invite Mr. Trump and those who applaud him to read the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the establishment of religion, and to pray for these things posted several weeks ago on FB from an anonymous source.

Prayer for the World

Stephen Colbert’s test of Christian faith

Stephen Colbert offered the following statement on The Late Show after presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush spoke of admitting only Christian Syrian refugees to the U.S.:

“If you want to know if somebody’s a Christian just ask them to complete this sentence,” Colbert said pulling out his Catechism card. “‘Jesus said I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you….’

And if they don’t say ‘welcomed me in’ then they are either a terrorist or they’re running for president.”

Click HERE to watch and listen to Colbert’s remarks on Syrian refugees, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

You gotta love Stephen Colbert, the good Catholic boy who remembers his Catechism and takes it dead seriously.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 21, 2015