Martin Luther King Day 2018 – Making America Great Again

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Today Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream seems further from reality than it was a year ago. Events of 2018 have turned America into an international horror show, a source of ridicule among our closest traditional allies, and the home less of the brave than of white supremacy and white nationalist movements that are making America small again.

Dr. King called for making America great. Not great according the past reign of white supremacy and nationalism which we thought we’d overcome, but great as a lofty aspiration and spiritual-moral-economic task.

Every day we choose what greatness is. Every day we choose what to believe. Every day we choose who we are and who we will become. Dr. King’s own voice says it best.

“The long arc of history bends toward justice.” I do believe. I have to believe deep in my heart that we shall overcome someday. To do less would be to die before I die.

— Gordon C. Stewart, MLK Day, January 15, 2018.

 

Grandpa, who’s chasing you?

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Grandpa being chased

What are you talking about, Elijah? No one’s chasing me.

You just said you were being chased. So, who’s chasing you?

No, I didn’t say I was chased. I said I was chastened.

What’s that? Isn’t that like a pluperfect of chased?

No, it’s different, but it does make me want to run away. I don’t like being chastened. You won’t either when you’re old enough to be chastened, although, come to think of it, I’ve already chastened you for keeping Mom up all night.

I remember that. You made me feel bad. That wasn’t right, Grandpa! I just needed to eat! You don’t care about my needs! Mom’s going to chasten you!

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Elijah & 7.5 months

You’re right, Elijah. You just chastened me and I feel rightly chastened.

Good. So you won’t do that again, right?

I wish I could promise you that I won’t, but it wouldn’t be right to promise. I’m sure you’ll be chastened many times over your lifetime. Sometimes you’ll be chastened even by your Mom. And, if I think you’re doing something hurtful, I will chasten you for your own good.

Okay, Grandpa. I’ll do the same.

That’s a deal.

So who made you feel chastened this week? Was it Grandma?

No, it was two professional colleagues. Bill chastened me on Facebook for something I’d written on Views from the Edge. Here’s what Bill said on Facebook. It hurt my feelings.

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Andy Borowitz

“Borowitz does satire better, and this piece is just wishful thinking, which isn’t really satire. We need people to focus on actually changing our national discourse.”

That’s over my head, Grandpa? Who’s Borowitz? What’s wishful thinking? What’s satire? What’s national discourse?

We’ll get to those questions later, Elijah. We don’t have time now. Here’s the second chastening.

Kara Root — she’s another minister here in Minneapolis — wrote something to her congregation that made me feel chastened. She invited the members of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church to join her in prayer for our country every Friday morning.

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Kara Root

Here’s what Kara said:

“I’m going to pray for the nation this morning. Every Friday morning this is happening in our sanctuary. It helps me remember what I know to be true. It helps me let go of the noise, and the vitriol, and the division we feed, and feed on, so eagerly.

“This practice feels brave. And healing. And important. Sometimes I find gratitude, and even tenderness, for the people that make up this country, every single one of them.”

Yeah! Every single one of them! That’s good, Grandpa. Not like President You-Know-Who!

Ahhhh, but here’s the thing, Elijah. It does include President Trump. “Every single one of us” includes Donald. That’s what makes me feel chastened. All my life I’ve felt chased by Adolf Hitler. I always wondered whether I would have had the courage to stand up against him. Standing up to Hitler has been like a lifelong preoccupation. Anytime I see things that remind me of Adolf, I go a little crazy.

So someone IS chasing you, but you’ve stopped running! That’s good.

No, it’s not. Like Bill’s criticism of me on Facebook said, we need to change our national discourse.

I’m not praying for President You-Know-Who! I’m standing my ground!

You can’t stand your ground yet, Elijah. You can’t even stand without help. None of us can. Jesus talked about loving our enemies. He said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Okay, I’ll pray for Bill and Kara ’cause they chastened you, but I won’t pray for You-Know-Who!

You have to, Elijah. We all have to.

No we don’t. I’m not do it! I don’t like You-Know-Who!

Praying for President Trump doesn’t mean you like him or accept his behavior. It means hoping for a change in his character. It means hoping that Donald will have a change of heart and mind, that he’ll stop running from whoever’s chasing him. That he’ll settle down. Be calm.

Maybe Donald also being chased by Hitler. I don’t know.

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If we refuse to pray for ALL people, instead of just the people we like, we’re running away from our best selves. That doesn’t do any good, Elijah. It allows evil to chase us. It contributes to evil, and we should be chastised. If we don’t pray like Kara and the good people of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, all our talk about faith, love, and hope is meaningless.

Kara Root, Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 2018

Okay, Grandpa. If I have to, I’ll try to be more like Kara. I want to be good, but this faith, love, and hope stuff is really, really hard!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Granda), Chaska, MN, January 14, 2018.

I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing

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This piece opened my day. Maybe it will open yours — and your sense of joy — also. Its sensibility is akin to watching the Manatees in “Stillness at Blue Spring” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 3-4). Thanks to Kay and her friend Mary for bringing it to my attention. It’s pure joy!

Live & Learn

A few years ago in a forest in northeast India, I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounded meteorological, but it was the wingbeats of a pair of great hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They had massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they looked like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clambered around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, I found myself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It had nothing to do with what I wanted or what I possessed. It was the sheer gorgeous fact of the great hornbill, which couldn’t have cared less about me.

The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value. They are always among us but never of us. They’re the other world-dominating animals that evolution has…

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Elijah: “Grandpa, What’s Hope?”

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Elijah @ seven-an-half months

Grandpa and Elijah’s conversation about love and faith led to further conversation about hope. Like most conversations between a seven-and-a-half month old grandson and a 75 year old grandfather, it’s a bit convoluted.

Grandpa, now that I know all about love and faith, tell me about hope.

I hope you don’t mind my saying so, Elijah, but you’ll never know all about love or faith or hope, but that’s okay. You’ll learn later how little even the oldest people on the planet know.

We’re on a planet?!!!

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NASA photo of planet Earth

Yes, we’re on planet Earth.

Wow! Where’s Earth? Will I ever get to go somewhere else?

No, I don’t think so. We’re Earthlings. Earth is our home.

Uh-uh. Edina’s my home! Mom said so. And my daycare’s somewhere else. You’re messing with my brain, Grandpa!

Well, Edina and Chaska aren’t planets. They’re tiny towns on planet Earth in the Milky Way in a vast universe.

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Milky Way galaxy

Mom loves Milky Ways. I hope someday I can have one. I hope Mom will share one of her Milky Ways when I start eating solids.

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Milky Ways

Aha! See, you ALREADY know what hope is!

So hope’s like hunger?

Sort of. I hadn’t thought of it as hunger, but I guess it is in a way. Hope is food for the soul. Hope is desire for something you don’t yet have, or for what you haven’t yet become.

Like being able to walk, right?

Yes. Like that. Hope is always ahead of us. We’re always reaching toward it. Hope requires us to crawl rather than run. It’s a slow crawl. It’s hard. It’s the opposite of despair.

Pretty soon I’ll be done with hope! I’ll just need faith and love, right? I’m going to walk pretty soon. I can just feel it in my bones! I’m certain of it. I don’t need hope!

Yes you do, Elijah. You do. You can’t be certain of anything. You could get hit by a car and die before you learn to walk and talk.

That’s mean, Granda! Why’d you say that? So life is cruel. God’s mean! I’m going be an atheist!

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Hope and Despair

Well, you can be, if you want. But atheism is its own kind of certainty. Certainty is the opposite of faith, Elijah, and, like we already talked about, everyone has some kind of faith. And despair is the opposite of hope. Everyone has some kind of faith and hope. Otherwise we’d be in despair. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

Yeah, like the planet. We can’t see the planet, right, Granda? We have faith and hope for the planet, right?

Right. Planet Earth is in danger right now, Elijah. I want you to grow up on the good green Earth the way I did, and I’m sad because I’m afraid you won’t. The Milky Way’s not in danger, but Earth is.

Yeah! I sure hope Mom drives carefully on the way to daycare! I’ll tell her to leave her Milky Ways in tiny Edina. Otherwise Earth might get eaten up!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa), Chaska, MN, January 13, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future Perfect President

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Elijah and Grandma are playing peek-a-boo this morning after his mother texted last night that Elijah is “the p-e-r-f-e-c-t baby.” He’s not. He has a cold, and Grandma doesn’t have Kleenex or a handkerchief. She needs your help. Get some Kleenex or a hanky and  take a good look at America’s future perfect President.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, hours before Elijah’s doctor’s appointment this afternoon, January 12, 2018.

 

White makes right! Right, Grandpa?

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Yesterday’s conversation between seven-and-a-half month old Elijah and Grandpa while Grandpa was oohing-and-awing reading aloud “The Lowest White Man” (Charles M. Blow, NYT, Jan. 11, 2018) in Elijah’s presence. This was before the evening news of the President calling African nations ‘sh**hole nations’.

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Elijah and Grandma Kay

Grandpa, we’re right, right?

About what, Elijah? Right can mean lots of things.

Like what?

It can mean ‘correct’. Right can be a direction, like “turn right” instead of left. In politics right means the opposite of left, like the alt-Right. There’s an old saying that Might makes right, but it doesn’t, Elijah.

Yeah. But we’re right, right?

Sometimes we are. Sometimes we aren’t. And when we aren’t we need to change.

Change what? Mom changes my diapers. Change what? What do you mean ‘we’? Who’s ‘we’?

Well, you heard what Charles M. Blow just said, and Charles Blow wasn’t blowing smoke, Elijah. He spoke the truth, like W.E.B. Dubois and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Yeah, we’re white, right? That makes us right!

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President Obama, Jan. 5, 2016

No, you’re not white. You’re like President Obama. You weren’t listening to Charles. Listen again:

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

(Charles M. Blow, ‘The Lowest White Man’ NYT)

Wow! White doesn’t make right! What’s a colored man, Grandpa? 

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon), Chaska, MN, January 12, 2018.

 

 

 

 

IS THERE LIFE WITHOUT COMPUTERS?

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Cabin life is nice when I can get it, but Marilyn Armstrong’s wonky SERENDIPITY sense of reality (SCROLL DOWN) did it again this morning. It brought me to my senses with a chuckle.

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Author David McCullough at manual typewriter

Only David McCullough with his manual typewriter is exempt. David does all his writing from his trusty manual typewriter. No word processor cutting, pasting, erasing.

I’m no David McCullough! Neither is Marilyn. But only one of us is forthright about the computer addiction.

Marilyn and I have never met face-to-face. We became “friends” through the blogosphere. But I did meet David McCullough years ago while hosting him as Moderator of the Westminster Town Hall Forum. Wise. Genuinely self-effacing. Humble. And wise in an “old-fashioned” sort of way.

Enjoy Marilyn’s lovely post,

Gordon

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You see stuff online — Facebook mostly — about “could you live in this lovely (log cabin) house (in the middle of really nowhere) without WiFi? And everyone says “Oh sure! I could live in that great little house — in the middle of a huge woods by a cold lake where the nearest shopping center is 50 miles on dirt roads — forever without so much as a VOIP phone.

Sure you could. NOT.

I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t even want to try. Because that’s not life or at least not my life.

There was a time when I could imagine a life without computers. I think that was before I owned a computer, before every house everywhere had one or many computers. Before every single thing in the house got “connected” and computerized in some way. Before your toilet got so smart you have to argue with…

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Grandpa, what’s faith?

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Grandpa, who’s Faith?

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Elijah reading

She’s our good friend, Elijah. We don’t see her very often. You’ve only met her once. You were too little to remember Faith. You were just a newborn.  Why are you asking about Faith? Was Grandma talking with Faith on the phone?

No. You were just talking about her! Sometimes I wonder, Grandpa. You just said her name! Remember?

Oh, THAT faith! That’s not Faith. That’s faith.

Are you in love with Faith, Grandpa?

No, THAT kind of faith isn’t Faith, it’s right next to love, but it’s not that kind of love.

Grandma says you sometimes preached over peoples’ heads. I asked Grandma what preaching over peoples’ heads means. She told me. I think you’re doing it again in retirement. Grandma says you can’t help yourself. I bet Faith thinks the same thing. That’s why she doesn’t come around anymore.

Elijah, you’re getting a little sassy this morning. That diminishes my faith in our ability to have a good conversation. Maybe we put faith away for awhile until after we’ve taken our naps.

Okay. What’s sassy?

Sassy is smart-alecky, being too big for your britches. It’s not nice. It’s not like love.

I’m sorry, Grandpa. What are britches?

They’re pants. They’re what you wear over your Huggies. Being too big for your britches is like forgetting you’re little.

Okay. What about Hope? Is she coming over?

No, hope isn’t a person. Hope is like the faith Grandpa was reading about this morning. It’s what Paul was talking about: faith, hope, and love.

I don’t mean to be sassy, but Paul wasn’t here this morning! Only Grandma, you, and me, Grandpa!

Oh, not THAT Paul. Not our next door neighbor. This Paul’s been dead now for two thousand years, but he’s still speaking. We still read his letters from Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus. I was reading from his letter about faith, hope, and love. Remember?

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Probably Valentin de Boulogne – Saint Paul Writing His Epistles – Google Art Project

Yeah. But I still don’t know what faith is. What’s faith?

You know how when you wake up in the morning you trust that Mom’s going to take good care of you? That’s faith. Faith is trust. And faith doesn’t stop after we’re out of our diapers. Faith lasts a lifetime; it’s one of life’s essentials. We all have faith of some sort or another. But like Paul says, it’s still not as great as love. Love’s the best.

“Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” – Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13:13  [CEB]

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I love you, Grandpa, and I have faith in you. But you’re making me really tired. And, because you love me, too, I hope we can take a nap sooner rather than later before things get sassy again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon) with seven-and-a-half-month-old Grandson, Elijah, Chaska, MN, January 10, 2018.

 

 

 

Oprah, Donald, and Jesse Ventura

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, it got wackier.

A new candidate is being pushed to run for President in 2020. Maybe the last two digits of 2020 — or the first two, for that matter — offer a 20/20 look back at what’s happened to American society.

Maybe a personal anecdote from my 2003 Toyota Avalon experience will shed some light on the weirdness. Bear with me.

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2003 Toyota Avalon XLS 

The Avalon’s a great car. But, like the American Republic, it’s getting older. A month ago, the Avalon’s muffler died. I took it to the nearest shop, Arboretum Tire and Auto (yes, I’m using the real name here, rebuking any fear of a law suit), which replaced the muffler for $412.90 with tax. I thought all was well until a few days later a hard-to-describe grinding sound appeared and grew louder on a seven-hour drive to Chicago for New Year’s weekend with friends.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are not good times for car repairs. The Tuesday following New Year’s, Northbrook Toyota squeezed this out-of-towner into an over-crowded schedule for a look. The mechanic and I took the Avalon for a test drive. He was certain it wasn’t the engine or the transmission. “Sounds like a shield is loose underneath.”

Back at the shop, he put it up on the rack where he discovered the problem. The muffler had not been installed properly. He took photos that visually confirmed what he had found and assured me that I could get home to Minnesota with no problem. It would be an annoyance, but it was safe to drive home to Chaska.

Northbrook Toyota did not charge me for its hour of labor. Not a nickel!

The morning after returning to Minnesota, I took the Avalon to a different shop than the one that had installed the muffler. It was closing time at Chaska Auto Repair, but Jeff welcomed me to the shop, looked at the photos from Northbrook Toyota, saw the problem, and said he could fix it.

So now I had two skilled mechanics who confirmed the noise was caused by an improperly installed muffler.

I took the Avalon back to Arboretum Tire and Auto, explained the problem, and showed them the pictures and the diagnostic note from the Toyota dealer. “I don’t see it,” said the proprietor. “You can’t see it? The Toyota dealer could see it. Chaska Auto’s mechanic can see it. Even I can see it now, and I’m not a mechanic.” “Did Chaska Auto or the Toyota dealer say they would fix it? Get an estimate and give me a call. I don’t see it.”

This morning Jeff at Chaska Auto Repairs did the repairs. No springs had been inserted to cushion vibration, the bolts between two plates had been forced and stripped, and one of the braces that hold the muffler in place was loose, causing the vibration.

I drove back to Arboretum Tire and Auto with a copy of the Chaska Auto Repair receipt for $76.88 including tax that described the work just completed: “Exhaust rattle: Repaired muffler bolts with proper spring bolts and shortened one rear hanger.” Arboretum offered to give me a credit toward future repairs, or they could send me a check. I took the check and told them I wouldn’t be back.

So…back to the point this anecdote intends to illustrate.

Training, skill, experience, hard work, honesty, and a track record of competence in one’s field are no less important for electing people to public office than they are for choosing a mechanic. Oprah and Donald have never held elected office. Ever. They’re entertainers. So was Jesse Ventura, but at least Jesse had served the public as a mayor as well as a wrestler before becoming governor.

There’s a noisy muffler vibrating under America these days. It just got louder last night. Having learned nothing from recent experience, another billionaire entertainer with no qualifications for public office  — who doesn’t love Oprah! How can you not love Oprah! — was cheered on to run for President against the other billionaire entertainer in 2020.

If you want a country that works, get a real mechanic. One who is trained, skilled, experienced, hard working, and honest with a track record that demonstrates competence in the field. Otherwise, you may get a “credit” for future repairs done by a high profile entertainer or a bad business. Public office is not a show. Not a prize. Not a popularity contest. And it’s not dirty! It’s a nothing less than a sacred calling.

481px-Snellen_chart“Civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.” — John Calvin, 1559 version of Institutes of the Christian Religion.

On the way to 2020, maybe a little hindsight may help create 20/20 vision in America before it gets even wackier than it just got.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 9, 2018.

Elijah: “Grandpa, What’s Love?” (Part 2)

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Elijah, our conversation about love fell short. It missed the boat.

What boat? Were you playing in my bathtub?

No, it’s an expression. To miss the boat means our discussion fell short.

What’s wrong with that? I’m short. So are you, Grandpa!

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Elijah talking with Grandpa about love.

No. Not that kind of short, Elijah. Lots of people are short. Again, it’s just an expression. It means it didn’t quite get where I should have taken the conversation.

Yeah, I love expressions. Let’s stick with expressions. I’m too little for adult conversation.

Well, that’s what I want to talk about. You’re still little, but your view of yourself and the world is being shaped every day by the adult world, and my answer to your question fell short.

Did you fall again, Grandpa? I heard a noise but I didn’t know you fell! You should be more careful on those stairs. Like Grandma says all the time, you should tie your shoelaces!

Okay. No, Grandpa didn’t fall. I mean we never got to the deeper meanings of love. I slipped by stopping short of introducing you to the deeper philosophical meanings of love. I left you with the impression that love is attraction. We never got to agápē. Our culture suffers from a very shallow concept of love.

Oh, boy! Here we go! You’re going to get all philosophical and stuff. Just like Aunt Bonnie says, sometimes you talk over our heads! She hates philosophy. People don’t like that, Grandpa. Grandma says that’s why you retired from preaching. You were missing the boat of clear communication. Grandma was hoping you’d finally tied those shoelaces when you hung up your boots to retire. You didn’t. That’s why you’re still falling!

Aha! You just made my point, Elijah! That’s because Grandma loves me! She doesn’t just love me romantically. That kind of love is eros. She demonstrates agápē love, the highest form of love. It’s the form of love that is unconditional, like the love of God for us. It doesn’t depend on pleasant circumstances. It takes sacrifices to live with me. Big ones! I’m a lot to put up with, Elijah! Every day Grandma goes the second mile.

What’s a mile? If you go there twice, does it make you philosophical?

Yes, it does. Philosophy is wisdom, Elijah. It’s the love of wisdom. All forms of love are important. Philia is important. Eros is important. And agápē is important. They’re all part of who we are as the children of God, grandchildren and grandparents, cousins like you and Calvin, husbands and wives, and neighbors, but, like Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, agápē is the greatest of them all.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love (agapēseis) your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love (agapāte) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?

— Matthew 5:43-46

Wow, Grandpa!  That’s really hard. That doesn’t miss the boat! That’s really philosophical. So…Grandma already has her reward! I want to be like Grandma. Did Jesus get to retire from preaching, like you?

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Sermon on the Mount — Carl Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, January 8, 2018.