Years before the coronavirus pandemic put us in lock down, Tennessee Williams observed that each of us is condemned to solitary confinement for life, and, long before Tennessee Williams the Gospel of Luke spoke of the surprising presence of the risen Christ at the breaking of the bread.
Grace and Peace,
Gordon (May 24, 2020)
Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is a public theologian, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), former Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska; guest commentator on “All Things Considered” (MPR), MinnPost, Presbyterian Outlook, Star Tribune, Sojourners’ “Blogging with Jim Wallace and Friend” and Day1.org.
Working all week to complete a Views from the Edge autobiographical reflection on faith as I understand it, I laid it aside. This 2014 sermon on faith and patriotism is the best I can do during the the coronavirus pandemic and getting back to Americans’ favorite activity: shopping.
Thanks for dropping by Views from the Edge: To See More Clearly. Grace and peace to you, Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), writing from home in Chaska, Minnesota.
Watching the White House coronavirus daily briefings, I have felt like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I scratch my head, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if something made sense for a change?” The Mad Hatter, who knows nothing about medicine, presumes to know better than his team of health professionals. As Dr. Fauci and others are removed from center stage amid the president’s self-contradictory statements about the future of the White House coronavirus task force, I hear from the offstage whirring of a shredder, shredding the Constitution’s separation of powers. I watch the president fly into rage, shouting down or mocking the White House press corp journalist for violating the table manners by asking a ”nasty question.”
Anxious to find wisdom from a less subjective source, I turned to the Book of Proverbs, the collection of ancient biblical wisdom sayings, and come to a proverb that strikes home.
The person whose name is ‘Mocker’ is condescending (proud) and disdainful of social inferiors (arrogant), and behaves with rude and disrespectful (insolent) wild or violent anger (fury). Scroll down to the Addendum for a list of Presidential actions over the last two days.
Pride, Arrogant, and Insolent Fury
The search for a video that would illustrate the president’s mocking of the White House press corps led to something else equally, if not more, troubling: an ad for The Epoch Times on YouTube.
The President Looking for a New News Outlet
President Trump’s trust in FoxNews to do his bidding has waned. “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” (DJT tweet, August 8, 2019). “Watch,” he tweeted more recently, “this will be the beginning of the end for Fox, just like the other two which are dying in the ratings.” FoxNews can no longer be trusted as the president’s department of propaganda.
The Epoch Times
Enter the The Epoch Times media blitz. “Are you tired of the media spinning the truth and pushing false narratives upon you?” Every day Mr. Trump sounds like The Epoch Times, or The Epoch Times sounds like him. Who funds The Epoch Times? Who or what holds them accountable for what they publish? Where do its ads appear?
Late last summer, YouTube users began noticing a surge of ads for an obscure news outlet called The Epoch Times. One ad touted an exposé of “Spygate,” a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that President Barack Obama and his allies placed a spy inside President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Another praised Mr. Trump’s interest in buying Greenland as a shrewd strategic move. A third claimed that the opioid epidemic in the United States was the result of a chemical warfare plot by the Chinese Communist Party.
Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. It’s a hackneyed aphorism, but it’s over-used because it’s true. The first Mrs. Trump (Ivana) remembers Mein Kamp in her husband’s bedroom. She thought it was strange. I think it’s telling. It’s its own kind of playbook, filled with successful strategies that managed to dismantle the post-WWI German constitutional democratic republic. Hitler tells us about the importance of the press as a propaganda machine that “combats the parliamentary (congressional) madness” and replaces it with the victorious “strong man.”
Excerpts from the Book in the Bedroom on “the Strong Man”
“Nations which no longer find any heroic solution for such distress can be designated as impotent, while we see the vitality of a people, and the predestination for life guaranteed by this vitality, most strikingly demonstrated when, for a people’s liberation from a great oppression, or for the elimination of a bitter distress, or for the satisfaction of its soul, restless because it has grown insecure – Fate some day bestows upon it the man endowed for this purpose, who finally brings the long yearned-for fulfillment. . . . .
“A movement that wants to combat the parliamentary madness must itself be free of it. Only on such a basis can it win the strength for its struggle.
“A movement which in a time of majority rule orients itself in all things on the principle of the leader idea and the responsibility conditioned by it will some day with mathematical certainty overcome the existing state of affairs and emerge victorious.
“In December, 1920, we acquired the Völkischer Beobachter. This paper, which, as its name indicates, stood on the whole for folkish interests even then, was now to be transformed into the organ of the NSDAP. At first it appeared twice a week, at the beginning of 1923 became a daily, and at the end of August, 1923, it received its large format which later became well known.
“As a total novice in the field of journalism, I sometimes had to pay dearly for my experience in those days.
“The mere fact that in comparison with the enormous Jewish press there was hardly a single really significant folkish paper gave food for thought…”
– Adolf Hitler, Chapter 8: “The Strong Man Is Mightier Alone,” Mein Kampf
‘Mocker’ is his name
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (17:27)
It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. (20:3)
‘MOCKER’ IS HIS NAME
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska. MN, April 8, 2020.
Addendum: Administration Actions in the Last 48 Hours
– Shredded the Center for Disease Control public health guidelines CDC scientists prepared to protect the American public while the economy “opens up” against their advice about social distancing. – The Department of Justice suddenly moved to drop charges against former Trump Administration national security advisor Michael Flynn despite Flynn’s court pleas of guilty. “The unraveling of Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI came after senior political appointees in the Justice Department determined lower-level prosecutors and agents erred egregiously in the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” says the Washington Post. Those who defended the DOJ action claimed Flynn’s ‘guilty’ plea came as a result of FBI investigators’ pressure to do so. Michael Flynn is not a flincher! He’s a retired General. – Commenting on the DOJ move to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn, the president accused the Obama administration of treason. The White House transcript of the conversation quotes the President verbatim: “What they did — what the Obama administration did is unprecedented. It’s never happened. Never happened. A thing like this has never happened before, in the history of our country. And I hope a lot of people are going to pay a big price because they’re dishonest, crooked people. They’re scum. And I say it a lot: They’re scum. They’re human scum. This should never have happened in this country. A duly elected President….The Obama administration Justice Department was a disgrace. And they got caught. They got caught. Very dishonest people. But much more than dishonest; it’s treason. It’s treason.“ – A Presidential valet who had ignored “President Trump’s Guidelines” for all Americans tested positive for the coronavirus. Like President Trump and VP Pence, the President’s valet had not worn a mask. – The President appointed a partisan loyalist to lead the U.S. Postal Service which he has threatened to shutter it. Say good-bye to consideration of election by mail. – Another inspector general has been removed for doing his job of upholding the Rule of Law –the foundation on which a democratic republic is built and protected from kings, oligarchs, and despots, i.e. the strong man. – Former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Dr. Rick Bright filed a public whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser role as retaliation for speaking the truth about the administration’s late response to intelligence alerts about coronavirus and for resisting Trump administration pressure to allow widespread use of the non-FDA approved malarial drug hydroxychloroquine against the consensus of medical science.
There is a deadlier virus than the coronavirus, and a deadlier disease than COVID-19. Donald Trump is its most visible symptom, just the cover of the book we have yet to read. The virus without a name has been eating the soul of the American people for a long time. Two Georges — George Will and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans’s pseudonym) — take us to the heart of the matter.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
The George who wasn’t a George put the words “don’t judge a book by its cover” on the lips of Mr. Tolliver, the character in her ground-breaking psychological novel The Mill on the Floss, referring to Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil, observing how beautifully Defoe’s book is bound.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Why? The cover may be beautiful. What’s inside may be ugly.
Which takes us to the later George’s description of what lies inside the book with a photo of Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the cover.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence
George Will, the classical conservative who bolted from the Republican Party because it had abandoned any semblance of philosophical or moral principle, spoke of the problem in his Washington Post column. “Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying. . . . Pence is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.” (If you’re wondering what lickspittle means, click lickspittle.)
Trump did not invent it
Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole put it this way in The Irish Times:
How else does one make sense of the irreconcilable contradiction of “I have total authority” and “I don’t take responsibility at all”?
An Insidious, Deadly Virus
“It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster,” says Mr. O’Toole,”quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time — willfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors for this pestilence.”
TheSpiritual Virus at the Mayo Clinic
“Pence calls on Mayo, but spurns mask” reads the StarTribune front page story about Vice President Pence’s visit to the Mayo Clinic yesterday, ignoring the clinic’s request that all visitors wear face masks. Wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is also part of the guidelines developed by the Coronavirus Response Teams which the Vice President leads. Call him hypocritical. Call his refusal arrogant, stupid, disrespectful, or, like George Will, call him ‘oleaginous’. “His [Pense],” wrote Will, “is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”
But it goes much deeper than that. It’s not a partisan matter. It’s a soul matter. Slowly, but surely, a virus eats away all things soulful. Whatever our differences in America, there was, or we thought there was, widespread agreement that integrity, honesty, respect, compassion and humility sprang up from a sacred ground water that gives life meaning and defines who we are, or who we aspire to be. The virus infects and twists the human spirit until deceit replaces integrity, cunning replaces honesty, disrespect ridicules respect, the Rule of Gold replaces the Golden Rule, and self-importance stands where a social compact once stood.
Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rupert Murdock and the ascendance of Fox News are visible symptoms and willing transmitters of this more lethal threat to public life. Future cultural anthropologists may look back to a time before this deadlier virus took hold and suggest that, with all our religious diversity, Micah 6:8 expressed the deepest qualities that make and keep life human. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”
Not everyone believes in God, and those who do call the Ineffable different names, but doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly were essential threads of our common life. Some treasures — soul-sized things that neither moth nor rust consume — cannot be bought by wealth, privilege, or power. What profit is there if a nation gains the world but loses its soul?”
Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), available in kindle and paperback from Wipf and Stock and from Amazon, Chaska, MN, April 29, 2020.
During this strange time, I’d been engaged with Psalm 31. Before posting the reflection on Psalm 31, I checked to see what Walter Brueggemann might have written about it. This sermon from the pulpit of Duke University Chapel fits our experience in 2020 as much as it did in 2009. Here are the opening words:
The young woman who sits across from me at Church is there every Sunday. She sits in a wheelchair close to the pulpit. She cannot control the movement of her legs, and mostly not her arms either. She groans and occasionally shrieks. My priest tells me she is fed only with a feeding tube. One of her parents must sleep on the floor of her room every night. She takes a fragment of the Eucharist every Sunday. Her mother said, reported my priest, “Do you think I am bad person if sometimes I wish this were all over?” The priest answered, “You would be a pitiful person if you did not think that sometimes.”
I do not know what the young woman is thinking when she communes. But I have thought, perhaps, that she is reciting Psalm 31 . . . ,a complaint to God about the experience of unbearable suffering and a sense of social isolation . . . .
Walter Brueggemann, Sermon "Continuing through the Disruptive Conjunctive" - Duke University Chapel, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2009.
About Walter Brueggemann & most recently published Books
The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. Click HERE for more information on the official website of Walter Brueggemann, or click the following titles titles for his latest publications.
The daily White House updates on the coronavirus pandemic bring to mind the Medieval folklore of Faust’s bargain with Mephistopheles (the devil). Faust surrenders his soul for the diabolical blessings of wealth, power, and fame.
Dr. Fauci, Dr. Trump, and Dr. Birx
We see and hear POTUS Donald Trump; then we see and hear Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx. Two of three have M.D. degrees required to diagnose and dispense medication. The other has no degree and no license to practice medicine but repeatedly ignores and contradicts Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.
Yesterday’s White House update (April 23) offers the latest conflict between knowledge and what seems like insanity. The president referred to “emerging” research showing that the increased sunlight and higher humidity of spring and summer kill the virus. Past studies have not found good evidence to support the theory. But that’s not the worst of it.
Noting unidentified research into the effects of disinfectants on killing the virus, the president went further off the rails by wondering aloud whether a disinfectant could be injected into people because the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” Where is Sigmund Freud when we need him?
Sigmund Freud’s Case Study in Demonic Neurosis
We are children of the Enlightenment. Few of us believe in real life Faustian bargains with the Devil. But Sigmund Freud became intrigued by Johann Christoph Haizmann (1651-1700), a Bavarian-born Austrian painter, after reading Haizmann’s newly recovered narrative description (L) and triptych painting (below) of his Faustian bargain.
Haizmann’s personal description of his experience became the occasion for Sigmund Freud’s and Gaston Vandendriessche’s research on “the Haizmann case” became a part of the study of psychology and psychiatry.
The Burgher and the Deal with the Devil
Of interest to us here is Haizmann’s depiction of the Devil as “a fine burgher” in the left panel of Haizmann’s triptych. ‘Burgher’ was a title of the medieval a privileged social class. Public officials were drawn from among the burgher class of medieval towns and cities. Haizmann’s choice of a burgher as the Devil in disguise is its own repudiation of wealth, privilege, and power. Only the Virgin Mary could free him from the pact with the Devil.
Freud de-mythologized the religious language and metaphors by which Haizmann had understood himself and his world. In 2020 only a quack would speak of demonic possession! Yet the biblical pictures of demonic possession still have a way of reaching parts of us we cannot explain or escape. Every one of us is a little insane at night, or locked in during the coronavirus pandemic. Few of us keep our twitter feeds on the pillow to push away the darkness. Few of us belong go the burgher class, yet there is something about Donald Trump that was with us before is election and will remain with us after he is gone: the age-old demonic dreams of wealth, privilege, and power.
We speak of neuroses and psychoses instead of demons or the devil the way Haizmann did. But still, there is the haunting memory of King Saul dropping into the abyss of insanity, throwing his spear at David, and the man who had been possessed by the Legion of demons before Jesus asked his name and sent them into the herd of swine. What is happening to us in America defies rational explanation. How does it happen that we allow a soul-less burgher who imagines injecting Lysol into our veins to take the world stage with Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci?
The Art of the Deal and the Deal with the Devil
The Art of the Deal put Donald Trump on the world stage. Art of the Deal is an autobiography. But it’s not. According to the publisher and the book’s ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, Mr. Trump never wrote a line, but continues to say he was he author. Now that the coronavirus has shut down the economy he tricks himself into being a doctor who always knows best.
By way of contrast, Johan Christoph Haizmann, relieved from the frantic need for the burghers’ recognition. He joined the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, aka, the Brothers of Mercy to spend the rest of his life serving the poor, and the sick of body and mind.
Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood.
Aldous Huxley, Ninth Philosopher’s Song, 1920
When Aldous Huxley turned the adage “blood is thicker than water” on its head there was no Earth Day. No COVID-19. No economy stuck in idle at the brink of the cliff. No orders or guidelines to stay home and wash your hands. But he had been the flu pandemic of 1918.
Blood Brothers — Teddy Bonsall and I
“Blood is thicker than water” is about family ties, or becoming ‘blood-brothers’ the way Teddy Bonsall and I did when we drew blood with our pen-knives, and put our cut fingers together to mix our five year old blood. Maybe something in our little minds knew that ‘blood’ described the bond between soldiers in battle. Blood-brothers — soldiers who risked their lives, as our fathers had in World War II — were closer than brothers and sisters born of the same womb. The world was a war zone. Teddy and I would go down together, whatever new war might come along. We were blood brothers.
A virus doesn’t know about ‘blood-brothers’
The day after Earth Day 2020 tests the way we frame who and what we humans are and will, or will not, be on a planet on its way to boiling both blood and water. We are not blood brothers or blood sisters. We can no longer frame ourselves as warriors in wars between our nation and their nation(s) without committing species suicide. No more blaming the Spanish for the 1918 flu pandemic or China for the new coronavirus. There will be no great America without a green planet. Everyone is a child of water — the amniotic fluid of every mother’s womb, and the water that is wider than blood (the oceans, rivers, and water tables) that keep the ‘pale blue dot’ blue and green.
The Daily Briefings
Most afternoons I tune in to the president’s coronavirus pandemic team’s daily updates, but I can’t do it anymore. I’ve run out of Maalox, and I refuse to fill a glass or two from the liquor cabinet. This is no time to self-medicate. I’ve watched the climate-change-denying president and his ‘oleaginous’ vice president and administration re-frame COVID-19 as a foreign invasion — the ‘Chinese’ flu — to be ‘defeated’ by an army of American blood brothers. The updates are not COVID-19 updates. They are 2020 presidential campaign rallies with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx thrown in to provide cover for the medical disinformation no doctor or scientist can support. Day by day, the conflict between the president and the medical professionals becomes increasingly apparent in the faces of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx barely able to conceal their professional and moral in the face of a kind of medical malpractice they once could not imagine.
While the members of the coronavirus team stand shoulder to shoulder without masks, members of the White House press corps practice the social distancing guidelines the people with the microphone do not. Spaced six feet apart, the correspondents ask the questions that publicly trap the president in his own lies and contradictions. The medical professionals become more outspoken, less likely to say what the president expects them to say.
The White House press corps occasionally rises to the expectations of the First Amendment, offering slivers of hope that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will go away before the Earth is left to the viruses.
The Voice that cannot be silenced
I imagine Aldous Huxley in the last row of the White House correspondents section. He’s the only one in the room who brings wisdom from the “Spanish Flu” pandemic a hundred years ago.
He’s had his hand up for 20 minutes. No one will call on him.
Finally, in exasperation, he whispers in hopes someone watching might remember the greater threat to Earth itself:
“Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood!”
Home-schooled in misery — Oh, for the wisdom of Aeschylus
“I, schooled in misery, know many purifying rites, and I know where speech is proper and where silence.”
Aeschylus, Greek playwright known as the Father of Tragedy (c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BCE)
In the school of misery, we know to wash our hands. Knowing when and where to speak one’s minds or hold one’s tongue is harder. In Aeschylus’ time, it required the wisdom of the gods or the wisdom of Solomon.
The Intelligence Test
“COVID-9 is not just a disease. It’s an intelligence test,” wrote sportswriter Jim Souhan in response to Major League Baseball’s idea of bringing all 32 MLB teams to Phoenix where they could play out the 2020 season. The teams would be quarantined at night in area hotels; the stadium seats would be empty to keep the players safe. “COVID-19 is not just a disease. It’s an intelligence test.”
Easy speech is not only pointless in 2020. It is dangerous. But so is silence. In the school of misery more than one kind of intelligence is required. Maintaining emotional balance in a time of plague is a test of courage and compassion. Albert Camus’s The Plague, whose heroic character is not the priest, but the doctor serving among the sick and the dying, comes quickly to mind. So does the crucified-resurrected Jesus’s strange encounter with Thomas.
The Courage of Compassion Test
Caravaggio paints what readers unschooled in misery are not likely to see in the text –the continuing presence and voice of the crucified-risen Christ in the Gospel of John 20:27: “Thereafter he is saying to Thomas . . . .”
Known for his gritty realism, Caravaggio has Jesus grasping the hand of the apostle Thomas and thrusting it deep within the wound at his side, powerfully aligning Jesus’ and St. Thomas’ hands to form a lance. St. Thomas’ face expresses profound surprise as his finger thrusts deep into Jesus’ wound. Perhaps, the surprise has to do with his unbelief. It could also be surprise at the realization that he, too, is pierced. Indeed, St. Thomas appears to clutch his side as if he becomes aware of a wound at his side as well. And we who wince at this gritty depiction feel a wound at our side as well.” — Edwin David Aponte, Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, Chalice Press, 2007.
“I will meet you there — wherever the wounds are.” “My Lord, and my God!”
Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, April 21, 2020.
This is not your usual Views from the Edge commentary. I’ve found myself unable to write anything that might be worth passing on to others. But inspiration arrives from the most unlikely sources, like last Sunday’s painful visit to the Emergency Room. The CT scan revealed the kidney stone that became the inspiration for this quirkier-than-usual Views from the Edge piece. The doctor assured me the stone was small. It would pass with time. The nurse gave me a little bottle to save the stone when it passes.
Who cares if you pass a kidney stone?
Let’s say you’re a writer. Okay, a blogger. You’ve struggled for weeks to write a piece on the daily assault of propaganda coming into our living rooms every weekday afternoon, but it hasn’t come. It just sits there, like a kidney stone that doesn’t pass. You’re sure it will never get out, and that, even if it does, no one will care. Why should they? What you want to say is not unique. A kidney stone’s a kidney stone. You’re also bored.
You don’t believe in horoscopes, but they’re a way to pass the time. You’re a Leo.
It’s like you’re trying to move a couch into a room with a small door. Once inside, everything will work out nicely. But getting through this tight squeeze will take some doing. What needs to be released in order to move forward?
Horoscope by Holiday Mathis, StarTribune, April 17, 2020.
You’re excited! Permission has to write has been granted. What needs to be released is your fear. Squeeze your ego through that small door! Just take it outside. Forget who cares. Just do it! Put it out there! You sit down to write. Returning to the newspaper for the exact quote, you realize you had read the wrong horoscope, the one for a Libra. Your reading disability has tricked you again. You saw the ‘L’ and assumed it was for you. It wasn’t. it was for a Libra.
You go back to the paper to read the right horoscope — the one for you, the Leo.
“There was a time when you didn’t believe you could actually change your circumstances by merely observing them differently. Now you believe it, and you do it on a daily basis. Today brings proof.”
You wonder whether the people who write this stuff know something you don’t. Don’t they know that not even a Leo can change some circumstances by observing them differently?
When you pass a kidney stone, you put it in a little bottle and take it to your doctor who sends it to the lab. You never see your kidney stone again. But there are exceptions. Some folks keep their kidney stones next to the computer keyboard. What’s the use of passing a kidney stone if you can’t be proud of passing it or experience the joy of sharing it virtually?
You’re curious what else is in the Horoscope section. If you’re a Taurus, “you are mysterious, and all the more attractive for your secrets.” You like that. But by the end, you wonder whether you’re really a Pisces.
Just because something goes unspoken doesn’t mean it’s unspeakable . . . .
Who knows? The piece you can’t pass today may pass tomorrow. If it turns out to be unspeakable, put it in the bottle, send it to the lab, or throw it away. If what has gone unspoken seems speakable, ask yourself, “Who else cares if you pass a kidney stone?”