What do politics have to do with me?

Featured

It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Unspeakable Speech: 2018

Featured

What happened across America last week is unspeakable. But these unspeakable acts of violence have a long history in speech itself. The bombs mailed from Florida did not come out of a speechless void. Nor did Saturday’s attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation

If ever the Hebrew proverb was true that those with a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king for their friend (Book of Proverbs 22:11), it is true no longer in 2018. The massacre of Jewish worshipers on Shabbat does not come out of a vacuum. Hate speech once uttered cannot be put back. It has a murderous history we dare not forget, and casts a long dark shadow into the future we dare not abide.

Words are powerful. Speech is powerful. Silence is powerful. Acquiescence is powerful. When the words come from the President of the United States — or when they do not come, or when they come only in part — they contribute to the worst in us. They cast their shadow far into the American future. White nationalism/Christian nationalism is the forbidden fruit of the tree from which we must not eat. It is not the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 3). It is the fruit of the tree of death.

As the city officials and Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh prepare for the President’s controversial visit the day they begin burying their loved ones, we offer a rabbi’s voice to help the rest of us understand.

Reb Arthur WaskowHealing for the Stricken Community,
for the Shaken Jewish People,
and for Our Deeply Wounded Country

Dear friends,

There are many disastrous levels to the murderous massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

There is the immediate personal disaster of eleven lives destroyed, others wounded, families and friends bereft, a neighborhood traumatized.  To all these, The Shalom Center as a body and I individually send blessings of swift refuah (healing) for the wounded,  deep respect and grief for the dead, and loving care for those bereaved.

There is the broader disaster of shock to the American Jewish community, until now so profoundly joyful to have found full acceptance in America these last several generations, after millennia of persecution elsewhere and elsewhen.
Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming affluent, even wealthy, even powerful. Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming social critics, progressives, even radicals.

Less comfort as critics than as powerful, of course – but comfortable that all the clauses of the First Amendment affirmed our worth as Jews, as sacred fringes on conventional assumptions, as challengers who could wrestle not only with God (as our name “Yisrael” describes us) but with the rigidified habits of ourselves and others.

And even worse, the broader disaster of facing an American government that our immigrant forebears who came here for freedom’s sake could not have fathomed:

A government honeycombed with white supremacism, moving into neofascism,  calling forth from the shadows into boastful visibility those who concoct bombs to enforce their racism, who can openly revel in their contempt for women, who can turn hatred of foreigners into willingness to rip babies from their mothers’ breasts,  who can turn their greed for hyperwealth into willingness to torch the Earth that is our common home, our only home  — and who can turn their latent anti-Semitism into mass murder.

How do we respond to these layered levels of disaster?

-Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA

Following a week of unspeakable violence, Rabbi Waskow’s question addresses all of us. Today in Pittsburgh is a day to keep silence before a Word of comfort and direction deeper than our own. Tomorrow and November 6 is time for all of us to speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2018

A New Heart and a New Spirit

Featured

“Darkness cannot cast out darkness. Only light can do that” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’re longing for some light and for change, watch and listen to Buddy Guy leading Playing for Change. Skip the ad, and think of Ezekiel’s hope for a nation of the dry bones.

The story of Ezekiel’s vision for the valley of the dry bones is timeless and timely 10 days before the American electorate goes to the polls November 6.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – The promise for the dry bones in the Valley of the Bones (Ezekiel 36:26).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2018.

 

 

 

Remember me according to . . .

Featured

Opening up the cabin after a month away, the temperature was a bit chilly before we built the fire in the wood-burning stove. What warms me more than the fire is the stillness of the place. I read the Psalms differently here. I take time to ponder them.

Psalm 25 is the one I pondered this morning. At first it struck me as the kind of religion that’s killing us — the prayer of religious pride. A second and third reading took me deeper. 

BCP“Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…” (Psalm 25:2-4a, Book of Common Prayer paraphrase). 

Truth and falsehood. The ways of shamelessness and its opposite — treacherous schemes — collide in this psalm. I come to the cabin to get away from the treacherous schemes. I’m for truth and goodness, not treacherous schemes! That’s Trump, not I! Like the psalmist, I claim what no one can honestly claim: “in you have I trusted all the day long” (25:4c) But the psalmist is wiser.

Truth and Falsehood

Truth and Falsehood, Iza Bella [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s as though the psalmist suddenly realizes it’s not true. He shifts his eyes from himself to the One who forgives sin. Maybe s/he’s confused? Maybe he has a split personality? Or maybe just a concrete thinker whose immaturity leaves no room for shades of gray? Or maybe he suddenly remembers something beyond the self and its righteous posturing.

“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Psalm 25:5-6). 

When you look at me, see me through the eyes of eternal compassion, the eyes of your steadfast love. See me the way a grandfather can’t help but see his 17 month-old grandson, Elijah, after Elijah has opened the kitchen cabinets he’s been told repeatedly not to open. See the look on the grandson’s face when he’s caught and his mother tells him “NO!” Watch Grandpa cover his face with his hand to hide to his smile and giggle as he sees the defiant look on Elijah’s little face. 

Perhaps God is like that. The LORD of life (the Breath) is Mishomis —Ojibwe for ‘Grandfather’! See grandson Elijah playing  peek-a-boo with his Mom from his car seat.

Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, Mishomis.

  • Grandpa Gordon, in the wilderness with The Book of Common Prayer, October 22, 2018

Full Moon by the Wetland

Featured

FlomaxFew of my closest male friends still get up in the middle of the night. Most have had surgery or are on Flomax. They sleep through the night. While they’re sleeping, I’m getting up three of four times, on a good night. Last night it was five!

You might think they’re luckier than I am. But sometimes, like last night when I got up five times, there’s a blessing to it. There are windows on three sides of the loft. On a clear night, I look out and up at Orion’s belt — it’s always there — and feel all’s right with the world. I saw Orion belt again last night, but there was a brighter blessing – a full moon throwing a wide swath of moonlight across the wetland onto the yard and through the cabin’s windows.

SupermoonThe swath of light shifted with each trip down the handcrafted maple staircase the A-frame’s builder — a Saint Paul fireman — had rescued before the old firehouse was torn down. It’s a beautiful work of art, and, when the evening sun or a full moon shines its light on the maple, those who see it can’t help but be thankful the old fireman rescued it from its fateful trip to the landfill. The angle of the light moves with the moon to create changing patterns formed by the light from above and the different shaped shadows cast by the thin, leaf bare birches and aspens, and by the bigger oaks and maples whose leaves have not yet fallen — each of the five trips up and down the staircase unlike the one before. I thought of all my friends who no longer need to make trips in the night because of surgery or Flomax, or the end of their time under the full moon among the trees and wetlands. 

Someday I’ll make my last trip down that stairwell, but the blessing of the full moon in late October 2018 will stay as long as my memory holds out — an heavenly taste of earth, an experience of the Ineffable, a non-Flomax night of bliss!

After brewing a pot of coffee this morning, I turn my attention back to the book I’d been reading before bed, Marilynne Robinson’s Gideon, the story of a dying old preacher writing a memoir for his young son. I come to a page that speaks of what I felt seeing the full moon. “I am trying to decide,” says the Reverend John Ames, “what I have never before put into words. … It was one day while listening to baseball that it occurred to me how the moon actually moves, in a spiral, because while it orbits the earth, it also follows the orbit of the earth around the sun. This is obvious, but the realization pleased me. There was a full moon outside my window, icy white in a blue sky, and the Cubs were playing Cincinnati.”

Crosley Field

Crosley Field, 1969, home of the Cincinnati Reds

Funny thing about that. Years ago, as a youth, I, like Reverend John Ames — and maybe John’s creator, Marilynne Robinson, listened to Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasts before drifting off to sleep hundred miles away.  The broadcasts came through clear as a bell in Broomall, Pennsylania. There were nights when the Cubs — or my Phillies — were playing Cincinnati.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland after a full moon, October 23, 2018.

Of Kings and Jesters

Featured

King George III in coronation robes

King George III’s in gold coronation attire

William_Merritt_Chase_Keying_up

Jester – “Keying Up” by William Merritt Chase

The kingdoms of former times were ruled by kings. The kings appointed court jesters who acted the fool to bring the king pleasure and keep him honest. Some of the kings were what Rex Tillerson called the king, but, for the most part, those who were loyal kept the secret as best they could. Even the kings who were clinically insane didn’t confuse their roles with the jester’s. They knew who was king. They left it to the jesters to play the fool. They knew the difference between governing and entertaining. Throughout history, however, there were kings who may have been as entertaining as their court jesters, and there were kings who were insane, but they never had television cameras.

King Charles VI of France (1368–1422) became known as Charles le Fou (Charles the Mad) for a strange psychosis that included the medical diagnosis “glass delusion.” Crossing the forest in Le Mans, King Charles VI mistook his protectors for enemies and attacked them with his sword.

King Charles VI

“Madness of Charles_VI” (15th Century)

Ludwig II Bavarya GHP 447796

King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig)

Ludwig II of Bavaria

Mad King Ludwig later in life.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (ruled 1864–1886) became known as “Mad King Ludwig,” thought to have suffered from  frontotemporal dementia, schizotypal personality disorder or Pick’s disease.

And there was King George III (see above), remembered for losing American colonies midway through his reign (1760–1820), alternating between eruptions of volcanic rage and sinking into panic attacks, delusions and visual and auditory hallucinations.

None of these kings had a television to assure him he was not about to shatter like a broken glass. None of them had Fox News applauding pantomimes of physically challenged reporters or terrified women who claimed sexual abuse. Nor did any of the kings have to wonder what to do when their favorite TV station no longer covered every rally after their Neilsen Ratings dropped.

What to do? 

Schedule a Thursday lunch with Kanye West and invite the White House press corps for the live, not to be missed, impromptu Oval Office visit with Kanye. But first, go on the road to Erie. Hold a rally. Pack the house with loyal subjects. Do the old campaign schtick. Attack the wicked pretender to the throne: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Crooked Hillary!” Ramp up the act. Make faces. Poke fun at the terrified woman whose story had stolen the spotlight. Bring the ratings back. Play the jester and the king. Prove to Fox you’re still entertaining.

The house in Erie isn’t packed. The schtick is old. But there’s always tomorrow’s photo op with the court jester he can count on to assure him he’s not a glass about to shatter. The Oval Office is packed! The king sits behind his desk for a little entertainment. Kanye is bizarre. Ludicrous. Off the wall. Delusional. Clearly not well.

Which was worse — the Wednesday campaign rally in Erie or Thursday’s intimate moment with the jester on steroids — is hard to say. Both lent credence to Rex Tillerson’s alleged demeaning slur. Mad King Donald — Donald the Mad — made a fool of himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2018.

Over and Over, We Forget

Featured

wall-street-bull

The Wall Street Bull

The public’s memory is very short. The panic of near economic collapse 10 years ago is all but wiped from public memory two weeks before the Nov. 6 American national election. We publish the following chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock), which first appeared as a guest column on MinnPost.com September 10, 2009.

SORROW FLOATS

Concepts, like individuals, have their histories

and are just as incapable of withstanding

the ravages of time as individuals. But in and

through all this they retain a kind of homesickness

for the scenes of their childhood 

[Soren Kierkegaard]

“Sorrow floats.”

Perhaps the line from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow,” the stuffed family dog preserved by a taxidermist, floats to the surface of the lake after a plane crash, helps explain what is happening in America.

Something dear to the American family died in September/October, 2008. Prior to the series of chilling events of that period, most of us had lived with the illusion of relative economic and financial health. Then, suddenly, Sorrow was rushed to the emergency room for government resuscitation.

Since then our memories of that pre-October 2008 world have taken a turn that families often take at funerals when the eulogies bear little resemblance to the reality of the deceased. We’re quarreling over what was real and what is mythical reconstruction.

Following the plane wreck that takes the lives of the Berry family parents in Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, the stuffed family pet bobs to the surface of the lake, floating among the wreckage. Sorrow floats. So does the thing we lost last fall.

What died? A ruling assumption

What died last year was the ruling assumption that an unregulated free-market system was the best way to organize an economy and that laissez-faire capitalism is democracy’s natural ally. The market almost crashed. It didn’t crash only because the federal government intervened to prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. Sometime between mid-September and October seventh, when Congress passed its bill to stabilize the financial markets, the myth of the virtue of deregulated capitalism died. It was stuffed by the taxidermy of government intervention, but it still floats.

When a conviction or a myth dies, it doesn’t go away. It continues to bob to the surface. Sometimes, as in the case of the Berry family, the old dog is much easier to love after it is dead. Sorrow—obese, lethargic, and persistently flatulent in its old age—no longer waddles through the dining room to foul the air and ruin everyone’s dinner. In the public psyche, the unpleasant memories of the real life Sorrow give way to the stuffed Sorrow, a thing of nostalgia that lives on . . . even after it’s dead, and long after the plane has crashed.

Over and over, we forget

Sorrow and its old illusions float every time the reconstructed memory, forgetting the real Sorrow, barks about “socialism.” Sorrow floats every time we shout each other down in town-hall meetings. Sorrow floats every time nostalgia forgets that it was only by government intervention with our tax dollars that Sorrow is still around. Sorrow floats every time we forget the voracious appetite, unscrupulous predatory practices, insatiable greed, and the obesity that led to the deaths of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns, not to mention insurance giant AIG and all the banks that had taken the plunge into a market of deregulated derivatives and mortgages that led to the epidemic of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, pension-fund collapses, and job losses. Sorrow, the old dog that failed us, still floats and still barks a year after the crash when the mind forgets and nostalgia remembers a system we thought was working in our interest.

Old ideas and convictions die hard. The powerful economic forces that grew fat during the years when government was viewed as the people’s enemy will stoke the fires of public anxiety and anger, taking advantage of the floating Sorrow that reminds us of something that we love more in retrospect than we did the day it died of its own obesity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2018.

Though the cause of evil prosper…

Featured

No one holds the patent right on lying. At some point everyone is a liar. Little white lies or hug lies; they’re lies just the same. But truth is my judge and yours.

I cannot recall a moment in the America of my lifetime when truth been as scorned as it is today. I remember presidents who lied. Some more than others. But never was truth itself under assault as it is in America today. As a child I asked how Germany could have fallen for the rhetoric and incivility of a madman. Finally I’m coming to understand.

I was raised on the great hymns of the church. Among them was Once to Every Man and Nation with lyrics by James Russell Lowell (1845). The newer hymnals have excluded it, most likely because of the black and white thinking between good and evil or because it’s language is not gender inclusive. But I turn to it today in ways I never have before, and I’m left to wonder whether somethings are just plain evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2018.

Beauty and Truth: Adjoining Rooms

Featured

IMG_9456

view outside the window

These days leave me cold. I feel the need for beauty and for truth. The beauty I can see just outside the window at sunrise and sunset, in the maples, oaks, red osier and prairie grasses waving in the wind I cannot see. But inside the human house where lies freely fly, truth is scorned and hard to find. Only the poets give voice to what I feel.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson, I died for beauty but was scarce
EmilyDickinsonGrave

Emily Dickinson headstone in family plot

 ` Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2018

 

 

 

Barbara Streisand and G.K. Chesterton

Featured

256px-Gilbert_Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton, by Ernest Herbert Mills, 1909

00-PEN-777x437Posting Barbara Streisand’s “Don’t Lie to Me” last night brought to mind the hymn lyrics from G. K. Chesterton’s “O God of Earth and Altar”on which my generation was raised in the church of my childhood. In times like this, I return to it often for solace and strength.

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

  • G. K. Chesterton

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 14, 2018.