She’s confused and he’s confusing!

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She’s confused — and he’s confusing,” said my son, following lunch with an old married couple he’d met for the first time. Remove the gender specificity (‘he’ and ‘she’) peculiar to that lunch conversation, and it could describe many conversations across America in 2019. Our talk is confusing, and our hearing is confused.

Foot and Mouth Disease notice, Monmouthshire, Wales, 1872.

Daily conversations — real ones in real time at Starbucks or virtual ones like Twitter — often take me back me to that scene that in the restaurant, and Douglas’ Readers Digest condensed version of it. Which of us is confusing? Which of us is confused? Confusing and confusion are now epidemic in America. Like the old married couple who made no sense to each other, we seem resigned to living in separate stalls at opposite ends of the barn.

For people like my son who want to avoid the confused-confusion conundrum of their parents’ generation, The Guardian published a a spoof story announcing the roll-out of a new app promising to bring better match-ups for prospective partners. It’s called “Tudder”.

Click “Tinder-style app for cows tries to help the meat market” to open the link to BBC story. If Tudder succeeds in matching up bovines with compatible, un-confusing or un-confused stall mates, might Tudder work for us? Tudder’s Chief Executive Officer doesn’t think so. He offers the opinion that matching breeding livestock “should be even easier than matching people.”

But don’t you have to wonder whether human Match-Up apps might improve their effectiveness by adopting the template of Tudder, or would the patent theft only contribute further to the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic in the barn called America?

— Gordon C. Stewart, writing from a stall in Chaska, MN, Feb. 13, 2019.

Murmuration? You gotta be kidding!

Today I was challenged to write something original on the word murmuration.

My mind immediately went to a biblical text when, after the Hebrew slaves (laborers with no rights), led by Moses and Aaron, have escaped their Egyptian taskmasters (“management” with absolute power), they find themselves in a state of murmuration and a sudden attack of nostalgic longing in the wilderness.

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. – Numbers 14: 1-4, KJV.

A forgetful people is nostalgic for “the fleshpots of Egypt” – the place they had murmured against while bending their welted laboring backs to their taskmasters’ whips – eager to exchange their uncertain future for security.

So today, in the United States of America, we’re in two states of murmuration. One believes we’ve just left Egypt (the regulation society of the Obama and previous Administrations) and now murmurs for security – build the wall, stop the Muslim immigrants, make America great again from the previous Administrations that were, shall we say, Pharaohic? – while the other murmurs that we’re being led by a murmuring madman and Administration that keep us in a constant state to twittering murmuration on the way not to the promised land but to a land led by the Egyptian taskmaster security.

Such is life on this Sunday evening, March 12, 2017. I’m sticking with Moses and Aaron. I’m not so big on the captain or the Egypt that is ahead of us if we keep up the murmuration.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN.

Glory and Obscurity

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Who do you suppose said that? An obscure figure unknown by history? A great historical figure whose glory fled? 

It was the latter – Napoléon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), glorious military conqueror, political hero of the French Revolution, and Emperor, who died ingloriously in exile on the Isle of Saint Helena.

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified, remains his legacy. Upon his death, more than 1,000,000 people are said to have viewed his remains when he was brought home to Paris.

Obscurity: “the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.”

Might Napoleon have endorsed Nelson Mandela‘s sentiment, spoken when Mandela was leaving behind a glorious career and office in South Africa:  “I would like to rest, and welcome the possibility of reveling in obscurity”?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 4, 2015

Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

A Note from Briant

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We couldn’t believe our eyes when this postcard arrived from our waiter last month in Mobile, Alabama.

Postcard note from Briant, waiter at Felix's Fish Camp Grill in Mobile, AL

Postcard note from Briant, waiter at Felix’s Fish Camp Grill in Mobile, AL

Okay, so he spelled my name wrong. Who cares. We really liked Briant. Enough to write a recommendation on TripAdvisor. Which resulted in the note. Felix’s Fish Camp Grill near Mobile, Alabama knows how to make friends and build its business.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 24, 2015

Felix's Fish Camp Grill postcard

Felix’s Fish Camp Grill postcard

Incredibly American: the ARU

“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“It” is the National Basketball Association’s salary cap policy. The speaker is Michele Roberts, the new executive of the NBA Players’ Association (NBAPA), speaking in an interview with ESPN. Click HERE to hear the voice and read more. It’s hardly the DNA of America’s union movement.

pullman newsThe NBAPA is the spoiled great-grandchild of America’s early union movement and costly strikes like the American Railway Union’s sympathy strike in the Pullman strike in 1894.

Professional sports in America is just like America. Sort of. A little bit. Kind of.

There’s management and there’s labor. The NBA team owners (management) and the NBA players (labor) are sparring in preparation for their next big event: re-negotiation of the NBA collective bargaining agreement in 2017.

So, In that regard, the NBA is sort of like the rest of America, except for the likes of Walmart where there is no players’ union, just a company without “incredibly un-American” things like salary caps because they pay their employees peanuts.

But NBA players aren’t making peanuts. They’re making millions. A lot of millions!

It’s hard to feel sorry for a player hauling in an $80,000,000 contract, even if his name is LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. It’s also hard to feel respect for a union that represents only the elitest of the elites while other team employees are picking up the peanut shells after the games and working at Walmart.

My DNA is offended by that. It’s offended by the 1%. It’s offended by the owners. It’s offended by the players’ union. It’s offended by the greed and the self-absorption that sees the fair distribution of extravagant wealth among a small fraction of America’s 1% as a justice issue.

Justice is salary caps and earning caps at the top and an earnings floor at the bottom for the folks who pick up the peanut shells after the NBA games and have no bargaining rights at Walmart.

“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“There is certainly…something wrong in that form of unionism whose leaders are the lieutenants of capitalism.”—Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) who, while serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary following the Pullman Strike, received more than a million votes as Socialist candidate for President.

 

The Illusion of a Sweet Cherry Pie

Violence always washes downstream. Whether the river be one’s personal history or the river of a society and culture within whose current every one of us flows, violence is what H. Rap Brown said it is: as American as cherry pie.

Ray Rice’s and Adrian Peterson’s ancestors were strapped to the whipping post. Their white overlords pummeled their bodies with switches, whips, and fists. It was discipline, said the slave owners, the corrective remedy for a slave who had forgotten his white owner’s racial and class superiority.

The switch in Adrain Peterson’s hand, though abhorrent and lamentable, is understandable. It mimics the whipping post. It is the mirror image that caused H. Rap Brown to write from his prison cell in his autobiography, Die, Nigger, Die:

“This country was born on violence. Violence is as american as cherry pie. Black people have always been violent, but our violence has always been directed toward each other. If nonviolence is to be practiced, then it should be practiced in our community and end there. Violence is a necessary part of revolutionary struggle.”

H. Rap Brown wrote that in 2000.

Fast forward to September, 2014. Ray Rice’s knock out punch of his fiancee, Janay Palmer, is recorded by hotel video cameras. His employer, the Baltimore Ravens release (i.e., fire) him. Adrian Peterson, star running back of the MN Vikings, admits to injuring his four-year-old son with a switch (a tree branch) while disciplining the son the way his father disciplined him.

The public is enraged by the pictures of welts on the boy’s thighs and back. Vikings owner Ziggie Wilf announces Peterson will not play the next Sunday. But, after the Peter-less Vikings take a shellacking that Sunday, Mr. Wilf zig zags, announcing that Peterson is returning to practice and will play the next Sunday, September 21. Radisson cancels its Vikings sponsorship and advertising. Nike cancels all advertising with Adrian Peterson. Target Corporation removes Vikings shirt #28, Peterson’s number, from its stores and stops advertising with the Minnesota Vikings, referring to Target’s long-standing positions on domestic violence and child abuse. Again, the Vikings owner, reverses field, arranging for Mr. Peterson to be placed on the rarely used “exception” list with pay while Peterson’s case moves through the courts. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell changes his mind about how to response to off-the-field allegations and legal charges yet to be dealt with by legal due process in courts of law.

The appropriate response of an employer to cases like those of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is a sometimes complex ethical question. What should an employer do, and when should it do it? Should the employer take disciplinary action on its own or should it honor due process in a court of law on the legal premise that a person is innocent of charges until proven guilty by a juror of his/her peers? A change is not a conviction. Yet, in the Black community, charges have too often been confused with convictions.

Historically America courts have not been friendly to African-Americans. They have been the White man’s courts, the public equivalent of the slaveowner’s whipping post without due process or competent representation. It was, in part, for that reason I served at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis where I became immersed in the deep historical suspicion that the courts would not deliver justice. What would have happened, one might ask, if Ray or Adrian were White?

The African-American community could not and must not, according to Brown, look to the white European majority for clues about their identity and freedom. That majority is violent.

So today advertisers have cancelled their endorsements for one of America’s two most violent sports, distancing themselves from Ray, Adrian, and the NFL because of a public outcry against domestic violence and child abuse and because, they say, their company policies stand strongly against child abuse and domestic violence.

It’s embarrassing to the advertisers.

But check out where else they advertise and who and what they endorse to sell their products to a general public that loves to watch violence. You will find a host of companies deeply involved in America’s arms industry and the companies that produce the violent video games and apps downloaded every minute on our PCs, Macs, iPhones and Droids.

H. Rap Brown had it partly right. The culture of American violence is deep and thoroughgoing. Though the whipping post is long gone, the scars remain. But he also had part it wrong when he wrote that “violence is a necessary part of revolutionary struggle.” New whipping posts will not heal these wounds; they only serve to replicate them. There is little room for self-righteousness, which is why Jesus reminded those who thought of themselves as superior and unstained to take the log out of their own eyes before they reached to remove the speck from their neighbors. The healing starts with White consciousness of the sordid history that handed down the switch to Adrian Peterson.

New renditions of the whipping post will be erected everywhere along the river that is American society and along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers until we all stop eating the tart poison in the illusion of a sweet cherry pie.

The Wisdom of Solomon and the Budget Crisis

Today we re-publish this piece from a similar budget show-down in Minnesota.

The Wisdom of Solomon and the Budget Crisis – social commentary  published by Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Photo of NH farm gate

Last week I drove past a sign hanging from the fence of a pasture. It read: “Don’t Cross This Field Unless You Can Do It In 9.9 Seconds … The Bull Can Do It In 10.” I couldn’t help but think of the face-off over the debt ceiling in our nation’s capital. The clock is ticking. Soon we — the USA — won’t have time make it across the field without defaulting….

Balm for Cynicism

Friend and colleague John Buchanon posted this piece last night.

Hold to the Good

Respect and gratitude for our system of government runs deep in me. I certainly have strong political opinions and commitments and understand the partisan dynamic that makes a two party system work. But I also trust the wisdom of voting citizens, ultimately – not always, but ultimately, to make responsible decisions and elect honest, responsible representatives. I have known a few personally over the years and found them to be persons of integrity, high ideals and a strong sense of vocation in the public, political arena.

My respect and gratitude are being tried at the moment. The federal government is about to shut down and we face a looming credit default in the midst of partisan wrangling and name calling, as one party seems willing to risk economic disaster in order to thwart the other party and humiliate the President. I watched in both amusement and disgust as a United…

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