Whatever talents I possess

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DylanThomas

Dylan Thomas

“I am at the most transitional period now,” wrote Dylan Thomas to his friend. “Whatever talents I possess may suddenly diminish or suddenly increase. I can with ease become an ordinary fool. I may be one now. But it doesn’t do to upset one’s own vanity.”

In that spirit, I accede to my dear friend Bob’s suggestion to post author “endorsements” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness on Views from the Edge. “Why not?” I said to myself. “It’s your book! If you don’t promote it, who will? Who cares if you’re a fool! If you don’t do it now, your limited talents may suddenly decrease!”

Be Still! coverAUTHOR ENDORSEMENTS

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”
Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University

”These are lovely, powerful, centering essays–messages from and for a fragile but beautiful planet.”
Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

”This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.”
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Author of Remember You Are Dust, The Prophetic Imagination, and many other books.

”Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!
J. Barrie Shepherd
Author of Between Mirage and Miracle and many others

Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”
Michael McNally, Ph.D
Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders: Aging, Authority, and Ojibwe Religion

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open–much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it s what the world needs now, more than ever.”
Joyce Sutphen
Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College

”In Be Still! Stewart masterfully spins a counter-narrative to the collective madness that is gripping our world. Like the psalmist, Stewart prays thoughtfully through metaphors and religious tradition, meshing theologians with news headlines to lead the reader to a deeper, more sustained truth. Be Still! reads like part op-ed and part parable. In these troubling and anxious times, may we, who have ears to hear, listen!”
Frank M. Yamada
President, McCormick Theological Seminary, Author of Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives 

joanna-baillie-1

Joanna Baillie (1762-1851)

Then, after heeding my friend Bob’s and Dylan Thomas’s advice, I heard the reassuring voice of Joanna Baillie speaking from long ago:

“Pampered vanity is a better thing perhaps than starved pride.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2017.

 

 

Planetary Economics

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news, according to John the Baptist calling people out into the wilderness of Nature (Gospel of Mark 1:1-8).

“We must change,” he cries. Only a 180 degree turn can deliver us from the consequences of the actions that have led us here. He sounds like Bill McKibbon.

For John the Baptist the system at issue was Roman imperialism, an economic-political system centered in Rome expanding out, enforced by military invasions, subjugation, occupation, buffered by generous religious tolerance so long as the religious practices did not interfere with Roman prerogatives.

One could repeat the sentence in 2015 with little change: “the system at issue is [American] imperialism, an economic system centered in [Washington] expanding out, enforced by military invasions, subjugation, occupation, and religious tolerance so long as the local religious practice does not interfere with [American] prerogatives.”

It is this spiritual, moral, economic, cultural and political captivity to a global system that cannot satisfy our real needs or the world’s that produces a longing in our hearts, a readiness to make the trip to the wilderness. We are being called to abandon the house built on the quicksands of greed, manifest destiny, national exceptionalism, and the illusion of unsustainable growth.

We’re a weary people in 2015. Wearied and still disheartened 14 years after “Shock and Awe” took down Saddam Hussein on the pretense that he had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that threatened us and the Bush Administration’s persistent mis-association of 9/11 with Saddam Hussein. We’re wearied of lies and 11 years of un-budgeted military expenses, the loss of thousands of American soldiers’ lives and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a military venture undertaken on the assumption that the Iraqi people would welcome our presence as the onset of a new representative democracy and “free market” economy.

That belief in the goodness of American intentions hit the rocks almost as quickly as Saddam’s statue hit the pavement in Baghdad. All the while we were wearied by the earlier invasion of Afghanistan, whose original justification was a quick elimination of Osama bin Ladin and Al-Qaida untempered by realistic knowledge of the long history of the military interventions that mired the invaders in quagmires such as the Soviet Union found itself before leaving in defeat. To the Afghans it didn’t matter whether the troops were Soviet or American. They were the same. They were the occupation forces of an imperial power destined to fail.

In the midst of the weariness about what was happening abroad, the financial system at home took the American economy to the brink of disaster in 2008. Occupy Wall Street rose to the top of the news cycles. Although the movement fizzled over time, as such movements inevitably do, it caught the attention of television viewers, internet surfers, and newspaper and magazine readers. Occupy Wall Street and the spot light it placed on “crony capitalism” became a hot topic around water coolers at work and the table in the coffee shops.

For the first time in recent memory, capitalism was no longer sacred, no longer off limits. Time’s front cover asked the question whether Capitalism was dead. But, as with Occupy, public attention is short-lived. Amnesia sets in when people are weary. How soon we forget…until some new John the Baptist issues the cry for a 180 degree turn for the sake of something better.

Maybe Naomi Klein is a new kind of John the Baptist. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, reviewed here by the New York Times, places the over-riding systemic issue squarely before the general public again. Senator Bernie Sanders, America’s only socialist Senator who names climate action as among his four top priorities, is gaining attention as a presidential candidate. Elizabeth Warren, the Senate’s strongest voice on holding Wall Street accountable, is a bulldog who won’t let go. Put them with Bill McKibbon and 350.org and you begin to hear the echo of John’s recognition of the prophetic hard truth-telling that is the forerunner of good news.

The hard truth that precedes good news is the discovery of the myth that couples democracy with capitalism while viewing socialism as democracy’s opposite. Ideological myopia is to nations and cultures what horse blinders are to horses on a race track: they limit vision to the narrow path of the track they’re on. They prevent their adherents from seeing beyond the track.

When the climate is changing in ways that have begun to compel our attention, and when we ask how we will make it through the changes together, the bigger question of the economic system (the track itself) comes into view by virtue of necessity. It calls us off the track of species supremacy and “man over nature” into the wilderness of Nature itself.

The words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek words for ‘house’ and ‘the management of the household’. Their real subject is not about markets, free or otherwise. The issue is what and how the managers manage and why we let them. Economics is every citizen’s business because we all live together in the one house. No exceptions. Economics in the original sense is a spiritual-ethical perspective before it creates systems that support (or contradict) its premise of shared life and responsibility for the planet.

John the Baptist with his axe laid to the root of the tree, reminds us that economics is a spiritual matter of the first order. It is what the Hebrew Bible calls “the Day of the Lord” and John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth called “The Kingdom [i.e. Society] of God”. Economics is not an academic discipline, or the exclusive province of Wall Street traders who understand how the free market works. Genuine economics begins and ends with the philosophical commitment to the wellbeing of the entire household of Nature and its inhabitants.

The planet — this home within Nature without which no person, society or form of life exists — requires different management. The economy for which our hearts long is the one house imagined by the psalmist and announced by John in the wilderness beyond the track of the Pax Romana: the good news waiting for longing hearts to embrace it, an economy where “righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10) and wars will be no more.

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 16, 2015

Our Common Home: Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders

Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si‘: On Care for Our Common Home has caught the world’s attention. (Scroll down for the Encyclical Letter’s opening paragraphs.)

In our view, Pope Francis and Bill McKibben of 350.org are prophetic figures, i.e., they seem to utter a Word not totally their own. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), who is, not by accident, Bill McKibben’s close friend from Vermont, and the ONLY candidate to place climate change action among the top priorites of his presidential campaign. He speaks boldly, and his message echoes the cry of Luudato Si‘ for action now for the sake of the planet. There is no obfuscation.

“The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability.” – Excerpt from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign priority on Climate Change and the Environment.

Religion, science, and politics each deal with reality, superstition, and obfuscation. The Pope’s call for global action requires political legs to make it walk. Political engagement is not optional at this moment in the history of planetary development. In that regard, no other presidential candidate is so clear on climate change and sustainability as Bernie Sanders. No other candidate speaks with such passionate conviction or knowledge. Pope Francis is a man of God, a modern John the Baptizer appearing in the wilderness, following the lead of Bill McKibben, the scientific consensus, and The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’s research and counsel.

The Pope’s position on nature, born of a more ancient wisdom than the mechanistic “man over nature” view of postindustrial society, is thoroughly catholic, the0logically classical, and steeped in scientific research.  “Man over nature” and “history over nature” are figments of our imagination. Nature always wins. We ARE nature and nature is us.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

[1] Canticle of the Creatures, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, New York-London-Manila, 1999, 113-114.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN. July 28, 2015