I want to be an olive tree

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I love olives. I love the Psalms. Well . . . some of them . . . some times. Partly. Like the Psalm that greeted me this morning at the cabin far from the news.

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Old olive tree in Karystos, Euboia, Greece

Maybe you’ll like it too.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man?
Why do you boast all day long,
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
Your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor,
you who practice deceit.
You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth;

You love every harmful word,
O you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you
down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and
tear you from your tent:
He will uproot you from
the land of the living.

The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at him, saying
“Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his wealth
and grew strong by
destroying others!”

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God . . . .
(Psalm 52:1-8a, NIV)

I am not righteous. But I do fear.

I just want to be an olive tree. Like the olive tree that produced the twig the dove brought back to the ark signaling to Noah that the flood was over.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, truck stop near cabin in northern MN, November 3, 2017.

 

Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

White supremacy, America’s original sin, is demonic. Always has been. Always will be.

Rarely does evil show up as visibly as it did last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and in the days that have followed.

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

In the fight of good with evil the first impulse is to kill it. Get rid of it. Banish it from from existence itself.

The snake’s aside in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden whispers anew its eternal invitation to self-deception: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You cannot kill a demon. If you try to kill it, you end up killing your brother, your sister, your neighbor as your enemy.

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee on the public squares of the former Confederacy bear witness to the unfinished business of America’s Civil War, or, as it is known in the South, The War Between the States.

Should they all come down? Does right-mindedness — a new public consciousness beyond the evil of white supremacy — demand we do the same with them the people of Iraq and our troops did with the statue of Saddam Hussein to celebrate the end of the reign of terror: take them down?

Knowing how near the serpent of deception is, Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B, invites a more ambiguous response in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of  we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Preserving Memory

Pulling down the statues from their pedestals feels like a catharsis to many of us. To others it feels like an assault. But we do ourselves no favor by framing the issue as one of anti-racist versus racist, pitting the righteous against the sinners.

Historians, spiritual guides, and social psychologists know that societies and individuals that bury their pasts are doomed to repeat them in one form or another. The demons never disappear.  You cannot kill a demon. It always come back to haunt you — all the mores when you think you’ve killed it.

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

The statues serve as channel markers that keep us on the way to a consciousness beyond the America’s original sin of white supremacy instead of symbols of our reverence for what we have come to despise.

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Rev. Dr. Andrew Young and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is in this spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colleague Andrew Young takes the unexpected view that the statues should remain.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

You cannot kill a demon. It’s always whispering in the shadows of our flight from the evil that lies so close. Don’t get mad, get smart.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 18, 2017.

 

Idealism and Terror

When one thinks of idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi comes to mind. Moral and spiritual giants who stand for ideals that make the world a better place. We think of Idealism as good in the face of evil, or of ideals lifting us up from the dirt of reality, purifying life from its toxins. Ah, but there lies the fatal flaw in idealism itself.

George Will’s Washington Post opinion piece “A Murderer’s Warped Idealism” looks afresh at idealism and evil, not just evil masquerading as idealism, but idealism as a source and form of evil itself.

Will’s commentary zooms in on Adolf Eichmann, executed at midnight 1961 for his role in the German State’s systematic extermination of 6,000,000 Jews. During the trial in Jerusalem Eichmann minimized his role in the Holocaust, presenting himself as a thoughtless functionary carrying out the orders of his superiors.

Referring to newly discovered writings by Eichmann which form the backbone of a new book by German philosopher Bettina Stangneth, Will writes:

Before he donned his miniaturizing mask in Jerusalem, Eichmann proclaimed that he did what he did in the service of idealism. This supposedly “thoughtless” man’s devotion to ideas was such that, Stangneth says, he “was still composing his last lines when they came to take him to the gallows.” (Bolding added by Views from the Edge)

Eichmann and Hitler were not without ideas or ideals. They were not thoughtless. Nor were they irrational, as those who believe that reason can sea us believe. They were idealists who sought to lift up a super race, burning away the world’s impurities as their deranged hearts conceived of them.

The late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. shone a different light on idealism and the remedy for human madness. He put it this way in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of the we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”

Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler were idealists. Nationalist extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. Whether behind the banner of the State, or of religion, gender, ideology, scientism, or rationalism – idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as “the other” while fleeing “the sore point” that we conscious animals seek to avoid.

Only the God who meets us at the sore point of our shared animality can save us from fantasies. In his last book, Remembered Bliss ((Lapwing Publications: 2014), Dom Sebastian told the reader, “I’m ninety-six, and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, the search for God as real.” RIP.

 

 

 

FOX and the Scapegoat Mechanism

Today’s post on FOX News is inspired by Rene Girard’s “Mimetic” theory and an Aesop’s fable. First the fable.

THE FOX AND THE CROW

A Fox (read FOX) saw a Crow (the American people) fly off with a piece of cheese (real information) in its beak and settle on a branch in a tree.

“That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.

“Good day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds (parties, races, countries), just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of all Birds.”

The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth, the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.

“That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese, I will give you a piece of advice for the future: ‘Do not trust flatterers.'”

THE SCAPEGOAT MECHANISM AND SOCIAL CONTROL

Rene Girard’s theory of “mimetic” desire, mimetic rivalry, and the scapegoat mechanism explains the secret of the appeal and success of FOX News. The Fox takes the cheese it extols by flattering its viewers as the true patriots, the lovers of goodness and truth.

FOX News is the 21st Century voice of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). Joe McCarthy and what came to be known as “McCarthyism” scared the American public in a search for neighbors who might be closeted communists or communist sympathizers until news anchor Edward R. Murrow ended McCarthy’s witch-hunt with a single newscast.

As in that sordid history of the Salem Witch Trials in which the Puritans were summoned by their magistrates and clergy to rid themselves of evil (see Kai Erickson’s The Wayward Puritans: a Study in the Sociology of Deviance), McCarthy’s hunt was a convention of social control to maintain the old fraying religious, political, cultural consensus. FOX resurrects those shameful chapters of the American experience.

There is no quicker way to rally people than to create a scapegoat (a shared enemy, the embodiment of evil). All it takes is a FOX to flatter the “Queen of all Birds” into dropping the Cheese.

Evil

Truth-teller

Truth-teller

I rarely use the word. But a conversation today makes me say it. Some things are just plain evil.

The ticket seller at today’s church fund-raiser said, “Obama’s trying to take all the guns away!”

“No, he’s not. No one’s proposing taking guns away. Nonsense. Nobody is arguing that. Where’d you hear that?”

“FOX!”

“FOX is not news. It’s right-wing propaganda.They’re the 10 Commandment station.

“Remind them of the Ninth Commandment. ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’.”

Just leave me alone!

JESUS CHRIST!
(An Acrostic Conversation
for Holy Week, 2013 A.D.)

Just leave me alone!
Enough already!
Stay out of my life!
Useless you! I have
Success on my own!

Come unto me all you
Heavy burdened.
Receive my peace.
I give you life,
Salvation…
Then love one another.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 26, 2013

FURTHER REFLECTION (gcs)

In the tradition of Nietzsche’s parable of The Mad Man who enters the public square at midnight to cry out “God is dead! God is dead! And we have killed him, you and I,” Willem Zuurdeeg (author of An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, and Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry), declared that

Christ has been crucified by an Order which refused to be disturbed by him (Dostoevsky’s legend of the Grand Inquisitor). Christ historically was killed by the justifying Order of the Law. We establish similar Orders!

Zuurdeeg was part of the compassionate underground in The Netherlands that provided refuge for Jews fleeing the horrors of the Order of the German Third Reich. He spent his life in search for an answer to the question of how such a proud and sophisticated culture could become the perpetrator of unthinkable evil. During his years in the United States, he saw once more a social, economic, political, religious Order (Western Democracy and Capitalism) that muzzles the shameless crying out for what we so desperately need (Freud).”Contrasted to modern man (sic) who cannot cry, primitive man (sic) was not ashamed to cry, and his culture provided him with living, vital forms of crying out.”

We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.

Man Before Chaos , published after Zuurdeeg’s untimely death at the age of 57, ends with the unedited notes from the sermon he preached to his students and faculty colleagues in the McGaw Chapel of McCormick Theological Seminary. Here is the conclusion of his sermon.

God is dead (II). This is now turned around. In principle the man gods, of the Primitive Order, the Law, of the Founding Fathers, o9f Democracy, of Reason, of Being (Necessary Being, Being-Itself), of a moral World Order – these are the gods who are dead. They are “idols in the sense that they exist only because we believe in them. They are dead, in principle, in hope, though the present reality is different…. And the God who is alive is Jesus Christ.

Sermon: “Blogging on the Cross”

Sermon, Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Chaska, MN March 18, 2012.

Click HERE for the YouTube re-broadcast.