Author Interview – Gordon C. Stewart – “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” (Poetic Theological Essays on Politics, Pop Culture, Economy and Much More)

David Ellis (an English award-winning poet, novelist, writer, and host of “Too Full to Write”) reached across “the pond” following publication of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness”. Thank you, David.

toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

Howdy folks.

So happy that you could make it to through to Friday, our favourite day of the week, in one piece 🙂

For tonight’s author interview extravaganza, let me introduce to you all my good friend, theologian and author Gordon C. Stewart, as he regales us with his writing experiences, his engagingly witty collection of essays blended together in a volume for our reading pleasure and what ultimately influences his writing thoughts and processes.

Enjoy the show and have a fantastic weekend packed full of fun, food, drinks and frolics galore, thanks for reading 🙂

Hi there Gordon, thank you for joining us to discuss your written works, writing experiences, passions and influences.

Let’s start with debut anthology “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness”, a collection of poetic essays based on a variety of topics such as politics, economy and popular culture to name a few. Can you elaborate more…

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English Translation

Trump in ceramicsHere’s the English translation of the French Cro-Magnon chorus posted yesterday as The Cro-Magnon Chorus:

“You think you are superior (to us). You are very stupid. Your intelligence and behavior insult your Cro-Magnon ancestors. We never changed the climate!”

Confession: I had to use an online French to English translator to understand the message of the Cro-Magnon Chorus. I wasn’t trying to be superior!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, still in France, June 16, 2016

 

Verse – Mary’s Bastard Child

It’s dark and drear on the way
to Bethlehem where relatives
abound with rooms to spare
to welcome our coming.

Why are the lights all out,
the doors locked, the knocks
unanswered, no candles lit for
us from out of town?

Has news of the coming illegitimate
child scared them off, driven them
way inside bolted doors named fear
and blame and shame?

Has the buzz been mean, the
relatives praying to stay clean
of bedsheets soiled of a bastard
birth and bloody after-birth?

Have the men in town gathered
stones and the women
shrunk back from mid-wifing
Mary’s child into life?

A flop house on the other side
of town welcomes us with fires
outside the barn for black
sheep guests from Nazareth.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 7, 2016

Verse – Bending Down, Looking Up

As readers of Views from the Edge (VFTE) may know, Steve Shoemaker, my poet colleague on VFTE has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His sense of humor remains strong. This verse recalls a moment with Steve and four other seminary classmates following a rare Cubs’ win at Wrigley Field in Wrigleyville, Chicago.

wrigley-field-2014

BENDING DOWN, LOOKING UP

A towering 69 year-old figure standing
six-feet-eight, Steve saunters slowly
through the post-game crowd outside
“the Friendly Confines” of Wrigleyville
like a watchtower on skates, looking
far and near for who knows what.

A very happy young woman as high
as he is tall pulls on his sleeve, asking
a question only he, bending far down,
can hear. He smiles but shakes his head
to whatever offer threatened to bring
him down to a lower happiness high.

Two years later at 72, he might be
looking again for the Wrigleyville fan
for something to ease the pain, settle
his stomach, give some relief from
the newly diagnosed cancer, a pill
or toke or two to raise him back up
to the watchtower, now six-feet-seven.

We who couldn’t hear the question
now smile, bend down low, and look up
beyond Steve’s lofty height with prayers
for courage, strength, whatever will keep
him tall in the game where everyone wins
and loses, and quite unexpectedly,
feels a gentle tug on an old shirtsleeve.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Dec. 8, 2015

Do prairie grasses ever get depressed?

 

Prairie grassland, Photo by Kay Stewart

Prairie grassland, Photo by Kay Stewart

Each alone and
all together
planted on
the prairie plain
we go nowhere
in sleet and snow
wind and rain
scorching heat
and frigid cold
sun and drought
quarter moons
half moons
three-quarter moons
full moons
no moons
starless nights
and starlit nights
we stay and wait
for nothing in
particular knowing
who and where
we are — a prairie
grassland sown
for us to be our
own true selves
together and alone.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary near Bassett, Nebraska, September 23, 2015.

Blameless and Exasperating

“Blameless people are always the most exasperating.”– Mary Ann Evans [pen name, George Eliot], Middlemarch,  A Study of Provincial Life, 1871.

Blamelessness and exasperation have characterized both sides of a recent conversation on Views from the Edge. Not blamelessness exactly, but certainty, positions that seem to each party to be apparent and true beyond a doubt. Each of us has become exasperated with  the other.

Jesus’ word to the harsh critic of others – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”- is forgotten or ignored. Claims to righteousness and suspicion of the other replace self-criticism and magnanimity.

We live increasingly trapped in separate bubbles of survival in the war of ideas, convictions, platforms, moralities, religions, and ideologies in the search for security.

Instead of bubbles, Dennis Aubrey’s A Patron for Prisoners uses the metaphor of prison, quoting a sage from the 5th Century C.E., Saint Léonard of Noblat, the patron saint of prisoners, whose “Song” (based on Psalm 107) describes a hope for liberation from the prison cell whose doors we have locked from the inside.

“A Patron for Prisoners” opens with The Song of Saint Léonard of Noblat (5th Century):

He has liberated those sitting in darkness and shadow of death and chained in beggary and irons,
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses,
He brought them out of the path of iniquity,
For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder,
He hath liberated those in bindings and many nobles in iron manacles.

– Song of Saint Léonard, quoted by Aymeri Picaud, translated by Richard Hogarth

Saint Léonard’s Song ends with the release of the nobles, the only class of people named among the liberated throng.  It is no mistake that he includes them among those to be blessed by release from iron manacles. We are all bound in the prison cells of logs and specks, blameless and exasperated, fearful of our survival on the other side of the release.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 2015.

America – In Search of Wisdom

Though we Americans disagree profoundly on many profound matters, we are often united by a deeper conviction regarding good and evil.

Today in America we’re taking sides. Left-Right. Democrat-Republican. Christian-non-christian. Religious-nonreligious. good-evil. All of the splits have something to do with perceptions of the dichotomy of good and evil, the good guys and the bad guys.

Wisdom is always the victim. Wisdom is crucified by the race to goodness. It sits in the middle of dichotomous thinking, a way of life that Danish Philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1838), who was anything but a joiner, called double-mindedness.

In the Bible wisdom is personified as female.  In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is like a concerned mother calling to her children who prefer simpleness to insight:

“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says,

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.

“Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Provers 9:4-6

Wisdom is maternal. Wisdom calls her wayward children – the simple ones — to “turn in here” to her house. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Wisdom’ children are mature.

Could it be that the beatitude of Jesus “blessed are the pure in heart” is a call to return to Wisdom’s house of insight where the unity of all things is unbroken, instead of a call to simpleness? Simplicity of heart, then, is not simplicity of mind but rather to will one thing only: the goodness of wisdom (unity), as described by D. Anthony Storm‘s comments on  Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing Only:

God is presented as “simple”. I use this term in the same sense as Aquinas. God is singular of nature, and is not divided or contrary in any way. By this, I do not refer to unitarian versus trinitarian theology, but simply that Kierkegaard sees God as a unity of thought, will, and being. The nature of God is changeless (see The Changelessness of God). Man, on the other hand, is divided by nature. [Italics edited for purposes of emphasis]

Wisdom holds all things together, honoring the unity already present in the nature of reality itself. It seeks the simpleness or singleness with is God, not the simple-mindedness of the warring children of light and darkness, joining the right “side” in a battle of good versus evil. The heart of Wisdom recognizes and celebrates goodness, justice, and truth in whatever venue they appear.

“You that are simple – those without sense, you that are immature – turn in here!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 16, 2015

 

Speaking very clearly

 

I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

I don’t know the person who put the question. We’re complete strangers.  We’ve never met. We live in different worlds.  Our understandings are foreign to each other, so strange that suspicion and name-calling, or the fear that the other is calling the other “a nut job”, undermines the possibility of real discussion.

I … read a few of your other posts, needless to say; everything I read merely confirmed my original “understanding” of who you are. In other words Gordon, (and I say this with both respect and disdain) You do not fool me, I knew you from your first words, your Credentials simply confirmed what was obvious from the start. Take that as you will.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that you are convinced that I am some sort of zealot or just another “right-wing nut job”, but in truth I am just another American. A Christian American.

I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

The writer was responding to Views from the Edge‘s post of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s speech on Hiroshima Day, 2006. Nothing in that post would lead a reader to assume, or to conclude, knowledge of my political party affiliation.

I asked myself how to respond. I pondered not replying at all. I chose to respond in writing as best I could, assuring the writer that I don’t call people right-wing nut jobs, and addressing other sections of the comment. After an exchange of blog comments and an email inviting a phone conversation, we shared some of the milk of human kindness over the phone long distance.

In further reflection I realized that the writer’s question articulates a point of view that rarely speaks so clearly. It assumes that Christian faith and the Democratic Party are polar opposites. Others on the left assume a Christian cannot be a Republican. Parts of America we are living in two separate worlds – on two different sides without much clear speaking. It’s not surprising that the “Nones” – those who now declare no religious affiliation in national polls – are growing in America.

The writer’s comments repeatedly refer to “the real war” in heaven and on earth, spiritual warfare between Satan and God. Until “the real war” is over, the argument goes, there will be cruelty and wars because of the fallenness of human nature, and there’s nothing we can do to change. In the midst of time we must chose which “side” we are on.

Views from the Edge’s first Hiroshima Day piece and the one that followed it had called attention to the hubris of all claims (Japanese or American) to national exceptionalism.

The writer therefore, as best I can tell, concluded I must be a Democrat, i.e. someone who doesn’t love his country, someone who thinks that America is not a Christian nation. Someone who might be a …. “You don’t fool me.”

The commenter was right that I’m a Christian but mistaken in assuming I’m a Democrat. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are, in my view, the left wing and the right wing of a single American party. Both wings belong to Wall Street. They march in parades on Main Street at election time, but the parades are funded by Wall Street and America’s wealthiest 1%. We do not live in a democratic republic. We are living under an oligarchy.

Jesus has a few things to say about that.  J.J. Von Allmen (A Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1958) makes a powerful case that Jesus’s teaching about money is original to him. He is the first to call money “Mammon”: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus choice to personify wealth stands out as an exception to his normal way of speaking. Mammon and its distribution are at the heart of Jesus’s preaching and teaching. There is the Kingdom of God and there is the Kingdom of Mammon. One cannot serve both.

Had the commenter’s question been “How can you be a Christian and a socialist?” the answer would have been easy.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 15, 2015

Verse – Death Never Suits Us

Death comes
in many shapes
and sizes but
never suits us

though morticious
cosmeticians
paint the gray of
mannequin faces

to smile, and fold
life-like hands
on chests that
do not breathe

The body is
to Life what
ashes are to fire
and spirit to dust

a painted figure
dressed in suit
and tie for work
that is no more

Blessed are they
who die in the Lord,
for their works
do follow them.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MT, July 7, 2015

BEST Steak Ever! WORST Haircut!

Video

THE BEST TENDERLOIN EVER

Our home for four weeks is 14 miles west of Anaconda, Montana. Last Friday evening we go to Barclay II for dinner (the restaurant, not the dog).

Like lots of things in these parts, exterior facades count for little. Barclay II doesn’t look like much from the outside but it has a great reputation for steak and seafood. Behind the scruffy door is an upscale restaurant.

The proprietor, Tammy comes to the table to greet us. We ask what they’re known for. “The tenderloin is the most popular,” she says. “I see from the menu it comes with crab legs. Are they Snow Crab or King Crab?” I’m not so big on Snow Crab; I love King Crab. She answers, “King Crab.”

When the wait person comes to take our orders, I order the tenderloin “between medium-rare and medium”. The waitress notes exactly what I say. When she returns, the tenderloin is precisely as requested. In downtown Minneapolis, Murray’s Steak House  is famous for its Silver Butter Knife Steak, so named because you can cut it with a butter knife. Murray’s is good. Barclay’s, in downtown Anaconda, is better. The tender-est, most flavor-ful steak I’ve every eaten anywhere in the world.

THE WORST-HAIRCUT EVER

The next morning we’re again in downtown Anaconda in The Coffee Corral coffee shop when Kay reminds me I need a haircut before stepping into the pulpit the next morning at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel where I’m privileged to preach the next three weeks. It’s Saturday.

I leave Kay in search of the barber shop. The barber pole is not spinning; the sign on the door posts the hours: Monday-Friday. It’s closed. Next door is a beauty salon. I really need a haircut. I go in to the scene of six women seated in a semicircle having their nails done.

“Good morning,” I say, “Do you do men?” Several of the woman roar with laughter. “I mean…do you cut men’s hair?” Again they laugh. “My wife says I need a haircut; wadda ya all think?” Three of them nod Yes; three nod No. The stylist answers Yes and says she can do me at 1:00.

I return at 1:00. The stylist and I exchange a few pleasantries, ignoring the young bridesmaid who’s all dressed for an afternoon wedding, waiting to have her hair done. I take a seat in the stylist’s chair. She asks me what I want. I answer, just “a trim,” meaning leave it the way it is but take maybe a quarter of an inch, at most. I tell her that once I take out my hearing aids I won’t be able to hear a thing. She smiles, laughs, and says, “No problem. That’s great!” I take it she’s not a big talker, or maybe, God for bid, she doesn’t like men.

I set the hearing aids on the counter. She asks a question I can’t hear. As hearing-impaired people often do when we can’t hear something, I smile and nod my head. I should have reached for the hearing aids.

Within seconds I’m back in Vince’s Barber Shop in Broomall, Pennsylvania at the age of five. Vince’s old electric clippers are shearing the sides of my head like a sheep shearer shears wool from a sheep. At age 72 I don’t have much left, but I’m told I have beautiful hair, even if it’s white. The clippers are clipping; the hair is flying in one-inch clumps. This is not a trim! I’m being led to the slaughter. I close my eyes, as though in prayer, pretending it’s not as bad as I expect.

I should have prayed!

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

She finishes “the trim” with scissors and holds up the mirror to show me her handiwork. I pretend I’m an actor, looking at the unrecognizable head staring back at me. It’s Mortimer Snerd, ventriloquest Edgar Bergen’s dummy who made me laugh as a kid, and, as Mortimer often did, I smile a stupid smile, and say, “Yup”. There is nothing else to do.

ALWAYS CARRY CASH

“How much do I owe you?” “Ten dollars,” she says. “Do you take American Express?” “No,” she says, “we only take cash.”

Oops! I take out my wallet. No cash. I go into my pockets and find three one crumpled dollar bills. She agrees to let me go up the street to the coffee shop where Kay is using the internet. “I’ll be back,” I say, assuring her I’m not skipping town. I don’t tell her that her haircut is only worth three dollars.

Kay also has no cash. But she remembers the cylinder of quarters she keeps in the Prius. We count them out, 38 quarters, just enough with my three ones to cover the cost and leave a $1.50 tip, and return to the Beauty Salon.

She’s doing the hair of the teenage girl dressed in her bridesmaid uniform. I think of bridesmaids’ dresses as uniforms ‘cause, like Army recruits, the poor bridesmaids have to wear what their recruiter makes them wear. There is no freedom on wedding day. I just hope the poor soul sitting in the stylist’s chair doesn’t open her eyes to see Mortimer staring back from her bridesmaid uniform.

LESSONS FOR LIFE

Thirteen (13) little hours offered the best and the worst, the joys and, as the old hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” puts it, “the burdens of the day.”

I’ll take back to Minneapolis three life lessons learned in Anaconda:

  1. Pay no attention to the exterior appearance of anything, especially a restaurant. It may hide the best tenderloin steak you’ve ever tasted anywhere.
  2. Carry cash!
  3. If you’re a guy who ventures into a beauty salon next door to the closed barber shop and some women laugh loudly when you ask if they do men, run for your life. You may turn into Mortimer Snerd!

“Yup!” Life is like that. I smile and remember the tenderloin. Kay tells me my hair will grow out again.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Anaconda, MT, June 29, 2015