A Case of Mistaken Identity

Sixty years ago I learned to speak inclusively of God. God is not a He any more than He’s a She. God is beyond gender. Or, as Paul Tillich, described it, the Ground-of-Being, or Being-Itself, includes male and female and is beyond male and female. Since being awakened to the danger of gender-specific religious language, I’ve done my best to shed the male pronouns  and images on which I was raised. 

But there has been a sense of loss that has been harder to define — a less immediate, less intimate, more distant relationship in prayer and meditation. As I have come to reflect on it over the years, other things also have troubled me, not the least of which is my haughtiness, my sense of superiority to those who still use the old pronouns. More than that, however, has been a re-examination of the nature of religious language. Is some religious language good and others bad; some enlightened and others unenlightened; one right and another wrong?

And what to do with the old biblical chestnuts: “The Lord is my shepherd…He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23)? 

Then, several months ago, along came a publisher’s invitation to endorse William G. Britton’s Wisdom from the Margin: Daily Readings, that includes voices from a wider spectrum of religious language than the circle in which I live. Britton’s collection includes writers who speak of He and Him. Names like Dallas Willard, Paul Pearsall, and Peter Scazzero are new to me. Others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Kathleen Norris, and Thomas Merton are part of my daily bread, but even excerpts from their writings remind me that they were not as cautious as I in their language for God. They understood that the genre of prayer is psalmic poetry, the language of the heart. “He leadeth me… beyond the closed circles of righteousness.”

In what turned out to be the book’s only endorsement, I wrote:

Wisdom from the Margins is what it says it is. It’s that rare collection of readings from the wisest voices, like a menu of gourmet small bites in the quick-fix fast food world where wisdom is made homeless. Each small bite will stay with you throughout the day. If the current American religious landscape is giving you a stomach ache, Wisdom from the Margins is for you.

The publisher mistakenly attributed the endorsement to “Gordon Stewart, producer and co-host of ‘Lug Nutzz Radio’”. Click Gordon ‘Lug Nutzz’ Stewart for the mistaken identity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, July 18, 2018

Reading my own obituary!

It’s startling when you see your own name on the obituary page!

But there it is, right there, posted on the internet.

Published in the The Argus on 10 May 13

STEWART Gordon On 3rd May 2013, Gordon aged 86 years. Resident of Sussex Heights sadly missed by family and friends. Funeral Service at Hove Cemetery on Wednesday, 22nd May at 10.00 a.m. (Graveside service) Flowers or if desired donations for the Martlets Hospice may be sent to S.E Skinner and Sons, 145 Lewes Road, Brighton, BN2 3LG Tel. 01273 607446.

Condolences to the family of the older Gordon in Sussex Heights this Wednesday. Some day it will be this Gordon Stewart…with the middle initial ‘C’ on the obituary page, but I won’t be reading it. For Gordon’s family and for all who will eventually stands at the grave, this lovely graveside prayer from The Book of Common Prayer offers consolation and call us to live our days with meaning, thanksgiving, and hope:

O Lord, support us all the day long
until the shadows lengthen, and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.

Then, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging
and peace at the last.

Out of the Mouth of William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

“You’re not abandoned. God provides minimum protection – maximum support.”

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (June 1, 1924 – April 12, 2006) was bigger than life. He had a way about him. He was a great preacher who packed the Chapel at Yale and the Riverside Church in New York City, one of the nation’s greatest pulpit dating back to Harry Emerson Fosdick. Once a promising candidate for a career as a concert pianist, Coffin chose the ministry instead, but he carried his musicality into the cadences of his speech and the power and beauty of his language. A former member of the CIA, he became fiercely committed to peace, a leader in the civil rights, peace, and nuclear freeze and disarmament movements.

After many years of watching from afar, our paths crossed while serving as Pastor to The College of Wooster in Wooster, OH and Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, the College congregation-in-residence. The night of his arrival on campus, a handful of professors gathered in a home into the late hours of the night. I was spell-bound not only by his stories but by the quick repartee and personal interest in the lives of the strangers in the room. For the rest of the week Bill roused the campus with his passionate faith and wisdom.

Years later PBS broadcast Bill Moyers’ interview with him. Bill had suffered a stroke three years before, recovered his speech through persistent therapy, and was now reflecting with Bill Moyers about the recent news that he would be dead by the end of the year. It was vintage Bill Coffin. Realistic, cheerful, life-affirming, humorous, bold, loving, enjoying every moment of the conversation.

It led me to tears. “I have to call him,” I thought. “I have to tell him how important he’s been to so many of us – his close friends and distant admirers such as I.”  After some searching, I learned that he was living in Vermont and dialed the number.

Randy, Bill’s wife, answered the phone. “You don’t know me,” I said, “but I saw Bill’s interview with Bill Moyers last night on PBS. I just felt I had to call. He’s not likely to remember me but I had to call. This is Gordon Stewart calling from Minnes…” “O my, how good of you to call. Let me get Bill. I know he’ll want to talk with you… Bill…Bill….”.  “Gordon!” boomed out the familiar New York baritone voice. “We’ve thought about you many times. So good to hear from you! How the hell are you?  What’s happening out there in Minnesota?”

William Sloane Coffin was not a personal friend. He was a heroic figure I had admired and had put on a pedestal.  There are many reasons he deserved to be emulated, foremost perhaps, was that he really loved people and never forgot them. He lived freely at the end when death was knocking at his door because he believed, as he said,

“The abyss of God’s love is deeper than the abyss of death. And she who overcomes her fear of death lives as though death were a past and not a future experience.”