The Smoke Signaler

Long before Europeans landed on the North American continent, America’s indigenous people often used smoke signals to send up messages understood by those who knew the signals.

Much later other signals came to America. Baseball signals – “signs” – from a third base coach sent to the batter: bunt, take for a strike, hit away, etc. Only members of that team knew what the signs – a right hand twice touches the left ear; the left hand scratches the right shoulder; the head nods in a certain way – mean.

1297937479160_ORIGINALWatching today’s U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence my eye was drawn to a man sitting behind the two witnesses, FBI Director James Comey, and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Like a good baseball coach or intelligence officer, the man in the dark yellow tie and the French cuffs was stone-faced. But it appeared he was giving smoke signals or baseball signs to someone on the Congressional panel asking the questions.

There were times when his head nodded slightly in agreement with a witness’s testimony. There were times when his hand went to his nose, his mouth, an ear, or his eyes moved right or left. As the hearing wore on, I became more curious. Who is he? Why is he in the center of the C-SPAN camera?  Why did his eyes just blink twice? Did he just all for a hit-and-run or a stolen base? Why is he pulling on his cuff? Why are his cuffs French? Is he French foreign Intelligence?

Is he there to alert a team – the Republicans or the Democrats – that the witness had just blown smoke, signaling someone on the panel to follow up with another question? Or was he there as the watchdog if the professional U.S. intelligence community, or the President himself, to remind Comey and Rogers who was over their shoulder them?

The Smoke signaler and RogersToday in America there’s a lot of smoke but the meanings of the signals are known only by a few. And those of us who watch a televised hearing as citizens of a democratic republic are left to watch, listen, and smell our way to what’s real and what’s not.

We do so in the hope that U.S. intelligence agencies, the President of the United States, and the U.S House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence use smoke signals we can all understand to inform us whether a witness or a Congressional Representative is sending a secret message or just blowing smoke. Who knows? Maybe the Poker-faced man with the nice yellow-black tie was just one of us. Maybe a member of the press who arrived early enough to get a great seat!  Hope springs eternal.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 20, 2017.

Chemical Weapons in Syria

Good news comes today of Russia using its influence on the Assad regime to turn over its store of chemical weapons to international oversight, control, and eventual destruction.

Meanwhile, this piece came to the attention of Views from the Edge from the Steering Committee of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Click HERE for a story you won’t see in the corporate-owned media.

The “Nones” at the coffee shop

The “Nones” are the fastest growing group in the United States religious landscape. Time publicized the story in its March 12, 2012 issue.

Last week Rose French, religion editor of the Star Tribune here in Minneapolis, personalized the Pew Forum research in  “Fastest growing group in religious circles? The ‘Nones’”  (10.15.12).

The story begins with Marz Haney, a young woman who grew up attending an evangelical Christian church every Sunday. But she had questions. And, it appears, the church she attended wasn’t big enough for her big questions.

Questions and doubts are not enemies of faith. They are the friends of faith. They refine, correct, expand, and reform faith. They challenge what Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith.”

Sartre, of course, thought that all religious faith was bad. Some of the “Nones” agree with Sartre. Others still profess faith or “spirituality” but live it outside the boundaries of the traditional institutions that no longer hold meaning for them.

“I had some doubts all along. I was sort of in continual doubt about my personal salvation,” says Marz Haney.

That Marz and others have concluded that spirituality/faith/religion is all about personal salvation brings me great sadness. That she would think so is a reflection of the right turn that began to dominate the American religious landscape beginning in the 1950s.

To many of the “Nones”, fear and hate have become the face of Christianity. Sometime in the late ’50s, the televangelists began to change the face of Christianity to the world. Those who tuned in watched and heard the voices of snake oil salesmen selling purple handkerchiefs that would heal, if only you purchased one and put the hanky on your television screen while the evangelist prayed for you. Intelligent faith was turned into an oxymoron. One either is intelligent and without faith, or full of faith and without intelligence.

At the coffee shop recently, the proprietor who greets me “Good Morning, Your Reverence” with a smile, invited me to join a conversation he was having with two other coffee drinkers. “You can help us here,” Mike said. His grin told me this was a set up. “If God created the world, who created God?”

“Hmmm. Interesting question. Really good question. Really, really, really good question. It assumes, of course, that everything is created. That’s the way we think. If something’s here, it has to have been created. But that begs the question endlessly. So….maybe some things are not created. Whatever that is ultimate reality. In theology, the word we use for the ultimately real is ‘God’.”

Several weeks later a young couple sat at the table at The School of the Wise, a coffee shop and wine bar humorously named after the euphemism for speakeasies during the era of Prohibition. The couple had sent a message through the church’s website inviting a conversation about their needs and whether Shepherd of the Hill Church might be a good fit.

They were “Nones”. I love this couple! They made my evening. So honest. So genuine. So open. Wondering and hoping that perhaps Shepherd of the Hill might be a place unlike that mega-church up the road whose very small print declares belief in “the intention, eternal punishment of the wicked”. They were cautious but feeling the need for a community that welcomes rather than scorns, unites rather than divides, thinks as well as feels, and moves them beyond self-absorption in the comfortable but confining precincts of economic privilege.Sitting in a coffee shop with The New York Times on Sunday Morning over a cup of coffee was no longer enough.

Which, of course, is what the gospel is about, as I understand it.

Jesus had one message: “the Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand.”  A “Kingdom” is a society, a commonwealth. A society is people in relationship. “At hand” means “Now!” The kingdom of Heaven was something like the heaven the young couple and I were experiencing right there at the back table in The School for the Wise – real people in real relationships, exploring ultimate reality over delicious mocha-mint-lattes, looking beyond our privilege and celebrating the magnificence of a moment that is at the very heart of  creation as we know it.

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Next up: IRAN?

Gordon C. Stewart, April 3, 2012

So…Iran is next. First Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Now Iran… where does it stop?

I feel helpless, like a parent watching a hopped up teenager taking the car. I know I’m not alone.

This afternoon an email invites me to add my name to a statement and show up at the State Capitol in Saint Paul on April 24.  Here’s the email:

In 2008, over 50 Minnesota politicians and religious leaders signed a statement opposing U.S. military action against Iran.  We held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol in St. Paul that generated articles around the world because of the presence of a  delegation of Middle Eastern journalists.

Unfortunately, four years later we are again faced with even more threats of attacks against Iran.

While politicians are pushing for military action, several prominent military leaders are encouraging caution.  The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Martin Dempsey has said that, “It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran.  A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve long-term objectives.”  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated that Iran is NOT developing a nuclear weapon.  (Meet the Press, 1/08/12)

If Iran is attacked, Dempsey has said the results would destabilize not only that country, but the entire region.  Other analysts have written of the possibility of war on Iran escalating to a third world war.  However, Ron Burgess, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress that “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict.”

Yet the media continues to give more coverage to the politicians and pundits who are claiming that Iran is a grave threat to world peace and must be stopped.  The U.S. is just beginning to withdraw from the devastating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – conflicts that destabilized those countries and cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

Minnesotans have spent nearly $5 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars in 2011 alone, bringing total Minnesota taxpayer spending for these wars to more than $37 billion.  At a time of cutbacks for education, healthcare, jobs, and housing, we cannot afford another costly military adventure.

Please add your name to the list of Minnesota leaders who advocate diplomacy over military attacks as the way to deal with Iran.  We will hold a press conference at noon on Tuesday, April 24, as part of our campaign to work for a peaceful resolution.

Sponsored by:   Middle East Committee (WAMM), Middle East Peace Now ,  Minnesota Peace Project, Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Women Against Military Madness

I signed the statement. I’ll be there again on April 24. It’s Holy Week. My faith was born on a cross, the Roman state’s instrument of torture and execution during a military occupation. I’m a disciple of the crucified Jesus. How can I do anything else?