The Contested State of Truth

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The dawn of a new year is like turning the page in a bad novel, believing it will get better. No one likes a gloomy Gus! But reality is what it is. Or maybe it’s not. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. A toddler playing with matches at his country club threatens to set the world on fire. The toddler and his playmates pretend not to see the bigger fire raging all around them. Only toddlers would believe they can win the game of “Chicken” when their opponent is Nature itself.

THE REAL AND COPIES OF COPIES OF THE REAL

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But faith gets harder when what you can see turns your hair white.

“In postmodernity of Late Capitalism,” writes professor David White in “The Contested Status of Truth, “the [facsimile] precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. There is only the simulation . . . Fictional representations — copies of copies of the real — are rapidly replacing the real in our experience.” (Insight: the Faculty Journal of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Fall 2019.)

Fictional representations repeated repeatedly remove us from what is real. The representation creates its own reality . . . ‘alternative facts’. When comedian Lewis Black tells his audience, “You can’t just make sh-t up,” the auditorium comes alive because the audience knows it’s true.

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.

Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 NRSV

IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING, THE OLD MAN IS SNORING

While global warming accelerates beyond previous expectations — and those earlier scenarios were already ominous and urgent — the party in control of American policy is snoring. Environmental standards that clean air, water, and soil are erased with the stroke of a pen.

It’s not a hoax, Mr. President. Not a hoax, Mr. McConnell, et.al. History will remember you as the climate change deniers intent on partisan control while the planet turned brown.

Likewise, you, Mr. McConnell, will be remembered as the Senate Majority Leader who ended discussion and debate on the Senate floor, and worked hand-in-glove with the impeachment defendant to assure that Mr. Trump is acquitted.

[Blessed are they]
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe
against the innocent.

Psalm 15: 4b-5a

WHO ARE YOU CALLING CHICKEN?

Had you forgotten, or did you not know, what the people of Iran have never forgotten: the CIA engineered the 1953 coup d’etat that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president and put the Shah in power for the next 25 years . . . until the Iranian Revolution paid back the insults with American hostage-taking. Iran has a long memory, a proud history, and rich culture that is many centuries old. The new insult — assassinating an Iranian state official — stokes the embers of smoldering fires, leaving our allies scratching their heads once again, wondering what you were thinking, if you were thinking at all. Did you consider that, by assassinating the Iranian General, you also would eliminate a strange but highly effective ally in our common campaign against ISIS?

TOWARD A CULTURE OF GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, DELIGHT, AND JOY

“Perhaps the resources of our culture — organized around the priority of spectacle and commodity and power — have been exhausted. . . . They cannot deliver the flourishing they claim. They cannot foster a culture of gratitude, appreciation, delight, and joy. They can only foster a culture of hatred, suspicion, and fear.” — David White, Insight.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 7, 2020.

Reflections along the way of a terminal illness

Katie and Maggie sharing a moment of sadness. Maggie knew!

Katie and Maggie sharing a moment of sadness. Maggie knew!

Today, three years to the day after Katherine’s (“Katie’s”) death (May 9, 2010), we inter her cremains.

IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING” was written the day we learned that Katie’s incurable Leiomyosarcoma had taken a turn for the worse. In memory of Katherine (“Katie”) Elizabeth Slaikeu Nolan.

Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 11, 2009

It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning

It’s a day like that. I bumped my head on the illness of a 33 year-old loved one. It’s raining sadness. I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

Terminal illness has a way of doing that unless you believe in miracles of divine intervention or you have extraordinary powers of denial.

My spirituality has become increasingly like that of Rebbe Barukh of Medzobaz, an old Hasidic master in Elie Wiesel’s tale of Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle Against Melancholy. When he prayed the customary Jewish prayer, “Thank you, Master of the Universe, for your generous gifts – those we have received and those we are yet to receive” – he would startle others with his weeping. ‘Why are you weeping?” one of them asked. “I weep,” he said, “in thanksgiving for the gifts already received, and I weep now for the gifts I have yet to receive in case I should not be able to give thanks for them when they come.”

For my family at this critical time, the real miracle has already occurred – the shared gift of love – and it will come again in ways I cannot now anticipate when the last page of the final chapter of our loved one’s life is over.

The miracles are more natural, nearer to hand. Although I don’t believe in selective divine intervention, I am on occasion a sucker for denial – except on days like this when it’s raining and gray and I’ve bumped my head on the hard fact that cancer is ransacking my loved one’s body. A certain amount of denial, too, is a blessing in disguise, one of God’s generous gifts to keep us sane when the rain pours down and clouds are dark.

Faith comes hard sometimes. In college mine was challenged and refined by Ernest Becker‘s insistence that the denial of death lies at the root of so many of our problems. My faith has been refined along the way by the courage of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre to face the meaninglessness of the plague, the faith and courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich who stuck their fingers in the gears of Nazism, and the humble witness of Mother Teresa working in the slums of Calcutta with more questions than answers and some anger at God.

The job of faith, as I see it, is to live as free as possible from illusion with a trust in the final goodness of Reality itself, despite all appearances to the contrary. Faith is the courage and trust to look nothingness in the eye without blinking or breaking our belief in the goodness of mortal life.

When I look into my loved one’s eyes I see that courageous kind of faith that defies the cancer to define her, and a resilient spirit that makes me weep tears of joy over the gifts we’ve already received and the ones we have yet to come.

It’s still raining and it’s still pouring, but I refuse to snore my way through this. I’ve bumped my head on the news of a loved one’s terminal illness, but I’m getting up in the morning.

POSTSCRIPT March 21, 2012

Conversation yesterday about “The List” posted on Bluebird Boulevard:

Karen:

My mother died of cancer eight years ago. Her loss is still visceral. She is in every bird I see.

Me:

The morning of Katherine’s memorial service Kay, Katherine’s mother, was standing by the large picture window gazing out at the pond in our back yard. Out of nowhere, it seemed, two Great Blue Herons flew directly toward the window and swooped upward just before they got to the house. “She’s here. That’s Katie,” said Kay without a second’s hesitation. On her last day of hospice care, Kay and I each remarked that her face looked like a baby bird. I’m a skeptic about such things. I’ve always been, and always will be, a doubting Thomas. My assumptions and conclusions come the hard way. But on the day the herons flew directly at Kay from across the pond, I saw it with my own eyes…and HAD to wonder.

Within a minute a third Great Blue Heron perched on the log by the edge of the pond and stood alone for a LONG time. It reminded me of a gathering on the steps of the State Capitol in Saint Paul following the tragic deaths of school children at Red Lake, MN. The crowd stopped listening to the speaker. They were looking up. “What’s going on?” I asked Richard, the Red Lake American Indian advocate and my co-worker at the Legal Rights Center.org. “Eagles,” he said. “Where?” “WAY up. They’re circling.”

I learned later that the eagles were also circling at that same moment over the grieving families gathered at Red Lake. I asked American Indian colleague what he took it to mean. “We don’t ask. That’s the white man’s question,” he said. “We just accept it. We live in the mystery.”