A Slip of the Tongue

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Gordon C. Stewart, January 22, 2022

“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue."
— Zeno of Citium (c. 300 BCE)

About stumbling and slipping

We all stumble occasionally. Who hasn’t slipped while trying to say what we mean? But some slips aren’t slips. Those slips reveal what we mean.

After last night’s Senate blocked the voting right bill from moving forward to debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tongue slipped when trying to tamp down any concern about Black voter suppression.

The concerns are misplaced, he demurred. Why? Because “African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

About Speech

“I hate all bungling like sin, but most of all bungling in state affairs, which produces nothing but mischief to thousands and millions.”

GOETHE, quoted in Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe, March 1832.

“We all stumble in many ways,” wrote the James of The Epistle of James. “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check.” (James 3:2 NIV). There is no such person, he writes, for no human being can tame the tongue. The tongue’s small size is disproportionate to it power. It’s like the rudder of a ship. It guides the ship in whatever direction the pilot directs. In yet another metaphor, the tongue is a little member of the body, “and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small spark!”

A restless evil

With the tongue we praise God and curse others created in God’s image; “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water….”

Wisdom and hypocrisy

“Let those who desire wisdom show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ is not wisdom. It does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

A Life’s project on the tip of the tongue

Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead. John Lewis is dead. Their life project is not. It will sit on the tip of my tongue long after the slip that wasn’t a slip, however long it takes.

O, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
In Memoriam A.H. H. (1850)

Faith and the Administered Consciousness

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“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'”

Gospel according to Matthew 11:16-17.

Having nothing new to say on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I scrolled back to this sermon on Faith and Patriotism which re-awakened my appreciation for Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man and his analysis of a culture of “administered consciousness”.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” — Eugene Debs/Thomas Paine?

Love of country is a good thing. Worshiping it is not. In the hands of a scoundrel, patriotism becomes an idol.

Faith and Patriotism

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, January 19, 2022

Two Epiphanies: the Return of the Wise

An epiphany is the manifestation or unveiling of what is not obvious to the naked eye. Today is Epiphany on the western Church calendar celebrating the epiphany of the Magi (the Wise). One does not expect to find anything of much value in an animal shelter, let alone a child wrapped in cloth whose crib is an animal feeding trough.

Stefano di Giovanni (1392-1450) Journey of the Magi

Returning to Our Own Country by Another Way

If the appearance of the Magi (wisdom figures) bearing expensive gifts to an animal shelter far from the levers of wealth and power calls for special attention, the refusal of these wisdom figures to return to Herod represents the wisdom of the wise of all ages.

Those who are Wise refuse to be informers of a schemer. The Magi do not return to Herod, as Herod has instructed. Instead “they returned to their own country by another way” — and so must we this Day of Epiphany.

Two Epiphanies — Two Unveilings

This Epiphany there will be two epiphanies, two unveilings or manifestations, one the celebration of good news to all, the other the recognition of Herod’s scheming. “And when you have found him (the new-born king), return to me that I too may worship him.”

In the churches of Western Christianity, hymns will be sung to a babe destined to be buried the way he was born — in a borrowed place. Meanwhile, a Herodian crowd with guns drawn will gather at the Capitol In Washington D.C. while a group of Senators and Representatives, whether fearful of Herod or acting on their own ambitions to become him, will continue the schemes that threaten to leave their country in ruins.

In Atlanta, Georgia, Congressman John Lewis’s pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, will take the Wisdom of his predecessor, at Ebenezer, Martin Luther King, Jr., to the U.S. Senate floor.

This Hour of History — What would Martin Luther King say?

What the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might say today to the Senators who have pledged to “do impartial justice” as jurors of the Senate’s impeachment trial requires no imagination.

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. Behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was John Lewis. If Dr. King was the primary face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

News of Congressman John Lewis’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that shocked the heart of America’s better self. On the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, John Lewis’s voice echoes those of his Moses and his late Congressional friend and colleague, the Honorable Elijah Cummings who chaired the House Oversight Committee.

John Lewis knows now what he learned in the years after he was beaten on the Pettus Bridge: some cancers metastasize and change into new forms and symptoms that defy treatment. America’s “original sin” of white racism — the presumption of white supremacy and the rights of white privilege — continues to re-create itself in the American psyche. John Lewis knew that the original sin would not be destroyed by passage of the Voter Rights Act. He knows how quickly a victory for justice can be overturned by Congress, the Courts, and a President. He knew how quickly the cancer of white supremacy turns Black Lives Matter to dust and ashes. Like Elijah Cummings and Martin Luther King, Jr,, he will leave this world shaking his head, refusing to hate, and praying for the nation’s repentance, healing, and redemption on the other side of America’s original sin.

“TODAY IS NOT A DAY OF JOY”

The House Articles of Impeachment sent to the Senate for trial were framed in no small part as the result of the work of Elijah Cummings, the integrity of whose oath of office gained respect on both sides of the political aisle. Like Elijah and Martin, John Lewis will continue to bear the authentic witness to “the right side of history” until his last breath and far beyond in the annals of American history.

Congressman John Lewis addressing the U,S. House of Representatives re: Impeachment of Donald. Trump
This hour in history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gordon C. Stewart, author, “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (Wipf and Stock, 2017), Chaska, MN, January 22, 2020.

The Beloved Community

Swiss theologian Karl Barth and Martin Luther King, Jr. enjoying a moment of laughter.

This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration comes in the fifth week of the American federal government partial shut-down over a wall. In the name of the Beloved Community — the just and peaceable society — Dr. King and Dr. Barth had things to say about building walls.

Karl Barth and Martin Luther King, Jr. are formative influences on my life. I hadn’t realized until this morning how fully their theology and ethic were in the warp and woof of last Sunday’s sermon at Knox Church in Cincinnati. With apologies to these two great figures, we post an excerpt from a sermon of one of the many lesser lights who live in their long shadows.

Something there is in the Beloved that doesn’t love a wall. Something there is in Jesus that tears down the walls between neighbors and turns enemies into friends, brick by brick, stone by stone — between the Judeans and the Samaritans, and between the male apostles and the Canaanite woman; between the “righteous” who choose purity over compassion and the “good” Samaritan who binds up the wounds of the one in the ditch; between the publicly scorned blind beggar and the charitable nickel-and-dimers who passed by on their way to secure homes and lavish parties; the crowds on the street and the sinful Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree; between the Beloved Son and the hosts of sinners who flocked to him for acceptance, forgiveness, healing, hope, and compassion.

For Jesus, love was not a private thing. Love must be made public. As Cornel West puts it, “Justice is love made public.”

Sermon by GCS, Knox Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH, Jan. 13, 2019

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 20, 2019.

MLK: We Have a Choice

MLK imagesCACBW2T7This 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we offer an excerpt from Dr. King’s own words from the pulpit of Riverside Church exactly one year before his death, April 4, 1967. Today is the 51st Anniversary of “Beyond Vietnam.” April 4 is a double anniversary.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this often misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu, Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

‘Let us love one another; for love is God and everything that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth no knoweth no God; for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the God of Hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’ Unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Kayam is right, ‘The moving finger writes, and having written moves on…’ We still have a choice today, non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

The “Beyond Vietnam” speech and the assassination seem like yesterday, perhaps because they’re both happening 51 and 50 years later to the day. His voice and the shot echo down the corridors of time. “Tomorrow is today.”

Click HERE to listen to Dr. King’s first words at Riverside Church: “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me with no other choice.”

“We still have a choice today….” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 4, 2018.

 

 

 

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The photo of the Haitian immigrant’s son graduating at West Point is worth a thousand words, but the words place the tears in context on Martin Luther King Day. “Only love can do that.”

Live & Learn

As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear.

He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”

“I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me.

“Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Idrache wrote. “I could not help but…

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The Unusual Trio – Maher, King, and Thomas – singing in one accord.

Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,’ as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. – Bill Maher.

“Willful Ignorance” (Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.103-105) begins with an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963):

Martin Luther King, Jr.“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The essay concludes with the hope of something better than being blindly agreeable:

aquinas -Botticelli

Thomas Aquinas by Botticelli

“Placed under the scrutiny of a public that refuses to be willfully ignorant, the loud shouts of demagoguery will be swept up by the vacuum of a citizenry schooled in due diligence. And the United States of America, refusing to wallow in the mire of purposeful ignorance, of which Thomas Aquinas, and we ourselves, can be proud.” – Be Still!, p.105.

Wouldn’t Thomas Aquinas and Bill Maher be surprised to be on the same page? Martin Luther King, Jr. is a bridge between the two. Maher, King, and Thomas: a tenor, baritone, and bass in one accord.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 11, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to write something on today’s Daily Prompt word, “Blindly“.

 

 

“Legitimacy” on Martin Luther King Day – 2017

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr days before the 2017 inauguration of a new president begs for serious national reflection.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights leader some people once hated was “legitimized” after he was no longer a threat—re-fashioned into a single issue  icon. The real Martin, the disturbing prophetic preacher calling for justice and peace, has been muted —reduced to an icon on postage stamps and in editorials of the same newspapers that scolded him for breaking the law in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, St. Augustine, and Memphis. The real Martin—the real human treasure worth preserving—and his legacy look on our time and ask how we chose to return to the law-and-order-society.

John Lewis and other survivors whose heads were bloodied on Pettus Bridge by the enforcers of an unjust law-and-order society scratch their heads and wonder. They know that Martin Luther King, Jr’s life and witness exceeded the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He was an early opponent of the War in Vietnam, the military-industrial complex, the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the propaganda machine that kept the public befuddled and confused about reality.

By the time Dr. King while was shot standing with the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he had connected all the dots we have yet to connect: white privilege, excessive wealthy, poverty, capitalism, foreign military interventions, and assassinations.

No one can say whether Martin Dr. King would join his voice to his old friend John Lewis’s, the Civil Rights leader become Congressman who has declared the incoming Presidency “illegitimate”, but imagining King’s dismay at the results of the 2016 election requires no great skill. We know enough to say with certainty that the dream for which Dr. King lived and died is no less at stake today than it was the day a bullet silenced him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968.

Martin Luther King Day 2017 just days before the inauguration asks all Americans what kind of nation we want to be — one that chooses to put out the lights of its real luminaries or a nation that, having seen a bright star on a dark night, walks forward with pink knit hats toward a compassionate Dream worth living and dying for.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 15, 2017

The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.