Pepé Le Pew and the Big Parade

Featured

Pepé Le Pew in our back yard

A strange thing happened this morning, July 4. I kid you not. True story. We had a visitor in our yard for the very first time in the two years we’ve been coming to the cabin by the wetland. Pepé Le Pew chose July 4 to say hello — a skunk just beyond the deck in broad daylight, strolling toward the woods.

American Civics 101

We’re nowhere near a television this Fourth of July, and that’s a good thing. It allows for memory and imagination. I remember all those years when we prided ourselves in not doing what they were doing in Red Square during the Cold War. Tanks and missile rolled through Red Square, a demonstration of military might in a world of nuclear threats. The generals sat and stood in the places of honor.  In Washington, D.C. there was no show of military power on the Fourth of July. We didn’t do that in a democracy. I “knew” that because my teachers, parents, and church all told me so. We prided ourselves that in America the military was under civilian rule; the Secretary of Defense was a civilian, not a general. That was just who we were, and who we were not, said our teachers, parents, faith communities, and those we elected to represent us in Congress or the White House. They’re all dead now.

The Big Parade years later

The Fourth of July parades in our nation’s capitol, like the thousands of smaller parades in American cities and towns, had no special VIP section for the wealthier folks who could afford the price of sittting there. The thought never crossed our minds. We were one nation that declared E pluribus unum. The rest of the year we were poor, middle class, or rich, eating in soup kitchens, Big Boy’s, or country clubs, but on this day we were the same. We were just Americans. We had no caste system like India. And we were all the same, irrespective of political affiliations, at the ballot box. No one’s vote was greater or smaller than another’s.

The only people who made money at Fourth of July parades stood behind the hot dog stands and the popcorn stands, but even then, most of the profits went to charity. No one made money on the Fourth of July. I knew this because our teachers, parents, faith communities, and elected officials told us so. 

How soon we forget

President Dwight David Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warned us. The retired General who had commanded the largest military force in history during Word War II was a military hero who hated war. The greatest threat to democracy, he said was not communism or any other threat from beyond our borders. The great threat to democracy itself was the “the military-industrial complex.” 

Yesterday Eisenhower’s latest successor communicated with the nation in a tweet:

Big 4th of July in D.C. ‘Salute to America.’ The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World. Incredible Flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks!

Donald J. Trump, July 3, 2019
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN July 4, 2019.

Keep Awake – Undelivered sermon #1

KEEP AWAKE!

First Sunday in Advent, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” [attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Mark 13:37].

It’s hard to stay awake in times like these. To be conscious means grief, helplessness, anger at the state of the world.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is supposed to bring comfort but it doesn’t, unless the heaven and earth of which Jesus speaks are the ones our pride has created. The imaginary ones. The heavenly and earthly projects that rise out of human insecurity as in the Genesis story of Babel, the story of what never was but always is, according to which the building of the ideal city is interrupted and the tower “with its top in the heavens” is “left off”.

But the word – the story about it – has not passed away. It endures. As fresh today as it was when first shared around a campfire as a way of telling each generation the respective places of God and man (humankind).

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

Fourteen years after the World Trade Towers collapsed in NYC, a new tower, “One World Trade Center” – taller, stronger, bolder – stands where the old towers fell on 9/11.

One World Trade Center, symbolizes a resurrection of the crashed myth. Standing a few blocks from Wall Street, where the global economy is reconstructed every day, One World Trade Center re-erects the myth of national supremacy, benign goodness, and the virtue of the American economic system. Which is different from a resurrection.

We could have left Ground Zero empty, void of monoliths and phallic symbols. We could have turned it into a plaza, a memorial to the error of pride, a turning away from global arrogance. A repentance from the economic-military-religious complex that expropriated the oil fields in the Middle East, assassinated the elected President of Iran in 1958, installed the Shah in his place, ignored the human rights of Palestinians, supported and installed western-friendly oligarchies and strong men in Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Saddam Hussein), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) until, except for Saudi Arabia, they turned against us.

Instead of listening to the word that does not pass away, we Americans, to the sorrow of New Yorkers like Michael Kimmelman (” A Soaring Emblem of New York, and Its Upside-Down Priorities, NY Times, Nov. 29, 2014), opted for the old words and worn-out scripts that have failed us.

The Arab Spring in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia did not do what the NeoCon exporters of Western democracy had imagined. It unleashed a seething volcano of anti-American resentment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria, have become desert quagmires – Vietnams without jungles.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warning of an emerging military-industrial complex is all but forgotten as One World Trade Center stands like a phoenix raised up…and up…and up from the ashes, the world’s tallest building, symbol of global dominance re-erected from the horrifying deadly collapse of 9/11.

Words and symbols are everything in this world.

As Mr. Kimmelman put,

“…[The World Trade Center Twin Towers] never really connected with the rest of Lower Manhattan. There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center re-development including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood, at a human scale, where the windswept plaza at the foot of the twin towers had been.”

It’s all about human scale. A plaza. Not a tower with its top in the heavens.

Staying awake is hard. Being attuned to what is not passing away takes faith. It takes hope. I takes courage. Maybe even love.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” [Mark 13:28]

Jesus often seems to have said that the word we need to hear is spoken by nature. Learn from the fig tree. It waits through the dormant season to become tender again, to put forth its leaves toward summer when it produces its sweet figs.

Nature is calling. Nature is our home. Nature is what is – the real heaven and earth – the word that will not pass away, the word that will survive when we are gone. We need to love nature again. Awaken to nature. Re-imagine ourselves as part of nature, “creatures” like all the other creatures. Our words will pass away, even the best of them. Our Creator’s word will not.

During Advent – this most puzzling of seasons, the season of wakeful, wait-ful anticipation of a Coming in fullness – I find myself crying out like Isaiah. “You have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” [Isaiah 64:7]

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations [the ‘ethnoi’ in New Testament Greek, i.e.” the peoples”] might tremble at your presence!” [Isaiah 64:1-2]

The “nations” have always been God’s adversaries, closed in on themselves, puffed up, defensive against intruders foreign and domestic, plunderers of nature and other nations, hostile to the foreigner, both human and Divine.

In this season of “economic recovery” when the poor continue to get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class shrinks, I pray “Good Lord, deliver us, from ‘the hand of our own iniquity’. Remember, ‘O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ [Isaiah 64:8]”

This word is the only word that lasts.

Stay awake, my soul. Stay awake to the whole of it, all of it – the sorrow and the grief of it, the loneliness of it, the anger in it, the guilt of it, the finger pointing out and away and the finger pointing back at me, a nation to myself, and the presence of the Potter – and my soul will be well.

Sequestration Silver Lining

Budget Control Act

Budget Control Act

Only a deadlocked Congress could produce this unintentional miracle.

The military-defense budget has been a sacred cow. Proponents of Department of Defense budget cuts were tarred and feathered as weak on national security.

Perhaps only ‘Sequestration” – this unthinkable package of defense and entitlement program cuts that neither major party thought tolerable – could make it happen. I can hear the applause from the angels and from President Dwight David Eisenhower, whose last words from the Oval Office warned that the rise of the Military-Industrial-Complex was the greatest threat to democracy, even while they weep over the indiscriminate human impacts of Sequestration.

Somewhere over the rainbow….bluebirds…instead of drones…fly. Could it also be that sometimes God really does act in strange and mysterious ways…?

The American Dream on the Ropes

Gordon C. Stewart | MinnPost.com, Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” The homeland I mourn is the world I once thought I knew. It was far from a perfect world, by any measure, but its ideals seemed intact. There was set of shared expectations of fairness, some measure of equality, the vision of a more just and peaceful world freed from poverty, oppression and war.

Today that world is as much of a memory as my boyhood home. Something has died. The American dream is rising in Egypt, in Tunisia, and across the Arab world, but it is on the ropes here in America. The cry for democracy, basic human rights, and an end to Mubarak’s self-serving economy has its echo in Madison, Wis., where workers have stood tall for the right of collective bargaining. But not tall enough to stop the turning back of the clock. Nor are they bold enough to strike, as unions would have in my youth.

All across America the hard-earned gains of the labor movement are being painted as evil, yet not a single person on Wall Street has gone to jail for the fraudulent, greedy schemes that brought the American economy to its knees in September-October, 2008. Not one. The idea of democratic rule — the rule of ordinary, hard-working people — has been high-jacked by a ruling class that has no shame while it takes home most of the cookies. It pays little or no taxes, cries foul about spending, raids the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for its wars, blames the deficit on liberal social programs, and leaves the crumbs from its budget-cutting for the rest of us to fight over.

The Soviet Union was feared

My generation’s formative years during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations had us ducking under our school desks in preparation for a nuclear bomb that was sure to drop on my little town outside of Philadelphia. The U.S.S.R. was the enemy and was out to get us. “Getting us” would mean, we thought, an end to democracy, an end to freedom.

Never did it occur to us that the end of democracy and freedom would come from what President Dwight Eisenhower later warned of: the American military-industrial complex that would usurp the people’s right to rule themselves. Never would it have occurred to us that a U.S. Supreme Court would rule that corporations are “persons” when it comes to the electoral process — people just like us free to spend the money none of the rest of us “persons” has to buy an election.

Sunday mornings after church I remember turning on the religious show that featured Oral Roberts ranting and raving and waving and “healing” his bizarre church in Oklahoma City — thinking that this must be some kind of joke. What was bizarre then has become mainstream today. Michele Bachmann, whose law degree comes from Oral Roberts University Bible-based O.W. Coburn School of Law (now defunct) and Sarah Palin, whose church makes Oral Roberts look temperate, would have been laughed off the stage when I was a kid. Today they own the stage, and their Annie Oakley, winner-take-all politics and economics set the agenda — not only in Minnesota and Alaska, but in Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C. Patriotism has become a white fundamentalist Christian packing a semi-automatic on the lookout for the same people Sen. Joseph McCarthy hunted down in the early ’50s.

I remember Joe McCarthy. I didn’t like him then. I don’t like him now. And I don’t like those who imitate him wearing lipstick on their beauty-queen faces and have the gall to call the president of the United States “un-American.”  We no longer need a House Un-American Activities Committee to conduct our witch hunts. The verdicts are rendered ad hoc by demagogic politicians with law degrees from a law school founded by Oral Roberts that lasted only seven years before closing its doors.

Americans want ‘real’ people as leaders

Who needs Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan or Notre Dame?  We want our elected leaders to be “real” people untainted by elitist educations. And we want them to tell us that “taxes” — the word that once upon a time stood for my share of personal responsibility for America’s infrastructures, values, financial security and national defense — are greedy government conspiracies to rob our us of what is rightfully ours.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long way from home,” sang the African-American slaves picking cotton out in the fields. Some who sang the songs were children who had been separated from their mothers and families as prize chattel on the slave blocks. Others sang it mourning their African homeland. Sometimes “home” stood for heavenly release from the terror of the plantation. The mournful tones from the cotton fields echoed off the walls of the plantation owners’ mansions. The owners considered their work force part of their plantation American Way of Life, while the enslaved workers sang of a different homeland right under their masters’ noses.

I have not been stolen away. But the sense of grief, anger and sadness could not be more real. My mother has died. My country has been stolen. “Come, my brother, come my sister, a long way from home.”

Yesterday’s post “The Gospel and the Chicken Coop” (scroll down) quotes from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. This morning Unedited Politics, a blog dedicated to respecting viewers’ ability to draw their own conclusions (no punditry on this blog), posted the speech.

The Gospel and the Chicken Coop

The Gospel and the Chicken Coop – The Chaska Herald, March  06, 2009

Gordon C. Stewart

For too long the foxes have run the chicken coop, and, when the rightful  owner decides to take back the chicken coop, the foxes aren’t happy.

The warning came in President Dwight D. Eisenhower Final Address to the nation  way back in 1961. Add the rapacious practices of financial institutions to his  military-industrial complex, and his words hold up a mirror for where we are  today: “The total influence [of the new military-industrial complex] – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house,  every office of the federal government.

Read more:  Chaska Herald – Perspectives The gospel and the chicken coop