The President’s Speech on the Economy

Aired earlier today on All Things Considered (MPR, KNOW, 91.1 FM).

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN.

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN.

Today President Obama began a series of speeches about the future of the American economy. I hope he takes us back to the basics of what an “economy” is.

Economics is about a household and how to manage it. The household is a family, a state, a nation, a planet.

The English word “economy” comes from the Greek work oikos – the Greek word for house. The word “economics” derives from the Greek word oikonomia–the management of a household.

Before it is anything else, economics is a perspective, a frame of reference. Before it decides anything about household management, it knows that there is only one house. Good household management – good economics – pays attention to the wellbeing of the entire house and all its residents.

In America and elsewhere across the world, we are coming to realize that the planet itself is one house. What happens in one room of the house – one family, one city, one nation – affects what happens everywhere in the house. Paul Tillich caught the clear sense of it when he wrote that “Man and nature belong together in their created glory – in their tragedy and in their salvation.” That is to say, there is only one house.

The essential question of economics is not about systems – capitalism, communism, socialism, or something else. The essential question is spiritual, philosophical, and ethical. It’s whether we believe that there is only one oikos, one house; the subsequent question is about how best to manage it for the wellbeing of all its residents and the fragile web of nature without which the house of the living would not exist.

Very often what we call ‘economics’ is not economics. It’s not oikonomia. It’s something else. It assumes something else, and when we forget what an economy and economics really are, we enshrine greed as the essential virtue, ignoring and imperiling everyone else and everthing in the one house in which we all live.

I dream that the President will preach the old Greek common sense: that in his own way, he will reclaim the essential premise of an economy and the ethical task of economics. By bringing the Greek origins to our television sets, headsets, and iPads, he can call us to move forward out of the partisan houses of nonsense.

There is only one house.

Guest Commentary on Minnesota Public Radio today

Click THIS LINK to read today’s Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) commentary “A ‘Well-regulated militia’ has little in common with the arsenals of today” – a short version of yesterday’s “The Meth Shows” published here on Views from the Edge.

I invite you to read the MPR piece. Then add your views as a “comment” on the MPR site and here on the blog.

Every view is important to hear. Mine is my own and mine alone. It represents no one else. The members of Shepherd of the Hill and members of my family are of different minds about this vexing issue. What we share in common is the belief that only honest, open public discussion of the causes and remedies of increasing violence in America will lead to something that better fulfills the Declaration of Independence’s three basic human rights: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I look forward to your comments.

The Worship of Death, MPR

“Sandy Hook was a symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety — arming ourselves to the nines — turns out to be the death of us.  The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.” – guest commentary, GCS, MPR (91.1 FM, Dec. 20, 2012)

Click HERE for the entire commentary on safety and the worship of death aired yesterday on “All Things Considered” (Minnesota Public Radio, MPR, 91.1 FM)  The page you will see includes an audio link to listen.

The MPR site also provides opportunity for readers and listeners to chime in with your point of view to generate further discussion of safety, guns, death, and American culture.

On the day the world comes to an end, thanks so much for choosing to drop by Views from the Edge for a definitive, final word from a completely reliable source of all wisdom and truth. Later this morning I meet with a group of students to discuss the Mayan Calendar hoax and the misreading of the New Testament Book of Revelation  …assuming, of course, that we’re all still here at 9:30 A.M. Central Standard Time :-).

In that same vein – or is it “vain”? – last Sunday’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill on the tragedy of Sandy Hook in light of the biblical tradition will go up on Views from the Edge. and the church website.

“All Things Considered” (MPR, 91.1 FM) This Afternoon

The Tragedy of Sandy Hook is scheduled to air this afternoon between 5:25 and 5:50 CST, but as one of the producers reminds us, “the time is always subject to change. To be safe, listen to the whole show.”

Thanks to the good folks of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR 91.1 FM) for publishing the piece.

Uproar over video

Click “Uproar over video offers a warning about what happens when fundamentalism wins” to read today’s publication on Minnesota Public Radio.  This piece is an adaptation from last Sunday’s sermon intended for a wider audience. Thanks to the editors of MPR for considering it worthy of publication on MPR.

Latest “All Things Considered” commentary

During campaign season, maintaining serenity is a good trick

by Gordon C. Stewart, “All Things Considered” guest commentary (MPR)

Aired August 20, 2012

Click HERE for the Minnesota Public Radio publication, including an Audio link. Here’s the text.
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Some days are brightened by a trip to the nursing home.

Take last Monday, for instance.

The members of the group that meets every Monday at 10 a.m. shuffle in on their walkers, or roll in, in their wheel chairs.

Ninety-seven-year-old Frances (not her real name; nor are the others to follow) walks in without assistance. Her 78-year-old son is dying of cancer. Another relative, 30 years younger than she, is next door in the memory care unit. “Good morning!” she says.

Georgana has been confined to a wheelchair all her life. But her mind is as sharp as her sense of humor. Gwen, who’ll be 90 this week, is coming to the end with hospice care. Pat, recently moved from Assisted Living to the Care Center, is in a wheelchair. All 12 of them smile and offer each other greetings: “Good morning!”

This morning I’ve watched too many campaign ads brought to my computer by Unedited Politics, a website that republishes campaign ads and political speeches without editorial comment. I’m all stirred up.

The 12 people from the nursing home have been drawn here by their desire for light. “Rejoice!” says the reading for the morning. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation ….”

I ask: How do you rejoice in a nursing home? What is the secret of being content when your body and your mind don’t do what they once did?

Listening to their reflections reminds me of how small our footprint is on the larger world. They share my distress about the news, but their years have taught them to recognize light wherever it meets them and to relish the little things of daily life: a smile, a kind word, the cardinal and the squirrels playing outside their windows, a sense of inner peace, a strange contentment. I hope to be more like them — to pay more attention to the things that are beautiful, admirable and lovely.

While they shuffle out on their walkers and roll out in their wheelchairs, Frances, Georgana, Gwen, Pat and the rest of the ad hoc community at the nursing home thank me for coming and wish me a good week. They have lightened my step. I’ll still pay attention to the news, but I’ll listen and watch with a greater lightness of being.

A Visit to the Nursing Home: Staying Sane

Click During campaign season, maintaining serenity is a good trick to read last Friday’s guest commentary published by MPR. The commentary will also air on All Things Considered, “the most listened-to, afternoon drive-time, news radio program in the country”.

When the heart is awash in memory, it’s easy to get lost

Click HERE for the link to “When the heart is awash in memory, it’s easy to forget,” the humorous walk-down-memory-lane commentary published today by Minnesota Public Radio. Thank you, MPR

Here’s a photograph of the Andrews Casket Company mill and “trout stream” in Woodstock, ME, the homestead of the Andrews family where Pete was the last Andrews to make his home.

The Andrews Mill in Woodstock, Maine

Why is pop culture fascinated with the end of the world?

Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalism asked the question after release of the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the Earth. Here’s how I responded.

Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death makes the case that our culture is death-denying.

One could argue that our fascination with end of the world films and stories is an entertaining and objectified way of dealing with one’s own personal destiny. Every death is “The end of the world.” The end of the world writ large on the planetary screen moves the issue into the world of fiction, fantasy and myth from which, like all cultures before ours, we create meaning in the midst of time.

There are other reasons for our fascination, of course. Supreme among them, in my view, is the dualism and the violence that saturate Western culture: God/Satan, Good/Evil, Moral/Immoral, Saved/Damned, Blessed/Cursed.

It is this misreading of ancient Jewish and Christian texts that makes the will to power the central theme of our time. The late Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama said that all “sin” has the same root. It is the claim of “exceptionalism.” Under the banner of nationalist exceptionalism’s shameless stealing of the metaphor of “the city set on a hill” away from its proper setting in Jesus’ nonviolent Sermon on the Mount, we assume Western Culture and the U.S.A. to be the Golden City and the agent of divine will. The exercise of that fallacious conviction results in wars of foreign intervention, occupation, and “pre-emptive strikes” in the name of national security.

We have become a national security state. The “end of the world” fascination in our time is heightened by the knowledge that global destruction – nuclear night – is entirely possible. We fear it. We know it. Yet we are also a culture addicted to entertainment where our worst nightmares get projected onto a movie or television screen where we know that what we’re watching is fiction. The fiction is almost always a high-tech version of the old racist and xenophobic dualism my generation grew up on: cowboys and Indians.

Beneath the question of why our culture is fascinated with end of the world is human nature itself. We human beings, like all other animals, are mortal. We may be exceptional in that we are (more) conscious and self-conscious, but first and last, we are animals. We are born. We live. We die.

As conscious animals, we are capable of great feats. We are also, so far as we know, the only animal capable of self-deception, denial, illusion, and species suicide. The denial of death is the great denial, and immortality is the human species’ great illusion.

The fact of death looms over life for each of us existentially and for the species itself from the beginning and in the middle, not just at the end.  Death is our shared destiny. Death is extinction. Our fascination with the end of the world is a strange Molotov cocktail comprised of all of the ingredients of the human condition, most especially the spiritual terror of annihilation, and the illusion of winning. It is the ongoing legacy of the biblical myth of Cain, humanity’s “first-born” who kills his brother Abel, the myth that describes our time and place in history.

If, like in the movie, you had only three weeks left before the end of the world… What would you do?

I’d do what I’m doing now only more consciously. I’d continue to write each morning. I’d do my best to live gratefully, attending to beauty in nature and in art (classical music and paintings) and to family and friends. I’d pray more thoughtfully. I’d walk my dogs more joyfully, stop yelling at them for barking, and find a place on the North Shore to look out to the horizon of Lake Superior. I’d eat lobster and Dungeness crab with lots of hot butter and salt, rib-eye steaks, garlic mashed potatoes. I would avoid Brussels sprouts! I’d end each meal with a Maine blueberry pie, flan, or Graeter’s ice cream, and a Makers Mark Manhattan.  Then I’d settle down on the couch next to the love of my life, Kay, by the fireplace, turn off the news, see if we can make a little fire of our own, get anchored again in the Sermon on the Mount, and return to sources of joy and laughter in the poems of Hafiz. I’d give up being intentional/purposive. I’d live in the moment.

Minnesota Public Radio News Commentary Today

Minnesota Public Radio for publishing this today. Click on They say politics ain’t beanbag; Marlins manager finds out why | Commentary | Minnesota Public Radio News.