January 6 — Epiphanies

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A Day of Infamy

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, POTUS Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…” he began. His oft-cited words could have been repeated the day after the attack on the U. S. Capitol January 6, 2020.

The POTUS defeated in the 2020 election called no special session of Congress on January 7, 2021. The day before (Jan. 6, 2021) the President stayed in the Oval Office dining room watching the rampage through the halls of Congress, and Capitol Police rushing Members of Congress, the Vice President and their staff members into hiding. He kept his eyes glued to the unfolding images as if watching contestants on Jeopardy.

When finally he spoke after 187 minutes of silence, he told those who had breached the Capitol “…So go home. We love you, you’re very special. We’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home, and go home in peace.” There was no special session of Congress, as on the day after Pearl Harbor. Congress impeached Mr. Trump for the second time over the objection of Jim Jordan (pictured below), Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others. Loyalist senators voted to acquit him. January 6, 2020 will be remembered as the day the Big Lie and Stop the Steal almost stole democracy.

Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸
@mtgreenee

  1. We must remove Adam Schiff from Congress.
    It’s not enough to take him off committees.
    He has heinously abused power & LIED repeatedly to the American people to weaponize the government to attack his political enemies.
    He’s a Communists.
    All Communists must be expelled.
    10:03 AM · Dec 15, 2021·Twitter for iPhone

Blacklisted – on the LIST (Click Here)

Painting public figures as Communists has a history. In 1952 and following, the right wing of the Republican Party created a “blacklist” of Communists and Communist sympathizers.

The List

10 PUBLIC FIGURES

Helen Keller
Leonard Bernstein
Burl Ives
Pete Seeger
Artie Shaw
Zero Mostel
Charlie Chaplin
Langston Hughes
Orson Welles
Dolores del Rio

+Adam Schiff (added 12/15/22

Epiphany

The date of the 2021 Capitol insurrection coincided with the Feast of the Epiphany which my church celebrates every January 6th, no matter the current circumstances. On Epiphany the heart is lifted by the Gospel of Matthew’s story of the Magi (wisdom figures) who have come from afar, kneeling before a newborn as fragile as any newborn to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

It was and is a question of kneeling

Prior to their arrival at Bethlehem, these sages from the East go to “Herod the king” asking for directions to the place where the new king has been born. A “troubled” King Herod summons his advisors to gather information. He then summons the “wise men” secretly to ascertain from them when the star had appeared. Herod gives them directions to Betlehem, and tells them to come back to him when they have found the child, “that I too may come and worship him.”

The Magi do not return to Herod. “And warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.” Herod is furious. Herod never disappears. Cunning and deceit never end. Darkness remains. But the Light –the star shining over an animal shelter — remains. Last year Epiphany there was darkness and there was light. A would-be king trembles and flies into a slaughter of innocents. For years to come, January 6 the memory of a violent insurrection and the Feast of the Epiphany will sit side-by-side. May we have the wisdom to follow the Light that cannot overcome the darkness.

Pete Seeger

The two competing images of the wise visitors to Bethlehem and of Herod’s cunning will through light on reality as it is. If Burl Ives and Pete Seeger were branded as Communists, I wonder about Dolly Parton. Dolly did appear with Big Bird on Sesame Street.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is an old favorite of Protestant Christians. Pete Seeger (RIP) knew what happens when we look to Congress to save us.

For more information on the history of blacklisting, click Blacklisting by the House Un-America Affairs Committee.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN 55443.

Singing through the storm?

Watching the floods in Texas, I don’t feel like singing. But, while weeping for the people of south Texas, I hear the song of Pete Seeger wading through the storms and lamentations.

When Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wrote “How Can I Keep from Singing,” Pete Seeger (1919-2014) hadn’t been born, but Lowry’s music found a voice in Pete and others who listen amid life’s storms and lamentations.

Robert_Lowry

Rev’d Robert Lowry, preacher and hymn writer

A reporter once asked him what was his method of composition— “Do you write the words to fit the music, or the music to fit the words?” His reply was:

“I have no method. Sometimes the music comes and the words follow, fitted insensibly to the melody. I watch my moods, and when anything good strikes me, whether words or music, and no matter where I am, at home or on the street, I jot it down. Often the margin of a newspaper or the back of an envelope serves as a notebook. My brain is a sort of spinning machine, I think, for there is music running through it all the time. I do not pick out my music on the keys of an instrument. The tunes of nearly all the hymns I have written have been completed on paper before I tried them on the organ. Frequently the words of the hymn and the music have been written at the same time.”

Robert Lowry regarded “Weeping Will Not Save Me” as the best hymn he ever wrote.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 29, 2017.

 

Pete Seeger – Singing toward our inmost calm

In this American time of turmoil and strife, Pete Seeger singing “How Can I Keep from Singing?” restores my faith that “no storm can shake my inmost calm” (Robert Lowry, 1869). RIP, Pete. We’re listening.

Election Night: Hoping we’ll all pull through

A song of lament for tonight’s midterm election.

The lyrics come from Psalm 137 where the people’s conquerors ridiculed their captives, taunting them to sing one of their native songs, the songs of Zion. Big oil and coal won tonight. Mitch McConnell won. So did the other deniers. Things like climate change action can’t wait for the next election.

God bless the memory of Pete Seeger who was always singing the aspirational songs of hope in times like this. God bless us all.

 

The Ladder

I’m working this morning on the familiar spiritual of Jacob’s Ladder, trying to unpack why it is so meaningful to people at different life stages and in all sorts of circumstances. I’m looking back now over 72 years of singing it or – or shunning it at one point along the way. I didn’t like the “soldier” part.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

 

We are climbing higher, higher….

Why did it mean so much to me as a teenager “climbing higher, higher”? It was a spiritual journey, a confusing one that tried to connect the war-torn, racist world of Earth with heaven, and the call to climb higher, higher to close the gap. But I suspect psychologically it also gave me some assurance about the challenges of growing up, getting wiser perhaps, more independent, climbing into adulthood. The journey was a struggle that made me feel sometimes like a soldier inside my own skin and the world around me.

But long before I sang it in church camp, it was sung by American slaves. It expressed the faith and hope of liberation from chattel slavery. They sang without apology as “soldiers of the cross” (beaten, tortured and crucified like Jesus), on their way up “every rung” going higher, higher (farther north) to a land that lured them like heaven itself.

I go to YouTube and find Pete Seeger’s wonderful, cheerful rendition that replaces the original “soldier of the cross” with “brothers, sisters, all” and remember that I, too, have joined him in feeling the need to eliminate the military language. “Soldier” and “cross” are oxymoronic. It was the soldiers who did the crucifying, and it was the soldiers of the white militias who terrorized the slaves’ hopes.

No sooner do I listen to Peter’s rendition than I listen to Paul Robson who found no reason to eliminate the “soldiers of the cross” – perhaps because Robson knew that he and we are engaged in a kind of combat and the strange pairing of soldier and cross carries its own power and meaning. Robson, as you may know, was a Communist who would have seen every rung going higher, higher the way Pete saw it – steps on the upward course of human progress toward a kind of heaven conceived as classless society, a kinder world. “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

I have been in all of these places a thousand times. Youthful, hopeful, visionary, climbing. But now I concentrate on things I missed in the earlier stages of youth, building a career, rising higher and higher on the professional and economic ladders of “success” or imagining and hoping the world was getting better.

I notice now as never before that the biblical text of Jacob’s dream is not of Jacob’s upward climb. Jacob never steps on the ladder. Angels (messengers) do, ascending to the heavens and descending to where he is in a kind of no-man’s land where everything he has ever known is at risk, the way I am in an in-between time between the today’s earthly beauty and climate departure, the scorching of the planet. Like Jacob, I have an “Aha!” moment: “Surely YHWH (the un-pronounable Hebrew name for G-d) is in this place, and I did not know it!”

So I’m reflecting now on the importance of this temporary, mortal, finite “place” in time where YHWH (the Breath of Life) is already present, and the need to surrender the idea that I need to climb to somewhere else.

A Climate Dialogue: the Challenge Before Us

The day Pete Seeger died, Susan Lince composed a song on climate change in honor of Pete. The song, written as a lament spoken back to us by our grandchildren and all future generations, asks repeatedly “You knew… Why didn’t you take a stand?”

Susan and John Lince-Hopkins created Requiem2020.org as a means of rallying artists to widen public consciousness and awaken a new sense of ecological responsibility in the face of climate change and climate departure. John and Susan taught and painted in Alaska. John, a scientist as well as painter, helped supervise the clean-up operation following Exxon-Valdez.

Click HERE for the Evite to First Tuesday Dialogues’ program on Climate Departure led by John and Susan. The song on climate departure, arranged with Susan’s grandson, will debut at this event.

Date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 P.M.
Place: Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, 145 Engler Blvd., Chaska, MN 55318.

The View from the Bristlecone Pines

Bristlecone Pines photo

Bristlecone Pines photo

Clinging tenaciously to the ridgetops
and twisted by the winds,
bristlecone pines are the oldest
living trees on Earth. The oldest
of them, found only in the White
Mountains of California, are
4,600 years old. Those pines were
already 1,400 years old when the
Egyptians were building the pyramids.

The Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge,
Colorado (picture, taken by friend
Harry Strong) are nearly 1,000 years
old.

These gnarled trees have endured
strong winds, cold temperatures,
drought and poor soils. They learn
to grow horizontally. The sign posted
on Windy Ridge invites visitors to
“walk through these survivors and
stand watch with them over the vast
South Park.”

How will these remarkably adaptive
creatures do with the projection of
Climate Departure? Are they calling
out for help from down below, echoed
back to them in song by Pete Seeger’s
“God’s Countin’ on Me; God’s Countin’
on you”?

You might say that Pete’s life was a
reply to the Bristlecone pines, a
modern day Habakkuk whose writing
we have from the time when the Bristle-
cone Pines were just teenagers:

“I will stand upon my
watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see [God] will say
to me, that I will answer when I am
reproved. And the LORD answered me,
and said, Write the vision and make
it plain upon tablets, that he may
run who reads it.”

Pete Seeger to the rest of us

Video

Pete Seeger sings a song that rallies the best in us to continue his work of changing the world. God’s countin’ on me; God’s countin’ on you!