Three Guys in a Bar

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THE FIRST DUTY OF LOVE

Americans say the word ‘love’ a lot! Nearly all of us do. But, except for members of the armed forces, we don’t much like the word ‘duty‘. How is it, then, that one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century known for his often inscrutable philosophical theology, Paul Tillich, put ‘love’ and ‘duty’ together in one short sentence?

The first duty of love is to listen.

Perhaps Tillich’s German culture might help explain his coupling duty and love. Duty is higher on German culture’s ladder of human virtues than in Tillich’s adopted home in the United States where ‘freedom’ rather than ‘duty’ is seen as love’s companion.

WATCHING LESTER HOLT AT THE RESTAURANT BAR

Lester Holt of NBC’s Nightly News is on the television screens behind the bar. Kay sits to my left; a stranger is on my right. We can’t hear the sounds, but the visuals leave no doubt about the day’s lead stories:

  • Sixteen year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg is at the podium of the United Nations, issuing an urgent call for action now, before it’s too late.
  • The President of the USA drops by the meeting on climate change . . . for 15 minutes;
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces an impeachment inquiry, a decision taken in consideration of the Trump-appointed Inspector-General’s finding that a whistleblower’s complaint appears credible and is of urgent concern to national security.
  • Away from the television cameras and microphones, President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy meet to discuss matters of common interest.

FAILING LOVE’S FIRST DUTY AT THE BAR

The guy sitting to my right watches in silence. He looks neither happy nor unhappy. He seems perplexed, staring at Lester and the verbal summaries of each news item.

Finally he shakes his head and breaks the silence. “Just like that Mueller thing. They already wasted thirty-million dollars on that Russian thing, and they got nothing. Now they’re going to waste our tax money again.” I shake my head “No” and ask whether he knows that the Mueller report does not exonerate the president on the question of obstruction of justice. He listens and says he didn’t know that. I continue, rather politely, or so I thought, until reading the note my wife slipped in front of me:

You’ve just ruined this place for us.

The 20-something bartender chimes in from behind the bar. “I don’t care about politics. All I know is — any politician who doesn’t take a paycheck is okay by me. I’m good with that.” I bite my lip and order a second Manhattan. Being human is hard!

LOVE’S FIRST DUTY: JESUS, A PHARISEE, AND W.H. AUDEN

The guys at the bar don’t know I’m a Presbyterian and couldn’t care less if they did. But I should have told them! A bit like the Friends (“Quakers”), we hold a high respect for the right and duty of conscience. We stand up for what is right, true, and good, as we understand it. In doing so, we are often guilty of ignoring the log in our own eye while pointing to the speck in our neighbor’s. Given that I’d ruined our favorite place, it’s not likely we’ll see each other again. And that’s a shame, all because I’d forgotten that the deepest duty of conscience is to love, and the first duty of love is to listen.

The Pharisee was right when he answered Jesus’s question about the summary of the Law. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, as W.H. Auden put it:

You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.

“Either we serve the Unconditional/Or some Hitlerian monster will supply/ An iron convention to do evil by.”

W.H. Auden

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 30, 2019.

A Presbyterian Call to Welcome Refugees

“Our Call to Support Refugees from Syria and the World”

NOTE: Views from the Edge has added colored highlights to the text.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations have supported refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis created by World War II. The 160th General Assembly (1948) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America stated, “The United States should pass legislation to bring in at least four hundred thousand displaced persons during the next four years. … As they arrive, our church people should stand ready to open their homes and provide work for these unfortunate victims of war” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1948, Part I, p. 204). The people from the pews who approved that policy did so because they knew that scripture calls us to shelter the homeless (Isaiah 58:6–12) and welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:31–46).

The call is no less necessary today. Nearly 60 million people are displaced by war and persecution; 30 million of those displaced are children (UNHCR).  The crisis in Syria alone has displaced 11 million (UNHCR). Families are risking their lives and fleeing their homes to seek safety. They are spending months journeying, sleeping outside, paying smugglers for safe passage, and praying for a future for their families in a place that is safe from conflict.

They fear and flee many of the organizations that we also fear: ISIS, Boko Haram, Mara 18, Los Zetas. Right now governors are attempting to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees into their states because members of ISIS are sometimes Syrian. Ask yourself, should a victim’s shared nationality with perpetrators of violence exclude them from protection in this country?

Entering the U.S. as a refugee is not a quick or easy process. Refugees are the single-most scrutinized migrant group to enter the U.S. They undergo rigorous screening by multiple security agencies at multiple times during their pre-arrival processing (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). This process can take more than two years. Once they arrive in the United States, they continue to be screened every time they leave and reenter the country and when they apply for employment cards, green cards, or naturalization.

The risk is low and the humanitarian need is great. While, technically, governors cannot dictate where the federal government resettles refugees, the State Department only resettles refugees in areas where they know communities will thrive (USA Today). Governors are saying for their states, “No room at this inn.” Now is the time for the faith community to speak up on behalf of refugees, from all countries. Do not let the noise of a fearful few drown out compassion, facts, and logic. Answer the call to act prayerfully and recommit as an individual, congregation, or mid council through co-sponsorship, volunteer hours, and donations through your local resettlement agencies. Then send or personally deliver a letter, like the one at pcusa.org/immigration, to your governor about the kind of society we should be. If you personally deliver your letter, please take photos and post on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtags #ChooseWelcome and #RefugeesWelcome. …. Thank you!

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 29, 2015.

Donald Trump and the Presbyterians

Donald Trump and Ben Carson

Candidate for President Donald Trump’s sideswipe at fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith calls for a response from those who are what Mr. Trump is not – a Presbyterian.

Although Mr. Trump attended Sunday School and was confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens, NY, he is not a member of a Presbyterian Church. His church of choice on Easter and Christmas is Marble Collegiate Church, the historic Reformed Church in America congregation in midtown Manhattan best known for the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking.

“I am Presbyterian Protestant. I go to Marble Collegiate Church,” he told reporters in Greenville, S.C.  Two funny thing about that: 1) Marble Collegiate Church is not a Presbyterian church, and 2) even if it were,  Mr. Trump is not a member there, according to the church itself.

Why does it matter?

Who cares?  UNTIL Mr. Trump presents himself as a Presbyterian in contrast to another candidate’s Seventh Day Adventist faith in a way that is typically very un-presbyterian.

“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian!” he proclaimed with pride, insinuating that he is in the mainstream while Dr. Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) is a fringe group outside the mainstream of American religious life. He seemed unaware that 1) Seventh Day Adventists are one of the fastest growing churches both in the U.S. and the world with a worldwide membership of 18.1 million, and 2) unlike the overwhelmingly white Presbyterian Church to which he claims to belong, the SDA is full of color and immigrants.

As to his own faith, Trump’s answer to Frank Luntz’ question of whether he’s ever asked for forgiveness offers further insight:

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.

“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

The Presbyterian-Reformed Tradition

There are a few things about the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition of the Christian faith that Mr. Trump seems not to know or has forgotten:

  1. The Reformed-Presbyterian faith shuns ostentation.
  2. Simplicity is a characteristic of the Christian life.
  3. “The sins forbidden by the First Commandment” include “self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, and affections upon other things;…hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security” (Larger Catechism, Q 1).
  4. Confession of sin – both in private prayer and in the “Confession of Sin” in every Sunday service of worship – is a daily spiritual discipline of Christian life and practice.
  5. Divine grace and the forgiveness are the sources of personal and communal renewal and reconciliation.
  6. Respect for other religions -“Christians find parallels between other religions and their own and must approach all religions with openness and respect” (Confessions of 1967 IIB3) – and humility about one’s own religious claims are called for before God.

Local Presbyterians and Seventh Day Adventists

Momoh Freeman

Momoh Freeman

Every Sunday for seven years Momoh Freeman, a gifted Liberian refugee musician, served as Director of Music at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska; on Saturdays he served in the same capacity at a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Minneapolis. The beliefs and practices of the two congregations are distinctly different in many respects, but we became fast friends.

The SDA Choir, comprised of Liberian-Americans, Liberian refugees, and African Americans, performed in concert at Shepherd of the Hill at our invitation, singing both African hymns and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus a cappella!

We Presbyterians joined our SDA friends in Minneapolis for Saturday worship, including the foot-washing ritual that preceded the Sacrament of Holy Communion to which we were also welcome. None of us went to the table “drink my little wine…and have my little cracker.”

A remedy of humble faith

Considering the disrespect in the run up to a presidential nomination, a good foot-washing seems in order.

When Jesus washed Peter’s feet, Peter replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13.9)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Teaching Elder (i.e., Minister of Word and Sacrament) H.R., Chaska, Minnesota, October 28, 2015