Blessed are the not so pure

There is a kind of purity that is not pure: partisan purity, which bears no resemblance to the purity of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .”

The U.S. Senate is poorer today because of partisan purity on both sides of the political aisle. Politics is a brutal game made more civil by rules that seek to set boundaries on partisan purity. The 60-40 rule was one of those long-standing Senate rules that helped insure some measure of long-term wisdom by the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

The onus of responsibility for weakening the Senate – lowering the bar for simple majority votes on matters once believed to be of such gravity as to require a higher threshold – falls to both purist parties. The one for pushing the envelope knowing the consequences, the other for rescinding the rule. From now on, whichever party is in the majority shall rule without restraint.

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) asks officers to promise “to further the peace, purity, and unity” of the church in recognition that though, in an ideal world, peace, purity, and unity are in accord, they are often in conflict in the real world.

This week the U.S. Senate exercised a different kind of purity that violates all three values – peace and unity, as well as purity – leaving the country the poorer in restraint and wisdom.

Blessed are the not so pure.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 7, 2017.

 

 

The Christian Taliban

Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father, hates “the Social Gospel” with a passion. He goes after President Obama and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for preaching “social justice”.

A Views from the Edge reader’s response to our recent posts about Senator Ted Cruz and Franklin Graham drew our attention to an article by Chris Hedges that examines a distorted form of Christianity called “Domionism” (aka, “Christian Reconstructionism”).  Ted Cruz’s choice of Liberty University as the platform to announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination is consistent with his father’s views as director of Purifying Fire. Purifying Fire is the Christian equivalent of the Taliban. Its vision is a theocracy.

Click The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government to read Chris Hedges’ article. It’s a little over the top at times, but it’s well worth the read.

When the religious right dug out a short clip of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon to embarrass another candidate for President, Barack Obama separated himself from Wright’s view that “the chickens had come home to roost” on 9/11. The same question should be asked of Senator Ted Cruz regarding his father’s fascist dominionist views, as expressed in this video. Click HERE for Rafael Cruz’s 2013 speech in Tuscon, AZ.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 26, 2015, in honor of Jesus of Nazareth:

“Blessed are the MEEK, for they shall inherit the earth. [Gospel according to Matthew 5:4]

“Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:9] – The Sermon on the Mount.

 

The Right and Left Hand of God

The Rev. Dr. Paul Louis Lehmann

The Rev. Dr. Paul Louis Lehmann

Theologian-ethicist Paul Louis Lehmann (b.1906, d.1994) observed that the right hand of God is the left hand of the world. Paul Lehmann was a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and one of the giants of his time who opposed McCarthyism and published books that influenced subsequent generations.

Pondering his statement over the years led to an alteration of Dr. Lehmann’s statement to the effect that it is as though God ties the right hand (the hand of power) behind God’s own back and invites us to do the same. The left hand, the non-dominant hand, the hand of weakness, you might say, is the way the world enters into its own salvation from its own tyranny.

Costly Grace

The previous week’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill had addressed the question “What must I do to be saved?” with “You already are! God is not wrathful. God is loving. Now start to live into that gift. Stop living so anxiously. Live more joyfully. Take more risks….”

“Costly Grace” is a follow-up anchored in a clear, though impossible, ethic where Jesus instructs his disciples on how to live as children of God.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Sermon on the Mount, Gospel of Matthew 5:44-48.)

The President and Kosuke Koyama

“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

Conclusion of President Obama’s Sept. 10 national address on Syria.

Kosuke Koyama

Kosuke Koyama

By the end of his life in 2009, Kosuke Koyama had concluded that there is only one sin: exceptionalism.

I wish President Obama had been able to consult with Kosuke Koyama (1929 – 2009) before delivering this speech. He might have chosen his words more carefully. Koyama was a world-renowned Japanese Christian theologian and leader in inter-religious dialogue, author of Waterbuffalo Theology, Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai: a Critique of Idols, among other books.

Koyama first heard the claim of national exceptionalism in the Japan of his childhood. Japan was exceptional. The best. Number one. The Empire of the Rising Sun. The Emperor, supported by the religion of the imperial cult, could do no wrong. He was divine. So was Japan.

Dr. Koyama and his wife Lois moved to Minneapolis following his retirement. He shared with his friends his deep sadness that the old Japanese imperial claim had become the American claim.

America’s “leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used” is at stake.

Fact: the worse weapons ever used (nuclear and chemical) have already been used. We used them. We are the only nation on the planet to have dropped the atomic bomb. We dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. We used chemical weapons in Vietnam. Agent Orange is a chemical weapon. Napalm is a chemical weapon.

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.

We have thought of ourselves as the world’s policeman and we still do. A policeman insures that the law of the land is enforced. The law that causes such resentment in the Middle East is the law of American exceptionalism and prerogatives. For the Arab world, this is what makes America different: the presumption of American exceptionalism expressed by re-arranging the economic-political-cultural landscape to advance Western interests, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, or by imposing and disposing, as in the CIA assassination of the legitimate President of Iran and the installation of the Shah, or our support for Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War.

Very clearly, the U.S. has not sought to right every wrong. Nor should we. But our language is hollow at best and jingoistic at worst when one surveys the history of American intervention into the internal affairs of other sovereign states as the heir of British colonialism. The arrangements in the Middle East have their genesis in deals made by wealthy British and American elites with elite Arab Sheiks and strong men like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi until they no longer were useful.

“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.”

International scenes of human suffering and terror abound. In some cases we have chosen to act. In others, like Darfur, we chose not to act based largely on the principle of American self-interest. If American national interests were not threatened or affected, we did not act militarily. We acted humanely with humanitarian aid, but we did not act militarily to stop the horror of genocide in Darfur.

The principle of American national security and self-interest is clear in the President’s speech where he ties together the long-term safety of American children here at home with the short-term safety of children being gassed in Syria. That is, arguably, the way it should be. The use of chemical weapons and the threat of them in the hands of those who hate us is an ominous prospect.

Whether we should act is not, however, the question. The question is how America should act? Furthermore, how we decide to act should be informed and guided by the lessons of our own historic use of weapons of mass destruction and our own involvement in the supply of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, used in the Iraq-Iran War and allegedly used against his own people in Iraq.

It is an essentially moral position to condemn the use of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, nuclear, or biological. It is immoral to use them –an offense against humanity, and offense against all nature, and, for religious people, an offense against God.

Unfortunately there is not an equivalent of confession for nation states when they themselves have acted against their own declared moral principles. President Obama did not drop the bombs on Japan. Nor did he or his Administration supply the chemical weapons that did in Iraq what has happened to the mothers and children in Damascus. He might wish he could wash the blood from America’s hands or erase these chapters of American history, but he cannot. He cannot because the facts are facts, and the rest of the world remembers.

<

em>“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

“There is only one sin,” said Kosuke Koyama,.“Exceptionalism.”

The myth of American exceptionalism dates back to a great hope as the new nation was about to be born. It was spoken in a sermon by Puritan John Winthrop on the Arbella sailing the high seas from the Old World of England to the New World of America. The biblical text of John Winthrop’s sermon was the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew applied to the adventure of establishing an exceptional nation, “the city set upon a hill” (Matthew 5:14) to give light to the world.

Although the word ‘exceptionalism’ is foreign to most Americans except those in academia or those who are especially attuned to American politics, it is the controlling myth of American life and the ground to which succeeding American Administrations and Congresses have turned to justify American ventures – economic, spiritual, political, cultural, and military.

In some way or another it falls to each Administration to uphold the myth, even and perhaps especially, when the myth appears to be false. The aspiration of a city set upon a hill was etched in mind of the Church, not a nation-state. It was and is a call to a different way, and its original spokesman saw that city quite differently from the American military-industrial-technological-corporate complex. This Jesus, a Jewish rabbi living under the Roman occupation of the First Century C.E., was not a warrior or a policeman. He saw to the heart of the human condition and the tragedy of high moral claims that justify all forms of violence.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5, NRSV).

There is only one sin.

Koyama’s last work was Theology and Violence: Towards a Theology of Nonviolent Love, published in Japanese in 2009 in Tokyo. There is, as yet, no American translation.

The Megachurch?

Shepherd of the Hill in Chaska, MN, so named, in part, after the Sermon on the Mount and the feeding of the 5,000, is a small church. VERY small. 80 members. You might say it’s a Minichurch. Or maybe just a church.

Steve Shoemaker sent this unrelated piece for publication today on Views from the Edge. Here’s one artist’s rendering of the throng that heard the Sermon on the Mount, followed by Steve’s poem.

Sermon on the Mount, a Rocky Landscape Beyond - Abraham Bloemaert(Gorinchem 1566-1651 Utrecht)

Sermon on the Mount, a Rocky Landscape Beyond – Abraham Bloemaert (Gorinchem 1566-1651 Utrecht)

“The Megachurch”

The Megachurch had altar calls, of course,

and handed out a little book to all

the saved.  It said you had been very wise

and good to come to Jesus (though appalling

evil sinner you must surely be.)

There was no mention Jesus was a Jew.

A bifurcated Bible had a New

Testament (none other).  Read John and see

all that you need to know–not 25

of Matthew, not the Sermon on the Mount,

no law, no Psalms.  Just join our church so lively:

Hear the rock band play–become a saint.

No mention you should learn to serve the poor.

(But to find God ours is the only door.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 31, 2012

"Where thousands are gathered in my name..."

Imagine a place…

Where God is love…

and hell exists only in the mind

and heaven is all around us…

A place…

where tradition and questions meet

where jazz-gospel is the language of faith.

A small place…

…where two or three of us

odd, wounded, ducks

are gathered together

in Christ’s name

where your heart is lifted

your mind is challenged

and your spirit refreshed

to change the world.

Imagine yourself at

Shepherd of the Hill sign on State Highway 41 in Chaska

Sunday Worship at 9:30 a.m.

Haiku – Rain 4

Fourth in a series of four haiku poems on RAIN: “Rain 4”

the rain falls on all 

falls on the just and unjust 

just give thanks for grace

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL 11/12/12

The first two lines refer to a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

– Gospel According to Matthew 5:43-45

Sammy Williams, Pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA, posted a thought-provoking piece on the Sermon on the Mount, including this picture that was taken just before “the hilicopters, tanks and jeeps swarmed in” on military maneuvers.

Site traditionally thought of as place of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

The Sin of “American Exceptionalism”

Last night I watched Mitt Romney at a campaign rally in my home town, Broomall, Pennsylvania. What I saw sent chills down my spine. Demagoguery was on display. The people from my home town applauded the scolding of American President for apologizing. No apology for the tragedy of an American soldier(s) walking into the homes of families in Afghanistan to kill. No apology for … well…for ANYTHING. America is the greatest country in the history of the world. We should make no apology, said Mr. Romney.

In light of that speech, I am reposting this piece first published in February. It’s Holy Saturday for me. The one who lay dead on this day was killed, without apology, by The Myth of Roman Exceptionalism. The Roman Empire is long gone. But the myth never goes away. Only the name of the nation changes. Here’s the piece:

Jacket of “My People Is the Enemy”

“The stairway smelled of piss….This [a tenement apartment in East Harlem] was to be my home.  I wondered, for a moment, why. Then I remembered that this is the sort of place in which most people live, in most of the world,  for most of the time. This or something worse. Then I was home.”  – William Stringfellow, My People Is the Enemy: An Autobiographical Polemic.

I’ve been holding my breath, wrestling with whether to speak aloud what I hear and see.

I’m a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, in the debt to the bold witness of the late William Stringfellow, lay theologian. I’m also a religious pluralist. I believe with Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet that there is not just one way, there are many sides to the mountain and many paths on which the Divine Mystery is experienced.

I have learned over the years to respect the multiplicity of ways different sides of the mountain experience the living God. I work hard to understand my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish neighbors. I often experience these discussions as encounters with God whose vastness, like the ocean, is so much greater than any of the tea cups in which we hold a few drops of the sea.

I also know that some forms of religion are just plain nuts. The religion of Jim Jones whose followers drank the purple Kool Aid in shared suicide in the jungle of Guyana is only the most ludicrous example of why we need to join comedian Lewis Black’s raging objection to political distortions of the truth: “You can’t just make s—t up!” Religion represents the best and the worst of the human psyche (the Greek word for ‘soul’).

Joseph Campbell, among others, long ago opened the aperture on my theological camera. He helped me to see that what we are all dealing with, on all sides of the mountain, is myth, the human spirit’s uniquely creative meaning-making activity that expresses both the grandeur and the terror of finite experience. Myth is not the opposite of truth; it is the story that points us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal.

My way of looking at the world is shaped by a vast variety of voices. Among them are Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose experiences of the horror of the absence of God caused them to poke their fingers in the eyes of prevailing religious traditions whose tidy moral worlds turn God into a cosmic sadist.

Any religion worth its salt in the 21st century has to pass through the existential protests of these thinkers and of the shrieks and cries that still echo across the world from Auschwitz and Buchenwald that poke holes in every theory of a morally ordered universe. The Garden of Eden was lost a long time ago and, in the wake of the closing of the gates to it, any religion has to take account of the human history that looks much more like the trail of tears paved by Cain’s slaying of Abel than like two innocent people in Paradise before the fall.

Yet there is a deep longing for something more tangible, more trustworthy than myth. Something one can touch, see, feel, smell – a story that is not a story but fact. The longing is strongest when we experience great uncertainty and insecurity.

With this perspective, I have been looking again at the fastest growing religion in America, Mormonism, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).

My first experience with the Mormons came quite by accident thirty years ago. I was riding a bus in New York City on my way uptown to visit African-American theologian James Cone at Union Theological Seminary in Harlem when I noticed the sign “Mormon Visitation Center.”  Already stressed by an unfamiliar transit system and feeling quite alone, I decided to get off the bus and take the tour.

Unlike the streets outside that were filled with trash and lit by flashing neon signs, the Visitation Center was spick-and-span. Everything was in perfect order, complete with a hologram of a Mormon family in a tranquil woods sitting in a circle, listening to the white upper-middle-class family’s father sitting on a stump higher than the other members of the family, reading from the Book of Mormon to an enthralled wife and two perfect, obedient, happy children. The hologram elicited two responses. One was amazement. I had never seen or even heard of a hologram. The other was a sense of outrage at the perpetration of a promise that was, in short, nothing but a hologram, the illusionary projection of someone’s idea of Eden that would strike a chord with visitors who long for the lost woods of the Garden of Eden. It offered a world of perfection: orderly, tidy, white, rural – nothing like the urban world on the street outside – the antidote to the realities and complexities of life in New York City.

When I left the Mormon Visitation Center it never crossed my mind that the Mormon vision or mythology would become the fastest growing mythology in America in the 21st Century. I was relieved to get back on the bus on my way to Harlem.

I ask myself now why this is so. I look again at Mormon beliefs and practices to try to understand.

In Mormon teaching, the Garden of Eden was a historical place, and it was not in the Mesopotamian Valley by the Euphrates River, as in the original biblical myth of Genesis. It was in North America…in Missouri.

“According to Joseph Smith [Mormonism’s founder] the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri and following his expulsion from the Garden, Adam traveled northward to a place near modern-day Gallatin, Missouri. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the name Adam-ondi-Ahman “is in the original language spoken by Adam, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph” (Journal of Discourses 18:343) – Bill McKeever, Mormon Research Ministry.

It is to this very spot of physical geography that Jesus will return at the Second Coming. None of this is in the realm of myth. It’s fact. You can go there to touch it and  walk on it, knowing that Adam was there long before you and that, after you have walked there, it will prove to be the epicenter of the universe, the very spot where Christ will return.

Why is the Mormon myth gaining such traction in America? And why would I break the code of silence, the well-advised reticence to those of us who share White Calf’s belief that the Divine Mystery is known differently on different sides of the mountain?

Some things are too important to leave unaddressed. The Mormon mythology is quintessentially American.

The myth that America is the center of transcendent goodness and power, the world’s epicenter, the original Garden of Eden and the place of Christ’s return, the people of “Manifest Destiny”, the one exception to the rising and falling of empires and nations, is losing its hold on us at home and abroad. We are losing our sense of innocence. Yet there lurks the nostalgia for the secure home provided by the illegitimate marriage of Jesus’ gospel of the Kingdom of God with America, “the City set upon a hill” of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and of John Winthrop’s sermon to English settlers on their voyage to the new world.

As Nietzsche knew, such gods don’t die easily, even when they’re already dead. When the town crier takes his lantern into the darkened town square at midnight crying “God is dead! God is dead!” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the rest of the town regarded him as a madman. But it would be only a matter of time before the news would reach their ears.  It was the god of Western civilization that Nietzsche’s madman pronounced dead.

When something dear to us dies, especially when it is the prevailing religious myth of a nation about its own holiness and invulnerability, we become like starving people who continue to look in the same old bare cupboard for bread.

What better place to go than the reassurance that America is still the center – the ancestral home of a real man named Adam, who came complete with his own (now lost language, the special place to which Jesus (who visited the lost tribe of Israel in the Americas between his resurrection and bodily ascension into heaven) will return? When the Christian story the story is concretized to a finite, mortal place, it power as myth – pointing us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal – is not only lost but turned on its head.

There are many sides of the mountain, and it behooves all of us to approach people of different religious traditions with open ears and open minds. But approaching another’s religious beliefs respectfully does not require that we pretend not to see what we see or that we conclude that all religions are really the same or that one opinion is as good as another in the free market of religious truth claims. “You can’t just make stuff up!”

Let me say without hesitation that what I see in Mormonism is but the most exaggerated illustration of the idolization of the nation that includes so much of the American churches of whatever stripe where the nation is enshrined as God and where patriotism is the unspoken highest virtue with the cross wrapped in a flag.

The American wars of foreign intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan could not have happened without this widespread faith in American goodness and exceptionalism. It is the cardinal sin that afflicts us across all denominational and religious lines. Whenever the Jesus executed by the Roman Empire becomes the Imperial King of a new empire, those who continue to hear the shrieks and cries of the world that suffers – and who continue to smell the piss on the stairway in the place we call “home”- are obliged to break the silence, violate the code, and get back on the bus to Harlem.

The Bouquet

Re-posted by Sojourners’ blog, “God’s Politics with Jim Wallis” March 27, 2012.

Most every Sunday Ruth or Lily Janousek hands me a drawing on the way out the door. I have quite a collection.  Lily and Ruth are budding theologians. They may not know that about themselves, but that’s what they are: budding theologians – they do theology, they do their best to speak of God.

They draw pictures of God and us. Like the one from last Sunday. The drawing of a bouquet with the words:

“God doesn’t loves us as a flower but as a bouquet”

Right then and there, standing at the door last Sunday, I knew I had the sermon for the next week in my hand.

Ruth’s drawing took me back some years ago when I had the great privilege of serving as the summer minister for Saint Timothy’s Memorail Chapel in Silver Cross, Montana, a ghost town with four residents where they would bring the world’s greatest preachers!  One of the four residents of Silver Cross was the 92 year old Eliza who lived up the hill, perhaps the length of a football field, from Saint Timothy’s . Every Sunday morning Eliza would cut the wildflowers in her yard, arrange them into a beautiful bouquet and place them on the altar for worship. Now I get a drawing from eight year old Ruth, younger version of the 92 wilting theologian, Eliza.

“God doesn’t love us not as a flower but as a bouquet.”

I wonder who the flowers are in this bouquet, the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus speaks of it in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-14) or, the Body of Christ, as Paul speaks of it in First Corinthians.

As in Ruth’s drawing and Eliza’s Sunday morning arrangements, a bouquet is made up of a variety of flowers. Individual flowers come in a single size and shape, eac with its own color. In a bouquet, these different colors, shapes and sizes complement and contrast with one another to make something altogether beautiful in the hand of a skilled florist.

Ruth may be a rose and Lily a sunflower, Bob might be a purple Iris, and I might be…a Milkweed or a thistle or a twig of red oshier – but put us all together and we become something more than who we are.

God loves us as a bouquet. We are God’s bouquet. We are the flowers; God is the florist; we belong in God’s bouquet.

Could this be what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount?  Could the collection in Jesus’ Beatitudes be the bouquet, the Kingdom of Heaven?

Listen to the florist’s strange list of flowers in this bouquet:

Blessed are the poor in spirit;

Blessed are those who mourn;

Blessed are the meek,

Those who hung and thirst after righteousness,

The merciful, the pure in heart,

The peacemakers,

Those who are persecuted,

Those who are slandered against for doing what’s right.

“You are the city set on a hill that cannot be hid. the bouquet that cannot be ignored.”

Until this morning, I had always thought of these individual beatitudes as a description of the individual life of the disciple of Jesus. But to think of them that way is depressing because it’s unachievable.

In a former pastorate I used to visit four young men in psychiatric institutions whose demented states of mind I was sure were rooted in some way to their failure to measure up to this impossible spiritual standard. Each of them was a professor’s son. Each of them had been raised on a missionary style of Christianity. Each of them had been raised to feel sorry for the persecuted, the meek, the poor, the oppressed. And each of them, as we walked the grounds of the psychiatric hospital in Mansfield, would talk as though he should be able to save the world from its pain. Each of them seemed to believe that purity of heart meant being like Jesus – which meant to them incessant suffering, guilt, and sorrow.

Each of these brothers bore the marks of the Beatitudes. Each was poor in spirit. Each hungered and thirsted for justice. Each was merciful. Each was pure in heart. Each felt persecuted for pursuing what was right in a world that didn’t care or didn’t know. Each of them felt slandered for doing what their parents – and Jesus – had taught them to do.

But there was one quality that was missing: the quality of meekness…

So long as they lived in the illusion that they, as individuals. were responsible for the world as It was, or that each of them alone was responsible for ridding the world of its suffering, each of them was lost in the lonely world of a flower without a bouquet. So long as they embraced the twisted missionary moralism of their distorted Christian upbringings, they would suffer the horrors of shame and loneliness.

Now, I know, of course, that each of the four brothers I visited back then were mentally ill. They didn’t choose to be in the state psychiatric institution. But I also knew their parents. And I knew the church in which they had been raised. It came as no surprise to me that there seemed to be a profound connection between what I was hearing from the homes and the church of their upbringing and what I was hearing form their sons in the psychiatric hospital.

I have to admit to sharing in the twisted spirituality that saw the Beatitudes as a list of requirements for the Christian life. It’s made me sick along the way.

But this morning, in light of Ruth’s yellow card from last Sunday, I’m seeing them differently.

“God loves us not as a flower but as a bouquet.”

Not every flower in God’s bouquet is poor in spirit. Not every one of us is in mourning. Some of us got up this morning with smiles on our faces and a song in our heart. Not every one of is meek.  Not everyone came here this morning hungering and thirsting for righteousness – some of us came out of habit; some of us came for comfort, some of us came to sing some hymns. Some of don’t know why we came. Not everyone is known by acts of mercy – we come with grudges and desires for retribution. Not everyone is pure in heart or a peacemaker. And almost of none of us is being persecuted as advocates for social justice.

But TOGETHER all of those blessed people are here in God’s Bouquet.

Makes me wonder whether Jesus had read the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scriptures of India written two to five centuries before he preached the Sermon on the Mount in Palestine. Listen to its familiar ring, and let the Florist place you in the vase of God’s remarkable Bouquet.

“I am the Self…seated in the heart of every creature. I am the origin, the middle, and the end that all must come to.

“All your thoughts, all your actions, all your fears and disappointments, offer them to me, clear-hearted; know them all as passing visions.

“Thus you free yourself from bondage, from both good and evil karma; through your non-attachment, you embody me, in utter freedom.

“I am justice; clear, impartial, favoring no one, hating no one. But in those who have cured themselves of selfishness, I shine with brilliance.

“Even murderers and rapists, tyrants, the cruelest fanatics, ultimately know redemption through my love, if they surrender

“To my harsh but healing graces. Passing through excruciating transformations, they find freedom and their hearts find peace within them.

“I am always with all beings; I abandon no one. And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from me.

“Let your thoughts flow past you, calmly; Keep me near, at every moment; trust me with your life, because I am you, more than you yourself are.”

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Youtogether – are the salt that preserves the earth from its own self-destruction.

“You – together – are the city set upon a hill that gives light to the world.”

We together – each and all – are God’s bouquet. God loves us as a bouquet!

“Get off my corner!”

Sen Joe McCarthy purging America of disbelieversGordon C. Stewart (copyright)

I’m sitting calmly in my office when the phone rings. It’s a parishioner who lives near the downtown post office. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she says, “but there’s some kind of ruckus on the corner. There’s some kind of booth on the corner.”

I drive to the Post Office. I park the car half a block away and see a large booth on the street corner. The woman handing out literature is yelling at a man who’s crossing the street, and he’s yelling back. I can’t hear what they’re saying until I draw closer.  A man crossing the street to get away from the booth is shouting over his shoulder. “You’re not only anti-Semitic! You’re anti-American!”

The booth features an eight-foot tall photograph of the President of the United States. But this is no ordinary photograph. There’s a mustache imposed on President Obama’s picture, the mustache of Adolf Hitler and a call for his impeachment, “Du mp Obama!”

I approach the booth.  “Just another Jew,” says the woman.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

She slides a flyer toward me across the counter. “Read it,” she says. I put my finger on the mustache. “You don’t want to hear what we have to say. You’re a spy!” she says as she steps backward, tilts her head in the air, and bellows out “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesty, Above the fruited plain. America!  America! God shed His grace on thee….” But before she sings the last line of the stanza – “and crown thy good with brotherhood… – she stops and orders me off her corner. “Get off my corner!”

She is carrying the message of Lyndon LaRouche, a perpetual candidate for President whose only consistency over a long checkered history of ideological swings on the political spectrum is the red-hot lava of righteous rage.

The behavior of the woman at the Post Office, like that of the Florida pastor whose threat to burn Qur’ans nearly set the world on fire several years ago, is bizarre. But the rage she expresses is not unique to her. Because it is so outrageous, it shines a light into the darkness of the widespread incivility of our time, an incivility that erupts from a core conviction hidden below the surface of our consciousness.

We’re street brawling over what kind of America we will be, and “Can’t we all just get along”- the plea of Rodney King as he witnessed the Los Angeles riots following the “innocent” verdict  exonerating the police officers whose beatings of him had been aired repeatedly on national television– is long forgotten. We’re dividing ourselves into true believers and heretics, patriots and traitors, suspicious of each other all the way to the White House.

This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic would a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.

As the new nation was being conceived, demagoguery often replaced politics, i.e. the art of compromise, as it often does now.  One does not compromise with the enemy. One eliminates him.   Rodney King’s plea is regarded as the way of the ill-informed, cowards, heretics, and Anti-Americans.

The lava of anger originates from a hidden, unexamined conviction that the United States is the chosen people, the messianic people whose job is to eliminate evil within and without in the war of good against evil. It is an idea born of the rape of the Judeo-Christian tradition by nationalism which installs America as the exception to history, the nation divinely ordained to banish Anne Hutchinson in 1637, hang Mary Dyer in 1670, and destroy the reputations of decent people as un-American in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purge of secret communists in the early 1950s. It’s the belief that America is the exception…and that the real America is only some of us, the righteous believers.

In the unspoken consciousness of our collective memory, “You are the light of the world” becomes the declaration of fact spoken about America, not an itinerant preacher’s call to a small band of first-century disciples to persist in the hard politics of love and peace in a time of hate and violence. The ensuing lines from the primary text, The Sermon on the Mount – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ but I say to you, love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you” – are forgotten, ignored, torn out, blacked out or burned on the altar of messianic nationalism.

Even more ironic is that those who attack others, including a sitting president, as un-American – i.e. heretics  who do not bow to the idea of America as the collective messiah  of history– scream against government and taxes as enemies, socialist intrusions on their individual freedom to hoard what is theirs.  The biblical city is no longer a community of sharing of the wealth and care for the least; it becomes a sandbox of greed and competition where the highest value is my freedom to get and keep what is mine.

The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact.  And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” –  the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment. In times like these when ugliness replaces beauty, America
the Beautiful is, as it always has been, a courageous aspiration and prayer for sanity and the ancient wisdom of the Letter of James that calls us all to engage each other and the world of nations differently: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”