Glooming Gus at the Precipice

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This otherwise cheerful morning – the sun is bright, the sky is blue, the air is brisk, the flowers are blooming – I open my eyes to find myself standing again before the precipice.

“I don’t know whether we’re on the edge of the precipice,” said Louis de Guidos, “but we’re in in a very, very, very difficult situation.”

He was speaking of the Spanish and European economy, but his description is suited to the crisis in which the world now finds itself in the aftermath of a global cyber attack and men-children in North Korea and the U.S.A. with nuclear arsenals at their fingertips.

“At times, we forget the magnitude of the havoc we can wreak by off-loading our minds onto super-intelligent machines, that is, until they run away from us, like mad sorcerers’ apprentices, and drag us up to the precipice for a look down into the abyss.” – Richard Dooling.

A lesser known author wrote on this topic:

“It’s one thing to play with toys. It’s something else when the toys are nuclear bombs and missiles.

“Our time is perilously close to mass suicide. Unless and until we get it straight that I and we are not the center of the universe, the likes of Kim Jong-un – and his mirror opposites but like-minded opponents on this side of the Pacific – will hold us hostage to the madness that lurks in human goodness.

“‘Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else?’ asked Dr. King. ‘The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.'” -“Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: Little Boys with Toys,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 77.

Just because a person’s a gloomy Gus doesn’t mean it’s not gloomy. 🙄

  • Gordon C. Stewart, gloomy Gus, at the precipice in Chaska, MN, May 17, 2016.

Life begins on the other side of despair

It was Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist novelist, philosopher, and playwright, who declined the Nobel Peace Price for Literature in 1964, who said it. “Life begins on the other side of despair.”

Sartre’s statement resonates with those who have stood at the edge of the abyss of the loss of life’s meaning. Some don’t make it to the other side. Some move to the other side of the abyss with no faith but faith in themselves to create meaning they once ascribed to God or some objective moral order. Others arrive on the other side with their inherited faith not only deconstructed, but re-constructed. I am one of the latter.

Reading of the shooting suicide of a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran philosophy student in the library at Mankato State University takes me back to Sartre’s statement about life and despair. Timothy Lee Anderson was an honorably discharged U.S. Army gunner in Iraq. His picture in The Daily Mail shows him in an Iraqi combat zone with his weapon. In the background of the photo, Iraqi women in traditional Muslim dress appear to be crossing the street. How, I ask, does a guy who served as a gunner in the Iraq War choose philosophy as his major when he comes home to the U.S.A.?

Philosophy is not a popular choice these days. Unlike computer science, it’s not job- related. The word ‘philosophy’ derives from two Greek words meaning love (‘philo‘) of wisdom (‘sophia‘). Philosophy is the love of, and the search for, wisdom.

Wisdom is born of experience, not inheritance. It’s not hard to imagine the dashed, unexamined, inherited convictions of a young Army recruit: a world dependent on American goodness and might; an America with a manifest destiny in the global order; an exceptional nation privileged and responsible, whether by religious or political creed, to bring its blessings to the rest of an ignorant, unenlightened, uncivilized, and sometimes terroristic and defiant world.

Nor is it hard to imagine a soldier’s despair upon return, reflecting on his experience in search for greater wisdom among the philosophers. The early reports of Timothy Lee Anderson’s life experience point to a less than comfortable homecoming with arrests for marijuana and violation of an order for protection. The gun shot he fired at himself on the second floor of the Mankato State University library was a shot of despair, whatever the immediate reasons or circumstances.

The great sorrow is a life that ended too early on the despair side of the yawning abyss of collapsed meaning. It remains to the survivors and the rest of us who look with sadness on Timothy’s tragic departure to learn that claims to religious-national exceptionalism and wisdom go together about as well as bombs and day-care, guns and libraries.

– Gordon C. Stewart, February 3, 2015.

 

 

Old Friends

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

This morning news arrived of the passing of an old friend. Dale is a classmate, one of seven who call ourselves The Chicago Seven. The Seven met annually until 2004 when the gathering was reduced to Six because of Dale’s advancing Parkinson’s. The gatherings have continued to be powerful bonds of friendship, but never again so meaningful as when there were Seven.

MEMORIAL TRIBUTE to be shared at the Celebration of Life & Victory over Death for DALE HARTWIG

Dale was such a joy for all of the Chicago Seven (now Six). His quiet spirituality brought a stillness to the room, or tears, and so much reality and the tenderness of a poet. The last time all seven of us McCormick alums gathered in Chicago, we sat around a long table sharing our thoughts and work. Dale and I were sitting next to each other, as we often did, at one end of the table. When it came his turn, Dale moved some papers in front of me and asked that his words be read. His contribution, as I recall it, was a Greek exegesis from a New Testament text that reminded us of his love for biblical exegesis, he being the only one of us who left seminary to become more proficient in NT Greek than when we left. His sharing also included a poem he had written. As I read it aloud on his behalf – his surrogate voice – he began to weep because his words had been heard! Here’s the poem in memory of that sacred Hartwig moment – one of many – that the rest of us will forever cherish.

“THE SURROGATE VOICE” – GORDON C. STEWART (WRITTEN IN THANKSGIVING FOR THE CHICAGO GATHERING ’04)

As the surrogate voice reads on,
the author sits and sobs
his wrenching tears from primal depth;
from some abyss of joy
or nothingness…or both.

The author’s sighs and piercing sobs-
arrest routine,
invoke a hush,
dumb-found the wordy room.

He cannot speak,
his Parkinson’s tongue tied,
his voice is mute, in solitude confined,
all but sobs too deep for words.
Another now has become
his voice, offering aloud with dummy voice
the muted contribution
in poetic verse the ventriloquist’s voice has penned.

The abyss of muted isolation ope’d,
his words, re-voiced aloud,
hush the seven to sacred silence, all…
except from him, their author.

Whence comes this primal cry:
From depths of deep despair and death,
from loneliness, or depths of joy
We do not know.

The surrogate voice reads on
through author’s sobs and sighs,
through his uncertain gasps for air
and our uncertain care.

The iron prison gates – the guards
of his despair – unlock and open out
to turn his tears from prison’s hole
to tears of comrade joy.

His word is spoken, his voice is heard,
a word expressed
in depth and Primal Blessing,
pardoned from the voiceless hell.

The stone rolls back,
rolls back, rolls back,
from the brother’s prison’s tomb,
the chains of sadness snap and break!

At one, at one, we seven stand,
in Primal Silence before the open tomb,
as tears of loss, of gain, of tongues released
re-Voice unbroken chords of brotherhood.