Down is Up and up is down
The trumpeter swans Know nothing of White privilege White is what they are Down under and Above the down Except for beaks As black as ebony on ivory Their voice is not the honk of pride and privilege Pens and cobs Teach their young The Beatitudes Where Up is really Down and Down is Up without a down- Ward sneer at Loons or Redwing Blackbirds Ebony and ivory Nesting in a wetland Marsh where no Manicured lawns And Scotts-fed Greens feed faux- White privilege. - GCS, May, 2021
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." -- Gospel According to Matthew 5:1-10 NIV
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, March 3, 2022.
THE TRUMPETER SWANS The pen sits and waits Upon her nest among The reeds where no Man’s greed can steal Or break the eggs Beneath her breast She blares no trumpet To call attention to Herself and the unborn Cygnets she soon will Carry on her back to Keep them safe She waits patiently in Silence among the Cat-tails where red-wing Black birds soon will Soar and swoop around Her nest to feed their kind She sees no red, no Black, no white, and Hears no honking from The noisy swamp where Black birds die beneath A rogue cob’s knee. - Gordon C. Stewart, with the trumpeter swans by the wetland, June 3, 2020
The Anguished Heart of God
“Now the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was filled with violence.” “The Lord was grieved that he had made man upon the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”Genesis, chapter 6, verses 11 and 6.
— Gordon C. Stewart with the trumpeter swans by the Minnesota wetland, June 4, 2020.on’t
A conversation between two year-old Elijah and old Grandpa (Bumpa)
Bumpa, you’re old. You know LOTS of stuff. What’s a crater?
Where’d you hear about craters, Elijah? Have you been watching the nature channel at daycare?
We don’t have the nature channel at daycare. We watch stuff for kids on PBS.
I don’t think we have any craters here in Minnesota.
Whew! So we don’t have to look out for craters?
Are you sure you have the right word?
Yeah. It’s all over the news this week. Didn’t you watch Adam Sniff?
Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Let’s look it up.
Yeah, let’s look it up. You want to do it? Or you want me to do it?
Let’s do it together on my iPad. I’ll be right back.
You don’t to have go upstairs, Bumpa. I don’t want ya falling. I have Mom’s iPhone right here. I use it all the time.
Okay, just google the word ‘crater’ and let’s see what comes up.
I don’t spell yet. I’m still liddle, but I know my ABCs. Sometimes in my car seat I punch a bunch of buttons and somebody Mom doesn’t know talks to me on FaceTime!
Okay. Let Bumpa do it. I’m 77. Okay?
Let’s just google crater and see what we learn.
Finding Wikipedia satellite photo in Google search
There we go, Elijah. Here’s a picture of Crater Lake in Oregon. Gandpa and Grandma have been to see it.
Here’s what it says on Wikipedia:
Around 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in Oregon, disgorging 15 cubic miles of magma over the western United States. It took a quarter of a millennium of snow and rain to fill the caldera with the serene waters wanderlust hikers now know as Crater Lake. Image from a RapidEye satellite.Wikipedia Crater lake description.
I don’t get it, Bumba! So why would anyone call somebody a ‘crater’? We’re not sposed to call people names, right?
Right! Maybe you have the wrong word. Or the wrong spelling. What was the other word you asked about?
Elijah asks about creezins
Yeah. Creezin! It’s like craters! Don’t you ever listen to the news?
I do. I listen to MPR when I’m driving.
Yeah, Mom and I do too on the way to daycare and on the way home. We get lots of news. It’s an hour drive each way. It’s like ‘crater’.
I see. Was there a volcanic eruption? I must have missed it.
Geez! It’s all over the news. Creezin! Everybody’s talking about it. Don’t ya know?
You mean raisins? Granpa eats raisin bran every morning.
Uh-oh! Are they going to throw you and Gamma out? Are they going to de-peach you cause you eat raisin bran? You’re white, but don’t live in a white house, right? Did you commit creezin?
Not to worry, Elijah. We’re safe. Grandma and are not going to be de-peached. Any other word you don’t understand?
Elijah asks Bumpa about cranes
Yeah. Ucrane. We have sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans at the cabin, right? Are there any ucranes?
We have sandhill cranes and frumpeter swans on the wetland, Elijah. So far as we know, there are no cranes by rhe cabin. It’s a long way from the news.
We’re like Greta, right? We’re conservationists, right, Bumpa? Do ucranes whistle? Or do they also whoop and honk?
–Conversation between Grandpa (Bumpa) and 2 yr.-old grandson (Elijah), Chaska, MN, September 28, 2019.
At daybreak far from the maddening world on CNN, MSNBC, Politico or — God fobid! . . .FOXNews — I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for the silence interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring. For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.
Back home in the Twin Cities, the shouting turns me ice-cold or red-hot, depending on the moment. Here ice and heat are natural: the ice on the wetland pond is almost gone; the only red-hot thing is the fire in the wood stove. There’s something sacred about the synchronicity of the fire inside and the melting ice just outside the A-frame. It’s peaceful here.
I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until going inside to make the fire or light the kerosene lamps. Jacob Miller’s Amish rocking chair is where the world slows down.
I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for my copy of the Book of Common Prayer. It hasn’t always been mine. It belonged to Sue Kahn, a lifelong Episcopalian, before the day she gave it to me. Sue had suffered the inelegance of Presbyterian language after failing eye sight had led her to Cincinnati to be with her Presbyterian daughter. She could no longer read her prayerbook, but had committed to memory many of its prayers. After two years of worshiping with the Presbyterians, Sue began to refer to me as an ‘Episcoterian” — a high Presbyterian — who appreciated fine language. Looking back at it, I think she may have hoped it would improve my pastoral prayers Sunday mornings. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing her small red leather-bound Book of Common Prayer in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it.” Sue sits beside me in Jacob’s rocker every morning.
I open to the appointed psalm Sue would have contemplated today, this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.
Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.
It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.
Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace because of my cares.
The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into the unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.
But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy;
and by the pressure of the wicked…
I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less developed morality that has not yet recognized the intertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.
For they have cast an evil spirit upon me,
and are set against me in fury.
l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.
My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have befallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.
I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.
And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee to a far off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.”
Before ending the morning prayer time made possible by the gifts from Sue and Jacob, I turn again to the back page of Sue’s red-leather prayer book to read again the words she had written in her own hand before she gave it to me:
Christ was the Word who spake it. He took the bread and broke it. And what his Word did make it – that I believe. . . and take it.
The crackling of the fire and the trumpeting of the trumpeter swans from the far side of the wetland break into the fading darkness at dawn. I fly away again to where I really live — a far-off place — and make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil, us and them.
— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019
know nothing of
White is what they are
down under and above
Except for beaks
as black as ebony
Their trumpet calls
are not the honks
of honky privilege
Proud cobs and pens
teach their cygnets
that down is up
With no guile or sneer
at loons and redwing
Ebony and ivory
nesting on the marsh
Beyond the gates
where honkies honk
- Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, loons, and redwing blackbirds, June 21, 2018
Spoon for life.
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 6, 2013; Photo by Kay Stewart