Though the cause of evil prosper…

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No one holds the patent right on lying. At some point everyone is a liar. Little white lies or hug lies; they’re lies just the same. But truth is my judge and yours.

I cannot recall a moment in the America of my lifetime when truth been as scorned as it is today. I remember presidents who lied. Some more than others. But never was truth itself under assault as it is in America today. As a child I asked how Germany could have fallen for the rhetoric and incivility of a madman. Finally I’m coming to understand.

I was raised on the great hymns of the church. Among them was Once to Every Man and Nation with lyrics by James Russell Lowell (1845). The newer hymnals have excluded it, most likely because of the black and white thinking between good and evil or because it’s language is not gender inclusive. But I turn to it today in ways I never have before, and I’m left to wonder whether somethings are just plain evil.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2018.

Beauty and Truth: Adjoining Rooms

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IMG_9456

view outside the window

These days leave me cold. I feel the need for beauty and for truth. The beauty I can see just outside the window at sunrise and sunset, in the maples, oaks, red osier and prairie grasses waving in the wind I cannot see. But inside the human house where lies freely fly, truth is scorned and hard to find. Only the poets give voice to what I feel.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson, I died for beauty but was scarce
EmilyDickinsonGrave

Emily Dickinson headstone in family plot

 ` Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2018

 

 

 

Don’t Lie to Me

Video

Thank you, Barbara Streisand, for speaking the truth in a way only an artist can. Suffer through the short ad to get to the video. Then share with your friends.

Everyone answers to someone. Share with your friends. Leave a comment. Vote!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 13, 2018.

Ancient wisdom on the art of deception

sojourner_truth_with_lincoln_a

Sojourner Truth and President Abraham Lincoln

Monday, after we’d read aloud Psalm 52, Kay proposed we create T-shirts with a simple message: ‘Psalm 52’. She was joking, of course. We’re not the sort to wear our religion on our chests! She had in mind the following lines.

You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness

…all day long?

You plot ruin;

your tongue is like a sharpened razor,

O worker of deception.

You love evil more than good

and lying more than speaking the truth.

You love all words that hurt,

O you deceitful tongue.

O that God would demolish you utterly,

topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling…!

Yesterday we picked up a copy of the latest Star Tribune. The editorial, “Trump practices art of deception,” called Sunday night’s sharpened razor tweet from the White House to Iranian President Rouhani “another alarming distraction to take the spotlight from other news, such as the fiasco in Helsinki…” (Star Tribune, July 24, 2018).

Ancient wisdom is called ‘ancient’ because it’s old. It’s called ‘wisdom’ because it speaks plainly to things that never seem to go away. But you can’t put a whole psalm or an editorial on a T-shirt! The above picture of President Lincoln and Sojourner Truth would get the truth part. But a simple psalm # points to the ongoing tension between truth and the practiced art of deception.

‘PSALM 52!’

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, July 25, 2018

Truth alone is strong

In this moment of “the strife of truth and falsehood,” the Notre Dame organ voices the assurance of hope spoken by James Russell Lowell in the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation.” “Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet truth alone is strong. ”

Are Rainbows Real?

Rainbow over the IL prairie.

Rainbow over the IL prairie.

They can be seen by other eyes than mine–
but rainbows are mono-directional:

they disappear if you will face the sun.
If you move toward a rainbow you will fail

to ever reach it: always up ahead,
elusive, magical–the circle seen

only above the earth. Sometimes instead
of one, two bows appear, and in between

a darker band in contrast to the light
below the palette of diversity.

Beyond prediction, measurement or fact,
a rainbow’s truth will live inside the eye.

– Verse and photography by Steve Shoemaker on the
plain behind his prairie home in Urbana, IL.

The inward being and the secret heart

I’ve been silent for awhile, absorbed in preparing a manuscript for submission, and the site will remain pretty silent over the next three weeks.

Between now and then, this sermon on YouTube was preached last Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill, the wonderful congregation I’m privileged to serve in Chaska, MN.

It is based on the 51st Psalm (selected) and sees the psalm in light of a rite for the cleansing of a leper in the Book of Leviticus in which the leper presents two birds.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Sober and Drunk

Socrates, The Louvre

Socrates, The Louvre

Is it true Socrates said
we should argue every problem
sober and then drunk? Well fed
then hungry? Free then enslaved? When
we try to ascertain truth,
historical or otherwise,
science, engineering, math–
is the answer that we all prize
irrefutable? Will all
bow down to its logic, reason,
pertinence? Or will it fail
to win the imagination,
hearts as well as minds–dreamers
as well as the philosophers?

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 18, 2013

Wounded Pride

Just as the truth was dropped by a pigeon on Steve Shoemaker’s head during a moment of professional aspiration (see “SPLAT”, [published earlier today), it was spoken to me riding the bus after an interview that had gone badly. Steve was a candidate for a deanship. I was one of two finalist candidates for a presidency.

I had left the interview disappointed by my performance, increasingly concerned about the fit, and feeling that it wasn’t right (i.e. it wasn’t “a call”, as we say in the Reformed theological tradition.

With suitcase in hand I got on the bus for the airport and took a lonely seat to lick the raw wounds of damaged pride.

Several stops later a distinguished looking older gentleman dressed in a coat and tie sat down next to me.

“You here for business?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “just visiting.”

“Hmmm… I saw your suitcase. I was just wondering. Usually people dressed like you are corporate executives on a business trip, but they don’t usually ride the bus. What do you do? What’s your line of work?”

“Well…I’m a pastor.”

“Wonderful,” he said, “Where you from?”

“Cincinnati.”

“So what brings you to the great city of Chicago?”

“Well, I came for an interview for a college presidency, but it didn’t go well.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“Hmmm…,” said he, “There’s no higher calling than being a pastor. Why would a pastor want to be a president?”

“SPLAT !!!”

Why, indeed! “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

I flew home to my church strangely comforted by the stranger on the bus, freshly called again to be a pastor.

But vanity is a curious disease that’s hard to heal, as Helen Hunt Jackson knew when she wrote in Ramona (1884),

“Wounded vanity knows when it is mortally hurt; and limps off the field, piteous, all disguises thrown away. But pride carries its banner to the last; and fast as it is driven from one field unfurls it in another.”

Beyond Fundamentalism

The influence of New Testament scholar Floyd Filson

The influence of New Testament scholar Floyd Filson

Conversion at Seminary”

Four years Wheaton College tried
to make a fundamentalist
Christianity the first
and last thought on my searching mind.
Then a liberal McCormick
Dean Filson took a chance on me–
I learned Bible truth could be
much wider, deeper, than mere fact:
changing this world was our call!
From civil rights to stopping war,
social justice cried for more
of faithful love, that holy force
learned by the Apostle Paul
when Jesus knocked him off his horse.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 25, 2013

Dean Floyd V. Filson was an internationally renowned New Testament scholar. A prolific writer, Filson published his own original New Testament commentaries and articles in scholarly journal, but he did not operate in a silo. He collaborated with co-authors and co-editors Oscar Cullman, G. Ernest Wright, and other world-class scholars. He also translated Rudolph Otto’s The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, a book which, like Otto’s The Idea of the Holy represented a landmark shift in the understanding of God and of Jesus’s own consciousness. But more than a scholar, at least for the likes of Steve, was his unfailing kindness and belief in us. If he was aware of his stature in the world of academia, it was never apparent in the classroom or in his office. He was the definition of Christian humility. A ready smile, gentleness, respect for others, and a hearty “Good Morning!” were his signatures.

Monday six McCormick grads on whom Dean Filson took a chance will gather at the seminary for our annual Gathering. Steve and Don Dempsey were Class of ’68; Wayne Boulton, Harry Strong, Bob Young and I were the Class of ’67.