C’mon now! We can do better!


“…The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”

THE REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., Memphis, TN, April 4, 1969

The world was messed up on April 4, 1969, the night the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke these words in his last speech. America was sick. It was troubled, confused and confusing, shrouded in darkness. Is it less messed up now? Is America in 2023 healthier now? Are we less troubled? Less confused, and less confusing? Do we agree that it is only in deep darkness that we can see the stars?

The Plumb-line and the bob

“Let justice roll down like waters,” implored Amos in the 8th Century BCE, “and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos’s imagery became a poetic plumb-line of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the civil rights movement. The plumb-line, kept taut by the heavy bob of righteousness and justice, was the moral standard in a crooked world.

Martin Luther King, Jr called America to stay true to the plumb-line of justice and righteousness that keeps a society aligned with its better self. Just as gravity pulls a weighted string taut, straight and vertical from top to bottom, the plumb-line of Amos and Martin is the moral plumb-line that sets the standard for a just society.

What is the plumb-line in America? Is there any plumb-line left by which to assess the world and America? What worth is a plumb-line if it stays hidden, is pushed to the side, stored in a museum of artifacts from another time? What happens to a society when the national plumb-line is hung by the hand of greed and weighted at the bottom with a bob of material wealth that moths consume and thieves break in and steal? What happens to the soul of a person or a society that builds a house without a plumb-line?

To the civil rights movement, justice meant following Jesus in turning over the tables of the money-changers with non-violent action that would recognize the intrinsic structural connection of love and justice. “Justice,” ways Cornel West, “is Love made public.” The movement of non-violent social transformation was a movement of faithful souls willing to pay the price. Though the great host of those who honored the plumb-line never stood in the limelight, the names of Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, C. T. Vivian, Ruby Bridges, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, Fannie Lou Hamer, Hosea Williams, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, and John Lewis will never be forgotten.

Most of the freedom riders of the 1950s and ’60 are dead and buried, but America’s original sin is not. Neither is the plumb-line of righteousness and justice.

Though we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the darkness, we are not without light. The darkness is the same. The darkness is White, as it has been since the genocide of America’s First Peoples and the day White kidnappers loaded African hostages on slave ships as cargo to be bought and sold on the slave market.

America’s original sin and its darkness remain the same, but so does the light of blackness. Amos’s plumb-line calls us to our better selves. Congressmen Elijah Cummings, John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, Hakim Jeffries, and Bennie Thompson still insist that a better America can only be built with a weighted plumb-line, not a pendulum, or a string without a bob.


Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 18, 2023.

Term Limits: solution or problem?

Would setting limits to the number of terms a Congressperson can hold office help solve the problem in Washington, D.C.? Term limits is one proposed remedy for fixing Congress. Get rid of the career politicians! Fresh faces would be closer to the people they represent, set a new tone, and get things done.The idea has its appeal.

We’re tired of gridlock,but is putting fresh faces in the U.S. Congress – or the White House – all it’s cracked to be?

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) rode into the Senate on a high horse, penned a letter to the government of Iran opposing the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, and secured the signatures of 46 of the 53 Republican Senatorial colleagues. In March 2015 the newly elected Senator appeared on Face the Nation to make his case for Iran’s creeping influence in the Middle East, declaring,

“They [the Iranians] already control Tehran.”

Did he say “Tehran” – the capitol of Iran, the Tehran of the Persian Empire dating back 5,000 years?

Yes, he did. Either the Senator came to the Senate clueless about geography, history, the sensitivities of a tense geopolitical world, and the traditions of how foreign policy is conducted in the United States, or, worse, he just doesn’t care. Neither is acceptable for a member of the United States Senate. The Senate is the body with the longer terms (six years compared to 2 for the House of Representatives) because of the Founders’ wisdom. Those who wrote the Constitution knew the value of continuity, as well as change.

In the much more complex world of the 21st Century, the case for longevity, not term limits, is an argument for wisdom.

Citizens who have served as city councilors, state legislators, or board members of local organizations, colleges and universities know how long it takes to get up to speed. Those who are most effective learn to keep their mouths shut while learning how to drive a vehicle they’ve never driven before in the company of more experienced drivers who know the rules of the road.

The advantage of long-standing service in the U.S. Congress or of a Presidential candidate with longer experience and long-term memory is that they’ve been around long enough to know the history, however differently they interpret it on different sides of the political aisle.

And then…there’s Donald Trump who has NO experience in elected office. If you need a nudge to think about it, remember the ambitious Senator Cotton on Face the Nation.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 25, 2016

Trayvon Martin and the Hoodies

The Washington Post updates the story of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida with an interview with Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.

Family picture of Trayvon Martin“Martin and Fulton said they are moved by the outpouring of support from people across the nation. They said they were particularly touched by  the actions of Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who on Wednesday donned a gray hoodie and sunglasses and spoke from the floor of the House of Representatives about the need for a full investigation of the death.

“I applaud the young people all across the land who are making a statement about hoodies, about the real hoodlums in this nation, specifically those who tread on our law wearing official or quasi-official cloaks,” Rush said on the House floor.

“Racial profiling has got to stop,” he said. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”

As he spoke those words, he removed his suit jacket and lifted the hood over his head. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), presiding over the floor as Rush delivered his remarks, began to gavel almost immediately. Shouting over Rush, who began to recite Bible verses, Harper said the congressman was out of order for donning the hood. Rules bar House members from wearing hats in the chamber. Rush was then escorted from the floor.

Race and hoods in America never go away. Hoodies have a long history. Sometimes those who wear the hoods wear them by choice; sometimes the hoods are put over their heads. Occasionally those who wear them are ushered out while they recite Bible verses…or sing a hymn, like the 38 Dakota men hanged in a mass execution following “the Sioux Uprising,” as they called it then in 1862, at  Mankato, Minnesota.

Douglas A. Lindner provided this eye-witness account in The Dakota Conflict Trials:

In Mankato, at ten o’clock on December 26, thirty-eight (one person was reprieved between the date of Lincoln’s order and the execution) prisoners wearing white muslin coverings and singing Dakota death songs were led to gallows in a circular scaffold and took the places assigned to them on the platform.  Ropes were placed around each of the thirty-eight necks.  At the signal of three drumbeats, a single blow from an ax cut the rope that held the platform and the prisoners (except for one whose rope had broke, and who consequently had to be restrung) fell to their deaths.  A loud cheer went up from the thousands of spectators gathered to witness the event. The bodies were buried in a mass grave on the edge of town.  Soon area doctors, including one named Mayo, arrived to collect cadavers for their medical research

Last night a Lakota friend filled out the story. According to Wally Ripplinger, the men on the gallows were singing a Dakota hymn, as they had done throughout the day. They were singing in unison, under their hoods, of their impending release into Paradise. It might have sounded something like this. Click below to listen.

I cast my vote with the Dakota and Lakota singers, Trayvon Martin, the lynched victims of hooded Klansmen, and the rebellion leader (mis-labeled by tradition as “the thief” – he was not a thief!) executed along with Jesus, who heard the words of divine mercy that would be remembered long after a Roman public execution: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”