Hardening Our Schools

Donald Trump and I were baptized and confirmed in the Presbyterian Church. I went on to become a Presbyterian minister. Donald went on to become President of the United States of America. Speaking to the nation’s governors yesterday in the aftermath of the latest school massacre in Parkland, Florida, Mr. Trump called for turning grief into action.

“Most importantly, we want to discuss the public safety in schools and public safety, generally. But school safety. We can’t have this go on,” the President said.

“But we will turn our grief into action,” President Trump continued. “We have to take steps to harden our schools so that they are less vulnerable to attack.”

The Presbyterian churches of our youth taught us the way of Jesus. They told us road to invulerability leads to the loss of the good. Hearts of flesh reacting in fear become stone. They reach for whatever weapons the reptilian brain leads us to believe will make us less vulnerable to attack.

I was raised on an old text that looked forward to hard hearts turning to hearts of flesh. Cold hearts turning warm. Violent hearts turning peaceful. “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” are the words the writer of Ezekiel places on the lips of God. And then there was the puzzling logic that strength comes out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.

Pondering the tragedy of escalating violence in American society often leaves me speechless. I observe and listen. I hear the students crying, “No More!” and want to join them. After turning over the money-changers’ tables in the Temple, the authorities and those who presume themselves righteous criticize the children who have been cheering for him. When the critics tell him to silence the children, Jesus asks, “have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” Shouts of goodness and truth are pouring from the mouths of America’s youth.

But I also know how quickly emotion can turn to despair. I hear the NRA and ask how anyone raised in a church, synagogue, or mosque can embrace the money-changers the NRA bankrolls, or the simplistic morality of “good guy”s getting rid of “the bad guys” it uses to make the case for the least regulation of military-style weapons.

And I hear impractical dreamers like me wishing we could wipe the world clean of all firearms and weapons more dangerous than a caveman’s club. But quickly realize none of has any more answer to the question of how to “fix” this than the Genesis writer had for why Cain picked up a rock and slew Abel.

I don’t know much. But I learned as a child in a Presbyterian Church that hardened hearts will not conquer hate; hearts that harden etch evil in stone. All these years later, I can still hear 90 year-old Mrs. Thomas teaching our first grade Sunday School class at Marple Presbyterian Church. I find myself wondering whether there was a Mrs. Thomas for Donald at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in New York City.

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.” — Jesus of Nazareth, Gospel According to Matthew 34:33-35.

Taking steps “to harden our schools so that they are less vulnerable to attack” moves us farther down the road to the heartless world none of us wants. Where’s Mrs. Thomas was we need her?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2018.


Elijah on the seven words

Grandpa, what are the seven last words?

Oh, my, Elijah, that’s a strange question for this season.

Why? What’s a ‘season’?

A season is a period of days or weeks, a period of time. Right now we’re in the Advent season and Christmas season is almost here.

IMG_1889Okay, thanks. So . . .  why is a question about the seven words strange for this season?

Because the Seven Last Words are from Good Friday. This isn’t Holy Week; we’re getting ready for Christmas. 

That’s not what my baby-sitter says! She says the seven last words are diversity, fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based, and evidence-based. We’re never ever supposed to use those words again. Are those curse words, Grandpa?

HHS_CDC_cmylogoNo, Elijah, they’re not curse words. But the ones who told the Center for Disease Control not to use seven words anymore are cursers. They’re substituting their seven words for Jesus’s seven last words.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly received a list from the Trump administration on Dec. 14 consisting of seven words or phrases that will be banned in all official documents prepared for 2018’s budget. Many in the U.S., both those who work in public health and concerned citizens alike, are struggling to come to grips with the nature of the terms that are being censored.

The seven forbidden words or phrases are: “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.”– Futurism.com.

Grandpa, I was a fetus just seven months ago. Oops! I shouldn’t have used that word!

Yes, and you’re still very vulnerable. But, according to the You-Know-Who Administration, we’re not supposed to talk about that. 

So those are the ‘Seven Last Words’?

No, those are seven words that the CDC is not supposed to use anymore in its 2018 budget preparations, but the “Seven Last Words” are very different. We’re Christians, Elijah. We listen to the news with the Seven Last Words from the cross ringing in our ears.

So…we’re supposed to consider the ‘seven words’ of the You-Know-Who Administration in light of the ‘Seven Last Words’?

Yes, Elijah. Yes. And they’re very different.

So…was Jesus a scientist? What did he say from the cross, Grandpa, and what’s a cross?

No, Jesus wasn’t a scientist, but he loved the truth, just like real scientists do. A cross was the means of a state execution, Elijah. It was the way the Roman Empire killed people who got in the way of their agenda. Lots of people were executed during Jesus’s time. Jesus was executed. In our tradition, there are seven words he spoke from the cross.

Okay, I’m starting to get the picture. So what were the ‘Seven Last Words’?

Okay. Remember these and share them with Marissa tomorrow at day care.

  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • Today you will be with me in paradise.
  • Behold your son: behold your mother.
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  • I thirst.
  • It is finished.
  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

James Tissot, What Jesus Saw from the Cross, Brooklyn Museum of Art

So does God forgive the You-Know-Who Administration because they don’t know what they’re doing?

Hmmm. Good question, Elijah. Sure looks to me like they know exactly what they’re doing, but even when we think we know what we’re doing, I guess we really don’t. And “Behold your son; behold your mother” was a ‘word’ spoken to Jesus’s vulnerable mother and his best friend, but, according to the You-Know-Who Administration we can’t say ‘vulnerable’ any more. All those words are ‘finished’.

Yeah! And that’s not right! I’m still little but I pay attention to the ‘Seven Last Words’. I’m going to  be like Jesus’s friend. I’m going to take care of my vulnerable mother, Grandpa. Mom and I are vulnerable. Who’s going to take care of us if the You-Know-Who Administration doesn’t?

Like Jesus said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Remember, Elijah, the cross doesn’t have the last word. No one expected Easter. We live in resistance to cruelty with hope in a better tomorrow. It’s also the season of Chanuka, the Festival of Lights when our Jewish friends — always remember, Elijah, that Jesus was a Jew — light a new candle of hope every day to remember how an occupying power like the You-Know-Who Administration in the second century BCE was brought down by the Maccabean revolt. Thus us a season for hope, Elijah.


Child lighting candle of Chanukah menorah

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon), Chaska, MN, Dec. 19, 2017