Gordon C. Stewart is a social commentator, whose commentaries air on Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered and appear in print on MPR’s Public Insight Journalism, www.MinnPost.com, The Chaska Herald, The Chanhassen Villager, The Star Tribune and The Presbyterian Outlook. He is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn., and former Executive Director of theh Legal Rights Center, Inc., in Minneapolis. You can read more of Gordon's work on his blog, Views from the Edge.
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Reflections Along the Way of Terminal Illness
Today, three years to the day after my daughter Katherine’s (“Katie’s”) death (May 9, 2010), we inter her cremains. “IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING” was written the day we learned that Katie’s incurable Leiomyosarcoma had taken a turn for the worse. In memory of Katherine (“Katie”) Elizabeth Slaikeu Nolan.
Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 11, 2009
It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning
It’s a day like that. I bumped my head on the illness of a 33 year-old loved one. It’s raining sadness. I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Terminal illness has a way of doing that unless you believe in miracles of divine intervention or you have extraordinary powers of denial.
After Boston: Above and Beyond
The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago has an unusual work of art.
When visitors first enter the museum, they hear a sound like wind chimes coming from above them. Their attention is drawn upward 24 feet to the ceiling of the two-story high atrium.
The metal dog tags of the more than 58,000 service men and women who died in the Vietnam War move and chime with shifting air currents. The 10-by-40-foot sculpture, titled “Above and Beyond” was designed by Ned Broderick and Richard Steinbock.
Family and friends locate the exact dog tag of a loved one as a museum employee uses a laser to point to the tag with the name imprinted on the dog tag, now part of a chorus of wind chimes.
After the horror and tragedy in Boston, our heads have been down. This work of art serves as a reminder to look up to hear the sound of the spirit of goodness, compassion, and creativity that can turn tragedy and death into wind chimes played in silence by the air.
Is There No Cure for These?
Last week, the Senate began a floor debate on gun control that brought to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minn.
Ever since our Community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.
A crowd of 138 people came out on a Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.
As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.
Fear, anger, hostility, and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.
The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.
Little Boys With Toys
The fact that North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un is threatening the world with nuclear holocaust does what World War I did to many theologians who had presumed that history was on a course of inevitable progress.
It is not.
The power of death is enticing, a sin to which Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the bomb, later confessed. The human will to power becomes evil when real soldiers, real nuclear bombs, real missiles, and real threats of destruction are mistaken for childhood toys or computer games where human folly can be erased by hitting a reset button.
We are all children inside, for good and for ill.
The Garden Outside Pleasantville
In some way or other, I think it’s safe to say that we all have a kind of nostalgia for the innocence and purity of the Garden of Eden before what we call “the fall.” We have a sense that we are not supposed to be outside the gates of the Garden … out here. At the expulsion of the man and the woman in the story from Genesis, the cherubim (angels) are posted at the gate to be sure that those who have been expelled cannot get back in. The cherubim and a twirling, flaming sword keep Adam, Eve — you, me, all of us — on this side of the gate, outside the Garden of Eden.
Well it’s a story, of course, but isn’t it our story? Nostalgic for a world where nothing ever goes wrong. But illness comes, a marriage goes bad, a relationship with someone you love falls apart just when you think it’s to lead to something more permanent, you lose a job, you suffer depression, you suffer from an illness, you’re left alone in grief over the loss of a loved one. Or you yourself are dying, and there are wars and rumors of wars. We watch the children and wish that we could protect them, but we can’t, even though we are parents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles. Out here, outside the Garden, it’s rough sometimes.
Just Leave Me Alone!
We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.
An Ash Wednesday Question
What do we do? How do we stop this?
“Motorists and walkers scattered in terror Monday night as a gunman fired two bursts of bullets at passing vehicles near an Oakdale grocery store, killing a 10-year-old boy and wounding two other people. Click HERE for the Star-Tribune story.
We can‘t stop it. America is an arsenal with an open door. And any attempt to close the door is “unconstitutional.” Liberty, one of three basic rights outlined by The Declaration of Independence, is killing the other two. “Liberty” trumps not only “the pursuit of happiness” but “life” itself.
“At least two vehicles struck by bullets sped into the parking lot of the nearby Rainbow Foods at 7053 10th St. N. seeking help.”
Responsible gun owners did not do this. An irresponsible gun owner did this. But it would have made not one ounce of difference if the passersby had been armed. They were sitting ducks, like the ducks in a carnival booth. There is no protection against irresponsible use of a firearm.
A Song for Each Kind of Day
Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul … except for … the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous—horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.
I Wish We Were All That Crazy
I was a little like the Bishop James Pike last week with the story of Barabbas. I get like that sometimes. I’ve remembered to pull my pants on to take the dogs for a walk, but in every other way, I can identify with the completeness of James Pike’s attention to the biblical story. I’m a little ”nuts” – with apologies to everyone who knows better than to use that kind of pejorative language to describe a state of mental illness.
I write this today not to arrive at your door in the altogether to tell you what I think I’ve discovered about Barabbas. I write quite simply because I miss the likes of Bishop Pike and Bill Stringfellow.
The Stones Are Singing
Albert Camus once said that your life is “the slow trek to recover the two or three simple images in whose presence [your] heart first moved.”
Sebastian Moore recovered one of those images after he had wandered into church at vespers on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
In his book, The Inner Loneliness, Moore describes that moment of awakening. It came one evening after lots of pasta, a lot of spaghetti, and a lot of wine. “As I entered the church, I heard the familiar words [in Latin] ‘One of the soldiers opened his side with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and water.’ And I had what can only describe as a sense of fullness of truth. Somehow, everything that was to be said about life and its renewing was in those words. Somehow my life, my destiny, was in those words.”
The image that moved his heart became one to which he returns daily, as do I. For the piercing of the side of the helpless man hanging on the cross happened not just then and there at Golgotha; it happens here and there and everywhere when we torture our own souls or the souls of others because we, or they, have failed to measure up to what we expected. Strangely, it is in the piercing that brings blood that we are cleansed by the living water that pours from his side.
Do you see your life in the words and in the image of the spearing of his side, in the blood, but also the water that heals, restores and renews, flowing from his pierced side?
A second image came to me this week on a photography blog of religious architecture by Dennis Aubrey.
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