The Timeless Scent of a Pine Tree

At the age of three, I wanted to be the Sawgus Man.

Driving up the steep, winding road to Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park, the scent of fresh cut pine trees reaches my nostrils. Within a nanosecond I’m no longer in Wyoming, and I’m not almost 73. I’m a three-year-old back in South Paris, Maine, shoveling sawdust into the coal bin of my grandparents’ big house on Main Street.

During World War II there was no coal for heating in Maine. Sawdust from the pine trees took its place. When the Sawdust Man delivered the sawdust in his big dump truck, I went out with a small shovel to “help” him fill the coal bin with the sawdust. I loved the smell and the Sawdust Man was my hero.

Seventy years later, the aroma of sawdust transports me back to the times with Sawgus Man. Nothing then or now is as sweet as the scent of a fallen pine tree. Scents and memories are as intimately connected as time and eternity.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Jackson, Wyoming, July 2, 2015.

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Medical Marijuana

Steve (Shoemaker) and Alexander Sharp, ordained clergy advocates for the medical use of marijuana, wrote a guest commentary published by the News-Gazette to set the record straight on medical marijuana. Click  Weeding Out Editorial Inaccuracies to read their critique of editorial’s mischaracterizations of the Journal of the American Medical Association study of the medical use of cannabis.

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The Confederate Flag Outside the Library

The Hearst Free Library in Anaconda, Montana is on the National Historic Register. During our four weeks here serving St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel in Southern Cross, I travel daily to Anaconda to use the library’s internet access.

Walking into the library this morning I noticed a pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal on the back window of the cab. The hackles went up on the back of my neck. The urge to scratch the decal from the window momentarily crossed my righteous mind until I took note of something else.

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

The truck was old and in poor repair. Its bed was messy, filled with a random collection of stuff. This was not a 2015 GMC Canyon or Cadillac Escalade EXT. It belonged, I surmised, to a poor white guy or woman, or a poor white couple hanging on by their fingernails to what little they have.

Anaconda, MT is a fascinating place to live for a month. Once the world center of copper mining, the city of 9,300 residents today is living with great resilience on this side of the mine’s closing in 1987 and the SuperFund clean up that continues into the present.

There is great pride here in their history and in their capacity for survival beyond the abandoned mine shaft and silent smelter stack that still stands proudly, preserved by Anacondans who opposed its demolition by Anaconda Copper’s successor, ARCO. The stack is the oldest smelter stack in the world, large enough for the Washington Monument to fit inside it.

Miners are a sturdy lot. So are their descendants. The closer a visitor draws to the heartbeat of knowledge, persistence, and compassion in Anaconda — the Hearst Free Library — the more one respects and appreciates the town once built by corporate America and left to fend for itself when its usefulness had ended.

Class is the issue in America. But as soon as class comes into play, race becomes the easier target. When the company owners whose workers produce wealth throw away a town the way we throw away paper towels, racial differentiation produces the scapegoat for poverty. A young white man enters an historic black church, sits down for the Bible study for an hour, considers not pulling the trigger because they seemed like “nice people” and blows nine people away. A poor man’s pickup with a Confederate flag decal is parked down the street from the Hearst Free Library in Anaconda, Montana. What that flag stands for can, and does, show up anywhere in America.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MN

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Verse – Tour Guides

Verse — Tour Guides in 1962
at the Mansion of the late
Col. Robert R. McCormick,
former Editor/Publisher
of the Chicago Tribune

We said “Cantigny” like “Cubs-Wrigley.”
“Can-TIG-knee,” after all, was west of
Chicago, and we Midwestern guys
from Wheaton College were the best of
hires, for boss, Mrs. J, knew we would
not steal Colonel McCormick’s books or
swords, silver, furniture or liquor,
since we were honest Christian boys.

She was from Europe, Austria, and
knew France would shudder if the town would
hear how we mispronounced “CAHN-tee-neigh.”
The Colonel fought a battle there, or
so we were told originally by
wise Mrs. J. But foolishly, she
let us pass all the information
on to the other guides, and as we
played “telephone” the tales would then grow
until our Colonel was the hero…

(“And after Fox Hunts, he was always pleased
to set buns on the porch and cut the cheese.”)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 1, 2015

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Verse – Flooded Former Bean Field

Champaign County, Illinois.
June 29, 2015, A.D.

Climate Change is still my tune,
Everyone will know it soon;
It’s rained just twice,
And that is nice:
Once all May, and once all June…

[“LIKE” if you wish water could
be shared with the West!

Flooded bean field - Champaign, IL

Flooded bean field – Champaign, IL

– Verse and photograph by Steve Shoemaker, Champaign County, IL, June 29, 2015


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BEST Steak Ever! WORST Haircut!


Our home for four weeks is 14 miles west of Anaconda, Montana. Last Friday evening we go to Barclay II for dinner (the restaurant, not the dog).

Like lots of things in these parts, exterior facades count for little. Barclay II doesn’t look like much from the outside but it has a great reputation for steak and seafood. Behind the scruffy door is an upscale restaurant.

The proprietor, Tammy comes to the table to greet us. We ask what they’re known for. “The tenderloin is the most popular,” she says. “I see from the menu it comes with crab legs. Are they Snow Crab or King Crab?” I’m not so big on Snow Crab; I love King Crab. She answers, “King Crab.”

When the wait person comes to take our orders, I order the tenderloin “between medium-rare and medium”. The waitress notes exactly what I say. When she returns, the tenderloin is precisely as requested. In downtown Minneapolis, Murray’s Steak House  is famous for its Silver Butter Knife Steak, so named because you can cut it with a butter knife. Murray’s is good. Barclay’s, in downtown Anaconda, is better. The tender-est, most flavor-ful steak I’ve every eaten anywhere in the world.


The next morning we’re again in downtown Anaconda in The Coffee Corral coffee shop when Kay reminds me I need a haircut before stepping into the pulpit the next morning at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel where I’m privileged to preach the next three weeks. It’s Saturday.

I leave Kay in search of the barber shop. The barber pole is not spinning; the sign on the door posts the hours: Monday-Friday. It’s closed. Next door is a beauty salon. I really need a haircut. I go in to the scene of six women seated in a semicircle having their nails done.

“Good morning,” I say, “Do you do men?” Several of the woman roar with laughter. “I mean…do you cut men’s hair?” Again they laugh. “My wife says I need a haircut; wadda ya all think?” Three of them nod Yes; three nod No. The stylist answers Yes and says she can do me at 1:00.

I return at 1:00. The stylist and I exchange a few pleasantries, ignoring the young bridesmaid who’s all dressed for an afternoon wedding, waiting to have her hair done. I take a seat in the stylist’s chair. She asks me what I want. I answer, just “a trim,” meaning leave it the way it is but take maybe a quarter of an inch, at most. I tell her that once I take out my hearing aids I won’t be able to hear a thing. She smiles, laughs, and says, “No problem. That’s great!” I take it she’s not a big talker, or maybe, God for bid, she doesn’t like men.

I set the hearing aids on the counter. She asks a question I can’t hear. As hearing-impaired people often do when we can’t hear something, I smile and nod my head. I should have reached for the hearing aids.

Within seconds I’m back in Vince’s Barber Shop in Broomall, Pennsylvania at the age of five. Vince’s old electric clippers are shearing the sides of my head like a sheep shearer shears wool from a sheep. At age 72 I don’t have much left, but I’m told I have beautiful hair, even if it’s white. The clippers are clipping; the hair is flying in one-inch clumps. This is not a trim! I’m being led to the slaughter. I close my eyes, as though in prayer, pretending it’s not as bad as I expect.

I should have prayed!

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

She finishes “the trim” with scissors and holds up the mirror to show me her handiwork. I pretend I’m an actor, looking at the unrecognizable head staring back at me. It’s Mortimer Snerd, ventriloquest Edgar Bergen’s dummy who made me laugh as a kid, and, as Mortimer often did, I smile a stupid smile, and say, “Yup”. There is nothing else to do.


“How much do I owe you?” “Ten dollars,” she says. “Do you take American Express?” “No,” she says, “we only take cash.”

Oops! I take out my wallet. No cash. I go into my pockets and find three one crumpled dollar bills. She agrees to let me go up the street to the coffee shop where Kay is using the internet. “I’ll be back,” I say, assuring her I’m not skipping town. I don’t tell her that her haircut is only worth three dollars.

Kay also has no cash. But she remembers the cylinder of quarters she keeps in the Prius. We count them out, 38 quarters, just enough with my three ones to cover the cost and leave a $1.50 tip, and return to the Beauty Salon.

She’s doing the hair of the teenage girl dressed in her bridesmaid uniform. I think of bridesmaids’ dresses as uniforms ‘cause, like Army recruits, the poor bridesmaids have to wear what their recruiter makes them wear. There is no freedom on wedding day. I just hope the poor soul sitting in the stylist’s chair doesn’t open her eyes to see Mortimer staring back from her bridesmaid uniform.


Thirteen (13) little hours offered the best and the worst, the joys and, as the old hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” puts it, “the burdens of the day.”

I’ll take back to Minneapolis three life lessons learned in Anaconda:

  1. Pay no attention to the exterior appearance of anything, especially a restaurant. It may hide the best tenderloin steak you’ve ever tasted anywhere.
  2. Carry cash!
  3. If you’re a guy who ventures into a beauty salon next door to the closed barber shop and some women laugh loudly when you ask if they do men, run for your life. You may turn into Mortimer Snerd!

“Yup!” Life is like that. I smile and remember the tenderloin. Kay tells me my hair will grow out again.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Anaconda, MT, June 29, 2015

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Verse – Last Request

Last request from an Illinois boy

I was born in Urbana on Orchard Street,
The hospital, Carle, was then quite small:
A three-story building of yellow brick,
The first of four brothers, and that was all.

My Mother was Char, my Dad was Bob
away at war, though a Pacifist he.
In ’42, to avoid the Draft,
He joined the SeaBees, the Navy

Guys who built the docks, airfields–
Alaska, even Hawaii.
After the war they lived in town
From house to house, till number three

Was 1306 South Orchard Street.
My happy high school years were there,
My first fast car, my first slow girl…
My friends were from the band or choir,

Although I grew to six foot eight
And stumbled playing basketball.
I started writing poems then:
Love yelps, or sonnets for the school

Assignments Mrs. Hewett gave.
Now decades past, I still will write
My last request in doggerel.
V-mails from Dad to Mom would cite

His love for us in poetry.
So if the cost is not too great,
Send me to die on Orchard Street.
Carle Hospital has grown to eight

Or ten or 12 facilities.
Perhaps they’ll have a room for me
To breathe my last in my home town.
Like poetry, it’s symmetry.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 29, 2015

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When the Breath flies away

It takes only a moment to see oneself in the experience of Andy Catlett in Wendell Berry’s story, “Fly Away, Breath!” Our experience is of time flown away and flying away.

Most of us, most of the time, think mostly of the past. Even when we say, “We are living now,” we can only mean that we were living a moment ago.

Nevertheless, in this sometimes horrifying, sometimes satisfying, never-sufficiently-noticed present, between a past mostly forgotten and a future that we deserve to fear but cannot predict, some few things can be recalled.

Wendell Berry, “Fly Away, Breath (1907),” A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port Williams Membership,” Counterpoint Press, 2012.

We are creatures of a specific time and place — and relationships with loved ones, friends, and enemies, a plot of land, a town or city we call home, a state, a nation, a world in time sandwiched between past and future that we call the present.

A ghost town is a reminder of time. Southern Cross stands on the mountain high above Georgetown Lake, Montana, where the vistas are breathtaking, and the past is barely remembered except for the abandoned miners’ quarters and mine shafts below the surface of the place that remind the visitor of the fickleness of time.

“All flesh is grass” and yet, despite our intuitive awareness of it, we unconsciously pretend most days it is not true that “the grass withers, the flower fades….” [Isaiah 40:8].

“Nevertheless,” says Wendell Berry, “… between a past mostly forgotten and a future that we deserve to fear but cannot predict, some few things can be recalled” — things like my friendship with Phil, now ended unexpectedly by a rare nearly undiagnosable lymphoma in his spleen. Hours before his death, the interventionist ICU doctor described Phil’s case and his 10 days in the ICU as “a real shit storm” because of the many ongoing complications that mystified the medical staff. In all of medical history only 10-15 cases have been reported where lymphoma originated in the spleen. By the time it was discovered in Phil, other organs had begun to shut down. The first organ to go was the gallbladder, which was already abscessed when they operated to remove the spleen.

Medical professionals are no different from the rest of us, except for their skill and training in how to treat illness and preserve life. Despite every effort to keep the present from slipping into the past, against every attempt to retain some kind of future, the breath always flies away.

Phil’s death, as I had come to see it days before he passed, came as an act of mercy, a release from the torturous interventions of advanced medical technology that asks the question ‘How?’ without first asking ‘Why?”

I’m increasingly convinced that the denial of death (mortality) and the search for immorality are the opposites of the Christian faith in God – on Hebrew YHWH (“I am Who I Am/ I will Be Who I will be”) who alone is Eternal. All else is species hubris, the refusal to live thankfully, graciously and peacefully within the limits of finite, mortal goodness.

We are all standing in line, not knowing at what time or place our time will come. We’re all headed for the ghost town, thinking of the past or dreading the future we deserve, but also, in moments of grace, remembering with thanksgiving the tender mercies along the way that cannot be denied.

I do not know what of Phil or any of us may lie beyond the grave, an odd thing to say for a minister of the gospel whose faith lives out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Knowing my unknowing, my best friend reminded me of “Jesus’s question to Nicodemus at night about the not entirely unrelated matter of being born of the Spirit: ‘You are the teacher of God’s people, and don’t know these things?’”

I confess to knowing very little, especially when what Chaim Potok calls the four-o’clock-in-the-morning-questions wake me in the middle of the night between a present now gone and a future that remains inscrutable. However that may be, what I do know is that bodily life — mortal life in space and time in the midst of Eternity — is what we have and it is to be cherished. Bound to the limits of time and place, it is God’s good creation.  Yet only God is the Eternal One.

Whatever lies on the other side of my years is beyond my mortal knowing. But I can and do affirm the Eternity of God and the scriptural point of view that whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. “All flesh is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God [YHWH, the Eternal] shall last forever.” Right now, in good conscience, that’s enough bread to live on today as I recall the blessing of Phil to our lives and pray for all who loved him.

– Gordon C. Stewart, written at Georgetown Lake, Montana, July 26, 2015.

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Verse – Mother’s Day..

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, YES Day!

It’s not true every day is Children’s Day.
Some kids have lost their parents to disease,
or fatal accidents, or violence,
or war, or drugs, or worse, indifference.

And Hanukkah or Christmas does not count,
or ending Ramadan with giving gifts
and Sugar Feast, because each Holy Day
kids must be near perfect–it gives them fits!

So I propose a Children’s Day each year
when parents, mentors, friends each take the time
to say YES to a child’s request, then hear
a rhyme, and play a foolish children’s game.

What will abide is sitting side by side:
for then you’ll know you’ve helped a child to grow.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 24, 2015

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In Memory of Phil

Sunday, June 21, the text from Faith in Minneapolis reached us in Montana.

“6:15 p.m. – A great soul has passed.”

Phil Brown and I go back 55 years when we met as freshmen at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. Within two weeks we were doing something entirely juvenile. We were running for President of the best class the college had ever admitted or would ever see again. J 😇

From the day I met Phil, I knew him as a person of dignity and stature. He carried himself with an outward confidence that belied an inner self-doubt. His posture was erect, shoulders back with a disgustingly athletic physique and stride, a classically chiseled face, and the brains to go with it. He was a Big Man on Campus from the day he set foot on campus to the day he left it for Law School at Indiana University in 1964. When he left law school to prepare for a vocation in ministry, we again became classmates at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

In ways we only later came to understand and celebrate, in spite of the early competition, we were tied by similar family histories and destinies, although anyone who knows us well could easily call us the Odd Couple, one of us like Felix Unger, the always well-groomed, meticulously tidy maintainer of order and propriety played in the film by Jack Lemon; the other more like the unpredictable, care-free, disorganized, careless slob named Oscar Madison, played by Walter Matthau. Can there be any doubt who was whom?

At Phil’s retirement party as Synod Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, his beloved sons, Ian and Jess, delivered a comical roast of their Dad who, they said, had taught them many things, not the least memorable of which had to do with tools from Phil’s workshop. “If you took it, put it back where you got it!” was his consistent teaching. I always wondered, though, why Phil didn’t put the special microbrewery beers that Ian mailed him back in the refrigerator where we’d gotten them.

Phil and Faith are Kay and my best friends in the Twin Cities. Our tears have fallen for more than two months, as we have watched with Faith the inexplicable, undiagnosed loss of energy that came on like an sudden thunderstorm that drenched him in night sweats the evening he returned from a North Oaks Association Board Meeting.

Always the most gracious of hosts, he and Faith hosted newcomers to North Oaks in their home a few weeks later with the understanding that if Phil grew weary, he should retire early. He did. It was not like Phil to call attention to himself or to bow out on a promise, a duty, or a commitment. He had to be restrained from overdoing, but restraining a race horse committed to doing the right thing takes a trainer with strength not even the strongest life partner or lifelong friend could muster.

At Maryville Phil chose Economics for his major. His academic advisor and mentor, Bob Lynn, was a professor known equally for his brilliance and his demands for academic excellence. At McCormick Theological Seminary, Phil again chose to study with the very best, Jack Stotts, Professor of Christian Ethics. Phil was always drawn to the highest standards of excellence.

As Presbytery Executive with Blackhawk and Milwaukee presbyteries and as Synod Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, he embodied that combination of ardor and order, grace and discipline that is the signature of the Presbyterian theological and ecclesiastical tradition where all things are to be done “decently and in order”. In that respect Phil and I each followed in our father’s footsteps. Phil succeeded at it much better than I.

But, if our friendship began as student competitors and friends wandering in the night through the foothills of the Smokey Mountains around Maryville, my last memories will be of Phil as the patient at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Though so weak that he could barely speak aloud, he unexpectedly joined me in saying the 23rd Psalm. His faith was on his lips, bubbling up from a deep, trusting heart, the secret place of the son of Victor and Francis Brown. I’m sure he noticed, as did his son Jess, my omission of the line “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake” — an omission made, whether consciously or unconsciously, I suppose in retrospect, because I wanted him to give up the struggle for righteousness in order to rest peacefully beside the still waters there beside the valley of the shadow of death.

There are no still waters here in Montana where I am committed to serve as summer minister at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel in the ghost town of Silver Cross where we prayed for Phil, Faith, and the Brown family this morning. After receiving Faith’s message this evening, Kay walked to the backyard of the Manse and returned with a bouquet of wild purple irises and other wild flowers in honor of Phil. We read the Psalms and prayers from The Book of Common Prayer and found some solace there in the company of the saints in light.

Good friendships last a lifetime. Over time, the tears of loss and mourning will be turned, by God’s grace, into the tears of great thanksgiving.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MT, June 23, 2015


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When Religion Becomes Sinful

Originally posted on Mark H. Miller's Blog:

My clergy colleague, Mike Murray, recommended a new book that builds bridges between right and left-wingers, between those who are conservative/fundamentalist and liberal/progressives. Have started it, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

But was interrupted this morning when reading a Huffington Post article about someone with whom I have next to nothing in common theologically, Evangelist Pat Robertson. I’m pretty sure a bridge between the two of can never be built—especially on his version of the purpose for God to kill children. Even the more general indictment that God “kills children.”

I’m pretty sure clergy, no matter their tilt theologically, would find it reprehensible that “God takes the life of a child.” Yes, I’ve had grieving parents and relatives tell me about a young girl’s death, “God needs her for God’s Children’s Choir in heaven.” Or, “All death is God’s Will.” Or, “This is the fault of the parents for…

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What was I thinking?

Ever have one of those days when you wonder what in the world you were thinking?

After eating at The India Spice House, I stopped in at the adjoining grocery store. A box of Bourbon-flavored biscuits made in Oran caught my eye.  They looked good. I confused Oran (in Algeria) with Oromo, the identity of the Ethiopian Muslim men who had prayed for my friend Phil in the ICU Waiting Room two nights before. “That’s great,” I thought to myself. “The biscuits will make a nice gift.”

Gift to Muslim prayers

Gift to Muslim prayers

At the hospital I handed the box to two Oromo brothers holding vigil in the ICU Waiting Room. No words were exchanged. They accepted the gift, smiled, and nodded.

Only on my way to visit Phil in the ICU did it dawn on me. Muslims don’t drink! Even if the biscuits were made in Oromo instead of Oran, Bourbon-flavored anything is unacceptable, even disrespectful, however unintentional.

I returned to the Waiting Room. They smiled broadly. “Good!” said the one who speaks English. The other repeated his word with raised eyebrows. “Good!” We shook hands the way brothers do on the street in the hood. All was well! Salaam, Shalom, Peace was everywhere in the room.

Grace covers a multitude of sins!

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Verse – A Selfish Husband

To prepare cherries for a pie,
it takes at least two hands, three bowls,
a colander–after the high
climb up the ladder in the trees.
I used a bucket; she a bag.
My legs gave out too soon. I sat
and waited in the car. Our dog,
old Blazer, mewed upon his mat
in the back seat till she returned
and made our pack complete.
……………………………She washed
the cherries in the colander.
The pits came bursting through under
the pressure of my thumb. The pie
smells grand. No friends will I ask by…

Cherries to pies

Cherries to pies

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 13, 2015

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You’d better not get sick!

We’re sitting across from each other in the ICU Waiting Room after standing at the bedside of our dear friend Phil. Phil and I are old classmates and getting older at age 73.

Kay’s face is solemn. Sad. Pensive. Her brow is furrowed, the way it gets when someone she loves is in trouble. She goes deep inside,  dives down into the darkness to draw wisdom and courage, and comes back up and out when she’s ready.

She says something I can’t hear. I shake my head. She’s says it again quietly, I suppose, because there are other people in the Waiting Room. My inability to hear only serves to underscore the reality of our getting old.

After several more failed attempts to hear her, I walk over to her chair.

You’d better not get sick!” she says.

I tell her I won’t because, unlike our formerly fit-as-a-fiddle racquet ball player friend Phil in the ICU, I don’t believe in exercise. “Exercise is bad for your health,” I’ve said a 1,000 times to Kay’s dismay. I’m more like Barclay, also in the Waiting Room, who, like Phil, looks fit-as-a-fiddle. (This is NOT the canine with the same name who’s waiting in the car in the hospital parking ramp.)

“Barclay, do you exercise?” Barclay’s head recoils like a boxer dodging a stiff jab, his eyes squint, his face grimaces at the thought. He slowly raises his right hand as if holding a spoon, opens his mouth, and shoves whatever’s in the spoon into his open mouth. “Ice cream?” I ask. “Doughnuts,” he says. “What kind?” “Chocolate.” “What brand?” “Doesn’t matter. Any kind. Doughnuts!”

Whether our form of exercise is eating doughnuts, playing racquet ball or working out at a gym, we’re all going to get sick. Some sooner, some later. It’s one of two things every mortal shares in common with every other mortal: we are born and we “get sick” (i.e., we die).

“You’d better not get sick!” we say with a smile. In the meantime we give thanks for today and tonight, the comic relief of the doughnuts, and the opportunity to love each other as we pray and wait for Phil’s recovery in the ICU.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 13, 2015

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The Waiting Room

The surgery went “as well as could be expected” after two months of undiagnosed illness, but Sepsis is taking over his body, threatening his survival. The next two hours are critical.

His loved ones and friends are gathered in the ICU Waiting Room at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

Several hours earlier, I had observed six Muslim men praying the evening prayer at sundown at the far side of the Waiting Room. Oromo (Ethiopia) men had prayed the evening prayers at sundown, off to the far side of the large Waiting Room.

The men from Orono (Ethiopia), whom I had assumed to be Somali, are now gathered in chairs in the center of the Waiting Room, talking among themselves in Oromo.

When I approach them, intruding into their space, they recognize my presence. They stop talking. “Salaam,” I say. “Salaam,” they respond as if with a single voice and smile. “My friend is very sick. The next two hours are critical. I ask your prayers. His name is Phil.”

They respond as one would expect compassionate people to respond. “We will pray for him.”

I return to the small family area where my fellow Christians are gathered. I tell them the Muslims are praying for Phil. They’re pleased. We chat. Phil and Faith’s pastor eventually leads us in a Christian prayer.

Muslim prayer visitors

Muslim prayer visitors

An hour or so later three of the Oromo men come to our little room. They have come to tell us they have finished their prayers for Phil.

The voices and eyes of the men, led by their Imam, are kind, pastoral, as we say in the church. Full of compassion and concern for us. They have prayed in Arabic a Muslim prayer for healing on behalf of a stranger about whom they know nothing but his need:

“Remove the harm, O Lord of humankind and heal [Phil], for You are the Healer and there is no healing except Your healing, with a healing which does not leave any disease behind.” [narrated into English by al-Bukhaar]

Sometimes we have no choice but to wait. The Muslims from Oromo are waiting with us actively. Would that we all would wait so kindly, so patiently, so actively, and so wisely.

For a split second, I imagine the world as a Waiting Room.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Abbott-Northwester Hospital, Minneapolis, MN, June 12, 2015

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Verse – SpEcTaToRs

Is there a day without a sport?
Remember when ABC’s
Wide World of Sports
was just on TV Saturdays…
and for only 90 minutes?
Baseball games were on the radio.
Now ESPN Channels 1-348 are on 24-7.
Just today WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS are being played and broadcast in
Professional Men’s Basketball,
Professional Men’s Hockey, and
Professional Women’s soccer.
I think there is a sport every minute.

Of course I could be wrong–
I watch only movies via NetFlicks,
37 HD Satellite Channels, BLU-RAY,
or in Theaters with rocking chairs,
cup-holders, 5 gallon popcorn buckets,
300 speakers, and IMAX.

Our grand-children watch small screens
under the covers after lights-out.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 11, 2015

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Verse – Don’t do it, Sister!

He doesn’t think that I’m real smart,
All I do he picks apart
But, surprise!
He thinks I’m wise
If I should give to him my heart.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 7, 2015

Poster from Battered Women's Support Services, Vancouver, Canada

Poster from Battered Women’s Support Services, Vancouver, Canada

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Verse – The worst jobs in America

Cleaning toilets
Changing adult diapers
Scraping up roadkill
Killing in a slaughterhouse
Telling family Mom has died
Telling Mom the baby died
Killing unadopted pets
Telling kids their pet has died
Teaching to the test

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 7, 2015

button against teaching to the test.

button against teaching to the test.

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Verse – The Actress

IMG_7630She’s small, as they say, for her age.
She’s four-foot-eight though she’s twelve
years watching this whole world revolve
around the red sun.
…………………………….She’s on stage
each day when at school or at home.
Her voice screeches loudly, can fill
her classroom and on down the hall.
She’s always the one in the gym
whose laugh or whose cry will resound
and reverberate as they play.

She screamed when she thought that she saw
a stranger beneath a large mound
of bedclothes in her parents’ room.
She took off one flip-flop and struck
her napping grandfather. The smack
was heard by everyone home.

The parents said she should have run
outside–and then called 9-1-1…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 5, 2015


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The Socialist Jew

This tweet caught Steve’s attention, as well it should!

Socialist Jew Quote

Socialist Jew Quote

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Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul – a Glimpse

I’ve been waiting  for years for Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), whose recently announced candidacy for President of the United States is drawing astonishingly large crowds.

Ask him why he’s running and he tells you. And when he does, he speaks with two qualities that too often are estranged from one another: keen intelligence and passionate conviction. His voice resonates with a timber from deep within his soul. He’s not your stereotypical politician. He doesn’t answer questions by running in circles. He’s not afraid to offend potential supporters. He’s as bold as they come. What he’s bold about is common sense. The crowds in Minnesota and Iowa are coming out to meet him because they hear the voice of a truth-teller. No matter that Bernie speaks with a Brooklyn accent.

No other candidate for President during my lifetime has been as clear or concise as Bernie Sanders. Here’s a sample of Bernie engaging Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on senior hunger back in 2011 before Bernie and Rand threw their names in the hat.

No one knows how far Bernie will go in his bid for the Presidency. But suddenly the mainstream media within the Washington Beltway and the New York Times the sneered at him a week ago are beginning to sense they’d better pay attention.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 2, 2015.






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Steve was dry as a bone…

“until Saturday a friend asked me to write a funny tribute to mainstay in a community choir I sang with since I retired. Here is her picture & the light-verse-for-hire. Print it if you want. It’s all I got. (They read it last night at a party–at Ginny’s house–and gave her a framed copy.)”
Ginny MahichThere’s a Ginny that lives in Mahomet–
Tongue and pen are fast, like a comet,
She sings a fine alto,
Or even soprano,
Bakes pastries, and writes a good sonnet!

She goes to Beyler’s for her singing lessons
And she always pays for her sessions
She teases her Julie,
And if sometimes unruly,
A good Catholic, she makes her Confessions!

Her demeanor is often quite merry,
The hats she wears: extraordinary!
And there’s alway a prank,
With her husband, Frank:
Their parties are all legendary.

We all can agree, not one is a doubter
That Ginny Muhich is never a pouter.
So let’s give a cheer
For our Ginny so dear,
The Chorale would go under without her!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 31, 2015

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“Where’s Mom? I Need Mom!”



Barclay must have been begging for help during the night without a mother to hear his desperate pleas. Kay (Mom) has been out of town for a week.

When I approached his kennel this morning, there was an odor. But I thought to myself, that can’t be. Barq hasn’t had an accident in 18 months. His colitis is under control. I was just praising his habits to friends yesterday.

I opened the kennel door. Barclay rushed downstairs in a panic, leaving a trail behind him on the upstairs landing, down the flight of 18 steps, on the downstairs entry floor and carpet before I could get him outdoors Poor little guy.

So I’ve been cleaning up the mess, wiping the floors and soiled carpets, laundering his blankets, de-fumigating his kennel, bathing him, drying him, and brushing him out ever since. Barclay is resting comfortably now on the sofa while I go up and down the stairs wash doing the laundry.

On behalf of Barclay, I sent the following email to Kay, who this morning is with her six girlfriends at the retreat house in northeast Nebraska owned and operated by the Audubon Society.

He needs his mom badly. Bad mom! Bad mom!

“Where’s mom? I need mom!” he asks with those big brown eyes. “She’s in Nebraska with the birds,” I tell him. “Why is she in Nebraska, and what’s she doing with the birds? Does she like the birds more than me?” “No, Barq, she’s with her girlfriends at an Audubon sanctuary.” “What’s an Audubon? Is that like those fast highways they have in Germany? Is mom driving too fast? Will mom be safe driving?” “Yes, mom will be safe. She driving in a great big car today down to the Audubon river with her girlfriends.” “Car?! Ride in the car?!” “No, Barq, mom’s riding in the car with her girlfriends.” “Aw, Mom likes girls better than us? Why, dad, why? Is that why she wasn’t here last night to help me? Is that why you had to pick up my poop and pee – ‘cause it was a guy’s pee and poop? Is mom ever coming back? Are we alone here together, just the two of us, when only one of us can hear?” “No, mom loves you very much, Barq. No need to worry. She’s coming back on Monday. She’s driving back in her car….” “Car? Go for the ride in the car? Can we, Dad?” “Not right now, Barq, Dad has to continue to dry you out and comb you before we can do anything like that, and, besides, you’re not getting any breakfast this morning. Your stomach has to recover today.” “Mom would give me breakfast!!!” “No, she wouldn’t because you’re sick.” “I’m not a dick, Dad, I just don’t feel well. If mom thinks we’re both dicks and mom likes girls better than guys, do you think there’s a danger she might not come back, that she might stay with her girlfriends and the birds by the Autobahn?”

In short – we’re having a most exquisite Saturday morning.

– Gordon C. Stewart, lonely in Chaska, Minnesota, May 30, 2015.

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Texas Flood, Ted Cruz, and Zombie games

The other night a professional baseball game was played during a torrential downpour at Target Field in Minnesota. Meanwhile down in Texas, historic level floods were rising.

Senator Ted Cruz, the climate change denier who opposed the bill providing disaster relief to the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy in 2013, was shouting for urgent federal assistance above and beyond ordinary disaster relief.

Back in 2013 when the victims of Sandy were in New York and New Jersey, the Senator from Texas opposed the federal government “wasting” tax payers’ money.

“This bill,” he said, “is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington—an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.”

Now that the scene of the disaster has shifted to Texas, he says, “At a time of tragedy, I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.”

“Amen” to that!

But, then again, according to The Daily Beast on May 28,

At the moment, Cruz is playing “Plants vs. Zombies,” a game where users collect sunlight points to feed plants who fight off waves of zombies; “Candy Crush,” the puzzle game where he claims he’s in the 217th level; and “The Creeps!,” a tower defense game.

One can almost hear the voice of Senator Cruz’s predecessor, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D), crying from the grave, wondering how the zombies took over his beloved Texas.

Senator, please join the rest of us in fighting for the plants against the zombie Climate Change denier obstructionists. What’s happened in New York and New Jersey, and what’s happening now in Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma is not a video game. “Let’s play ball!”

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318

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JKF’s Birthday and Champagne

It’s normal for a mother to think her newborn child sets the moon. But few, if any, look at their children and say that one day they’ll be President of the United States.

One is left to wonder how it was 98 years ago today in Brookline, Massachusetts when Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy gave birth to her second-born child, John. Rose and her husband Joe were Irish Catholic in a country whose political class was blue-blood Protestant. No Roman Catholic had ever run for the Presidency by the time Rose gave birth to John.

But some mothers and fathers have a way. Welcoming their children into the world with unconditional love, they also encourage great expectations. Love and excellence are not opposites; they go together like the soil in Champagne, and the coveted grapes the soil produces.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy 98 years ago. They could not have imagined their second-born son would grow up to become the 35th President of the United States of America. But he did.

Few, if any, mothers expect their child to become President of the United States of America. But if unconditional love and great expectations greet a newborn child, almost anything can happen, and, whatever it turns out to be, it will all be good.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2015.

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The Paradox of Pentecost — Presence and Absence

A stranger than strange text for today’s Feast of Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the coming of the Spirit, the Advocate, reads:

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you…” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

It is Jesus in John’s Gospel who speaks these words to his disciples. They scratch their heads, like confused children being dropped off at camp against their will. They already sense the homesickness that will come. The thought of being abandoned brings anguish, the foreboding of oncoming forlornness.

The experience of absence, endemic to the human condition, is essential to faith. The feeling of anguished forlornness builds courage, and faith, of one sort or another, with or without an advocate.

Enter Jean-Paul Sartre’s reflections on anguish and forlornness. Fully conscious without religious crutches, I experience the anguish of my responsibility for myself and others, and the forlornness that realizes that I am alone in my decision-making. The decisions are mine along. No one but I am responsible.

Like the disciples, we want it to be otherwise. Some of us pray as though the feelings were a hoax, the Devil’s trickery or God’s pre-ordaining, as though our course were charted by another decision-maker disbelieved by Sartre. But regardless of our faith or faith denials, the truth is that to be human is to know this sense of anguish and forlornness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian imprisoned and executed by the Third Reich, caught the sense of it in a letter he wrote from a prison cell.

“The only way to be honest is to recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur. And this is just what we do see — before God! So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation visa a vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as [people] who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). God who makes us live in the world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, which is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. Mark 8:17 makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and his suffering.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pp 219-220, McMillan Company, 1953, translated from German by Reginald H. Fuller.]

Bonhoeffer’s writing acknowledges the anguish and forlornness that precede the disappearance of the divine usurper of human freedom and responsibility. In place of the bad-faith God who keeps her children in diapers, there comes the advantage of Christ’s going away — the arrival of the Advocate who brings the unexpected joy of coming of age.

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2015 – Feast of Pentecost.

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Two Line Verse

Verse – Soul Food

Flowers in soil
Feed the soul

Soul Food Flowers

Soul Food Flowers

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL May 24, 2015.


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The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.

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Daily Riches: Your Enemy the Savage (Thomas Merton, Martin Niemöller and Richard Rohr)

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

“It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” Martin Niemöller

Today, if African American protests turn into riots, the offenders are often referred to as “animals.” In the early American West, native Americans were called “savages”, and wartime slurs dehumanized Jews, Germans, and Japanese. Richard Rohr reminds us that we all have a viewpoint, and that each viewpoint is “a view from a point.” Consequently, he says “…we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the full truth.” To love our enemies, as Jesus commands, and to escape our own unconscious biases, we will need such a critique.

“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are…

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Bible a key to murder case

A friend called to tell me about the murder of his friend Earl Olander soon after it happened. Hollis knew the victim, 90 year-old Earl Olander, mercilessly beaten in his Carver County farm house.

Why would anyone would do this [i.e., tie him up, beat him with a shotgun, ransack his farm house, leave him half-dead] to a sweet-spirited old man like Earl?

A new use for the Bible appeared as the lead headline on the front page of this morning’s StarTribune:

“Stolen Bible leads police to suspects in death of 90 year-old Carver County man: After 90 year-old man was beaten to death, his stolen Bible led police to two suspects.” – StarTribune

Though a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, charges have been brought against the two suspects based, in part, on the discovery of the victim’s large European Bible containing two savings bonds a cleaning agent found in a vacated apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

The Bible has many uses. It speaks of grace, of sin, of homicide, of betrayal, brutality, denial, mercy, and more. Now, in the murder of 90 year-old Earl Olander that defies explanation, it serves as the primary piece of evidence in a court of law.

“Before the attackers fled,” says the StarTribune, “they ransacked Olander’s home and stole the Bible, as well as coins, old silverware, and two-dollar bills.

“[A neighbor of Olander] said he found it ‘quite ironic that it was the Bible’ that helped investigators make the arrests. ‘Think about that.'” [Star Tribune story]

“The book to read is not the book that thinks of you, but the one that makes you think.  No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee, author, To Kill a Mockingbird

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2015.

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Verse – Annals of Aging #12

There was an old man with weak prostate,
Who overnight could not stay prostrate
For more than two hours
Without golden showers
In porcelain towers. His poor mate

Could never reach REM sleep all night,
And so every morning they’d fight
Till each took a bedroom
With a private bathroom,
And now everything is all right.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 14, 2015

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Just In – Classic Motorcycle for Sale

Classic Motorcycle ad

Classic Motorcycle ad

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Quote of the day; Stories . . .

Gordon C. Stewart:

Scroll down to read Day Parker’s quote about stories. Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest who died of a heart attack at the age of 55. His writings were of some controversy, such that Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) investigated de Mello’s views 11 years after his death, concluding that some of his writings were “inconsistent with the teachings” of the Faith. The Indian magazine Outlook claimed it was an attempt by Rome to undermine the clergy in Asia and indicative of widening fissures between Rome and the Eastern Church. Like Elie Wiesel, Father de Mello knew that stories, not investigations and pronouncements, are the (appropriate) currency of human contact.

Originally posted on Day Parker:

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
― Anthony de Mello

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A Blogger’s Dilemma – Words and Silence

Although no two days are the same, they divide themselves between up and down, loquacious and dumb, wordy and wordless.

Some days the words greet me in the morning. They pour out through my fingertips before I know what they’ll say. Other mornings the words play dead or hide-and-seek.

The words don’t come when the news is bad…when the world itself is too wordy, when the sacredness of words is profaned by jabber and chatter and pretentious prognostications about … just about everything. Some of those days and weeks I know enough to keep silent. On others I try to write and publish something here on Views from the Edge despite the inner voice that whispers “Shhhh! Not now. Maybe later the words will come. Shhhh!”

Although no two days are ever the same, they group themselves between “Not now; not yet!” and “Good morning! Today’s the day!”

Whether the words know when to be written is another thing altogether. Neither they nor the keyboard knows, and so some days I write in hopes they won’t profane the sacredness of words and silence.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 7, 2015


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Reunion after 50 Years

Some will come we never knew
Others we knew well have died
Some faces have never changed
Eyes that smile or smiles that kiss

Age has bent and broken some
Motorcycles carry some
Others have three legs or six
Hair is gone or colored now

Eyes see less and ears have hair
Some wear aids and others should
Minds remember hearts recall
Or we cannot think at all

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 7, 2015

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Good News! Goodbye fossil fuels

Tesla Energy’s announcement of a global solar solution to carbon pollution is a potential game changer. Imagine the world where carbon pollution is nipped in the bud. Tesla Energy has agreed to share its technology in the interest of the planet itself. What a breath of fresh air.

Click Tesla’s Elon Musk just changed the world to hear the story.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 3, 2015

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Verse – Grandma’s Garden

To make grape jelly, she began
three years before by planting vines
along the back fence in her yard.

And now she lets her young grandson
pick purple clumps with his small hands.
With grandma he is never bored,

he helps her cook, and even clean.
She marks the doorway when he stands
to check his growth, just like the plants.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 3, 2015.

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Don and Jesus in the Hospital

Word came this morning that a dear friend, Don, was rushed to the emergency room yesterday with internal bleeding. His hemoglobin count had dropped to a woefully low 5.5. Don is one of six classmates who gather each year for renewal of friendship, reflection, good food, a game of softball, and morning prayers.

Don’s hospitalization drew me back to an as yet unpublished follow up to the “Jesus in the Hospital” post from several weeks back on the weird dream of Jesus as a patient in the hospital.

Some readers stop reading when they see the name Jesus. Others like the name Jesus and are curious to read the story. Yet another group is distraught or confused by the thought of Jesus as a patient in the hospital. He might be the doctor or the healer, but not the patient.

This brief post is written for the latter group of readers.

Biblical scholars and theologians interpret the church’s sacred writings (Holy Scripture) according to the different genres of literature. They also differentiate between Jesus of history (Jesus of Nazareth), and the Jesus of faith (the crucified-risen Christ of believers). In Christian scripture the two are welded together. The Jesus story is told by four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A gospel is by its very nature a witness to faith, written by faith to elicit faith in the reader, not an objective eye-witness account of events in the life of Jesus as a video camera might have given us. The only access we have to Jesus of Nazareth is through the eyes of faith.

The theological tradition of the church has always insisted on the full humanity of Jesus. His humanity was only half the Chaledonian Formula (fully divine, fully man), but Jesus’ humanity is the starting place for any claim to the Formula’s other half: the divinity of Jesus Christ. Time after time there have arisen fanciful representations of Jesus. In some of these, the historical Jesus is, for all intents, obliterated.  He wears flesh and blood the way an actor playing a part assumes a costume to draw into audience into the play. In these versions of Christian faith, the bodily Jesus is a disguise for God.

But a Jesus who was never sick a day in his life, a Jesus without bodily functions, pains, and hungers, a Jesus who didn’t feel the hammer slam his thumb at his carpenter’s bench, a Jesus who couldn’t be admitted to the emergency room with 5.5 hemoglobin and the need for transfusions is a not one of us. That Jesus is a figment of imagination.

Why I dreamt of Jesus in the hospital remains a mystery. What I know is that the dream wouldn’t have come without a deep sense of Jesus, the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. The only way I know to love Jesus is to love those who could end up in the hospital or hospice care. They are Jesus. Jesus is us.

One of the six friends who call ourselves the Old Dogs wrote a prayer for Don:

O Great and Merciful God, hold our brother Don in Your strong and loving hands. Lift him. O Jesus, Lord of the universe, as you did so often and so naturally to the sick and infirm in ancient Palestine, bring new health and healing to Don. And Holy Spirit of Power that tombs cannot contain, be with the Dog we all wish we were with right now, with him, with him. Amen.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 2, 2015.

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Verse – what we are supposed to hate

wanting everyone to know
just how great we really are

or denying to ourselves
and to everybody else
that we have the skills and smarts
that could win 10,000 hearts

treating others as beneath
us or even inhuman

being irresponsible
for myself or for the world

worse is not caring at all
being dead before we fall
finally into our graves
death is god’s last enemy

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 2, 2015


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“Gut Feelings” – of brains and bowels

Scientific research adds a new dimension to the discussion of the bowels as the seat of the emotions in Property and Compassion – Plato and Luke (VFTE, 4/29/15). Our friend Gary, who frequently comments on Views from the Edge, brought it to our attention with his response to the Property and Compassion post:

I find it interesting that the intestines were considered the seat of emotions [in the Bible]. I read a couple months ago that we now know that the intestines actually are lined with neurons, i.e., brain cells. “Gut feeling” is more than a metaphor….

Click Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication  to read the full article. Or scroll down two-thirds of the way through the article to read get the essence of the gut-brain connection.

The Hebrew location of the emotions was the bowels, also translated “inner parts” – stomach and intestines. The instinctive response to human need is a pit in the bottom of the stomach, a visceral response. One has to be carefully taught not to feel it. As the author of the New Testament epistle asked,

…whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? [I John 3:17 KJV].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 1, 2015.

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Black Beatings – White Policemen

How do you explain this? Watch and read Steve’s explanation.

Verse – We Serve & Protect

Sadly, some white policemen
serve themselves, their deepest fears,
on the streets American,
by protecting their ideas:
they think they hear their wives say,
I choose a black man today.

(Only this sort of a Freudian analysis, I think, can explain the extreme anger and violence.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 1, 2015

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Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

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Compassion expressed or withheld – Plato and Luke

The question of the relation between compassion and property and the emotional-psychological-spiritual results of expressing or withholding compassion came to the fore several Sundays ago after hearing a reading from The Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” [Acts 4:32].

The whole group, i.e. the early disciples of Jesus, were putting into practice the political philosophy Plato recommended centuries before to legislators in the Greek republic:

“The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues—not faction, but rather distraction—there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth.”

– Plato, Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.E.)

The idea of a ceiling on the accumulation of wealth is a democratic socialist principle. So is a floor to prevent poverty.

Interestingly, Plato seemed to think distraction was a greater plague than factionalism. Distraction from what? The good, the true, and the beautiful perhaps, the trinity of cardinal virtue, perhaps.

Material security becomes an obsessive distraction. Hoarding becomes a way of life. “More” becomes life’s purpose. More ad infinitum until more is no more  when il morte levels the rich and the poor to their shared destiny of dust and ashes.

The distribution of wealth is a profound spiritual issue, both publicly and psychologically. How wealth is distributed in any society is a measure of its compassion. The New Testament texts have a jarring way of discussing this. They discuss compassion as originating in “the bowels”.

Though the more recent versions translate the First Epistle of John in a sanitized way – “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” – the original Greek text is better translated by the KJV: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” [I John 3:17].

The words “of compassion” are added by the King James translator for purposes of giving the English reader the original sense of the Greek text. “Shutting up one’s bowels” toward someone in need is the equivalent of walling one’s self off from the common lot of humankind.

The Hebrew location of the emotions was the bowels, also translated “inner parts”  – stomach and intestines. The instinctive response to human need is a pit in the bottom of the stomach, a visceral response. One has to be carefully taught not to feel it.

The word “bowels” appears also in the Book of Acts description of the tragic death of Judas, whose bowels (compassion) had not gone out to Jesus until it was too late. Luke, the author of The Book of Acts, paints a gruesome picture intended, perhaps, to draw the psychic consequences of withholding compassion. Judas goes out and buys a field with the 30 pieces of silver he received for guiding the authorities to Jesus at the Mount of Olives. The description of Judas’ death leaves a choice of interpretation of a Greek word [prenes] that can be translated “falling headlong” or “swelling up” and splagchnon, the word for bowels, inward parts, entrails. A literal translation and choices are:

“Now indeed [Judas] acquired a field with the wages of unrighteousness. And having become prostrate/prone/flat on his face/ swelling up, he burst-open in the middle and all his bowels/inward-parts/entrails spilled-out.”

The bowels, not the heart, were regarded as the seat of human emotion. Seeing another person starving or injured leaves a pit in the stomach. Unresolved guilt or violation of one’s own moral standards or integrity often produces ulcers and intestinal problems.

Whether one translates prenes as becoming prostrate (the position of a penitent) or swollen, Luke’s picture of Judas’ death is a kind of internal combustion, a psychic explosion with societal implications.  The field that Judas bought became known as Akel’dama, the Field of Blood, so labeled from the Psalm (69:25) which Luke loosely renders, “Let his estate become desolate, and let no one be dwelling in it.”

Plato and Luke were both political philosophers. Plato, the elitist philosopher of the philosopher kings, and Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, seem to agree that we are meant for compassion and that extremes of wealthy and poverty were injurious to personal and societal health.

We are built for community. We are so constructed that buying a field is no substitute for the release of compassion. Compassion will release itself one way or the other. When withheld, it swells up to burst open a person or a society from the inside out. In that spirit, a society that legislates a ceiling on accumulated wealth and a floor of economic well-being is a field worth dwelling in.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 29, 2015.

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Verse – The Physical

The annual report
says I’m alive,
but my most memorable
recent dream
is of a portico
that’s unattached,
that leads nowhere, that needs
to be rebuilt.

The parts no longer fit
together. They
may still look strong and sound,
but lie there in
the dirt and will not move.
The contractors
I hire all do their best,
to no avail.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 26, 2015

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Tax Wall Street speculation

What we forget often hurts us. Sometimes remembering helps turn the tide.

Establishing a 0.03 percent Wall Street speculation fee, similar to what we had from 1914-1966, would dampen the dangerous level of speculation and gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy and reduce the deficit by more than $350 billion over 10 years.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Wealth for the Common Good, a movement of America’s wealthiest people with a conscience, is calling for the same:

Tax Wall Street Speculation

We, the undersigned investors, business owners and executives, call on the President and Congress to institute a modest federal tax on trades of stocks, futures, credit default swaps, and options. This modest levy would dampen speculation that threatens financial markets while also raising more than $150 billion annually in revenue for the US Treasury.

– See more at Wealth for the Common Good

In the run up to the 2016 national elections, citizen support for re-establishing the speculation fee is one specific way to register voters’ desire for economic fairness and democracy.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 25, 2015.

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Verse – Sweep, vacuum, dust

Sweep, Vacuum, Dust
(with presbyopia)

We’re not in a health club–we have no cool shirt.
We don’t go to yoga–nor live in a yurt.
In our house, we clean,
And try to stay lean,
But now with our old eyes, we see much less dirt!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 24, 2015

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The Day after Earth Day

The day after Earth Day the world is returning to business-as-usual. Which opens the door to a commentary on the nature of the human species within the order of nature, and the way religion supports or belittles the Earth.

Two days ago we posted about a curious and rather humorous dream of Jesus as a patient in the hospital (Jesus in the Hospital).

Some readers likely stopped reading when they saw the name Jesus. Others like or are neutral about or curious to read the story. Yet another group is distraught or confused by the thought of Jesus as a patient in the hospital; it might be okay for him to appear in the dream as the doctor, but the thought of Jesus as a patient seems over the top.

The picture of Jesus in a hospital bed is a day-after-Earth-Day issue, an every day question of how we see ourselves, the world, and Eternity.

A Jesus who was never sick a day in his life, a Jesus without bodily functions, pains, and hungers, a Jesus who didn’t feel the hammer slam his thumb at his carpenter’s bench, is a not one of us. That Jesus is a figment of imagination.

The theological tradition of the church has always insisted on the full humanity of Jesus. His humanity was only half the Chaledonian Formula (fully divine-fully man), but Jesus’ humanity is the starting point for any claim to the formula’s other half: the divinity of Christ. From roughly 70 C.E. until now fanciful representations of Jesus have diminished Jesus’ humanity. The historical Jesus is, in effect, obliterated by a dualism that views spirit and matter as mutually exclusive, as are immortality and morality, eternity and finitude. Jesus wears flesh and blood the way an actor playing a part assumes a costume to draw an audience into the play. In these versions of Christian faith, the bodily Jesus is a disguise for God, but not fully human as we are.

According to Hebrew Scripture the human species is of the earth. The human being is named “adam” (Hebrew for “earthling”). We are one with the dirt, the earth, nature. Likewise, our end is dust. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes” we say at the end, as we do every Ash Wednesday to remind ourselves before the end.

Strangely, the dream I had the other night didn’t seem strange at the time. A friend who knows the Byron who appeared in the dream wrote that she laughed and laughed because “I could totally hear you and Byron having that conversation” about whether a member of the church staff had visited Jesus in the hospital and whether to announce his hospitalization from the pulpit and pray for Jesus in the morning prayers.

The day after Earth Day I still don’t know what prompted the dream. What I do know is that the dream wouldn’t have come without a deep sense of Jesus as flesh and blood, an “adam” like us.  Only a deeper appreciation of our complete oneness with nature will open our eyes to the real Jesus, the real us, and the sacredness of creation. Matter is not evil; matter is sacred.

Jesus in the hospital is a game changer – a view of human frailty and mutual dependence in a world that too often confuses the goal of religion as the escape from mortality, the soul’s release from the prison of material existence. This dualism is notably errant and it is dangerous to the planet.

Earth is in the hospital. Will we work and pray for healing – a kind of planetary resurrection? Or will we go back to a deadly dualism – business-as-usual – the day after Earth Day?

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2015.

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Verse – And now they both have Ph.Ds

Well, everyone liked him, but she
had only been 16, (“Almost
was 17!” she still would say),
when he met both her parents first
and said, “Yes, I am 25,
but can I take your daughter out?”

They made him wait six months, and have
what then was called a double date,
and bring her back by ten. But when
she was in college and told them
it’s his ring on her finger, then
they almost made her stay at home.

He promised she would graduate,
and so they set their wedding date.
In spite of strong parental fears,
they have been married for ten years.

[For M and K, whose life has been
only somewhat like this.]

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 23, 2015

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Jesus in the Hospital

Jesus is in the hospital.

I had one of those nocturnal throw-back dreams retired people sometimes have.

It’s a Sunday morning. I’m the Senior Minister just returned from being out-of-town. The other ministerial staff and I are robing for worship. Though I’m the preacher for the morning, I am totally unprepared.  In addition, I remember that we are scheduled to receive new members from the new members class during worship. I ask Byron (a wonderful former colleague who shows up in the dream) for an update. He is clueless. He fears the members of the class haven’t been notified. Perhaps no one will be joining, though the reception of new members is clearly listed as part of the morning Order of Worship. We wonder how to handle an embarrassing situation.

Then Byron says, “Oh…and I just learned Jesus is in the hospital.”

“Which hospital?”

“I think it’s Star,” he says.

“What’s Star? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh,” says Byron, “it’s a private wing of Christ Hospital for public figures concerned about their privacy.”

“When was he admitted, and why? What’s the diagnosis?

“I don’t know; I just learned of it a moment ago from John (the custodian).”

“Well… what should we do?  The congregation’ll be shocked, but we should announce it. We should remember Jesus in the Prayers of Church, don’t you think?”

The idea of Jesus being in the hospital didn’t strike me as that strange in the dream, but it did pose its own kind of curious scenario. I’d never imagined Jesus sick. I wonder if Jesus was ever in the hospital? There was something strangely comforting about the thought of Jesus in the hospital, one of the flock for whom  we could pray.

Dreams, they say, are ways the subconscious works on things the conscious mind dares not address. What if Jesus had died in the hospital?

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 20, 2015.

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Memorial Day and the soldier’s helmet

Japanese soldier's helmet

Japanese soldier’s helmet

Memorial Day once honored the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers. They called it “Decoration Day” when they laid wreathes and flowers on the graves of the dead soldiers.

When I learned this in elementary school, it struck me as more than a little strange. My father had served as a Chaplain on Saipan. My father was a good guy. The people he went to war against were not. How strange to honor soldiers who fought against each other, “heroes” all, killing each other, especially when one side was good and the other was evil. And then, on top of that it seemed to pay homage to something we were also taught to scorn: war itself. It was more than a little confusing.

Many years later, it’s a Monday morning. I’m a pastor. (The person in this story is since deceased.)

A 70-something year old ex-Marine calls the church office. He’s a big ma, what tough guy call “a man’s man,” a World War II Marine, 6’2”. 250 lbs, part of the invasion of Saipan in the South Pacific when he was 17.

“My wife’s out of town. Can you come over tonight for a drink?”

I’ve never been to their home. I’m guessing he wants to talk about his marriage.

He takes my coat. We sit down. He pours us each a Scotch.

“You know, your first couple of years here I didn’t come to church much. I didn’t like your preaching. I’m not one of these peace guys. But something made me keep coming back. I started to listen and I kept coming, and all this peace stuff and Jesus stuff started to get to me. It’s been a long time now. That’s why I called you. I hate the Japs! I know I’m not supposed to call ‘em ‘Japs’. I hate them! But I can’t hate them anymore.”

He gets up and walks over to the mantel above the huge stone fireplace.

“My wife has no idea what’s in this box. I’ve never told her. I can’t tell her. I don’t want it anymore. I’m asking you to take it. I can’t live with it anymore.”

He takes the box from the mantel, places it on the ottoman in front of me, and opens the locked box with a key. He is shaking now and crying.

“This poor bastard! I killed this [expletive] with my bear hands!”

His whole body shakes as, one by one, he removes the contents from the box –

a soldier’s helmet;
a lock of hair;
two eye teeth;
dog tags, and
a gun –

that had belonged to the Japanese soldier he killed in hand-to-hand combat on Saipan.

“All these years of hate. And this poor bastard was just doing the same thing I was. He was just doing his duty to his country. How will God ever forgive me? I just want this stuff out of my house. I want it out of my life! How will God ever forgive me? I can’t hate any more. I can’t.”

We stand in the middle of his living room. I hold him like a baby: a grown man – a “man’s man” – sobbing and shaking with guilt, sorrow, and grief.

I take the box and the contents home. I give the gun to a friend who’s a gun collector. I have no memory of what I did with the box or the artifacts of what remained of the Japanese soldier. Memory is like that. It was too personal. It was too hot.


So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

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Verse – Lillian Weaver

Lillian Weaver’s
College Class

Her eyes would glint below grey hair,
she’d lift the book so we could see
the Fine Art illustration. Her
gold wedding ring was a ruby,
even though her spouse ran a bank.
“A diamond seems so cold,” she’d say.

The Matisse to her point she’d link:
her Bible lesson for Sunday.
We students would set our alarms,
and even though we’d stayed out late
the night before, her wit, her charms
with words, her humor, made us wait

impatiently for Sunday School.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 6, 2015

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