The Red-winged Blackbirds


Yes, he protects us well, his red
and yellow shoulders flashing as
he flies. And when he perches, flares
his wings–the epaulets go wide,
his long, sharp beak thrust like a sword,
his cry is menacing, a shriek.

We see him at the very peak
of tree, or tip of cattail, lord
of meadow, marsh, his own wetland
small harem. We each build a nest
and raise, mostly, his chicks. The rest
have genes from yet another bird

because the male from the next field
can fly by, flash, and we will yield.

-Steve Shoemaker, April 17, 2014

The Corpse


the face and hands are grey
even under the pink
lights by the big casket

no life is in the lips
the eyes are not asleep
the hands will never move

he hid himself from us
as the cancer got worse
he had said goodbye

his voice i still can hear
his raspy laugh echoes
in my memory

I did not need to see
the artificial body

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 11, 2014

Can you really fool everyone?


Around the Table

Even if it is family,
Friends, or kids just from my school,
There always will be that one

Who smiles like everybody
Else, but finds a way to fool
All–well, maybe except one…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 9, 2014

A Palm Sunday Conundrum


This Sunday is Palm Sunday when Christians celebrate “The Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, which was anything but triumphant. The New Testament Gospels describe it differently, which has absorbed the concentrated attention of more than one scholar or preacher trying to reconcile their differences. Steve Shoemaker, in his inimitable way, engages the debate about whether Jesus rode on just one donkey or two.


Matthew alone tells of the two,
the mare & colt, who carried him
into Jerusalem that day.

Since then many have mocked that view
as based more on an ancient hymn
than what an eye-witness would say.

But whether one sees one or two
depends upon the point of view:
and all saw Jesus, by the way…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 8, 2014

Climate Change: Changing the Way we Think


“We are nature; nature is us. We are NOT the exception to nature.” Rev. Gordon Stewart looks at basic religious assumptions of Western culture and the need to reinterpret the stories that got us here. He looks at the stories of creation, Cain and Abel, and the Wise Men who “departed by another way” as holding clues to the change in consciousness that is required in our time.

McCutcheon and Free Speech


My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of baronry,
Of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride,
On every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision for McCutcheon in McCutcheon et. al. v. Federal Election Commission makes very clear the view of the Court that is remaking America.

Freedom of speech is protected; it’s just that a few of us have a whole lot more of it than the rest of us. We all are “equally” protected by the Constitution no matter how unequal we are economically.

Most of us understand that money is not speech. Money is purchasing power. Money comes from our pockets; speech comes from our mouths. Those who represent us in Congress and in state legislatures do not represent us so long as their campaigns are funded by the “free speech” that comes from the pockets of the robber barons.

The sweet land of liberty is the land of barony.

“My country ’twas of thee.”

Only the most sweeping legislation to remove this unequal purchasing power from the electoral process can restore what we thought we had. But even if the miracle were to occur, this 5-4 Court will strike it down on the basis of its skewed interpretation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

My inbox is stacked up with funding solicitations. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. It depresses me. I don’t have the money, and, even if I had more, I would still have the sense that I would be throwing money into the wind. So I write. I speak. I throw into the wind words and sentences and paragraphs believing that ultimately the Wind is with us, the people. It’s my way of praying for the miracle that will give us back our country. I use what little free speech the Court has protected to effect the day when we will sing “America” that way it should be sung.

In the meantime I gain courage from the joyful spirit of the late Pete Seeger. I imagine Pete standing with his banjo outside the U.S. Supreme Court singing “God’s counting on me; God’s counting on you.”

iPhones and Baseball


It’s baseball season in the era of the iPhone.

There’s silence in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse, wrote StarTribune sports writer Jim Souhan last week while covering the Twins preparing for the new season during spring training.
The players sit quietly in front of their lockers before and after games glued to their iPhones. Right next to each other… on a TEAM. The clubhouse that once rocked with laughter, card games, and the loud voices of Twins leaders Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek on their way to a World Series is now like a morgue.

Teams that win have chemistry. You don’t build chemistry on iPhones. You don’t win a World Series playing with phantoms or staring into the pool for your own reflection – reading what the sports writers are saying about your individual performance. You win by bonding with the people around you. Men who play 162 games over a season find ways to keep the clubhouse loose. Boyish pranks like filling David Ortiz’s undershorts with ice so he wouldn’t notice that you had smeared his trousers with peanut butter. Stunts like reserve catcher Mike Redmond strutting naked through a tense clubhouse bellowing out a solo that cracks open the ice after a bad game. A baseball season is a long time, a long grind with losing streaks and winning streaks and long road trips where your only friends are your teammates.

Baseball teams that make it to the World Series are not quiet. They have some fun. They play. Not just on the field but on the buses, the planes, and in the restaurants and hotels where the team stays for a week or more far from home.

Twins fans can hope that when the new generation of Twins players sit by their lockers with their iPhones, they will come across Jim Souhan’s advice in this morning’s StarTRibune.

“Show us something this year.
“Heck, show us anything.
“Show us some fire, some grit; some passion, some promise.
“Show us that three years of unprofessional play was a detour, not a destination.

“Show us that you care about something other than paychecks and per diems.

Joe Mauer is the best player on the Twins, a future Hall of Famer. But he’s as emotionally flat as flatbread or a flat tire. He’s predictable. No strolls through the clubhouse singing an aria to break open the silence, no shaving cream pies, no jokes, no ice in another players under shorts or peanut butter, just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread eaten along in front of his locker, waiting to take hie new position at first base. If there’s passion in Joe, it doesn’t show.

Give us some passion. Bring on Kirk Gibson coming to the plate in the World Series on knees so bad he could barely walk, throwing his fire into a swing that pushed the ball over the fence with nothing but the pure grit from the fire in his belly, hobbling around the bases like a man recovering from hip surgery. Give me Kirk, Joe.

New rule: No iPhones, iPads, or any other such distractive devices in the clubhouse. Put ‘em down. Get to know each other before you take the field. I’d wager that the first team to institute that rule would go the World Series not because they’re the most talented but because they care about each other and they care about playing as a team.

Six Feet Eight


We stopped for lunch in Kentucky.
Over the years I’ve heard them all,
the jokes about being tall:
“How’s the weather? Basketball?”
But the waitress surprised me…

“You’re so tall, you make me feel
like a woodland creature,” she
said while looking up at me
from a height of five foot three.
A child once was original…

I’d gone to read poetry
to the first grade classes. They
sat on a red rug. Said she,
“Please, O please, don’t fall on me,
Mister Tree…”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 30, 2014

Verse – Sex When Pregnant



as your body
changes my dear
month by month by
month you become
more and more
eager more
often to be held
and touched and told
how happy i am you are
losing your girlish figure and
becoming rounder and rounder
as the new life grows within you
surprising us in spite of all we
have seen in many women
being mothers around
the round world for
years and years
and centuries
because for
us it is new
and quite

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 25, 2014

Sermon: I Sighed for Love


This sermon on Nicodemus, the good man who comes to Jesus in the night, was delivered last Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota. Edward Tanner’s painting, referred to in the sermon, depicts Jesus sitting on the edge of a house rooftop with his back to the far horizon. Nicodemus is facing Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again.

Verse – Lenten Dream


The paint was a rich brown with tones
of red. The brush was wide and held
the paint along the nylon tips
without a drip.

The wood I painted had been done
before, but years ago, and not
done very well. The wood had split
exposing ugliness.

The wet paint spread and filled the holes.
The boards soon showed no trace of sin.
I woke, but forced myself to sleep
some more–to paint again.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 15, 2014

Joyful Obedience


Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all be this well trained in the things that bring joy to others and to ourselves? This is 10-month-old Barclay wanting to please the Alpha Dog and the Beta Dog. The commands were sit, down, roll over, off (which means “leave it”), come, and heel.

Hands and Fingers


Cunning hands
One more than the other
What good work you have done
What nastiness you have caused
Helping hitting holding choking

Fingers folded in prayer
Fingers feeding my hunger
Thumbs gripping grasping
Nails tickling scratching
Finger pointing provoking

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 10, 2014

The Most Honest Day


“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words of Ash Wednesday jar us to a sudden stop.

It may be the most honest day of the Christian liturgical calendar, the day our daily denial of death is called out from the shadows of species-illusion and self-delusion that tells us, “You will not die.”

Who is the ‘you’ that is dust (of the earth) and will return to dust?

We think the body will die. But not the “I”. Not the “you”. Only matter, not spirit, not my soul. The imposition of ashes says differently. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are “imposed” on the forehead in the sign of the cross. In those few seconds I stand before the mirror of my mortal reality more humbly, jarred, but somehow strangely comforted, that I – and all things natural, human and otherwise – are dust, and that it is as it should be, if only we understood and gave thanks for today.

Boundary Breaking God


Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama – RIP

Today I am remembering with tearful thanksgiving Japanese theologian Kosuke (“Ko”) Koyama, who blessed me late in his life with friendship. Dr. Koyama, who was baptized during the American bombing raid on Tokyo, preached this sermon at The House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota on Sunday, June 6, 2006.

Texts: Ps. 139: 7-10; Luke 14: 1-6

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,

The text from the Book of Leviticus:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

This is a challenging suggestion for the immigration and naturalization policy of any nation. God does not discriminate between citizens and aliens. The God of the Bible is more concerned about the welfare of the aliens, the weak, than of citizens, the strong. Remember your own experience in Egypt! “Love the alien as yourself!” Jesus is even more emphatic when he says, “Love your enemies!” We think of aliens and enemies as potential threats to our community. They must be kept outside of our boundaries.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” observes the New England poet, with sharp insight. Something there is in the gospel of Christ that dismantles walls. Jesus “has broken down the dividing walls,” we read in the Epistle to the Ephesians. (2:14)
“In the beginning was the Word”  (John 1:1) – This Word, the truthful Word, “breaks down the dividing walls” by making honest dialogue possible. When communication breaks down peace breaks down. It takes a great deal of dialogue to come to mutual understanding between peoples of different language, religions, racial and cultural practice. Often the choice is between dialogue and mutual destruction, between diplomacy and war. The alternative to dialogue is taking the sword. Jesus says; “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt.26:52). Our “sword” today is incredibly destructive! Our fear, today, is of nuclear proliferation. We fear it because we started it! “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”! (Dt.30:19)
The brief gospel text for this morning is a record of a profound dialogue. The story is honest and transparent. We can understand it very well. The dumfounded lawyers and Pharisees only reveal the sincere quality of the story. In conversation with Jesus, the man of total honesty, human hypocrisy is exposed and expelled.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” but they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this (Luke 14:1-6).

How boldly Jesus simplifies and zeroes-in on the central issue! “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” This is the question that distinguishes the gospel from religion. This story is only one of a number of “Sabbath controversies” told in the gospels. The gospel breaks boundaries. Religion often insists on boundaries. The gospel opens windows in hope. Religion may shut windows in fear. The gospel is “scandalously” inclusive. Religion often is piously exclusive. “You shall love the alien as yourself” expresses the spirit of the gospel. Religion tends to question whether everyone deserves to be loved.

The Sabbath is a holy institution commemorating the holy rest God has taken after creating “heaven and earth.” Sabbath is mentioned as one of the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it” (Ex.20: 8-11).

“On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered” (Lk. 6:6) “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight” (13:10,11).

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, … Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy” (the disease of the swelling from abnormal fluid retention ). A man of withered hand, a woman who is bent over, and a man with dropsy appear “on the Sabbath in front of him.”

Jesus cures them. Jesus “works” on the Sabbath! Some for whom it is important to “keep” the sabbath complain, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day”(Lk.13:14). Jesus, for whom the persons with need are more important than the rule, responds, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?”

Jesus comes to heal the broken human community. He is the embodiment of direct love-action and action-love. He cures sick people publicly on the Sabbath with unassailable authority and freedom. The people are amazed – ecstatic – and praise God. Representing the God of compassion, Jesus breaks the boundary attached to the sacred Sabbath tradition. In his “boundary breaking” he restores the authentic purpose of the sabbath – that is, to bring health to human community. The Sabbath is for healing. “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath,” says Jesus (Mk.2:27). What a freedom he exhibits!


The gospel of Jesus Christ is “scandalous” says the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1: 18-25) for he is “the man who fits no formula” (Eduard Schweizer, (Jesus, chap. 2). Creeds, doctrine, theology, or tradition cannot domesticate Jesus. No one can confine Jesus within walls. Let me quote from a Swiss New Testament scholar:

“…teaching in itself does not convey the living God. It may even hinder his coming, though it (the teaching) may be totally correct. It is exactly the most correct and orthodox teaching that would suggest that we had got hold of God. Then he can no longer come in his surprising ways” (Eduard Schweizer, Luke: A Challenge to Present Theology p.58)

We feel uneasy when Jesus breaks the boundaries we make, because boundaries are a part of our accepted culture. “Good fences make good neighbors.” Yet, fences can never be the final word. Tragically in our real lives fences work more in the direction of mutual alienation than mutual embrace. “Before I build a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out” – says the poet. That is a good question!

When I was in my early teens, Japan followed her gods who were rather poorly educated in international relations. They were parochial. They spoke only Japanese. They did not criticize Japanese militarism. They endorsed the inflated idea that Japan is a righteous empire. Trusting these parochial gods, the people recited, to paraphrase: “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, behold the glory of the divine emperor of Japan is there!” Japan broke international boundaries in pursuit of self-glorification and aggrandizement. Without any threat from her Asian neighbors, Japan attacked and invaded them. The Japanese gods approved and Japan ruined herself. Blessed are nations that have a God who criticize what they do! The God of Israel said to God’s own people: “You are a stiff-necked people!”


The infant Jesus “was placed in a manger – “for there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)  Being thus edged out even from a human birth place, Jesus breaks a boundary. When he “eats with sinners and tax collectors” (Mk.2:16) he breaks a boundary. Crucified, nailed to the cross, – completely immobilized – he breaks a boundary. Dying between two criminals, becoming a member of this community of three crosses, he breaks a boundary. Being “numbered with the transgressors”, to quote from the Book of Isaiah (53:12), he breaks boundaries. This is an amazing story. The one who is totally vulnerable, disarmed, non-violent, and immobilized and humiliated has broken all the boundaries, which threaten the health of human community.

With our geopolitical realities, we may think that the way of Christ is romantic and not realistic. Then we must know that the alternative is the historical fact of 5000 years of human civilization replete with constant warfare. Should we continue this state of endless destruction for another 5000 years? Gandhi’s practice of non-violence has done more to increase the welfare of humanity upon the earth than many wars put together. Martin Luther King Jr. says: “Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival”! (Strength to Love, p.47) “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God‘s weakness is stronger than human strength” cries the apostle Paul (1 Cor.1:25).


“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus says. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). The birds of the air and the Father who feeds them are free from all boundaries. Climate change – global warming – has no boundaries. The light of the sun and the air that sustain all living beings know no boundaries. The Berlin Wall of 96 miles was there for 28 years up to 1989.  The racial wall of the South African Apartheid existed for 46 years and ended in 1994. In their limited existence, these walls have done immeasurable damage to humanity on the both sides of the wall. The Orthodox Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West did not speak to each other for 911 years from 1054 to 1965. The Great Wall of China and Check Point Charlie in Berlin are tourist spots today. “One cannot dehumanize others without dehumanizing oneself” says James Baldwin. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we pray. It is this prayer that breaks the boundaries in a way that is pleasing to God. 

Verse – Diabetes Doctor


“Well, technically you are obese.”
(This followed by a stunned silence…)

“But I’m just twelve pounds over my
ideal weight for a man my size!”

“Your Body Mass Index is more
than ideal: 26.4.”

(She is quite small, from India–
the size of a fasting Gandhi.)

“I just want you to be healthy.
How much exercise do you do?”

“I mow the lawn in the summer.”
(I don’t say on a nice tractor…)

“But now, you know, it is winter…”
(Her British accent is a winner.)

“Could you eat smaller meals? Less fats?
Much fewer carbs? And exercise?”

(I think of running up a hill…)
“Could you prescribe a better pill?”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 26, 2014

The Right and Left Hand of God


The Rev. Dr. Paul Louis Lehmann

The Rev. Dr. Paul Louis Lehmann

Theologian-ethicist Paul Louis Lehmann (b.1906, d.1994) observed that the right hand of God is the left hand of the world. Paul Lehmann was a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and one of the giants of his time who opposed McCarthyism and published books that influenced subsequent generations.

Pondering his statement over the years led to an alteration of Dr. Lehmann’s statement to the effect that it is as though God ties the right hand (the hand of power) behind God’s own back and invites us to do the same. The left hand, the non-dominant hand, the hand of weakness, you might say, is the way the world enters into its own salvation from its own tyranny.

Her Best Valentine’s Present Ever


Our wedding anniversary
was coming up. My card said, “Free
Pass: you can have one fantasy
night with Michael Jordon! I’ll pay
for the room myself. I can say
I will not have a jealous day.”

The year was 1993–
the three of us were in our prime.
The Bulls were going for a Three-
peat. She would lust for him each time
she saw him playing on TV.
I set the date for their big game…

Her ticket cost one hundred bills,
but she was with Chicago Bulls
and MJ in his shorts, it’s true–
with twenty thousand others, too.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 25, 2014

Costly Grace


The previous week’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill had addressed the question “What must I do to be saved?” with “You already are! God is not wrathful. God is loving. Now start to live into that gift. Stop living so anxiously. Live more joyfully. Take more risks….”

“Costly Grace” is a follow-up anchored in a clear, though impossible, ethic where Jesus instructs his disciples on how to live as children of God.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Sermon on the Mount, Gospel of Matthew 5:44-48.)

Oatmeal Cookies


Sometimes when you’ve been cooped up too long because of winter storms, your memory drifts beyond the snow drifts. You remember your mother and the aroma of fresh baked cookies. It happened this week to little Stevie Shoemaker out on the Illinois prairie.

My mother’s oatmeal lacy cookies

Mash flat with back of small teaspoon
each dab of dough. Cook for eight or
ten minutes at 350. Then
remove from oven, wait for four
long minutes till you slide a wide
steel spatula under each thin
(one rolled oat thick) cookie. Held
together by white/brown sugar,
one egg, one tablespoon of flour,
two sticks (one cup) of real butter,
when cooled are crisp but chewy, brown
around the edges: will not last an hour.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Mother's oatmeal lacy cookies

Mother’s oatmeal lacy cookies

Black History Month: Buying on Credit


Everyone today lives on credit. You might even say we’ve all become credit slaves, according to ex-slave Fountain Hughes, whose grandfather had been a slave of Thomas Jefferson. Fountain Hughes was 101 years old when he was interviewed about his life. The year was 1949. The complete interview is available HERE from the Voices from the Days of Slavery project of the Library of Congress.

Don’t want everything somebody else has got. Whatever you get, if its yours be satisfied. And don’t spend your money till you get it. So many people get in debt. Well, that all was so cheap when I bought it. You spend your money before you get it because you’re going in debt for what you want. When you want something, wait until you get the money and pay for it cash. That’s the way I’ve done. If I’ve wanted anything, I’d wait until I got the money and I paid for it cash. I never bought nothing on time in my life.

Now plenty people if they want a suit of clothes, they go to work and they’ll buy them on time. Well they say they was cheap. They cheap. If you got the money you can buy them cheaper. They want something for, for waiting on you for, uh, till you get ready to pay them. And if you got the money you can go where you choose and buy it when you go, when you want it. You see? Don’t buy it because somebody else go down and run a debt and run a bill or, I’m going to run it too. Don’t do that. I never done it. Now, I’m a hundred years old and I don’t owe nobody five cents, and I ain’t got no money either. And I’m happy, just as happy as somebody that’s oh, got million. Nothing worries me. I’m not, my head ain’t even white. I, nothing in the world worries me. I can sit here in this house at night, nobody can come and say, “Mr. Hughes, you owe me a quarter, you owe me a dollar, you owe me five cents.” No you can’t. I don’t owe you nothing. Why? I never made no bills in my life. And I’m living too. And I’m a hundred years old. And if you take my advice today, you’ll never make a bill. Because what you want, give your money, pay them cash, and then the rest of the money is yours. But if you run a bill they, well, so much and so much and you don’t have to pay. Nothing down it’s, it’s all when you come to pay. It’s all, you don’t have to pay no more. But they, they’ll, they’ll charge you more. They getting something or other or else they wouldn’t trust you. But I can’t just say what they getting. But they getting something or other else they wouldn’t want your credit. Now I tell you that anybody that trusts you for two dollars or have a account with them by the month or by the week, store count or any account. They’re getting something out of it. Else they don’t want to accommodate you that much to trust you. Now, if I want, course I ain’t got no clothes, but if I want some clothes, I, I ain’t got no money, I’m going to wait till I get the money to buy them. Indeed I am. I’m not a going to say because I can get them on trust, I go down and get them. I got to pay a dollar more anyhow. But either they charge you more or they say taxes are so much. But if I’ve got the money to pay cash, I’ll pay the taxes and all down in cash, you know. It’s all done with. So many of colored people is head over heels in debt. Trust me trust. I’ll get it on time. They want a set of furniture, go down and pay down so much and the rest on time. You done paid that, you done paid for them then. When you pay down so much and they charge you fifty dollar, hundred dollars for a set and you pay down twenty-five dollars cash, you done paid them. That’s all it was worth, twenty-five dollars, and you pay, now you, I’m seventy-five dollars in debt now. Because I, I have to pay a hundred dollars for that set, and it’s only worth about twenty-five dollar. But you buying it on time. But people ain’t got sense enough to know it. But when you get old like I am, you commence to think, well, I have done wrong. I should have kept my money until I wanted this thing, and when I want it, I take my money and go pay cash for it. Or else I will do without it. That’s supposing you want a new dress. You say, well I’ll, I’ll buy it, but, uh, I don’t need it. But I can get it on time. Well let’s go down the store today and get something on time. Well you go down and get a dress on time. Something else in there, I want that. They’ll sell that to you on time. You won’t have to pay nothing down. But there’s a payday coming. And when that payday comes, they want you come pay them. If you don’t, they can’t get no more. Well, if you never do that, if you don’t start it, you will never end it. I never did buy nothing on time. I must tell you on this, I’m sitting right here now today, and if I’s the last word I’ve got to tell you, I never even much as tried to buy a, a shirt on time. And plenty people go to work, go down to the store and buy uh, three and four dollars for a shirt. Two, three uh, seven, eight dollars for a pair of pants. Course they get them on time. I don’t, no, no, no. I say, I got, I buy something for five dollars. Because I got the five dollars, I’ll pay for it. I’m done with that.

In 2014 we live in a credit economy, a consumer market where instant gratification is too slow. Ouch! Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for the words of wisdom.

Flood Watch


Two days ago the fields were white
for not harvest but snow and ice.
The cold front now is to the east
and we have rain and wind and heat
and flooded roads.
…………….. She drove the four-
wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee too fast
and aquaplaned into the ditch,
and then yelled S.O.B.! at him
for telling her it would be much
more safe than her blue Ford…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 21, 2014

Black History Month: Fountain Hughes


101 year old ex-slave Mr. Fountain Hughes’tape-recorded interview is preserved by the Library of Congress. Hermond Norwood interviewed him. Here’s an excerpt:

Hermond Norwood: Do you remember much about the Civil War?

Fountain Hughes: No, I don’t remember much about it.

Hermond Norwood: You were a little young then I guess, huh.

Fountain Hughes: I, uh, I remember when the Yankees come along and took all the good horses and took all the, throwed all the meat and flour and sugar and stuff out in the river and let it go down the river. And they knowed the people wouldn’t have nothing to live on, but they done that. And that’s the reason why I don’t like to talk about it. Them people, and, and if you was cooking anything to eat in there for yourself, and if they, they was hungry, they would go and eat it all up, and we didn’t get nothing. They’d just come in and drink up all your milk, milk. Just do as they please. Sometimes they be passing by all night long, walking, muddy, raining. Oh, they had a terrible time. Colored people that’s free ought to be awful thankful. And some of them is sorry they are free now. Some of them now would rather be slaves.

Hermond Norwood: Which had you rather be Uncle Fountain?

Fountain Hughes: Me? Which I’d rather be ? [Norwood laughs] You know what I’d rather do? If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog. You’re not a thing but a dog. Night never comed out, you had nothing to do. Time to cut tobacco, if they want you to cut all night long out in the field, you cut. And if they want you to hang all night long, you hang, hang tobacco. It didn’t matter about your tired, being tired. You’re afraid to say you’re tired. They just, well [voice trails off].You wasn’t no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn’t treated as good as they treat dogs now. But still I didn’t like to talk about it. Because it makes, makes people feel bad you know. Uh, I, I could say a whole lot I don’t like to say. And I won’t say a whole lot more.”

A Climate Dialogue: the Challenge Before Us


The day Pete Seeger died, Susan Lince composed a song on climate change in honor of Pete. The song, written as a lament spoken back to us by our grandchildren and all future generations, asks repeatedly “You knew… Why didn’t you take a stand?”

Susan and John Lince-Hopkins created as a means of rallying artists to widen public consciousness and awaken a new sense of ecological responsibility in the face of climate change and climate departure. John and Susan taught and painted in Alaska. John, a scientist as well as painter, helped supervise the clean-up operation following Exxon-Valdez.

Click HERE for the Evite to First Tuesday Dialogues’ program on Climate Departure led by John and Susan. The song on climate departure, arranged with Susan’s grandson, will debut at this event.

Date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 P.M.
Place: Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, 145 Engler Blvd., Chaska, MN 55318.

Verse – Night Blooming Cereus


My grandmother would phone the night
it finally bloomed.  An ungainly
plant, sparse, with long tendrils, all light
green. Four brothers climb happily
into the car all wearing their
pajamas, excited to see
even an ugly plant.  We stare
at the white and gold bloom, and she
smiles, having hope even for me.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 16, 2014

Click HERE for more information and photos of the Night Blooming Cereus. The bloom only lasts one night.

Verse – First World Problems


My basement desk is extra large
because my grandfather who gave
it to me was a builder who
rolled out blueprints for many huge
commercial projects on it. Save
for one lamp, it is now piled high.

My double garage had a space
for the riding mower, but it
is now in the new backyard shed.
The room around the hybrid cars
now holds all of the tools that fit
on walls and shelves and floor instead.

Our Storage Unit’s deep and wide.
We can’t remember what’s inside.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 14, 2014

When at wit’s end


These are strange times that often take us to our wit’s end. No need to enumerate.

A rendering of Psalm 107 from The Book of Psalms in Metre and the Scottish Hymnal , published in 1879 by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, perhaps spoke to the book’s original owner, John Campbell of Blair Mill, Scotland, when he bought the copy now in my possession, inscribed with his name and the date, January 20, 1880. January is nasty in Scotland. Today it’s nasty all across America.

A portion of Psalm 107 is rendered this way:

Who go to sea in ships, and in
great waters trading be,
Within the deep these men God’s works
and his great wonders see.
For he commands, and forth in haste
the stormy tempest flies,
Which makes the sea with rolling waves
aloft to swell and rise.
They mount to heav’n, then to the depths
they do go down again;
Their soul doth faint and melt away
with trouble and with pain.
They reel and stagger like one drunk,
at their wit’s end they be:
Then they to God in trouble cry,
who from them stairs doth free.
The storm is chang’d into a calm
at his command and will;
So that the waves, which rag’d before,
are quiet now and still.

- Psalm 107:23-29

If we cannot one can identify with nothing else, we each know the soul that faints and melts away with trouble and pain. We reel and stagger like one drunk, at their wits end.

Steve Shoemaker’s poem “A Psalm for Each Kind of Day” – posted previously on Views from the Edge – recognizes the breadth and depth of the psalms. Some days the best one can do is recognize the feeling. Only those who feel will find their way to quiet stillness.

Thanks to a comment from Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis for prompting the reflection this morning.

Divine Folly and Human Wisdom


A sermon at the Olivet Congregational Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, March, 2003.

Texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

Author Frederick Buechner reminds us that as the curtain falls on the final tragic scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the final words are uttered: “The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

We cannot help but speak what we feel and if what I say this morning misses the mark of preaching the gospel, perhaps by God’s grace you will hear nonetheless a Word for your life and the world’s. For the Spirit takes our words and uses them in the hearing of the listener at least as much as in the speaking of the speaker.

I speak to you this morning – in the weight of this sad time of war – as a child of wartime. I was born 1942. When I was a year old my father enlisted as an Army chaplain. When I was one-and-a-half I waved goodbye from a dock in Los Angeles as the tears streamed down my mother’s face. Although too young to understand the reason for the tears, I was not too young to inhabit the sorrow, the dread and the grief. I grew up with air raid sirens ringing in my ears. Several years after my father returned safely from the South Pacific – from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian, the island from which the “Enola Gay” made its run at Hiroshima – the sound of the fire siren would wake me with the horror of impending death.

Though the bombs never fell near my house or on my city, I grew up as a child of Baghdad, and I will be forevermore.

And so these days I awaken very early. I can’t sleep. I get up, make the coffee, turn on the reading lamp in the living room and read to still the storm. In the dark of night I feel like Alice in Wonderland. I plummet down one rabbit hole after another, trying to get my bearings in a world that seems to have lost its sanity – no north or south, no east or west, only a whirring gyroscope of confusion and nonsense. I feel sick over the bombs, sick over the lies and disinformation. Sick with a sense of impending doom.

But I also know that the Christian should not be surprised by this. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’”

The cross of Jesus refutes all human wisdom that confuses might with right. The cross – the Roman means of State execution, the first century equivalent of an electric chair – stands empty. In the light of Easter, the might of the mighty is powerless. The cleverness of the clever is thwarted. The wisdom of the wise is destroyed. The cross exposes the vanity of power. It judges every act of ethnic cleansing, every assassination, every torture, every death committed in the name of national security. It exposes the untruth of every clever piece of propaganda and disinformation that twists the truth to shiver our knees in fear. The cross of Jesus exposes the foolishness of the wise, the powerlessness of the powerful, the folly of the clever.

As I sit in the pre-dawn darkness with my morning paper and a cup of coffee, the dawn slowly lights the horizon ‘til the sun lights the eastern sky and floods the porch with morning light. With the rising of the sun on the far horizon there rises within me the psalmist’s psalm of joyful praise, an awareness of a larger providence:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit
to the end of them. (Ps. 19:1-1,4b-5)

I am suddenly keenly aware that the sun rises on my neighbor, as well as on me, and that it rises every morning on Iraq and North Korea, on Afghanistan and China, on Venezuela and Timbuktu…without discrimination. It rises on Muslims and Christians and Jews, on Sikhs and Buddhists, on atheists and agnostics, capitalists, communists and anarchists. “The foolishness of God” – this expansive, inclusive providence and generosity of God – is wiser than human wisdom.” It is in that spirit that our Lord said to all would-be disciples:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your neighbors, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:43-48)

God’s care is like that. To be perfected in God’s image is to love like that – ubiquitously! If it were up to us, there would be sunshine fences everywhere. “Send a little sun over here, God, and ominous clouds over there! Send a few spring showers over here, God, and torrents of rain over there! A little warmth over here, a blizzard over there.” God’s providence does not create sunshine fences. God plays no favorites. There is no such division in God’s care.

So, when Paul writes to the Corinthians about the divine folly being wiser than human wisdom – when he says that “to those who are being saved (notice that Paul does not say “To those who are saved, but to those who are being saved”), “it (the cross) is the power of God” – it cannot be a division between the saved and the damned. No war of the children of light against the children of darkness. No sunshine fences. All such constructs are of human origin. Salvation (healing) is a work in progress. And it’s a work of God, not us. It’s not a done deal. It’s a daily process of transformation day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. There can be no boasting except to boast of the man on the cross, no definition of human perfection other than this extravagant love of God.

Several years ago I was blessed by the friendship of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, former John D. Rockefeller Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Union Theology Seminary in the City of New York, who now lives here in the Twin Cities with his American wife, Lois.

Dr. Koyama vividly remembers being baptized as a teenager. He was baptized during the bombing of Tokyo. As the bombs rained down on his city, Kosuke’s pastor told him that those who are baptized in Christ must love their enemies. “Kosuke, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your enemies. Even the Americans.” The planes that were bombing Kosuke’s city were sent off from my father’s airstrips!

Dr. Koyama recalls being startled by the God of the Bible, as he read the Book of Isaiah. What struck him was that the God of the Bible stands not only for but also against his own people. God takes the people to task. The God of Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah is saddened and offended by their behavior. In stark contrast, says Koyama, the Japanese god – the god of the emperor and the imperial cult, never criticized the emperor or the people. “You want to invade Manchuria? Sure. Go ahead. Good boy, good boy. Japanese. Good boy! You want to bomb Pearl Harbor? Go ahead. Good boy, good boy! Japanese. Good boy!”

At that early age, Kosuke Koyama decided that he would never again follow a god that spoke only one language. And that he would never again worship an uneducated god. The God of the Bible, he says, speaks more than one language. The God of the universe speaks many languages. The God of the Bible is a spacious God. Not the god of an imperial cult. The God of the Bible is an educated God. Not the god of the nation.

In the early morning hours, even as my soul rises in praise of the sun’s rising, I feel sad and just a bit angry. I can feel something of that tremendous feeling of loneliness and anger that Jesus must have felt as he watched the commerce of the temple and sat there in silence, braiding a whip out of the chords they had used to tie the animals. I can see him and hear him cracking his whip to chase out the traders and the money-changers: “You shall not make of my Father’s house a house of trade!”

There is a place in the Christian faith for indignation. There is a place for anger when wrong is done, when falsehood parades as truth, when arrogance takes the place of diplomacy, when religion blesses bombs. And for the sake of the nation, if not for ourselves, we need to recover our ability to feel things deeply. All around us and within us there is fear and acquiescence. Only the power of God’s kingdom can revive in us the capacity for outrage when children anywhere shiver in fear in air raid shelters.

Terrorism is a real threat. But the greater threat to America is that we will lose our capacity to mourn unnecessary death, that we will lose our capacity for anger when a child dies or is psychologically damaged by American bullets and bombs, that we will lose our souls by placing them on the altar of what President Eisenhower chillingly described as a military-industrial complex which, one day, would be out of control, turned loose to do its job.

And when Jesus had driven out those who sold and those who bought, he taught them, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him, for they feared him.” (Mk. 17-18b)

And so Paul writes that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’”

Why is the word of the cross the power of God?

Bishop Desmond Tutu tells the story of a visit to Rwanda after the genocide of 1994. In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Bishop Tutu tells of visiting a church in the capitol of Rwanda where Tutsis had been mowed down and where the bodies continued to lie as they had fallen the year before during the massacre. He describes the church as a disturbing monument to the viciousness of which we as human beings are capable.

“Those who had turned against each other in this gory fashion had often lived amicably in the same villages and spoken the same language. They had frequently intermarried and most of them had espoused the same faith – most were Christians. The colonial overlords had sought to maintain their European hegemony by favoring the main ethnic group, the Tutsis, over the other, the Hutu, thus planting the seeds of what would in the end be one of the bloodiest episodes in modern African history.”

Asked to preach at the main stadium in Kigali, the capitol, the Bishop said that the history of Rwanda “was typical of a history of ‘top dog’ and ‘underdog’. The top dog wanted to cling to its privileged position and the underdog strove to topple the top dog. When that happened, the new top dog engaged in an orgy of retribution to pay back the new underdog for all the pain and suffering it had inflicted when it was top dog.

He said that the extremists among the Hutus had proven that they were quite capable of waiting thirty years for the day when they could exact revenge, and that the same could be expected of the Tutsis – unless the cycle of reprisal and counter-reprisal was broken. He told the crowd that “the only way to do this was to go beyond retributive justice to restorative justice, to move on to forgiveness, because without it there was no future.”

Human wisdom is “top dog” wisdom. Divine wisdom is the wisdom of the cross. Human wisdom is cyclical and vicious. Divine wisdom is a breakthrough – from cross to empty tomb.

Why is the word of the cross the power of God?

At the center of our crucifying behavior is fear. “The chief priests and the scribes sought a way to destroy him, because they feared him.” So do we. For the sake of this fear, we have been given a spirit of courage and boldness. We “did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but … have received the spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if, in fact, we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:15-17).

A client in deep distress, grief and sorrow, after struggling alone in anonymity with what Chaim Potok has called “the four-o’clock-in- the-morning-questions” and battening down the hatches of his psyche finally goes to a therapist for help. When he arrives, the therapist asks how it feels to be there. “Good,” says the man. “Good. If feels good to be in a safe place.” To his surprise, the therapist asks, “What makes you think this is a safe place? This isn’t a safe place. This is a very dangerous place! You didn’t come looking for safety. The only really safe place is six feet under. You didn’t come looking for safety. You came here looking for life.”

Isn’t it the same with you? We come here looking for life, not safety, not death. We come looking for wisdom, not folly. For straight talk, not double-talk. We come listening for the genuine good news of the gospel. We come because we’re tired of falling down rabbit holes. We come for truth and straight talk about a gospel that lays bare every lie and every pretense, every fleeting power – a gospel that lays us bare before God.

In our nakedness, standing before the Mercy Seat of God’s judgment, exposed in our vain substitute of safety for life, may the Spirit that cries out with our spirits for life in its fullness silence every voice but its own, free us from fear and from the tyranny of security, and grant us to enter boldly through the foolishness of the cross to the fullness and joy of life itself.

And let us remember that this world is no cheap five and dime house of trade in which life is bought and sold for nickels and dimes. This world is the House of our Father who is in Heaven! And now to the One who is able to keep us from falling, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

Watch out for the Flake


southern drivers in snow

we moved from chicago
in september
…………………the first
snow flake fell in the month
of january
saw a driver swerve to
miss it and go straight in
the ditch

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 12, 2014

Palm fronds and Ashes


Tomorrow morning Ida will be laid to rest. When her family cleaned out her hospice care room, already Spartan in its simplicity, they found stashes of old palm fronds she had saved from Palm Sunday along the way of her 99 years. They were the last things to go, found under her mattress, under her bed, and anywhere else she could think to keep them close. The Palm fronds and mass cards were among her most precious belongings.

In the Christian tradition the Palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned and saved for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” We are children of dust, and to dust we shall return.

Preparing to lead the Ash Wednesday Service several years ago, I could not find the ashes. The following piece, aired on Minnesota Public Radio, serves as a twinkle in the eye tribute to Ida, whose faith was enviably simple and strong. She never got into the collection of stuff; the few things she retained bore witness to her quiet faith.


“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!”

It’s fifteen minutes before the Service. “Where are the ashes!”

Every year I put the ashes for the Ash Wednesday Service in the credenza in my office. I never gave it a second thought that we had moved the credenza out of my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival! Somebody has our ashes!

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

I begin the Ash Wednesday Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the font for the waters of baptism, the waters of the renewal of life.”

We have some fun justifying the change in the Service, focusing on part of the Gospel text for the day – the words of Jesus himself. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen my others…. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret…” (Mt. 6:16-18).

People come to the font, one-by-one, for the Imposition of Water. I dip my hand into the font. “Pat, (making the sign of the cross on her forehead), “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. You are a child of God. Live in this peace.”

After the Service is over, one of the worshipers asks whether anyone has done the same for me. She reaches her hand into the font. “Gordon, dust to dust ashes to ashes. You are a child of God….”

I’ll never forget it. Neither will they.

Somewhere in this world someone has a credenza with a sack full of ashes. Whoever you are, feel free to keep them. They’re all yours.


Agatina (Ida) Misiti Terranova was born in Queens, NY, the second child of first generation immigrants. She spoke only Italian until the school truant officers paid a visit to inform Ida and Millie’s parents that all children in America had to go to school. Her father wanted them to stay home to help their mother. Girls didn’t need to go to school! Ida and Millie learned English, went to work in the garment district of NYC, married two brothers, Al (Ida) and Mike (Millie) Terranova, and raised their families on the best Italian cooking and a love that was as demonstrably joyful as their egg plant parmesan sandwiches were mouth-wateringly delicious.

Millie, Al, and Mike preceded Ida in death. May they all rest in peace.

Me and My Smart Phone


My right hand has a callus where
I hold my iPhone when I read
or type.  I’m losing feeling on
my thumb tip where I tap the bare
small screen.  My left hand learned to feed
my mouth while I still grip the phone.

My wrist has carpel tunnel pain–
I’m on-line more than off.  I reach
inside my pocket more each day
for phone than wallet or a coin,
a penknife, or a handkerchief.
On-line Scrabble is all I play…

Are FaceBook friends my only friends?
Am I alone with just my phone?

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 10, 2014

Old Salem Cemetery


Old Salem Cemetary

Old Salem Cemetery

The square marble white stones
lie flat in straight rows
in God’s acre: unity,
liberty, and love.

No gaudy spire
of a wealthy patriarch;
no spreading plot of a family
blessed with many offspring.

The bachelor, the single woman,
the infant, the child–each in a choir
that someday will rise up and sing
along with the married folks.

The brass bands gather
and play across the rolling grounds
each Easter morning: trumpet,
trombone, euphonium…harmony.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 9, 2014

The Fuller Brush Man


In 1959, I was sixteen
and in summer was hired to help a man
who went each day from woman to woman
and sold Fuller Brushes.
……………………………….I’d drive a van
delivering what he had sold. I’d pick
up bags full of the product with the names
and addresses of customers. I’d pack
the van there by the many waiting trains
beside the trailer park.
……………………………….The salesman’s home
was rusty, filled with screaming little kids.
The homes that bought the cleaning gear were from
the poorer parts of town: more kids, and wives
were always home–there was no second car.
The new toilet brush cost just one dollar.

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 9, 2014

Was Jesus guilty?


by Gordon C. Stewart (copyright)

Was Jesus of Nazareth guilty as charged?

The charge against Jesus of Nazareth was that he “refused to pay tribute to Caesar” and that “he stirred up the people.” One translation called him a “seditionist” or, in a congressman’s language, a subversive, an enemy of the state. The late lay theologian and lawyer William Stringfellow argued that Jesus was a revolutionary. Not a rhetorical revolutionary, but one whose very existence threatened his world in a revolutionary way.

Years of pouring over the Gospel texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls for clues as to the nature of the time of Jesus of Nazareth have not quite brought me to the stark nakedness of Bishop James Pike, but I’m close.

The Bishop was in Washington, D.C. for a meeting of some sort. His friend Anthony Towne went to his hotel room to take him to breakfast. When Anthony knocked on the door, the Bishop shouted out, “Come on in, Tony, the door’s open.” He opened the door to find the Bishop sitting in an arm chair, Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts scattered around the floor surrounding the chair, sitting there in the altogether. The Bishop was so entranced with the Scrolls and the Scriptures that he had forgotten to dress; he was unaware of his nakedness. Bishop Pike later died alone in the Judean wilderness searching for the historical Jesus.

I’m not as obsessed with the question as James Pike was, but I am nonetheless intrigued, fascinated, confused, and excited by Jesus of Nazareth and the New Testament witness to him precisely because of the new information that invites us to ask again who Jesus was.

Christians often see the cross as something that God intended for Jesus as the Son of God, as if God sent his son into the world that we might kill him and that Jesus was surely innocent of the charges brought before Pilate. Rarely do we consider the possibility that Jesus was guilty as charged. Likewise, what we in the church call Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday is often observed in a way that paints Jesus as the non-political spiritual man whose kingdom is not of this world, contrary to the people on the street who mistakenly hailed him as the warrior king whose aim was to throw Rome out of Palestine.

Palm Sunday provides a window into the question of whether Jesus was guilty as charged. Go beneath all theological assumptions to step onto the road with the people who waved the branches and ask what they were doing there and why Jesus did what he did. But before we look at the parade into Jerusalem we remember that the death we observe on “Good Friday” was a political execution, the Roman equivalent of the electric chair, the firing squad, and the gas chamber. The charges against him at the trial are clearly political. “We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2, Jerusalem Bible). Jesus was executed as a revolutionary against the Roman Empire.

Behind the New Testament texts lie the familiar strains of the older texts from Zachariah and II Maccabees.

The background of Palm Sunday in the Book of Zachariah

One of the first things to notice about the Palm Sunday episode, the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, is that the demonstration is not spontaneous. “The master has need of it” – the words the disciples have been instructed to speak to a man in town who owns a donkey – is code language, arranged in advance. Furthermore, Christ rides on the donkey, not a horse. Traditionally this has been taken to mean that he refuses the title of king and prefers to come instead in humility, riding on a donkey. But look more closely at the setting for the donkey passage in the literature of Zachariah and you will find an oracle against a foreign occupier. It is in the context of his oracle against oppression that Jesus chooses to ride on a donkey (or two donkeys!). Here’s the Zachariah passage:

“Near my house I will take my stand like a watchman on guard against prowlers; the tyrant shall pass their way no more, because I have now taken notice of its distress. Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the bow of war will be banished. he will proclaim peace for the nations. His empire shall stretch from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of your covenant, I sending back your prisoners from the pit (in which there is no water?” – Zachariah 9:8-11, Jerusalem Bible.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is rooted in the hope of Zachariah. Riding the colt identifies Jesus with the long-held hopes of Jesus’ people for an end to their bondage – economic, political, financial, cultural, spiritual, imperial bondage. The Zachariah text occurs in a section of curses against oppressors. To cherry pick humility from the text while ignoring the context and symbolism of the donkey fails to do justice to the sweeping hope of an altogether new and totally revolutionary transformation.

The background of Palm Sunday in Second Maccabees

The people lining the streets are waving branches hailing Jesus as the Messiah, the liberator of the nation from foreign occupation. The palm was a symbol of Jewish resistance. At an earlier time in the Second Century BCE Simon Maccabaeus was hailed with palm branches after a successful Jewish warfare that had regained the nation’s freedom and reclaimed the integrity of the Temple. Here’s the text:

“Maccabaeus and his companions, under the LORD’s guidance, restored the Temple and the city, and pulled down the altars erected by the foreigners in the market place, as well as the sacred enclosures. They purified the sanctuary and built another altar; then striking fire from flints and using this fire, they offered the first sacrifice for two years, burning incense, lighting the lamps and setting out the loaves. When they had done this they threw themselves flat on the ground and implored the LORD never again to let them fall into such adversity, but if they should ever sin, to correct them with moderation and not to deliver them over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. This day of the purification of the Temple fell on the very day on which the Temple had been profaned by the foreigners, the twenty-fifth of the same month, Chislev. They kept eight festal days with rejoining, in the manner of the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering how, not long before at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, they had been living in the mountains and caverns like wild beasts. Then, carrying branches, leafy boughs and palms, they offered hymns to him who had brought the cleansing of his own Holy Place to a happy outcome. They also decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole Jewish nation should celebrate the same every year.” (II Maccabees 10:1-8)

In times such as this I join Bishop Pike in asking who he was and find myself quite naked and often alone in the search. But one thing I think I know. Bill Stringfellow nailed it. Jesus was a revolutionary of the most profound sort. His very existence – his being – was enough to bring charges from a world that refused to be disturbed by him. “See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the bow of war will be banished. he will proclaim peace for the nations. His empire shall stretch from sea to sea….”

Will we shrink Jesus of Nazareth to our own small size and purposes, or will we line the streets with festal branches for the humble man on the colt whose kingdom of justice, peace, and love is always being crucified but can never be extinguished?


This sermon was preached March 19, 1978 in McGaw Chapel at The College of Wooster, Wooster, OH.

Verse – dream of dancing


loving parents but the way they
read the bible meant no dancing

on my own after college I
took lessons to please my new wife

i was never good but had fun
for years moving with the music

now my knees and back restrict me
to a slow shuffle and a sigh

but in my sleep i leap and fly

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb.  6, 2014


My son’s first drink


I was reading an article last night about fathers and sons, and memories came flooding back of the time I took my son out for his first drink.

Carling Black Label ad

Carling Black Label ad

Off we went to the local watering hole which is only two blocks from the house. I got him a Castle … he didn’t like it – so I drank it.

Then I got him a Carling Black Label, he didn’t like it, so I drank it.

It was the same with the Windhoek Lager and Premium Dry Cider.

By the time we were done with the whiskey, I could hardly push the stroller back home.

- Sent from a friend in Texas. Years ago it could easily have been [we'll call him] Bob just for the fun of it. Bob’s humor broke the soberness of pondering climate departure. I needed that today.

Chocolate Chip Cookies


Nestlé wants to sell more chips,
so the Tollhouse recipe
calls for two times more chocolate
than tastes best–just try and see!

From the yellow packages,
I eat handfuls semi-sweet,
but in cookie dough, like life,
moderation makes the treat.

I love butter on fresh bread,
pancakes, toast and potatoes,
but in cookies, half will do:
half Crisco with sugar goes.

Half brown sugar and half white,
integration tastes just right!
Use real vanilla, not the fake–
you’ll be proud of what you bake!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL.

Listening to the Stones from the Wall Street Wall


Last evening we published Susan Lince’s wonderful poem “Every Stone Shall Cry” and her accompanying art work. Thanks to Susan for permission to publish them.

Not everyone is familiar with this line about the stones. The poetry of the stones crying out has its roots in Hebrew Scripture in a poem from the Book of Habakkuk, later echoed by Luke as Jesus’ response to those who want to silence his disciples and protesters to Roman occupation – “I tell you,” says Jesus riding on an ass into the city occupied by the Romans, “if these [people] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).

The original Ode of Woe against the Chaldeans’ foreign interventions and military-economic occupation becomes, on Jesus’ lips, the ode against the Roman system of occupation and internal collaboration by indigenous leaders, and, on Susan’s lips, it echoes from the walls of intractable powers that nature itself will not long abide in silence. Nature will not be silent! Think of the stones in the wall of Wall Street. Even the stones cry out against the abuse. Here’s the text from the Book of Habakkuk where the reference to the crying stones first appears:

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long? —
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house [society/empire],
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,and the beam from the woodwork respond.
Woe to him who builds a town with blood…

- Habakkuk 2: 6b-12a

The ode against the Chaldean Empire ends with a lovely line looking for the day when the most intimate knowledge of the Breath of Life will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” and the stones will no long cry.

Susan is a writer, painter, poet, composer, environmental and social justice activist. She and her spouse, John Lince-Hopkins, developed the movement Requiem2020. They will lead the First Tuesday Dialogues event on Climate Departure at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN Tuesday evening, March 4, at 7:00 P.M.

Poem: Every Stone Shall Cry


Original art by Susan Lince - "Every Stone Shall Cry"

Original art by Susan Lince – “Every Stone Shall Cry”

The stone lies
Near the pile of boulders
In the city park
Watching over the man asleep
In his cardboard shelter
And cries.

And every stone shall cry

The stone cries
Along the roadside
As the bomb explodes
Killing young soldiers
As well as the children nearby.

And every stone shall cry

The stone knows to cry
Even before the excavator
Upheaves the earth
To take away the coal
And leaves only a ragged empty space.

And every stone shall cry.

The ancient stones
Of the wailing wall
Cry as they have cried for centuries,
Listening to the prayers
Of the sufferers
And the selfish,
The grieving,
And the greedy
That reverberate
With echoes of misunderstanding
About who has been left out
Of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

And every stone shall cry.

Every stone shall cry
Yet goes unheard,
As humankind,
With hardening core,
Pushes violence, power,
Injustice, and neglect
Rumbling across the world
Like boulders.

- Susan Lince, artist and poet, Chaska, MN.

Planetary Pledge


We pledge allegiance to the earth

that sustains humanity,

and to the land, air, water, and sun

on which our future rests:

one fragile creation

in our hands to preserve and protect,

with equality, freedom, justice,

and peace for all


  - Steven Shoemaker and

Joan Humphrey Lefkow,


The headless chicken brigade


Prince Charles recently called climate deniers “the headless chicken brigade”.</p>

“It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science. 

“All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must  abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.

“So, thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here this evening, who have the far-sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help.

“As you may possibly have noticed from time to   time, I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me. 

“Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have.”

- Prince Charles at award ceremony honoring young green entrepreneur.

Think Headless Chicken Brigade Keystone Pipeline.


Truth is stranger than fiction: No Obituary!


The instructions of the deceased, left in his safety deposit box, were no viewing of his body, no visitation, cremation, and no obituary.

Why no obituary?

Here is and excerpt from the homily delivered yesterday at the memorial service for Kenneth Beaufoy (b. 8/4//1923; d. 1/24/2014), the former World War II “Tommy” (British soldier), who married Ilse, a former German soldier, one of only two women later decorated with the Iron Cross for standing at her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.

Ken Beaufoy left very specific instructions for his son. At the time of his death he wanted cremation, no visitation, no viewing of his body, no interment of his remains … and, most surprising of all, no obituary.

Why would a man leave instructions that there be no obituary upon his death?

Ken Beaufoy sat in these pews for the last 17 years. Every Monday morning without fail he was at the weekly Bible study at Auburn Manor, the nursing home where we moved the Bible study to accommodate members living there. On Monday mornings he plumbed the depths of Scripture and shared the parts of his story he told few others outside his family. Hollis and Patsy, Karin, Barb, Max. Jesse, Katie, Chuck, Bernice, Marge, Dana and Lorraine were all blessed by his sharings and by his well-worn King James Bible…. They were a very special group of healing for Ken. People who gathered around the Word to discover more and more of who God is and who we are as God’s children.

Ken knew himself to be a child of God – a beloved “sinner of your redeeming” as the wonderful line from the Anglican funeral service puts it. We will miss him sorely. His chair will remain in the circle, empty, like Elijah’s chair at the Seder meal of Passover.

But the question remains. Why would a man like Ken Beaufoy elect to have no viewing, no visitation,and no obituary?Why would a British signalman who cracked the German code in World War II want no obituary?

Why would a British soldier who fell in love with an enemy combatant. a German soldier named Ilse, one of only two women later decorated with the Iron Cross in Germany, not want an obituary?

Why would a Brit who walked in the woods alone each night back in England, worrying about his beloved Ilse, stuck back in Elmshorn, Germany, not want an obituary, unless he knew what Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the last enemy to be destroyed is death?

Why would a man with a great sense of humor not want an obituary? Ken had a nickname for everyone. In Shakopee he walked into the Subway and at other places he greeted people by the nicknames he had given them.” Hey “26” –“ Hey, Irish!” and he and “Irish” would break out in a duet of Danny Boy. He called his father The Prophet because his father was always talking about what was going to happen and it almost never did…. Only Ken could have gotten away with that. At the wedding of 12 people, the Prophet marched Ilse down the aisle, out of step with Ilse, changing step three times before they finally got it right. Ken wrote in his memoirs “Prophet didn’t have a suit! Had to borrow one for the day from a neighbor, Billy King! The jacket was too short for him. Prophet called it a Bum freezer!.”

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction. Why would a man whose life story rivals the very best fiction, the most intriguing novels created out of human imagination, not want his story summarized in an obituary?

There is no way to summarize his exploits. No way to accurately tell the story of the young street thief who ended up in charge of security for the bank in Chicago; the soldier who broke the German code, met the love of his life in a Canteen during the Allied occupation of Germany after the war; fought with the British Foreign Office to get Ilse a visa to Britain, and, when that failed, bicycled his way to the home of his Member of Parliament, appearing unannounced and without appointment – a man as bulldoggish as Winston Churchill and unafraid of any human authority – to get his German war-bride-to-be out of German and into England.

Why would a man so frustrated by the slowness and opposition of the British Foreign Office be willing to enter Germany illegally in order to get his bride not want an obituary? </strongWhy

“Late in August,” wrote Ken in his hand-written memoir, “I read in the newspaper that the first German girl to be married to a soldier had arrived in England. She would be the first German war bride in England! I couldn’t understand why Ilse hadn’t been issues a visa! I’d already made up my mind to take a merchant ship to Denmark, slip across the border into Germany, make my way to Elmshorn and marry Ilse in the German church. I’s somehow find a job in Germany and hope that one day we’d be able to enter Britain legally! I decided I’d go see Henry Usborne (the Member of the House of Commons) one last time I did, and he told me that the next Friday at Question Time in Parliament, he would ask Ernest Bevin, Britain’s Foreign Minister a direct question as to why Ilse Kuhl of Elmshorn, Germany had not been issued a visa to enter Great Britain for the purpose of marriage.

“The next Saturday, two German policemen knocked on the door of [Ilse’s home] in Elsmshorn. Gertrude Hesse, a tenant in the house had seen them approaching the house from her bedroom window. She ran downstairs and warned Ilse! Isle was scared stiff. She thought the police had discovered her black market dealings and had come to arrest her! The policemen entered the house and after ascertaining she was Ilse Kuhl, handed her British visa to her along with an authorization to board a military transport aircraft for her flight to London on the coming Thursday.”

Why would a man with a story like that not want an obituary?

We’ll never know for sure, but we can guess. He was a private man. He was a humble man. He knew himself to be what the Anglican church calls each of us, “a sinner of your own redeeming,” and so at the end it was not himself that he wished to focus upon, but instead the goodness and merciful kindness of his Lord.”

“All flesh is grass. The grass withers; the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” – Rev. 21

Winston Churchill on Climate Departure


What might Winston Churchill say about climate change and the prognosis of climate departure around 2020?

“So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent…  Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger.  The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close.  In its place we are now entering a period of consequences….  We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…” 

                 - Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936


The Last Lion - Winston Churchill

The Last Lion – Winston Churchill

The View from the Bristlecone Pines


Bristlecone Pines photo

Bristlecone Pines photo

Clinging tenaciously to the ridgetops
and twisted by the winds,
bristlecone pines are the oldest
living trees on Earth. The oldest
of them, found only in the White
Mountains of California, are
4,600 years old. Those pines were
already 1,400 years old when the
Egyptians were building the pyramids.

The Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge,
Colorado (picture, taken by friend
Harry Strong) are nearly 1,000 years

These gnarled trees have endured
strong winds, cold temperatures,
drought and poor soils. They learn
to grow horizontally. The sign posted
on Windy Ridge invites visitors to
“walk through these survivors and
stand watch with them over the vast
South Park.”

How will these remarkably adaptive
creatures do with the projection of
Climate Departure? Are they calling
out for help from down below, echoed
back to them in song by Pete Seeger’s
“God’s Countin’ on Me; God’s Countin’
on you”?

You might say that Pete’s life was a
reply to the Bristlecone pines, a
modern day Habakkuk whose writing
we have from the time when the Bristle-
cone Pines were just teenagers:

“I will stand upon my
watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see [God] will say
to me, that I will answer when I am
reproved. And the LORD answered me,
and said, Write the vision and make
it plain upon tablets, that he may
run who reads it.”

Maundy Thursday Tenebrae

At Tenebrae, the ancient Maundy Thursday Service of Light and Shadow, there are no off-the-cuff remarks. Only Scripture. Only the story we do not want to hear. Our betrayal. Our cowardice. Our weariness. Our betrayal with a kiss. Our violence. Our denial. Our flight.

The church is dark except for the worshipers’ candles.

One by one, the worshipers blow out their candles as the nine readings are read from the midst of the congregation, as we recognize ourselves in the plot that leads to the crucifixion.

We know. We know this is our story. Our reality. Our dilemma.

Then, as if it were tonight, bread is broken. The wine is poured. In silence we share our common lot and wait for the good news we already know.