Seeing God from the Back

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We do not get to see God face-to-face. None of us does. But we do see God’s back.

When Moses makes the request to see God, the Book of Exodus writer puts it this way:

But, God said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

 

And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

We see God [YHWH - the Breath - "I am Who I am"/ "I will be Who I will be"] from the cleft in the rock. Rudolf Otto said it differently. We experience the Divine as the mysterium tremendum et fasciinans, Latin for the fearful and fascinating mystery.

Rudolf Otto is best known for his work The Idea of the Holy, first published in German in 1917, translated into English 1923, in which he analyzes the human experience that underlies all religion. He calls this experience the “numinous,” (from the Greek work “pneuma” (i.e. spirit), which has three components.

First and always, it is mysterium.- beyond human grasp, control, or knowing. It is, he says, Wholly Other.  It elicits a tremble. It is powerful beyond human power, experienced as an overwhelming power, the likes of which we glimpse in the terrifying explosion of an hydrogen bomb. We experience it as mysterium tremendum. At the same time, the numinous evokes a fascination the way a magnet draws iron to itself. Something in us knows we belong to it. The “it”, according to Otto, is the divine mystery’s mercifulness and graciousness.

We can only come at it through the back door, by hints and suggestions and stories that suggest its presence in daily life.

Consider, for instance, Steve Shoemaker’s verse posted earlier on Views from the Edge.

Driving Blind

 

The highway is straight

and smooth, only one lane

in each direction…

no barrier in the center,

no guard rails on the sides…

nighttime, no white lines

mark the edges of the road…

no streetlights…

all that can be seen

is the oval puddle of light

from the headlights

of my speeding car.

 

I jerk awake as I feel

the left tires bounce

on the shoulder of the road…

I have crossed

the wrong lane…I know

my wife is beside me, but

I cannot open my eyes…

I cry out, but her seat belt

holds her too tightly

for her to reach the wheel…

my eyes open for one second,

then all is dark again…

I cannot stay awake…

I whimper and shudder.

 

The terror remains

even after I realize

we are in our own bed

and I have been dreaming.

A reader responds to the posting:

I’ve been there.  Only in my dreams I’m in the back seat of a speeding driverless car and can’t get to the front, not even to press the brake.

Another reader, Carolyn, a dear friend since kindergarten, writes:

Try having something similar happen when you are awake with your eyes open! A big contributor to my retirement at the time I retired.

Carolyn goes on to describe her problem with double-vision – seeing two on-coming cars and four lanes when there were two, having to decide which was real and which was a product of her double-vision. A near accident on a winding road in Gulf Mills, a road with which I am well familiar, helped her make the decision to retire.

Mysterium tremendous et facinans.

I’m retiring. Two more sermons at Shepherd of the Hill and I’m done. Any misgivings I might have had about the decision to retire were quickly set aside by watching the YouTube video of Tabitha Isner’s sermon the Sunday I was out of town. So alive, so young, so wise, so full of energy and creativity! It reminded me what my mother kept telling my father about the need to retire. He was getting stale.

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Then, I’m thinking of my father when a phone call comes from San Francisco asking if I am the son of the Chaplain on Saipan during World War II.

I am. He’s doing research for the past three years on the 330th Army Air Corps based on Saipan. Googling my father’s name – Kenneth Campbell Stewart – up popped the Views from the Edge post about the Cincinnati cop who threatened to arrest me for hitch-hiking on the Interstate at 3:00 A.M. before he learned I was the son of his chaplain on Saipan, “Red Stewart”. I was like a chicken waiting for its head to get cut off before mercy struck.

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

I know very little about that chapter of my father’s life. I’ve always wondered.  The caller wants to hear any stories and see any pictures or papers I might have. I dig back through the briefcase containing the packed away photos. The caller sends photos of Dad preaching from an ammunitions box on the freshly-cut cane fields following the invasion of Saipan. I shudder and wonder how he could preached the gospel from a Bible on a cartridge box.

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

The next day I serve as a chauffeur for a an aging friend going shopping for a recliner for his ailing wife now in memory care at a retirement facility. I provide the wheels. He does the shopping for the right chair that will help his wife recline and rise to a near standing position at the push of a button. We come back to visit with her in the memory care center. She greets us both warmly, as she always has. I tell her I’m retiring. She responds: “You’re going to love it; and you’re going to hate it.”

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Life does both things. It makes us tremble; and it draws us to itself. The Mystery beyond all controlling inspires both trembling and ultimate attraction.

We’re all driving blind. We are all, like Moses, peering out from the cleft in the rock. We do not get to see God face-to-face. We see God’s glory from the back, and that’s good enough for me.

 

 

Verse – Polyphony in Poetry

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For a poem to sing
must it be in a song?:
Is a melody needed
beyond a mere drone?
Can the words on a page
create true harmony?
Are duets possible
realistically?

I cannot write
a round, a round.
A canon cannot
make one sound.

Each syllable makes just one note:
no melisma in poet’s throat…

to find one’s voice
amid the cacophony
of post-industrial, technological
society (with advertisements
POPPING UP everywhere)
is difficult enough without
hoping to be the J.S. Bach
of modern literature

One line at a time,
No need for a rhyme:
One chirp from a bird
is worth being heard.

Go to a concert for
polyphony.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 19, 2014

Verse – Driving Blind

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The highway is straight
and smooth, only one lane
in each direction…
no barrier in the center,
no guard rails on the sides…
nighttime, no white lines
mark the edges of the road…
no streetlights…
all that can be seen
is the oval puddle of light
from the headlights
of my speeding car.

I jerk awake as I feel
the left tires bounce
on the shoulder of the road…
I have crossed
the wrong lane…I know
my wife is beside me, but
I cannot open my eyes…
I cry out, but her seat belt
holds her too tightly
for her to reach the wheel…
my eyes open for one second,
then all is dark again…
I cannot stay awake…
I whimper and shudder.

The terror remains
even after I realize
we are in our own bed
and I have been dreaming.

- Steve Shoemaker, October 17, 2014

Gay Wedding Q and A

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This came to our attention this morning. As the proud father of a gay son and as a pastor now free to officiate at same-sex weddings, this Comedy Central video had me doubled over. Enjoy.

 

Verse – The Face of Baseball

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The football guys wear yoga pants,Fear_the_Beard,_Brian_Wilson
The B-ball boys show skin and tats,
We each comb out our beard,
Or grow mustaches weird,
So women know we’re such cool cats.

- Steve Shoemaker, October 16, 2014

For World Refugees

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“How can we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?” Psalm 137:4

This is not our city
This is not our land
These are not our people
Those are not our words
Your songs are not our songs
Your food is not ours
These clothes do not fit us
Those trees have strange shapes
This water has an odd taste
This dirt is not good soil
Our families are far away
Is God still with us

- Steve Shoemaker, October 15, 2014

 

Verse – A Dream of True Communion

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It may have been the National
Cathedral–it was some great pile
of stones, some high Episcopal
Church where little me was the pale
imitation of a real Priest
for the day. I could not find pants,
or robe, and that was just the least
fatal of my embarrassments.
I did not have the words to say
for Mass, for Holy Communion –
my mind had left to go and play
in some old grade school reunion.
“Just take this bread,” I said, “and eat.
Remember Jesus–have a treat!”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 14, 2014

Verse – Lights of the World

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Compact, inflatable
Solar-rechargeable
Has a built-in handle

LuminAID light will float
Is semi-transparent
A very light night light

Amazon will mail it
Under twenty dollars
Apocalypse-ready
————

Headband LED
Always be hands-free

Gun or bow and arrow
Take a deer or sparrow

Do not want to be dead
Keep the family fed

Walmart Streamlight Pro Tec
Fifty bucks fifty bucks

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 13, 2014

Lake Superior Shoreline

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“push, splash, gurgle, pullLake Superior shoreline
push, splash, gurgle, pull

pull, push, splash, gurgle
pull, push, splash, gurgle

gurgle, pull, push, splash
gurgle, pull, push, splash

splash, gurgle, pull, push
splash, gurgle, pull, push”

say the waves lapping the
rocks at water’s edge

- Gordon C. Stewart, Encampment, North Shore of Lake Superior, October 8, 2014.

 

An American Confession

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A Psalm of Confession

We have been at war too much.
We have been too quick on the trigger.

Our weapons factories hire lobbyists.
Our lobbyists hire congress.

No matter who is President,
the military calls the shots.

The world weeps when we arm.
Nations cry out in alarm.

Terrorists have killed thousands,
Americans have killed hundreds of thousands.

I am not a pacifist.
I believe in self-defense,

but to be just and fair
we must not drone on and on.

We must not call dead children
collateral damage.

Selah

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

Editor’s Note: Here’s a LINK to an interesting article on the history of a weapons factory.

 

King David

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King David

King David

“A man after God’s own heart,”
Divinely favored, protected,

Yet violent, a killer with a stone,
Then beheading giant Goliath.

A womanizer, polygamous,
Taking beautiful Bathsheba

When her husband was away,
Then plotting his death…done.

A model King? God’s anointed?
But war-cursed when he sinned…

Ancestor with his stolen wife
Of the coming Messiah:

He never prayed to escape justice,
Always finally knew his own fault,

Sang sweetly of God’s goodness,
Confessed his stinking sins,

Suffered, lost his man-love, love-child,
Yet by grace, with grace, ruled forty years…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 7, 2014

Boyhood Transportation

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You take a playing card and steal
a clothes pin from the hanging bag
on the green line in the back yard.

The jack of spades looks best, you feel,
against the spokes of your old bike
and adds a clatter as you ride.

Behind you flies a pirate flag,
a decal shows the team you like
upon the bumper: the White Sox!

The squeegee horn is close at hand.
The noises really help the bike
since Dad has never fixed the brakes!

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

 

Fall Football in South Bend

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Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey

Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey

Those brats were the best tailgate food,
And the cobbler sure lightened our mood,
But the flush on our faces,
And our staggering paces,
Proves the whiskey from Ireland was good!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 2, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the second of four pieces sent to Views from the Edge this morning. South Bend, Indiana is the home of the “Fightin’ Irish” of Notre Dame. Tailgate parties in the parking lots of football stadia have become a tradition before American football games.

Home

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they may not take you in
if you’re drunk again

even mom says get a rental
when you’re mental

dad thinks it’s funny
when you ask for money

The cleaners have a key to the lock
but you need to knock

your room has nice sheets
but you’re on the streets

You want to be cleaner
but have no shower

jobs ask for an address
but you’re homeless

- Verse by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 2, 2014

Editor’s Note: Steve was prolific early this morning. “Home” is one of FOUR composed on his iPhone in the wee hours of the morning. He appears to have been sleepless in Urbana, without a job – he’s retired – but not homeless, showered, lying awake with his back to Nadja on clean sheets at the address they joyfully share with those in need.

Remember pen and paper?

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Pen & Paper

Pen & Paper

Both my gizmos, as she calls them,
iPad and my precious iPhone,
are updating and recharging,
unavailable for writing,
FaceBooking, emailing, texting,
or for playing on-line Scrabble.

I have looked and found a grey pen
that writes even held upside-down.
Only one lined pad for writing
was discovered after searching
through the cabinets, closets, shelving.
When did I last try to scribble

words on paper? I lie back, then
face empty space above the line–
fingers, thumbs, want to be typing…
Will the gizmos still be waiting
when these words I will be adding
to the electronic babble?

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 27, 2014

 

Notice: CANCELLATION

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That’s the subject of the email. “Notice: CANCELLATION“.  I’m being cancelled. It’s late. I’m watching the my favorite baseball team. They’re finally winning. I’m enjoying the distraction. Then comes the email notification. I open it, fearing they’re canceling my credit card or something serious.

Here’s the content, not a cancellation, but a solicitation, complete with an end-of-time, shocking red background and graphics:

CANCELLATION NOTICE: TRIPLE-MATCH

UPDATE: THE TRIPLE-MATCH ENDS AT 11:59PM.

CONTROL OF CONGRESS IS AT STAKE. IF YOU’VE BEEN PLANNING TO DONATE, YOU ONLY HAVE A FEW HOURS LEFT TO GET YOUR DONATION TRIPLE-MATCHED.

Gordon — According to our records you haven’t had a chance to utilize your triple-match status.

Please don’t pass up this opportunity:

The race for Congress is a DEAD HEAT.
Boehner just launched his biggest TV ad blitz of the entire election.
We’re still 3500 donations short of what we need to fight back.
This is your LAST CHANCE to have your impact on the election TRIPLED by a dedicated group of Democratic supporters.

Remember: If you donate $5 right now, it’s matched up to $15! If you donate $50, it’s matched up to $150!!!

Step up now before the clock strikes midnight when your triple-match status will be voided!

Gordon Stewart
Suggested Gift: $5.OO
TRIPLE-MATCH: ACTIVE until 11:59pm

MIDNIGHT DEADLINE: ALL GIFTS TRIPLE-MATCHED!

Chip in $5 immediately >>

Chip in $35 immediately >>

Chip in $50 immediately >>

Chip in $100 immediately >>

Chip in $250 immediately >>

Or click here to donate another amount.

Thanks,

DCCC

We live in a sea of hyperbole and deception. I’d like to think we’re not this stupid, and that we don’t respond to deception, apocalyptic urgency, and trauma drama. Am I alone? What to you think?

Climate Change – Making a Real Difference.

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Gordon C. Stewart:

This post on Freed From Time came to our attention this morning from a kindred spirit.

Originally posted on Freed from Time:

The London Rally

The London Rally

What Has Changed and How You Can Help

Today, Monday  22nd September 2014, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund pledges that it will divest itself of all fossil fuel assets.   It is reported that 650 individuals and 180 institutions have joined this pursuit as part of the worldwide  Divest-Invest  platform which began seven years ago.   This is surely  a death knell for those companies and politicians who do not push forward with green technology and policy.

The situation is beginning to change.   I believe it has come about because all the elements for change are now in place.  We have much to thank the genuine climatologist for.  They have for decades faced an uphill struggle, often against personal abuse in attempts to discredit them.  There is now sufficient awareness to have raised simultaneous protest right across the world, with a report of 400,000 attendees in Manhattan…

View original 414 more words

I may have to get arrested

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“What are you going to do in retirement?” asks a friend who knows I will retire from active pastoral ministry in a few weeks.

“I’m not sure,” I answer. “I may spend the rest of my life getting arrested to help stop the rush to the cliff that is climate change.”

I won’t, of course. I’m a chicken. But being in large groups and protest marches have always made me squeamish. I’ve had the sense of losing my self. I’m uncomfortable with crowds, even the best of them. At this age, I’ve come to realize that I’m an introvert, an outsider, more observer than activist. Observing…reflecting…writing…preaching…connecting the dots are my thing.

Yesterday an estimated 300,000 ordinary citizens like you and me gathered in New York City for the People March on Climate Change. This week the Secretary General of the United Nations will convene a group of international leaders for a one day Climate Summit.

The problem with standing at the edge observing is that, without action at the lowest and highest levels of society across the world, the Earth as we know it will go over the edge, over the cliff to massive population displacement, mass starvation, mass death, extinction of species, death of nations and peoples, and an exponentially worse wealth disparity between the one percent and the 99. I tell myself that publishing what I observe is its own kind of action. As a minister of the gospel, I believe in the power of the Word – the power of speech.

But I may have to rethink and act on my off-the-cuff answer to the questioner. Climate change is the overarching issue – the developing dark global spiritual and moral cloud – under which all other ethical questions fall and pale by comparison. Everything else must be examined under this umbrella. To think otherwise is to be distracted and out-of-touch with the Lord and Giver of Life. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” wrote the psalmist. It does not belong to the one percent, big oil and coal, or any one nation. While greed reigns, I just may have to get arrested.

The Illusion of a Sweet Cherry Pie

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Violence always washes downstream. Whether the river be one’s personal history or the river of a society and culture within whose current every one of us flows, violence is what H. Rap Brown said it is: as American as cherry pie.

Ray Rice’s and Adrian Peterson’s ancestors were strapped to the whipping post. Their white overlords pummeled their bodies with switches, whips, and fists. It was discipline, said the slave owners, the corrective remedy for a slave who had forgotten his white owner’s racial and class superiority.

The switch in Adrain Peterson’s hand, though abhorrent and lamentable, is understandable. It mimics the whipping post. It is the mirror image that caused H. Rap Brown to write from his prison cell in his autobiography, Die, Nigger, Die:

“This country was born on violence. Violence is as american as cherry pie. Black people have always been violent, but our violence has always been directed toward each other. If nonviolence is to be practiced, then it should be practiced in our community and end there. Violence is a necessary part of revolutionary struggle.”

H. Rap Brown wrote that in 2000.

Fast forward to September, 2014. Ray Rice’s knock out punch of his fiancee, Janay Palmer, is recorded by hotel video cameras. His employer, the Baltimore Ravens release (i.e., fire) him. Adrian Peterson, star running back of the MN Vikings, admits to injuring his four-year-old son with a switch (a tree branch) while disciplining the son the way his father disciplined him.

The public is enraged by the pictures of welts on the boy’s thighs and back. Vikings owner Ziggie Wilf announces Peterson will not play the next Sunday. But, after the Peter-less Vikings take a shellacking that Sunday, Mr. Wilf zig zags, announcing that Peterson is returning to practice and will play the next Sunday, September 21. Radisson cancels its Vikings sponsorship and advertising. Nike cancels all advertising with Adrian Peterson. Target Corporation removes Vikings shirt #28, Peterson’s number, from its stores and stops advertising with the Minnesota Vikings, referring to Target’s long-standing positions on domestic violence and child abuse. Again, the Vikings owner, reverses field, arranging for Mr. Peterson to be placed on the rarely used “exception” list with pay while Peterson’s case moves through the courts. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell changes his mind about how to response to off-the-field allegations and legal charges yet to be dealt with by legal due process in courts of law.

The appropriate response of an employer to cases like those of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson is a sometimes complex ethical question. What should an employer do, and when should it do it? Should the employer take disciplinary action on its own or should it honor due process in a court of law on the legal premise that a person is innocent of charges until proven guilty by a juror of his/her peers? A change is not a conviction. Yet, in the Black community, charges have too often been confused with convictions.

Historically America courts have not been friendly to African-Americans. They have been the White man’s courts, the public equivalent of the slaveowner’s whipping post without due process or competent representation. It was, in part, for that reason I served at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis where I became immersed in the deep historical suspicion that the courts would not deliver justice. What would have happened, one might ask, if Ray or Adrian were White?

The African-American community could not and must not, according to Brown, look to the white European majority for clues about their identity and freedom. That majority is violent.

So today advertisers have cancelled their endorsements for one of America’s two most violent sports, distancing themselves from Ray, Adrian, and the NFL because of a public outcry against domestic violence and child abuse and because, they say, their company policies stand strongly against child abuse and domestic violence.

It’s embarrassing to the advertisers.

But check out where else they advertise and who and what they endorse to sell their products to a general public that loves to watch violence. You will find a host of companies deeply involved in America’s arms industry and the companies that produce the violent video games and apps downloaded every minute on our PCs, Macs, iPhones and Droids.

H. Rap Brown had it partly right. The culture of American violence is deep and thoroughgoing. Though the whipping post is long gone, the scars remain. But he also had part it wrong when he wrote that “violence is a necessary part of revolutionary struggle.” New whipping posts will not heal these wounds; they only serve to replicate them. There is little room for self-righteousness, which is why Jesus reminded those who thought of themselves as superior and unstained to take the log out of their own eyes before they reached to remove the speck from their neighbors. The healing starts with White consciousness of the sordid history that handed down the switch to Adrian Peterson.

New renditions of the whipping post will be erected everywhere along the river that is American society and along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers until we all stop eating the tart poison in the illusion of a sweet cherry pie.

Blessed Mary

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The CHOIR magnificently sang
Bach’s LOUD complex “Magnificat!”
The orchestra was small, but rang
Out BRASS and DRUMS and ORGEL that
Reverberated through the Hall.

That GOD was GREAT there was no doubt,
The fugue repeated that till all
Could not help but join in the SHOUT!

(but then the oboe d’ amour stood
and quietly began with D
a tune of slave and poverty…
the cello cello cello droned

as pure and sweet soprano voice
recalled the Virgin’s humble choice.)

- Steven R. Shoemaker & Margaret R. Grossman

Note: Peggy Grossman is a Biochemistry professor at the University of Illinois who plays oboe in the Champaign-Urbana Symphony. She and Steve shared the experience of the Bach Magnificat.

Equal Access to Just Food

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Watch this video and consider chipping in to an exciting effort to make locally grown organic food available everywhere. Terry Gips of Sustainability Associates is a leader in the sustainability movement who has blessed a number of in the Twin Cities with his vision and friendship. This project needs to raise $30,000 by October 8. Seems to me the potential impact far exceeds the investment. It’s a model that can be replicated around the country and around the world. Thanks for coming by.

Glaring Omissions and “Something Else”

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The Washington Post-ABC News Poll published September 9, 2014 is as interesting for what it ignores as for what it reveals.

Question #13 asks registered voters which of the following will be “the single most important issue in your vote for Congress” – the economy and jobs, international conflicts, health care, the way things are working in Washington, immigration or something else? Eleven percent said “Something Else”.

The omissions of climate change, wealth disparity, and Citizens United (campaign finance reform) are curious and glaring. The poll assumes what the public cares about. By ignoring these matters that reach beyond partisan divides the poll demonstrates one of two things, Either the Washington Post-ABC New Poll is out of touch with those who live on Main Street or their bread is buttered by the Wall Street and the one percent.

Polling and news institutions not only measure public opinion; they shape public discussion by the choices they make about which questions to ask.

The American public is often smarter than given credit for. But its intelligence and its opinions on public policy issues are informed and shaped by the information we receive from the “Fourth Estate” which – in theory, if not always in practice – is independent from the three government branches of the U.S. Constitution. The “free press” is the people’s watchdog, monitoring the actions and decisions of the three constitutional estates and their complex bureaucracies and institutions. We look to the free press to do for its readers what the individual cannot do: investigate the way things are – who’s making the deals and why, who’s stacking the deck, and who’s dealing from the bottom of the deck.

As the ownership of newspapers, radio stations and television cable and satellite dish companies has shrunk to the size of the one percent who live on Wall Street, the press, like the the three constitutional estates, is not so free. While Republicans and Democrats argue about whether climate change is real and while congress fails to act, it falls to the Fourth Estate to exercise whatever freedom it may still have to raise the flag of the single most important issue facing not only the planet itself. The same is true with the moral issue of the wealth disparity and the Supreme Court’s decision that turns the American electoral system over to the highest bidder

The detail of those who answered “Something Else” shows t 14 percent of “white non-evangelical protestants” in response to Question 13. Among this subset – the “traditional” protestant churches (Episcopalian, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Congregationalist United Church of Christ, Unitarian-Universalist) – much attention has been paid from pulpits and from church position statements to the alarming growth in wealth disparity and the environmental degradation that has led us to the brink of “climate departure” when there will be no way back.

Nothing on the list of “single most important” issues is as long-lasting as climate change. It is the darkening global cloud under which all other issues exist. Framing the public discussion as a choice between the economy and jobs, international conflicts, health care, the way things are working in Washington, or immigration continues the myopic gridlock that keeps our eyes too low to the ground. It makes little difference whether one proclaims or denies that the changes in weather patterns are evidence of global climate change that call for action now to reduce carbon and methane emissions. We all know that something is happening here on the North American continent and around the “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) that is changing the planet as we have known it.

Enter Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) who answered “something else!” on “Meet the Press.” Congratulations to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd for widening the discussion.

9/11 Anniversary Reflection

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“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” [Bhagavad Gita XI.32]

We live under the reign of death – under the threat of death, the fact of death, the fear of death, the practice of death, the way of death. We are reminded of it on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, the day after President Obama’s speech about ISIS.

One might suppose J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the United States’ World War II program to develop the first nuclear weapons, thought he and his colleagues were taking humanity higher up the ladder of human progress. Whatever he may have thought at the beginning, he sensed a fall into the arms of the destroyer of worlds while watching the first nuclear explosion in 1945.

Twenty years later, during a visit to Japan, Oppenheimer reflected on his immediate reaction watching the Trinity explosion at Alamogordo that unleashed the genie of atomic power on the world, knowing it could never be put back in the bottle.

“We knew the world would not be the same,” he said. His eyes were sullen, like someone who was remembering a great horror, his voice quiet, his speech slow, pensive, sorrowful. Maybe even penitential. The way some people talk who suffer post traumatic stress syndrome.

“A few people laughed, a few people cried . . . most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

Oppenheimer is long gone. So is Edward R. Murrow, the courageous journalist who stood up to the right wing’s insidious attacks on J. Robert Oppenheimer and others using the verbal weaponry to which we have become accustomed: innuendo, guilt by association, sentences taken out of context, and the imputation of scurrilous motives, character assassinations the destroy the reputations of thoughtful people deemed by the dutiful to be less than dutiful patriots.

Today, the 13th Anniversary of the horror of 9/11, we pause to remember. We do so in the post-nuclear world of mass destruction first observed by Oppenheimer at Alamogordo where Death has become the destroyer of worlds, where ISIL beheads journalists and President Obama commits to destroying ISIL from the face of the earth. We all hold our breath at the sight of the multi-armed, ever-changing form of the power of Death and its summons to duty.

In America the arms industry stands alone as exempt from consumer protection laws, beyond congressional review. The guns at the gun shows, the military vehicles that patrolled the streets of Ferguson, the arms and other military equipment our government supplies to regimes around the world, the bombs dropped from drones, and the drones themselves constitute an unaccountable cabal of money and power like no other in the American economy. Ours has become a war economy, an economy that profits from death.

“A few people laughed,” said Oppenheimer with deep sadness. “Most people were silent.”

Once the destroyer of worlds is loosed, the genie can never be put back in the bottle. But those who have witnessed the explosions, or heard of them, here at home in Ferguson, and abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, or Syria have a responsibility to honor the likes of J. Robert Oppenheimer and other brave men and women who refused to remain silent about the tragic climb up the ladder toward divine power that always leads to the fall into a hell of our own making.

The Pale Blue Dot

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Some people believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the only rule of faith and life, as illustrated by the website of a popular a mega-church:

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, verbally and fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts and that it has supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and life.

The “original manuscripts” is the way out of trouble when the Bible we have seems off kilter from what they think it must have really said when God first verbally and fully inspired it. It’s a way around the horror of so much of it, like David, God’s chosen, beheading the opposing army’s giant, Goliath the Philistine, after slaying him with a stone from his slingshot. Then, as if winning were not enough, David parades into town with Goliath’s head on a stick.

“Don’t mess with me!” was the message of David, as it is today with ISIL, but it’s okay, one thinks, in David’s case because he was God’s anointed. Or, perhaps, it really wasn’t in the original manuscripts.

The questions of morality and ethics in these ancient, presumably less civilized times are brushed aside. David was God’s favored warrior and king who authored the Book of Psalms. He had human failings, for sure, arranging the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to take his lovely wife for his his own pleasure, which made God kinda mad, but, what is God to do with a man’s man like David?

They also proclaim a literal, physical return of Jesus, and “believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting joy of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.

That’s the part that’s most disturbing. In a variant of the mega-church’s statement is the statement on the website of the General Association of General Baptist Churches, to which many of the Midwest mega-churches that strategically advertise themselves as “non-denominational” belong, the position on eternal punishment is stated as the difference between “the righteous” and “the wicked”.

We believe in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, the eternal felicity of the righteous, and the endless suffering of the wicked.

Theology matters.

Is this view of 21st Century fundamentalist churches all that different from the culture that produced David and Goliath, and the deaths of Uriah the Hittite, Ish-bosheth, and the vengeful response to Ish-bosheth’s two beheaders?

We divide the human race between the righteous and the wicked, the good and the evil, just as I did as a child in my back yard playing cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians…until I learned the real story about the genocide committed by the righteous European “settlers” who assured themselves that they, the ones who knew Christ, were the righteous. the city set upon a hill of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Watch out for righteousness, argued Jesus. It’ll get you every time, and the log remains in the eye of the righteous. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Before we behead each other and destroy the life of the pale blue dot itself.

Losing Our Heads

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Lewis Carroll knew nothing about ISIS when he wrote Alice in Wonderland, but he knew about the insanity of power in the high places of his own culture.

In the screenplay of Alice, the Queen of Hearts asks “Who’s been painting my roses red? WHO’S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED? /Who dares to taint / With vulgar paint / The royal flower bed? / For painting my roses red / Someone will lose his head.”

The Card Painter responds “Oh no, Your Majesty, please! It’s all ‘his’ fault!” The Ace blames the Deuce. The Deuce blames the three. The Queen explodes.

“That’s enough! Off with their heads! I warn you, child… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?”

The very thought of beheadings chills us to the bone. It would be hard to imagine a more horrifying spectacle than what we have recently seen of American journalists losing their heads in the Middle East. The fact that British and American citizens have joined ISIS is nearly as chilling as the killings themselves; we ask why one of us would dare “to taint with vulgar paint the royal flower bed.”

There is no excuse for a beheading. It makes no difference if it’s at the hands of ISIS or David, as in the beheading of Goliath the giant Philistine, or those who sought to demonstrate their zealous support for David, sneaking into the bedroom of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, beheading Ish-bosheth and presenting his head to David at Hebron. (Second Samuel 4:9-13)

To their great surprise, David, who had beheaded Goliath, is not pleased. “‘[W]hen wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?’ And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.” (II Samuel 4: 5-12).

We don’t hear reading like this in church. But you will hear such Scriptures read daily in a Benedictine abbey, as I did while visiting Saint John’s Abbey to get my own head and heart straight in anticipation of the death of my stepdaughter. The reading I’m remembering was just as ghastly as the beheadings of Goliath and Ish-bosheth and of David’s response cutting off the killers’ hands and feet on the public square for all to see.

“Why,” I asked my Benedictine spiritual guide, “do you read those readings? They’re horrible!”

The answer, he said, would take too long really explain, but, in essence, such stories are lifted up in the Benedictine daily worship because that sordid history – that capacity for violence and brutality is a part of us still. We must never forget.

The pictures and stories of the ISIS beheadings are meant to terrorize ISIS’s opposition in places like Iraq and Syria, and here at home in the U.S.A. But there is evidence that they also produce a widespread determination to stop ISIS before it’s too late.

“That’s enough! Off with their heads! I warn you, ISIS… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?”

Moral outrage is in order. Yet a friend asked a question I didn’t want to hear and could not answer “As grizzly as the beheadings are,” he asked, “what’s the difference between that and blowing people’s heads off – enemies and children who are ‘collateral damage’ – with bombs dropped by a drone?”

President Obama has his hands full on this one. Some argue that he’s been too cautious. But before we go much farther down the road of exercising American power in ways that have produced hatred in the past and that will undercut whatever consensus of moral outrage is developing toward ISIS, we do well to remember the brutal response of David, whose cruelty at Hebron equalled and exceeded the wrongful beheading of Ish-bosheth.

Like the Benedictine brother said, we must not forget our history. Otherwise we paint the roses red and we all lose our heads.

Burners

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Verse – Burning Man (A Negative Acrostic)

Burners all must have real money,
Unless they will win the draw.
Rich folks flock to wear the funny
Nighttime costumes, whites will all
Imitate the best black dance moves,
Not that many blacks are there…
Get the best rental motor homes,

Make plans, we have time to spare
Art’s in our homes, our museums:
Narcissistic, not a care…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 31, 2014

Steve attended Burning Man 2014 in Nevada this past week. Steve’s 71, had the money to go, but shared a tent.  He wrote by email “I did accapella singing, heard great jazz, rode on an art car (see the burningman.com web site). I would only go back in an RV… For the quiet, AC, & clean toilet & shower.”

Elect Gil Fulbright

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Elect Honest Gil takes its lead from the satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Ads like this are now up and running in Kentucky. Elect Gil Fulbright, the Honest Politician.

For the past month my inbox has been filled with political party requests for money. Those requesting my $5 have gotten frustrated. Today was the clincher. The message? ”FINAL NOTICE!

“This is the FINAL NOTICE of your member status before tonight’s fundraising deadline.”

Funny thing. I’ve never been a member of their club, but I have shouted up to their tree house with email responses asking them to stop the hyperbole and sensationalism and to stop using words of war like “eliminate” – “annihilate” – “obliterate” – “destroy” – the opposition.

RepresentUs is going to get my money this year. So, of course, will candidates who agree with RepresentUs and are willing to actively support the bills that have been introduced in the U.S House and U.S. Senate that will overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

 

 

In Memory of Jean Redpath

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Verse In Memory of Jean Redpath
An Acrostic

Joyful on the stage or off,
Even after doctors gave
A cancer diagnosis. Have
No doubt that the Scot did laugh,

Reassured her friends and fans,
Endured treatment with a song,
Drank some scotch, then sang again!
Played the guitar, sent emails,
Always asked about her friends,
Thankful that she could still sing,
Hearing her sweet Robbie Burns…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 26, 2014

Plunging into Life: William Stringfellow

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Jacket of "My People Is the Enemy"

Jacket of “An Ethic For Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land”

As I look at the structural violence symbolized by today’s funeral for Michael Brown in Ferguson and consider the Blackhawk helicopters from Fort Campbell, KY that turned Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN into an Army urban training ground last week, I’m remembering William Stringfellow with thanksgiving.

Bill Stringfellow was a thorn in the side of both church and state, a predictably  unpredictable, lovable, hatable, tenacious, brilliant street lawyer, constitutional lawyer, and Episcopal lay theologian. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth observed, during a speaking tour across the United States, that Stringfellow was the person who most captured his attention. If he were an American, he would listen to Bill.  My copy of his most poignant work on the subject of what he called “principalities and powers” – An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land – was water-logged and mildewed because of a flood in the church basement, but his earliest book, My People Is the Enemy, sits prominently on my book shelf.  He wrote the following from the one room, rat- and cockroach-infested tenement apartment in East Harlem where he had chosen to live and work among the poorest of the poor instead of accepting one of the New York law firm offers following graduation from Harvard Law School.

 To become and to be a Christian is not at all an escape from the world as it is, nor is it a wistful longing for a “better” world, nor a commitment to generous charity, nor fondness for “moral and spiritual values” (whatever that may mean), nor self- serving positive thoughts, nor persuasion to splendid abstractions about God. It is, instead, the knowledge that there is no pain or privation, no humiliation or disaster, no scourge or distress or destitution or hunger, no striving or temptation, no wile or sickness or suffering or poverty which God has not known and borne for [humanity] in Jesus Christ. He has borne death itself on behalf of [humanity], and in that event he has broken the power of death once and for all.

 

That is the event which Christians confess and celebrate and witness in their daily work and worship for the sake of all [humanity].
To become to be a Christian is, therefore, to have the extraordinary freedom to share the burdens of the daily, common, ambiguous, transient, perishing existence of [humans beings], even to the point of actually taking the place of another [person], whether he be powerful or weak, in health or in sickness, clothed or naked, educated or illiterate, secure or persecuted, complacent or despondent, proud or forgotten, housed or homeless, fed or hungry, at liberty or in prison, young or old, white or [black], rich or poor.
For a Christian to be poor and to work among the poor is not a conventional charity, but a use of the freedom for which Christ has set [humanity] free.
~ William Stringfellow – 1964,  My People is the Enemy [Anchor Book edition, p. 32.]

 

Thank you, Bill, for your wisdom, courage, and witness. We need it now as much as when you wrote it. “Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis” (“May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.)”

 

Sermon – Robin Williams and the Loving God

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This sermon from last Sunday addressed the suicide of Robin Williams through sacred scripture – “The call of God is irrevocable” – and Robin Williams’ dear friend Anne Lamott’s reflection on their journeys with depression, mental illness, addiction, faith, and help. FYI, the title was chosen earlier in the week. By Sunday morning I had discovered Anne Lamott’s lovely reflection following Robin’s death.

 

 

“Homeland” Militarization

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Thanks to MinnPost for publishing Views fro the Edge‘s submission this morning.

Click Homeland militarization — tanks in Ferguson, Blackhawks in Minneapolis — must be stopped to read, like, or comment on MinnPost’s site.

One of the more informed responses to this piece came in a personal email rather than through the MinnPost site. It’s worth sharing here.

“About 15 years ago, there were articles in the NYT about new, non-lethal, technologies for subduing criminals and quelling riots. They were clever, stuff like a slime-cannon that basically lobbed a ball of K-Y jelly into a crowd, making it impossible to walk, run, or even get up off the ground. Or sticky webs that wrap around the target with tenacity enough to immobilize an All-Star wrestler. But why mess with all that when you can really send a message?

“The six shots that murdered Michael Brown were an act of terror; and so is all the police combat drag, including the assault rifles and armored personnel carriers. H.L. Mencken once said about a Baltimore cop, with a wink, “He loved a long, hard chase almost as much as a quick, brisk, clubbing.” These are different times. They still love clubbings, and a little pepper spray in the face while your hands are zip-tied, but the number of police killings using insanely unnecessary levels of force these days broadcasts notice that, no matter what they’re doing to you at this moment, anything less than complete submission could cost you your life. Everybody should know by now that you could cross a cop in your birthday suit and have your birthday taken away by six rounds from a 9-millimeter.

“Do you know much about the 1967 riots on Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis? I don’t really know what set it all off. Stores were burned and looted, and yet it all hardly drew mention in the national press, overshadowed, maybe, by the really angry riots in Watts and Detroit and on the East Coast. There was a war on then, too, but it’s said the National Guardsmen who were called in carried rifles with empty magazines.

“Today, everybody who complains that Americans never had to give up their domestic comforts during more than a decade of war should get some grim satisfaction out of the black helicopters and armored personnel carriers in the cops’ garages. Isn’t it ironic, when we remember how everybody likes to praise the warriors who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘to keep us free’?”

The Song in My Head

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Sometimes I can’t get it out of my head. I go to sleep with it. Wake up with it. Walk the dog with it. It’s been over a month now.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” seems to be begging for my attention. So this morning I surrender. What will come out on the page is a mystery until it’s written.

I ask myself, Why this song?

This stretch of time has been anxious. Unsettling. I’ve been restless, down, bored, and struggling with my own inner demons and the bigger demons of human madness around the world. Jacob’s Ladder has been with me my whole life, like an old friend who shows up when I need her. Like her cousins Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, there’s something about the tune that brings me comfort, placing me in the good company of the slaves whose faith and hope are timeless though they are long gone.

It’s the melody, the music – the language of the soul – that gets me. But it’s also the words. Words like ‘climbing, ‘higher’, ‘soldier’, ‘cross’, ’sinner’, ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘serve’. Words that have stuck in my throat at different times in my life journey as either highly objectionable or as deeply expressive of what I know and feel to be ‘true’. Jacob’s Ladder feels like a summary of where I’ve been, where I am now, and a strange kind of invitation to resolve the contradictions as i move forward in this precarious time.

So this morning and in the days to come I will have a conversation with Jacob’s Ladder, stopping at each stanza and each phrase to dig deeper into what is crying out in my soul.

“Listen to your life,” wrote Frederick Buechner in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Black Hawk Helicopter training in downtown Minneapolis

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Last night the chickens we sent off to Iraq and Afghanistan to protect us here at home were flying around downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The Black Hawk helicopters are here on U.S. Army “urban training exercises” rattling the windows of startled residents’ condos, homes, and apartments right in Minnesota. The exercises of the Fort Campbell, KY special forces Night Hawks will continue through Thursday.

Why are they here? When and how did an American city of civilians become the training grounds for the United States Army? Why has there not been a louder outcry against the intrusion of the military into what we have now come to call “the Homeland”? It could be argued that their presence will make us safer, but citizen preoccupation with security is the ingredient essential to the recipe of a national security state.

Tonight the Night Hawks in the cockpits of their Black Hawk helicopters will fly among the high-rise homes of the Twin Cities again. It is no assurance that, according to the unit’s Fort Campbell commander, the same “urban training exercises” have taken place in San Diego, Phoenix, and other major cities and still littler comfort to those who value keeping a hard line against the intrusion of its military into civilian life.

How many eggs does a chicken have to lay before the American public understands that military adventures abroad – the “pre-emptive” wars that laid huge eggs abroad – have disastrous domestic consequences? What we sent off to Iraq and Afghanistan are now training in our own back yards. The message the Commander wants us to hear is that they are here to protect us, our best friends, as it were. “There are terrorists in every city,” he said.

Ferguson, Missouri and the Twin Cities of Minnesota are not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they feel more and more like them every day.

The questions are moral and spiritual, just as they were when the Kerner Commission identified the drift toward two societies, one white, one black. Just as they were in Abu Graib. Just as they are now when the U.S. Army special forces unit is using our own cities as military training grounds…for what purpose?

How do we stop this before we’re all dead opossums? I wish I knew. So, I’m sure, does the President.
.

The Tender Voice of Frederick Buechner

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In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death I turned to author Frederick Buechner who has reached me in the dark times of my life. Fred here preaches on Thomas, the Twin, whom he identifies as his twin, my twin, your twin. Like Anne Lamott’s piece posted on Views from the Edge last week, this is the life of faith at its best. Peace!

Anne Lamott reflects on Robin Williams

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Click the link below for the best thing I’ve read since Robin Williams’ death. Anne Lamott’s hastily written words about her dear friend are in a class by themselves. Anne and Robin grew up in the same place, suffered in similar ways, and have brought great pleasure and meaning to so many.

Anne Lamott and Robin Williams

Verse – psalm for the green prairies

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august brings blooms to the midwest
prairies, some restored to the time
prior to when the settlers came:
blazing star and the false boneset,

compass plant and black-eyed susan,
white and purple prairie clover,
flowering spurge and pale coneflower,
prairie dock and hoary vervain.

present prairies are productive:
in the i-states: indiana,
illinois, and then iowa,
field corn, soybeans, are pervasive.

checkerboards are green and golden,
maize from native american.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 16, 2014

Two Polyps Next

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Under the Knife
14 times in 71 years

1.  In the 1940s
little boys
all were circumcised.
No waiting for day eight,
purely for health,
snip–did I mind?
Who knows.  Now?
I still like
the little fellow.
2.  Most kids then
had their tonsils out.
About two, I spoke little:
the promised ice cream
I called “hobledy,”
but my throat hurt
too much to eat it.
3.  At seminary, married,
worked a summer on
construction, needed
hernia repair.  Kind doc
charged only what
insurance paid.
Two days in hospital then:
passed out trying to pee.
It took three nurses to get me
from floor to bed.
4.  More grad school,
second hernia repair,
used the bedpan.
5. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Back to home town,
middle-age:  back surgery,
heart surgery, belly button
hernia repair, remove malignant
polyp from colon,
remove cyst on inside
of eardrum, prostate biopsy
that led to sepsis.
11, 12, 13.  Old age:
right knee replacement,
cataracts removed
from both eyes,
14.  Coming up:
remove two polyps
from nostrils.

Not counting
colonoscopies…

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

Ferguson, Missouri

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“Hands up. Don’t shoot!” Ferguson, Missouri is not new.

Think Detroit 1967. Think riot police, National Guard. Think Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention. Think The Kerner Commission Report on police violence. Think armored vehicles. Think tanks. Think guns on tripods. Think Afghanistan. Think Iraq. Think occupation. Think race. Think black. Think white. Think guns. Think Trayvon Martin. Think militarization. Think occupation. It’s all a replay.

Think… America.

The Ladder

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I’m working this morning on the familiar spiritual of Jacob’s Ladder, trying to unpack why it is so meaningful to people at different life stages and in all sorts of circumstances. I’m looking back now over 72 years of singing it or – or shunning it at one point along the way. I didn’t like the “soldier” part.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

 

We are climbing higher, higher….

Why did it mean so much to me as a teenager “climbing higher, higher”? It was a spiritual journey, a confusing one that tried to connect the war-torn, racist world of Earth with heaven, and the call to climb higher, higher to close the gap. But I suspect psychologically it also gave me some assurance about the challenges of growing up, getting wiser perhaps, more independent, climbing into adulthood. The journey was a struggle that made me feel sometimes like a soldier inside my own skin and the world around me.

But long before I sang it in church camp, it was sung by American slaves. It expressed the faith and hope of liberation from chattel slavery. They sang without apology as “soldiers of the cross” (beaten, tortured and crucified like Jesus), on their way up “every rung” going higher, higher (farther north) to a land that lured them like heaven itself.

I go to YouTube and find Pete Seeger’s wonderful, cheerful rendition that replaces the original “soldier of the cross” with “brothers, sisters, all” and remember that I, too, have joined him in feeling the need to eliminate the military language. “Soldier” and “cross” are oxymoronic. It was the soldiers who did the crucifying, and it was the soldiers of the white militias who terrorized the slaves’ hopes.

No sooner do I listen to Peter’s rendition than I listen to Paul Robson who found no reason to eliminate the “soldiers of the cross” – perhaps because Robson knew that he and we are engaged in a kind of combat and the strange pairing of soldier and cross carries its own power and meaning. Robson, as you may know, was a Communist who would have seen every rung going higher, higher the way Pete saw it – steps on the upward course of human progress toward a kind of heaven conceived as classless society, a kinder world. “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

I have been in all of these places a thousand times. Youthful, hopeful, visionary, climbing. But now I concentrate on things I missed in the earlier stages of youth, building a career, rising higher and higher on the professional and economic ladders of “success” or imagining and hoping the world was getting better.

I notice now as never before that the biblical text of Jacob’s dream is not of Jacob’s upward climb. Jacob never steps on the ladder. Angels (messengers) do, ascending to the heavens and descending to where he is in a kind of no-man’s land where everything he has ever known is at risk, the way I am in an in-between time between the today’s earthly beauty and climate departure, the scorching of the planet. Like Jacob, I have an “Aha!” moment: “Surely YHWH (the un-pronounable Hebrew name for G-d) is in this place, and I did not know it!”

So I’m reflecting now on the importance of this temporary, mortal, finite “place” in time where YHWH (the Breath of Life) is already present, and the need to surrender the idea that I need to climb to somewhere else.

Jacob’s Dream: the Great Reversal

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This sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota focuses on what is commonly known as Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up between heaven and earth, ending with his exclamation “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.”

My Mental Illness

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Perhaps I’ve had it all my life,
(you’d have to ask my kids, my wife,
my mother, sibs, kids in the band,
my teachers–school and Sunday School),
but if they knew, they never said,
(I know at least I never heard
or recall one word mean or cruel),
but when I came to middle age
and could not work in manic phase,
or more precisely, when depressed,
wrung out, unable to get dressed,
only a good psychiatrist
could find the meds to slow me down
when high so I could get around
(But then I found I was not bright–
I could not think, I could not write–
and so I had to fire the shrink…)

(After the suicide of Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire)

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 13, 2014

NOTE: This morning MinnPost published yesterday’s Views from the Edge brief commentary on “Robin Williams and Us” as a Letter to the Editor.

Robin Williams and Us

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Few people made so many laugh or cry as Robin Williams. Today we’re not laughing. We’re crying.

What Robin’s world inside his own skin was like no one else really knows. His sudden death strikes us with an equally sudden sadness. It punctures a hole in our perceptions, brings to a screeching halt the presumption of dailyness and the ordered worlds in which we wrap ourselves in a society whose madness Robin himself helped us to transcend.

We are not among the few who knew him intimately. As in the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death, we are left to pause and pray for his family and closest friends and to consider again the greater tragedy of violent social order where reason and kindness are as alien as Mork was to this strange world.

The stories in the next days will feed public curiosity, appealing to the need for some cause on which to pin the tragedy, like pinning the tail on the donkey, some manageable explanation for why a man so funny and gifted would apparently take his own life. We will hear that it was clinical depression or bi-polar disorder or drugs or alcohol or some other diagnosis that explains his death.

But will they address the bigger human question to which Robin gave his life in comedy and in drama: why is the world so in love with death? Why is the world we have built for ourselves so cruel? Why does it take an alien named Mork with an innocent young woman named Mindy to deliver us from the love affair with a collective madness for which there seems to be no cure? And how do we, when we bump up against an inexplicable death like Robin’s, pause appropriately in his honor to give thanks for him in both his laughter and his tears?

Of Guide Dogs and Legislatures

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Verse – The Blind Leading the Blind

To train a guide dog for the blind
it has been learned a puppy should
be taken from the mother on
the forty-ninth day exactly.

But in my State of Illinois,
there is a Law that says eight weeks,
not seven, is the earliest
a little pup can leave the dam.

The bonding to the new feeder
and comforter will not take place
so soon or easily, but this
was not known by the law-makers.

Or maybe some bad lobbyist
with deep pockets got to them first
“Eight…seven–no matter which!
Just let the blind fall in the ditch…”

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

The Sound of the Trumpets in the Morning

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A sermon preached the Sunday before Election Day at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota.

If I second guessed

the decision to retire November 7, this sermon by guest preacher Tabitha Isner last Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill convinced me my time is up. Wonderful sermon.