Preaching to Myself

The longer I live, the less I know. The less I have lived, the more I think I know.

“Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.”(I Cor. 8:1b)

These words seem strange to those of us who value education. But peeking into the internal squabble within the First Century CE Corinthian church (First Corinthians 8:1-13) may also give us an unexpected peek into ourselves in 2015.

There is a tension between knowledge and love. The better educated among us see the relation between knowledge and love as complimentary. Love and knowledge grow together into ever expanding circles of freedom, like snakes shedding their skins and lobsters shedding their shells for bigger skins and shells that can hold their more mature selves.

Yet we are sometimes scornful of the less educated, the concrete thinkers, the legalists who are certain about what little knowledge they have. We are quick to join Paul’s opinion that “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge ….” (I Corinthians 8:2). A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. True education leads not only to increasing knowledge but to increasing awareness of one’s own vast ignorance.

We think of Copernicus and Galileo who challenged the prevailing knowledge, and those who judged them for their unbelief, a new “knowledge” that has changed the human view of our place in a vast, expanding universe. Or we think of Darwin and the Scopes Trial – the showdown between the knowledge of evolution and the ignorance of the creationists. We think of the difference between enlightened biblical scholarship that interprets Scripture through the eyes of love’s expansion and the biblical inerrantists who insist that the Bible be taken literally, such that the book is closed on matters of human sexuality.

“‘All of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.” 

Paul makes a masterful move here in the chess game of the knowers. He says that all the “knowers” know little, and that those who know more – the stronger in faith – are in greater danger than those who know less – the weaker in faith.

He is writing to the strong, the ones who are more advanced in the knowledge of the liberty to which Christ has set them free. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Knowledge itself puts us on trial, the trial of humility, the trial of love. Paul calls for the stronger to be humble lest what they assume to know become the new idolatry that places Christ’s weaker followers on the cross of educated privilege.

The Christian claim of faith is not our knowledge, no matter how great or small. The claim of the disciples of Jesus is God’s knowledge of us. It is God’s knowing us that is the heart of faith for followers of the crucified, risen Christ. It is God’s knowledge -the wisdom of love – into which we are baptized as novices. One might even say, we die to every claim but love.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. For the likes of me and my progressive friends and colleagues in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for members of the church who are choosing to leave the PC(USA) because of what they regard as excessive liberty, knowledge sometimes becomes the new “works” that substitute for justification by grace.

To be justified (i.e. made “right” with God) by grace through faith, as Paul understood it, represents a 180 degree repentance, a reversal of the direction and flow of the human-divine encounter from us to God to from God to us. Paul later speaks of the practical implications of love with respect to all claims of knowledge:

“And if I ….understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I. Co. 13:2)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 4-7)

I am among those who remain puzzled by what to do. It’s far from simple. Paul’s description of the Christ-like life is centered, but it’s not simple. The patience and kindness come hard when faced with what I am sure are the weaker, more homophobic folks whose view of Scripture supports their opposition to the full inclusion of LGBTQ members. I boast of a greater knowledge based on love. In the name of love, I become arrogant. I am rude. I have a short fuse. I want to separate myself and the more enlightened from the less enlightened, the weaker, as Paul might say. In their presence I quickly become irritable, resentful of their presence in the Body of Christ. I do not bear all things. I do not believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I do not believe that if I understand all mysteries and have all knowledge but have not love, I am nothing.

Though Paul was writing his letter to the tumultuous church at Corinth in the middle of the First Century CE, his words still speak. They arrive unexpectedly like a surgeon’s scalpel removing a cancer for the sake of the Body of Christ. The gospel cuts with a knife, but it is always for the sake of healing, a dying to ego for the sake of the resurrected Body of Christ.

Gracious Lord, by your healing mercy, keep me in the knowledge of Your love.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015.

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My Soul Waits in Silence

A contemplative reflection on Psalm 62 at Saint Augustine Beach, Saint Augustine, FL.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. I wait in silence. [Psalm 62:5 NRSV]

I wait in silence.

Withdrawing from the noisy men next door in Saint Augustine, I am like the Hermit Crab crawling into the borrowed snail shell on Saint Augustine Beach.

This is the same beach brave souls dared to integrate in 1964, a place where then there was no place to hide, the public white beach where the Hermit Crabs refused to hide when the billy clubs swing to drive them from the white man’s beach. There are no billy clubs on the beach today but the shouting of the world we call civilized still hurts by ears.

How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? [Ps. 62:3 NRSV]

The world is noisy. Loud. Cacophonous. Bellowing blasts, bewailing, and bedlam in Beirut, Baghdad, and Boston hurt my ears. Hoping to leave it, I come to the beach where the tides know nothing of the color of my skin, my income, my worries or fears.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  [Ps. 62: 5-7 NRSV]

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

At low tide I crawl inside the borrowed shell looking for a respite from the noonday heat, my deliverance, my refuge, my fortress. But, even here, the noise follows me.

The blasts, buzzes, and bellowing echo inside the shell. Silence eludes me. Even here, I am a poor man, a mere breath, walking among the vendors and hawkers, resentful, angry, beset, a man of low estate.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. [Ps. 62:9-10 NRSV]

Here I am a breath stripped from the delusions of high estates indulged on the other side of the sand dunes that separate the beach from the street.

I wait in silence.

I ponder the speed outside the Hermit Crab’s temporary home, the abandoned snail shell, the speed that is itself an illusion, a flight of hubris washed away by the tides of time. I remember the race to nowhere, the myths of ownership, invulnerability, control, and superiority that race through the minds of low and high estates alike.

I hear the distant shouts and screams from the integration of Saint Augustine Beach that still plunge the despondent men next door into the oblivion of cheap booze, dope, and, maybe, crack. But the longer I wait and listen, my heart grows strangely calmer. Quieter. More at peace.

I come into the deeper Silence of the Breath once heard by the psalmist.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work. [Ps. 62: 11-12 NRSV]

In the wordless silence I hear the Word I’ve come to the beach to hear:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” [Ps. 46:10 NRSV]

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saint Augustine, Florida, January 31, 2015


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Basking in the Light – “What a good boy!”

Apologies to you who foolishly stopped by today looking for something serious! We’ve been thinking about lesser things the last few days.

Like about cats and dogs and humans. It started with a verse from Steve Shoemaker about an old man and his dog, followed by a humorous fight between cat-lovers and dog-lovers on the social media site that begins with an ‘f’ and ends with a ‘k’. Then came Steve’s verse about his old cat, the Queen Cat, and this morning’s “Kennel-Mates, After Work” about a young Irish Wolfhound (Steve) and a tabby cat (Nadja). A few hours later the video of Sleepy Head Barclay reached us through cyberspace from back home in Minnesota.

While Kay and I are basking in the sun in St. Augustine, FL, Barclay the Soccer Dog had some quiet time this morning under an artificial SAD (“Seasonal Affect Disorder”) light back home in cold Minnesota. The voice belongs to his older sister Kristin. We’re not into philosophy, theology, politics, or global news this morning. I hope your world is lighter peeking behind the curtain of intimacy, you break into a smile for 35 seconds.

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Kennel-mates, After Work

At first when they paired-off, the dog and cat
would fight when they got home from work. His bark

was silent almost the whole day, and that
made the young Irish wolfhound want to speak

so badly he would arf and yowl when she
came through the door. The tabby, though had heard

enough already, thank you, from the three
cats and five dogs in her small lab, and would

soon scratch at him “Can’t you leave me alone?!”
Their love made them negotiate, in time:

he gave her thirty minutes to wind down,
and then would softly smooth her fur… When tame,

she’d purr, and they would share their different days:
his reading, her solving squabbles between

the strange and varied, feisty animals
at work. Neither the dog nor cat was mean

at heart. There didn’t have to be a spat
each day…even between a dog and cat.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 30, 2015

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Verse – Queen Cat

Our old cat never comes when we call.
She sits regal and won’t move at all,
But if we don’t kowtow
To her every meow,
She will stomp all four paws down the hall.

– Steve Shoemaker, Jan. 29, 2015


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Ever wish you were a dog?

The voice in this video is Barclay’s favorite sister, Kristin, who’s “babysitting” while Barclay the soccer dog’s parents are away. Sometimes I wish I could turn on a dime and have this much fun entertaining myself. Listen for the “Woof!” in reply to Kristin’s “Good boy!”  We miss you, little guy!




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Mr. Netanyahu, Stay Home!

Speakers of the House sometimes get confused. Under the U.S. Constitution the Speaker of the House is second in line behind the Vice President in the event something happens, God forbid, to the President. Sometimes Speakers – and foreign Heads of State running for their lives in elections back home – speak and act out of turn.

Read Mother Jones’ article Has Netanyahu Finally Gone Too Far with His Contempt for Obama? 


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Verse – Old Age and Dogs

When my dog’s on a trail I can’t see,
And I call him to sit by my knee,
It never takes long,
His idea is just gone,
And with age it now happens to me!

Steve and his constant companion

Steve and his constant companion

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 28, 2015

NOTE: Steve and Nadja’s Collie enjoys the tall fields behind the Shoemaker home on the Illinois prairie, but his ears are tuned for his tall friend’s invitation. I [Gordon] would include his name, but I’ve forgotten.


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Verse – The Laundromat – Pittsboro, N.C., 1969

She was young, white, and pregnant

when they moved

south. She had worked for Civil

Rights for blacks

up north. So seeing two doors

as she faced

the laundromat obscured

the sordid facts

of legal segregation

just before.

“Oh please, Ma’am, take your clothes

over next door,”

the old black woman said.

“Will you have trouble

if I stay?” “Please, Ma’am,

do as I say…”

The young woman had not

heard “Ma’am” before

from someone older, so

she turned her face –

embarrassed for her race --

and went next door.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 27, 2015

NOTE: While working on a Ph.D. in Religion at Duke University, Steve pastored two yoked Presbyterian Churches: the 88 member Pittsboro, N.C., (pop. 1,500 then), and Mt. Vernon Springs (55? members) 30 miles west in rural Chatham County. Nadja drove from the Manse in Pittsboro 30 miles north to do Microbiology research at Duke. Son Daniel was born in March, 1970.

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Keystone XL Pipeline and Prairie Roots

The Keystone XL pipeline is more than a pipeline. It’s a rich man’s pipe dream that calls to mind an alternate view of reality itself: the psalmist’s tree with deep roots planted by the rivers of waters. Poets speak truth.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like ia tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

– Psalm 1, ESV Bible

Say no to Keystone! Say it for the prairie. Say it for water. Say it for yourself. It’s good for big oil. Good for Congressional Representatives and Senators funded by big oil and and big money. Bad for the environment. Bad for national and global policy shift to renewable sources of energy. The Keystone XL lobby is, in the long run, like chaff which the wind drives away. Let the people say, “Amen!”


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Verse — Chicago’s Southside, 1965

The First Presbyterian Church
and the Blackstone Rangers

All stores and resturants must serve all
after the Civil Rights law passed
in 1964. But real
change comes, that has a chance to last,
as power shifts. Our Church began
to work with gangs to help get blacks
to vote. When Stones said everyone
should register, they did! Then folks
began to see that City Hall
responded to their needs: new trucks
to fix the streets appeared, to haul
away the piles of garbage. Police
still threw around their white might, but
some liberal lawyers, black and white,
were found to fight for the release
of innocent poor folks. Some peace
between gangs even came at night…

The Reverend John Fry, ex-Marine,
on Sunday could inspire wood pews
to organize for holy fights.
On Monday words that were not clean
scorched any sinners who refused
to honor all black civil rights.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 26, 2015

NOTE: This is a memoir of Steve’s years at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago when Steve and Nadja Shoemaker sat in the inspired wood pews listening to the Rev. Dr. John Fry’s preaching at First Presbyterian Church. Click HERE for information on the Reverend John Fry, First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, the Blackstone Rangers, and the Chicago Police Department. John Fry was an inspiration to us at McCormick, a bold preacher in the social gospel tradition who put his life where his mouth was.

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Remembering Ernie Banks

There is no bigger Cub’s fan than Harry Strong. Ernie Banks – “Mr. Cub” - who died Friday night, was his hero. And Harry KNOWS baseball.  So much so that the editor of American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas [published by ABC-CLIO, LLC in 2013], invited Harry to write the entry on Ernie Banks.

Harry sent the following photograph and email to six close friends who gather annually:

I only met him once, but it’s a day I’ll never forget. In July 2004, while I was serving as interim pastor at the Morrisville Presbyterian Church in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, just across the river from Trenton, I learned that Ernie would be appearing at a Baseball Card Show in Atlantic City about two hours away and signing autographs from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. I informed Anna [Harry’s wife] that WE WERE DEFINITELY DRIVING TO ATLANTIC CITY immediately following the benediction at the 11:00 a.m. service since this might be my only chance to meet this hero whom I’d idolized since I was 10!

Traffic was heavy. The trip took longer than I’d hoped, so we did not arrive at the Card Show in Atlantic City until 2:45 p.m. I hoped and prayed Ernie would still be there, but our late arrival proved to be most fortunate if not providential. When we found Ernie and his agent in a large room behind a table, they were the only ones in the room. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits.

Ernie and his agent greeted us warmly. I told Ernie I had grown up in the shadow of Wrigley Field before moving to Glen Ellyn in 1951. I told him that Phil Cavarretta, Cub first baseman and later Ernie’s first manager, had moved into the apartment in which my parents and I had lived after our move. I confessed that I had idolized Ernie as a child and that I owned all of his baseball cards from 1954 until his retirement in 1971. I had brought along several items of memorabilia hoping that Ernie would sign them. There was an established signing fee for each individual piece, but Ernie signed a card, ball, cap, poster, and several other items all for the price of one item.

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

He also consented to pose with me for a picture, which Anna snapped.

About that time, Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” began playing over the sound system in the room. Ernie and I began singing along with “Satchmo,” while Ernie’s agent took Anna by the arm and they began to waltz around the room together.

By the end of the dance it was after 3:00 p.m., so Anna and I offered our sincere thanks for their gracious welcome, their time, and Ernie’s generous signatures. As they bid us farewell, I noticed that Ernie was limping badly. I asked if the pain was in his knees and he acknowledged indeed it was. Then I told him that by age 53 I had been walking with a cane because of the pain in my right knee due to the loss of cartilage, so that I was hobbling around “bone-on bone.” BUT – I had found an orthopedic surgeon in Trenton who was willing to perform knee-replacement surgery for me at a relatively young age for such a procedure.  I told him I had been pain-free for 8 years and demonstrated for him my ability to jump up and down and squat like Jody Davis behind home plate. I urged him to give serious consideration to having the knee(s) replaced (which he later did). I’m sure he received all kinds of solicited (and unsolicited) advice regarding the procedure – but I was thrilled to learn later that indeed he had had both knees replaced and that he enjoyed many more years of more comfortable mobility on the golf course and elsewhere.

After that memorable afternoon in Atlantic City, Anna met him twice, at HoHoKam Park, the Cubs former Spring Training home in Mesa, Arizona. Both times I was too busy attempting to secure autographs from present and future Cub “stars” along the right field line before the start of the Cactus League game. (My loss.)

The first time, Anna waited patiently while Mr. Cub spent time talking with an older woman so she could greet Ernie again and remind him of our meeting a few years before in Atlantic City, when he and I had performed while she and Ernie’s agent danced to “Hello Dolly.” Ernie greeted Anna warmly, seemed to recall their earlier meeting, and signed her Cubs cap, which I am wearing as I type.

Anna’s later encounter with Ernie came a few years later when she saw him beneath the stands at HoHoKam Park. Unfortunately, that was a less pleasant meeting. Anna found Ernie disoriented and confused, attempting to make his way to the press box for an interview. After speaking with Ernie briefly, she quickly grabbed the attention of an usher who was able to assist Ernie in getting to the press box.

As a lifelong Cub fan, I will forever cherish the opportunity I had to spend a few minutes with this gifted ball player and remarkable man!

P.S. As I reread my article just now, I was struck by this quote from Ernie I’d included [in the American Sports entry]:

“When I die, I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out!”

– Rev. Harry Lee Strong, H.R.  Prescott, AZ 

EDITOR”S NOTE: The Cubs have a real shot at going to the World Series this year. Perhaps, in honor of Mr. Cub, they’ll win it all in “the Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field “with the wind blowing out”.

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Verse – Laments and Transmutations


St. Augustine, FL


So…you may be wondering what this is, the desire to see them who now before we lament the day we missed the opportunity. We need to pay attention NOW and act on behalf of wholeness in THIS LIFE instead of indulging in excessive confidence in an afterlife to remedy the injustices of how.

“Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets; my young men and young women have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of your anger; you have slaughtered them without pity.” – Lamentations, 2:21, NIV

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Mr. Cub and Dr. Borg

Ernie Banks, known with great affection against his protestations as “Mr. Cub”, died yesterday, two days after theologian Marcus Borg.

Each excelled in his respective field, Ernie in the ivy-covered walls of  “the Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field, Marcus in the ivy-covered walls of the academy. Though their fields were different, their way of life was the same. It was humble.

Ernie objected to the “Mr. Cub” title, arguing that the designation should be shared among team members who excelled each year.

Marcus responded to the question “How do you know you’re right?” with “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right.”

Each was humble, and each anticipated death.

“I may have ten years left. Not sure I want more. There comes a time to let go. And I could, with gratitude, sooner than that. My life has been very blessed.”

Dr. Marcus Borg (Mar. 11, 1942 – Jan. 21, 2015) to former student and friend, the Very Reverend Barkley Thompson, October, 2014.

“When I die, I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out!”

-  “Mr. Cub” – Ernie Banks (Jan. 31, 1931 – Jan. 23, 2015)

Thank you, Gentlemen, for the memories. R.I.P.

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Verse – The Chicago Shortstop Smiles in Heaven

Ernie Banks rocks a robe that’s Cubs blue.
Pennant hopes are eternal, it’s true,
Wrigley’s sky might be gray,
Mr. Cub will still say:
“It’s a beautiful day–let’s play two!”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 25, in memory of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

Ernie Banks (Jan. 31, 1931 – Jan. 23, 2015), the MLB Hall of Fame shortstop affectionately known by the ever-hopeful Cubs fans of Wrigley Field as Mr. Cub, died yesterday at the age of 83.

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Kurumba tribal woman of Attappadi

Gordon C. Stewart:

The weathered face and eyes of the Kurumba woman living in the interiors of the forest in Kerala, India, seems to say, “I see you. Do you see me? What do you see of me and you – I, living deep in the interior forest, and you, in whatever forest you’re living?” Thank you, Joshi Daniel, for sharing what your eyes see.

Originally posted on Joshi Daniel Photography | Images Of People:

Black and white portrait of an old Kurumba tribe woman of Attappadi in Palakkad district of Kerala

Read more: Kurumba tribe

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Marcus Borg Up Close and Personal

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg (1942-2015), renowned scholar, teacher, and theologian of progressive Christianity, died January 21, 2015. (Click HERE for information on Dr. Borg.) When Don Dempsey learned of his death, he wrote to six close friends. Views from the Edge publishes it here with permission:

This morning I received notice of Marcus Borg’s death.

Marcus was one of my favorites – he spoke to me.  His “The Heart of Christianity” was one of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read!  I also used his book “Speaking Christian” for several adult ed classes.

When I served as an interim pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, I coordinated and arranged for Marcus to be present for a weekend visit.  It began with a Friday night presentation, followed by a Saturday workshop, and preaching at both services on Sunday.  He was controversial to some, but I loved it all.  Saturday was standing room only with the majority who were present not from FPC.  He had quite a Chicagoland following. 

It was my honor and privilege to be his guide and host the whole weekend.  It began on Thursday as Meg and I picked him up at O’Hare airport.  We told him we’d meet him at the baggage claim.  As Meg was getting out to go in and find Marcus, she asked, “how will I recognize him?”  She found him right away. 

After picking him up on Thursday we had a delightful conversation driving him to his hotel in Lake Forest.  As we dropped him off we asked, what are your dinner plans?

He said, “What do you suggest?”  We looked at each other and quickly said “Why don’t you get settled in and we’ll be back and pick you up for dinner at our house.”

What a great evening!  Marcus was such a warm and engaging person, he wanted to know all about us, he listened so intently to our stories.  That evening sitting on our deck sharing conversation, beaking bread, and sharing wine was indeed a celebration of communion that Meg and I shall never ever forget.

He inscribed my copy of “The Heart of Christianity” on 9/16/06:

To Don and Meg,
With rich memories, gratitude for your hospitality, and best wishes.
Marcus Borg

Rest in peace my friend, your voice and your presence will be greatly missed!

Don and Meg Dempsey

Don and Meg Dempsey, gracious hosts of Marcus Borg

Don and Meg Dempsey, gracious hosts of Marcus Borg

The Rev. Dr. Donald Dempsey and and Meg live in Fort Sheridan, Highland Park, IL. Don is one of six McCormick Theological Seminary friends who gather annually for renewal of friendship and theological inquiry.


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“I don’t know that I’m right”

Marcus Borg‘s answer to the question “How do you know you’re right?” is spot on.

“I don’t. I don’t know that I ‘m right.”

Barkley Thompson reports the exchange in yesterday’s posting on God in the Midst of the City following Dr. Borg’s deathre-posted today on Views from the Edge as “Tribute to Marcus Borg (1942-2015)”.

I never met Marcus Borg. I wish I had. We were born in 1942 within a few months of each other. You might say we grew up next door to each other in different towns. There’s something about time that situates people in the same location, asking the same or similar questions, searching the same search, vexed, in our case, by the early horrors of World War II, German concentration camps, the Holocaust, and the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As children of faith we grew up asking how we could square a loving God with the stacked bodies of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the economic disparities of poverty and injustice of racial segregation.  As happened to a lesser extent with some of his peers, Marcus developed a theology and Christology that rose out of these compelling questions about the real world that had shaped him, and the irrepressable hope for something better that drove him deeper and wider as he grew older and wiser.

Marcus’s humble response to the questioner who asked how he knew he was right -“I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right” – is one for the ages. If only we could clone it to create a humbler humanity of neighborliness across all the terror our world is making, we might fetch the blessing from the curse of absolute religious certainty.

“God’s dream for us is not simply peace of mind, but peace on earth.”- Marcus J.Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas, 2007, HarperOne.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2015


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Tribute to Marcus Borg (1942 – 2015)

Cover of Marcus Borg book

Cover of Marcus Borg book

Marcus Borg’s writing and teaching affected millions.  Steve Shoemaker received an email of Marcus’s death yesterday from Barkley Thompson, who had quickly writtten the following tribute to Marcus on his blog “God in the Midst of the City“.

My friend, Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg died this morning after a prolonged illness. I received a phone call this afternoon from a Cathedral parishioner and friend of Marcus, relaying the news to me.

I first became aware of Marcus Borg when I was a sophomore at Hendrix College. His landmark book, Jesus: A New Vision had just been released. It hit me at exactly the right time. I was a philosophy & religion major who knew God and increasingly knew about God, but I had little room or need for Jesus. Marcus’ book gave me an entirely new access point: to consider Jesus as Jesus had been historically, as a wisdom teacher, a healer, a social prophet, and more.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

I first heard Marcus speak at Hendrix. He was the epitome of a college professor, right down to the cardigan sweater and pipe. He spoke calmly and with passion, and the first time I heard him in person was also the first time I understood how those tho things–calm and passion–could coincide.

I heard Marcus speak several other times over the years, but it was after I’d become a priest that I came to know him personally. When he was the annual Dodson Lecturer at St. John’s-Roanoke, he and I went to dinner. I was starstruck and wanted to quiz him about his research and his approach to Christianity. He’d have none of it. Marcus wanted only to talk about me, about St. John’s, about our ministry, and about my experience as a young priest in the Episcopal Church. He was solely interested in me, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Several shared meals and opportunities for fellowship later, my Christology has become higher and higher as the years have gone by. In ways I could not have done all those years ago in college, I now attest without hesitation that Jesus the Christ is God Incarnate, the hinge of history, the defeater of death, and the fulfillment in a single human life of God’s hopes for the whole world. And yet, my approach to Holy Scripture, my social convictions, and my love for the Episcopal Church mirror Marcus’ own perspectives quite closely. I once introduced Marcus to a church audience by saying, “I agree with roughly 75% of what Marcus will say to you this evening.” When he stepped into the pulpit, Marcus quipped, “I’m tempted to forego my notes and discuss with Barkley the other 25%!”

Unlike so many other writers in the field of religion (on both ends of the spectrum), Marcus was humble. Once one of my parishioners asked him during Q&A, “But how do you know that you’re right?” He paused, looked at her thoughtfully, and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right.”

Very many people who had left the Christian faith have returned to it through Marcus’ evangelism (though he would grimace at my use of the word, I suspect). Marcus was a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ in word and in deed. He understood Jesus (and especially the Resurrection) differently than I do. But the veracity of his faith was clear. And calm. And passionate.

Marcus and I last corresponded in late November. I’d asked how he was doing, and he responded, “I may have ten years left. Not sure I want more. There comes a time to let go. And I could, with gratitude, sooner than that. My life has been very blessed.”

Like Abraham, Marcus was blessed so that he could be a blessing. He blessed my life, and I am grateful.

NOTE: Since February 2013, Barkley serves as the eighth dean and twentieth rector of historic Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, Texas.  Click HERE for more information about the him.


Posted in Faith, Life, Love, Philosophy, Religion, Social Commentary, Spirituality, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Water is NOT a Commodity

Nine (9) year-old Luke Sekera-Flanders of Fryeburg in Maine’s poorest county, Oxford County, took on the Nestle company, one of the world’s largest bottled water-for-profit producers, which was seeking a 45 year contract with the Public Utilities Commission. Nestle’s CEO has declared there is no human right to water and that the way to preserve water is to put a price on it. Nestle sees water as a commodity.

“I get my water from the Fryeburg Water Company,” said Luke. “In school we learn about being a good neighbor….”

Sometimes we live on different planets, one public and poor; the other private and getting richer. Or different sides of an aisle as at last night’s State of the Union Address. Score one for the Psalmist: “Out of the mouths of babes and suckling…” (Ps. 8:2)  Click the link below to hear Fryeburg’s little David, Luke Sekera-Flanders.

Boy testifying against Nestle contract in Fryeburg, Maine

This video won a special place in my heart. Oxford County is my maternal ancestral home. My mother and the rest of the Titus and Andrews family would be so proud of Luke.

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She mowed the lawn in high heels!

Joan Copeland in Cubs

Joan Copeland in Cuba

We LOVE interesting people!

Joan Copeland was one of a kind. She was a complete stranger to Views from the Edge before Steve Shoemaker read the unique obituary the led us to post The Foster Child who Succeeded at Fostering.  Family members caught eye of the posting and sent comments worth sharing.  The bolded print is added for those who don’t read entire blog posts! -:)

First family comment: I’m her granddaughter…. She was amazing… Growing up she kept me smiling and giggling…she was a free soul… Cubans and Martinis…when I would stay the night she used to pour me ginger ale in a fancy glass cup so we could have woman time lol she never let her past define her…And her family was her life…Sophie her cat lol…meanest thang ever…but she loved her….I’m glad you all enjoyed reading the smallest excerpt of her life…if only you knew the stories of Cuba…her first tattoo at age 75….her passion for dancing…how dolled up she loved to get…my granny was a true diva…an amazing woman….inside and out…- Seylon

Views from the Edge replies: Seylon, WHAT AN UNEXPECTED TREAT to hear from you. I never know who reads the blog, so to hear from you means a lot. Please say more about the Cuban references. Was she Cuban? Had she spent time in Cuba? Smoked Cuban cigars, drank Cuban rum?

At the helm on suitor's boat on the way to Cuba..

At the helm on suitor’s boat on the way to Cuba..

Seylon responds: I googled her name just to see if old real estate photos would pop up and stumbled across your blog. I called my mom she thought it was pretty cool. My grandma was Romanian….but she loved Cuba…she traveled there twice on a friend’s sailboat….I believe ’92 was either her first trip or second…I told her if they ever dropped the embargo and allow all the US citizens not being able to travel there I would take her there on vacation again. :) I wish I could post pictures for you. I have plenty of them from when she was there. [NOTE: the photos on this page were sent later.]

She used to talk about the dolphins that would swim along the sailboat. Her first tattoo the family took her to get was of Dolphins and the word Cuba :) She was 75. She would talk about how she brought a roll of shiny new pennies to give out to the kids there because she knew the country was poor and she thought it would be a cool gift to them. I guess a little boy she had met was not thrilled with the pennies…she used to say he expected more money then her little pennies.

Joan Coleman cigar

Joan Copeland smoking Cuban something or other

But she also loved cigars and used to smoke them. I am in the military and tried getting her cigars made from every place I’ve been…my last trip I got her a while box of Cubans…I told her we could crack the box open once I had my baby. She laughed, she said she didn’t even know if she could smoke one anymore. She mostly collected the boxes…. she collected a lot of stuff… antiques, paintings, everything :) It’s crazy that her obituary got all the way to Minnesota. It’s pretty neat how someone who means so much to you can be a small part of a stranger’s life.

Another granddaugher responds: Hi, I am her oldest granddaughter, Summer. My gran would have loved this!! My gran never left her house without looking like a movie star from her big up-do to her fur coats. She went to the top of a mountain on a dirt bike and mowed the yard in heals. Always had a cocktail and ready for some fun. We always had a project to do together from making jewelry, beading necklaces, sorting jewelry or gemstones. We even made picture frames with jewelry. My mom and I took her to get her tattoo. All three of us got one that day. Three generations getting a tattoo coolest thing ever.

Great grandma singing "Itsy bits spider" to Seylon's newborn child.

Great grandma singing “Itsy bits spider” to Seylon’s newborn child.

She loved her family more than anything else. She wrote notes on everything she ever gave me. She made a tote box for all her grandkids and when I opened mine it has every Christmas card, valentine , letter, picture I drew and my baby clothes. She kept everything I ever gave her my whole life was in this box. She treasured me as much as I did her. Thank you for taking the time to write about my amazing grandma.

Joan’s oldest daughter comments: Hi Gordon. This is Joan’s oldest daughter, Rebecca. My niece, Seylon, called her mother from Germany this afternoon just as my sis and I were sorting thru “the goods.” (There’s a packed house.) I cried as she read your column to us. I’ll have you know that I went all out when writing the obituary because my mother did not want a funeral. She said, “I don’t want a bunch of people strolling by my dead body pretending that they liked me. I know who my friends are.” To be led to your column was an amazing stroke of synchronicity, and I’m sure my mother would think you did right by her. My mother was not Cuban. Her father was a Romanian immigrant who came here as a child. Her mother was from Illinois, and we don’t know much more because the family split up when Joan was young.

Joan Copeland on suitor's yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Joan Copeland on suitor’s yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Her sailing trips to Cuba were with one of the prospects she finally told to go away. She was in her mid-60’s at the time, and wouldn’t hesitate to smoke a good cigar w/ you.

Here’s just one more little tidbit I thought you might like. My mother enjoyed her martinis and for years she collected antique pewter. At my sister’s suggestion, we had her ashes put into a pewter cocktail shaker from her collection. When Seylon gets to come home on leave in July, we will scatter Joan’s ashes over her mother’s grave as per her wishes. – Rebecca.

I wish we were all that interesting!






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The Road to Civil Rights in America’s Oldest City

INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edges earlier post from 40th ACCORD referred the KKK kidnapping of four civil rights activists in St. Augustine, FL. Yesterday Francis (“Tate”) Floyd said otherwise.

“No,” said Tate,  who was visiting next door, “they weren’t kidnapped. They got caught at a KKK rally downtown and got their asses kicked.”

Below is more complete information posted by The St. Augustine Record on May 17 , 2014 by Matt Soerge. “Views from the Edge” has added the bolded print and photographs to the text.

Civil rights: 50 years later, the memory is still clear

Purcell Maurice Conway

Purcell Maurice Conway

In 1964 St. Augustine, Purcell Conway, a black 15-year-old, held hands with a white nun during a civil-rights demonstration that drew the angry attention of a white mob from the Ancient City and beyond.

The mob surged forward. Conway was attacked, and so was the nun. They tore off her headdress. They dragged her to the ground by her hair. They kicked her.

Fifty years later, the memory is still clear: How can people be so cruel, so petty? he asks, How silly, he says, that there is so much hate over the color of one’s skin.

Conway traveled Wednesday to Tallahassee, where he reunited with other activists from what he calls the “teenage rebellion” — the civil rights demonstrations that rocked St. Augustine from 1963 until the summer of 1964, when the Civil Rights Act became law.

They went to the Capitol building to see Robert B. Hayling inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. His portrait will go up there along with those of the other inductees, the late James Weldon Johnson and A. Philip Randolph, both of whom grew up in Jacksonville.

Hayling, 84, still sharp and witty, was a dentist who inspired and led the youthful demonstrators in St. Augustine.

Now in their late 60s and early 70s, most of them grew up together in the largely black neighborhoods of Lincolnville and West Augustine.

Asked to describe the St. Augustine of his youth, Shed Dawson, who was arrested nine times, gave a long pause before speaking.

“Scary. Very challenging. Dangerous. Sad.”

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

You had to be careful, said James Jackson, who was captured and beaten by the Ku Klux Klan.

“You didn’t want to go and get caught out alone at night, especially outside of your comfort zone, outside of Lincolnville.”

Jackson knew many of the Klansmen by sight. He’d see them going about their business during the day, on the streets downtown.

And as the Civil Rights Act moved through Congress, the Klan rallied, openly, on St. Augustine’s quaint downtown streets, in robes that exposed their faces for all to see.

Houses were firebombed. Grenades were thrown at juke joints. Shots were fired.

One white man, with a loaded shotgun on his lap, was shot and killed as the car he was in cruised through a black neighborhood one night. In his death convulsion, he fired shots of his own through the floor of the car.

Young blacks from St. Augustine picketed outside stores, sat at lunch counters where they could not be served. And they marched through the city’s streets, past churches that would not admit them.

One sign asked: “Are you proud of your 400 yrs history of slavery & segregation.”

Demonstrators were threatened and beaten. They were arrested and jailed for attempting to integrate the beaches, lunch counters, hotels.

Many of the black demonstrators were trained in nonviolent ways of protesting and pledged to never strike back.

Others made it clear that they were armed and would defend themselves, their families and their community if called to do so.

Conway says two things united the young black demonstrators: They were fed up with the status quo, where they were permanent second-class citizens. And they were inspired by the civil-rights struggles elsewhere.

Why not St. Augustine too?

“It gets to a point in your life that you’ve been stepped on, mistreated, seen your family members mistreated,” he said. “Forget about the fear — you will die to see this changed.”

‘A mean lady’

At 12, Conway had a white friend, a fellow paperboy, and when they each ordered milk shakes at the lunch counter at the McCrory’s store, he couldn’t understand why the woman there let his friend eat inside, but insisted he go outside.

His friend joined him on the sidewalk. “She’s a mean lady,” he said.

At 14, Conway was mowing the lawn of a white woman who offered him a sandwich and a drink. She left it for him on her garage floor, next to the dog’s bowl.

As a child, he’d been naive. But now his eyes were open — and he chafed as he saw how his parents had to call white people “Mister” or “Miss,” while they were simply called by their first names, George and Julia.

So he was ready, at 14, to join the Movement. That’s what he and his friends called it.

Conway recalled that black teenagers would go the swimming pool at Florida Memorial College, a black Baptist school that moved to Miami a few years later.

College students would tell the teenagers about the Movement. They’d talk about what was happening around the South, about why action was needed in St. Augustine.

By 1964, the Movement drew Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent black leaders to the city.

It drew the support of many white college students from elsewhere, who were beaten and threatened alongside the young black demonstrators.

It drew the support of rabbis and priests and nuns and 72-year-old Mary Elizabeth Peabody, mother of the governor of Massachusetts, who was jailed after supporting the demonstrators.

And it drew national and international coverage to a tourist city preparing for its 400th anniversary.

Tourists stayed away. In 1965, a state legislative report on the unpleasantness in St. Augustine would note that the city lost $5 million in tourism, which meant the state lost taxes, too.

“Which means that all citizens of Florida indirectly paid for Martin Luther King’s visitation to America’s oldest city,” the report said, before fretting about the “devastating barrage of unfavorable publicity” from “purported” news accounts.

“Despite massive propaganda to the contrary,” the state report said, “Negroes and whites have lived together amicably in St. Augustine for centuries.”

‘I was afraid’

Maude Burrows Jackso

Maude Burrows Jackso

Maude Burroughs Jackson knew unfairness as she grew up in the small black community of Hill Top in Middleburg. Still, she was relatively sheltered, there in the country.

She came to St. Augustine in 1960 to go to Florida Memorial College. The city, she said, felt hostile. Discrimination was open.

“It seemed like a mean place,” she said. “Things have really changed over the years. But I was afraid many times.”

She got involved in the Movement after going to Hayling’s dental office with a toothache.

She went to wade-ins at segregated beaches, and between classes she sat at lunch counters or picketed. She was jailed three times.

One night, in Hayling’s office, she made dinner for King — steak and toast and salad. “He’d come in late that night, and with the situation being the way it was, you couldn’t just go outside and eat.”

‘All right, that’s enough’

KKK rally, St. Augustine, FL

KKK rally, St. Augustine, FL

James Jackson said he tries to find the humor in every situation. So he laughs, still, about the night the Ku Klux Klan caught him, Hayling and two other black men, James Hauser and Clyde Jenkins.

He said he stayed calm through talk about getting killed, about getting set on fire. But when the Klan got to talking about castration? “I said, ‘I got to get out of here.’”

Jackson and his companions had gone to eavesdrop on a Klan rally that drew hundreds to St. Augustine, and figured they could spy safely from a back road. That was almost a fatal error. They were beaten, severely.

Jackson shows off a scar on his forehead, courtesy of a lug wrench. And the Klansmen paid particular attention, he said, to the hands of Hayling, a dentist: How could he practice his profession with broken hands?

“We were lucky as hell to get out of their with out lives,” Jackson said.

The story he heard later was that a preacher in the crowd sneaked away to alert police. Sometime later, an officer walked up to the rally. “He said, ‘All right, that’s enough,’” Jackson recounted.

He took them to the hospital, and then to the sheriff’s office. There, bloodied and bruised, they were charged with assault.

After the Civil Rights Act was signed, Jackson remembers coming out of a hardware store and running into Halstead “Hoss” Manucy, one of the prominent white segregationists in town. Manucy had hurled many insults at Jackson, but apparently didn’t recognize him when they bumped into each other.

“Now I’m not a tall man, but he was shorter than me, and he looked up at me and said, ‘Excuse me sir.’”

Jackson laughed. “Excuse me sir! The biggest smile came over my face.”

‘Shell shock’

Shed Dawson, St. Augustine Movement

Shed Dawson, St. Augustine Movement

 Dawson graduated from R.J. Murray High School just a few weeks before the Civil Rights Act was passed. But he was already a civil-rights veteran; he was arrested nine times and spent at least 90 days in jail.

So within a day or two of the act’s passage, he and three other black teens went to a barbecue place on U.S. 1 to “test” the bill.

They squeezed their car into a tight space at the front door. As they approached the door, a group of 25 to 30 men and women came from behind the building, almost as if they were waiting for them.

They had bricks and beer bottles and baseball bats — “their own little personal weapons,” Dawson said.

The four friends split up and ran. Dawson made it to some nearby woods. “Because I was 18 and they were half-drunk, they couldn’t catch me.”

Frustrated, the mob returned to their truck. Perhaps 15 minutes later, Dawson came out of the woods and saw the truck approaching, with people crowded into the back of it — still looking for him.

He ran back in the woods, hiding there for more than two hours. Finally, he crept out and saw a highway patrol car parked in front of another restaurant. Now, he thought, he would be safe.

Dawson went into the restaurant, where the manager stopped him brusquely: “What do you want?”

Dawson’s shirt and tie were filthy, his best pants were muddy and his good shoes were caked with mud. He said he needed to talk to the trooper, who sat, just a few feet away, ignoring him.

“He’s eating lunch,” the manager said.

Dawson insisted. Eventually the trooper got up, locked Dawson in his car, and resumed his meal.

As he ate, a crowd of whites assembled around the car, rocking it back and forth, pounding on the windshield, calling Dawson names.

The trooper, frustrated, came out, started the engine, and got on the radio. “I found the n—– y’all are looking for,” he said.

At the station, they took Dawson’s mug shot, took his fingerprints, but eventually didn’t charge him. The trooper then took him to the headquarters of the Movement, where Dawson’s disappearance was big news.

“He (the trooper) was a hero,” Dawson said. “Everybody was cheering — yeah yeah yeah — and shaking his hands. He was soaking it up.”

King spoke that night at a church, and invited Dawson to sit with him at the pulpit. So he did, still in his filthy clothes.

Dawson ended up traveling the world as a civil servant for the Navy, working on aircraft carriers — a life that would have seemed impossible to him as a teenager. Before things changed, he might have been a cook or a yard man. If lucky, he could perhaps have been a brick mason or a plumber’s helper.

The struggle was worth it, he said, although when he returns to his hometown, the past sometimes feels far too close.

“I’ve been all around the world and I’m OK,” he said. “But when I got back to St. Augustine, to a restaurant, I feel fear, like flashbacks, like the soldiers had. Shell shock. I guess it will never go away.”

Views from the Edge Note: Click HERE for hour-long Library of Congress interview with Purcell Conway.

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MLK Day 2015 – the house next door

94 South Street, St. Augustine, FL

94 South Street, St. Augustine, FL

On Martin Luther King Day 2015 the historic house next door to us on The Freedom Trail here in St. Augustine is a faint shadow of its former self. A weathered sign by the rear entry reads:

“NO TRESPASSING by order of the City of St. Augustine. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Some of the louvered glass windows on the back porch are broken out. Sheets and blankets cover the windows.

The White family paid the price for their courage. James and Hattie were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, as was their son Samuel. But, as Isaac Watts (1674–1748) reminds us in his poem and hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Time has a way of placing brackets around even the best historic moments. James, Hattie, and Samuel, their 14 year-old son, who was sent to reform school for sitting in at the downtown St. Augustine Woolworth’s, have been borne away by time. The three of them are deceased; their story and the dream is still alive.

When young Samuel and his three friends later known as “the St. Augustine Four” were arrested at Woolworth’s, the authorities agreed to release them to their parents’ custody on one condition: that they sign a statement that their children would not violate the law again. The four young men pleaded with their parents not to sign the pledge, assuring their parents that they, the sons, could make no such pledge. Mr. and Mrs. White refused to sign. Fourteen year-old Samuel was sent to reform school for a year. He served six months of the sentence before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson and other civil rights movement leaders came to St. Augustine to shine the national spotlight on St. Augustine. Samuel and the other incarcerated member of The St. Augustine Four were released by order of the Governor of Florida. The Civil Rights Act followed.

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

- William Walsham How  (1823 – 1897) 

Posted in America, Civil Rights Movement, Economics, Faith, Life, Racism, racism, Spirituality, story | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

MLK, Dr. Hayling, and Mr. James Jackson

Be where you are. If you stay there, really LIVE there, dig into the place, listen to the voices, watch the faces and people movements, you’re likely to discover the deeper streams of courage and frailty that make a place what it is.

Take yesterday, for example. Kay and I attend the “Hands Up!” educational event at St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, around the corner from where we’re living this January. Mr. James Jackson, who seems to know a great deal about the law, citizens’ rights, and how to deal with law enforcement, sits behind us. There’s something different about him, a weathered face and voice that come with experience.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

Dr. Robert B. Hayling and Mr. James Jackson

When the opportunity presents itself, we step outside for conversation. James Jackson was  a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Field Officer in St. Augustine with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I listen to what he tells me about the tumultuous time in St. Augustine that led to the passage of U.S. Civil Rights Act. “The bill was sitting on Johnson’s desk,” he says, “but he didn’t want to move forward with it. What happened here in St. Augustine [referring to the acts of civil disobedience to de-segregate the public beaches] drew national attention and put pressure on Washington.”

After the “Hands Up!” workshop a google search for James Jackson leads to more information about him, Dr.  Robert B. Hayling, a dentist, and another who were kidnapped by the Ku Klux Klan. Gwendolyn Duncan tells the story.

Dr. Robert HaylingFor [Dr. Hayling’s] continued fight to right the injustices perpetrated upon him and his fellow Black Citizens, his home was shot into, barely missing his wife and killing his dog which was within the home. His wife and children escaped without injury. On another occasion, Dr. Hayling, along with Mr. Clyde Jenkins, Mr. James Hauser, Mr. James Jackson were kidnapped by the Klu Klux Klan.

All of the men, except Mr. James Jackson were beaten unmercifully and left semi-conscious. If not for the compassion of a white minister, Reverend Irvin Cheney, who slipped from the rally and called the State Highway Patrol in Tallahassee, Dr. Hayling and his fellow activists, who were stacked like firewood, would have been burned alive with gasoline. Dr. Hayling received the most serious injuries, suffering hospitalization for fourteen days, losing eleven teeth, and several broken ribs. Scars he is known to have said, “I’ll take to my grave.” He and the others were charged with assault but charges were dropped because the Klan never showed up to court. The Klan was never prosecuted in this case.

— Copyright © 2004, Gwendolyn Duncan, “Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement – Dr. Robert B. Hayling”

Dr. Hayling’s house is three blocks from where Kay and I are staying. Before meeting Mr. Jackson yesterday, we read the Freedom Trail plaque walking by the house around the corner here in Lincolnville.

Be where yo are. If you stay there, really LIVE there, dig into the place, listen to the voices, watch the faces and the people movements, you’re likely to discover the deeper streams of courage and frailty that make a place what it is.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Jan. 18, 2015


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Verse – 50th Anniversary Memory

She brought her long brown hair
home in her hand.

From twenty-five to forty
it had grown
till she could tuck it under
her fine, round,
full bottom as she sat.
When she would stand
in front of me, my fingers
found her hair
and stroked and petted. Now
it all was gone…

The pixy cut was cute–
it would compare
to Michelle Williams now,
or Audrey Hepburn then–
the stylist was a friend
of ours, but so
was Bill, the County Sheriff.
I called, he sent
a deputy with handcuffs
to get Sue
at the downtown salon,
make her repent
of her barbaric crime
against true beauty.

I had no doubt it was
my civic duty…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 16, 2015.

Steve and Nadja were married August 21, 1965.

Nadja Shoemaker

Nadja Shoemaker

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The House Next Door on the Freedom Trail

We knew nothing about St.Augustine when we rented the house at 96 South Street for the month of January. It turns out that the house next door played an important part in the Civil Rights Movement. 94 South Street is on “The Freedom Trail” tour in St. Augustine in Lincolnville, the district settled by freed slaves in 1866.

94 South Street, St. Augustine, FL

94 South Street, St. Augustine, FL

Newly arrived, we notice that a group  gathers each day outside the house. Our second evening I walk by the house at dusk and greet the gray-bearded man sitting in a chair. He rises with his cane.

“Good evening.”
“Good evening,” he responds.
“You live here?” I ask.
“No, my friend does.”
“My name’s Gordon,” I say, extending my hand.
“Mr. _____” [I cant’ hear what he says]. “So tell me about this house. It’s an historic house, right?”
Freedom trail plaque“Read the sign,” he says, limping to the plaque next to the sidewalk. “Read it.”

I read it out loud.

Home of the White Family – Lincolnville

This has been the home to the Whites, one of the outstanding families active in the 1963-1964 civil rights movement in St. Augustine.  Parents James (a decorated Buffalo Soldier from World War II) and Hattie Lee White both took part in demonstrations and went to jail for freedom in those times.  Their son Samuel was one of the “St. Augustine Four”–teenagers who spent six months in jail and reform school after a July 1963 sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter downtown.  Mrs. White wrote to NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, “I’ve never heard of any child being taken away from their parents for wanting his freedom.  Have you?”  National protests at the injustice by Jackie Robinson and others forced the governor and cabinet of Florida to release the St. Augustine Four in January 1964.

Twin daughters Janice and Jeanette took part in the effort to integrate one of the local white churches.  They are featured in Jeremy Dean’s movie “Dare Not Walk Alone.”

Sons Christopher and Walter Eugene were pioneers in the effort to end racial segregation in St. Augustine’s public schools.  Son James took part in the wade-ins that garnered international attention at St. Augustine Beach in the summer of 1964.

This marker is erected by ACCORD to honor all of the members of the family for their efforts to make St. Augustine, America, and the world a better place.

Christopher still lives in the house.

So here we are vacationing next to history. Look for more posts from conversations with Christopher and the people at St. Paul A.M.E. Church after the “Hands Up” workshop this Saturday.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Thursday, January 15, 2015



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Martin Luther King Day in St. Augustine

The car dealer here in St. Augustine will be open on Martin Luther King Day. No holiday for its workers.

I learn this while waiting for my car to be serviced. I read the local paper, The St. Augustine Record, Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Tucked away page A6 under “News and Notes” is a small headline:

“Commemorative Breakfast Planned”

Commemorative of what? Martin Luther King, Jr., Monday, January 19 at First Coastal Technical College.

I put down the paper and walk through the show room to look at the new models. A white sales manager sees me get into one of the cars and points angrily to a 20-something African-American salesman to get with the program. The young man greets me through the passenger window. I tell him I’m just killing time during a routine oil change and that I’m from Minnesota. We exchange pleasantries.

I get a cup of coffee and go out to look at the used cars – it’s my thing, checking out used cars – and run into the young salesman again. I ask whether Martin Luther King Day is a big deal here in St. Augustine. He smiles. I tell him I’ve just read the newspaper and the small announcement. “Is the dealership closed for Martin Luther King Day?” I ask. “No, Sir. We’re open,” he says. “I’ll be working.”

“Do you know about The St. Augustine Four?” I ask. He doesn’t. I tell him we’re staying next door to the home of James and Hattie White whose 14 year-old son Samuel was sent to reform school in 1963 for sitting in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and that the case of the four teenagers was responsible for Dr. King and Jackie Robinson joining the cause in St. Augustine.

Before I leave the dealership, he finds me in the waiting area. “I asked the boss,” he says. “He said I can have the day off if I want it.”

I tell him there’s a “Hands Up!” workshop Saturday morning at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) where MLK and Jackie Robinson joined the local the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine. It’s just around the corner from where we’re staying in Lincolnville. “Come if you can!” “Thanks,” he says, “Maybe I’ll see you there.”


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New Legislators, Selma and MLK

Verse – Advice to New Legislators

Support each capital IDEA
(notice the capital letters)
made in the State Capital
(but not always in the CapitOl building)
which will gain financial capital
(if it garners enough political capital)
by making good use of social capital
(without wasting natural capital)
and be sure to capitalize on it.

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 14, 2015

This hour of history - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This hour of history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life America celebrates this weekend, had a different IDEA. His was of a world “in which men no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

A mutual friend who marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery and had just seen “Selma” sent the line, reminding us of “the lessons that are severe, easily forgotten amidst the King mythology, but as relevant today as they were when he first voiced them.

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God wounded in Paris

Today’s news from Paris is chilling. Still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo attack, hostages are taken in a Kosher (Jewish) market in Paris. Fear of extremist Islamic terrorism spreads across France.

During a gathering of twelve of us at The Reformed Roundtable in Indianapolis two days ago, South African anti-Apartheid leader  the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak quoted none other than John Calvin, according to whom whenever a human being wounds another, God is wounded.

The killers and hostage-takers in Paris claim the name of Allah. Their abuse of the name is an affront to faithful Muslims who reject violence and terror as much as adherents of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Religion itself, whatever its form and doctrine, is to be measured by its compassion.

Events in Paris remind me of Dr. Boesak’s statement and the Very Rev. James A. Whyte‘s sermon at the January 9, 1989 memorial service after Pan Am flight 103 carrying 259 passengers exploded over Lockerbie December 22, 1988. Eleven more were killed on the ground in the small town of Lockerbie.  The Church of Scotland reluctantly called it’s Moderator, James Whyte, out of mourning his wife’s death for his to preach at the memorial service for the victims of the terror at Lockerbie.

In that sermon he proposed a vexing answer to the vexing question: Where was God when the plane went down? “God,” he said, “was on the plane.” 

“Justice, yes; retaliation no,” he declared. “For if we move in the way of retaliation we move right outside of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, outside of the Divine consolation. There is nothing that way but bitterness and the destruction of our own humanity.”

Four hundred years after Calvin’s statement and decades before James Whyte’s sermon at Lockerbie, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following from his prison cell before he was hanged by the Nazi’s whose “God” was without compassion. Bonhoeffer wrote as a disciple of Jesus, the Crucified, but his picture of God as suffering and the call to stand with God in God’s suffering int he world of human cruelty represents the compassionate faith shared by compassionate people of every stripe.

Christians range themselves with God in his suffering; that is what distinguishes them…. As Jesus asked in Gethsemane, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” That is the exact opposite of what the religious man expects from God. Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or try to transfigure it. He must live a ‘worldly” life and so participate in the suffering of God. He may live a worldly life as one emancipated from all false religions and obligations. To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to he a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.  [Bolded type added]

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Today God is wounded again…in Paris, and we participate in the suffering of God at the hands of a cruel world.


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The Foster Child who successfully fostered

Unusual obituaries come along once in a while. Steve and I found this one endearing.


Joan Copeland chose Christmas to give up the goods and and embark on her next adventure.

Her daughters, their husbands, several grandchildren, and her lifelong friend, Barbara Markland, were all with her at Carle Foundation Hospital to offer love as she transitioned.

She was born on July 25, 1934, to Louis and Elsie Fetters Silagy. She had a multitude of siblings. Severe hardship forced the family to scatter to the winds when she was a young girl.

She successfully fostered with the Gordon and Dorothy Almy famiiy of Indianola during grade school and then with the John and Opal Bettag family of Danville for her high school years. She graduated from Danville High School in 1552.

She went on to marry Don Carrigan and Benny Copeland Jr., both of whom departed before her. She turned down several other proposals of marriage over the years.

Those forced to forge ahead without her are [her three daughters, two sons-in-law, eight grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.]

Also left behind is Sophie, her feline companion of 17 years and another longtime friend, Hazel Demeris of Champaign.

– News Gazette Obituary, Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.

NOTE:  Joan Copeland “chose Christmas to give up the goods….” We all give up the goods in the end.  The deceased’s family provides a picture of someone we’d like to have known. Laced with humor – “she had a multitude of siblings” – and respect, they paint her not as a poor foster child but as an actor who “successfully fostered” with the Almy and Bettag families. At the same time they pay tribute by including the first names of all six of the parents, biological and foster alike, and the names of her closest friends human and feline. They include husbands Dan and Bennie but leave chose not to humiliate the suitors of “the several other proposals.”

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Verse for a bad day

cold rain

constant drizzle
just above freezing
gray day stay inside
drive with friends
snow at least
would have been white

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 3, 2015 – published Jan. 4.

Steve Shoemaker in his favorite chair with Blazer, his collie by his side, his iPhone, book, and newspaper. Kite soaring outside the window

Steve Shoemaker in his favorite chair with Blazer, his collie by his side, his iPhone, book, and newspaper. Kite soaring outside the window


Picture of Steve in his favorite chair with book, iPhone, newspaper, collie Blazer, and blue kite taken this morning by Kay Stewart in the Shoemaker home in Urbana. Later we did have snow.


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Verse – Words with Enemies

Words with Enemies

You smile, and I’ll smile
and all the while we’ll
talk behind each other’s back
(but just to those we know
will have OUR back).

Then you will use a word
with just that tone, a word
that tears the skin from my back
(flaying piece by piece
and leaving bloody flesh.)

The words that I will then say
in return will burn and scar
and pierce you front to back
(I know it should be peace I seek,
but I won’t turn the other cheek.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 4, 2015


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A Man and His Dog

Barclay and Gordon

Barclay and Gordon

Few bonds are as close as a man and his dog. I sorely miss Barclay, the soccer dog, who’s living with his “sister” Kristin while Kay and I are “somewhere else” for a long time.

Kristin reports he’s doing well, eating all his food, taking his medicine, and happily playing goalie with his ball.

I wonder if Robert Frost had a dog. After writing “Mending Wall,” – Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….”, he might have thought, “Something there is that loves…a dog.”



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Mops waiting for guests to use at the Shoemaker residence.

Mops waiting for guests to use at the Shoemaker residence.

INTRO TO LIMERICK: Driving to Steve and Nadja Shoemaker’s this morning, we texted Steve revising the estimated time of arrival. Steve responded with this limerick and photo from his iPhone:

We love to have guests who show up
When they told us that they would turn up.
But please don’t come early
Or we will be surly,
It’s then that we start to clean up!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 2, 2014.

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2014 in review

Thanks to all of you who visited Views from the Edge in 2014: about 20,000 visits from 126 countries.

Here’s an excerpt from WordPress’s year end report:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. Views from the Edge was viewed about 20,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Steve and I thank each of you who visited, and we are grateful to WordPress for its great hosting for the likes of us. Happy New Year and best wishes in 2015.


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Verse for New Year’s Day 2015

ghost kites

ghost kites


Old Year, New Year: Old Kite, New Kite

A large blue Delta from Oregon
with two wide trailing tails
mice-eaten, torn by storms,
but still flying. The line knotted,
re-tied after “Hands up, don’t shoot”
and “I can’t breath” and cops killed.

ISIS and drones, beheadings and bombs,
spying on all, torture for some,
my country bought by corporations,
yet Vivaldi still sung, crops harvested,
children born and hugged and taught.
Last year’s kite crashed many times.

A large red Delta for Christmas
with a new line, new tails.
So far blue skies and a steady breeze,
but storms are predicted, injustices
multiply like mice, discord does not die.
This year’s kite, too, is fragile, vulnerable.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 1, 1015

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Happy New Year Under the Boardwalk

“Under the boardwalk” came the New Year’s Eve reply from the guy at Union Station in NYC 52 years ago. He was responding to two 19 year-0ld college students who’d taken the bus from Philadelphia to experience Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

“Hey, buddy!  Happy New Year!” they’d yelled to the inebriated man staggering though Union Station’s main floor.

“Hey,” he’d yelled back. “Happy New Year!” looking up at us. “Where ya from?”

“Philadelphia. How about you?”

“Under the boardwalk,” he said. “Come visit sometime.”

“Where?” we asked, both laughing.  “What boardwalk?”

“Atlantic City,” he said.

We made the visit to Atlantic City but never saw him again.

Age has a way of maturing us, if we’re lucky. We come to realize that any one of us could be the man who lived under the boardwalk. Lots of people do. Happy New Year, bother, and thanks for the kind invitation.”

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Verse – Almost 2015

On the Seventh Day of Christmas
It was New Year’s Eve:
Fifty Drunkards drinking,
Forty Fatsos feasting,
Thirty Flighty Females flirting,
Twenty Macho Males maneuvering,
Ten Cute Couples kissing
And Kathy Griffin and
Anderson Cooper
ki-i-bitz-i-ing on TV.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 30, 2014

Editor’s Note: Sometimes Steve’s a little over the edge, even for Views from the Edge. But we publish him because we love him, and because we’ll be his overnight guests in a few days. Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

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Poem # 38 – Loneliness


O the loneliness and the fear
I feel when I go into the wilderness
Where the jackals and the wolves
Howl for my soul.

Out there, I’m alone. Only God,
And even Him I’m not so sure of.
Why the wilderness? There there is
No running from fear, pain, myself.

Naked and alone I must look
At myself. A grain of sand in a
Hostile world, trying to be so important
But only hanging on to the rock
Who gave me birth.

emptychair- Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) loved the wilderness. He went to his cabin in northern Michigan whenever he could.  Poem #38 was written during advanced Parkinson’s from his room at the Care Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Dale was one of seven classmates who gather annually for reflection and the renewal of friendship. Since Dale’s death, there are six. An empty chair preserves Dale’s seat in the circle.

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God as Policeman or Lover

Sebastian Moore, OSB

Sebastian Moore, OSB

In the eyes of Views from the Edge, the  late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. (12.17.1917 – 02.21-2014) of Downside Abbey, England, is one of our time’s more interesting thinkers.

Steeped in the psychology of Carl Jung, the spiritual discipline of the Benedictine Order, the theology of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., and the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, his eyes were penetrating, his vision both deep and far-reaching. During a long life os spiritual searching, he wrote in his book The Inner Loneliness:

[O]nce you see the self as naturally self-centered, you deny that the self wants God above all things, and you degrade God from being the fulfiller, the lover, into being the policeman. Paul’s conversion, through the stunning vision of Jesus he had on the road to Damascus, was from God the policeman to God the lover.

[The Inner Loneliness, Crossroads Press, 1982, p.49]

We met briefly in 1971 at a meeting of campus ministers in Milwaukee. He was chaplain at Marquette University at the same time I served as campus minister at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Gathered at the Episcopal Campus Ministry Center at UW-Milwaukee, I wondered who this strange monk was who seemed to observe everyone very closely without saying more than a word or two. I’m not sure I even knew his name. I just knew he was unusual.

Twenty-six years later, during a period of personal and professional turmoil, a therapist mentioned the name Sebastian Moore. I purchased The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger and saw his picture on the jacket. His perspective left me in awe and anchors me still. I’ve been knocked off my horse on the way to way to Damascus. Every real conversion is the turning from God the policeman to God the Lover.

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Poem #76 – The Prairie

The prairie at night is dotted with light
Of farms where people live and love,
Fight and hate, and celebrate.

Now and again the lights congregate
Like happy peasant women
Singing their songs, dancing their dances.
And I am not so alone.

– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012), looking out the window from his room at the Care Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Parkinson’s Disease had left him alone.

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Joseph the Widower – Christmas Eve

Steve’s poems and verses often capture something very large in a few short lines. His “In the Stable” manages to keep the earthly and the heavenly together: an iconic smile at the end offered to a grief-stricken Joseph in the shame-filled, smelly stable. We publish “In the Stable” again for those of you who, like Steve’s Joseph, are dealing at the same time with grief and hope on Christmas Eve:

The shame that old man Joseph felt
in taking Mary to the barn
was mainly that, of course, it smelt:
it reeked with sheep shit, donkey dung,
and cattle plops. The widower
knew wives who whelped were never clean
themselves until the midwives pour
the well water over their loins
and legs, wash front and back. His first
young wife had died in giving birth
to their third child. He shook his fist
at heaven as she lay in filth
and breathed no more. Sweet Mary mild
step-mother, virgin, pushed and smiled…

– Verse by Steve Shoemaker; introduction by Gordon.

CLICK “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” to hear today’s live BBC broadcast (10:00 a.m. EST) from King’s College, Cambridge England.  Merry Christmas to all our readers.

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Verse – In the Stable

The shame that old man Joseph felt
in taking Mary to the barn
was mainly that, of course, it smelt:
it reeked with sheep shit, donkey dung,
and cattle plops. The widower
knew wives who whelped were never clean
themselves until the midwives pour
the well water over their loins
and legs, wash front and back. His first
young wife had died in giving birth
to their third child. He shook his fist
at heaven as she lay in filth
and breathed no more. Sweet Mary mild,
step-mother, virgin, pushed and smiled…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 24, 2014

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Pope Francis on Spiritual Alzheimer’s

Click HERE for Pope Francis’s December 22, 2014 message. God bless Pope Francis! Let all the people – and the Curia – say “Amen!”

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The Angel Gabriel and Mary

A sermonic reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 21, 2014, Gordon C. Stewart.

Text: Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation {El Greco]

The Annunciation {El Greco]

Mary has every reason to fear the appearance of Gabriel. Every demure depiction to the contrary, the Angel Gabriel’s “annunciation” to Mary is no private affair. It’s a public matter of the first order. Gabriel  is the archangel commissioned to destroy the offspring of the rebellious angels and human women. (see below). Mary shrinks back.

“Do not be afraid,” says Gabriel.

Why should she not be afraid? This is not just any angel.

This is the Angel Gabriel, whose trumpet will summon the people, sweep away the occupation forces that substitute their rule for the Kingdom of love and delight. This is an angel of revolution. The Archangel of conflict who inspires both hope and fear.

”Do not be afraid!”

El Greco’s painting of the Annunciation illustrates the problem of textual interpretation.
Gabriel’s appearance is not frightening. It’s very…how shall we say? Feminine. Even to the point of appearing perhaps pregnant himself. The great masters did not paint an angel messenger as male, even when his name is Gabriel or Michael, the only two angels named in Holy Scripture.

Gabriel in Hebrew means “God is my Warrior”. Gabriel is a warrior angel, announcing to Mary that she too is to become a warrior, a mother whose birth-giving will lead to conflict with the Empire and the religious authorities who collaborate with it.

As described by New Testament scholar Carol Newsom, any annunciation by Gabriel inspires fear.

In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel is preeminently an angel of eschatological revelation. He is sent to Daniel to explain a vision of ‘the time appointed for the end’ (Dan. 8:15-26)…. Gabriel’s functions are more varied in I Enoch. In the Book of the Watchers (I Enoch 1- 36) he is listed as ‘the one of the holy angels who is in charge of paradise and the dragons and the cherubim (20:2). He is commissioned to destroy the offspring of the rebellious angels and human women (10:9-10)….

In the War Scrolls from Qumran (IQM) the names of 4 archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Sariel, and Raphael, are written on the shields of the 4 towers of the army. The positioning of the 4 archangels around the throne of God or other sacred space has a long subsequent history in both Jewish and Christian tradition…. [Carol Newsom, “Gabriel.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2]

So why does Gabriel look the way he does in the art museums and literature of Christian interpretation? Why does the original Gabriel look so benign? And why does Mary look so calm, perhaps even demure, as in El Greco’s Annunciation?

The Jesus story has been neutered. The End Time has been re-interpreted by the Constantinian Church as a paradise beyond time, a state of afterlife, not this life. In no way political. In no way economic. In no way conflictual. Peaceful. Serene. Calm. Quiet Passive. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Never disquieting. Never disrupting. Never revolutionary.

Gabriel has been transformed, neutered, emasculated, rendered harmless by the Constantine religion whose adherents can no longer see the conflict between Christ, or his mother, Mary, and his father, Joseph, with the systems of unbridled greed and poverty under which they live. The Gabriel spoken of in most pulpits is not the Angel Gabriel that came to Mary.

We’ve turned Gabriel into our own image. But though we may tame him in our hearts and minds, our paintings and our sermons, we can erase neither the need to be afraid nor his invitation to fear not. Gabriel’s finger points at us, asking whether we will rally to the trumpet sound, the sound of his coming. We can repaint the young girl Mary as an icon of passive obedience and tranquility. But it will be a different Mary than the courageous one painted by the Gospel of Luke.

Luke and his Mary know that “Do not be afraid!” makes no sense unless there really is something to fear, and that we cannot overcome fear unless we hear Gabriel’s word of favor, “Hail, O favored one! The LORD is with you. Blessed are you among women…You shall conceive….”Do not be afraid…. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’

“Then the angel departed from her” for parts unknown to make his visits down through the ages, making the impossible possible.  Word has it he appeared last week in Washington, D.C. and Havana, Cuba to turn the impossible into the possible, a new Order being born from the old.

If you listen with faith, you might hear him. If you look, you will see him.


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Verse – Sirens

The women of the choir
were flirting as they sang,
eyes rolling, tilting heads,
the lilting voices rang
the changes in their moods
enticing males who heard
the notes and interludes,
but knew it was absurd:
to trust a single word….

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 22, 2014

Editor’s Note: Hmmm. I’ve often wondered why Steve sings in three choirs. Maybe Steve and the rest of the basses, tenors, and baritones come to rehearsals as Tritons, the male equivalents of  Sirens?

Triton Fountain, Rome

Triton Fountain, Rome

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White Privilege (with a Twist)

In the year that brought us “Hands up!” and “die-ins” that drew national attention once again to race in America, the SALT Project produced this video.

Thanks to Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton and the SALT Project for permission to blog their commentary. Click HERE for the SALT Project website. Matthew is President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Liz, like Matthew, is an ordained minister of the Church of Christ (Disciples) and leading light of the SALT Project.

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Verse – An Old Man and His Dog

He limps as the other clicks
along the sidewalk beside him.
Slowly, they walk together,
And loneliness falls behind a few paces.
They partake of one spirit.
They know the mystery of
growing old together.

Ah yes, there’s a world beyond them,
But now they know more
Of a priceless world between them.
One glance, and a thousand worlds
spring form the depths
Knowing a direction far beyond
the concrete way beneath them.

– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) from the window of a care center, Grand Rapids, MI.

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Cuba: The Embargo Wall

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Two human beings passed abreast through a wall yesterday: the invisible wall between the U.S. and Cuba.

The wall was built by human hands. It’s coming down by human hands. Like the Berlin Wall and “the Iron Curtain” that went up during the Cold War between the East and West.

Here in the States the story was that the wall and the curtain had gone up to keep people in. And that’s what I thought until the summer of 1966 while living “behind” the wall with the Schulz family in Bratislava as The Experiment in International Living’s Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

A visitor from the West was immediately struck by the absence of bill boards. There were no advertisements like in Chicago. Bratislava struck me at first glance as a gray place, a dull place, a colorless place, a depressing place. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“The wall isn’t there to keep us in,” said my hosts at the third floor walk-up apartment at #7 Legionarska Street. “It there to keep you OUT.” Their story was altogether different. They were trying to keep Western materialism, Western greed and commercialism on the other side of the wall.

They build the wall, they said, to make possible the building of a new character: a more generous, less predatory, more social community beyond the old desaparities of wealth and poverty.

“Today Robert Fronts-Diaz, who owns a Twin Cities translation and communications business, says the U.S. embargo was ‘an opportunity for Cuba to build character… Since I was a little kid, I wanted the Cuban embargo to be lifted,’ Fonts-Diaz said, his voice breaking with emotion. ‘I am very deeply touched that my request has been fulfilled,’” [“For state’s Cuban, change was a long time coming,” StarTribune, Dec. 18, 2014]

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall….” In the end, over time, they all come down

[Eternity] “spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

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Poem #5 – Dale Hartwig (1940-2012)

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890  with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890 with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Dale Hartwig stood out from the crowd. He wrote for himself. His was a rich inner world, a necessity for survival as Parkinson’s shrank his world to the size of his room at the care center. His writings, shared with a group of six close friends, deserve a larger audience.

Dale’s verses and poetry often echo the Hebrew psalmists. They are visceral, sometimes crying out  like Vincent Van Gogh exercising in his asylum at Saint-Remy, and at other times delighting at the sight of a fluttering leaf or falling snowflake outside his care center window. None of Dale’s pieces have titles.

Like prisoners, they only have numbers – the order in which he wrote them, as best we can tell.

Poem #5

Behind and before, Thou goest, O Lord.
Like the wind I cannot see.
But why so silent in ways of my need?
To let you but walk to trust in me.
O my steps are oft frozen from fear,
And my thoughts locked to the darkness around.
O God, only You can move me beyond
The prison that seems to abound.
Come, Lord, and move me, just one small step
Toward the One who would give me so much.
I am who I am, so little sometimes
But, with You, so much, so much.

The last time Dale joined the annual Gathering of classmates in Chicago, he surprised us. He wasn’t supposed to leave “home” – but he did. He somehow managed to get himself to the train station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, board a train for Chicago, and make his way from Union Station to Hyde Park by public transportation carrying a suitcase on the stiffening legs he still exercised daily.

When it came his time to share what had been happening in his life, he handed me a sheaf of papers and pointed to the number 5 on one of the pages he had typed. I read it aloud for him. Every face was wet. “I am who I am, so little sometimes But, with You, so much, so much.”


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