Daily Riches: Without Excuse or Defense Before God (Thomas Merton)

Gordon C. Stewart:

Pope Francis quoted Thomas Merton. Here’s more thought-provoking Merton.

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

“ …we should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless into the center of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of his grace, his mercy and the light of faith. …But when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.” Thomas Merton

“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne;
 and the train of his robe filled the…

View original 318 more words

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Professors and Jack-hammer Operators

Is there a difference between being retired and being dead?

Is there a difference between being employed and being dead?

It all depends, perhaps. Is your retirement deadly boring? Is your employment deadly meaningless? It all comes down to “calling” – the sense that one is called to something.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessey

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessey

Social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessey noted how curious is was that in their leisure time professors read books and jack-hammer operators rode motorcycles. If it really was leisure, he said, the professors who worked with ideas would be riding motorcycles; the jackhammer operators whose ears were filled with noise all week would be reading philosophy, history or novels.

I think  need a motorcycle!

P.S. My audiologist said I have the ears of a 45 year old jack-hammer operator.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Oct. 1, 2015
Posted in Death and dying, Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Verse – Hearing

when my dad was old
in his seventies
often he would say
my good ear

his head would turn
one eye widen
forehead wrinkle
mouth turn down

if he then heard
perhaps a smile
or sympathetic nod

if still silence

a frozen face

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Sept. 30, 2015
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The lynching tree?

The lynching tree?

Every few days a silhouette of a tree and the invitation to play Hangman appear on my iPad. It’s a real tree with limbs and branches with a kind of Halloween orange sky behind the black silhouette and the noose.

In America there are TWO hangman histories. One seems harmless enough: Hangman, the English word game of British origin some of us played as children. The other is deadly.

As one who’d never heard of the game until it appeared on my iPad, the image is grotesque. It called up America’s long history of the lynching tree when the people who played hangman hid their identity with white hoods over their heads, walking in the dark with torches ablaze, erecting and setting afire crosses on the properties of blacks and whites who hadn’t shown proper respect for their doctrine of white supremacy.

Advertisers are experts in cultural anthropology. They prey on a people’s cultural history and belief systems. Commercials like the one for Hangman are created as a result of research into the fears and hungers of a people. Their ads hold out the bait to attract the quick click to the ap.  I didn’t click, but, if I were a gambler, I’d wager that many who did weren’t thinking about an innocuous word game when they clicked. They may have been seeing what the advertisers meant them to see: a symbol of “the good old days” when white men were in control.  In 2015  America the old racist hanging tree and its hangman are still soliciting successfully, especially when we choose not to remember.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 29, 2015.
Posted in America, Life, Racism | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A prisoner of my own violence

Pope Francis quoted the American Cistercian monk Thomas Merton in his address to Congress.

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”

Perhaps Mark had something like that in mind when he attributed to Jesus a grotesque instruction about following in the way of Christ. The images of Mark 9 are ludicrous, violent, grotesque.  Cut off a foot or a hand. Tear out your eye if it causes you to “stumble” — if it causes you to lead a child toward the fire of hell.  It is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell with two.

Author Flannery O’Connor seems to have known the genius of these jarring metaphors.

“I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

Watching the news of grotesque crimes against humanity, we ask how anyone could behead another human being. How, indeed? And always in the name of God, in the name of righteousness, the children of light against the children of darkness.

Jesus’ words from Mark 9 were read aloud last Sunday in many churches around the world. They are as off-putting now as they were spoken into an earlier violent time, a world that was for Jesus and for Mark what Merton’s was for him: a picture of hell.

But for Jesus, the word we translate “hell” was not a place of divine punishment. It was the name of a place outside of Jerusalem. Paul Nuechterlein writes in last week’s Girardian Reflections:

‘Gehenna’ in Mark’s Greek rendering would have been ‘Ben Hinnom’ in Jesus’ own Hebrew/Aramaic. It’s the valley referred to in Jeremiah 7:30-33:

For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the LORD; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire — which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.

‘Hell,’ ‘Gehenna,’ ‘ben Hinnom’ is the place of human sacred violence that has never even come into God’s mind. It is our violence that we need to fear, not God’s. Jesus is speaking grotesquely of lesser sacrificial violence like cutting off one’s hand, as being better than amped-up sacrificial violence like the child sacrifice of Jeremiah’s day — or the Nazi Holocaust of our day. [bold print added by VFTE]

Self-criticism, prayerful introspection, the opening of one’s own divided heart to Divine judgment and mercy are the stuff of which heaven is made; hell would be when we remain prisoners of our own selfish violence, a place filled with people just like me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 28, 2015.
Posted in Religion, Spirituality, Theology | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Verse – Primary


When young, it was always the same:
At the Clinic, just one Doctor came.
There now are so many
It’s not even funny–
I no longer know my Doc’s name.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Sept. 28, 2015
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Pope Francis and Speaker Boehner

Is it a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation the morning after his invited guest, Pope Francis, spoke to a joint session of Congress?

Pope Francis and John Boehner - Joint Session of Congress

Pope Francis and John Boehner – Joint Session of Congress

Before his address to Congress yesterday Pope Francis turned to the two former altar boys behind him on the dais.  He looked quickly at Vice President Joe Biden; he looked much longer into the eyes of his host, Speaker John Boehner. It was warm but it also seemed like something else – a moment between a priest and penitent?

The Speaker wiped his eyes, as any faithful Catholic would be prone to do.  He cried, as he often does, but this time as if to ask in humility, “Who am I, John Boehner, a mere altar boy, to share this powerful platform with the Holy Father? I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”

One had to ponder Mr. Boehner’s inner turmoil listening to the Pope’s words gently reprimand leaders who forget the Golden Rule, push aside the poor, ignore or criminalize immigrants and migrants, prefer aggression to dialogue, ignore the common good for private gain, put people on death row, and refuse to act responsibly on climate change.

What do you do sitting behind the Pope?

You take out your handkerchief at the great privilege of hosting the Pontiff and the honor of being in his presence, but perhaps also because you recognize the prevalence of sin, as in Francis’ quotation from Thomas Merton (see quotation below) or his choice of the socialist Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement as one of four Americans to emulate.  And, if you haven’t already done so in your private time with the merciful Pope Francis, you might go to confession, repent, and do penance.

This morning John Boehner announced his resignation as Speaker of the House at the end of October. Preparing to speak to the United Nations in New York, one can imagine Pope Francis blessing John while lamenting Boehner’s colleagues’ loud cheering, wondering whether anyone but Joe and Johnny was paying attention the day before.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sept. 25, 2015

Quote from Pope Francis commendation of Thomas Merton as an American example to follow:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

[Bold print added for emphasis by Views from the Edge]

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Verse – Weight-Loss Plan

Each year pounds have started to show.
On belly and butt they do grow.
I decided then
That I would lose ten
And I only have fifteen to go!

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 24, 2015
Posted in Humor, Poetry, verse | Tagged | 2 Comments

Do prairie grasses ever get depressed?


Prairie grassland, Photo by Kay Stewart

Prairie grassland, Photo by Kay Stewart

Each alone and
all together
planted on
the prairie plain
we go nowhere
in sleet and snow
wind and rain
scorching heat
and frigid cold
sun and drought
quarter moons
half moons
three-quarter moons
full moons
no moons
starless nights
and starlit nights
we stay and wait
for nothing in
particular knowing
who and where
we are — a prairie
grassland sown
for us to be our
own true selves
together and alone.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary near Bassett, Nebraska, September 23, 2015.

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Morning Fog and the Horizon

The horizon disappears behind the morning fog.Prairie grasses in fog

Tall grasses that yesterday colored the prairie as far as eye could see are still there. Only the nearest 100 feet of the rusty red, yellow, and brown prairie grasses now appears, the rest only imagined behind the gray mist curtain.

The Nebraska prairie and its earth-tone colors are native to Kay. They’ve been less appreciated by her husband, raised on the tree-covered hills and the bright ocean blues and greens, dotted occasionally with sumac red and willow yellow, of the Northeast Coast.

The Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, this 5,000 acre wildlife refuge of Audubon of Kansas, feels unspoiled by human hands, except for the indigenous people who long ago vanished with the buffalo along the Niobrara River.

By noon the fog is still here. So are the earthen colors. What’s changed is the Yankee’s fresh appreciation for the intrinsic beauty of the browns, yellows, and rusty reds he once viewed as the dull, faded colors of boredom and decay.

The Earth is a splendid place to live. Morning fog blew in years ago over Old Garden Beach in Rockport, Massachusetts leaving only the gray granite, red sumac and pink primrosed white picket fence visible to the eye. Then and now, there and here, life is wrapped in mist and wonder. The horizon disappears in morning fog.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Hutton House, Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, somewhere near Bassett, Nebraska, September 22, 2015.
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Chasing the Light: Everything in Life Is “Compared to What”?

Kay Stewart

Kay Stewart

by Kay Stewart

After 16 years of marriage you learn many lessons. But the ones on vacation are especially worth noting.

My husband and I have been given the opportunity of fulfilling a preaching assignment for a lovely little chapel named St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel located in the abandoned mining town of Southern Cross, Montana. The chapel is perched on the edge of a beautiful mountainside with a gorgeous panoramic view of Georgetown Lake, the largest lake in the area. Breathtaking beauty. A vacation of our dreams. One for the bucket list. All he has to do is provide four Sundays of sermons and they provide us with a free cabin on the meadow down in the valley below, nestled between two mountain ranges. In the morning we hear melodies of little chirping birds, and every evening soft gentle breezes waft across our side porch as we watch sunset after sunset throw a veritable light-show of color as it criss-crosses the valley below. All we have to put up with is a modern-day schizophrenic auditory milieu–pristine quiet periodically interrupted by the highway noises from cars, trucks and RV’s. We have every reason to be grateful, and we are.

After two weeks of our four week almost-ideal vacation here in Montana, we decided the vacation could be expanded, enhanced–an improvement on perfection. “What we need is an adventure,” I said. This dynamic is better known as “the grass is always greener on the other side”. My husband didn’t really need an adventure, he was liking his Montana vacation just fine. But I was getting restless. I am seven years younger and think it is due to this age difference that I am being deprived of adventures to which I am entitled. It didn’t take long to convince him to break camp (cabin) in search of something else. I used the regret-reduction argument.  It works every time. “When we get home, won’t we wish we had done more exploring of this part of the country?” Avoiding future regret is my argument of choice–it burns like a slow wick, providing a living breathing phantom of anxiety forecast into the future when you won’t be able to do anything about it. So within 24 hours we dismantled our “ideal” vacation in search of a relocation of our vacation spot. We chose a trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

We are experienced travelers and have always felt comfortable using Trip Advisor to book a motel reservation. With the correct box checked filtering “pet friendly” venues, we booked a motel for $179.00 a night plus fees and taxes. It seemed a bit high, but Jackson, Wyoming is a high ticket vacation destination. After all, that’s why we were going there. Our internet provider doesn’t have enough cell phone towers in the hills of Montana, so my husband did not get an immediate confirmation number and we got worried. Avoiding any problems, we called the motel to verify only to find out they were not pet friendly after all and we could not stay there if we had a dog. They directed us to another motel close to them that was assuredly pet friendly and we immediately called to book with them for two nights, sight unseen. They articulated right off that under no condition would we be allowed to leave our dog unattended in the motel room. “Fair enough” we thought, we can leave Barclay in the car, for short breaks, going to restaurants, leaving the windows open, we do it all the time when the weather is cool enough. Barclay loves to “go for a ride in the car”; he simply takes naps in the front seat where the Alpha Dog sits.

Five hours of driving later, we rolled into Jackson. We were thinking five hours wasn’t such a bad drive, since it was much less than the 19 hours it took us to drive to Montana from Minneapolis, but we were wrong. Five hours is a long day of driving any time you do it. Especially under a hot 95 degree sun. It’s July. The sun does that in Wyoming in July. This leads into another complication. It’s about our dear little dog. Barclay is a wonderful 14 pound, 2-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. His Cavalier breeding makes him adorable and affectionate, but Barclay has a psychological disorder—he is a “shadow chaser”. I prefer to call it by its more obvious name–Barclay is a “light chaser”. The disorder is not rare, it causes obsessive compulsive behavior in a dog, drawing him, like a magnet, to wherever and whenever there is a difference between light and its accompanying shadow. Barclay is a serious light chaser and intensely loves all light. He actually has no choice in the matter; it’s a compulsory lifestyle for him. When light happens, it immediately activates Barclay. He positions himself as close to the light as possible. Then he, well, just stares at it, or paws it, or licks it. When the light changes, as light often does, Barclay changes too — he moves on to his next favorite piece of it. He never goes looking for different light, better light. He is totally satisfied with the light that happens in his midst. Barclay plays with light like a young child plays with an imaginary friend, but one he will not outgrow. But, after five hours of driving with light careening off of everything metal or electronic, we are pretty much “lights out”.

We arrive at our destination in Jackson worn out and find that our $200 a night motel room would rent for about $80 in any other city but Jackson. The quality is just not there. The room is pitch dark when the heavy musty-smelling curtains are drawn which must occur at all times unless you want the 100’s of nearby tourists to look inside your motel room. But for a family with a light obsession, dark is better for us. As we listen to the roar from the room’s air conditioning unit, which can barely keep up with the afternoon heat, we decide there is nothing else we’d like to do than take a nap.

We read in our motel room the travel brochure provided us explaining Grand Teton National Park’s rules concerning pets. They must be on a leash at all times—we are used to that. But we read further to find that dogs are not allowed at all on any of the park’s trails or public attraction areas. That’s just great.

This being a spontaneous vacation get-away from our primary vacation, we had not realized we were choosing to spend it at Grand Teton National Park on the lead-up to the 4th of July holiday weekend. The city of Jackson gets 3-4 million tourists a year. We were spending the day driving around in our air conditioned car with our beloved dog in bumper to bumper traffic with a great portion of those 3-4 million tourists.

As the vacation wore on, we became grouchier and grouchier. The tourist attractions became mostly distractions because of the tourists. And although The Grand Tetons were magnificent, “when you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen ’em all”. We couldn’t hike the trails. Bumper to bumper traffic in 95 degree weather. We wanted to go home.

We chose to travel home through Yellowstone National Park. It made us sad watching the devastation to the forests from the 1988 forest fires. The forest was indeed “coming back”, but it just wasn’t there yet. We tried to stop and see “Old Faithful”, but gave up when we couldn’t find a parking spot. We couldn’t wait to get home so we kept driving.

In 72 hours, we drove 750 miles, spent $700, slept in a dungeon for two nights, and drove home through countless forested areas with dead trees and no parking spaces. Once back in our original vacation location, we discovered something uniquely wonderful. We saw the light of what had been in our midst the whole time–the natural beauty, rolling hills, fresh breezes on our side porch and chirping birds heard even as the highway sang its tune. This lesson learned is one we will keep for years to come.

  • Kay Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, July 4, 2015. Recently retired from 16 years with Hennepin County Medical Center’s Addiction Medicine Program, Kay is a licensed chemical dependency counselor with degrees in theology and social work. Her reflections on grief have appeared on her blog on Raw Grief.
Posted in Life, Memoir, story, Writing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Verse – Thanks to a Longfellow

Lives of women all remind us
They can do all that men can.
And departing, leave behind us
Children’s footprints in the sand.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 20, 2015
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Bernie Sanders at Liberty University

The very thought of Democratic Socialist candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking at a compulsory convocation at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell who also founded the Moral Majority, seemed far-fetched until it happened. What happened is an example to follow: a genuine, face-to-face, civil discussion about America, the meaning of morality, and what the Bible has to say about justice in our time.

C-Span’s coverage of the complete 1 hr. 5 min. convocation, including Christian evangelical praise music, and prayer before and after Sanders’ presentation, is all the more remarkable.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318
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Verse – The Ubiquiphone

The Ubiquiphone

The thermometer outside would tell
The temperature, heaven or hell.
The paper brought news.
The neighbors shared views,
But now I just look at my cell.

The mobile that I use instead
Of books that I often had read
Has also replaced,
Has simply erased
The facts that I had in my head.

My computer I never go near–
I’ve not seen my desk for a year.
The next phone that I buy
I’m afraid it will try
To make even my spouse disappear!

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Sept. 13, 2015
Posted in Humor, Poetry, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Verse – Bedroom Battles

Bedroom Battle

The Groom learned quickly to please
Not pull blankets away from her knees.
But if the Bride takes them, too,
Then all he can do
Is lie there naked and freeze.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Sept. 13, 2015
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Freed from the leash on 9/11

Yesterday, on the anniversary of  9/11, Kay and I hiked on the Echo Trail near Ely, MN with 2 year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Barclay. Barclay knows nothing about airplanes, falling buildings, religion, economics, terror, or war. He makes friends with everyone. He rejoices in the present, leaping in the air, joyful for no particular reason.

On the hike we set him free from his leash and watch him romp along the trail, out and away from us – but not too far – and then galloping back like a race horse when called. Unfortunately, Kay’s slow motion video wouldn’t load for viewing.

Freed of his leash

he runs and leaps

his feathery coat

and flopping ears

fill the stale air

with the breeze

of joy unleashed.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 12, 2015

Since we couldn’t upload yesterday’s slo-mo video, here’s a different view of Barclay’s playful spirit.

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Verse – Kansas

on the prairie
the wind turbines
can be seen
for twenty-five miles

after dark the red lights
in unison
seem to blink
as blades slowly turn

a football field high
the inscribed circle
is a full acre
echoing irrigation

from the air
only the green circles
can be seen
windmills disappear

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 12, 2015
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I’m Sorry

Remember Love Story’s line: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”?

It was mistaken then, and it’s mistaken now. Love often means saying your sorry. Repeatedly. It means some sadness. It means taking responsibility.

Watching and listening to Hillary Clinton over these last weeks and months leads me to another version of the Love Story line, created by the increasing perception of entitlement.

“Haughtiness means never having to say you’re sorry”… except when it becomes necessary to rescue one’s own ambitions. The smirk, the tilt of the head, the rolling of the eyes speak louder than “I’m sorry”.


Sorry (kinda/sorta) for being so political!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 10, 2015
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An American Paradox

“Our laws are not generally known; they are kept secret by the small number of nobles who rule us.”

[Franz Kafka, “The Problem of Our Laws,” Parables and Paradoxes, Schocken Books, New York.]

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

The laws of which Kafka wrote in the early 20th Century are not the ones peculiar to his time. They are not written in legislation. They are not acts of Congress. They are not the federal, state, or local statutes and ordinances lawyers argue in courts of law. The laws of which he speaks are not visible to the masses. They are the secret of the nobles. They are laws of a different order.

“The laws were made to the advantage of the nobles from the very beginning; they themselves stand above the laws.”

According to Kafka, the nobles themselves have inherited the Law as a mystery whose origins are hidden in antiquity. The nobles believe in this Law, but, in fact the Law is whatever the nobles do.

We, the populace who live under the Law of the nobles, dream of a time “when everything will have become clear, the law will belong to the people, and the nobility will vanish. This is not maintained in any spirit of hatred against the nobility; not at all, and by no one. We are more inclined to hate ourselves, because we have not yet shown ourselves worthy of being entrusted with the laws.”

Franz Kafka knew nothing of Donald Trump, the noble who knows the Law is whatever the nobles do and convinces the masses that we, too, can become nobles.

“Actually,” wrote Kafka, “we can express the problem only in a sort of paradox: Any party that would repudiate, not only all belief in the laws, but the nobility as well, would have the whole people behind it; yet no such party can come into existence, for nobody would dare to repudiate the nobility. We live on this razor’s edge. A writer summed the matter up in this way: the whole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is the nobility, and must we ourselves deprive ourselves of this one law?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, writing from the shoreline of Lake Shagawa, Ely, MN, September 9, 2015.
Posted in America, Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments


Emily Hedges

Emily Hedges

by Emily Hedges

My parents’ annual visit from Oklahoma falls during Shark Week this year. The July Discovery Channel tradition captivates my Dad. He sent a text a month ago reminding me to set a DVR recording. Since arriving, they spend time with my three kids—nine, eight and seven—gathered around the television in the downstairs living room watching glass-eyed, roving predators take chucks out of human thighs and sides. I allow it against my better judgement. I have already said no to Dad’s dosing my kids with home-brewed colloidal silver and the show River Monsters. I feel I can’t say no to everything, so I say yes to this with my silence.

“It’s not just a great white. It’s a rogue monster with a taste for people,” Dad tells us over coffee. In a show he watched the night before, three boaters encountered a megalodon—a super shark—which dragged their craft underwater.

“Naturally the two women were panicking, but the man stayed calm. This guy in the boat next to theirs volunteers to go down and try to bring them up,” Dad says. “He was just some guy willing to go down there knowing what was waiting. Now that’s courage.”

“You know Dad, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about women panicking,” I say. He just cuts a glance at Mom, frustrated that once again I’ve missed the point. I’m curious about the word “megalodon” so I Google the name. I learn it’s an extinct, ancient shark scientists believe once measured 40 to 70 feet in length, compared to the average great white that is from 15 to 20 feet.

Later that day I’m sitting in the living room reading. Mom and Dad come in with my nine-year-old, Scout, and sit down. The television screensaver is scrolling stock landscape photos with news headlines. I see the name Hillary Clinton out of the corner of my eye. Dad sees it too because he says, “Okay Emily. The election is tomorrow. Who do you vote for, Hillary or Trump?”

“Hillary!” Scout responds with a fist pump in the air. I love her innocent, uncalculating honesty. If only it was so easy to be an adult child. I feel my parents’ eyes on me and hope perhaps this is a rhetorical question, meant as a comment on the impossible state of American politics, like when I proclaimed myself a conscientious objector in the 2004 Bush/Kerry election. But their silent, challenging expressions make it clear they’re waiting for a response.

“Hillary,” I say, knowing how my parents feel about her. Just the day before, my Dad detailed what he refers to as the “Clinton body count”—White Water, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and “all the others” strewn along their path to the top. But surely they couldn’t support Trump either. I remember how Bill’s presidency inspired an almost daily discussion of the necessity of character in an American president? Would they consider Trump as having character?

“Why?” Mom asks me in an accusing tone. Then she catches herself, forcing her body to relax against the arm of the couch. The corners of her mouth soften into a half smile. She’s trying to look calm, but it only gives her face a smirk.

“What do you know about him? Has he broken the law?” she challenges. Unformed sentences catch in my throat. I don’t know whether I should let them out or keep them trapped. Paralyzed, I feel myself bobbing in open water about to be bitten. Then a memory surfaces from their last visit. While drinking coffee on the deck, Mom made a statement about global warming that I challenged. Her face flushed; her lips trembled; and her eyes turned shiny. She apologized each time she reached up to wipe away a tear with the back of her hand, weathered and brown from daily work in her garden.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying,” she kept saying over and over.

I look down at her hand and remember how when I was little, I used to wrap it up in a wash cloth and pretend it was my baby. Now those gentle fingers are curled inward, clinched together with anger.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s broken the law given his business, but of course I don’t know that and I’m not going to bear false witness against him,” I say, hoping this might discourage them from doing the same about Hillary in front of Scout. Unlike yesterday when I was able to smile and walk away, in front of my children I don’t have that option.
“Really Emily. What do you think you know about him?” Mom presses.

I see gold-plated Trump Tower near Columbus Circle in New York; his Atlantic City casino, in bankruptcy when I was there in 1999 on business. I see the arrogant sneer, the hair.

“I don’t really think you want my opinion, so I’d rather not say.” I am careful not to appear upset. Then I go upstairs for a soda. As I disappear around the corner, I hear her say, “For someone who doesn’t pay attention to the news, you seem to think you know a lot.” Her tone was low, meant only for Dad. My parents think I don’t follow the news because I don’t watch Fox, and I never bring up current events. My pride makes me want to correct her, but instead I say loud enough for her to hear: “I pay attention to more than you think Mom.”

It occurs to me—why Trump over all the other Republican candidates who seem a more logical fit for my parents’ conservative Christian worldview? I’ve never heard them mention him before. Why now? I hear the TV roar back to life downstairs, and the answer comes to me: for the same reason Trump is trending—for his recent comments describing Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists, roving predators. I turn, ready to go downstairs and tell them there is no research that supports the claim that illegal immigrants are more likely to commit crimes (except relating to immigration of course) than the rest of the population. In fact, statistically they are less likely, which makes sense given their fear of deportation. But then I stop. What good would it do? I look over at my two younger children sitting at the kitchen table coloring, both adopted from Mexican American birth parents, and puzzle over my parents’ logic.

After a time I return to the living room and all appears to be forgotten. In this episode a man in a cage is lowered into shark-infested water. The scientists hope to tag one of the great whites so they can better understand their movements and protect the nearby beach full of unsuspecting innocents swimming only a few hundred feet from a seal breeding ground. Then the scientist hazards an opinion as to why shark attacks have increased so dramatically over the last decade in this one beach off the coast of South America. His theory is that increased dumping of toxic waste into waterways is constricting the great white’s domain.

“The victim is always at fault,” my Dad says sarcastically. The suggestion that man could play a role in shark attacks offends him. He explains to Scout that it’s in the nature of a shark to look for new territory and to kill. To try to attribute that nature to something man causes or deserves is to deny observable fact. His words feel like the dark ocean, and I notice his arms forming a protective cage around her. She snuggles into them the way I did when I was little and I’m jealous. From where I sit on the opposite couch, it’s obvious there’s only enough room in them for a child. I watch his eyes watch the flickering images. His face seems content, the threatening, disintegrating world contained within the borders of the 48-inch television screen.

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“When you’re rich, they think you really know”

A song for Labor Day from Fiddler on the Roof helps explain the rise of You-Know-Who who seems to really know. When ordinary folks are losing their heads momentarily, a little humor’s good for the soul. Keep an eye out here for Emily Hedges Trumped.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 6, 2015



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Who Is Emily Hedges?

Emily Hedges

Emily Hedges

Emily’s not just any writer. She’s a good one!  Emily’s review of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s controversial sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, appeared on Views from the Edge on Thursday.

Parenting three adopted children with husband Joe, she carries a history of courageously outgrowing herself. Today she’s thriving at Dartmouth College, earning her master’s degree in creative writing and student-teaching basic writing to undergrads. Kay and I became friends the Hedges during their time here in Minnesota.

New Hampshire is politically hot right now in the run-up to the New Hampshire Presidential Primaries. Donald Trump is making it big.  So what happens when conservative parents from Oklahoma take over the television during a family visit in New Hampshire?

You may recognize yourself in this highly personal piece. She’s sensitive to her parents, although she no longer agrees with their conservative, apocalyptic view of the world. She constantly struggles with when to bite her tongue and when to speak up. Now that her children are old enough to be influenced by their beliefs, the stakes have never been higher.

Check back with Views from the Edge for her story Trumped.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 5, 2015.
Posted in America, Humor, Life, Love, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If I were a rich man…Labor Day Sunday 2015

Once there was a rich man with gold rings and fine clothes who was applauded by television viewers. “You’re fired!” he’d say with a smirk.  He showed no mercy. He took no prisoners.  He took no guff. Judgment triumphed over mercy, and the people lapped it up. It came from someone just like them, or so they thought, a true-blue American who stands up against intruders from Mexico.

Then some of those who followed him went to church on Labor Day Sunday where they had to square their enthusiasm for the man with the gold rings and fine clothes with the assigned Epistle for the day from New Testament’s Letter of James.

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

[Letter of James 2:1-17, NRSV]

And the people left church thinking the preacher was being political and went back to their television sets imbibing the illusion that one day they, too, might be like The Donald.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Labor Day Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.
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From Labor Day to Shopping Day

Remember Labor Day?

Violence against labor

Violence against labor – 1938 strike

There was a time when the nation closed down on Labor Day as a tribute to America’s working people.

Then something happened. The Labor Movement which brought about the end of child labor, the 40 hour work week, and won workplace safety laws, lost its steam. “Unions” became a four-letter word. Free market economists convinced the country that unions were responsible for America’s economic problems. The auto industry vacated Detroit for “Right to work” states or Mexico or outsourced parts production, as did other industries, to places where management would have free reign setting wages, benefits, pensions, and work conditions for employees.

This morning I asked a store clerk whether she’ll be working on Monday. “No,” she said, “We’re closed.” “Good,” I said, “you should be. Good for [name of the company]. Everyone should be off unless they’re working somewhere where  an essential public interest at stake.”

Then I came home and searched “Labor Day”.  9 Best Sales of Labor Day 2015 – US News popped up. It’s a shopper’s holiday in the free-market consumer society. Tenty-three percent of American workers work in retail. Amnesia reigns. But, in case you’re wondering, Costco will honor its workers Monday. Walmart invites you to “celebrate hard work with huge savings”.

Click HERE for the heart of Labor Day and why Labor Day is important in the year 2015 when America’s 1%, the class of J.P. Morgan, have succeeded in turning Labor Day into a shopping event when the laborers have to work.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 5, 2015
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A Deeper Look @ the “Migrant” Crisis in Europe

This morning as the BBC reports on Hungarian migrants’ “Walk to the Border” of Austria, this report offers a different picture of the crisis’s origins and meaning for the future. Views from the Edge has added Maroon to draw attention to the humane impulse and to the too easily ignored question of who’s responsible for the crisis.


by Victor Grossman – Berlin Bulletin No. 98, September 5 2015

After finishing off this bulletin late last night – actually early this morning – I sent off a first batch and finally went to bed after 2 AM. But in the morning I found it was already outdated on one important point: the Hungarian government, facing growing violence and the “Walk to the Border” mentioned below, gave in and agreed to the offer by the Austrian and German governments to skip strict rules and let the migrants cross the border into either country. Skeptical at first, fearing new tricks, the refugees, after waiting a few hours until the news proved genuine, have since been moving out of Hungary by the thousand, arriving exhausted but grateful in their hoped-for new Gardens of Eden, getting for a start a bottle of water, a banana and a new registration number. It all seemed a ragged replay of the journey of jolly, well-nourished GDR emigrants – or “freedom seekers” – along much the same border-crossing route in 1989, leading to major changes in all Europe. Will this also have seismic effects? Who knows?

Otherwise I think my bulletin is still valid.

A silent three-year-old, lying drowned on a Turkish beach, the tearful protest of a Syrian man as he, his wife and baby are torn from the tracks next to a locomotive by Hungarian police, desperate families jammed into tiny, leaky vessels boats hoping to reach Europe alive or, if they do, facing ever new obstacles from weather, hunger and thirst to barbed wire fences and pepper spray – these pictures hammer at emotions here for one tragic week after another.

In truth, for many months and years such scenes caused those in power more irritation than dismay. British PM Cameron complained of immigrant swarms as if a nasty foreign ant species was threatening his island. He and French President Hollande viewed the miserable “Jungle” of asylum-seekers in Calais, icy-cold, as a problem for truck insurers and police squads. The officialdom of Germany and a largely obedient European Union focused on squelching hopes for true sovereignty, jobs and an endurable existence of the Greek people – or any others daring to follow their example.

But as more and more human beings fled the bloody fighting, the air raids and ruins in the Middle East or hopeless poverty in their homelands, events in Europe escalated. Far-right organizers, always present in Germany, took advantage of the growing numbers of refugees to denounce even planless, weak measures to help them and turn citizens’ dissatisfaction and fears for the future into hatred toward anyone weaker than they, suspected rivals for any improvement or assistance. Thousands marched with ugly signs and banners, at first aimed at “Islamists” but soon at anyone with a different culture or skin color. This was officially disapproved of but often tolerated, even protected.

Older buildings or container structures, renovated to house the growing numbers of arrivals, were often faced with mob protests, even riots. When buildings were set ablaze, usually but not always empty, Germany’s reputation demanded a response. Leaders like Vice-Chancellor Gabriel visited and denounced the “mob”. At last, on August 25th, Frau Merkel also visited Heidenau near Dresden, where xenophobia had reached fever heat. Quite horribly for Germany’s so very respected, calm and collected leader, she was confronted with posters and shouts calling her a “Traitor”. Some intoned a slogan, greatly admired in 1989 when directed against East German leaders, but now less welcome: “We are the people”.

It was ironic that Saxony’s police, so numerous and arrest-happy when leftists block Nazi march routes, were too pitifully understaffed to do much; despite barrages of rocks, bottles and fireworks they made only one paltry arrest. Saxony, the only East German state run by Christian Democrats ever since West Germany took over the GDR in 1990, is known for its lax attitude towards far-right forces, despite pious disclaimers – and that is where there are the most mobs and fires.

But then a change became apparent. The discovery of a truck on an Austrian highway with a hardly conceivable number of 71 corpses inside, refugee men, women and children suffocated and deserted by the “people-smugglers”, was a shock and one key element in much new thinking. Instead of a courageous but limited number of mostly young anti-fascists, large numbers of often less political Germans discovered their humane impulses – and increasingly acted on them. While most government officials on local, state and federal levels dillied and dallied, tied up with matters like officially registering people and always understaffed, more and more citizens moved in to help, bringing blankets, clothes, diapers, food, water and toys. They cooked, teachers organized German classes, some simply stood guard against the racists – with posters saying “Refugees Welcome!”

What has occurred is a real split in the German population, somewhere near the middle, with many people taking not only a humane position but often a courageous one, for nationalist grumbling about immigrants, at least as common as in some regions in the USA or elsewhere, has in Germany especially disturbing reverberations from the past and some potentially very violent elements.

It is unexpectedly interesting that German leaders, with open ears to all factors, began to welcome this huge wave, which may reach 800,000 this year, at least in words and with often hesitant steps.

Some media recalled that after World War II Germany, in ruins and reduced in size, absorbed 12 to 14 million refugees from Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia. Of course, they were Germans who spoke the same language. Then, from 1969 to 1972, millions of so-called “guest workers” were taken in, originally to do the rough, dirty work and then leave. But a large number, especially Turks, stayed and settled down, although this time the integration has been far more problematic. But it was possible, and after the Berlin Wall went down there was another big wave, East German and Eastern European, with 700,000 arriving in 1992 alone. None of the waves ruined the economy! Economists point out that the demographic facts of life, with ethnic Germans having ever fewer children, demand many immigrants, especially young people with growing families.

Now, surprisingly, and despite rightist terror and foot-dragging politicians, Germany has become the main defender of the refugees in the European Union and a Mecca for the majority of them, like those in Budapest’s Main Station chanting “Germany, Germany”. Indeed, the Hungarian government had to trick them into thinking the trains they were crammed into were headed for Germany; instead they were soon halted so their misled passengers could be bussed off to a caged-in tent camp and registered. As I write, hundreds, probably thousands are defying this trick with a hunger strike or by trying to walk, with their elderly and their babies, to the Austrian border 150 miles away. The violence of a xenophobic Hungarian officialdom, at a total loss for any solutions, seems to be worsening, while the barbed wire fence built by Hungary to stop the refugees may recall to some the pageantry involved when it cut its fence to Austria in 1989, setting in motion the downfall of any form of socialism in Eastern Europe.

A few countries, led by Germany and the unwilling hosts to the arriving boats, Italy and Greece, now demand that the refugees be shared out through Europe, with quotas based on size and economic strength. Cameron responded with a vague hint at limited approval, Denmark, the Netherlands and above all Eastern Europe reject any such plan. At first Slovakia had said “We’ll take a few hundred – but only Catholics!” Now it and the Czech Republic, with Hungary and big Poland, are so stubbornly opposed that the whole wobbly structure of the European Union is trembling alarmingly.

To complicate matters even more, official Germany’s welcome smiles vanish when it comes to so-called “economic refugees”; many Africans but mostly discriminated Roma people of Eastern Europe and poverty-stricken people from Albania and all of former Yugoslavia – most of all Kosovo.

Cleo, the muse of history, must again turn to irony. It was the German government (all top parties) which was most active in splitting Yugoslavia into national slivers. Germany hotly encouraged the war to “liberate Kosovo”, joining in the merciless bombing of Serbia and leaving the “western Balkans” in wrecked, chaotic disarray. It promised Kosovo freedom and prosperity; what now reigns, in the presence of German and other UN soldiers, is described as “corruption, gang crime, poverty and discrimination against the Roma”. Wages average about 300 euro, youth unemployment is at 60 %, the health service hardly functions. But desperate attempts to reach the promised and once so grandly promising land in the north are almost hopelessly doomed to fail.

This raises a key question, almost agonizingly avoided in the media, which angrily denounces vicious, greedy “people-smugglers” but not those who caused this misery in the first place. Who provoked the wars in ex-Yugoslavia? Who unleashed “shock and awe” in Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands and driving millions from their homes? Who invaded Afghanistan, as vengeance for September 11th, with a “war on terror” unleashing fourteen years of killing and destruction and forcing thousands upon thousands to flee? Who wrecked Libya – to “protect its down-trodden” – opening the way for anarchy and a fleet of deadly cutters and rubber dinghies? And who massively armed the destructive hordes in Syria, in part via billion-euro contracts with Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates, Qatar and Turkey, all to fight Assad, all trying to hold or grab a bigger slice of that tragic land? True, one of those involved, Turkey, is filled with perhaps two million who fled from Syria. Another, the USA, agreed to welcome about 1000. The Saudis, Qatar and the UAE, so far as known, have taken none.

These forces, in different countries but all obscenely wealthy, are the real guilty ones, guilty in the long run for the rubble of Palmyra and for little Aylan Kurdi, now interred with his brother and mother in Cobane, another city destroyed by the highly profitable weapons of the fanatical, oil-rich ISIS while its erstwhile friend and customer, our NATO ally Recep Erdogan of Turkey, stood by. Aylan and his family were not allowed to enter Canada where their relatives had hoped to welcome them.

What is ahead? Let us hope the world is spared from more such blessed freedom battles against “Islamic terror” – and more unimaginable heartbreak! Iran has 75 million citizens. If some current people’s wishes and plans are not prevented we may yet be welcoming many of them, too – or as many as survive!

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Go Set a Watchman: A Review


A Review: Go Set a Watchman 

by Emily Hedges*, September 3, 2015

Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird have already heard—Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Harper Collins July 2015) doesn’t reflect well on everyone’s hero, Atticus Finch. The timing couldn’t be worse. With the Charleston shootings still on our minds and the phrase “black lives matter” as a rallying cry instead of an obvious truth, we needed him. We needed Atticus’s courage and ethics to be a sign of hope. Maybe that’s why we were all so ready to accept the story of a found manuscript after all these years. We felt the gods were sending us a sign, like Mockingbird was for the Civil Rights South.

Watchman was written and set in the mid-1950’s in the aftermath of Brown vs. Board of Education. Atticus, who was willing to sacrifice everything to defy the racist establishment in Mockingbird, set in 1936, now sees a different threat looming over the South. Grown up Scout returns home and finds Atticus part of the Macomb County Citizens’ Council, an organization he knows is racist, but feels is their only protection against the federal government (and organizations like the NAACP) usurping the community’s right to determine what and how institutional changes are made.

The fact that Watchman is more about state’s rights than civil rights was always going to be disappointing to me and many fans of Mockingbird, but it’s the preachy way it’s done that makes the novel unpalatable. I think this happens because the story is more about groups than individuals. Where Watchman gives us “negros,” Mockingbird gave us Tom Robinson; where Watchman gives us racists, Mockingbird gave us Bob Ewell; where Watchman gives us the Old Sarum folks (poor whites), Mockingbird gave us Mr. Cunningham. I think this lack of compelling, fully developed characters is what forced Lee to resort to long stretches of didactic dialogue to carry her political message. This is particularly evident in Parts V, VI, and VII where Atticus’s brother, Dr. Jack, is portrayed as a two-dimensional interlocutor, a patient, patriarchal figure that forbears Jean Louise’s passionate tirades about race, guiding the exchanges with patronizing questions and long-winded homilies. There is nothing of the tender charm found in interactions between Scout and Atticus from Mockingbird.

For all its faults and disappointments, it’s almost worth reading Watchman just for Scout’s childhood flashbacks, a few precious scenes where we can once again romp through a lazy, hot summer afternoon with Scout, Jem and Dill. It’s like watching deleted scenes from your favorite movie. In these moments especially, and throughout the novel, Lee’s voice visits you like an old friend. Passages like this:

“Alexandra had been married for thirty-three years; if it had made any impression on her one way or another she never showed it. She had spawned one son, Francis, who in Jean Louise’s opinion looked and behaved like a horse, and who long ago left Macomb for the glories of selling insurance in Birmingham. It was just as well.”

I think it’s obvious that Watchman was the place Lee fine-tuned her characters and worked through plot and point-of-view. For that, we should appreciate that Watchman helped make Mockingbird a masterpiece. Appreciate it, but don’t publish it.

There was just too much money to be made. More than 1.1 million copies sold in the first week. As a recent New York Times op-ed pointed out, it’s no coincidence the manuscript was “discovered” within months after the death of Lee’s old protector (her sister Alice Lee) by her new protector, a woman who worked in Alice’s law office. Supposedly Lee, 89 years old and suffering from dementia in a nursing home, granted consent.

Since publication everyone has wondered, and worried, how Go Set a Watchman will taint the legacy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Many have said they don’t think it will, but I don’t agree. I can’t help feeling like a character from my other favorite American novel, The Great Gatsby, a character whose “count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” I wish I could go back and un-read this book. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel guilty of shooting a mockingbird, because Atticus was right—it is a sin.

*A native of Muskogee, OK, Emily Hedges is a published writer in a master’s program at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.  Emily lives in Lebanon, NH with husband Joe and three beautiful children. Thank you, Emily, for setting the bar for insightful literary criticism and for trusting Views from the Edge to publish your work. – Gordon




Posted in America, Civil Rights Movement, Discrimination, Racism, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Verse – Eugene Field…

Eugene Field
is Spinning in his Grave

The computer, smartphone, and iPad too
Are all that this child could want.
With Clash of Clans, and Auto-Theft 2,
I’ll always be so smart
School studies can suffer–no homework tonight–
I might watch a little TV,
But my brain is exploding, I’m feeling all right,
There’s nothing the matter with me,
I’m happy as I can be:
With computer,
And Pad.

Now Mother and Father will sputter and fuss–
They don’t understand at all.
For Granny and Gramps said, “Read! You Must!
Or all your grades will fall!”
But we take exams on computers at school,
No notes, but txts we snd!
The Principal axed the No Gizmos rule
So our school-wide strike would end–
“Unions Forever, my friend!”
With computer,
And Pad!

  • Steve Shoemaker, September 2, 2015
  • NOTE: Click HERE to read Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac posting on Eugene Fields, author of such poems as “Wynken, Blinken, and Nod”.
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An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

Originally posted on The World of Special Olympics:

image John Franklin Stephens

The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night’s Presidential debate.

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied…

View original 263 more words

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Maya Angelou, the Castle, and the Moat

Urgent partisan e-mail messages from “The War Room” arrive regularly, rallying me against the enemy.

Interesting choice of words in a democratic republic.

Playing MahJong on my iPad, ads featuring a seductive woman in a white dress pop up coaxing me to play Medieval “War Games” complete with castles, knights, spears, and armor. Lately the ad has turned to entice me to “Come conquer the world with me“.

Allusions to war, military images that prey on fear with the illusion of conquering whatever we’re afraid of are increasingly prevalent. So are subliminal messages that liken the United States to a walled Medieval castle, like Donald Trump’s southern border wall and maybe, a northern wall, as well, which Scott Walker called “a legitimate issue for us to look at” yesterday on Meet the Press. Just think of it – a country completely secure with an impenetrable wall, just like a medieval castle.

Next comes the moat outside the castle wall.

Meanwhile, inside the castle, our citizens rush to the gun shows while we kill each other at an alarming rate.  A 90 year-old homebound man on oxygen sits all day in his Barco-Lounger allowing nothing else on his television than old Westerns and World War II documentaries. In other homes children play “War Games”on their Wii, iPhones and iPads while the parents play soldier in their partisan War Rooms.

“You dwell in whitened castles with deep and poisoned moats and cannot hear the curses that fill you children’s throats.”Maya Angelou

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August  31, 2015


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The Mason of God (Dennis Aubrey)

Originally posted on Via Lucis Photography:

In a world where what passes for news are articles about the megalomaniac Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and the Jenners, we occasionally find something worth consideration.

On August 25 a funeral mass was celebrated in the Italian town of Montefortino at the chiesa della Madonna dell’Ambro. The recipient of the mass was a Capuchin friar, Padre Pietro Lavini who lived as a hermit in the Sibylline Mountains near Rubbiano Montefortino and along the Gola dell’Infernaccio, the Gorge of Hell. A thousand people attended the service of the man who died two weeks prior, on August 9, 2015.

Why did they come to this mass? What did Padre Pietro accomplish with his life as a hermit?

Padre Pietro Lavini, photo from Santuario Madonna dell'Ambro Padre Pietro Lavini, photo from Santuario Madonna dell’Ambro

In 1971, Padre Pietro discovered the ruins of the Eremo di Santo Leonardo, an abandoned 12th century Benedictine monastery in the wilds of the Sibyllines. All…

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Verse – ?

Question Mrk

Question Mrk

Sending a son or daughter off to college is hard for a parent.

Steve captured the sentiment in this piece “written in 1988 when my son, Daniel, left home to go to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.”




To choose a title first is such an act
of pride (as if one knows just where a thought
will go.) Is “Saying Goodbye to Our Son”
a better choice than “Letting Go?” And when
is specificity superior
to breadth? Do only parents know the fear
of being left behind when children leave?
Is every parting death, a tiny grave?

A title should invite…entice…alert
the reader to the text. But what comes next?
That is the question. Eyes will open wide
and see new truth. Will truth lead to the good?
We hug and hope and wave goodbye. The path
twists back and then away (“A Brand New Birth?)

  • Steve Shoemaker [Published in Presbyterian Outlook]

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Verse – Clandestine Communication

We used to pass notes while in school,
The teachers said “No! There’s a rule!”
But students today
Will have their own say:
A smart phone helps them play the fool!

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 29, 2015
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Political Humor

We hope these lines,  shared by a friend, bring a chuckle.

“When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.” – Clarence Darrow

“If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” – Jay Leno

“The problem with political jokes is they get elected.” -Henry Cate, VII

“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” -Aesop

“If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union Speeches, there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.” -Will Rogers

“Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.” –John Quinton

“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.” -Oscar Ameringer

“I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.” -Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952

“A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.” -Tex Guinan

“I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” -Charles de Gaulle

“Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.” -Doug Larson

“If you want a real friend that you can trust in Washington – get a dog.” -Harry Truman

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Verse – Old Friends

Old Friends

New information
From impeccable sources
Has twisted our memories
Lowered our esteem
Even given us a taste of disgust
But what have they heard about us

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 26, 2015
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Verse – after a 7-day party

the torah says the world was made
in 6 days then g_d rested our
big family gave gifts of food
& drink & games & laughs & more
for 7 days without a break
because for 5 decades my wife
& i were too stubborn to make
a split of course there had been strife
im often selfish or a jerk
so get a spouse who will not talk
& have 2 kids who always look
at the best side of what they see
give thanks for generosity
& for the worlds best family

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 24, 2015

NOTE: Happy 50th Anniversary, Steve and Nadja.

Posted in Love, Poetry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Verse – Pre-Disastered


The term from the insurance industry
is based on mathematics I do not
know at all: such as probability
analysis. When Garp said, “We should not
have fear to buy the house because a plane
crashed in to it, it’s pre-disastered–not
very likely to happen twice…”–the plain
truth he ignored is that a coin is not
more or less likely to be “heads” because
the time before it came up “tails.” Do not
believe your lung cancer can halt the cause
of heart disease. Even a prayer cannot
insure long life: we say, “Insha’Allah

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 22,2015
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Blameless and Exasperating

“Blameless people are always the most exasperating.”– Mary Ann Evans [pen name, George Eliot], Middlemarch,  A Study of Provincial Life, 1871.

Blamelessness and exasperation have characterized both sides of a recent conversation on Views from the Edge. Not blamelessness exactly, but certainty, positions that seem to each party to be apparent and true beyond a doubt. Each of us has become exasperated with  the other.

Jesus’ word to the harsh critic of others – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”- is forgotten or ignored. Claims to righteousness and suspicion of the other replace self-criticism and magnanimity.

We live increasingly trapped in separate bubbles of survival in the war of ideas, convictions, platforms, moralities, religions, and ideologies in the search for security.

Instead of bubbles, Dennis Aubrey’s A Patron for Prisoners uses the metaphor of prison, quoting a sage from the 5th Century C.E., Saint Léonard of Noblat, the patron saint of prisoners, whose “Song” (based on Psalm 107) describes a hope for liberation from the prison cell whose doors we have locked from the inside.

“A Patron for Prisoners” opens with The Song of Saint Léonard of Noblat (5th Century):

He has liberated those sitting in darkness and shadow of death and chained in beggary and irons,
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses,
He brought them out of the path of iniquity,
For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder,
He hath liberated those in bindings and many nobles in iron manacles.

– Song of Saint Léonard, quoted by Aymeri Picaud, translated by Richard Hogarth

Saint Léonard’s Song ends with the release of the nobles, the only class of people named among the liberated throng.  It is no mistake that he includes them among those to be blessed by release from iron manacles. We are all bound in the prison cells of logs and specks, blameless and exasperated, fearful of our survival on the other side of the release.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 2015.
Posted in Life, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Limerick – From Illinois

From Illinois to Topsail Island

The sea has been calm and the wind has been light,
The beach house is perfect, the families all right.
We saw dolphins swimming,
The Cubs have been winning,
But the kids all keep asking, “Just where is your kite?”

  • Steve Shoemaker, on extended-family vacation, Topsail Island, NC, August 19, 2015
Steve's kite on Topsail Island

Steve’s kite on Topsail Island

Posted in Life, Poetry, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song” from the Bernstein Mass describes the kind of purity of heart of which Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a simplicity in accord with Views from the Edge‘s earlier post “America – In Search of Wisdom“: a singleness of heart that refuses double-minded or dualistic thinking and practice. “God is the simplest of all.”

A tenor soloist from the Knox Choir sang it at the 1983 worship service that officially installed me to the office of Senior Minister of Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, which blessed me with its music for 11 years. The song, the soloist, and Knox Church will remain with me always.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 16, 2015.



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America – In Search of Wisdom

Though we Americans disagree profoundly on many profound matters, we are often united by a deeper conviction regarding good and evil.

Today in America we’re taking sides. Left-Right. Democrat-Republican. Christian-non-christian. Religious-nonreligious. good-evil. All of the splits have something to do with perceptions of the dichotomy of good and evil, the good guys and the bad guys.

Wisdom is always the victim. Wisdom is crucified by the race to goodness. It sits in the middle of dichotomous thinking, a way of life that Danish Philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1838), who was anything but a joiner, called double-mindedness.

In the Bible wisdom is personified as female.  In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is like a concerned mother calling to her children who prefer simpleness to insight:

“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says,

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.

“Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Provers 9:4-6

Wisdom is maternal. Wisdom calls her wayward children – the simple ones — to “turn in here” to her house. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Wisdom’ children are mature.

Could it be that the beatitude of Jesus “blessed are the pure in heart” is a call to return to Wisdom’s house of insight where the unity of all things is unbroken, instead of a call to simpleness? Simplicity of heart, then, is not simplicity of mind but rather to will one thing only: the goodness of wisdom (unity), as described by D. Anthony Storm‘s comments on  Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing Only:

God is presented as “simple”. I use this term in the same sense as Aquinas. God is singular of nature, and is not divided or contrary in any way. By this, I do not refer to unitarian versus trinitarian theology, but simply that Kierkegaard sees God as a unity of thought, will, and being. The nature of God is changeless (see The Changelessness of God). Man, on the other hand, is divided by nature. [Italics edited for purposes of emphasis]

Wisdom holds all things together, honoring the unity already present in the nature of reality itself. It seeks the simpleness or singleness with is God, not the simple-mindedness of the warring children of light and darkness, joining the right “side” in a battle of good versus evil. The heart of Wisdom recognizes and celebrates goodness, justice, and truth in whatever venue they appear.

“You that are simple – those without sense, you that are immature – turn in here!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 16, 2015


Posted in America, Life, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theology | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Speaking very clearly


I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

I don’t know the person who put the question. We’re complete strangers.  We’ve never met. We live in different worlds.  Our understandings are foreign to each other, so strange that suspicion and name-calling, or the fear that the other is calling the other “a nut job”, undermines the possibility of real discussion.

I … read a few of your other posts, needless to say; everything I read merely confirmed my original “understanding” of who you are. In other words Gordon, (and I say this with both respect and disdain) You do not fool me, I knew you from your first words, your Credentials simply confirmed what was obvious from the start. Take that as you will.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that you are convinced that I am some sort of zealot or just another “right-wing nut job”, but in truth I am just another American. A Christian American.

I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

The writer was responding to Views from the Edge‘s post of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s speech on Hiroshima Day, 2006. Nothing in that post would lead a reader to assume, or to conclude, knowledge of my political party affiliation.

I asked myself how to respond. I pondered not replying at all. I chose to respond in writing as best I could, assuring the writer that I don’t call people right-wing nut jobs, and addressing other sections of the comment. After an exchange of blog comments and an email inviting a phone conversation, we shared some of the milk of human kindness over the phone long distance.

In further reflection I realized that the writer’s question articulates a point of view that rarely speaks so clearly. It assumes that Christian faith and the Democratic Party are polar opposites. Others on the left assume a Christian cannot be a Republican. Parts of America we are living in two separate worlds – on two different sides without much clear speaking. It’s not surprising that the “Nones” – those who now declare no religious affiliation in national polls – are growing in America.

The writer’s comments repeatedly refer to “the real war” in heaven and on earth, spiritual warfare between Satan and God. Until “the real war” is over, the argument goes, there will be cruelty and wars because of the fallenness of human nature, and there’s nothing we can do to change. In the midst of time we must chose which “side” we are on.

Views from the Edge’s first Hiroshima Day piece and the one that followed it had called attention to the hubris of all claims (Japanese or American) to national exceptionalism.

The writer therefore, as best I can tell, concluded I must be a Democrat, i.e. someone who doesn’t love his country, someone who thinks that America is not a Christian nation. Someone who might be a …. “You don’t fool me.”

The commenter was right that I’m a Christian but mistaken in assuming I’m a Democrat. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are, in my view, the left wing and the right wing of a single American party. Both wings belong to Wall Street. They march in parades on Main Street at election time, but the parades are funded by Wall Street and America’s wealthiest 1%. We do not live in a democratic republic. We are living under an oligarchy.

Jesus has a few things to say about that.  J.J. Von Allmen (A Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1958) makes a powerful case that Jesus’s teaching about money is original to him. He is the first to call money “Mammon”: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus choice to personify wealth stands out as an exception to his normal way of speaking. Mammon and its distribution are at the heart of Jesus’s preaching and teaching. There is the Kingdom of God and there is the Kingdom of Mammon. One cannot serve both.

Had the commenter’s question been “How can you be a Christian and a socialist?” the answer would have been easy.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 15, 2015
Posted in America, Life, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Verse – Disanticipation

…Fear, expecting a disaster,
dread…are all too strong.
The family reunion may be fun,
friendly, peaceful, but the people
coming delete relatives’ posts
on FaceBook, some hate Obama,
some named their babies Malia
and Sasha.
…Some smoke, where will they put
cigarettes? Some drink too much,
will they get sloppy? Will talkers
ever shut up? Will there be enough food?
…The beach house is huge, but if it rains
for three days, cabin fever will boil over.
Who will get sick, who will get hurt?
…Eyes are wary, tones are overly polite.
Cousins are circling. In-laws are doubtful.
Brothers and sisters are staying close.
Spouses exchange knowing looks.
The young kids run to the beach.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 14, 2015

Published with apologies to Steve for substituting …s for indentations.

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Planetary Economics

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news, according to John the Baptist calling people out into the wilderness of Nature (Gospel of Mark 1:1-8).

“We must change,” he cries. Only a 180 degree turn can deliver us from the consequences of the actions that have led us here. He sounds like Bill McKibbon.

For John the Baptist the system at issue was Roman imperialism, an economic-political system centered in Rome expanding out, enforced by military invasions, subjugation, occupation, buffered by generous religious tolerance so long as the religious practices did not interfere with Roman prerogatives.

One could repeat the sentence in 2015 with little change: “the system at issue is [American] imperialism, an economic system centered in [Washington] expanding out, enforced by military invasions, subjugation, occupation, and religious tolerance so long as the local religious practice does not interfere with [American] prerogatives.”

It is this spiritual, moral, economic, cultural and political captivity to a global system that cannot satisfy our real needs or the world’s that produces a longing in our hearts, a readiness to make the trip to the wilderness. We are being called to abandon the house built on the quicksands of greed, manifest destiny, national exceptionalism, and the illusion of unsustainable growth.

We’re a weary people in 2015. Wearied and still disheartened 14 years after “Shock and Awe” took down Saddam Hussein on the pretense that he had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that threatened us and the Bush Administration’s persistent mis-association of 9/11 with Saddam Hussein. We’re wearied of lies and 11 years of un-budgeted military expenses, the loss of thousands of American soldiers’ lives and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a military venture undertaken on the assumption that the Iraqi people would welcome our presence as the onset of a new representative democracy and “free market” economy.

That belief in the goodness of American intentions hit the rocks almost as quickly as Saddam’s statue hit the pavement in Baghdad. All the while we were wearied by the earlier invasion of Afghanistan, whose original justification was a quick elimination of Osama bin Ladin and Al-Qaida untempered by realistic knowledge of the long history of the military interventions that mired the invaders in quagmires such as the Soviet Union found itself before leaving in defeat. To the Afghans it didn’t matter whether the troops were Soviet or American. They were the same. They were the occupation forces of an imperial power destined to fail.

In the midst of the weariness about what was happening abroad, the financial system at home took the American economy to the brink of disaster in 2008. Occupy Wall Street rose to the top of the news cycles. Although the movement fizzled over time, as such movements inevitably do, it caught the attention of television viewers, internet surfers, and newspaper and magazine readers. Occupy Wall Street and the spot light it placed on “crony capitalism” became a hot topic around water coolers at work and the table in the coffee shops.

For the first time in recent memory, capitalism was no longer sacred, no longer off limits. Time’s front cover asked the question whether Capitalism was dead. But, as with Occupy, public attention is short-lived. Amnesia sets in when people are weary. How soon we forget…until some new John the Baptist issues the cry for a 180 degree turn for the sake of something better.

Maybe Naomi Klein is a new kind of John the Baptist. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, reviewed here by the New York Times, places the over-riding systemic issue squarely before the general public again. Senator Bernie Sanders, America’s only socialist Senator who names climate action as among his four top priorities, is gaining attention as a presidential candidate. Elizabeth Warren, the Senate’s strongest voice on holding Wall Street accountable, is a bulldog who won’t let go. Put them with Bill McKibbon and 350.org and you begin to hear the echo of John’s recognition of the prophetic hard truth-telling that is the forerunner of good news.

The hard truth that precedes good news is the discovery of the myth that couples democracy with capitalism while viewing socialism as democracy’s opposite. Ideological myopia is to nations and cultures what horse blinders are to horses on a race track: they limit vision to the narrow path of the track they’re on. They prevent their adherents from seeing beyond the track.

When the climate is changing in ways that have begun to compel our attention, and when we ask how we will make it through the changes together, the bigger question of the economic system (the track itself) comes into view by virtue of necessity. It calls us off the track of species supremacy and “man over nature” into the wilderness of Nature itself.

The words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek words for ‘house’ and ‘the management of the household’. Their real subject is not about markets, free or otherwise. The issue is what and how the managers manage and why we let them. Economics is every citizen’s business because we all live together in the one house. No exceptions. Economics in the original sense is a spiritual-ethical perspective before it creates systems that support (or contradict) its premise of shared life and responsibility for the planet.

John the Baptist with his axe laid to the root of the tree, reminds us that economics is a spiritual matter of the first order. It is what the Hebrew Bible calls “the Day of the Lord” and John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth called “The Kingdom [i.e. Society] of God”. Economics is not an academic discipline, or the exclusive province of Wall Street traders who understand how the free market works. Genuine economics begins and ends with the philosophical commitment to the wellbeing of the entire household of Nature and its inhabitants.

The planet — this home within Nature without which no person, society or form of life exists — requires different management. The economy for which our hearts long is the one house imagined by the psalmist and announced by John in the wilderness beyond the track of the Pax Romana: the good news waiting for longing hearts to embrace it, an economy where “righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10) and wars will be no more.

The beginning of the GOOD news is HARD news. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 16, 2015

Posted in America, Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

President Obama’s Letter to the NYT

President Obama’s Letter to the Editor of The New York Times today responds to a thoughtful NYT article by Jim Rutenberg on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Click HERE for a link to the NYT’s coverage of the President’s letter and the article that inspired it.

Views from the Edge posted the following comment on the NYT website:

Arguments that the key provision of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary are what the President says they are. State decisions to remove the Confederate flag demonstrate greater sensitivity to the continuing presence of white supremacist assumptions than is apparent in the U.S. Supreme Court and among the Republican caucus in the U.S. Congress. The President persistently keeps before the American people the historic aspiration “in Order to form a more perfect Union” and, in so doing, does the nation a great service. This president is balanced, historicaly-informed, philosophical, articulate, and personally grounded. After years of swallowing his tong in hopes of reaching bi-partisan solutions, President Obama is making use of his last years in office in ways that will place him among the greats of American history.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 12, 2015.
Posted in America, Civil Rights Movement, Discrimination, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Verse on Burning Man

Verse — Remembering Burning Man
After a Year at age 72

Experience it, don’t observe it.
Participate, give gifts to others–
nothing is for sale. An empty desert
is the frame, the canvas, the gallery–
see art appear out of the blowing
Nevada playa dust. Huge temporary
sculptures, many that will blaze with flames
to the skies, paid for by previous fees
to attend, and gifts of time, and effort.

70,000 people last year brought costumes,
creativity, music, dancing, humor (yes,
alcohol & other drugs), but although
there were over 900 bars giving away
free shots and cocktails & wine & beer,
I saw no fights, no violence, no sexual
harassment. Art cars glide slowly past–
a huge dragon breathing flames
with 50 folks on board,
An Amish horse and buggy
powered by solar batteries,
a bicycle rider pulling a wagon carrying
a sousaphone: he stops, plays, flames
shoot out the huge brass bell…

The week of Labor Day, every year
for the last 30. Some folks have gotten rich,
others spend more than they can afford
to buy entrance tickets, travel from around
the world, live in tents & ride bikes & walk
for hours in this modern garden of earthy
delights, or depravity–your choice.
A temporary utopia? or first-world narcissism?
Don’t analyze, dance with 4,000 souls
under the moon to the same song.
Hear others a mile away hearing you.

  • Steve Shoemaker, August 10, 2015
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Verse – The Cavity

GEN_Ads_Aspirin_DiffuseThe broken tooth hurt only when I would
breathe in. The air across the exposed nerve
sent electricity up to my head.

My wife of fifty years asked, “Do you have
some chewing gum? Use it to cover up
the hole until the Dentist calls you back.”

It worked. I took two aspirin with a cup
of water (warm, because she said the shock
of cold would make me scream.) Then I
could breathe,

inhale, and feel no pain. I snuck into
the kitchen and found that I could leave
the gum in place and eat ice cream. (When you

Grater's ice cream

Grater’s ice cream

have lost half of your own Sweet Tooth and still
cannot resist more sugar–you’re in hell.)

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 8, 2015
Posted in Humor, Life, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Honesty Factor

What helps explain the unexpected rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the polls?

E. J. Dionne’s Washington Post piece “Don’t look now, but Sanders is Rising” contains a clue to the difference between public perception of Trump and Sanders, on the one hand, and most other candidates for President, on the other.

It’s pretty simple, as it was when the people of Minnesota shocked the world (and themselves!) by electing Jesse Ventura, the former professional boa scarf wearing wrestler and straight-talking, no holds barred, Minneapolis radio talk show host, as Governor.

E. J. Dionne cites a poll by WMUR-TV in New Hampshire trying to get a handle on the primary race between Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Of all the questions, the one that stood out from the standard questions about one’s position as liberal, moderate, or conservative was this simple question: “Who is least honest?”

Thirty-one (31) percent answered Hillary Clinton. Only three (3) percent picked Bernie Sanders. To put it positively, 97 percent trusted Bernie as the straighter shooter.

Watching the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate last night, something similar was on display. I scratched my head wondering how it happens that Donald Trump was the highest rated candidate in the polls that led to the top 10 Republican candidates. When asked whether he would support the eventual party nominee, Trump said he would not make that pledge. He was booed by many in the audience. But I suspect the audience and those watching on their televisions and iPads would rate him as low on the “least honest” factor last night as the New Hampshire Democrats answered for Bernie.

Jesse Ventura was elected by Independents, Democrats, and Republicans who were disgusted by the less than honest answers of the two experienced politicians on the stage of the debates. Jesse did full Nelsons, pinning the more experienced “less honest” (i.e., more skilled at obfuscation) Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman to the mat.

E.J. Dionne ends his column with this observation:

“As for alienation from the system, Trump and Sanders do speak to a disaffection that roils most of the world’s democracies. But their way of doing so is so radically different – Sanders resolutely pragmatic, Trump all about feelings, affect and showmanship – that they cannot easily be subsumed as part of the same phenomenon. Sanders’ candidacy will leave policy markers and arguments about the future. Trump’s legacy will be almost entirely about himself, which is probably fine with him.”

I would add that the American electorate understands feelings and affect, and that, in an entertainment culture, we have come to expect to be entertained. In the Donald and in Bernie we see and hear two men who stand against the odds, and the one thing (perhaps the only thing) that links them in the hearts of those who watch and listen is that they are “the least dishonest”.

But honesty and showmanship alone do not a good governor or president make. We need to bring our minds as well as our hearts to ringside.

Posted in America, Politics, Social Commentary | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Verse – Mutual Attraction

She may have been my father’s mistress, but
I’ll never know. “I’ve given all that up,”
was all he’d ever say until we put
him in the ground. He helped our mother up
and down the stairs for years with her bad knees,
and washed their clothes, perhaps in penitence.

But forty years before, in innocence,
I wrote about her beauty in a verse
for high school English class. I showed my Dad,
he said, “Why’d you choose her?” “I see her three
times every week in Church!” I said, “and she
is the best looking woman there…” He had
no more to say. Was it coincidence
she and her husband left our Baptist Church?

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

Posted in Life, Love, Memoir, Poetry, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Leave a comment

On Hiroshima Day 2015 – Like a Child Piling Blocks

Like a child piling blocks
Your words construct new dreams,
Towering poet.

Gentle and strong, as trees
Bend gracefully in wind,
You stand – and I bow.

One of the great pleasures in life has been the unexpected friendship with Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama.

Ko, as his friends called him with great affection, and his wife Lois, a native Minnesotan, came to Minneapolis following retirement from a distinguished teaching position at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. I knew him only by reputation: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christianity Emeritus; cutting edge Asian liberation theologian and leader in Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States; author of Water Buffalo Theology, No Handle on the Cross, Three Mile an Hour God, Mt. Fuji and Mt. Sinai, among others; pioneer in Buddhist-Christian intersection and inter-religious dialogue; spell-binding keynote speaker at the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya.

The friendship that developed, if friendship can be defined to include mentors and those they mentor, great minds and ordinary ones, people of stature and those who look up to them, the wise and the less wise, was particularly impactful because my father had been an Army Air Force Chaplain in the South Pacific in World War II.

During the March, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, the planes came from my father’s air base. Though my father rarely spoke about the war, there was a certain sullenness that would come over him whenever I would ask him for stories. Now, after my father’s passing, I was learning from Ko what the war had meant to the 15 year-old Japanese boy being baptized in Tokyo while the bombs dropped all around his church.

The pastor who baptized him instructed him. “Kosuke, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your neighbors…even the Americans.”

For the rest of his life Ko pursued the daunting question of what neighbor love means. Who is the enemy? Who is the neighbor? Are they one and the same? Late in his life, before he and Lois moved from Minneapolis to live with their son in Massachusetts, he had come to the conclusion that there is only one sin: exceptionalism. At first it struck me as strange. Can one really reduce the meaning and scope of sin to exceptionalism? What is exceptionalism, and why is it sinful?

At the time of our discussion, the phrase “American exceptionalism” – the claim that the United States is exceptional among the nations – was making the news. It was this view that led to the invasions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the unexamined belief that the Afghanis and the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms as liberators – that captured in a phrase the previously largely unspoken popular conviction that America is exceptional.

In this American belligerence Ko heard the latest form of an old claim that had brought such devastation on his people and the people of the world. The voices from the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, though they spoke English, sounded all too familiar, impervious to criticism and restraint on the nation’s military and economic adventures.

Nine years ago today, on Hiroshima Day, 2006 he spoke to a small crowd at the Peace Garden in Minneapolis at the exact hour the bomb incinerated Hiroshima. His voice rang with a quiet authority that only comes from the depths of experience. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

“During the war (1941-45) the Japanese people were bombarded by the official propaganda that Japan is the divine nation, for the emperor is divine. The word ‘Divine’ was profusely used.This was Japanese wartime ‘dishonest religion’, or shall we call it ‘mendacious theology’? This ‘god-talk’ presented an immature god who spoke only Japanese and was undereducated about other cultures and international relations. Trusting in this parochial god, Japan destroyed itself. “

“Then,he said to make his point to his American listeners, “dear friends, do not trust a god who speaks only English, and has no understanding of Arabic or islamic culture and history. If you follow such a small town god you may be infected with the poison of exceptionalism: ‘I am ok. You are not ok.’ For the last 5,000 years the self-righteous passion of ‘I am ok. You are not ok’ has perpetuated war and destruction. War ’has never been and it will never be’ able to solve international conflicts, says Pope John Paul II.”

Two paragraphs later, Koyama spoke in terms that speak to the policy of drones and other advanced military technology:

“In spite of the remarkable advances humanity has made in science/technological [sic], our moral and spiritual growth has been stunted. Humankind seems addicted to destruction even with nuclear weapons and biological weapons. Today there are 639 million small arms actively present in the world (National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2006).Fear propaganda always kills Hope. Violence is called sacrifice. Children killed in war are cruelly called a part of the ‘collateral damage’.”

Today, Hiroshima Day, 2015 I wish I could break bread with Ko and my father to discuss the meaning of it all, and share with Dad the haiku poems published in The New York Times following Ko’s death, written in his honor by his colleague at Union, Peggy Shriver, testaments to hope in belligerent times:

Smiling East-West spirit,
You move with sun and Son,
Shining Peace on us.


Like a child piling blocks
Your words construct new dreams,
Towering poet.


Gentle and strong, as trees
Bend gracefully in wind,
You stand – and I bow.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2015
Posted in America, Life, militarism, Poetry, Religion, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Kosuke Koyama – Hiroshima Day

INTRODUCTION: Today is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It seems fitting for Views from the Edge to publish an address Japanese theologian and social critic Kosuke Koyama delivered at the Peace Garden in Minneapolis, MN at the very hour “Little Boy” turned Hiroshima into an inferno.  Dr. Koyama spoke these words on August 6, 2006 at the hour the bomb dropped on Hiroshima

Hiroshima Day Speech at the Peace Garden, Minneapolis – August 6, 2006. Kosuke (“Ko”) Koyama was living in downtown Minneapolis at the time.

It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era,
war could be used as an instrument of justice (Pope John XXIII)

Dear Friends,

Sixty-one years ago, at 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was annihilated by a nuclear bomb. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” exploded 570 meters above the ground creating a fireball 100 meters in diameter with a temperature at its center of 300.000 degrees Celsius. Instantly the city became a land of death and destruction. 140.000 people perished. Three days later, on August 9th, the city of Nagasaki suffered the same fate. 80.000 perished. The Japanese authority told us that this extremely powerful bomb was the atomic bomb and advised people to wear white shirts and carry ointment. When the war ended 66 major cities of Japan were desolate wildernesses through fire-bombing. During the night of March 10, 1945, five months before Hiroshima, 325 B29s burned 16 square miles of Tokyo killing 100.000 people. I narrowly survived that holocaust.

As we pause to remember Hiroshima day this morning we are deeply disturbed and concerned about the destruction going on in the Near East today. Any bombing is a demonstration of human depravity. It breeds nothing but despair and hatred. Above all, it kills innocent children! Injuring and killing children is an “absolute” evil. Bombing is an indefensible act of terrorism. It must be totally outlawed and abolished if humankind is to remain human. I am not afraid of God. God will never drop nuclear bombs upon the inhabited cities. I am afraid of humans, for they have actually done it and may do it again! Religious speeches about hell do not frighten me. Hell cannot be worse than what I saw and went through the night of March 10, 1945 in Tokyo. I do not think God can make a worse hell than the one made at the order of American Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay. (1906-1990).

What is it in the thinking of people that allows for the kind of violence and terror that we have created through the use of our modern weapons? Sadly we have to admit that too often violence is encouraged by fanatic religious language. Nothing can be more ignorant and violent than religious motivated fanaticism. “God is on our side!” To release the horrors of war in the name of God is the worst of heresies. War is “the failure of all true humanism.” “It [war] is always a defeat for humanity,” says Pope John Paul II. The sages of Asia, Buddha and Confucius, taught that “god-talk” makes humans irresponsible. People, they said, are responsible for what they do. “You make a mess. You clean it up” they say. This is an honest message. “You made a hideous mess in the Rape of Nanjing in 1937. You are responsible. You clean it up!” There is no conflict between this Asian message and the message of the religions of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Honest confrontation may activate “an enormous capacity for goodness and generosity” hidden in human spirits (The New York Times, July 31, 2006, from the Tikkun Advertisement, “STOP THE SLAUGHTER IN LEBANON, ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES!) As I reflect the litany of atrocities that has taken place during my life time I am led to say that it is honest human talk, not dishonest religious talk, that will give 21st century humanity the wisdom and courage to live by hope.

James Baldwin says: “It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own; in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself.” This is an honest observation not unlike Newton’s law of motion that to every action there is an equal reaction. We cannot demonize others without demonizing ourselves. We cannot bomb others without bombing ourselves. We cannot kill other children without killing our own children. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” says Jesus. This is honest human talk. To think that one can deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own is pornographic. To suggest that by taking the sword we can prosper by the sword is deceitful. The children in Hiroshima or in Baghdad are as precious as the children in San Francisco. Any religion, any political power, or any ideology that despises this universal preciousness of the lives of children and all human beings must be publicly condemned for the sake of the sanity of human spirit.

During the war (1941-45) the Japanese people were bombarded by the official propaganda that Japan is the divine nation for the emperor is divine. The word “divine” was profusely used. This was Japanese war-time “dishonest religion,” or shall we call it “mendacious theology.” This “god-talk” presented an immature god who spoke only Japanese and was undereducated about other cultures and international relations. Trusting in this parochial god Japan destroyed itself. Then, dear friends, do not trust a god who speaks only English, and has no understanding of Arabic or Islamic culture and history. If you follow such a small town god you may be infected with the poison of exceptionalism: “I am ok. You are not ok.” For the last 5.000 years the self-righteous passion of “I am ok. You are not ok” has perpetuated war and destruction. War “has never been and it will never be” able to solve international conflicts, says Pope John Paul II.

Today eight nations (the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and Israel) are in possession of nuclear arsenals. The bomb confers the power that I may characterize as “absolute.” Something that is “absolute” should not be trusted to unreliable human hands. The sanity of being human is to recognize human limitation. The idea of unlimitedness is demonic. Indefensible Weapons (Robert J. Lifton / Richard Falk) are “glorified” for their ability to pose an ultimate threat to an enemy. Albert Einstein saw that “war cannot be humanized. It must be abolished.” That is not an utopian dream. Let me quote from the recent New York Times Tikkun Advertisement: “The paranoid and allegedly ‘realistic’ version of global politics asserts that we live in a world in which our safety can only be achieved through domination, or others will seek to dominate us first. Of course, when we act on this assumption, it becomes self-fulfilling.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that “if we want to survive upon the earth, for our own self-interest, we better learn to love our enemies.”

In spite of the remarkable advances humanity has made in science/technological, our moral and spiritual growth has been stunted. Humankind seems addicted to destruction even with the nuclear arsenal and biological weapons. Today there are 639 million small arms actively present in the world (National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2006). Fear propaganda always kills Hope. Violence is called sacrifice. Children killed in war are cruelly called a part of the “collateral damage.”

Remember that fireball! It is a human copy of the great fireball called the Sun. Humanity is now in possession of the unimaginable possibility of cosmic super-violence. We, the species called human on the third planet of the solar system, are now capable to obliterate all living beings upon the earth. When Hiroshima/ Nagasaki was nuclear bombed, symbolically the whole world was bombed. Every bomb used against others is ultimately a bomb exploded upon ourselves. How dedicated we are to destroy ourselves! Since Hiroshima, war is no longer about this nation against that nation. It is we, all of humanity, who are against our own good.

We must hold on to the vision of the “enormous capacity for good and generosity” of the billions of people upon the earth! At this moment it is fitting for the world to remember the gift the American people made to Japanese people in 1945 which was enshrined in the Article Nine of the Post War Constitution of Japan:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

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The “Tragedy” of Sandy Hook

Gordon C. Stewart:

Ten (10) gun deaths at the community college in Oregon re-play Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine. What can be said that hasn’t been said? The best Views from the Edge can do is re-blog an earlier post and pray that America will find a way out of this morass.

Originally posted on VIEWS from the Edge:

macbethIf philosophical parsing of the meaning of Sandy Hook was inappropriate just a few days ago, it is mandatory now.

The slaughter of these dear little ones and their teachers was a moment of terrible and terrifying insanity. When Adam put on his body armor and turned his mother’s guns on his own mother and Sandy Hook, insanity broke out to bring grief that chilled the bones of everyone in America.

Today there are calls for gun control and mental health services, and those calls make perfect sense as practical responses, but they will not fix the problem.

There is a more profound collective insanity that pervades our culture and our nation. It’s a tragedy in the sense of the old Greek and Shakespearean theater: a fatal flaw that is doing us in.

Sandy Hook was the latest symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety – arming ourselves to…

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