The Distant Murmurs of Prayer

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“In our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer,” wrote Dennis Aubrey in his post “In Seclusio at Thines” posted on Via Lucis Photography.

Listening for the distant murmurs immediately brought to mind a hymn composed by Anne Quigley in 1992. The tune is LONGING. The textual refrain is:

“There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us. There is a longing in our hearts for love we only find in you, O God.”

It was the recollection of the text that drew me to LONGING. I searched YouTube for possible videos for this post but found that the lightness of the tune, like so much contemporary Christian music, left me longing for “the distant murmur of prayers” that echo down the ages in the Gregorian Chants once sung in the now empty or mostly empty monasteries and churches that inspired Dennis to conclude “In Seclusio in Thines”:

“[PJ and I] … hear the echoes of sandaled footsteps in lonely churches long deprived of their monastic communities. And in our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer.”

I long for gravitas awakened by the beauty of silence.

Two Presidents – November 22, 2014

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Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), 35th President of the United States of America.

Who killed JFK remains a question for the ages. Someday, perhaps, we will learn the truth of why and by whom he died, but for now the story must be told again, remembered for what it was and for what might have been.

Some things are,
or, so it seems,
“not meant
to be”

Things like
Jack and us
that almost
were

Yet some things,
I repose,
never fade
or die away

Some things not
“meant to be”
like Jack and me,
live on

As things that are,
I surmise,
not meant
to die

For love is not
a thing,
an object that
can die

It hangs around,
like time,
in spaces all
its own

- GCS, Nov. 22, 2014

 

It must be remembered and mourned afresh today when hatred for his successor runs rampant and “lapses” in White House security inexplicably abound. One theory of President Kennedy’s assassination includes not only a rogue element of the CIA but also the Secret Service, charged to protect the President. Prayers are in order for the President who stood tall this week in his speech on immigration reform.

For our President, Barack, for the leaders of the nations, and for all in authority, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

For the poor and the oppressed, for the unemployed and the destitute, for prisoners and captives, and for all who remember and care for them, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

Defend us, deliver us, and in Thy compassion protect us, O Lord, by Thy grace. Lord have mercy.

[Excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer, Form I, 1979 Pew Edition, page 384.]

Verse – How and Why?

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Some say “God has a
plan for you.” But I say,
“There is no plan. There is
no meaning we find;
only the meaning we make.”

But how do 12 Bald Eagles circle
overhead during simultaneous
memorial services for the slain
children of Red Lake – six over
Red Lake; six over Saint Paul?

Why does the Egret wading in
the pond suddenly stop its fishing
and fly across to the window on
the other side where a mother
grieves her daughter’s death?

Are you and I the only makers
of meaning or is there Another
outside or inside of nature,
a Meaning-Maker inside, between
and among everything that is?

- Gordon C. Stewart, November 22, 2014

 

 

 

The President’s Speech

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President Obama rang the bell last night in his speech on immigration. The President is a Constitutional lawyer. He is also a man of faith, a thoughtful Christian who interprets the Bible the way Abraham Lincoln did, and, like Lincoln before him, the President preached to a divided nation from the White House.

He used the bully pulpit to stop the bullying.

“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”

This morning Speaker of the House John Boehner, who for the past year-and-a-half has personally blocked a vote in the House on the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, filed a lawsuit, alleging the President has exceeded his authority. Mr. Boehner and others also threaten impeachment.

Very few of us understand the Constitutional separation of powers well enough to assess knowledgeably whether the President has or has not exceeded his executive authority, but given similar actions by every recent President, both Democrat and Republican, the Las Vegas odds-makers would surely lay heavy odds in favor of the Constitutional lawyer in the White House.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and secular humanist leaders have led the fight for immigration reform for many years. They have commended the President’s actions and have renewed the call for Congress to pass bipartisan reform.

Because they’re not bomb-throwing religious extremists, there likely will be little media coverage of these religious leaders support for the President’s speech and actions. Like Mr. Obama, their faith, and the faith of the people and congregations they represent, are thoughtful and fairly quiet in demeanor. They don’t make headlines. But once in a while, one of gets to preach from the White House.

In the habit of some preachers who invite response from the pews following prayers or a sermon, “Let all the people say ‘Amen!’

Idealism and Terror

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When one thinks of idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi comes to mind. Moral and spiritual giants who stand for ideals that make the world a better place. We think of Idealism as good in the face of evil, or of ideals lifting us up from the dirt of reality, purifying life from its toxins. Ah, but there lies the fatal flaw in idealism itself.

George Will’s Washington Post opinion piece “A Murderer’s Warped Idealism” looks afresh at idealism and evil, not just evil masquerading as idealism, but idealism as a source and form of evil itself.

Will’s commentary zooms in on Adolf Eichmann, executed at midnight 1961 for his role in the German State’s systematic extermination of 6,000,000 Jews. During the trial in Jerusalem Eichmann minimized his role in the Holocaust, presenting himself as a thoughtless functionary carrying out the orders of his superiors.

Referring to newly discovered writings by Eichmann which form the backbone of a new book by German philosopher Bettina Stangneth, Will writes:

Before he donned his miniaturizing mask in Jerusalem, Eichmann proclaimed that he did what he did in the service of idealism. This supposedly “thoughtless” man’s devotion to ideas was such that, Stangneth says, he “was still composing his last lines when they came to take him to the gallows.” (Bolding added by Views from the Edge)

Eichmann and Hitler were not without ideas or ideals. They were not thoughtless. Nor were they irrational, as those who believe that reason can sea us believe. They were idealists who sought to lift up a super race, burning away the world’s impurities as their deranged hearts conceived of them.

The late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. shone a different light on idealism and the remedy for human madness. He put it this way in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of the we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”

Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler were idealists. Nationalist extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. Whether behind the banner of the State, or of religion, gender, ideology, scientism, or rationalism – idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as “the other” while fleeing “the sore point” that we conscious animals seek to avoid.

Only the God who meets us at the sore point of our shared animality can save us from fantasies. In his last book, Remembered Bliss ((Lapwing Publications: 2014), Dom Sebastian told the reader, “I’m ninety-six, and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, the search for God as real.” RIP.

 

 

 

Finding Our Tree

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We walk the rows of silent trees,
some smell of resin, some of lime
or lemon–six varieties.
Young families rush, we take our time,

enjoy the shades of green, the feel
of needles, sharp or soft into
our mittens. We will cut the real
tree with the saw, then shake a few

brown needles to the frozen ground.
At home the Christmas tree will light
the room and spread love all around
to neighbors who will catch the sight

of the one tree that spoke to you
and said, “It is for you I grew.”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 18, 2014

Prayer

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“She saw him standing in the parlor with his beautiful old head bowed down…praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret.”
-Lila, p. 95, Marilynne Robinson, 2014

Head bowed is the posture of humility, the position of a supplicant, petitioner, intercessor, or giver-of-thanks that looks to the eyes of the misinformed like grief or shame or regret. There is certainly all of that in those who pray, but it’s so much more, so much deeper, so much more reassuring.

We are often our own worst enemies. Every experience of the Beloved causes the head to bow and a tear to fall.

Via Lucis (way of light)

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Funny how things slip away. Not really funny. Just strange and sad.

Dennis Aubrey’s posts on Via Lucis Photography have been meaningful to me over the past few year. But because i’m technically challenged and just a bit lazy, Via Lucis has slipped out of site. Until tonight. Wondered why Via Lucis was not popping up on my email notifications. I went to see what Dennis Aubrey and P.J McKay were saying, and there it was. Another thoughtful post , on Weeping for Zion, about which Views from the Edge recently published,

If you haven’t yet noticed Via Lucis Photography, it’s worth your time. Few other authors offer such deep insights into the human condition.

Thank you, Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKay.

Verse – The Choir

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The choir’s BASS was to be the Foundation,
And his low “C” was quite the sensation,
But so flat was he,
His “C” was a “B,”
So elation became consternation.

The ALTO could sing like a bird.
And her beauty the males all allured,
But her tempo was slow,
And her voice was so low,
She never could really be heard.

The TENOR was a prima donna;
His tux had bright diamonds upon a
Stud here and there,
But when we’d despair,
His voice would shake all of La Scala!

Our conductor said “I am the BOSS!
Without me you all would be lost.
So watch me explore
This musical score:
The fast notes will make your eyes cross!”

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

Verse – The Accompanist

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On the piano bench talent just landed
Bragging “A band I replaced, single-handed!”
He plays for our choir,
But he is a liar:
I watched, and he plays DOUBLE-handed!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 15, 2014

Incredibly American: the ARU

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“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“It” is the National Basketball Association’s salary cap policy. The speaker is Michele Roberts, the new executive of the NBA Players’ Association (NBAPA), speaking in an interview with ESPN. Click HERE to hear the voice and read more. It’s hardly the DNA of America’s union movement.

pullman newsThe NBAPA is the spoiled great-grandchild of America’s early union movement and costly strikes like the American Railway Union’s sympathy strike in the Pullman strike in 1894.

Professional sports in America is just like America. Sort of. A little bit. Kind of.

There’s management and there’s labor. The NBA team owners (management) and the NBA players (labor) are sparring in preparation for their next big event: re-negotiation of the NBA collective bargaining agreement in 2017.

So, In that regard, the NBA is sort of like the rest of America, except for the likes of Walmart where there is no players’ union, just a company without “incredibly un-American” things like salary caps because they pay their employees peanuts.

But NBA players aren’t making peanuts. They’re making millions. A lot of millions!

It’s hard to feel sorry for a player hauling in an $80,000,000 contract, even if his name is LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. It’s also hard to feel respect for a union that represents only the elitest of the elites while other team employees are picking up the peanut shells after the games and working at Walmart.

My DNA is offended by that. It’s offended by the 1%. It’s offended by the owners. It’s offended by the players’ union. It’s offended by the greed and the self-absorption that sees the fair distribution of extravagant wealth among a small fraction of America’s 1% as a justice issue.

Justice is salary caps and earning caps at the top and an earnings floor at the bottom for the folks who pick up the peanut shells after the NBA games and have no bargaining rights at Walmart.

“It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

“There is certainly…something wrong in that form of unionism whose leaders are the lieutenants of capitalism.”—Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) who, while serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary following the Pullman Strike, received more than a million votes as Socialist candidate for President.

 

Obama and Putin 2

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President Obama is not pleased by the hand on his back and the smirk on Mr. Putin’s face. Remember the Putin was KGB, the U.S.S.R. equivalent of the U.S.A.’s CIA, before he became President of Russia. CNN published this report about Russian bombers on patrol near U.S. borders.

in this picture, what do you suppose Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin thinking and feeling?

Obama: "Get your planes off our border!." Putin: "Try and stop us, Black Boy!"

Obama: “Get your bombers off our borders, you SOB!” Putin: “Try and stop us, Black Boy!”

 

 

Obama and Putin

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This picture taken by AP photographer Ria Novosti at the APEC Conference in Beijing is worth a thousand words. Look at the faces of the black President and the white President patronizing Mr. Obama with his hand on President Obama’s back. Put into words: “I own you, Boy!” and “Get your hand off me!”

Putin: "He's my BOY"; Obama: "Get your hand off me."

Putin: “He’s my BOY”; Obama: “Get your hand off me.”

Verse – Limerick

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There was a young singer from Oslo,
A soprano with such a vibrato,
Across a fjord
You could hear her record:
She always sang FORTE, not piano.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 13, 2014

NOTE: In his retirement, Steve sings in three choirs: his church choir of about 12 , a community choir of 60, and a University choir of 30 that sings music from the Baroque. These are mainly a pleasure–except for an occasional soprano soloist.

The Throes of Creation – Tomorrow I write

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer#mediaviewer/File:Leonid_Pasternak_001.jpg

The Throes of Creation – Leonid Pasternak

I’m newly retired.

Today was rough. All day.

Didn’t want to get up, semi-awake, my mind become a subatomic particle collider of memories, facts, people – confused, whirling, disoriented.

Got up, had coffee, but couldn’t write. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want to do anything.

Searched the emails, rummaged through the morning paper for something of interest. Nothing.

This house is dark in the morning. Not just at 5:00 a.m. It’s dark all morning. No sun. And the skies are cloudy. Gray. Like my spirit. Purposeless. Alone. Disinterested. Blah.

It’s the first taste of retirement. The congregation is gone, or, rather, I am gone from them. I miss them. I am without role. Without work. Without routine. No longer a shepherd. Nor am a sheep within a flock. Adrift. Aimless. Dead to what was. Unclear about what is or will be. I am alone.

Except for Barclay who doesn’t get it. He want’s to play. It’s just another day. Go out. Come in. Get the ball. Drop the ball at Dad’s feet. Play ball with Dad, eat food, play some more, go out, wonder why Dad isn’t paying attention and why we’re not getting exercise when there’s such nice snow outside.

Barclay drove me nuts today. Not his fault. He’s a dog. He knows nothing about retirement, nothing yet about aging, about hearing loss, about depression.

Barclay knows nothing about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Congregationalists or the Presbyterians. He’s lucky. He carries no existential guilt, no multigenerational trauma, only the Now. Only the present. Sit. Roll Over. Get the ball. Heel. Treat. “Good Dog.”

I realize that today is Veterans Day and I think of my father, the Chaplain who shipped out for the South Pacific when I was a year-and-a-half old. I hear the train whistle near our house here in Chaska and remember being on the train with my mother after his ship left Los Angeles, the horror of being alone hearing and watching my mother’s inconsolable sobbing in the birth of the night train on the cross-country trip home to Boston. I hear the whistle and feel forlorn.

I remember years later being in the Lebanon Valley Hospital at the age of 14, two hours from home, and 15-minutes from losing a kidney from a football accident. It didn’t strike me as strange then that my parents weren’t there. Strange that their absence didn’t strike me as strange. I just thought they were busy. Now I wonder why they were not there. My mother didn’t drive. Why did my father not come until he arrived a week later with the ambulance driver to take me home? I was alone, forlorn, and thought it was normal. What could have been more important at the church or in the family than being there for their son who was in serious condition in a distant hospital?

The role – his robe – defined my father until the end of his life. It defined him. For most of my adult life it defined me. Until the sullying of the robe and the eight years without it at the Legal Rights Center. At LRC I learned to live without the robe among the criminal defendants and the lawyers and community advocates who pled their cases before the court. I lived the life of a “retired” pastor, a shepherd without a flock.

It’s that time again. I am not unprepared for this thing called retirement. But I realize tonight: I’ve been there. I need no robe to be the person I am and always was. A Stewart, a Titus, and an Andrews with a long ancestral history of dealing with life and death, flight and fight, denial and courage, faltering faith and faithfulness, cruelty and kindness, beheading blocks and pardons.

It’s time for the pardon. Time to let go of the past. Time to let go of the robe. Time to be open to the freshness of a life as it was at the beginning: naked and glorious, crying out for meaning and the wonder of anything at all.

Tomorrow I write!

Writer’s block

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The first few days of retirement have been a writer’s wasteland. Then I found a saved draft of Steve Shoemaker’s verse. It was as though it was waiting for just this time. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like throwing something away.

Write something, anything

(Was it Malcolm Muggeridge who said if
you can’t write something good, write something
bad that you can throw away.)

How do I know what I think till I see what I say?

Can ideas be feelings or colors or moods,
or must letters and spaces reveal the mind?

Type on an iPhone, computer or pad:
words, sentence, phrases–the good and the bad.

Drivel, insight, cliche, Truth–
symbol, allegory, tall-tale, lie;
future, memory, made-of-whole-cloth,
fiction, non-fiction, poetry.

Muses, Graces all have wings–they flit and fly away.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Verse – Four Questions about Heaven

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Do choirs of angels
need to rehearse?

The choirs of angels
sing only of good will
and peace, or the five
praise Psalms. (Hallelujah!)
For angels, rehearsals
and performances are
all indistinguishable.

How many voices sing
in David’s huge mass choir?

God only knows…
The seven penitential Psalms
are David’s entire repertoire.
Most of humanity
joins him and sings on bended knee.

Why don’t any of the choirs
sing the word “Selah?”

David says the word meant
instrumental interlude:
listen for the harps and strings,
drums and flutes, the organ, horn!

Is Heaven’s music heard in Hell?

I certainly hope so…

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

Paul Molitor: a memory

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Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor [ML Baseball Hall of Fame] was hired yesterday as the new Manager of the Minnesota Twins.

In 1994 Mr. Molitor stood ahead of me in line at a McDonalds at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. It was Sunday around noon. I had rushed there from morning worship at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis with no time to remove the clerical collar I’d worn in worship.

“Good Morning, Father,” he said, assuming, I suppose, I was a Roman Catholic priest, or perhaps, just being respectful. “Good Morning, Mr. Molitor, what a pleasant surprise.”

We got our BigMacs or some other unhealthy fast food and sat down together, as I recall it, at Paul Molitor’s invitation.

What I remember is his respectful nature and his humility. I congratulated him for his amazing performance in the 1993 World Series was the best performance I’d ever seen by a ball player. He was named MVP in the series in which he led the Toronto Blue Jays to win the series. He batted 500, reached base 57.9 % of his at bats, Had two doubles, two triples, two home runs, eight Runs Batted In, and a 1.000 Slugging Average.  Nobody does that. No one before. No one since.

He responded something like. “I was lucky. Thank you, Father.” He’s number one in my book. He’s make a great manager.

 

 

Catcallers and young bucks

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Verse – Animals

She felt like prey when men
she did not know
would call to her as she
would walk to work.
With head held high she would
not even show
she heard, but soon would hear
another jerk

whistling or clucking–one
would even bark…
Her dress was modest, no
short skirt, tight pants,
décolletage. Guys tried
to make their mark
still, would persist, ignore
her resistance.

She had kept rabbits as
a girl and knew
what happened when you put
a female inside
the cage of a young buck.
The four-month doe
was circled, bitten, kissed,
then he would ride.

Rabbits were bred to breed–
can human males
let women choose when to
be animals?

- Steve Shoemaker, November 3, 2014

prochoice

Election Night: Hoping we’ll all pull through

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A song of lament for tonight’s midterm election.

The lyrics come from Psalm 137 where the people’s conquerors ridiculed their captives, taunting them to sing one of their native songs, the songs of Zion. Big oil and coal won tonight. Mitch McConnell won. So did the other deniers. Things like climate change action can’t wait for the next election.

God bless the memory of Pete Seeger who was always singing the aspirational songs of hope in times like this. God bless us all.

 

Election Day

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Today we go to the polls.

Yesterday a Minnesota voter from Minnesota House of Representatives District 7B noticed something very strange. She’s a Democrat. She also believes in fairness and clean play in political campaigns and was, therefore, distressed and confused by seeing a picture of Kerry Gauthier posted as the photograph of Travis Silvers (R) on an online voter ballot. Click HERE for the mistaken identity.

Travis Silvers is a Republican. He’s young.silverstravis

Kerry Gauthier is a Democrat. He’s the older, one-term State Representative from District 7B who left the legislatures following a widely publicized encounter with a 17 year-old at a highway rest stop. The publicity was ugly.

220px-Kerry_Gauthier

So…how does the photo of Kerry Gauthier appear on the MN-voter.org website as Travis Silvers?

Did someone hack the MN-Voter.org website in order to deceive or confuse visitors to the site? Or maybe some smart-alec submitted the photo as a way of having fun?  Or… dirty tricks?

Views tom the Edge reported the error to mn-voter.org yesterday, but we may never get a response.

Today we go to the polls. Finally, the alarmist campaign emails and phone calls will stop. But obfuscation and shenanigans will not. We will continue to substitute personality and personal stories for policy and substance. Dirty politics and slimy innuendoes will continue to be the order of the day.

Whatever the result of this election, it’s a sad day for the American people. Do we deserve better? Only time will tell.

Woke up this morning with my mind

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Rainbow over the IL prairie.

Rainbow over the IL prairie.

A song was singing in my head again this morning.

I don’t invite the songs. They come like old friends arriving at the door without explanation.

This morning the old friend was a Civil Rights Movement song, but I wasn’t marching.

“Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”

The marching song my generation sang with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has a different feel this morning. It feels personal. Soothing. Joyful.  Like relief. Not so much aspirational as descriptive of the less ambitious, less burdened, less anxious state that sometimes comes with age. I still pray for the greater freedom, but my step feels lighter this morning. No marching boots. No climbing boots. Just a pair of slippers to go with the freedom of retirement where aspiration for mountain-climbing surrenders to appreciation of the rainbow on the sun-lit plain.

Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.

I’m walking and talking with my mind
stayed on freedom
I’m walking and talking with my mind
stayed on freedom
I’m walking and talking with my mind
stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.

Ain’t nothing wrong with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Oh, there ain’t nothing wrong with keeping my mind
Stayed on freedom
There ain’t nothing wrong with keeping your mind
Stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.

I’m singing and praying with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Yeah, I’m singing and praying with my mind
Stayed on freedom
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.

 

The Meaning of Fulfillment

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“At 66, I find myself feeling fulfilled. I didn’t expect this, and don’t know quite what to make of it.”

The words belong to Emily Fox Gordon in the October 25 New York Times. Click HERE to ponder “The Meaning of Fulfillment” for your life and the lives of others.

The Good Earworm

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This head scratching verse from Steve Shoemaker arrived this morning in response to yesterday’s post about the song in my head:

thegoodearworm

thelord’smyshep-herdi’llnotwant
hema-akesmedowntolie
inpa-asturesgreenhele-e-dethme
thequi-i-etwatersby

“What’s an earworm?” I wrote back. He phoned a few minutes later. “Don’t you know what an earworm is? Nadja didn’t know either. Look it up in an Urban Dictionary. It’s a song that gets stuck in your head.” “I didn’t know you were so street-smart,” said I. We had a good laugh. I looked it up.

Earworm: “A song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. The best way to get rid of an earworm is to replace it with another. Be prepared to become a jukebox.” (from Urbandictionary.com)

The earworm Steve seems to be hearing is the Crimond musical setting for Psalm 23. Dipping into the jukebox, here’s another lovely setting for the psalm, the replacement ear worm:

 

 

 

 

DWI Straddling the Center Line

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Extra DWI Patrols this Weekend. Drive Sober. The message began to appear yesterday, Halloween, above the Interstate Highways in Minnesota.

It reminds me of a funny story.

Years ago, as my friend Ron remembers it, he and his parents were driving home from a relaxed dinner at the Nagy’s, the newly arrived Hungarian refugee family. Mr. Nagy was a gourmet chef accustomed to offering guests the best libations along with a delicious professionally prepared home-cooked meal.

Ron’s father, John, was not much of a drinker, maybe a beer once in a while, but nothing more. John got a little happy at the Nagy’s.  Driving home with young Ron in the back seat and his wife Helen in the passenger’s seat, John was straddling the center line on a two-lane, two-way street just a few blocks from home when Helen criticized his driving. Helen was a force to be reckoned with. “John! You’re drunk. You’re over the line. You’re wandering over into the wrong lane. You’re going to get us killed!”

“Helen,” said John, “it’s obvious you don’t know the law. There’s a law here in Pennsylvania. After 10:00 p.m. you can straddle the white line.”

Telling the story to my friend Steve and me last year, Ron could hardly get through the story. We’ve been friends since Kindergarten in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Today Ron is in ICU in a Pennsylvania hospital following emergency surgery straddling the center line.

Prayers surround you, Ron. I remember your story like it was yesterday.

Stillness on All Hallows’ Eve

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Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Woke up this morning with a song singing in my head. It happens more often as I move toward retirement. Sometimes it’s a hymn. During the World Series it was “America the Beautiful”. The music comes uninvited. Sometimes it seems to come from nowhere.

This morning, October 31 – All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween – the tune (without lyrics) was “Still, Still, Still,” the Austrian Christmas carol! It’s also our 16th Wedding Anniversary when “Still, Still, Still” (“Calm, Calm, Calm”) must have known what I feel when I think of Kay.

Here’s “Still, Still, Still” played by child prodigy Akim Camara on his violin. Look for the joy on his face.

Campaign Mind Control

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Words are POWERFUL!  Timothy Egan’s “Deconstructing a Demagogue” in the NY Times reminds us of just how powerful they are:

Back in 1994, while plotting his takeover of the House, Gingrich circulated a memo on how to use words as a weapon. It was called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Republicans were advised to use certain words in describing opponents — sick, pathetic, lie, decay, failure, destroy. That was the year, of course, when Gingrich showed there was no floor to his descent into a dignity-free zone, equating Democratic Party values with the drowning of two young children by their mother, Susan Smith, in South Carolina.

Today, if you listen to the PAC ads flooding our television sets, you’ll hear the innuendoes and strategies  from the “Language: a Key Mechanism of Control” memo

And that’s just the beginning of the story of how language is used for social manipulation. Gingrich knew that language is “A Key Mechanism of Control.” Those who are well-schooled in theology and politics know that language is the primary mechanism of mind control: truth becomes falsehood and falsehood becomes truth; beauty becomes ugliness and ugliness becomes beauty; goodness becomes evil and evil becomes goodness, twisted by the language of innuendo and word association.

The cynicism that pervades the American electorate is due, in part, to this demagogic use of language. Words are precious things. Holy things. Sacred things. When they get twisted, they become vulgar and profane, one might even say ‘demonic’ in the sense in which Paul Tillich defined ‘demonic’: the twisting of the good. “The claim of something finite to infinity or to divine greatness is the characteristic of the demonic” (Paul Tillich, “Life and It’s Ambiguities,” Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 102).

The campaign for control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is in full swing. So is demagoguery and the Gingrich memo on mind control.

Words are sacred. Abuse of them plunges the speaker and the hearer into the darkness of the demonic twistings that led James Russell Lowell to write the hymn lyrics I sang as a child:

Once to every man and nation Comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood…. Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet t’is truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong, Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadows, Keeping watch above His own.

 

- James Russell Lowell, 1945, “Once to Every Man and Nation”

I hope. I hope…and pray we’re as smart as Paul Tillich.

An Apple for Tim Cook

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Apple CEO Tim Cook acted with courage yesterday. Click Tim Cook Speaks Up to read his October 30, 2014 letter in BloombergBusinessweek.

Every parent of a gay child, every gay person, every relative or friend should give an apple to the Apple teacher whose inspirations are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

The Campaign Animal

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Political folks just repeat
…and repeat,
Keep saying it over
…to win that great seat,
But I have a limit,
My ears just can’t hear it,
When words from that goat’s
mouth become one more BLEAT!

- Steve Shoemaker, October 28, 2014

BTW, Don’t forget to vote next Tuesday! May the best goat win.

 

“Hello, NSA”

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“Hello. NSA?” “Hello, CIA.“ “Hello, Homeland Security.” “Hello, whoever you are, listening in on my phone conversations.”

I’m on the phone with the Church Administrator of the little church I serve. A loud whining noise suddenly over-rides her voice. I try to talk with her; she keeps talking as though everything is fine. I hang up and call again. She wonders what happened. I tell her. “It’s the NSA,” she says. We both laugh.

But it’s no laughing matter.

The timing of the unexplained noise on the phone coincided with arrival of an email from a JFK assassination researcher who is providing overnight lodging for another critic of the Warren Commission Report, Judyth Vary Baker. Judyth is Lee Harvey Oswald’s former lover, controversial author of Me and Lee: How I Came to Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald. Ms. Baker makes the case that President Kennedy was assassinated by a right-wing, anti-Castro, Mafia-linked group within the CIA.

Judyth is in town this week promoting her latest book, David Ferrie: Mafia Pilot, Participant in Anti-Castro Bioweapon Plot, Friend of Lee Harvey Oswald and Key to the JFK Assassination. David Ferrie is the shadowy figure with whom Judyth worked in 1963 in a New Orleans cancer research lab she claims was a covert project of the CIA.

At the request of her publisher, my friend here in Chaska approached several bookstores, a church, and a senior citizens center. One of the bookstores, one of America’s largest, originally said yes, but the next day reported back that “it wouldn’t work out.” An event at a church was scheduled, but was cancelled at the last minute because of a scheduling conflict.

“Hello, NSA.” “Hello, CIA.” Hello, somebody. Someone is listening in. Someone who doesn’t want the rest of us listening to the likes of Judyth Vary Baker or reading the allegations about David Ferrie and the connection between the anti-Castro, Mafia-linked cabal within the CIA.

Or maybe no one is listening in and my friend and I are making it all up. Maybe there is some other reason for the noise I’d never heard before on my phone. It’s just a strange coincidence that the noise happened while the email was arriving on my MacBook Air. It’s coincidence that the phones of people I called the rest of the day did not ring but showed as voicemails without messages, a new wrinkle in their experience and mine. It’s coincidence that my computer and those of several others I had emailed or phoned began to behave as though they needed the Geek Squad or Prozac.

Although I’ve never asked to see it, I’m confident that the FBI has a file on me, and, if they do, I’m rather proud of it. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a group in Decatur, Illinois identifies a picture of King’s alleged assassin as the man who’d shown up out-of-the-blue while a crowd of youth was still on the church parking lot following the dismissal of that night’s youth outreach program.

The FBI shows each of us three photographs, asking if we can identify the man  we met. Each of us, interviewed separately, identifies one of the three. The picture matches the photograph of James Earl Ray on the cover of Life magazine.

A cub reporter who gets wind of the story publishes a column in The Decatur Herald. The Chicago Sun-Times publishes a story on its front page. Right-hand column. Right there in black and white. The headline reads something like “King Assassin Spotted in Decatur, Illinois.” Several of us are quoted in both articles.

Years later, researchers search the files of the Decatur Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times for the stories. They’re not there. There is no evidence that the stories were ever published.

“Good night, NSA.” “Good night, CIA.” “Good night, FBI.” “Good night, Judyth.”

“Hello, Patriot Act.”

“Good-bye Constitution; good-bye Republic.”

“Kyrie Eleison!”

The Rushing Years

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The window at the back
of our new car
in 1952 was for the rear-
view mirror our father
used to see so far
behind us as we drove.
But I could peer

up to the sky while on
the shelf, supine,
(although I did not know
the word for years)
that seemed made for a child
above, behind,
the back seat where my young
brother in tears

would yowl it was his turn.:
It felt like I
was still, while up above
the leaves of fall
with colors red and gold
went rushing by.
(It was before Dutch Elm
Disease befell

our Midwest town.) The tree
tunnel would go,
and even little brother,
too, would grow…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, Illinois, October 25, 2014. Sent following his University of Illinois football team (previously 0-3 in the Big Ten) beat the University of Minnesota (previously 3-0 in the Big Ten) on a cheap fumble!

The Two Halves of Life

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North Shore driftwood

North Shore driftwood

 

The first half is much bigger
than the second shorter half

green, naive, sprouting,
climbing, reaching, chasing

after stars we cannot yet see
but believe are there

in timeless skies that shine
and tease the imagination

of twinkling immortality that
halts when illness strikes

or death intrudes to put the
lights out in the sky

and remind us to look down
as well as up, at our mortality

this flesh and blood we are,
this dust and ash we cannot

shed no matter how we try
or imagine otherwise and

if we’re lucky or blessed,
we understand in the second

shorter wiser, browner, wilting
falling, losing, finding second

shorter half of life the calm
that comes in golden years.

- Gordon C. Stewart, Oct. 25, 2014

Forgiveness 360 – Moving On

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Moving on is hard and joyful at the same time.

Fourteen (14) days to retirement. Joyful announcement yesterday introducing Dean Seal, the next pastor of Shepherd of the Hill in Chaska. Dean is Executive Director and Founder of Spirit in the House and Forgiveness 360. A stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, and event organizer, Dean is an ordained Presbyterian minister who teaches religion as part-time adjunct faculty at Augsburg College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Wonderful choice. I’m moving on more easily knowing that Dean is coming to Shepherd of the Hill.

Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans

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This sermon was preached the week following guest preacher Tabitha Isner’s sermon that began with her singing and asking, “Church. What’s it good for?”

Please leave your story of terror and fascination here, if you care to share. Thanks for coming by Views from the Edge.

Existential Questions – Retirement

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Fifteen days from today I officially retire.

The new pastor has been appointed to the office that has provided definition, boundaries, routines, anchors, and the vocational sense of purpose and meaning that come from a job and being part of a team.

I’m saying to myself what poor Alice said to herself in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“‘But it’s no use now,‘ thought poor Alice, `to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!…for it might end, you know,‘ said Alice to herself, `in my going out altogether, like a candle.‘”

Whenever retirement happens, it raises big questions – scary questions. About whether and how we will manage to live on reduced income, for instance, but, more profoundly, about what one’s life will be without the roles that have partially defined us. Who are we without the roles? What gives life meaning? Why are we here? For what do we exist? Existential questions.

There are moments when the pending retirement – the next chapter to which I’m looking forward – feels like jumping off a cliff into an abyss. I n those moments, the question becomes whether there is life over the cliff. Is what feels like a leap into oblivion a leap into nothingness, or is it a leap onto a trampoline we didn’t know was there before we leaped? Don’t know. Haven’t done it. As my dear retired friend in the memory care center said last Friday about my pending retirement, “You’re going to love it and you’re going to hate it. But eventually,” she assured me, “You’re going to love it!”

Worries about finances and can quickly turn me into Alice, plunging down the rabbit hole. Anxiety. Fear. But money isn’t really what’s unsettling.

Walking Barclay along the lovely wooded paths of the Jonathan Association yesterday, I remembered seeing a mole several years ago while walking our dogsMaggie and Sebastian (since deceased). The blind little mole seemed to be waddling aimlessly along the side of a dark tunnel. It was alone and kind of putzing along, oblivious to our presence, going who-knows-where for who-know-what reason. Fear feels like that. I sometimes feel like that. But the real fear underneath it all is death. For death is the obliteration of the self as we have come to know ourselves (the masks, the roles, the social networks, the reasons for living that come from outside ourselves).

Retirement is not death. It’s a precursor to death, but it is not the end of life. It’s a new chapter, a chance to finally BE and do what we want to be: the one and only person we have always been.

Aging doesn’t stop. It keeps going. Health is not forever. It declines. So, in part, the questions for me are what we want to do, what we “should” do (i.e., service to others and making a difference in this world), and what we can do to age gracefully, meaningfully, and joyfully.

In the year ahead my vocation will take the form of writing. Addressing the deeper questions. The existential questions. The faith questions. What Chaim Potok once called “the 4:00 in the morning questions”. But even more, I pray, retirement will bring a greater appreciation and enjoyment of the wonder of it all. As William Sloan Coffin put it at the end of his book Credo,  I want to live “less intentionally and more attentionally.”

So, in 15 days I turn the keys over to Dean, a wonderfully gifted colleague in ministry, confident that Shepherd of the Hill won’t skip a beat, and that Shepherd of the Hill, Dean, Kay and I are each and all in the good Hands of the unseen Trampoline just over the cliff.

Seeing God from the Back

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving Blind

 

The highway is straight

and smooth, only one lane

in each direction…

no barrier in the center,

no guard rails on the sides…

nighttime, no white lines

mark the edges of the road…

no streetlights…

all that can be seen

is the oval puddle of light

from the headlights

of my speeding car.

 

I jerk awake as I feel

the left tires bounce

on the shoulder of the road…

I have crossed

the wrong lane…I know

my wife is beside me, but

I cannot open my eyes…

I cry out, but her seat belt

holds her too tightly

for her to reach the wheel…

my eyes open for one second,

then all is dark again…

I cannot stay awake…

I whimper and shudder.

 

The terror remains

even after I realize

we are in our own bed

and I have been dreaming.

A reader responds to the posting:

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

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

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

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

Mysterium tremendous et facinans.

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

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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

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

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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

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

 

 

Verse – Polyphony in Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

Go to a concert for
polyphony.

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

Verse – Driving Blind

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

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

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

- Steve Shoemaker, October 17, 2014

Gay Wedding Q and A

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

 

Verse – The Face of Baseball

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

- Steve Shoemaker, October 16, 2014

For World Refugees

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

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

- Steve Shoemaker, October 15, 2014

 

Verse – A Dream of True Communion

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

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

Verse – Lights of the World

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

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

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

Headband LED
Always be hands-free

Gun or bow and arrow
Take a deer or sparrow

Do not want to be dead
Keep the family fed

Walmart Streamlight Pro Tec
Fifty bucks fifty bucks

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

Lake Superior Shoreline

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

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

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

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

say the waves lapping the
rocks at water’s edge

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

 

An American Confession

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A Psalm of Confession

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

Our weapons factories hire lobbyists.
Our lobbyists hire congress.

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

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

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

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

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

We must not call dead children
collateral damage.

Selah

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

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

 

King David

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King David

King David

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

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

A womanizer, polygamous,
Taking beautiful Bathsheba

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

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

Ancestor with his stolen wife
Of the coming Messiah:

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

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

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

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

Boyhood Transportation

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Sound of the Trumpets in the Morning

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

The Language of Demagoguery

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THE POWER OF THE WORD

Words are POWERFUL! Sometimes those who preach wonder whether our words matter. But reading this paragraph in Timothy Egan’s NYT, “Deconstructing a Demagogue,” reminded me of just how powerful they are:

Back in 1994, while plotting his takeover of the House, Gingrich circulated a memo on how to use words as a weapon. It was called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Republicans were advised to use certain words in describing opponents — sick, pathetic, lie, decay, failure, destroy. That was the year, of course, when Gingrich showed there was no floor to his descent into a dignity-free zone, equating Democratic Party values with the drowning of two young children by their mother, Susan Smith, in South Carolina.

Today, if you listen carefully to any Gingrich takedown, you’ll usually hear words from the control memo.

And that’s just the beginning of the story of how language is used and abused for purposes of social manipulation. Gingrich knew that language is “A Key Mechanism of Control.”  Those who are well-schooled in theology and politics know that language is the primary mechanism of mind control: truth becomes falsehood and falsehood becomes truth; beauty becomes ugliness and ugliness becomes beauty; goodness becomes evil and evil becomes goodness, twisted by the language of innuendo and word association.

The cynicism that pervades the American electorate is due, in part, to this demagogic use of language. Words are precious things. Holy things. Sacred things. When they get twisted, they become vulgar and profane, one might even say ‘demonic’ in the sense in which Paul Tillich defined ‘demonic’: the twisting of the good. “The claim of something finite to infinity or to divine greatness is the characteristic of the demonic” (Paul Tillich, “Life and It’s Ambiguities,” Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 102).

Paul Tillich, “The Courage to Be”

Words are sacred. And those who abuse them enter into the darkness of the demonic twistings that led James Russell Lowell to write the hymn lyrics I sang as a child:

Once to every man and nation Comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood…. Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet t’is truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong;, Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadows, Keeping watch above His own. – James Russell Lowell, 1945, “Once to Every Man and Nation”

- Gordon C. Stewart, January 30, 2012

Sheep and Goats

Being without a pulpit doesn’t stop the yearning for study and communication. Today Dean Seal stood for the first time in the pulpit where I once stood. I rejoice with Dean and the dear people of Shepherd of the Hill as they begin this new ministry together.

But I also sense the loss of the community that has been Kay and my home for the past eight and a half years. So I do what I have always done. I look at the texts for the day, ponder their meaning, and write about them.

The Hebrew Bible text for today – the last Sunday in the Christian liturgical calendar, “the Reign of Christ” Sunday – is from Ezekiel 34. It reads, in part:

I myself  [i.e. God] will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,

I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

 

- Ezekiel 34:15-22

Ezekiel is spoken to the exiles, the aliens in a strange land – you might call them “immigrants” or “exiles” or “refugees”. Or “undocumented workers” who labor for peanuts without the protection of the law.

Ezekiel’s 34th chapter looks to David, the leader of the nation, to be God’s agent to rescue them. Or maybe, in our time, a distant relative named Barack.

During the time I worked outside the church at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, a group of undocumented workers came to the Center. The Hispanic/Latino Community Advocate had identified their need and had convinced them that the LRC was a safe place to bring their case.

Six Mexican “employees” of a cleaning service that sub-contracted for janitorial services at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota had not received their wages for the past six weeks. The company knew their workers had no recourse. The law was against them; deportation was always one step away. The employer was confident in its privileged position. Those who withheld their wages had not yet read Ezekiel’s proclamation: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”

It took one phone call to the employer to get these men the wages they and their families had been wrongfully denied.

Let those who oppose Immigration reform legislation in the United States of America read Ezekiel, or sit in on the conversation at the Legal Rights Center. Then let them think again about President Obama’s compassionate speech on immigration policy reform and pass the bipartisan bill languishing the House of Representatives.