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

Posted in America, Humor, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

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Verse – Pre-Disastered

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

Simplicity

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

Verse – Slipping

slipping
one toe out
tentatively

bring it
back

shame

leap forward
fear

cower coward

SUCCESS
temporarily

start over

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 12, 2015,

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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 Politics, America, Civil Rights Movement, Discrimination | 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
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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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Verse – Eclipsed

Our son called with the news of his
son’s birth. It was before cell phones–
I took the call while sitting down
behind my own grandfather’s desk
now in my office at the Y.

The news caused both of us to cry.
He had been with his spouse, of course,
had helped the Doula and the Nurse,
but she produced the small, grand child
without a Doctor near. I called

my wife at her Lab with the news.
We laughed recalling the eclipse
that left me in the dark when she
had birthed our son so painfully.

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

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Verse – The Assignation

What could be more secure?
He gave the combination
of his PO Box to her,
Left to C, Right twice to G,
Left to B, then open.

She’d find his note,
know when & where to meet,
and no one in town would know…
except the PO Box is Government
Property to be used only for stamped Mail.

His oldest son’s girlfriend’s Uncle
was a Postal Clerk, who read the note,
told his Neice, who told his son.
What could be more certain?
Txt msg hacked-all knwn

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

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Verse – 1950s Family Vacations

The car trips were all singing trips,
Our folks in front, four boys in back.
The station wagon filled with maps,
We’d sing Church songs, no one was sick
Or bored. They called them “Choruses,”
“Yes, Do Lord, oh Do Lord, oh do remember me!”
Just simple words for simple minds.
Each travel day was like Sunday.

“I’ve got a home in Glory Land
That outshines the sun!” We’d stop
For gas and all would beg inside
For sweets, gum balls, a lemon drop,
Then back to sing as we drove through
The States. “A-way be-yond the blue.”

They felt they never could divorce,
“The Bible says it is for life.”
Instead of songs, we heard silence
From Christian husband, Christian wife.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 2, 2015

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Verse – SpEcTaToRs

Is there a day without a sport?
Remember when ABC’s
Wide World of Sports
was just on TV Saturdays…
and for only 90 minutes?
Baseball games were on the radio.
Now ESPN Channels 1-348 are on 24-7.
Just today WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS are being played and broadcast in
Professional Men’s Basketball,
Professional Men’s Hockey, and
Professional Women’s soccer.
I think there is a sport every minute.

Of course I could be wrong–
I watch only movies via NetFlicks,
37 HD Satellite Channels, BLU-RAY,
or in Theaters with rocking chairs,
cup-holders, 5 gallon popcorn buckets,
300 speakers, and IMAX.

Our grand-children watch small screens
under the covers after lights-out.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 9, 2015

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An Obvious Conclusion

Author Frederick Buechner puts into words the feeling at the 55th high school reunion last weekend.

ON AGING

As time goes by, you start picking [your contemporaries] out in crowds. There aren’t as many of them around as there used to be. More likely than not, you don’t say anything, and neither do they, but something seems to pass between you anyhow. They have come from the same beginning. They have seen the same sights along the way. They are bound for the same end and will get there about the same time you do. There are some who by the looks of them you wouldn’t invite home for dinner on a bet, but they are your companons de voyage even so. You wish them well.

It is sad to think that it has taken you so many years to reach so obvious a conclusion.

– Frederick Buechner, originally published in Whistling in the Dark. Re-published today by The Frederick Buechner Center.

55th class reunion

55th class reunion

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Our Common Home: Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders

Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si‘: On Care for Our Common Home has caught the world’s attention. (Scroll down for the Encyclical Letter’s opening paragraphs.)

In our view, Pope Francis and Bill McKibben of 350.org are prophetic figures, i.e., they seem to utter a Word not totally their own. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), who is, not by accident, Bill McKibben’s close friend from Vermont, and the ONLY candidate to place climate change action among the top priorites of his presidential campaign. He speaks boldly, and his message echoes the cry of Luudato Si‘ for action now for the sake of the planet. There is no obfuscation.

“The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability.” – Excerpt from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign priority on Climate Change and the Environment.

Religion, science, and politics each deal with reality, superstition, and obfuscation. The Pope’s call for global action requires political legs to make it walk. Political engagement is not optional at this moment in the history of planetary development. In that regard, no other presidential candidate is so clear on climate change and sustainability as Bernie Sanders. No other candidate speaks with such passionate conviction or knowledge. Pope Francis is a man of God, a modern John the Baptizer appearing in the wilderness, following the lead of Bill McKibben, the scientific consensus, and The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’s research and counsel.

The Pope’s position on nature, born of a more ancient wisdom than the mechanistic “man over nature” view of postindustrial society, is thoroughly catholic, the0logically classical, and steeped in scientific research.  “Man over nature” and “history over nature” are figments of our imagination. Nature always wins. We ARE nature and nature is us.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

[1] Canticle of the Creatures, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, New York-London-Manila, 1999, 113-114.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN. July 28, 2015

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Ego Trips

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” [Genesis 11: 4]. No further comment needed.

Building of the Tower of Babel - Master of the Duke of Bedford

Building of the Tower of Babel – Master of the Duke of Bedford

International Trump Tower and Hotel, Chicago, IL

International Trump Tower and Hotel, Chicago, IL

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Verse on Another Tower

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

Meeting an engineer helping design and build what will be the world’s tallest building at over 3,250 feet, the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, reminds Steve of his first published poem. “I had written it in Chicago in 1963 while in college watching the new skyscrapers being built to surpass the then tallest building in town, the Prudential Building.”  “Towers” was published 10 years later in The Anglican Review.

TOWERS

Of course a tower is built by starting from
the bottom. Strong workers and machines make
a joint to earth with wet, grey gravel–form
with time a foundation almost like rock.
Orange steel is welded, riveted, and made
to stand naked pointing skyward. Then blocks
and bricks are hoisted slowly up the side
providing covering flesh the tower lacks.

Small children make towers in trees, and these,
though only made of rotting boards, still stand
as proudly strong in little children’s eyes
as those from which much older men descend.
But both kind of towers still seem to say
with their builders: we look down on the sky.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 19, 2015

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Verse – Don’t Look for Me

Don’t Look For Me On Twitter

My poems I never can Tweet,
I know many folks find it neat–
e e cummings could do it,
He’ a much better poet,
But my verses take much much longer to wreet.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 17, 2015

Click HERE for the Poetry Foundation’s bio for e.e. cummings.

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Verse – I’m Still a Presbyterian

I have made a new “Friend” on my FaceBook:
It is Francis, the Pope–you can look;
But he never will “Comment”,
Or will “Like” what I present,
He just Pronounces and quotes the Good Book.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 14, 2015

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WalMart Chicken Wing

Un-plucked Walmart chicken wing

Un-plucked Walmart chicken wing

There’s nothing quite so special as a WalMart (un)plucked roasted Chicken wing! Mmmm.  Good!

“So what were you doing @WalMart?” you might ask.

We don’t shop at WalMart. But when a neighbor gives you a bunch of unused gift cards with $20 on them…and you want plants for the front entrance…you have an excuse to shop at the place we love to hate. The plants were plucked; the chicken was NOT! If you like to pluck your own chicken, WalMart’s the place to shop.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 14, 2015.

 

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Not your typical ho-hum Bible!

A Sermon preached July 12, 2015 at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel, Southern Cross, MT.

Reading the Bible is not easy. Sometimes the very mention of reading the Bible causes eyes to glaze over and yawns to break out, like the time Howard, a poor soul suffering from early dementia, but still driving to church, leaving dents and scratches on the other cars in the church parking lot without every noticing he hit them, interrupted a sermonic pregnant pause with a loud “Ho-hum!” True story!

But the Bible is far from a Ho-Hum book.  The Bible’s staunchest defenders are often its worst enemies because they read it so poorly that potential thoughtful readers looking for something more interesting than painting by numbers are turned away before they give it a try.

The story of Jesus walking in the water is a story like that. The story has many layers discovered by mining the text for the rich metals that lie just below the surface with clues in the words and the Hebrew Bible material out of which the story is carefully crafted. Often, like Marcus Daly, you find something far richer than you ever expected.

The last thee weeks here at St. Timothy’s we’ve read passages from the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Each of these biblical texts from Mark’s Gospel is like that. They all have hidden, and not so hidden, references to the economic-political-cultural-religious context of the life of the historical Jesus and the struggles of the early church. The hints of a clash between the Kingdom of God and the claims of the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Caesar, are there for the searching eye to see. They glimmer like nuggets of gold in a panhandler’s stream; once you see them, you want more of what’s there. These are not just any old rocks, any old stories, these are powerful stories filled with both conflict and comfort, despair and hope, doubt and faith.

We see the clues in the previous weeks’ texts in words and phrases that triggered the deeper recognition of value and meaning beneath the surface understood by the New Testament’s original readers. Before moving to today’s Gospel reading, take a look at the no “ho-hum” allusions to the collision between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar in the twin stories of the Stilling of the Storm and the healing of the demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs, the Gerasene Demoniac.

The casual reader of Mark 4 and 5 will not know the deeper meanings of the stories. They will not know, without help of biblical research and scholarship, that the Stilling of the Storm and the Gerasene Demoniac stories are told during the time when the Roman 10th Legion, (“the 10th Fretensis”) occupied the streets and alleys of Jerusalem at the end of the Jewish-Roman War in 70 A.D. They will not know what the earliest readers knew: that the occupation forces –  10th Fretensis – wore two insignia on their helmets, shields, and the bricks of their barracks.

One insignium was a ship. The other was a wild boar. The occupants of Jerusalem and Palestine were under the heel of the Roman Legion – the legion that sailed the seas and acted as ferociously as a wild board. The people for whom the first Gospel was written are under Roman occupation, totally defeated. They had hoped for and expected the coming of the Kingdom of God. Instead they got the Roman Legion. The whole community is living, you might say, among the tombs, possessed by the Legion. “What is your name?” asks Jesus of the man who lives among the tombs. “My name is Legion (a LATIN world in a Greek text, a clue to the heart of the story), “for we are many.” Jesus calls the demons of the Legion to leave the man; the demons cease to occupy him; they go into the swine/boars (an anti-Semitic symbol without parallel), and rush headlong toward the sea where they plunge into the sea, all 2,000 pigs, the exact size of a Roman Legion’s battalion.

Mark has taken the old Exodus story and done with it what the Hebrew Bible and Rabbi Jesus had done so often. He has resurrected the original story of the Exodus where the Hebrew slaves in Pharaoh’s Kingdom safely pass through the sea, as if on dry land, and Pharaoh’s armies (the Roman Legion) drown in the sea.

Which brings us to this morning’s reading of the endangered disciples alone in the boat on the sea, and Jesus coming to them walking on the sea.

As biblical scholar J.J. Von Allman notes, along with others, that the sea in biblical cosmogony is not what it is to us. The sea is a place “thought to harbor the enemies of God, and the impression is received that in speaking of it one is assured on each occasion that God is the stronger; it is so dangerous with its tempests…and with its monsters…that it is important to state, with expressions of thankfulness, that God is its Master: He is its creator.”

Thus, at the end of the Stilling of the Storm, the disciples ask of Jesus, “Who can this be that wind and waves obey him?”

Just so, again in today’s reading, there is a tempest on the sea, the haunt of demons from which the nations come. But this is not just any sea. It has a name. This is the Sea of Galilee, as the indigenous population called it. But in the time the story was written, the Sea of Galilee had been renamed with a Roman Imperial name. So the text says that it all took place on the Sea of Galilee – parenthesis, “the Sea of Tiberias.”

So, is this just another Ho-Hum sermon that leaves dents in the cars of the parking lot, or does it have something to do with our lives in 2015?

Were it not for a preacher’s vanity, I’d leave it to you and Howard to decide. But things as they are, it seems to me the deeper significance is everywhere to be found, and you don’t need to be Marcus Daly to recognize the treasure.

Whatever waves your personal world is making, God is the redeemer yet. Whatever storms batter your little boat, God is the Master still. However lonely, sad, or forsaken you may feel or be in the wake of some great tragedy, there is yet One who comes to you walking on the sea of terrorism, the sea of drones, the haunt of demons, the enemies of God. However much we live in the kingdoms of domination and violence, the community and peace of Christ are with us. And, as the disciples of Jesus, imperiled on the sea, we look to Jesus to show us the way.

Is your boat on the Sea of Galilee or on the Sea of Tiberias? Are you rowing on the Seas of Empires or are you pulling on the oars toward the Kingdom of God

Let us pray.

O, God of sea and wind and wave, who stills the stormed-tossed sea and treads upon the waters of the demonic powers of national divisions and imperial aspirations, grant us the  courage and peace of Your Spirit to live as disciples of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Way, our deepest Truth, our Life. Amen.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Southern Cross, MT, July 12, 2015

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Daily Riches: Pimping Religion, Confronting Empire – Part I (Dan Clendenin)

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

“Amos wrote 2,800 years ago, but his prophecy reads like today’s newspaper. He lived under king Jeroboam [whose] kingdom was characterized by territorial expansion, aggressive militarism, and unprecedented economic prosperity. Times were good. Or so people thought. The people of the day interpreted their good fortune as God’s favor. Amos says that the people were intensely and sincerely religious. But theirs was a privatized religion of personal benefit. They ignored the poor, the widow, the alien, and the orphan. …Making things worse, Israel’s religious leaders sanctioned the political and economic status quo. They pimped their religion for Jeroboam’s empire. Enter Amos. Amos preached from the pessimistic and unpatriotic fringe. He was blue collar … neither a prophet nor even the son of a prophet in the professional sense of the term. Amos was a shepherd, a farmer, and a tender of fig trees. He was a small town boy who…

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Verse – Wasp Leg

WASP LEG
(How to remember
the 7 Deadly Sins)

Wrath is unrighteous indignation
Avarice is wanting more than enough
Sloth kept me from doing what I should
Pride has I in the middle
Lust will do it no matter what
Envy hates that you have more than I do
Gluttony is as American as apple pie

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 13, 2015

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Verse – a New Inscription

A New Inscription
For The Statue of Liberty

The lamp once was a beacon. Now the hand
holds high a searchlight, torch, a burning flame
exposing all the exiles, all who came
unasked in search of liberty. Our land
is full, our steel gate closed. Those who demand
a chance to live in freedom now will name
our border guard lady Mother of Shame:
the rich protected, refugees are banned.
“No sanctuary here, no room,” she cries
with rigid lips. “No welcome at our door
for homeless masses struggling to rise
above the hunger, pain, disease and war
in lands where they were born. Compassion dies.
I send the poor back to El Salvador.”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 13, 2015

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Cooperative Success

Cooperative Scrabble

Cooperative Scrabble

Say YES to socialism!
Fight Corporate Power!
Play COOPERATIVE on-line Scrabble:
Make symmetrical patterns,
Ignore the score!
Work together, mutual satisfaction–
Down with competition!
Share information! Power to the People!
(K & S below used all letters but one.)
SUCCESS!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 10, 2015

 

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Verse – Wisteria

Wisteria around post

Wisteria around post

How does the tendril sense
a post is near?  How does
it know to wrap clockwise?

A plant knows more than we
and we can even see!
We close our eyes, we’re lost–
we’ll run into the post…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 8, 1015
 

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Verse – Last Prayer for a Cat

Often only your tail twitched in sleep.
Now you move not at all.
When you were spry,
you batted toys (and mice)
with a blur of paws.

When snuggled into a lap,
only the felt vibration
indicated life.

Digging your grave
let me mix muscles
with tears– energy
put to some use.

Rest well, my friend.
I knew you were my friend
even when you ignored me.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 8, 2015

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Verse – The Young Chauffeur

 

The year was 1965,
and Mrs. J was 65,
and she had never learned to drive.

It was so very long ago,
but I would drive her to and fro
through the streets of Chicago.

To change lanes left, I’d turn my head,
but she would yell, “Look straight ahead!”
“When you do that I am afraid!”

She started dating a new man;
he said, “I just don’t understand,
learn to drive–I know you can.”

She took lessons, a good sport,
and told me then just what she thought:
“Now I know of that blind spot!”

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Mortality and Morality

‘Mortality’ knows nothing of ‘morality’.

The words are separated by one letter, but they are foreign to each other. Mortality always trumps morality. The young die before the older without explanation or moral reasoning.

Tonight 92 year-old Bob Cuthill will participate in the celebration of his younger 72 year-old friend Phil Brown. Bob and Phil became friends professional colleagues years ago. Over the years Bob had been to Phil the wise older mentor, confidant, and friend.

Phil, 20 years Bob’s younger, was not supposed to die. He was the picture of health until two months before they diagnosed a rare, hidden Lymphoma, performed emergency surgery, and watched his life ebb away organ by organ in the post-surgery ICU. If life were ordered by moral reasoning, Phil was not supposed to die before Bob.

Tonight I’m thinking of Bob and Phil’s dear wife, Faith, gathered with Phil’s local friends at the White Bear United Methodist Church for pizza, vanilla ice cream (Phil’s favorite flavor), and story-telling back in Minnesota.

The older survivors of the deceased often ask Why? Why him? Why her? Why not I?  The answers never come. What comes instead to the fortunate is a great thanksgiving for the life that has passed and the life one has for yet awhile before others gather for pizza and ice cream.

– Gordon C. Stewart, friend and classmate of Phil Brown (1942-2015), July 6, 2015.

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Would you like to see Walter?

“Would you like to see Walter?” asked the funeral director to the 19 year-old college student who’d just arrived at the funeral home.

“Walter who?”

“Walter Frasier,” said Mr. Gibson, who only an hour before had recruited the 19 year-old to ask whether he owned a dark suit, and could he serve in a pinch as the greeter for a funeral. The staff person who normally welcomed people at the front door had called in sick at the last moment. Because the Gibsons, Stewarts, and Frasers were friends and members of the same church, Mr. Gibson turned in desperation to the inexperienced 19 year-old as the greeter’s substitute.

So far as I had known before arriving at the funeral home, Walter wasn’t dead. Mr. Fraser was a highly respected member of the community, and the father of my friend ‘Fuzzy’ Fraser, the star offensive guard on the Marple-Newtown High School football team. Last I knew, Mr. Fraser was as healthy as my father and Mr. Gibson. Mr. Fraser wasn’t supposed to die.

Suddenly he was reduced to ‘Walter’.

“Would you like to see Walter?”

“No thanks,” I said, before realizing my refusal was a kind of insult to Mr. Gibson’s work and skill. After the Masons had finished their private ritual of white gloves and strange prayers pretending that Walter is not really dead, Mr. Gibson led me into the viewing room with Walter’s open casket.

My family wasn’t into open caskets. When you die you’re dead; you’re gone. A painted corpse, though it may console some of the survivors — “Doesn’t he look good!” they say, or “He looks so peaceful” or “Didn’t they do a nice job” — serves, as Jessica Mitford and other critics of American funeral practices have said, as a denial of death.

Seeing the previously presumed-to-be-alive Mr. Fraser laid out in a casket as ‘Walter’ came as a shock to the senses that underlined the responsibility to offer a friendly greeting at the door, all dressed up, like Walter, in a dark blue suit.

“Would you like to see Walter?”

“Walter who?” remained the question after I left the Gibson Funeral Home. Who was Walter? Was he Mr. Fraser? Or just Walter, all dressed up, like the rest of us, with no place to go, as naked as the day he was born? I’d like to see him again to ask what he can tell me that I don’t yet know.

— Gordon C. Stewart, GeorgetownLake, MT, July 8, 2015

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Verse – He was not supposed to die!

“He was not supposed to die!”
Said Faith and Joanie when
Phil and Mac died unexpectedly
While still vigorous and young.

Our years are three score years
and ten, and if by some reason
they be fourscore years, yet are
their days labor and sorrow,

said the old sage on bended
knee, lamenting the inscrutable
puzzle of life and death beyond
the ordering of moral reason.

But I have days to live and time
enough for joy as well as toil,
for beauty as well as sorrow
before I’m not supposed to die.

Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MT, July 7, 2015.

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Verse – Death Never Suits Us

Death comes
in many shapes
and sizes but
never suits us

though morticious
cosmeticians
paint the gray of
mannequin faces

to smile, and fold
life-like hands
on chests that
do not breathe

The body is
to Life what
ashes are to fire
and spirit to dust

a painted figure
dressed in suit
and tie for work
that is no more

Blessed are they
who die in the Lord,
for their works
do follow them.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MT, July 7, 2015

Posted in Death and dying, Life, Poetry, Spirituality | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Timeless Scent of a Pine Tree

At the age of three, I wanted to be the Sawgus Man.

Driving up the steep, winding road to Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park, the scent of fresh cut pine trees reaches my nostrils. Within a nanosecond I’m no longer in Wyoming, and I’m not almost 73. I’m a three-year-old back in South Paris, Maine, shoveling sawdust into the coal bin of my grandparents’ big house on Main Street.

During World War II there was no coal for heating in Maine. Sawdust from the pine trees took its place. When the Sawdust Man delivered the sawdust in his big dump truck, I went out with a small shovel to “help” him fill the coal bin with the sawdust. I loved the smell and the Sawdust Man was my hero.

Seventy years later, the aroma of sawdust transports me back to the times with Sawgus Man. Nothing then or now is as sweet as the scent of a fallen pine tree. Scents and memories are as intimately connected as time and eternity.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Jackson, Wyoming, July 2, 2015.

Posted in Life, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Medical Marijuana

Steve (Shoemaker) and Alexander Sharp, ordained clergy advocates for the medical use of marijuana, wrote a guest commentary published by the News-Gazette to set the record straight on medical marijuana. Click  Weeding Out Editorial Inaccuracies to read their critique of editorial’s mischaracterizations of the Journal of the American Medical Association study of the medical use of cannabis.

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The Confederate Flag Outside the Library

The Hearst Free Library in Anaconda, Montana is on the National Historic Register. During our four weeks here serving St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel in Southern Cross, I travel daily to Anaconda to use the library’s internet access.

Walking into the library this morning I noticed a pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal on the back window of the cab. The hackles went up on the back of my neck. The urge to scratch the decal from the window momentarily crossed my righteous mind until I took note of something else.

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

The truck was old and in poor repair. Its bed was messy, filled with a random collection of stuff. This was not a 2015 GMC Canyon or Cadillac Escalade EXT. It belonged, I surmised, to a poor white guy or woman, or a poor white couple hanging on by their fingernails to what little they have.

Anaconda, MT is a fascinating place to live for a month. Once the world center of copper mining, the city of 9,300 residents today is living with great resilience on this side of the mine’s closing in 1987 and the SuperFund clean up that continues into the present.

There is great pride here in their history and in their capacity for survival beyond the abandoned mine shaft and silent smelter stack that still stands proudly, preserved by Anacondans who opposed its demolition by Anaconda Copper’s successor, ARCO. The stack is the oldest smelter stack in the world, large enough for the Washington Monument to fit inside it.

Miners are a sturdy lot. So are their descendants. The closer a visitor draws to the heartbeat of knowledge, persistence, and compassion in Anaconda — the Hearst Free Library — the more one respects and appreciates the town once built by corporate America and left to fend for itself when its usefulness had ended.

Class is the issue in America. But as soon as class comes into play, race becomes the easier target. When the company owners whose workers produce wealth throw away a town the way we throw away paper towels, racial differentiation produces the scapegoat for poverty. A young white man enters an historic black church, sits down for the Bible study for an hour, considers not pulling the trigger because they seemed like “nice people” and blows nine people away. A poor man’s pickup with a Confederate flag decal is parked down the street from the Hearst Free Library in Anaconda, Montana. What that flag stands for can, and does, show up anywhere in America.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MN

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Verse – Tour Guides

Verse — Tour Guides in 1962
at the Mansion of the late
Col. Robert R. McCormick,
former Editor/Publisher
of the Chicago Tribune

We said “Cantigny” like “Cubs-Wrigley.”
“Can-TIG-knee,” after all, was west of
Chicago, and we Midwestern guys
from Wheaton College were the best of
hires, for boss, Mrs. J, knew we would
not steal Colonel McCormick’s books or
swords, silver, furniture or liquor,
since we were honest Christian boys.

She was from Europe, Austria, and
knew France would shudder if the town would
hear how we mispronounced “CAHN-tee-neigh.”
The Colonel fought a battle there, or
so we were told originally by
wise Mrs. J. But foolishly, she
let us pass all the information
on to the other guides, and as we
played “telephone” the tales would then grow
until our Colonel was the hero…

(“And after Fox Hunts, he was always pleased
to set buns on the porch and cut the cheese.”)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 1, 2015

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Verse – Flooded Former Bean Field

Champaign County, Illinois.
June 29, 2015, A.D.

Climate Change is still my tune,
Everyone will know it soon;
It’s rained just twice,
And that is nice:
Once all May, and once all June…

[“LIKE” if you wish water could
be shared with the West!

Flooded bean field - Champaign, IL

Flooded bean field – Champaign, IL

– Verse and photograph by Steve Shoemaker, Champaign County, IL, June 29, 2015

 

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BEST Steak Ever! WORST Haircut!

THE BEST TENDERLOIN EVER

Our home for four weeks is 14 miles west of Anaconda, Montana. Last Friday evening we go to Barclay II for dinner (the restaurant, not the dog).

Like lots of things in these parts, exterior facades count for little. Barclay II doesn’t look like much from the outside but it has a great reputation for steak and seafood. Behind the scruffy door is an upscale restaurant.

The proprietor, Tammy comes to the table to greet us. We ask what they’re known for. “The tenderloin is the most popular,” she says. “I see from the menu it comes with crab legs. Are they Snow Crab or King Crab?” I’m not so big on Snow Crab; I love King Crab. She answers, “King Crab.”

When the wait person comes to take our orders, I order the tenderloin “between medium-rare and medium”. The waitress notes exactly what I say. When she returns, the tenderloin is precisely as requested. In downtown Minneapolis, Murray’s Steak House  is famous for its Silver Butter Knife Steak, so named because you can cut it with a butter knife. Murray’s is good. Barclay’s, in downtown Anaconda, is better. The tender-est, most flavor-ful steak I’ve every eaten anywhere in the world.

THE WORST-HAIRCUT EVER

The next morning we’re again in downtown Anaconda in The Coffee Corral coffee shop when Kay reminds me I need a haircut before stepping into the pulpit the next morning at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel where I’m privileged to preach the next three weeks. It’s Saturday.

I leave Kay in search of the barber shop. The barber pole is not spinning; the sign on the door posts the hours: Monday-Friday. It’s closed. Next door is a beauty salon. I really need a haircut. I go in to the scene of six women seated in a semicircle having their nails done.

“Good morning,” I say, “Do you do men?” Several of the woman roar with laughter. “I mean…do you cut men’s hair?” Again they laugh. “My wife says I need a haircut; wadda ya all think?” Three of them nod Yes; three nod No. The stylist answers Yes and says she can do me at 1:00.

I return at 1:00. The stylist and I exchange a few pleasantries, ignoring the young bridesmaid who’s all dressed for an afternoon wedding, waiting to have her hair done. I take a seat in the stylist’s chair. She asks me what I want. I answer, just “a trim,” meaning leave it the way it is but take maybe a quarter of an inch, at most. I tell her that once I take out my hearing aids I won’t be able to hear a thing. She smiles, laughs, and says, “No problem. That’s great!” I take it she’s not a big talker, or maybe, God for bid, she doesn’t like men.

I set the hearing aids on the counter. She asks a question I can’t hear. As hearing-impaired people often do when we can’t hear something, I smile and nod my head. I should have reached for the hearing aids.

Within seconds I’m back in Vince’s Barber Shop in Broomall, Pennsylvania at the age of five. Vince’s old electric clippers are shearing the sides of my head like a sheep shearer shears wool from a sheep. At age 72 I don’t have much left, but I’m told I have beautiful hair, even if it’s white. The clippers are clipping; the hair is flying in one-inch clumps. This is not a trim! I’m being led to the slaughter. I close my eyes, as though in prayer, pretending it’s not as bad as I expect.

I should have prayed!

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

She finishes “the trim” with scissors and holds up the mirror to show me her handiwork. I pretend I’m an actor, looking at the unrecognizable head staring back at me. It’s Mortimer Snerd, ventriloquest Edgar Bergen’s dummy who made me laugh as a kid, and, as Mortimer often did, I smile a stupid smile, and say, “Yup”. There is nothing else to do.

ALWAYS CARRY CASH

“How much do I owe you?” “Ten dollars,” she says. “Do you take American Express?” “No,” she says, “we only take cash.”

Oops! I take out my wallet. No cash. I go into my pockets and find three one crumpled dollar bills. She agrees to let me go up the street to the coffee shop where Kay is using the internet. “I’ll be back,” I say, assuring her I’m not skipping town. I don’t tell her that her haircut is only worth three dollars.

Kay also has no cash. But she remembers the cylinder of quarters she keeps in the Prius. We count them out, 38 quarters, just enough with my three ones to cover the cost and leave a $1.50 tip, and return to the Beauty Salon.

She’s doing the hair of the teenage girl dressed in her bridesmaid uniform. I think of bridesmaids’ dresses as uniforms ‘cause, like Army recruits, the poor bridesmaids have to wear what their recruiter makes them wear. There is no freedom on wedding day. I just hope the poor soul sitting in the stylist’s chair doesn’t open her eyes to see Mortimer staring back from her bridesmaid uniform.

LESSONS FOR LIFE

Thirteen (13) little hours offered the best and the worst, the joys and, as the old hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” puts it, “the burdens of the day.”

I’ll take back to Minneapolis three life lessons learned in Anaconda:

  1. Pay no attention to the exterior appearance of anything, especially a restaurant. It may hide the best tenderloin steak you’ve ever tasted anywhere.
  2. Carry cash!
  3. If you’re a guy who ventures into a beauty salon next door to the closed barber shop and some women laugh loudly when you ask if they do men, run for your life. You may turn into Mortimer Snerd!

“Yup!” Life is like that. I smile and remember the tenderloin. Kay tells me my hair will grow out again.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Anaconda, MT, June 29, 2015

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Verse – Last Request

Last request from an Illinois boy

I was born in Urbana on Orchard Street,
The hospital, Carle, was then quite small:
A three-story building of yellow brick,
The first of four brothers, and that was all.

My Mother was Char, my Dad was Bob
away at war, though a Pacifist he.
In ’42, to avoid the Draft,
He joined the SeaBees, the Navy

Guys who built the docks, airfields–
Alaska, even Hawaii.
After the war they lived in town
From house to house, till number three

Was 1306 South Orchard Street.
My happy high school years were there,
My first fast car, my first slow girl…
My friends were from the band or choir,

Although I grew to six foot eight
And stumbled playing basketball.
I started writing poems then:
Love yelps, or sonnets for the school

Assignments Mrs. Hewett gave.
Now decades past, I still will write
My last request in doggerel.
V-mails from Dad to Mom would cite

His love for us in poetry.
So if the cost is not too great,
Send me to die on Orchard Street.
Carle Hospital has grown to eight

Or ten or 12 facilities.
Perhaps they’ll have a room for me
To breathe my last in my home town.
Like poetry, it’s symmetry.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 29, 2015

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