In Memory of Jean Redpath


Verse In Memory of Jean Redpath
An Acrostic

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

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

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

Plunging into Life: William Stringfellow


Jacket of "My People Is the Enemy"

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

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

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

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


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


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


Sermon – Robin Williams and the Loving God


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



“Homeland” Militarization


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song in My Head


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

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

I ask myself, Why this song?

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

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

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

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

Black Hawk Helicopter training in downtown Minneapolis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tender Voice of Frederick Buechner


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

Anne Lamott reflects on Robin Williams


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

Anne Lamott and Robin Williams

Verse – psalm for the green prairies


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

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

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

checkerboards are green and golden,
maize from native american.

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

Two Polyps Next


Under the Knife
14 times in 71 years

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

Not counting

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

Ferguson, Missouri


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

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

Think… America.

The Ladder


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

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


We are climbing higher, higher….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob’s Dream: the Great Reversal


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

My Mental Illness


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

(After the suicide of Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire)

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

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

Robin Williams and Us


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

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

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

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

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

Of Guide Dogs and Legislatures


Verse – The Blind Leading the Blind

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

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

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

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

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



Can a Cease-Fire Last?

Pushed into the ghetto of Gaza,
Palestinians receive little
help from nearby rich Arab people,
Muslim or Christian.  The Israeli

forces forcing apartheid fear for
their lives from Hamas that has sworn to
annihilate the Jewish State.  Two
States seem unobtainable.  For more

than two generations this small piece
of dry desert land has seen a war
between two religions that claim peace.
Will Salaam, Shalom, be any more?

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 7, 2014

The Mouse and the Six-Feet Eight Man


Tough Guy


Suddenly a mouse is here
from nowhere.
I am so much bigger,
but startled,
jump up on the couch
and yell for my little,
but fierce, wife.
(Thank you Will S.
for just the right words.)
Her broom saves me.
I return to reading,
but scan the floor
regularly, uneasily,

-Steve Shoemaker, August 2, 2014

Steve’s memory prompts one of my own from years ago at our home in Cincinnati.

My parents were visiting at the time. My mother, like Steve, was lying on the couch reading when she spotted a mouse, her worst nightmare. She leapt up on the couch and screamed. “Ick! There’s a mouse in here!”

For the next 10 minutes the little mouse scampered around the living room, ran up the drape cord on the right side of the double patio door, across the top of the doors, and down the cord on the left side. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Maxine, the slow-witted cat, sat quietly, swiveling her head from right to left, watching with feline detachment while one of the humans got a paper bag and a broom from the kitchen. Whatever fear there was quickly turned to the side-splitting laughter as the oppressed little creature scurried past us and through the broom sweeper’s legs legs to the opposite end of the living-dining room, under the dining room table, back to the other end past the swishing broom until at long last it found its exodus from pharaoh’s persecution through the patio doors which, at long last, the tough guys had the good sense to open.

Over the years I’ve come to believe there is no difference between a man or woman and a mouse. We’re all mice. Somewhere a mouse is laughing at us.

- Gordon

The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower


Uncle John claimed we Andrews descended from John Alden of the Mayflower. He spent many years, day after day, doing the research that confirmed what every Yankee wants to find: a connection to the true Americans. You know. The ones who came across on the Mayflower. The ones with funny hats who murdered the Americans who were already here. The ones who make their descendants “blue bloods”.

I always wondered, though, why such an important family as John Alden’s would live in South Paris, Maine where Mark Twain, had he known about the place, would have said of it what he wrote about Cincinnati: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati. It’s always ten years behind the times.”

I’ve lived in Cincinnati. I’ve also lived in South Paris. South Paris wins the contest hands down.

When I think of South Paris an eerie feeling sweeps over me. A kind of despair. I feel forlorn.

I went back to South Paris for my Aunt Gertrude’s memorial service. As always, I wondered why people chose to live there. My cousins grew up there. Most of them couldn’t wait to leave and did as soon as they could, and never looked back. I wondered why the others stayed. But even more, I’ve wondered why our forebears went there at all, being especially important blue bloods like the family of John Alden of the Mayflower.

The Andrews didn’t start out in South Paris, though. They settled a few miles away, before South Paris existed, in the pristine foothills of the White Mountains on wooded land with a trout streams over which they would build a red covered bridge and a paddle wheel sawmill to mill the lumber for things like caskets. The Andrews Casket Company and Funeral Home became a staple of the hamlet, the famed institution of an entrepreneurial Baptist minister, John Alden’s descendant, Isaac Andrews. The property remained in the family for over 200 years until my mother’s favorite cousin Lynwood (“Pete”) Andrews sold his home, the casket company, and the funeral home, along with the land it to some whippersnapper several years ago.

A smile always came across my mother’s face whenever she told us of playing hide-’n-seek with her siblings, Gertrude, John, Elwood, and Roy in the casket room of the original Andrews homestead in Woodstock. Imagine hiding in a casket. Maybe everyone in those woods had come there to hide from death, running from the haunting memory of the murders that followed their landing at Plymouth Rock where they once had “no property or position, no wealth, no fame, or profession, no beauties seen now or then, but … managed to have children.”*

As a child my mother and I often visited Grandpa Andrews, my great grandfather, who still lived on the original Andrews property with the casket factory, the trout stream, the red covered bridge, the mill, the funeral home, and the family home. By the time I came along, he was infirm, cared for by his live-in housekeeper. Angie was a sweet woman who dearly loved Grandpa Andrews. Angie made the best buttermilk biscuits anyone had ever tasted; no one could duplicate them, even with the recipe she shared. My mother always suspected there was a secret ingredient missing from the public recipe. There was a wink-wink when anyone spoke of Angie as the housekeeper. She was known for her biscuits. The rest was nobody’s business.

I was three and four years old when my mother and I lived in South Paris and made the visits to Grandpa Andrews. It was during the Second World War. My father was overseas in the South Pacific. Even then, I sensed the smell of death, knowing in my bones that one of the caskets in the casket room might be waiting for my father. Way back then I could smell the forlornness in the air.

Sixty years later, when I returned to Maine for my Aunt Gertrude memorial service at the Congregational Church of South Paris, I looked out at the congregation and wondered who they were and why they were in Oxford County, the poorest county in the State of Maine.

Two days before doing my Aunt’s service, I was on my way to the Mollyockett near the old Andrews homestead in Woodstock when, a mile or so before my destination – it was a Sunday – I saw a sign for whole belly fried clams. I love fried clams. We don’t get those in Minnesota. I pulled into the parking lot. A man whose home shared the driveway to the little restaurant was standing outside. “Can I help ya?” he asked. “Well, I don’t know. I saw the sign for fried clams,” I said, “but it looks like it’s closed.” “Well, it’s Sunday,” he said. “Where ya from? “Minnesota. We don’t get whole bellied fried clams in Minnesota.” “Wait right here,” he said. We’ll open up. Let me go in and get the Mrs.”

Inside the restaurant he asks where I’m from and what brings me to these parts. “I’m here for a funeral. I’m staying at the Mollyockett,” I said.

“You must be here for Pete’s funeral.”

“Pete? Pete who?

“Well, Pete Andrews.”

“Pete died? No, I’m here for my Aunt Gertrude’s service. She was Pete’s first cousin, and my mother’s favorite cousin. Pete died?”

“Gorry, he said. “I thought it was a little early. He just died yesterday, wasn’t it, Mabel? It was Saturday, right, Mabel? I thought you was here for Pete’s funeral. See that dollar bill up there? That’s from Pete. Our first customer. We’d just moved here from Rhode Island. Real gentleman, that Pete. Always had a different lady with him, a real ladies’ man, but always a gentleman. Always wore a white shirt and tie.”

I wonder if Pete carried the forlornness of the children of John Alden and the Mayflower, running from a murderous ancestral history he couldn’t identify, trying to resolve it playing among the caskets with my mother, or eating fried clams with the ladies, always the gentleman, just like Isaac Andrews, his grandfather, and all the other Aldens before him. Forlorn and wondering why.

*Quoted from Steve Shoemaker’s verse on the Mayflower posted last on Views from the Edge.

Our Family Bush


We go back to the Mayflower,
but to a murderer found there.
No property or position,
no wealth, no fame, or profession.

No beauties seen now or then,
but we managed to have children.

- Verse by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 26, 2014


A Ride at the Fair


The Umbrella Ride

The County Fair was in July that year
as usual. In 1959
we had been dating since last December.
I played basketball, she was a sports fan,
we both played in the high school band. At five
foot two she looked up high to my shoulder.
I stood tall, but I hated heights. I never
rode the midway rides. I saw her wave
from on the Ferris wheel.

…………………………………………… One ride looked safe,
even for me, two kids in each small pod
just spun close to the ground. I saw the force,
centrifugal, would swing her nice soft body
into mine. I vomited–she stared…

There was no help with foreplay at the Fair.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urana, IL, July 20, 2014

Editor’s Note: apologies for the use of ……s – the editor doesn’t know the code to put the line far to the right as in the original. And, BTW, six-foot-eight Steve and five-foot-two Nadja got married and have lived happily ever after. They no longer need to go the fair.




Steve Shoemaker wrote this lovely verse after reading Alexander Pope’s Ode on Solitude.

On Reading “Solitude,” written at age 12 by Alexander Pope.

In our time of celebrity
adulation, we all want fame.
To die unknown, not on TV,
will bring us shame.

Pope seems to love obscurity,
yet he is known 300 years
later for his great poetry.
I write with tears

my words will not ever be read
except on FaceBook by 10 friends.
No one will know me when I’m dead:
pride even ends.


- Steve Shoemaker, July 15, 2014

Editor’s Note: Steve’s verse arrives two weeks after his first cataract surgery and the morning after my latest hearing test. His eyesight is better than it’s been since he was eight, but he has no illusions of a return to the tender years when life lay all ahead waiting to unfold. Unlike Steve’s corrected eyesight, my hearing will not get better; it moves me ever deeper into silence and solitude, a gentle sort of preparation for the acceptance of death (obscurity) when there is no pride.

That Alexander Pope could write this at the age of 12 is astonishing. I’m going back to the Poetry Foundation for more of him, but today I’ll feast on Steve’s reading of him and the first stanza of Pope’s Ode to Solitude:

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Click the link above (Ode on Solitude) for Pope’s poem on the site of The Poetry Foundation.

Thanks for coming by!

Gordon and Steve



Does a corporation have a soul?


Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority ruling that corporations are persons with the same rights as voters, blogger Chris Glaser posted “Does a Corporation Have a Soul?”



Of cataracts and Gampas


Steve Shoemaker sent this today following cataract surgery.

Verse – cataract surgery

drugs keep you


while tiny



your eyeball

guided by

an all-seeing





that may

have never

been there


- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL July 9, 2014

Editor’s Additon: Cataracts come with aging, which reminds me of a story. When my son John was three years old, his grandfather came to town for a visit. John said, “Gampa, I have a penis.” “Yes,” said Gampa, “youre a boy. All boys have penises.” “Yeah,” said John, “and then we grow up. My Daddy has a penis.” “Yes,” said his grandfather trying to contain the laughter, “and some day you’ll grow up to be a man like Daddy.” “Yeah,” said John, “Daddy’s is bigger.” “Well, yes, that’s because Daddy is a lot older.” “Yeah,” said John, his eyes getting wider and his hands moving apart, “and you’re a LOT older. I’ll bet yours is REALLY big!”

The Beef House


Some spoon strawberry jam
or apple-butter from
the dish in the huge room
filled with lovers of rolls.

Yes, they are named The Beef
House, but I think that half
the folks would quickly leave
if they ran out of rolls.

Pure white with just a touch
of golden brown on top,
it splits open in two
inviting, mouth-sized rolls.

I just put butter on
each open half, and when
it melts and starts to run,
I bite into the rolls.

I know this sounds just like
an ad, and some the steak
prefer, but on-line check
the website: beefhouserolls!

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

As War Looms: a Jewish-Muslim fast day July 15


Isreali-Palstinian relations are getting worse. Rabbi Arthur Waskow speaks from within the Jewish community. His words have weight because they do not come from an outsider. They have no source in the historic anti-Semitism that makes Christian criticism suspect.
The best criticism is always self-criticism. Rabbi Waskow published this piece in the Shalom Report of the Shalom Center.

As War Looms, Can Jews & Muslims Join In 17 Tammuz/ Ramadan Fast on July 15 In “Hunger Strike Against Violence”?

Dear friends,

There are two crises in the world that call especially for Jewish responses:

One because it involves the future of a state that calls itself “Jewish,” and of its supporters in America — their spiritual, intellectual, ethical, and practical futures – at a moment when the relationship between Jews and our Abrahamic cousins of Palestine is filled with violence that threatens to kill more people, breed more hatred, and poison the bloodstream of Judaism and Jewish culture;

The other because it calls on Judaism as –- probably uniquely — a world religion that still can draw on having once been an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers with a Torah, offerings, festivals, and many other practices centered on the sacred relationship with the Earth. Can these roots regrow new flowering at a moment when all the wisdom of all human cultures is needed to cope with a planetary crisis that originates in human mistreatment of the Earth?

Reb Zalman addressed both of these, beginning from the deep spirit-place that was his calling in the world. In two Shalom Report letters this week, I will suggest ways to begin the spiritual turning necessary to address both these.

Let me begin with the first crisis, which every hour is worsening toward war:

Bottom line, a proposal, originating from Israelis & Palestinians; : That the traditional Jewish fast day of 17 Tammuz, which coincides this year with a day in the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan, be set aside on Tuesday, July 15, as a “Hunger Strike Against Violence.”

Background: Murder, violence, and ugly threats of it have broken out in Israel, its settlements in Occupied Palestine, and in Palestine itself – at both the level of street mobs and the level of governmental rockets, bombs, and troop mobilizations.

The endemic violence of occupation has been intensified by the murder of three Israeli youngsters by some Palestinians, one lynching murder of a Palestinian youth by Israelis, Israeli street mobs threatening pogroms against Palestinians and Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, and exchanges of rocket and missile/ bomb firing between Gaza and Israel.

Eliaz Cohen (an Israeli poet/ settler in Gush Etzion) has proposed that Jews & Muslims respond to the outbreaks of violence by joining in a Hunger Strike Against Violence. He suggested fasting on the traditional Jewish fast day of 17 Tammuz, this year on July 15, which is also a day in the month-long fast of Ramadan. (Both fasts are from sunrise to sunset.)

What is 17 Tammuz about? It commemorates the day when the Babylonian Army broke through the walls of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, three weeks before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple.

So it is, among other things, a day of sorrow for the dead and self-restraint from killing.

My thought: — It would be both a serious expression of commitment to peace and decency and also a serious memorial to Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who died last week, for us here as well in the USA to join with Muslims on 17 Tammuz in a Hunger Strike Against Violence, and to end the day together with Iftar, the evening break-fast.

To do this, we could ask a mosque near any one of us, and/ or a chapter of organizations like CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, to join with our own congregation.

What does this have to do with Reb Zalman? He schrei’d Gevalt, gevalt, about the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila; he visited the Tomb of Abraham in Hebron not in triumph but in Abrahamic peace; he became a Sufi initiate; he climbed the mountain known as Sinai with Muslims.

Why should we do this? The editorial board of Haaretz, not just an op-ed piece, has just warned that :


“There are no words to describe the horror allegedly done by six Jews to Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat [allegedly to “avenge” the murders of three Israeli youngsters]. Although a gag order bars publication of details of the terrible murder and the identities of its alleged perpetrators, the account of Abu Khdeir’s family — according to which the boy was burned alive — would horrify any mortal. Anyone who is not satisfied with this description, can view the horror movie in which members of Israel’s Border Police are seen brutally beating Tariq Abu Khdeir, the murder victim’s 15-year-old cousin.

“[We Israelis] belong to a vengeful, vindictive Jewish tribe whose license to perpetrate horrors is based on the horrors that were done to it.

“Prosecuting the murderers is no longer sufficient. There must be a cultural revolution in Israel. Its political leaders and military officers must recognize this injustice and right it. They must begin raising the next generation, at least, on humanist values, and foster a tolerant public discourse. Without these, the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.”



It seems to me that for the sake of God’s demand for justice, peace, and love for BOTH the peoples of Israel and Palestine, and for the sake of our own souls as well, we must support such a “cultural revolution in Israel” and in the American Jewish “organized” community — where idolatry for Israel is replacing love for Israel, despite deep disquiet and disaffection at the grass roots.
Below is what Eliaz wrote. And below that is a report from The Times of Israel (NOT a left-wing or liberal paper) about visits of sorrow and condolence between the bereaved families of the two peoples, including a Palestinian Muslim who affirmed the idea of sharing the Fast of 17 Tammuz/ Ramadan.

(If you want to know more about Eliaz Cohen, as I did, see


Shalom, salaam, peace! — Arthur


Thanks to Rabbi Eyal Levinson of northern Israel, who sent me Eliaz Cohen’s proposal:


“A day of fasting together, or in the language of civil protest: a hunger-strike day, next Tuesday, when the Jewish and Muslim calendars are united in a day of fast: the fast of 17 Tamuz and the fast of Ramadan, Jews and Muslims will unite in a day of fast.

“For both traditions/cultures – this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, for self repair and for self and communal purification and for repentance.

“This is an attempt to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a “peak day” “in which each man and woman in their home and in their communities will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.

“Afternoon gatherings and classes will be held between the two communities – sharing stories, studying and praying together, and by the appearance of the stars the people gathered will share an “iftar” – breaking the fast with a delicious meal.”



From The Times of Israel

Earlier Sunday, two Palestinians from the Gush Etzion area … arrived at the Fraenkel’s Nof Ayalon residence where the family is in the midst of the traditional seven-day mourning period [for one of the three Israeli youngsters murdered by Palestinians].
Last week, the Fraenkels condemned the murder of Abu Khdeir [a Palestinian youngster murdered by Israelis], saying, “There is no difference when it comes to blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.”

One of the visitors [said] that Fraenkel’s statements last week after Abu Khdeir’s murder “touched a large portion of the Palestinian people.”
“I come from a bereaved family, I lost my brother and I have family that were former prisoners, unfortunately we also threw stones at you. …
“The moment we learn to deal with each other’s pain and stop the anger against one another, the situation will be better,” the visitor said. “Our mission is to strengthen the family and also to take a step forward towards the liberation of my people. We believe that only through the hearts of the Jews will our liberation happen.”

He described the warm welcome the Fraenkels gave him, and said: “We are sorry for any harm against people, whether Jewish or Muslim. We don’t want anyone to be hurt, and want to reach a political agreement.”

The two Palestinians also described an upcoming initiative called the “Hunger Strike Against Violence,” next Tuesday, on which the Jewish fast of the 17 of Tammuz coincides with the ongoing Muslim Ramadan holiday.

I hope that as we mourn Reb Zalman, we turn the mourning not only into tzedakah (socially responsible charity) but also into tzedek (balanced justice), chesed (loving-kindness), and mishpat (justice on behalf of the poor and disempowered) . “Tzedek u’ mishpat ashira: l’cha YHWH azamaira. Of love & justice I will sing, to the ONE Breath of Life I’ll sing praises!”

Shalom, salaam, peace — Arthur

Verse – Cousin Dale


My mother’s only brother’s
only son is dead.
We were not close.
I learned of his death
from my youngest brother
only after he did an internet
search for my cousin’s
only son, when none of us
had heard from Dale for months.
He died nine months ago.

When I was 17 and Dale was 16,
I wrote a snotty sonnet about
his inordinate love for a ’57 Ford
that he had made into a hotrod.
I don’t regret having written it,
but I wish I had written him
a thank-you note for fixing
my garage door the last time
he visited.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL July 6, 2014

The Phone Call from Jay: getting real about life and death


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Kosuke Koyama, and Jay Logan inspired this sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. It was preached the Sunday the church was welcoming four homeless families as guests for the week. The church members – just 78  loving people – had worked hard for three years to make this happen.

Verse – The Mama Rabbit


The Mama rabbit in the city
dug a nest in our back yard.
She pulled fur from her own body,
hiding babies in the grass.

She came to nurse them every hour,
but she watched them from afar.
Hawks and foxes might have found them
if she stayed there all the time.

I saw one baby rabbit crawling
when I mowed the grass above.
Then I saw the Mama watching
as I placed him in the nest.

The internet said she would feed him
even after touched by me.
My kids and spouse watched from the window
at the growing family.

- Steve Shoemaker, July 1, 2014

Verse – Culverts


Used at least since ancient Rome
to let water safely flow
under roads, a culvert acts
like a bridge and also makes
travel safe for folks above.

Fish and frogs can glide and dive,
chased by coons and also kids.
Parents warn of danger there,
but a hiding place will share
mystery, enchantment…love.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 12, 2014

Friendly fire and Fratricide


“There is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved,” said a U.S. military official yesterday of the five American soldiers’ deaths in southern Afghanistan, according to news reports like this one from NBC News. The sentence came over my car radio yesterday. I’ve been pondering it ever since.

Interesting choice of words: “fratricide”, the killing of a brother, meaning, in this case, one of our guys, not one of their guys.

The Genesis story of Cain and Abel is the archetypal fratricide in Western culture. Cain turns to violence. Abel, his biological brother, is dead. When God asks Cain where his brother is, Cain retorts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The answer is “Yes, Cain, you are.” Fratricide is out of order.

So is friendly fire. But what about killing the Taliban? Is that “unfriendly fire”? Is that not fratricide because the Taliban are not my brothers?

My ears are attuned to fratricide and to the use of language that brings theology and humaneness into stories like yesterday’s tragedy in Afghanistan and many wartime public relations press releases. The implication is clear. One of our guys may have killed one of his own guys.

In a subsequent statement, another military official said that, in the daylong fight preceding the apparent friendly fire airstrike, the joint U.S.-Afghan security forces operation had killed “lots of them” (i.e., Taliban, the enemy, the non-brothers). The case is being investigated.

Every death of a human being at the hands of another human being, on the ground or from the air, is an act of fratricide.

William Blake painting of "Cain fleeing from the wrath of God "as Adam and Eve look on in horror following the fratricide.

William Blake painting of “Cain fleeing from the wrath of God “as Adam and Eve look on in horror following the fratricide.


West Bank Bethlehem


Arab American Christians

Three words not
Usually seen together

Palestinian Christians love
Hearing Acts two
Read on Pentecost

Arabs are listed
Receiving the Spirit

West Bank Bethlehem
Has had Christians
Two thousand years

Lutheran Arabs live
Next to Muslims
In Palestinian towns

The Pope’s prayers
May bring peace
Where three Faiths
Call land Holy

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL June 10, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis is a partner church with the Lutheran congregation in Bethlehem. The pastor of the Bethlehem church has spoken to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Once again this year’s General Assembly (national meeting that convenes this Saturday in Detroit) will consider a controversial proposal to divest investments in companies that support the subjugation of the Palestinian people, working against the Church’s commitment to human rights, justice, and peace. Prayers for the General Assembly as its Commissioners deliberate.  – GCS

Do not forget! We ARE Nature – Nature Is Us


Text of sermon on sanity and madness visa a vis ourselves (homo sapiens) and the rest of nature preached at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN.

We need stories to keep us sane in a culture whose sanity is madness.

In Souls on Fire Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize concentration camp survivor, tells the story of “prophetic madness” that challenges the collective madness of a people who ignore the coming calamity of impending crop failure. “Good people…What is at stake,” says the prophetic messenger, “is your life, your survival! The summons falls on deaf ears and the calamity of starvation is not averted.”

Wiesel concludes, “God loves madmen. They’re the only ones he allows near him.

Late in the year of 1964 a young geography student working toward his doctorate came upon a grove of Bristlecone Pines while doing research searching on Ice Age glaciers.

Wheeler Peak, on Nevada’s eastern border with Utah, reaches an altitude of 13,063 feet with a spectacular glacial cirque on its northeast side. Wheeler Peak cycles through five life zones, from the hot stony desert to alpine tundra, all within a five mile line. Along the edge of this cirque is the home of colossal bristlecone pines. Standing as they have for millennia, in their fields of stone, they overlook the desert far below.

When this student and his associate came upon the bristlecones at the timberline, they began to take core samples from several trees, discovering one to be over 4,000 years old! Needless to say they were excited, and at some point, their only coring tool broke. The end of the field season was nearing. They asked for, and were granted permission, by the U.S. Forest Service to cut the tree down.

They had just cut down one of the oldest living organism on the planet. An earlier group of researchers at Wheeler Peak and given names to the these ancient creatures whose lives reach back to the third century before Christ. They had named some of these trees. Ancient names like Socrates and Buddha. And then there was Prometheus, named after the god in Greek mythology who was punished for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind. Zeus has Prometheus chained to a rock for an eternity of perpetual torment.

It was the tree named after Prometheus that the geology students had killed. They had cut down a tree that was 4,844 year old.

What happened that day on Wheeler Peak is now viewed as a kind of martyrdom by some of the Bristlecone Pine researchers – in inexplicable horror of Prometheus’ death served to save the other Bristlecone Pines from extinction at human hands. You might even say it is to the Bristlecone Pines what the cross of Jesus is to the human species, a death that brings life to the rest of us.

The death of a 4,844 year-old tree and the death of Christ are two sides of a single coin. The death of Prometheus at the tree line on Wheeler Peak is the death of nature at human hands. The death of Jesus on The Hill of Skulls is the death of humankind itself, and out of both deaths, by God’s grace alone, a new human awareness – a new humanity within nature – is awakened.

In the death of that old Bristlecone Pine the other researches came to a new appreciation of nature itself. Not only its magnificence. Not only our dependence upon nature. But our oneness with nature. Homo sapiens do not stand above nature; we stand within it. We are nature; nature is us.

Elie Wiesel reminds us that there are two kinds of madness. There is the societal madness that continues business as usual but is actually insane; the other is what he calls “prophetic” madness that challenges the madness which sees the Earth as a landfill or playground with no value in itself apart from its use to us. Prophetic madmen cry out, “Good people, do not forget! What is at stake is your life, your survival! Do not forget!”

As we remember that story out of which our faith awareness is born around the Lord’s Table, I close with another story from Elie Wiesel.

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place ad this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune.

Sitting his his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient. And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories.

Remember, Good people. Do not forget. God loves “prophetic madmen” who challenge the madness. Remember Prometheus. Remember the Hill of Skulls. Do not forget. We are not above nature. We are part of nature; nature is us. Thanks be to God.






New EPA Regs: Myths and Facts


Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia shares this analysis of corporate and media claims regarding the EPA’s new regulations to reduce carbon emissions. Click HERE to read “Myths & Facts: New EPA Regs on CO2 Emissions from Coal Plants.”

Climate change is the number one issue facing every country across the globe. The brutal fact is that the United States is the second only to China on the list of carbon polluters. Rabbi Waskow calls the opposition to responsible climate change action the new Pharaoh.

This morning we posted a piece on Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. Walter and Arthur share a biblical point of view on the sacredness of Earth and the human vocation.



The rest-less economy and Sabbath resistance


“It is clear that in this system there can be no Sabbath rest,” writes Walter Bruggemann of Pharaoh’s economic system (Book of Exodus 5:5-19) in which “cheap labor is a footnote.” Into “the grind of endless production” appears the God of the burning bush who opposes the system of weariness and endless toil.

If you’re looking for a book that stands the global economic system on its head, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) may be for you.

If you’re looking for something deeper than the mindless slogans about “the free market” and globalization, Sabbath as Resistance will take you to a different place – deep into the economic mandate of the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:-8-14).

If you’ve concluded that the Old Testament, i.e, Hebrew Bible, is a barbaric killing field and that “the 10 Commandments” are the pious weapons of the Religious Right, Sabbath as Resistance will blow your mind.

If you think the Fourth Commandment is about Blue Laws, think again. Pick up a copy or download Brueggemann’s masterful treatise on the relation between labor and rest, labor and management, humankind and all of nature, a just and peaceful economy hinted at by the Sabbath Command for everything to stop. To rest.

If you think minimum wage is a latecomer issue, read this book. The exploitation of labor goes directly to the heart of God, the Nameless One (YHWH) whose exodus people set free from economic bondage are summoned to resist all new renditions of the Pharaohic economic system.

Among Biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann is as good as they come. He reads the Bible with the newspaper in his other hand, and when he’s reading the newspaper, he reads the news through the lens of the central biblical themes that have become his eyes.

Some of us have been waiting for this book for years. We’ve thought some of Brueggemann’s thoughts along the way, but we could not articulate them or argue them so clearly as Brueggemann does in this cogent little masterpiece.

Years ago the late Stirling Professor of Church History at Yale, Jaroslav Pelikan, met a young American seminary student in a rathskeller in Prague. When the discussion turned to the contentious debates about curriculum change at the student’s seminary, Professor Pelikan frowned. Three chapters from the Epistle to the Romans is all Luther needed he said. It’s about how deeply you learn to read a text, not about the curriculum. Anything can be the curriculum if it’s well taught.

Had Professor Pelikan lived to read Sabbath as Resistance, I wonder whether he might add it as the second text for anyone serious about faith and justice, faith and life, faith and nature, faith and global warming, faith and poverty, faith and wealth, faith and violence, and faithful Sabbath resistance in the culture and economy of greed and sorrow.


Still Cookin’


A Sermon by Rev. Gordon C. Stewart at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN inspired by Jesus serving breakfast, Martin the kitchen manager, and Stanley Gordon West’s novel Blind Your Ponies.

The three-year-old Pastor’s son


Verse — Nobody’s Perfect

The three-year-old Pastor’s son
could have heard the word in one
of several places (no, not
in Church…) and in those days, not
on TV. But there were kids
at the Day Care Center, kids
whose parents smoked cigarets
when they picked children up each
night–he may have learned his speech
patterns from them. Surely his
folks never dropped an F-bomb,
but when the kid’s cake slid from
his plate at the party for
his Dad in the Church Parlor,
the boy swore like a sailor.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 28, 2014