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 http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/eliaz-cohen-in-translation-%E2%80%93hear-o-lord-poems-from-the-disturbances-of-2000-2009/)


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

Verse – Vanity


“Vanity, Vanity, All Is Vanity…” Ecclesiastes

There are companies (for profit, of course)
that feed the egos of people in choirs
throughout America. They hire a hall

(Carnegie, Kennedy) or Cathedral
in Europe needing cash, and for a fee
will fly or bus us singers there. A “FREE

Concert Today!” is the result, and folks
(tourists) are dragged in off the streets
to hear the songs of BROADWAY! or of BRAHMS!

(Or aged aided ears are wheeled from “Homes”
with “Music Clubs” to fill the seats or pews.)
The “Concerts” never seem to make the news…

So if you’ve heard the singers who have said,
“Yes, WE sang THERE!” you know that they have paid.

Sermon: Christus Victor: the Harrower of Hell


My memory played a trick on me. The title of Richard Beck’s book is The Slavery of Death. I picked up the book in a bookstore to find that Beck is heavily influenced by William Stringfellow and Ernest Becker, two writers who have heavily influenced my developing view of life and death. It was Beck’s contrast between the Western Church’s accent on sin and the Eastern Church’s accent on death – or the fear of death – that brought the “Aha!” for this preacher.

Verse – A la recherche des amours perdus


A widower for 20 years,
at 88 he lived alone
and sat without TV or tears
in the front room of his own home.

His grandson asked him if he read
the books nearby on dust-free shelves,
or called his daughters. “No,” he said,
“They have enough problems themselves.”

“I mainly take a backward view
of past, of people, understand?
I think of things I can’t tell you.
You’d call me a dirty old man.”

His housekeeper said he asked her
once if she’d go to bed with him.
He smiled when she said she was sure
her husband’s view of that was dim.

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 21, 2014.


Saint Martin of the Handshake


In the pecking order of academic life, Martin the kitchen manager is to the faculty and administration the closest person to the status of persona non grata or, maybe, what wives are called in the First Epistle of Peter, “the weaker vessel”, but what Jesus called “the least”.

In physical stature, Martin stands six-feet-eight inches tall. He’s a big man, hunched over at the upper back and shoulders from many years bending over the grill, serving up food from behind the lunch counter, clearing and washing the dishes of the seminary cafeteria.

It’s been a rough year at seminaries all across the country. Faculties, administrations, and Boards of Trustees have struggled with and against each other to make hard decisions that give some realistic assurance of institutional survival, or, as they euphemistically describe it, “sustainability.” People like Martin have little to no voice in whatever decisions are made.

Thursday morning, my third day staying at the seminary Guest House, I wander across campus to the seminary cafeteria for a cup of coffee. Martin is there. I ask whether he’s a student. He’s older – maybe 60 something – but that’s not unusual these days with second career people going to seminary.

“No,” he says. “I just work here.”

“So, you’re staff? How long have you worked here at the seminary?”

“Twenty years,” he says. “But I’m not on staff, I just run the kitchen.”

“So you’re an independent contractor?”

“Sort of,” he says with a delightful impish smile. “I’ve never had a contract. We do it with a handshake. They give me the space. I do the cooking. It’s all done with a handshake.”


Early in the morning Martin makes two pots of coffee and puts out the paper cup for the honor system. $1./cup. He chats with whoever comes by…if they strike up a conversation. He does not intrude. He’s just a peaceful, quiet presence who goes about setting up the kitchen and preparing the food for the daily lunch menu.

“Do you know that it takes 1.6 pounds of food for a chicken to produce one egg?” he asks. “Duck eggs are bigger and they’re better for you than chicken eggs. It takes 2.4 pounds of food to produce a duck egg, but the duck doesn’t eat grain feed; the duck just roams around and eats whatever’s there. It’s healthier and more sustainable.”

“Where’d you get that information? How do you know that?” I ask.

“Here, I’ll show you.” He takes out his iPhone and calls up the script from National Pubic Radio (NPR).

I pour myself a cup of coffee and go down the corridor to the bookstore.


Half an hour later, Martin drops by the bookstore to say good morning to the bookstore manager. The bookstore serves free coffee but the first customer, who’s pouring herself a cup, says they’re out of artificial creamer. Martin raises his hairy eyebrows with a smile and asks why people would put chemicals in their bodies if they didn’t have to, but says it in such a playful way that no one seems to take offense. As a coffee drinker who uses that powdered stuff, I ask myself the same question but hearing Martin ask it throws a different light on the question.

Then it dawns on me. I hadn’t paid for my coffee at the cafeteria. I’d forgotten to put my $1 in the paper cup. I’d violated the honor system! I give Martin a five dollar bill. “I don’t have change,” he says. “It’s on the house.”

For the rest of the day, I keep running into Martin in his black t-shirt, black trousers, black socks, and black shoes. He moves slowly. People seem to seek out this gentle giant, the “weaker vessel” – the guy at the bottom of the pecking order – here at the seminary.

He catches me in the hall. He knows there are six of us who gather annually at different locations for renewal, reflection, and friendship. “I don’t know whether your group is planning on coming for lunch, but if you are, come early. There’s a large group coming. If you come by 11:30 you should be fine. Just wanted you to know.”

The group has different plans for lunch, but I need downtime. Time out from the intensity of group life. I’m an introvert who needs alone time. I excuse myself from the group’s plans and go the cafeteria after which I’ll take a quick nap.

During lunch Martin welcomes by name as they place their orders with him at the lunch counter. He looks them in the eye and smiles; they smile back. When most everyone has finished lunch, three faculty and the Academic Dean remain seated together in lively conversation. They signal to Martin to join them. The “weaker vessel” among the “stronger vessels” takes a seat and listens. I observe from a distant table, reading Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological – Economic Vocation, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s book I’ve just purchased at the bookstore. I’m wondering whether the Dean and tenured faculty who have contracts recognize the structural disparity in which they are all enmeshed. I wonder if “the stronger vessels” understand love the way Cynthia Moe-Lobeda does, as “ecological-economic vocation” that resists structural evil as it pertains to the seminary’s own structures. My guess, looking on from a distance, is that they have a sense of it, but I still wonder. They’re there on contracts; Martin is there on a handshake and doesn’t seem to want anything more.

By late afternoon I’ve spotted Martin four different times sitting around campus with students, faculty, and administrators. Even at six-foot-eight he floats like a butterfly, hunched over but still alighting gently wherever he goes, quietly engaging others where they are.

It occurs to me that Martin is the unofficial, unpaid Chaplain of this community. His eyes see everything but act as though they are blind. His ears hear everything – all sides of the issues that sometimes roil academic institutions into infernos of accusations, counter-accusations, warring camps, and gossip factories – but he hears nothing and speaks nothing. “I’m just the Lord’s humble servant, the guy who makes the coffee” he had said, the one working behind from the kitchen counter, serving up duck egg omelets with fresh vegetables, and offering good coffee for a buck on the honor system, on nothing more than a handshake.

I leave the seminary thinking: I want to be more like Saint Martin of the Handshake.

Delivery Boy Education


Fritzen was the German name–
“Fritz” was what he called himself.
I was just the high school boy
hired to drive my rose-red car:
deliver Flowers by Fritz.

At the University,
back in 1959,
girls in the sororities
(yes, then they were all called “girls”)
received flowers from their “boys.”

Actually they smiled at me,
then they read the little card–
usually they smiled again.
If they did not like the name,
I thought, “humiliation.”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 111, 2014

A Disciple for Our Times


Thomas has been much maligned. Faith includes both belief and doubt. Belief without doubt is gullible. Doubt without belief does not exist. Here’s the sermon from last Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN.

Charlie Wisseman – Acrostic


Charlie Wisseman

Charlie Wisseman

Charlie Wisseman
(An Acrostic)

Craft? Art? What is this new construction?
How is it even worth debating?
An artist surely in conception,
Real thought, and then the Thing creating…
Look well, each level may be hollow,
Inside another world is waiting,
Enlightenment may sometimes follow.

Wise man is right: so much is hidden,
Inside surprises, jokes, a giggle…
So secret are the ways to open
Sweet Sarah herself has to struggle
Each time a new box by the craftsman
Makes entrance into pure existence.
And who would know of so much hidden?
Now a pathologist, for instance?

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 1, 2014

Verse – No doubt


No Doubt

I know he is guilty,
I know what he did.
He was wrong,
He was wicked,
He lied and deceived.
I’ll never forgive him,
I’ll never forget.
My resentment I’ll
Hold in my heart
Till I shrivel and die.
I know I am innocent,
I know I am right.

“The opposite of faith
is not doubt–
the opposite of faith
is certainty.”*

* Anne Lamott

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

Verse – 2 under 3


2 under 3
John and Caroline

1 plus 1
equals 3
or more
when you
add a boy
and girl

to a young
couple both
who work
outside the
home as is
done today

you take him
and i take her
after day-care
after au pair
after nana
after nanny

we are so tired
there will never
be another
well maybe


- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 27, 2014

To Whom the Good News Comes


Easter sermon by Gordon C. Stewart at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN tying together Chris Hedges’ remarks about Friedrich Nietzsche, the women at the tomb, and a fourth century monk.

Fear and Faith


The resurrected
Jesus was a man
and not a Zombie.
He was raised to be
alive, and not both
dead and living when
God seized him by his soul
and set him free.

He was not thirsting
after blood, was no
Vampire, did not become
immortal, but eternally
had life–there is, you know,
a difference… Jesus
spoke and drank and ate

with all his students,
the Disciples, though
they had all run away
when those with sword
and club, the Roman
soldiers, came to show
this upstart Rabbi
Caesar still was Lord.

The undead try to scare,
but Jesus said
“Have peace–you do not need
to be afraid.”

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 21, 2014

The Red-winged Blackbirds


Yes, he protects us well, his red
and yellow shoulders flashing as
he flies. And when he perches, flares
his wings–the epaulets go wide,
his long, sharp beak thrust like a sword,
his cry is menacing, a shriek.

We see him at the very peak
of tree, or tip of cattail, lord
of meadow, marsh, his own wetland
small harem. We each build a nest
and raise, mostly, his chicks. The rest
have genes from yet another bird

because the male from the next field
can fly by, flash, and we will yield.

-Steve Shoemaker, April 17, 2014

The Corpse


the face and hands are grey
even under the pink
lights by the big casket

no life is in the lips
the eyes are not asleep
the hands will never move

he hid himself from us
as the cancer got worse
he had said goodbye

his voice i still can hear
his raspy laugh echoes
in my memory

I did not need to see
the artificial body

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

Can you really fool everyone?


Around the Table

Even if it is family,
Friends, or kids just from my school,
There always will be that one

Who smiles like everybody
Else, but finds a way to fool
All–well, maybe except one…

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

A Palm Sunday Conundrum


This Sunday is Palm Sunday when Christians celebrate “The Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, which was anything but triumphant. The New Testament Gospels describe it differently, which has absorbed the concentrated attention of more than one scholar or preacher trying to reconcile their differences. Steve Shoemaker, in his inimitable way, engages the debate about whether Jesus rode on just one donkey or two.


Matthew alone tells of the two,
the mare & colt, who carried him
into Jerusalem that day.

Since then many have mocked that view
as based more on an ancient hymn
than what an eye-witness would say.

But whether one sees one or two
depends upon the point of view:
and all saw Jesus, by the way…

- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 8, 2014

Climate Change: Changing the Way we Think


“We are nature; nature is us. We are NOT the exception to nature.” Rev. Gordon Stewart looks at basic religious assumptions of Western culture and the need to reinterpret the stories that got us here. He looks at the stories of creation, Cain and Abel, and the Wise Men who “departed by another way” as holding clues to the change in consciousness that is required in our time.

McCutcheon and Free Speech


My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of baronry,
Of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride,
On every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision for McCutcheon in McCutcheon et. al. v. Federal Election Commission makes very clear the view of the Court that is remaking America.

Freedom of speech is protected; it’s just that a few of us have a whole lot more of it than the rest of us. We all are “equally” protected by the Constitution no matter how unequal we are economically.

Most of us understand that money is not speech. Money is purchasing power. Money comes from our pockets; speech comes from our mouths. Those who represent us in Congress and in state legislatures do not represent us so long as their campaigns are funded by the “free speech” that comes from the pockets of the robber barons.

The sweet land of liberty is the land of barony.

“My country ’twas of thee.”

Only the most sweeping legislation to remove this unequal purchasing power from the electoral process can restore what we thought we had. But even if the miracle were to occur, this 5-4 Court will strike it down on the basis of its skewed interpretation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

My inbox is stacked up with funding solicitations. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. It depresses me. I don’t have the money, and, even if I had more, I would still have the sense that I would be throwing money into the wind. So I write. I speak. I throw into the wind words and sentences and paragraphs believing that ultimately the Wind is with us, the people. It’s my way of praying for the miracle that will give us back our country. I use what little free speech the Court has protected to effect the day when we will sing “America” that way it should be sung.

In the meantime I gain courage from the joyful spirit of the late Pete Seeger. I imagine Pete standing with his banjo outside the U.S. Supreme Court singing “God’s counting on me; God’s counting on you.”