Verse – A Septet for My 70s

Verse — A Septet for my 70s
(Late-blooming Stoner)

I was not a ’60s child–
Yes, it’s true I had a beard,

But the Church beat in my head
That at all times choose the good.

Do not drink and do not smoke…
Not to mention, do not toke…

Now the pills for all my ills.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 24, 2015
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A Prayer for “Mommies and Daddies”

What would happen if the children wrote all the prayers?  Children age 3 through 5th Grade at Trinity Episcopal wrote The Prayers of the People used in worship the last few weeks. Each prayer was followed by a brief reflective silence.  One of the children led the prayers.

Let us pray for our neighbors and our neighborhood.

Let us pray for our families and friends: our mommies and daddies, our grandparents and great-grandparents.

Let us pray for the world and the universes.

Let us pray for our pets and the animals of the world: Millie, Cokie, puppies and cats.

Let us pray for those who have illnesses, our sick grandparents, heart disease, cancer, and memory loss.

Let us pray for those going through rough times, mentally and physically.

Let us pray for those who have died everywhere and those who have died that are close to us.

Let us pray for everyone.

[The Prayers of the People concluded with a prayer written by the priest who works with these little ones:]

Holy and gracious God, we are too often blinded by trivial matters. May our attention be diverted now from these things, and may we become as little children, trusting and seeking with love to cross bridges we have not crossed in the past.


  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 23, 2015.
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Shame __ you.

Gordon C. Stewart:

If you grew up  thinking “there must be something wrong with me,” this post from  (not) s0 completely miserable is for you. 

Originally posted on (not so) completely. miserable.:

a.  “On”
B. “Off”

From almost the beginning I’ve experienced multiple scenarios, interactions, relationships, events that, in my inability to understand what was really happening, left me with an urgent sense of “there must be something wrong with me.”

It was really bad in junior high.  There were several bullies who made it their job to harass, threaten, and most of the time embarrass me in front of everyone.  I didn’t know how to deal with it.  I usually acted like it was funny, then spent my time outside of school with an aching fear – worrying about who would pick on me the next day. But I always found a way to blow it off, to distract myself, to act like it wasn’t a big deal.

I remember having a crush on Rhonda C. in the 7th grade.  She was really popular and always nice to me, so I asked her to…

View original 951 more words

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Sermon: Testify to the Truth

Yesterday’s Christ the King Sunday sermon by Rev. Anne Miner-Pearson on John 18:33-37 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior deserves a greater audience. We’re pleased to publish it on Views from the Edge.

“Testify to the Truth”

Pontius Pilate with his Prisoner - Antonio Ciseri

Ecce homo – “Here is the man”

Pilate and Jesus are an odd couple. We usually meet them in Holy Week when their conversation is part of Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion. Because Good Friday and the cross are looming closer and larger, we pause only briefly in Pilate’s headquarters. But today is Christ the King Sunday and we encounter this odd couple under different circumstances. We are on the cusp of the Church year – the end of 52 Sundays facing into Sunday, Advent I, awaiting God’s move to enter human flesh as Jesus, beginning his life in birth like us, and ending his life in death like us.

Yet, before our church year begins, tradition asks us to pause and hold on to the bigger story of Jesus. There is a larger and more eternal back-story to the one that opens with shepherds, a star, some straw in a manger and even Mary. There is another birth story in John’s gospel and we enter toward the end as Pilate and Jesus talk. What an unlikely conversation it is. Pilate, Pontius Pilate, the 5th prefect of the Roman province of Judaea calls – no, “summons” – an accused religious heretic to his headquarters. Pilate has already questioned the Jewish leaders and could be done with the matter. Undoubtedly, he has more important issues awaiting his attention than dealing with the process leading to a crucifixion. They happen all the time and aren’t on his radar.

So, they are an odd couple. A man with impeccable Roman familial and political credentials, Pilate stands in expensive robes, perfumed and fresh from his morning bath. Jesus’ home address is Nazareth. His profession listed as carpenter. His clothing hardly deserve the name – practically rags after the torture and stripping, smelly from sweat and blood. But Jesus is no country bumpkin. He knows at least 4 languages – Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and the Latin he uses with Pilate. However, Jesus’ linguistic skills don’t make him a king. Yet, that is the direction the conversation goes.

“Are you the king of the Jews?”, Pilate begins, a question Jesus later returns to. “My kingdom is not from this world.”, Jesus answers. “So you are a king?”, Pilate inquires. With that question, Pilate introduces what makes him and Jesus the oddest pair. They are both “kings”, but the descriptions are polar opposites: Power-Love, Higher-Lower, Divided-One, Hold on-Give away, Boundaried-Open, Petty-Generous, Unjust-Just, Manipulating- Embracing, Triumphant-Humble.

Yet, Jesus, without actually answering, takes the title of “king” in a whole different direction. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Here Jesus tells his own “nativity” story, but remember, this is John’s gospel. To understand what Jesus is saying to Pilate as his earthly life is about to end, we have to go back to the beginning, way back to the beginning to understand Jesus’ kind of king.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people….. And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”

Jesus understands himself as king and where his kingdom is from radically different. Pilate doesn’t get it. The crowds don’t get it. Even Jesus’ close disciples haven’t gotten it yet. In that humble peasant, from the virgin womb of Mary, God entered the world, breaking through all categories, possibilities and imaginings. The Word of God who first spoke all creation and universes into being now has spoken again. A second holy Word took form but this time the birth came as God was and is willing to become empty. The apostle Paul captures it in the mystical hymn in Philippians: “…thought he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God… but emptied himself, … being born in human likeness.” Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, but in this world, grounded in and flowing from the eternal God, what we now call the Trinity: God, Creator, God, Christ, and God, Spirit.

It’s like when God birthed the created worlds, God already had another birth in mind. God’s Word would speak another creation. The Spirit Breath who give human life and form from the dust was not finished. The Trinity was not complete until the human experience could join in the circle, the abundant, ever-flowing Love. And now God’s experience in human form nears the end, the pain and suffering of crucifixion.

But, ponder this thought by a contemporary mystic, Bernadette Roberts. Maybe the hardest thing for Jesus was not the crucifixion, but the incarnation – to leave the circle and connection of Love to learn and teach how to hold on to and live in that flow of Love caught in bodily form. And we can picture that Circle, can’t we, the world of Christ the King, the kingdom Jesus is from. It’s the picture we see on the icon of the Trinity by Rublev.

Angels at Mamre Trinity, Rublev

Angels at Mamre Trinity, Rublev

We all know it – the beloved the one we take with us on vacation and hold up for photos on Facebook. I brought my personal one this morning and it’s on the altar. It was “written” in 2000, (the verb used when making an icon) by Eugenia. At that time, she was imprisoned in the largest women’s prison in Europe, outside of St Petersburg, Russia. Her crime was counterfeiting. However, Father Nicolai, pastor to the prison, thought her counterfeiting skills could be redeemed. Released under Father Nicolai’s watch, Eugenia was taught icon “writing” to help support her 3 daughters. Before she paints the copy of an icon, Eugenia goes through all the traditional rituals, including prayer and fasting.

Through the vision of a monk on Mount Athos, Greece, around 1260, and the hand and heart of an alcoholic felon, we see the “dance of the Trinity” – gathering in communion, gazing in a circle of love, pouring out within and beyond that Love to all creation. Given the three figures dominating the scene in their bright robes and adoring gazes, perhaps you have missed a small detail in the icon. I have. It was just pointed out to me recently. It’s under the table, a small brown box.

An ancient story about the the Rublev icon is that originally there was a mirror on top of the box. So, as one sits in front the icon and ponders the kingdom of God, the Trinity, one is able to see oneself as the fourth figure in the circle, at the table, in the flowing love always moving, expanding, tumbling out to all creation, in all time. From the beginning, God envisioned a fourth place in the Love.

Jesus said, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” “Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?'” Jesus spoke no answer that day. His life was and is the answer. The truth Jesus lived and died is that each of us, Eugenia, Pilate, all people have a place at God’s Table, in God’s heart, in Christ the King’s kingdom. Our response is to see ourselves in the mirror and claim our place. Amen.

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Message to World Leaders in Paris

Attention on Paris soon shifts to Climate Change. Join Robert Redford who invites ordinary folks like us to demand bold action by world leader.


“As a husband, father, and grandfather, I worry about the devastating effects of climate change.

“Climate change is contaminating our air and water, making us sick, and poisoning the planet we’ll be leaving for future generations.

“But I do have hope. This December, leaders from every nation in the world will meet for the Paris Climate Summit — COP21 — to work towards an international commitment to climate action.

“We’ve all contributed to this problem — and we can all be part of the solution. Watch my video — then stand with me and tell world leaders meeting in Paris: We Demand Climate Action.

“We can work together to do something different — and these past few months have given us many reasons to be hopeful that the world is ready.

“The U.S. is going to Paris with its own blueprint for action — the groundbreaking Clean Power Plan, our country’s first-ever limits on climate-wrecking carbon pollution from power plants.

“And the U.S. is not acting alone. China announced its own national plan to cut carbon pollution. India is committing to dramatically expand its growing renewable energy sector. In fact, over 150 countries are coming to Paris with new national climate action plans.

“From every part of our world, in our own way, we can do something to act on climate. But we need our world leaders to do the same.

“This is our moment. Join me and sign the petition to demand global climate action.

“We’ll be partnering with organizations from across America — and around the world — to deliver your petitions to world leaders when they meet in Paris.

“If we want to leave our children, grandchildren and future generations a healthy planet, now is the time to act.”

Thank you.
Robert Redford
Trustee, NRDC

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Verse – Finding Our Tree

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 23, 2015
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Stephen Colbert’s test of Christian faith

Stephen Colbert offered the following statement on The Late Show after presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush spoke of admitting only Christian Syrian refugees to the U.S.:

“If you want to know if somebody’s a Christian just ask them to complete this sentence,” Colbert said pulling out his Catechism card. “‘Jesus said I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you….’

And if they don’t say ‘welcomed me in’ then they are either a terrorist or they’re running for president.”

Click HERE to watch and listen to Colbert’s remarks on Syrian refugees, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

You gotta love Stephen Colbert, the good Catholic boy who remembers his Catechism and takes it dead seriously.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 21, 2015
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“Fear is the ammunition of terror”

On November 17, the  Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued the following letter from its top official following terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt:

“We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

“Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

“As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

“Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.

“Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?

“Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.

“After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion. Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.

Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Louisville, KY

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 21, 2015.
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Imagine there’s no heaven

This morning’s news of a State of Emergency in Brussels is chilling. Less so than the deadly attack in Mali, but one doesn’t need to be a mathematician to add up the increasing number of threats, deaths, and States of Emergency and conclude that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Whether one calls it Daesh or the Islamic State, we are dealing with something worse than insanity. The killers are not insane. They do not qualify for a pass, as do those who commit criminal acts but are judged as “criminally insane.”

One wonders, then, what draws a young Belgian, Frenchman, or American to ISIL.

The late teens and early 20s are a peculiar stage of human development,  which may help explain, in part, the attraction of idealistic younger people to an organization that promotes an ideal society – the caliphate. Younger men in particular are looking for vocation -a call, a purpose larger than themselves – to which to give their lives and, if necessary, to die for.

In America in the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s those of us who were idealistic found a calling in the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement. We marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Sloane Coffin. We sought to stop the enemies of racism and war, to create a more perfect world without either.

At first the notion that it is idealism that draws young, disillusioned western men and women to ISIL strikes us as a contradiction in terms. But idealism is a grand vision worth living and dying for. That it is illusory or demented does not negate its essential character as idealism.

The 21st Century was supposed to be better than the 20th, the deadliest century in the history of the world. Clearly it is not, and any previous projection of a religionless world at peace with itself – remember john Lennon’s “Imagine” – has proven as unreal as the hope for peace and mutual understanding. Religion will not go away. The only question is what kind of religion we practice irrespective of whether one is Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Pantheist, or Animist. Do we practice it humbly or arrogantly, confessionally or righteously, as penitents begging for mercy for participation in the evil we deplore, or as righteous crusaders for the Kingdom of God or the Caliphate; as those who accept our mortality as a precious gift, or cheapen life by sacrificing others and themselves for their vision of eternal life?

In a recent presidential debate candidates were asked to name the greatest threat to national security. One answered Islamic terrorism. The other answered Climate Change.

Today defeating ISIL and its extremist counterparts seems more urgent than action on Climate Change, but Climate Change is the more important and longer-lasting threat. But there is a common belief that underlies both crises. It is the illusion that we are immortal, the consequent denigration of earthly life, this miraculous life we experience on this planet between our births and our deaths.

The lure of an afterlife is ludicrously represented by a French imam’s sermon warning children not to listen to music. Why? Because listening to music puts the children at risk of being “turned into monkeys and pigs.”

No monkey or pig has organized for killing in the name of heaven. Neither should we.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 21, 2015



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Are we all still France?

Paris was attacked one week ago today. Within minutes Nous sommes toute la France — We are all France– went viral on FaceBook along with French flags.

Very quickly U.S. Congressmen and a majority of governors in the United States went before television cameras and microphones to declare that Syrian refugees would no longer be welcome here.

Meanwhile a strange thing happened in France. French President Francois Hollande, speaking to French mayors, declared the opposite. He re-iterated and increased his commitment to France’s “humanitarian duty” to refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan.

Click After Attacks, France Increases Its Commitment to Refugees to read the story.

While the French President and President Obama have maintained balanced concerns for national security and humanitarian duty, fear has been spreading. Fear of terror is as legitimate in the U.S. as it is in France. It’s what we do with fear that matters.

Fear is the enemy of reason, the great confuser of thoughtful action. Those who stoke the embers of fear confuse fire with courage, forgetting that is is cowardice to surrender one’s deep principles when under pressure or assault. The courageous refuse to let fear determine their course; no darkness can extinguish the light.

One week after the Paris attacks we face the question of how to live in the reality of throngs of refugees and the threat of terrorism. It’s not simple. We can say to the world, Nous ne sommes pas tous de France. Nous sommes des lâches au cœur dur”  [We are not all France. We are hard-hearted cowards]or we can say again with the courage of high resolve and principled compassion:

“Nous sommes toute la France!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 20, 2015
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Church ready to house Syrian refugees

News on Philo Presbyterian Church and Muslim Syrian refugees

News on Philo Presbyterian Church and Muslim Syrian refugees

Posted in America, Faith, Steve Shoemaker | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Muslim Clerics declare “ISIS is un-Islamic”

Before Beirut and Paris, 1,ooo+ Muslim clerics in India issued a Fatwa against ISIS  declaring, “The acts of the Islamic State are inhuman and un-Islamic.” The Associated Press report was published September 9, 2015. Click the link above to read the story.

Also in September, NPR aired Prominent Muslim Sheikh Issues Fatwa Against ISIS Violence, re-aired yesterday. Posts like these deserve wider attention.

Meanwhile, a very small Christian church in the little town of Philo, Illinois, drew attention in the local paper for its consideration of hosting Muslim Syrian refugees.

News on Philo Presbyterian Church and Muslim Syrian refugees

News on Philo Presbyterian Church and Muslim Syrian refugees

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 18, 2015.


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The Statue of Liberty: “Send THESE, not those?”

Statue of Liberty, NY, NY

Statue of Liberty, NY, NY

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Emma Lazarus, Jewish American author; inscription, Statue of Liberty, New York, New York

“Send these, the [Christian] homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Sen. Ted Cruz

Click “Ted Cruz’s Religious Test for Syrian Refugees” for Amy Davidson’s November 16 article in The New Yorker.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 19, 2015



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O God of Earth and Altar

While the world holds its breath after the attacks in Paris, we’ve searched for hymns that express in music a word worth hearing.

“O God of Earth and Altar” expresses a sense of prayerful resilience and supplication.The lyrics, written by G.K. Chesterton in 1906, were revised, in part, by Jane Parker Huber to address global terrorism:

From all that terror teaches, From lies of pen and voice, From all the easy speeches That make our hearts rejoice, From sale and profanation of honor and the sword, from sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord.”

Already U.S. governors have made “easy speeches” about not accepting any Syrian refugees in their states, although it is not within their jurisdiction to decide. And, while we pray, the arms industry is preying on war’s alarms to increase production,  sales and profits in the name of our safety and security.

Here’s “O God of Earth and Altar” sung to Chesterton’s original lyrics.

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Verse – MY HERO

The pain is constant
How can he hammer a nail
The middle of the stomach
Abdomen hurt first
How can he still care
About the chronic pain of others

Then he noticed his back ached
Why does he still write and give speeches
The aches spread around both his sides
Where will he fly next around the world
Habitats here peacemaking there
When did the CT scan confirm cancer

Pancreatic a quick killer
What will he teach this Sunday
The codeine cuts agony in half
But constipation adds new pain
Is his faith a factor
What is he smiling about

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, November 18, 2015
Posted in America, Death and dying, Faith, Life | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

A Song for Beirut and Paris

News from Paris and Beirut reminds us of the history of Lac qui Parle, the Dakota Creation Song, that still speaks hope to a violent world. Thirty-eight Dakota men sang it in its original Dakota language – Wakantanka taku nitawu – before their executioners took them to the gallows in Mankato, MN in 1862.  The threat of death did not deter them from affirming the goodness of creation.

“Many and great, O God, are Thy things, Maker of Earth and Sky; Thy hands have set the heavens with stars, Thy fingers spread the mountains and plains. Lo, at Thy word, the waters were formed; Deep seas obey Thy voice

“Grant unto us communion with Thee, Thou star-abiding One; Come unto us and dwell with us: With Thee are found the gifts of life. Bless us with life that has no end, Eternal life with Thee.

[Joseph R. Renville, Dakota, 1842; paraphrased translation, R. Philip Frazier, 1929 and 1953]




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All the World – tout le monde, kl alealam

Christian Theological Seminary‘s “Statement on Attacks on Beirut and Paris” (11.16.15) is one for the ages.


“All the world – tout le monde – grieves and stands with France in the midst of these harrowing days. All the world – kl alealam – grieves and stands with Lebanon. As people of faith, our hearts can only break when God’s children turn against each other in the name of God. And the most elemental, effective way to counter such “turning against” is to reverse the gesture, turning toward one other in solidarity, compassion, and hope.

“On Friday night, I attended the student-organized vigil against racism, a gathering powerfully proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. CTS student body president Whittney Murphy spoke eloquently that we are like the candles we held that night: sometimes flickering in the wind, or even going out, but then rekindled by the lights of others. The shadows may fall and the winds threaten, but together we can walk in the promise that God is with us, and that God is a light the world’s shadows cannot and will not overcome.

“As we stood together in the vigil that night along Michigan Road, the attacks in Lebanon were only a day old, and the news was just beginning to come in about the attacks in Paris. On one level, these various events – the vigil and the attacks – seem separate and distinct. But on a deeper level, they are profoundly connected. The same dehumanizing act of dividing the world into “us” on the one hand and “our enemies” on the other is the root of both racism and religious intolerance. The peace and equality for which the vigil called here at home is the same peace and equality we need in France, Lebanon, and beyond. And what’s more (and more troubling), while France has received a public outpouring of support and solidarity from around the world, Lebanon has not. For many, this has understandably raised the question: When it comes to the world’s solidarity and concern, don’t Lebanese lives matter as much as French ones? If our hearts (or Facebook pages) now bear the French flag’s blue, white, and red, shouldn’t they also bear Lebanon’s red, white, and green?

“In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus’ signature move is to stand with outsiders, with the forgotten or marginalized, and to reach across religious and ethnic lines of hostility. Following Jesus as best we can, we can only heed the call to do the same. Jesus is in Lebanon. Jesus is standing along Michigan Road. Jesus is in France, and in so many other places around the world, mending the brokenhearted, calling for justice, calling for love. Wherever the shadows fall, there Jesus goes, the flickering, quickening light of the world.

“And so we give thanks for student leaders, their voices clear, their faces illuminated by candles of hope. We give thanks for all of those committed to helping to turn these horrifying attacks into renewed resolve to work toward reconciliation. For as we approach the coming Season of Advent, those four weeks of lament and prayer that lead to a once-forgotten backwater not far from Lebanon, we know our lives depend on the love that binds us together. So much depends on that love. All the world – tout le monde, kl alealam – depends on it.

“God’s shalom,

Matthew Myer Boulton

Matthew Myer Boulton

Matthew Myer Boulton
President and Professor of Theology
Christian Theological Seminary
1000 W. 42nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46208″


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Syrian Refugees Welcome Here

Suggested letter to come from the Board of the small Presbyterian Church of Philo, Illinois:

Dear Syrian refugee family,

Yes, we know you are Muslims, fleeing for your lives from a violent cult that claims they have all the truth & can harm anyone they want.

We are a small Presbyterian Christian Church in a small town, Philo, in Illinois.

Yes, our State’s Governor in Springfield says no Syrian refugees can come to our State. Fortunately, our Country separates Church from State, so we will welcome you here. Tell us where you are & we will send a car…

Members, Philo, Illinois, Presbyterian Church

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 16, 2015
Philo Presbyterian Church, Philo, Illinois

Philo Presbyterian Church, Philo, Illinois



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Paris, ISIL, a poem, and a hymn

ISIL has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

We publish its statement here, followed by Steve’s  verse “Doing only what we’re told” (published by Views from the Edge moments ago) and a video of the hymn “O God of Every Nation”.  In times like this, it’s easy to forget that ISIL’s “soldiers of the Caliphate” do not represent the Islamic world any more than the Florida preacher who hanged Muhammed in effigy and burned the Quran represents Christianity.

ISIL Statement of Responsibility

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent

Allah (ta’ala) said, {They thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts so they destroyed their houses by their own hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision} [Al-Hashr:2].

In a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah, a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate (may Allah strengthen and support it) set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe-Paris. This group of believers were youth who divorced the worldly life and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies. They did so in spite of His enemies. Thus, they were truthful with Allah – we consider them so – and Allah granted victory upon their hands and cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland.

And so eight brothers equipped with explosive belts and assault rifles attacked precisely chosen targets in the center of the capital of France. These targets included the Stade de France stadium during a soccer match – between the teams of Germany and France, both of which are crusader nations – attended by the imbecile of France (Francois Hollande). The targets included the Bataclan theatre for exhibitions, where hundreds of pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice. There were also simultaneous attacks on other targets in the tenth, eleventh, and eighteenth districts, and elsewhere. Paris was thereby shaken beneath the crusaders’ feet, who were constricted by its streets. The result of the attacks was the deaths of no less than two hundred crusaders and the wounding of even more. All praise, grace, and favor belong to Allah.

Allah blessed our brothers and granted them what they desired. They detonated their explosive belts in the masses of the disbelievers after finishing all their ammunition. We ask Allah to accept them amongst the martyrs and to allow us to follow them.

Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.

Allah is the greatest.

(And to Allah belongs all honor, and to His Messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know) [Al-Munafiqun: 8].

Doing only what we’re told

Not all sects are cults, it’s clear,
But each cult is too a sect:
All others are seen with fear,
Only those inside respect.

If we tell ourselves a lie
And repeat it night and day
Soon it is all right to kill
Any that our leaders say
Go against our own god’s will…

Steven Shoemaker
Urbana, Illinois

[Friday, November 13, 2015, Paris]

Posted in music, Poetry, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Verse on Paris Terror

Doing only what we’re told

Not all sects are cults, it’s clear,
But each cult is too a sect:
All others are seen with fear,
Only those inside respect.

If we tell ourselves a lie
And repeat it night and day
Soon it is all right to kill
Any that our leaders say
Go against our own god’s will…

Steven Shoemaker
Urbana, Illinois

[Friday, November 13, 2015, Paris]

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Old Joe Hill and Old Doug Hall

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

I dreamed I saw Doug Hall last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Doug, you’re 11 years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

If Doug Hall had heroes, foremost among the candidates were Joe Hill, the labor organizer and Paul Robeson, whose rendition of Old Joe Hill was his Doug’s favorite. Willie Nesbitt echoed Robeson’s versions of Old Joe Hill and Old Man River at Doug’s Memorial Celebration November 14, 2004.

Those who live and die for economic justice never die. They live on through those who pick up the shovels when they’re gone.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 13, 2015
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Echoing through time

Eleven years ago tomorrow – November 14, 2004 – the sounds of Windy Downwind’s flute and AIM founders Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, and Bill Means’s Honor Song convened the respectful celebration of the life of Doug Hall in the St. Felix School Gymnasium in Wabasha, MN.

I often think of Doug and his life-partner Marian, but it was yesterday’s re-descovery of “The Book of Doug”, a gift from the Hall family following the celebration of Doug’s life, that led to this post.

Doug Hall at home in Wabasha

Doug Hall at home in Wabasha

Verse – His Own True Self

He sits and smiles,
His dog Sparky
Resting against his leg,
His eyebrows hanging
Like willow branches.

The bell has tolled
For him, a tolling
Like a wind-song
From the North
Marking the end.

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

He sits and smiles,
Peaceful, thankful,
Accepting, connecting
With those he loves,
Caring for those he will leave

The earth, his home,
Calls him to itself,
Beyond eternal claims
Or expectations,
He sits at peace

Mortal flesh he knows
Cannot prolong itself,
Nor should it seek what it
Cannot attain
Beyond its measure.

No control of time
Which bears us all away,
No need now to storm
The barricades against
The end of time.

He sits and smiles
In gratitude and wonder
For sun and shadow,
For all creatures great and small,
For family love and friends.

For these he sits and smiles –
This self-disclaiming man
Who intended nothing
But his own true self
In whatever time was his.

[Gordon C. Stewart, 2004]

Windy’s flute and the Honor Song drumming echoed Doug’s spirit. Like Old Joe Hill, Doug’s voice still echoes down through the ages of time for all who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly on this Earth.

Minnesota Law and Politics named Doug Hall to Minnesota’s Legal Hall of Fame. Scroll down to #38 to read the Law and Politics’ tribute to him.

– Gordon C. Stewart, November 14, 2015



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Verse – It Works with Congress

Some think a score-keeper’s in heaven.
They say that it simply must be.
For life here below,
It’s easy to show,
Is not fair for you or for me…

You’re sweet and always kind-hearted,
But also as poor as a bird.
I’m mean as a snake,
But I always make
So much money, it’s simply absurd!

You work-out, but never are healthy.
I drink booze and lounge with TV.
I’m never unwell,
And all can just tell
I’ll out-live you, just wait and see.

Some say Justice waits till here-after.
The scales must be balanced up there.
I hope that a BRIBE
Will get me inside,
And that Heaven will still not be fair!

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Nov. 12, 2015
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Ordinary people, Socrates, and the Psalmist

Last Sunday was my first experience with the Adult Forum at Trinity Episcopal Church. It was a brainstorming session for the church’s adult faith formation program.

A woman introduced herself as “the octogenarian in the group” to lots of laughter since a number of them were well on their way to their 80s. She proposed “living well in anticipation of dying and death” as her topic of interest. The group’s response was immediate. They were hungry for it.

DenialofdeathcoverThey went immediately to the practical considerations like Living Wills, leaving clear instructions for children. But the discussion soon moved to the deeper matter of mortality itself, our culture’s juvenile denial of death (a la Ernest Becker), and the desire to go deeper into the philosophy and theology of wellness, death, and dying.

Two days later at last night’s Republican presidential debate, when Senator Marco Rubio drew roaring applause for his put down of philosophers – “We need more welders, less philosophers” – I wanted to invite the senator and everyone in the auditorium to join the 20 people  next Sunday in the Fireside Room where ordinary people will heed the wisdom of Socrates to “apply themselves in the right way to philosophy”:

“Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death”

Death is always the elephant in the living room. So is philosophy when it is scorned. It’s easy to be glib about it, to knock it, ignore it, or mock it. Not so easy to face it “of [our] own accord”, as Socrates and the psalmist urge those who would live well – with gladness and and mercy – in anticipation of dying and death.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. … O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” – Psalm 90:12,14, KJV

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2015.

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Senator Rubio, Welders and Philosophers

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” said Mr. Rubio during last night’s Republican presidential debate. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

No one on the stage seemed to remember John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, who observed,

“I must study politics and war [in order] that my sons may study mathematics and philosophy.”

Instead of raising the minimum wage, Mr. Rubio calls for re-tooling America’s educational system to prepare people for jobs so they’ll make more money. Education would become training for a specific job.

His contrast between welders and philosophers is more about liberal arts education than about wages. Classical liberal arts programs teach people how to think. Philosophers are thinkers.

There is an anti-intellectual streak in American culture. When a skilled debater scratches that itch, there is loud applause, as there was last night in Milwaukee.

In the search for simplicity, those who applauded Mr. Rubio’s swipe at philosophers ignored philosopher Bertrand Russell’s observation.

“To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.”

The stereotype of the philosopher as aloof and beside the point makes for an easy target and an immediate laugh. But governing is not like welding.  We need need good philosophers and good welders.

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy; neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” – John W. Gardner

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2015


Posted in America, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

How I Became a Catcher

Once upon a time a long time ago, I was a little “Big A”, a Little League baseball team in Broomall, Pennsylvania. So was Coach McBride’s short son, Dickie, the 10 year-old Little League All Star catch. I was the smaller than small 8 yr. old Big A’s bench-warmer without a position.

I came to the plate once as an 8 yr. old. “Stewart,” said Mr. McBride, “Get a bat. You’re going to pinch hit. We’ve got to get somebody on base. You’re the man. Robin Williams is the best in the league, but you’ve got the smallest strike zone. So… here’s what I want you to do. Crouch down. Don’t take the bat off your shoulder. Make him pitch to you. No matter how good the pitch looks, DON’T SWING. Got it?”

“Got it, Coach.”

Three pitches later, the bat was still on my shoulder. I struck out on three called strikes. But the truth was I could barely see Robin’s fast ball!

When the McBride family moved to Cleveland the next year, the Big A’s had no catcher. The new coach lined all us Big As up in a row along the first base line. “We don’t have a catcher. Who’d like to catch?”

No hands went up. Not a one.

“Here’s my big chance to get off the bench. Dickie was short. Size didn’t matter to Dickie!” said I to myself.

“I’ll try it!”

They strapped on the shin guards, six inches taller than my knees. The chest protector draped over my torso like a horse blanket over a pony. The mask and catcher’s mitt were heavy. Freddie Lamb took the mound. Bobby Lawson stepped into the batter’s box. The pitch came. Bobby swung and missed. I blinked…but, to my surprise, caught the ball. From that moment on I was the Big A’s little catcher.

Moral of the story? If you’re short, don’t count yourself out. You, too, could proudly wear the tools of ignorance, and become another Big A’s All Star catcher.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Big A forever with Freddie Lamb, Bobby Lawson, Ron Nagy, Kenny Olson, Arden Silverian, Gary Boen, Robbie Gillmor, and all the rest. You guys were the best! Love you all. November 10, 2015.
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Glory and Obscurity

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Who do you suppose said that? An obscure figure unknown by history? A great historical figure whose glory fled? 

It was the latter – Napoléon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), glorious military conqueror, political hero of the French Revolution, and Emperor, who died ingloriously in exile on the Isle of Saint Helena.

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified, remains his legacy. Upon his death, more than 1,000,000 people are said to have viewed his remains when he was brought home to Paris.

Obscurity: “the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.”

Might Napoleon have endorsed Nelson Mandela‘s sentiment, spoken when Mandela was leaving behind a glorious career and office in South Africa:  “I would like to rest, and welcome the possibility of reveling in obscurity”?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 4, 2015

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Guns and God

Gordon C. Stewart:

No matter what your religion or politics, this is worth a look.  Click “Beyond Any Singing” below to tune in to the video of an evangelical Christian pastor’s reflections on how his mind has changed on gun violence.

Originally posted on beyond any singing:

My beloved former priest sent me a link to this video, titled “Would Jesus Wear a Sidearm?” In it, an evangelical minister confronts the inconsistencies in that faith community, which proclaims an absolute value on “life,” yet regularly defends the right to own and carry weapons whose only purpose is to destroy.

This pastor’s faith bears almost no resemblance to mine, except for one commonality: religion is complicating his life. Instead of bringing him comforting bromides that absolve him from reflecting and evaluating facts, it’s brought him directly into conflict with his professed beliefs. This is what religion is to me as well, and I’ve had to defend it in this way to many agnostics and atheists who accuse me of finding easy answers and ersatz comfort in religious narratives. I’ll say it again: That is not my experience of faith. It does not give me any simple answers. It does not let me sleep easier…

View original 651 more words

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Seeing different things and common sense

Not only do we see things differently; we see different things. republished Views from the Edge’s “Reframing the Gun Conversation.” The commentary encourged a more thoughtful conversation among rural, urban, and suburban Americans by placing the issue of gun violence within the philosophical context of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (American Declaration of Independence).

Fifty-nine response were mostly respectful, sometimes contentious, frequently like ships crossing in the night. The differences seemed grounded in something else much more foundational than the rural, urban, suburb settings that contribute to our perceptions.

MBTI Chart

MBTI Chart

On later reflection, the comments struck me as a poster child for the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory  (MBTI), which identifies 16 different ways individuals put their worlds together.

Mr. A, for example, could not understand Mr. Y’s preoccupation with statistical information. To Mr. A’s way of putting his world together, Mr. Y’s facts and statistics alleging to prove that gun violence in America is decreasing are an attempt to dismiss any serious discussion of gun violence in America.

For Mr. Y’s way of putting the world together, hard data are the baseline for any reasonable discussion. Phrases describing “a tidal wave of mass shootings” and “an endless parade of mass shootings” misrepsent the facts. In his view, Mr. A is clearly biased from the beginning. There can be no discussion if the premise is biased by emotion.

According to the MBTI profiles of different types of cognition, Mr. A and Mr. Y demonstrate contrasting extremes of perception and decision making, very different ways of putting their worlds together. “ST” types (Mr. Y) “know” by collecting information and analyzing it; “NF” types know” by intuiting a situation and approach an issue based on values.  Sometimes never the twain shall meet.

Despite all their differences, the majority of comments and exchanges made one thing clear. The word ‘gun’ is a trigger word. For gun rights advocates, it triggers a defense in fear that “they’re coming to take away our guns” or an outcry in fear that”they’re going to keep and us their guns no matter what.”

Most interesting was the comment by a gun-owner and Second Amendment rights advocate who seemed to bridge the gap in search for “common sense” solutions to gun violence in America.  We’ll call her Ms. Q. She wrote:

I am one who grew up in a rural area. I own guns. It may surprise some, but not others, that it wasn’t uncommon to find student vehicles (pickups, mostly) with guns openly stored in them. That has probably changed…it’s been a while. But I would venture to guess that guns can still be found in the vehicles of students, just not so openly.

My dad was a member of the NRA. One day, I realized (or maybe Dad mentioned it) that there was a junior membership. Well, being a daddy’s girl, I considered it. I enjoyed hunting, I enjoyed spending time with Dad, I respected what Dad thought and did. So, I read some of the NRA literature. Being somewhat precocious, I realized that the NRA wasn’t about hunting or hanging out with Dad. It was about guns. Guns Guns Guns Guns. Even back then (as I said, it’s been a while), it wasn’t about freedom or happiness, the NRA was about guns. I realized that I didn’t want to join the NRA because my gun ownership wasn’t about guns. I didn’t love guns. I loved being an American kid who had the freedom to be happy doing things like hunting with my dad. There were better organizations that more perfectly captured that feeling for me.

As I’ve aged, I am still a defender of Second Amendment rights. But not the NRA way, which seems to be the dominant position among the loudest gun rights advocates. We need to think practically about the problem. Sure, we law abiding gun owners are doing the right thing. Right? I own 3 guns and have never sold those 3 guns. However, only 1 of those guns was new when I got it. The others were purchased…well…without any safeguard at all. Friends of friends type of deal. Yeah, it’s been a while, but I guarantee you that those types of sales haven’t stopped and they are certainly not subject to background checks. How do you suppose people who commit crimes with guns get them? All of those guns were likely sold legally at some point, but eventually ended up in the wrong hands. How do we stop that?

I agree that certain restrictions will have absolutely no effect. But I also submit that many legitimate gun owners are failing to see how they contribute to the problem. What do you do with a gun you no longer want? How about this: in 2010, about 4 million babies were born in the US…but 5.5 million new guns were manufactured in the US and another nearly 3 million were imported. How many guns does each baby need? Seriously, the pace of gun manufacture has outstripped the growth of the country, which means that there are a significant number of people who are buying multiple new guns and either accumulating them (most gun collectors are harmless) or selling some. Once a gun leaves the hands of the original owner, it is harder and harder to make sure that the next owner is not one of those “inner city criminals.” That is, if you’ve ever sold a gun, you’ve contributed to the problem.

Further, I submit that keeping a gun in such a way that results in harm to someone else, particularly children, is a criminal act. Which suggests that even some law abiding gun owners are actually not law abiding. At the very least, every gun owner should be properly trained in gun use and storage. And, if gun owners oppose that measure, then for the sake of their unfortunate children, laws should be allowed to physically restrict who can use the gun. A dead child isn’t a good way to learn that lesson.

Finally, not everyone is a hero. No, not everyone should have a gun on them to “protect themselves.” Half of all people are of average intelligence or less. Combine that with the fact that common sense isn’t so common, and disaster is waiting to happen. Case in point: the woman who decided to fire upon a SHOPLIFTER leaving a home improvements store while they were driving away in a parking lot that had other people in it. She had not been threatened and none of the stolen items were hers. That woman showed all the intelligence and common sense of a dead slug. Fortunately, her Second Amendment right didn’t kill anyone, but not for lack of trying.

Can we agree that we should consider applying real common sense to the problem?

Thank you, all, but special thanks to Ms. Q for the final question.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 2, 2015
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Donald Trump and the Presbyterians

Donald Trump and Ben Carson

Candidate for President Donald Trump’s sideswipe at fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith calls for a response from those who are what Mr. Trump is not – a Presbyterian.

Although Mr. Trump attended Sunday School and was confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens, NY, he is not a member of a Presbyterian Church. His church of choice on Easter and Christmas is Marble Collegiate Church, the historic Reformed Church in America congregation in midtown Manhattan best known for the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking.

“I am Presbyterian Protestant. I go to Marble Collegiate Church,” he told reporters in Greenville, S.C.  Two funny thing about that: 1) Marble Collegiate Church is not a Presbyterian church, and 2) even if it were,  Mr. Trump is not a member there, according to the church itself.

Why does it matter?

Who cares?  UNTIL Mr. Trump presents himself as a Presbyterian in contrast to another candidate’s Seventh Day Adventist faith in a way that is typically very un-presbyterian.

“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian!” he proclaimed with pride, insinuating that he is in the mainstream while Dr. Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) is a fringe group outside the mainstream of American religious life. He seemed unaware that 1) Seventh Day Adventists are one of the fastest growing churches both in the U.S. and the world with a worldwide membership of 18.1 million, and 2) unlike the overwhelmingly white Presbyterian Church to which he claims to belong, the SDA is full of color and immigrants.

As to his own faith, Trump’s answer to Frank Luntz’ question of whether he’s ever asked for forgiveness offers further insight:

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.

“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

The Presbyterian-Reformed Tradition

There are a few things about the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition of the Christian faith that Mr. Trump seems not to know or has forgotten:

  1. The Reformed-Presbyterian faith shuns ostentation.
  2. Simplicity is a characteristic of the Christian life.
  3. “The sins forbidden by the First Commandment” include “self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, and affections upon other things;…hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security” (Larger Catechism, Q 1).
  4. Confession of sin – both in private prayer and in the “Confession of Sin” in every Sunday service of worship – is a daily spiritual discipline of Christian life and practice.
  5. Divine grace and the forgiveness are the sources of personal and communal renewal and reconciliation.
  6. Respect for other religions -“Christians find parallels between other religions and their own and must approach all religions with openness and respect” (Confessions of 1967 IIB3) – and humility about one’s own religious claims are called for before God.

Local Presbyterians and Seventh Day Adventists

Momoh Freeman

Momoh Freeman

Every Sunday for seven years Momoh Freeman, a gifted Liberian refugee musician, served as Director of Music at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska; on Saturdays he served in the same capacity at a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Minneapolis. The beliefs and practices of the two congregations are distinctly different in many respects, but we became fast friends.

The SDA Choir, comprised of Liberian-Americans, Liberian refugees, and African Americans, performed in concert at Shepherd of the Hill at our invitation, singing both African hymns and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus a cappella!

We Presbyterians joined our SDA friends in Minneapolis for Saturday worship, including the foot-washing ritual that preceded the Sacrament of Holy Communion to which we were also welcome. None of us went to the table “drink my little wine…and have my little cracker.”

A remedy of humble faith

Considering the disrespect in the run up to a presidential nomination, a good foot-washing seems in order.

When Jesus washed Peter’s feet, Peter replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13.9)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Teaching Elder (i.e., Minister of Word and Sacrament) H.R., Chaska, Minnesota, October 28, 2015




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A funny thing happened at the doctor’s office

A funny thing happened yesterday during my annual physical.

The physician was excited to share something she’s very proud of: a policy statement on “Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action from 8 Health Professional Organizations and the American Bar Association“. Click HERE to read the entire text.

It begins with an Abstract that reads, in part, “Deaths and injuries related to firearms constitute a major public health problem in the United States.

The document provides findings and recommendations based on the separate policies of the 7 health professional societies that represent most physicians in the United States – American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, and American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association.

She noted how rarely doctors and lawyers join together on public policy positions, let alone an issue as contentious as this one. This was a victory of common sense among doctors and lawyers.She was pleased that her medical society is part of this Call to Action.

“The specific recommendations include universal background checks on gun purchases, elimination of physician ‘gag laws’, restricting the manufacturing and sale of military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines for civilian use, and research to support strategies for reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths. … The American Bar Association through its Standing Committee on Gun Violence, confirms that none of these recommendations conflicts with the Second Amendment or the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Across the United States, physicians have first-hand experience with the effects of firearm injuries and deaths and the impact of such events on their patients and families. Many physicians and other health professionals recognize that this is not just a criminal violence issue but also a public health problem.”

This year’s annual physical enlightened more than the state of my health. Like clergy, physicians hear stories that confidentiality keeps between sealed lips, but the doctors know the sorrow from the inside out in ways to which most do not have access. Congratulations for speaking out to frame the questions in terms of public health.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2015
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Flip Saunders and the Media

Yesterday morning Minnesota media announced the untimely death of Flip Saunders, one of Minnesota’s most beloved public figures.

Cheered long ago as the diminutive starting point guard of the University of Minnesota Gophers basketball team, Flip worked his way through the ranks of the CBA to become a successful NBA Head Coach with Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington before returning “home” to Minnesota as both President and Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

There is a deep sadness over his loss. At 60 years old, he was looking forward to the fruits of his labor, the makings of a future world championship team developed by Flip’s extraordinary draft picks, trades, and the return to Minnesota of Kevin Garnett, the NBA star who credits Flip with his development when Kevin was fresh out of high school.

Like Garnett himself, Flip Saunders was not a native Minnesotan. But he, and Garnett, came to see this as home, as do many out-of-state transplants once they taste the beauty and culture of Minnesota.

Today it’s that culture that should be lifted up along with the love for Flip: the respectful silence kept by the media in response to the Saunders family request for privacy during the long hospitalization that began in early September.

Readers and sports pundits who feed on sensationalism might have misinterpreted the absence of detailed coverage as meaning the sports writers and the media didn’t give a flip about Flip. It’s rare that the need for privacy is honored, even when a family requests it.

Team owner Glenn Taylor and the Minnesota Timberwolves were a class act from the first announcement of his diagnosis and encouraging prognosis to the heartbreak of his long hospitalization and death.

Flip’s illness and death were handled with the rare discretion that represents the very best of Minnesota Nice. Minnesotans don’t like prying into each others’ business unless invited, and quiet respectfulness is a Scandinavian characteristic that held back the pens of sports writers and voyeurs until there was something to share.

The StarTribune headline, quoting the NBA Commissioner, reads “Flip Saunders ‘leaves gaping hole in the fabric of the NBA”.  In the fabric of NBA culture of bigger-than-life heroes, Flip Saunders brought something smaller, more private, and all too rare.

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Verse – the Decline of Western Civilization

What we called “Jewels”
are now called “Junk.”

And what we straight guys called “Heaven”
is now called a “Hoohaw.”

[Nota bene: if one clicks “like” on this post, it does NOT mean one approves of this degradation of nomenclature. Rather, a “like” indicates gratitude to the author for pointing out yet another sign of impending disaster. 😇]

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 23, 2015
Posted in Humor, Life, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Views from the Edge republished today

Click Reframing the Gun Conversation for today’s republication (with some fine editing) by, one of Minnesota’s best independent news sources.

  • Gordon Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 22, 2015
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To Never Hurt A Fly

Click To Never Hurt A Fly for the poem by an author named Sandy who came to our attention when she “liked” Steve’s poem today. Since Views from the Edge stands with those at the edge, calling for an end to gross income and wealth disparity, both here and worldwide, “To Never Hurt a Fly” posted on The Disappearing Island struck a chord.

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Verse – Saints in Saint Louis

The Gateway Arch is higher than
a building sixty stories tall.
Foundations underground, unseen,
go down for sixty feet. In all,
concrete and steel above, below,
weigh almost 40,000 tons.

But we see air, for Eero
Saarinen drew the leaping lines
into the sky, and stainless steel
reflects the clouds, and frames the sun.
The brave will ride a tram and feel
at apex angel-like, heaven-
residing happy holy beings,
although with very nervous bellies…

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 21, 2015

Golden Arch

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What is this searched after state we Americans pursue, one of only three “unalienable rights” specifically named as worthy of praise in the American Declaration of Independence – “the pursuit of happiness”?

Did the writers of the Declaration mean what we mean? Or was it something different? Why was such a subjective term as ‘happiness’ listed with Life, and Liberty?  Was there a reason why the pursuit of Happiness was listed as the last of the three? What it considered least important, of equal importance, or, perhaps, as most important?

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the principal writers of the Declaration, were well-schools in the Classics – the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, novelists, playrites and poets; Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Cicero and Diogenes. They read Plato’s Republic, Cicero’s Disputations, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics; Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in their original Greek or Latin language. They translated the New Testament Gospel of John from its original Greek into Latin and into English.

What did happiness mean to these classical writers? How did it inform Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the rest?

The word εὐδαιμονία’ (eudaimonia) expressed the Greek philosopher’s understanding of what Jefferson and Adams called happiness.

The term “eudaimonia” is a classical Greek word, commonly translated as “happiness“, but perhaps better described as “well-being” or “human flourishing” or “good life“. More literally it means “having a good guardian spirit”. Eudaimonia as the ultimate goal is an objective, not a subjective, state, and it characterizes the well-lived life, irrespective of the emotional state of the person experiencing it. ….

Socrates, as represented in Plato‘s early dialogues, held that virtue is a sort of knowledge (the knowledge of good and evil) that is required to reach the ultimate good, or eudaimonia, which is what all human desires and actions aim to achieve.

The Basics of Philosophy

Happiness, as understood in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, is the full human flourishing which is the highest of all good according to Nature.

The Committee of Five that wrote the final draft approved by the Second Continental Congress had something like that in mind.

One researcher claims the following:

“Actually, happiness was defined by the Continental Congress in the original May 1776 declaration of independence as “internal peace, virtue, and good order,” closely following Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations; the definition of happiness was drafted by John Adams, not Jefferson.” [Link inserted by VFTE]

[Unidentified source within longer article on the origins of “the pursuit of happiness in the American Declaration of Independence.] -Other Choices (talk) 00:14, 16 June 2012 (UTC)

Whether we are happy in America is a matter of perspective and definition. Some of us would say we are; others would say not. But a fresh look at the Declaration of Independence’s original meaning of the word as human flourishing might lead us to the discussion of “the full human flourishing which is the highest of all good according to Nature” in a consumer society intoxicated with distraction and superficial definitions of happiness.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 28, 2015
Posted in America, Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Re-Framing the Gun Conversation

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

Today in America we continue to define, weigh, and measure these three “unalienable Rights”.

Original American Declaration of Independence

Original American Declaration of Independence

No matter whether the Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson, and the Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress assumed these three Rights to be mutually compatible or whether they saw them in tension with each other, today in America there is little agreement about the meaning of, or the relations among, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Instead we are locked in a heated debate about one of the three – Liberty – focused  on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791.

Lost in the debate is the more reflective philosophical, moral, and religious pondering of the “unalienable Rights” which, in the eyes of Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress were essential virtues of a new republic. Then, as now, the way we understand life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is shaped, to some extent, by different cultural experiences. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the differences were often between northern and southern colonies. Today the differences are still sectional, but perhaps even more, they are between rural and small town, urban, and suburban cultures and settings.

Rural and small town populations, especially those who plow the fields and grow our food, tend to view guns as instruments that support life and the pursuit of happiness. A gun is used for hunting, protecting the animals from coyotes, or for skeet shooting. The rifle by the back door is part of rural life, not meant to be used on another human being, except in the unlikely event of a burglary. The right to own and use a gun is a matter not only of liberty but of life and the ability to pursue happiness. The gun is a family friend.

Urban populations, especially those living in densely populated centers with the high crime rates that accompany economic deprivation, see guns differently. Guns in their neighborhoods are not for hunting, protecting animals, or shooting coyotes. They are threats to Life and the pursuit of Happiness. The cities are divided between very wealthy, middle class, and the economically impoverished neighborhoods where gun shots are heard while putting children to bed. Residents who can afford to leave for the suburbs to pursue Happiness sometimes do.

Suburban populations are a blend of former rural and urban dwellers with native suburbanites. Some grew up on the farm or in small towns where there was little or no tension among the three unalienable rights. Some left the city in pursuit of happiness or in search of a safe place to live. Some, born and raised in the suburb, can imagine neither the farm, small town, nor the city as a preferred place to live. In the suburbs it is a matter of some confusion and debate whether Liberty, as in gun rights, supports or conflicts with, Life and the pursuit of Happiness.

The National Sheriffs Association, serving rural and small town America, takes a conservative position on gun rights and gun control, while the National Association Chiefs of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police, serving urban, small cities, and large suburban communities, call for improved gun control legislation.

Although informed debate about the origins and intent of the Second Amendment is good and necessary, a preoccupation with the Second Amendment all but insures the demise of a productive national conversation.

We would do better to look earlier in our history to the Declaration of Independence which defined the goals of a soon-to-be-born American republic. To this writer’s knowledge, there has been little if any discussion of gun rights and regulation in the context of the three unalienable rights explicitly lifted up in the document we all celebrate on July 4th.

Those who declared American independence from Great Britain in 1776 could not have imagined that one of the three named unalienable Rights — Liberty — would stand as the sole Right without reference to Life and the pursuit of Happiness.

Few venues lend themselves to a mature discussion among rural/small town, urban, and suburban American experiences. In theory, the 50 state legislatures and the United States Congress provide the forums for thoughtful discussion and the search for solutions by representatives of rural, urban, and suburban constituents. But in today’s America where representative government itself is often viewed with distrust and even fear, the likelihood of success is far less than the Founders might have hoped.

Where and how, then, do we, the people — rural and small town, urban, and suburban — citizens of the diverse country we all love, come together to discuss our life in light of the creative tension of the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness in 2015?

Aristotle (right) talking with Plato in The School of Athens by Raphael

Aristotle (right) talking with Plato in The School of Athens by Raphael

In 2015 one could hardly say we in America are happy. In the light of current tragedies of gun violence and our socio-poliictal history, we might do well to remember the wisdom of Aristotle (384—322 B.C.E) to help guide citizens of a constitutional republic:

Happiness depends upon ourselves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2015
Posted in America, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Picture of God

A Kindergarten teacher observed the children drawing pictures in her classroom. As she walked around the room, one little girl was totally absorbed in her drawing when the teacher asked what she was drawing.

“I’m drawing God!”

“But no one knows what God looks like,” said the teacher.

The girl kept drawing. Without a hitch and without looking up, she replied, “They will in a minute.”

As part of their research, psychologists have asked children to draw pictures of God looking for correspondences between the children see their parents and how they imagine God.

“God the Father” of trinitarian Christian theology was of particular interest. The children’s drawings turn out to be vastly different, depending upon positive or negative experiences with their fathers. Some drew God as kind and loving; others drew God as fearful and violent.

Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Ludwig Feuerbach would not be surprised. Each in his own way saw ‘God’ as a human projection, not a Divine reality. Yet there is something about even the most disbelieving of us that is still drawn to try to draw God.

Maybe the little girl in the kindergarten class had heard in church the line that “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12). Maybe she was drawing Love.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 5, 2015.
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Verse – “He was just a railroad man”

Trains are steel and men are flesh–
When they meet some men will die.
He lay crushed, those passing by,
“He was just a railroad man.”

The dispatcher heard them talk–
He told his friends down at the Y.
Cleveland built a Railroad Y
Welcomed all the working men.

Nineteen hundred eleven
Saw two hundred railroad Y’s
Eat some chow, get some shut-eye,
Read a book–a healthy man.

Railroads paid for about half–
Workers gave to help their life.
Dignity, respect, human:
Yes, he was a railroad MAN.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 19, 2015
St. Louis Railroad YMCA, now a Drury Inn

St. Louis Railroad YMCA, now a Drury Inn

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A Papal Education by Daniel A. Wagner – Project Syndicate

In September, the UN and Pope Francis both called on the international community to fight poverty and preserve the environment. At the center of these efforts will be education – particularly one goal on which the world is still falling short: literacy.

Source: A Papal Education by Daniel A. Wagner – Project Syndicate

Daniel (“Dan”) Wagner is UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, Professor of Education, and Director of the International Literacy Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, and a long-time friend.

Thanks to Dan’s spouse, Mary Eno, a Ph.D. practicing psychologist in private practice and friend of Kay Stewart since junior high school, for bringing Dan’s article to our attention.

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Vivinfrance’s Blog posts interesting thoughts of a writer named Viv who lives in France. Today’s post is about weapons and creativity.

How could I write a poem about weapons
without swearing or weeping?
It is my deeply held view that
makers, sellers, buyers of weapons
are as guilty of murder
as those who use them.

Transform the energy from good food
into breathing, walking, running.
Transform scraps of this and that
into a meal, a sculpture, a quilt, a poem.
Practise living a healthy, creative life
in kindness and beauty.

Here in the U.S. we’re fighting over who’s responsible for all the violence. “It’s people who kill, not guns,” say some opponents of gun control, defenders of a skewed rendering of the Second Amendment. But it’s also the guns, the bombs, the drones, the land mines, the missiles – the weapons manufacturers who kill and maim.  There’s nothing in the Second Amendment about the right to kill and maim.

More importantly and too often missing from the public discussion, the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence starts with certain “unalienable Rights, among which are the Right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In that trinity of unalienable rights and values liberty means nothing unless it supports the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. Otherwise, it serves the purposes of death and sorrow. As Viv reminds us from France,

makers, sellers, buyers of weapons
are as guilty of murder
as those who use them.

Until we the people demand that liberty be returned to its rightful place, the weapons manufacturers will continue to make a killing on killing at home a abroad.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Sunday morning, reflection, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2015.
Posted in America, Life, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Verse – The Memorial Service

The day we remember
at the Memorial Service
a friend of 55 years, some
will say he was a human
having a spiritual experience,
looking to the skies for the
one who’s “passed on”.

Others of us remember
the face, the smile, the stride,
the fitness, the speech
and mannerisms during
walks in the mountain woods
of a real human having a
spiritual experience.

Are we flesh and blood,
living on the eternal’s shore
turned back to dust?
Or are we stardust that
never dies, immortals
experiencing mortality
before returning to the sky?

Has he died or passed on?
Are the ashes and memories
of Phil what remain of him
or were his smile, his walk
and talk just time-bound
expressions of a spiritual
being locked in a cage?

I hear no bird singing but
the funeral dirge and hymn
reminding us to think
less of ourselves and our
not-so exceptional species
of flesh and blood, dust and
ashes left in cemetery urns.

“O God, our help in ages
past, our hope for years to
come, we fly forgotten as
a dream dies at the opening
day. Be Thou our guide
while life shall last and
our eternal home.”

Today our tears again will
fall, as do all creatures
great and small when
time’s short river returns
to the eternal ebb and flow
whence we came and to
which all soon return, with
sobs of humility and praise.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2015, written in anticipation of today’s Memorial Service for college and seminary classmate and friend Philip Conner Brown. At the same time as the Memorial Service today at White Bear Lake United Methodist Church, he will be remembered in a Chapel service for Maryville College alumni who died during the last year.


Posted in Death and dying, Life, Love, Poetry, Spirituality, verse | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A Limerick for World’s Greatest Cubs Fan

Map to Wrigley Field from Urbana, IL

Map to Wrigley Field from Urbana, IL

For the Cubs 1-0-7 long years
Crying No-Series-Winner sad tears.
Yes, I live far away,
But soon on that great day
Baby Bruins will sure hear my cheers!

– Steve Shoemaker, Cubs fan writing 154 miles from Wrigley Field in honor of Harry Lee Strong, world’s greatest Cubs fan.

Steve and Harry are lifelong, long-suffering “Baby Bruins” fans hoping the sports heavens are about to open after the 107 year drought since the Cubs last won the World Series. Harry, pictured below in his tux, and his dog with the Cubs tie, have been “dressing for success” in Harry’s “Cubs cave” farther away in AZ.

Harry Strong holding picture with Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks and Cubs memorabilia.

Harry Strong holding picture with Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks and Cubs memorabilia.





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Non-verbal Communication: Cain looking at us

Cain and Abel – the mythical story of the first two children of humanity – in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16) is about something that never happened way back when but about what is always happening with us: the inexplicable violence to which humankind turns against itself. It’s about the yawning abyss of violence into which we plunge when we can’t make sense out of life or when things don’t go our way.

Yesterday’s brief post on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture focuses on a capital of Cain and Abel in a Romanesque church.

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Like the Genesis writer, the Medieval artist whose hand crafted the story in stone many centuries later was doing theology and anthropology. The biblical author told the story with words; the Medieval sculptor told it with non-verbal communication.

The face of Cain on Via Lucis held my attention long after I’d gone on with the day. It kept returning to mind.

Cain’s head isn’t turned toward Abel whom he is pummeling to death with his stave. He’s looking away from Cain at someone or something else, as if to say the viewer, “So, you think I’m cruel. You think I’m different. You’re looking in the mirror.”

In the biblical story God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Medieval sculptor’s art seems to be saying it in stone. Cain’s head is cocked, his eyes looking at us. At you. At me.  And, perhaps, at God, to whose failure to rescue Abel he shifts responsibility: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The capital seems to say Cain knows he owns us and the endless history of violence in which the blood of the silent victims cries out from the ground, unless and until we – persons, groups, religions, races, cultures, nations, a species – master the sin that’s forever crouching at our door.

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


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Verse – Why do you fly a kite?

Steve's kite

Steve’s kite

Why Do You Fly Kites?

You kid of 72,
Reliving your childhood?
Child-like, or childish?

Prairie winds are strong,
Annoying to some.
I choose to revel in them,
Let the wind lift my spirits,
Carry kite and me skyward.

But you can no longer run,
Cannot pull the kite aloft,
Cannot even trot…

A delta kite lifts itself
In even a mild breeze.
When high above,
I tie the line to a stake,
And sit with beer in hand,
And look up.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 26, 2015
Posted in Poetry, Steve Shoemaker, verse | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Presidential Debate

The pundits focused on Hillary and Bernie. They ignored a third candidate on the stage who fared well. His name is Martin O’Malley. He didn’t hit the home run the gurus said was required to bring him into the race, but he represented his record clearly with poise and with the dignity the American people have a right to expect of the person in the Oval Office. He had the stature of a President.

The Bernie-Hillary show was a media creation, a script which, to his great credit, Moderator Anderson Cooper did not follow. Cooper asked hard questions to every candidate with the first questions of the evening. Cooper was a professional journalist, working for the American people to flush out the inconsistencies and push for the truth of what a candidate really stands for. Bernie danced a jig on his poor record on gun control and his votes on the Brady Bill; Hillary danced on the email controversy, her Iraq War vote, and her change of opinion on the TPP trade agreement. Cooper was the consummate moderator, insisting that candidates answer the question they were asked, but respectful and fair.

Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee were like minor leaguers on a Major League field in the early playoffs. There were five candidates on stage but only three major leaguers.

Webb performed poorly as the most conservative candidate who suffered from a shirt collar that made him look tight as a tic. He looked like the kid whose parents dressed him in a tux for the senior prom – very unnatural, ill at ease, unable to be his winsome self.  Chafee  stood by his progressive voting record and admirable credentials as a former U.S. Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, but his facial eccentricities and persona do not help his candidacy. Although he might make a great president, he’d be very hard to watch for four full years.

O’Malley, on the other hand, looked and sounded the part of a presidential candidate. Or, perhaps, Vice-Presidential. Like Joe Biden, O’Malley is both smart and tough, seasoned and fresh, just the kind of running mate Hillary or Bernie might choose, if either of them wins the Democratic Party nomination. The problem, of course, is that O’Malley is another Easterner, which all but eliminates him according to the prevailing wisdom that the best ticket is geographically balanced.

But, if in the debates ahead, Bernie and Hillary should falter, Martin O’Malley is someone to watch. If I were Bernie or Hillary, I’d sleep with one eye open. Remember the tortoise and the hare.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Bernie supporter), Chaska, MN, October 14, 2015.



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Hope from the Bowels of Forsakenness

Vulnerable. Weak. Lonely. Frightened. Anxious. Forlorn. Forsaken.

The hospitalized teenager suffering a sudden, undiagnosed illness of the bowels, wondering whether he’s dying, fearful there is no cure, came to my attention during the day. The consciousness of it remain through the night. Awakening in the morning, I look for something that will speak to the helpless feeling of his parents and grandparents.

Opening the Psalter, the opening verse of Psalm 22 leaps from the page — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — the tortured cry from the cross Jesus quoted many centuries after Psalm 22 had embedded itself in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people.

That the Newer Testament Gospels would put these words on Jesus’s lips is, it strikes me this morning, a Jewish code to look deeper for something much more complex, both tragically realistic and surprisingly hopeful in the psalm’s entirety. Though the forsakenness cry repeats itself immediately — “Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” — Psalm 22 goes on to recall poetically the existential-spiritual history of Israel’s suffering at the hands of the nations and its deliverance from the same, ending with “They (i.e., our descendants) shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that He has done.”

Jesus’s cry from the cross strikes me as the kind of cry we might read or hear in the writings of Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel – honest yet faithful to the Jewish tradition because the tradition itself expresses the horror of god-forsakenness and faith in the absent God at the same time.

Jesus on the cross has this history in his bowels and his bones. The teenager in the hospital has no active faith community, no wisdom tradition or practice, except for the faith and prayers of his grandparents whose faith has been kept at a distance for many years.

The week before learning of the teenager’s plight I had been filled with questions about another young man: the 26 year-old who gunned down the nine students in Oregon who suffered a nano-second of god-forsakenness in the classrooms where they had presumed to be safe from death at the community college that became their execution chamber. The grizzly scene of the shooter asking people about their faith, telling those who rose that they were about to meet their Maker, chilled me to the bone, raising the question of what the shooter’s experience of Christians had been that would so fill him with anger at them and their religion. Was he one of the many in America who, for reasons explainable or inexplicable, feel forsaken and despised? Alone. Isolated. Scorned. Forlorn. Angry.

To be human is to be intrinsically vulnerable. We are all at risk; all headed inevitably toward death. We are not immortal, eternal, timeless, invulnerable. Was the young man turned executioner mocking his death row victim’s belief in an afterlife? Was he saying loudly that there is nothing on the other side of death – a message to the world that this is all there is and that religion is a cruel hoax?

Death is our common lot, but the irony is that it does not wait until the end; it takes hold of us in the middle – between birth and death – as much as at the end. The foreshadowing of it sends us running for cover, running for relief, for an escape. It appears under the guises of control, power, invulnerability. Sometimes its disguise is a pistol or an assault rifle. Other times its disguise is religion that entertains illusions of immortality, belief systems that include and exclude, like “are you a Christian?”

This morning I’m freshly struck by the entire Psalm whose first line has echoed through the centuries every Good Friday: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?” —“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”. I’m wishing our bowels could hear it, feel it, digest it, weep it, and find the hope and trust that smiles the conviction that the forsakenness we feel is not the final word.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN October 8, 2015
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Verse – From Mid-West Farms

Verse — From Mid-West Farms

…In Sidney, Illinois, the Elevator
waits for grain. The corn, the beans,
arrive in wagons or in trucks the farmers
drive. The loaded truck is weighed.
…The boy was only nine when first he steered the Farmall tractor with the corn
in wagons from grand-daddy’s farm
to here. Now twenty-five tons fill
his semi-truck. The probe descends
to measure moisture in the beans–
13 point 3 percent, a little wet,
but very close.
…The operators flip the switch on side
of truck, the grain descends through grates, the augers twist, the fans begin
to dry soybeans until the days the trains
arrive. In 20 seconds each train car is filled.
…The empty truck is weighed, the receipt
given to the driver. Shift, accelerate, and steer…go get another load. From 6 a.m.
to 9 p.m., the harvest days are long,
but it is happy work.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, October 6, 2015

Published with apologies to Steve for insertion of … in place of indentation.

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

Gordon C. Stewart:

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

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

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

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

View original 318 more words

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