Ego Trips

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

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

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

International Trump Tower and Hotel, Chicago, IL

International Trump Tower and Hotel, Chicago, IL

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Verse on Another Tower

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

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


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

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

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

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Verse – Don’t Look for Me

Don’t Look For Me On Twitter

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

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

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

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Verse – I’m Still a Presbyterian

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

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

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WalMart Chicken Wing

Un-plucked Walmart chicken wing

Un-plucked Walmart chicken wing

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

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

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

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


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Not your typical ho-hum Bible!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray.

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

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

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

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

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

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Verse – Wasp Leg

(How to remember
the 7 Deadly Sins)

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

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

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Verse – a New Inscription

A New Inscription
For The Statue of Liberty

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

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

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Cooperative Success

Cooperative Scrabble

Cooperative Scrabble

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

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


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Verse – Wisteria

Wisteria around post

Wisteria around post

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

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

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

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Verse – Last Prayer for a Cat

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

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

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

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

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

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Verse – The Young Chauffeur


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

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

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

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

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

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Mortality and Morality

‘Mortality’ knows nothing of ‘morality’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Would you like to see Walter?

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

“Walter who?”

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

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

Suddenly he was reduced to ‘Walter’.

“Would you like to see Walter?”

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

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

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

“Would you like to see Walter?”

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

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

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Verse – He was not supposed to die!

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

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

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

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

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

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Verse – Death Never Suits Us

Death comes
in many shapes
and sizes but
never suits us

though morticious
paint the gray of
mannequin faces

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

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

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

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

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

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The Timeless Scent of a Pine Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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Medical Marijuana

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

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The Confederate Flag Outside the Library

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

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

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

The pickup truck with the Confederate Flag decal

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

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

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

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

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

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MN

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Verse – Tour Guides

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

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

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

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

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

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Verse – Flooded Former Bean Field

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

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

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

Flooded bean field - Champaign, IL

Flooded bean field – Champaign, IL

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


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BEST Steak Ever! WORST Haircut!


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I should have prayed!

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

Mortimer Snerd and Edgar Bergen

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Verse – Last Request

Last request from an Illinois boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When the Breath flies away

It takes only a moment to see oneself in the experience of Andy Catlett in Wendell Berry’s story, “Fly Away, Breath!” Our experience is of time flown away and flying away.

Most of us, most of the time, think mostly of the past. Even when we say, “We are living now,” we can only mean that we were living a moment ago.

Nevertheless, in this sometimes horrifying, sometimes satisfying, never-sufficiently-noticed present, between a past mostly forgotten and a future that we deserve to fear but cannot predict, some few things can be recalled.

Wendell Berry, “Fly Away, Breath (1907),” A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port Williams Membership,” Counterpoint Press, 2012.

We are creatures of a specific time and place — and relationships with loved ones, friends, and enemies, a plot of land, a town or city we call home, a state, a nation, a world in time sandwiched between past and future that we call the present.

A ghost town is a reminder of time. Southern Cross stands on the mountain high above Georgetown Lake, Montana, where the vistas are breathtaking, and the past is barely remembered except for the abandoned miners’ quarters and mine shafts below the surface of the place that remind the visitor of the fickleness of time.

“All flesh is grass” and yet, despite our intuitive awareness of it, we unconsciously pretend most days it is not true that “the grass withers, the flower fades….” [Isaiah 40:8].

“Nevertheless,” says Wendell Berry, “… between a past mostly forgotten and a future that we deserve to fear but cannot predict, some few things can be recalled” — things like my friendship with Phil, now ended unexpectedly by a rare nearly undiagnosable lymphoma in his spleen. Hours before his death, the interventionist ICU doctor described Phil’s case and his 10 days in the ICU as “a real shit storm” because of the many ongoing complications that mystified the medical staff. In all of medical history only 10-15 cases have been reported where lymphoma originated in the spleen. By the time it was discovered in Phil, other organs had begun to shut down. The first organ to go was the gallbladder, which was already abscessed when they operated to remove the spleen.

Medical professionals are no different from the rest of us, except for their skill and training in how to treat illness and preserve life. Despite every effort to keep the present from slipping into the past, against every attempt to retain some kind of future, the breath always flies away.

Phil’s death, as I had come to see it days before he passed, came as an act of mercy, a release from the torturous interventions of advanced medical technology that asks the question ‘How?’ without first asking ‘Why?”

I’m increasingly convinced that the denial of death (mortality) and the search for immorality are the opposites of the Christian faith in God – on Hebrew YHWH (“I am Who I Am/ I will Be Who I will be”) who alone is Eternal. All else is species hubris, the refusal to live thankfully, graciously and peacefully within the limits of finite, mortal goodness.

We are all standing in line, not knowing at what time or place our time will come. We’re all headed for the ghost town, thinking of the past or dreading the future we deserve, but also, in moments of grace, remembering with thanksgiving the tender mercies along the way that cannot be denied.

I do not know what of Phil or any of us may lie beyond the grave, an odd thing to say for a minister of the gospel whose faith lives out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Knowing my unknowing, my best friend reminded me of “Jesus’s question to Nicodemus at night about the not entirely unrelated matter of being born of the Spirit: ‘You are the teacher of God’s people, and don’t know these things?’”

I confess to knowing very little, especially when what Chaim Potok calls the four-o’clock-in-the-morning-questions wake me in the middle of the night between a present now gone and a future that remains inscrutable. However that may be, what I do know is that bodily life — mortal life in space and time in the midst of Eternity — is what we have and it is to be cherished. Bound to the limits of time and place, it is God’s good creation.  Yet only God is the Eternal One.

Whatever lies on the other side of my years is beyond my mortal knowing. But I can and do affirm the Eternity of God and the scriptural point of view that whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. “All flesh is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God [YHWH, the Eternal] shall last forever.” Right now, in good conscience, that’s enough bread to live on today as I recall the blessing of Phil to our lives and pray for all who loved him.

– Gordon C. Stewart, written at Georgetown Lake, Montana, July 26, 2015.

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Verse – Mother’s Day..

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, YES Day!

It’s not true every day is Children’s Day.
Some kids have lost their parents to disease,
or fatal accidents, or violence,
or war, or drugs, or worse, indifference.

And Hanukkah or Christmas does not count,
or ending Ramadan with giving gifts
and Sugar Feast, because each Holy Day
kids must be near perfect–it gives them fits!

So I propose a Children’s Day each year
when parents, mentors, friends each take the time
to say YES to a child’s request, then hear
a rhyme, and play a foolish children’s game.

What will abide is sitting side by side:
for then you’ll know you’ve helped a child to grow.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 24, 2015

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In Memory of Phil

Sunday, June 21, the text from Faith in Minneapolis reached us in Montana.

“6:15 p.m. – A great soul has passed.”

Phil Brown and I go back 55 years when we met as freshmen at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. Within two weeks we were doing something entirely juvenile. We were running for President of the best class the college had ever admitted or would ever see again. J 😇

From the day I met Phil, I knew him as a person of dignity and stature. He carried himself with an outward confidence that belied an inner self-doubt. His posture was erect, shoulders back with a disgustingly athletic physique and stride, a classically chiseled face, and the brains to go with it. He was a Big Man on Campus from the day he set foot on campus to the day he left it for Law School at Indiana University in 1964. When he left law school to prepare for a vocation in ministry, we again became classmates at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

In ways we only later came to understand and celebrate, in spite of the early competition, we were tied by similar family histories and destinies, although anyone who knows us well could easily call us the Odd Couple, one of us like Felix Unger, the always well-groomed, meticulously tidy maintainer of order and propriety played in the film by Jack Lemon; the other more like the unpredictable, care-free, disorganized, careless slob named Oscar Madison, played by Walter Matthau. Can there be any doubt who was whom?

At Phil’s retirement party as Synod Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, his beloved sons, Ian and Jess, delivered a comical roast of their Dad who, they said, had taught them many things, not the least memorable of which had to do with tools from Phil’s workshop. “If you took it, put it back where you got it!” was his consistent teaching. I always wondered, though, why Phil didn’t put the special microbrewery beers that Ian mailed him back in the refrigerator where we’d gotten them.

Phil and Faith are Kay and my best friends in the Twin Cities. Our tears have fallen for more than two months, as we have watched with Faith the inexplicable, undiagnosed loss of energy that came on like an sudden thunderstorm that drenched him in night sweats the evening he returned from a North Oaks Association Board Meeting.

Always the most gracious of hosts, he and Faith hosted newcomers to North Oaks in their home a few weeks later with the understanding that if Phil grew weary, he should retire early. He did. It was not like Phil to call attention to himself or to bow out on a promise, a duty, or a commitment. He had to be restrained from overdoing, but restraining a race horse committed to doing the right thing takes a trainer with strength not even the strongest life partner or lifelong friend could muster.

At Maryville Phil chose Economics for his major. His academic advisor and mentor, Bob Lynn, was a professor known equally for his brilliance and his demands for academic excellence. At McCormick Theological Seminary, Phil again chose to study with the very best, Jack Stotts, Professor of Christian Ethics. Phil was always drawn to the highest standards of excellence.

As Presbytery Executive with Blackhawk and Milwaukee presbyteries and as Synod Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, he embodied that combination of ardor and order, grace and discipline that is the signature of the Presbyterian theological and ecclesiastical tradition where all things are to be done “decently and in order”. In that respect Phil and I each followed in our father’s footsteps. Phil succeeded at it much better than I.

But, if our friendship began as student competitors and friends wandering in the night through the foothills of the Smokey Mountains around Maryville, my last memories will be of Phil as the patient at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Though so weak that he could barely speak aloud, he unexpectedly joined me in saying the 23rd Psalm. His faith was on his lips, bubbling up from a deep, trusting heart, the secret place of the son of Victor and Francis Brown. I’m sure he noticed, as did his son Jess, my omission of the line “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake” — an omission made, whether consciously or unconsciously, I suppose in retrospect, because I wanted him to give up the struggle for righteousness in order to rest peacefully beside the still waters there beside the valley of the shadow of death.

There are no still waters here in Montana where I am committed to serve as summer minister at St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel in the ghost town of Silver Cross where we prayed for Phil, Faith, and the Brown family this morning. After receiving Faith’s message this evening, Kay walked to the backyard of the Manse and returned with a bouquet of wild purple irises and other wild flowers in honor of Phil. We read the Psalms and prayers from The Book of Common Prayer and found some solace there in the company of the saints in light.

Good friendships last a lifetime. Over time, the tears of loss and mourning will be turned, by God’s grace, into the tears of great thanksgiving.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown Lake, MT, June 23, 2015


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When Religion Becomes Sinful

Originally posted on Mark H. Miller's Blog:

My clergy colleague, Mike Murray, recommended a new book that builds bridges between right and left-wingers, between those who are conservative/fundamentalist and liberal/progressives. Have started it, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

But was interrupted this morning when reading a Huffington Post article about someone with whom I have next to nothing in common theologically, Evangelist Pat Robertson. I’m pretty sure a bridge between the two of can never be built—especially on his version of the purpose for God to kill children. Even the more general indictment that God “kills children.”

I’m pretty sure clergy, no matter their tilt theologically, would find it reprehensible that “God takes the life of a child.” Yes, I’ve had grieving parents and relatives tell me about a young girl’s death, “God needs her for God’s Children’s Choir in heaven.” Or, “All death is God’s Will.” Or, “This is the fault of the parents for…

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What was I thinking?

Ever have one of those days when you wonder what in the world you were thinking?

After eating at The India Spice House, I stopped in at the adjoining grocery store. A box of Bourbon-flavored biscuits made in Oran caught my eye.  They looked good. I confused Oran (in Algeria) with Oromo, the identity of the Ethiopian Muslim men who had prayed for my friend Phil in the ICU Waiting Room two nights before. “That’s great,” I thought to myself. “The biscuits will make a nice gift.”

Gift to Muslim prayers

Gift to Muslim prayers

At the hospital I handed the box to two Oromo brothers holding vigil in the ICU Waiting Room. No words were exchanged. They accepted the gift, smiled, and nodded.

Only on my way to visit Phil in the ICU did it dawn on me. Muslims don’t drink! Even if the biscuits were made in Oromo instead of Oran, Bourbon-flavored anything is unacceptable, even disrespectful, however unintentional.

I returned to the Waiting Room. They smiled broadly. “Good!” said the one who speaks English. The other repeated his word with raised eyebrows. “Good!” We shook hands the way brothers do on the street in the hood. All was well! Salaam, Shalom, Peace was everywhere in the room.

Grace covers a multitude of sins!

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Verse – A Selfish Husband

To prepare cherries for a pie,
it takes at least two hands, three bowls,
a colander–after the high
climb up the ladder in the trees.
I used a bucket; she a bag.
My legs gave out too soon. I sat
and waited in the car. Our dog,
old Blazer, mewed upon his mat
in the back seat till she returned
and made our pack complete.
……………………………She washed
the cherries in the colander.
The pits came bursting through under
the pressure of my thumb. The pie
smells grand. No friends will I ask by…

Cherries to pies

Cherries to pies

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

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You’d better not get sick!

We’re sitting across from each other in the ICU Waiting Room after standing at the bedside of our dear friend Phil. Phil and I are old classmates and getting older at age 73.

Kay’s face is solemn. Sad. Pensive. Her brow is furrowed, the way it gets when someone she loves is in trouble. She goes deep inside,  dives down into the darkness to draw wisdom and courage, and comes back up and out when she’s ready.

She says something I can’t hear. I shake my head. She’s says it again quietly, I suppose, because there are other people in the Waiting Room. My inability to hear only serves to underscore the reality of our getting old.

After several more failed attempts to hear her, I walk over to her chair.

You’d better not get sick!” she says.

I tell her I won’t because, unlike our formerly fit-as-a-fiddle racquet ball player friend Phil in the ICU, I don’t believe in exercise. “Exercise is bad for your health,” I’ve said a 1,000 times to Kay’s dismay. I’m more like Barclay, also in the Waiting Room, who, like Phil, looks fit-as-a-fiddle. (This is NOT the canine with the same name who’s waiting in the car in the hospital parking ramp.)

“Barclay, do you exercise?” Barclay’s head recoils like a boxer dodging a stiff jab, his eyes squint, his face grimaces at the thought. He slowly raises his right hand as if holding a spoon, opens his mouth, and shoves whatever’s in the spoon into his open mouth. “Ice cream?” I ask. “Doughnuts,” he says. “What kind?” “Chocolate.” “What brand?” “Doesn’t matter. Any kind. Doughnuts!”

Whether our form of exercise is eating doughnuts, playing racquet ball or working out at a gym, we’re all going to get sick. Some sooner, some later. It’s one of two things every mortal shares in common with every other mortal: we are born and we “get sick” (i.e., we die).

“You’d better not get sick!” we say with a smile. In the meantime we give thanks for today and tonight, the comic relief of the doughnuts, and the opportunity to love each other as we pray and wait for Phil’s recovery in the ICU.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 13, 2015

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The Waiting Room

The surgery went “as well as could be expected” after two months of undiagnosed illness, but Sepsis is taking over his body, threatening his survival. The next two hours are critical.

His loved ones and friends are gathered in the ICU Waiting Room at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

Several hours earlier, I had observed six Muslim men praying the evening prayer at sundown at the far side of the Waiting Room. Oromo (Ethiopia) men had prayed the evening prayers at sundown, off to the far side of the large Waiting Room.

The men from Orono (Ethiopia), whom I had assumed to be Somali, are now gathered in chairs in the center of the Waiting Room, talking among themselves in Oromo.

When I approach them, intruding into their space, they recognize my presence. They stop talking. “Salaam,” I say. “Salaam,” they respond as if with a single voice and smile. “My friend is very sick. The next two hours are critical. I ask your prayers. His name is Phil.”

They respond as one would expect compassionate people to respond. “We will pray for him.”

I return to the small family area where my fellow Christians are gathered. I tell them the Muslims are praying for Phil. They’re pleased. We chat. Phil and Faith’s pastor eventually leads us in a Christian prayer.

Muslim prayer visitors

Muslim prayer visitors

An hour or so later three of the Oromo men come to our little room. They have come to tell us they have finished their prayers for Phil.

The voices and eyes of the men, led by their Imam, are kind, pastoral, as we say in the church. Full of compassion and concern for us. They have prayed in Arabic a Muslim prayer for healing on behalf of a stranger about whom they know nothing but his need:

“Remove the harm, O Lord of humankind and heal [Phil], for You are the Healer and there is no healing except Your healing, with a healing which does not leave any disease behind.” [narrated into English by al-Bukhaar]

Sometimes we have no choice but to wait. The Muslims from Oromo are waiting with us actively. Would that we all would wait so kindly, so patiently, so actively, and so wisely.

For a split second, I imagine the world as a Waiting Room.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Abbott-Northwester Hospital, Minneapolis, MN, June 12, 2015

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Verse – SpEcTaToRs

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

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

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

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 11, 2015

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Verse – Don’t do it, Sister!

He doesn’t think that I’m real smart,
All I do he picks apart
But, surprise!
He thinks I’m wise
If I should give to him my heart.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 7, 2015

Poster from Battered Women's Support Services, Vancouver, Canada

Poster from Battered Women’s Support Services, Vancouver, Canada

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Verse – The worst jobs in America

Cleaning toilets
Changing adult diapers
Scraping up roadkill
Killing in a slaughterhouse
Telling family Mom has died
Telling Mom the baby died
Killing unadopted pets
Telling kids their pet has died
Teaching to the test

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 7, 2015

button against teaching to the test.

button against teaching to the test.

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Verse – The Actress

IMG_7630She’s small, as they say, for her age.
She’s four-foot-eight though she’s twelve
years watching this whole world revolve
around the red sun.
…………………………….She’s on stage
each day when at school or at home.
Her voice screeches loudly, can fill
her classroom and on down the hall.
She’s always the one in the gym
whose laugh or whose cry will resound
and reverberate as they play.

She screamed when she thought that she saw
a stranger beneath a large mound
of bedclothes in her parents’ room.
She took off one flip-flop and struck
her napping grandfather. The smack
was heard by everyone home.

The parents said she should have run
outside–and then called 9-1-1…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 5, 2015


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The Socialist Jew

This tweet caught Steve’s attention, as well it should!

Socialist Jew Quote

Socialist Jew Quote

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Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul – a Glimpse

I’ve been waiting  for years for Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), whose recently announced candidacy for President of the United States is drawing astonishingly large crowds.

Ask him why he’s running and he tells you. And when he does, he speaks with two qualities that too often are estranged from one another: keen intelligence and passionate conviction. His voice resonates with a timber from deep within his soul. He’s not your stereotypical politician. He doesn’t answer questions by running in circles. He’s not afraid to offend potential supporters. He’s as bold as they come. What he’s bold about is common sense. The crowds in Minnesota and Iowa are coming out to meet him because they hear the voice of a truth-teller. No matter that Bernie speaks with a Brooklyn accent.

No other candidate for President during my lifetime has been as clear or concise as Bernie Sanders. Here’s a sample of Bernie engaging Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on senior hunger back in 2011 before Bernie and Rand threw their names in the hat.

No one knows how far Bernie will go in his bid for the Presidency. But suddenly the mainstream media within the Washington Beltway and the New York Times the sneered at him a week ago are beginning to sense they’d better pay attention.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 2, 2015.






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Steve was dry as a bone…

“until Saturday a friend asked me to write a funny tribute to mainstay in a community choir I sang with since I retired. Here is her picture & the light-verse-for-hire. Print it if you want. It’s all I got. (They read it last night at a party–at Ginny’s house–and gave her a framed copy.)”
Ginny MahichThere’s a Ginny that lives in Mahomet–
Tongue and pen are fast, like a comet,
She sings a fine alto,
Or even soprano,
Bakes pastries, and writes a good sonnet!

She goes to Beyler’s for her singing lessons
And she always pays for her sessions
She teases her Julie,
And if sometimes unruly,
A good Catholic, she makes her Confessions!

Her demeanor is often quite merry,
The hats she wears: extraordinary!
And there’s alway a prank,
With her husband, Frank:
Their parties are all legendary.

We all can agree, not one is a doubter
That Ginny Muhich is never a pouter.
So let’s give a cheer
For our Ginny so dear,
The Chorale would go under without her!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 31, 2015

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“Where’s Mom? I Need Mom!”



Barclay must have been begging for help during the night without a mother to hear his desperate pleas. Kay (Mom) has been out of town for a week.

When I approached his kennel this morning, there was an odor. But I thought to myself, that can’t be. Barq hasn’t had an accident in 18 months. His colitis is under control. I was just praising his habits to friends yesterday.

I opened the kennel door. Barclay rushed downstairs in a panic, leaving a trail behind him on the upstairs landing, down the flight of 18 steps, on the downstairs entry floor and carpet before I could get him outdoors Poor little guy.

So I’ve been cleaning up the mess, wiping the floors and soiled carpets, laundering his blankets, de-fumigating his kennel, bathing him, drying him, and brushing him out ever since. Barclay is resting comfortably now on the sofa while I go up and down the stairs wash doing the laundry.

On behalf of Barclay, I sent the following email to Kay, who this morning is with her six girlfriends at the retreat house in northeast Nebraska owned and operated by the Audubon Society.

He needs his mom badly. Bad mom! Bad mom!

“Where’s mom? I need mom!” he asks with those big brown eyes. “She’s in Nebraska with the birds,” I tell him. “Why is she in Nebraska, and what’s she doing with the birds? Does she like the birds more than me?” “No, Barq, she’s with her girlfriends at an Audubon sanctuary.” “What’s an Audubon? Is that like those fast highways they have in Germany? Is mom driving too fast? Will mom be safe driving?” “Yes, mom will be safe. She driving in a great big car today down to the Audubon river with her girlfriends.” “Car?! Ride in the car?!” “No, Barq, mom’s riding in the car with her girlfriends.” “Aw, Mom likes girls better than us? Why, dad, why? Is that why she wasn’t here last night to help me? Is that why you had to pick up my poop and pee – ‘cause it was a guy’s pee and poop? Is mom ever coming back? Are we alone here together, just the two of us, when only one of us can hear?” “No, mom loves you very much, Barq. No need to worry. She’s coming back on Monday. She’s driving back in her car….” “Car? Go for the ride in the car? Can we, Dad?” “Not right now, Barq, Dad has to continue to dry you out and comb you before we can do anything like that, and, besides, you’re not getting any breakfast this morning. Your stomach has to recover today.” “Mom would give me breakfast!!!” “No, she wouldn’t because you’re sick.” “I’m not a dick, Dad, I just don’t feel well. If mom thinks we’re both dicks and mom likes girls better than guys, do you think there’s a danger she might not come back, that she might stay with her girlfriends and the birds by the Autobahn?”

In short – we’re having a most exquisite Saturday morning.

– Gordon C. Stewart, lonely in Chaska, Minnesota, May 30, 2015.

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Texas Flood, Ted Cruz, and Zombie games

The other night a professional baseball game was played during a torrential downpour at Target Field in Minnesota. Meanwhile down in Texas, historic level floods were rising.

Senator Ted Cruz, the climate change denier who opposed the bill providing disaster relief to the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy in 2013, was shouting for urgent federal assistance above and beyond ordinary disaster relief.

Back in 2013 when the victims of Sandy were in New York and New Jersey, the Senator from Texas opposed the federal government “wasting” tax payers’ money.

“This bill,” he said, “is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington—an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.”

Now that the scene of the disaster has shifted to Texas, he says, “At a time of tragedy, I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.”

“Amen” to that!

But, then again, according to The Daily Beast on May 28,

At the moment, Cruz is playing “Plants vs. Zombies,” a game where users collect sunlight points to feed plants who fight off waves of zombies; “Candy Crush,” the puzzle game where he claims he’s in the 217th level; and “The Creeps!,” a tower defense game.

One can almost hear the voice of Senator Cruz’s predecessor, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D), crying from the grave, wondering how the zombies took over his beloved Texas.

Senator, please join the rest of us in fighting for the plants against the zombie Climate Change denier obstructionists. What’s happened in New York and New Jersey, and what’s happening now in Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma is not a video game. “Let’s play ball!”

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318

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JKF’s Birthday and Champagne

It’s normal for a mother to think her newborn child sets the moon. But few, if any, look at their children and say that one day they’ll be President of the United States.

One is left to wonder how it was 98 years ago today in Brookline, Massachusetts when Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy gave birth to her second-born child, John. Rose and her husband Joe were Irish Catholic in a country whose political class was blue-blood Protestant. No Roman Catholic had ever run for the Presidency by the time Rose gave birth to John.

But some mothers and fathers have a way. Welcoming their children into the world with unconditional love, they also encourage great expectations. Love and excellence are not opposites; they go together like the soil in Champagne, and the coveted grapes the soil produces.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy 98 years ago. They could not have imagined their second-born son would grow up to become the 35th President of the United States of America. But he did.

Few, if any, mothers expect their child to become President of the United States of America. But if unconditional love and great expectations greet a newborn child, almost anything can happen, and, whatever it turns out to be, it will all be good.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2015.

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The Paradox of Pentecost — Presence and Absence

A stranger than strange text for today’s Feast of Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the coming of the Spirit, the Advocate, reads:

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you…” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

It is Jesus in John’s Gospel who speaks these words to his disciples. They scratch their heads, like confused children being dropped off at camp against their will. They already sense the homesickness that will come. The thought of being abandoned brings anguish, the foreboding of oncoming forlornness.

The experience of absence, endemic to the human condition, is essential to faith. The feeling of anguished forlornness builds courage, and faith, of one sort or another, with or without an advocate.

Enter Jean-Paul Sartre’s reflections on anguish and forlornness. Fully conscious without religious crutches, I experience the anguish of my responsibility for myself and others, and the forlornness that realizes that I am alone in my decision-making. The decisions are mine along. No one but I am responsible.

Like the disciples, we want it to be otherwise. Some of us pray as though the feelings were a hoax, the Devil’s trickery or God’s pre-ordaining, as though our course were charted by another decision-maker disbelieved by Sartre. But regardless of our faith or faith denials, the truth is that to be human is to know this sense of anguish and forlornness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian imprisoned and executed by the Third Reich, caught the sense of it in a letter he wrote from a prison cell.

“The only way to be honest is to recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur. And this is just what we do see — before God! So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation visa a vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as [people] who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). God who makes us live in the world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, which is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. Mark 8:17 makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and his suffering.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pp 219-220, McMillan Company, 1953, translated from German by Reginald H. Fuller.]

Bonhoeffer’s writing acknowledges the anguish and forlornness that precede the disappearance of the divine usurper of human freedom and responsibility. In place of the bad-faith God who keeps her children in diapers, there comes the advantage of Christ’s going away — the arrival of the Advocate who brings the unexpected joy of coming of age.

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” [Gospel according to John 16:7].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 24, 2015 – Feast of Pentecost.

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Two Line Verse

Verse – Soul Food

Flowers in soil
Feed the soul

Soul Food Flowers

Soul Food Flowers

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL May 24, 2015.


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The Movement Made the Man (MLK)

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the civil rights movement. As Elizabeth Myer Boulton reminds us, it was the movement that made the man. Without the movement there would have been no “I Have a Dream Speech”.

Elizabeth (Liz) Myer Boulton’s spouse, Matthew Myer Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary, hosted five McCormick Theological Seminary classmates this past week, including Steve Shoemaker and me.

I returned from Indianapolis and found Liz’s powerful sermon. It reminded me of Kay and my month in Saint Augustine.  It was the unsung local heroes who built the movement, paid the price, and drove the buses to the Poor People’s March on Washington. Martin represented them all.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2015.

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Daily Riches: Your Enemy the Savage (Thomas Merton, Martin Niemöller and Richard Rohr)

Originally posted on Richer By Far:

“It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” Martin Niemöller

Today, if African American protests turn into riots, the offenders are often referred to as “animals.” In the early American West, native Americans were called “savages”, and wartime slurs dehumanized Jews, Germans, and Japanese. Richard Rohr reminds us that we all have a viewpoint, and that each viewpoint is “a view from a point.” Consequently, he says “…we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the full truth.” To love our enemies, as Jesus commands, and to escape our own unconscious biases, we will need such a critique.

“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are…

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Bible a key to murder case

A friend called to tell me about the murder of his friend Earl Olander soon after it happened. Hollis knew the victim, 90 year-old Earl Olander, mercilessly beaten in his Carver County farm house.

Why would anyone would do this [i.e., tie him up, beat him with a shotgun, ransack his farm house, leave him half-dead] to a sweet-spirited old man like Earl?

A new use for the Bible appeared as the lead headline on the front page of this morning’s StarTribune:

“Stolen Bible leads police to suspects in death of 90 year-old Carver County man: After 90 year-old man was beaten to death, his stolen Bible led police to two suspects.” – StarTribune

Though a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, charges have been brought against the two suspects based, in part, on the discovery of the victim’s large European Bible containing two savings bonds a cleaning agent found in a vacated apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

The Bible has many uses. It speaks of grace, of sin, of homicide, of betrayal, brutality, denial, mercy, and more. Now, in the murder of 90 year-old Earl Olander that defies explanation, it serves as the primary piece of evidence in a court of law.

“Before the attackers fled,” says the StarTribune, “they ransacked Olander’s home and stole the Bible, as well as coins, old silverware, and two-dollar bills.

“[A neighbor of Olander] said he found it ‘quite ironic that it was the Bible’ that helped investigators make the arrests. ‘Think about that.'” [Star Tribune story]

“The book to read is not the book that thinks of you, but the one that makes you think.  No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee, author, To Kill a Mockingbird

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

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Verse – Annals of Aging #12

There was an old man with weak prostate,
Who overnight could not stay prostrate
For more than two hours
Without golden showers
In porcelain towers. His poor mate

Could never reach REM sleep all night,
And so every morning they’d fight
Till each took a bedroom
With a private bathroom,
And now everything is all right.

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

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Just In – Classic Motorcycle for Sale

Classic Motorcycle ad

Classic Motorcycle ad

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Memorial Day and the soldier’s helmet

Japanese soldier's helmet

Japanese soldier’s helmet

Memorial Day once honored the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers. They called it “Decoration Day” when they laid wreathes and flowers on the graves of the dead soldiers.

When I learned this in elementary school, it struck me as more than a little strange. My father had served as a Chaplain on Saipan. My father was a good guy. The people he went to war against were not. How strange to honor soldiers who fought against each other, “heroes” all, killing each other, especially when one side was good and the other was evil. And then, on top of that it seemed to pay homage to something we were also taught to scorn: war itself. It was more than a little confusing.

Many years later, it’s a Monday morning. I’m a pastor. (The person in this story is since deceased.)

A 70-something year old ex-Marine calls the church office. He’s a big ma, what tough guy call “a man’s man,” a World War II Marine, 6’2”. 250 lbs, part of the invasion of Saipan in the South Pacific when he was 17.

“My wife’s out of town. Can you come over tonight for a drink?”

I’ve never been to their home. I’m guessing he wants to talk about his marriage.

He takes my coat. We sit down. He pours us each a Scotch.

“You know, your first couple of years here I didn’t come to church much. I didn’t like your preaching. I’m not one of these peace guys. But something made me keep coming back. I started to listen and I kept coming, and all this peace stuff and Jesus stuff started to get to me. It’s been a long time now. That’s why I called you. I hate the Japs! I know I’m not supposed to call ‘em ‘Japs’. I hate them! But I can’t hate them anymore.”

He gets up and walks over to the mantel above the huge stone fireplace.

“My wife has no idea what’s in this box. I’ve never told her. I can’t tell her. I don’t want it anymore. I’m asking you to take it. I can’t live with it anymore.”

He takes the box from the mantel, places it on the ottoman in front of me, and opens the locked box with a key. He is shaking now and crying.

“This poor bastard! I killed this [expletive] with my bear hands!”

His whole body shakes as, one by one, he removes the contents from the box –

a soldier’s helmet;
a lock of hair;
two eye teeth;
dog tags, and
a gun –

that had belonged to the Japanese soldier he killed in hand-to-hand combat on Saipan.

“All these years of hate. And this poor bastard was just doing the same thing I was. He was just doing his duty to his country. How will God ever forgive me? I just want this stuff out of my house. I want it out of my life! How will God ever forgive me? I can’t hate any more. I can’t.”

We stand in the middle of his living room. I hold him like a baby: a grown man – a “man’s man” – sobbing and shaking with guilt, sorrow, and grief.

I take the box and the contents home. I give the gun to a friend who’s a gun collector. I have no memory of what I did with the box or the artifacts of what remained of the Japanese soldier. Memory is like that. It was too personal. It was too hot.


So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

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Verse – Planes are not…

Steve in torture chamber

Steve in torture chamber

Planes are not made for Giants

The headrest’s too short, if you please,
The seat-width is always a squeeze,
But more than my weight,
My six feet and eight,
Means there’s never a space for my knees.

One plane had a restroom so small,
I could not use it at all,
The ceiling was low,
And to sit was a show,
For my legs were clear out in the hall.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 20, 2015

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