If the Answer is “Yes.”


Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago Pastor Emeritus John Buchanan stood with other worshipers to applaud Shannon Kershner’s sermon calling for people to stand with the widow in this election year. The sermon “The Persistent God” was posted here yesterday.

Hold to the Good

I have resisted the temptation to weigh in more than I already have on the Donald Trump phenomenon because we are saturated. Television news and the newspapers can’t keep their eyes off of him and I confess that I watch the 7:00 a.m. news because I don’t want to miss the latest outlandish thing he has said or done. I am changing my mind about writing because I heard a superb sermon yesterday by the Rev. Shannon J. Kershner, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Shannon skillfully inverted the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and unresponsive judge who finally gives the widow the justice she is pleading for simply to make her stop asking and go away. Shannon said that maybe God is not the judge here. We are the judge. God is speaking through the widow, persistently urging and pleading to us for justice…

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A Standing Applause Sermon


fourth_presbyterianWorshipers at Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago rose to their feet with sustained applause in response to the line in this sermon we have bolded in red. Scroll down for the line.


Shannon J. Kirshner, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church
Psalm 121
Luke 18:1–8

Maybe prayer isn’t the way in which we manipulate God but is simply the posture in which we finally become worn down by God’s persistence—God’s persistence in loving us. God’s persistence in forgiving and being known. And God’s persistence in being faithful and always, always, always bringing life out of death.
Nadia Bolz-Weber

In some ways, this should have been the easiest sermon I have written in a while. Luke tells us right off the bat what this parable is supposed to be about. While introducing Jesus’ telling of it, Luke states outright in verse 1 it is a parable about the need for persistent prayer and the call to not lose heart. Thus that interpretation should direct the way we hear the parable, right? Maybe.

Let’s meet the characters in the parable. First, we have a judge. As a friend of mine said, “We know about judges in Israel. We know their role was to maintain a reasonable harmony in the community and to adjudicate disputes fairly and impartially. [Furthermore], it is particularly worth remembering that Jewish law, the Torah, described a particular responsibility for such judges when it came to protecting the rights of the poor—of widows and orphans and refugees” (Bob Dunham, http://www.day1.org, 21 October 2007). So that is our judge. Our first character.

Then we have the widow. Now immediately when Jesus introduces us to the widow, the drama intensifies, because, as we just heard, a faithful judge would know of his duty to pay particular attention to people like that widow. Yet herein lies the dilemma: when Jesus introduced us to the judge, he also gave us insight into his character. The judge, according to the parable, was not faithful. He had no reverence for God (what the Bible calls fear of the Lord) or for anyone else.

Frankly, the judge did not seem all that interested in being an actual judge to begin with. He did not seem to really care about even the conceptual idea of justice. He certainly had no concept of compassion. We make those assumptions because of his actions. The judge was not moved one bit by the widow’s pleading of her case. “Grant me justice,” she said every single time she went before him. Yet no was always his answer. No. No. No. No. No.

Amazingly enough, though, that widow was never deterred by his denial. I guess she felt that as a widow she literally had nothing to lose by going to the court every single day and demanding to be heard. Whatever it was, something gave that widow a stubborn determination. She also must have sensed that she was getting to him. So she continued to go to his courtroom again and again and again and again. While Jesus does not tell us how many times she walked up to that judge and demanded he act with compassion and grant her justice, we do know her persistence, her dogged determination, her sheer unwillingness to give up or to give into his “no” or “not yet” grated on the judge’s nerves.
We know this because Jesus lets us overhear the judge’s internal thoughts. “Look, I could care less about God, and I sure don’t care about anyone else, but this widow is standing on my very last nerve, so fine. I will give her what she wants so that she will finally leave me alone.” And all is well that ends well, because the widow gets the justice she demanded, even if compassion was nowhere to be found and it took much longer than it should have.

For a parable, a type of story typically meant to provoke and disturb, it is strangely rather cut-and-dried. Just imagine, Jesus seems to conclude, if this horrible unfaithful judge will finally grant justice for the widow, think of how much more a good and gracious God will compassionately respond to the cries of the vulnerable, the outcast, and the oppressed.
All you have to do, the parable seems to say, is bug God day and night. Keep at it. Don’t stop. Your prayers will eventually be heeded, sooner or later. But regardless of God’s timing, summon the stubborn persistence of the widow. And don’t lose heart while you are doing it. Cut-and-dried. The end? I hope not.

Let’s be honest. You know and I know that many of the vulnerable, the outcast, and the oppressed have been praying ceaselessly for the coming of God’s justice and compassion to transform the hearts, the institutions, and the structures of our world, and yet here we are. The wolf does not live with the lamb. Nation continues to lift up sword against nation. Justice does not roll down like waters. Righteousness is not yet like an ever-flowing stream.

No, for generations God’s people, people like us, have been lifting our voices to God in fervent prayer, pleading with God to end the violence, to end the wars, to bring about equity for all people, healing for creation. But day after day we learn of another shooting or another bombing or another eviction or another hungry child or another woman assaulted or another man without meaningful employment. Thus if the sole point of this parable is only to encourage our persistence with God, then frankly I don’t know how much use I have for it.

I’ve sat by too many bedsides and heard too many stories from people who have diligently gone to God in persistent, stubborn prayer and yet their prayers for justice and for compassion were not answered in the ways they had hoped. So regardless of how Luke introduces the parable, I cannot get comfortable with the conclusion that the only thing Jesus wanted us to hear is the message that all those people must not have been persistent enough or things would have turned out differently. That kind of vending-machine God is not the God to whom I have given my heart. That is certainly not the God I see in Jesus.
So since parables are always meant to be disruptive and provoking, is there another way this parable might work on us, in us? If we do not assume we are in the place of the widow and that the judge is the example of what God is not, then what else might we hear? Actually, what happens if we switch roles? What happens if we sit in the seat of the unjust judge and God takes on the persistent cries of the widow? Now you might not like that seat assignment, and you might argue you have nothing in common with that unfaithful, unjust, disrespectful judge, but let’s stay there for now and listen.

What’s the first thing we hear? We hear that widow’s cry, God’s cry, for justice, for compassion. “I am coming to you on behalf of the vulnerable, the outcast, the oppressed,” God says to the church through her voice. “And trust me,” she says, “I am not going to leave you alone until you listen to me, until you act in response to what you hear, until you, as disciples and as an institutional structure, repent of all the myriad of ways you continue to ignore all these cries or dismiss them. I am demanding justice on their behalf. I am demanding that you respond with compassion,” God calls out to the church through the voice of the widow. “Yes, I am going to keep coming to you, church,” God stubbornly says, “again and again and again, no matter how many times your collective words, your collective actions or inactions tell me ‘no’ or ‘not yet.’ Like the widow, you cannot get rid of me. I will persistently wear you down with my grace,” God claims.

As we sit in the seat of that judge, this parable reveals that no matter how many times we, like that judge, try to move on with our own lives, take care of our own people, or simply keep our own heads above water, our persistent, stubbornly determined God will keep coming to us. And our persistent, stubbornly determined God will keep challenging us to let the priorities of God’s compassion and justice reorder the priorities of our lives (Alan Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX, p. 339), of our life. Hear that again: God desires for the priorities of God’s compassion and justice to reorder the priorities of our lives, of our life. That reordering was the widow’s challenge for the judge in the parable. That reordering is God’s challenge for the church today, for you and for me.

So we have a decision to make: how long will we ignore God’s persistent prodding of us to respond to the cries we hear for justice and compassion—justice and compassion not just for the people we understand or look like or love but particularly justice and compassion for those who are the vulnerable, the outcast, and the oppressed in our day? Because like that widow, God is not going to stop demanding that we hear those cries and that we respond to what we hear. God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to let us stay just as we are. So God will keep pressing us. Like that widow and the judge, God will not give up on us.

In light of that, I must ask you a question. Today, in your life, as you sit on that judge’s seat, what do you think God is persistently calling you to do, to be, to say as a disciple? What call for justice and compassion in our world and in this time is God asking for you to hear and to heed, asking for you to help in enacting? What will God not leave you alone about, no matter how many times you try to brush God off?

As you ponder that, I will tell you mine. Though it has always been a part of my call as a female clergyperson, I believe God is once again bothering me, persuading me, demanding that I, as your pastor, speak up and out in this holy space against the myriad of unjust ways women and girls are actively being demeaned in both daily acts and in our national conversation. As a person who, no matter what the world tries to tell me, is created in God’s image just as much as any man, as a mother of a daughter who, no matter what the world tries to tell her, is created in God’s image just as much as any boy, and after this past week in our world that we have all collectively endured, I can no longer stay silent.

I cannot go along to get along or let my fear of upsetting some of you keep me from testifying—testifying against the daily dismissals and denials of the myriad of ways in which women and those who identify as female regularly encounter aggression against our bodies and against our souls. It starts young, and it does not stop. I believe God is persistently asking me, persuading me, to not just let this one go unchecked anymore. Too much is at stake for me to remain silent, for the church to remain silent.

Did you know that after that tape of the bus conversation with the candidate and the reporter aired, phone calls to the country’s biggest sexual assault hotline jumped 33 percent over just one weekend, last weekend (NPR’s Morning Edition, 14 October 2016)? The executive director of that hotline said they have had to bring in additional staff and ask their other staff to stay for longer hours. Too many people are calling in distress over memories unearthed or with experiences of verbal and physical sexual assault finally being articulated.

Furthermore, the Friday before the second presidential debate took place, writer Kelly Oxford wrote on Twitter about her first experience of sexual assault and asked other women to share their stories in response. Within one evening, she had received one million responses. One million responses. I know from personal experience that we are not making this up. It is not about locker-room banter or letting boys be boys. It is about a demeaning and a dismissing of our full God-created, God-given humanity and a passive acceptance of our female bodies as public property. Why else would we have so many purple ribbons outside during this Awareness of Domestic Violence month?

As men and women of faith, siblings in Christ, we all must take this unjust and unfaithful cultural attitude seriously and do what we can to dismantle the idol of maleness as reigning supreme. As Christians, we must speak up when something demeaning is said; carefully consider the ways we speak of God in order to make sure our words are as inclusive and as expansive as our Creator; stop ignoring or denying the stories of pain that so many women carry over past experiences; and do whatever we can inside the church and outside of it to make sure that all of our children, regardless of gender identity, know they are deeply valued and loved.

Because I believe God, like that widow, is going to keep coming to us as church, as followers of Jesus Christ, again and again and again and again in order to keep asking us why we are not speaking up or acting out in ways that embody God’s compassion and value God’s call for justice and equity. God is not going to just leave us alone about it. It is not who we are, and the toxicity of that idolatry is damaging our country, and it is damaging our souls. My daughter gave me permission to tell you that what she has been hearing scares her. So this is my conviction as to where I feel called to act and to lead in response to our persistent God. What about you?

As you move into this week, take that question with you. Open your heart to hear what God is bothering you about these days. How is God persistently challenging you to allow God’s compassion to reorder the priorities of your life, so you might resist the temptation to be only an unjust judge and instead you might act in response to God’s call articulated though the widow’s voice for compassion and justice? Because God will not stop continually coming and doggedly calling and persistently persuading until those cries, God’s cries, are answered. Thank God. Amen.

NOTE from Views from the Edge: Fourth Presbyterian Church-Chicago is one of America’s historic pulpit churches. Shannon succeeded John Buchanan and Elam Davies. Elam Davies and John Fry (see yesterday’s “Chicken Sh*t Sermons and Polite Company”) co-taught preaching for the Class of ’64 at McCormick Theological Seminary. Shannon boldly continues the Presbyterian-Reformed Tradition’s emphasis on preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Chicken Sh*t Sermons and Polite Company


America’s four-year presidential election cycle poses a unique challenge for churches, synagogues, and mosques, and for their priests/ministers, rabbis, and imams.

Retired after years behind the pulpit, I now take my rightful place in the pew. I come to pray, sing the hymns, listen to the Scripture readings, and hope for a word from the pulpit that speaks a powerful Word into the wordy world that has hurt my ears all week.

Like author Annie Dillard, I wear a crash-helmet to worship. I expect something to happen. I expect to be “in an accident” with the Word of God, a word that rattles my bones, awakens me from lethargic acquiescence, and—as it did to Isaiah in the temple in the year that old king Uzziah died,—fills the house with the smoke of divine majesty, shakes the foundations, and elicits Isaiah’s response. “Here am I. Send me. (I have a crash-helmet.) Send me!”

I don’t go to worship to escape. Nor do I go for a partisan rally. I go on Sunday morning for worship—to make what the psalmist called “a joyful noise to the LORD”, my only rock and salvation, and to celebrate the gospel’s transforming assurance and challenge which my own troubled heart and mindI cannot produce for myself. I need the worshiping community. I need public worship that cuts through the partisan babel that saturates America’s anxious public life. Divine worship is a public event.

But religious institutions and their leaders live on the razor’s edge between public engagement and spiritual irrelevance.The tax code’s 501c(3) status recognizes the importance of religious traditions and institutions to the health of the body politic. It also prevents them from endorsing candidates for public office, which poses an interesting dilemma for leaders adherents.

The last two weeks, worship has been down in the church I attend. I’ve wondered why.

Research shows that worship attendance soars on Sundays following national tragedies like 9/11. People need a word to console and strengthen them. In the midst of a national election campaign the likes of which we’ve never seen, one might logically suppose attendance would rise, not fall. Unless . . . .

“Unless what?” I ask myself. Unless a church’s leaders are ignoring the faithful who come into the pews wearing crash-helmets? Or unless, perhaps, the people expect from the pulpit the rancorous echoes of partisan righteousness? Or, perhaps, the worship experience itself is failing to awaken the ears of worshipers to hear the chorus Isaiah heard in the Temple in the year that the political order was at stake: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord! God of power and might. The whole Earth is filled with your glory. Hosanna in the highest!”

I’m old. I still expect something momentous — something I don’t yet expect — to happen during worship.

The Rev. Dr. John Fry, who taught our preaching class at McCormick Theological Seminary, introduced us to crash-helmets long before Annie Dillard put the metaphor in writing. Senior Minister of Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, John would later be summoned before The U.S. Senate Government Operations Committee’s Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, chaired by John L. McClellan (“The McClellan Committee”) because of allegations related to civil disturbances in south Chicago.

John had reached beyond the church walls to develop a relationship of trust with the gang that ruled the streets. It was John’s work that resulted in the Blackstone Rangers surrendering their guns, which were then locked in the church safe awaiting the pending truce among the Rangers, their rival gang, the Disciples, the Chicago Police Department, and the U.S. Treasury Department. When the Chicago Police Department broke terms of the agreement by shooting a disarmed gang member, the street quickly returned to its old established order. The McClellan Committee laid the responsibility, in part, on the doorstep of the Rev. Dr. John Fry and the board of First Presbyterian Church-Chicago.

The first session of our seminary preaching class is etched in our memories. John pulled the chairs into a circle to critique the student sermon we had just heard in the chapel. We commended the preacher re: matters of form, not substance: a fine introduction, good development, and solid conclusion. Then John asked,”You want to know what I think? That was a chicken sh*t sermon. The gospel cuts with a knife! Anyone who does that again in this class will get an ‘F’” We were all like chickens with our heads cut off, but we never forgot the difference between real preaching and :chicken sh*t.

John’s words have rung in our ears for 52 years. Now I sit the listening side of the pulpit, relieved of that onerous responsibility but still waiting for a word that cuts through the crap. Sometimes it comes; sometimes it doesn’t.

When it doesn’t come from the pulpit, it still comes through the Scriptures. Or it comes from a line tucked away in the Eucharistic Prayer (the prayer that precedes the Sacrament of Holy Communion), as it did yesterday:

“At the meal tables of the wealthy where he (Christ) pled the cause of the poor, he was always the guest. Unsettling polite company, befriending isolated people, welcoming the stranger, he was always the guest.”

That little line, along with the communion itself , spoke a clear word to a distressed heart and mind.. The polite company was disturbed by Christ the guest, and the service ended with a Dismissal that seemed to place Isaiah’s age-old response to God’s glory— “Here am I.Send me!” on the worshipers’ lips anew during a presidential campaign that is anything but holy:

“Take us out into the world to live as changed people because we have shared the Living Bread and cannot remain the same. Ask much of us. expect much from us, enable much by us, encourage many through us. May we dedicate our lives to your glory.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2016.

Steve Shoemaker “Last” verse


“The Man Who Loved the Graves”

– Steve Shoemaker, April 24, 2012

When I was just a young and naive pastor,

an old man in the congregation

would always arrive long before the rest

of the people at the grave site. He’d shun

the funeral, but haunt the cemetery…

Standing by the open grave, he’d state

his opinion of the deceased and share

with me the type, style and brand of casket

he’d told his wife he wanted when he died.

As the morticians say, he “predeceased”

his spouse, and when we met to plan, she tried

to grant his wishes to the very last

She blessed their common gravestone with her tears,

but smiled through life for many happy years…

NOTE: Steve predeceased Nadja, the love of his life all the way back to high school.

Tonight at 7:00 p.m. CST, Nadja and a host of Shoemaker relatives and friends will gather at First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois for Steve’s memorial service followed by a dessert potluck to smile “for many happy years.”

Blessed are the dead who die in the LORD, for they rest from their labors, and their works follow them: A Sin a Week: Fifty-two Sins Are Described Here in Loving Detail for Folks With the Inclination and Ability to Do Wrong, but Who Have Run Out of Bad Ideas  Order a copy in honor of Steve and for some good ideas!

-Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 15, 2016




“Global conspiracy” – Psychology 101


What psychological vocabulary best describes the belief that one is the target of a global conspiracy?

“Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me!”

P a _ _ _ _ _ _ i d?

N a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ i c?

D e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ a l?

S o _ _ _ _ _ _ i c?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 14, 2016

Steve Shoemaker and his hearse


Searching through the archives following Steve’s death last Monday, his verse “Kissing in a Hearse”- originally posted July 1, 2016 – cried out for republication. Knowing of his eventual demise with pancreatic cancer, his humor was always bigger than a hearse, a continuing gift to his family, friends, and readers.

Verse – Kissing in a Hearse

1947 Pontiac hearse

Steve’s Hearse

Only college seniors were allowed
cars on campus in those ancient days.
Four guys, Juniors, searched car lots and found
just the thing, a ’47 hearse,
Pontiac, straight 8, just fifty bucks
each. A Senior said he’d claim the beast
legally was his. Quadruple dates
were the thing: one couple in the seat,
driving, six would lounge on pillows where
caskets usually rode. Of course, at times
two young people would kiss, death be damned.

Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 1, 2016

  • Reposted October 13, 2016 in thanksgiving for Steven Robert Shoemaker (December 19, 1942 – October 10, 2016).

Steve Shoemaker at Peace


With deep sadness but with great thanksgiving for his life and friendship, we share Steve’s CaringBridge post for readers of Views from the Edge:

Daddy died last night on October 10th, the anniversary of his own father’s death.

He is survived by his wonderful wife of 51 years, Nadja, two marvelous children, Daniel and Marla (as well as their spouses, Rachael and Craig), and two fabulous grandchildren, Carter and Grace.

Born and raised in Urbana, he played trombone and basketball at Urbana High School, while also wooing his future wife, Nadja. He then attended Wheaton college, where he participated in pranks, such as padlocking the chapel doors before a service. After becoming more serious about his studies (and receiving an ultimatum from his wife), he received a Master of Divinity Degree and Master of Sacred Theology Degree in 1969 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In a further pursuit of education, he then earned a PhD in Religion from Duke University in 1979.

Steve Shoemaker served as pastor at Pittsboro and Mount Vernon Springs Presbyterian churches in Pittsboro, NC, as well as campus pastor at North Carolina State University and McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign. He finished his career as Director of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois. For many years, Steve also taught one course a semester in Religious Studies at either Parkland College or The University of Illinois.

Devoted to his community, Steve served as Chair of the Committee for the Homeless, Co-Chair of the Men’s Emergency Shelter Steering Committee, member of the Dr. Martin Luther King Committee, member of the Muslim Committee, and served on the Champaign County Board, the United Way Board, and the local ACLU Board. He was also an active Urbana Rotary Club member since 1982 and acted as president in 2013.

With a passion for writing, particularly poetry, Steve was nominated for Illinois Poet Laureate in 2003 and has been published in a plethora of journals ranging from Christian Ministry to Judaism. After his cancer diagnosis, he published his first book titled “A Sin A Week.” He has also received thousands of Likes for poems posted through social media. In addition to the printed word, Steve reached out to the community through his weekly radio program, Keepin’ The Faith on WILL AM 580, which provided interviews and discussions highlighting relevant social topics.

Steve donated his rich bass voice to various choirs and was a member of the Real Fire band. He also donated his time to be an integral part in the lives of others as he joined couples in marriage, performed funerals, and provided counseling and support (while never accepting payment).

However, to this writer, Steven Robert Shoemaker’s greatest accomplishment was his role within his family. In over 50 years of blissful marriage, he modeled how to sincerely love and respect another. He gave corsages, coached soccer, and cooked Cheese Surprise. He took his children out of school to see baseball games and go to museums. And although his children did not always recognize it in the moment (as they were dragged to organ concerts or tours of Frank Lloyd Wright houses), Steve Shoemaker demonstrated how to embrace life (Fly kites! Eat dessert first!) and how to make the world a better place.

Despite a host of shortcomings, including but not limited to leaving used toothpicks around the house and eating other people’s chocolate bars, Steve was an accomplished author, compassionate pastor, devoted leader, and loving husband and father. He is greatly missed.

Memorial gifts may be made to the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL 61801.

Services will be arranged and announced as soon as possible.

There is a deep stillness in the Stewart household this morning. Even when I know death is coming, it still stops me in my tracks. The world is a smaller today.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2016

When caught with a hand in the cookie jar


How will Donald Trump present himself in tomorrow night’s presidential town hall meeting?

A) Attempt to compare himself favorably with Bill Clinton, alleging worse comments to Hillary’s husband on the golf course?  It’s just what guys do when guys are alone, and Bill’s more lewd than I am.

B) Allege, as he has already, that Hillary has had a relationship/relationships outside of marriage? “Hillary is no angel!”

C) Apologize in the manner of the evangelical advisor, declaring that the event in 2005 was before he had a spiritual awakening, and that the issue now is forgiveness for a past indiscretion?

D) Make eyes for Moderator Martha Raddatz . . .  or Anderson Cooper?

E) Come out as a recovering sex addict?

F) None or some of the above? “None of the personal stuff matters. It’s about Making America Great Again! It’s about restoring America’s right to grope the world again. It’s about winning again. All the complainers and accusers are losers! They’re all pussies!”

The question now is not how big are his hands, but how big is his base?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318



Leaves are falling. The sap is finished running. Flowers fade — red,  green, yellow, purple falling into brittle brown.

Each season reflects the eternal motion of the seasons we sense within ourselves. Over a lifetime we move from the temporary wrinkles of the newborn babe to the well-worn lines and wrinkles of aging. We love to look at babies; old folks not so much.

In 1857 Adalbert Stifter pondered this in Der Nachsommer (The Post-Summer) published in English under the title Indian Summer:

“Great beauty and youth capture our attention, excite a deep pleasure; however, why shouldn’t our souls gaze at a countenance over which the years have passed? Isn’t there a story there, one unknown, full of pain or beauty, which pours its reflection into the features, a story we can read with some compassion or at least get a slight hint of its meaning? The young point toward the future; the old tell of a past.”

Fall is the favorite time for many of us. At my age, I no longer wonder why.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318

Time is what we have


“What is time?” asked the 11 year-old son of his father.  Finally, the father, who was supposed to know about such things, offered the briefest of answers. “Time is what we have.”

The answer  begged for more explanation, but it spoke out loud the frailty and wonder of the human condition. What is time? It’s what we have but, like everything else mortals have, or think we have, time runs out. Time is like the sand in the hour-glass. It sifts slowly through the funnel from top to bottom until there is nothing left. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The relation of time to eternity is the relation between mortality and immortality. Our hour-glass contains eternity but it does not define it or confine it. We experience eternity in the now of time as we look at the heavens on a starry night, feel a gentle breeze or the rush of a mighty wind, or watch the shorelines of human construction eroding, pushing back the illusion of ownership and control of nature and of time.

My poet friend and Views from the Edge colleague Steve Shoemaker is coming to the end of his time. After many decisions that prolonged his life far beyond the original prognosis, he opted last Saturday to give way to time. Steve chose to spend whatever days are left at home at Prairie Haven on the plains of Illinois.

The news came less than a week after five old friends who call ourselves the Dogs traveled from Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota to gather one last time with Steve at Steve’s room in the care center. We barked and growled watching the first presidential debate. We laughed. We sang some hymns. We prayed with and for Steve, Nadja, and their children, Daniel and Marla. We prayed for ourselves. The time was right.

When news arrived only days later that Steve had opted to end further medical treatment to go home, the conversation with my 11 year-old son years ago and Steve’s verse “When to Stop Praying” (April 2, 2016) came quickly to mind. The prayer now is for an end of striving. An end of pain. “Pray for my peace, not my life.” The end of time.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 5, 2016.





A gentle pastor faces death


Next Monday five old friends will visit Steve Shoemaker at the rehab center in Champaign-Urbana. Steve’s humor remains in top form despite the cancer that has limited his mobility and chunk the weight of his 6’8″ frame from 240 to 187 pounds.

Thinking about Monday’s visit, originally planned around the first presidential debate, I recalled a story about Steve jumping into a swimming pool dressed in a tuxedo after a wedding. It was locked in the Views from the Edge “draft” folder because we couldn’t convert the original piece from tpyepad to this platform. Today, in honor of Steve, we “converted it” for posting. The words belong to Bill Tammaeus, former columnist at the Kansas City Star.

The first time I boarded an airplane after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was to fly to Champaign-Urbana, Ill., at the invitation of the Rev. Steve Shoemaker to speak to a YMCA gathering at the University of Illinois.

I knew I needed not to avoid planes after experiencing the death of my nephew Karleton, a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, and Steve’s invitation to speak made it necessary to get back on one.

I’ve been thinking about Steve a lot recently after learning that he has developed pancreatic cancer, which is expected to kill him within a few months. I follow his almost daily thoughts about that now on the CaringBridge.org website. Which is where I learned that the newspaper for Champaign-Urbana, The News-Gazette, just published this terrific story about Steve. [Aside: VFTE republished the News-Gazette story]

You can get a good sense of the kind of sweet, thoughtful man he is, a man whose Christian faith issues in much concern for life’s downtrodden people.

Steve first got connected to my family through my North Carolina sister, Barbara, and her husband, Jim, who are my late nephew’s parents. They became friends with Steve and his wife Nadja when they were neighbors in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Later Steve performed the wedding ceremony for some of Barb and Jim’s children, including Karleton.

I still laugh at the memory of Steve and Jim — fully dressed in tuxedos — diving into a swimming pool in joy at the wedding reception when Barb’s and Jim’s daughter Tiffany was married. It helps to know that Steve stands about 6-foot-8 and made quite a splash.

From that News-Gazette story, here’s a taste of Steve’s theology: “God has his eyes on the sparrow and not the eagle, on the people who are hurting. That’s the God that makes sense to me.”

God’s eye is on the sparrow.


  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 9, 2016

When Things Go Bump in the Night


Children feel safer when a parent reads them a story and tucks them into bed. The things that go bump in the night are not quite so scary. Mommy or Daddy says not to worry. They’re right there to make sure everything will be alright.

In some ways we are children till the day we die. We feel anxious about our security. Fear still grips us when the sirens blare in the night.

Sometimes children are exposed all day long to the threats to their well-being. They need a parent’s or grandparent’s reassurance. They need the security of knowing that Mommy or Daddy is stronger than whatever might go bump in the night.

As we grow older we learn the difference between real and false reassurance. We know that there is no one to tuck us into bed anymore. But nostalgia for fairy tales and for the parent who will make us safe lingers on. And the candidate who both scares us during the day with stories of the boogieman and tucks us into bed with a fairy tale about himself as the hero gathers the children to himself.

The nightmare is just a few winks away.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 22, 2016



What every New Yorker knows about Donald Trump


For a good dose of both truth and humor, click What every New Yorker knows, a Washington Post piece about the presidential candidate whose name we ruefully deign to mention.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 22, 2016.

Which song for today?


Steve Shoemaker is hospitalized in Illinois.  CaringBridge and FaceBook, which have kept us up-to-date on his journey with terminal cancer, have been silent since Thursday. Steve’s last post on FB read “another set-back, fall-back, back-slide,” posted with a photo of his book “A Sin for Each Kind of Day.”

Waiting for news, Steve’s verse “A Song for Each Kind of Day” (posted on Views from the Edge on On April 12, 2012) came to memory.

One Hebrew word for “god” was “jah.”

(It was a time of many words

for god–and many gods.) To say

“hallel” was for all to sing praise,

so HALLELUJAH meant “Praise God!”

(or “Thanks to you, oh God!”– for some

words could be truly translated

more than one way.

And so, a Psalm, or Song, that offered thanks or praise

might well be paired with a lament:

a cry of pain from one who prays

for help, relief, from gods who sent

disaster. (But, of course, some Psalms

wisely acknowledged that some wrongs

were caused by those who sang the songs!)

There is a Psalm for each one of our days…

[Steve Shoemaker, April 12, 2012]

Today Kay and I are far away in Minnesota, but our hearts are in Illinois. Your prayers are invited. Just close your eyes. Sit quietly. Speak the name “Steve”. . . .[be still]. . . . Then “Nadja” . . . .[be still] . . . . Then “Shoemaker family”. . .  [be still] . . . .Then “Jah”. . . and leave the rest there.

There is a psalm for each kind of day. Today, it’s Psalm 46.

— Gordon















Edward Albee


Edward Albee, whose death was reported tonight by the NYT and The Washington Post, was my favorite playwright.

A line from “The Zoo Story” became one of the few texts committed to a memory not given to memorization:

“Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.”

Albee’s line begged for sustained reflection. It described my life experience.

Life is not a straight line. It’s jagged. Sometimes it doubles back on itself. It coils and uncoils, breaks, and appears again from nowhere. We don’t go a short distance “correctly.” and those who have gone a short distance “correctly” (playing by the rules of social convention), often wonder whether they have been anywhere at all.

The NYT and Washington Post articles are worth the read. Edward Albee was not straight, but he understood that the deeper human issues transcend sexuality. They are intrinsic to the human condition.

Receiving today’s news of his death at home in Montauk, Long Island, I bow with thanksgiving for the gift.


  • Gordon C. Stewart



Love – Lisa Larges’s statement of faith


After years of struggle, Lisa Larges will be ordained and installed October 10 at Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. Here Statement of Faith is unusually creative and spot on. Last Tuesday, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area approved her call to ordination with standing applause. Here’s Lisa’s statement of faith:


And from love grace.

And through grace we claim what is beyond us to know:

That the source of all that is, is for us.

And that this source, expressed love, is sovereign over

all of life and death, all that is, has been, and is yet

to be.

And because love is not in itself alone, therefore love


In love, through love, by love, we were created.

Created together with the whole world.

And not world, worlds.

So that star and worm, soil and sea, rock
and leopard – life known to us and life unknown was

claimed by the Holy and called by the Holy,


And still there is this in us:

Something that fights life.

Something broken, even yes, violent.

Call it sin.

Sin in me, in this world.

In this world, but also in me.

So that love, and by love grace Must come in to this


Must be here in the midst of us.

Abiding in this broken, wrecked world, to bring life,

restoration, wholeness.

So call this love, this grace, God.

And this breaking in to the world, call Christ.

Christ in a person who was Jesus.

And this Jesus among us, healing, teaching, confronting,


In everything, one of us. In everything, holy.

And then, death came.

Because death comes.

Christ. The resurrection of Jesus.

And, that restoration, that wholeness, that life, call it


And we now, seeking in the Way,

We have the gift of one another.

Call that gift church – “God’s provisional demonstration”

For he was love in a time of terror.

And love is always a threat to usurped power.

So by injustice, fear, and force, he was put to death.

Death came.
– – – – –

Then life came.

Then life came.

Then, life came.

Life the last word.

Life, the Word.

Life for us, for freedom, for love.

Life that is resurrection, the resurrection of the

of the holy intention for all living things.

And we learn with and through one another forgiveness

and reconciliation, repentance, and beginning again.

And this love in us, this capacity to turn to one another,

to learn and forgive, is grace at work in us – and

that work is the mystery we call the Holy Spirit.

And together we enact the eternal promise of welcome

and belonging, of community and service, and

enactment we call sacrament: Baptism and

Communion, by which community is made with

and through us.

So that by this love, and through this grace, and in the

gift of the spirit and by the tending of community and

the call to lay our hearts down in service, we may be

love for this world.

This world that God so loved.


Thee years before the decision, Lisa wrote a long description of her personal journey as a very public focus of church debate and discussion. An excerpt is republished here:

My friend and mentor Janie Spahr has counseled many LGBT folks like me struggling with the questions of whether to stay in the church, whether to pursue a call in our church, or come out to their congregation. The question she will ask is, “Are you willing to be curriculum for the church?”

All of the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of this long judicial process have been part of what it means to be curriculum for the church. We have to learn together, and we don’t seem to learn well in the abstract. And I can’t say that it’s been anything but a privilege to do this work. At the same time, even as I understand in a deep way that the whole of this journey, and the good work of being “curriculum” has been a part of my sense of calling, this judicial process has also been personally painful. The many delays, and the waiting, have exacted a cost. There’s a kind of spiritual pain here that I’m still figuring out. Suffice it to say that our judicial process, as necessary as it may be, is hard on everyone, from the commissioners to the legal counsels on both sides, to the individuals whose lives are directly affected.

But we believe in a God who is the redeemer of time, and we strive for that equanimity of thanksgiving that Paul speaks of and practiced in his own life. “Gratitude in good times,” Calvin said, “patience in adversity, and [most of all] a wonderful security respecting the future.”





Coming up for air


Hello there!

It’s been forever since we posted something of our own here. For very different reasons.

Steve is still with us but only writing on CaringBridge and FaceBook to keep friends up-to-date about his daily life with pancreatic cancer. A group of seminary friends will swoop in on the Shoemakers’ from Texas, Colorado, northern Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota to groan and moan together at the September 26 presidential debate.

Gordon is still with us, too, but has been under water preparing Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness for publication by Wipf and Stock Publishers (Eugene, OR). Steve’s poetry is featured in the book as well as Gordon’s essays on religion, culture, and the  news. He hit the “send” button Sunday evening for final submission.

At this moment, Steve is in the hospital, which is both a concern and a hope. He was admitted because he needed immediate medical attention the required surgery. But Steve has joined Jimmy Carter as a beneficiary of the cancer protocol credited with saving Jimmy’s life. Last night he wrote on Caring Bridge:

Family, friends, neighbors, church, Synagogue, mosque,
Club members–what would sick folks do without you?
New friends from nurses, Doctors, aides, who move in with skills, caring, short-term help help, help!
How to say thanks?  $ helps a little.  But who are the poorest of helpers?  Some of the poorest cannot even receive tips, gifts, or gratuities…
Mutual kindness…charity…love…

Hours before Steve’s latest CaringBridge post, the “statement of faith” by Lisa Larges arrived in Gordon’s in-box.

Why mention Lisa, a complete stranger to most Views readers?

The Presbyterian Church (USA), Steve and my church, denied ordination to Lisa Larges many years ago because of sexual orientation. Some changes take a very long time. Lisa’s statement on love itself illustrates love’s forbearance. It speaks of love, as does Steve’s CaringBridge post, and it’s all the more telling because of who said it.

Love wins.

Not indifference. Not fear.

Love wins.

Lisa’s statement will be posted next on Views from the Edge.

Author Madness


Had I known it was this complicated, I might have thought twice about publishing a book. Yikes! I like to write. Securing copyright permissions, adhering to the publisher’s requirements for final manuscript submission, converting from Apple’s Pages to Microsoft Word, and completing the marketing survey are much more complicated than auth0r vanity imagined.

Be careful what you ask for. (You might inadvertently end a sentence with a preposition.)

September 10 is the date for final submission of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness,” in the once vain hope of making the NYT Best Sellers list. The author’s life is way too complicated!

The Daily Post’s invitation to write something on the word “complicated” is responsible for this waste of your time.

  • Gordon, Chaska, MN, August 14, 2016.








The first best thing…


We’ve been silent recently on Views from the Edge. The world doesn’t need one more blah-blah-blah pundit.

But when a candidate (we won’t use the name because the media are flooded with it, to his advantage) tells a crowd there would be “nothing you could do” to stop his opponent from stacking the Supreme Court with anti-gun justices, and follows with “although, the Second Amendment people,  maybe there is, I don’t know,” a memory seems worth sharing.

During a 2013 public dialogue (First Tuesday Dialogues in Chaska, MN) to discuss the Second Amendment in light of gun violence in America, a participant proudly cited a Facebook posting that “the second best thing that could happen to Obama would be for him to be impeached.”

The speaker continues, “And we all know what the first best thing would be….”

What was said the other day in North Carolina is not new. Mr. ____ blamed the media for the widespread criticism of his remark. “Give me a break!” he said.

Insinuations of assassinations never deserve a break. It didn’t deserve a break in 2013. t does not deserve a break in  2016. It’s not a joke. It’s not funny!

Enough said. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 11, 2016.




An Evening of Sin


Steve recently published A Sin a Week: Fifty-two Sins Are Described Here in Loving Detail for Folks With the Inclination and Ability to Do Wrong, but Who Have Run Out of Bad Ideas. You can hear Steve’s renditions in an audio book available on Amazon.

This morning he posted this invitation on his CaringBridge page:

A Sin a Week: 52 sins described in loving detail…

Remember my book reading tonight, Thursday, August 11, 7-8 pm @ the Philo Presbyterian Church, 105 E. Jefferson, Philo, IL.

Crackers, cheese, coffee & wine with words about sin. A whole evening with sin.
Free & open to the public. Free parking.

Bring your copy to follow along & see the illustrations. The bookless can use loaners–or just listen happily….

NOTE from Gordon: Steve’s poetry and reflections on life, death, and dying are featured on Views from the Edge. Just enter his name in the search box and he’ll pop up!


The Answer to “Who said it?”


All the quotations in “Who said it?” (yesterday’s post) are from Adolf Hitler. According to Ivana Trump, Donald Trump’s first wife, Trump kept a collection of Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bedside.

The quotes we cited in “Who said it?” also could have come from the likes of Italian strong man Benito Mussolini:

  • “I want to make my own life a masterpiece.”
  • “I don’t like the look of him.” (referring to his ally, Hitler)
  • “Better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
  • “We do not argue with those who disagree with us, we destroy them.”

Or the quotes could have come from Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and second in command in the German Third Reich, who later declared in a “60-Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl,

“I still lack to a considerable degree that naturally superior kind of manner that I would dearly like to possess.”


  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2016.


Who said it?


These statements come the same source. Name that person.

“Money glitters, beauty sparkles, and intelligence shines.”

“To be a leader means to be able to move masses.”

“The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.”

“A single blow must destroy the enemy… without regard of losses… a gigantic all-destroying blow.”

“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator”

“How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future.

“The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of flowing passion, but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.”

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

“The art of leadership. . . consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention. . . .”

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

“The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”

“The greater the lie, the greater the chance that it will be believed.”

“There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man.”

“All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.”

“I do not see why man should not be just as cruel as nature.”

Use the Comment feature to make your guess and say why you chose that source. The answer will be posted in the next two days.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 1, 2016


The turtle on the fence post: the rise of Donald Trump


“If you see a turtle up on a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get up there by itself.” Someone(s) put it there. This VOX video explains the rise of Donald Trump related to the rise of authoritarianism in an unsettling time. “If you see a turtle….”



Verse – NRC


I fear for her life
haters speak their hate
Handgun rifle knife
Semi-automatic fate

Nothing could be worse
Her Chief Commander
USA will fail
To the blacks she’ll pander

Supreme Court she’ll stack
Liberal lawyers pack
Constitution lack
All have empty gun rack

Use them while we can
Vitriol drives our plan
Sneers give us our cue
We know what to do

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 21, 2016

When Trump becomes an adjective


Trump is getting Trumpier is the headline of David Brooks’s NYT editorial. Its reference to psychological discussion of the sources of Narcissism and examples of the candidate’s speeches increasingly spiraling out of control are worth the read . . . and cause for prayer.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 19, 2016

Trump: a conversation in France


Donald trump hand

The proprietor of a small shop in a small medieval town in France engages the American visitor in friendly conversation. He asks what’s happening in the U.S. He wants to know whether Donald Trump really could be elected president.

He explains that he has a brother who’s a narcissist. “Every time I see that finger pointing on TV, I see my brother,” he says with a cringe. I share his cringe.

I later ask a psychotherapist about the hand – the strangely pointed finger with the circle made by the thumb and ring finger. Notice, he said, that the circle is closed. There’s no room for disagreement. The finger sends the same message.

Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview in Mr. Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower last night was worth its weight in gold. One couldn’t help noticing that the chairs on which Lesley, Mr. Trump, and Mr. Pence sat were gold-plated.

Gordon C. Stewart, non-partisan observer, author of Presidential Disorders – A Voter’s Guide 😇, Chaska, MN, July 18.


Verse – White Folks


White folks can be the shade they want,
not be the shade they’re born.
Tanning beds, beach vacations, cruises
Creams, and dyes, all for one damn race.
Pale faces can become bronze.
Pasty legs and arms be brown.

Only white folks show their blushes–
they have so much, they should blush more…

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 18, 2016

Presidential Disorders – a Voter’s Guide


The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic provide useful descriptions of personality disorders that may help as we watch and listen to candidates for president @ the Republican and Democrat conventions in the next few weeks.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) offers a number of symptom of narcissistic personality disorder:

  1. Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  2. Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  3. Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  4. Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  5. Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  6. Requiring constant admiration
  7. Having a sense of entitlement
  8. Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
    Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  9. Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  10. Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  11. Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

“Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence, it’s not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.”

A 2013 article published by HealthResearchFunding.org (HRF) provides a video on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and lists three famous examples:

  • Adolph Hitler
  • Joseph Stalin, and
  • Joseph Mengele


The Mayo Clinic provides the following signs and symptoms that may indicate Antisocial Personality Disorder:

  1. Disregard for right and wrong
  2. Persistent lying or deceit to exploit others
  3. Being callous, cynical and disrespectful of others
  4. Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure
  5. Arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated
  6. Recurring problems with the law, including criminal behavior
  7. Repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty
  8. Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead
  9. Hostility, significant irritability, agitation, aggression or violence
  10. Lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others
  11. Unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the safety of self or others
  12. Poor or abusive relationships
  13. Failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them
  14. Being consistently irresponsible and repeatedly failing to fulfill work or financial obligations.

A 2013 article posted by HRF lists the following notorious examples of Antisocial Personality Disorder:

  • Garry David
  • Kenneth Lee Lay
  • Jeffrey Dahmer, and
  • Charles Manson

I’ll be watching and listening carefully and spending the mornings in prayer that wisdom prevail.

Thanks for dropping Views from the Edge.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 17, 2016

Verse — If she died first


If she died first
I’d die soon
trying to find
all I need
to live.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 13, 2016

Note from Gordon: Steve may be sick, but his humor’s in tact! Every day’s a new day for Steve in no small part because of his beloved Nadja. They celebrated 50 years of marriage this year.

Sierra Club: “#BlackLivesMatter!”


Sierra Club, the nation’s highly respected environmental conservation and preservation non-profit, weighed in on the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this week with this statement by Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune:

“It is impossible to not be outraged by the devastating images of black people being gunned down by police on a shockingly regular basis and it should be impossible to remain silent in the face of this sustained injustice any longer. Sadly, the tragedies that are unfolding before our eyes are just a fraction of the violence that has been happening off camera in our nation for far too long.

“The Sierra Club believes all people deserve a healthy planet with clean air and water, a stable climate and safe communities. That means all people deserve equal protection under the law and the right to a life free of discrimination, hatred and violence. Unfortunately, those aspirations and goals are not a reality in our country, and that is why that is why the Sierra Club stands in solidarity with all of those saying #‎BlackLivesMatter, demanding justice, accountability, and action to confront the racism and inequality that has allowed these tragedies to persist. We can do better and by standing together to work for the changes that are needed, we will.”

The violence on the street and the violence to the environment are cut from the same cloth.

Thanks to Sierra Club’s executive director for making the connection and taking the risks of fallout among purists donors who don’t want the Club to stray outside of its core environmental mission.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, writing from Georgetown, MT, July 8, 2016.

May God thy gold refine


Views from the Edge reader Carolyn responded to yesterday’s re-blog of Hold to the Good’s Fourth of July article on the difference between patriotism and nationalism by John Buchanan. Carolyn wrote the following:

True patriot, Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri, in a debate said:

‘The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right. Feb. 29, 1872.

Schurz expanded on this theme in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 1899: “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”—Schurz, “The Policy of Imperialism,” Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, vol. 6, pp. 119–20 (1913).


I also like to bear in mind some phrases from verses 2 and 3 of the wonderful patriotic song “America the Beautiful”.

“America! America! / God mend thine every flaw / Confirm thy soul in self-control, / Thy liberty in law!”

“America! America! / May God thy gold refine / Till [‘Til] all success be nobleness / And every gain divine!


This Land So Fair and Free


John Buchanan’s post for The Fourth of July speaks for me by differentiating clearly between patriotism and nationalism and by applying the difference to the voices in America today.

Hold to the Good

Nationalism seems like it ought to be synonymous with patriotism but nationalism is actually very different and much more than patriotism. Webster defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Nationalism, according to the dictionary, is “exalting one nation above all others, promoting its culture and interests as opposed to other nations or supranational groups.” Nationalism is patriotism with a hard edge, sometimes a nasty edge, dangerous even. It is difficult to overestimate the power of nationalism, the superiority of one’s own nation. Adolf Hitler was a master at appealing to and manipulating the latent nationalism of the German people, convincing millions that theirs was a “master race”, entitled to rule and that people of other nationalities and ethnic groups were inferior; in the case of the Jewish people, not entitled to exist. Vladimir Putin has fanned the flames of Russian nationalism and the paranoia that accompanies it…

View original post 791 more words

Fourth of July Sermon @ St. Timothy’s Chapel


St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel, Southern Cross, Montana, July 3, 2004.

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight. It was full of violence,” wrote the Genesis writer. “The LORD was grieved that he had made man and His heart was full of pain.” (Genesis 6, the story of Noah and the flood)

The question this morning is: “Do we share God’s grief and heartbreak over the violence of our time?”

Elie Wiesel, the great novelist survivor of the Holocaust, who died yesterday, was familiar with God’s anguish. In his book Four Hasidic Masters, he wrote a tribute to a famous Hassidic Jewish rabbi known affectionately as Rebbe Barukh:

The beauty of Rebbe Barukh is that he
could speak of faith not as opposed to
anguish but as part of it. “Faith and the
abyss are next to one another,” he told
his disciple. “I would even say: one
within the other. True faith lies beyond
questions; true faith comes after it has
been challenged.
[Elie Wiesel]

Today across the world there is more than enough anguish to go around to challenge faith. But only faith that has faced the questions, only a faith that understands that it is not apart from the anguish is truly faith.

This Fourth of July weekend is one of those times to reflect on who we are as Christians and Americans in a world that teeters next to the abyss of violence and nothingness.

One month ago today, June 3rd, Kay and I arrived in Paris. When we arrived at the apartment we’d rented through Vacation Rental by Owners, we were struck immediately by the bookcases lining the long hallway, the living room, dining room and bedroom walls. Some of the books stood out as particularly beautiful — whole sections of beautiful red leather-bound volumes with gold Arabic calligraphy on the bindings.

Among the books was tucked away an award recognition from the University of the Philippines in recognition of Abdelwahab Meddeb, Professsor, University of Paris, for his wise counsel and assistance in creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and peaceful discourse among the different religions of the people of the Philippines.

Little did we know when we had rented the apartment that we would be staying in the apartment of the Tunisian-born Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Paris and former Visiting Professor at Yale — a Sufi poet and novelist who had published 20 books in French, two of which had been translated into English: The Malady of Islam and Islam and the Challenge of Civilization.

We learned from his daughter that Professor Meddeb had died in March, 2014, two months after being diagnosed with stage four cancer, but his wisdom was everywhere in that lovely apartment. After 9/11 he had devoted his writing and lecturing to a Koranic critique of Islamist extremism and the violence rooted in a flawed reading of the Koran.

In a book published by his friends and colleagues following his death, a professor from the University of Albany wrote that Meddeb’s “moral stance was best expressed by the words of Ibn ‘Arabi:

“I believe in the religion of love; whatever direction its caravan may take — for love is my religion and faith.”

Back in the States, my friend Steve Shoemaker put me in touch with Jane Kuntz, Meddeb’s English translator for Islam and the Challenge of Civilization. Steve had interviewed her on “Keepin’ the Faith,” his weekly radio interview program on the University of Illinois Public Radio station. It’s a very small world!

His translator wrote to say how glad she was that we had been introduced to Abdelwahab, albeit too late, but that in one way it was perhaps a blessing that he had died before the ISIL attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Paris night club. “They would have broken his heart,” she said.”

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight. It was full of violence,” wrote the Genesis writer. “The LORD was grieved that he had made man and His heart was full of pain.”


Shift now to our first Saturday morning in Paris. We step outside the Meddebs’ apartment building to wait for an Uber.

Two French soldiers with machine guns across their chests are guarding the building next door. We wonder why they’re there — next to the professor’s apartment building.

I ask one of the soldiers. “Terrorism?” “Qui,” he says. “Jews.”

They’re guarding the synagogue.

A man walks by, ignoring us and talking loudly into the air. “Crazy man,” says the soldier. He points to the taser he will use on the crazy man if he becomes a nuisance or threat. It occurs to me that the whole world is no less crazy than the crazy man.

The French soldier’s English is much better than my French. He asks where I’m from. I tell him I’m from the United States. He asks where. I tell him Minnesota. He knows where Minnesota is in the U.S. “I like the U.S.A.,” he says, “Patriotic!”

I wonder what he has in mind. I wonder how a 20-something-year-old French soldier guarding a Jewish synagogue against a Islamist extremist terrorist attack in Paris next to the Islamic French professor’s home defines patriotism.

My mind flashes back home to my grandchildren in the U.S., wondering what kind of people they will become.

I wonder whether Jack, Mimi, and Ruby are they learning the faith that participates in the grief and pain of God over the world’s violence? Is their young faith the kind that is not opposed to anguish, but part of it? Does it sit next to the abyss? Will they grow into a faith that is mature because it has been challenged?

That likelihood is challenged by a fundamentalist alternative to that kind of faith near where they live in Kentucky.

A new theme park called Ark Encounter opens its gates to the public this Thursday, July 7.

Ark Encounter was developed by Answers in Genesis, the same faith-based for-profit corporation that developed The Creation Museum showing humans and dinosaurs living together on a planet that’s 6,000 years old, a kind of Disneyland for the biblically and scientifically illiterate. Answers in Genesis willfully disregards the Cro Magnon caves in France Kay and I visited — magnificent paintings by our human ancestors that date back 17,000 years — 11,000 years before Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum claim the planet was created.

If Jack, Mimi, and Ruby go the literalist routs of The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, they might find himself like the little boy who asked whether Noah did a lot of fishing on the ark.

“No,” he said, “because they only had two worms!”

While my grandchildren’s friends are being bussed to see the young giraffes in Noah’s ark — “We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet,” said the head of the Ark Encounter project, “so there would be plenty of room.” I hope Jack, Mimi, and Ruby stay off the busses and learn to read the Bible literately, not literally.

More than one person’s faith has been destroyed by encounters that pit faith against reason.

Of equal concern on this Fourth of July weekend is the relation of church and state. The State of Kentucky has granted $18 million dollars in tax breaks to a religious theme park, a case still in the federal courts. Meanwhile, the State of Kentucky has already spent millions of tax-payers money expanding the entrance and exit ramps from the interstate to and from Ark Encounter.

The value of a secular republic here in the United States and in France where religious freedom is guarded by Constitutional guarantees against the establishment of any one religion over is in danger. The French soldiers were protecting a vulnerable religious minority as a way of exercising the French constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom.

The issue is not only in Paris, Kentucky, Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq. It’s everywhere people read their sacred literature literally, calling for their own versions of jihad in God’s name instead of reading them the way they are meant to be read: literately. The text may be sacred literature but it is literature. It does not substitute for thoughtful inquiry that challenges it.
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight. It was full of violence,” wrote the Genesis writer. “The LORD was grieved that he had made man and His heart was full of pain.”

The question this morning is whether we share God’s grief and heartbreak over the violence of our time. Will we shrink faith to the size of certainty apart from God’s anguish, swallowing the camel of violence while straining a gnat, or will we join Jesus and the Professor from Paris in affirming the generosity and kindness which is true religion?

“I believe in the religion of love; whatever direction its caravan may take — for love is my religion and faith.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Guest Minister-in-Residence, St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel, Southern Cross, MT, July 3, 2016

Verse – Kissing in a Hearse


Only college seniors were allowed
cars on campus in those ancient days.
Four guys, Juniors, searched car lots and found
just the thing, a ’47 hearse,
Pontiac, straight 8, just fifty bucks
each. A Senior said he’d claim the beast
legally was his. Quadruple dates
were the thing: one couple in the seat,
driving, six would lounge on pillows where
caskets usually rode. Of course, at times
two young people would kiss, death be damned.

Steve's Hearse

Steve’s Hearse

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 1, 2016

Blue Daddy


At the birdhouse outside our window in Montana the bright blue male Mountain Bluebird feeds his young at day-break.

Mountain Bluebird Daddy

Blue daddy’s not blue today, soaring
through sunlit skies in search of
berries and beetles he pulls from
the green world for their baby blues.

The Bluebird is not blue today at
crack of dawn, returning to their
brood in the Bluebird house
beneath the telephone wires.

He fills the open beaks with
breakfast brought from Momma’s
kitchen stocked from the pantry
of Nature’s Earth-green Temple.

The Mountain Bluebirds are threatened by changing climate, according to research you can read HERE on The Audubon Society website page.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Georgetown, Montana, July 28, 2016


Make Britain Great Again?


The Brexit referendum results are in and the earthquake in Britain is sending out global shockwaves.

From this observer’s perspective, Brexit happened in no small part because of the sentiment that could elect an unfit American candidate to the office of President here at home: Nationalism. Tribalism. National idolatry: “We are British!” We are Americans!”

The immediate result for Britain is the loss of more than a few Pounds. Watch the tremors in  world markets, hold on to your wallet, and remember that sometimes the people get what they ask for. A lesson in advance for the November election here in the States.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318

Garrison Keillor: The Punk who would be president


Click The Punk who would be President for Garrison Keillor’s piece on Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations.

This is too good to miss.

“He is a thug and he doesn’t bother to hide it. The only greatness he knows about is himself.

So the country is put to a historic test. If the man is not defeated, then we are not the country we imagine we are.”

  • Garrison Keillor
  • Gordon  C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 22, 2016

Gabby Giffords and Gabby Hayes


Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder. Other times I don’t wonder at all. I’m amazed, disappointed, and chagrined. Today was one of those as the Senate’s refused to pass legislation that would have indicated a modest degree of sanity and freedom from the gun lobby.

gabbyhayeswestern17My generation grew up watching Gabby Hayes and others in the Westerns that dominated our TVs.  The law of the Old West was the law of the gun-slingers. We played cowboys and Indians with pretend guns and bows and arrows, re-enacting America’s westward expansion sometimes wondering whether the ones with bows and arrows were more civilized than those with guns.

Gabby Giffords book photo

Gabby Giffords book photo

More recently a different Gabby – Gabby Giffords, a vibrant U.S. Representative from Arizona – was shot and nearly killed, joining the growing numbers of victims of gun violence.

This later Gabby sent an email expressing her disappointment after today’s Senate’s refusal to adopt simple, common-sense legislation.

Moments ago, the United States Senate voted on two measures that would have strengthened our gun laws and helped keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill, and known and suspected terrorists.

And in the wake of yet another mass shooting — the deadliest in modern American history — the Senate chose to do the unimaginable: nothing at all.

Five years ago, I was shot point blank in the head, and the Senate did nothing. When 20 young children and six educators lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut, the Senate did nothing. San Bernardino, Roseburg, Navy Yard, Charleston, Isla Vista — nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.

Well, I am a fighter and I am not going to give up now. This won’t be easy, but we’ve made great progress over the past few years. And I know that if we continue to stand together, we are going to pass legislation that saves lives, or we will elect a Senate that will.

… I am sure we’ll hear platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue,” but this was neither. These senators made a decision based on fear and calculations about the gun lobby’s influence. But I can promise you their fear is nothing like the fear my constituents felt years ago, or the people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando felt last weekend.


Sometimes I wonder. What will it take for those we elect to office to become clear?

Until they act, the Gabby Giffords of this world and those she represents will continue to fall because someone believes, or wants us to believe, that the old world of Gabby Hayes is the real America.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 20, 2016


The Wisdom of Adalbert Stifter


“Don’t the overwhelming majority believe that mankind is the crowning achievement of Creation, that man is better than everything, even things we haven’t yet investigated? And don’t those people who aren’t able to escape the bonds of their own ego think that the entire Universe, even the countless worlds of outer space, is just a backdrop for this ego? And yet it might be quite different.”
― Adalbert Stifter (1805 – 1868), Indian Summer

Click HERE for more about Adalbert Stifter.



English Translation


Trump in ceramicsHere’s the English translation of the French Cro-Magnon chorus posted yesterday as The Cro-Magnon Chorus:

“You think you are superior (to us). You are very stupid. Your intelligence and behavior insult your Cro-Magnon ancestors. We never changed the climate!”

Confession: I had to use an online French to English translator to understand the message of the Cro-Magnon Chorus. I wasn’t trying to be superior!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, still in France, June 16, 2016


The Cro-Magnon Chorus


Viewing the 17,000-year-old cave paintings of our Cro-Magnon ancestors in Lascaux, France yesterday, I wondered what they would think of their more developed descendants. Suddenly, I thought I heard a Cro-Magnon chorus echoing through the caves:

“Vous pensez que vous êtes supérieur. Vous êtes très stupide. Votre intelligence et le comportement insultent vos ancêtres Cro-Magnon. On n’a jamais changé le climat!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Beynace et Cazenac, France, June 15, 2016

Orlando and Madness




Orlando is the latest locale for an outbreak of madness. It was committed by an individual claiming allegiance to ISIS, but it was nevertheless evidence of a larger collective madness, a frame of heart and mind angry because reality doesn’t accord with what we believe the world should look like: like, a world without LGBTQ people. A world without blacks…or whites…or Latinos…or Gringoes…or Jews, Christians, or Muslims, or men…or women…or children.

Investigators and journalists are telling us about the Orlando shooter.

But no one can really tell us why. Most of what we hear frames the picture of horror from the righteous outside, ignoring the ironic madness of onlookers’ gasps and sighs, bound together by our hatred of the hater, the shooter, assuring ourselves that we’re not haters, that we’re not shooters.

Life is always both simpler and more complex than we can grasp. Meanwhile, the imagined division into the saved and the damned metastasizes. It takes many forms.

In my tradition the crucifixion exposes the malady — the anxious fear that creates a scapegoat; the competing claims of goodness according to one ideal or another, and the death of man and God at the hands of the righteous. In this view there are no clean hands. Or, to put it differently in the terms of the cartoon, we’re all in the same leaking boat. There is no place from which to proclaim from on high that the boat is leaking only on the other side.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Beynac, France, June 13, 2016

The Story of a Book


A Sin a Week:
     52 sins described in loving detail for folks with the inclination and ability to sin,
but who have run out of bad ideas.

To order: email sshoem3636@gmail.com
$ 19.30 incl tax

I began writing poetry in Urbana High School. I continued the questionable practice in college. Ten years later my first poem was published in a reputable journal.
Twenty years after grad school, I believed a collection of my poems could be made around the theme of sin. I hired an undergraduate cartoonist, T. Brian Kelly, who had a weekly strip in the Daily Illini student newspaper to illustrate them. At $20 a poem I could afford it, and he needed the money.

“A Sin a Week” became the title and I sent the manuscript to finally a total of five unimpressed NY publishers. They said few books of poetry sold well. Then I put it in a drawer for 25 years.

A month ago Doris Wenzell of Mayhaven Publishing asked me if I had a collection of my poems she could see. She had heard I had readers of my poems on FaceBook, especially since I had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two days later I handed her my manuscript with my newly added subtitle. (See above.)

She loved it, we signed a contract, she rushed through the editing and printing because of my predicted shortness of time, and the book has now been selling for a week. Reviews from early readers have been good.

Notice the book says it describes sins, not that it is poetry. The first sin described is “Lying.” Ancient writers referred to the Devil as “the Father of lies.” This theme continues throughout the book, notably in my never revealing the book is poetry.
This is my confession–if you choose to order a copy, you’ve been warned.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 14, 2016

Verse – Making Love at 3:00 a.m.


I thought the lightening bugs were shooting stars
And woke you up at three in the morning
To see the display. You knew better, but
Were kind, suggesting the more likely fact,
Though my view was the more romantic…

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 12, 2016

Verse – 52 Killed


Mass murder, terror, hate,
Assault rifles, semi-automatic,
Hand guns, gun shows,
Concealed carry,
Congress bought by the NRA.

Victims: LGBTQ,
Children, shoppers,
Muslims, Christians,
African-Americans, worshippers,

Shooters: ISIS,
Racists, bigots,
Mentally ill, gangs,
Drug addicts,
No background checks needed
For private gun sales or gun shows.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 13, 2016

Farmer walking through fields in Kumta


Scroll down for Joshi Daniel’s photograph that inspired this reflection.

Tourists and residents see things differently. Actually, it’s more than that. They see different things, like the farmer walking through the field in Kumta, and this tourist website that introduces would-be visitors to Kumta.

Today we’re tourists in Beynac-et-Cazenac, one of the loveliest places we’ve ever experienced. Well, i,e. experienced as tourists. But even a tourist (we’ve rented a house      for the week (pictures to follow) recognizes the slower pace of this medieval town on the banks of the Dordogne River.

The Experiment in International Living (EIL) offered a deeper way of seeing the world forty years ago. That summer I lived with a host family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Immersed in the daily life of my Slovakian family and students at the university, I was not a tourist. I cared nothing about the sites a tourist might visit. I walked everywhere, paying attention to where I was, looking more deeply, more thoughtfully – being more present, one might say – less disembodied, less virtual, less distracted, not as entertained, but so much happier in my body.

Like the Experiment in International Living, Kosuke Koyama encouraged me to slow down, to walk instead of run by, drive past, or fly over – to see the dailyness and the natural field of the man Joshi’s photograph. God, said Kosuke, is a three-mile-an-hour God who meets us at the pace of human being walking.

Momentarily, we’ll walk very slowly down the steep hill into the village on Sunday morning in this beautiful place. If we go to fast, we’ll fall on our faces.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Beynac-et-Cazenac, June 12, 2016.

Joshi Daniel Photography

A farmer walking through fields in Hegde, Karnataka while holding a basket Farmer walking through the fields | Hegde, Kumta, Karnataka, India

If you would like to buy a print of any of the images, get in touch with me here.

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Joshi Daniel took this wonderful picture of a woman who posed for him. The eyes and the wrinkles combine for an invitation to joyful wisdom.  I’m proud to say I knew Joshi when he was a student at The College of Wooster years ago. His photography provides windows into the unseen beyond words.

Joshi Daniel Photography

Black and white portrait of an old lady in Beringharjo market, Yogyakarta, Indonesia An old lady posing | Beringharjo market, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

I met this lovely cute lady on my early morning visit to Beringharjo market in Yogyakarta, Indonesia with Windy. This is how she posed for us.

Thankful to Wonderful Indonesia and the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for a great opportunity to see Indonesia.

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Donald Trump Has Ended His Candidacy


INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edge posted this piece on April Fools Day, 2016. Perhaps something like this will happen at the presidential town hall meeting tonight.

Orange hair and rude speech are colorful. When a presidential candidate speaks off the cuff in street language, he’s colorful. Like the class clown in junior high school, he’s entertaining. In class, or under the big tent of the three ring circus, the clown captures everyone’s attention. You never know what he’ll do next. He’s colorful.

But sometimes clowns go too far; they push the boundaries of propriety. When a clown offends the crowd, he becomes not only colorful but odoriferous, and nothing can empty a room like an offensive odor. When a clown pretending to be a world leader, wise and substantive, declares that women who have abortions should be punished, but he’s not yet sure how, everyone in the crowd – pro-life and pro-choice alike – is offended by the flatulence.

Today Donald Trump announced the end of his campaign for the GOP nomination. Speaking from the steps of the State Capitol in Madison, WI this morning at 8:30, he took off his “Make America Great Again” hat, brushed back his orange hair, put on his New York Yankees hat, puckered his lips, and declared he never wanted to be president. He just wanted to shake things up. “I’m a businessman,” he said. “The Presidency is for liars and Losers!”

Happy April Fools Day!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 1, 2016

Steve Shoemaker Limerick on Chicago Cubs

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, published Oct. 17, 2015 on Views from the Edge.

Steve with Chicago Cubs mascot.

Steve with Chicago Cubs mascot, during trip to Wrigley Field with seminary friends Harry Lee Strong, Don Dempsey, Bob Young, Wayne Boulton, and Steve’s blogging buddy.

Last night the “Baby Bruins” had an improbable (dare we say ‘miraculous’?) come-from-behind ninth-inning victory over the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco. Now they’re one step away from the World Series.

The day after Steve’s death, I think I heard the beginning of a full-throated bass cheer from Urbana, as well as from Harry’s home in Prescott, Arizona. Two cheers for the Cubs; three cheers for Harry Lee, and four cheers for Steve!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 12, 2016.

Donald Trump Has Ended His Candidacy

Views from the Edge published this piece April 1, 2016. Perhaps tonight Mr. Trump will use the national spotlight to announce to the world that he’s not a politician. Never was. Never will be. He’s too good to stay in this race.

Views from the Edge

Orange hair and rude speech are colorful. When a presidential candidate speaks off the cuff in street language, he’s colorful. Like the class clown in junior high school, he’s entertaining. In class, or under the big tent of the three ring circus, the clown captures everyone’s attention. You never know what he’ll do next. He’s colorful.

But sometimes clowns go too far; they push the boundaries of propriety. When a clown offends the crowd, he becomes not only colorful but odoriferous, and nothing can empty a room like an offensive odor. When a clown pretending to be a world leader, wise and substantive, declares that women who have abortions should be punished, but he’s not yet sure how, everyone in the crowd – pro-life and pro-choice alike – is offended by the flatulence.

Today Donald Trump announced the end of his campaign for the GOP nomination. Speaking from the steps…

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