A gentle pastor faces death

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart

 

 

Love – Lisa Larges’s statement of faith

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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:

Love.

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

creates.

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,

“Good”.

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

world.

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,

reconciling.

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

salvation.

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

that
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.

Love.

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

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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

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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…

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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

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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?”

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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?

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

NARICISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER

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

ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER

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

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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!”

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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

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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!

Amen

This Land So Fair and Free

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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…

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Fourth of July Sermon @ St. Timothy’s Chapel

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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cartoon

 

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

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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.
     ILLUSTRATED!

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.

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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

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

Victims: LGBTQ,
Children, shoppers,
Movie-goers,
Muslims, Christians,
African-Americans, worshippers,
Anyone.

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

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

Farmer walking through fields in Kumta

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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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Uninhibited

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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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Verse – Night Vision

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The rotating blades make the red lights
appear to blink atop the windfarm
electrical generators far in the distance, while In the back yard the lightening bugs flash their need for love.
All our chargers need charging, too.
Electronic lives have been drained
by machines powered by dinosaurs.
Coal miners and oil rig workers
die to supply the energy we covet.
Piles of nuclear wastes surround us
glowing unblinking in the dark.

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 6, 2016

Impressions of Paris 4

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Six degrees of separation and Holy Ground

When Steve learned that Kay and I are staying in the apartment of  Abdelwahab Meddeb, he wrote that he had interviewed Meddeb’s translator, Jane Kurtz, on his weekly radio interview program, Keepin’ the Faith (WILL-AM at the University of Illinois). Sure enough. Steve contacted Jane. Jane Kurtz emailed me. And voila! Six degrees of separation.

Jane wrote that she translated two of his books into English, including Talismano, and that they corresponded quite a bit during their work. She listened to his weekly radio program, “Cultures d’Islam,” thanks to the internet and Radio France-Culture (one of the most remarkable radio stations in the world). They were supposed to meet in Palo Alto, and teach a class together at Stanford, but that semester corresponded with his onset of the cancer that took his life in a short time.

“His writings can be very esoteric, since his interest in Islam spanned so many continents and cultures (hence the title of his radio program, “cultures” with an “s”.

“…. I almost think it was a good thing he didn’t live to see the terrible violence that struck his beloved Paris these recent years. It would have broken his heart to see the evil done in the name of Islam in the city he so loved.”

Abdalwahab Meddeb practiced his Muslim faith “though he also believed strongly in the secular values of France —he was of that generation—and in the possibility of an Islamic reform coming out of the communities of European Muslims. How sad that exactly the opposite is happening, French Muslims are being radicalized and are filling mosques and prisons.

“Anyway, a few of his books are available in English, if you are not a reader of French (and believe me, many readers of French still don’t understand his writings), so I would recommend starting with The Malady of Islam.
——–

The old saying “wherever you go, there you are,” is worth heeding. The intent of the saying is to remind us that we take ourselves wherever we go. But it occurs to me there’s another dimension to the adage. Wherever you go, be there – really be present to the place and see it for what it is. This apartment in France has turned out to be a kind of holy ground.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Paris, France, June 7, 2016.

Impressions of Paris 3

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From Day 2, Saturday, June 4, 2016

French soldier & GIt’s Saturday morning. We’re standing in front of our apartment complex, waiting for arrival of an Uber car. Twenty feet to our left, two soldiers holding machine guns across their chests stand on either side of the entrance to the building next door. I decide to speak to the nearer soldier.

“Bonjour.”

“Bonjour,” he replies.

“Military, oui?” I ask.

“Oui. Jews,” he says, pointing to the building behind him.

“Synagogue?” I ask. “Jews,” he says.

“Ummm, synagogue?” I try again. He doesn’t understand. I continue: “Eglise pour Jews?”

“Yes, a church for Jews,” he says. “Terrorists.” They’re protecting Jewish worshipers from a potential Islamist extremist attack on the synagogue on Shabbat.

A man walks by talking loudly to the air. He is obviously mentally disturbed and maybe into his cups or on something as well. “Crazy man!” says the soldier says, showing me the taser gun, which he carries in case “the crazy man causes trouble.”

He asks where I am from. “U.S.A.”

“I like U.S.A.,” he says.

I ask whether he has been to the U.S.A. He has not but says, “I like U.S.A. Patriotic.!” I wonder what he means.

What goes through the mind of a 20-something French soldier on a Paris street protecting the Jewish minority from Islamic extremists who have successfully attacked Paris? Why does he think America is patriotic? Is he thinking of an American businessman who has captured the news in Europe by promising to make America great again by closing the borders to Muslims and building a wall against immigrants, returning America to the real Americans?

Anti-immigrant sentiment is not new to France. It has fed the political right in recent years. No one knows what the young soldier thinks. I like him. He seems to like me. Whatever the answer may be to what goes on in his head and heart, we’re dealing with the same world and the same issues. But I do wonder whether he might think that French patriotism would mean taking his country back from those who are not really French?

And who might the really French or the real Americans be?

American Indians?

Wóablakela, Paix, Shalom, Salaam, Peace!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Paris, France.

Impressions of Paris 2

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Walking into the apartment in Paris, we were immediately struck by its beauty. It was obvious that the owner of the  apartment we’d rented through Air B&B was well educated.  The walls of the hallway, living room, and bedrooms are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Though most books are in French, the most beautiful are sets of red leather-bound books with gold Arabic writing on the bindings. Clearly the owner is an Islamic scholar. It belonged to Abdelwahab Meddeb to a well-known poet, novelist, and translator whose weekly radio program “Civilizations of Islam” invited listeners to thoughtful criticism and appreciation of islam by looking historically at the development of Islam over the centuries.

Meddeb 1540-1Abdelwahab Meddeb was born in Tunis in 1946. He died here in Paris November 16, 2014.  Abdelwahabe Meddeb: Le Proche et Le Lointain, written in his honor pays him tribute as “among the greatest Maghrebi poets, scholars, writers and translators of his generation.” — Pierre Joris, poet, translator and essayist, Professor at the University of Albany.

Click Abdelwahab Meddeb to learn more on this amazing Professor who devoted his life after 9/11 countering the extremist misinterpretations of the Koran.

As irony would have it, on Saturday morning two French soldiers stood guard 20 feet to the left of Dr. Meddeb’s apartment building. The soldiers, with machine guns held against their chests, were guarding the synagogue next door against a terrorist attack on Shabbat.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Abdelwahab Meddeb’s apartment, Paris, France, June 6, 2016.

 

 

 

Impressions of Paris 1

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We arrived @ Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) Friday morning @8:30 a.m. Paris time. These are some first impressions.

Unlike the airports in Germany re-built out of the rubble of WWII, CDG is showing wear. It has none of the aesthetic pizzazz one expects from French culture. The driver we’ve hired through a Paris travel agent is nowhere to be found. An hour later we connect. What would we do without Tim’s cellphone and saved phone numbers?

Our driver is very professional, kind, and courteous. He’s dressed in a business suit. Transportation is his business.

Traffic is nuts! Like bumper cars. Motorcycles and scooters zip between the lanes of traffic ignoring the lines between lanes — and it’s legal! Traffic is bumper-to-bumper or slow, except for the motorcycles and motorbikes who speed past us in the small spaces between the cars in the traffic lanes. Good thing we haven’t rented a car in Paris! I can see the headline, “Conducteur de la voiture Américaine stupide tue cycliste Français! Chauffeur parlant non- Français arrêté pour conduite imprudente et d’homicide.”  [Stupid American driver kills French cyclist. Non-French-speaking driver arrested for reckless driving and homicide.]

As we come to a complete stop on a busy highway into Paris, an Arab woman carrying a screaming child approaches our van. She comes to the front passenger window, looks at Sasha, our driver, and begs for money. Sasha gently shakes his head no. The woman persists; the child screams louder. Sasha shakes his head again and looks away from the woman. “Syrian?” I ask. “No,”  he says,“Gypsy, from Romania.”

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Within the city bicycles go every which way, cutting and turning in front of cars, and cars in front of them. Traffic feels like anarchy. Fraternité is absent on the streets. Liberté is everywhere.

Walking to a restaurant Friday afternoon, soldiers carrying machine guns across their chests patrol the avenue in threes. In the doorways, families sit or lie with bedrolls. Are these gypsies to whom Europe is accustomed or are they newly arrived Syrian refugees?

We enjoy dinner at a small local restaurant known as a non-tourist neighborhood fixture with great food. Wonderful experience in every way – so accommodating to the butchers of the French language, explaining the menu to us as best he can in our native tongue.

Fraternité and égalité fill the the restaurants, cafes, and brasseries. Laughter and easy conversations are shared over wine and food. Faces smile. Joi de vivre lives indoors in Paris.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Paris, France, posted June 6, 2016, D-Day.

 

The Baseball Cap on Memorial Day

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I’m a baseball fan. I love baseball. I  turn on the TV.

It’s Memorial Day. My team, the Minnesota Twins, is wearing visitor’s gray. The Oakland As are wearing white. That’s tradition.

But today something’s different. Both teams are wearing the same baseball cap: military camouflage.

Why?

Memorial Day is not a salute to the military. It’s a day to remember the dead who have fallen in the service to their country. The Twins and the As are not soldiers, sailors, Marines, or special forces. They’re baseball players in different uniforms and different caps with different logos. They throw. They catch. They swing. They hit. They walk. They strike out. Nobody kills. Nobody dies. But Major League Baseball is big business that knows how to strike up the band and confuse civilian and military life. Not good. But it’s become the new normal.

A moment of silence followed by Taps would better fit the occasion – and the removal of all caps.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 30, 2016.

 

 

 

The Trinity is about Us!

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Click HERE to listen to Devon Anderson’s Trinity Sunday Sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, MN. If you think sermons are boring… and you’re willing to consider the thought that sometimes humor is the closest thing to faith, tune in!

  • Gordon

 

Snails

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Faith Ralston is walking the Camino n Spain, a pilgrimage she and her late husband Phil Brown had planned to walk together. When Phil died unexpectedly a year ago, Faith decided to move ahead with the walk by herself. She’s wonderful and her daily reflections along the Camino are worth a read.

My El Camino

An author once said, “Next to crawling, walking is the slowest way to transport our bodies from one place to another.”

Walking allows time to see things I’d otherwise miss. It’s a slow pace. There is time to watch snails crawl by and butterflies play in the flowers, see storks nesting and storm clouds forming.

We see the.busy highways from a distance and sometimes intersect with the modern world. But for the most part we are on snail time, slowly moving along ancient paths traveled by many before.

I relish this pace and the simplicity of life as a pilgrim. Unfortunately it also comes with a cold shower today.


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BREAKING NEWS: TRUMP OUT!

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This morning @7:30 a.m EST on Good Morning, America, Donald Trump announced he would not accept the Republican Party nomination after all.

Taking off his “Make America Great Again” cap, puckering his lips and brushing back his orange hair before putting on his NY Yankees hat,  Mr. Trump declared,

“I’m a businessman! I never wanted to be president. I just wanted to shake things up. I’m a winner! I won! All politicians are liars and Losers! It could have been so great! Have a nice life, everybody!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, reporting for Views from the Edge: Breaking the Chains that Bind Us, May, 27, 2016

For My Memorial Service Bulletin

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Steve is discussing with his family the following statement to be printed in his Memorial Service bulletin. He’s looking ahead. We hope far ahead, but he is accepting of death.

“The last few months of his life, Steve hired Rev. Rachel Bass-Guenneweg for weekly training in wheelchair Yoga. For the next 5 minutes, Steve’s gift to all present who will receive it, is a sample of this. You will not have to move from your pew, or touch anyone else. Simply follow the directions spoken by Rachel. Enjoy! (If you do not wish to try it, breathe slowly, and offer a silent prayer for others.)”

  • Gordon on behalf of Steve

Click HERE for more about the good Reverend wheelchair trainer, Rachel Bass-Guenneweg.

Obituary – read to the END!

Rev. John Richard Vogel Jr. Obituary
VOGEL, JR. Rev. John Richard Vogel, Jr. died suddenly and unexpectedly of natural causes on Saturday, May 28, 2016. He was 75. Services will be on Tuesday, June 7 at 11 a.m. at St. James United Methodist Church, 5540 Wayne Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri 64110, with a visitation at the church immediately thereafter. Dick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June 1940 to John Richard Vogel and Anna Watson Vogel. In 1948, the family moved to Normandy in the St. Louis, Missouri area, where he spent the remainder of his childhood. Dick graduated from Normandy High School as valedictorian in 1958, and attended the University of Michigan, initially intending to pursue a career in engineering. After a short time, he changed his course of study to philosophy and religion, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1962, and remaining eternally loyal to the Wolverines. He also obtained a master’s degree from Depauw University and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School in 1966. Dick relocated to Kansas City that year to become the minister at Troost Avenue United Methodist Church and an integral part of the United Methodist Church’s Inner City Parish. He served at several churches during his career, including Central United Methodist Church, Kairos United Methodist Church, and later St. James United Methodist Church. As a minister, he was well regarded for performing countless numbers of weddings for couples throughout the area. Dick also worked for many years as the Executive Director of the Kansas City Mental Health Association. In the early 1980s, he transitioned into the financial services industry, and went on to a very successful career focused on life insurance sales, primarily with Northwestern Mutual Life. For many years, he could be found on the tennis courts or the restaurant at the Rockhill Tennis Club, of which he was an active member. At the time of his death, he was somewhat officially retired, although would likely admit he had a difficult time removing himself completely from the business of churches and insurance. He is survived by his wife, Mary Tracy Smith; a sister, Virginia Simmons; a son, David Vogel, and his wife, Maureen Mannion Vogel; a daughter, Emily Vogel, and her wife, Carly Evans; and four grandchildren, Mia Vogel, Connor Vogel, Kate Evans, and Sam Evans. He was preceded in death by his parents and a son, Mark Vogel. Dick was a wonderful father, brother, friend, colleague, and pastor, who worked very hard and dedicated significant portions of his life to helping those less fortunate. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Della Lamb Community Center, Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church, or any other organization that helps those in need, as well as to the Yale Divinity School Class of 1966 50th Anniversary Scholarship Endowment Fund.

His family also believes that he would want those who respect his memory to agree they will never vote for the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Published in Kansas City Star from June 2 to June 5, 2016