Verse on Another Tower

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia

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


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

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

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

Verse — Chicago’s Southside, 1965

The First Presbyterian Church
and the Blackstone Rangers

All stores and resturants must serve all
after the Civil Rights law passed
in 1964. But real
change comes, that has a chance to last,
as power shifts. Our Church began
to work with gangs to help get blacks
to vote. When Stones said everyone
should register, they did! Then folks
began to see that City Hall
responded to their needs: new trucks
to fix the streets appeared, to haul
away the piles of garbage. Police
still threw around their white might, but
some liberal lawyers, black and white,
were found to fight for the release
of innocent poor folks. Some peace
between gangs even came at night…

The Reverend John Fry, ex-Marine,
on Sunday could inspire wood pews
to organize for holy fights.
On Monday words that were not clean
scorched any sinners who refused
to honor all black civil rights.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 26, 2015

NOTE: This is a memoir of Steve’s years at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago when Steve and Nadja Shoemaker sat in the inspired wood pews listening to the Rev. Dr. John Fry’s preaching at First Presbyterian Church. Click HERE for information on the Reverend John Fry, First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, the Blackstone Rangers, and the Chicago Police Department. John Fry was an inspiration to us at McCormick, a bold preacher in the social gospel tradition who put his life where his mouth was.


Lost in Chicago

Parking now is privatized,
on-street prices very high,
all hotels have also raised
valet costs in the same way:
everybody wants to make
as much money as they can
before bankruptcy will take
everybody down just like

Mile Magnificent is still
mostly white except for men
parking cars or begging on
sidewalk sides. Inside, women
wear their diamonds on pale hands–
colored hands wear vinyl, fill
buckets, pails, trash bags, and cans:
garbage left behind by all
the rich.

Foreigners drive taxis, make
more here than at home. Send back
salaries and tips to help
families survive. I stop,
lost on lower Wacker Drive,
lower Michigan, no help
here from GPS, “Now drive
east 500 feet and stop.”
(I’d be in the lake…)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 9, 2013

P.S. On Tuesday, October 1 Steve will bring his poetry to Tuesday Dialogues at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska. Free and open to the public.

Baseball as a Road to God

The Gathering minus Steve

The Gathering minus Steve

On Monday six seminary friends come together from Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota for an annual “Old Dogs’ Gathering” at our alma mater, McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago.

Years ago four of us cut Professor Boling’s Hebrew class to take our homiletics (i.e., preaching) professor, Herb King, to the Opening Day Cubs game at Wrigley Field. We were VERY serious students!

In preparation for this year’s annual gathering, we’ve been reading John Sexton’s marvelous book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, and we’ll return to Wrigley Field where two of the Old Dogs’ hearts are perpetually broken. Steve Shoemaker, one of the Old Dogs, sent this to us this morning.

Seminary Reunion

Here we would each learn to preach
a sermon–going from the Greek,
Hebrew, to the common speech
of folks today. Here we would seek
answers to all questions: old,
or new, conundrums from a child,
screams of pain from a grey head
that’s waiting for a grave. Reviled
scorned, by former college friends
who now run businesses, our mild
Biblical response pretends
to follow One who like a lamb
went to the slaughter. We damn
ourselves in not forgiving them.

This year we lost one of the original seven old friends, Dale Hartwig, who grew old too soon and faster than the rest of us. John Sexton reminds us of the difference between beginnings and endings, and the need for a vantage point:

“While the teams and players on the field may change each autumn, the game’s evocative power is continuous. Opening Day in the spring and the World Series in the fall are the bookends of baseball’s liturgical time…. Vantage point is critical.”

Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, Penguin Group, NY, NY, 2013.

Everyone should be so blessed as to have friends like these and a vantage point of continuing thanksgiving.

The People’s Gas Company, Chicago: Leaking Pipes Division

Chicago gas company

A memoir by Steve Shoemaker:

We had four tools:  a mattock (pick)

a shovel, spade, an air hammer

hosed to a trailing compressor.


The nasty foreman used orange paint

to spray a shape just like a grave

on the busy downtown street.


We broke through asphalt, concrete,

then threw the chunks and clods above

our heads as we dug out the hole.


The leaking gas pipe was below,

(ominously about six feet).

Our tee shirts sweat in summer heat.


The hated foreman never came

down in the hole because he knew

someone would drop a heavy tool…


After mechanics fixed the leak,

we filled the empty grave.  Quite near

there always was a bar for beer.

The foreman would stay in his truck.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, January 8, 2013

“It’s Muhammed Ali!”

I only saw him once. Close up.

Holy Angels Catholic Church

Holy Angels Catholic Church, the African-American Catholic Church in South Side Chicago, was packed. Father George Clements, a bold community leader on the South Side, had convened the community meeting.

I don’t recall why we were there that afternoon. I only remember who was there.

Two pews in front of us sat a Michelangelo-chiseled figure of flesh and blood in a black suit. Massive square shoulders, thick muscled neck, beyond regal…a Greek god, Atlas perhaps, sitting erect and still, near the back of the crowed church. There was no mistaking who he was.

Muhammed Ali

“It’s Cassius Clay!” I blurted out to my fiancee…in what I thought was a whisper… pointing to the large man two rows in front of us.

MUHAMMED ALI!” came the woman’s corrective voice from behind us. The young, embarrassed, white Christian seminarian thanked her, apologized, and sat quietly the rest of the afternoon.

Ali, the World Champion, had changed his name from Cassius Clay. He had joined the Nation of Islam. Ali refused military induction as a conscientious objector. His conviction would overturned by the U.S.Supreme Court. At the time he refused to step forward for induction to serve in the Viet Nam War, he asked:

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

Father George H. Clements went on to become the first African-American in the Archdiocese of Chicago to be appointed to the position of Pastor.

Father George H. Clements at Mass

As Pastor of Holy Angels, Fr. George Clements moved a statue of St. Anthony and set up an altar honoring Dr. King following Dr. King’s assassination. When the archdiocese expressed its disapproval, Fr. Clements refused to reconsider.

Acclamatio populorum—”the people acclaim a saint,” he said. “If the cardinal wants it down, he’ll have to take it down himself.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. statue remained in place.

Fr. Clements would later become famous as the first priest to adopt a child. He added a new title -“Dad” – as the adoptive father of four African-American children, and founded One Church – One Child, a movement in his parish inviting African-American families to adopt homeless African-American children. The program became nation-wide and still exists today.