Why I Stayed Home this Christmas


Christmas felt different this year. I did not feel the Light shining in darkness. It feels as though the darkness has overcome the light. I feel the heaviness of bombed out, homeless Ukrainians more than Zelenkov’s resistance lightens my spirit. “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Love overflows the banks of hope, and no hope that ignores reasons for despair is worth a damn.

So I stayed home on Christmas Eve. In the morning, the NPR annual broadcast of the Festival of Lessons and Carols that lifted my soul in years past, was silent. I didn’t turn it on. Everything was off. Fairy tales can be true, or they can be delusive. Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud’s critiques of religion as illusion crashed the place where sugar plumbs once danced in my head.

Faith is a Leap — Reality is Existential

So much of what passes for Christian faith is nonsense. It doesn’t take a Ludwig, a Karl, or a Sigmund to ask what is real; it’s not a head trip. The difference between illusion and reality is existential — a disturbance of the stomach, a migraine, or a numbness that won’t go away.

Eight years into retirement, I have stopped looking for a church home. Nowhere is the darkness darker than in the churches that profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior while following a stand-in savior who fabricates and perpetuates the lie that he has been robbed of his legitimate authority. The embrace of QAnon conspiracy theory — the latest iteration of the division of the world between the saved Bible-believing patriots, and the damn pedophiles, child kidnappers, and sex traffickers of the Deep State — fits like a glove, but it is a betrayal the churches profess.

I was never big on Satan. Over the years, the division of the human species between good (heaven-bound) and evil (hell-bound) made less and less sense until it made no sense at all. Belief in life after death, or, as William Stringfellow called it, “after-death life,” struck me as a comforting delusion, the fanciful escape from death, the limit of every mortal creature.

Who we are, and what we’re not

The Book of Genesis parable of humankind’s tragedy in the Garden of Eden goes straight to the heart of the matter. The temptation is to know what only God knows, namely, the difference between good and evil that would make them like God, i.e., the illusion that they, the human creatures, would never die. The great sin is refusing to be what we are — trying to be what we are not.

The Day after Christmas in Minnesota

December 26, 2022, marked the 160th anniversary of the Mankato Massacre when 38 Dakota were hanged on a platform built for public shaming. The white European settlers gathered to observe the largest execution ever to take place on American soil.

They came to watch the ultimate shaming, but, before the execution, they heard what they did not expect. The heard voices from the gallows, chanting a prayer to the Great Spirit:

Wakantanka taku
tankaya qaota;
mahpiya kin eyahnake ca,
makakin he duowanca.
Mniowanca sbeya wanke cin,
hena ovakihi.

Dakota hymn

Many and great, O God, are Thy works,
Maker of earth and sky;
Thy hands have set the heavens with stars,
Thy fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at Thy word the waters were formed;
Deep seas obey Thy voice.
Grant unto us communion with Thee,
Thou star-abiding One;
Come unto us and dwell with us:
With Thee are found the gifts of life.
Bless us with life that has no end,
Eternal life with Thee.

Mankato was not calm the day after Christmas in 1862. No bright star shone down on the gallows. No angels sang. No babe in swaddling cloths. No shepherds knelt. No cattle were lowing. No ‘kings’ brought gifts. No carols rang out from the churches.

The day after Christmas was a time for crucifixion (a state execution) by White Christian Nationalists. Even so–or perhaps because it was a crucifixion — a Dakota hymn of faith, hope, and love still echoes from a gallows in Mankato. Love overflows the banks of hope, and no hope that ignores reasons for despair is worth a damn.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and social commentator, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn, MN, December 26, 2022.

Elijah asks Grandpa about taxes

taxreformGrandpa, do we like taxes?

Why are you asking about taxes, Elijah?

‘Cause they’re all over the news. I don’t get it. Are taxes bad or are they good, Grandpa?

It all depends, Elijah.

You always say stuff like that! Depends on what? I wear Huggies!

We’ve already talked about that. I don’t mean that kind of Depends. I mean it depends on what kind of taxes.

Yeah, like the tax of Caesar Augustus that made Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem. Mom’s been getting me ready for my first Christmas. Look at this picture of Caesar Augustus, Grandpa. He did the same thing with his hand president You-Know-Who does! And he didn’t care about that little baby. Maybe that little baby is Jesus!


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. – Gospel According to Luke 2:1-6 KJV.

Yes, Elijah, it was because of a Roman census for purposes of levying Roman taxes on the country they occupied. The tax system wasn’t fair.

Hmmm. So taxes are bad!

No, they’re not. Like I said, Elijah, it all depends.

On what?

On whether the taxes are fair. Taxes are good so long as they fairly distribute the financial burden for maintaining life together in a good society: things like health care, roads, fire-fighters like the ones battling the fires in California, and economic assistance for the disabled, children, the poor, and retired people like Grandma and Grandpa who depend like Social Security.

So fair taxes are good? Unfair taxes are bad?

Yes, sort of. Tax systems that don’t require the wealthy to pay their fair share are like Roman taxes and like the British taxes that caused the American Revolution. The tax wasn’t fair. And tax systems measure what a country values. So even if the tax burden is fairly distributed, they can be bad if the money is used badly.

Yeah, just like Mary said, “He lifted up the lowly, and the rich he has sent empty away!” Liddle Bob Corker is lowly but he just voted for tax reform that Marissa says isn’t fair.

Yes, he did, Elijah. Senator Corker was a hold-out who agreed to vote for the tax bill after it was amended in a way that favored his real estate interests so he wouldn’t be so little anymore.

You own real estate, right? Are you going to vote for the tax bill, Grandpa?

No, Elijah, I really don’t own any real estate. The bank owns Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. We still make mortgage payments. And I don’t get to vote on it. Members of the House of Representatives and Senate represent us in Congress. Only they get to vote, and the president can then sign it or veto it.

Hmm. So you’re going to be liddler than liddle Bob Corker. But in my eyes, you’ll always be big, Grandpa. Remember Joseph and Mary and Jesus in liddle old Bethlehem.

I will, Elijah. Here’s a more hopeful picture for you to remember. Mary and the baby Jesus are at the top. At the bottom are prophetess named Sybil and Caesar Augustus, but it doesn’t look anything Caesar. It’s the Byzantine emperor Manuel II from the 15 Century that the artist viewed as the new Caesar. Every empire has its emperor, and every one of them is soon forgotten, but the story of Christmas is eternal.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

— Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 20, 2017.


Verse – Christmas: a Donkey’s Tale

Hee Haw

Burro's ears

Burro’s ears

“Just put the burro here,” he said,
“She’ll calm the horses of the folks
inside the inn.”  And so they tied
me to the pole above the trough.

I was surprised he later led
a man and girl into the stall
and pointing to the straw, he said,
“Sleep here,  this simple space is all
that’s left tonight, and if the child
is born the cries won’t wake the guests.”

He grimaced, but she somehow smiled
and sank down to the ground.  Their rests
did not last long.  Her labor soon
began and then the baby, wrapped
and warm, was laid under the moon
light bright where we, the stock, were trapped
and fed.  I brayed when shepherds dumb
barged in and said a king had come…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 11, 2012

Verse – Christmas Re-Imagined

INTRO: How strangely idyllic Jesus’s birth appears in Matthew. No mention of the absence of a midwife, stench, or unsanitary conditions. The animals were the only neighbors, including the goats and sheep of Matthew’s parable of the Last Judgment, and as I have re-imagined it, the serpent who would bruise humanity’s heel in Genesis 3:8-15.

All the midwives were busy that night
when goats and sheep butted and
bleated for a taste of the after-birth
while a hapless not-quiet-husband
knelt beside his not-yet-wife Mary,
confused by having to birth this
child of another he’d never met,
a lamb she said was meant to be
for reasons he could not feel or see.

No Star Wars star shone above
a forgotten place the three of them
shared with none but bulls and
cows, hens and roosters, a snake
slithering through the straw toward
the donkey’s heel, the goats on
his right, the sheep on his left,
before the angels said the baby’d
come to bruise the serpent’s head.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 27, 2015

Verse – Mother’s Day..

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, YES Day!

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

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

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

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

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

The Foster Child who successfully fostered

Unusual obituaries come along once in a while. Steve and I found this one endearing.


Joan Copeland chose Christmas to give up the goods and embark on her next adventure.

Her daughters, their husbands, several grandchildren, and her lifelong friend, Barbara Markland, were all with her at Carle Foundation Hospital to offer love as she transitioned.

She was born on July 25, 1934, to Louis and Elsie Fetters Silagy. She had a multitude of siblings. Severe hardship forced the family to scatter to the winds when she was a young girl.

She successfully fostered with the Gordon and Dorothy Almy famiiy of Indianola during grade school and then with the John and Opal Bettag family of Danville for her high school years. She graduated from Danville High School in 1552.

She went on to marry Don Carrigan and Benny Copeland Jr., both of whom departed before her. She turned down several other proposals of marriage over the years.

Those forced to forge ahead without her are [her three daughters, two sons-in-law, eight grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.]

Also left behind is Sophie, her feline companion of 17 years and another longtime friend, Hazel Demeris of Champaign.

– News Gazette Obituary, Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.

NOTE:  Joan Copeland “chose Christmas to give up the goods….” We all give up the goods in the end.  The deceased’s family provides a picture of someone we’d like to have known. Laced with humor – “she had a multitude of siblings” – and respect, they paint her not as a poor foster child but as an actor who “successfully fostered” with the Almy and Bettag families. At the same time they pay tribute by including the first names of all six of the parents, biological and foster alike, and the names of her closest friends human and feline. They include husbands Dan and Bennie but leave chose not to humiliate the suitors of “the several other proposals.”

White Privilege (with a Twist)

In the year that brought us “Hands up!” and “die-ins” that drew national attention once again to race in America, the SALT Project produced this video.

Thanks to Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton and the SALT Project for permission to blog their commentary. Click HERE for the SALT Project website. Matthew is President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Liz, like Matthew, is an ordained minister of the Church of Christ (Disciples) and leading light of the SALT Project.

What salesmen do for a living

This story is told by my cousin Dennis, originally from South Paris, Maine. Our grandmother was a tea-totaler, a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) that struck fear in every drinking man! Here’s the story in his own words.

Every Christmas our family would have our tree in the morning, go to church and then go to grandma’s house on Main St. All the Titus uncles and aunts would be there with their children. We would nosh on pastries baked by Aunt Muriel and then do the tree.

The aunts and uncles plus us children would get two or three gifts from each family and be done with opening our gifts in 15 minutes. Then our grand parents would methodically open each gift from all of us there and all their far flung friends and relatives. There would be mounds of gifts for them. Grandma was very precise, she would cut off all the bows and have a box to put them in for next year. Likewise all the wrapping paper. Then she would write in a book who gave the present and what it was. This process meant that everybody sat for hours watching them open all their gifts. You would see everybody nodding off or going to the dining room to get pastries and coffee.

After about an hour of this gift opening by Grandma, I noticed one of more of my uncles would get up and disappear for a half hour or so. Being the curious person that I am, I followed my Uncle Roy. I noticed that he went through the kitchen out into the barn. [Note to the reader: the barn was attached to the house through a pantry by the kitchen].

So I waited a few minutes and went out into the barn too. They were all gathered in a separate room with the door shut.

I opened the door and surprised them. They were drinking beer and smoking. They quickly tried to hide the beer cans and butt their cigarettes hoping I didn’t notice. I just stood there frozen in my tracks. Finally Uncle Roy said this was not place for me and I should return to living room.  As I turned to leave, Uncle Alva said “Wait a minute.” He came over to me and asked what had I seen. I told them I saw that they had been smoking and drinking, in a smug sort of way.

Uncle Alva was building a boat at that time, so he asked if I would like to go fishing with him and Bill [i.e. Alva’s son; Dennis’ cousin] next spring? Of course I said I sure would. Being the salesman he is, he proposed a deal to me. If I go back to the living room and keep my mouth shut, he would take me on the maiden voyage of his boat on Thompson Lake and we would go fishing for Lake Trout. I looked at him with wide eyes and a big smile and said “Uncle Alva you got a deal!” My other uncles pulled their beer out and took a big swallow and laughed. I shook hands with all of them and left with a grin that didn’t come off until I went home that night (laughing to myself all the next day).

When my mother asked where I had been as I returned to the living room, I told her in front of everybody I had to go to the bathroom real bad. No one was ever the wiser…. I went fishing with Bill and Uncle Alva on their maiden voyage laughing all the way. That’s when I learned what salesmen do for a living!

Dennis Smith, Whitewater, WI, December 10, 2014

Hormones Mixed with Gasoline

Cushman Eagle Motor Scooter

Cushman Eagle

In the mid-’50s, Illinois (and maybe

other foolish States) for just a year

or two allowed 15 year olds to pay

a small fee for what was a lawn-mower

engine on two wheels:  a motor scooter

built by a guy named Cushman.  And for less

than $400 I bought a new

top-of-the-line Eagle.  It had two gears,

a clutch, and a weak horn that barely made

the boys on bikes glance at me going by.

Like me, most scooter riders must have paid,

as well, for bones reset–for with a high

speed of 50, many kids of 15

would crash when hormones mixed with gasoline.

– Steve “You-Know-Who” of WILL was lucky. He got a Cushman Eagle as a kid. Here’s a another guy who wasn’t so fortunate, but who had to wait until he was 60. Look in on the family Christmas. It’s enough to make a grown man cry, in the best of all ways..with joy.