Seasons Greetings

This Christmas Eve we write to thank you for reading Views from the Edge and to share with our readers this Seasons Greetings letter and photos sent to those nearest and dearest to us.happy-holidays

Dear Friends,

2017 brought into our lives two new grandsons, Elijah (7 mos.) and Calvin (one mo.) and the joy that comes with the innocence of children. Fortunately for us, Kristin (with Elijah), and Andrew and Alice (with Calvin) live 20 minutes from Chaska. We only wish we could shower the same affection on outstate grandkids Jack (17), Amelia (14) KY, and Ruby (4) CA, and sons John (CA) and Doug (NYC, VT) and their spouses, Jen and Jason.

Other notable events?

These two news events have long-lasting importance: 1) Last January’s publication of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click the link), Gordon’s collection of essays, and 2) August’s moment of temporary insanity when we raided our retirement funds to buy a small four-season A-Frame on a wetland two and a half hours north in Minnesota.

Buying the cabin while we grow closer to buying the farm felt a bit foolish. But, hey, we got the impulse, acted on it, and are loving the simplicity of rough-cut pine, wildlife (trumpeter swans, beaver, deer, skunks, and owls), and total isolation from all electronic distractions. We build a fire in the wood stove, break out a book, write what we feel like writing, take naps, and walk Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel now 4 yrs. old) down the dirt road to see what’s happening. It’s a simpler life that we savor as novel and precious.

Although Season’s Greetings normally steer clear of things political, we would be untrue to ourselves without commenting on the over-riding fact of daily life since January 20. Elijah calls the president “You-Know-Who” because we refuse to name him except in blog posts of conversations between Elijah and Grandpa about what faith calls for in the face of greed and collective madness. The cover of Be Still! — Vincent van Gogh’s, Prisoners Exercising, painted during his time in Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy — could not have been better chosen.

We count ourselves among the fortunate who have family and dear friends whose love and kindness keep our spirits focused on justice, mercy, and humility. We are so grateful for your friendship, and wish you and yours the very best of life in the Second Year of the You-Know-Who Era. Fortunately, God’s patience is longer than ours, but, as California Governor Jerry Brown said recently about climate change denial, so is God’s wrath. 😳

In the belief and hope that the cries in the wilderness count and that Love wins,

Seasons Blessings and Happy New Year,

Gordon and Kay

 cabin IMG_6563


Andrew and Calvin

Andrew and Calvin

Gordon and Kay

Kay and Gordon


Cabin wetland

Kristin and E

Kristin and Elijah

  • Gordon and Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 24, 2017.

Poem # 38 – Loneliness


O the loneliness and the fear
I feel when I go into the wilderness
Where the jackals and the wolves
Howl for my soul.

Out there, I’m alone. Only God,
And even Him I’m not so sure of.
Why the wilderness? There there is
No running from fear, pain, myself.

Naked and alone I must look
At myself. A grain of sand in a
Hostile world, trying to be so important
But only hanging on to the rock
Who gave me birth.

emptychair– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) loved the wilderness. He went to his cabin in northern Michigan whenever he could.  Poem #38 was written during advanced Parkinson’s from his room at the Care Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Dale was one of seven classmates who gather annually for reflection and the renewal of friendship. Since Dale’s death, there are six. An empty chair preserves Dale’s seat in the circle.

Me and My Smart Phone

My right hand has a callus where
I hold my iPhone when I read
or type.  I’m losing feeling on
my thumb tip where I tap the bare
small screen.  My left hand learned to feed
my mouth while I still grip the phone.

My wrist has carpel tunnel pain–
I’m on-line more than off.  I reach
inside my pocket more each day
for phone than wallet or a coin,
a penknife, or a handkerchief.
On-line Scrabble is all I play…

Are FaceBook friends my only friends?
Am I alone with just my phone?

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 10, 2014


Those who have lived their lives in one place are blessed with enduring friendships over time. The schoolmates who stayed in my home town see each other all the time. They still bump into each other at Vince’s Barber Shop where Vince gave us Kindergartners crew cuts while the older men leafed through the stack of Playboys. The Playboys aren’t there anymore, but the little boys are, complete with oxygen tanks. Vince and his brother Tony, now in their 90s, are still behind the chairs telling stories that recall their relationships over time.

On my way to the 50th high school class reunion back in Broomall, the question occurred whether Vince’s Barber Shop was still there. It was. I walked in and began to introduce myself. “You’re Ken Stewart’s son.” I was a Kindergartner, a sixth-grader, a ninth-grader, and a senior all over again – a boy-turned-man who had been known over time once upon a time.

There are the friendships that date back to childhood, and there are the friendships that come by choice for those of us who left home for various parts of the world. These friendships also come by mutual bonds of affection that date themselves to different times and locate themselves in definable places. Like the hometown friendships that fell into our laps by birth, these later friendships endure by virtue of shared experience. If the early friendships are sustained by common memories of being called into Pop Werfel’s principal’s office for shooting spit balls in class or getting into a fight at recess, afternoons playing hide-and-seek or capture the flag in each other’s backyard, catching fire flies at dusk, or playing in the school band or on a school team, the friendships that come later happen because some spark of commonality draws us to each other.

Old dogs at The Gathering

Old dogs at The Gathering

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between the later friendships and those early one. I’m thinking now of my friend Steve Shoemaker from Urbana, Illinois. Although we were in graduate school at the same time, we barely knew each other. Steve was married and lived in the married student apartments. I was single, living in the singles dorm. Each had a job that diminished our free time. We rarely took the same classes. We barely knew each other except by sight and name until 12 years ago when our mutual friend Wayne brought seven kindred spirits together once a year for renewal, friendship, and theology. In jest we called ourselves “The Chicago Seven” until Dale died earlier this past year. (Views from the Edge published “The Surrogate’s Voice” following Dale’s last time the group.) Now we’re just The Gathering.

Steve and Nadja were guests these last two nights here in Minnesota. Steve drove 11 hours to do a program of poetry and reflection on Becoming Free: Go Fly a Kite. When I presented him with the honorarium for Shepherd of the Hill’s Dialogue program, he refused it… on the basis of friendship. “Besides,” he said, “You’re my publisher!” I insisted. So did he. Friendship prevailed.

During last night’s poetry reading Steve was asked how his poems come to be. He often writes in the middle of night, lying in bed, composing on his iPhone, like the other night when a combination of three compound words came to mind: “sleepy-head, lazy-bones, slug-a-bed.”

Then, early this morning in the night following his presentation, the egg was hatched.

Verse – Missing Sunrise

Sleeply-head, lazy-bones, slug-a-bed,
where were you when the sun raised its head?
Purple and violet, rosy-red:
you lie there like you’re already dead…
Get up and greet the day! Live instead
of hiding – cat and dog must be fed!
Alarm dinging, birds are singing, led
by sunlight bringing New Love ahead.

Steve’s verse reminded me of a few lines from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crown: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership as Written by Himself:

“What I had come to know (by feeling only) was that the place’s true being, its presence you might say, was a sort of current, like an underground flow of water, expect that the flowing was in all directions and yet did not flow away. When it rose into your heart and throat, you felt joy and sorrow at the same time, and the joining of times and lives. To come into the presence of the place was to know life and death, and to be near in all your thoughts to laughter and to tears. This would come over you and then pass away, as fragile as a moment of light.”

Two barber shops. Two barbers. Two places. One story. Don’t “lie there like you’re already dead! Get up and greet the day… led by sunlight bringing New Love ahead.”

Thank you, Steve.


apology letterThe above letter appeared publicly online today, Saturday, May 25 2013.

Usually our sins are less egregious and are such that we never do anything to make right our wrong. Which is what prompts this post.

Apologies to my friend Steve, the author of the poem in the Views from the Edge’s most recent post (“Beyond Fundamentalism”) for misprinting the title of his poem. Strange how our eyes are conditioned to see what we expect to read. Knowing Steve’s background, I didn’t expect to see the word ‘conversion’, so my eyes read it as ‘conversATion’. Here it is again under the correct title. And, Steve, this is the last I want to hear about this! 🙂 What are friends for if not to forgive by the wider, deeper, more than fact truth that knocked the Apostle Paul off his horse?


Four years Wheaton College tried
to make a fundamentalist
Christianity the first
and last thought on my searching mind.
Then a liberal McCormick
Dean Filson took a chance on me–
I learned Bible truth could be
much wider, deeper, than mere fact:
changing this world was our call!
From civil rights to stopping war,
social justice cried for more
of faithful love, that holy force
learned by the Apostle Paul
when Jesus knocked him off his horse.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 25, 2013

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.

Designated Driver

I had 2 drinks in 4 hours–
they each guzzled 10 or more:
Scotch & sodas, gin & tonics,
wines with dinner, bottles pour
port and Irish cream and brandy,
Chambord, ouzo, B & B.

Friends for years, they each had stories–
I, of course, had heard them all
many times before: the punch lines
had no punch– they each just fell
on the dirty dishes, greasy
napkins, glasses finally empty.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

I’m SURE this is a very old memory!

If you want attention…

Maggie caring for her sick friend Doug

Maggie caring for her sick friend Doug

Sparky and Doug Hall, Wabasha, MN

Sparky and Doug Hall, Wabasha, MN

Ever since posting about the loss of Maggie and Sebastian we’ve been flooded with affectionate Facebook comments.

Dogs touch the deepest parts of us. These photos were taken in the home of Doug and Mary Hall in Wabasha, MN several years ago. Doug, a “street lawyer” (John Gresham) if ever there was one, founding Director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc. in Minneapolis, lawyer for American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee, and restorative justice pioneer, was dying of cancer.

Doug and Mary’s dog Sparky, a lovely Labrador retriever, never left Doug’s side.

Click Nature Boy for Nat “King” Cole singing there was a boy who wandered far only to learn that “the greatest thing is to love and be loved in return.”

If you want attention…No…if you want to love and be loved in return, become a nature boy or girl. Get yourself a dog or two. You’ll be blessed by them. And, when they finally leave your side, your friends will sympathize.

Why is pop culture fascinated with the end of the world?

Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalism asked the question after release of the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the Earth. Here’s how I responded.

Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death makes the case that our culture is death-denying.

One could argue that our fascination with end of the world films and stories is an entertaining and objectified way of dealing with one’s own personal destiny. Every death is “The end of the world.” The end of the world writ large on the planetary screen moves the issue into the world of fiction, fantasy and myth from which, like all cultures before ours, we create meaning in the midst of time.

There are other reasons for our fascination, of course. Supreme among them, in my view, is the dualism and the violence that saturate Western culture: God/Satan, Good/Evil, Moral/Immoral, Saved/Damned, Blessed/Cursed.

It is this misreading of ancient Jewish and Christian texts that makes the will to power the central theme of our time. The late Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama said that all “sin” has the same root. It is the claim of “exceptionalism.” Under the banner of nationalist exceptionalism’s shameless stealing of the metaphor of “the city set on a hill” away from its proper setting in Jesus’ nonviolent Sermon on the Mount, we assume Western Culture and the U.S.A. to be the Golden City and the agent of divine will. The exercise of that fallacious conviction results in wars of foreign intervention, occupation, and “pre-emptive strikes” in the name of national security.

We have become a national security state. The “end of the world” fascination in our time is heightened by the knowledge that global destruction – nuclear night – is entirely possible. We fear it. We know it. Yet we are also a culture addicted to entertainment where our worst nightmares get projected onto a movie or television screen where we know that what we’re watching is fiction. The fiction is almost always a high-tech version of the old racist and xenophobic dualism my generation grew up on: cowboys and Indians.

Beneath the question of why our culture is fascinated with end of the world is human nature itself. We human beings, like all other animals, are mortal. We may be exceptional in that we are (more) conscious and self-conscious, but first and last, we are animals. We are born. We live. We die.

As conscious animals, we are capable of great feats. We are also, so far as we know, the only animal capable of self-deception, denial, illusion, and species suicide. The denial of death is the great denial, and immortality is the human species’ great illusion.

The fact of death looms over life for each of us existentially and for the species itself from the beginning and in the middle, not just at the end.  Death is our shared destiny. Death is extinction. Our fascination with the end of the world is a strange Molotov cocktail comprised of all of the ingredients of the human condition, most especially the spiritual terror of annihilation, and the illusion of winning. It is the ongoing legacy of the biblical myth of Cain, humanity’s “first-born” who kills his brother Abel, the myth that describes our time and place in history.

If, like in the movie, you had only three weeks left before the end of the world… What would you do?

I’d do what I’m doing now only more consciously. I’d continue to write each morning. I’d do my best to live gratefully, attending to beauty in nature and in art (classical music and paintings) and to family and friends. I’d pray more thoughtfully. I’d walk my dogs more joyfully, stop yelling at them for barking, and find a place on the North Shore to look out to the horizon of Lake Superior. I’d eat lobster and Dungeness crab with lots of hot butter and salt, rib-eye steaks, garlic mashed potatoes. I would avoid Brussels sprouts! I’d end each meal with a Maine blueberry pie, flan, or Graeter’s ice cream, and a Makers Mark Manhattan.  Then I’d settle down on the couch next to the love of my life, Kay, by the fireplace, turn off the news, see if we can make a little fire of our own, get anchored again in the Sermon on the Mount, and return to sources of joy and laughter in the poems of Hafiz. I’d give up being intentional/purposive. I’d live in the moment.