Going home without my burden

Some things are too close. Too personal. As Leonard Cohen put it in his songs Going Home and If It Be Your Will, my best friend over the past 55 years has “gone home without his burden, [gone] home behind the curtain without the costume that he wore.”

Wayne Granberry Boulton — click HERE for the obituary — died peacefully at home in Indianapolis under the tender care of the love of his life — his one and only wife — and their older son Matthew (Matt).

The costumes Wayne wore were academic (Duke Ph.D.) and ecclesiastical (McCormick Theological Seminary M.Div.) robes, but these costumes were faint glimpses into his underlying character.

Harry Strong, Vicki Boulton, Wayne Boulton, Gordon, Nadja Shoemaker, Steve Shoemaker (seated), Divide CO, 2006

Knowing the hospice drugs soon would ease him into wherever people go at the end of life, I visited Wayne and Vicki, Matt and Chris and all the Boulton family in Indianapolis two weeks ago. Wayne’s mind was still clear and sharp. His heart, which was always big, without ever being sloppy, was closer to his sleeve.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will [Leonard Cohen, If It Be Your Will]

“Hi, my name’s Wayne Boulton,” said the new roommate in 1964, where we had been assigned to Alumni Hall Room 312 by the housing office at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Although he had arrived hours before my key opened the door, he had not yet chosen which of the two beds, desks, and dressers would be his. That was the first clue that my roommate was un-selfish.

We were roommates for two years until he exchanged vows with Vicki in 1966. I was to be Wayne’s Best Man, but that was before the Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living sent me packing to Czechoslovakia that summer, reducing my status to “would-have-been/ could-have-been/ should have been” Wayne’s Best-Man. When I returned to the States, Vicki had become the roommate to whom he had pledged his troth.

If it be your will
That a voice be true

Wayne’s word was his bond. He was loyal. Honoring his family and friends came second only to honoring the First Commandment to have no other gods but I AM. Wayne knew that we are covenantal creatures whose joy is found in steadfast love, a voice that is true to itself. Wayne did not sing of himself. Self-promotion was not his thing. Close to being fitted for the MBA costume of Northwestern University’s School of Business, he left the fitting room to prepare for a different robe in service to the church and the academy.

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

It was during the Lafayette College choir concert at Westbury High School that Wayne and Vicki met. The love at first sight led to the births of Matthew and Christopher, and stayed fresh until there were no more costumes. What began with the twinkling of an eye ended the same way — with thanksgiving washed by tears.

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
where it’s better
Than before

No compassionate person would wish that a loved one with terminal pancreatic cancer continue to wear the patient’s costume. “I’m dying,” he wrote to the members of the wide circle of friends he had gathered. Former students, faculty colleagues, and neighbors in Holland, Michigan and in Richmond, Virginia;  members of the churches he’d served in Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and the  latest friends in Indianapolis. He embraced the coming end of life, neither denying death’s finality nor betraying his deepest conviction: “in life and in death, we belong to God.”

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore. [Leonard Cohen]

The loss of of a best friend hits hard, no matter how much we expected it. “Hey, Roomie” was the way he began our phone calls. Choking through the tears on this side of the curtain, I give thanks that my roommate has “gone home/Without [his] burden/Behind the curtain/Without the costume/That [he] wore,” and pray against all my doubts, that some other strangers may be greeted the way I was:

“Hi, my name’s Wayne Boulton.”

Wayne wearing Chicago Dogs shirt in honor of seminary friends who call ourselves “The Dogs”

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will [Leonard Cohen, If It Be Your Will]

— Gordon C. Stewart, one four remaining Dogs “bound tight . . . . in our rags of light,” Chaska, MN, February 4, 2019.

The Press and the People


Breckwoldt prüfung

The Ordeal – Sculpture by Edith Beckwoldt, St. Nikolai, Hamburg, Germany.

“No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” —  Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotation inscribed on Edith Beckwoldt’s sculpture “The Ordeal”.

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…” — Donald J. Trump tweet, 6:03 AM – 29 Oct 2018.



Mein Kampf dust jacket“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.” ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Many advise against any and all such comparisons. As a public theologian raised on Bonhoeffer’s witness, theology and ethics, I ask, “How, in good conscience, can we not?” The playbook today is the same as it was in Bonhoeffer’s time. According to The Art of the Deal’s ghost writer, the speeches of Hitler were prominent in the penthouse bedroom of Trump Tower.

Enter Charlie Chaplin’s parody of the unlikely rise of the Fuhrer and the call to national unity.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018

Elijah’s Joy: Life is beautiful!

Elijah no longer watches CNN or any other news channels. He’s become a Gopher — a Minnesota Gopher fan, but he doesn’t care about sports or any kind of competition. He’s all smiles watching his mobile characters stroll across his crib, enjoying the music and his mother’s and grandmother’s voices.

We should all be so happy!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017

The Choir – emblem of hope in a world at odds with itself

Listen in on John Rutter, one of the world’s great composers, discuss the choir as “a kind of emblem for what we need in this world, when so much of the world is at odds with itself….”

The Concert Goers – I Fib You Not!

Below is a “Fib” – shorthand for a Fibonacci – explained HERE on The Poetry Foundation website.

The number of syllables in each line of the “The Concert Goers” should be 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and 34. Unfortunately this blog post does not permit the 34 syllable line to be read as a single line. Let your eyes do the trick of combining the last two lines into one.

The Concert Goers

whose orchestras and
choristers draw longing, lonely
specks of stardust to the hall to join as one to hear
the yet-to-be-voiced dots and lines and signs played and sung by drums, piano,
clarinets, piccolos, triangle, timpani, trumpets, sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses to the magic of the Maestro’s baton!

 – Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 4, 2015

Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra

Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra

Verse – Four Questions about Heaven

Do choirs of angels
need to rehearse?

The choirs of angels
sing only of good will
and peace, or the five
praise Psalms. (Hallelujah!)
For angels, rehearsals
and performances are
all indistinguishable.

How many voices sing
in David’s huge mass choir?

God only knows…
The seven penitential Psalms
are David’s entire repertoire.
Most of humanity
joins him and sings on bended knee.

Why don’t any of the choirs
sing the word “Selah?”

David says the word meant
instrumental interlude:
listen for the harps and strings,
drums and flutes, the organ, horn!

Is Heaven’s music heard in Hell?

I certainly hope so…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, November 11, 2014

Stillness on All Hallows’ Eve

Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area

Woke up this morning with a song singing in my head. It happens more often as I move toward retirement. Sometimes it’s a hymn. During the World Series it was “America the Beautiful”. The music comes uninvited. Sometimes it seems to come from nowhere.

This morning, October 31 – All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween – the tune (without lyrics) was “Still, Still, Still,” the Austrian Christmas carol! It’s also our 16th Wedding Anniversary when “Still, Still, Still” (“Calm, Calm, Calm”) must have known what I feel when I think of Kay.

Here’s “Still, Still, Still” played by child prodigy Akim Camara on his violin. Look for the joy on his face.

Verse – Polyphony in Poetry

For a poem to sing
must it be in a song?:
Is a melody needed
beyond a mere drone?
Can the words on a page
create true harmony?
Are duets possible

I cannot write
a round, a round.
A canon cannot
make one sound.

Each syllable makes just one note:
no melisma in poet’s throat…

to find one’s voice
amid the cacophony
of post-industrial, technological
society (with advertisements
POPPING UP everywhere)
is difficult enough without
hoping to be the J.S. Bach
of modern literature

One line at a time,
No need for a rhyme:
One chirp from a bird
is worth being heard.

Go to a concert for

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 19, 2014

Verses – Peter Michalove

Two Acrostics

Peter, like many Arts Ph. D.s,
Entered the work-force, but could not find
The right music composition place.
Earning money for his brand new bride
Required taking a job at the school.

Music would be heard for 30 years
Instead of written. But then a real
Creative time in retirement days.
He wrote music, heard it played, but when
Aggressive cancer hit him he had
Little strength left to compose. The pain
Overcame the music in his head.
Valiantly he taught others to hear,
Even laughing, having music near.

— — — —

Perhaps it was hallucination,
Even a vision, but a guy named
Tom showed up the last hours the patient
Endured the cancer. Ghostly Tom claimed
Right after death we all will get a preview

Making clear what the afterlife will be.
If people wish, they enter in–but few do
Choose that life, “Been there, done that!” they say.
How can more years, even if pain-free
Atone for dying young and leaving
Loved ones, music, teaching, history
Of stamps… The time would be spent grieving.
Very plain spoken always, he said:
Everlasting sleep I choose instead.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, December 12, 2013

Dr. Peter Michalove, who died last week, was a career Business Manager for several academic departments at the University of Illinois, where he had received his Doctorate of Musical Arts in composition.

In retirement, music he wrote was played and appreciated (see “Peter Michalove” on YouTube).

Chemotherapy fatigue eventually made writing music impossible, but Peter taught music classes to other retirees at the University, to enthusiastic applause. He has written about music and cancer: http://petermichalovecomposer.com

A grief expressed

How does one give expression to the depth of horror that follows the death of a son or daughter, as in the case of David’s lament for Absalom? (See sermon “Holy Tears: David, Absalom…and Us” posted here yesterday.)  Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses it in poetry.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!

But music, the language of the soul, best expresses the cry from the depths, the prayer from the abyss for help for the helpless. In such moments of loss – and in the spiritual discipline of Good Friday reflection – I listen to “Libera Me” from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. So soulful. So honest. Real. Vulnerable. Pleading. A primal but lovely cry, given voice from the depths by a great composer.