Tweet for Today:

“#Glory to #God in the #HIGHEST, and #on Earth #peace.” [Gospel of Luke]

Angelic blessings to all who live in #a land of deep darkness!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christmas Even, December 24, 2016

Steve Shoemaker at Peace

With deep sadness but with great thanksgiving for his life and friendship, we share Steve’s CaringBridge post for readers of Views from the Edge:

Daddy died last night on October 10th, the anniversary of his own father’s death.

He is survived by his wonderful wife of 51 years, Nadja, two marvelous children, Daniel and Marla (as well as their spouses, Rachael and Craig), and two fabulous grandchildren, Carter and Grace.

Born and raised in Urbana, he played trombone and basketball at Urbana High School, while also wooing his future wife, Nadja. He then attended Wheaton college, where he participated in pranks, such as padlocking the chapel doors before a service. After becoming more serious about his studies (and receiving an ultimatum from his wife), he received a Master of Divinity Degree and Master of Sacred Theology Degree in 1969 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In a further pursuit of education, he then earned a PhD in Religion from Duke University in 1979.

Steve Shoemaker served as pastor at Pittsboro and Mount Vernon Springs Presbyterian churches in Pittsboro, NC, as well as campus pastor at North Carolina State University and McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign. He finished his career as Director of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois. For many years, Steve also taught one course a semester in Religious Studies at either Parkland College or The University of Illinois.

Devoted to his community, Steve served as Chair of the Committee for the Homeless, Co-Chair of the Men’s Emergency Shelter Steering Committee, member of the Dr. Martin Luther King Committee, member of the Muslim Committee, and served on the Champaign County Board, the United Way Board, and the local ACLU Board. He was also an active Urbana Rotary Club member since 1982 and acted as president in 2013.

With a passion for writing, particularly poetry, Steve was nominated for Illinois Poet Laureate in 2003 and has been published in a plethora of journals ranging from Christian Ministry to Judaism. After his cancer diagnosis, he published his first book titled “A Sin A Week.” He has also received thousands of Likes for poems posted through social media. In addition to the printed word, Steve reached out to the community through his weekly radio program, Keepin’ The Faith on WILL AM 580, which provided interviews and discussions highlighting relevant social topics.

Steve donated his rich bass voice to various choirs and was a member of the Real Fire band. He also donated his time to be an integral part in the lives of others as he joined couples in marriage, performed funerals, and provided counseling and support (while never accepting payment).

However, to this writer, Steven Robert Shoemaker’s greatest accomplishment was his role within his family. In over 50 years of blissful marriage, he modeled how to sincerely love and respect another. He gave corsages, coached soccer, and cooked Cheese Surprise. He took his children out of school to see baseball games and go to museums. And although his children did not always recognize it in the moment (as they were dragged to organ concerts or tours of Frank Lloyd Wright houses), Steve Shoemaker demonstrated how to embrace life (Fly kites! Eat dessert first!) and how to make the world a better place.

Despite a host of shortcomings, including but not limited to leaving used toothpicks around the house and eating other people’s chocolate bars, Steve was an accomplished author, compassionate pastor, devoted leader, and loving husband and father. He is greatly missed.

Memorial gifts may be made to the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL 61801.

Services will be arranged and announced as soon as possible.

There is a deep stillness in the Stewart household this morning. Even when I know death is coming, it still stops me in my tracks. The world is a smaller today.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2016

What was I thinking?

Ever have one of those days when you wonder what in the world you were thinking?

After eating at The India Spice House, I stopped in at the adjoining grocery store. A box of Bourbon-flavored biscuits made in Oran caught my eye.  They looked good. I confused Oran (in Algeria) with Oromo, the identity of the Ethiopian Muslim men who had prayed for my friend Phil in the ICU Waiting Room two nights before. “That’s great,” I thought to myself. “The biscuits will make a nice gift.”

Gift to Muslim prayers

Gift to Muslim prayers

At the hospital I handed the box to two Oromo brothers holding vigil in the ICU Waiting Room. No words were exchanged. They accepted the gift, smiled, and nodded.

Only on my way to visit Phil in the ICU did it dawn on me. Muslims don’t drink! Even if the biscuits were made in Oromo instead of Oran, Bourbon-flavored anything is unacceptable, even disrespectful, however unintentional.

I returned to the Waiting Room. They smiled broadly. “Good!” said the one who speaks English. The other repeated his word with raised eyebrows. “Good!” We shook hands the way brothers do on the street in the hood. All was well! Salaam, Shalom, Peace was everywhere in the room.

Grace covers a multitude of sins!

Creating hell in the name of heaven

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
– John Lennon

The bombs were heard in my living room last night.

The echoes of last Sunday’s suicide bombing of a church in Pakistan that killed 80 people sounded in the voices of two Pakistani members of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota where I serve as pastor. Twelve members of the church had gathered to talk about something totally unrelated to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Christianity and Islam. We were there to share. The quiet horror of Samuel and Nasrin – “I was sad all day.” – was like a bomb going off in the living room. I ask myself, why? What is happening?

I am a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world where there are no more bombings or shootings in a Kenyan mall, in Peshawar and Lahore, Pakistan, in Baghdad, Damascus, or Boston in the name of God. I am tired of all claims to righteousness, whether professedly religious or professedly secular. I would like to wipe the human GPS of its magnetic field between due North heaven) and due South (hell) and re-orient us all toward the rising sun.

The voices that fight for heaven to erase hell do not all sound the same. They speak Urdu, Parsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and English. They claim different names: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and sometimes secular. They live in different parts of the planet in different time zones and different climates. But if you listen, they all sound alike and they do the same thing.

They do not look up at the sky. They look down. They march in lockstep rhythm because the Quran or the Bible or nationalism tells them to. They live for tomorrow – for heaven or some version of it – not for today. One doesn’t have to strain to see what’s happening, and, when anyone sees it, how can one help but imagine a different world, a different kind of humanity: one without religion?

The bombing in Peshawar last Sunday is said to have been a payback for American drone strikes that had killed innocent civilians in Pakistan. For the suicide bombers, the Cross was the emblem on the shields and helmets of Christian Crusaders. Back then the Knights Templar of Holy War killed with swords. Today the suicide bombers associate the Cross with the drone attacks of the Christian West.

Religion is with us and, depending on how one defines it, always will be. A wise elder statesman, Elliot Richardson, observed toward the end of his life that religion is the problem, but that if we erased all of the religions were erased from the face of the Earth, they would re-invent themselves in a heartbeat. Why? Because that’s how we’re made. As defined by the likes of Emile Durkheim, Margaret Meade and Paul Tillich, religion spans a much wider terrain than the belief systems for which heaven and hell are essential. Furthermore, whether or not we are professedly religious, each of us has some kind of inner GPS, some version of a societal ideal (heaven) and a social and personal horror (hell).

What’s happening across the world is profoundly and earth-shakingly religious. Though our languages are as different as Arabic is from English, and as far from each other as Peshawar and a mall in Kenya are from a Quran-burning church in Florida, the voices of Abraham’s three children (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all sound the same whenever we create hell on Earth in the name of heaven.

For the Pakistani friends in my living room last night the Cross stands for a divine interruption of the cycle of violence and all claims to righteousness. In the crucifixion of a Palestinian Jew of the First Century C.E. what we see is anything but the excuse for a crusade to eliminate hell in the name of heaven.
The Jesus we seek to follow threw his life into the spokes of the wheel of violence to stop it, and we must do the same.

Every Sunday worship service concludes with a “Charge” – an instruction in how to live.

Go forth into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold on to that which is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Support the weak.

When the bombs tear through a church or a mosque or a neighborhood in the name of our imagined heaven for the righteous, we need to remember that there are Muslims, Jews, secularists, and other religious practitioners who seek to practice the way of peace…”living for today” throwing themselves into the spokes of the wheel of violence.

An acrostic verse: Missa Solemnis

“Missa Solemnis”

LORD HAVE MERCY begins the Mass
Under the baton of Maestro
Dean Craig Jessop. The last word: PEACE.
Wisdom and beauty from solo
Instrument, the mass choir, voice
Go to the top of Cathedral.

Vast walls of sound show pain also,
Arising from those who are cruel.
Nothing human escapes alto,

Bass and tenor and soprano.
Even a skeptic like Ludvig
Enlisted to create music,
Tries to make out of the tragic:
Hope, faith, love, kindness, and courage.
Overwhelmed by suffering, he
Values still signs of human will.
Even though stone deaf, he can be
Nurturing peace and harmony.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL August 7, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Craig Jessop is Dean of the College of the Arts at Utah State University, and former Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Pete Seeger and the HUAC

Pete Seeger is an American legend. But it wasn’t always so. Pete just turned 94.

Spadecaller posted the video on YouTube. He also wrote the following history behind “Where have all the flowers gone?”

On July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they failed to cooperate with House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists. Pete Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955.

In one of Pete’s darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy, a flash of inspiration ignited this song. The song was stirred by a passage from Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quie Flows the Don”. Around the world the song traveled and in 1962 at a UNICEF concert in Germany, Marlene Dietrich, Academy Award-nominated German-born American actress, first performed the song in French, as “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” Shortly after she sang it in German. The song’s impact in Germany just after WWII was shattering. It’s universal message, “let there be peace in the world” did not get lost in its translation. To the contrary, the combination of the language, the setting, and the great lyrics has had a profound effect on people all around the world. May it have the same effect today and bring renewed awareness to all that hear it.

Click HERE for the transcript of Pete’s testimony before a sub-committee of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Pete is an American patriot. He stands for the very best of the American character. He has never been intimidated by the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy whose accusations turn people of courage into quivering jelly. He wrote and sang the songs that still stand up to the bullies who assassinate the character of others by means of innuendo and association. His joyful resilience exposes the demonic (the twisting of the good) character of public manipulation, mass hysteria, scapegoating, and the misplaced patriotism that marches to the drumbeats if war.

Happy birthday, good Sir! Your voice still echoes around the world.

Ode to Mama

Leah Thomas and family

Leah Thomas and family

Leah Thomas was known as “Mama” by her clients. She was an attorney at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis when she “fainted” at a coffee shop on her way to work. This poem was read at her funeral. We called her Mama because she treated the “juvenile offenders” she represented as though they were her own children. Leah’s older brother had been a member of the Black Panthers in Chicago.

ODE TO LEAH THOMAS

Like light
Like joy
Like sun breaking through a storm
Her laughter
Brightens the room
Breaks the ice
Fills it with peace.

Mama walks lightly
Amid the trials and the cares
Quick as a black panther
Steady as a turtle
She coos the tenderness of
the turtle dove
walks with the strength of a lion.

With steady hand
With sturdy faith
And clarity of mind
She laughs
And soars her craft
Through clouds and storms
To lead us on and through.

Like light,
Like joy,
Like sun breaking through a storm,
She laughs,
She brightens the room,
She wipes our tears
She fills us with her peace.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Executive Director, Legal Rights Center, Feb. 1, 2005.

In remembrance of Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas was an attorney at the Legal Rights Center. Born and raised in southside Chicago, Leah’s older brother had been a member of the Black Panthers. She was raised with the cry for social justice in her bones, full of faith, smiles, laughter, and steadiness, a sturdy legal advocate and “mother” to the juvenile clients she defended in Hennepin County District Court.

She fainted one morning getting her coffee at Panera Bread. Days later she was gone. The funeral was held at her African-American church in Minneapolis. As Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center and Leah’s colleague and friend, I offered the following Tribute to Leah at the funeral.

Like light

Like joy

Like sun breaking through a storm

Her laughter

Brightens the room

Breaks the ice

Fills it with peace.

Mama walks lightly

Amid the trials and the cares

Quick as a black panther

Steady as a turtle

She coos with the tenderness

of the turtle-dove

walks with the strength of a lion.

With steady hand

With sturdy faith

And clarity of mind

She laughs

And soars her craft

Through clouds and storms

To lead us on and through.

Like light,

Like joy,

Like sun breaking through a storm,

She laughs,

She brightens the room,

She wipes our tears

She fills us with her peace.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Legal Rights Center, Inc., Feb. 1, 2005.

Seeing with the Ears

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop

He comes by night. He slips along the buildings of the city streets in hopes that no one will notice. He is a man of position and authority, a learned teacher with a Ph.D. in religion on his way to the kindergarten teacher. “Everything I need to know in life I learned in Kindergarten,” wrote Robert Fulghum. Nicodemus has a sense that he has lost a thing or two along the way, that he needs to start over again.

He’s sent a private message asking for a confidential meeting. The arrangements have been made for the time and place…under the cover of darkness… at Nicodemus’ request.

Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt pulled up around his face and wearing an old trench coat to blend in with displaced people who spend the night on the street, Nicodemus changes his normally stately gait on the way to his secret meeting.

Arriving at the appointed address at the appointed time, he ducks quickly to his left into the alley and darts up the stairs to the flat roof where the kindergarten teacher is waiting.

“Shalom!”

“Shalom aleikem!”

They kiss each other on the cheeks, the left and then the right, as is the custom among their people.

The teacher motions to the wood stool his hands have made for  occasions like this. The stool is well-worn by others who have come it at night, some by advance arrangement, others on the spur of the moment, when the darkness outside or within themselves has overwhelmed them and a hot cup of chamomile tea or warm milk won’t help them get back to sleep.

Nicodemus sits on the stool. But there is no second stool or chair. The teacher takes his customary place on the wall at the roof’s edge, his body and face partially lit by a full-moon, the city landscape and the whole world over the teacher’s shoulder, a strange kind of classroom. Nicodemus can see him – sitting calmly, erect, at full attention, his eyes fixed on his eyes, steady and searching and seeing, it seems, what even Nicodemus does not yet know about himself and the real reason he has come.

The man on the wall sits and waits for Nicodemus to break the silence. The wordlessness does not trouble him. He is at home with silence.

“You are a teacher who has come from God because no one can do what you do apart from the presence of God,” declares Nicodemus.

Nicodemus awaits a response to his declaration of honor, but there comes no response except for the eyes beholding him.

Nicodemus fidgets, uncomfortable with the silence. He repeats his declaration, increasing the decibels in case the teacher is hard of hearing, but not so loud as to wake the neighbors, the street people, or the police:

“You are a teacher who has come from God because no one can do what you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus gives a slight nod and looks at him from the wall.

“No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born anew,” he says.

“So it’s about seeing?”

“Yes. It’s about seeing.”

Turning and pointing to the world over his shoulder, he asks Nicodemus, “Do you see this magnificent landscape behind me?… Look at it… Really look… What do you see?”

“I see a mess.”

“Ah, but look again, Nicodemus. You’re looking with the wrong eyes. It is a mess. Anyone can see the mess. If you look, you can see a different outline through the darkness. Maybe you need glasses. Maybe your ears will help you see.”

They fall again into the silence, but the words – “Maybe your ears will help you see” – speak to an inner darkness. Nicodemus looks with his ears at the night landscape and the distant horizon and the stars over the teacher’s shoulder, listening to the faintest sound of a familiar tune they both had learned in kindergarten at the synagogue.

Jesus, is humming.  Softly. Without thinking, Nicodemus joins in humming the tune, and then begins to mouth the words, the familiar words spoken quietly by every faithful Jew living under Roman occupation and in the dark nights of the soul, the words sung or spoken in silence by every Jew on the way home from synagogue, a kind of lullaby of faith, a way of seeing with the ears:

“Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)

“May your coming be in peace angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He. (repeat twice)

“Bless me with peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)

“May your departure be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)

“For He will instruct His angels in your behalf, to guard you in all your ways. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from now and for evermore.”

The Deeper Memory

“At New Year’s, a Visit with the Deeper Memory”

by Gordon C. Stewart – January  1, 2012

At the end of a year and the beginning a new one, I visit a memory care center.

 

I walk into Red’s room — the room where he has been now for more than a year. His short-term memory is gone. He doesn’t know his wife or his children. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t recognize anyone.