Verse – Morning Chorus

Steve's prairie haven - home of the Urbana  "Morning Chorus"

Steve’s prairie haven – home of the Urbana “Morning Chorus”

We live near a tree farm
that birds love.
Transplanted small trees
around our home
are now large,
and at first light, noisy.

Springtime is the loudest.
Breeding has begun.
The travelers have returned:
finches, swallows, robins,
hummers, whippoorwills.

Our dead end rural road
has little traffic even later
in the day–none at 5 am in May.
No sound but bird song:
Coos, chirps, whistles,
call and response.

The choir has no conductor
that we see.

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

A Mother’s Love

Katie and Kay (Mom) at Katie's graduation.

Katie and Kay (Mom) at Katie’s graduation.

Today Kay shared this at the cemetery as we laid to rest the ashes of her first-born daughter Katherine (“Katie”)

For Christ to have gone before us,
To have kept us from ultimate sadness,
To be our brother, our advocate,
The One who ushers in the Kingdom,
And the One to come,

Does not keep us from our digging today.
We still gather here and throw the dirt on our sacred dust,
We take the shovel like all those gone before us
And surrender to the Unknowable—
The place where
Love and Beauty and Kindness grow wild.
Where sorrow has no needs,
Where there is all beginning and
Nothing ends.

I know this Love of hers lives on. I feel it.
I watch it in many streams of synchronicity,
Where my heart leaps from memory’s knowing,
Where I share a breath from her beyond.

And then I cry in secret,
Begging that she return

On my terms.

But if my begging is selfish,
The answer to it is not.
If I but knew the splendor of that Place where Love lives,
I would marvel in her good fortune
And ponder her grace inside a timeless waiting for us,
A begging for our good fortune
To come on her terms.

We live our lives in time.
She lives all time as Splendor.
We are bound between this stalemate
And the mystery that is our promise.

Until then we have no other luxury than
To shout her precious memories to the sky
In loud thanksgiving that Love herself lived with us awhile.

Then, because we live with fuller hearts
From knowing more than before our loss,
We turn our shovels over
As those with little other choice for now.
For now we dig.
And shed our tears
With greater Trust.

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is
In heaven.

– Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 9, 2013,
the third anniversary of loss and fuller hearts.

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.


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.

A Poem for Palm Sunday

The Hick from the Sticks

My Uncle says that little Nazareth
has only about 300 poor folks
and maybe 20 buildings made of stone…

This guy from there with healing hands, worked with
his dad with wood. His neighbors there make jokes
he’s no account–he always lived alone–

no girl would have him. But then just a year
or so ago he left home and began
to walk around Judea with a band

of followers, just fishermen. We’d hear
wild tales of miracles, of food and wine
he multiplied, of wise things that he said…

And now here in Jerusalem today
he comes with crowds who think that he may lead
a revolution. Even I will have

a palm branch I can wave, though I must say
I doubt that from that hick town any good
can come. We city folks are hard to save…

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 24, 2013


Even the embers warm

Univ. of Illinois Campus YMCA bonfire
Univ. of Illinois Campus Y bonfire

If we move our chairs and logs

Close enough.  The flames

Began roaring, jumping

High above our heads

As balsam branches, pines

Burned first furiously.

Reflections off glasses,

Earrings, flash like the stars

Above in the moonless night.*

Two kites, tethered, can be heard,

Not seen, above the prairie.

Marshmallows ignite if held too long

Near the glowing coals

S’Mores give a sugar rush

After the tangy stuffed mushrooms.

No one can remember a ghost story

Or campfire song. The troubles

Of Job are all forgotten

As the sparks fly upward.

* In the photo there is a moon. This was photo-shopped out in the poem–poetic license.God seems to have chosen to have the Bible written this way, also;  some things were omitted (or added) for the sake of the form or sound of the poem or story.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Dec. 1, 2012

The photograph is of University of Illinois students who were engaged in service projects at the oldest student organization, the University Y (1873), where Steve served as Executive Director.

We never felt so far from him

The Grand Canyon


Dad thought Dave and I were going to hell,

since we had left his fundamentalist

God.  My brother sent me Bertrand Russell,

“Why I am NOT a Christian.”


he–liberal Presbyterian, me–

stood at the rim and watched the rising sun/

paint all the colors far below.  “Maybe

there is a God…” Dave said.  But his was one

cry like “O God!” at orgasm, sincere,

but not a creed.  My faith was mixed with doubt.

              Before he died Dad told his own pastor

to preach to us, his sons, to call us out

at his funeral.  So “Just As I Am”

was played.  We never felt so far from him.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 16, 2012

Feast or Fast

Is the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting Un-American?

“The Supper of the Lamb,” Robert Farrar Capon’s

great theological cookbook, dissed dieting,

insisting it was better far to feast, then fast.

But we are surrounded by ads, take-outs,

fast-FOOD!  Can we really just be drinking

plain water for a day?  Can a fast last?

We can remember to say Grace

(recall when a prayer was thinking

food was a gift?)  Be thankful FAST!

Then souls will grow, waist-lines

shrink.  It bears repeating:

we must first feast, then fast.



while moving fast…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL August 21, 2012

Steve’s poem transported me back in time to the boyhood where Grace preceded every meal. All heads were bowed. All ears were open and mouths shut before we feasted on my mother’s cooking. Many of the words my parents offered are gone, but the gift they gave us was deeper than words: the quiet, humble, reverent tone with which the prayers were uttered… on our behalf…and on behalf of those who had no food. Nothing at the feast was fast or taken for granted. “Give us this day our daily bread….”

Pentecost Jazz

Whenever I hear Dave Brubeck, I think of Pentecost. Here’s a video of Brubeck and Al Jarreau that came to mind after reading my friend Steve’s poem (below) on Pentecost and jazz as the music of the Spirit.

PENTECOST (acrostic)

In Memory of Charles Reynolds*


Perhaps a jazz improvisation says

Exactly what is thinkable about

New life, fresh breath…the Holy Spirit.  Has

There ever been a music without doubt

Except jazz?  Faith, improvisation cause

Circles of sound to rise and fly throughout

Our cosmos.  Tongues of flame are seen on heads

Singing or playing solos.  Then without

Time passing–a new language:  Jesus!  Jazz!

*Charles Reynolds was Organist at the McKinley Church at the University of Illinois where Steve was the Senior Minister.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL. Steve’s Sunday evening program “Keepin’ the Faith” can be heard anytime @, including archive programs, “two of  which,” says Steve, “feature Gordon C. Stewart,my ‘publisher'”.

Remind Me

One:  God, remind me of my neighbor,

take away my pride.

Two:  God, remind me of my power,

don’t let me run and hide.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 26, 2012

How’s it going with your neighbor, pride, power/ powerlessness, running and hiding? Just a question. Steve’s poems sometimes get under my skin! 🙂 How about yours?

Pontius Pilate

Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 19, 2012

“Pontius Pilate” arrived this morning by email after five days with Steve Shoemaker and other former seminary classmates. Each of us is increasingly aware of our mortality. We know that position is not the most important thing. We know that power is not ours. We’ve learned to listen to our spouses. Some of what we’ve done comes back to haunt us.  There are no “clean hands” among us. How we will be remembered is not for us to decide.  Following the man who was mocked as “King of the Jews” leads us down a different road…of thanks for all that has been and for all that we have yet to become.

Acrostic Verse: “Pontius Pilate”

Position is the most important thing,

Of course..   You say your reign is not in this

Nasty world, but here you are suffering…

Total power is mine.  If this grim choice

I make (and ignore my wife’s dream), nothing

Untoward will come back to haunt me!  I wash

Sand and dirt from my hands as I wash you…


Prefects are not required to be perfect.

If I send tax money to Rome, a few

Lies told against me soon will die.  A sect,

An uprising I stamp out now will do

The most to make my name remembered.  Fact:

Even if I call you “King,” you die a Jew…