My Father’s Voice

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I lied. I can’t keep quiet! One more post — a follow-up to “Memorial Day 2018” — before retreating to the north woods.

Dad on board ship

Rev. Kenneth Campbell Stewart, my father the chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, World War II.

My father was the Army Air Force Chaplain leading worship for the troops on board ship on their way to the South Pacific in World War II. Dad is buried in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Pennsylvania.

He was honored with a 21 gun salute, which, years later, I blamed for my hearing loss.
“Have you worked around loud noises? You have the ears of a forty-five year-old jack hammer operator,” said the audiologist. “No,” I said, “my mother’s deaf as a post.”

But my mother and I did listen to Dad’s preaching after he returned from the war. His words were soft-spoken. Peaceful and comforting. But there were times when his words from the pulpit afflicted the comfortable and rattled the saber-rattlers who glorified war and militarism. He preached the gospel, and, because he did and I heard it, I chose to follow in his footsteps. I chose to preach the gospel.

On Memorial Day 2018 on my way to the Minnesota wetland, I hear the echo of Taps from a bugler at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and remember Dad and the fallen he buried. Sometimes the dead still speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2018.

 

Slender, cross-eyed, and handsome

The Rev'd George Whitefield

The Rev’d George Whitefield

“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” – George Whitefield (1714-1770)

A preacher’s search for a new church home following retirement is often an exercise in sin, a prolonged, prideful discontent with the state of the churches one visits.

George Whitefield seems to have spent his whole ministry offending and displeasing, although the huge crowds he drew outside the church walls lead me question how offensive or displeasing his sermons were.

 

Perhaps the photograph of this heralded Anglican priest, “the Father of the Great Awakening,” and this PBS documentary description of him illuminate why the preacher who offended and made his hearers displeased with themselves drew the crowds.

“Slender, cross-eyed and handsome, George Whitefield was an Anglican priest and powerful orator with charismatic appeal.”

While others were reading their sermons from prepared manuscripts, George knew that good preaching is different from a public reading at the book store. He memorized his sermons or spoke extemporaneously with gestures considered too dramatic by the more stoic New England preachers. But one suspect there may have been something more to his success. Perhaps his eyes communicated a real human being, someone unable to hide behind being merely slender or handsome, a man whom frail and vulnerable human beings didn’t mind hearing an honest word that offended and or made them displeased with their own posturing games of pretense.

In honor of George Whitefield, a recently retired pretentious Presbyterian preacher worshiped at a nearby Episcopal Church. The word from the pulpit was deliciously real. He didn’t commit the preacher’s sin. He’s going back next Sunday.

 

Verse – “What to preach?”

Preliminary notes from “the editor”: 1) “The Lectionary scriptures” to which Steve Shoemaker refers are suggested readings for each Sunday; 2) Douglas John Hall is emeritus Professor of Theology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and a prolific author on God and human suffering.

Verse —  What to Preach?

(With thanks to Douglas John Hall.)

The Lectionary scriptures are a start,

and in the newer testament, the word

of Jesus burns and leaves a scar:  the heart

is moved, the mind is taught.  The acts of God,

the miracles, may be hard to believe,

but are (in fast close-up) no stranger than

from vine to wine,  from seed to bread,  from eve

to dawn,  that I see every day.  And when

the older testament is read,  I hear

the call to love my foes, to greet the new,

the alien with cheer, to feed the poor:

all lessons good and clear–but hard to do…

….

The Preacher may well be afraid to say it,

but don’t blame failure of the Holy Spirit!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 6, 2012.

Steve is a classmate from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, a retired Presbyterian minister, poet, and activist living on the prairie near the University of Illinois. Steve was Pastor and Director of the McKinley Presbyterian Church and  Foundation at the University of Illinois. He concluded his ministry as Executive Director of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois, a vigorous campus student center as big in heart and mind as Steve. His voice is heard every Sunday evening as host of “Keepin’ the Faith” – an interview show on Illinois Public Radio at the University of Illinois, WILL AM.