Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

If I second guessed

the decision to retire November 7, this sermon by guest preacher Tabitha Isner last Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill convinced me my time is up. Wonderful sermon.

 

The Mother of Mercy

This sermon was preached at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN the Sunday following the first anniversary of the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School and seven years after the Amish forgave the shooter who had killed and maimed their children in a one-room Amish school house in Pennsylvania.

Tower of Strength

Why Atlas, Samson, Hercules, Paul Bunyan
and Superman aren’t with us anymore…
and why the latest SuperHero won’t last.

He was strong. Unlike some men his size
power pulsed, constrained–there was no fat.
He stood tall. His eyes looked down on those
passing by who turned and stared, impressed.
He would smile. He joked when asked his height,
Five feet…twenty!” Childhood awe returned
(big is best, is boss.) Authority
is imposed. The strong do what they want.

He had never been a little child–
young, but never small. Assumed adult,
he was proud to grapple, fight and hold,
lift and shoulder, carry, guard, protect.
Work was good, but work was never done.
Satisfaction was postponed. Trials like
cancer cells dividing, unrestrained,
overwhelmed him. Tasks enough to make
gods despair. Then buildings built decayed,
bridges fell, and wars blazed in the land
he had calmed before. He went to bed.
The world’s weight will break the strongest man.

-Steve Shoemaker
[Published in Response, Journal of the Lutheran
Society for Worship, Music and the Arts, No. 3,
1976.]

EDITOR’S NOTE: Apologies to Steve for the formatting. The first three lines were originally centered. The blog hasn’t cooperated this morning. Art fell victim to technology. BUT without te3chnology “Tower of Strength” would not have come your way.

Join Steve at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN Tuesday, October 1 at 7:00 p.m. for a Tuesday Dialogues program featuring Steve’s poetry.

Atlas and St. Patrick Cathedral

Atlas and St. Patrick Cathedral

Hide-and-Seek: Oysters Can’t Hide

Oysters can't hide!

Oysters can’t hide!

The subsistence fishers who have inhabited Isle de Jean Charles since 1830 see things differently from BP and the mainline press.

‘Come to Louisiana. Everything is fine’ say the BP ads. Well, they’re not fine. There are no oysters. There are no shrimp,” said Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw during a recent three hour conversation in Chaska, Minnesota.

Chief Naquin and Kristina Peterson were on route to Duluth for a consultation of American indigenous people focusing on the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana, the site of the vanishing traditional home of the Isle de Jean Charles tribe.

Kristina is a professional community disaster recovery specialist who splits her time between the University of New Orleans Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology (CHART) and the Blue Bayou Presbyterian Church in Gray, LA, where she is the Pastor. Kristina had come to Chaska, MN two years ago as speaker for First Tuesday Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally, a community forum of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church.

For three hours we discussed what was happening three years after the ecological tragedy America has almost forgotten.

ABOUT ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES

The people of Isle de Jean Charles have been there since 1830. They re-settled there after fleeing the U.S. government’s forced re-settlement program, leaving their native lands in search of a place where they could continue their culture and live together in hiding.

The place that became home was a piece of solid land hidden deep in the freshwater marshlands of the Louisiana Delta. When they settled there, the island measured 10 miles long by five miles wide.

From there they fished the coastal waters abundant in oysters, crabs, shrimp, and fish. They grew their own vegetables and fruit trees, and used its green pasture for horses and cows. The members of the tribe in hiding shared their seafood, dairy products, chickens, and produce with each other in a barter economy.

“My mother told me every time I went out to play, ‘If you see a stranger, hide.”’

THE 1940s: OIL CANALS

As Chief Albert tells the story, the accelerated erosion of the Gulf coastlands dates to the early 1940s. Big oil received a license from federal, state, and local authorities to dig canals through the Delta marshlands in search of oil. The new canals cut every which way, often crisscrossing, in search of liquid gold. And as they did, the marsh began to disappear. The salt water of the Gulf of Mexico seeped further and further into the Delta.

Chief Naquin and his people do not forget. They have long attention spans. They remember that oil canals were created by licensed permission under specified conditions. They remember that the licenses had time limits The time limits have long since passed. They remember what others have ignored or conveniently forgotten: the terms of the licenses required the oil companies to remediate the land at the conclusion of the license period.

The reclamation never took place. The Chief remembers. Click HERE for BP’s online promotion of its work to restore the Gulf of Mexico since Deep Water Horizon. There’s nothing about the canals or the licenses that required reclamation of the Delta.

ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES TODAY

The island that once measured 10 miles by five miles has shrunk to two miles long and one-quarter mile wide. The island will not survive.

Chief Naquin has been working to negotiate a suitable substitute for their ancestral home. The Army Corp of Engineers offered an alternative site that would have kept the tribe together, preserved their way of life, and helped bring income to the tribe by means of a visitor center for tourists.

A condition of occupying the new land, however, was that 100% of the tribe’s members vote Yes on the proposal. The vote was 85%. The 15% minority are mostly older people who have lived their entire lives on Isle de Jean Charles and insist they will go down with the island.

“When’s the last time any city, any nation, any group, any organization was asked for a vote of 100%?” asks Chief Naquin. “It’s impossible. We had 85% but it wasn’t enough.”

There is no hiding place. There is no lasting hiding place.

CHASING DOWN THE STRANGER: SURVIVAL BEYOND HIDING
Perhaps survival beyond hiddenness is the lesson of Isle de Jean Charles. Not just the Chief’s people who once hid from hostile powers in the Louisiana Delta, but all of us who hide from the harsh reality of the crony capitalism that grants a permit to oil companies to cut their canals through our fragile ecosystems and then allows those same companies to disappear into hiding from the initial terms of the licenses.

They call the oil rigs “rigs” for a reason. The whole thing is rigged.

If we see a stranger on what used to be Isle de Jean Charles; if we see canals still crisscrossing through the marsh; if we’ve seen the fires of Deep Water Horizon light up the Gulf of Mexico and slick the waters and estuaries with black gold; if we’ve seen the evidence of breaking-and-entering in the house of the Gulf Coast waters, if we see empty oyster shells where once there were oysters; if we’ve heard about the oil companies hiding without anyone playing seek, we can ignore the game or we can seek and find for the sake of survival.

There is a stranger on our island. The fire of Deep Water Horizon lit up the horizon to expose his hideout. The blazing fire in the Gulf of Mexico three years lit up the world with a previously hidden truth that called us to embrace the more transparent future we share with the shorebirds, shrimp, crabs, and oysters.

The oysters can’t hide. Will we, who can make moral choices, hide, or will we seek and call to account the strangers on our island?

The Deeper Silence of Boston

Video

This sermon was preached at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN the Sunday following the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It draws on Red Sox player David Ortiz’s nationally televised statement “This is our (expletive) city!”; Richard Rohr’s “Finding God in the Depths of Silence” (Sojourners, March, 2013), and the Epistle of James’ insight that the “tongue” (i.e., speech) is “a restless evil” ready to curse others even while it blesses “the God and Father of us all.” “Brothers and sisters,” writes James, “this should not be so!”

The sermon calls for engagement in the inner silence that moves down into the undivided reality that words so easily and quickly divide and destroy. It ends with the Pie Jesu from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem and the invitation “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Sermon: The Man of Silence

A sermon for Palm Sunday/ Passion Sunday at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN, reflecting on the passion of Jesus in light of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries

Editor’s note: This column, submitted by the Rev. Gordon Stewart and Bill Tisel, clerk of session, on behalf of the Shepherd of the Hill Presb…

via Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries.

Dialogues cancelled

A Public Letter from the Board of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, host of “First Tuesday Dialogues” – Feb. 8, 2013:

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts….” – Zechariah 4:6 (NRSV)

In this spirit we at Shepherd of the Hill – the church with the rocking chair – have chosen to cancel the First Tuesday Dialogues previously announced for Feb. 19 and March 5 on Gun Violence in America.

The First Tuesday Dialogues serve a single purpose: examination of critical public issues locally and globally with respectful listening and speaking in the search for common ground and the common good. The program expresses our own Christian tradition (Presbyterian) whose Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) call us to honor individual conscience and direct us toward kindness and mutual patience.

The First Principle -“God alone is Lord of the conscience…“- upholds “the still, small voice” in the midst of social earthquakes, winds and fires. It requires us to listen. Ours is a tradition that honors dissent. The voice of one may be where the truth lies. The Dialogues are meant to give space for that voice on critical public issues.

The Fifth Principle declares that “There are forms and truths with respect to which people of good character and conscience may differ, and, in all these matters, it is the duty of individuals and of societies to exercise mutual forbearance”  It is our tradition’s answer to Rodney King’s haunting question: Can’t we all just get along?

These historical principles are not only our historical tradition. They represent a daily interpretation of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors in the present moment. One can only love God, whom no man or woman has seen, wrote the Apostle Paul, if we love the neighbor we do see.  How we treat the neighbor is how we treat God.

The success of Shepherd of the Hill’s community programs depends upon a wider acceptance of these principles of respectful listening and exchange among individuals in dialogue. They also assume a group small enough to engage each other more personally and thoughtfully.

If numbers were the only measure of success, last Tuesday’s Dialogues event on gun violence featuring Chaska Chief of Police Scott Knight and Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson was a huge success. 138 people attended. The Chapel was filled. I thought perhaps it was Easter!  But it wasn’t Easter. There was tension in the room. The established habit of the Dialogues program – one person speaks at a time without interruption or rebuttal, no clapping, and respectful listening –gave way to a sense of one team versus another. When a woman dared to stand to ask how many people there had lost a loved one to gun violence and proceeded to tell her story of personal tragedy, she was not met with compassion. She was met with shouts that her story was irrelevant. By the time the other voices had been quieted, the woman had finished her story of a horrible tragedy. She deserved better.

We all deserve better than to be shouted down, no matter what our experiences or views are. One first-time visitor who was there to oppose gun control shared his puzzlement over the treatment of the woman. “How could anyone not have compassion for her pain?” he asked. “Everyone should be moved to compassion by her story of personal tragedy, no matter what we think about the Second Amendment.”

America always jeopardizes its promise as a place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when might and power rule. To the extent that we fear that we are unsafe, it will be because we have chosen to ignore the wise word to Zerubbabel to live not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit reflected in the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lots of people have asked about the rocking chair on the front lawn. Why is it there? What does it stand for?

After the Amish school room massacre in Pennsylvania several years ago – very much akin to what happened at Sandy Hook – Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” aired a commentary called “My Amish Rocker.” It was about a more peaceful, forgiving, and loving way of life, the amazing picture of the Amish buggies clip-clopping their way past the home of the man who had murdered their children, tipping their hats respectfully to the killer’s family, on the way to the funeral of their own slaughtered children. The story on MPR was about my Amish rocking chair, made for me by Jacob Miller of Millersburg, Ohio and the opportunity it gives me to think again about who I am in a violent world.

The chair on Shepherd of the Hill’s lawn is there to invite the world to a different way of life. It reminds passers-by to slow it down. Stop speeding through life on the way to who-knows-where. Take a seat.  Rock a while. Breathe deeply. Get in touch with the deep things of the human spirit. Be quiet and listen, like the Amish, for the still, small voice which, in the end, is the only Voice at all.

The Power of a Manger

A sermon preached at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN using the image of Christ the Center who meets us from the edge of the political-religious-economic worlds our hands have made.