Wiping the President’s Tears

President Bush and ordinary citizen

Former President George W. Bush was right there – standing on the corner on Main Street in Rapid City, South Dakota. Most people were ignoring him. He looked lonely standing there all by himself. So I walked over to strike up a conversation.It was the kind of conversation I’ve always wanted to have with George – one where he doesn’t get to talk back or cut me off. I asked questions and made my points. My questions were the same as in the story of the President’s visit to an elementary school. The story goes like this.

The President talks to the children and then opens the floor to questions.

One little boy puts up his hand and George asks him what his name is.


“And what is your question, Billy?”

“I have three questions. First, why did the USA invade Iraq without the support of the U.N.? Second, why are you President when Al Gore got more votes? And third, whatever happened to Osama bin Laden?”

Just then the bell rings for recess. George assures the kiddies that they will continue after recess.

When they resume, George says, “OK, where were we? Oh! That’s right! –
Question time. So who has a question?”

Another little boy puts up his hand. George points him out and asks him what his name is.


“And what is your question, Steve?”

“I have five questions.  First, why did the USA invade Iraq without the support of the U.N.? Second, why are you President when Al Gore got more votes?  Third, whatever happened to Osama bin Laden?  Fourth, why did the recess bell go off 20 minutes early?  And Fifth, what the hell happened to Billy?”

All these years later, standing on the corner of Main Street with George W., I was prepared to ask Billy’s original three questions and a few others. I wanted to ask why his Party was blaming President Obama for what happened under his administration.

I never got to ask. as soon as I asked the question about Iraq, something strange happened.

I thought I saw a tear falling from his eye.

I pulled out a handkerchief and reached up to dry his tears. Only then did I realize: I hadn’t been talking with W. I’d been talking with his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush.

W is standing blocks away at the corner of 5th and St. Joseph, a thoughtful consideration for the older Bush, I thought, by the City Fathers of Rapid City. Here’s George, just like he was after declaring victory in the Iraq War: “Look at me, Dad, I finished the job for you!”

George W: “Thumbs up, Dad!”

Mission Accomplished

“Holy Tears: David, Absalom…and Us”

A sermon inspired by the personal story of a king who was losing it and his son, Absalom, leading to the larger question of how we define abundance in our time. If you can get by the first minute and have the time – it’s dreadfully long 🙂 it might be of interest. Please let me know your responses to the last part of the sermon re-defining the idea of abundance.

The Man Who Loved Graves

My great-great-great-grandfather Isaac Andrews founded the Andrews Casket Company and Funeral Home next to the trout stream in Woodstock, Maine more than 250 years ago. Isaac was a minister.Because there was no carpenter in town, he not only stood at the graves. He built pine boxes for those he buried.

Over the course of time, the simple boxes became the caskets of the Andrews Casket Company and Funeral Home. You might say Isaac had a monopoly in those Maine woods.

Only recently did the Andrews property leave the family when Pete Andrews, my late mother’s favorite cousin, sold it to some whippersnapper who just wanted to make a buck.

My mother used to chuckle as she recalled playing hide-and-seek with her siblings in and among the caskets at the casket factory. The land, the mill, the old homestead,the funeral home and the trout stream that had belonged to the family all those years belongs to someone new…which means that it, like Garrison Keillor’s fictional “Lake Woebegone,” never really did belong to us and does not belong to them. It does not belong to time.

Last October my brother Bob and I stood with my cousins at the open grave of my 99 year-old Aunt Gertrude – our one remaining Andrews elders. I recited from The Book of Common Worship the prayer I have prayed a thousand times at the open grave, the one my classmate Steve and I learned as young, naive pastors, a prayer for the living that feeds me day and nigh until the lights go out. I wonder if Isaac Andrews did the same way back when.

“O Lord, support us all the day long until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and peace at the last.”

Book of Common Worship

Here’s the poem from Steve from a few days ago that inspired the above reflection.

When I was just a young and naive pastor,
an old man in the congregation
would always arrive long before the rest
of the people at the grave site. He’d shun
the funeral, but haunt the cemetery…
Standing by the open grave, he’d state
his opinion of the deceased and share
with me the type, style and brand of casket
he’d told his wife he wanted when he died.
As the morticians say, he “predeceased”
his spouse, and when we met to plan, she tried
to grant his wishes to the very last
She blessed their common gravestone with her tears,
but smiled through life for many happy years.

“The Man Who Loved Graves” – Steve Shoemaker, April 24, 2012

Like the widow of the man who loved graves, I smile through tears for all the years, and I take ancestral solace in knowing that I don’t really “own” a thing.

Gordon C. Stewart, the not-so-great great-great-great grandson of Isaac Andrews

“Easter Morning”

Steve Shoemaker

It’s Monday of Holy Week. I’m walking with Jesus as best I can toward the cross and  toward the celebration of Easter. This year I’m walking with members of the congregation who are  suffering, in great pain, sick, dying people, trying the best I can to be with them fully in ways that, by the grace of God, might help. This is not head stuff. It’s heart stuff. I get tangled in my head too often. I open the morning email. There’s this double acrostic poem from my old friend Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ and shrinking Ph.D. kite-flyer theologian and poet. Thank you, Steve.EASTER MORNING

Either Jesus really did rise or

All his followers made up the worst

Series of lies in history…  Poor

Thomas certainly was right to doubt

Even after hearing tales:  what four

Reached the tomb (or five?)  Who saw him first?


Matthew says two women, Mark says three;

Or was it just one, as said by John?

Reports of what eye-witnesses can see

Never can be trusted.  Luke said one

In the road joined two who could not see–

Not until he broke the bread…  No one

Got the story straight! Conspiracy?


Even grade school kids could do as well.

And Luke throws in Peter saw him too–

Somewhere unreported…  Who could tell

That this jumble of accounts could do

Enough to give faith and hope to all.

Resurrection?  Who could think it true?


Maybe just the simple:  those whose eyes

Open to the light through grief, through tears…

Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…

Needing to be fed, hands out for bread…

Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head

Grow visions:  life can come from the dead.

I’m adding this visual: “Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb”:

Disciples John and Peter Run to the Tomb

Burnand, Eugène, 1850-1921. Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb on Easter morning, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55038 [retrieved April 2, 2012].

Steve and I would love to hear your reflections and responses to Steve’s poem or Burnand’s painting. Thanks for coming by.