Verse – Lillian Weaver

Lillian Weaver’s
College Class

Her eyes would glint below grey hair,
she’d lift the book so we could see
the Fine Art illustration. Her
gold wedding ring was a ruby,
even though her spouse ran a bank.
“A diamond seems so cold,” she’d say.

The Matisse to her point she’d link:
her Bible lesson for Sunday.
We students would set our alarms,
and even though we’d stayed out late
the night before, her wit, her charms
with words, her humor, made us wait

impatiently for Sunday School.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 6, 2015

Bible a key to murder case

A friend called to tell me about the murder of his friend Earl Olander soon after it happened. Hollis knew the victim, 90 year-old Earl Olander, mercilessly beaten in his Carver County farm house.

Why would anyone would do this [i.e., tie him up, beat him with a shotgun, ransack his farm house, leave him half-dead] to a sweet-spirited old man like Earl?

A new use for the Bible appeared as the lead headline on the front page of this morning’s StarTribune:

“Stolen Bible leads police to suspects in death of 90 year-old Carver County man: After 90 year-old man was beaten to death, his stolen Bible led police to two suspects.” – StarTribune

Though a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, charges have been brought against the two suspects based, in part, on the discovery of the victim’s large European Bible containing two savings bonds a cleaning agent found in a vacated apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

The Bible has many uses. It speaks of grace, of sin, of homicide, of betrayal, brutality, denial, mercy, and more. Now, in the murder of 90 year-old Earl Olander that defies explanation, it serves as the primary piece of evidence in a court of law.

“Before the attackers fled,” says the StarTribune, “they ransacked Olander’s home and stole the Bible, as well as coins, old silverware, and two-dollar bills.

“[A neighbor of Olander] said he found it ‘quite ironic that it was the Bible’ that helped investigators make the arrests. ‘Think about that.'” [Star Tribune story]

“The book to read is not the book that thinks of you, but the one that makes you think.  No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee, author, To Kill a Mockingbird

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2015.

Gay Marriage according to Franklin Graham

I never pay attention to Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. After Jim Wallis of Sojourners called attention to one of Graham’s FaceBook postings, we found Graham’s more recent posting chastising the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s newly announced constitutional amendment redefining marriage. Said Franklin Graham:

“In His Word, the Bible, God has already defined marriage, as well as sin, and we should obey that rather than looking for ways to redefine it according to the desires of our culture. Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman—end of discussion. Anything else is a sin against God, and He will judge all sin one day.”

As of this moment, 107,850 Graham FaceBook followers “Like” it and 12,373 have “shared” it. I posted this comment on the FaceBook post.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you have yet to do your homework, and your statement “End of discussion” separates you from the more humble approach of the father whose name you proudly bear. Without interpretation and re-interpretation those who take the Bible at face value should also hold steadfast to the cosmology of a flat earth.

As a Presbyterian (USA) pastor since 1967, I have watched and heard the debates about the nature of human sexuality since 1979. The discussion within the church have not been without rancor or turmoil, but I’m proud that my church has had the courage to look at human sexuality and biblical hermeneutics through the lens of “the rule of love” not hate, separation, exclusion, or one’s own righteousness.

As a pastor who began hearing the stories of gay church members many years ago, I sensed that the prevailing view of homosexuality as a sickness and/or sin was off the mark and damaging to the heterosexual majority no less than the homosexual minority. There is no distinction at the baptismal font. No distinction allowed at the Lord’s table. And, at long last, I am now free, according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to make no such distinction at the kneeling bench before the altar.

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, H.R., Chaska, MN, March 19, 2015

Magic Wars

There’s no record the wars of the Bible
Found in Exodus are that reliable
Historically.
Fortunately
Hebrews found Holy Land bloodlessly…

(This written as a FaceBook comment in response to a comment protesting a post by the brilliant & perverse Nina Paley about her newest feature length animated movie, “Seder Masochism“–retelling the Exodus story, like she retold the Hindu tales in “Sita Sings the Blues”, portions of the latest, and all of the former can be seen FREE many places on line!)

– Steve Shoemaker,  Urbana, IL, Feb. 22, 2015

The Neighbors in St. Augustine

The men gather late in front of the house every morning before the resident gets up.

Mostly in their 60s and early 70s, they arrive on bicycles or on foot with paper bags scrunched close at the top. The minority, the younger ones in their 20s, don’t use bags. They don’t hide the beer can or the pint. They pull the cheap, green, plastic chairs from the yard out to the sidewalk to start the day.

The older ones survived the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement of the early 60s and the violent reaction of the white city fathers of St. Augustine to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  They tell stories. The younger men don’t seem to care.

I walk next door most every day to say hello. The conversations become windows into humanity, disparate perspectives, and history itself.

Why did the once young men who waded in at Butler Beach in 1964, survived the fire bombing of their homes and the beatings by theKu Klux Klan end up here bleary-eyed with paper bags?

They grow louder as the day wears on. One of them stands in the middle of the street blocking traffic as if to say to passersby, “This is OUR neighborhood!” Several times a day a car pulls up to the curb, opens the window, and exchanges something with the men. They disappear, one by one, into the house for a time.

At noon one day I walk next door and find myself in the middle of what appears to be an argument between one of the older men sitting in the yard and a 20-something man sitting on the sidewalk with his back turned to the street. I come by to say hello. The older man greets me. We say good morning. “You’re a Reverend, right?”

“Well, yes. Sort of..,” I smile, “more or less reverent.” We enjoy a good laugh.

“So,” he says, pointing to the young man holding his open Pabst Blue Ribbon, “doesn’t the Bible say ‘Instead of giving a man a fish, you should teach him how to fish?'”

“Well, no. The Bible doesn’t say that, but it’s pretty close to some of what the Bible teaches.”

“See,” says the young man, “I told you the Bible doesn’t say that!”

The Civil Rights Movement survivors recall how some of their classmates got out of town and left them behind. One of them owns upscale hotels in Atlanta and Miami. He comes home in his big Mercedes every five years or so. According to the men next door, he and others who got out look down their noses at the shrimp boat workers who lived hand-to-mouth existences in the old neighborhood where they grew up together.

The Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine is still a matter of debate both among its veterans and among the young men who have no living memory of it.  For young and old alike, the men who gather daily next door are a community to each other. They have taken their “place” in the post Civil Rights Movement era of St. Augustine.

They are part of America’s left behind. They’re going nowhere their feet or bicycles can’t take them. They care about each other. They are without pretense. They have each other, old friends and younger ones who are going nowhere. They are a local chapter of the community of the stuck. Their numbers are growing all across America.

 

The Pale Blue Dot

Some people believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the only rule of faith and life, as illustrated by the website of a popular a mega-church:

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, verbally and fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts and that it has supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and life.

The “original manuscripts” is the way out of trouble when the Bible we have seems off kilter from what they think it must have really said when God first verbally and fully inspired it. It’s a way around the horror of so much of it, like David, God’s chosen, beheading the opposing army’s giant, Goliath the Philistine, after slaying him with a stone from his slingshot. Then, as if winning were not enough, David parades into town with Goliath’s head on a stick.

“Don’t mess with me!” was the message of David, as it is today with ISIL, but it’s okay, one thinks, in David’s case because he was God’s anointed. Or, perhaps, it really wasn’t in the original manuscripts.

The questions of morality and ethics in these ancient, presumably less civilized times are brushed aside. David was God’s favored warrior and king who authored the Book of Psalms. He had human failings, for sure, arranging the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to take his lovely wife for his his own pleasure, which made God kinda mad, but, what is God to do with a man’s man like David?

They also proclaim a literal, physical return of Jesus, and “believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting joy of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.

That’s the part that’s most disturbing. In a variant of the mega-church’s statement is the statement on the website of the General Association of General Baptist Churches, to which many of the Midwest mega-churches that strategically advertise themselves as “non-denominational” belong, the position on eternal punishment is stated as the difference between “the righteous” and “the wicked”.

We believe in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, the eternal felicity of the righteous, and the endless suffering of the wicked.

Theology matters.

Is this view of 21st Century fundamentalist churches all that different from the culture that produced David and Goliath, and the deaths of Uriah the Hittite, Ish-bosheth, and the vengeful response to Ish-bosheth’s two beheaders?

We divide the human race between the righteous and the wicked, the good and the evil, just as I did as a child in my back yard playing cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians…until I learned the real story about the genocide committed by the righteous European “settlers” who assured themselves that they, the ones who knew Christ, were the righteous. the city set upon a hill of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Watch out for righteousness, argued Jesus. It’ll get you every time, and the log remains in the eye of the righteous. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Before we behead each other and destroy the life of the pale blue dot itself.

Verse – “Literally”

From Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 30, 2012

We seminary students went to see

our liberal Prof destroy, annihilate,

the right-wing Prof from the seminary

across town in a Church-sponsored debate.

 

Our Hero showed the Bible could not be

interpreted literally without

becoming nonsense:  John said, “Behold the

Lamb of God!”  Baaa!  (A raucous laugh rang out.)

 

The conservative said he trusted God

to help folks understand the types of tales

found in the Bible. He did not find odd

the miracles, healings, parables.

 

Our man was sarcastic, reasonable;

their guy was meek like one from the Bible…

Steve’s walk down memory lane arrived as I prepare to moderate a public meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 1) that could repeat the history of religious arrogance. Pro and con positions  will be offered on the proposed “marriage amendment” to the MN State Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Lord, help the moderator…and the speakers…and all who attend to speak boldly and clearly, but also with some meekness. This is not a laughing matter.

How a single voice threatened to set the world on fire

Minnestota Public Radio (MPR, 91.1 FM) published this commentary after a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran. Some things don’t seem to change.

– Gordon C. Stewart, September 28, 2010

Everyone from time to time feels insignificant. As I did, while watching fires burn across the world, lit by the words of one pastor in Florida. I felt like a spectator in the stands watching the game I care about go terribly wrong, a hostage of verbal terrorism uttered in the name of Christ.

I would imagine that the Rev. Terry Jones and his small congregation also had felt insignificant before they announced the 9/11 Quran burning, and that they were stunned when their pastor’s voice, although terribly misguided, lit the forest on fire without ever burning a Quran.  One of their own, one who had felt insignificant, had raised his voice and now had the ear of a commanding general, the secretary of defense and the president of the United States.

The difference between the Rev. Jones and most people is that he has a pulpit.  On any given Sunday he speaks and a few people actually listen.  Most of us do our ranting and raving in the shower, at the water cooler or with like-minded people at the coffee shop, but we don’t much expect anyone to listen.

But as the Jones story developed, those of us with pulpits were feeling no less beside the point.  Then, as I prepared for worship, I was drawn by some old lines about spiritual arson. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and “the seeds of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace” (Letter of James 3).

The thought crossed my mind: We could invite a Muslim friend to join me in the pulpit, perhaps my neighbor Muhammad or Abdi or one of their children, whom I meet daily while walking the dogs.  I decided to invite Ghafar Lakanwal, a Pashtun Afghan-American cultural diversity trainer, a Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen, to bring greetings of peace and share some passages about peacemaking from the Quran in our Sunday worship on 9/12.

Our little church in Chaska welcomed Ghafar, and his words about the spiritual “obligation to learn, not burn” still ring in our ears. Our service drew media attention, and Ghafar’s words were heard on the evening news  and noticed by a stranger in Australia, who sent a message through the church website. “I was touched,” he wrote, “when I read about your recent Sunday service in the news. …  I for one can testify that it has certainly comforted a far away Muslim to know that there are neighbors who will stand together in difficult times.  My salaam [to you].  May we all grow together to attain Allah’s pleasure.”

“Ah!” someone will say. How can any Christian rejoice when the author uses the name “Allah” for God?  But the reaction to the “name” is misbegotten.  It is not the name of God; it’s the Arabic word for what we in English call God.   The forest fire lit in defense of “God” in advance of the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that two kinds of religion potentially exist everywhere people gather to practice their faith. One kind burns. The other kind learns.  One hates; the other loves.

As James, writing to those who would follow Jesus, put it: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  We can set the forest ablaze with our small spark or we can use it to light a candle of hope and peace. But, after the events of this month, none of us can again think that what we say is insignificant.

I would imagine that the Rev. Terry Jones and his small congregation also had felt insignificant before they announced the 9/11 Quran burning, and that they were stunned when their pastor’s voice, although terribly misguided, lit the forest on fire without ever burning a Quran.  One of their own, one who had felt insignificant, had raised his voice and now had the ear of a commanding general, the secretary of defense and the president of the United States.

The difference between the Rev. Jones and most people is that he has a pulpit.  On any given Sunday he speaks and a few people actually listen.  Most of us do our ranting and raving in the shower, at the water cooler or with like-minded people at the coffee shop, but we don’t much expect anyone to listen.

But as the Jones story developed, those of us with pulpits were feeling no less beside the point.  Then, as I prepared for worship, I was drawn by some old lines about spiritual arson. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and “the seeds of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace” (Letter of James 3).

The thought crossed my mind: We could invite a Muslim friend to join me in the pulpit, perhaps my neighbor Muhammad or Abdi or one of their children, whom I meet daily while walking the dogs.  I decided to invite Ghafar Lakanwal, a Pashtun Afghan-American cultural diversity trainer, a Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen, to bring greetings of peace and share some passages about peacemaking from the Quran in our Sunday worship on 9/12.

Our little church in Chaska welcomed Ghafar, and his words about the spiritual “obligation to learn, not burn” still ring in our ears. Our service drew media attention, and Ghafar’s words were aired on the evening news and heard by a stranger in Australia, who sent a message through the church website. “I was touched,” he wrote, “when I read about your recent Sunday service in the news. …  I for one can testify that it has certainly comforted a far away Muslim to know that there are neighbors who will stand together in difficult times.  My salaam [to you].  May we all grow together to attain Allah’s pleasure.”

“Ah!” someone will say. How can any Christian rejoice when the author uses the name “Allah” for God?  But the reaction to the “name” is misbegotten.  It is not the name of God; it’s the Arabic word for what we in English call God.   The forest fire lit in defense of “God” in advance of the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that two kinds of religion potentially exist everywhere people gather to practice their faith. One kind burns. The other kind learns.  One hates; the other loves.

As James, writing to those who would follow Jesus, put it: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  We can set the forest ablaze with our small spark or we can use it to light a candle of hope and peace. But, after the events of this month, none of us can again think that what we say is insignificant.