Verse – Bending Down, Looking Up

As readers of Views from the Edge (VFTE) may know, Steve Shoemaker, my poet colleague on VFTE has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His sense of humor remains strong. This verse recalls a moment with Steve and four other seminary classmates following a rare Cubs’ win at Wrigley Field in Wrigleyville, Chicago.



A towering 69 year-old figure standing
six-feet-eight, Steve saunters slowly
through the post-game crowd outside
“the Friendly Confines” of Wrigleyville
like a watchtower on skates, looking
far and near for who knows what.

A very happy young woman as high
as he is tall pulls on his sleeve, asking
a question only he, bending far down,
can hear. He smiles but shakes his head
to whatever offer threatened to bring
him down to a lower happiness high.

Two years later at 72, he might be
looking again for the Wrigleyville fan
for something to ease the pain, settle
his stomach, give some relief from
the newly diagnosed cancer, a pill
or toke or two to raise him back up
to the watchtower, now six-feet-seven.

We who couldn’t hear the question
now smile, bend down low, and look up
beyond Steve’s lofty height with prayers
for courage, strength, whatever will keep
him tall in the game where everyone wins
and loses, and quite unexpectedly,
feels a gentle tug on an old shirtsleeve.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Dec. 8, 2015

Hey Chicago, waddya say?

Long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans like Steve Shoemaker are excited about this season. The Cubs look like a serious contender in 2015. The club’s new owners have invited fans to write a new song for home games at Wrigley Field. Steve explains his contribution. “Steve Goodman in 1984 wrote ‘Go Cubs Go’.  It is sung by surprised fans after each Cub win. It does not really fit since Goodman wrote it to ENCOURAGE the Cubs. Instead of writing a new song, here is my revision of Goodman’s classic.” Click HERE for a YouTube video of Steve Goodman’s original Go Cubs Go. Here’s Steve’s new rendition:

Go Cubs Go

Baseball season’s underway
We hope ya got ready for a brand new day!
Hey Chicago waddya say?
The Cubs have gone and won today!

We’re singing:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

They got the power, they got the speed,
They are the best in the National League!
Well this is the year and the Cubs are real,
So join us here at Wrigley Field!

We’re singing now:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Baseball time is here again–
We just saw another win!
So stomp your feet and clap your hands!
Chicago Cubs got the greatest fans!

We’re singing now:
Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

Go Cubs, go!
Go Cubs, go!
Hey Chicago, waddya say!
The Cubs have gone and won today!

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Feb. 23, 2015

Remembering Ernie Banks

There is no bigger Cub’s fan than Harry Strong. Ernie Banks – “Mr. Cub” – who died Friday night, was his hero. And Harry KNOWS baseball.  So much so that the editor of American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas [published by ABC-CLIO, LLC in 2013], invited Harry to write the entry on Ernie Banks.

Harry sent the following photograph and email to six close friends who gather annually:

I only met him once, but it’s a day I’ll never forget. In July 2004, while I was serving as interim pastor at the Morrisville Presbyterian Church in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, just across the river from Trenton, I learned that Ernie would be appearing at a Baseball Card Show in Atlantic City about two hours away and signing autographs from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. I informed Anna [Harry’s wife] that WE WERE DEFINITELY DRIVING TO ATLANTIC CITY immediately following the benediction at the 11:00 a.m. service since this might be my only chance to meet this hero whom I’d idolized since I was 10!

Traffic was heavy. The trip took longer than I’d hoped, so we did not arrive at the Card Show in Atlantic City until 2:45 p.m. I hoped and prayed Ernie would still be there, but our late arrival proved to be most fortunate if not providential. When we found Ernie and his agent in a large room behind a table, they were the only ones in the room. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits.

Ernie and his agent greeted us warmly. I told Ernie I had grown up in the shadow of Wrigley Field before moving to Glen Ellyn in 1951. I told him that Phil Cavarretta, Cub first baseman and later Ernie’s first manager, had moved into the apartment in which my parents and I had lived after our move. I confessed that I had idolized Ernie as a child and that I owned all of his baseball cards from 1954 until his retirement in 1971. I had brought along several items of memorabilia hoping that Ernie would sign them. There was an established signing fee for each individual piece, but Ernie signed a card, ball, cap, poster, and several other items all for the price of one item.

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

He also consented to pose with me for a picture, which Anna snapped.

About that time, Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” began playing over the sound system in the room. Ernie and I began singing along with “Satchmo,” while Ernie’s agent took Anna by the arm and they began to waltz around the room together.

By the end of the dance it was after 3:00 p.m., so Anna and I offered our sincere thanks for their gracious welcome, their time, and Ernie’s generous signatures. As they bid us farewell, I noticed that Ernie was limping badly. I asked if the pain was in his knees and he acknowledged indeed it was. Then I told him that by age 53 I had been walking with a cane because of the pain in my right knee due to the loss of cartilage, so that I was hobbling around “bone-on bone.” BUT – I had found an orthopedic surgeon in Trenton who was willing to perform knee-replacement surgery for me at a relatively young age for such a procedure.  I told him I had been pain-free for 8 years and demonstrated for him my ability to jump up and down and squat like Jody Davis behind home plate. I urged him to give serious consideration to having the knee(s) replaced (which he later did). I’m sure he received all kinds of solicited (and unsolicited) advice regarding the procedure – but I was thrilled to learn later that indeed he had had both knees replaced and that he enjoyed many more years of more comfortable mobility on the golf course and elsewhere.

After that memorable afternoon in Atlantic City, Anna met him twice, at HoHoKam Park, the Cubs former Spring Training home in Mesa, Arizona. Both times I was too busy attempting to secure autographs from present and future Cub “stars” along the right field line before the start of the Cactus League game. (My loss.)

The first time, Anna waited patiently while Mr. Cub spent time talking with an older woman so she could greet Ernie again and remind him of our meeting a few years before in Atlantic City, when he and I had performed while she and Ernie’s agent danced to “Hello Dolly.” Ernie greeted Anna warmly, seemed to recall their earlier meeting, and signed her Cubs cap, which I am wearing as I type.

Anna’s later encounter with Ernie came a few years later when she saw him beneath the stands at HoHoKam Park. Unfortunately, that was a less pleasant meeting. Anna found Ernie disoriented and confused, attempting to make his way to the press box for an interview. After speaking with Ernie briefly, she quickly grabbed the attention of an usher who was able to assist Ernie in getting to the press box.

As a lifelong Cub fan, I will forever cherish the opportunity I had to spend a few minutes with this gifted ball player and remarkable man!

P.S. As I reread my article just now, I was struck by this quote from Ernie I’d included [in the American Sports entry]:

“When I die, I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out!”

— Rev. Harry Lee Strong, H.R.  Prescott, AZ 

EDITOR”S NOTE: The Cubs have a real shot at going to the World Series this year. Perhaps, in honor of Mr. Cub, they’ll win it all in “the Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field “with the wind blowing out”.

Mr. Cub and Dr. Borg

Ernie Banks, known with great affection against his protestations as “Mr. Cub”, died yesterday, two days after theologian Marcus Borg.

Each excelled in his respective field, Ernie in the ivy-covered walls of  “the Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field, Marcus in the ivy-covered walls of the academy. Though their fields were different, their way of life was the same. It was humble.

Ernie objected to the “Mr. Cub” title, arguing that the designation should be shared among team members who excelled each year.

Marcus responded to the question “How do you know you’re right?” with “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right.”

Each was humble, and each anticipated death.

“I may have ten years left. Not sure I want more. There comes a time to let go. And I could, with gratitude, sooner than that. My life has been very blessed.”

Dr. Marcus Borg (Mar. 11, 1942 – Jan. 21, 2015) to former student and friend, the Very Reverend Barkley Thompson, October, 2014.

“When I die, I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out!”

–  “Mr. Cub” – Ernie Banks (Jan. 31, 1931 – Jan. 23, 2015)

Thank you, Gentlemen, for the memories. R.I.P.

Verse – The Chicago Shortstop Smiles in Heaven

Ernie Banks rocks a robe that’s Cubs blue.
Pennant hopes are eternal, it’s true,
Wrigley’s sky might be gray,
Mr. Cub will still say:
“It’s a beautiful day–let’s play two!”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 25, in memory of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

Ernie Banks (Jan. 31, 1931 – Jan. 23, 2015), the MLB Hall of Fame shortstop affectionately known by the ever-hopeful Cubs fans of Wrigley Field as Mr. Cub, died yesterday at the age of 83.

Baseball as a Road to God

The Gathering minus Steve

The Gathering minus Steve

On Monday six seminary friends come together from Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota for an annual “Old Dogs’ Gathering” at our alma mater, McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago.

Years ago four of us cut Professor Boling’s Hebrew class to take our homiletics (i.e., preaching) professor, Herb King, to the Opening Day Cubs game at Wrigley Field. We were VERY serious students!

In preparation for this year’s annual gathering, we’ve been reading John Sexton’s marvelous book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, and we’ll return to Wrigley Field where two of the Old Dogs’ hearts are perpetually broken. Steve Shoemaker, one of the Old Dogs, sent this to us this morning.

Seminary Reunion

Here we would each learn to preach
a sermon–going from the Greek,
Hebrew, to the common speech
of folks today. Here we would seek
answers to all questions: old,
or new, conundrums from a child,
screams of pain from a grey head
that’s waiting for a grave. Reviled
scorned, by former college friends
who now run businesses, our mild
Biblical response pretends
to follow One who like a lamb
went to the slaughter. We damn
ourselves in not forgiving them.

This year we lost one of the original seven old friends, Dale Hartwig, who grew old too soon and faster than the rest of us. John Sexton reminds us of the difference between beginnings and endings, and the need for a vantage point:

“While the teams and players on the field may change each autumn, the game’s evocative power is continuous. Opening Day in the spring and the World Series in the fall are the bookends of baseball’s liturgical time…. Vantage point is critical.”

Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, Penguin Group, NY, NY, 2013.

Everyone should be so blessed as to have friends like these and a vantage point of continuing thanksgiving.