The first time I boarded an airplane after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was to fly to Champaign-Urbana, Ill., at the invitation of the Rev. Steve Shoemaker to speak to a YMCA gathering at the University of Illinois.
I knew I needed not to avoid planes after experiencing the death of my nephew Karleton, a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, and Steve's invitation to speak made it necessary to get back on one.
I've been thinking about Steve a lot recently after learning that he has developed pancreatic cancer, which is expected to kill him within a few months. I follow his almost daily thoughts about that now on the CaringBridge.org website. Which is where I learned that the newspaper for Champaign-Urbana, The News-Gazette, just published this terrific story about Steve.
You can get a good sense of the kind of sweet, thoughtful man he is, a man whose Christian faith issues in much concern for life's downtrodden people.
Steve first got connected to my family through my North Carolina sister, Barbara, and her husband, Jim, who are my late nephew's parents. They became friends with Steve and his wife Nadja when they were neighbors in the Raleigh-Durham area.
Later Steve performed the wedding ceremony for some of Barb and Jim's children, including Karleton.
I still laugh at the memory of Steve and Jim -- fully dressed in tuxedos -- diving into a swimming pool in joy at the wedding reception when Barb's and Jim's daughter Tiffany was married. It helps to know that Steve stands about 6-foot-8 and made quite a splash.
From that News-Gazette story, here's a taste of Steve's theology: "God has his eyes on the sparrow and not the eagle, on the people who are hurting. That's the God that makes sense to me."
(The photo here today shows Steve trying to fly a kite in his back yard. I took it in 2006 when I visited him and Nadja in Illinois.)
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AN INEXCUSABLE GENDER PAY GAP
It probably should not be a surprise to discover that there's a male-female wage gap among clergy, too. The RNS report to which I've linked you indicates the situation is fluid, but the existence of inequitable treatment by faith communities shames those communities.
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P.S.: As a follow-up to Monday night's American Public Square conversation, "Muslim in the Metro," you are invited to continue the discussion from 4:30 to 6 p.m. today at Second Presbyterian Church, 55th and Brookside in Kansas City. Enter the building under the blue "Welcome" sign from the west parking lot. Once inside, turn right and head to the Witherspoon room at the end of the hall. The Interfaith Center for Religious Literacy, a special project of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, is sponsoring the free event.