Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - Christmas Day

Read Isaiah 61

when the broken toys
are set out
by the curb,
maybe then
we can find the time
to mend the broken-hearted:

when the Christmas charges
are all paid off:
maybe then
we can fund health care
for the poorest
of God's children;

when we are finally free
of all the parties,
the gatherings, the obligations:
maybe then
we can notice
the prisoners;

when the tree comes down,
when the lights are put away,
when the ornaments are packed up:
maybe then
we can wipe away
the tears
of the mourners.

when God's Spirit
comes upon us
(and it did during the night
whether we noticed
or not)
maybe then
we will know
(and live)
the real meaning
of Christmas.

Prayer

Maybe when the new year begins,
God of Bethlehem, we will know
that we are called to be children of
the Spirit, those who can repair our
ruined cities, who can welcome strangers,
who can be sown as the seeds of your
rightousness. Maybe, just maybe. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: Christmas Eve-B

Read Isaiah 60

Here in the States, the National Toy Hall
of Fame is inducting a new 'member.'
Joining such luminaries as Barbie, Legos,
Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky is:

a cardboard box.

Yes, the folks at the Hall of Fame have
finally recognized what all parents (and
kids) have known for years - the best 'toy'
to stimulate imagination is usually the
box in which the toy you spent a lot of
money on comes in. Especially if it is
a grown-up toy, like a refrigerator, or
washer or dryer.

Forget about the hottest video games;
forget about the shiny bike;
forget about all the new clothes;
and watch in wonder and joy as the kids
turn the thing you would put out with
the trash into the best Christmas gift
of all.

After all, what else can be the Titanic
one minute and the next a rocket to the
moon? What can be a souped up race
car in the morning, and a limousine taking
a young 'bride' to her wedding that afternoon?
What other gift allows, no, encourages
children to use their imagination the way
a big, empty cardboard box does?

One of the attributes of God that is revealed
to us over and over again in the book of
Isaiah is imagination. God is no 'let's do
it the way we've always done it" type.
God does not 'repeat' the same old tricks.
And if God does not expect us to always
behave as we did before we met God,
why should we expect God to stay the same?

No, God is endlessly creative; God is
amazingly imaginative.

God takes the most hopeless situation
and turn it into a miracle. God takes death
and twists it into life; God takes suffering
and creates salvation; God takes people who
over and over refuse to be obedient and
faithful, and turns us into the ones who will
help bring in the kingdom.

God is the one who takes all the 'toys' the
world would offer us and dumps them out
on the floor. And then, God uses that great
big empty box to imagine a world at peace,
a people redeemed, a creation restored to
wholeness, a Baby who shows all the grown
ups how to love, to care, to serve.

Prayer

Imagine us at peace with one another, Prince
of Peace; imagine us able to talk with each
other, Wonderful Counselor; imagine us
willing to become poor and weak in order
to serve your children, Mighty God; imagine
us able to be faithful, not just for a few
moments on Sunday morning, but in all
the moments we live, Everlasting Father.
And then imagine us going out and telling
all the people we meet of the One we have
found this night in a stable in Bethlehem,
and how that little Baby has transformed
our lives forever. Imagine that, God,
imagine that! Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Friday-B

Read Isaiah 58

A friend of mine refers to me as a
'curmudgeon-in-training' and I have
to admit that there are times when I do
resemble that remark! I guess I have
reached that age (that occurs in every
generation) where the things (music, movies,
TV, behavior) of the younger crowd
annoy me.

I do hope that I have managed to become
a little 'looser' in worship. I enjoy telling
a good joke in a sermon, and find that the
genuine, spontaneous occasions of laughter
in a service can add to its meaning. But,
I still feel uncomfortable when people applaud
for the choir/musicians, or with some of the
'gimmicks' (IMHO) that some churches resort
to, or some of the so-called praise tunes that
are combined with rather insipid lyrics.

It seems like even God turns curmudgeonly
when it comes to worship. What we think
makes for good worship doesn't seem to float
God's boat, according to the prophet. Some
of the words we use sound hollow to God;
some of the actions we take don't begin to
tickle God's fancy; some of the songs we sing
seem to put God to sleep.

But, when we leave the communion Table and
go out and feed folks at the nearby shelter, that
turns God on; when we take off our winter coat
and drape it around a shivering child, that catches
God's attention; when we stop turning holy days
into holidays - then we will discover that true
worship we need.

Then we won't need to drag oursleves out of bed;
then we won't need to grumble as we get the
kids ready; then we won't dread Sundays, but we
will delight in them, even as we delight in
the Lord who has given the sabbath to us.

Prayer

Sender of Sabbaths: as we serve others, as we
remove the burdens of others, as we clothe the
naked and feed the hungry, may we discover that
we are worshiping you in the way you would have
us do so. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Thursday-B

Read Isaiah 55:1-12

There's still time, don't worry!
Our biggest, best, blow-out sale of
the season starts Friday at 4:00 a.m.
and runs until the shelves are empty!
So, come!

Don't forget the internet. If you order
online by noon on the 23rd, we absolutely,
positively guarantee (no money back, though)
delivery on Christmas Eve day (for a very small
surcharge, of course; but you will hardly feel
the pain, we guarantee).
So, come!

We will not be open for 'business' on Christmas
Day. If you want to celebrate the birth of
Jesus (and see a really wonderful production
at the same time!), be sure to attend one of
our 17 Christmas Eve Extravaganza Lollapaloozas
beginning at 8:00 a.m.
So, come!

And we do, don't we? Running out for that last
minute sale; chasing after that elusive 'perfect' gift;
looking for one more thing to stuff down the
stocking of our loved ones.

But how much time have we spend spend trying
to find those living waters that can quench that
thirst that continually parches our souls? Or
did we get to the bakery in time to purchase some
of that Bread of life that was on sale, or did we
think we could get by without it - again? Have
we managed to seek after the Lord, as diligently
as we tried to locate the hottest new toy?

The world entices us with all sorts of "things"
that are supposed to guarantee us the abundant
life.

When will we come to the One who can give
us the life we so desperately long for?

Prayer

We are still waiting for you to come to us,
God. Or are you waiting for us to come to
our senses, and seek you out? Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12

We have no trouble telling the prosperous
of our times - for they have no trouble
showing us:
- their beach homes,
the ski chalets,
the apartment in the city;
- the Hummer with a DVD player
in the headrest of every seat,
and the shiny spinning rims;
- the clothes, the planes, the 'toys'.

And so, it is easy for us (and the rest
of the world) to overlook the ones
whose faces are aged and lined early
in life by hours, days, weeks, months,
and years of caring for the autistic child,
the parkinsoned mother, the alzheimered
father.

And when the press makes a big deal
out of the breakup of (fill in the name
of your favorite celebrity couple),
there is no space for the story of the
couple who have spent the last 40
years serving the homeless and hungry
down at the inner city (of any city!)

And when 'breaking news' tells us of
the politicians latest vote to give more
to the rich, we turn away from those
who are filthy because they have no
running water in their apartments;
from those who are despised because
of their accent or color; from those who
have been crushed by the poverty the
world claims exists only in their
unwillingness to work.

It's easy to tell the prosperous, the
favored, the valued in our society;
so why does the prophet tell us that
the servant, the marred, the rejected,
'those' people! will be exalted by God?

Doesn't he read the papers, or watch TV?

Prayer

What a perversion of your dreams, of your
hopes, of your love for the world, Advent
God, that we exalt all the wrong people and
overlook the ones you are bending down to
lift up. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12

We have no trouble telling the prosperous
of our times - for they have no trouble
showing us:
- their beach homes,
the ski chalets,
the apartment in the city;
- the Hummer with a DVD player
in the headrest of every seat,
and the shiny spinning rims;
- the clothes, the planes, the 'toys'.

And so, it is easy for us (and the rest
of the world) to overlook the ones
whose faces are aged and lined early
in life by hours, days, weeks, months,
and years of caring for the autistic child,
the parkinsoned mother, the alzheimered
father.

And when the press makes a big deal
out of the breakup of (fill in the name
of your favorite celebrity couple),
there is no space for the story of the
couple who have spent the last 40
years serving the homeless and hungry
down at the inner city (of any city!)

And when 'breaking news' tells us of
the politicians latest vote to give more
to the rich, we turn away from those
who are filthy because they have no
running water in their apartments;
from those who are despised because
of their accent or color; from those who
have been crushed by the poverty the
world claims exists only in their
unwillingness to work.

It's easy to tell the prosperous, the
favored, the valued in our society;
so why does the prophet tell us that
the servant, the marred, the rejected,
'those' people! will be exalted by God?

Doesn't he read the papers, or watch TV?

Prayer

What a perversion of your dreams, of your
hopes, of your love for the world, Advent
God, that we exalt all the wrong people and
overlook the ones you are bending down to
lift up. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 49:13-18

Growing up in the 'Deep South' of the United States, it seems that the only time I heard the prophets in a positive way was at Christmas, with either Isaiah (WonderfulCounselour . . .) or Micah (But you, Bethlehem Ephratha . . . ) being read.

On all other occasions, if the prophets were read in church, it was to warn us (of God's impending doom), to scare us (because God was coming to beat us), to urge us to repent (or else God will forget about us), to remind us to do good deeds.

After all, I remember being told, God is up in heaven keeping account of every word I speak, every thought I had, every thing I did. Indeed, God kept a ledger. There was that golden-covered, tooled with fine leather book into which the names of all the good folks went; and there was that tattered, ink-stained, much-thumbed-through thick journal where God listed all the bad things people did (especially you, Thom!).

And then, one day I ran across this wonderful passage from Isaiah (which I hope you have read!).

Forget us? How can God forget - that would be like a mother not kissing the skinned knees of her son; that would be like a father not sitting up late at night until his daughter comes home from her date!

Write down our names? Yes, God does that.

But not in any book - good or bad. God is not an accountant, God is a lover. And so, our names are written on the palms of God's hands. Not in a book that can be lost, or shelved, or given away, but in the one place where God will always see us, right next to the scars of the One who came to set us free from fears, from doubts, from death, from sin.

Prayer

Our names are written in the palms of your hands, Compassionate God. What better reason do we have to sing for joy and to break forth into carols of praise? In Jesus' name, we pray.
Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Monday-B

Read Isaiah 44:1-5

In today's world, it is a marvel to look at what athletes wear. Once it was just the school or team colors, but now it is about advertising. The players wear the shoes made by whatever company has a contract with the coach; shirts (and sometimes pants) are adorned with the logos of banks, of airlines, or other corporations. With the race car drivers here in the states, their cars (and the clothes) have so many badges/decals from so many different companies, do they ever wonder, "who do I belong to?"

Isaiah tells us there will be a time where we, as believers, will have no doubt about that question. Yahweh assures us, through the prophet, that when the waters of life flow through the depths of our souls, and when the spirit is planted securely in our hearts, then we will want everyone to know that we are the Lord's.

Has that time come yet for you? Are you willing to let people know the name by which you should be called? Do you have this believe posted on your website? Have you inscribed on the palms of your hands, "I am the Lord's"?

Or is it still so much easier to wear Tommy's, or Diane's, or Abercrombie's names?

Prayer

Why am I hesitant to let folks know that I belong to you, Assuring God? Why do I keep writing your name on my hands in water colors that easily wash off? If you are willing to form me in your image, help me to be willing to inform others that I am yours. In hope, I pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 4th Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 43:14-25

It seems to be a common human urge. To go back: back to some storied past, some Golden Age, those good ol' days that we seem to miss.

If the church could only become the way it was 40 years ago; if schools only would reinstitute prayer; if society could only go back to the "simple" life we all knew as kids. Those are the refrains we sing.

Now look at the song God sings to theHebrews in exile in Babylon:
'do not remember the past,
don't think about the good ol' days:
watch and see the new thing I do!'

Instead of parting the sea as before, God will build a highway through Death Valley. Rather than turning a rock into a drinking fountain, God will make living waters readily available; instead of freedom from slavery, God will take away their sins.

Will they notice, or grumble that "that' snot the way we have done it in the past"? Will they pay attention, or write another book about the Golden Age of Babylon? Will they sit at home waiting for God to pass over their houses, or will they be waiting at the station to board the trian?

We can spend a lot of time reliving the past, or we can move into God's future. What will we do?

Prayer

It seems that we look in the wrong place for you, Holy One. We look backwards into the past for a glimpse of you, but you are out there ahead of us, moving forward, waiting for us to catch up. Help us to set down what we yearn for, and grasp what you want to give us - new hopes, new life, new joy. In Advent hope, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Saturday-B

Read Isaiah 43:8-13

If you watch crime shows on television, you have seen episodes where the police are questioning witnesses to the crime, and everyone gives a different version of what happened. The testimony of the witnesses is so varied, that it is of little use to the authorities. And these witnesses are usually folks with good eyesight and hearing. Imagine what the police would have to deal with in trying to question witnesses who are sight or hearing impaired.

Isaiah tells us that it is precisely these people who are called into 'court' to give testimony about the One, True, and Holy God - Yahweh! Not those with PhD's sewn on their sleeves; not those who have years of experience in studying the Greek and Hebrew texts; not those who can quote Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and others without having to crack open a book.

No, it is the people we overlook; it is the least, the little, the lost, the last of the world; it is those that we call challenged, handicapped, disabled. They cannot see, so how could they tell us about a sunset? They cannot hear, so what do they know of angels' choruses? They cannot talk, so why should we bother?

Yet these are the ones God puts on the witness stand. These are the people God chooses to give testimony. These are the ones God decides are best able to tell of what God has been doing in the world.

It's the differently-gifted folks, Isaiah says, that best see what God has done. They are the ones who can point us to the wonders, the miracles, the salvation God is accomplishing in our midst. And I have one of those witnesses in my family, in Teddy, our mentally retarded and developmentally delayed son.

Teddy couldn't quote a Bible verse to you, but he knows without a doubt that God loves him. Teddy would think that John Calvin is the latest country singer on the radio. But when he comes forward to take communion, tears off a big chunk of bread, dunks it in the cup, pops it in his mouth, and grins, saying, "ummm, good!" he bears witness to each and every one of us.

Prayer

Open our eyes to the ones who truly see you; open our ears to the ones who hear your whisper; open our hearts to the One who comes to fill us with all your gifts, that we might bear witness with joy, with hope, with grace. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Friday-B

Read Isaiah 42:1-9

The movie "Chariots of Fire" came out when I was in seminary. In the movie, the sister of Eric Liddell asks him to stop running and return to the mission field. He responds, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

Well, some of my classmates were livid with such a remark. That certainly smacks of works righeousness; and how dare any one imply that what I do (or anyone else does) causes God to reward us - with pleasure or anything else!

That's why I like this passage from Isaiah. One of the famed 'Servant Songs', it clearly tells us that God is not only capable of delighting in us (which I think was the intent in what Liddell said in the movie), God chooses to delight in us! But not because we run fast; not because we write well; not because we are stronger; not because we are smarter.

God delights in us when we serve!

And in a culture that exalts accomplishment; in a time when athletes demand millions and millions in salaries (and usually produce less and less); in a world where one strives to be No. 1, to be the most famous, to outdo everyone else, the prophet of Advent reminds us that God's people (that's you and me) are called to be servants.

Which doesn't necessarily mean doing menial work that no one else wants. It doesn't mean taking a pay cut to prove how 'humble' you are. It doesn't mean being a doormat for everyone else.

What we are called to do is to bring forth justice (note the word is used three times in the first four verses). It means making sure that the widows and orphans are taken care of, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year; it means taking God's light into all the shadowed corners of this world; it means mending those who are broken, and bringing new hope to those whose lives are growing dim.

And when we do these things, when we are faithful and obedient to God's call to servanthood, when we gladly reach out and take the hand of those in need, then we will feel God's pleasure, forever and ever.

Prayer

I don't know why you insist on choosing to work through human beings - like Jesus, like me, like others. I'd rather run down the street, than clear it of poverty, Calling God. I'd rather spend time making more money than mentoring a young person. I'd rather get an award for my hard work, than serve food down at the shelter. But you have called me to service, Choosing God, and so I will listen and answer your call. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Thursday-B

It's the silence that gets to us.

Someone is mad and speaks their mind, and then doesn't say another word, while the silence stretches between us;

we've hurt a friend (and know it) and we say 'sorry' (and mean it). And when we stop talking (so they can graciously accept our apology), the pause goes on and on.

The silence had to have gotten to the people of God. The long pause in the conversation with Yahweh kept going on and on and on. The last word was about judgment, about Babylon, about exile.

And then silence.

And now, after some 160 years, God speaks again . . .

Read Isaiah 40:1-11

The sound of silence is broken with words of hope, of joy, of new promise.

To a people in exile, God comes to be with them in their lostness;

to a people who weep by the rivers flowing through Babylon, God comes singing of comfort and hope;

to a people who open the newspaper every day and read the bad news on every page, God comes bringing the good tidings (gospel) that freedom is at hand;

to a people who believed that God's final word was 'you're fired!', God comes saying, 'I'm not done with you yet.'

To all of us who are overwhelmed by the silence of the world, God comes with lips singing of joy and arms to gather us up and carry us home.

Prayer

Break the silence which weighs us down, Comforting God, with your joyful good news that you are in our midst: to restore, to give hope, to lead us into your kingdom. In Advent joy, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd WEdnesday-B

Read Isaiah 39:1-8

In this season of choirs of angels singing
of joy, some folks hear only a funereal dirge
in the recesses of their minds.

In this time of looking to heaven in hope
of seeing the Star over Bethlehem, there
are those for whom their days are a living
hell.

Even in the churches filled with Advent
banners, fragrant greenery, candles lighting
the Way, and children whose eyes sparkle
with eager anticipation, people sit next to
us overflowing with fears, bent by
anxieties, overcome with doubts.

These are our friends, our neighbors, our
coworkers, our spouses, our children, our
parents . . . and, if we are completely honest,
even ourselves.

We are the people who wonder if God really
will do something new this year. We question
whether or not the Baby will be born in our
hearts this Christmas. We look back over our
lives and see only despair, fear, pain, struggle;
all the confirmations that there is no future,
no joy, no peace. As Isaiah says, there is "nothing
left" in our lives, in our hearts, in our spirits.

We know, better than anyone else can, how
the Israelites felt as this first section of the
prophet comes to an end. We look to the
horizon, and all we can see is Babylon - in
whatever form our fears take. We seek
community, and find ourselves living in
exile. We look for friendship, only to discover
we are surrounded by strangers.

And we ask the age-old question: 'where is God?'

Prayer

We mourn; we wail; we watch; we wait.
Where are you, God? Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 35:1-6a

At breakfast this morning, Bonnie asked me
if I would have commuted Tookie Williams'
sentence. (He was the co-founder of the Crips
street gang, and was executed last night after
being convicted of murdering four people).

I told her that if I had been governor of California,
I would have commuted his death sentence to life
in prison without parole. Of course, if I were
governor of any state, I would commute the death
sentence of any inmate on death row.

And, if I could, I would commute the sentence
Teddy lives under, of always being mentally
retarded, always being different from most
people (especially those he feels closest to),
always having to live in places other than where
he would choose.

And, if I could, I would commute the sentence
that Teddy, and my friend Joanne, and David's
sister, and thousands and thousands of others
live under of always wondering if that tummy
ache, that twinge, that ache in the bone means
that the cancer has returned.

But I can't. As much as I wish, and want, and
would if I could, it won't happen.

But Isaiah tells us that one day it will happen,
because God can do it, and will do it. Sin,
death, the dysfunctions and disabilities and
differences that plague so many people, will
be taken away from them. Not only will the
blind see, but cancer survivors won't have
to lay awake worrying. Nor only will the deaf
hear, but children will leap out of wheelchairs
and begin dancing. Not only will the speechless
be able to sing, but people who were once retarded
will win the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

Of course, the frustration is that God will not do
it until God is ready. But the promise is there.
So in the meantime, all I can do, all any of us
can do is

'Be strong, do not fear!'

Prayer

It is never easy to be strong, Compassionate God,
when it is our children, our spouses, our friends,
ourselves who are ill, who suffer, who die. So,
strengthen us with your grace, and send your Spirit
to take away our fears, even as we await that day
when the only strength we need is to lift our
loved ones up and swing them up in the air. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Monday-B

Read Isaiah 32:1-8

Surely someone will come:
to bring peace to a warring world;
to touch the hurting with healing grace;
to hand out hope to the people the world ignores;
to touch the oil of gladness to the lips
of those who mourn.

Surely someone will come:
to water our fallow souls
and plant the seeds
of justice and righteousness
deep in our hearts.

Surely someone will come:
to be the oasis
where our parched spirits
can be refreshed
so we can serve others.

Surely someone will come:
to shade our eyes
from the bright glare
of society's seductions.

Surely someone will come?

Prayer

Indeed you have come to us, Approaching God:
in the sheaves of hope Jesus carries in his arms,
in the healing grace of his fingertips, in the joy
of his heart that is shared with all people. May
we receive you as you come to us in this day,
this season, this life you have given us. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 3rd Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 25:6-10a

God is coming to be with us.

But it's not just the fact that God is coming
to be with us which the prophet celebrates.
It is also the joyous good news that the
very Kingdom of God is arriving.

And how do we know this?

The royal throne, the seat of absolute power,
will be replaced with a manger, which holds the
One who has set aside his equality with God
to become one of us.

The palace, with all its gold, its embroidered
finery, its jewel-encrusted china, will be torn
down as God takes up residence in a barn.

The center of God's rule will move from
the royal city, where kings plot and armies
clash, where politicians hire speech writers
to come up with the best sound bites,
where high priests dine in splendor
as the poor serve in despair, to tiny,
insignificant Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
where choirs of angels proclaim the birth
of the Messiah.

The One we wait for is coming to be with
us, the prophet proclaims: in unexpected places,
at times not on our calendar, in people we would
normally choose to ignore.

God is coming to be with us: to upset our
applecarts filled with wants, to feed us with
peace and hope till our bellies ache, to grasp the
hem of the divine robe and wipe away our tears,
to take away the shroud of death with which we
have wrapped ourselves.

God is coming: for no better reason than to
save us.

Prayer

Come. Please come. Do not delay, do not wait
any longer. Come, God-with-us, come. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Saturday-B

Read Isaiah 25:1-5

The story of our faith begins in a garden
(see Genesis), and ends in a city (the new
Jerusalem of Revelation). So, it should
not surprise us that cities stand under God's
will, and God's chastening.

And it seems that the cities back in Isaiah's
time were no different than our modern cities.
The city growls at the homeless, who are only
looking for shelter on a winter's night, hoping
they will leave the city limits and be someone
else's problem.

The city is on the prowl for the poor, making
sure they know which neighborhoods are theirs -
the one with few stores, with fewer services,
but with more police, more rundown housing,
more problems with sewage, with water, with lights.

The city sows the seeds for greed as leadership spends
millions on demands from corporations and sports teams,
who threaten to leave if the money is not forthcoming,
while schools disintegrate and funding for medical
services for the poor are cut.

Yet, there is hope, Isaiah tells us. God's great powers
of reversal will be at work once again, when the city
becomes the place where the homeless find refuge
in God's heart (and ours), and God's hands (along with
ours) shelter the poor with hope, with peace, with love.

The only thing we have to decide is which city we
want to live in.

Prayer

We live in our comfortable suburbs, using the city
only for sporting events, fancy meals, and shopping.
We know which neighborhoods to avoid, and which
streets not to drive down. And so, we miss seeing
you, Reversing God, sweeping up the broken glass,
giving flu shots to the poor, mentoring children in
the schools we ignore. Help us to move in with
you and rebuild our ruined cities. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Friday-B

Read Isaiah 19:19-22

As we prepare for Advent, are we prepared
for God to do something new and unexpected?
Or should God only operate according to
what we expect?

As we ready ourselves to celebrate the grace
which came down at Christmas, are we ready
for God to pour out that grace on others,
especially the people we don't like?

As we anticipate the birth of the One who
comes with healing in one hand and hope
in the other, can we accept the notion that
the Babe might want to offer those gifts
to people who have hurt us?

Isaiah tells us this is the way God operates.
Unexpectedly, gracious to all, willing to
heal even those who have caused us pain.

Egypt (you mean the Egypt that enslaved the
Hebrews, who worked them to death, who would
not let them go free) will be delivered, just like
the Hebrews, just like us.

They will find themselves, the prophet tells us,
in a time of oppression. And they will cry out.
And when they cry out, God (as God seems to do
to everyone who cries out) will hear and will
respond, And then (just like the Hebrews, just
like us), they will know God, they will worship
God, they will make promises to God.

And there is more - God will heal them as well.

Why? Because that is what God does.

Yes, God can judge; yes, God can smite; yes, God
can destroy.

But best of all, God listens, God delivers, God
restores, God heals, God loves.

The Hebrew children who were oppressed;
the Egyptians with their history of oppression;
even us.

Listening, delivering, restoring, healing, loving.
Now that's something to prepare for!

Prayer

Heal us, Restoring God, for we cry out to you.
Weighed down by the desire for more, oppressed
by narcissim, driven to distraction by the demands
of our culture - hear us and set us free. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Thursday-B

Read Isaiah 14:1-2

I may be wrong, but I don't think the Christ Child is turning over in the manger because I might say 'Happy Holidays' to someone instead of 'Merry Christmas." And I don't believe God loses any sleep over the fact that a school may choose to have a 'holiday' program rather than a Christmas one, or that a business has a 'holiday tree' instead of a Christmas tree.

But I do think that God is bothered by the fact that so many folks choose to spend so much time arguing about which greeting, which phrase, which usage is right - especially when there are so many people in need of a word of hope, of grace, of joy.

I do believe that the Christ Child weeps because we choose to hold so much resentment and express so much anger towards people who don't appreciate the "reason for the season" - as if the reason God became human was to make it okay to speak so judgmentally and unkindly about those who are also God's children.

I am pretty sure the Spirit of Advent must shake her head whenever we try to blame the politicians, the stores, the corporations for 'taking Christ out of Christmas' when so many of us will spend more money in these few weeks than we have probably given all year to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or nurse the sick back to health.

We can celebrate the birth of Jesus by continuing to choose blame, anger, resentment, judgment in this holiest of seasons. Or we can, like Isaiah tells us God does, choose to have compassion.

Prayer

We would not like to open our presents on Christmas and discover them filled with the ashes of bitterness, or the scraps of anger from our hearts. So help us, Desire of the Ages, to crave compassion, to wish for wisdom, to glean grace in the coming days, so we might live more like you. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Wednesday-B

Read Isaiah 12 (don't worry, it's only 6 verses!)

Dusty has moved into our hearts (and home). Though he has only been with us for two days, it seems a lot longer. And while no one will ever be able to replace Cocoa the Wonder Dog, Dusty will have his own adventures, his own personality, his own stories to tell.

Dusty is a 3 1/2 year-old golden retriever who was put up for adoption by his owners because they are moving to a smaller place that cannot accomodate a large dog. We found him through a marvelous rescue group called GRRAND (if you wanted, you could find Dusty's picture on their website www.grrand.org under 'Golden Boys'). The providential part of the story is that Dusty literally lived right around the corner from us. In fact, Cocoa and I used to see him when we would go by his house on our walks.

And as a retriever, Dusty naturally loves water. When he is thirsty, he runs over to his dish and slurps up several mouthfuls, splashing and making a great noise. When he comes in from a long walk, or playing in the backyard, he heads over and drinks deeply from this simple gift, reviving his lagging energy.

Most of the time, when I am fatigued from ministry, from life, from battling the bureaucrats who try to convince me they know what is "best" for Teddy, I revive myself with chocolate or caffeine, not God's living waters. When my soul is running on empty and I thirst for something to fulfill me, it is easy to forget the simple gifts of friendship, of silence, of peace that God gives me, and to turn to things more stimulating.

Maybe this Advent, I need to dip my bucket into the wells of salvation more often and drink more deeply.

Prayer

Am I nervous to stir your living waters, Wellspring of Joy, because I think someone might need to drink before me? Am I afraid to splash and make noise with the salvation you offer to me, because someone might point at me and laugh? Revive me, Tender Heart, that I might sing your praises and give you thanks. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Tuesday-B

Read Isaiah 11:1-9

Chapter 10 of Isaiah ends with the ax chopping down the forests, leaving a field of stumps. Perhaps, as they heard this pronouncement, the people thought of the stump mentioned by the prophet back in chapter 6 (vs. 13), the stump representing failure, disaster, the reality that all has been lost.

We've all had such stumps littered through our lives, haven't we? Relationships that could not grow; downsizing/redundancy at work; neighbors who built high fences around us; promises that were broken before the words had a chance to be fully heard. We know the sense of loss, of despair, of hopelessness such stumps signify in our lives.

But as we discover over and over again, God cannot remain angry for too long. For in the midst of unbearable despair comes the odd word that God (once again!) is going to do something new.

For from this stump will come that first fragile, green shoot. Yes, it will bend in the winds of the world, but it will not break. Yes, it will struggle against all the terrors of our times, but it will succeed to produce: first one leaf, then another, and a third, a fourth, and so on. Yes, people will laugh and point, and claim that nothing can grow from that old stump. But eventually, in God's good time, it will be the shade where enemies can come out of the heat of anger and fear, and drink a glass of lemonade and begin to talk to one another.

This is how our God always operates. Taking the last and making them first, taking the least and making them the most valuable, taking the lost and carrying them in the divine Heart, taking the little and making them great in the kingdom.

God takes the stump of failure and fear in Judah and creates a new people.

God takes the stump of the cross and bursts forth with new life on Easter morning.

And God will take whatever stump is in your life and will bring forth that shoot of hope, of newness, of grace, of joy.

Prayer

Dissuade us from trying to root out those stumps in our lives, Gardener of Creation, so that you can produce Advent hope, Christmas joy, Easter life, and Pentecostal passion in our hearts. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Monday-B

Read Isaiah 10:1-4

I have no doubt that God is talking to the politicians here. All those folks who always manage to find the funds for their pet projects, and are not embarassed one bit when they have to cut funding for housing for the homeless, feeding programs for the hungry, medical care for children.

And I am convinced that those faceless bureaucrats who sit in windowless, airless, graceless offices are the ones being condemned here. You know, the people who shuffle folks around as so many pieces of paper; the ones who are trained to deny (routinely) 80% of the insurance claims they process; the folks who spend all day not noticing that their decisions affect real human beings.

Of course, God is singling out the church officials who travel in comfort and eat in fine restaurants; who believe the church is best served by establishing national offices in expensive complexes; who step over the homeless as they go from their hotels to the local conference center for another round of discussions about compassion and hope.

After all, God certainly can't be talking about me, right?

Prayer

I am right, aren't I, Master of the Universe?
You aren't talking about (or to) me (I hope and pray). Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: 2nd Sunday-B

Read Isaiah 9:2-7

Other than Luke 2:1-14, this may be the most familiar of all the Advent/Christmas passages used by the church. Normally read on ChristmasEve/Day, this beloved poetry helps us to celebrate the birth of the One we call the Christ Child.

And then, like the ornaments on the tree, we put the passage back into its box and store it up in the attic, or down in the basement, to wait in the darkness until it is needed next Advent and Christmas.

But like the Beatitudes, Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians13, and others, isn't this one of those passages that we should read every week in church, if not every day in our private devotions?

After all, is Christmas Eve the only time we find ourselves stumbling in the darkness of our culture, groping our way as we try to find the Light switch?

Is Advent the only season when we hear the boots trampling on the oppressed, when the burdens of our lives stoop our shoulders, when we yearn for that peace which will never end?

Is Christmas Day the only time we need counsel from God; the only day we think justice should be upheld in our society; the only moment we can remember why it is God came to us in that tiny Babe?

Maybe, like the new covenant another prophet speaks about, we need to engrave these words upon our hearts, so they are not just a once-a-year reminder of what God has done for us, and continues to do, in the Child who has been born for us.

Prayer

Holy God, may your passion continue to be multiplied in our lives, not just one day a year, but on all the ones which follow. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: First Saturday - B

Read Isaiah 8:16-22

when the crowd is rushing
to get to the malls;

when the television
drowns with ads;

when the songs
on the radio come
one-right-after-the-other
with no silence in between:

i will wait.

when fear sings a lullaby
to my faith;

when worry nibbles at the edges
of my fear;

when doubt becomes a worn slipper
i ease my feet into:

i will hope.

i will wait,
i will hope,
i will . . .

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

The Prophet of Advent: First Friday - B

Read Isaiah 7:10-17

you come . . .
not when
we are ready,
but when our defenses are up,
so you can batter
our hardened hearts;

you come . . .
not when
we deserve it,
but when we are making
mud pies with sin;

you come . . .

not when
we are surrounded
with a host of friends,
but when we are trapped
in the dark soul's loneliness;

you come . . .

not when
we have made the way smooth for you,
but when we have fallen
into the potholes of our pride;

you come . . .

not because you need to,
but because you want to.

so come,
Immanuel,
come.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Prophet of Advent: First Thursday of Advent - B

Read Isaiah 6:1-8

Moses is out raking the leaves in his backyard when the tree catches on fire, and he hears God's call to go speak to Pharoah and bring God's children to freedom. Jeremiah is in his room playing video games, when God interrupts to tell him it is time to get to work plucking up and pulling down, planting and building.

But Isaiah? Right out of the starting gate, he's uttering strong words, harsh words, words of terror, words of judgment, words of warning. Condemnation flows easily from his lips, songs of unfaithfulness fill the air, injustice is roundly denounced.

And now, he decides to take a breather and go to church. Certainly there, in the temple, amid the incense, the psalms, the prayers, the priest doing priestly things, Isaiah can find the solace, if not the silence, his soul needs.

But the winged servants of the Master of the Universe disturb his reverie singing of God's holiness. Smoke fills the temple, and the building quakes as if, once more, God is appearing at Mount Sinai. And Isaiah finds himself being called, and responds in the only way he can, "Here am I; send me!"

So God sends him, Not just to speak words, but to model a life; not just to talk about judgment, but to show what grace has done for him; not just to warn the people about the dangers of breaking God's covenant, but to demonstrate how to keep that covenant; not just to condemn a community, but to stand with them, for however long it takes, until God's reconciling love can restore them to wholeness.

Which is what God does in the Child of Bethelehem, isn't it?

Prayer

Here we are, Lord God, send us. Send us to bring hope, to bring joy, to bring peace, to bring wholeness to all those who stand with their hearts and hands open. These are the gifts we have received from you, and would offer to them. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Prophet of Advent First Wednesday of Advent - B

"O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!"
(Isa. 2:5)

you reached into
the dusk of chaos
and brought out the sun
to warm me on a winter's day;
the moon to illuminate my path
on an evening's walk;
the stars to be my companions
during a sleepless night.

you stretched out your arms
toward the twilight of death,
rolling away the stone
covering it's heart,
so that i could be set free.

you found me huddled
in the murky corner of my despair,
and,
taking me by the hand,
pulled me to my feet,
and we went off skipping
into your kingdom.

i will walk in your light,
my Lord,
i will walk.
Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Tuesday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:28 - 2:4

You won't find some of these verses printed on a Christmas card. You won't find them used in any of the Christmas carols, or anthems sung by choirs in church.

After all, who wants to be told at this time of year that God comes with judgment. If God wants to come as a pretty, little baby - great! If God wants to come as a jolly Santa Claus - even better! If God wants to come and give us all that 'stuff' the world tells us we deserve - super!

But judgment? No thank you, God. You can just stay home if that is what you are carrying with you as you come to us. We don't like the word, and we don't like the feeling we get when we hear the word. After all, if we are judged, we know that we will be found guilty.

Fortunately for us, Isaiah (and God) never let judgement be the last word. That word is hope. Today, the word might be about destruction, about withering away, about a fire that cannot be quenched. But in the days to come, there is hope. Short-term there might be judgement, but in the long run there is God's eternal intention for peace, for unity, for wholeness.

Once again, we are reminded, as we are so often in Scripture, that God has a unique way of keeping time.

In our time, nations will continue to fight one another;
in God's time, they will no longer need to complete
their homework for War College.

In our time, we are taught that greed is good,
that spending beyond our limits is 'priceless';
in God's time, we will learn the way of compassion
and generosity.

In our time, we shall be judged;
in God's good and gracious time,
we shall be saved.

Prayer

Timeless God, may we set aside our watches, our clocks, our calendars, and wait for that good and gracious time you are bringing to us this Advent. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Monday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

Worship is a big deal in the church (why else would be fight so much about it?) Our hymns/songs have to be peppy enough to get the blood going, but not contemporary enough to boil the blood; scripture should be read, but not too much (and especially not the passages we don't like); the sermon needs to inspire us, but not to the extent that we might seriously change our lives; and the length has to be just right (so it doesn't interfere with fellowship time).

Like the people who worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem, we take great pride in the worship we offer to God. Which is why what God says through Isaiah is so distressing. Our very best efforts, for God and offered to God, are rejected!

Not just rejected - but it seems that this 'road' to God comes to an abrubt end. We stretch out our hands, and God says, 'I cannot see you.' We offer up prayers, and the response is as if God has become deaf to our words.

But as often happens in Isaiah, in the midst of words of judgment, of disappointment, of the consequences we deserve, we also hear the whispers of hope.

For there is another road, Isaiah tells us - that road less travelled. It's the road paved, not with beautiful songs, or pious words, or good intentions - but paved with good actions, with kindness, with voices lifted up on behalf of others.

We cannot pray, God tells us,
if we are not willing to plead for the widow;

we should not sing,
if we are unable to seek justice for others;

we dare not rejoice,
if we cannot rescue the oppressed;

if we do not learn to do good,
worship does us no good.

Once again, speaking through the prophet of Advent, God makes it very clear: if youwant life, live the way I show you.

Prayer

In this season of too many choices, help us to make the one which leads us to you, Advent God. Let us set aside our meanness, and pick up goodness. Let us lift up our voices for the lost, the least, the little, not just sing carols. Let us stop searching for the best sale prices, but look for the justice everyone needs. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Sunday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:1-9

Every Christmas Eve, we read the same passage from Isaiah 9:2-7, about the birth of a child, the one who is born for us: who will counsel us when we are troubled, who will be with us for all time, who will anoint us with the peace which is really the only gift we want every Christmas Day.

But before we can celebrate the birth of the Child, Isaiah wants us to understand why we need this little One, why we need to take the time during the season of Advent for preparation, for reflection, for waiting. Isaiah wants us to be able to appreciate the gift and let it change our lives, not just rip open the wrapping paper, and discard the Child as we move on to another package.

So let's invite Isaiah to be our traveling companion this Advent. He won't be the most pleasant of company at times (just like some family and friends!); he won't always say the right thing or the thing we want to hear (like some folks we know!); he'll say somethings intended to get our attention or under our skin (like other people we know).

But Isaiah will always, always point us to God. Sometimes (usually more often than we like) he will remind us of how we have not kept our part of the covenant. At other times (not as often as we need), he will remind us of God's promises to keep God's part of the covenant. We can always count on Isaiah to be honest, to be blunt - and to be caring and compassionate.

The American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote of the choice one must make between one road or the other. Isaiah, the poet of Advent, knows this is the choice all believers must make every day of their lives. He also knows that to follow God, we must, as Frost says, choose the road that is less travelled - the Advent road - because that is the one which makes the difference in our lives.

Prayer

We begin our journey once again, God of the prophets and pilgrims. Some with reluctance, some with joy,some with questions. Speak to us through Isaiah; speak to us through wonder; speak to us through those who will journey with us. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, November 18, 2005

Do you want me to read to you?

More years ago than either one of us would want to admit, my mother gave me the gift that, as the phrase goes, keeps on giving.

The gift of words.

She started out by reading to me as I snuggled up in her lap, or lay in bed, safe under the covers, and warmed by the love in her eyes, smile and voice. Then, she began to help me sound out the words for myself, and to discover that these 'things' created from 26 letters could be gateways to the world, challenges to the mind, solace for the lonely, comfort for the grieving.

I cannot think of a moment in my life when I did not have (at least) one book within easy reach. Even in college and seminary, when I should have been focusing on textbooks, I was delving into mysteries, thrillers, novels, biographies.

But my mother also took the time to make sure I was introduced to the Word. And as most folks attest, it was a transforming moment, which continues to shape my life, guide my walk, give me hope, and challenge my unwillingness to let go of my all-too-human desires.

And now, as I share words with people through my writings and preaching; as I seek to introduce others to the Word of hope, of joy, of peace; asI try to challenge the unwillingness of others to let go, I am even more grateful for that gift my mother gave me so long ago when she asked,

"Do you want me to read to you?"

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 14, 2005

Only a dream?

We were talking about prayer yesterday during the education hour, about forms of prayer, 'tools' for prayer, etc.

I mentioned my 'dream' that somehow, in some fashion, the church could offer a prayer room for folks. It doesn't need to be big and it doesn't need to be fancy (after all - a chair, a table with a Bible and a candle would be all the 'furnishings' most of us would need). But it would need to be solely devoted to the purpose of prayer.

Not a room where debates are held, decisions made, and people's toes might be stepped on. No, a room where hurts are offered for healing, where discernment is sought, where relationships are made whole.

Not a room that which would need to be rearranged (reluctantly) so a few people can pray, but then has to be put back into place right away so a meeting can be held. But a room that might sit empty for days on end, but is available and open when it is most needed.

Not a room where cast-off chairs sit, but a room where the outcast can climb up into God's lap and be loved, welcomed, affirmed.

Not a room where boxes filled with dusty records are stored, but a storehouse of prayer, of silence, of wonder, of awe.

Not a room where that old, out-of-tune piano Aunt Sadie gave to the church years ago can be found, but the hill in Bethlehem where the angels first sang; the sheepfold where the Good Shepherd protects his lambs; the living room where our Parent sits looking out the window, longing to spy all of us prodigals trudging wearily home.

Wouldn't it be nice if every church had such a room?

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 07, 2005

One of the reason I put off going to seminary (other than the deep conviction that the phone lines had been crossed when I got the 'call') was my inability with languages other than English, which presented problems of its own.

When I finally did give in to the God-who-is-like-a-tenacious-bulldog and went to seminary, you can imagine my surprise that I not only made it through Greek, but absolutely loved studying Hebrew! In fact, my study of Hebrew gave me a new appreciation for the wonder, the grace, the steadfast love of the God the Chosen revealed to us in the Old Testament. It removed any lingering questions about there being two different gods in the two different testaments.

Take the concept of 'commandment.' I grew up, probably like most folks, believing that the commandments given in the OT, especially the Top Ten, were "orders" given to us by that stern and punishing God who shook the mountains. If I took a candy bar off the shelf, God would turn up the flames in hell a little bit. If I gossiped about a friend, the dial was turned to medium. And if I wanted to sleep in on Sunday instead of going to church - well, I was toast!

Then I learned the Hebrew word 'mitzvah' (which we translate into English as 'commandment'). What a difference! Instead of an order, I discovered a honor and privilege given to us by God who has given us life. Rather than a rule, I found a responsibility that is mine as part of the covenant God has made with me. A burden that was almost impossible to carry became a good deed that I am longing to perform over and over. Grace replaced guilt, love overcame law, faith trumped fear.

No wonder the psalmist could talk about these words being a delight. God gave them to us, not so we would become lawyers, but so we would become lovers.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rosa Parks

When I was growing up in Alabama, her name was spoken with the same kind of contempt and hatred one would use when uttering a profanity.

For some, it was because she was a woman who did not know her place. For others, it was because she was a black person who did not know her place. For many, it was because she was the one who 'started' all the trouble that plagued the state and the nation. And for just about every one around me, it was because of all three that her name was anathema.

We'll never really know if her feet hurt so much that she couldn't take another step. But we can be certain that her soul ached from years of the pain of people looking down at her because of the color of her skin.

She may not have been so physically tired that she could lift herself from that seat in the front of the bus. But there is no doubt that her heart was weary from all the names she had been called since she was born.

While she could have simply acquiesced to the request to give her seat to a white man (even though the seats on either side of her were empty; but then no white could be seen sitting next to a black person), she simply refused to move . . .

. . . causing a seismic shift in America by her simple act of courage.

This past weekend, the body of Rosa Parks was viewed by thousands in Montgomery, Alabama, where the civil rights movement began. The descendents of her spirit, black and white, came to honor her courage, her character, her witness.

For this former "cuss word" is now the by-word for justice, for hope, for action throughout the world.

And today, her body lies in the Rotunda of the nation's Capitol building, the first woman to be so honored, because she honored us with her grace, her wisdom, her gentleness.

How appropriate that yesterday's Gospel reading contained these words: 'The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.' (Matthew 23:11-12)

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hangers

I am not sure how it happens, though it seems to take place either at night, while I am sleeping, or during the day, while I am away from the house. But whenever, and however, they reproduce themselves over and over and over.

Hangers.

I bundle up all the clothes-less ones in my closet, and take them to the cleaners to be recycled, and by the time I get home that evening, my closet is overflowing once again. I take them down to the basement, so we can re-use them after doing laundry, and they tip-toe back upstairs in the dead of night.

Just like my prayers.

I go through my list of people I pray for, and by the time I am done, it is time to pray for them all over again. I cross one name off the list because the person has been released from the hospital, and three more calls come into the church about folks. I can stop praying for so-and-so since they have found a new job, and what's-her-name calls to tell me of troubles in the family. I just get through lifting up those who were devastated by Katrina and Rita, and the news comes on about the earthquake in Pakistan and India.

The needs, the hurts, the losses, the hopes, the dreams, the failures - whether it's at night while I am sleeping, or during the day when I am away from the church, they reproduce themselves over and over and over. It doesn't matter how often I try to recycle them, or store them in the basement of my soul. They just keep tip-toeing back into my life.

What's a person to do?

I guess I will keep hanging my prayers on that Rod who comforts us,who hears us, who heals us, who struggles with us, who suffers with us, who is always with us.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Embarassed

Embarassed.

That's how I feel about being a Christian this week. Embarassed by the comments of evangelists and mega-church preachers who are going around claiming that Hurricane Katrina is God's punishment on that "sinful" city called New Orleans. Seems there was an 'unholy trinity' operating down there, comprised of satanists, voodoo worshipers, and homosexuals, according to these folks. I want to ask these folks, 'haven't you ever read Hosea 11:8-9; or Matthew 7:1-5?'

It's embarassing, and frustrating.

Frustrating that these are the folks who get quoted by the media, and not the preachers who are talking about compassion, about grace, about the opportunities we have to minister to those in need, just as God asks us. They don't interview the folks in those churches that continue to serve as shelters for the refugees from Katrina. They won't show the father in my congregation who has gone through Red Cross Disaster training, and who is leaving tomorrow for three weeks of service in Baton Rouge. They won't feature the youth groups, the ministries, the laity who are out there every day, cleaning and rebuilding and serving meals and mending lives.

It's embarassing and frustrating.

And I can only begin to imagine how God must feel . . .

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Every Day Communion

This coming Sunday, October 2, is World Communion Sunday. For me, it is one of the holiest days in the life of the church, ranking behind only Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

It is a day when we remember that we do not worship in isolation, even in particular churches, but we gather with Christians around the world, often reading the same scriptures in a Pentecostal chorus of tongues; we sing songs of praise and lament; we tell stories of our hopes, our dreams, our life in God. And we believe that God continues to work in, and for, and through us.

It is a day when we are reminded that there is a unity in Christ that can overcome every division we try to maintain; that there is a Body which welcomes, which affirms, which values each and every member; that there is a place where all people are accepted and loved.

For Presbyterians in the States, it is a day when we are reminded of our calling as peacemakers. We receive a special offering - specifically for Peacemaking. Our portion this year will go to support the work of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, enabling their work of reconciliation and hope in the midst of divisions and pain.

And as we gather around the Table this Sunday to celebrate God's feast, we will do so with folks whose families came to these shores a very, very long time ago. And we will break bread with folks who have come from Ghana, Cameroon, Germany, and other places. Visible reminders of that day when all of God's people will gather around the Table in the Kingdom and feast together on God's grace and love.

And today, just down the hall from my office, folks from Mexico, from Peru, and from India are sitting around tables with church volunteers, working together to improve the English skills of our newest neighbors.

A visible reminder that 'worldwide communion' doesn't happen just once a year, but every day of our lives.

Thanks be to God!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My Rambling Boy

On August 12, 1990, I was installed as the pastor of Greenhills Community Church, Presbyterian. My family was here, many of Bonnie's family came, the church family attended and, of course, there were the clergy and laity representing the presbytery for the installation service. Like many such services, there was scripture, singing, prayers, 'charges' to the pastor and congregation. Like many such Presbyterian services, it was done so decently and in such good order, there were no surprises.

The surprise came after the service when a fellow came up to me and introduced himself, "Hello. I'm Robert Keefer, the new associate pastor of Wyoming Presbyterian Church." Now, the surprise was not that he came up and introduced himself; no, it was that he was there at all! In my experience with installation services, the only clergy who attended were those appointed by the presbytery to do so!

But as I have discovered in the last 15 years, that was just Bob being Bob.

Part of his calling as a Minister of Word and Sacrament was to be a faithful presbyter. And so he goes to the ordination and installation services of other pastors. He does it because he is faithful, he does it because he likes the services, he does it because he wants to welcome, to support, to encourage his colleagues.

And he has been a faithful presbyter, and model for me, with his attendance at presbytery meetings, his service on committees and commissions, his sharing his gifts with all of us as Stated Clerk. But especially with his singing. When worship takes place, when the opening hymn is sung, when the Doxology breaks out spontaneously, Bob's voice is loud and clear and beautiful.

He is a gifted pastor and, while most clergy's 'pastor' in a presbytery is one of the executives, I have always thought of Bob as mine, always willing to listen to my whining, my joys, my frustrations, my wild ideas. He is an excellent preacher, a craftsman who shapes words into doorways into God's heart. He is a true Presbyterian minister, committed to careful study, diligent prayer, and continual improvement of his skills.

He is also highly committed to fun, and to activities and interests outside the pastorate. For years, he was a cast member as well as unofficial chaplain for the local Renaissance Festival. He is a diehard Columbus Crew (soccer) fan. He enjoys good food, good beverage, good company, and especially great humor.

And for 15 years he has been God's biggest surprise to me, for I did not expect to find such a gifted, such a good, such a genuine friend. Bob has been there for me in the toughest times we have experienced with Teddy, especially in the months dealing with cancer; he has been there for me in the tough times of the pastorate; and he has been there for all the good times, the celebrations, the laughter, the joy of life and of serving the God we both love. And unless one of us was out of town or on an emergency, we have shared breakfast every week for nearly 15 years, talking shop, sharing gossip, telling about books we have read or movies we have seen, or just sitting in that silence with which God graces true friends.

But now, I will be eating alone, for Bob has been called to be pastor of a church out in Iowa. Joy for the church, sadness for me. I have no doubt that I will be visiting Iowa sometime soon, and that Bob will be through here at some point; there is always email, and phone calls. But nothing will replace 15 years of friendship, of closeness, of gentleness, of sharing, of a indescribable relationship.

Bob and I share a love for traveling by train and, as I was driving away from the restaurant this morning after we said goodbye, the words of the old folk song, 'Rambling Boy,' about two friends who rode the rails together, came to mind:
'He was a man and a friend always,
He stuck with me in the bad old days.
He never cared if I had no dough,
We rambled round in the rain and snow.
So here's to you my Rambling Boy,
May all your rambling bring you joy.
So here's to you my Rambling Boy,
May all your rambling bring you joy.'

As you have brought me.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just around the corner

Horror; devastation; death; families forced to evacuate and live all over the country, some in shelters, the lucky ones with family, friends, or even compassionate strangers. Children and parents separated and wondering where the other is; pets stuck in styrofoam coolers so they could float on the foul and fetid water. We have been witnesses to tragic, tragic scenes coming from the wilderness created in the wake of Katrina.

But we have also been witnesses to incredible deeds as well. A six-year-old boy leading younger children to safety, because there were no adults around. Helpers, from paramedics to truckers to chaplains to caregivers, arriving on the scene with no other motive than to reach out to those in need. People willing to go door to door, expecting to find the worst, and being surprised by the best in people.

And now, even nature is starting to bear witness.

The fruit trees in Mississippi are starting to bud. A sight one would never expect to see in September, but the leaves on the trees were ripped off by the winds of Katrina, and so the trees believe it is springtime. And if it is spring, it is time to bud, to bear new life, to scent the air with beautiful aroma.

Springtime - a good sign for the people who are seeking to rebuild their lives and their communities.

And if it is springtime, Easter is just around the corner.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, September 16, 2005

A verb, not just a noun

At Morning Prayer today, we read Psalm 56. The psalmist says, "My vows to you I must perform, O God . . . "

Would that the vows we have made to God be performed, not just spoken! But that's so hard to do these days, with so many demands competing for our time, that we just can't seem to carve out a moment for prayer.

Would that the promises we have made to God be achieved! But in a culture that continually teaches us that the individual reigns supreme, how are we able to fulfill that covenant we made to be as just and compassionate as God?

Would that the affirmations I made to God on that day so long ago continue to percolate in my soul! But with a sermon 'due' every week, with meetings piling up on the calendar, with emergencies knocking at the door, how can I ever love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind, my strength when they are poured out in so many other directions?

Would that we could learn as the psalmist apparently has, that 'vow' is not a noun, but a verb.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We are what we wear . . .

"Who is your fashion star? Who do you look to in picking out what you will wear each day?" were the questions coming from the talking head on television as I (thankfully!) was walking out the door with Cocoa the Wonder Dog.

I imagine some folks talked about DK, about Ralph, about Tommy, about whoever-is-the-name wherever it is you live. The ones whose names we wear, whose creations we model, whose pockets we fill.

I doubt, however, if anyone talked about that new line coming out of Tarsus, created by P. Diddomy: those shoes of peace which can bring reconciliation wherever we walk; that sash of truth which can confront all the fasle words the world flings at us; the coat of righteousness that always seeks justice for every single one of God's people.

And I am fairly certain that no one mentioned that carpenter turned creator of common couture, who sells that simple little outfit consisting of a bowl, a liter of water, and a towel to wrap around one's waist in order to be a servant.

Pity.

If these were our fashion 'stars,' think of how different our lives, our culture, our world might be.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, September 12, 2005

Just Gone Home

Death.

It's hard enough for adults to understand, to deal with, to handle. But kids? How do we explain death to children?

A father in the church recently lost his grandmother (she was 98, so it was not a sudden loss, but still a loss). And he wanted to be able to talk with his children about the service they would be attending, and why people might be sad.

His six-year-old son, Drew, said, "But Daddy, people shouldn't be sad."

The father asked, "Why not, Drew?"

"Well," this very young, very wise boy replied, "being here on earth is like going to the store. But heaven is home. Great-Grandma has just gone home."

She's just gone home.

Any wonder why Jesus keeps pointing us towards the children when we ask about faith, about the kingdom, about God?

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, September 02, 2005

Desperation

He was one of the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate, most Christ-like and Christ-filled people I ever met. He taught at the college I attended, and I always thought of him as someone who could do no wrong. Then, one day, in class, he talked about his experiences during World War II.

He was one of the rare conscientious objectors for that war, and as such 'served' in the military but not in combat. No, he took part in studies the military did on how troops might react in certain situations.

For instance, part of his group would be given incredible amounts of food, while the rest got nothing. Part of the group could have all the water they needed, while others had mere spoonfuls. In the winter, certain folks would have the warm clothing they needed to survive, other soldiers had only their summer gear.

And what happened? Just what you would expect. The CO's - all compassionate, caring, gentle people of faith - stole water, stole clothes, hoarded food. Pushed to the extreme, our professor related, he realized that even he might take a life in order to survive. In the right (or maybe it is really the wrong) circumstances, the most faithful person can become the most desperate person. Placed in situations we do not choose, any one of us can do what we know to be wrong.

So, when I see those folks in New Orleans who are looting stores for food, I hear Professor Smith's voice, and shut my mouth before I put both feet in.

When I see mothers who are filled with anger and violence because they have no diapers, no milk, no water, no food to give their infants, I remember his stories and try not to rush to judgment.

When I see people who are driven to desperation by circumstances they did not choose, I ask God to forgive me for judging their choices, and pray that I will be faithful enough, and that my country will be just as faithful, to make sure this never, ever happens again,

to anyone.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Helpless

Helpless.

That's how I felt when my brother, Steve, was about six or seven and got hit by the flu so bad, and dehydrated so quickly, that we ended up in the ER with him. And I was sure he was going to die.

Helpless.

That's how I felt when we were playing touch football (American style) in the front yard and Steve was running full out with his head down, right into the big oak tree, and bounced off, lying dazed on the ground.

Helpless.

That's how I felt a few years ago when I got a call from Steve telling me he was in the hospital with chest pains. He had been attending his denomination's annual meeting in Louisville (about two hours away), when this happened. I drove down to be with him as he went through all sorts of tests and all (ending up with a diagnosis of about 10% blockage, but nothing required to treat it).

Helpless.

And that's how I felt last night, and feel this morning, and will continue to feel until we hear from him. He and his wife live in Jackson, Mississippi, and other than about a 45 second call to my Mom on Monday night, saying they were 'okay' (and then the call abruptly ended), we haven't had a word.

In the age of instant communication, there is no way to reach him, with 80% of the state without power. In the time of cell phones, emails, internet, Mother Nature has taken control of the situation, and we are all helpless. In a day of being able to talk with strangers halfway around the world, I cannot hear the voice of my younger brother, who is so precious to me.

Helpless.

But not hopeless.

For God is there, and it is in God I place my hope and trust. God is with Steve and Denise, and that is where they place their hope and trust. God is speaking, God is comforting, God is helping, God is reassuring me that whatever happens, my brother, like all the children of God hit by the devastating power of Katrina, are in God's care.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, August 22, 2005

Maybe it's time

If you promise not to tell my New Testament professors, I will make a confession. I don't always do what they taught me back in seminary. Take today's Gospel reading found in Mark 1:29-45.

As Mark often does, there is a lot of action compressed into a few verses. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law; he cures a lot of sick folks and casts out demons; he goes off by himself to pray; he goes around preaching and casting out more demons (I guess I missed that class!); and he heals a leper.

And there it is. In verse 41, where the NRSV says that Jesus is "moved with pity," a little footnote letter appears (in my Bible, it's an'o'). Now, that is a signal to look down at the bottom of the page for a textual variant (in seminary-ese). And, in a highly unusual move for me, I glance down at it, thinking I will find the word 'compassion' or 'sorrow' or some other sympathetic word. But I don't.

I am told that other ancient authorities read 'anger.'

Anger.

I expect Jesus to be compassionate; I expect Jesus to feel sorry for folks; I expect Jesus to be moved with pity. But when he is about to heal someone I don't expect him to be angry. But he is, in some of the ancient readings that were passed around in the early church.

He's not angry at the interruption, but at the disease which is another symbol of the brokeness in God's creation.

He's not angry at being asked to do a healing, but at the misery which comes along with the physical debility.

He's not angry at the leper, but at the powers that continue to defile God's world, that continue to challenge God's justice, that continue to separate people from the One who has created them in the divine image.

And so it is with passion, not pity, that Jesus heals the leper. It is with that holy righteousness that cannot stand to see another suffer, that Jesus brings hope to this outsider. It is with that divine willingness to stand with those who have been cast out by the world, those who have been judged unworthy by society, those who have been condemned because they are not as wealthy or wise or wonderful as we, that Jesus reaches out and touches the man and, in doing so, brings him back into God's family.

We are so easily moved by pity, we find it so easy to feel sorry for others, we complain about compassion fatigue.

Maybe it's time for some passionate anger on behalf of others.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Requiem in pace

I sat next to him one evening after the service was over. His wispy white hair showed the life of service to God's people; his face was etched with the stories of pilgrims; his hands reflected the years of prayer. As a brother translated, I told Brother Roger of Taize of Teddy's pilgrimage through a life of struggle and pain, and heard this gentle man's whispered prayers on behalf of my son.

Brother Roger should have died, with his beloved community surrounding him, singing Nunc dimittis and Ubi caritas. He should have died in his sleep. He should have died in peace.

But he was stabbed to death today during one of the services held in the Church of Reconciliation, surrounded by the community he had called together, and, no doubt, several thousand young people from all over the world. I grieve for the young people, who came to Taize seeking peace and hope in a violent world. I pray for Brother John, Brother Jean-Marie, and all the other brothers who seek to find meaning in their living response to God's call. I think of the father from Holland I met four years ago who, with his now adult daughter, had been going to Taize each year for over 40 years.

All these people responded to Brother Roger's vision of a world that could be healed of its brokenness and warring ways; of communities that could make journeys of reconciliation, Protestants visiting Catholics and so forth, in efforts to understand one another better; of a Church that could set aside its differences and doctrines to live out its common belief in Jesus as Lord.

His voice is gone but lives on in the meditative songs, the prayers, the writings, the silence.

His heart is stilled, but beats on in the thousands and thousands of people throughout the world who seek to bring peace, healing and reconciliation to their neighborhoods, their churches, their families.

His gentle spirit is with God and has been passed on to all the young people who have journeyed to Taize, and will continue to make pilgrimages there, in the simple, yet radical, belief that barriers can be broken down, that unity can be found, that goodness is better than evil, that love is stronger than hate, that peace is the way of all of God's people.

Requiem in pace, Brother Roger.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, August 01, 2005

Wherever Jesus is . . .

The week of Vacation Bible School,
they were there.

The entire month we offered English as aSecond Language classes for children and youth in our school district,
they were there.

Yesterday, when a group from the church went into the city to serve a meal to several hundred homeless folks,
they were there.

Like most teenagers, Lydia and Millen could have been walking out at the mall, talking on the phone, sitting at the pool, shopping. But whenever, and wherever we, as a church, are serving God's children, they are there.

Some would say it is because 4 1/2 years ago, when they and their family immigrated to the States from Eritrea, they needed food, they needed help with their English, they needed folks who reached out to them. So they come out of a sense of gratitude.

Some might say they show up because folks are 'encouraging' them to participate, and so they come out of a sense of obligation.

Me? I think it is because, like most kids and young people, they have distilled the Gospel down to the basics.

Wherever there are hungry people, that is where we will find Jesus. Wherever there are people who need help with their language skills, we will find Jesus there. Wherever there are children to be taught (and shown) how much God loves them, that's where Jesus will be. Wherever there is a mother who needs help with a baby, wherever there is a father struggling to educate his children, wherever there is a grandmother who cannot afford the prescriptions she needs - wherever there are people in pain, in sorrow, in need, that's where Jesus is.

Lydia and Millen have decided that wherever Jesus is, that's where they want to be.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Too Late

Now it's too late.

I first got to know Billy O. Wireman when my campus job had me delivering the mail to all the offices at Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in the mid-60's. If his door was open, and it was only closed for the greatest of crises, he would ask how I was doing, genuinely concerned for me as a person.

I came to know him over the next few years as a warm, compassionate, humorous human being. His was not the false bonhomie of a person on the rise, his life was one which truly reflected those fruits of the Spirit Paul talks about. Billy Wireman was a strong Presbyterian, he was an even stronger Christian. I know this because I had the opportunities to see Billy in his professional life, his personal life, and his religious life - and he was the same person in every situation.

He began at FPC as a teacher of physical education and the school's first basketball coach. But his vision, his energy, his commitment to liberal arts education, and especially international education, soon had him coaching a generation of young people to learn, to grow, to lead, to serve. When he was only 35, he became president of the college, the youngest in the States at the time. He led the college out of a financial wilderness into a time of stability and growth - always with good humor, grace, and compassion.

I left college in the middle of my senior year, and probably would not have gone back if not for Billy Wireman. Some four years after leaving, I was back in the area visiting some friends, and we were out on the college campus. They encouraged me to stop by and say hello to Billy. Which I reluctantly did. As usual, his door was open. As usual, we had a great conversation. As usual, he was genuinely concerned for me as a child of God. "What do we need to do to get you back here as a student?" he asked at the end. Which began a process that led to my returning to that campus as a student, and graduating (finally!). One of my great memories of life is receiving my diploma from Billy O. Wireman 10 years after I had started at FPC/Eckerd.

He left Eckerd, and moved on to another small, struggling, church-related college and with his grace, energy, vision, compassion, and faith, transformed it as well, influencing still more and more young people to lives of service and leadership. Over the years, in various denominational publications, I would read about Billy, and make a mental note to myself that I should drop him a letter, I should tell him how he shaped my life, I should tell him what that one little question meant to me. And I always misplaced that note.

Now, it's too late. Billy O. Wireman died this past Saturday after a three-year battle with cancer.

I guess now I will have to write Billy that note by the life I try to lead.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Wait is Over

I was probably about 11 when it happened. I was at the library, checking out some books from the 'juvenile fiction' section. The librarian looked at my choices, and then looked at me."Haven't you read these before?" she asked. "Oh yeah, several times," I replied, "but there aren't any new books out." That's when she opened my world.

"Have you ever read Sherlock Holmes?" I didn'tknow what he wrote, I told her, but I would try anything that had words on paper. She laughed and took me into the holy of holies - the adult section. There, she pulled out a slim volume and handed it to me. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle. "Give this a try," she said, "and let me know what you think."

Think? The foggy streets of Victorian London; Watson and Holmes calling for a transom cab; wondering who the man with the Twisted Lip really was; imagining how beautiful Irene Adler had to be; shivering in the dark, with Holmes and Watson as they saw the Speckled Band for the first time. Think? It's not rational, but I fell in love with Doyle's creation. So much, that by the time I walked home, I had read the entire book! Only the fact that the library was closed kept me from turning around and going back for more. But I was there the next morning, sitting on the steps when the librarian arrived to open the doors.

For millions of kids (and people who wish they were kids), the wait is over. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is finally out, and now the adventure begins. Forget about getting the kids to help with the chores; dinner may be late the next few weeks; the pool water will barely be rippled because everyone is sitting on the sides reading. The adventure of Harry, Hemione, Ron and the wizards and witches of Hogwarts continues.

I love the HP books. While they may not be "great" literature, they are a delight to read. And even more delightful is the fact that they give kids the incentive to read. Like my librarian of long ago, J. K. Rowling has opened up the world of reading to a whole new generation. What a gift!

And, intentionally or not, she reflects many of the gospel values. While not called as such, the characters and stories live out the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There are marvelous accounts of self-denial and sacrifice. There are even those who are willing to lay down their lives for their friends. And through it all is the assurance that evil and death do not have the final word in anyone's life, even that of a young wizard.

So, when I see the kids carrying around their copies, with the books sitting open on their laps as they immerse themselves in that magical world, I will smile and remember the magical world the librarian introduced me to years ago, and give thanks: for her, for Conan Doyle, for J. K. Rowlings, and especially for the gift of words that reflect the Word.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Jack Nicklaus

It was during my second year in the ministry. I was at a presbytery meeting and, at dinner, I was seated next to a female clergy whose father was a "famous" member of this presbytery. He had been there for years, and was well known for his commitment, his passion, his hard work. But his daughter told a different story.

He was so committed to ministry, that he never made it home for a single birthday celebration. He was so passionate about serving God's people, that every anniversary was spent at some meeting, at some event. He worked so hard, that he could not tear himself away to attend either of his daughter's graduations from high school and college.

I thought about that conversation this morning as I watched an interview with Jack Nicklaus. Certainly the best golfer America has ever produced, if not the best in the world, Nicklaus is playing in his final 'major' event, the British Open. He talked with the interviewer about his golf career, his legacy, the tragic drowning of his small grandson earlier this year, about his decision to "put away his clubs."

Then the interviewer asked, "Over the years, with all the tournaments, all the victories, all the tours, it must have meant you missed a lot of family events." To which Nicklaus replied, "Not a one. I was there for every graduation, every birthday, every anniversary. I never missed a football game or any other school event my kids were in." He intentionally arranged his tour and practice schedules so he would be there for his family.

Wow!

Now, I know that he could probably afford to charter a private jet to fly home after a round of golf, attend an event, and fly back in the middle of the night for the next day's round. Even so, it would have been a sacrifice to lose time, sleep, and energy to fulfill that desire to see his kids, to see his wife, to be with his family in such moments. He obviously made some choices, along the way, about tournaments he would willingly miss for the sake of his family.

Committed, passionate, hard working -
I think I know who is the better role model.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Psalm 151

Hallelujah!

Praise God for purple-haired women!
Praise God for teenagers with mohawks!

Praise God with tattooed arms!
Praise God with athritic hands!

Praise God for children with runny noses!
Praise God for parents with pockets
stuffed of hankies!

Praise God with street rap!
Praise God with Bach cantatas!

Praise God in stainedglass sanctuaries!
Praise God in smoky pubs!

Let every living, breathing,
cranky, curmudgeonly,
kindly, loving, gracious,
bigandtall, shortandsmall,
beloved and longing-to-be
creature praise God!

Hallelujah!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Where???

I've been on one of those double-decker buses. I've used the London Underground, and gotten off at King's Cross Station. I've walked the streets where the people were being treated for their injuries.

Maybe that's what makes the images on the television this morning so painful, so personal. Having visited London only once, yet falling in love with it so deeply, I feel violated, I feel wounded, I feel attacked.

Was the worker at the British Museum who was so helpful in answering my questions riding the underground at the moment of the explosion? Was the waitress at the pub where we had lunch on the bus? Were any of the people I know personally over there injured, or worse?

So many questions.

Of course, inevitably the question will be asked: "Where was God in all this?" People will ask us, because we are believers. And even though we are believers, we will ask it as well. "Where were you, God?"

The late Fred Rogers, Presbyterian minister and creator of the marvelous children's show,"Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," here in the States, knew that children who witnessed such scenes as we see today, were especially frightened because they could not always comprehend what they were seeing. So he always told them to look for the helpers. That when people are hurt, when scary things happen, helpers are always around.

That's what I noticed this morning: the yellow-jacketed police, doing their jobs with heavy hearts; the London Ambulance people, professionally caring for people while nursing their own personal grief; the bystanders who rushed to give aid to their neighbors, even as terror ran along beside them.

Where was God? God was the young paramedic visiting from New Jersey, who helped to give triage to the injured. God was the doctor, who instinctively knew which patients needed her care the most. God was the aid worker handing out blankets to the less-injured. God was the stranger gently wiping the blood off the face of another stranger.

Whenever something happens that frightens us, that we cannot begin to comprehend, we should always look for the helpers, because that is where we will find God.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Do-Rag

We went to a motorcycle rally yesterday. These are great places to take Teddy - there are a lot of motorcycles, making lots of noise; there is live music; there are vendors of all sorts of esoteric items (though the bikers might not use that descriptor) and, of course, there is a lot of food.

Interestingly enough, Teddy ended up wanting to buy only two things (other than food and drink!). First, he got some peel-the-backing-off and stick-on purple and gold flames for the side of my truck (so it would look 'bad'). Then, after seeing all the bikers wearing them, he wanted a 'do-rag.' Now, if you don't know what a do-rag is, it is a scarf-like piece of cloth you place on your head and tie it in the back (think about what the pirates in old movies wore and you will have an idea). And, of course, Mom and Dad had to get one as well.

So, there we were: three Midwestern, middle-class folks trying to 'blend in' with the crowd. Without some sort of leather garment, without a rash of tattoos all over our bodies, without a swagger that cannot be taught, we stuck out like three Midwestern, middle-class folks trying to blend in.

Which was okay with the bikers. No one stared, no one laughed, no one pointed at us. It confirmed what we have learned over the years. Despite their tattoos, their apparel, their swagger, bikers (for the most part) are just like us: good, compassionate, caring people. The only difference is the passion they have for motorcycles.

Want to raise money for a family whose house has burned down? The bikers will be there. Know a kid who has cancer and the family can't pay all the medical bills? The bikers will organize a charity ride, and repeat it as often as needed. Want partners in preventing child abuse, rare diseases, lost causes? Call a local biker club. These folks will show up, work their tails off, and ride off into the distance, without needing a lot of pats on the back.

And on most Sunday mornings, dressed in their leather, sporting their tattoos, riding in on their bikes, and walking in with a swagger, you will find a lot of bikers attending Bikers Church, seeking to be as faithful in following Christ as we are, dressed in our Sunday best, sporting our jewelry, riding in our SUVs, and walking in to be with the God who loves us all - each and every one of us.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman