Thursday, January 27, 2005


Read Isaiah 49:13-23

Like most people of my generation (and maybe most people who have been raised in the church), my first image of God was that of a very, very old man with a very, very long white beard. (How in the world did God keep from tripping over that beard? Maybe that was one of the jobs of the cherubim).

And, like many of my generation who experienced the upheaval of the '60's, my images of God changed: a black God, a young God, a female God, that older God, a hippie God; an always changing view of God as I turned the kaleidoscope of my life. But I don't think the image of God covered with tattoos every flashed into my mind, until I read this passage from Isaiah late on evening. For that seems to be one of the meanings of verse 16: "Look, I've written your names on the backs of my hands." (The Message)


Think about it. Your name engraved on the back of God's hands. Every time God's hands are folded for grace, God gives thanks for you. Or maybe it is on God's wrist, so that every time that Chronos timepiece is checked, God is reminded of you. Or maybe your name is tattooed on the palms of God's hands, so as God splashes water on her face in the morning, she utters a silent prayer for you. Perhaps it is tattooed on the tops of God's feets, so as the sandals are slipped on in the morning, God remembers to walk with you.

Your name, my name, our names are written all over God. Maybe, like the Illustrated Man of Ray Bradbury's story, God is covered with all our names, all our stories, all our dreams, all our loves, all our prayers, tattooed on by the Holy Spirit from the beginning of creation until the end of time as we will know it.

No wonder God tells us we will never be forgotten!

Prayer: Bearer of our names, you know each and every one of us. Our names, our faces, our very souls are always a part of you. Help us to always remember your promise to never forget us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, January 24, 2005

Why follow?

Read Mark 5:21-43

Is it fear? Is it belief? What is it that urges you to follow Jesus?

I am embarassed to admit that for a certain part of my life it was fear. I know now that my primary motivation for becoming a member of the church when I was 14 was because I was afraid that I would die and go to hell if I didn't. While I can look back and laugh (now!), back then it was the motivation.

He had every reason to believe. A learned man, a respected man, a leader of the religious community. Someone who had grown up steeped in the Torah, one who knew the promises of God that had been made to his grandparents in the faith, who had memorized the prophets' words about the Messiah who would usher in God's steadfast love. Yet, I can only imagine the fear Jairus must have had as he approched the One his co-leaders were plotting against, to beg (however many times it took) for his daughter's life.

She had every reason to fear. After years of going from doctor to doctor, of enduring treatment after treatment that did nothing, after taking nostrum after nostrum that does not work, after hearing answers that never satisfy, why should she hope that this man walking by on an important mission to Jairus' house could do anything for her? Yet, I can only imagine the courage she must have had to reach out and simply touch the sleeve of his coat, trusting that somehow, in some way, healing would come.

"Do not fear, only believe" is what Jesus tells Jairus when he thinks all his hope has floated away with his daughter's last breath. If someone can believe only on what they have heard, trust what you have seen with your own eyes.

Prayer: Too often it is our fears, the doubts of others, the comments of our friends and neighbors which guide how we live and act, Healing God. We have heard what Jesus can do for us and through us; help us to believe what we have heard. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, January 14, 2005

What Do We Do with the Commandments?

Read Isaiah 42:10-17

Here in the States, in one of the states in the part of the country known as the "Bible Belt," a judge has had the Ten Commandments embroidered on his judicial robe. This follows last year's controversy, in the same state, when the chief justice of the state's supreme court, had a granite monument inscribed with the commandments, placed in the lobby of the state courthouse (it was later removed after the chief justice was relieved of his duties).

I find it intriguing the way we have taken this list of commandments, and turned it into the very 'graven image' which we are warned to avoid. Folks have them on signs in their front yards, out on the lawns of schools and other public buildings, and there are constant battles, with great amounts of money spent by both sides, over whether or not these commandments should be displayed.

Even in 2005, in our sophisticated, modern, and supposedly enlightened humanity, we still cannot resist the urge to create graven images and to elevate them to cult status, if not worship them.

Whether it is the obsession with celebrities like Jen and Brad (please, can we have more breaking news on their break-up!), Beckham, or Michael Jackson; whether it is our worship of books (and now, I am preaching to myself, believe me), especially those books that are manuals of operation for our denominations, we just have to elevate someone, or something, to that exalted position of being arbiter of our doctrines, our culture, our lives.

We even do it with our homes, making sure that we have the finest lawn, the brightest paint job, the most decorations at Christmas; we drool over the newest car, and yearn for that status symbol to be parked in our driveways; we can't resist the urge to rush out and buy brand new clothes and then when someone remarks on it, "Oh, this old thing? It's just been hangin in my closet."

And even those of us who have been made in the image of the Creator try to make ourselves a more appealing creature. We work hard at sculpting our bodies; we go to gurus to help us refine our personalities; we spend great amounts on remodeling our faces. And when we are done: can people see God in us, as they try to look to us for help, for comfort, for hope; can they feel the Spirit moving in and through our narcissism; can they hear the Word on our lips and in our hearts, underneath all the conversation about ourselves?

Prayer: It's a song as old as creation, Crying God, as we seek to become our own deities. We have become blinded to you by our desire for more things to show off to more people, our celebration of people we probably should be praying for, our focus on oursleves, all show us as we truly are. Lead us back to you, that we might join all creation in giving you the glory and worship that is yours. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When There is More Time

Read Psalm 33

Maybe when there is more time, God will explain some things to me.

Such as:

why didn't God keep the deeps stored up in the storehouses off Sumatra a couple of weeks ago . . . or at least, taken the raging waters of the tsunami and bottled them up and put them on the shelves in heaven?

why is it that some folks in the city where I live have contritbuted nearly $1,000,000 for the inaugural festivities of President Bush, but there have not been similar contributions to the relief efforts for our sisters and brothers in the Indian Ocean region?

why is it - natural disaster, health care, wages, public transportation, decent and affordable housing, it doesn't matter what - why is it that the poor, who have nothing to begin with, have even that taken away from them in such moments?

why is it that the people of the world, especially in the developed nations, become so shocked (justifiably by the 150,000+ deaths caused by the tsunami, and give generously and insist that whatever is needed for food, water, and rebuilding is dispatched quickly, yet fail to notice the reality that 133,000 children die of hunger every week, and we do nothing about it?

Maybe, in eternity, God will sort all this out for me.

But for now, all I can do is wait, and hope, and trust that God's steadfast love is not only on the one who asks these questions, but especially on those who live these questions.

Prayer: There are no easy questions these days, Listening God, and answers are in short supply. Yet we struggle to trust that our questions are in your heart, and that the answers might even be in ours. In the name of your Son, who suffers with each and every one of us. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman