Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Remembering and Forgetting

With a parade in every community, with a flag in front of just about every house, with every war movie ever made showing on TV, and every window in the stores promoting Memorial Day sales, it wasn't that difficult to "remember" yesterday (Memorial Day here in the States). In fact, it would have been pretty darn hard to forget what day it was!

But today, it's easier. Going back to work after a three-day weekend, one suddenly realizes the loss of a day to get the work done. With the regular shows and soaps back on TV, it is easier to focus on the struggles of mythical folks than the realities that neighbors face. With all the visual reminders put away until July 4th, the fact that we have young women and men a long way from home and in harm's way can be shoved to the back of our minds.

It's like our relationship with God. When we are in worship, of course we remember to bring our prayers to God. As the hymns are played and sung, we recall the ways that music can heal us and inspire us to go out and serve others. When scripture is read, we remind ourselves that we need to be more faithful in our daily devotions.

But then we leave the sanctuary, and immediately join in a discussion about our favorite sports team, and poof!, there goes that mental 'post-it' to spend more time in prayer. We meet friends for lunch and, whoosh, we forget to say a prayer of thanksgiving, not only for the food, but for the folks who have worked to provide the meal while we were in church. We go home and turn on the TV and the tune of our favorite commercial drives "Amazing Grace" right out of our brain.

It's not the the struggle of remembering that causes me problems, it's the ease of forgetting!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Manna Jar

Usually it's stuck up on the top shelf of the bookcase next to my desk, but lately, I have been keeping my "manna jar" close to my side.

Well, actually it is not a jar, but a Stainsbury's Assorted Biscuits tin from England. And instead of being filled with delicious treats (which are long gone!), it is filled with 'manna,' that bread of heaven, all those gifts from God to remind me that I am God's beloved child.

There are cards from families thanking me for funerals, weddings, or baptisms which I have done; there are crayoned notes from children who now have children of their own; there is a picture of my mother, taken when she was much younger; there are emails from friends and colleagues; there is a ribbon which wrapped chocolate that a dear friend brought back to me from France; there is a stone from Lindisfarne, some sand from Martyr's Bay at Iona, a rock from Omaha Beach, a pressed flower from Taize.

They are reminders of places where God has led me, people whom God has graced me, all the gifts God has poured out upon me over the years. They are, as the liturgy puts it, 'outward and visible signs' of that invisibly and spiritual bread of life God gives to us each and every day, if we only take notice.

When I am spinning and whirling from a life of stress, I open my manna jar and breathe the sweet aroma of the Spirit's healing presence, and it seems my hyperventilating soul begins to calm;

when the demands of ministry have stripped me bare, I touch the words, the paper, the stones - all those inanimate objects that put sinew and muscle back onto my dried bones;

when I hunger for a friend, an affirmation, a reminder that God loves me and cares for me, I feast upon these tender sweets, and my emptiness is filled to overflowing, my broken spirit is made whole.

And I put the lid back on my manna jar, and continue on through the wilderness.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


There's a part of me that knows I went into ministry to save myself. After all, if I am a minister, I get to go to the head of the line at the pearly gates, don't I?

There's a part of me that knows I went into ministry to save the world. It's a messy job, but somebody has to do it, and who better than someone who is on God's "side?"

There's a part of me that knows I went into ministry to save my denomination. The only place in a bigger mess than the world is a church denomination, and since the whole structure of redemption would crumble without denominations, it's an important job.

There's a part of me that knows I went into ministry to save a church - whichever one I am serving at any particular time. After all, there are always people who need to be healed, problems that need to be solved, budgets that need to be met. And who better to tackle these than an ordained minister?

But now, now, all of me knows that I'm in ministry for the kids. The kids who ask all the questions adults think are too "silly" but are at the heart of the human condition. Like Dennis the Menace yesterday, who asked, "If we're made out of dust, how's come we don't turn to mud when it rains?" kids are willing to put the pastor on the spot with just the right question at the most inconvenient moment.

And kids are willing to learn. Like the sower in Jesus' parable, every pastor learns that kids are the good soil - the place where the seeds of kindness, of justice, of hope, of compassion can be planted; and where they will blossom and flourish - in a year, in 10 years, in a lifetime - but the seeds do not lie fallow in kids.

And kids model the best attributes of God. They are willing to forgive in the heat of the moment, not waiting until the other person is frozen by the cold shoulder of hurt and rejection. They are willing to run up and hug, when you least expect it and most need it. They are willing to love - unconditionally, unsparingly, unfailingly, for all eternity.

Thank God for the kids!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, May 20, 2005


I called another pastor this morning. "Sorry," the secretary said, "she is not in today." "Oh, you mean the pastor takes a day off?" Yes!" the secretary replied, and then added a heartfelt, "Thank God!"

Because of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday (about God creating and taking the seventh day off) there's been a lot of talk on one of the chat lists I belong to about'sabbath' - about doing it, honoring it, taking it. About how we "need" that time off, how we are "supposed" to take such a break. The conversation with the secretary this morning reminded me that sabbath is not only a break for us, but it is a break "from" us for other people.

Sabbath is a break for the people we work with, whom we often push when we are falling behind, whom we often blame when we are being criticized, whom we often forget when we are being recognized.

Sabbath is a break for the people we live with - when we are intentionally more patient than usual, when we are more loving than we normally show, when we are more focused on our spouses, children, and friends than we are on ourselves, our needs, our petty concerns.

Sabbath is a break for God, as well, when God sees us taking the time (whether it is an hour, an evening, a day) to truly be the people God dreamed of when God scooped up that clay off the floor of the earth, pottered into a familiar form and blew the Spirit into our lungs.

If I keep sabbath only for myself, I continue to be self-centered. If I give others a break from me, then sabbath becomes a gift for everyone, even God.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, May 16, 2005

On the day after . . .

On the great Day of Pentecost, a mighty wind surged forth from heaven, pushing the followers of Jesus out of the house where they had been hiding, and into the streets. Flames danced above their heads, their tongues began to wag, and people from all over the world heard what they said, no matter what their native language. Peter gave a sermon which would cause Billy Graham to turn green with envy, and 3,000 (!) people were baptized.

The Church of Jesus Christ was born!

On the day after Pentecost:

Peter's wife had to yell at him three times to get out of bed, so that he would get his sermon on the website before 9:00 a.m.;

the deacons grumbled about cleaning out the baptismal pool;

and the apostles began to argue about who got to preach on Trinity Sunday, who would choose the hymns, and who would be stuck chairing the Nominating Committee.

Come, Holy Spirit, with your uniting peace;
come, Holy Spirit, with your gracious language;
come, Holy Spirit, with your passion for all people;
Come, Holy Spirit!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, May 13, 2005

Phobia of the Day

Okay, admit it. You are not superstitious. But, were you afraid to go to work today? Won't go out to eat in a restaurant today? Definitely won't get married today?

If so, you may just suffere from the dreaded paraskevidekatriaphobia (try saying that three times real fast!) But not to worry, you are not alone. In fact, if you suffer from para-----, you are one of 21 million people in the United States alone (or about 8% of the population). What is it?

The fear of Friday the 13th.

We all joke about it; we all laugh at such 'fears,'; we all pooh-pooh such fears. But for a lot of folks, it can be very, very real.

Why Friday? Why 13?

Some say Friday is a bad day, historically. According to tradition, it was on a Friday that Eve enticed Adam with the apple, and they got driven out of Eden on that same day. Another old tales says that God scrambled languages at Babel on a Friday; a similar tradition tells us that the Great Flood came on Friday. And, of course, there is that Friday Christians call "good" when Jesus went to his death.

Friday was considered such a "bad" day, that for centuries, Christians would not begin travel on that day, or initiate new projects. (Of course, I am sure that the fact that Friday comes from the Norse goddess of love and sex, Freya, has nothing do do with our attitude towards the day!)

13 has been seen as a bad luck number for even longer. Hindu lore says that if 13 people gather for a meal together, all will die within a year. Norse mythology tells of the hero Balder being killed by the evil Loki, who crashes a party of the gods, making a total of 13 in attendance. And again, there were 13 gathere at the table at the Last Supper.

13 also figures into the names of folks who are considered to be the epitomes of evil: Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Theodore Bundy, and others all have 13 letters in their names.

Yet, in other cultures, 13 is considered to be a very lucky number. The Chinese have seen it as one of the most favorable numerals.

For the ancient Egyptians, 13 represented the highest goal for a human being. Believing that life consisted of 12 stages, they viewed the 13th (and final) stage as that of life beyond death, when one would be gloriously transformed into the image they would have for all eternity.

Isn't it interesting how, over the centuries, we have corrupted a belief that symbolized reverence and respect for life beyond what we know now, into an attitude that represents the fear of death?

So, maybe we should break the "spell" of Friday the 13th by going out and having a party, inviting 12 of our best friends to a sumptious meal, meeting someone who has 13 letters in their name for drinks after work, laughing in the face of phobias and fears. Isn't that what trust in the risen Christ is all about . . .

. . .or, are we too superstitious?

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Veni Sancte Spiritus

I have to admit that I have never had any tongues of fire dancing on my head. Though, come to think of it, there was that time when I was in children's choir at the Christmas Eve service, and the lighted candle in the hand of the little girl behind me got too close to the hair on the back of my head! (But I am not sure if that counts).

I don't recall my folks mentioning anything about a white dove appearing at my baptism and a voice speaking from heaven.

Even though there were several wild geese flying over me on this morning's walk, I apparently don't have the spiritual gift to discern what they were saying.

But, there are those times when Paisley curls up in my lap after a long day, and starts purring, and I feel the healing presence of the Comforter.

In the middle of the night, when I hear Bonnie softly breathing next to me, I am filled with a Peace that is impossible to describe.

And this morning, like every morning, the Holy Spirit bounded up onto the bed and started licking my face, saying, "Come on; get up, lazy bones! Let's go see what God has in store for us today!"

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, May 05, 2005

V E Day

I was in France four years ago, when VE Day (the "end" of World War II in Europe) was celebrated. Unlike the United States, it is a national holiday in France, and I was impressed with the reverence with which people treated the day and its meaning.

Now, in 2005, it seems to have special meaning, throughout the world, as we remember the 60th anniversary of this special date in the life of humanity.

And one of the things the anniversary has spurred, at least among us clergy "types," is a discussion about the meaning of war, the validity of war, the value of war, the reality of war. Most of us, however we feel about that war or any other, seem fairly well convinced that our position coincides with the one the Lord had. WWJD? Well, it seems he would do what I would.

But maybe it is not so much what Jesus did that is important, as much as what Jesus knew. Jesus seems to know, more clearly than we seem able, that we are are war - within ourselves.

When I am immersed in Scripture, when I am reading about loving my enemies, it's "Right on! That's the way to live." When Jesus speaks about turning the other cheek, "Amen, brother! I can do that." And when he talks, and walks, about caring passionately and unconditionally about those people who don't give a damn about me, "You go, Jesus!"

Oh yes, when I am deep within Scripture, I can be incredibly brave, unbelievably strong, committed without any sort of reservation or question.

But when I shut the Bible, get up, and walk out the door into my life, I become a wimp with a capital W, I, M, P. With a single bound, I can jump into a conflict adding my anger. I can leap tall steeples to land with my right foot of hostility and my left foot of righteousness into the midst of any debate. I can pick up my weapons of pride and arrogance and do mighty battle with any one, and every one, who dares to disagree with me.

The abyss, cut deep by the raging waters of all our anger, hate and bitterness, between where we want to live and the world we really inhabit is precisely what Jesus came to bridge, that we might follow him across into that peaceable Kingdom of God. And fortunately, in the Spirit he leaves behind, Jesus gives us the tools to keep the bridge standing long after he is gone.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman