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.


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


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


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