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.


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


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!


(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 07, 2005


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