Wednesday, August 31, 2005



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.


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.


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).


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.


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.'


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