Friday, December 15, 2006

the Little Clans

Here in the States, the news is filled with
the tragic story of three climbers who are
trapped on the side of Mount Hood. Weather
conditions severely limit rescue operations,
and it looks like the weather is not going to
improve any time soon.

One of the things that we (humans) do well
is to come together in such situations - to
search, to pray, to comfort the families.
In such times, we seem to 'get it right' as
far as what it means to be part of a greater

Yet, there is a part of me that wonders.
What would the community's response be
if it had been three minority families coming
public, requesting search and rescue operations
for their sons/brothers/husbands/fathers who
were trapped on the side of Mount Poverty
and only had a very short window of opportunity
in which help could reach them?

What would the community's response be?
What would the church's? What would mine

Here in Cincinnati, the City Council faces a
round of cuts in order to balance the budget.
The worthy goal of putting more police on
the streets in the face of a rising homicide
rate and other violent crimes, will be met
by cutting services to the homeless, to the
poor, to those who are the neediest. Several
health care clinics will be shut down, as
well as a pharmacy, and those who need
such services will have to travel further to
get them, though they are the least able to
afford such travel.

Yet, when a developer comes before the
Council with a plan to build condominiums
on the river, with prices ranging well over
a million dollars, approval is quickly granted,
with tax incentives of some $13 million. In
other words, the developer will not have to
pay such taxes, which means the income of
the city is further depleted, which means the
possibility of further cuts, which means
the poor, the needy, the lost suffer more.

One of the familiar readings of this Advent
and Christmas season is that from the 5th
chapter of Micah, where the prophet says
that the one who is to rule Israel, the Messiah,
will come from Bethlehem of Ephrathah.
And what does the prophet say of this mighty
family, this strong group, this rich and
powerful entity?

Micah says, "[you] are one of the little clans."

In other words, from the group that is marginalized,
will come the family that will find shelter in a
stable; from the people who have been excluded
will come the One who would include everyone:
the little, the lost, the prostitute, the tax collector,
the leper, the murder. From those who know what
it is like to hunger for food, for health care, for
simple decency, will come the One who hungers
and thirsts for God's righteousness to burst forth
in the world. From those who have experienced
oppression and injustice, will come the One who
will set every captive free, and who will call his
followers to work for justice, peace, and
reconciliation in every human condition. From
those who get to eat from the garbage dumps
of the world, will come the One who will become
the Bread of Life, so no one ever hungers again.

It is for the little clans, the little people, the
insiginificant and overlooked people, the
broken and the young and the old, the
outsider, the alien, the immigrant that
the One of peace, of hope, of life comes.

Do we see that One coming?

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Unique Stole

We have a group of ladies, young and old, in our church
who, for the last few years, have developed quite a
knitting/shawl ministry. They have done innumerable
shawls that have gone to hospitals, hospices, and homes;
they have knitted mittens and caps for kids at an intercity
church; and they recently knitted well over 100 caps for
newborns. It is a great group of folks (which has included,
on occasion, a 14-year-old young man from the neighborhood).

This morning, I came back to my office from the sanctuary
about 15 minutes before church was about to start. There
were 5-6 of the group waiting for me and I assumed they
were waiting to talk with me, because they were going
to do the childrens' sermon on their caps for the infants.

Wrong! They ushered me into my office, where they
handed me a wrapped gift. Inside was the most beautiful,
hand-knitted, deep purple stole!!! It was 'assembled'
from the efforts of over 25 of the ladies who each did
11 rows. And, I was informed that the 'formula' (?) they
used was 'knit 3, purl 3' (for God, Child, and Spirit).
It even came with beautiful beautiful gold stars on one side,
which will be 'revealed' on Christmas Eve.

I was speechless. It was an completely unexpected gift,
and so the moment, and the gift, was full of grace.

And, to top it off, the group is going in together to gift
me with a brand new preaching robe.

My cup runneth over today, after being empty for quite
some time.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Terrible Twins

This coming Sunday (November 26th) is observed,
in the church calendar as Christ the King Sunday.
One of the readings appointed for the day is
from the 1st chapter of the Revelation of John,
where the Lord God declares, "I am the Alpha
and Omega" (the beginning and the end). On
one of the listservs I belong to, someone
mentioned she was going to preach on what
this phrase means.

Gosh, someone who is brave enough to tackle
the Terrible Twins of Theology!

Of course, preaching about the Alpha and
Omega is a relevant word for a culture
(and all of us living in these days and times)
in which we believe everything is about us,
our needs/desires/obsessions/seductions,
since WE are the beginning and the end of all

It's a relevant word for a culture which has
turned Christmas into the greatest buying
and selling campaign the world has ever
seen, rather than reflecting humbly or (yes!)
fearfully that the beginning of redemption
comes in the squalor of a stable, not in the
aisles of Nordstrom's; that the beginning
of redemption takes place in the pain
of childbirth, not in the numbed daze
of Christmas parties; that the beginning
of redemption takes place in a family
which is poor, which is rejected, which
is marginalized; that the beginning of
redemption takes place when Mary wraps
Jesus in swaddling cloths, because she
couldn't afford disposable diapers.

It's a relevant word for a culture which
continues to search for the fountain of
youth, and if we can't find it, then the
scientists and researchers had (by God) better
invent that pill, that treatment, that surgery
which will make us feel younger, look
younger, live longer, resist aging and death
for a few more years. After all, if the end
is not about us, then what purpose does
the end serve.

Thank goodness, John reminds us that if
the Lord God is the beginning and the end,
then God is also everything in between. And
if God is the Alpha and Omega (the first and
last letters of the Greek alphabet), then God
is every letter in between, and God is every
word that has been spoken, from the very
beginning first word calling forth light
to shine in the darkness, to the very end
word "Amen." And if the Lord God is the
One who is and who was and who is to come,
then we can stop worry about us, and our
past, and our future, and our end.

We can just keep our eyes open for the One
who is coming . . . the beginning and the end
of all we will ever need.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 06, 2006

No gloating allowed

I want to gloat.

Another evangelical leader has been caught with his piety down. Another conservative spokesman who trumpets "family values" has damaged his own family, as well as his church family. Another "Christian leader" who talks the talk has shown he has clay feet when it comes to walking the walk.

I want to point fingers; I want to snicker behind my hands; I want to gloat.

But . . .

. . . he has publicly admitted his weakness and his sin, asking forgiveness. And Jesus tells me (doesn't ask me to think about it, but tells me to do it) that when a sister or brother asks forgiveness, we are to grant such forgiveness.

In another place, Jesus commands us to love. Again, it's not an option; it's a requirement for following him. And, as Paul reminds us (in Eugene Peterson's marvelous paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:6), love

'doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
doesn't revel when others grovel,
takes pleasure in the flowering of truth . . .'

And, of course, there is my sin, my dark side, my other self that I don't want anyone to see. An old Native American parable tells of theone who said, "I have two dogs fighting inside of me: one evil, the other good. Who will win? The one I feed the most." Until I can stop feeding the evil dog inside of me, I should not talk about someone else.

I want to gloat, but I can't.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A servant of the Lord

When I was in my first year of college, I met
the person who would have the most profound
influence in my life. A friend invited me to
go with him to hear the new minister who
had just arrived at the church some of
the faculty from the college attended.

Robert had come to this church because
he had been "run off' by his previous congregation
in Alabama. Why? Because he believed the
promise that the Lord's Table was open to
all who came from north and south, and
from east and west, and so had borne
witness to this truth by serving the bread
and the cup to a black couple, whom the
elders of the church had ignored while
serving everyone else in the church.

In his new call, he continued to live out
this witness. Before it was the word de jour,
he taught and lived inclusion, always welcoming
whoever came to the door, whether it was at
church or at home. He preached justice
to a time and a society which was desperately
holding on to all its unjust ways of treating
people who were different. Robert gently
spoke the hard words which needed to be
truthfully told, he endured the accusations
of the critics who charged him with
'meddling,' he provided sensitive and
compassionate care to those who spoke
vitriocally about him.

For the longest time, I could not figure out
why, or how, he did it.

Then, one day, visiting him at the church, I
needed to use the phone in his office. He
waved me behind his desk and left the room
to give me privacy. While the phone rang,
and I waited for the other party to pick up
at their end, I glanced down at his desk.
There, in a spot where he would see it
every day, in the midst of whatever he
was doing, was a yellowed piece of paper
taped to the desk which simply reminded him:

'You are a servant.'

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, September 14, 2006


This past February, a 27-year-old woman, Katie Haumesser, was taking her 10-year-old daughter, Emma, home from the ER late one night. That same evening, 19-year-old Jacob Wolford, left a friend's house, where he had been drinking. Missing his exit off the interstate, he ended up driving on the wrong side of the road where his truck collided head on with the car Katie and Emma were riding in. Katie was killed, and young Emma sustained serious injuries, but survived.

At his sentencing this past August, for causing Katie's death, Jacob acknowledged the wrong he had done, and offered a public apology to Emma for the terrible tragedy he had caused in her life. He has committed to doing whatever he can to tell his story to other young people, so they will not make the same mistakes that he did. He seems truly remorseful, even going so far as refusing to be released on bail, because of his guilt.

At his sentencing, Emma made a statement in which she forgave Jacob. Not for what he did, she cannot forgive him for that. But, seeking to do what she thought Jesus would do, she forgave him as a person. Wolford later said that he would much rather spend seven years in prison (the sentence he received) knowing Emma had forgiven him, then two years (the minimum he might have gotten) without that forgiveness.

A tragic, terrible story of stupid mistakes, of terrible injuries, of a death and loss which cannot be reversed. But also a story of grace, hope, and forgiveness.

Yet, in an editorial about this case, the local newspaper commented that people in the courtroom were "stunned" to hear Emma forgive Jacob.


We are no longer outraged when drug dealers peddle their wares openly on the streets; we are no longer shocked that 13 and 14-year-old children have children; we are no longer alarmed when more and more people settle arguments by pulling out a gun; we are no longer bothered by the fear-mongering that passes for leadership in our communities.

But we are stunned when someone forgives another person.

But I shouldn't be surprised. Not when Christians continue to carry grudges in their hearts from 30 years ago; not when church leaders speak harshly to one another in meetings; not when people of faith seek to demonize those who disagree with them on biblical, theological, and spiritual issues.

This Sunday, we will be reading the passage in Mark (8:27-38) where Jesus tells the disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." I was pretty much taught, as most of us probably were, that Jesus was talking about a cross of pain, of suffering, of denial, of death, of burdens.

Now, I wonder if the cross we are asked to take up, the burden we don't want to bear, the challenge we don't want Jesus to offer us, is to shoulder grace in a world where bitterness is spoken; to carry hope into a culture where despair is served at every meal; to bear forgiveness into all those shadowed corners of our lives where vengeance is lurking, just waiting to leap out and do the violence we hide in our hearts.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, July 24, 2006

That's All, Doc!

It happened one day in the Pastoral Care
class at seminary. The topic was visitation
in hospitals, but within the first five minutes
of discussion, it quickly disintegrated into
doctor-bashing. I was surprised.

Maybe it was because my best friend from
college had ended up going into medicine,
and I had acquired an understanding of what
one has to actually go through to get that
medical degree. Maybe it was that as an
older, second-career student, I had a little
more experience in visiting doctors. Maybe
I was (am?) naive. But I just couldn't believe
some of the attitudes expressed that day by
fellow seminarians.

Don't get me wrong. I have encountered some
pretty arrogant doctors, who are afflicted with
ITIGS (I Think I'm God Syndrome). I've seen
doctors who treat nurses and other staff as if
they were there only to wait on them. I've
been on the receiving end of doctors whose
bedside manner made one wish a dead fish
was sitting there, instead of that person.

But I have also been fortunate to know and to
have been served by tenderly compassionate,
incredibly gifted, undeniably patient people
who, when they put on that stethoscope each
day, did not take off their humanity first.
And I have seen doctors who were willing
to learn, to grow, to be transformed as they
encountered Teddy, with all his many diagnoses
as well as his gifts.

Later today, I have to say good-bye to one
of these doctors. For the last ten years, I
have been blessed to be served by a family
doctor who, indeed, became a member of
the family. Over the years, he has helped
me to deal with the grief, the depression,
the anger, the frustration that came from
Teddy and his struggles. He has been patient
with me as I struggle with my weight. He
always took the time, and gave me his
undivided attention and compassion, to listen
to me talk about the almost-debilitating stress
from church life and the pain of raising Teddy.

He is a gifted doctor, who recognizes from whom
his gifts come. He is a wonderful role model on
how one works with others, for I have been fortunate
to see him interact with his nurse as well as the
medical students he teaches. And he has taught
me so much about caring for others, and looking
beyond the quick fix to the long-term transformations
which can lead to better life. I always appreciated
the fact that he was probably more likely to suggest
some sort of 'alternative medicine' (walking, massage,
stretching, etc.) than just scribbling something on a
prescription pad. And I value the fact that he was
willing to admit, "I don't know all the answers."

So while I was stunned and saddened to hear that he
was leaving, I am not surprised to learn the reason.
He is going back to his hometown to serve in a
teaching hospital, to work with the residents there,
something he loves to do. But the main reason is
that his aging parents still live there, and he wants
to be closer to them, to be able to care for them,
to love them, to support them, to serve them.
His last act of caring for me is to model for me
the gift of caring for others.

I will miss him. I will miss his gentle, but firm,
insistence that I take better care of myself. I will
miss our discussions about faith and church. I will
miss our conversations as we either bemoaned or
celebrated our favorite baseball team, the Cincinnati

I'm not sure if I owe him my life, though I know my
life is healthier and better because of his care. But
I do know that I owe him Teddy's life. For he was
the one who called one Saturday, after midnight,
regarding Teddy. He had seen him earlier that day,
about a lump on the side of Teddy's neck, which
the nurse and doctor at the facility where Teddy
was at, thought might be a swollen gland. He
called because he thought there might be more
going on, and suggested we take Teddy down to
Children's Hospital on Sunday afternoon for
further diagnosis. Call it intuition, call it a hunch,
call it a nudge by God, it was his call that helped
us to discover the cancer exploding through Teddy
(already Stage Four at that point), and got him
the surgery, the chemo, the care that saved his life.

As a minister, people sometimes ask me if I think
that God still performs healing miracles in the
world today. And when they do, I just look at them
and say, "Let me tell you about Dr. Gebhardt."

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pity Party Cancelled

Don't you just hate some of the stunts God pulls?

I was all set to have a big Pity Party today. After all, it was 20 years ago today that I was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It was one of those 'mountaintop' moments: family and friends, a special piece by the choir, sermon by my ministry-mentor, a big luncheon, lots of feel-good moments.

And on the 20th anniversary? Well, I got up and put the laundry in the machine; cleaned up the hairball the cat had left on the floor; had my usual bowl of cheerios and fruit; found more grey hair in my head and beard; came to the office, where the stacks of unsolved issues and things undone were still waiting for me.

No cards, no calls, no party, no pats on the back, no Sgt. Pepper or any band marching around in the parking lot of the church. No one telling me how wonderful I am, or how much I have done for them. No email from Time magazine to interview me as one of the top preachers in the country. No call from the 'Today' show to comment on the latest crisis. It seems that no one noticed, or cares.

Boo hoo hoo! Poor me, poor me, poor me.

Then, I sat down to write my poem/prayer for the back of Sunday's bulletin, and the Holy Spirit reminded me of what this day and every day, what ministry, is all about:

i would prefer
to be left
leaning against the wall,
shuffling my two left feet,
watching the world
twirl by;
but you take me by the hand
to teach me
the dance steps
of grace;

when i walk near
the piano,
it shudders,
i will not sit down;
but you take my fingers
and place them on the keys,
"play, play with joy, play!"

even with
the biggest bucket,
i can't carry a tune;
but you push me
out onto the stage,
introducing me as
the new soloist
in the Good News Choir.

i will celebrate your joy,
sing your hope,
play your love,
leaping and whirling
in your grace

Don't you just hate it when God does that?

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, June 30, 2006

Playing the Silence

Mr. Pete, the Drum Man, is back for Vacation Bible School - and the kids are thrilled! They get to play on different sizes of drums, and try to learn something about rhythm. Perhaps not so surprising - the girls are seem interested in the different 'tones' the drums make; the boys just want to be the loudest!!!

This is Mr. Pete's ministry. As he exposes kids to the sound of the drums, their texture, their tones, he also exposes them to the gospel. He talks about how the kids (and the lucky adults who are with them) become a part of a community: the Drum Circle. Every drum has a different 'voice' and every voice is important to the circle. Every drum has a part, and if one part makes a mistake, the next drum or the circle brings us back onto the rhythm. He teaches them about beats, and about the sounds that can be made.

But Pete also teaches them about silence. In the teaching of a particular rhythm, he puts in a measure of silence. Boom, boom-boom, boom, boom-boom, silence, boom is the rhythm. And he has us hold our hands up in the air to play the silence. And Pete believes, as I think Jesus does, that silence is the hardest note to play - on any instrument: drums, piano, voice, life. But the silence is as important as all the sounds we make, and Pete wants the kids to listen to the sound that the silence canc reate.

Some people think that Jesus went away from the crowds and the disciples to recharge his batteries, to get some rest, to take a retreat, to be closer to God, to pray. All good and commendable choices, which few of us do ourselves. Me, I think he went away to listen to the silence he was trying to play in his heart.

We know how to be loud, we know how to soften our voices. We know how to argue, and we know how to whisper. We know how to talk and talk and talk. We know how to use words to intimidate, to manipulate, to criticize; we know how to play our voices so people will feel sorry for us, or love us, or want to rescue us.

But when do we learn to play the silence?

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Being Remembered

We all want to be remembered for something.

After developing an incredibly successful (and controversial) compute software company, Bill Gates has announced that he will donate 95% of his wealth to help people throughout the world.

And people will remember him.

After taking vows to remain inside her cloistered convent, Mother Teresa stepped into the streets of Calcutta, to serve the people of the world no one else wanted to touch.

And people will remember her.

When it seemed that no one could break through their set-in-stone perceptions of how to handle the problem, rock star Bono turns out to be the one who has convinced presidents and prime ministers to actually do something concrete about poverty in the world.

And people will remember.

We all want to be remembered for something.

This week, we are having our Vacation Bible School at church. And, so far, three different kids have come up to me and said, "I remember you! You're the guy we wrapped in toilet paper last year!!!"

Not exactly in the category of the others, but I'll take it!

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, June 15, 2006


It all has to do with a scientific thingamabob called 'bioluminescence' which refers to thingamajig cells which contain a whatsit called luciferm. This whatsit can somehow make a gizmo called luciferase which, when combined with oxygen, makes a whatchamacallit commonly known to all as oxyluciferin.

And, of course, it all has to do with sex! At least, that's what the scientists tell us when we wonder how and why fireflies light up on a summer evening.

But maybe it's because Jesus, who couldn't wait for Thomas Edison to create the lightbulb, needed something to help him, since he liked to stay up late at night reading.

Or maybe God turned to the Spirit one night and said, "We need something to keep Jesus busy on summer evenings, instead of him running around creation all night long. Got anything up your sleeve that he could chase?"

Or maybe the Spirit saw that group of insomniac gnats that God had created, and sprinkled a little stardust on their tails, so they could find their way in the dark.


I just let them light my walk home from a late meeting at the church, whispering, "Wow!"

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, June 09, 2006

If not me . . .

Let's see:

- the hurricane season has started and there are
neighborhoods in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama which are still littered with debris
from storms from as long ago as two years;
- thousands have lost their lives, their loved ones,
their homes, their livelihoods from the earthquake
in Indonesia;
- two top executives of Enron have been convicted
for their roles in the fall of that corporation;
- former Vice-President Al Gore has released a
movie which provides a close-up look at the
consequences of global warming;
- 17 people have been arrested for possible
terrorism activities in Canada, a country which
prides itself on diversity and tolerance;
- and this year marks the 25th 'anniversary' of
the discovery of the AIDS virus.

Woe is us! Woe is me! We are a people who look around and see great grief, daunting devastation,unbelievable suffering. And when we go to the
sanctuaries of God, we hear God crying out, "who can I send? Who will go?"

Send me? "I don't think so" is the response many of us who follow Jesus seem to say. Call it compassion fatigue, call it xenophobia, call it 'focusing on our own before we reach out to others,' a lot of people are talking as if we just cannot do it any more, we just are not able to serve others, we just don't have the time or energy or resources to respond to God's call.

But what makes us so different from all the other generations which preceded us? What gives us some sort of exemption, some 'free pass' from having to respond with love, with hope, with reconciliation to a world that struggles to find its way? Every generation has faced tragedy, every generation has dealt with some sort of major crisis, every generation has had to decide HOW it would respond, not if it would.

On a cold, gray, grief-filled November Friday afternoon, I walked with my family down to our Presbyterian church to hear what the preacher had to say to us, to hear what comfort the Word would offer, to hear what God might say to those of us numbed by the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And of all the passages he might have chosen, the preacher read from Isaiah 6, "In the year when King Uzziah died . . ."

It is in the years in which the king dies or the president's life is cut short that we see God high and lifted up before us, reminding us of who creates us and calls us.

It is in the years when the foundations of the world shake from the armies at war that the heavenly choirs sing of the One whose glorious peace waits to fill our lives.

It is in the years when people's ears are filled with the false promises of the politicians and the empty rhetoric of anger and hatred, that God reaches out to touch our lips so we can speak the Good news of hope, of grace, of steadfast love for all people.

It is in the years when we seem most broken that God's healing power is poured out upon us; it is in the years when we seem most helpless, that the Spirit is poured out upon us so we can help others; it is in the years when despair threatens to fill every crevice of our souls and our hearts shatter from the suffering we see before us that God makes Jesus most present in the world - through us!

It is in these years, and every year, and this year that God most needs us to minister to the world. It is in these years, and every year, and this year that God cries out, in pain and anguish, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

Then I said . . .

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Code

Well, have you seen it yet?

The 'Code', I mean? It's on all the news.
The interviews with the cast and director,
with the author, with folks from the church
and Opus Dei and every expert imaginable.

The protestors are out in front of the theaters,
telling people it is all a 'big lie!' And the
counter-protestors are reminding folks that
'Jesus loves Dan Brown' and Tom Hanks.
As for the counter-counter-protestors . . .
well, I'm not sure what they are doing. Oops!
Sorry, that's the media.

All because of a fictional movie, based on a
work of fiction, which supposedly recounts
the 'truth' that the church has engaged in a vast
conspiracy to keep a secret about Jesus.

Meanwhile, out in the real world where Jesus
truly operates

the poor are wondering when the church will break
the code of poverty;

the hungry have been waiting a long time for Christians
to hatch a plan to feed them;

the naked are hoping against hope that Jesus' followers
might just give them that extra coat in the closet they
no longer need;

the women and children in Darfur walk the dusty
roads to death, knowing the church has more important
things to do than to work together to end genocide;

and the thirsty are still waiting for that conspiracy
which will provide drinkable water for the world.

Have you seen them, yet?

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, April 15, 2006


what were they doing today?

cleaning toilets
trying to forget
their dreams
draining away?

maybe Peter wished
he was home
eating Passover
trying to find
a way
out of his

did Joanna
have her Saturday list:
groceries to buy,
errands to run,
a soccer game,
a full honey-do jar?

were Herod and Pilate
nursing hang-overs
out too late last night
hitting every pub
on the Street of Tears
until they got
thrown out at the
Last Station?

were children
being shushed by
fear-ridden parents,
to stop playing
'soldiers and messiahs'?

did the angels
around heaven
to speak too
what with the Word
God was doing
behind that stone?

what were they doing today . . .

before God
yanked the legs
from under

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

will there be enough

i've brought one . . .
i found it in the street
after some neighbors
took off a door
to carry a paralyzed
down the street
to some faith

a group of Galileans
came to the big city
for Passover
i had to put some
tables together last night
for their dinner party.
here's a
left-over nail;

years ago
i bought a cradle
at a yard sale in Nazareth.
just the other day
it finally fell apart;
i was going
to throw the pieces
into the garbage
but you can
have one of the nails
. . . if you need it.

on Good Friday

we never run
out of

(c) 2001 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Ordinary Table

an ordinary table:
shoved up
against the wall
of the upstairs guest room,
thick with the dust
of being forgotten;

an ordinary table:
stained with the tears
of the mother
watching her children
go off to school
for the first time;

an ordinary table:
polished with the elbows
of family members
leaning forward
to hear the stories
Grandpa has told
a million times;

an ordinary table:
scarred with the initials
of children
bored with their homework;

an ordinary table:
rushed into service
so that
an ordinary group of pilgrims
from Galilee
might eat together;

an ordinary table . . .

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

The media is all agog about the publication of the "Gospel of Judas," wondering what this will mean for Christianity, our beliefs,the world, yada, yada, yada. According to reports on the radio and TV today, Judas is portrayed as the 'hero' of the story, the only one to recognize Jesus for who he really is, and willing to sacrifice himself so that this revelation could be made to the entire world.

Judas intrigues a lot of us. Was he really just a mercenary of money, stealing from the group's common purse, and willing to sell his teacher for a few bucks? Was he as callous towards the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, as some of the gospels portray him? Was he the willing,or unwitting, pawn of the religious and political authorities of his day (or even the Evil One) to bring about the death of Jesus?

I'm not sure; I can't figure him out. Yet, I know that in John's gospel, he is included in the Last Supper, and that says something to me about Jesus' inclusion of Judas right up to the last moments of his life. In fact, when Jesus dips the 'morsel' and hands it to Judas, it is a traditional way of honoring the person. And an interesting way to treat the person who is about to betray you!

Of course, I can't figure Judas out, because I can't figure out my own relationship with Jesus.

After all, if Jesus is in the poor of the world, and I refuse to see them as sisters and brothers in Christ, what makes me different from Judas?

And if I think we should spend money on our own 'kind', whether they are in my church, my community, my country before helping any one else out, is my attitude that different from Judas?

And if Jesus hungers with the children on the garbage dumps of Rio de Janiero, and I am unwilling to share from the abundance I have; if Jesus is with those who have to drink polluted water while the good water is diverted to the resorts in their countries, and I don't say something about it; if Jesus is with the people dying in Darfur, and I am not beating down the doors of my government to get them to stop this genocide - if I am not willing to do any thing and everything I can for the lost, the last, the little, the least in our world, then aren't I betraying the very One who I say I want to live in my heart?

The disturbing news of the Passion story is how much I resemble Judas.

The good news is that, like Judas, Jesus will honor me by feeding me at his Table on Maundy Thursday, and then, as he did for Judas, he will go out and die for me so that, like Judas, I might be saved.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, March 12, 2006


They have come, quite literally, from all over the world: emails, phone calls, messages telling us of prayers being offered for us, for Teddy, for the members of our congregation, for the caregivers, for the family of Joe Beaudoin, for the bailiffs in the court, for the judges and the legal system.

We've heard them, we've read them (over and over in most cases), we've clutched them close to our hearts and wept over the compassion, the love, the encouragement, the grace that is being shared by so many these last few weeks.

While we could never certainly 'rank' the messages from folks as to their 'value' to us (how to you put a value on grace?), one card that has especially touched our hearts came from Emily, a young woman about the same age as Teddy who, though now at college, grew up down the street from us. She wrote of her memories of Teddy when they were little kids, of the joy they shared, of riding bikes together when it seemed the day would never end, of the Halloween flashlight she got at one of Teddy's birthday parties. What a blessing to be reminded of those days.

And then there are the 'green cards' we have received every day since this part of the journey began. Someone who chooses to remain anonymous (but we know lives in Cincinnati according to the postmark) has sent a daily green postcard, with a scripture verse printed on it. We will probably never be able to thank the person, but he/she has sent us daily reminders

- that God continues to whisper hope and peace to us
when we are too mad to talk with God;

- to encourage us when we are standing knee deep in despair;

- to lift us up to God when we are so exhausted
that we can barely get out of bed.

What a marvelous ministry someone has undertaken! What a gift of grace, of hope, of trust, of faith in the future God has in store for us.

That's what comes in the green cards, in the card from Emily, in all the cards, calls, messages, email, hugs, meals, prayers, support which have come our way the last two weeks.

And we give thanks!

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, March 02, 2006


We walked into the lobby of the courthouse,
aware of all the media standing around, aware
of all the people watching. A stranger walked
up to us, and said, 'there are some folks who
would like to meet you, if that's okay.'

And they stepped forward - Jack and Bill,
brothers of the man whose life Teddy is accused
of taking. They could have nodded politely,
shook hands, murmured platitudes, stepped

But God had something else in mind, and
the four of us stood on holy ground.

"We're here to support you," they said.
"We're here because we share pain and loss
with you; we're here to be with you and Teddy."

Grace's tears mingled with ours; Forgiveness
reached out and clasped our hands, drawing
us close; Reconciliation wrapped us in hugs.

These were not those businesslike, formal,
passing the peace in church type hugs we give
(and receive) so often. These were huge, genuine,
from the heart and soul hugs which we all need
and so rarely receive (or give). These were the
seeds of healing that God has planted in our hearts,
and in theirs.

And the Holy Spirit, that Spirit of Peace, that
Spirit of Reconciliation, that Spirit of Grace
and Hope and Forgiveness, wept and bowed
her head, whispering "Amen."

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

even with lots of milk
and extra sugar,
i had trouble downing
my bowl of ashes
this morning;

i vacuum up
as many as i can,
but by the time
i empty the bag,
the ash bunnies
are back under the bed,
snickering at my futile efforts;

and after getting lost
with the Church Dog
this morning,
he simply turned around and followed
ashen footprints
back to our house;

they rest at peace
upon my forehead,
while you take me
into your heart,
rocking me gently
as the celebrant
cradles your Body
and feeds me
on your hope and grace.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It's all around us, every day

All good things come to an end. In this case, one of my favorite television shows will be going off the air this May. NBC has announced the cancellation of "TheWest Wing".

Politics aside, it was a show marked by incredible writing, some amazing plot twists, and fine acting. Some of the characters were so real, many wished they could vote for them. Of course, like real life, there were the characters, (Toby Ziegler comes to mind) that you loved to hiss and boo!

Martin Sheen, the fine actor who played the president on the show, was interviewed the day after the cancellation was announced. He mentioned that his experience of being on the show was, "Amazing, incredible, grace-filled."


Now that is not a word one expects to emerge from the mouth of an actor on a TV show. While Sheen is a man of strong faith, it was still surprising to hear that phrase from his lips.

The reality, though, is that we rarely hear that phrase from anyone's lips these days. I go home and Bonnie asks how my day was and I might say something about a lot of meetings, stress, hospital visits, but she could probably count the times I have said 'grace-filled' on one finger.

People I ask, folks who go to this church, other churches, those who are clergy, those who are generous and good and kind, rarely use that phrase in describing their days or lives.

Yet, the evidence is all around us, isn't it? From a crisp, cold winter's night to a gorgeous sunrise; from children laughing at the movies to a daughter caring for her elderly mother; from folks willing to go to places like Pakistan, the Gulf Coast, Banda Ache to provide relief to those mentoring our children in schools - God's grace fills our lives, our days, our every moment.

Maybe, like Sheen, we need to develop the ear, the eye, the soul to see and hear and feel such grace throughout our days, so that when someone asks us, "How was your day, your week, your month, your job, your trip, your life, whatever?" our immediate response, our grateful response, will be simply,


(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Patron Saint of Cynics

In the story of the call of Nathanael (you may
know him better as Bartholomew) told for
us in John 1:43-51, he asks a rather cynical
question of Philip, "Can anything good come
out of Nazareth?" Implying, of course, can
anyone good come out of that extremely small
town filled with extremely poor people.

But before we dismiss Nathanael and his
question, let's admit that he is the patron saint
of all us cynical people.

Can anything (or anyone) good come out of
Tehran or Baghdad? Many of us doubt it.

Can anything (or anyone) good come out of
Crawford, Texas; Hope, Arkansas; Glasgow,
Scotland; Perth, Australia; anywhere you want
to name? We have our doubts.

About 40 years or so ago, if anyone asked "Can
anything (or anyone) good come out of Montgomery,
Alabama?" the answer would have been a resounding
"NO!" Deep South Montgomery; racist Montgomery;
first capitol of the Confederacy Montgomery? Are
you kidding?

But then came the day when Rosa Parks was too tired
to move to the back of the bus; then came the moment
when a black minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.,
was asked to head up the boycott in that city; and then
came a few, then hundreds, and finally thousands of
folks coming from all those tiny, insignificant, poor
backwaters where we never expect anything, or anyone,
good to come from.

So today, let's remember, and give thanks, for Rosa,
Martin, and all those who, with their dreams, with
their hopes, with their lives answered the question
first asked by Nathanael so long ago.

And let's remember, and give thanks, for this patron
saint of cynics, who discovered for himself that, oh
yes, someone good could come out of Nazareth,
someone so good that He is able to bring hope
out of the worst cynic.

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, January 01, 2006

One New Thing

Got your list done?

I've been working on my list of New Year
resolutions: walk more; eat more fruits and
fiber, less fat; lose that 'spare tire' around the
middle (though now it is more like a complete
set!). And you know what I noticed?

It's the same list I had in 2005. In fact, it is
the same list I had in 1995, 1985, 1975 . . .

it's always the same, old things I am working
at improving. There is no 'new' thing on my
list, that activity I have never tried, that event
I have never attended, that place I have never

We fall into the trap of thinking God uses the
same list year after year, that God will always
do things the way they have always been done.
Yet, the New Testament Lesson we read today
(Revelation 21:1-6a) reminds us that God is
in the business of 'newness': new heaven, new
earth, new Jerusalem, new me, new you.

Shouldn't surprise us, though. Scripture makes
it clear that God is always willing to risk, to dare,
to think (and do) outside the box, to do something,
everything new! And God wants us to be open to
that new thing offered to us, to that new person
who will enhance our life, to that new challenge
which will make us grow, to that new opportunity
we will have to serve.

So, let's tear up all our old, dated lists, and be
open to that one new thing (probably more,
actually) that God will do for us, to us, through

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman