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