Thursday, February 22, 2007

After the Ashes

Though it happens every year, I am still
surprised by how exhausted I feel - physically
and emotionally - the day after our Ash
Wednesday service.

Part of it may have to do with the fact that
the service itself is so different - more somber,
more silent, more reflective than the usual
Sunday morning service. It takes more effort
to create a 'mood' that seems so strange in
our culture, even in church! After all, to speak
the words, "You are dust and to dust you shall
return" is an extremely radical statement in a
world which worships youth, vitality, and
doing everything we can do to put off death.

I also find it a very moving, and draining,
experience to take the ashes and impose the
sign of the cross upon the people who come
forward for this ancient rite. Whether it is
a member of my own family, a little child who
probably never thinks of death, or the elderly
person whose funeral I may be doing in the
next few months, this very simple act changes
our relationship as pastor and as parishioner.
I see this in the tears which well up in their eyes,
and in the questions on their faces, and in the
piercing of my heart.

And because we have these emotions, these
questions, these hearts, we conclude the service
with the Lord's Supper. We do it, yes, because
our tradition 'allows' it to take place. But more,
we do it because we know that as we follow Jesus
during these days of Lent and beyond, we know that,
like him, we are walking towards our death and so
we need the nourishment of that Bread which will
strengthen us in the days to come. We do it because
we need that cup of Grace to fill us when the
temptations of the world empty our souls.

And we do it because the Table is that visible
reminder that when we do return to dust, we
will not be swept out the door, but will be welcomed
into God's embracing love.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Souper Bowl

Are you ready for some football????!!!!
(American style, that is)

Tonight (finally!) the Super Bowl will take
place. That annual extravaganza dedicated
to the worship of everything that is 'over the
top.' Advertisers will pay approximately
$100,000 per second for TV spots; every
celebrity who is alive (and not in rehab) will
be in Miami for the parties; more pizza, more
wings, more nachos and cheese; more beer
will be consumed than on any other day of
the year (and, yes, there will be a football
game, according to the media).

Those who could not afford the plane tickets,
the rooms, the game costs, will gather around
as-wide-a-screen-HDifpossible-TV, for their
own parties, hoopla, contests, and half-time

Also tonight, in many parts of the USA,
including the two hometowns of the teams
in the Super Bowl, temperatures will plunge
well below 0 degrees F. Winds in many of
these areas will cause temps to feel in the
-30s and -40s. Emergency shelters for the
homeless will open, but if they are like the
ones in Cincinnati, they will not open until
10 p.m. (what do folks do until then since it
will get dark just about the time the Super
Bowl begins at 6 p.m. and the temps will plunge
rapidly?) and, like most communities, there will
not be enough spaces for the numbers of people
who need a warm place to get out of the freezing

And, today, in at least half a dozen cities in the
USA, with more considering such ordinances,
giving food (a sandwich, a cup of coffee, a
a piece of fruit, anything edible) to a homeless
person is now a criminal act. In at least
one community, churches and other religious
groups, cannot give out meals to the homeless
WITHOUT the approval of the elected officials!

That's why today, when the Super Overindulgence
Bowl will be played, and many of us will overeat
in warm homes, while others shiver with cold and
hunger, young people in this church, and churches
throughout the country, will be celebrating the
Souper Bowl of Caring. Our kids will be standing
at the bottom of the steps leading out of church,
asking folks to throw money into the soup pots
they will be holding, money which will go to the
local soup kitchen we support and work with that
continues to feed hundreds of people each and
every day.

When the final whistle is blown and the winner
is known tonight, there will still be homeless
men, women, and children. When the announcer
asks the MVP where he is going (which is always
Disney World), there will still be folks standing
in the frigid wind in Chicago and Indianapolis
and elsewhere, hoping against hope there will
be a warm bed left for them tonight. When the
garbage which could feed thousands is collected
after the parties and the games, there will still be
families who will go hungry tonight.

Are you ready for some football?

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman