Monday, July 14, 2008

Parable of the pitcher

A sower went out to sow . . .

only in this case, it was a volunteer baseball coach throwing batting practice to a teenager. Batting practice is used to prepare a ballplayer to begin to see the ball, to learn how to hit in different situations, to develop one's rhythm and stroke. Sometimes the ball is thrown to practice groundballs, other times fly balls, and sometimes just thrown to the batter nice and easy, big 'fat' pitches to drive out of the park.

For years, Clay Council threw batting practice to hundreds of young boys and men, simply casting out his time and support to them. One, Josh Hamilton, became the # 1 pick in the baseball draft a few years ago. He was considered to be on the fast track to the majors, a five-tool player, a pure hitter with an incredible arm. And as that # 1 pick, he signed for an incredible amount of money.

And that's when this incredibly gifted athlete got stupid. That's when this five-tool player began to focus on only one thing - getting high. Alcohol, drugs, crack cocaine, Josh Hamilton threw away his talents, his career, his chances, and almost his life because of his addiction. Like many addicts, he tattooed his body, with over 20 'signings' of flames, and especially demons. His family turned their backs on him, his wife threw him out, Major League Baseball suspended him for over three years. The patient work that Clay Council had done with him, the seeds of ability and promise that had been planted in all the hours of batting practice seemed to have fallen on barren ground.

But with his only option, in his mind, being to die, Josh Hamilton went to his grandmother, who agreed to take him in on the condition that he clean himself up. And to everyone's surprise, that's exactly what happened. Through faith, through determination, through struggle, he sobered up, he convinced his wife to give him a second chance (for the millionth time), he became a new person, a person dedicated to his family, and to his belief in Jesus Christ. And wonder of wonders, he decided to try to become a professional baseball player again.

In only his second season as a major league player, Hamilton leads the majors in runs batted in, and is in the top ten in a host of other categories. He has remained sober, through faith, through the love of his wife and family, and the support of his teammates. And tonight, at Yankee Stadium, Josh Hamilton will step up to the plate as an All-Star, to participate in the Home Run Derby.

Each player gets to select the person to pitch to him during his attempts to become the one to hit the most home runs in the contest. It is batting practice on an international stage. And out of all the people, the supporters, the friends, the teammates Josh Hamilton could choose to pitch to him, 71-year-old Clay Council will take the mound at Yankee Stadium, a volunteer coach who influenced Josh so many years ago.

A sower went out to sow . . .

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I spent six years in the 'wilderness' before I went back to college to get my degree.

From the time I first encountered the 'fruits' of the Iona Community and the community at Taize, I spent about a dozen years before finding the time, and resources, to visit those places.

Depending on whether you count the day I entered seminary, or the day I was ordained, it took me 22-26 years to finally answer the call to ministry.

So you can see, that I don't have a very good track record when it comes to responding to nudges, urgings, proddings, whispers in the ear, whatever you might call God encouraging someone to do something.

But this time it took only a little over two months (okay, 73 days to be precise).

This morning, on a beautiful, clear, cool morning, while walking Dusty, I finally prayed for the people I hold responsible for my departure from the church I had served for nearly 18 years. I wish I could say that the words, the names, the intent came easily. It didn't. I tried my best to be distracted, to pay attention to the albino squirrel Dusty was stalking, to notice the leaves rustling in the trees, to hear the quiet laughter of children playing in a yard, to grumble about the late delivery of the paper. But to no avail.

Somebody, some One, some where, was pretty darn insistent that I bring these people to mind; that I cradle them in the empty hollows of my heart; that I begin the process of really letting go of the hurt, the anger, the bitterness, the frustration, by speaking their names to the One who knows them, who loves them, who wraps them in grace and peace, even when I can't. So haltingly, reluctantly, uncomfortably, painfully, I prayed.

I wish I could say that I was transformed, that I came home with a lighter step, that the aching tightness in my shoulders and gut and heart wonderfully disappeared, that I was at peace with myself and them. Sadly, no. I think it is going to take a lot more walks, a lot more reluctant prayers, a lot more giving in to God rather than giving in to me, before that happens.

Yet I wonder . . .

are there those times, when the Holy Spirit is as uncomfortable, as pain-filled, as reluctant to pray for me?

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman