Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Birthday!

The world looks at you on your special day, and sees an old lady, limited by her age, her wheelchair, her oxygen tank. Our culture looks at you and sees someone who has nothing of value to offer in this age of IM, texting, cell phones, and space shuttles. Our society looks at you and sees someone who does not 'fit' any of the all important demographics for advertising, for sales, for profits.

But God looks at you, in your daily love for others more than you love yourself, and sees a child who is as young and fresh as the dew on the first morning of creation.

God looks at you, as you show more concern for how the days of your neighbors are going than how your years are winding down, and sees a young person who is about her Abba's business rather than doing what is 'expected' of you.

God looks at you, as you unceasingly open your arms to welcome the stranger, the outcast, the lost, the lonely, the differently gifted - all those people our society overlooks, and sees another mother hen would gather her chicks to her heart.

God looks at you, as you laughingly teach Dusty the Church Dog to gently take the cracker from your lips, as you joyfully celebrate the birthday of Teddy with a funny card and a gift of love, as you smile at the infants and children in your church who all tenderly call you 'Granny,' and sees the one who heard that call to 'follow me' and has always been on the journey.

I don't know who others see in their mind's eye when Paul talks about the woman in the early church, women like Eunice and Lois, Persis and Claudia, Mary and Phoebe, but when I come across those names, I see you.

Happy Birthday, Inez. God loves you very much and so do I.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


You might remember the old chestnut about a reporter asking a politician, "Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?" There is just no good answer! If 'yes,' then the implication is that the senator used to behave that way; if 'no,' then such behavior is still going on.

In today's culture, such questions are called 'gotcha journalism.' Those attempts to get the candidate, the incumbent, the party standard bearer, the press rep, the spokesperson to say something which they immediately wish they could take back, and which immediately becomes a sound bite played over and over and over again. And, of course, if no answer is given, then obviously something else must be in play.

We like to think that this is all new - that we are the first generation, the first people to engage in such a tactic. But, of course, it is as old as humanity.

Back in Jesus' day, though, it was not the media that was playing 'gotcha,' it was all the good, proper religious types: the priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees. All those who trailed after Jesus (sort of like a press pool) trying, in the words of Scripture, to 'entrap' him.

'Should we pay taxes?'
'If a woman marries more than once, who will be her husband in heaven?'
'Which commandment is the most important?'

The questions are asked in such a way, with such a gleam in the eye, and anticipation in the heart, that Jesus is seemingly doomed to failure, if he dares to open his mouth. The bait has been cast out, the lure is sitting on the surface just waiting to be snatched, so that the poor fish can be caught in the net.

Gotcha Jesus!!!

Maybe that's why Jesus always responds by going beneath the surface of the question (and the questioner) when he opens his mouth.

How are YOU doing at keeping those commandments, especially the two that are part of the prayer that every devout believer was to pray each day? Why are YOU the one that carries evidence around in your pocket/purse/wallet of where your true allegiance lies? Why are YOU so concerned with what will happen in heaven when you don't seem to have a clue as to how to live here on earth, with the people God has given to you?

In going beneath the surface of the question, in focusing more on the person who has asked the words rather than the words themselves, in his seeming willingness to step into the trap which has been set for him, Jesus is able to set people free, is able to open them up to the transforming power of God's grace, is able to help them put aside all those fears they carry around as burdens so they can embrace God's hopes and dreams for them. He offers them the chance to turn away from a life which is focused on 'getting' another, and living the gospel of service to all.

And then, Jesus smiles and whispers, 'Gotcha!'

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, October 13, 2008


When did elite become a four-letter word?

When did we decide that a young person who chose to work hard in school was 'above her station?' When did we decide that mediocre was the level people should strive for, and then stay there? When did we decide that we did not want (or need) the 'best and the brightest' to lead us, to teach us, to mentor us, to guide us, to be role models for us?

God gives us some guidelines as to how we can best live in relationship with the Divine and with each other, and almost immediately, we take all our costume jewelry and melt it down into a nice, domesticated, gum-chewing god who won't cause us too much trouble or expect too much from us.

Jesus walks around talking with folks and telling them about a country where God invites us to live. A country where the last, the lost, the little, the least are honored and valued. A country where forgiveness and grace are passports. A country where those we don't like knock on our door asking to borrow a cup of sugar; where those who don't like us are given the house next to us. A country where justice is a stream where our children can go wading; where hope is delivered to our doorstep every morning with the news.

But to get there, to find our way to this country, to cross its borders is going to take everything we have. A mediocre attempt won't cut it, if we are going to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (and it will take our best to love ourselves). A half-hearted effort isn't going to enable us to love our enemies (and it is going to take our best thinking to see beyond prejudices, teachings, hate talk about who our enemies are). And forgiveness is a test we will have to take and re-take seven times, 7 X 70 times, and beyond, trying to get an A+ every time.

We can continue to treat 'elite' as a four-letter word. It's easy. Just drop the 'e' at the beginning and we have
lite compassion
lite love
lite effort
lite ethics
lite lives
lite faith
lite discipleship

But I think God expects more. For in creating us and all that is around us, God chose to give us the best, the brightest, the choice gifts, the love that can transform lives, the grace that can lift people from their knees, the hope that set others free, the peace that can heal broken nations, the reconciliation that can bring us together despite our worst efforts to stay apart.

It takes our hardest work, our most determined efforts, our most tenacious thinking, our most steadfast commitment to discernment if we are to follow Jesus.

And if that means being elite, why not?

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman