Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent - B

Read Mark 13:24-37

This morning, when I went out to get the paper, Dusty the Church Dog followed. I went about my routine of getting the paper and scanning the headlines while he followed his routine of sitting, scratching, and sniffing. Suddenly, he looked down at the house on the corner and started barking his head off, at absolutely nothing as far as I could tell. About 15 minutes later, while we were eating breakfast, he was at it again, on the coffee table, looking out the window, barking loudly for no apparent reason.

Then it struck me. Most days when he and I do the morning routine, there is a neighbor coming around the corner walking his dog. And, Dusty has to greet him. Around breakfast time, another neighbor strolls by with her dog, and Dusty has to grant permission for them to walk on his side of the street. So this morning, I guess, Dusty was keeping his routine, even though his friends didn't show up as expected.

At the time of the first Advent centuries ago, people were going about their business as usual, keeping to their routines, having already figured out how, and when the Messiah would come - in the palace, born on a day foretold by the prophets, ready to lead the people into that golden age promised so long ago. So, when God is born into a peasant family taking shelter in a stable, with a bunch of smelly animals as midwives, it went right past all the people with all their expectations.

In the gospel reading for this first Sunday in Advent, Jesus warns us that we need to be alert, to be awake, to keep an eye out for the next coming. If we are basing his return on some sort of preconceived expectations, appearing at a certain time on a certain day in a certain place for a certain people, well maybe it will go right past us, while we go about our usual business, keeping to our routines, having figured it all out as to how and when Jesus will return.

If he already hasn't.

Prayer: Help us to realize that it is not business as usual when it comes to your appearing in our lives. Help us to set down our expectations, that we might have empty hands and hearts to welcome you. Amen.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wonder of wonders

I thought for a very long time that I would never marry.

Most of the reasoning behind that belief was that I grew up in what we now call a dysfunctional family. (Though the fact that all five children went to college and sometimes beyond, and that none of us ended up in great trouble is a tribute to my mother's great grace in functioning under very difficult conditions) But my father's addiction to alcohol, and the resulting difficulties, did not give me a good role model of a husband and father.

In God's wisdom, I met the Miller family when I was in college, and was blessed to be in the presence of two people who did, indeed, provide a model for me of what a relationship built on love and trust might look like, sound like, be like. Nancy confirmed for me what I saw in my mother, and Robert helped me to understand that a father could be both loving and just, could have high expectations and even greater compassion. And because they were not a perfect couple, I was able to learn that words spoken at a wedding only took on flesh and blood in the struggles as well as the passion of marriage, in the fallow times as well as times of harvest. And because Nancy, Robert, John, Margaret, Helen, and Francis accepted me despite all my imperfections, I began to think that maybe, just maybe I could have such a life.

But I was still surprised when Bonnie said 'Yes'. And despite marrying a guy who didn't have a clue as to what he was going to do when he grew up; despite getting into a relationship with a fellow who lost his job two months after the wedding; despite moving ten different times in nine years; despite riding shotgun on that rollercoaster called ministry; despite the heartache, the brokenness, the struggles with Teddy, it continues to be a source of wonder that she has never asked to have that word back.

She has been the yin to my yang, most assuredly,
and she has been the Martha to my Mary,
the Hardy to my Laurel,
the Leo McGarry to my Jed Bartlett,
the Bert to my Ernie.

And more . . .

in her unconditional forgiveness for my stupid mistakes, she reminds me of how much God loves and accepts me; in her commitment to and love for all those forgotten by the world, I hear Jesus' call to serve the lost, the last, the little, the least; in the graceful way she puts up with my procrastination and repeated assurances that I will get that job done, don't worry, the Spirit breathes hope and peace into my life each and every day.

Thirty years ago today, Bonnie said "I do" - and wonder of wonders,

she still does.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 10, 2008


Ninety years ago, at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, the noise of war grew silent.

As a history buff, I have always been keenly interested in World War I - the war to end all wars. As a young person, I can still remember when Barbara Tuchman's book, "The Guns of August" came out, describing the first month or so of the war, and the renewed interest in this conflict. As one might expect, much was made of the nobility, the sacrifices, the defense of freedom which was part of the story.

But as I began to read more, about places like Ypres and Gallipoli, about the terrible conditions in the trenches, about battles like Passchendaele, about the horrific loss of life (10 million killed, 21 million wounded, nearly 8 million missing - and that is just military figures), as I discovered the poetry and letters of the living and dead, I learned of the dark side of war.

But as an American, whose country entered the war late, and whose people (by all the evidence around me) was largely untouched by the tragedy, I didn't truly understand the human element until I traveled overseas some years ago. In church after church, cathedral after cathedral, town after town, there were the memorials to those who had lived and fought and died in that war, to the generation that was lost and whose loss still echoes down the country lanes, the aisles of the churches, the cemetaries.

I still remember visiting Lindisfarne (Holy Island). What a wonderfully peaceful place, what a thin place, what a place of gentleness and quiet. One day I walked up the small hill to where the building which had housed the lifeboat unit which would go out to rescue boaters stood. Next to it, was a small memorial which listed the names of the three men from the island who had died in the War to end all wars. Then, when I walked around to the other side, I found the names of the five from that island who had died in World War II, two of whom had obviously been named after those who had died in World War I. All from a community of several hundred.

Of all the places I have been, that is perhaps the thinnest spot, where one could be enveloped in the weeping heart of God.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I rendered unto Caesar this morning - I voted.

For me, this may be the most excited I have been about a presidential candidate since 1976. And, I think it may be as transformative an election as 1960. Or at least, I hope so.

Yet, as I stood in line, preparing to vote, I couldn't help but reflect on the rhetoric, the ads, the commentary about the election.

There was a lot of talk about folks who make $250,000 a year, or $200,000, or even more. But, where was the conversation about the single mother who struggles to clothe her children, to feed them, to help them get an education in schools with crumbling facilities? Or, the couple who works 3 jobs between them in order to pay medical bills?

There was concern about foreclosures, and those who may be facing such possibilities. But where was the discussion about the homeless, and the closing of shelters, the increased demand at food banks, the number of children who sleep in cars?

There were debates about the best way to 'rescue' Wall Street. But where was the open and honest discussion about those who are, or will be, standing in unemployment lines, while watching the executives land safely with their golden parachutes?

There was acrimony and accusations about 'spreading the wealth,' and how such a concept is alien to the American Way. But where was the person who would question the reality that it is always okay to spread the wealth upwards, but never downward, even if it is only a mere trickle.

Whether ironic, or providential, in the lectionary Gospel reading in a few weeks, we will once again confront the Jesus who reminds us that it is when we are clothing the naked, and stocking the shelves at a food pantry; when we are praying beside the bed of a neighbor in the hospital, and listening to a stranger sitting in a jail cell; when we hand the cup of grace to an immigrant, and receive the broken bread of life from an enemy; when we notice the lost, the least, the little, the last all around us, and pay them as much attention, as much passion, as much commitment as we do to the politicians and pundits -

then we will truly be rendering unto God.

I've voted. Now, the real work begins.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman