Tuesday, December 29, 2009

coloring books and crayons

We stood in the hallway of the church, me heading to my office to demystify myself, she putting on her coat, getting ready to head out into the bitter day. So, we had one of those hallway conversations folks often have, as their minds are traveling in one direction, hoping this brief stop wouldn't slow either one of us down too much.

I asked how her Christmas had been and she asked about mine. We had gone up to Columbus to see Teddy, to go out for our now Traditional (once is a happenstance, twice becomes a tradition in my denomination) Christmas repast at the Waffle House, indulging in the major food group known as sugar. She had spent the holy day with her cat, but was off to a relative's house in the afternoon where she would be immersed in a pool of 40 some relatives.

We both bemoaned the commercialism, the overindulgence of children and grandchildren who end up with a ton of presents, the toys that get broken so quickly and easily and end up out on the curb the week after the holiday. And we both recalled how, as kids, sometimes the biggest excitement in the neighborhood came when someone had a major appliance delivered to their house, and the empty cardboard box was set out by the curb, and was immediately turned into an airplane, pirate ship, mansion, truck, whatever and wherever our imagination would take us.

That's when she mentioned the fact that when she was growing up, in a family with 12 kids in it, there were no individual gifts presented at Christmas, but there was a group gift for all the kids - a board game, a puzzle, a book, something to be shared by all. And then, with the memory glittering in her eyes, she told me about the Christmas when her six sisters were all adults, and she gave each of them her very own coloring book and box of crayons. A gift that they would never have had as a child, a memory they shared from their childhood, a surprise they never expected now that they were all grown up. "Oh, I wish you could have seen the looks on their faces when they opened those presents," she said.

No need; I saw her face.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Day

Please read Luke 2:6-7

you could have
as warrior, ready
to take us on
one at a time
or en masse . . .

you could have
a whirlwind
swirling, twirling,
twisting around us,
flinging us up into
the air . . .

you could have
with a bag of
in one hand
a time-out chair
in the other;

you came
a tiny
lungs screaming for
fingers grasping for
something to hold onto,
your whole being
completely depending on
us (!) to
feed you
change you
clothe you
protect you
love you

and we were


(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Christmas Eve

Please read Luke 11:5-13

in the rustle of children
shaking presents,
in the hustle of kittens
scrambling up trees,
you stealthily tunnel
your way under the

tossing all the traditional
marches in the shredder,
you collaborate
with the choir director,
composing a simple
oratorio for this night,
stressing that 'the tenors
are going to have to
reach that high note'

cup in hand,
you worm your way
through the office party,
touching us on the
subtly cracking the
of our frozen hearts,
to slip the still warm
loaves inside.

Saboteur of our weary years,
bringing the Gift we need.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fourth Wednesday of Advent

Please read Psalm 139:1-18

not a problem!
i am doing great!
everything is smashing!
life is just one ! after another !
count on it!

in the night,
when the shadows creak
across the floor
and the ice pelts the windows
like fingernails tap
tap, tapping,
those pesky ?s
reach out from
under the bed
pulling the warm comfort
off of me;

i've pulled myself
up by the flip flops,
i've climbed the highest
i've faced down every
one who got in my way,
i've won the race
end of story

but sometimes
life comes to a full
the glyphs mount up
spacing my life out
until there seems
to be no space left
for me to breathe . . .

so come,
Ink Slinger,
your fingers smudged
for all time
as you write our names
in your book.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fourth Tuesday of Advent

Please read John 1:1-14

to gather up
all our silence,
weaving our hopes, our fears,
our longings, our ponderings
into a carol of wonder;

to pierce the shadowed
of our lives, revealing
the One who sits quietly
in the rocker,
eager to gather us up
and tell us the end
of the story;

to turn us away
from the steamy
we glimpse in the
mirror each morning,
so we can see
our twin;

One and Only,
come for us all.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fourth Monday of Advent

Please read John 10:7-16

you come,
removing that rusted
which keeps any one
from stealing our heart,
and replace it with
who opens
our way to God;

you come,
not for a fancy salary,
a gold watch or
a stock-portfolioed pension
but out of love,
your gentle goodness
stretched out on
roughened wood
so we might be
as your beloved;

you come,
not for a precious few
but for all the
not just for those who know better
but for all the
not just for the insiders,
but for all the outcast,
the oppressed,
the searchers;
not just for those who never stray,
but for all who
have taken different

so come,
Tender Shepherd,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Please read Micah 5:2-5a

you would come,
caulk gun in hand
to mend all the cracks
in our lives;

you would come,
flashlight in hand
to search all the nooks
and crannies
where the marginalized
have been shoved
out of sight,
out of mind;

you would come,
bouquet in hand
to freshen our hopes
with the sweet aroma
of peace;

you would come,
bolt cutters in hand
to snap open
the padlocks we
have secured to
our gated hearts;

you will come,
Babe of Bethlehem,
to take us by the hand
and lead us home?

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Third Saturday of Advent

Please read Psalm 121

removing our shoes
ready to slip into
our old, scuffed slippers
of comfortable apathy,
may we be consumed
by the white fire of
which dawned in the
Christmas sky;

slip-sliding down
the stony slopes of
mountains of sin,
may we be caught
by the Word of love,
cradled forever in
the manger of grace;

wandering down the
streets of exiled loneliness,
taunted by those who
laugh as we cling tightly
to the heirloom of trust
handed down to us,
may we be gathered
up in your arms of hope,
carried to worship
the newborn Child.

Keeper of our hearts,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 18, 2009

Third Friday of Advent

Please read Luke 2:46-55

stuck in the middle
of the paper this morning,
the slicks announce
another black friday sale
(the third this shopping
season, i think, but
who knows),
while the front page tells
of a single father searching
for coats to protect his kids
from poverty's chill;

the tour buses are packed
taking folks from the visitor's
center right up to the very
of that grand canyon
which pushes the have-a-lots
and the have-nots
further and further
from one another;

more children die each day
from starvation
than from any act of
but we continue to gorge
ourselves at fear's table,
piling more and more
security on our plates;

so come,
Mary's Son,
using your mother's song
to transform our lives,
as surely as it did yours.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Third Thursday of Advent

Please read John 15:12-17

each day as
i watch the two little
girls wander down the street,
their heads so close
their hair seems braided together,
their hopes conjoined
as they whisper their deepest
souls to each other,
i long for you

so come
to clean the silliness-stained
glass of my life
til i become utterly
transparent to

gathering up the ashes
of my tears
pottering them into
the apple of your

turning me outside-in
so you can write
your name
on my heart;

Anam Cara,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Third Wednesday of Advent

Please read John 15:9-11

watching Matthew
writing down every word,
you gently whisper
in his ear,
'don't forget i said
there is a sin line between
heaven and hell';

handing around the box
of hanukkah crackers,
you hold one out to Bart,
and fall down laughing at
the look on his face
when it popped into
a shower
of stars;

you spent all morning
in the kitchen measuring, stirring,
baking the cake,
so you could watch
the epiphany of your friends,
as they tore into
their slices, hoping
to find one of the gifts
of frankincense, gold
and myrrh;

gathering the disciples around,
you sat down and said,
'a Pharisee, a scribe, and a
Sadducee walk into
a bar . . .'

Court Jester,
come to take our hands
and make our dance of
joy complete.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Third Tuesday of Advent

Please read Psalm 1

as the foam-crested waves
played tag,
running up to my toes
clenched tightly in the sand,
and then dashing back,
i stood mesmerized,
looking around for
to take my hand and
give me courage;

so come.

sitting in the
my little boat bobbing
on the knee induced waves
i would listen longingly
for footsteps to come
down the hall,
book in hand
to read me a
sherlock story;

so come.

scraped, stacked, soaked
i swish the cloth over,
under, and around each dish,
pan, and utensil,
ducking them under the
rinsing waves before
lining them up in the
drainer in proper order,
wondering if someone
will come, take the towel
off my shoulder, saying,
'let me give you a hand';

so come,
Living Water,
come to be with, in,
around, over, through me,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 14, 2009

Third Monday of Advent

Please read Luke 22:14-20

Grain of gentleness,
feed us on that simple
loaf made glory by
the yeast of your love,
so we might laugh
in delight
as we gorge ourselves
on your joy;

Grail of grace:
fill our empty souls
with that spirit of
generosity and spontaneity,
so we might pour
ourselves out for those
who sit beside the
dusty wells of hope;

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer:
pushing tables together
so each may have a seat,
bringing out dish after dish
of wondrous delight,
yelling back over your
'better put another fatted calf
on the grill!'


(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent

Please read Isaiah 12:2-6; Zephaniah 3:14-20

(and every yesterday it seems)
folks stood patiently in line
numbers clutched in their
prosecutorial hands,
eager to take their turn
making it quite clear
all the mistakes made
(at least to this point in my life),
all those things I forgot
to do (i swear they were on
my list!),
all that accountability that
doesn't seem to add up right;

but on that day
you will walk down the line
high-fiving each person
as you slyly slip their
judgments out of their hands,
crumpling them up
and tossing them behind you.

on this day
we limp through,
our weary, sore soles
seeming to find each
sharp-edged pebble
poured out on the path
in front of us
by the banes of our

but on that day
you will come,
tearing your baby quilt
into long strips,
dipping them into
the cool waters of
Grace's well,
swaddling our tender

we will once again
scan the horizon
waiting to catch
a glimpse of
as it edges ever closer,
its cataclysmic jaws
opening and closing,
longing to devour our

but on that day
you will come,
carrying a picnic basket
loaded with bread
and wine,
spreading a blanket
broad enough for all of us,
pulling out your
to play us the songs of

] come the day.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Second Saturday of Advent

Please read Psalm 80:1-3, 17-19

Come, God-with-us:
who braves our rejection and hurt,
to show your love and acceptance.

Come, God-for-us:
who whispers
in our ears
that we -
each of us -
are your Beloved children.

Come, God-under-us:
who cradles us
in arms that never grow weary;
whose lap has room enough
for all.

Come, God-over-us:
who watches
in the long silence of the night,
that we might rest in your peace.

Come, God-beside-us:
who steadies us
when we falter,
who lifts us up
when we fall.

Come, God-behind-us:
who picks up all the faded dreams
we drop along the way,
weaving them into your hope.

O come, o come,
Shepherd of your people,
and we will rejoice forever!

(c) Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 11, 2009

Second Friday of Advent

Please read Isaiah 60:1; John 1:9

mountain ranges stretch down
the block:
the once pristine snow,
us with its lightness,
now plowed and tossed aside,
litter-topped with the
skim off the street;

the greyness of the skies
leadens our spirits,
as once more we begin
the sisyphean task
of pushing hope up
mount despair, only to
have indifference snatch
it out of our hands,
tossing it back down,
hollering 'fetch.'

dusklings tiptoe through
the neighborhood,
deluminators in hand,
seeking to abscond with
the joy in each carol,
the wonder in each child,
the hope in each heart,
the promise in the Story;

so come,
Rising Dawn,
your lucent love
filling our every moment.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Second Thursday of Advent

Please read Genesis 1:1; Revelation 22:13


we have scrabbled
all those imaginative words
you spoke at creation -
light, beauty, sky,
grace, water, joy, hope -
jumbling them into a
toxic mess which daily
threatens your dreams;


no matter how we try
to juggle the books,
punching in this number
and the next on our high tech
trying + and then -
even x a few times,
our lives never seem
to balance out;

from the beginning
to your ending
and beyond,
from a to z
with all the words
in between,
from our first breath
to our last hope,
Alpha and Omega,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Second Wednesday of Advent

Please read Hosea 2:14-15

when we would quickly
insert the key in the door,
offering our cheeks
for the briefest of pecks
before uttering a quick goodnight,
you smile and simply
say, "i'll give you a call
tomorrow" -
so come;

when the server stops by
to warm up your coffee
for the seventh time in an
hour and a half, remarking,
'isn't this the fourth or fifth
night they haven't shown up?'
you hand him the bill
with a double-tithed tip,
whispering (as much to yourself)
"that's okay;
i'm good at waiting" -
so come;

when we've packed up all
your blessings, and put them
out on the front porch
with a note that reads
'if you have anything more to say,
do it through the lawyer,'
you send two dozen red roses,
along with a singing telegram:
"I've grown accustomed
to your face" -
so come;

Wooer of our hearts,
with love as soft
as a baby's breath,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Second Tuesday of Advent

Please read Isaiah 46:3-4; Hosea 11:1-4, 8

voiceless from constant screaming
for our own way,
bloated after feasting on
our toxic desires,
irritable because of
sleep-disturbed dreams
of more and more:

you would gather us up
like a colicky baby,
gently rocking back and
forth on your feet,
patting us tenderly on the back,
softly rubbing us with grace,
whispering the lullabies
you taught to the angels
so long ago;
so come,
Mother of our hearts,

insistent that you take off
the training wheels (even though
we are scared inside),
knowing more as adolescents
than you could ever hope to learn,
determined to find our own way
even if it takes us from
your side:

you watch from the sidelines,
holding your tongue because
you know we need to learn
how to play life on our own,
you sit in the darkened living room;
staring into the far country
with hopeful eyes, until you
see the headlights turn into the driveway,
and silently tiptoe up to bed;
you answer the phone in the dead of night,
gathering up your keys, your wallet,
your love,
to go down and pay our bail.
so come,
Father of our hopes,

Parent we are convinced we don't need,
with the grace, the peace, the wonder
we cannot live without.


(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 07, 2009

Second Monday of Advent

Please read Haggai 2:1-17

come, God-of-our-past:
who has taken the water
pooled in our protective moats
to baptize us with peace;
who has turned the stone
ruins of our feeble fortifications
into bread for our enemies;

come, God-of-our-present:
who would use
the concrete walls we
are putting up between us
and everyone who
prays, looks, thinks, sounds
to build all of us communities
of compassion and trust;

come, God-of-our-future:
gently easing our foot
off the gas as
we hurtle towards the future,
so we might see
the exit signs
in time to turn off
for the back roads
to the kingdom.

so come,
Desire of the nations,
to fill us with the
of your hope.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent

Please read Malachi 3:1-4

was it a
to change my
stumbling ways
that made me mumble
all those years ago,
or was it more
of ending up in

was it a
to learn a language
so many others spoke so well
(peace, grace, love flowing so
easily off their lives)
or was it that
left-over taste of soap
in my mouth from
using the wrong words?

all down the ages,
from sinners to sages,
with boys and girls,
in grannies and gramps,
was it fear that led them
to confess you
or true love?

Refiner's Fire,
with your cool breath
of hope.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 05, 2009

First Saturday of Advent

Please read Psalm 2

weary beyond fatigue,
the strictures and
stresses of these days
knot my spirit tighter
and tighter until
i almost snap;

so come,
massage me with
your healing balm of

my soul more arid
than death valley,
my heart seeded with
the ashes of desiccated
my dreams withering under
the onslaught of hype;

so come,
pour your grace all over
til i swim in joy.

perfection piles higher and higher,
expecting neatly creased wrapping,
finely curled ribbon (six inches!)
calligraphied notes for each
person on my list;

so come,
bestow on me the carols
of children who
may mess up some of the
but know the meaning deep
in their hearts.

Anointed One,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 04, 2009

First Friday of Advent

Please read Ephesians 2:17-22; 1st Peter 2:4-8

they stand in reverent silence,
clasping their mom's hand
(maybe a thumb in the mouth)
staring wide-eyed
as the massive machines
doze the piles of dirt
this way and that, back and forth;
as the towering crane
gently bends over to grasp
and then lift the steel girders
high into the air where calloused
hands guide them into place,
riveting them to the beamed skeleton;
as the tool-belted and hard-hatted
carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians
scurry about, sharing their gifts.

while we are standing around
seemingly oblivious to it all,
our hands deep in our pockets
(or our thumbs testing which way
the culture is blowing)
you carefully smooth out
the foundation poured by
those who came before us;
taking a stone from the pile
to make sure it is alive with hope,
your apprentices in hope
mortaring each one to the next
with grace.

so come,
come building that kingdom
where strangers become friends,
where immigrants become our family.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 03, 2009

First Thursday of Advent

Please read 1st Timothy 2:1-7; Hebrews 12-24

when those in high positions
gather, protocol must be observed:
precise measurements are taken
for how far apart each sits from the other;
rulers are used for the exact placement
of pad, pens, water glasses, pitchers;
tables are arranged just right,
so that no one has the upper hand.

so come,
to pull the tablecloths off,
spilling everything all over the place;
to push the tables off to the side,
arranging the chair is a big circle,
so close that we have to rub elbows.

when families gather for holiday meals,
protocol must be observed:
never sit Aunt Sadie near Uncle Joe
(they haven't spoken a civil word
to one another in years);
always interject with a funny story
when politics rears it's ugly head;
make sure that everyone ignores
the grief and pain that Buddy
has placed on the table next
to the cornbread stuffing,
praying silently that no one
will touch it.

so come,
moving the place cards around
til lifelong enemies have to sit
next to one another;
listening to each person's beliefs,
fears, dreams, doubts;
touching every thing we bring
to the table with your compassion,
shaping us into the healing
others need.

Mediator of our lives,
to disrupt our protocol.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

First Wednesday of Advent

Please read Luke 1:68-79

each morning when i
let the dog out, fear
hands me the morning paper,
eager to spend the
rest of the day with me;
several times a week,
i get a fax or voicemail,
reminding me
of the times and locations of
failures anonymous;
wrap it in fancy sounding words -
outsourcing, downsizing,
restructuring, pinkslipping -
rejection is the gift
that seems to keep
on giving;

with such a toxic environment,
is it any wonder i forget
who i started out to be,
who i long to be?

you single me out,
pulling me close
in a great bear hug;
you whisper of your grace
through the mouths
of children singing
so sweet and clear
on the corner;
you swaddle all my gifts
in compassion,
hope's bright ribbon
tightly curled on top:
you remembered,
you will remember.

so come,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

First Tuesday of Advent

Please read Matthew 9:27-31; 15:21-28

we gaze longingly
over the horizon, hoping
to catch a glimpse of that hero
who (caped, weaponized, square-jawed)
will come to deal with
all our foes, vanquishing
one and all


if we would let you
touch our cataracted hearts,
we might just see you
take off royalty's
purple finery
and wrap a towel
around your waist;

turn your WMDs into
those harvesters
reaping food for
all the hungry;

leave your throne
to sit with us,
sharing the bread of grace
with those whose
dreams are strewn
like crumbs across
the floor of their hope.

so come,
Son of David,
come with mercy
for us,

for us,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 30, 2009

First Monday of Advent - C

Please read Psalm 23:3

going to bed each night
to regain strength
for the next day,
a hot shower
in the morning
to sting me awake,
pouring a bowl
of toasted oats (just
like the last 50+ years)
to energize me:
they are all second nature
to me by now.

carving out oases of silence
in an ear-shocked day;
letting your Word
edit my story;
searching for hope
amidst all those shelves
stocked with anguish;

all those dispositions
that could fill my emptiness:
keeping me from wandering
down the wrong alleys,
nudging me to follow Jesus
in paving the streets with justice,
joining the kids playing
hide-and-seek in the kingdom?

Habit Shaker,
come and restore my soul.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent - C

Please read 1st Thessalonians 3:9-13

when our faith
has faded away
until we cannot
find it with a
magnifying glass:
to dot the i
with a great dollop
of grace,
to cross the t
with the broad stroke
of incarnation;

when the gauge
of our love
has dipped below
and our meager lives
cannot produce another
to push us to
the Spirit's station
where we will be filled
to overflowing;

when our friends
have dropped us off
at the 'returns only' counter,
where we reach out
in hope only to find
no one will take our hand:
to surround us with
grumps and grannies,
prophets and punks,
whiners and wise ones,
your family here and now.

o come,

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There's 86,400 seconds in a day

It only takes a second.

As you watch the multi-colored leaves drifting down to the ground, and then joining hands to dance across the lawn, you might spend a few moments grumbling about your neighbor's trees dumping in your backyard, or think about your aching back from the raking and hauling them to the curb for pickup.  Or you could simply look to the sky and whisper, 'thank you.'

It only takes a second.

There seems to be a lot of grumbling these days (at least in the region where I live) about the number of stores and businesses which post bi-lingual signs, menus, instructions (some even going multi-lingual) in recognition of the growing Hispanic population in our communities.  I figure I can spend a lot of time getting my shorts in a twist or I can learn to say 'gracias' to the young woman who is of great assistance in the store.

It only takes a second.

When I spent a week in Paris some years ago, I found a marvelous internet cafe located in a department store right around the corner from my hotel.  The first few times I used the service, I would go up to the young man at the counter, pay for my time, and (automatically) say, 'thank you.'  He would nod, take my money, and turn back to his work.  About the third day, I decided to be daring, and as I paid, I simply said, 'merci beaucoup.'  He broke into a big smile, and said 'you are welcome' to me, and we spent a marvelous few minutes, talking about the discomfort we often feel in speaking a different language, and he then asked if, when I came in again, he could practice his English with me.  I told him of course, if he didn't mind my fumbling, kindergarten level French. 

Whether it is danku, mahalo, domo arigato, whatever, it only takes a second to offer thanks.

So, why do we always act as if we don't have the time?

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Sighting of Saints

Yesterday afternoon, when we were visiting Teddy in Columbus, he decided he wanted to go to the bookstore at the mall to look for a movie. We said sure, so headed over there. When we got there, we immediately headed for the section of the store where movies and music are located.  There was about 25 or 30 folks of all ages there, so I assumed that the store must be having a great sale!

A few minutes later, the crowd began to clap loudly as a small group of older gentlemen walked in, obviously part of some tour group or another, as they each had a lanyard with identification around their necks. But this was no ordinary tour, rather an extraordinary group of men. These were some of the surviving members of those men we have come to know as the Band of Brothers, Easy Company from the 506th regiment of the Airborne Infantry. We know their story from the book, and the HBO series, but here they were in the flesh and blood.

Some walked in stiffly, their pain evident in their steps; others came with the aid of a cane or a companion.  Some had the stooped shoulders of age, every one of them had that dignity which comes to those who have dealt with life, looking it square in the face, through all the years.

It was a moving experience. Here were these heroes, being recognized, yes by current members of the 101st Airborne who were with them, but also by their peers in the crowd, and the children who could have been their grandchildren or great-grandkids busily taking their pictures.

As they were introduced and began to share some of their stories, it was if we were standing on holy ground.  For here were the men who, as part of that generation we call great, made it possible for me to stand in that store, for us to read whatever books we want, for me to travel freely, for us to have the kind of life we have.  These were the heroes who, knowingly and willingly, served to set us free from the fears and terrors of that evil which wanted to bind all civilization with its chains of prejudice and hatred.

Saints? These men would probably be as embarrassed to be called that, as they seem to be with the title 'hero.'  But surely, they responded to that command Jesus gave to the crowd at Lazarus' tomb when, after calling him from the grave, turned to the community around him and said, 'Unbind him, and set him free.'

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Memory Holes

Shortly after those ancestors of Americans we call the Pilgrims landed in what is now called Plymouth Harbor, the leader of the Wampanoag people came for a visit. Massasoit approached their primitive settlement as a tentative gesture of friendship. After several months, two Pilgrims returned the gesture, venturing deep into the wilderness.

As they walked along the trails, they noticed circular pits placed at various points along the way. These were what the Native Americans called 'memory holes', storytelling devices which appeared wherever a remarkable event had taken place. As the Wampanoags walked along the trails, they would pause at each memory hole to once more tell the story. By doing so, they not only passed on these stories to the next generations, they affirmed that the roots of their community, their identity as a people, stretched far into the past.

When we gather for worship, we walk along those pathways to and through the kingdom, stopping at one of the 'memory holes' in Scripture. As we pause and reflect, in song and silence, in prayer and praise, we discover once more how God has been involved with God's beloved children, calling us, transforming us, gifting us, sending us. When we tell these stories, we are not only telling them to our children and their children, but we are affirming that the roots of this community of God we call the church stretches far into the past.

But we also discover these memory holes around fellowship tables at a church potluck and when we play a round of golf. We hear these stories beside a bed in the hospital, and sitting in the stands at a school sporting event. We learn of those special people, not only in our churches, but in those communities where we live, when we chat with a neighbor on a warm Sunday evening, or stand on the front lawn after church. We are blessed with the gifts of all those who have gone before us, who dug all those memory holes, so we might hear the story of how much God loves us, and in the hearing, become storytellers ourselves.

As you wander through this day, this week, this life, keep your eyes open for the memory holes - and listen!

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, August 13, 2009

carry on

Five simple words.

It was a poster designed 70 years ago in Britain, as war with Germany loomed just over the horizon. One of several developed by the government, this particular one was to be used should a national catastrophe, such as invasion by the Nazis, actually have occurred. Millions of the poster were printed, but never used, but the message may be just as powerful for us in our time of uncertainty, fear, worry.

Five simple words . . .

In these days of rancorous, uncivil discourse over the issue of universal health care for all people, in these times of wonder and worry about how the job market will ever bounce back, when foreclosed families now live and sleep in shelters or on the streets, in these moments of looking just over the horizon, to see what evil might be advancing towards us, couldn't we use these five simple words?

Simply to remind us that when we keep calm, we are able to be that non-anxious presence that Edwin Friedman told us over and over again that our families, our congregations, our communities, our nations, our world needs so desperately. Simply to remind us that when we carry on, we are able to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit those who are held captive (literally and figuratively), to do all those tasks Jesus calls us to take on, that our families, our congregations, our communities, our nations, our world needs so desperately. If we keep calm and carry on, maybe, just maybe, we can face whatever lies over the horizon with resolve, with civility, with hope.

Five simple words.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, August 03, 2009

see you at the fair!

Like many folks, my 'image' of heaven has changed over the years.

When I was a kid in Sunday School, it was the pearly gates/golden streets model. At one point, I read Green Pastures with its idea of a fish fry in heaven. Ray Bradbury wrote at least one sci-fi short story where heaven was like going back to your childhood home, with your parents on the porch, all the neighbor kids playing outside in the front yards. I even had a dream when I was in high school that I had died and was standing on the street corner, and the band from The Music Man came marching by, and I was taken by the hand by Robert Preston and took over the lead!

Now? I hope heaven is like a state fair.

Why not?

You would have all the food you could want to eat from roasted corn to fresh vegetables to homemade preserves to barbecued ribs to just churned ice cream to deepfried candy bars!

You could wander through the barns seeing, touching, judging all of God's animals, proudly displayed by young people who spend more time feeding, grooming, loving, tending (even mucking out the stalls) of their charges they have raised from birth, than they do texting their friends. You can even discover some of the 'oddities' of nature, like the snake-woman, the fellow who can dislocate every bone in his body, the sword swallower, the fire-breather.

You get to go on rides that let you touch the bright blue sky, flip you more times than your stomach can count, or whirl you round and round so fast that you know it is pure grace you feel when your feet touch the ground.

And the whole time, you are surrounded by that amazing collection of humanity of every hue, every age, every size, every reminder of that Holy Community which created us (us!) in their image.

Heaven couldn't be any better than that, could it?

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 09, 2009


There won't be a lot of papparazzi here on Saturday morning, no news vans parked for blocks, no thousands of mourners jostling to find the best place to get a glimpse of what-they-are-not-certain. There won't be any superstars, politicians, or flamboyant preachers in attendance.

There will just be me, and Justin's family, the teachers and aides he had over the years in his special education classes, the lady who drove his bus back and forth to school every day, the classmates who, though struggling with disabilities themselves, loved Justin in ways that only those who are seen as 'different' by the world can love another person - deeply, unconditionally, unreservedly, openly.

Justin couldn't see, but he knew the touch of each and every person who came into contact with him. He couldn't speak, but he could squeal with delight whenever Teddy would go over and tickle him. He spent his days in a wheelchair, and loved it when someone would push him down the sidewalk, each and every bump in the walk evoking a gurgle of laughter, almost as if he was saying, 'do it again! do it again!'

After a long, long struggle with intimidating health issues and against overwhelming odds, Justin made it to his mid-20's, in and out of hospitals a lot over the last few years. No one who has not gone through a journey with a family member with profound special needs can truly understand the physical, the mental, the emotional, the financial, the spiritual toll such a journey makes on every one in the family. So, when Justin took his last breath last week, and ended his journey, the grief was mixed with relief; the sobs were for both loss and remembrance.

So, when we gather on Saturday morning, we will remember and give thanks. We will remember watching the kids pushing Justin round the gym, as they rollerskated to the music. And we will give thanks that he is now able to skate on his own two feet. We will remember the stories read to him. And we will give thanks that he is now telling his story to the Master Storyteller. We will remember his delightful peals of laughter. And we will give thanks that he is now playing tricks on his new family in glory.

There won't be thousands and thousands here on Saturday, or a billion or more watching on TV. It will just be me, and Justin's family, the teachers and aides he had over the years in his special education classes, the lady who drove his bus back and forth to school every day, his classmates from over the years.

But it will be enough.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, June 22, 2009

when i grow up, i want to be like Mom

My mother turned 89 last Friday, and how did she celebrate this special day? She became a member of Facebook! Yep, she joined that ubiquitous, perhaps insidious, social network that allows you to connect with long-lost friends, past neighbors, high school and college classmates and become friends with folks all over the world. And knowing my Mom, she will soon have more FB friends than I could ever hope for.

It really shouldn't surprise me that this is how my mother celebrated her birthday. After all, she has always been trying out new things, learning new ways, meeting new people, discovering new places. When she remarried in her mid-50's, she took up golf, and became an addict. She divides her baseball loyalties between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs, wearing out remotes switching from game to game. She became adept at computer skills, surfing the Net like a 14-year-old. She was ordained an elder in the Presbyterian Church the same year I was ordained as a pastor. A lifelong Anglophile, she headed over to Britain in her 70's.

She is a constant reminder to me of the Biblical truth that when it comes to God's job description for being a child of God, there is no retirement age, no gold watch handed out, no rocking chair on the front porch. God is always challenging folks, of whatever age, to go to new places, meet new folks, take on new challenges, learn new ways of being and doing, discovering that gift-seed that God planted so long ago and is now ready to blossom.

From Abe and Sarah leaving the retirement center in Haran to travel to Canaan, to Moses turning in his resignation to his father-in-law to return to Egypt, to Hannah, Hosea, Deborah, Paul, Phoebe, Barnabas, John on Patmos, and down through all the centuries, God keeps prodding us, nudging us, encouraging us, asking us to grow, to blossom, to serve, to live as God's beloved children. My mother is that living example of one who continues to step out in faith, in new and exciting ways.

But if she starts Twittering . . .

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

pressed against the window

A young boy (12 or so?), with his younger sister, showed up first. Then come a high school kid, riding his bike, with the ever-present pack on his back. A couple of minutes later, a mother showed up with her four children of various ages. So, this motley crew and I stood waiting for the doors to be unlocked and opened.

About 5 minutes before noon, the kids started getting antsy. First, the littlest one, then the next oldest, then on up the line. Fidgeting, wiggling, bouncing up and down as if ready for lift off. Then, since the brother and the sister pressed their faces against the window, peering in to see if there was a real person inside, with a key in their hand, the little ones joined them. And finally, the teenager had his face against the glass door. (of course, being so much more mature, I wouldn't act so silly, but it did bring back memories of when I was all those different ages, doing the same exact thing, at a very similar place).

Finally, some 17 seconds past the posted time, the librarian finally unlocked the door, letting the tide of impatient readers into the holy of holies.

A fascinating scene! One repeated so many times, in so many places, by so many people. The fans of Jay Leno, lining up hours ahead of time, hoping to get one of the few remaining seats for his last 'Tonight Show.' The teenagers (and some of us older fans) purchasing tickets weeks in advance for the next Harry Potter movie. The Cameron Crazies camping out for a week or more to get into see one of the basketball games at Duke University. Always amazing sights.

Just once, I'd like to show up at church, and see someone's face pressed against the glass door leading into the sanctuary! Just once, wouldn't you like to have folks get to church 12 hours early for a Christmas or Easter service? Just once, couldn't some folks want to taste the gifts of the Table so much that they camp out on the church's lawn for days in advance?

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, April 30, 2009

old friend

When I was a kid, it was that comfortable bed, where I could lay for hours reading, daydreaming, hiding from the world, thinking those thoughts that for some reason seem important only to kids but should be critical to adults.

It was the stage upon which I could act out my wildest fantasies. I could leap and twirl and bound, with a BAM & a POW & a SOCK! like the superheroes in the comic books collecting in my room. I could lie silent and still, like Davy Crockett, waiting patiently for the game to appear in the 'sights' of my imaginary rifle. I could score the winning touchdown (every time!) and hit the homerun the team needed in the bottom of the ninth inning.

It was my laboratory, where I could watch and chart the movements of the amazing ants, as they dug their tunnels under the ground, one group bringing grain after grain of dirt (did they seem like boulders to them?) stacking them on top of one another as industriously as the Egyptians building the pyramids, while another group wandered into the darkness, carrying food and other essential supplies.

But now?

Now, especially in the spring, it has become, not the field of dreams, but that field full of pesky weeds, crabgrass, bugs, moles, and other assorted denizens of the deep. It has become that infuriating piece of property that demands patience, a keen eye to make sure it doesn't get too high, the intuition to know the exact moment when it is dry enough to bring out the mower and whip it into line. It has become that embarassment, as Dusty and I walk by lawn after lawn of
well-manicured, deep (chemically induced, I am
convinced) green lush carpets, until we approach
ours with its brown spots, pushed down areas
from Dusty scratching his back, the withered
dandelion stalks stubbornly holding their puffy
heads up for all to see.

I miss my comfortable bed, my stage
my laboratory. So maybe, one night soon,
when it is dark, and none of the neighbors
can see and snicker, I will sneak out and
gently stretch out on my back, gazing up at
the stars twittering in the night sky, at peace
again with my childhood friend


(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, April 20, 2009

What will you see?

Easter is always a glorious day (even if the weather doesn't cooperate!) In my neck of the woods, we were blessed with sunshine and blue skies, marvelous gifts from our musicians, a river of children flowing through our joy, and the larger-than-normal crowd. It was a great day of celebration and wonder. Then, of course, came yesterday, when reality set back in and it was once again a 'normal' Sunday.

It is always tempting to think that every Sunday (if not every day) after Easter should be like that day - but it isn't. There are all sorts of reasons/excuses - we get too busy; folks always turn out for the "big" days; spring break week rolls around. But the real reason probably has to do with the simple fact that we are human. We live in those places where pain in a neighbor, loneliness a lifelong friend, the scars (physical and otherwise) stare back at us from the mirror each and every day. So, we fall into that trap of believing that all the Easter stuff - the celebration, the joy, the colorful eggs, the beautiful flowers, the soaring music - is fine for one day, but does it have anything really to do with daily life?

What scripture affirms for us in the readings during Eastertide is that resurrection is seen precisely in those places of pain, of damage, of grief. Resurrection is not a pastoral scene painted to cover over our shattered lives. It never denies the harsh realities of human existence. Jesus does not appear to the disciples whole, healthy, seamless. He is scarred; he is damaged goods; he has gone to hell and come back, with every painful step of the journey evident for everyone to see.

Yet we are told, it is precisely in the scars that we find evidence of the healing we long for in our lives. It is in the brokenness he endured that wholeness comes to us. It is out of the pain and violence of his suffering and death that peace is given, and the Spirit comes to live among us, the tifts of hope and reconciliation in our hands. All we have to do is to open our eyes to see resurrection.

I know that there are those damaged and pain-filled places in my life, which I try to keep hidden from others. I am sure there are in your life. Can we learn to see resurrection in the pain, the illness, the doubts, the relationships of our lives? Can we discover evidences of resurrection in Kabul, in Gaza, in the violent streets of our communities? Can we see that bouquet of resurrection that is blossoming in our churches, as we struggle to share the gospel in an ever increasing alien culture? Can we keep our eyes,our hearts, our spirits open, now that Easter has come and gone, so we can see resurrection all around us?

Can we be the resurrection that others are hoping to see?

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, February 27, 2009


using more light bulbs
that look like curly-fries;

remembering to take
the canvas bags to the store
so i am not steeping
in more plastic;

taking a few degrees
off the thermostat,
and putting on
another sweater;

walking ten minutes
when i could drive it
in two:

i try to do a passable
job of reducing the damage
i do to creation.

but the guilt i carry
from that stupid misdeed
so many years ago;

the inability to knock
on someone's heart,
and ask forgiveness;

the foolish words
i dropped out of my mouth,
slipping and falling
on my keester
when i could have
lifted up another?

as i journey with you
to the healing place
of your heart,

may i look back to see
my spiritual carbon footprints
gradually disappearing.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

from ashes we came . . .

burning your covenant
behind me,
i race on ahead
to jump on this
called life,
sin spinning me
faster and faster,
until i fall off,
dizzily dancing with

getting ready for bed,
i bank the embers
of my ever-faithful fears,
hoping they might
smolder into cold cinders
i can scatter
to the Spirit;

in the morning, i hurriedly
splash my face
with a few handfuls
of the left-over ashes
from yesterday's
feast on foolishness;

ashes, ashes,
we all fall down . . .

into the embrace
of your grace.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Love Story

The Girlfriends usually get together on a Friday evening, for end-of-the-week-time-to-catch-up socializing. On some evenings it is a simple meal, perhaps of pizza and beverages; on another night, it might be a more formal meal, seated around the table with the good linen and china out. They might discuss a book, or a movie; they might watch a DVD and reflect afterwards on what they had seen or heard.

One Friday evening around Christmas, they got to talking about that special season, of family and loved ones, good friends, of the community in they lived, and their appreciation of all their blessings. They were grateful for the way in which the community leaders, including the churches, looked after those for whom Christmas was not a good season, and for their ability to be generous in sharing with others. Then, the conversation took an interesting turn. What about after Christmas? What about after all the churches and the goodhearted folks put away the Christmas baskets and the mitten trees? What about after the stories in the newspaper ended - the ones of the family who had lost everything in a fire; the veteran who needed a new wheelchair? What then?

Well, that's when an idea began to take shape. And as they talked, and wondered; and then talked, and dreamed, it all began to take shape. They would do something around Valentine's Day, after all that's about love and caring. So, one talked to another, and then someone else talked to the local police chief who said who knew of plenty of families who needed help, and he could get that help to those families.

So, after planning and wondering and worrying and hoping, the Valentine's Day tea party was planned. Friends and neighbors would be invited, and it wouldn't just be a 'store-bought' party. Everything was made and cooked by hand; crystal and china were used instead of paper plates and styrofoam cups; extra chairs (and more extra chairs) were carried into the house. So many people were invited, and so many responded, that they actually had to arrange for two separate tea parties, one right after the other, to accomodate everyone.

Each guest was simply asked to bring a gift to share - a card for $20 or so from local grocery store or some such, which could be shared with folks who weren't able as fortunate as these folks were. A whole bunch of folks gathered, and ate, and talked, and enjoyed the company of one another; and those who couldn't make it, sent the gift card or dropped it off before or after the party.

And at the end of the day, after all the cooking and cleaning, the baking and pouring, the chatting and the fellowship, over $2500 (and still counting) was delivered to the police chief,

gifts of love from the heart, all because of the compassionate hearts of the Girlfriends.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman