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