Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve

Read Luke 2:1-20

we've mucked out
the stable
    and put down the
            plush carpet;
you will come,
    tracking in mud
    from the Jordan
        and shaking sin's
            from off your

the animals
have been dropped off
    at the SPCA
        and the room
you will come,
        leading the lost,
        the least, the little
                into our midst.

we've turned over
the manger
        and covered it with
                Irish lace,
    setting the table with
            the finest silver
                    and china;
you will come,
        tearing the linen
        into strips
    for binding our
            selling the silver
        to feed the hungry.

we've tamed
and made marketable
            this most holy of
                shaping it by
        our own desire and
you will come,
        slipping between
            the cracks of our despair
    to fill our emptiness
                with grace,
        and the carols of angels
    to transform our
            acquisitiveness into

© Thom M. Shuman

Fourth Thursday of Advent

Read Psalm 18:1-20

        34th miner

for those
trapped below the crust
    of the earth,
                as well as all
            trapped below the surface
            of casual compassion,
    you are the driller of

for those who live
    in shelter cobbled together
        from buildings thrown
        down by quaking ground,
                    and those who dwell
                in cardboard suburbs
                surrounding gentrified
                        city cores,
    you are the carpenter of
                    new life;

for your children
    continuing to mop up
            the spills after all
            the celebrities have left,
                    and your creatures
                who struggle to find
                places to nest their
    you are the shrimper who
           draws them out of
                troubled waters.

we love you, O LORD,
            for you delight in us
    so much that
        you became

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fourth Wednesday of Advent

Read Isa 31:1-9; Luke 1:39-48a

we drive down
the crowded highways
                    of our days,
        never seeing another
            soul we might connect
                        with, until we
    spot the young fellow
    on the corner,
        standing next to his
            (looks like she'll deliver
            at any moment) partner,
                    with a handwritten
                    sign which reads,
        simply, 'Bethlehem';
            why are we the ones
                        to notice (and

the peacemakers are folding
                        up the tables,
        stacking the chairs in the corner,
    all the while blowing their noses,
            wiping the tears off
                                their cheeks,
        speaking with broken voices
                to the mike-holding cynics
                surrounding them for a
                    bite to satisfy their
                        11 p.m. viewers,
            'we just couldn't find anyone
            willing to take our ideas
    and without knowing why, we
            pull one of them aside
                    to get more information.

a family member we haven't
            seen in years (and whom
    we probably hoped we wouldn't) suddenly is
        on our doorstep, battered bag
                at their feet, slapping at
                    the dust of the years
                    clinging to their hopes,
        and as we look through
                        the peephole,
            wondering if they heard
            us walk to the door,
    suddenly, our heart shifts
                in a different direction
        as we reach for the handle,
'why me?'

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Fourth Tuesday of Advent

Read Psalm 94; Luke 1:26-38

        only the Shadow knows

overshadow us,
O LORD, you God of vengeance:

    not with bolts
                of lightning,
        but re-wiring the home
        of a great grandmother
                    on disability;

    not with a heavy
        but with that deep
                    basso profundo
            that knows the blues
                because you've lived

    not with the judgment
                we would inflict
        out of our prejudices,
            but with that justice
                    longed for by
                those we fear;

    not with a fist striking out
                in fury,
        but with a hand reaching
        out to hold on to
            the teenagers who
            walk Christmas's streets
                    after all the
                    church goers
            are snuggled safe in
                 our beds.

overshadow us
    according to your

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fourth Monday of Advent

Read Psalm 67

        stop and listen*

in that quiet
    in the middle of
            the rush
        to get our list
checked off:                Selah
in that stunning
        that it is not
    so much the
            elect Jesus
        came for, but
    everybody (even
those we avoid):            Selahin the gap
                as we lift
    our foot to around
        over the panhandler
            as we exit
    the ballpark, only
        to find us landing
on holy ground:             Selahin the silence
                when we
        hear God offering
    the highest bid at the
            auctions for all
        whose lives have
been foreclosed:            Selahin every moment
                where we keep
        our ears closed
            to the songs
of the angels:                Selah

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

* In the psalms, Selah is an almost untranslatable word, which may be a musical interlude or choral direction.
Some feel it may best be understood as 'stop and listen' or as Jesus said, 'let those who have ears, listen.'

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Read Isaiah 11:1-16; John 5:30-47


we flip through the pages,
    scanning rapidly down
                    each column,
        thinking we might find
            that (capital A)nswer
   solving every problem;
                failing that,
    we turn the book upside
            down, shaking it
        back and forth, in hopes
    that the gift certificate
                for eternal life,
            the lost family deed
        to heaven,
    any truth at all
            might slip out of
            it's hiding place,
        landing at our feet.

but Truth
    has taken Jesse's branch,
            and shaped a broom
        to sweep up all
                our troubles and afflictions,
            and toss them into the
                to clear a way home;
        Truth has whittled a pole from
                    the root we are always
                    tripping over,
            hanging his flag of justice
        and reconciliation on it,
    waving it high over his head,
                so we can follow;
        Truth has put away the
in order to
            live it.

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Third Saturday of Advent

Read Psalm 149

        from vinyl to igod

when we look
under the tree
    and think
                maybe we have
            done too much,
        rather than not enough,
    a new carol will resound
            in our living rooms;

when politicians
    pass on massive spending
    for the haves-more,
            to fund shelters and
            soup kitchens for
                            the poor,
    the carolers will dance down
        the legislative hallways;

when school boards
refuse to cut music, books,
                    and art out of
            their budgets, believing
    that without those, the kids'
    spirits will falter,
        the band at the football game
         will play a chorus of hallelujahs;

when our scratchy, dusty, old
get stuck in the groove
    of doing things the same
            you come along
        whistling a new song
   composing it on our

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 17, 2010

Third Friday of Advent

Read Psalm 148

        carol of the praises

praise God,
    all you birds
    swooping down to
        scoop up the seed
            left out on the deck;
praise him,
    tail-twitching cat
        stalking them from
        behind the safety of
            the dining room
praise the LORD!

praise him,
    you tireless dogs
    chasing one another
        round and round the yard
        until a blizzard of loose
            swirls around you;
praise God,
    all you little kids
    putting the carrot nose
        in the snowteacher's face,
                    a book
            in her hand;
praise the LORD!

praise God,
    you fathers spending
    Saturday morning baking
                    sugar cookies
            with a gaggle of children,
        not scolding
    when more icing gets on
                their faces than
            on the bells and trees,
    the sprinkles dotting
                their cheeks
        like freckles;
praise him,
    all you mothers
    who stay up until time
                    for Vigils,
        assembling the race track
            for your daughter,
    putting the doll house
    together for your
praise the LORD!

©  2010  Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Third Thursday of Advent

Read Isaiah 9:18 - 10:4


will you come
    with your arm outstretched
        to stop the right and the left
        from devouring each other,
            so they might feed
                all whose stomachs
                are tightened from
                    true hunger?

will you come
    reaching out
        to take down
        the widows' heads
        mounted on den walls,
            replacing them with
            a picture of your beloved

will you come
    gathering up
        the orphans on display
        in the trophy
            sending them out
            to make angels in the

will you come
    to snatch
        slander out of our
     smearing the sweet
            balm of kindness
        on our chapped lips?


© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Third Wednesday of Advent

Read Psalm 53

        lamed vavniks*

the 98-pound weakling
        who gets in the face
            of the mammoth
                linebacker who keeps
    bullying the 9th

the trash collector
    who takes an extra few
        (which he can't really
             spare this morning)
                    to salt the icy
                    driveway of his
        elderly customers;

the little girl who,
            while waiting for her bus,
    tries to collect the
        diamonds on top
                of the snow drifts
            for her teacher;

the mentor
    who shows up at every
                event his student
        takes part in (even
    though he cannot stand
                    to sit for very

    all of them?

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

*according to rabbinic tradition, the
lamed vav(niks) are the 36 'hidden righteous'
in the world.  Even if the rest of the world
became completely barbarous, the presence
of these 36 would keep God from destroying
the world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Third Tuesday of Advent

Read Psalm 85

        and don't call me shirley

in the rainbow
    prisming through
        the waterfall of
            icicles hanging from
                the roof,
                    your beauty
            is at hand;
in the mother
    suckling her baby
        at three in the morning,
      her fatigue-rimmed eyes
            watching the snow
                falling gently
                outside the window,
                    your grace
            is at hand;

in the family
                rather than gifting
        themselves this year,
            supports the shelter
    for homeless families,
            even offering their
                    your hope
            is at hand;

in the familiar
    whose hallowed refrains
                    our voices;
in the little acolyte
        lighting the advent
            wreath on your Eve,
    whose eyes shatter
                our souls;
in that story
    we could recite backwards,
            whose promises
                still prick
                our ears,
                    your salvation
            is as close
    as your

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 13, 2010

Third Monday of Advent

Read 2nd Peter 1:1-11

we may not see
            but if we pay
            close attention,
in the children
    sharing a sled
    on a snow-packed hill,
in the father
    sending an extra lunch
    to school with his son,
        to slip into a classmate's
in the mother
    taking on an evening
        shift at the store,
            to get the clarinet
    her daughter has always
               dreamed of,
        we catch glimpses of

we may not hear
                but if we listen
            with open ears,
to the college age
    brother who tells his
        little sister, 'of course,
            there is a Santa;'
to the songs of hope
    coming out of
        the shadows of
to the crunch of fresh
   snow being angeled
        by the goofy dog,
            we can eavesdrop
    as you practice your
        for Christmas Eve.

    in those glimpses,
        in those whispers,
we can

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent

Read Matthew 11:2-11

a cool cloth
laid gently on
    a fevered brow;
holding hands
with a parkinsoned
singing hymns
with a father who
    cannot remember his

is the comfort
    we can wrap
    around others in
            the winter
        of their

as we grieve
the loss of wisdom
    in the ones
        at whose feet
    we sat;
as we work
to transform a culture
    where the scarred,
        the wrinkled, the broken,
            the limited
    are marginalized;
as we serve
        our sisters and brothers
    who have no

is the protest we cry
    out to

are you the
    we hope for?

come, Lord Jesus,
    of all hearts,


© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seond Saturday of Advent

Read Luke 22:31-38; 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-18


when lethargy
is our bosom buddy,
    and our hearts
        falter in caring
                for our brothers,
    our arms are too weak
            to embrace our

when we worry
so much about doing
                something wrong,
    that we are incapable
        of seeing the simple
            good we could
            offer another;

when it seems
that our faith
    is failing more rapidly
    than the market,
        and apathy shawls
                our souls,
    so we turn away
        from our calling,

    you come along,
    to visit the prisoner,
        to feed the hungry,
            to walk into death's
                cold embrace,
    simply saying,
            'watch what i

and it is enough
    to make us ready
        to go with

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 10, 2010

Second Friday of Advent

Read Isaiah 7:10-25; Luke 22:14-30

        come the day

on that day,
    you will show up
        at my house,
    a waitress on your
        a trash collector
                on your left,
    saying, 'hope you don't
        mind me bringing my
            two best buds;'

on that day,
    you will bring a
            picnic basket,
        filled with warm,
                just-baked bread,
            jars of preserves,
    and a bottle of the best
        from your wine

on that day,
    we will curl up
    on the couch,
        a big bowl of
            drenched in butter
    between us, as we watch
white christmas
     it's a wonderful life
             love actually        until the winter moon
    slouches off to

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Second Thursday of Advent

Read Psalm 62

        the abomination

perhaps auden is right
            that we are
    'more afraid of silence'*

why else do we
    pack our ears
        with buds of songs
    as we walk on a
            crisp wintry morning;

why else do we
    draw an iron curtain
            of riveting conversation
            about the weather and sports
        between us
            and our neighbors
    on the evening

why else do we
    become so inarticulate
        when gifted with
        the time and place
    to speak out against

it is in silence that

we find the harbor
    for our restless hearts;
we see the sister who
        is hungry,
             the brother who
        longs for a friend;
we hear the hope
    whispered by the
    sliver of moon in
            the night sky.

in silence,
    o my soul,
        in silence.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

* 'We are afraid
   Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
   Of hostile objects could be as terrible as the Void.
   This is the Abomination.  This is the Wrath of God.'
       W. H. Auden, "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio"


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Second Wednesday of Advent

Read 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11


our hearts are hardened
   our eyes peeled for transgressors,
      our pockets full of rocks,
we're ready
   and waiting
      for your return:
at the head of that
mighty band of angels
      dressed in burnished armor,
   carrying sharp-edged axes,
            unleashing volcanos of flames,
      unfolding the leaked documents
      where all the names are listed . . .

so come!

   kneeling down
   to gently write words like
   in the dirt floors of our

   to look us in the eye,
      staring deeply into
            our souls,
   and, finding, the seeds of
      buried there, water
         them with your tears;

   to whisper the words
      which only you can
and only we can hear,
      and we will go,
   giving thanks to God
            for you,

(c) 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Second Tuesday of Advent

Read 1st Thessalonians 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38

        at all times

keep your eyes wide
    in every moment,
    in every place:

where those who
are called heroic,
    share their socks
    with those who
        have cold feet;

where teachers keep
enough patience on hand
    for every fidgety child,
        for every inquisitive mind
        filled with never-ending

where those who have
put in double shifts
    for the last two weeks,
    stop at the 24/7
            prayer room
        before hitting the sack;

where those whose
arms, legs, hands
    are corded with
        sculpted muscles,
    pick up knitting needles
    to make scarves and mittens
            for the homeless;

for when these things
    can the kingdom
be far behind?

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 06, 2010

Second Monday of Advent

Read Psalm 122

when the teenagers
        knot together
in front of the stores,
    smoking, cursing, annoying,
            i can mutter
        under my breath as i
            make a wide circle around
    or i can pray,

when i follow the dog
        and step carefully over
                all the litter
    spilled carelessly on the walk,
(nudging him away from the scraps),
        i can rush home
        to call the council, demanding
            they do their job,
    or i can take an extra
        bag, praying for creation
            as i pick up the mess.

when i open the paper
    and read the stats,
        i can shut my eyes;
when I turn on the radio
    and hear the bulletins,
        i can close my ears;
when i drive down
to the urban core,
    i can lock all my doors . . .
i can pray for the welfare
            of all of my
        sister and brothers
    seeking their good.

i can do all this,
    can't i?

©  2010  Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

Read Matthew 3:1-12


reporters stand out
in the bitter cold, and
    shout out their questions,
        at the cashmere coats
        walking to their chauffeured cars,
    but the self-righteous
            smile smugly and wave;

the subpoenas
have been issued,
    placed into the hands of
        the selfish and the
            venal who,
    when they appear
    before the committee,
        respond to the charges
                with silence;

out by the curbs,
the HDTV box is placed
next to the garbage cans,
        the beer cans and liquor bottles,
        the lies and abuse,
        the bruises and the tears
    carefully hidden from sight;

as the Light begins
to walk boldly over the
    John drives ahead,
        stopping and throwing
        the trash into his truck
        already overflowing with
            so-called facts,
            shredded documents,
                and broken promises,
calling out to the folks
peeking out their doors,

'straighten up;
    the cover-ups have ended!'

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 04, 2010

First Saturday of Advent

Read Psalm 72 and Isaiah 4:2-6

when we head out to
    the mall,
        and find a store
        named 'Justice'
    where impartiality
            is included with
        every gift,
    and fair play is the
            only game
                on the shelves;

when we get up
    at 3:00 a.m.
    on Black Friday
        so we can be first
        in line to get
            the rifles that have
                been turned into
            and the tridents which
                now send fireworks
                    into the sky;

when we go online
    and purchase as much
        as our budget allows
            (breaking open our kids'
                piggy banks, if needed)
    and take advantage
            of the free shipping
        to send it to all
        the broken places
                in the world:

on that day, we
    shall be your
        we shall reflect your

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 03, 2010

First Friday of Advent

Read Isaiah 3:1 - 4:1

at Harrods and Nordstrom,
   the folks stand staring
            in front of the windows,
    tempted by all the finery
                displayed before them;
at Nieman Marcus, at Marks and Spencer,
        all that we might ever want,
            (but, ever use?)
        draws in the crowds,
                attracted by the perfumes,
                    the jewelry,
                        the richness
            of life.

if we were to wander
    across the avenue
and turn down the less
        traveled street,
    we would find you
    sitting in the window
            of your nondescript
    your feet working the
            pedal of the sewing machine,
as you take up a hem here,
        and let out the waist there,
    as you lengthen the pants for some,
as you shorten the sleeves for others

then handing the garments
                to us,
    you nod, 'the fitting rooms
        are in the back'
and when we come out
wearing what you have made
    (an apron for one,
            overalls for another,
    a pair of wellies that fit perfectly,
        the bandanna to mop our brows)

you send us back out
    to muck out the stable,
        and repair the manger;
    to get the guest room ready
        for the magi;
    to lay out the cheese and crackers
        for the shepherds;

to get ready for the Babe
    who will lead us.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 02, 2010

First Thursday of Advent

Read 1st Thessalonians 3:1-13

        night and day

we thought we could
    put up with
        those words that crush us
            with their mean-spirited
        those looks that pin us
            to despair's wall;
        the cruelty which wears
            piety's mask.

we thought we could
    stick out
        the never-ending days
            where every hour is filled
            with chronic grief;
        those nights where unanswered
        prayers scud across the skies,
            with no dawn peeking
                    over the horizon.

we thought we could
    carry the load
        of the suffering that takes root
            in the most barren lives;
        of the tears our friends
            baptize us with;
        of the injustices the merciless
            gift to the most vulnerable.

we thought we could bear it all

so send

send Jesus to us
    once again.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First Wednesday of Advent

Read 1st Thessalonians 2:13-20

in the morning
(practically the first thing),
    i lift my invocation
        to you,
    praying my psalm of
        over my aging body
            the antiphon echoing
                    the stiffness of
                my joints;

five times a day (or more)
my voice is lifted to you,
    sometimes speaking those
        words of weariness and
            over the struggles of
                my life,
    all too often
    simply whispering the aches
                    in my heart
        of those people who
            fray my nerves;

at compline in the evening,
before i slip under the covers
    cuddling up next to my
    all too fitful companion, sleep,
        my examen of the day
        brings up all those fractured
            all those moments when
                time seemed to be
                avoiding me.

    gratitude continues to
        patiently sitting in
        the corner,
hoping (and probably
    praying constantly!)
        that I will pick her up
        and carry her with me
    the rest of my life.

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Tuesday of Advent

Read Psalm 146

if you're happy . . .

this Christmas,
if i want to
delight her
(or so i am told),
i can find just the right gift
at the jewelers,
or the car dealer,
or from the local purveyor
of furs;

this season,
if i want to put
a smile on his face
(or so the celebs say),
i can gift wrap
a snowblower,
put the keys to a riding mower
in his stocking,
offer gold (toss in the frankincense
and myrrh if needed)
to get those hard-to-come-by
tix for THE GAME;

this year
(and every year, the ad gods proclaim)
if we want to hear the youngsters
shout for joy,
we simply get the next generation
mobile (with every possible app),
ebay every day till we outbid the world
on that impossible-to-find
(media approved and driven)
pay any price for every thing
on their list.

but true
this-is-what-it's all-about
we'll find that
shivering in the bitter cold

collecting coats for kids
who have only a thin shirt
standing between them
and winter's breath;
visiting every politician's office
over and over and over,
as self-employed lobbyists
for the poor, the marginalized,
the forgotten;
joining you down at the
soup kitchen,
chopping carrots, peeling spuds,
clearing the tables, doing the dishes
(all those back-aching, feet-numbing
spiritual gifts we forget we have),
so others might know your

(c) 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Monday of Advent

Read Psalm 122


paved with credit cards,
the roads to the malls
    stretch out before us,
    all shiny and bright,
        the lights twinkling
        (in reds, greens and gold)
            all the specials
    waiting for us inside;

clambering up the ladders,
prancing across the roofs,
    electricity stringing
    this way and that,
        Santa, the reindeers,
            18 toy soldiers,
            as well as the itsybitsy
    the neighbors make ready
    their houses to welcome
        all the traffic to this
            wonderful time of

shaking your head,
you turn and look down
the shadowed alley lying
    before you,
        potholed by poverty;
        lined with hedgerows
            where peace and hope
            are twisted together,
            shriveling from indifference;
        the bulbs in the
            removed for 'safety';
        gang tags sprayed on
        garage doors which house
                empty dreams;

you hold out your hand to us,
    'this is a shortcut I know
                to Bethlehem.
        You coming?'

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent

Read Matthew 24:36-44


stretching wearily
to get the stiffness
out of your back
   after a long night
   at the factory,
      you dump the detritus
      of your pockets
      on the polished dresser:

coins picked up off the floor
   as you walked around
   checking that all the doors
       were shut tight;
the master key
   to all the offices
   in the executive suite;
the pocket lint
   that has accumulated
   since the last time
      the uniform was in the

you take the heirloom
out of your pocket,
   opening it up
   to look (for the umpteenth
      time during the day)
         at the picture
         of Spirit pasted
         on the inside of
            the cover;

after polishing
the crystal with your
blue bandanna,
   you turn it over, gently
   rubbing your fingers over
      the inscription
         'for Dad - love XP'
and putting in the key
you wind it, as you
have done every day

climbing into bed
and pulling the covers
up over you,
   you whisper to yourself,
 'i wonder what would
if i ever forgot to wind
        that old thing?'

(c)  2010  Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

those guys . . .

After my last Sunday as an interim at Glendale First Presbyterian, I slipped off the next day to the Abbey of Gethsemani for some downtime and reflection.  As I journeyed through the week with the silence, the singing, the walks in the woods, I was struck again at how much the monks are like us - a rhythm of work, rest, eating  -  but how differently they move!

They seem to move with the grace of ballet dancers.  There is no speed, no hurry, no rush  -  just a slow, melodic pace down the hallways of the building, into the church, across the fields.  Each step seems so deliberate, so carefully planned, yet you can tell by their faces that it has become a way of life for them.

There is an economy of speech which they model, as well.  And it is not just because they have taken that vow to observe silence, but it is a slower cadence, a slower pattern, almost a dance with the words which they us, as if each spoken thought was a lover who deserved the best the monk could offer.  Those who read the scriptures/reflections, those who offer the prayers do so as if they have all the time in the world, rather than trying to get it done so the next part of the service could take place.  During one of the daily hours, I decided to read (silently) the psalms as I would do so in church, while the monks sang them.  No big surprise, I finished way ahead of them on every line, even though I consider myself to be a pretty good reader of scripture.

By the end of the week, as has happened every time I have been blessed with a visit to this thin place, I found myself walking more slowly, thinking more carefully, reading for nourishment rather than speed, speaking more cautiously, praying with more silence between the words.  What a wonderful gift this community offers to each and every pilgrim who visits them.

The gift of a different rhythm of life, not because they listen to the beat of a different drummer, but because they pace themselves to God's heartbeat.

© 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

half-dead in the ditch (Luke 10:25-37)

I've heard, and told, this lectionary passage from the perspective of the Samaritan. I've heard, and told it, from the viewpoint of the priest and the Levite. I've heard, and told it, from the perspective of the crowd listening in on the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer. I've heard it, but never told it, from the perspective of the lawyer.

But what still intrigues me is the traveler found half-dead in the ditch. Other than having the snot beat out of him, we aren't told much about him, are we? He probably was a Jew, but he could just have easily been a Samaritan, a Roman, an Edomite, anybody.  I doubt if the robbers back then were any more discriminating in choosing victims than they are today. Though he probably may have been wealthy, you can get mugged for 10 buck as you can a thousand. 

But what happened to him after he was all better, after he was back on his feet, after he went home and told the family and neighbors what had happened to him?  Was he changed, was he transformed?  Was he no longer prejudiced towards Samaritans, Romans, whoever?  Did he become a better person, more generous, more holy? We don't know, do we? Which is true with so many parables Jesus tells us, so many of the encounters he has with people. Go and do likewise, he says.  Did anyone Jesus said that sort of thing really go and do?

One of my favorite illustrations from the marvelous TV show The West Wing had to do with young Josh Lyman dealing with the emotional/spiritual (?) aftereffects of being shot. His boss, Leo McGarry, wants to help him and so Leo tells Josh the following story:

A guy was walking along the street and fell into a hole. He tried climbing out but couldn't get up the sides, the walls are so steep. A doctor walks by and the fellow yells up, "Hey, Doc. I'm down here in this hole. Can you help me out?"  The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down to him. Later, a priest walks by and the fellow hollers, 'Hey, Father, can you give me a hand?' But the priest just writes out a prayer and tosses it down to him. Later, a friend walks by, and the guy hollers up, 'Hey, Joe, it's me; can you help me out?" The friend jumps in. The guy looks at him, "Are you crazy?  Now, we're both down here!" The friend says, 'Yeah. But I've been down here before and I know the way out."

More and more, I see this a story, not about the generosity of the Samaritan, or how he was changed/transformed. And I don't think it is a jab at the strict adherents to the Law. I think it is the story about the guy half-dead in the ditch. And the reason that this despised, rejected, hated Samaritan could help him is that he had been down in the ditch himself, and he knew the way out.

And because Jesus was willing to become despised and rejected for our sakes, because he was willing to be thrown into death's ditch, only for God to provide a way out, then he is telling us that when the time comes, when we find ourselves lying in the ditch, when we are half-dead, when all the experts, the lawyers, the doctors, the priests can't help us, then he will come along and show us the way out.  He will pick us up and carry us to the place where we can be mended and made well.

(c) 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, June 24, 2010


"Jesus said to him, 'No one puts who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  (Luke 9:62, NRSV)

It's been a long time since I have done any plowing, and my best guess is that the same is true for most of the people I know and share my thoughts with on Sunday morning.  (Though, in backyard gardens, most of us can come near a semblance of a straight line with tomato plants or beans).

But I have known a lot of folks who can plow a straight line from a hurtful word first spoken years ago until the day they are laid to rest in that casket made out of bitterness, using a finely honed grudge which is able to give them a furrow in which to sow their seeds of anger behind them as they move from year to year.

I have seen a lot of folks who can snap a chalk line so hard that you can still see it after it has been painted over, a chalk line that runs straight and true from that first nudge of envy over what another has or does until it comes to end in that obsession which one can just never let go.

I have been around folks who carry a level around with them, ready to whip it out to determine whether or not a friend spends equal time with them as with others; to judge whether or not a parent's love is handed out in the same amounts to them as it is to their siblings; to measure if their happiness is on the same plane as those who sit around them in church, at work, in the neighborhood.

And like all these folks, I spend so much time plowing up old ground, that I can manage to convince myself that a sermon I gave in the past, a prayer I wrote a month ago, a mission trip I went on for a week out of 52, the book that was published five years ago, a visit to the hospital to see someone yesterday, equates to the single-minded commitment that Jesus is requiring of me in this passage.

"Jesus said, 'No procrastination.  No backward looks.  You can't put God's kingdom off until tomorrow.  Seize the day.'" (The Message)

(c) 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, June 13, 2010

eat dessert first!

We haven't ever met, but Ruth is one of those folks I hope some day I can sit down with and share a cup of tea and a long conversation. I first 'met' her when she was editing Coracle (the journal/magazine of the Iona Community) and she was so encouraging about the occasional prayers and/or poems I would submit for her consideration.

She has started writing a monthly piece for the wonderful monthly magazine of the Church of Scotland called Life and Work. Each month, she shares observations about aspects of life, sacred and secular, drawing many examples from what takes place around her. In her writings about patience, about the value of silence, about the simple joys and graces which can come to us in the course of everyday life, I find a kinship with her on many levels.

Yesterday morning, before heading up to Columbus for our weekly visit with Teddy, I read her observations about what many call the 'new monasticism,' of how folks look for communities in which their attempts at faithful living might be found in communities which offer Rules for living, such as prayer, scripture reading, service, accountability to the community, and so on. It seems to be a yearning which is expressed more and more these days, not only by those outside 'traditional Christianity, but by those within, as well.

As I was reading the article, I was struck by a comment about the dessert fathers and mothers like Columba, Cuthbert, Hilda and others. At first, I just went past that phrase but then my brain jerked to a halt and told me to go back and re-read the sentence again. Not being the best proofreader as a writer, I thought to myself that it was a cute 'oops', and chuckled to myself about how often when I am writing liturgy or prayers, I will type the word dessert when I want to talk about the desert.

But then, as that phrase percolated in my subconscious the last 24 hours or so, I've begun to wonder if it was an 'oops' and even if so, that perhaps Ruth is onto something. For folks like Cuthbert and Hildegard of Bingen, like John of the Cross and Mechthild of Magdeburg, like Ignatius and Julian, like Meister Eckhart and Amma Theodora are not desert mothers and fathers in the sense of being dry, dusty, and not very appealing, but truly are the rich dessert which God has offered to God's people over the centuries.

After all, I spent a lot of years feasting on the meat and potatoes of Christianity. I would go up to the buffet and pile the doctrines on my plate, chewing and chewing until I began to understand such things like justification, sanctification, Christology. I would go back for seconds of the criticisms (historical, textual, contextual) which had been stirred into the servings of scripture readings, hoping that they might add a little flavor to my understanding. But all too often, I left the meal feeling like all I had done was add a few inches my theological waist, and could feel the arteries of my soul harden just a little bit more.

But when I began to spend more time at the dessert bar, putting a slice of Abba Anthony on my plate (sometimes ala Merton), when I would take a small dish of Hildegard and savor it bite by bite, when I would take a few pieces of Nouwen home in a doggie bag so I could enjoy them later in the week, that's when I began to discover the wonders, the joy, the goodness which seemed to be missing from my life. And now, I just can't let too many opportunities go by without having dessert every day.

So, maybe my friend Ruth is onto something. That all these soul friends who have nudged me to keep walking this pilgrimage called life, who have given me those cups of cold water I needed to refresh myself on the most arid of days, who have fed me with the manna of silence, who have taught me how to center myself in prayer, who provide me with radical hospitality when I find other doors shut are the ones who have taught, and continue to teach, me the Rules of Living I need so much.

Some years ago, I found a t-shirt which featured a lot of different flavored ice cream cones on the front, with the saying on the back "Life is Short. Eat Dessert First.'  Now, I just need to find one that says the same thing, but has the pictures of the dessert mothers and fathers on the front!

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This morning, while I was out hanging up the laundry, Dusty the Church Dog was rolling around on his back, soaking up the dew, a look of such delight on his face that I was jealous.  Later, as we stretched our legs in the neighborhood before our lunch, he sat down at one point, sticking his nose in the air, giving great big sniffs, and I swear he was wearing a big grin.  Then, when we got back to the church, and I let him off the leash, he raced around and around the back yard, doing his 'laps', ears flapping in the wind, and then falling exhausted on the ground.

On the other hand, I grumble, mumble and stumble any time I have to do yard work - telling myself in advance how much my back will hurt after lugging around the bags of mulch and topsoil; how bumpy the yard is going to be even before I get the mower out; cursing the weeds that seem so much more persistent and patient than any thing I try to grow.

All around me, God has planted a garden of wonder called creation - dew that is as sweet as any beverage a vintner has devised, delicious odors of flowers that can tickle my nose if I but take the time to inhale; blue skies that stretch beyond the horizon, dotted with schooners of clouds sailing off into the distance.

Daily, it could be my delight.

Dusty has this amazing ability to connect with anyone (and any thing) he encounters.  There are no strangers in his world, only people who have come to play with him (even though they thought they were coming to deliver something to the house or to the church).  Every child is someone who needs to be loved, whether it is with a sloppy kiss on their faces, or the gentle acceptance of their hugging him as tight as they can.  Every older person is that individual who needs his head placed tenderly on their lap, his big brown eyes staring up at them, focusing only on them, silently telling them that, for that moment and in that place, they are the only person who matters to him.

On the other hand, I stumble to the door to answer it, aggravated because my favorite TV show has been interrupted; I mumble at the kids who are sitting on the sidewalk, drawing fantastic pictures from their imagination, while I have to step around them to get to my truck; I grumble a quick 'good evening' to my retired neighbor who is out watering his yard, thirsty for a conversation about the ball team he loves so much, while I rush to get in the house and shut the door on the world.

Jesus has placed an incredible community of folks all around me.  There are kids who look at every adult who comes near them, wondering to themselves if this is the one who might treat them as a person, not an inconvenience.  There are folks who are lonely, so desperate for a kind word that they would pay cash for it; there are those who are suffering, and find themselves reduced to an account number at the doctor's office; there are neighbors who could be my best friend, if I only stopped long enough to say hello.

Daily, they could be my delight.

Whoever came up with the phrase 'dumb animal' never met Dusty.  He knows that the best way to get through any day is to take a nap every two hours, drink plenty of water, clean his food dish every time it is filled (and clean my cereal bowl when I am done in the morning), walk at least two times a day for at least 30 minutes each time, get up and get one of his stuffed animals or tennis ball out of his basket and start playing with it when the news on the TV is rotten, go to sleep at the same time every night and sleep straight through the night (except if thunderstorms come along, then you cuddle up tight to whoever is in the bed), never mess with any creature that has claws, and always remain optimistic that this is the day, this is the walk, this is the time when that squirrel will not get to the tree in time!

In the father who is picking up his kids after school and in the mom who is coaching her daughter's soccer team; in the legal aid lawyer who is defending the rights of the homeless and in the social worker who shares her lunch with the woman forced to raise her grandkids when she thought she would be traveling around the world; in the teenager who spends her weekends putting together health kits to send to Haiti and in her little brother who mows lawns each day, to save up money to give to her when she goes off to college this fall, Wisdom whispers to me all the things that I might ever need to know, if I was but to listen.

Daily, she could be my delight.

In every moment, in every person, in every place, the Holy Community dances around and around, whirling in joy, laughing in wonder, spinning round and round, holding out their hands to me, inviting me to join them - daily to be their delight, as they long to be mine.

(c) 2010 Thom M. Shuman