Friday, February 19, 2010


Once he had been chosen, and led by the Spirit, Jesus entered the Wilderness Olympics. Enduring a spartan regimen during his training, he found himself always hungry.

At the opening ceremonies, the organizer, Mr. S. Atan, came up to him and said, 'if you are serious about going for the gold, the sponsors have laid out quite a spread in the athlete's area. You will find all sorts of epicurean delights.' Jesus looked him in the eye and replied, 'that is not what I hunger for.'

As the entrance of the athletes from all the nations began, one of the sponsors, Madame D'Evil, sat down next to Jesus. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, 'the highest honor of the games is to light the cauldron. You can have the privilege tonight, and the envy of all the athletes, if you will but sign this exclusive contract to be my spokesperson worldwide.'  Jesus got up from his seat, and as he passed her, he reminded her, 'have you forgotten Who my soul sponsor is?'

At the top of the mountain, as Jesus was waxing his skis, and visualizing the journey he must take in the coming moments, the head official of the race, Lucifer Abaddon, sidled up next to him. Looking out on the course, he promised Jesus, 'If you go throw yourself down the mountain, if you cut all the corners right, if you become reckless, I am sure that your coaches and trainers will make sure you don't suffer.' Not opening his eyes, Jesus calmly replied, 'don't tempt me to throw you down the mountain.'

Having tried everything they could, Jesus' adversaries left the wilderness, knowing that the Passover Olympics would be held in Jerusalem.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


i stuffed myself
on pancakes and pleasure,
on chocolate and self-indulgence;
empty me
of all those delicious desires
that make my life (and soul)
so heavy;

i put on that funny face
i call 'me'
and danced through the streets
of temptation and selfishness;
draw me
into those quiet places
where you can reshape me
as your child;

i wore a costume
bejeweled with pride's glitter,
and rainbowed with my silly sins;
clothe me
in prayer
and smudge my face
with your heart's tears;

i chased after the world
into death;
lead me into life
this Lent.

(c) Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

3 S's of Lent

One of the ways I unwind at the end of the day, is to watch the TV game 'Wheel of Fortune.' It is that show where the contestant tries to figure out the answer to an event, a place, a person, a phrase, by picking letters to fill in the blanks of the answer. If you watch it often enough, you can sometimes get a 'clue' as to what the answer might be depending on the day the game is broadcast, the city in which they are playing, the season of the year, and so on. For instance, when the show was in Boston recently, a lot of the answers had to do with Boston-related places, people, events.

So, if the game was being played today, and the puzzle had to do with an event, and the blanks were _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ and I was a contestant, I would probably choose the letter S to start the round, hoping that the answer is Ash Wednesday.

S is one of the key letters to understanding that puzzle we call Lent.  In the classic sense, it points us to the Self, to that sin, to that habit, to that way of life, to that burden we would like to get rid of during the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. For most folks, it means some form of self-denial: trying to once again give up smoking, making that pledge to ignore all the chocolate that is conveniently placed at the checkout in the store, spending less time on the computer. For others, it may mean adding something to our daily life: ten minutes set aside for prayer; reading through the gospels each day; picking up a devotional book to read, rather than the latest romance or lurid thriller.

Whether we give up something for Lent, or take on something for the season, it still means making a Sacrifice. Unfortunately, the 'sacrifices' we make for Lent often turn out to be like those resolutions we make each January 1st - long on possibility but all so short on fulfillment.  I can give up chocolate (honest!), but of course, as you know, the Sundays of Lent are considered to be feast days not fast days, and so I can feast on chocolate that day, can't I? And Monday comes around and I am back where I started before Lent.

So, perhaps instead of thinking so much about myself and what I am sacrificing for the good of the cause, I should think more about others, about those who could use more than token gestures, but could use some practical help in their lives; about those who truly hunger, not go without a sugar fix; about those who could use the justice, the peace, the hope of God in their lives. Maybe I need to think less of Self, and more about Service.

It would only take me five minutes a day to write a short note to someone whom I know is hurting, lonely, grieving, afraid, to let them know I am thinking of them, and praying for them. Better yet, it would probably only take that long to make a phone call! It would only take a half-hour out of my day to tutor at a local school, the same amount of time I spend watching the 'wheel.' It would only take about 10 minutes and about $20 to go through the grocery store, fill up a bag with non-perishables and take it to the food pantry. It would only take my willingness, that's all.

S is one of the key letters to understanding this puzzle we call Lent.

This year I hope the answer, for me, is Service.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Jesus calls us . . .

Once when Jesus was in Miami, a friend gave him tickets to the Super Bowl. It wasn't a bad seat, but the crowd was pressing in on him, hoping to hear a prediction about the game. He saw some of his friends he had grown up with, who were players on one of the teams. They invited him down to the sidelines, and sitting on the bench, he began to talk to those around him. As the game began the last 30 seconds, with his friends' team losing by 4 points, he went up to Peter and said, 'Tell the coach to run Zebra Wide 44 Deep Cross." Peter looked at him and said, 'We've run that play a dozen times today, and it never has worked.  But if you say so, I'll tell him."

Peter talked to the coach, was sent in with the play, and just as time ran out, the quarterback hit Peter in the end zone with the game winning touchdown.

As the team swarmed onto the field, and the fans began to celebrate, Peter came up to Jesus, handed him the  game ball, knelt down and said, 'Go away, Lord, for I am only a third string wide receiver!'  For all the coachs, analysts, reporters, and teammates were amazed at the catch Peter made.

Jesus took the ball, flipped it to a little girl standing at the edge of the crowd, and said, 'Don't be scared, Pete. From now on you'll be catching people.'

When they left the locker room, Peter and his teammates left the trophy behind and followed.

(c) 2009 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, February 01, 2010

Try this for 14 days

I would imagine that most of us, if pressed, could say what the first commandment is: to have no other gods before the one God. And though pressed from every side, every day, almost every moment by those little gods who want to control our lives (money, fame, power, desire, you-name-your-own-little-god), we try to listen to, to obey, to serve the one God.

If we have spent any time in church school or in worship, I daresay most of us could even come up with what Jesus refers to as the greatest commandment, that in recognizing God as the one true God, we will love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength. As an observant Jew, Jesus knew this truth by heart, for the opening words make up the Shema, the great confession of the ancient Hebrews, which is contained in the mezzuzahs at the entry doors of Jews today, which is found in the tefillim worn by observant Jews of our time.

We also know the companion, the commandment which is equal in greatness to the first in Jesus' view, that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We know the wisdom, we know the truth of the power, the importance, the transformative grace of living out these two 'greatest' commandments, even as we know our inability to honor them, the easy way we put them on that shelf marked 'insignificant,' the graceless ways we treat our neighbors, the harmful attitudes we have towards ourselves.

What about that challenge, that phrase, that charge which is given over and over again to person after person in the Bible, that edict which is one of those scarlet threads which is woven throughout the tapestry of God's story with us?  It is spoken to almost every prophet, it is whispered into the ears of Mary, it is sung by the angels in the night sky.

We get up in the morning, knowing that when we walk into the boss's office that this may be the day we hear that dreaded word of downsizing, and we slip our feet into loafers of fear, ignoring the shoes of peace the Spirit offers to us. We head down the corridor of the hospital towards the room where we will be hooked up, one more time, to those tubes of poison the doctors hope will cure us, wrapped tight in the shawl of fear, forgetting that it is God who has promised to be our shadow through such valleys. We head off to school, clinging tight to the hand of despair, ready to endure the stares, the laughter, the whispers behind the hands from all who know that we got dumped over the weekend, not noticing Jesus tagging along behind us, ready to be our best friend.

The most frequent commandment given in scripture is so simple, so plain: 'do not be afraid.' And it is so hard to practice, so hard to model, so hard to live.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman