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

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

pomp and circumstance

Over the next several weeks, many of us will take part in graduations, parties, celebrations marking a major life change for young people who are important to us.  For some of us, it will be our child or grandchild, our niece or nephew, our cousin who walks across the stage.  For others, it might be a kid down the street, someone we taught in Sunday School, someone who mows our lawn or delivers our newspaper.

For me, it is kids that I have had the amazing good fortune and unbelievable joy to watch grow into such talented, wise, wonderful young people right on the cusp of adulthood.  Two of them I cradled in my arms as I baptized them, others were part of confirmation classes with these two, all and each has blessed me beyond   words I could ever offer to them in thanks.

And as they prepare to go off into that world which they cannot wait to enter, I know that I will continue to keep in touch with them, will continue to pray for them, will want to continue to be a part of their lives in some small way as the years come and go.  I look forward to college graduations, to weddings, to baptisms of their children, to other parties and celebrations to share with them.

Yet, as I do, I wonder about some of the other kids who will walk across those stages in the coming weeks, in the community in which I live, as well as in other communities. 

I wonder about the ones who prepare to enter a world which absolutely terrifies them.  They have struggled all through school, giving it their best, but for whatever reasons (environment, lack of support at home, never learning the basics as easily and confidently as their peers) will not be going off to college, will not be starting out on that road which can lead to success, may not be able to survive.

What about the kid who is handed that piece of paper which will have no value in the dead-end job, requiring no skills but a strong back, which awaits him?  Who will celebrate with him?

What about the young girl whose foolish choice to look for love and acceptance from the wrong person seemingly ties her down to raising a child, even while she is remains a child in so many ways.  Who throws a party for her?

What about the kids who walk off the stage, who leave the auditorium knowing that they will be heading home to that neighborhood with domestic violence residing in every home, with drug dealers setting up their kiosks on every corner, with every person they encounter on the shadowed streets willing to demonstrate how meaningless human life is to them with the simple pressure of a finger on the trigger of a gun?  Who prays for them?

Who, indeed, if not me?

(c) 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, May 13, 2010

lament for the Gulf

the silence in the coastal communities
    is almost deafening,
as shrimp boats lie still in
    the harbor waters,
the nets on fishing trawlers wave gently
        in the soft breeze,
    the crews standing on the docks
            staring into the hopeless
    their livelihoods snatched away
        when Leviathan slipped off
        the hook set for him
            in the deep sea.

the marshlands
    echo with the cries of
        the egret and heron,
        the pelican and seagull,
           who find their sheltered
            a dumping station
                    for human greed;
the turtle with its young
    plods slowly along,
    knowing they cannot outrun
        terror's tide about
        to sweep over them.

your heart is over the waters,
    Tender God,
        your keening voice
    joining the antiphonal
    soundings of the whales
        from the depths of despair.

(c) 2010  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

the kingdom of God is like . . .

A reading from Revelation 23:

Then I saw a new game on a new day, for yesterday's game was over, relegated to the stat books forever.  And I heard a loud voice from the press box announcing, "See, the place of God is among the fans. God will wipe away the tears when the team loses, regrets and recrimination will be no more, all time has ceased in this place, for the past season has passed away. "

The one of the four umpires, who had the bags containing the game balls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the line-up cards for this game." And he carried me to the dugouts, showing me the holy city the Ballpark, coming down out of heaven from God.

It has the glory of blue skies, with bright sun shining down upon the players and fans, with a radiance like a very rare jewel, an emerald clear as crystal. It has high walls around the outfield, with lower walls where the tribes of the teams sit to watch the game.  The walls are inscribed with the jerseys of former players who have gone through the great ordeal of playoffs, emerging with clean uniforms.

The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the dimensions of the field: left field is 328', with the power alley stretching 379'; dead center is 404' from home plate, with the right field power alley is 370' and the right field wall is 325'. The ballpark has entrance gates which allow the fans to enter from all directions. Then the angel showed me the sweet nectar of heaven being dispensed from the taps at the concession stands, with manna from heaven (red hots with sauerkraut, pizza, popcorn and cracker jack) available to all the fans.

And the one who was seated behind home plate said, 'See, I am making all games new. Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. When you strike out swinging, you get another chance in your next at bat; when you are charged with an error, you have an opportunity the next time the ball is hit to you; if you lose every game in every season, I will still be your God and you will be my team."

Then, with a bite of the bratwurst slathered with mustard and topped with kraut and a sip of his cold brew, God settled back in the seat, hollering at the ump, "you call that a strike!?  Are you serious, or just delirious?"

(c) 2010 Thom M. Shuman