Saturday, December 24, 2011

the bothy

every room will be blazing with
      so i will have no trouble
           finding the place
   when i arrive, or so i
      the table covered in fine
                   heirloom china
        and mirrored silver at each
          with the feast's aroma
             drifting in from the kitchen;
   my feather bed will manger
                my weary body while
     silks sheets swaddle me to sleep
                   after a relaxing soak
         in the jet-streamed tub.


         what if it is
just a box built out of
               river rocks,
   the door wind-weathered
                   and water-buckled,
      refusing to stay shut
          as if expecting more folks;
a rough-hewn shelf
         in one of the corners
    holds a clay pitcher brimmed
            with cool clear water,
      a hand-drawn map to the spring
                next to it;
wood has been laid
                     in the fireplace,
          ready to be brought to
a stone shelf is all that keeps
         one's body from the ground,
    just wide and long enough
             for a rough blanket,
      a candle and matches
                  where the pillow would be;
           and there's a shovel
                by the door for taking care
                     of the necessaries;

it seemed perfect for
       when you arrived,

didn't it?

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 16, 2011

Third Friday of Advent

Protect me, O God, for in you I take
I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you."
As for the holy ones in the land, they
          are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god
          multiply their sorrows;

The LORD is my chosen portion and
          my cup;
    you hold my lot.

You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness
          of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures
          Psalm 16:1-4a, 5, 11

As I grow older, I seem to come closer and closer to the psalms.  Whoever the writers were, they often express a faith I often wish I had.  In the midst of terrible pain, suffering unspeakable loss, surrounded by 'enemies' (often those who were once considered to be friends - and we have all known that experience!), worries about the future  -  no matter the circumstance, the psalmists express a deep and abiding trust in God.  Psalm 16 is a great example.  Like many of that generation, as well as ours, she could have chosen other gods.  Instead, the God who is a refuge, who holds the writer like a mother holds a child, who shows the path to joy, to life, to pleasure  -  that God is chosen!

The writer doesn't tell us how to do it, that would be too easy, and making choices is never easy.  All she can do is tell us what that choice has meant to her.  The psalm is unable to give us faith, it can only offer us faith.  It can offer us the choice to trust in a God who, yes, is often hidden.
   a faith that is confident that God has a new way of life to teach us;
   a faith that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, not only believes
      that can, but that God will act - in the lives of individuals,
      through communities of faith,
      in the affairs of nations and rulers,
      throughout all of human history.

What a marvelous gift  -  this choice.  Will we open it this year?

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Third Thursday of Advent

When the LORD restored the
         fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with

   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
   "The LORD has done great things
         for them."
The LORD has done great things for

   and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

   like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,

    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.
             Psalm 126

Because we are unable to measure up to the world's standards of happiness (determined by one's wealth, looks, success), we no longer believe in joy, no matter how much we sing of it.  Because we can find little enjoyment in the days filled with barrages of emails, constant demands on our time, the hurries and hassles imposed upon us by so many, we are so close to tears that we can taste them on the insides of our eyelids.  Because life just hasn't turned out like all the experts, the teachers, the books, the prognosticators told us all those years ago, no wonder so many of us have turned to anger as our drug of choice.  Things have gotten so out of hand that no one seems to be in control.

But Psalm 126 reminds us that all those things  -  every thing  -  that take place in our lives are in God's hands.  Whether they be good moments of unexpected laughter, or those storms of struggle, God is with us.  When we take those faltering steps into the unknown, or simply walk into our grandchild's school for the music program, God is beside us.  If we are lucky, we may discover that, like the psalmist, it is not because of anything we have done, or the church does, or our communities or families, it is simply God's actions which bring about hope and restoration in our lives.

When God acts, then lives are changed;
when God acts, our deepest sighs become peals of laughter;
when God acts, our laments turn into shouts of gladness;
when God acts, our bitter tears become pools of water
   refreshing the seeds of joy planted deep within us.

Do you believe it?

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Third Wednesday of Advent

Fools say in their hearts, "There is
          no God."
    They are corrupt, they commit
          abominable acts;
    there is no one who does. good.
God looks down from heaven on
    to see if there are any who are
    who seek after God.
        Psalm 53:1-2

In our technologically-driven world with its IMs, iphonepads, 24/7 instant news, it is easy to assume there is no God.  After all, where is the evidence.  The poverty numbers keep increasing, more and more people die violent deaths, war is still the answer to settling disputes, food pantries are running out of food, soup kitchens are throwing more stones into the pot.  Is there anyone, anywhere, who does good anymore?

We would hope, as we should pray, that God would look down and find us doing good, especially in this season of goodness.  This is what we are called to do, this is why God became flesh, this is what Jesus challenges us to do.  After all
   how will the world know that its mourners will be comforted,
      if we don't wrap them in shawls of compassion;
   how will we show that peacemakers are the children of God,
      if we hurl other names at them;
   how will folks know that the pure in heart will indeed see God,
      if God isn't even reflected in us;
   how will those who hunger and thirst for righteousness be fed,
      if we are not willing to feed them with justice's hope;
   how will people know that there is a God,
      that there is not just one person,
      but countless throngs of folks willing to do good,
      if we are not willing to love, to care, to heal, to forgive?

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Third Tuesday of Advent

LORD, you were favorable to your
    you restored the fortunes of
You forgave the iniquity of your
    you pardoned all their sin.     Selah
You withdrew all your wrath;
    you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God, of our
         salvation . . .
           Psalm 85 1-4a

We could do with a little restoration these days.  At one time in lives, this seemed like the best time of the year.  We couldn't wait to get the box of Christmas out of storage and decorate the house.  We went out and got a real tree, not that artificial thing; we baked, decorated, boxed and delivered dozens of sugar cookies; we sang Christmas carols non-stop.

But it is the middle of December and we are beat down, frazzled beyond words.  The cards are scattered on the table unsigned, the gifts clutter the closets, the party invitations are unopened, and stress keeps ringing the doorbell.  Why don't we just crawl back into bed and pull the covers over our heads?!  We need a delivery of energy, a cuppa energy, a booster shot of restored spirits.

And so, like the psalmist, we wonder, we hope, we pray that God will restore us.  Not in the sense of that hot August night, big tent, hellfire and brimstone revival, but simply bringing us back to life, simply giving us life once again.  Will God do it?
   restore those senses numbed by the songs of commercialism;
   restore hearts hardened by too many appeals for help;
   restore peace in those who lives are too hurried, too harried;
   restore goodness to us - that simple gift so we can survive
      the complexities of our lives?

Restore us again, O God, of our salvation, restore us!

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 12, 2011

Third Monday of Advent

All your works shall give thanks to
          you, O LORD,
    and all your faithful shall bless.
They shall speak of the glory of you
    and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your
         mighty deeds,

    and the glorious splendour of your
Your kingdom is an everlasting
    and your dominion endures
          throughout all generations.
The LORD is faithful in all his words,
    and gracious in all his deeds.
The LORD upholds all who are
    and raises up all who are bowed
           Psalm 145:10-14

Psalm 145 is one of those acrostic psalms in its original form, with each verse beginning with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  We can't quite do justice to it in other translations, but you can imagine the work the writer faced!  But we can do justice to the challenge offered to us by this lovely song.

The way it begins and ends, it comes across as a psalm of personal praise and worship to Bod.  But there, in the middle there are these reminders about what God has done in the world, about God's compassionate and generous love towards all, about God's kingdom which is all around us, about the One who hears, lifts up, watches.  The author is so overwhelmed by this God that praise has to be lifted up every day.

What about us  -  are we able to see those glimpses of God's presence in our world?  Do we believe we are in God's kingdom?  Why not take some time, today and the next, to look for those signs of the kingdom?

Maybe we will see God reflected in the teacher who faithfully takes extra time with the kids struggling in class.

Perhaps we will know God's surprising grace in the stranger who lets us go ahead of them in the long line at the store.

God's justice might be revealed in that child who asks that her presents this year be given to a homeless child.

You could be God's heart and ears by listening to the loneliness of the neighbor across the hall.

If we just open our eyes, our hearts, our ears, our lives to what God is doing around us, we might just find ourselves standing on the corner of Hope and Wonder in God's kingdom, joining the carolers who are praising God!

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent - B

Texts:  2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Call to Worship
L:  O come, Rest of the righteous:
wrap us in your shawl of hope,
cradling us in your comfort and peace.
P: O come, Servant of salvation:
unlocking the chains of our sin,
sending us to dance in your kingdom's joy.
L: O come, Gospel of graciousness:
so we would welcome the outsider
and embrace the lonely hearts in our midst.
P: O come, Lover of the lowly:
to raise them up until they can look you in the eye,
and kiss your soft cheeks in gratitude.
L: O come, Child of the covenant:
heir of all those promises made so long ago,
and bearer of all the grace flowing from God's heart.
P: O come, Companion of creation:
to transform the mess we have made
into gardens overrun with goodness and beauty.
L: O come to us, Immanuel, come and live with us:
P: this day, and forevermore, come!

Prayer of the Day
You take us by the hand,
Gentle grace,
so we may walk
the paths of your kingdom,
carrying the light of joy,
to find the traveling companions
you give us for our journey
into the holiness of this season.

Adonai's Anointed:
you came among us
to whisper of your hope
above the jingles of these days;
you have been with us,
in every moment of our lives,
disguised as our friends and families,
living among us as the strangers
who welcome us as kin.

You are with us,
Spirit of kindness,
planting seeds of peace
which can bear fruit
for a shattered world;
you send us to sing
the glad tidings of
incomparable joy,
that God has kept every
promise ever made.

God in Community, Holy in One,
you give us the words we need,
even to pray as Jesus teaches us,
Our Father . . .

Call to Reconciliation
If we are to welcome the Child into our hearts, we must speak
of all the ways we have hardened ourselves against the good
news he brings.  Let us confess our sins, as we pray together,

Unison Prayer of Confession
How can this be, Holy One of Advent?
We would put the powerful on pedestals,
     but you send the lowly to remind us
     of our call to be servants.
We would stock our pantries with more and more,
     but you send our friends to our door,
     collecting for those who hunger and thirst for hope.
We would listen to seasonal sounds of sales,
     but you send the angels to carol to us
     of the promises made to all.

Forgive us, Hope of the world.
As we watch for your coming,
     may we see the need around us;
as we prepare to celebrate your birth,
     may we live with open hearts;
as we long for healing and hope,
     may we discover it in the Babe of Bethlehem,
     Jesus the Christ, sent for us.

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon
L: The good news is not just announced to all people,
it is indeed, for all people.  For the proud, as well
as the humble; for the rich, and for the poor; for
those who have found faith, and those who long for it.
P: Our hearts rejoice in the promises, and our souls
rejoice in the One who has come to us, bringing
hope, joy, and peace into our lives.  Thanks be to
God.  Amen.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
L:  Favored ones, the Lord is with you!
P:  And also with you!
L:  Children of God, lift your hearts to the One
       who brings good news to you.
P:  Our hearts glorify God, who strengthens us in every way.
L:  Beloved of the Lord, sing glad songs of praise.
P:  We rejoice in God our Savior, who looks with joy upon us.

Architect of the Universe:
like a mist over a lake,
your Spirit moved above creation,
so your peace could walk gently
through the fields of goodness,
so your hope could tiptoe quietly
into our lives to dwell forever.
You created us in your image,
so we could rest in your gentleness.
But we decided to warm ourselves
by the fireside of sin and death.
You asked the prophets
to come and remind us
of your everlasting covenant,
but we scattered their words
into the empty hollows of our hearts.
So, looking favorably upon us,
you sent Jesus to come,
appointing him to bring salvation
to us once and for all.

So, with those who waited on sheep-strewn hillsides,
and those who endured the pains of labor,
with all our sisters and brothers  in every time and place,
we sing of your great joy forever:

P:  Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Advent Joy.
     Heaven and earth sing your praises as you reach down
         to heal and comfort your creation.
     Hosanna in the highest!

     Blessed is the One who welcomes all people into your grace.
     Hosanna in the highest!

Your name is Holy, God of Grace,
and blessed is Jesus Christ, Your Child, our Savior.
when we were chilled
to the bone by despair,
he came to warm us with your hope;
when we huddled against
the cold winds of fear,
he wrapped us in the shawl
woven from your hopes and dreams;
when we could find no life,
he walked to a cross-strewn hillside,
scattering sin's power with your grace,
sending the grave away empty-handed
as he greeted us with the promise
of the resurrection for all your children.

As we prepare to celebrate his birth once again,
as we await the songs of the angels on that holy night,
we would proclaim that mystery revealed as faith:

P:   Christ came, to humble the proud
          and to raise up the lowly;
      Christ is in our midst,
          feeding the hungry
          and filling the emptiness of all;
      Christ will come again,
          to bring us home into the kingdom of heaven.

Send your Spirit to move over your people,
and to fill the bread and the cup
with your presence and power.
May the bread we break and share
become the healing we need
and the hope we carry to a world
shattered by fears and doubts.
May the cup we bless
and pass to one another
be the grace for which we have yearned,
and the joy we can offer
to everyone we meet.

And, when the Spirit gathers us up
and brings us to the Table in the kingdom,
 we will join our hearts and songs
with your family from all time and places,
who forever sing your praises,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.
(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Third Sunday of Advent

The LORD says to my lord,
    "Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your

The LORD is at your right hand;
    he will shatter kings on the day of
          his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the
    filling them with corpses;
he will shatter heads
    over the wide earth.
He will drink from the stream by the
therefore he will lift up his head.
       Psalm 110:1, 5-7

Even David, that great exemplar of Hebrew expectations, believed that God would send someone who would be even greater than he (and hopefully without the frailties and failings).  That seems clear in this psalm which is attributed to him.  Early Christians accepted this tradition, which may account for it being quoted several times in the New Testament.  While many folks may still hope that God will knock the heads of leaders together to get their attention or rain down fire upon all those nations we don't like, there are those believers who have trouble with this language of judgment, retribution, violence.  No wonder this psalm is not quoted on Christmas cards, or is the scriptural basis for carols of the season!

Yet, it is a pretty accurate description of what Jesus did, it seems to me.

Didn't he shatter all the expectations of who the Messiah would be, and what the Messiah would do?

Didn't he put to death all those assumptions of how God acts in the world, telling us of the God who longs to love us, forgive us, save us?

Didn't he fill the world with people who were, and are today, willing to let their old lives die (becoming 'corpses' in a sense) so that the new life in Christ might emerge in them?

Didn't he continually invite us to drink from the living waters which are all around us?

The writer of Ephesians (2:11-22), perhaps with this psalm in mind, speaks about Christ as the One who shattered the barriers which we put up between us and otehrs; as the One who breaks down the hostility between human beings; as the One who takes those considered to be dead by the world (all the outsiders, the aliens, the strangers) and makes us all members of God's household.

May God continue to shatter our frozen hearts with that love and hope which came down at Bethlehem.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Second Saturday of Advent

Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in
          their King.
Let them praise his name with
    making melody to him with
          tambourine and lyre.
                   Psalm 149:1-3

So what is on your list for today?

Is it filled with all those home improvement jobs you've been putting off for weeks, but now that the weather is blustery, it seems like a good day for them?  Are you going to be getting into the car, going from place to place, dashing from store to store marking off each gift as you purchase them?  Will you simply be the driver for the kids, as they first get to dance class, then off to athletic practices, and then to their friends' houses for a sleepover?  Our lists are endless this time of year, and even with a Saturday open before us, the hours are filled before we even pull ourselves out of bed.

Will you be doing any singing today?

I know you will hear lots of singing - in every store and each mall walkway, the sounds of the season will be blaring.  In the car, every radio station seems to be playing the same song no matter which one you turn to.  The runners, the walkers, the exercisers are all plugged into their mp3 players, letting Bono, Beyonce, Justin serenade them along their way.  But, will you be adding your voice to the chorus? 

Probably not, is my guess.  We're too busy, we're too overwhelmed, we're too stressed, we're too embarassed to sing out loud these days.  Even in our own homes, we rarely sing, do we?  Oh, maybe in the shower, but even there, we have a list going on in our minds, and we are in a rush to get going.

But in that tradition which predates our own, today is Sabbath.  Today is that one chance to rest, to relax, to set aside time for God, for family, for worship, for self.  Sabbath is the gift that the busy God gives to us in the midst of all our business.  Psalm 149 reminds us that this is the moment to sing, to praise God for this opportunity for renewal of spirits, of praise for the glory of creation, to worship God not just with our mouths, but with our hearts and souls.  It is the opportunity as one young Jewish writer said, to distinguish 'between minutes and hours not to regiment them but to set aside moments of holiness.

And in that tradition, on this day of Sabbath rest and joy, there is to be singing.  So, sing today:
   sing to your children of how they delight you;
   gather up all your love and sing to your partner;
   sing to God, not just those old familiar songs you love,
       but ones which you think God might enjoy!

Sing, sing, sing of the gift of Sabbath.

Who knows, maybe it will become a daily habit.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 09, 2011

Second Friday of Advent

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!
              Psaklm 148:1-4

Can you hear it?

All creation is praising God!

From angelic host preparing for opening night
to geese honking their way south;
from a grandmother singing as she puts sprinkles on sugar cookies,
to a newborn gurgling in joy at the lights onthe tree:

all creation is praise God!

From kittens sleeping in the winter sun
to lions and tigers growling at the zoo's festive lights;
from rivers groaning as ice forms on their skin,
to pine trees cracking in the frozen dawn:

all creation is praising God!

From the singing stars in distant galaxies,
to carolers huddling around wind-whipped candles;
from wooly-woolies crawling in silence
to the powerless crying for hope:

all creation is praising God!

Can you hear it?

(c) Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Second Thursday of Advent

I love you, O LORD, my
The LORD is my rock, my
          fortress, and my
    my God, my rock in whom
          I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of
          my salvation, my
I will call upon the LORD, who is
          worthy to be praised,
    so I shall be saved from
          my enemies.
                 Psalm 18:1-3

When you pray, when you 'call upon the Lord,' what do names, titles, honorifics do you use to address God?  One of the early phrases I can remember hearing is 'omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God.'  Or how about 'Ground of All Being'?  How about 'Ineffable Majesty'?  Pretty theological, aren't they (and I mean that in the heaviest sense)!

But the psalmists don't usually by into that sort of language.  A lot of times it is simply Lord, or God, or O God.  But then they go on with a pretty rich and diverse vocabulary to speak of God.  In this psalm alone, God is praised for being one's rock, a fortress, deliverer.  Words from everyday language, words which describe things we see (or don't see because we are not paying attention) every day.  Words which spoke of God being as close as that rock you sat on while resting, so strong that the greatest force cannot tear it down.

We have a real poverty of God-language these days, it seems to me.  Much of the way we talk about God, or use to pray to God, is tasteless, anemic, saltless.  We could use new words, new images, new metaphors to speak of God, just as the psalmists did so long ago. 

What about God as Breadmaker, taking those simple items found in creation (and in our pantries) to shape the bread of hope, of life?  What about God as Dog Walker, noticing all we notice, listening to our conversation with a neighbor, laughing as we chase after things blown in the wind, gently correcting us and showing us the paths that are safest for us?  Ever think of God as Creation's Witness, Jesus as Wave Walker, the Spirit as Dancing Flames?

Why not spend some time thinking about what imaginative, new words you might use as you pray to God and call upon the Lord?

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Second Wednesday of Advent

Hear this, you that trample
         on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor
         of the land,
saying, "When will the new
         moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat
         for sale?
We will make the ephah
         small and the shekel
    and practice deceit with
         false balances,
buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of
    and selling the sweepings
         of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the
         pride of Jacob;
Surely I will neve forget
         any of their deeds.
           Amos 8:4-7

Pretty harsh words, aren't they?  They are harsh, because they are true.  They are harsh, because when the prophet speaks of 'their deeds,' he's talking about us.  We see the ads on TV for the diamond encrusted gift, and don't think about at what human cost they are mined.  We look at the gold jewelry in the slick flyers, and never wonder about the little children who go into dangerous, unregulated places to get the gold out of the ground.  We want the newest, fastest, fanciest technologies and don't want to be told of the depleted resources which are used to make our lives so fast, so fancy.  They are harsh words directed at people who are not so much evil, as we are uncaring.  We are more concerned about our wants, our needs, our desire for the latest thing, without taking notice as to who we may trample, or bring to ruin, or simply ignore.

But if it is clear in scripture that God has a long memory when it comes to the foolish choices we make (because we think it is all about us), it is equally clear that God has a longer memory when it comes to those wise practices we can learn, when it comes to those willful decisions we can make, when it comes to reaching down and picking someone up rather than trampling them when they are down.  Yes, we are told over and over, Advent is the season of anticipation and expectation, but it is also a season of action as well, especially as God anticipates that we will finally catch on to what is expected of us.

And it's really so simple, these decisions, these wise practices which can cause God such joy, and bring others such hope.  What would it be like
if for every dollar we spent on gifts, we gave another dollar away;
if we gave children, simple long-lasting gifts and made donations in the names of adults;
if we paid for a meal for a family through a social service agency,
   while we are planning our big family feast;
if we gave away all those warm coats/scarves/gloves just hanging in the back of our closets.
if . . .

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Second Tuesday of Advent

Rejoice in the LORD, O you
   Praise befits the upright.
Praise the LORD with the
   make melody to him with
         the harp of ten strings.
Sing to him a new song;
   play skillfully on the
         strings, with loud
For the word of the LORD is
   and all his work is done in
He loves righteousness and
   the earth is full of the 
         steadfast love of the 
By the word of the LORD the
         heavens were made,
   and all their host by the
         the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of
         the sea as in a bottle;
   he put the deeps in
           Psalm 33:1-7

Here, the leaves have stopped dancing across the lawns and are curling up trying to keep warm against the first bite of winter's wind.  In another part of the world, plants are spring up, birds are singing people awake, stars shoot across summer skies, breezes tease through the trees.  Some of us prepare ourselves for the bleak midwinter blahs (physical and emotional), while others are looking forward to all the blues concerts they can attend in their shorts and sandals.  What a gift God has given to us in this marvelous creation in which we are blessed to live!

The psalmist reminds us that in whatever season we find ourselves, God watches over all of us.  And in every season, God's steadfast love, God's steadfast justice, God's steadfast watchfullness are with us, because God is such a lover of righteousness and justice.  It's not a mater of whether or not God is in our midst, according to the psalmist, it's a matter of whether or not we pay attention to this Presence!

So, take a moment from worrying about when the first snow/ice storm of the year will come, and watch the child, with tongue placed firmly into the cheek of her mouth, patiently making a gift for her little brother.  Stop packing the car for the trip to the beach, and notice the family across the street who, as they do every Saturday, is heading down to volunteer at the soup kitchen.  Pull over to the side of the road on your race to the mall, and watch the pierced and tattooed young man helping an elderly driver change the flat on their car. 

It's not just for a moment, of a day, or a season, but it is in all our moments, all our days, all the seasons we have been given that we see God's love shown in creation and through the created.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Second Monday of Advent

   Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?  He is God not of the dead, but of the living."
      Matthew 22:29-32

On most days, I believe that in that time we call resurrection, that Teddy will be whole and normal, and we will be (finally) the family we always have longed to be.  But I might be disappointed.  If folks ask me what I think heaven will be like, I usually tell them I don't know, but I hope that it is a library with lots of chocolate allowed in the reading room.  But I might be disappointed.  And the folks that think that heaven (or resurrected life or whatever you want to call it) is paved with gold, and we will all have houses beyond compare, and that all the folks we don't like or at least believe aren't as good as us won't be there to bother us anymore?  I think they might be disappointed as well.

We can imagine, or believe, or hope, or pray a lot of different things when it comes to whatever lies on the other side of death.  But the truth is, we just don't know for certain.  I am convinced that in this life, not even Jesus knew for certain whether, if, what would await him after death.  I think that's why he told the religious leaders that they were asking the wrong questions and worrying about the wrong things.

But what Jesus was absolutely convinced of was God.  The God of Abraham will also be the God of Alan, Annie, and Alex; the God of Isaac will also be the God of Irene, of Ivan, of Iain; the God of Jacob will also be the God of Jesus, of Jose, of Jane.  The God of the living will welcome all children into the time beyond this moment, the God of the living will provide a place beyond our imagination (and based on all the wonders
and surprises in creation, God has a pretty good imagination), the God of the living will continue to be our God even when the world says good-bye to us and relegates us to the ranks of the dead.

And the God of the living will never, ever disappoint us.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Second Sunday of Advent

   But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
   Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God...?
            2nd Peter 3:8-12a


it's tempting to think
that morality
   is about pointing one's
               finger at others,
      showing them the
         errors they have made,
                  but it's really about
    crooking your finger
    to invite the least
          into your home,
              tracing words in a
                    book, so a little
                one can learn,
        testing the wind
           so you know where
                Spirit wants you to

it's simple to act as if
    allows you to walk around
    with your nose up in the air,
                but you need to stick
                   your nose in other
                people's problems,
      so you can help solve them,
          you need to smell the
                    ordure of injustice
             so you can help clean it
                you want to lean down
         and rub noses with a little
           and be filled with laughter;

it's easy to develop
the attitude that
   it is all about my journey,
      of my personal relationship
                                 with the divine,
         of what has been done for
                                           me . . .
but faith
        is God-ward,
             and them-ward
   before it's ever

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

*eusebia is the Greek word translated 'godliness' in 2nd Peter 3:11

First Saturday of Advent

Even though you offer me
         your burnt offerings
         and your grain offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of
         well-being of your
         fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the
         noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the
         melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like
   and righteousness like an
         everflowing stream.
           Amos 5:22-24

For a good part of my life (with occasional backsliding still), I believed that I had to get people gifts.  Not just a gift, but gifts; not just any gift, but the right gift; not just for a birthday, or Christmas, but both of those days and some in between.  I was convinced that it was the number of gifts, the quantity not the quality if you will, which would demonstrate how I felt about any particular person.  It didn't matter how close we were, it didn't matter how deep our relationship ran, the day-to-day relationship didn't matter, it all came down to gifts.  Thank goodness that our society has created so many special days, so that someone like me could give a gift, or at the very least a card.

Our ancestors fell into the trap of thinking that it was the number of offerings which they made to God which would convince God how they felt.  And so, festivals were created so offerings could be made (sound familiar?), assemblies were held so a loud noise could be made, folks took every opportunity to try to demonstrate to God the depth of their feelings.

But God doesn't want a bunch of gifts (after all, if anyone has everything they need, it's God!), God wants a bunch of people who will offer themselves in service to the world which is hurting, which is hateful, which is violent.  God doesn't want a lot of words spoken or sung, God wants those whose lives have been transformed by the Word, to go out and speak tenderly, compassionately, hopefully to those who hear only the sounds of rejection, of exclusion.  God doesn't want a lot of special days hallmarked by cards, or knickknacks, or presents.  God wants us to spend every day keeping our eyes open for those who have lost their way, picking up those who have been knocked down by society, listening to those whose cries have been ignored, speaking up for those whose voices are drowned out by greed and apathy.

It's not about gifts when it comes to God, it's about justice, about righteousness, about peace and reconciliation, of joy and wonder, all the gifts God has poured into our lives like an overflowing river, simply hoping we won't dam them up for ourselves alone.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

First Friday of Advent

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.
        Jude 1-2

not for fortune or fame,
   not for success and power,
      not to do great things (though
             they may happen),
   not to take on tasks for which you are not prepared,
   to serve wherever you are
         and whoever comes along;
      to trust that God does indeed
         have the desire to use you
            (and will, if you get out of the way);

not because you are so handsome or beautiful,
   not due to your athletic prowess,
      and it's not your education or wealth or pedigree,
                  but you are
   because God has a bigger heart
      than all the hurts you cause,
   because God desires you
      more than you dare imagine,
   because God's forgiveness is able
      to cover any and all mistakes you make;

not from things that go bump in the night,
   not from those difficult words the doctor speaks,
      not from stresses that crumple your kness
   not from nights that seem to last an eternity,
not days which pass all too quickly,
                  you are
kept safe 
   in that grace which has no expiration date,
      in that hope which knows no boundaries,
   in that love which will never end.       

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman


First Thursday of Advent

For God alone my soul watist
         in silence;
   from him comes my
He alone is my rock and my
   my fortress; I shall never
         be shaken.
            Psalm 62:1-2

Whenever I am with Teddy, I am reminded of how noise is such a normal part of our lives.  One of the ways in which he is 'typical' is his love for music  -  but it has to be beyond loud, and the bass has to be cranked up (or would it be down?) so that the doors of the car shake.  Meanwhile, he is on his cell phone, and it is constantly chirping, chiming, tuning, ringing, loud enough to be heard over the radio or CD, of course.  Noise is all around us - revving engines, computers dinging with new emails, the TV carrying on a constant monologue with us, the air brakes of the big trucks hissing outside our offices. 

It's become so noisy, that we rarely notice the noise . . .
. . . until someone turns it off.  And we discover how abnormal silence is for us. 

Yet the author of this psalm of confidence challenges us to enter this unknown territory, for it is there in the silence that we find God waiting for us, to speak to us, to be with us.  And what is our normal response to this invitation?  'right.  When should I be silent; where; how?'

Why not right now?

Wherever you are, turn off the noise  -  the electronics, the people around you, the stress.  Turn off all the questions about process; turn away from the computer or phone or pad, and simply look in the other direction; turn off that fear switch that tells you not to go down that road

   and just wait

      in silence

         tens seconds, thirty, a minute or more

      just wait

   for God.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

First Wednesday of Advent

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
   for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
   he gathers the outcasts of Israel. 
He heals the broken-hearted,
   and binds up their wounds. 
He determines the number of the stars;
   he gives to all of them their names. 
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
   his understanding is beyond measure. 
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
   he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
                Psalm 147:1-7a

Travel, packing, long lines at the ticket counter, waiting for an overdue plane or train, wondering when the phone will ring and we will hear the words, 'we're here!'  This is the time of year when folks travel, when we go to someone's house or they come to ours, when families get together for their annual holiday reunion.

For many, as hectic as it is, we look forward to such gatherings.  We love to decorate, to cook, to get the guest rooms ready.  We enjoy the old stories being told (for the umpteenth time), the same old jokes, getting a chance to see who has gotten more grey hair or who has lost more, who has traveled the furthest.  Getting together with as many people as possible is what makes the season so wonderful for us (though to be honest, most of us subscribe to the old bromide that relatives are like fish - after three days, throw them out!).

But for others of us, we would rather undergo root canal than gather with our families.  We know we will sit around tables talking superficially, while the painful stories lie just under the table licking at our feet.  We will have to 'make nice' with the one who delighted in ridiculing us when we were growing up, with the one who has always made sure to let us know how worthless we are, to be in the same room with that relative who made life so unbearable for us.  No wonder we can come up with so many creative excuses as to why we can't go home this year.

But there is One who is coming who is gracious to all of us who have been treated with contempt.  There is One who, with the tools of hope and peace, comes to rebuild our lives.  There is One who, despite everything the experts tell us, has the gifts of compassion, of healing, of reconciliation to mend every broken place in our soul, who wraps us in the gentle swaddling cloths of love and cradles us in wonder.  There is One who comes to pick us up and carry us, however far, until we have regained the strength to walk on our own.

And we can sing with thanksgiving to this One, who not only comes, but who chooses to stay with us.

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman

First Tuesday of Advent

Happy are those whose help
       is the God of Jacob,
   whose hope is in the LORD
      their God,
who made heaven and earth,
   the sea, and all that is in
who keeps faith forever;
   who executes justice for
      the oppressed;
   who gives food to the
The LORD sets the prisoners
   the LORD opens the eyes of
      the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who
      are bowed down;
   the LORD loves the
The LORD watches over the
   he upholds the orphan and
      the widow,
but the way of the wicked
      he brings to ruin.
The LORD will reign forever,
   your God, O Zion, for all
Praise the LORD!

They stand there, all dressed up in their best clothes, hair neatly combed, faces scrubbed, all ready to participate in the schools Christmas program; snuggled under the covers, their faces unlined with worry or fears, their breath gently stirring the room; seated at the table, their eyes wide with wonder and joy as the holiday feast is brought into the room  -  there are those moments when we gaze at our children or grandchildren and silently whisper to ourselves, 'this moment!  Let them stay like they are in this moment.  I wish they didn't have to grow up to face the world as it really is.'

That's the way, all too often, we want to treat Jesus.  Let him stay just as he is in that pageant moment - small, helpless, innocent, adorable, so cuddly.  Let him stay just as he looks on all the cards we get in this holiest of seasons, that halo of light surrounding his beauty.  Let him stay there in that manger in that barn (cleaned up and sanitized, of course) where we will always be able to find him.

But the psalmist reminds us of that One who grows up to make sure the oppressed have that burden lifted off their lives, and to keep the food pantries stocked for the hungry.  We are told of the baby who will pick the locks of the cells, and set us from from all that imprisons us.  This song promises that our blinded eyes will be open to the hope that is right there before us, of those who have been tripped up by the indifference of the world being picked up and dusted off, of strangers who have that best Friend imaginable, of orphans who find their home, of those who find that love they thought had died away.

Perhaps we need to stop wanting to freeze Jesus in a particular moment of time and pray that he grows up (and fast!) so he will be with us in all the moments of our lives.

Praise the LORD!

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, December 05, 2011

First Monday of Advent

I waited patiently for the LORD;
   he inclined to me and heard my
He drew my p from the desolate
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the LORD.
                            (Psalm 40:1-3)

While you are at the stores this season, watch.  Take note of the people: some are tapping their feet, wishing the person in front of them would stop asking so many questions of the clerk; others are looking at their mobile phones, wondering how much longer it will take to buy the items in their cart.  Some are shuffling along, burdened by the trappings of the culture, all the wrappings of the season; others are simply muttering under their breath (and it's probably not carols!)

Now, while you are standing line, wait.  Wait for the One who gently nudges your feet, until you are set on that solid rock of grace; wait for the One who puts the detour sign up, so you have to turn down the path of patience; wait for the One who takes all those muttered imprecations, and rewrites them as songs of hope and comfort.

And while you are waiting, listen.  Listen for the One who can open our ears to the carols children sing as they make snow angels; listen for that angel who is asking you (yes, you!) to become the handmaiden of God's love to the world; listen to the faltering memories of the person sitting out in the hall of the nursing home;  listen to the echos of joy which were placed in your heart as a child, which you have buried deep in that place you rarely visit.

Watch, wait, listen  -  for there is One who has watched over you forever, who listens to your every sigh, and who can no longer wait to be with you.

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman

First Sunday of Advent

   boots (Isaiah 64:1-9)

so shiny you can see
      your glory in them
   as you pull them on,
         the perfect accoutrement
      to your beribboned uniform
   with medals from the Roman,
      Babylonian, Egyptian campaigns,
your two-edged sword grasped
tightly in your hand . . .
   . . .so tear open the heavens
   and come storming down, to plant
         those boots precisely
      where we are convinced they
            are needed;

but instead, once again,
   (to our embarrassment? disgust?)

you pull on your waders,
   towing that rowboat behind you,
      picking up all those folks
      left behind when the
         stock market dams burst

you take your wellies
         out of the mudroom,
   heading out to the barn
      to feed all those
      we forget in our frenzied
          gorging on more,
        mucking out the floors
        of our hearts to make room
   for the little One;

your faded and scuffed slippers
fit comfortably around your
   as you get up and put
      the kettle on,
         putting a plate
      of cookies on the table,
   pointing us to the chair,
         'why don't you sit
         down and tell me
     all about it?'

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, October 31, 2011


I wish this was original with me, but it is not. 

Yesterday in church, the liturgist talked about how so many people see Christmas as the most Christian holiday of the year.  After all, he said, it is that time when we give gifts to those we love; but, what is so unusual about that, he mused.  Isn't that something we do, or should do, all year long?

For him, Halloween is the most Christian holiday.  Think about it, he said, you go up to someone's door (often a stranger), you knock, they open the door, and no matter how scary you look, no matter what 'costume' you might be wearing, no matter who you are, no matter if they know you or not  -  they give you a gift.  And isn't that what Christianity is all about, he remarked.  Giving of ourselves to folks, no matter how strange, or scary, or different they might be?

There's a lot of truth in what he said. 

So, many folks see Halloween as satanic; so many want to spend time, effort, and money on 'Hell Nights' trying to convert folks out of fear; so many want to see it as the evil one's night. 

But it is that night when we can, simply and with a lot of fun, give to those we don't recognize, don't know, may never see again. 

And isn't that what Christianity is all about?

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 12th

I am fortunate - I personally did not know any of those who lost their lives on that terrible day ten years ago; I imagine that is true for most folks.  So, I do not know the depths of loss, the ongoing grief, the pain that this anniversary causes for so many people.

But we all have experienced a 9/11 in our lives, or will at some point.  That moment, that experience, that
the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again kick in the gut.

My September 11th came on that February night 6 years ago when I got the phone call telling me that our son was being arrested for murdering his roommate at the residential facility he was at.

September 11th came for other folks when the attack on Pearl Harbor was carried out, for others the anniversary that brings back memories of loss is the day FDR died, when John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. 

Christchurch experienced September 11th when the earthquake hit, Japan is still reeling from its September 11th.  People in New Jersey, Maine, Texas know the september 11th feeling hurricanes and wildfires can bring. Residents and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan experience September 11th all too often, as do the families back home in a number of countries.  Lockerbie, Joplin, London, Spain, Tel Aviv, the Palestinian neighborhoods and camps, Rawanda, Sudan, Somalia  -  September 11th comes all too often, to far too many folks.

And it is tempting, like the disciples on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, to stay locked in that place, that moment, that time.  Yes, memorials should be built; honor and respect paid to those who lost their lives and those who rushed into the burning buildings, the cockpits, the stairwells, the streets covered in ash; yes, we should remember. 

But I worry that we let 9/11 define us in ways that continue to damage us.  We continue to live under the fear of that day, and allow too many commentators and politicians use that day and those people to manipulate our fears for their own agendas.  We spend billions and billions for homeland security, when so many millions do not have the security of jobs, the comfort of a home, the ability to access medical care, the skills to get the education they need. 

We focus so much on September 11th, that we forget September 12th, the day that thousands of folks showed up in NYC, at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania, to help with the searches, the clean-up, the recovery.  We forget September  12th, when parents got their kids up once again, and sent them to school, where teachers helped their students to grieve, to begin to understand, to begin to get on with life.  We forget September 12th, when churches were open for prayer, but also to serve the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, to box up bibles to send to the prisons. 

It seems to me that as people of faith, we believe in a God who is always doing new things.  Who is
comforting the grieving, yet offering them hope and new life.  Who is helping dig through the rubble and who is building homes for those who have lost theirs in this economic recession.  Who is gathering up children when their nightmares wake them up in the middle of the night, and who encourages them to make friends with the Muslim kids who just started school.  Who refuses to let evil undo good, or hate to conquer love, or death to triumph over life.  Who is there on all our 9/11s, and who helps us step forth in faith, in hope, in trust
on September 12th.

We can, we must, remember and honor what happened on 9/11. 

I hope we are defined by what happened on September 12th and all the days that follow.

(c)  2011 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hawaii, here we come!

Hopefully, we have a few days to make our final decision,
but at this point we have boiled the choices down to either
a trip to Hawaii or a cruise in the Caribbean.  With our
sudden windfall, we could have our pick of any where in
the world, but these seem to be the most attractive.

You see, in their infinite wisdom, our county commissioners
have voted to decrease the levies which provide care for the
most vulnerable in our society.  Yes, in this time when it
looks like we will slide back into a recession (or perhaps
worse), these statesmen (and they are all men) have taken
$2 million away from the levy which offers services to abused
and neglected children, and $6.5 million from the indigent care levy.
Despite just about every agency in the county pleading for
them not to do so, despite the majority of county residents
saying they are willing to pay for these two important levies,
and for the increasingly-needed services they provide, the
politicians have kept their campaign promise to cut taxes!

Hallelujah and pass the cruise brochures!

With our savings of $4.13 per $100,000 value of the house,
we are giddy with excitement.  What new adventure awaits us?
What luxury item which we have postponed purchasing can
we now run out to get?  What wild and impulsive fling can
we now have?  It just boggles the mind, the choices are so
many - I may have to go to bed just to recuperate from
all the excitement.

And while God probably doesn't know whether to laugh or
to cry or both, I think I will spend some time today contacting
the two agencies who will be losing these important monies,
to ask about how one can donate to help make up for
the losses which they now face.

© 2011 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, June 25, 2011

one more thing . . .

What's your image of God?

Many times, I think of God as being Columbo.
You remember him, don't you?

He didn't show up until 30 minutes after the movie
started, but when Lieutenant Columbo arrived on the
scene in 'Prescription: Murder,' one of the most creative
characters in television walked into our lives.  Gene Barry,
as the suave psychiatrist, thought he could easily outwit
this rumpled detective who couldn't even get his act together,
much less solve a murder.  But he was only the first to discover
(as the viewers, who knew from the start who the murderer
was and how it was done, did as well) that this disheveled,
cigar-in-the-corner-of-his-mouth, almost naïve cop was
a genius at what he did.

Columbo didn't 'get his man' (or woman) through pyrotechnics,
shoot-outs, wild car chases (not sure his banged-up Pugueot
could get above 50), or sudden revelations.  He didn't have
some sexy sidekick, though his basset hound called 'Dog' was
cute.  He didn't solve the crime with scientific razzle-dazzle.
He simply walked and talked with folks, especially the suspect.
He watched, waited, observed, pondered.  He picked up on
little clues, and watered them with his patience until they
developed into proof.  He acted the fool, asking innocently
(and aggravatingly), 'oh, one more thing,' so often that the
murderer fell into the trap that this guy didn't have an idea
what he was doing, until he solves the case.

Like Columbo, God already knows what we have done.
We can try to come up with well-thought out alibis, finely
tuned excuses, phrased with great psychological insights
or reasoned rationale, and God will simply stand there,
listen to us, scratch his head, and before going on his way,
turn and say, 'oh, one more thing.'  We can clean up
the mess we have made, bag it up and take it a dumpster
in another neighborhood, shove it deep into those other
messes left by so many others, and God will rummage around
in the pockets of his rumpled trench coat, until he finds the
matchbook or piece of paper we didn't notice had fallen on
the ground, and hand it to us, asking, 'does this belong to you?'
We can think that God is so 'old school,' God is so naïve,
God is so out-of-touch with our world and with us that
he doesn't have an idea of the sleight-of-hand tricks we
are pulling behind his back, but then he drives up in his
dinged car, telling Dog to stay in the seat and behave,
while he walks up to us and simply says, 'I forgot to ask
you before . . .'

Simply following us around - persistent, pushy, pesty -
until we discover the truth about ourselves.

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, June 09, 2011

breakfast at faithfulness

At least once a week I would guess, I get some sort
of communication - electronic, mail, phone - which
usually tells me "Pastor!  We have the perfect program
for your church to grow/bring in new folks/attract new
members!  If you act now, we will throw in, at no extra
charge, our refurbished 'Transform Meager Misers Into
Stewardship Saints' DVD series."  Or so it seems.

But I have never gotten an invitation, a flyer, an email,
a phone call regarding that seminar which would show
me "How To Develop a More Faithful Church."

Until yesterday.

Every Wednesday morning, those who are around and
available gather as the 'urban pastors' of our presbytery,
to break our night's fast, to share prayers of joy and concern,
to speak of our struggles, our hopes, our dreams.  Yesterday
morning, we were invited to meet at Third Presbyterian Church.
In the eyes of the world, of the church growth experts, of
(probably) most of the leadership of the presbytery, it is seen
as a small, struggling, impoverished little congregation,
holding onto its past with its fingertips.  After all, it has only
about 18 members, doesn't have a full-time ordained pastor,
doesn't have a big budget, has a facility that most people
would just drive past in their search for the nearest
'successful' church.

But there in the basement fellowship hall of this church,
sitting around tables with mismatched chairs, and eating
a breakfast fixed by hands of love and hope, I found one of
the most faithful congregations I have ever encountered.

Only 18 members, but 19 ministries carried out by this
congregation of ordinary, everyday folk.  Members and
ministries that reach out to draw in the children and youth
of their community with tutoring programs, vacation bible
school (that had so many kids show up last year they had
to transport some of them to one of the bigger churches
nearby), programs to help young men become better
men and fathers, young women to be more caring, more
virtuous, more focused on their futures than their pasts.
Ministries that let children, youth, parents, neighbors,
strangers know that God is present in their neighborhoods,
that Jesus joins them in their prayer walks past the drug
dealers (who sometimes join with the pray-ers), that
the Spirit still swirls through their lives, dancing flames
on tops of their heads.

In that place, with those people, on that morning, I found
what faithfulness looks like, what the tongues of Pentecost
sound like, what grace and hope taste like.

And as I drove away, I wondered, "What if every church had
more ministries than it did members?"

© 2011 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, June 05, 2011

just your typical Sunday

Just your typical Sunday morning.

Very nice prelude by the organist; announcements about the Heifer Project luncheon next week, a piano recital this afternoon including twin sisters from the church, a reminder about wearing red next Sunday for Pentecost; good job done by the lay liturgist with the opening parts of the service; the typical enthusiastic singing by the congregation.

The scripture lessons (we use all four designated by the lectionary) were read, with time for silence and reflection after each one.  The choir shared a superb anthem that connected with the Lord's Supper we would be celebrating later in the service.  The sermon?  Well, maybe a B- today - talking about the 'tools of the trade' we are given as God's people and how we might use them (while wearing a tool belt and using some 'visuals' as examples).  After that, I invited folks to remember all the blessings God had given them and to share from that abundance as we offered our tithes and gifts to God.

That's when it happened.

I glanced to the back and saw that there was only one usher ready to take up the offering.  I figured Bob, being the rather proper person he is (always a coat and tie on Sunday), would simply ask one of the other folks sitting in the back to help, as usually happens.  But he went over to Paul and asked him.  I could tell by Paul's reaction that he thought he was being asked to put something in the plate, and Paul has nothing to put in the plate, as Paul is mentally challenged, usually disheveled, always seeking food and other things when he comes to church; so, Paul simply shook his head 'no.'  Then Bob said something else, and Paul got a quizzical look on his face.  Bob spoke again, and handed Paul the other offering plate, and together they went up the center aisle to begin taking up the offering.

Mr. Dressed-In-His-Sunday-Best and Mr. Wearing-Whatever-He-Put-On-This-Morning living out the gospel before our very eyes, the soft petals of grace gently falling on the carpet behind them as they journeyed together down the main street of the kingdom.  The Spirit must have thrown some grit in our eyes, for many of us were blinking pretty rapidly; God must have turned up the sun because it seemed just a bit brighter in there; and I could swear I heard Jesus whisper, 'finally, finally.'

And then we gathered at that Table where the homeless will offer their brokenness to the owners of McMansions so that all might be healed; where little children will hold their grace-filled sippy cups to the mouths of those with palsied hands; where those who have trouble putting two thoughts together will explain the gospel to professors of philosophy; where the voiceless will have the solo part in the anthem; where the gospel is not just a book on the shelf but Bob, Paul, and the rest of us living our lives.

Just your typical Sunday morning.

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, May 23, 2011

He got it

On our journey with Teddy over the years, we have felt
that we have had to do a lot of 'training,' usually of those
who have letters after their last names or fancy titles before
their first.  From one of the first pediatricians to see Teddy
to psychiatrists in hospitals and psychiatric residential treatment
centers; from teachers who were certain all he exhibited were
tantrums to principals who acted as if a child with disabilities
was the worst thing to have in their school; from lawyers to
judges, from police officers to life squad members, from
claims representatives (obviously) trained to automatically
deny a certain percentage of bills (especially psychiatric) to
denominational insurance executives who always seemed to
manage to come up with one more hoop for us to jump through,
we have spent more months and years trying to convince the
experts that we knew our son better than anyone else might.

So, five years ago, when we set out on our encounter with the
justice system, we assumed that we would once again have to
'break in' a new expert, the psychologist from the developmental
center up in Columbus where Teddy had been placed after he
had been charged with murder.  We assumed that this person
would come in having given Teddy tests that really never showed
anything because they asked Teddy to do things he couldn't do.
We assumed that this person would rely on what the books told
him about persons like Teddy, what the studies had shown, what
the statistics indicated.  We assumed that we would have to deal
with another 'caring professional' who really could care less about
what the parents thought, felt, imagined, feared.

But we were wrong.

Dr. Khan got it.  Simply by spending time with Teddy, talking with
Teddy, getting to know him, caring genuinely for him (and yes, testing
him), he discovered how profoundly damaged Teddy was; more importantly,
he discovered the profound gifts which were Teddy's.  Dr. Khan never
indicated by word, by body language, by dismissive gesture that we
didn't know what we were talking about; rather, he treated us as partners
in seeking the very best for Teddy.  He never questioned the FAS, he
confirmed the MR diagnosis, he recognized the need for Teddy to be
placed in a safe, secure environment, not just for 12-18 months and then
discharging him because 'nothing more could be done for him' but for
his lifetime because everything could be done for him in such a setting.

At that all important hearing which would decide Teddy's fate and future,
Dr. Khan shared the facts, the findings, the statistics he had found.  But
then, as he has done at every successive (mandated by law) hearing
since, he gently and kindly explained to the judge just exactly who
Teddy was, the depth of his brokenness, and the reality that he would
never 'get better,' that there would never be a medication that would
'cure' him, that his disabilities were profound and life-long.  And as we
sat there that first time and in all the hearings since, we wondered to
ourselves, 'where has this guy been?'

In the last five years, Dr. Khan has been a professional to Teddy and
to us, and a sharer of compassion to our entire family.  He has always
been there for Teddy, when Teddy was upset about something that
someone had done or didn't do, as well as when Teddy just needed
to share a joke or a car magazine with someone.  He has been that
calm, caring, trusting harbor for three folks who had ridden over
stormy seas for so many years.

Tomorrow, I will go up to Columbus to celebrate Dr. Khan's
retirement party.  And as I drive up there I will wonder, as I
have for so many days now, how do I thank this good, this
gentle, this compassionate soul for saving three lives?

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

easter eyes

I grew up in a time when seat assignments in school were based on the alphabet, and so I was usually on the last row or next to the last.  The teacher would write our assignments on the board, and when school was over, I would move up to the blackboard and copy everything down.  Noticing this, my first grade teacher suggested to my mother that she have my eyes checked, and when we went to the optometrist, it was discovered that I did indeed need glasses.  And thanks to the generosity of the Lions Club, I got my first pair of glasses.

What a difference!  I could finally see the individual leaves on trees rather than green blurs, I could copy off the work from the blackboard without moving closer, I could actually see stars in the sky, rather than dim lights (of course, I thought how I saw - blurs and all - was how everyone's eyes worked).

It would be easy for me to simply take that childhood experience and compare it to what happened to the folks on the road to Emmaus.  That their eyes were opened, and suddenly they could see Jesus for who he was, not just some shapeless blur, that they could now see clearly, and would do so from that day on.

But the reality of my experience is that I have dealt with a lifelong struggle with very poor eyesight.  While the glasses helped, I had to get them changed almost yearly, because my myopia continued to increase.  I was trying bifocals by the 6th grade, and for years was the one who wore the glasses with lenses that looked like they had come off the bottom of coke bottles.  From year to year, the experts would just shake their heads, and grind thicker lenses.  Contacts were not an option, because of my severe astigmatism, and lasik surgery was too great a risk, because of how my retinas had been stretched.  As I moved from place to place, and acquired new eye doctors along the way, I got used to the "you have eyes I've only read about in textbooks!"

Over the years, due to improvements in contacts, I was able to try them and use them with much success.  Then, several years ago, "blessed" with cataracts, I had the surgery to have them removed and lenses implanted (though I had to see a retinal specialist before the doctor would consider doing the surgery, and then again after, to make sure my retinas 'survived').  For about a year or so, I could see 20/20 for the first time in my life, but now my eyes are declining, and the interesting thing is that apparently I am stuck with them, and the experts can't do things with lenses in glasses to really improve my vision, and I am now a prime candidate for macular degeneration.

To me, my journey with my eyesight is like my journey with Jesus.  Yes, there was that Emmaus Road experience when I saw Jesus for who he was, but once I left the table, and the bread had digested within me, life just became a series of struggles to see him.  I had to keep cleaning my 'lenses' of all the dust and detritus of the world, in order to catch a glimpse of him.  There was only so much the 'experts' could do for me, before leaving me to my struggles.  There were times when someone would hand me a book, or I would hear a sermon, or listen to a lecture, and it was like putting on contacts and being able to really see for awhile, but then . . . When I went on my journey to Gethsemani, Iona, and Taize, it seemed that for the first time I could see Jesus with Easter Eyes, with that clarity of vision, of life, of hope that I had always heard those who were born with 20/20 faith talk about, but always was told, 'sorry, you just will never have the capability to see that clearly.'  Even now, I worry at times about ever being able to see as clearly, as far, as dearly as I could with those eyes.

But though my Easter Eyes aren't what they once were, they are all I have right now, and maybe that's enough.  Maybe that's what those two folks in Emmaus discovered.  Yes, their eyes were opened and they could see clearer than they ever could in their life, they could run and tell everyone, "We have seen the Lord!" ('look, did you know trees had leaves?').  But as the years went by, as they journeyed on, as they walked with the dust and detritus of the world always around them, as they looked for that face in every face they met, for that voice in every person who spoke to them, for that grace and wonder in every moment they encountered - even as their memory faded, as their faith wavered, as their vision of the kingdom grew dim at times, maybe they they realized that though their Easter Eyes weren't what they once were, they were all they had, and they were enough to keep looking.

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman