Friday, December 20, 2013

Third Friday of Advent

Our soul waits for the LORD;
     he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
     because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD,
         be upon us,
   even as we hope in you.(Psalm 33:20-22)

What kept you from falling asleep quickly last night?  What woke you up in the middle of the night, or got you up an hour earlier than usual?


What is it that keeps adding to-dos to your daily list, even though you have run out of paper?


What is it that churns our stomachs, grays our hair, wrinkles our faces, fatigues our bodies?


It is endemic, and an epidemic, to our souls.

According to a little piece in our newspaper, here is
what most of us worry about:
   things that never happen     40%
   things that can't be changed   35%
   things that turn out better than expected  15%
   petty, useless worries      8%
   legitimate worries           2%

that's right      2%!
So, tear up your lists, give your body a break, roll over and go back to sleep.  Give God the 98% of the things that there is no need to worry about and fret over,

and I'll bet the other 2% is taken care of, as well.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, December 06, 2013

First Friday of Advent

Seek good and not evil,
     that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of
         hosts, will be with you,
     just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
     and establish justice in the
(Amos 5:14-15a)

You live in a nation where people with the same color of skin as you are treated as second-class, or worse; are kept in devastating and debilitating poverty; are seen as having no true rights, and deserving of none now or in the future.

How do you react?

You are sent to prison for more than 25 years.  You are cut off from your friends and family.  Guards treat you with inhumanity.  You spend much of your time in harsh, back and spirit breaking work of crushing rocks.  You have no freedom and are seen as deserving none now or in the future.

What sort of person do you become?

You could become bitter, angry, hostile.  You could become vengeful, with that deep thirst for an eye for an eye sort of justice which is rooted in such conditions.  You could be filled with hate and let it overflow from you in every conversation, every situation, every encounter with another person.  You could become the role model for every person who longs to respond with violence, with enmity, with utter disregard for the lives of others because of what your life has become.

Or you could become Nelson Mandela.  You could model grace in the most ungracious of situations.  You could respond with love to those whose hate for you is worn on their faces and heard in their voices every day.  You could desire the freedom of your people, and all who are oppressed by systems which have no true humanity.  You could become a role model for non-violence in responding to those with the power to crush everything, and everyone, in their path.

As one commentator said, we don't need to wait for the judgment of history to know of Nelson Mandela's legacy.  We see it every day in people who are more forgiving, because he was willing to forgive; in people who are more gracious, because grace was what you saw on his face and heard in his voice; in people who work for freedom for those who have none, who are a voice for those with no advocate, who are seekers of good, not evil, because that is how he lived.

What a privilege to have been alive in the time of Nelson Mandela.

© 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, September 23, 2013


Yesterday (Sunday) morning, one of the closing prayers in the Benedictine prayer book I use on a regular basis was:
   You are with us, faithful God, revealing yourself in
   every experience of our lives.  Help us to stand firm
   against all that would take us from you and to rejoice
   in steadfast perseverance, preferring nothing to your
   love.  We ask this inspired by the life of Jesus and
   strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one
   God forever.  Amen.

It's a lovely prayer.  Since I have been using this book for a number of years, I imagine I have prayed these words dozens and dozens of times.  It is a prayer which reminds me that God is indeed in every moment, every person of our lives, and longs for us to hold fast to that love of God's which the psalmists repeatedly call 'steadfast.'

But it was not until I was driving down to the church an hour or so later, that it hit me - I had not prayed the words as written on the page!  Instead of "inspired by the life of Jesus" what I had whispered in my mind was impaired by the life of Jesus.  As I mentally kicked myself, or at least as best as I could while steering a car, I put down the misuse of the phrase as a simple case of the tireds.

But I've been wondering . . . am I impaired by Jesus?

If I go through the day WUI (Walking Under the Influence of Jesus), I tend to look at the world with different eyes.  I see the mist over the schoolyard as Maya and I walk by, and I think of how the Holy Spirit hovers over our lives.  I hear the news of another mass shooting somewhere in the world, and breathe a prayer of thanks for all those helpers who show up to bring healing, hope, rescue.  I watch the mother whose bone-weariness from a 14-hour-day is dropped to the ground as she scoops up her toddler who runs into her arms, both laughing in pure delight.

If I go on a bender, drinking in all those parables of Jesus about prodigals who wonder if they will find the door slammed in their face if they dare to return home; about those dreaded outsiders who model God's compassion better than the insiders do; about a kingdom which is filled with the rejects, the losers, the broken, the forsaken, rather than the pious and the platitude speakers, I discover myself noticing people I have overlooked before, wondering what I might be able to learn from them.

If I binge myself on all the passages about the grace and mercy of God, I move through the day just a little bit more gracious; if I stuff myself with all the examples where goodness is exalted over evil, kindness over rudeness, love over hate, I want to holler to those around me, 'come and try some of this!'  If I can't make it one more moment without another story of Jesus' radically inclusive nature, I am less likely to hide in the shadows hoping that person ringing the doorbell of the church will just go away.

Impaired by Jesus?

I can only hope.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, August 29, 2013

this morning

I thought of Mr. Grasso this morning.  My fifth-grade teacher, he had a simple rule.  If one could finish their classroom work, you could raise your hand and ask permission to go to the library.  This wasn't a rule for me, it was a gateway!  Zipping through math, filling out the blanks on the social studies sheet, answering the science questions, I would raise my hand, ready to enter that marvelous realm filled with books.  I got done so quickly, and waved my hand so often, that finally Mr. Grasso took me aside and said, 'Look, when you are done with your work, simply get up quietly and go to the library.'

I thought of Mrs. Bledsoe this morning.  In tenth grade English, she challenged me to expand my vocabulary, to step up and read authors who challenged me, to not just read the words on a page, but to think about them, to wonder about them, to reflect on why a particular phrase was chosen over another, why one word was used instead of its synonym, why the author created that particular character.  She guided me to a deeper appreciation of words, of their power, and of their influence.

I thought of Ms. Mozingo and Mr. Leverette this morning.  My social studies teachers in high school, they encouraged me to see that history was more than just dusty accounts of a past that had no part of my life.  They helped me to begin to understand that what happened hundreds of years ago still affected the world today, that what was spoken at a cemetery dedication during a war contained timeless words, that people who had gone before me had passed on their hopes and their dreams, that they might be fulfilled in my generation.

I thought of all these folks, and many more, this morning.

I was out on my morning walk, and just before 7:00 a.m., the car passed me, as it usually does this time of year.  A teacher heading to the primary school just a couple of blocks from our house.  She was arriving more than two hours before any student would walk through the doors.  She got there that early each day so she would be ready - to challenge, to encourage, to prod, to teach.  She would work with kids with different abilities and skills, with different dreams and hopes.  And when the kids left for the day, she would still be there.  As she straightens up the room and works the kinks out of her back, she will think of her kids - the ones who struggle and the ones who are ready to go further; the ones who go to a home where they will get all sorts of help with homework, and the ones who will struggle alone at the kitchen table; the ones who will cry themselves to sleep this night, and the ones who will be taught to be bullies like their parent.  And she will be back tomorrow, to fulfill her calling to teach, to care, to model, to help, to hope.

I thought of teachers this morning, and as I thought, I gave thanks to God for each and every one of them.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I stopped in the preschool classroom yesterday to say good-bye to the half dozen or so kids who would be leaving our program to begin kindergarten this year.  I have been reading to them for the last couple of years, every Thursday morning when there was no conflict (and I always tried to make sure there wasn't!), and have enjoyed their questions, their eagerness, their energy, their delight in the stories.  As they gathered around me to give me a hug, they chattered excitedly about starting kindergarten, but if you looked closely, there was that look in their eyes that said, 'please, tell me it is going to be okay.'

We all have experienced that sort of feeling, haven't we?  The first time we let go of our parent's hand to get on the school bus; moving into our office at the new job, and after putting everything in the desk drawer and on the shelves, looking around and wondering, 'okay, now what?'  That first date; that march down the aisle; hugging everyone at graduation, wondering if we really would stay in touch over the years; standing by the graveside saying good bye to that person who had been our rock, our best friend in the whole world.

I remember leaving for college.  Packing everything in the footlocker, getting my ticket, climbing on the bus for the trip down to the school.  I couldn't wait to get out of my hometown, to begin this new adventure, to finally be out on my own.  But as the miles rolled by under my seat on the bus, as we drew closer and closer, the acid begin to churn in my stomach, my head began to ache, the doubts tightened the muscles in my shoulders, the jitters began their little dance in my soul.

So as I think about my little friends heading off to kindergarten, as I think of the high schoolers whose first classes at the university start this week, for those who might be starting a new position or moving into retirement, for the person going out on a first date this weekend, for everyone who is dealing with uncertainty, with questions, with jitters in their life, I hope they discover the same truth I have over all these years, the truth the psalmist for today affirms that God will be our guide, our companion, forever!

(c) 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Monday, June 24, 2013

God bless you, Dusty!

Dusty the Church Dog never met a bad day.  If it
was snowing, that meant going down to the
nearby elementary school and racing around the
fields; it meant making doggy snow angels in
the front yard, and catching snowballs no matter
how hard they were thrown.  If it was raining,
it meant splashing through puddles, and rolling
in the front yard until he was soaked to the skin.
If it was a crisp fall day, it meant walking down
around the lake (and the campground with the
great smells) looking for the Biscuit Lady, who
always had treats for him.  If it was a clear spring
day, there was nothing better than sitting on
the lawn smelling the leaves uncurling, the
dandelions poking their heads up out of the
sky, the birds building their nests in the trees.

Dusty the Church Dog never met a person
he didn't immediately like and turn into his
new BFF.  From the curmudgeonly neighbor
who always had a frown on his face and a
complaint on his lips to the little kid trying
out his bicycle with training wheels, Dusty
just had to meet them, had to greet them,
had to turn their day into the tail-waggingest
one they had ever had.  He enjoyed meeting
other dogs, especially the little guys in the
neighborhood, and managed to give a wide
berth to any cats he met.  Squirrels always
found a tree to run up, rabbits always seemed
to bounce further when they saw him, and
deer utterly confused him.

Dusty the Church Dog touched lives in ways
in which I can only dream of doing.  He would
turn those big brown eyes towards the face of
the woman sitting in the hallway at the nursing
home, and her face would beam with delight.
He read books by the dozens to kids on Thursday
mornings and taught them how much fun it was
to catch a carrot in midair and crunch it to pieces.
He showed incredible patience in waiting for his
turn at the ice cream place (but don't try to jump
the line in front of him!), and he gave unconditional
love and acceptance to everyone he met, even if
simply passing on the street.

Dusty the Church Dog was my confidant, my trusted
companion, my faithful sidekick, my window into
the the grace, the love, the wonder, the power, the
joy of God which is always around us.  He was the
one who got me out of bed to listen to the geese
flying south.  He was the one who taught me that
there is always something to experience, someone
to meet, some marvelous delight just waiting around
the next corner.  He was the one who couldn't wait
to experience the next moment which was coming
into his life.  He was the one who got me through
some of the toughest days of ministry, of our
struggles with Teddy, of life itself.

Sadly, Dusty the Church Dog finally met something
that didn't love him, that wouldn't give in to his
silly smile and gentle nature, that wouldn't let him
keep going through this life.  A tumor on his spleen
that was causing internal bleeding meant that those
who loved him so much and would miss him beyond
any possible words could describe, had to help him
cross that Rainbow Bridge into peace, gentleness,
and everlasting joy.  So, about an hour ago, we held
him, hugged him, whispered our thanks to him as
he closed his eyes once last time this side of life.

And you will never, ever convince me that the wet
streets and sidewalks we discovered when we
came out of the vet's office were simply from a
passing rain shower.

© 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Flip Side

Like the psalmist, I pant . . .
   for more intimate time with God,
   for fewer distractions,
   for a life that is more settled and focused.

I think that is why, when I had the chance years ago, to begin my renewal time with a month at the Abbey of Gethsemane; why I try to return there at least once a year; why I try to carve out more silence for myself (but often fail in the attempt!).  That's probably why I try to intentionally build silence into any worship service.

Yet I am starting to recognize that in promoting such silence, in holding up the reading from First Kings 19 as 'The Template' for such a desire and longing in one's life, that I am saying to people that the only way to hear God, the only place to find God, is in the silence. 

It was true for Elijah in that moment, place, and time in his life.  It is true for me in moments at the Abbey and on quiet walks.  But it is not true for every moment, every place, every time, every person. 

Sometimes I need the tempests of God, which rattle the windows of my soul and wake me up in the muddle of the night.  Sometimes I need God to grab my heart and shake me until all the 'stuff' I have accumulated over the years falls off the shelves and breaks.  Sometimes I need the heat of God's passion for the poor, the lost, the oppressed to sear my jaded conscience and get me working for justice and righteousness.

When I was a teenager, and listening to the radio, the disc jockey would sometimes play a record.  I might like the song, it might speak to me, it might bore me to tears.  But then came those magical words, 'and now, on the flip side . . .'

Sometimes God speaks in the wind, the earthquake, the fire.  And then there is silence - that marvelous, gorgeous, longed-for gift - which I couldn't understand if I didn't listen to the flip side as well.
(c) 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thank God for teachers!

From kindergarten through graduate school, they are the ones who shaped me, challenged me, transformed me, gifted me.


They are underpaid, unvalued, unappreciated. They have become one of the political 'footballs' for all those who are looking for a scapegoat on which to pin all the ills of society.  They are mocked for having a job which gives them a 3-month 'vacation.'  They are demeaned and derided every time a vote comes up on a school levy.

Yet, a teacher is the one who will reach into his own nearly empty wallet and pay the school fees for several of his students, so they can participate in all the activities.  A teacher is the one who will stay after school has ended because the parent of one of her kids is running late, but forgotten to call and tell the school.  A teacher is the one who will befriend the loneliest kid in the school, making sure that they know they are valued by someone.  A teacher is the one who will challenge all us 'high potential, low achievers' to discover our gifts.

Teachers are the ones who go about the vocation of educating our children, with one hand tied behind their backs by all the experts who have never stepped foot into a classroom, by all the politicians who wouldn't last one day in a room full of 6-year-olds.  They are mandated to train kids to pass test after test, when all they want to do is introduce kids to the power of words, the intricacies of numbers, the incredible wonders of the universe, the complexity of the world in which we live.

Teachers are the ones who, while on this 'extended vacation' can be found most days in their school building, preparing for the coming year, learning about the children who will be a part of their lives in the coming school year, who will be sending notes to their students encouraging them to read, to explore, to expand their minds during the summer months.  Teachers are the ones who will haunt the yard sales, the dollar stores, the flea markets looking for those supplies that the school cannot afford to supply.

And when a 200+ mile-an-hour tower of terror comes hurling at the school, it is teachers who will set aside their own fears (and worries about their own families) to calm their students and lead them to where they are supposed to shelter.  It is a teacher who, with life growing inside of her, will way her body across her wards to protect them.  When a mentally ill person with a gun comes to a school, it is teachers who will respond before the first responders ever get a call, shepherding the little ones they love so much into closets and whispering to them 'I love you'; it is a teacher who will step between the gunman and the children. 

Believers or not, they are the ones who, day in and day out, year after year, live out Christ's calling to love others so much that we would lay aside our lives for others.

So, as the school year comes to an end, let me simply say - to the teachers, aides, subsitutes, and volunteers; to those who drive the buses, fix the meals, maintain buildings; to the secretaries, the OTs/PTs, the nurses, the psychologists and counselors; to all who impact lives of children and young people in ways you will never know (but we will, always!):


(c) 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, May 06, 2013

Imago Dei

I sat down on the front pew to listen to the postlude played by our guest musician, a concert pianist.  As the music began to flow, I was close enough to observe the delicacy of his fingers on the softer notes, and the arching hands that gave force to the stronger.  The piece echoed in the sanctuary as he continued to play, without any music in front of him, simply from memory.

How does it happen?

How is it that one person hears notes in their head, where I only hear noise, and puts them down on sheets of paper, shaping them into a piece that endures through the centuries?  How does one memorize the complexity of the notes, and then send them down to her fingertips, playing them in such a way that still echoes in hearts hours and days later?  I could pick out the notes on a piano, but could never put them together so that people's lives are changed.

How is it that I can look at a field and see trees, grass, a couple of horses, a sky with clouds gathering darkly, and a Constable sees 'The Hay Wain'?  How is it that I can put words together in a rambling sentence, and a poet can take those same words and produce something that calls you to sit in silence?

How is it that I can look at a scene and quickly dismiss it as every day ordinary, and a photographer snaps a picture and through her eyes that same image resonates with thousands of people?  How is it that I can see an injustice and write a letter to the editor, and a Lincoln can pen his 'House Divided' speech?

More and more, it is in the notes in the musician's head and hands, it is the internal eyes of the painter and photographer, it is in the  dexterity of the wordsmith that I find confirmation that we are indeed created in the image of God, the Master Artisan.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Lord is

The Lord is a first responder
   who runs towards the blast
   not away from it;

the Lord is a trauma nurse
   who is in her car in the parking lot
   ready to go home after her shift,
   but goes back in when she sees
   the ambulances arrive;

the Lord is employees
   who turn their restaurant
   into a shelter for the injured
   and frightened;

the Lord is a mother
   who makes sure her home
   is secure and then checks
   on her neighbors;

the Lord is a father
   who comforts his children
   while his own fears
   assail him . . .

in the darkest of valleys,
the Lord is
always with us.

 (c) 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, April 01, 2013

Play ball!!!

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

Saturday, March 30, 2013


morning came:
i put the leash on Sadness
and took him for a walk in the rain;
i put the kettle on and
and watched my hopes steam away;
i stirred my life
and gorged on its bitterness.

morning will come:
the job will shove me
out of bed;
the dirty laundry will trip me
on my way to the shower;
tv's talking heads
will remind me how terrible life is.

but this morning?
this morning
daffodils spread their petals
the one who comes weeping for her

this morning
angels laugh
as death is kicked
of the tomb;

this morning
does cartwheels through the
through the puddles of our tears
into our

Alleluia! Amen!

© Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Blessed is the one who comes in the name
          of the LORD.
    We bless you from the house of
          the LORD
. Psalm 118:26

Who was it this past week: the person who slammed the door in your face, or the class mate who ignored you when you said 'hi' in the hallway?  The co-worker who grabbed the credit for your work, the friend who forgot your birthday? The neighbor who turned and walked the other way when you stepped out on your porch, the stranger who gave you the finger after cutting you off in traffic? Who was it that made life more miserable than it already was?

God throws wide the doors of the kingdom, inviting us in, sitting us down at the table, pouring us a cup of tea, and asking, 'What's going on in you life?' Then God sits there, gently nodding, listening, embracing our days.

After some silence, God tenderly begins to probe, to help us see those others in our lives, the people we perhaps didn't notice.

Who was it that blessed you over the last few days: the stranger who gave you a smile, the little kid who came up and hugged you to pieces? Who told you how special you are without uttering a single word, who made you laugh when the tears were about to spill over? Who wrapped you in that shawl of compassion when heartache chilled your soul, who was at your side when you walked down Lonely Drive?

And then God asks, "Whose name/face will you put in the blank,
  'Blessed is __________________ who came in the name of the Lord?'"

(c) 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, March 23, 2013


When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep.
 John 11:32-35
- - - -

if only
were here, Lord:

you could mentor
schoolyard bullies
to treat others
respect and civility;

would find you
listed on their daily
appointment sheet,
until they changed
their practices;

the poor
would see you
advocating for them from
your seat on
the city council;

you would visit
the homeless sleeping
under bridges and on sidewalk
taking them by the hand
to lead them to
shelters open
all hours, and soup
serving three meals
a day;

if only . . .

. . . and you begin
to weep
'i am here,
in you.'

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, March 22, 2013


24 hours of roller coasting through life, from the wonder of a gentle dog who ran with tail wagging to help read to little kids (and shower them with unconditional love) to a clearly aging dog with health problems that might mean his never getting to read, or run, or wag, or walk, or chase squirrels again; from the joy of a dog who loves to sit in his yard and ponder the great mysteries of squirreldom, to a dog lying so still, taking shallow breaths, a glazed and disoriented look in his eyes; from the tears of trying to say good-bye to a friend whose faithfulness and steadfast love mirror that of the One who created him to tears of joy and heart depth laughter over more hours and days ahead together.

What precious gifts were the e-notes, the texts, the calls, the prayers, the encouragement, the support, the love from all over the world for a "dumb animal" and those who are foolish enough to bond with him, letting him minister to them with grace and gentleness.  Gifts from people who only know him from pictures and from scraps of writing, but who know about such things as fear, loss, heartbreak, and tears.

Isn't this what community, about faith, about being people of faith is all about - this sharing, this bonding, this care? Some of the best things people of faith do is to reach out to those who are suffering; to pray for those in the valleys of doubt and who are seeking to climb the mountains of transformation; to be voices for those who no one else wants to listen to; to be advocates for all who are rejected by the world; to care about folks they will never meet this side of the kingdom as if they were their closest kin; to simply be there for others when those others just have trouble with all that life throws at them.

I feel sorry for people who do not have such a community, and even sorrier that we haven't done a better job of letting people know where they can find such folks.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, March 21, 2013


So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Romans 11:5

those who cannot
see past the end
of broken promises
will find themselves bumping
into your

those who stumble along,
twisting their ankles in
despair's potholes,
will discover you
on your knees,
a trowel in your hand
smoothing out the cement
into the cracks in their

those who carry one
kid on their
hip, with another
about to burst out,
will be invited
to your play

those who populate
the walls
at proms, and the
young men with two
left feet
will win the ballroom

those who can't carry
a tune
(and haven't for the last
60 years or so)
will record a CD
with Susan Boyle;

those who always
see their glass half
and about to be
knocked over,
will do a cannonball
into your pools of
pure grace.

(c) Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Romans 10:14-15
- - - - -

words of judgment
and recrimination,
those of acceptance
and grace:
what do people
hear from

quotations from a
dozen experts
(each with a different opinion),
or songs from the deep
wells within us:
how do others
learn from

sprinters trying to reach
the finish first,
or long-distance
who do those
around us

if we don't act as if we
really believe,
if we can't speak as if we
do know,
if we can't walk as if we
have the map in hand,


© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

please and thank you

I grew up in a time when manners were considered to be important. Through parents, teachers, and others, you learned to say 'please' and 'thank you,' you learned not to interrupt another person when they were speaking, you learned to respect the opinions of others, you learned to be courteous towards everyone.

But not anymore. On television, members of so-called panels spend the time talking over each other, never letting someone finish their thought, much less their sentences. On the radio, a caller's opinion is treated with derision, laughter, and outright profanity. People shove their way through crowds to get a better position, one rarely hears the word 'please' any more, and 'have a good one' has replaced the 'thank you' that clerks used to say to customers.

Maybe it is time to practice the spiritual discipline of courtesy once again.

Yes, a spiritual discipline. Think about how courteous God is towards us.  God speaks to us in beauty, truth, and grace, sometimes using words, as St. Francis used to say. God treats all of us with respect, letting us know that we are valued and honored. God continues to accept us, despite our best efforts to reject God. God's love is unconditional, steadfast, eternal.

What would our world, our communities, our families be like if we followed God's example of the courteous life. Imagine how people might feel if they heard words of beauty, truth, and grace coming from our lips. What might it mean to someone with whom we fundamentally disagree, if they saw respect on our faces, and heard it in our voices? What lives might be changed if the other felt valued and honored by us, what young person who feels rejected by everyone around her might discover that she is accepted by us? And who among us can't use more unconditional love, much less offer it to others?

Julian of Norwich used to speak of "our courteous Lord," a reminder of the One who walked among us, bringing hope, treating others with respect, speaking words of hope and grace to those he encountered.

Maybe today, we can be just a little more courteous.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, March 18, 2013


I lift up my eyes to the
          hills -
from where will my help
My help comes from the
who made heaven and
Psalm 121:1-2
- - - -

keeping my eyes
for the next
big thing,
i may overlook
the Grace sisters
joining hands in a
circle around me,
singing a song of your joy;

letting my gaze
slide over
Lady Lust
as she sashays
just in front of me,
i brush aside
the shaded glasses
you offer me
to protect me from
the allure;

standing on my tiptoes,
rubbernecking until i can
get a glimpse
of all the pandering
down the street,
i may not feel
your hand grabbing
my arm, right before
i step into
the Pit.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman


For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  Ist Corinthians 9:19
- - -

at liberty
         to do whatever I please,
   will i continue to wander
                down those endless
           that dead end at Sin Street,
      or might i turn
                down that less wandered
                      pointing to those
                      left behind?

         to hang out with anyone
                                    i choose,
      will i want to go through
                     the initiation
                  to join that gang
                  which hoards
                         for themselves,
   or will i join the folks
        demanding justice for all,
        an end to poverty,
           mothballing of all of war's weapons?

         to go anywhere i want,
                   whenever i want,
   will i purchase a home
                           on some exotic
      or move into poverty row,
          to be with those
          who are longing for
                    a few of God's
       friends to finally show up?

(c) Thom M. Shuman


Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."   John 6:66-69
- - - -

we could head
         down to Money Street,
            all the others in that
            chase to gain
      more and more, only
         to have it slip
         through our lives like

we could follow
           the latest supercelebelete
   on every social media
                  at our disposal,
      only to discover
      that they are so focused
            on themselves, they
            would never be able
         to pick us out of a

we could attend every
               of our party,
   waving our signs,
       bumpersticking our cars,
           throwing our moeny
           into their pockets,
   and watch the plastic-smiled
       rush to their private jets
                  for a golf match;


we could go to


(c) 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Friday, March 15, 2013


What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
    "For your sake we are being
         killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep
         to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39
- - - - -

    not the death
       i fear,
    or the one
       i long for;

[nothing can]
    not the life
       i sleepwalk through,
    or the one
       i fantasize about;

[nothing can separate]
    not the hubris
    that carries me
       to the top of Mt. Arrogance,
    or the skeptics
    who push me
       into the Sea of Doubt;

[nothing can separate me]
    not the foolish choices
    that tripped me up
    nor the terrors
    i imagine
                lurking in tomorrow;

nothing can keep us apart,
                        not a thing

                 not even

me . . .

(c) Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Spiritus Sanctus

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.   Romans 8:14

The Catholics may be the one church which has a more complicated process for calling a new pastor than we Presbyterians! Yet, it is obvious that the election of Pope Francis I has brought joy, wonder, and excitement to so many of that faith. I join them in praying for the new Pope, especially that he might be guided by the life and witness of Francis of Assisi.

A Presbyterian for the long haul, I admit that there I am not likely to convert to Catholicism. Yet, it is part of my Christian heritage and tradition and I am especially attracted to the monastic movement. But in watching that historic event yesterday afternoon (my time), I was struck again by the power of making the sign of the cross and speaking the Trinitarian formula.

When they do so, they are constantly being reminded of the God who created us and all that is around us, the God who has entrusted that created order to our care, the God who must wonder (on most days) what in the world we are doing with the world.

They are reminded, every time they make the sign of the cross, of Jesus.  Not just the Jesus who is our best friend, the one who walks with us, the one we would must like to meet down at the pub. But the Jesus who is radical enough to believe that we can offer more compassion to the poor than we are, the one who dares us to see God in the most vulnerable around us, the one who challenges us to stop making Christianity the status quo and make it the upsetter-of-apple carts.

And they are continually whispering to themselves that the Holy Spirit is a part of everything. Not content to sit back and rest on her laurels of moving upon the face of the waters at Creation, she continues to move in our midst.  A dove, the Spirit pushes and pulls us towards the role of peacemakers; a flame, the Spirit keeps trying to light a fire under us and get us moving out of our comfort zones; a mighty wind, the Spirit would knock us off our self-imposed pedestals of grandeur and send us face first into the muck and mire of the world where we will work alongside Jesus in service to others; a whisper, the Spirit would sing us songs about the fresh, new ways of being God's people, so we can go out and sing them to others.

May we be reminded of the presence, the power, the peace of the Spirit in our midst this day.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

kata sarx

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Romans 5:5
- - - -

a doughnut here,
                   a doughnut there,
       what the heck?
             my hunger says
             that it is

a thought here,
                      a thought there,
       what does it matter,
       how does it hurt me?
             my mind savors

a lust here,
                  a lust there,
       does anyone really notice?
              i only have eyes
                      for such

a wayward word here,
                     a beguiling word there,
       do they really hurt anyone?
                   my mouth
                      such morsels;

accordingly i

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


But if you listen to me, says the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but keep the sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited forever. Jeremiah 17:24-25

may this day
       be less running
          with errands, and
    walking with you;

may this day
       offer less talking
          more silence;

may this day
       be less about
    and more about
             giving (away);

may this day
       contain less
    and more
    to you;

may this day
       be less focused
                     on me, and
          more on the ones i
                     love (especially

may this day
       be less about
                      doing, and
            more about

may this day

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, March 11, 2013

nocturnal lachrymation

I am weary with my
    every night I flood my bed
         with tears;
    I drench by couch with
         my weeping.
My eyes waste away because
         of grief.
     Psalm 6:6-7a
- - - - -

pulling off the soaked
          sheets, i put them
          in the basket, walking
             down and loading them
             into the washer, carrying
   up a fresh, dry set to put
   on the bed,
                     ready to catch
                     my tears

for those who hunger,
   and for those who believe
                     their pantries do not
                     hold enough to feed
       five thousand;

for those whose grief
                   seems to stretch out
     and those who too
                      to display emotion;

for those whose homes
          are filled with cold
       and those whose
                           hearts yearn
            for a roof over the heads
                      of their families;

for those who believe
                      might is always
    and those who see God
         in everyone labeled

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, March 10, 2013


You are a hiding place for
    you preserve me from
    you surround me with glad
          cries of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach
          you the way you
          should go;
   I will counsel you with my
          eye upon you
. Psalm 32:7-8

it's all about

God offers new life
to each, but
we prefer to imagine

God would lead us
to green pastures
and still waters, but
we find our journey
with bitterness
and death
to be the better way;

God prepares a table
which groans with goodness
and mercy, but
we gorge ourselves on
the empty calories from
the husks of sin;

it's all about
and grace
is all around us,


© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, March 09, 2013


Be strong, and let your heart
          take courage,
    all you who wait for the
Psalm 31:24
- - - - -

this day,
           O Lord,
give me courage:

to open my mouth
           on behalf of the
       and turn a deaf ear
               to those who offer
           words of fear and ridicule;

to share a meal
              with the lost and the
                          least, and
        not hunger for a place
        at the head table;

to open up my abundance
      and stop imagining
            it all belongs to

to honor all those
          the world shames,
     and wrap them in
                 respect's soft shawl;

to trust in you, not
       in my baser

give me courage,
    this day and
                      every day.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, March 08, 2013

saying kaddish

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly
be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self
was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we
might no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:5-6
- - - -

lying in bed at night,
                for the examen of my
                                       i fall asleep
                dreaming of that
                newness which is
                           mine, through

                                                      each morning,
          i reach into the closet
                pulling out my old life,
                                     it for
                            (just, i whisper)
                   one more day,
    leaving your grace,
          pristine and neat,
          on the plastic encased hanger;

       drive me to the
               where i can say my goodbyes
               the ashes of my worst self,
               the dust of my aged desires,
                    turn to embrace you,
the bright Son
of resurrection.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, March 07, 2013


The LORD is my light and my
      whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold
             of my life;
      of whom shall I be afraid?

                    Psalm 27:1
- - - -

each morning,
as i walk out the door,
i double-check to see
if any of the
little Panics
from down the street
are hiding in the bushes,
ready to jump out shouting BOO!
while you patiently sit in the car,
the motor idling gently,
waiting to ride shotgun down
to the office;

after going through the house
shutting tight the windows,
dead-bolting the doors,
the qualms start scratching
at the windows, and there is
the soft tap-tapping at the door
as if an old friend
wants to be let in,
so you nudge me upstairs, saying,
"I'll see who it is."

turning out the lights and climbing
into bed,
i feel the cold sweats down
by my feet,
the bete noires whispering under
the bed, 'he won't sleep tonight,'
Clan Phobia setting up the
table for an all-night poker game
with my hopes as chips,
then you come in, turning on the
handing me a glass of warm milk,
and settling into the rocker,
you read me the Story
until i fall asleep

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

fill in the blank

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

grace is

    the treasure
          we cannot put on our card

    the healing
          no doctor can prescribe

    the family
          we cannot offend
             or drive away

    the home
          we long for

    the love
          find so hard to accept

    the hope
          which waits for us
             to pick it up

    the ___________
           (you finish this devotion)

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


They set a net for my steps;
    my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
    but they have fallen into it
. Psalm 57:6

working throughout
                   the night,
       death wove the vines
       of sin into a fine mesh,
             laying it on the ground
                so i might be ensnared
          while walking early in the morning,
    but as he sprinkled the leaves
                to cover it, you tossed
         a branch, triggering the trap,
    laughing as it gathered him up
            and left him hanging from the

taking turns digging,
       the Temptations sang a dirge,
                as they prepared sheol for me,
           deep, wide, slippery,
                       impossible to escape
                once in, but
        as they stood at the edge
            admiring their cleverness,
    you shoved them in,
        taking me by the hand,
             we skip into the

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, March 04, 2013


At the northern end of Chile lies the Atacama Desert. Those who study such things believe it to be the driest desert in the world. Though it borders the Pacific Ocean, it averages less than .004 inches of precipitation a year, and sees no rainfall in some years. Yet, it is exactly those conditions that makes it one of the best places on earth to observe the night sky. Those hot desert days create amazingly clear skies, there is rarely cloud cover or light pollution, and it is at a high elevation. That's why it 'houses' some of the largest astronomical observatories in the world.

It reminds me of what folks call 'thin places' - those spots where the gap between heaven and earth seems but a couple of feet, where the veil between God and us is as thin as phyllo dough. A dozen years ago, I was able to visit some thin places: Gethsemani, Taize, Iona, Lindisfarne, the Northumbria Community, all of which offer tremendous hospitality to pilgrims from all over the world. Places where I recharged my spiritual batteries, and felt closer to God than I had ever experienced, before or since.

While I get back to Gethsemani on a regular basis, I have always hoped to get back to some of the other thin places, especially Iona, before now. God willing (and if I win the lottery or sell a million books!), that might happen this year.  But in the meantime, I am trying to open my soul to those thin places which might just be around me.

Sometimes when I am standing in the woods with Dusty and the wind is gently blowing around us, I feel like if we took just a few more steps, we would cross that boundary.

Sometimes, when I sit on the deck with only the night sky as my companion and the stars softly singing their songs, I am at worship.

Sometimes, as I sit on that child-size chair reading books to the preschoolers with Dusty, I think I could reach through that veil and touch God's face.

Sometimes . . .

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, March 03, 2013


O God, you are my God, I seek you,
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where
       there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better
       than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    I will lift up my hands and call on
       your name.
My soul is satisfied as with
    a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with
    joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the
       watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I
       sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
(Palm 63:1-8)

Imagine your throat so dry it aches with tightness; your tongue searches for moisture in your mouth, but it only finds dust; you turn on the faucet - but only ashes come out; all the water bottles are empty, bone dry.

Now, be honest, would you go to the sanctuary of the church looking for relief? Why not? Or would you go into that seemingly empty place; why?

What does your soul look like? Does it resemble Casper the Friendly Ghost, or a mist over the lake, or a shadow on the wall?  What if it was like plastic wrap, able to cling so tightly to God, that you were never parted from God? Can you imagine that, right now?

Tonight as you lay down to sleep, the light turned out, the covers warming you, the pillow cradling your head - what will you think about? The potholes of life you bumped over today? The fears that lurk in the dawn's light? Why not meditate on God with the following prayer:

I will lie down this night with God,
    and God will lie down with me;
I will lie down this night with Christ,
    and Christ will lie down with me;
I will lie down this night with the Spirit,
    and the Spirit will lie down with me.
God, Christ, and the Spirit be lying down with me this night.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, March 02, 2013

back to school

Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
    on a level path
. Psalm 143:10
- - - -

though never really
at math, i still use
the basics: figuring out mpg,
balancing the checkbook,
making sure the cashier is

though it did not end
up being my major, i enjoy
non-fiction books
about historical

and while a yellow legal pad
and a pen
are my preferred tools,
i have learned (mostly
the ins and outs
of processing words;

why am i so
to be a life-long learner
your will as well as your
everything else you
long to teach

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, March 01, 2013

morning walk

Dusty and I just got back from our morning walk and I am reminded, once again, of how those moments are a spiritual discipline. Oh, I have never seen this as a chapter in a book on disciplines, or heard it in a talk or sermon, or shown as part of a power point presentation, but it is for me and it may be the one that I practice most often.

Part of my appreciation for this discipline is the fact that it gets me up and moving - out of the house or office, away from the TV or computer, off my duff and onto my feet. Another reason is because it is that time when I can have a conversation with God, while journeying through this marvelous gift we call creation. But mainly, it is because of what I learn while walking Dusty.

I know as I go through the day, that my encounters with others can often be viewed as interruptions; that I can greet people with a grumpy face; that I can begin to fidget after about 20 seconds as if I have something far more important to do or be.  But not Dusty. He greets people with unconditional acceptance, and his wagging tail is that signal that he is more than delighted to be in the company of another.  He patiently receives whatever gift they have to offer, and gives his love without reservation. He will spend as long with the other as they need, and never look around as if they are detaining him from an appointment.

With Dusty, I am reminded of how important it is for me to stay tethered to Jesus as I walk through life. Oh I can, and usually do, convince myself that my route is better, that he must certainly be wrong in wanting to go in that direction, that the smells and temptations and longings are just across the street, if we could only go there! But with a gentle tug, I can be led to those green pastures. I know that on my own, I can get into more trouble than even I dare imagine, but if I listen to that Voice, gently and lovingly calling me back, I can find those still waters my stressed out life needs.

And when, at the end of our walk, and I am set free, I hope I can run eagerly, joyfully, and expectantly


© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Write this down for the next generation
    so people not yet born will praise God:
"God looked out from his high holy place;
    from heaven he surveyed the earth.
He listened to the groans of the doomed,
    he opened the doors of their death cells."
(Psalm 102:18-20, The Message)

          you listen -
    to me?

evidence seems to indicate
          why else are my prayers
               echoes of yesterday's,
    why else are items on my
            shopping list
            never crossed off,
       why else does the pain of
                  my life continue
            to have such a grip
                      on me that i
         am limp throughout
                       the day?

perhaps . . . perhaps . . . perhaps
    prefer to listen to the
            deep cries of my
       the wee sounds of my heart
            as the cracks spread
                   slowly across its
                 frozen surface,
     the whispers of the Spirit
           searching for a home -
                        all those voices
                              i have no time
                 (or desire) to listen to;

like those voices of
             the broken,
       the oppressed,
                    the lost,
            the lonely,
    the sisters and brothers
                 who long for
           someone to listen

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

road work

Good and upright is the
therefore he instructs
sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what
is right,
and teaches the humble his
All the paths of the LORD are
steadfast love and
for those who keep his
covenant and his
(Psalm 25:8-10)

on this journey called life,
i find myself full
of potholes,
you come along, filling
them in,
the Holy Spirit, perched
high up on the roller,
smoothing out the mixture
of faithfulness and love;

sit on the side of the
truck, carefully guiding
the brush, painting
the lines down the road with
your reflective grace,
so that, on the foul weather days
i will no longer drive off
the edge;

are lifted up high
in the cherry-picker,
checking every pole
along the way, changing
the Light so
i can always
find my way home,
through the shadows,
to you.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


It is a gloomy, rainy (wind-blown into our faces, they predict), chilly, icky, yucky morning. Even Dusty the Church Dog thinks it would be better to get back into bed, pull the covers over our heads, and go back to sleep.

But we can't.

Surely and Goodness, the sisters from across the street, called a few minutes ago, wondering if we were up for a game of follow-the-leader. 'It's the perfect day for it,' they giggled into the phone.

Light and Truth are off school today because of parent-teacher conferences, and they are ready to come over with their shovels and help dig through the six-foot drifts of sin in the neighborhood, and continue to be our guides to the kingdom.

Wonder and Hope, the irrepressible twins who just moved in next door, are standing on the front porch in their rain gear and boots, eager to go splash in puddles and make boats out of twigs and leaves, watching them swirl into the whirlpool of the storm drains.

What wonderful playmates God places around us.

So get out of bed, sleepyheads, and go have some fun today!

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman