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

Monday, February 25, 2013


"The word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Jeremiah, what do you see?" And I
said . . ." (Jeremiah 1:11)

i see
who could achieve
wonders no one expects,
if only someone would
mentor them, and who
sit at their desks,
staring at the empty doorway,

i see
single parents
whose lives are shaped
by those who
have never had to
between an Rx or a roof
over a family,
food on the table or
a car repair
to get to a job;

i see
walls being built
where bridges might
cyber weapons being programmed
instead of compassion being
crops being plowed under,
while people walk miles for a pound of

i see . . .

. . . will i act?

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, February 24, 2013


"Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live
according to the example you have in us . . ." Philippians 3:17

the shelves groan
     from the weight of books,
     papers, study guides


while in the company
                of pastors
        who stood up to their
             governing boards
             (and members)
    telling them that if 'those' people
             (pick your own generation
                    and group)
       showed up to worship
           they would be made welcome,
                         i learned

paying attention to the
           and the octogenarians
        making lunches for teenagers
                           in crisis,
               watching the tender hands
               of the nurses and doctors
                    as they treat children
                          with cancer,
                                 i learn

listening to the songs
         of Woody and
    watching Bono on
            and the Boss
                 at political events,
                     i rediscover
                     what it means to

an apprentice for
     that is my

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, February 23, 2013


"You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul . . ."(Deuteronomy 11:18)

they will be on those
printed on demand,
another copy to
in our homes;

we will carve them
in concrete
setting them out
on lawns,
as they are turned
into a tennis ball
lobbed back and forth
by lawyers;

politicians will put them
into their stump
using ink which turns
once the election is

but on our hearts,
and in our souls?

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, February 22, 2013


wandering down the
             aisles at the store,
          looking for what i
          couldn't remember,
      an old friend bumped
      into me, excitement
             on her face as she
             told me about
          the son (who
          everyone had told her
          for years would turn out
                no good) had been accepted
       into med school;

the little boy edged up
                  closer to me
          on the park bench,
    something enclosed
    in his cupped palms,
             and he whispered
         'want to see something
    and when i nodded,
    he opened his hands
          and we both laughed as the
      floated away;

the buzzer rang and when I went
       to the church door, they were there
               again, and as
          i opened the door ready
          to tell them there was
                    no help for them today,
    they both broke into big grins, and tumbling
    their sentences over each other's,
              told of the new jobs, new apartment,
          new life, and then,
                    as they turned to go,
       handed me an envelope,
    'share this hope with the next

joy, wonder, hope, laugher, peace,
all the gifts of God
       are around us in every moment,
    through every day. How do i know?

i heard it through the

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, February 21, 2013


It began as an act of encouragement and a show of support. Michael, the fine music director at the church I am blessed to serve, is in the Doctor of Musical Arts at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.  "in partial fulfillment of the requirements' for that degree, he gave a lecture recital last night. He has been so supportive of me and so encouraging, that I wanted to be there.

Having never been to one of these lecture recitals, I wasn't sure what the experience might be. Oh, I learned. The lecture portion explained a period of time and a form of music with which I was not familiar. I learned about a composer whose name I had heard before, but I don't think I had ever heard a piece of music from. I learned about the role music played in the Protestant Reformation.

Then, the musicians and vocalists took their places, Michael went to the podium, and the concert began, Dieterich Buxtehude's 'Membra Jesus Nostri.'

And something happened . . . to me.

What began as an act of encouragement became a time of worship. Like many ministers, I find it hard to worship while leading worship (that's why I like to go away to the Abbey of Gethsemani, I can worship there). But last night, a lecture and recital became liturgy; the voices became the heavenly chorus; the instrumentalists were the glorious sounds of creation; and the text, the text became God's word to me. I don't know if you are familiar with this work or not, but one of the glorious stanzas said this:
    That I may seek you with a pure heart.
    Be my first care,
    It is no labor nor shall I be loaded down:
    But I shall be cleansed,
    When I embrace you.

If we are lucky, moments and emotions and a spirit like last night take place in our weekly worship. But if we notice, worship is also that gift offered throughout our lives,

when a lunch with a friend becomes a sacrament;

when a walk in the woods with a child or grandchild evokes songs about creation;

when a quiet evening with our partner turns into a holy conversation;

when a prayer in a hospice leads us into the throne room of the New Jerusalem.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

goodness of the Lord

There are days when it seems the world just gets stranger and stranger. Athletes get multi-million raises for subpar years, while teachers are expected to take pay cuts. The city in which I live is planning on building a brand new streetcar system which will serve a small section of the town, but roads continue to go unrepaired. Ads on television promote cars that start at "only" $50,000.  Politicians seem to believe that civility and consensus are the spawn of the devil.
Sometimes it is just hard to see the kin-dom.

But then I remember . . .

. . . Eleanor Roosevelt moving her chair purposely into the
aisle between the white and black sections of a segregated
conference in Birmingham, Alabama, rallying the spirits of
African-American citizens in the 1930's;

. . . Pee Wee Reese going over to Jackie Robinson and
putting his arm around Robinson as racial epithets were
hurled at the first African-American in baseball's major
leagues, telling the crowd, and the world, 'this is not only
my teammate, this is my friend;'

. . . the retired volunteer at the local school, who went
back to school to learn Spanish, so she could communicate
with a new generation of students;

. . . the faithful folk who year after year, with great faith and
determination, protest the Trident missiles in Scotland;

. . . the husband who immediately signed both of them up
for classes in dealing with Alzheimer's when his wife was
first diagnosed with the condition.

. . . the older sister who takes her little brother by the hand
patiently teaching him to wait, look both ways, and look again,
before crossing the street;

and in those people, in those moments, I see the goodness
of the Lord.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

the parade

 hope my friends in Canada will forgive me if I am passing on an urban legend . .

I recently heard a story of how, in the mid-1950's, the leadership of the city of Toronto announced that its first-ever Easter Parade would be held at 10:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday. The people of Toronto showed up in full force at the appointed time on that day, and waited all morning. But no parade, nothing. They went home grumbling at what they could only assume was a massive hoax.

But they forgot. They forgot that an Easter parade is not something you watch, it is an event designed for you to be a participant. You are to dress up in your Easter best, link arms with your neighbor, and 'parade' through the center of town.

Jesus is leading a parade during this holy season. He moves from village to village, from group to group, from person to person. He has his face set towards Jerusalem, but along the way, a parade takes shape, parties break out, people rejoice. He will be welcomed into the homes of religious leaders, where he will challenge their easy faith, and he will invite himself to the tables of sinners, where he will embrace them as family. He will have no place to lay his head, and he will feed the thousands who are hungry. He will link one arm with a fellow who smells like a pig sty, and will hold out his hand to the prodigal's brother, hoping he will step off the porch and join the parade. He will tell stories that knock people off their assumptions and continue to answer, again and again, the same questions from the disciples.

And he will look.

He will look at us, standing there off to the side. Will we grumble and go home, because the parade is not what we expect? Will we simply stand there and observe, thinking that is all that is required of us? Will we be too worried about getting our faith finery dusty and stained by dragging it in the streets? Will we keep our arms folded tight across our chests, making sure that we come into no contact whatsoever with all those folks jostling our elbows, wanting to become part of the parade?

Will we forget that this parade is not something we watch, but something we do?

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Monday, February 18, 2013


It is the custom to treat Lent as the season of Less.  After all, it is the time of self-denial. So let's follow the route of less. Less smoking. Less junk food. Less stress. Less alcohol. Less (God forbid!) chocolate.

But over the years, I have come to see this time as a season for more. So, here is what I am hoping to do during this holy time:

   spend more time in silence. I just don't take advantage
   of this as much as I would like, or could. And this mean
   silence from virtual noise as well.

   spend more time reading than watching television.
   Oh, there are those good shows which I will still
   see, but so much of the time, the machine is just
   on - talk about 'junk food'!   And I hope my reading
   has more quality to it, as well.

   spend more time outside. I am not chained to my
   desk (or computer); I do not have to drop into my
   easy chair the minute I get home. Yes, being with
   Dusty gets me outside, and often turns into sacred
   time for me, but I could also go outside to read; I
   could go out on the deck and be mesmerized by
   the night sky on crisp nights; I could sit on the
   front step and simply watch; I could take that 5
   minute walk that puts me in the park near the church,
   or the woods near the house, and quietly savor
   God's creation.

There is so much more I could do during this season of discipleship to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

I hope I do.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Sunday, February 17, 2013


You who live in the shelter of
the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, "My refuge and
my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust."
Because you have made the LORD
your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against
a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you
will trample under foot.
Those who love me,
I will deliver;
I will protect those who
know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
(Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16)

Ah, the comfort of going home at the end of the day - our condo, our apartment, our house - where we can shut out the world, take off that mask we wear during the day, slip into our comfortable jeans/slippers/robe, and just be ourselves. Our favorite beverage, our favorite show or program, our favorite book; what can be better than this? Where can we feel more comfortable; more protected?

When is the last time you saw God as that place, that refuge, that home? If never, why not make right now the first time?

For God longs to be your haven, God longs to protect you, God longs to be your comfort. You may not encounter any lions day-to-day, but there are those folks who 'roar' at you, who would devour your life if given the chance. And while you may not trip over any serpents as you walk through life, there are those snakes-in-the-grass who are hiding in wait for you along your journey.

In such moments, simply call out to God. for God is just waiting to respond, "I am here; you are under my protection."

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Saturday, February 16, 2013


One of the things I have discovered over the years is that a lot of folks just don't like the Apostle Paul.  Some consider him thick-headed; others think his writings are dense. Some accuse him of misrepresenting himself; some believe he is too narcissistic. Some are uncomfortable with his theology; others think he is just plain dangerous.

But I don't think we can deny (or at least, I can't) that he was a pretty good judge of human nature.  Take, for instance, his take on humanity in the 7th chapter of Romans. I don't get it, he says. I know exactly the sort of life I should lead, but I don't. And those things that I know deep down in my heart lead me away from God, and damage my relationship with others, those are exactly the things that are so easy to do.

We know that there are those occasions when someone is looking for a word of hope, but we are too busy offering them a feast of despair to notice. We know those people in our lives who, more than anything, need affirmation and encouragement, and we are all too ready to join in the chorus of condemnation. We sense that the person facing us longs for human touch, for a simple hug, but we need to maintain proper boundaries, we need to make sure we do not act inappropriately.

It is just all too easy for us to do those things we shouldn't, and too difficult to discipline ourselves to act as God's people, full of compassion, brimming with justice, bearers of hope, gifters of love.

It is like the sign in the front of a church I saw the other day:
Don't lead me into temptation,
I can find the way all by myself

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Friday, February 15, 2013

come and see

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?"  He said to them, "Come and see." (John 1:35-39a)

Every other Friday or so, I mentor a group of 10th graders who are enrolled in the Global Studies Academy at the local high school. This is my second year with these kids, and it is always an enjoyable challenge (or is it a challenging joy?) While I, or the co-mentor, might come in with a 'lesson plan,' it is always interesting to see what the kids want to talk about.

This week, it was mainly about the recent trip the group had taken to Washington, D.C. They were impressed with the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument; they liked visiting the Air and Space Museum; they were appropriately awed by the Vietnam Wall and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They were not so impressed with the White House tour (they couldn't touch anything, sit anywhere, and had to be careful of what words they said aloud) or with the Capitol Building. They liked the tours at the Pentagon but were definitely NOT impressed with the cost of everything in that city.

And then, I am not sure how it happened, someone mentioned the trip to the Heifer Global Village the group visited last year. This is a place where visitors discover the challenges which face people who live in poverty and hardship. It is a center the visitor is 'placed' into a 'village' where there may not be enough water, may not be enough food, may not be sanitary conditions, may not be like the lives these kids have at home. They are challenged to work cooperatively, to come up with solutions not just for themselves but for their entire community, to discover more sustainable ways of living. It is not much fun, according to one of the kids, who had been in the 'refugees' group last year, whose ioilet was a hole in the ground.

So, one of us asked, do you plan to go back to Washington at some point? NO was the firm and unanimous answer.  Would you go back to the Heifer Village was the next, natural question. And it seemed that for most of them, they would go in a heartbeat.

Not to the seat of national and international power, but to a village about powerlessness; not to a center of great wealth, but to where they discovered more than they ever knew about poverty; not to rub elbows with the movers and shakers of our world, but to learn how to be in solidarity with those the world blithely ignores more and more with each passing day.

And in that moment, in that answer, I imagined Jesus simply smiling and nodding his head, whispering, "Yes!"

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I never know what to expect at an Ash Wednesday service, but over the years,
I have learned to simply wait for God to show up and take my breath away.

Last night, I knew we wouldn't have a big crowd. We Presbyterians rarely
do, but with the cold and snow yesterday, it would be fewer than normal.
Those faithful folks who come to all such special services came, one couple
brought their co-grandparents with whom they share the joy of a new
grandchild; a couple of old friends came because they saw the sign out in
front of the church. And, almost at the last moment, a father came with his
six-year-old daughter. As they went to sit down, she whispered to him, 'I'm
going to go sit with Thom,' and she did. I smiled at her and asked if she
would be my assistant. With a big smile and a loud stage whisper, she
announced, "dad, I'm Thom's assistant!"

When we came to the point in the service for the placing of the ashes, I
went around the circle and came to her last, and with wide eyes and wider
hope, I was blessed to anoint her. And then, on the spur of the Spirit, I
whispered to her, "Will you put them on my forehead?" And with a wide smile
and a joyful spirit, she did so. And I said a prayer to myself, hoping they
would never come off. Later, during communion, I asked her to carry the
loaf of bread around to folks, while I followed behind her with the cup.
And by the end of the service, I was nearly breathless.

As I begin this dangerous journey of discipleship during this season, I am
reminded of all the companions I have had over the years. From Mrs. Galt,
who took seriously my childhood yearning to sing, to Ms. Helen who wrote
poetry until her last day on earth; from the professor who was the only one
who didn't laugh at my questions to the security guard who stopped by on
Christmas Eve to invite me to his house for Christmas Day when I was staying
on campus that holiday; from the friends I made on my sabbath time a dozen
years ago in Scotland, France, and Ireland and whom I may never see again to
those 'virtual' friends who encourage me in ways they will never know, I
have been surrounded by an incredible cloud of witnesses.

But it is the children I remember most. The little girl at the church
Bonnie and I attended when we first go married who called me 'Magic Man'
because I would pull a coin out of her ear; my nieces and nephews who have
grown up into people that continue to amaze me; John, Margaret, Helen, and
Francis, who challenged me with their questions and inspire me with the
lives they lead as adults; the pre-schoolers who will be waiting in a couple
of hours for Dusty the Church Dog and me to come read to them and let them
feed him carrots and brocolli.

By God's goodness, so many of my companions on this journey have been
children, and by God's grace, I hope I will continue to be blessed.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

© Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


   Many of us, including myself, imagine ourselves superior to other people.  We are smarter, we are healthier, we are stronger, we are wealthier, we are wiser, we are more faithful, we are simply more.  And so we find little in common with other people.  It leads to a sense of strong individualism, but it also takes us into isolation; it makes me not need the other, and so I don't discover the gift of the other.  We don't like our common humanity, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
   Many of us, especially me, don't like our mortality.  We quickly turn past the obituaries in the paper, we find excuses not to attend the funeral of a neighbor.  We are reluctant to visit someone who is in hospice, especially if they are in a coma (and especially if they are in their 'final hours'!), and we hang at the back of the crowd at a funeral home because we don't know what to say.  The death of someone may diminish me, it is true, but it also reminds me of my own death.  We don't like to think of our mortality, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
   Many of us, and I am one of many, don't like God (it's okay, you can admit it).  Oh, we hope God likes us, watches over us, cares for us, and all the other things God is supposed to do for us.  But this God who expects me to admit all the screw-ups in our lives; this God who wants me to wear my faith on my forehead; this God who wants us to be Christ's emissaries in the broken places of our world; this God who wants us to break the bonds of oppression, to feed others from our pantries, to speak up for the voiceless, to pick up the fallen?  It's hard to like this God, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
    We don't like Ash Wednesday, but when the ashes are placed on our forehead, something happens.  We are able to look around and see that we are as smudged, messy, and broken as the person next to us, and we are family not strangers.  We are able to look at our frail, aging, wrinkling bodies and recognize we are not approaching the end of our journey, but coming up to a new path.  We are able to look at God and see, not the One who has been shaped in our desires, dreams, fears, hopes, but the One who continues to transform us into people of justice, of hope, of freedom, of possibilities.  People of the kin-dom through which we journey during this season of Lent, and all the seasons of our lives.

(c) 2013  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shrove Tuesday


it seems like only
   they fit so
     in our palms, as
     we paraded around the
   singing our glad songs (the
       teachers whispering,
     'they are not those kind
      of cymbals' when we tried
         to bang them together)
   and bringing them up to the
                 front to place
               on the Table;

now, hushed and still,
               we watch
      as a flame curls around the
           dry, crunchy, dusty
           leaves, crumbled up in
                an old pot,
   slowly reduced to ashes
               we will put on (not
           understanding why,
     and wear until the day
        our smudged lives
             are cleansed
             by the holy oil
             of your

(c) 2013 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, February 03, 2013

a pound of peace, please?

I pass it 10-12 times a week going down to and back from the church. Our local nursery and garden center is not just a landmark, but it is a touchstone for many of us. It is where we go to get our fresh sweet corn in the summer, and pumpkins in the fall; where we get our wreaths and trees for Christmas and grass seed for the spring. The outdoor sign always lets us know when tomatoes, peaches, flowers, mulch, and so many other necessities are available.

In the middle of winter, there isn't much on the sign, simply the name of the nursery and the fact that they carry straw (for bedding one's plants and protecting shrubs, etc.). But this morning, as we headed down to the church, there at the bottom of the sign was the simple word PEACE.

??? How many days/weeks has that been there, and if so, why haven't I noticed it before? Have I been rushing around too much to see that item I need more than any other these days? Have I been so distracted by my worries and doubts, that I overlooked where I could find that gift that is available in any season?  Am I so convinced that the world is going to hell even quicker than all the experts predict, that I don't believe that there are still those seeds than can be sown in Syria, Belfast, Cincinnati, Mali, my heart - which will blossom and bear fruit in God's good time?

Wouldn't it be nice to stop and get some Peace? I'd like to throw a bale of peace in the back of my truck and spread it around those places in the city where guns are the solution du jour. I would like to be able to carry around a pocket of peace with me each day, and give it to the folks who stop me on the street, looking for something to ease their loneliness and despair.  I'd like to order some peace online, and come home to find it waiting for me on the front porch, ready to be opened and enjoyed.

But that's not how it works, is it? God is wise enough to know that peace is a gift which, like grace, simply comes to us when we least expect it. Peace is the quiet presence who, like the Spirit, chooses to walk with us down every uncertain street we encounter.  Peace is that gentle friend who, like Jesus, simply promises to be with us in every moment, whether we take notice or not.

Got peace? I'll bet you do.

© 2013 Thom M. Shuman

'Lenten and Easter Nudges' is an e-book of Bible readings and short prayers
for Lent, available from