Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity of Rachel Shuman

Rachel Lynne Shuman was born to Ken & Becky Shuman on September 2nd 1979. Rachel was born just a couple of weeks after Ken graduated from college. Ken had taken his first church job in Shreveport Louisiana and the Shuman’s were living in Shreveport. Becky was determined that her daughter would not be born in Louisiana so she continued seeing her doctor in Marshall Texas. Rachel was a little slow in coming so one Saturday evening Becky decided to drink some castor oil in an attempt to speed the process up. Well it worked – because just a short time later Becky went in to labor. Becky’s mom had been staying with the Shuman’s waiting to help with the new baby – so Ken loaded his pregnant wife, his mother-in-law, and himself into the Shuman’s Volkswagen bug for the thirty minute drive to Marshall. Needless to say it was a tight fit.
In the early morning hours of Sunday September second Rachel Lynne was born. When daddy saw his little girl for the first time his heart melted. Ken had tried to prepare himself for being a father but the overwhelming feelings he had when he first saw his daughter were even more powerful than he could have anticipated. Of course Rachel became the queen bee of the church, and she continued as queen bee in every other church the Shuman’s served in.

The Nativity of Becky Shuman

Rebecca Jean Brock was born to Rev. Morris and Evelyn Brock on August 8th in Durant Oklahoma. Rebecca is the fourth child of what eventually became seven children born to the Brock’s. Rev. and Mrs. Brock had seven children in eight and a half years! This was before the invention of television. Rebecca was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Missouri. Rebecca became known as Becky. Becky met Ken Shuman while they were students at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Nativity of Jessica Stricker

Jessica, your dad and I were living in Sinop, Turkey where your dad was a military MP on a small (then secret) base jutting out into the Black Sea. I was 19 years old and not about to go back to the states when we found out you were coming. I was actually the last to get the official news, because there is no better system of communication than the grapevine on a small military outpost isolated from the world. By the time the test results trickled down to me, everyone on the base knew you were coming. And for the next nine months, they all worked to ease your way. I think you became a symbol of why they were half way around the world from home, missing their own wives and children. They showed us pictures and told us stories and even gave up their own vacation time so that your dad could spend as much time with me as possible before your arrival.

Three weeks before you were due, they put us on a cargo plane (C-130) that was going to Adana in southern Turkey, where there was an Air Force Base with a hospital. I joined a group of military wives from bases all over, and we each waited our turn to deliver. It was during the 1974 uprising on Cyprus, and the US government was angry that Turkey was using NATO weapons to fight. But the Turks saw the weapons as their property given in exchange for their commitment to participate, and were very offended by US demands. I offer that piece of history in case you ever read about it in books—we were very aware of both sides of that reality, and it may have affected my own religious pilgrimage more that any other single factor I can think of.

The day before you were born your dad and I traveled into Syria (your dad informed me recently—I never new we left Turkey) and climbed up to a castle on a hill, which you’ve seen slides of. The exercise must have excited you, and by 5 the next morning you let me know you were on your way out. Unfortunately, you didn’t communicate as well to the hospital people They kept insisting that you wouldn’t be arriving that day as I had previously predicted you would. But at 11:47pm you did make your way into the world, and you couldn’t have chosen any more pleased parents than we two waiting to greet you.

Two days after your birth, we set out on our trip back home to Sinop. The hospital people assumed (I am sure) we would drive to the airport, get on a military plane and be taken back to whatever base we had come from. But your dad was not stationed at a base with facilities for families, therefore you and I had no status. Sinop was the last stop for the plane, so coming from Sinop had not been a problem. Going back, the plane was puddle jumping and dropping people at bases all over, leaving no room for you and me. (Insert appropriate Christmas music at this point.)

It took us three days to make it home by way of public transportation after your birth. Not having planned on so much travel, we ran out of money at one point and had to borrow from some other GI’s in order to have bus fare for the last leg of the trip. You lived in the cardboard box provided by the hospital for your first four months, and you were well protected and cared for by Turks and Americans in equal measure.

Thanks for asking me to write this. It has made me aware of how much of the story isn’t included. I’ll have to work on that.

Monday, December 14, 2009


We are having a get together at my house on Thursday. For directions just click on point B and select get directions. Now just enter the address of your house and it'll give you directions to my place.

The Nativity of Kathy Hart

I was raised with my story starting: My parents waited anxiously for the phone call and the news that I had finally arrived. They had a long wait because I was happy where I was and didn't intend on coming out to play. I managed to hang on for an extra three weeks before making my presence known on June 18, 1963 in the city hospital in Harvey, Illinios. My maternal Grandmother was the first to see and hold me. A nurse at the hospital placed her in my arms and she whisked me out of the hospital and to my new life. My parents were overjoyed when Grandma laid me in my mother's arms. They had waited a long time for me, because they couldn't have children of their own.

32 years and 345 days later, I was able to put the rest of the story together as I met my birth Mother for the first time. She told me a story filled with sadness, poverty and perseverance. A young, divorced mother already with one toddler, another on the way and no job and a very poor family. She was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice a Mother can make. Placing my best interests ahead of her own heart's feelings, she reluctantly placed me up for adoption. For almost 33 years she wondered, worried and cried over the only daughter she ever had. However, since she had only ever shared this "secret" with a few very special people, no one understood why in the Middle of June each year she would become sad for a few days.

You would think that was the end of the story, but this one has an ironic twist to it. She had told my birth Father that she had lost me and then she moved away before she started to show. The ironic part is that his oldest Sister had a dear friend who was having difficulty accepting the fact that she couldn't have children and had decided to adopt a child.......

The Nativity of Ken Shuman

In the fourth year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term as President of the United States - Harold & Elenora Shuman of Danbury, Texas were expecting their third child. Harold was born and raised in Danbury and is a WWII veteran. Harold worked in the oil field for Phillips Petroleum Company. Harold and Elenora lived in a simple framed house that Harold had built himself. The couple had two daughters so Harold was really hoping for a son this time. When the time came for Elenora to give birth the couple drove to the Hospital in Freeport, Texas. Freeport had the nearest hospital to Danbury – but was still a thirty minute drive away. Because there was no Hospital close – the child was born in a chemical plant. The hospital in Freeport was owned and operated by Dow Chemical Company for their employees and local residents. When the couple arrived at the hospital – Elenora was taken to the delivery area while Harold filled out the paperwork. While he was signing all the forms – Dr. Steele the family doctor walked up and said “congratulations it’s a boy”. You see, the boy was so ready to come out and play that the couple barely arrived at the hospital before the delivery happened. Harold and Elenora named the boy Kenneth Wayne. Harold liked an actor on a television program who was named Kenneth. Kenneth was born on January 19, 1957. Kenneth is the third child and oldest son of six children born to Harold and Elenora. As a child Kenneth was called Kenny and he grew up healthy and spirited. There were no angels at his birth (that anybody saw anyway). There were no shepherds or even any chemical plant workers who came to celebrate the birth. There were a few wise men that came to see the family but they certainly weren’t Kings. Kenneth enjoyed a normal childhood and grew in wisdom and stature and every once in a while was in favor with God and

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians - Epilogue

There’s a pattern here- a pattern we find in the story of the Bible that gives us insight into the deepest truths of how the universe works – Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem, Babylon. Salvation is what happens when we cry out in Egypt. Because we all have our Egypts, don’t we?

Addiction, suicidal thoughts, anger, rage – we’ve all got darkness and slavery in our hearts somewhere. Prejudice, hate, envy, lust, racism, ego, dishonesty, greed – we each could make our lists. And they would be long. The wrong and injustice we see around us every day right down to the smallest details involving how we think and feel and act. The Bible uses the word sin for this condition of slavery. The technical definition of sin in the Scriptures is “to miss the mark.” We’ve all missed the mark in some way.

At the center of the Christian experience is crying out in our slavery and being heard by God. Trust that through Jesus, God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves – rescue, redemption, grace. This grace takes us to Sinai. Sinai is where we find purpose and identity. God doesn’t just want to save us; God is looking for a body, a people to incarnate the divine.

We’re invited at Sinai to join the God of the oppressed in doing something about our broken world. And that always involves hearing the cry of the oppressed and then acting on their behalf. If we forget them, we lose track of our own story.

Our story then takes us from Sinai to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem raises the question, “what will we do with our blessing?” What will we do with what God has given us? Will we remember Egypt, or will we lose the plot?
And sometimes we lose the plot. We become proud, we start to feel entitled, we allow our abundance to isolate us from who we really are. And we find ourselves in exile, which can be abrupt and shocking, and sometimes exile can be so subtle, we don’t realize what’s happened until later. And in exile we can slip into despair, or we can re-imagine everything – confession, repentance, a fresh start, a clean slate. We cry out in our exile and God hears us and we experience rebirth.

Jesus wants to save churches from the exile of irrelevance. If we have any resources, any power, any voice, any influence, any energy, we must convert them into blessing for those who have no power, no voice, and no influence.

It begins with someone crying out and someone else hearing. And it’s hard to hear the cry when you’re isolated from it. (Luke 16:19-31) Walls isolate. So can gates and freeways. But when we hear the cry, everything changes. Because when we hear the cry, we’re with God. When God gets Moses’ attention and lays out for him what liberation is going to look like for his people, he tells Moses to “go.” (Exodus 3: 10)

“Listen,” and then “Go.” The going will take a multitude of forms. It will be movement, action, life. It will involve risk, it will mean conversations with people who are nothing like us, and it will probably involve questions and criticism and perhaps even rejection from people who haven’t heard what we’ve heard.

It isn’t just about trying to save the world. It’s about saving ourselves – form the kingdom of comfort – from the priority of preservation – from the empire of indifference – from the exile of irrelevance.

Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one. Jesus wants to save us from preaching a gospel that is only about individuals and not about systems that enslave them. Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker and restored to wholeness.

Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despair, the kind that doesn’t believe the world can be made better, the kind that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen “someday.”

The Bible begins with Abel’s blood “crying out from the ground.” The Bible ends with God wiping away every tear. (Revelation 21:4) No more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain. Hope – The Christian message is always about this hope.

Jesus chose the path of descent; he comes into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse, with children, not soldiers, weeping, humble. And he dies, naked, bleeding, thirsty, alone. Maybe that’s what he means when he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The “do this’ part is our lives. Opening ourselves up to the mystery of resurrection, open for the liberation of others, allowing our bodies to be broken and our blood to be poured, discovering our Eucharist – our “good gift.” – listening and then going. Because when we do this in remembrance of him, the world will never be the same; we will never be the same.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians - Chapter Six

In Egypt – there is an endless cycle of despair. This is where Exodus begins, without hope. And God is nowhere to be found. That is what makes the story of Exodus so compelling. A new day is about to dawn. And it will begin tonight. Because God has heard the cry of the people, and God has come to do something about their oppression.
On the night of the exodus, every Jewish man was instructed to take a lamb “for his family, one for each household,” to sacrifice it, and to “eat the meat roasted over the fire… with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:3, 8, & 11) For Israel, the symbol of revolution is a lamb.
Pharaoh is being judged. Plaques have brought the world’s superpower to its knees, but before the journey can begin, there’s a meal - a meal unlike any other. And central to this Passover meal is the command never to forget it. Never forget your despair & hopelessness. Never forget that you were rescued from slavery & oppression. Exodus 12:26-27
John the Baptist declared; “look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) And what does Jesus do on the night he’s betrayed and arrested? He has a Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus takes the ritual remembrance of that night unlike any other and he makes it about himself. For Jesus, his coming death is about the new exodus.
And what is our response to this? In the Scriptures, it’s written again and again that we are to remember and be thankful. The Greek word for thankful is from the verb eucharizomai. It’s from this word that we get the English word Eucharist, the “good gift.” Jesus is God’s good gift to the world.
The church is “the body of Christ”. The church is a living Eucharist, because followers of Christ are living Eucharists. A Christian is a living Eucharist, allowing her body to be broken and her blood to be poured out for the healing of the world.
Writer Anne Lamott says that the most powerful sermon in the world is two words: “Me too.” Me too – When you’re struggling, when you are hurting, wounded, limping, doubting, questioning, barely hanging on, moments away from another relapse, and somebody can identify with you – someone knows the temptations that are at your door, somebody has felt the pain that you are feeling, when someone can look you in the eyes and say, “Me too,” and they actually mean it – it can save you. When you aren’t judged, or lectured, or looked down upon, but somebody demonstrates that they get it, that they know what it’s like, that you aren’t alone, that’s “me too.”
Paul understands that the power of the Eucharist comes from its weakness, not its strength. Paul doesn’t say, “To the strong I became strong.” He only says, “To the weak I am weak.” At the heart of the church, in the soul of the Eucharist, is identification with the suffering of another human being. The church says to the world, “Me too.”
Jesus’ death, the breaking of his body and the pouring of his blood, is for Paul an end to a whole system of “commands and regulations.” And among those commands and regulations is the wall in the temple the divided the one group of people, the Jews, from the other group of people, the Gentiles. Jesus has made peace. “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16) Peace has been made. A church is where peace has been made.
In the new humanity our world gets bigger, our perspective goes from black-and- white to color, our sensitivities are heightened, we’re rescued from sameness and uniformity, because the wall has come down and peace has been made. A church is the new humanity on display. All of these people – who are divided, who never sit down and listen to each other – in the new humanity, in the church, they meet, they engage, they interact, they begin to feel what the other feels, and the dividing wall of hostility crumbles.
This is why it is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool, and trendy. The new humanity is not a trend. When everybody shares the same story, when there is no listening to other perspectives, no stretching and expanding and opening up – that’s when the new humanity is in trouble.
The way of Jesus is the path of descent. It’s about our death. It’s our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it’s our participation in the new humanity, it’s our weakness calling out to others in their weakness. What does it look like for us to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the healing of these people in this time in this place?
It’s written in the letter to the Hebrews that they shouldn’t give up meeting together because they should “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) The phrase “good deeds” comes from the Hebrew word mitzvot, which refers to actions taken to heal and repair the world. The Eucharist is ultimately about what we do out there, in the flow of everyday life. Church is people – people who live a certain way in the world.
How are people taught to keep the exodus, the grace of God, alive in their lives? By remembering the poor. When you give unconditionally, you will be reminded of the God who gives unconditionally. When you extend grace to others in their oppression, you are reminded of the grace extended to you in yours. Every time we take part in the Eucharist, we’re reminded that we were each slaves and God rescued us. The church must cling to her memory of exodus, because if that memory is forgotten, the church may forget the poor, and if the poor are forgotten, the church may forget what it was like to be enslaved, and that would be forgetting the grace of God. And that would be forgetting who we are.
Our standing in solidarity with the single parent, the unemployed, the refugee, our joining the God of the oppressed to work for justice in the world, doesn’t just make a difference for those who are suffering – it rescues us. The church, the Eucharist, says no to religiously sanctioned despair. The Eucharist is an invitation to be the new humanity. To suffer, to bleed, to open the heart, to roll up the sleeves, to have hope that God has a plan to put the world back together, and it’s called the church. In the Eucharist, there is always hope. Hope for the poor, and hope for the rich.
The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves.
The Eucharist is not fair. Giving to those who can’t give in return, that’s not fair. Breaking yourself open and pouring yourself out for people who may never say thank you, that’s not fair. Because God is not fair. This is a God who is defined by action on behalf of the oppressed. God is about giving the good gift. Jesus is God’s good gift for the healing of the world. The church is Jesus’ body, a good gift for the healing of the world.
The Eucharist is about the church setting the table for the whole world. The Eucharist is about the new humanity. The Eucharist is about God’s dream for the world.
The Eucharist is saying yes to human community. It’s about the freeing of human conscience to experience the total acceptance of God, and it is about human community and its right and longing to be free. It is the way to a universal religion adequate to the challenge of saving human community and the ultimate renewal of all things. The church is the living, breathing, life-giving, system-confronting, empire- subverting picture of the new humanity.
Jesus has rescued us. His blood equals our redemption. He’s the good gift. The church says yes to the good gift. The church is the good gift, for the world.