This is my personal blog. My views are my own and do not represent those of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Interview An Atheist At Southminster

This Sunday I am thrilled to welcome Kile B. Jones to Southminster.  Kile is the founder of "Interview An Atheist At Church Day."

Why would we want to interview an atheist?  Here are Kile's thoughts on that: 
Interview an Atheist at Church Day is a project created by Kile Jones, a Ph.D student at Claremont Lincoln University, an inter-religious school to train ministers. Kile is an atheist who is interested in helping liberal religious people work together with unbelieving communities for the betterment of society. 
Interview an Atheist at Church Day is a community project aimed at bettering the understanding between atheists and religious persons. We hope to connect atheists who are willing to be interviewed with congregations in their area that are interested in developing ties with atheists in their area. The “day” represents our desire to grow into something far-reaching and beneficial to atheists and churchgoers alike. 
As unbelieving populations around the world continue to rise, dialogue and understanding between atheists and people of faith is more important than ever. We live and work in the same world: understanding better what both unites and divides religious and non-religious people can only help us make this world a better place.
I interviewed Kile about this project a couple of years ago.  You can hear that podcast.   Kile has posted a number of the interviews on the website.   

On Sunday, I will ask him about the project, his experience of being an atheist in America, and why it is important for liberal religious people and atheists to develop ties.   We will open up questions to the congregation as well.   He'll stay after church for a while for further conversation and dialogue.

If you are near our evergreen, join us at ten a.m. and share the Interview an Atheist Facebook event with your friends!

Also, this Sunday is the beginning of Sunday Starter, our adult education hour.  I am presenting the first four weeks on "The Evolution of God."   Get up a little earlier and join us in Room Seven at nine a.m!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Southminster is Purchasing the New Hymnal

Southminster will be singing from a new hymnbook.

We need 175 of them.  We are asking everyone who worships with us to purchase at least one.  You can dedicate each one you purchase in memory or in honor of a person or organization even Planet Earth. Be creative!  (We will probably dedicate one in memory of Zach, another for my mom and one in honor of Katy and Amber and another to all the wonderful folks at Southminster).  We will make a very attractive book dedication plate for each one. Each hymnal is $25 and this includes shipping.   Forms are in Mary's blue folder, narthex, and in bulletins.   Fill out a form for each dedication.

Or, you can email your request to Mary.

Here is what you need to include:

Name of Donor (as you want it in the book dedication plate).

Choose:  In Memory or In Honor

Name of person, place or thing to be memorialized or honored (again as you want it in the book dedication plate).

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Gretta Vosper: Can't We Talk About It?

My conversation with Gretta Vosper airs this week on Religion For Life.   She is being reviewed as to whether she can continue as a United Church of Canada minister.   With her public statements can she  still affirm her ordination questions?  She tells her story on the radio program that airs on stations beginning tonight and then via podcast on Sunday.

I wrote a letter of support for her and for her church to church officials.  I am posting it below.

Here is my issue.  It isn't about believing stuff or not believing stuff.  It isn't about vows and other means of control.  It is about actually engaging the world as it is.   It is about asking the questions and being straightforward about what we see, hear, and think.

More than that, it is about conversation with one another about what we see, hear, and think.   Can we not talk about the challenge the modern world brings to the concept of God?   Why must our conversation devolve into identity politics?   Gretta and her church invite the conversation.

Will the United Church of Canada have a conversation or close down all discussion through disciplinary means?  Everyone loses with the latter approach.   With the former, there is hope for growth and understanding.

If you are just catching up with her story, go here for background.

*My apologies to West Hill United Church.  In my letter I called the congregation, West Hills United Church.  I corrected it.*

August 21, 2015

The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
Moderator, UCC
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, ON M8X 2Y4

Nora Sanders
General Secretary, UCC
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, ON M8X 2Y4 Canada

David Allen
Executive Secretary – Toronto Conference
65 Mayall Avenue, Toronto, ON M3L 1E7

The Reverend Bryan Ransom
President – Toronto Conference
65 Mayall Avenue, Toronto, ON M3L 1E7

Dear Esteemed Colleagues in the United Church of Canada,

I am writing on behalf of Rev. Gretta Vosper. Gretta is a friend and colleague. I am a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I host a radio program, Religion For Life, and Gretta has been a guest twice.

I am writing in hopes that you will be an advocate for Rev. Vosper. I have nothing to say about polity and process within the United Church of Canada, of course. What I wish to write to you about is larger than Gretta, you or I, or our respective denominations. I wish to write about the intellectual future of Christianity and the importance of ministers like Gretta Vosper as they fearlessly present to us the issues we face.

What are these issues?

We live in a universe that is 13.75 billion years old. Earth is 4.5 billion years old. It is a pale blue dot in the suburbs of a galaxy that is one of billions. Humans have evolved through a process of natural selection. We share a common ancestor with all of life going to back to single-celled organisms from perhaps three billion years ago. It is an incredible universe that science is unfolding before our eyes. Yet religion with its ancient creeds and symbols is still in a pre-modern era.

All of the symbols and doctrines of faith from creation to eschatology including “God” are products of a pre-modern era in which humanity was “created” around 6000 years ago in a garden in the midst of a geocentric universe over which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost could be imagined as real entities existing in real time and space. These doctrinal formulations are little more than poetry today.

As one wag put it: Galileo put God out of a home and Darwin put God out of a job.

A supernatural interventionist deity, a god called God, is no more credible than a hammer-wielding Thor scaring humanity with his thunderbolts. By virtue of living in a modern world, we are all a-theists whether we want to admit it or not. No one expects a divine being to send rain, heal diseases, stop the sun in the sky, spin the planets, or cause my team to win in battle or in football, except perhaps fundamentalists.

What we do with our symbols of faith, how we approach them, what we keep, what we reject, what we redefine and reimagine is the responsibility of our generation of ministers and theologians. “God” must be on the table for dissection. That is our task. The one thing that will cripple our work is the silencing of our most creative minister-theologians. This is from American biblical scholar, Roy Hoover:

“Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.” The Fourth R, Jan. – Feb. 2004

Gretta Vosper and courageous clergy who tell the truth are our last hope for a faith that will have any integrity. You may not agree with the approach that Gretta and West Hill United Church are taking. We will not agree on one clear approach to theology in this time. Agreement isn’t the point. The point is not to punish voices and force people to mouth a wooden formula created in a pre-modern world.

We need ministers and theologians to experiment and to try out new ways of being church. We need ministers and theologians to articulate new ways of doing good in our world. Both our denominations have strong commitments to social justice and ethics. That is the heart of the church. Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion quotes Harvey Cox:

“Faith is resurgent while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal, and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge….A religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable.” p. 109-110.

West Hill United Church and Rev. Gretta Vosper are Christianity’s leading edge. I hope you will consider the larger picture as you reflect on this particular situation. Once we start down the road of silencing creative clergy, then all clergy begin to run scared. Once we do ministry from a context of fear, the love vanishes.

This is an exciting time. The world is watching The United Church of Canada, a denomination that Rev. Gretta Vosper loves and serves. May your church be a leader in exploring a faith for a 21st century mind.


Rev. John Shuck

I received this reply:

Hello Mr. Shuck,

I’m responding on behalf of Moderator Jordan Cantwell, General Secretary Nora Sanders and Toronto Conference President Bryan Ransom. Thank you for sending your letter regarding Rev. Gretta Vosper.

You raise many good points in your letter, not least of which is your regard for Gretta as a friend and colleague. I experience her in both of those ways too, and am glad of it.

The process we are going through does not have a predetermined endpoint. Our Executive heard many people asking how a minister can say the things Gretta says and still be a minister. Others, like you, have written eloquently in her support. My hope is that at the end of the process, we’ll have a good reason for maintaining her as a minister – or we’ll have a good reason for saying she is not to continue in that role. What we have not done is to pre-judge the outcome and we, like many others, await the recommendations that will eventually come to us.

Again, thank you for writing, and for being a good friend to Gretta.

David W. Allen (Rev.)
Executive Secretary, Toronto Conference
The United Church of Canada

Friday, August 14, 2015

Number One In Abomination!

Glenn Beck gave Portland a boost.   He named the "top 15 cities to avoid like the plague" and Portland earned the number one spot!    Southminster member, Jennie, in response to Glenn Beck, came up with the perfect Portland slogan:
#1 In Abomination

Why does Portland receive such an honor?  According to his website:
“This is the list of the top 15 least religious cities in America,” Glenn said. “These are the cities to avoid like the plague. And if you look at that list, these are the cities that already having trouble. We haven’t even hit the road bump.”
I like Portland.  Where else do you find this?

And this?

Portland is hosting the PCUSA General Assembly, June 18-25, 2016.   Portland is the perfect place for the apostate Presbyterian Church (USA) and I am sure the LayMAN would agree.   I am even on the Committee on Local Arrangements.  Gotta love that.  Check out our (COLA) Facebook page.  

Here is the COLA Logo based on the PCUSA theme:  

As you can tell, I wasn't on the PCUSA slogan making committee.   I wouldn't have picked a scripture verse from pseudo-Paul.  Be that as it may.  

After Glenn Beck's endorsement, I think Isaiah 41:24 would be the perfect text for the match made in nirvana between Portland and the PCUSA:
You, indeed, are nothing
and your work is nothing at all;
whoever chooses you is an abomination.
I wonder if it is too late to change the slogan and logo?
Portland and the PCUSA: Together Number One in Abomination!
Portland and the PCUSA:  A Plague On Both Your Houses!
Portland and the PCUSA:  Still Sinning After All these Years!
Portland and the PCUSA:  Where Heretics Go to Retire!
Portland and the PCUSA:  Lovin' the Canaanite Goddess!
Portland and the PCUSA:  A Glenn Beck Free Zone!
Hey, I'm here all week!

Friday, August 07, 2015


My summer series Bring Your Own Sermon (BYOS) is going even better than expected!  We are having a good turnout for worship and for the discussion following the service.   Here are the questions I have grouped together for this week:
  • If God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and all powerful and needs nothing then why does "He" need 8+ billion of these little critters here on earth to worship "Him" to feel complete?
  • What phraseology do you use to speak of God? How do you internalize it or find meaning in it (the phraseology)?
  • What do you mean when you say you don’t believe in God? (or a supernatural God)
This Fall I am doing a four week class on "The Evolution of God" for our Sunday Starter Adult Class.  Then on November 6-7 we are hosting our annual Jesus Seminar on the Road on the topic of God.

You will get your God fix at Southminster!

For this Sunday I will probably start with Daniel Dennett's theory on how gods then God came to be. Then I will offer a quick and dirty history of Ancient Near Eastern cosmology and the Ptolemaic cosmology and how "God" fit into that.

What happens to God after Galileo put him out of a home and Darwin put him out of a job?  In other words, what difference does God make or what does God really do?   Those are questions many of us ask.   The existence of a supernatural being who intervenes in the natural flow of life is improbable at best.  This is not news.  Theologians have been saying this for centuries.  Most mainstream seminaries at least present this as a problem.

What do we do about that?  We can call ourselves non-theists or post-theists or a-theists and declare game over, there is no reality to which theism points and thus no need for religion or Christianity.  Some of us do that.  Others of us say, no, there is a place for religion and Christianity even as a supernatural interventionist god is superfluous.   Some redefine God as everything or everything plus  extra or creativity or evolution or process or human aspirations, or you name it.  Some say the term God is too confusing, let's drop it.   I don't think there has to be a final answer at least just yet.

This brings me to my friend, Gretta Vosper.  She goes with the option of God as too confusing, let's drop it.   I think that is a great option.  Christianity needs her voice.   I believe or don't believe as she does and as many do even as they may be less vociferous about it.  I still play around with the symbol God as I wrote in my post in the Friendly Atheist.    I could change tomorrow.  I really like the imaginative work that Nancy Ellen Abrams is doing with A God That Could Be Real.

What I don't like and what I will resist is the attempt to silence creative voices such as Gretta's voice by inquisitions.   Don't like doubts?  Questions scare you?  Silence the doubter and the questioner. That is bad faith.

God has always been a human construction.  Is there anything real to which the symbol God points?  I think that is a great question and a worthy one to ask in the context of parish ministry.

Some have asked. "Why stay in the church?"  Why not become a Unitarian Universalist where apparently these questions are more welcome?   I love the UUA and I think in many ways they are a model.  However, I am a Presbyterian.  Denominations are not fixed entities.  They change.  in my view, all of the Christian denominations need an upgrade.

Gretta's denomination is the United Church of Canada.  This is probably the most liberal denomination in North America. If that denomination can't move into the 18th century let alone the 21st then who can? In my view, Gretta is not on trial, Christianity is. Can it move ahead or is it stuck forever in a pre-modern world?  The United Church of Canada and the PCUSA have great social justice commitments. That is important work. These denominations are home for many even as many have outgrown the stale theological formulations.

Christianity is never static, always evolving. Now the evolution needs to take seriously modern historical criticism of the Bible, comparative religious mythology (i.e. Jesus mythology) and the meaning of the symbol God in a modern understanding of cosmology. Gretta is saying what many have been scared to say. She needs applause and support.

I don't know if I will go into all of that in my sermon on Sunday, but it should be fun!

See you then!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

In Support of Gretta Vosper

United Church of Canada minister, Gretta Vosper, is in a bit of hot water with her denomination.  She is an atheist and calls herself that.  The denomination is doing something unprecedented.  They are investigating her to see if she should be removed from the ministry.  

Here is the story in MetroNews.
TORONTO – An ordained United Church of Canada minister who believes in neither God nor Bible said Wednesday she is prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs. 
In an interview at her West Hill church, Rev. Gretta Vosper said congregants support her view that how you live is more important than what you believe in. 
“I don’t believe in…the god called God,” Vosper said. “Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.” 
Vosper, 57, who was ordained in 1993 and joined her east-end church in 1997, said the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based belongs to an outdated world view. 
What’s important, she says, is that her views hearken to Christianity’s beginnings, before the focus shifted from how one lived to doctrinal belief in God, Jesus and the Bible.
“Is the Bible really the word of God? Was Jesus a person?” she said. 
“It’s mythology. We build a faith tradition upon it which shifted to find belief more important than how we lived.”  Read More
The legalists are trying to get her on violating her "vows."  If you don't have an argument, crack open the old vow chestnut.
In response, Nora Sanders, general secretary of the church’s General Council, issued a ruling in May laying out a review process that could ultimately lead to Vosper’s defrocking.

Essentially, Sanders said, the review should determine whether she was being faithful to her ordination vows, which included affirming a belief in “God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Gretta and her congregation (as well as growing number of people within and without the church) know that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have caught the last train for the coast.   We are talking about symbols and myths that have long lost any real referent.  The language has been poured out into humanitarian ethics.   As to the church and her boatswain?  To quote Don Cupitt:
The churches have not yet decided what they think about cultural Christianity, probably because so many of those who after realism continue to get aesthetic consolation from Christian culture are prominent amongst their own members--and leaders, too.  Such people know that the old apologetic arguments have all failed, but they do not wish to come out into the open about their own personal lack of strong, or 'literal', dogmatic-realist faith.  Nor do they wish to face up to the Death of God and the looming spectre of nihilism.  So it is generally more comfortable to stay where one is, as a theologian, a bishop or whatever:  to be quietly ironical and not 'come out'.  The old ship can sail on for a little longer yet.  It is not time to take to the lifeboats.   
I am not sure about that, though; for there are may indications that the old ship is rotten and is foundering.  (Creative Faith, p. 48)
In the meantime, they try to pretend that the ship is solid and sure and they do so by throwing the mouthy "heretics" overboard.
If we get rid of that pesky Gretta Vosper everything will be just fine.   Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are still there!  See!  In the clouds playing lawn darts and answering prayers (sort of)!  Just close your eyes and believe 
Gretta has chosen another way, a more courageous, authentic path.  She knows it is up to each us to find our way and to make our worlds, with or without God.

May her tribe increase.

Friday, July 31, 2015

On the Cover of the Omnibus

My new presbytery's newsletter is called the Omnibus.   This was a very nice welcome.  In the latest issue the editor included on the front a page a story about me and my radio program, Religion For Life!  

You can read it here.  

They took stories from the Kingsport Times News (Sept. 2012) and the Johnson City Press (Dec. 2011) and some of my information to create the article.

This is a picture from the KBOO studio where I record and produce the shows.   KBOO is one of the first community radio stations in the country and I am excited to produce the show for their podcast page and for the other stations (WETS/Johnson City, TN; WEHC/Emory, VA; and KZUM/Lincoln, NE).  

Every program is 29 minutes and free to any radio station.

New shows are uploaded every Sunday.  You can download them from the KBOO podcast page or at the Religion For Life podcast page or from iTunes.

The Existential Jesus

Some smart aleck(s) want(s) to stump me with these questions for the BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon) summer series.   Here they are:
  • You use the term Jesus ________???? ( Ask John what phrase he uses and fill it in.) What do you mean by that.
  • Please talk about Sartre, Camus and other existentialists (maybe Tillich, maybe not) and whether or not they have a strong kinship with Jesus and how some of that might be important to Southminster.
I think the first bullet point is about "the historical Jesus" and so I will talk about that.   The second bullet point is beyond my pay grade.  Thus, you get what you pay for.   But I will give it a go.    

Faced with these absurd questions I am in anguish.
"It was then I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot."
"There was no way out."   

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Greenpeace Hanging Out in Portland

Lovely and I stopped by St. John's bridge last night to check out the protesters.    Thirteen Greenpeace activists are hanging from the bridge to prevent Shell's icebreaker from leaving Portland. The goal is to keep it here until the window of opportunity passes for the icebreaker to make trouble in the Arctic.  So far the action has been successful.   They turned away the icebreaker, the MSV Fennica, today.  Here is the story from the Oregonian.

I took these photos last night.

Great energy.  There was music and fun chants:  Shell No!  We won't go!
They are ready to hang there for days.  They can raise themselves when big ships come in or out but they will hang low if the Shell icebreaker tries to escape.

The sign says "Save the Arctic"
The "kayaktavists" will be getting in the way as well.
A lot of people have turned out to offer their support.  

Lots of fun but serious business.   We have hit Peak Oil.  Now desperate humans are trying to drill in the Arctic to get their fix.   The only way they can drill in the Arctic is because climate change due to burning fossil fuels has melted ice and opened up waterways.   
Shell no.
Greenpeace asks everyone to call the White House today 1-888-369-5791 as Obama could deny Shell's drilling permits.  

God's Great Rummage Sale

God's Great Rummage Sale is underway at Southminster!  

God is unloading a lot of his old stuff cheap!

It is amazing the things that gods will throw away!

Proceeds to help fund Southminster youth mission trips!