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!

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!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Bible for the 25th Century

This sermon series BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon) is going well.  Great discussion after each worship service about the topic.   You can catch audio of the sermons and read the texts on the sermon blog and on the church website.

This week's question is:
What poems, songs, works of art, novels, short stories, movies, cartoons, etc., from the last 50 to 100 years might/should be included in a bible that would be canonized 400 years from now? Why? Extra points for ones that actually do more than echo familiar portions of the current canon.

That is a great question.  I am going to use this opportunity to talk about what I think the function of the Bible has been for the West and for Christianity up to the Enlightenment.   Since the Enlightenment this function has been replaced in part by science.  The church has so far stumbled in its role, reacting to science by either fundamentalism or by attempting to protect the Bible as a "spiritual" or "theological" book.  

The "Bible" of the 25th century is a difficult prediction to make.  But I think what is starting to take shape is a new cosmic origin story that is common to all humanity that is being presented by science. All of the wisdom traditions will have a role in shaping human identity and possibility in this new cosmic story.    Whatever "poems, songs, works of art, novels, short stories, movies, cartoons, etc.," from our time that make the cut and become our sources of inspiration and part of our new mythos will be those that speak to that new reality, identity, and hope.

That is the sermon in a nutshell.  We'll see what happens when I finally put it together!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Sunday is the fourth sermon in the summer series BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon).   And the question is:
  • So you've been quoted as referring to a belief-less Christianity.  What does that mean? And since the Presbyterian faith is grounded in numerous "beliefs", how is it that you are Presbyterian?
The questioner is referring to the guest post I wrote for the Friendly Atheist (I'm a Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn't Believe in God).     I have written more about that and related topics since that article was posted:
And of course, my sermons. An interview with Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist is coming up next week on Religion For Life.  I think you will enjoy that.  I also interviewed Don Cupitt who just published his 50th book, Creative Faith:  Religion As A Way of Worldmaking.  You will like him, too!
I found this quote from Cupitt:
So I am arguing that it is time for some of us to start being courageous. We must leave behind both cultural and ecclesiastical Christianity, admit our emptiness, and struggle for a new beginning. My constructive proposal is that we should learn to see our belieflessness not as a state of being derelict and damned, but as a clean sheet and a challenge to be creative.
Who is up for the challenge?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

We Need a Keyboardist!

At Southminster we are looking for a keyboardist.    Our beloved Kenn Wilson is stepping down after many, many years.   Here is the announcement:
Southminster Presbyterian Church a Progressive Christian Community in Beaverton, Oregon is looking for a keyboardist. Forty hours per month. Responsibilities include Sunday worship, Wednesday evening choir rehearsal and other accompanist duties. A bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in keyboard or equivalent in experience is required. Go to the website for a job description Call 503-704-0184 for questions. Send resume to shuckjohna [at] gmail [dot] com or Southminster Presbyterian Church, 12250 SW Denney Road, Beaverton, OR 97008.   Here is the job description in pdf .  
It is a cool position for the flexible person who can play a variety of music and have fun while doing it!

Plus, we have a gorgeous new grand piano!

Don't miss your chance to play for the coolest church in Portland!  A church so hip we get protesters!