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, May 29, 2015

BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon)

In addition to Southminster Reads, members and attendees of Southminster Presbyterian Church are invited to Bring Your Own Sermon by asking me a question or picking the sermon topic.    Submit a question or sermon topic to Mary, our administrative guru, and she will send it on anonymously to me.   I will arrange the questions or topics over the course of the summer from June 21st through September 20th.  

The sanctuary will be set up around tables.  After the sermon you will have the chance to discuss around the table.  After the worship service ends, grab a cup of coffee and join back in the sanctuary for an open discussion so you can offer me your thoughts.  

What kinds of questions might someone ask?   You can ask me to address an ethical issue or a theological question.  You can ask me to preach on a text in the Bible.  You can ask me about Progressive Christianity, God, Jesus, whatever you like.  

If you ask me questions that are beyond my pay grade (ie. particle physics) you will get what you pay for.  That said, I am putting no limit on the questions or topics.  You can get personal, too.   For example,

"I am confused about your views on God, could you explain?"  
"What is your view of afterlife?"
"Who is Jesus for you?"
"How did the death of your son impact your faith?"

You can ask about our community.

"What do you see our church becoming?"
"Does organized Christianity have a future?"
"What is the church's calling in light of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Overpopulation?"
"Should the church embrace non-violence?"

You can ask about daily life matters.

"How can I better communicate with my spouse?"
"How can the church be a resource for people caring for aging parents."
"I am having a hard time making ends meet.  Will the church accept me if I don't have much to give?"

Get the idea?  Ask the big questions.  Ask the small questions.  Ask the hard questions.  It's all good.

Now, I am just one guy, a simple country preacher.  I don't pretend to have answers to all of these questions!  I will give them my best shot and then open the table to the wisdom of the community (which is far smarter than the wisdom of any individual).  

I think this will be an opportunity for you to get to know me and for me to know you.    It might be an opportunity for us to dream a little and catch a vision.   All in the spirit of fun and learning which is a big part of what Southminster is all about!

Send Mary an email soon.  The hard, fast deadline is June 10th.






Southminster Reads

This summer, Southminster Reads!

Modeled on Oregon Reads, and Everybody Reads, Southminster will read a book over the summer and we will engage that book in worship and discussion on my birthday, August 30th, 2015!   (Don't tell anyone it is my birthday).

Since it is my birthday and I am the pastor, I get to choose the book.  We are reading Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet.    
According to Abrams, we’ve all grown up so steeped in tradition, whether we’ve accepted it or rebelled against it, that it’s hard to grasp that the chance to re-define God is actually in our hands. “But it is,” she proclaims, “and the way we do it will play a leading role in shaping the future of civilization.”
Did you get that?  Re-defining God is in our hands.


The concept of God is always evolving.  The first two chapters of Genesis demonstrate this.  Think of how the concept of God or gods has changed over the course of human history.   Human beings are constantly in the process of re-defining God.   We are often less than honest with ourselves about that.   Yes, our conceptions of God are the result of human cultural evolution.

OK.  So, if we "made up" God, why not forget "God" altogether and move on then?  Some do.  But think about that.  Must we do that?   "God" is a powerful symbol.  It is not going away anytime soon.  Perhaps we can reclaim and re-define the symbol.   All of our language and symbols are products of cultural evolution.  There is no reason to throw out our stories just because we know they are stories.   We don't throw out "Love" just because we created the concept.  We don't throw out language just because we developed language.   We don't throw out mathematics just because we invented numbers.  All of these things are from us but bigger than us.  They are realities that have emerged and are emerging.

What do our God stories tell us about ourselves?  They tell us that we aspire.   We aspire to learn.  We aspire to achieve justice.  We aspire to love.   We aspire to be in awe.  We aspire to goodness.  We aspire to transform ourselves and the world. Those aspirations are real and they have a "life of their own" so to speak.   Together as a human community we make meaning and seek to name these growing, evolving aspirations that in turn shape us.   Perhaps that emerging reality is worthy of the name God.  Abrams writes:
"This God did not create the universe—it created the meaning of the universe."
I had a chance to meet Nancy Ellen Abrams and her husband, Joel Primack at a conference a few years ago.  (In case you are wondering, I am the guy on the right with the hair).


I invited them to be on Religion For Life to talk about their book, The New Universe and the Human Future:  How A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World You can listen to that interview here.

I am thrilled to share this new book with Southminster and to hear your thoughts about it and about the project of re-defining God.

Fascinating?  Yes.  Controversial?  Absolutely.  Fun summer reading?  No question!

Pick up the book from your favorite retailer and enjoy the conversation we will have on August 30th.  I will also talk with her about A God That Could Be Real in a couple of weeks on Religion For Life!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BYOG

In my post on a belief-less Christianity over at the Friendly Atheist, I talked about BYOG (Bring Your Own God).   Some commenters say that BYOG is idolatry, making God in our own image.

The criticism as I understand it, is that the correct image of God has been revealed to us by God himself.  Consult the holy texts.  Moses, Mohammad, and the Apostles already got the divine memo and we just need to read it, believe it, and stay on message.

This was a huge debate when I was in seminary.  Since most images of God had been male (i.e. Father, Son, and Mr. Holy Ghost) expanding the range to include feminine as well as masculine images met with charges of idolatry.   I was on the expand the images team.  I consider myself in good company.

Higher criticism of scriptural texts demythologized them.   This has led an increasing number of people to regard these texts as products of human creativity.   All images of God are our images.   Is there a place for revelation?   Whatever you call it, revelation or evolution, Life is change.

Who decides that revelation stopped somewhere in the past?   I call any claim that revelation (or evolution) has ended, idolatry.  Idolatry is accepting someone else's version of God without doing your homework.

A.A. knows better.
Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives our to the care of God as we understood Him [sic].
That is a clear a statement of BYOG as I have heard.   God can be everything from an inner voice, to the community, to gravity, to humanity's emerging aspirations.  It is whatever keeps you sober.  

Another point:  just because you BYOG that doesn't mean you will leave with the same G.   You will meet others who have brought their G or are skeptical about G altogether.  They may have an idea that disturbs you or enlightens you and changes your G.   The various Gs in our various spiritual traditions might provide challenge or comfort to your ideas as well.

Any claims that BYOG is soft-pedaling or idolatrous is missing the point.  BYOG requires spiritual maturity, creativity, courage, and hard work.

So BYOG, my beloveds! You have permission and you are welcome!


Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Soaring Nones

The Pew Forum study is out.  "The Nones" continue to soar.


Nationwide, the "Unaffiliated" have increased their market share from 16% to 22.8%.   In my neck of the woods, that number is 42%. According to another study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute,  Portland, Oregon is America's Most Religiously Unaffiliated Metro

Of these unaffiliated, 43% do not believe in God.  That is compared to 10% of all Americans.

68% of the unaffiliated "completely disagree" with this statement: "It is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values."

It seems that the concept of "God" and "belief in God" is a problem for a significant number of people.  This is a legitimate question that we practicing theologians need to raise.   Is Christianity tied to a particular concept of God?   This topic needs to be raised in the church in a safe environment free from charges of violating "ordination vows" and what all.

I declare that it is time for a full discussion about God within the Presbyterian Church (USA).  

God is on the table for dissection.  How has the concept of God evolved?  Does the concept have a future?  Is there a reality to what this concept points?  Is it possible to retain the concept of God in a modern understanding of the universe?  Can we be Presbyterians with or without God?

I am going to do my part in rousing up the deity discussion.  If you haven't read my article in the Friendly Atheist yet, check it out.   You should also visit the website of my friend and radical theologian, Gretta Vosper.  She's poking the hornet's nest north of the border.

Here is a start to the discussion.

This summer, we are doing a program called Southminster Reads.  I received the privilege of picking the book!  We will read it over the summer and I will do a sermon on it in September.    It is Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God That Could Be Real:  Science, Spirituality, and the Future of Our Planet.  I recorded an interview with her about the book that will be coming up on Religion For Life in June.

   
For a sneak peak into what this God might be like read her articles, part 1 and part 2 at NPR. 


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Embracing Change

The LayMAN continues to think that I am interesting.   They wish to introduce me to Moderator Heath Rada.   We have met already.   I interviewed him and his wife, Peggy, on Religion For Life.   He and Peggy have done great work for the church.   The LayMAN thinks they "got him" when he says that ministers like me all say "yes" to ordination questions.   The LayMAN thinks it can't possibly be true because we aren't all fundamentalists like they are.


The LayMAN and its fan club are not that different from the demonstrators who shouted niceties at us on Palm Sunday.


Those gentlemen made their own video of their "rebuke" of us.  They say similar things that you find in the comment section of the LayMAN:
Gleeful Elbow: "John Shuck is an eruption, sort of like a boil, of the “infection plaguing this denomination. The fact that no governing body is willing to lance the infection and drain the puss means the PCUSA will grow more and more septic."

Don: "I have a quibble regarding the title of this article. Instead of “Rev. John Shuck”, it should just be “John Shuck”. “Reverend” is an adjective that does not describe him."

Roy H. Koerner: "I have read John Shuck’s blog. He should immediately be brought up on charges and subsequently defrocked. How can we maintain an evil liar and unbeliever in our midst."

Dr. Patricia Slomanski: "I wonder if it is possible for our Lord Jesus Christ to pick up the entire PCUSA Headquarters in Louisville and throw it into the lake of fire. I hope so. Let’s hope the ringleaders of this apostasy as [sic] in it when this happens….including John Schuck [sic]."

Loren Golden: "May God have mercy on his soul."
With a signboard and a milk jug megaphone they can audition for the Portland Street Preachers.

The author of the article, Paula Kincaid, fuels the vitriol with her libelous statements:
"...[Shuck] has done precisely what the moderator says is not happening: Presbyterian ministers are knowingly lying and taking ordination vows in jest."
And...
"...Rev. John Shuck and others who have taken their ordination vows with a giggle and a wink."
I do not answer my ordination questions by lying, jesting, giggling, or winking.  I take my promises to be a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister seriously.   Not only do I see no contradiction between these questions and my work, but my work is the fulfillment of these questions.   I take seriously our language of faith and seek to interpret it for today with "energy, intelligence, imagination and love."  That is also true for other clergy who are accused of "lying" and "giggling" their way through the ordination questions.

The LayMAN and the Portland Street Preachers seem to think that the only way a person could honor ordination questions or even be a Christian is to embrace magical thinking and deny science.   How literal is one supposed to be regarding liturgical and confessional language that was created in the pre-modern world?   Are Father, Son, and Holy Ghost playing croquet somewhere northeast of the Milky Way?   Does Dr. Slomansky truly think that a divine being, Jesus Christ, could literally pick up a building in Louisville, Kentucky and toss it into a lake of fire?   It is a challenge to understand the mind of a fundamentalist.   How literal are they, really?

It is most certainly a challenge to reinterpret Christian symbols that were created in the premodern era.   It is a challenge that I think we must accept.   Does saying "yes" to ordination questions require ordained officers to deny science and higher criticism of scripture?  If so, then, yes, the questions are anachronistic.  They certainly are used that way by people who wish to keep us trapped in the 17th century.   I think the ordination questions are about something altogether different.  They are a commitment to honor our tradition as we look toward our future.    I think my own statement of faith (conveniently preserved in pdf by the LayMAN) reflects this commitment.

What is happening is that the PCUSA is embracing change.   The LayMAN and friends were on the wrong side of the LGBTQ justice movement and they are angry and they feel persecuted.  They are on the wrong side of theology as well.   They will get a great deal more angry before they finally realize that the PCUSA has left them behind.   The PCUSA is saying that we are in the 21st century.   We are reexamining our symbols of faith for this exciting and challenging new era.   Our theology  is catching up with reality.




This important work of theological innovation is what I do with my radio show, Religion For Life.    Check it out!





Religion For Life has a new home, KBOO in Portland!  Here is my podcast page on KBOO.   You can subscribe to podcasts here.   Radio stations WETS/Johnson City, TN, WEHC/Emory, VA, and KZUM/Lincoln, NE continue to carry the show.   Please ask your favorite public, community, or college station to carry it, too!

Recent guests include Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God:  The Faith Journey of A Modern Heretic.

Doug Pagitt, Flipped:  The Provocative Truth That Changes Every Thing We Know About God.

Carolyn Baker,  Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse:  Cultivating the Relationships We Need to Thrive.

Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday:  Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

John Dominic Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis through Revelation.

Harvey Cox, How to Read the Bible.

Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God that Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.

Good stuff!  If you have ideas for guests, do let me know by emailing me.

Always appreciative of the LayMAN for the publicity.  Keep it coming!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Believing In God

I believe in God.
I don't believe in God.

Those statements seem crystal clear, don't they?  You either do or you don't.  You believe in God or you don't believe in God.  You are a believer or a non-believer, a theist or an atheist, religious or non-religious.  Never the twain shall meet.

I find this polarization unfortunate and simplistic and I challenge the either/or.  I think that both statements "I believe in God" and "I don't believe in God" could be true for the same person. Once we start to parse the statements, "I believe in God" and "I don't believe in God" things become far less clear.  The words "believe" and "God" require definition.    These words mean different things to different people.  In fact, they can mean different things to the same person depending on how and when we use these words. 

Let's start with the word "believe."  What does the verb "to believe" mean?  I am not interested in the proper use of the verb as if that can be determined.  I am interested in the way it is used by those who use it.  We may object that we shouldn't use the word in a certain way.  Fine.  Still we do.

1)  The verb believe is at times used as a synonym for assert or affirm or declare--as in assert, affirm, or declare as a fact.   For example, in my eight points, I wrote that I believe in evolutionary theory.  I affirm, as fact, evolution.  I believe North Dakota borders Montana. I believe Earth is a sphere.  I believe in the existence of protons.   In this sense of believe, believers affirm, assert, or declare the existence of God (in whatever definition they assume for God).

2)  The verb believe can be used to express an opinion that may or may not be shared widely.  "I believe that 9/11 was an inside job" or "I believe Sarah Palin would make a great president."  It can be used to express a hope or a fear:  "I believe that marriage equality will be the law in all fifty states by 2017." My eighth point expressed this use of the verb when I stated that I believe that industrial civilization is headed for a long descent.  It is an opinion of what I think will happen.   This sense of believe may have some urgency about it.  That I believe in this long descent means that I think we should prepare for it and take it more seriously than we seem to be doing.

3)  It can also reflect a commitment.  The synonym might be trust or even love.   We might say, "I believe in you."  We mean, "I trust you" and "I am committed to you."  In point two I stated, "I believe in higher criticism of the Bible."  Higher criticism obviously exists.  I am declaring its existence as a fact.  But I am also stating that it is a good thing to use.  I have a commitment to using higher criticism as an approach to the Bible.  I trust it to deliver good results.  This is similar to the way I believe in evolutionary theory as well.  I have a commitment to using it to better understand life including human life and of course, religion and theology. 

4)  It can also reflect a value even if what is being valued is not real, or is fictional, mythical, or highly abstract.  "I believe in love."  We may have a debate over whether or not love exists or what we mean by the word, but still value it.   "I believe in Harry Potter."  In this sense I am saying I value what this character communicates as a way of being in the world.  Adults can say, "I believe in Santa Claus."  They are "believing in"--that is valuing and making a commitment to--what the Santa Claus mythos represents: generosity, joy, human kindness, etc.   To say, "I believe in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" may involve my commitment to, trust in, and value of, the totality of what this particular collection of symbols means for me.  It doesn't necessarily mean I believe that these entities exist. That is not the point.  To believe in this sense is to embrace a particular way of engaging life, a Christian way in this case.  I believe in, that is I trust and love what these metaphors imagine. 
 
In summary, the verb believe can mean to affirm as fact, to state an opinion, or to express one's love for and commitment to X.  The verb believe can be used as a combination of the above ways or in a particular way that excludes the other(s).

I think the reason the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has avoided making its leaders and members subscribe to a list of "beliefs" or essential tenets is because to do so would emphasize the affirmation or opinion aspect of believe over the more relational, trusting, and commitment aspect.  Nonetheless, we still can't seem to get beyond the notion that belief is about affirming the existence of external realities.  If that is the best we can do, we should jettison belief altogether and become belief-less or do more work to communicate the relational aspect of the verb to believe.

When Hemant Mehta titled my piece and I approved the title, "I'm A Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn't Believe in God" he was responding to what I had written: "I don't believe in God as a supernatural agent or force."   No, I do not affirm the existence of a supernatural being, nor am I committed to such an entity.  But as a Christian I do trust, love, and am committed to--that is I believe in--what the symbols of faith invite me to be in this world.   I do believe in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I do believe that the Bible is "God's word to me" and I do believe in Jesus called the Anointed.  All of those beautiful and powerful symbols beckon me to a particular way of living.  All of this is God. 

I don't believe in God.
I believe in God.

Yes.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Christianity's Misplaced Scandal

...but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… 
(I Corinthians 1:23)

I am certainly no apologist for Paul.   I can never be certain what Paul really meant.   I do think that Christianity has for the most part misplaced the "stumbling block" or the "skandalon" regarding how we might speak about Jesus's execution.   The execution of Jesus is a theological scandal and should be a scandal that we proclaim.  However, the scandal is light years away from substitutionary atonement or other supernatural shenanigans that "Christ crucified" has often symbolized.

Paul, like Jesus, and like all thinkers around the first century of the common era, lived in a supernaturally charged geocentric universe.   Stuff happened because unseen agents intruded into the world.   Various divine actors were given credit and blame for everything from the rise and fall of kings to pregnancy.   Paul, Jesus, all the apostles, Caesar and Cicero were products of this world, even as they may have doubted aspects of it.   



We no longer live in that world.  Stuff happens not because of the will of divine agents or The Divine Agent, but because of natural processes.   As one sage quipped, "Darwin put 'God' out of a job and Galileo put 'God' out of a home."    Much of modern theological work is a less than impressive attempt at shoring up a god of the gaps.   Supernatural theism has no relevance in a modern universe.  
 Simply put, there is nothing for this god to do.
The only thing that keeps supernatural theism afloat today in churches and elsewhere is a combination of fear and power plays.  The most common responses to my guest post in the Friendly Atheist could be categorized as follows:
  1. "You should be afraid of going to hell."  (That has been the more mild way of stating it).
  2. "You need to be removed from your position as minister."  (Again, mildly put).
Fear and power plays.   Google "John Shuck Presbyterian" and you will get an eyeful.   We even had demonstrators on the sidewalk screaming at my parishioners that their minister is going to hell and they will join me if they listen to my false teaching.   

I find this fascinating.     

So much fear.

What really fires people up is that I state clearly that I am a Christian.  Not only a Christian, but I am a proud Christian minister.   Proud to be one.  Because I am proud of the gospel, the good news, the scandal, even as I do a poor job of living it.  Nonetheless, I will try to proclaim it and will do so until I am dead, retired, fired, defrocked or whatever else could happen to a person.  

So what is this scandal?   What is Christianity when we finally banish supernatural theism into the dustbin of history?  

Let me give it a whirl. 

To reiterate:  proclaiming the scandal of the executed Jesus is not proclaiming supernaturalism in a modern world in which supernaturalism is no longer meaningful.   We don't need to be proclaiming the existence of a divine being or that Jesus is the incarnation of this divine being.   It is pointless to try to get people to believe in divine beings in general or that we are in an intimate relationship with the "real" divine being.   Divine beings are meaningless.  They are the product of a pre-modern world.  Many Christian churches continue to push supernatural theism as the definition of Christianity.  This is Christianity's misplaced scandal.   It is a losing effort.  

The scandal then and now is on the meaning and the message of Jesus.   The scandal is not that Jesus was Son of God as if supernaturalism was the point.  
The scandal was that Jesus, the precocious peasant, was Son of God as opposed to the imperial claim that Caesar was Son of God.  
There were sons of gods all over the place because a supernaturally charged world was filled with that kind of imagery.   To translate the language of supernaturalism to our time is to ask what values do we hold as we live in this world?   The challenge of faith is not whether or not to believe in the existence of a god.  Instead the important questions are these:  Who/what is "God" for you?   How do you name God?  Whose side will you take?   To whom will you give your heart?  For whom and for what will you live and die?   To believe in God is to give one's heart to a particular way of being.  
  • Do I believe in God as if that means do I believe in the existence of a supernatural being, God?  No.
  • Do I believe in God as if that means do I put my trust in a way of living in this world that is for me as a Christian, the way of Jesus?  Yes.  
That was the scandal for the first century followers of Jesus.   They proclaimed the way of Jesus best exemplified the way the world should work, to use a metaphor, the kingdom of God.   Jesus took his stand with the executed not the executors.  Normalized civilization, the Roman Empire, required too much collateral damage to maintain its peace.  Jesus and those with whom he died were the collateral damage.   

Jesus took his stand with a peace "not of this world," that is to say not of the normalcy of civilization.  He took his stand with the makers of peace through justice.   Jesus stood with the marginalized and the oppressed.   He blessed them.  

This I think is true for Jesus the historical person, whoever that might have been, and for the layers of legendary material attached to him.  The layers of legend and meaning that we continue to produce today is a way of articulating this liberating impulse for our time.      

The trickle-down economists, the three-piece-suit wearers, the climate change deniers, the oh-so-polished politicians who massage their Bibles as they take away healthcare, housing, and food for the poor, and then beat the drums for one war after another to maintain some fantasy of "infinite growth" and profit for corporations are those who Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:20-31:
Where does that leave the expert?  Where does that leave the scholar?  Where does that leave the pundit of this age?  Has not God shown the world's wisdom to be foolish?  Since in the larger scheme of God's wisdom the world did not come to acknowledge God through its own wisdom, God decided to save those who embrace God's world-transforming news through the "nonsense" that we preach.  At a time when Jews expect a miracle and Greeks seek enlightenment, we speak about God's Anointed crucified!  This is an offense to Jews, nonsense to the nations;  but to those who have heard God's call, both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed represents God's power and God's wisdom; because the folly of God is wiser than humans are and the weakness of God is stronger than humans are.   
Consider your own situations when you were called, my friends.  Not many of you were considered wise in the eyes of the world, not many of you were people of power and influence, not many of you were descendants of the nobility; but God has chosen people the world regards as fools to expose the pretensions of those who think they know it all, and God has chosen people the world regards as weak to expose the pretensions of those who are in power.  God has chosen people who have no status in the world and even those who are held in contempt, people who count for nothing, in order to bring to nothing those who are thought to be really something, so that no human beings might befall of themselves in the presence of God.  It is God's doing that you belong to the people of the Anointed Jesus.  God has made him our wisdom and the source of our goodness and integrity and liberation.  So, as scripture says, "If you have to take pride in something, take pride in what God has done."  The Authentic Letters of Paul:  A New Reading of Paul's Rhetoric and Meaning.
This passage is one of the most powerful indictments of privilege in Western literature.   I have to say with regret that I am far too often more on the side of the "wise" of this world than on the side of the "fools" for the Anointed.    

The scandal, the offense, and the nonsense of the gospel is the same today as it was in the first century.   
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. --Jesus
If you wish to criticize my Christianity, fine, do it.  But don't criticize me for not affirming supernatural theism.   Criticize it where it counts: 
  • for my failure to pick up my cross daily for the poor and the houseless, 
  • for my support of unjust and unsustainable systems, 
  • and for my lack of courage to preach this "nonsense" to the privileged.   
  For that, I stand indicted.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Demonstration Sunday

We had an object lesson for Palm Sunday.  Demonstrators visited Southminster and shouted "Hosanna!" at worshipers.  Actually no, they shouted a lot of vulgar stuff.  One wore a t-shirt that read:  "No Sodomy in Hell."   Lovely.  Here is the news story


Apparently, the news that Southminster sent up an overture that will in June expand marriage from a man and woman to two people didn't sit well with these gentlemen.  In the spirit of Jesus they responded by shouting obscenities at children. 

Their passion was also fueled by the Christian media. Since I wrote my piece on belief-less Christianity for the Friendly Atheist, my Christian sisters and brothers have engaged in name-calling (Satan is a favorite), mud-slinging, and character assassination.  These demonstrators read these stories and carried on in similar Christian love.

Ah well.  In the meantime, I preached a sermon on what it means to have Jesus in my heart.  I like this place.  Southminster is a great church filled with courageous, gentle, and friendly seekers.



We turned this into a teaching moment for adults and children about the important mission of our congregation (a mission that is important enough to generate opposition). It was also a teaching moment about free speech. The same right that allows us to worship as we please allows people to voice their disagreement from the sidewalk.

Andrew Maldarelli did a great job with the children. He wrote this on our Southminster Groups Facebook page:
“Despite protests, the children and I had a very fantastic talk this morning during Sunday School. They were all curious about the folks hollering outside. We focused on the words of Martin Luther King Jr..."One day the people of this world are going to need to learn how to get along with one another" And, "Hate cannot drive out hate...only love can do that! If you had a kiddo in Sunday School with me, know that it was a great morning with a lot of love and understanding, and I will look forward to seeing you next week! I thank everyone for being cool under pressure.”
The demonstrators might or might not return for Easter Sunday. It doesn't matter if they do or don't, we will demonstrate our Christian witness either way. We will be safe with police presence. We will welcome worshipers in the parking lot with some good tunes from Andrew, our children's minister. His electric guitar this past Sunday was louder than the hateful language and a great deal more pleasant. We will show hospitality to everyone, including the loud gentlemen. Our mission statement is to include, not exclude. We have a great Easter service planned. Join us and bring your friends!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Faith Beyond Belief

My guest post in the Friendly Atheist continues to get people talking.   Christian News wrote a story about me and quoted another minister who accused me of being "someone who wants to infiltrate the church in order to destroy it."   True believers have picked up the story and ran with it.   Here are a few tasty quotes:
  • Charisma News -- "It's also a perversion of the truth that could send people to hell and the blood of those who buy into Shuck's false gospel will be on his hands." 
  • Bill Muehlenberg -- "He is a proud minister alright – a proud minister of Satan."  
But enough of that.  The hate speech is loud and voluminous.  Yet there are people who are seeking a more meaningful faith than what has been traditionally presented to them.  Here are a few comments that I found hopeful.
Wandering Vine: Because of your honesty with those you serve, as well as with those you answer to, I can't find fault with your approach. And I appreciate your desire to glean what you can from the Christian narrative rather than simply becoming antagonistic to it.
Exactly.  I am not antagonistic.  I am not infiltrating in order to destroy.  If anything, I seek to help to preserve the church by taking what I think is good from the tradition and inviting others to do the same.
sar [T]hanks for your article, and for articulating well how it is be possible a Christian without embracing all the beliefs of the Christian Church. Indeed, for me being Christian is to follow Christ; even if what we know of the historical Jesus is filtered through the experience of early believers. The essence of living in his way includes living love, finding ways to include the marginalized and practicing compassion and forgiveness -- which may also be the path of humanism, and Buddism, and and Islam and many other "religions".
I, too, retain the use of the symbol "God". In all cultures over all of time there have been, and will continue to be, efforts to describe that which calls humanity to love and compassion and forgiveness and inclusion. In the culture and time I live in, that is captured by the language of "God".
The "language of 'God'" is a good phrase.  Many of us still speak this language.
DieselMVB“Christianity has placed all of its eggs in the belief basket. We all have been trained to think that Christianity is about believing things. Its symbols and artifacts . . . must be accepted in a certain way. . . . The choices we are left with are either rejection or fundamentalism.” 
Indeed, religion in general, including nominal Christianity, still for the most part retains its all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. Many narrow-minded, mostly right-wing, preachers insist on everyone accepting the whole theological package, tied with the red ribbon of unquestioning belief. Fortunately, now there are much more folks allowing themselves to think outside of the medieval box of the old conservative, narcissistic and power-hungry men of the cloth. I completely identify with the Presbyterian Minister, John Shuck. I myself am an agnostic leaning heavily toward mathematical processes of evolution. I feel proud of my lack of belief in what I see as “Christian mythology” – and I thank “God” for that!
Many have moved beyond either/or choices offered to us by narrow forms of religion.
LilianaYou are my kindred spirit! I have exactly the same ideas and I can say I do not believe in an old male in the sky God; I have had personal experiences about some sort of power bigger than myself and invisible to the eye...I think I am a humanist and I am very proud of it
There are more of us than you might think creatively exploring and naming our experience.
LaustenGreat to hear. I've looked into a lot of theologians and ministers like this, but I've never heard one go this far. Usually when I read one of their sermons or their books, I find they say all this stuff, but tell people to believe in Jesus. This guy, could be different. What really interests me is what his bosses are saying!
I don't have "bosses" as such, but the congregations I have served including the current one are looking for progressive approaches to faith.   I think it is more interesting to wrestle with the things Jesus said than to believe things about him.
Reasonable QuestHaving grown up in a Presbyterian Church, and attended a college associated with the Presbyterian church, I have to say I might have continued on as a Christian if John had been my pastor. I ended up in a large Evangelical church where anti evolution, and fundamentalism pushed me to question everything, and lost my faith. But once I've seen behind the curtain, it just doesn't make sense to me to try and salvage any of the good stuff from Christianity, because I can get the positive things religion has adopted without having to redefine words. But, I support John continuing to work within Christianity to bring those people along who are not quite ready to give up the Christian label or cultural traditions.
Your story resonates with many.  Fundamentalism has been the face of Christianity.  I think progressives should show another face.  I also think we are in the midst of a great transition.  Some move beyond.  Others redefine.   Hopefully, we can all be reasonable and kind as we do so.
SueNow this is a church I could probably find myself attending.
Cool!  There are many more like it.  Here is one resource.
GlenA brave and interesting approach, and I find it refreshing. I think most people attend church for the sense of community, solace, and moral instruction, all of which can be had without the belief in the supernatural. Many of my colleagues at the university I teach at are De la Salle Christian brothers, all with PHds, and although they might not admit it, I think they are all, to a man, atheists.
The same is true for many clergy, let alone church members.
LarryI think each religion is a language, complete with vocabulary, metaphors, symbols and history. some speak Zen, some fundamental Christianity, some orthodox Judaism, etc. Some speak Jain. Then there is the practice of the religion one speaks. I started going to a Christian church after several years of reading and doing my best to understand and practice Zen Buddhism because I realized that almost no one around me spoke Zen. I felt then (over 40 years ago) that both traditions were talking about the same things at their cores, with somewhat different terminology, and I believed I'd be ok being a Christian even though I had rejected such trappings as virgin birth and hell--and especially a god who would punish us for being so stupid as to transgress a rule that would then send us to hell. so John, I endorse your position. We have one chance to make a difference. And that one chance is this life. Jesus, among others, showed us how to not waste it.
Fanstastic.  The last three sentences are worth repeating as a mantra.
CarstonioI've long wanted religions to evolve into the belief-less concept that Shuck describes. Only one quibble - why would "God" be shorthand for beauty, truth, healing and justice. Truth in particular is a meaningless terms because it can mean anything that anyone wants it to mean. Since the vast majority of Americans use "God" as the name of the Christian deity, perhaps a belief-less Christianity should abandon the name.
Fair enough.   My friend and colleague in the United Church of Canada, Gretta Vosper would agree with you.
Linda LaScola John Shuck is also an open member of the Clergy Project www.Clergyproject.org for current and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs and has written about Evolution Sunday on the Rational Doubt blog.   
He has also interviewed several non-believers, including me, on the local NPR show he hosted before his recent move from TN to OR.  He is one of a growing number of clergy who do not believe in a supernatural god but one of the few who discuss it openly. Thanks, John for being at the vanguard of positive changes in religion and thanks to your congregation too.
Thank you, Linda!  I appreciate the caring you have shown for many clergy who find themselves in impossible positions.

Earlier today, I was feeling down from the overwhelming barrage of hostility from fundamentalist Christians.  I happened to glance at my bookshelf and saw a book that I hadn't read yet, Faith Beyond Belief by Margaret Johnston.    I was thumbing through it and found this:

If the common point all religions share is about not the beliefs they espouse but following the will of Spirit toward action in this life (as opposed to securing one's own salvation in the next), then the goal of anyone aspiring to spiritual maturity will be a journey beyond belief toward faith.  It is time we stopped allowing immature oracular authorities to shun people for lack of belief and recognize spiritual maturity for what it is.  Mature faith is not so much about belief; it is recognized instead by its traits and its inclusive worldview.  For those who are ready, a more meaningful faith is waiting, beyond the constraints of literal belief.  p. 274  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Southminster Played A Part in the Marriage Equality Amendment

The late Robert Funk, the bad boy of the Jesus Seminar, had a great quote regarding leadership.   He said that leadership is finding a parade and getting in front of it.   While my picture is in the paper, the good folks at Southminster helped get this parade going!

To be clear, Southminster did not draft the language that was adopted by General Assembly.  Southminster's session (board of elders) had approved a resolution that was created in its Sunday Starter group.    The session then reached out to advocacy groups and adopted language another group had created so that there would be a unified effort.  Since the language was similar to its initial resolution, the session sent this new adopted language to Cascades Presbytery.  Many sessions across the country sent similar resolutions to their presbyteries.   Cascades Presbytery was first to meet, thus the overture came from Cascades and 16 other presbyteries concurred.   It is a testimony to collective, collaborative effort across the country.

Here is the story in the Portland Tribune.

Laura Chapman, 18,...has attended Southminster since she was in elementary school and recently graduated from Tigard High School.

While she wasn’t part of the group that drafted the original resolution, she got involved at church and attended last year’s General Assembly, where she shared her views with smaller groups. She said her interest in gender equality in the church stems partly from being bisexual.

“I feel like it’s important for our church to move forward on this issue and become more inclusive,” Chapman, now a freshman at Oregon State University, said by telephone.

“I feel that God views marriage more about love and less about the specifics of the people,” she said. “This was really personal for me, so that’s why I chose to speak up about it.”