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!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time...

Here is an article about my move in the Johnson City Press.

After spending more than nine years at the helm of an Elizabethton church and more than two years hosting a weekly radio program, the Rev. John Shuck said it is time for him to sign off. 
On Oct. 13, Shuck sent an email to his congregation announcing that he and his wife, Beverly, would be leaving the area by the end of 2014.  Read More

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Transitions

October 13, 2014

Dear Friends,

This letter is hard to write. After nine years of ministry with you, it is time for a transition. Beverly and I will be moving at the end of December. Our last service with you will be the Christmas Eve service. I am in the process of accepting another call. When that is finalized in a couple of weeks I will let you know where. Our house goes on the market this week.

This congregation has touched our hearts. It was a place of healing when I arrived and a place of comfort after losing our son, Zachary. It has been a place of freedom and hope. This congregation has enabled me to grow as a preacher and pastor. I have been the envy of many of my colleagues because this congregation has allowed and encouraged me to be honest from the pulpit, on the radio, in my blog, and wherever else. First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is a beacon and an oasis. I am honored to have been able to serve with you.

This time between now and the end of the year will be a time of tearful goodbyes and a time to celebrate what we have accomplished together. We have accomplished much.

I know there will be many questions regarding next steps. The presbytery will guide you and I will do everything I can to make this transition as smooth and gracious as possible.

Thank you for your ministry to us.

Blessed Be,

John Shuck

Monday, September 22, 2014

For My Daughters on Their Wedding Day




For My Daughters on Their Wedding Day
September 20, 2014
The Charles
Johnson City, Tennessee

Katy, since you were a little girl, you were the wild one.  You have been a fireball of energy and emotion, ready to laugh and ready to make others laugh.  Full of adventure.  Ready to go on the next one.   Always in the middle of the action.  You are my buddy.   You are full of surprises.



One of the biggest surprises was when you told us you were in love with Amber.   Those who know me know that I have been an advocate for gay rights since you were a little girl.   You were an advocate right along with me.

I never thought you would bring home another woman to marry.  

The truth is:  We couldn’t be more proud and happy.

For one reason, we like Amber a lot better than any of the guys you dated.

For another, you have challenged all labels, categories and stereotypes.  You are not defined by others.  You don’t fit the alphabet soup of LGBTIAQ and so on.   Let them all think whatever.  You are your own person.   You fell in love with Amber.   You fell in love with another beautiful human being.    

Love is what matters.

Today is your wedding day.  

Actually, it is your second wedding day.   Last Thanksgiving, we did this in Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn, New York, to sign the official marriage license.   Your marriage is bona fide in the eyes of New York State, Sunny’s Bar, and Jesus.    I would have signed the marriage license here in Tennessee and we would have had this one wedding, if Tennessee were a marriage equality state.   But it isn’t.   So you get two weddings!   If people want to be prejudiced and weird, we’ll just double up on the fun!

But this is the big wedding that counts, with family and friends and all the fun things that all weddings should have like fairy maids.   It isn’t a wedding unless you have fairy maids, and princesses and princes.  A big gay wedding at The Charles.   I am glad you did this.   For yourselves, because you love each other, and we need to party on about that, but also for others.  

There is still a tendency to think that only heterosexual weddings are “real” or “count” or are worthy of celebration and recognition.   

Your wedding is as real, as spiritual, as beautiful and as God-blessed as any other including your mother’s and mine 31 years ago, or my parents’ wedding 66 years ago.    Your marriage is as real as love is real.  You are bound to each other as any two people can be.  

Not only do other straight people need to know that, but those who love unconventionally need to know that they count, and that their relationships count, and that their marriages count.   They need to know that happiness is possible.   On behalf of all who are witnessing these vows, thank you for being you, for being happy and for being out.


Now Amber.

As we all know, Beverly and I did not lose a daughter in this marriage.   We gained a daughter.   Katy could not have made a better choice of another human being  with whom to spend her life than you.   You also have a taste for adventure, a quirky sense of humor, and you have a big compassionate heart.  

You won my heart after Zach died.   You were there for us and for Katy.  You never left Katy’s side.  You were there through all the pain, sharing the tears, and being present in joy and in sorrow.  You were already fulfilling the vows that you soon will make.   I knew then that Katy had found her soul-mate.   On behalf of Beverly and I, “Welcome to our family.  Welcome to the Shucks!”


I am supposed to give some sort of blessing.  Here we go.

Amber and Katy,
In your life individually and as a married couple:

May you be attentive.

May you be attentive to each other…
To each other’s feelings…
To each other’s heart…
To each other’s dreams.

May your hearts be soft.

May your heart soften so you don’t take a harsh word personally…
May your heart soften so you can absorb each other’s pain and grief…
May your heart soften so your laughter can flow freely and loudly.

May you recognize divinity.

May you recognize the Divine heart of your relationship.
May you recognize God in each other.
May you recognize God in those you serve.
May you recognize God in the joy and in the sorrow of life.

May you be brave.

May you be brave in all adversity.
May you be brave in the midst of your fears.
May courage light your path.
May your courage be a beacon of hope for others.

May you be strengthened by your faith.

A faith that trusts in the mystery of life...
A faith that empowers you to live out your convictions…
A faith that never, never, never gives up, but endures all things.

May you travel lightly.

May your steps be light on Earth.
May your touch of compassion be light with others.
May your hearts be light so you may lift each other.

May you always know that you are held, loved, and blessed
by all that is beautiful and good. 
May your marriage be a journey through the enchanted forest.

Amen.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

If the Church Were Christian

We have just begun If the Church Were Christian:  Rediscovering the Values of Jesus by Philip Gulley in our Thursday study group.  Since that book he has written, The Evolution of Faith:  How God is Creating a Better Christianity.   Here is a presentation about that second book that he gave at Earlham School of Religion in 2012.  

I like him.  I especially like this:
"…Christianity is less a codified doctrine or creed and more an approach to life that emphasizes grace, is always on the side of human dignity, is always devoted to our spiritual growth and moral evolution, and is always committed to the ongoing search for truth, even if that search leads us away from institutional Christianity."  If the Church Were Christian, p. 8.
There is nothing in that above statement that has to do explicitly with the religion of Christianity.  Nonetheless, the above statement seems to embody the values of Christianity when emptied of its dogma.   Christianity has poured itself out into the values of humanism.   I for one embrace that.   I have little concern or care about the doctrines of Christianity except that those doctrines are true rather than false and promote human flourishing and care for Earth and other values that are beautiful and just.  I find that more and more people are curious about this kind of Christianity.  May their tribe increase.    

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Embracing the Dark


In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

Mark’s gospel is the busiest of the four gospels.   In Mark, one of the most common words is “immediately.”   Immediately, Jesus does this.  Immediately, Jesus does that.  Jesus is on the move, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He passes from one town to the next, from one emergency to the next.   In the first few verses of the opening chapter of Mark, Jesus has been baptized, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogue, casting out an unclean spirit, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and for an evening nightcap,

“they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…” (1:32-33) 

Finally,

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  (1:35)

We aren’t sure how long he is able to be alone.  The next verses read:

“And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  (1:36-37)

Little rest for the righteous.

As I reflect on this passage, I think it is nice to be needed.  It is good to be able to do meaningful things that help others.  It must have felt good to do good.   I also notice that I am exhausted just reading it.    Jesus healed people all day and all night.   The text doesn’t tell us, but we might well assume that there are sick left unattended.   A healer’s work is never done.

Mark is careful to tell us that Jesus took time “while it was still very dark” to find a deserted place and pray.    You can define what it means to pray in your own way.  Personally, I walk my dogs.    


Some people meditate.  Others run.  Others practice yoga.  Some sit quietly with a sacred text or icon.  My mother would pray while she tended her garden.   Maybe there is a right way or a wrong way to pray.   I’ll leave that for others to judge.   We do need our “down time”--our deserted place in the dark time, however we practice it.  

I find myself exhausted by the news that comes at us 24/7 through our smart phones.   I get a case of compassion fatigue just from reading the latest reports and analysis from and about Gaza, Iraq, and Robin Williams.   Not only the news of the suffering of strangers fatigues me.   The suffering of those I know including my own worries is enough to send me to a deserted place in the dark for a long time.   

The wise tell us that we need to practice the dark ways in the deserted places, in part, so we don’t end up in them.   Also, we need the dark to keep our balance and to find what the dark has to offer us.    A beautiful book is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  This book is an invitation to embrace the dark, both physically and metaphorically.   It is in the dark that we find the sacred.    God comes to us in the dark.    

I am going to explore the dark this Fall during worship by looking at biblical texts that feature darkness as place to touch the Holy.   If light is the via positiva filled with action and good works, the dark is her lover, the via negativa, whose work is emptying, receiving, and solitude. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reimagining God

My heart was strangely warmed when I learned that Lloyd Geering has written another book.   I find him to be one of the most interesting theologians I have ever read.  I have devoted two separate series of sermons to two of his books, one on Ecclesiastes and the other on Evolution.    

It looks like I will need to devote another series of sermons to his latest book, Reimagining God:  The Faith Journey of A Modern Heretic.  Westar is selling pre-orders now and it will be released in November.  I hope to speak with him about it on Religion For Life.


Here is the tease:
Described by the BBC as “the last living heretic,” Lloyd Geering has spent much of his life wrestling with God. Of late, however, he finds himself struggling with the absence of God. The rise of nonreligious, secular culture around the world testifies that he is not alone, that the concept of God has become problematical. Should God be abandoned altogether? Can God be reformed, so to speak?

Drawing from theology, science and his own faith journey—from his call to ministry, through his much-publicized heresy trial, to decades of public speaking, teaching and writing, Geering retraces key developments in the Western understanding of God. He imagines a new spirituality, one that blends a relationship to the natural world with a celebration of the rich inheritance of human culture.
I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The BDS Movement Doesn't Look So Bad Now, Does It Presbyterians?

Now we are in the 22nd day of the massacre of Gaza by Israel's military.  Eleven hundred dead.   Seventy percent civilians.   Netanyahu plans to keep on killing calling it a "just war."


Israel has jumped into the deep end of crazy.    This is the scorecard of death as of last week, when the death toll was less than half of what it is today.  


We hear that Israel has a right to defend itself.  Of course it does.  Equally so, the people of Gaza have a right to defend themselves.   Do they not?  There is a back story.  This is not about two equal sides fighting it out.    This is about an occupation, an imprisonment by a powerful nation with advanced weapons over and against an oppressed people who have no escape except death.


The United States keeps this going.  As Illan Pappe, has pointed out:
"Israel has chosen to be a 'racist apartheid State' with U.S. Support."
Each year our tax dollars, three billion of them, are given to Israel to pay for this injustice.  This is what we are getting for our money:


At the Presbyterian General Assembly, I cast my vote to divest from three American corporations who profit from the occupation.  It was a close vote that required a lot of compromise including a statement in which the Presbyterians distanced themselves from the BDS movement:
This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) movement.  
BDS was "the dirty word" this year as "occupation" has been in the past.   Now that Israel has once again shown the world its colors, BDS doesn't sound so bad, does it?   

My Religion For Life interview with Jonathan Kuttab of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and chairman of the Holy Land Trust, was perhaps the most important of the four interviews I conducted leading up to the General Assembly.    I asked him about the BDS movement and this is what he said:    
The movement itself is very clear--a non-violent attempt to respond to this situation of oppression we are in.  Many people feel that Palestinians have the right of armed resistance.  So they pick up the guns; they shoot at Israeli soldiers, settlers, civilians, you name it.  I happen to believe of course in, uh, Sabeel  and other organizations I'm involved with happen to believe that violence is not the answer--that we must seek an effective, non-violent, but real, not just nominal response to the occupation.    
So, of course we want to see peace there and we want to see a just solution.  But if the dominant, powerful party refuses to provide that peace, refuses equality or freedom or liberation, then we must work for it and we call on others to help us in that direction.  That's where boycotts, divestment, and sanctions come in.        
I encourage you to listen to that interview on podcast if you haven't already.   In addition to that, take 35 minutes and listen to his keynote address to Friends of Sabeel in Pasadena, California in April 2013. He lists four signs of hope.  The second being Israel's shift to the right wing.  He says this is a sign of hope, paradoxically, because it is alienating itself from the rest of the world.  Israel's brutality is waking people up.

It is obvious that the dominant, powerful party is not seeking peace.   I cannot support the rockets from Hamas.  I cannot support the Israeli military.   The best course of action is to resist non-violently the occupation. This means for me and perhaps for you, too…
  1. Learning the truth and exposing spin and misinformation.
  2. Countering the myths and misperceptions
  3. Calling up the U.S. President and saying no more military aid for Israel.
  4. Getting involved with the BDS movement.  Here are nine suggestions
  5. Supporting the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA.  
Finally, I will close with some bullet points from The Holy Land Trust, of which Jonathan Kuttab is president.  This organization is about peace.  
  • First: all acts of violence and aggression must cease, as well as the language of incitement and hatred used by the political, religious and economic elite as well as the media (locally and internationally). Peace, security, and freedom will never come from killing or terrorizing others. No matter how just a cause might be, violence undermines it.
  • Second: Leaders (no matter what party they represent, what nation they belong to, and what ideology or religion they adhere to) must acknowledge their failure to bringing any sense of peace to the land or to its people (even their own). If they were true leaders–with courage and vision–they would repent publicly, to their peoples and then to others for having failed all these years and decades.
  • Third: Civil society organizations need to acknowledge our own entrapment in the “political illusions” and thus our inability to create any real change at the grassroots level. For years, millions of dollars have been spent in programs, training, and activities that have barely scratched the surface. We have convinced ourselves that we have been creating change by highlighting the few (but limited) activities that take place but have never reached (for whatever reason) the masses on both sides who continue to be swayed by the language of victimization, hatred, and fear. Grass roots organizations now need to develop programs to address these issues–rather than looking into “political solutions” only. Politicians need to follow their communities and not the other way around.
  • Fourth: It is time that a nonviolent movement emerges which transcends political processes and illusions: a movement of Palestinians and Israelis as communities addressing all aspects of injustice in this land; to work together in building a new vision and model for what peace, justice and equality mean in the Holy Land (socially, economically, environmentally, spiritually) and link it with a strategy that breaks down all the physical and psychological barriers that perpetuate hatred, anger and thus separation and violence–even if the removal of such barriers challenges the core political assumptions and ideological beliefs we carry and whose existence we think we need for our own survival.
  • Finally: a core component of the movement will need to focus on working internally and separately within each community in order to create the space for healing and transformation: to address the challenges from within. Peace work is not what happens between two as much as what happens within one.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Can Presbyterians Embrace Evolution?

Linda LaScola is co-author with Daniel Dennett of Caught in the Pulpit:  Leaving Belief Behind.  

This book is about the study they conducted with clergy who are no longer believers.   She will be on an upcoming broadcast of Religion For Life to talk about this book which is the result of a series of interviews with clergy who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.   

She also helped to create the Clergy Project, an on-line discussion for clergy who no longer believe in the doctrines of their churches.

She invited me to make a post on the blog Rational Doubt about my resolution to the General Assembly regarding Evolution Sunday.   I am cross posting it here.

----

I am a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).    I am happy to be one. Even as I have been quite public that I do not hold supernatural beliefs, the church hasn’t defrocked me. It is a thoughtful denomination.  It is ahead of many other denominations on social justice questions.  It is not opposed to higher criticism of the Bible.  It is not anti-evolution.

It does not however embrace evolutionary science or higher criticism of the Bible.   In my view, it tolerates these academic fields and covers them over with a thick theological veil.    For instance evolution must be addressed (if can be addressed at all) in terms of “God” and “Creation.”   The Bible – no matter what criticism is leveled at it – still is “God’s Word.”

In the meantime, anti-scientific attitudes are creating a serious social problem.  My denomination has historically been a leader in promoting public education and responding positively to social ills.   It should be a no-brainer for the PCUSA to say “yes” clearly and unequivocally to evolution at every General Assembly and “no” to creationism in all of its guises.  The last time the PCUSA addressed evolution was in 2002.   They made this statement:
The 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has stated that it 
  • Reaffirms that God is Creator, in accordance with the witness of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions. 
  • Reaffirms that there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator. 
  • Encourages State Boards of Education across the nation to establish standards for science education in public schools based on the most reliable content of scientific knowledge as determined by the scientific community. 
  • Calls upon Presbyterian scientists and scientific educators to assist congregations, presbyteries, and the public to understand what constitutes reliable knowledge.
It is certainly time for an upgrade especially as our culture is besieged by anti-scientific views.   Mainline churches can assist science educators by adding their voice and influence for science, especially evolution –  as this is where the cultural battle rages.    We need to do this publically and repeatedly.

My resolution to ask the denomination to endorse The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday was solidly trounced by the Theological Issues Committee, 47-2. I wrote about it here  and here. Why did it fail? There were objections to adding a day to the church calendar.  Perhaps if it had come from two concurring presbyteries rather than just me, it would have had more weight.  Fine.  Many reasons have been offered for my resolution’s defeat that I find to be red herrings.   If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.    Nevertheless if any perceived errors were fixed and folks with nuanced political finesse were to submit something similar again, it might get a better showing.   I’ll choose to remain hopeful.     Why is evolution not on our church’s agenda?

What I find distressing is that the most amazing and foundational scientific discovery has gone not only unheralded but also mostly unacknowledged by my beloved Presbyterians.  I get the message that evolution is just not our business.  The problem is the theological veil.  It seems that my denomination feels that it must figure out the evolution problem theologically before it can endorse evolution.    Because church theologians cannot reconcile a scientific process that needs no supernatural design, creation, intrusion or purpose with theological notions of agency, they have nothing to say.    The best they can come up with is this statement:
  • Reaffirms that there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator.
I’ll let the reader muse over that.    The bottom line is that the church needs to embrace evolution at every opportunity.   As it does so, it can encourage creativity regarding meaning and human flourishing.    Endorse reality first then explore possible meanings.    Embrace evolution now and do the theology in response to this foundational truth.     As we might suspect, once we embrace the world that science is showing us, our theological doctrines will by necessity change.    That is what the church fears and resists.

Nonetheless, I remain hopeful and I remain engaged.   Over 15,000 clergy have signed the Clergy Letter.   That is a sign of hope.   Many creative congregations such as the one I presently serve embrace our grand evolutionary and cosmic story in worship and practice. My hope for my denomination is that it will tear down the theological veil that keeps it from confronting reality. As the veil is removed, we will be able to see our natural world as it is and then use the religious skills we have honed over the centuries to help humanity celebrate and care for Earth with poetry, song, liturgy and community.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Furtherance of Evolution and Anything Homosexual

Here is an email I received today.  It has been a while since I received a nice one like this.  The anonymous author wanted me to share it with my congregation.  Here you go...
Pastor Shuck,
I have been looking at your church’s website and am very disappointed to learn there is such a church in the Tri-cities area.  The main things on your page seem to be the furtherance of the theory of evolution and anything homosexual.  If homosexuality is the norm, there would be no human race at all.  Marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman.  Of course, I understand that the PCUSA does not believe all of the Bible, but only picks and chooses what to believe.  Nothing has changed, and the Old and New Testaments still stand in their entirety.  You, as the pastor, will have to answer for the apostasy you are teaching in your church.  That’s in the Bible too, that the one who leads others into sinning will be punished much more severely.
Read your Bible, Pastor Shuck, if you believe in the Bible. It was the Word of God when it was written and it is still the word of God.  God is watching you and your church.

I am an elder in a tri-cities PCA church, and I am writing this of my own free will and volition.  No one in my church knows of it.  I would hope you would be intelligent enough, with your extensive education and experience, to see the truth and get away from all this apostate teaching in the PCUSA.

Please feel free to share this letter with your officers and congregation.  I sincerely doubt that you have the courage to do so, but I urge it of you.  Share it at least with your session and deaconate.

Signed,
Christian 
Okey, fine.  I need to get back to work.  Evolution and anything homosexual need furthering.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Why I Voted for Divestment (It's the Occupation)

At the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit this summer, commissioners voted 310-303 to divest from Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorolla Solutions.

I cast one of those 310 votes.

Prior to the General Assembly, I produced and aired four conversations on my radio program, Religion For Life.   I provided equal time for opposing views.   These interviews are available on podcast.   Each guest was articulate and passionate.   While I appreciated and learned a great deal from my two conversations with Rachel Fish, I found Brant Rosen and Jonathan Kuttab to be more persuasive.  I'll let you decide.

My Thursday study group also spent eight sessions with Zionism Unsettled.    My one speech on the floor of GA (102:50) was about Zionism Unsettled and the important work of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA.  I asked the General Assembly to stop demonizing this group and this document.    I am sorry if the authors of this work hurt some feelings.  Someone has to speak truth to power.  

I found it more than odd for three people (Gradye Parsons, Heath Rada, and Linda Valentine) to decide on their own to remove Zionism Unsettled from the PCUSA store when the General Assembly voted specifically not to do that.   Now that this document is on the Presbyterian list of forbidden books sales should increase.   Order it here.

Prior to General Assembly I did my homework.  While at General Assembly I paid attention.  I heard the arguments.  I voted my conscience.  

My vote had nothing to do with Jewish-Presbyterian relations.  It had nothing to do with employees of these corporations.  It had nothing to do with "who owns the land according to the Bible."

My vote had everything to do with the highly militarized nation-state of Israel's illegal, and in my view, immoral occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  I voted not to profit from it.   The occupation needs to end.  The powerful parties (Israel and its ally the United States) need to end it.  

If Israel continues its human rights abuses and collective punishment of Palestinians and if U.S. politicians continue to wring their hands, then the world will make noise and will act.  

Here is one way to take action today.