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, 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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Problem with Prayer

Those who have objected to my theological questioning regarding "God" often bring up prayer.   The question I am asked is along these lines:
"If you don't believe in God, then what is the point of prayer?"
While it is true that I do not think the universe has an "outside" and therefore, I cannot conceive of any being outside the universe, nevertheless old practices die hard.  Prayer is one of those practices.   I don't have a personal practice of prayer.  I do walk my dogs.

As a minister I am called upon to pray and I do it.   But I do have more questions than answers regarding prayer.

What is prayer?
Does prayer need a god?
What good is prayer?

We should be asking questions about prayer.   Coming up on Religion For Life is my conversation with Two Friars and a Fool about their new book, Never Pray Again.   This advice is from ministers who recognize the problem with prayer.    Better to do than to pray, they suggest.

I was intrigued by this series in the New York Times, "Should Atheists Pray?"  I think the word "should" is odd.  Who is making rules for atheists?  But I get the point.   Does prayer have any meaning and is it worthwhile without a god or without a belief in the supernatural?   There were some good essays on this topic.  I particularly enjoyed reading Hemant Mehta:
There’s a very real downside to praying. It lulls believers into a false sense of accomplishment. We cannot solve our problems – much less the world’s – through prayer. We often see people with good intentions praying for victims in the wake of a tragedy, but prayer is useless without action, and those actions make the prayers irrelevant.
and Hal Taussig:
The urge to pray comes not so much from some divine policing of our behavior as from needs to cry out in pain, roar with joy upon landing a job, or stand still to remember a friend. It doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes needs mentoring of sorts – but prayer often flows generously and unprompted from human growth and longing.
Two different views.  I see the wisdom of both.

We have inherited a practice that was created in a time when people believed that things happened because of agents and that these agents could be influenced by animal sacrifices, prayers, incantations, and so forth.   Prayer is a carryover of that worldview.  Yet, it is an ancient practice.  Dancing for the gods and for the spirits is in our bodies.   We carry prayer in our muscles and bones even if we don't believe in agents.

I want to be clear.  I do not believe there is a supernatural being called God that answers prayers.   I do not think that any prayer changes anything except perhaps the person praying or the person who may feel better (or worse) for hearing a prayer.   Changing oneself and connecting with another is no small thing.

Obviously, there are people who believe differently than I.  They believe in the power of prayer.  So it is tricky when called on to pray with folks who believe differently than I do.  Part of the supposed success of prayer is that the pray-er believes as well.   I think this is a real challenge for ministers who are leaving a theistic world-view when the role of minister has been defined by that world-view.    This is a huge challenge for those of us who find value in religion.  This is a challenge for the church.  What do we do about prayer?

Should we purge prayer and attempt to become purely rational beings?   To be sure, I am in favor of a bit more rationality.  And yet the emotion of it can be cathartic.   I think it is a way of connecting people and of expressing compassion.

I feel a need to give prayer an upgrade.  This goes for corporate worship, too.   I want the practice of prayer without the belief in the supernatural.   I want Hal Taussig's emotional release with Hemant Mehta's reality check.  I want to pray individually with someone or in a corporate setting without the expectation that we think we are influencing a divine being to do things for us.  Even as a prayer may be addressed to "God" that doesn't mean I am speaking to any being except those in the room.   Prayer is a way of putting on the big screen what is really going on inside us and between us.

I do not take it literally.  But I do take it seriously.

I am hopeful that we will have more conversation about prayer.  What do you think?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When I'm Gone

Whenever I hear this song I realize again how good it is.

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone
And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone
And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't feel the flowing of the time when I'm gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I'm gone
My pen won't pour out a lyric line when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't breathe the bracing air when I'm gone
And I can't even worry 'bout my cares when I'm gone
Won't be asked to do my share when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't be running from the rain when I'm gone
And I can't even suffer from the pain when I'm gone
Can't say who's to praise and who's to blame when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

Won't see the golden of the sun when I'm gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I'm gone
Can't be singing louder than the guns when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

All my days won't be dances of delight when I'm gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I'm gone
Can't add my name into the fight while I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Can We Talk About Science?

An old piece of wisdom goes like this:
"If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another."
Many reasons have been offered as to why the Theological Issues committee soundly defeated my commissioner's resolution regarding The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday.    As I have been thinking about it, all of those reasons are red herrings.

It was a fine resolution: clear, focused and concise.  It was drafted by three members of my congregation who are all science educators.   The committee could have approved it.  They could have amended it and approved an amended version.  They just didn't want to do it.

The response is to keep trying.  Folks are talking about it.

Michael Zimmerman, founder of The Clergy Letter Project that now has over 15,000 signatures and is in my view the most effective organization in regards to helping religious groups acknowledge evolution nailed it in his Huffington Post piece, Evolution and the Presbyterian Church (USA):  Not Quite the Relationship It Could Be.  He wrote:
In late June, members of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) looked into the future of the religion and science debate and blinked. Instead of positively reshaping a manufactured debate that hasn't accomplished anything positive for anyone, they opted to ignore the reality of the situation and responded with platitudes demonstrating just how far we still have to go before even mainstream religions are able to fully embrace science.
Linda LaScola of Rational Doubt wrote about me in her post, Presbyterian Minister and TCP Member Speaks Up for Evolution
I hope he and other progressive clergy are eventually successful in changing antiquated church policies.
And from Panda's Thumb, Presbyterian Church Refuses to Endorse Evolution Weekend, Matt Young writes about his own experience of trying to speak to a Presbyterian Church about modern science.  He was invited to speak, then was uninvited:
They estimated (if I remember correctly) that roughly half the congregation had threatened to quit if the invitation was not rescinded. My colleague was mortified: How could it possibly be that his church could not even discuss modern science? When would they enter the modern era? How could half his church be completely unwilling to listen, to turn a blind eye to a discussion of what should have been an important issue in the church? So my talk, which had been carefully vetted, was canceled in the blink of that blind eye.
To be clear:  the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not anti-evolution.  We included in the rationale of the resolution the 2002 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.
The resolution was clearly in line with these four bullet points.   The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday would help carry those affirmations forward.   We need to continue to push for science.

As far as Evolution Sunday not being holy or religious or whatever, adding Evolution Sunday would be consistent with other days on the calendar including:
  • Celebrate the Gifts of Women
  • Homelessness/Affordable Housing
  • Higher Education
  • Native American Day
  • Domestic Violence Awareness
  • Children's Sabbath
  • Caregiver
  • Race Relations
  • Criminal Justice
  • Souper Bowl of Caring
and so forth.

If the committee had wanted to do so, it could have endorsed the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday and the sky would not have fallen.   Maybe next time?   Perhaps a couple of presbyteries will send their own pro-science (and in particular, pro-evolution) overtures to the next General Assembly.  I am hoping that conversation will continue and that others will push the PC(USA) to take bolder stands to resist the cultural battle against science.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Shuck and Jive is Eight!

Eight years ago today I started Shuck and Jive.    Here is the first post.  My first post with content was this one in which I asked what the Christian faith would be like if we found the body of Jesus.   Some of the comments were so nasty, I remember deleting them.  That was my introduction to the world of blogging.  I have been controversial ever since.

It feels like a lifetime ago.  Of course from November 2012 to just recently Shuck and Jive was on ice.   I am starting it again as I tentatively put one foot in front of the other, "learning to walk in the dark" to borrow a metaphor from Barbara Brown Taylor's latest book.   I recorded an interview with Barbara for Religion For Life.   It will air sometime in July.  She is as gracious and thoughtful in an interview as she is in print.

Independence Day is a good day to announce that I have been elected to the Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Voices for Justice.

I am honored to be on this team.   PV4J is a marriage between the Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia.

I used to post a lot from Witherspoon (along with pics of Reese Witherspoon).  Guess I kinda have a crush.

PV4J is a strong progressive voice in our denomination.  Its General Assembly issue of Network News provided the best help of any magazine for commissioners in regards to preparing for the assembly.   You can follow PV4J on Twitter and love them on Facebook.

Be part of the movement and support the work of PV4J!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two Years

Sigh, June 28.

Hard to tell if the time has gone by slow or fast, yet it feels like a lifetime.  This was from our trip to Montana in 1998.  Yellowstone Park.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Evolution Resolution

My commissioner's resolution regarding The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday got two votes!   We will build on that.  The vote was 47-2 against my resolution.   Nowhere to go but up.   I am hoping that interested folks in other presbyteries might craft something that will work next time around.

Here is the resolution and comments from advisory committees on PC-Biz.

The only press it received was from my friends at the Layman. The Layman wrote two articles about it.  One before the debate and a second describing what happened.

Here is the text of the speech I gave to the committee to offer the resolution's background and intent.
I am John Shuck, teaching elder commissioner from Holston Presbytery.

I am the pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Here is the background for this resolution.

This resolution originated in our science and spirit discussion group of my congregation.  Our group meets monthly and explores the intersection of science and faith.    Three members of the group created this resolution.   Each is a science educator and has devoted his or her life to science education.

David Roane is a member on session and the founding chair of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Jeff Wardeska, also a member of session, is a retired Chemistry professor and former chair of the Chemistry Department at East Tennessee State University.

Julia Wade, a former member of session, is a retired biology professor at Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee.
They are people of faith.  They are Presbyterians.  They are asking the PCUSA for assistance in their calling as science educators in regards to evolutionary theory.

This resolution is not about science in general, which the Presbyterian Church has affirmed.  This resolution is specifically focused on evolution.    It is evolution where these scientists face the struggle with churches and popular culture in regards to teaching evolution in our institutions of learning.  Evolution is where the cultural battle rages.  That is the place where the church is being asked to help.
Biologist Michael Zimmerman created The Clergy Letter Project, the letter you have before you, because of this struggle.   The struggle is with school boards and teachers facing pressure to teach creationism, now called intelligent design, as an alternative scientific theory to evolution, which of course, it is not. 

As professor Zimmerman points out, there is no controversy within the scientific community regarding evolution through natural selection.   The controversy is with popular religious culture.   Professor Zimmerman thought if he could get clergy to sign a letter in full support of evolution that might help people of faith who are struggling with perceived conflicts of evolution and faith to support the teaching of evolution in public schools.  There have been nearly 13,000 signatures.    Many Presbyterian clergy have signed this letter including me.   I believe it has helped.
Again, the background for this resolution comes from scientists seeking support from churches and other religious authorities.  They are asking churches to educate their people that evolution in particular, and science in general, is not incompatible with faith.
The intent of this resolution has three parts:
The first is to communicate to the Presbyterian Church and to bear witness to the larger culture that faith and evolution are not incompatible and that evolution should be taught in the public schools not as one theory among many but as a foundational scientific truth. 
The second intent is to communicate to our scientists and to our students of science that the church supports them in the struggle to educate the public in matters of science, and in particular, evolution.  One does not have to set aside one’s faith to accept evolution and one does not have to leave aside what they learn from science, and in particular, evolution, to grow in faith.

The third intent is evangelism.   Endorsing the Clergy Letter and establishing the second Sunday in February on the Presbyterian calendar as Evolution Sunday will bring people to church.    Next to Easter, Evolution Sunday is the biggest Sunday of the year in our congregation.   People come to our church because of Evolution Sunday.   People who have been alienated from church because of its negative attitudes toward evolution have found a home with us.   Through lectures, sermons, worship, and outings we worship God and celebrate in a sacred celebration what we are learning about our natural world.  The scientific theory of evolution through the mechanism of natural selection has transformed the way we understand our natural world.   
The overall intent of this resolution is to communicate that evolution through natural selection is not something for people of faith to fear, or even to tolerate, but to embrace as a sacred story.    It is good news. 
It is fitting to celebrate God’s ongoing creation through the mechanism of natural selection near the birth of the individual who founded it, Charles Darwin.  Because Charles Darwin and his work has often been vilified and misunderstood by the church, it is time to welcome Charles Darwin back to church with open arms and to honor his curiosity along with the curiosity of all scientists as a gift to the church.

Mr. Moderator, thank you for allowing me to provide the background and intent for this resolution.  I will be here for the discussion and at your pleasure, I am available to respond to any questions.

Unfortunately, the committee didn't discuss the resolution when I gave this address.  They heard my speech then debated other matters and didn't come back to it until three hours later, the last thing they did before adjourning.   When the discussion finally happened, comments about it were sparse and went like this:
  1. "I think this is probably a good idea, except the Evolution Sunday part."
  2. "Will this require all clergy to agree?" 
  3. "Not all scientists agree on evolution." 
  4. "Evolution Sunday isn't a religious day." 
  5. "Evolution Sunday is the second Sunday in February and that used to be Black History Sunday. Now we have Black History Month. So I vote no." 
  6. "I have people in my family who believe in evolution and those who don't.  Why add fuel to the fire?"
And that was the show.  47-2 against.

Hey, it was a first try.  Suggestions for improvement might be to eliminate "Evolution Sunday" (even though it is so dear to my heart) and ask the GA to endorse the Clergy Letter Project alone as the United Methodist Church has already done.   Of course, we need more overture advocates and the support of presbyteries.   Other ideas?

We need to be clear on the focus:

We need help from the church in this cultural battle over science, particularly, evolution.

This article offers a reason why.   Neil deGrasse Tyson v. the Right:  Cosmos, Christians and the Battle for American Science.

Here is my interview with Blaine Schubert of the ETSU Natural History Museum who also knows the importance of science education!

Do check out Michael Zimmerman's articles in the Huffington Post and if you are a clergy person and you have not signed the Clergy Letter, please do, and consider celebrating Evolution Sunday or Evolution Weekend next February!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

We Are Going to Make This Place Your Home

Lovely and I returned from GA at 1:30 this morning.  I am going to take a few days of R and R and then write some blog posts about my experience at General Assembly and the actions taken by the assembly.

Presbyterians are enjoying and enduring their 15 minutes of fame and pundits of all varieties are posting opinions of the actions.   Have fun reading all of that.  I am exhausted and will wait to offer my thoughts as I process them later this week.

I will also host a conversation about GA probably next Sunday evening (June 29th) at my church.  I will present the actions of this assembly and allow people to ask questions and voice their thoughts.  More details on that to come.  But...I do need to post this picture from the LA Times.

That is me in the back hiding behind the orange sign.  The reason I kept my sign low is not because I am particularly bashful, but because I didn't want to capture the moderator's attention until the opportune time.  When that time came I raised the sign to catch the moderator's eye, called the question, and thus moved the assembly to vote.   We defeated a measure that would have delayed action for two more years.   I had a speech prepared, but felt my role was to move the proceedings in a good direction rather than offer my opinion especially after so many others had done a great job doing just that. 

What did we decide?  We got everything we ever wanted and could get.

We approved an "Authoritative Interpretation" of the constitution allowing for teaching elders (clergy) to officiate at any wedding in states in which that wedding would be legal.  It allows churches to host those weddings in their sanctuaries.   So for example, the wedding for Katy and Amber at which I officiated in New York City would fall under this ruling.   This is in effect now.   PCUSA ministers can officiate at same-gender weddings without fear of disciplinary action.  Here is the text:
“When a couple requests the involvement of the church in solemnizing their marriage as permitted by the laws of the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage is to take place, teaching elders have the pastoral responsibility to assess the capabilities, intentions and readiness of the couple to be married (W-4.9002), and the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.

“Exercising such discretion and freedom of conscience under the prayerful guidance of Scripture, teaching elders may conduct a marriage service for any such couple in the place where the community gathers for worship so long as it is approved by the session; or in such other place as may be suitable for a service of Christian workshop.”
It was approved by a vote of 371-238.  Regardless of what happens in the second action the assembly took, the above ruling will stand.  The second action was to change our Directory of Worship to reflect marriage equality.   Here is the key text:
“marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”  
The phrase "traditionally a man and a woman" was an amendment made by the leaders of Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians (the two leading LGBTQ advocacy groups) for the purpose of being conciliatory.  Nothing is lost with this amendment and it is true.  Traditionally marriage has been "a man and a woman" in our denomination, and now it is between two people.  This vote passed 429-175. 

Because this requires a change in our constitution, it will be sent to each of our 172 presbyteries for a vote.  If 87 presbyteries vote in the affirmative the constitution will change for the entire church.  That is our work for the next two years.  This will be a significant move for marriage equality.   We have our work ahead of us, but now, we celebrate!

Speaking of celebration, next Sunday is More Light Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee!   It will be a party, Beloveds!   Get the word out!

We are making this place your home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An Open and Discerning Mind

In preparation for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I used my radio program, Religion For Life, to inform the public and commissioners to the General Assembly about resolutions regarding Israel-Palestine that will be coming before the assembly.   I produced four shows.

Two interviews were with Rachel Fish, the Associate Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.  One interview was with Jonathan Kuttab of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, and another with Brant Rosen of Jewish Voice for Peace.

I provided equal time to opposing views and allowed each guest to speak his or her truth.  Each was passionate, articulate, and intelligent.   I personally learned a great deal from each guest.  You can hear all four podcasts on the Religion For Life podcast page.  I trust you will listen to all four programs with an open and discerning mind.  

My "Thursdays with Jesus" study group also spent eight weeks with Zionism Unsettled, the study guide produced by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA).   The phrase used most often as we discussed the text and video clips was "eye-opening."   Again, if you read the study guide and watch the dvd, I trust you will do so with an open and discerning mind.

As a commissioner, I will hear a great deal of opinion regarding issues of divestment and opinion regarding this study guide.   I promise to hear it all with an open and discerning mind.   What more can we ask of one another?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Good Is In the Listening

In two days I leave for Detroit to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I have been elected a commissioner from my presbytery to vote my conscience on a wide range of issues that will come before the assembly.

There are overtures to divest from fossil fuel companies, advocate against factory farming, ban the use of drones, lift travel restrictions to Cuba, support efforts to end sexual violence in the military, develop a comprehensive social witness policy on human trafficking, allow pastors and churches to officiate at same-gender marriages, amend the definition of marriage to include same-gender couples, take meaningful action to reduce gun violence, abolish the death penalty, end discriminatory policies in the Boy Scouts, promote food sovereignty, educate against and help prevent voter suppression, make our tax code more just, develop a churchwide antiracism policy, and the list goes on.  And all in one week!

I will add a resolution of my own to the mix.  A friend and colleague who is also a commissioner will join me in signing a resolution that was created by members of my congregation to endorse The Clergy Letter Project and to establish on the PCUSA calendar the second Sunday in February as Evolution Sunday.   I can make no prediction as to how far it will go.  You can read it here.

One might ask what good does this do?  In fact, a recent opinion piece in the Presbyterian Outlook by ministerial candidate, Jonathan Sauer, asks just that, "Opinions, Debates, Resolutions:  What Good Do They Do?"  His opinion is that they don't do any good:
General Assembly does not have to state an opinion on everything, and the last thing we need is to give General Assembly more divisive topics to argue over.
I cannot say what good will come of the General Assembly discussing, debating, and making statements on any of the above issues.   Maybe no good will come of it.   Then again, as a preacher I ask myself a similar question each week:
What good will come of my sermon?  Will anyone care?  Will any action be performed?  Will any hearts be moved? What good does my preaching do?  
Maybe I should just forget it and get a job mowing lawns instead.  Then I have to ask myself what good does mowing lawns do?  The grass will just grow again.  What good does anything anyone does ever do?   In the scope of things we are dust and to dust we shall return.

I cannot embrace the nihilism in that line of questioning.  While I cannot predict what good will come from anything we say from the pulpit or from our deliberations at General Assembly, I realize that is not my job.   My job each week and as a commissioner at General Assembly is to listen for Spirit and to follow my conscience guided by Spirit to respond.  I will let Spirit figure out what good will come of it, if any.

I do trust that our task is to listen.  General Assembly is the opportunity to listen to a wide variety of voices.  Many of these voices have been marginalized, ridiculed, dismissed, and silenced.   As I said in my sermon Sunday:
Voices will be speaking for the recognition of love between people that the dominant society has long dismissed as irrelevant.    I think those voices are speaking from Spirit.    Spirit calling us to act.

We will hear voices of those who have been oppressed by those who we have regarded as friends and whose oppression is connected to us.   It is complicated.  It is messy.  But even that is not an excuse to dismiss the voice of Spirit and not to act on behalf of justice. 
We will hear voices on behalf of Earth groaning under the weight of the toxicity of our energy consumption, voices on behalf of those sold into slavery today, in this modern world, voices on behalf of death row inmates, voices on behalf of animals suffering in factory farms, voices on behalf of victims who experience the terror of  drone strikes that supposedly stop terrorism, voices of victims of sexual violence in the military, voices of victims of gun violence, and the list goes on. 
I don’t say this enough, but I am glad to be a Presbyterian.    We have a lot of problems, but we do try to listen.    I am hoping for a Pentecostal uprising, a messy wild spirit fest, in which those without voices speak out and we hear them in our own language and our hearts are moved to act.     I hope that happens not only at General Assembly but here in this congregation and in our larger community.     
I hope we embody the words of our own Brief Statement of Faith and receive Spirit’s courage: 
to unmask idolatries in church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.