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 03, 2015

Reading the "Good Book"

I was thrilled to interview Harvey Cox, John Dominic Crossan, and Jennifer Grace Bird on Religion For Life.   It is a nice podcast package on reading the Bible.   You can download all three podcasts from the KBOO podcast page and the Religion For Life podcast page.  Here is information about each show:

I am doing a three part series on the Bible, what it is and how to read it.   Three excellent scholars and teachers will be our guides, Harvey Cox, John Dominic Crossan, and Jennifer Grace Bird.   Leading off is Harvard University professor, Harvey Cox, author of the famous Secular City in 1965.  He was with me two years ago on Religion For Life to discuss his book, The Future of Faith.  He returns to talk about his latest book How To Read the Bible.    Download or listen to Harvey Cox.

In my second in a series of three on the Bible, world-renowned scholar on the historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan returns to Religion For Life, to address one of the most troubling aspects of the Bible, the violence of God. How do we read and trust a book whose main character, God, is less ethical than most humans? His latest book is How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling With Divine Violence from Genesis through Revelation.  Download or listen to Dominic Crossan.

I finish my three-part series on the "good" book with Jennifer Grace Bird.   She teaches at Portland Community College and the University of Portland and has written a fantastic guide to the Bible, Permission Granted:  Take the Bible Into Your Own Hands.  She doesn't flinch from challenging the "bad" texts in the good book.   More than a critique of the Bible, she encourages her readers to read the texts for themselves with a critical eye and not just accept it because it's what "the Bible says."  You can disagree with the Bible.  Permission granted.  Download or listen to Jennifer Bird.

New shows are uploaded every Sunday morning.   Make sure you follow on the podcast page and you will receive an email update when each new show is uploaded.   You can follow on iTunes as well.  If you have just discovered Religion For Life you have some catching up to do as I just uploaded my 153rd show.   You can find them all on the podcast page.

How do people listen to Religion For Life?  Some take a half-hour break at their computer and listen.  Others download shows to their iPods or cell phones and listen while walking, running, exercising or driving.  The lucky folks who live in the broadcast range of WETS, WEHC, and KZUM listen on the radio.   Many people use the podcasts for study groups and radio stations have permission to air them as each show is fully produced and exactly 29 minutes!  Of course, it is all free.

A huge thanks to KBOO for allowing me to produce the show there, for hosting it on the podcast page, and for promoting it on air throughout the day!   If you have ideas for guests or would like to drop me a note about the show I can be reached by e-mail!   It is really nice if you like the show to share it with friends!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

An Emergent God

I am enjoying the ideas put forth by Nancy Ellen Abrams in her book A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.   You can hear the podcast on the Religion For Life podcast page or the KBOO podcast page.  

  1. God is an emergent reality.
  2. God did not exist before human beings existed.   
  3. God emerged from the human mind and cultural evolution. 
  4. New realities emerge from simpler components.  "No atom of my body is alive yet I am alive."
  5. God is the emergent reality of humankind's aspirations to be something more than we are.
  6. Thus God is real.  (As real as you and me, the economy and democracy). 
I have been enjoying this idea, playing with it, even trying it out in sermons.   I thought of the late Walter Wink who might have been on a similar path.  I always have liked this quote about prayer from his book Engaging the Powers.  It has more significance with an emergent God:
Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes. . ., p. 303

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No Gays Allowed

An owner of a hardware store in Grainger County, Tennessee decided to stick to his beliefs such as they are.  Jeff Amyx, who also happens to be a Baptist minister put up a sign in his store window that says, "No Gays Allowed."

This is a result of the supreme court decision on marriage:
"They gladly stand for what they believe in, why can't I?" Amyx told WBIR. "They believe their way is right, I believe it's wrong. But yet I'm going to take more persecution than them because I'm standing for what I believe in." Amyx said he has no plans to take the sign down.
Persecution.  Really?

Actually, the correct word is prejudice and it's the same as it has always been.  

Mr. Amyx might want to take a lesson from the Berenstain Bears...

It's not nice to exclude. Reminding you of your manners is not persecution.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supremes Say "YES!" to Marriage Equality!

My daughter, Katy, posted on her Facebook page that she and her wife, Amber, are legally married in Tennessee.   The Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Friday that states cannot ban same-gender marriage.  

I am sitting here in front of the computer screen not sure what to write next.  I am speechless.  So many have worked so hard and so long and suffered so many disappointments, suffered through so much hate and name-calling and spiritual abuse.  

To all my friends, thank you for never giving up.

Love and justice have overcome.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Godless Engineer Interviews: John Shuck!

I was interviewed just after Easter by John Gleason host of the Godless Engineer (Facebook, Twitter).  He saw my guest post in the Friendly Atheist and spent over an hour with me.   He asked some great questions.   Topics included a "belief-less" Christianity, the evolution of "God," Christopher Columbus, Ken Ham and much, much more!

Check it out the video!

Or audio to download via Spreaker!

I will delve into these questions throughout the summer during BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon)!

If you are looking for thoughtful podcasts about religion listen to Religion For Life!   New 30 minute shows are uploaded every Sunday!  Download and subscribe to podcasts at KBOO, Religion For Life podcast page, or i-Tunes!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Worship Guide for BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon)

Questions and sermon topics have been submitted (25 in all) and I have distributed them over 12 sermons during the summer.     

In this guide you will find the theme for each service based on the questions asked.   After each sermon there will be a few minutes to discuss the questions and the sermon with your neighbors.  During the coffee hour we will meet in the sanctuary for a longer discussion. 

If you have a creative element (poem, song, children’s sermon, etc.) for one of the services, it will be most welcome!  Send me an email!  

Here is the line-up of questions.    Sermons (text and audio) will be posted here.  

June 21st     Lament and Faith                              

  • How did the death of your son impact your faith?  Did the impact include changes or affirmations?  Honestly, does such an event impact everything in your life?
  • Not believing in a supernatural  God, or heaven,  how do you comfort people who are dying?
  • You don’t believe in “afterlife” but would you tell a grieving person that their loved one is just “dead and done” – what would you say to them? In reading what you believe, this no-afterlife is the one I struggle with most. I agree with no heaven/hell places or no God person but I want to still believe that my loved ones are somewhere peaceful and happy and loved, or that their spirit is with me. I sense or believe in something, a creator that unites us all; science has an important role but did not give me love. Reading you has gotten me to focus on what I believe – good news – so I will ponder ‘afterlife’ some more.  On a lighter note, does belief in no afterlife mean no ghosts or spirits so would you walk through a graveyard at night?
June 28th    Talking Theology with Family (and others)                         

  • Why does it seem that Western culture has so much difficulty discussing, with any degree of rationality, the big three of Sex, Religion and Death?
  • It seems to me the most strident of fundamentalists are frightened of the ambiguity of nothingness represented by death. What are John's views on that subject?
  • It's fun to talk about theology but it can be divisive too, and it can degenerate into cant, or worse, doctrinaire judgment, prejudice and hatred. What guidelines would you give for discussing theology with members of our congregation? With our families? With acquaintances?
  • How do I describe to my 90+ year-old Mother your belief system?   If God doesn’t tell you what is right and what is wrong, how do you know?
July 5th      Mission Trip Sunday Led By Our Youth

Our youth lead the worship and inform us about their exciting adventures over the summer!

July 12th    Deconstructing Sacrifice
  • The whole thing about sacrifice in the Bible.  Animals sacrificed in the Old Testament & Jesus sacrificed.  I don’t see why God just can’t forgive without a sacrifice.
  • If Jesus was not born of a virgin (that being a myth) then he is not God's begotten son, and could not be expected to die for the sins of the world. Furthermore, if God said he didn't require sacrifice but justice, and he saved Abraham's son at the last minute, he would never require Jesus to be a human sacrifice. In fact, a God who requires any human sacrifice is repugnant to most of us. So how are we to see Jesus' death on the cross? Not as propitiation for my sin? I'd like to hear some discussion of this.

July 19th    A Belief-less Christianity

  • So, you’ve been quoted as referring to a belief-less Christianity.  What does that mean? And since the Presbyterian faith is grounded in numerous “beliefs,” how is it that you’re Presbyterian?

July 26th    The Bible and the Universe Story

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

August 2nd   A Heart for the Existential Jesus                                 
  •  You use the term Jesus ________????   ( Ask John what phrase he uses and fill it in.)   What do you mean by that.
  •  Please talk about Sartre, Camus and other existentialists (maybe Tillich, maybe not) and whether or not they have a strong kinship with Jesus and how some of that might be important to Southminster.

August 9th  Deconstructing (and Reimagining) God                   
  •   If God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and all powerful and needs nothing then why does "He" need 8+ billion of these little critters here on earth to worship "Him" to feel complete?
  •  What phraseology do you use to speak of God?   How do you internalize it or find meaning in it (the phraseology)?
  •   What do you mean when you say you don’t believe in God?  (or a supernatural God)

August 16th    unKingdom of the unGod

  •   Have we succeeded as Christians but failed as followers of Jesus?
  •   From your very new perspective is Southminster alive with respect to the building of the kingdom of God?  What makes you answer that way?

August 23rd     Prayer in a New Key
  •  How to understand prayer; does God intervene in human affairs?  Are we to praise God?  Thank him?    
  •  I saw an electronic church notice board today with "help is just a prayer away". What would Jesus say about that? Would he agree or disagree? Would he tell a parable? One he used before or a new one? What would Kushner say? How does the gift of free will constrain prayer? Why pray? How do modern people sort that out? Be sure to mention "apocalyptic" and "sapiential".

August 30st     A God That Could Be Real

On this Sunday we review the book we have been reading over the summer, A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet by Nancy Ellen Abrams.    But here is the cool part:  the author herself plans to be with us via Skype on the big screen.  The sermon will be a conversation between Nancy and I and then the congregation will have the opportunity to ask her questions.  By the way, a podcast of our Religion For Life conversation will be available June 28th.  

September 6th   A Community Without Answers

This will be another dialogue sermon.  Associate Pastor, Rev. Don Ludwig and I will discuss these three questions:
  •  As a Progressive Christian I do not believe in a Supernatural Deity. Therefore there is no reason to think that the man Jesus was the Son of this Deity.  So he was bound by all the natural laws that bind us.  i.e. No miracles, no Resurrection, no Second Coming, and no dying for my sins either.  Now Jesus seen in the proper context of his times was a wise man who talked about a very different approach to life.  A way that deserves consideration and implementation.  Many other wise men and women of history and the present have done likewise.  We should take wisdom from where ever we find it.  So here is my question, given all this, how does the Christian Church not just become another civic club doing good works?  Or is that where it is headed?
  •  What do you see our church becoming?  Are there changes you would make in the direction we are going?  The issues upon which we focus? Less biblical? Would you speed up the timeline? Does what you want for us always include room for those less inclined to jump in?
  • As a congregation we wrestle with some of the seemingly negative aspects of traditional and progressive Christianity.  At the same time we teach our kids about the Bible and faith in Sunday school.  How can we present the discoveries and clarifications given by Borg, Crossan, Spong, et al, to our children as part of that teaching?

September 13th   Welcome Back Sunday/Leftovers and Softball Questions              
  •  What has been the most asked question from us, what topic of most concern, and is there a question you thought we would ask but no one asked? Was there a big response? Let us know how this experience has been for you!
  •  What are your impressions of Oregon and of Southminster? Are there things you miss or especially like or were surprised by?  You probably find beauty everywhere, but seriously, isn’t Oregon just the most beautiful place ever??

September 20th   Leftovers Warmed Again

I left this Sunday blank in case there are any “leftovers” (ie. burning questions that have come up that need another service) or in case I need to bump anything back because of a change in summer plans.

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


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.