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!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Appreciation for Marcus Borg

I opened my email this morning to the sad news that Marcus Borg died on Wednesday.  Professor Borg  was instrumental in helping me find meaning in Christianity.  His book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time enabled a generation to find a way to enter or to re-enter the Christian tradition by way of a history and metaphor.  

If you search Borg on my blog you will find a number of posts dedicated to the study of his writing.   I gave away and replaced Heart of Christianity many times in my efforts to introduce people to a thoughtful Christianity.   Borg was a founding member of the Jesus Seminar who I credit for helping me find the content of my faith.  I wrote this a couple of years ago:
Two books, Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography changed my faith. Not just my thinking…my faith. Default religion (Jesus died on the cross to save some people from sin so they--Christians--can go to heaven when they die even though most people will go to hell) lost its appeal for me long ago. 
Borg and Crossan introduced me to a Jesus who was a real person. He embodied a vision of justice, peace, and hope that wasn’t based on supernaturalism. In opposition to the injustice and dehumanizing forces of Empire, this Jesus preached the “empire” of God that is real, present, and participatory.

I don’t talk or write about my faith too often. It is mine. It is personal. It is sacred to me. Making it public risks misrepresentation and belittlement. I also know that talking about personal faith can sound self-righteous and grandiose.

At the risk of all of that I will say that for me, my search for the historical Jesus has enabled me to find content for my faith. It is not simply an intellectual exercise. This vision, this icon, this myth (in the true sense of that word) of the historical Jesus is sacred.

Jesus stood up for those who were put down.
I trust, I have faith, that I can do that too.
That is the Jesus who is “in my heart.”
That is my faith.
I thank the Jesus Seminar for their part in restoring it.
Maybe the quest will inspire you as well.
Marcus Borg was always a gracious teacher. I was fortunate to have him on Religion For Life three times (Evolution of the Word, Speaking Christian). The one I enjoyed the most was the last when he talked about his book, Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most.

He will be missed by many.

I count myself among that number.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Arrived!

We have arrived!

Much to say about the moving experience.   It is a high stress activity even as it has gone as smoothly as one could hope.   I feel this tearing, torn between two worlds.  I have never lived anywhere as I long as I lived in East Tennessee.  It has been painful pulling up those roots.  We are tenderly re-planting them in Portland.  We have a Portland address but the area where we live is called Bethany, west of the ridge that separates downtown from the western suburbs.   We are renting a home that has a nice yard for the pups.  Who knows, we may rent until we die.  Such is life.

This new position is larger than my last.  We had 192 in worship on Sunday.   People are checking out the new guy.   I am trying my best to learn the ropes, set my timetables, learn names, and figure out the system.   This will be a big job.   In addition to learning the duties of the position I am trying to see how the radio show might work.   I would love to do it here.   I have to figure out how to approach the stations and which stations.  

Religion For Life certainly made an impression in East Tennessee.  This past week I received two emails that typify the response.  People either love it or think I am the devil.  Check it:
I go the St Luke’s, Boone, NC. You came to our book group last year.  It is still going strong. I went to my first Jesus Seminar at your church. I have since joined Westar.  It has been life changing. I love your show and trust  the podcasts will continue. I wish you the best of luck in your new life.
See how nice that is?  This is why I do what I do.  And then there is this:
I have followed your unministry on WETS. Thank you for leaving the area.
I believe your views on caring for the environment and equality for LGBT were correct but you have offended way too many fundamentalists who still want (and deserve) to believe that God is real and there is ultimate meaning to the human existence.
Why do you take such pleasure in trying to tear down the most sacred elements of the Christian faith?
Please seriously consider whether or not you might be demon possessed
Even Einstein said it is better to believe in something even if it is wrong, than in nothing at all
Did Einstein really say that?

Daniel Dennett calls that belief in belief.   I have a hard time accepting that believing in something just for the sake of believing is a virtue.   I am also not sure if the alternative to believing in the existence of a supernatural agent is to believe in nothing.  I believe in love.  I believe in you.   I believe in my own definition of God whatever that is.   I don't believe in views of God that don't make sense and I think it is good, even pleasurable, to tear down those sacred idols.

Fun stuff.  I want the fun to continue.  I am going to have fun with this new position.

If you are near our evergreen tree, join the fun at Southminster!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Shucks' Moving Sale!

We are moving and leaving much of our stuff in Tennessee.   So come on over, Saturday, November 22nd and get your hands on furniture, tools, and all kinds of other things.   Here is the Facebook event.

When:  8am to 5 pm, Saturday, November 22nd.
Where:  3 Fairway Court, Johnson City, Tennessee
What:  Lots of cool stuff!  See below:


A bowflex!


A master bedroom dresser and mirror!


A sectional with pull-out bed!  Oh, and some nutcrackers!


Many children's items and miscellaneous treasures!


A Phillips's Flat Screen TV!


A twin bed mattress, box spring and frame!  Plus a daybed! (not pictured)


Tools!  Leafblower, weed eater, hedgetrimmer, electric chainsaw, saws all, circular saw, sander, and more!


Golf clubs (black bag has lefty clubs), shotgun, snowboard!


Desk with glass top!

Plus, much, much more!   Prices will be marked or best offer…

This stuff is not leaving Tennessee!!


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Portland Just Got Weirder

A couple of weeks ago, I sent a note to my congregation that I would be leaving at the end of the year.   First Presbyterian of Elizabethton is a cool congregation and it is difficult to leave.   But there comes a time when it is time.  I had to announce we would be moving before it was a done deal so we could sell the house.   A contract has been signed on that (fingers crossed).

Over the weekend I preached and passed the audition.  The congregation voted 144 to one (there is always one) to extend a call and I accepted said call to be the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon.    I begin January 1, 2015.


I will do my best to Keep Portland Weird.  

I have been asked a number of times whether or not Religion For Life will stay on the air.    Wayne Winkler at WETS wants that to happen and will continue to air the show if I can get it done.   The folks at Southminster want me to do it as well and so I will be checking out possibilities in Portland.  Perhaps a community station will work with me on this.  

Now, moving.  

Many books need new owners.   I am having a super colossal book sale November 15th and 16th at the church.   Half the proceeds will go to the First Presbyterian of Elizabethton Youth.  

This is a great opportunity for a seminary student or minister to add to their library.

Barth's complete Church Dogmatics, for sale.
Calvin's commentaries, for sale,
The whole Nicene, pre-Nicene, ante-Nicene Fathers collection, for sale.  
That is the tip of the iceberg.

Plus hundreds of books $1 paperback, $2 hardback, or less.   Other paperbacks for a couple of bucks a bag.  Lots of literature--my Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, Tom Robbins collections, ready for your shelf.   Plus children's books, dvds, vinyl records (need some classic rock on vinyl?)   Make an offer.  This stuff is not leaving Tennessee.   Unsold books will be donated to various libraries.

Here are the details:

Book Sale:  FPC Elizabethton
Saturday, November 15, 8-5.
Sunday, November 16, noon to three.  

The following weekend we are having a moving sale at our house.  

Moving Sale:   3 Fairway Court, Johnson City.
Saturday, November 22, 8-5.
 
Furniture, tools, lawn care stuff, a bowflex (!)  (My chiseled physique is all the inspiration you need to get there early in the morning to grab that!)

  

With that image etched uncomfortably in your mind, I bid you well.


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!