Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How I Became A Truther

I have been a "truther" since I read David Ray Griffin's book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11 that was published by my denomination's publishing house, Westminster John Knox Press. At first, some took what he had written seriously.  A study guide was created for helping church people digest it.

PCUSA staff weren't quite sure how to approach the book.  Chris Iosso provided a rather odd review in Presbyterian Outlook in which he tries to distance himself from Griffin "However my own suspicions work against the book's argument" but offers no "suspicions" and essentially praised Griffin's scholarship.    As it turned out, after pressure from conservatives the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation apologized for publishing it, ceased its connection with the book, and "departed" those responsible for publishing it.  (From 9/11 and Nationalist Faith, lecture by Professor Griffin):
Godshall, moreover, did not merely censure my book and Westminster John Knox for publishing it. The two men at the press who made the decision to publish it were soon to depart. 
According to the story in the Louisville-Courier Journal, “Godshall said no one would be disciplined for approving the book” and that “the board would continue to defend the editorial independence of the corporation.” 
In fact, however, Godshall began micromanaging, so Davis Perkins, who was already angry at Godshall for having apologized for the publication of my book, resigned as president and publisher of Westminster John Knox to take another position. One week later, Jack Keller, the vice president for publication, was fired. 
What is the message? While Jack Keller was vice president for publishing at WJK, it had published several books by me. One of them, God, Power, and Evil, rejects the traditional doctrine of omnipotence. It even specifically criticizes this doctrine as held by John Calvin, the founding theologian of the Presbyterian Church. Another book explicitly denies that God can interrupt the world’s normal causal relations, which means that there can be no miracles as traditionally understood and no infallibly inspired scriptures. But no one was fired for publishing these books. No one screamed that by publishing these books, the press was implying that the Presbyterian Church accepted these ideas. 
So what is the message to publishers at church presses? It is that they can publish books that are highly critical of traditional Christian doctrines without losing their jobs. But they had better not publish anything that challenges the idea that America is fundamentally good, the exceptional nation, because this is the one religious belief that cannot be challenged.
Here we are ten years after its publication and sixteen years after the events of 9/11. Does uncovering the truth and demanding a full investigation into 9/11 still matter?    I believe it does because of all the death and destruction that has happened (and continues to happen) because of 9/11.  Most importantly for me it matters because truth matters.   Tonight I continue our Tuesday night series, "The Church's Role Beyond Its Walls."

I tell my own story of how I became suspicious of the government's official conspiracy theory and why I think it is important for Americans to take action and demand an independent investigation.   Next week we will watch the film by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, "9/11: Explosive Evidence--Experts Speak Out."

Here is the description of what will happen tonight and next week on the website:
The Church’s Role Beyond Its Walls, Tuesdays from 7-8:30 pm, Room 7 
May 16 - John’s personal journey through 9/11 tying together 9/11, The Myth of Redemptive Violence, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, and Resource Depletion, especially Peak Oil. 
May 23 - (Film) “9/11: Explosive Evidence: Experts Speak Out” by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. www.ae911truth.org We will keep options open regarding the remaining Tuesdays if there is interest in discussing these topics further or other topics. John will continue discussions and films for those who are interested. We will decide that on May 23rd.

Childcare is provided.  The public is invited.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Church's Role Beyond Its Walls

"The Church's Role Beyond Its Walls" is the title of a series of educational events at Southminster beginning tonight and every Tuesday through June.   We have started the Tuesday night sessions that are open to the larger community since November.  We have had forums on houselessness and dismantling racism as well as forums on how to respond to the new political situation especially on behalf of those most vulnerable.   We spent several weeks reviewing the history of the Civil Rights movement by watching Eyes on the Prize.  Now we are moving into another phase.

The Tuesday night gatherings called "Building the Beloved Community" are for empowerment and community building as well as education.   The evening runs from seven to eight-thirty.   Some of the topics may include:

  • Sanctuary Churches as a safe place for undocumented workers.
  • Protecting the Right to Free Speech (particularly the right to protest).
  • Freedom of Religion (i.e. discuss ban Muslims from entering the U.S.)
  • A Humane Guest Worker Program
  • Medical Fairness and Care for All A Moral Budget as opposed to a Militarized Budget.
  • Education Fairness (should college be free?)
  • Worker Fairness and the right to unionize.

There is plenty to talk about.  I am going to kick off the series with three presentations entitled "Ethics As Worlds End" on my personal theological/political journey through exploring 9/11, peak oil, and the end of religion.    I suggest that two powerful myths that guide Americans are "The Myth of Redemptive Violence" and "The Myth of American Exceptionalism."   I will try to describe what these myths are and how they operate in our culture toward destructive ends, ultimately our demise.

The task of theology (and thus the role of the church beyond its walls) is to give words and stories to the myths that guide us and to offer counter-myths, myths of resistance and myths of hope.    I think this is what Jesus did when he offered his parables of the kingdom of God in opposition to the kingdom of "this world" (i.e. Caesar).

Some of the thinkers I will draw from are the late Walter Wink (myth of redemptive violence)Stephen Walt (myth of American exceptionalism), and David Ray Griffin, (American exceptionalism and nationalist faith).

This is my personal story.  What I mean by that is that I will present what I think I know and let others draw their own conclusions.  I won't argue about or resist other views.  My ultimate goal is to keep a conversation going about the crucial importance of critical thinking about who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going.

Join us?

Every Tuesday night from May 2 through June 20.    We meet in Room 7 at Southminster.  Seven p.m.  Everyone is welcome.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Calling Out Portland on Its Racism

The Oregonian printed my letter to the editor.
I like Portland. I like it enough to call it out on its racism. Redemption is possible.

Portland, I have heard, is the place where young people go to retire. Unless they are black. The black young people end up being targeted and profiled by police. It is no surprise but a preventable tragedy that Quanice Hayes was killed by Portland police officer Andrew Hearst.

I spoke to Quanice's mother. I read the grand jury transcript. I am not satisfied. Regardless of the justifications offered by the police, the outcome is clear: A kneeling, unarmed 17 year-old child was killed by a bullet to the head and two to the chest. Whatever this child might have done that night, and however scared the officer might have been of him, there is no justification for this. While the police may have thought Quanice was a threat, it is more likely that racism got the better of the officer and he panicked.

That is no surprise. Portland has a long, violent history of racism. If Portland is going to change outcomes and rid itself of the cancer of racism, concrete actions need to be taken.

First, there needs to be a federal investigation into this case. Second, we need a special prosecutor, not a grand jury, when police use fatal force. Third, we need to end profiling. Fourth, police need body cameras.

Portland can do better. We are in this together.

John Shuck, Beaverton
A few days after I recorded the interview on Progressive Spirit with Venus Hayes, the mother of Quanice Hayes, and Teressa Raiford of Don't Shoot Portland, the grand jury decided not to indict Portland police officer, Andrew Hearst.    That decision by the grand jury was expected and wrong.

When I say the decision was wrong, that does not necessarily mean Officer Hearst was guilty.   It means that he should have faced trial.   Perhaps the outcome might have been the same and he would have been found not guilty of wrongdoing.    But the trial would have allowed it to be open to the public and to allow for cross-examination of witnesses.   It would have also have allowed the family and friends of the victim talk about the character of Quanice Hayes and see him as a human being whose life mattered.

The 500 page grand jury transcript was released on March 27th.  It is interesting reading.

Officer Hearst admitted that he did not see that Quanice had a gun:
Q.   I understand your testimony, you did not actually see a gun in his hand at the time that you pulled the trigger in your rifle; is that correct?
A. That's correct. I did not see.  (p. 506)
Hearst just believed that Quanice had a gun.   Some have objected to my writing that Quanice was unarmed.   We don't know.  The officer didn't see a gun.  We don't know if Quanice had it on him or not.   It was found on the ground after he was shot.  Why would Quanice reach for a fake gun when an officer with a very real gun is pointing it at him?   If possessing a fake gun is the same as being armed, then I would love to see cops armed with fake guns.

As far as the grand jury testimony was concerned, the questions to witnesses were softball questions without any cross-examination.    All we have is the word of the cops (who obviously will stick up for each other) that the victim didn't have his hands in the right place.  The grand jury seemed to be led to the conclusion that Quanice was some dangerous threat and that the only possible solution was what resulted.

As I said in my letter to the Oregonian:

1) We need a special prosecutor, not a grand jury, for incidents of fatal police shootings.

2) This particular case needs a federal review if for nothing else than to relieve the racial tensions caused by this killing.

3) The police and the entire metro needs to have honest discussions about race, targeting, and profiling.  It needs to end.

4)  We need more police accountability.  Body cameras are a good start.

The killing of a teenager did not make Portland safer.   I am not saying that Quanice did nothing wrong.  Of course not.  If he did what was alleged, he made some seriously bad choices.   He should face the consequences for that.  He will never get to do so now.  But Quanice Hayes was a human being.   He did not deserve death.   There were many other ways to "disarm" him than shooting him dead.   If not, then the populace is in serious trouble.   If the police cannot control themselves more than that then it is the police who threaten our safety rather than act as our protectors.

What does this have to do with racism?

If white people don't think Portland is a racist city, then white people should look at facts.   A good place to start is the recent series by the Portland Tribune entitled,

The High Cost of Being Black in Multnomah County.  
In Multnomah County, ticket by ticket, arrest by arrest, African-Americans are charged three to 30 times as often as white residents for everything from pedestrian and transit fare violations to drug charges and crimes related to interactions with police.  For black people in Multnomah County, unequal treatment in the criminal justice system is nothing new.  Lauretta Reye Austin, 22, described being hassled by a cop while waiting at a MAX station.

Teressa Raiford, 46, and a leader of Don’t Shoot PDX, said it was only after talking to white girls that she learned police didn’t know all young kids by name — just the black kids.
Need a history lesson?

Exclusion Laws and Poll Taxes: Oregon's unquiet history of racial conflict.

Here is some truth:
'The relationship between blacks and the justice community has always been defined by the reality that police were assigned to keep the black population under control.'

That is the reality of Portland.  Police do what the white power structure instructs them to do.  Racism is our problem.  We are all in this together.

It is painful for white people to realize that they benefit from institutionalized racism, but it is far more painful for those who suffer from it.  Suck it up, white folks.   Read this important series:

Investigate West:  Unequal Justice.

White people like to say, "I'm not racist!  I'm not racist!"

Who are we fooling?  Certainly not people of color.

Let's be part of the solution, not the problem.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Say His Name: Quanice Hayes

Quanice Hayes was 17.

On February 9th he was shot three times by Portland police officer, Andrew Hearst.   He was killed.   This is the same police officer who killed Merle Hatch in 2013.  

Why is 17 year old Quanice Hayes dead?  His mother, Venus, would like to know.   She gave a tearful testimony before the city council on Wednesday March 1st.   Here is the transcript:
My name is Venus Hayes and I am the Mother of Quanice, the 17 year old shot and killed by Officer Andrew Hearst February 9th. I would like to thank you all for gathering here today both in remembrance of my son Quanice Hayes and in support of my family’s fight for justice on his behalf. 
It has been 20 days since Quanice was taken from me. The days passing his death have felt like a lifetime for my family, and myself as we’ve patiently waited for city and its officials to provide us answers surrounding the events that took my son’s life. As the details are slowly made available to the public my family has had to bare the burden of piecing together what occurred by fact checking statements given in various social media sites and news outlets rather then receiving them from those working this investigation. 
Since his death we have learned that Officer Hearst, who was also involved in the death of Merle Hatch, shot Quanice a total of 3 times. To clarify earlier statements and news reports my son died immediately as a result of a gunshot wound to his head. 
My son was born and raised in Portland. Quanice was NOT a thug, a gang member or some homeless street kid. He was a funny, adventurous teen who like most kids could at times be a little rebellious. He was my child his life mattered and I want to know WHY he was killed. 
I’m asking the public to stand with my family and me as we seek answers. I am asking the public to stand by us, as we demand justice. Let my son’s life be the means of change. 
We again ask any witnesses of the events leading up to Quanice’s death to reach out to our family attorney Ashlee Albies, the Portland Police, your local pastor or any of the many advocacy groups in Portland. 
Thank you.
What is up, cops?  What is up, Mayor?

We need an indictment.

Portland cops need to stop targeting black people.

White people need to speak up about it.

If it takes disrupting city council meetings to get some justice around here, then so be it.

Don't Shoot Portland.

Black Lives Matter PDX.

Dream Under Siege (conversation with JoAnn Hardesty, Teressa Raiford, Catherine Meeks).

Panel on Racism (presentation by JoAnn Hardesty and Ibrahim Mubarak at Southminster).

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Again on Sprouts!

Pacifica Radio network is again featuring one of my shows on Sprouts!   It is my interview with Penpa Tsering, U.S. Representative of the Dalai Lama at the Office of Tibet in Washington DC.

sprouts cropped-weblogo21-copy

You can hear the Sprouts interview here.

The longer interview that aired on KBOO.

It is also coming up next week on Progressive Spirit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Longest Night

Winter Solstice is tomorrow morning at 2:54 a.m. Pacific Time.  The Earth's tilt is the reason for the season.

This is from the Telegraph:
The winter solstice happens every year when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun, delivering the fewest hours of sunlight of the year.
At Southminster (a name that kind of sounds like a place to go to ring out solstice bells) we will welcome the sun with a celebration to honor the dark at seven p.m. tonight, December 20th.

Lisa Loving, afternoon news director at 90.7 KBOO, talked with me about it on Monday's five pm news.  Here is that interview.  (It begins at 13:43 into the newscast).

Before Christmas was Winter Solstice. Our ancestors were star watchers, night gazers. They knew the darkness, its secrets, the dangers concealed under its cover. All mythologies have tales of the Longest Night just before Day breaks and Northern Hemisphere turns its face toward the Sun for six months of longer and longer days. The Longest Night is an opportunity for us to acknowledge our journey in the dark through whatever paths that journey takes us. Perhaps loss or grief, a recognition of impermanence or mortality, a need for silence in the midst of the cacophony of electric lights and noise. Invite a friend. Darkness offers its own Gift.

Come, light a candle, enjoy some poetry, hear some great music, take a deep breath, center your spirit, and welcome the sun.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for Pacifica Radio Network

On Thanksgiving I am thankful for independent, volunteer-powered community radio.  More than ever we need citizen journalists and independent media outlets to report on the stories that do not simply contribute to the profits of networks and their advertisers.

I am thankful for KBOO, 90.7 in Portland for airing my show, Beloved Community, every second Friday from 9-10 a.m.  This show is politically oriented and provides resources for activists.

I also host a weekly radio show/podcast that airs on several stations and is produced at KBOO.  Progressive Spirit talks about values, spirituality, social justice, and religion in society.


My programs got a boost this week.  The Pacifica Radio Network has featured my interview with Matthew Fox on Sprouts!   As many as 40 stations or more will air it this week.   As a special shout out to them, I am linking to their websites on this post.

You can hear that Sprouts broadcast here.


You can hear the full 60 minute interview with Fox that aired on KBOO here.

Please support your neighborhood community, college, or public radio station.   

Now is the time for citizens to stand up against neo-facism.  
We need all institutions in the public sphere to rise up and resist.

I am grateful to the stations that carry my show on a regular basis:

KBOO/Portland, Oregon,
WETS/Johnson City, Tennessee,
WEHC/Emory, Virginia,
WPVM/Asheville, North Carolina,
KZAX/Bellingham, WA,
*KCEI/Taos, New Mexico.

Gratitude to those stations that carry Progressive Spirit and/or Beloved Community when they have space in their programming schedule:

Cottage Grove, Oregon, KSOW 106.7
Florence, Oregon, KXCR, 90.7
*Lincoln County, Oregon, KYAQ 91.7
Jeffersonville, New York, WJFF 90.5
Norman, Oklahoma, KVOY 104.5
Goldendale, Washington, KVGD 100.1
Chicago, Illinois, WZRD, 88.3
Carrboro, North Carolina, WCOM 103.5
LanChester, Pennsylvania, WLRI 92.9
Round Mountain, California, KKRN, 88.5
*Houston, Texas, KPFT 90.1
*Moscow, Idaho, KRFP 90.3
*Middletown, Connecticut, WESU 88.1
*Kansas City, Missouri, KKFI 90.1
*Ames, Iowa, KHOI 89.1
Kahului, Hawaii, KAKU 88.5
Two Harbors, Minnesota, KTWH 99.5

*Also carrying my show this week on Sprouts.

Gratitude for all stations who have carried my show for the first time through Sprouts this week!

Phoenix, Arizona, RadioPhoenix
Berkeley, California, KPFA, 94.1
Redway, California, KMUD
Santa Cruz, California, FreeRadio, 101.3
Boulder, Colorado, KGNU, 88.5
Sarasota, Florida, WSLR, 96.5
Greenville, Illinois, WGRN, 89.5
Peoria, Illinois, WAZU, 90.7
Acra, New York, WGXC, 90.7
Ithaca, New York, WRFI, 88.1
Palenville, New York, WLPP, 102.9
Columbus, Ohio, WGRN, 94.1
Ashland, Oregon, KSKQ, 89.5
Knoxville & Tri-Cities, Tennessee, Detour.us
Plainfield, Vermont, WGDR, 91.1
Mount Vernon, Washington, KSVR, 91.7
Olympia, Washington, KOAS, 89.3
Olympia, Washington, KOWA, 106.5
Spokane, Washington, KYRS, 88.1/92.3
Madison, Wisconsin, WMUU, 102.9
Viroqua, Wisconsin, WDRT, 91.9
Global Community Radio, global communityradio.blogspot
Work Force Rising Radio, workforcerising.com

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

We will start looking for, and being, the helpers...

At our election eve service that happened to receive a lot of media attention, Portland Tribune/KOIN, KGW, KATU, Kansas City Star (and others), one of the texts was from Psalm 146:
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Put not your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers.
S/he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked s/he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm comes from longing.  Despite the language of praise, I hear in it profound disappointment, despair, and a realization that the "princes" are not to be trusted.  They will not do the work that needs to be done.   They may even work against the work that needs doing,
justice for the oppressed,
food for the hungry
freedom for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
dignity for those brought down,
love for the righteous,
protection of the stranger,
justice for the orphan and the widow,
justice, too, for the wicked, for those who cause harm...
This psalm speaks to me on Wednesday morning more than it did Monday night.
Put not your trust in princes.
But don't despair over the princes, either.
Put not your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
The princes never can be trusted, even the good ones, to carry out this work.  It is up to someone with greater depth and with a longer history.   The psalmist longs for "the Lord."  I, too, long for the Lord.

I don't exactly know what to make of what or who "the Lord" might be.   While I don't think there is any supernatural being or personality out there, I do think there is a reality to which this symbol points.   That reality is not "out there" but within and especially among.

I like to think of "the Lord" as the human aspiration for what is good and just.   Not an abstract ideal of the good or the just, but goodness and justice as it is done and has been done and will be done in the lives of human beings.   Goodness and justice incarnated in the bodies of those who feed, care, march, build, weep, encourage, liberate, and love.  
We will start looking for, and being, the helpers...
A member at Southminster, Chris, posted that on my Facebook page.  It caught me up short.  Of course.  We will.   We will look for and we will be the helpers.  

This Lord is what Mark Lewis Taylor calls "The Executed God."
The executed Jesus of Nazareth is not in himself some executed God, as readers might first think from this book’s title. No, the God who is executed, suffering imperial, state-sanctioned crucifixion, is presented in this book as a whole life force, a greater power, if you will, that is made up of three dynamics that were crucial to Jesus’ way of the cross: (1) being politically adversarial to religiously backed imperial power, (2) performing creative and dramatic instances of resistance to imperial power, and (3) organizing movements that can continue resistance and flourish even after imperial executioners do their worst. The executed God is a force of life that is greater than all imperial powers and thus can foment the resistance and hope that all suffering peoples need.
The other day I posted a transcription of an interview with Professor Taylor, "The Beloved Community Vs. Today's Clintonian Neoliberalsim."  We talked about this day, Wednesday after the election.  What do we do now?  Both of us assumed, I think, that Clinton would win.  Now that Trump has won, the same tasks might seem clearer.   Perhaps the scales will fall from our eyes, now, that the image of America, known by so many suffering people throughout the world as a ruthless, narcissistic, imperial bully, an image that has been sustained by neoliberal policies enacted by the Clintons, is now real for Americans in the figure of Donald Trump.

Trump is the ugly face of who we really are.

On this Wednesday, I think we do a couple of things.  First, we clarify the placement of trust.  Trust in any kind of prince, Democrat or Republican is misplaced.   Our trust needs to be in "the Lord" the "executed God" that moves us toward liberation.   This Lord is found in the movements of resistance to all oppressive regimes, including our own.

Second, we follow the lead of the "radically unloved" as Mark Taylor said:
With neoliberalism the agendas for change, for “development,” are set largely by the elites of the global North and their proxies across the global South. It is top down development that usually leaves those most economically and politically impacted without voice and without an empowerment that makes for equality and the flourishing of life. 
In contrast, King’s vision of the Beloved Community works from the other direction. As Cornel West stresses in his book The Radical King, the beloved community starts not with any top-down community dynamic, nor simply with a call to build community with everyone (“Can’t we all just get along?”) No, King’s vision of a just and beloved community starts with, as West emphasizes, with love for the “radically unloved” in society. In other words, beloved community proceeds from, with and for those in socially-imposed suffering, but also in resistance as the dispossessed peoples of our time. Being transformed with and by those dispossessed by the neoliberal regimes today is the way we build beloved community. Beloved community rises from a solidarity with the movements for the radically unloved. Clintonian liberalism does not do that. Yet, there is a powerful force here that can erode empires’ power through the deep and wide working power of resolute and creative peoples. The “radically unloved” mark the suffering of the beloved community but also bring the power of resistance and liberating change that all society needs.
Thus we follow the way of "the executed God."   We start looking for and being the helpers, that begins with those who are most fearful today of what a Trump presidency will mean for them.  Now on this Wednesday we renew our commitment to be in solidarity with suffering people around the world and at home.

My church member, Chris, also posted this.   It is a good place to start: