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

Sunday, April 29, 2007

One Day Blog Silence

Tomorrow I have decided to join the One Day Blog Silence. I know there is debate regarding why bloggers might want to do this or not. As far as I am concerned, people can make whatever choice they wish to make. I choose to take tomorrow as a silent blog day. I take it in reverence for the victims at Virginia Tech and for victims of violence all over the world.

One day, peace.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Treatise on the Resurrection

Tomorrow I am going to preach on a text from The Treatise on the Resurrection. This was a text uncovered in Nag Hammadi. It is, I guess, second century from the school of Valentinus. It is interesting in that it speaks of Resurrection in the here and now apart from the decaying remains of human flesh. I am thrilled that we can now read some of the works that were long suppressed and yet had a major influence on Christianity. Now that they are being translated and studied we get a more thorough view of the issues of the early Jesus movements. Here is the text:

What, then, is the resurrection? It is always the disclosure of those who have risen. For if you remember reading in the Gospel that Elijah appeared and Moses with him, do not think the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion, but it is truth! Indeed, it is more fitting to say the world is an illusion, rather than the resurrection which has come into being through our Lord the Savior, Jesus Christ.

But what am I telling you now? Those who are living shall die. How do they live in an illusion? The rich have become poor, and the kings have been overthrown. Everything is prone to change. The world is an illusion! - lest, indeed, I rail at things to excess!

But the resurrection does not have this aforesaid character, for it is the truth which stands firm. It is the revelation of what is, and the transformation of things, and a transition into newness. For imperishability descends upon the perishable; the light flows down upon the darkness, swallowing it up; and the Pleroma fills up the deficiency. These are the symbols and the images of the resurrection. He it is who makes the good.

Therefore, do not think in part, O Rheginos, nor live in conformity with this flesh for the sake of unanimity, but flee from the divisions and the fetters, and already you have the resurrection. For if he who will die knows about himself that he will die - even if he spends many years in this life, he is brought to this - why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this? If you have the resurrection but continue as if you are to die - and yet that one knows that he has died - why, then, do I ignore your lack of exercise? It is fitting for each one to practice in a number of ways, and he shall be released from this Element that he may not fall into error but shall himself receive again what at first was. (Read More)

I love the line, "you already have the resurrection."

Yes! Let us live it!

Friday, April 27, 2007

What is Pluralism?

On May 27th, many congregations, including First Pres., Elizabethton, will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Jim Burklo of The Center for Progressive Christianity has resources for congregations. Jim writes:

We believe Pluralism Sunday is an opportunity for progressive churches to reach some of the many people who are turned off by Christianity because of exclusivist claims some Christians make about it.
What is pluralism? In an interview, Jim explains...

TCPC: So, what exactly is pluralism?

JIM BURKLO: Professor Diana Eck, founder of the Pluralism Project and recognized expert on religious diversity in America, broke it down this way. When you think about relationships between religions, there are three general ways in which they relate. One is exclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is correct, and all other religions are wrong, at best, and evil, at the worst. So that would be what we have with the Taliban, al-Qaida, which are obviously scarier groups than Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, but they would qualify as exclusivist, as well. Fundamentalism is associated with exclusivism.

The next way in which religions relate is called inclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is the only true one, but yours is interesting. I can learn and grow from our relationship; however, the truth in your religion only points to the ultimate truth of mine. We should tolerate each other’s religions and find ways to cooperate and communicate. This is the point of view of the Catholic Church and some evangelical Christians.

Pluralism is the idea that my religion is good for me and your religion may turn out to be as good for you as mine is for me. So, pluralism is the concept that there are multiple loci of truth and salvation among the religions. Now, pluralism does not imply that all religions are the same or that all religions are equal; but it does recognize the possibility that my way is not the only way and that my religion is not necessarily superior to yours.

There is a lot of confusion about this. Pluralism often gets confused with other things, like “relativism.” A lot of people accuse religious pluralists, like myself and The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC), as being relativists, but the two ideas are quite different. (Read More)
I resonate with Jim. The biggest turnoff for me about Christianity has always beens its claim to exclusivity. The claim is made so loudly and forcefully that many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, think that being exclusive is "the only way" to be Christian. The inclusivist option is softer, but still in my view, paternalistic. It appears to be exclusivism-light.

What does Christianity look like when it is pluralistic? That is a question that has guided my personal quest for some time now. It is a question that has prompted me to attempt a Christian theology for the twenty-first century. I think it is exciting that more and more people are asking that question, and in turn are revisiting how they approach Jesus, the Bible, spirituality, prayer, worship, and ethics.

If you are interested in some faith statements of a pluralistic view of Christianity you might check out the one that led me to First Presbyterian of Elizabethton. The Center for Progressive Christianity has eight points describing a pluralistic faith.

Or, check out the faith statements of the congregations who will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. You will find that you are not alone by any means!











Thursday, April 26, 2007

Judas: Friend or Foe?

What do Wiley Coyote, Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot have in common? Check it out as Steven Colbert interviews Elaine Pagels about the new book she co-authored with Karen King, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. Thanks to April DeConick for this link.




This is fascinating stuff. According to Pagels and King, the issue in the early Christian movement had to do with martyrdom. Some Christians thought that God demanded of them to go to the cross (ie. human sacrifice). The community of Judas thought that was a pretty dumb idea. The good news (gospel) of Judas is that people shouldn't listen to those leaders who tell them to go and sacrifice themselves. What kind of God would demand of its people to go and have themselves killed?




Now, April DeConick agrees. However, she asks:

"But, if God doesn't want sacrifices, then how can Jesus' sacrifice at the hands of Judas be understood by Pagels-King as a good deed by a hero, one that Jesus asks him to do? Does anyone have any ideas?"
This is a good question. If the Gospel of Judas as a whole is good news, is the character Judas protrayed therein a hero or not? It is a difficult question. On one hand he is praised by Jesus and told to sacrifice him. This doesn't quite make sense if the Gospel of Judas is against human sacrifice and the atonement theory. I am going to puzzle over this for awhile as I await Dr. DeConick's book about Judas, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, due to come out this Fall. Here is what she says about Judas:

“I didn’t find the sublime Judas, at least not in Coptic. What I found were a series of English translation choices made by the National Geographic team, choices that permitted a different Judas to emerge in the English translation than in the Coptic original. Judas was not only not sublime, he was far more demonic than any Judas I know in any other piece of early Christian literature, Gnostic or otherwise.” (Read More)

This does bring up the whole issue of atonement regardless of whether Judas is a hero or villain. That God willed Jesus to die is a rather barbaric notion. Not all Christians agreed with it. What kind of God would demand that? I tend to side with Bob Funk on this point:

The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
You can read Funk's other theses here.

Earth Day Hike to Dennis Cove



We had 21 folks hike to Dennis Cove on Earth Day. Here we are at Laurel Falls.




It was a great turnout led by naturalist, Gary Barrigar. Gary pointed out all the varieties of wildflowers. It is amazing what we can discover when we pay attention! Can you identify these wildflowers? Gary is also the webmaster and will be putting these pics with names on the web page in a day or two. Go there for answers!





Here is a red one.









And three purple ones.








It's a yellow one!








Yup, that would be a white one.







Uh, oh. Beavers!








Hope that was educational!

Wesak Festival


Our good friends at Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church are hosting a Wesak Festival on May 2nd. You can read about it below.

Also, congratulations to HVUU and to their new minister, Rev. Jacqueline Luck!


Wesak

Celebrating Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment & Death

All Spiritual Traditions are invited

to the Holston Valley Buddhist Sangha’s celebration

of this world-wide gathering, honoring the Buddha and the Buddha nature within us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

6:30 – 8:45 p.m.

Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

6:30 – 6:45 Presentation of Prassad at Altar

6:45 – 7:00 Readings

7:00 - 7:30 Intro to Jainism by Dr. Jay Mehta

7:30 - 7:45 Readings

7:45 - 8:10 Tea

8:10 - 8:40 Meditation

For directions to the church, call 477-7661 for recorded message.







Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cookies and Babies



Our chuch's nursery care worker, Carmen Stamey, made the news last week. Carmen is awesome directing our nursery which is filling up these days with children and babies.








You can see some pics of our nursery here. Carmen can also bake! Check out this article in the Johnson City Press from last Wednesday:


Healthy decadence

A local businesswoman bakes good-for-you treats for those who care about what they eat

Those who like baked goods made from fresh, organic and local ingredients will like Carmen Stameys food because she likes them, too, and makes sure they’re a part of what she makes for family and friends.
“My friends, they always say, ‘If Carmen will eat it, it’s OK,’ ” she said.




Carmen Stamey helps her son, Finn, make a selection from a variety of freshly baked cookies. (Photo by Lee Talbert)




Stamey decided after some experimentation what she baked was good and different enough to offer the public. She started a homemade baked goods business, Indigo Specialty Foods, and sold her food downtown at the Farmer’s Market last year. She’s looking forward to being there again in May and talking to people about how to make baked goods for people with allergies to wheat, an interest inspired by friends and family who have allergies and don’t want to be denied good things. She’s always busy producing baked goods that suit their needs and tastes and bakes with such alternative grains as spelt, corn and rice. Many of her recipes are vegan, which means they aren’t made with eggs or dairy products. Eating well for her doesn’t mean cutting the sugar. She loves sweets and uses organic sugars and alternative sweeteners to flavor her desserts. (Read More)






Earth Gettin' Hot? Here's Why...

Gotta love this letter to the editor. You can read it on-line here.



It reminds me of a joke I heard as a kid on Hee Haw.

Roy: Say, Buck, did you hear astronauts are planning to land on the sun?
Buck: That can't be, Roy! The sun is too darn hot!
Roy: Don't be silly, Buck. They are going to land at night!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WWDD--What Would Darwin Do?


During the adult forum on Sunday morning, Professor David Wollert of Northeast State is going to present his documentary on the "Religious Views of Charles Darwin." Professor Wollert is the author of the article, "Finding Gould's God". Here are a couple of paragraphs about Darwin:


Charles Darwin has come to be one of the most controversial scientists in history, which is quite interesting in light of his compassionate and unassuming personality. Far from the poster boy for atheism that many groups have marketed him as, Darwin’s life reads as the moving story of an honest and vulnerable human being in a state of perpetual soul searching. It depicts a man slipping from theism, to deism, to agnosticism, a fall driven as much by his scientific ideology as by his inability to reconcile human suffering with a benevolent God.

Darwin entered his adult life as a theist. In 1831, he graduated from Cambridge Divinity School with modest aspirations of life as a country parson. He boarded the H.M.S. Beagle a literal believer in the Genesis account of creation. During this voyage, many of his yet unchallenged scientific and religious beliefs came into question. (Read More)

Here is a bit more about Professor Wollert:
David Wollert teaches biology at Northeast State Technical Community College in Blountville, TN. He began his scientific career as a senior research assistant with the Health Sciences Research Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A strong interest in teaching led him to accept faculty positions at Black Hawk College and Northeast State. David is an active member of Grandview Christian Church in Johnson City, TN, and enjoys speaking about topics in science and religion at local colleges and churches.

The adult forum meets at 9:45 a.m. Sundays at the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton.

Monday, April 23, 2007

And Now for Something Totally Different...

In my last post I made a comparison with Pythagorus and Jesus. There is much more of course. According to Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, there are many more comparisons with the stories associated with Jesus and other characters.


Most fun reading is The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? by Freke and Gandy. Here is a helpful summary and study guide to that book.







They followed up with

Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Jesus








and The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom.






I have issues with many of their conclusions. However, the comparisons they make between the legends attributed to Jesus and to other pagan gods is most helpful in debunking the "historical truth" of the gospel accounts.

I am always, of course, curious as to your thoughts!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

153 or So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Sunday's sermon was based on John 21:1-14. It is the scene where Peter and six other disciples go fishing and catch nothing all night. Jesus appears at dawn, tells them to cast the nets on the right side of the boat and they catch a full load. Then the Beloved Disciple recognizes who Jesus is and they have a fish fry. Meanwhile, we are told that they caught 153 fish.

Ever wonder about that odd little detail? Actually the whole story is filled with odd little details. Jesus is frying fish on a grill before they bring him any. He makes a big deal in that he serves the fish to the disciples. Peter jumps into the lake after he puts his clothes on. We are told the boat is 100 yards from the land (what is the point of that?) Why are the disciples fishing anyway? Why are they so surprised to see him? Wasn't he just there at the house inviting Thomas to poke him in the side?

Scholars have been suspicious of chapter 21 of John. It smells fishy. It is likely put together much later. It sounds a lot like the call story in Luke chapter 5. As these orally told tales go, one tradition gets mixed up and told with others. One might wonder where this legend of a big catch of fish came from anyway? Good to wonder that.

A rather odd story all told--unless we pay attention to the symbols (eg. 153, fish)

A similar story was told about non-fish eater, Pythagorus.

I think John 21:1-14 is a story about whether followers of Jesus should eat fish or be vegetarians like the Pythagoreans.

(Answer: eat fish, that's what Jesus would do).

Or perhaps it has special meaning for those in the Gno. This is a diagram of the Gnostic cosmos as described by Plato in Timaeus.


The upper world, the world of gods and first principles, is the Intelligible world: all of the universal laws on which manifestation is based.



The middle world of Humanity partakes of both spirit and matter, the eternal and the temporal.


The net in the sea represents the shifting world of manifestation, where everything is in a state of flux and nothing forever remains the same.





I think it is cool that legends about Jesus are similar to legends about Pythagorus. We are all connected by symbols and forces much deeper than that of which we are conscious.

So, thanks Jesus and Pythagorus for all the fish.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More on Dem Bones



If you haven't purchased James Tabor's Jesus Dynasty, well now is the time. His paperback version is out and you should get it instead. Even if you have purchased the hard copy, you will want his latest. He includes a lot of new information about the Talpiot Tomb. I posted a book review here.




His blog is loads of fun. His latest post addresses the latest "news" regarding scholars supposedly backtracking from their positions as broadcast in the Discovery Channel's documentary.

By the way, I just received in the mail the Discovery Channel's documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus and will show it in the near future at First Presbyterian of Elizabethton along with some of my own (albeit feeble) analysis. You can go to our web page and see a powerpoint I delivered to our adult forum about this issue.

Earth Day



April 22nd is Earth Day. We will celebrate Earth Day in worship. Join us at 11:00. We are in the season of via creativa (the way of creating) based on Creation Spirituality.





  • Following worship, we will meet in the parking lot at 12:30 and carpool to Dennis Cove for an Earth Day hike. It is for all ages, non-strenuous. Should be a nice day. Here is the weather forecast. If you live in the area and are interested in our congregation, this Sunday would be a great day to check us out. Join us on the hike and get to meet some of our fine folks.
  • If you are not up for a hike, but want to get into the rhythm of Earth Day, join our drumming circle! This Sunday afternoon from 1:30-3:30 in Martin Hall, our drumming circle will work on some new rhythms. If you have never drummed before, this is a great introduction. You don't even need a drum! One will be provided!

We have a couple of new groups starting at First Pres. The Abwoon Study Circle will have its first gathering on Wednesday, April 25th at 7:15 in Martin Hall. Here is the information about that:

For 25 years people have been learning the Aramaic words of the Lord’s Prayer together expanding their understanding of the teachings of Jesus. The work originated with Saadi Neil Douglas Klotz, PhD in 1982. Attendance at all sessions invited by but not required.

An organizational meeting will be held, Wednesday, April 25th, 7:15 p.m.
Contact person: Rebecca Nunley
Phone: 423-743-5298 E-mail: rebekalu@comcast.net
Study Circle will conclude with the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer Dance Cycle On June 3
For more info: www.abwoon.com

  • We have a Science and Spirit group that meets every third Sunday discussing articles in Science and Spirit magazine. This issue is about Stem-Cell Wars. It will meet this Sunday at 7 p.m.

  • We are starting a new group, Spirituality and Art. This group will have no agenda except to meet, discuss, encourage, and delight in the connection between art and spirituality. An organizational meeting will follow worship on April 29th at 12:00.

If you would like more information about any of these groups or about this cool congregation that I have been fortunate enough to find, e-mail me!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Elegant Universe

Have you seen the PBS special on The Elegant Universe? Thanks to Songs of Unforgetting for alerting me to this. Watch a little at a time or the whole thing at once! It is powerful!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why Do You Go to Church?

Why do you go to church? Assuming you go. For others the question might be, "Why don't you go to church?" Ever think that the whole idea of church is kind of weird? Where I live there are several on each block. On our street, our Presbyterian Church is one half block away from another Presbyterian Church!

What is (or is not) church for you really?

I am curious as to your answers. As one who is in the biz, I think of this as a marketing question. What is it that all of these churches have to offer humanity? What is it that we should do, say, be?

I like this quote from Brooks Atkinson:

I have no objections to churches so long as they do not interfere with God's work.

So is church a benefit to humanity (God's work if you wish) or a detriment?

What would it take to make churches more beneficial?

Talk amongst yourselves and comment!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can We Talk About Gun Control?

CNN reports that Cho Seung-Hi purchased one of his weapons recently.

Cho paid $571 for a 9 mm Glock 19 pistol just over a month ago, the owner of Roanoke Firearms told CNN Tuesday. He also used a .22-caliber Walther pistol in the attack, police said.

John Markell said Cho was very low-key when he purchased the Glock and 50 rounds of ammunition with a credit card in an "unremarkable" purchase.

Cho presented three forms of identification and did not say why he wanted the gun, Markell said.

State police conducted an instant background check that probably took about a minute, the store owner said. (read more)



Here is a video of a 9mm Glock 19 in action at full automatic. It can fire 15 rounds.





A semi-automatic, what Cho had, can fire 15 rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger 15 times--about six seconds.










He also fired a 22 caliber Walther pistol with a magazine capacity of seven rounds.



Cho, an English major, wrote a couple of plays you can read here. We can do a few things. We can say he was twisted, crazy, or demon-possessed. We could protect ourselves in that way. Yet, we need to ask: how many others have these "plays" in their psyches? The answer: more than you care to imagine.

Yes, he needed help.

The help he received was from his local gun shop. The gun shop owner is not at fault. He followed the law. In a side article entitled, Gun Control Unlikely to Get on Agenda Despite Shootings, CNN reports:

Is the Virginia Tech tragedy likely to put gun control on the political agenda? Don't bet on it. In recent years, gun control has been an issue most politicians prefer to stay away from....

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, issued a statement saying, "I believe this will re-ignite the dormant effort to pass common-sense gun regulations in this nation.''

But public anger is not usually sustained very long, whereas gun owners remember every gun control vote as a threat to their rights. Gun owners vote the issue. Supporters of gun control typically don't. So politicians believe they will pay a price at the polls if they support new guns laws, even when most voters agree with them. When it comes to public opinion, intensity matters. Not just numbers. (read more)

So what should we do? Load all of our college kids up with guns and hope the good guys get the draw? Maybe. Along with their dorm keys, copies of Nietzsche, credit cards, video games, and beer bongs, we could give all freshmen their very own 9mm Glock. School is hard. Shoot first and often.

Life is crazy. Adding easily accessible deadly weapons is crazier still.

O What Needless Pain We Bear


Raksha Vasutevha, right, a 5th year architecture student at Virginia Tech, joins friends in a candlelight vigil for fallen students in downtown Blacksburg Monday night.

The mourning begins at Virginia Tech. The above photo is from CNN. As I sit here trying to think of something to say, the old hymn of my childhood runs through my mind:

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear.
Just because we do not carry
Ev'rything to God in prayer.

How much pain do we bear alone? How much pain do our children carry? I know college students are adults, but as the father of two college students, they are, to me, grown children. How much peace do we all forfeit when we keep our pain inside ourselves?

I usually think of that hymn as a hymn of personal prayer. It is that. Yet, today, I think of it differently. What needless pain we bear when we go it alone. What needless pain the gunman must have been bearing. From needless pain to needless violence--and now to pain again. Let none of us bear this alone. We are to one another, the response to prayer.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday Casserole

Catching up on a few items in the news:

Truthdig did an interview with Linda Segar, author of Jesus Rode a Donkey.

"Linda Seger explains why Jesus’ teachings have more in common with Democrats than Republicans, how Christians have been manipulated into compromising their values and what the Bible really says about homosexuality."

You can read the transcript of the interview here.


I saw an interview on CNN last night with Dennis Kucinich. I vote Dennis our new messiah. The only candidate who opposed the war from the beginning and has consistently been outspoken about it and the military-industrial complex.


Kudos to ETSU students for voting down football. ETSU has been taking the right path toward raising the level of literacy in East Tennessee. Football, as the students know, is low on their level of interest. A JC Press editorial said it well.






Besides, ETSU students have enough to do including debating the religious hacks who invade the campus. This is from the East Tennessean.

This is Earth Week. News about it on the cover of today's Johnson City Press. The gentleman to the left is retired ETSU professor Monroe Morgan who organized the first campus Earth Day.


Dr. Monroe Morgan discusses environmental concerns. Morgan was an environmental activist in the 1970s - Morgan says “there are still old problems and new problems that need society’s attention.” (Lee Talbert / Johnson City Press)




For a list of events for Earth Week go to DemocracyNowTricities.

Here is a pic of Joseph Fitsanakis taking your pledge for the WETS fundraiser. Dr. Fitsanakis is a political scientist and the blogmaster of DemocracyNowTricities. Nice article in the JC Press yesterday, Local Station Dishes Out Democracy.

Keith Pilkey, left, and Joseph Fitsanakis, “Democracy Now” support group organizer, man the phones during the WETS fundraiser. Photo by Tony Duncan.

At First Pres., we are celebrating Earth Day this coming Sunday with a worship service around that theme, following that with a hike to Dennis Cove. It's for all ages. Join us!

I spotted at least one First Presby in this parade for climate action. Here is the article,


On to religion. Have your read the article by Robert M. Price, "By this Time He Stinketh?" Price takes on apologist William Lane Craig. For those of us who consider much of the New Testament as legendary (ie. Jesus walking on water, Jesus feeding 5,000 with one lunch, Jesus rising out of the tomb), we are often accused of two things:

1) Our "unbelief" is because we willfully reject God and God's revelation, and
2) We deny the supernatural.

Price does a fine job answering those accusations. As to 1) it would be just as simple to accuse those who don't believe all the stories in the Qur'an or the Book of Mormon as being willfully disobedient. As to 2) again if you don't believe the Qur'an or the Book of Mormon or any other work that contains "miraculous" elements, you also deny the supernatural. Those accusations as Price points out are smokescreens for biblical inerrancy. Everything in the Bible is "true" historically and otherwise because it is in the Bible. If you don't believe that, you are unregenerate.

Price writes:

So if it would not require a blanket principle to reject the historicity of particular miracle stories, we must ask if it would take a blanket principle to require acceptance of all biblical miracle stories. Clearly it would. And that principle cannot be simple supernaturalism, openness to the possibility of miracles. One can believe God capable of anything without believing that he did everything anybody may say he did. One can believe in the possibility of miracles without believing that every reported miracle must in fact have happened. No, the requisite principle is that of biblical inerrancy, the belief that all biblical narratives are historically accurate simply because they appear in the Bible. After all, it will not greatly upset Craig any more than it upset Warfield to deny the historical accuracy of medieval reports of miracles wrought by the Virgin Mary or by the sacramental wafer, much less stories of miracles wrought by Gautama Buddha or Apollonius of Tyana. (Read More)

James Tabor is back from the Holy Land. On his blog he responds to common objections to the Talpiot Tomb as the tomb of Jesus.


I am slowly making my way through April DeConick's book on Thomas. It is a scholarly work and takes work to read, but it is well worth the effort. She takes seriously orality in the construction of the gospel narratives. She blogs at Forbidden Gospels.






Things to do this week include:

Monday, Mundy, tonight at First Pres. Jon Mundy presents a lecture on A Course on Miracles. It begins at 7:00.

"The Ground Truth"
will show at First Pres. this Thursday at seven p.m.




North East State Community College in Blountville is putting on the play "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail." Here is the announcement. It runs April 18-22.





That's it.

Honor Earth,
John

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Know Thyself...

Thanks to Sharon Cobb for this link. What kind of finger are you? This is my result:

You Are a Pinky

You are fiercely independent, and possibly downright weird.
A great communicator, you can get along with almost anyone.
You are kind and sympathetic. You support all your friends - and love them for who they are.

You get along well with: The Ring Finger

Stay away from: The Thumb

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cheating Our Veterans


The U.S. News and World Report did a cover story on our veterans, Insult to Injury. Not great news. The cost of war includes paying for the welfare of our returning service men and women. Veterans, according to this article, get low ratings regarding their disabilities which results in low payments for injuries suffered in service to the U.S. military.


Trying to overturn a low rating can be a full-time job-and an exasperating one. Take Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, who lost the use of his arms but not his sense of humor. "They call me T-Rex because I have a big mouth and two hands and I can't do nothing with them," he jokes. He left the Army in February, but he still has plenty of fight in him. During an ambush in Taji, Iraq, in 2004, a mortar round exploded 2 feet away from him, ripping through his left arm and hand. A sniper's bullet passed through his right elbow. His buddies saved his life, throwing Bain on the hood of a humvee and rushing him to a combat hospital. Once transferred to Walter Reed, Bain refused to have his arm amputated and underwent eight surgeries to save it. That choice cost him. While an amputation would have automatically put him over the 30 percent threshold, the injury to his left arm was rated at 20 percent even though he cannot use the limb.

With Soto's help, Bain gathered detailed medical evidence of his injuries and went to face the board. They gave him a 70 percent rating for injuries related to the blast except for his hearing loss, which was not considered unfitting since he had a hearing aid. Oddly enough, however, the board put him on the temporary disabled retirement list instead of the permanent list. "What do they think, that after three years, my arm is going to come back to life?"

A lifetime of adjusting lies ahead for Bain. "I can't tie my shoes, open bottles of water, or cut my own food," he says. "I have to ask for help." The 35-year-old veteran has found a new sense of purpose. He's decided to run for Congress in 2008, and fixing the veterans' system is his top priority. "I do not want this s--- to happen again to anyone. No one can communicate with each other. The paper trail doesn't catch up." It's a tall order, but the soldier says that he has "100,000 fights" left in him.

For veterans (and civilians) interested in fighting for our vets, get the information you need. The place to begin is here.

On Thursday, April 19th at 7 p.m. we will show a film at our church, entitled, The Ground Truth. From soldiers you will hear the cost of this war. We ought to listen.

Mundy on Monday


First Presbyterian of Elizabethton and Unity Church of the Tri-Cities are honored to present Jon Mundy, Monday April 16th at 7 p.m. At First Presbyterian, 119 West F Street, Elizabethton. The lecture is entitled: The Psychology and Metaphysics of A Course in Miracles. Here is his web page.

The lecture is $20 at the door. But if you e-mail or call 282-2093 by Monday afternoon, it will only be $15. No one will be turned away. Here is the flier about the event.

A Course in Miracles makes some unusual statements -- such as: there is no world; there is no time; you are not a body; there is no death; there is no hell and no devil; you cannot be betrayed, persecuted or crucified; there is no "they"; no one is special; anger is never justified; there is nothing to forgive and there are no accidents. Jon's workshop will explain each of these ideas. There will be time for questions and discussion.

Dr. Jon Mundy is a lecturer in Philosophy at SUNY (The State University of New York), a standup comedian, the co-founder and Senior Minister Emeritus of Interfaith Fellowship in New York City, Publisher of Miracles magazine, and author of eight books. Jon was introduced to A Course in Miracles by its scribe - Dr. Helen Schucman in 1975. Dr. Schucman served as Jon’s mentor until her death in 1981.
Agree or disagree, it is food for thought!

Tax Day


If you are like me, you are doing your taxes at the latest possible hour. If you are like me, you will need a little inspiration. So, click the pic. Take it away boys!

Friday, April 13, 2007

To My Wife on Her Birthday

I don't post about my family. I honor their privacy. But today, Friday the 13th, is my wife Beverly's birthday. So I will break my rule. Click the pic, honey. I love you. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut is in Heaven Now

I think he would chuckle at the title of this post.

One of my all-time favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday. He was one of the greats. At a memorial for his friend, Isaac Asimov, Vonnegut brought down the secular humanist house by announcing, "Isaac is in heaven now."






He hoped that someone would say the same thing at his memorial. Vonnegut was beyond mythical notions of heaven and hell. He taught us what it was to be human.


His last, A Man Without A Country, was somber. He reflected on the state of humanity in the 21st century, wondering why human beings didn't like living on Earth very much. His advice to his children and grandchildren in light of what is to come in the 21st century due to all of the plagues humanity has wrought upon itself is this: "Be kind. For God's sake, be kind."



Today, I raise a glass to Kurt Vonnegut. Rest in peace, dear friend. Hi Ho.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Creative Chaos

I have been learning a great deal from members in my congregation. We are growing together. Each person brings something different and unique. Many in my congregation have been renewed by Creation Spirituality as articulated by Matthew Fox, but which has roots in the mystical traditions of our various religions. During worship on a seasonal basis we acknowledge the four paths, the way of letting go, the way of creativity, the way of awe, and the way of transformation. These four paths correspond to the four seasons, winter (letting go), spring (creativity), summer (awe), and autumn (transformation).

During Lent which roughly corresponds to the way of letting go, I have been preaching on "Beliefs to let go in order to grow." If you really have nothing to do you can read or hear some of those sermons. It is somewhat of a deconstruction project. It is like cleaning out your garage before you can be creative with it. It is clearing one's mind, spirit, or soul, of obstacles and other stuff so that the Divine Mystery can renew us. As one mystic put it, I have to let go of God to discover God.

The way of letting go can be a little frightening. This path invites us to let go of beliefs that we may have thought were our foundations. We may wonder if there is anything left. It can be dis-heart-ening. The good news is that the spiritual path that follows letting go is creativity.
This path invites us to discover the creativity of God in us. We explore seeds of the heart in us and all around us. This is a path of great abandon. It is openness to anything. It is a time to let our creative juices flow or to discover that we have creative juices! This is the season to let a thousand flowers bloom. Nothing is off limits. It is a path to try something totally different and not to judge it before it has a chance to speak. There will be a time for discernment. Not every seed planted will grow into something we wish to keep. That is another path.



I love this picture from our Easter Egg hunt. Creative chaos. More pics here.

The path of creativity is the path of openness to whatever. So, my sermon series through April, May and June will be, "Discovering your creativity in order to grow." By way of illustration, one of my sermons for Lent was about letting go of the Bible as the word of God in order to grow. It was entitled, "Beyond the Sacred Page." The point was to let go of the oppressive sense of the scriptures whether it be literalism, dogma or whatever. Now, during this season, we discover the word of God in order to grow. It involves a fresh look at the scriptures. As letting go invites demythologizing or deconstructing, creativity invites remythologizing and reconstructing. But we aren't necessarily building anything quite yet. Creativity is the brainstorming stage (although I don't mean that in the way of being brainy) where we explore the possibilities.




Now, that you have let go and cleared out the cobwebs of a tired faith, put a basket on your head! Learn from the creative play of children. Discover the creativity in you that is waiting for you to notice so it can blossom!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Department of Peace

Seven of us met this morning with Representative David Davis of Tennessee's First Congressional District at his office in Kingsport. That was the first time I had met with a congressperson before in his or her office. It is good to open lines of communication. I found Representative Davis to be sincerely interested in what we had to say. Sandra at ConcernedTNCitizens set up the meeting. You will find out more about our meeting when ConcernedTNCitizens and DemocracyNow-Tricities puts up the news on their respective blogs.
Nancy Barrigar started the discussion by asking Representative Davis if he had heard about the bill to establish a Department of Peace. He said he hadn't. She told him about it and that it would be coming before four committees, including House Education and Labor, on which he serves. The bill to establish a Department of Peace is exciting and visionary and I hope that Representative Davis will vote for this bill and perhaps consider being one of its co-sponsors.

I put together a letter that I read and gave to him. I have reproduced it below.

One more thing, one of the seven who met with Rep. Davis today is Jason Hurd, an Iraq veteran. Jason is going to be speaking about his experience in Iraq at King College in Bristol Thursday night at 7:30.

So we are moving the screening of "The Ground Truth" to next Thursday, the 19th at First Presbyterian in Elizabethton at 7 p.m. Make time to come to Bristol this Thursday the 12th to hear Jason. You will be glad you did!

Here is the letter about the Department of Peace:

April 10, 2007

Representative David Davis
310 West Center Street
Kingsport, Tennessee


Dear Representative Davis,

There is currently a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a United States Department of Peace. This historic measure will augment our current problem-solving options, providing practical, nonviolent solutions to the problems of domestic and international conflict. We understand that you serve on a committee in which this bill is being introduced.

The Department of Peace legislation calls for:
o A Secretary of Peace, who will advise the president on peacebuilding needs, strategies, and tactics for use domestically and internationally.
o The creation of a Peace Academy, a sister organization to our military service academies, which will build a world-class faculty of peacebuilding experts. They will analyze peacebuilding strategies at the highest level, advise other branches of government, and facilitate the training of peacebuilders for domestic and international service.
o Funding to create and expand proven domestic peacebuilding programs in our communities, such as mediation trainings for police, firefighters, and other emergency services personnel; alternative dispute resolution techniques, peer mediation and nonviolent communication programs in public schools, etc.
o Providing ways to meaningfully prevent conditions of conflict before violence erupts.
o The institutional platform necessary to successfully apply American genius to dramatically alleviate our national and global epidemic of violence.

The Department of Peace would be an important resource against stopping terror. It would be another important tool to bring security to our nation. It would be an important resource for our schools. As you know, many of the people in your district are people of faith. We seek to uphold and are humbled by the values of our Christian heritage. While we have different ways of worshipping and serving, we hold one thing in common, that our God is a God of peace. The promise of peace is sounded throughout our scriptures. Speaking of God, the prophet Micah announced:

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more...

(Micah 4:3)

Jesus pointed to the way of peace:

Blessed are the peacemakers, he said. For they will be called children of God.

Representative Davis, as a committed Christian and public servant, you are in the best position possible to make this bill become law. As Mordecai said to Esther, "Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." Who knows, Representative Davis, perhaps you have come to this position as our representative to witness to the peace of Christ.

Sincerely,

Rev. John Shuck (Minister)
Nancy Barrigar (Chair of Peacemaking Committee)

First Presbyterian Church
119 West F Street
Elizabethton, Tennessee 37643

(The letter was also signed by Gary Barrigar, Sandra Garrett, and Joseph Fitsanakis.






Monday, April 09, 2007

The Easter Challenge

OnFaith, a web forum by Newsweek asked a fun question to its panelists: If the remains of Jesus had definitively been found, how would that change your view of Christianity? A number of clergy and scholars from a variety of viewpoints responded. You might find their answers interesting as well as the comments from readers.

As I mentioned in my second post on this blog, I don't think we would need to find the remains of Jesus to ask this question. I wrote:

I wonder if it would make that much difference if, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we found the body of Jesus or we determined that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead? What if we were certain that he died like the rest of us will some day. Would that shatter your faith? What would your faith be about?

I don't think we need to find the body. Critical study of the Bible and the study of comparative religions have combined to shatter the historicity of the resurrection. I would guess that many who call themselves Christian regard the resurrection symbolically. For many of us, the resurrection is a myth or a metaphor. We may understand the meaning of this metaphor differently. Perhaps it means that what Jesus lived for lives on in his followers. Perhaps it means that justice will have the final word. Or perhaps it is a reminder in fable that what we see isn't all there is and that mystery surrounds us.

Regardless how we interpret it, many Christians do not believe or think they should believe that the resurrection was an historical event. On the other hand, many Christians think that the resurrection was an historical event. As far as I am concerned, both types of Christians can co-exist and celebrate life together in worship.
The task for an authentic faith is to deconstruct before we construct. Sometimes our faith invites us to challenge what we thought was central in order come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of God. We are on a journey. We don't have to have a final answer. It is really all right to live with the mystery. I think it is important to ask questions and to encourage questions. Even since I wrote that post last August, I have begun to think again about resurrection. I am exploring the connection between resurrection and consciousness thanks to the work of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. My point is that it is good, at least I think, to continue to learn and to seek. A vibrant church, in my view, is one that encourages this work by offering permission and a safe place for search and discovery and growth, even as we challenge one another to articulate more clearly what we are finding.

Last night I read some of Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. The title is a reference to Paul in I Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a chld, I spoke like a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things." Had I known this book was so good, I might have suggested it for our Thursdays with Jesus group rather than the Spong book.

The book provides necessary deconstruction before we can begin construction. She has a wonderful chapter on Easter. I quote a paragraph:

The Christians have misunderstood the resurrection of Christ pretty much from the beginning. Equating the empty tomb with his resurrection, they mistook the one for the other. They looked on the empty tomb as a sort of consequence of the resurrection, and then they classified it as proof of the resurrection. But an empty tomb can be empty for the most varied reasons, and it never proves that any resurrection occurred. Converely, a dead man may certainly lie in a tomb: Such a fact is no obstacle to faith in his resurrection, because resurrection is something different from a dead man's coming back to life. (p. 134)
If you are curious about the empty tomb narratives, you might try the Easter challenge. Thanks to King is Sailing, They Say for this link. The challenge is to write a coherent narrative about what happened on Easter morning without omitting any details.

Before you go there, here is my concern. Christianity is losing its most thoughtful people. They leave the church not because they are misguided or arrogant or think they know more than God or have been possessed by Satan. We lose our most thoughtful people because we insist on a literalistic faith and say choose this or choose atheism. Atheism becomes the obvious choice.

I am a Christian. I am a Christian minister. I refuse to give up on trying to understand the heart of the Christian faith in a credible way. I don't have the answers. I am searching and growing. I love the Christian faith. Jesus, the Bible, and the traditions have been an aid to me even though I know its dark side as well. I don't write or minister with my congregation as someone outside the fold. I am in it. I would hate to see this beautiful religious tradition turn into "choose literalism or nothing."

To become adults we must put away childish things. So take the Easter challenge as a tool for deconstruction. Then think about construction. Here is the challenge:

I HAVE AN EASTER challenge for Christians. My challenge is simply this: tell me what happened on Easter. I am not asking for proof. My straightforward request is merely that Christians tell me exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born.

Believers should eagerly take up this challenge, since without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Paul wrote, "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." (I Corinthians 15:14-15)

The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul's tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.

Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture--it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. Fair enough? (Read more)