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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thou that Walkest the Labyrinth...

...art a WITCH! John Adams of the LayMAN, in his delightfully paranoid article, "Parallels Between Israel and Judah and the PCUSA," compares the objects of scorn of the Hebrew prophet, Micah, with the Presbyterian Church. He finds plenty of parallels. Here is number four:
"Witchcraft, idolatry and the occult. Micah links all three. Perhaps they're not obvious in the PCUSA. But are there signs? The fascination with labyrinths--often set up for General Assembly commissioners to take meditative walks--makes many who take God's Word seriously uneasy."



Labyrinths are Satan's playground!






You guessed it. First Presbyterian of Elizabethton is constructing a labyrinth as part of its 225th anniversary celebration.




Here are some witches, druids, pagans, elves...









warlocks and faeries...










loafers and ne'er-do-wells...






at one of our labyrinth workdays.




It is going to be pretty cool.






The labyrinth path will be wheelchair accessible. Folks will design their own stones to place on the pathway.


We hope to have it completed by Fall...


...just in time for Halloween! Bring your coven!

Friday, May 30, 2008

More Endorsements

I received my unsolicited copy of The LayMAN the other day. Always an interesting read (if interesting is right-wing, homophobic, propaganda). Included were questions and answers from the four candidates for moderator. You can check those out. While you are checking, you might read the candidates' responses to Witherspoon's questions. Oh, why not, read the Presbyterian News Service intros as well.

After reading these, I have decided to make some more endorsements. I have already endorsed Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow. But I also really liked what Rev. Carl Mazza had to say and what he has done on behalf of the homeless. So I endorse him too.

In addition to these two, I have already endorsed Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein. I continue to endorse him despite his denouncement. You can write him in for PC(USA) moderator or for USA president. I believe he also is running for secretary/treasurer of the Royal Order of the Opossums (local 392).

While I am feeling gregarious, I also endorse:


That is all.

Tick Warning!

Thanks to Presby Bill for this timely advice:

I hate it when people forward bogus warnings, and I have even done it myself a couple times unintentionally...but this one is real, and it's important. So please send this warning to everyone on your e- mail list.

If someone comes to your front door saying they are checking for ticks due to the warm weather and asks you to take your clothes off and dance around with your arms up, DO NOT DO IT!! THIS IS A SCAM!! They only want to see you naked.

I wish I'd gotten this yesterday. I feel so stupid!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Resisting Militarism

The Layman is trashing the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and former PC(USA) moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase. It is rather convenient when the LayMAN does that kind of thing, then I remember that good things are still happening in the PC(USA). The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) is one of those good things.

The PPF held a retreat over Memorial Day Weekend to help high school and college students resist militarism and the aggressive recruiting practices of the military.

This training is designed for young adults who are interested in countering the military recruitment efforts on their high school and college campuses. Our hope is that participants will return to their areas of the country prepared to offer similar trainings for other young adults.

Participants and leaders will tent camp together in the Ghost Ranch Campground, and there weekend will include hiking, a morning of whitewater rafting, and outdoor leadership skill-building.

Check out the PPF website. I hope to see some of these fine folks at the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in July. Maybe I will see you there, too?

Heard it on the X



I am on vacation.


Tomorrow is Friday.

ZZ Top's in town
.

Life is good.

Rock on.





For those of you who are not sure if ZZ Top is spiritual, here is Jesus Just Left Chicago:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Writing Assignment

All right, students, here is your chance to hone your writing skills. The Kingsport Times-News published this editorial today, Gay Marriage Advocates Win the Battle, But Will Lose the War. In 250 words or less, with eloquence and style, demonstrate the fallacies of this editorial. When you have completed your assignment, you may send your response here.

I gave a quickie response over on the PFLAG Tri-Cities blog.

One Review Deserves Another

Bill Wilson sent me a copy of his book, How to Get Rich as a Televangelist or Faith Healer. I have just started it and will give a review in a couple of days.




I am enjoying it already and I am picking up a few good tips. It is a satire written as a how to guide.





Throughout he describes the antics of faith healer charlatans and the money they make. He even has some websites where you can get your ministerial credentials.

Bill comments now and again on Shuck and Jive as Freethinker321. I should also thank Bill for reviewing Shuck and Jive on Blogged.com. Bill gave me a 7.8:


This is the blog of a liberal minister living in Tennessee. He writes about matters like race relations, homophobia, the Iraq war, and his more conservative counterparts in the pulpit. His tone is cordial yet borders on the combative at times. He also employs cynical and irreverent humor to communicate his positions. I say all the above to describe this fellow, not criticize him.

I enjoy his writing and the passion with which he defends his views. He comes across as self-righteous at times, self-congratulatory in his enlightened beliefs and quick to label others as intolerant instead of trying to understand them. But I commend his courage in speaking his mind to an often hostile audience. You may love him or hate him, but you will find his blog worth your time.


Pretty accurate, I would say. Although an 8.8 would have been nicer.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Newton Presbytery and the True Believers

Newton Presbytery has submitted an overture to the PC(USA) General Assembly, "On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between The Christian and Muslim Communities." It seems like a good overture to me. It is a call for dialogue, peaceful relations, and finding common ground.

At my previous congregation I wrote an article for the local newspaper that advocated this kind of approach, Respond With Hospitality to Growing Diversity. In that article I recounted the following story:

One doctor who became a friend of mine was a Jain. I had never before heard of Jainism (even though it is a religious tradition that predates Christianity by six centuries). His wife was Roman Catholic.

He told me that they had a sacred space set up in their home in which each had placed icons, statues and other symbols of their respective faiths. With a big smile he assured me, "All of our gods get along wonderfully!"

Implied in that statement is, "So do we."

It seems that the point of this overture (and the point of my article) is to connect on the human level. It is about all of us and all of our "gods" (read: our various conceptions of God) getting along. What could be wrong with this?

Plenty, according to the Christian true believers. They have issues with theology. When they get into it my eyes glaze over. Theological and biblical "proofs" abound. It is a foreign language to me. I think some people would rather read their Bible than talk to another human being.

It seems to me that the only reason to bother with theology or religion is to make the world a better place and to increase love, mutual understanding, and cooperation between people.
But so much theology and religion makes things worse. Religion is just one more cause for division.

The real issue is not between my Jain friend and I. We had a great time. The issue is between the true believers (of my own denomination) and those who wrote the overture. That is the challenge. How do we deal with the true believers? The best way I have found is to try to work on things in common and not talk about religion.

At the same time, you can't allow the true believers to keep you from doing what you have to do. This is an important overture for our time and acting on its recommendations is even more important.


0.3 of ten. I'm hurt.


A blog rating widget, Blogged.com has informed me that a reader has rated Shuck and Jive. And not favorably I might add. This was the comment by a reader named Alan:

Rated: 0.3
Comment: This man has no business calling himself a pastor. He does not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, does not believe in hell, or the resurrected Christ. Why does he not just go join the local Elks club?

Your blog profile with a complete list of user comments and scores can be found here:

http://www.blogged.com/blogs/shuck-and-jive.html
My father was an Elk. The Elks had the best handball courts in Butte, Montana.

I am leaning toward the Royal Order of the Opossums.





I like their hats.

Let It Run Its Course

I found this video on Henry's Web:




Even as I found it amusing, I am thinking that it is not wise for the Dems to alienate Hillary's supporters. They will be needed if the Dems want to defeat the Republicans this Fall. While it is doubtful that Hillary supporters will vote for the Republican candidate, they could decide not to vote at all or vote for a third party candidate. In any case, that would not be good for Obama.

In my opinion, I think the race for the Democratic nomination should run its course, with Hillary in the race until she decides it is over. Neither Obama nor his supporters should fret about that. It won't hurt the party to have a race that runs right up to and through the convention. It will hurt the party, however, if a significant faction feels it was silenced or shamed into quitting before its time.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recovering from Toxic Religion

It was an honor to hear my predecessor on Saturday. He and I together participated in a funeral service for one of our church members. My predecessor served this congregation for 33 years before his retirement. Under his leadership, the congregation became an oasis for those who were raised in toxic religion.

Toxic religion in a nutshell, poisons people's spirit with threats of hell and punishment. It is a pervasive ideology that posits a wrathful deity. Its goal is to make people feel that they are worthless, even evil. It makes people fearful of anything that isn't supposedly true dogma. It discourages people from thinking for themselves or from feeling good about themselves. It discourages spiritual growth and the discovery of their true selves. It makes all kinds of rules and punishes people for supposed infractions. You will find toxic religion in all denominations, some more than others.

Some folks who grew up in toxic religion were able finally to leave it as an adult. Many of these have left religion altogether. I don't blame them for that. Better no religion than a toxic one. These folks bear its scars. For some the wounds are still open.

I do believe there is a role for religious practice or spiritual practice that is healing, open, and affirming. I believe there is a role for communities that foster spiritual recovery and growth. The good news is that there are many congregations that are oases of recovery. You have to look for them.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Original Blessing. This is the book by theologian, Matthew Fox. Fox is a pioneer in the movement called Creation Spirituality. Fox has been able to help a lot of people, including me, clear the spirit of toxic residue and find a liberating spirituality.

See if you resonate with his 95 theses for a new reformation of the church.

I plan to attend a conference this year marking the 25th anniversary of this book. Check it out. The 25th anniversary edition of Fox's work will be launched at this conference. You can read about that here.

I am not suggesting that Creation Spirituality is the only way to go, by any means. If you are like me, you have probably heard enough of people proclaiming something is the only way. But I have learned a great deal from him, as has my predecessor, and you might, too.

Jim Berkley Invites Correction from Jesus


Hey Everyone!

Secretary of Jesus, 9B8 Gamma Sector here! I want to give you an update on Jesus and Merry Mary M. They are doing just fine. Lovin' the trip across the galaxy.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill is on drugs. Last year, July 7th, 2007 (07/07/07) was when Jesus had planned to return for his second coming.


As you recall, it didn't work out. You can read the whole story on the sidebar. He has other things to do and will return instead sometime in 2525. That is where we left it.

Well...the rumor just won't go away. This year, August 8th, 2008 (08/08/08) is another big date. Jesus is tempted to take a quick turn around and come again after all. He really loves eights.



And he would really like to send a couple of folks to the naughty room.





I can't say anything more about that little juicy rumor, but I can tell you that he is not too happy with the "Oh, so righteous." Some of them are in dire need of correction. You know who you are.



If he were here...










In fact, truth be told, Jesus doesn't like church folks much at all these days. Jesus told me that if y'all wanted to take a break from church this summer, that would be just fine. If you need an excuse for your preacher, Jesus recommends this one:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Memory of Helen Collins


This evening we will have a service to celebrate the life of Helen Collins. Helen was an elder at First Pres., and a big fan of Elizabethton and Carter County.




She wrote a column for the Elizabethton Star, entitled "Images and Echoes." This is her last column that she wrote on Mother's Day. It was published in the Star yesterday:


Mothers and memories go hand in hand

Today the American Mom gets to be 'Queen For a Day,' she'll receive enough accolades to embarrass her and receive gifts galore from her kids -- they just don't understand their presence in our lives is the best of all gifts, the one that often defines who we are and continues to give us genuine happiness.

Now here's another plus: As a result of the gift-buying, millions of gifts, retail sales are at an all-time high as of yesterday, so boy howdy! we're in clover, the economy will sky-rocket and the dreaded R word will fade into oblivion, thanks to American sons and daughters who nurtured our shaky economy. (I kinda' like the dramatic sound of that.)

A few weeks ago while on a prowling foray into some overloaded boxes and drawers, I happened on one of those end-of-the-year letters my oldest son's first grade teacher, Mrs. Hawthorne, had written to his parents, telling us what a good student he was, eager to learn, a good reader. We figured that gave us bragging rights but we may have gone too far. Mothers save important 'documents' like that, they're priceless.

A while back I found a poem my oldest daughter had written when she was about nine in which she had used the first letters of my name to give expression to her mother on her special day. H is for Heart, E means Ever, L is for Love, etc. Actually it got pretty involved by the time she got to the final S, probably glad I had a fairly short name. Every time I bring it out, we all laugh together, but hey! moms love this stuff. We keep it -- forever.

An "adult" letter from another son is kept safely in the old cedar chest. These are rare gems, they tell us what growing up in our care meant to them as they reflect on their life as a young adult on the verge of accepting the responsibilities of grown-ups. I cherish that letter, it's sort of like that trophy you never expected to win.

Art from school and church, handmade crafts, letters, my youngest daughter always had plenty to say and write -- and make, all of which are stored in the Chest of Memories. You know about those, you have them, too, those 'original' works of art. One note, written long ago when Pal's was over on Broad Street and she was probably in first grade, asked: "When can we go to Pal's?" In those days, all of the condiments were displayed buffet style and I think she liked making all those decisions. Also, that would be a good Mother's Day outing. Conniving kid.

So, yes, it's a blessed fulfilling role we moms play in this journey. It's a daunting experience as we try to give them their wings by letting them go when they're ready, temper our discipline with love and hope our mistakes are not major.

Childhood passes all too quickly, it seems, but we're left with a thousand and more memories, and it's amazing how we can call any one of them to mind in the blink of an eye.

A word to you new moms: You're on the trip of a lifetime. There are surprises ahead for you, good times as you walk on the 'Mom Road'. To you moms of teenagers: I promise you, it gets better and better. Remember to laugh a lot, listen a lot and love a lot and before you know it they'll be dealing with their own teenagers and asking, "Mom how did you endure?" And you'll smile and say ... you fill in the blanks here, Mom.

As for us older moms, well, we can pretty much take it easy and enjoy life -- as long as our kids are healthy and happy.

If we get pampered a bit, if we are embarrassed with all the attention, well, remember, our kids are enjoying 'repaying' us and celebrating our day, so let's just relax and enjoy it.

As I write this, I am counting my blessings, and I believe I see a collective smile out there and hear a murmured "Me, too."

Helen Collins was a mother to many people. She will be missed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Burger King Does the Right Thing

Mark Koenig of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, who blogs at Swords Into Plowshares, ate at Burger King today. Here was his order:

"I'd like a number 7, two burgers with only mustard, pickles and onions, and a grilled chicken, hold the mayo. And by the way, I'd like you to give this letter to the manager, please."

The reason for the letter was today's announcement that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Burger King Corporation signed an agreement to improve farmworkers’ wages and enforce human rights standards in the fields.

Burger King was recalcitrant last November. But today, they came around. Mark writes:
Congratulations to the workers and all their supporters. Congratulations to Noelle Damico and the Presbyterians involved in the Fair Food Campaign. Congratulations to the leaders of Burger King for taking this step for justice.
A quote from the Gospel of Luke may be in order:

Jesus said: ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

Boring in Elizabethton

The Emmanuel School of Religion, a seminary right here in Elizabethton, will hold commencement on Sunday. This is a good seminary and we are fortunate to have it. It comes from the Stone-Campbell tradition and while some might consider it "conservative" it most certainly is scholarly. A few of our candidates under care in Holston Presbytery are ESR students.

I was a bit disappointed a couple of years ago when I couldn't convince any of the professors nor the president to check out the Jesus Seminar on the Road we held in 2006. I am more hopeful this year. Here is why:

The commencement ceremony will honor Dr. Eugene Boring. Dr Boring will receive the James Garfield award. That is interesting in itself. Garfield was the only U.S. president who was an ordained minister. He, too, was of the Stone-Campbell tradition. James Garfield wasn't long for the office though. He was assassinated after serving only six months.

Anyway, according to a newspaper article in the Elizabethton Star:

Dr. M. Eugene Boring will be honored with The James A. Garfield Award during the commencement service. "This is the highest award given by Emmanuel, and it is given in recognition for outstanding service to the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," a news release states.

Here is the fun part. Dr. Boring is a Charter Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. Here are some of his books on Amazon.

See, Jesus Seminar Fellows aren't so radical. Many of them are like...Boring. Perhaps now we can convince some of the ESR students and faculty to put September 12 and 13 on their calendars for Jesus Seminar on the Road 2008! If you are near our mountain, I hope you will join us as well.




For Those About to Rock...





Well I am as giddy as a schoolboy regarding the response to PFLAG Tri-Cities.






We have a lot of interested people, academics, professionals, parents, youth, business owners, ministers...

We have a webpage.

And a weblog.

And a phone
423-483-7129

We have a yahoo discussion group.

And a banner.

And lgbt friendly businesses.

And a booth at the Blue Plum Festival.

And if anyone tries to mess with us...





...we got Snickers.






We are moving equality forward, Appalachia!


For Those About to Come Out, We Salute You!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Denouncements

It hasn't been a good week for us clergy types who enjoy passing out endorsements. First, Monkey Muck denounced me, and now--sniffles-- John McCain denounced Hagee. Don't these people read their Bibles?

Peacenikkin in California

I have registered for the 2008 Peacemaking Conference, Sowing Mustard Seeds: Working for God's Justice--Confronting Poverty. It will be July 15th through the 19th at Chapman University in Los Angeles. I haven't been to one of these before so I am looking forward to meeting some Presbyterian Peaceniks. Are you one?

There are a number of excellent workshops. Plenty of time to register if you haven't yet!

You will want to check out the new blog, Swords Into Plowshares.

Gas Prices Blues



Gasoline could hit four dollars a gallon by Monday near our mountain.

It is already over $4 in some places such as San Francisco.






I have been inspired to get a new lawnmower.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Give us an "M" and a "C"

On May 12th, 2008, the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee, by a unanimous vote, affiliated with More Light Presbyterians and with the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

First Presbyterian of Elizabethton is a progressive congregation that has a range of social justice ministries, while embracing scholarship, science, and the insights from the world’s religions.

We are an inclusive, welcoming congregation for all people regardless of race, ethnic identity, economic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In a climate of discrimination within the church against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, First Presbyterian affirms the mission of More Light Presbyterians:

Following the risen Christ, and seeking to make the Church a true community of hospitality, the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

First Presbyterian in a time of division affirms the inclusive vision and unity of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians:

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians is a broad-based, national group of clergy and lay leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole. We seek to support the mission and unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in a time of potentially divisive controversy. We intend to articulate and act on the church's historic, progressive vision and to work for a fully inclusive church. We are committed to finding a way both to live out the graciously hospitable gospel we have received and to live together with all our fellow members in the PC(USA).

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is a member church of Holston Presbytery and works with its sister congregations in cooperative ministry and witness while affirming the mission of Holston Presbytery:

* To proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord;
* To serve Christ by helping Presbyterian congregations within its boundaries to serve Him;
* To coordinate the mission to which the Presbytery itself is called; and
* To interpret the work and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for its own members and for all others in its region.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Berkley and the Revenooers


The Spring issue of the Network News (sans swimsuits) still might be the widest read yet.



IRD clergyboy, Jim Berkley, wants to send the revenooers after Witherspoon.



It appears that Jim feels one of the articles in the Spring Network News threatens Witherspoon's non-profit status.

While Berkley is as usual, full of opossum piss, it is interesting how low he has sunk.

For scale, his employer, the IRD (which is of course, purely spiritual), has an income of about $1,000,000 per annum.

Witherspoon's income is around $35,000.

Yet the Witherspoon moonshiners continue to confound the D.C. based and right-wing funded IRD. For all their money, for all their homophobic rantings, and for all their intimidation tactics, the best the IRD is going to manage in the PC(USA) is a pitiful little break-off of schismatic fundamentalist churches.

The rest of us are moving on. Check this from That All May Freely Serve:


Denounced


He did it. It didn't take long either. I have been denounced by Monkey Muck even after I have endorsed him. I suppose he has a good reason. I missed Snad and John's party on Friday. It was John's birthday. OK, OK, I'm sorry. Snad and John are wonderful people and I will make it up to them, somehow.

I missed my chance to convert Monkey and Sparky to the true religion, too. So lay on the guilt for their eternal damnation. Sheesh.

But this is what happens when you invite Monkey to a party.





He hogs the cake.







Anyway, happy birthday, John! Here is a song for you!


Radio Gaga

Kerry Holland and I were interviewed by Dave Hogan and Carl Swann of 910 AM WJCW on their morning program, "Thinking Out Loud." It was a very good interview and Dave and Carl were excellent, informed hosts. You can hear the podcast of the interview here

PFLAG Tri-Cities will have a booth at the Blue Plum Festival in Johnson City, June 6-7. Look for us at Majestic Park.

Network News: Swimsuit Issue


I am not sure what it is about the board of the Witherspoon Society. They don't listen to everything Shuck and Jive tells them, like more pics of people in swimsuits in their magazine.

I know the magazine takes the high road in terms of intellectual vitality and journalistic integrity, but a little skin, tastefully done, could round out their perspective. They got the soul, now they need a little body.

I suggest that the next issue of Network News be the swimsuit issue, beginning with pics of Witherspoon board members in their bathing attire.




Here are three Witherspoon Board Members. After a long day of fighting for social justice, these serious folks know how to cut loose.








These Witherspooners take a break from analyzing issues to prepare for the Witherspoon Beach Party.




This is the kind of news Presbyterians expect. Ah well. I am sure they will call me for advice. The
Spring issue of Network News is out. Here is Reese to tell you all about it!


Hey Presbys! Check out the magazine named for my ancestor, John Witherspoon! You will find articles about the issues the PC(USA) is facing, such as gun violence, the new social creed, poverty, health care and interviews with the four candidates for moderator. I love the Witherspoon Society. And I agree with Shuck and Jive--more bathing suits!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Sermon: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

We are celebrating our 225th anniversary by doing a number of things. One is plugging through the Bible in a year. You can follow along on my Bible and Jive blog. I have been using worship to emphasize a biblical text. We following the order of the TaNaKh and are into the Writings. This Sunday's focus was Ecclesiastes. We opened worship with The Byrds. Here is today's sermon:

Eat, Drink and Be Merry
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church

Elizabethton, Tennessee
Trinity Sunday
May 18th, 2008

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15


What’s it all about, Alfie?

The author of Ecclesiastes asked a similar question:

What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
5The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
6The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.


What’s it all about, Alfie?

Have you ever wondered?

Of course you have.

Some people don’t think it is good for you to get too philosophical. Perhaps they are right. I used to get philosophical before every final exam in college. Come, enter my brain. We will relive that college angst:

Oh what’s the difference?
I get an A, I get an F.
The sun rises and the sun goes down.

You need a job.
What’s the point?
It’s all vanity.
Chasing after the wind.
What do I gain from all the toil
At which I toil under the sun?

I’ll die. You’ll die, too.
Even the professor who created this stupid exam
Will be a corpse one day.
His flesh will slowly rot and turn to dust.
That’s actually a pleasant thought.
Yeah, but so will mine.
No one will remember I ever existed.
After all, how many 14th century English peasants can you recall?

How many Neanderthals do you remember?
We aren’t even sure of the existence of a species
Let alone an individual.

Supposedly Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.
I doubt it. We can’t even trust that!
If it wasn’t Solomon then it was someone
(we don’t remember) who wrote this:

The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.


Ha! Joke’s on you buddy.
You aren’t even remembered,
And you wrote the book!

So who cares about this final exam?
Whatever.

It is dangerous to get too philosophical, we’re told.
Even if Mr. Solomon Anonymous was right,
Still we tell ourselves:

Never mind that Solomon. It is not your business.
Do your duty.

Maybe Solomon Anonymous is wrong.
Maybe there really is a Father up above
Looking down with love.
Counting all your sins, one by one
Judging, judging, judging,

You’ll get yours in the afterlife,
If not before…
You lazy student.

Who invented that theology, anyway?
The theology of a divine being who is always checking you out?
I bet it was a professor
Who likes to give exams.

What’s a better philosophy?
Reincarnation some say.
We go around and around.
I guess that offers variety.
Build up good karma.
I suppose that’s motivation enough.
Hope for a better turn next time.
But that just delays it, doesn’t it?
It is still the same thing again and again.

Solomon Anonymous thinks so:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Reincarnation, heaven and hell, going toward the Light
Who knows?
They say they know.
They are very certain about their books.
Maybe one of them is right. Who knows?
I just think they are avoiding the question.

Solomon Anonymous didn’t avoid it:

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth?

The only difference is that animals don’t have to take
This stupid exam that is supposed to mean something.
No one will remember that I ever took it,
Or that the professor ever gave it,
Or what it was even about.

Supposedly if we study and pass our little exams
We will be happier.
We will know about life and be able
to contribute to the good of the world,
So they say.

Solomon Anonymous had an answer for that too:

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. 18For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

My sorrow increased when I registered for this class.
And what good of the world?
Good people suffer and mean people skip right through.
There is no justice; it is just luck.
Disasters, hatreds, pain—it happens to any, good or bad,
There is so much hurt. So much injury and pain.
So much anger. So meaningless and worthless.

And if we don’t hurt each other then Nature unleashes her fury.
And those who suffer…
Are they worse than you or I?
Did they deserve it?
Will you say the same if it happens to you?
Or do you think you are immune?
Solomon knew about that, too:

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; 3but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

I really shouldn’t read Ecclesiastes before taking an exam.
I should just buck up and do it and be cool with it.
I should be philosophical tomorrow and do what I have to do today.
If all is vanity, all is vapor, then, why take it so seriously?
Maybe we should be lighthearted about it all.
Maybe that is the point Solomon Anonymous has been making:

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the partner whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

This is our portion in life.
This is what is.
What other choice is there?
We play the game.
We experience it.
We participate. Enjoy what we can.
Eat drink and find enjoyment in all the toil…

Maybe that’s what its all about.
Enough. I think I will just listen to the radio for a while:

(Play "Alfie")






Oh yeah, love. There is that.
Perhaps even exam-giving professors need love.
That’s enough.
Love is enough.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I love you, California; I just can't help loving you

Everybody sing. The lyrics. The tune.

More Light and CovNet Agree on GA Strategy

More Light Presbyterians and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians are in agreement at this year's PC(USA) General Assembly. I am thrilled about that. Covenant Network has announced its recommendations which include:

  1. Approve the overtures designed to support the 217th GA’s approval of the authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108.
  2. Issue an Authoritative Interpretation making it clear that the “definitive guidance” statements that preceded G-6.0106b, and the subsequent affirmations of them, have no force or effect.
  3. Send to the presbyteries an amendment of G-6.0106b that would remove the provisions aimed at excluding LGBT persons from ordained service.

Now we are getting somewhere. You can read More Light's recommendations here.


Grateful for Support Group

Here is a wonderful letter from PFLAGer, Linda Francis that was published May 11th, in the Bristol Herald-Courier. Thanks, Linda!

Dr. Abraham Verghese would have joyfully wept had he been here for PFLAG’s [Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] first meeting. He might have said, "I called the Tri-Cities, God’s Country, in my book. Perhaps, it truly is. God’s children are getting the message, Jesus taught them – Love is the Only Way!"

Medical knowledge shows some children at birth, (not by choice) have three chromosomes, not two, and then also, there are the raped who never get necessary counseling. How could this not confuse both their bodies and their emotions?

Like most Christians, I was taught more about "sin" than I was ever taught about "love." Yet, Jesus was a teacher who focused on the power of love, not a list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus did not cast a stone at the prostitute, in his "divine wisdom" he saw what we could not. It was understood Jesus was not upholding her way of life; still, his wisdom was accepted as good. Not one stone was cast.

I love most of the beautiful things I have learned in my church community, but haven’t we been slow to follow Jesus’ example of love, when it comes to gays and lesbians?

My thanks goes to the new PFLAG chapter of ministers, counselors and others, who have chosen not to pick out selected Scriptures for judgment, but have chosen the example of Jesus. What a delight to see that the attendance for the first meeting was standing-room only. There were lots of tears of love that night. I’m sure Jesus wept tears of joy, as well.

The Rev. L.K. Francis
Piney Flats, Tenn.


Don't miss PFLAG Tri-Cities tonight at 7 p.m! Here are the details.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

America: Torture Nation

Prof. George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary wrote an important piece for Common Dreams, entitled, History Will Not Absolve Us.

According to an explosive ABC News report on April 9, dozens of top-secret meetings took place in the White House, beginning in 2002, in which the president’s top advisors approved the use of torture. Those involved were members of the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee” — Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft. Unfortunately, however, these dramatic revelations have been largely ignored by the media and the public. Yet we now know more clearly than ever before that it is because of these senior officials — and not just Animal House on the night shift — that America is regarded around the world as a Torture Nation.

The techniques that the advisors not only approved, but reportedly even choreographed in particular cases amount to torture by any reasonable standard. Near drowning (waterboarding), sleep deprivation, subjection to temperatures of extreme cold (hypothermia), physical assault and stress positions are proscribed by international and domestic law. They are gulag tactics that have no place in a democratic society. John Ashcroft rightly asked at one point: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” But according to the report, Condoleezza Rice prevailed, telling the CIA: “This is your baby. Go do it.”

Prof. Hunsinger has a new book due this fall: Torture is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and People of Conscience Speak Out.

Hunsinger is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

h/t Doug

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jesus Seminar Comes to Elizabethton

I have just confirmed with Westar that we will host a Jesus Seminar on the Road September 12-13. Charles Hedrick and Hal Taussig will present, Competing Early Christian Voices: the Contest for Authority at First Pres., Elizabethton. This is a description of the program they did in Pennsylvania:
In the beginning, orthodoxy was but one of many diverse movements tracing their origins in some way to Jesus of Nazareth. Initially these groups used a Greek form of the Hebrew Bible as their scripture, but that collection proved inadequate to their needs. So they eventually reduced their new visions of faith to writing. Beginning in the fourth century, some self-proclaimed orthodox representatives selected certain religious texts to serve their communities, texts which, centuries later, would become “divinely inspired scripture.” Other texts, from movements competing with orthodoxy, they libeled as “heretical,” or “not genuine.”

The workshop will look at some of the so-called “heretical” texts and competing religious visions that survived from that early period, such as Thunder, Perfect Mind; The Gospel of Thomas; The Treatise on the Resurrection; The Gospel of Mary; The Aprocryphon of John; The Gospel of Judas; The Testimony of Truth; and The Apocalypse of Peter.

So, put it on your calendar! Check out some of the other JSORs this Fall.

Test the Waters!

I have found this to be the most successful way of connecting visitors with our congregation.








Periodically, we hold Test the Waters sessions.









Saturday mornings from 10-1 which includes lunch, folks get a tour of the building, meet others in the congregation, learn about our ministries, and so forth. With no pressure to join. We have our next Test the Waters this Saturday. Here is the announcement:


Test the Waters!

On Saturday, May 17th from ten until one p.m., our congregation invites you to come and “test the waters.” If you have either visited us on occasion or have been attending regularly for awhile, or if this is your first time here, we would like you to find out more about us!

We would like to welcome you and give you an opportunity to learn more about our congregation, tour our facilities, become acquainted with our ministries, meet a few of our fine folks, and enjoy lunch together. It is a chance to test the waters and see if this congregation is a match for you as you search for a church home.

We are excited in that we have recently renovated our facilities with a newly remodeled fellowship hall, an adult education room, a nursery with separate rooms for infants and toddlers, two wheel-chair accessible restrooms, and a renovated bell choir and choir room. We are in the process of building a labyrinth and we hope to have it completed by this summer.

I have been the minister here for nearly three years and I am thrilled with the growth we have experienced. We are looking forward to starting some new ministries with children and families. These are exciting times for First Presbyterian and I hope that you will be a part of them.

Many people regard our congregation as an oasis. We are an inclusive, tolerant congregation that celebrates diversity and encourages open-minded reflection.

If you haven’t already found us on the web, please check our web site. There you will find our philosophy, an activities calendar, sermons, our newsletter and other interesting things.

Please mark Saturday, May 17th from 10 am until 1 pm on your calendar for you, your partner, your family, and even invite friends. Please let us know if you plan to attend so we can make preparations for lunch. Contact the church office if you have questions at 543-7737, or e-mail the pastor.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Methodists Endorse the Clergy Letter Project

I just received this e-mail from Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project:

I am thrilled to report that The United Methodist Church, at its General Convention just concluded, endorsed The Clergy Letter Project. The resolution that was overwhelmingly passed at the General Convention, which meets once every four years, adds a statement to the Book of Resolution that reads as follows: “The United Methodist Church endorses The Clergy Letter Project and its reconciliatory programs between religion and science, and urges United Methodist clergy participation.” You can read the resolution and see how it reads in context here:

The General Convention also adopted two other resolutions that are very supportive of evolution
. The first explicitly adds the acceptance of evolution to the Methodist’s Book of Discipline. In part, the resolution states that "We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.” You can read the full resolution here:

The final resolution adds a new statement to the Methodist’s Book of Resolution dealing with creationism and intelligent design. The wording reads as follows, “
Therefore be it resolved that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.” The specific information is available here:


Dr. Zimmerman also reports that 95 congregations have already signed on for Evolution Sunday 2009.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bottle Bill Stalls in Committee

We have a passion for environmental justice at First Pres. One of the items we were hoping would pass this year was the bottle bill for Tennessee. It didn't get out of committee, but there is hope it will go all the way next year. This was in today's Johnson City Press.

One of our church members, Gary Barrigar, worked very hard on this and spoke before the committee:


Among those testifying in favor of the bill was former Elizabethton High School biology teacher Gary Barriger, speaking for the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Barriger has organized stream monitoring and litter pickup from the relatively pristine trout streams of the East Tennessee mountains over the years, and he testified that more than 50 percent of the litter removed from streams was beverage containers.

The proposed 5-cent deposit on glass, plastic and aluminum beverage containers is seen as a way to reduce litter and boost recycling in Tennessee, where littering was recently ranked among the worst in the country, and where residential recycling rates rarely rise above 10 percent.

In April, the general membership of Tennessee’s Association of County Mayors voted to support legislation creating a Tennessee bottle bill. They mayors present voted without dissent to endorse the measure during their annual County Government Day in Nashville.

The legislation, which has 13 additional co-sponsors in addition to Jackson, also has strong support from the voters. According to a recent telephone survey by the University of Tennessee’s Social Science Research Institute, 80.4 percent of 777 registered voters contacted by random-digit dialing said they would support or strongly support a 5-cent deposit on beverage containers.

Thanks for all your good work on this Gary. Hopefully, next year it will become a reality.

Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mama: A Sermon

Following the Wind
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday
May 11th, 2008

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word,
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
--John
3:8, Dhammapada #100,
Acts 2:1-

We have the makings of a perfect storm. On the horizon is a mighty wind.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. According to the legend of Acts, the Twelve were gathered in the upper room and the Holy Spirit landed upon them and they began speaking in all the languages of the known world so everyone could hear the gospel. The church has celebrated this as its "birthday."

Some Progressive Christians have taken this Sunday as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the world's faith traditions and celebrate Pluralism Sunday on Pentecost.

This is from the Pluralism Sunday website:

On Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008, churches around the world will dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion—and we can understand our own traditions better—through a greater awareness of the world’s religions.

This year the wind has shifted. Today is also Mother's Day. I have been thinking of how to tie these three together. I came up with some sermon titles. You always want to begin your sermon with a title, even if you change it. That is why more often than not, my sermon title doesn’t fit what I am talking about. After I have posted the title in the bulletin, I go in a different direction. Nevertheless, it is always good to start with a title. Here are some sermon titles for that perfect storm of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mother’s Day:

* Pluralistic Pentecostal Mothers

* Tongue-Speaking Inter-Faith Mom

* Mama Was a Holy Rollin’ Pluralist

I also thought up a title that the loyal opposition could use for this Sunday. To borrow a page from Danny DeVito:

* Throw (That Fiery Pluralistic) Momma From the Train.

As you can tell, I am fascinated by this combination of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mama.

Today we celebrate the “Bible-believin’, devil chasin’, on fire for Jesus” Mama whose passion is promoting understanding for diverse sacred paths.

We don’t often think to connect the fiery, spirit-filled, self-assured, passionate individual with religious tolerance and peace-making. Perhaps we should.

We can’t celebrate Mother’s Day without mentioning that Pentecostal Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe. I thank Sandra Garrett for telling me about Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward Howe is famous for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She did more than that. In 1870, she made a declaration for A Mother’s Day for Peace. This is from About.com

Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

You tell me if there isn’t some Pentecostal fire in this speech:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

She wasn’t able to get this Mother’s Day for Peace recognized.

Mother’s Day as we know it, was officially recognized in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson. That story is interesting as well. Julia Ward Howe’s contemporary was a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis.

Anna Jarvis was an Appalachian homemaker. In 1858 Anna Jarvis began a crusade. She organized Mother’s Work Days (as if Mothers weren’t working enough) in order to improve sanitation. During the War Between the States she organized women to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Her daughter, who was also named Anna Jarvis, started her own crusade to start a memorial day for women. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 and in the church where her mother had taught Sunday School. Mother’s Day caught on and Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day in 1914. About.com

Today Mother’s Day serves mostly commercial and sentimental purposes, and in many churches to shore up traditional gender roles. I don’t think Julia Ward Howe nor Anna Jarvis would be amused.

I don’t think we can celebrate Pentecost, Pluralism and Mother’s Day without mentioning Molly Ivins. Molly Ivins was filled with that Pentecostal fire for justice. She was a staunch advocate for the welfare of children, for the poor, and against war. My favorite quote from Molly Ivins is this one:

"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

As the bells rang today for breast cancer awareness, it is appropriate to remember Molly Ivins in that context as well. She died of breast cancer at the age of 62. She wrote this about her experience with breast cancer:

Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.

One of the first things you notice is that people treat you differently when they know you have it. The hushed tone in which they inquire, "How are you?" is unnerving. If I had answered honestly during 90% of the nine months I spent in treatment, I would have said, "If it weren't for being constipated, I'd be fine." http://www.ibcsurvivors.org/molly.html

If I had a Pentecostal Pluralistic Mama Award I would give it in memory of Molly Ivins. I really don’t know much about her religious convictions or even if she was a mother for that matter. But I think she had a bead on that experience of Pentecost in the legend of Acts.

The biggest problem with Christianity, as I see it, is that it tends to think too highly of itself. It claims to speak with authority about things it doesn’t know much about. Then it pronounces that it is the only one true religion. Molly Ivins had a good way of putting its spokespeople in their place. In a column entitled, Let God Speak for Himself, she wrote about folks who like to speak for God. She wrote:

Quite a few people have been mishearing the Lord lately. The Rev. Pat Robertson thinks the Lord told the people of Dover, Pa., they shouldn't ask for [the Lord’s] help anymore because they elected a school board Robertson doesn't like. And Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana said right after Hurricane Katrina that "we finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did it."

I kind of doubt Katrina was designed by the Lord as a form of urban renewal. I think it's a big mistake for us to go around putting our own puny interpretations on stuff that happens and then claiming the Lord meant thus-and-such by it. It is my humble opinion that some folks should do a lot more listening to God and a lot less talking for Him.
http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1202-23.htm

The point of the Pentecost story is that the disciples didn’t do a lot of talking. They did a lot of listening. They waited for the spirit, the wind, the fire, to speak through them. And when the wind of God spoke in Acts it was a message of unity, grace, compassion and hope for all people—all nations. That message was twisted pretty early on to be a message of grace, compassion, and hope for us and for those who join our club.

This is why I think Pluralism, which is nothing more than embracing the truth that we may not know everything about God, is an appropriate correction to simply celebrating Pentecost as the church’s birthday. As if it were about us, that is we Christians.

There are so many more women, some mothers, some not, some Christian, some not, who model that Pentecostal passion for peace and justice for all people regardless of race or creed.

Women like Emma Hart Willard who pioneered the education of young women;

Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist preacher
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffragette and advocate for women’s rights,
Eleanor Roosevelt, Carry Nation, Rosa Parks, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Maya Angelou.

I will give the last word to Marian Wright Edelman, the Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman has been a strong advocate for children and against violence. She gave a speech entitled, “Standing Up for the World’s Children: Leave No Child Behind” in which she spoke with Pentecostal fire for children and against violence, and for getting our priorities correct.

I will close with the prayer with which she ended this speech. I invite you to pray with me:

O GOD OF ALL CHILDREN

O God of the children of Somalia, Sarajevo, South Africa, and South Carolina, Of Albania, Alabama, Bosnia, and Boston, Of Cracow and Cairo, Chicago and Croatia.

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of black and brown and white and Albino children and those all mixed together, Of children who are rich and poor and in between, Of children who speak English and Russian and Hmong and Spanish and languages our ears cannot discern,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the child prodigy and child prostitute, of the child of rapture and the child of rape. Of run or thrown away children who struggle every day without parent or place or friend or future,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the children who can walk and talk and hear and see and sing and dance and jump and play and of children who wish they could but they can't Of children who are loved and unloved, wanted and unwanted,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of beggar, beaten, abused, neglected, homeless, AIDS, drug, and hunger-ravaged children, Of children who are emotionally and physically and mentally fragile, and of children who rebel and ridicule, torment and taunt,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of children of destiny and of despair, of war and of peace, Of disfigured, diseased, and dying children, Of children without hope and of children with hope to spare and to share,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all. AMEN.

http://gos.sbc.edu/e/edelman.html