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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Report on Candlelight Service

We held a candlelight service for our sister congregations in Knoxville. Rev. Jacqueline Luck of HVUUC is a marvelous colleague. We participated in a service together for about 60 or folks from both congregations and from the community at large.

We lit six candles for the two individuals who have died, and four for those who are still in the hospital. Jacqueline said a bit about each of them as she ministered personally to them and their families the day of the shooting.

Everyone lit a candle and some shared a thought or a prayer.

The media was at the church. Here is an
article in the Johnson City Press.

Jacqueline will be on 910 AM WJCW tomorrow morning at 7:40.

It is important for congregations who are holding these services to be in the media. The public needs to know that congregations are active and providing a healing presence.

We remember:

Linda Kraeger
Greg McKendry


We are keeping the following in our prayers who are at UT Med Center:

Jack Barnhart
Linda Chavez
Tammy Sommers
Joe Barnhart


And We're Not Going to Stop...

Friends,

I want to give you one more reminder about the candlelight service tonight at First Presbyterian in Elizabethton, 119 West F Street. Here is a map. The service will be at 7 p.m. It is called

A Service to Honor the Knoxville Shooting Victims and to
Shine a Light for Hope, Human Dignity, and Peace


A friend told me today that she didn't know how much this incident affected her until she talked about it out loud. This will be an opportunity to gather, light a candle, offer a statement of grief and/or hope, and stand in solidarity with these people who shine a light of peace and tolerance in Knoxville.

Our UU friends in Knoxville took those shots for us. There are some things we can do in response:

Knoxville Relief Fund
Write a letter to the UU congregations
Post a note of love and compassion on-line
Attend a UU vigil in your area

There was a service yesterday at the church next door to TVUUC, 2nd Presbyterian. You can read UUA President William Sinkford's message. He said:

"And you know what? More of the people in this sanctuary here tonight, would say the same things: that we need to be willing to stand up and stand on the side of that larger love which can help us move through these difficult times, resulting from this tragedy, but [also] these difficult times for our world, right now.

And we’re not going to stop, and you can’t stop it. You can’t allow your fear or your confusion or your sorrow, or your anger—you can’t allow any of those emotions to keep you separated from what is central to your living, however you express it religiously."


You are not alone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Fantasy of Mine

I used to live in Billings, Montana. I lived there a couple of times actually. Now Billings is no liberal mecca. It is a bright red city in a red state. But they did something pretty darn impressive once upon a time. In the early 90s a bunch of skin heads decided to hassle the few Jewish people we had there. Not only Jews. They didn't like Native Americans or Blacks either.

They hassled them violently. They threw a rock through a window of a Jewish boy who had his menorah up for Hanukkah. They desecrated a Jewish cemetery. They passed out KKK flyers. They painted homes of Native Americans with swastikas. People were scared.

But, then, some folks had an idea. They said, "Enough of this crap. We aren't going to be pushed around by right-wing, hate-filled, bullies." They said Not In Our Town. The newspaper, the police, and the mayor got involved.

People put up menorahs in their windows all over Billings. If you didn't have a menorah handy, The Billings Gazette published a photo of one for you to tape to your window. Ten thousand people put them up in their windows.

Religious groups from every denomination sponsored marches and candlelight vigils. The local labor council passed a resolution against racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

The violence stopped. Yes. Really. It didn't take a big effort in Billings. A few people were sick and tired and started a movement. Not In Our Town is a national movement now.

Well, Knoxville. It sounds like it is about time for you to get on board. Officials in Knoxville are saying that the people there are peace-loving and tolerant. They are saying they are not like Shotgun Jimmy. They don't hold his hateful views. Then show it.

Pass a resolution against homophobia. Billings, Montana did that for crying out loud.
Put up rainbow flags all over town. Put UU symbols on your vehicles whether you are a UU or not. Mr. Mayor, go visit the PFLAG Knoxville chapter and show your support. And after that, lead a gay pride parade. You owe it to the people of your city. Be a leader.

No more, Knoxville. No more, Tri-Cities. No more, Tennessee. Not in our town.


Presbyterian Bloggers Are Reforming

The weblog for Presbyterian Bloggers is updating with some new voices, a new format, and weekly features. It is a blogging community for Presbys and you should give it a look. Here is the lineup:

Sunday
Weekly Devotion

Monday
Book Club: Review of a Book, Movie, TV Show, or Article

Tuesday
Personal Faith Experiences

Wednesday
Joyful News on Ministry

Thursday
(un)recognizing Jesus:
the church as the incarnate body of Christ

Friday

1st: Ask the Moderator!
2nd: Pastors Discuss Sermons and Lectionary - Woohoo!
3rd: Ask the Experienced Pastor!
4th: Ask the Elder Elder!
5th: Meme Time!

Saturday
Member Blog Meet & Greet

I get to do the Wednesday feature, Joyful News On Ministry. I am looking for stories, pics, videos, of happy Presbyterians! It can't be that tall of an order, right? Check it.

PCUSA Officials Respond to Shooting

Officials of the PC(USA) have sent a letter regarding the shootings:

July 29, 2008

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

This past Sunday morning, the enthusiasm and joy that surrounded a children’s production at the
Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) in Knoxville, Tenn., were shattered by the horror of shotgun blasts. Eight people were wounded or injured, two of them fatally.

The overwhelming response of support from congregations in Knoxville has been a strong example of the visible unity of Christ’s church. Second Presbyterian Church, located next to TVUUC, was a refuge for children running for safety in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, as well as a host of a candlelight service that same evening. First Baptist Church held a community prayer service earlier today. No doubt, countless more opportunities for ministry to TVUUC congregation and to everyone affected by this brutal violence will be made available, and we who watch from a distance are grateful for such generous acts of kindness and presence.

We are writing to ask that you continue to pray for the victims of the shootings – for the families of those who were killed and those who survived; for those who witnessed the violence, especially the children; for the pastoral leadership of TVUUC; for the pastors and members of neighboring and area congregations, as well as all caregivers who are ambassadors of God’s grace; and for those who feel compelled to resort to violence in the midst of their anger.

While we have no answers for why these senseless acts happen – anytime, but especially in a church sanctuary – we do profess our strong faith that, even in this terrible circumstance, God’s sure and certain hand holds all of us securely.

From the apostle Paul, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God the Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thess. 2:16).

Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Linda Bryant Valentine Executive Director, General Assembly Council
Bruce Reyes-Chow Moderator, 218th General Assembly (2008)
Byron Wade Vice-Moderator, 218th General Assembly (2008)


And Now for Something Lighter

A First Presby was inspired to send this:

A man went to a church one Sunday. Following the sermon, the man stopped to shake hands with the preacher. The man said, "That was a damned fine sermon that you preached today, sir; damned fine sermon".

The preacher responded, "Thank you, sir, but I would rather that you not use profanity to express your thoughts". The man said, "Yes sir, a damned fine sermon. And I was so damned impressed that I left a check for $5,000.00 in the offering plate".

The preacher exclaimed, "No shit !"

Knoxville Relief Fund

I just received this about the Knoxville Relief Fund:

Dear Friends,

We are all deeply saddened by the news this weekend of the tragedy at the Tennessee Valley UU Church (TVUUC), which also affected members of the Westside Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

President Sinkford and the UU Trauma Response Ministry Team are now on the ground in Knoxville. For more information on the UU response, click here.

Below, you will find a copy of the press release from President Sinkford. Information is also available at www.uua.org. To subscribe to the UUA news announcement listserv, click here.

What you can do to help:

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson District has established the Knoxville Relief Fund to bring ministry, spiritual care, and practical financial assistance to those affected by the tragedy in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Read More

Donate Now

Those killed and injured were from two area congregations that were participating in a joint worship service at TVUUC. Letters of sympathy may be mailed to both Knoxville congregations:

Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
2931 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919-4624

Westside Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
616 Fretz Road
Knoxville, TN 37934-1604

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have at (888) 792-5885 or campaign (at) uua (dot) org.

In faith,

Catherine Lynch
Director of Campaigning

Who Are You UUs?

What is Unitarian Universalism? That is a question that is being asked today. You can go to the UUA website and learn more. In today's Kingsport Times-News, my friend, Rev. Jacqueline Luck, was interviewed. Jacqueline is minister of Holston Valley UU:
Many times people confuse the church’s liberal stance on religion with being politically liberal, said the Rev. Jacqueline Luck of the Holston Valley UUC.

“I think a lot of people have a preconceived idea when they hear
about a liberal church,” she said. “We have members that are both conservative and liberal politically, but to be a liberal religious body means that you believe it’s good to question and use your reason in determining your faith.

“People lump liberal politics and liberal religion together and don’t realize they are two separate things.”

The Universalist Unitarian Church worships God but draws from truths from other world religions as well, Luck said. It also promotes diversity and welcomes people regardless of their religious background or other beliefs.

“I think we practice the golden rule, which asks us to love our neighbor, “ she said. “Diversity is something we appreciate and that enriches our congregation, whether it’s diversity of beliefs, racial, economic and gender identity diversity.”



Spewing Bile

Does rock music cause anti-social behavior in teens?
Does sex education in schools make teenagers more horny?
Do video games make young men more violent?
Does Michael Savage turn people into church shooters?


Shotgun wielding, Jim Adkisson, revealed his motive:
During the interview Adkisson stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were a ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets. Adkisson made statements that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.
Now that is some wacked-out logic. Where would he get those ideas? Police found some interesting books in his home:
Still seized three books from Adkisson's home, including "The O'Reilly Factor," by television commentator Bill O'Reilly; "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder," by radio personality Michael Savage; and "Let Freedom Ring," by political pundit Sean Hannity.
This is from Calvin Rye:

The Far Right is no more responsible for this tragedy than “The Fisher King” for the brutal murders it inspired. In other words, not at all. The gunman was unstable.

An unstable mind caught up in political hyperbole: Liberals hate America. Liberals hate Christians. Liberals want to destroy the family. Liberals are ruining our way of life. Liberals should be executed for treason.

You’d have to be insane to believe that crap.

To those who demonize liberals… It’s not that I blame you for these murders. It’s that I want you to recognize them as a warning sign. When someone that sick and violent finds your message that appealing, it should make you stop and think. Do you realize how hate-filled your rhetoric has become? Do you recognize the bile you’re spewing?

Knoxville Solidarity

The UUA has set up a weblog, Supporting Our Friends in Knoxville, for those who wish to express love and support for the members and friends of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and the Westside Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. According to the website:
In the meantime, if you are involved in a vigil, service of remembrance, or other event which is designed to express support for our friends in Knoxville, we invite you to email oecdirector@uua.org with information on that event, and photos if they are available. Please use the heading "Knoxville Solidarity" in the heading. We will try and collect this information as well as images (and text if you provide it) to make sure that this, too, is sent to our friends in Knoxville.
We will have a candlelight service at First Presbyterian tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend. If you know of other services in the Tri-Cities, let me know, and I will post them here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Is Your Sanctuary Safe?

This is a question that needs asking. What can church leaders do? A quick scan of the web located a few articles of interest:

Sanctuary Safety: Not Even Churches Are Off-Limits to Violence


At Grace Baptist Church in West Valley City, pastor Matt Johnson makes sure it's men who stand at the back of the church to not only greet and usher but to simply be a presence that could deter crime or protect the congregation if need be.

Churches Call On Congregations, Consultants in Efforts to Curb Crime

“We definitely tightened security a lot after 9/11,” said Pam Gladstone , the executive director of Congregation Beth El in Norfolk.

Beth El hires off-duty police officers to stand guard at all worship services and gatherings. Outer doors are always locked, and admission tickets issued by the synagogue are required for high holy day events. If a disturbance breaks out in the sanctuary, Rabbi Arthur Ruberg can trip a silent alarm that summons police, Gladstone said.

Colorado Shootings Reflect Big Threats At Big Churches

In the case of most random shootings—a deranged gunman looking to make a statement—some observers said there is only so much churches can do. Dave Travis, the managing director of Leadership Network, a Dallas-based megachurch think tank, noted that the mother of Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1974 as she sat at the church organ.

"The security threat of a crazed person—there's just no way to totally prepare for that," he said.
Leader's Insight: Security Against Shooters

Situational crime expert Ronald Clarke outlined these steps for avoiding an active-shooter incident:

  • Increase early identification. A person with a gun drawn is an obvious threat. But attitude or body language can also suggest a threat. Greeters or church staff should extend a personal greeting to anyone who looks suspicious.
  • Limit access. A shooter will likely arrive after the service begins. Close sanctuary doors once a service begins and train ushers to meet latecomers and guide them to designated seating areas.
  • Reduce provocation. Train ushers to deny access, firmly but respectfully, to people who are unstable, agitated, angry, or intoxicated.
    Church Security Alliance

    The Church Security Alliance is an online community of pastors and laymen and women who have a shared concern for the safety and well-being of their congregation.

    When you sign up to be a member, you have access to training videos, podcasts, articles, newsfeeds, forums, and more. We recognize every church has different needs dependent upon location and size, and a cookie-cutter solution isn't what you need. Church Security Alliance exists to help regular folks develop critical skills to assist you protect your church, to stay informed regarding church security incidents throughout the world, and to stay sharp.

    Candlelight Service on Wednesday

    In order to stand with our Unitarian Universalist brothers and sisters in Knoxville, and to shine a light for hope, human dignity, and peace, First Presbyterian of Elizabethton will hold a candlelight service on Wednesday, July 30th at 7 p.m.

    The larger community is invited and encouraged to attend. The service itself will be about 30 minutes and will be followed by conversation to allow us to process some of what we have been feeling.

    Today Is Not a Day to be Quiet

    In a news conference this morning, Knoxville police chief, Sterling Owen, reported that the shooter at TVUUC, Jim Adkisson, had left a four page letter in his vehicle. The letter has not been made public. Owen said that in the letter, Adkisson was frustrated about not being able to find a job and blamed his frustrations on the "liberal movement."

    Owen said Adkisson was apparently frustrated over being out of work and had a "stated hatred of the liberal movement. The church is known for advocating women's and gay rights and founding an American Civil Liberties Union chapter. Owen said the letter indicated Adkisson did not expect to leave the church alive and had 76 rounds of ammunition for his 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun." WVLT

    According to the Knoxville Sentinel:
    Powell wrote a four-page letter in which he stated his “hatred of the liberal movement,” Owen said. “Liberals in general, as well as gays.”
    The paper went on to say:
    “It appears that church had received some publicity regarding its liberal stance,” the chief said. The church has a “gays welcome” sign and regularly runs announcements in the News Sentinel about meetings of the Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays meetings at the church.
    It appears that he specifically chose TVUUC as it embodied this liberal movement that he despised and blamed for his troubles. He had 76 rounds for his shotgun. Like a suicide bomber he was going to take out as many liberals as he could before going down himself.

    Other congregations are reaching out.

    At about 10:25 a.m., two staffers from Second Presbyterian Church next door, placed a large flower arrangement from their church’s sanctuary atop TVUUC’s sign along Kingston Pike.

    “Our hearts go out to this church. This is our community. We love these people,” said Julie Lothrop, assistant to the pastor.

    The senior pastor of First Baptist of Knoxville, Bill Shiell, wrote the following on his blog:
    The last place anyone expected a lone gunman to destroy the lives of innocent people was Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Rev. Chris Buice has been a voice of peace, unity, and harmony throughout his ministry in East Tennessee. He has led reconciliation movements, and First Baptst has followed his lead through the End Violence initiatives in Knox County.

    The forces of evil are random enough to pick the good people and congregations who care about peace to try to silence the voices of people like Chris Buice and the good people of TVUUC. But today is not a day to be quiet. Instead, it’s a day to be reminded that the forces of evil do not determine our perspective on the present.

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    Today We Are All Unitarian Universalists

    I just attended a candlelight service at Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. The minister, Jacqueline, and I are good friends. Our two congregations have a great deal in common. We encourage freethinking and inclusivity. The two congregations are co-hosting Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow in September. I participated in Jacqueline's installation service. Chris Buice, the minister at TVUUC, was at her installation too. He offered the children's sermon.

    Jacqueline was in Knoxville today, in the hospital, praying with, listening to, and comforting the victims and their families. I didn't know any of the folks at TVUUC. Many of those at Holston Valley did know them. The UU world is fairly close knit. You can literally count the number of UU churches in East Tennessee on one hand. Some had attended the TVUUC and knew it quite well. They spoke lovingly of it. It is a church that opens its arms to all people.

    This kind of violence is difficult to comprehend. Perhaps it is beyond comprehension. As of this post, the motive of the shooter is not known. I almost wish I don't find out his motive. I am afraid of what it might be. Some of us have added a good measure of fear to our grief today.

    Jacqueline told me that Second Presbyterian of Knoxville (the church next door to TVUUC) was where the children found sanctuary during the shooting. I am grateful for that. I am confident the Presbyterians (and others) will keep the care coming. UU churches often are kept at arm's length by other Christian churches. Now is the time to embrace.

    At the candlelight service this evening, we prayed in silence and in song for the victims, for their loved ones, for all the churches, and for the shooter and his family. The UUs are a pretty special kind of people.

    I am a Presbyterian. And today, I am a Unitarian Universalist.


    Knoxville Shooting Update





    Professor John Bohstedt helped to tackle the gunman.





    One person has died at the shooting at the UU church in Knoxville.

    There will be a candlelight vigil tonight at 7 p.m. at the Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray.

    The shooting happened when the minister was on vacation.

    From WBIR

    "TVUUC Minister Chris Buice said he was in Asheville on vacation at the time of the shooting, but returned as soon as heard the news. He teared up in speaking of McKendry's death, asking the Knoxville community to "pray for us."

    You can follow news at

    Knoxville Sentinel
    WVLT
    WBIR

    Shooting at Knoxville Church

    There was a tragic shooting today at The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. Witnesses are asked to contact the Knoxville News Sentinel at 342-6397.

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    Rapture False Alarm


    Hey Friends,

    Secretary of Jesus 9B8 gamma sector here! There was a big hubbub that I need to tell you about at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly. As you know, 08/08/08 is coming up and some folks have been anticipating the return of you know who.

    Well, the rumors began to fly when a photographer of the Presbyterian News Service took this photo.

    Some may think he looks like my boss.

    But he is not the real one. Like Santa at Christmas, sometimes Jesus sends his little helpers down to see who is being naughty and nice (and to stir up fun). He gets bored on those long intergalactic space flights.

    But unless Jesus is changing his plans, there should be no rapture on 08/08/08.

    By the way, Jesus told me that this General Assembly was pretty nice.

    H/T Elephant's Child



    Supporting Gay Ordination is Biblical

    I have been following the blog of Mark Roberts. He has been posting about the Presbyterian Church. I have enjoyed reading him. He is a scholar. He is measured with his language and tone and seeks to fairly represent different sides of the lgbt ordination issue even as he is opposed to lgbt ordination. Kudos to him for his intelligence and grace.

    In regards to those who favor gay ordination he writes:

    It’s easy for me to understand why those who support gay ordination, as people who are committed to justice, believe that they’re acting in accord with God’s will. The Bible is filled with the call to justice, especially on behalf of those who are marginalized or oppressed. Thus, many Christians have seen advocacy for gay and lesbian people as a part of their faithfulness to God, even to the Scripture that calls us to do justice. The PCUSA, in their view, has marginalized and oppressed gay people by not ordaining them. Divine justice requires a change in ordination policy, and they will fight for this change.

    From their point of view, those who deny ordination to gays and lesbians are perpetrators of injustice. Thus supporters of gay ordination can’t sit back and “get along” with the other side as long as it prevails. They must fight for justice until they win. So, when the PCUSA votes to deny ordination to gays and lesbians, they don’t stop fighting, but press on to seek what they believe to be divine justice.

    In regards to those who oppose gay ordination he writes:
    Even if you disagree with folks who oppose the ordination of active homosexuals, you must at least recognize that they aren’t necessarily crazy or bigoted or homophobic. The vast majority of Christians throughout history have believed that homosexual behavior is wrong. And the vast majority of Christians throughout the world today still believe this. Some of these people may have been motivated by ignorance or meanness. But many have come to their conclusion prayerfully and with genuine compassion for gay and lesbian people. I know many parents who deeply love their gay or lesbian adult children, and who continue to have positive relationships with them even though they believe that their children are making wrong choices with regard to their sexual expression. Many of these parents would love to be able to affirm their children’s choices completely, but their commitment to Scripture precludes this option.
    I think that is a helpful start. Liberals and Conservatives both get their dander up when they are called apostate and bigoted, respectively. In each of the congregations I have served, I have ministered with folks who are conservative on this issue and who have come to their position with thoughtfulness, compassion, and a desire to do the right thing. I work alongside my colleagues in my presbytery and in my previous presbyteries who also come to their position with this same sincerity to seek the Divine will. We disagree. Sometimes it gets heated. Yet even so, now and then, we find ways to work on common projects.

    That's one point I wish to make. We work together on all kinds of things. I don't think this has to be a make or break issue with our denomination. It could be. But I don't think it has to be. I think the vast majority of Presbyterians, including the ornery clergy, find a way to co-exist. Mark, if I am reading him correctly, thinks this issue will prevent us from being a unified denomination. He could be right. Time will tell.

    I have no crystal ball, but from my reading of history of divisive issues, such as women's ordination, many who opposed it eventually came to accept living in a denomination that allowed it. There were break-offs of folks who couldn't accept it and formed their own denomination (ie. the PCA). I imagine that will happen in this case as well at some point.

    I would guess that a small minority of people today in the PC(USA) oppose women's ordination for biblical or theological reasons. Even those who oppose women's ordination accept living in a denomination that fully supports it. Affirmation of women's ordination has even reached confessional status (The Brief Statement of Faith). Though I do remember that there was opposition on biblical and theological grounds to the line, "[the Holy Spirit] calls women and men to all ministries of the church."


    Many who oppose gay ordination have quite eloquent arguments as to why women's ordination is different. However, it is true that it was for biblical and theological reasons that people opposed (and some still oppose today) women's ordination. Just ask a Southern Baptist for a refresher.

    Many who had biblical and theological arguments against women's ordination changed their minds. Some of this had to with knowing women ministers who did a fine job. With these folks, in living with the new reality, their biblical and theological views changed. Again, no crystal ball, but I think that once the legal barriers to gay ordination are lifted in the PC(USA), and after a time of living with this new reality, biblical and theological views for many will change.

    I think the majority of Presbyterians are at least open to the possibility of change. It is openness to the possibility of change that will make the difference. Some will not change. Some will go to another denomination. Some will not change their views but will accept living with this change. Some will continue to actively oppose it. But if (when?) acceptance of gay ordination reaches confessional status, opposition will be as difficult as opposition to women's ordination is now. That is a ways off, I am sure.

    If the issue is biblical and theological, how is it that people could change their minds from being against gay ordination to accepting it, even advocating for it? To answer that, I will quote Mark again:


    Christians who consider Scripture as their primary source for divine guidance usually conclude that homosexual behavior is always wrong. This isn’t a case of irresponsibly reading one’s own views willy-nilly into the text (even if it’s an incorrect reading of Scripture). Consider some basic evidence: Not one passage in the Bible speaks positively of homosexual behavior or gay relationships. Not one passage in the Bible provides a positive example of an active homosexual in leadership. Wherever Scripture speaks directly about homosexual behavior, it judges it to be wrong. Some gay advocates claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn sexual intimacy between loving, mature, committed persons of the same sex. But even if they’re correct, which I doubt, this leaves gay advocates who seek to base their position on Scripture with, at most, an argument from silence combined with many explicit counter-examples. That’s why most supporters of gay ordination do not base their position upon the Bible alone. It’s seems clear to me that those who see homosexual behavior as sinful are in line with the plain and consistent teaching of Scripture, even if, in the end, they’re wrong to regard all homosexual activity as sinful. (Of course those of us who hold this position don’t believe we are wrong.)
    This is where I see things a bit differently. Mark writes:

    That’s why most supporters of gay ordination do not base their position upon the Bible alone.

    What does that mean exactly? What social, political, ethical, personal, intellectual, or spiritual decision is based upon the Bible alone? Mark knows that you don't pick an issue and then go to the Bible and look it up to find out what you should do. He knows the Bible is not a handbook through which we troubleshoot our problems.

    What is the biblical position on immigration, the war in Iraq, free trade, divorce and remarriage, reproductive choice, whether or not my congregation should remodel our kitchen, evolutionary science, astronomy, whether or not I should spank my kids (perhaps not since they are in their 20s), whether I should give $20 or $50 to the food pantry, global warming, the upcoming Tennessee bottle bill, attending R rated movies, usury, and on and on and on?

    Does it mean the Bible doesn't matter? No. Does it mean it is not authoritative for faith and practice? No. It means that we do our best with energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and a good bit of humility to enter into conversation with the biblical witness and the community to determine our course of action.

    Once we have used the Bible to look up abstract information about human beings and make decisions about them, we have misused it. It doesn't provide specifics on life. It reveals to us a narrative of God's relationship with humanity and creation. It is the invitation to see our neighbor face to face. As such it is a call to both justice and righteousness. We need to figure out the specifics on our own.

    I can't speak for others who are in favor of gay ordination, but for me, it is rooted in the biblical call for justice and for love of neighbor.

    Many people have already come to the place where they accept and support gay ordination, not in spite of the Bible, but because their lives have been rooted in its narrative.

    So the question: how is it that people could change their minds from being against gay ordination to accepting it, even advocating for it?

    This acceptance of gay ordination and of same-gender relationships in general is part of a two-fold process:

    1. through knowing real people face to face, the church discovers that same-sex relationships are not sinful, and
    2. through seeing the Bible as a narrative of Divine love and justice, the church is able to see that affirming these relationships is supported by faithfulness to the biblical witness.

    No more gentleman stuff. From now on you fights my way--dirty!



    Presbyterian minister, Jim Yearsley, who some say bears a striking resemblance to





    Yosemite Sam,




    has declared:

    "Not one penny for the lily-livered, bowlegged, double-crossin', flea bitten, apostate Gen'ral Assembly!"

    After finishing with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) he announced his other plans.

    Then he broke into song.


    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    Problem Solved. Let's Go Home.

    The MadPriest makes the most sense of the day with The Answer. The Anglicans are in a fuss about gay cooties just like the Presbys. Same problem, different kind of political structure. MP writes:

    Group 1 wants the full inclusion of GBLT people.
    Group 2 wants to continue regarding GBLT people as sinful and barred from ecclesiastical office.


    The prognosis:
    If Group 2 wins GBLT people will be excluded from the Church.
    If Group 1 wins nobody will be excluded from the Church unless they exclude themselves.

    In other words, if Group 1 wins, Group 2 will have to live with it.

    Is this possible?

    Yes.... (Read More)



    Presby Peace Conference, Part 4

    Thanks to the Presbyterian News Service for this comprehensive article regarding the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Peacemaking and the Mustard Seed.

    Delivering the third keynote address was professor Lisa Schirch of Eastern Mennonite University. Dr. Schirch is a Professor of Peacebuilding.

    I have to stop there and say how intelligent for a university to have a professorial chair for peacebuilding. Teaching peacebuilding, in my view, should be a core item of our curriculum at all levels of learning.


    Her presentation,
    Human Environmental Security and How to Simplify the Complicated Truth, challenged us to rethink the meaning of the word "security."


    She said that "security doesn't land in a helicopter; it grows from the ground up."

    In her powerpoint presentation, she introduced us to the concept of 3-D Security. Here is its website. The "3 Ds" are Development, Diplomacy, and Defense. She it explains it fully in her paper, A New Vision for US and Global Security.


    I took this from her slide presentation. You can find it as well as watch her speech, The Role of Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (s
    imilar to the presentation she gave at the conference) at the University of Pittsburgh's mediasite.

    3D security begins at the foundation with development, building a society that meets needs for food and shelter.

    The next D-diplomacy is talking and listening. Diplomacy is not about talking to you while we surround you with a blockade.

    The final D-defense is a last resort.

    So often we think of security in terms of defense first. That does not make us secure. The other two pieces need to be in place first.

    More on the workshops I attended to come.

    Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Part 3
    Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Part 2
    Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Part 1


    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    Religious Leaders for Marriage Equality

    I signed An Open Letter to Religious Leaders for Marriage Equality. This letter is sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. The Institute is hoping to get 1,000 new clergy signatures by August 15th.

    This is from
    Rev. Debra Haffner's blog:

    The timing is critical. In the coming months, ballot initiatives, pending legislation and imminent court decisions in at least a dozen states will tip the scales of justice toward greater equality -- or continued discrimination. Voters in Arizona, Florida and California will either pass bans against same-sex marriage or increase full inclusion.

    Religious leadership can make the difference. That's why the Religious Institute is launching a renewed effort to invite clergy from across the country to sign the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality TODAY.

    The letter is so good, I decided to post it here. If you are a religious leader in support of marriage equality, please consider signing. If you are not a religious leader but know a few, encourage them to read it at least and hopefully sign as well.



    An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

    As religious leaders, we are committed to promoting the well-being and moral and spiritual integrity of persons and society. Today, we are called to join the public discussion about marriage equality. There are strong civil liberties arguments for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from the legal institution of marriage. Here we invite you to consider religious foundations for securing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Marriage equality is about more than gaining equal access to the legal protections and responsibilities of marriage. It raises fundamental questions about justice and power, intimate relationships, sexuality and gender, respect for diverse families, and the role of religion as well as the state in these matters.


    AFFIRMING SEXUALITY AND THE CENTRALITY OF RELATIONSHIP

    Our religious traditions celebrate that humans are created in and for relationship and that sexuality is God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We affirm the dignity and worth of all persons and recognize sexual difference as a blessed part of our endowment. There can be no justification for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. As religious leaders, we believe that all persons have the right to lead lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure, including but not limited to civil and religious marriage.


    AFFIRMING MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

    From a religious perspective, marriage is about entering into a holy covenant and making a commitment with another person to share life’s joys and sorrows. Marriage is valued because it creates stable, committed relationships; provides a means to share economic resources; and nurtures the individual, the couple, and children. Good marriages benefit the community and express the religious values of long-term commitment, generativity, and faithfulness. In terms of these religious values, there is no difference in marriages between a man and a woman, two men, or two women. Moreover, as our traditions affirm, where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.


    ALWAYS REFORMING

    Marriage is an evolving civil and religious institution. In the past, marriage was primarily about property and procreation whereas today the emphasis is on egalitarian partnership, companionship, and love. In the past, neither the state nor most religions recognized divorce and remarriage, interracial marriage, or the equality of the marriage partners. These understandings changed, and rightly so, in greater recognition of the humanity of persons and their moral and civil rights. Today, we are called to embrace another change, this time the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.


    SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION

    The biblical call to justice and compassion (love neighbor as self) provides the mandate for marriage equality. Justice as right relationship seeks both personal and communal well-being. It is embodied in interpersonal relationships and institutional structures, including marriage. Justice seeks to eliminate marginalization for reasons of race, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status.

    We find support for marriage equality in scripture and tradition in their overriding messages about love, justice, and inclusion of the marginalized. Even so, we cannot rely exclusively on scripture for understanding marriage today. For example, biblical texts that encourage celibacy, forbid divorce, or require women to be subservient to their husbands are no longer authoritative. At the same time, there are also many biblical models for blessed relationships beyond one man and one woman. Indeed, scripture neither commends a single marriage model nor commands all to marry, but rather calls for love and justice in all relationships.


    MARRIAGE EQUALITY SUPPORTS STRONG FAMILIES

    In our nation, families take many forms. All families should be supported in building stable, empowering, and respectful relationships. Marriage equality is a means to strengthen families and is especially beneficial to children raised by same-sex couples. The state should not deny same-sex couples access to civil marriage. Many such couples are in long-term committed relationships and yet remain without legal and, in many cases, religious recognition. Conversely, because the emotional and spiritual bond of marriage is precious, the state should not compel anyone to marry (e.g., in order to qualify for public assistance).


    RELIGIOUS PLURALISM

    The United States is one of the most diverse religious countries in the world. No single religious voice can speak for all traditions on issues of sexuality and marriage, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Therefore, religious groups must have the right to discern who is eligible for marriage in their own tradition. In addition, all clergy should be free to solemnize marriages without state interference. We also note that many religious traditions already perform marriages and unions for same-sex couples. We call on the state neither to recognize only certain religious marriages as legal nor to penalize those who choose not to marry. The benefits and protections offered by the state to individuals and families should be available according to need, not marital status. The best way to protect our nation’s precious religious freedom is to respect the separation of church and state when it comes to equality under the law.


    A HIGHER STANDARD

    We call on religious and civic leaders to promote good marriages based on responsibility, equity, and love, without restrictions based on the biological sex, procreative potential, or sexual orientation of the partners.

    Good marriages:
    • are committed to the mutual care and fulfillment of both partners
    • increase the capacity of the individuals to contribute to the common good
    • assure that all children are wanted, loved, and nurtured
    • are free of threats, violence, exploitation, and intimidation.

    IN CLOSING

    The faiths we affirm challenge us to speak and act for justice for all who seek to express their love in the commitment of marriage. Some people of faith differ with us; others may be undecided. To each and all, we reach out and seek to promote what is best for individuals, couples, families, children, and society. Our commitment is not only for the legal rights of some, but relational justice for all.


    Presby Peace Conference, Part 3


    The subtitle for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference for 2008 was Sowing Mustard Seeds: Working for God’s Justice — Confronting Poverty. The global food crisis was a key concern. The General Assembly just a few weeks ago passed this resolution which includes:


    4. Produce relevant resources, using all available communications means, to raise the awareness of Presbyterians about the current food crisis, including the dangers for the U.S. government, the European Union, and other international entities who want to use the current food crisis as an opportunity to offer more direct food aid exports and genetically modified (GMO) seeds to affected countries, instead of offering economic and financial assistance to enable them to increase the production and marketing of their own traditional food commodities.

    I will do try to do my part by blogging what I am learning. You might also check the Food and Faith blog which links to the PC (U.S.A.) Just Trade page. You will find this:

    Most food in the world is grown, collected and harvested by more than a billion small-scale farmers, pastoralists and artisanal fisherfolk. This food is mainly sold, processed, resold and consumed locally, thereby providing the foundation of peoples' nutrition, incomes and economies across the world.

    At a time when halving world poverty and eradicating hunger are at the forefront of the international development agenda, reinforcing the diversity and vibrancy of local food systems should also be at the forefront of the international policy agenda. Yet, the rules that govern food and agriculture at all levels - local, national and international - are designed a priori to facilitate not local, but international trade. This reduces diversity and concentrates the wealth of the world's food economies in the hands of ever fewer multinational corporations, while the majority of the world's small-scale food producers, processors, local traders and consumers including, crucially, the poor and malnourished, are marginalized. (Read More)

    I heard a lot about "free trade" at this conference.

    Roberto Jordan was one of the keynote speakers. He is the president of the Reformed Church in Argentina, a member of the executive committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and one of the drafters of the Accra Confession.

    This confession contains powerful language about economic inequality and our call to do justice. For instance, here is article #19:

    Therefore, we reject the current world economic order imposed by global neoliberal capitalism and any other economic system, including absolute planned economies, which defy God’s covenant by excluding the poor, the vulnerable and the whole of creation from the fullness of life. We reject any claim of economic, political and military empire which subverts God’s sovereignty over life and acts contrary to God’s just rule.
    In his speech to the conference, he reminded us of 9/11. Not 9/11/2001 but 9/11/1973 when military general Augusto Pinochet of Chile overthrew Allende's government and instituted a military dictatorship that was aligned with the neoliberal economic views of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.

    The CIA backed the coup, trained military leaders at the School of Americas, and through Plan Condor destroyed resistance to those who opposed Pinochet's military and economic plans.

    Rev. Jordan told the conference to remember this:

    "It was not a military coup that installed an economic system. The system needed the military because it would not have been accepted without the military. It needed people to keep quiet and allowed no criticism."


    Rev. Jordan also recommended Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She provides detailed scholarship to that history in Chile and makes the connection between neoliberal economic policies and the military coercion and in some cases torture to enforce these policies in Latin America and around the world.

    Jordan said that free trade agreements "are legion" in Latin America. They are "neither free, nor trade, nor agreement." He added, "Neo-liberal economics is the greatest threat to democracy."

    He added as a joke that Latin Americans should be allowed the vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The point being that who we elect, and the actions our government takes, has huge effects on the lives of our southern neighbors.

    A panel followed Jordan's address. On the panel was Sarah Pray, the executive director of Publish What You Pay. This is one way in which we can make corporations and governments accountable for the resources extracted from resource-rich developing countries. The vast majority of the people in these resource-rich countries do not benefit from these resources. From the website:


    The Publish What You Pay campaign aims to help citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries. Natural resource revenues are an important source of income for governments of over 50 developing countries, including Angola, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Venezuela. When properly managed these revenues should serve as a basis for poverty reduction, economic growth and development rather than exacerbating corruption, conflict and social divisiveness.

    The Publish What You Pay coalition of over 300 NGOs worldwide calls for the mandatory disclosure of the payments made by oil, gas and mining companies to all governments for the extraction of natural resources. The coalition also calls on resource-rich developing country governments to publish full details on revenues. This is a necessary first step towards a more accountable system for the management of natural resource revenues.
    The PC (U.S.A.) General Assembly unanimously supported this campaign.

    Heavy stuff. Lots of links. I hope you will find time to check some of them out.

    Here are some happy pics:


    We made musical instruments with wood strips, nails, and bottle caps. Perfect for worship and for waking your loved one in the morning.





    There will be no peace until everyone plays Twister.




    More to come.

    Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Part 2
    Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference, Part 1

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Presby Peace Conference, Part 2


    Three keynote speakers addressed the Presbyterian Peace Conference this past week.




    Anuhurata Mittal of
    The Oakland Institute spoke Wednesday morning about the food crisis in the world.

    Seventy-seven percent of the people in India live on less than 50 cents per day. Like many countries around the world, India faces an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor.




    "What is the cause?" she asked us.





    She told us that the cause of the world food crisis is not by accident or is it because we lack the technological capacity to secure food.

    There are structural causes that have been in place for decades.
    Consider: India grows flowers for export to the United States. Flowers--not food for its own people. Why? Who benefits? Why is Coca Cola producing soft drinks in India?

    The real cause is injustice. This includes the lack of living wage jobs and transnational corporations that have taken over the food system.


    In a conversation she held the next day, I asked her what is the most important thing I can take back to my congregation. She said that we need to open our eyes to the true causes of hunger.


    Ms. Mittal said that nations need food sovereignty and that there will be no peace when there is hunger. The true causes of hunger are human-made decisions that can be changed.


    She was one of three speakers to recommend the same book:


    The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
    by Naomi Klein.



    I purchased the book at the campus bookstore and have finished about a third of it. It is an eye-opener. Check out an interview with Klein on Democracy Now!

    Here is a summary:

    In THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world-- through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.




    Mittal also recommended Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Families and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis. I haven't checked that book out yet, but I will. Here is a summary:





    Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case because of singularly destructive policies promulgated by different ruling elites.

    Davis argues that the seeds of underdevelopment in what later became known as the Third World were sown in this era of High Imperialism, as the price for capitalist modernization was paid in the currency of millions of peasants' lives.

    I heard themes like this again and again from the speakers and from those who brought back stories from our partner churches in South America, Asia, and Africa. But not only there, also in America. We are giving our sovereignty away to corporations and to those who benefit by them. People are suffering for it.

    But another theme of this conference was that this can change. Around the world people are opening their eyes and are resisting. I heard those kinds of stories as well, including people in India who shut down a Coca-Cola plant that had been using so much drinking water that there was little left for the people. The people stood up, organized, and made a difference. Check Sarah's blog for the story.

    More to come.

    Presbyterian Peace Conference, Part 1