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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Scammers Ready for Gustav

Online scammers are ready to take advantage of Gustav. This is from Computerworld:

Nearly 100 domains related to Hurricane Gustav have been registered in the past 48 hours, security experts said Sunday, some of which may be used by bogus charity and relief scams after the storm strikes the U.S. Gulf Coast.

According to television station KTAL in Shreveport, La., the office of Louisiana's Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has warned residents of Gustav phishing attacks already in progress.

Make sure your donations (and do make them) go to reputable sources.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one.


Noah and the Dinos in Glendive


In June, I posted about the Glendive (MT) Dinosaur Museum. I took some pics of the building when I visited family there. Unfortunately, it wasn't open at the time.


But now it is! God has given them the green light, the green cash, and a website!




Notice this piece of news from the July Newsletter:


Our 5½-foot Noah’s ark model has arrived. Many thanks to Kevin Yoder and his sons, Thomas and Jonathan, for their beautiful work. We have started adding the Ark’s environment, which is built in HO model railroading scale, so we have plenty of animals, trees and accessories from which to choose. However, since we believe dinosaurs were also aboard, we have to make our own, and Melanie has already made several different dinosaur “kinds” in the same HO scale. When finished later this summer, it will be a stunning exhibit!

When in Glendive if you would like to be
"funneled into an abyss of scientific deception...[where] the wonders of God’s creation are prostituted for evolutionism,"
then you will want to check out the
Makoshika Dinosaur Museum. Unfortunately, unlike the Christian-funded Glendive Dinosaur Museum, the Makoshika Museum is closed most of the time.




Your Christian Voter Guide

If Fred continues to stay away from church, he may not know how to vote. Wallbuilders, a religious right organization has church bulletin inserts all ready to go. You can be completely misinformed about the candidates on all the issues that Jesus rates a priority.


You might be interested in what Talk2Action has to say about this. For instance,

In Barton's first Voter Guide, McCain had a "NO" in his column for "Supports a national Human Life Amendment." So, to give the now preferred candidate a "YES" on this issue, Barton just changed the criteria from "Supports a national Human Life Amendment" to "Supports Protecting the Lives of Children Who Are Born Alive and Survive a Botched Abortion." Obama's confidence in doctors to make the ethical decision to do whatever they can to save a living baby, with or without a law requiring them to do so, of course, gets him a "NO" for this one.

McCain also had a "NO" in the first Voter Guide for "Supports a Federal Marriage Amendment." Back in 2006, McCain voted against the motion to invoke cloture and vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment. So, to give him a "YES" on supporting "traditional marriage" in the new Voter Guide, Barton again lowers the bar, changing the criteria from the original "Supports a Federal Marriage Amendment" to "Supports Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)."

Details Schmeetails. Onward Christian Voters!

Fred Didn't Go To Church Today!

Find out why. He is inviting comments on his recent post: The Church Alumni Association: A Personal Reflection.
I had intended to go to church today with my wife, Sarah, but, as we sat on the patio drinking coffee (as we do each morning), we looked at each other and said that we really didn't want to. We simply decided we didn't feel like it.

That's been happening more often lately. When I do attend worship, I enjoy the people--most of them anyway--but to be honest, the service is frequently dull and I "space out" much of the time. I often feel that I've wasted my morning.

I wonder if an honest expression of what I now believe would pass presbytery's muster. There is no doubt that I find much that is inspiring in the life and sayings of the historical Jesus, but the "Christ of faith" leaves me cold....

I would really be interested in hearing from folks who feel the same way I do about the institutional church. How are you dealing with this? I am NOT interested in being "preached at" by the fundamentalist-evangelical crowd--should any of them still be reading this blog--in an attempt to "save" my soul from the depths of a hell I no longer believe in.
Any other members of the church alumni association willing to give Fred a membership card? Pay him a visit!


Sermon: Jesus for Skeptics


Jesus for Skeptics
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton
, Tennessee
August 31, 2008

We have finished the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apocrypha in our quest to read the Bible in 2008. Through the rest of the year we will read the New Testament as well as documents that didn’t make it into the canon.

For September we will read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Thomas. I think that by having Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution here next week, and Hal Taussig and Art Dewey of the Jesus Seminar the following week we will give this study a grand start.

I do this with some trepidation. These are documents that focus on Jesus. Our views and thoughts about Jesus are held closely. Jesus functions very intimately in our individual lives and in the life of the church. Offering different views can be disconcerting. To shake one’s Jesus can be like shaking one’s trust or faith in the Universe itself. I think this may be one of the reasons that the church and its clergy have been wary about communicating scholarship about Jesus and Christian origins. They don’t want to shake their congregants’ faith or trust. Perhaps they don’t want to shake their own faith. They think the safer bet to keep people trusting and faithful is to repeat the creedal or confessional view of Jesus, even though that view becomes more incredible in light of what we are learning from modern science and other disciplines.

I want to highlight the importance of trust. The church through its centuries has helped people maintain a sense of trust. I would say that is one of the purposes of the church. We want to be encouraged to develop and maintain an attitude of trust toward life. With that trust we are more likely to love less hesitantly and to live courageous and joyful lives.

The poem from Langston Hughes that we used for our call to worship is a poem of trust. The mother says to her son: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair…[But] I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’.” The last thing I wish to do is take away the one thing the church has done right, that is, give people a sense of trust and purpose and the courage to keep climbing.

I am particularly enjoying reading Michael Dowd. I invite you to check out his website, Thank God for Evolution. In a recent entry on his site he addressed a question from an atheist. I want to share that question and Michael’s response. Michael has, I think, understood the point of our religious enterprise.

Here is the challenge from the atheist:

You seem to set up evolution as a beneficial and even beautiful thing for life on Earth. Though I accept that it exists, I think it's a horrible thing. I can't get past what's involved in the mechanism of evolution. Death, pain, cruelty, domination. Those are the things that push evolution forward. What more horrible system could there be? It certainly proves that there is no sentient being that could be considered a loving god. If there were, the world and life would be completely different than they are now. I can see no benevolent master plan.

Here is Michael’s response:

...nowhere in my book do I suggest, or even imply, that there is a force, intelligence, or consciousness outside the Universe (or within it, for that matter) that is pulling strings or making evolution go in a benevolent direction....

When I make the case for chaos and "bad news" catalyzing evolutionary creativity, I'm not suggesting that a Supreme Being or divine intelligence is intending favorable outcomes. Rather, I am simply pointing out the demonstrable fact that how we choose to interpret reality and life’s events profoundly affects the quality of our existence—and that this is just as true collectively as it is individually.

In my book, I mention that many, including myself, have found the mantra "the Universe is conspiring on my behalf" to be an exceedingly useful outlook in most situations. That is, when I act as if this were true, I love my life. I do not, however, suggest that this interpretation is “The Truth.” It is a statement of subjective meaningfulness, not objective truth. And there are plenty of studies that show that those who hold such an outlook live happier, healthier, longer lives. As the great philosopher and father of American pragmatism, William James, wrote in his book Pluralistic Universe, “From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreignness and one of intimacy means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.”

Michael makes my first point. How we choose to interpret life functions in how we live life. Dr. Martin Luther King made the famous statement: “The Universe bends toward justice.” That faith statement allowed him and others to pursue the cause of racial and economic justice when it seemed that the forces of the world were against him. Would a scientist be able to confirm objectively that the universe bends toward justice? No. It is a faith statement. It is a statement of trust. It is a statement that King needed to function so that he wouldn’t despair. It is also true that his faith gave him the courage and creativity to make positive events happen.

I think that King believed that to be true about the universe. In fact, I believe that to be true. I am a happier person and I am more confident in standing and speaking for what I think is right and I am generally more generous and loving toward others when I embrace and trust that the universe bends toward justice. I trust that the universe has intelligence and that human beings reflect it. I trust that Being is better than non-Being and that it is good that we are here. I trust that humankind will be able to survive and to thrive and that one day we will realize peace between each other and within ourselves. I choose, on most days, to function with that faith.

The stories about Jesus function to help me trust. I trust in the stories of Jesus in the gospels. I trust in the Christ of Paul. I trust in the Jesus of Thomas and Mary and the other texts that didn’t make the Bible. All these stories, in their diversity, serve to encourage my trust in the universe, or in what Jesus called the kingdom of God. And I trust these stories even if they never happened from an historical point of view or even if Jesus wasn’t an historical person. I trust them as parables with Jesus as the central character. They are parables that are intended to inspire us to live more reflective, integrated, and trusting lives.

I know this is delicate ground. I don’t intend to mess with your Jesus. If you are comfortable with your Jesus, then that is just fine by me. This sermon is for skeptics. This sermon is for those who don’t believe the things we are supposed to believe in order to have faith or trust. Skeptics doubt that the Bible is the Word of God more than any other collection of writings. They doubt that the miracles of Jesus are events in history. They doubt all of the pious proclamations that believers in these things make about God.

But it doesn’t necessarily follow that skeptics are not trusting. Skeptics tend to bypass all the things that are put in the way of trust--that you are supposed to affirm in order to trust--and go directly to trust.

The gospels portray Jesus as encouraging people to do this. He criticized the religious authorities. He is harsh with them. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

He is chastising those who construct gauntlets of beliefs and practices for people to stumble through in order to get to the real thing. Skeptics are not interested in stumbling through gauntlets. They see them for what they are. These gauntlets have become barriers to an attitude of trust and faith rather than vehicles to an attitude of trust and faith.

It is also true that what may be a vehicle for one person is a barrier for another and vice versa. A vehicle can eventually become a barrier for the same person. We have to be careful that we don’t label teachings or practices as necessarily barriers or vehicles. They can be and often are both.

A story that is attributed to the Buddha goes like this. The Buddha once compared the dharma or the teaching to a boat tied to the side of a river. To get across the river you may need the boat. But once you get to the other side, you don’t carry the boat on your back, you leave it on the edge of the river. Once a parable, teaching, story, or practice leads you to a higher sense of awareness or trust, it has done its job. It doesn’t need to be carried, turned into a shrine, or idolized as “absolute truth.”

Christianity, unlike Buddhism, has too often insisted that its vehicles are, one, the only vehicles, and, two, the objects of trust in themselves. Christianity, especially in its most popular forms, runs into conflicts with science, with other faith traditions, and with our own intellects. For the skeptic, this baggage is too heavy and unnecessary. Because of the baggage, many skeptics have left Christianity behind.

I am concerned that we are losing our skeptics. We are losing our critical thinkers who given the false choice between reason and faith choose reason. It can leave them intelligent yet cynical, even despairing. The phrase “Jesus for skeptics” could very well define my career in ministry. I am a skeptic.

Yet I find myself intrigued, enthralled, challenged, and comforted by the Jesus tradition. It has been a vehicle through which I have been able to trust in a universe that bends toward justice. Aspects of the Jesus wisdom tradition have inspired some people, like Martin Luther King, to stand against forces of oppression, inspire creativity and encourage trust in the ultimate goodness of humanity.

We shouldn’t judge the Jesus wisdom tradition on the basis of its misuse. Nor do I think we should dismiss or discard this powerful force for individual and social change. How then can this matrix of “Jesus lore” become a vehicle for trust in the universe, a spark to creativity, and encouragement towards social justice and peace, rather than a barrier? That is what I am trying to get at when I title a sermon, “Jesus for skeptics.”

This sermon is the start of a series of sermons as we work through the Jesus scriptures or the Jesus lore. I am going to close this opening sermon with a few statements of what I think is happening regarding the Jesus tradition in our time. You can call it an outline of a “Jesus for Skeptics Manifesto.”

1) Categories of orthodoxy and heresy are being discarded. These categories of right belief and wrong belief create institutions of control, stifle creativity, and do not serve the cause of truth.

2) Jesus is not the possession of Christians alone but is universal. Like all of the wisdom traditions, the Jesus wisdom tradition is available to all of us. Jesus can and has been incorporated into other systems of thought. I am thinking of a book on my shelf called the Muslim Jesus. These are collections of sayings of Jesus incorporated in to the Muslim tradition. This cross-pollination is being celebrated.

3) In turn, other wisdom traditions can help us understand Jesus in new ways. For example, Jesus as the Bodhisattva (the one who achieves enlightenment and out of compassion helps humanity by revealing himself at our level of understanding) or Jesus as Ishta Devata (a particular deity that one chooses for worship or meditation) may be helpful in constructing meditative or spiritual practices. Jesus the social prophet, the wisdom sage, the cosmic Christ, and more are all available to us.

4) We are claiming the freedom to write our own gospels. Paul had a gospel. Other communities who attributed their gospel to a figure such as Matthew, Luke, Thomas, John, Mary, etc. created their own gospels of Jesus for their time. This creative process didn’t end 2000 years ago. What is the gospel of Jesus in light of modern cosmology, evolution, and the challenges the global human family faces in the 21st century? Write it!

5) The Jesus wisdom tradition is intimately connected with the needs we face in the 21st century. It is concerned with right relationships between human beings and between human beings and Earth’s creatures. The reign of God is one of its powerful symbols for peaceful, joyful co-existence on Earth.

That is the beginning of my manifesto of a Jesus for Skeptics. Perhaps it is a Jesus even us doubters can embrace.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rev. Janet Edwards Invites You to a Party: Her Trial!

I met Rev. Janet Edwards a couple of years ago at a More Light Presbyterians conference in Nashville. She is a direct descendant of the Puritan firebrand, Jonathan Edwards, and Janet is no less feisty. A mix of intelligence and compassion, she is graciously moving the Presbyterian Church toward inclusivity.

In 2005 she officiated at a wedding (although not recognized as such by the state) for two women. The announcement of the wedding was placed in the local newspaper as other weddings are listed. A colleague of hers got wind of it and initiated church court proceedings against her.

Here are some of my posts about Janet:
The first trial in November 2006 exonerated her on a technicality. So a new complaint was filed. She faces trial October 1 in Pittsburgh.

Is Janet bummed? Nope. She has extended an invitation to all to come to the party, er, trial. Here is the latest from More Light Presbyterians, Come to the Trial:


I am Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, PA. I greet you with the joy that springs from Jesus’ gospel of love!

On June 25, 2005, I was blessed beyond measure to preside at the Spirit-filled wedding of Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole. Following the usual practice, Brenda and Nancy placed an announcement of their marriage in the Celebrations section of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The announcement included all that we expect in such notices: a picture of the couple, a list of the wedding party and a brief description of me as the officiant. This public disclosure of my pastoral act has led to a trial under the disciplinary rules of my church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

I understand my calling from God to be a “pray-er,” to devote myself to prayer without ceasing. So I am shocked myself that my life’s work has placed me at the very heart of the long-stewing debate that engages the whole world on the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in our community.

Perhaps we can all agree that we, in the church, are not very good at talking about our differing views on the inclusion of GLBT people in marriage. We keep a stony silence or throw accusations — and this is why my trial becomes such a gift from God. It is an opportunity for the different sides in the church to lay out their positions for ourselves and the world to see, to think about, to pray about, to talk about.

This is why I want the world to come to this trial, participate in the conversation and worship around it. Please come.

Here is the way to do it:

The trial will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, October 1, 2008, at the Grand Hall of the Priory, 614 Pressley Street , Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Just call All Directions, 412.566.1710, say you want to come to the trial and they will plan your trip. If you are able to give the time to come, we are able to arrange your travel and stay in Pittsburgh.

To start a dialogue now, I invite you to read an overview of the brief I have submitted to the Permanent Judicial Commission of my presbytery called an Apologia in preparation for the trial. Whether you come to the trial or not, thank you for giving my position your prayerful consideration.

May the peace of Christ be always with you,

Rev. Janet McCune Edwards

Here are the details from her website. Need a video invitation? OK:



Despite the great subversive fun of inviting everyone to a trial, this is serious business. Janet is putting her ordination on the line. It is serious for lgbtq people, their commitments, and their rights. It is serious for ministers and congregations and their freedom to follow their consciences as they do ministry.

Janet is hoping that this event will be an opportunity for the church to talk about the theology of marriage. Take the time to read her Apologia that she is presenting to the Permanent Judicial Commission. Here is the full version in pdf.


Thank you, Janet.



1.2 Million for LGBT Friendly Faith Groups

A 1.2 million dollar grant has been awarded to:

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation Institute for Welcoming Resources (IRW) and five partner organizations:
The grant, which will be paid out over two years, will support a strategic, collaborative effort to expand pro-LGBT faith-based organizing efforts and allow the groups to fortify their respective infrastructures. Through the welcoming church movement, congregations decide — through a formal vote — to offer an unconditional welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. To date, more than 3,100 congregations across the Christian spectrum have explicitly welcomed LGBT people to full inclusion in the life and ministry of their congregations. This is largely due to the longtime and tireless work of these organizations, most of which have worked together for years to build the strong foundation of the existing welcoming church movement. (Read More)

To put this in perspective:

A groundbreaking study titled David v. Goliath: A Report on Faith Groups Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality (and What They’re Up Against), released in 2006 by the Task Force’s National Religious Leadership Roundtable, found that conservative organizations and foundations such as Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Coors Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and the Scaife Family Foundation have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in faith-based organizing, while many centrist and liberal organizations have avoided any alliance with or funding of their progressive faith counterparts.

The report also found that organizations surveyed in the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches faced an average 8-to-1 disadvantage in funding compared to anti-LGBT organizations in their denominations. This grant will greatly help to balance those scales.

Michael Dowd in the Elizabethton Star


"America's evolutionary evangelists" are coming to Elizabethton.

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton and Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church of Gray are teaming up to host the Rev. Michael Dowd and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, Sept. 7-9.

Dowd is the author of "Thank God for Evolution."

Shuck says he has read Dowd's book, which is also being used as a tool for the Thursday morning study group at First Presbyterian.

Shuck says he was "always intrigued" by the fact that Dowd was a minister and that he actually wrote and spoke against evolution...He kind of had a change of heart, and now he is a traveling evolutionary evangelist."

Shuck continued, "He talks about the evolutionary story. He makes it particular to people so that they can see it's not a polarizing thing. It doesn't have to be 'either or.' It doesn't have to be a person of faith or a person of evolution...that there is a way to understand it that is complementary, rather than oppositional."

Shuck says he thinks "the creation story in Genesis was a story created by people before we understood what we know about science, but they talked about one of the refrains that we hear in Genesis, 'and the Lord said that it was good.' I think in a sense that is the enduring message of the story. The people who told that story told it in their time and their understanding of how the universe worked. That is a way in which we can understand our story today. It is good. And God works through the evolutionary process and creates through that. The scientific process of evolution we can understand as the way that God creates the world. It doesn't have to be seen as atheistic or meaningless or any of those kinds of things. It could be seen as part of the way God works."

Dowd, Shuck says, hails from a Pentecostal heritage, "and he appreciates all of that tradition and uses it in terms of understanding. He has a real spirit energy. He says he speaks in tongues. Yet he also accepts what science is teaching us."

The programs will include four workshops and two worship services between the two congregations. On Sunday, Dowd will lead the adult forum at First Presbyterian at 9:45 a.m. Barlow will lead the worship service at Holston Valley UUC at 10:30 a.m. Dowd will lead the worship service at First Presbyterian at 11 a.m. At 3 p.m., a multi-general seminar will be led by Barlow at Holston Valley UCC. A potluck lunch will be shared.

On Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m., Dowd will lead a workshop at First Presbyterian.

First Presbyterian is located at 119 W. F St., Elizabethton. Holston Valley UUC is located at 136 Bob Jobe Road, Gray.

For more information, call 543-7737 or 477-7661, or e-mail johnashuck at embarqmail dot com or minister at hvuuc dot org.


Palin is a Creationist!

No wonder McCain bumped me on the noon news today. I was going to promote our evolution workshop. McCain's new running pal, Sarah Palin, is more right wing than he is. Get this, she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools!

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms. Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, 'Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.' (read more)


Alaska! What were you thinking? She is a disaster...

...for the Republicans.

The Republicans Bumped Me!


John McCain has made it personal. Obviously, he doesn't want me talking about evolution and the Jesus Seminar in the Tri-Cities.


His little stunt today of interrupting the WCYB channel 5 noon news with his announcement of a running mate sealed the deal. I was scheduled to be on that noon news show. I was there. I was ready to go on. But I got bumped in favor of McCain's tribute to Northern Exposure. Oh, but I will be back, Mr. McCain. You can count on that. I'll be back Monday, Labor Day, on the WCYB noon news.




I'll be back to talk about evolution and the Jesus Seminar. And you won't stop me. I won't be silenced by you.



Now, since I have your ear, the shameless ploy of selecting Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, in order to steal Hillary Clinton supporters won't work. Sure, she's cute (and younger than I am for crying out loud). I am certainly fond of Alaska. But Clinton supporters aren't going to trade the issues for which they have fought their whole lives for some Alaskan eye candy.

But back to me and you, chico. You stole my television air time today. I won't forget it. I am on to you, now. Oh yes. I. am. so. on. to. you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All I Can Say Is...






Wow.






What a speech. What a moment. On the 45th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's, "I Have a Dream" speech, Barack Obama gave the speech of his life. He was passionate for justice, for working people, for decency, and for this country.


The Secret Book of John


The Secret Book of John is considered the foundational text for Gnostic Christian mythology. Like Paul's letter to the Romans defines his theology,
The Secret Book of John lays the theological foundations for this early Christian tradition. This is no text to breeze through or skim.





The Gnostic Society Library has translations and helps to understand this work. According to its website:






Among the several dozen ancient Gnostic manuscripts rediscovered in modern times, the Secret Book of John is generally agreed to be the most important. It has been called the locus classicus for the Gnostic mythological system – in sum, it is the preeminent “Gnostic Gospel”, a sacred reservoir for the defining essence of Gnostic myth and revelation. It breathes with the life of vision that vitalized early Christianity, a life suppressed and then largely forgotten in later ages. From a modern reading of this crucially important and recently rediscovered "Gospel", we are granted fundamental insights into the lost foundations of Christian tradition.
Karen King, who has published a book on The Secret Book of John suggests that this text may provide more than merely historical interest:
As the Secret Revelation of John becomes known more widely, we may expect it to have new and varied impacts on early Christian historiography, constructive theology, and personal appropriation.


There are at least two accessible on-line translations. One by Frederik Wisse and another by Stephen Davies. The Davies translation is easier to follow. I quote a piece here:



I am the Providence of everything.
I became like my own human children.

I existed from the first.
I walked down every possible road.

I am the wealth of the light.
I am the remembering of the fullness.

I walked into the place of greatest darkness and on down.
I entered the central part of the prison.

The foundations of chaos quaked.

I hid because of their evil.
They did not recognize me.

I came down a second time
continuing on.

I emerged from among those of light
I am the remembering of Providence

I entered the middle of darkness,
The inner part of the underworld
To pursue my mission.

The foundations of chaos quaked.
Threatening to collapse upon all who were there
And utterly destroy them

I soared upward again
To my roots in light
So as not to destroy them all yet.

I descended a third time.

I am light
I am dwelling in light
I am the remembering of Providence

I entered the midst of darkness
I came to the deepest part of the underworld.

I let my face light up
Thinking of the end of their time
I entered their prison
The body is that prison

I cried out:
“Anyone who hears,
Rise up from your deep sleep!”

And the sleeping one awoke and wept
Wiping bitter tears saying
“Who calls me?”
“Where has my hope come from
As I lie in the depths of this prison?”

“I am the Providence of pure light,” I replied,
“I am the thought of the Virgin Spirit
Raising you up to an honored place.
Rise up!
Remember what you have heard.
Trace back your roots
To me.
The merciful one.
Guard against the poverty demons.
Guard against the chaos demons.
Guard against all who would bind you.
Awaken!
Stay awake!
Rise out of the depths of the underworld!

I raised him up
I sealed him with the light/water of the five seals.
Death had no power over him ever again.

I ascend again to the perfect realm.

I completed everything and you have heard it.


In some respects it sounds like the
Gospel of John or the Revelation to John, both in the canon. For some time, the various groups lived alongside one another, influencing each other. Alistair Logan, author of Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy,
...argues that the Gnostics were the first Christian Platonists, the first to develop a Trinity (of Father, Mother and Son), and the first to make post-baptismal chrismation central to Christian initiation. (Book Description)

Hal Taussig will introduce us to this fascinating work Saturday afternoon at our Jesus Seminar on the Road, September 12-13.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Russia is Using Cluster Bombs

I received an email from Survivor Corps asking if I would blog about Russia's use of cluster bombs. Here is the news story:
Russia Has Dropped Cluster Bombs on civilian areas in the neighboring country of Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and wounding dozens more. On August 7, 2008, Russia began an armed offensive against Georgia over South Ossetia, a region long recognized as part of Georgia but home to an ethnic minority with close ties to Russia.
What are cluster bombs?
Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air and from the ground and release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. Submunitions released by air-dropped cluster bombs are most often called “bomblets,” while those delivered from the ground by artillery or rockets are usually referred to as “grenades.”
What is the problem with cluster bombs?
Air-dropped or ground-launched, they cause two major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. First, their widespread dispersal means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme, especially when the weapon is used in or near populated areas.

Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. These duds are more lethal than antipersonnel mines; incidents involving submunition duds are much more likely to cause death than injury.
Does the U.S. use them?
Russia’s Use of Cluster Munitions is the first known use of the weapon since 2006, when they were used during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The extremely high number of civilian deaths attributed to cluster munitions in that conflict initiated an international movement to ban cluster munitions, called the Oslo Process.

The Oslo Process culminated with a new international treaty in May of 2008 banning the use, trade and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Survivor Corps was one of the 12 lead organizations that worked with campaigners, governments and intergovernmental organizations to secure the treaty. Survivor Corps also led the charge to include provisions in the treaty requiring governments to assist survivors of the weapon, a revolutionary achievement in a weapons treaty. So far, 107 countries have adopted the treaty, which will open for signatures in December of 2008. Unfortunately neither Russia nor United States are among them.
What can we do about it?
Join others from around the world by signing the People’s Treaty to say that YOU want to ban cluster bombs forever. Your Senators must tell the military to stop using cluster bombs, and your Senators like hearing from people like you! Tell your Senators to ban cluster bombs.
Read more about Survivor Corps.

Mark Koenig (who will be with us in September) blogged about the treaty and encouraged us to take action.

The Presbyterian News Service published a story about the effects of cluster bombs in Lebanon.
For two hours, Mahmoud Yacoub sat disoriented in a field, waiting for help to come.

The 36‑year‑old farmer had taken his herd of goats out at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon when he stepped on something that exploded. Bleeding and in pain, he made his way to a small shrub, where he sat and waited for rescue.

At first he thought it would come immediately, but no one showed up. So for two hours, Yacoub said he felt he was going to die.

Villagers heard the explosion and went to the site, only to find dead goats. Yacoub was missing, but his neighbors were too scared to venture off in search of him, fearful of more deadly cluster bomb blasts....

....The unexploded bombs, mainly in southern Lebanon, are the result of the 34‑day conflict during July and August between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The fighting began after Israel launched an offensive against Lebanon following the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah, and ended through a United Nations‑brokered cease‑fire.

Scattered in the rubble of fallen homes, in areas where children play, and in the fields where farmers make their living from olive and citrus trees, the bombs lie silently waiting.

More than one million cluster bombs and more than 100,000 unexploded ordnance are currently on the ground in Lebanon, said Christina Bennike, head of mission for Danish ACT International member DanChurchAid (DCA). (Read More)



Evolution: Bummed or Inspired?

I grabbed this from Jim McGrath's blog.
James adds:

I can't imagine anyone taking seriously in any other discipline a demand that a viewpoint that has produced no genuine results, made no contributions to our understanding, and in so many other ways failed to pass scholarly muster. I hope that any educators who do mention ID will show the picture below. The only way to accurately "teach the controversy" is to explain to students why, among experts in biology, paleontology, genetics, and other relevant disciplines, there isn't one.

We are moving beyond the "controversy" with our weekend coming up. Michael Dowd's book, Thank God for Evolution assumes evolutionary theory and then asks, what does it mean? What does it mean for us existentially whether we are religious or not?

In Michael's latest post, he responds to a challenge from an atheist. I recommend the challenge and Michael's response. First, the challenge:

You seem to set up evolution as a beneficial and even beautiful thing for life on Earth. Though I accept that it exists, I think it's a horrible thing. I can't get past what's involved in the mechanism of evolution. Death, pain, cruelty, domination. Those are the things that push evolution forward. What more horrible system could there be? It certainly proves that there is no sentient being that could be considered a loving god. If there were, the world and life would be completely different than they are now. I can see no benevolent master plan.
And Michael's response:
...nowhere in my book do I suggest, or even imply, that there is a force, intelligence, or consciousness outside the Universe (or within it, for that matter) that is pulling strings or making evolution go in a benevolent direction....

When I make the case for chaos and "bad news" catalyzing evolutionary creativity, I'm not suggesting that a Supreme Being or divine intelligence is intending favorable outcomes. Rather, I am simply pointing out the demonstrable fact that how we choose to interpret reality and life’s events profoundly affects the quality of our existence—and that this is just as true collectively as it is individually.

In my book, I mention that many, including myself, have found the mantra "the Universe is conspiring on my behalf" to be an exceedingly useful outlook in most situations. That is, when I act as if this were true, I love my life. I do not, however, suggest that this interpretation is “The Truth.” It is a statement of subjective meaningfulness, not objective truth. And there are plenty of studies that show that those who hold such an outlook live happier, healthier, longer lives. As the great philosopher and father of American pragmatism, William James, wrote in his book Pluralistic Universe, “From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreignness and one of intimacy means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.”

Michael makes a critically important point here. Theology, myth-making, meaning-making, or what he calls "night language" must correspond to observation and theory or "day language" or else it makes no sense. But it cannot be confused with day language. The task of theology and meaning-making is to make our lives more fulfilled with the reality we face. The reality we face is shown to us through modern cosmology and evolution. We can choose to be bummed about it or to be inspired.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Obamanation of Desolation

I wouldn't be doing my duty if I didn't point out those extra special letters to the editor in our local paper.
Democrats simply can’t understand that Republicans and independents are not as fascinated with gay marriage and abortion as they are. In the end, the election will be decided in Sen. John McCain’s favor because of Sen. Barack Obama’s stands on gay marriage and abortion. These two topics are not getting much attention right now, but they are in the minds of non-Democrats....

Say again? Who is "fascinated with gay marriage and abortion?"

I also enjoyed this one:

People assume Barack Obama is a Christian because he has attended a Christian church for a decade. While the Bible does say to attend church, most people attending church aren’t Christians. To become a Christian one must believe and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and repent (turn from sin). To God there are only two kinds of people, unrepented/unbelievers and repented/believers (also called Christians).
Thank you, God, for settling that question. Therefore:
  • It’s fair to question based on Obama’s words and actions whether he has salvation through Jesus.
  • Some Christians who know Obama’s stand on the issues call him the “Obamanation of Desolation.”
There you have it, folks. Rick Warren thought he was doing the country a favor by having our presidential candidates submit to a Christian litmus test.

The final letter of the day summed it up well:

I walk my dog every day on the trail around the Science Hill campus and I continue to be appalled at the amount of dog feces that is scattered about...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Elisabeth of Berlin

Our Thursday study group had the opportunity to preview the film, Elisabeth of Berlin. This film is produced by Steven D. Martin. Martin who also produced Theologians Under Hitler." I highly recommend both films and viewing them together.

Elisabeth of Berlin tells the story of Elisabeth Schmitz, a schoolteacher who risked her career and her life by criticizing Nazi ideology and the treatment of the Jews. She was a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a member of the Confessing Church.

The Christian church in Germany was complicit in Nazi ideology. The Confessing Church provided a form of resistance. But as we see in the film, even the Confessing Church didn't go far enough. The film tells the story of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, when the Nazis burned more than 2000 Jewish synagogues, killed 91 Jews, and deported 25 to 30 thousand Jews to concentration camps. Kristallnacht is considered the beginning of the Holocaust.

The following Sunday, the church was silent.

Elisabeth Schmitz was not. She had been urging the Confessing Church to be more active and outspoken on behalf of Jews as Jews, not just Jews who were baptized as Christian.

"How are we to answer the many desperate, bitter questions and complaints: Why doesn’t the Church do anything? Why does it permit the nameless injustices to go on? How can it time and again pay joyous tribute to the National Socialists and offer political endorsements to a government that persecutes some of its own members? Why does it not at least protect the children? How could it be that everything that is simply incompatible with the nowadays much maligned humaneness could be compatible with Christianity?"

-Elisabeth Schmitz to Confessing Church leadership, 1936

She drafted a manifesto and secretly mimeographed copies of it in her basement and sent it to leaders of churches in the Confessing Church Movement. Because of her efforts, some churches spoke out.

This is an important film. It shows how the church was either complicit or complacent in response to systematic injustice. Bonhoeffer was considered a radical in his time. We remember him as a hero, but in his time he was not regarded as such. This should be a lesson for the church today. Those who sound like radicals may be the ones to whom we should be listening.

This film is not about Bonhoeffer. It is about a schoolteacher with a conscience. Her story was forgotten. At her funeral in 1977 only seven people attended. However, new research has uncovered this important person. Elisabeth Schmitz is the person we should remember (and emulate) the most. I look forward to the publication of her writings.

As I watched this film I thought of the Hebrew prophets, Amos, Jeremiah, and the others whose words were not heeded in their time. They were the radicals who were discounted or silenced. It was only after the events that their words and actions were remembered. So I watched this film with a mix of admiration for her voice and her courage and with disappointment that more didn't share her courage, then or now.

The film is nicely paced and features interviews with historians and theologians who provide important insights to the situation in Nazi Germany. I recommend it for church school classes, certainly, but also for high school and college history courses.

Steven Martin has produced a number of important films. This is his best to date. See his website for ordering information.

View the trailer:



"Elisabeth of Berlin" trailer from Steve Martin on Vimeo.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Possible Hate Crime in Johnson City

UPDATE: Here is a video interview with one of the assault victims.

This is in today's Johnson City Press:

Two Johnson City men assaulted outside a local gay bar early Wednesday morning are characterizing the incident as a hate crime and say they are stepping forward to try and stop what they see as a worsening climate toward homosexuals.

Matt Widner and Johnathan Smith also say they want to be sure the police pursue the case against their two assailants vigorously, and that with a license tag number, vehicle description and physical descriptions that shouldn't be too hard.

“Until they're caught, it's not going to be left alone,” Smith said Thursday. (Read More)


Report a hate crime
at Tennessee Equality Project.

Anti-Violence Project provides a toll-free hotline.



The Luck and Shuck Show

Rev. Jacqueline Luck and I just finished a radio interview with Dave Hogan and Carl Swann on WJCW's Thinking Out Loud. It is the Luck and Shuck radio show. We were discussing the Michael Dowd program her congregation and my congregation are co-hosting. I talked a bit about the Jesus Seminar as well. Carl and Dave are well-informed and excellent hosts.

You can hear the interview here.

Along those same lines, James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix, has posted the quote of the day from Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams:
"The narrow, local kind of mythic explanation that sufficed when cultures rarely mixed will never work in the emerging global culture. We now need myths that are not only scientifically believable but allow us to participate - all of us. To experience the human meaning of modern scientific cosmology, and to turn it into a working cosmology - a meaningful universe - in which we feel like participants, our culture will gradually have to transform it into myth. However, mythmaking is no longer a purely imaginative, spiritual endeavor. Today, the leeway for speculation about the nature of time, space, and matter has narrowed. Now that we have data, whole classes of possibilities have been ruled out, and science is closing in on the class of myths that could actually be true."


Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm a Minister: I Can and Need to Say This

Saw this one over at Fred's Place.




And to top off your day, here is one from Dr. Monkerstein. Bashing gays because of the Bible, insulting our reason by trotting out mythologies as if they were facts, hassling our presidential candidates with Christian litmus tests, and constantly badgering people with religion really, really, really ticks people off. Fellow church people, do you care? Think there might be another way to co-exist?


The Great Story With Connie Barlow


One of the great workshops we have scheduled for Expand Your Mind Week, is Connie Barlow's teaching of The Great Story.

On Sunday afternoon, Connie will lead a multi-generational workshop about the history of the universe and our place in it.

It is appropriate for children (we hope to have a lot of kids present)! As young as about kindergarten or 1st grade and up.




Connie is an engaging teacher and uses cosmic beads, stories and parables, stardust rituals, and many more hands on activities.




Educators will want to check out all of the resources and use them in church school classes. This workshop is great for teachers and parents, too!

Here is a link to some publicity photos to get a glimpse of Michael and Connie in action. You will also find audio clips and programs they have done across the country. If you can't join us in the Tri-Cities, check their itinerary. They are bound to come near your mountain!

Check out these stories of awakening!

Connie will lead the workshop from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, September 8th at Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray. Bring a dish and we will have a potluck afterwards. Childcare for the very little ones will be provided.

Here are the details for Expand Your Mind Week!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Color is Your Christ?

I received a couple of books in the mail today for my review. The first is by Anglican priest, Ian Mobsby.



The Becoming of G-d: What the Trinitarian nature of God has to do with Church and a deep Spirituality for the Twenty First Century
.



This, my second book, seeks to explore the theology behind groups like Moot, Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church. It looks at the whole issue of knowing G-d through experience, and that the concept of the Trinity, formulated through the Cappadocian Mothers & Fathers, is a best guess understanding of the nature of God, which though partially revealed in Christ, remains mystically out of reach. However, the Western church, through the differences of latin and greek texts, never fully understood the concept of the Trinity, which has distorted its theology and practice.

I explore the importance of this understanding of God in the context of our postmodern culture driven under the logic of consumption and information technology, which drives a new form of cultural mysticism. In this brave new world, the importance of church reflecting the Trinitarian nature of God as 'mystical communion or community' becomes an imperative. Finally, I explore the difficult challenge of building community in a culture which is loosing its interpersonal skills to the cult of the individual.
Maybe this will help me get a handle on this whole "postmodern" business that I can't quite figure out.

The other book that caught my eye, is from
Bruce Sanguin, who wrote a book I really enjoyed, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity.

His
latest is...





The Emerging Church: A Model for Change & a Map for Renewal.





I have just glanced through it, but what intrigues me is his use of Spiral Dynamics to help us get a handle on how we understand reality. This theory was developed by Clare Graves and you can read a thumbnail sketch of his theory here. According to this theory, human beings are on an evolutionary path going through stages of psychological and social development. Sanguin quotes Graves at the beginning of chapter five:

"What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process, marked by progressive subordination of old, lower-order behavior systems to new, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change."
Graves proposed eight stages (with perhaps more to come) that emerged as human beings faced different conditions. Here is the chart Sanguin uses that is available as a download. Here are the eight levels:

vMEMEs

COLOR

THEME FOCUS VALUE SYSTEMS

LEVEL 1 (A-N)

BEIGE

SurvivalSense

"ME"

Group bands together
to stay alive

LEVEL 2 (B-O)

PURPLE

KinSpirits

"WE"

The sense of family-tribe
with time honored

LEVEL 3 (C-P)

RED

PowerGods

"ME"

Power-action driven,
egocentric

LEVEL 4 (D-Q)

BLUE

TruthForce

"WE"

Purposeful, absolutist,
"one right way"

LEVEL 5 (E-R)

ORANGE

StriveDrive

"ME"

Entrepreneurial,materialistic,
success-driven

LEVEL 6 (F-S)

GREEN

HumanBond

"WE"

Community,harmony,
equality,relativistic

LEVEL 7 (G-T)

YELLOW

FlexFlow

"ME"

Natural processes, mutual realities; live for mutuality

LEVEL 8 (H-U)

TURQUOISE

GlobalView

"WE"

Harmony, holism, spirituality



You can find this all over the internet. I am not sure what to make of it. Nor do I know how mainstream this theory has become (if at all) in the academic community.

But, it is fun. Sanguin applies these stages to how Christians see Christ. Each Christ has a positive and a negative aspect.

Beginning with Purple--Christ is the Tribal Christ. "He makes the world go 'round when proper ritual is performed....He answers the prayers of those who are obedient." (p. 94)

The negative can be superstition: praying for football victories, parking spots, and miracle cures.


Red--The Warrior Christ. "Followers of the Red Christ go with him into battle on behalf of their tribe, nation, or belief system....In its most positive expression, following this Christ gives us the energy to "fight" for what we believe in--to take a stand."

But,

"The Red Christ led the Christian armies in the crusades. He also led the U.S. army into Iraq." (p. 94)


Blue--The Traditional Christ, a Divine Scapegoat. "As part of the divine plan, God sends his only son to suffer and die on behalf of humanity, modelling sacrifice of self for a future reward....Christ's own sacrifice invites followers to led lives of self-sacrificial love, with the hope of eternal reward.

But...

"...he can be used in a triumphalistic manner. He is the
only truth, the only way, and the only life, and if you don't believe it you're going to hell." (p. 95 emphasis author's)

Orange--The Modern Demythologized Christ and Christ as CEO. "Christ is seen as the human one, a teacher of spiritual wisdom....In its positive expression, the Orange stage helps us transcend the literalism of previous levels....modernist values give us permission to think for ourselves.

I like that! But...

...In its negative expression, the Orange level leaves no room for Spirit." (p. 95)


Here is where Sanguin puts the Jesus Seminar! I suppose I am pretty orange, too. But I want to be Green!

Green--The Egalitarian-Postmodern Christ. "The postmodern Christ embraces multiple cultures and downplays the "Truth" of any particular religious system. The Green Christ draws the circle ever wider, so that it includes the outcasts, the left-behinds, and the marginalized.

I like Green! But...

...In its negative expression, followers of the Green Christ are impatient and dismissive of all other value systems." (p. 96)

Yellow--The Integral/Ecological/Cosmic Christ. "The Yellow, integral Christ encompasses the universe and all cultures as an integrated ecology of systems....Followers of this Christ become fascinated by the world that the new sciences are discovering, and by how this world connects to the core metaphors and narratives of the Judeo-Christian tradition." (p. 96)

Ok, I kinda like that yella Jesus. But...


"...elitist thinking and impatience with those perceived to be 'below' this stage."

Turquoise-The Mystical Christ. "At this level, the world is experienced--not merely conceptualized--as one. A follower of this Christ does not merely perceive the universe an integrated whole. She knows herself to be a form of the integrated whole, the part in whom the whole is manifest. The great diversity of life is also an expression of the Holy One. All of life is sacred revelation, for those with eyes to see." (p. 97, emphasis author)

Well, maybe someday. But I am not there yet. I think I know folks who are, though. But...

"the potential disaster of this stage actually resides in those who have enjoyed mystical states of consciousness (available at every stage), but who confuse these experiences with a stage of consciousness (which are permanent structures in consciousness)." (p. 97-8, emphasis author)

So what do you think about this, Shuck and Jivers? What color is your Christ?