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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Peace and Beads, Baby

Thanks to Fran and the Quaker Agitator for posting a scary picture appropriate for Halloween of some peacenik you may recognize. Got a peace pic of your own? Send it to them for Friday peace pics!

I gotta thank the good Dr. Monkerstein for taking that photo (and many others) when we had our peace rally earlier this year in Johnson City.


Saving the world one peace sign at a time.


Halloween Scare Call

H/T Russell King at Street Prophets

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Montanans and Obama

I grew up in Montana. My lovely spouse was born in Montana. Our wedding was in the First Presbyterian Church of Billings 25 years ago. I wasn't from Billings. Billings is the big city. I grew up in a little town called Whitehall across the Continental Divide from Butte.

After we married, we moved to other places (Boise, Seattle, Princeton (NJ), upstate NY). In 2001 we moved back to Montana and I was pastor of First Presbyterian in Billings for four years. Now we live in Tennessee. Montana is and probably always will be "home." I know Montana more than any other place.


Montanans think they are normal and that the rest of the world is weird. Our accent is similar to the nondescript accent of television announcers. Chet Huntley was from Montana. One of my wife's students in Tennessee told her she sounded "like a narrator."

Most anything beyond North Dakota is "the east" and south and west of Wyoming is California. The southeastern United States are not the radar. It is all "the east." Those are all strange places. You can spot Californians and Easterners when they pass through Montana or stay and buy large houses or try to tell Montanans what to do.


Sheltered is a good word for Montanans. White Montanans and Native American Montanans have a rocky history to be sure. Outside of cowboys and Indians,
most of what I learned about other kinds of people I learned from television. The first black person I had ever seen in Montana I met when I was about 14. I played chess with him at the Butte Chess Club.

I resonated a great deal with those who are featured in this article in the Washington Post, "Never could I have anticipated...a black man being at the top of the ticket."

Among those who came here over the years were the descendants of Irish, German and Scottish immigrants. Their families continue to populate the spare landscape between the towns of Roundup, Grass Range, Teigen and Lewistown.

But one group that never settled in any numbers here, or in any part of Montana, were blacks. There has never been a black schoolteacher, mail carrier or law enforcement officer in any of these towns. As those school foundations attest, there is history here, but no black history -- no frayed emotions over the flapping of the Confederate flag, no sit-ins for voting rights, no debates over the duties of the Talented Tenth.

So how do the people here get to know the accomplishments, artistry, pain and jubilation of more than 36 million Americans? How do they begin to understand Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, who could become the first black president? Particularly when they may never have seen a black mayor, a black school principal or even a black shift supervisor?

Enjoy the article and welcome to my world.



From Knoxville, Tennessee


H/T KnoxViews

Shuck and Jive Friends Write to Marry

Of the over 400 bloggers who have written on Write to Marry, I particularly enjoy #415: Let Gay People Be Equally Miserable:
Marriage is a sacred institution. Many people get married every day. An equal number seem to get divorced every day. I have been married to the same person for 17 years. It’s gotten kind of boring but I am too fat and lazy to divorce him and find someone else. Plus, I would have to get a job and support myself and I don’t see that happening. I scream at him a lot and nag at him to keep the fire going. Occasionally, he does something wonderful that makes me remember why I married him, but mostly it’s a lot of screaming and nagging. It seems to work for us.

Why should straight people have all the fun?
And a few bloggers who have shucked and jived with us on occasion have written some posts as well. Our beloved Fran is #118:
For me it is pretty simple. Anyone who reads this blog knows my feelings and opinions on this subject. I don't censor comments but I will say that while I respect that some folks may feel otherwise, no comments against LGBT marriage are welcome here on this post today.
Fran's post is filled with pics, and a video, and lots of linky love.

Doxy is at #139, Save the Heterosexual Females!:

Well...if same-sex marriage had been available in 1987 (when I got married the first time), it probably would have saved me from one divorce.

Maybe P., who was gay, might have been able to envision a marriage to his long-term partner (17 years and counting...) and not put both of us through the wrenching pain of divorce. Maybe he wouldn't have had people at church telling him that the way to deal with his homosexual attractions was to marry me...

So save straight women from divorce! Vote NO! on California's Proposition 8.
Cecilia In the Closet (hardly) is #132 and writes to evangelical hot shot Rick Warren:
Dear Pastor Warren,

How do you justify exclusion in the name of your faith, when the Lord and Savior you claim preached and lived a gospel of inclusion and welcome? Why do you stand with the vast majority when Jesus took his stand continually with those who were powerless?
Drew is #341: Say No!
I will again challenge anyone at all in the world to find one good argument why the state should recognize only marriages and/or unions between a man and woman as the only legally justifiable domestic partnerships. No one has answered this challenge in numerous different debate forums except for dogmatic religious asertions that are unconstitutional and/or an appeal to tradition which is arbitrary and irrational. This is the time to make our collective claim to justice and to do the right thing!
I couldn't find Alan's # but his post is here:
Trust me, these amendments are not about gay marriage. We here in Michigan know this is much more far-reaching and insidious than that (as I've said in posts regarding our State's constitutional ban against gay marriage here, here, here, and here.) Once the fundies ban marriage they'll use these amendments to go after any domestic partnership benefits, gay OR STRAIGHT, and that's just the beginning (adoption, cohabitation, etc.) This isn't just my opinion and it isn't paranoid rhetoric. This has happened and is happening in states with gay marriage bans. The evidence is clear, we've got the court cases here in Michigan to prove how these folks operate. The fundies want to run everyone else's lives, and they're willing to lie about their so-called marriage protection amendments to do it. We've seen them do it here in Michigan.

Want to make a difference in your state? Talk to your straight friends about how these amendments will restrict their lives. Talk about health care. Talk about hospital visitation rights. Talk about estate planning. Talk about adoption rights. Talk about those issues, not just in the context of gay couples, but how those rights will be denied to any straight couple who does not conform to the far right's notion of an Ozzie and Harriet family.
Find a post that you find particularly helpful (including one of yours)? Hyperlink to it in the comments section!

Fear or Hope?

Good words from Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Be Not Afraid:

In the final days of this election campaign, a new message has emerged...and it is this: “Be Afraid— Be Very Afraid.” Most of that fear is directed at Barack Obama, the leading candidate with just days to go before November 4. Instead of being content to offer a competing policy vision to Obama’s, the Right has now focused on the man himself in an attempt to stir the fears of the electorate that “he” is not really like “them.” “Do we really know who Barack Obama is?” has been the refrain of partisan peddlers. A parallel and ugly national innuendo campaign stokes the fear. Is he a Muslim? An Arab? A pal of terrorists? Or maybe even a closet Socialist? Where did he grow up? Why such a funny middle name? Doesn’t his support come from those parts of the country (and those people) that deep down inside are anti-American? And, of course, what has quickly become a campaign classic—guilt by association.

Regardless of whether one favors Obama or McCain, this development should be of concern to all Americans, and especially people of faith. There is now a new spiritual dimension to this election, and it is decidedly evil. Christians believe that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear…” (1 John 4:18.) There are, of course, good and decent motivations to vote either way in this election. Strong people of faith will be marking different boxes on Election Day, but for people of faith there will be a spiritual decision to be made as well. Will we put our trust in the power of fear or hope? (Read More)
This election is going to show that appealing to fears while it has worked in the past is not going to work this time. Too many people are watching this one. There is a resurgence among people to act not from fear but from hope.

I see this in the PC(USA) as well. Fear, fear, fear regarding our amendments to become a more inclusive denomination. It isn't going to work this time. Those who might have been cowed by the fear-mongering in the past are cowed no longer. This year is a turning point. Enough people are going to be motivated by hope and possibility rather than fear. It is a new day and the hopeful people are invited to seize it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Violence Inherent in the System

Thanks to Witherspoon for linking to this article:

Voter Fraud? No. Voter Suppression

Why are we hearing so much about voter fraud and so little about election fraud? After all, the odds of someone voting fraudulently are about the same as those of an American being struck and killed by lightning.

A microscopic evaluation of election data in the 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington state revealed that voter fraud occurred approximately 0.0009 percent of the time. An analysis of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004 percent....

...On the other hand, evidence of what I will somewhat imprecisely call election fraud -- voter suppression by election officials and state governments -- is widespread and validated. "Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law," the New York Times recently concluded after its own investigation. The Times' numbers don't include efforts by state officials and private parties to discourage, intimidate or challenge eligible voters....

...Expanded voter rolls tend to favor Democrats. One reason is that voter-registration drives are usually conducted in minority and low-income neighborhoods and on campuses, areas that are likely to vote Democratic. Voter-suppression efforts, on the other hand, tend to favor Republicans because minorities, poor families and students will be least likely to overcome the new obstacles put in place. (Read More)

Witherspoon has also linked to a PCUSA resource Lift Every Voice and some practical suggestions to make sure your vote is counted.

You go to the polling place, do all the paperwork, enter the booth, press the buttons behind the curtain and wonder if anything really happened. I think we should go back to the good old days when our leaders were chosen by having some watery tart throw a sword at them.

Need Help Stalking Bible Scholars?

NT Wrong provides a great resource for the crazed fanatic. He has compiled a list of bibliobloggers with their fields of interest and a helpful rating scale from very conservative to very liberal that he explains here.

Many Excellent Posts on Write To Marry

Over 300 bloggers posted on Write to Marry Day with more to come. I have had a chance to visit a few of them. I am impressed with the quality. The opposition's cause is lost. Religious people can spend millions trying to take away rights of their fellow citizens, but as Green Dads wrote:
It Will Never, Ever Be Over: What do the opponents of gay marriage honestly think is going to happen? Do they think that gay people will somehow just give up demanding that we be accorded fair and equal treatment for our families? What would they do if they were in our situation? “Well, Martha, a state amendment passed that says marriage shouldn’t be between a man and a woman, so I guess we have no choice. Let’s sell the house and the car – the kids? Oh, we’ll just give them to social services. I guess it’s time to go our separate ways. How about we just shake on it, okay? I don’t think a kiss would be appropriate.” I don’t think so. Straight people would fight. They would fight for their marriages, they would fight for their children, and they would fight for their families. And they would never, ever, stop fighting. Do any of them honestly think that we’ll do any less?
The opposition's solution is to drum up religious hysteria. They rely upon it. They believe that "God" will intervene on their behalf. Check out this video from Mock, Paper, Scissors:



Those who oppose equal rights for others have no argument but a scary, crazy, apocalyptic vision. This is Sarah Palin's religion. I feel sorry for you normal, sane, Republicans. Your party has been hijacked by a bunch of religious crazies whose solution to problems is to fill up sports stadiums and in a frenzied fit pray for meteors.

The Democrats are going to win this one, if for no other reason than that their candidates are not nuts.

Remember, religious crazies do vote. Have you?

I Love You Cheesus


It is a sign. A blessed sign. A sign from God.

Here is a closeup of Cheesus.



"But the one who eats this Cheeto will live forever." John 6:58

h/t unholy visions

Write To Marry Day


Thanks to
Fran for alerting me to the Write to Marry Day Blogswarm.

I have been married for twenty-five years. The marriage is legally binding and recognized not only in the state in which the license was signed, but in every state of the union. The marriage ceremony was performed by a member of the clergy and signed by him. Our marriage is recognized in both civil society and in ecclesiastical circles.

As a married couple we have purchased homes, had children, filed our taxes, and shared a toothbrush on occasion. I had never given much thought to this right that I have taken for granted until I heard the stories of people who are denied this right because the person they want to marry is of the same gender.

Marriage is a right that heterosexuals take for granted and treat lightly on one hand (50% divorce rate) and then vehemently deny to others. It is a strange state of affairs. I do not understand the motives of those who would deny this right to others. I certainly can read and hear their rationalizations. Arguments against allowing other citizens of the United States to this basic right to marry are fear-based and false. They are desperate rationalizations for prejudice. Perhaps we think what we have isn't as valuable unless others cannot have it.

In addition to being married I have had the unique opportunity to sign marriage licenses and to perform ceremonies throughout my ministry career. I have officiated at well over 100 weddings. Four of them would have been weddings had the state recognized them as such.

Many of my colleagues don't like doing weddings. I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting with the couples, offering counseling (mostly skill training in communication and managing conflicts), and creating a service with them. I am looking forward to the day when a gay or lesbian couple asks me to officiate at their wedding and I can sign a marriage license for them. I will do so at the first opportunity. Until then, I officiate at Holy Union or Commitment Ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples when asked. I offer counseling and treat these sacred occasions the same as I do for opposite gender couples.

Marriage is no easy deal. It takes a lot to make it work. It would be easier for gay and lesbian couples to raise their children, pay their taxes, and purchase their homes if their relationships were recognized as marriages, as mine is to my wife of twenty-five years. I shake my head in disbelief when the most vociferous opponents to extending the right of marriage to gay and lesbian couples self-identify as Christian. What is so odd about the whole thing is that civil marriage in California or in any other state has nothing to do with Christianity. People can be bigoted as they want for as long as they want in the name of Jesus regardless of whether the state recognizes gay and lesbian couples as legally married.

Not all Christians are like that. Many of us understand the message of Jesus to be one that calls us to make life easier and more blessed for others rather than less. We think it is better to remove millstones rather than place additional ones around others' necks. We think the Christian call is to fairness and justice.



That is why I am participating in Write to Marry.





Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Did Jesus Exist?

A provocative question, that. You might be interested in the discussion between Thomas Verenna and James McGrath regarding this puzzler. James even made a movie about it. Granted, not much action in the film but he selected a fine actor to play himself.

Hoo Ha for Mississippi

The Presbytery of Mississippi (a bastion for progressive thinking) voted 49-2 against amendment B. Gloats the LayMAN:
The Presbytery of Mississippi, with a 49-2 vote against amending G-6.0106b, has run the early tally in the national referendum to three to none.
Kudos to the 2. Yikes.

All right team. 173 rounds to play total. The good guys are down three zip. The fundies have made a couple of early scores.

The LayMAN has a tally. They are really pretty anal about all of this.

Perhaps like Chuck Colson, they think the passage of amendment B will be like the failure of Proposition 8 in California.






ARMAGEDDON!!

Good Lord, precious Jesus, there are
gays among us!





I will have you know. Here is where Jesus stands:




And yes on Amendment B!

Monday, October 27, 2008

But This Is Serious


Feds Disrupt Skinhead Plot To Assassinate Obama


WASHINGTON – Two white supremacists allegedly plotted to go on a national killing spree, shooting and decapitating black people and ultimately targeting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, federal authorities said Monday.

In all, the two men whom officials describe as neo-Nazi skinheads planned to kill 88 people — 14 by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The spree, which initially targeted an unidentified predominantly African-American school, was to end with the two men driving toward Obama, "shooting at him from the windows," the court documents show.

"Both individuals stated they would dress in all white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt," the court complaint states. "Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt."

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."

William Faulkner



Mark Ciptak: Alpha Dog of the Week


Just finished watching the Colbert Report. Stephen named Mark Ciptak of Elizabethton, Tennessee, "Alpha Dog of the Week." Mark named his baby Sarah McCain Palin without consulting with his wife. Colbert praised his patriotism for "putting his country before the possibility of ever having sex with his wife again."

He said Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak joins her siblings who are also named for political causes:

"Meals on Wheels" Ciptak and "Don't Forget to Spay or Neuter" Ciptak.

I got too serious with it yesterday. This is just too funny. I hope the Ciptak family gets lighthearted and has fun with it, too.

I wish them all the best...

...and if they need marriage counseling, I'm in the book.

How Not To Name Your Children

Remember the story about the guy from Elizabethton who named his baby Sarah McCain Palin without his wife's knowledge? He posted a letter in today's Elizabethton Star that tells the world why. He claims to be following in the tradition of the Old Testament:
It's been one week since reports went out about my decision to name my baby girl Sarah McCain Palin. It's beyond my amazement to what happened next. I must unfortunately say that I was not prepared. I'm not sure if I really anticipated one phone call let alone a hundred. I just never thought about what the what if scenario. And it seemed that many interviews never portrayed what I really wanted to get across. So that's why you're reading this now. Since my story made headlines across this nation, I only see it fair to myself to those that are interested to hear the reason why I did so in my own words. I won't cover the details again but only the reason why. But this time it will go deep into the roots.

The Old and New Testaments are ripe with name meanings. Names that symbolize circumstances and events in Israel's long history. Israel we're not, and I do acknowledge that God loves all people, but America as we've come to know it is hanging in the balance. This great nation and all it represents across the globe is at a crossroads. To say this could be the last great battle of our time is an understatement. The battle I'm referring to is moral debauchery and a decay in our founding principles (which includes ideologies that divide us), vs moral values and solid foundational principles that have made this country great and unified. What we need most in Washington at this pivotal time is character, trust and change. John McCain and Sarah Palin are real people for a real hurting America that will bring these much needed attributes to Washington.

We as a country must make a decision to keep America's greatness. I'm willing to stand up for her namesake and I encourage you to do the same. Let's keep God's Grace shining down, and let us not forget the pools of precious blood that is soaked deep within our soil and the soil around this planet. Now is the time to muster the American Spirit. Now is the time more than ever to get out and vote. Let's not forsake this Great Land. Let's boldly vote John McCain and Sarah Palin into the White House.

Apparently, the advice is for all religiously-oriented Republicans to foist their personal politics on their children for life by branding them with names of insignificant political figures. Mr. Ciptak claims to be following a biblical tradition. It is true that in the Bible, names are associated with meaning. Isaiah was told by YHWH to name his child, Mahershalalhashbaz.
Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz’, ("the spoil speeds, the prey hastens") and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.
Hosea is told by YHWH to marry a prostitute and name the children accordingly:
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel ("God sows"); for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.’

She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah. ("not pitied") for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.’

When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi, ("not my people"), for you are not my people and I am not your God.’ Hosea 1:1-11
Is this what Mr. Ciptak thinks he is doing? Is he making some kind of prophetic statement to the world? For Mr. Ciptak to present himself as some sort of prophet demonstrates more than just a little hubris. What does the name "Sarah McCain Palin" supposedly mean?

It is one thing to name children after people in history who have done significant things. But this is done after those individuals have proven themselves and stood for something important. Usually, we don't know those things until after they have been long deceased. Perhaps Sarah Palin or John McCain will some day be significant. For now, they are not. It is likely that in nine days when Obama is elected, Sarah Palin will be forgotten. Even if elected, what happens to his daughter when, like all human figures, Sarah Palin shows herself to have feet of clay and is not a person with whom even a Republican would wish to be associated?


This was a silly stunt. He achieved dubious fame for it. He makes himself even more foolish by claiming a biblical precedent. For his sake and his daughter's, I trust they will quietly change her name to something normal and forget Dad's bizarre foray into prophetic politics.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scandalous!

"...most people are smart enough to recognize that their immediate self-interest is served not so much by Jesus and his teaching as by the church and its preaching. Thus, it is no accident that although Jesus came preaching a disturbing and redistributive gospel, we do not preach what Jesus preached. Instead, we preach Jesus." p. 42
Peter Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus


The Essential Difference

Blame Bill

One day the zoo-keeper noticed that "Cheech" the orangutan was reading two books — the Bible and Darwin's, Origin of Species.


Surprised, he asked him, "Why are you reading both those books?"


"Well," said the orangutan.

"I just wanted to know if I was my brother's keeper or my keeper's brother."






As punishment for snickering please visit this site.

Socialism Defined

McCain Announces Staff


I found this in Lark News (the official news source for the Guild of Biblical Minimalists):


McCain would appoint 12-year-old
Christian girl as Secretary of State

ST. PAUL — The reaction to John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for vice presidential nominee has been so positive among grass-roots conservatives that the McCain campaign is quickly moving to name even more young evangelical leaders to a potential McCain cabinet.
Yesterday John McCain stood next to Meghan Crandall and announced he would appoint the 12-year-old Girl Scout as Secretary of State, should he win the election.
"She’s a beautiful Christian girl with a lot of spunk and promise," he said. "She has demonstrated strong executive leadership as student leader of Girl Scout troupe 312 and proven toughness selling cookies door to door."

McCain also has his eye on a promising supreme court nominee and a candidate for chief of staff:
Being considered for chief of staff: precocious 13-year-old Danny Anderson, a Bible Quiz champion and burgeoning leader at Pleasant Oaks Christian School in Pittsburgh, Pa.

And for the Supreme Court McCain says he would strongly consider Judy Brumford, a 43-year-old Sunday school teacher from Cleveland, given her "years of Bible knowledge, common sense and experience running the Sunday school department."
(Read More!)



A Sad Day for Whales

I found this story buried after all the political shenanigans that makes real news in today's Johnson City Press:
Researchers: 7 orcas missing from Puget Sound

Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound’s orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who carefully track the endangered animals.

“This is a disaster,” Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday. “The population drop is worse than the stock market.”

While the official census won’t be completed until December, the total number of live “southern resident” orcas now stands at 83.

Among those missing since last year’s count are the nearly century-old leader of one of the three southern resident pods, and two young females who recently bore calves. The loss of the seven whales, Balcomb said, would be the biggest decline among the Puget Sound orcas since 1999, when the center also tracked a decline of seven whales.
Did you get that? This one whale has been around for a century and is now missing.
The population reached 140 or more in the last century, but their numbers have fluctuated in recent decades. They were listed as endangered in 2005.

“We may be in the beginning of another decline in the population,” said Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, a nonprofit education and advocacy group.

He said the whales seem to be having a harder time finding chinook salmon.

The whales recently have been traveling over greater distances than usual, suggesting they may be ranging farther for food, said Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Lack of food may be a concern, but it’s too early to know the reason for the unusual number of presumed deaths, he said.

Pollution and a decline in prey are believed to be the whales’ biggest threats, although stress from whale-watching tour boats and underwater sonar tests by the Navy also have been concerns. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the population fell as dozens were captured for marine parks.

As we make our laws, elect our leaders, pollute our waters, and reduce their food supply,

who is going to speak for these magnificent, intelligent creatures, our senior relatives?

A good way to spend your Sunday is to read about orcas on the Orca Network.

The Whale Museum describes the issues affecting the Southern Resident Orcas.




Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mindful Speech

I am preparing for my sermon on the Letter of James. Chapter 3.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.

I found this by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.


The Fourth Mindfulness Training:
Deep Listening and Loving Speech
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family to the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. (p. 211)

A Message from Opie, Andy, and the Fonz

I didn't know Opie was bald.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

If Obama Wins, No More Boy Scouts

Thus predict the Christians. The lovers of Christian truth and right belief are at it hot and heavy on the eve of the election. They are predicting apocalyptic doom if Barack Obama becomes president.
Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts. All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America," produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.
The end of the Boy Scouts? This is one of their dire predictions should Obama (who, according to them, is not a real Christian) be elected. Get this:
• A 6-3 liberal majority Supreme Court that results in rulings like one making gay marriage the law of the land and another forcing the Boy Scouts to "hire homosexual scoutmasters and allow them to sleep in tents with young boys." (In the imagined scenario, The Boy Scouts choose to disband rather than obey).
There you have it. Christians witnessing to the truth of the gospel. Fortunately, there really are folks out there who do claim Christian identity but have a different view. These are Christians who when they actually read the Bible and the gospels find in there a call to do justice and relieve poverty. This is in today's Johnson City Press:
At a time when more than 37 million Americans are in poverty, including many who are newly poor and paying keen attention, spiritual leaders are encouraging the young to vote and urging voters to select candidates who will fight poverty.

“I feel more momentum, energy and focus on poverty than I have in churches in three decades or more,” said Jim Wallis, chief executive officer of Sojourners social justice ministries in Washington.

“Partly, it’s a new generation. Baby boomers are becoming church leaders and speaking to a new generation that wants their lives to make a difference. It’s a new altar call, if you will,” he said.
A question for beginners:

Which of these two organizations, Focus on the Family or Sojourners is more faithful to the gospel?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Well I Kinda Liked the Book...

It was my turn to lead a book discussion over at Presbyterian Bloggers. It resulted in one comment from some bozo named John Shuck. I thought I would try again here and hope that Shuck won't find me.

Think Cosmically. Act Globally.








There is an urgency to the book,
The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.








It is not one of those many books that try to reconcile science and religion or evolution and creation and so forth. This book moves beyond those controversies to the heart of the universe itself, our place in it, and what are we going to do about the challenges we face. Human beings could be around for 100s of millions of years,
if we make it through the next few decades. That is the urgency.

Human beings really don't think we matter much. We don't think we are that interesting or unusual or special. When in fact, science shows us that we are incredibly unique. We need to wake up to the fact that it took 13 point seven billion years for us to get here and we have some work to do. We are the consciousness of the universe itself.

Primack and Abrams are a husband and wife team. Primack is a leading astrophysicist and Abrams is a cultural philosopher and writer. They are on a mission to educate the public on what science is showing us about the Universe and our central place in it. The book is divided into three sections,

Part 1: "Cosmological Revolutions" is a history of how our cosmology has changed and has moved us from the "center" to the periphery.

Part 2: "The New Scientific Picture of the Universe" is just that. This is an amazing tour of what science is showing us about our 13.7 billion year old universe.

Part 3: "The Meaningful Universe" encourages us to learn and get excited about cosmology and to grow spiritually by doing so.

Here is the thesis of the book in three steps:

1. Premodern societies saw themselves as central to the universe and made myths and religions that embraced this centrality. While their cosmology was wrong, their mythology was correct in that they saw themselves as a meaningful part of the whole. The universe as they saw it "fit" them and they "fit" in it.

2. Modernity put humankind on the edge of the universe. Not central. Not important. Small in a vast meaningless cosmos. We no longer "fit." We are accidental. We are therefore filled with existential angst. We have our cosmology right, but our mythology is lacking. We cannot go back and embrace any one religion's mythology wholesale as it fits an ancient, outdated cosmology.

3. However, modern science is showing that we do "fit" the universe. We are central in many ways such as size and in time. We can develop a mythology that affirms that reality. We can draw from those symbols and myths from our premodern ancestors that work to help us reclaim the center of the universe again while embracing modern cosmology.

Check this two minute film to get a better picture of what they are talking about!

Here is a helpful review of the book by James McGrath.

I had a chance to meet them in person and chatted about that on this post, I Want to Be an Ancestor.

The ideas in this book are too large to do justice by writing a review. I have had to read this book more than once to really get the passion behind the project. A commenter on my blog wrote that it is hard to find this new universe
spiritual. It isn't automatic or easy. I could see that the authors had a spiritual connection to this new universe they were discovering, or perhaps God was revealing to them. They had spent enough time with it to get it.

Now, what I am about to say is not about cosmology. However, it is related. I caught a little bit of this spiritual excitement regarding our natural world when Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow were in our area a few weeks ago. Connie did a two hour program called the River of Life. It was for children (but also for adults). It was an ancestral tour. We learned all of the common ancestors we share with every species of life living today. There are only 40 of these
concestors. We went through our evolutionary family tree and stopped and honored each concestor with a song and a dance that Connie created.
  • I don't know if it was the two hour program that had children in rapt attention.
  • I don't know if it was because I had never had our evolutionary history presented in this way.
  • I don't know if it was because we were celebrating evolution in church.
  • I don't know if it was because I could now begin to follow our family tree.
  • Whatever it was, it was moving.
I did feel connected in ways that I hadn't felt before with all my relations from the bonobo to fungus. It was more than intellectual knowledge. It was spiritual feeling. That is what church is about, right? I realized, really realized, that the mass extinction of species at a rate unequalled in 65 million years, aren't just species. They are family. We are all family, human and non-human.

I recommend this book for a study group. I also recommend finding creative ways to sing and celebrate the good news of our cosmic story and of our place in it. Maybe if we can do that, we can understand our mission as preserving and saving this beautiful fragile planet for our descendants? I have a few questions for discussion:


  1. How often do you hear or preach sermons on science, specifically evolution and cosmology?
  2. Is preaching on the Book of Nature as important as preaching on the Book of Scripture?
  3. Do you think we should devote more time and energy to scientific literacy in church?
  4. Has the church been more of a roadblock or a roadway to scientific discovery and education?
  5. What might be some theological biases against modern cosmology and evolution that need to be overcome? How can that be done?
  6. Evaluate this sentence: “Thus our descendants could have many billions of years to live together—if we can just get through the next few decades without disaster.”
  7. And this: "The major threats to human survival today---world environmental degradation, extinction of species, climate destabilization, nuclear war, terrorists with weapons of mass destruction—result from unrestrained use of such new technologies without a cosmology that makes sense in the nature and scale of their power."
  8. How is being in the center important for our sense of value?
  9. Do you agree that if we are able (through myth, symbol, awareness, etc.) discover our place in the universe, that we will be motivated to greater action on behalf of the planet and ourselves?

Check out this video of the Hubble Deep Field. The most important image ever taken:



Jesus Christ: Wrong for America

h/t Telling Secrets

Immanuel Kant: Wrong for America

Thanks to James McGrath for my first real laugh of the day.



Or, perhaps you would like a third party alternative philosopher.


Change We Need

Spend five minutes and see the next president of the United States. He gave this speech in Richmond, Virginia yesterday. Vote yet?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jesus in An Age of Terror

I am looking forward to the release of James Crossley's latest book, Jesus in An Age of Terror. James talked about it today on his blog:
There are various reasons for this book. The clash of civilisation and war on terror discourse is so prominent it would hardly be a great surprise to find its impact in NT studies. It was also becoming increasingly common for NT scholars to make some unfortunate comments on Islam and Arabs (the connection is frequently made), echoing the kinds of comments made about Jews and Judaism a generation of so ago in NT scholarship.
He also has a good analysis of the article and its response by Tony Burke on heresy hunting as does Bishop Wrong. Here is Tony Burke's article. I summarized it here.


Presbyterian Witness in California

If I were in California, I would be with clergy representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) against proposition 8. Here is the event from More Light Presbyterians:
Friends of Justice & Equality for All in California:

Please join the Presbyterian Witness Event for Marriage Equality and to Say No to Prop 8 near you, either in Los Angeles or California on Tuesday, October 28 at noon. These events are being organized by California Faith for Equality and Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and supported by PEP, the Presbyterian Equality Project of More Light Presbyterians....

Our friends and colleagues at GLAAD are working to secure media coverage for each of these witness events. Clergy are encouraged to wear ministerial collars or stoles; elders, deacons and other church leaders are encouraged to wear identifiable religious symbols such as stoles or crosses.

More Light Presbyterians is wholeheartedly committed to marriage equality within our Church and in society.

Proposition 8 seeks to eliminate equal rights for same-gender loving couples to marry in the State of California. Proposition 8 strikes down the historic decision for civil marriage equality by the California State Supreme Court in June, 2008. Proposition 8 would relegate LGBT persons and same gender loving couples to second class citizens in the State of California once again.

Proposition 8 is bad for families, harmful to parents and children, and hurtful to churches seeking to honor love and faithfulness between all couples. Proposition 8 fuels false witness, prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes against God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and their families.

The failure of Prop 8 will not change the religious definition of marriage nor compel any person or church to act against their conscience. The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in June 78% in favor of an overture that reaffirmed support of "the right of same-gender persons to . . . all the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of civil union."
For those interested in how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stands on this issue (despite the noise from the right) see what was approved by the 218th General Assembly:
1. Renew and strengthen the long-standing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commitment to equal protection under the law for lesbian and gay persons and the 216th General Assembly (2004)’s affirmation of the right of same-gender persons to civil union and, thereby, to all the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of civil union.

a. Recognize that married couples enjoy more than 1,000 protections, benefits, and responsibilities that are denied to committed couples in same-gender partnerships and their children.

b. Recognize that equality under the law does not discriminate against some committed couples but sees that same-gender partners also have access to all protections, benefits, and responsibilities of civil union.

c. Request the Stated Clerk, the General Assembly Council, and other representatives of the PC(USA) to urge state legislatures and the federal government to apply the principle of equal protection to same-gender couples and their children.

Still Undecided?

Can anyone possibly be "undecided" in this election? Thus asks David Sedaris in the New Yorker:
Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Speaking of differences between these two dishes, check out the video Fred posted that answers why Colin Powell went with Obama:

Sir, what role did McCain's negativity play in your decision?

POWELL:
It troubled me. You know, we have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. And so those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about Mr. Ayers, not about who is a Muslim and who's not a Muslim. Those kinds of images going out on al Jazeera are killing us around the world. And we have got to say to the world it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are. If you're an American you're an American.

And this business of, for example, a congressman from Minnesota who's going around saying let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America. We have got to stop this kind of nonsense and pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity....

Not too difficult a choice it seems to me. Sedaris concludes his article:

I wonder if, in the end, the undecideds aren’t the biggest pessimists of all. Here they could order the airline chicken, but, then again, hmm. “Isn’t that adding an extra step?” they ask themselves. “If it’s all going to be chewed up and swallowed, why not cut to the chase, and go with the platter of shit?”

Ah, though, that’s where the broken glass comes in.

H/T keith for the NYer link

A View from the Center Discussion

I made a post over on Presbyterian Bloggers. It is my discussion of the book A View from the Center of the Universe! Go on over, check it out, and comment!

The Shankster Returns to ETSU!

Niall Shanks, former professor of philosophy at ETSU, now at Witchita State will be giving a lecture on one of the recurring themes at Shuck and Jive:

Intelligent Design:

The Greased Weasel of Pseudoscience

Dr. Niall Shanks

PUBLIC LECTURE

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brown Hall Auditorium

7:00pm, ETSU Campus

Dr. Shanks was Professor of Philosophy at East Tennessee State University from 1991-2005 and currently is the Curtis D. Gridley Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Wichita State University. On Monday October 27, 2008, Dr. Shanks will present a free public lecture entitled ““Intelligent Design: The Greased Weasel of Pseudoscience” in Brown Hall Auditorium at 7:00 pm. A question & answer period and reception will follow the lecture.

Dr. Shanks is native of England who earned his B.A. (Hons.) in Philosophy from the University of Leeds, M. Phil. in Philosophy from the University of Liverpool, and Ph.D. at the University of Alberta, Canada. A celebrated teacher of philosophy and biology during his time at ETSU, Shanks is author of over 60 scholarly articles and numerous books, including Animals and science: a guide to the debates and God, the devil, and Darwin: a critique of intelligent design theory, (recently re-released in paperback by Oxford University Press), and editor of two anthologies on theoretical issues in the sciences (Idealization in Contemporary Physics and Logic, Probability, and Science).

Shanks has participated in many dialogues concerned with evolution, creationism and intelligent design, including appearances on PBS (The Journal Editorial Report), National Public Radio (Justice Talking) and a highly publicized debate with William A. Dembski (“Can Intelligent Design be Detected in Biology?”) held at University of California, Los Angeles.

Shanks is President of the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Vice-president of Americans for Medical Advancement. In 1993 he served as President of the Tennessee Philosophical Association.

Shanks' current research interests focus on the implications of evolutionary biology for biomedical research, the history of medicine, and the role played by medicine in the scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He will be presenting lectures to honors and philosophy classes on these various topics during his visit back to ETSU.

For more information about his visit, contact Dr. Rebecca Pyles, ETSU Honors college (439-6076 or pylesr at etsu dot edu).


My congregation hosted him for a number of lectures when he was writing his book, God the Devil and Darwin. He even acknowledged us in the preface with praise and thanksgiving. That was before I arrived, of course. Since my iron hand, er noodly appendage, the entire congregation has disavowed evolution and believes in the inerrant word as I make it known to them.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wrong Has Risen!

That was a fast three days.

Vote for Fairness, Will Ya?

Veil Tip to One Queer Woman's Jaded View for this great video, I Want to Commitment Ceremony You:


Do us all a favor. If you are voting in California, Arizona, Florida, or some other state regarding marriage justice, vote nice, OK? Vote for what is decent and fair, OK? Vote for what makes people's lives easier, not more difficult, will ya, huh? Will ya?


I Voted!

Yes I did and I am a proud little patriot I am.

Tennessee makes it easy with early voting. If you are in Tennessee get the information by clicking on your county.

The opinion polls don't mean a thing if you don't actually vote. So here is a bit of guilt for you:

You might be dead tomorrow. So vote early today, otherwise your children and your children's children will pay the price for your inaction.

I can lay it on, huh?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh NO! Bishop Wrong is Dead!

Bishop NT Wrong is in his tomb. I blame that one guy for exhausting the poor Bishop by arguing with him about the genre of the gospels.

Please bring spices.

The Genre of the Gospels

I have been asking this question in one form or another for a long time:

What did the writers of the gospels think they were doing when they wrote them?

I have had an illusion that experts in the field have some kind of consensus regarding the genre of the gospels and the self-awareness of the gospel writers in regards to this genre. That doesn't appear to be the case. Each expert has a theory and evidence and interpretation for this evidence. It makes one's eyes glaze over to try to follow them. Not only that, but they all know each other and each others' arguments and they spend a lot of time communicating in code. That is how it appears to an outside observer. As an interested amateur I struggle to even understand the arguments let alone evaluate them.

Yet I am not just an amateur. I preach and teach on this stuff as part of my job as a minister. I have been to seminary where I was introduced to higher criticism and I have tried to keep up over the years, but I tell you, this makes my head spin. I thought by now I would at least have the genre question down, but it seems more elusive than when I was in school.

The genre question is important, I think. If we don't know what kind of literature we are reading it is difficult to evaluate its message or appreciate its aesthetics. The issue is even more pressing as the texts I am talking about are the gospels which are about Jesus. Jesus matters a great deal to people whether they are Christian or not, or whether or not they participate in an institutional church. How we understand the genre will impact how we understand this figure. Having a sense of the variety of ways that students of the Bible approach the gospels will increase their appreciation for these texts. It may help us deal with ethical, social, and political issues with greater depth.

That is my little sermon on behalf of religious literacy in America and my thanks to experts in the biblical fields who do take the time and energy to communicate these issues to the general public. So what are the gospels? Are they biography? History (or the fancy word, historiography)? Fiction? Legend? Myth? Sermon? Parable? Saga? Tale? Propaganda? Are they a mix of these things or of subcategories of these things?

Yes.

And much more. Was the author of Mark pasting oral traditions together--stories about Jesus--that had been circulating and accumulating after his death, or was s/he a creative artist drawing from themes and symbols of the surrounding culture and the Hebrew scriptures and painting a portrait of Jesus? It makes a difference if we think of Mark as a "reporter" versus a "novelist." Neither of those categories fit, but you get the idea.

I realize that I need to learn what the various schools of thought are on this issue in contemporary scholarship. What the literary options are and who is advocating which would be a place to start. Maybe there is an article or book out there that has made a catalog of the options and provides bibliographies of who is saying what today. I haven't found one, but then, I haven't looked that hard.

Back to Mark. I am going to put my bias right up front. This is what I would like to see. I much prefer that Mark be a "novelist" rather than a "reporter." That is because I approach things from a story perspective and I see stories and storytellers everywhere. It is my eye. When I naturally look at any piece of literature I tend to see story before history. Just my bias.

More importantly, if Mark is a reporter or an historiographer, I am disappointed. It isn't very good. It is not credible as history. It is like saying the history of Jesus' childhood is found in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. However, if Mark is a creative artist, I have renewed respect. Mark's gospel is an engaging story. It is, to be sure, an ancient story. It is not like reading John Updike or something. And Mark is no Homer. Nevertheless, it has a sense of vitality and urgency. It is crisis literature. The point is as a novella or short story or longish parable, it speaks in ways that it cannot do as a biography or life of Jesus.

What did Mark think he was doing? I know he wanted his readers to respond in some way. He wanted them to get some kind of message. It was life and death. People had been (before him), were being (at his time), or would be (he feared) crucified. He needed a story for this time of crisis. Jesus was his story--his parable--for a people in crisis. Other than that, I don't know. I have a lot of wild theories. That is why I need to learn more.