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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Qur'an Reading Has Begun!

We have embarked on our quest to read the Qur'an. On the sidebar are some introductory links. My main blog for this exercise is Qur'an and Jive. As I mentioned there, don't be offended by the title. The "jive" as always, is purely my own!

For January, please read The Opening and The Cow.

I am going to produce some quizzes and a synopsis for each reading. I will have January's synopsis and quiz up shortly.

This will be fun (that is how it is intended anyway) and a learning experience for me. Any suggestions are more than welcome!

There is an on-line translation by Yusuf Ali to which you can link from the sidebar. This translation and other great resources can be found at
Islamicity.

You can also find other on-line translations at this site maintained by the University of Southern California.

Also, a couple of different folks have recommended Michael Sells'
Approaching the Qur'an. I have purchased the translation by Tarif Khalidi and am off to the bookstore to check out some others. I would guess that it is good to have more than one translation handy.

You can request a free copy of the Qur'an here.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Warren Calls Critics "Christophobic"

Check this latest from Rachel Maddow. Thanks to Tennessee Guerilla Women.


More Naughty Christians!

Naughty Christians are coming out. Of course, there is the usual suspect, Rev. Fred. Also, James McGrath is naughty! He outs a few other naughty Christians including the authors of all four gospels and the Apostle Paul!

Here is the original post.

January White Spire On-Line

The January 2009 edition of the White Spire, our congregation's newsletter is on-line!

Qur'an Cover to Cover in 2009

In 2008, in honor or our 225th anniversary (actually our 226th, but we kept the party going) my little club of bandits read the Bible (including Apocrypha) cover to cover. I created a blog for it, Bible and Jive, which I will keep posted.

For 2009, we are going to read the Qur'an cover to cover. I have created a blog for it--you guessed it--Qur'an and Jive.

I am way out of my element on this one. I don't even know a decent English translation to read. By "decent" I mean something that is easy to read, is true to the Arabic, and one that may have historical/critical notes. In other words, I am looking for a translation/edition of the Qur'an that a religion professor who is committed to the principles of the Enlightenment would use in a university religion class.

In seminary, I took a course on Muslim-Christian relations and we read the translation by Dawood (Penguin). There must be some better translations since that one.

The Qur'an isn't that long. We will read about a 12th of it each month. For January, if you would like to join us, read "The Opening" and "The Cow." I will spend at least one Sunday per month speaking about what we have read during worship.

If you have suggestions for introductions to Islam or guides to the Qur'an, that would be helpful. I'll post a bunch of links on the blog.

50/50 on Prayer

At Christmas we put our disbelief on hold for just a bit, anticipating answered prayer. Good news from Shuck and Jive's official news source, at least for half the folks who prayed recently:


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Simply Having...

All right, Shuck and Jivers, from all of us to all of you:

Have a Wonderful Christmas Time!!

She Didn't??!!




Yup, the first casualty of the war on Christmas.

H/ T Julia




Creative Monks

For Christmas Eve:



H/T Bill

Merry Christmas, Knoxville

This is from the New York Times:

A day after a spill sent a vast amount of toxic coal sludge over a wide area in Eastern Tennessee, state environmental officials struggled Tuesday trying to assess the damage in hopes that water supplies were not harmed by heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.


A Tennessee Valley Authority employee surveyed a home on Tuesday after the release of sludge from a power plant.



The Tennessee Valley Authority estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of fly ash, a byproduct of coal incineration that contains the heavy metals, broke through an earthen retention wall at a T.V.A. power plant early Monday morning near Kingston, about 40 miles west of Knoxville. Four to six feet of ash covered 250 to 400 acres in the area.

The sludge damaged a dozen houses, pushing one off its foundation, and caused the evacuation of 22 residences, the authorities said. It flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream. Video news reports showed dead fish lining the banks of a nearby waterway.

Environmentalists said the spill, more than 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, belied the notion of the “clean coal” technology that the industry has spent millions to promote.

The ash came within yards of the home of Deanna Copeland, a customer service worker, and enveloped her dock, she said. Pieces of her neighbor’s house were in her yard. “To see this happen on the week of Christmas, it’s devastating,” Ms. Copeland said. “People are pretty upset. The big question now is, What’s T.V.A. going do to fix things?”

The authority, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were awaiting the results of soil and water tests, officials said.

A sample taken near the intake for the water supply of Kingston met standards for drinking water, said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. He said heavy rain and freezing temperatures were probably to blame for the breach.

Jeremy Heidt of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said barriers had been constructed to prevent the ash from reaching the Tennessee River.

The report from the most recent inspection of the retention wall, in October, was not yet complete, but a preliminary report showed that a “wet spot” was found, indicating “a minor leaking issue,” according to a fact sheet released by the authority.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate fly ash as a hazardous waste material but is considering doing so, said Laura Nilles, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! offers the following report:


Parts of Tennessee remain buried under toxic sludge today after a major disaster at a coal plant. A forty-acre pond containing toxic coal ash has collapsed, spilling out millions of gallons of coal ash.



Environmentalists say the spill is more than thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez, but the story has received little national attention. Greenpeace is calling for a criminal investigation.
(Read More)


Will these stories be more and more common in our quest to go after all the fossil fuels we can with little regard to environmental consequences?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Naughty Christians Should Come Out This Christmas

The LayMAN has posted Al Mohler's Christmas screed. Brother Al is the pope of the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered right here in Tennessee. Brother Al has declared that true Christians must believe in the Virgin Birth. If you don't you are not a true Christian.

The good brother lists a number of folks who are not true Christians from past and present. You could call them naughty Christians. They include Albert Schweitzer, Rudolph Bultmann, Harry Emerson Fosdick, John Shelby Spong, Gerd Luedemann, John Dominic Crossan, Jane Schaberg, Bishop Joseph Sprague, and the Jesus Seminar.

The naughty Christians use reason to come to conclusions. They recognize the difference between legends, fantasies, and poetic language on one hand and biology and fact on the other. Naughty Christians can sing "Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child" and know they are using symbolic or archetypal language that touches the heart.

The true Christians know that just won't do. For them Adam and Eve were real people cursed with original sin that was transmuted from generation to generation by wicked human sperm. Mary, because she was a virgin, contributed nothing to Jesus except being an incubator for God's sperm. That is why Jesus could do all kinds of divine tricks including dying for your sins, rising from the dead, and flying off to heaven.

The real point of Brother Al's screed is to hunt down the heretics:

Bishop Sprague was charged with heresy but has twice been cleared of the charge--a clear sign that the mainline Protestant denominations are unwilling to identify as heretics even those who openly teach heresy.
He even goes after one of his own, fellow Baptist, Cecil Sherman:
Several years ago, Cecil Sherman--then a Southern Baptist, but later the first coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship--stated: "A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the Virgin Birth should not be fired." Consider the logic of that statement. A Christian can be led by the Bible to deny what the Bible teaches? This kind of logic is what has allowed those who deny the virgin birth to sit comfortably in liberal theological seminaries and to preach their reductionistic Christ from major pulpits.
Al's point is that true Christians need to hunt down and "fire" the naughty Christians. I am small potatoes since I don't preach from a major pulpit. Nevertheless, I am coming out as a naughty Christian.

Here I am Al. I think your views are wrong. Not only wrong, but harmful. Mohler, like a true fundamentalist, engages in intellectual bullying. "No true Christian can deny the virgin birth." In other words, believe as I do or you are not a true Christian.

Like other progressive ministers, I have had to clean up the mess this bullying has made of people's lives. What are some of the effects of this bullying? People grow up and out of fear of hell or of doubting the "Word of God" they think they cannot affirm evolution for instance. The biology of original sin and the need for a biological virgin birth makes little sense in light of our evolutionary history. Evolution, therefore, must be wrong.

More than that, these threats are aimed at keeping people from thinking for themselves. They create paranoia regarding scholarship and learning. Mohler's true Christians are ultimately paranoid Christians.

A word of warning. It really does no good to argue with them. You won't change their minds. However coming out as a naughty Christian can free your mind and can show others that there are other ways to appreciate and honor these marvelous Christmas stories.


Monday, December 22, 2008

An Incredible Story

This is really an incredible story. We truly are connected with our non-human relations:

In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University .

On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully.

He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant's foot and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments. Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away. Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter couldn't help wondering if this was the same elephant. Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed his stupid ass against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn't the same elephant.

H/T Mike

Sunday, December 21, 2008

US in the Dark Ages

Did you see this?

US Refuses to Support UN Measure Decriminalizing Homosexuality

The Associated Press reported today (Dec. 19) that the United States is the only Western nation unwilling to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

The refusal drew quick reaction from the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "The decision of the United States to oppose a U.N. resolution that would call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide is appalling," he said.

"The fact that we were the only major western country to refuse to do so, and on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is especially reprehensible. It should come as no surprise, however, that an administration that condoned the use of torture and that turned the relationships of gay and lesbian people into a wedge issue for partisan political gain would take this action," said Thomas.

Top United Nations human rights official lamented that there are still too many countries that criminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex and that some 10 countries still have laws making homosexual activity punishable by death.

"Those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, those who are transgender, transsexual or intersex, are full and equal members of the human family and are entitled to be treated as such," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told high-level panel discussion on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, held at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The ageless cliché that everyone is equal but some are more equal than others is not acceptable. No human being should be denied their human rights simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. No human being should be subject to discrimination, violence, criminal sanctions or abuse simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," she said in a video message.

"Ironically many of these laws, like Apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial and are increasingly recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all."

She said that laws proscribing the death penalty for such activities are used to justify threats, attacks to the physical and moral integrity of persons, including their exposure to torture, with human rights defenders being particularly vulnerable.

"The stigma attached to these issues means that violence and discrimination often go unpunished as victims dare not report their cases and the authorities do not pay sufficient attention to those who do," Pillay added.

Observers of the proceedings noted the U.S. delegation's concerns stemmed from an unwillingness to commit the federal government to policies that may conflict with existing state statutes. Several U.S. states permit discrimination based on sexual orientation in matters of adoption, housing and employment at privately held companies.

Human rights advocates are disappointed that the United States would refuse to extend the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to LGBT persons and are looking to President-elect Barack Obama to change course on such issues.

"One can only hope that the new administration will grow in its understanding that any limitation of human rights and civil privileges must be rejected," said Thomas. "Bigotry has always been veiled in calls for moderation, in the suggestion of legal complications, and in slippery slope arguments of unintended consequences. In the end, these arguments, whether made by governments or religious groups, cannot hide prejudice or the failure of moral leadership the world so desperately needs."

This new administration will not do it without political pressure. The energy surrounding Rick Warren and Prayergate can be used to put pressure on Obama to take this action. This is something that Obama can and should do.

The President of the UCC has taken a stand. Perhaps the moderator and stated clerk of the PCUSA can take a similar stand based upon our General Assembly action this summer, which reads in part:


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.

This isn't even about civil unions. This is about our government refusing to support a UN measure to decriminalize homosexuality. This should be a no brainer. But nothing happens unless we speak out. Now might be a good time.

I tend to think first of our stated clerk and moderator, but perhaps in addition or instead there are other ways to put all these statements that we make at general assembly into action.

Ideas?






Presbyterian Tries to Kiss Atheist

It happens. You go to a party and pictures end up on the internet.


My good friend, Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein hosted a Christmas party last night and this was the result.


Bishop of Washington on Warren

Here is a fine letter from Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane about Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the big prayer:

December 18, 2008

I am profoundly disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration. The president-elect has bestowed a great honor on a man whose recent comments suggest he is both homophobic, xenophobic, and willing to use the machinery of the state to enforce his prejudices—even going so far as to support the assassination of foreign leaders.

In his home state of California, Mr. Warren’s campaigned aggressively to deny gay and lesbian couples equal rights under the law, relying on arguments that are both morally offensive and theologically crude. Christian leaders differ passionately with one another over the morality of same-sex relationships, but only the most extreme liken the loving, lifelong partnerships of their fellow citizens to incest and pedophilia, as Mr. Warren has done. The president-elect’s willingness to associate himself with a man who espouses these views as a means of reaching out to religious conservatives suggests a willingness to use the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans as bargaining chips, and I find this deeply troubling.

Mr. Warren has been rightly praised for his efforts to deepen the engagement of evangelical Christians with impoverished Africans. He has been justifiably lauded for putting the AIDS epidemic and global warming on the political agenda of the Christian right. Yet extravagant compassion toward some of God’s people does not justify the repression of others. Jesus came to save all of humankind, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, “All means all.” But rather than embrace the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Warren has allied himself with men such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who seek to “purify” the Anglican Communion, of which my Church is a member, by driving out gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters.

In choosing Mr. Warren, the president-elect has sent a distressing message internationally as well. In a recent television interview, Mr. Warren voiced his support for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These bizarre and regrettable remarks come at a time when much of the Muslim world already fears a Christian crusade against Islamic countries. Imagine our justifiable outrage if an Iranian cleric who advocated the assassination of President Bush had been selected to offer prayers when Ahmadinejad was sworn in.

I have worked with former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to improve the relationship between our two countries as hawkish members of the Bush administration pushed for another war. He has spoken at the National Cathedral, which will host the president-elect’s inaugural prayer service, and I have visited with him several times in Iran and elsewhere. Iranian clerics are intensely interested in the religious attitudes of America’s leaders. In choosing Mr. Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration, the president-elect has sent the chilling, and, I feel certain, unintended message that he is comfortable with Christians who can justify lethal violence against Muslims.

I understand that in selecting Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama is signaling a willingness to work with both sides in our country’s culture wars. I appreciate that there is political advantage in elevating the relatively moderate Mr. Warren above some of his brethren on the Religious Right. But in honoring Mr. Warren, the president-elect confers legitimacy on attitudes that are deeply contrary to the all-inclusive love of God. He is courting the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, and in doing so, he stands the Gospel on its head.

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, D.D.
Bishop of Washington

Whoa! Did the good bishop say Warren was homophobic and xenophobic? We better get Viola the blog mother on the case!



You Want Ice With That?

Shuck and Jive, always concerned that you have plenty about which to worry, saw this in today's Johnson City Press:

2 Trillion Tons of Ice Melt Since 2003

Scientists studying sea ice will announce that parts of the Arctic north of Alaska were 9 to 10 degrees warmer this past fall, a strong early indication of what researchers call the Arctic amplification effect. That’s when the Arctic warms faster than predicted, and warming there is accelerating faster than elsewhere on the globe.

As sea ice melts, the Arctic waters absorb more heat in the summer, having lost the reflective powers of vast packs of white ice. That absorbed heat is released into the air in the fall. That has led to autumn temperatures in the last several years that are six to 10 degrees warmer than they were in the 1980s, said research scientist Julienne Stroeve at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.



That’s a strong and early impact of global warming, she said.






“The pace of change is starting to outstrip our ability to keep up with it, in terms of our understanding of it,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., a coauthor of the Arctic amplification study.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

How It Feels


H/T Bailey's Buddy

I love it when folks get angry enough to get creative, vocal, active, and organized.


If I Were Invited to Offer the Inaugral Prayer

So when Rick Warren or some other religious figure offers a public prayer, what does it mean? Isn't the whole notion really kind of silly? I read Franklin Graham's prayer at Bush's inauguration. It is mostly superstition. As we have been discovering, Warren, like Graham, have objectionable views and have actively worked against basic freedoms and rights for American citizens.

Their actions against sexual and gender minorities, science, reproductive choice and so forth are connected with their superstition. Which comes first: religious superstition or ignorance? Hard to know, but they do feed off each other.

My real objection to the whole thing is the mixing of religious superstition with public ceremonies. Is the nation well-served by a bunch of preachers parading about at national events?

The political reality is that our nation is made up of superstitious people whose superstition compels them to foist it on others. We will have to live with this for some time to come. Perhaps having to endure the dangerous superstition of Warren will wake us up to the danger of superstition itself.

If Obama had done the right thing and invited me to give the invocation, here is what I would have said:

I offer no prayer to any deity. Those who wish to pray may do so on their own. Instead, I invite us to celebrate and to contemplate the virtues of reason, justice, equality, and compassion that are available to all human beings.

The challenges we face are immense.

May we put away selfishness, greed, and short-sightedness.

May we work together against all forms of tyranny.

May we seek as our highest and our common goal the well-being of future generations.

May we work as tirelessly for the rights of others as for our own.

May we find a way to live within our means, with one another, with our non-human relatives, and with Earth.

And may we discover the courage, intelligence, imagination, and compassion available within us and among us to face the great work that lies ahead.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pray that Warren is Wordy

**update, Jan. 20, 2009**

Rev. Warren's prayer was 489 words.

Now that I have ticked off my friends who think I am slacking on gay rights, I'll put my money where my mouth is. I challenge you to do the same. For every word in Warren's Inauguration prayer, I will give two bits to
PFLAG Tri-Cities and another two bits to the Tennessee Equality Project.

In 2001, Franklin Graham gave the invocation for Bush. It was 435 words. Here it is. My hunch is these things are supposed to be 500 words or less.

When Fred Phelps comes to town, gay rights groups raise money.

Have fun with this. Make a pledge. If you don't want to give to a gay rights group, well, Warren is on the wrong side of most everything. Give to your local science museum, or to Planned Parenthood, or to some peacenik group.

This is a great opportunity to raise awareness and promote the cause for equality. Another good idea is to make a resolution to join one of these groups and get active. We could use your help.


So there we go. It isn't up to Obama. It is up to you. It is up to me. Be the change, beloveds.

Rethinking Rick Warren

I wish gay rights was America's biggest problem. I do wish this was the only or even the primary issue on our agenda not only as Americans but as citizens of Earth. If it were, I would be truly upset with Rick Warren at the inauguration.

I have been thinking about this over the past couple of days and reading various opinions. I am trying to look at the bigger picture here. The biggest issues are not gay rights nor reproductive choice as important as these issues are. The largest issues are those that for the most part go unacknowledged.

The biggest issues as I see it are those that surround sustainability. How are we going to feed and care for an increasing world population (now over 6 and half billion humans) in a post-petroleum age?

I have been posting on population, energy, economy, ecology, and growth and will continue to do so because I think the interaction of these issues makes all others in comparison insignificant. Rather than offer my opinion or prediction which means nothing, I invite you to check out Chris Martenson's page and take his Crash Course. I invite you to talk about it, blog about it, share it with others, show it at your church or with neighbors.

I have to know that Obama knows what is happening as do all world leaders. We will be experiencing resource crises. Ultimately, I trust him as much as I can. He is a smart guy and I think he cares and wants to do the right thing. He cares about the future our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will inherit. He may not be able to change our destiny but at the very least, I hope he won't be the one when things get crazy who sends the first nuclear missile. I am hoping he may help us have conversations with the world leaders we don't get along with very much so they won't send those missiles either.

This brings me back to Obama and Rick Warren. Warren has a huge following. It is probably in our country's interest not to alienate him and his followers before Obama even gets started. Warren does have good qualities. He has raised awareness regarding AIDS and he has a personal commitment to giving away 90% of the money he makes.

Having him offer the invocation is a symbolic gesture. It is gesture that will hopefully make some positive relationships with evangelicals. By offering an olive branch to Warren, Warren, in turn, might be motivated to encourage those whom he influences to work for peace and for cooperation with world leaders rather than beating drums for war. I think Obama is giving Warren and his followers the benefit of the doubt. I wish I was as gracious.

Obama did balance out the "prayer ticket" by having Rev. Joseph Lowery offer the benediction. (I have been told by parishioners that the benediction is the most important thing I say in church anyway!)

I have been having a change of heart regarding this and willing to let this go, to hope for the best, and to trust that in the big picture, Obama knows what he is doing.

That does not mean I am insensitive to my lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. At least I hope not. I am with you with my whole body and soul.

In the end, we need Obama to worry about the big picture rather than social issues. We, you and I, need to be involved in the social issues. Those changes are up to us.

After all, when we are faced with loss of jobs, power outages, and whatever else, it isn't going to matter if we are straight or gay. We are all in this together.

Will Christians Go to Heaven?

The Christian Post posted this article: Many Americans Say Christianity Not the Only Way to Eternal Life.

Most American Christians believe many religions can lead to eternal life and among them, the vast majority says you don't even have to be Christian to go to heaven, a new survey shows.

Sixty-five percent of all Christians say there are multiple paths to eternal life, ultimately rejecting the exclusivity of Christ teaching, according to the latest survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Even among white evangelical Protestants, 72 percent of those who say many religions can lead to eternal life name at least one non-Christian religion, such as Judaism or Islam or no religion at all, that can lead to salvation.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the survey results "a theological crisis for American evangelicals," according to USA Today. (Read More)

The fundies are in a crisis all right. More and more people, including their own kind, aren't buying it. The fundie preachers howl that people don't believe in the authority of the Bible, or in the authority of Jesus Christ, or in the authority of Holy Mother Church.

That isn't the case guys. People don't believe you. Your exclusive religion is a lie. It isn't true. It's false. The theological fantasy you promote is no more real than the tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff.

You can get red in the face. You can stir up your masses to vote against gay rights. You can try to get your school boards to throw out science. You can preach eternal damnation for the non-believers until you go hoarse.

Meanwhile, your flock is losing interest. Why? Because they are smarter than you are. And they are more compassionate. You are going to have to work harder to stir up that fundie hellfire love.

Here is a Christmas present idea for evangelicals and others who are looking for honesty in their religion. I highly recommend this book and the study guide to go with it. This is especially good for those who may have grown up with Christianity and have grown out of it.


The book is entitled, When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys. There is a study guide that goes with it that you can access on-line.



This is a book of personal reflections and good honest searching from religion scholars who have gone through the process of rethinking their faith. Some have left Christianity; others have made peace with it; still others are not sure what they are looking for.

We will be studying this book in the future at our church. You are welcome to join us if you live near our mountain. If you have considered starting a study group of your own, this book and guide would be the perfect resource to get you going. You can decide on your own whether or not to invite your preacher.



He'll Grow Out of It



Thanks, Pat!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Time in a Bottle

In this segment, Dr. Albert Bartlett uses an illustration from the Boulder, Colorado city council to show how steady growth leads to catastrophic outcomes.

When he was making this video (1999), city council members were discussing what would be an acceptable population growth rate.
One figure considered was 5% per year. 70/5% means that the population would double every 14 years. If that growth rate were to continue, Boulder, in one lifetime would be about the size of Los Angeles.

As he points out, you couldn't fit LA into the Boulder valley. Obviously, Boulder's growth will stop.
The only question is will we be able to stop it while there's still some open space or will we wait until it is wall to wall people and we're all choking to death?
He put up this interesting headline from the Denver Post:
Colorado has a three percent growth rate...that's like a third world country with no birth control.
Dr. Bartlett says:
We send foreign aid--family planning assistance--to countries that have smaller population growth rates than Colorado has.
Dr. Bartlett uses this example to show how short-sighted we are in regards to growth and how even city council members do not understand basic arithmetic. Then Dr. Bartlett talks about bacteria.
Imagine bacteria growing steadily in a bottle. They double in number every minute. At 11:00 a.m. there is one bacterium in the bottle. At 12:00 noon the bottle is full.
It has a doubling time of one minute. It is in a finite environment of one bottle. He asks three questions:
1) What time was the bottle half full?

Answer: 11:59.

The bacteria double every minute. Second question:
2) If you were an average bacterium in the bottle at what time would first realize that you were running out of space?
Before he gives the answer he reminds us that this type of steady growth is the centerpiece of the entire global economy.

To answer question two, he provides this table:

Table II. The last minutes in the bottle.
11:54 a.m. 1/64 full (1.5%) 63/64 empty
11:55 a.m. 1/32 full (3%) 31/32 empty
11:56 a.m. 1/16 full (6%) 15/16 empty
11:57 a.m. 1/8 full (12%) 7/8 empty
11:58 a.m. 1/4 full (25%) 3/4 empty
11:59 a.m. 1/2 full (50%) 1/2 empty
12:00 noon full (100%) 0% empty


He returns to the Boulder argument. Someone wrote a letter saying that growth in Boulder is not a problem because there is 15 times the amount of space that Boulder has already used.

So what time is it in Boulder?
The answer? Four minutes before 12, when the bottle is 1/16 full.
Suppose that at 11:58 some of the bacteria realize they are running out of space. So they launch a great search for new bottles. They search offshore on the outer continental shelf, in the overthrust belt and in the arctic, and they find three new bottles.
This is an amazing find. They have four times as many bottles. Surely, this will give them a sustainable society, says Bartlett. Right? Question 3:
3) How long can the growth continue as a result of the discovery of three new bottles; this quadrupling of the proven resource?
Answer:
At 11:59 the bottle is half-full.
At 12:00 the bottle is full.
At 12:01 two bottles are full.
At 12:02 all four bottles are full.
Game over. Dr. Bartlett tells us that we don't need any more arithmetic than that to address what we hear from the experts that we can go on growing and increasing our consumption of fossil fuels because we will discover new resources to meet the requirements.

Turning to energy, Bartlett quotes former energy secretary, James Schlesinger:
In the energy crisis, "we have a classic case of exponential growth against a finite resource." (Time Magazine, April 25, 1977).
How much oil is there? When do we use it? In the 1960s and 1970s the consumption was 7 percent per year. Doubling time = 10 years.

This percent growth did not continue because OPEC raised its prices. But say it did continue. How long would 7% consumption last?


In 1973 we consumed 20.4 billion barrels of oil. 334 billion barrels since oil was discovered approximately 100 years before that, leaving us with 1765 billion barrels. That is data. The rest is projection of 7% per year.

Year

Barrels Produced

Cumulative Use

Amount Left

1973

20.4

334

1765

1981*

35.1

559

1540

1991*

69.1

1078 (half gone)

1022

2001*

135.9

2100

0

Had we continued at 7%, in 1981 we would have had three times as much left in reserve than we would have used in all of history. A lot of oil. From our bacteria in a bottle example, what time is it when you have three times as much reserve compared to what was used? Two minutes before twelve.


Doubling usage every ten years (7% increase in production per year) would have depleted the oil in two decades.

The segment concludes at this point. We will pick this up
next time.



Questions for discussion:

1) Where are we now in real numbers of barrels of oil?

2) What is our percentage rate of growth?

3) What time is it?



Recession's Greetings


Thanks to Brian McLaren for posting about what churches can do during this economic crisis.

In his latest he links to Mustard Seed Associates who have ideas for congregations to help their communities in times of recession.

You know, Brian would have been a good choice for the inauguration prayer. Jim Wallis would have been another good one as long as we are talking about Evangelical Christians.

Obama's Talking Points on Warren

The Huffington Post has posted an article and has a number of links regarding opinions over Obama's pick of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. Obama's transition team has received a flurry of negative response.

When questioned about his pick of Warren, here is what Obama said:

"A couple of years ago I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion," he said. "Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign's been all about, that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."
Now that the dust is starting to settle somewhat, this is what I am seeing:
1) It was good that there was a reaction to the selection of Warren and that Obama needed to give his reasons.
2) It was good for the public to do some 'vetting' of this rising star, Rick Warren, as to who and what he is really about. I hope this will continue.
3) It showed that those who want change in our country will need to make it themselves--get passionate and get organized--rather than wait for the president to do it.
4) It has caused us to consider the difference between appointments that are symbolic and those that effect policy. Both are important, but they are important in different ways.
5) I suppose I could be a bit more forgiving. It is Obama's party and he can invite who he wants. Or can he? I don't know. It will be fun if Ahmadinejad gets invited. Maybe Rick can take him out right there in the name of Jesus.
I read a suggestion (and have lost the source) that those who support a more inclusive cabinet and staff for Obama can use the energy of this moment to advocate for that. Want openly gay people involved in Obama's administration? Want to end this war? Want the President to be clear with the people about the looming energy and economic crisis? Contact the transition team.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas in Elizabethton

One of the coolest things about the congregation I serve, First Presbyterian of Elizabethton, is the variety and quality of musicians among our little club of bandits.

We have two great services coming up. This Sunday, December 21st, is Music Sunday: Holiday Edition. We have vocalists, instrumentalists, a liturgical dancer, and some beautiful poetry. That service starts at 11:00 a.m. We will take a special offering for Five Cents a Meal. All the offering will go to help hunger organizations in East Tennessee.

On Christmas Eve, we will have our candlelight service with more music and sacred writings. That service will be at ten p.m. We will take a special offering that will be distributed among three local organizations we support:
  1. Shepherd's Inn: our local safe house for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
  2. Assistance and Resource Ministries (A.R.M.): a cooperative effort among Carter County congregations that provides food, clothing, and financial assistance.
  3. Community Daycare and Learning Center: provides day care for those on limited incomes.
Here is a recording of our Liturgical String Band: Star of Bethlehem Get QuickTime


Obama Picks Warren for Invocation

War with Iran? Great idea. Gotta stamp out evil.

Proposition Eight?
Count me in (and count gays out!) Praise Jesus!

Only Christians go to heaven?
You betcha! And only certain kinds of Christians at that!

Obama is making one dubious choice after another. His latest? Selecting fundamentalist celebrity Rick Warren to invoke his homophobic, war-mongering, narrow-minded god at the inauguration.

Don't be fooled by his aw shucks demeanor. Rick Warren is James Dobson with a Howdy Doody grin. He is trying to be America's pastor.

But you know what? America doesn't need a pastor. The president is president of all Americans regardless of religious belief including none. The president is also president of all people including sexual and gender minorities.

According to tradition, you have to pick some kind of religious figure to pretend to invoke some deity. There are plenty of invokers of deities that are not as problematic as Warren.


What does it mean to have Warren, who was outspoken in favor of Proposition 8, give a prayer at the inauguration? It means that Obama is insensitive or is pandering or he has made a huge miscalculation and has taken his base of support for granted.

My hope is this symbolic gesture is the closest Warren will get to the president. My fear is that this could signal that Obama (when it comes down to it) will not support equal rights for sexual and gender minorities.

Bad taste, Mr. President-Elect. I like you, but excuse me if I don't in join the hoopla for your big party.

Pam's House Blend
offers a way to vent.

Here's Howdy Doody regarding Prop 8:


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's About Love

I received this e-mail as a thank you to PFLAG groups. I think it says it all:
My name is Johnny Schaefer and I hope you don't mind this message. I found you on the PFLAG website. I appreciate all of your hard work as an organizer for gay rights. Sometimes it is uplifting to have a soundtrack for the work we do. I would like to share with you a song/video project I put together. The song is called "It's About Love" and it is a tribute to all who are taking a stand in this important time. It's totally free to view/listen to on YouTube. I put my heart and soul into it and just want people to see/hear it. You can also download the song for free at Our Noble Cause.

I hope you will check it out and share it with others in your organization, friends, etc.

I also hope you’ll join thousands of equal rights supporters in “Light up the Night” a nationwide vigil at 5:00 pm on December 20. We have to have peaceful vigils at thousands of locations around the country. See Join the Impact for details.

Thanks very much!
Johnny Schaefer
Los Angeles

To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men.-Abraham Lincoln


Little Girl on a Plane

Blame Linda.

A stranger was seated next to a little girl on the airplane when the stranger turned to her and said, 'Let's talk. I've heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.'

The little girl, who had just opened her book, closed it slowly and said to the stranger, 'What would you like to talk about?'

'Oh, I don't know,' said the stranger. 'How about nuclear power?' and he smiles.

'OK,' she said. 'That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff - grass - . Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?'

The stranger, visibly surprised by the little girl's intelligence, thinks about it and says, 'Hmmm, I have no idea.'

To which the little girl replies, 'Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?'


"Religion is More of a Choice Than Homosexuality"

Jon Stewart took on Mike Huckabee on gay marriage. Check it.



"Religion is more of a choice than homosexuality." --Jon Stewart



Monday, December 15, 2008

Zero Population Growth Will Happen




In
this next installment, Dr. Bartlett continues with examples of the exponential function. He talks about world population.




On July 7, 1986, the news reports indicated that the world population had reached 5 billion people growing at a rate of 1.7% per year.
That doesn't sound like much. You calculate the doubling time 70/1.7% = 41 years.
In 1999, the world population had reached 6 billion, but growing at 1.3% per year. Doubling time = 53 years. However, Earth adds 80 million new humans every year.
Dr. Bartlett extrapolates this modest 1.3% per year growth to the future.
If this modest 1.3% per year could continue, the world population would reach a density of one person per square meter on the dry-land surface of the earth in 780 years. And the mass of people would equal the mass of the earth in just 2400 years.
Dr. Bartlett points out that we smile at that. We know that won't happen. Why? Because, eventually zero population growth is going to happen. We can debate whether or not we like it. Regardless, it will happen. Today's high birth rates will drop and low death rates will rise far sooner than 780 years.

Then he asks, "What sort of options are available if we want to address the problem?" He offered this


Table of Options

Increase Populations Decrease Populations

Procreation

Abstention

Motherhood

Contraception

Abortion

Large Families

Small Families

Immigration

Stopping

Immigration

Medicine

Public Health

Sanitation

Disease

Peace

War

Law and Order

Murder

Violence

Scientific Agriculture

Famine

Accident Prevention

Accidents

Clean Air

Pollution (smoking)

Ignorance of the Problem



The items on the left are the good things we do that lower the death rate. But anything we do that lowers the death rate makes the problem worse. The things on the right are those things that are going to solve the problem. We have a dilemma. Those things on the left we regard as good and sacred. Those things on the right (murder, war, famine, disease) we do not want.

Now, the point. We eventually are going to reach zero population growth. Nature will choose from those items on the right. Dr. Bartlett says:

We don't have to do anything except be prepared to live with whatever nature chooses from that right hand list. Or we can exercise the one option that is open to us: choose something from the right hand list that we can go out and campaign for.
Nature is already choosing. AIDS is one example. Famine and war are others. He asks an interesting question: where is education on this table? Is it on the right hand column or left? He thinks that so far, it is on the left. Education has not addressed this problem.

He doesn't mention religion, but I'll let you be the judge.

It appears to me that the best item on the right would involve decreasing birth rates. It seems that we ought to be campaigning for contraception and family planning and reorient our values so that every child born is a wanted child.

Or we can let nature take its course. And it will.