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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

PFLAG Tri-Cities in Johnson City Press

Thanks to Stacey Williams for this excellent article in Friday's Johnson City Press about PFLAG Tri-Cities!
PFLAG provides support, education and advocacy

By STACEY WILLIAMS Stacey Williams lives in Johnson City.

On April 17, the Tri-Cities chapter of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays celebrated its first full year of existence.

The group was begun in response to a growing need in Northeast Tennessee for a resource on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) issues.

The members of the Tri-Cities chapter (and more who participate by e-mail distribution), draw from the Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport areas as well as larger surrounding region.

What is PFLAG? It is an organization that provides support, education and advocacy on issues relevant for the LGBTQ community and their families and friends. The Tri-Cities chapter meets monthly, on the third Thursday, on the East Tennessee State University campus.

Who attends PFLAG meetings? Everyday folks who have people they care about who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning. The monthly meetings are open to those who would like to gain support by other like-minded individuals who care about the LGBT community.

People have different reasons for attending PFLAG, and what PFLAG means to them:

• Christine Pearson — “PFLAG has been an important part of my move to East Tennessee and has helped me understand the depth of our community. I have found a group of people who encourage me and my family and also, a place to offer help for those who may not have a support system.”

• John Shuck — “As a Christian minister I find that many people are shunned by their families and their faith communities because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This is unfortunate. PFLAG helps people come to terms with all of the wrong and damaging things said about them. While PFLAG is of course a secular organization, for some it fills the role that a faith community and a family should be. It is about acceptance and overcoming prejudice.”

If you think PFLAG might be a good fit for you, or you would like more information, you can contact the Tri-Cities chapter by e-mail.
Thanks, Stacey and JC Press!

Don't miss our picnic tonight!

Friday, May 29, 2009

So You Really Want to Get Married, huh?

Check these videos.






Via

Mindfulness and Health

If you are near our mountain tomorrow, join us at ETSU for Mindfulness and Health: Learning from the Sages VII. Here is the blurb:

This annual conference on health and wisdom features the keynote address, “E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One),” by Sandy Westin, technology and communications coordinator for the United Religions Initiative (URI) in North America, who has been an administrator and communications facilitator in international and interfaith peace for many years. In addition, a variety of speakers will cover such topics as “A Dip in the Ocean of Silence,” “Jesus: Our Divine Companion,” “Impermanence,” “The Way of the Sufi” and “The Bhagavad Gita: A Penetrating Look.”

Following a noon lunch (pre-registration required), a video will be shown entitled “The Nature, Depth and Beauty of Death” that highlights teachings by the late Indian philosopher and author Jiddu Krishnamurti.

In conjunction with the conference, an evening concert entitled “Enchanting Strings” from 5-7 p.m. will feature Partho Sarodi on the sarod, an Indian lute-like stringed instrument, and Shyam Kane on the tabla (percussion).

The conference and concert are open to the public. There is no charge for the conference, and admission to the concert is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and free for children and students.
And the schedule:
8:00-8:15 AM: Registration
8:15-8:45 AM: A Dip in the Ocean of Silence-Guha Krishnaswamy
8:45-9:15 AM: Jesus: Our Divine Companion- John Shuck
9:15-9:45 AM: Impermanence-Gabrielle Zeiger
9:45-10:30 AM: The Way of the Sufi: Lucy Zarifah Oliver
10:30-10:45 AM: Coffee break
10:45-11:15 AM: Key Note Lecture “E Plubris Unum”- Sandy Westin
11:15-11:45 AM: The Bhagavad Gita: A Penetrating Look-Jay Mehta
11:45-12:00 NOON: Discussion
12:00-12:30 PM: LUNCH (Discussion Continues)
12:30-1:30 PM: Jiddu Krishnamurti- The Nature, Depth and Beauty of Death (Pre-registration required)
5:00-7:00 PM: Enchanting Strings- Concert by Partho Sarodi (Disciple of Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar)

When: Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Location Information:
Community / Tri-Cities - Palma L. Robinson Clinical Education Center
325 N. State of Franklin Road
Johnson City
Contact Information:
Name: Dr. Guha Krishnaswamy, Dept. of Internal Medicine, James H. Quillen College of Medicine
Phone: (423) 439-7014
Email: krishnas@etsu.edu

Recharging Mind and Heart

My study leave plans are close to home this year. I am only an hour a way from Asheville, North Carolina. This summer Montreat will be hosting the Presbyterians for Restoring Creation Conference, "Embracing God's Call to Be Green." It will be July 7-11. Check it out.

The following week is Breathing Compassion: Creation Spirituality Communities' Annual Event. This will be at Jubilee! in Asheville, July 16-20. Matthew Fox will offer presentations including a Cosmic Mass on the 16th. Here is the blurb:

We hope you will join us for this year’s Creation Spirituality Communities’ Event “Breathing Compassion”. Our time together will feature presentations by Matthew Fox, Howard Hanger and other leaders in the Creation Spirituality movement that go wide and deep in response to the place we find ourselves as a country, as a people and as a species.

Additional sessions will explore: the life and leadership within a functioning Creation Spirituality community; musical concepts that enrich and deepen the worship experience; a more intimate relationship with awe and wonder ; and our call to the great work that is compassion.

Gift yourself and your community with this opportunity to recharge your batteries while at the same time feeding your heart, head and soul.
Maybe I will see some of you at one of these conferences?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Religion without Revelation

Nothing is more devastating to revealed religion than the historical-critical study of its texts. This study brings the texts down to earth. We discover that the Bible is a collection of documents written and revised by human beings.

This hit home when I took the Old Testament survey course in seminary. This collection of texts theologically understood as Word of God were, in actuality, the words of human beings. I searched for "God" in them and the most I could find was what the various authors wrote about their ideas of what they called "God."


This changes things dramatically at least in principle. However, this takes a long time at the personal level for this realization to roost. At the institutional level, it takes much, much longer. The effects of the historical-method on religious texts are far-reaching. Is it even meaningful to speak of "God" with any sense of realism when "God" becomes a literary character in a human drama?


The great 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, knew of this problem. His answer? Keep silence. Gerd Luedemann in his paper,
The Relationship of Biblical Studies to the History of Religions School, with Reference to the Scientific Study of Religion quotes Barth:
“[The Church] will at least require of its servants, even if there are some who personally cannot understand this ordinance, that they treat their private road as a private road and do not make it an object of their proclamation, that if they personally cannot affirm it and so (unfortunately) withhold it from their congregations, they must at least pay the dogma the respect of keeping silence about it.”
Barth was talking about the Virgin Birth.

Even the church has moved beyond Barth on this point. Yet the church is still revelation driven when it comes to other dogmas including the dogma of the Bible itself. I ask this question honestly. Given the historical-critical method, in what sense is saying 'the Bible is the Word of God' meaningful? Or the Qur'an? Or the Book of Mormon?

In the end, any of these collections only can be called Word of God because the people who believe in them say they are. We could be multicultural and say that all of them are the Word of God. After all, who is to say one of these collections isn't?


One could say that my faith tells me that my book is the Word of God. Fine. So what does your faith tell you about the other guy's book? If faith says my text is the Word of God and the others are not, how is that really much more than religious provincialism?


For those who want to use the historical method to show that the other guy's book isn't the Word of God, then that method when applied to your book will bite you in the behind. Historical criticism is the great equalizer. Luedemann writes:
Theology can be a scholarly discipline only when it observes the intellectual protocols of the modern university and bids farewell to deductive epistemological principles of any kind—including the notion of revealed truth and any claims to privileged knowledge of God. Theology becomes a valid academic discipline only insofar as it employs the historical-critical method’s three presuppositions of causality, the potential validity of analogies, and the reciprocal relationship between historical phenomena. Admittedly, such an adoption of the non-theistic methodology of secularism demands that traditional religion undergo a Copernican revolution.
This means religion without revelation. Because the mainline churches and their clergy have hidden behind the robes of Karl Barth and kept silence about historical criticism (except to the extent that it does no damage to our revealed dogmas), we have become irrelevant. No one is particularly interested in the superstitions we keep attempting to peddle.

That is not completely true. The fundamentalists are buying. They are using the Bible as the Word of God to call evolution a farce and to enforce an oppressive social agenda not only within the confines of their sects but within the larger sphere of secular society.


The intellectual community regards the church as a joke. It is a relic from a superstitious past. Who were the intellectual giants of the Middle Ages? The theologians. As revelation gave way to reason, theology could not adapt and from the perspective of the modern university it has gone the way of alchemy and astrology. Once again, Ludemann:
However it may “disenchant” the world, true objectivity means relinquishing the canonicity or sacredness of particular writings, any claims to a “revelation,” and all distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy except as a subject of historical discourse. This same even-handedness outlaws dogmatic and theological judgments unsupported by empirical evidence, and refuses to deal with questions of religious “truth” except to compare different truth claims. The scholar of religion must steer clear of ideologies, and is obliged to use the methods and insights of the sciences and humanities, including those derived from such related disciplines as sociology, psychology and ethnology, for their illumination of historical phenomena is often decisive. His or her assumptions and conclusions must remain open to peer review and revision on the sole basis of best evidence.
While Luedemann is writing about scholars in universities, I am interested in preachers in pulpits. Sunday by Sunday, preachers in mainline churches exegete and pontificate on some passage in the Bible. Why? Granted, it is a classic of Western literature. Don't get me wrong. I am cool with the Bible. I continue to learn new things about it. Other students have helped me use it as a critique of many human problems that are still with us--such as Empire. I have been preaching on it and teaching about it for 17 years. That is a lot of time to spend on one book.

But there are other books. It seems that we could preach about our awe-inspiring cosmological and evolutionary history. That amazing story that we are uncovering day by day is far more fascinating, not to mention far more true, than the various creation fables of any religion, including the Bible's.
Think of all the fields that are open to us from science, psychology, and literature all ripe for the harvest. Yet we continually go back to a two thousand year old collection as if it contains some divine secret we have not yet heard a thousand times already.

Why do we do this? Habit, I suppose. This is a habit worth breaking. It is time for a Copernican revolution. That begins by asking what it means to practice religion without, or perhaps beyond, revelation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Meaning of Life, Part 27

O Lord, please don't burn us.
Don't grill or toast Your flock.
Don't put us on the barbecue
Or simmer us in stock.


Don't braise or bake or boil us
Or stir-fry us in a wok.
Oh, please don't lightly poach us
Or baste us with hot fat.
Don't fricassee or roast us
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.

Thanks be to God.

Monty Python, The Meaning of Life

via

Prop 8 and Superstition

The California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8. The 18,000 couples will stay married. From the SF Chronicle:
Prop. 8, which declared that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California, passed with a 52 percent majority after an intense and expensive campaign. Sponsors, mainly affiliated with Christian conservative groups, raised nearly $40 million for the measure and opponents more than $45 million - combined, a record for a ballot measure on a social issue anywhere in the nation.
One can safely say that if it weren't for the Christians, there would be marriage equality in California. Christianity as it presently and persistently manifests itself is anti-equality. Christianity bases its system of ethics on superstition (ie. the Bible as the work of a divine supernatural being). Christianity is a superstitious cult.

If there is going to be any forward movement for humanity, we will need to relieve ourselves of our superstitious past. This will include the evolution of Christianity into something that is reasonable and decent. The key will be discarding the authority of any supposed "special revelation."

The Bible is a book. It is like all books, creeds, liturgies, songs, and rituals, created by human beings. Most of the Bible isn't even that good. Until we can admit that reasonable piece of common sense, we will continue to make life more miserable for our fellow creatures and for Earth itself.

I am not giving Islam or any of the other institutionalized forms of superstition a pass. Islam is more superstitious than Christianity simply because it has not developed higher criticism to the extent that Christianity has.

Oppression based on bigotry masked and endorsed by superstition will get worse before it gets better. The way out of this is for progressive Christians (and Muslims) is to reform our institutions and rid them of superstition. If we do not, we give space and permission for those who wish to harm others (ie. anti-gay zealots) under the cover of superstitious dogmas regarding our sacred texts and creeds.

Part of the problem is that moderates and progressives allow the conservatives to set the terms. For instance, the phrase, "high view of scripture" means what exactly? Well it means that it has supernatural authority and origin. Not only is that preposterous for any one who happens to live in the 21st century, it is also harmful. A supernatural authority by definition is beyond criticism. Where does that lead us for those who use that authority as justification for denying basic civil rights to other human beings?

What is amusingly pitiful is to see moderates and conservatives in a pissing contest over who has the higher view of scripture as if that were an ethical value! You think it is an improvement to think that The Three Blind Mice was channeled by Divine Mother Goose?

Christian conservatives will only be able to maintain oppressive power when moderates and progressives continue to play into their hands. The basic dogmas and superstitions of Christianity need to be challenged and progressives need to assert boldly that superstition is not an ethical value.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Understatement of the Day

"Sexuality is something that the church doesn't have a good track record about."
--Reverend Ewen Gilchrist

Mother (Dearest) Church Reconsiders

John Knox struck up the alleluias too soon it appears. The Church of Scotland (behaving like all superstitious and fearful cults--like the PCUSA) gave into its homophobic element. I praised it yesterday for approving an openly gay man as minister. The backlash has begun.

Instead of outright rejecting a motion similar to the PCUSA's G-6.0106b (effectively banning gays without mentioning them), the General Assembly decided to set up a commission. From the BBC:

The Church of Scotland has avoided a potentially damaging debate about whether gay people should be allowed to become Kirk ministers.

At its General Assembly in Edinburgh, it was decided instead that a special commission should be set up to consider the matter and report in 2011.

There will be a two-year ban on the future ordination of gay ministers.

"Avoided a potentially damaging debate" says the news. Potentially damaging to whom? Those of us who have watched commission after commission in the 35 year struggle in the PCUSA know what these commissions end up doing.

The Church of Scotland will experience a shit storm of fear-mongering for two years. At the end of this time, the beleaguered commission will come up with some report. It makes no difference what the report will say. Fundamentalist forces will wrest control and tell the same lies and offer the same threats that have been made here for the past third of a century. Then they will come up with some horrific rule (just like G-6.0106b).

The Church of Scotland will be no further ahead then than they are now.

It was fun for a day.

via

Memorial Day

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army



In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mother Church Welcomes Her Gay Son

John Knox is leading the heavenly gay men's chorus in alleluias today as the Church of Scotland voted to approve an openly gay minister of Queen's Cross Church of Aberdeen. This is from the Associated Press:

LONDON (AP) — An openly gay minister on Sunday praised the decision of the Church of Scotland to dismiss a challenge to his appointment by religious conservatives — the latest case involving sexuality to create a division in the Anglican Communion.

The church's ruling body voted 326 to 267 Saturday to support the appointment of the Rev. Scott Rennie, 37, who was previously married to a woman and is now in a relationship with a man.

Rennie was first appointed as a minister 10 years ago, but has faced opposition since he moved to a church in Aberdeen, Scotland, last year. He has been unable to take up his post while the Church of Scotland considered appeals from his critics.

"I'm relieved, humbled, I'm obviously pleased and I'm really looking forward to going to be with my new congregation," Rennie told reporters on Sunday. "I've had a long time to wait, they've had a long time to wait and I'm just glad we can get on with life."

Protesters had lobbied the Kirk — the Church of Scotland's ruling executive — over Rennie's case, saying his appointment was not consistent with the teachings of the Bible.

"We are absolutely opposed to that on the basis of what God has to say about homosexuality in the Bible," said one opponent, Pastor Jack Bell of the Zion Baptist Church in Glasgow, Scotland.

The case has divided Scottish religious leaders and follows tensions within the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion. About 900 elders and ministers took part in a debate on Rennie's case, but many chose to abstain from casting a vote.

Anglicans have conducted a lengthy debate over sexuality issues since the Episcopal Church — the Anglican body in the U.S. — consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.

Rennie said he believed religious conservatives were behind attempts to oust him from his post.

"The same talk was about when women were ordained, and I think that argument suits those that don't want any change," he told Britain's Sky News television on Saturday.

Following the vote to back Rennie, Scotland's Equality and Human Rights Commission said the Church of Scotland had proven itself to be "a modern church for a modern Scotland."

"We are certain that this decision will be welcomed by the majority of Scots and certainly the majority of Queen's Cross parish in Aberdeen who overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for Mr. Rennie," said Alyson Thomson, a commission spokeswoman.

This is a big decision. Thanks, Mom!

Return to the Source: A Sermon

Today was Qur'an Sunday. We are reading the Qur'an cover to cover in 2009. The reading for June is Surahs 14-18.

Return to the Source
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
May 24th, 2009
Qur’an: Surahs 14-18

We are about half-way through the Qur’an. The readings for June are Surahs 14-18. The Qur’an is not very long. It is about the length of the New Testament. So if you haven’t started yet, now would be a good time. You could read it during the summer.

I like the translation by Tarif Khalidi. It doesn’t have any notes or explanations. It is like reading a book. I highly recommend Lex Hixon’s, The Heart of the Qur’an: An Introduction to Islamic Spirituality. Also, Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations is a helpful guide.

Lex Hixon’s book is particularly helpful in understanding the tone of the Qur’an. In the English translations, God comes across as harsh. But Hixon and Sells bring out the compassion and the sadness of the Qur’an. Sadness in that God sees humanity refusing to return to the Source of Life. Compassion in that God never ceases to give up on humanity.

I noticed in reading that the Qur’an seems to repeat itself. It says the same thing in different ways, sometimes in the same way. At first it was annoying. I wanted a plot or if not that, at least a thesis statement with an orderly argument. But that is not what you get. It swirls and spirals, going back and forth from contemporary events in the time of Muhammad to stories of the earlier prophets to reflections on nature and pronouncements on the human condition.

It is more like a long conversation. If you have ever stayed up all night with your partner in order to clear the air you will know what I mean. Those conversations are not orderly. They move in terms of emotion. You repeat yourself. You tell a part of a story from the past, then argue about something, then tell part of another story, then back to the first. On and on, a dance throughout the night.

The Qur’an then, is a conversation with the Source of Life. I hesitate to use the word, “God” as it is bigger than God, if we think of God narrowly as a supernatural being. It is the Universe, Life itself, the Source of All, speaking in human terms. The conversation is from the Source of Life to us, through the prophet Muhammad.

The Qur’an as book is only a piece of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is really the Source of Life itself. Hixon uses the term, Cosmic Qur’an. Everything is the Qur’an. Everywhere is the voice of God, the voice of the Source of Life, if we will listen.

From Surah 16:
“He it is Who made water descend from the sky, of which some is for you to drink and some for trees from which you eat. With it He causes vegetation to sprout for your benefit: olives, palms and vines, an all types of fruit. In this is a sign for a people who reflect.

He made the night to serve you as also the day, the sun, the moon and the stars—all are made to serve by His command. In these are signs for people who understand.

Behold what He created for you on earth, diverse in colour. In this is a sign for a people who remember.” 16:9-13
As I read through these revelations it came to me why they seem so repetitive. That is because the Source of Life is trying to penetrate my veil of ignorance. From various angles, with numerous parables, with repetition, the Source of Life, like my conversation partner with whom I converse all night, is trying to get something through my thick skull.

The compassion is reflected in that the Source of Life never gives up. The Qur’an whether it be the Cosmic Qur’an or the words on the page of a poor English translation, is the ongoing attempt by the Source of Life to wake me up so I will return to Life.

A church member gave me a cd this past week by folk singer, Susan Werner. The cd is entitled, “Gospel Truth” and it contains a number of songs about spirituality. She is delightfully irreverent. She jokes that she is an evangelical agnostic—passionate yet ambivalent.

I am going to play a song from that cd. This one is not irreverent, however. I found it to be deeply meaningful. It is about conscience. I don’t know if she had the Qur’an in mind when she wrote it, but it seems to me to reflect the wisdom at the heart of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is the invitation to return to the Source. This is not a return to religion, but to the Source beyond all religion, beyond all science, beyond all knowing. It isn’t about believing in things. It is about transformation.

Susan Werner expresses that in this beautiful song about the Divine Troubler.

It is called, “Did Trouble Me”

When I closed my eyes so I would not see
My Lord did trouble me
When I let things stand that should not be
My Lord did trouble me
When I held my head too high too proud
My Lord did trouble me
When I raised my voice too little too loud
My Lord did trouble me

Did trouble me
With a word or a sign
With the ringing of the bell in the back of my mind
Did trouble me
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole

When I slept too long, slept too deep
My Lord did trouble me
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep
My Lord did trouble me
When I held myself away and apart
My Lord did trouble me
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart
My Lord did trouble me

And of this I’m sure, of this I know
My Lord will trouble me
Whatever I do and wherever I go

My Lord will trouble me
In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me
To keep me on the path where I belong
My Lord will trouble me

We forget who we are. We don’t see the Divine imprint on everything we see. We are too busy, too clouded, too sleepy, too desirous of our own agendas and goals. We aren’t even sure why we have these agendas and goals. They keep us busy I suppose. They give us the illusion that we are doing something important.

Amidst all of this, whether we are conscious of it or not, the Divine Troubler is at work. The Divine Troubler messes up our plans on a daily basis. She puts holes in our carefully constructed theories and does all kinds of mischief. She does this not to be mean or cruel, but to remind us to return. She does this from compassion.

At the Source is Divine Peace. We will be troubled until we return. We will be troubled by beauty, troubled by suffering, troubled by someone in need, troubled by success, troubled by failure.

In chapter 18 there is a parable of two men. God gives to one of them a fruitful garden, surrounded with palms and a gushing river. The harvest is bountiful. The man who enjoys this harvest says to his neighbor: “I am greater in wealth than you are and more powerful.” He enters his garden and says to himself: “I imagine that this will never become desolate. I doubt that the Hour shall come. And if I am ever returned to my Lord, I shall find something even better that it as a final destination.”

The neighbor tells him to be careful for what he is saying. He tells him, “Are you blaspheming against Him Who created you from clay, then from a sperm, then fashioned you into a man? Assuredly, it is God my Lord, and I associate none with Him. If only you had entered your garden and said: “This is the will of God! There is no strength save in God!”

Sure enough. The arrogant man’s fruit was withered and his orchards became barren. The point of the parable, as all parables, is to cause us to reflect. They are designed to trouble us. In what sense are we like the arrogant man?

When we refuse to recognize the Source of Life and to recognize our interdependence with all of creation, we become arrogant. That arrogance manifests itself in contempt for others and for creation. We think we own something or deserve something or have a right to something.

When that happens, the Qur’an, because of Divine Compassion, will trouble us.

I am discovering that there is not a great deal of speculation in the Qur’an. There is not a list of things we are supposed to believe. It is an invitation to be aware of life and to be conscious of our surroundings. It is a call to walk lightly and to take time to notice this incredible mystery of creation.

Everything is a sign. Every created thing is a parable for the Source.

This Source is Divine Love and Peace. This Source embraces us as we are, as beloved.

I will close with this quote from The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis:
What the world needs now is not more religion and dogmas but a stream—a torrent of warm heartmelt that cuts through the ice cap of our mental hardness. God surely reveals Himself to all who can prostrate themselves before His unknowable reality. Can we give ourselves over to the possibility that we, too, are something so marvelous that no one has ever been able to say it? Something so outrageous that knees could actually give way. We could drop to the ground, fall prostrate, fall within the center of the word humility, and disappearing, live with in it. P. 96.
That is what it means to return to the Source.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Peter Rollins: Ikonoclast

The latest issue of Christian Century arrived today. The cover story, "Seeds of Doubt" is about Peter Rollins. I like this guy. He has started a group called Ikon that "leads some people out of the church and some into it." He says that Ikon is for "Atheists and theists, liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics, gays and straights--the whole works."

They meet in a bar, talk religion and politics. They have some kind of drama, poetry, whatever, without having to believe a bunch of stuff. The part I found most interesting was his comment on caring for those who attend:

Paradoxically, I say, "Ikon doesn't care about you. Ikon doesn't give a crap if you are going through a divorce. The only person who cares is the person sitting beside you, and if that person doesn't care, you're stuffed." People will say, "I left the church because they didn't phone me when my dad died, and that was really hurtful." But the problem is not that the church didn't phone but that it promised to phone. I say, "Ikon ain't ever gonna phone ya." Pete Rollins might. But if he does, it will be as Pete Rollins and not as a representative of Ikon. Ikon will never notice if you don't come. But if you've made a connection with the person sitting next to you, that person might.
Ikon is like the people who run a pub. It's not their responsibility to help the patrons become friends. But they create a space in which people can actually encounter each other.
I think Rollins is truly on to something here. There is time before and after the official gatherings for people to connect:
The most important part of our gatherings are pre-Ikon and post-Ikon, but you can't have either of those whithout Ikon itself. We have about 45 minutes before an Ikon meeting starts where people just have a drink and chat, and the same for a couple of hours afterward.
That is exactly what is missing in regular church. People think they are going to get something out of going to a church service and then are disappointed when it doesn't or when they don't find community. The good shit happens before and after when we actually get to know people. Unfortunately, we don't structure the time so that happens. Come at 11, leave by noon. It puts way too much focus on the clergy (or whoever it is) who runs the show. Those who attend don't take ownership for making community.

The best church I have ever done was at my last place. We had a thing on Saturday night. We had time to gather before, then did our relatively unique service that I called Rock and Roll Religion. It was good. We had a band that played secular tunes. We always had ritual and time to talk. Then we ended with having some kind of common meal. I hope I can get something started like that again. The reason it was good, or at least one part about it that was good, was exactly what Rollins is getting at. We created a space for connections rather than pretend that we could fill that need with a worship service.

Check out his article when (if) Christian Century puts it on-line. Or read from the Ikonoclast himself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meet Your Great, Great, Great Aunt Ida

The big news in science is the story of Ida (Darwinius Masillae). A 47 million year old fossil is our latest celebrity. The Wall Street Journal scooped the story.
In what could prove to be a landmark discovery, a leading paleontologist said scientists have dug up the 47 million-year-old fossil of an ancient primate whose features suggest it could be the common ancestor of all later monkeys, apes and humans.
But wait. A lot of hype. According the Independent, Ida is important, but before we send her a Mother's Day card:

So is Ida the missing link?

No, she is not "the link" because there is never going to be one missing link between humans and their primate ancestors. Neither is Ida our direct ancestor. She belonged to a branch that evolved in parallel to the ancestral line of primates that eventually gave rise to humans.

Ida is an important and fascinating discovery at the roots of the primate lineage but unfortunately it could become mired in hype and exaggerated claims – such as Ida being "our earliest ancestor". She was not "the link", but simply one of many, many links in the long and complicated descent of man.




But she is awfully cute.







An Evangelical Agnostic

What is an evangelical agnostic? Someone who is passionate yet ambivalent.



A church member turned me on to folk singer
Susan Werner. She is funny with a good message.





Here is a little medley of tunes from her album Gospel Truth.



And the anthem of the evangelical agnostic movement, Probably Not...

Is there a God above?
Is there eternal love?
Probably not...

(but you oughtta hear the whole song...)


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Missouri River Flips!

The last yes vote on amendment B came in last night. Missouri River Valley voted 50-41-6 in favor! Previously, that presbytery consistently had voted against equality. 34 presbyteries flipped from a previous no to a yes on equality!

Of the two remaining presbyteries, one will not vote, and the other will likely be a voice vote no. This Missouri vote was nice as according to this article a committee of legislation had advised the presbytery to take 'no action' which would have been the same as a no.

The final score will be 78-95 (or 78-93-2 as two presbyteries didn't vote).
It is much closer than that. I am pleased that Bruce Hahne painstakingly did the stats for this. Here is his latest wrap (not including tonight's vote).

The "popular" vote (not including Missouri River Valley) was 10,359 in favor to 10,791 opposed or 49%-51%. That's tight.


Even the presbytery vote was closer than 78-95 shows.
If nine more presbyteries had voted yes, it would have passed, 87-86.

Here are the nine with the closest no votes. They are listed with their final vote. If the number of commissioners (in parentheses) had voted yes instead of no, it would have taken only 20 votes to turn this. Twenty out of over 21,000.


Cincinnati--83-83 (1)

Central Nebraska--21-21 (1)

Mission 181-181 (1)

Pines--34-36 (2)

Carlisle--71-74 (2)

Homestead--37-40 (2)

Florida--41-46 (3)
St. Augustine--68-75 (4)

Eastern Oklahoma--49-56 (4)

If a butterfly beat her wing a different direction in the Amazon, it would have happened.

Mini-rant: People on both sides didn't think it could happen. Before the voting even started, allies (
allies!?) were defeatist and threw in the towel with the "no action" option. Better not to try in the first place than to try and lose?

A lot of good things happened this year. The General Assembly ruled a 30 year authoritative interpretation as having no further force or effect. Beautiful.

The General Assembly also passed
ye olde scruple (which might make it possible for some LGBT people to be ordained) so we take what we can get. Between now and June 2010 when the next General Assembly meets we will likely have some court cases ("scruple me this, Batman").

One session has already sent a delete G-6.0106b to its presbytery.

Not sure yet what the opposition will be up to doing. They might try to pass some moratorium on voting or whatever.


I am for a moratorium. Along with a moratorium on voting to remove G-6.0106b, I propose a moratorium on court cases. No more court cases against LGBT people, sessions, or presbyteries. Allow LGBT candidates to be ordained and let G-6.0106b stay in the book for all I care (as it says nothing about LGBT people anyway).

I am not talking about the scruple thing. I mean no scruples, hassles, extra hoops, or court cases regarding LGBT ordination. Period. In return, for the other side, to respect their freedom of conscience, no hassling of those who refuse to participate in an ordination/installation service of an LGBT candidate.

I am not sure how that would be written up and I am not sure if both sides could compromise on this.
Who knows? Maybe the General Assembly will work a miracle and allow a compromise that will respect freedom of conscience for everyone without having to go through another vote.

I do know that from my side, anything short of allowing ordination/installation of LGBT persons is not acceptable.
After all, we are only 20 commissioner votes away.

Kudos and many, many thanks to More Light Presbyterians, Covenant Network, That All May Freely Serve and all who worked with them.

Thanks especially to all those who attended presbytery meetings and told the truth.

Thanks also to those in the opposition who were gracious through this. I do know that most who voted no are not homophobic, against equality, or mean spirited. We are all struggling to do the right thing. We do need to find a space large enough to protect the freedom of conscience of the minority (whoever that minority will be).

Many important stories were told in this process. Many hearts and minds were changed. It was disappointing, I know. But, we will get there and the journey itself is gracious. The ultimate hope is that there will not be two sides but one.


PFLAG Tri-Cities Meets May 21st (Thursday)

Our next meeting is upon us. This Thursday (May 21st) at 7 p.m. at ETSU.

The building has changed for the summer.

We are meeting in #302 Sam Wilson (the one with the oval tables, nice chairs, and cool tvs).

Hope to see you!

Big stuff being planned including

The picnic!

The Blue Plum!

Oh, and check out Jaime Combs latest news with nice words about us and picture of our 1 year anniversary award received by our own Kerry Holland!

Be sure to follow updates on Twitter.

We are also setting up a Myspace account.

More news to come. Don't forget the meeting Thursday 7 pm #302 Sam Wilson!


Housecleaning




I cleaned up the sidebar. It was sad to let go of some long-term favorite links and gadgets. Hopefully this will speed up your access to Shuck and Jive. I have changed the blog and site roll. It sits there alphabetically now.




I will be happy to list you. If I am on your blogroll and I haven't returned the favor, it is because I don't know about it. Let me know! On the other hand, if I list your blog and you don't list me, well that is just plain rude.

What am I not good enough for ya? Embarrassed to be seen with me, is that it? I am talking to you, you moderate to liberal prissy presbyterians who sneak over and read but won't link to me.

I love you anyway, you pansies.

I have removed blogs who haven't posted for over two months. I assume you have devoted yourselves to mind-numbing twittering and facegossip refreshing.

That is how the B--tards are going to conquer the world, you know that don't you? They have us behaving like rats.
Researchers placed electrodes in rats’ reward centers to stimulate them, just as dopamine does. The rats could then press a lever to stimulate the reward center. That’s all those rats did; they ignored food, and even female rats. They just sat there pressing the lever over and over, wasting away…not unlike crack addicts. In a second experiment, scientists blocked dopamine so the reward center could not be stimulated. What happened? The rats just sat there, again ignoring food, receptive mates, and the opportunity to explore their environment.
Facebook and Twitter are marks of the Beast.




That's you on Tweetdeck.




What else can I rant about? I appear to be in the mood.

My office is a mess. Decisions left unmade is what that is.

Finally, I really despise Donald Trump. I hereby fire him from the human race.

That is all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Did you hear about this? A nine year old boy, Ethan McNamee, started his own rally in support of equal marriage rights. Here is the news story:


And his speech on the courthouse steps:


Here is an article about him in the Denver Post:

The idea first came to Ethan thanks to his neighbors, a lesbian couple he described as "the nicest people in the world." He didn't think it was right they aren't allowed to get married.

From there, Ethan resolved to support gay couples. He approached Mindy Barton, legal director for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Colorado, to gain support.

"He already had a lot of it figured out," Barton said. "There was no doubt Ethan was going to put together a rally on the steps of the Capitol."

The only question for Ethan was how to get a permit, which he couldn't do himself because he is so young. Instead, it was filed under the name of his teacher, Kyle Kimmal.

Kimmal said Ethan is a very driven kid, but still just like any other third-grader.

"He can do something like this, but he has trouble keeping a backpack together," he said.
Via

"God" and Hope


I am happy to see Mystical Seeker blogging again. A post of interest is a reflection on the concept of "God" by Michael Dowd and another is comment on a video in which Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan also speak about what they mean by "God." I was less happy with the video as Crossan comes across as snippy, dismissive, and not altogether accurate about atheism.

I have a soft spot for atheists in part because they are a marginalized group in our country. To illustrate, the two groups on ETSU's campus who have their posters torn down or defaced on a regular basis are the LGBT group and the Atheist group.

I have much in common with the atheists I know as we engage in projects for LGBT rights, reproductive choice, separation of religion and state, and advocacy for the environment, social justice, science, and peace.

I am amused and delighted by their critiques of the supernaturalism of my fellow religionists. This supernaturalism expresses itself in everything from creationism to a belief in an interventionist deity who cares that I find a parking space at Wal-Mart (but for some reason leaves the hungry and impoverished to their own devices).


Atheists have been helpful in regards to interpreting sacred texts. They embrace higher criticism and point out my inconsistencies in interpreting these texts. In fact, I identify philosophically and ethically more with many of my atheist friends than I do with religious believers, including those in my own denomination.

I do take a different path, however. I value the religious imagination. I still use the symbol "God" (although I don't know how to spell it--G-d or Godde or God/dess). I don't use this symbol as an explanation for how the universe works. I embrace science for that. I don't use this symbol as an explanation for ethics or morality. Reason and compassion do as well or better than following the dictates of an ancient holiness code.

I exercise my religious imagination and all that goes with it (wisdom texts, sacred celebrations, sacred songs, liturgy, communities, and so forth) because of its hopefulness. Perhaps it is corny. Maybe I am engaging in little more than infantile regression. To be clear, I am not saying that atheists are not hopeful. Atheists are some of the most courageous and hopeful people I know.

It is just that for me, the religious imagination (including the symbol "God") shows me a light at the end of the tunnel. Religious imagination provides me with the poetry of sorrow and the possibility of surprise.

I have been told that the next twenty years will be nothing like the last twenty. The planet has reached its tipping point in supporting a human population that is intent on ravaging its hospitality. All of our ideologies, theologies, and philosophies will be tested to their limits. I like to think that the Universe is rooting for us. My religious imagination is how I express that hope.

Whether atheist or religious, we have common ground. We have a common planet. May we find a way to get beyond our posturing and find a common future.

Since it is the season for commencement addresses, I recommend this one from Barbara Kingsolver. She spoke about hope at Duke last year. You can listen too.





You’ll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck –- those will be yours.



Sunday, May 17, 2009

PFLAG South Atlantic News

Here is the news from PFLAG South Atlantic. Jaime visited our chapter last month and had wonderful encouragement for us including an award! Jaime is pictured below on the right with our chapter president, Kerry Holland!

Thanks, Jaime! You are the tops!

Fellow PFLAGger’s,

I hope that everyone is finally enjoying some warmer weather and making summer plans. I encourage you and your local PFLAG chapters to make plans to participate in any area Pride Celebrations and Parades. You will find excellent opportunities to meet wonderful people and also to get the word out about the work that you are doing with PFLAG. Hopefully you will see some of the impact from the work that PFLAG and other groups are accomplishing.

We have a lot to celebrate with our chapters and the work that they are doing and also we can celebrate the fact that marriage equality is being embraced by another state, legislation is being presented for justice to those who perpetrate crimes against us and I believe that we will see schools actively seek ways where students don’t have to suffer in silence from harassment and bullying. We cannot rest until there is full equality and equality will not be attainable without YOU!

Speaking of celebrating, Tri-Cities PFLAG (east Tennessee) is celebrating their First Anniversary. Kerry Holland (president) and John Shuck have provided EXCELLENCE in leadership and Tri-Cities PFLAG is a thriving chapter with energetic members who want to make a difference and are active in that pursuit.

Recently I had the honor of speaking, along with David and Joan Parker, at East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, North Carolina. This is the first year for their GSA and the group was so inquisitive and SOOO polite. How pleasant it is to see such accepting young people in high school, this is a club that would never have been allowed to form when I was in high school and to this day my high school STILL doesn’t have a GSA.

I also recently had the joy of presenting Catherine Carmichael with a plaque honoring her dedication for the last 18 months as PFLAG Asheville’s president. Catherine has recently resigned after serving tirelessly to PFLAG and the LGBT community in Western North Carolina. One of the most recent programs and most successful programs of PFLAG Asheville is Youth OUTright, a dynamic group of young people which was started through PLFAG and is now their own independent entity. Please view their website http://www.youthoutright.org/.

I would love to hear from your chapter. The South-Atlantic Region covers the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. Fortunately I have been able to visit chapters in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina. If you would like a visit don’t hesitate to call or e-mail me and we will get a time set up.

Jaime Combs
PFLAG Regional Director
South Atlantic Region
(865) 755-1362

http://pflagsouthatlantic.org

Daring Not To Belong--A Sermon

Daring Not To Belong
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
May 17th, 2009

John 15:9-19
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.

This passage in the Gospel of John starts off so nice. Jesus says he loves us. He gives us his most important commandment to love one another as he loves us. He says we are not servants or slaves to him but friends. He is not our master. We are friends. We lay down our lives for friends. We bear fruit; fruit that will last.

Then the passage turns. The world hates you. Who is this world? Why does it hate us? Why don’t we belong to the world? Why have we been chosen out of the world?

It may be that the last section is unrelated to the first section. Maybe we should stop the reading after the nice part. But I think these sections are connected. The word "chosen" is in both sections.

“You did not choose me but I chose you.” And

“I have chosen you out of the world.”

I think we are supposed to read these passages together.

We are chosen as friends commanded to love and chosen out of the world.

We need to wrestle a bit with what John means by “world.”

The Greek word translated as world is kosmos. That is a word we have taken into the English language. Cosmos. When I hear cosmos I think of Carl Sagan. Billions and billions of stars. Kosmos could be translated as universe. The known universe or perhaps Earth. We might think of the world as our physical existence.

Is that what the passage means? We are called out of Earth or the Universe? That our existence, our life on Earth hates us? That has been a common interpretation throughout the centuries. We are really spiritual beings trapped in this physical shell. Our real home is outside the Universe, so goes this interpretation.

The Gospel of John likes the word, world. He uses it, by my count, 76 times.
  • Jesus is the light of the world, but people love darkness rather than light. The world came to being through him, but it did not know him. He takes away the sin of the world.
  • ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
  • ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
  • He is the bread who gives life to the world. The life is his flesh. He testifies that the works of the world are evil. He says to his opponents: ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.
  • ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
  • Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
  • Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
  • Before his arrest he tells his disciples, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.”
  • I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’
  • Jesus prays:
But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
  • After he was arrested he says to his opponents: ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple…. I have said nothing in secret.
  • In response to a question from Pilate, Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over….But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
I didn’t even read all of them. But you get the idea:

The world is an important theological concept for John.

It is the symbol of the opposition to the message of Jesus.

It is something that needs to be spoken to, conquered, and redeemed.


The world has a personality. It does evil things. It controls people. It persecutes those who speak against it. It is the cause of his arrest and death. It is blind yet powerful. Yet is not more powerful than the Word of Truth or Jesus.

And it has the potential to be redeemed.

It is not the created order. It isn’t Earth or the Universe or our physical existence. That interpretation misses the mark.

The world is a power that controls and causes us to perish. We are caught up in it and we don’t even know it.

The Gospel of John is very careful to use symbolic language and allow the reader to make the connections.

In the time of Jesus and his disciples, the world would have been the Roman Imperial State that executed him. It would have been a system of domination and control, of masters and slaves, of absentee landlords, military occupation, and the cooperation of his own religious leaders. All of that would be the world, but even that wouldn’t describe it fully.

The timeless quality of John’s gospel is that the world is not spelled out. This allows us to read it as a symbol for life-denying forces and systems in our time.

The world is patriarchy and racism. The world is domination and exploitation.

Thomas Berry offered a good description:
“The ideal is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap. This we consider as progress.”
That is the world.

The world chews people up. It uses them and discards them. It favors ideology over justice. It claims that peace only comes through violent control.

And it all appears so normal, so inevitable. “That’s the way the world works,” we are told.

And the world isn’t going to like you much if you speak out against it.


Walter Wink wrote a book, Engaging the Powers, that changed my thinking and gave me a new appreciation for the New Testament. At its core the Bible is a critique of the world. Not the created order or the universe, but the system of domination that appears in many different forms. Sin is one such word for it. But isn’t sin in the way we commonly think of our little peccadilloes.

Sin is more like a system--an economic system perhaps, or a military-industrial system, even a system of government. It is a system that has stopped working for people or for Earth, but exists for itself. It John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, it is the Bank that has become the Monster.
The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.
The point is not to pick on banks or those who work in banks. We all use banks. I do and so do you. The Monster has grown much larger than the Bank of Steinbeck’s time.

We might think of the world as a growth-based economy that doesn’t know when to stop. Any of these systems of domination is the world.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann in his book on Christian Eschatology, The Coming of God writes:
Like a huge idol, like the Beast of the Apocalypse (Rev. 13), the present economic system covers the earth with its open sewer of unemployment and homelessness, hunger and nakedness, despair and death. It destroys different ways of living and working, which are in antithesis to its own. In its hostility to the environment, it sullies nature. It enforces an alien culture on the peoples which it has conquered. In its insatiable greed for prosperity, it offers people themselves as sacrifice in a bloody holocaust, pre-eminently in the Third World but increasingly in the First World too. The Beast has become a ravening monster, armed to the teeth with tanks and guns, atomic bombs, warships with computer-guided missiles, radar systems and satellites, and it is bringing humanity to the verge of total and sudden annihilation. But in the world-wide struggles for he poor and oppressed against all forms of dehumanization, there is a sign of life and of victory. There is the believing trust in the God of life, in the Lamb who in the midst of this divided world builds up a new Jerusalem which will come down from heaven (Rev. 21:10), and who gives hope for a liberation from oppression, sin and death. P. 216
Jurgen Moltmann provided a good description of the world. Yet he made the larger point, the larger hope in Mystery that while best described in poetic language, is nevertheless a hope that is real and offers life.

Let’s go back to the passage from John and substitute system for world:
If the system hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the system, the system would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the system, but I have chosen you out of the system—therefore the system hates you.
So if we run afoul of the various systems that dehumanize and destroy, we might be on the right track. There is no illusion in John’s gospel that we will ultimately change all systems. They will be with us as far as we can see. Yet it is possible to make the system a little more humane. It is possible for us as individuals to identify not with our systems, but to become human.

The task of the human being is to love. It is a love that lays down one’s life for one’s friends. In Jesus’ kingdom which is really a non-kingdom, we live as friends—equals--not masters or slaves.

That power to love, that courage to dare not to belong, comes from a hope stronger and more powerful than the world. It is the Divine Mystery that chooses us to become human.

We may not change the world. But we might be able to become a little more human.

One of my favorite images comes from a story about activist A.J. Muste with which I will close:

During the Vietnam War, A.J. Muste stood night after night holding a candle in front of the White House. One night a reporter asked him, "Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?" Muste replied, "Oh, I don’t do it to change the country, I do it so the country won’t change me."