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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dems Sell Out Health Care Reform

As she captured my frustration exactly, I quote Southern Beale in full:

Who's Still Fighting for Single-Payer?

I am.

You are.

The Republicans are fighting against it.

Whether you realize it or not, we all are fighting for it or against it.

Yesterday the public option was shot down, and the best argument the Republicans could come up with was that it was
in the words of Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, “a Trojan horse for a single-payer system” in which the government would eventually control most health care.

Or, in the words of Chuck Grassley (R-IA):

"It is a slow walk toward government control."

Got that? The Republican Party thinks we can’t have a public option because it will lead to single-payer.

This is what I’ve said all along! We are fighting single payer even when we aren’t fighting single payer!

Every argument against healthcare reform the Republicans have brought up has been an argument against single-payer. But we never got to have an actual debate about the merits of single-payer because it was never actually on the table!

I’m so angry at the Democrats right now I can barely contain myself. How could you screw this one up so badly? How could you lose control of the debate like this? How could you sell out healthcare reform?

How could you be such fuck-ups?

This has been the most ham-fisted public policy debate I’ve ever seen. I want a damned debate about single payer already. The Republicans are having it, so come on, Democrats. Join the conversation. Put it on the table already.

What are you afraid of? That we might actually get it?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meaning of Life, Part 35

First of all I'm all for Iran not having a nuclear bomb. I'm all for India and Pakistan not having any either. Same for Israel, France, Germany, Russia, and the USA. I want no country on the face of this earth to have a nuclear bomb because history has shown us that if we make one, we'll use one. We're fucking up this place fast enough without some jack ass country getting it's nose out of joint and nuking someone else over some bronze age religion disagreement.

--Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein

Monday, September 28, 2009

"This is what a police state looks like"

Monday's transcript and video of Democracy Now! reports on the G20 summit, the protests, the 200 arrests...
The overwhelming presence of law enforcement officials prompted antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan to blog, quote, “This is what a police state looks like.”




JON DELANO: What’s your response to those who are demonstrating and those who oppose this summit?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I fundamentally disagree with their view that the free market is the source of all ills. Ironically, if they had been paying attention to what was taking place inside the summit itself, what they would have heard was a strong recognition from the most diverse collection of leaders in history that it is important to make sure that the market is working for ordinary people.

STEVE MARTINEZ: And although President Obama chose to characterize the demonstrators as rabble-rousing anti-capitalists disinterested in the actual goings-on of the summit, most who attended the rallies on Thursday and Friday felt they were getting the G-20’s message loud and clear and had their own take on the gathering of world leaders. This is musician and activist David Rovics.

DAVID ROVICS: The G-20 is—generally represents very wealthy countries that don’t have the interests of the people at heart.

REVEREND BILLY: These twenty prime ministers and presidents, they’re not operating on earth time!

PROTESTER: What time do they operate on?

REVEREND BILLY: They’re operating according to a kind of corporate gradualism! Their metabolism comes from their military advisers, big energy! They will do things very slowly! They will try to accommodate their investors! As far as I’m concerned, they’re accommodating the devil! Let’s cast out those devils!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Police Initiate Violence at G-20

Meaning of Life, Part 34

Well, you know, this is the first I’ve ever really talked about this in any of my films, because I’m kind of loath to talk about religion. I think it’s a private matter, and I’m sick of hearing everybody discuss it or shove it down our throats. I’m not a proselytizer. I was raised Catholic. I am a Catholic. I have a lot of problems with the institution known as the Catholic Church, all the obvious ones that we don’t need to go into right now.

But the lessons that I was taught as a child, I’ve always felt were very good lessons, that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us; that the first shall be last, the last shall be first; that the rich man is going to have a very hard time getting into heaven. And one day, when someone asked Jesus, like, what’s the password to get in through the pearly gates, and JC said, “Well, actually, I’ll give it to you,” and he said, “This is what you’ve got to do. We’re going to ask you a series of questions when you get up there, and these are the questions. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was homeless, did you give me shelter? When I was sick, did you provide aid and comfort? When I was in prison, did you come visit me? If you did any of these things for the people who are the least among us, who have the least, then that means you did it for me, and you can now enter. But if you are thinking that you’re going to—if you’re going to live your life making as much money as you can and then using that money for your own purposes, for your own pleasure and enjoyment, and not share it with others, not help others, then, I’m sorry, that’s not going to—that’s not going to work.”

Now, I’m being a little facetious here, because, you know, the whole issue of the afterlife, I think, has always been used by those in power to get us just thinking about the reward that’s some place off in the distant future, like when we’re dead, so for right now just go ahead and, you know, suffer through whatever it is you’re suffering through.

But I believe—I’m just, you know, so tired of hearing this term, this idea that Christianity is somehow—or this is a Christian nation or whatever, and it’s like—well, first of all, there shouldn’t be any kind of a religious nation. But it’s also a lie, too, because what part of what Jesus said relates to what we’re doing now? I mean, I can’t see this guy, if he was here, you know, being part of a hedge fund. I can’t see, you know, Jesus trying to claw his way into the one percent so he can punk on the rest of the people. You know, I just—these people say they believe in him; I wish they actually would, frankly, because we’d be living in a kinder and gentler society.

So, in the film, I appropriate a piece of film from Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and I imagine if they actually think that Jesus would approve of what they’re doing, what would Jesus sound like if he were a capitalist? And so, I—you know, our editor, actually, dubbed in his voice into Jesus’ mouth, and he goes around preaching the capitalist bible. Yes, it gets a lot of laughs, and it’s also—I’m waiting for the onslaught of believers who are not going to appreciate what I’m doing here.

But, you know, I go to see the priest who married my wife and I, and I go to see the priest who married my sister and her husband. And every priest I go to—and those are just the first two I start with, people I know. I didn’t go looking for, you know, socialist priests. And they both just rail against capitalism as a sin. It’s evil, it’s destructive, it’s contrary to what’s in the Bible. It’s contrary to all the major religions, not just Christianity, but Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, the church of Bill Maher. Whatever you believe in or don’t believe in, it’s just contrary to what—to what we know right and wrong is.

Michael Moore, Interview on Democracy Now! regarding his film, Capitalism: A Love Story



Snickers Found

I let folks on my Facebook know, but not on the blog, that our dear Snickers has been found and is safe and sound in body (although he remains not quite so bright). Much loved nevertheless. Thank you all for your concern!!

Spirit Surprise: A Sermon

Spirit Surprise
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

September 27th, 2009

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9:38-50

Yesterday about thirty of us gathered in Martin Hall for the Awakening the Dreamer symposium. I was impressed that so many took an entire day, their Saturday, and spent it at church in a conference about serious things. It wasn’t a trip to the ballgame.

People came from all over. In addition to people from this congregation there were folks from around the Tri-Cities as well as Asheville, Raleigh, and Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Vinita Eusebius who is in the United States for a month as an International Peacemaker, was there. She received the prize for the longest distance traveled as she flew in from India.

She will be in Holston Presbytery this week talking about poverty, children at risk, the empowerment of women, and water. We are all talking about the same things. She will be speaking tonight at 7 p.m. again in Martin Hall.

This weekend we were addressing topics that one might say was beyond the scope of our concern and the sphere of our influence. We were contemplating global issues like economics, the environment, poverty, the state of the planet, the extinction of species, and the fate of the human race. This was no Saturday afternoon matinee.

At the same time while thirty of us were meeting in a church basement in a little town in East Tennessee, another meeting was underway up north. The leaders of the twenty wealthiest nations on the planet were meeting in Pittsburgh.

They are talking about serious things, too. They are talking about economics, and trade, and the International Monetary Fund, and geopolitics, and how the wealthy countries can get the poor countries to keep sending the wealthy countries the good stuff. They are talking about how we can keep this energizer bunny, this globalized industrial economy growing and growing and growing.

One might be tempted to say to the little group meeting in the church basement in Appalachia:
“Why are you worrying your pretty little heads about all of this? The folks in Pittsburgh will take care of it. You don’t need to be thinking about these serious things. Take it easy. Treat yourself. Go down to the Wal-Mart and buy yourself a toaster oven. Prices have been rolled back. The big boys will take care of the heavy thinking.”
Those of us in the church basement heard that before. We have heard that many times before. We listened to it for too long. We obeyed for too long. For too long we denied what our senses have been showing us.

With our eyes, ears, noses, fingers, and tongues we know what is happening. We know it. We can see it. We can hear it, smell it, touch it and taste it. We know what is happening to our home, Earth, and our fellow sisters and brothers and all the other creatures that evolution took 14 billion years to bring to life, and that we have taken less than a century to bring to the edge of permanent death.

The dream of the leaders of the 20 wealthiest nations is a dream that is killing this planet and us. It is not a dream. It is a nightmare. It is the nightmarish dream of unlimited exponential economic growth. It is pumping out that oil 24/7 and producing plastic clock radios non-stop.

Meanwhile, our arctic ice is melting; our oceans are filling with plastic; and we are dying.

The vision of our leaders is what has led us to this situation. As the late Thomas Berry wrote in his book, The Great Work:
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—even though the immense accumulation of junk is overwhelming the landscape, saturating the skies, and filling the oceans. (p. 76)
So, yes, we are worrying our pretty little heads about it in the basement of the church.

During the program we heard from a great number of thinkers, poets, and activists. One poem stuck with me. We heard just a few lines from it. It was enough to haunt me. It was written by a young man by the name of Drew Dellinger. It went like this:
it's 3:23 in the morning
and I can't sleep
because my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the earth was unraveling?
In the basement of the church we worried and wondered and wept just a little.

So while the G20 was in Pittsburgh surrounded by their stormtroopers for protection, we were in the church basement. The police were ready in Pittsburgh. They were decked out in riot gear like a Star Wars army. They had tear gas which they used.

They had a new toy, a sonic cannon. It is a long-range acoustic weapon. The U.S. military has used it against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents. This weekend they used it for the first time against American citizens. The media called those who dared to protest the G20 “anarchists.” So if they are anarchists I guess it’s O.K.

I am thinking about one of the participants at our symposium, though. He is a second year student at Warren Wilson College. He drove himself up from Asheville to spend his Saturday with us. He is majoring in environmental studies. He told me that some of his friends, his fellow college students, had gone up to Pittsburgh to protest the G20 summit. Anarchists they must be, these students from Warren Wilson College.

They should know better than to get in the way of the stormtroopers who are protecting the dream. They are protecting our Wal-Mart purchases. They are protecting uninterrupted access to all the comforts to which we have grown accustomed. Don’t look too closely to what the G20 is doing. Don’t look at the destruction of ecosystems and entire peoples. Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain says the wizard, or else you will face our tear gas and a blast from our sonic cannon.

It takes a lot of energy and military firepower to keep a dying dream alive. The dream of unlimited industrial economic growth is dying. My money is on a new dream. This is a dream that is being articulated in unexpected places all over the world.

In our two readings from scripture, the Spirit is unleashed on the unexpecting and the unexpected. Moses gathers his 70 elders into the sacred tent of meeting. The reason he is gathering them is that Moses realizes he has a resource problem. The people want meat and Moses knows they do not have enough. Moses says to God:
“Even if we butchered all of our sheep and cattle, or caught every fish in the sea, we wouldn’t have enough to feed all these people.”

The Lord says to Moses: “I can do anything. Just watch and see my words come true.”
Moses gathers the leaders into the tent and Spirit pours out upon them and they prophesy. Some of this Spirit spills out on Eldad and Medad, who were outside the tent. They begin to prophesy. They are outside the sacred tent. They are outside the place of authority.

Moses’ assistant knows that. He tells Moses, “Hey you need to stop these guys! This can’t possibly be from God. They are working outside the system!"

Moses sees the situation. "No, I am not going to stop them," he says. "I wish the Lord would make everyone a prophet."


The new dream of sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment is unfolding all over the world including in church basements in Appalachia. Old structures and systems cannot contain the dream. The dream of Spirit is too large and too comprehensive to be managed by corporate profit and loss statements.

People all over the world are catching the dream of Spirit. They are outside the sacred tent—outside the places of authority—outside traditional structures of power. No one is running the dream. No one is in control. Spirit is spilling out all over. People are growing gardens and learning about rainforests and protesting economic summits and doing all kinds of things because Spirit is showing us a new dream.

It is the dream of people living with Earth and in relationship with all the inhabitants of Earth including the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds and winged ones. It is a dream that the G20, the IMF, Wall Street, Wal-Mart, the World Trade Organization and all the rest cannot imagine. It is not that they are bad people. They are simply working from an outdated manual. The dream of unlimited economic industrial growth has ended. We need a funeral. The dream of exploiting Earth’s resources indefinitely is over. Earth itself is saying, “Enough. You need to find a new way, a new-ancient way.”

People are beginning to awaken from a centuries-long slumber. They are weeping. They are recognizing the cost of this former dream. They are grieving. They are realizing that if they are going to be ancestors the dream will change. They know that they will be participants in this new dream. They are uncertain and anxious because they do not know what to do or where to start. Of course, “they” are us.

The path we are exploring during the season of Fall is the via negativa or the way of letting go and letting be. It is a path of depth. It is emptiness and emptying. It is the path of emptying ourselves of old images, models and ideals, of becoming a vessel so that we can make space for new visions. We don’t have to have the answer. We don’t need the solution. We need to trust that the Universe wants us to ask the questions.

Only with a healthy via negativa that dances with the via positiva the celebration of life can we be open to the via creativa the way of imagination, creativity and Spirit, which then leads us to the via transformativa the way of justice-making the way of sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment.

These paths are not linear, they flow into each other. They are like a spiral. We are simply invited to recognize and explore them. The spiritual path of letting go can be the most difficult because we spend a lot of energy, psychic energy, keeping a lid on it. We don’t want to feel the sadness so we put a lot of effort into denying it, covering it, avoiding it, or numbing it. The spiritual path of letting go invites us to explore it. Rather than spend our energy controlling it, we allow the energy to come up through it.

Then and really only then can the creativity of our species really blossom. That is the Spirit spilling out all over the place. Our ancient texts tell us this. Our ancestors knew about that. They knew you couldn’t control Spirit. Moses and Jesus are spiritual leaders, wise ones, because they could sense the activity and presence of Spirit.

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are upset that some other guy is casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and he is not a card-carrying member of the Jesus team. We stopped him of course, they said. Jesus said to them, “Don’t stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us.” That is openness to Spirit. Get allies when you can. We are in this together.

Our descendants are counting on us. They are asking us in our dreams what we did when Earth began to unravel. They are asking us what life means for us. That is the spiritual fulfillment part. I am going to close with a quote that was given to us at the symposium yesterday. This is from George Bernard Shaw:
“This is the true joy in life … being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one … being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy … I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

You Awake?


The Awakening the Dreamer conference was awesome! Realistic and hopeful. Filled with information, exercises, and encouragement. We need awake people to care about our descendants.

Great poetry. We heard from Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Matthew Fox, and many others. Heard a haunting poem by Drew Dellinger that goes like this here:
it's 3:23 in the morning
and I can't sleep
because my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the earth was unraveling?
Tomorrow night, Sunday, at seven p.m., International Peacemaker, Dr. Vinita Eusebius will speak about the situation in India and how creative people are responding to poverty, children at risk, ecological justice, women's rights, and water.


Here is her schedule this week in Holston Presbytery.

Important stuff.

Your great, great, great grandchildren will quiz you about it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ah Hell

I thought this question from the wandering wonderer is too good for Sunday School:
A big part of evangelical theology is that Jesus died to satisfy God's justice, and took the punishment that humanity deserved.

But evangelicals also say that those who reject Jesus are sent to hell, where there will be punishment for all eternity.

So, if the punishment is eternal hell, and yet Jesus took the punishment that humanity deserved ... shouldn't Jesus be in hell for all eternity?

Disturbing Trends


Protests in Pittsburgh reveal two disturbing trends.

The first is that from media reports it is hard to know what the G20 summit is about and why people are protesting it. It is more than good guys vs. bad guys or police vs. "anarchists."

The second is that riot police are looking more and more like Star Wars characters and they seem to be trying out new toys on U.S. citizens.


This is from CNN; one of their reporters was tear gassed. Police for the first time on American citizens used a "sound cannon."

This is from the Guardian:

Only a few hundreds protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to mark the opening day of the G20 summit of world leaders, but the police were taking no chances.

Sonic weapons or long-range acoustic devices have been used by the US military overseas, notably against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents.

But US security forces turned the piercing sound on their own citizens yesterday to widespread outrage. Pittsburgh officials told the New York Times that it was the first time "sound cannon" had been used publicly.

The sonic weapon appear to be more effective than the Metropolitan police's highly contentious kettling tactics used against G20 protesters in London. But it is equally controversial.

It is feared the sounds emitted are loud enough to damage eardrums and even cause fatal aneurysms.

From Yahoo News:

PITTSBURGH – A vociferous but peaceful group of several thousand people marched for miles through downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, united by opposition to the Group of 20 summit but expressing a diversity of mostly liberal causes as an army of stone-faced riot police watched their every move.

Dozens of black-clad anarchists were conspicuous among the demonstrators, but there was no sign of the disturbances that had resulted in arrests and property damage a day earlier.

The main message of the so-called Peoples' March to the G-20 was a demand for solutions to the planet's economic and environmental challenges different than those the world's richest countries are pursuing. ...

....Friday's march had some marked differences from a Thursday afternoon march that ended with clashes between police and anarchists.

The Thursday march, far smaller, did not have a permit and police declared it illegal almost as soon as it began. Small bands of anarchists responded to officers' overwhelming show of force by rolling huge metal trash bins, throwing rocks and breaking windows. Police fired bean bags and canisters of pepper spray and smoke.

Later that night, hundreds of officers surrounded what was mostly a large gathering of University of Pittsburgh students in the city's Oakland neighborhood. The area was adjacent to where G-20 participants opened the summit, but leaders were long gone by the time police declared the gathering illegal and fired canisters of pepper spray and smoke.

Civil liberties groups decried what they called a heavy-handed and unwarranted police response to the Thursday protests. They complained that riot officers focused on largely peaceful, if unsanctioned, demonstrations when they should have been paying more attention to small groups of vandals that smashed windows of city businesses.

Not all of the protesters call themselves "anarchists." When the media uses terms like anarchists, is the intent to effectively excuse any police action against them? Who are these "anarchists?" And what are the issues?

This is from Organize Pittsburgh. Maybe these folks have a point.

Pittsburghers didn’t ask the G20 to come here, but it is our intention that the worldview the summit represents will die here.

This September 22-25 Pittsburgh will host the next summit of the G20, a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from the world’s largest economies who meet twice yearly to discuss and coordinate the international financial system. Around 1,500 delegates, including heads of state, will be here along with more than 2,000 members of the media, and thousands of police and security agents tasked with squelching dissent.

This summit, and the predecessor meetings this past April in London, occurs on the heels of the worldwide financial meltdown that has been severely impacting hundreds of millions around the world. Since its inception, the G20 has been a tool used to promote a world vision based on the ability of capital to move as it pleases, at the expense of labor, human rights and the environment.

Now that the system these leaders have forced on the world is in crisis they continue to operate as if they have the answer. We know that they do not. To save countries, they propose we turn to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an entity that has historically imposed murderous structural adjustment programs on the world’s poor.

G20 summits, alongside other meetings of institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization, have rightfully been targeted by hundreds of thousands of people around the world because they represent a global vision based on war-making, social and economic injustice, and corporate greed. Pittsburgh will take its place alongside people around the world who have protested and resisted such gatherings in their hometowns.

What do you think? Here is the sound cannon:

Shh! Don't Tell the LayMAN

But members of First Presbyterian of Elizabethton will be worshiping the moon on October 4th. Here's the deal:
Every few years, The Harvest Moon (the full moon closest to the equinox) falls in October instead of September. This is one of those years. The moon reaches full stage at 2:10 a.m. EDT on October 4, 2009. The Peacemaking Committee will sponsor a meditation at Watauga Lake on Sunday, October 4. For several years this has been one of our favorite committee-sponsored annual activities.

We’ll leave the church parking lot at 7:00 p.m. Please arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior for car pooling. Bring your flashlight, a cushion or folding chair and a mug; we will provide hot tea and hot chocolate. Call Gary Barrigar at 543-7576, with questions.
Hard to keep up with those wacky Presbyterian peacemakers.

Peace and Justice Weekend in Elizabethton!!

I just picked up Dr. Vinita Eusebius from the airport. The International Peacemakers all left from Louisville, KY this morning. Dr. Eusebius will be in Holston Presbytery this week. Here is her schedule.

Thanks to the Johnson City Press for including the news release:

ELIZABETHTON — International peacemaker Dr. Vinita Eusebius will visit First Presbyterian Church, 119 W. F. St., on Sept. 27.

She will give the presentation “Water: Not for Profit.” This lecture will touch on the mission of the church in the context of endemic poverty in India, children at risk and violence against women.

Eusebius teaches zoology at Ewing Christian College and lives in Allahabad, India, with her husband, a chemistry teacher. She has traveled widely in India and visited Hawaii, Fiji, Sydney, Jamaica, London, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

She has a master of science degree, a Ph.D. in zoology and is pursuing a masters’s degree in theology.

She is the chairwoman of the Student Christian Movement of India, has conducted workshops on child rights and is an ordained deaconess of the Church of North India.

For information, call 543-7737 or visit www.FPCelizabethton.org.
She is going to be talking specifically about children at risk. In my conversation today she said over 40 million children live in the streets in India. She also said she is part of the Student Christian Movement that works for social justice, ecological justice, and human rights in India.

We will have a chance to hear more about her great work Sunday night as well as all day Saturday at The Awakening the Dreamer symposium.

Walk ins welcome! So come tomorrow. Our peacemaking committee co-chairs, Gary and Nancy Barrigar just sent this note:

Hello, all -

We look forward to having you join us tomorrow, September 26th, for our Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium. Here are just a few last minute notes to make your day successful:

1. The church is located at 119 West F. Street in beautiful Elizabethton, TN, for those of you using GPS to find your way. Others needing a printed map should visit Google maps so you can get personalized directions from your starting point.

2. The agenda is full, so please arrive between 9:00 am and 9:15 to register, meet and greet other participants, and enjoy a morning treat!

3. We will have maps with a few nearby restaurants/fast food locations for those of you who need lunch.

4. Participants will have an opportunity to share with the group the work that is going on in their church communities. This is a great time to find volunteers!

5. We have had a couple of folks express a desire for "home hospitality" rather than a hotel stay. If you are interested in hosting a traveling attendee for the night, please let Nancy or Gary know when you arrive.

Thank you again, for your interest not only in this symposium, but in making a difference!

We look forward to meeting you, tomorrow!

Nancy and Gary Barrigar,
Moderators, Peacemaking Committee
of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton

Please visit our website to learn more about our church and our Peacemaking efforts!
Don't miss this!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Video of Health Care Demo in Johnson City

The Johnson City Press took video of our "Honk and Wave" health care reform demonstration we held last Tuesday. Check the story by the Johnson City Press:

The Legacy of Asphalt

The Awakening the Dreamer symposium is only two days away. If you are near our mountain I hope you will join us from 9:30-4 on Saturday. Dave and Bonnie Collacutt will be our facilitators. Here is a poem Dave sent to get us in the mood:

The Legacy of Asphalt

Imagine a past in which the future
is sustainable
in which vibrant communities
of bacteria and chickens
and worms and horses
and people and plants
can thrive in the sunshine
and enjoy the coolness
of a bright harvest moon.
That past is now,
that future is coming
whether or not we are ready for it.

Imagine small communities of people
congregating to scheme the demise of big oil,
of big everything;
banding together to preserve skills
and vegetables
that would have been forgotten,
paved over in the rush toward
asphalt prairie parkinglots
surrounding big-box buildings
where souls and entire futures,
even hairdryers and
canned cornfructose confections
were sold so cheaply to comatose consumers
that the future didn't even matter.

The ancient past was merely sunshine
stuffed into deep domed vaults
buried over eons and now
broken into and plundered;
corrupted into plastic bags and shrinkwrap
to contain our metamobile dreams
of distant fruits and cheap furnishings
whisked clear all the way from China and Chile-
the spoils of cheap oil
churning a blistering wake
through recent history
enabling skyscrapers and SUVs
to diminish our horizons;
to globalize our every whim
into distant carnage and dead soldiers
on the far side of nowhere.

Forests felled, fragile webs of life
smeared away under a thin layer
of asphalt and convenience;
the spread of civilization
or is it a disease?
Suburban slime mold suppurating
over quickly forgotten landscapes
where complex communities of creatures
used to sustain each other-
What future has this planet?

Imagine small communities of people
banding together to cooperate and learn from weeds
how to undo the legacy of asphalt,
to learn from worms and nematodes
how to overcome the shortsighted salvation
bestowed on us by Walmart and McDonalds and Monsanto-
big bellied priests of the big box, big oil temple of doom
that cannot survive the future
that we, brandishing hope,
will call into beautiful existence
from the fertile ashes of yesterday.

Roy Foster


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Letter to PCUSA Marriage Committee

The PCUSA Marriage Committee published its preliminary report. I wrote about that here. News of this report has been reported in the Presbyterian Outlook and the Presbyterian News Service. The Covenant Network responded.

Various bloggers have commented including Ray, Sam, Alan, Doug (twice), Aric and I am sure others. The tweeters have tweeted.

The committee has requested another round of input regarding its report. It is looking for suggestions for recommendations. I found my initial letter to the committee picked up on this blog, On Being a Gay Parent, which was pretty cool.

In that letter I wrote what I would really like to see:

1. Allow clergy in the six states (and in any future states) that have legalized same-gender marriage to sign marriage licenses and solemnize these marriages in the church.

2. Affirm that clergy may consecrate marriages (in the eyes of the church) for same-gender couples even in those states that have yet to legalize same-gender marriage.

3. Change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people in all relevant documents.

4. Modify the Directory for Worship to create marriage rites suitable for same-gender couples.

5. Advocate for marriage equality throughout the United States.
But no way is the committee going to go for all of that, especially if it feels it needs to be unanimous. This is my concern. I am concerned that the committee could make things more proscriptive than what we already have.

We have had victories for marriage in the court system (
Rev. Jane Spahr
, Rev. Janet Edwards, and most recently, Rev. Jean Southard). Notice, by the way, how it is the women taking the lead on this civil rights issue?

Obviously, I don't want us to go backward.

There is a great deal of pressure for the task force to follow the example of the PUP report and be unanimous. There is also pressure to come up with a solution. There is a danger that task force members might feel obliged to come up with a unanimous "solution" that is more proscriptive than what we have now. If it appears that the wind is blowing that way, I hope that progressives on the task force will offer a minority report rather than agree with a recommendation that is more damaging in the long run.

So, I sent the following letter with my recommendation that I think is good for the whole of the church (including for those who see things very differently from me). The committee has called us toward mutual forbearance. That means that we don't agree but we respect each person's freedom of conscience.

We don't agree on the place of same-gender relationships in the church as to whether they are Christian marriages or not.
Let us leave it at that.

Rather than try to make each other agree or act against one's conscience, let us leave the question open and allow clergy and congregations to make their own decisions without compulsion.
I think it is the only way forward at this point. It also happens to be the Presbyterian way. Here is my letter:

Dear Members on the Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage,

Greetings and peace in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, and male or female.

I finished reading the preliminary report and I am offering my response as requested by the committee. Thank you for your good and faithful work. It isn’t easy. If you haven’t already, you likely will receive criticism from all corners. I think and I hope that my recommendation will make it easier for you. I also believe my recommendation is just, fair, and thoroughly Presbyterian.

Before I offer it, let me tell you about my situation. I pastor a unique congregation. We are the only Christian congregation (of which I am aware) in our entire region (Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia) that fully welcomes and affirms all people regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation. The question of pastoral care to lesbian and gay Christians is not an abstraction. The action of your committee may directly impact my ministry and the ministry of this congregation.

Blessing the relationships of gay and lesbian couples on behalf of Christ through this community is a crucial part of our ministry. In this part of Creation, condemnation from the pulpit is more common than dirt. We are an oasis. People travel 20, 30, 40 miles and more to come to this congregation because we are open and affirming.

I have officiated at wedding ceremonies for people in many different life situations including previously divorced persons, inter-racial couples, and gay and lesbian couples. As far as I am concerned, each relationship is holy and sacred, given by God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Each one is a Christian marriage. Any request for a wedding that comes to me (and if the use of the church property is requested, the session) is decided on a case by case basis. Counseling is part of the deal. I have the freedom to decide whether or not I will officiate at the wedding.

In your preliminary report, your committee emphasized the principle of mutual forbearance. I think that is an excellent ethical choice. Mutual forbearance is critical in times of disagreement. We will interpret Scripture and the will of Christ faithfully and differently regarding Christian marriage.

How do we demonstrate mutual forbearance? We respect freedom of conscience. I have no desire to force my colleagues to provide pastoral care in a certain way. It is not my business to tell them at what marriages they can or cannot be an officiant. Even though I disagree with them in regards to how they provide pastoral care, I will forbear. I will trust that God is working through them and I will hope they will forbear with me as well.

Colleagues in ministry, here is a concise recommendation that I believe is the most appropriate, most Presbyterian, most just, and most loving response that your committee can make to the larger church:

Whereas, the Church is not of one mind regarding whether Christian marriage includes same-gender relationships, and

Whereas, in times of disagreement, unity is achieved by mutual forbearance, and

Whereas, mutual forbearance is affirming freedom of conscience, and

Whereas, those charged with care for a congregation are the best suited regarding how to provide that care,

Therefore, we recommend that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reaffirm freedom of conscience for clergy and for sessions regarding pastoral care to same-gender couples. This includes freedom of conscience regarding all rites and observances regarding marriage.

Thank you again for your work for our church.

In Christ,
Rev. John Shuck, Pastor
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Honkin' for Health Care






I know these folks!






Between 35 and 40 of us held our signs, smiled and waved at passersby during afternoon rush hour Tuesday. We were on the busiest intersection in Northeast Tennessee (West Market and State of Franklin) just north of the Johnson City Medical Center.


It is about health care reform. We need it now.

The motorists for the most part seemed to agree. I received about three thumbs down and one "bullshit" but other than that friendly waves honks and nods from countless others. As more pics and stories come available I will post or link to them.

Beth from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign was there and took a few pics.

(By the way, if you happen to be arguing with your brother-in-law over health care, you might check out
this helpful page for information and ways to communicate it).

The Johnson City Press (thank you!) stopped by, took the above photo and posted this story:

Motorists headed home from work had more than street signs to read at the intersection of North State of Franklin Road and West Market Street Tuesday.

A group of health reform supporters stood on the four corners during rush hour waving signs calling for national health care reform.

“Our main message today is that if the insurance companies win, the rest of us lose,” said Janet Meek, coordinator for the East Tennessee Democrat Resource Center. “Insurance companies are spending $1.4 million a day advertising against health care reform. They have contributed more to (Congress) this year than they ever have in the same time period in the past.”

....People driving by had varied responses to the picketers’ message. Some showed their support by raising a single fist. A few showed their disapproval by raising a single finger. Many motorists honked and waved as they passed the group, while some just shook their heads. Of those who expressed an opinion, however, most seemed to agree with the group’s message.

“Hearing all those honks, I think so far we’re doing pretty good,” said Meek. “I hope that it’s empowering, in a way, for them to see that what they’ve been thinking is what other people have been thinking also.”

Meek has been watching the health care debate closely this year and has recently seen what she considers a heartening change in the public opinion.

“In August, when I went to town hall meetings and stayed up with the news, I was feeling very overwhelmed by all of the effort being put into disseminating ... wrong information,” she said. “I was discouraged by the people who seemed to feel like they were hearing the truth when I knew they weren’t.

“But since Obama gave his speech to Congress, I’ve seen a whole different attitude. I think people just needed to be reassured that it’s not about hurting health care; it’s about making health care accessible.” (Read the whole story)

Via Negativa: Letting Go and Letting Be

I am beginning a new deal this week in regards to the Sunday morning experience. It is an idea I have borrowed from Howard Hanger at Jubilee Community in Asheville. Since our congregation and I resonate with the principles of Creation Spirituality we are going to base worship around those themes.

There are four seasons to the year. There are four paths to Creation Spirituality. Easy math. Today is the first day of Fall. Fall goes well with the
via negativa or the way of letting go and letting be. You can apply these paths in many ways during worship celebrations. This is just one. So for the season of Fall, we are going to honor the via negativa.

I have decided to do another thing I haven't done in a while, and that is use the lectionary for the readings. Nowadays you can choose the semi-continuous option or the complementary option regarding the Hebrew Scripture selection. I am choosing the Hebrew Scripture that complements the Gospel reading. In addition to readings from the Bible, we will utilize Scripture from other traditions as well as other voices.

Since liturgy is the work of the people, each week I am seeking a poem, song, or another form of creative expression from folks in the congregation. To prime that creative pump, I have put together an outline of the themes and metaphors for each week. It is posted on our web page. Click Worship. You look over the themes and say, "I have a great poem or song or dance I would like to do for such and such a Sunday." Then send me an e-mail!

Here are the readings and themes for the period, 27 September through Christmas Eve.

Here is my summary of the via negativa or letting go and letting be:

This is the path of emptiness and darkness. We think of Jesus emptying himself of divinity. It is the letting go of all baggage, all privilege, entitlement, beliefs, even letting go of our images of God.

Sometimes the letting go is not something we do voluntarily but comes to us through experiences of loss and change. We may suffer; we may experience sadness or grief. Regarding these feelings as a spiritual vehicle is not to languish in being morbid, but to embrace the pain so we can pass through the pain. It is has been said that we are to treat sadness as a guest. Give it a place, but don’t let it stay.

Here are the readings, metaphors, and themes we will explore over the next several weeks leading us to just before Christmas, when we will celebrate the Divine being born in us at the darkest time.

Do look up the readings and if something sparks your creativity, drop me an email by September 30th.
Matthew Fox explains the four paths here:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Let's Hit the Streets for Healthcare!

Get the word out! Support health care reform by joining us tomorrow! Here is the story from Randall Smythe:

National Day of Action

Tuesday, September 22 is the National Day of Action for Health Care Reform.

The message we need to send is "If insurance companies win, you lose."

We need a large group of supporters to come to the corner of West Market and State of Franklin between 4:00 and 6:00 on Tuesday. This is the intersection adjacent to the Johnson City Medical Center.

Bring a home-made sign with your message. We really need to show strength in numbers, so get the word out and let's have a good show.

Please let me know your plans to attend. Also let me know if you know of anyone else that is coming. This is a visibility event and we need to make sure we are visible. Between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm this intersection is one of the busiest in Northeast TN. The Med Center, VA, and ETSU traffic is heavy. You can park in the Food City parking lot.

See you there!!!

International Peace Day


Today, September 21st, has a number of things going for it:
  1. The last day of summer or the eve of the autumnal equinox. Here are some ways to celebrate.
  2. It is the first full day after the unique intersection of two religious holidays, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, and Eid Al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan.
  3. Today is the International Day of Peace. Check the website for all kinds of resources.
  4. These guys think today would be a good day for a Rapture.
In case you don't get raptured and will be spending more time on good old Earth, you might be interested in how we can keep from trashing it.

Today, International Day of Peace, would be a great day to say a prayer, meditate, do a good deed, and contact Snad to register for our Awakening the Dreamer Symposium this coming Saturday and plan on seeing International Peacemaker, Dr. Vinita Eusebius this coming Sunday.

These events are sponsored by our peacemaking committee, and are open to everyone!

Check out the live broadcast from International Day of Peace! Just click the screen.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Meaning of Life, Part 33

For God's sake, be done
with this jabber of "a better world."
What blasphemy! No "futuristic"
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.
--Wendell Berry, The Future