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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gay Cooties and Busybodies

The Coalition of Presbyterian Busybodies sent my secretary another e-mail today. They are in a bit of dither over gay cooties again. The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) is meeting tomorrow to decide on a couple of church court cases.

These cases are cause for panic for the busybodies. They describe them as "critical to the life and health of the PC(USA)." Wouldn't want a minister in the pulpit who has gay cooties. The world might end. Here is their e-mail:


Dear First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, TN,

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GA-PJC) will be hearing two cases this week that are critical to the life and health of the PC(USA). I'm writing to ask you and your churches to pray for PJC decisions that will honor the Lord of the Church.

The Lord of the Church thinks gay cooties are icky.

On Friday, October 30, the GA-PJC will meet at the Embassy Suites Indianapolis Downtown 110 W Washington, St., Indianapolis, IN), phone: 317-236-1800. The hearings will begin at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

If you are in the Indianapolis area, please consider going to this meeting and praying on site. GA-PJC proceedings are open to the public.

Get your homophobic butt outta bed and pray away the gay!


The PJC will be hearing two cases. Both cases involve persons whose testimonies and/or behavior on sexuality are in conflict with the "fidelity and chastity" paragraph of the Book of Order (G-6.0106b). The polity applicable to both cases, previously unambiguous, was brought into question when the General Assembly adopted an authoritative interpretation (AI) in 2006. The AI was based on a recommendation of the Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) Report and allegedly allows presbyteries to grant exceptions to ordination requirements.

Even if a single cootie gets through, we are all screwed.

In 2008, the PJC ruled in Bush et al. v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh that presbyteries may not grant exceptions to any explicitly stated requirement of the constitution. The Bush decision made specific reference to the "fidelity and chastity" requirement of G-6.0106b, but the decision did not apply "fidelity and chastity" or the 2006 AI to any specific person.

What?? We don't know what we just said. Just remember gays are bad; the Bible says!

The cases being heard on Friday pertain to the consideration of specific individuals for ministerial office. Both of these cases represent attempts to seek an exception for specific homosexual persons who have openly acknowledged that they do not intend to comply with the requirements of G-6.0106b.

Ain't nothing worse than a non-complying cootie.

Please pray:

Because God needs to stay on message!
  • that the GA-PJC will render decisions that honor the Savior and are consistent with Scripture and the specific requirements of our constitution (which were upheld for the fourth time in a vote by the presbyteries in 2008-2009).
  • Have we said that the Savior is not honored by gay cooties?
  • for those who will be in Indianapolis to argue these cases. Pray for those on both sides of the arguments: pray for clarity; pray that truth will prevail.
  • You know the kinda truth we're looking for, right Lord?
  • for redemption for all whose beliefs and practices are contrary to the will of Christ revealed in Scripture, that they would find redemption through confession and God's forgiveness.
  • Or just pray that Christ will smite the cooties!
  • that God will empower those who are in Indianapolis as his witnesses and instruments of his truth.
  • Or we'll smite them for Him!
Then they graciously send you to their webpage so you will be armed with the "truth" and will thus be able to do more smiting. Lisa Larges is one of the cases to be reviewed tomorrow.

Check out That All May Freely Serve for updates.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reflection on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act

This is from Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign:

On this historic day when the President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, we asked our friend, colleague, and prophetic activist to reflect on what the day means. Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, associate professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas has been researching LGBT hate crimes for anthology of stories for his upcoming book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memory of LGBT Hate Crimes Murder Victims.

The End of the Beginning:
How the Passage of the Matthew Shepard Act Transforms Us
Stephen V. Sprinkle, Ph.D.
Brite Divinity School
Fort Worth, Texas

Researching LGBT hate crimes for four years has changed my life. Now that the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act is imminent, I feel another sort of change coming: to my work, to the LGBTQ community, and to my country. For decades, families, loved ones, law enforcement officers, and social justice advocates have prayed for, labored for, and agitated for a federal law extending protection to queer folk victimized by anti-LGBT violence. Tens of thousands of Americans, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender , have labored tirelessly for this result. Our well-practiced shoulders are again set to the task, and with one more great heave, the first major expansion of legal protection against physical harm for vulnerable Americans in the 21st century will make it across the finish line. The end of the beginning has come at last. No more than that, and no less.

The dead are beyond further physical harm. So many hundreds have died at the hands of the ignorant, the malicious, and the sincerely bigoted. Gay Charlie Howard drowned in Bangor, Maine. Lesbian Talana Kreeger, manually disemboweled in Wilmington, North Carolina. Navajo Two-Spirit youth, F.C. Martinez, Jr., brained with a 25-pound rock in a blind canyon in Cortez, Colorado. African American transwoman, Duanna Johnson, shot down in a Memphis, Tennessee alley. Pfc. Barry Winchell, murdered by a fellow soldier with a baseball bat at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on the suspicion that he was gay. And the archetype of them all, young Matthew Shepard, pistol-whipped into a coma and left to die, tied to the foot of a buck fence in Laramie, Wyoming. For every victim whose name is remembered, scores of anonymous others have died, their agonies unreported, their names forgotten.

What will change for all these victims of hate, once the Shepard Act becomes law? And, what about their families, lovers and spouses—what will change for them?

For the dead, the change will come subtly, like a gift of dignity. The Shepard Act is not only for the living. Those who have died at the hands of hatred will finally receive a measure of vindication. No longer will they be merely the debris of social history. Their stories will be told with renewed passion, and more and more people will want to know who they were. Their lives will take on a greater sense of meaning to the LGBTQ community, who will find encouragement to embrace these dead as their own—just as blacks, Jews, and other besieged peoples have embraced their fallen friends and family members. These LGBTQ victims have become my teachers in my quest to recover their stories and the meaning of their lives. I ask, today, that they also become your teachers. Remembering them will help all of us find new strength for justice.

For the families and loved ones of these victims, perhaps a measure of peace will come at last. Their loss, of course, is incalculable. Their pain is beyond reckoning. I have seen the furrows in their brows, the lingering sadness in their eyes. As Ryan Skipper’s mother Pat said to me, there is no closure for her and those like her. The change will come, I suspect, with a sense of honor, and a quiet assurance that their beloved will have not died in vain. When the Shepard Act finally passes, I will think first of all about the valiant witness of the mothers—women who never sought the spotlight, but who fought back tears to learn how to speak out for their children and for everyone else’s children. Signing day in President Obama’s office will be most of all for Judy Shepard, Pat Mulder, Elke Kennedy, Pauline Martinez, Denise King, Kathy Jo Gaither and everyone else whose flesh and blood have consecrated the moment of passage.

Those who believe in justice will feel the change, too. The LGBTQ community will be challenged to mature and take their place among communities of survivors, witnesses who understand that it takes hard work to make hope become real for everyone. At the stroke of a pen, the entire LGBTQ community will experience the greatest lift since the Stonewall Rebellion forty years ago. But that will not be all. The America I know and love will encounter change on the day the Shepard Act becomes law, too. Summoned by the angel of justice, the American people will face the challenge to make the promise of the Constitution come true for their transgender, gay, bi, and lesbian neighbors and friends.

Passage and signing the Matthew Shepard Act into law will not magically stop the killing. Record numbers of LGBTQ Americans, especially young transgender people of color, are dying violently all across the land. But the high water mark of hatred has been scotched with the stroke of a pen with President Obama’s signature on this historic bill. The end of the beginning of full equality for my people has come. And we who believe in the fullness of justice will not rest until it comes continue to preach, to pray, and to advocate until all of us our free to love without the threat of violence.

An Evening of Story, Song, and Community



We are thrilled to welcome
Kaleo Wheeler in concert, Friday, November 20th, at 7 p.m.



Through informal dialogue, music, stories, dance, and poignant memories, Kaleo helps the listener discover a deeper sense of community as well as a dynamic and enriching experience.

A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit The Shepherd’s Inn, Elizabethton’s only emergency shelter assisting women and their children displaced by domestic violence.

Tickets are $15 per person, $25 per couple. For reservations, email or call FPCe at 423.543.7737.

Go to our webpage for more information.


Christian Atheism

That has an odd ring to it, doesn't it? Is Christian atheism even a logical possibility? Is Christianity inherently theistic? Must Christianity be forever wedded to belief in a supernatural being?

I think there is a place for Christian atheism. This would be a philosophy that denies the existence of any supernatural entity, or in fact anything outside of the universe to which one appeals to give the universe meaning.

Yet it is religious in that the language of religion has value and is to be treasured as wisdom. It is specifically Christian in that the language is primarily connected with Christian history, ethics, liturgy, and practice.

We will be talking about this and other things as we read Robert Jensen's All My Bones Shake beginning tomorrow.

If you are near our mountain, come and join us. We are going to read the introduction to his book.

If you don't have the book yet, just read the following:

Join us from 10:30 until noon!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm Going to Sit at the Welcome Table

I sure do love my little church. This is the liturgical string band. They provided the music this past Sunday. This is the opening hymn, I'm Going to Sit at the Welcome Table. Thanks to Snad's 12 year old nephew, Luke, who ran the camera for the first time and discovered the zoom feature!


The string band also sang Quiet Hills and Wayfarin' Stranger.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trusting and Shouting: A Sermon

Trusting and Shouting
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

October 25th, 2009
Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Mark 10:46-52

Be quiet!

Shut up!

No one wants to hear you!

You are disturbing our peace!

Go back in the closet!

You are the reason the church is losing members!

You are embarrassing us!

Just be patient, and be quiet while you’re patient!

But Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly,

‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’


We don’t use the word mercy that much anymore. It is one of those words that sounds like a Bible word. It sounds like a church word or a religious word. A more modern sounding word that means the same thing is compassion.

You can imagine Bartimaeus shouting:

“Son of David, how about little compassion here!”

Or,

“Son of David! What do you say? Have a heart!”

Or even,

“Son of David! A little help, huh?”

Or simply,

“Son of David! I need justice!”

Whether we say mercy, compassion, heart, help, justice or something else, it is what we are about as human beings. We even project all of these characteristics on the symbol “God,” because these virtues are that important.

The measure of the human life is to have a heart.

We are always in danger of losing our heart, as individuals or as a society.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us:

A society, any society, will be judged not by
the net worth of its wealthiest citizens,
the height of its skyscrapers,
the choices in its supermarkets,
or the size of its military,
but by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

It will be judged--we will be judged--by those who follow us as to whether or not we had a heart.

When we are danger of losing our heart, we lose our humanity. When we look through human history in those times that were the darkest and in those regimes that were the most oppressive, we find that they shared a common characteristic. They lacked heart. They lacked compassion, justice, and mercy.

We lose our heart when we replace it with some kind of ideology or economy or political theory or just plain greed and indifference. We are in danger of losing our heart today.

This story about Jesus in the gospel of Mark is about heart. It is the last healing miracle by Jesus. Following this story, Mark moves into Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. This story can be seen as a judgment on a society that has lost its heart.

On the side of the road is a vulnerable person. Blind and without resources. So he begs. He hears Jesus coming and he calls out to him. The people order him to be quiet.

“Sternly” is the word in English. It was used just a few verses earlier when people brought children to him and his disciples spoke “sternly” to them. Jesus rebuked the disciples and said bring the children to me.

We shouldn’t get romantic about children here. This isn’t a gathering for the children’s sermon. The word for child is the same for slave. The sense of Jesus blessing the children is Jesus blessing the vulnerable. To be “like a child” is to be vulnerable, without resources.

We meet a society that wants to keep the vulnerable hidden. Quiet and out of the way. Then we can say, “Nothing wrong here. We are the greatest nation in the world.” Not only do we keep the vulnerable unseen and quiet, we keep our own vulnerability hidden. “Nothing wrong with me. I am just fine.”

That is what we find throughout the Gospel of Mark. Jesus gathers and blesses the vulnerable. Again and again. Those with nothing, those on the margins, and those who are willing to be with those on the margins, are those who follow Jesus.

But unlike those who sternly tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, Jesus calls him. He asks Bartimaeus what he wants. He says he wants to see again. Jesus says to him: “Your trust has made you well.” He immediately regains his sight and “he followed him on the way.”

This is a happy story, isn’t it? Bartimaeus is a happy guy. He doesn’t have anything. No possessions. He is happy. He is “well” which is another word for saved or whole.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the story of the guy who had lots of possessions. By the way, that guy doesn’t have a name. The Gospels do that. The rich guy whose name everyone would know doesn’t get a name in the Gospel account. The guy who normally would be nameless, the blind beggar on the side of the road, has a name, in this case, Bartimaeus.

It is a subtle way the gospels communicate importance and value. Who is first in Jesus’ upside down kingdom? Each of the gospels, each in its own way, is about criticizing the values of Empire and turning upside down and inside out that what we think is important.

The rich guy comes to Jesus and wants to know how to be happy, fulfilled, whatever. Jesus tells him to unload the stuff and follow him. He cannot do that. He leaves sad because he has too much stuff.

He is sad and has stuff. Bartimaeus has nothing and he is happy. The rich guy cannot follow. Bartimaeus does follow. Sad rich guy. Happy poor guy. I don’t know what the lesson is. That is just what the story says.

I think the story says more. It isn’t simply a critique of class. It isn’t about wealth and poverty as much as what wealth and poverty mean. It is about honor and shame.

This is how the story can touch us.

Bartimaeus lives in darkness. If anything symbolizes the via negativa it is a blind man sitting alone outside the gates of the city, begging, in the dark. To make matters worse, he wasn’t blind from birth. He once had sight. He lost it. Now he is vulnerable. He is broken. He knows shame.

In Matthew Fox’s latest book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for the Sacred Masculine, he writes a lot about shame. At one point he does an interview with psychiatrist John Conger. This is what John Conger writes about shame:
When I teach my introductory class and tell my students they might risk themselves, I tell them that there is no growth without shame. Shame is about self-awareness, so you grow and look back at yourself and say, “O my God, I did that!” and you feel ashamed. Shame has this double edge—it can attack and destroy the self. You feel so horrible about yourself that you feel you are going crazy; it can destroy your sense of self if your sense of self is weak….it is part of growth to find out how to manage your shame….and not hide it or disclaim it….Jesus represents the embodiment of shame into the human spirit. It’s like God is made present in shame….Jesus gives shame a good name, and it makes it part of one’s brokenness rather than one’s honor, and this leads to one’s development.” Pp. 100-1
Shame is a key to reading this story.

First we have the rich man who cannot give up his possessions, his ego. He cannot risk the vulnerability. He will not let loose of the protection that he has built around himself to keep down the shame. He has done everything right. He is a good citizen. Why does he bother coming to Jesus in the first place? Obviously something is missing. He knows he wants to grow.

How do I grow is what he is asking Jesus. Jesus tells him to become vulnerable. Be vulnerable. Go through it. Enter it. Grieve. Weep. Face the loss. Face what it means to be human. Embrace your pain. Don’t bury it under the trappings of success. The human being underneath all the stuff is loved. You need to love that person.

But he cannot.

The promise of Jesus is that there is life after brokenness. You can find your soul. There is crucifixion then resurrection. Through the brokenness, you can find yourself. You can grow through the shame. In fact, you cannot grow without shame. You cannot grow without the via negativa.

Second we have Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus has faced the darkness. He is in it. But he is not through it. How does he get through it? He does the very thing that makes us cringe. He brings further shame on himself by calling attention to himself.

“Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

Everyone tells him,

“Be quiet! You are embarrassing yourself! You’re shaming yourself. You are shaming us! Hide your shame! Don’t display it! Suffer in silence, like you are supposed to. Have you no pride?”

That is a funny phrase isn’t it? Have you no pride? Pride in an honor/shame society means to suffer in silence as if that is a virtue. That is what society has been telling him. That is what it means to live in an honor/shame society. You are ashamed and you are ashamed of being ashamed. You are quiet about it. You stay hidden so you don’t shame the rest of the world who is supposedly better than you.

What does beautiful Bartimaeus do?

“But he cried out even more loudly.”

He calls further attention to himself. He lets go of the last thing he has left, any sense of pride, as pride has been defined in a honor/shame system. He has learned in his darkness that he is not interested in suffering in silence any longer. He is vulnerable and he calls attention to his own vulnerability.

As such Bartimaeus is our hero, because he calls attention to the vulnerability of society itself. He calls to question all of our values, our honor our shame.

He comes out of his closet, so to speak, and risks all the ridicule and all the uncertainty, and says, no he shouts:

“How about a little compassion, here? How about a little justice, here?”

Jesus praises it. Jesus praises breaking the silence. He asks him what he wants and Bartimaeus says he wants to see again. And Jesus says,

“Your faith/your trust has made you well.”

The story on a symbolic level has to do with Bartimaeus healing himself, getting insight, sight from blindness. The way of letting go, the via negativa is not about nursing our pain or wallowing in our pain, or ignoring our pain. It is about embracing it so we get through it.

Then Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

The story of Mark’s Gospel and particularly the story of Bartimaeus, as seen through the way of letting go, is the story of being able to sit in the darkness, to grieve, to know the emptiness, to embrace our own shame, to befriend our vulnerability, and then to name it, to call it out. To shout it out.

Bartimaeus is our hero. He represents the courage and the love of self that is so powerful that it trusts and hopes enough to shout.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Superstition and Prejudice

I try to comment about the superstitions of my own sect and not fret too much about the superstitions of others, but this one caught my eye today.

To get the context here, as I understand it, conservatives in The Episcopal Church want to leave TEC and have an African bishop be in charge of their religious lives. This is because the various Anglican communions in Africa have a better plan as to what to do with the homosexuals.

Homosexual acts are already a criminal offence in Uganda, with the maximum penalty being life imprisonment.
We should remember that the bishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, is a "liberal" on these matters:
"We want to state categorically that homosexuality is unacceptable,"
So...
"I think the death penalty is not acceptable," Ntagali said on October 21. "I think taking someone to jail for a period of time would be sufficient."
In America we make the gays bishops. In Uganda they put them in prison for life.

In which country would you rather live?

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 37

A New Trinity for a New World

Our experiences of reality are very different. Yet, strangely enough, they also lead to a trinity--what we may call a secular or this-worldly trinity. The first element is this self-evolving physical universe, which as we understand it, encompasses the whole of reality. Second is the human species that has evolved out of this creative universe and thereby brought us into existence. The third "being" is
that which the collective consciousness of humankind has in turn brought forth--the body of cultural knowledge...without which we could not be human. These three constitute the God "in whom we live and move and have our being."

In the traditional doctrine of the Trinity the ancient thinkers took great pains to keep the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit clearly distinguished from one another and at the same time to affirm their essential unity. So it is with us. We distinguish clearly between the physical universe and the human species that lives within it. We also distinguish clearly between ourselves and the body of cultural knowledge that we inherit from our predecessors and to which we in turn contribute. Yet these three are so essentially a single reality that they cannot exist in separation from one another.

As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were proclaimed "three in one" because of the Incarnation, so the self-creating universe, the self-evolving human species and the emerging global consciousness are of one "substance" because of the cosmic creativity which manifests itself in all three. Clearly this understanding of the secular trinity owes much to the earlier affirmations of the
Incarnation and of Holy Trinity. The more we humans become an harmonious global society, relating in a healthy way to one another and to the planet, the more confident we can be about the future. This hope rests upon putting our faith in the secular trinity of the world, humanity and global consciousness. p. 18

Lloyd Geering, Coming Back to Earth: From gods, to God, To Gaia

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Desperate Busybodies

Presbyterian fundamentalists have come up with a new scheme. The folks at PFR have dreamed up a plan for a non-geographic synod. Why? Gay cooties, of course:
In June 2008 a simple majority of the 218th General Assembly proposed the removal of G-6.0106b (biblical standards of fidelity and chastity) to the presbyteries, requiring, for the fourth time in a dozen years, the time and energy of people across the PC(USA) be expended on debating the clear teaching of Scripture.
OK, that is the usual "holier than thou" pious bible talk. All the above sentence means is: "We don't want equal rights for LGBTs and we are scared that the next time it is voted upon we are going to lose."

So they invented a plan in which they will retain all of the benefits of being PC(USA) without having to follow the constitution of the PC(USA). The appropriate response to these people is this: if you don't like the PC(USA) then leave. Shoo. Bye bye.

They are running scared. They know that GA 2010 is going to send some form of delete-G-6.0106busybody to the presbyteries and the presbyteries will vote it out. It's as good as gone.

I am looking forward to next summer.

Lloyd Geering: A Religious Atheist and a Secular Mystic




I am enjoying Lloyd Geering's latest book,
Coming Back to Earth: From gods, to God, to Gaia.






I heard Geering speak at a Westar meeting a few years ago and was greatly impressed. He writes and speaks clearly and understandably. He writes about our cultural history, science, and how Christianity has developed and where it is going.
I think of Geering as a religious atheist. I put myself in his camp. Neither of us affirm the existence of God or of gods but we are religious. He writes regarding religion:
Humans show themselves to be religious whenever and wherever they take the questions of human existence seriously, and then create a common response to whatever they find to be of ultimate value to them. The only truly non-religious person is one who treats human existence as trivial or meaningless, for ultimately the religious phenomenon arises out of human experience as we reflect on the fundamental nature of human existence. With but rare exceptions, people everywhere and at all times have made some kind of response to the demands of human existence. They have tried to make something of life. They have looked for meaning and purpose. They have hoped for some kind of fulfillment. For such reasons humankind has in the past been universally religious, and there is no good reason to suspect that in the future people will cease to be religious. And this is true even though an increasing number have grown dissatisfied with the religious forms of the past, having found them to be irrelevant in the new cultural age we have entered. pp. 151-2
He is also a secular mystic.
To recapture the original meaning of "secular," then, one might propose that its nearest synonym is "this-worldly" and its antonym is "otherworldly." For clearly the modern world has brought a steady increase in our knowledge and understanding of "this-world"--that is, the physical, tangible world. In particular, the discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein have caused the "other-world" of the heavens to become merged with the "this-world" of our space-time universe. All this has led to a steady decrease in our interest in, or convictions about, any unseen and therefore hypothetical "other-world."

....This point was made in a lecture as long ago as 1850 by W.B. Hodgson on "The Secular, the Religious and the Theological," in which he said, "Secular means belonging to the Saeculum or Age, or period of life on this earth, as distinguished from eternity or life to come. It should never have come to mean the opposite of religious. The fact that something may be described as secular does not preclude it from also being religious." pp. 149-150
What happens when religious atheists become secular saints? We gather in community and focus on things that are most important, such as:
  • An attitude of awe towards this self-evolving universe.
  • An appreciation of the living ecosphere of this planet.
  • An appreciation of the capacity of the earth to regenerate itself.
  • The value to be found in life, in all of its diversity.
  • An appreciation of the total cultural legacy we have received from our human forbears.
  • Responsibility for the care of one another.
  • Responsibility for the kind of planet we pass on to our descendants.
He goes on to say:
Such a spirituality could be called secular mysticism. It is not entirely new, for it is reflected in many insights from the past....In developing a spirituality for today's secular world we must not be primarily concerned with saving our individual selves, with self-improvement, with introspection, and least of all with any form of navel-gazing. Rather we must be primarily concerned for the welfare of one another, for the future of the human species, and for the health of the planet. pp. 200-1
Like many forward thinkers, Geering was misunderstood. He was tried for heresy in the 1960s by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. He was far brighter than his accusers and he "beat the rap." You can view a documentary of his life here. Here is the first section:

Those looking for a way between the atheism of Dawkins and Harris on one hand and the theism of traditional Christianity on the other, may find Geering to be a helpful guide and companion on the journey.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Baby Tapir at Gray Fossil Site

The Gray Fossil Site is one of the coolest things we have near our mountain. Whenever we have guests I take them to check out this amazing place. The Johnson City Press has just reported that a complete juvenile tapir fossil has been found.
There’s a half-ton, fully jacketed fossil of a complete tapir sitting on the ground at the Gray fossil site.

Within the next week, a helicopter could be called in to lift the plaster-coated fossil to the front door of the nearby East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center.

In the museum’s laboratory the unique and extremely rare find will be analyzed for information about the life and ecosystem that thrived in the region 4.5 million-7 million years ago, during the Miocene Age.

PFLAGers at the March!


Here is a report and some pics by PFLAGers Stacey and Beth who attended the National Equality March in Washington D.C.



The March…
“full and equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states”
“the march is just the beginning”


The fun began on the Metro just prior to noon on Sunday, the 11th…where anyone wearing a rainbow or a “Hello Kitty” sticker was clearly going to the same place…the corner of 15th and I Streets. People looked out for each other that day…like when a large group was on the wrong Metro…the yellow line instead of orange…someone in the crowd yelled “If you’re gay, get off now!!!” We got off…soon found the orange line…and made it to the crowd.


Joining the hundreds of thousands of people also gathered at the same corner of 15th and I streets, one might expect to be filled with anxiety! But quite the opposite, it felt open and calming and a wonderful blending of energy with these people all with the same focus.


It is difficult to put into words…suffice to say that the beauty that radiated from each individual person in that march was exquisite.




There were families with children…babies being carried, children in strollers…screen actors guild…straight families, gay families, young people, old people, pflag, socialist workers, church groups, Methodists, Unitarians…the list goes on.



Also striking was what wasn’t present at the march. Unlike what one might expect with a wonderfully typical Pride Parade – a variety of scantily clad men and women, drag queens, flamboyant and outrageous costumes, etc.




– it was overwhelmingly everyday people…coming together with their friends, loved ones, families, and perfect strangers to make a difference.




Estimates give 200,000 as the number of people, but it felt like a million on the ground making their way the 2.33 miles from I to H Streets, on to Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, to the Capitol building. It felt like a million people in part because of the time it took for the march to begin. It started at noon, and from where we stood toward the back of the crowd marching did not begin until after 1:30pm. Once we made it to the destination of the Capitol lawn, there still were seven blocks of marchers behind us.

Once the march concluded on the Capitol lawn, an equality rally was held, with a host of speakers including Matthew Shepherd’s mother, Cynthia Nixon, Cleve Jones, among others.






Dan Choi spoke of the need for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He emphatically repeated three times, getting louder with each time, “I Will Tell” “I Will Tell” “I Will Tell”. It was so inspiring to hear these words from him, knowing what he has been through. He had such conviction in his voice…and it was urging the crowd to join with him in telling.



An 18 year old young man … .

One of two that received an award…
Could hear the remorse in his voice - remorse for not responding two years ago the way he would have liked to an incident in which a gay friend was the focus of verbal attack (belittling, humiliating). And so now he is doing what he can to lead a movement of young straight allies to work for the cause… It was moving to hear him, because of his conviction to make a difference but more because of his youth…knowing he is so passionate about this cause…it just felt like he would in fact make a difference…and that he would be in this movement and politics for years to come.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Hate

Never missing an opportunity to cash in on prejudice, the Vatican has announced to disaffected Anglicans:

"Hey we are narrow-minded and bigoted just like you. Come join us!"

Check it
:

The Vatican announced Tuesday it was making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism -- a surprise move designed to entice traditionalists opposed to women priests, openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions....

Until now, Anglicans had been allowed to join the church primarily on an individual basis. With the new provision, groups of Anglicans from around the world will be able to join new parishes headed by former Anglican prelates, who will provide spiritual guidance to Anglicans who wish to be Catholic.
A surprise move?! It is what is to be expected from institutions that have enthroned ignorance, fear, and bigotry as spiritual virtues.

Bishop Spong's Manifesto

This is cathartic. It is Bishop John Shelby Spong's Manifesto. Some of my favorite sentences:

I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.
He is just warming up...
I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone.
Thank you! There is no middle ground any more than there is 3/5 of a person. Those who advocate for a so-called "middle ground" that continues to keep unjust rules in our ecclesiastical rule books or unjust laws in our civil governments are chicken shits who hide behind privilege.
I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal [or Presbyterian] Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican [or Reformed] Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.
I added the red lettered "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" to make it personal. Personalize it by adding the name of your favorite sect.
I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.
We'll get you gay hitched for Jesus right here, right now.
I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection.
I wonder if I should still debate with those who think Cain and Abel played with dinos?
This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration.
I am with you, Bishop. That was fun. Read the whole thing. More Light Presbyterians has linked to it as well.

The point I take away from this exercise is that there is no argument. There is no debate. There are no "sides." There is no middle way between "extremes." There is justice and there is injustice.


To suggest that there is argument, debate, sides, middle ground, extremes, etc. is to give credence to oppression and to affirm that treating people like second-class citizens is a reasonable position.


We need more people to follow the lead of Bishop Spong and speak clearly. This clear speech is what is required to penetrate the fog of homophobic propaganda and the hand wringing of the weak-kneed who unwittingly corroborate with it.


Here is some more inspiration:


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can You Drink the Cup? A Sermon

Can You Drink the Cup?
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
October 18th, 2009
Isaiah 54:4-12
Mark 10:35-45

One image for the spiritual life is to drink the cup. In all its complexity and ambiguity, in all of its richness and its depth, to drink the cup is to experience life fully. We toast with a cup. We celebrate with it, “To life!” The cup is a symbol for the via positiva, the celebration of life, joy, beauty, royalty. We drink the cup at weddings, graduations, and celebrations of all kinds.

To drink the cup of joy is a sacred thing. It is a holy thing. It is to acknowledge the awesome, joyful mystery of being alive. To share the cup with a friend is to celebrate divinity within each other. We need to do it and do it often so we can remember how precious life is.

We need to play, sing, dance and enjoy life and one another. Our calendars, whether religious or secular, move from feast to feast. It is how we mark time from celebration to celebration, from one cup to the next.

But when Jesus asks James and John: “Can you drink the cup?” he is talking about a different cup. In a sense it is the same cup. It is the cup of life. It is the cup of the holy and the sacred. It is the cup of reality. It is the cup of what is. But this cup is not the cup of joy, celebration, beauty, and accomplishment. This is a cup of sorrow and pain. This is the cup of loss, emptiness, and letting go.

It is also a shared cup. To be human is also to share our cup of sorrows. As the passage in today’s reading ends, Jesus says to his fellow cup drinkers: “the human being came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for the ransom of many.”

James and John get a hint of the via positiva. They know the end of the story of victory, celebration, and royalty. It is in that spirit that they ask to be seated at the anointed one’s right hand in glory. Before they experience that they will need to drink the cup of letting go.

It is an odd exchange Jesus has with them. They ask if they can be seated at his right and left hand. They want to be in the place of honor--of privilege and entitlement. Jesus responds to this request with a question of his own: “Can you drink the cup?” and “Can you be baptized with the same baptism as the one I was baptized with?”

With the confidence of those who have no idea what they are talking about, in the naivete of those who “do not know what they are asking” they say, “Oh yes we can do that.” Jesus replies, “Yes you will drink the cup and be baptized with my baptism.” In other words:
“You will let go. You will drink the cup. It may not be until your death, but eventually you will let go.” And then Jesus says, “but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
I have often wondered what that meant. He could have said that at the beginning in answer to their question.

“Can we sit at your right and left hand?”
“It is not mine to grant.”

So why does Jesus ask them if they can drink the cup? The lesson here is that the glory cannot be separated from the shame. Neither can the fullness from the emptiness, the light from the dark, the receiving from the giving, and the joy from the sorrow. The via negativa is in a perpetual dance with the via positiva.

In order to live authentically we need to learn how to drink the cup of letting go and letting be. We need to learn how to embrace our sorrow, pain, limitations, vulnerability, and emptiness. It is part of life. If we run from it, hide from it, deny, or ignore it, we will cheat ourselves from experiencing the sacred and the holy.

The cup occurs twice more in Mark’s gospel. At the supper, Jesus took a cup and gave it to them and all of them drank from it. Then just before his arrest, Jesus prayed that the Holy One would take the cup from him, and then added, “Not my will but yours.”

One of the best books on the via negativa --the way of letting go and letting be-- is the last book written by Henri Nouwen. Father Nouwen, a Dutch priest, died about 12 years ago. He wrote a number of books on spirituality. I was looking for his book, Can You Drink the Cup? based on this passage in Mark to help me with this sermon. I couldn’t find it. I picked this book off the shelf in my Nouwen collection. It is called Adam: God’s Beloved.

In the last years of his life, Nouwen was the pastor of the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. This is a community for mentally handicapped. He had been the community’s pastor for about ten years.

Nouwen was going to write a book about the Apostle’s Creed and what it might mean for contemporary people, when his best friend, Adam Arnett died. Adam was severely handicapped. He couldn’t speak. He was gripped by seizures. He lived his life in obscurity. He was the first person who Henri cared for when he came to L’Arche community.

After Adam died, Father Nouwen decided to write about Adam instead of the Apostle’s Creed. This is Nouwen’s last book. He never quite finished it. A year after Adam died, Father Nouwen also died. Adam: God’s Beloved was published after Father Nouwen’s death.

It is interesting that Father Nouwen, a famous author and teacher of theology and spirituality, would spend ten years of his life as the pastor of a facility for the mentally handicapped. From that experience he wrote one of his most touching books about the life of Adam who for Father Nouwen became the Christ. This book about Adam is told in the framework of Christ’s life.

Adam was the first person Father Nouwen cared for when he came to L’Arche Community. Henri was given the task of getting Adam ready for the day. Henri writes:
Helping Adam meant waking him up at 7:00 A.M., taking off his pajamas and dressing him in a bathrobe, walking him to the bathroom, shaving his beard, giving him a bath, choosing clothes for the day, dressing him, combing his hair, walking with him to the kitchen, making his breakfast, sitting close beside him as he ate his breakfast, supporting his glass as he drank, brushing his teeth, putting on his coat, gloves, and cap, getting him into his wheelchair, and pushing him over the pothole-rich road to his Daybreak day program, where he would spend the day until 4:00 pm. P. 41
He couldn’t figure out why he was asked to care for Adam. Adam was one of the most needy. Henri had no experience. It took two hours of his day. When he asked he was told, “So you can get to know Adam.” Even as Adam could not speak, Henri had to learn how Adam was communicating with him. If he ever rushed Adam, perhaps pushed his arms through his sleeves too quickly so he could get on with the business of the day, Adam would respond. Henri writes:
He let me know that I wasn’t being really present to him and was more concerned about my schedule than about his. A few times when I was so pushy he responded by having a grand mal seizure, and I realized that it was his way of saying, “Slow down, Henri! Slow down.” Well, it certainly slowed me down! A seizure so completely exhausted him that I had to stop everything I was doing and let him rest. Sometimes if it was a bad one, I brought him back to his bed and covered him with many blankets to keep him from shivering violently. Adam was communicating with me, and he was consistent in reminding me that he wanted and needed me to be with him unhurriedly and gently. He was clearly asking me if I was willing to follow his rhythm and adapt my ways to his needs. I found myself beginning to understand a new language, Adam’s language. P. 47.
In caring for Adam, Father Nouwen discovered that Adam was his teacher. He wondered what Adam thought about things. What sense of self-awareness did he have? Did he think about God? Could he pray? He writes:
And while I, the so-called “normal” person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness but given for my transformation. While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that “being is more important than doing.” While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that “God’s love is more important than the praise of people.” While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that “doing things together is more important than doing things alone.” Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his very life, he was the most radical witness of the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered. P. 55-6.
Father Nouwen wrote that Adam, like Jesus, had a public ministry. People would come to Daybreak and were affected by Adams’s beautiful, silent presence. Henri writes:
Adam was a true teacher and a true healer. Most of his healing was inner healing that announced peace, courage, joy, and freedom to those who often were hardly able to acknowledge their wounds. Adam, by his eyes and by his presence, said to us, “Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to run away from your pain. Look at me,, be close to me, and you will discover that you are God’s beloved child, just as I am.” P. 65.
Father Nouwen in this beautiful book about Adam, realized that Adam drank the cup. Adam suffered. His life was one of suffering. Father Nouwen calls it Adam’s passion. The greatest aspect of his suffering or his passion may have been that he could never tell anyone what was bothering him. His life was dependence upon others. He was acted upon. He made no decisions about his own life. Others decided for him. He was in many ways, like the Christ, who fulfilled his mission, not by doing great things, but by letting go, by giving himself as a ransom for many.

Adam lived in total dependency. Henri writes:
He seemed deeply resigned to it, totally given into the hands of others, radiating light and peace in his utter weakness….Adam’s passion for me was a profound prophetic witness. His life and especially his passion radically criticized those of us who give ourselves to the norms of a society driven by individualism, materialism, and sensationalism. Adam’s total dependence made it possible for him to live fully only if we lived in a loving community around him. His great teaching to us was, “I can only live if you surround me with love and if you love one another. Otherwise, my life is useless and I am a burden.” Adam clearly challenged us to trust that compassion, not competition, is the way to fulfill our human vocation.” P. 90.
When Jesus asks James and John, “Can you drink the cup?” he is not scolding them. He is teaching and inviting. He is asking them, “Can you be vulnerable? Can you let go of your success, your ambition, your illusion of independence? Can you accept who you are outside of your accomplishments? Can you love yourself and others as you are loved, as God’s beloved?

Can you drink the cup? Can you let yourself be dependent upon the love and compassion of others? Life isn’t so much what we have done. It is mostly how we respond to what is done to us. We like to think that we are in control. But most of our lives are spent dependent upon others. Not just childhood or old age. The pews we are sitting on were constructed by others. Everything we eat, where we sleep, all we do is connected with everything else.

We are not individually made or sustained. The Adams of our lives teach us that. If we are wise we learn from them. It is in times of loss that we realize how quaint are our concerns. When circumstances force us to let go, to drink the cup is to be conscious about where we are in our lives and who we are.

“Can you drink the cup?” is a question of invitation. It is invitation to be here now, in the present, with one another, with ourselves, with Earth, with life, without pretense or presupposition.

To drink the cup is in the words of Father Henri Nouwen:
“To choose to give our love when we are strong and to receive the love of others when we are weak, always with tranquility and generosity.” P. 94.
Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Time to Join PFLAG

Now is the time to renew your membership or start a new membership to PFLAG! You can become an at-large member of PFLAG national for $50. Here's how.

But if you join through PFLAG Tri-Cities it is only $25. Fifteen dollars will go to national and ten to PFLAG Tri-Cities. What could you do with the extra $25? Well...you could make an extra donation to PFLAG Tri-Cities!

Either way it is win-win for support, education, and advocacy.

All memberships expire at the same time, October of each year. If you have joined PFLAG Tri-Cities last year, your membership needs to be renewed. If you have never joined PFLAG there is no better time than the present!

Here is what you do:

Go to the website, open the form, print it, fill it out, send it with your check for $25 to

PFLAG Tri-Cities
P.O. Box 442
Mountain Home, TN 37684

You can make a larger contribution too. It will be most welcome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

National Equality March: The Movie

Coming soon, pics and stories from PFLAG Tri-Cities folks who attended the march! In the meantime, enjoy this!

Missed the Boat

Meeting Tonight!

Hey Friends of PFLAG Tri-Cities!

We have our monthly meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at #311 Warf-Pickel (Bldg. #8) on the ETSU campus!

We are going to be treated to a slide show (the old fashioned term for power point) of the National Equality March in which some of our PFLAGers marched!

Join us!

Invite friends!

Spread the word!

Love ya!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oops, Wrong Rally

My peeps are starting to tell me stories and send pics of the March for Equality. Expect a colorful post forthcoming. Had to share this right now:

Oh yea... the most peculiar thing...Abortion Protesters? Standing on the sidewalk with a giant, full color poster board the size of my car with graphic pictures.... I just didn't get the connection...as a group, I'm thinking gays and lesbians are probably the least likely to need such services...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Money and Stuff

I received a couple of responses to my Stuff sermon. One was a from a church member who invited me to check out this video, The Story of Stuff. It also has a study guide.

Download the film on your computer here.

Here is a teaser:


And I received a nice note from Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much, an on-line magazine, and author of the book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives.

He wrote:

Just read your October 11 “stuff” sermon online. Nicely done!

A little factoid for your statistical files . . .

In 2006, the latest year with IRS numbers available, America's 400 highest-earning taxpayers collected an average $263,306,000 each in income. They paid 17.2 percent of that, after exploiting all the loopholes they could find, in federal income taxes.

In 1955, the top 400 collected on average, in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars, just $12,257,000. They paid, after exploiting all available loopholes, 51.2 percent of that in taxes.

Please take care.

Well, there you have it. Thanks for the factoid, Sam.

Money. It's a gas.


Covenant Network in Cleveland

I have registered for the Covenant Network Conference, The Church We Can See from Here, November 5-7 in Cleveland.

As much as I have been involved with this organization throughout the years (my current congregation is affiliated with the Covenant Network) this is the first conference I have attended.

I am looking forward to hearing some great preaching, attending some workshops, and hanging out with my sister and brother Presbyterian peeps who are working toward a more inclusive church.


Ted Smith is a cool guy. I met him at the More Light Conference a couple years ago in Nashville. Here he is with few words about the upcoming conference:




Here is how you
register.

Cleveland is 474 miles from Elizabethton. It will probably take 10 hours or so to make it through the West Virginia mountains including stops.

I won't take the plane. Just don't like them.

So it is probably driving (anyone want to carpool?)




Or I could
take the bus.




Riding the bus to Cleveland just sounds adventurous, doesn't it?

It is a 16 hour bus trip. I do have to be back to lead worship on November 8th especially as it is Stewardship Sunday.


I could leave at 4:30 am Saturday and miss the Saturday programming (which would be sad) and make it home around 9:30 pm.

Or I could stay in Cleveland until the 6:30 pm bus leaves Saturday and make it home at 8:40 Sunday morning, just in time to catch a shower and stumble bleary-eyed into the pulpit. "I can almost see you all from here!"


What do you think, folks? Car or bus to Cleveland?