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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bumbling Florida Fusspots

This is funny. The LayMAN reports that the Florida Fusspots have decided to pile on John Knox.

The Presbytery of
John Knox approved for ordination Scott Anderson a couple of months ago via the scruple. The BFTSs decided to file a complaint.

Since the Florida Fusspots have nothing better to do, they called a special meeting to vote in favor of the complainers.


As if this action would accomplish anything. It's a judicial question, ya bumblers.

Eaarth: Read It




I finished the first chapter of
Eaarth by Bill McKibben.





Barbara Kingsolver says of this book:

"Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important."
That is my plan.

McKibben has been warning us for a long time. Now he says it is too late.

He writes that we live on a different planet than the one on which civilization began. Global warming and peak oil are not future problems for our grandchildren. The effects of our fossil fuel experiment are hitting us now. The change is irreversible.



The task before us is how we might be able to scale back and survive a volatile Eaarth and hopefully save some core of civilization.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

May Newsletter On-Line

The May issue of my congregation's newsletter, The White Spire, is on-line. You can read it here in pdf. On the web page you can catch weekly news updates. On that page you can also subscribe to our news and receive updates via your email. Of course, you can safely unsubscribe at anytime. Shout to Snad for doing a great job!

What is Anti-Semitism?

Viola Larson has trouble writing a post about Israel/Palestine without using the word "anti-Semitism" in some form or another. I counted 18 posts on the topic since February 25th. Of those 18, 10 contained the word anti-Semitic or anti-Semitism.

Her latest post linked to an article by the former editor of Christian Century magazine, James Wall, who Viola writes has "anti-Semitic leanings." I am not sure what the label means but it seems to be used against anyone who criticizes the activities of the modern state of Israel. Israel can do anything it wants. If you criticize its policies or activities, you are anti-Semitic. The label is a form of bullying.

I am pleased that she made the post, though. In it she linked to Wall's article, Do Not Call It a Military Conflict; It's The Occupation, Stupid:

This is not a conflict, my friends. It is an Occupation created and enforced by superior military power over a imprisoned population.

It is an Occupation institutionalized behind a Wall that is not about security but all about protecting the Israeli public and the outside world from seeing what Israel’s right-wing rulers do daily in their name.

As folks like the Christian Peacemaker Teams report to us constantly, what is not being seen, and certainly not reported in US media, is a brutal, death-dealing, racially-oriented Occupation carried out by an Israeli government unrestrained by any outside power.

The world witnessed Israel's brutality last year in Gaza.

Important discussion and action will occur at this summer's General Assembly when the GA receives the report from The Middle East Study Committee.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Leftist Brand of Humanism

I don't make a post about every letter written about me in the LayMAN, but every now and then one deserves honorable mention, like this one written April 26th by Rick Bender:
I couldn’t agree more with Jayne Devlin’s opinion [posted April 8, 2010] of kicking ministers out of the PCUSA who don’t abide by the confessions, creeds and Reformed theology that this denomination is based on. While many in our denomination strive to bring others to a point of spiritual salvation through Jesus Christ, there are others (John Shuck) who are pulling these same people in the other direction. It should be up to individual presbyteries to deal with these heresies that are broiling in their own backyards. For some reason they do not since they rely on individuals to file an accusation. Certainly if the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton wants to fire their pastor, they can do so. I have to assume that the congregation is totally on board with John Shuck since he has been there for nearly five years, expounding and teaching his angry, leftist brand of humanism, while leaving the teachings of Jesus Christ on the doormat of his church for all to trample on.

Don’t assume that all churches in Holston Presbytery are like this. Compare the Web sites of First Presbyterian in Elizabethton with First Presbyterian in Bristol. The language and content on these Web sites are vastly different from one another. Praise God for churches like First in Bristol. However, this epitomizes the overall problem in our denomination. We definitely are not of one accord and barring a miracle from our Lord, this will continue.
Even my "angry, leftist brand of humanism" is not enough motivation for Rick to complete a fill-in-the-blank form in the Book of Order, Form 26 on page 329.

He did get one thing right.



First Presbyterian Church of Bristol is a congregation worthy of praise.



A few years ago this congregation invested in geothermal energy. According to this article in
Bristol Tennessee Essential Services News:
The church will have one geothermal heat pump system, which includes 14 miles of underground pipe in the front yard,to heat its two buildings.The pipes have a 50-year lifespan.

Although the initial expenses associated with the project are significant, they are outweighed by the long-term advantages. The church will reduce its electricity bill by nearly 50 percent, and the project is expected to generate a payback within six to
eight years. Church officials plan to have heat available using geothermal energy by mid-November 2008. In addition to opting for geothermal energy, the church replaced 168 windows and added insulation to its ceilings. The stained-glass windows in the sanctuary are in the process of being checked and re-caulked, if necessary.

“The more money we can save now, the more resources we have available to serve the community,” explains Dr. Gordon Turnbull,Pastor. “That is what we are here for, to serve our Lord and to serve our community.”
First Presbyterian Church of Bristol will be a great resource for the Green Interfaith Network that is now forming in the Tri-Cities. This is a network of congregations pooling resources and ideas to save energy, preserve our environment, and be good economic stewards like FPC Bristol.

In addition to serving as pastor of FPC Bristol, Gordon is our presbytery's moderator. How about that! Another person to whom the BFTSs can send complaints about me! I am always concerned that Gordon doesn't have near enough to do. When you complain to Gordon, you might ask him about his congregation's geothermal energy source.

I am tickled that the LayMAN and its readers are interested in the work of Holston Presbytery. Visit our website. Send youth to our camp. Check out our campus and youth ministry. Take a peek at our fine congregations. And if you are a clergy person looking for a call, here are some opportunities!


And if you can't stop, at least throw us a kiss!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Presbpopalians


That is the name of our softball team. St. John's Episcopal Church in Johnson City and First Presbyterian of Elizabethton have spliced their memes.

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.



Check us out on Facebook! Here is our t-shirt logo:

Go here for more pics.

Love Dogs

Thanks to Keith for calling my attention to this performance by Coleman Barks of one of Rumi's poems, "Love Dogs." Keith saw a connection between it and Sunday's sermon:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Join A Church?

On Pentecost Sunday we will welcome new members. I have invited Wayne Schwandt to preach. Wayne is leading our Original Blessing workshop that weekend. It is a big weekend and a big Sunday celebrating Spirit.

Here is a plug I put in our newsletter regarding "joining the church."

We will be welcoming new members on May 23rd, Pentecost Sunday! We welcome new members three times per year. If you are interested in uniting with this community, contact me. I will be glad to let you know what our church is all about. I have been known to hang around coffee shops.

It is easy to join. You can join by transferring from another congregation, or if you have never been baptized, you can join that way. Also, reaffirmation of faith. This means you were a member of a church at one time but swore you would never darken a church door again, then, poof, you found us and thought you could give church one more try.

You might ask, "Why should I bother joining a church? I am just not that into organized religion in the first place."

I hear you. If it helps, we are mostly disorganized. True enough, joining the church doesn't provide you with that many worldly benefits. Members get to vote at congregational meetings and they can hold office. For most, that isn't much of a prize. Many folks participate and have done so for years without joining. You don't have to be a member to be involved in our activities.

But those who do take the plunge, bite the bullet, grab the reins, and swing on the vine, often do so because they believe in what we are doing and want to stand with us. We encourage and support people who are involved in peacemaking, human rights, and environmental and economic justice. We encourage and support people who are involved in repairing homes, preparing meals, and healing bodies.

We are a More Light congregation. That means we support the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of our congregation and in society. We also provide a place where people can explore ideas and find their own particular spiritual path.

We aren't looking for folks just to get on the membership rolls. We are looking for folks who having found a home here are ready to roll up their sleeves and work with us, take off their shoes and dance with us, let loose their inhibitions and sing with us, and put on their hiking boots and explore creation with us!

On May 23rd, those who have decided to join will be introduced to the congregation and we will have a party following. It is that easy. : )

Let me know if you are ready to choose your fate, jump in with both feet, leap into the breach, leave a crossroads, make your move, pass the Rubicon, prendre la balle au bond, take for better or worse, and take the bull by the horns!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

From Fear to Life: A Sermon

From Fear to Life
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 25, 2010

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30


What lay on the road was no mere handful of snake. It was the copperhead at last, golden under the street lamp. I hope to see everything in this world before I die. I knelt on the road and stared. Its head was wedge-shaped and fell back to the unexpected slimness of neck. The body itself was thick, tense, electric. Clearly this wasn't black snake looking down from the limbs of a tree, or green snake, or the garter, whizzing over the rocks. Where these had, oh, such shyness, this one had none. When I moved a little, it turned and clamped its eyes on mine; then it jerked toward me. I jumped back and watched as it flowed on across the road and down into the dark. My heart was pounding. I stood a while, listening to the small sounds of the woods and looking at the stars. After excitement we are so restful. When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.
--Mary Oliver, "May"

C.S. Lewis in his book A Grief Observed writes about his own grief. After the death of his wife he wrote an honest account of his feelings. It is a powerful work and one I recommend. It is an emotional struggle. It is a spiritual struggle.

He makes the connection between grief and fear. He is surprised by the connection. He writes:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .

An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . .
It is helpful to hear others talk about their grief. It is also good to read articulate writers describe their own experiences. One of the reasons it is helpful is that when we experience grief (not if but when) we can know that we are not alone. We will still have the feelings, such as in Lewis' case, grief that feels like fear. But we can know that we aren't going crazy.

We can have doubts. Huge doubts. We can feel angry, alone, exhausted, self-absorbed, and realize that others are as well. It is grief. And it feels like fear. And what of God? Grief shatters all illusions and idols. According to C.S. Lewis:
... Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing [God], so happy that you are tempted to feel [God's] claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to [God] with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to [God] when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is [God] so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
That is good, honest writing.
A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
C.S. Lewis tells the truth. You wonder when you are grieving why no one has prepared you for that. Those who attempt to comfort in the name of or on behalf of God are well-meaning. They are caring, compassionate people who want you to feel better. But it seems as though they have never grieved themselves or have forgotten. The platitudes are so shallow. You want to say,
"just be with me but don't speak."
But you don't say that because you don't want to be rude and you still hope that maybe one of your friends will have an answer that is truthful. You don't want them to abandon you as God has done. But no answer is truthful. The door to God is double bolted from the inside.

Grief is more than mourning the loss of that which we have cherished. Grief touches the very core of our existence. When we are grieving we are grieving not only the loss of our loved one or whatever the loss may be, we are grieving the death of God. Technically, I don't mean the death of God. I mean the death of the concept of God. But it is more than an intellectual concept. We grieve the loss--the death--of the very thing that has held us together.

Everything we valued, everything we thought was true, everything we hoped for and gave us joy, has been ripped away. And no one else seems to get it. No one seems to understand. No one has fallen into that abyss except you. It is scary. Grief is like fear.

If you discover that others have entered into that abyss, then it is as though there is a conspiracy of silence. Don't tell the others. We cannot talk about this death. Even with others we are alone.

I think the scriptures, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the scriptures that centered around Jesus, are stories of grief. They are stories of people who experienced incredible loss. Loss that is so real that only stories about God can touch it. They are stories about the death of God. These are stories of the death of that which held them together.

The words placed on the lips of Jesus from Psalm 22 before Jesus breathes his last tell the truth of grief:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
That is why I still go back to this old book. Like Walter Wink, I wrestle with it. It tells the truth about grief and loss. It talks about the death of God. At a deeper level than the stories themselves, are human beings writing in their own idiom about their own grief and fear.

It is to this experience, the experience of the silent God that John writes about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
"My sheep hear my voice."
That is unbelievable to me until I can be sure that the voice once was mute.

When the author of Acts writes about Peter raising the widow from death, I know it is a fictional story. But I trust the author is writing about the experiences of a struggling people who have lost everything, including God. Then they found themselves awakening to a new sense of God.

When we hear stories of death and rebirth or death and resurrection, if we are not tone deaf, we are hearing stories of awakening. This is near the end of A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis writes:
... Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. ... And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.
Those acquainted with grief know that it is not a straight line. It is not a series of steps to climb, or hurdles to jump as quickly as possible as if we are racing around a track. It is messy. It is up and down. Yet there comes a time when the door to God is no longer closed and bolted. Lewis speaks of God:
And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually come to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.
When the sorrow lifts a new sense of God (or of meaning if you prefer) emerges. It isn't the same as before. Less naïve. Less tame. Less familiar. More complex. Deeper. Wilder. Grief is the great killer of God. But what happens is that in time God is reborn. God is more alive. So are we.

When we experience grief and survive it we are ourselves reborn. I do like that last line from Mary Oliver's poem "May":
When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.
That is the sense of these stories from scripture as well. Because they are honest about death, I can also resonate with their stories of rebirth. This is the via transformativa or the way of compassion. The stories in Acts are stories of people who having experienced grief that feels like fear are no longer overcome by fear.

If you want to start a movement for compassion and justice, find people who are in awe of life, who know the depths of grief and have experienced dark nights of the soul and the very death of their God, and then have found God reborn. You need to find folks who aren't afraid to be a little blasphemous, because those who mouth platitudes won't be strong enough.

As Walter Wink writes in his book Engaging the Powers, you need folks who will rattle God's cage. This is what he writes about prayer:
Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes.
If you want a movement for justice and peace, you need folks who aren't afraid to set God free. If grief is the death of God, recovery is God reborn within.

God is in you.

Wake her up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Worshiping Empire's God

I always find the disputes surrounding religion and politics fascinating. I am watching with interest the kerfluffle over the National Day of Prayer. Here is a story from AP:
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — To pray or not to pray? That's the issue government leaders across the country are facing after a federal judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer set for May 6 was unconstitutional.

The ruling can't take effect until all appeals are exhausted, but that's not stopping atheists and prayer advocates from firing off letters, e-mails and even planning to put up billboards to convince state and local leaders across the country to see things their way. (Read More)
According to the mayor of Topeka, Kansas, Bill Bunten:
"Some of these judges have lost their way," Bunten said. "Every day is a day of prayer in most Kansas lives, whether they are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or whatever, and to say that a prayer day is illegal is just ridiculous. That judge better go back and read some history about how this country was formed. Next thing you know we won't be able to sing 'God Bless America.'"
Someone does need to read some history to be sure. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been motivated:
They were drafting an online petition where people could urge Obama to honor Crabb's ruling and "leave days of prayer to individuals, private groups and churches, synagogues, mosques and temples." Annie Laurie Gaylor, one of the foundation's leaders, was putting the finishing touches on a full-page ad for the New York Times.

The foundation also plans to take out billboards promoting the separation of church and state in Colorado Springs, Co., home of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The signs will read "God and government: A dangerous mix."


"Whether or not we win in court, I want to win in the court of public opinion," said Gaylor. "This law is based on lies and bad history."
The irony is that modern day atheists are in a similar position to pre-Constantine Christians in Rome. These early Christians were called atheists because they wouldn't participate in the Empire's cult. The gods of the Roman Empire were in their experience, gods of war, slavery, and exploitation. They wanted nothing to do with them.

The emphasis of the National Day of Prayer isn't on the word "prayer," but on the word "national." The important part of the phrase "God Bless America" isn't "God." It is all about "America." But it isn't America for everyone. It is a particular kind of America: a cultic, superstitious, militaristic, and self-absorbed America. It is an America in which freethinkers are not welcome.

The National Day of Prayer does little more than stir up passions for the empire's cult. Christian leaders who think they are witnessing for Jesus by participating in this spectacle are deceiving themselves. Jesus (the historical person, not the cultic figure he has become) would have stayed a long way away from this charade.


He might have said instead something like:
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When Fortune Smiles


What do you think will happen to this man?

He just won the jackpot of 258 million dollars.


Here is the story:


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man who won a $258 million Powerball jackpot and plans to use some of the money to pay bills, replace his two missing front teeth and take his children to Disney World said he hasn't decided yet if he'll quit his job at the convenience store where he bought the winning ticket.

Chris Shaw — a 29-year-old tattooed father of three who was raised by his grandparents in rural southern Missouri — came forward Thursday as the winner of the 10th-largest Powerball jackpot ever. Shaw said he had just $28.96 in his bank account and recently bought a 1998 Ford Ranger from a friend who agreed to let him pay off the $1,000 price $100 at a time. Now, he said, he no longer has to worry about how he'll pay his friend — or his utility bills.


"We didn't come from money. For us it's just going to be a huge relief to know I'm going to be able to pay my electric bill, my gas bill," Shaw told the Associated Press. "It's like a weight lifted. I had bills at home I didn't know how they were going to be paid."

Shaw said he bought the $5 ticket Wednesday at the Break Time convenience store where he works in Marshall, a central Missouri town about 80 miles east of Kansas City. He accepted his ceremonial check at the Missouri Lottery headquarters in Jefferson City wearing a tan and red plaid shirt, a red hat and a huge grin — minus two front teeth he says he lost because he didn't take care of them but can now afford to have replaced.

"I'm just a regular guy working paycheck to paycheck ... well not any more," he said.

Shaw said he needed a few days to decide whether he will keep his minimum-wage job at the store where he has worked for just three weeks. He also plans to seek advice "from people who know about money" about whether to take the jackpot in 30 payments over 29 years or the lump-sum amount of $124,875,122.

His boss, Jackie Maxwell, general manager of the Missouri-based Break Time convenience store chain, was thrilled to hear Shaw had won.

"He's just a great guy, a good employee. When you think of a large winner like this, everyone likes to see that the person who won is somebody like Chris," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Shaw — who has a 10-year-old son, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old girl by two different women — said he had played Missouri Scratchers lottery tickets before, winning at most $80. He checked his Powerball ticket against the state lottery's website only after his girlfriend, Tosha Ewry, told him the winning ticket was bought at the store where he works.

When Shaw called Ewry back to tell her the news, she thought he was joking, he said. Finally, he said he told her: "I swear on a stack of Bibles, you need to leave work and come home."

The winning numbers were 11-34-41-49-55, Powerball 20. The Power Play number was 2.

Shaw said he looks forward to spending more time with his kids, who live with their mothers about 240 miles southeast of him in his hometown of Alton, as well as with his girlfriend's two sons — 13-year-old and 15-year-old boys Shaw says he considers his own. He plans to take them all to Disney World in Florida.

"I can be with them as much as I want now," Shaw said.

He said his children already have been asking for new skateboards, bicycles and "just stuff that's really hard to do when you make $7.25 an hour."


Can you imagine how this would change his life? Think of all the advice he is receiving and all of the requests and expectations from his extended family, friends, and neighbors. How will he handle the envy? Could he really live in the same town with everyone constantly harassing him, talking about him (and his family), demanding from him? Do rags to riches stories ever turn out well? What would you do?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrate Earth Week!


We are having a couple of Earth Day celebrations at FPC Elizabethton!



We are celebrating Earth Week.


Join us Saturday at 9 am for the Carter County Streams Clean-Up!
Each spring, folks from the congregation of First Presbyterian participate in Carter County Streams Clean-up. Our church has agreed to adopt a portion of Dennis Cove as our clean-up area. We’ll meet at the covered bridge park on Saturday, April 24th at 9:00 a.m. where litter bags and gloves are distributed. Then we head to a beautiful mountain stream where we enjoy looking at wild flowers and listening to singing warblers as we collect litter along the stream bank.
On Sunday, April 25th join us for a Hike and Meditation!
On Sunday afternoon, April 25, the Peacemaking Committee will sponsor a hike and meditation. We’ll spend an afternoon celebrating Earth, looking for wildflowers, birds, butterflies and whatever else crosses our path. We will hike about 3.7 miles from Hampton to Dennis Cove following the Appalachian Trail much of the way, passing Laurel Falls and Laurel Fork Gorge. Then we will meet with anyone who would like to participate in an Earth Day meditation. For those who do not want to hike but want to participate in the meditation, you can join the group in Dennis Cove between 5:30 and 6:00. Participants will need to bring hiking clothes and a lunch to church so that we may leave as soon as possible after the service. For more information contact Gary Barrigar at 543-7576.
Great outing! So invite your friends and join us as we celebrate Earth!

Peeps in the News


The Johnson City Press has featured a couple of FPC Elizabethton folks in the news. They are not in the news because they are FPCE peeps. They are doing good deeds all by themselves. I take the opportunity to drop names whenever I can. It is "proud of my peeps" day.

Bob Swanay is the director of the Johnson City Public Library. Folks are swarming to the place. Why is that, Bob?


“The library is a safety net during times tough economic times like this,” he said. “People know they can use our resources for job searches. As they research, they sometimes encounter a wide range of information that may help them enter into a new career.”

The demand for computer use also has increased sharply, largely due to the fact that many times it is the only option for researching career opportunities and filling out job applications. Also, the offerings available on the library’s website include a wealth of information and links that open portals to a shared library system, Heritage Quest, World Book Online and access to a number of online programs.

In 2009, the library’s website registered 1.5 million hits, and that number is only expected to rise. And all the increases have been most pronounced over the last three years, about the same length of time the country’s economy has been on a downhill slope.

“People are feeling the effects of the slowing economy and have a little extra incentive to come in,” Swanay said. “Part of our strategic plan includes the creation of a career center with more emphasis on providing information on job searches.

“Another factor is that when you’re pinching pennies, you’re looking for a cheap form of entertainment. We have lots of programs for children that keeps them engaged. DVDs are very popular. We’re not Blockbuster, but we do dabble in popular materials. We’re trying to strike a balance between entertainment and education.”






Another FPCE peep is Jim Miller. He was featured in Sunday's (April 11th) JC Press.









Music is more than a hobby for Hampton’s Jim Miller, or even a profession. Heck, he’s made it a way of life.

Miller doesn’t just listen to music like most of us do. He hears it in his head, in his sleep, all around him. He plays various kinds of music on numerous instruments, performing and making recordings. He teaches music to students of all ages and leads jam sessions.

For years, Miller was a maker of fine hammer dulcimers. He even invents instruments, using everyday items like turkey basters, a drill, a bicycle wheel or a DustBuster to make music.

“Anything you can get a pitch off of, I’m all for it,” he said with a laugh. “The wackier the better.”

At one point, he said, “I was jamming down” by plucking on a cable used to crank open a camper. It made for some good bass notes.

Miller teaches fourth grade at Cloudland Elementary School in Roan Mountain and leads an after-school traditional string band. He also teaches dulcimer and autoharp at East Tennessee State University in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program.

That’s in addition to all the jamming, performing, demonstrating and recording he does, in addition to the inventing he does.

Why so much music?

“It’s a universal language,” he said. “Every culture has music. It’s a great way to express yourself. If you play oldtime music, you can go anywhere in the world and if you find an old-time banjo player you can play with him. It’s a real camaraderie.”

Yup. Proud of my peeps!

Rent-A-Lord


Found this at Dr. Jim's Thinking Shop and Tea Room.



Dr. Jim sez:
In these troubled times, leasing a god may be a better strategy than buying one outright.
Good advice.

"When the thumb of fear lifts..."






May you have a Sacred
Earth Day.









What lay on the road was no mere handful of snake. It was the copperhead at last, golden under the street lamp. I hope to see everything in this world before I die. I knelt on the road and stared. Its head was wedge-shaped and fell back to the unexpected slimness of neck. The body itself was thick, tense, electric. Clearly this wasn't black snake looking down from the limbs of a tree, or green snake, or the garter, whizzing over the rocks. Where these had, oh, such shyness, this one had none. When I moved a little, it turned and clamped its eyes on mine; then it jerked toward me. I jumped back and watched as it flowed on across the road and down into the dark. My heart was pounding. I stood a while, listening to the small sounds of the woods and looking at the stars. After excitement we are so restful. When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.

— Mary Oliver, "May"
New and Selected Poems, Volume 2
Beacon Press, Boston, 1992

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lutheran-Love You Betcha

Saw this by Rev. Dr. Cindi Love in the Huffington Post:
After twenty-five years of deliberation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Council has abolished its anti-gay policies, effective immediately. Following from discussions at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly last summer, the ELCA will now allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as rostered leaders. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) human beings are no longer considered abominations but blessed church members with full standing. Same-sex partners and families can now fully participate in the ELCA Pension Plan.

Best of all, the ELCA is reinstating people who were removed from ministry positions because they were truthful and came out of the closet, as well as those who conducted holy unions for non-heterosexual couples. The ELCA has practiced restorative justice.
Here is the article from Lutherans Concerned:
This weekend, the ELCA Church Council meeting in Chicago moved the decision of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly into policy by replacing the language in church documents that excluded ministers in committed same-gender relationships with a policy that allows congregations and organizations to call a fully-qualified minister in a committed, same-gender relationship. And, the Council also approved the way to reinstate ministers who have been removed from the roster because of the previous policy and to receive ELM pastors onto the roster of the ELCA. The Council also made the benefits of the ELCA pension plan available to rostered ministers and employees in committed, same-gender relationships.
If the Lutherans can do it, the Presbyterians can too.

Looking forward to General Assembly in Minneapolis (where hopefully some of that Lutheran-Love will warm the hearts of the Calvinistas).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Science and Moral Values

Here is an interesting talk by Sam Harris regarding Science and Moral Values. He challenges the idea that religion has the corner on values or meaning. Check it out.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

PSF Hosts PFLAG!


Thanks to Presbyterian Student Fellowship for hosting a great birthday party for PFLAG Tri-Cities! We celebrated our second anniversary with about 30 in attendance!




Thanks to Lori for decorating our delicious cake!





We now have over 400 on our email contact list and so we consistently have 25-30 at every meeting.

We are a force to be reckoned with in the Tri-Cities. A force of support, education, and advocacy. And a hell of a lot of fun, too!

We meet the third Thursdays at ETSU. Currently in #315 Warf-Pickel. Our next meeting is May 20th.

But the event that draws the big crowd is the picnic! Get it on the calendar! Saturday, May 15th. Details to come on the PFLAG Tri-Cities Blog!

Suffering and Hope in Colombia


We have three more programs before we wrap up PSF for the semester.

  1. April 20--Becca Knight, Suffering and Hope in Colombia
  2. April 27--Dr. Julie Wade, Discovering Your Inner Fish
  3. May 4--Closing Ceremonies with communion.

Here is more on Tuesday's program:
Suffering and Hope in Colombia

Brief Synopsis: Colombia, South America has been in a civil war for over forty years - and most Americans know nothing about this war, or that the US government helps to fund it. Fighting amongst the right-wing paramilitaries, leftist guerrilla groups and the Colombian military often leave innocent civilians, union leaders, indigenous people, pastors and peace workers in the cross fire. There are more internally displaced people in Colombia (about 4 million) than in any other country in the world including Sudan. Come learn why you should care about human rights in Colombia and what you can do to help advocate for a peaceful US policy on Colombia. Becca Knight participated in an emergency peace delegation to Colombia as part of her work with Mennonite Central Committee. She will share powerful stories about suffering and hope in Colombia.
Becca works for Appalachia Service Project and is a member of FPC Elizabethton.

Join us Tuesday at 7 for dinner and the program to follow!

Read more about Becca here!

Find out more about Presbyterian Student Fellowship (PSF) at ETSU here!


Of Deities and Deeds: A Sermon

Of Deities and Deeds
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 18, 2010

Acts 9:1-6
John 21:1-19


Was Saul riding a horse on the way to Damascus? Or was he on foot?

How many of you picture the story of Saul falling off of his horse when he is confronted by the light of the Risen Christ?

How many of you picture the story as Saul walking and falling down when blinded by the light?

You can use that little test to see if someone was raised Roman Catholic or Protestant. The story in Acts doesn't mention a horse. It doesn't mention Paul's mode of travel at all. Yet a number of paintings particularly from the 15th and 16th centuries portray Saul falling from his horse.

Those who learned the story in churches that have these icons and artwork generally have in their mind's eye Saul falling off of a horse. Those who learned the story from just hearing or reading it from the Bible picture Saul walking.





I had never heard of the horse option until seminary. On Fridays our church history professor showed us iconography. Growing up a Protestant iconography was not part of my experience. I have to say I felt a bit deprived. Why don't we get the cool stuff like paintings?



Today's stories from scripture invite us to think about religious experience.

Last week at the Presbyterian Student Fellowship at the campus house at ETSU, the students invited Mormon missionaries to talk about their church. Four young adults, two men and two women whose ages were between 18-21 talked to us. At one point each of them felt compelled to give us his or her testimony. Each of them told what was to them very real experiences. Each told of a time he or she prayed to "Father." The result of this prayer and this experience was a reassurance that the
Book of the Mormon and the teachings of the church were true.

I heard testimonies in my Southern Baptist Church. The person giving the testimony told of an experience that was real to them. Each experience had common elements, usually an experience of forgiveness from sin upon acceptance of Christ.

We use the language, symbols, images, story forms, and rituals that are familiar to us when we speak of life-changing experiences. How could we do otherwise? We are human beings shaped by language.

If I have heard stories of people being comforted by the Virgin Mary and if I go to church and see statues of the Virgin Mary and if I pray to the Virgin Mary in worship or privately, it is likely that when the time comes to have a life-changing experience it will have something to do with the Virgin Mary.

These religious experiences feel real. They are real. They are often life-changing. Through these experiences the Story comes alive. We internalize what we have practiced.

These experiences can take different forms. The Saul to Paul story has Saul being confronted by the god of the people he is persecuting. That story itself has been the meme for the dramatic conversion.

A form of this is the intellectual who is out to disprove God and something happens to cause him to believe in the God he is trying to disprove. That is a common conversion experience in evangelical circles.

I am not saying these experiences are not real. They are very real. They can be real in positive and in negative ways. You don't gather a bunch of guns and prepare to fight the anti-Christ and his socialist minions unless you have had a religious experience. You don't strap a bomb to yourself and walk into a café filled with infidels without religion.

On the other hand, you don't risk your livelihood or your health engaging in potentially dangerous human rights activities without some kind of experience that defines you.

Do these experiences require "God" or gods? Perhaps they used to. Daniel Dennett in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon hypothesizes that gods developed from the unique human capacity to give agency to inanimate things. Human infants can do this. Higher primates cannot. We have this carryover when we try to coax our car into starting or get angry at the car for not starting.

This ability to give agency to things or animals or the sun or to spirits of the dead or to gods and eventually to complex theological systems has had a role in human evolution. I think there is exciting work regarding studying the evolution of religion. How has the concept of God evolved and how does religious experience fit into that?

The purpose from my perspective is not to get rid of religion or to show that religious experiences are not real. The purpose from my perspective is to understand religion and its role and to make religion become a conscious force for good.

The religious feeling of warmth, comfort, joy, belonging, purpose, and meaning can come to us without a belief in God or in gods. Lloyd Geering calls these folks secular mystics. Geering is a Presbyterian clergyperson and professor from New Zealand. His latest book is Coming Back to Earth: From gods, to God, to Gaia. He writes:

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

Many of us are not satisfied with the religious language we have inherited. My guess is that is why many folks are in this congregation. Yet at the same time, we are looking for a way to express our longings for meaning, for community, and for those things that religion has provided. Whatever mojo was given to Saul on the road to Damascus and to Peter who was told by Jesus to feed his sheep and to Arjuna who was encouraged by Krishna to do his duty, we want. We want the mojo.

We don't want it in that old way. We cannot give up our minds for it. We cannot become pre-modern people. We are not interested in being saved from or saving others from hell in the afterlife. We are not interested in converting people to our religion or to proving that our book is of divine origin. When I say "we" I don't mean everyone in this room. I am just saying many of us. Perhaps you resonate.

Many of us are looking for a religion that is Earthy. This is how Lloyd Geering talks about spirituality. It includes:

* 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

Is it possible to develop the fervor of a Mormon missionary in service to the "welfare of one another, future of the human species, and the health of the planet?"

I think the answer is yes.

What is exciting is that this is happening. There is an explosion of creativity from all over. We are learning the story of what it means to be human. Science is teaching us our evolutionary story and our cosmic story. We are starting to tell this story in a religious setting.
  • Our evolutionary and cosmic history is slowly has become our new scripture.
  • Earth is our sanctuary.
  • Rivers, streams, oceans, and rainwater are the waters of baptism.
  • All music that comes from the heart is worthy of being called a sacred hymn.
  • Every meal shared is Holy Communion.
  • Listening to and embracing one another is prayer.
All that is missing is a testimony.

We can testify by telling one another our religious experiences, how we discovered the Sacred...

...from a walk in the woods or cleaning the stream for Earth Day
...from serving a meal at Food for the Multitude
...from connecting with a family at the Appalachia Service Project
...from hearing, playing, and singing songs that make us smile and cry,
...from dancing to prescribed movements or free form like no one is watching,
...from standing with those who struggle for freedom and dignity,
...from the permission granted by yourself to let go of a punitive and angry god.

Saul becomes Paul. Peter eats fish with Jesus. Arjuna converses with Krishna. They have nothing on us. Whatever their mojo, we have it as well. There is no more religious experience there than anything we can experience every day. Those stories are symbols and pointers to the Sacred that is available to each of us. Life is sacred. Life is precious. Life is here and real.

One of my new favorite songs is “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. I will close with this stanza.

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
Cause everything’s a miracle

Amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Divesting From Injustice


I saw this on the Presbyterian Voices for Justice site. This is from Bishop Desmond Tutu regarding UC Berkeley's recent action to divest the university's money from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
It was with great joy that I learned of the recent 16-4 vote at UC Berkeley in support of divesting the university's money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of U.S. civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.

Despite what detractors may allege, these students are doing the right thing. They are doing the moral thing. They are doing that which is incumbent on them as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.


I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write these words of encouragement for student divestment efforts cognizant that it was students who played a pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited the Berkeley campus in the 1980's and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University's divestment in companies supporting the South African regime.


The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel's 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.


To those who wrongly allege unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one's own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity. It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians, a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute. These students are helping to pave that path to a just peace and I heartily endorse their divestment vote, encourage them to stand firm on the side of what is right, and urge others to follow the lead of the youth.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will have an opportunity to be a voice for justice and action at this summer's General Assembly when it considers the work of the Middle East Study Committee. The committee's report is published in pdf, Breaking Down the Walls. From the committee's website:
The PC(USA) has historically committed itself to the two-state solution, joining the international consensus behind this as the best option to a long-term peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The MESC recommendations support that option. However, the window is rapidly closing to make this a reality....

....Since the MESC was approved by the 2008 General Assembly, more than 20 Israelis and more than 1500 Palestinians have died needlessly due to violence. The situation may change, but by the time the 2010 General Assembly meets, it is almost certain that this death toll will rise. With every military and militant attack, with every settlement, with every escalation of rhetoric and with every death, the stakes simply increase. Not solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an option. Waiting is not an option. The time for action is now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Original Blessing Workshop!

This is going to be great. Make plans to join us May 21st and 22nd.

Here's the deal:




Original Blessing Workshop scheduled for May 21 & 22.





What is spiritual practice? Have you struggled with meditation? How often is enough? “Am I doing it right?” and “I’m not cut out for this!”...

Maybe you have had these questions or others? Join us for this time together as we look at our world from the perspective of Original Blessing and explore pathways to inner peace from ancient traditions and modern teachings.

Original Blessing offers a post-modern understanding of Divine Mystery appropriate for today’s world. Matthew Fox, inspired by the work of 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart, offers seekers of today an alternative to our culture’s traditional relationship with God. Books, thoughts, discussions may raise our awareness, but...there is more. This workshop will offer participants the opportunity to experience Original Blessing through a variety of spiritual practices.

As we learn new ideas our old patterns of thinking and being are not easily discarded. Learning how to integrate new ideas and change remains a challenge. The Masters of the world’s religious traditions have taught spiritual practice to disciples to bring inner peace. Meditation, chanting, body prayer, ritual, silence, art and singing will all be experienced during the workshop as pathways of the heart and inner peace. During the workshop we will talk, listen and practice together, learning from each other and the Wisdom of the circle.

Event Details

Schedule: We will gather Friday evening from 6:30 - 9:00 pm, returning Saturday morning at 8:30 am, ending at 6:00 pm.

For Your Meals: bring a sack lunch on Saturday and a dish to share for a pot luck supper. (Refrigeration, microwave, etc., are available. Light snacks will be provided.


Workshop Leaders


Wayne Schwandt

Wayne recently completed all requirements to earn his D.Min from Wisdom University in June 2010. His dissertation, Innovation: The Journey to Creation Spirituality shares background on Creation Spirituality, sermons, and Creation Spirituality’s impact on the spiritual journey of his community, the Metropolitan Community Church of Chesapeake, in Annapolis, MD., where he has served as the founding pastor since 1998. Wayne is an Associate Member of the Jesus Seminar and has attended numerous meetings over the past decade on the historic Jesus, Christian origins and Paul. In 2008 Wayne and his partner of 26 years, Chuck Riley, were married in California. They have four sons and five grandchildren between them and live in Washington DC.


Rebecca Nunley

Rebecca began her studies of Original Blessing at First Presbyterian Church in 1999 and has continued with classes at the University of Creation Spirituality and then its successor, Wisdom University. Currently, Rebecca is completing the Abwoon Interspiritual Leadership Program with Neil Douglas-Klotz. She is also a Certified Dance Leader of the Dances of Universal Peace. Rebecca is a dentist in Johnson City and lives in Unicoi, TN with her partner, Richard, and daughter, Kirby Brosmore.

Click to download the complete brochure with registration form. You may also register by sending an email with your name, address and phone number or by calling the church at 423.543.7737.

Care to Subscribe?

We have begun using a new e-mail service at FPC Elizabethton. For the past four years I have sent out newsy items each week to folks in the congregation. It has become unmanageable. There is far too much going on.

Now with the service, we send out our news and folks can easily find the items of interest to them. It looks sharp and folks can subscribe or unsubscribe without having to ask me to be "removed from the email list."


If you are interested in getting the news from our little progressive church in the woods, go to the church news page and enter your email!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Homophobia is about as logical as anatidaephobia"

Excellent letter by Sam Smith in The East Tennessean (ETSU's student paper):

I was 20 years old when I came out of the closet. Before that, there were plenty of family members and friends elbowing me and winking references to my need for a girlfriend or at least a Jessica Biel poster in my room.

At first, I appeased everyone and agreed with them. In high school, I kept an Angelina Jolie poster by my desk in journalism.

I allowed very unappealing girls to flirt with me. I avoided talking to guys, fearing I might find one of them compatible enough to share my belief that a Casey Affleck poster would be much more up my alley.

As can be expected, I dated no one until college. When you repress yourself, you tend to ride the wave of monotony and dissatisfaction.

Feelings of anger, failure and loneliness are sharpened by the everyday rejection of happiness, independence and companionship.

Developing through teenage years is annoying enough without the suffocating expectations of people who don't know you, combined with the regionally dominant religion and its damning pick-and-choose usability.

Before I knew better, I considered myself an abomination.

If Leviticus 18:22 said my innate preference for men made me a turnip, a razzmatazz or a Barcalounger, I would have been ashamed of myself for being a turnip, a razzmatazz or a Barcalounger.

The word, however, was "abomination" and it took years for me to realize that oppression, even in a book that has been adapted and recycled for centuries, is the real abomination.

People have been murdered for the color of their eyes, hair or skin; and people have been murdered for their transgender, bisexual or gay nature.

I wonder how many more disasters and diseases the world must have before people are no longer killed but valued for being alive?

I'm currently of the mindset that the odds of my existence are one in a "measureless-illion." Multiply that by 6 billion and you have an estimate of the odds that you and I are the ones sharing the only known planet that offers oxygen, merry-go-rounds and Hayao Miyazaki.

The odds of our existence aren't very probable, but the odds of our coexistence are much more in our favor.

Homophobia is about as logical as anatidaephobia (the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you).

When I was in the closet, your average homophobe was just as miserable and insecure as when I came out. To go from denying yourself to being yourself is an adventure. To continue fearing those who are not like you is a shame.

I came out to my mom one summer nearly two years ago because I was going through a particularly volatile relationship with my best friend-turned-boyfriend.

I felt like I had no one who would understand, which struck me that day as a completely moronic feeling.

If I didn't have my parents' support through the end of a pivotal and poisonous situation, then I was cheating them and myself by not giving us a chance to function on a deeper level as family.

After all my years of angst and the weight of "Why is Sam always single?" on my shoulders, my parents understood and never expressed a doubt in my ability to make them proud or their own willingness to love me for who I am. I have heard of others who were less fortunate, deserted by friends and disowned by family.

When I was closeted, I feared I would be left without someone to understand me. That kind of fear reminds me of the pain I felt when I fell from a tree and broke my right arm in two places.

Pain can be instantaneous or it can fester for years, but there will always be someone who is not only happy but obligated to help.

My email is zsss44 [at] goldmail [dot] etsu.edu. If you need a good listener, or if you're wondering who Hayao Miyazaki is, please don't take several years, like I did, to ask for a little inevitable conversation.