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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sixteen Former PCUSA Moderators Urge Approval of Middle East Study Committee Report

The Presbyterian News Service reports that sixteen former moderators affirm the Middle East Study Committee's report, "Breaking Down the Walls."

Good.

The batty right has been screaming "anti-semitism" with every breath. It is nothing of the sort. It is good to see voices of reason and compassion being expressed by our denomination's former leaders (including current moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow).

Presbyterian Voices for Justice re-posted the article from the Presbyterian News Service:

With the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) days away, 16 former GA moderators are calling for commissioners to approve a study report on Middle East peace that was requested by the 218th GA.

"Breaking Down the Walls" is the report of the Middle East Study Committee. The committee was charged with preparing a comprehensive study focusing on Israel/Palestine with regard to the context of the Middle East. The report includes recommendations and study materials.

"Breaking Down the Walls" affirms Israel's legitimacy as a state but calls the occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) "illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region."
I thought the letter was excellent and deserves a re-post here:
June 15, 2010:

Dear Commissioners to the 219th General Assembly,

Thank you as elders and ministers for taking the time to serve the church in your local congregation and session, presbytery, synod and now on our highest governing body, the 219th General Assembly. We know the amount of reading material before you can be overwhelming. You are in our prayers as you discern the will of God and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our beloved PC(USA) on all the issues before the Assembly.

The purpose of our letter is to ask you to support and approve the Middle East Study Committee report for the following reasons:

1. The committee membership was chosen to represent the church by our 3 moderators, mandated by the 218th General Assembly, and consisted of different points of view. One from our midst, Rev. Susan Andrews who was the Moderator of the 215th General Assembly, served on the committee.

2. Their mandate was to write a comprehensive report about the Middle East — focusing on Israel/Palestine, in the context of the whole region. They were asked to talk with the people in the region, particularly our Christian partners, and Jews and Muslims. Their mandate did not focus solely on talking with the American Jewish community. That dialogue is essential as we move forward, but this is a Presbyterian statement and is a work in progress.

3. Their report builds on — and assumes — all the reports and statements that have been adopted by the GA in previous years — including the many statements that give voice to a Jewish and Israeli perspective. This report gives voice to the Palestinian Christian voice in a way that has not been heard before — in response to the urgency of the moment and the plea of our Christian brothers and sisters in the region to be heard. There is unanimity among all the many diverse Christian voices in the region in a way that has never happened before. It is a voice of suffering and urgency — and is echoed by moderate Muslim partners. The window of opportunity is closing for a peaceful solution to the problems in Israel/Palestine, and the threat of renewed violence is everywhere. The Christian presence has dwindled significantly in the past 50 years in Palestine/Israel, and so, the voice of reconciliation that Christians have always represented in the region is being silenced.

4. Their report reaffirms what the PCUSA has wanted for decades — a desire for commitment to a peaceful two state solution, within secure and recognized borders, in a nuclear free Middle East; the right of return or compensation for refugees, the security barrier pulled back to the 1967 borders, the end of settlement expansion, the right of Israel to exist next to a sovereign, independent and economically viable Palestine, a shared Jerusalem, all with a clear repudiation of anti-Semitism.

5. Their report lifts up the Kairos document for study — not approval — so that a collaborative Palestinian Christian voice can be heard. The study team report affirms the emphases in the Kairos document on non-violence and reconciliation and hope. The report does not affirm or endorse language about boycott, divestment, or sanction, although, it reaffirms corporate engagement and other non-violent ways to end support for the occupation.

6. The biblical and theological section clearly repudiates any hint of Christian Zionism or supercessionism. What it does do is tie responsibilities for justice, human rights and hospitality to the biblical understanding of land rights.

In light of the urgency of the situation in Israel/Palestine, the 43 years of Israeli military occupation over the lives of 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the continuous building of settlements is making the two state solution increasingly difficult.

We urge you to be a prophetic assembly by approving this report to help the whole church begin a two year study of Israel and Palestine and asking our people to travel and meet Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and see the situation for themselves. Our church must continue to love both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs and continue to struggle with them to work for truth, freedom, justice, reconciliation and peace.

Again, we urge you to support and vote in favor of this report.

Sincerely in the service of Jesus Christ,

(Our names below indicate our support)
  • The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 2008-2010 218th
  • Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, 2004-2006 216th
  • The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, 2002 214th
  • The Rev. Jack Rogers, 2001 213th
  • The Rev. Syngman Rhee, 2000 212th
  • Elder Freda A. Gardner, 1999 211th
  • The Rev. Douglas W. Oldenburg, 1998 210th
  • Elder Marj Carpenter, 1995 207th
  • The Rev. Robert W. Bohl, 1994 206th
  • The Rev. David Dobler, 1993 205th
  • The Rev. John M. Fife, 1992 204th
  • The Rev. Dr. Herbert Valentine, 1991 203rd
  • Elder Price H. Gwynn, III, 1990 202nd
  • The Rev. Benjamin Weir, 1986 198th
  • The Rev. Dr. Albert C. Winn, 1979 119th
  • Elder Jule C. Spach, 1976 116th

Is Evangelism a Selfish Idea?

I am preaching on the parables and other tidbits of wisdom from the Jesus Seminar Jesus. The red and pink sayings (and a few gray ones that I like) will be my "lectionary" for a while. Last week I preached on the parable of the Dinner Party.

After the service a church member commented on this line in Luke's version:







And the master said to the slave, "Then go out into the roads and the country lanes, and force people to come in so my house will be filled." Luke 14:23





He said
that is the problem.

He is right of course.

Evangelism is a selfish idea.

You know, it could be that the people in the roads and country lanes are perfectly happy. Whose interest is served by forcing that person into the dinner party?


The master in this parable doesn't care about people or what they care about. He just wants his house filled. The Church interpreting the master as God and itself as God's broker, thinks its role is to force everyone into its pew (and subsequently its morality and its beliefs).


Another friend sent me a link to
this story:
Following months of scandal and years of waning popularity, the Catholic Church plans to attack secularization by going after sheep that have strayed from the flock. Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that the Church will create a new pontifical council to "re-evangalize" the West, the Associated Press reports. Speaking at an evening vespers' service in Rome, Benedict said that the office will " 'promote a renewed evangelization' in countries where the Church has long existed 'but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God.' " (Europeans: This means you.) The news comes a day after Benedict condemned Belgian authorities for raiding Church offices as part of their ongoing investigation into the sex abuse scandal. The Pope has not tapped anyone to head the office—dubbed the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization—but the Italian media speculates that the job will go to Monsignor Rino Fisichella, the current chief of the Pontifical Academy for Life. If Bendict does pick Fisichella, it won't be without controversy: Last year, the official came under fire for backing doctors who performed an abortion on a 9-year-old Brazilian girl who had been raped by her stepfather.
The Protestants are no less hypocritical. We use lofty concepts like evangelism when membership numbers are down. We use lofty terms like stewardship when budget numbers are down.

Now there is nothing wrong with an organization wanting to increase its membership and influence. I do it. My congregation has created its own little niche and I do what I can to promote it and welcome people into its life. We like to think that what we do is a good thing.


But it is very easy to slip from
We are doing a good thing.
to
You are not doing a good thing unless you do it with us.
That has been the Church's image of itself. It sees itself as superior to the rest of the world. That unless people are like it, that unless people share its "sense of God" that is apparently being "eclipsed" by "secularization" then people are worse off in some sense.

To put my cards on the table, I am in favor of secularization. I think the reason church numbers decline is because many people don't find the church interesting or useful. In fact, the church has come to represent backward, repressive views (anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science).


Don Cupitt makes an interesting argument that the historically charitable aspects of the church have become part of the modern democratic society. He writes:
In short, the modern ethical state is far kinder to its own weaker members than ever the state was in the so-called ages of faith. Since 'the Death of God' (around 1680-1720) the liberal democratic state has gradually come to perform the traditional Corporal Works of Mercy on a vast scale, and today actually implements much of Jesus' programme. In the post-Christian epoch, as the Church has slowly died, the state has become startlingly Christian. The state's ethics is today much more Christian than is the official ethics of the churches. p. 99, Jesus and Philosophy
It seems to me that rather than try to force people back into archaic categories of belief and morality, the Church ought to adapt its strengths to a new era.

The Church certainly does have strengths (ritual, music, art), resources (community, creativity), and infrastructure (buildings, connections) that could be beneficial to individuals and to communities as we navigate through life's quickly changing challenges.

But forcing people to its dinner party isn't the way to go.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Standing for PCUSA Moderator


Presbyterians have the vapors over General Assembly this weekend. Plenty of websites and blogs are claiming to be the place to go for the news.

But you know who really loves you.

Shuck and Jive is your home. I don't even need to be in Minneapolis to give you the lowdown. I just intuit the news you need via secret and special revelation.

For instance, I have channeled the LayMAN to give you this picture of our six candidates for moderator:

They all have nice smiles. Like you, I don't know any of these people from Adam or Eve. Here are interviews in the LayMAN and Presbyterian Voices for Justice. Julia Leeth didn't respond yet to PVJ but the Presbyterian Outlook had questions for her here.

The only question that drives any passion is:

Where do they stand on teh gay?

Everyone says that we need to be concerned about more than this issue. Agreed.

Everyone says that we need moderators who are this, that, and the other and their opinions on marriage and ordination equality should not be the only litmus test. Agreed.

But...and I don't insist or even argue the point...

If you had enough interest at all in who was standing for moderator--that is, enough interest even to read this post or other interviews--I ask, who of you didn't check out closely where each came down on LGBT issues?

I rest my case.

Here is my rank from friendliest to least based on their comments:

  1. Maggie Lauterer (Pro-Equality) "Perhaps when we can speak with a strong majority on matters of human sexuality, we can move on with our mission."
  2. Cynthia Bolbach (Pro-Equality) "Those in favor of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our life together – and I include myself in that group – believe that we fail to satisfy the Gospel imperative of inclusiveness as we continue to exclude gays and lesbians from leadership in our church."
  3. Eric Nielsen (Dodge but...) "Assessment of the gifts for ministry of Elders, Deacons, or Ministers of Word and Sacrament should be returned to congregations and presbyteries. They know their people and churches best." (Not sure if Eric agrees but the only way to succeed at this is to remove G-6.0106b. Didn't see any comment on marriage equality)
  4. James Belle (Dodge) He quotes the Bible and Westminster with the slickest non-answer to the question.
  5. Jin Kim (Anti-equality, but keep chatting) "My reflections on the life of Jesus lead me to reject both complete equality in the matters of either ordination or marriage, and ruling out any further GA consideration of these questions for years to come."
  6. Julia Leeth: (Anti-equality) "I pray the Assembly maintains the traditional definition of marriage as supported by the Bible..."
I am going to make a post or two this week about other issues coming before General Assembly. Should be an entertaining party.

Inside North Korea Tonight!



Here are the four
nomads who will be at FPC Elizabethton tonight at 7 p.m. for a screening of the film, "Inside North Korea."

Left to right: Bridget, Chelsea, Rene, and Elyssa.






What does LiNK do?


We raise awareness about the human rights and humanitarian crisis in North Korea through the use of media and grassroots support. We help those who have fled their country because of this crisis – refugees – by sheltering them, advocating for them to governments all over the world, helping them resettle in countries that will accept them, and ultimately empowering them to live new lives.
See you tonight. Bring your friends. Seven p.m.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

You Are Great!

This one will make you smile. And make you make others smile, too!

Believing Out Loud

Here is a pic of our Peacemaking Table. We celebrated the work of More Light Presbyterians in June.


Here is a mailbox full of cards that we sent to commissioners at General Assembly!

The Guesting Side of God--A Sermon

The Guesting Side of God
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 27th, 2010

Luke 14:16-24
Thomas 64
Matthew 22:2-14

Today is the first Sunday of summer. This week we explore a new via. Welcome to the via postiva. This is the spiritual path of awe and wonder. It is the path of celebration. It is vivid. It is lively. It is hot. It is life! Yes! Our senses are filled. Creation is showing off her stuff.

And we are alive.

Time for a party.

During this summer I am going to look at some of the parables of Jesus as starting points. I think that is what Jesus intended them to be. Starting points. Jumping off points. Diving boards. You don’t just stand on the diving board, analyze it, admire its craftsmanship and then call it a day. You use it to dive into the pool.

The parables of Jesus are like diving boards that bounce us into the big splash of life.

I have a few initial thoughts about the parables of Jesus. I don’t think they are primarily allegories to emphasize or illustrate theological doctrine. I don’t even think they are about God, or certainly not some concept of God that we have been taught to believe. I also don’t think they are for the purpose of moralizing—
good boys and girls are like this and bad boys and girls are like that.
The parables are quite ordinary on one level. They are about normal things, a woman searching for a coin in the dirt, a man hiring laborers, a son who runs away and spends his father’s money, a woman baking bread, a farmer sowing seeds in a field, a mustard weed growing, and a man throwing a dinner party.

But you know as you hear them that they are not really about any of those things. They touch on the meaning of those things, the life within those things, but they only touch, they don’t clobber. Rather than insist they agitate. It is as if Jesus is saying,
Oh, so you think this is what it means to be happy? This is your idea of justice, is it? You know compassion, do you? Well, try this one on for size…
And then Jesus proceeds to tell a parable of a man beaten and left for dead in the ditch. He doesn’t speak a word or perform any action. He is helpless and in need. The scandal is that he has to bear the humiliation of being helped by his enemy.

Some of the most interesting work on the parables has been done in the last few decades by fellows of the Jesus Seminar. We are fortunate to have Brandon Scott and Art Dewey come to Elizabethton in October for a Jesus Seminar on the Road. The focus of that seminar will be the parables. These parables of Jesus give us insight into his voice.

It is tricky work, because many other voices have been added to Jesus’ voice, so we don’t always know who is speaking. Is the writer of Luke’s Gospel speaking or is it Jesus? Is this Matthew speaking or is it Jesus?

For instance, the parable of the Dinner Party is found in three Gospels: Matthew, Thomas, and Luke. Matthew's version is quite different from the other two. In Matthew’s version, the host is a king and it is a wedding. When the king discovers that his friends have refused his invitation, he sends out his soldiers, kills them, and burns their city. The moral of that story is that there are some parties you make sure you attend. But even then you aren’t guaranteed a good time, because one guy shows up and he doesn’t have a wedding garment. So he is cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew has taken this parable and turned it into a theological salvation history.

Thomas is not in the Bible. This gospel discovered in the 1940s contains sayings of Jesus. Some are familiar; others are not. It contains the parable of the Dinner Party. All of the invited guests who refuse the invitation do so for business reasons. For some reason, the author of the Gospel of Thomas didn’t like merchants or business people. Apparently, the author of the Gospel of Thomas has an aversion to the worldly matters of buying and selling and puts that concern on the lips of Jesus. Thomas has Jesus interpret the parable by saying:
Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father.
Luke takes the parable yet one more direction. Luke has a concern throughout his gospel for the poor. So he adds the specific invitation to the “poor, crippled, blind, and lame.” And when they don’t fill the house, then another invitation to all who would come.

When we look at the parables, we will find that the different gospel writers take a core parable and add to it, or subtract from it, or change it around, or place it in a certain context that suits their needs. They didn’t invent these ideas out of whole cloth. They are not necessarily being deceptive. It is how they saw Jesus.

So separating out Thomas, Matthew, and Luke’s concerns, an earlier version of the parable might have gone like this:
A man was giving a big dinner and invited many guests. At the dinner hour the host sent his slave to tell the guests: “Come, it’s ready now.”
But one by one they all began to make excuses. The first said to him,
“I just bought a farm, and I have to go and inspect it; please excuse me.”
And another said,
“I just bought five pairs of oxen, and I’m on my way to check them out; please excuse me.”
And another said,
“I just got married, and so I cannot attend.”
So the slave came back and reported these (excuses) to his master. The master said to his slave,
“Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.”
Brandon Scott thinks that what is going on here is a social snubbing and a shaming. The excuses are lame. The invited guests are purposely refusing the host’s hospitality. The tradition is that a formal invitation would be sent and then when the time for the party would come, guests would be escorted to the party. So it isn’t as though the invited guests didn’t know it was coming.

And the excuses themselves are pitiful. Who buys a farm and then goes and inspects it? Who buys oxen and then checks them out? Why would the person who must have known he was getting married, accept the invitation in the first place?

Others have suggested that these excuses are legitimate. In the original version of the parable, these guests are caught off guard. This is a sudden invitation and they had plans already made to check on newly purchased farms and oxen in the first two cases and to celebrate a marriage in the third. The host miscalculated. He thought everyone would drop everything and come to his party, but you know, people have lives to live. Just because you throw a party, it doesn’t mean it is all about you. Disappointed and angry the host invites whoever will come.

Snubbed or not, I suppose it doesn't matter. That happens sometimes. No use burning cities over it or forcing folks to attend your dinner party. Whether the excuses are legit or not probably doesn't matter either. If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.

One of the difficulties with parables especially in church is that we think they are about religion. They must be about God, heaven, and hell. So we automatically think that the host is either God or perhaps Jesus referring to himself. The Dinner Party must be heaven. But there is no requirement that that be the case. In fact, it doesn’t work so well with God as the host. Is it really God’s character to invite the wealthy first and then the others only after the wealthy refuse? What does that say about our conception of God?

Perhaps the parable is a challenge of our expectations. It invites us to think about our lives.

I am going to offer a secular reading. I don’t think the historical Jesus cared that much about theology. I don’t think he talked about God that much. He talked about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God it seems to me was more of a metaphor for Life, Life with a capital L. I also don’t think he cared about moralizing. I think Jesus told parables to shake people up so that they could move beyond convention and see their life with fresh eyes.

The big questions are
How does one find happiness in this vale of tears?
How does one become an appropriate guest to Life?
We know that there are all kinds of rules and stories, parables and mythologies of how one is supposed to be happy, what it means to be happy, and who gets to be happy. There are other rules that tell us if we are happy in that way (whatever way that might be), then we aren’t really happy.

We are born and raised with all kinds of conventions, that is, conventional wisdom, about what happiness is and how we are to get there. Religion certainly is not the only happiness broker. Most of our ideas of happiness come from our parents. We live out their desires and inadequacies unconsciously.

The parables of Jesus invite us to challenge conventional wisdom or at least to think about it.

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a philosopher and historian. I am enjoying her book, The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn’t Working Today. The title may be somewhat misleading. She is not saying that happiness is a myth. She is inviting us by strolling through history and culture to analyze our own myths of happiness. We may be happier than we think, if we would allow ourselves to be. Happiness may take work, but it is not impossible. She writes:
According to the great philosophers, your worst barrier against happiness is you, your own wrong thinking. Your four problems are these: You cannot see yourself or much about the world you live in. You are ruled by desire and emotion. You will not take your place or rise to your role. You are alternately oblivious to death and terrified of it. As such, your job is to master these four errors in yourself. If you do, you will be happy and more free to love, work, and play the way you wish you could. None of this comes easily; it has to be practiced a great deal, and it never works completely. However, there are no useful alternatives to the effort. P. 67.
Notice her adjective, “useful.” What we are doing here gathered on a Sunday is practicing something useful. Practices for happiness. Happiness practice.

We can be happy having a beer and watching television. That is a form of happiness. We can also be happy working hard (which will entail some agony) to complete a project. Both are forms of happiness. If we only work in one arena, if we spend all day, every day, drinking beer and watching television, we won’t be happy for long. Yet if we are at the office 80 hours a week for 40 years, we may find that we have missed the bus.

If the Dinner Party is a metaphor for happiness, how do we read it? Perhaps there is no one who is right or wrong in this picture. Maybe the folks who are getting married, buying oxen, and checking out their new farm are happy. So let them be. If they aren’t happy, even more reason to let them be. There will be other parties.

Not only is the party, Life. But not going to it is Life as well. At the end of the day, each of us has to negotiate how we will balance immediate and long-term joy.

The best commentary on the Dinner Party might be this poem by Mary Oliver, The Summer Day:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
The hopeful news is that the Dinner Party (or Life or Happiness) is for everyone, not only for the wealthy and well-connected. Some things--perhaps the most important things (like grasshoppers)--are those that are available to all of us if we know how to pay attention. If we discover how to be a guest.

Amen.

Friday, June 25, 2010

An No One Will Even Object...


I found this article to be particularly disturbing.

Feds Under Pressure to Open U.S. Skies to Drones


WASHINGTON (AP) — Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the pressure's on to allow them in the skies over the United States.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been asked to issue flying rights for a range of pilotless planes to carry out civilian and law-enforcement functions but has been hesitant to act.

How did they prove their usefulness in Afghanistan? They are useful for killing people. When the economy completely melts down within the next few years, governments will want the desirables to have access to the remaining resources and the undesirables to be shot down with drones.

Don't assume that you will be one of the desirables.

Remember last fall at the G-20 summit, when for the first time law enforcement used the sonic cannon on American citizens? The media called them "anarchists." So I guess it's all good.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jeesixohoneohsixbee Outta here!



Our Peacemaking Committee helped us celebrate More Light Sunday by dedicating their table to More Light Presbyterians' "Write Now" campaign. They put out a mailbox for cards to be sent to commissioners of the upcoming General Assembly urging the removal of discriminatory policies, particularly G-6.0106b.



Thirty-eight folks signed cards with their names and addresses. In addition to the printed statement on all the cards that reads:

The time is Right Now to remove barriers to ordination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Presbyterians. Please support the removal of G-6.0106b and other barriers to equality.
several added their own comments:
  • We all need to welcome all people. Everyone is a child of God. We should not question God!
  • Would Christ think the church should have two classes of membership? Are some of us more equal than others?
  • It is time! (x4)
  • Peace. Justice. Love. For all.
  • As we all struggle to follow Christʼs teachings, I need my church to do so, now.
  • Please do it now!
  • Many lives depend on this!
  • My son is gay. God made him that way and God couldnʼt have made a finer person. Please donʼt deprive yourself of the gifts and service of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
  • What would Jesus do?
  • The church should be the leader in ending discrimination not the leader in perpetuating it!
  • The Lord created all people. Let them be.
  • I am straight but this is long overdue!
  • Thank you in advance for your attention and action on this important issue.
  • Please take a stand AGAINST injustice, bigotry, oppression and hate!
  • None are free if some are oppressed.
  • Get on with the program and stop this homophobic nonsense!
  • Please remove the barriers so that the whole church can communicate Godʼs welcome to all people. No more second-class citizens.



They are in the mail. You can send your own comment to our commissioners via More Light Presbyterians to:


More Light Presbyterians
"Write Now" Campaign
4737 County Road 101,
PMB #246
Minnetonka, MN 55345-2634

Here is my More Light Sunday sermon.

Also, if you can knit fast, we need 500 more scarves for this GA! Michael has the details!

Check out the More Light blog to keep track of the overtures.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jesus and Marriage Equality




I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed.










Two women shall be grinding together.











It is right there in the King James Bible.
Luke 17:34-36

According to a new book by Ronald Goetz, this is part of the same-sex triptych. (The third tych are the two men in the field. Sowing their oats?)

His book is called,
Jesus and Marriage Equality: The Same-Sex Triptych of Jesus.

Here is the blurb:


Most people believe that Jesus never talked about homosexuals. Ron Goetz has uncovered proof that not only did Jesus discuss three gay and lesbian couples, but he accepted their relationships as equal to heterosexual ones. Jesus mentions three couples in "The Same-Sex Triptych of Jesus" (Luke 17:34-36). Surprisingly, the King James Version is the best Bible to see the truth about the couples. Examining the Old Testament backgrounds of the three couples, Ron Goetz persuasively argues that Jesus accepted gay and lesbian unions as equal to those of heterosexual couples. "Jesus and Marriage Equality" promises to transform the debate over homosexuality and bring healing to a divided church.

I haven't read the book yet so I cannot comment on his argument. I am a tad skeptical about "proof." But compared to all the other nonsense about what modern people think Jesus (or "God" for that matter) thought (or thinks?) about gays and gay marriage, I am sure his argument is as valid (if not more so) than
homophobic proof texting.

And it's funnier. I never noticed those verses in that way before!


I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.


I remember as a kid being scared crackers of those verses because I thought they were about the
rapturd.

You know, I am so glad to be done with fundamentalism. I don't care what anyone's Bible says, or their Qur'an or their Ouija board. You treat people fairly. And you don't lie about them. That is the "Word of God" for me.


Mr. Goetz's heart is in the right place. He has a heart for equality and decency. He wants a world in which people don't beat others over the head with their religious books. He wants a world in which people can be free to be who they are and to receive the same respect and rights and privileges as everyone else. And if they are religious, to be able to know that their deity of choice loves and accepts them.


In the end, no one can prove who Jesus was or what he thought or even if he existed. But if there ever was a guy who was "God on Earth" who lived a life as a human ought to live it, then he certainly would have "accepted gay and lesbian unions as equal to those of heterosexual couples," as Mr. Goetz states.


Thanks, Mr. Goetz, for adding to the fun. I hope your book sells millions and convinces church people to lighten up and lose the prejudice.


Boom Chix!







Boom Chix in Elizabethton!


Bring your drum!


Beat it!







Here are the details!

Join us for a special drumming workshop led by Jesse Lehmann and Sarah Yancey of Boom Chix, a dynamic all women's drum & dance troupe that combines traditional African rhythm & dance with original choreography and modern flare. This workshop will allow you to learn exhilarating drum & dance movement.

The workshop fee is $20. Plan on bringing your own drum. A limited number of drums will be availabel with pre-registration. To register, call the church at 423.543.7737.

Click here to download a flier for this event.

You can catch some of Boom Chix’s exhilarating performances here.


Inside North Korea





If you are near our mountain, come see us June 29th at 7 p.m.






First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton will host a screening of the National Geographic documentary “Inside North Korea”. The screening is free and open to the public.

Four college students (nomads) are coming to Elizabethton to tell us about what is happening in North Korea, why they care, and why we should as well. Here is a flier to download and information from the LINK website:

Hosted by Lisa Ling, field correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show and sister of Laura Ling, one of the two American journalists recently detained in North Korea, this powerful documentary looks at what life is like inside North Korea.

LiNK is a non-profit human rights organization dedicated to the work of raising awareness about the human rights and humanitarian crisis in North Korea through the use of media and grassroots support. We help those who have fled their country because of this crisis – refugees – by sheltering them, advocating for them to governments all over the world, helping them resettle in countries that will accept them, and ultimately empowering them to live new lives.

LiNK exists so that one day the crisis in North Korea will not. We operate under a mandate that does not allow us to remain silent about the human rights and refugee crisis that is a result of this emergency. We educate, protect, advocate, provide and empower the North Korean people so that one day they will have the opportunity to live in true freedom.

Spread the word. See you Tuesday.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tornado Attacks Billings

My hometown, Billings, Montana, just got attacked by a tornado. It ripped off the roof of the Metra. Here is the story. Check this video.

Taking on Legion--A Sermon

Taking on Legion
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 20, 2010

Luke 8:26-39

The Jesus Seminar determined that Jesus probably was an exorcist. He was believed to be successful in casting out demons. Now that doesn't mean the Jesus Seminar thinks there are or ever were demons, but the pre-modern culture in which he lived did. Afflictions that we might understand as mental illness would have been in Jesus' time and place caused by unclean spirits. People who could get rid of these unclean spirits would be holy men and women. Jesus apparently had skills at this.

However, the Jesus Seminar voted this particular account as a fiction. It has the feel of a horror movie. A horror movie that ends with a comic twist. Demons named Legion asking for and taking up temporary residence in the pigs and drowning them in the sea must have been an amusing detail for those who saw pigs as unclean.

The author of Luke copied this story from Mark. Mark has more detail that Luke left aside. Here is how Mark describes the man:
He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
Mark also provides a detail of the number of pigs, 2000.

That number, that Luke misses, is interesting. I think it is one of a number of clues that the original storyteller was telling us a story. The demon is named Legion and Legion enters 2000 pigs and is drowned in the sea. Wink. Wink.

Legion was the name of a Roman fighting force. A legion could contain anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 soldiers. Palestine was occupied by the Roman army. Jesus was killed on a Roman cross. The New Testament is a response to this Roman occupation. Jesus is drowning the Roman army in the sea.

Mark, as crafty storytellers will do, shows us without telling us what this story is really about. The story is not about Jesus casting out a demon as if that is all that is wrong. It is a story of resistance to and liberation from Roman oppression.

The Roman occupation is the unclean spirit. The shackles and chains, the howling and the bruising, are the effects of this occupation. This is the human suffering, the toll that is taken on the people of Palestine by this occupation.

For Mark it is a battle between Jesus and Caesar and Mark throws down the gauntlet in the first sentence of his gospel:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Proclamations throughout the Empire would begin with good news from the emperor, son of God. Mark spoofs that pompous proclamation.

Mark is taking head on Roman Imperial Theology. The real son of God, the real power, is not in Caesar and his standing armies and his weaponry and his legions and his economic system based on slavery and his unsustainable lust for land and his abuse of people and of Earth. No, the real son of God, who represents the empire of God, of justice and peace, is in this peasant-teacher-exorcist--rabble-rouser, Jesus, and his movement of non-violent resistance.

Even the demon, Legion, knows who Jesus is, according to the story. When the demon sees Jesus coming, shouts out,

"Don't torment me!"


Don't torment Roman occupation? That's funny. Jesus had told the unclean spirit to leave. The 2000 pigs represent a legion of soldiers (pigs!) drowning in the sea as YHWH drowned Pharoah's army in the exodus from Egypt. That is the power of the good news Mark and Luke are telling us.

Who are the people who own the pigs and who ask Jesus to leave because they are afraid? Maybe they are those who benefit economically from the oppression of their own kin. In the logic of this story they are not innocent farmers, they represent the interests of the occupation. They are doing just fine with Rome and with Legion and they don't take kindly to Jesus messing up the good thing they have going.

Another detail. The man possessed by the unclean spirit lives in the tombs. The land of the dead. Being occupied is death. It is being shackled. At the end of the story, the tomb is empty. This living person is no longer in the tomb.

Fast forward to the end of Mark's gospel. After Jesus' crucifixion, the women go to the tomb to cover his body in spices. When they get there the tomb is empty. The tomb that the Roman occupation put Jesus in cannot contain him. The man or angel at the empty tomb tells the woman that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised and has gone ahead to Galilee. Follow him. The woman run away afraid and that is how the gospel ends. It ends with a question mark. Will we be afraid like the owners of the pigs, or will we follow? Will we continue the resistance?

None of this is literal or supernatural. It is symbol and metaphor.

And it is true.

Well it could be true.

It is true to the extent that we trust that it is true and act on its truth.

It is true if we use our imagination and our courage and bring this story to the present.

This is where Bible class ends and preaching begins, I suppose. You can apply the story of Jesus casting out Legion to the present in many different ways. That is the power of a symbolic story.

The story of the man in the tombs is a great story for coming to terms with addiction. Drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behavior keep us in the tombs howling and hurting. The only solution is to name the demon and send it away. That requires brutal honesty. No denial, no anger and blame, no depression or feeling sorry for oneself will help. Legion is an unclean spirit that won't stop until you are dead. Get rid of it. It can be done. No excuses. Anyone who is in recovery knows that. Those for whom recovery does not work are those as the AA manual says:
"constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves."
The story of the man in the tombs is a great story for recovery from addiction on the individual level. With honesty and help that is available immediately, addicts can rise from the dead and lead healthy, whole, productive, unclean spirit-free lives.

It is also a great story for recovery from addiction on the collective level.

We, and particularly Americans, who at 4% of the population use 25% of the world's oil, are addicted to fossil fuels. President Obama told us that a few days ago from the Oval Office. Addicted. That is not a figure of speech. That is a reality.

We are possessed by an unclean spirit.

For the past 150 years the human population of Earth has increased from under 2 billion to over 6 and one-half billion because of fossil fuels, particularly oil, the elixir of the depths.

It isn't so much that we are addicted to oil as we are addicted to the economy of oil which is unlimited growth and consumption. Food, housing, transportation, everything is based on the abundance of cheap oil. It is a lifestyle that a former president said is non-negotiable. That is an addict talking. That is Legion.

Oh, yes it is negotiable and Mother Earth will negotiate on her terms.

The numbers are telling us that global oil production has peaked. This means Earth will provide less and less oil as we demand more. The implications for Peak Oil are sobering. There are plenty of books, videos, and websites that tell what these implications are.

But we are in denial. We are addicts. Addicts lie to themselves and to others.
Oh, when the time comes we will switch over to solar power, or wind, or we'll drive those cute little hydrogen powered cars, or we'll burn corn in our tanks.
Addicts will believe anything as long as they don't have to change. None of that is feasible. Not even close. We will need alternative sources in a post-peak world for human survival, but nothing will replace fossil fuels and keep us on our current addictive lifestyle or anywhere close to it.

Watching on our computer screen 60,000 barrels of oil pour into the Gulf each day because of our desperate drilling adventures should be the bottom that addicts need to hit before they realize they need to change. But so far, no.

Rome fell because it overextended itself. Its energy was slavery and in order to expand it had to continually conquer more land and hence more slaves. It was a military-slavery economy. It finally reached its limit, its peak, and it imploded.

We have a military--fossil fuel--consumptive economy. Infinite growth and finite resources yield collapse. We are there.

Folks may check out at this point because it is too depressing. My answer to that, in my most pastoral voice possible, is tough. You need to stay with us. We do not have the luxury to be depressed.

We need to buck up and face it. We cannot stop the grieving process at denial, or depression, or anger, or bargaining. We have to move to acceptance of reality. Only then can we face the decisions we need to make.

We can cast this demon out.
We can get rid of Legion.
We can change pro-actively our addictive lifestyle.
It will take brutal honesty.

As Americans we no longer have the luxury of denying reality. We live in a representative democracy. For it to function, every citizen must be informed. Each of us must act as if we were president and realistically think through the options. We need to know the numbers and the facts, not the corporate spin, not the blind patriotism, not the polarization of left and right, but the facts.

The future is going to be local. Local food. Local energy. Little driving. We need to prepare our local governments for this. We need to use our influence in Carter County and Washington County and Sullivan County, wherever we live, to prepare ourselves realistically for a post-petroleum world. This is not for some time in the future. Now.

In our Bible story, when Jesus casts out Legion, the people were afraid and they told him to leave. We need to accept that telling the truth will anger folks. Addicts can't handle the truth. It is no use directing anger at the oil companies. They supply our addiction. It is no use directing anger at the government. We are the government.

Now remember, and this is most important. The story in Mark’s gospel is a story of good news.

The man possessed, shackled and hurting found his right mind.
He didn't solve all of his problems.
He found a clear head in order to face them.
He found a mind of peace and joy.
Waking up, naming our addiction, and facing the future realistically is good news.
Ending our unsustainable addiction is good news.
It will result in clean water.
In healthy food.
In justice.
In peace.
In life.

We really have no idea what this new life free of addiction look like.
Our great-grandchildren will.
We need to live for them now.
We cannot poison their waters, their food, and their air for our addiction.
We need to live for them.

There will be a new Earth on the other side of this great change.
It only looks scary from this end.
Addicts cannot imagine how they will live without their drug.
When they recover they recover day by day.
They don't magically solve the problems.
They are clear thinking enough to face them.
It is time to wake up and face our addiction and begin the road to recovery.

The story in the Bible is a story of courage.
It is the story of honesty and trust.
I believe it is a true story.
It is a story of the power of truth to set us free.
Let us live it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

ASP is Back!


Our ten youth and four adults returned earlier today from an Appalachia Service Project week in Dickenson County, Virginia. From the initial reports (and especially from the pic below) they had a great week! Congratulations team and thank you!


Tournament Time!


The Presbpopalians (a hybrid team of church members from St. John's Episcopal of Johnson City and First Presbyterian of Elizabethton) is ready for the tournament! We finished the regular season with four wins and three losses.

Come cheer us on Monday night at 7 at Winged Deer Park!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pick-O-Matic Gives Dulcimer Players a Third Hand!

FPC Elizabethon's own Jim Miller has a new invention!

ASP in Dickenson County


Ten of our youth and four adults are in Dickenson County, Virginia with the Appalachia Service Project. Becca Knight who is a member at FPC and on staff at ASP visited with them earlier in the week and took some pics. We have them on the website already.

Here are our two teams.


From left to right: Ellie, Courtney, Eeva, Natalie, Scott, Dillon, and Taylor. And...


Samantha, Merrilee, Dylan, Rion, John, Shannon, and Dwain.


Doesn't seem quite fair, does it?


A view from an overlook in Wise County, Virginia.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If PCUSA is a circus, what is the LayMAN?

Parker Williamson of the LayMAN displays Christian charity in his latest editorial. Using the metaphor of a circus to describe the upcoming General Assembly, he writes:
There will be clowns – men dressed like women, women dressed like men, and the undefined dressed like both – gyrating over and around a plethora of sexual standard proposals whose sum total will result in no standard at all.
Stay classy, Parker.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayer for the Gulf

The Unity Church of Venice, Florida is inviting all spiritual communities and all people to join them in prayer for the Gulf of Mexico at three p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, June 20th. Check their website for details.

I don't think I will gather the community at three p.m. but I think I will use this prayer during worship on that day:

To whales, dolphins, manatees, pelicans, seagulls and all aquatic bird species, fishes, shellfish, planktons, corals, algae and all ion creatures in the Gulf of Mexico,
I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you.

We should offer this same prayer to the living things off the coastal waters of Nigeria. According to this article, every year a spill the size of the one in the Gulf poisons those waters.

The real question is this: Eventually, we will stop driving our cars. The global oil supply has peaked. Oil prices will soon skyrocket. Civilization could very well collapse before the decade is out. Will we destroy everything before we realize that and change?

President Obama speaks to the world tonight. He has a choice before him. You know he knows about Peak Oil. You know he knows that industrialized civilization cannot last much longer. Our only hope is stark honesty and a whole new way of life. Will he have the courage to tell us the truth and lead us into a post peak oil future, or will he blame the oil companies, talk "green" (which isn't), and continue us on the same path leading to our collapse?

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Cloud of Witnesses


I had the great fun of participating in a wedding this morning on top of Roan Mountain. You never know if it will be clear or cloudy until you get there. Today on the high bluff we were surrounded by a great cloud. It was like being married in heaven. Pictured below from left to right are me, Bev (a member of our church and a friend who works with the groom), the happy couple, Michael and Susan, Susan's son, Nick, and in front, Woodrow.

Here are Michael and Susan "walking down the aisle" which happens to be a half-mile walk from the parking lot to Roan High Bluff.


The kiss in the fog...


This was a blog wedding in that Michael has been reading Shuck and Jive for several years and when looking for a preacher for the nuptials decided I might be irreverent enough for the job.

Congratulations, Michael and Susan! It was an honor!

Book Burning in Greeneville

Doesn't this sound like great fun?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Forgiveness Without Brokers: A Sermon

Forgiveness Without Brokers
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 13, 2010

II Samuel 11:2-12:10, 13-15
Luke 7:36-8:3

Forgiveness.

The church is all about forgiveness.

A few months ago we discovered that professional golfer, Tiger Woods, was in fact, a human being. His personal life was all over the news. Television newscasters and pundits were buzzing about him, wondering in particular what his dalliances might do to his golf game. One such broadcaster, Brit Hume, raised the stakes by stating that Tiger needed to switch religions. This is what he said of Tiger Woods:
He's said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'
That comment raised a lot of furor. Fundamentalist Christians praised it. The rest of us thought it was tacky and gauche. Buddhist, Robert Thurman said:
Hume is slapping someone who is down by picking on Tiger Woods, who I don’t even know if he is a Buddhist. He is just pandering to the Fox News fundamentalist audience by acting as if Jesus can make everything fine. I think Hume and his colleagues need to commit a little time to interfaith study.
Of course, the obvious question is: what does Jesus, Christianity, or Buddhism have to do with it? If anyone cares, it would be Tiger Woods’ wife. No one else needs to have a role in that drama except for those who are affected personally. It isn't my business or Brit Hume's business or Robert Thurman's business. It isn't Jesus's business. Nor is it God's business.

The Church has claimed that sins, public, private, juicy and otherwise are God's business. Jesus is the vehicle and the Church is the broker. According to this theology, any sin is a sin against God. Jesus is the only one who forgives and since the church is Christ's body, it also the mediator, the broker, or the loan shark of forgiveness.

The historical Jesus never claimed that role. He was placed in it by the church. He spoke and acted against the brokerage system. When you find passages such as the one in Luke where Jesus says to the woman "Your sins are forgiven" the church saw this as proof that Jesus alone had special forgiveness mojo.

But is that really true? As we hear his parables, aphorisms, and injunctions, we find Jesus taking the power away from the institution. He wasn't giving it to himself, but showing by example what any of us can do. His stories of forgiveness and his interactions with others were about interpersonal relations. You don't need priests. You don't need a Temple. You don't even need an abstraction called "God" to intervene in human relationships.

The church was tone deaf to this and turned Jesus into a substitute for the Temple. Jesus dying on the cross became atonement for sins that we owed God. The church completely distorted the message of Jesus. For the historical Jesus, forgiveness had little to do with God and certainly little to do with religious institutions.

For Jesus, forgiveness happens when human beings discover the humanity of one another.

Before I go further with that, I should tie up this loose end. In talking about forgiveness in terms of interpersonal relationships, I am not talking about crimes against the state. That is the secularization of what we once called "sins against God." This is the David and Bathsheba story. David misuses his power to commit murder. He is a king so he has no one to answer to except God. Today, in a secular society, we create a system of laws and a judicial system to enforce them. God has no role in this except perhaps as a symbol for conscience, justice, or morality.

God also has less and less a role in terms of interpersonal relationships. When I do something to hurt you, I am not hurting "God". I am hurting you. My obligation is not to God but to you. If there is any forgiveness is will not come from God, but from you.

So what is forgiveness?

We tend to think that forgiveness is something we do or we ought to do. We are told that we need to forgive. Self-help literature is filled with admonitions to forgive. If we don't it will eat at us, cause ill health, and turn us into miserable little people that no one wants to be around. We feel obligated to forgive for our own good.

But so often we cannot forgive or we pretend to, but it doesn't feel real.

I can't forgive my husband or my wife for the affair.
I can't forgive my sister or my brother for taking the family's estate.
I can't forgive my mother or my father for treating me badly.
I can't forgive my children for ignoring me.

I am not talking about anyone in particular. These are everyone's stories. Is human forgiveness even possible? How do you do this? What does it look like?

It is not something we do. If we are lucky, it is something we discover.

In John Patton’s excellent book, Is Human Forgiveness Possible? he writes:
Forgiveness is a discovery after the fact, not something sought after and achieved by whatever religious or psychological means. P. 139
Patton’s book is on the top of my list of helpful books in terms of helping me listen to others as they struggle with interpersonal relationships, particularly forgiveness. This is his thesis that he returns to throughout his book:
…human forgiveness is not doing something but discovering something—that I am more like those who have hurt me than different from them. I am able to forgive when I realize that I am in no position to forgive…. P. 16
No one likes to hear that. That isn’t something I say up front, perhaps even ever when I talk with someone. The discovery itself is an act of grace. It cannot be forced. It is a discovery that we are all human beings. We may not even call it forgiveness. We don’t need to have a name for it.

When we think of forgiveness as something we do, we come from a position of power and righteousness. I am right. You are wrong. I choose or do not choose to forgive you. But keeping it in those terms keeps us from moving beyond it. We may not wish to be in relationship with the person who has wronged us. But if we do we will need at some point to discover forgiveness. Otherwise, there will always be unresolved debt and resentment.

It is perfectly OK to choose not to forgive, whatever we think forgiveness is. But if forgiveness is something we are looking for, we will actually discover it by not seeking it. I know that sounds weird. The issue is that forgiveness is human relationship. It is to use one of John Patton’s words, “Neighbor-hood.” It is recognizing that we have a place in the “community of sinners.”

When someone has tried it all and just can’t forgive and it is eating at her or him, and bitterness, rage, resentment are making a permanent abode, then it is time to do some self-work. Rather than worry about forgiveness, one suggestion is to think about coming to terms with one’s own self perception.

This has to do with coming to terms with our own shame, that is our own woundedness. We think it is about guilt, but it is really about shame. Shame is about who we are. When criticized we don’t take it as we have done something wrong but that we are something wrong. Shame is not measuring up. Shame is not being good enough. Shame’s symbol is nakedness. Adam and Eve in the garden feel shame. They need to cover themselves. In the story YHWH covers them as an act of love.

When someone wrongs us, particularly someone especially close, someone who has with us a relationship of intimacy and trust, and betrays that trust, our shame is triggered. We have been shamed and exposed. Our reaction to that is either rage or righteousness.

There is no wonder we can’t forgive the one who shames us because our rage and righteousness is our protection. When we do the self-work, when we find other ways of covering our nakedness (so to speak), we begin to realize that we don’t need the rage or the righteousness to do that.

These past few weeks I have been angry and righteous in regards to BP and the oil leak. But I wonder if some of that rage and righteousness is a cover for my own shame in terms of the lifestyle I lead and the oil I use to maintain it.

We can’t cure shame but we can care for it.
We care for it by being vulnerable and accepting ourselves as we are.
We care for it by allowing others to love us as we are.
We care for it when we see the other person as one who is also covering for shame.
When we can see that, we can discover that we have our humanity in common.
That is forgiveness.


It is not something we do. It is something we discover.

We don’t need a broker, but a third person who can provide the space for us to be ourselves without judgment is a rare pearl.


We don’t need God the cosmic lawmaker and stern judge, counting our debts, but we may need a spirituality that connects us to something larger than ourselves and surprises us with grace.

We don’t need Jesus who takes a beating that was supposed to be inflicted upon us, but we may need a Jesus who reminds us of what it means to be human and invites us to participate in our common human life, and who accepts us as we are.

I started this sermon by suggesting that the church is all about forgiveness. That is true but not in the usual sense. It isn’t a broker between us and God, or between us and others. The community doesn't need to supervise forgiveness. It can be, if we are open to it, a community where we don't give up on our relationships. Through that we can be surprised by our humanity and through that surprise discover the humanity of others.