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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanks, Wikileaks...


Update: Hmmm. I am going to backpedal a bit on wikileaks. There is a lot of buzz out there that needs checking. Like this from Sott.Net Wiki-Leaks Serves Israeli Agenda of Demonizing Iran.
But the Wiki-leaks documents tell much more than arbitrary killing in wars of conquest, they also provide support for the continuation and expansion of those wars, most notably to Iran and Pakistan.
I don't like this story at all. That sounds too much like "Saddam has WMD". Who are we supposed to trust on that? I am now suspicious. I am going to watch and wait.

Wikileaks is in the news.

This is in today's Johnson City Press.

From Democracy Now!

Read about Wikileaks.

Follow Wikileaks on Twitter.

Wikileaks on Facebook.

Keep leaking my friends.

And keep suspicious of those who leak.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Meaning of Life, Part 63


If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

--Meister Eckhart



Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peace Church Director on WETS


Wayne Winkler of WETS interviewed Dr. Matthew V. Johnson. The interview will be broadcast Saturday November 27th at 7:30 a.m.


You can listen to it here.

Check our Facebook Event page.







Don't miss Dr. Johnson, the Director of Every Church A Peace Church, Thursday, December 2nd at FPC Elizabethton at 7 p.m.

PFLAG Tri-Cities Holiday Party!

Come and join us for some holiday fun!

It's the PFLAG Tri-Cities Holiday Celebration!

When: Sunday December 5 at 5pm
Where: Presbyterian Campus House
1412 College Heights Dr.
Johnson City, TN

What to bring: A covered dish to share, drinks* for your party and your holiday spirit!

(*As this location is on the ETSU campus,
no alcohol will be permitted.)

RSVP either at our Facebook event page or email us at pflagtricities@yahoo.com

We look forward to seeing you there as we come together to celebrate the holidays in a safe, accepting environment!

Monday, November 22, 2010

If the Oil Runs Out: Peak Oil Film Set In 2016



Update: Check this article. This is very important. It is about the World Energy Outlook (WEO) by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA mentions Peak Oil for the first time...

...in past tense.

Sobering. Read it.


First, pay close attention to the legend for the chart. Starting at the bottom, note that crude oil from "currently producing fields" (dark blue) is already in sharp decline and is expected to decline from a high of 70 mbd in 2006 to ~15 mbd in 2035; a loss of 55 mbd over 25 years, or 2.2 mbd per year. The next band up (gray) is crude oil from "fields yet to be developed," which we largely know about but have not yet really started producing significantly.

My only comment here is that these fields cannot overcome the expected rate of loss in the dark blue band below them. All of the conventional oil that we know about is now past peak. In order to keep conventional oil flat, we have to move up to the third band (light blue), which goes by the spine tingling name "fields yet to be found" - which will apparently be delivering a very hefty 22 mbd by 2035. In other words, the IEA is projecting that in 25 years, more oil will be flowing from "fields yet to be found" than from all the fields ever found and put into production by the year 2010.

Colin Campbell, one of the earliest analysts of peak oil who has decades of oil field experience, is on record as saying that the "fields yet to be developed" category, originally introduced to the world as unidentified Unconventional in 1998, is a "coded message for shortage" and was, off the record, confirmed as such by the IEA. That coded message is getting easier and clearer to receive by the day.

Your midnight movie is from the UK. This is from 2006 before we had $140 a barrel oil in 2008 and before the financial crash. The film is set in 2016 and is a combination of fiction plus documentary about Peak Oil.

It has a bad title, If the Oil Runs Out.

Oil "running out" is not the issue, of course. We are experiencing the global peak of oil production. It is the end of cheap oil--the stuff that built everything we have. That is why tar sands and all that other doesn't matter. Sure, we can extract hydrocarbons (with huge environmental costs) but the rate of their extraction can never be enough to replace liquid petroleum.

Here is your midnight movie. The drama focuses on the changes families will experience.

Watch the entire film here
.

Get On the Peace Train

Thanks to the Johnson City Press for publishing the announcement about Dr. Matthew Johnson coming to FPC Elizabethton on December 2nd. Here is the article:
ELIZABETHTON — Dr. Matthew V. Johnson, national executive director of Every Church a Peace Church, will speak at First Presbyterian Church, 119 W. F St., on Dec. 2.

Johnson will speak in the church’s sanctuary at 7 p.m. A reception will follow in the Martin Hall of the church.

Johnson received his master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophical theology from The University of Chicago. He is a member in training at The Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy a n d Psychoanalysis.

Johnson, who has served in the ministry for 30 years, is the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd Baptist in Atlanta.

Johnson’s appearance at First Presbyterian is sponsored by the church’s Peacemaking Team.

For more information about the Every Church a Peace Church program, visit www.ecapc.org. For more information about First Presbyterian and its Peacemaking Team, visit www.FPCelizabethton.org.

For directions to the church, call 543-7737, or for general information, call 926-3165.
I am really looking forward to this.

Don't miss Thursday, December 2nd at 7 p.m.!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

For Christ the King Sunday...

Here's a little something from Robert Funk...
Scholars have generally agreed that the parables and aphorisms of Jesus refer to something called the realm of God or God’s domain. In view of the history of that symbolic representation of God, his reference may well be ironic. In any case, there is an anomaly in the juxtaposition of the kingdom of God and the realm of Jesus.

The authentic parables and aphorisms do not make use of the royal epic of Israel in their subject matter. The kingdom of the parables is not the kingdom of David and Solomon. On the contrary, the sayings of Jesus demote the royal line, assign the powerful and wealthy to an inferior position, and promote the poor, the tearful, and the dispossessed to the status of a privileged class. It is a kingdom of nobodies.…

….For Jesus, the realm of God is the unkingdom of the unGod.

--Robert Funk, A Credible Jesus
and a nice little melody from Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Un-kingdom of the Un-god: A Sermon

The Un-kingdom of the Un-god
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Jesus the Un-king Sunday
November 21st, 2010

Gospel of Jesus 3:18-22

Jesus would advise them, “Be as sly as snakes and as simple as doves.”


Jesus used to recommend, “Be passersby.”


Jesus would say, “Struggle to get in through the narrow door; I’m telling you, many will try to get in, but won’t be able.”


Jesus said, “When you are about to appear with your opponent before the magistrate, do your best to settle with him on the way, or else he might drag you up before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the jailer, and the jailer throw you into prison. I tell you, you’ll never get out of there until you’ve paid every last red cent.”


Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 25. Thomas 39:3; 42; Matthew 5:25-26; 7:13-14; 10:16; Luke 12:58-59.



The Un-kingdom of the Un-god is a phrase I borrowed from the late Robert Funk in his book,
A Credible Jesus. Funk points out that Christian tradition turned the human Jesus into an oriental monarch. We even give him a special Sunday, Christ the King.

I do like this poem by Muriel Spark, "The Three Kings". I used it during last year’s Christmas Eve service.
Where do we go from here?
We left our country,

Bore gifts,

Followed a star.

We were questioned.

We answered.

We reached our objective.

We enjoyed the trip.

Then we came back by a different way.

And now the people are demonstrating in the streets.

They say they don't need the Kings any more.

They did very well in our absence.

Everything was all right without us.

They are out on the streets with placards:

Wise Men? What's wise about them?

There are plenty of Wise Men,

And who needs them? -and so on.

Perhaps they will be better off without us,

But where do we go from here?
We don’t hear too much about kings these days. Of course we do hear of dictators and warlords. Saudi Arabia has the House of Saud. They are a bit problematic, really. We don’t want to look too closely at human rights violations. It is their culture after all, we rationalize. Besides, whoever controls the oil spigot gets to be king. At least for a while.

Of course there is the British royal family. I listened with mild amusement while NPR spoke about the upcoming wedding between Prince William and Kate “the commoner” Middleton. They still use that term, “commoner”.


Writing in the L.A. Times, Michael McGough says that the antics of the royal family and of Hollywood celebrities in the United States are similar. For us, the joys and travails of the beautiful people in the tabloids and corporate news networks provide distraction from the news to which we ought to be paying attention. Perhaps the royal family does the same for the British citizenry.


The royal family is symbolic to be sure. The queen doesn’t really run the navy. “But” says
McGough:
…symbolic or not, the monarchy enshrines in law a distinction between commoners and those who owe their prominence, not to mention their fortunes, to bloodlines. At least Hollywood stars earn their celebrity -- sometimes anyway.
The smart way is to have all the characteristics of Empire, and to keep those fortunes flowing for the privileged, while officially not being an Empire. It is to pretend to democracy but only offer choices that essentially are the same. Such as…
  • Two political parties that have little more than superficial differences.
  • Three or four corporate food producers that control virtually all food production.
  • Three or four energy corporations that control extraction and supply of energy.
  • Three or four media corporations that control virtually all media, which in turn is funded and whose message is provided by these other corporations.
Then provide virtually unlimited funding and access to elected officials by these corporations while distracting the populace with celebrity puff and infotainment, and you have won the day.

You have sealed the deal.
Give yourself a crown. It is American Empire that pretends otherwise.

Boy preacher, you are meddlin’ this morning.


It is Christ the King Sunday. What am I supposed to do?

It is in this world of empire that Jesus appeared. Different names, same Empire.


The gospels are stories of conflict. The conflict is between Jesus and the authorities. The conflict ends in his torture and execution at the hand of established authority that is Empire. You can’t get any more political than that.


According to these early rabble-rousers, the Gospel story does not end there.


The early followers of Jesus had the chutzpa to say that Empire did not win the day even though it had executed their hero, their un-king. They cobbled together metaphors (such as “getting up” from the dead, son of God, Lord and Savior, Peace, and Gospel). They took these metaphors that the Roman Emperor had used for himself and with tongue in cheek applied them to Jesus, this “peasant with an attitude” as Dominic Crossan calls him.


They said funny things like…
Jesus is the anointed one!
Jesus is son of God.

Jesus’ message of “God favors the poor” is Gospel.

Jesus “got up” from the dead and is among us.

Jesus is Emperor and Savior.

Jesus offers peace but not as Empire gives.
All of this strange juxtaposition, this odd and creatively subversive application of the honorific titles of Caesar to Jesus, helped our early heroes resist the dehumanizing forces of Empire’s boot. They found dignity and power. They found community and with that support and alternative to Empire.

It is certainly true that empires and kingdoms and governments and institutions (including the institutional church) since that time have found ways to use Jesus to serve their interests.



They turned him into a king, who acts like a dictator, letting some people into his kingdom and sending others (most?) to hell.




And this King Jesus has been used to justify, sanctify, and promote
  • inquisitions,
  • the oppression of women,
  • slavery,
  • religious intolerance,
  • wars for profit, resources, and territory,
  • fundamentalism,
  • persecution of Jews,
  • persecution of Muslims,
  • persecution of heretical Christians,
  • persecution of indigenous people,
  • persecution of gays,
  • psychic damage,
  • guilt,
  • shame,
  • superstition,
  • the squelching of doubt,
  • the silencing of science,
  • the abuse of Earth,
  • really tacky bumper stickers, and
  • bad praise songs.
And now the people are demonstrating in the streets.
They say they don't need the Kings any more.

They did very well in our absence.

Everything was all right without us.
That’s right. We don’t need kings. Even King Jesus.

Instead, we are discovering and reclaiming Jesus the un-king.

While all of this kingdom making has been happening over the centuries, at the same time there has been a prophetic voice that has been a voice for what Matthew Fox calls a Creation-Centered ethic.


This is the voice of
  • Jesus the nobody.
  • Jesus the peasant.
  • Jesus the bullied.
  • Jesus the friend of Earth.
  • Jesus the healer.
  • Jesus the way of non-violence.
  • Jesus the gatherer of the outcast.
  • Jesus the teller of truth.
  • Jesus the voice of peace and compassion.
  • Jesus the way of justice and sustainability.


That is the voice we need to hear and to follow today.




This voice is not loud. It is barely audible. It surfaces then goes under again.

It is a voice that is sly as a snake and simple as a dove.
It is a voice that learns how to settle with opponents rather than to be put in their prisons. (Although, it doesn’t always learn).
It is a voice with patience.
It knows of change.
This too shall pass so be a passerby.
It is a voice that speaks of the way of peace that is a narrow door few can enter because the broad path of violence looks so easy, tempting, and obvious.
It is a voice of parable and subtlety that stuns the mind and disturbs the soul.
  • It was heard in the cadences of Martin Luther King Jr.’s preaching.
  • It was heard in the edgy wisdom of Dorothy Day.
  • It is heard in the beat of an African djembe.
  • It is heard in the songs of women in the Congo.
  • It is heard in the songs of birds,
  • in the crash of waves,
  • in the words of poets, like Mary Oliver, who writes:
At the edge of the ocean I have heard this music before, saith the body.
It is the voice of the body, of bodies, of bodies diseased and beaten, of bodies tortured for greed and profit, of bodies who no longer have voices, but whose voice we hear from those who courageously carry their memory in their bodies.

It is a voice that says no to greed and lies and yes to life, yes to sharing, yes to cooperation, and yes to forgiveness.

All over Earth, if we listen, we can hear the voice of Jesus the un-king. Known in many forms, known beyond all religions. Underneath the din and the noise of Empire, Jesus the un-king speaks peace.


The writer of John's Gospel heard this voice and repeated it in his own refrain. For him, he heard Jesus the un-king say:
Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives—not as Empire gives—not as the military machine gives—not as the profit and loss statement gives. Peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.
Peace. Peace. Peace. Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Colin Campbell: Peak Oil Was Reached in 2008

Your midnight movie is an interview by Jim Puplava with geologist Colin Campbell. It is called Peak Oil Was Reached in 2008 Part 1.



Campbell provides a history of hydrocarbons and tells us our situation. He talks about why politicians are not able to discuss it as they don't want to talk about anything for which they don't have a solution.

Nevertheless, Peak Oil is becoming more mainstream and fast. It is wise to catch up.

After part 1, please view Peak Oil Was Reached in 2008 Part 2.

Don't Get Between Me and My Bible

I believe it is time to upgrade my Bible.

Buy American.


via otagosh

Get on the 10 A Train

We have added a resource for Amendment 10 A to our web page. This past Sunday we included the insert from Aric and Doug (it fits nicely in the bulletin) to go along with my sermon on Jesus' family values.

It is going to happen this time.

Let's check the scoreboard, shall we?

It is 9 to 4 against. However, all presbyteries that have voted have voted as they did in 2008. Of the thirteen, eleven increased their percentage of yes votes from last time. The popular vote is edging toward yes.

Speeches at presbytery are all very good. Getting folks to the meeting is what it's about. There is no excuse for missing the presbytery meeting that votes on Amendment 10 A.

This will happen.

Former stated clerk, Clifton Kirkpatrick, is in favor of Amendment 10 A.

Evangelical theologian, Mark Achtemeier, is in favor of Amendment 10 A. You should read his great argument.

It is happening, beloveds. Get on board!


The Trouble With Resurrection

We are going to be reading Brandon Scott's new book, The Trouble With Resurrection for our Thursdays with Jesus group. The point of the study is to start with the authors in chronological order.

What did they mean?

Why does the church get it wrong?

Hint: It has something to do with Humpty Dumpty.



Order the book and join us Thursdays at 10:30.

Read more about it here!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fossil Fuel Addiction in Five Minutes

Here is a great little film from the Post-Carbon Institute.

Richard Heinberg narrates the history of fossil fuels in five minutes.

He says that we have to do four things fast:

  1. Learn to live without fossil fuels,
  2. Adapt to the end of economic growth as we know it,
  3. Support seven billion humans and stabilize population at a sustainable level, and
  4. Deal with our legacy of environmental destruction.
Here is a good film to watch with your kids, as they will be inheriting our mess.

Your midnight movie!



Dr. Matthew Johnson In Elizabethton



Our little band of peaceniks is proud to welcome Dr. Matthew Johnson to Northeast Tennessee on Thursday, December 2nd.


Dr. Johnson is the National Executive Director of Every Church a Peace Church.



It is time (way past time) for faith communities to get serious and prophetic about peace. I like this guy. Check out this message:

Every Church A Peace Church is committed to the vision of PAXION (peace action) as the method to bring about a just social order, which entails the elimination of militarism (and its pernicious spawn of rabid nationalism masquerading as patriotism) poverty, racism in all its guises, materialism and gender bias. It is our firm conviction that these institutional realities are the structural harbingers of the violence we witness daily in our homes and streets, as well as that perpetrated by our and other governments the world over. This sequela of injustice, greed and hatred has worn the cloak of religious sanctification for centuries. ECAPC is determined to help strip it away by revealing to our local communities, nation and our world the will of God for a humble, just and merciful humanity.

We believe that if you are not actively engaged in overcoming these realities you are in complicity with an oppressive status quo. Jesus of Nazareth was no such conformist. He was a creative non-conformist. Our goal is to help summon the church to its larger call to shake off the apathy grown in the soil of a jaded consumerism, cultivated in a spiritual climate of ignorance and isolationism and take up his cross and follow him. Now is the time for us to respond with head and heart to the challenges before us. The challenges at hand provide the greatest opportunities for a true witness to the living God and her care for a morally depleted and violent world. Join us in our efforts. Become a part of God’s new movement to forge ahead in the realization of the age old vision of a beloved community.

With each church or other organization that commits to the Great Conversation and/or the establishment of a Paxion ministry we’ve answered the call of Christ in our moment and reached another milestone on the King’s highway. Politicians will not and cannot do it for us. Political empowerment is a force, yes, but far too often it peters out at the ballot box, dissolving itself later in bitter complaint and disappointment. Jesus has shown us a more excellent way-Soul Force, the way of truth, love, struggle and sacrifice. We’ve seen it manifest in the movements lead largely by Gandhi and King. Time and again we’ve watched it flare up in hotspots throughout the world only to burn, then smolder. But we must now make a determined effort to sustain the witness by becoming institutionally responsive to the call. We do this through training, dedication and an ongoing Paxion program grounded in spiritual strength and soul force. We must sustain it indeed until the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of God.

A Friend of the Crucified,

Rev. Matthew V. Johnson Sr., Ph.D.

Join us.

This event is free and open to the public. We hope that all people in our area who are concerned for peace will come and hear Dr. Johnson.

Thursday, December 2nd at 7 p.m.

First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jesus' Family Values: A Sermon

Jesus’ Family Values
John Shuck

November 14, 2010

Gospel of Jesus 11:1-18

Then he goes home, and once again a crowd gathers, so they could not even grab a bite to eat. When his relatives heard about it, they came to get him. (You see, they thought he was out of his mind.) Many folks were saying, “He’s out of his mind and crazy. Why pay attention to him?”


Then his mother and his brothers arrive. While still outside, they send in and ask for him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they say to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”


In response he says to them: “My mother and brothers—who ever are they?”


And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will, that’s my brother and sister and mother!”


Once when hordes of people were traveling with him, he turned and addressed them: “If any of you comes to me and does not hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life—you’re no disciple of mine.”


Then he left that place and he comes to his hometown, and his disciples follow him. When the Sabbath day arrived, he started teaching in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astounded and said so: “Where’s he getting this?” and “What’s the source of this wisdom?” and “Who gave him the right to perform such miracles? This is the carpenter, isn’t it? Isn’t he Mary’s son? And who are his brothers, if not James and Judas and Simon? And who are his sisters, if not our neighbors?” and they were resentful of him.


Jesus used to tell them: “No prophet goes without respect, except in his home turf and among his relatives and at home!”


He was unable to perform a single miracle there, except that he did cure a few by laying hands on them. And he used to go around the villages, teaching them.


Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 53-57. Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; 6:1-6; John 10:20; Luke 14:25-26; Matthew 10:37; 12:46-50; 13:54-58; Thomas 55:1; 101:1-2


I am not an expert on family systems. The most obvious statement in the world is the following:

Families are difficult.

While many politicians and religious figures claim to be all in favor of family values, I wonder if those sentiments are little more than sloganeering. That is especially true when these same family values groups seek to set policy and pass laws that make it harder for some families.

It is even more curious when these family values groups attempt to base their ideology on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Jesus in particular. Here is a guy who left his family and lived with a bunch of men begging around the countryside. He urged his followers to leave their families. In fact he is reported to have said:
If any of you comes to me and does not hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life—you’re no disciple of mine.”
I don’t think I have ever seen that verse of scripture on any Mother’s Day greeting card at Walgreen’s.

For mom on her day, a message from Jesus.

I am not an expert on family systems. That should make me less interested in judging others’ families.

Families are difficult.

We should be kind. We should be helpful.

My personal story is a fortunate story. I was lucky to be raised in a loving family that provided for me food, shelter, education, stability, and emotional strength. It was and is a loving family. I like to think I passed some of that good on to my current family. From my life experience and from interacting with others in the ministry I know that families are very different from each other. All families, even the good ones, have their stuff.

So we should be kind.
Kind to ourselves.
Kind to others as we do not know what they received or did not receive from their families.
Kind (as we can be) to our own family members.

We should be kind as a society to families however they are configured.
  • There is no absolute stamp from heaven that says this is what a family should be.
  • Or...conversely, no stamp from heaven declaring that this is what a family should not be.
  • There is no absolute stamp from heaven that says this person does not deserve happiness or love.
We need families. Whether they are families based on kinship or families of choice, it is wise to be as connected as we can.

There are a couple of things to be said about Jesus and families.

The first is that Jesus did want to strengthen families.





This is from Richard Horsley,

Jesus and the Powers: Conflict, Covenant, and the Hope of the Poor:









Contrary to recent individualist constructions of Jesus as having called his disciples to leave family and village to pursue an itinerant individual lifestyle, the Gospel sources portray Jesus as having sent his disciples into villages to work at the renewal of family and community. In Mark, Jesus repeatedly visits villages or “towns” and places” in Galilee and surrounding areas. Almost in passing, as if it would be obvious, Mark has Jesus teaching and healing in the village assemblies….’ P. 135
When Jesus and his disciples go into villages to heal, cast out demons, and teach, they are doing what we might call today, community organizing. They are helping the village peasantry bond together, resist oppression, and survive economic pressures.

Whenever Jesus does a healing in the gospels, the point is not magical curing of disease, it is about restoring people to community and to family.

The second thing about Jesus and the family is flexibility.

The things that stress families then and now are often pressures from the outside such as economic pressures. The more rigid a structure is when under pressure the more likely it is to crack and break. The more malleable and flexible the more likely it is to bend and to remain strong.

When I counsel couples who wish to be married or have a holy union service, I have them take a relationship inventory. We send it off to Minnesota where the computer evaluates it and send it back. It is a very helpful tool. Through it we talk about communication, conflict, finances, and so forth, those things that make up relationships.

We also look at family of origin issues. One set of questions helps the couple evaluate flexibility and closeness in terms of both their family of origin and in their current relationship. Flexibility relates to how a family makes decisions and adapts to change. The optimum place on the scale is between rigidity on one side and no structure at all on the other.

Then the couple thinks back on their family of origin and I ask them to name some things that they want to keep from their family of origin and some things they want to let go or leave behind. A strong word for that might be hate.

When Jesus said:
"If any of you comes to me and does not hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life—you’re no disciple of mine.”
What did he mean?

I think he was challenging his people to be flexible. We need to be flexible in defining what a family is who we are to care for and who is to care for us if we are going to make it. I think he was speaking in hyperbolic terms about things of which we need to let go in order to move ahead.

I do know that a lot of mischief has been done in the name of that saying of Jesus as well as this one:
“Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will, that’s my brother and sister and mother!’
Many cult leaders and others with grand ideas have been able to convince people that they should leave responsibilities and family connections for some supposed higher calling.

The question that would need definition is, “What is God’s will?”

I think Horsley is right. Jesus did not intend to start a personality cult. He certainly wasn’t about superstitious metaphysical theories. Jesus was about how to make his people stronger and how to help them let go of unhealthy patterns and develop ones suitable for resistance and survival.

  • That meant loving the enemy,
  • It meant allowing the Samaritan who was as oppressed by Empire as much as the Jew, help you.
  • It was about sharing across family boundaries.
  • It was about creating flexible and strong kinship patterns that would connect villages and communities as opposed to dividing them.
  • Jesus was about caring for the widow and the beggar, not leaving them to starve.
At the end of his life, from the cross, the story is probably legendary, but still it captures his character, he tells the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother.” Whose mother is it? It is Jesus’ mother. Obviously, Jesus did not hate his mother. He provided for her in dramatic terms.
This is your mother. This is your son.
Care for one another as if your tie was biological.

I know many in this room have had struggles with family.
Some have been able to reconcile with family.
Some have not.
Some have been rejected by families.

On October 11th over 100 students gathered at ETSU for coming out day. After that event about 50 or 60 gathered at the Presbyterian Campus House to share their stories. I won’t share any specifics but it is safe to say that it was an emotional night. Many of the stories had something to do with religion. It usually wasn’t positive. Some students were shunned by their own family members. Not all. It did make me happy when someone said how important it was for them to be able to be in a house connected with a church where they were accepted.

Families are difficult.

An important book is entitled,

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.


The editor, Mitchell Gold, is from North Carolina, and many of the stories feature people from this area of the country. These are real stories by real people who have had to deal with families.

Families are difficult.

One of the things that is hurting families today is homophobia.
It is prejudice.

To put it in first century terms, homophobia is a demon.

Homophobia is dividing and destroying families and it is dividing our nation and our faith communities. It is preached from pulpits and courted by sleazy politicians who use it to get votes.

Homophobia needs an exorcism.
  • We exorcise that demon by naming it.
  • We exorcise that demon by education.
  • We exorcise that demon by being courageous.
  • We exorcise that demon by stepping out of our own comfort zones and meeting people.
We don’t allow homophobia a home.

It is important for our denomination and for our congregations to get this right. We need to be places of healing and wholeness not places of ignorance and condemnation. We need to be courageous and stand up to name calling and bullying and we need to show the world that it is not cool, it is not manly, it is not Godly to participate in this prejudice either openly or by silently allowing it.

We need to heal our families.

Families are important whether they be families of kin or families of choice.

May this community continue to be a community of courage and strength, welcome and hope to individuals and to families of all kinds.

And above all and in all,
Let us simply remember to be kind.

Amen

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chip Haynes: Doomslut





Last night I read from cover to cover a brand new book, Peak of the Devil: 100 Questions (and answers) about Peak Oil by Chip Haynes.







Chip is a guy who lives with his wife in Florida and has been following the Peak Oil discussion since 1997. I have only been aware since 2006. (Many people think they are aware but they only have a vague notion of what Peak Oil is and what it means--and these notions are mostly wrong).

Chip has it down and he has been preparing for it for some time. This book is a helpful primer for those who are catching up. He answers 101 questions and spends about a page and a half on each. Here are a few:

1) What's this peak oil thing you keep jabbering on about?
14) What do you mean "peak export"?
23) Will natural gas help?
34) What about an electric car?
42) Is there anyway this is not bad news?
55) What can I do about this anyway?
73) Does my life have to change that much?
81) What can we do as a nation?
82) What can my family do?
91) Will this be a problem everywhere?
96) What do I do first?
He answers the questions with a sense of humor. Actually, the sense of humor was a little annoying at first, but after about a quarter of the way through, I began to appreciate what he was saying and how he was saying it.

He is a real person (like your next door neighbor--if your next door neighbor had 37 bicycles) who will be a great guy to have for a neighbor when things start changing.


Most folks who take seriously Peak Oil are considered "doomers". (Haynes prefers the term doomslut). But he actually takes a "middle road" position. He acknowledges that we are in for a really rough ride ("interesting times") and we have no idea of the specifics. He writes:

I coined the phrase the "Dim Ages" some years ago to counter the more extreme doomers who were already predicting the total downfall of all civilization as a result of peak oil. There were people happily chortling over what they saw as the fall of modern man and a return to, quite literally, the Dark Ages, with no power at all for anyone. Mighty heavy stuff there. I guess they thought they were somehow immune to the proceedings.

Me, I don't see it quite that way. My admittedly limited view of the future sees us headed for a time of less, but not a time of none. Not the Dark Ages, but maybe the Dim Ages. I believe we will always have a certain amount of limited power and ability to continue to some degree, but obviously not a we have over the last fifty or sixty years of energy excess. I do not envision the downfall of governments and countries, but I do see a lot less interaction between all concerned....

....I keep comparing where we're headed to where we've been, and do believe that's a valid comparison. One hundred years from now may well look like one hundred years ago, if we're lucky....

....Look for changes to come in small doses at odd times. There's not going to be anything like weekly news alerts on the subject of peak oil or a monthly scheduled power-down to the next lower level. It's all going to be very uneven and mostly unfair. Those with the most will have the most to lose, and they probably aren't going to like that very much. I wouldn't either. pp. 199-200
He has a lot of practical advice but mostly in the line of being aware and of making small changes for a life in which energy and life itself will be much, much more expensive.

He offers this book with a human touch, like a dad or funny uncle would to high school or college students. It is for that audience that this book could be most helpful. It will also be a helpful book to give to family members and friends as an introduction to Peak Oil. After all, your friends and family members already think you are going bonkers so it is helpful to show them that there is at least one more out there like you.

The sobering fact is that Chip Haynes isn't bonkers. He is writing about something real and something current and something that will affect every human being on Earth. This book will help us think about the practical aspects of being aware and of creating flexibility for an uncertain future. He writes:

It's tough to say with any certainty what each of us will be facing, and it will be a little bit different for all of us....

....For now, read what you can and plan what you will, knowing that plans were meant to be changed, just a our future most certainly will. A future of less oil is not what we were planning on, but it's what we're about to get. It's what we will all have to deal with, and how you deal with it will determine your future. p. 216
No one wants to be the Grinch at Christmas, but putting this book in a Christmas stocking may be the most important gift your loved ones will receive this year.

That and a bicycle.

Friday, November 12, 2010

From The White Spire

Here is my little note to the folks for the Late Autumn 2010 Newsletter.

Dear Friends,

At the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Minneapolis this past summer, the commissioners voted to send to the presbyteries for ratification an amendment to change G-6.0106b in the Book of Order and thus remove the denomination’s discriminatory ordination policy against gay and lesbian people. The text of the current provision and proposed change are at the end of this article.

If a majority of our 173 presbyteries approve the change, the new provision will be the new standard for the church. It won’t be easy. Two years ago a similar proposal was rejected by a majority of the presbyteries. It was heartbreakingly close. However, the close vote offered hope that perhaps the next time the change would come.

Now is that next time. It is time for this change. It is past time. Every vote in every presbytery counts.


Holston Presbytery will vote on Tuesday, December 7th at 9:00 a.m. at Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church in Kingsport.

Those who get to vote include minister members of the presbytery (like me). Also, each congregation sends an elder delegate who will vote his or her own conscience. Observers are welcome. While the track record of Holston Presbytery on this matter (3 to 1 against equality) leads me to be pessimistic about Holston voting in favor of the change, the debate and vote is crucial nonetheless.

As they say in church circles, the debate and vote is an opportunity to bear witness.

It is an opportunity to bear witness to the truth as opposed to the false witness that gay and lesbian people are “sinful” or that their relationships are “against the will of Christ” or that they are condemned by the Bible and on and on. All of that is a lie. It is false. It is wrong. That false witness hurts. In fact, it kills.

In an October 28th article, Chelsea.com reported that anti-gay bullying resulted in the deaths of
two 13-year-old boys, Asher Brown of Harris County, Texas, and Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California; two 15-year-olds, Justin Aaberg of Anoka County, Minnesota, and Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana; and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman.
Unfortunately, they are not the only ones by any means. Many more teens have taken their lives due to harassment. The church needs to take responsibility for its role in providing a cover for this bullying to take place. When a church body such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues a policy of discrimination, that discrimination has effects on the lives of real people.

Imagine the healing that could happen if the church were to tell the truth! What if the church were to say clearly:
We were wrong and we are sorry. We realize now that being gay is not a sin. The sin is prejudice. The sin is not telling the truth about people. The sin is turning our sacred texts into weapons that are used to bully our own children. We are not going to do that anymore.
Because I have been outspoken regarding nondiscrimination I get asked to serve on panel discussions or to speak to college classes about diversity. I am unique in that I am apparently one of the few ministers in our area who do not think gays are headed for hell. In these discussions, the students seem surprised that there actually could be a church anywhere let alone in East Tennessee that not only accepts but celebrates gay and lesbian people and their relationships. And we do. We do not discriminate in regards to membership or leadership. We use our space for holy union services (weddings) for same-gender couples. We support equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our state and in our nation. I am sure there is more that we can do and will do to be a place of welcome and a safe harbor.

This past June we held a More Light Sunday service. We declared in worship who we are and why we are who we are. About forty people signed cards to send to our commissioners at General Assembly urging them to remove the discriminatory policies. Some of our church members knitted scarves for the commissioners to show our support. Our commissioners listened. Now it is our turn.

We are affiliated with More Light Presbyterians. MLP, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and That All May Freely Serve work for equality within the church. They are worthy of our support. On their websites you will find resources for ways in which you can help pass this amendment as well as find resources to help you in your own personal advocacy for equality.

I am proud to serve this congregation. I am proud of what we do and who we are. It matters.

Namaste,
John

Here is the current text, G-6.0106b, that was added to our constitution in 1997.
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
The vote before the presbyteries is to replace the above with the following new text:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

Amendment 10-A (Still) Will Keep All God’s Creatures in the Ark



Nine years ago, I wrote an essay for Presbyterian Voices for Justice (then Witherspoon Society) that was also posted on Presbyweb about Amendment 01-A. (01 refers to the year 2001 as 10 refers to 2010).

The 213th General Assembly that met in the summer of 2001 had sent an amendment to remove prohibitions against gays in the ministry. The change since 2001 is that the Authoritative Interpretation was voided in 2008 by an action of the General Assembly. Also, instead of removing G-6.0106b (as was the amendment in 2001), this year it is a rewrite of that section.

Essentially, the current proposal is the same as it was in 2001.

You can read the essay in its entirety on the Presbyterian Voices for Justice website. After nine years, the solution to our problem has not changed. Delaying the inevitable has only served further division within the church. The arguments I made then are the same that advocates are making today.

Amendment 10 A is
  1. faithful to Scripture,
  2. respectful of differing opinions among us, and
  3. in harmony with the meaning of ordination in our church.
We weren’t ready to embrace it in 2001. This year perhaps?

If not, I'll pull this essay out again in 2020.

Here is the middle section as I wrote it in December 2001.



Scripture


I highly value scripture. On the whole I hear it as God's Word of boundless love and enduring hope for creation. I preach from scripture week by week. I believe that our church should be ordered from the message of scripture. This message is ultimately embodied in the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. I take scripture so seriously that I cannot take it literally. I always wrestle with what my beloved New Testament Professor, the late J. Christian Beker, called coherence vs. contingency. What is the coherent, central and timeless message of scripture and what aspects of scripture are contingent upon context, culture and ideology?

As fallible interpreters, we will often mistake the contingent details of the Story for the coherent Message of the Story. No one is immune from this tension. That is why we need each other. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a diverse community to interpret God's Word. It is even trickier to apply our interpretations of various texts to current situations, issues and people. It seems to me that we must have a clear, fair and intelligent understanding of contemporary problems in order for the Message of Scripture to speak with any authority to them.


The contemporary problem we have had before us for 25 years or so is whether or not openly gay persons (my shorthand for "self-affirming practicing homosexuals"--which I find to be laborious and dehumanizing) may serve the church as Deacons, Elders, and Ministers of Word and Sacrament. The actions by various General Assemblies ("definitive guidance", "authoritative interpretation"), PJC decisions, and G-6.0106b (and the litigation that has followed in its wake) seem to suggest that the majority of presbyters have so far said "no." Are these actions backed by the coherent message of scripture? Many agree. Many do not.


Prior to the last General Assembly
over half of the biblical studies faculty at PC(USA) seminaries called the scriptural evidence of denying full participation of gay and lesbian people in the church into question. They saw that the contemporary problem (the denial to ordained leadership of openly gay persons) was not sufficiently addressed by the selected biblical texts often used to support this position. To them, some of these texts are contingent to a larger narrative.

For example, Romans 1:26-27 is a culturally contingent example of Paul's larger coherent assertion of humankind's inability to comprehend and obey God's will. The Levitical prohibitions (i.e. Leviticus 20:13) are ancient tribal contingents of the larger coherent Holiness Code which instructs Israel to be Holy as God is Holy. It is also true that the coherent biblical drama is couched in the contingent patriarchy from which Israel was embedded. The contingency/coherence model reminds us not to miss the forest for the trees in biblical interpretation.


Some passages, such as the Sodom and Gomorrah incident, refer to the sin of inhospitality and gang rape, and the much disputed word in I Corinthians 6:9 seems to come under the rubric of what we might now call "sexual misconduct." Neither would be acceptable then or now. Certainly much of what was acceptable then in regards to sexual behavior and relationships we would no longer find acceptable. Much of what was unacceptable then, we do find acceptable now. (Rather than go into detail on that point, I refer you to Walter Wink's article,
"Homosexuality and the Bible.")

None of these passages speak directly to contemporary human beings who live in loving, ethical, mutually affirming, and community enhancing relationships that happen to be of the same gender. In fact, I might go as far as to say that no contemporary social issue is addressed directly by scripture. That is why we need the Holy Spirit. You cannot simply go to the Bible and "look it up."


In my opinion, a more appropriate text to illuminate this issue would be Acts 10:9ff where Peter beholds a vision of unclean animals being lowered to him on a sheet. He is commanded to "kill and eat." The message is not about food, but people, namely, the Gentiles. What was formerly unclean is now clean. That is certainly a recurring and coherent message of scripture. God chooses the unexpected to do God's work. Many of the parables of Jesus as well as the actions of Jesus were told to counter the prevailing notions of his time in regards to people who were considered unacceptable, untouchable sinners. Jesus partied with them.


For me, the coherent message of scripture is one of radical inclusive grace and an invitation to discipleship to everyone, which entails living holy lives. If we are fortunate enough to share our lives in intimacy with another, our relationship should be based upon the Gospel ethic of love, fidelity, forgiveness, stewardship, unitivity and hospitality. I have been blessed to know gay
and lesbian couples who have lived that ethic pretty darn well. They in turn, have been a blessing to the community and to the Church of Jesus Christ.


Agreeing to Disagree

All of this said regarding scripture, I recognize that Presbyterians in good conscience may interpret the will of God differently on this and many other matters. With most other matters whether they be social issues such as abortion or capital punishment, or theological issues such as the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement or eschatology, we agree to disagree and at best we even strengthen one another by pointing out facets of an issue or problem that the other may have missed. It seems strange to me that we can agree to disagree on so many more substantial issues and practices and allow freedom of conscience and mutual forbearance in that diversity, but this issue requires a categorical prohibition.


I am not (nor is Amendment 01-A) asking for agreement on homosexuality any more than I feel that we should agree on hundreds of other social and theological issues and approaches. I do not even claim that I am ultimately right on this. I simply feel that there is room for differing viewpoints. There is no consensus of biblical interpretation that would categorically prohibit Presbyterians in same-gender relationships to serve the church in an ordained capacity. No matter how certain we may feel about our interpretation of scripture regarding this issue, we must agree to the obvious fact that there is no consensus. Far from it. A significant and increasing minority within the Presbyterian Church (USA) faithfully interprets scripture to include those who have been excluded by our current policy.


Part of the beauty, the decency and the order of our Presbyterian system is not to allow the tyranny of a simple majority to overbear upon the minority on issues that are non-essential. All Amendment 01-A asks for is to let the church agree to disagree and to let the governing bodies determine who may serve particular ordained ministries based on their evaluation of the character, faith and gifts of a person guided by the governing body's interpretation of the coherence of Scripture, the Confessions, and
The Book of Order (excepting of course the recent addition, G-6.0106b).


Why ordination/installation?


It is curious to me why the social issue of same gender relationships centers on the issue of ordination/installation within the Church. If same-sex relationships are so far removed from the will of God as to warrant policies specifically excluding these individuals from ordained service within the church, why stop there? Why not pass an amendment explicitly excluding these folks from singing in choir, teaching Sunday school, serving on staff as a youth minister, playing the organ, sweeping up the fellowship hall or doing the dishes after the church potluck?


Why stop there? Perhaps self-affirming practicing homosexuals (there is that dehumanizing phrase again) should be excluded from church membership and baptism. Those who seek to be baptized or to join the church on affirmation of faith or reaffirmation of faith are asked by me in
front of the congregation: "Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?" Can a self-affirming practicing homosexual (let's call her Sandy in a relationship with her life partner, Joan) say: "I renounce them" knowing full well that she has no intention of changing her relationship with her partner? Is the Session not in violation if it is aware of this relationship as well and approves her for membership? Obviously, I am not advocating for more Draconian measures against our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. I am simply attempting to point out the inconsistencies of the policy to prohibit installation and ordination of these Presbyterians.

Besides baptism and membership, what of other Christian service? How does a congregation or Session prohibit an openly gay person from teaching Sunday School, serving communion, preaching on occasion, serving as a youth minister (or serving as a paid evangelist as in Janie Spahr's case), or any of the myriad ways in which Presbyterians can serve the church, without a direct prohibition in the
Book of Order? The answer is quite simple. Congregations figure these things out for themselves.

If a Session does not want someone to teach Sunday School, lead the choir or run the youth program, it doesn't ask that individual to do so. The same is the case, whether or not a blanket prohibition is in the
Book of Order, regarding ordained and/or installed service. If a Session does not want a certain Presbyterian serving in a particular capacity within its congregation, the Session is adept enough to keep him or her from serving. But is it really fair to force a congregation that disagrees with those principles of exclusion to do the same? We should not ordain (nor prohibit from ordination) people based on category.

We do not ordain (nor decide not to ordain) communists, cigarette smokers, abortion providers, men, women, divorced persons, biblical literalists, grumpy people, or those who have a good word to say about everyone. We evaluate for service Bob and Sue and Ahmad and Soon Li. That is how Presbyterians do things. A governing body is guided by scripture and the confessions (ultimately the Holy Spirit) to evaluate individuals for particular service. The problem for these past two and one-half decades is that a simple majority has instituted and enforced a binding policy of categorical prohibition on one class of individuals for the whole church. We will continue to have problems until we allow charity on non-essentials. To quote from Jesus (with gratitude to Walter Wink for lifting this one up):

Let us do what we should have done nine years ago and Vote Yes on 2010 A.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Military is Preparing for Peak Oil (Civilian Authorities Are Not)


Your midnight movie is another powerpoint from the recent ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas) Conference. Hope you have time to look at all of it, but if not, here is a summary of the key points:


LFE is "Liquid Fuel Emergency."

We are not prepared.

This is from the Business Insider:
Various military reports have come out recently that analyze the apocalyptic threat posed by peak oil. The most notorious of these, from a German military think tank, warned of market failures and a crisis of political legitimacy and proposed ways to manage the risk.

Nothing comparable, however, has been issued by U.S. civilian authorities, like the FDA and the DoT.

Energy Securities Analyst Rick Munroe made these claims in an awesome presentation at the recent ASPO-USA conference.

He says we're ignoring a major strategic shock that has been visible for decades.
View the powerpoint.

You get a double feature tonight. Here is a clip from former Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, and CIA Director, James Schlesinger. I liked this memorable quote:
"Like the inhabitants of Pompey who ignored the neighboring volcano, Vesuvius, until it detonated, the world ignores the possibility of Peak Oil at is peril."
You know you are listening to a military man when volcanoes "detonate". You can read a transcript of his speech. Here is some truth. In fact, these are the basics:
If something cannot be sustained, it will eventually not be sustained… ultimately it will shrink.

Secondly, you cannot produce oil unless you first discover it (a contribution by Colin Campbell).

Third, a resource that is finite cannot continually have its production increased.
And now, your second feature:

Dr. James Schlesinger "The Peak Oil Debate is Over" from ASPO-USA on Vimeo.

A New/Old Resource for Amendment 10A

I am not going to write another essay about why Presbyterians should vote for Amendment 10 A and have it posted on a Progressive Presbyterian website such as Presbyterian Voices for Justice.

Why?

Because you can read the one I wrote nine years ago on behalf of 01 A.

It would be the same thing except I have less patience with the BFTSs these days. In these past nine years...
  1. we have had a task force that hasn't helped matters, and
  2. we have worried and fretted over those who might leave the church, and
  3. we have said we haven't "studied the issue" enough, and
  4. we have fantasized about finding "a third way."
Please.

Delaying justice does nothing more than delay justice.

That results in injustice.

Let's do it this year.

And if you are wondering what to do, check More Light Presbyterians for ten things you can do to get the PCUSA to say Yes On 10 A!

New PFLAG Chapter for Southwest Virginia!





I am happy to announce a new PFLAG chapter for our area. It is the PFLAG Abingdon/Washington County (Virginia) chapter.




This chapter joins PFLAG Tri-Cities for education, advocacy, and support for LGBTQ folks, family members, and friends in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

PFLAG Abingdon/Washington County has a brand new website.

And a Facebook page!

The first meeting is tonight.

Thursday, November 11th
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Highlands United Unitarian Church
Meadowview, Virginia
Here are directions.

They will meet on the second Thursdays.

The founder of the chapter is Dexter Tenney and you can read his story here.

I was raised in Meadowview, VA. Born in Mountain City, Tennessee. I came from a large family, 4 brothers and two sisters. My mother recently passed away in March of this year. I also had a brother who passed in 2004 of an accidental overdose of oxycontin, after a life long battle with addiction. From as far back as I can remember, I knew there was something "different" about me. Not until puberty was I suddenly shocked into the realization of what that difference was. My aunt , which I had never met, was visiting from Texas when I was about 11 years old. I had always loved to play dress up in Mom's old clothes and hats and wigs. While Mother, my Aunt set around the kitchen table, I was sitting nearby wanting to hear some of our fascinating history. The subject of me was brought up and my Mother went into how I liked to play dress up in women's clothes. She stated to my aunt "I sure do hope he is not going to turn out to be a homosexual. "
The rest is history. (Go to tab "Latest News" for his story).



Dexter and I were interviewed by
Cybil Britton on WEHC radio (the station for Emory and Henry College) last week. The program will air on Wednesday, November 17th at 1 p.m.




But you can hear it here!

You can't beat a good radio show about the Bible, gays, and Southern Appalachia!