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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Sower--A Sermon

The Sower
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

January 30, 2011

Gospel of Jesus 12:4-9

Jesus said,

“Listen to this! This sower went out to sow. While he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where there wasn’t much soil, and it came up right away because the soil had no depth. But when the sun came up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered. Still other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, so that it produced o fruit. Finally, some seed fell on good earth and started producing fruit. The seed sprouted and grew: one part had a yield of thirty, and other part sixty, and a third part one hundred.

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), pp. 65, 67. Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-8; Matthew 13:3-8; Thomas 9.


When the Jesus Seminar did its work in the 80s and 90s searching for the voice of historical Jesus, they focused on his parables and aphorisms. They discovered a creative personality. They discovered someone with a clear eye and a sensitive ear. They discovered a person who could talk about ordinary things in such a way as to make them sacred.

There has been much debate and disagreement regarding the quest for the historical Jesus. The challenge is to find a method to enable us to distinguish the voice of Jesus from the voices of the gospel writers and later church dogma. I don’t think any of the scholars would claim they succeeded. At best, they may have been able to make some distinctions and to come up with some best guesses.

When seeking to discover what goes back to Jesus, you have to take into account context. That includes the context of the gospel writers and the context of the situation in which these parables or aphorisms were uttered. There could be many. There is an art to doing this work. Because Jesus never wrote anything, you don’t have a standard to measure other sayings. You have to rely on independent sources recording a similar saying. You have some sort of theory of how the various sources relate to each other. You find a voice, then you compare other things attributed to him in light of that voice.

How do you distinguish what an individual says from what is remembered by others? I am sure you have had the experience of being quoted by others and you don’t really recognize what someone said you said? Any public speaker and especially preachers have this experience often.

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I had the experience of people remembering something I had said. In both cases it was positive. It was meaningful for them, and I yet I didn’t remember ever saying it. I wasn’t sure if in either case what was remembered sounded like me. But I have learned that if it is positive, don’t be bashful. Take credit and be grateful. I very well could have said it and now I am glad I did! It could be that I simply forgot and someone remembered better than I did. I also wonder in cases like this that if it might not be a combination of what the speaker says and what the hearer hears and remembers. There is a creative interplay going on between speaker and hearer. And something new is created.

If that happens to us, it is quite likely that it happened to Jesus. The gospels are layers of memory and creative interplay between what this wandering prophet and sage may said on one hand and how he was remembered on the other. The different gospels will have parables and aphorisms in different settings. They will be different from one gospel to another. In that sense the gospels of Jesus are creative works. They took some raw material floating about such as stories about Jesus and stories that Jesus told and created narratives. They borrowed from the language in the surrounding culture, from their own scriptures, their own creative imagination and told stories, meaningful stories in which Jesus functioned as protagonist.

So we have Mark’s Jesus, Luke’s Jesus, Matthew’s Jesus, John’s Jesus, Thomas’s Jesus, Mary’s Jesus, the Apostles’ Creed’s Jesus, Constantine’s Jesus, yours and my Jesus. The historical Jesus scholars each have a Jesus too. No one can claim to have “The Jesus” in any objective sense. Although people do like to make that claim. At best we have stories of stories, and creative stories at that.

For those of us in the Jesus tradition, for those of us who value Jesus in some way, the quest for the authentic voice of Jesus is connected to our own personal quest for meaning. The Jesus we find, not that there isn’t objective material there, we do have stories about him, not only in the New Testament but in other literature, but the Jesus we find, that we distill out, is part of us as well. We both discover and create.

I would argue that the gospel writers did this as well. They were creative. They drew from early traditions and created a meaningful story. They may not have been self-conscious that they were doing that or admit it if they were, but they were telling the story of Jesus in a way that was going to speak to their own context. I would further argue that that creative remembering did not end in the first or second centuries when the gospels were written or in the fourth century when the canon of the New Testament was made official.

The medieval Jesus was a product of creative remembering. The Reformation Jesus of the 16th century was creative remembering. The 19th century evangelical Jesus as well as the 20th century liberal Jesus and the contemporary fundamentalist Jesus and the Jesus Seminar Jesus are all products of creative remembering. And this process continues. We here, in a living tradition, are still telling the story of Jesus in our context. We are singing a familiar song in a new key.

I should probably add that not all Jesuses are equally good. In the Presbyterian tradition we have what we call the rule of faith and love. The rule is that if an interpretation of the Bible leads one to greater love and a deeper faith it is more likely true than an interpretation that does not. In other words, if your Jesus makes you more loving and deepens your sense of trust or awe, wonder, compassion, joy that’s a good Jesus. If your Jesus turns you into a miserable, narrow-minded, mean old cuss, then maybe you want to try again.

Many of us have found the Jesus Seminar scholars helpful in this process of discovering/creating a Jesus that is more “real” to us than the one we have inherited in church or in the larger religious culture. The parables provide a window for looking for another Jesus. Founder of the Jesus Seminar, the late Robert Funk called this quest a glimpse of a glimpse.

Let’s look at one of Jesus’s most famous parables, the parable of the sower.

The "Parable of the Sower" has two parts to it, the parable and the explanation. The Jesus Seminar concluded that the explanation did not go back to Jesus. It was either a creation of Mark or a tradition prior to Mark that Mark adapted. The reason we mention Mark is that Mark is likely the first gospel and Luke and Matthew are dependent upon Mark. They follow Mark and add material of their own.

An excellent book on this parable and on the Gospel of Mark is Mary Ann Tolbert’s Sowing the Gospel. In this book she takes this parable and its explanation and sees it as the guiding metaphor for the gospel. The types of people in the parable are seen in the characters of the gospel. The seed becomes the gospel and types of ground are types of people as they respond to this gospel.
  • The hard path would be the religious leaders who immediately hear what Jesus says and dismiss it.
  • The rocky soil refers to the disciples who all flee when trouble hits. They are excited but have no root to withstand the heat.
  • The thorny ground would be for example the rich man who came to Jesus and who wants to follow but in the end cannot part with possessions.
  • The good soil, the good earth is the one who hears and lives and produces fruit. There is one character in the gospel who is that good earth. This is the unnamed woman who anoints his head with oil. After being criticized by the disciples for wasting the ointment Jesus says, “Leave her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me….she has done what she could.”
We can read Mark and read the various characters as types of ground. The moral is to be good earth. We know we are good earth by the fruits we produce. Mary Ann Tolbert showed us the creativity of the community that put together the gospel of Mark. This is an example of a gospel author that took a parable of Jesus and went with it.

Jesus Seminar scholars and others are doubtful that Jesus provided the explanation to this parable. Thomas has the parable (saying 9) without the corresponding allegory. Allegories tend to be second-order explanations. The writers of Mark or the early tradition before Mark said:
“Jesus’s parable is hard to understand so let me tell you what it means.”
This parable ended up being a parable that could fit into an allegory with a moral. The sower becomes God or Jesus. The seed is the gospel. The ground is the people. Credit the creativity of Mark for shaping his narrative around it.

We have heard this parable as a moral. Be good soil. But if we hear it without the allegorical explanation it has a different tone to it. The parable itself is a parable about a person scattering seed. It isn’t about the person. The person fades away as soon as he is introduced. The parable may have no moral to it at all. The sower doesn’t have to be God or Jesus. The seed doesn’t necessarily mean the gospel. The ground doesn’t necessarily mean people. It is seed falling on ground. The harvest (30, 60, 100 fold) is a typical harvest. There is not even hyperbole there. It is like many of Jesus’s other parables such as a woman who conceals leaven in bread or another woman who loses a coin and sweeps the house or a mustard seed that grows to become a weed.

The parables are so plain and ordinary that we think well what is the point?

The parables of Jesus are about what he called the empire of God. Stories about empires and the emperors who rule them are stories of conquest and success. They are stories of benevolence and abundance and exceptionalism. The emperor brings stability.
"Peace to Rome and quiet to the provinces."
Yet the parables that Jesus told about the kingdom or empire of God are not parables that are worthy of empires as we know empires to be. No conquest. No victory. No tallying up of gold or silver booty.


In fact they are stories in some cases of failure. Seed that falls on four different types of soil. Just scattered seed. In three cases, the path, the rocky soil, and the thorny ground, the seed doesn’t mature into a plant. Only in the fourth case does it produce, and nothing dramatic, just a normal harvest. In three of four cases, the seed doesn’t mature. That is the empire of God.

The seeds that fall on the hard path, rocky soil, and thorny ground, are not necessarily mistakes. They are what they are. Each seed has its own little purpose.

I think Paul Daniels’ poem that he wrote for us for worship today is a wonderful reflection on the parables of Jesus.
“…we’ll just keep being ourselves, this little seed and me.”
Nothing big, nothing dramatic, yet when seen with an eye that is attuned to the sacred, that little seed
“holds the same magic inside as the moon, the stars, and the sea.”
What is implied in that, in both Paul’s poem, and in Jesus’s parable is that that same magic, that empire of God, is within you.

I think that the parables of Jesus were contra-empire. They were not head-on critiques but they glanced off. A glimpse of a glimpse. Empires as we know them are associated with big speeches and big shows. They are demonstrations of power and high drama. The language of empire is about competition and conquest. It is about growth.
We will out-grow, out-educate, out-perform the other guys.

It is a sputnik moment.
I am not criticizing our president as such by making that reference to his state of the union speech. I know what he is doing. He is offering encouragement and hope. But the language he has to use, the only language available to him as commander in chief, is the language associated with empire—victory over the competition.

What if we decided to have a compassion moment.
Or a just chillin' moment.
Or a helping others moment.
Or a planting a garden moment.
Or a loving our enemies moment.

The parables of Jesus are contra-empire in that he isn’t interested in the competition or in competing. His is more realistic. Life is three times out of four being scattered and falling on the wrong place. When we do land on a fertile spot, well the results are about average. That’s life isn’t it? That’s OK.

Not only is it OK it is sacred.


I think we spend a lot of time thinking that we need to measure up to some kind of standard. Then we need to beat that standard. Get on that treadmill and compete and conquer because there is not much room at the top you know. Once we get there, if we do, then what? High blood pressure and a heart attack.

What if a nation or a group of folks or an individual said,
“You know I don’t think I want to play.”
I don’t have to be the best in order to be. I don’t have to have the largest GDP or the biggest military or the most stuff. I am just cool right here, being a seed. A seed of mercy. A seed of justice. A seed of compassion, wherever I am scattered. I will fail at it three times of four and that will be just fine.

I'll give Paul the last word:
So while others may struggle trying to become
what they think that they should be,
we'll just keep on being ourselves,
this little seed and me.
Amen.

Meaning of Life, Part 65

This is a poem created by FPC Elizabethton member, Paul Daniels, for worship today:

This Little Seed and Me
Paul Daniels

It’s easy to love and appreciate a field of bloom and flower
even if you are passing by at 80 miles per hour.
The color grabs and steals away everyone’s admiration.
It creates wonder and awe in all of us with instant inspiration.
It requires no study or deep thought
for people to adore it.
All it takes is just for us to
be passing there before it.

But things that really stir my soul take
a little more attention.
I love the beauty in more simple things that barely get a mention.
Like the little speck on the ground I
discovered was a seed.
It’s only potential in this life is to become an ugly weed.
But the little seed has no less of its Creator’s holy grace.
It has its purpose and meaning in life with its own special place.
The weed it becomes may never know
why it was ever here.
The good that it does may never be
made quite perfectly clear.

It may provide food for nature’s most pleasurable little bird.
To dream of ever being something more would just be absurd.
Maybe its roots will hold the soil for
another beautiful plant.
Or maybe it will be nothing more than a bridge for a tiny ant.
It may only last and be around
for just a single season,
but I have a feeling it was put on Earth for
a very special reason.
No matter how humble and disregarded
this little seed may be,
it holds the same magic inside as the
moon, the stars, and the sea.

Though we may think there’s nothing it has that we will ever need,
remember the lesson taught on faith using a mustard seed.
Why would I stop and think of this seed and waste away all of my time?
Maybe because I look at its life and it reminds me a little of mine.
I may never do anything great that will be impressive to man,
but I am humbled and honored that I was created as part of the plan.
So while others may struggle trying to become what they think that they should be,
we’ll
just keep on being ourselves, this little seed and me.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Riverside Gets the Flipper!

Thanks to Riverside Presbytery for flippin' for love. Riverside voted 58-45-2 in favor of ending Don't Ask Don't Tell. Last time around they were on the sad side of that argument.


But now, they are happy.

They flipped for justice!

They get the Flipper Award!




Also today from the CovNet mailroom:

  • Long Island continued its consistent support on a voice vote.
  • Western North Carolina, the first presbytery to switch to support in the Amendment 08-B round, registered another strong yes at 145-99.
  • Sierra Blanca, while failing to approve 10-A, 19-28, reported a respectful process and some strong testimony.
  • Huntingdon came breathtakingly close, 32-33. (oooh, so close!)
The score is now 20 to 23. We are gaining ground, beloveds. Keep flippin'.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hear About Alternatives to the Death Penalty

If you are near our mountain this weekend, come catch the adult forum, Sunday morning at 9:45.



Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Nashville-based
Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will speak on her organization's mission to honor life by abolishing the capital punishment.



Tennessee's death row houses 87 men and 1 woman and is the 10th largest in the country. Rev Rector will speak at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, 119 West F street in Elizabethton, Sunday morning at 9:45 during our adult forum.

The talk is free and open to the public.

For News on Egypt Go To Al Jazeera


I am frustrated that I cannot seem to find decent coverage on what is happening in Egypt. What is happening is huge. Thankfully Al Jazeera is reporting with Live Stream Video.

Why the protests?

It appears the big reason is the price of food and energy that is out of reach. Plus, there is inequality. Egyptians are very rich or very poor. According to Earthtrends, in 1999-2000 44% of the population lived on less than $2 per day. That percentage is likely higher today. The government in charge, Mubarak et al, represents the callous rich.

A lesson here would be to policy makers in our nation that it might not be in your long-term interest to widen that gap between rich and poor and to reduce services while reducing taxes for the wealthy.

The Egyptian people are teaching the world how to say, "Enough is enough."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"You Have to Ask Yourself the Question: What Matters?"

That is the question asked by Zeitgeist: Moving Forward.
Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, by director Peter Joseph, is a feature length documentary work which will present a case for a needed transition out of the current socioeconomic monetary paradigm which governs the entire world society.

This subject matter will transcend the issues of cultural relativism and traditional ideology and move to relate the core, empirical "life ground" attributes of human and social survival, extrapolating those immutable natural laws into a new sustainable social paradigm called a "Resource-Based Economy".
It is available for free on the internet. Watch it right here, right now if you like. It is really interesting. Change is coming, my friends.

Your midnight movie.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Job Opportunity

Here is a first. I have been asked to post a notice on my blog for clergy who might be interested in a great congregation. One of our regulars at Shuck and Jive, Alan, worships here.


Northside Presbyterian Church is a vibrant, dynamic, family-sized congregation in Ann Arbor, MI. We are seeking an experienced solo part-time pastor to lead and inspire our mission, ministry, and worship. Northside is a More Light congregation, and is committed to the full inclusion of all of God's children in the life and ministry of God's church. We have a traditional worship with a strong emphasis on lay leadership and an excellent music program. Candidates should demonstrate strong preaching and teaching skills, as well as worship leadership, undergirded with spiritual and scholarly vigor. Northside shares a building and some ministries and programs with St. Aidan's Episcopal church, and is the second oldest such ecumenical partnership in the country. For more information see our web site, www.northsidepres.org, and CIF#04162.AA1.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Purity -- A Sermon

Purity
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

January 23rd 2010

Gospel of Jesus 14:1-10

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus
(Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), pp. 65, 67. Mark 7:1-5, 14-16; Thomas 14:5; 89:1-2;
Matthew 15:10-11; 23:25-26; Luke 11:39-40


The Pharisees gather around him, along with some of the scholars, who had come from Jerusalem. When they notice some of his disciples eating their meal with defiled hands, that is to say, without washing their hands, the Pharisees and the scholars start questioning him: “Why don’t your disciples live up to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with defiled hands?”

(Recall that the Pharisees and the Judeans generally wouldn’t think of eating without first washing their hands in a particular way, always observing the tradition of the elders, and they won’t eat when they get back from the marketplace without washing again, and there are many other traditions they cherish, such as the washing of cups and jugs and kettles.)

As usual he summons a crowd and says to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand! What goes into you can’t defile you; what comes out of you can. If anyone has two good ears, use them!”

Jesus said, “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Don’t you understand that the one who made the inside is also the one who made the outside?”


The disciples are accused of not washing their hands before they eat.

Our response to that is, “Eeww! Why don’t they wash their hands? Don’t they know about germs?”

No, they didn’t know about germs. Germs and hygiene is something we have become aware of in modern times. A few weeks ago I talked about Ignaz Semmelweis, who in the mid 19th century had difficulty convincing his doctor colleagues to wash their hands before delivering babies after they had been dissecting corpses. These are doctors. Now we know about washing hands for hygienic purposes.

A couple of years ago our confirmation class visited the synagogue in Blountville, the B’nai Sholom Congregation. The occasion was a question and answer gathering by the congregation to provide information to the larger community about the congregation and about Judaism in general.

The rabbi told us that the kitchen was “clean” in two ways. It was clean in the sense that we think of clean, that is germ-free, or as germ-free as we might hope for a kitchen reasonably to be. But it was also “clean” in the religious sense, that is ritually clean or ritually pure according to religious law and custom. The milk is kept separate from the meat and so forth. It is kosher. That is proper or correct.

In a website called Judaism 101, the author explains what kosher means. He said that a survey reported that in the year 2000, twenty-one percent of American Jews reported that they kept kosher in the home. This includes those who consider themselves Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform. Within that designation there is variance about what exactly to observe. The author writes:
The strictest people will eat only foods that have reliable Orthodox kosher certification, eating only glatt-kosher certified meats and specially certified dairy products. They will not eat cooked food in a restaurant unless the restaurant has reliable Orthodox certification, and they are unlikely to accept an invitation to dinner from anyone who is not known to share their high standards. Others are more lenient, accepting less reliable certifications without question or "ingredients reading," accepting grocery store items that have no certification but do not contain any identifiably non-kosher ingredients.
The author tells this joke:

As rabbi/humorist Jack Moline noted,
"Everyone who keeps kosher will tell you that his version is the only correct version. Everyone else is either a fanatic or a heretic."
The question to the disciples is why aren’t they keeping kosher laws? The answer is who’s asking and who says we aren’t kosher?

Christianity has often played Jesus over against Judaism. This has led to tragic consequences over the centuries. As if Jesus wasn’t Jewish or as if Jesus meant to supplant Judaism. None of that is true. Jesus was Jewish. Like Jews now, Jews then differed with one another about important things such as the law and how to keep kosher.

It wasn’t until many decades after Jesus that a separation occurred between Judaism and the followers of Jesus who were later called Christians. When we read in the gospels about conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, some of those conflicts reflect later divisions between two communities that had begun to separate. It is that later division that is reflected in the gospels and projected back onto Jesus.

You get the absurdity, for example in the Gospel of John and in the Gospel of Matthew, of “the Jews” opposed to Jesus and being responsible for his crucifixion. Jesus was a Jew. The execution of Jesus was the execution of yet one more Jew by the Romans.

Christians mistakenly have assumed that Jesus did away with all the rules that the Jews observed therefore showing that Judaism had been replaced by this new Jesus religion. It is only recently that we are slowly coming to terms with the anti-Jewish bias within Christianity including within the gospels and within the historical reconstructions of Jesus that often pit Jesus as superior to his Jewish heritage.

Did Jesus have conflicts with religious leaders? Certainly. Jesus didn’t have conflicts with the religious leaders of his time because of their Judaism. I am sure if Jesus were here today he would have conflicts with me. But it wouldn’t be because of my Christianity. It would be because I have neglected the most important parts of my Christian faith in favor of the superficial aspects. I would be accused as Jesus is reported to have accused the religious leaders of his day of being scrupulous about incidental matters and neglectful of the weightier matters, such as justice and compassion.

The disciples are accused of not washing their hands. Not all of them, just some. Why didn’t they wash their hands? That really Is a good question. Do they not care? Are they defiant or careless? Are they making a statement or just lazy? Is it because they willfully refuse or because they are unable to do so? Maybe it isn’t that big of a deal for them. We don’t really know.

The reason for keeping kosher and observing these commandments is to be conscious. The observance of Shabbat and the observance of dietary laws are practices designed to show respect for God, for Life, and for the Holy. They are practices that enable the practitioner to be aware of the sacred and to appreciate and notice the holiness, sacredness, and wonder of life. The purpose of sacred ritual whatever the ritual and whatever the tradition the ritual is associated is to open our hearts to the sacred. That is the plan anyway.

Let’s take a ritual from our tradition, communion.
  • Or is it the Eucharist? Or is it the Lord’s Supper? We Christians cannot even agree on what to call it.
  • How often should we do it? We cannot agree on that.
  • What does mean? We cannot agree on that.
  • Who should administer it? Who gets to take it? We cannot agree.
  • What words should we use? Can’t agree.
  • What should we drink? Grape juice or wine? Red or White? Is wine from a box OK?
  • Should we eat chunks of bread or those little petroleum product wafer thingies? Can’t agree.
  • Should we come up and rip and dip or stay in our pew and sit and sip? Can’t agree.
  • Should we have music when we do our communion thing and what kind? Can’t agree.
If there is anything I am sure we all can agree upon, it is this: when I administer communion, I do it wrongly.

Some Christians don’t want to do communion at all. Some Christians take communion even if they haven’t been baptized. They all could be asked by religious leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) why they don’t do communion according to the precepts set forth in the Book of Order.

Let’s take some liberties with our text:
The Presbyterians gather around Jesus, along with some of the scholars, who had come from Louisville. When they notice some of his church members not participating in communion and others doing it wrongly, the Presbyterians and the scholars start questioning him: “Why don’t your church members live up to the tradition of the elders, instead of defiling this holy sacrament?”
That is what I think is the sense here. There is an internal religious squabble about ritual observance. In the case with the Pharisees, Jesus and the disciples it is about keeping kosher. Keeping kosher is a good thing, like worship and communion is for us. The reason there is a squabble about it is because these observances are living observances. They matter to the community even as the community is not in agreement with each other as to how and why they matter. They just do. They matter to the extent that the community wants to be intentional about them. We want to do it “right” even though we don’t agree what “right” is.

Jesus uses this interchange to raise the level of awareness.

Why do we do these rituals in the first place, or in the case of at least some of his disciples, why has this particular ritual of washing hands not being observed? Why is what is important to these religious leaders not as important to some of Jesus’ disciples?

Jesus says:
“What goes into you can’t defile you; what comes out of you can.”
Of course, that is a funny, as the hearers might imagine all the kinds of things that come out of one’s body. Eeww.

And Jesus says:
“Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Don’t you understand that the one who made the inside is also the one who made the outside?”
Jesus is not doing away or dismissing kosher practices, he is inviting them to be conscious about what they do or don’t do. The observance is a vehicle not the destination. It is important to distinguish the two. The vehicle is to bring us to a “thin place”, to an awareness of the sacred. A thin place is a metaphor for those times or places when those everyday barriers to the numinous, holy, and sacred become thin and we experience a sense of the awe and wonder of life.

Another way of saying it from the Christian tradition is “means of grace.” These are practices that are not to be confused with the sacred and the holy or with grace, but help prepare us to be open to the sacred and the holy—to grace. These include among other things, worship, communion, meditation, and prayer in many different forms.

I think that one thing Jesus might be saying to these religious leaders is something like this:
“Take care about criticizing others for their practices and rituals or what you perceive as lack of them. Because you may not know what you are talking about.”
As Jesus said elsewhere,
“Take the log out of your own eye before trying to remove the speck in another’s eye.”
We can do a lot of ritual and look good doing it, and miss the heart of what we are doing. The inside of the cup, our “heart” and our character are the important things. Do we seek to internalize the compassion and sacredness of our practices? Do we experience the thin place that is characterized by love and peacefulness? The question I want to ask myself is this:
“What good is my religion if it doesn’t make me kinder?”
If religion is used to divide and exclude, to separate the clean from the unclean, the insiders and outsiders, the believers and unbelievers, the impure from the pure, then we have likely missed the point. For Jesus the heart of religion was not being separated from “defilement”. It was about being willing to get dirty. To be earthy. To be human.

I think what got Jesus and his disciples in trouble with the religious authorities is that Jesus challenged those boundaries of "us and them". He identified with those who couldn’t possibly keep the religious rules. He ate with and accepted those who were considered outsiders and the outcasts. Jesus said in effect:
"If eating with and showing compassion for people makes me “unclean”, then “unclean” I will be. It could be that what you consider unclean is what God considers sacred."
Jesus challenged any religious rules that were designed to exclude. Boy do we have a lot of those rules in our Christian churches. The religious leaders in Jesus’ time are similar to those today. Some were more concerned with purity and appearance than they were with compassion.

We preachers can be more concerned with reading our Bibles than in caring for people. It isn’t that one is bad and the other is good. It is about cleaning both the outside and the inside of the cup and not confusing the vehicle with the destination which is compassion.

I am going to close with this observation:

I grew up in a Southern Baptist congregation in Montana. My favorite preacher was a guy named Alvin Petty. He was from Texas and he was six foot seven. The reason he was my favorite is that he would come out to our farm and pole vault the ditch with us. We had a good sized irrigation ditch and we had a pole vaulting pole. The plan is this: You run with the pole as fast as you can, stick it in the middle of the ditch and propel yourself to the other side. It wasn’t easy. Usually you would get hung up in the middle and splash right in the mud. It was a muddy and slimy ditch too. Alvin Petty went for it again and again. I don’t think he ever made it. We have a photo of him covered with mud and ditch slime. Good earthy stuff. As a teenager, I was pretty impressed.

I have that photo in my mind of what authentic ministry is about.

You can’t trust a person, preacher or otherwise, who is afraid to dive in the mud.

Amen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Net Gain on Amendment A!

A good day of voting on Amendment A. This is the amendment that would remove the effective "don't ask don't tell" policy from the PC(U.S.A.) Eight presbyteries voted. Six yes and one no and one yet to report.

The story is Eastern Virginia. This presbytery had voted against equality in 2008-9 and flipped for justice this time around. The other yeses had been yeses last time and the one no had been a no. The one we have yet to hear from was a strong no in 2008-9.
So we had a net gain of one presbytery.

Thank you and very nice work in all the presbyteries, especially Eastern Virginia!





Eastern Virginia you get today's Flipper Award!






  • Eastern Virginia 87-69 (Woot!)
  • Gennesee Valley 85-29
  • Cayuga-Syracuse (unanimous yes voice vote)
  • Elizabeth 63-46
  • Mid-Kentucky 99-9
  • San Jose 78-57
No votes:
  • Beaver-Butler 27-73
Yet to report:
  • Upper Ohio Valley (last time went no 12-72--so expecting a no)
The overall score is 15 yes and 19 no with 87 being the magic number to make a huge difference in ending discrimination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

For updates follow
Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians and see the vote chart.

Nicole Foss on Peak Oil

The third installment of The Nation's, Peak Oil and a Changing Climate is now on-line. I posted about the previous episodes that included an overview of the series and one featuring Richard Heinberg.

The latest episode is by Nicole Foss: We Need Freedom of Action to Confront Peak Oil. Here is the blurb:

In the third video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth productions, co-editor of The Automatic Earth, Nicole M. Foss, explains how energy relates to the economy and what our impending energy crisis will look like. Foss discusses the issues associated with peak oil in financial rather than environmental terms, because she finds that peak oil has much more to do with finance than it does with climate change.

Foss talks about what she calls a “false positive feedback loop,” which involves optimism leading to “caution being thrown to the wind.” When this happens, Foss believes that people become angry. Succumbing to fear and anger might lead to engagement in destructive behavior, which would make it harder for society to confront peak oil and climate change.

Reacting to former vice president Dick Cheney, who once said "the American way of life is not negotiable," Foss says, "That's true because reality is not going to negotiate with you."
She says:
I tell people, this is coming. You must resist the temptation to engage in behaviors based on fear and anger. There is no point in worrying about what you no longer have and trying to play a blame game. A lot of people will do it. It just sucks the energy right out of you. You simply have to say that was then and this is now and move on and say what can we do. We have to stay in a constructive head space.
Here is your midnight movie:



I am going to be making a presentation on Peak Oil during Sunday's adult forum. Join us at 9:45. I have made a powerpoint presentation and will put it on our congregation's website next week.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Darwinmas



'Tis the season to stir up the locals. My favorite Holy Day is Darwin's Birthday. It is such a shame that Evolution Sunday comes but once a year.


Actually, that is exactly right.
  1. Evolution is dumb. As far as I can see, there is no design behind it or consciousness guiding it. There is no It to be aware of you--and yet you are.
  2. Evolution is dangerous. A great book by Daniel Dennett is Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
Great reading for Evolution Season.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Godspell in Kingsport

If you are near Kingsport this weekend, do check out Godspell at Dobyns-Bennett High School. My lovely is the choral director at D-B and she along with the drama department is putting on this musical. It opens tonight.

Here is the promo:

Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak, with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, "Godspell" is one of the biggest off-Broadway and Broadway successes of all time.

Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, and featuring a sparkling score by Stephen Schwartz, "Godspell" boasts a string of well-loved songs, led by the international hit, "Day By Day." As the cast performs "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord," "Learn Your Lessons Well," "All For The Best," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side," the parables of Jesus Christ come humanly and hearteningly to life.

Drawing from various theatrical traditions, such as clowning, pantomime, charades, acrobatics and vaudeville, "Godspell" is a groundbreaking and unique reflection on the life of Jesus, with a message of kindness, tolerance and love.

DOBYNS-BENNETT HIGH SCHOOL

KINGSPORT TN 37664
And the show details:
The Dobyns-Bennett Performing Arts' Department presents Godspell January 20th and 21st at 7:00 p.m. and January 23rd at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Adults $8.00 and Students $5.00. Tickets may be purchased at the door.
We are going to take our youth group up on Friday. Here is a blast from the past:

Roe's Cheap Talk

Jennie Young had this letter published earlier in the Elizabethton Star, but since it is in today's Johnson City Press, I thought you all would like another go around. Thanks Jennie!
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, for everyone’s sake, should forgo the spin in his press releases.

It’s praiseworthy to want to “restore patient-centric health care,” but the problem is it’s never been there to restore, except, of course, for Medicare.

A profit-driven health care system is by its nature profit-centric and patients valued according to ability to support profitability. We know how they manage that. How many under 65 are free of anxiety about the “security” offered by for-profit insurance?

Roe is on again about: “Washington bureaucrats between patient and doctor.” He has to know who really interferes with patients and their care because they are ever-present and part of his experience as a doctor. I’ve heard him admit he has no love for that parasitic bunch, but yet, still, he puts their profit interests first. Government-run Medicare fulfills its promises quite well without evidence of Washington bureaucrats.

I’ve yet to hear Dr. Roe speak of the unsettling fact that fully one-sixth of us are without insurance, from affordability and other insurance company interference. That’s an astounding 115,000 constituents per House member. He’s yet to speak to the fact that we rank 38th worldwide for health outcomes at twice the cost, choosing instead to trumpet the “best health care in the world,” as if unaware that’s for people who can afford it and that Americans who can’t add to profitability die daily.

Roe’s party has historically blocked health care reform in the public interest, choosing instead to protect the profitability of vested interests. But Medicare passed in spite of rampant “socialism/ loss of freedom” propaganda and made us a freer and healthier nation.

The burden of profit-driven health care is too heavy, restricts our freedom to follow our dreams and allows us no refuge. Dr. Roe knows it and must stop hiding behind cheap language.

JENNIE YOUNG
Elizabethton
Dr. Roe may not get the message, but others will thanks to Jennie and Judy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Judy Garland Writes Again

The irrepressible, Judy Garland, has published another letter regarding health care. This one is in today's Johnson City Press. I am glad Judy is on our side (and hangs out at our church!)





That's Judy in the pink!




Wendell Potter — nationally renowned whistle-blower about health insurance industry practices — titled his new book “Deadly Spin.” He describes how the industry manipulated the debate in the failed health care reform effort during the Clinton administration and again last year when the issue was put forward by the Democrats. The book is an excellent refresher course on basic propaganda/ PR ploys.

Paid well into six figures, Wendell Potter earned his money. Conscience ultimately made him resign, but the courageous choice to actively become a whistle-blower was in part prompted when he heard the spin he himself had crafted years earlier coming from the mouth of then Congressman Zach Wamp during the latest debate.


It was Potter and his associates who formulated the propaganda from the health care industry: “Socialism,” “government-run,” “redistribution of wealth,” “handouts to irresponsible bums,” “going naked,” “the best health care in the world,” “health care for illegal immigrants” — all misleading, deliberately provocative and fear-inducing.

Add 2008’s favorites: “death panels,” “killing Granny,” “2,000 pages” and “secret proceedings behind closed doors.”


Sadly, the Republican Party, not just fringe extremists, latched onto this reprehensible spin and spun it to block reform years ago, in the latest effort, and still yet as it revs up to try to knock down the important work of the last two years.


The power of spin is evident. How else were we so easily distracted from the fact that the way we do health care will bankrupt our nation, and soon, and that fully one-sixth of us either can’t afford health insurance or are shut out because we are or have been sick?


This is about real people and real suffering, not clever words to make the already rich, richer.


JUDY GARLAND

Johnson City
Preach it, sister.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Our Global Limits: Peak Oil and Economic Growth

The Nation has a great series on Peak Oil, Peak Oil and the Changing Climate.
In the second video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth productions, Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute, discusses how depleting oil supplies threaten the future of global economic growth. According to Heinberg, historically there has been a close correlation between increased energy consumption and economic growth. If the economy starts to recover after the financial crisis and there is an increased demand for oil but not enough supply to keep up with that demand, we may hit a ceiling on what the economy can do.

“What politician is going to be able to stand up in front of the American people and tell them the truth?” Heinberg asks. “Every politician is going to want to promise more economic growth and blame the lack of growth on the other political party…. The whole political system starts to get more and more polarized and more and more radical until it just comes apart at the seams.”

For Heinberg, however, there is still hope: alternative energy sources, though difficult to implement on a large scale, do exist, and a grassroots movement is strongly advocating for new thinking about our energy consumption.
Richard Heinberg is the star of your latest midnight movie, The Global Limitations: How Peak Oil Threatens Economic Growth.
"Essentially, the problem is we've got too many people using too much stuff too fast in an economy that only knows how to grow." -- Richard Heinberg

My Presby Peeps on Health Care

My letter writing peeps are published again! Judy and Jennie will conquer with a keyboard. This is in today's Elizabethton Star:
Editor:

The sole reason for spin and propaganda is to distort and distract. That it's used by elected politicians to bend public will as they transact the nation's business diminishes them.

Representative Roe's speechwriters do him no service by filling his press releases with provocative, misleading language. The latest added this new spin to the already hackneyed.

The notion of "...restoring patient-centric healthcare" sounds marvelous until it occurs to us that we've never had patient-centric healthcare to restore. Except for actual patient-centric Medicare and other government-run systems, including the taxpayer-funded congressional perk, what we have is a for-profit healthcare system which is by its very definition profit-centric. Anyone not able to add profitability is excluded. Constraints of insurmountable cost and other insurance tactics, currently leave 50 million of us uninsured. That's a shocking one-sixth of our nation. That's an astonishing 115,000 real people per each House member.

Dr. Roe, surely, through his progression, knows the cost to us of profit-centric, profit-driven private health insurance. Premiums have doubled every 10 years for decades. It abuses individuals and small businesses. It's responsible for a pervading sense of unease. It wrecks family's budgets. It bankrupts people because of illness. It limits lifework choices and the pursuit of dreams. Its inaccessibility causes suffering and kills real people.

The Democrats, except for the passage of Medicare, failed to reform healthcare historically because of fierce, propaganda-based opposition from Dr. Roe's party, always allied with an entrenched for-profit healthcare industry. And now we're in trouble. The way we've been obliged to do healthcare is unsustainable. The new law represents real progress.

We need Congress to grow up, drop the spin, ignore the honeyed moneyed voices of a parasitic industry, face reality and solve this.

The wise know that cheap words thinly veil an unproductive, hurtful strategy.

Jennie Young
Elizabethton
And this is in yesterday's Kingsport Times-News:
A big perk for congressmen and senators is a very generous health insurance package, all paid by us taxpayers. Sadly, many millions of those required to pay those taxes for the benefit of our legislators can’t afford to buy health insurance for themselves and their families or are being denied care by a predatory health insurance industry interested only in profits.

At this moment, the Republican members of the House, comfortable in their own guarantees of excellent health care, are setting the stage to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would make health care available to almost all the 50 million currently without insurance.

How, in good conscience, can they do this when they themselves are so well taken care of? If that’s not hypocrisy, maybe they can provide another name. Until they figure out how to fix this mess to suit them, those among them who believe their own words will buy their own insurance.

Maybe the fact that the health insurance industry is a primary contributor to their political campaigns explains how they can ignore real needs of real people in real time. If it takes being wealthy and well-connected to merit their attention, why can’t they just say it instead of pretending that something good will eventually trickle down from protecting big insurance?

I’d like to see Rep. Roe step forward and do the right thing. He likes to talk endlessly about the politics of it all, but so far I haven’t heard him address the insecurities and suffering inflicted by an abusive, for-profit driven health care industry. We’ve listened and read his words for two years now, and it’s not enough.

Judy Garland
Johnson City
Judy and Jennie are right on. And Roe is wrong again and again.

Anticipating Darwin's Birthday


Today I received a glossy flier in the mail from First Christian Church in Johnson City. The Christians are inviting me and my congregation to the Tri-Cities Origins Conference. Can you guess what that is about?

This is what the Origins Conference is about--exploring the evidence for God as Creator. By attending the conference, you will be equipped to challenge the problems created by the atheistic evolution worldview that is so prevalent. This conference will not only be a personal help to you, but will also give you the tools to share the answers to these tough life questions with friends and family.
In other words, it will be an entire week of superstition and misinformation. From February 12-19 you will hear from Ken Ham, the "Founder of Answers in Genesis and Creation Museum" and Dr. Jason Lisle who is billed as an "Astrophysicist and Refuter of Evolutionary Theories".

It is shrink your brain to the size of a walnut week right here in the Bible Belt.




Mr. Darwin is not impressed. And on his birthday!





Your defenders of good science and pretty decent potlucks, FPC Elizabethton, likely will not attend. We will, however, celebrate Evolution Weekend for the sixth straight year.

Evolution Sunday has proven to be one of the biggest Sundays of the year for us. Details will be coming in the next few days regarding our activities. They will include at least a presentation at our adult forum, a fun worship service, and trip to the Gray Fossil Site and Museum.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prophet, Artist, Fisherman--A Sermon

Prophet, Artist, Fisherman
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

January 16th 2011
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Sunday
Gospel of Jesus 3:1-10

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), pp. 21, 23. Mark 1:16-20; 2:14; Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9; Luke 5:27-28; 8:1-3

As he was walking along by the sea of Galilee, he spotted Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting their nets into the sea—since they were fishermen—and Jesus said to them: “Become my followers and I’ll have you fishing for people!”

Right then and there they abandoned their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he caught sight of James, Zebedee’s son, and his brother John mending their nets in the boat. Right then and there he called out to them as well, and they left their father Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired hands and accompanied him.


As Jesus was walking along, he caught sight of Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the toll booth, and he says to him, “Follow me!” And Levi got up and followed him.


Jesus traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God’s imperial rule. His male disciples were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary, the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided from them out of their resources.



A book that has been influential to me in my ministry has been Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. Walter Brueggemann is a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures and prolific writer. This little book, The Prophetic Imagination, written in 1978 is more relevant than ever today. Even though it is really just a little book about the Bible.

Brueggemann compares and contrasts the prophetic imagination with the royal consciousness. The prophetic imagination envisions a new reality that the royal consciousness cannot envision. Brueggemann makes his point by showing that the Moses story is an alternative story to Pharaoh’s story. Pharaoh’s story is one of forced labor economics, oppression and religious legitimation of that reality. Alternatively, the god of Moses is a god of radical freedom who can hear the cry of the enslaved.

The god of Pharaoh is an accessible god. It is a god who does the royal bidding. This is a god who is easy to find and this god stays on message. That message is that what the king wants is what god wants. God bless Empire. What we find in the contest between Moses and the Pharaoh’s religious leaders is that the god of Pharaoh, this god of Empire, is no god at all. In the end, it is the god of Moses who leads the slaves out of Egypt.


But the story doesn’t end with Exodus and liberation. The god of freedom and justice is not an easy god to follow. It isn’t long until the monarchies of David and Solomon reintroduce the royal god who was really not that much different than the god of Pharaoh. In Solomon’s time, a time of great prosperity for Israel, you have the same conditions that were in place under Pharaoh: forced labor, standing armies, economic inequalities, oppression, and religious legitimation of that way of life. From the king’s point of view, that way of life is non-negotiable.

In this time of David and Solomon and the kings who followed them in the northern and southern kingdoms, there arose by necessity, prophets. These prophets spoke to the royals out of an alternative imagination. David, Solomon, and the kings had a god. This god was very sophisticated with a temple and rituals and priests. It was a god who blessed order and who blessed the emperor and who blessed empire.

But not everyone is blessed in Empire. For instance, an economy based on forced labor is not a blessing for those doing the labor. Prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah spoke from a different consciousness. It is very difficult for those who benefit by empire to hear the cries of those who do not benefit by empire. If we hear them at all we hear them as whiners and as malcontents. Lazy. They don’t understand that it takes a standing army to be secure. They should be grateful that they are fed and shouldn’t look to closely at where that food comes from or who really pays for it.

The prophets have a role to play in that they speak on behalf of a god of radical justice and freedom. This god is not kept. This god is not kept in the temple. This god does not stay on message. This god speaks on behalf of those who are engaged in the forced labor. This god speaks on behalf of those who pay the price for the blessings of the few.

Who are these prophets? According to Brueggemann, prophets are not predictors of the future. They are not fortune-tellers, even though the future is in mind. Nor are prophets simply advocates of a liberal social agenda. Prophets imagine an alternative reality. This reality is articulated through poetry, lyric, symbol, and theater.

It is poetry of lament and poetry of an energizing vision.

First the poetry of lament.

Rachel weeps for her children and will not be comforted. By the waters of Babylon we weep rivers of tears. How can we sing a song in a strange land? It is a valley of dry bones. Our lips are parched. The poetry of lament is the poetry of passion and feeling. As much as the emperor thinks that his way of life is non-negotiable and will remain that way forever, the prophet reminds him that it is not so. But the prophet, according to Brueggemann, does not scold as much as grieve. It is his pain too. He grieves for the injustice of empire. He weeps for its downfall. He weeps that the emperor refuses to see what is coming. The prophet grieves for an emperor who will not and cannot keep his promise that his way of life is non-negotiable. It is not even sustainable. It is a lie.

The prophet weeps then as now for a people who cannot see and who cannot hear. The Chinese proverb says you cannot wake a man who pretends to be asleep. The royal consciousness, the consciousness of empire is numb. It only knows its present course regardless if that course is headed for collapse.

“We will get that economy back on track. Onward and upward forever,” promises the emperor and his minions. It is a promise that cannot be kept.


The prophet invites us to experience passion. The prophet invites us to compassion. To feel. To hear and to see. To touch. To weep. To grieve. Today prophets are inviting us to grieve with the mountains, with the Gulf, and with our streams and forests and for a humanity that has lost its connection with them.

This is Jeremiah in particular and Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

Make no mistake. This is not doom and gloom. This is passion and grief. The royal consciousness cannot hear it. Grief is considered unpatriotic. “Our empire will be here forever!” is its claim. “God ordained it so. We are exceptional.” The royal consciousness is forced optimism. “Our institutions are too big to fail and so are we.” The prophet begs to differ.

That is only one part of the prophetic task.

The prophet also energizes. Once we feel, then we can see. Once get shaken, we can awaken. Once someone pinches our arm and stirs us from our stupor, we can feel the breeze and catch a new fragrance. Once the royal consciousness is shown for the unsustainable, unjust lie that it is, once we are able to grieve and mourn its injustice and its demise, we can hear a new song. All of our senses come alive.

There is an alternative. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God.” Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the “Beloved Community.” It is an alternative that we speak about through the language of dream, exemplified in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered in 1963:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood….

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
How do you make that into a law? How do you make that into a five point plan of action? King was considered a prophet not because of political and social agenda. He was a prophet because he dreamed an alternative reality that ultimately is poetic. He spoke from imagination. He heard the voice of the god of Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jesus. He spoke of a god on the margins who was free and not beholden to any royal theology.

This prophetic energizing is not exhausted in a particular social or political issue although particular social and political issues are embodied in this energizing. This energizing cannot be reduced to the practical or the reasonable or the politically expedient. That is the agenda of royal theology. Once you start with what is politically expedient, it is over.

Prophetic energizing is imagination. It is the imagination of the artist. It is the imagination of the fisherman who discovers he is an artist. It is an imagination that looks to the future and sings we will overcome. The language of the poet is the language of the prophet. It is the language of hope.

The lion shall lie with the lamb. A shoot will grow out of the stump. The blind will see. The lame shall walk. The poor will hear good news. The captive will be free. Everyone shall sit under his or her own fig tree. No one shall hurt on my holy mountain. Spears shall be made into pruning hooks. Swords shall be made into plowshares. Guns shall be turned into singing bowls.

Prophetic lament and prophetic energizing is the via creativa, the spiritual path of creativity. It is the prophetic imagination. Jesus invited his disciples to participate. He invited these fishermen to be prophets and artists.

The readings from the scripture feature the calling of the disciples. The overarching symbol is the fisherman’s net left behind. The fishermen dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Levi left his business and followed him. Wealthy women left their positions and followed him too. What are they doing? It isn’t that any of those things are necessarily bad. But they are lifeless in comparison.

Jesus invites them to take what they know and turn it into something they don’t know yet. To the fishermen he says “I will teach you to become fishers of people.” Whatever that means, right? He is inviting them on an adventure. Would you, if you could?
Oh it is not practical, is it? My life is all planned out. I have too many responsibilities. From birth to grave I will stay right here and follow the script that has been written for me. I won’t step out of line. I couldn’t possibly think of doing something different.
“Leave your nets. Follow me,” says Jesus.

The god of Moses and Miriam, Sarah and Abraham, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Mary, is a god of adventure. This is a god on the move and on the margins. This is a god of creativity and imagination. This is a god that hears the cry of suffering. This is god that feels. This is a god who calls us to travel lightly and eat the bread provided for the day. This is a god who invites us to imagine an alternative reality.

This is a god who invites us to…
  • Imagine a world in which there are no weapons because no one can ever think of a need for one.
  • Imagine a world in which we don’t fear each other but enjoy each other.
  • Imagine a world in which no one ever needs to worry about what to eat or what to wear or where to sleep.
  • Imagine a world in which we give what we take and everyone has enough.
  • Imagine a world in which our talents and creativity are valued for the joy they bring not the profit they make.
  • Imagine a world in which the circle of care is so large that no one is left out.
  • Imagine a world in which education is a lifetime love of learning.
  • Imagine a world in which we live with the rhythms of Earth.
  • Imagine a world in which we respect and care for all living things.
  • Imagine a world in which the decisions we make are made with the awareness of how they will affect seven generations to come.
  • Imagine a world in which we are daily filled with awe and joy.
Imagine a world…
Imagine your world…

Imagine that you are a prophet.
Live your truth.

Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Nation" Gets Peak Oil

Here is a 20 minute presentation from The Nation, Peak Oil and Our Changing Climate. This was produced just a few days ago. It is part of a series. Here is the blurb:

Peak Oil is the point at which petroleum production reaches its greatest rate just before going into perpetual decline. In “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate,” a new video series from The Nation and On The Earth productions, radio host Thom Hartmann explains that the world will reach peak oil within the next year if it hasn’t already. As a nation, the United States reached peak oil in 1974, after which it became a net oil importer.

Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and the other scientists, researchers and writers interviewed throughout “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” describe the diminishing returns our world can expect as it deals with the consequences of peak oil even as it continues to pretend it doesn’t exist. These experts predict substantially increased transportation costs, decreased industrial production, unemployment, hunger and social chaos as the supplies of the fuels on which we rely dwindle and eventually disappear.

Chomsky urges us to anticipate the official response to peak oil based on how corporations, news organizations and other institutions have responded to global warming: obfuscation, spin and denial. James Howard Kunstler says that we cannot survive peak oil unless we “come up with a consensus about reality that is consistent with the way things really are.” This documentary series hopes to help build that consensus.
And here is the schedule for the presentations:
ONLINE NOW:
Peak Oil and a Changing Climate: An Introduction
Featuring Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and more
Watch here.

ONLINE NOW:
January 12:
Richard Heinberg, "The Globe's Limitations: How Peak Oil Threatens Economic Growth"
Watch here.

January 19:
Nicole Foss

January 26:
James Howard Kunstler

February 2:
Dmitry Orlov

February 9:
Noam Chomsky

February 16:
Bill McKibben

February 23:
Greg Palast

March 2:
Thom Hartmann

March 9:
Jean Laherrère

March 16:
Mike Ruppert
Got your popcorn? Here is your midnight movie:


What is Peak Oil and Why Should the Church Care?


That is the title of my presentation at our congregation's adult forum on January 23rd. If you are near our woods I hope you will join us at 9:45 a.m. It is a powerpoint presentation that I originally presented to the Presbyterian Student Fellowship at ETSU. I called it then: What is Peak Oil and Why Should College Students Care? It will be the same information with some updates.


What is Peak Oil? According to geologist, Colin Campbell:
"The term Peak Oil refers to the maximum rate of the production of oil in any area under consideration, recognising that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion."
Don't let the terse definition fool you. This peak of oil global oil production that many experts think is happening now has huge impacts on everything including geopolitics, transportation, economy, ecology, housing, food, career choices--in short--civilization.



In the meantime, you might be interested in what Michael Ruppert says about Peak Oil and civilization.


Here is an
article about and an interview with Mike Ruppert on Transition Voice. Definitely worth a read. He is predicting some dire stuff within the next few months.

I really have no guess how the implications of Peak Oil will play out. Ruppert is convinced that it is going to get bad and fast. It is hard to argue with him as he finds 50-60 news stories a day that provide evidence for his outlook. But then again...

I am quite interested in the spiritual, sacred aspect of this. Ruppert says, "God is on the table." This is kind of an odd sentence. It is fun to play with that metaphor. Perhaps God and Isaac have reversed their positions. Instead of his son, Isaac, Abraham has God on the table and is about to sacrifice him. Will Isaac be as "generous" and offer a ram to save the Lord or will he allow Abraham to kill God once and for all? That is a metaphor for our time, isn't it?

That isn't where Ruppert is going. He is talking about the spirituality, the integrity, the mojo that humans will need to survive the transition. We (non-religious) are even needing to talk about God again is the idea. God is on the table. Ruppert says in the interview:

And my personal opinion is that unless people preparing for the horrors that are to come incorporate something of a spiritual nature they will not survive. It’s not just about beans and growing food. “Man does not live by bread alone.” Man can not survive on bread alone.
I agree to that. As I have written before, I started this blog in response to learning about Peak Oil and wondering what a spirituality or theology of a Peak Oil world would be like.

I am not sure how horrific this will all be. He makes an allusion to the Cormac McCarthy book and the movie based upon it,
The Road. That is pretty extreme. Ruppert says he is doing what he is doing to prevent that.

I do in the end put a great deal of stock in the kindness and the creativity of human beings. I think we can handle many things if we stick together and act from compassion. That doesn't mean it is easy or that there won't be a lot of suffering. Denial won't prepare us.

I tend to like James Kunstler's novels, A World Made by Hand and Witch of Hebron. The green shoots grow from the stumps in those visions.

My presentation on the 23rd will be limited to the nuts and bolts of Peak Oil. A conversation regarding its possible implications will be necessary and I hope forthcoming.