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

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Letter to My Legislator

I wrote a letter to my two Tennessee legislators today, Senator Rusty Crowe and Representative Matthew Hill.

Here it is:


March 28, 2011

Representative/Senator


Dear ,


As your constituent, I want to thank you for your service and encourage you to vote in favor of HB2064/SB1692 to exclude individuals with severe and persistent mental illness from receiving the death penalty in Tennessee.

Frankly, the death penalty should be abolished altogether. But this is a start. The United States can count itself in the company of Yemen, Iran, China, and North Korea. These are the top four executing countries in 2010. The United States ranked fifth.**


This is shameful.


I would be happy to talk with you at any time why the death penalty is bad for Tennessee and the United States on moral, legal, practical, and financial grounds.


HB2064/SB1692 is a start.


Thank you for your consideration, and I hope you will let me know if you support this bill.


Sincerely,


Rev. John Shuck

**Here are the top five countries with numbers of executions in order: China (over 1,000 executions), Iran (252+), North Korea (60+), Yemen (53+), and the US (46). (
Amnesty International, March 28, 2011)

Our congregation had a visit from
Rev. Stacy Rector a couple of months back. She encouraged us to write letters on behalf of this legislation. Our Peacemaking Committee took on the task and set up a bulletin board and a mailbox.


It supplied pen, paper, stamps, a sample letter and the addresses of our legislators and encouraged us to write individual letters. So I did.


It is a good idea.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rev. Sally Bingham in Johnson City this Week

Our little club of bandits is a member of the Green Interfaith Network, Inc. (GINI).

Check out GINI's new web page!
And friend us on Facebook.

We are excited to welcome Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light to Johnson City this week. This was in Saturday's Johnson City Press:


Some say God is love, while others say God is dead. But a handful of faith communities in the Tri-Cities have joined together to say God is green.

The Green Interfaith Network consists of nine congregations who want to foster sustainable living in the name of creation care. The group was founded two years ago and has continued to grow steadily, with about 50 members attending their most recent monthly meetings.


“Our hope is to create communication among people of faith and at the same time provide resources and encouragement to be more responsible to the earth,” said Carol Landis, president of the organization.


Landis is a member of Munsey United Methodist Church, but said the group is open to all denominations and religions.
“Most faith traditions have some sort of statement about stewardship of the earth,” said Landis.

“There is an ethic involved in creation care. It just seems a natural fit for communities concerned to do work together to maintain and sustain the creation that we’ve been given.”


Primarily the group hosts guest speakers from the region to discuss different niche issues about sustainability and stewardship. It also recognizes area faith communities for their success in promoting and developing eco-friendly practices in their building plans and missions.


“The vision of our group is really ... to become a spiritual voice for environmental sustainability in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia,” said Landis.
The group is an offshoot of Interfaith Power and Light, which started as an Episcopal effort in California.

Over 13 years, the program has spread to 38 states and 10,000 congregations of numerous faiths.
Next week, the Rev. Sally Bingham, director of Interfaith Power and Light, will make a stop in Johnson City during her tour of Tennessee, meeting with Green Interfaith Network members and those interested in the group.

“Sally is coming to our area to present encouragement and help people become aware of what others are doing nationwide,” said Landis.


Bingham will offer a presentation Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Jones Meeting Room of the Johnson City Public Library. She will discuss the religious community’s response to climate change. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Bingham will then host a breakfast the following morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church for religious leaders and clergy.


“I think that the environmental community has been working on climate change for 30 years and that we haven’t made the progress we need to make in the protection of climate,” said Bingham.

“Bringing the religious voice in is going to be the voice that makes the change we need. It’s my belief that when people understand they have a moral responsibility for the future and that their behavior counts, then people will make the changes we need to make.”


For more information, visit GreenInterfaith.org.


Quaker Response to Libya

From the Quakers in Britain regarding Libya.
Open letter to the Prime Minister from Quakers in Britain on Libya

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain is dismayed that Britain is again directly involved in military activity, this time in Libya, while it continues with military action in Afghanistan. We grieve at the loss of life and the misery inflicted on all those affected by war.

We see war as intrinsically wrong. It is wrong because it treats people as being expendable. We see each individual as being unique and precious and carrying within them something of God.

We recognise that others do not share this view and that many well-meaning people were willing to see this particular military action begin in the hope that it would save civilian lives. We respect their motives. We have however seen, over and over again, the arguments used that ‘we must do something’ and that this time what is planned will be brief and clinical. But the truth is so often very different – violence tends to escalate, and it is much harder to end a war than to start it. The bitterness and hatred caused can last for generations. All this we ignore at our peril.

Quakers applaud the efforts made by the United Nations to reach a solution to the satisfaction of all parties in the region of North Africa, and we are deeply disappointed that a nonviolent solution could not be reached in Libya.

This year, 2011, marks 350 years since Quakers first declared our conviction to Charles II that as a Religious Society “all bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons for any end or under any pretence…”

Since that time Quakers in Britain and around the world have worked for peace and social justice, with the aim of making this world a better place for all. As Quakers in Britain we ask the Government to look critically at the role it plays in increasing instability in the world, particularly through the very substantial support it provides for the arms trade.

We uphold all those in positions of responsibility at this crucial time, praying that they will at least exercise all possible restraint.
Here is a statement from the American Friends Service Committee:
Call for nonviolent alternatives to end the conflict in Libya

Eight years ago, on March 19, the United States led the attack on Iraq. This year, on that same date, US forces, in conjunction with those of other countries, embarked on an aerial assault of another Arab country, Libya.

The American Friends Service Committee is appalled by the countless deaths, the untold suffering, the displacements of people, and the physical destruction in Libya. We pray for those who have already lost their loved ones through violence, whatever may be the source.

Our long experience in the Middle East and Africa, along with our Quaker witness for peace, compels us to speak out about the crisis in Libya. We deplore the violence and killings inflicted by Qaddafi’s government on its citizens, as we abhor the actions of any government that places their own self-preservation above the well being of their people. However, our revulsion does not justify violence, or war.

Our experience has shown the futility of challenging violence with violence. We have seen that history has proven time and again that war and violence do not bring about justice or a lasting peace. Instead, they always take a terrible toll on civilians. This is why, as a Quaker organization, we advocate for nonviolent social change.

We support the people of Libya as they struggle to protect their human rights and to transform unjust social and political systems in their country. We note that in Egypt and Tunisia, remarkable change has been achieved in a short time with minimal violence or outside intervention. Recent history shows how nonviolent approaches can prevail to overcome extraordinary oppression. Unlike military action from another country, these approaches serve the people over the long term.

In addressing the serious issues of international peace and security, we urge the use of non-military methods by all involved. In this case, the international community has not exhausted the available nonviolent alternatives to protect the people of Libya. The significant resources required by the chosen course of military intervention could be better used for intense diplomatic and political efforts to alleviate the crisis.

We believe that it is morally unacceptable to allow military tactics to lead our response to human crises. The current foreign military assault on Libya is a step in the wrong direction, one that may lead the country to further instability, human suffering, and protracted violent conflict.

We therefore ask:
  1. The Libyan government to end all violence against its own citizens and to fulfill its obligation to protect its citizens.
  2. The coalition forces, including the United States, to cease the air bombardment and military involvement in Libya, and renounce any intention to impose regime change by force.
  3. The United Nations, the African Union, and the Arab League to increase diplomatic efforts to engage all parties to the conflict in dialogue, to support an immediate ceasefire, and to find political solutions that serve the needs of the Libyan people.
  4. All parties to allow full access for humanitarian agencies to provide urgently needed assistance to internally displaced people, refugees who fled to neighboring countries, and the tens of thousands of migrants stranded in Libya. We urge that emergency assistance and protection be extended to all in need on the basis of humanitarian principles and not on the basis of political criteria or military objectives.

Spiral of Violence: A Sermon

Spiral of Violence
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

March 27th, 2011
Third Sunday in Lent

Gospel of Jesus 12:32-38

Jesus told this parable:

“A person owned a vineyard and rented it to some farmers, so they could work it and he could collect its crop from them. He sent his slave so the farmers would give him the vineyard’s crop. They grabbed him, beat him, and almost killed him, and the slave returned and told his master. His master said, “Perhaps he didn’t know them.” He sent another slave, and the farmers beat that one as well. Then the master sent his son and said, “Perhaps they’ll show my son some respect.” Because the farmer knew that he was an heir to the vineyard, they grabbed and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do?”

Jesus would say,
“The Father’s imperial rule is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in.
Then he killed the powerful one.

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 51, 53. Thomas 65:1-7; 98:1-3; Mark 12:1-9; Matthew 21:33-39; Luke 20:9-15


The parable of the vineyard is found in four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. This parable is a good illustration of how a parable of Jesus is shaped and modified by the gospel writers. After killing the son, the different gospel writers respond.

Mark’s ending:
What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come in person, and do away with those farmers, and give the vineyard to someone else. Haven’t you read this scripture,

“A stone that the builders rejected has ended up as the keystone. It was the Lord’s doing and is something you admire?”

Matthew’s ending:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers then?

They say to him, He’ll get rid of these wicked villains and lease the vineyard out to other farmers who will deliver their produce to him at the proper time.

Jesus says to them, “Haven’t you read in the scriptures, “A stone that the builders rejected has ended up as the keystone. It was the Lord’s doing and is something you admire?”

“Therefore I say to you, God’s domain will be taken away from you and given to a people that bears its fruit.”

And when the ranking priests and Pharisees heard his parable, they realized that he was talking about them. They wanted to seize him, but were afraid of the crowds, because everyone regarded him as a prophet.

Luke’s ending:
What will the owner of the vineyard do to them as a consequence? He will come in person, do away with those farmers, and give the vineyard to someone else. When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!”

But (Jesus) looked them straight in the eye and said, “What can this scripture possibly mean: A stone that the builders rejected has ended up as the keystone? Everyone who falls over that stone will be smashed to bits, and anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.
In all three gospels, this exchange is followed by the religious leaders wanting to arrest Jesus then and there.

Because of the way the gospel writers interpreted this parable, it became an allegory in which God is owner, the vineyard is Israel, the farmers are the temple authorities or religious leaders, the slaves are the prophets, and the son is Jesus.

There is another version of this parable in the Gospel of Thomas. It is for the most part the Thomas version that I printed in the bulletin. The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar determined that Thomas preserved the original parable. There is no allegory attached to the Thomas reading.

After killing the son, Thomas has Jesus say: “Anyone here with two ears had better listen.”

My rule of thumb with Jesus’ parables is that any character with authority and power such as a king, a judge, or a wealthy landowner should warrant suspicion of any attempt to equate that character with God. The gospel writers may do that and the later tradition does that, but when we get back to the figure of Jesus we find that the parables are more subversive.

My interpretation of this parable is indebted to William Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed.

Another interesting detail that may be connected with the original telling is found in both Mark and Matthew. They begin the parable this way:
“Someone planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a winepress, built a tower, leased it out to some farmers and went abroad.”
Jesus is telling a parable to people who know all about vineyards and wealthy absentee landowners. From the people’s perspective the landowners aren’t the good guys. If Jesus’ audience is largely made up of the peasant class or 80 percent of the population, they would identify with the farmers.

Where did the landowner get the land to build his luxury vineyard? Land stayed in the family for generations. The only way you get land is to take it. Herod funded his huge building projects including the Temple by forcing peasants off their land to work for large landowners for the purpose of making cash crops. This parable of Jesus reflects this reality as a conflict between a member of the ruling class and the peasant class.

Of course the process of taking land from the poor was common before Herod. In Isaiah chapter five, there is in an interesting parallel to our parable that provides a hint of its context:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watch-tower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
In Isaiah, the metaphor of wild grapes is social injustice. A few verses later we read:
Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!
The consolidating of land is the injustice. Jesus speaks in the tradition of the prophets of social justice. The dream of these prophets was that one day everyone would sit under his or her own fig tree. The land would be returned.

In our parable, whose land is it? Does it belong to the guy who planted the vineyard or does it belong to the peasant farmer who has been displaced? We can have an opinion, but we can imagine that there would be debate. Who owns Libya? Who owns Egypt or Syria or the Gulf of Mexico? These are the conflicts of distribution of power and resources.

During times of quiet there is a tenuous balance whatever the arrangement. But in times of stress, when resources are not as easily available, the balance leads to open conflict, and even violent conflict.

Herzog suggest that this parable describes a peasant revolt. The parable codifies the “spiral of violence.” Elites expand their land at the expense of the peasants and they are kept at subsistence levels. This element of injustice, “wild grapes”, to use the metaphor from Isaiah, is embedded within the system itself. That is the first level of violence.

Herzog writes:
“The spiral begins in the everyday oppression and exploitation of the poor by the ruling elites. This violence is often covert and sanctioned by law, such as the hostile takeover of peasant land. More often than not, peasants simply adjust and adapt to these incursions by the elites in order to maintain their subsistence standard; but…even peasants have their breaking point.” Pp. 108-109.
The second level of the spiral of violence is seen in the peasants’ response to the servant. We can imagine that disputes would arise when the servants or retainers for the landowner come to collect the rent. Perhaps the rent is too much and they are pushed to the point of frustration. In the parable, the farmers beat the servant and send him away empty-handed.

The spiral of violence escalates. The landowner sends another, same thing, but the violence increases. A third they kill. Now it is getting serious. Finally, the landowner sends the son, the heir. The landowner is confident that by sending his son, the peasants will stop this revolt.

Then the master sent his son and said, “Perhaps they’ll show my son some respect.”

Respect is respect for superior firepower. The landowner means business now.

But the peasants are feeling their oats. Their revolt is getting heady. They say to themselves that if they kill the son, they will take the land back. The landowner will give up. So they do. They kill the son. The parable ends.

The first level of the spiral of violence is the violence that is embedded in the injustice, the “wild grapes” of oppression and exploitation.

The second level of the spiral of violence is the peasant revolt that leads to a climax of no return in which the son is killed.

There is a third level in the spiral of violence. That is how Jesus likely ended the parable.
What will the owner of the vineyard do?
Will he give up and let the peasants take back the land and leave his son un-avenged? Not likely.
Will he respond with crushing violence? More likely.

That is the third level of the spiral of violence. A crushing response. Herzog makes this chilling observation that in ancient societies there were many peasant revolts but there were no peasant revolutions. The powers were simply too overwhelming.

Why did Jesus tell this parable?

Before answering that, I want to talk about another parable I included in today’s reading, the Parable of the Assassin. Found only in the Gospel of Thomas, this was one of the few that while not in the canonical gospels, the seminar determined did reflect Jesus.
Jesus would say,
“The Father’s imperial rule is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one.
Then there is another saying that the Fellows ruled black, but I think helps to makes sense both of the parable of the assassin and the parable of the vineyard laborers. It is found only in Luke 14:31-32
“What king would go to war against another king and not first sit down and figure out whether he would be able with ten thousand men to engage an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand? If he decided he could not, he would send an envoy to ask for terms of peace while the enemy was still a long way off.”
I think that Jesus told these parables to an audience of exploited and oppressed people to communicate a couple of things.

One: I am with you. I am on your side. So is God. The realm of God is when we have our daily bread, and the land is returned, and there is restorative justice. Blessed are you poor who are hungry now, who are oppressed now. You will be satisfied. It is clear that Jesus was an advocate for those who were oppressed by the elites whether the elites were fellow Jews, Romans, or religious leaders. He has sympathy and compassion. He is one of them.

Second: Jesus wanted to tell them to be smart and to be cool. Before you decide to take on these guys, count the cost, have a plan, and don’t underestimate your enemy. Even an assassin makes sure he can get the job done before he tries it. Even a king with an army makes sure he has enough troops first, and if not makes terms for peace. It is great and I am all for you leading a revolt against wealthy landowners and brutal dictators. But remember why they call them “brutal dictators” in the first place. Taking on the powerful head on doesn’t end well. If you act violently, what will the owner of the vineyard do?

Third: Jesus communicated something else. It isn’t in the parable itself except in the question Jesus leaves with the hearers. If not with violence, then how do we take on the “powerful one”? How do we effectively respond to injustice? How do we transform it? I think Jesus wanted to channel their righteous anger toward a third way, the way of resistance, but in a way that did not escalate the spiral of violence.

The story of Jesus that is preserved is that he did enact this third way by example. He never allowed anyone to take away his dignity even though they could harm his body. He didn’t take on violence directly. He didn’t respond to violence with violence. He was non-violent and yet was executed. But his death came to mean far more than it would have had he been a violent bandit.

Because of his non-violence, his execution exposed the injustice and raised the level of consciousness of his early followers. It has been a model for non-violent resistance ever since. This is what Ghandi and King taught and lived through their efforts to change social injustices through non-violent resistance.

This model of non-violent resistance is still in its infancy. As an infant it must be cradled, nurtured, fed, blessed, and given every opportunity to grow. This is the via tranformativa, the spiritual path of compassion and justice-making.

This past week was the 31st anniversary of the assassination of arch-bishop Oscar Romero. Two weeks before his assassination, he was asked by a Mexican reporter if he was afraid of death. This is his reply:
"I have often been threatened with death. I have to say, as a Christian, that I don't believe in death without resurrection: if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people. I tell you this without any boasting, with the greatest humility. As pastor, I am obliged, by divine command, to give my life for those I love, who are all Salvadorans, even for those who are going to assassinate me. If the threats are carried out, even now I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Martyrdom is a grace of God I don’t think I deserve. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my blood be the seed of liberty and the sign that hope will soon become reality. May my death, if accepted by God, be for the freedom of my people and as a witness to hope in the future. You can say, if they come to kill me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully they may realise that they will be wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish."
Bishop Romero embodied the third way. We have seen the third way work. Democracy is the third way. It is the process of changing power through voting. A global emphasis on human rights and dignity is an example of the third way. The recent peaceful revolution in Egypt is an example of a non-violent third way.

The situation in Libya is a step backward. There are still third way possibilities there if there is the political will to choose peace. Non-violence is not passivity. It is resistance. It requires creativity. It requires negotiation. It requires sacrifice. What if 5,000 or 10,000 people of conscience from around the world went to Libya without weapons and simply stood arm in arm in front of Gaddafi's tanks? It will require more of the American people than sitting at home watching the bombing on television disconnected from the reality of the U.S. military fighting battles for us and in our name.

Peaceful alternatives to war are not flashy or terribly exciting, but war will not lead the world to the security we seek.

Jesus told his parables to show his friends that violence does not bring about a lasting and just peace. It only escalates it. The via transformativa, or the way of compassion, peace and justice-making is hard work, but the way of peace is the narrow road that leads to life.

Amen.

Stanley Hauerwas on a Christian Response to War.
Quaker Statements on Libya.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Apocalypse, Progress or Hospice?


The April newsletter is going out soon. Here is my editorial:


Dear Friends,

Newsweek came in the mail today. The headline reads:
“Apocalypse Now: Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Nuclear Meltdowns, Revolutions. Economies on the Brink. What the #@%! Is Next?”
Nobody knows. But many guess. John Michael Greer in his book, The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, writes that we live by two myths. Both are less than helpful. We follow either the myth of progress or the myth of apocalypse. Either the world is getting “better and better” thanks to technology and we will one day enjoy a Jetsons future or the world is going to hell next Tuesday in a fiery apocalypse.

Greer suggests something a bit more realistic. He suggests that we are at the peak of the industrial age and are headed for a long (centuries long) period of contraction with stairsteps of stability and partial recovery. He calls it “The Long Descent”. He writes:
It makes a great deal of difference how we come to view the challenge of the next century. On the one hand, it could be portrayed as a struggle to keep modern industrial civilization moving along the endless upward curve of progress. On the other, it could more usefully be envisioned as a matter of managing the end of the industrial age and coping with the decline to a more modest and less ecologically suicidal deindustrial society. We’re in much the same situation as family members who have to decide on medical treatment for an elderly parent who has half a dozen vital systems on the verge of giving out. If the only outcome we’re willing to accept is keeping Dad alive forever, we guarantee ourselves a desperate, expensive, and futile struggle with the inevitable. People, like civilizations, are mortal; no matter how much money and technology gets poured into keeping them alive, sooner or later it won’t be enough.

On the other hand, if we accept that Dad is going to die sooner or later, and we concentrate on giving him the best possible quality of life in the time he has left, there’s quite a bit that can be done. The last part of Dad’s life can be made better, and so can the lives of the generations that follow him, because the money that might have been spent for exotic medical procedures to keep Dad alive for another three months of misery can go instead to pay college tuition for his grandchildren. The same thing is likely to be true in the twilight years of industrial civilization; the resources we have left can be used either to maintain the industrial system for a few more years, or to cushion the descent into the deindustrial future—but not both. Pp. 157-8.
Here are some signs of our desperation:

Last night Rachel Maddow reported that the Department of the Interior is granting deep water drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico
“despite a report finding that blow-out preventer design is flawed and despite drilling companies submitting emergency response plans that pre-date the Deepwater Horizon spill and therefore reflect none of the lessons of that disaster.”
The EPA is being stripped of its power and resources to regulate natural gas drilling. Mountain tops are removed in Appalachia (Tennessee is next) for coal. The U.S. military is now entering a third war in the Middle East. While the immediate context for the action in Libya is humanitarian, the larger reality is that Libya extracts 1.8 million barrels of sweet crude per day. As oil extraction has peaked and the U.S. imports 2/3 of its oil from foreign countries, it is not difficult to see that we are in the midst of a long power struggle for natural resources, especially oil.

It appears that we are doing everything we can, including trashing the planet, just to keep Dad on the ventilator a little while longer. The industrial age is based on a myth of endless economic growth fueled by a one-time use of basically free but finite fossil fuel energy. It is ending. The industrial age or “Petroleum Man” is terminal. He needs hospice.

This is a spiritual problem. It is a problem of denial and an unwillingness to face reality and respond with a concern for future generations. The industrial age is not normal. It is a blip on the screen of human history. It has risen due to fossil fuels and is now falling due to their peak extraction. We can choose to make this descent decent or we can choose war and environmental catastrophe to keep Petroleum Man alive for a few more months or years.

What can we do about it? Why bring it up here? I think it is our task to talk about this and to imagine a new future. Our congregation is equipped to do this. We are a congregation of courageous, visionary leaders. If not us, then who? What do we need to do?
  1. We need to make a commitment to Earth care on behalf of future generations and communicate that to others. That is the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.
  2. We need to encourage each other to face reality not with fear but with hope and determination and share some practical skills for this transition.
  3. We need to find the metaphors and myths (not progress or apocalypse) that can help us contract (use less) with grace and, yes, with joy.
Greer’s book is one of the first that I have read that is helpful in this regard. We will be reading it in May for our “Thursdays With Jesus” study group. All are welcome to this discussion. Even if you cannot make the discussion, I encourage you to pick up this book or his latest book, The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning A Post-Peak World and talk about it with people.

Politicians will only talk about what we insist they talk about. You know as well as I that takes a lot of insisting. Before we can get them to talk about it, we need to do so. We need to do it with courage, candor, and with solid information.

Despite the panic of Newsweek’s headline, I do not think there is an “Apocalypse” in our future. I don’t think we can blithely hope for “Progress” either. There is change. The more we are prepared physically, mentally and spiritually for these changes, the healthier we will be personally and as a society. If we are informed and courageous we may make less unfortunate decisions regarding our planet’s health and our childrens’ future.

As always I welcome your feedback.

Blessed Be.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baltimore Votes "Aye!"

The Presbytery of Baltimore voted YES on Amendment A 108-36-4 getting us one vote closer to 87.

Nice work, Baltimore!!
We never doubted ya for a moment!

The tally is 74-52.

Up next:

  • Coastal Carolina on Saturday, March 26
  • North Puget Sound on Tuesday, March 29
  • Charleston-Atlantic and Milwaukee on Thursday, March 31
Three will be difficult votes. Coastal Carolina and Charleston-Atlantic will require Herculean flips and North Puget Sound will be a possible flip. Milwaukee should be a Yes.

Get out the vote.
Tell the truth.
Hope for the best.

Hell to Pay for Not Believing in Hell

In the news is a story about a minister who was fired because he crossed off a superstition on his "to believe" list. A Methodist minister in Henderson, North Carolina wrote on his Facebook account that he didn't believe in Hell. Apparently, some of his parishioners thought he should believe in it or at least should shut up about his unbelief.
The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow's Chapel in Henderson.
I thought his name sounded familiar, Chad Holtz. Lo and behold, Chad and I had a chat a few months ago on this very blog. It was a post about Heaven. I don't believe in it (or in any form of life after death). I stated my thoughts on a post that I am rather proud of, If there is no life after death, are we to be pitied?

Chad didn't think I was being a "good steward of the mysteries" and blogged about my post at his place,
Stewards of God's Mysteries. The irony is that Chad lost his job because his church folks didn't think that he was being a good steward of God's mysteries. This is his latest post, The Truth Can Set You Free...and Get You Fired.

"God's mysteries" are a tricky business and so is "Truth". What is superstition for one person is dogmatic truth for another. I am thankful that in some circles Christianity is evolving.


In the meantime, I wish Chad the best.
Even as he and I had our differences, I am grateful for ministers like Chad who get fired (or otherwise nudged to move on) for telling their truth. The Church needs more gutsy preachers. I hope he finds a call that respects not only freedom of the pulpit, but freedom of the Facebook as well.

The heart of authentic ministry is one's freedom of conscience. It is important for clergy to be able to express doubts about what is no longer credible for them. In so doing, they are also expressing what their parishioners also feel and they are setting an example of the importance of freedom of thought. That freedom isn't granted. It is taken. It likely will involve a cost.

I am impressed that MSNBC picked up Chad's "heresy".

The best I can ever get (whine, whine) is the
LayMAN.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Philadelphia Freedom!

It is hard to get more "Presbyterian" than the Presbytery of Philadelphia. It is all about history and form and...equality.

Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendment A, 182-108 today. Nice work!!

Also, kudos to Monmouth for a strong YES, 74-32!

We were hoping for a flip in Carlisle, but it wasn't to be. Despite good work by supporters, Carlisle voted no 89-102. Last time it was 71-74. Both sides got out the vote and wheeled in granny to cast a ballot. There were more grannies on the opposing side it appears.

The tally is 73-52.

We need 14 more YESes to hit 87. It will take us at least to mid to late May to get there as the bulk of the presbyteries have already voted and the remaining will trickle in.

John McCrosky has a schedule of who is voting when.

I know I shouldn't do this. But it is irresistible.

Which presbytery will cast the deciding 87th YES vote?

OK, my prediction of the presbytery that will put us over the top is....



....either Charlotte, New York City, or Des Moines. All three will vote on May 17th.

The presbytery that votes second on that day will be the 87th.

That is my prediction.

OK, OK, I know, I know.

C'mon, what is the worst that will happen? We don't get 87 and we do it all again in two years.

This is fun, right?


If it isn't fun, then get out the vote and pass this thing.

Here is the schedule for this week:

  • Baltimore on Thursday, March 24 (Hold)
  • Coastal Carolina on Saturday, March 26 (Miracle Flip)
  • North Puget Sound on Tuesday, March 29 (Possible Flip)

Monday, March 21, 2011

It Is Going to Happen, Beloveds


With only 52 presbyteries left to vote, the results will be trickling in the for the next two months. Of those 52 we need 16 more YES votes to reach 87 and remove the PC (USA) version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

It is hard to believe we are this close after all these years of struggle for equality. This last climb will be steep, so catch your breath, then make those calls!

Here is the schedule for this week with the vote tallies from last time (2008-09).

Tuesday, March 22:

  • Carlisle (no 71-74) Need to Flip it.
  • Monmouth (yes 72-41) Hold it.
  • Philadelphia (yes 153-139) Hold it.

Thursday, March 24:

  • Baltimore (yes 106-38) Hold it.

Saturday, March 26:

  • Coastal Carolina (no 110-205) Miracle Flip.

The challenge this week will be to flip Carlisle and hold Philadelphia. We can't take Monmouth for granted either. No equality-minded person is going to want to miss this chance to be a part of history!

Here are some statistics for the voting. Check vote charts from Covenant Network, More Light Presbyterians, John McCrosky, and Kattie's Projections.

  • Total Presbytery Yes Votes on 10-A 71
  • Total Presbytery No Votes on 10-A 50
  • Presbyteries Left to Vote 52
  • Presbyteries moving from No to Yes 14
  • Presbyteries moving from Yes to No 1
Check the sidebar for resources, speeches, and links including this speech delivered by Nathan Sobers to Seattle Presbytery:
15 years ago when Madrona Church called me to be an Elder, they weren’t trying to be trailblazers by calling an openly gay man. They weren’t trying to thumb their collective noses at the Presbytery or the denomination. Madrona was simply living out the Gospel, (Read More)


The long, cold, lonely winter of discrimination is ending in the PC (USA). Here comes the sun!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

'Tis Spring!

Like the good pagans we are at FPC Elizabethton, we are celebrating Spring Equinox and invite other lovers of Spring to join us at 5:30.
Easter is still a month away, but Ostara, the ancient celebration from which the word Easter is derived will be arriving right on schedule on the Spring Equinox, March 20th. The Peacemaking Committee will sponsor a celebration for Ostara as part of its Wheel of the Year series: the Solstices, Equinoxes, and the days halfway between. Meet at the church at 5:30. It will be "in progress" when spring officially arrives at 6:21 pm! There will be refreshments afterward. To contribute, you are encouraged to bring your favorite version of deviled eggs or greens for a spring salad.
Also, for Spring today I have for you Mary Oliver and the Beatles.

"Spring"

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

--Mary Oliver

And the Beatles, "Here Comes the Sun"

On This Day Love is Permitted: A Sermon

On This Day Love Is Permitted
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

March 20th, 2011
Second Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Jesus 10:1-1

It so happened that Jesus was walking along through the grainfields on the Sabbath day, and his disciples began to strip heads of grain as they walked along. And the Pharisees started to argue with him: “See here, why are they doing what’s not permitted on the Sabbath day?”

And Jesus says to them:

The Sabbath day was created for Adam and Eve,
Not Adam and Eve for the Sabbath day.
So, the son of Adam lords it even over the Sabbath day.

Then he went back to the synagogue, and a fellow with a crippled hand was there. So they keep an eye on him, to see whether he would heal the fellow on the Sabbath day, so they could denounce him. And he says to the fellow with the crippled hand, “Get up here in front of everybody.” Then he asks them, “On the Sabbath day is it permitted to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

But they maintained their silence. And looking right at them with anger, exasperated at their obstinacy, he says to the fellow, “Hold out your hand!”

He held it out and his hand was restored.

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 51, 53. Mark 2:23-24, 27-28; 3:1-5; Matthew 12:1-2, 8-13; Luke 6:1-2, 5-10



Every now and then I come down with religion envy.

Religion envy is the experience of wishing one was of a different religion.
I wish I were Buddhist then I could do that.
Or, if I were Wiccan, I could do that!
I went to a Roman Catholic high school. I was a Protestant. In fact, a low-level Protestant at that. I envied all the cool stuff that the Catholic faith was about. The statues, the history, the secret handshakes and genuflecting. I envied the practices associated with the various seasons and holy days of the year such as Lent. We plain old Baptists didn’t have any of that cool stuff.

The mainline Protestant church as a whole has been experiencing Roman envy. I think that is the reason we had all of this liturgical renewal in the 70s. Protestant clergy now follow the lectionary and have added bells and whistles from our past to worship over the last few decades.

Religion envy.

Whenever I get a chance to visit a synagogue (and that isn’t very often) I get Jewish envy.

I really like the concept of the Shabbat or the Sabbath. Shabbat begins at sunset, considered to be the beginning of the day. At a certain time in the service, worshipers turn to the rear of the hall and welcome the new day, the Shabbat, like a queen. It is a day of rest, holy rest from sundown to sundown.

As Jay Michaelson writes in an article about Shabbat:
Shabbat is a day of being, not doing….the rest of the week, we Jews are exhorted to improve the world, better ourselves, and provide for our extended families in whatever roles in which we find ourselves. But this day: just be. Serve God not in changing the world, but in relaxing into what’s already there.
I like that. In Creation Spirituality, Shabbat is the way of awe and wonder—the spiritual path of appreciation. Take it in and notice. That is holy rest. And we need it, don’t we?

Wendell Berry in his poem “The Peace of Wild Things” writes about this holy rest:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their lights. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The first chapter of the Bible is about the Shabbat. The story of God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh is a “just so story” to explain why we keep the Sabbath. Over 100 years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote a number of delightful “just so stories” to explain how animals received their characteristics. How the leopard got his spots and why the rhinoceros has loose skin.

Why do we rest on the Sabbath? Sit down and let me tell you a story.
“When God began creating the heavens and the earth…”
…and we settle in for a good story about how we can make sense and experience joy in this strange and disconnected existence.

It is the first story in the Bible. Keeping Sabbath was and still is obviously quite important if the story of the creation of the universe justifies it. It is hard to imagine a more authoritative “just so story” than that.

It is not hard to imagine how guidelines would develop over time to regulate the practice of Sabbath keeping. What to do what not to do, what to do in this situation, in that crisis, under these circumstances. One can imagine that there might have been debate and disagreement over interpretation.

How do we remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy?

I have religion envy for Sabbath Day. Sunday church isn’t quite the same. In modern times, there appears to be no rest at all. We are constantly going. That may be why we get sick. Just need a rest.

When I was in seminary I worked all nights at the local Mobil station and convenience store pumping gasoline. I noticed that there were no locks on the door. It wasn’t because in New Jersey everyone is trustworthy. It is because the store never closed. There is no need for a lock if you are open 24/7 and never close the door.

No Sabbath for Mobil Oil.

There are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. One is found in Exodus chapter 20. The other is in Deuteronomy chapter 5. Scholars think that the list in Deuteronomy is older. The one in Exodus was written by the same folks who put together the first creation story. We call that author the Priestly author or “P” for short. “P” made his contribution during or shortly after the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century. A very creative writer, “P” made the case for the Sabbath to be a way to keep one’s identity in a strange land. We no longer have the temple, but we can still keep Shabbat.

The version in Exodus explains why we keep the Sabbath, by referring to the creation story:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
In Deuteronomy, the reason given is because of slavery. The Lord who rescued you commands you to keep the Sabbath day.
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
The Sabbath is connected with justice. You give your animals and “your slaves” and the immigrants a day of rest so they “may rest as well as you.” When work was done sunup to sundown every day, often on behalf of another, a day of rest would be most welcome.

One can imagine that the Sabbath Day was hard-earned. Despite how the Bible tells the story, rules don’t just magically appear on stone tablets from the finger of God. They are the result of experience.

The Sabbath in ancient times, like the 40 hour week in modern times, was the result of a great deal of politicking and struggle against oppressive powers. The rules regarding Sabbath observances were the result of blood on every page. The Sabbath for workers is sacred and holy. The Sabbath is about justice for all creation. Don’t mess with it.

So Jesus comes along with his band of brigands and starts plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. They are harvesting. The poor were allowed to glean. They are taking enough to eat. Yet this is work and it is expressly forbidden on the Sabbath. Those who criticize Jesus and his followers for working on the Sabbath are right. They are keepers of this tradition of justice.

Once people are allowed to break the rules, then what is to keep landowners from breaking the rules?
Once you start whittling away at the observances, it isn’t long before Sabbath becomes optional and then not practiced at all. And then, you poor schleps only will have yourselves to blame when you are pumping gas day and night seven days a week for less than subsistence wages at your local Mobil station.

Sabbath observance is not simply an archaic religious blue law that the pious impose on the rest of us. From its foundation, it is a matter of justice. Holy rest for God’s creatures. The question for Jesus was not whether to observe the Sabbath, but how do we observe the Sabbath.

The argument between Jesus and his opponents has to do with its meaning and practice. I used to think that these passages about Jesus and the Sabbath were about Jesus doing away with these Jewish rules, because he is, well, Jesus, second person of the Trinity, Light from Light, the Messiah, Christ, Son of God, and so on. That has been pretty much standard Christian fare. The old covenant has been superseded by the new covenant in the person of Jesus Christ.

I don’t think of it that way any longer. I think Jesus was a human being. He was a Jew and an observant Jew at that. He didn’t do away with the Sabbath or with anything. As any good teacher of the law, he reminded people what the Sabbath was about. He reminded them to return to justice and compassion.

When Jesus argues with his opponents over this we shouldn’t think he is arguing with Judaism. These characters such as the Pharisees and Scribes are foils in the gospels. Any Jewish rabbi would agree with Jesus that the Sabbath was created for the Human Being.

Walter Wink in his book, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man, says that Jesus wasn’t elevating himself above the Sabbath. He isn’t saying he is above the law because he is “God” nor did he elevate humanity as such above the Sabbath.

Wink interprets the phrase the “son of man” as the Human Being. The Human Being (with a capital “H” and a capital “B”) is an archetype for the authentic human. The Human Being is the Divine within each of us. The human that is image of God. The human being who incarnates love.

Jesus is saying the Human Being is the Lord of the Sabbath. The human that acts from deep compassion is the authentic human. It is because of deep compassion and justice that we have the Sabbath in the first place—to offer holy rest.

This is risky. It allows for freedom. It is easier to have rules that we woodenly obey than to be encouraged to develop that kind of authenticity and freedom. The Human Being is not satisfied with rules as such. The Human Being asks why we have these rules and who do they serve and how can we interpret and apply them to serve that highest impulse.

When Jesus heals on the Sabbath he is demonstrating that highest impulse, compassion and love. It is because he loves that he heals.

On the Sabbath, we are invited to observe a holy rest. In our modern times, when busyness comes at us 24/7 we have to be creative and find opportunities to make space for ourselves so we can be and not do. Since Sabbath is about justice and compassion for all creatures, we are obligated to see that our neighbor is not so stressed serving our needs that he or she does not get holy rest.

I have religious envy for the Shabbat. I don’t have to switch religions to observe. Again, from Jay Michaelson:
Shabbat is a day of being, not doing….the rest of the week, we Jews are exhorted to improve the world, better ourselves, and provide for our extended families in whatever roles in which we find ourselves. But this day: just be. Serve God not in changing the world, but in relaxing into what’s already there.
But even then, if we must do on the Sabbath, then do love.

Love is permitted.

Amen

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Donegal Flips!

Excellent news today from the voting on Amendment A. Newark, Utah, and Whitewater Valley all held on to their YESes from 08-09. Northern Plains almost got there, just missing 32-34.

The big news is Donegal Presbytery. Previously they had voted against equality 63-87, but today they voted in favor 83-80-1!
Let's give them an award!





Donegal gets the Flipper!








Four YESes and one no for today:
  • Donegal YES 83-80-1 (FLIP!)
  • Newark YES 34-21
  • Utah YES 30-25
  • Whitewater Valley YES 124-89
  • Northern Plains No 32-34
The reckoning is 71-49.

That includes 14 flips from no to YES!
Nice work everyone!
Let's keep it going!

Expanding Empire's Wars

The United States was not attacked.
Congress has not declared war.


Those inconveniences are so last century. Libya is the latest notch on the oil spigot as the United States Empire is now at war with three Muslim countries all at the same time.

You can watch all the
latest video game excitement here.

Some of my good friends disagree with me. They are good people. They are decent human beings. They want to do what is right and what is just. They tell me I am wrong about this.

This is a humanitarian mission. Gadhafi is killing his own people. I know. That is what happens in a civil war.


This is not a military invasion, but a limited no-fly zone. We can call it what we like, but when we bomb a sovereign country's air defenses, that counts as an act of war.

Gadhafi is a maniac and a dictator. Something needs to be done. Granted. But he didn't attack the United States.


Nevertheless, I do understand the feeling of helplessness when innocent people suffer. We should do something. I get that.


So
Planet Earth, let us do something. This is the only solution?

I do not trust Empire. The emperor has lied to us before. Remember WMD? Just because a different guy wears the emperor's clothes that doesn't mean anything has changed.


My friends are good, altruistic, justice-minded people. One would think that the Empire would be as well. But it isn't.


Niebuhr knew this when he wrote
Moral Man, Immoral Society. From that book is this piercing quote:
The inevitable hypocrisy, which is associated with the all the collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective man an outrage to their conscience. They therefore invent romantic and moral interpretations of the real facts, preferring to obscure rather than reveal the true character of their collective behavior. Sometimes they are as anxious to offer moral justifications for the brutalities from which they suffer as for those which they commit. The fact that the hypocrisy of man's group behavior... expresses itself not only in terms of self-justification but in terms of moral justification of human behavior in general, symbolizes one of the tragedies of the human spirit: its inability to conform its collective life to its individual ideals. As individuals, men believe they ought to love and serve each other and establish justice between each other. As racial, economic and national groups they take for themselves, whatever their power can command. pp. 8-9
My friends are altruistic and justice-minded. Empire is not.

We are
Petroleum Man and we are sliding the down-slope of Hubbert's Peak.

  • We consume 18-20 million barrels of oil per day.
  • We extract from our own reserves about 6 million barrels per day.
  • We must import 12 million barrels per day.
We will do whatever it takes to get those 12.

That, in Niebuhr's words, is the "true character of their collective behavior."


And now, world oil extraction is at its peak.


We are in the midst of resource wars. We will have more opportunities for humanitarian intervention into oil extracting and exporting countries (such as Libya) for another couple of decades.

Libya extracts and exports about 1.7 million barrels per day. Not a lot, but for an addict, every little bit counts.

I do not trust any humanitarian impulse from Empire when it comes to attacking oil exporting countries. It was humanitarian (good vs. evil) when we invaded Iraq.

Wasn't it?


We are in Afghanistan and Iraq (still) and sending drones into Pakistan and who knows what all we are doing around the world to make sure those spigots are open for as long they can be.
Until the American people get that and revolt, we will engage in one military spree after another and believe any justification Empire wants to give us.

Of course I believe in a lot of unpopular things.
  1. I think all of Empire's wars are resource wars and as such, unjust.
  2. I think Empire was far less than truthful about 9/11.
  3. I think Peak Oil has happened and is bringing down the world economy.
I hope I am wrong about a lot of things.

However, I also think a new future is ahead for us when we (you and me) finally make the decision that the infinite economic growth model based on essentially free and non-renewable fossil fuel energy is ending and we need to find and implement a whole new way to live together.

If we survive the next few decades without annihilating each other with our missiles, our future generations may enjoy a good life and look back at ours with puzzlement.

Who knows.



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Extra Innings in Jersey

Here are the results from mid-week voting on Amendment A. A weird day. West Jersey ended with a tie (Every Vote Count?). Normally, a tie means no. But the by-laws in this presbytery are like baseball and a tie score means extra innings. Those in favor of equality get another chance to bat when the presbytery votes on it again in May! We got lucky.

Here are the results from yesterday.

  • Seattle No, 103-126-4 (much closer margin)
  • Nevada No, 13-63
  • West Jersey, Tie 67-67
Two losses and no yeses. The presbytery tally on the way to 87 is 67-48.

Presbyteries to vote on Saturday (with their votes from 08-09) include:

  • Donegal (no 63-87)
  • Newark (yes 42-8)
  • Northern Plains (no 21-33)
  • Northumberland (no 20-58)
  • Utah (yes 28-25)
  • Whitewater Valley (yes 108-106)
We have some close votes this weekend. We need to hold Whitewater Valley, Utah, and Newark, and flip Donegal, Northern Plains and Northumberland. Any of them could go either way.

The good news is that people have changed their minds and some of those changes have been because of the speeches on the floor of presbytery.

Nothing, however, beats conversation and contacts beforehand.


Check out this excellent speech by Rev. Debra Avery of Phoenix before the vote in Grand Canyon Presbytery:

I speak in favor of the amendment. I don’t have a radical conversion story or an encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and our confessions. What I have is a journey of faith-filled hoping and some obedient steps in the direction I believe God is calling me to go. There are two questions that I believe we need to ask ourselves before we vote: What are we hoping for and what are we afraid of?

1. Some here might be hoping that the church will win the culture wars, either by restoring a culture of orthodoxy or by fostering a culture of openness and inclusion.
I wonder if we might find hope in our confessional tradition that calls us to a culture of reconciliation, forgiveness, and humility as we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through the messiness even when we don’t have it all figured out.
2. Some here might be hoping for the return of a biblical worldview. But I worry that it will be a worldview like the one held by some Christians who told me I needed to stay in a broken marriage with an addict because divorce is an abomination; or the one taught by some of my extended family to advise me to give up seminary and my call because women are to remain silent in the congregation.
I wonder if we might consider the biblical truth that says tithe: sell all that you have and give it away and then follow me; or the one that says that the body of Christ must be diverse, for if the whole body is an eye, where would the hearing be?
3. Finally, some of us are afraid: Afraid that a yes vote will cause a complete rupture of the denomination; that it might cause us to be rejected by family members, colleagues, members of our congregation, by God.
I cling every day to sola gratia—trusting in God’s grace alone to know that nothing stands in the way of God’s love. More and more I am afraid that we might be like the rich man who for years told Lazarus “no” only to find that he suffered eternally for refusing to offer a welcome to that man who lay just outside the gate.
By the way, if you are not going to be voting but you support equality in the PC(USA), you might consider a donation to Covenant Network of Presbyterians or More Light Presbyterians right now as they make contacts, calls, and provide resources to each presbytery down this final stretch. I know for a fact that the work of MLP and CovNet have made the difference in many presbyteries between a YES and a no. This could come down to one vote in one presbytery.

This is not as big of a deal as the earthquake in Japan. So if your charitable dollar would go to earthquake relief or to this cause, go for the earthquake. However, if you can give something for this work, too, it will be put to important use.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan and Prayer

I have been checking in on news reports from Japan. The news is confusing regarding the nuclear reactors. It is hard to know, and it seems engineers at the sites aren't sure what is happening inside the cores of the reactors. It does appear that we are not looking at a "Chernobyl-style" disaster taking place. Still we watch.

I see videos posted about the tsunami washing away cars and buildings. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people have lost their lives. Tens of thousands more will have lost their livelihoods.

In various places on the web, many offer prayers. Others criticize praying to non-existent supernatural beings as a wasted effort. I stay out of those arguments.

There are places to give.

I am sure there are many other places you could find that will do important work now and in the future.

Back to prayer.

I don't believe in the existence of supernatural beings including "God". I don't think "God" caused or causes things, intervenes, or decides not to intervene. Nature is what Nature does. We are Nature. I do think when we speak of "God" or to "God" or through "God" we are expressing the deepest part of ourselves.

I have no argument regarding this with anyone.

I do know I need to express some of the anguish and hope and compassionate connection I feel with the people of Japan. In so doing, I often fall back by default on the language I know from my faith tradition. We use the language available to us. Here are some of those types of prayers from my tradition.

A lot of that language doesn't work for me even as I can appreciate those for whom that language is helpful. As a pastor, I encourage people to use what language "works" for them. I wish I knew more "secular" ways to pray, but I don't really.

I trust poets when I find them.

Mostly I pray in sacred silence.

An English professor when I was an undergrad at the (very secular) University of Washington said that prayer is this:

when someone crosses your mind, you stop what you are thinking and doing, and take a moment to wish them well.
I can do that.