Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jazz Concert at First Presbyterian!

I just got the word from Rick Simerly. Put a big circle around March 24th and 25th on your calendar. Milligan College professor and world-class (no exaggeration) jazz trombonist Rick Simerly and friends will play a jazz concert for us Saturday night March 24th at First Presbyterian, Elizabethton.

It will be a quintet with trombone, alto saxophone, guitar, bass and drums. It will start at 7:30 and end around 8:45 with a reception in Martin Hall. Then on Sunday, Rick and friends will provide the music for a jazz worship service at 11:00 a.m. Rick is offering his services gratis, but there will be some kind of admission to pay for the band. More information on that to come.

Meanwhile catch The Gospel According to Jazz this Saturday (Feb. 3) or Monday (Feb. 5) at Milligan College. This is a big deal for the college and the music and drama department.

Back to Rick. Check out his web page and listen to samples from his album Obscurity and Simple Complexity. Check out the bands with which Rick has performed!

Spread the word, invite your friends, or treat someone your sweet on.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Presbyterian Gayman: Where Are They Now?

In the late 90's, an on-line satire site, The Presbyterian Gayman, spoofing the very real Presbyterian Layman, offered solace and humor to those of us discouraged by the right turn in our denomination. Unless you are informed about Presbyterian politics and what was going on at that time, most of it will slip by you. It's kind of like reading the book of Revelation 2000 years after the fact. The creators remained anonymous and I still do not know who they are. My hunch is that they were seminary students at the time. In 2004, after the General Assembly in Richmond, it resurrected for a brief period only to go silent once again. The resurrected PG wasn't quite as good as the original, but hey, I'm not complaining.

So what happened to the creators of PG? Two speculations:

The cynical view: They graduated from seminary and with their M. Div.'s in hand and optimism in their shiny pupils were called to a little country church in Indiana. They became brave enough one Sunday to speak about sexual ethics, social justice, or the historical-critical approach to the Bible, and were politely yet firmly informed that that kind of sermon was not in the spirit of Jesus. Discouraged, they decided to join the mainstream, forget their passions, buy a mini-van, preach sermons that the (supposedly) big pledgers like to hear, and climb up the ladder to higher and higher steeples.

The hopeful view: They graduated from seminary and with their M. Div.'s in hand and optimism in their shiny pupils were called to a little country church in Indiana. They became brave enough one Sunday to speak about sexual ethics, social justice, or the historical-critical approach to the Bible, and were politely yet firmly informed that that kind of sermon was not in the spirit of Jesus. Discouraged, but not despairing, they kept at it. They made mistakes, angered some folks, got their butts kicked, licked their wounds, found their voice, and are still out there, somewhere, raising consciousness and speaking for justice.

Now, my little sermonette to seminary students. You who now call yourself progressive or emergent or whatever, if you decide to enter the church, you will likely get your butt kicked. That will result in part because of inexperience and stupidity. It will also result because the church needs reform and you know it and you know that to be honest and authentic you need to address it. Good for you. Keep at it. Don't complain (it's unbecoming). Learn from your mistakes and don't be afraid to make them. Don't assume that people in the church and in the church alumni association don't want to hear about issues of justice, biblical criticism, and radical theology. You are their voice as well.

While you are in seminary read the books you are not supposed to read, write radical papers for your professors (they need to keep their fires lit, too), be willing to look into the void, and challenge all dogma (especially your own). Finally, put your views out there. Create a blog or a website in the spirit of The Presbyterian Gayman, or some other forum. I suggest you do this anonymously as you are not yet ordained. Don't tell me you don't have the time to do this because you have to conjugate your Hebrew. I know better. Doing so will be good for your soul, it will help you articulate your passions, and it will inspire the rest of us. Your honesty will keep the fire burning for us old farts already in the ministry who walk the line between cynicism and hope.

Most importantly, be lighthearted. Laugh at yourself while you laugh at others. Here is some advice from the character Dr. Robbins to his patients in the Tom Robbins novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:

"So you think that you're a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What's wrong with that? In the first place, if you've any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free." p. 173
To life,

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Great Warming

Has anyone seen the film, The Great Warming? It was released in the Fall of 2006, but it didn't make it to our area. Click the pic of Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette to see the trailer.

It looks like a good film, but I haven't heard much about it. On the movie's website they link to a review in the New York Times. The website is nicely done.

If you hit the blue button you can calculate your impact on the globe.

The reviews say the movie provides hope. This is from the NY Times:

Without undermining the urgency of the situation, the film radiates optimism that the human race can seriously explore its role in keeping Earth a habitable planet, and has already begun to do so.

As long as the political leaders who hold the power to implement a larger plan of action remain in “climate denial” (in the words of Stephen Schneider, a biologist from Stanford University), “The Great Warming,” along with “An Inconvenient Truth,” the other widely released documentary to address climate change this year, should be required viewing by all. Future generations’ lives, and maybe even ours, depend on it.

Folger's Joy

Fiddle Tunes Go South - Folger's Joy

It is Monday morning. It is snowy and windy. Gotta go to work, anyway. Here is Jim Miller to help you start off the day with a cup of Folger's Joy.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Peace: From JC to DC

CNN has posted the latest from the peace demonstration in Washington DC. It doesn't give an estimate of how many folks were there. The report said "tens of thousands."

We saw thirty-two of them off early this morning just after midnight from the Acoustic Coffee House in Johnson City.

Today in Johnson City at the corner of Roan and Mountcastle about 25 of us demonstrated on behalf of peace and for our troops. Sorry, no pics. The response again was overwhelmingly positive with a few folks in disagreement. Several Presbyterians were there along with some folks from the Quaker meeting in JC. Old and young were there. One little guy passed out Hershey's kisses. Peace is going to happen.

I speak only for myself here. I am not only in favor of ending the war in Iraq, but I am in favor of a new consciousness regarding war and peace in general. I believe in humanity. I believe at the core of our being we are compassionate, peaceful, loving, and intelligent. I believe that this is not about politics or political parties. I believe that humanity itself, when we trust ourselves and each other, have the gifts to change the way we relate to one another beyond all of our differences. I believe that we can creatively find a way to use our resources for the good of all of Earth's people and creatures. I believe we can do this without violence. I believe that this is the way of Jesus.

Thanks to Sharon Cobb for posting this classic:
The Beatles - All You Need is Love

The Gospel According to Jazz

You want to check this out next weekend. This is from an e-mail from Matt Wilson:

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAZZ will enjoy two encore performances in preparation for its participation in the regional Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival next month in Georgia.

After its initial run at
Milligan College last fall and its participation in the state theatre association festival, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAZZ was chosen as one of the TOP 7 COLLEGIATE PRODUCTIONS IN THE SOUTHEAST
(11 states)--quite an honor for Milligan College and for Johnson City.

Fueled by the vibrant, joyous tones of jazz, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAZZ is a whimsical and poignant reminiscence on the Gospel according to John for a post-Katrina world. The 26-piece jazz ensemble features musicians from the Milligan and ETSU communities as well as noted local vocalist Loretta Bowers and lead trumpet and trombone players who each have extensive recording and touring credits. This is a musical, theatrical, and spiritual event that is truly not-to-be-missed.

The Gospel According to Jazz
Sat, Feb 3rd, 7:30pm
Mon, Feb 5th, 7:30pm

Seeger Chapel
Milligan College

(Advanced tix available through the Milligan bookstore. Tickets also
available at the door. All seats, general admission, $10. Box opens
at 6:30. House opens at 7:00. Shows start at 7:30.)

Visit for more information.

Here is a bit more from Milligan's website:

Written and directed by Milligan theater professor Richard Major, the show is a message of hope set in the post-Katrina market section of New Orleans. It has a festive Mardi Gras feel to it. Fueled by the vibrant, joyous tones of jazz music, the production showcased the talents of a cast of 18 members and a musical ensemble of 26 directed by Milligan professor and local jazz talent Rick Simerly. Broadway vocalist and local gospel and jazz talent Loretta Bowers of Elizabethton, Tenn., joined the ensemble as guest vocalist.

We are of course busting buttons at First Pres., as Rick Simerly is one of our church members. You have heard it here first: We are going to get Rick and some friends to a jazz concert and worship service at First Pres., in the near future. As soon as we schedule the date, you will know. It will be cool baby.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Come on Now Peace Bus

Tonight (Friday) is a good night to head down to the Acoustic Coffee House at 413 West Walnut in Johnson City. Music by The Feral Throes and The Worthless Son in Laws.

You need to check out the Acoustic Coffee House web page. They have some great Bush clips, like this one in which the president is asked about the number of Iraqi deaths. Then at 11:00 p.m. we are having a rousing send-off for the Peace Bus to Washington D.C.

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 27) there is a demonstration in Johnson City at two p.m. at the intersection of North Roan and Mountcastle Drive to support the troops and to oppose the war and the escalation of troops. Bring a sign or pick one up at the Coffee House.

Some rules:
  • Don't impede traffic
  • Be courteous to everyone
  • Stay on the sidewalk
  • Make some noise
  • If you grab a sign at the Coffee House return it for the next rally.
United for Peace and Justice has more information about the March in Washington.

Check here for some Songs for Peace and of course Peace Train by Cat Stevens. Here are the lyrics. Just for fun: substitute "bus" for "train":

Peace Train

by Cat Stevens

Now I've been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh I've been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be, some day it's going to come

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Now I've been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh peace train sounding louder
Glide on the peace train
Come on now peace train
Yes, peace train holy roller

Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on now peace train

Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
Cause it's getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Now come and join the living, it's not so far from you
And it's getting nearer, soon it will all be true

Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating, why can't we live in bliss

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Thursday, January 25, 2007

God is Lavender

On this blog I have been attempting to work out my own theology for the twenty-first century. On the right of this blog you will find the categories, Preliminaries, Context, Creation, and God. I am still working on God! In a previous post, What Color is God?, I approach the question of God from a variety of contexts. The idea is that while we may think of God as beyond all images, nevertheless we are constantly describing and approaching this mystery from our human experience.

In the Book of Genesis, the writers tell us that humankind is created in the image of God. If we wish to see a reflection of God, we look at humankind. What does that mean? I will leave the question unanswered. I do know that my prejudices tend to color God in a way that is limited to my experience. Therefore, my ethics and experiences are shaped by my image of God. As a Christian Protestant, the image of God has largely reflected patriarchal and Europeon culture. To put it somewhat flippantly, God is a white guy in the sky. As theologian Mary Daly put it 35 years ago, "When God becomes male, the male becomes God."

If we are open to the experiences of others, we might appreciate another aspect of God to which we have been color blind so to speak. As we begin to uncover our own prejudices which are mostly unconscious, we can open ourselves more fully to the Divine life as well as discover more deeply the image of God in others and in the whole of Creation.

Some of these prejudices that serve to bleach out the spectrum of God include racism, sexism, classicism, and heterosexism. We are also recognizing that Earth itself reflects the divine image. I have written that God is Black, Woman, Red, and Green, to remind myself and perhaps others that the Church needs to take seriously the human experience of those whose voices have been muted and victimized by the Church's prejudices. Also, as we become aware of the Earth's story, its evolutionary history as well as the interconnectedness of our home and all of life, we might appreciate that God is within all rather than apart from all. Earth itself has suffered from a theology that either regards it as a place from which we need escape or a natural resource that humans should exploit.

Today I suggest that God is Lavender. The Church has not been aware of its prejudices and its fear of sexuality. The notion that sexuality is the vehicle for the spread of original sin has done a great deal of harm to women and to men. Guilt and shame over sexual feelings, the repression of women and of female imagery for God, sexual abuse and violence, and the scapegoating of gays and lesbians are all the result of the repression of eros. Because we lack a healthy sense of our sexuality we regard it as something to fear, to control, and at best, as a necessary evil.

Today, the churches are split over, supposedly, homosexuality. We debate endlessly whether or not homosexuality or homosexual "practice" is a sin. Passages from the Bible are launched like missiles at homosexual persons. Others think that the issue is biblical or church authority. I think the real issue is our inability to speak openly about sexuality and sexual ethics. Because we have been unable to speak about sexuality in all of its complexity as both a biological drive and as an expression of the Divine image, we are ashamed of our sexuality, repress or deny it, and then become "sex-obsessed" by projecting it negatively on others, and acting out our sexuality in a way that harms others and ourselves.

Our best teachers regarding this may be those who have suffered most from this negative projection, namely gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, and transgender persons. (Rather than go through the alphabet soup, glibt, I will simply use the term gay as a shorthand for all sexual and gender minorities. I hope you will forgive me for doing that). I am honored, humbled, and grateful to gay people who despite so many obstacles in our society and condemnation by the church, have discovered their sexuality as a good gift of God and have told their stories. Their stories have enabled both gay and straight people to talk about sexuality and sexual ethics (eros for short). Thanks to you, courageous, beautiful gay people, for helping all of us appreciate that eros is an aspect of the Divine life and a reflection of the Divine image.

Helpful books in this regard include Mel White, Stranger At The Gate, any of the books by Chris Glaser, Marie Fortune, Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us, Marvin Ellison, Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality, A UUA resource, Sexuality and Our Faith, books by Mary E. Hunt including Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship, and I am sure that many of you have other helpful books. You can find many, many more here.

In a spirit of protecting my gay church members and readers of this blog, I have discouraged and in fact eliminated comments that promoted so-called change ministries and other anti-gay rhetoric. It is hard to figure these things out when you are a blogger. Since I have opened up the discussion, comment how you feel, but be nice!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Showing him the way

It is time for Americans to take action. This Saturday, thousands of Americans will go to Washington D.C. to make a visible demonstration for peace. United for Peace and Justice provides information, news, and a schedule of events. They also have sample letters and e-mails that can be sent to senators and congresspeople.

At First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, our Peacemaking Committee has set up a table in which individuals can sign letters (or write their own) and the committee will mail them to our two senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, and our representative, David Davis.

I watched the president's state of the union address last night and the response by Virginia Senator, Jim Webb. Senator Webb said what needed to be said with clarity and conviction. You can read a transcript of Senator Webb's address here.

Senator Webb served as a Marine in Vietnam. This portion of his speech is worth repeating:

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues, those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death, we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us ­ sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable ­and predicted ­disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq....

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the general who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War II. And as soon as he became president, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this president to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

Thank you, Senator Webb. It is time for a new way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jung Seminar: A Great Success!

John and Carolyn Martin filled the house over the weekend with The Language of the Soul: The Psychology of Carl Jung. I still don't know the exact count, but we had between 105 and 110 in the Martin Hall for the presentation.

John and Carolyn walked us through Jung's basic thought and explained terms such as symbol, psyche, soul, archetype, personal unconscious, collective unconscious, shadow, ego, persona, anima/animus, projection, and complex.

We experience symbols through our unconscious. We feel them before we think about them. The symbol table helped us to understand many of the symbols that are common to all of us.

The iceberg was on the wall most of the time as a visual image of the psyche. It is a beautiful picture that shows us that 90 percent of the iceberg is below surface of the water.

John and Carolyn said if we can only take away one thing from the seminar, remember the iceberg. Ninety-percent of that which influences our thought, behavior and emotions is "underwater" or unconscious. Our conscious experience is only ten percent of or total experience.

We are largely out of touch and not aware of our unconscious experience and its influences. The key to Jung's psychotherapy was to help people become aware of their personal unconscious as well as the collective unconscious that all humanity shares.

We finished the weekend by watching the film, Moonstruck with a new awareness of what is going on behind the scenes in our psyches!

Mythos and Logos is a website to begin explorations into the thought of Carl Jung.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Empowering Presbyterians Through the Press

Our local paper, The Johnson City Press, has as its by-line, "Empowering People Through the Press." Presbyterians were empowered over the weekend. Last week, James Brooks of the Press reported on our peace demonstration on Martin Luther King Day. I sent him an e-mail thanking him for the article. He wrote back that he would like to do an article about me in the Faith section of the paper. Always ready to indulge in shameless self-promotion, I agreed.

Here is that article:


Area church leader says views result of personal growth, study, reflection

By JAMES BROOKS Press Staff Writer

The Rev. John Shuck is that rarest of breeds, a liberal minister in a conservative Christian environment.

“Part of a minister’s job is to offer people permission to grow and explore, and not necessarily end up in some predetermined place,” Shuck said. “Sometimes parishioners will come to me and say they wonder about the issue of virgin birth, and I encourage them to explore the issue.”

That would be heresy in the Catholic Church and in many Protestant congregations, but Shuck isn’t worried.

He followed a similar path growing up in a Southern Baptist home in Montana, and ended up as a Christian minister, after all. He says his views have come about as a result of personal growth, study and reflection.

“As a kid I was bugged by this end of time idea, as well as evolution. It didn’t coincide with what I was learning in science and history classes, and I decided that this religion is not working well,” he said. “I followed my wife into the Presbyterian Church and decided to go into the ministry.”

Presbyterians have a long history of social activism. During the early 19th century they were actively involved in the anti-slavery movement and the underground railroad. However, such activism stems from the will of individual congregations rather than doctrine coming from above.

He graduated from the Princeton Seminary in 1992, and his view was heavily influenced by two authors. Marcus Borg wrote “Meeting Jesus for the First Time, Again,” and John Dominic Crossan wrote “Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography.”

“The picture I came out with of the historic Jesus was of a man who was informed about the poor, social justice and one who said we will discover the Kingdom of God within ourselves,” he said.

As a rule Methodists and Presbyterians represent the middle of the road among Protestant congregations, more distinct due to their methods of church governance than by theological considerations. Shuck loves theology. He believes it is what the ministry is about, and he has a Web site ( where he posts extensive writings on every aspect of theology and invites readers to respond.

His method is closer to the Symposium of Plato than the Council of Nicea. Like all blog sites, it is a work in progress. Currently, there are six Es under the heading of Context: Ecology, Energy, Economy, Entitlement, Exceptionalism and Empire.

In the course of time other Es, such as Ethics, Earth or Extremism are likely to be developed.

Also on the site is news of anti-war demonstrations and other community events of interest.

Shuck’s philosophical and actual path has taken some twists and turns. His first congregation was in a small town in upstate New York near the Canadian border. After eight years he answered the call to a larger congregation in Billings, Mont., his home state, where he found a congregation of 500 members with what he describes as “a lot of theological differences.”

“I took a position of open acceptance of gays and lesbians,” he said. “It was a learning experience. I began looking for a different congregation and decided to let them know up front where I am coming from. Of all the congregations, Elizabethton rose right to the top.”

He discovered he was following John Martin, pastor at First Presbyterian for 33 years with a long tradition of talking and acting on social justice.

“Every church has its resume and my criteria included a church that accepts anyone,” Shuck said. He felt right at home with this congregation of 250 members, which includes several scientists.

“I like to write and share ideas,” Shuck said of the Web site. A current posting invites readers to explore the other books and epistles that didn’t make it into the Bible. “This is an important new area into the study of Christian origins,” he said. “When the Council of Nicea met and decided which writings should make up the New Testament it was only after centuries of discussion. We have to recognize that the authors of these other books were also Christians, and what they said and wrote had an impact into the molding of our faith.”

He is using the text from the Gospel of Philip as a sermon text. “Our services are structured, as in any other church. We do have a period of silent meditation, but our discussions are centered around our classes. The theme is to present an idea for discussion and exploration, not to say here’s what you have to believe.”

First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton is located at 119 W. F St.

My wife, after teasing me about the article, said that she is going to get me tights, a cape, and embroider a huge RR on my chest.

Then on Sunday, Doug Janz of the Press did a story on Hybrid cars.

Rise of the Hybrid:
These fuel-efficient friendly cars are soaring in popularity thanks primarily to those who drive them. Hybrid owners are so passionate about their vehicles that they’ve become the most successful salespeople carmakers could have.
story by Doug Janz

Few car owners are more passionate about their ride than owners of hybrid cars. Just ask them. If you’re in a parking lot or at the gas pump and notice someone with a hybrid, and you make a vague inquiry, you’re likely to get an enthusiastic response. These owners tend to become de facto salespeople for their cars. They are ambassadors-at-large for the cause. “Come, join us,” they seem to be saying. “Come see the light.” “My husband, Gary, is a good salesman for the car,” Toyota Prius owner Nancy Barriger said. “He’ll stop and tell anyone about it.” “It does make a big statement,” said Sandra Garrett. She and her husband, John Dewey, live in Stoney Creek and own a Prius. “It’s almost a badge of honor, and you get this sense of community with other hybrid owners.” Why are owners of hybrids — high-tech cars powered by both gasoline and electricity — so passionate about their vehicles? Perhaps because the cars represent something more than just driving around in style, more than looking good or being comfortable or going fast.

(Rebecca Nunley and Richard Brosmore own two Priuses)

“It’s bigger than just a car,” Unicoi’s Rebecca Nunley said. Nunley and her husband, Richard Brosmore, own two Priuses. “It’s personal for me — really, it’s spiritual for me. It’s important to the way I live my life, considering the issues of overconsumption and conservation.”

Hybrid cars can represent a lifestyle and its priorities. They get extremely good gas mileage (as much as 60 mpg in some models) and do so with greatly reduced emissions (Prius reduces emissions by 90 percent), thus they are environmentally friendly. Buying a hybrid is one of the biggest “green” commitments someone can make.

By now, most people have seen hybrids on the road. The earliest versions were decidedly different from conventional automobiles, sometimes looking space-agey and experimental. They are becoming more commonplace, as well as more stylish, more practical, better-performing and not so klunky, although hybrids still represent only a tiny fraction of cars on the road.

The king of hybrids is the Prius, by far the most popular such car in the United States. The rest of the automaking industry lags behind Toyota in both technology and production of hybrids.

Toyota, in fact, plans to evenually offer 75 percent of its models in a hybrid version. Already, there are hybrid Highlanders (an SUV), Camrys and other models that have almost no noticeable differences in appearance, on the outside, from their conventional gasoline-engine models. Honda makes the Civic and Accord. Lexus, Saturn and Ford, among others, also make hybrid models.

Who buys these cars?

“Traditionally what we’ve found is most hybrid buyers are very well-educated before they get here,” said Dan Leighton, sales manager for Phil Bachman Toyota in Johnson City. “They’ve done a lot of research, and sometimes they know as much as we do about the car.

“The buyers used to be people who were engineer types, were really fascinated with the technology, or people who were really environmentally conscious. Now it runs the gamut. We get everybody.”

While there are no statistics on it, the general assumption is that hybrid buyers are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, liberals than conservatives, white-collar professionals rather than blue-collar. Garrett said that as a Prius owner she notices other such cars on the road right away, and over the years “I’ve only seen one with a Bush sticker.”

But hybrid-car owners also say it shouldn’t be a political choice. Being economical and concerned about the environment are apolitical issues.

“It is putting our money where our values lie,” said Barriger. “It’s a little more expensive for its size than other cars, but not that much more. And I think as people become more aware of the environmental problems the Earth is facing, as it keeps coming out in the mainstream media, they’re realizing we’ve got to make changes.”

Owners of hybrids generally incorporate “green” habits into their daily routine, such as recycling, composting, buying energy-efficient appliances or contributing to environmental groups and projects. Prius owners mentioned other ways they conserve by owning such a vehicle: The car is supposed to last longer than conventional cars, up to 600,000 miles, and uses less gas (45 to 55 mpg) and oil (needs changing about every 7,000 miles rather than every 3,000), they say.

The Barrigers, as well as Nunley and Brosmore, are members of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton. Up to a dozen Priuses can be found in the church parking lot on a Sunday morning, prompting people to jokingly call it “the First Priusbyterian Church,” pastor John Shuck said.

Two of the biggest concerns about hybrids are whether they’ve got enough acceleration for sudden traffic situations, and whether they’re roomy enough to be comfortable.

“I’ve talked to people about these cars,” Garrett said, “and the biggest misconception is they’re not very powerful. But if they believe that, then I just give them the keys and say ‘Try it.’ ”

“It’s peppy,” Brosmore said. “It surprised me. And it’s there when you need it.”

As for comfort, Dewey, at about 6-foot-3, said he has no problems, even on long trips.

Why don’t more people buy hybrids? For one thing, they cost more than conventional vehicles.

A new Prius will cost $22,000 or more. There are temporary tax breaks in effect that can save about $3,000, but even with the savings from good gas mileage, it still may take a while to break even with costs, compared to a conventional car. (One recent study concluded that, over several years, hybrid owners will actually spend $3,000 less in overall operating costs.)

Because hybrids are relatively new and produced in smaller quantities than conventional cars, there are fewer of them available — and fewer used ones — so someone on a tight budget will have a hard time finding a $5,000 hybird. And because of the technology involved, there are fewer mechanics qualified to work on them.

But the benefits far outweigh the setbacks, these owners believe, especially regarding the future of the environment.

“It’s easy for people to say ‘There’s nothing I can do; it’s too big,’ ” Nunley said. “I don’t think global warming’s gonna end because I bought a Prius. But we can all do our part.”

“One thing I’m hoping,” Barriger said, “is that American car manufacturers will realize people are ready for this kind of technology.”

Gary Barrigar is the webmaster for First Presbyterian Church. Nancy Barrigar and Rebecca Nunley get the blame for serving on the Pastor Nominating Committee that brought me to East Tennessee.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Scripture and Skepticism

I just found out about this organization, The Committee for the Scientfic Examination of Religion (CSER), which will be holding a conference next weekend at UC Davis. You can read about the conference here. James Tabor at UNC-Charlotte sent me an e-mail about it and his new book, The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006).

I will check that out further. James Crossley has been talking about this on his blog Earliest Christian History. Crossley is the author of Why Christianity Happened, a book published by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. I referred to that book on an earlier post.

Back to James Tabor. His blog is entitled The Jesus Dynasty Blog and he speaks about the conference on this post.

The conference entitled “Scripture and Skepticism” (University of California at Davis, 25-28 January 2007) was called to consider comparative approaches to sacred scripture in the three book religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The conference is also a frank acknowledgement that the historical-critical method, which has enormously enlarged our understanding of the origins and development of biblical and koranic materials, needs to be asserted and defended in every generation.

At the conclusion of the three-day conference, Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann, the current head of CSER (Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, the sponsoring organization) will announce plans for a new venture called the “Jesus Project.” The emphasis of the new project is to examine the shreds of tradition which bear on the historicity—the historical existence–of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus Project is not “a successor” to the Jesus Seminar. The ambitious work of the Westar Institute winds on. The Jesus Project does however acknowledge a certain incompleteness in the work of the JS, since, inevitably, when the sayings of Jesus have been pared down to just under twenty, or some 18%, of those attributed to him in the canonical gospels, questions inevitably arise not just about the fate of the others, but the historicity of the man himself. The Jesus Project is funded entirely by the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, its affiliates, and private donors.

It should be stressed that the JP, contrary to some advance media speculation, is not an attempt to disprove the historical Jesus. By he same token, its goal is not to create a historically plausible figure from the bits of evidence available, but rather to assess the nature and weight of the evidence itself. Attempts in the 19th and twentieth century to discredit all elements of the gospel record were pronounced a failure, though largely by a theologically driven method of inquiry. The JP will solicit the skills of New Testament scholars, historians, and social scientists in its deliberations. It acknowledges the bias and partiality of previous efforts to address this question, but regards the question as significant and deserving of greater attention than has been given it in previous decades. The proliferation of new theories of the non-historicity of Jesus, whatever their merits, and defenses of the historical Jesus whatever their weaknesses, make this an important area of investigation in the new millennium.

CSER wishes to stress that the members of the seminar will be selected by a vetting process, to be published in the form of announcements to universities, colleges and seminaries in March 2007. The davis conference does not constitute a session of the Project and speakers at this CSER conference have no formal connection to the Project.

The Seminar will meet twice a year—once in Amherst New York, and in Los Angeles California. Other venues may be announced as its work progresses and its conclusions are documented.

For further information, or to be considered as a project associate, please contact the Project administrator, Gwyneth MacRae.

R.. Joseph Hoffmann, PhD Senior Vice President - Academic Center for Inquiry International PO Box 741 Amherst, NY 14226 (716) 636-7571

More to come!

Friday, January 19, 2007

March on Washington

This is from United for Peace and Justice:

A week from now people from throughout the country will start boarding buses and trains for their long trips to the nation's capital. Others will get up early on Saturday morning to make sure they're part of what promises to be one of the most important mobilizations against the war in Iraq. In our national office the phones are ringing off the hook. Read More

You can board a bus from Johnson City. Here are details from Mike Garrett of concernedTNcitizens:

We are working on getting a charter bus to go from here to DC and back that Saturday (January 27th). Note: before we can secure the bus, WE WILL NEED SOME COMMITMENT from people, including the money needed to secure a seat.

[1] The details thus far:

Cost: $60 per rider

  • Depart JC on Saturday, 1/27, at 2:00 a.m. (Location TBD)
  • Arrive DC Capital area around 9:00 a.m. for the Rally, scheduled to start at 11:00.
  • Depart DC around 8:00 p.m. for return to JC
  • Arrive JC around 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

In order to ensure we have enough money to pay for the bus, we will need firm commitments and cash in hand by this Saturday, 1/20. Interested parties can contact one of the organizers, Sandra Garrett, directly at this email: Seating is limited to 55 riders.

[2] There are limited funds available for “scholarships” for those unable to pay the entire fare; however, we need to get commitment from enough full-fare riders first to cover the majority of the cost, which is $3150.

[3] Also, a group of concerned people in the area have started a campaign of weekly demonstrations to protest the war locally. The first demonstration was on MLK Day, and received great media coverage and community support. The next demonstration is scheduled for Monday, 1/22, at 4:00 p.m. at the intersection in front of the new Wal-Mart on West Market. It is scheduled to coincide with their opening, to take advantage of higher traffic in that area. Please pass along this information to any interested parties. If you or any others want to stay posted on forthcoming demonstrations (some of which will target our fine elected officials at their local offices), please let me know, and I will include you in the distribution list for upcoming events.

Thanks for any help you can provide. And of course, if you are interested in contributing to the “bus scholarship fund”, we would be delighted.

So remember: [1] We need people to commit to and [2] pay for a seat by this Saturday. [3] Next rally here in JC on Monday, 1/22

Yours in true Democracy, Mike Garrett concernedTNcitizens

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Gospel of Mary and Christian Origins

We have a big weekend at First Pres., Elizabethton. The Carl Jung Seminar has 85 people signed up so far with more expected at the door. You can still register and childcare will be provided.

This Sunday I finish my third series in our adult class on Mary Magdalene, "There's Something About Mary." You can view the powerpoints of the first two classes on the church's web page.

This week we look at the Gospel of Mary. Karen King of Harvard has written an excellent book on this gospel, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.

The Harvard Gazette published an article about her work, Student of Early Christianities. Before she published her book, she wrote a preview about it and the importance of Mary for understanding Christian origins, Letting Mary Magdalene Speak.

One of the important implications of the discovery and publication of these other texts (such as the Nag Hammadi collection and the discovery of the Gospel of Mary in the 19th century) is that these finds force scholars (as well as the rest of us) to rethink Christian origins. King points out that the "master story" (her phrase) of Christian origins is like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears fable. The Goldilocks story of Christian origins goes like this:

  1. The apostles had the true teaching.
  2. Along come the heretics.
  3. The Jewish Christians had too much Judaism.
  4. The Gnostics had too little Judaism.
  5. "Orthodoxy" is "just right."
This is the model I learned in seminary. The master story looks at the earliest writings, gospels, letters of Paul, and other writings (both canonical and non-canonical) through the lens of the New Testament canon and the Nicene Creed. King points out that this is inaccurate history. The canon and the creed are end products of early Christian origins. In the beginning was diversity. Check out all the writings that didn't make it into the canon.

The writings we have in the canon represent the views of the writers. They are incredibly diverse within themselves (compare Paul and James, for instance). There was no rule of faith, no canon, no scripture. We don't know whose Paul's opponents really were or the opponents of the gospel writers or of the early church fathers except from what we could glean from them. Until now. Now we know some of these early writings in their own words. As King points out, we can see that categories such as gnostic or Jewish Christian were labels by the orthodox to distinguish heretics from the "true believers."

There was no gnostic belief system. There was no gnostic creed. There were different communities attempting to understand and communicate the historical Jesus in their various settings. For example, the Gospel of Mary was written in Egypt, far removed from Judaism and written in the philosophical setting of Plato and the Stoics. The writer of the Gospel of Mary would have thought of herself as Christian. In fact, there are great similarities between GMary and Paul as well as important differences. We won't be able to read and hear them accurately if we read their works through the lens of the Nicene Creed and canon.

What does this mean? For accurate history, and for the future of Christianity,
  1. I think it means that we ought to look at all of these early writings as early Christian texts.
  2. We should provide a critique of the "master story" of Christian origins as a theological fiction.
  3. We should remove false categories of "orthodoxy" and "heresy" when we read these texts.
  4. As all of the early Christian writers (canonical and non-canonical) sought to understand the Jesus movement in their social/political/philosophical contexts, we can do the same by drawing from the greater pool of early Christian literature to formulate an understanding of the transforming power of the mystery of Jesus in our time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria

Author and quilter, Kyra E. Hicks, asked me to review her children's book, Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria on my blog. She sent me a copy and I read it to the children and to the congregation during a children's sermon.

It tells the true story of Martha Erskine Ricks who was born a slave in 1817 on an East Tennessee plantation. Martha's father, George Erskine, also born a slave, had his freedom purchased by a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Isaac Anderson in 1815. Dr. Anderson was an opponent of slavery and purchased George Erskine's freedom so that he could study religion. At that time Dr. Anderson was the minister of the New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, Tennessee. George Erskine earned his preaching license in 1818 and preached to both white and black congregations within and outside Tennessee for twelve years.

The children's book begins:

Martha Ann loved one chore most. Her special job was to place Papa's money in his old, red tin box. Martha Ann was a slave. Her papa, George Erskine, was a free man and traveling preacher. Each Sunday the congregation would take up a collection after Papa's sermons to help him raise money for his family's freedom. When Papa came home, Mama counted the money, and Martha Ann dropped the dollars and coins in the old, red tin box.
Finally, after earning enough money to purchase his family's freedom, he moved the family, including Martha (who was thirteen at the time), to Liberia with the assistance of the American Colonization Society. Rev. Erskine served there briefly on behalf of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions before he, his wife, and Martha Ann's sisters died of African fever. Martha Ann and her older brother, Wallace, survived and stayed in Liberia. Martha Ann attended school and learned to read and write.

Martha Ann heard about and admired the new queen of England, Queen Victoria. She watched the British ships patrolling the coast of Liberia to stop slave traders. She made a commitment that she would one day personally visit the queen and thank her.

She found the old, red tin box that her papa had saved his coins and began saving for her trip. Despite teasing from family, friends, and neighbors she saved for decades and finally was able to visit Queen Victoria in 1892 and present the gift she had made for her, the Coffee Tree Quilt.

As a gift for Queen Victoria, Martha Ann had personally designed and executed a magnificent quilt in silk. Its motif was a single Liberian coffee tree, appliqued in full color and quilted, a vigorous expression of African folk-art. The original has not been located but an exact copy was shown in 1895 at an exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, of which a stereograph survives.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi and would make an excellent gift to children, grandchildren, and to your church or school library, just in time for Black History Month.

After reading the book, I found myself intrigued by her story and the connections with East Tennessee and the Presbyterian Church. This book will inspire curiosity in children and adults to learn more about our fascinating history and the courageous people who never lose faith in God or their dreams.

You can e-mail Kyra Hicks for more information about Martha Ann, quilting, or African-American history.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"More Candy, Less War"

Protesters line up at the corner of North Roan Street and Mountcastle Drive Monday afternoon to demonstrate against the war in Iraq. (Lee Talbert / Johnson City Press)

This is from the front page of today's Johnson City Press:

Buildup Backlash - Anti-war protesters gather in NJC in conjunction with King birthday

About 50 anti-war demonstrators chanted slogans and waved placards at the corner of Mountcastle Drive and North Roan Street beginning at noon Monday, and they were met with a chorus of honking cars voicing their approval.

The protest was in response to President George Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional American troops into the war in Iraq.

“More troops means more war,” one sign proclaimed.

Some children playing on the sidewalks while their parents protested carried a sign that said, “More candy, less war.”

“This is a group of people from all walks of life, representing all political positions, exercising one of the few civil liberties that we have left,” said Monica Lewis Patrick, one of the organizers of the demonstration. “This is a peaceful demonstration in honor of Martin Luther King, the peacemaker.” Read More

Thanks to James Brooks for the great article and to the Press for putting us on the front page of today's paper. The Kingsport Times-News also included the article by Brooks with this pic.

Channel 11 provided television coverage and Kacie Dingus of did a nice article yesterday with video.

You might drop the reporters an e-mail and thank them for the good coverage!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Peaceful Protest Coverage in Johnson City

Protest organizer Monica Lewis-Patrick holds a Dr. King sign at start of a pro-peace demon-
stration against war in Iraq.

Between 30 and 40 people held signs, smiled and waved to passersby on the corner of South Roan and Mountcastle today in Johnson City.

Several of those folks were from my congregation. I met some new friends as well. The event was organized by Monica Lewis-Patrick and Sandra Garrett of "Concerned Citizens Against the War in Iraq." Our presence was met by enthusiastic response. People honked, waved, shouted, offered thumbs up signs, peace signs and smiles.

It was a very different reaction then when I protested when the war began in Billings, MT. Times have changed. More people are realizing that this war was a bad idea.

We had some drummers who chanted "No justice, no peace" and the presence of children reminded us of the future we are creating for them today. The emphasis was pro-troops but anti-war to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he spoke eloquently against the war in Vietnam, all forms of injustice, and the importance of addressing injustice with non-violent direct action.

Kacie Dingus of TriCities.Com interviewed several folks and wrote a good article Peaceful war protest echoes Dr. King's legacy and conducted some on-camera interviews that you can watch here.

Actions for Peace

I hope you will join us at noon today (Monday, January 15th) for a peaceful protest against the war. In addition, please consider sending a letter to your congressperson. Faithful America has an easy way to do it. Note that Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. David Davis of Tennessee require a written letter but you can download it in printable form and mail it to them.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Peaceful Protest Against War in Johnson City

Tomorrow the nation celebrates the legacy and witness of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. King spoke boldly about the waste of human life and resources in Vietnam. We are wasting lives and resources in Iraq. Tomorrow, Monday, January 15th at noon, in Johnson City, TN, there will be a peaceful protest against the Iraq War. All concerned Americans are invited to peacefully express opposition to the misuse of our troops. The protest will take place at the corner of North Roan Street and Mountcastle near the Johnson City Mall. The protest is pro-troops but anti-war.

Today, CNN quoted vice president Dick Cheney: "He's the guy who's got to decide how to use the force and where to deploy the force," Cheney said of President Bush.

According to a CNN poll two-thirds of Americans disagree with the decider. Perhaps the president doesn't hear us. Perhaps it is time for Americans to speak out so he does hear.

Cheney also mentioned Iran: "Iran is fishing in troubled waters inside Iraq." I wonder if Bush and Cheney are on a fishing trip as well in order to goad Iran into war.

Cheney said you can't run a war by committee. That may be true, but if the American people convinced their congresspeople to stop, if we engage in peaceful protests, if we wake up and demand truth about why we are in Iraq in the first place, the decider will be unable to decide on our behalf. Bush is banking on an apathetic populace. Will apathy and silence be our final answer?

Join us Monday at noon at the corner of Roan and Mountcastle and say no to war and yes to the troops who are being misused.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Tennessee Tunes

One of our church members, Jim Miller, is a clever inventor and an amazing musician. He leads our Liturgical String Band when they play in church. Here he is in his attractive pipe hat.

Check out his web page for a flavor of Appalachia! Didn't know you could have this much joy from turkey basters, did ya?

Here is a video of the pipe hat in action:

Pipe Hat - Jim & Fred

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jesus Seminar in Miami

The Spring 2007 meeting of Westar Institute is going to be February 28-March 3 in Miami. It is going to be a good one. James Veitch's presentation is entitled "Killing for God." Here is a summary:

September 11 is a critical defining moment for all of us who live in the English speaking Western world. It has brought into sharp relief the possibility of an ongoing 'clash of civilizations.' Killing for God and in the name of God have become trademarks of the conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. This presentation reconstructs the important milestones in the pathway to September 11 and the response that created the 'war on terror.' It will address questions like: who are the 'terrorists,' what do they want, and why do they act in the ways that they do? And it will ask whether religious faith can be harnessed to empower the peace process instead of empowering terror.

L. Michael White will speak about Christian origins with his presentation: "Rediscovering the Earliest Jesus Movement." He has written a helpful book on Christian origins and places each New Testament writing as well as extra-canonical works in their historical setting.

His book is entitled, "From Jesus to Christianity."

It has become a commonplace these days to recognize the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers. But it still comes as a surprise to some to hear that the earliest Jesus Movement remained a thoroughly Jewish sect throughout its first and even second generations, down to at least the end of the first century ce. This series will look at the evidence and patterns of development in the Jesus sect during the first and second generation with special focus on the form of the sect located in and around the Galilee, specifically that associated with the Gospel of Matthew, and will include discussions of the cultural history of the region in light of historical and archaeological evidence and how such information may illuminate the text.

Joanna Dewey will speak about the importance of oral tradition in reconstructing early Christian history. Her presentation is entitled "Oral Communication and Manuscripts."

In antiquity, only about five per cent of the population were literate and, except among the elite, manuscripts were few and far between. Yet most of our scholarly reconstruction of Christian history has been based on our own experience of print media, that is, on assumptions that early Christians relied on fixed texts that were readily available. In fact most knowledge was transmitted orally and manuscripts mostly served as an aid to oral memory. Knowledge of the first-century media world both helps us to understand early Christianity and complicates our quest for certainty. This lecture will explore some implications for reconstructing early Christianity.

In addition to the presentations, the various seminars will deliberate including the new Jesus Seminar on Christian Origins. At the Spring 2006 meeting, they made some interesting conclusions. The latest issue of The Fourth R reported on this seminar and the Acts Seminar. Here are some of the "red letter" and "black letter" (red is a 'yes' consensus among the fellows and black is a 'no' consensus) statements about early Christian origins and the Acts of the Apostles:

Did Christianity begin with the Resurrection?

(again black bullet statements=no,

red bullet statements=yes)

  • Christianity began with the resurrection of Jesus.
  • In Christian theology the resurrection has functioned to authorize Christian faith and practice by connecting it to the transcendent world, not as an account of how Christianity began.
Did Christianity begin with Pentecost?

  • Christianity began with the event of Pentecost described in Acts 2.
  • Christianity began as a movement within Judaism; it would not become recognizable as a distinct new religion until many years later, after the first generation of Jesus' followers had passed from the scene.

Did Christianity begin with Paul?

  • Paul was the founder of Christianity.
  • Christianity began as a movement among Jews. I would not become recognizable as a distinct new religion until many years later, after the first generation of Jesus' followers had passed from the scene.

Did Christianity begin with Jesus?

  • Christianity began with Jesus.
  • Jesus of Nazareth should be included in the discussion of Christian origins.

So not Resurrection, not Pentecost, not Paul, not Jesus. The work continues. Here are some conclusions regarding the Acts of the Apostles:

  • The Acts of the Apostles is best understood as a myth of Christian origins.
  • The Acts of the Apostles should not be employed as the basis for a historical study of Christian origins.
  • The Acts of the Apostles is not a primary source for Pauline biography or Pauline chronology.
  • The Acts of the Apostles is more valuable for second-century Christianity than for first.
You can read more about the reasoning and conversation that went into these conclusions and others by subscribing to the Fourth R.

I belong to the Literacy and Liturgy Seminar. Here is its description:

The Literacy and Liturgy Seminar is composed of both individual Fellows of the Jesus Seminar and religious professionals, clergy and lay, who are interested in disseminating the work of the Jesus Seminar. This seminar serves as a bridge between the work of the Jesus Seminar and faith communities, study groups and individuals who want to use the scholars' research to raise the level of religious literacy, both in the churches and in the wider culture. This seminar will seek to make the knowledge and insights generated by the Jesus Seminar more widely known among both religious communities and others who are concerned with the role of religion in modern society and culture.

Considering the results of scholarly research can help people of faith and their communities examine and reflect on their received traditions and find new ways of expressing religious meaning. In light of that recognition this seminar will seek to foster new forms of religious language, education, music, and ritual in light of contemporary scholarship on the historical Jesus, Christian origins, and on the Christian tradition throughout its long history.

More on what that seminar will be doing in a future post. Here are various testimonies from scholars on Why Westar Institute is important. I highlight this one from Dominic Crossan:

An extremely literalist and fundamentalist understanding of the Christian Bible is presently dominant … in matters from medicine through education to foreign policy. Bob [Funk's] vision of a laity schooled in biblical scholarship—schooled, that is, in an alternative understanding of the Bible based on historical context—is even more desperately needed right now than when Bob created the Jesus Seminar in 1985.
John Dominic Crossan,
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Chicago

Right on, brother Dom.