Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A God Without Borders

Just found this little gem on the New Wineskins website. I guess I should be flattered.

What is wrong with the PCUSA?

From Noel Anderson: "progressives push for a God of no boundaries..."

Pity the Wineskins. They just can't seem to keep God on message.

"Hmmmph! Jesus, for Jehovah's sake! Stick to the script!"

New Winos Are Too Holy for PCUSA

The Layman is gushing over the latest tent meeting of the New Wineskins Convocation. The New Winos are a clergy-led group of fundamentalists who can't possibly be in the same denomination as THE GAY. The Layman reported on this speech from Noel Anderson of Bakersfield, CA. He had a list of things that are wrong with the PCUSA including "bad theology."

Under the heading of bad theology, he said the PCUSA is suffering from theological amnesia, where the "progressives push for a God of no boundaries. This is decapitated Christology, a theology that has caved in to a culture of hopeless relativisms."

With this theology, Anderson said, the claims of truth "have been reduced to mere opinions and morality adds up to no more than your particular set of personal preferences. Many Presbyterians really believe that God says nothing other than what we put in His mouth."

Within this heading, he said, was tolerance, which many people "believe to be a kind of solution, but has rather become a symptom and a chief irritant of the cultural crisis." (Read More)
Now that is one big pile of bullshit. But you have to say something to justify wanting to become your own pope of a new church organization.

What is this organization exactly? I am not really sure. The Winos seem to be members of both the PCUSA and one its many breakoffs, the EPC (which is fundy but not quite as fundy as other Presbyterian groups like the PCA, the OPC, the ARPC, the RPCNA, or the URCNA). Like the Winos, all of these are too holy for the PCUSA (and often too holy for each other).

Are they really leaving? Who knows. Some have. Others might. My guess is that the vast majority will continue to hang around and try to push their holiness onto the rest of us and then whine and complain and stomp their feet when the rest of us really don't want what they are pushing.

Bed Sheets

From First Presby, Nancy, for Halloween:

An extremely modest man was in the hospital for a series of tests, the last of which had left his bodily systems extremely upset.

Upon making several false alarm trips to the bathroom, he decided the latest episode was another and stayed put. He suddenly filled his bed with diarrhea and was embarrassed beyond his ability to remain rational.

In a complete loss of composure, he jumped out of bed, gathered up the bed sheets, and threw them out the hospital window.

A drunk was walking by the hospital when the sheets landed on him. He started yelling, cursing, and swinging his arms violently trying to get the unknown things off, and ended up with the soiled sheets in a tangled pile at his feet.

As the drunk stood there, unsteady on his feet, staring down at the sheets, a hospital security guard, (barely containing his laughter), and who had watched the whole incident, walked up and asked, "What the heck is going on here?"

The drunk, still staring down replied: "I think I just beat the shit out of a ghost."

Desperate for Pizza

This is on the cover of today's Johnson City Press:

Police are searching for two people who apparently were so desperate for pizza Monday, they robbed a delivery man at gunpoint.

Someone reportedly called Domino’s Pizza late Monday night requesting two pizzas be delivered to 160 E. Highland Road, an address police later recognized as that of a vacant building which has been for sale for some time.

When the delivery man arrived at the address shortly before midnight Tuesday, a black man wearing a hooded jacket was standing in the driveway waiting for him. According to reports, the suspect approached the delivery man and jokingly said, “This pizza’s for free isn’t it?”

When the delivery man said, “No,” and gave him the total cost, another black man wearing a black hooded sweater and baggy black carpenter pants reportedly came from around the corner of a porch, walked behind the Domino’s employee and said, “No, this pizza is free.”

The second robber held a small silver-tipped pistol in his right hand, police said. He spoke once more saying, “I’m serious,” and the duo then grabbed the pizzas from the delivery man’s hands and ran away. (Read More)

Domino's Pizza: So good you'll risk going to prison for a slice!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Li'l Abner in Kingsport

Weekend entertainment may include seeing Li'l Abner performed by students and directed by the Dobyns-Bennett Drama and Choral Department.

(I know someone there!)

Tickets are on sale now for the upcoming Dobyns-Bennett High School Drama and Choral Department presentation of Li’l Abner, an award-winning Broadway musical.

Performances will be held on Thursday, November 1 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, November 3 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, November 4 at 2 p.m.

Reserved seats are $10.00 and general admission seats are $8.00. The musical is under the direction of D-B Performing Arts Teachers Deborah Coram and Beverly Shuck.

Li’l Abner is a fun-filled, foot-stomping musical taken directly from the comics, laced with gentle satire, rib tickling humor and a host of brash, catchy tunes. Lively singing, dancing and acting by the talented cast will be featured in a setting that takes place somewhere in our own region of Appalachia.
(Read More)

For those unaware, here is the setting. Some big wheelers in Vegas are upset that nuclear testing in the Nevada desert is causing dust to fall on the gambling tables. So they convince the crooked congressman to move the testing of the A-bomb to Dogpatch in Appalachia. Why? Because nothing good can come out of Dogpatch. Our friends from Dogpatch need to prove everyone wrong.

Sound familiar?

For My Republican Friends

Lest ye err and think all First Presbys are Democrats, here is a news item from First Presby, Mike.

Chelsea Clinton has recently been in Iraq interviewing soldiers. She wanted to get their reactions to issues back home. She found the biggest, meanest, ugliest, toughest marine she could find. She asked him, "Is there anything that makes you afraid?"

The marine responded:

I am afraid of three things:



and Yo Mama

Jesus Wear

A few months ago I officiated at a wedding and the bride's father told me he was going to give me some caps. They came in the mail today. Here they are on my desk, a cap for each season of the year:

Not quite sure how the Coors Hat fits in, though.

Pappy McVulgar has some cool Jesus Wear. Here are a couple of my favorite designs for a t-shirt:

this guy?

Yummy Jesus!

Stones and Bones Children's Book

Here is a great book to teach children about Evolution. It is called Stones and Bones and written by Char Matejovsky.

You can go to the Stones and Bones website for an interactive educational experience. We are teaching evolution as part of our church school curriculum. This could be a helpful resource.

First Presbyterian Elizabethton signed on to celebrate Evolution Sunday for the third year in a row. Here is a list of around 500 scientists who are on call to be resources for congregations, educators, and ministers.

Spread the word!

You can read why Evolution Weekend is important for faith communities and why it is important for clergy to publicly state their support for science by reading about the clergy letter project.

This is from Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project:

We already have over 255 congregations on board to participate in Evolution Weekend. If you haven’t yet signed up, please think about doing so. Remember that participation can take any form you like – from a sermon to a lunch discussion, from a children’s class to an adult education class.

And please remember that the goal of Evolution Weekend is to elevate the quality of the dialogue about the compatibility of religion and science – we need to move beyond sound bytes to meaningful discussion.

Finally, all states except Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, are already represented. If you know people in the missing locations, please encourage them to sign up.

Thanks very much for your continued support. Together we can demonstrate that religion and science need not be in conflict and that religious leaders and scientists can work productively together.


Michael Zimmerman
Office of the Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Butler University
Indianapolis, IN 46208

Monday, October 29, 2007

We Have Found A Witch! May We Burn Her?

Some bewitching fun for Halloween.

Engraving by Albrecht Durer, "The Four Witches"

Here is a classic:

"Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?"

Question: Why do witches ride brooms?

Witches ride brooms because Nature abhors a vacuum.

True enough. And there are more reasons yet (from asking Jeeves on the internet):

1) To sweep away psychic dirt.
2) To bring a good harvest.
3) To
get high. (An adult answer)

Question: Why don't witches ride their brooms when they are angry?

Answer: Because they are afraid they will fly off the handle.

Plus thirteen facts about witches from Witches Way:

  1. Witchcraft (Wicca) is a federally recognized religion.
  2. Witches DON'T believe in a devil of any kind.
  3. Witches believe in a God and Goddess.
  4. Witches are intelligent, community-conscious, thoughtful men and women.
  5. Witches don't fly on brooms!
  6. Witches are not dark, ugly people!
  7. A spell is simply a ritualized prayer.
  8. Witches believe in the Law of 3, which is anything you do comes back to you. Good or bad.
  9. Witches are made, not born. (Some exceptions here)
  10. Witchcraft is a way of life as well as a religion.
  11. You have probably met a witch and didn't know it.
  12. Most of what you know about witchcraft is probably wrong.
  13. Witches are healers.
Finally, here is some information about Wicca from the folks who practice it:
Contrary to what those who choose to persecute or lie about us wish to believe, Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of thinking and life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists. (Read More)
So be nice to a witch this Halloween!

Become a Carbon Conscious Consumer

First Presby, Beth has taken the pledge to reduce her carbon footprint. She invites you to join her:

I don't usually recruit like this, but since we're pretty much in agreement on the issue, thought I'd pass this "opportunity" along! beth

Did you know you can reduce your carbon footprint, preserve our water resources, save money and give yourself a chance at some great prizes in one simple step? It’s a win-win situation for you, the community and the ecosystem…and you can win a free condo for a week at a ski resort in Sun Valley.

What do you have to do? Just fill out the pledge form at and then fill up your reusable water bottle. It’s that easy. You’ll be doing your part to reduce the 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide produced in the manufacture of plastic bottles for the US consumption last year. Imagine saving the energy equivalent of a quarter bottle of oil for every bottled water you would have consumed—not to mention the money!

As an added bonus, after you take the pledge you'll get a coupon towards a reusable water bottle to help you get started.

Visit the C3 site to sign up and then tell your friends: you could win a free condo for a week at a ski resort in Idaho or one of several other terrific prizes.

Bottled water is often marketed as being purer than other water. In the U.S., however, tap water is more closely regulated than bottled water, while as much as 40% of commercially available water starts out as tap water. While bottled water can cost as much as $10 a gallon, when you consider that only about 12% of the plastic is recycled, the environmental expenses associated with a momentary convenience are far greater and long-lasting.

Help break the bottled water habit and sign up today!

Thank You for Making a Difference,

Sustainable Prosperity

Here is my sermon for Sunday:

Sustainable Prosperity
Micah 4:1-7

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.

On that day, says the Lord,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
and those whom I have afflicted.
The lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
now and for evermore.

Last week I flew to Montana to do a graveside service for my wife’s aunt’s mother, a dear person. We celebrated 93 years of her life on Earth. The flights their and back were long and I had plenty of time to read. I read a book entitled, A View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams. Primack is a physicist and Abrams is a philosopher of science.

I don’t want to gush over the book. I will need to read it again, perhaps with a more critical eye, but it made me feel good after I finished. I did feel a sense of hope and belonging to the Universe. I also felt a sense of hope for humanity.

Here is the book’s thesis is three steps:

1) Premodern societies saw themselves as central to the universe and made myths and religions that embraced this centrality. While their cosmology was wrong, their mythology was correct in that they saw themselves as a meaningful part of the whole. The universe as they saw it "fit" them and they "fit" in it.

2) Modernity put humankind on the edge of the universe. Not central. Not important. Small in a vast meaningless cosmos. We no longer "fit." We are accidental. We are insignificant. We are a cosmic accident. We are therefore filled with existential angst. We have our cosmology right, but our mythology is lacking. We cannot go back and embrace any one religion's mythology wholesale as it fits an ancient, outdated cosmology.

3) However, we can use those symbols and myths from our premodern ancestors that work to help us reclaim the center of the universe again while embracing modern cosmology. Modern science is showing that we do "fit" the universe. We are central in many ways but we lack a mythology that affirms that reality.

The authors take us through what science is uncovering about our cosmic history. We have come a long way in a decade regarding the size, age, and composition of the universe. When we look to the stars, we are looking at our history. The light from the farthest stars is light that is now reaching us from them is from the very beginning.

The authors move to using some symbols to speak of the place of humanity in this Universe. It is pretty amazing that we exist. For all we know, we are the eye, the consciousness of the universe. We are here to tell the Story of the Universe.

What is the Story and what are our symbols? That is our task. The authors offer some examples and leave that to us as a challenge. Our task is to sift through our own history to find meaningful stories and symbols that can serve to give us a sense of place, of hope, and of duty.

Science is showing us that we are in the center in many ways.

Size. The visible universe that we can see through intuition is central in size to the rest of the universe that we can only know through science, from the smallest particles to cosmic distances.

Time. Our Sun has been burning for four and one-half billion years. It took that long to produce humanity. It has about another six billion years before our sun will finish its work.

Space. We are the center of the universe as every place is the center of the universe. There is no edge. Like Earth, every place on the globe is the center.

The point of recognizing that humanity views the universe from the center is to embrace the truth that science is showing us. From a point of meaning, it means that we no longer have the existential ironic luxury of devaluing humanity. We no longer can dismiss our responsibility because we do not think we matter or are important.

The authors wrote a statement What does it mean to be human?

“I stand here on the Cosmic Uroboros, midway between the largest and smallest things in the universe. I can trace my lineage back fourteen billion years through generations of stars. My atoms were created in stars, blown out in stellar winds or massive explosions, and soared for millions of years through space to become part of a newly forming solar system—my solar system. And back before those creator stars, there was a time when the particles that at this very moment make up my body and brain were mixing in an amorphous cloud of dark matter and quarks. Intimately woven into me are billions of bits of information that had to be encoded and tested and preserved to create me. Billions of years of cosmic evolution have produced me.” (p. 281)

Being human is significant. It is important. Each of us is important and significant. We live in perhaps the most exciting and important time in human history. What happens in the next few decades will set a course for the future, perhaps the survival of humanity itself.

The authors write: “We need to become the kind of people capable of using science to uphold a globally inclusive, long-lived civilization.” (p. 296)

A phrase that the authors use to describe the duty of this generation is “sustainable prosperity.” How can we sustain civilization for its long term survival so that all Life prospers?

One of the most pernicious falsehoods that seeps into our being is that we are not powerful. We often think that the centers of power are in the cities or where government or military power is located--The Pentagon, or the Capitol building or the White House. But that is not true. Twodot, Montana is just as central. Elizabethton, Tennessee is the center of the Universe.

We are not in the hinterlands at the end of the world. No place is the end of the world. Each place and each one of us is in the center. That if anything, should be a statement of empowerment.

That power is not the power of our will, but the power of harmony with the Universe. We have the power to hear and to discover it. The invitation to each of us is to accept our power. I think the historical Jesus knew this. He said to the powerless such things as:

“The kingdom of God is within you.”
“You all are the light of the world.”

When I hear the news or read the news as to how the international situation is desperate as usual, and how we need to be afraid, I feel disempowered. However, when I act from my center, of what I am doing here and now, I am empowered.

That is why this congregation is so important. We are here to keep the dream of sustainable prosperity alive. We are here to keep the dream alive. We are here to enact that dream.

That is a dream in which humanity will learn war no more. We will learn the way of peace. We will learn that we will not be peaceful until each and everyone of us is prosperous.

Sustainable prosperity is not wealth, in the way we think of wealth. It does not consist in an abundance of material things. It is not the need to have power over others or to control others. Sustainable prosperity is the joy of living within our means, so that all may live.

Sustainable prosperity begins with trust in the great vision articulated by the Hebrew prophet, Micah:

There will come a time when nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

There will come a time when we will not learn nor teach the making of war.

There will come a time when all people will sit under their own vines and fig trees.

There will come a time when no one will live in fear.

That time is now. Let us participate in God's vision.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Over 400 at Peace Rally in Jonesborough

A couple of items from DemocracyNowTricities. There is a report of the peace rally with an accurate number and criticism of local press. Also DNTC reported on the WETS fundraising drive that includes a thank you letter from manager Wayne Winkler regarding the support for DemocracyNow!

Pet Blessing Pictures

Here are some pics from our Blessing the Animals Service:

We blessed plenty of dogs, some cats, a horse, and a parrot. I think we had 20-25 pets altogether. It promises to be bigger next year.

Each pet was blessed with a long and healthy life and a happy home.

Freedom was blessed and in return was a blessing to children who got a ride.

Harley approved of the blessing, but at a distance. Don't touch me, thanks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anti-War Protest in Jonesborough--er Jonesborough?

At times I wish I could be in more than one place at one time. We had a great blessing of the animals service today at the church. We blessed numerous dogs, a few cats, a horse, and a parrot. I will post some pics soon. Following that a wedding.

While I was blessing and marrying, about 20 miles away, 350 (?) people protested the war in Jonesborough as part of the protest effort held in several cities across the country today. Protests were held in San Francisco, New York, Boston, and several other big cities. Here is a report from MSNBC. So why Jonesborough?

Here is a report from today's rally in Jonesborough from Tricities.Com (Bristol Herald/Channel 11 Johnson City). Oddly enough the reporter said nary a word about the reason Jonesborough was selected.

Let's see if there are other reports. Nothing yet in the JC Press. Nor the Kingsport Times News. The day is not over. Perhaps stories are being written.

It is kind of at least a curiosity story. Why of the eleven major cities was Jonesborough, TN worth the effort of the organizers of United for Peace and Justice? Is not anyone even slightly curious?

Perhaps Jonesborough was selected because it is the host of the National Storytelling Festival? Maybe because it has quaint little shoppes downtown? Might not a local reporter wonder why a little Dogpatch like Jonesborough was chosen? If I were a reporter, I think I would ask that question.

To the unasked question, here is the answer. Jonesborough is home to an Aerojet plant. This is from their homepage:
Aerojet continues to meet emerging defense and aerospace propulsion needs and is well-positioned to benefit from the increased focus on and funding of defense and space programs.
Here is a hot tip for investors. You can make money with these guys.

Jonesborough is one of Aerojet's locations. The Jonesborough location is called Aerojet Ordinance. Here they use depleted uranium to make the hard shell for projectiles. Depleted Uranium (DU) is the by-product of a uranium nuclear reaction.

The problem with DU is that it is radioactive. Don't be fooled by the word, "depleted." This is from the Military Analysis Network:
In military applications, when alloyed, Depleted Uranium [DU] is ideal for use in armor penetrators. These solid metal projectiles have the speed, mass and physical properties to perform exceptionally well against armored targets. DU provides a substantial performance advantage, well above other competing materials. This allows DU penetrators to defeat an armored target at a significantly greater distance. Also, DU's density and physical properties make it ideal for use as armor plate. DU has been used in weapon systems for many years in both applications.

Depleted uranium results from the enriching of natural uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Natural uranium is a slightly radioactive metal that is present in most rocks and soils as well as in many rivers and sea water. Natural uranium consists primarily of a mixture of two isotopes (forms) of uranium, Uranium-235 (U235) and Uranium-238 (U238), in the proportion of about 0.7 and 99.3 percent, respectively. Nuclear reactors require U235 to produce energy, therefore, the natural uranium has to be enriched to obtain the isotope U235 by removing a large part of the U238. Uranium-238 becomes DU, which is 0.7 times as radioactive as natural uranium. Since DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, there is very little decay of those DU materials. (Read More)

According to professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire:

DU burns intensely and is very hard. DU is also much cheaper than the substitute metal, tungsten. In effect, the U.S. military is trading off lower costs for increased health hazards. The health dangers of using DU-munitions have now been widely recognized, hotly debated and reported upon and need not be repeated here. Beyond just the health consequences, DU-munitions must be considered weapons of mass destruction insofar as the consequences of their usage are indiscriminate. (Read More)

The radioactive dust is blown in the wind. Not only are innocent civilians harmed but even our own soldiers are suffering the effects and have been for some time.

But then again. Aerojet is a nice place. You can have a good career there. It brings jobs and money to East Tennessee. Our reporters know not to ask too many questions.

For those still curious, here are some links about Depleted Uranium:

YouTube video by Dr. Doug Rokke (U.S. Army Health Physicist and Nuclear Medicine Sciences Officer)

Depleted Uranium Education Project

Military Analysis Network

Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

Deployment Health Clinical Center

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blessing Pets in Elizabethton

Greg Miller of the Elizabethton Star wrote a nice article for our "Blessing of the Animals" service that will take place tomorrow (Saturday) at 1 p.m.

We really like animals at First Pres. Here is First Presby, Kathy Woody, with Henrietta. Henrietta was our guest when we were encouraging the congregation to participate in the Heifer Project, International.

Here is a portion of the article from the Star about tomorrow's blessing:

Shuck encourages people to bring their pets to the Blessing of the Animals service. "As we know, pets are like family to many of us and this is a way to give thanks to God for the love and affection our pets show us," he said. "It is also a way for us to be aware of our connection with all of creation. It is a time to celebrate all living things and to remind ourselves of the need to care for them. Many of us, including me, believe that animals are not outside of the realm of the spiritual. Animals have sacred qualities and our bond to them is sacred."

Shuck says he is "very pleased" with the positive response he has received to the idea of having a Blessing of the Animals service. "Several of my church members have been looking forward to this for some time," he said. "Anyone is welcome to bring a pet for a blessing."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Peace Rally in Jonesborough

This is in today's Johnson City Press regarding a Peace Rally in Jonesborough this Saturday at three p.m. at Mill Spring Park:

Hundreds of peacemakers are expected to descend on Jonesborough Saturday in support of one of 11 similar rallies planned across the country.

Demonstrations for peace are also planned for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Fla., Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.

United for Peace and Justice, a national anti-war organization, has arranged the nationwide demonstrations for Saturday.

Local organizer Linda Modica said the Jonesborough rally will be a bit different than the others, with a heavy focus on the effects of depleted uranium weapons on the environment, civilians and the soldiers who use them.

Former soldiers are scheduled to speak at Saturday’s event.

Herbert Reed is a retired Army sergeant and intelligence officer from Columbia, S.C. Modica said he has documented the effects of depleted uranium on himself and will speak about its effect on soldiers. (Read More)

Halloween Friday Five

Time for Friday Five with the RevGals. Here is today's Five (or Six) from Singing Owl:

All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is near. As a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. We didn’t yet worry about razor blades in apples or popcorn balls or some of the other concerns people have with Halloween these days. Halloween was a chance to be mildly scared, and better yet, to dress up and pretend to be something we really weren’t. Let’s talk about that a bit, but then let’s add in some food ideas for this year. Where I live the leaves are falling, the temperature is chilly and pumpkins are for sale everywhere, along with many kids of apples. What's more, the "Holiday Season" will soon be upon us. ACK! I could use a new idea for dessert. So, here we go…

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?

My father didn't like Halloween. So we would turn out all the lights and let the dogs out to scare the Trick or Treaters.

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?

See above. When my kids were little, I would take them out Treating and Tricking. It was always freezing cold with usually the first snow on Halloween in Lowville, NY, so T&T didn't last too long.

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?

Caramel for sure.

3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?

Yes. And we would let them sit out in the freezing cold until they nearly completely rotted.

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.

A little. Now that it is just Lovely Spouse and I we sit at home like old folks and give candy to the T&Ters. I always give a blood-curdling scream when they come to the door.

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring out an alternate personality?

LS and I have gone to a few Halloween parties. My favorite was when we went as Mr. and Mrs. Conehead.

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.

Sorry, can't help you there. I mostly get sick on leftover candy and call it a night.

For the Bible Tells Me So

Here is the trailer of the film For the Bible Tells Me So. This looks like a good one for church groups to see. Thanks to Davis Community Church of Davis, CA for showing this film and for raising awareness regarding homophobia.

There are plenty of welcoming Presbyterian churches out there. Here is a good resource to find one near you.

If yours is a welcoming congregation and is not on that list, why hide your light under a bushel? Let people know that you are there! Believe me, it is worth any perceived hassle to be welcoming and to advertise it. People are looking for congregations that are welcoming and are not afraid to say it. In fact, if you can't say it, you can't claim it.

If other people who for whatever reason are prejudiced toward gays and don't like the fact that you are not, that is really their problem. Here I stand.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Better Life Billboards Are Refreshing

Have you noticed the billboards for The Foundation For A Better Life?

I have noticed them in our community, in the airports, all over! I like them. You can find all the faces, the messages, and the stories behind them here.

This one is my favorite.

More on Blessing the Animals

Thanks to First Presby, Sandy, for this great site about blessing the animals at church. It is God Bless the Animals! Join us this Saturday at 1 p.m. Greg Miller of the Elizabethton Star will have an article in the paper about it as well! If it is raining, we will have it inside!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blessing of the Animals

A first for
First Presbyterian, Elizabethton and a first for me this Saturday. We are holding a blessing of the animals service at 1 p.m. in the church lawn between the church and E Street. Anyone is invited to bring their pets for a blessing. I expect we will have everything from hamsters to horses. You don't have to be a member of the church. Anyone in the community is invited (both two-legged, four-legged, other-legged, and no-legged). That is this Saturday at 1 p.m.

No blessing for any critter that bites me.

The blessing will include a brief corporate blessing and an individual blessing of each animal. Below is a sample prayer. It is nice. Has a Roman Catholic feel to it. Doesn't quite sound like First Pres, though. Have you been to a blessing of the animals service? Ideas for blessings?

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Friday, October 19, 2007


(Conversations with Bob! He likes it! He likes it! Hey Mikey! It's Bob's turn!)

At Fuller Seminary Presbyterian Students were expected to take a bunch of Presbyterian courses. They included Presbyterian History, Presbyterian Polity, Presbyterian Program, Presbyterian Ethos, and I think there was one other but I don’t remember what it was. It was 30 years ago.

Anyway, Jack Rogers taught Presbyterian Ethos. One day Jack asked what word would most characterize Presbyterian theology. There was this long silence and then Jack started almost jumping up and down shouting, “Covenant! Covenant! If you don’t get anything else out of this class I want you to remember that Presbyterians believe in covenant! So of course, I do.

I believe in a God who makes covenants. Most of us tend to think a covenant is something like a contract. One side agrees to do one thing and the other side agrees to do another think. Like getting a contractor to come in and replace your furnace. The contractor puts the furnace in and you pay. A covenant, from a Biblical perspective, is nothing like that.

In the Bible God acts first and then asks people to follow and obey. We see this in the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments begin:

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. (Ex.20:1-3; Deut 5:6)

God acts with grace and then calls people to follow and obey. It’s the same in the New Testament. God acts in Jesus, (incarnation, life, death and resurrection), with grace and then calls people out to follow. (Okay, yes, Jesus called followers before he died and rose, but the incarnation was part of the grace. And yes, God called Abraham to follow and made promises, most of which were not fulfilled for years. So sometimes God calls first and then gives the gift. But the promise of the gift always comes before the call to follow.

Covenantal Theology says that God acts graciously and calls people to follow. This is the case throughout the Old Testament (literally Old Covenant) and also the New Testament. In fact Reformed thinking says that there is no difference between the Old and New Covenants in the aspect of work. The Covenants of the Old Testament are covenants of grace as are those of the New Testament. In a sense they are all one covenant, God acting graciously and calling people to follow. In this sense I do believe in salvation history.

Some caveats: while I believe that God made a covenant with Abraham and other covenants with the people of Israel, there can be no historical evidence for this. We can find some archeological evidence for the existence of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, (although whether some of the evidence actually goes back to the time period or are fakes is highly debated), but that evidence can’t tell us that God spoke to Abraham or Moses or David or Elijah and made covenants. Belief in a God who makes covenants and that specific covenants were made is a theological statement.

Another critical factor is the false assumption by some that God makes covenants with secular nations today. The US is God’s land only in the sense that all the earth is God’s. All nations do both good and bad. God has made no covenant with any nation today. To suggest that God does so is not only theologically wrong but also dangerous.

So a major part of Church belief that affects or at least should affect the behavior of the Church is the covenant God made with the people of God. Deuteronomy says that God didn’t choose Israel because there was something special about Israel. God doesn’t choose those who come to faith because there is something special about them. God simply chooses and makes a covenant.

This should produce two effects in the Church. First, there are no grounds for boasting because we are part of the Church. We didn’t become part of the Church because we did anything.

Humility is the order of the day. Second, while there is no work that gains God’s favor, part of being people with whom God has made a covenant is that we are called to live as the people of God. We must seek to live as if the Kingdom of God was already present in all completeness in the world today. Being people of the covenant makes ethical demands.

Grace and Peace

Airplane Reading

I am writing this blog entry in a hotel lobby. I did a funeral for a family member today and I am returning home via the friendly (yet highly paranoid) skies tomorrow. By the way, the recording that repeats every ten minutes at the airport reminds us that the terror alert is orange--so be sure to keep your liquids in a resealable sandwich baggie, turn in that suspicious looking dude who just put his luggage down in order to pee, and do wear your rapture bloomers.

I have been reading two books while flying. One while I am in the airplane itself and another while enjoying those three hour layovers between flights.

The on-flight book is the latest from
Stephen Colbert (who recently announced his candidacy for president).

I need some light reading on the plane. I caught myself laughing out loud more than once. While on land, heavier reading is in order.

I am really enjoying

The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos.

This book provides an overview of what science knows about the universe and it takes the second step to offer symbols of how human beings can understand our significance within this story. I am going to write more about it on future blogs.

For now, it is enough for me to say that this kind of work is what I have been trying to get at in my feeble attempts at a theology for the 21st century. What I personally find as I read this is a sense of hopefulness for humanity.
More specifics on the way!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Live Intelligently

Thanks to Doug at Witherspoon for posting this from George Marshall at ClimateChange:

Please, I beg you, if you care about climate change forget about "saving the planet".

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that you chuck your bike in a hedge and hurtle off to Heathrow in your 4x4. In fact the exact opposite.

The problem is that this wretched phrase and all the concepts it embodies are guaranteed to have the exact opposite effect. Let me unravel it and I hope you will agree. (Read More)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Magic Beer

Stolen from Madpriest:

A lady walks into a bar on the top floor of a fancy hotel and sees a really good-looking guy sitting at the bar by himself. She goes over and asks him what he is drinking. "Magic Beer," he says.

She thinks he's a little crazy, so she walks around the bar, but after realizing that there is no one else worth talking to, goes back to the man sitting at the bar and says, "That isn't really Magic Beer, is it?"

"Yes, I'll show you." He takes a drink of the beer, jumps out the window, flies around the building three times and comes back in the window. The lady can't believe it: "I bet you can't do that again."

He takes another drink of beer, jumps out the window, flies around the building three times, and comes back in the window. She is so amazed that she says she wants a Magic Beer. So the guy says to the bartender, "Give her one of what I'm having."

She gets her drink, takes a gulp of the beer, jumps out the window; plummets 30 stories, breaks every bone in her body, and dies.

The bartender looks up at the guy and says, "You know, Superman, you're a real asshole when you're drunk."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Child Preachers

Scott alerted me to this news item on 20/20. How popular is this really? What do you think the effects are for the children and the adults who encourage this?

The Heart of Giving

Here is my sermon for today.

The Heart of Giving
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
October 14, 2007

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers* approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’* feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Luke 17:11-19

September 13th, 2007 went by without notice. The day slipped by without any recognition on my part. No celebration. No acknowledgement. No reflection. There was no party. I made no entry on my blog regarding it. I didn’t mention it in any of my sermons. I didn’t talk about it with my wife. It passed as nearly every day passes, one more day on the calendar.

Like the nine lepers who marched on to the priest without another thought of what had happened to them, I, too, marched on with whatever agenda had preoccupied my mind. So today, a month and a day after September 13th, I am going to take the path of the one leper who remembered to return and give thanks.

September 13th is an important date in my life. There are other important dates in my life. They usually are not forgotten. August 30th, my birthday. May 28th, the anniversary of the day in which my wife and I made our vows to one another in marriage. I don’t think I have forgotten to acknowledge those anniversaries when they roll around. Next year, my wife and I, God willing, will celebrate 25 years of marriage. We are already making plans to acknowledge that day. Yet September 13th is a very important date for me personally, and September 13th, 2007 was a significant anniversary.

It wasn’t until I read this week the story of the ten lepers that I remembered. On September 13th, 1992, fifteen years ago, I was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Lowville, NY.

The Presbytery of Utica presented me with this stole I am wearing this morning, handcrafted from an artisan in Central America. I was also given this beautiful handcrafted stitching from a colleague, Micki Robinson. This was a touching gift. Micki had moderated the session of the church as they were searching for a pastor. I realize that I have lost touch with Micki. I wonder where she is now? It would be easy to find out. I can simply search her name on the internet and find out where she is serving. I need to send her an e-mail before I forget again.

My friend, Rick Price, who I met in seminary, preached the sermon at my ordination service. I need to send him an e-mail as well. During the service I was asked the constitutional questions and affirmed the vows to honor the tradition, to be a colleague in ministry, to serve my congregation with “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” and perhaps above all, to remember.

I knelt and received the laying on of hands and prayer. I had just turned 31. I felt humbled, inadequate, and yet called. I think today of all of the people who supported and encouraged me in my first congregation: Betty and John Schlieder, Vivian and Ollie Smith, Jane and Bill Thomas, Dorothy Steinbrenner, and countless others, too many to name today.

As I think back over my fifteen years of ministry, I realize that I have forgotten so much. Yet as I take the time to remember, I also realize how much I have been given. It is an incredible privilege to be a minister. So many people have given in so many ways so that I can do this work. So many people with giving hearts have touched my life.

There is no way that I can pay back to those who have given to me. Yet I realize now that I want to be a giving person. I want to have a giving heart. I cannot give back. I can, however, give forward.

Our text for this morning is Luke’s story of the ten lepers. I think the number ten was chosen for a reason. The idea of one of ten is a symbol in storytelling. The one of ten represents the remnant. One of ten or ten percent is a small percentage but not insignificantly small. It is the one out ten who changes the world. It only takes one of ten to influence the whole. It takes but one of ten to raise our consciousness, to be the bearer of wisdom, and to call us to remember the significance of life.

We can understand the saga of the Hebrew scriptures as the story of the remnant, the small minority with the conscience to be a blessing to Earth. Story after story follows the theme of the one who apart from the crowd remembers from whence she or he has come. Because of that act of remembering, the promise and blessing of wholeness continues.

Notice in the story of the ten lepers who become cleansed of their leprosy as they go on the way toward the priest. All received what they requested. Yet the one, the foreigner, the outsider, the despised, returns to give thanks. Jesus gives this one yet another blessing. “Your faith has made you well,” he says to him.

The word “well” is the same word that is used in the New Testament for salvation or wholeness. We might understand Jesus to have said, “You are complete,” or “You are mature,” “You are blessed,” “You are whole,” “You are authentic,” “You have integrity,” “You have found meaning,” “You have discovered your center.” This one receives more than simply the cleansing from his disease. He receives the blessing of wholeness.

As I have been reflecting on this story, I think of it as a parable for life itself. Most of the time, nearly all of the time, I go through life unaware of its giftedness. Ninety percent of the time I am preoccupied with myself. I am preoccupied with what I am going to get or what I want to get. Yet by grace, every now and then, I am reminded to remember. It is in that remembering, that returning, that acknowledgment of the sacredness and the gift of life, that I glimpse what is truly valuable and blessed.

It is only when I take the time to remember what I have been given, that I can nurture the heart of giving that is within me. We cannot give until we realize how much we have received. We realize then that we cannot give back. We have been given too much. We can only give forward.

The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is celebrating 225 years of ministry. We don’t know the exact date when this congregation became a worshiping community. The early records were lost in a fire. Our best guess, so far, is 1782. It could be earlier. Perhaps information will yet be uncovered to help us determine our earliest history.

Nevertheless, for 225 years, this congregation in some form or another has remembered. Since this country was founded this church has been here. This church has a wealth of history. So many people have given of themselves to this place. We are who we are today because of our ancestors. We have what we have today because of people who remembered what they had been given and responded by giving forward.

We are a community that is committed to healing, to worship, to freedom of thought, to service, to peace and justice, to inclusivity, to wisdom, and to Earth. As I reflect on this congregation, I reflect not only on who we are now. We are who we are today because of those who have gone before us. We cannot give them what they have given to us. We can only give forward.

I wonder if the problems civilization faces today are the result of our resistance to give thanks for the gift of life. We have forgotten our connection to Earth and to the life she gives to us. Like the nine lepers who went on their way getting what they could get, we forget the deeper significance of what it means to be alive. We are not even conscious of the giftedness of life. Because of that forgetfulness, that lack of consciousness, we take rather than give. We don’t think we are getting enough as we are absorbed with ourselves.

I don’t say these things to make us feel guilty, or to say that this forgetfulness is unique to us. It is the human condition. Our evolutionary DNA gives us the drive toward selfishness. Yet there is also something in our DNA that drives us to find greater depth and wisdom. It is that second drive toward wisdom, gratitude, and giftedness that will be our salvation if we remember it. It is that remnant, that ten percent, that rare other-consciousness that will enable our species to move beyond its tribalism and its self-preoccupation. We have within us a heart for giving. We must nurture it. We begin to nurture it by taking the time and effort to remember what we have been given. The second step is to give forward.

That is what I have learned from this story of the ten lepers. I want to be the one who returns to give thanks. Amen.