Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bishop Robinson Endorses Mad Priest!

I have been outdone again in just a few hours. Bishop Gene Robinson (now this is one courageous and holy cleric) endorsed the Mad One. MP even got a pic. Check it out.

Not all is rosy in the Holy UK as the head of the whole shebang has ordered Bishop Robinson not to celebrate the eucharist or preach while in his country!

Talk about territorial....sheesh

So You Want a Clergy Endorsement, eh?

In light of Obama's pitiful denouncing of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I am just now becoming aware of my clerical power. I am going to start endorsing people.

I have already likely ruined Bruce Reyes-Chow's stand for moderator of the PC(USA) by endorsing him (something for which I am sure he is not pleased and for which he has never asked). Ha!

Now, I officially endorse Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein. I am not endorsing him for anything in particular, just in general. Now the poor simian will have to denounce everything I say!

I can feel the power! Who is next?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good Night, Beloveds

It is near midnight. Another day is done. Rev. Jane Spahr is not guilty. I am happy for that and thankful to her for all her good work in helping us recognize the sacredness of relationships. Now it is time for bed. I am going to put on my Armor of God pjs and dream of good things.

hat tip Snad

Marry Me, Janie

Here is a statement by Rev. Jane Spahr regarding the decision. It was an odd decision. She was found not guilty of marrying these same-sex couples because same-sex couples cannot get married. Even though, Janie called them as equal as equal can be--they are marriages!--well says the PJC, they are not. So Janie is innocent, though I wonder if she would have rather been found guilty?

Who can help me with this one:
what about where these marriages are legal, such as Massachusetts? Has a PC(USA) minister done a wedding for a gay couple in Massachusetts and signed the license? This has had to have happened by now. Or would it still be a non-issue as far as the PC(USA) is concerned since the PC(USA) hasn't figured out that same-sex couples can get married yet?

In other words, if Janie had signed a marriage license would the PJC have rendered the same decision?

Great Letter in the Star!

A Letter to the Editor in today's Elizabethton Star!

God luv ya, Amy!

I want to spread the happy word that the Tri-Cities area now has a large, active chapter of PFLAG-Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. We had our first meeting last Thursday, and the turnout was overwhelming! I was so inspired by the stories I heard and the compassion and determination displayed by those in attendance, and I am thrilled that this organization exists here, where it is so badly needed. I personally feel honored to have the chance to be a part of what I see as the next huge civil rights issue in America -- the rights of lesbians and gays to exercise fully the same rights as straight people. But activism is not required-you can come for the support and the fellowship.

If you are gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, questioning, or are friends or family members of anyone who is, I invite you to join our organization. We are a supportive, welcoming group, and there is no debate here over sexuality or religion; this is a safe haven for you to come to where you do not have to give up your spirituality or religion in order to be who you are. You will not be condemned, you will not be judged -- you will be loved and celebrated. And this group is here to stay.

Our next meeting is May 15, and you can find more information on the Web site at Welcome!

Not Guilty!!

Rev. Jane Spahr did not violate PC(USA) law by performing marriages for two lesbian couples, the GAPJC has ruled. Here are the news articles:

Lexington Herald Leader

Contra Costa Times

Louisville Courier-Journal

PC(USA) News

The text of the verdict


I got tagged by Mike at Progression of Faith.
  • The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.

  • Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.

  • At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1. Ten years ago I was . . .

  • Minister at First Presbyterian in Lowville, NY.

2. Five Things on Today's To Do List

  • Try to contact the IRS to see why the hell they rejected my tax return
  • Have coffee with a colleague
  • Write my weekly e-news to the congregation
  • Figure out Sunday's worship
  • Figure out a plan for our youth group

3. Things I'd do if I were a billionare

  • Same thing I'm doing now 'til I go broke (old farmer's joke)
  • Invest in wind and solar energy like T. Boone Pickens

4. Three Bad Habits

  • Way too personal

5. Five Places I've lived

  • Whitehall, MT
  • Mountain Home, ID
  • Auburn, WA
  • Lowville, NY
  • Johnson City, TN

6. Five Jobs I've had in life:

  • Farm Hand
  • Disc Jockey
  • Newspaper Carrier
  • Gasoline Pumper
  • Telephone Solicitor
Of course you can read my whole sordid tale on the sidebar, Everything You Want to Know About Your Preacher But Are too Paranoid to Ask.

I tag the following:


Spahr Decision Due Today

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that Rev. Jane Spahr will hold a press conference at noon (Pacific Time) today at Westminster PC in Tiburon regarding the decision of the GAPJC. We will keep you posted on Shuck and Jive.

Pentecost, Pluralism, or Mom?

May 11th is Pentecost Sunday. According to the legend of Acts the disciples all gathered in this room and the Holy Spirit landed upon them and they began speaking in all the languages of the known world so everyone could hear the gospel. The church has celebrated this as its "birthday."

Some progressives have taken this Sunday as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the world's faith traditions and celebrate Pluralism Sunday
on Pentecost.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008, churches around the world will dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion—and we can understand our own traditions better—through a greater awareness of the world’s religions.
Last year we had a Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday. It was well-received. Here is my sermon from last year.

This year adds a wrinkle. May 11th is also Mother's Day. I am thinking of how to tie the three together. Here are some sermon title ideas:

  • Pluralistic Pentecostal Mothers
  • Tongue-Speaking Inter-Faith Mom
  • Mama Was a Pluralist
  • Mommy Dearest: The Tale of the Mother Goddess Who is Really Ticked Off that Her Children Don't Get Along
  • Throw (That Apostate Pluralistic) Momma From the Train
Found this video on NT Wrong. Pluralism keeps one busy...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Renewal or Ruin: A Presbyterian Version?

We had about 30 people at our screening of Renewal or Ruin? on Sunday. I was pleased with the turnout and to see folks from other congregations there. It was good to meet Rev. Steven D. Martin who shared with us why he made this film.

It has been sent to all the commissioners at the United Methodist General Conference that is meeting now in Fort Worth. I asked Steven about the possibility of a making a Presbyterian version of this film. He is interested and would like to interview Presbyterians who have had run-ins with the IRD.

Perhaps something could be made in time for the General Assembly in June. Well, Presbys, anyone interested? Contact Steven. You can find him here.

An Act of Compassion

Hat tip to Naughty Pat:

Last night my sister and I were sitting in the den and I said to her,

"I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle to keep me alive. That would be no quality of life at all, If that ever happens, just pull the plug."

So she got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.

She's such a bitch.

Decision on Rev. Jane Spahr Later Today

At some point today, the General Assembly PJC will rule on the Spahr case. This is from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

Spahr, 65, a lesbian activist and retired Presbyterian minister from San Rafael, declined to predict an outcome following a two-hour hearing Friday at Presbyterian Church headquarters in Louisville, Ky.

"It's been wonderfully inspiring," Spahr said in a telephone interview. "So we wait, but we're with wonderful family and friends."

Her web page contains a history of the case, photos of the weekend in Louisville, resources and much more.

Is she guilty or not? The prosecution says no one is above the law. The defense says there is no constitutional ban on same-sex weddings. Check out commentary on Witherspoon.

I personally vote not guilty. This case regarding Rev. Jane Spahr is about freedom to do ministry within the dictates of our conscience, guided by the whole of our Constitution. It is about freedom to care pastorally for people.

Part of the issue here is a witch hunt against ministers who care pastorally for lgbt people. I wonder how many ministers have never bent the rules in order to provide pastoral care for others. Frankly, any minister who is so rule-bound that they would never break a jot or tittle in order to care for someone in need clearly would be a butthead.

At my first church I baptized a baby who was stillborn in the hospital. It was a decision I made as a minister to care for this couple in their time of loss. If I was in the same situation, I think I would do the same thing again. Did I flaunt the Book of Order or the Constitution? Did I act above the law? Was that activity the same as "stealing church money" as Jim Berkley says of Rev. Spahr's work of pastoral care? Did I "thumb my nose" at the authority of the church?

Or did I do what ministers do on a daily basis, care for people as best they can and use the resources and gifts available to provide that care? I am a Book of Order kind of guy. I believe in our Constitution and follow it, just like Rev. Jane Spahr does. There are times in which we do what our conscience tells us we need to do. Presbyterians have historically understood that.

Baptizing stillborn children is not what we Presbyterians normally do. Someone could make a case that I violated my ordination vows by doing so. Not only did I simply do it, I admitted it. I included it in my statement of faith that I presented to the Committee on Ministry upon my entry into Holston Presbytery. They asked me about it and were satisfied that it was an act of pastoral care.

My point is that those who claim to love the law are selective about it. I have yet to meet a minister who has never allowed pastoral need to trump the Book of Order on some occasion. We all know this. The church courts should be filled with ministers who have violated the Book of Order and are not repentant for doing it. But of course, the courts are not full. We only seem to have the energy and desire to prosecute lgbt people and their allies.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Should Read My Bible

I should spend more time reading my Bible. If I did, I would know being gay is not OK. That is the word from a letter to the editor in today's Johnson City Press.

The paper
in its April 13th article about our PFLAG Tri-Cities chapter included an unfortunate phrase under the picture. None of us being interviewed used it. The phrase was "different lifestyles."

When I see that phrase I am reminded of the TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

At PFLAG we advocate for justice and human rights. This is our vision and mission. We advocate on behalf of equal rights amidst a religious culture that mistakenly presumes that their interpretation of the Bible trumps basic rights. Such as this letter:

Bible says it is a sin

The April 13 article on Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays quoted the Rev. John Shuck as saying, “it really is OK” to be gay. One would think that Mr. Shuck, “a member of the clergy for 16 years,” would be familiar with passages in scripture which speak of the natural pairing of man and woman and against homosexuality.

He should know that homosexuality is a sin and it is not OK. It is not an “alternative lifestyle,” and simply changing the label will not make it acceptable either to God or man.

The article spoke of those who want to help gays and lesbians in the area with the formation of this organization. But an organization which merely perpetuates rebellious behavior against God is not helpful.

However, there is good news. God’s love is so great that he made a way for sinful man to come to Him. He sent his son to live a perfect life and to die in the place of sinful men. All one need do is turn from sin to him, receive the benefits of his atoning death on the cross and then truly live.

God provided an organization to help those trapped in a life of sin. It is called the church — the body of Christ.


Also, in today's paper was this opinion piece:

The Bible-quoting letter in the April 16 edition of the Press from J.G. Daniel (who I assume is a man, as most women seem to have few hang-ups about gays of either sex) demands a rebuttal.

Sadly, it’s people like Mr. Daniel, not I, who have a problem, allowing themselves to be influenced by ancient Jewish tribal laws that have no relevance in modern society. They’re trapped in a prison of their own making: frustrated, agitated, confused and as blinded to the light of reality as are the adherents of any organized religion.

Unlike them, I’m one of the happiest, most well-adjusted people you could ever know. And why is that? Because I am gay, a situation I’ve never had a problem with and a lifestyle with which I’ve been gloriously content and happy. Most important, I’m free.

The one question I always have for those who appear to have nothing more to do than worry about others’ sex lives is, how is it affecting you?

One guy may like women, the beach and cats. I happen to like men, mountains and dogs. Does that make one of us any better or worse than the other? I happen to like modern architecture and classical music. Am I that different from another man who prefers Victorian houses and country music? I love oranges and hate cauliflower; why should I be deprived of oranges and be forced to eat cauliflower?

If your religion taught that eating oranges was a “sin” and cauliflower was a ticket into heaven, you would be thumping your holy book and declaring that a sweet juicy orange would lead one straight to hell, while proselytizing the saving grace of a bitter head of cauliflower.

Donald Taylor lives in Johnson City

In light of all this Bible talk, here is today's sermon:

The Hebrew Prophets: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
April 27th, 2008

Selected Readings from the Minor Prophets

The Good:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. --Amos 9:13-14

The Bad:
I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord. I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will make the wicked stumble. I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
--Zephaniah 1:2-3

The Ugly:
I am against you, says the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will let nations look on your nakedness and kingdoms on your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a spectacle.
--Nahum 3:5-6

Today marks the end of our tour through the Hebrew prophets.
In our journey through the Bible we have finished the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), and the Latter Prophets, which is divided into the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

Next month we begin the Writings.
We will read the poetic literature first, Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. Then for June, we will read The Five Scrolls: (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther). We will also read the Post-Exilic Writings: (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles). And by the end of June we will have completed the Hebrew Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament. We are reading them, however, in the order of the Hebrew tradition rather than the Christian tradition.

The poet Robert Frost, in one of his poems wrote that he had a lover’s quarrel with the world. In his 1942 poem “The Lesson for Today,” a long philosophical poem, we find this stanza:

And were an epitaph to be my story
I'd have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover's quarrel with the world

You will find on Robert Frost’s tombstone in his resting place in Vermont, that sentence: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” I took a photograph of it when I visited there a few years ago.

On my tombstone should be written, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the Bible.” It truly is a lover’s quarrel. I have been marinated in it since I was a child. I learned critical methods, even a dabbling in its original languages. I have argued with it, dismissed it, embraced it again, cursed those who misuse it, embarrassed myself in my misuse of it, and here I am again encouraging you to read it. Perhaps I want you to share my pain. The Bible won’t go away. I cannot seem to write it off. Its narrative continues to mess with my head and heart.

I still want to trust that what it says is true—we matter, something bigger than us cares, and in the end we experience Resurrection and a shining city.

Religious scholar Bart Ehrman, who teaches at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, just published a book in 2008: God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer.

I think Professor Ehrman has a lover’s quarrel with the Bible, too. I resonate with what he wrote on page 17:

It is important, then, to see what the Bible actually says, and not to pretend it doesn’t say something that happens to contradict one’s own particular point of view. But whatever the Bible says needs to be evaluated. This is not a matter of setting oneself up as God, dictating what is and what is not divine truth. It is a matter of using our intelligence to assess the merit of what the biblical authors say…(p. 17)

That is true enough. Yet the Bible has power over us at that exact point. If we do “assess the merit of what the biblical authors say” we are breaking a taboo. It is that very assessment that is considered to be the slandering of the sacred. This taboo is not just for fundamentalists. Biblical scholars across the spectrum all have the desire to bring the Bible to their side. We really have a hard time finally saying, for example, “Yes, the Apostle Paul was probably homophobic, but we don’t have to be.”

Folks who have no lover’s quarrel with the Bible have no difficulty saying that. The Bible is as foreign to them as tales of the Norse god, Odin. But for those of us who do trust the Bible as a sacred text, we have a problem. Can it be true if we have the freedom to assess its truth claims? Is it true if we conclude that some of it is not true?

I am not speaking about whether or not an event in the Bible happened or not, I am talking about the big ticket questions, such as, “If God loves us, why do we suffer?”
This is the question Bart Ehrman addresses in his recent book.

Ehrman believes that that question is the foundational question of the Bible. Ehrman writes that it is not only a foundational question for the Bible but for most if not all religions. It is an existential question with which we live.

Why do we suffer? The reason we ask it is in order to then ask: How can we end suffering, or at least reduce it, or at even be at peace with it? I bring up Ehrman’s book because he begins with the prophets and how they answered that question.

There are a number of different ways the biblical writers answered that question. The dominant answer, the classic answer, is that suffering is God’s punishment for disobedience. The prophets also assert that some suffering is caused by human beings who inflict pain on others. The prophet Amos accused the rich of selling the poor for a pair of shoes. Their suffering was the result of the greed of the rich.

One explanation for human suffering is true enough: we bring it on others and ourselves by making selfish and cruel choices. Why do people suffer from grinding poverty, war, and sickness. Some of it can be explained by neglect, cruelty and ignorance. Those who see human suffering in that way, seek to eliminate it or alleviate it. There is suffering that we can do something about.

This is why Amos, of all the prophets, resonates so much with those who work for social justice. The hope is we can do something about it, if we care enough to act. Amos, in that sense, is quite modern.

That explanation doesn’t account for all suffering, though. It doesn’t account for natural disasters, birth defects, disease, pain in childbirth, and death itself. As much as we might enjoy blaming politicians and leaders for our suffering, we cannot concede to them that much power.

The classic explanation for suffering from the Hebrew prophets was that suffering was inflicted upon them as punishment for disobedience to YHWH. The crisis was this: YHWH chose us and made a covenant with us. Why then are we in such misery? Why are we being overthrown by our adversaries? Why do we die from famine and drought? Why do mothers weep for their children and refuse to be comforted? Why doesn’t YHWH answer our cries for help?

The answer from the prophets is that this suffering is not the result of indifferent weather patterns, nor is it the result of the Babylonian or Assyrian Empires’ quests for power. This suffering is YHWH’s way of communicating. You are suffering because you have disobeyed and you need to repent. When you do repent, YHWH will restore you.

Job didn’t buy it. Job rejects the classic answer. Here is a righteous person who suffers. There are two answers in Job. The first is that suffering is none of his business. YHWH speaks to him finally from the whirlwind and gives no answer. The second answer from the prologue and epilogue that the reader knows, but the character Job does not, is that YHWH was playing games with him. YHWH made a bet with the Adversary regarding how much suffering could be inflicted upon poor old Job, before he would break his covenant with YHWH. Suffering in this case is a test. Although, one might legitimately ask, for what purpose?

The answer from Ecclesiastes is “All is vanity and chasing after the wind.” The good suffer and wicked prosper, just the make the best of it. Ecclesiastes also resonates with our modern view on things.

In the saga of Joseph, which Ehrman points out, is the same theme of the story of Jesus, God uses suffering for redemption. In this case suffering is not caused by God but used by God to achieve a greater good. The New Testament does not really provide any new answers. Although some have suggested that the incarnation shows that God suffers with us.

So far we have suffering is unexplainable, suffering is caused by the cruelty of others, suffering is a test, suffering is a means to a greater good. The classic, dominant answer is that suffering is punishment. That is what we find, for the most part in the Torah and the Prophets.

Here is the question: Is that true? Were the prophets correct? I am going to argue that they were not correct. As one biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan put it: if the Hebrew people had been on their knees in prayer, day and night, and been perfect followers of YHWH, the Assyrians and then the Babylonians would have slaughtered them anyway.

This is why I find the prophets very difficult to read. I resonate with Amos and the call for social justice. I do like the visions of hope and justice we find there. I call that prophetic message good. The message of punishment, that everything from drought to the defeat by enemies is God’s way of punishing, I cannot accept. I don’t think that theology is good or good for us. That prophetic message to me is bad.

I have to have some special category for the almost pornographic language of the prophets as they graphically depict the violence of God on those whom God punishes. Not good, worse than bad, it is ugly.

That is my quarrel with much of the Bible and the god who is portrayed there. I simply cannot accept a notion of God who punishes people either then or now because of their sin. Am I setting myself as smarter than God for saying that? Perhaps. Some would say that is exactly what I am doing. I do not think so. I think I am evaluating or assessing the merits of what the biblical authors wrote.

Actually, in an odd way, I think it makes me a lover of the Bible and the people who wrote it. I want to understand it and them. Why did they say things the way they did? What was at stake for them? Understanding includes assessing. Because they saw god in a certain way then, does that mean we must see god in that way now?

I may be wrong in my assessment. But I think that our personal growth is allowing ourselves the freedom to risk being wrong. We have the freedom, perhaps the responsibility to forge a way of thinking about God and our human plight in ways that move beyond ancient formulations.

There is a great deal of suffering in the world. Much of it we can do little about except to be compassionate to others and to ourselves. Yet there is much suffering that we may be able to alleviate and in some cases prevent. I do think that how we think about God does matter in how we respond to the challenges of life. I will give up God’s power and righteousness for God’s compassion any day.

Daring to assess the merits of the Bible may seem a road less traveled by in our culture.
So, I will close with another poem by Robert Frost that reminds me of this congregation and why I am glad I am here:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

IRD Film Screening Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night we will hold a screening of Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church. The producer of the film, Rev. Steven Martin, is a local from the Holston Conference of the Methodist Church. He is going to be at the screening.

This will be an excellent opportunity to see the film (on our cool, new theater set up), talk with Rev. Martin about his experience of making the film, hear the responses he has received, and catch up on the latest news. He posted a new article just a couple of days ago, IRD Endangers UMC by Joining Lawsuit.

The IRD posted a review of the film on its website. Here is Fred Clarkson's response to this review.

Mark Tooley of the IRD strikes at the film. Steven, I am sure will address that as well.

The IRD is hot and heavy after the UMC, but they also like to take shots at the Presbyterians. Rev. Jim Berkley is the attack dog. See Jim bite. He bares his teeth here, too. Grrr. He barks at me as well. Sez I need some lovin' discipline. If I do, Jim, I'll be sure and call ya.

They say they want to renew the church. Get the message? You church folks are so screwed up that these boys need to fix you. Get ya right with Jesus.

Thank Dog for the IRD. How could we possibly know the love of Jesus without them?

See you tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Maybe some IRD folks will show up, too. According to Winifred, they will be the ones who are well-dressed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reports from Day of Silence

Update: There are a number of news stories on the Day of Silence. Simply Google News. This has been a pretty big deal all across the nation.

You can go to the
Day of Silence Blog to read reports from students who participated in the Day of Silence today. Of special interest are reports of anyone's experience in the Tri-Cities area. If you did participate you can register here, and if you wish, we can report it on PFLAG Tri-Cities taking care to respect anonymity. Send an e-mail.

Just because the Day of Silence is coming to an end for most students doesn't mean you still can't register, even after the fact. If you haven't registered, please do so here.

We use registrations to get a gauge for how much participation there was across the country. Students from a record 7,500 schools have now registered. And if someone from your school already has registered, we still like to keep track of all participation.

Thanks again for your courage today. Together, we are changing the world for the better and making schools safer for everyone.
Check out the PSA from broadcaster, Larry King!

Jane Spahr's Day in Court

Rev. Jane Spahr met with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (the Presbyterian Supreme Court) today. Read the article here. The supremes will issue their verdict on Monday and it will be posted Tuesday on its verdicts page. Who knows, someone may leak it earlier.

Her defense stated the following:

Sara Taylor of San Francisco, one of Spahr’s lawyers, said the 65-year-old retired minister and lesbian activist acted within her rights and did not violate church law by performing the weddings.

“We will agree that there is descriptive language regarding the definition of marriage in the Book of Order, we do not deny that, but unlike ordination or other things there are no mandatory prohibitions,” Taylor told the General Assembly PJC in her opening remarks. “There is no language in the constitution of this church that prohibits same-gender couples from marrying. Disciplinary actions are under the purview of the presbytery.”

According to the prosecution:

In his opening statement, Stephen L. Taber, a San Francisco attorney prosecuting Spahr for Redwoods Presbytery, said no one is above the law.

He said the PC(USA)’s constitution defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, and a 2000 decision by the GA Permanent Judicial Commission held that Presbyterian ministers could conduct services blessing same-sex relationships but could not present them as marriages, and that the services of blessing should not resemble weddings.

Taber said that while many Presbyterians may want to change church policy and allow same-sex marriages, many others do not. He said someone disagreeing with those standards can protest or seek to change them but is bound not to disobey them.

Check our Rev. Spahr's webpage for events surrounding the case this weekend.

Share a Prayer

Prayers, well-wishes, good vibes, candles, incense, whatever you do today for
  1. Rev. Jane Spahr who goes before the Presbyterian Supreme Court, and
  2. Students all over who are participating in the Day of Silence.

O My Goddess

For those who get their theology from Letters to the Editor in the Johnson City Press, here is the lesson for today:

God is masculine
There was an ambivalent feeling as I read two articles on the Opinion/Editorial page of the Johnson City Press edition of April 16. Since I am a Christian, I read with interest “Direction of America” (by J.G. Daniel) and I believe kudos should be extended to the writer.

On that same page however, there was an article by Cokie and Steve Roberts which included a questionable paragraph (with a nonbiblical statement). The gist of my objection is in the following excerpt: “Even though God clearly created baseball ... she clearly made some mistakes.”

In my opinion, every Biblebelieving Christian would claim that the pronoun should be mas
culine, not feminine. A reference to our heavenly father should not be distorted or be made in jest.

The preceding paragraph was not written to be captious, but instead to rectify an inaccurate assertion.

Johnson City

At the risk of being captious, Mr. Arnold may need to connect with his Inner Goddess.

Parvati nursing her son Ganesha.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christian People of the Rainbow

Speaking of spiritual resources for lgbt people and straight allies, Kirkridge, the good folks who brought us Creating a Culture of Peace have scheduled a conference in June, Gateways and Growth Spurts. Here are the details:

Christian People of the Rainbow
Annual Retreat for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender People and their Allies

Gateways and Growth-Spurts

Jesus told us to enter the small narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Could he have been referring to those moments when we suddenly face opportunities to grow rapidly--or else to cower in fear? Some of these gateways are pleasant, like falling in love or starting a desirable job. But many are unpleasant, such as bereavement or loss, being attacked, dealing with childhood abuse, being forced to change our gender-concepts or other long-held beliefs, or nearing our own death (the final gateway). Through presentations, interactive workshops, panel discussions, small groups, and worship, we will explore the opportunity offered in some of these gateways. Music, dancing, talent-sharing, and partying will round out our weekend together.

To register online, please click here.

Daniel Helminiak is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of West Georgia where he teaches Psychology of Spirituality. He is also a psychotherapist, theologian, and author. His book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality (Alamo Square Press, 1994, 2000), is an international best-seller.

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is a prolific author who, with Letha Scanzoni, co-authored "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?; (1978) revised and expanded (1994). Her Lambda Award winning book “Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach” is now available in a revised and expanded edition. Virginia has been a leader at this retreat for nearly 30 years.

More Reflections on the Film and Discussion

I thought I would share a few more reflections about the film and discussion last night at Milligan College. I need to be careful not to speak out of school as this was a discussion for the students and faculty of the campus. They were gracious to allow visitors to attend. I was impressed by the way the conversation was moderated and by the number of students who attended. Including the film and discussion, we were there from seven to about ten-thirty.

I am incredibly grateful to Andy Olivo and the other students who organized this as well as the faculty who participated on the panel, and the administration for allowing this discussion to be held. Andy did a super job showing the purpose of the gathering, leading us in prayer, and telling us what the gathering would not do--lead us all into agreement.

The film itself was very well done. I plan to host a screening at some point for our congregation and the larger community. It told the stories of five families and put a face or a number of faces on the "issue." The film showed that the "issue" is not sexual orientation but prejudice fueled by the church and how that prejudice is destructive. I cannot imagine that anyone watching this film would not be moved by the stories of these folks.

At the panel discussion questions were raised on how fair the film treated various interpretations of the Bible. I found myself agreeing with the critique to a certain point. This film did not provide an in-depth study of the Bible itself (although it did open eyes for those who have never started to see the Bible critically). That wasn't the point of the film.

The film did make the point of how the Bible has been misused. For example, when someone is so clear that the Bible condemns gays while never reading the Bible, certainly not reading it critically, that is a misuse. The film pointed out that it is a misuse to isolate a couple of verses out of context and apply them to the present. It is also a misuse of the Bible to make it be authoritative for someone else without knowing the other person. I have been through all of this Bible study for forever it seems. There are very few arguments I have not heard.

I am not a fundamentalist, so I usually don't use the Bible in this way. In fact, I am only using it here rhetorically. But it seems to me that if the Bible clearly teaches anything it teaches that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. The false witness that has been perpetrated against lgbt people is that they are somehow "less than" straight people.

Because of that "less than" status, the church has sanctioned prejudice and destroyed families. That is what the film showed clearly.

An odd thing about the discussion that followed the film (and I am not picking on this particular discussion at Milligan--this happens all of the time), is that the film which was a powerful telling of the stories of human beings, led to an abstract discussion of Bible interpretation.

That to me is a sin. It is as if we have to wait on the edge of our seats before the Bible experts give us the answers. We have to figure out all of these mysteries of scripture before we can decide whether or not it is OK to treat others with simple human decency. As if we have to wait around for some Ph. D. to parse out a Greek word or figure out the contextual status of ancient Roman sexual practices before we can decide whether or not a son or a daughter, mother or father, neighbor or church member is OK.
That is a stalling tactic.

The reason the right wing writes me off as a heretic is because I will not play their Bible game. I don't go to the Bible to learn about human sexuality anymore than I go to it to learn about fossil fuels. The Bible is simply not an authority on either issue. Who cares whether Paul was homophobic or not? He probably was. And you know something? He isn't here. But you are, and I am, and so is your gay son or daughter whom you may have rejected because of some theological abstraction.

Nevertheless, the Bible won't go away. And because people use it as a weapon against themselves and others, and because people have been so beaten by it, I as a minister, provide them with whatever resources they need to get over the pain it has caused. In some cases, people have been able to move beyond seeing the Bible (and the Church) as dangerous to one's health, and to find spiritual resources in the Bible (and yes, even the church) itself.

I have no desire to debate fundamentalists about the Bible. I have a great desire to help people, gay, straight and all, connect spiritually, and the Bible when rescued from fundamentalism and seen from a liberating lens has been helpful to many lgbts and their families.

If you need books from a liberating lgbt perspective on the Bible or Christian Spirituality, baby, I got 'em.

Peter Gomes was interviewed in the film. He has written a couple of good books.

Mel White was featured as well. He is a gem.

There are many others. I have listed but a few here to get those who are interested started.

It will be some time before society and the churches move beyond this particular prejudice. These discussions can be incredibly painful for those who really get tired of being labeled as a "sinner." I am sorry for that. Be of good courage, beloveds. You know you. God (however God is understood by you) knows you. And you are loved.

And, little by little, eyes and hearts can be opened.

Toward that effort, the Milligan College discussion was a great success.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Report on the Film at Milligan

I just returned from the showing of For the Bible Tells Me So at Milligan College. It is an excellent film. Following the film, four faculty formed a panel to take questions. It was appropriately for Milligan College students and faculty to participate in the discussion, but visitors were graciously welcomed and allowed to listen.

It was very well done in my opinion. People, of course, had a variety of opinions, but it the entire conversation was civil and I think elevated the discussion. I am not sure how much the campus has had these types of discussions, but as an outside observer I thought they provided a good model for both the church and campus.

Gays, the Bible, and Milligan College

I am getting ready to go to Milligan College to watch For the Bible Tells Me So. Following the film, four Milligan profs will be on a panel to discuss the film. They include Dr. Bert Allen, Dr. Lori Mills, Dr. Mark Matson, and Dr. Phil Kenneson.

I am pleased that Milligan (pretty darn conservative) is doing this.

In thinking about the Bible, I found this from Bart Ehrman in his new book, God's Problem:

It is important, then, to see what the Bible actually says, and not to pretend it doesn’t say something that happens to contradict one’s own particular point of view. But whatever the Bible says needs to be evaluated. This is not a matter of setting oneself up as God, dictating what is and what is not divine truth. It is a matter of using our intelligence to assess the merit of what the biblical authors say…(p. 17)

Another Wyatt in the Woods

Sure, as if the world needs another Wyatt...

Ah, but we do. Congratulations to Brian and Sarah Wyatt. Brian is pastor of Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church in Greeneville. Sarah and I serve on the presbytery youth committee.

They have a new Baby Wyatt, Wallace Austin. For those keeping score, Wallace weighs in at 7 lbs. 7 oz. and is 19 inches long. Our presbytery weekly update reports that "Wallace is their first child and everyone is home, healthy, and happy!"

Yeah, happy now, until that kid starts asking for the car keys...

"It's as simple as if she had stolen church money"

Rev. Jane Adams Spahr will go before the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission on Friday. Her crime? She married two lesbian couples.

Jim Berkley of the IRD, who likes to claim that he really has little to do with this, still oddly enough, finds himself in the news. He makes one juicy quote after another. In an article in Tuesday's (Santa Rosa, CA) Press Democrat, Berkley is quoted again:

The Rev. James Berkley, a Seattle-area Presbyterian minister, contends the law is paramount and Spahr "thumbed her nose" at it.

"It's as simple as if she had stolen church money," he said.
Why mince words, Jim? Why not say,

"It's as simple as if she took a knife and stabbed the church secretary?"

No, what Rev. Jane Spahr did was facilitate at wedding ceremonies for two lesbian couples. She didn't steal church money or anything resembling that. To make that comparison as Berkley is wont to do, demonstrates the level of false witness organizations such as the IRD will stoop to smear ministers with whom they disagree.

On Friday, Rev. Spahr either will be found out of order or not by the GA PJC.

If she doesn't win the case, then, it will be clearly time to make some changes regarding how ministers can do ministry. Celebrating at a wedding ceremony (regardless of whether the participants are gay or straight) should not be considered a crime.

General Assembly 2008 in June will consider some overtures including the Baltimore Overture to change the definition of marriage from "one man and one woman" to "two people." It is time to say yes to this. No more waiting.

Also, several presbyteries have sent overtures regarding changing our ordination policy. I personally like the one from Cincinnati, but most any will do. No more waiting.

Go to More Light Presbyterians for a listing of these overtures.

Moderate delegates at the GA will decide. Moderates, you may be personally uncomfortable with all of the complex issues surrounding prejudice against non-heterosexuals. You may not be sure if you agree with me or with Rev. Spahr on all things. You don't have to agree.

But good Lord, you surely do not want the IRD's church, do you? Their vision is a disaster. In their church, everyone is out including you unless you agree with their incredibly narrow fundamentalism.

If you are near our mountain learn about the tactics and goals of the IRD as we watch the film, IRD: Renewal or Ruin? Rev. Steven D. Martin, producer of the film, will be present at the screening.

Brokeback Mountain: Christian Edition

Thanks to James Crossley for alerting us to this important blog, NT Wrong (a spoof of Bishop NT Wright). You will find a number of interesting things on there including this, Brokeback Mountain: Christian Edition.

BTW, James Crossley is a scholar of Christian origins, whose book, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins was one the IRD's Jim Berkeley (and other Presbyterian right wing nuts) wanted removed from the Presbyterian Publishing House. Wouldn't want them publishing scholarship, would we?

The Presbyterian Right might approve of this film, though.

“Because there’s only one man whom it’s ok for another man to love.”

Sexpelled; No Intercourse Allowed

I love this. Big tip of hat to Debunking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Big Bus for a Big Macher

Now that I am a big macher for being a hot topic (literally, I believe I was sent to hell) on the radio, folks concerned with my welfare have beefed up security. This is from Scott:

Due to your increased level of importance, I consulted with the Department of Homeland Security along with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency. We felt that a person of your stature needs a very special bus (far more special than the ones pictured earlier). We have a preliminary model waiting to roll off the assembly line once you approve. A photo of the new model is attached.


(Your new director of safety and security)

Yeah, now we are talkin'. I wanna bus, a big gaudy church sign, and my own radio show. NO! A television show, with make-up people and everything.

Watch Out! I am getting to be important!

Wesley Simons the pastor of Stoney Creek Church of Christ called me this morning to tell me that I am going to be the topic of his radio program this afternoon. He has been reading Shuck and Jive and he is going to show that I am incorrect about my views on the "authority of the Bible, homosexuality, and lesbianism" as he put it. He invited me to call in. I don't think I will, but you might want to do so.

His program is on 690 AM WZAP. It is "Arise to Truth" and it airs from 2-3 p.m. You can listen to recordings of previous programs on the Arise to Truth website. He is the gentleman who wanted to debate me about evolution. I toyed with the idea then realized it would not be very edifying. He is a nice guy. We are just from totally different worlds.

A Crude Awakening for Earth Day

Thanks to Father Jake for alerting me to this video, A Crude Awakening. I have been harping about Peak Oil since I started this blog in 2006. Here are some of those posts:

You can watch the film here:

Gasoline prices near our mountain are now $3.39 per gallon. We could be over $4 per gallon by the end of summer. I see two scenarios.

1) We continue oil resource wars (whether we call them something else or not) until we destroy the planet.

2) We find a way to work together and solve a common problem all of us Earthlings face.

I am cheering for option two. I don't know if that will happen. I was heartened the other day by an article I found about T. Boone Pickens. Isn't that a great name? Mr. Pickens made his money on oil. Now he is putting his money in wind.

Next month, Pickens' company, Mesa Power, will begin buying land and ordering 2,700 wind turbines that will eventually generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity - the equivalent of building two commercial scale nuclear power plants - enough power for about 1 million homes.

"These are substantial," said Pickens, speaking to students at Georgetown University on Thursday. "They're big."

....Pickens' wind farm is part of his wider vision for replacing natural gas with wind and solar for power generation, and using the natural gas instead to power vehicles.

To picture Pickens' energy strategy, imagine a compass.

Stretching from north to south from Saskatchewan to Texas would be thousands of wind turbines, which could take advantage of some of the best U.S. wind production conditions.

On the east-west axis from Texas to California would be large arrays of solar generation, which could send electricity into growing Southern California cities like Los Angeles.

It will be interesting to watch what humanity decides to do with itself.