Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who Did Jesus Hang Out With?

Here is the text of the sermon I preached today.

Who Did Jesus Hang Out With?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
September 28, 2008

What would Jesus do? WWJD. About a decade ago, evangelical youth began sporting WWJD bracelets. They wore these bracelets so they would be reminded in their daily lives to think about their faith and the teachings of Jesus. It is not a bad idea to connect one’s faith to one’s actions.

Of course folks have had a lot fun with that slogan over the years. What would Jesus eat? What would Jesus drive? How would Jesus vote? At a peace rally, I saw a sign that said Who would Jesus bomb? And the latest I heard over the weekend in response to the woes of the housing lenders: Who would Jesus bailout?

What would Jesus do begs the question, what did Jesus do? Before we ask what we think he might do if he were here today, we should ask what he did when he lived in his time.

Scholars of Christian origins have been working on that for a couple of centuries. For some time scholars have tried to distinguish the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. They have tried to strip away the myth from the man. It hasn’t been easy. Some from a more confessional viewpoint think it is a blasphemous thing to do. For them, doing this kind of study is an attack on faith. We know what he did, they say. The Bible and the creeds tell us: he died on the cross to save us from sin. He rose on the third day and sits at the right hand of God the Father from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Any more questions?

The master narrative of Christian origins that we learned in Sunday School says that Jesus knew this about himself even before his birth and was self-conscious about it throughout his ministry. This narrative asserts that Jesus gave this knowledge to the apostles who passed it down faithfully through the orthodox believers to the present time.

There is even a legend in regards to how the Apostle’s Creed was formed. One day after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the apostles were sitting around together. Peter spoke: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” Then Andrew said, "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord," one after another, the other apostles finished the creed, line by line.

Scholars of Christian origins approach things differently. They have shown us that creeds (including the Apostle’s Creed) developed over centuries, long after any apostles would be around. The creeds and the formation of the New Testament canon was a developing process with no small matter of disagreement and politicking.

This brings us back to Jesus and the Gospels. To what degree was he self-conscious of the mission that the creeds have attributed to him? Even the gospels vary in how they portray Jesus thinking about himself. None of them have Jesus say, “I am the second person of the Trinity.” The very notion of Trinity came at least a century after the New Testament.

Behind the gospels, which are theological proclamations about Jesus, what did Jesus think about himself? What did he say? What did he do? Those have been the guiding questions that scholars have asked in trying to find the person behind the creed.

Some scholars think the quest is rather fruitless. There simply isn’t enough evidence. All we know about Jesus is second hand at best and offered in ancient theological narrative. Thomas Thompson author of The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, has suggested that searching for the historical Jesus is like searching for the historical King Arthur. In both cases, all we have to work with is legend.

Others are a bit more confident that there is a guy lurking there and we can know something about him. The Jesus Seminar, founded by Robert Funk in 1985, set out to isolate sayings and deeds that might have gone back to at least an earlier tradition from which the various Gospels and Paul adopted.

The results of their efforts are found in two books, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? and The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? Both books are in our library. Over the several years of deliberations the scholars wrote papers, debated, and ultimately voted on what sayings and then what actions have the highest probability of connected with the historical figure of Jesus.

When these books were published, there was much sensation in the press and in the church. The scholars were accused of trashing the faith of the church and so forth. On the other hand, the scholars were accused of looking into a mirror and seeing themselves in the portrait of Jesus they discovered. Both critiques, in my opinion, are unfair.

The scholars did their best with integrity. Their work has provided a great service to the church, aside from their particular conclusions. They brought to the public the difference between historical critical study and confessional or pietistic study. They risked going public with their conclusions and deliberations and they wrote and published in language that non-professionals can understand.

They made the scholarly quest for Christian origins popular. Today, I go on the web and I find a whole generation of younger scholars of Christian origins with websites and blogs. They promote their ideas, argue back and forth, and write their books in a language that non-professionals can read. They disagree with and challenge the now “old guys” of the Jesus Seminar. That is good. But that legacy of producing critical scholarship in public and for a popular audience I credit to Bob Funk’s vision.

None of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar would say they found Jesus. History is a matter of probabilities and best guesses. They voted with a four color-coded system: red—most probable, pink—probable, gray—possible but unlikely, and black—unlikely. In the bulletin I included a handout of those sayings and deeds these scholars voted most probable. These are the red letter sayings and actions associated with Jesus from all the early literature about him.

With all of that preamble and disclaimer, the red-letter deeds are a good place to start, to ask the question what did Jesus do and perhaps then to ask what would Jesus do? Then, of course, the most important question: what are we to do?

Jesus associated with sinners. He was criticized for doing so. He made friends and hung out with the outcasts. Who were these folks? The Jesus Seminar suggests that they were the ones who were left behind by the empire’s progress. Whether due to poverty, class, or ethnicity, these people did not reap Empire’s rewards. Jesus shared a common table with them, the highest sign of acceptance and hospitality. You are who you invite for dinner.

What did Jesus do? He ministered to, with, and on behalf of those who were sinners. For the Jesus Seminar, ‘sinners’ was a term of social, not moral, status. Sinners were the outcasts, the non-belongers.

That should be enough for a sermon.

In my first congregation, I took the youth to New York City. We explored around a bit and visited some interesting places that you normally don’t visit when you go to New York. We went to the Bowery and spent time a soup kitchen. It was one of the older soup kitchens that had started during the Depression in the 1930s. It had a chapel. It operated under the same system in which it was founded. Before the homeless could get a meal, they needed to go to the chapel and earn their soup by listening to a sermon. It is not right to give out soup for free.

The idea here is that there is something wrong with these folks. Perhaps if they hear the gospel they’ll get a job. They were most certainly, the sinners. We were seated across the aisle, to protect the kids. We listened to the sermon with them. That day the sermon was given by another youth group. They were from New Jersey, I think. Theirs was an evangelical mission to pass out tracts that contained the plan of salvation. You know that plan, right? Jesus died for your sins and will come to judge the quick and the dead.

For the sermon, the kids acted out some kind of morality play. Here were these wealthy white kids offering the good news. In the pews were men—all men—90% African-American, most with obvious mental illness, many old. Many were crippled. They sat mostly with their heads down. Some looked around. Some muttered to themselves. Some gazed intently at the high school girls.

I thought to myself that a sermon is probably good for folks.

But who else might need to hear a sermon before they eat a meal? Maybe it would be a good idea that before every meal our representatives in congress get to hear a sermon. Nothing fancy or elaborate. Just go down the block from the Capitol in Washington D.C. and bring in a homeless guy to share a few words. He could tell them about what he is doing that day and where slept the night before. He could talk about his childhood and his education in the Washington D.C. school system. He could talk about, if he served, his experience in Vietnam or the Gulf, and how well he adapted to society upon his return. Maybe he could talk about his adolescence and the economic opportunities that are available for young men in the city outside of selling drugs.

Who else could use a sermon? Perhaps the executives at Fannie and Freddie could hear a sermon before we give them their/our 700 billion. That is some expensive soup. Before they eat their 700 billion dollar bowl of soup someone who will help pay for this soup could share her or his testimony. Maybe someone who has lost a home or a job--or someone who will lose their bowl of soup because we are paying for this one--could preach to these executives on greed and the lack of wisdom in making bad loans.

I am sure there are many folks who could use a sermon these days.

I wonder what kind of sermon our four-legged friends would preach to us if we could listen? Perhaps before we eat our next chef’s salad that has traveled 3000 miles to our table, we could hear a sermon from a polar bear. Maybe the polar bear could tell us a little bit about what life is like when her habitat breaks away into the Arctic Sea due to the human influence on our climate.

I am sure there are many folks (two-legged and four-legged) from whom we could hear a sermon these days.

James Crossley is a scholar of Christian origins. He is one of those new generation scholars I referred to earlier. He wrote a book, Why Christianity Happened: A Socio-Historical Account of Christian Origins. In his book, he offers another look at who the sinners are in the gospels. He observes the connection between “tax collectors and sinners” and suggests that the sinners were actually those who exploited the poor, like Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector we find in the gospel of Luke. They were the wickedly wealthy who nobody liked. They were the robber barons and the swindlers and the shysters. They worked for evil Rome. Jesus was criticized by his own people because he associated with them.

That puts a spin on things. That actually gives me a place at the table. Jesus ate meals with the wickedly wealthy. By global standards, neither I nor you are one of the dispossessed and poor on this planet. I would venture that most folks here today would not be considered poor or dispossessed in this country. I won’t make that judgment. I will speak for myself. By global standards, I am wealthy. I hope I am not wickedly wealthy, but just in case, I probably could use a sermon before I eat my next meal.

How should we live? What Would Jesus Do?

What did Jesus do? Well, he ate dinner with people. Apparently, he had no standards. He ate with anyone. He ate with sinners. Whether the sinners are the marginalized poor and social outcasts as the Jesus Seminar understands them, or the wickedly wealthy as James Crossley understands them, in either case, Jesus ate with them. He shared a common table with them all.

Rich or poor, sick or well, Jesus would eat with you. Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, even religious folks. No standards at all. I am sure he shared one of his parables while he was breaking bread with people. My hunch is that the parables were fairly well targeted for his audience. He had a sense of preaching what folks needed to hear whether they thought they needed it or not.

That is what Jesus did. There is nothing really miraculous about it. I don’t know if you can base a religion on it. But it is probably not a bad way to live. Eat with everybody.

One of my favorite preachers is Fred Craddock. He is from East Tennessee. He graduated from Johnston Bible College in Knoxville. He is the emeritus professor of Preaching and New Testament at Candler School of Theology. He is quite a storyteller. You might do yourself a favor and listen to some of his sermons. You can’t read them. You have to listen to them. His voice and inflection is part of the message. He can get a high pitch going. He referred to his own voice as wind whipping through a splinter on an East Tennessee fencepost.

In his sermons he tells stories of his experience as a pastor. This one is from memory on my part. I don’t know if I have all the details correct, but I think I got the point.

Dr. Craddock was invited to a prayer meeting and meal. These were folks who attended his congregation. This group met on a regular basis. Craddock said that they were all of the upwardly mobile crowd. After the meal, they invited him to stay for the prayer meeting. He obliged.

They told him, “We believe that what the Bible says is true. Anything we ask from the Lord in prayer will be given to us.”

They took this seriously. They were an organized group. They had a book that recorded all of the prayer requests they had made for themselves and for each other. They also had a place to record when and how each prayer was answered.

They reviewed the prayer minutes. There were the usual prayers for health and recovery. In addition were other prayers. Some had been answered.
Janie got accepted into Harvard.
Frank closed that successful real estate deal.
The Smith’s had their vacation home remodeled at a price lower than expected.

Some prayers were still awaiting response:
"May the Lord grant Tom wisdom in his stock market investments. Yes, Jesus."
'Help the Jones’s daughter, Susan, find that perfect place for her June wedding reception."
And so on.

When they were finished, they asked Dr. Craddock what he thought about their prayer meeting. It was based on the Bible, wasn’t it?

If it had been me, I would have said, “That’s really cool.” That’s what I would have said.

Dr. Craddock said something else. He said something like this:
  • In the last decade, nearly a billion people have died from malnutrition on Planet Earth.
  • Children lose their limbs and their lives each day stepping on land mines left from old wars...
  • Some people in our own county will spend this winter without heat for their homes.
  • About a mile from here, I know a woman who can’t afford her medications because she lost her job and her healthcare benefits.
The Bible does say, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” Matthew 21:22.

But when the Lord said that do you think he really had in mind your vacation homes, real estate deals, and wedding receptions?

Now, I wouldn’t have said that. Dr. Fred Craddock said that.

But Fred Craddock probably did what Jesus would have done. He ate dinner with sinners.

Welcoming Jesus for dinner is risky business.
We don’t know what kind of sermon we might hear before--or after--we eat.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

But Don't Run With Them...

Here is a little reminder as you go to Sunday School today or to the evening Bible Study:

Those UUs crack me up!

h/t Exploring

Obama Won Debate and Will Win Election

To calm the fears of Obama supporters who thought Obama was too nice and didn't go for the jugular during last night's debate, let me put it to rest. Obama will win because the Republicans don't deserve another term. They have trashed our economy, led us into war on the basis of blatant lies, have let the selfish and greedy prosper at the expense our common good, and have tarnished our international reputation.

Last night, McCain was the face of that legacy. McCain is McBush. You could see it in his body language. He never looked at his opponent. He was contemptuous and sarcastic. That is not a sign of strength or confidence. That is weakness masked by aggressiveness. His leadership will be disastrous on the international scene as he will alienate allies and increase hostilities with those who seek to do us harm. He will continue the reputation of the U.S. as a mafia thug.

Obama on the other hand was respectful. He looked at his opponent. He addressed him by his first name on several occasions. When it was appropriate he agreed with his opponent. He demonstrated the confident, respectful, and mature leadership our nation needs to heal the damage done by eight years of immaturity. He will build allies and will work with the international community and make America respected again.

Some think that Obama needs to sink to McCain's level. I disagree. Obama will win and he will win on his own terms--the terms of dignity, intelligence, cooperation, and decency.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Priest v. Bishop

Thanks to Fred (from Arizona) for this post about initiative 102. First is a video of a Bishop that apparently was played during Mass in all the churches in his diocese. Then Fred posts the text of a homily by a priest who spoke against it and for true justice and decency. The video is creepy, controlling fear-mongering disguised in the language of God, love, justice, and faith.

The homily told the truth:

With regard to last week's DVD presentation about Proposition 102, same sex couples who are the minority in society and want to live in committed relationships, in no way threaten the peace of society or the institution of marriage.

What does threaten the institution of marriage within our state and country and threaten the peace of our society are politicians who think we the voters are so stupid. Their responsibility as elected officials is to work for us on the real issues that are threatening the average family such as:

+ Families who are worried about the rising cost of food in order to feed their families.

+ Families who are struggling to make their house payments.

+ Mothers and fathers who worry if they will have a job tomorrow.

+ The energy crisis, especially regarding the amount of money we pay for a gallon of gas.

+ The budget deficit in this state of $3 billion dollars which takes money away from our educational system thereby denying our children a good education.

+ The lack of affordable health care.

+ The national economy that is in deep trouble.

+ And border security

These are the issues that threaten the basic family unit today.

Who Would Jesus Bailout?

Doug at Witherspoon has published some essays regarding the proposed bailout for Fannie and Freddie. Isn't it interesting how these huge corporate institutions use friendly names for themselves, as if Fannie and Freddie are your next door neighbors? Doug asks what would Jesus do?

Check these essays.

I kind of like this plan (except of course, the math is too good to be true):

Already comes this delightful idea, sent by Witherspooner Bill Coop.

The Birk Economic Recovery Plan

I'm against the $85,000,000,000.00 bailout of AIG.

Instead, I'm in favor of giving $85,000,000,000 to America in a We Deserve It Dividend.

To make the math simple, let's assume there are 200,000,000 bonafide U.S. Citizens 18+.

Our population is about 301,000,000 +/- counting every man, woman and child.

So 200,000,000 might be a fair stab at adults 18 and up..

So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $850 billon that equals $425,000.00.

My plan is to give $425,000 to every person 18+ as a We Deserve It Dividend.

The rest of the plan >>

Heresies Distressed

A commenter, Grace, and I have been talking circles around each other on this post, Make No Vow. It got a little sharp at the end when Grace asserted:
What you're doing is morally, and ethically wrong. And, not all are blind to see it.

You're using your position of trust, and authority, mouthing traditional sounding terminology, to introduce a radically different faith into the structure of the church, using the resources of the PCUSA.
I give her a point for bluntness. I think this is worth some discussion. I have heard this general observation (in this case criticism) from a variety of sources within our denomination. We use the same words but we don't mean the same thing.

While I don't think I am morally or ethically wrong, I can understand how evangelicals see it that way. We put a lot of effort in attaching a particular meaning to religious symbols. We look at a cross and we know what that means. We sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" and we know what that means. We participate in communion and we know what that means. We affirm that God created heaven and earth and we know what that means. The Bible is the word of God we say and we know what that means as well.

Or do we? We have invested meaning in these symbols, stories, hymns, and rites to the degree that we often cannot distinguish the symbol from the meaning, until someone comes along and offers a different interpretation. More often than not, that interpretation is upsetting, at least initially.

The task of theology is the interpretation of religious symbols. It has been its task since our ancestors made statues of the Earth Goddess (and probably long before that). Why are there so many different religions and denominations and differing views among people of the same denomination? It is because we are constantly reinterpreting symbols in our search for meaning. And we don't always see things in the same way.

Evangelical (or orthodox, I guess) folks believe in the "master narrative" of Christian history. According to this narrative, there was a time in which the essence of faith was pure. The truth of God was revealed perfectly. This was the time of the Apostles who got the real thing from Jesus and passed it on faithfully through the orthodox believers. From the perspective of the master narrative, theology is largely an exercise in keeping the story straight from the heretics on both the left and the right who keep messing it up. Innovation is wrong. Reinterpretation is not only an error, but of the devil.

This narrative continues through the Reformers, particularly Calvin. For Reformed thinkers, Calvin's theology is pure theology. He swept away (which was for him) all the papist nonsense that accumulated through the centuries and went back to the Bible, to the apostles, to the real thing. Calvin is the icon of Reformed Theology. If we want to be truly Reformed, we must believe as Calvin believed (or pretty darn close).

Evangelicals believe that this master narrative of Christian origins is the truth. So, when scholars criticize the validity of the master narrative (and show that it is an orthodox fiction), introduce higher criticism, embrace modern cosmology and evolution, study and compare Christianity with other religions, and on and on, evangelicals have a lot of heretics with whom to do battle. I don't envy their task.

For them, like Grace, religious symbols have a particular meaning that has been preserved by the master narrative of Christian history. By interpreting them for the 21st century, I am "introducing a radically different faith into the structure of the church." I am messing it up. Oh, and the Jesus Seminar is too. And that Bishop Spong. And feminists. And the liberation theologians. And Charles Darwin and his Darwinists. And the enemy list gets longer and longer.

I feel for Grace and for those in the PC(U.S.A.) who feel the need to put all their energies into securing church property, breaking away, or trying to change the church bureaucracy to keep the gospel pure. I feel for you but I am not interested in changing church structures to make you happy.

We have bigger issues. Ecology, Economy, War and Peace. It would be nice if the church would put its energies into helping out a bit there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Earthling's Creed

Do you ever find yourself stepping back from it all and saying to yourself, "What an interesting thing it is to be alive?" At least once per week, and sometimes more frequently than that, I find myself puzzling over my very existence.

Joseph Campbell said that the first conscious human thought was one of delight: "I am!" The next thought was one of despair: "I will not be." Perhaps that is the cause for religion. We cannot seem to bear the realization that we will one day not be.

We think somehow it is not right or just that we will not be. It is not fair. There must be more. Perhaps complex religious systems and philosophies developed to help us cope with the anxiety we feel over our eventual demise.

It is rather childish, isn't it, to demand fairness regarding this? Resurrection, reincarnation, or whatever other beyond the grave hopes that are out there to try to make it all "fair." I suppose at some level these theories work for some people for a while. It might have been easier for some to accept the truth of these theories when we lived in a conceptual universe in which they might possibly be true.

Regardless of whether or not it might have been easier to believe these things at some time the need for these theories seems to be the interesting question. Why do we think that we deserve more than we actually get? Why do we think we need to exist beyond our natural limitations?

Perhaps somewhere along our evolutionary path, humans who asked why ended up being more suitable for survival. Or perhaps this anxiety was a byproduct of consciousness. I don't know the answer as to why we think we need or deserve to continue our existence beyond death.

I do think that it is time, for our own sakes and for the sake of Earth, that we let go of this childish and selfish need. We don't have to feel anxiety about not being. We could accept that this is what it is. Then we could go back to delight: "I am." I am not forever, but for now. Isn't that great!

Some suggest that if we don't have hopes of afterlife or transcendent deities that our lives have no meaning. As I have explored these theories, I am not sure I find them particularly satisfying or meaningful. Do I really want to be reincarnated again and again and again? Do I really want to live forever in heaven? What would I do? "After ten thousand years bright shining as the sun" I'll be ready to check out.

My meaning and my satisfaction are very Earthbound. I have perhaps another minute, perhaps not enough time to finish this sentence, or I have perhaps another 40 years or somewhere in between to live--to be. Then at some point, all will pass: all my worries, all my joys, all gone. I have whatever time I have left to be.

So, how will I be? How will I experience this magnificent gift of being? I am going to be awake and aware as I can. I am going to delight in it. I am going to marvel at the absurdity of my existence. I am not going to spend too much time trying to figure out why I am here, but rather, be aware that I am. According to the ancient psalmist, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

I am not so sure about "the Lord" part, but I appreciate the sentiment of delight and acceptance for what is, here and now. I am going to delight in all of Earth's beings. Why not? And because I find it satisfying and meaningful I am going to do whatever I can to help other beings, two-leggeds and four-leggeds, also rejoice and be glad in this day.

Not only that, I am going to do good work, because it is meaningful and satisfying to me, for those who will come after me: the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds and the multi-leggeds and the finned ones and the winged ones. I have decided that my good work is a part of our great work at this point in history: to regard Earth and all that is within it as a sacred trust. Earth is a sacred, holy trust. Every atom of it is a sacrament. As such, I commit myself to the holy, sacred work of honoring it and preserving it for our future generations.

No after life for me. No need of it. No need to be any more than an Earthling.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Smarty Preachers

I am a team member for Presbyterian Bloggers. I made a post today that is something I stole from Lark. We preachers (me foremost among them) tend to use the pulpit (quite by accident of course) to show off how smart we think we are. You'll like this:

SAN BERNARDINO — Pastor John Rainey's sermons have become virtually unintelligible as he constantly references Greek and Hebrew definitions, say parishioners at Oak Creek Presbyterian. On a recent Sunday, only 20 percent of Rainey's sermon was in English.

"We were scratching our heads the whole time," says one member. "I thought I understood the passage before, but when he got done explaining it, I was lost."

During the sermon, Rainey read a passage from Obadiah and said, "The word used for 'provision' is the Greek 'kupkos', or 'chabed' in the Hebrew, meaning 'oikenatilus' or literally 'havet am rabed alshallai.' The original tells us, 'Kepkus oikenate dunamis rikesa,' a fascinating word construction, meaning not just once but continually, or, 'Akinitus kre dormitaron,' which corresponds to, 'Shevet ahim gamyahad.' If I may put it this way, 'Gelli toheron basmat evit yarna, khom harde dir shalom ette ramen novar chemyon.' Amen?" (Read More)

Earth as Sacred Community

We are reading Thomas Berry's Evening Thoughts: Earth As Sacred Community during our Thursdays with Jesus study group. If you are near our sacred mountain, join us every Thursday from 10:30 until noon.

This is an insightful book. His ideas resonate with me. Evening Thoughts is a collection of essays regarding Earth and the place of the human. "The Place of the Human" is the title of the essay we will discuss tomorrow. He begins:

How and why did our present devastation of the Earth happen? How did Western civilization, deriving as it does from a biblical Christian humanist matrix, provide the basis for the aggressive commercial industrial culture that grew from it? How has industrial culture led to the catastrophic processes we witness at the present time? We might consider these questions in terms of the six transcendences that have made us vulnerable to such forms of development over the centuries.
He goes on to describe the six transcendences. I will offer each with a brief description.
  1. a transcendent, personal, monotheistic, creative deity. A transcendent patriarchal deity outside of the phenomenal world has served to "desacralize the phenomenal world." Berry suggests that "the first commandment might read: 'Thou shalt not have an Earth Mother.'" We treat the phenomenal world with less reverence than those cultures in which there is a "sacred dimension to trees, to rivers, and to the whole of creation."
  2. the spiritual nature of the human. We do not form a single society with this world. We do not belong to this world and are detached from it. The material world loses its sacred dimension.
  3. the primacy of our belief in redemption. We are not for this world but belong to some transcendent world. We need redemption from the material world itself.
  4. the transcendence of mind. This is the result of Descarte's separating the mind from the material world. Until Descartes, each living being was an ensouled being. After Descartes, each living being is a mechanism.
  5. our transcendent technology. With technology, humans are able to transcend their natural limits. "We can preserve life. We can delay death. We can extinguish other life forms."
  6. a transcendent historical destiny for humans. Our destiny is in some other world. This is so much the case that "religious believers in our society have shown little concern for the integrity and survival of this world. Only such disdain for this world could have so diminished our concern for what is happening here that we would accept the extinguishing of living forms on such a scale that it could only be equaled by the extinction at the end of the Mesozoic period some 65 million years ago."
He goes on to say that "the controlling force of modern civilization that has brought us to where we are is the complex of industrial corporations that developed throughout Western civilization in the twentieth century. "

Berry says we need a realistic evaluation of the vision of the industrial world and an alternative vision. We cannot sustain this way of life. But we cannot seem to give it up.

The industrial world has a dark side that its creators did not foresee. But we see it. We cannot maintain it financially. Earth does not have the petrochemical resources to sustain it.

He writes: "All the oil in Alaska will not keep the United States going for more than a few years."

So how do we envision our future?

The natural world itself is the primary economic reality, the primary educator, the primary governance, the primary healer, the primary presence of the sacred, the primary moral value.
He concludes this essay with the preamble of the Earth Charter:
Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life's evolution.
According to the charter: "The protection of Earth's vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust."

That sacred trust says Berry is

"the counterpoint to the particular transcendences outlined in this chapter. With the emergence of this alternative biocracy, the conditions for the sustainability of life systems can be established."
It is pleasing to read someone who resonates with your way of thinking. What he says so eloquently is what I have been trying to say. Our religion, our education, our governance, our meaning and purpose must be connected with Earth and our future. Earth is our home. Earth is sacred.

Packaged for Consumption

I read two interesting blogs this morning. NT Wrong's The Resurrection of Jesus as Mass Hallucination and Drew's The Political Simulacrum of Sarah Palin.

N.T. Wrong makes the case that the resurrection sightings were the result of the literary device of mass hallucination. He cites several examples and concludes:

The most plausible explanation for the accounts of the sightings of Jesus, therefore, is that they derive from individual vision reports, which over time have been transformed into reports of mass sightings of Jesus. Such an explanation has the support of comparative historiographical evidence, and persuasively accounts for the evidence we find in the New Testament.
I think that is good fun especially since the church has sold its soul for the pottage of historicism. In other words, the church bases its truth claims on the supposed fact that the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus is an historical event.

The curious thing is that it has worked. The church has duped 100s of millions of people over the past 1700 years with its ridiculous claims. Now I am not against stories. I tell tales myself. But when we think that there really are monsters hiding in the closet (and we don't mean it in a metaphorical sense) it's time for some medication.

Yet the church in dead seriousness continues to delude itself and others about this. They expand their empires convincing people that their tales are "really" true.

The result has been the packaging of Jesus as the real god/man, the only god/man, the god/man you can trust to lead your nation to war against its enemies. Give your life to the Empire (whom Jesus blesses--God Bless America and all) and spend eternity in heaven! Rape Earth today, go to Heaven tomorrow. Can't beat that deal.

Since Constantine saw his vision of the conquering Christ on the Milvian Bridge, the church has been good medicine for empire-building and for war. As legend has it, Christ told Constantine, "Under this sign, conquer." The sign was the cross. Christ and Empire make a resilient couple. Yet Christ is a total fabrication. The church has packaged Jesus as the conquering saving Christ for whichever Empire it wishes to serve and for its own good. It is all package, no substance.

The Jesus of the Gospels, let alone the elusive historical person, has nothing in common with this conquering Christ. The Nicene Creed under Constantine's direction united Christianity under one myth. Jesus in the creed does nothing. There is no person there. It is a myth--a fictional package.
Yet the church has a proven success rate of selling that fictional package.

Packaging is also part of the political process, of course. Candidates are packaged and imaged for our consumption. We know that. But usually, we have some recourse to the real person behind the package.

Drew suggests that Sarah Palin is a product image for America. She is shielded from the press and an unknown in the political world. Drew concludes:

Here we have a simulacrum of a political agent. She is thus far only an image of a political persona. The reality is that her image construction does not seem to be grounded in the reality of her true self. While many of us know this to be true, many of us also refuse to acknowledge or accept that Sarah Palin is a ruse intended to symbolize something that does not really even exist....

Hence, the choice for Sarah Palin is an image without referent - a simulacrum of an ideal that appeals to a specific brand of voter. She is a brand image and nothing more. A ruse intended to get your business. She is an advertisement for a carnival alchemist who can magically heal your cultural ills with a tonic that has no healing properties at all.

Neither the image of Sarah Palin nor the image of Constantine's Christ exist as realities. They are images: not the real Sarah; not the real Jesus. America is being invited once again to buy the package of Christ and Empire.

Palin provides the link to the religious voter that McCain alone couldn't deliver. That Christian link is crucial for the Christ and Empire image to work.
The McCain/Palin ticket combines neocon empire-building with the blessing of the Christian God. Under this sign, conquer.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

October Quiz on Bible and Jive

I just posted the October synopsis and quiz for our Bible cover to cover quest. Here is the synopsis and here is the quiz. Good luck.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Confronting Homophobia At ETSU

This article was posted on the website of the ETSU student newspaper, The East Tennessean. This story is written from the perspective of a student who was in his words 'interrogated' by the housing department because his roommate learned he was gay. Read this well-written article:
Campus living is an integral part of the total educational experience at East Tennessee State University. On-campus living offers a wealth of opportunities for residents to experience individual growth and development. The staff of the Department of Housing and Residence Life at East Tennessee State University welcomes the unique opportunity of providing residents with activities that increase their understanding of diversity and enhance their social and emotional well-being. - The Department of Housing Mission Statement,

The above paragraph is a lie. Promising "total educational experience" and offering "individual growth and development," the Department of Housing is in actuality a much weaker advocate of its own mission statement than I am.

My rancor with Housing began a week after meeting a former roommate, who complained to Housing he could not live with me on the grounds he knew I was gay "by the end of our first conversation."

How horrific.

One would think the Housing Department would never succumb to a homophobe's desires. Hmm, one would assume the Housing Department should ponder, "Let's tell this dogmatist to try living with Mr. Smith for a couple of days. Maybe exposure to someone else's different background would do him some good. Hell, it may even emulate our mission statement of increasing understanding of diversity!"

Not quite the mental process that occurred, I am afraid. Instead, it seemed Housing cared more for appeasing homophobia than insuring diversity.

A week after my first and only conversation with my former roommate, I received a request from Housing to meet with a housing official. I walked inside Burgin Dossett, passed the disheartening line of people surrounding Financial Aid, and met with them. The official informed me that my roommate did not want to live with me, and he proceeded to interrogate me to "better understand the situation" because the pieces apparently didn't seem to fit.

Was I being forward with my former roommate? No. I told the official I was gay because I was creepily asked if I was a "lady's man."

Was I trying to make my roommate uncomfortable? No, and to be honest, narrow-mindedness would be the only source of discomfort.

Was I trying to scare my roommate off and keep the room to myself? Uh, no! I was not being manipulative in any way, and I do not appreciate being accused of using my identity as a weapon, sir.

To go through such a barrage of questioning is insulting. I understand ascertaining the situation, but why is it that Housing did not understand its own actions as being rather sloppy and one-sided? I did nothing wrong. I had no cruel intent.

Why should I be the one to undergo a series of implications as if I were the one who had a problem? I ask these questions now because they were not answered when I asked them then. I could not explain from any angle to the housing official why I felt discriminated against.

Let's say I had a different skin color or a different religion and my roommate had a problem with either. "I can't live with this person because he is black," would be a crude example. Would it be just as easy for someone to go to Housing and get his or her way? I highly doubted it before my own experience; now, I cannot comfortably say that Housing would deny a racist or a bigot another room. (Read More)
Homophobia is a reality to be sure in East Tennessee. Thankfully, students like Mr. Smith and advocacy groups like PFLAG Tri-Cities, The Tennessee Equality Project (a new chapter is forming in the Tri-Cities), and the ETSU Office of Diversity are speaking out for positive change.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

International Day of Peace

September 21 has been designated by the U.N. as the International Day of Peace.

Since its inception, Peace Day has marked our personal and planetary progress toward peace. It has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organized to commemorate and celebrate this day. Events range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums where hundreds of thousands of people participate.

Anyone, anywhere can celebrate Peace Day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at noon, or just sitting in silent meditation. Or it can involve getting your co-workers, organization, community or government engaged in a large event. The impact if millions of people in all parts of the world, coming together for one day of peace, is immense.

Check out the website for ideas. Peace, my friends.

Make No Vow

The amendments to the Book of Order are listed on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) site in pdf. The one that will generate the most conversation is Amendment B. I plan to vote for it, of course. See the sidebar for resources regarding it.

I plan to vote for all of the amendments (except Amendment A). This is the "vows for membership" addition to G-5.0200:

“2. Membership Vows
“After new members are examined, affirming their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and are received by the session, whether by profession of faith, certificate of transfer, or reaffirmation of faith, they shall be presented to and welcomed by the congregation during a service of worship where they shall make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as do confirmands (W-4.2003a, b, and c).”

Granted, the original proposal considered by the General Assembly was more restrictive. I posted about it here, Making Certain Fewer People Can Join Your Church.

As I posted earlier, this amendment started when a congregation was taken to church court for admitting to membership an individual who I would describe as progressive. He had legitimate questions about theological language.

This "vow" amendment is to make sure his kind don't darken the doors of any church.

Conservative churches can and do make all kinds of rules about who will join their congregations. I don't particularly care. So why do they care when progressive congregations welcome people into their congregations?

Answer: because they are controlling and have antiquated theological views to which they demand everyone subscribes.

I hear a common theme among those who come to my congregation. It goes something like this:

"I would never go to any church, but I like yours because you don't tell me how I have to believe."

We appeal to those who don't want to be forced to repeat theological language that lacks meaning. This "vow" amendment is designed to keep progressive congregations from growing. It is a bullying amendment.

Check this article in the Pew Forum, "Unaffiliated" Show Biggest Change Among U.S. Faith Groups.

Americans who aren't part of a religious organization or who identify as an atheist or an agnostic represent the biggest change among U.S. religious groups, according to a study released Monday (Feb. 25) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates that about 16 percent of America's 225 million adults are unaffiliated with a religion.

When "childhood religion" is compared against "current religion," the unaffiliated show a net increase of 8.8 percentage points, compared to a 7.5 point loss among Catholics, for example, or a 2.6 percent loss among Protestants.

The study, however, also makes it clear that the "unaffiliated" aren't necessarily living out a strictly secular life.

"There is a sizeable number of Americans who are not affiliated with any particular religious group but who nonetheless have religious beliefs or engage in a variety of religious practices," the study said.

Among the "unaffiliated," only about a quarter identified themselves as non-believers (atheists or agnostics). The remaining three-quarters were those who reported "nothing in particular" when asked about their religious affiliation.

Barry Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture in Hartford, Conn., said many Americans are unaffiliated simply because they are dissatisfied with the current religious offerings. (Read More)

Presbyterians, like most mainline congregations, lose their young people not to fundamentalist mega-churches as much as to nothing. These open-minded people don't like to be told what and how to believe.

St. Andrews Presbyterian (the congregation taken to church court) is one of many progressive congregations that is reaching the unaffiliated. We do too. You don't reach this group with dogma and the forced recitation of theological slogans.

I hope that you moderates, even though you may disagree with me on theological issues, will vote against this amendment. You don't have to reach this population if you don't want to do so. Please don't hinder us from reaching them.

Gospel Porn

I have never read (nor even heard of) the magazine Gospel Today. Apparently, I should. It is a big hit among evangelicals.

Except not this month. This current issue is being pulled from shelves of Christian bookstores so that the children won't see it. According to the publisher:

“They basically treated it like pornography and put it behind the counter,” she said. “Unless a person goes into the store and asks for it, they won’t see it displayed.”
Juicy? A racy cover?
A little soft-core gospel porn? A scantilly-dressed Christian music star showing skin for sexually confused teenage boys who think it is the Holy Spirit who sends them into rapture? Maybe a bare-chested gospel stud who's gone gay? Nope. Nothing of the kind.

The current issue of Gospel Today features clergy women on the cover, dressed in black with high collars. For the Southern Baptists, that is downright devilish. Might as well be porn.

According to an AP article in today's Johnson City Press:

The five women on the cover are dressed in black and smiling — not an uncommon strategy for selling magazines.

But these cover girls are women of the cloth, featured in Gospel Today magazine’s latest issue, which the Southern Baptist Convention has pulled from the shelves at its bookstores, though the magazine is available for sale upon request.

The group says women pastors go against its beliefs, according to its interpretation of the New Testament.

I do love the Southern Baptists. You can't make this up.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do People Learn This in Church?

A letter to the editor in the Bristol Herald-Courier:

It doesn’t matter how much dirt anyone digs up or how much mud they sling at John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Whomever God wants in the White House is who will be there. No one is above God. No one can change God’s plan.

All right, theologians. Have at it.

Clergy For Obama

We are Clergy for Obama.

We believe in Barack Obama’s ability to change this country we love so dearly; more importantly, we believe in our ability to be the change.

We believe in our ability to create a country where:
  • all children have nourishing food
  • the sick can find affordable healthcare
  • our young adults have real opportunities and a future they can trust
  • the elderly live securely and in community
  • women and men have choices about their private lives
  • armed conflict is a last resort, not a substitute for diplomacy
Together we believe in our ability to move this country
  • to a politics of hope
  • to a deep regard for the life of the planet and care for all creation
  • to an investment in programs that work to end poverty
  • to equal pay for equal work
We are children of God.
We are citizens of the United States of America.
We believe now is the time for change.

We are Clergy for Obama

Sign here.

This is NOT an endorsement from the pulpit. You are speaking for yourself, out of your faith and other commitments.

View the signatures here.

Alaskans Against Palin

Alaskans came out in droves to say that Sarah Palin does not speak for them. According to Mudflats:

Never, have I seen anything like it in my 17 and a half years living in Anchorage. The organizers had someone walk the rally with a counter, and they clicked off well over 1400 people (not including the 90 counter-demonstrators). This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state. (Read More)

Freeway Blogger Texts Portland

Here are the latest pics of the activities of the notorious freeway blogger making his way up the west coast.

I'm liking this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Am Going to Vote for Palin (just for the youtubes)

Sarah gets possessed by Satan then talks to Jesus.

All is well.

PFLAG Tri-Cities Meets Tonight

We have a new meeting place!

We will meet in Room 202 of Sam Wilson Hall on the ETSU Campus. If you go to the ETSU Interactive Map, Sam Wilson is building #11.

If you go down State of Franklin from the East, you will pass the minidome on the left, then turn left. You could park in the in front of Warf-Pickel and walk, or find a spot near Sam Wilson.

We meet tonight, Thursday, September 18th at 7 p.m.!

The topic, appropriate for "coming out day" is the following:

"We have decided to discuss "coming out" as a process. We plan to emphasize that it is not only an LGBT person who comes out, but also it is subsequently the family that does. And so the process or "stages" of coming out apply to family as well."

For more about PFLAG Tri-Cities check our webpage and blog.

Look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Power of Misinformation

A First Presby alerted me to this article: There's No Arguing With Conservatives...No Seriously, Scientific Studies Prove It. A study reported in the Washington Post shows that refuting misinformation not only does not set the truth free, it makes the true believers even more recalcitrant. I followed the link to the Washington Post:

Have you seen the photo of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin brandishing a rifle while wearing a U.S. flag bikini? Have you read the e-mail saying Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was sworn into the U.S. Senate with his hand placed on the Koran? Both are fabricated -- and are among the hottest pieces of misinformation in circulation.

As the presidential campaign heats up, intense efforts are underway to debunk rumors and misinformation. Nearly all these efforts rest on the assumption that good information is the antidote to misinformation.

But a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunked -- even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.

Here is what they found:
Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse....

Reifler questioned attempts to debunk rumors and misinformation on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives: "Sarah Palin says she was against the Bridge to Nowhere," he said, referring to the pork-barrel project Palin once supported before she reversed herself. "Sending those corrections to committed Republicans is not going to be effective, and they in fact may come to believe even more strongly that she was always against the Bridge to Nowhere."
Liberals are also prone to misinformation.
Bullock found a similar effect when it came to misinformation about abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Volunteers were shown a Newsweek report that suggested a Koran had been flushed down a toilet, followed by a retraction by the magazine. Where 56 percent of Democrats had disapproved of detainee treatment before they were misinformed about the Koran incident, 78 percent disapproved afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval dropped back only to 68 percent -- showing that misinformation continued to affect the attitudes of Democrats even after they knew the information was false.
However, while both liberals and conservatives are prone to this "backfire effect" the study shows that conservatives are more likely to be unwavering:
In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.
So how do liberals deal with this? Dan Sweeney of the Huffington Post offers this advice:
When arguing with conservatives in front of on-the-fence independents, remember that you're not trying to convince the conservative to actually buy into silly notions like facts and reason. You're highlighting the differences between left and right for the outside observer. If the other guy insists on political views that belong only in Disney World's Fantasyland, other folks will realize what's happening. But if there is no third party, do yourself a favor and save your breath. As the study demonstrates, you're only making matters worse.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Authority of the Bible

Fred is generating a few comments from a fine post: The Real Authority of the Bible. Pay him a visit.

Fred quotes Kenneth Cauthen's two principles of interpretation:

  1. No Christian allows the Bible to teach as the authoritative word of God what is known or believed (for whatever reasons) to be either untrue or immoral.
  2. Every Christian finds what the Bible teaches as the authoritative word of God to be identical or congruent with what is known or believed (for whatever reasons) to be true and right.
Fred's post reminded me of what Hal Taussig pointed out at our Jesus Seminar on the Road.

The reason we find the canonical stories "normal" and the extra-canonical stories "weird" is because we have had 2000 years to domesticate the Bible. The canon is pretty weird when we read some of what it actually says. Hal pointed to this example:

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can. Matthew 19:12
Those who claim to follow the Bible as the authoritative word of God will undoubtedly find a clever way around that one.

But regarding issues for which they already have prejudices (ie. against homosexuals, for instance) passages that apparently condemn them are etched in stone.

Davis Still Whining

Soon to be former Congressman David Davis is still complaining about the injustice of the Republican primary that ousted him last month. In today's Johnson City Press, Davis refers to the Tennessee Democratic Party's invalidation of Rosalind Kurita's victory as proof that he has been picked on unfairly. According to Davis, hordes of Democrats put on pinstripes and golf caps and voted Republican just to boot him.

Actually, I think a lot of Dems did. Hee hee. Too bad.

Read the saga, here, here, and here.

Poor Dave. He still doesn't get it.
  • when you are ranked 430 out of 435 in terms of effectiveness,
  • when you (the incumbent) are so bad that Republicans won't even vote for you in your own primary,
  • when you don't represent the people of your district...
you should be embarrassed. Your face is covered with crusty egg yolk right now. Look at yourself.

Nope. No vindication for you, Dave.

But, Jesus still loves you. Jesus loves everyone. Maybe you'll get elected deacon at your church.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Response to Ike

April DeConick who teaches at Rice University in Houston and blogs at Forbidden Gospels is back on-line after the hurricane. Her report is of great devastation--more than the media has described. Check her latest post, After Ike in Houston:
The Bolivar peninsula communities have been wiped out. Literally there is one house left standing among miles of flooded rumble. Reports that are seeping out of Galveston are bad. 20,000 people did not evacuate but stayed in their homes, and so far only 2000 survivors have been recovered.
Check Presbyterian Disaster Assistance reports on the relief effort and how you can help. Here is a report and pictures posted today from volunteer PDA national team member, Harvey Howell:
First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, is one in a network of congregations partnering with BCFS in the San Antonio area sheltering evacuees.Congregation members offer more than a building and lights. They are showing Christ's love to families escaping from the devastation left by Ike.

Freeway Blogger Strikes Again

From the Freeway Blogger:
Over the last four years I've put over 4,000 signs against the war on the freeways of California and the western United States.

Because when you put a sign up next to a freeway, people will read it until somebody takes it down.
The Freeway Blogger is busy in California. S/he blogs about it on Tales of the Freeway Blogger.

There are many places longing for a creative person to place a peace sign.

On the blog you will find pics of signs along the freeways and cool quotes to go with the pics like,

"It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth."

During September, the Freeway Blogger is on a peace tour of the West Coast.

The Freeway Blogger invites you to join in the effort, take pics of peace and post peace!! You can send pics to freewayblogger at yahoo dot com.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

We are so sorry, Mr. Darwin

The Church of England has apologized to Charles Darwin. This is from the Telegraph:

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas. It will call "anti-evolutionary fervour" an "indictment" on the Church".

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin's views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church's director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin's theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo's astronomy in the 17th century.

It has been reported that Charles Darwin upon hearing the news spent the day gloating in heaven and playing this song by Brenda Lee over and over again.

h/t Stushie