Shuck and Jive

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Jesus Project

Not to be confused with the Jesus Film Project, the Jesus Project asks the provocative question:

What if ...
the most influential man in human history never lived?

So what is the Jesus Project? Scholars with a wide variety of expertise are meeting to sift through the historical evidence to see if there truly be a man beneath the myths. Here is an introduction to the project by Joseph Hoffman:

The Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk of the University of Montana, was famous for all the wrong reasons—its voting method (marbles), the grandstanding of some of its members, the public style of its meetings, even its openly defiant stance against the claims of miracles in the Gospels—including the resurrection of Jesus. Except for the marbles, none of this was new. The use of additional sources, such as Gnostic and apocryphal gospels, to create a fuller picture of the Jesus-tradition and the focus on context as though it provided content were at least innovative. But the Jesus who emerged from these scholarly travails was so diminished that—as I wrote in a FREE INQUIRY article in 1993—he could not exist apart from his makers: “The Jesus of the [Jesus Seminar] is a talking doll with a questionable repertoire of thirty-one sayings. Pull a string and he blesses the poor.”
OK, a little snarky with my buds at the Jesus Seminar. They can take it. Go on.
What the Seminar had tacitly acknowledged without acknowledging the corollary is that over 80 percent of “Jesus” had been fictionalized by the Gospel writers. That is to say that, if we are to judge a man’s life by his sayings, the greater portion of the literary artifacts known as the Gospels is fictional. If we are to judge by actions, then what actions survived historical criticism? Not the virgin birth, or the Transfiguration, or the healing of the sick, or the purely magical feats such as Cana, or the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The Resurrection had quietly been sent to the attic by theologians in the nineteenth century.
So what's the project?
The Jesus Project, as CSER has named the new effort, is the first methodologically agnostic approach to the question of Jesus’ historical existence....

We regard previous attempts to rule the question out of court as vestiges of a time when the Church controlled the boundaries of permissible inquiry into its sacred books. More directly, we regard the question of the historical Jesus as a testable hypothesis, and we are committed to no prior conclusions about the outcome of our inquiry. This is a statement of our principles, and we intend to stick to them.
Cool. This will be fun.

The critique of the Jesus Seminar is that they didn't go far enough. They were harangued for being too liberal when they were probably too conservative. They came up with a database of sayings and deeds that they thought could be attributed to Jesus. Various portraits of Jesus were constructed from this database. Some critics said the portraits (consciously or unconsciously) came first and the database later.

I have been mulling over the question of Jesus for some time. Here are a few of my conclusions:
  1. Searching for the historical Jesus is like searching for the historical King Arthur. All we have are legends. Call it the Christ of Faith if you like. You can find literary antecedents for all of the stories about him.
  2. He may have existed. He may not have existed. We can't know. All the tales and portraits about him served the theological purposes of the tellers and the artists. From the perspective of history, one is no more likely than any other. Why? Because no one is home. We can't know the real guy or even if there was a guy. Comparing any portrait to nothing gives you nothing but the portrait.
  3. I think the various historical Jesus portraits are as fictional as Mark's Jesus as well as that of all the other gospel writers, Paul, and those whose portraits of Jesus were later considered "unorthodox."
  4. The historical study gives us insight into the times in which the constructs were made. We can learn about the storytellers, but nothing about the main character of these stories.
Now what? Jesus is going to be with us for a long time. He is not an historical figure. He is a spiritual icon. He is the symbol for our longing. He is both the inspiration and the justification for our actions. He is the cause of war, exclusion, and hell. He is the cause of non-violence, inclusion and the realm of God.

He is what you want him to be. I like the "historical" Jesus. More precisely, I like the Jesus Seminar's Jesus. If it is all construct (and it is), then pick one you like. It is all myth. Pick a myth that works.

April DeConick has been blogging about the Jesus Project and the Jesus Seminar. She is offering a critique of the methodology of the historical Jesus questers, including the Jesus Seminar. It is a good read. I wrote there that regardless of method, I like the theology behind the Jesus Seminar's Jesus.

I like that poet/rebel/healer/fighter for peace and justice who sticks it to the man. He lives his integrity to the death and thus inspires change and hope.

Someone might say, well why do you need Jesus then? My answer is you don't need him. You don't need Hamlet either. You don't need King Arthur. You don't need Abraham or Mary Magdalene, Buddha, Krishna or anyone else. But you have them. We got Jesus, boy howdy, do we got Jesus. So let's make the best of him.

For those who "believe" he is a symbol or metaphor for our highest virtue. Find your Jesus and you will find yourself.

February White Spire is On Your Computer Now!

The February White Spire is on line. Get your fix of news from your favorite progressive congregation in East Tennessee! Items include
  1. The Inter-connectedness of all things--how to make a difference for peace.
  2. The Appalachia Service Project (ten of our youth will be fixing homes this summer)
  3. A schedule for reading the Qur'an cover to cover in 2009
  4. An explanation of the new G-6.0106b from More Light Presbyterians and
  5. an invitation to participate in our presbytery's discussion on February 8th
  6. and more of the usual bleeding heart, liberal peace and justice claptrap you expect from us.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Women in the Pulpit (in Johnson City) has a story about my colleague, Rev. Michelle Buckles, pastor of the 500 member Cherokee United Methodist Church in Johnson City. I go to that church a lot as that is where the Cokesbury bookstore is located. Shout out to Jan!

On to the story:

“One afternoon in the sanctuary just in prayer that I felt a call to ministry and I was scared to death,“ said Rev. Michelle Buckles, Pastor at Cherokee United Methodist Church in Johnson City. She was scared to death because she knew she was about to join a calling not known to many women. “I’d only had one or two models for that in the church that I grew up,“ said Buckles.

Her journey has not been easy. When she interviewed for her first Associate Pastor position in Georgia, the Personnel Chairperson questioned her ability as a woman to server as pastor. “Let’s suppose you get pregnant, and let’s suppose that you deliver early and you’re not even able to stay with us the full term you thought you would be able to,“ said Rev. Buckles.

Nearly two years ago, Doctor Randy Frye appointed her as head pastor of the 500 member Cherokee United Methodist Church. “She didn’t determine her gender, but she felt god’s call,“ said Dr. Frye. As the Superintendent for the United Methodist Church in the Johnson City district, he is working to help women break the stained glass ceiling. “We are a part of the bible belt, the south…in other areas of the united states..women have served in large pulpits for a long time, but we’ve been slower to move in that direction,“ said Dr. Frye.

About one fifth of the clergy members in Dr. Frye’s district are women. Compare that to the number of women attending the services, and you’ve got a major discrepancy. “The irony is in many of our churches the women are in most of the leadership positions…except for pastor,“ said Dr. Frye. But, perhaps, a new generation for women will see that position, after seeing Rev. Buckles and her nine fellow female pastors on Sundays. “Now they understand, that if they feel a call to ministry, that it’s possible,“ said Rev. Buckles.

Check the video for more.

"What if you get pregnant?"

Nope. Can't say I have been asked that question in an interview. Congratulations, Rev. Buckles. So glad your are here!

Stanley's Ideologically Driven Ignorance

The right wing wants to take away your family's rights. It is unbelievable how these people are so ideologically driven by prejudice and ignorance. Fight back. This is from the Tennessee Equality Project:
Tennessee Equality Project's fifth annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill in Nashville is nearly upon us. On Tuesday, February 17 citizens from across the state will converge on Legislative Plaza and encounter some changes.

We face renewed attacks on LGBT rights in the Legislature this year. Sen. Paul Stanley (R-Cordova) re-filed an adoption ban bill on Jan. 29 that "prohibits any individual who is cohabitating in a sexual relationship outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution and laws of this state from adopting a minor." Please join us on the Hill to tell Sen. Stanley and other lawmakers that this bill hurts Tennessee children and families.

I don't know what is up with Paul Stanley. You'd think someone with this much makeup would be more open-minded.

Oops. Silly me. Wrong Paul Stanley.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Voting on Amendment B is Fast and Furious

According to Presbyweb, the score is 19-9 against the new amendment B. So far, all of the presbyteries have voted along previous lines. To pass the new B, some of those yellow presbyteries need to see the light of blue.

A heartbreaker was Carlisle. A yellow presbytery that failed to pass the new B by three votes, 74-71. It is that close. This means that we need to keep talking and to get out the vote. It can still happen. In many cases more individual commissioners are voting for the new B than in the past.

One of my old presbyteries, Utica, wowed 'em with a vote of 70-3. I didn't know there were that many commissioners there. Quit hogging all the progressives, Utica. Spread them out. We could use a few more in Tennessee.

Chit chats are the order of the day. Check out 1000 conversations and this article about it in Presbyterian Outlook.

“It is really time to use this voting process as an opportunity for the church to grow into something more whole, more healthy, and more vibrant,” Larges says, in reflecting upon her motivation to foster these conversations. “We sensed a different spirit about this year’s General Assembly,” she added. “It was a spirit that came from new voices, and not just the ‘usual suspects’ surrounding the debate.” This sense of a new spirit and feeling it at work prompted both Larges and Vandersall to create something that would continue to foster that spirit.
My presbytery (Holston) votes on March 7th. We are having a chit chat on February 8th. Hearts and minds do change. Even though I am in a presbytery that historically has voted 3-1 against inclusivity, these conversations help us to build relationships across divides and to understand from whence we all come.

What is at stake? Here is a fine article by Lisa Larges of That All May Freely Serve:

Lisa Larges, director of That All May Freely Serve said, "The church is realizing that gay candidates with outstanding qualifications for ordination, as well as their supporters, will leave the church for more accepting denominations if Presbyterians continue to require celibacy for gay clergy."

David Paul, candidate for ministry in New Hope Presbytery (Eastern NC) said, "Although actions taken in June 2008 at our national policy-setting meeting now allow gay people to seek ordination by submitting a written conscientious objection to their Presbytery in hopes of being accepted without celibacy, it is time for our church to proclaim that all people are equal before God rather than bending the rules to let a few of us through."
Presbyterian Welcome has a great website with resources about this amendment. They have an up-to-date tally as well.

Of course, I have more resources on the sidebar. More Light Presbyterians is doing a swell job of reporting on the progress.

If you are an ally, Ray thinks you are a saint! Go get your badge.

Let's not fritter away this opportunity to witness to the inclusive gospel!

Do I have a witness?

The Great One Passes

One of my favorites (and a very naughty boy), John Updike, is now writing press releases for Jesus (or maybe Satan). I have read many of his novels and purchased his last,
The Widows of Eastwick, a few weeks ago.

In the beginning of the novel, Alexandra, the witch-turned-widow, ponders a crevasse as she travels with a tour group to Canada:

If she were in a mad moment to walk a few paces and let herself slide and slip into this purling crevasse, no one nearby would have the wit or strength to fish her out. That was why people don't travel alone: to be protected from their own craziness. Companions however incidental keep us focused on the fretful nag of living. We all are swaying on the makeshift rope bridge that society suspends above the crevasse. P. 21

Thank you, John Updike, for reminding us to keep "focused on the fretful nag of living" and with your impeccable eye and lust for metaphor for "protecting us from our own craziness."

Thanks for traveling with us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Need Conversation About Safety

I was interviewed by channel 11 earlier today. You can view it on

UPDATE/ 5:22 p.m. 01/27/09: Johnson City police say the beating death of a man at New Beginnings nightclub was not the result of a hate crime. Although the sexual preferences of both Bradley Ashby, the accused attacker, and James Lewis, the victim, remain unclear, Lt. Steve Sherfey says what happened at the gay-friendly nightspot was not motivated by anyone’s sexual-orientation. In fact, investigators aren’t sure there was a motive at all.

“I think it was just a brawl at a bar that went too far,“ Sherfey said.

Sherfey says when the bar closed Sunday morning, a crowd spilled into the New Beginnings parking lot. He says several people who had been drinking exchanged words, a fight started, two women were hit, and ultimately Ashby punched Lewis once in the face. Lewis died the next day at the hospital. Sherfey hopes an autopsy will reveal more about his death.

“We’ll have to wait on the results of that to conclusively say what he died from, whether it was the blow that killed him or the fall that killed him,“ Sherfey said.

Regardless, Sherfey says it wasn’t hate that killed Lewis. Local pastor John Shuck hopes that’s the case. Shuck is a member of the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). When he first heard of Lewis’ death, he feared it was a hate crime.

“What was the motivation for this crime,“ Shuck wondered. “Was this based on sexual orientation or perceived?“

Now that police have said Lewis’ death was not the result of a hate crime, Shuck says he can rest a little bit easier.

“If this is not motivated by sexual orientation, real or perceived, I’m relieved,“ Shuck said.

Not everything gets into an interview. "Relieved" is perhaps not the best choice of words. This was a tragic event. A man died from a violent act. We need to be talking about safety in the parking lots of our city's nightclubs.

Here are points that I want to make sure are made:
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities expresses its deepest sympathy to the family of James Lewis.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities expresses concern on behalf of the LGBT community of the Tri-Cities for this crime and for their safety.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages those who know anything about this to contact police.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages folks to contact Tennessee Equality Project whenever a crime might be related to sexual orientation, whether sexual orientation is real or perceived.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities is committed to working with police to make our area safe for all people including our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages the community to be in conversation about safety at nightclubs including New Beginnings.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities meets on the third Thursdays at 7 p.m. at ETSU, room #315 Warf-Pickel.
Details about this incident are still unclear. Perhaps more information will be forthcoming from both the police and others who were at the nightclub.

Job Opportunity at First Pres.

First Presbyterian of Elizabethton is looking for a bookkeeper. Is that you? Here is the ad that will go in the papers tomorrow:

BOOKKEEPER, PT, wanted for First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton. Minimum 2 year associate degree in accounting or equivalent experience preferred. Knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel is required. Pay commensurate with experience. Please send resume and cover letter in confidence to: Bookkeeper position, 119 W F St. Elizabethton, TN 37643 or firstpresbyterian at embarqmail dot com

Still No Motive Given at New Beginnings

This was just posted at

UPDATE/ 1:35 p.m. 01/27/09: Johnson City Police have arrested Amber McCurry, 19, in conjunction with the beating death of a man at New Beginnings nightclub over the weekend. McCurry is charged with filing a false report after she allegedly told police she did not know the people who were in her vehicle, among those was Bradley Ashby.

UPDATE, 9:52a.m.; Johnson City police are looking for a second suspect in the beating death of a man at a Johnson City nightclub.

Officers arrested Bradley Ashby Monday night and charged him with reckless homicide.

He’s accused of punching James Lewis early Sunday morning in the parking lot of New Beginnings. Lewis died yesterday at the Johnson City Medical Center.

Today, Capt. Mike Street said investigators are looking for a couple of other people for questioning, including one suspect, which he has decided not to name at this time. Street says there could be more charges in this case. After all, he says several people were involved in the fight that led to Lewis’ death. In fact, two women were also assaulted in the midst of the brawl, Street said.

He says there is no indication that the fight was motivated by anyone’s sexual preference. Street says at this point, investigators have not found that anyone targeted a specific group that night. Street is not classifying this as a hate crime.

He says there is no indication that the fight was motivated by anyone’s sexual preference. Street says at this point, investigators have not found that anyone targeted a specific group that night. Street is not classifying this as a hate crime.

Now it is time to know. Does Street mean that it wasn't or that he doesn't know yet? What was this? Was this a domestic dispute? Was this random drunken violence? A fight over money? Drugs? Or was it motivated by homophobia? We need to know. It is also time for our residents to evaluate the amount of police protection needed at New Beginnings.

Monday, January 26, 2009

At Least Three Involved in Fight

Update: According to the Johnson City Police Department blog, a 19 year old male has been arrested and charged with one count of reckless homicide. He is being held in lieu of a $50,000 bond.

This was just posted in the Johnson City Press by Rex Barber:

A Telford man died Monday from an injury he suffered in a fight at a local night club early Sunday morning, police said.

The Johnson City Police Department was searching for the person or people who fought with James Lewis, 48, 644 New Victory Road, Telford, outside New Beginnings, 2910 Bristol Highway, about 3:15 a.m. Sunday.

According to police, Lewis was unconscious on the ground when officers arrived at the club, which caters to a gay clientele. Paramedics took Lewis to Johnson City Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition. He died early Monday afternoon, said JCPD Sgt. Kevin Peters.

Lewis had a head injury, but it was unclear how many times or where he was punched, Peters said.

“All we know right now is that there were some punches thrown,” Peters said. “We don’t know how many.”

No warrants have been issued in the incident, so police have not said what charges could be filed. Police said three people may have been fighting.

“Right now what our investigation has revealed is that there was at least three people involved in the fight,” Peters said. “Don’t know exactly their roles, but there was at least three involved.”

The genders of the others and the reason for the fight were not known.

“We’re still putting together some stuff on that,” Peters said of the motive for the fight. “Don’t really know at this point in time.”

Investigators do have several leads in the case, Peters said.

“We’ve got a couple of people we’re looking at right now,” he said. “People of interest to us.”

Anyone with information about the fight is asked to call the Johnson City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at 434-6166, or to remain anonymous, Crimestoppers at 434-6158.

Beating Death at New Beginnings

Last night a man was beaten to death at New Beginnings, a night club in Johnson City. This is the story in

Johnson City police appear to now have a murder investigation on their hands.

Sgt. Billy Church says the victim of a beating at New Beginnings nightclub early Sunday morning was taken off life-support a short time ago.

Church says that man, James Lewis, was previously listed in serious condition after he was found laying on the ground unconscious at the Bristol Highway nightclub. Church says Lewis died after a fight between two people that turned bad.

Police have not named a suspect in this case.

Anyone with information about this incident is requested to contact the Johnson City Police Department, Criminal Investigation Division, at 434-6166 or to remain anonymous, Crimestoppers at 434-6158.

To read the original story, click here .

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Muslims, Jews, and Christians March for Peace

Update: Check out these photos by Dave Boyd of the JC Press. Including yours truly. Now I'm busted.

Our march for peace made the front page of today's
Johnson City Press.

A congregation of more than 50 people silently marched along State of Franklin Road as the sound of Sunday afternoon traffic quickly passed them by.

An American flag, children holding the hands of their parents and a sign that read “United we stand for peace and justice in the Holy Land,” could clearly be seen by every individual who drove past this group.

Although they were marching silently, their cry for peace rang throughout the city.

The group consisted of locals from the Judaic, Christian and Islamic faiths. They marched from ETSU to the Carver Recreation Center for a prayer vigil.

The Vigil for Peace was held in response to the recent atrocities in Gaza and to enlighten the community of East Tennessee to the turmoil in Israel and Palestine.

On the way back from a similar march in Washington, Shanna O’Brien and RJ Powell, coordinators of the event, felt they needed to bring awareness to the people of the region upon returning to Johnson City.

“The only way for peace is unifying people together,” said O’Brien. “If we here in Johnson City can bring three faiths together in a peaceful way, then maybe there’s hope that we can spread that to other areas and ultimately the world.”

As the vigil began, people from all three Abrahamic faiths sat together and listened to representatives from each faith speak on what can be done to bring peace to both sides of the conflict.

The humanity of the people in the Middle East was the main focus of all those who spoke at the vigil.

“It’s not Quarans, Old Testaments or Torahs that die in wars; it’s human beings,” said Mike Pinner, representative of the Christian faith.

Taneem Aziz, president of the Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee, reminded everyone in attendance that there comes a time when turned heads must be straightened, closed eyes must be opened and silence must be broken.

Aziz hopes the turnout of the event not only provides awareness and prayers for peace in the Middle East, but also leads to a political activism for the people of East Tennessee.

“If we see each other face to face and remain human in each other’s eyes, I think that’s ulitmately the solution on a small scale and a broad scale,” O’Brien said. “If we can see the humanity in each other, then maybe we can stop killing each other.” reported on it as well. Make sure you check the videos at both websites.

Over 100 were present at the Carver Center! Thanks to all for making this stand for peace!

A Place for Skeptics and Believers: A Sermon

Here is today's sermon.

A Place for Skeptics and Believers
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

January 25, 2009

Whoever is not against us is for us.
--Jesus Mark 9:40

There is an interesting scene in the Gospel of Mark.

One of the disciples, John, says to Jesus:

‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’

But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.

Whoever is not against us is for us.

I chose that passage for reflection as today we welcome new members into our congregation. People ask me about the requirements to become a member, whether they have to believe certain things or behave in certain ways.

Anyone is welcome is my response. Just come join. If you are not against us, you are for us.

The disciple, John, thought it should be the other way around.

For John the circle was small. If you are not with us you are against us.

For Jesus, the circle was large and ever-expanding.

Throughout its history the church has struggled with boundaries. Who is in and who is out. So often it has been so worried about its boundaries and about making sure folks are followers, however that is defined, that it forgets its larger more important work.

What is that work? According to Mark’s gospel, the work is casting out demons.

I should probably say a few words about that. In a pre-scientific society such as that in which Jesus lived, demon possession explained the unexplainable. Spiritual beings both good and evil were seen to be active in the world and influencing events. They were understood to be the cause of physical and mental illness. What we might treat today with medicine or psychological therapy, was treated then with exorcism.

Someone who had power over these demons would be a valuable person. There were many, including Jesus, who had power to calm the troubled mind. I don’t know how casting out demons worked, but it must have worked at least some of the time.

One of my professors at Princeton Seminary, Donald Capps, has written a book entitled, Jesus the Village Psychiatrist. Capps looks at a number of the miracle stories of Jesus and sees that many of them are psychologically based. Capps sees that one of the main purposes of the ministry of Jesus was to heal people from mental illness. These mental illnesses could manifest themselves in blindness, paralysis, and other disorders.

According to Capps,
“the persons whom Jesus healed were largely suffering from psychosomatic illnesses, that Jesus recognized this fact, and that he used healing methods that took this fact into account. He was more skilled than the physicians of his day because his healing methods were more effective, and they were more effective because he had a deeper understanding of how psychosomatic illnesses work and how they affect the person who suffers from them.” P. xiv.
Jesus was able to heal because he had compassion. He was able to listen and through his listening find the cause of others’ distress. That was the kind of thing he tried to teach his disciples, that is, how to be healers.

While the language of the gospels might appear that Jesus used supernatural powers to cure illness, cast out demons, and so forth, much of it can be explained by understanding how healers healed in the first century as well as understanding the causes of illness. According to Capps, the mental and physical illnesses may have resulted from social stress. The people in the villages were an occupied people struggling to survive.

Of course, the gospel writers had other things to say about Jesus. They attributed other miracle stories to him, such as raising people from the dead, walking on water and so forth. I would attribute those stories to creative license on the part of the storytellers. As stories developed about Jesus the miracles grew and became more fantastic, drawing from similar tales of other holy men.

But it appears plausible, even probable, that the historical Jesus was a healer. His ability to heal was not because of supernatural power, but because he had compassion, skill, and understanding. This he tried to teach to his disciples with mixed success.

Apparently, according to the story in Mark, there were others, who were not in Jesus’ inner circle who were able to heal as Jesus healed. Perhaps they were quicker studies than his disciples and learned his technique.

The disciples are upset that these others are using this technique, or as the text says: “casting out demons in your name.” Jesus is not upset. This is a good thing. Healing is happening.

Every now and then I wonder what it is we are to be about in this life. Either as human beings or more specifically as part of a faith community. It is good to revisit one’s mission statement now and again.

I think we are to make that circle ever larger and to be about the ministry of healing. It seems to me less important regarding what we believe or what metaphysical theories we hold.

We are one human family. We have one home. As much as we like to think it is the case, there really is no “us and them.” We are all we. We need each other.

We need to be about bringing healing, comfort, and peace to a troubled world. Making the burdens lighter for others, extending hospitality and welcome, lightening the heart, taking the time to listen, and offering comfort are the kinds of things that are truly important and needed.

Whether we do this because we are conventional Christians or questioning skeptics, it is all the same to me. In the words of Jesus:

Whoever is not against us is for us.

I do like this fourth point of the eight points of progressive Christianity.

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we…

Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):

believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope.

To our new members, welcome.
  • I hope that you will find strength here for your journey.
  • I hope you will find the freedom to question, to learn, and to grow.
  • I hope you will find the healing you need for your own brokenness, whether that be in body or in spirit.
  • May you find a friend to lean upon, in fact many friends.
  • May you in turn, be a welcoming presence for others, a soothing balm, and a source of healing and hope.
In that spirit, I will close with this poem from Edwin Markham. It is just four lines. It is entitled, “Outwitted."

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Getting a Grip

Folks are bringing back videos from the historic inauguration of our new president. You will find many poignant scenes: tears of joy, prayers, Aretha's hat, the solemn oath, and what have you.

One Queer Woman's Jaded View had her camera and filmed this slice of American life. Do read her post.

There is something so appropriate about the Washington Monument in the background. Yes, dear wicked perverts, you need to get a grip on your masturbation problem.

My Two Minute Speech

The voting on amendments to the PCUSA Book of Order, including the new amendment B, are taking place. Presbyweb has a chart of the votes. 19 presbyteries have voted so far, 14 against and 5 for the new "B."

For the uninitiated to the Presby story, we have been voting for a number of years (decades, really) regarding ordination. The presenting question, although not always stated as such is the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the church.

Sexual ethics is part of the question. This is a question for heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals. When is sexual activity "good" and when is it "not good?"

Gender identity is another part. What makes a person male or female or transgender? How does the church and society respond to those whose human experience challenges societal gender norms?

Another part of the question is the meaning of membership and ordination. Who is allowed to be a full member of the church and a minister (or elder or deacon) and who is not? Who makes those decisions?

This is important conversation and we have been struggling with this conversation for some time. This conversation is not about an issue or an abstraction. We are talking about the lives of real human beings. This conversation is personal and often painful. This conversation also is passionate and at times ugly--and of course, political.

Science, human experience, church tradition, the Bible (and its interpretation and use) are brought in as conversation partners, as resources, and as sources of authority. We spend a lot of time spinning around in the mud and slinging this mud at those we feel are against us.

Welcome to the human experience.

The presbytery of which I am a member, Holston Presbytery, will have a conversation about all of the amendments including B on Sunday, February 8th. Anyone, whether or not she or he is a voting member in the presbytery, is welcome to participate. It will be held at 4 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Greeneville, TN. Commissioners from our presbytery who participated at the General Assembly will lead the discussion. I am pleased we are having that conversation.

Our presbytery will vote on Saturday, March 7th also at First Greeneville.

Here is my thing. If you look at the voting history for my presbytery on the chart, you will see that we are solid yellow. The last time a similar vote came before the presbytery the vote was 74-22 against removing barriers toward ordination.

I harbor no delusions. I am doubtful that I will come up with a rousing two-minute speech that will change the minds of hearts of my fellow presbyters and cause them to vote "blue." I could be wrong. Spirit is mysterium tremendum.

I would say it is a safe bet that our presbytery will again vote yellow. Aside from my blathering on this blog, I haven't done any politicking and getting out the vote as I might do if I were in a "swing" presbytery.

I feel, strangely enough, a sense of freedom and relief in that. Given that I will likely "lose the vote" how might I most productively use this conversation time on February 8th and my two minutes of fame at the March 7th meeting?

I am thinking that this might be an opportunity to speak in a pastoral way about the resources available for congregations and pastors so they might minister more effectively to their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members and their families. Perhaps it will be an opportunity to talk about an organization with which I closely work, PFLAG Tri-Cities.

If you are in a similar position, what would (or will) you do?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Prayers for Bobby

President of PFLAG Tri-Cities, Kerry Holland, sent the following letter to the newspapers regarding the upcoming film, Prayers for Bobby. I read the book a few years ago. It has a Presbyterian connection. It is a true story. The film stars Sigourney Weaver. Here is the trailer.

Here is the letter from Kerry.

Dear Editor:

On Saturday, January 24 at 9pm EST, the Lifetime Network will premiere "Prayers for Bobby". This is the true story of Mary Griffith and her son, Bobby. Because of her religious beliefs, Mary is unable to accept it when Bobby comes out as a young, gay man. Mary's rejection and the rejection of the culture results in Bobby's suicide. This is the story of a parent who pays the price of losing her child to suicide before coming to realize how valuable her child was - gay or straight. When parents bring a child into this world, they typically do so with a promise in their hearts: to love and cherish their child. This promise should not be discarded when you realize your child is gay. Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Suicide can often be prevented if the family is able to provide loving support of their gay teen. Suicide or other destructive behaviors are not caused by the gay identity of the adolescent - it is caused by the rejection by the culture and by those who are important in the life of the teen.

"Prayers for Bobby" will be rebroadcast on Sunday, January 25 at 8pm EST, and Tuesday, January 27 at 9pm EST. "Prayers for Bobby" also has a local connection. It will feature an original song written and performed by a former local resident, Megan McCormick. Megan is a former student in ETSU's Bluegrass Music program. She currently lives in Nashville and works as a professional musician.

PFLAGTriCities (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a local chapter of a national not for profit organization which provides support, education and advocacy for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and their families and friends. We are here to help families come together and rally around each other in an oppressive society. Our meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at 7pm on the campus of ETSU. Please visit our website for detailed information about our meetings at I want to encourage parents to remember the promise you made to yourself and to your child when you brought him or her into this love unconditionally. For teens who might be struggling, The Trevor Project is a free, confidential hotline available 24/7 for gay teens who might be considering suicide. The number is 1-866-4-U-Trevor. The phones are staffed by trained counselors who care and understand. Please, parents, do not make the same mistake Mary Griffith did.

Kerry Holland, Ph.D.
President, PFLAGTriCities

Barack Obama is My Age

I just realized this. The President of the United States is only 26 days older than me. This is significant ladies and gentlemen. You see, I and Mr. Obama are part of that sandwich generation slapped between the boomers and the Xers.

We watched Vietnam on TV as kids. We didn't get the Beatles. We got the Bee Gees.

Sure, make fun.

But now, we are taking over the free world.

Tribal Church

We have a study group that meets Thursdays from 10:30 to noon. I named it Thursdays with Jesus. We have read and discussed books by Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, and many other interesting authors.

We are now reading a book by my Presbyterian colleague, Carol Howard Merritt, Tribal Church.

This book is a new direction for us and a welcome one. Carol's book is about what it means to be a church with and for 20-40 year olds.

With insight, compassion and first-hand knowledge she is helping the church understand the unique situation this generation is facing.

This generation has been dismissed as materialistic which is a far cry from the truth. In her third chapter which we will discuss today, she shows how this generation is facing serious economic struggles. They work harder for less pay with huge educational debt, large mortgages (if they can get one), and few career prospects. Often they feel bad about it, thinking it is their own fault.

I will be blogging more about this book. In the meantime, I suggest you get it and read it with your church board or study group especially in answer to the oft asked question: how can we get more "young people" in the church?

Her answer might surprise and inspire you to be a church that is truly inter-generational and inclusive.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Using Prayer for Justice

There is a great deal of brouhaha over the prayers and the pray-ers at the inauguration. I regard the whole thing with a mixture of distaste and amusement. As I asked on a previous post, is our nation well-served by a bunch of preachers parading about at national events? What Jesus said comes to mind.

The pundits are exegeting the prayers to see which one was more faithful, true, right, and just to their respective speculative deities. Hi ho.

Not all is lost. One fruit of such an occasion is to utilize these prayers to raise funds and awareness for equality. Since The Gay was the lightning rod for all of this, I advocate pledging an amount for every word of Rick Warren's prayer to your favorite LGBTQ organization.

Here is the text and video of his prayer. It was 489 words. I personally pledged a quarter for every word to PFLAG Tri-Cities and another quarter for every word to the Tennessee Equality Project.

Here is my post about that. I only say that I pledged just so you know I am serious. Time now to get out the check book.

Driving Equality was much more organized than little old me and hosted a Rick-A-Thon, raising thousands of dollars! There is still ample opportunity to participate. The idea there is to pledge an amount based on every second of his prayer. I calculated 4 min. 41 seconds or 281 seconds.

For those who think that is negative or snarky, OK.

Here is another idea. Right Reverend Gene Robinson offered a prayer at one of the events. His prayer did not make the HBO special. What a bummer! So, redeem that injustice by pledging an amount for the good bishop's prayer for justice and equality. You might make a contribution in his name.

His prayer was 500 words on the dot. Easier to do the math.

After the rain, a rainbow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Hussein Obama

Has a nice ring to it. A very nice ring. What a great day. I watched the inauguration on TV and attended a local party with about 500 people (I think) in Johnson City. The JC Press will likely report on it tomorrow.

Best line from the party:

God bless America.
God bless Barack Obama.
And God bless the airplane that took George W. Bush back to Texas.
My spirit was lifted today. Aretha Franklin. Wow. Yo Yo Ma and friends. Nice. The poem by Elizabeth Alexander, Praise song for the Day. Beautiful.

Rev. Lowry's prayer wrapped it all up well. It was good he was last. I have known for a long time that the benediction is the most important part of the worship service.

Rev. Warren's opening prayer was--well, loud--but better than expected.

It was 489 words including the Lord's Prayer if you would like to use that as a guide to make a pledge for LGBT rights.

Of course, it wasn't a worship service, but then again, two prayers, a poem, a sermon, and a Bible gets pretty close.

Speaking of the sermon, President Obama nailed it. He told us all to grow up. There is a new way of getting along and getting things done. We have work to do.

Excited to start a new day with some intelligence and class in the White House.

This Is It!

Happy Inauguration Day!

Folks have been gathering in the mall since dawn.

Here is an interesting interview in 1963 with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who predicted a black president in less than 40 years, 25 years, he said. That would have been 1988. I think Jesse Jackson ran in 1988.

Anyway, it was 45 years from the time King had made that prediction. Hopefully, it won't take that many more years before we even notice or care regarding the race or ethnicity of our president.

For the record and to assist future historians as they read the blogs of history for prophetic nuggets, here you go:

Shuck and Jive predicts the first woman president within 12 years and the first openly gay president in 30.

Shuck and Jive does not predict he will ever be president.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Peace March and Vigil in Johnson City

If you are near our mountain please join us next Sunday!
Sunday, 25 January 2009
March for Peace - 3:00-3:30pm
Vigil for Peace - 3:30-5:00pm
Carver Recreation Center
Johnson City, TN

In response to the recent atrocities in Gaza, concerned citizens of Johnson City are reaching out in solidarity to the victims of the attacks and to cry out for Justice and Peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. On Sunday afternoon, at 3:30pm at the Carver Recreation Center, a Vigil for Peace with representatives of all three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), each closely tied to the events in the Holy Land, will remember those who have died and those who continue to grieve and suffer in Gaza and Israel.

The purpose of this Vigil is to awaken our community to the situation in Israel/Palestine, to cry out for peace through equal justice for all, and build and strengthen bonds of friendship among our diverse communities here in Northeast Tennessee. Our vision is to heal and bridge our lives and communities and to recognize the value of every human life in all peoples and places.

Before the vigil, at 3:00pm there will be a Silent March for Peace from ETSU to the Carver Recreation Center where the vigil is to take place. Please gather in the ETSU parking lot across the street from McDonalds on University Parkway at 2:45pm before the march begins.

The Vigil for Peace will commence at 3:30pm at Carver Recreation Center (322 W. Watauga Ave.), and will finalize by 4:30pm.

Following the Vigil, there will be a time of fellowship for all those in attendance. You are welcome and encouraged to bring a dish, snack or hors d'oeuvres to share if you wish.

We cordially invite and welcome the entire community to this event.

In this period of global uncertainty, we thank you for participating in this vision to bring lasting peace and hope to Palestine and Israel.

Please contact RJ Powell at (804) 683-9589 or rjpowell at gmail dot com for more information or questions regarding this event.

War is Politics

Here is an excellent article offering a summary of the Israeli assault on Gaza by William James Martin of the University of New Orleans.

War is Politics: The Israeli Invasion of Gaza
. He makes several points:

It has little to do with rockets:

The Israeli assault on Gaza has little to do with defending itself against the rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip; what there was, was negligible. Israel's motivations are political, not strategic, though advertised as strategic self defense, as usual.
The strategy is to cause mass suffering:
Israel's strategy of killing large numbers of civilians and inducing mass suffering, is that same as its strategy in Lebanon in the 2006 Lebanon War, which was to make the civilian population pay a heavy price for it s support of Hezbollah, with Hamas in the role of Hezbollah, in the present case.

Israel's military strategy is to destroy Hamas, directly, by killing as many of its fighters as possible, and indirectly, by destroying the infrastructure of its social services, meaning clinics, food distribution centers, Hamas run schools and day care centers, and also, government offices, public schools, universities and collages, and the police force which provides the stable structure for the people of Gaza. Mosques, churches, schools, offices of the media, and of journalists, and virtually any building that is part of the social structure has been or is being destroyed. In addition, UN schools, and NGO food storage facilities have been bombed or shelled, in the latter case causing millions of dollars of lost food.
Of course, it is a good opportunity to test drive those new U.S. made and supplied military toys.

Gaza Scorecard

From the

  • Palestinians Killed 1300 (5,500 injured)
  • Israelis Killed 13 (3 civilians)
  • Palestinian Homeless 50,800
  • Palestinians without running water 400,000
  • Buildings destroyed in Gaza 4,000
  • Buildings severely damaged 20,000

Al Jazeera reports there is an
outcry over the weapons used in Gaza.

Reports from those caring for the wounded describe the injuries as "absolutely gruesome."

Dr Jan Brommundt, a German doctor working for Medecins du Monde in the south Gazan city of Khan Younis, described the injuries he had seen as "absolutely gruesome".

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Brommundt said surgeons had reported many cases where casualties had lost both legs rather than one, prompting suspicions that the Israelis were using some form of Dense Inert Metal Explosives (Dime).

When detonated, a Dime device expels a blade of charged tungsten dust that burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius.

What are DIME?

The research into DIME technology is conducted by the US Air Force Resarch Lab partnered with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This technology was demonstrated in a low collateral damage warhead, allowing a "behind-the-wall" threat prosecution with a highly localized lethal footprint. The warhead case consists of a low-density, wrapped carbon-fiber/epoxy matrix integrated with a steel nose and base. The low-density composite case can survive penetration into a one-foot hardened concrete wall.

Upon detonation, the carbon-fiber warhead case disintegrates into small non-lethal fibers with little or no metallic fragments, thus significantly reducing collateral damage to people and structures. The warhead explosive fill is a dense inert metal explosive containing fine tungsten particles to provide a ballasted payload with sufficient penetration mass. The tungsten displaces energetic material so as to reduce the total energetic used. The net results are higher dynamic energy impulse all within a small lethal footprint.

DIME are among the technologies considered for inclusion in the Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) Upgrades for the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). FLM exploites focused lethality munitions, which would further reduce a small diameter bomb's collateral damage. In the FLM, the steel casing will be replaced with one made of carbon fibers, thus eliminating fragmentation effect which, in standard bombs can reach up to 2,000 feet. FY2007 increase of $40.2M for Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) supported teh examination of alternate bomb fills and casings into SDB Ipreparing for technology integration into SDB I.
I posted earlier on the Small Diameter Bomb supplied by the United States to the Israelis in December.

DemocracyNow! has more regarding the possible Israeli use of DIME and White Phosphorus, both banned and experimental weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Dr. Mads Gilbert, who has just returned from Gaza, the Shifa Hospital. He’s back in Norway right now. What did you see, in terms of the casualties, both when it comes to white phosphorus and also with this new weapon that you have been talking about called DIME?

DR. MADS GILBERT: I will answer that, but I think it’s important to understand that the most devastating weapon they are currently using is actually the siege of Gaza, which has been on for eighteen months, which means a lot of starvation, lack of food, water, power supplies, medicines, napkins, anything that people need to live. So it’s one-and-a-half million people who basically is now without their absolutely necessary means for living their lives, and that is, of course, illegal.

When it comes to the weaponry, we did not see clear evidence in patients that we received that they had been hit by white phosphorous, but we were told by the doctors and colleagues in Shifa that during the first days of the invasion, the ground invasion, they had seen this affecting as a side effect of the smokescreen use of the white phosphorus. And that was inhalation injuries, meaning that people have been breathing the phosphorus damp into their lungs, and burns. Also, by the end of our mission, when we left, there were fierce attacks in the south, and again the doctors in the European Hospital in South Gaza reported the same thing: burns and inhalation injuries. So it seems like my expert on the [inaudible] is right, that using such chemical means in so densely populated areas, as Gaza is, you will evidently have to affect also the civilians.

When it comes to the DIME weapons, we have seen a substantial number of amputations, where the amputees do not have shrapnel injuries. On the contrary, they have torn apart their legs, often one or two or even three limbs, their arm also. Some of them are beyond salvage, because the amputations are so high and so fierce that it also affects the lower part of the body. Some are survivable. But typical for these amputations is that there is no sign of metal fragments or shrapnel. It is only this very brutal amputations caused by some extreme power and small rice grain, rice, corn, pieces of some kind of substance, not metal, but—you know, the DIME weapon is a mixture of metals, nickel and cobalt, in a composite cast, not in a metal cast. And that’s explaining why you don’t see shrapnel.

The additional effect in animal studies on the DIME weapon is that the residuals in the muscle in mice will cause a very severe form of muscle cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, which easily spreads to the lungs. This remains to be shown.

I underline we don’t have proof, but we have strong evidence that these amputations we’ve been seeing in Gaza for the last eleven days must come from some type of weapon that we don’t know of.

Bush Presidency: Eight Years in Eight Minutes

Keith Olbermann summarizes Bush's presidency. Watch this!

H/T Rev's Rumbles

Hissy Fit

Here is a fine letter to the editor by our own irrepressible Snad regarding Kent Williams and his election as Speaker of the House:
As someone who feels a certain kinship to the participants of the Boston Tea Party, I appreciate Rep. Kent Williams’ election as speaker of the state House of Representatives. I am also more than a little amused at the David Davis-style hissy fit being thrown by Republicans. You say Williams betrayed the Republican Party, because he made a promise to vote for Mumpower as Speaker. To whom do you think Williams owes his allegiance, anyway?

If he did promise to vote for Mumpower, and a better candidate came along (never mind that it was him — pretend it was another Republican), would he be showing greater integrity by voting for the lesser candidate, simply because he said he would? He felt he was the better candidate and could do more for the people of Tennessee as speaker. I happen to agree.

Williams has shown that his allegiance is with the people of Tennessee. I have had more than enough of the party line and hold out hope that Williams will be able to reach across party lines so my feeble progressive voice is heard at least a little bit.

And as for the people who are calling Williams’ restaurant and his elderly parents and making threats against him, you are a class act. I’m sure the Republican Party is quite proud.


Prayers for Peace Tonight

A little bit of snow won't keep us from our Prayers for Peace service tonight at 7 p.m. Thanks to the area newspapers for publishing our release. Here it is in Saturday's Johnson City Press:
ELIZABETHTON — First Presbyterian Church, 119 W. F St., will host a Prayers for Peace event on Monday at 7 p.m. in Martin Hall at the church.

To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama the community is invited to join in prayers for peace and justice for all people and Earth.

Prayers will include spoken and silent prayer, formal statements for peace, sacred circle dances, poetry and drumming. Participants are encouraged to bring their own drums.

All are welcome and may participate by bringing a prayer, poem or special item to share.

If you do wish to bring a ritual or prayer, e-mail Rebecca Nunley at rebekalu at comcast dot net or John Shuck at johnashuck at embarqmail dot com, or call the church at 543-7737.
All are welcome! Hope to see you!

Come on up for the Rising

Bruce Springsteen and a full gospel choir welcome the new pres:

h/t When Love Comes to Town

Bishop Gene Robinson's Prayer

Here is the text of the prayer offered yesterday by Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson:

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson,
Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one.

We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe.

Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Here is a video of the prayer.