Shuck and Jive

Saturday, February 28, 2009

So Let's Talk About It

I decided just to do it.

Holston Presbytery votes March 7th on amendment B. It will likely be a miracle on the scale of Matthew's saints coming back to life for it to pass here. Hey, I know. It could happen. That's why we play the game. It is difficult getting folks interested in talking about it.

Those who are against it and are confident of a 3-1 majority have no reason to discuss it. End debate quickly and vote no.

Those who are for it are too afraid of what their friends or their congregations will think, I guess.

So what is a guy like me to do?

Host a party, that's what. I am inviting the whole darn presbytery.

I wrote the following email to folks whose addresses were in the presbytery directory:

Dear Friends and Colleagues of Holston Presbytery,


I am writing to folks in Holston Presbytery to extend an invitation. I and the session of First Presbyterian, Elizabethton, invite you to a discussion of Amendment B, Thursday, March 5th at 7 p.m. at FPC Elizabethton.

We will be debating and voting on this amendment at presbytery March 7th at First Presbyterian in Greeneville.

In my opinion we have not had an adequate discussion of this amendment in our presbytery. I appreciate the commissioners hosting a panel discussion in February. It was good. Nonetheless, I am hoping this discussion will give us a chance to talk more about this amendment in small groups and to share our views without the strictures of a panel or formal debate.

This discussion will be held at First Presbyterian of Elizabethton, Thursday, March 5th at 7 p.m. It will last until about 9 p.m. The discussion will open with prayer. Then I will offer a brief presentation about the text of the amendment and the text it seeks to replace, G-6.0106b. I will offer information regarding how the debate will be structured at presbytery (our presbytery guidelines). I will also offer some handouts of various arguments made by speakers at other presbytery meetings. Then we will break into small groups of four to six. I made a list of discussion questions, but they can be ignored.

I hope that folks will get right into it, talk about the Bible, theology, ethics, polity, their own experience, the Presbyterian way, whatever. No moderator. No Robert’s Rules. Just folks talking honestly and openly in small groups with cookies.

I will provide the cookies. You can bring some too!

Anyone is welcome to attend. Whether you are for this amendment, against it, or undecided you are welcome. Whether you are a voting commissioner or not, you are welcome.

Youth are encouraged to attend as well. The church is theirs, now, and in the future. I hope you will invite your church members as I am inviting mine.

Feel free to forward this email to whomever.

There is no need to RSVP, although you can if you like.

We will close the discussion with prayer. It won’t be one of those tricky prayers (you know the kind) but a prayer requesting wisdom and guidance and an offer of thanks for our presbytery.

I have no secret agenda. I am pretty much an open book. Anyone who has ever stumbled upon my blog knows how I feel about this.

I am for this amendment. I honestly believe it is the middle way and the way forward for our denomination. I believe it is more faithful than the current G-6.0106b to the witness of scripture, to our Reformed tradition, and to our Presbyterian form of governance. I hope our presbytery and the denomination will pass it.

I am encouraged that the presbyteries around us, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina as well as some other presbyteries in our synod, including Sheppards and Lapsley, have passed it.

Whether it passes or whether it does not at the local or national level, I hope at presbytery that we will have an enlightening, thorough, and civil debate, and I am confident we will.

In the end, you are my friends. I am honored to serve with you and am proud of the work we do together as a presbytery.

Through it all, we are drawn together in Christ.

John Shuck

I created an event on Facebook.

Near our mountain? If for nothing else enjoy some cookies.

A Tune for Lent

Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Lent. Moved by Spirit, Jesus packs up and heads toward the Wilderness.

Here's a tune by Mississippi John Hurt to get you in the mood:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Amendment B Update

More presbyteries will be voting this weekend on the new and improved G-6.0106b. According to Bruce, the score is 36 in favor and 50 opposed so far on the way to that magic number 87 to win.

I have included three different vote charts on the sidebar under "Improve B in Your Presbytery."

Indian Nations was a heart breaker losing 38-43. We were really hoping that one would flip. The march goes on.

My old presbytery, Yellowstone, will have its meeting March 2-3. Montana is so spacious that travel time requires two days to have a presbytery meeting.

I am hoping all you Yellowstone folks will do us proud, get the word out, get everyone to the meeting, witness, vote, and "flip" for justice!

"Hate is the Perversion of Religion"

I am proud of my colleague and friend, Rev. Jacqueline Luck of the Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church for this opinion piece in today's Johnson City Press. She writes important words for our times. Thank you, Jacqueline.
In all great religions there is one common moral law: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or put another way, “That which is hateful to you do not do to your brother,” or, “No one truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

Hate is not a central tenet of true religion. Hate is the perversion of religion.

Our country and our world are facing extremely difficult times on many levels. Many have forgotten the tenet of loving their neighbor and have practiced greed at all costs oblivious to the warnings being sounded. Many were blind to what we were doing, and what was being done to us; many were not.

There is much to rectify and heal. I don’t know how much is going to collapse around us, but I believe we in Northeast Tennessee will be some of the luckier ones during the times ahead.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his 1933 inaugural speech: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It is this fear that I have been thinking about and the toll it takes on human beings. As Roosevelt said, fear paralyzes us; it reduces our ability to think clearly and to reason; fear can reduce us to superstition and cruelty. Fear can reduce us to our worst selves as individuals and as nations. We need to resist our fear, master it with courage as best we can.

Courage doesn’t come easy, but as a teen I learned two quotes that have stood me well, though differently: “God is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” (I substituted “what shall I fear” fairly often) and, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Wryly I remember as well: “It’s easy to be brave from a safe distance.”

I am not a politician. I am not an economist, and I am not an environmentalist. I do, however, know a bit about the souls of men and women, and I understand that we need to be good neighbors to each other as our religions and common decency ask us as we strive to survive together what lies ahead.

As we know, a good and warm heart is the dwelling place of the holy, not one filled with hate, and yet there are those who are willfully trying to fill hearts with hate in these most difficult and dangerous times. For the sake of our very lives, we must refuse to listen to, or read, their spewing of hate.

Times of uncertainty are the most difficult, and it is very easy to get swept up in impassioned name-calling and hate-filled rhetoric, and that is very dangerous. Its intent is wrong, and in such times it can result in evil.

Rather, let us be reminded daily to: “Love our neighbor as ourselves,” “That which is hateful to us let us not do to our brother,” and “No one truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Amen.
Amen. Those with ears, let them hear.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cure the Economy with Chickens

Here is the big question for residents of Johnson City, Tennessee. The Johnson City Press invites you to cast your vote on its latest poll:

Weekly Poll
Should city residents be allowed to keep chickens in their backyards?
I Don't Care5%
Total Votes1543

Looks like we will be using the stimulus money to by more chickens.

Jesus' Disciples Were Muslims

Did you know that?

I just discovered that today. We are reading (a translation of) the Qur'an cover to cover this year and for March the assignment is Surahs 3, 4, and 5. I am preaching on the Qur'an this Sunday and I have a preview on Qur'an and Jive. In Surah 3 verse 52, we find Jesus saying:

When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah." Said the disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.
Son of a gun. I never learned that in Sunday School.

It is interesting how one religious tradition interprets another. Christianity interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures and said those texts were all about Jesus as Christ prefiguring Christianity. Islam interpreted the Gospels and said Jesus and his followers were Muslims prefiguring Islam.

It is more fun interpreting than being interpreted, isn't it?

I wonder when that will stop? Maybe it will end when we stop fighting for our interpretations, allow ourselves to draw truth from all, and let ambiguity be.

I kind of like thinking of the disciples as Muslims. Maybe the cure to our religious woes is to mix all of our religious stories. Rather than try to separate out the pure tradition and put people in boxes--Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu--let everybody be everything.

Alas, the sense of community that a common faith brings to a people spelled trouble for me. In time, my religious doings went from the notice of those to whom it didn’t matter and only amused, to that of those to whom it did matter—and they were not amused.

“What is your son doing going to temple?” asked the priest.

“Your son was seen in church crossing himself,” said the imam.

“Your son has gone Muslim,” said the pandit.

Yes, it was all forcefully brought to the attention of my bemused parents. You see, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that I was a practising Hindu, Christian and Muslim.
--Life of Pi

May his tribe increase.

Vitamin C Minus!

I have decided to embrace my C Minus identity. Who wants an "A" or a "B+" anyway? "A"s are for dweeby little misfits always raising their hands first. "A" students are nasally, smug twirps who grew up and brought down Wall Street.

"I know the capitol of Bolivia, Mrs. Gardner."
They say it when they are ten and exploit it when they are 40.

Nope. Not me. I am Vitamin C Minus, the champion of the underachiever. My hero is Jeff Spicoli.

For all you losers, heads, freaks, stoners, and drop-outs, you now have a friend in me.

C Minus rules.

March Newsletter and Still Brooding

Our March newsletter (which arguably is better than your average C Minus newsletter) is now on-line!

I am still steamed about that damned C minus. Tatusko received a higher grade than I did. Sure, he has one of those slick wordpress blogs or whatever the kids are into these days. Yeah, I still use blogger. I haven't changed the gross green color either. So what?

Did you know that I received the lowest grade not only of every clergy blogger, but of anyone she has graded yet?!

I'll bet she didn't even read my posts on the rapture, or conversations with Bob, or my sermons.

Local politics, Jeebus, and poking fun at the right wing blowhards are just some of the treasures you'll find here. But she didn't have anything to say about

It is just rude to grade someone you don't even know when they don't even ask you to do so.

A C Minus.

Well, Anna, I am going to grade you. See how you like it.

This is what I think of you and your blog.

Have a nice day.

Musical Veggies

It was great to see our First Pres friends, Art and Cathy Ciolac in the news yesterday. Art and Cathy are musicians who play for us at church now and then if they aren't on the road. Here is an article that appeared yesterday in the Jonesborough, TN Herald and Tribune.
At least one of the instruments used on Friday night by musicians Art Lang and Cathy Ciolac could only be described one way—green.

Art ‘n Cathy, as they are known to their audiences, played the Cranberry Thistle Friday night, entertaining with a stage-full of instruments.

But one among them caught the eye immediately. It appeared to be a banjo made of aged, rounded wood held together with jute and macrame’ knots. Several people who noticed seemed anxious to see what Lang would do with it. Their wait was well worth their time..

“Now I’m going to play the old vegetable,” he finally said, as he carefully picked up the instrument, which looked like it might have come from the folk revival era. White-haired, sporting a mustache, a floppy old hat and a belt festooned with a brass banjo, Lang picked up the strange-looking instrument he called a “gourd banjo”, the bowl of which is a fairly flat gourd, and commenced to play Lorena.

The music that came from that gourd was a sweet, plaintive, naturally earthy sound that stayed in the mind long after the song was finished. Tuned to B-flat, it uses gut strings and sounds much like a minstrel banjo with a similar pitch although there is no metal on the instrument.

That’s pretty much the way it went all night - old songs, old instruments and performances by two people obviously who love the music and their instruments. The duo are aficionados of old time and traditional music. They sing mostly duets and play a variety of instruments including the afore-mentioned gourd and traditional banjo, fiddle, guitar, mountain dulcimer and auto harp.

“Old time music is primarily string music,” said Ciolac. “It was played all over the country by rural folk. There was old time music in Illinois and Minnesota - not just the south, and probably a time period beginning before the civil war up to the 1930’s. It’s not bluegrass music, which started in 1945. It’s not country-western, it is country music. It started in the country.”

A retired high school biology teacher born in the suburbs of Chicago, Cathy’s passions are the mountain dulcimer and auto-harp. She restores autoharps professionally and when she is finished with one, she “signs” it with a daisy motif. Ciolac’s says her love of music began in her youth when she played flute in the school music program. She learned the rudimentary elements of music and one day, while still in high school, took the family’s old banjo which was in the attic, had it repaired and restored and learned how to play it. She’s been at it ever since.

Lang who is from Baltimore, Maryland, and had a long career in computers, began playing hillbilly music when he was fourteen, and moved on to folk when the Folk Revival began. Now living in Roan Mountain, he has returned to his musical roots with old time music.

Art and Cathy have been making music together now for twenty years and you can get more information about them from their website, For autoharp restoration, repair and resale, email Cathy at cathy at ArtandCathy dot com.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great New Blog for East Tennessee

I am excited about a new blog for East Tennessee, Open Pen. Our own Snad (Sandra Garrett) is one of the contributors along with some other radical ne'er-do-wells around our mountain. Here is the description:

OpenPen Media was founded February 18, 2009 by a group of volunteers that met in Johnson City, Tennessee during the Obama presidential campaign. We were overwhelmed by the areas lack of understanding of political issues, the rampant levels of poverty, cultural isolationism and racism and wanted to address the issues confronting this area. Historically the area has been governed by a culture that at its fundamental core is fear driven and a carryover of a time long since relegated to history as bleak and heavy handed.

Eastern Tennessee remains a cultural misfit in a world that has moved on from the socio-conservative, isolationist, hate wielding ,fear mongering ideology that once defined our nation, and yet, still defines this area.

All members of OpenPen and its authors are volunteers and are of all political,social and religious persuasions.

It is a good looking blog. It is East Tennessee's answer to the Huffington Post. Check out today's post by Snad, Tennessee's Proposed Adoption Ban: Ugly Is As Ugly Does.

Make sure you add Open Pen to your blogroll!

Speaking of the adoption ban, thanks to the Johnson City Press for publishing my letter to the editor today.

A C-Minus?!?

It's rough enough discovering you are being graded, then getting a crappy grade on top of it is the icing, you know? I was honored to be listed among The Top 100 Theology Blogs.  I guess I should be satisfied with that. I never thought my blog was Bible College appropriate anyway as I said here.

But a
C Freaking Minus! Well, bless your heart, Anna Blanch. Here is what she wrote about me:

Shuck and Jive: This is the personal blog of John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister, wherein he writes about "spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up". This is another blog hosted by Christian Century. On social issues, this blog can be described as liberal progressive (pro-gay marriage among other things).

Making the Grade:
Scope - (C-) No clear scope (more a definable methodology for discussion).
- B-
Theological Leanings - Presbyterian
Damn right I'm pro-gay marriage among other things. I guess my reward will be in heaven (unless Anna Blanch is grading).

C minus, indeed.

That's all it takes to get into heaven, you know: C minus.

That's all
Johnny Cash was.

"I guess I might be a C-minus Christian, but I am one."

Yeah, me and Johnny Cash. Both C minus.

But Jesus loves us.

Ash Wednesday

We are having an Ash Wednesday Service tonight. It will be a bit different than your usual Ash Wednesday Service, if you ever go to one. It will be a reflection using modern poetry upon the mystery of life, the reality of our mortality, and the promise that hope from ashes rises.

Join us at 8 pm.

I will be scurrying to get there as at four p.m. I will be at Tusculum College participating in a panel discussion, The Fifth Annual Video Discussion: A Diversity Dialog:

On February 25th the Center for Civic Advancement will host the 5th Annual Video Discussion. This year, TC Counseling Services will join in to present a Diversity Dialog in Chalmers at 4:00pm. The focus of this dialog will be Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, their human experience and civil rights; and our role as a community to advocate and be supportive.

The evening will begin with a short clip from "If These Walls Could Talk 2" serving as a springboard for what should prove to be an open and engaging dialog.
Click poster for details or go to our webpage:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Too Silly Not To Post

From The Onion:

WASHINGTON—A little more than a month after the first family's move to the White House, reports of strange happenings have continued to surface, with Sasha Obama confirming Tuesday that she had once again been visited by the eerie specter of the Bush twins....

....According to White House security documents, Sasha told Secret Service agents that the ghostly twins spoke to her in unison and repeatedly beckoned her by chanting the phrases "come play with us," "come play with us, forever," and "Daddy's making fajitas."

No Military Aid for Israel

Amnesty International has called on the United States to suspend arms sales to Israel. This is from the Guardian:

Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel's extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.

In a report released today, Amnesty International listed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the US president, Barack Obama, to suspend military aid to Israel.

The human rights group said those arming both sides in the conflict "will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated".

The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn (£21bn) in military aid to Israel.

"As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money."

This is from Haaretz:
The report also mentions civilian targets, including The American School in Beit Lahia, Gaza, destroyed by F-16 aircraft. Amnesty's report further states that three ambulance crew-members and a boy who showed them the way to a group of injured were killed on January 4 by an Israeli guided missile that was manufactured jointly by Hellfire Systems and Lockheed Martin/Boeing as part of a U.S. military contract.

The Amnesty representative in the Gaza Strip also found extensive evidence of the use of U.S.-made phosphorus bombs against civilian targets and densely populated areas.
Video of white phosphorus use

h/t Crooks and Liars and Witherspoon

More Presbyteries to Vote Today

More presbyteries will be voting on the new and improved G-6.0106b today. My presbytery, Holston, votes on March 7th. We're going for the miracle. It is the hundred yard Hail Mary pass. Moderates and progressives after awhile get so used to getting beat that they don't even organize.

It is different this year.

So call me, Holston folks. Let's have a little pre-meeting party. I'll provide cookies.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two New Book Studies at First Pres.

Next week we begin two new book studies for Lent.

Beginning Wednesday evening, March 4th, we will read and discuss Marcus Borg's 2003 book, The Heart of Christianity. This is one of my favorite books by Borg as he looks at the Christian tradition as a whole and offers a view that speaks to the heart of progressive Christianity.

From Publisher's Weekly: provides a valuable glimpse into the essence of Christianity for those who have left the faith because they no longer believe its doctrines and those who are trying to remain in the faith while questioning its doctrines. With those people in mind, Borg emphasizes the transformational aspect of Christianity by examining the "emerging paradigm" that is gradually replacing the belief-centered paradigm of the last several hundred years.
We will meet in the library from 6 pm to 7:15 every Wednesday during Lent. Childcare will be provided. Pick up the book and read the introduction and the first two chapters. Anyone is welcome!

The second study begins Thursday, March 5th from 10:30 until noon, also in the library.

We will read and discuss Barbara Rossing's book,
The Rapture Exposed.

For those who wonder what this Rapture doctrine is all about and who have ever puzzled over the Book of Revelation, this is for you.

From The Center for Progressive Christianity:

Barbara Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, calls the ‘Rapture’ phenomenon a “destructive racket.” She writes that her book is for those who are concerned about the “simplistic” misinterpretation of the Biblical script by the “whole prophecy industry of Tim Le Haye, Hal Lindsey and others.” It is her conviction that dispensationalism must be challenged today “both because of its false theology and also because of its growing influence on public policy.” To counter this distortion and manipulation of Christian faith, she provides an interpretation of the Book of Revelation which provides “a vision of hope for God’s healing of the world.”
Please read the first chapter. Join us at First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton and invite a friend.

For either study, click for questions or to RSVP.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gerd Luedemann and the Loss of Academic Freedom

I heard the news from Thomas Verenna that Gerd Luedemann has lost his ten year court battle.

Here is the story from Joseph Hoffman of the Jesus Project:

Gerd Luedemann, Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity in the University of Goettingen, has received word from the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany that his appeal against an earlier ruling excluding him from the teaching of New Testament in the University’s Faculty of Theology has been rejected.

The basis for the Court’s ruling hinges on the fact that Professor Luedemann was “reassigned” to a position outside the Faculty offering essentially the same teaching and research opportunities as his previous position. In addition, the Court decided that the confessional teaching of theology is a unique responsibility of the Theology Faculty and that its interest in retaining a distinctive identity outweighed Professor Luedemann’s claim that the reassignment impinged on his academic (“scientific”) freedom.
Hoffman goes on to say:
Cases such as Luedemann’s, and earlier Hans Kueng’s at Tuebingen on the Catholic side, suggest that it is feckless to complain about the regressive nature of scholarship in the Arab world when seminal Christian doctrines can prevail over common sense and free inquiry in some of the most distinguished institutions of higher learning in the world.

We congratulate Gerd Luedemann in bearing the torch in this cause--and “fighting the good fight.”
This letter of concern from March of 2000 on behalf of Prof. Luedemann signed by Robert Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar concluded:
As we enter a new millennium, it has become clear that one of the tasks that lies before us in the west is a critical coming to grips with our Christian past. This is a task not only for the church, but for everyone who is an heir to this cultural legacy. This is precisely what Prof. Luedemann is asking us to do, albeit in a very provocative way. That this challenge should be taken out of the theological curriculum altogether is a travesty. Is there a more important issue with which our students should be forced to struggle at this critical time in our history? We do not think so. That is why we are asking you to reconsider this situation, and to find a new solution that reaffirms his right to engage in full academic discussion of his research regardless of its results or his personal views.
Several bibliobloggers have weighed in on this decision.

James Tabor calls it a sad news for academic freedom and writes:

As one non-Catholic among half a dozen others who left the University of Notre Dame back in the mid-1980s under the pressure of one of Father Hesburg’s “recatholicising” moves in the Dept. of Theology back in those dark ages, as well as having scheduled lectures on my book, The Jesus Dynasty, forbidden in the spring of 2006 at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, because I had dared to suggest that Jesus had a human father, not likely Joseph, I can identify in just a tiny way with Prof. Luedemann.
James Crossley asks:
Can anyone give me a good reason why questions surrounding belief or non-belief, or if you like any answer to the question of the historicity of the resurrection, should be off limits in a university setting?
Jim West has a different view. He writes (in his comment section):
Though I like Gerd--as I’ve said before, it’s the right decision. He should definitely be teaching. He should definitely not be teaching in a theological faculty. That’s like insisting that a creationist teach in a biology faculty.
I have made brief posts on Gerd Luedemann here and here.

From my perspective, speaking as a clergyperson, I find this decision distressing. By circling the wagons in order to protect its clergy from engaging in academic scholarship that challenges ancient creeds, it moves theology further into a Christian ghetto. It shows how the church really is not interested in any honest search for what is true, but is becoming little more than a club.

This quote from Roy Hoover in Tradition and Faith in a New Era says all I need to say:

Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.

Acceptance Speech by Dustin Lance Black

Sean Penn won best actor for Milk! He did a great job with that film. See Tennessee Guerilla Women for video and text of Penn's speech.

Milk also won
best screenplay. This is the acceptance speech by Dustin Lance Black:

Oh my God. This was, um, this was not an easy film to make. First off, I have to thank Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg and all the real-life people who shared their stories with me. And, um, Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and our entire cast, my producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, everyone at Groundswell and Focus for taking on the challenge of telling this life-saving story. When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.

I wanna I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk.

Bravo! Bravo!

Sermon: Solar Living

Today's sermon was a compilation of things I had been thinking about and blogging about this past week. We celebrated Evolution Sunday a week late. The hymns were traditional Jesus hymns: Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and How Can I Keep from Singing, which was a nice contrast to the seriousness of the message.

I borrowed a call to worship from Christ Community Church:

We are moved to awe and wonder at the grandeur, the poetry, the richness of natural beauty; it fills us with joy and thanksgiving.
And then all that has divided us will merge and compassion will be wedded to power
Softness and wonder will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
Both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will
All will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
All will share equally in Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
All will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
All will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again

And I had to include as one of the readings this great poem by Pat Boran, "Song of the Fish People" from New and Selected Poems (Cambridge: Salt Publishing), 2005.

Give us legs and arms
to run and fight and kill,
then give us other skills
to plant and farm.

Give us warm blood
to feel the variations
of temperature, the patience
to untangle bad from good

while the known world spins,
and give us the desire
to create, and the fire
to destroy. And take the fins.

But leave us always tears
that we may not forget
the salty depths
of our formative years.

The Gospel reading was a teaching from Jesus:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25-34

And now the sermon:

Solar Living
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
Evolution Sunday
February 22, 2009

Today we celebrate Evolution Sunday. We might wonder why? We don’t have Gravity Sunday or Boyle’s Law Sunday. Why should the Theory of Evolution receive a special Holy Day?

One reason for highlighting Evolution in church is because Evolution, more than any other scientific theory, is seen in some quarters of the church as a threat to the church’s authority.

Two developments have challenged the authority of the church more than any other. They are the Theory of Evolution and Higher Criticism of the Bible. The modern fundamentalist movement that began at the end of the 19th century and that has been reinvigorated in our time was a response to these two intellectual developments.

Higher criticism of the Bible analyzes the Bible as a human product. Using the methods of historical and literary criticism, higher criticism shows us that the Bible was written over time by human beings in their particular setting. Rather than the Bible being a word from God, perfect in every way, to us, we see it as a work of human beings reflecting about God and themselves.

The authority of the Bible and the authority of the church’s beliefs that are based on a pre-critical reading of the Bible are therefore challenged.

The Theory of Evolution challenged the pre-critical understanding of the Bible’s story. The biblical narrative of creation, human fall into sin, the story of redemption in Christ, and future hope in the holy city is no longer seen by many of us as a literal account of what happened or what will happen. It is a narrative of an ancient people trying to understand their place in the whole thing.

The Evolutionary Story, that some call our Great Story, has no Garden of Eden or original sin. Human beings emerged over time as have all other organisms in a process of adaptation. This does not mean the biblical story does not have value. Far from it. But it is seen in a different way than the way our pre-scientific ancestors saw it.

The implications of higher criticism and evolution are immense for the Christian faith. Pandora’s box has been opened and the forbidden fruit eaten as the microscope and the telescope have opened to us new vistas of insight never before imagined.

The fundamentalist reaction has been an effort to close Pandora’s box and put Eve’s fruit back on the tree. But it is too late. The game is up.

So what now? What is the path for those of us with our minds immersed firmly in science and yet with our hearts longing for the comfort of faith? We desire that Feeling of Absolute Dependence, of which the19th century, theologian, Friedrich Schliermacher wrote.

The hymns I chose are hymns of my childhood that are warm, comforting, and easy to sing. It is not easy to find a hymn that celebrates the glory of natural selection. The challenge for hymn writers, liturgists, and preachers is to find the language and the music to reclaim the warmth in a universe that we might think is cold.

How might we celebrate our evolutionary story in a way that captures the heart as well as the mind? There are many ways. We can tap into the deep wells of the various mystical traditions, creation spirituality, process philosophy, non-realist philosophy, and many others. I say go for the smorgasbord.

Before we do that, we need to acknowledge what I think is the elephant in the living room. Otherwise we will be engaged in nothing but head games. We are coming to the end of an age. Our reliance on fossil fuels or non-renewable resources has reached its peak. We have processed our fossil fuels through an economic philosophy of unlimited growth. It is unsustainable. It was always unsustainable but now we are beginning to feel its effects. These current economic tremors are just the beginning. Trying to sustain human life on non-renewable sources of energy is like living on our savings or on credit. At some point, the bill is due and we will have to pay our way.

For human beings to survive, we will need to live on renewable sources of energy for our food, shelter, and other necessities. We have to give back what we take. At this point, we are not even close. However, we have a dream. We have a dream of a sustainable future in which the energy of the sun, the wind, the ocean tides, and other renewable energy sources will be harnessed for a good life. These are gifts that Earth, Sun, and Moon provide for free.

None of us here will realize this future. Our descendants might. Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams in their book, View from the Center of the Universe tell us and I quote:
"...our descendants could have many billions of years to live together--if we can just get through the next few decades without disaster. This is the challenge of the human species today: it is as though we are on a great migration across a huge and treacherous mountain range. To get through these mountains we must gain control of human impacts on the earth and develop a sustainable relationship with our planet." (p. 240)
The image of migration is also a biblical image. In the book of Exodus the Hebrew children escaped from bondage in Egypt, crossed the sea, and entered the wilderness. They wandered there for forty years. They were told they would not get to the Promised Land, but their descendants would. Moses got a glimpse from the mountain. He didn’t enter either.

This is a powerful narrative. It is embedded in our psyches. It is a narrative that we might need to reclaim at this time in history. We too are breaking free from an enslaving unjust system of fossil fuel dependence. Yet, we have not found a way to replace it. We will be wandering without the comforts of Egypt. This wandering will be a preparation. We are preparing not for our future, but our children’s future.

What they had to learn in the Wilderness was how to live on a daily sustenance. They had to learn to adapt to change. No one likes change. That is why coming to terms with change is spoken of in mythic proportions in our religious traditions. We are blinded and deluded into thinking that what is impermanent is permanent.

We will always be able to drive cars and build bigger and bigger houses and fly around in jet airplanes. We are entitled to it. No, we are not. It is ending. Change is coming. These next 20 years will be nothing like the last 20. The next time you are on the computer you might find a website by a man named Chris Martenson. It is called Crash Course. Google “crash course” and watch the video series regarding his research on our economy and our future. Remember, I never insist, I only invite. I invite you to check it out and think about it. He is the one who said that the next 20 years will be nothing like the last 20. Change is coming.

This is where we can learn from evolution. Organisms that survive and reproduce are not necessarily the smartest nor are they the strongest. Those who survive are those most able to adapt to changes in their environment.

Evolution and our great spiritual traditions tell us the same thing: change is inevitable; go with the flow. Do not be attached to any former version of yourself. Embrace life in all of its complexity and ambiguity each new day.

I have been reading philosopher Don Cupitt. He is called a radical theologian. His latest book, Above Us Only Sky: The Religion of Ordinary Life, is in our library. Cupitt uses a term I like, solar living.

This is what he writes about it:
…the task of religion is to give us the courage and strength to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to life. Only we create the world, and only we can redeem it. By solar love of life we can inject meaning and value into life for everyone.... living is, or tries, to be, purely affirmative. It is also purely expressive. That is, we are not labouring to purify our souls so as to be ready for the Day of Judgment, and we do not spend our lives in forging a unified self to be a kind of monumental achievement. No, there is no Soul or Real Self, because everything that we are is flickering, shifting and ambiguous. The only way in which we can get ourselves together and become ourselves is in and by our self-expression, through which we put out, or present, images of ourselves. But as soon as I have expressed myself time moves on, and my expressed self must be abandoned without regret, because of course solar living requires us always to move on and never to become 'attached' to any version of ourselves. Solar living lives by dying all the time, as it continually leaves selfhood behind. That is how it conquers the fear of death, by making a full acceptance of death into part of the way we live. pp. 61-63
We are participating in the great stream of life that began 14 billion years ago, at least as far as we know. This stream of life will continue billions of years into the future. We are part of it, now.

This is life. The chaotic transition is life. The dream, the kingdom, the promised land of sustainability may not come in our lifetimes. We here today won't see that promised land where our descendants sustain themselves on renewable sources of energy. We might glimpse it now. We must prepare for it now, but we won't get there.

Our trek will be a chaotic wilderness trek. Our economies will fall; our standards of living (which for Americans were unjust and unsustainable to begin with) will fall. The age of petroleum will be seen by future historians as a strange blip that brought with it amazing knowledge and the ability to see into the deepest corners of space. It also brought the near destruction of the planet.

We must begin this trek, bravely, with a commitment to life, with a willingness to let go of our attachments, with an attitude of solar living, to create and re-create ourselves anew each day.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to see this loss (and grieve it we must) as a necessary precondition for a sustainable future for our descendants on this beautiful and fragile home.

As Don Cupitt writes,
Life is us, life is all this, now. p. 116
But we are far from alone. Our ancestors are with us, in our DNA, in our stories. Our descendants are with us urging us on, calling us out, to life…to life.


Our prayer of dedication and gratitude was written by Joanna Macy from her book, World As Love, World As Self (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2007), p. 201-2

You live inside us, beings of the future.
In the spiral ribbons of our cells, you are here.
In our rage for the burning forests, the poisoned fields,
the oil-drowned seals,
you are here.
You beat in our hearts through late-night meetings.
You accompany us to clear-cuts and toxic dumps
and the halls of the lawmakers.
It is you who drive our dogged labors to save what is left.

O you, who will walk this Earth when we are gone,
stir us awake.
Behold through our eyes the beauty of this world.
Let us feel your breath in our lungs, your cry in our throat.
Let us see you in the poor, the homeless, the sick.
Haunt us with your hunger, hound us with your claims,
that we may honor the life that links us.

You have as yet no faces we can see, no names we can say.
But we need only hold you in our mind, and you teach us
You attune us to measures of time where healing can happen,
where soil and souls can mend.
You reveal courage within us we had not suspected,
love we had not owned.
O you who come after, help us remember: we are your
Fill us with gladness for the work that must be done.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

She Left Me For Jesus

...and that just ain't fair...

blame bill

Greater Atlanta Goes Blue!

Update 10:56 p.m.
All the votes for today I think are in.
15 voted today:
9 yes!
6 no

Total so far: 79 presbyteries have voted
34 yes!
45 no
The margin is narrowing. 87 needed to win.

Check Bruce for analysis.
Go to Presbyweb for the blue-yellow breakdown.

Eastern Oregon yes!
Giddings-Lovejoy yes!
New Hope yes!
Ohio Valley yes!
Homestead no (by 3 votes)
Sacramento no
Tropical Florida no
North Alabama no

Update 5:52 p.m.
John Knox yes!
New Hope yes!
Santa Fe yes!

Update 4:31 p.m.
Lake Erie no 32-58

Update: All unofficial reports from Twitter--

Mid-Kentucky yes!
Arkansas yes!
James no

This just in. Another photo finish at the amendment B steeplechase. Greater Atlanta, the largest presbytery in the PCUSA, voted 243-233 in favor of B, moving from a history of
being yellow to justice blue!

According to Bruce the Bookie, 14 presbyteries vote today. He has the odds on favorites.

Go Blue!

Writing on Water

It is rather odd, really, that the question, "What do you believe?" is associated with religion or Christianity. Beliefs are a strange place to begin. Are beliefs that important? I don't think so.

I think of listing my beliefs as an exercise in writing on water, rather than etching them in stone. On the other hand, listing those things we think are important or true (at least for us) is a helpful way to take stock of our lives.

I found this great post at iAllison. Allison works for an intriguing faith community, Christ Community Church. (I borrow a liturgical resource from them now and then).

Allison decided to offer a list of her beliefs even as she says

"I also resist talking about my religion in terms of what I believe, because I find my beliefs are ever-changing and belief tends to imply dogma, which I just don’t do."
Ten Beliefs of This Progressive Christian

1) I believe that interfaith dialogue is essential to understanding the world and to know Truths my tradition has missed or omitted.

2) I believe stories found in the Bible, when understood as metaphor and myth can be used to teach me profound Truths.

3) I believe there are as many ways to be Christian as there are people in the tradition.

4) I believe the way I understand Jesus, as a radical activist, and a compassionate teacher, shows more about my way of viewing the world than it does any “truth” of Jesus. The truth is he lived a long time ago, and the records are not clear.

5) I believe religion should lead you to more questions than answers.

6) I believe my tradition causes me to question social values of the day, and to push society to be more inclusive. That being the case I believe Christianity should be on the forefront of fighting for the human rights of people who are gay, lesbian, and transgendered.

7) I believe religion is only one piece of the pie, and should not be confused with history, science, psychology, or other important disciplines. All are needed for a balanced life.

8) I believe much hatred has been caused by the interpretation of Christianity by some throughout history and today; leading to wars, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. This one belief alone has caused me to turn my back on Christianity many times, and constantly question why I am connected at all.

9) I believe the following of a religious or spiritual tradition with the support of a community can lead to great transformation of individuals and cultures. This one belief alone has caused me to stay within Christianity hoping to be a part of this transformation of consciousness, the next great awakening.

10) I believe no one knows what happens after this life, and if we spent even half as much time bringing the peace to this world what so many hope for in the next, we could experience heaven on earth.
I like this list of ten. I really like the honesty of number 4. What would your list look like?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Let's Give 'Em Hope

A group of us PFLAGers watched Milk Friday night at the Real to Reel in Johnson City. We went to the Acoustic Coffeehouse after the show. I am really proud of this group and I am honored with their friendship.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, an activist, the first openly gay person to be elected to major office in America. He was elected supervisor in San Francisco in the mid 70s. He was assassinated at the age of 48. What a powerful show. Sean Penn and the other cast members were awesome.

As I watched, I realized that this is why I do this.

Harvey Milk inspired people across the country that there is hope. "You gotta give 'em hope," he said.

Kids growing up in places like Elizabethton, Tennessee hear from the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, that they are sick or sinners or other horrible things. No preacher thinks he is preaching to them. He doesn't even know who is in his congregation. These kids will never reveal their secret and certainly not to the preacher.

But they watch. They see loud, red-faced angry men pounding Bibles. They see laws being passed designed to keep them forever in the closet with their secrets, because as they are, they are not fit for society.

They hear their ministers, their teachers, their parents, their elected officials, the neighbor down the street, the other kids in school. They hear the constant put downs. They know what those words mean. "Queer, fag--you're so gay." It means they know they can never be who they are, express love as their supposedly "normal" heterosexual classmates can and do. No big wedding days in their future. It is a life of fear and self-hatred and 'God why did you make me this way.'

But Harvey Milk and others like him who were willing to come out and to be alive, fully alive, gave them hope. Allies who came out as allies gave them hope.

Harvey told the truth. You are not sick. You are not a sinner or a pervert. You are a valuable wonderful human being just as you are. Your preacher is wrong. Your family members are wrong. They will get it or they won't. If they don't, it is their loss because it is your life. You have power. Together we will make this world a better place. There will be a wedding day in your future, if you want it, to the person you love. There will be respect and dignity. That is the kind of hope he gave. He gave it by word and example.

Harvey Milk died 30 years ago. Much has changed since then. Much has not. But the change is happening now.

It is happening even in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) It was in 1978 that the PC(U.S.A.) passed its statement that said "homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity." Milk was in office the summer that it was passed.

It took 30 years. Last summer the General Assembly said that hateful, misguided, and harmful statement has "no further force or effect." The General Assembly also sent to the presbyteries an amendment to our constitution to remove the last piece of discriminatory legislation. Many presbyteries will be voting Saturday and throughout the week.

Finally, it is possible that openly, out and shout, gay and lesbian people with partners if they have them will be ministers in the church. These are some pretty strong people who have heard that same crap, had those same doubts, held those same secrets. But they have hope.

They will be good ministers. Like Heather over at Holy Vignettes:

So, I felt when we began this thing that it was winnable, but only if everyone put in a lot of work and so on.

Here are some of the YES votes from the past few days:
Scioto Valley (Columbus and southern Ohio)
Great Rivers (Peoria, Illinois, and environs)
Tres Rios (west Texas?!)
Sheppards and Lapsley (central Alabama, includes Birmingham)

Needless to say, these are not all places infested with activists.

Let me tell you a little story about Sheppards and Lapsley. In 2006, General Assembly was in Birmingham. Usually More Light Presbyterians and That All May Freely Serve host a worship service on the Sunday of GA. Usually a local church is more than happy to have us. In Birmingham, there was not a single Presbyterian church that would have us in the door. We held the service at Pilgrim UCC on the outskirts of Birmingham. (They were great.) And now the presbytery votes YES on this measure.

I haven't really been willing to say I might be ordained before the next GA. I haven't been willing to hope for it. But now, maybe I am.
Yes, it is just a church vote. But when the square Presbyterian Church starts getting it, it is a sign that change is happening.

Let's do this for Harvey and for Heather and for the millions of gay and lesbian kids all over this country.

Let's give 'em hope.

Oh, Lust Be Rebuked!

Can you imagine praying like this in church? It has been done:
Oh, lust be rebuked! Homosexuality be rebuked. Lesbianism be rebuked in the name of Jesus. Masturbation be rebuked in the name of Jesus. Not even dry humping, lord God! Not even any masturbation of any kind, lord God! Not even fondling in the name of Jesus! Not even excessive hugging, lord God! Not even molestation in the name of Jesus. I cast all of these to hell in the name of Jesus.
You can hear it here.

Hat tip to Unreasonable Faith
for finding that one.

OK Presbyweb, What Did I Do Now?

My sitemeter tells me that I am getting visits from Presbyweb again. Of course, you can't read there unless you pay. God bless 'em, I won't. My blog is free. What is up with that? So, any of you want to tell me how I earned fame with Presbyweb today?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One Letter At A Time

Thanks to the Kingsport Times-News for printing my letter to the editor regarding the adoption ban bills before the Tennessee legislature. I even received the added bonus of an editor's note. You can read it on-line and make a comment. Others have.
I hope residents of Tennessee will contact their legislators and voice opposition to SB0078 and its companion bill HB0605. These bills will prevent adoption of children by qualified couples. This legislation will hurt residents of the Tri-Cities. I work with families on a daily basis. A couple in my church is raising a child. With this type of legislation, they would not be able to adopt this child and achieve the needed legal and social support.

This bill is ideologically based and does not take into account the lives of real human beings. These are hard-working people who pay taxes and who vote. They provide stable, loving homes for children who would otherwise have nowhere else to go. Perhaps the sponsors would like to raise these children, pay for their education, food, clothing, shelter, and medical expenses? Or should we send them to the orphanage, forget about them, and let the taxpayers foot the bill? Discrimination is ugly and expensive.

Rev. John Shuck
Johnson City

Editor’s note: The bills prohibit adoption by couples of the same or opposite sex who are cohabitating outside of a marriage which is valid under the Tennessee Constitution.
Check the PFLAG Tri-Cities blog for more information.

Go to for questions regarding adoption. It is a helpful resource.

Sheppards and Lapsley Goes Blue!

Can you believe that one! The tenth presbytery to switch to inclusivity from a solid yellow history to bright more light blue! This is a presbytery in Alabama. It includes the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery. Bruce has the scoop.

The vote was a photo finish 77-75.

So like it matters getting to the presbytery meeting and getting others to the presbytery meeting and making a witness by speaking the truth from the heart.

Folks in the know say this is the big week. It is Go Blue Week. Presbyterian Welcome says that 23 presbyteries will vote this week.

Join PFLAG for Milk!

Milk is playing at the Real to Reel in Johnson City. This is from PFLAG Tri-Cities president, Kerry Holland:
... I want to encourage you to express your appreciation to the management for bringing this movie to town...apparently she had to convince her distributor that there would be an audience for the movie.
We are planning a PFLAG movie night, Friday at 7 p.m. But if you cannot make it then, go another time and bring a friend!

Let us know if you are coming at Facebook.