Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Theological Education

Blame Bill:
Q: What does an atheist say when she's having an orgasm?
A: "Darwin! Oh, Darwin!"
My addendum for the benefit of Erp:
Q: What does a pantheist say when she's having an orgasm?
A: "Darwin! Oh, Holy Darwin!"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let There Be Light: A Sermon

We have been reading the Qur'an cover to cover and this month we are reading Surahs 19-24. We chose some prayers and readings from the Sufi tradition. The sermon was based on loosely on the theme of Light as a symbol for the via positiva, the way of celebration, awe, and wonder. Sometimes you just have to accept joy and say it's good.

After the benediction, Katrina and the Waves danced us out of the church.

Let There Be Light
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

We are in the season of summer. The days are longer. It is a season of Light. Light could be the most popular symbol for Divinity. In the Gospel of John, the Cosmic Christ is the Light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness did not overcome it.

In the Qur’an, Allah (which is simply the Arabic word for God) is the Light.

The Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree (which in English means light or enlightenment). The Enlightenment is a name we have given to a period in Western intellectual history for the light of reason overcoming the darkness of superstition.

I am not sure if there is any wisdom tradition that doesn’t make use of Light as a symbol for awakening, insight, and joy.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the first sentence placed on the lips of God was, “Let there be Light.”

As I was re-reading Matthew Fox’s 95 theses for the reformation of the church, he referenced physicist David Bohm, who said that matter is frozen light.

All matter, including human matter, is light. You could think of it theologically in that all matter, all flesh, all nature, all stuff, is frozen Divine Light. Not only do we have it in us, it is us.

We use the term Light as a symbol for creativity. It is a symbol for joy. It is a symbol for healing. It is a symbol for awe, wonder, and celebration.

This first week of summer invites us to celebrate Light. This is the via positiva, the way of looking at life, and saying, “It is good.”

We do need to bask in the Light. To let the Light soak in us.

When we moved from upstate New York to Montana about nine years ago, I had forgotten about how Light it is out in the high and dry desert. Upstate New York is beautiful. East Tennessee is beautiful. Lots of trees, lots of green, lots of rain that makes it so. So here in the East, in the land of the trees, there are many overcast days.

But I remember those first several weeks when we had moved back to Montana how light it was. I have this same experience when I return for a summer visit. The sun shines most of the time. There are few clouds. According to Montana’s state song, “the skies are always blue.”

I remember for several days spreading my arms and saying, “Give me that sun.” I wanted the Light, not so much the heat, but the light to sink into my bones.

We have had some beautiful bright light days here recently. Good days to soak it up (with the proper application of sunscreen of course).

My theme for this morning’s sermon is soak it up. Soak up the Light.

It’s time to feel good.

Now I know that we need permission.
We ask ourselves how can we feel good when we have so many disappointments?
How can we feel good when there is so much to do?
How can we feel good when there is so much suffering in the world, in our community, in our families, in our own lives?
How can I feel good when my friend is in pain?

There is so much darkness, isn’t it a sin to celebrate the Light?

If we waited until there was no more darkness, suffering and sin, we would never feel good. There is a time for everything writes the poet in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Today is as good a time as any to laugh and to dance.

That Light of laughter—that dancing Light is necessary to make all the other stuff worth it.

It is a sacred act to take delight in the beauty around us and in the beauty within us. There is beauty within you, don’t ever forget that. You are God’s beauty, God’s Light.

We do weep with those who weep. There is a time for that. There is a time in the midst of the weeping to notice beauty—beauty that is surrounded and illuminated by Light.

Taking notice of the beauty is the highest act of worship.

Over the weekend my Lovely and I watched a wonderful film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The film is based on a wild idea. Benjamin Button was born in 1918. But he was born old. He had age in his baby body, but his mind was that of a baby. As he grows, his body grows younger. He ages backwards.

I won’t give away the plot or the story if you haven’t seen it. It is a good film. It is a via positiva film. Throughout the film we get the sadness about change, but within the reality of impermanence, the joy of the characters is found in accepting what comes, the strangeness, the unpredictability of life itself.

Benjamin at one point says:
Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance.
And at another point, as an old man, or actually a young man as the case is, he has become younger even as he has lived a long time, he offers this advice:
For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great film that may inspire us to take notice of the Divine Light in all of life.

In the midst of it all, in the midst of a constantly changing existence, we could do well to give ourselves permission to enjoy it.

I suppose we also need permission to allow ourselves to be joyful. This has to do with that nagging feeling of guilt or unworthiness that puts very nasty and very wrong thoughts into our heads that we don’t deserve joy.

It could be that we need the Divine Light of forgiveness. The Light accepts us as we are. There is no reason to beat up on ourselves. No reason to deny joy. The Light has accepted you.

The world needs people who recognize the Divine Light within themselves. If no one gave themselves permission to be joyful, at least for one day—there would be no joy at all. Sometimes we just need to say, “Forget the rules (and who made them anyway?) I’m going to happy.”

I love this quote from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Soak up the Light today.

When you go out for lunch…
If you hike with us on Roan Mountain…
If you visit with relatives and friends…
If you mow the lawn…
If you go to the store…
If you fix supper…

Soak it up!

Notice how difficult all those things would be without Light!

Our lives are bathed in Light.

You are the Light.

Let it shine!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A New Reformation Part 4, Creation Spirituality

Creation Spirituality is an ancient four-fold spiritual path recently articulated by Matthew Fox. Fox is a prolific author, theologian, and activist. What is Creation Spirituality? Here are twelve principles for your reflection, thanks to Creation Spirituality Communities

1. The Universe, and all within it, is fundamentally a blessing.
Our relationship with the Universe fills us with awe.

2. In Creation, God is both immanent and transcendent. This is panentheism which is not theism (God out there) and not atheism (no God anywhere).
We experience that the Divine is in all things and all things are in the Divine.

3. God is as much Mother as Father, as much Child as Parent, as much God in mystery as the God in history, as much beyond all words and images as in all forms and beings.
We are liberated from the need to cling to God in one form or one literal name.

4. In our lives, it is through the work of spiritual practice that we find our deep and true selves.
Through the arts of meditation and silence we cultivate a clarity of mind and move beyond fear into compassion and community.

5. Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:
- awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
- uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
- birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
- justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)

We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.

6. Every one of us is a mystic.
We can enter the mystical as much through beauty (Via Positiva) as through contemplation and suffering (Via Negativa). We are born full of wonder and can recover it at any age.

7. Every one of us is an artist.
Whatever the expression of our creativity, it is our prayer and praise (Via Creativa).

8. Every one of us is a prophet.
Our prophetic work is to interfere with all forms of injustice and that which interrupts authentic life (Via Transformativa).

9. Diversity is the nature of the Universe. We rejoice in and courageously honor the rich diversity within the Cosmos and expressed among individuals and across multiple cultures, religions and ancestral traditions.

10. The basic work of God is compassion and we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion.
We acknowledge our shared interdependence; we rejoice at one another's joys and grieve at one another's sorrows and labor to heal the causes of those sorrows.

11. There are many wells of faith and knowledge drawing from one underground river of Divine wisdom. The practice of honoring, learning and celebrating the wisdom collected from these wells is Deep Ecumenism.
We respect and embrace the wisdom and oneness that arises from the diverse wells of all the sacred traditions of the world.

12. Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth.
Ecology is the local expression of cosmology and so we commit to live in light of this value: to pass on the beauty and health of Creation to future generations.

Now we have four lists. Four sets of theses statements for a new reformation. In these lists you will find some common themes that people are already intuitively identifying. Some of these common themes include appreciation for all religions (wisdom traditions) as human creations, a concern for ecological justice, appreciation of science and knowledge, and a celebration of nature as divine (rather than separate from Divinity).

You may also notice some traditional Christian things that are absent such as a separation of humankind from nature, the notion that nature is "fallen" or sinful, the idea that "God" is a supernatural being, and the obsession with a last judgment (heaven and hell).

As always your thoughts and critiques are welcome.

Part 3, TCPC
Part 2, Fox
Part 1, Funk

Friday, June 26, 2009

A New Reformation, Part 3: TCPC

My little club of bandits is affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity, which means for $100 we get a listing on its website. It is an interesting on-line connection. The website has books and resources and an interesting theological list called The Eight Points. Each point comes with an accompanying study guide.

To go along with Robert Funk's 21 theses and Matthew Fox's 95 theses, here are eight more points to add to your collection of lists. I have more lists to come as well as one that I am compiling for myself. For comparison, I will include the list of vows required for leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I will have more to say about that list in future posts.

Here is a teaser.

Vows are a good thing. To make a vow is a sacred act. It is a binding to one another, a commitment to one another, a promise to stick with one another through thick and thin, through personality conflict, disagreement, poverty, wealth, sickness, and health. It creates a bonding of interdependence which encourages creativity, compassion, intelligence, imagination, trust, and love. Vows are sacred acts. We need them to bind our communities and to show each other through ritual and reminder that each of us matters.

But something has gone wrong. Maybe it has always been wrong and I am just getting to the point at which I can voice it. It isn't the act of making a vow, it is the content of the vow and the function of the vow that has become problematic in the church today.

The vows foisted upon clergy, elders, and deacons are not wrong so much as they are dated. The vows themselves are innocuous on one level. The best word I can use to describe them is quaint. They don't really mean much of anything. I affirm them in all their sentimentality.

Their primary function, however, is punitive. Because they are thought to mean something other than what they say, they serve to keep the church in a state of institutional inertia. For instance, here is a common response to a clergyperson (we won't say who, who writes favorably about say, the Jesus Seminar, on his blog):
"You are violating your ordination vows. How can you be a Presbyterian minister?"
Get it? As opposed to "Here is where I think you are wrong" or "Here is where I disagree with you" the response is punitive: "You can't say that."

Worse than censure from the outside is self-censure. Clergy are so afraid of the potential charge of heresy (and there is good reason for it as clergy can lose their livelihoods) that they remain silent and acquiesce to that which goes against their own consciences. Far too few clergy speak what they truly think (or even what they learned in college or seminary) from the pulpit.

Sadly, the ordination vow culture that is the Presbyterian Church is not about a vow to uphold truth, goodness, conscience, beauty, integrity, or even "God" however that term is defined. These are vows of subservience to "the club" and its symbolic world. They are vows to uphold so-called "right belief" or orthodoxy. The constant repetition of these vows (every year with the ordination and installation of deacons and elders) reinforces this culture of subservience.

I use as an example the Presbyterian Church, but you will find parallels in the other Christian groups. What is amusing is that all the institutions think they are orthodox. I heard that there are over 30,000 Christian denominations in the world. There are over 10 Presbyterian denominations in the United States alone. Which one is the orthodox one?

Christian orthodoxy has a place. If you describe yourself as orthodox, if you believe that the various creeds of your particular sect reflect the most true statements in the universe, you are on my team. You are in my club. You can come to my church. I will vote your approval at a presbytery meeting. The orthodox path is an acceptable one. The reverse is not true, is it? Orthodoxy, perhaps by definition, cannot abide freedom of thought that counteracts its own. Orthodoxy is a word that people in power use to describe truth. When might makes right, subservience is a virtue.

In response to religious institutions that reinforce subservience and control are the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity. These points didn't just arise from the vapors. They are a particular response and rejection of church-as-usual.

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus' name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

4. 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;

5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers; and

8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

Part 2, Fox
Part 1, Funk

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A New Reformation, Part 2: Fox

Here is my second post in honor of Calvin's birthday regarding the reformation of the church. Check the sidebar under "Celebrating Calvin's Birthday" for my posts on this theme. Yesterday, I published Bob Funk's 21 theses. I think they are right on and I greatly admire Funk's no nonsense, take no prisoners, straight talk.

Matthew Fox wrote a book a few years ago entitled A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity. Fox included his own 95 theses and posted them on the Wittenberg door!

Take time to look these over. I included all 95 in this post as they are all gems. If I had one of those church signboards, I would put these 95 theses up one at a time for the benefit of the good folks in Carter County, Tennessee.

In regards to my theme of vows for membership and leadership, I especially like theses 8, 25, 28, 30, 34, 39 & 69.

I am thrilled that Matthew Fox is going to be in Asheville, North Carolina in a couple of weeks for the third annual Creation Spirituality Communities Event, Breathing Compassion, July 16-20. It begins with a "Hot and Holy" Cosmic Mass on the 16th at 7 p.m.

I plan on taking in the entire conference as a continuing education week. There is space for you, too! If you think the church is in for Reformation, come join us!

Here are my posts from last year's conference:
Via Positiva in Greencastle
Dangerous and Deviant
I Want to be an Ancestor

Matthew Fox pictured at right posting his 95 theses at Wittenberg. Martin Lu
ther was the original radical who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517 with his 95 Theses.

The following is from Yes! Magazine.

Like Luther, I present 95 theses or in my case, 95 faith observations drawn from my 64 years of living and practicing religion and spirituality. I trust I am not alone in recognizing these truths. For me they represent a return to our origins, a return to the spirit and the teaching of Jesus and his prophetic ancestors, and of the Christ which was a spirit that Jesus’ presence and teaching unleashed.
1. God is both Mother and Father.

2. At this time in history, God is more Mother than Father because the feminine is most missing and it is important to bring gender balance back.

3. God is always new, always young and always “in the beginning.”

4. God the Punitive Father is not a God worth honoring but a false god and an idol that serves empire-builders. The notion of a punitive, all-male God, is contrary to the full nature of the Godhead who is as much female and motherly as it is masculine and fatherly.

5. “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves.” (Eckhart) Thus people who worship a punitive father are themselves punitive.

6. Theism (the idea that God is ‘out there’ or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (panentheism).

7. Everyone is born a mystic and a lover who experiences the unity of things and all are called to keep this mystic or lover of life alive.

8. All are called to be prophets which is to interfere with injustice.

9. Wisdom is Love of Life (See the Book of Wisdom: “This is wisdom: to love life” and Christ in John’s Gospel: “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance.”)

10. God loves all of creation and science can help us more deeply penetrate and appreciate the mysteries and wisdom of God in creation. Science is no enemy of true religion.

11. Religion is not necessary but spirituality is.

12. “Jesus does not call us to a new religion but to life.” (Bonhoeffer) Spirituality is living life at a depth of newness and gratitude, courage and creativity, trust and letting go, compassion and justice.

13. Spirituality and religion are not the same thing any more than education and learning, law and justice, or commerce and stewardship are the same thing.

14. Christians must distinguish between God (masculine and history, liberation and salvation) and Godhead (feminine and mystery, being and non-action).

15. Christians must distinguish between Jesus (an historical figure) and Christ (the experience of God-in-all-things).

16. Christians must distinguish between Jesus and Paul.

17. Jesus, not unlike many spiritual teachers, taught us that we are sons and daughters of God and are to act accordingly by becoming instruments of divine compassion.

18. Ecojustice is a necessity for planetary survival and human ethics and without it we are crucifying the Christ all over again in the form of destruction of forests, waters,
species, air and soil.

19. Sustainability is another word for justice, for what is just is sustainable and what is unjust is not.

20. A preferential option for the poor, as found in the base community movement, is far closer to the teaching and spirit of Jesus than is a preferential option for the rich and powerful as found in, for example, Opus Dei.

21. Economic Justice requires the work of creativity to birth a system of economics that is global, respectful of the health and wealth of the earth systems and that works for all.

22. Celebration and worship are key to human community and survival and such reminders of joy deserve new forms that speak in the language of the twenty-first century.

23. Sexuality is a sacred act and a spiritual experience, a theophany (revelation of the Divine), a mystical experience. It is holy and deserves to be honored as such.

24. Creativity is both humanity’s greatest gift and its most powerful weapon for evil and so it ought to be both encouraged and steered to humanity’s most God-like activity which all religions agree is: Compassion.

25. There is a priesthood of all workers (all who are doing good work are midwives of grace and therefore priests) and this priesthood ought to be honored as sacred and workers should be instructed in spirituality in order to carry on their ministry effectively.

26. Empire-building is incompatible with Jesus’ life and teaching and with Paul’s life and teaching and with the teaching of holy religions.

27. Ideology is not theology and ideology endangers the faith because it replaces thinking with obedience, and distracts from the responsibility of theology to adapt the wisdom of the past to today’s needs. Instead of theology it demands loyalty oaths to the past.

28. Loyalty is not a sufficient criterion for ecclesial office—intelligence and proven conscience is.

29. No matter how much the television media fawn over the pope and papacy because it makes good theater, the pope is not the church but has a ministry within the church. Papalolotry is a contemporary form of idolatry and must be resisted by all believers.

30. Creating a church of Sycophants is not a holy thing. Sycophants (Webster’s dictionary defines them as “servile self-seeking flatterers”) are not spiritual people for their only virtue is obedience. A Society of Sycophants — sycophant clergy, sycophant seminarians, sycophant bishops, sycophant cardinals, sycophant religious orders of Opus Dei, Legioneers of Christ and Communion and Liberation, and the sycophant press--do not represent in any way the teachings or the person of the historical Jesus who chose to stand up to power rather than amassing it.

31. Vows of pontifical secrecy are a certain way to corruption and cover-up in the church as in any human organization.

32. Original sin is an ultimate expression of a punitive father God and is not a Biblical teaching. But original blessing (goodness and grace) is biblical.

33. The term “original wound” better describes the separation humans experience on leaving the womb and entering the world, a world that is often unjust and unwelcoming than does the term “original sin.”

34. Fascism and the compulsion to control is not the path of peace or compassion and those who practice fascism are not fitting models for sainthood. The seizing of the apparatus of canonization to canonize fascists is a stain on the church.

35. The Spirit of Jesus and other prophets calls people to simple life styles in order that “the people may live.”

36. Dancing, whose root meaning in many indigenous cultures is the same as breath or spirit, is a very ancient and appropriate form in which to pray.

37. To honor the ancestors and celebrate the communion of saints does not mean putting heroes on pedestals but rather honoring them by living out lives of imagination, courage and compassion in our own time, culture and historical moment as they did in theirs.

The cover of Matthew Fox's lastest book: A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity

38. A diversity of interpretation of the Jesus event and the Christ experience is altogether expected and welcomed as it was in the earliest days of the church.

39. Therefore unity of church does not mean conformity. There is unity in diversity. Coerced unity is not unity.

40. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through participatory democracy in church structures and hierarchical modes of being can indeed interfere with the work of the Spirit.

41. The body is an awe-filled sacred Temple of God and this does not mean it is untouchable but rather that all its dimensions, well named by the seven chakras, are as holy as the others.

42. Thus our connection with the earth (first chakra) is holy; and our sexuality (second chakra) is holy; and our moral outrage (third chakra) is holy; and our love that stands up to fear (fourth chakra) is holy; and our prophetic voice that speaks out is holy (fifth chakra); and our intuition and intelligence (sixth chakra) are holy; and our gifts we extend to the community of light beings and ancestors (seventh chakra) are holy.

43. The prejudice of rationalism and left-brain located in the head must be balanced by attention to the lower charkas as equal places for wisdom and truth and Spirit to act.

44. The central chakra, compassion, is the test of the health of all the others which are meant to serve it for “by their fruits you will know them” (Jesus).

45. “Joy is the human’s noblest act.” (Aquinas) Is our culture and its professions, education and religion, promoting joy?

46. The human psyche is made for the cosmos and will not be satisfied until the two are re-united and awe, the beginning of wisdom, results from this reunion.

47. The four paths named in the creation spiritual tradition more fully name the mystical/prophetic spiritual journey of Jesus and the Jewish tradition than do the three paths of purgation, illumination and union which do not derive from the Jewish and Biblical tradition.

48. Thus it can be said that God is experienced in experiences of ecstasy, joy, wonder and delight (via positiva).

49. God is experienced in darkness, chaos, nothingness, suffering, silence and in learning to let go and let be (via negativa).

50. God is experienced in acts of creativity and co-creation (via creativa).

51. All people are born creative. It is spirituality’s task to encourage holy imagination for all are born in the “image and likeness” of the Creative One and “the fierce power of imagination is a gift from God.” (Kaballah)

52. If you can talk you can sing; if you can walk you can dance; if you can talk you are an artist. (African proverb and Native American saying)

53. God is experienced in our struggle for justice, healing, compassion and celebration (via transformativa).

54. The Holy Spirit works through all cultures and all spiritual traditions and blows “where it wills” and is not the exclusive domain of any one tradition and
never has been.

55. God speaks today as in the past through all religions and all cultures and all faith traditions none of which is perfect and an exclusive avenue to truth but all of which can learn from each other.

56. Therefore Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism are a necessary part of spiritual praxis and awareness in our time.

57. Since the “number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship with one’s own faith,” (the Dalai Lama) it is important that Christians know their own mystical and prophetic tradition, one that is larger than a religion of empire and its punitive father images of God.

58. The cosmos is God’s holy Temple and our holy home.

59. Fourteen billion years of evolution and unfolding of the universe bespeak the intimate sacredness of all that is.

60. All that is is holy and all that is is related for all being in our universe began as one being just before the fireball erupted.

61. Interconnectivity is not only a law of physics and of nature but also forms the basis of community and of compassion. Compassion is the working out of our shared interconnectivity both as to our shared joy and our shared suffering and struggle for justice.

62. The universe does not suffer from a shortage of grace and no religious institution is to see its task as rationing grace. Grace is abundant in God’s universe.

63. Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection are continuously happening on a cosmic as well as a personal scale. So too are Life, Death and Resurrection (regeneration and reincarnation) happening on a cosmic scale as well as a personal one.

64. Biophilia or Love of Life is everyone’s daily task.

65. Necrophilia or love of death is to be opposed in self and society in all its forms.

66. Evil can happen through every people, every nation, every tribe, and every individual human and so vigilance and self-criticism and institutional criticism are always called for.

67. Not all who call themselves “Christian” deserve that name just as “not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Jesus).

68. Pedophilia is a terrible wrong but its cover-up by hierarchy is even more despicable.

69. Loyalty and obedience are never a greater virtue than conscience and justice.

70. Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality.

71. A church that is more preoccupied with sexual wrongs than with wrongs of injustice is itself sick.

72. Since homosexuality is found among 464 species and in 8 percent of any given human population, it is altogether natural for those who are born that way and is a gift from God and nature to the greater community.

73. Homophobia in any form is a serious sin against love of neighbor, a sin of ignorance of the richness and diversity of God’s creation as well as a sin of exclusion.

74. Racism, Sexism and militarism are also serious sins.

75. Poverty for the many and luxury for the few is not right or sustainable.

76. Consumerism is today’s version of gluttony and needs to be confronted by creating an economic system that works for all peoples and all earth’s creatures.

77. Seminaries as we know them, with their excessive emphasis on left-brain work, often kill and corrupt the mystical soul of the young instead of encouraging the mysticism and prophetic consciousness that is there. They should be replaced by wisdom schools.

78. Inner work is required of us all. Therefore spiritual practices of meditation should be available to all and this helps in calming the reptilian brain. Silence or contemplation and learning to be still can and ought to be taught to all children and adults.

79. Outer work needs to flow from our inner work just as action flows from non-action and true action from being.

80. A wise test of right action is this: What is the effect of this action on people seven generations from today?

81. Another test of right action is this: Is what I am doing, is what we are doing, beautiful or not?

82. Eros, the passion for living, is a virtue that combats acedia or the lack of energy to begin new things and is also expressed as depression, cynicism or sloth (also known as “couchpotatoitis”).

83. The Dark Night of the Soul descends on us all and the proper response is not addiction such as shopping, alcohol, drugs, TV, sex or religion but rather to be with the darkness and learn from it.

84. The Dark Night of the Soul is a learning place of great depth. Stillness is required.

85. Not only is there a Dark Night of the Soul but also a Dark Night of Society and a Dark Night of our Species.

86. Chaos is a friend and a teacher and an integral part or prelude to new birth. Therefore it is not to be feared or compulsively controlled.

87. Authentic science can and must be one of humanity’s sources of wisdom for it is a source of sacred awe, of childlike wonder, and of truth.

88. When science teaches that matter is “frozen light” (physicist David Bohm) it is freeing human thought from scapegoating flesh as something evil and instead reassuring us that all things are light. This same teaching is found in the Christian Gospels (Christ is the light in all things) and in Buddhist teaching (the Buddha nature is in all things). Therefore, flesh does not sin; it is our choices that are sometimes off center.

89. The proper objects of the human heart are truth and justice (Aquinas) and all people have a right to these through healthy education and healthy government.

90. "God” is only one name for the Divine One and there are an infinite number of names for God and Godhead and still God “has no name and will never be given a name.” (Eckhart)

91. Three highways into the heart are silence and love and grief.

92. The grief in the human heart needs to be attended to by rituals and practices that, when practiced, will lessen anger and allow creativity to flow anew.

93. Two highways out of the heart are creativity and acts of justice and compassion.

94. Since angels learn exclusively by intuition, when we develop our powers of intuition we can expect to meet angels along the way.

95. True intelligence includes feeling, sensitivity, beauty, the gift of nourishment and humor which is a gift of the Spirit, paradox, being its sister.

A New Reformation, Part 1: Funk

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Episcopal Resolution on Marriage

From Wounded Bird:
Episcopal bishops in the six states that have legalized same-sex marriage are asking the Church's General Convention to "permit the adaptation of the Pastoral Offices for The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and The Blessing of a Civil Marriage for use with all couples who seek the church's support and God's blessing in their marriages."

The legislation is being proposed by Bishop Stephen T. Lane of Maine. Sponsors include: Bishops Andrew Smith, Laura Ahrens and James Curry of Connecticut; Bishop Alan Scarfe of Iowan; Bishops Thomas Shaw, Roy Cederholm and Gayle Harris of Massachusetts; Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont.

Resolved, That in those dioceses, under the direction of the bishop, generous discretion is extended to clergy in the exercise of their pastoral ministry in order to permit the adaptation of the Pastoral Offices for The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and The Blessing of a Civil Marriage for use with all couples who seek the church's support and God's blessing in their marriages; and be it further

Resolved, That in order to build a body of experience for the benefit of the church, each bishop in those dioceses where this pastoral practice is exercised provide an annual written report on their experience to the House of Bishops each March and to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for its report to the 77th General Convention.
OK Presbyterian writers of resolutions, do we need something similar for the next General Assembly? Or are we hampered by that task force on same-gender blessings or whatever? In other words, how do we get this rockin'?

Or, do we even need anything? Can we just marry gay and lesbian couples anyway? I know we can (just do it) but will doing so also win in ye olde church court?

Oh Argentina!

Here is one for a certain South Carolina governor...

So That's Where the Gov Went...

Mark Sanford (R): The South Carolina governor, a potential presidential hopeful and a strong conservative, goes missing for nearly a week, as his staff gives incomplete and conflicting reports as to his whereabouts. Sanford returns from Argentina and admits to an affair with a woman there. He resigns as chairman of the Republican Governors Association but has not yet indicated whether he will quit the governorship.


A New Reformation Part 1: Funk

July 10th is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Calvin was the 16th century reformer who is considered the father of Presbyterianism. On Saturday the Johnson City Press featured an article on Calvin:
Born into a middle-class Roman Catholic family in the little French town of Noyon, north of Paris, Calvin became a lawyer, but soon came to sympathize with the anti-papal theses of Martin Luther that had rapidly spread to France.
Calvin broke with his Catholic past. His great rhetorical talents earned him quick prominence as an evangelical teacher, but religious turmoil forced him to go into exile in Basel, Switzerland.
He was 26 when he began writing the
“Institutes of the Christian Religion,” the first compendium of Reformed doctrines, much more profound than Luther’s theses of 1517. They won him an invitation from newly Protestant Geneva. But Calvin was soon banished again because authorities found his ideas were too radical.
He returned in 1541 after receiving assurances of official support for his plans to complete a Reformation based on his teachings. He introduced a revolutionary church constitution based on the democratic principles of division of powers.
In celebration of his birthday, I thought I would devote a few posts to the reformation of the church. I will present a few folks who also think we are due for a reformation as well as offer a few of my own ideas.

Why a reformation? Our denomination has lost members every year since the 60s with a whopping 69,000 net loss in 2008. We cannot blame this loss on one thing. But it is worth reflection on why so many people are part of the church alumni association. At least for the people I hang out with, the church's official beliefs and vows of membership and ordination are out of touch with reality.

In part, it is personal. I wish I had five bucks every time someone on this blog or on another blog has accused me of breaking my ordination vows. In my previous presbytery I was even officially "investigated" because one of my colleagues, a true believing busybody, thought something I wrote was is in violation of my ordination vows.

So is it me? Or the busybodies? Or is the problem the vows? Of course I play the game and tell the busybodies that I affirm my ordination vows (and I do so by interpreting them loosely). The very fact that I have to do that shows there is something wrong with the language in the first place. So I will devote a few posts to the vows that deacons, elders, and clergy in my denomination are required to affirm. My hope is that you will see that we are requiring duplicity among our church's leaders and that cannot be productive for our denomination's survival let alone relevance.

Larger than denominational or personal issues, we need a reformation because the world and its needs have changed. Believe it or not, I think that the church could and sometimes does say something good and worthwhile. We are facing huge threats to the survival of humanity and Earth. We need the best thinking available to interpret and respond to these crises. But our official church dogmas are still otherworldly and locked into a pre-modern system of thought.

I devote my first post to the founder of the Jesus Seminar, Robert W. Funk. Here are his twenty-one theses for the reformation of the church.

These 21 theses are found in his 1996 book, Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium. They were also printed in The Fourth R in 1998.

  1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.
  2. The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.
  3. The deliteralization of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis brought an end to the dogma of original sin as something inherited from the first human being. Death is not punishment for sin, but is entirely natural. And sin is not transmitted from generation to generation by means of male sperm, as suggested by Augustine.
  4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible, in spite of the fact that most people still believe it. Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood. Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable; otherwise they contradict the regularity of the order of the physical universe.
  5. Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity. Prayer should be understood principally as meditation—as listening rather than talking—and as attention to the needs of neighbor.


  1. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.
  2. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.
  4. The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
  5. The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense. The meaning of the resurrection is that a few of his followers—probably no more than two or three—finally came to understand what he was all about. When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive.
  6. The expectation that Jesus will return and sit in cosmic judgment is part and parcel of the mythological worldview that is now defunct. Furthermore, it undergirds human lust for the punishment of enemies and evildoers and the corresponding hope for rewards for the pious and righteous. All apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda.

God's Domain according to Jesus

  1. Jesus advocates and practices a trust ethic. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, is characterized by trust in the order of creation and the essential goodness of neighbor.
  2. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet.
  3. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy.
  4. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. The church has insisted on the necessity of mediators in order to protect its brokerage system.
  5. For Jesus, the kingdom does not require cultic rituals to mark the rites of passage from outsider to insider, from sinner to righteous, from child to adult, from client to broker.
  6. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they sponsor it.
  7. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and exodus are the true conditions of authentic existence.

The canon

  1. The New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of orthodox attempts to invent Christianity. The canon of scripture adopted by traditional Christianity should be contracted and expanded simultaneously to reflect respect for the old tradition and openness to the new. Only the works of strong poets—those who startle us, amaze us with a glimpse of what lies beyond the rim of present sight—should be considered for inclusion. The canon should be a collection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits, like the myth of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable or the myth of the American West.
  2. The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior that should govern human behavior for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.

The language of faith

  1. In rearticulating the vision of Jesus, we should take care to express ourselves in the same register as he employed in his parables and aphorisms—paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor. Further, our reconstructions of his vision should be provisional, always subject to modification and correction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barney Frank: Friend of the Doobie

This is common sense. The most dangerous thing about marijuana is getting busted.


Frank has filed a bill that would eliminate federal penalties for personal possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana.

It would also make the penalty for using marijuana in public just $100.

"I think John Stuart Mill had it right in the 1850s," said Congressman Frank, "when he argued that individuals should have the right to do what they want in private, so long as they don't hurt anyone else. It's a matter of personal liberty. Moreover, our courts are already stressed and our prisons are over-crowded. We don't need to spend our scarce resources prosecuting people who are doing no harm to others."

Meaning of Life, Part 28

34,000 conservatives left the denomination because of their obsession over genitals, and 104,000 people left the denomination because they got sick of conservatives' obsession over genitals.

Alan Kiste (on the report of PCUSA membership losses)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Presbyterian Pruning

We are whittling down our denomination to the size of Gideon's army. The Presbyterian News Service published a story today about our latest loss which is the largest since reunion in 1983.

LOUISVILLE — Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) fell by 69,381 in 2008, the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) has announced in its annual statistical report, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1960s.

Total membership of the denomination is now 2,140,165.

Where did they go?
Almost 104,000 people joined the PC(USA) last year, but that good news was more than offset by the 34,101 Presbyterians who died, the 34,340 who were members of the 25 congregations that left the PC(USA) for other denominations, and the staggering 104,428 who were removed from the rolls by their sessions without apparently joining any other church.
Our stated clerk, Gradye Parsons said, “Presbyterians can be evangelists!”

I tried that word "evangelist" on my folks the other day, but they didn't like it much. It reminds people of a sweaty tent-meeting filled with loud, insistent Bible-thumpers. When I tried to suggest that evangelism means "good news" they didn't buy it. Too much baggage. On the other hand, they are good about inviting people to our congregation. Just don't call them evangelists.

I have no clear idea why our denomination is losing members. I suppose if you don't want to go to church, one excuse is as good as another. Baggage is a big issue. Creeds, boring hymns, bashing gays, superstitions, and the general nausea caused by Christian "evangelism" have got to be turn offs. It can't be working in our favor when the true believers actively prevent congregations from welcoming members. I am surprised that anyone shows up at all.

We have carved out our little niche by being anti-evangelists. We aren't going to tell you one thing that you need to believe. I will blather on about my religious opinions but no one needs to accept them. Jesus is my ishta devata but he doesn't have to be yours. Find your own path.

Of course I could be the problem. The fundamentalists complain that our denomination loses members because we aren't fundamentalist enough. If we were only more narrow-minded and bigoted folks would beat down the doors to enter.

Gradye Parsons lamented that we are losing our young people.

“It is a trend supported by a recent survey on religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life” he noted. “The survey reports that seven in ten former Protestants gradually drifted away from their childhood religion. Initially, they are in worship every Sunday, then every other Sunday, and then gone.”
I think this is a telling statement: "seven in ten former Protestants gradually drifted away from their childhood religion."

Good for them. Who wants a childhood religion? Maybe our youth are smarter than the rest of us. They are becoming adults. Maybe it is good news that the denomination is losing members. Perhaps it is a sign that people are growing up, thinking for themselves, and have no need of evangelists who want to save them from the pits of hell.

It could be that "childhood religion" is the problem. In the three churches I have served, all the children, like those of Lake Wobegon, were above average. Most went to college. If anything challenges a childhood religion, a university education does. After this marvelous experience they come back to church and are forced to re-enter the fourth grade.

Religion is changing. The things that denominations and congregations at one time relied upon to keep people in the pews no longer work. Threats of hell? Yawn. Social survival? Not needed. Archaic creeds and notions of God are not only not compelling but are limiting. They are all part of childhood religion.

Because our denomination does value education we are in a good position to be a free-thinking, thoughtful denomination. In order to do that I think we will need to move beyond belief. But that won't happen if we put our efforts on being unified with traditionalists who are intent on forcing belief. So I will expect more and more huge losses for the PCUSA until progressives and traditionalists part ways. I don't think this will happen by design, but by attrition.

It is hard to predict. My hope is that the progressive wings of the mainline denominations will forge alliances, sharing clergy and congregations, energy, and activism. We may find out sooner rather than later.

Cotton Mouth

Blame Julie

A koala was sitting in a gum tree smoking a joint

When a little lizard walked past, looked up and said,'Hey Koala! What are you doing?'

The koala said, 'Smoking a joint, come up and have some.'

So the little lizard climbed up and sat next to the koala where they enjoyed a few joints.

After a while the little lizard said that his mouth was 'dry' and that he was going to get a drink from the river.

The little lizard was so stoned that he leaned over too far and fell into the river. A crocodile saw this and swam over to the little lizard and helped him to the side. Then he asked the little lizard, 'What's the matter with you?'

The little lizard explained to the crocodile that he had been sitting with the koala in the tree, smoking a joint, but got too stoned and fell into the river while taking a drink.
The crocodile said that he had to check this out and walked into the rain forest, found the tree where the koala was sitting finishing a joint.

The crocodile looked up and said,
'Hey you!'

So the koala looked down at him and said,

‘Shiiiiiiiiiiit dude! How much water did you drink!?'

Presbyterian Paranoia

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) finished its 37th General Assembly in paranoid fashion. The PCA is a different denomination from the one I serve, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). When the two main branches of the Presbyterian Church finally decided the Civil War had ended in 1983, they reunited. Ten years prior to reunion, some congregations of the then "southern branch" broke away and formed their own denomination. The larger church had become too liberal for their tastes. The PCA doesn't ordain women and it accepts only the Westminster Confession. You can read the history from their point of view here.

It is no surprise then that they would be opposed to equal rights and rites for glbt folks. It would be a safe bet that few if any of their clergy would be inclined to officiate at a same-gender wedding ceremony. Of course, no clergy is ever, ever, required to officiate at any wedding.

That is such an obvious truth. As a clergyperson I am not required to officiate at anyone's wedding. Even though every state in the union allows previously divorced people to be married, no clergyperson is required to marry them. Allowance does not mean requirement.

Why then, did the PCA need to take "dramatic steps" to protect "their religious freedom?" It is a ploy based on fear-mongering.

During floor debate, a pastor from Iowa punctuated the group’s concern when he said he could potentially face discrimination claims under the state’s new policy of permitting same-sex marriages.

“If we fail to change the language today … you will leave me without protection,” said Allen McClure of Faith Presbyterian Church in Ackley, Iowa. “I would like to get the protection now, so that if the lawsuit comes next week or next month, I will have the protection.”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” McClure says. “I like being with my family.”

But if necessary, some PCA pastors say, they would go to jail rather than perform same-sex marriages.

I don't lose sleep over the superstitions of a religious body that is not my own. I highlight this article to show the lengths the religious right will go to make America dumber.

Now I am curious. Has there ever been a case in which a minister has gone to jail because s/he refused to marry someone?

This debate over same-gender marriage illustrates the larger concern whether or not churches and clergy should be in the marriage business at all.

I might be in favor of couples suing clergy and churches. Not same-gender couples necessarily, but anyone. If your local priest, rabbi, or preacher has the privilege of signing a civil marriage contract, should that person be required to sign it? If previously divorced Bob wants to marry atheist June and have the local priest sign the contract, should the priest be required to sign it? Is it not discrimination to refuse?

The issue of same-gender marriage and the church has nothing to do with same-gender marriage. The issue is the meddling of the church in civil affairs. I don't think clergy should have any business signing civil contracts, but it will be a long time before the church lobby gives up that privilege.

In the meantime, no church or clergy will ever be forced by anti-discrimination laws to marry anyone. For clergy and church bodies to make a big stink over same-gender marriage is nothing more than fear-mongering. It is a bullying attempt to deny people civil rights under the cover of religious persecution.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ishta Devata: A Sermon

Ishta Devata
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
June 21st, 2009
John 14:1-7

When you go to a bookstore and check out the religion section you will find all kinds of books about Jesus. Year after year scholars and non-professionals alike publish books about Jesus. The Real Jesus. What Jesus Really Said. The Secret Life of Jesus. The Historical Jesus. Many of the books are an attempt to refute some other book about Jesus. One would think that all that could be written about Jesus already would have been written. But that isn’t so. Apparently, the author of the Gospel of John had it right in the final sentence of his account:

“But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

After two thousand years, Jesus is still a hot topic. We still wait for the definitive account that will unlock the mysteries of this figure. I have been interested in the search for the historical Jesus, that is the search for what we can know about the person as distinct from the legends and the theological affirmations about him.

This quest is at least as old as Thomas Jefferson who took scissors to his New Testament. He discarded the miracles as supernatural fluff and retained the teachings. Jesus, for Jefferson, was a teacher of wisdom, particularly a teacher of morality.

This quest reflects in part, dissatisfaction with the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. For many, the Jesus of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds is not credible. These creeds tell us more about those who formulated them several hundred years after Jesus than they do about the person of Jesus.

That is not to say these creeds are not poetic or express truths in mythical form. I think they do and I think they have value for that reason. To say, as the Apostle’s Creed does, that “Jesus descended into Hell” is to say something about our own need. In our own Hell, in our own estrangement, the Divine One comes to us, seeks us out, and calls us blessed.

Nevertheless, the conceptual universe in which the creeds were formed no longer exists. A trip to the planetarium shows the universe far more interesting than a heaven above and a hell below.

We are faced with a choice. We can suspend disbelief and enter into this world of demons and gods, heaven and hell, and supernatural miracles like we do when we read Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter novel. You enter into its world, accept its parameters, and seek the truth within the story itself. I tend to do that.

Yet there is a difference between enjoying a novel and making a religion out of it. Can you pray to or trust in a god you know you have created? I don’t have the answer to that question, I just raise it.

The other choice, aside from rejecting Christianity and Jesus altogether, is to seek a Jesus who speaks to our context. This is a context shaped by the sciences and the humanities. The quest for the historical Jesus or a credible Jesus is, I think, a quest for a modern myth. We are looking for a myth of the human. We are not looking so much for “God” as we are for what it means to be human.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say “We.” It is what I am looking for. I enjoy reading about the various portraits offered by students of history about the person of Jesus and the context of his time and the time of writers of the Gospels.

I do have a couple of disclaimers.

First, I have no certainty that any of these portraits are accurate. Because Jesus didn’t write anything and because there are no independent sources for him outside of texts that proclaimed him as a divine figure, the historical person is elusive.

Second, I admit up front that my interests are religious. Mine is not a disinterested scholarly quest. I think that Jesus, in part because he is elusive historically, can be a focal point of a modern myth of the human.

Throughout the centuries, Jesus has served as a myth for God. Of course, Christianity has not called it a myth until recently. It has been absolute truth. In this version, Jesus is not only a way to God, but the only way. The text we read from the 14th chapter of John’s gospel has been one of the key texts in hammering this truth home. It is the text before the altar call. Jesus is the only way and if you don’t believe it right this second, it is down the chute to the fire for you. I am preaching to the choir, but I think we all know that this theology has had unfortunate consequences.

Is there another way? Is there a way for those who identify with Christianity to both have their Jesus and be inclusive too? I think so. I think concepts from other religions might be helpful.

I also included a reading from the Bhagavad-Gita. In this text, Krishna is saying to Arjuna essentially the same thing Jesus is saying to his disciples.

'You want to get to Brahmin, to the Father, to God, to all that is, to the Ultimate Reality, the Truth beyond all truth, to the I Am Who I Am, and I Will Be Who I Will Be? Well, you can’t. It is too big. You are too small. In my person, you get a manifestation."

In Jesus, in Krishna, you get a particular vehicle.

Historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg tells a story of a Hindu teacher preaching in a Christian church about the 14th chapter of John. He is not a Christian Hindu. He is a Hindu. He read this text:

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Hindu teacher said, “This is absolutely true. And it is true for every enduring religion.”

Whether Jesus says it, or Krishna says it or whether the Qur’an says it, the way to the Ultimate is through the particular. One could say, “I love humanity.” Great. However, the only way to love humanity is to love concretely the flesh and blood human being sitting next to you. Otherwise it is just talk. It isn’t about right belief, but commitment. It is as if Jesus is telling his disciples, “Hey guys, do you want to get to be super spiritual. You want to find God, man?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” they say.

“Here is how. Do what I have done. Love your neighbors. Feed the poor. Stand up for the dispossessed. Give your life for others.”

“Oh. We were hoping we could just recite a prayer and believe a creed.”

One of the advantages of studying other religions is that this study can give us insights into our own. A concept that I find intriguing is from Hinduism. It is the concept of ishta devata, or chosen deity.

Because Hinduism is polytheistic, our Hindu friends have a number of deities from which to choose. The ishta devata is the deity you choose. The idea here is to find a deity who speaks to you. You need to do some research. You find one you like. The deity must have some depth with characteristics you have or that you would like to develop. You use this deity as a focal point for meditation, devotion, and personal growth. The deity you choose is a vehicle for your own growth.

There a couple of guidelines.

The first is that you stick with it. It is less helpful to bounce from one deity to another. If you want to find water you need to dig a hole. To get water you are told you will need to dig forty feet. You could dig ten holes four feet deep or you could dig one hole forty feet deep. The second option is going to be more productive even as it will be more difficult. When you search for your ishta devata find one you can live with and stick with.

The second guideline is that your ishta devata must be credible. Even as you may choose a figure from religious literature, she or he as to be real for you. You define what real is. But your ishta devata needs to satisfy your sense of what is real.

You can choose Jesus. You can choose the Jesus you grew up with, or if that Jesus no longer works, you can find another ishta devata. If you want to stick with Jesus, you can choose a particular aspect of Jesus. Perhaps the infant Jesus or the healing Jesus or the Jesus who offers unconditional love, or a combination of these images will work for you. There are plenty of Jesuses to go around.

I think the quest for the historical Jesus is really a quest for an ishta devata. It is a search for a Jesus who is credible. At least as I look back on it that is what it has been for me. You don’t need to tell anyone who your ishta devata is. In fact, it is probably wise not to do so.

But at that risk, for point of illustration, mine is my version of the “historical Jesus.” I put quotes around “historical Jesus” to show that I don’t know if my Jesus is the historical one or not. For me, he is a credible Jesus. This is the Jesus who told parables, who welcomed outcasts, who was a healing presence, who stood up for the disenfranchised, who loved enemies, who considered the lilies, who practiced non-violence, and who was so committed to what he stood for, that he risked and even paid for it with his own life. For me, this Jesus is real and alive.

This Jesus is for me what it means to be a human being.

The creeds and theological speculations about Jesus I respect as the ishta devata of my ancestors. I value them and learn from them as such. But for me, the way to authentic life, the way to the Father (since it is Father’s Day, I’ll say Father) is the way that this first century Palestinian Jew lived his life even to his death.

I offer this concept of the ishta devata only because it has been helpful to me. It may or may not be helpful for you. I have found in it a way to remain Christian without having to embrace either an incredible Christianity or an exclusive one.

Peace and strength be with you on your search.