Shuck and Jive

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Better Living Through Evolution--A Sermon

Better Living Through Evolution
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

February 14th, 2010
Evolution Sunday

Luke 9:28-36
Bhagavad Gita 11:8-14

Welcome to Evolution Sunday. This is the fifth year this congregation has participated. Evolution Sunday is the brainchild of Michael Zimmerman, professor of biology at Butler University. He started the Clergy Letter Project. Since its inception in 2006, over 12,000 clergy have signed a letter stating their support of teaching evolution as a core component of human knowledge.

The idea of Evolution Sunday or Evolution Weekend is to devote the Sunday that is closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday to science and to evolution. My only lament is that Evolution Sunday comes but once per year. Like we are supposed to do with Christmas we should keep the warmth and wisdom of natural selection in our hearts year round.

One might ask what right have I to talk about evolution? I am not a scientist. That is true. I am a simple country preacher. But I don’t need to be a scientist to know that if I jump off of the roof of my house I will fall and hit the ground. My physics professor in college explained that to me. His name was Denny Lee. He said the reason that happens is because the earth sucks. That will happen again and again no matter how much I pray for angels to uphold me or how much I read my Bible.

He also explained those little white dots we see in the sky on a clear night. They are not gods. They are not spirits of ancestors. They are not holes in the blue dome that covers the earth. They are not space aliens. They are stars. They are balls of fire like our sun but a long way away. They will be there and from our vantage point appear to move whether we pray to them or not.

Our sun while we say it rises in the morning and sets at night we don’t really mean it. There is no deity who rides his fiery chariot across the sky each day. In fact our little blue sphere of a home rotates respective to the sun and revolves around it completing its journey once per year.

I knew these things before my professor told us in his own witty way. We don’t need to be scientists to know these things. It is good to know these things. It is good to teach them to our children.

If you were to ask me how gravity works or to provide calculations predicting the motions of Earth and the stars I couldn’t do it. But there are folks who work on those puzzles. They will do so without needing to bring God into it. Many such astronomers and physicists have done a lot of work on these questions. They have come up with some good things to know.

Scientists have been able to date the beginning of the universe to about 13.7 billion years ago and the date of Earth to 4.5 billion years or so. Our earliest fossils, micro bacteria, I have heard, are about 3.5 billion years old. Life that today includes ants, dung beetles, grass, cabbage, bonobos, bananas, and you and me are the twists and turns of natural processes.

If you were to ask me details of how this works I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But there are folks who work on these puzzles. They will do so without needing to bring God into it. This science is public and cumulative and open to anyone who wishes to pick up a book and read. A good one by the way is the latest by Richard Dawkins called The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

Thankfully, this information is becoming more and more available to non-scientists and of course, most importantly, to children who are going to need to think critically and understand how life works to address the challenges they will face.

So what does it mean that a recent Harris Poll tells us 54 percent of U.S. adults believe that humans did not develop from earlier species? To scare you further that is up from 46 percent in 1994.

It means that we have work to do. I think it is an invitation for us to be more forthcoming and public about the importance of science. This includes being forthcoming about our own religious texts and how they are human products and how religion itself is a product of cultural evolution.

Let’s look at it from a different angle. This creationist hoopla (you know a 6,000 year old Earth, Cain and Abel riding dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, the superstition of intelligent design) may be a good thing. Because of it we now have stacks of books on evolution and science for the non-specialist. Controversy can help move things forward.

A book I recommend is by a professor at Binghamton University. He has started an Evolutionary Studies program there. His name is David Sloan Wilson, His book is Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives.

Wilson is an evolutionist. He is of the view that evolution is not merely a specialized academic theory for biologists. All fields including human behavior, literary studies, religion, art, music, and psychology, can be enhanced by seeing them through an evolutionary perspective.

Let’s take a look at a famous text in the Bible. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes:
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I know this piece of scripture has resonated with many people. We all know that feeling of not doing what we want to do and doing what we don’t want to do. We probably know the feeling of getting down on ourselves for it. We have said perhaps about ourselves something like, “Wretched man [or woman] that I am.”

Paul doesn’t specify what sin dwelt within him. But we can probably guess. It likely had to do with sex or food, our most powerful drives. Maybe he discovered a narcotic of some kind. Maybe some kind of personality trait such as temper.

But it is very possible that the "sin" that enslaved him was something his ancestors needed to survive. Our desire for sugar, fat, and salt is a carryover of what enabled our ancestors to survive when those things were in short supply, unlike today when what we call junk food is more plentiful that healthy food.

Paul need not think of himself as a wretched man filled with sin and evil. He is dancing with ghosts.

In David Sloan Wilson’s book he invites us to imagine a roomful of ballroom dancers. Each is dancing with an invisible partner. At the edge of a dance floor is a huge pit. The dancers fall into it one after another.

He uses that image to describe an environment that has changed but the organism behaves from old rules. This is like sea turtles that evolved to see reflected moonlight on the surface of the sea so when they are born on the beach they follow the light to the sea. But now with beach houses offering light, the baby sea turtles go the wrong way following the light of the beach houses to their death. They are dancing with ghosts as are many species especially as humans have changed their environments.

Human beings dance with ghosts as well. We continue old patterns, such as desiring and eating unhealthy food, even as our environment changed.

Paul is engaging unconsciously with desires that aren’t necessarily bad, just not helpful in the present. Knowing that doesn’t excuse it, nor does it prevent it. But it can lift that guilt and self-loathing. That is a lot. It can raise awareness of what was previously unconscious so that it loses its mystique and power.

If we can name it, we are more likely to tame it.

Evolutionary theory whether genetic evolution or cultural evolution could be the best thing we have going to explain who we are and why we are who we are. Understanding our ancestry including our deep ancestry can bring to consciousness aspects of our behavior that we couldn’t explain or that we explained by debasing ourselves or others.

Why do we dance? Did you know that dance is prior to language? Our earliest ancestors danced together in groups sometimes until exhaustion. They did it because that brought them together. It made them feel connected. Music and drumming and dancing. It is primal. It is before speech. Watch a one year old getting down to the rhythm of a washing machine and you know what I mean. Music and dance is universal. It is the activity that connects human beings, that allows us to cooperate and to praise one another.

I have a solution for the folks in congress. They need to take their shoes off and have a sock hop, dancing night and day until they fall exhausted. Now that is a filibuster.

Our two stories for today, one from the Bible and one from the Bhagavad Gita are legends. They are similar. Some people may think that what is important about these stories is that they are different. Not only different but folks may think that one story is superior or more true and so forth than the other.

I think it is more interesting to see what these two stories have in common. In each case the god is in human form and reveals to the people his true form. Jesus for Peter, James, and John, and Krishna for Arjuna.

Peter, James, and John see Jesus in white standing with Moses and Elijah. Arjuna sees Krishna as the embodiment of the universe. Dramatic visions. Then when it is done, they all are a bit stunned. In Jesus’ case a voice comes from heaven telling Peter, James, and John to do what Jesus tells them. Back to Earth. In Krishna’s case, Krishna tells Arjuna to do his duty. Back to Earth.

In other words the vision provides strength for the journey. It doesn’t solve their problems. It makes them aware of their connection. These stories are symbolic stories of the experience of insight. These are the ‘aha’ moments. “Oh, I get it now!” These stories symbolize awareness, consciousness, wonder, and awe.

Peter, James, John, and Arjuna still have to do their duty. They still have to live on Earth. But they do so with a heightened awareness. Today, in the place of gods, visions, and miracles, we have elegant theories of how things work. In the place of original sin and Satan we have a 3.5 billion year evolutionary process. We are different than each other and we are different than other species, but we are also alike. We share with all of life all the way back genetics and a creative process.

I think that is pretty amazing. Not only is that amazing, but if you will excuse the use of some spiritual words, it is enlightening and inspiring. It is amazing grace. Like Arjuna, Peter, James, and John, we still have to live in the world. We still have to do our duty whatever that duty might be, but we do it with a whole cloud of witnesses, an entire ancestral deep history of life surging through us.

We have no less experiences today that Peter, James, John, and Arjuna had. Our ancients told stories of gods, but it is even more amazing, far more amazing today. We can marvel at a beehive and know a little about their dance. We can see images of deep, deep space through images from the Hubble Telescope. Or we can lie on our backs and night and know that those lights are suns millions of light-years away. We can be aware that all the things we do and feel have a history, a deep history.

We belong here. On Earth. As Earthlings on our blue boat home.


  1. Thank you for a great sermon! I enjoyed reading it. I especially enjoyed the video at the end. Beautiful and a great image of our life in this universe. I love the idea that the earth is our blue boat home.

  2. This is a sermon for a Christian church?

  3. I was there for this sermon, Suleyman. My first time there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps John and the good folks of First Presby are just evolving faster than some other Christians?

  4. I suspect, Suleyman, that even Jesus talked about something other than, well, um, Jesus, once in a while. I'm just saying.

  5. Suleyman is... said...
    "This is a sermon for a Christian church?"

    Yeah! And a pretty good one at that!

  6. Why don't you listen to the podcasts and find out for yourself, Suleyman?

  7. Interesting. I actually believe in Intelligent Design. But I don't think of it as science but rather as theology. If God is personal and intelligent then one would expect that God creates with, well not intelligence according to the Bible, rather with wisdom. We hear this told in Proverbs and again in the Gospel of John.

    But I think attempts to prove intelligent design by scientific methods are not so much doomed to failure but rather beside the point. Religion (at least Christian religion) is about faith, not proof.

    This is not to say there is no place for science. Science is a necessary discipline in our world. But it is a different disciple than theology with different rules.

    Christianity is primarily told through story. While Paul writes letters to deal with particular issues, sometimes theological and sometimes others, Christianity down through the centuries has primarily been told through story. How did God create? God spoke and the world came to be. God made the man out of clay. Without the story we lose the wonder. How does God bring incarnation and salvation? God works through unknown people in a little town, including a teenage girl. I think the attempt to make intelligent design into science is to lose the story and therefore the wonder.

    I know that this isn't the definition of intelligent design according to the debate going on but it's mine.

  8. Bob,

    As Dr. Wade, our presenter in the Adult Forum yesterday, said, science exists to tell us what, when, where, and how. Religion exists to tell us why.

  9. @Kathleen Thanks! Love that Blue Boat Home. We sang it as a hymn.

    @Don Good to see you!

    @Snad I am not sure if religion can tell us why either. Wilson says that religion can help us create and practice shared values.

    @David Aw Shucks...

    @Bob Why use the label for yourself, then? ID is no more than lipstick on the pig of creationism. It is not science at all. It lies about science. Therefore it can't be good theology for that reason alone.

    I have also ordered Darwin's Cathedral by Wilson. Looks promising. He talks a little about it in the book I cited above. Presbyterians will be interested in that the example he researches for his theory is Calvin's Geneva.

  10. Another great resource is the Evolutionary Studies program at Binghamton University and in particular, Evolutionary Religious Studies Many links, books, articles, for non-specialists.

  11. Hi Folks!

    Here's another great resource, which does combine science with poetry and theology:

    "The Universe Story," by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. It is my other Bible.

    Pastor Bob -- you might especially appreciate it because until the term was appropriated or claimed by fundamentalists, "intelligent design" was a term that had both intellectual/scientific and mystical meaning.

    I first heard the term in about 1998 or so in a class on the Universe Story at the former University of Creation Spirituality, founded by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox. The class was a crash course in physics, astronomy, and evolution. The year before and after I took it, it was led by Brian Swimme himself.

    Google Brian Swimme for more fabulous resources.

    The book "The Universe Story," is still readily available from Amazon. Be sure you get the one by Swimme and Berry. There are a couple of Unitarians touring the country with their own version, under the same title, but not the same content.

  12. @SeaRaven Thanks for that. A few months ago we watched a video series with Brian Swimme in our adult forum. I have that book on my shelf. You have reminded me to check it again.

  13. Whew! A presbyterian endorses evolution while confessing he knows nothing about it. I have a M. Ed. with a science endorsement. I once taught science in government schools. I know at least something about evolution. Evolution is not empirical science. Being charitable one could call it speculative science.

    John, did you know there are more ways to arrange amino acids in hemoglobin than there are atoms in the universe? There are only five arrangements that could possibly function. The probability is five over a huge number if one could even count the atoms in the universe. The probability is zero. You actually believe in evolution which asserts such things happened by chance.

    Then there is the problem of induction, the primary logic of scientific verification. Your fellow Princeton grad discusses it here:

    I'm a Presbyterian too, but I have more sense than to publicly endorse such un-biblical and anit-Christian and totally un-scientific doctrines like evolution. I don't like to make a fool of my self - publicly. Anyone who has studied presup apologetics for more than five minutes can savage the atheistic materialistic doctrine of evolution.

    Tsk, tsk, John. Teaching big lies in church is anathema. You, as a teaching elder, will have to account for this one day. See He. 13:17. I suggest that you repent.

  14. This is getting exciting now! Once again, our hero faces the loud and terrifying resistance of those who think they know more than our hero does. Will our hero prevail once again and reveal the essence of what it relly means to be a Presbyterian -- "reformed and always being reformed." You mean ... evolving?

    Yeah, that's it.

    love, john + + "The spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure you are right.” – Judge Learned Hand

  15. Quoting Hebrews and not Jesus? See Mark 2:22 or Mark 4:3-8. Better yet, Matthew 7:16b.

  16. Well, John, mention evolution and you get quite a response!

    Now I don't have an M.Ed with a "science endorsement" but I did stay at a Holiday Inn recently and I know that anyone who has studied evolution knows that it is the best scientific theory available for explaining the change in species over time. Is it perfect? Of course not. But until Mr. or Mrs. M.Ed comes up with a better theory and gets it published, I'd say we stick with evolution for now.

    What is sad is when people claim to have studied evolution, but continue to suggest such bizarre claims such as the notion that life on Earth is random. There is nothing about evolution that posits that any of it is random. Responses to environmental pressures which alter the fitness of a species to survive are not random, but are completely understandable, as are the adaptations that increase fitness. And since genetic material is passed down utilizing an amazing set of reactions which double check its accuracy, there's nothing random about that either, other than the very minor variations which can occur (which we call mutations.)

    No one is proposing that an entire human being sprang up from a pile of random amino acids, as Kernalp suggests. If he/she believes that is what the theory of evolution posits, then I suggest she/he get his/her money back from whatever institution of higher learning gave him/her that idea.

  17. I have an M. Div. with Mr. Deity's endorsement.

  18. I do enjoy it when the anonymous kernelps slither out from the woodwork.

    Creation Safaris is a site created by true believers with "science endorsements" and spouts similar nonsense to kernelp.

    The strategy is to smear a bullshit veneer on the horseshit.

  19. I linked to the above site because on that post they linked to me, which was very sweet.

  20. Hey, Kernelp -

    That "science endorsement" and $1.99 (plus 9.5% sales tax) will get you a bag of Doritos at the Road Runner down the street.

    Be careful with your head in the sand - some of those fossils God planted still have sharp teeth!

  21. I thought Jesus was supposed to be a teacher of love. There seems to be very little love in any of these comments. Have I misunderstood?

  22. @John: Mr. Deity = Presbytery? Oh that's right, the presbytery acts on behalf of God except when the presbytery is wrong. We Presbyterians are like lawyers: the law is enforced except when it isn't.

    All of the above commentary has nothing to do with John. It's just a bemused reflection on life in the church.

  23. Suleyman, Suleyman, Suleyman.

    I'm a Presbyterian too, but I have more sense than to ... is just oozing with love, isn't it? As is: This is a sermon for a Christian church?. I can feel the warm fuzzies emanating from both of you!

    You can "love" someone and still provide criticism.
    John made a critical comment about something I said in this thread, but I'm not feeling unloved, or persecuted, or whatever.

    Personally, I'd rather have a little snark thrown at me (as I throw it myself) than the patronizing, passive-aggressive "love" I see from people who don't seem to understand the "practicing" part of being a Christian.

  24. My question about a Christian sermon was a question...not a comment. Is this typical of Christian sermons? I gather that it isn't. As for Kernelp's comment about being loving or not was directed at that comment as it was at many of the others that I see in here. Perhaps I have misunderstood the context in which the comments have been spoken (much as you evidently have misunderstood mine) was my point.

  25. When we feed the trolls, they keep coming back.

  26. If you consider me a troll, then I will gladly depart from your site and not return. I have been inquiring about Christian faith. There are other places to inquire.

  27. C ya. You can take your passive aggressive "inquiry" over here.

  28. I suppose I should have expected as much "courtesy" from Christians. I will leave you to your mutual admiration society.

  29. One definition of a troll, I guess, is one who adds nothing to the debate. So be it. I officially withhold treats.

  30. @ suleyman

    I'm not sure there is such a thing as a typical Christian sermon. If you look back to John Chrysytom (sp?) the typical rhetoric patterns of his day. Sermons vary by passage as well as the preacher and the congregation. While many of us speak directly from the passage all of us take into account the needs of the people who hear.

    We all want life to be uncomplicated but it isn't

  31. I hadn't mentioned the rest of the service. We had communion while listening to George Harrison's My Sweet Lord.

    My lovely sang Peter Mayer's Everything is Holy Now, sang the Blue Boat Home as a hymn (also God of the Sparrow and Ubi Caritas). We sang Ubi Caritas after communion in a circle around the sanctuary.

    We read a kids' book on evolution to the children ("Stones and Bones"), participated in a Jewish Creation meditation led by Rebecca (who leads our Dances of Universal Peace).

    Read some appropriate poetry, an awesome prayer of thanks for the universe by one of our church members, Jim Miller.

    We read the two accounts of transfiguration (Jesus & Krishna).

    It was a full house with a large number of visitors. Some who found out about Evolution Sunday via the Elizabethton Star, the Johnson City Press, and WETS.

    It felt like Easter.

    I was thinking that is resonating. This really was a holy day.

    People are getting into the idea that Earth and its natural processes are holy and sacred and for many more so than our traditional mythologies.

    This was more than a political or statement making thing. This was a sacred gathering. This is what really life is and it is worth honoring.

    We need more sacred, life-honoring holy-days like this...

  32. @ suleyman + Humor goes a long, long way to heal and transform human community. I hope you can see that the folks engaged in this conversation really are not trying to hurt anybody. I like to call it Tough Love.

    People here are definitely trying to push the envelope when it comes to Christian beliefs and values and practices in the 21st century. I wonder if you have read Marcus Borg, particularly THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY. What he believes and what John Shuck believes are pretty close. But Borg might be able to reach you with the kind of civility you are looking for. He is so nice!

    Closer to John Shuck probably is Bishop Spong. I'm re-reading WHY CHRISTIANITY MUST CHANGE OR DIE. Shuck and Spong are giving the church a whole lot of tough love and it is not easy for any of us but definitely necessary.

    Supernatural Theism is dead and the church needs to confront that reality and move on.

    Another Tough Love writer I highly recommend is Diarmuid O'Murchu, a former priest. I really like his QUANTUM THEOLOGY.

    Or, perhaps, you may want to really dig in and read what theologians of all stripes are saying, Liberation Theology, Process Theology, Metaphorical Theology, InterSpiritual Wisdom, and more.

    love, john + + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

  33. I am taking a fantastic e-course at Spirituality and Here is a statement by the Christian leader, Cynthia Bourgeault, finding common ground with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims. Heere she is advocating that we see God as the web and not the maker of the web:

    "And yet there are some who are indeed pushing the envelope--hard! The Episcopal theologian Barbara Brown Taylor writes, remarkably, in THE LUMINOUS WEB:

    "At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God IS the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that makes it all go."


    It's quite a ride into a new way of thinking about everything. Time to use the Einstein quote.


    love, john + + "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

  34. Here she is advocating that we see God as the web and not the maker of the web.

    Indeed! That is the ONLY way I can accept the notion of God! Thanks John for that thought!

    And John Shuck, it really felt holy - the place rang with good energy! Was that our friend from the Layman? SO glad he was there!

  35. Don't shed any tears for Suleyman. He has been here before with his little passive-aggressive snarky quips that he disguises with "I'm just asking a question" and "just inquiring about Christians."

    The word is troll.

    BTW, I do love me some Spong.

  36. @Snad No one from the LayMAN at this service. The reporter from the LayMAN visited with us in November. He interviewed with me took me to lunch, said he was going to a story about me, so it may yet come.

  37. Huh. I thought I saw the same fellow at the social as was in Nashville. Perhaps he was there in spirit, and I am just evolved enough to have noticed. ;-)

  38. Could be that you have evolved, or that you spiked the trilobites.

  39. Well, I didn't want this to turn into a confessional, John.

  40. I'm coming late to this thread, but I did read it a couple of days ago. Most of your ideas sound quite alien to me so I first read a little on-line about the Presbyterian church at their website. Wow, I first thought you might be way outside of bounds within your denomination but I've concluded you might be on the outer edge but within the spectrum. Let me ask, (this is a question, not an attack, attacks probably to come later:) ) But what do you believe the relationship is between God and the laws of nature and/or science. I believe God is master over these rules and/or processes. Gravity always does what gravity does because it "obeys" God, not that it has a conscious of its own, it is just that God is omnipotent. Thus miracles of the Bible really happened it is simply when God ordered things different than what He normally orders. A donkey talking to Baalam, water turned to wine, Daniel's friends saved from the furnace, Jesus commanding winds and waves to be still, and God creating the heavens and earth in 6 days. I accept that not everything in the Bible is literal, a story about trees choosing a leader comes to mind, but to you, are all these miracles just some form of story telling mental exercises or do you believe God has and used Divine power to do any of these things. I wrote as and either/or question but I don't intend to mean those are mutually exclusive, just trying to better show you my thought process to help you answer me if you are willing.

  41. Mike Hatcher said...this is a question, not an attack, attacks probably to come later.

    Why wait to attack? I'm betting your mind is already made up, and nothing anybody says will change it anyway.

  42. Wow, I first thought you might be way outside of bounds within your denomination but I've concluded you might be on the outer edge but within the spectrum.

    Good evaluation.

    As far as your other questions are concerned, why do you care what I think? If you have a point to make, make it.

  43. I suspect that the beliefs and values John Shuck advocates are actually quite close to the center of our denomination but most of us are "really nice" and hide our "heresies" most of the time. John makes it possible for more and more of us to "come out of the closet" and identify with our deeply held convictions about reality.

    Yes, Mike, there is a Santa Claus. And guess what. He doesn't live in the North Pole.

    Get it?

    love, john + + "What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

  44. Our friend Suleyman briefly had a blog and I made some comments that I thought were profound and compassionate. I really did want to have a respectful dialogue but she wasn't interested. The blog disappeared. Interesting.

    love, john + + "The quest for a story is the quest for a life.” — Jill Johnston quoted in The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron

  45. Cool, thanks both for the responses. @Don- Hopefully, any attack I make will be a valid attack on ideas and not attacking a person or mean spirited in any way. As to why wait, I found that 1) when meeting new people and discussing ideas, first impressions, particularly on-line where we miss out on body language, tone and such, can frequently be misleading. As to my mind already being made up, I'm sure you are right about that which ties right into Mr. Shuck's question which is also IMO a great question. Why would I care what he thinks, particularly if my mind is made up? I'd rather answer with what I would call an illustration. Suppose a woman comes from a society where it is considered immodest for her to go bare-breasted in public and she travels to a land and finds all the women publicly being bare-breasted, now some people might adapt and adjust, but as this woman learns that in that society it is quite appropriate and not at all wrong behavior, she concludes that while it isn't wrong for them, she would still rather die than change her own behavior, even while there. I don't know if that made any sense to you, but what I'm trying to say is I'm not looking to change my beliefs or change yours, but what initially seems so appalling to me, perhaps by talking, and kicking around a few ideas, it might not seem so bad, even if I don't ever accept them for my own.

  46. @Abundancetrek- Do I get it? Well, it sounds funny, but if you were betting on me getting it or not, you would have won your bet. I didn't get it. Oh, that's right, I read off the website that as a church, you are against gambling. Any chance that is one of your hidden heresies you alluded to? :) I'll confess, I lost 20 bucks on Indianapolis when the Saints won.

  47. "John makes it possible for more and more of us to "come out of the closet" and identify with our deeply held convictions about reality."

    I would say that there's more here than just a bunch of liberals coming here for the echo chamber effect. If that were the case, John could make his blog invite only, or simply ban everyone who disagrees with him, like some people do.

    Instead, plenty of people seem to enjoy commenting here, regardless of their particular theological or political ideology.

    Fact is, I probably have more in common theologically with our denomination's true conservatives (to distinguish them from the false teachers, phonies, BFTSs, and Pelagians wandering around calling themselves "orthodox" or "classical") than with the theologies of folks here. But unlike those exclusivists for whom all agreement rests on one and only one concern and any agreement must be weighed against that so-called "apostasy", here people can agree or disagree without, in general, being disagreeable.

  48. @johnwilde

    John makes it possible for more and more of us to "come out of the closet" and identify with our deeply held convictions about reality.

    Thanks! I know I am grateful for people who have "gone public" with their questions and doubts. You were one of those people for me when I was starting out in Utica!

  49. Mike, I agree online impressions can be misleading. If you truly are here to honestly look at someone else's beliefs, then I would suggest looking at First Presby's website, listen to a few of John's pocast sermon's and go from there.
    I can tell you from my experience as someone who left the church 30 years ago and never looked back, that discovering this Church has renewed at least some of my faith in Christianity.

  50. @Alan Thank you! There are only two people on Planet Earth who have been banned so far. That is because they acted to hurt my career by 'reporting' me to my EP. It would be masochistic on my behalf to let those people do that while at the same time comment here. Once they apologize and promise not to do that again, they will be welcome.

    Spammers also get deleted.

    Trolls get what's coming to them. But I don't delete them or ban them. I will respond to passive-aggressive bs in whatever way fits my mood at the moment.

    Further, I sure as hell am not here to satisfy anyone's need for inquisition. Don't bother asking me a bunch of questions about my beliefs. Read the blog if you want to know.

    Unless of course people really are actually inquiring. I can tell authenticity from passive-aggression as can anyone else.

    It is an open forum. If you have something to say, say it.

    Much Love,

  51. @ mike I looked at your blogger profile and found nothing. I hope that changes because I know you are a fantastic and wonderful person made in the likeness of God. I know you have a lot to offer. I would enjoy reading a blog if you create one and having a respectful dialogue.

    love, john + + "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

  52. "Further, I sure as hell am not here to satisfy anyone's need for inquisition."

    Freudian slip John?

    There may be hope for you yet. :-)

  53. @Abundancetrek- Mike absence of blog profile is just my ineptness with blogging still, I most frequently comment on a political blog called The gun toting liberal where I have a thumbnail picture of myself from 15 years back when I was in the Army. I go by Mike 300Spartans there. I use to discuss things with Dr. Ron Chusid on his blog Liberal Values, but I found myself a little to thin skinned for that, it felt to me like my belief the fed government is recklessly out of control with spending, and has been even prior to this administration, that I had constantly make a case that I wasn't a racist. @Mr. Shuck, what you said makes sense and rings true to me. The term passive aggressive, that probably fits me pretty well, thanks for what I consider an open invitation to blab my ideas, however uninformed they might be, while on your part not feeling obligated to answer or respond to anything that comes across as interrogation. While I constantly doubt my own motives for why I do what I do, I know I have at least one real question. Is it wrong or possible to pursue unselfishness in one's life for purely selfish reasons? It seems like an oxymoron or paradox, but it really perplexes me, I act more times than not selfishly, but when I choose to be unselfish, I wonder if I just do it because I think it is more beneficial for myself to be unselfish. I make a distinction between that and love, like the love I have for my children, I do things out of love for them even if they aren't beneficial for me. But when I think about trying to improve my love or change some of my selfish ways, well it seems to only come from selfish motives. Got to go to work! I'll be able to read comments through the day but can't post till I get home again late night.

  54. Hey, Mike -

    I like your comments, so far. You seem to be searching for information to help understand others, rather than to beat them with ideology. That's refreshing.

    You asked: Is it wrong or possible to pursue unselfishness in one's life for purely selfish reasons?

    That's almost a strawman, to me. If one is acting for selfish reasons (to get a pat on the back, to gain heaven, to feel better, to live in a better world, whatever), then I would say it is impossible to be unselfish about it. But, I also say that there is no such thing as pure "selflessness" (unless it be the spontaneous act of hurling oneself in front of a car to push a stranger out of the way, etc.)

    Rather, I would suggest that we need to act selfishly, but it needs to be the right kind of selfish. For instance, speaking of environmental stewardship, my philosophy has long been that this planet will survive. Nature will out. Will it survive in such a way that humans are supported? That depends on us, mostly. I would like that to happen, so selfishly, I want us to control those things we can, such as pollution, resources, agricultural practices, population, etc. In other words, I want to save my own ass, on a global scale.

    The problem we have is basically choosing between short-term selfish and long-term selfish, as well as between micro-vs. macro-selfish (as in "just us" versus justice). Oh, and just plain old being honest about our motives.

  55. Hey Snad, thanks for the comments. Abundancetrek inspired me find my profile that I didn't even know existed and I put some info on there now, I also found a way to write while at work. It is like suddenly I'm a webmaster! Perhaps to avoid the negativity of the word selfishness, if we said the right kind of "self interest"? The reason I connect this issue with evolution and my concept of God is I believe my confidence and/or trust in God is, in my personal case intertwined with my belief in God's power, His ability to reward and punish. When confronted with people who have faith in God that isn't omnipowerful, omni everything, it makes me question myself, do I serve God because I love Him or is it out of fear or hope for reward? Would I follow an evil diety if I believed that diety more powerful than God? On the other hand, where does one get confidence to face difficulties in life, no matter what hits you, be it losing your career if someone lies about you, torture and the hands of some enemy, or the heartbreak of a child getting hooked on drugs. It is God's power, that to me gets me through days that I'd be inclined to curl up and wither away in a corner. If I have a financial crisis, the God that can speak and calm the seas can solve my problems, or if He chooses not to solve them, can give me a peace of mind that I can, like Jesus, sleep during the storm unconcerned. If I was captured while I was a soldier, like Meshak, Shadrack , and Abednego (probably misspelled)being saved from fire, I could say: God can save me, but if He chooses not to, I'm still not going to cooperate with you. Then again, I've never faced any of the described scenarios (other than the one about some people lying about me cause me to lose a job I had once but it was a temp job anyway), so I still have my doubts about how I may or may not behave if severely tested.

  56. Mike -

    I was not raised with religion, or church, or God, so take whatever you read by me with a very thirst-inducing grain of salt. I think God and religion are both Man's creation, not the other way around. Still, I see both as quite useful (the automobile and refrigerator are both Man's creations as well, and both are inextricably a part of our lives).

    I see a real value in religion in how we move beyond the short-term self-interest, as you say, to the long-term self-interest. Families, villages, communities of any sort, and the rituals (religious or otherwise) that people participate in all move people past the immediate "I've got mine now bugger off"" mentality to the "How can we help each other?" attitude.

    (It isn't my intention to make blanket statements or to politicize the thread here, but that is the basic difference I see between liberals and conservatives; conservatives don't seem to have moved very far past the "bugger off" stage.)

    Someone else on this thread mentioned the concept that "God is the web, not the spider". I like that, and it makes the idea of God palatable to me. I don't feel I have to buy into the superstition or the "God as superhero/boogeyman" stuff.

    As for the stories in the Bible, I don't see how they are any less valuable if one decides they are stories, and not fact. Allegory is powerful. Parable allows for connections that otherwise might be broken due to distance, time, culture, and so on. I mean, does one really have to believe that Ezekiel ate a scroll any more than one has to believe that a decision can be made by actually "sleeping on it"? Isn't it a rather poetical way of saying that a smart but probably illiterate man came upon wisdom?

    Anyway, you asked "where does one get the confidence to face the difficulties in life...?" Here's a nice video that may not answer that question for everyone, but it is inspiring, none the less.

  57. @Snad- I haven't checked out the video link yet, but I think I've successfully loaded a photo of my wife and I over 21 years ago when we were both young and thin. Perhaps a bit vain, but I see your photo seems to have some age on it too. :) Anyway, I was checking out some of the links on minimalism, (the stuff about not taking the Bible so literally) I actually was introduced and accepted some of the concept some years ago. Trying to apply a standard we have today to something someone who said or wrote who wasn't abiding by the same standard would be much like calling someone a liar if they said they had 1 day old bread and countering that it is actually 23 hours old or 25 hours and not exactly 24 hours. But the info I read today was more than that, one minor detail I found amazing was in the story of Moses, the name of the Pharaoh of Egypt at the time isn't mentioned but two midwives are mentioned by name. This from a period of time when women were often overlooked in stories be they transmitted verbally or in writing. I see on your page you have a connection to Minnesota> I live in Texas but grew up in Minnesota. Well, time to watch the video.