Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Woot! I Have Been Layed!

I have been waiting a long time. Previously, I have made it to the Letters to the Editor section. But today, thank you very much, Mr. LayMAN himself, Parker "Burn the Heretics!" Williamson featured me in one of his rants.

Awesome. Check it. Here is the part about me!

Shucking Scripture

Not only does the PCUSA turn a deaf ear to whispers of heresy, it harbors clergy who loudly applaud it. The Rev. John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tenn., an advisor to the Presbyterian campus ministry program at East Tennessee State University, and a member of Holston Presbytery’s governing council came quickly to the five ministers’ defense on his March 23 blog.

Shuck warned conservative church people might attack non-believing clergy by focusing on their integrity. Such attacks turn reality on its head, says Shuck, because faithless ministers are not the problem. The real problem is “the traditional church’s worn out faith” that these ministers no longer believe. Shuck believes these ministers are announcing “the demise of supernaturalism and the creeds that continue to uphold it,” and that their non-belief should be applauded rather than punished.

Happy Easter!

“We were not placed in any garden by any divine being,” Shuck tells his Internet audience. “No god/man came to Earth, walked on water, rose from the dead and sits on a heavenly throne. That is religious fiction. It is metaphor, story, myth, human invention. It is how our ancestors tried to find meaning. Bless their hearts.”

Shuck continues, “My advice for clergy and for laypeople who are growing out of a childish supernaturalistic past is to stand your ground. Don’t let them set the terms or the rules. Don’t resign. Be bold. Tell the truth. Don’t call it a loss of faith. It is a growth in understanding. It is waking up from sleep. It is gaining sight from blindness. It is resurrection from death to life. Happy Easter.”

One wonders how the churches of Holston Presbytery have agreed to tolerate this in-your-face apostasy, much less commend college students to his counsel and honor him with a position of presbytery governance.

Happy Easter, indeed! Shuck has sucked the life out of Easter. Scripture speaks clearly to those who so cavalierly discard the Gospel:

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.”

Here is the blog entry he was talking about, A Church Without God.

I am glad Mr. Williamson mentioned the Presbyterian Campus Ministry.

Join us Tuesday nights at 7 and for the program at 8. All ETSU students are welcome!!

The students and I work together to create some great programs.

Last night we had an authentic Passover Seder presented by rabbinical student, Barbara Turner, and her students at Hillel (the Jewish campus ministry at ETSU).

Thanks for the shout, Parker!


Heresies for Holy Week: Day 3

I decided to add one of my own heresies to the mix. A few years ago I wrote an essay for the Jesus Seminar that had to do with how the insights of biblical scholarship affected the business of the church, including preaching and worship. It was a liberating exercise for me and I will share some of what I still think is true from the paper What to Preach? The Challenge of the Jesus Seminar to Contemporary Homiletics (woot, fancy title):

I believe that many clergy are overdue for a heart to heart with their congregations about the metaphor “Word of God” especially as it applies to the Bible. I have found that this metaphor more often stops creative thought than inspires it. The question we might ask our congregations is, “If the Bible is the Word of God, what makes it so?”

Modern scholarship has eroded the foundations for this metaphor. We have come to a time in which it is incredible to assert that our canon of scripture is objectively true or authoritative for all of humanity. Appeals to the Bible’s historical or scientific accuracy are naive. The claim that our canon has been dictated or inspired by supernatural revelation amounts to little more than special pleading. There is no magic power that makes the Bible or any text within it superior, truer, or more divinely inspired that any other human writing, religious or secular. The hands of human beings through their own imaginative power made every jot and tittle of carving and of script. The Bible is a collection of the writings of humans for humans. Once we dismiss the assumption that our book or library of books is more authoritative than any other collection, we can finally take our seat around the table of humanity.

When faith communities begin demythologizing the Bible, some interesting things will happen. The Bible’s authority will shift away from the text and toward the individual interpreter or community of interpreters. No longer will the Bible be considered an authoritative source of truth that contains infallible propositions about God or the human condition. Rather, it will become a resource for wisdom. Since authority is earned by the truth it tells, the Bible will have whatever authority the individual or community gives to it. People may find through its narratives, poetry, and song, an oasis of spiritual refreshment. Or they may not. It will be up to the people (both collectively and individually) to draw out what is meaningful and good and to discard what is not meaningful and good.

The preacher’s task will be to offer permission and encouragement for the congregation to engage in this discipline of freedom. The preacher can no longer assume that within a biblical text is a Word from God that needs to be teased out through exegesis and delivered to the waiting faithful. The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable. A preacher can, however, provide information about a text using such tools as literary and historical criticism. The preacher can also provide an opinion regarding the text’s value for the community of faith. The preacher may even use the text as an impetus to speak about a contemporary concern. But I believe it is unethical for a preacher to make the claim that what s/he is saying is true, good or of God because it is based on his or her interpretation of a biblical text. In other words, a preacher cannot use a biblical text to prove a point. Anything a preacher says must stand on its own terms. This ethic will free both the biblical text and the preacher. The text will be freed from the preacher’s misuse of it. The preacher will be freed from the constraints of needing to “preach from the Bible” or to have everything s/he says to be backed by scripture.

Preaching can do a great deal of good in a community of faith. It can inspire, comfort, challenge, and inform for the betterment of humanity. Preaching can also do a great deal of harm. The harm results not so much on the content of the message or its style of delivery as on the implied authority of the preacher because s/he supposedly preaches the Word of God. I believe that Word of God is not only a meaningless metaphor; it is also a harmful metaphor for both the Bible and the preaching act. I recommend that preachers discontinue its use and have this conversation with their congregations.

What approach, lens, angle of vision, or metaphor might we take toward the Bible that will make it a helpful resource in the Sunday morning experience? I consider the Bible to be the family history of our spiritual ancestors. It is a collection of the record of human experiences canonized by various family historians. Our family history gives us rooted-ness. We have a story. We have a past. Our ancestors do have wisdom. I believe that they caught a glimpse of the fire. If we are wise, humble, and courageous, we can see that fire as well. It is out of respect for our ancestors, our need for rooted-ness, and our need to listen to the wisdom of the ancients that we “open and read.” The advantage of this metaphor is that it allows us to appreciate that there are other families on this earth. They have family histories as well. Telling our stories to one another (without the competition about whose is more objectively authoritative) will enable us to engage more positively and peacefully with those of other faith traditions. Also, family histories are never complete. Like the genealogist who discovers great Uncle Albert, who for some reason was not mentioned in the family history, so too, scholars of Christian origins have found remnants of communities whose stories were not told, or at least told positively, in the canon of accepted lore. These “Uncle Alberts” include communities reflected in the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and numerous others. As we discover the great diversity of our Christian past, we who are charged with adding to the family history for our descendants, will now be obligated to include these voices as well.

Careful thought must be employed regarding the use of texts from the Bible and other non-canonical literature during the Sunday Morning experience. It would help level the playing field by not elevating the canonical literature over any other reading. Also, preachers must come clean with their congregants regarding the type of literature the text they have selected represents. Simply determining if it is history or fiction is a good start. Particularly with Jesus material, the preacher needs to be honest as to whether the material is historical, legendary or if it fits some other typology.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blasphemy! He said it again!

This one's a hoot. The Presbytery of Grand Canyon has sent the following overture to the General Assembly, On Protesting the Blatant Disregard for the Sanctity of Our Lord's Name in Motion Pictures and Public Broadcasting:
The Presbytery of the Grand Canyon overtures the 219th General Assembly (2010) to protest in the strongest possible terms the blatant disregard for the sanctity of our Lord’s name in motion pictures and public broadcasting by the entertainment industry and direct the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly to send letters to officials of organizations representing the motion picture and public broadcasting industries and members of the United States Congress that express the desires of this overture.
That overture is good enough for Jehovah!


Liberal Christian Commentary

If you are a clergy type and you follow the lectionary, or if you listen to sermons from clergy types who follow the lectionary, you will find my friend Sea Raven interesting. Here website is Gaia Rising. She keeps a blog called Liberal Christian Commentary. It is her commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary.

We have a lot in common, particularly our appreciation of the work of the Jesus Seminar and Matthew Fox. Good stuff here:

I am a writer, harper, singer, and consultant for worship, music, and the arts in the greater Washington, D.C area, Frederick-Hagerstown, Maryland, and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. For my Doctor of Ministry in Creation Spirituality, I created The Wheel of the Year: A Worship Book for Creation Spirituality, offering earth liturgies based upon what is known about pre-Christian Celtic spirituality, post-modern cosmology, and the theology and four-path principles of Creation Spirituality as developed by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox. That project is also found on the Gaia Rising! website.

She is providing a commentary for Holy Week as well.

Check it out. It will be well worth repeated visits!

Heresies for Holy Week: Day 2

It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Welcome to today's heresy!

First a question from the
Westminster Larger Catechism.
Question 29: What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

Answer: The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.

And what do you make of it,
Mr. Robert Ingersoll?

If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine.

It has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. It has polluted the hearts of children, and poisoned the imaginations of men. It has been a constant pain, a perpetual terror to every good man and woman and child.

It has filled the good with horror and with fear; but it has had no effect upon the infamous and base. It has wrung the hearts of the tender, it has furrowed the cheeks of the good.

This doctrine never should be preached again. What right have you, sir, Mr. clergyman, you, minister of the gospel to stand at the portals of the tomb, at the vestibule of eternity, and fill the future with horror and with fear?

I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Heresies for Holy Week: Day 1

I am thinking up some blasphemous things to post for Holy Week.

One of the ablest truth tellers and most creative blasphemers is Olive Ann Burns. In every congregation I have served I have quoted this piece during one of my Easter sermons.

Since I already presented this in my current congregation, I won't this year. But I post it here as one of my favorite heresies. This is from the novel,
Cold Sassy Tree.

In this scene, young Will Tweedy is talking to his grandpa about theological matters. Grandpa speaks first:

“We held church up at the house this morning.”


“I was the preacher, Miss Love was the pi-ana player, and the both of us made up the congregation. Hit was a real nice service.” He enjoyed seeing I was confused. “Wish you’d a-been there, son. We sang us some hymns, after which I talked to the Lord a while, tellin’ Him bout the week, and I then preached a sermon. Tell you the truth, I think it upset Miss Love.”


“I didn’t have no words thought out, you know, so I jest commenced sayin’ thangs I been a-thinkin’ on lately—about the Virgin Birth and Resurrection and all like thet. I said don’t any a-them thangs matter. Well, Miss Love like to had a fit. Said she warn’t raised to think like thet. I said I warn’t neither, but thet didn’t keep me from thinkin’, and I ast her do Methodists interrupt and argue with the preacher or do they sit and listen to what he’s got to say.”

“Gosh, Grandpa. You mean you don’t think Jesus rose from the dead?”

“I’m a-sayin’ thet did He or didn’t He ain’t important, son. What’s important is thet when the spirit a-Jesus Christ come down on them disciples later, they quit settin’ round a-moanin’ and a-tremblin’, and got to work. They warn’t scairt no more, and the words they spoke had fire in’m. Compared to a miracle like thet, Jesus rollin’ back a dang rock and flyin’ off to Heaven ain’t nothin’.”

“What did Miss Love say to that, Grandpa?” I was real excited.

“Nothin’. I didn’t let her interrupt me agin. I said thet same miracle is still a-happenin’, right here in Cold Sassy, in July of nineteen aught-six. A crippled person or a invalid, or the meanest thief or the most despairin’ misfit, why, if’n he can ketch aholt of the spirit of Jesus Christ, he can quite bein’ scairt and be like risin’ up from the dead. Once his soul gits cured, no matter what his body’s like, why, he can start a new life. Well, next I preached about the Virgin Birth. To my thinkin’, the birth ain’t the dang miracle. Hit’s the fact thet a boy like Jesus was born to a mama who could leave Him be. Well, and then I talked to Miss Love bout Eternal Life. As you know, son, jest believin’ we go’n live forever in the next world don’t make it so—or not so.”

I felt awful. “Grandpa, you don’t think Granny’s gone to Heaven? She ain’t Up There waitin’ on us to come?”

“I like to think so, son. If’n they is a Heaven, she’s Up There, I know thet,” he said softly. Then he laughed and slapped his hand on Satan’s rump. “Ain’t but one way to find out if she is or ain’t, though. And I’m not thet curious.” He sighed, spat, and said, “Havin’ faith means it’s all right either way, son. ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ means I trust Him. Whatever happens in this life or the next, and even if they ain't a life after this’n, God planned it. So why wouldn’t it be all right?” He looked dead serious, then all of a sudden laughed again. “You know, if’n I was a real preacher, Will Tweedy, wouldn’t nobody come to my church.”

“I would, Grandpa.” pp. 187-9

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy...

They are even busy in Boise...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

No More Crosses: A Sermon

No More Crosses
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Palm/Passion Sunday
March 28th, 2010

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Luke 23:1-49

Religion is like sausage. The trick we learn early is just to enjoy it and don't ask too many questions about how it was made.

I admit I do spend a lot of time analyzing religion's entrails and I am not sure if doing so whets my appetite. Here is a for instance. Do you ever wonder why the execution of Jesus became such an important story?

In my office I have a collection of sermons and writings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I also have a biography about him. The biography includes a chapter about his assassination in Memphis on March 29th, 1968, 42 years ago tomorrow. But it is only one chapter. He was assassinated. And there certainly has been a great deal of mystery and intrigue surrounding his death.

He was relatively young, not quite 40 when he was killed. Even with all of the accusations of government conspiracy and so forth, no one would say that the most interesting or important thing about his life was his assassination. It deserves mention. It gets a chapter, but it isn't the focus of who he was and what he accomplished.

Think of others who were killed in the line of duty. Soldiers, firefighters, police officers, politicians, heretics, even political prisoners. In none of those cases do we say that their deaths were more important than their lives.

An exception might be the masses of people who were killed in the Holocaust or those killed in the September 11th attacks. History may not remember them except for their names on memorials if even that.

But even then, each person killed would have a story even if we don't have record of it. Each person was an individual with some sort of history. No one would say that their lives only were meaningful because they died.

Yet much of Christian theology, you might call it default Christianity has said that about Jesus. A few years ago a poster advertising Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, featured an image of Christ wearing a crown of thorns. The caption read:
Dying was his reason for living.
The movie itself was about his supposed last hours cobbled together from the various fictional accounts in the gospels.

The four gospels that made it into the canon of holy scripture all contain a version of Jesus' trial and execution. In fact over half the gospel material has to do with his death.

Why are we so obsessed with this man's death?
Dying was his reason for living.
Really? The belief that Jesus died for us or died for our sins or died to save us has been Christianity's theological centerpiece. His death and resurrection are two parts of this mythology.

That mythology has little to do with the historical person of Jesus.

Details about the trial and crucifixion are literary memes taken from other sources. It isn't that the gospel writers observed what happened and wrote it down. It is what we would call, for lack of a more sophisticated word, fiction.

For example, Jesus is reported to have said from the cross:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
That is a direct quote from Psalm 22. Before we think that Jesus was quoting the psalm, we have other problems. That same psalm also says,
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
Here is the text from Mark:
Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.'
Also from Psalm 22:
They stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
Here is the text from Mark:
And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
It is clear that those who were writing the account of his crucifixion were not observing an event. They were going back to their sources, their scriptures, to find language with which to create the story of Jesus' execution.

Now virtually every scholar would say that it is an historical fact that Jesus was executed. There is not a lot to know about Jesus, but that is fairly definite. The story, the how it happened and the why, comes from the imaginations of the various authors.

Fairly early on those who decided that his death and resurrection was of chief importance took control of the stories about him. It didn't have to go that way. The Gospel of Thomas that did not make it into the Bible contains only sayings of Jesus. It has no story of his death or resurrection.

Jesus had a life before he died. The things he did and the things he said were provocative enough to put him on the wrong side of the authorities. From the things people remembered that he did and said, he was critical of the authorities. He was critical of the religious authorities and of the political authorities. That is what got him killed.

He challenged systems of authority that took advantage of widows, of the poor, and of the outcast. He created a movement. And it was threatening enough that those in power felt the need to stop him. Perhaps to make of him an example. That is what got him killed.

There were many people tortured and killed on Roman crosses. Jesus was one of many.

It appears from the evidence that we have in the gospels, and the history of that time period, that Jesus crossed paths with those who could do him harm. It is very possible that he was on the side of people who were executed and tortured by the government. He was on the side of people who lost their land to pay for Herod's palaces and projects. He shared his contempt quite openly for the religious leaders:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell* as yourselves.
If you keep saying stuff like that you know you are eventually going to anger some folks.

He was on the side of people who were oppressed by the economic policies of the temple. That is what got him killed. He was on the side of people considered unclean and sinners by the religious.

He is remembered for telling parables and stories that upset people. He used a phrase "kingdom of God." That phrase means little to us because we have tamed it. Most folks thanks to the theologians think it is another phrase for heaven, a place the true believers go when they die.

It is likely that it was a political statement. As opposed to the kingdom of Caesar, this is what the kingdom of God is like. It wasn't just a fantasy, a story. It was a movement. This the kingdom to live for, to work for, perhaps even to die for. It is a kingdom of justice and compassion. In this kingdom, in this political economy the hungry are filled with good things. Now let's make it so.

Jesus was about making changes in this world. That is what got him killed.

He talked about compassion. He talked about moving beyond ethnic boundaries and divisions. He talked about forgiveness. Not something you go to the priest for or even to God for, but your neighbor. That is the one we hurt. That is the one from whom we need forgiveness. We get it as we give it. He worked to bring people together: Samaritan and Jew, Greek and Roman. He practiced an open table, rich and poor, male and female. He challenged unjust boundaries and rules. That is what got him killed.

Dying was not his reason for living.

Living was his reason for dying.

For life, he died. For integrity, he died. For compassion, he died. For justice, he died. For change, he died.

He was in the way. He was in the way of progress. He was in the way of Rome. He was in the way of the religious authorities who had sold out their people to Rome. He was killed as were many just like him.

The only difference is that while those others are unknown to us, we know some of Jesus' story. We know about what he lived for.

I think it is a sham and a shame that the religious establishment distorted his story. They took his story and turned into a caricature. Here is the theological story that is as common as dirt. You all know it. Here is the basic plot.

Once upon a time, God created Heaven and Earth. God is good, just, and perfect. He created Adam and Eve and put them in a garden. Well we know that is fiction as we know that human beings are the product of evolution that has taken billions of years. But OK.

Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying. A talking snake convinced the "bad" woman to eat some fruit from a tree from which they weren't supposed to eat. The logic of this is that because of Eve and Adam everyone on the planet therefore deserves eternal punishment in hell.

I know. It is kind of a leap for me, too.

God's honor has been damaged by Adam and Eve's sin. So God sent Jesus the God/Man to be sacrificed (like a goat) to satisfy God's honor and to pay the penalty that we deserve, in fact you deserve, even though you didn't eat the fruit. But you did all kinds of other bad things and had bad thoughts (usually having to do with sex) so it all washes.

But if you believe in that story you will go to heaven and not hell.

That story is supposedly better than what really happened?

And the crazy thing is that we just take it. We accept it.

Hardly anyone raises an objection. No one says,
"Wait a second! Jesus had to die this bloody torturous death because I am so bad? Even though I wasn't even born when he died?"
It is actually rather sick. Seriously. It is pathological theology. We simply take it.

In fact, I can sense right now people squirming in their pews because they think I am being blasphemous by being so frivolous with this story. Why is that? Why so scared? Because the holy weight of theological double-talk has been crushing our spirits for centuries.

It has served to make people feel guilt and shame about themselves and fear about their future (eternal hell) that they never needed to feel. And they never need to feel.

It is all shrouded with holy hocus pocus and theological slipperiness. It is a matter of faith and mystery we are told. Don't look too closely. Just believe.

I personally think we should look closely. We should examine how this sausage is being made. Our spiritual health depends upon it. Perhaps the health of America which is becoming a revivalist nation before our eyes, depends on it.

One of the best commentaries on the crucifixion is by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickle and Dimed. She writes about attending a tent revival at a Deliverance Church. At the revival she heard the usual kind of preaching about the Bible as the only book God ever wrote and the importance of accepting Jesus who died on the cross for your sins. She writes:
The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful "amens." It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. I would like to stay around for the speaking in tongues, should it occur, but the mosquitoes, worked into a frenzy by all this talk of His blood, are launching a full-scale attack. I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher's metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half-expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole. Pp. 68-9

We need more people like her to tell the truth about Christian sausage-making.

The Christian religion, especially its damaging mythologies that are used to induce guilt and fear and promote everything from creationism to gay-bashing, no longer deserves a free pass.

Religion is in need of an overhaul. We are in the midst of a new reformation. This congregation right here in the mountains of East Tennessee is a leader in this reformation and it has been for a long time both in this community and in this denomination.

I titled the sermon 'no more crosses.'

There was and is nothing sacred and holy about the execution and torture of Jesus or of anyone. "Holy Week" is a misnomer as is "Good Friday." If anything, remembering the death of Jesus should summon us to honor life not death. It should give us the courage and commitment to speak out and not remain silent in the face of torture, execution, violence, injustice, and needless suffering around the world.

Jesus' life was fast. Like Martin Luther King, they both died before reaching forty. But their lives burned with passion and fire. They burned out for compassion and justice.

Apparently, they believed that it is better to have burned out than never to have burned at all.

Whenever any of us stands up for those who are abused or put down or who suffer injustice from bullies big and small, we practice true religion.

No need for a lot of theological hocus pocus.

Do justice.
Love kindness.
Walk humbly.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Definition of Religion

I am reading Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. This recent paper of his regarding clergy captured my interest.

I consider myself a religious person. I also think the creeds are fiction and that human beings have created the concept of "God."

Whatever "God" might have been in the past is really us in the present. As such the "holy" or the "sacred" is here and now and in between and betwixt us. The language and lavish praise we have foisted upon an imaginary deity is really best suited for Earth and all of its magnificence.

However, I like the institution of the church. I like "organized religion." I do well at it and I think it can be a positive force for good in the world. I like my job and plan to keep it. Thank you very much.

But I don't believe any of its founding myths are "real." Nevertheless I enjoy telling the stories, singing the tunes, potlucking, and doing justice in my community. I appreciate music, stories, myths, people, the heritage, and the spats.

Religion, especially in America, is influential, powerful, wealthy, and dangerous. I think we counter bad religion with good religion not with no religion.

For the record, I appreciate the four faces of the "new" atheism: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett. I think it will be good for religion that they have written their books and I think every religious person should read them.

Part of the problem is that I don't know what religion means even though I think I am religious. I don't fit Dennett's definition:

Tentatively, I propose to define religions as social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. p. 9.
Would this definition include the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? Wouldn't they qualify as a religion? But most UUs would not "avow a belief in a supernatural agent" and so forth. Dennett goes on to say:
This is, of course, a circuitous way of articulating the idea that a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a backbone. p. 9.
A commenter (Jodie) once chided me (in a good spirit, I add gladly) that Christianity without God is like coffee without caffeine. What's the point?

I think there is a point. I think there are a number of good reasons to have religion without supernatural theism. I get asked about once a week usually in an accusing tone why I should be involved in religion or be a minister when I don't believe that some fanciful tale is true. I offer a long explanation of why the social institution is valuable and can be even more valuable if it were to analyze itself critically and direct its energies toward the well being of Earth. That unfortunately, is usually met with silence followed by another question: "Why don't you quit the ministry if you don't believe in God?" Good grief.

It isn't about "God." It is about doing good. But if the concept of "God" is important for you in order to do good, then great. It is not that big of a deal. I will pony up and use it with you.

God bless.

Spring Worship Themes On-Line

Once per quarter, I plan the worship themes for the coming season. It is Spring. You can find our Spring worship guide in pdf on our website under the worship link.

Spring is the
via transformativa (the way of justice-making). We look at the lectionary texts through the lens of this path.

March 28th through June 20th
Via Transformativa—The Way of Transformation
  1. Summer via positiva (the way of awe and wonder)
  2. Fall via negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)
  3. Winter via creativa (the way of creativity and imagination)
  4. Spring via transformativa (the way of justice-making)
During Spring we honor the path of justice-making and compassionate action. In his book, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas, Matthew Fox describes this path in this way:
The heart that is compassion: moral outrage at injustice that leads to the passionate work of justice making and healing and the heart-work that celebration entails and demands. P. 29.
The Via Transformativa takes the creativity that comes out of the interaction of the and the positiva and the negativa and shapes it toward wholeness, healing, and distributive justice. In Buddha’s eightfold path, these are paths three, four, and five (right speech, right action, right livelihood). This is also the karma yoga we find in the Bhagavad Gita:
Perform every action with your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits….Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman….To unite the heart with Brahman and then to act: that is the secret of non-attached work. P. 13 Isherwood/Prabhavananda
Traditional Christianity stumbles over itself with its obsession over faith vs. works that reinforces a self-perpetuating cycle of guilt and narcissism. Creation Spirituality offers the via transformativa as one path of four not isolated from, not superior, not inferior to the other three paths.

The Via Transformativa or the Way of Compassion provides discernment, direction, and focus for our work as human beings. We are about justice making. As Matt Fox says in Original Blessing:
The creation tradition cannot imagine a spirituality without justice or one that consigns justice to a weekend outing. Justice lies as the fulfillment of the need to birth oneself—all are to be birthed into justice-making instruments for the work of the spirit. P. 248
Right wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, recently told his Christian listeners to run away from congregations that had ministries of “social justice.” He claimed “social justice” and “economic justice” were code words for communism! Beck is typical of a Christianity that has sold itself to the interests of the powerful, the greedy, and the paranoid. Empire Christianity has held dominant sway throughout history, executing heretics, engaging in land grabs, and fomenting wars for the sake of its own pious blasphemy.

This fourth path reclaims the often forgotten or watered-down passages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation that speak of the Divine preference for the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed. Creation centered folk have also been a part of our history even as their voices have been muted and distorted. We will allow these voices to speak to us, convict us, convince us, and transform us so that we may find the courage and the compassion to turn “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.”

Here is a fun game. I send this guide out widely and worshipers can participate if they have a poem, song, dance, whatever to add on a particular Sunday.

Since most of my readers here don't live in my neighborhood, I still would love to include you as well. Check over the themes, and if you have found something cool to go with worship that day I will try my best to include it!

Here is the theme for this Sunday:

Luke 19:28-40
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Luke 23:1-49

Theme: Living Was His Reason for Dying

Orthodox Christianity has claimed that the death of Jesus was or is salvific. You have heard people say that Jesus died for us or died for our sins or died to save us. I have even heard people say that dying was his reason for living. Progressive Christians are not quite so sure. Surely there are more important things about his life than his death? Nevertheless, Jesus is the only figure of any religion who was executed by established authority. He wasn’t simply run over by a horse. He didn’t die of old age. He was tortured and executed as a criminal by the government. That should tell us something about what he stood for and who was threatened by his stand. It tells us about his life. He lived for compassion and justice for the “least of these.” Dying wasn’t his reason for living. Living was his reason for dying.

Dennett Looks Like Darwin!

Thanks to David for finding this video from Daniel Dennett, "The Evolution of Confusion." Dennett is the author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon and the co-author of a study of clergy who no longer believe the creeds. He talks about that process in this address.
Dan Dennett talks about purposely-confusing theology and how it's used. He also describes his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don't believe anymore, and introduces a new term: "Deepity."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Church Without God

An interesting paper has been circling the interwebs. It is by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, "Preachers Who Are Not Believers." Read it in PDF.

Dennett is the fourth person of the atheist quaternity along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens who each published books critical of religious supernaturalism a few years ago.

His is entitled, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

"Preachers Who Are Not Believers" is a paper that describes the journey of five clergy who have grown intellectually beyond the historic dogmatic assertions of their respective cults yet remain active clergy. It is a fascinating and important paper. In response to this paper, the Washington Post "On Faith" column asked its panelists to respond to this question:
What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn't this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?

Read "Preachers who are not Believers," a study by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
A number of panelists from a variety of perspectives responded to the question. Read them here.

This issue has been on the lectern of my soapbox for some time. One of the reasons the
Jesus Seminar came into existence was because insights from scholarship were not making their way past the pulpit to the pew. A major reason for that is the creeds of the various cults are based on supernatural assertions that are no longer credible. Yet many clergy feel bound by these creeds. They find themselves caught between creed and credibility. Ergo a supposed "crisis of faith."

The problem with the question posed by the On Faith column is that it focuses the issue on the integrity of the clergy. Clergy become the scapegoat for the larger issue which is the demise of supernaturalism and the creeds that continue to uphold it.

Those who think of themselves as defenders of the faith (bullies of superstition) want to make this crisis about bad clergy who "lose their faith." Then they can pick them off and kick them out one by one. Roy Hoover wrote about this in an essay in the Fourth R,
Tradition and Faith In a New Era:
Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.
Don't let them. Don't give up without a fight.

We are facing huge changes. Our universe is 13.7 billion years old as of the latest tally. Human beings have evolved as has every species on this beautiful blue ball. We were not placed in any garden by any divine being. No god/man came to Earth, walked on water, rose from the dead and sits on a heavenly throne. That is religious fiction. It is metaphor, story, myth, human invention. It is how our ancestors tried to find meaning. Bless their hearts.

We are still searching for meaning. It won't come for us in some imaginary heaven. It will come as we recognize that Earth is home and we have no more pressing religious duty than to care for our fellow Earthlings and for Earthlings who will come after us.

As we are in a period of transition we will wrestle with our inherited language. For some, the term "God" will have meaning. For others it will not. Religion is moving away from its supernaturalistic roots. "God" will be redefined accordingly. We are in the process of redefining meaning.

As the insights of Galileo and Darwin are finally making their way into popular consciousness, churches and religious institutions need intelligent, courageous leaders to provide the space for people to wrestle with the question of what it means to be a human being.

It could and likely will get ugly. Those who cling to their superstitions will be ruthless. There will be inquisitions. There will be heresy trials. I entered the ministry out of concern for truth as naive as that may sound. I discovered that truth was not the same as a supernaturalistic creed. The search and articulation of truth as I understand it is my integrity.

My advice for clergy and for laypeople who are growing out of a childish supernaturalistic past is to stand your ground. Don't let them set the terms or the rules. Don't resign. Be bold. Tell the truth. Don't call it a loss of faith. It is a growth in understanding. It is waking up from sleep. It is gaining sight from blindness. It is resurrection from death to life.

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kunstler on the GOP

I do enjoy reading Kunstler. He even mentioned Presbyterians in today's rant, The Party of Cruelty:
It was amusing to see the Republican party inveigh against health insurance reform as if they were a synod of Presbyterian necromancers girding the nation for a takeover by the spawn of hell.
As the kids say, LOL! It gets better...
I hope that Mr. Obama's party can carry this message clearly into the electoral battles ahead, painting the Republican opposition for what it is: a gang of hypocritical, pietistic sadists, seeking pleasure in the suffering of others while pretending to be Christians, devoid of sympathy, empathy, or any inclination to simple human kindness, constant breakers of the Golden Rule, enemies of the common good. In fact, the current edition of the Republican party has achieved something really memorable in the annals of collective bad intentions: they have managed to create a sense of the public interest whose main goal is the destruction of the public interest.
Don't stop now! I love this!
This is exactly what the Republican majority on the Supreme Court did earlier this year by deciding that corporations -- which are sociopathic by definition in being answerable only to their shareholders and nothing else -- should enjoy the same full privileges in election campaign contributions as human persons, who are assumed to have obligations, duties, and responsibilities to the common good (and therefore to the public interest). This shameful act by the court majority only underscores the chief defining characteristic of Republicans in their current incarnation: an inability to think. And so, naturally Republicans gravitate toward superstition and the traditional devices of improvident religious authorities -- persecution of the weak, torture, denial of due process, and dogmas designed to spread hatred.
Yup. Here is the Party of Hate's Platform:

Thanks to Ash-Lee for the photo...

Reformed Vs. "Reformed"

It appears that Dave at 'the reformed pastor' is making a little list. This is a list of clergy who are not nearly as righteous as he is. Included on the list of 'clergy not as holy as Dave' is my colleague, friend, and LGBT activist, Rev. Janet Edwards.

Rev. Edwards was taken to church court (twice!) by some of Dave's BFTS buddies. Janet came out victorious (twice). Because of her intelligence, courage, and gentle spirit, she has done a great deal for marriage equality in our denomination.

She models what it means to be a minister in the Reformed Tradition.

Dave, on the other hand, is so infatuated with his own superstitions that he cannot fathom the notion that theological reflection is a human activity and as such requires thought as opposed to regurgitation.

Enough of him.

Do yourself a favor and read some of Rev. Edwards' thoughtful pieces.

She is a contributor to the "On Faith" column in the Washington Post and blogs at A Time to Embrace.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just for the Record: I Am Pro-Choice

From NARAL Pro-Choice America:
Dear John,

It is with mixed emotions that I write with news that, tonight, the House of Representatives passed the health-reform bill.

I am extremely disappointed to tell you that the final package includes the insulting, unworkable Nelson restriction on abortion coverage in the new system.

As you may recall, the Nelson language requires Americans in the new system to write two separate checks if the health plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to stop covering abortion care. This would represent a major setback, given that more than 85 percent of private plans cover this care for women today.

Despite this totally unacceptable anti-choice provision, reform will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services and maternity care for women. It also outlaws some discriminatory insurance-industry practices that make health care more expensive for women. Improving women’s access to birth control and prenatal care and making reproductive-health care more affordable are also at the core of our mission.

Here at NARAL Pro-Choice America, we struggled with the dilemma of how to respond to a bill that included both positive and disappointing provisions for reproductive health. Ultimately, we determined that we could not endorse this bill due to the abortion-coverage restrictions. But, we also could not, in good conscience, call for the bill’s outright defeat and deny millions of American women the promise of better—although imperfect—health-care services that are an important part of our pro-choice values.

That these abortion-coverage restrictions remained in the bill is terrible news for all of us who believe that American women should not have to sacrifice their right to choose in order to gain ground in other areas of health care. It is an outrage that anti-choice politicians such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) used women’s reproductive health as a bargaining chip.

But, believe me when I say that Congress and the White House have not heard the last from us. NARAL Pro-Choice America does not accept this bill as the final word on how abortion coverage will be defined in the new health-care system. We are committed to finding opportunities to repeal dangerous and unacceptable restrictions as the new system takes shape.

Thank you for standing with us for so many months. We will keep fighting to elect pro-choice members who share our pro-choice values.

Nancy Keenan
President, NARAL Pro-Choice America

Today would be a good day to join and support an organization that supports women's reproductive health.

Health Care Reform!

Thanks to all you agitators, sign holders, arm twisters and decent Americans....

...Minutes ago, the House passed the health care reform bill:

It will extend health insurance coverage to 32 million people who lack it, block insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions or capping their lifetime claims, and cut the federal budget deficit by approximately $138 billion over a decade and $1.2 trillion over twenty years.

Democrats compared its significance to the Civil Rights Act, and the legislation that created Social Security and Medicare. Its passage comes after decades of discussing how to fix a health care system everyone acknowledges to be broken....

....The bill passed in a 219 to 212 vote, with no support from Republicans....

....Cleveland's Dennis Kucinich also took heat for reversing previously announced opposition to the bill. He said he still has reservations, but hopes its adoption will enable passage of improved health care legislation in the future and "break the gridlock in Washington on economic issues, jobs, and housing issues."

It's a start in the compassionate direction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Fusspots Want Oversight!

The LayMAN reports that Santa Barbara wants "more oversight."

What do they want oversight over?

Wild guess.

Go ahead.

Take one.

How about... marriage.

It seems the BFTSs (Busybodies, Fusspots, Tattletales, and Scolds) are in a terrible tizzy over the marriage between Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi. The wedding was held during the 2008 General Assembly at the More Light Presbyterians' Dinner.

(By the way, volunteers are needed for this year's MLP dinner and other festivities. We need something juicy for the BFTSs to fuss about two years from now.)

Anyway the Fusspots just couldn't bear it.

So (I mean, really!) they sent an overture to the General Assembly to stop it! Just stop it! No more gays getting married at General Assembly! No! No! No! Report somebody! We need oversight! Good Lord, Sweet Jesus we need oversight!

I thought I had the spiritual gift of paranoia. Read this:

The Presbytery of Santa Barbara respectfully overtures the 219th General Assembly (2010) to do the following:

1. Require events sponsored by PC(USA) aligned groups taking place at General Assembly or other General Assembly-sponsored gatherings to be evaluated by the Office of the General Assembly in advance of all General Assemblies or other General Assembly-sponsored events to assure that the activities of all PC(USA) aligned groups are conducted in a manner that honor the constitutional standards of the church.

2. Direct the Office of the General Assembly to establish a Board of Oversight and Review whose task will be to hold accountable any Presbyterian organization conducting its affairs or events in violation of current constitutional standards. We also advise that this board be available to receive complaints from commissioners at General Assembly.

3. Direct that after a process of review is completed, a violation of the church’s standards of behavior or Constitution shall result in the denial of the privilege of exhibiting at future General Assembly-sponsored meetings and events. Such violation shall also result in denied access to commissioner’s mailboxes at future General Assemblies.

4. Advocate that a process of recourse be established for organizations charged with such violations. In order to be reinstated, the organization so charged would be required to go through an appeal process. The Office of the General Assembly would form a committee of the most recent General Assembly commissioners to hear appeals. This committee would be composed of a theologically balanced group within the denomination.
Obviously, it isn't enough to file a complaint if a rule was allegedly broken. What do you do if no one agrees with you and consequently the baddies do not receive the spanking you think they deserve?

If you are a BFTS you
need to know everything everyone is going to do in advance just in case something might be done that might make some BFTSs think it might be wrong.

God I love the LayMAN.

Don't you just want to cuddle them?

Here Kitty Kitty...

It will happen some time.

Maybe tonight. No number 16 seed has ever beaten a number 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. If any team can do it, the ETSU Bucs can. They have come close on a number of occasions of achieving the upset of all time.

Tonight the Bucs are the underdogs as they take on the Kentucky Wildcats. The game starts at 7:15 on CBS. From the Johnson City Press:
The Bucs (20-14) are certainly battling tall odds in their ninth trip to the NCAAs. The Wildcats average 6-foot-7 per man — they’re the tallest team in the country — and have already rolled to 32 wins and the Southeastern Conference championship. They are also the youngest team in the field, with five freshmen on the roster and three who are prime-time guys. That includes point guard John Wall, the SEC player of the year, and DeMarcus Cousins, the 6-11, 270-pound man-child.
The odds of the Bucs winning this game are about the same as Glenn Beck saying something intelligent. But there is always hope...

Go Bucs!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pastor Takes Pie for Cause

The youth took in over $4000 from their auction and dinner. Enough to send them for a week to the Appalachia Service Project.

From June 13-20 ten youth and four adults will be going somewhere in Appalachia to make homes safer, drier, and warmer.

Here are some pics from last year's trip to Mingo County, West Virginia.

Meanwhile, I will still be trying to get that whipped cream off my face.

Yes, people paid cash to pie the pastor.

Proving that I will do darn near anything for $25.

Music Near Our Mountain

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is excited to present Sara Grey and Kieron Means in concert, Tuesday, March 23rd at 7:30.

Sara and Kieron will provide a night of traditional and acoustic music from the British Isles to Appalachia.

"Sara Grey is one of that rare breed of singers who have been involved with traditional music over many years and absorbed its vital essence. In Sara's performance, the art of the singer and that of the story teller merge to produce a web of tales and songs capable of transporting an audience from the concert hall or club room to the intimacy of a kitchen fire side." --Brian Peters

I am really looking forward to this! Hope to see you!

Kieron has such a tremendous passion when he sings, it goes right to the very core of himself, he's totally immersed the songs. He is a terrific performer on account of just that passion. His voice is especially striking, achieving the rare combination of a high lonesome edge with a warm richness of timbre, and it has a power to move the listener that few of his generation can match. His guitar playing is unconventional, its spareness a mile away from any notion of fancy picking, but it's highly effective, while his stage presence is charismatic, yet laid-back. His songs range from old-time, through the blues - which he sings with startling conviction - to the work of tradition-influenced songwriters, and his own compositions have people, who know a good song when they hear one, nodding in approval.
--Living Tradition
Check out some sample recordings including one for Easter.

Tickets are only $10 at the door.

If you are anywhere near our mountain make you sure you come and bring your friends!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lost and Found: A Sermon

Lost and Found
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

March 14, 2010
Fourth Sunday in Lent

Joshua 5:9-12
Luke 15:11-32

We are coming to the end of our creativity.

That is not true at all. What I mean is that we have been exploring the path of creativity during Winter, and Spring is coming. We will begin exploring another of the four paths of Creation Spirituality.

Creation Spirituality is a term coined by theologian Matthew Fox but it refers to a way of looking at life that is quite ancient. An aspect of Creation Spirituality is to approach Life (or "God" if you prefer) through four vias.

How do we become authentic? How do we in the words of the story the Velveteen Rabbit, become real?

Traditional mystical Christianity has given us a three-fold path of purgation, illumination, and union.

Purgation is letting go of worry or sin.
Illumination is receiving the divine light or salvation.
Union is empowering the self, taking ownership, becoming holy.

Fox added a path and shifted the image from climbing a ladder to dancing a spiral.

How do we become real? He invites us to think of four vias or paths.

We can think of them as the journey of the heart. In his book Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, he describes the four paths in this way:
  1. The heart of exaltation, awe, wonder, and delight (Via Positiva)
  2. The heart of silence, letting go, suffering, sorrow, grieving, and “roaring” (Aquinas’s word) (Via Negativa)
  3. The heart of passion for creativity, co-creating, birthing, life and power in all its forms: the art of empowerment. (Via Creativa)
  4. The heart that is compassion: moral outrage at injustice that leads to the passionate work of justice making and healing and the heart-work that celebration entails and demands. (Via Transformativa) p. 29
I have been playing with and celebrating one path with each season of the year. During the Winter we have been exploring the via creativa in sermons and in worship. I have been trying to look at the scripture readings through this lens.

The via creativa is again, to quote Matthew Fox,
“the heart of passion for creativity, cocreating, birthing, life and power in all its forms: the art of empowerment.”
How might that path, that way of looking at life and acting with life give juice to our reading of this very familiar parable of the man who had two sons, not only a “prodigal” son?

Traditionally, this story has been one of fall and repentance. The younger son, the prodigal son, is the sinner who finally hits bottom, comes to his senses and comes home to the father who, ready to forgive, welcomes him with a fatted calf.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Some of you may remember singing that song in church. I do. I also remember as a kid hearing many testimonies that at times detailed the dissolute living of the prodigal in the sinner’s own life. Then the testifying sinner found Jesus or Jesus found them and we heard the story of repentance, forgiveness, and union with the Father.

That is how this parable has been read and how the Christian life was thought to be lived.

But there wasn’t much for the rest of us who didn’t have those dramatic stories and were sitting in church like the elder son behaving ourselves in the first place.

In this reading, the elder son’s story is an uncomfortable add-on. He is the grumpy do-gooder who should just lighten up. But really, after you have been saved and been given the ring, robe, and calf, the rest is a bit anti-climactic.

If that is the extent of the spiritual path what do you do with the rest of your life? You could rinse and repeat. Go do a bunch of sinning again just because making up with Jesus feels so good. Or you could sit there in your smugness like the other son and with a scolding and knowing look welcome the other sinners home.

Bernard Brandon Scott has been helpful with this parable in his book Re-imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus.

That is a great title. Re-imagine is the work of creativity. Creating images and using our imaginations is what creativity is all about.

The parables of Jesus become not allegories for how to get to heaven but pushes, pokes, and prods to inspire us to think differently, to imagine differently, to change our script so that we might live differently as individuals and as a human community.

These parables are creative stories to inspire creativity.

Creativity is perhaps the best thing we have going for us in a time of change. Our Thursday reading group is reading a sober book. Dianne Dumanoski, The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive a Volatile Earth. She writes what really is needed at this time of change. She quotes C.S. Holling:
Do not try to plan the details…the only way to approach such a period, in which uncertainty is high and one cannot predict what the future holds, is not to predict, but to experiment and act inventively and exuberantly via diverse adventures in living.” P. 213
We need to get some background on this parable. The eldest son received 2/3 of the inheritance. The rest of the sons split the remaining 1/3. Usually this meant that the eldest would buy out the others and they would have to find some other way of making a living.

The Father would be a fool to give his inheritance away before his death. The word translated "property" is bios or life. The younger son is asking for his father’s life, as if he were dead to him. The Father, out of character for a traditional Father, does it. The Father seems to be shirking his role. He is careless and allows his youngest son to disrespect him.

The younger son parties. Dissolute living says the text. Blows it all. Then he despises his own religion by living with pigs. While he is at the bottom, he doesn’t repent, he calculates.
Even my Father’s servants have food to eat.
He dreams up a story that he hopes will fly and heads home.

The Father when he sees him, again acts out of character for the Father. He runs which is a shaming thing to do. Embraces him, kisses him, and doesn’t even let him make his rehearsed speech. No questions asked. No justice meted.

Instead he gives him a ring, robe, sandals, and kills calf so the whole village will have a feast. He is restored as son not as servant.

Meanwhile, after the party the elder son who has been working comes in from the field finds out what is happening and is angry. He insults his Father by refusing to go to the party. The penalty for disrespecting his father in this traditional society is death.

But the Father again rather than fulfill his role as Father pleads with his elder son. Again, shaming. He again sacrifices his male honor.

We have two sons and a Father. The youngest is home celebrating. The oldest refuses to celebrate even though he has all the property. They are operating under the codes. Honor and shame. Property and duty.

It is a male story. It is a man story. The only one who consistently refuses to be a man is the Father. He continues to act not out of concern for his life, his estate, his duty, and his honor, but instead out of compassion and mercy.

Ultimately, he hopes that his two sons will see themselves as brothers.

What happens next?

What happens when the Father dies?

This is how Bernard Brandon Scott closes his commentary on the parable:
So what happens next? The audience is perhaps asked to imagine a third act. Soon the father will die. Then what? If the sons continue on with their established scripts, they are headed for a collision. One will kill the other. Or they can follow the father’s script and surrender their male honor and keep on welcoming, accepting, and being with the other. They have a choice between being lost or found, dead or alive. P. 83
This parable is open ended as are many of the parables of Jesus. We don’t know what will happen. The ending is not satisfactory. The ending is up to us.

This is our story of life on Earth. While the parable lives in a world of male codes, scripts, honor, inheritance, duty, and property that prevents human beings from seeing each other as human beings, as brothers and sisters, we as well have codes and scripts.

The parable invites us to examine our entitlements, expectations, and patterns to which we cling. Are we so tied to a script, a code, a system of honor and shame and entitlement that we are killing each other and Earth for it?

This story of a Father and his two sons is a story familiar in the Bible.

Cain and Abel.
Ishmael and Isaac.
Jacob and Esau.
Joseph and his brothers.

Brothers can end up killing each other. This is the script. You kill for your honor. You kill for property. You kill for security. You kill to right wrongs.

Jesus tells this parable to invite us to change the script. Can we be foolish enough as the father in the story is foolish enough to say that the entitlements, grudges, wrongs real and perceived, are not enough to keep us from seeing each other as beloved?

Perhaps the way of the foolish father is the way of wisdom.

Can we be foolish enough to recognize that our codes, our boundaries, our allegiances, our creeds, our national pride, our way of life can be changed so that all can live?

Can we be foolish enough to come to our senses and share one Earth as one family and with joy and courage change our script?

Can we be foolish enough to become real?

That choice is ours today.