Shuck and Jive

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Equality Minded from DC to Omaha

Two more presbyteries voted on Amendment A.

Two more voted YES!

National Capital continued its strong support for equality by approving the change to G-6.0106b by a vote of 204-80-3.

And Missouri River Valley (Omaha and environs) increased its pro-equality margin and approved A, 52-39-4.

Good, good news.

The tally is now 84-59.

That means only three more YESes to reach 87 and take a big step forward for equality!

This next week will be tough.

But look for surprises in St. Andrew, Middle Tennessee, and Plains and Peaks.

Of course, in every presbytery every time folks can witness for justice an angel gets her wings. So get out the vote and speak up no matter where you are!

It's all good.

On Tuesday, May 10th, we really look to add at least one more number (and hopefully two) to the YES column.

Then...maybe Boise will FLIP and clinch on 5/14?

Oh the drama!
Oh the suspense!

Here is the remaining schedule.

Sunday 5/1

Foothills (34-99) Miracle Flip

Tuesday 5/3

St. Andrew (30-50) Flip

Thursday 5/5

Middle Tennessee (95-139-1) Flip

Peaks (74-136) Miracle Flip

Friday 5/6
Plains and Peaks (41-60) Flip

Tuesday 5/10

Pacific (100-90-3) Hold

Twin Cities (138-54-10) Hold

New Harmony (20-99) Miracle Flip

Prospect Hill (12-63) Miracle Flip

San Gabriel (79-136) Miracle Flip

Saturday 5/14

Boise (25-34) Flip

Click here for the rest of the schedule.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Through the Storm, Through the Night...

The news reports that over 300 people have lost their lives due to storms that have ravaged the South, including ten in Northeast Tennessee, and at least 15 in the Tri-Cities region. Here are reports for Washington County, TN, Johnson County, TN, Greene County, TN, and Washington County, VA.

Here are photos of storm damage in Greene and Washington (TN) Counties. More photos from Washington County Virginia.

Johnson City resident, Tracey Alice Berry, has been posting information on her Facebook page regarding how people can help. Ideas include:

  2. Bloodassurance
  3. Samaritan's Purse
  4. World Vision
  5. Asbury United Methodist Church, Greeneville
  6. Camp Creek Donation Drive (Greene County)
Snad included this in our church news:
CHATTANOOGA AREA: Red Cross is putting up Emergency Shelters in St. Elmo, Cleveland, Bradley County, Appison, Sequatchee, Ray, Trenton, and Ft. Olgethorpe (areas near Chattanooga). To help volunteer in one of the shelters over the coming weeks please contact Shelly at (423)265-3455.

SW VIRGINIA: An emergency shelter has been set up at Emory & Henry in Emory, VA. For more information call Elaine Smythe at (276) 944-6835.

Red Cross volunteers are providing meals in the affected areas and have established a shelter at the First United Methodist Church in Abingdon. Financial donations are needed to support the operation. To make a donation or to volunteer to assist, call (276) 645-6650.

GREENEVILLE AREA: The Opportunity House shelter in Greeneville, TN is available for folks that may have lost their homes in the storm, and the thrift store will provide a $25 per person voucher for clothes for anyone that needs it. PH# 423-638-4099.
Donations can also be made through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

May Day, Beltane, and Pluralism Sunday

I am looking forward to celebrating Pluralism Sunday this first Sunday in May. What is Pluralism Sunday? Read on!
On the first Sunday in May- this year, May 1, 2011 – (or other times during the year) churches around the world dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We recognize that other religions can be as good for others as ours is for us. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion—and we can understand our own traditions better—through a more intimate awareness of the world’s religions. On PLURALISM SUNDAY, churches celebrate elements of other world faiths in their sermons, litanies, and music; many feature speakers and singers from other faith traditions. Some congregations have exchanges with other faith communities, going to each other’s houses of worship.
Here is a sermon from a Pluralism Sunday past. At our place we try to make every Sunday Pluralism Sunday.

For instance, at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening we are having a...

BELTANE CELEBRATION, 6p, May 1st marks the pagan festival of Beltane - "bright fire" or "fire of Bel." Bel was the Celtic sun god who was in his glory during the light half of the year. In the old traditions, this feast day celebrated the new growth and fertility of the land and all of its inhabitants.

The Peacemaking Committee will celebrate with dancing and dining at the church, and will hold the rite outside if weather permits. Bring a dish for the Beltane feast, which will be held in the church dining room and kitchen. Beltane foods traditionally include dairy products or the season's first produce. If you would like to, please also bring ribbons or flowers to decorate our outdoor festival site.
Yeah, that's pretty pluralistic!

Raising Awareness Can Save Our Mountains

Another FPC Elizabethton member wrote this letter to the editor in the Johnson City Press regarding mountain top removal mining. Thanks, Steve!
State Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, cast his vote against the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, which would protect Tennessee’s virgin ridgelines above 2,000 feet from mountaintop removal coal mining.

This vote took place in the Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee with the six Republican members voting against and the two Democratic members voting in favor. The effect of the vote was to kill the bill for this session. Tennessee Mining Association lobbyist, Chuck Laine, dominated presentation time. The proceedings are too complicated for this space, but are available for viewing on the state General Assembly website (Senate Bill No. 577).

This part is simple, though. In an unguarded moment, Laine became annoyed with one of his own presenters, Tennessee Mining operator Justin Clear. Laine said Clear represents one of the last of Tennessee’s small mine operators. He then divulged that the big companies who now own the locals are from Texas and West Virginia and they had “big pockets” and stood ready to finance a challenge should the bill pass.

It’s reported the senators were taken aback by the revelation of who really manipulates the Tennessee Mining Association. Apparently it wasn’t enough to cause Faulk and his Republican cohorts to slow the progress toward accommodating the powerful operatives who have Tennessee’s signature ridgelines in their crosshairs.

More voices need to be added to this. They would be our own. Lawmakers should not come away from a vote like this without a challenge from the folks who understand the ramifications of what they’ve done.

Johnson City

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who Needs Mountains, Anyway?

Thanks to FPC Elizabethton friend, Jennie Young, for this letter regarding Mountain Top Removal mining that is coming to Tennessee. We have some time to stop this insanity but not much. Thanks, Jennie, for speaking out in the Kingsport Times-News:
Sen. Faulk voted with his party March 14 to kill the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Act. The bill’s purpose was to protect Tennessee’s virgin ridge lines above 2,000 feet from mountaintop removal mining.

Presentation time was dominated by the coal industry, represented by the Tennessee Mining Association’s lobbyist. In attendance and celebrating the failure of the bill was the lobbyist for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The coal lobbyist informed the committee that few small Tennessee mine operators remain, as the locals have been bought out by big companies from Texas and West Virginia. He then offered what has become a common threat from aggressive big guns. They have deep pockets and stood ready to fund a challenge if the bill passed.

If senators had been unclear about who pulls the strings at the Tennessee Mining Association, they can no longer plead ignorance. Still, they killed the bill designed to protect the most biodiverse region in the world.

Have no illusions. Six Tennessee mountaintops (of the 500 in Central Appalachia) are already blasted away with no topsoil or headwaters left for recovery and reforestation. Mining company promises to reclaim the land for economic development are meaningless, irrefutably demonstrated by the fact that 89 percent of the 500 remain ugly scars with toxic valley fills with no effective mechanism in place to force compliance.

Mr. Faulk owes us an explanation. It’s phony to cite job creation or energy needs. MTR operators bring in explosives, enormous machines, and most of the small labor force required and leave behind their toxic mess, without revealing how much of the coal is slated for the Asian market.

We need a champion here, not party solidarity.

Jennie Young
Check out the Mountaintop Removal Road Show. Give your TN senators of piece of your mind.

What if the Acts of the Apostles is Fiction?

The Westar Institute, popularly known as the Jesus Seminar held its Spring meeting in Salem, Oregon, March 30th through April 2nd. It was the final meeting of the Acts Seminar. For ten years the Fellows have been sifting through the book of Acts to determine what might be historical about it.

The original plan was to create a color-coded Acts similar to the color-coded gospels in The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus. But as they got into it, they realized it wasn't needed.

They discovered that Acts is mostly fiction.

Jesus ascending to heaven? Fiction
Twelve (Male) Apostles? Fiction
Receiving the Spirit at Pentecost? Fiction
Preaching of Peter? Fiction
Conversion of Paul? Fiction
Journeys of Paul? Fiction

The Acts Seminar concluded that Acts is a second century work, perhaps as late as 130 CE. One of the Fellows, Dennis Smith, presented a paper, "Top Ten Accomplishments of the Acts Seminar." Here are those top ten accomplishments:

1. The use of Acts as a source for history needs critical reassessment.

2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.

3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as one of his sources.

4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historical source can be definitively identified for Acts.

5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.

6. Contrary to Acts 1-­7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.

7. Acts constructed its story on the model of epic and related literature.

8. The author of Acts created names for characters as a storytelling device.

9. Acts constructed its story to fit ideological goals.

10. As a product of the second century, Acts is a historical resource for understanding second century Christianity.
Dennis Smith concluded his paper:
Comparing the Acts Seminar with the Jesus Seminar only goes so far. While the Jesus Seminar, in sifting through the Jesus tradition, was able to find a credible core set of data about the historical Jesus, the Acts Seminar has not found there to be a core historical story of Christian beginnings in Acts. Acts has emerged instead as a hindrance to the historical reconstruction of Christian beginnings because its story has dominated in the Christian imagination for so long.

We must now rethink how we reconstruct Christian origins in the absence of the Acts default. At the same time, Acts has emerged as a primary resource for early second century Christianity, which has engendered a program of research that is increasingly attracting the attention of a new generation of Acts scholars.
The Acts Seminar has opened the way for new ways to look at Acts and the history of the early Jesus movements. They plan to publish a book on their findings in 2013.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out the work of Richard Pervo. He is one of the Fellows and he has written a couple of important books on Acts, Dating Acts and the more accessible,
The Mystery of Acts:
The author of Acts unwittingly committed a near-perfect crime: He told his story so well that all rival accounts vanished with but the faintest of traces. And thus future generations were left with no documents that recount the history of the early Christian tradition—because Acts is not history. According to Richard Pervo, “Acts is a beautiful house that readers may happily admire, but it is not a home in which the historian can responsibly live.” Luke did not even aspire to write history but rather told his story to defend the gentile communities of his day as the legitimate heirs of Israelite religion.
My clergy colleagues may remember being introduced to early Christian writings such as The Acts of Paul and Thecla or The Acts of Andrew. We rightly understood them as legend. The Acts of The Apostles appears to be more like them then not, that is, legend not history.

This is again interesting for us who lead worship. The major holy days of the Christian faith (in order of importance) Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost are all based on fictional narratives.

So, what does a preacher do with that assertion? There are several options:

1) Deny it. Follow the lead of Lee Strobel and other fundamentalists and "prove" that the Gospels and Acts are historical. That is about as much of a dead end as creationism.

2) Ignore it. Just tell the story and assume it happened even though it didn't. Don't look too closely into a gift horse's mouth. Don't want to upset the faithful.

3) Admit it and give it up. Since it isn't historically true it has little value. Leave the church and join the ranks of the "church alumni association".

4) Admit that these fictions are legends and enjoy them. This is similar to option two except that you publicly say that these legends are just that but there is value in them. They can still "preach".

5) Admit that these fictions are legends and challenge them. These fictions serve power interests in the past and in the present that need exposing. Reconstructing history is important liberating work. The church may need a new history of origins. You hold out a willingness to change your views completely even as they go against cherished beliefs including creeds.

Perhaps there are other options or a combination of the above. I tend to combine options 4 and 5. But I admit that I am haunted by the prospect that the church's mojo has been based on options 1 and 2. It has placed its eggs in the historical Easter basket. When the basket gets ripped full of holes, there go the eggs.

It would seem to me for institutional interests (let alone reasons of honesty and integrity) that we explore what would church mean if we admitted that we pretty much made it all up and ask seriously, "Where do we go then from here?"

FAQs About Amendment A

The prospects for Amendment A are good.

That said, no letting up, beloveds.

Get out the vote.

Nevertheless, we are going to get there.

What will change when Amendment A is passed and goes into effect July 11th, 2011?
Here is a helpful set of FAQs by the stated clerk of Monmouth Presbytery, Carl Wilton.

I have re-posted a few of them:
2. What does the change in ordination standards mean?
The ordination standards have changed from “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” - wording that was added to the Constitution in 1997 - to: “to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” This removes a national standard categorically prohibiting the ordination of persons in sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

7. Is the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians mandated?
No, it is not required, but it is no longer prohibited by specific Constitutional language.

10. May a congregation or presbytery now ordain or install a sexually active homosexual?
Yes, if after a thorough examination, the congregation or presbytery believes the person to be called by God to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, elder or deacon and not to be living in violation of the PCUSA's ordination standards, its Confessions, or Scripture.

13. Is a presbytery required to receive, by transfer of membership, an ordained sexually active gay or lesbian minister?
No, each presbytery retains its existing right to examination, by which it determines which ministers to receive into its membership.

14. May questions about a candidate’s sexuality be asked or are such questions forbidden?
All questions are allowed during an examination. The acknowledgment of being sexually active outside the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman does not automatically disqualify a person from being ordained.
A good change. And good to see it in print from someone who knows the rules.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lehigh Holds and Florida FLIPS!

Another great day for Amendment A!

Two presbyteries voted and two voted YES!

Lehigh held on to its support for equality by approving A, 68-48-1.

And Florida?

Flipped! 49-36!

Let's give Florida a FLIPPER!

The Presbytery of Florida is the 17th presbytery to flip from a no to a YES!

Nicely done.

The tally is now 82-59.

We need five more YESes to get to 87 and get rid of that nasty B in our bonnet.

Here is the remaining schedule.

The next two presbyteries to vote on Saturday are Missouri River Valley and National Capital. We are looking to hold them both. So get out the vote (especially in Missouri River Valley!)

Michael Adee's Open Letter to the PC(USA)

These final three to four weeks will be nail biters as we seek that 87th vote in favor of Amendment A. Two key votes will take place today in the presbyteries of Lehigh and Florida. Check the schedule and the vote charts on the sidebar. As soon as I get wind of the results I will post them here.

This is a tense time for our denomination. Most of those who oppose this amendment are reasonable people and will live with the change that is coming. Some are freaking out and sure that if we approve this we are all in for a Divine Spanking. Still others are calculating ways that they can "be in and not of" the denomination, whatever that means.

It all amounts to a huge distraction. Our focus is clear.
Get the 87th vote. All the rest will work itself out. I mean, really. What is the big deal? We treat people with some semblance of equality. Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians has written a thoughtful reflection and concludes it with ten reasons to support Amendment A.

It is An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church from One of Your Baptized Kids. I tried to find quotes from it, but found it is all so good I am re-posting it in its entirety. I hope you will take the time to read it and see why it is important for the church to do the right thing.

The healing thing.
The just thing.
For the whole church.

Grace and peace to all of you. I was baptized as an infant at First Presbyterian Church, Billings, Montana. I was taught faith, Scripture, the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and confirmed at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Sulphur, Louisiana. As a kid and teenager, I loved going to church and being part of a church family. I sang in our church choir with my Dad, loved our youth group of four and the all-church potluck dinners. I had Jesus' bumper stickers on my 1963 VW bug when I was in high school. I probably annoyed some of my friends in high school and college with my Christian zeal.

When I affirmed being gay in my late twenties, the Church was no longer a safe or loving place for me, so I left the Church. I give thanks to God for being loved back to faith by Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. I was ordained and installed as an Elder there. I've served as an Elder at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati and First Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I began serving as a volunteer with More Light Presbyterians in 1991 and on staff since 1999. I would not be in the Presbyterian Church, or in any church, if not for Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church and their unconditional welcome and invitation to serve God with them.

I believe the 219th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 10-A offers this kind of unconditional welcome and invitation to faith, grace, salvation, church membership and ministry to all of God's children, not just some.

I've put a lot of my heart, thought, reflection on Scripture, prayer and my life experience into why I wholeheartedly support 10-A and believe it is a gift for God for our Church right now. Our Church will more lovingly and accurately reflect God's heart with the approval of 10-A.

My Top Ten Reasons to Support Amendment 10-A

1. This amendment returns our Church to the historic Presbyterian way of focusing upon faith and character as qualifications for ministry, not marital status or sexual orientation.

2. This amendment honors God's call to ministry and the recognition of gifts for ministry given by God to people regardless of gender, race, marital status, sexual orientation or other human differences.

3. This amendment allows for local congregations to call ministers, elders and deacons who can best meet the needs within their own communities.

4. This amendment affirms the moral equality of all persons and ends discrimination based upon marital status or sexual orientation.

5. This amendment affirms God's diverse creation that we can see in Scripture and in our life together in community.

6. This amendment affirms the gift of love by God to persons not limited by gender or race; and it provides support for the beautifully diverse and sacred reality of love and faithfulness experienced by couples and families in our world today.

7. This amendment allows our Church the chance to shift from 37 years of debate, legislation and judicial cases about sexual orientation and to place our energies on mission, service and a hurting world that needs our care and ministry.

8. This amendment is a helpful solution to the 14 years of departure from the historic Presbyterian standards for ordination. It's time to be honest, G-6.0106b has failed our Church. This "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness" requirement has brought nothing but hurt, suspicion, division and driven people away from our Church.

9. This amendment affirms that God's creation, God's love, God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are available for all persons, not just some.

10. This amendment affirms Jesus' commandment for us to love God, neighbor and self; and to recognize as Jesus' taught that all persons are neighbor in God's world, no exceptions.

Imagine, dream, pray and work with me for a new way of being Church and serving in our world with the passage of 10-A.

with hope and grace,
Thanks Michael!

That's it. It is about understanding and welcoming and affirming people.

Let's do everything we can in these remaining weeks to get out the vote and to encourage the church to vote YES on Amendment A.

Check the schedule.
Call friends and others you know.
Find the courage to speak.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Resurrection and Amendment A

If the symbol of resurrection still means anything to us it ought to inspire us to work for justice. Matthew Fox was asked to share a few words about resurrection and he came up with Some Thoughts About Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Beyond:

To me, the “paschal mystery” of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the rabbi is an archetypal reminder about how, as science now teaches us, all things in the cosmos live, die and resurrect. Supernovas, galaxies, solar systems, planets, beings that inhabit our planet—we all have our time of existence and of passing out of existence. But we leave something behind for further generations and that constitutes resurrection.
So what does it mean for us? What is our hope? How should we live?
Good Friday rules for a short period. But the longer period is the new life and the victory over death and the fear of death that Easter Sunday represents. It is that hope that rises daily with every new sun. Moving beyond the fear of death we can live fully again and cease our immortality projects, our empire building and pyramid constructing (wall street too) and get on with…living. Which is sharing. Heschel: “Just to be is holy; just to live is a blessing.” Now our fear of death does not have to rule our lives. Now we can live fully, generously and creatively.
We are blessed now to have a unique opportunity to bring healing to our denomination and some amount of justice for those who have been shut out.

Let's get on with living.

The tally is 80-59.

Florida and Lehigh vote tomorrow. Looking for Florida to flip and Lehigh to hold.

Here is the schedule with each presbytery's voting date, the result last time, and what we hope will be the result this time around.

Let's live the resurrection!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Way of Resurrection: Peace Through Justice -- A Sermon

The Way of Resurrection: Peace Through Justice
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Easter Sunday 2011

Gospel of Jesus Epilogue 1-8

Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told those who were close to him, who were mourning and weeping. But when those folks heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it.

Christ appeared to Cephas (or Peter).

[Paul wrote]: “Last of all, like the freak of nature I am, Christ appeared to me as well.”

Mary of Magdala said: “I saw the Lord in a vision, and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’”

James, the Lord’s brother, and Cephas (or Peter), and John, the son of Zebedee, were pillars of the Jerusalem community.

[Paul wrote] “They agreed that I, Paul, had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Cephas had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised.”

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Gospel of Jesus (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999), p. 83, 84. PS Mark 16:9-11; Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:1-2; 11-18; 1 Corinthians 15:5, 8; Luke 24:34; Acts 9:3-19; 22:1-16; 26:9-18; Mary 7:1; Galatians 2:7-9.

Lisa Miller is the religion editor for Newsweek magazine. She has written a new book that I recently reviewed on my blog called Heaven: The Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. It is a very good book. She writes about what people think, wish, trust, and hope about heaven. It is also a survey of religious history. She reviews the variety of beliefs regarding afterlife and how they developed. She is not a believer in heaven herself but is thoughtful and sensitive to those she interviews and to the subject itself. I recommend it.

I started to wonder why it is that some people believe in heaven. What are the reasons?

1) One reason we are familiar with is religious bullying. Heaven and hell has become a carrot and a stick for enforcing behavior and obedience. Believe this, do this and don’t do that and you will avoid hell and go to heaven. That is the most shallow and popular motivation.

Yet there are other reasons that people embrace the concept of afterlife or at least wish they could embrace it.

2) We want to continue our relationships. The pain of losing loved ones may be softened by a belief that they are doing well or that we will see them again in heaven.


3) Anxiety about our own death may cause us to hope for continued existence. Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of religious myth imagined that the first conscious thought was: “I am!” Within seconds came the second conscious thought that threw humanity into despair: “One day I will not be.” The solution to that problem is that you will always be, the body is just a shell, a temporary vessel. There is no need for anxiety as your consciousness will float through one life after another or will rest in heaven with God.


4) Another reason to desire the afterlife is the injustice of this world. Life is not easy and it is not fair. Some have it better than others. Where is the justice for those born into miserable conditions of poverty and disease? Where is the justice for those who have been abused by others? The powerful get away with murder. The evil prosper. The desire for justice is likely the earliest impetus for belief in resurrection. Resurrection was the promise that God had not forgotten the righteous martyrs. God on his cosmic throne would eventually sort things out and bring a new heaven and a new earth.

Our religious systems developed and changed all in attempt to cope with the anxiety of consciousness. My dogs don’t worry about heaven or the futility of their lives. I do. That is our blessing and our curse.

5) For me, it is curiosity more than anything that creates desire for an afterlife. I would love to know how we will be doing in 100 years. I would love to come back or watch from above to see if humanity will make it through this time period and how it will do so. I would like to check back in on Earth in 200 years and again in 100,000 years and see what is happening. In addition to our future on this planet, I am curious about the Universe. I would love to travel to other star systems and to other galaxies and see if there is a party out there somewhere. Not only that, there is a great deal about Earth that I know nothing about. To say there are many things to learn is a ridiculous understatement. There is too much for one lifetime to absorb. The Universe, Earth, and Northeast Tennessee all are too large for one life to experience.

If I were obsessed with that desire to live beyond my death because of curiosity, injustice, pain for lost loved ones, disappointment with my own life, or the angst of non-being I can see how that obsession would turn into a hope and a belief, even a religion. We can see how people would see it differently and even fight over which speculation is the correct one.

I don’t insist. It is up to us as individuals to find our own teachers, walk our own path, and construct our own belief system. Someone said jokingly but seriously about our congregation that we are BYOG—Bring Your Own God. I like that. It entails respect. We are here to be present to and with one another as each of us makes our own quest. I will spout off all kinds of stuff. If it is helpful, you can take it, if not leave it.

I will spout a little.

A beef that I have with religion, spirituality, and with myself is that all can be a little self-focused. “Me” getting to heaven. “Me” having a spiritual journey. “Me” obsessing over “my” personal psychology. I think there is something to be said for a more collective understanding and experience. We are in this together and we have a responsibility for one another and for generations after us.

My second beef is this. We can believe whatever we need to believe about life after death and what all that might entail. But there is probably not much we can do about it now anyway. I find it incredible to believe that our eternal fate is tied to what we believe. In fact, even the Presbyterians know that. I certainly don’t want to debate with the Calivinistas, but I think the reason John Calvin in the 1500s invented the notion that it is all fixed, predestination, is so his followers wouldn’t worry about their eternal fate. It is all fixed, you can’t do anything about it, so bring your attention back to Earth.

Bracket all that eternal speculation. It’s all good. You are going to be fine whatever God has fixed up for you. If “God” exists and God has it set up for you to see Granny again, then that will happen. If not, it won’t, but there is nothing you can do about it now either way. Until then, we could use your help right here. We need to build schools and hospitals. We need to learn to make peace between nations and work for human rights. We need to be conscious about Earth for life in our present and in our children’s future. Figure out whatever speculation you need about the afterlife, then come back home. We have work and play to do here and now.

I am going to be 50 this August. I doubt that I will be here in 100 years. I would be 150. Maybe I’ll make it to 150 but the odds are against me. It is possible that I could come back in 2111 in some other form to check up on things. I kind of like that idea, but…well.

However, I feel I have an obligation and a responsibility to care about what happens in 100 years even though I will not be here. I have no way of knowing what will happen. I do think that what I do now will have some kind of effect, however minuscule, on the future. And yet I cannot do what I do now out of concern for the results. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna said:
“Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a person reaches ultimate truth; by working without anxiety about results.”
I also have an obligation and a responsibility to care about what happens now. If I am anxious about the results, I will not do what I need to do because it looks overwhelming. But I can do what I can do.
  • I doubt that I alone will be able to stop the insanity of removing mountain tops to retrieve coal. But I can at least say that sentence this morning in my Easter sermon.
  • I cannot stop the production and selling of weapons to militants around the world. Nor can I stop Empire’s wars. But I can say something at this moment about the possibility of peace through non-violence.
  • I cannot reverse climate change. But I can care. I can use whatever influence I have to say something and do the small things I can do.
My hunch is that there are a lot of things you care about as well. The need is likely greater than your efforts. The temptation to despair and give in is real and present. I think that is why the wisdom of Krishna is helpful today:
Do your duty, always; but without attachment.
Spiritual teachers always bring us to the present. Jesus told parables and he shot off witty one-liners about Life and Earth. He said things like,
“Do not be anxious about what you will eat or wear….be aware of the birds….be aware of the lilies.”
It is hard to construct a more “Be here, now” message than that one. Yet so much of life if we are not careful is wishing we were somewhere else or someone else. We even wish time away. But the gift is here and now. That is a sacred gift. Here and now is holy. And so are you. So is Earth. You are Earth. Nothing is more sacred and holy than this moment. Singing with the angels in heaven for 10,000 years will not be more sacred and holy than this moment.

We are here at this place and at this time. For whatever reason you have found yourself in this building this morning. It doesn’t matter the reason. Your life could go in all kinds of directions after the Benediction today. It will be sacred and holy. Whatever you do, you are living. When you have dinner with family or friends today it will be sacred and holy. When you go to work, school, whatever you do, it will be life. Life is real. Be aware.

The symbol of resurrection has something to do with the holy sacred work of keeping at it. Empire killed Jesus. The emperor operated under the philosophy that peace comes through victory. “We can force people into peace or at least keep them quiet.” The early followers of Jesus heard enough and saw enough in the life of Jesus to embrace something different. They saw a different way. The way of peace is not through force but through the power of non-violence. Peace comes through just relations.

These early followers experienced in some way his vision. It lived in them. Amidst all the injustices of life, they found a way to proclaim their own dignity.

Empire killed Jesus. But it didn’t defeat him.

That truth isn’t simply a Christian truth.

I was talking with Sandy Westin the other day. She is the Coordinator of the North American Region of United Religions Initiative. This is a global grassroots organization to foster peace and cooperation between people of different religions and to make a positive contribution to peace and justice on Earth. Different communities form Cooperation Circles and decide what and how they will live out the URI charter. We have a cooperation circle in Johnson City.

As I spoke with Sandy the other day, she told me a story about how a cooperation circle in Uganda made peace in its villages. She asked a religious and community leader in Uganda about what the URI was doing. He told her this story.

He said that there is a great deal of tribal violence in and between the villages. They wanted to find a way to stop the youth from engaging in violence. So they came up with an idea. They pooled their resources and came up with 50 American dollars to buy soccer balls. They decided to give a soccer ball to each village. Soccer or football is a beloved sport. They had been playing with coconuts. So the soccer balls were a huge improvement.

But the URI cooperation circle said there is a condition. The only ones who will be able to play in the soccer league are those who do not engage in any violence. If anyone is violent they will not be able to play. Once these conditions were agreed upon, soccer leagues were started in each village. It worked. They were serious about wanting to play soccer that it overrode the desire to be violent.

The village elders gathered and wondered what they could do next. The real tribal violence was between the villages. So they said to the players, “You know such and such village has some pretty good players. You all are pretty good, but they might be just as good.” The players said, “No, no.” The elders said well maybe we could have a tournament. The condition is that there be no violence. This was pretty tough. These tribal hostilities ran deep. But they agreed.

As they played it turned out that some of the girls from one village would find an attraction to some of the boys from another village and vice versa. This created great consternation. The boys wanted to “protect their women” you know. But the rule was no violence. So what can we do? So the elders gathered and they all came up with a solution that they would have chaperones for couples from different villages as they dated. Instead of fighting, they played soccer.

What happened is that they learned to find a way to solve conflicts peacefully when violence was not an option.

That is a simple story. Simple and true. There are 100s of thousands of organizations around the globe and 100s of millions of people working for peace, Earth care, human rights and on and on, not knowing what the others are doing or that they even exist.

If there is an Easter message I want to share it is this:

May you see your own life moment by moment as holy and sacred.

Thank you for whatever it is you are doing to bring joy and hope to others—to be a blessing.

Do know that you are not alone.

Also know that what you do is worth it.

May you have a Blessed Easter.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Rising

It is Easter Eve.

Whether you are Religious or Secular, Christian or Pagan, Spiritual or Earthy, all of the above, none of the above, or a combination of the above, you are all right with me and I hope you have a great weekend.

You're welcome to join us for Easter.

119 West F Street

Come on up for the risin'.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Today is Good Earth Day

Today is the intersection of two holy days, the Christian "Good Friday" when Jesus was executed and Earth Day.

The coincidence couldn't be more poignant as Earth has reached a tipping point. We are Earth. We are in the midst of the largest extinction of species in 65 million years. Our climate is changing, our streams and forests are becoming toxic.

Earth is Crucified.

Long live Earth.

H/T Gary and Nancy

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Heaven by Lisa Miller: A Review

Lisa Miller is a senior editor of Newsweek. She covers stories regarding religion. She has written a new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife.

I will put my prejudices up front. I am not a fan of heaven (or hell for that matter). I was skeptical about getting much out of a book on a topic in which I put little faith. Yet there is a difference between believing in something and caring about it. Miller, too, cares but doesn't believe:

" the course of writing this book, whenever I have asked myself--over and over--"Do you believe in heaven?" I always think of my grandfather. I try to visualize him. I loved him, I was there when he died; I miss him and my grandmother every day of my life. Surely, if I believed in heaven, I would see them there in my mind's eye.

Sadly, I don't. When I ask myself, "Where is he now?" all I see is the cemetery in Westchester, the shady hillside where both he and my grandmother were buried--he on a sweltering day, she in chill January rain. I do not envision my grandparents alive anywhere. I did not see, or even imagine, my grandfather's spirit rising from his body that morning, and I have never felt him looking down on me....I do not believe in a supernatural realm where my grandparents exist as themselves, nor do I imagine them engaged in any of the activities they loved on earth....Although I do believe the world will end--everything ends--I do not believe that end will be accompanied by glorious resurrections." pp. 241-2.
Yet she cares about heaven and she cares about the people who care about heaven. She writes:
"I do not believe we know, in any empirical way, anything real about heaven. Without such evidence, the story of heaven is as much about believers as it is about belief--for how people imagine heaven changes with who they are and how they live." p. xviii
Regarding the purpose of the book, she writes:
"...perhaps this book will give people who are struggling to clarify what they believe about the afterlife some concepts to consider and some sense of what their traditions do and don't offer. I hope it will give even secular readers a sense of connectedness to believers in the past and provide them with an occasion for self-reflection. What people think about heaven reveals a lot about who they are." p. xix
These are people past and present. I was surprised to find this book to be a fascinating study of religion. She delves into the history of how theories of afterlife evolved in Judaism and Christianity and then carried over into the vision of Paradise in Islam. She interviewed a large number of people, some of them somewhat famous, some scholars, and many ordinary folks and weaves these interviews with research on the church fathers, rabbis, and imams. The book's 250 pages and as many endnotes with an extensive bibliography sets a nice, readable pace and moves easily from history to the present and back again. After reading this book you feel as though you learned some things and have a bit more insight into the function of religion in modern life.

People seem to open up to her and want to talk about their thoughts regarding heaven, whether they be scholars like John Dominic Crossan or David Byrne of the Talking Heads. (Neither of them believe in heaven, by the way). All the possible views of heaven seem to me to be explored in this book, from the need to continue this life with loved ones to the desire for cosmic justice, it's all there. Or then, maybe none of it is there. Part of the tone of the book is a sense of loss. Perhaps it is a funeral for heaven.

I am a progressive in my heart, but I yearn at times for the discipline and the faith of the orthodox. I wish I could somehow "go there" and embrace the supernatural aspects of heaven--the streets of gold, the many mansions, the banquet, the Torah study, the music the physical enjoyment of all kinds of pleasures, the bliss, the reunions....I even yearn for the literal-plus interpretation of scriptural descriptions given to me by believers who are also intellectuals....I wish I felt that. p. 347
But she doesn't.

Miller is gracious and finds delight in people who would in my view be particularly annoying and pushy. For instance, she interviewed Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, about her views of heaven. During the interview, Lotz gave Miller the hard sell about Jesus:

"Lotz knows that I'm Jewish, and over lunch one afternoon, in an expensive restaurant in midtown Manhattan, she interrupted her discourse on heaven to witness to me about Jesus. "Lisa, God wants you," she said, her voice breaking and her eyes on mine. "You are precious to Him and you have a choice." I don't believe that my ultimate destiny has anything to do with Jesus, but Lotz's certainty made me squeamish. I looked down at my notebook and kept scribbling, unable to meet her gaze. I know she's wrong, I thought. But what if she's right?" p. 64
Welcome to spiritual abuse. But unlike me, Miller doesn't call it that. Instead she writes:
"I like her. Through her I've met people who are now my friends, and I like that she--like so many ambitious women--clearly struggles with how to reconcile her ambitions with her obligations to her family." p. 61
Miller takes the reader through the intricacies of resurrection vs. immortal soul, the kingdom of God, paradise, apocalypticism, the desert fathers, and various interpretations of the supposed virgins who await male Muslim martyrs, and all along the way she speaks with real people who vary between skepticism and sure hope of things to come. I recommend this book both for its insights into popular culture and religious history.

I have one beef. This may appear to be an odd complaint. I suppose that many readers will agree with Miller rather than me on this point. On more than one occasion, including the introduction, Miller makes mention of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001 and writes of their significance.

However, in speaking of 9/11, Miller simply repeats the government's conspiracy theory as if it were fact. She never exhibits any critical distance by using words or phrases such as "alleged" or "according to the government's theory" when writing about what supposedly happened. The theory is that 19 hijackers armed with box cutters outwitted the most expensive military Earth has ever known. With two planes they managed to collapse three skyscrapers into their own footprints. For good measure, one hijacker flew a plane into the most protected building on the planet, the Pentagon. None of this has been proven. Nevertheless the media continues to respond with silence and/or ridicule to the mounting challenge to this theory by intellectuals and professionals from many fields and to the increasing public support for a new investigation.

Why pick on Lisa Miller regarding this topic? This is a time for national self-reflection on both religion and politics. Miller is a leading media figure and she writes about religion and in this book, she addresses 9/11. She writes about ultimate things precious to many people. While I know that the media serve other gods in addition to (or sometimes instead of) Truth, I hold out hope for those who report on matters of faith. After all it is a theologian, David Ray Griffin, who has put his scholarly credentials and skills to the service of searching for truth about 9/11. As Griffin has shown, it isn't the analysis of the evidence that is difficult, it is the courage to face the evidence. An occupational hazard awaits those who dare to speak much of theology and faith: they may be grasped by the conviction to seek truth for truth's sake regardless of the cost.

In an otherwise objective, delightful, and careful book, more care could have been exhibited here.

For other reviews visit the TLC Book Tour.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jesus Was a Good Guy

For all the craziness we Christians put people through at Holy Week, I turn to John Prine for some sanity.

Jesus, The Missing Years.

"Jesus was a good guy. He didn't need this shit."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spreading Superstition One Door Knob at a Time

A local Baptist church swept through the neighborhood attaching Lee Strobel's booklet The Case for Easter on every doorknob. It is a bunch of misinformation and superstitious nonsense regarding "evidence" that Jesus' corpse popped out of his tomb on Easter morn.

The punchline appears at the end of the tract:

After all, there's a lot riding on your verdict. If Jesus really is the Son of God, then your eternity hinges on how you respond to him. As Jesus said in John 8:24, "If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."

Those are sober words, offered out of loving concern. In fact, his love for you is so great that he willingly suffered the torture of the cross to pay the penalty for all the wrong things you've ever done."

In other words, "Believe all of the incredible gobbledy gook I (Lee Strobel) tell you or down the chute to hell, you bad sinner. Happy Easter!"

This is spiritual abuse. Can you imagine the existence of a supernatural being that would require belief in silly things?

One of my church members thought we should place copies of the Jesus Seminar's The Acts of Jesus on all the doorknobs in the neighborhood. A bit pricey of an enterprise, I am afraid. But fun to think about.

I will just have to settle for posting my sermon on my blog, and chatting about hell when I get the chance in the Elizabethton Star. The Star is good about printing our church stuff. Here is what they printed last week regarding Palm Sunday:

Palm Sunday will be celebrated at morning worship at 11 a.m. The theme is "Empire Strikes Back: Peace Through Victory." The text for the service is the account of Jesus's arrest, trial and crucifixion.

Pastor John Shuck in his news release wrote, "According to the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, the gospel narratives are creative fictions. The authors searched their scriptures to find models for Jesus such as the righteous sufferer in Isaiah and Psalm 22. We know nothing about what actually transpired. From Rome's perspective, Jesus was probably not that big of a deal. He was just another peasant with an attitude who would serve as an example for other peasants with attitudes. Rome sent a message: Don't make trouble or you will end up like these guys. Empire executed Jesus along with thousands of others. Jesus happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The importance of this story is not about the person of Jesus. It is the story of how Empire treats people. When human beings are reduced to collateral damage, when the value of what is under Earth is more valuable than who live on Earth, when unnamed people are trampled under the wheel of progress, the passion of account of Jesus is the story of the trampled."
Suitable for a doorknob.

Remaining Schedule for Amendment A

Here are the presbyteries yet to vote. This chart will be updated and you'll find it on the top of the side bar under Countdown to 87!

Here is the schedule with each 2008-09 vote in parentheses followed by what we hope will happen!

Florida (41-46) Flip YES! 49-36
Lehigh (60-46-2) Hold YES! 68-48-1

Missouri River Valley (50-41-6) Hold YES! 52-39-4
National Capital (222-102-1) Hold YES! 204-80-4

Foothills (34-99) Miracle Flip No 64-95

St. Andrew (30-50) Flip No 24-40

Middle Tennessee (95-139-1) Flip YES! 93-86-1
Peaks (74-136) Miracle Flip No 89-117-5

Plains and Peaks (41-60) Flip YES! 73-51
Dakota (no voice) Miracle Flip No?

Pacific (100-90-3) Hold YES! 102-60-2
Twin Cities (138-54-10) Hold YES! 205-56-3
New Harmony (20-99) Miracle Flip No 28-72
Prospect Hill (12-63) Miracle Flip No 22-44
San Gabriel (79-136) Miracle Flip No 92-92
Western Kentucky (17-42) Miracle Flip No 26-37

Boise (25-34) Flip YES! 37-27

Des Moines (52-37) Hold YES! 64-29-2
Charlotte (133-124) Hold YES! 162-154
New York City (76-25) Hold YES! 89-31-5
West Jersey (88-80) Hold No 67-67
Shenango (4-101) Miracle Flip No Voice

Homestead (37-40-3) Flip Yes! 46-29
Sheppards and Lapsley (77-75) Hold Yes! 80-52
Los Ranchos (35-143) Miracle Flip No 51-131

Rapture and Earth's Destruction Postponed Until October (Plenty of time for the remaining presbyteries to vote YES on 10A!).
San Juan (no voice) No?

Missouri Union (31-48) Flip YES! 43-38
Western New York (66-48) Hold YES! 77-44

Peace River (62-83-1) Flip No 65-79-2
Hanmi (1-30) No?

Vote Tally 96-75

Providence (39-48-4) Flip

Kiskiminetas (34-70) Miracle Flip

Unknown Date
Midwest Hanmi (?) Not voting so No
Suroeste (0-41) No

Peep and Pet in the News!

Our own Julie Wade and Jake made the Johnson City News and Neighbor:

“Do you know of any patients who need some pet therapy?” asks Julie Wade as she checks in for her weekly visit to Franklin Woods Hospital’s second and third floors.

The retired biology teacher and pre-med advisor with Milligan College has discovered a way to integrate her love of dogs with her medical interests in becoming a volunteer for Mountain States Health Alliance’s (MSHA) pet therapy program.

When she and her six-year-old golden retriever, arrive at the hospital, the response is immediate. Everyone wants to pet Jake and Jake loves the attention.

Julie got Jake from a golden retriever rescue organization in Knoxville. He had some separation anxiety issues which “make him a natural for pet therapy,” she says. He loves being around people.

“We see more caregivers than we do patients,” explains Julie as we walk past work stations and staff call out greetings and give Jake’s silky head a rub.

Julie says patients, even those in pain, “just light up when they see Jake.”

Dr. Grauman Wiksten, a patient, calls out to bring Jake into his room. “I’m not allergic,” he exclaims, explaining that he spent 30 years working for the Department of Agriculture after a few years in private practice as a veterinarian.

Pet therapy dogs and their handlers never go into patients’ rooms without receiving permission. Lisa James, RNBC, who coordinates MSHA’s pet therapy program, says if a patient has a fear or phobia about animals that is certainly taken into consideration. However, for many patients, petting an animal provides a release of stress or tension and has been shown to lower blood pressure. It can also help a depressed or lonely patient find an emotional outlet.

Julie and Jake pay once-a-week visits to Franklin Woods and Johnson City Medical Center and occasionally visit nursing homes.

Pet therapy dogs must be certified and complete testing and evaluation before they are allowed in a medical setting. They must have current vaccinations and insurance and be bathed and groomed before visiting the hospital.

For more information about MSHA’s pet therapy program, contact Lisa James in Patient-Centered Care at 431-1678. Check out for information on how to get your dog certified for pet therapy.
Jake is one sweet dog. We gave him a blessing when we blessed the animals. Get a blessing. Be a blessing.

FPC Elizabethton Gets Green Award

This was in today's Elizabethton Star. I am proud as punch of my people who have been green long before being green was cool.
First Presbyterian Church receives Green Interfaith Network Award

JOHNSON CITY -- First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton has been chosen as recipient of the Eco-Justice Award from the Green Interfaith Network. The GINI Awards honor congregations in the region that demonstrate outstanding projects or programs that support environmental justice, earth care, education and/or community leadership.

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton was chosen for the Eco-Justice Award for its longstanding commitment to caring for the earth through the Carter County-Dennis Cove Stream Clean-Up events.

This award exists for people and congregations who believe they can move a mountain. First Presbyterian of Elizabethton believes -- through faith -- that they can move mountains, together as a congregation. For over 20 years, the annual Carter County-Dennis Cove Stream Clean-Up is just one of many eco-justice initiatives that they have implemented over the years. First Presbyterian of Elizabethton are champions for all who believe the world can be changed. Led by its Peace-making Committee, First Presbyterian of Elizabethton serves as a shining example of earth friendly practices for faith communities and the region at large.

Accepting the award for the church were Nancy Barrigar and Rebecca Nunley, both longstanding members of the Peace-making Committee.

Others awards presented and the recipients included the Stewardship Award given to First Presbyterian Church of Bristol for its "green" facilities renovation project that included a geothermal heating and cooling system, electrical upgrades and "replacing, caulking and re-glazing over 160 windows throughout the property."

Rev. Gordon Turnbull, senior pastor, and Betsy Galliher, church administrator, accepted the award.

The Spirit Award was given to Munsey Memorial Methodist Church of Johnson City for its "Care for Creation" Sunday services and Wednesday night "Care for Creation" Speakers series.

Accepting the award for Munsey were Brian Taylor, senior pastor, Beth Witt, co-director of outreach, and Aubrey Lee, chairman of church and society committee.