Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reflections at 50 or Closer to Death than Birth

Today is my 50th birthday.

I am enjoying the well wishes on my Facebook wall. Thanks to Facebook I never can complain that not enough people remembered my birthday. I do love friends and family from all over interacting there. I get birthday greetings from people I have never met. Some say, "Happy Birthday." Others say it in a clever way. Still others offer a personal sentence of appreciation. I like them all. It is nice.

In fact, if that isn't nice, I don't know what is.

I have been reading Kurt Vonnegut's novels in order. I decided to do it this summer. I just finished his seventh,
Breakfast of Champions. He was 50 when he wrote it. It wasn't as insightful as some of his others, but it was fun. Vonnegut himself gave it a grade of "C". In the novel, in which he said he was making chaos of order, he said he wanted to clear his mind of the junk it had collected and let it all out. The via negativa.

He was 50 in 1973. I turned 12 in 1973. I lived on a farm.

On my tenth birthday we moved to a little farm in Whitehall, Montana. It was an enchanted childhood when I think about it. I even had a pony. My father was in his early 50s then. He is in his 90s now. My mother will be 88 this fall. They both work hard, still today. They don't live on the farm of my childhood, but they work their garden in the eastern part of the state next to my brother who watches out for them.

My parents have always worked. I don't work. I have a job, a career even. I call it work. I say I "go to work" but in my mind it isn't work. I preach sermons, talk to people, think about God, write on the computer, perform rituals, attend meetings, engage in righteous causes, and shuffle a few papers. I like it. But it isn't work.

Farm work is work. I don't do that. I did it as a kid but I didn't like it much. My father did it because he liked it. He was a professor with a Ph. D. and what all. He could have spent his time teaching, writing, researching, whatever. But he really liked farming. He would say, "I don't want my teaching to get in the way of my farming." He also says, "Don't do as I did. Go where the money is." And so on. I think he made pretty good choices. He did what he wanted. Perhaps that is why he is 93.

Not counting seminary, I am nineteen years into the ministry. My parents don't really get me even as I am a product of both of them. My mom is religious. My father is secular. I am religiously secular. A secular religioso. It is just confusing. Sometimes I don't get me.

Today I am 50. I am closer to death than birth. No one has written that blunt truth on my Facebook wall yet today. I guess that would be considered rude or morbid. Ah well.

The awareness of being closer to death than birth causes pause. It is an invitation to take an inventory or to name the clutter as Vonnegut did in
Breakfast of Champions. He was closer to death than birth when he wrote that novel. Morbid or not, that is a statement of fact. He died in 2007. He was born in 1923. In 1973 he was closer to death than birth.

I will consider myself fortunate to live as long as he did. Actually, I will consider myself fortunate if I died today. Why not? There are many good reasons why I could be dead already and I'm not dead so what is left is extra innings. I might as well enjoy them. I might as well follow the advice of Qoheleth:

Be well dressed for every occasion,
and be presentable in every way.

Wake up. Suit up. Show up. Live life.

My father wanted me to be a chemical engineer. My mother thought I would inherit her father's phi beta kappa key. I come from a line of smarties on both branches of the ancestral tree. Even this summer when visiting my parents the conversation turned to where I went wrong in college and dropped out of my predestined plan. It was 30 years ago, folks! I have moved on. I did what I wanted at the time. I became a disc jockey then a minister.

Because of the accident of choices, I met a lovely bride and have two children and 30 years of interesting life experience. If I had stayed in chemical engineering I could be the president of Halliburton now. Perhaps I could be dead of a freak accident at an oil refinery, or in jail for killing someone in a drunk driving accident, or who knows? No one knows. Life is a series of accidents. You ride it and hang on.

Regrets? Clean them out of your brain by writing a book if you have to. Or a blog.

Yes, religion is a weird choice for me, I admit. I declared myself an atheist in high school and told the minister who officiated at our wedding that I didn't believe in God. I was kind of mouthy. He told my future mother-in-law that we shouldn't be married. My lovely and I have been married 28 years. So it goes.

Yet here I am. Drawn into religion despite myself. I wanted to search for "truth" and the path of professional ministry has been a rewarding one. I can't say I have found "truth" but I have enjoyed the ride. I have found little truths. I also found my voice.

I have had a lover's quarrel with the "God thing" my whole life. I can't quite pin that Old Man down. I try to be honest about that. It just gets me in trouble. People tell me I don't believe in God. Ah well. I think it is more their problem than mine. I do like to talk about God while not sure at all what I am saying. Whatever "God" is just won't let me go. I live with the chaos of it all.

I know that is frustrating for my conservative brethren. They want essential tenets of the faith. I can hear them say:

How can you sell the product when you aren't clear about what the product is? These liberals doubt the atonement and the divinity of Christ. They don't hold to the authority of the Word of God and don't call sin sin, for the love of Mary. And now we have gays in the belfry. Ministers are officiating at gay weddings and celebrating pagan festivals and promoting books by the Jesus Seminar. How do you run a business like that?
I did genealogical work about ten years ago. I discovered I had Presbyterian roots. Before the smarties on my ancestral tree there were Presbyterians. I have to admit, I doubt they were liberal Presbyterians. They were probably five point Calvinist, essential tenet, hard-nosed true believers. I am sure they wouldn't think too highly of the infiltration into the "faith delivered to the saints" of sissy liberal humanist ideas like evolution, psychology, and criticism of the Word of God.

If conservatives get their way they will put on my tombstone,

Liberals like Shuck ruined the church.
That could happen tomorrow. I am closer to death than birth after all.

It Could Happen Tomorrow is one of my favorite shows on The Weather Channel. I admit to the occasional creepy apocalyptic urge.

Maybe they are right. Perhaps liberals like me have ruined the church. That could be a bad thing. Or...maybe the church needs a good ruining. Like Kurt Vonnegut did with his writing, maybe it is time for us to make a little chaos out of order.

Either way, for me, to affirm a list of essential tenets would be like trying to play softball in a straight jacket. The best I could do would be to get hit with the ball and take my base.

Not so much fun. I hope we find a way to get along, live and let live, or depart in peace.

So I turn 50 today.

I am closer to death than birth.

I was feeling a little mopey about that.

Thanks to my Lovely and my spawn, my parents and family, my little congregation of chaos makers, and my Facebook friends, I feel OK. Pretty good actually.

I am OK in my own skin.

I am happy with what I have done so far.

I am a secular religioso and I am fine with that.

I can be 50.

If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vote Sycamore Shoals Today and Often!

We are honored and fortunate to have a great state park in Elizabethton, Sycamore Shoals State Park. In fact, we think it is so cool that we want it to be America's Favorite Park.

One of our church members (and an exceptionally generous and wonderful human being), Helen Wilson, wrote a letter to yesterday's Johnson City Press to inform good folks like you how you can make it happen and get some important funds for Sycamore Shoals.

It is so easy. Go to this site and press and click "Vote for this Park" and do it again and again as often as you can for as long as you can through September 6th. Really.

Right now, we are just out of the money in fourth place. We need to get at least in third place. If every Shuck and Jive reader voted for five minutes every day did that we could take it to the top!!

Here is Helen's letter:

Please vote for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area to be America’s Favorite Park. Our park is competing in the Coca-Cola Favorite Park Contest and is presently in fourth place. This is the only Tennessee park in the top 10 favorite parks in the United States. The park with the most votes will win $100,000, second place is $50,000 and third place is $25,000. You don’t have to buy anything or give money — just spend some time on your computer.

Any prize money will go toward restoring the historic Sabine Hill home of Gen. Nathaniel Taylor. As you know, he is the great-grandfather of the renowned brothers Bob and Alf Taylor, both of whom were governors of Tennessee. They are probably best known for campaigning against each other for governor of Tennessee in a race dubbed the “The War of Roses.”

Here is how you can help:

• Commit to 5 or more minutes each day to vote. There is no limit to number of votes and you can vote over and over again. Daily voting is important.

• Share the information with your friends on Facebook.

• Ask your friends, family, co-workers and community and church groups to pledge 25 or more votes each day. You can vote 100 times in 30 minutes or less.

The contest ends on Sept. 6, which gives a lot of time for voting to move up to the money positions. Here is the direct link for voting for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area.

This is a way to help our area preserve our rich history. With your help we can do this.

Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Create Thyself--A Sermon

Create Thyself
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 28, 2011

Translation by Lloyd Geering, Such Is Life! A Close Encounter with Ecclesiastes (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 2010), p. 171-192. Ecclesiastes 5:19-20; 9:11-12; 11:6-8; 9:8-9.

For to everyone whom Luck has blessed with wealth and luxuries,
it has also given the power to enjoy them,
to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his work.
This is a gift from Nature.
But seldom will a person ponder the meaning of his life
when Luck fully occupies him with gladness of heart.

I have seen something else in this world:
the race is not guaranteed to the swift
nor the battle to the strong;
food does not necessarily come to the wise,
nor wealth to the intelligent,
nor favour to the learned;
for all alike are subject to time and chance.

Sow your seed in the morning
and at evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know which undertaking will prosper, this one or that,
or whether the two of them will do equally well.

Light is sweet.
It’s a joy for the eyes to see the sun.
So if a man lives for many years,
let him rejoice in every one of them.
But let him remember that the days of darkness will be many
and that everything hereafter is nothingness.

Be well dressed for every occasion,
and be presentable in every way.
Enjoy life with a wife you love
through all the days of the fleeting life
that Nature has given you in this world.
And know that this is your reward in life
for the toil and drudgery you have performed in this world.

One of the objections put forth by creationists against evolution is that evolution is meaningless, they say. It lacks purpose. If there is not order, design, or purpose, so goes the argument, then life has no meaning.

The objections to evolution really have little to do with science of evolutionary theory or the mechanism of natural selection. The objections are philosophical. If evolutionary theory is correct, then our existence is meaningless, and if meaningless, then miserable and not worth living. So it goes.

Those are large jumps.

I am going to leave the question of evolution aside. I don’t want to get lost in the mechanisms of that theory. I am curious about the philosophical question of meaning. Evolution is certainly meaningful in one sense of the word. If meaning has to do with making sense of something that was not understood, then evolution is quite meaningful. It helps us make a great deal of sense of life. More and more fields are using the gains from evolutionary theory to make sense and to make meaning out of what we observe in nature including human behavior. Far from being meaningless, evolution is meaning-full.

That isn’t what is meant, of course by those who claim evolution is meaningless. What is meant is that if there is not a Divine Intelligence, a Creator, Provider, Director, all outside of life then life has no meaning or purpose. If life is not being directed then life has no meaning. What gives us comfort, in this view, is that our lives were created and are guided. The following song is in our hymnal.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

And the verse that is omitted from most hymnals including ours:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

There is always a shadow side to our doctrines. We may find comfort in the thought that things are created, ordered, and blessed by God. But that thought also gives us the divine right of kings. If God made each bird’s tiny wings, then God made each hurricane. If God cares for us with rain and sunshine, does God punish us with too much of each as well?

Our ancient ancestors believed that things happened for a purpose or for many purposes. Rain didn’t just fall. It was showered upon us by Divine Will. Odd human behaviors were the result of demons or spirits. Powerful nations and leaders were given strength and motivation by divine beings. Pleasing the gods so that we would receive their favor rather than their curse was important business.

Today when we study the natural world and the particular human species, we realize that we can explain a lot of things without needing to postulate the existence of divine beings or divine purpose. Explaining natural phenomena doesn’t require supernatural purpose or providence.

As we realize more and more that human beings are part of nature rather than distinct from it, we can explain human behavior as well without the aid of supernatural will. This realization is both liberating and unsettling.

It is unsettling because we have grouped together supernatural design and purpose on one hand with meaning, happiness and morality on the other. It is all a package deal, so we might think. Institutions such as the church have thought their job was to provide people with a package of meaning. We call it “passing on the faith.” Everyone gets a box of meaning already made for them. All folks need to do is open it and discover it. We are invited to discover God’s purpose for our lives.

Now before that gets too unsettling, I should say that that is not a bad thing in itself. A package of wisdom is not a bad gift. Learning the wisdom of the institution is a good place to start. For many it is a fine place to end as well. I, personally, do not think it is so good if the package contains a note that says, “Don’t read any further,” or “You are not allowed to doubt or challenge these doctrines.”

What if we on our own decided to open the package of meaning that the institution gives us that contains supernaturalism and purpose fused with meaning, morality, and happiness and began to separate them. We separate and keep the stuff that makes sense and let go the stuff that doesn’t.

What if we say I am interested in meaning, morality, and happiness, but not so much in supernaturalism and outside divine purpose? You would find yourself in the company of many people including, which may be a surprise, many Christian theologians.

This past July, Gordon Kaufman, a theologian who taught at Harvard Divinity School died at the age of 86. For him, God is not so much Creator as Creativity. In his book, Jesus and Creativity, he wrote:
Instead of continuing to imagine God as The Creator, a kind of personlike reality who has brought everything into being, I have for some years been developing and elaborating a conception of God as simply the creativity that has brought forth the world and all its contents, from the Big Bang all the way down to the present. Imagining God as creativity enables Christian thinkers to be much more attuned to what the modern sciences have been teaching us about our lives and the world in which we live. It makes it possible to bridge the divide often felt between religious faith and our scientific knowledges. Xi
Rather than creator, Kaufman invites us to think of creativity. Natural Selection could be imagined as one incarnation, so to speak, of Creativity.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
Natural Selection made them all.

What I want to say next is that that is not a bad thing.

That is not a non-sacred thing.

That can be deserving of the name “God” as much as any previous notion that we have had of God.

Rather than, and I am speaking to the religious or spiritual part of us now, think that chance, creativity, or nature is meaningless and profane, we can decide that it is just as sacred and blessed as former notions of supernatural gods or God. It is a movement of God from without to within.

If life, all of life including your life and mine, is the result of chance and natural selection, purposeless, serendipitous creativity, then it is what it is. It is no less sacred than if there was a divine being directing your every move. It is up to us.

Yes there is purpose, meaning, happiness, and morality in the universe. We make it.

The epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest written story on Earth, at least that we know about. I recommend the new translation by Stephen Mitchell. What is fascinating about Gilgamesh is not so much the characters and the adventures. That’s fun and interesting. What is interesting is the author. Someone created it. A human being created it. A human being created a story, created the characters including Gilgamesh and the gods, created meaning, created a world.

Every piece of literature since, whether we call it sacred or profane, every story, including the stories of Yahweh, Krishna, and Jesus, are part of this same creativity, this drive to make meaning. It is beautiful, really.

Whether it is in the realm of science, music, or literature, it is all serendipitous creativity, to use the phrase by Gordon Kaufman. How cool is that?

Yes there is happiness, morality, purpose and meaning, and we are the ones who create it.

Create thyself.

The author of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, had an insight to this 23 centuries ago. His advice is beautiful. He realized that there was no outside sense to things—no ready-made meaning and purpose to life. He doubted that his compatriots were right that God willed natural disasters and beat up enemies and punished the wrong doers. Much of Ecclesiastes is a useful trashing of that theory.

After concluding God is not those things, what is left is unsettling. It is unsettling in the way it is unsettling for babies who begin to differentiate themselves from their mothers. It was unsettling for Qoheleth to let go of a theory of the providential hand of a supernatural god. But he found a way to navigate life anyway.

This is his beautiful piece of advice:
Be well dressed for every occasion,
and be presentable in every way.
He is not talking about what to wear to a party.

He is talking about how to go about facing life.

You wake up. You suit up. And you show up.

Life is an adventure. Bring an extra pair of underwear.

Take initiative. Create thyself.

Those qualities we have given to the gods are ours to claim. If God is just and merciful then that is what we are, too. If God is love and joy, then so are we. Instead of giving those qualities away, we can take them into our own lives. We can give ourselves permission to be happy. We can create homes and societies of love, justice, and mercy.

What greater purpose is there than that?

Now for the disclaimers.

I am offering what I think Qoheleth is saying with the helpful guidance of minister and scholar, Lloyd Geering. I am offering what I think too. Does that mean it is right? No. You have the freedom to create your meaning as I do mine.

While I am being as honest as I can, I should add that I hear a loneliness in Qoheleth’s voice. As much as I like to be game for getting dressed for any occasion, I find it a little wearying. There are some days when I don’t want to wake up, suit up, and show up.

There are days when I would like to be embraced and held by a Love larger than me.

So I sing the old songs, too.

Maybe it is what Marcus Borg calls the “second naivete.” You put aside the critical thinking and fall in love with the magic, even as you know it is magic.

Create thyself, yes. But I also sing:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

That’s OK, too.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gratitude for Gordon Kaufman

I happened to be thumbing through my Christian Century magazine today and saw that Gordon Kaufman died in July at the age of 86. Dr. Kaufman was a professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School.

His theology was of the naturalistic variety. "God" for Kaufman was not a supernatural being but the mystery of creativity. This is from his obituary:

He argued for a vision of God as the "profound mystery of creativity," the "ongoing creativity in the universe." By rethinking theology in naturalistic terms, he made significant contribution to discussions of religion and science, ecological issues, and evolution. His rethinking of the meaning of Jesus for today and his reimagination of central symbols of Christian tradition were significant for his engagement with religious pluralism and promotion of interfaith understanding.

"At the core of Gordon's theological imagination of God as mystery and creativity was his deep commitment to nonviolence, justice, and human flourishing," said Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at HDS. "He was a deeply ethical, profoundly compassionate person, so that the lively intellectual conversations I and others so enjoyed with him were always grounded by his fundamental sense of joy and duty in connection to all living things. He was a great gift to his colleagues and students, and to the field of theology."
I have appreciated Kaufman's thinking and turn to two of his books frequently, In the Beginning...Creativity and Jesus and Creativity.

I commented on these books here, Via Creativa! and God and Creativity.

What does it mean to think of God not as a person, but as creativity itself? In his own words from his book
Jesus and Creativity:
Instead of continuing to imagine God as The Creator, a kind of personlike reality who has brought everything into being, I have for some years been developing and elaborating a conception of God as simply the creativity that has brought forth the world and all its contents, from the Big Bang all the way down to the present. Imagining God as creativity enables Christian thinkers to be much more attuned to what the modern sciences have been teaching us about our lives and the world in which we live. It makes it possible to bridge the divide often felt between religious faith and our scientific knowledges. (xi)
I was sad to read of his death and am eternally grateful for his theological insights that help some of us bridge that huge chasm between two worlds that we love, faith and reason.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jesus Seminar in the Tri-Cities, October 21-22

We are thrilled to host our fourth Jesus Seminar on the Road, October 21st and 22nd. If you are anywhere close I hope you will attend and encourage others. The theme is Jesus in the First and Twenty-first Centuries.

Robert J. Miller and Jarmo Tarkki will be coming to East Tennessee.

Here are the blurbs about the lecture and workshops:

Friday, 7:30–9 P.M.

The Search for the Historical Jesus

The gospels portray Jesus as the Messiah and divine savior. Within the gospels, however, we can glimpse another Jesus, the Jewish teacher and healer with a radical vision of the kingdom of God. The search for the historical Jesus examines the gospels in order to discover who Jesus was before he became the object of Christian belief.

Saturday, 9:30–Noon

The Jesus of the First Century

What do we know about the historical Jesus? This workshop will examine selected sayings of Jesus, showing why scholars consider them authentic and suggesting surprising ways they might have been understood. In the process, they will introduce participants to the methods of modern scholarship used to distinguish the words of the historical Jesus from those later attributed to him.

Saturday, 1:30–4 P.M.

The Jesus of the Twenty-first Century

What does the rediscovery of the historical Jesus mean for the heirs of the Christian tradition? Does this Jesus have any relevance for contemporary culture and for people who claim no allegiance to Christianity? The presenters offer their insights and engage participants in a discussion about the relation of the historical Jesus to these questions.
There is a great deal of misconception about the Jesus Seminar, its methods, conclusions, and what it accomplished. Some of the criticism directed toward them instead should be leveled at the entire project of higher criticism (not just the Jesus Seminar). They didn't invent "Q" for instance, or the study of history, or the various forms of biblical criticism. They did, however, do much in bringing this criticism to the public arena.

That does not mean that all of the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are held by all scholars. I would love to witness a civil yet spirited debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert J. Miller on whether or not Jesus was apocalyptic.

I would like to see Luke Timothy Johnson and Bernard Brandon Scott kick it back and forth regarding the meaning(s) of the resurrection of Jesus.

From another end, it would be fun to have Robert Miller and Robert Price debate whether or not Jesus even existed.

I have used the book by NT Wright and Marcus Borg,
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, in adult studies so that folks can see what is at stake for each of those scholars.

All that said, much of the criticism against the Jesus Seminar has been misplaced. The real scandal of the Jesus Seminar is that they wrote and published their materials for the non-specialist in mind. In so doing, they let the cat out of the bag. Those who wanted the Bible, Jesus, and their faith to be "just so" were scratched.

An excellent book that I encourage all to read is
The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics, by Robert J. Miller.

We have it in our library and will have copies for sale at the JSOR in October. You will get even more out of the JSOR if you are familiar with this book and the issues it raises.

From Harold Attridge of Yale about the book:

"Miller engages some of the most severe critics of the work of the Seminar . . . in a courteous but trenchant critical debate about the methods and aims of research into the "historical Jesus." Miller's work will challenge the sometimes facile critics of the Jesus Seminar, give its scholarly critics food for thought, and help the general public understand what the fuss is all about."

Before reading the book, you might read a paper Miller submitted to the SBL in 1996 with the same title.

This is going to be a great weekend!


I hope so!

Register on-line or contact me.

I can give you information about lodging as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Direction

For five years, Shuck and Jive has appeared to you in that grodie green color you have come to associate with snarky Presbyterian politics and borderline theology.

As of today, I am turning over a new leaf.

The color change symbolizes a change in tone. You still will get the same borderline theology. I will continue to push theological boundaries.

I am putting an end, however, to snarky Presbyterian politics.

It is not that I want to ignore the issues. I don't. The conversation in our denomination is reminiscent of the worst of talk radio and I am not helping. It's been fun, but I'm done.

I won't be writing anymore about the Layman, the BFTSs, other bloggers, or the homophobians. I am bored and the fighting has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Truthfully, I am not sure I can do it. I may need your help. If folks write about me on another blog, I won't care and won't respond. If you come over to pick a fight, I'll delete you. If you are one of my buds and you call people names or write about others, I'll delete you. I won't comment on it or explain it, it is just done. I won't bicker and I won't bicker about bickering.

I am trying to be a nice guy here.

Our global economy is shaking at the foundations. Our planet has reached its limits. All Earthlings including our more than human relations are suffering and dying. It would be nice if the church could be a model of stability, sanity, and a non-anxious presence rather than cheer on destructive behaviors as if it were at a dog fight.

I am not sure I can do it. I am not sure I can write about Presbyterian politics in a constructive way, in a non-violent way. If I can't then I am not going to write about them.

So what will you get on Shuck and Jive? I started this blog five years ago because I needed an outlet to express my concern about the planetary crises we are facing. What does it mean to be people of faith when industrial civilization begins the long descent (and most people are still in denial)?

What does life mean when meaning has been tied up with "growth" and growth is no longer possible? How do we reduce and contract with dignity and justice?

What resources and what wisdom are available to us to nurture and guide us through uncharted waters? I will share some of the books I have been reading. I will continue my search for this wisdom.

Currently, I am reading Kurt Vonnegut's 14 novels in order. I am up to number seven now, Breakfast of Champions. Mr. Vonnegut was a fine human being. We would do well to listen to him.

He is in heaven now. So it goes.

I will write about local events, too, including doings from our local community. I will write about theological and philosophical ideas as I come across them. I think what I am doing is creating myself. Not so much discovering who I am but creating who I am. I am thinking more and more that that is what we are to be about.

Our institutions give us packages of meaning. The package has a tag promising that its contents provide for us what it means to be a human or an American or a Christian or whatever. The problem is that each package contains the same thing. It is a bad fitting, itchy suit that looks like something Pee Wee Herman would wear.

Instead, you have to create your own garment. When that wears out you create another one. We need collectively to create a wardrobe for the human race as its population hits seven billion and everything that has given us meaning has peaked. What will we wear home when the party's over?

That is what I think we need to talk about.

As far as Presbyterian politics are concerned, I am happy we rid ourselves of obvious discrimination in ordination. If people want to trash the denomination in a hundred pieces because of it, well go ahead then. I am finished with it.

It is time for a new look and a new direction.

That is all.

Presbyterian Student Fellowship at ETSU Starts September 6th

Presbyterian Student Fellowship at ETSU begins Tuesday September 6th with food at 7 p.m.

at the Presbyterian Campus House, 1412 College Heights Road.

We have had programs on Progressive Christianity, Islam, the Historical Jesus, Colombia, LGBT justice, African-American History, Evolution, Climate Change. We watch films, go bowling, go hiking. We do what you want.

Read through the blog to discover some of the things we have done in the past. On the 16th we will plan some things for the Fall Semester.

Here is our statement:
Everyone is in the circle. With a commitment to achieving a just and peaceful world community we welcome those of every age, race, and ethnic identity. We are inclusive. You don't have to be Presbyterian or even religious. We are big on questions not answers!
Bullet points to remember:

  • Invite friends.
  • Get the word out.
  • We are the progressive campus ministry at ETSU.
Find us on Facebook!

For more information, contact John Shuck!

And friend me on Facebook!

I like to have coffee at Earth Fare.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life Is Precious--A Sermon

Life Is Precious
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 21, 2011

Everything has its predestined moment,
every affair on earth its appropriate time.
There’s a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to knock down and a time to build up,
a time to cry and a time to laugh,
a time to wail and a time to dance about,
a time to fling stones away and a time to gather them together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to leave lost,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear apart and a tie to stitch together,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and time for peace.

Our days are few and fleeting,
and we are like shadows passing through them.
Who can tell us what will happen
in this world after we are gone?

Everything your hand finds to do, execute with all your might,
for in the underworld of the dead to which you are going
there is no working, no thinking,
no knowledge, and no wisdom.

For what happens to humans is what happens to animals;
they share the same fate.
As the one dies, so does the other;
the one breath of life is the same for them all.
Humans have no advantage over the animals.
For nothing they do has any lasting significance.
All go to the same place;
all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Who knows whether mankind’s breath of life rises upward to the heavens
and the animals’ breath of life descends downward to the earth?

So I saw that there is nothing better for people
than to be happy in their work, because that is their appointed lot.

Translation by Lloyd Geering, Such Is Life! A Close Encounter with Ecclesiastes (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 2010), p. 171-192. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; 6:12; 9:10; 3:19-21; 3:22.

In the novel, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, is this scene about mortality. The character, Asher, is an artist and his art brings him in conflict with his father and his faith. It also becomes a vehicle for his faith. One of the themes of the novel is the tension between one’s tradition and one’s individuality.

The novel is written in the first person. Asher recounts a time when he was about six years old and he is sitting with his father. He is telling this story to show the reader what inspires him to draw.

I read this scene this morning to share the wisdom of his father and explain why my sermon is titled, “Life is Precious.”
And I drew, too, the way my father once looked at a bird lying on its side against the curbs near our house. It was Shabbos (Sabbath) and we were on our way back from the synagogue.

“Is it dead, Papa?” I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“Yes,” I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

“Why did it die?”

“Everything that lives must die.”



“You too, Papa? And Mama?”


“And me?”

“Yes,” he said. Then added. . . .”But may it be only after you live a long and good life, my Asher.”

I couldn’t grasp it. I forced myself to look at the bird. Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom made His world, Asher.”


“So life would be precious, Asher. Something that is yours forever is never precious.”
Life is precious.

I need to be reminded of that every day. Even more often than that.
  • How often I fail to notice the fragility and the impermanence of life.
  • How often I fail to see in life its sacred beauty.
  • How often I fail to see in myself and in others the divine gift that we all are.
  • How often I fail to realize how amazing it is to be alive at all.
  • How often I fail to notice that I will die one day.
I know it, of course, intellectually. Everyone knows it. But I don’t always know it enough to live and love life as much as I might.

I am not suggesting that becoming aware of my mortality should put me in a panic of creating a “bucket list” of things I must do before I kick the bucket. It doesn’t mean I need to sign up tomorrow for skydiving lessons. The preciousness of life requires neither panic nor fear nor conquest. Just presence. The preciousness of life invites us to notice.

Maybe the preciousness of life is found in the advice of Kurt Vonnegut. In the last book he published before he died, A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut wrote:
"And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."
Religious language, ritual, and art invite us to experience the holy in the world. It exists to wake us and shake us. But it isn’t easy to embrace life with the awareness of our mortality. That is why we need to be wakened and shakened. Sometimes the very language that is supposed to make us more aware of life serves to put us further in denial.

I notice this particularly at funerals. At many of them, we are supposed to be comforted by supernaturalism. In the hardline form of religious literalism we are supposed to jump through systems of belief so our souls or our resurrected bodies or what have you will land in the right place after death.

In the softer forms of the same literalism, in those that don’t emphasize hell, for instance, we are to take comfort that the deceased really isn’t dead. We find little poems nestled in the four-fold card—the card that has on the cover a drawing of Jesus with praying hands:

“Don’t weep for me,” says the poem. “I haven’t really died.”

Apparently, our loved one has just traveled somewhere. Chicago perhaps.

I want to say,
“No, your loved one truly is dead. That is why her life was precious. It is OK to weep. It is OK to have regrets. It is OK to let those regrets go. Like hers, your life is precious too. As you go from this funeral home or church or wherever it is to live your precious life, it is also OK to notice when you are happy, and to say…

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
That is what I want to say. But I let it go. We all need to do what we need to do.

One more thing about funerals since we are on that happy topic. I don’t think I have ever heard-- especially from those who claim that every word in the Bible is the Word of God--these verses from Ecclesiastes read at funerals. Here are verses 3:19-20 from The King James:
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Or as Lloyd Geering translates it:
For what happens to humans is what happens to animals;
they share the same fate.
As the one dies, so does the other;
the one breath of life is the same for them all.
Humans have no advantage over the animals.
For nothing they do has any lasting significance.
All go to the same place;
all come from dust, and to dust all return.
"Who knows," Qoheleth goes on to say, "Whether mankind’s breath of life rises upward to the heavens and the animals’ breath of life descends downward to the earth?"

Is death the end of us? For Qoheleth the answer is yes. His view made it into the Bible.

But who knows, indeed.

In 1984 Olive Ann Burns wrote the novel, Cold Sassy Tree about life in Georgia in 1906. The main character is a young boy named Will Tweedy. He is speaking with his grandfather about important matters, resurrection, life after death and so forth. Grandpa says:
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… “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 alife after this’n, God planned it. So why wouldn’t it be all right?” p. 188-9.
That to me is some of the most profound theological writing that I have read.
“Havin’ faith means it’s all right either way…”
Life is what is. Trusting God or trusting the Universe or whatever words you use to touch on what is real, is acceptance that it and you are all right. There is no need to be anxious about it. There is nothing you can do or believe that will allow you to score points in the afterlife or to avoid the penalty box. There is nothing you can do or believe to make God love you more or less. You are already embraced. As Grandpa wisely said:
“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?”
In the meantime we could do worse than to follow the advice of Kurt Vonnegut...who is in heaven now:
If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
One of the great theologians of the 20th century, next to Grandpa and Kurt Vonnegut, is Paul Tillich. One of his most famous sermons is entitled, “You Are Accepted.” His sermon is a good one for me to read especially when I feel anxious about life or feel anxious about whether I am good enough, or when I worry about the future or feel guilt or shame about my past.

The sermon is about an old-fashioned religious word, grace.

Even though my sermon this morning is about the reflections of Qoheleth on mortality, it comes back to grace, to the preciousness of life, of my life and your life, to the feeling of being embraced, accepted, and comfortable in our own skin. Whether we are religious or not, it is what we long for.

This is Paul Tillich, from his collection of sermons, The Shaking of the Foundations, “You Are Accepted.”
“We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.

• It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life.
• It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged.
• It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us.
• It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying:

"You are accepted.

You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.

Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much.

Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.

Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!"

If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance….

….If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life. We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say "yes" to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.”
That was Paul Tillich, “You Are Accepted.”

I don’t know about you, but I have experienced those moments.

Every now and then I am reminded that I am accepted and that life is precious.

My life is precious.
Your life is precious.
It really is pretty amazing that we are alive and here.
This moment.
This place.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Gap Between Rich and Poor Not on GOP Agenda

My church peeps keep me busy. The Elizabethton Star published this letter today from Judy Garland. I love this line:
This must be OK with Mr. Roe and his party as they don't think the astronomically wealthy individuals and corporations should pay taxes at rates equal to, say, the rates of their chauffeurs.
Here is the letter:


Representative Roe's latest email is about (shock) something else he's found wrong in the new health care law. I could suggest a more productive use of his time.

First, he could direct his attention to the rising cost of employer-sponsored health insurance. American workers' pay raises routinely disappear in increases in premiums. Employers find they can't afford both wage increases and decent health coverage. Kaiser Family Foundation reports cost of coverage for a family of four increased 131 percent from 1999 to 2010. Yet Mr. Roe and his party spread their protective net around Big Insurance and offered no relief to America's workforce. Cost trend surveys indicate insurance costs will continue to dwarf average employee earnings. Why isn't this on Congress' Republican-controlled agenda?

Might we hear, too, discussion of the widening income gap between our poorest and our richest? That gap has become one of the widest in the world, pairing us with Mexico with almost identical spans. Mr. Roe and his party seem somehow assured that the average pay package for company heads in the Standard & Poor's 500 was $9 million in 2010, up 24 percent in one year. I wonder if they heard one of them remark that in this global economy upward income movement in emerging nations is far more important to them than the downward movement of income levels in the country which has served them so richly.

This must be OK with Mr. Roe and his party as they don't think the astronomically wealthy individuals and corporations should pay taxes at rates equal to, say, the rates of their chauffeurs. Sure wish he'd use his emails and op eds to discuss it.

It's suggested, too, that Congress spends no time on job creation ideas because better job reports will hurt Republican chances in 2012. I think I believe it.

Judy Garland
Johnson City


Saw this in today's LayMAN, Retired Pastor Risks Ordination in Opposition to Change in Standards:


During a regular meeting in July, the Rev. Steve Moss of Salisbury, N.C. told Salem Presbytery that, while he will continue to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA), he will refuse to affirm the ordination or installation of “any officer of the church who refuses to repent of the sin of choosing to live sexually outside of the bonds of holy matrimony between a man and a woman.”

Moss said the recent change of ordination standards sparked his decision. Amendment 10A removed the chastity/fidelity clause from the PCUSA Book of Order.

In April, Salem voted in favor of the amendment by a 186-107 vote. The amendment effectively permits presbyteries to ordain gay or lesbian candidates as deacons, elders and pastors.

Moss, a member of the presbytery for 19 years and a three-term past moderator, said he believes the presbytery could choose to remove his ordination status due to his claim of conscience. Moss is currently retired but occasionally preaches at area churches.

As much as Rev. Moss thinks he is doing something grand, I doubt anyone in the presbytery will even care.

Most of the time, the only ones who even show up for ordination and/or installation services are on the commission. If someone doesn't want to "affirm" the ordination of someone, so what? Don't "affirm" them then. But if it makes you feel better to make a statement, have at it.

This too shall pass.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Peak Oil and Church

Gail the Actuary at The Oil Drum offered a presentation to her church group about limits to growth.

I don't hear of presentations like this to church groups happening often so I was pleased when I read her presentation, even as the news is sobering.

Do visit Oil Limits, Recession, and Bumping Against the Growth Ceiling and consider sharing it with your church group if you have one.

In the comment section she wrote:

If churches can help people live together peaceably in difficult times, it seems like this in itself is an important role.
Other wisdom for the post was live for the day, count your blessings, and we're all in this together!

Pouty Partisan Nitwits

One of my church peeps, Jennie Young, writes about debt and dysfunction in today's Elizabethton Star.

Representative Roe parted company with the Tea Party with his vote to raise the debt ceiling. His Tea Party buddy from Virginia's 9th, Morgan Griffith, defended his No vote but said he would have voted Yes if his vote had been needed. This, after three long months of game playing. The Republicans spent those three months ignoring worsening job numbers just to posture and grandstand and embarrass and frustrate the nation for nothing. We pay them too much.

Roe seems at ease with himself. I just read his website spin that Standard and Poor lowered our AAA rating because the debt is too high. Standard and Poor said excruciatingly clearly that it was because Congress is dysfunctional and unable to address both the need for entitlement reform and revenue (tax) increases. The polls showed we agree with overall approval of Congress at 14 percent and approval of the Republican side at 6 percent. They can't act like pouty three-year-olds and be credible. We really do pay them too much.

Their new battle cry is a balanced budget amendment. Even very conservative analysts and economists call that unimaginably irresponsible as it would prohibit responsible fiscal choices at critical times. It's another farce, like signing Grover Norquist's pledge to never ever ever raise taxes, while they waste more time grandstanding and focusing our attention on one more emotionally appealing folly. Or they have some crystal ball they're hiding from the rest of us.

I'm concerned about our debt, too. It wouldn't be nearly so scary if the ones standing between us and it demonstrated commitment to rational thought, personal integrity and maturity. Statistically, they're such a small number. It's ironic that it's when they exhibit as partisan nitwits they loom so formidable. Maybe they'd just go away if we didn't pay them so much.

Jennie Young
Johnson City

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is Life Fair? A Sermon

Is Life Fair?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 14, 2011

But something more I have seen on the earth:
at the very seat of justice there is wickedness;
in the very place where righteousness should be,
there is transgression.

Then I looked again and saw all the oppression
that was taking place on the earth.
See the endless tears of the oppressed
for whom no one provides comfort!
Since their oppressors wield all the power,
no one can ease their suffering.

If you witness social oppression of the poor—
the denial of justice and human rights—
do not be astonished at what goes on.
it’s because one bureaucrat is subject to a higher one,
and still higher ones lord it over them both.
and remember that land is of value to everybody,
so every cultivated field has someone ruling over it.

Indeed I have seen wrong-doers buried with pomp;
and because they frequented the holy place
they were praised in the very city where they did their evil deeds.
This also makes no sense.

Wherever judgment for evil deeds is not carried out promptly,
people’s minds are filled with ideas of crime,
and a malefactor may commit a hundred crimes and live a long life.
Oh yes, I know what they say:
“It will be well for those who fear God,
and show reverence before him;
and it will not be well for the wicked,
for their days will not lengthen like a shadow
simply because they show no reverence before God.”
But what occurs here on the earth is absurd.
Some righteous people get what the wicked deserve,
and some wicked people get what the righteous deserve!
This too, I say, makes no sense at all.

Translation by Lloyd Geering, Such Is Life! A Close Encounter with Ecclesiastes (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 2010), p. 171-192. Ecclesiastes 3:16; 4:1; 5:8-9; 8:10-15

Is life fair?

Probably not.

It doesn’t take much observation to come to the conclusion that things are not equal on Earth. As Qoheleth said long ago:
Some righteous people get what the wicked deserve,
and some wicked people get what the righteous deserve!
It wasn’t until seminary that I learned why Christians developed the doctrine of Resurrection. It had little to do with life after death. It was about justice. The point being that there is precious little justice on Earth. Human lifespans are not long enough for humans to get what’s coming to them. Resurrection was invented so that we could take comfort that if God can’t reward the righteous for their faithfulness in this life, at least they will be rewarded in the life to come.

As this tradition developed, it also accounted for the judgment on the wicked. Contemplating the fate of the wicked became even more thrilling than the fate of the righteous. If you look at medieval paintings of hell they are far more imaginative and exciting than paintings of heaven.

Our enduring religions wrestle with and most attempt to provide an answer for the vexing problem of injustice. The problem is solved for the most part by having that which survives our bodies suffer reward or punishment via resurrection or karma. That is not to say that notions of karma, resurrection, or the flight of the soul do not have reality to them. I am agnostic regarding such speculations, but they do serve to solve the justice/injustice problem.

Religion has largely answered the question, “Is life fair?” by saying,
“No. But hang with us and you’ll get justice in the life to come.”
This is no small hope. Many thinkers and fighters for justice have made that hope more nuanced. For them it isn’t simply one or the other, either justice in heaven or none at all. These thinkers have taken the language of heavenly hope and placed it in the struggle for justice on Earth.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said,
“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Many of the struggles for justice in this world, whether for civil rights, for fair economic policies, for justice in courtrooms, for justice against tyrants, or for justice on behalf of the powerless and vulnerable whoever and wherever they may be, puts its hope in a trust that the cause of justice is larger than those who fight for it.

The forces of injustice are strong. In fact, overwhelming. It is easy to get discouraged. As Qoheleth wrote:
Then I looked again and saw all the oppression
that was taking place on the earth.
See the endless tears of the oppressed
for whom no one provides comfort!
Since their oppressors wield all the power,
no one can ease their suffering.
Qoheleth came to that conclusion without the benefit of 24 hour news from around the world that highlighted pain, ignorance, atrocity, and meanness at the speed of light.

Life is not fair. In Qoheleth’s words,
“It makes no sense at all.”
But I think there is another reason why we have religion and why we have developed notions of justice, resurrection, karma and so forth in the first place.

The hope of justice…the hope that inspires people to risk and to sacrifice and to persevere in the face of great odds is real.

It is lodged somewhere within us. It is part of our DNA of survival.

The very language of justice is our language. We created it. Compassion and fairness not only for ourselves or for our kin but for others not related to us and for our non-human relations are all a part of what makes us alive.
  • We aren’t fully human until and unless we weep over injustice and feel its sting.
  • We aren’t fully human until and unless we allow ourselves to trust in the hope that we can relieve that sting.
The world is cold. The world is dark. People suffer.

So what do we do?

We become human beings. We discover within us that combination of compassion and sheer orneriness that enables us both to feel the hurt and to discover the grit to do something about it.

We are reaching a point of limits all over Earth in all areas of life or almost all areas. We are reaching our peak of energy and other natural resources. Some are suggesting that we have reached the peak of economic growth. None of this is apocalyptic in and of itself. There are many things we can do. We can learn to live within our means. We can face our situation squarely and with cooperation and collaboration work to make our communities resilient and sustainable. We can develop an ecological economics that focuses on quality of life, preservation of Earth, social justice, and simplicity.

Instead, at the national political level, we see a movement to balance budgets on the backs of the poor, the elderly, and the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the inequity between the obscenely wealthy and the poor and middle classes grows. Meanwhile, the world continues to militarize. If what Qoheleth said 23 centuries ago in Palestine was true then, it is most certainly true today:
If you witness social oppression of the poor—
the denial of justice and human rights—
do not be astonished at what goes on.
it’s because one bureaucrat is subject to a higher one,
and still higher ones lord it over them both.
and remember that land is of value to everybody,
so every cultivated field has someone ruling over it.
Is life fair?

No. But…

I said we have reached the point of limits all over Earth in almost all areas. We have not reached the limit in the most important areas.

We have not reached the limits of compassion. There is still plenty of compassion left on Earth. There are untapped reserves of compassion all over the globe.

We have not reached the limits of creativity. There are wells of creativity that we have not yet even discovered. There are many creative ways we can and will discover to manage our house, our home, Earth, for the good of all the inhabitants.

We have not reached the limits of grit and determination. Our species has survived these hundreds of thousands of years in large part because of grit and determination. We never give up.

Our literature, the stories we tell about each other, about our ancestors, and the mythologies we created about the gods, attest to the very qualities that will turn an unfair existence into an existence that while not wholly fair, has at least a bit of kindness to it and as such brings a smile amidst suffering and offers hope of a new day.

One individual who embraced compassion and orneriness was Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She cared for the homeless and was an outspoken advocate for compassionate economics and for non-violence. She used her gifts as a writer to speak her truth.

On November 6th, 1965, at the age of 68, she gave the following speech at Union Square in New York on behalf of those who were burning their draft cards. She found in her religious practice, inspiration to take a controversial and dangerous position. It is her answer to, “Is life fair?”
[1] When Jesus walked this earth; True God and True man, and was talking to the multitudes, a woman in the crowd cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that bore you and the breast that nourished you.” And he answered her, “Yes, but rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

[2] And the word of God is the new commandment he gave us–to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good, to love others as he loved us–that is, to lay down our lives for our brothers throughout the world, not to take the lives of men, women, and children, young and old, by bombs and napalm and all the other instruments of war.

[3] Instead he spoke of the instruments of peace, to be practiced by all nations–to feed the hungry of the world,–not to destroy their crops, not to spend billions on defense, which means instruments of destruction. He commanded us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, to save lives, not to destroy them, these precious lives for whom he willingly sacrificed his own.

[4] I speak today as one who is old, and who must uphold and endorse the courage of the young who themselves are willing to give up their freedom. I speak as one who is old, and whose whole lifetime has seen the cruelty and hysteria of war in this last half century. But who has also seen, praise God, the emerging nations of Africa and Asia, and Latin America, achieving in many instances their own freedom through non-violent struggles, side by side with violence. Our own country has through tens of thousand of the Negroe [sic] people, shown an example to the world of what a non-violent struggle can achieve. This very struggle, begun by students, by the young, by the seemingly helpless, have led the way in vision, in courage, even in a martyrdom, which has been shared by the little children, in the struggle for full freedom and for human dignity which means the right to health, education, and work which is a full development of man’s god-given talents.

[5] We have seen the works of man’s genius and vision in the world today, in the conquering of space, in his struggle with plague and famine, and in each and every demonstration such as this one–there is evidence of his struggle against war.

[6] I wish to place myself beside A. J. Muste speaking, if I am permitted, to show my solidarity of purpose with these young men, and to point out that we too are breaking the law, committing civil disobedience, in advocating and trying to encourage all those who are conscripted, to inform their conscience, to heed the still small voice, and to refuse to participate in the immorality of war. It is the most potent way to end war.

[7] We too, by law, myself and all who signed the statement of conscience, should be arrested and we would esteem it an honour to share prison penalties with these others. I would like to conclude these few words with a prayer in the words of St. Francis, saint of poverty and peace, “O Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
That was Dorothy Day, filled with compassion and orneriness.

Is life fair?


Qoheleth knew life made no sense at all.

But, he also knew something else. He knew that it is wise to live life, to enjoy what is possible, to enjoy life while we have the time to live it.

I think it is pretty amazing that we have consciousness and that we are here at this time in Earth’s history and in human history. I cannot imagine a more exciting adventure to undertake than the one in which we are engaged at the present.

We have available to us due to our clever technologies, information and ideas with the stroke of a key. I don’t know how long that will last but we have it now.

What will we do with it?

We can do a lot of things.

But if we ever are disillusioned about life, that it isn’t fair, then that disillusionment itself could be an opportunity.

We could do worse than to develop and nurture those twin gifts of compassion and orneriness, kindness and grit, and give ourselves over to making life a little bit more just, fair, and joyful for ourselves, for others, and for generations to come.