Shuck and Jive

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.


  1. Wow. I miss one day of work and look what happens...

    I'll do what I can to help!

  2. Best of luck. I'm excited to see where this new direction takes your blog.

  3. This seems like a normal, healthy transition. Qoheleth might say, 'there is a time to contend for what should be, and a time to repair and help what is now'. The repair includes showing people how to face reality -- on the Bible, the environment, oil, et al.

  4. John--You have really given me something to think about here, and I thank you.


  5. I'm in for the duration.

    Tiny quibble: Kurt Vonnegut in "heaven"??

    Let's discuss.

  6. Always good to avoid snark, by any of us. But please answer a question.

    I have become increasingly interested in taking a more critical look at the now-century-old practice of historical scriptural criticism, a practice you enthusiastically endorse. I am neither clergy nor an academic, just interested in the foundations of the practice, and what actual good in does in the Church.

    But, in the past, you have deleted about half my posts on such subjects. If you don't want to go there, that's fine, it's your place. I had thought you might, and maybe you still do. But, insofar as, like most people, I have a full time job and a spouse and kids and oppressive debts, please let me know whether engaging those issues here is something you're not interested in.


  7. If Vonnegut doesn't make the cut, SR, count me out, too!

  8. In his book, A Man Without A Country, he jokes that at a tribute for the late Isaac Asimov, Vonnegut quipped, "Isaac is in heaven now" and brought down the house.

  9. The new look is definitely better than the Kermit green. :)

    As for the new direction, they other side's tirades have become parodies of themselves. It's unnecessary (and probably impossible) to make them more ridiculous than they already are. I stopped visiting all their blogs some time ago when I realized that the garbage they write no longer amused, it just made me pity them. Plus I feel that our continued notice of them just enables their bad behavior.

    A more worthwhile use of all our time is to start asking the questions "now what?" and "What's next?"

  10. I hope you are successful in making the change, John, because I am struggling with much the same, and could learn a lot from your example. I really value your writings, and posted your last sermon on Facebook with the comment that reading your sermons is one of the high points of my Sunday evenings. But it has seemed to me that one thing that has sometimes been missing in your interactions with others is two of those great Christian virtues, charity and temperance. Now, I'm hardly qualified to cast a stone on that one. My medium seems to be letters to the editor of our small-town daily, and since conservatives and Republicans make such rich targets, it's easy to get pretty snarky. Result: a lot of people around here think I'm just another knee-jerk liberal, which not only isn't the case, but it really gets in the way of what I'd really like to get across.

    So I've decided to test my communications by those two virtues. Am I at least as temperate in my communications as I would be with someone in person? And, have I really tried to give the targets of my communication something of value to their lives, rather than trying to, on some level, hurt them or score points? Not the way many of us were trained to communicate, so I know it won't be easy.

  11. Thanks for saying that, Hal. This is a huge challenge. Part of the challenge is the medium itself. I think your last paragraph regarding testing communication is very good.

  12. @Rick: if you're just starting to look into historical critical analysis, I'd suggest a more efficient approach is to read some of the good books on the subject. One is 'How to Read the Bible' by James Kugel, covering the OT. Anything by Ehrmann or the Jesus Seminar is a good place to start on the NT. I like Paula Fredricksen for more in-depth writing on NT issues. Or just browse Amazon and books will jump out at you.

  13. "if you're just starting to look into historical critical analysis, I'd suggest a more efficient approach is to read some of the good books on the subject."

    Never a bad suggestion, of course, but in fact I've been reading historical critical analysis and form criticism for going-on forty years. Pace the Jesus Seminar's implication that the laity has been "shut out" from such work, the historical-critical approach has been set out in some detail in lay-oriented commentaries and study bibles since the 60's and 70's. You did, of course, have to bother to take up and read.

    My question is more to the point of whether anything solid has come out of the "new quest." In the mid-70's I read Albert Schweitzer's "Quest of the Historical Jesus," in which, after reviewing the various "scientific" lives of Jesus done up to his day, he notes a tendency for such inquirer to find only mirrors of themselves. After reading the work of Crosson, Funk, Shorto, Johnson, Sheehan, Pagels and others, I have much the same feeling, that you can find pretty much whatever Jesus you want through choosing your criteria of authenticity. And what does that do to the faith, when Jesus is thereby reduced to a literary construct? One would think that it would lead to an even wider-ranging scepticism, but it seems to me that it's just as much spun off new dogmatisms, so that any questioning of the foundations of these new constructs is dismissed as "fundamentalism."

  14. Regarding comments,

    I am constructing my new and improved comment guidelines as I go.

    I want now, indeed, it is critical for me now, to avoid the "trash talking" that is common with blogs, unfortunately, including this one. I especially want to avoid it from my end and from those who tend to sympathize with me. This includes both the posts I make and comments on my posts or on posts on other blogs, forums, news sites, etc.

    So I ask my buds, particularly, please don't engage. No more name calling, no more "they" however much we may think it deserved. It won't help me.

    I am not saying it is bad to do or wrong to do, it is simply over now as far as I am concerned on this blog. I am asking my people to stop. Do not engage those who attack.

    The war is over. I quit. Please honor that by quitting with me at least on this blog.

    I don't know if I can succeed at this. In fact, I am doubtful. My writing style may be so embedded in a style that fosters aggressive behavior that I am not sure if I can do it differently. Time will soon tell. If I can't make it work, I'll need to stop blogging and that will be disappointing. My detractors can do what they want, it is my allies that I worry about, because I have chosen to engage in the blog wars. I quit. Done. Swords into plowshares and all that.

    Here are some comment guidelines.

    There are some posts that I make that are kind of sacred to me. My sermons for instance. They are kind of like church for some people. They are not up for critique. If you like it, that's fine. I appreciate those happy comments. But, other than that, it is like booing a sermon at church. You gently will be ushered out. I delete comments critical of sermons I post.

    I also post stuff that is going on at my church. I delete any comments critical of my church or my people (that includes comments against gays, for instance).

    If I sense trollish and passive-aggressive behavior or plain ordinary aggressive behavior, those posts will get deleted (if I get to them in time and in hasn't resulted in a whole stream of trash talking).

    People with an agenda, theological or otherwise, who use my blog to spout their stuff as opposed to creating their own blog, for instance, often get comments deleted.

    Many of these rules I have had all along.

    That said, comments that are on topic and about the topic not the person are fine. You may get a reply. You may not.

  15. Hi Rick: well, you are way advanced of me, I have been reading this material only for 3 years.

    Speaking as a rank amateur, I think maybe one of the things that has come form the new quest is an appreciation of the Jewishness of Jesus and his context.

    As you say, there may be many ideas of the historical Jesus; some of the ideas may be wrong; perhaps further research will clarify it. But it seems to be intrinsically part of any historical analysis that, in fact, there is no certainty, only more or less plausible explanations or guesses. Indeed, that does conflict with some sections of the church who want to provide a sense of absolute certainty; but there you are. If you can, attend a Jesus Seminar on the Road conference and ask the speakers and other attendees these questions, I'm sure they would like to discuss them.

  16. We're going to bake you a cake, John. This change is indeed going to be tough. I made one of the best snarky remarks I ever read, right here. It was delicious.

    I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them..." I've always thought this to be true, or at least true enough to justify some of my comments. Perhaps, in an age of blogs, an information age of immediacy that allows us to be immersed in worlds that so intensely echo our own beliefs, the power of ridicule is diminished, or even reversed with overuse. I don't think ridicule has entirely lost it's value, but it is most effective when used sparingly, and with aplomb. I won't swear off altogether, but I, too am tired of it.
    Be encouraged.

  17. Thanks David and Rebecca for the encouragement and blessing! Someone wrote on my facebook in response to this post a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes about "a time for snarkiness and a time to put snarkiness aside." Not a judgment on whether it is good or bad, just a a time for something else.

  18. And what does that do to the faith, when Jesus is thereby reduced to a literary construct?

    Rick--If you frame it that way, what is Jesus OTHER than a "literary construct"?!

    The only way we "know" Jesus is through the Christian scriptures, none of which were written by Jesus himself. By definition, that makes Jesus a "literary construct."

    Given that, it seems to me that you have a couple of choices. You can have faith in "tradition," and accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches as dogma. (Of course they don't agree with each other, but....)

    Or you can have faith in "scripture," and that means you have to find some interpretation of that scripture that speaks to you. Which, of course, leads to your assessment "that you can find pretty much whatever Jesus you want through choosing your criteria of authenticity."

    If you are an Episcopalian, you can also have faith in reason. ;-)

    Bottom line--it ALWAYS comes down to faith. Barring Jesus coming back and explaining it all, you cannot know anything about Jesus/ God with certainty. Historical criticism just gives us more context to work with.

    (As an aside, I will note that the disciples lived with Jesus on a daily basis for years, and they still didn't "get it." I think that should be a lesson to all of us that our human understanding is extremely limited, and that we ought not to put too much faith in our certitude about who/what God is and what zie wants. Except the "be kind to others" thing--that's pretty clear.)


  19. "Bottom line--it ALWAYS comes down to faith. Barring Jesus coming back and explaining it all, you cannot know anything about Jesus/ God with certainty. Historical criticism just gives us more context to work with."

    And I think understanding what we can of the historical context of Jesus' life and works helps non-Christians like me to learn and appreciate him as an activist. It takes Jesus off the cross and puts him in the real world. For me, that makes all the difference.

  20. re: "Vonnegut in heaven" -- thanks for explaining the joke.

  21. John,

    (see if this meets your new criteria)

    on the topic of literary criticism...

    I have found that the effect it has on one's faith depends on what one's faith is based on.

    Bart Ehrmann explains that his faith was based on a firm belief that the Bible, at least in its original form, was the literal word of God. That was the basis of his faith. So his quest for the original text was a quest for God's handwriting. Like the quest for the Holy Grail, it lead to a blind alley. As his belief in the authenticity of the Scriptures as THE word of God failed, so did his faith. The idol he worshiped had clay feet.

    But if your faith is based on something that lies beyond the Scriptures, on something the Scriptures are witness to, then even if the Scriptures were to hypothetically cease to exist, your faith still stands. ("Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love").

    I look at the scriptures from that second point of view. For me there is only fun and joy in examining and filtering the Scriptures from every which way possible. The basis of my faith is prayer, and the path I follow is the Way of Love. It is not a faith that leads to orthodoxy as much as it leads to orthopraxis.

    I ponder the question of whether it is loving to destroy the foundations of a person's faith before building up new foundations first. I suspect the hatred many a Fundamentalist has for liberal seminaries is based on the brutality with which the foundation of their faith is attacked by their free thinking, modern and post modern methods.

    (Christian Fundamentalism holds that above all, the Christian Scriptures are the literal inerrant, once and for all revealed, Word of God - anything that challenges that assumption is evil by definition)

    Likewise, many an ex Fundamentalist holds an undying contempt for what they perceive was falsely passed on to them and the struggles that belief system put them through.

    But the fault lies not with the methods. If the Scriptures were the thing the Fundamentalists say they are, they would survive the onslaught.

    The fault lies with our failing to pass on a proper basis of our faith.

    But I believe much of the Scriptures were written by men (and maybe women too) who were trying to do just that, pass on the basis of their faith. They did it for us, the future generations. They are finely tuned works of religious art designed to lead us through a door, beyond which lies the Kingdom of God.

    I have found that if you let them, they will do just that.

    Whether the Scriptures get you there first, or a person leads you there by the hand (the more effective means by far), once there, the Scriptures come to life in so any ways that you can't put them down ever. And no method of study is a threat. All of them are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness"

    Because at the end of the day, they really are truely inspired by God.