Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trying To Evolve

My Lovely and I are driving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tomorrow for General Assembly.   Following GA I will be in Louisville, Kentucky with our presbytery's youth mission trip.

I don't know if I will be blogging much from GA.  The whole deal looks exhausting.   I am on the Mid-Councils Committee and I wrote some initial thoughts on that.

You can follow the action at PC-Biz.  My committee is number 5.

You can also watch the plenary session live. 

It also might be fun to follow on Twitter.  The hashtag is #ga220.

I look forward to meeting old friends, making new ones, considering the business of the church and promoting Evolution Sunday and the Clergy Letter Project via this commissioner's resolution that I will present.   Here it is.  Watch for it on the big screen!

Here is my interview with the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, Dr. Michael Zimmerman on Religion For Life.

__________________________ overtures the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to

1)  join with the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church, the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and with 12,794 members of Christian Clergy, 482 Rabbis of Judaism and 251 Clergy of Unitarian Universalists in endorsing the Clergy Letter Project and the Christian Clergy Letter printed below:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

2)  to designate the 2nd Sunday in February as Evolution Sunday to recognize the influence that the Theory of Evolution has had in changing the world view of our natural environment.


This overture is brought in the spirit of faith that joyfully acknowledges
that God brings all things into being by the Word. (W-1.2001),
that God transcends creation and cannot be reduced to anything within it (W-1.2002),
that God created the material universe and pronounced it good, and
that the material world reflects the glory of God. (W-1.3031), and,
with the understanding that in prayer we earnestly thank God for creation and providence. (W-3.3613)

Evolution has been wrongly viewed in some Christian communities as contrary to Christian beliefs. As a scientific theory based solidly on extensive scientific evidence, it has shaped our thinking in the natural sciences and has become the underlying theory for numerous medical advances. As a scientific theory it does not contradict the existence of God, but can be seen as a natural, creative process in God's creation.

In a recent study of why young people are leaving the church, 29% of the youth reported being discouraged by the church's antagonistic view of science, and that many young people are “turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” The research also “shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”

(Ref. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church...and Rethinking Faith. David Kinnaman, 2011, The Barna Group.)

The 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has stated that it:

1. Reaffirms that God is Creator, in accordance with the witness of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions.
2. Reaffirms that there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator.
3. Encourages State Boards of Education across the nation to establish standards for science education in public schools based on the most reliable content of scientific knowledge as determined by the scientific community.
4. Calls upon Presbyterian scientists and scientific educators to assist congregations, presbyteries, and the public to understand what constitutes reliable knowledge.

Other denominations have also recognized the compatibility of modern science and theology. For example, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2008 states, in part, "We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology."

The Clergy Letter Project, founded by Dr. Michael Zimmerman, and signed by nearly 13,000 Christian clergy has helped clergy and congregations present the scientific theory of Evolution in a manner that respects and engages a thinking faith. 

Thus it is fitting to endorse The Clergy Letter Project and to set aside the 2nd Sunday in February as Evolution Sunday to celebrate the importance of evolution by designating the birthday (12 February 1809) of the founder of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, as Evolution Sunday.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marina Munjal of the Appalchian Dharma and Meditation Center on Religion For Life, June 28-July 2

This week on Religion For Life my guest is Marina Munjal one of "the founding mothers" of the Appalachian Dharma and Meditation Center in Johnson City. She talks about the activities at the center, Buddhism, and the joy of meditation.

"Marina grew up in Ohio with a statue of the Buddha in the study and a church home at a Unitarian Fellowship. She is one of the “founding mothers” of the ADMC and began building Buddhist community in the Tri-cities when she helped initiate the Holston Valley Sangha in July of 2001. She has been active in the Buddhist prison ministry since 2003 at Lee County, Virginia Federal Prison, which has continued to the present time and has helped develop an extensive library of Buddhist books, recordings, and movies, now housed at ADMC. She also offers community outreach on the subject of Buddhism, and has presented to the Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and Kingsport high school history classes."

Listen via livestream…

Thursday, June 28th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, July 1st, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, July 1st, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, July 2nd at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning July 3rd

Sunday, June 24, 2012

If It Feels Good Do It (in moderation of course)--A Sermon

If It Feels Good Do It (in moderation of course)
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
June 24, 2012

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
Epicurus, Principle Doctrines 5

During the season of summer we honor the spiritual path of awe and wonder, the via positiva.   My sermons for this summer are about happiness.  What is happiness and how can we be happier?  It isn’t quite correct to tie particular emotions or feelings to a particular path, but if we had to do so, we might call this the happy path. Feel good. Celebrate. Enjoy life. Appreciate what is. Drink it up.

I want to suggest that happiness is found and is a result of traveling all four paths. If the via negativa, via creativa, and via transformativa don’t promise happiness why take them? But the via positiva seems like a natural place to start a discussion, maybe even a quest, about what happiness is and what we might do to be happier.

One of the sages we will encounter on this path is University of Virginia psychology professor, Jonathan Haidt (“Height”). In preparing for this sermon, I read his book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. I will be coming back to him quite a bit in these series of sermons. Dr. Haidt takes ten ideas from ancient philosophy and religion in regards to happiness and evaluates these ideas in regards to what we are learning from modern psychology.

It is a great read. I learned a lot and after reading it, I actually feel happier. For the most part, I am a happy person. I can get down. I have gone through periods of depression. I battle addictions, struggle with anxiety, and tend to give in to habits that make me less happy than more happy, but overall, I am a happy person. I am happier now than at any other time in my life.

After reading The Happiness Hypothesis, I realized that happiness is combination of many things and there are some things that we can do to increase our happiness. I learned that happiness is given to us by our genes, not so much a set point but a set range. There are, however, some things that we can do that can expand that range and that can help us stay in the top end of that happiness range. I will be talking more about that. I liked learning that in the book. There are some things I can do and that I can help others do to increase happiness, including preaching a series of sermons on happiness. That made me happy.

I also realized that happiness is a worthwhile goal. I have a couple of messages in my head. They want to downplay happiness. One probably comes from my religious background although I am not sure. I think I had a happy church life as a child, but somewhere along the line I got the message that if you are happy you are being selfish. What about suffering, climate change, human rights abuses and all of that? Amidst all the suffering in the world what gives you the right to be happy? Jesus wasn’t happy. The Lord wants you to suffer so take up the cross and be miserable like he was.

The other message is that happiness is for simple people. Serious intellectuals dress in black, are filled with existential angst, read the French deconstructionists, and write dark poetry. Happiness is for yokels and stand up comics. I should say, that many stand up comics, the really funny ones, are well-acquainted with adversity. That is why they are funny. They have reframed adversity through humor and come out on the other side.

I am not exactly sure what to make of those messages that haunt my psyche. I think that they might need some unraveling in therapy. : )  My initial thought to that is that happiness is connected in a major way to purposefulness. We are going to talk about that in this series of sermons as well. We may not think of it as happiness or call it happiness, but if your strength is to consciously engage the dark side of life as vocation or avocation, that might amount to the same thing.  My hunch is that Mother Theresa and maybe even Kurt Vonnegut were for the most part, happy. 

I want to talk today about pleasure, particularly, the happiness that comes from pleasure. Before I go there, I want to talk about the happiness equation. Math makes me happy. I am happy that Jonathan Haidt put happiness in equation form. This is the equation:

H = S + C + V

H = Happiness we experience

S = Biological set point

C = Conditions of life

V = Voluntary activities

Happiness comes from our genes. We know this by people who we think should be happy. They can even win the lottery, yet after the initial euphoria, they generally go back to the happiness point before the windfall. Similarly, a person may suffer a financial set back or accident and after adjustment, even though the set back or accident changed that part of her life completely, she will go back to her initial happiness set point before the set back or accident.

Psychologists now think it is more of a set range than a point. We are destined by our genes for a certain level of happiness. It is possible to change the internal setting. Haidt mentions three things that can do that, meditation, Prozac, and cognitive therapy. I will talk more about that as well later in this series. 

We can also bump up that set point or put ourselves in the high end of the range by C and V, the conditions of life and by certain voluntary activities. Haidt writes:
The level of happiness (H) that you actually experience is determined by your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities (V) you do. p. 91

The Buddha was all about voluntary activities, for example the eightfold path that included meditation and mindfulness. He didn’t seem to think conditions of life mattered at all. He could get in the zone. Not everyone is the Buddha and there are some things that we can change about our external circumstances that can help regarding happiness.

These include
  1. decreasing the level of noise, especially noise that is variable and intermittent. 
  2. Also, reducing your commuting time. 
  3. Increasing the amount of control over your life and your choices will increase your happiness. 
  4. Increasing your approval of your body image.  This doesn’t have to do with attractiveness but it has to do with shame. Decreasing the level of shame about your body will lead to more happiness. Haidt says that “improvements in a person’s appearance do lead to lasting increases in happiness.” P. 93 
  5. The big one is the strength and the number of good relationships.  

In other words, externals do matter. That is the C in the equation.

H = S + C + V.

What is the V?

Voluntary activities. Not all activities make a person happy. Haidt writes that
“Chasing after wealth and prestige usually backfire. People who report the greatest interest in attaining money, fame, or beauty are consistently found to be less happy, and even less healthy, than those who pursue less materialistic goals.” P. 95

Many of us will just have to take that on faith. Or we can read the sordid tales of the unhappy lives of celebrities in the grocery aisle. We think they have everything. Why can’t they get their lives together? But ancient wisdom and modern science seem to tell us that fame, wealth, achievement, and beauty lasts for a little while, then it’s back to set point.

This is the ancient wisdom from Ecclesiastes. In that marvelous chapter two, the speaker who has everything, achieves everything, enjoys all the pleasures of life, and says,
“Then I considered all that my hands and done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind…”

He is back to set point.

But, there are activities, voluntary activities, the V in the equation, that can increase our level of happiness on an ongoing basis. One is physical or bodily pleasure. This is why when humans gather together they eat. Heidt writes:
“At meal times, people report the highest levels of happiness on average. People really enjoy eating, especially in the company of others…” p. 95

In addition to pleasure that consists of food, sex, backrubs, and cool breezes, there are also gratifications. Haidt writes:
“Gratifications are activities that engage you fully, draw on your strengths, and allow you to lose self-consciousness.” P. 96

The idea is to arrange your day and your environment to increase both pleasures and gratifications. Appreciate the sunset and lose yourself in a meaningful activity that uses your strengths. That is the V.

Now there is a tendency to overdue on the pleasure. If eating a Whopper makes me happy supersizing it will make me super happy.   Right?  That is actually not true. Pleasures must be spaced and as your grandmother told you, in moderation, to retain their potency to increase happiness.

Pleasures are not in themselves lasting. That is why they can tend to be disparaged.  Pleasures can be addictive and insistent, calling us back and away from activities that might help us in the long run.

Addiction in part comes from “if it feels good do it” again and again and again. Haidt writes:
Because the elephant has a tendency to over indulge, the rider needs to encourage it to get up and move on to another activity. P. 96

What is the elephant? A metaphor he uses for the mind is a rider on an elephant. The rider is our consciousness and reason. The elephant is the unconscious, the feelings, desires, instincts that are our evolutionary heritage. They are the forces that move and motivate us. The trick is to find ways to train the elephant. More on that to come as well.

The simple point I want to make today in addition to whetting your appetite for this series of sermons on happiness is to suggest that
  1. happiness comes from both within and without. 
  2. Happiness is a result primarily from biology. 
  3. But we can tinker with that if necessary through meditation, Prozac, and cognitive therapy,
  4. and we can add to happiness by adjusting some of our external conditions and 
  5. by consciously engaging in voluntary activities that both increase gratifications through using our strengths and 
  6. by enjoying the pleasures of life in a way that honors them, by neither indulging or detaching.

Those voluntary activities also include experiencing the pleasures of life. You won’t get lasting happiness as Solomon told us, but when we are mindful about them, they make life tasty.

It is not bad to feel good.

Or if it feels good, do it, in moderation of course.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Thoughts on the General Assembly and the Mid Councils Report

I am preparing to go to the General Assembly of the PCUSA next week.   This is the first time I have been elected as a commissioner.   Even my election hasn't been without controversy, not any that I know of within my presbytery, but outside of it.   Parker Williamson of the LayMAN heralded my election.  Since then I have received a handful of letters and e-mails from people I don't know and who don't know me quoting from his article to scold me and to pray for my soul.    I think this is all great fun and I am looking forward to GA.

If I can figure out how to do it, I will make two commissioners' resolutions asking the General Assembly to support the Clergy Letter Project and to establish the day closest to Darwin's birthday as Evolution Sunday.  My presbytery didn't approve these overtures when they were sent up by my session, but I will give them a spin at GA.  Check them out.  

On the General Assembly agenda are recommendations from MRTI regarding businesses who profit from violence and human rights abuses.   Also, marriage equality overtures will be received, debated, and decided.   Wonder of wonders, I am on a controversial committee and I have an opinion.  

I have been assigned to the Mid-Councils Committee.   This committee will receive a report from the Mid Councils Commission.   The committee will also review a number of overtures to do away with synods and form non-geographic presbyteries among other things.  

I have read the information and will read it again.   I may not be clear on everything that is being proposed.  I am open to correction.   I am open to Spirit.  But before I vote "Yes" to accept the recommendations of the Mid Council Commission, Spirit has a lot of questions to answer.   Their recommendations include deleting synods and forming non-geographic presbyteries that will have the power to do everything existing presbyteries have except to buy and sell property.   This would include sending commissioners to General Assembly.  In this new scheme, you only need ten ministers and ten sessions to form a presbytery.   A presbytery such as mine with 65 churches could potentially divide themselves into six different presbyteries.  Each could send a minister and elder to GA.   Can you imagine how unwieldy that would be?   Is GA going to pay for six times as many commissioners?

Why these recommendations now?  I don't know the heart of those who advocate for these changes but I do know that lobbying groups who oppose the changes in ordination standards that have just gone into effect are in favor of non-geographic presbyteries and those who favor and have worked for ordination changes over the decades are against non-geographic presbyteries.   Why might that be?   This proposal amounts to redistricting.   Again, I know no one's heart, but a ready-made explanation is at hand:  "the majority of presbyteries finally voted in favor of removing discriminatory barriers so let's shuffle the deck so we can change the vote."  I certainly have no energy or desire to form a like-minded presbytery or depart to a like-minded denomination.   As we know, those who don't like the change in ordination do have this energy and desire.  Again, I don't know anyone's motivations but you can bet that if this were to pass the first overtures from these like-minded presbyteries will be to change ordination standards.   Non-geographic presbyteries will not lead to any kind of peace, of live and let live.  More energy, more money, and more time will be spent in power struggles.

Are we deathly ill?   That assumption comes up more than once in this report.  This report sounds a lot like the language from the new FOP/ECO group.  This report sees the decades long struggles over social, political, and theological issues as distractions from some idealized mission of the church.   There seems to be little knowledge let alone appreciation for the work of the larger church at the synod and GA level, or even at the level of the presbyteries as we have them.   It is as though everything we have done is irrelevant and we need to throw it all out and start all over.   I find this offensive.  I am proud of my denomination.   I am glad that we speak out and take on controversial issues.   I don't think the full citizenship of LGBT people is a distraction.  I don't think that theological exploration is a distraction.   I don't think advocating for the environment and for sustainability is a distraction.  I don't think taking on the Israeli lobby, advocating for economic justice, working for racial justice, and calling the powers that be to disarm are distractions from being "missional."   It may be that our denomination is being whittled down to the size of Gideon's army, but you know the rest of that story.

Is this a solution to membership loss?  The report brings out the statistics of membership loss that we hear again and again.  Rather than engage the complexities over what this might mean, the assumption is made that our structures inhibit congregations from growing.   When I hear other ministers blaming the denomination or their presbytery because their church isn't growing, I hear empty whining.    I have served three churches in three presbyteries.  There was nothing ever that any presbytery prevented me or my congregation from doing.    Blaming our structures for our own lack of creativity, imagination, or hard work is misplaced.   If you want to grow your church, do something for the neighborhood.  Further, if I want to partner with like-minded congregations, I can do so right now.   Nothing prevents me from doing that.

Aren't we supposed to be a family?  One might think that in my situation I would welcome non-geographic presbyteries.   I serve a liberal congregation in a conservative presbytery.  Wouldn't we be happier and get more done if the presbytery we were in was more like us?  After all, my presbytery voted down our evolution overtures.  Maybe we should pick up our marbles and find a presbytery more like-minded.   Let's imagine for a moment.  We are a More Light congregation.  If I want to form a More Light Presbytery, the nearest More Light congregation is in Nashville, over 5 hours away.   I am not sure if there are more than ten More Light congregations in the entire South.   My new More Light Presbytery is going to require a lot of driving.   I suppose I could chat with them on my iPhone (if I had one).   But we are not just More Light.  We are also a Peace Church.  We are a Green Church.  We celebrate Darwin's Birthday and we hold Jesus Seminars on the Road.   I would doubt that there are ten PCUSA congregations in the United States that are like us.    Who would be theologically incorrect enough even to have us?     Holston Presbytery, on the other hand, has to take us in.  We may be the odd step child, but we are family.

Do virtual presbyteries deny the body?  I care about my local area, East Tennessee.   I have to, I live here.  The congregations in my presbytery are connected to these mountains, to the people, the language and the culture.  As a presbytery we partner to feed hungry people in our region via the Five Cents a Meal program.   Those are people with real bodies.  They are not virtual bodies.  They are not avatars.    A large portion of our budget goes to Holston Camp.   That is a camp where children and adults with bodies actually get dirty, exhausted, wet, and discover something about who they are.   When our presbytery gets divided up and the congregations partner with like-minded congregations in Alabama or Ohio or wherever who is going to fund the camp?   Which one of those virtual presbyteries will take responsibility for this camp?   The congregations of Holston Presbytery have an obligation to this camp because it is family.  It is local and located where we live and do ministry.  A presbytery is its region.   We are neighbors.  We care for each other and we have to in order to survive.   The most conservative churches in our presbytery send kids to the same camp that we do.   Following this year's General Assembly, youth from my church will meet with youth from other churches in our un-like-minded presbytery for a common mission event.  They all come from congregations that have different views on many topics.  I don't think that is a bad thing.

Is this good stewardship?   The church is going to change.   As much as we think that the future is the internet and virtual chat rooms, it isn't.  This is a blip.   The real future--the future of real bodies sweating to grow real food--is local.   Those whose faces are buried in their Kindles and iPhones are blind to the planetary limits we are hitting.   We are now on the downside of Hubbert's curve regarding the production rate of conventional oil.  Those fancy phones are made from rare earth metals and petroleum products that will become more scarce and expensive as we go further down this curve.   Life for the next couple of centuries likely will be a long descent.   For the next couple of decades, the churches will have demands put upon them that will be increasingly local.  It is the absolute wrong direction for churches to purposely disconnect from our neighborhoods.   Now is when we need our presbyteries to be more local not less.    We need our presbyteries to help congregations work together on community gardens, health care, and emergency services.    We need advocacy for the most vulnerable in the midst of serious and severe economic challenges.   We need to work regionally and locally across ideological boundaries. The future is local.   The PCUSA and its councils would do well to prepare for it. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

So Long But Leave the Silver

It took me some time to figure out why so many fundamentalist congregations had the same complaints on their websites regarding the PCUSA.    I wrote about that in A Bullet Point in PCUSA History.   Since then I discovered that these documents all come from the same source, The LayMAN.

On the right side of their homepage is a link to Discernment Resources.

Click it and you will find all kinds of documents that ministers can use to manipulate and misinform their congregations regarding the "apostasy" of the PCUSA and strategies to steal the PCUSA's property.

One such document is entitled, "Five Solas."   (I am featured under the heading, "The Erosion of Authority.")  This replaces an earlier "Five Solas" (in which I was also mentioned).  But that first one is a little long for short attention spans and the new one gets you the "PCUSA is Apostate" message with less effort.    

I am a bullet point on the new "Five Solas."  To wit:
Those who deny key biblical doctrines remain unchallenged. For example, in a sermon on Pentecost 2012, Rev John Shuck denied that most of the events in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles ever happened.  Previously, Shuck has denied many of the central tenets of the Christian faith.
Funny, I don't ever remember being charged (let alone convicted) with such a crime as denying "the central tenets of the Christian faith," but if the LayMAN says so it must be true.    If you are curious about my recent (very recent, May of this year--are these people stalking me?) sermon, check it out.   For those interested in how higher criticism works, biblical scholars carefully conceal this information in books. 

What's even more bizarre is that right before the LayMAN tells falsehoods about me, it misrepresents the Confession of 1967.  
 - The Confession of 1967 states that Scriptural authority is determined not by Scripture but by the interpreter. In effect this means that our intellect is valued above the plain meaning of the text (C67 - 9.27)
This misrepresentation notwithstanding, do these clergy who think it is now time to leave the PCUSA not know that the Confession of 1967 has been in the Book of Confessions since 1967?    Anyone ordained as a clergyperson (unless they are over 70) took vows to uphold this confession.    Why the surprise now?   One of the breakoffs like the PCA would have been a far better choice for them a long, long time ago.

Interestingly, the PCA just finished their General Assembly deciding that Adam and Eve were historical people and reaffirming that no woman should be a deacon (or deaconness).    There you go.  The authority of the Bible at work.

Any PCUSA members who are convinced by the LayMAN's brand of fundamentalism have (in spirit) left the PCUSA long ago.    So long.  God bless.   Good luck in finding a fit for your fundamentalism.   But leave the silver here please unless you plan to pay for it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dr. Garrett Adams and Dr. Arthur Sutherland, Physicians for a National Healthcare Program, Religion For Life, June 21-25

Fifty million Americans do not have health insurance. Is health care a human right? Is health care a social justice issue? My two guests, Dr. Garrett Adams and Dr. Arthur Sutherland of Physicians for a National Health Program, were in the Tri-Cities this Spring making the case for Medicare for all. I visited with them on Religion For Life. Here is an article from

(Dr. Garrett Adams left and Dr. Arthur Sutherland right speaking in Bristol, Tennessee. Photo David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier)

Listen via livestream…

Thursday, June 21st at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, June 24th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, June 24th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, June 25th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning June 26th

Religion For Life on iTunes!

I am thrilled that you can now download Religion For Life from the iTunes store.  You can subscribe and download podcasts to your computer and/or ipod.

I received an e-mail the other day from someone who said he was going to use my series, "Will the Real Jesus Please Rise?" for his adult Sunday School class.  What a great idea!  

Here is the Religion For Life blog, also Facebook, Twitter, podcast page, iTunes!

It's everywhere! It's everywhere!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Prayer and the Powers--A Sermon

Prayer and the Powers
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 17, 2012

The apostles said to the Master, “Make our trust grow!”

And the Master said, “If you had trust no bigger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree, ‘Uproot yourself and plant yourself in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Luke 17:5-6

Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes. . . .
Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, p. 303

Last night on CNN I watched a segment about belief in God. The host was interviewing people about a recent survey that said more and more young people are doubting the existence of God. The people being interviewed thought that was a pretty good thing seeing this survey as an indication that reason would eventually eclipse superstition. One of the guests implied that it is time to give up on outdated belief systems, magical thinking, and supernaturalism.

The reasons offered for this shift were many and varied. The culture wars, science, boring church services. In particular, the internet was acknowledged as having a role. The worldwide web makes available information at the touch of a finger as well as social networks of other doubters and skeptics. More and more people under 30 are calling themselves atheists or skeptics.

These surveys poke at our emotions. I can imagine different reactions from among you. People tend to think this is either good news or bad news. Others will dismiss it as youthful rebellion, reasoning that once these young people face existential angst, danger, or suffering, they will believe in God.

The announcer tried to extrapolate by saying that if these trends continue in 50 years belief in God will be a view held by a small minority. I thought about the 1960s and the theologians who announced the death of God and others who wrote that we were on the verge of creating a secular city. They seemed to predict God’s demise prematurely. Yet maybe this time God really is fading away.

What I wanted to explore further as I watched the show was what “belief in God” means. The announcer and the guests seemed to want to suggest that there are two types of people,
  1. those who are religious and 
  2. those who don’t believe in supernatural beings.

I kept wanting to suggest to the folks on my television screen that there might be a third type.  These are people who would agree intellectually with the atheists that there probably is not a supernatural being who exists outside of the natural world and comes to mess with it on occasion. Yet these people would also say that they have a heart for transcendent experiences such as awe, wonder, creativity, compassion and that church and God language is part of that. I think I want more definition regarding the phrase “belief in God” before I side with one camp or the other. I want some more options.

I find myself interested not so much in what God is but in what God does. What does God do exactly?

Bishop John Shelby Spong said that Copernicus and Galileo rendered God homeless. When they discovered that Earth was not the center of the universe but was like the other heavenly bodies, the planets, that moved around the sun, they messed up the medieval system of heaven “up there” where God lived.  Heaven became Earth and Earth heaven. In a few centuries along comes Darwin with his theory of natural selection. Humans are more like apes than the angels. Darwin and later the astronomers rendered God jobless. There was nothing in nature for God to do. The universe works without him.

I slightly object. I agree with Bishop Spong that this conception of God has lost out to reason and to science. Yet that isn’t the God who ignites my heart anyway. That God was an explanation for things for which we now have better explanations. Further we may not need the stories of the gods or of the god of our tradition to be literal or real. Our conception of God is changing. But that doesn’t mean that God is gone or has nothing to do.

In fact, I think, or perhaps I have faith, that the most interesting thing that God does and has always done is not to sit up in his home above the clouds and throw down balls of fire on sinners. The most interesting thing that God does is give us a sense of meaning, belonging, and vitality.

I do not insist. I have no need to defend God or my concept of God. As we know, some folks are quite evangelistic about their god. They need you to believe. I don’t intend to be one of those people. BYOG. Bring Your Own God…or none. It wouldn’t break my heart if someone explained my blather about God as a misunderstood psychological quirk or a biological brain burp.

I do think that humans have a capability to experience transcendence, that feeling of being more than who they are normally. That feeling can enable them to engage in acts of love, compassion, heroism, awe, creativity, and beauty. They can discover and offer forgiveness, find a sense of belonging and happiness, and feel at home in their own skin. That is religion for me and God is my shorthand way of expressing that action.

I said earlier that I don’t really care much about what God is, but I do care about what God does. That is what God does for me. God wakes me up. It is also true, that I wake God up. That is done in the religious setting in the experience of worship that is ultimately prayer. One of my favorite quotes is from Walter Wink, the theologian who died earlier this year and who inspired this series of sermons this Spring on the Powers. Wink writes:
Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes. . . .

That is a provocative paragraph. It messes with our aesthetic of theological correctness. There is something improper about waking God up, isn’t there? Yet this image is as old as the Bible. The Psalmist yells at God:
“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?” Psalm 44

This isn’t a polite prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” This prayer is a call from the depths. It is a demand. It is a call to action. It is banging the pots and pans.

The rest of that particular psalm, Psalm 44, continues:
23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off for ever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

You can appreciate and use that prayer even if you don’t believe in a literal being out there who hears it. What you are awakening is your own vitality. You are rousing your own strength that is also transcendent. You are finding your voice, tapping into that well-spring of energy and creativity you didn’t know you had, calling to that courage that you thought had been lost. In the words of poet, Ntozake Shange,
I found God in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.

Again, I don’t insist. If God is more other, more literal or more real than what I have suggested, I don’t object. I would say that prayer is real. The reality is the passion and the openness to possibility. It is the faith that uproots and plants mulberry trees into the sea. It washes the caked sweat from God’s eyes. It makes your logical and reasoned mind connect with what really motivates you, that is your largely unconscious emotional brain and body. When worship is done in community and prayer is done with others, it can lead to feelings of love and compassion.

Most of what we think we want and what we do is not based on logic or reason. We use logic and reason to rationalize what our emotions and sense of aesthetics want and do.  Meditation and worship--or prayer--gives language to our feelings. It helps us bring to consciousness what has been unconscious. It helps us be aware of what is going on. Or to put it another way, we are waking God up while God wakes us up.

This sermon series has been about the powers that be. These forces dehumanize. I am not going to go into that anymore today except to say when the powers that be get you down, and they will, what are you going to do? How are you going to keep your sanity, your humor, your happiness and your hopefulness? Where will you find your strength and your perspective?

Wink’s response is to rattle God’s cage and wake God up. How? Lots of ways, but one I’ll offer:
Go to church. 
It isn’t totally outdated, oppressive, and hypocritical. It isn’t all about being forced to believe in dogmas or other impossible things. It can be if you want it to be, but it can also be a place that is like a deep well where you can utilize the wisdom, ritual, and practice that goes back thousands of years and touches the heart and the unconscious. Couple all of that with modern ways of knowing and we can probably wake that God up and get some stuff done.

Or maybe we need a break from doing too much stuff and need to be still, draw from the well, and fill up our tank. In that case, we allow God to embrace us, smile upon us, call us his or her own. We may not even know what we need. The most important and interesting things often take us by surprise. Then we can follow God wherever God goes. That is especially important in a world where the powers that be are rough and ruthless.

I started this sermon with the survey that said that young people are doubting God’s existence in larger and larger numbers. I think we should pay attention to that and ask what that means. We don’t necessarily need to judge it, fight it, or celebrate it. I do think it is an opportunity to talk about what we mean when we use the word God. But more than that, we have is an opportunity what it means to be human and to find happiness and a sense of purpose and meaning within life.

That is the focus of my next series of sermons as we begin summer and spiral both backward and forward to the spiritual path of awe and wonder.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Clergy With Conscience

Rev. Brian Merritt is a good minister and now a neighbor down the road apiece in Chattanooga.  Before he came to greenest state in the land of the free, he officiated at a wedding for a same-gender couple in Washington D.C.  

The LayMAN wrote all about it.  Brian made page 3

And along comes Mary Naegeli.

Brian made some nice responses to these folks, to Mary Naegeli here, and offered a bit of history regarding the LayMAN that all should find interesting.  Here is a piece.
While many in the church decry it for its obviously ill conceived social positions on homosexuality and it’s past’s wildly inaccurate reporting, the main problem with the Presbyterian Lay Committee is that its theology, ideology and history are for the furtherance of a few powerful people in society maintaining an unquestioned grip on the church’s future.  That is the power many of them have had in society as a whole, so why not the church?
Brian is right on.  Check out his post and while you are there, let him know you appreciate clergy who won't be bullied.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New LGBT Center in Johnson City!

This was in today's Johnson City Press:
A new community center has plans to set up in the downtown area to focus on building and creating a positive social change in the region.

The Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities has been an idea in the works since February, and it hopes to serve as somewhat of a resource center for those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Kenn Lyon, executive director for the community center, said he started brainstorming about the center during a seminar he attended for his master’s program on mental health counseling.

“We had a seminar on creating social change in your local environment, your local neighborhood, and I was thinking about how there was such a need for some kind of positive visible presence for the LGBT community in the Tri-Cities area and there’s nothing here for that,” Lyon said.

Pulling from his network of friends, Lyon brought on John Baker, the vice director and treasurer of the center, and others from the community to form a board of people committed to seeing a functioning center for everyone downtown to utilize.

“It’s about empowering, nurturing and being inclusive of the gay and lesbian community. Everyone is welcome to use the space and to come in,” Lyon said. “It’s also about education because there’s such a need in the area for educating what to do when people start to come out and recognize they have a different orientation than heterosexual and where do they go with that and what’s the next step in that process.”

Both Lyon and Baker said they are hopeful that the center, while open to anyone, will be a safe, positive environment where kids to adults, unsure of their sexuality, can find answers to their questions.

“This is a glorious area and people are very accepting to some extent, but we just need to make sure that the education is out there to broaden their horizons,” Baker said.

Baker said so far he’s heard nothing but positive feedback about the center potentially opening up in the community and has even sought out support from local churches with some of their community center goals.

“We also are working with local churches and groups that also want to volunteer in their outreach programs to help staff if for us,” he said.

Baker and Lyon said while the center is available for anyone looking for support and involvement, they want the community to be one with the center and to be willing to help out for those who are distressed or need assistance.

“It’s a community center because the community is what needs to support this,” Lyon said. “We’ll be the leaders in it, however, it functions by the community participating.”

With other fundraising events in the works, Lyon and Baker said they hope to continue to hear words of encouragement and would ideally like to be up and running by the fall.

Working to gain a nonprofit status with the IRS and the state, the board members have been collecting private donations for the center, as well as having fundraising events.

“We need $17,000 to get it up and running and then we can start getting grants and foundation support after that to continue the process,” Lyon said.

On Friday, Two Pence Productions, a local theater company in Johnson City, will host a community center fundraiser at The Casbah, located at 807 W. Walnut St. Baker and Lyon said the event will have a variety of live entertainment, including skits and comedic performances.

A $5 minimum and up donation will be collected at the door and all proceeds will go toward the center.

“Our diversity is actually our strength. It’s not about all being the same, it’s about embracing that diversity and using that to move the consciousness forward in the entire area,” Lyon said.

To learn more about the community center’s mission statement, vision and values, visit or to stay in touch on community center updates.  For other information, email pridetricities [at] or call Lyon at 323-620-4335.

Great news! 

Time for the Church to Embrace Marriage Equality

Home from vacation visiting family.  I was greeted with mail.   One letter was from an elder of another church in our area (not Presbyterian) who wrote:
Dear Mr. Shuck

     I read with interest your letter to the editor in the JC Press.  Mr. Shuck, may I observe that religion comes from the Bible and the Bible strongly condems [sic] same sex marriage, homosexuals and Sodimites [sic].  Either we believe the Bible or we don't. 
     I am not trying to be a judge, God will do that, just trying to follow clear Bible teaching.
     I pray that you might consider the scriptures on the enclosed paper with all sincerity.
Enclosed was  a copy of the church's newsletter that contained a letter from its board declaring its belief in "God's standards of marriage and morality" accompanied by quotes from the Bible. 

Then I read today's Johnson City Press:
    It’s clear from the May 30 letter written by the Rev. John Shuck that he is too busy studying President Obama’s poll numbers to read his Bible. If he did, he would read that the Bible clearly states homosexuality is a sin. In 1 Cor. 6:9-10, it says: “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin — or practice homosexuality — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”    After speaking about the “shameful act” of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-28, God says in verse 32: “They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them too.”    The Rev. Shuck can try to justify his sinful beliefs here on earth, but one day he will stand before a holy God to give an account as to why he led many astray by his false teachings. The reverend called himself religious rather than a Christian. Maybe that explains why he is so blinded to the truth. LAYLA CIPTAK Elizabethton 
Then I found another letter in the mail from an individual who wrote:
You are not a preacher of Almighty God to support Queer Marriage!!!  Much less their lifestyle.  Queer Lifestyle is Lust of the Flesh!  My God, and Creator says so.  Learn the truth, or burn in Hell!!!

P.S.  You, sir are Satan's preacher!
And he enclosed a Chick Tract, "Uninvited."   On the tract he included this note:
"No dead pervert bastard queer will enter heaven!!!" 
Yes, I'm home. 

This is all in response to a letter I wrote to the Johnson City Press after the Press had solicited responses to the question, "What do you think of Obama's position on gay marriage?"

Here is the teaching moment.

I get this feedback because I am a minister.   Church and clergy are symbols of morality.   Many clergy including me are challenging openly and publicly what many people have learned in their churches.   This feedback is expected and clergy must be willing to take it for change to occur.

I am putting this on my blog so you can know how hatred and ignorance are products of church and its clergy.  This is learned behavior.  This violent language comes from our churches.   These individuals are applying what they have learned in church from their clergy.    This is why we need clergy to speak for equality from a moral and spiritual perspective. 

Rev. Jane Spahr said in my recent interview with her that in order for social change to occur and to end the violence against LGBT people we must change the churches.   In order for the violence to end, churches and clergy must be bold in declaring and enacting equality.

This year, the PC(USA) can do its part in ending violence by publicly affirming the morality of same-gender relationships and promoting marriage equality.    More Light Presbyterians has helpful resources.

It is time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Andrew Taylor-Troutman, Take My Hand on Religion for Life, June 14-18

Many books are written by clergy about their experiences. Usually these books are written after long careers. Here is a twist. Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman is a Presbyterian Minister in New Dublin, Virginia. He is brand new at it. He wrote a book about his first year as a minister. It is called Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir. Join us on Religion For Life for a unique perspective on church, life, and ministry from an energetic minister just out of the gate!

Listen via livestream…

Thursday, June 14th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, June 17th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, June 17th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, June 18th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning June 19th

Monday, June 04, 2012

John Dominic Crossan, Will the Real Jesus Please Rise? Part 4 on Religion For Life, June 7-11

From May 17th through June 18th on Religion For Life I am broadcasting a four-part series on the historical Jesus. It is called “Will the Real Jesus Please Rise?” For four weeks, I interview four of the most prolific and provocative scholars in the United States, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Dr. Bart Ehrman, Dr. Robert M. Price, and Dr. John Dominic Crossan.

My final guest in this series is Dr. John Dominic Crossan. He is the current president of the Society of Biblical Literature. He along with Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar and he has written over 20 books on early Christian origins. He believes that Jesus did exist. He was not an apocalyptic prophet, however. He believes the parables are the key to understanding Jesus and his message about the kingdom of God, that comes gradually as we participate in it. Dr. Crossan speaks about his new book, The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus. Here is my review. This interview will be broadcast beginning June 7th. After broadcast, podcasts will be available here.

Listen via livestream…

Thursday, June 7th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, June 10th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, June 10th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, June 11th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Bullet Point in PCUSA History

A handful of fundamentalist congregations in my denomination are agitated.   They are agitated, stirred and shaken by their leadership who want to move their churches out of the PC(USA) and take the PC(USA)'s property with them.   To make the case, these leaders present papers and put them on their congregations' websites.  These papers are designed to tell the sordid tale of the PC(USA)'s apostasy in order to stir up the crowd to vote to leave the denomination.

They bring up events and personalities from the last thirty years or so that have embodied this apostasy.   There is the Re-Imagining Conference of course where uppity women feasted on milk and honey and offered praise to Sophia.   There is Dirk Ficca who asked "What is the big deal about Jesus?"   Some guy named Kaseman said he didn't think Jesus was God and the presbytery let him be a minister anyway.  Of course, there are the ever-present gays.   Why won't the denomination just send them to hell already?

That is the big problem apparently.  The PCUSA doesn't have a taste for silencing the free thinking members of the clergy and condemning people to hell.  Therefore, the true believers feel the need to shake the dust from their feet and form a more perfect union where they can police all the clergy and their blogs. 

I am somewhat honored actually.  Along with folks I admire like Janet Edwards, Jim Rigby, and others I have made it to the status of "bullet point."  I am a bullet point on the powerpoint of the sad saga of the PCUSA's descent into darkness.

Being a self-proclaimed narcissist, I quote the texts that mention me.   It is interesting how the material in these documents is discovered, shaped, and presented.  It has an urban legend feel to it.   Here are a few of these statements on websites of various congregations that are having conversations about leaving the denomination.   I have found a few of these statements (usually in pdf) and I offer them to you as an interesting study.  If you have the time, do read them through.  

This is Saddlerock Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wenatchee, WA.  This church used to be in the PC(USA) but moved and changed its name.  It keeps its rationale for leaving on its website.  A Biblical Case (pdf)
  • An excerpt from John Shuck, a Minister member in good standing of Holston Presbytery in Elizabethtown, [sic] Tenn. This is from his most recent Holy Week service message No More Crosses: “A few years ago a poster advertising Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, featured an image of Christ wearing a crown of thorns. The caption read: Dying was his reason for living. The movie itself was about his supposed last hours cobbled together from the various fictional accounts in the gospels. The four gospels that made it into the canon of holy scripture all contain a version of Jesus' trial and execution. In fact over half the gospel material has to do with his death. Why are we so obsessed with this man's death? Dying was his reason for living. Really? The belief that Jesus died for us or died for our sins or died to save us has been Christianity's theological centerpiece. His death and resurrection are two parts of this mythology. That mythology has little to do with the historical person of Jesus. Details about the trial and crucifixion are literary memes taken from other sources. It isn't that the gospel writers observed what happened and wrote it down. It is what we would call, for lack of a more sophisticated word, fiction.”
These fundamentalists object to the reality that the gospels are not history.  The fundamentalist movement started in response to higher criticism of the Bible.  They have not moved past the 1920s.  Here is a well-written article on the controversy.  

Here are a couple of statements from Memorial Presbyterian Church at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.  The first is from their clerk of session's town hall presentation.   This church either has left or is in the process of leaving the PCUSA.
At the same town hall meeting, one Presbytery representative was asked about John Shuck, a PCUSA pastor in Tennessee who denies the authority of Scripture. This representative said Shuck should be reprimanded by the PCUSA and that he would call the Presbytery Executive in Tennessee about this matter. Why should he be reprimanded? Here’s a quotation from his blog 
Take for example, me. I think the Bible is wrong about most everything. It is wrong about evolution, slavery, women, and gays. It has no authority on those topics. I think the Bible is wrong about cosmology, history, our future, Jesus, and God. The texts were all written by human beings without any supernatural or special revelation. Yet I preach in a PC (USA) pulpit. . . .The Bible contains no truth outside of what we can discover through public means of inquiry. Don't misunderstand. I enjoy the Bible. It is a marvelous human book. I read it and study it with all the critical means at my disposal. In so doing, I will do my part to undermine its Authority which I think is the next important step for religious freedom.
You should be shocked at this. But you should even be more shocked that within two weeks of that town hall meeting at First Presbyterian, North Palm Beach, John Shuck was elected by his Presbytery to be a commissioner to this summer’s PC (USA) General Assembly in Pittsburgh.

There used to be a day when this honor of attending General Assembly was reserved for pastors and elders who actually believed in the essential tenets of the Reformed faith. The fact that we do not have the courage as a denomination to name heresy and discipline those holding it is surely a sign of spiritual decay.
This is already starting to get a little creepy.  I don't know any of these people.  Yet I am being quoted and used as one of their reasons to justify leaving.  I appear to be popular with this particular church.  Also on its website, of the Top Ten Reasons that the Session is Unanimously Recommending You Vote Yes on April  29th (that is vote yes on leaving the PCUSA), I am reason number four!
4. We confess in the words of the Apostles Creed our belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and our pastor’s preach that truth every Easter. Many PC (USA) seminaries who train our future pastors, do not agree.  To cite just one of many examples, Douglas Ottati who taught theology at Union Seminary in Virginia for 30 years and now teaches at Davidson College, affirms “the resurrection,” but what he means by that is “a continuing presence” of Christ in the lives of his disciples. He says that the disciples “experienced” Christ’s presence after his death, although it is not clear how he differentiates this experience from a residual memory.  Recognizing that his denial of the bodily resurrection might become a problem, Ottati wrote in a paper distributed among his seminary colleagues: “I am not insensitive to the fact that my interpretation yields few hard and fast rules for the preacher at Easter.” Ministers like John Shuck in Tennessee, James Rigby in Texas and countless others teach this doctrine from their pulpit. They rightly perceive that a culture of theological pluralism is firmly entrenched in the PCUSA, a denomination which by forfeiting clear theological boundaries has therefore welcomed a multiplicity of divergent and often contradictory faiths. They also know that binding PC (USA) case law [Hick, Kasemann] protects them and their heterodox views.
Notice the meme of rejecting the bodily resurrection, which is one of the fundamentals.  In this meme my name gets attached to theologian, Douglas Ottati, Jim Rigby, and others.   In this pdf, Five Solas, from First Presbyterian Church of Yakima, Washington, the church admits it copied this document from another church.   My name alone without any reference is sufficient to transmit the meme.
In recent years, several PCUSA ministers have publicly declared their inability to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Among them are John Shuck in Elizabethton, TN, Rob Martin in Palo Alto, CA, Helen Dekker, in the Presbytery of West Jersey, and James Rigby, of Austin, TX. Says Rigby: “The resurrection took place when the community was born. What rose was the body of Christ. Maybe a body got up; I don’t care. That’s not the point … It’s a symbol of something deeper … What these symbols are talking about are not things that happened; they are things that are always true. The Resurrection is happening now. … Heaven is not another world someplace else. It’s a profound understanding of this world, of that which is not born and that which does not die.”...

The meme has been established.

Here is a lengthy rationale from the Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.  This is from the blandly titled Questions for the Denominational Relations Committee.  I am listed under bullet point 38 along with others "who have made public statements that question the Divinity of Jesus, His bodily resurrection, and/or salvation only by His atonement."   Here is the list:
Rev. Mansfield Kaseman
Paul Capetz (former Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary at Richmond)
Rev. Helen Dekker
Rev. John Shuck
Rev. Robert Martin
Rev. James Rigby and one of his congregation’s members, Robert Jensen
Pearl S. Buck (novelist and Presbyterian missionary)
Rev. Dirk Ficca
Anna Case-Winters (Assoc. Professor of Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary)
Douglas Ottati (Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary at Richmond)

I am in good company including Pearl S. Buck!  I read The Good Earth when I was in 9th grade.   If this congregation needs to leave the denomination because of Pearl S. Buck, they are a bit long-suffering as she was a missionary in the 1920s.   That is just funny.

This is from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach, Florida.   This is a pdf, Michael's Reflections with a link on the church's website.
I am convinced that the majority of PCUSA leaders still believe in the Lordship of Christ, but it is disheartening to learn of how tolerant the denomination has become of heresy. Several months ago I discovered the blog of a fellow PCUSA pastor, John Shuck: Because his blog openly denies the essentials of the Christian faith, and because he describes how his congregation—First Presbyterian of Elizabethton—celebrates pagan festivals, I initial thought the blog was satire, like Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.” But after months of reading “Shuck and Jive,” his heresy is no joke. For example:

“I do not mean this as an insult, but I find much of our modern theological work little more than dealing in antiquities. The Trinity, the person of Christ, the sacraments, the authority of the Bible, eschatology, and so forth were invented in the pre‐modern era and are best suited for that time period.” (June 11, 2011)

We are enjoying some new rituals at your favorite little pagan church in the woods. Actually, we are a little bit pagan, a little bit Christian, and a little bit rock and roll. Sunday night at 6:15 p.m. we are having a ritual to celebrate Lammas…a harvest festival, marking the end of the period of summer growth and the beginning of the autumn harvest. (Aug 5, 2011)
I’m not surprised when I encounter non‐Christians with these views, but as tolerant as the PCUSA has become of heresy, John Shuck’s public denials of Christian orthodoxy are nonetheless shocking.

So why does Holston Presbytery (the body to which Rev. John Shuck is accountable) allow him to be a Minister of the Word and Sacrament? Apparently there aren’t enough elders and pastors in that presbytery who believe strongly enough about the Gospel of Jesus Christ or care deeply enough about the integrity of the PCUSA to shuck Shuck! While this is an extreme example, the trend towards accepting heresy is accelerating.
Our denomination’s loss of biblical authority, manifested prominently as confusion over sexual standards for leaders, will likely sink the denomination.
That was a colorful rant.  Most of the larger churches aren't quite as colorful and tend to be more measured in their criticism of the denomination.  But the smaller ones are more fun to read.  They retain the passion.  I think collecting and analyzing these statements would make for an interesting paper, a bullet point in our denomination's history.

Friday, June 01, 2012

PCUSA to Stand on the Side of Love

This Sunday, June 3rd, is More Light Sunday.

More Light Sunday and Evolution Sunday are two of my favorites.  Here are sermons I preached on More Light Sundays Past, 2011, 2010.    In 2010, our Peacemaking Committee devoted their table to getting rid of our discriminatory policies.    That worked out nicely.    This year marriage equality.  Let's make it happen.

This year we are not celebrating More Light Sunday on the first Sunday of June.   Instead, it will be on Sunday July 1st with Rev. Don Steele preaching.  I'll be at General Assembly doing my part to move our denomination closer to a church that stands on the side of equality and justice.  

This year the theme is Standing on the Side of Love

That is a good place to stand. 

I am pleased that the PC(USA) is making positive changes for equality.   Even though some mock, ridicule, bully, and bear false witness, they are in the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong, "loud but not deep."  

Our denomination is making the better choice, a choice for equality and justice, and that is standing on the side of love.