Shuck and Jive

Friday, May 29, 2015

BYOS (Bring Your Own Sermon)

In addition to Southminster Reads, members and attendees of Southminster Presbyterian Church are invited to Bring Your Own Sermon by asking me a question or picking the sermon topic.    Submit a question or sermon topic to Mary, our administrative guru, and she will send it on anonymously to me.   I will arrange the questions or topics over the course of the summer from June 21st through September 20th.  

The sanctuary will be set up around tables.  After the sermon you will have the chance to discuss around the table.  After the worship service ends, grab a cup of coffee and join back in the sanctuary for an open discussion so you can offer me your thoughts.  

What kinds of questions might someone ask?   You can ask me to address an ethical issue or a theological question.  You can ask me to preach on a text in the Bible.  You can ask me about Progressive Christianity, God, Jesus, whatever you like.  

If you ask me questions that are beyond my pay grade (ie. particle physics) you will get what you pay for.  That said, I am putting no limit on the questions or topics.  You can get personal, too.   For example,

"I am confused about your views on God, could you explain?"  
"What is your view of afterlife?"
"Who is Jesus for you?"
"How did the death of your son impact your faith?"

You can ask about our community.

"What do you see our church becoming?"
"Does organized Christianity have a future?"
"What is the church's calling in light of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Overpopulation?"
"Should the church embrace non-violence?"

You can ask about daily life matters.

"How can I better communicate with my spouse?"
"How can the church be a resource for people caring for aging parents."
"I am having a hard time making ends meet.  Will the church accept me if I don't have much to give?"

Get the idea?  Ask the big questions.  Ask the small questions.  Ask the hard questions.  It's all good.

Now, I am just one guy, a simple country preacher.  I don't pretend to have answers to all of these questions!  I will give them my best shot and then open the table to the wisdom of the community (which is far smarter than the wisdom of any individual).  

I think this will be an opportunity for you to get to know me and for me to know you.    It might be an opportunity for us to dream a little and catch a vision.   All in the spirit of fun and learning which is a big part of what Southminster is all about!

Send Mary an email soon.  The hard, fast deadline is June 10th.

Southminster Reads

This summer, Southminster Reads!

Modeled on Oregon Reads, and Everybody Reads, Southminster will read a book over the summer and we will engage that book in worship and discussion on my birthday, August 30th, 2015!   (Don't tell anyone it is my birthday).

Since it is my birthday and I am the pastor, I get to choose the book.  We are reading Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet.    
According to Abrams, we’ve all grown up so steeped in tradition, whether we’ve accepted it or rebelled against it, that it’s hard to grasp that the chance to re-define God is actually in our hands. “But it is,” she proclaims, “and the way we do it will play a leading role in shaping the future of civilization.”
Did you get that?  Re-defining God is in our hands.

The concept of God is always evolving.  The first two chapters of Genesis demonstrate this.  Think of how the concept of God or gods has changed over the course of human history.   Human beings are constantly in the process of re-defining God.   We are often less than honest with ourselves about that.   Yes, our conceptions of God are the result of human cultural evolution.

OK.  So, if we "made up" God, why not forget "God" altogether and move on then?  Some do.  But think about that.  Must we do that?   "God" is a powerful symbol.  It is not going away anytime soon.  Perhaps we can reclaim and re-define the symbol.   All of our language and symbols are products of cultural evolution.  There is no reason to throw out our stories just because we know they are stories.   We don't throw out "Love" just because we created the concept.  We don't throw out language just because we developed language.   We don't throw out mathematics just because we invented numbers.  All of these things are from us but bigger than us.  They are realities that have emerged and are emerging.

What do our God stories tell us about ourselves?  They tell us that we aspire.   We aspire to learn.  We aspire to achieve justice.  We aspire to love.   We aspire to be in awe.  We aspire to goodness.  We aspire to transform ourselves and the world. Those aspirations are real and they have a "life of their own" so to speak.   Together as a human community we make meaning and seek to name these growing, evolving aspirations that in turn shape us.   Perhaps that emerging reality is worthy of the name God.  Abrams writes:
"This God did not create the universe—it created the meaning of the universe."
I had a chance to meet Nancy Ellen Abrams and her husband, Joel Primack at a conference a few years ago.  (In case you are wondering, I am the guy on the right with the hair).

I invited them to be on Religion For Life to talk about their book, The New Universe and the Human Future:  How A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World You can listen to that interview here.

I am thrilled to share this new book with Southminster and to hear your thoughts about it and about the project of re-defining God.

Fascinating?  Yes.  Controversial?  Absolutely.  Fun summer reading?  No question!

Pick up the book from your favorite retailer and enjoy the conversation we will have on August 30th.  I will also talk with her about A God That Could Be Real in a couple of weeks on Religion For Life!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


In my post on a belief-less Christianity over at the Friendly Atheist, I talked about BYOG (Bring Your Own God).   Some commenters say that BYOG is idolatry, making God in our own image.

The criticism as I understand it, is that the correct image of God has been revealed to us by God himself.  Consult the holy texts.  Moses, Mohammad, and the Apostles already got the divine memo and we just need to read it, believe it, and stay on message.

This was a huge debate when I was in seminary.  Since most images of God had been male (i.e. Father, Son, and Mr. Holy Ghost) expanding the range to include feminine as well as masculine images met with charges of idolatry.   I was on the expand the images team.  I consider myself in good company.

Higher criticism of scriptural texts demythologized them.   This has led an increasing number of people to regard these texts as products of human creativity.   All images of God are our images.   Is there a place for revelation?   Whatever you call it, revelation or evolution, Life is change.

Who decides that revelation stopped somewhere in the past?   I call any claim that revelation (or evolution) has ended, idolatry.  Idolatry is accepting someone else's version of God without doing your homework.

A.A. knows better.
Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives our to the care of God as we understood Him [sic].
That is a clear a statement of BYOG as I have heard.   God can be everything from an inner voice, to the community, to gravity, to humanity's emerging aspirations.  It is whatever keeps you sober.  

Another point:  just because you BYOG that doesn't mean you will leave with the same G.   You will meet others who have brought their G or are skeptical about G altogether.  They may have an idea that disturbs you or enlightens you and changes your G.   The various Gs in our various spiritual traditions might provide challenge or comfort to your ideas as well.

Any claims that BYOG is soft-pedaling or idolatrous is missing the point.  BYOG requires spiritual maturity, creativity, courage, and hard work.

So BYOG, my beloveds! You have permission and you are welcome!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Soaring Nones

The Pew Forum study is out.  "The Nones" continue to soar.

Nationwide, the "Unaffiliated" have increased their market share from 16% to 22.8%.   In my neck of the woods, that number is 42%. According to another study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute,  Portland, Oregon is America's Most Religiously Unaffiliated Metro

Of these unaffiliated, 43% do not believe in God.  That is compared to 10% of all Americans.

68% of the unaffiliated "completely disagree" with this statement: "It is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values."

It seems that the concept of "God" and "belief in God" is a problem for a significant number of people.  This is a legitimate question that we practicing theologians need to raise.   Is Christianity tied to a particular concept of God?   This topic needs to be raised in the church in a safe environment free from charges of violating "ordination vows" and what all.

I declare that it is time for a full discussion about God within the Presbyterian Church (USA).  

God is on the table for dissection.  How has the concept of God evolved?  Does the concept have a future?  Is there a reality to what this concept points?  Is it possible to retain the concept of God in a modern understanding of the universe?  Can we be Presbyterians with or without God?

I am going to do my part in rousing up the deity discussion.  If you haven't read my article in the Friendly Atheist yet, check it out.   You should also visit the website of my friend and radical theologian, Gretta Vosper.  She's poking the hornet's nest north of the border.

Here is a start to the discussion.

This summer, we are doing a program called Southminster Reads.  I received the privilege of picking the book!  We will read it over the summer and I will do a sermon on it in September.    It is Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God That Could Be Real:  Science, Spirituality, and the Future of Our Planet.  I recorded an interview with her about the book that will be coming up on Religion For Life in June.

For a sneak peak into what this God might be like read her articles, part 1 and part 2 at NPR. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Embracing Change

The LayMAN continues to think that I am interesting.   They wish to introduce me to Moderator Heath Rada.   We have met already.   I interviewed him and his wife, Peggy, on Religion For Life.   He and Peggy have done great work for the church.   The LayMAN thinks they "got him" when he says that ministers like me all say "yes" to ordination questions.   The LayMAN thinks it can't possibly be true because we aren't all fundamentalists like they are.

The LayMAN and its fan club are not that different from the demonstrators who shouted niceties at us on Palm Sunday.

Those gentlemen made their own video of their "rebuke" of us.  They say similar things that you find in the comment section of the LayMAN:
Gleeful Elbow: "John Shuck is an eruption, sort of like a boil, of the “infection plaguing this denomination. The fact that no governing body is willing to lance the infection and drain the puss means the PCUSA will grow more and more septic."

Don: "I have a quibble regarding the title of this article. Instead of “Rev. John Shuck”, it should just be “John Shuck”. “Reverend” is an adjective that does not describe him."

Roy H. Koerner: "I have read John Shuck’s blog. He should immediately be brought up on charges and subsequently defrocked. How can we maintain an evil liar and unbeliever in our midst."

Dr. Patricia Slomanski: "I wonder if it is possible for our Lord Jesus Christ to pick up the entire PCUSA Headquarters in Louisville and throw it into the lake of fire. I hope so. Let’s hope the ringleaders of this apostasy as [sic] in it when this happens….including John Schuck [sic]."

Loren Golden: "May God have mercy on his soul."
With a signboard and a milk jug megaphone they can audition for the Portland Street Preachers.

The author of the article, Paula Kincaid, fuels the vitriol with her libelous statements:
"...[Shuck] has done precisely what the moderator says is not happening: Presbyterian ministers are knowingly lying and taking ordination vows in jest."
"...Rev. John Shuck and others who have taken their ordination vows with a giggle and a wink."
I do not answer my ordination questions by lying, jesting, giggling, or winking.  I take my promises to be a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister seriously.   Not only do I see no contradiction between these questions and my work, but my work is the fulfillment of these questions.   I take seriously our language of faith and seek to interpret it for today with "energy, intelligence, imagination and love."  That is also true for other clergy who are accused of "lying" and "giggling" their way through the ordination questions.

The LayMAN and the Portland Street Preachers seem to think that the only way a person could honor ordination questions or even be a Christian is to embrace magical thinking and deny science.   How literal is one supposed to be regarding liturgical and confessional language that was created in the pre-modern world?   Are Father, Son, and Holy Ghost playing croquet somewhere northeast of the Milky Way?   Does Dr. Slomansky truly think that a divine being, Jesus Christ, could literally pick up a building in Louisville, Kentucky and toss it into a lake of fire?   It is a challenge to understand the mind of a fundamentalist.   How literal are they, really?

It is most certainly a challenge to reinterpret Christian symbols that were created in the premodern era.   It is a challenge that I think we must accept.   Does saying "yes" to ordination questions require ordained officers to deny science and higher criticism of scripture?  If so, then, yes, the questions are anachronistic.  They certainly are used that way by people who wish to keep us trapped in the 17th century.   I think the ordination questions are about something altogether different.  They are a commitment to honor our tradition as we look toward our future.    I think my own statement of faith (conveniently preserved in pdf by the LayMAN) reflects this commitment.

What is happening is that the PCUSA is embracing change.   The LayMAN and friends were on the wrong side of the LGBTQ justice movement and they are angry and they feel persecuted.  They are on the wrong side of theology as well.   They will get a great deal more angry before they finally realize that the PCUSA has left them behind.   The PCUSA is saying that we are in the 21st century.   We are reexamining our symbols of faith for this exciting and challenging new era.   Our theology  is catching up with reality.

This important work of theological innovation is what I do with my radio show, Religion For Life.    Check it out!

Religion For Life has a new home, KBOO in Portland!  Here is my podcast page on KBOO.   You can subscribe to podcasts here.   Radio stations WETS/Johnson City, TN, WEHC/Emory, VA, and KZUM/Lincoln, NE continue to carry the show.   Please ask your favorite public, community, or college station to carry it, too!

Recent guests include Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God:  The Faith Journey of A Modern Heretic.

Doug Pagitt, Flipped:  The Provocative Truth That Changes Every Thing We Know About God.

Carolyn Baker,  Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse:  Cultivating the Relationships We Need to Thrive.

Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday:  Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

John Dominic Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis through Revelation.

Harvey Cox, How to Read the Bible.

Nancy Ellen Abrams, A God that Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.

Good stuff!  If you have ideas for guests, do let me know by emailing me.

Always appreciative of the LayMAN for the publicity.  Keep it coming!