Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Time for a Theological Upgrade?

I wrote a post for the Presbyterian Voices for Justice, Fall 2015 Network News.  It is "A Call to the Entire Church." You will find it on pages 4-7.

I respond to the moderator's "call to the church."  I think this would be a great time to explore theology and to make official what many of us do anyway, and that is be open to a wide variety of beliefs, including non-theism.    The Jesus Seminar is talking about this with their new God and the Human Future Seminar.  Coming to Beaverton, November 6-7!

They are asking whether or not "God" has a future.  Many people are asking including many in our pews and many who have left the pews because our dogma is dated.    I think we need to make space to talk about it.   Here is what I wrote...


In a recent issue of the Presbyterian Outlook, Moderator Heath Rada, has issued “A Call to the Church.” 

He is calling for
“A churchwide discussion to assess the will of the PC(USA) that would be led by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. The Office of the General Assembly is expected to make an announcement soon of how that will work.”
Why? He said:
“There is a profound and rapid change in the world around us that has put the Church’s relevance (not just PCUSA but the entire Church) in question in ways we have not seen in our lifetime."
I am full agreement on both points. The world has changed and we need to talk about it. I can’t be sure exactly what “rapid and profound change” Moderator Rada has in mind, but I think it has to do with theology. I think our theology is still in the 17th century while we live in the 21st century. The dogmas of our religious heritage do not meet the challenges of the world presented to us by science and by social science. All of the beliefs we are supposed to affirm such as Creation, Virgin Birth, Resurrection of the body of Jesus, miracles, original sin, atonement, heaven and hell, and a supernatural interventionist god called God are metaphors.  At least that’s what I think. I also think many church members and teaching elders think like I do even as for various reasons they are not able to say it clearly.  (Read More)


A concrete change to make is to change radically the ordination questions.  They turn people off and drive people away.   My session is already sending three resolutions to the presbytery about fossil fuel divestment, recommitting to social justice, and evolution.  Another to remove the first four ordination questions is too much for one day.  But maybe someone else will send such an overture.  

I think it is time.  What do you think?   Or perhaps more to the point, what is the purpose of the ordination questions and what do they mean to you?

Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture

The session of Southminster Presbyterian Church, Beaverton, Oregon at its October 15th meeting concurred with the session of First Presbyterian Church, Central Point, Oregon to request that Cascades Presbytery send the following overture to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
2016 PCUSA Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture Recommendation
The session of First Presbyterian Church, Central Point, Oregon requests the Presbytery of the Cascades send an overture the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to:
1. Express its profound concern about the destructive effects of climate change on all God’s 
creation, including a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty and in the least developed countries; the elderly and children; and those least responsible for the emissions of greenhouse gases. The 222nd General Assembly (2016) thus recognizes the moral mandate for humanity to shift to a sustainable energy regime in a way that is both just and compassionate. This mandate compels us to action as a denomination to divest from the fossil fuel industry even as we reduce our use of fossil fuels and shrink our carbon footprint. 

2. Call upon the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation to:
a.                    Immediately stop any new direct investment in fossil fuel companies 

b.                   Work to ensure that within three years, none of the Board’s or the Foundation’s directly held or commingled assets includes holdings of either equities or corporate bonds in the fossil fuel companies identified in the Carbon Underground 200 list1 by:
i.                                       Working with current and prospective asset managers to develop and implement institutional fossil free investment options 

ii.                                     Establishing within one year fossil free investment options for fund participants 

iii.                                    Actively seeking out and investing in renewable and energy efficiency related securities 

iv.                                    Notwithstanding the above provisions, retaining or acquiring minimal sufficient investment in fossil fuel companies to participate in shareholder engagement activities 

v.                                     Notwithstanding the above provisions, taking no action inconsistent with fiduciary duty or principles of sound investment, including the real and substantial risk of stranded carbon assets 

c.  Incorporate into public financial reports regular updates detailing progress made towards these ends.
3. Call upon the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) to inform affected fossil fuel companies and the larger public of the passage and implementation of this resolution
4. Call upon, and provide instructional materials to assist all levels of the denomination (presbyteries, congregations, and individual members) in taking action to slow climate change, including: divestment of fossil fuel holdings; shareholder activism; investments in renewable energy; advocacy at local, state, and federal levels for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and local efforts to reduce carbon footprint consistent with the 2006 call2 for denominational carbon neutrality, and the 2008 “Power to Change” recommendations.3

2016 PCUSA Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture Rationale
In 1981, our church made clear through the document “The Power to Speak Truth to Power” the importance of transitioning away from a fossil fuel based economy.
In 2008, our church made clear through the document “The Power to Change” that the catastrophic effects of Climate Change make this transition essential to the preservation of human life and God’s good creation.
For over two decades, our church’s committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment has engaged in shareholder action with fossil fuel companies. They have done an exemplary job, but have made no impact in addressing Climate Change. When the best people we have make so little progress, the fault lies with an intractable industry, obsessed with profit at the expense of creation.
Our church has voiced support for legislation addressing the need to transition to a fossil free economy, but has no power to enact it. Our church has voiced support for taxes on carbon emissions, but has no power to levy them. Our church has voiced the need for all members of our denomination to do what they can at an individual level, but individuals acting alone can do little to shift the course of an entire economy.
Our church invests hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil fuel companies.
We, as Christians, have the privilege, responsibility, and obligation to speak with moral authority on issues of great importance. However, the power and clarity of prophetic voice is easily stained by hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Many claim that it is inconsistent to divest from fossil fuels while we are members of a society that is addicted to them. This is true. But it is equally inconsistent to attempt to rehabilitate that society while invested in its addiction.
Even as we continue working to mitigate the climate crisis, we must shed the burden of our investments in climate destruction. This act will speak more loudly and more clearly than any prophetic declaration we have voiced to date.
It’s time to put our money where our mouth is. It’s time to divest from fossil fuels.
“Can we hear the grave warnings in reports like this one [Power to Change] from Christians who have carefully studied these matters? And then can we act as stewards of God’s earth, witnessing to Christ in the re-direction of our lives toward a more sustainable future? I pray that we can, and that our church’s good work can help in this great change.”
- Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, April 2009

1 or current equivalent (accessed 06-17-2015)
2 (accessed 06-17-2015)

3 (accessed 06- 17-2015) 

Clergy Letter Project Overture

Did you know that 46% of Americans think that the theory of evolution is contrary to the teachings of their faith?  That does not bode well for the future of Christianity nor for education about science.  It is time for the Presbyterian Church to be a leader and to unequivocally support science.   You don't have to lose your brain to gain your heart.

This overture requests the General Assembly to join other faith bodies, like the Methodists, and endorse the Clergy Letter Project and the Christian Clergy Letter.

I sent it as a commissioner's resolution last time.   This is the speech I gave before the committee so you can understand why so many of us think this is important.   Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, wrote about the decision in his Huffington Post Column, Evolution and the Presbyterian Church (Not Quite the Relationship It Could Be).

This time, I hope it will go as a presbytery overture and carry more weight than I can as an individual.  On October 15th, the session of Southminster Presbyterian Church sent the following overture to Cascades Presbytery.   The change from last time is the removal of Evolution Sunday.

If Cascades approves we will still need another presbytery to concur.  Can you give it a try?

Overture Regarding Endorsing the Clergy Letter Project

The Presbytery of Cascades overtures the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the PC (USA) to

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 13,013 members of Christian Clergy, 514 Rabbis of Judaism, 286 Clergy of Unitarian Universalists, and 25 Buddhist Clergy 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.


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. According to a Gallup Poll in May 2014, 46% of Americans think that evolution is “inconsistent with [their] religious 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.  It is important for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be clear that people do not need to reject Evolution to affirm their faith.

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 over 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.

A Gospel Vision for the Church

The Session of Southminster Presbyterian Church of Beaverton, Oregon at its October 15th meeting approved the following overture to be sent to Cascades Presbytery.   Thanks to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and my friend and justice-seeker, Aric Clark, for drafting this!

This is pretty much the opposite of an overture that was sent by Foothills Presbytery.   Check Gene TeSelle's column in the Fall Network News for an analysis of that overture (p. 8).

We need more action for social justice and more voices heard, not less.

A Gospel Vision for the Church

Overture on choosing to be a church committed to the gospel of Matthew 25

The Presbytery of  Cascades overtures the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the PC (USA) to:

Recommit ourselves at the congregational, the mid-council governing bodies, and the national levels of our church to locate ourselves with the poor, to advocate with all of our voice for the poor, and to seek opportunities to take risks for and with the poor (in the soup kitchens and catholic worker houses, among the immigrants, with those working to end mass incarceration, and with those who seek to protect all of us, especially the poorest of the poor around the world, from the vagaries of climate change).

Call on our churches to commit to a year of bible study focused on issues of social justice. 

Call on our Presbyteries and Synods to examine their own practice, placing these commitments at the center of their concerns, and to streamline the way that issues of immediate significance can be forwarded to the General Assembly by adopting procedures so that overtures and proposals on peacemaking and social justice concerns from sessions and committees may be considered quickly. 

Facilitate the processes by which these concerns can be brought before us as a national body by resisting new barriers to overture submissions such as additional concurrences, tighter deadlines, or new overture topic restrictions at any General Assembly.

Commit to focusing a significant block of the time alloted for future General Assemblies on creating opportunities in consultation with the Committees on Local Arrangements to engage all of the commissioners, delegates, and observers in acts of service to and with communities at risk.

Assure that there are voices of those who are most at risk from within our church and outside of it (including interfaith voices), who are invited to share with and challenge the assembly, both in the plenary and committee sessions. 

Create a “cycle of social engagement” that will assure that concerns around confronting racism, environmental concerns, standing against violence and militarism, and advocating for the dispossessed come before the Assembly on a regular and consistent basis, soliciting overtures from presbyteries before each General Assembly on topics of the most immediate concern. 


This is a moment of great opportunity for our church. Momentum is building within our denomination and throughout our society to courageously confront the challenges of our time. A new Civil Rights movement, a new Peace movement, a new Economic Justice movement is on the rise and we are in a position to stand in solidarity with the poor in a uniquely powerful way. It is a time for us to define who we will be for decades to come. May we choose to be a church committed to the gospel of Matthew 25:

In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids Jesus tells a story about the church waiting for the moment of the Lord’s arrival. Some of those who are waiting are prepared when the time comes, and some are not. The zeitgeist of our age is one of rapidly changing and endlessly creative activism exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement. Let us be like the bridesmaids whose lamps are trimmed - ready to seize the moment.

In the Parable of the Talents Jesus tells a story about a bold slave who was punished for refusing to participate in the empire value of domination. Increasingly we see brave individuals and groups calling out the powerful and standing against the rampant exploitation in our marketplaces, in our prisons, and on our streets. Let us resist evil like that slave, and go stand on the margins of society - in the outer darkness.

In the Parable of the Judgment of the Nations Jesus tells a story about how he is encountered among “the least” - the poorest, the most isolated, the imprisoned, the sick, and the hungry. We hear with sober conviction Jesus declaring that a church which fails to serve with and for the poor does not know Him. We agree with Pope Francis who stated that a church that is not actively supporting and serving the needs of the poor has no right to call itself church at all and should be prepared to give up its tax-exempt status to operate as a church. Let us be counted among the sheep who met their King as a stranger.

We see the Spirit blowing through our society, bringing to fruition seeds of peace and justice long dormant. The harvest will be plentiful. Let us heed the call to service, and recommit ourselves to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in deeds as well as in words.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Does God Have A Future? Find Out at Southminster!

I am thrilled about our Jesus Seminar on the Road, November 6th and 7th at Southminster.  Southminster has been hosting JSORs each year for years.   This one could be the most interesting yet.  Here is what I sent to the media:

Southminster Presbyterian Church of Beaverton welcomes religious scholars Thomas Sheehan of Stanford University and Jeffrey Robbins of Lebanon Valley College to a “Jesus Seminar on the Road” November 6th and 7th. The weekend conference is called “God, Christianity, and the Human Future.” 
The supernatural, interventionist understanding of God is no longer credible in a modern understanding of the universe. Galileo put this god out of a home and Darwin put “God” out of a job. What do we mean by God today? Has God any value for humanity? What about Christianity? 
In a significant departure from traditional emphases on beliefs concerning Jesus and the confession of creeds, modern scholarship talks about Christianity as an attitude. What does that mean? And is religion an inevitable part of the human experience? In what ways does religion challenge and change humanity? 
Westar Institute - home of the Jesus Seminar - invites members of the general public into conversation with scholars of religion at national and regional events throughout the year. These events provide opportunities for scholars to discuss questions that matter about religion with people from diverse backgrounds and interests.
Here is the website to register!  Hope to see you and bring a friend!

Catch my interview with Jeffrey Robbins via podcast beginning Sunday October 25th!

Thomas Sheehan is Professor, Department of Religious Studies, at Stanford University, and the author of many books including Making Sense of Heidegger (2014), Becoming Heidegger (rev. 2011), and The First Coming (1986). Sheehan's interests in biblical history and exegesis include first-century Christianity and early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic.
Jeffrey W. Robbins is Chair and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College, where he also serves as the director of the American Studies program and the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Awarded the Thomas Rhys Vickroy Award for Outstanding Teaching at LVC in 2005, Robbins is the author or editor of eight books, including the forthcoming Radical Theology: A Theological Method for Change.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Gifts of the Dark Wood, Worship Guide for Fall 2015

Here is the plan for worship for the Fall based on a new book by Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Darkwood:  Seven Blessings For Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers).   An interview with Eric about his book is upcoming on Religion For Life!

Worship Guide for Autumn 2015, Via Negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)

October 11th through December 20th

Summer—      Path 1:  via positiva (the way of awe and wonder)
Fall—              Path 2:  via negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)
Winter—        Path 3:  via creativa (the way of creativity and imagination)
Spring—         Path 4:  via transformativa (the way of justice-making)

During Autumn we travel the spiritual path of the via negativa, the way of letting go and letting be.   This is the path, while often not chosen, that leads to self-awareness and spiritual growth.   It is the path of darkness, silence, pruning, and emptying.   It is the negation of images, the deconstruction of beliefs and truths, and the stripping away of certainties, so that we are vulnerable and open to a direction and calling. 

Our guide this season will be a book by Eric Elnes called Gifts of the Dark Wood:  Seven Blessings For Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers).  Eric was a year ahead of me at Princeton and now is the pastor of Countryside Community Church (UCC) in Omaha, Nebraska.  In 2006, Eric walked 2,500 miles from Phoenix to Washington D.C. to promote awareness of progressive Christianity.   He hosts an interactive weekly webcast called Darkwood Brew.

He has just published his latest book in which he uses Dark Wood as a metaphor for the place of “awakening and discovery.”  The things that we find in the Dark Wood that we might judge as bad or unpleasant, are if we pay attention, gifts.   He writes about seven gifts or blessings of the Dark Wood:  uncertainty, emptiness, being thunderstruck, getting lost, temptation, disappearing, and misfits. 

I will spend a Sunday on each of these blessings or gifts—gifts of the Dark Wood.    Let’s enter the Dark Wood and see what we find. 

If you have a creative element (poem, song, children’s sermon, etc.) for one of the services, it will be most welcome!   Look up the readings and if something sparks your creativity, send an email to me.

October 11th                Entering the Dark Wood                               

Theme:                        The Dark Wood Is As Light To God                      
Scripture:                    Psalm 139:7-12

This Sunday will be an invitation to enter the Dark Wood.   What is that invitation?  What are we invited to do?  We are invited to recognize that where we are right now, with all of our bruises and faults, insecurities and broken dreams, is where we are.    And no matter where we flee we are still here, as the psalmist writes:  “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”  God’s presence is the Dark Wood.   The invitation is to discover its blessing.
October 18th                Rev. Don Ludwig Leads Worship

October 25th               

Theme:                        Uncertainty
Scripture:                    1 Corinthians 13:11-12

In Paul’s famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13, he admits that he “knows only in part; then I will know fully….”  Then.  It is a statement of trust and acceptance that we live in ambiguity and uncertainty.   We don’t know what will happen and for the most part, we can’t control it.  But uncertainty is a gift of the Dark Wood.   When we have as the Buddhists call it, a “beginner’s mind” we can be open to possibility, a gift denied us when we think we “know it all.”      

November 1st              Nancy Ellen Abrams:  A God That Could Be Real

We stop at a rest area in the Dark Wood and welcome Nancy Ellen Abrams via Skype to worship.  She will engage with us about her book, A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.   This book was our summer “Southminister Reads” selection and we are thrilled to have the author share with us her insights and field your questions. 

November 8th                        

Theme:                        Emptiness
Scripture:                    Thomas 97

Jesus tells a parable about a woman who is walking down the road with a jar full of meal.  She doesn’t realize it, but the jar breaks and the meal pours out.  She arrives home with an empty jar.  Jesus says the realm of God is like that.  Huh?  Emptiness is a gift of the Dark Wood.  

November 15th           

Theme:                        Being Thunderstruck
Scripture:                    1 Kings 19:11-13

In the ancient world thunder and lightning were viewed as signs that the gods had something to say.  Today, we might call it a flash of insight.  One of the gifts of the Dark Wood is the moment of awareness, an “aha” moment.    Call it the voice of God, call it insight, call it as Ebeneezer Scrooge did, “bit of undigested beef,” but it could be calling you!
November 22nd           Reign of Christ           

Theme:                        Getting Lost
Scripture:                    Matthew 2:1-2

Wendell Berry is a wise man.  He said, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”  Being lost in the Dark Wood does not feel like a gift.   But like the wise men who came from the East looking for Jesus, sometimes you have ask directions. 

November 29th           Advent One

Theme:                        Temptation
Scripture:                    Luke 4:1-13

Usually we begin Lent with the story of Jesus tempted in the wilderness.   Since we are lost in the Dark Wood, we’ll mix it up a bit and begin Advent with this story.   The Dark Wood is a place where “the adversary” wants to mess with us, to test us, to tempt us, not to do bad things, but as Eric Elnes points out in his book, to do the things that are not ours to do.    

December 6th              Advent Two

Theme:                        Disappearing
Scripture:                    Luke 4:14-30

Eric Elnes writes in this chapter, “refuse to let any situation or circumstance mark you in a way that does not reflect your highest identity.  You must disappear.” P. 129.   We disappear to the allure of a false self.   That is a gift of the Dark Wood.   This is knowing when to let go and let be.

December 13th            Advent Three

Theme:                       Misfits
Scripture:                   Luke 6:20-21

We need companions.  The best companions are those who have “spent a little longer in the Dark Wood than you have” writes Eric Elnes.  P. 157.    The Dark Wood is best travelled with another, with someone who has been there, who knows.    Sometimes we enter a club we would never want to enter, but it is what it is.  We take our place with the other broken misfits.  It is home. 

December 20th            Advent Four

The children will present a program during worship.