Sunday, December 1, 2013

From New York With Love

It was a beautiful celebration at historic Sunny's Bar in Brooklyn, New York the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. 

My little girl, Katy, married the love of her life, Amber, and they are now Amber and Katy Shuck.   Their marriage is recognized by the city and state of New York, the Presbyterian Church (USA), Sunny's Bar, family, friends, and Jesus.


It was a lovely service.  

Sunny's Bar has a nice little stage.   They shared their vows, exchanged rings, and I pronounced them married in my unique Presbyterian way.   

The only one missing was our boy.  We sure missed Zach on this day...


And that is how that bittersweet holiday rolls.   Love my girls...


When you're gay, you get two weddings.   While this one was good for the paperwork, in September they will have a bigger celebration in Tennessee.   One of these days, this official marriage license will be recognized everywhere (including Tennessee)...


 Here they are with the proud parents...



We are so proud of our ladies and we wish them at least two lifetimes of happiness!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Frank Shaefer Guilty But Good

I am following with interest the story about the conviction of Rev. Frank Shaefer for officiating at the wedding for his son.   A Methodist court found him guilty of showing "disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church." The church court will pronounce its punishment later today.  It could be a defrocking.  Or it could be a reprimand.


He officiated at the wedding six years ago and just a month before the statute of limitations would have expired, a church member filed a complaint.   The reverend did not advertise that he was officiating at this event but he didn't keep it secret either.

I find this all quite interesting as I plan to officiate at my daughter's wedding in New York a week from Friday.    Because of polity differences, the United Methodist Church as a whole has not progressed as far as other mainline churches including my own, the Presbyterian Church (USA).    We have been able to remove the hurtful language.   Officiating at holy unions are not against our church rules.  I have been doing holy unions for same-gender couples for years.  I advertise it on our church's website.

For Presbyterians, officiating at legal weddings, that is signing marriage licenses, is a bit of a different story. Rev. Jane Spahr, who I have written about and interviewed, was found guilty of violating her ordination vows for marrying gay couples in California.   She was supposed to be rebuked but her presbytery refused to rebuke her.  

Many PCUSA ministers have been officiating at same-gender weddings but few charges are ever filed even when they are public.   Three hundred of us clergy types have signed a statement that we will do it  or have done it and we will face the consequences should any arise.   This is that statement:
As a teaching elder in the PCUSA, I have married or am willing to publicly marry same gender couples in my pastoral role, in obedience to my ordination vow to “show the love and justice of Jesus Christ.” Respecting the conscience of fellow Presbyterians, I accept the consequences of this declaration, including the provisions of discipline in our Book of Order.
Yup, that's me and 300 of my closest friends.

We Presbyterians will hopefully end this church court nonsense next summer at the General Assembly when we pass an Authoritative Interpretation that will allow for clergy in their pastoral roles to officiate at same-gender weddings.    Shoot, we may even change the definition of marriage and maybe even the texts of the Bible itself.  God really did create Adam and Steve (and Mike and Tony and Katy and Amber).   So there.

I do feel for the Methodists though.   It is because of polity.  Methodists allow delegates from other continents (like Africa) to vote on their issues so they have a heck of a time moving ahead.   The good news is that high profile people in the Methodist church such as Bishop Talbert, are officiating at same-gender weddings anyway and inviting the rest of the clergy to "just do it."    

That is what it takes in times like these.

------------------

UPDATE:  Rev. Schaefer received a 30 day suspension but is now even more emboldened to be an advocate for LGBT people.  Here is the story.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Wedding Bells

I am looking forward to signing the marriage license for my daughter, Katy, and her betrothed, Amber, the day after Thanksgiving in New York City.   In order to do this I had to be registered with the City of New York.   I had to provide:
  1. A notarized signature to accompany my application.
  2. A copy of my driver's license.
  3. A fifteen dollar money order.
  4. A copy of the cover of my denomination's directory and a copy of the page that listed me as a clergy member in good standing.   I printed and sent a copy of the on-line version.  This is me
Within a week I received this in the mail:


Pretty, huh?  I will sign the license and officiate at the marriage of my daughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law as a PC(USA) minister or teaching elder or whatever it is we are called these days. When the deed is done, if I remember, I will post a pic of the signed marriage license and a pic of the happy couple.

It is worth it for Katy and Amber to get a marriage license even though Tennessee won't recognize it.   This summer's decision by the supreme court will give same-gender couples some federal benefits.    Nevertheless, it is not equal.    Until every state and the federal government recognizes marriage equality, their marriage still will not be the same as mine in the eyes of the law.    Thus it is important to do this and to be public about it.  Every action for equality, both personal and political, is a step toward equality.

Some have asked me if I can do this as a PC(USA) minister.  The answer, 
"Yes, of course.  Watch me."   
 The follow-up question is if I will get in "trouble" for doing this.  The answer is, 
"One can only hope."  
That is the tongue-in-cheek answer.   Truth is I will face whatever consequences come to me.  I have already signed the Stand For Love statement.   How many more statements must I sign before we change these archaic rules?

If someone makes a stink, then I will deal with it and use it as an opportunity to witness to equality.  If no one makes a stink, then I hope that will encourage clergy who are afraid of "getting in trouble" to be bold.   I see it as a win-win.

The bottom line is that this isn't about activism.  This is my daughter.  This is my blood.   Even as I have been active in the equality cause since my daughter was in kindergarten, it is personal now.    In a sense it has been personal for some time as I have worked alongside my sisters and brothers.   But, now, it is really personal.    When it is your child, you take no crap from anyone.  Ever. 

My ultimate loyalty is not to Presbyterian politics.   Hordes of enraged LayMEN couldn't keep me from officiating at my daughter's wedding.   Even if I were to lose my ordination (which won't happen) I am at peace with that. 

The time has come for the country and for the PC(USA) to get on board with reality.   The next General Assembly (to which I am a commissioner) will decide on whether to change the definition of marriage to reflect marriage equality and at the very least they will decide to make it kosher for clergy to officiate at Big Gay Weddings.   

It's all good.

And getting better.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Suicide Loss Rights #2: Stigma

Here is the second Suicide Loss Right by Tony Salvatore with my commentary: 
2. We have the right to be free of stigma. In our society suicide has a negative connotation. This afflicts us as it did those we lost.
Even as I write this, I feel like I am breaking a taboo.  I hear voices telling me not even to use the word "suicide" because I am exposing myself, my family, and Zach to shame.   I remember in broadcasting school we were told that it was inappropriate to use the word "suicide" in newscasts.   Since that time, the media has become more sophisticated.  Here is a media guide for reporting suicides.

I didn't want to talk about Zach's death as suicide.  I still don't.   I want to remember him for the fun, kind, intelligent, handsome, playful, caring boy and man he was.   He also struggled.  That is part of who he was as well.  I remember reading about those who had lost adult children through accident and realizing that I could not fully relate.  It wasn't until I could hear from those who lost someone, especially a child or adult child through suicide that I could start to name my own feelings.    Thankfully, there were suicide survivors who did talk and write about their experience and that encouraged me to do the same.     Doing so has helped me begin to lift that stigma of blame, shame, and judgment.

I am not going to describe the details but at the time the police told us it wasn't a suicide.  I remember the officer at first telling us that we could find some comfort that it wasn't.    That reflects the stigma that it would be "comforting" not being a suicide.    Later the detective and the coroner did come to the conclusion that it, indeed, was suicide.

As time went on we were asked innocent sounding questions like, "Was he getting help?" and "Did you notice any signs?" that just furthered the judgment that we were class A fuckups as parents.  We were "on watch" with him for five years after he had made his first attempt in college.   We brought him to live with us.  We were alone in this.  We didn't tell people why we had brought him home.  We didn't want to make it harder for him.   Yes, we saw the "signs."  We lived with the "signs" and yes he did get "help" and it simply isn't that simple no matter what the "experts" say.  I suppose if I were Dr. Spock or perfect Rev. Lovejoy this wouldn't have happened?  It isn't that simple either.  But that is the stigma that parents are somehow at fault and that if we were "good" parents it wouldn't have happened.  

I have no idea and no one else does either what my son's experience of life was like.    I can guess.  I can partially fantasize about what went on inside him but I cannot know.   One thing that has been helpful regarding the stigma is to use the passive, "He suicided" rather than "He committed suicide."    He was a victim of illness, not a killer of himself.  I am not ashamed of him.  I don't want his memory, to the extent that I have control over it, to be one of shame.   As I see it, he bravely fought demons day in and day out that I will never know.   Finally, they got the best of him.   Ultimately, I can only honor his life and his death.   I wish there had been other options and other choices that he felt he could trust.  I wish he were alive.  I wish he were well.   I am grateful to have had him for as long as I did.

I know the reality of stigma.  I choose to rise above it.  I will choose to hold my head high.    I will choose to talk about his life and his death as I need to do as I feel it is safe for me to do.  I will choose to remember him with pride.  I will remember him with laughter and with tears.  I will honor my son.








Monday, September 23, 2013

Suicide Loss Right #1

I recently posted a series of blog posts on The Mourner's Bill of Rights.  Now I am posting on Suicide Loss Rights.  Why "rights" language?   I think those of us who grieve losses may feel pressures to grieve in a certain way.   We feel that family, friends, "experts", society, or some other entity real or imagined is setting the parameters for our experience.  

Rights language is strong language, revolutionary and rebellious language, "fightin' words" to assert autonomy.   
"Do not tell me how I feel or how I should feel.  I have the right to feel as I do and express myself as I do."  
Rights language is about changing things.   Whether these things be laws, habits, attitudes or values, rights language demands notice.  
"This isn't right!  People are suffering and the powers that be need to recognize this and hear us out!"
Rights language comes from righteous anger.  For those of us who have experienced loss of a child, and in my case, loss of an adult child to suicide, anger can be common.  I am angry.  Yes, I am angry and I have the right to be angry.  I am not ready to make nice as the Dixie Chicks eloquently put it.  

The challenge of anger is that it requires an object.  Sadness doesn't need an object, not even a reason.  We aren't sad at someone.  Anger needs a someone or a something as a target.   In my experience, I am angry and I don't have a target.  I could make one up.  I could find things and people (including myself) to receive my anger.  I could be angry at Zach or me or the mental health system or the government or the church or God or forest gremlins or the internet or stupid people.   Why not?  It is something to do.   

Another thing to do is to make a list of rights.  I am no political philosopher but I find rights language tentative.  I may have the right to free speech, to bear arms, and to have my own private toilet, until these rights are taken by force or compromised by circumstance.  Then it is just f__ing reality.  I have a right to have my son outlive me.   I can carve that in stone and put it on the courthouse lawn.  Then one day I have a "right" but no son.  

Why am I ranting on rights?  Oh, I don't know.  Rights are a way to cling to something when there is really nothing.  They resemble beliefs.   At the end of the day as I see it I have reality regardless of what I believe or what right I claim.  I can assert myself, use my voice, tell my little truth and try to find a way to survive.   

I translate these "rights" in my own head to simple assertions.  For instance, here is the first of Tony Salvatore's Suicide Loss Rights
  1. We have the right to grieve as we wish despite the unsupportive settings that we often find ourselves. Death is a normal life crisis; suicide is the ultimate abnormal life crisis.

In my head I change that to "I will grieve as I wish despite the unsupportive settings that I often find myself...." and so forth.  If it helps to claim to have a right, then one can claim it, I guess.   I'll just do it. 

The point of number one is that unless people have experienced this type of loss, they don't get it and they would prefer it if you could just get back to normal whether they say so or not.  The only setting that I have found that is truly supportive outside of my immediate family and other suicide survivors is a suicide survivor's group.   That is because we are surviving a unique type of loss.   We get it as no one else can.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that other settings are particularly "unsupportive."   My congregation is a very loving and caring group of people who have supported us in concrete ways.  Other family members and many friends are also supportive and caring.  Nonetheless, they, of course, cannot "get it."   Here is the deal:  no one gets it unless one is in it.   It is a club you never leave.
I don't want people to "get it" because I don't want anyone to go through this.  
That is the paradox of this grief.  On one hand, we want people to get it.  We are angry when they don't get it.  But we really don't want people to "get it" because once you have entered the "get it" club, life is altered forever.   The only way for people to "get it" is to become one of us.  Get it?    I hope you don't and never will.  

It isn't a matter of people not being insightful, or compassionate, or smart, or learned, or being able to relate via similar experience.   I am not in any way judging.  

The point of number one, as I read it, is that we are kind of like the Amish.  Yet we live in an "English" world.  The "English" will never get us.  So, Dear Suicide Survivor (who this post is really for), learn that.   The "English" will always seem unsupportive.   Sometimes they are obviously unsupportive and that is often a topic in our survivor's group.   Mostly, it is because they have their lives to live and they are doing the best they can.  You, on the other hand, have experienced the "ultimate abnormal life crisis."  

Therefore, you have to own your grief and do it your way without expecting the "unsupportive English" to approve, understand, offer good advice, or whatever else we think we would like them to do.   You have to find your own path.   And you will, because you are a survivor.  Believe me, that is no small thing.    
 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Wealth of the Light--A Sermon



The Wealth of the Light
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

September 22, 2013

The Secret Revelation to John
3:12-12; 4:5, 37-38; 5:11-20; 7:1-6, 12

Do not be faint-hearted!
I am the one who dwells with you always.
I am the Father.
I am the Mother.
I am the Son….  

[The Father]
It is the Spirit.  It is not appropriate to think about It as god or that It is something similar.  For It surpasses divinity….  It is the eternity who gives eternalness, the light who gives light, the life who gives life, the blessed one who gives blessedness, the understanding which gives understanding, the ever good one who gives good, the one who does good—not such that It possesses but such that It gives—the mercy which gives mercy, the grace which gives grace.

[The Mother]
In every way It perceived Its own image, seeing it in the pure light-water which surrounds It.  And Its thinking became a thing.  She appeared.  She stood in Its presence in the brilliance of the light; she is the power which is before the All.  It is she who appeared, she who is the perfect Providence-Pronoia of the All, the light, the likeness of the light, the image of the Invisible, she who is the perfect power, Barbelo, the perfect eternal generation of the glory.

[The Son]
Barbelo gazed intently into It, the pure light.  She turned herself toward It.  She gave birth to a spark of blessed light, but it was not equal to her in greatness.  This is the Only-begotten who appeared from the Father, the divine Autogenes, the firstborn son of the All of the Spirit of pure light….  He stood in Its presence, glorying the invisible Spirit and the perfect Pronoia, from whom he had appeared.

Secret Revelation of John 25:1-6; 26:21-33
Therefore I, the perfect Providence-Pronoia of the All, changed into my seed.  For I existed from the first, traveling on every road.  For I am the wealth of the light.  I am the remembrance of the fullness.  I traveled into the vastness of the dark, and I persevered until I entered the midst of the prison….And I entered the midst of their prison, which is the prison of the body.

And I said, ‘Whoever hears, arise from lethargic sleep!’

And he wept, shedding tears; heavy tears he wiped from himself.  And he said, ‘Who is it who calls my name and form where does this hope come to me who am dwelling in the fetters of the prison?’

And I said, ‘I am the Providence-Pronoia of the pure light; I am the thought of the virginal Spirit, the one who raises you to the place of honor.  Arise and remember that you are the one who has heard, and follow your root, which is I, the compassionate.  Fortify yourself against the angels of poverty and the demons of chaos and all those who ensnare you, and be watchful of the lethargic sleep and the garment of the inside of Hades.’

And I raised him up and sealed him with the light of the water with five seals so that death would not have power over him from this day on.


Today I finish the series of sermons on new texts included in A New New Testament:   A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts.    Next week I begin another series of sermons on one of those new texts, The Gospel of Thomas.    In less than a month, on October 18th and 19th we will be hosting a Jesus Seminar on the Road.   Milton Moreland and Ruben Dupertuis  will be visiting with us to provide lectures and workshops on the Gospel of Thomas.    They will be able to correct all my heresies regarding Thomas.  They will also be on Religion For Life beginning this Thursday on WETS.   

So far we have explored, just whetted our appetites really, several documents in A New New Testament.  They include…


Two texts for which I didn’t devote sermons but used in liturgy are The Prayer of the Apostle Paul and and an ancient Prayer of Thanksgiving.    Today we will dabble into the mysteries of The Secret Revelation of John.  

A bit of background about this text.    It was discovered in the 19th century and is part of the Berlin Codex along with the Gospel of Mary.  It was also among the Nag Hammadi collection discovered in 1945.   I talked about those collections in previous sermons. 

Three different copies with significant differences among the texts were found at Nag Hammadi.   That suggests that A Secret Revelation of John was widely read and used in the early centuries of Christianity.  It was written before 180 at least.  We know that because Irenaeus, who was later recognized as a church Father condemned A Secret Revelation of John as heresy.    Before these modern discoveries we only had parts of this text, the parts quoted by those condemning it.   Irenaeus quotes A Secret Revelation of John 29 times.   Irenaeus had other texts on his radar as well.   Of the lot of them, he wrote:

"an indescribable number of secret and illegitimate writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish people, who are ignorant of the true scriptures."

Regardless of whether or not we might agree with him, what Irenaeus shows is that early Christianity was diverse and vibrant with many different visions at times competing with one another, at other times complementing one another, and each adding its voice to the chorus.  Now, thanks to these modern discoveries and thanks to scholars and interested lay people who have demanded to know these ancient texts, these voices that have been long silenced are again finding an audience.   Thanks to A New New Testament some of these voices are alongside familiar voices so we can get a sense of the breadth and depth of early Christianity.  

The effects of all of this might be to enhance 21st century seekers, whether these seekers are within Christianity, on the edges, or outside of it.   Questions of what it means to be human, and in particular, what it means to be human amidst forces that dehumanize, are raised for us as we interact with these texts.   I want to emphasize that this is not simply an academic or an historical exercise.  As the subtitle of A New New Testament implies, this Bible for the 21st century is an attempt to speak to us.   We are interacting with it and with each other. 

What is The Secret Revelation of John?  The Secret Revelation of John is not to be confused with The Revelation to John that has been in the traditional New Testament canon.   This is the book with the seven bowls of wrath and the mark of the beast and the four horsemen and all of the symbols that have had quite a run in the past two millennia.   It is not an easy read.   The Secret Revelation of John is not an easy read either.   I needed some guidance following the logic of the text and trying to keep the names straight.   It is helpful, necessary really, to have a guide.  I recommend Karen King’s The Secret Revelation of John.  Also, even though I haven’t read it, I have heard another helpful guide is by Stevan Davies, The Secret Book of John.        

The Secret Revelation of John is a mythological creation story.  It tells us who we are, how we came to be the way we are, and how we are becoming who we will become. 

The story begins with the Apostle John, the brother of James.  John and James are the sons of Zebedee in the four gospels.  According to the tradition they along with Peter accompanied Jesus to the mountain where he was transfigured before them.  John is an inner circle apostle.   There is a whole tradition of “John” theology that includes the Gospel of John and the letters of John, Revelation of John in the traditional New Testament and this Secret Book of John.   That doesn’t mean the guy John actually wrote any of this or experienced any of this, but he, like many figures of importance is used to gain authority for other authors.    In ancient times, tradition, not innovation is important.   If you are writing a text, you want to make sure it connects with what has gone before you.   One way to do that is to have one of the apostles as either a character or the author.    This counts for documents both within and without the traditional New Testament.

John goes up to the temple and he is confronted by a Pharisee named Arimanios.   Arimanios asks him where his teacher is.  John tells him that he has “returned to place from which he came.”  Arimanios tells John that his teacher deceived him and filled him lies. 

John is grieved.   He begins to doubt who the Savior was and who his father was.  He realizes there are things he doesn’t know.  As he thinking and grieving,

“the heavens opened, and the whole creation below the heaven was illuminated with light below heaven.  And the whole world quaked.” 3:1-3

A figure appears to John and changes shape, from a child to an old man to other  various forms and all is filled with light.  The voice said,

“John, why are you doubting and fearful?  For you are not a stranger to this likeness.  Do not be faint-hearted!  I am the one who dwells with you always.  I am the Father. I am the Mother.  I am the Son.”  3:9-12

There is an early version of the Trinity.   Then Christ says to John,

“Lift up your face to me and listen.  Receive the things that I will tell you today so that you yourself will them to your fellow spirits who are from the immovable generation of the perfect Human.”  3:17-18

Christ proceeds to tell John of the nature of the Father or Spirit with quite poetic language.   Father/Spirit is one that cannot be named, not God “for It surpasses divinity.”  

When “It perceived Its own image in the light-water that surrounds It, Its thinking became a thing.”  She, the Mother appeared.   The Mother is called Pronoia or Providence.  She is also known as Barbelo.   She is the image of the invisible.   She is the primal Thought.  She is the primal Human.  She is 

“the triple begotten one, the androgynous eternal generation which does not grow old…”   

The whole thrust of this language is beyond the beyond.   Then Barbelo, the Mother, the Providence-Pronoia “gazes intently into It, the pure light.”  In so doing, she gives birth 

“to a spark of blessed light... the divine Autogenes, the firstborn son of All of the Spirit of pure light.”  7:1-6

This is the Son or Christ.   This Christ creates everything.   Will and Thought and Life, Grace,  Understanding, Perception, and Prudence.    These are beings, and there are many of them.   They have genealogies and male/female pairs.   One of the creations is the “true perfect Human, the primal revelation, Adam.”   This is not the garden of Eden, Adam.   That comes later.  The perfect Human, Adam, is “up there” as part of this whole divine thing.

There is much much more.  I am condensing this down.  One of the Eternal Generations, as part of this Christ creation, who is important for our story, is Wisdom-Sophia.    This is where the story gets interesting.  Wisdom-Sophia wants to express herself.    So she “thought a thought.”   She didn’t think her thought without consulting first with Father/Spirit or in consultation with her male partner.    Her thought gives birth so to speak to this being.   This being is imperfect, ugly in fact.   She casts him away outside of the view of the immortals.  She gives him a throne and names him Yaldabaoth.   He is the Chief Ruler. 

Here is the bottom line.  Yaldabaoth is the god of Genesis in the Old Testament.   He creates all kinds of beings and eventually the world.   He says “I am a jealous God  without me there is nothing.”   This is of course not true.  He is a basically a low-level bureaucrat.  He is the guy who has his own little office that he thinks is his kingdom and he is paranoid and he bosses people around.   He thinks he is important.  You might know someone like that.   That is how The Secret Revelation of John portrays the god of Genesis.    

If you are finding this disturbing or offensive, we need to step back and look at the time in which The Secret Revelation of John is being written.    This is a couple of centuries before the Nicene Creed and Constantine and the narrowing down of Christian theology.    There are lively debates around Jesus and how he will be shaped in relation to the Jewish heritage.   These and other authors and perhaps even you have wondered if the god of the Old Testament is all there is to God.   You can imagine reading these stories of the god of Genesis doing rather small-minded, arbitrary, punitive, and violent things.   These early Christians say God has to be better than that.   So they take these stories of Genesis and elaborate and re-interpret them.  They aren’t alone in doing that.   The literature of the time is filled with rewrites and filling in the holes in the plot of Genesis and so forth. 

Back to our story.  Wisdom-Sophia realizes that she has created a monster and repents.    The immortals come up with a plan.  They say to Wisdom-Sophia, “The Human exists and the Child of the Human.”  Yaldabaoth and his minions overhear this but they don’t know where it comes from.  They look at the pattern of the image in the water and say,

“Let us create a human in the image of God and with the likeness.”

They create the human being but the being cannot move.  They cannot awaken it.  So the Father/Spirit uses this opportunity.  He sends Christ to tell Yaldabaoth to breathe into the being.  He does and the human becomes alive.   But the spirit he blew into the human is the power of his Mother.   In doing this, the Mother-power is extracted out of Yaldabaoth and now the human is superior to Yaldabaoth and his minions.    

Yaldabaoth and his minions are upset that the human is superior to them so they imprison him in flesh.   But the light is in him.   Yaldabaoth tries various tricks to contain the human and extract the light so he puts the human to sleep, but all this does is create Eve and enlighten the human.   The plot is too complex to recite here.   The point is that every action by Yaldabaoth to contain, control, even violently kill through the flood, is countered by the Divine Power.   

The bottom line is that everyone has the divine light within them.  The powers, Yaldaobaoth and his minions are always at work trying to make human beings forget who they are.  They do this through gold and silver, through lust, and every kind of temptation.   As human beings succumb to the temptations they become duller.   “Their hearts closed,” says the text.  

Enter Christ, the wealth of light.  Providence-Pronoia enters this world and wakes us up from sleep.   The Pure Light calls us to

“Arise and remember that you are the one who has heard, and follow your root, which is I, the compassionate.”  26:28-29

Thus the human struggle and the hope.   John after receiving this revelation relates these things to his fellow disciples and to all of us who will listen.

One could say this is crazy metaphysical speculation.   OK, but then again, what theology isn’t?  Some is your kind of crazy, some is my kind of crazy and some isn’t.   I invite you to withhold a judgment on that and ask what is a possible takeaway from A Secret Revelation of John as well as some of these other texts?     

Here is one thing I take away immediately.   The Secret Revelation of John is a critique of the powers of this world.   This was written in a time in which the Roman Empire was God.   It said it was God.   Its Imperial theology was everywhere.    Remember, from the perspective of The Secret Revelation of John, Yaldabaoth is the creator of all those Roman gods, too.    This book is a critique of all gods and all powers in the known world.   All are puny bureaucrats in light of the Divine Light that glows in each human being.   It is a critique of Rome’s arrogance and all earthly powers.    

The struggle the humans have in A Secret Revelation of John is to discern among all the voices, whose voice is the voice of the light.  It is deceptive, because the powers use half-truths and use divine images but distort them.    What is the voice of compassion, of true light, of goodness?  What is the right thing to do, the correct attitude to have, the just way to be in the world?

How do we evaluate the voices who tell us they have the answers?   It is almost parody because it is so obvious, but a quote from the Project for A New American Century is in order.  Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bill Kristol are all part of this.   Here is their statement:

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

Is that the voice of Father, Mother, Son, the Light or is it the voice of Yaldabaoth?    There is a purity of  raw arrogance in that statement from "The Project for A New American Century."    But that statement is one of many arrogant and false voices.     Messages from advertising, economic theory, political theory, all come at us.   They tell us who we are and what we need to do.

Who are we?   Are we defined by a certain kind of militant patriotism, by a political party, by consumption?   Is the goal of education to get a job, to be a cog in the marketplace?   Who are you and what will you do?  According to A Secret Revelation of John, the task is to develop discernment so that we can follow the root, the core of who we are…that is compassion.    To become a Human Being, not a cog in some power’s machine.

In A Secret Revelation of John there is no violence on behalf of the Divine realm, the one above Yaldabaoth.  All violence comes from Yaldabaoth and his minions.   There is no myth of redemptive violence for A Secret Gospel of John.   Salvation comes not from dominating others or from revenge, but from knowing who we are and by nurturing the light within.    

This is far more than metaphysical speculation.  A Secret Revelation of John provides a second-century mythical framework for ethical action.    

When you hear that you that you are weak or powerless or idealistic or wrong or a heretic or bad or a cog or hopelessly violent, you can join the voice of this hopeful text and

“Arise, and remember that you are the one who has heard…”

Amen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Suicide Loss Rights

I didn't attend the seminar we held at our church, "Suicide and Its Aftermath."   I heard that it was helpful to those who attended.   I did pick up a handout entitled "A Statement of Suicide Loss Rights" then found it on-line. 

This is from Tony Salvatore, The Suicide Paradigm.  He lost his son, Paul, to suicide in 1996.  These are his Suicide Loss Rights.   Much of this is true for me.  I thought I would post them here and perhaps comment on each one.  Or maybe not.  We'll see.

  1. We have the right to grieve as we wish despite the unsupportive settings that we often find ourselves. Death is a normal life crisis; suicide is the ultimate abnormal life crisis.
  2. We have the right to be free of stigma. In our society suicide has a negative connotation. This afflicts us as it did those we lost.
  3. We have the right to be angry about our loss and to be able to express it appropriately at the one we have lost or ourselves.
  4. We have the right to feel responsible for things we did or did not do in relation to our loss. We may or may not come to feel differently.
  5. We have the right to grieve in a manner and timeframe that works best for us. We don't have to "get over it."
  6. We have the right to know "why." All who grieve yearn for the one lost. We also seek to understand what happened.
  7. We have the right to regard our lost loved one as a victim. Suicide is the outcome of debilitation; it is not a choice or a decision.
  8. We have the right to cooperation from police and the health care community if we seek information on how our loss came about.
  9. We have the right to the truth about our loss. We should have access to information as early as possible, if we need it.
  10. We have the right to know that we are not by definition candidates for psychotherapy or counseling, or that we must "get help."
  11. We have the right to channel our experience to aid the suicidal or other suicide grievers, or to help others better understand either group.
  12. We have the right to never be as we were before. Other ends to grief do not apply to us. We survive, but we do not "heal."
(Note: © Copyright 1998-2002 Tony Salvatore) 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trees, Cars and Seminars

I went to presbytery meeting at Holston Camp today.   While there I took a picture of Zach's tree.  The weeping cherry was planted by the camp on our behalf in memory of Zach.  


Today was a Zach-filled day.  During every meeting there is a time called "promotions" where anyone can talk about upcoming events.  I talked about our Jesus Seminar on the Road, October 18-19 as well as a seminar coming up September 14th called "Suicide and Its Aftermath."   In talking about this event I mentioned losing Zach to suicide in the summer of 2012 and the grief and shame of that.  I mentioned that the Session was putting on this seminar as their own response to an event that has affected everyone.   Not just Zach's suicide, but since Zach's death I now know many who have lost friends, relatives, siblings, spouses, children, and parents and it needs to be discussed.   In many ways, the congregation is doing this to minister to me, and to help me minister, whether I attend it or not. 

I am not sure at this point if I will be able to attend.   It is a little close to home.  Either way, I am grateful to the congregation for hosting it and they know that.   They are allowing me the freedom to attend or not attend.   I will decide when the time comes.

Then early this evening I watched Zach's car drive out of the driveway.  We were planning on giving it and the truck away to charity and I found someone who needed a car and the truck, too.   I gave them to this person instead.  I am glad these vehicles will be doing something productive.  They have been sitting and succumbing to the Second Law of Thermodynamics for some time now and need some energy put into their systems if you know what I mean.

As the car went up the driveway, I thought of my boy and wished he could have driven a nicer car.

More than anything I wish he was still here to drive the one he had. 




Thursday, July 4, 2013

Engaged!

Lovely and I are proud and pleased to announce the engagement of our daughter, Katy Shuck, to Amber Shaw!  Both are social workers with big hearts.


The lovely couple will be legally married in New York City at Thanksgiving then in the Fall of 2014 we'll do up a big gay wedding in East Tennessee.   Proud papa gets to walk Katy down the aisle and officiate at both ceremonies!

Life does have its ironies.   One of the main, if not the main, activities of my ministry since seminary has been education, support, and advocacy for LGBT people in church and society.  I never thought (except for the past two years) that I would be working on behalf of my own daughter.   

A great day for fireworks, don't you think?





Saturday, June 29, 2013

Michelle

Zach's Aunt Michelle, more like a sister as she lived with us from seventh grade through college, wrote this for his memorial service.  She wasn't able to be present at the service as she had just given birth to Cooper, Zach's new cousin who he never would meet.   On this year anniversary, Yahrzeit, I post it here:





For those of you who do not know me, I am Zachary’s Aunt Michelle whom he called Mouse or Mish.  I called him Zach, Zachary, Zachy and often, I just called him Meat.   Zachary was the first little boy I ever fell in love with.  He was sweet, sensitive, funny as hell, full of love, incredibly stubborn, protective of his family and we all loved him deeply.

To you Zachary,

I will remain forever grateful for the childhood I was able to experience because of you and Katy.

I will miss our days of watching X-Men together after school.

I will always remember singing you and Katy lullabies and tickling your leg (and back and arm and leg again).

(Okay, the leg tickling never stopped.)

 I will never forget you and your mom cuddling and telling jokes in our living room in Lowville.  Your bond was always so dear to behold.

I will never forget you and your dad playing video games and how excited you would get when you met the next challenge together.

I will never forget the silly games and chants you and Katy made up.  Cockle doodle fun day long, Sweaty Pa, Awuga…just to name a few.

 I will never forget the long car rides of being forced to sit between you two and how, after a good fight, you would both end up falling asleep on me.

I will never forget your chubby baby faces and your high school graduations. 

I will always remember your trip to see me in Syracuse and in New York City when I first moved.  It was such an achievement to treat you as I started to grow up.

I will miss the months of thinking about what to do for you for Christmas.  You always gave me such unique challenges – probably better if we keep those an inside family joke.

I will forever be honored by the sweet poem you wrote for my wedding.

I will forever cherish the thought of your smile, the sound of your laugh,

And how it felt to be loved by you.

When I used to leave our home in Lowville to head back to college Zachary would stand at the door and make a sad face just so I would cry.  And I always did.  I hated leaving my Shuck family and Zachy always made it harder on me.  I know, real sweet kid.  ;  )

Today, I see that I am the one standing at the door making a sad face.  And I fear that I will be crying for you, Zachary, for the rest of my life.

I know that I will be looking to find you in this world.  I am not sure how we will understand life without you.  I all ready see you in the dimple in my son’s right check.  I think of you when I tickle his little 6 day-old leg and he stops crying.  If he offers me his arm or back I think I ‘ll freak out.  I see you in the pictures in my home and think of you every time I want to tell a dirty joke  - which we all know is quite often.  You were my buddy, my brother, my friend, and most simply my beautiful nephew.  Thank you Beverly and John for giving this world Zach.  My heart will always be suffering the loss of his light in this world and will forever be filled with the love and laughter of his memory.