Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Christian Atheists, Your Light Has Come!

Because Facebook has blocked my blog shuckandjive Dot xyz, I am reposting everything here and then on to Facebook in my quest to skirt around the blockade constructed by those greedy, power-hungry _________.

Here is an excellent article on the Gretta Vosper fiasco, "Unsuitable" Gretta Vosper is Why Mainline Denominations Are Dying by Christian Chiakulus.  

Christian is a Christian Atheist.

Despite the fact that people do not want Christian Atheists to exist, they do.  There are more of us than you may think.   There is no school of Christian Atheism or denominational hierarchy.  Christian Chiakulus said he came to the label by himself:

When I first took the label of “Christian atheist” for myself last year, I felt at once liberated and nervous.  Liberated because I finally found a phrase that seemed to encapsulate who I am and what I believe, and nervous because I wasn’t sure how the Progressive Christian community I had been trying to join would react.  Would I be accepted?  Ignored?  Laughed at?  Puzzled over? 
A part of my uncertainty had to do with the fact that I had come to this label on my own, not following the lead of any theologian or clergy before me.  While I eventually did learn of people like Thomas Alter, William Hamilton, and Gretta Vosper, their writings had no influence over my initial “conversion,” if you will.

The United Church of Canada is tone deaf to what people really think and has circled its wagons around beliefs and theology.   Christian writes:

At the end of the day, their concerns are over language and belief, which are really just methods of control.  Vosper dislikes using the term “God” because she feels that for some people it may act as a barrier between themselves and the type of universal love God actually stands for.  The Conference is ultimately missing the forest for the trees.
To illustrate, a commenter on one of my Facebook posts wrote:

As I get older, I understand less and less about the need for religions/churches to adhere to labeling. "I am a Christian, does that make me good? I am a Muslim, does that make me bad?" If I have to define myself, I guess it would be a seeker. Seeking what? Peace and calm for myself and helping humankind in any way I can. Where can I go to learn this - Christianity, Islam, Native American beliefs, Buddhism, Dr. Seuss, Monet, Bach, Pink Floyd, Atheism, and so much more.  I think if you really need to label, go to Office Depot, they have one on sale for $24.99.
I think I have found a new cause.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


No more new posts here for now.   I am blogging back at Shuck and Jive.   You can also read Sermons and of course the main page, Religion For Life.   See you there!   Feel free to browse this blog if you are on a similar journey or love someone who is.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Equality In Mind

This month's newsletter will be out soon.  Here is my letter to the congregation:

Dear Friends,

Holston Presbytery selected me to be a commissioner to the 221st General Assembly in Detroit this summer.   I was selected in 2012 to attend but Zach passed away on the first day.  Since I wasn’t able to participate then I was selected again this time.  

I am looking forward to being a commissioner.    There are many resolutions before the General Assembly.    Many have to do with social justice and eco-justice concerns (gun violence, fossil fuel usage, Israel-Palestine) and one of the controversial items will be marriage. 

I have ordered some resources for study regarding many of these issues.  I would be thrilled if you would learn with me on these items in our adult forum, Thursday morning study group, or perhaps on the occasional Sunday evening gathering.  I will let you know when we have scheduled such an opportunity.

As you know, I officiated at the wedding for my daughter, Katy, and her wife Amber in New York City over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I did so as a Presbyterian minister.  I officiated at the ceremony and signed the license.   I am proud to announce that in the eyes of New York (if not Tennessee) that they are a married couple, Katy and Amber Shuck.    Amber decided to take Katy’s last name.  

In the eyes of the PC(USA), was it within my powers as a minister to do that?    Now that 17 states allow for same-gender marriage, this is a big question for ministers and for congregations.     One of the overtures will ask the General Assembly to pass an “Authoritative Interpretation” of the constitution that would make it clear that ministers are allowed to officiate at same-gender weddings and that sessions may authorize church property to be used for such celebrations in those states in which same-gender marriage is legal.   

Another resolution will ask the General Assembly to change all references in the Book of Order regarding weddings and marriage from “a man and woman” or a “husband and wife” to “two people.” If the General Assembly were to approve that overture it would then need to go back to each presbytery for a vote.  If a majority of presbyteries would approve, then the Book of Order would be changed. 

Our congregation is a More Light Congregation.  We have firmly committed to equality for LGBT people in the church and society.   We hold holy unions on site.  I officiate at several per year and have done so for some time.     I think there is more we can do to be active in promoting equality in our community and in our state.    I along with you affirm that this is the civil rights issue of our era.   One easy and fun thing to do is to knit rainbow scarves for commissioners to the upcoming General Assembly.   There is information in this White Spire on how you can be involved in that.   

We are in the process of forming a More Light Sub-Committee of our Outreach Team.  This team will help with education and advocacy in our congregation and in the larger community.  If you are interested, do contact Rev. Don Steele or me.

With Equality in Mind,


Monday, February 17, 2014

Checking In

I haven't written much on this blog.  I used to write a great deal, at times several posts a day at Shuck and JiveFacebook drew much of that energy away from blogging for many people including me.   Time previously dedicated to blogging now goes to Religion For Life.   The main change is losing Zach.   My passion for writing and my passion for the causes for which I wrote has flattened.   Since his death I have written about my grief, but lately I have written little.   This blog has become a space to park my sermon texts.   That's about it.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a story on NPR about a songwriter.  I have forgotten his name.  He was talking about the first music album he had completed since his wife's death eight years ago.    It took him eight years to find his muse.    As I listened I found myself both relieved and discouraged about the length of time.   It is normal to feel flat for a long time.  That is a relief to know I am not alone in that.   But eight years is a long time to be in a funk.  Losing a son to suicide may take even longer.  

I was reading some old posts at Shuck and Jive and realized that just isn't me anymore.   I cared about a lot of things.  I was cocky, snarky, edgy and ready to scrap.   I am not that at all any longer.   I try to avoid issues now.  I don't trust myself.  I just get angry.   I am angry and impatient.  It is not pretty or exciting.  It is actually boring.   That is life right now.  Flat.   Eight more years of this?  Maybe.  Maybe more.

I have streamlined my work to do what I think I have to do.   I spend time on my strengths and rely on them.  It may or may not be enough, but it is what it is.   I avoid if I can all the little hassles that come with the job.  I really don't have the patience and I don't trust myself not to blow up at someone.   So far we have been able to keep above water.    

Some have wanted me to be more "spiritual."   That is sweet.  I never have been spiritual even on a good day.   I haven't had many good days since June 28, 2012.  I don't even know what spiritual means but I am pretty sure that either I don't have it or I am not it.  Asking me to be spiritual is like asking a frog to sing opera.  I may have a number of gifts and skills, but being spiritual is not one of them.   Even so, on occasion I try to sound spiritual but I doubt I am even close.   Then I feel like a trained dog jumping through hoops.  Most of the time I don't try to please.  I just do what I do.  I am what I am.  I will do the best I can with what I do have.  That will either be good enough or it won't be and I am sure I'll find out.   The best advice I have ever internalized is, "When in doubt, go with your strengths."

The insightful among you will realize that I am not airing laundry with this post.  I am writing about grief.   I am writing about grief long after everyone else is finished waiting for you to get over it.   But you are not "over it" and you need to deal with all the expectations and whatever else when you are, in reality, crippled.   I am not asking for pity.  I am not asking for anything.  I am writing about my experience.    Perhaps it resonates with others.   Perhaps it helps you understand what some grieving people might be experiencing.   Thus it is ministry.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

February 8th

Zach's birthday. 

I wasn't sure if we would do anything for it.  Katy and Amber saved the day.  They made dinner for Bev and I.  Then the four of  us watched "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" at the Real to Reel.   Felt him present with us.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pete Seeger and Atheism

In 2006, Pete Seeger was interviewed by Beliefnet.   He said:
"I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.

I’ve had preachers of the gospel, Presbyterians and Methodists, saying, “Pete, I feel that you are a very spiritual person.” And maybe I am. I feel strongly that I’m trying to raise people’s spirits to get together."
I resonate with his earthy, naturalistic spirituality and I like his use of the phrase, "According to my definition of God..."

I get heat now and then (and have even lost church members over the years) because they don't think I believe in what they call "god."   People tend to get passionate and emotional about it, too, which is especially odd as we are talking about matters that lack clear definition.  

At one time Pete Seeger called himself an atheist but in 2006 he said, "God is everything."  He didn't change his philosophical views.  He changed his definition of god to fit them.   He said, "According to my definition of God, I'm not an atheist."   He found a way to dismiss the term, atheist, and to retrieve the term, god.

So, along with Pete Seeger, according to my definition of god, I am not an atheist, even though like Pete Seeger, I don't believe in god in any traditional sense.   There are many ways that I might define the term god in such a way that allows me to say "I believe in god."  For instance,  I believe in love.   If love is god, then I believe in god.  

As a minister, I honor my heritage that has used and still uses the term god.  In worship, I find the use of the term to be rhetorically, liturgically, and metaphorically valuable.    I often tell people in my congregation that we are BYOG (Bring Your Own God).   You can define god anyway you wish and use it or not use it as you see fit.   It is your life.

I find that according to popular consciousness god is "good" and atheist is "bad."  I see little effort spent in defining terms.   As long as you don't say you are an atheist and do say you believe in god everyone is supposedly happy.   The labels are more important than the meaning behind the labels.   

That for me is where the problem lies.

One of the reasons I resist throwing the term atheist (and actual atheists) under the bus is because  of discrimination against atheists.   My own state of Tennessee still has this law on the books:
"No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state."
Here are eleven things atheists cannot do because they don't believe in god according to an article in The Huffington Post.   You might be alarmed.

A core principle of mine is resisting discrimination.  I find much support for that in the Jesus tradition.   This is why for my 21 years of ministry much of my effort has been to resist discrimination against LGBT people.   Perhaps atheists are the new Gay?

It seems to me that people ought to be able to call themselves what they want and believe what they want.  That is certainly true for civil society.  I also think it is true for the church.   In a time in which there is a great deal of change, exploration and experiment should be encouraged.   Some of that exploration and encouragement may be about redefining the term god in a way that makes sense.  It  may also be about letting go of the term and embracing whatever term seems to be helpful.

I like to think there is room for all at the table.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Risk-Taking Church

I have written letters for the annual report every year for twenty-one years.   I don't know if anyone ever reads them.   Here is this year's.   The challenge facing my congregation is that we have many visitors.   We have many new faces.   Sunday morning is not enough.  What is the glue to make church a community of meaningful work and play?   That was on my mind when I wrote this.

Dear Friends,

This past August marked my eighth anniversary as your pastor.   I have been pastor of this congregation longer than I was pastor of each of my previous congregations.   You know what that means, right?

It means we like each other!

It also means we have a lot of stuff yet to do.  

I am excited, proud, and honored to be the minister of the most progressive congregation in the region.      That doesn't just happen.  It is because faithful, visionary people have taken risks.  People are hearing about us.  Whether it is our advocacy for marriage equality and ecological sustainability, our Jesus Seminars on the Road and Evolution Sunday, we are blazing a trail for a 21st century faith.  

The question is, “Where to now?”   We have new people coming in our doors every week.  How do we turn visitors into activists, strangers into family, and observers into participants?     That is our central question.

Here is a way that is tried and true.  Give people a friend and a job.  

Here is my question:  How can I help you get that done?    What can I and your leadership do programmatically to help people make connections with one another and to find meaningful things to engage our bodies and minds?  I look forward to your ideas.

For those of you who have been here for a while, here is a question for you:  Remember when you first came through the doors, a little skeptical perhaps, a bit shy, uncertain in a sea of unknown faces.  You weren’t sure when you were supposed to stand up or sit down during worship or if you “really belonged.”    Remember the person who reached out to you and welcomed you and showed you the ropes?  Remember the person who befriended you? 

You are that person today. 

If you are relatively new to our congregation, here is your question:  What do you need to have happen before you can say, “This is my church” and “I belong?”  Can you make that happen? 

We are a permission-giving church and a risk-taking church.   If you have an idea, we have the space and other resources.   If you want to start a class, a ministry, a cause, we are all about that.  As long as you don’t burn the place down, we are good to go.    

Exciting adventures await FPC Elizabethton!

I am honored to take risks with you!