This is my personal blog. My views are my own and do not represent those of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Website!

This should be my last, last post.

I have created a new website that will host sermons, radio show information and podcasts, and more.

Are you ready?

Religion For Life.   That is

Go to the website, find the sermon page, podcasts to sermons, podcasts to my radio program, and a link to my new blog about my son, Zachary, who died in June of 2012.  It is a blog of my grieving.  You can find it at Zach. 

Thank you my friends for reading and please bookmark, make it a favorite and tell your friends about my new hangout, Religion For Life!

Visit often! 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Last Post

For everything, there is a season. 

The season has changed for Shuck and Jive.

I am ending this blog.

It is funny how changes come about.  I have been blogging at "Shuck and Jive" for over six years and on the domain shuckandjive [dot] org since September 22, 2008.   I have been wanting to change the tone and focus for some time, especially since Zach's death.   I really don't feel "shuck and jivey" anymore. 

I was talking about this with my office assistant, Sandra Garrett, and she noted that as it is with many decisions, sometimes they are made for you.   While on vacation visiting my parents this past week, I happened to check my blog on my mother's computer and saw that my blog was gone.   The domain had been parked at Godaddy with a price of $8,800 and I was not the owner. 

At first I thought I had been hacked, especially since my blog has had increased attention thanks to Sarah Palin's comment about President Obama doing the "shuck and jive."   My blog received a lot of traffic for that! 

Finally, today, after going over my records and calling Godaddy, I have put together what happened.   For the past several years, Googleapps has contacted me via email and reminded me to update.  I have dutifully done so.  Ten bucks each year.   I was careless with it.  I only renewed when reminded.   This year I received no reminders and no notifications about renewing or its possible expiration.   None.   My contact information did not change.  Same email for the past five years.   Being preoccupied with other matters this summer, I didn't even think about it. 

I told the Godaddy flunkie over the phone that I received no notification about my blog renewal, expiration, or eventual loss and he said it isn't their fault.   They send email reminders as a courtesy but perhaps they were lost in my spam folder?  They weren't.   In either case, he told me that I let it expire and someone else owns it now, but wouldn't I like to purchase another domain?    

No thanks.

There is no way to contact Googleapps.   There is not a human being among all of that electronic hullaballoo.

There is no foul play.  But it certainly is convenient for the purchaser of shuckandjive [dot] org that for $10 or so s/he purchased a domain worth $8,800 and Godaddy and Google will receive commissions and fees on managing it. 

Learn from me, dear bloggers.  If you have a domain, pay attention to it.

The money isn't the issue.  I have lost nothing.  I refused advertising and made no revenue off my blog.  I certainly had no idea what this domain was worth due to the traffic my blog has steadily received over the years.  It is however terribly inconvenient as all the links all over the web to my blog are to shuckandjive [dot] org.   The current owner will make money whenever anyone goes there.   None of those links will go to anything I have written.

I have temporarily put "Shuck and Jive" on blogspot and will keep it here until I decide what to do with it.   

In the meantime, I am retiring the phrase, "shuck and jive" as it applies to me. 

And that is OK.  I don't feel quite as edgy anymore.   I would like to publish longer pieces for someone somewhere, maybe a column once per week.    I may tie it in with my radio show, Religion For Life, which you can find at  

I will resurrect and I will let you know where to find me!

Oh, and if you link to shuck and jive [dot] org, will you remove it or at least change it to

Thanks, my friends, for your readership over the years.

It has been fun!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, on Religion For Life, November 1-5

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt's newest book is about one of the hottest topics in the sciences - morality. It’s about how we evolved to live in moral “matrices,” which bind us together around sacred values and then blind us to the truth. It’s about righteousness, moral diversity, politics and religion.

Thursday, November 1st at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, November 4th at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, November 4th at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, November 5th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning November 6th.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Be Not Afraid of the Dark--A Sermon

Be Not Afraid of the Dark
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

October 28, 2012
All Saints

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Job 38:16-17

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a television show in the 90s that my kids watched.    It was a kids’ show on the Nickelodeon channel. The set up for the show was a group of teenagers, “the midnight society” telling scary stories around a fire at night.    Each of the characters told different stories and the stories reflected their personalities.    The message in that is that each of us has our unique dark side.     We are all struggle with and in the dark in our own way.   I think another message of the show was that you gain courage to face the dark when you share your stories with others.

The dark is a fearsome place.   You don’t know what might jump out at you in the dark.    As a child I remember that scary moment between turning off the light in the bedroom and running for the bed to get undercover as soon as possible.   Apparently, I was safe in the bed from whatever dark creatures lurked about in my room.    As long as you get undercover, you are OK.

Last week we explored the metaphor of silence.  This week darkness.   Both silence and darkness point toward the spiritual path of via negativa.    We tend to think darkness is a bad thing.    Even the Gospel of John that we read at Christmas sees darkness as something that wants to get you and take you over.  The promise is this:   

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

True enough.  But darkness is also a path.   For those acquainted with the night, they know, like Robert Frost, that this acquaintance is "neither wrong nor right."    There is something to be learned in the dark.   Poets, the strong ones, the ones we read, have dabbled in the dark.    I think it takes courage to be acquainted with the night and to spend time in darkness. 

In the darkness we keep the things that we don’t want everyone to know.    That is anyone to know, including ourselves.  The darkness hides our vulnerability.    Jung called this aspect of ourselves the shadow side or the dark side.    We prefer to keep that side hidden.  We create elaborate masks to wear in order to show the world that we are people of the light, happy and together and above average.   

The via negativa invites us to explore the dark places.   The truth is that if you don’t find what is in the dark, what is in the dark will eventually find you.    One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is from the Gospel of Thomas, which is itself a gospel that had been hidden in the darkness, literally in clay pots for 1700 years.   In this hidden, secret gospel we find this from Jesus:

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you."

Every hero must go into the dark.  The great myths of the hero’s quest to slay dragons, find the holy grail, battle Voldemort, rescue the ring, face crucifixion and so on are about entering the dark and discovering the courage to take on what you find.    

The via negativa is not about defeating what is in the dark.  It could be that, but it is also about embracing what is in the dark.    In the dark is a treasure.    That treasure is an aspect of our own self.    The path invites us to find that and bring it into the light where it can be embraced and admired by all.

This is the sense of the passage in the Gospel of John.   The light shines in the darkness not to obliterate the darkness but so it can bring to light what has been hidden there.     When it is hidden we are overwhelmed, saddened, and dis-eased.     When brought to the light it is becomes a source of strength, joy, and healing.    That is the point of the path.  

So God asks Job:

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

The story of Job is the textbook for the via negativa.    

There is a lot to say about Job, that I am not going to say today.   It is enough to know that the character “God” does not come off well.   He and his drinking buddy, Satan, have a spitting contest about who is tougher and Job ends up being the object of this wager.   God lets Satan torture Job to prove that Job will be loyal to God no matter how he suffers.   

Job is not in on this little game.  Neither of course are Job’s friends.    But we are.  Job rejects all of his friends’ theories as to why this might be happening to him.   Job is right even though he doesn’t know why he is right.    The reason Job suffers is because “God” behaves pathologically.   

We are not supposed to say that because we are pious.    We have been taught that the Bible is God’s Word and that God is good.  When we read the Bible we are told that no matter how barbaric God appears God must be right.    The price we pay for piety is that we put halos around bad texts and endorse harmful ethics.   

Once you get over that notion that the character “God’ in the Bible is always good, in fact, far from it, then you can appreciate the story of Job.  

God never comes clean to Job.     He never tells him the truth.  He never says,

“Hey Job, buddy.  The reason you were suffering is because, well Satan and I had a little bet about you.  I hope you aren’t sore.  And hey, you helped me win.  You were loyal to the end!  What do you say, still friends?”   

God says none of that.  Nor does God apologize for his ruthless behavior.  Instead God conjures up an impressive hurricane and speaks to Job from a position of power.  He goes on for several chapters about how tough he is.   He can drag around Leviathan with a fishhook.  He made the heavens and the mountains.   He tells Job in effect:

What have you done, little man?   How dare you question me!  

That’s God’s answer.  Might makes right.    In that speech from the whirlwind, God says to Job:

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

Those are rhetorical questions to which Job must only answer, No.  No he has not physically entered the place below the flat earth where the water comes up.  Nor has he entered physically the gates to the underworld.   

But, of course,  we know that Job truly has seen the gates of death, the gates of deep darkness.  He has walked the recesses of the deep.   He has done so in the most real way possible.  He has suffered.  He lost everything and he has not given up in his quest to find meaning.   He has not given in to simplistic answers that are not true even as they might comfort.  

These primitive notions of God that are still prevalent today were inadequate to help the author of Job make sense of life.  Job is the story of what happens when one’s religion is too small for life.     Job represents the true hero.    In addition to refusing the easy answers of orthodoxy that his friends thrust on him, he faces the foundation of meaning itself.   He faces God, or the best understanding of God that he can imagine.     He finds God wanting.   

I am not sure if the author of the story of Job knew what he was doing.   His story of Job seems to me to be a deconstruction of monotheism.    God may be all good or all powerful but he can’t be both.    In Job’s story, he comes across as only powerful and not good.   

This is the translation of that pivotal passage in chapter 42 in which Job supposedly repents.    According to the excellent book, God: A Biography by Jack Miles, that is a mistranslation.   It is garbled Hebrew that translators misused to make Job the bad guy.   According to piety, God can’t be wrong, so Job must repent.  This is the NRSV translation:

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.’

That is the pious interpretation.    But that is inconsistent.  We all know that Job has nothing for which to repent.   God is the one who needs to repent.    This translation from Jack Miles is, I think, more accurate.  These are Job’s final words to God after God delivers his blustery speech:

Then Job answered the Lord:
You know you can do anything.
Nothing can stop you.
You ask, “Who is this ignorant muddler?”
Well, I said more than I knew, wonders quite beyond me.
“You listen, and I’ll talk, “ you say,
“I’ll question you, and you tell me.”
Word of you had reached my ears,
But now that my eyes have seen you,
I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.

The story of Job is the textbook for the via negativa.

The author of Job is showing that the God they had inherited is all power and no love.  All power and no goodness.   It took a courageous author to create a courageous character to expose this idea of God as inadequate for meaning.   That opened the way for a fuller sense of God to develop. 

Job is a model of a spiritual hero.   His is a model for today, for the searcher, who is not satisfied with the pious explanations that hold no water, and who will search out in the dark places for a more fulfilling answer.

Job is a hero who is not afraid of the dark.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Four Months

Tomorrow is the 28th of the month.  It has been four months since Zach took his life on June 28th.  Tomorrow is All Saints' Sunday.  Or maybe it is the next Sunday.   In either case, we will honor the saints tomorrow.   In church we will pass the microphone around the sanctuary so people can name those who have died this past year and we will ring the singing bowl when each name is mentioned.    

In the afternoon, Lovely, Daughter, and I will sprinkle some of his ashes around a tree planted in his memory at Holston Camp.  Then on Monday I leave for Montana to visit my parents and extended family.  I haven't seen my parents since Zach died.   And yes, I will take the bus.  It's what I do.

I have been reading, My Son, My Son:  A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide by Iris Bolton.  She lost her son to suicide.  She was a counselor at a counseling center, "The Link."   A couple of board members had said after her son's death:
"If she couldn't help her own son, how can she expect to help anyone else?"
She goes on to say:
The funny thing is that I agreed.  So paralyzing is the combination of depression, guilt, and shock, that its victim is mentally reduced to a jackstraw, a hollow man, a cipher.  p. 36
I know that feeling.  How could/can I be a minister, preaching, teaching, and counseling when I failed my most important assignment?   Who in their right minds would listen to anything I have to say when in my primary role as a father I delivered to the world a corpse rather than a living, productive man? 

Iris Bolton faces the goblins and continues as a counselor.  She writes:
Some persons had declared openly that The Link was finished if I were to return.  But we continued to be busy.  Parents began to refer teenagers to me for help in preventing their suicides, and I was overwhelmed with the wonder of it.  How could they think that I might help them when I had failed to save my own son?  I was in awe of what seemed to be a miracle.  More than anything else, it helped me to begin to find some meaning in the meaninglessness of Mitch's death.  p. 40
At some point she decided to disagree with the voices outside (and more importantly inside) of her that said she was a failure.   She stuck it out.   I hope I can be that strong.

It isn't even so much "the job" as it is the existential feeling of failing.  I failed to give my son whatever it was he needed to keep going.   I also know that I did what I could given my human fallibility.   I know that if I were responsible for this death it wouldn't have happened.   But I don't know if that feeling of failure will ever go away.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thanks, Sarah Palin, for the Shuck and Jive!

Thanks to Sarah Palin accusing the president of doing the "Shuck and Jive" everyone has been coming to my blog to see what the "shuck and jive" is!

Awesome and welcome!

If you want to know what shuck and jive is, well, it is me!

I am John Shuck and I have been doing the shuck and jive on this here blog for over six years. Busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds have been trying to get rid of me for years for being a heretic and a wolf in sheep's clothing and whatever else.   I just keep doing the shuck and jive and I keep smiling.

I shuck and jive about religion, politics, war and peace, equality, and lightening up.

I even shuck and jive on my radio program, Religion For Life. Check it out!

Again welcome to all of you searching for the authentic shuck and jive.  You have found it!  Stick around!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Autumn Leaves

One of our church members, Samantha, was a camper when Zach was a counselor at Holston Camp in 2006.  She shared this pic of Zach helping out one of the campers.    He was really good with them.  I wondered if he might have gone into some kind of work with kids. 

Lovely, Daughter, and I returned from vacation Saturday night.  We found the leaves had changed and already are falling.

It may be a long winter.

Hospital Chaplains for Pastoral Care Week on Religion For Life, October 25-29

Debbie Shields, Kathy Haga and Ellie Novak-Scoffield, are hospital chaplains for the Mountain States Health Alliance. They speak about the important healing work of hospital chaplains for Pastoral Care Week. Pastoral Care Week gives opportunities for organizations and institutions of all kinds and types to recognize the spiritual caregivers in their midst and the ministry which the caregivers provide.

Thursday, October 25th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, October 28th at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, October 28th at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, October 29th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning October 30th.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Sound of Silence--A Sermon

The Sound of Silence
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

October 21, 2012

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:5-8

We returned last night from our vacation. Bev, Katy, and I went on a cruise. A Carnival Cruise on the cruise ship, Imagination. It left Miami stopped at Key West and then at the island of Cozumel where we took a ferry boat and bus to visit the Mayan ruins at Tulum on the Yucatan Penisula. I hadn’t been on a cruise before and it was as they bill it, “fun”!

Fun means they fill your senses with music, food, drink, dance, and entertainment, non-stop. This is about fun and getting out and being out in the sunshine. There are precious few moments for silence. You can hide in your cabin, I suppose, but that defeats the point.

This cruise is the exact opposite of a retreat to a monastery. Not that one is better or more holy or sacred or whatever. A Carnival Cruise and a Benedictine Monastery would represent two different paths. One would be the via positiva with the explosion of images and sounds, the other the via negativa with a silencing of all images.

The cruise ship was fun and good for us. I would do it again. You need a little positiva now and then.

This Fall we are exploring the via negativa as a spiritual path. This is the path of letting go and letting be. This is the path in which a metaphor is silence. The via negativa is not to be equated with suffering or bad things. It isn’t about being “negative.” On the other hand, loss and suffering can be invitations to find spiritual meaning on this path.

If the via positiva is about filling up with images, the via negativa is about emptying out.

For example, in speaking about God, if the via positiva says
everything is God,
the rainbow is God,
the sunshine, the clouds, the trees, you, me.
God is out there.
God is in here.
The stars are the face of God; beauty is God.
Or God is found through this creed or this system of doctrine.
This set of beliefs point to God.
Or I see God everywhere.
I hear God everywhere.
I feel God everywhere.
That is the via positiva.
That is a good thing.
God is a Carnival Cruise ship.
It is constructive theology.

The via positiva is about saying what God is.

The via negativa acknowledges the God constructed by the via positiva and says in addition to all of that Yes, God is also No.
God is not a rainbow, sunshine, clouds, trees, you, and me.
God is not out there.
God is not in here.
The stars are not the face of God.
God is not exclusive to this creed or that system of doctrine or those beliefs.
The sights are I see are not God.
The sounds I hear are not God. My feelings are not of God.
I feel no thing, not even God.
That is the via negativa.

This is the path of letting go even of God in order for God to be.

We might call it deconstructive theology.

An image for this is from 1 Kings 19. Elijah is in a cave. He is frightened. He is alone. People are trying to kill him. He hears the word of the Lord, who tells Elijah:
‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Then the Lord comes to speak to Elijah.

The storyteller has captured the via negativa.

The sound of sheer silence.

Have you ever heard the sound of sheer silence?

That is the sound you hear when the foundations that have held you have been shaken. When the beliefs you inherited are like a bowl that is filled with holes and it holds no water. It is the sound of your experience of life being too real for your religion. When your religion becomes too small to hold your life, your spiritual path is the via negativa.

It doesn’t matter what religion or philosophy, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist even. You notice it when you begin to struggle with the tradition and with others and finally with yourself. It is an exciting if unnerving, perhaps even frightening, and possibly lonely path. It is a path that many resist because it requires that “you walk the lonesome valley by yourself.” It is a path that calls you to say ‘No’ to the tribe. When the tribe or its spokesperson says this is what we believe and you say well…maybe not me, you are on the via negativa.

You may not know what it is you can affirm. You have to stay with that. The via negativa invites you to stay with that not knowing, with that uncertainty, with that letting go and not knowing if there is anything, but trusting that that is the path to take. It is the way of silence.

From Matthew Fox, Original Blessing:
The need for silence that Zen speaks of, that wisdom literature celebrates, that Eckhart praises, and that Merton calls for is not just about oral silence. Silence means the letting go of all images—whether oral ones or auditory ones or visual ones or inner ones or cognitive ones or imaginative ones. Whether of time or of space, of inner or of outer. It is a radical letting go of language. A letting language go. A concentration on what is non-language, non-music, non-self, non-God. It is being. A being still. Eckhart puts it this way:

One should love God mindlessly, without mind or mental activities or images or representations. Bare your soul of all mind and stay there without mind. Pp. 136-137

How do you do that? How do you let go?

At times our life situations are invitations to this path. We may be on it whether we want to be or not. The challenge then is not to try to fill it with noise too soon. Suffering and loss alone is not the path. They can be invitations to the path. We have to be with the loss. Honor it. Honor the silence that comes with it.

Every week in worship we do something counter-cultural. We have an extended moment of silence during our time of meditation. It can be discomfiting. We are not used to periods of silence, especially in a group setting. Someone needs to entertain us, do something, say something, show us something. Meditation invites us to sink into the very moment we are actually in. As opposed to thoughts ahead or thoughts behind, we are invited to be with ourselves. Silence is that vehicle.

The via negativa or the way of silence is also an opportunity to be honest with ourselves about our doubts, our own alienation, our vulnerability and our struggle.

I want to read to you a section from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an introduction to the Twelve Steps. You may say, "I don’t need that. I am not an alcoholic."  That’s fine.  I don't insist.  But you may find it resonates.

I think it captures the essence of the via negativa, the spiritual path of letting go and letting be…
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way, but we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power – that one is God. May you find Him now!

Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery….

The book goes on to list the twelve steps. This Twelve Step program, developed in the 1930s has been adopted by and adapted to fit other programs of recovery. In many respects, it is a good spiritual path for anyone. It is a path of rigorous honesty. That is the heart of the via negativa.

After the 12 steps, the Big Book continues:
Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

The via negativa is a spiritual path. It is a path in which the emphasis is on progress not perfection.

It is a path that begins with the sound of sheer silence.

It is a path of
willingness to wait,
to be,
to enter the silence,
to be honest with who you are and where you have been,
and to let that self be embraced,
and loved.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Oct. 11-15 on Religion For Life!

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education will be in Nashville October 27th. The title of her presentation is "Why the Tennessee Academic Freedom Act Matters to YOU." She is my guest on Religion For Life to discuss this legislation, offer history and insights to the evolution/creationism controversy, and promote the teaching of science.

Listen via livestream…

Thursday, October 18th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, October 21st at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, October 21st at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, October 22nd at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning October 23rd.