Film, For Love of Hussain (A.S.) To Be Released

Media Release

Two Oregon Men Release Documentary Film of World’s Largest Annual Peaceful Gathering

Rev. John Shuck and Josh Townsley will offer a screening of their documentary “For Love of Hussain (A.S.)” on Sunday, April 28th during worship at ten a.m. at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon. 

Shuck and Townsley visited Karbala, Iraq in October 2018 for Arbaeen, the largest yearly human gathering on Earth. They walked 50 miles from Najaf to Karbala in two and one-half days to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (A.S.) and his companions in the Battle of Karbala 1400 years ago. 

The walk spontaneously emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussain in 2003. Under Saddam, walking to the shrine was prohibited under penalty of arrest and execution. In 2018, according to official sources, in a two week period, over 15 million people converged on Karbala, the site of the shrines of Imam Hussain and his half-brother, Abbas.  The needs of the visitors to the shrine including places to sleep and food are provided each year by the hospitality of the Iraqi people with no centralized organization.

Shuck and Townsley’s trip was sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle, an organization formed in 2018 with the following mission:

“Husayniah society is determined to go beyond rituals to the strategic implementation of Imam Husayn’s message in western society, as bearing the true message of Islam. We plan to build an interfaith community where people come together to share and discuss ideas and work on things they are passionate about. Recognizing we belong to one human race means we have a responsibility to act as a community to affirmatively address issues of social justice.”

The 30-minute documentary will be an introduction to Arbaeen and the significance of Imam Hussain for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

According to Shuck, “The Arbaeen Walk, hosted by the people of Iraq, is truly a journey of love. It is a generous outpouring of hospitality toward the visitors of the beloved Imam who is a symbol of justice, sacrifice, and courage for the world. As a Christian and a pastor, I was warmly received. More non-Muslims need to come to Iraq and see this miracle.” 

Townsley said, “This has been an amazing experience, witnessing the thousands and thousands of people coming to visit Imam Husayn.  The most amazing thing is the hospitality and love of Iraqis and Iranians and people from all over the world.” 

While in Iraq, Townsley and Shuck were interviewed by the Iraqi Media NetworkShabir TV, and The Imam Hussein Shrine

The public is invited to the film screening Sunday, April 28th at ten a.m. at Southminster. Townsley filmed and edited the documentary and Shuck conducted the interviews, wrote the script and provided the narration. It will be released on YouTube and other online venues on April 29th.

Both Shuck and Townsley are available for interviews and for venues to share their film and their experiences. 

John Shuck is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. Josh Townsley is executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity in Clark County, Washington. 

Also on April 28th, the youth of Southminster Presbyterian Church will hold a silent auction from 9:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.  The church will be sending 17 youth and 4 adults on mission to the Westminster House in Spokane in June 2019 and plans are underway to send 30-40 youth and adults to Cameroon, Africa for a mission in June/July 2020.  Auction items include group dinners; cabins at Sunriver and Mount Hood; artwork and jewelry; many themed baskets, and more.  

For more information and for interviews contact John Shuck at 503-309-5346 or by email at  


Sleepers, Awake!

Easter Sermon: Sleepers, Awake!

2019 April 21 Easter Order of Worship

Ephesians 5:11-14
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language and artistry of faith is nuance. It is poetry, parable, and metaphor. This divine poetic communication is not designed to confuse as much as to evoke. Sometimes to redirect. At times the language and artistry of faith calls us to deep reflection, at other times lament, at other times action.

The language and artistry of faith is a vehicle, a means, a way to open our hearts, to raise our consciousness, to sharpen our minds, to awaken us from slumber. All of that is done by Spirit who, like the wind, blows where it will.

I offer that preamble because I want to speak today of resurrection in terms of both language and art or parable and icon. I am also wanting to say that what I am offering in interpretation of resurrection is not doctrine or dogma. It is not the only or even the best way to interpret resurrection. But it is a way that has been on my mind this year.

I am going to suggest that resurrection evokes the poetry and artistry of awakening. I didn’t realize until I was putting the bulletin together, the extent to which death is spoken of through the metaphor of sleep by both Jesus and Paul and other New Testament writers.

Jesus tells a parable about farming, growing stuff. What happens? Weeds. Sown by the enemy while we sleep. That is an odd way to put it, if we are to take the story at face value. We have weeds in our garden because an enemy snuck in and planted them!

But as parable, it makes its own sense and evokes reality. My imagination turns. How often does this happen? How do we become fooled? How do we lose our rights? How do things turn so sour? Often, too often, it happens because we are not awake. We are not aware. We are not alert. Enemies do bad things and take advantage while we are sleeping.

Jesus says, “Keep awake. You don’t know the hour.” Then at his own hour all of his disciples are asleep when the enemy comes and there is no one to hear them coming and Jesus is arrested.

It is dangerous being asleep. We cannot protect ourselves or the ones we love.

This is all parable. Is it about sleeping? Or is it about living in illusion? Is it having a view of how things are that are not how things are?

In the story of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus tells her parents that the young girl is not dead but sleeping. The crowd laughs because that of course is not true. She is dead. So why does Jesus say she is sleeping and why does he tell her to “get up” as if she is napping? Again, it is parable. She is dead but for Jesus, she is sleeping.

We will find sleeping as a metaphor for death again. Why is death like sleeping? Or why is sleeping like death? Is it a euphemism? We don’t like to speak of death so we say sleeping because it doesn’t sound so final? Perhaps. But there could be more to it.

Jesus visits Lazarus. “I am going to wake him up,” says Jesus. The disciples object. If he is sleeping, he will wake up on his own. But then Jesus tells them plainly, “He is dead.” In fact, Lazarus is four days dead and sealed in a tomb. Is this parable again? Asleep. Death. Waking. Rising. Can we be dead while still alive? Dead while yet breathing, walking, talking, thinking, shopping, driving, eating, making a living, yet not alive at all? Walking dead?

And then there is this.

Since 1970, forty percent of all the plants and animals on Earth are gone. That is individual plants and animals, not species. Since 1970, the first Earth Day, we have lost 40% of plants and animals. Was I sleeping when the enemy came and planted toxic weeds that killed half the plants and animals? When did this happen? How did it happen that nearly half of all the animals and plants on Earth vanished in my sleep?

I am not sure why this hit me so hard and why I didn’t realize this, and why isn’t this in the news every day, and we can talk about “the news” that so much of the time is a sleep-aid as opposed to a wake-up call.

When Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Risingcame to Southminster this past fall and dropped the bombshell about the animals that have vanished since I was ten, and I am thinking what? Are we all asleep? Yeah, pretty much. She says in her book that by 2060 half the species of animals and plants will be gone. When the species is gone, that is gone forever. That is at current rates of extinction. No guarantee those rates won’t increase in a feedback loop. So we have x number of species of animals and plants in 1970. By 2060, 40 years from now, we have half that number. What should I do about that? Buy a new car? Get another iPhone?

(Hear my interview with Kathleen Dean Moore on Progressive Spirit)

Turn over. Go to sleep. Somebody will take care of it. Maybe the market. Maybe the next election.

Then when I hear that we spend a thousand billion dollars a year on militarism it doesn’t mean a whole lot, except when I learned what it really means. Every time a bomb drops on Yemen, or Syria, or Gaza, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya, or pick an African nation or maybe soon Iran or Venezuela, every time a bomb drops and blows up stuff like hospitals and people, someone makes three million dollars.

It isn’t the spending, it is the earning that drives the militarism. We have to keep bombing because those who run this business have to have their accounts balance. It is a matter of income and expenses. You have to keep those three-million-dollar bombs falling somewhere everyday in order to make money. Peace is not profitable in our military-intelligence-finance-media-industrial complex especially when you have to invent enemies as fast as you need to make bombs to kill them.

What about us? We are sleeping because people are paid a lot of money to keep us asleep so that the enemy can sow weeds and bombs in our field. Because if we are sleeping we cannot object and by the time we wake up, it will be too late.

Then there is Jesus. Jesus lived in his own time, his own matrix of Roman imperial dominance to which his own religion sold out. Jesus, a loud mouth with nothing to lose goes right to the heart of it, the capital city, Jerusalem, during Passover, and turns over the tables in the temple. You just have to wake people up sometimes. It woke up the authorities. The disciples were sleeping. But Empire got Jesus and executed him quickly. They neutralized him as they say in the Hollywood spy shows.

That is our guy. Our whole religion for 2000 years has been based on a radical. He stood in front of a tank and said, “Run me over.” So it did. We made a religion out of that guy!

Why don’t we know that? Why don’t we understand the truth about Jesus? Because it doesn’t take long to realize that churches don’t exist by having radicals run them. You have to turn church into a dogma factory and make people drowsy with infantile sermons that cause people to feel better about sleeping while Rome burns, not to mention the rest of Earth.

Then this past year I learned about (and experienced) Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. He saved Islam by getting himself killed rather than appease a tyrant. So now I got both Jesus and Hussain haunting me and I am sorry, friends, but you don’t have a prayer on Easter. It is just going to happen.

So what do we do? What do we do about half the animals vanishing while we were sleeping these past 50 years? What do we do about the maniacs who seem so rational with their charts and figures sneaking into our fields while we sleep, planting toxic weeds and sucking all the carbon out of the ground and using it to bomb the place? What do we do?

Well, we can cry. We can learn how to lament.

It was 2006 when I woke up at three in the morning, sobbing. It was a first awakening of sorts. A church member gave me a copy of the documentary film, “The End of Suburbia” that introduced me to James Howard KunstlerRichard HeinbergMichael RuppertMatthew Simmonsand others who were talking about Peak Oil. On a global scale it is the point in time when the rate of production of the world’s oil peaks and then begins to decline. Cheap, conventional oil peaked a decade ago. New destructive technologies enable us to get the harder to reach stuff and I guess we won’t stop destroying everything to get it, until we are stopped.

I started to research this and its connections to global militarism, because one of the things I learned is that the United States consumes 25% of the world’s oil even as it has 5% of the world’s population. You need a lot of guns and bombs all over the planet to maintain that imbalance. We have them. Our country’s 800 military bases are embedded in 177 countries.

I had decided consciously that I wasn’t going to stop researching Peak Oil, and the wars, and the deceptions, and so forth just because I couldn’t see a solution from the outset or because it was too depressing. And depressing it was. I woke up sobbing at 3 a.m. More than once. Then you dry your tears and do some things. In my case, I decided to communicate this unpopular materialin the hopes that maybe more and more people will awaken and together we might even change the inevitable. You decide to fight.

Awakening doesn’t just happen one time on say, Tuesday. It can take a long time, piece by piece. Like grief, it doesn’t follow a straight line. You go back and forth to denial and awareness and back again as you struggle with your cognitive dissonance of how the world is supposed to work on one hand that you have learned from the matrix of your society, and how it really is on the other hand when you start reading people who know stuff and who are no longer themselves afraid to tell what they know.

You cry. You feel alone. When you try to speak, the propaganda machine smashes you with name-calling, “conspiracy theorist,” “crazy” and whatever, and for a while you are afraid of the social isolation and you doubt yourself. But there are other heroes out there who have gone down the rabbit hole farther than you and you find a community. You start to realize that you have a moral compass. And you realize that you are not afraid to follow the evidence where ever it leads. You become confident in showing your work, because you keep learning the hard truths, and you learn to back it up.

You realize that you have a purpose. You have the truths you know and you are no longer afraid of saying what you have seen and heard. The people who are supposedly so authoritative and wise when you ask them about stuff that matters, they don’t have anything except name-calling and propaganda slogans and are no longer worth worrying over. They are like Hades, the keeper of the gate of the dead. Jesus steps on poor old Hades as he breaks open the prison.

Let’s go to Jesus again. I started the sermon talking about the language and artistry of faith. The language of faith is the interplay between sleeping and death and how faith language is about waking up from death .

I don’t think I ever used this text from Ephesians on Easter. I never noticed it. Yet it is a perfect Easter text:

Ephesians 5:11-14
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language of Easter is awakening from death before the grave. We are spiritually dead before we are physically dead. Easter awakens the spiritually dead.

The artistry of Easter is the icon of Jesus crushing Hades and yanking Adam and Eve, David and Solomon, John the Baptist and the prophets, in essence all of humanity out of the prison of sleep. Jesus, who got himself killed, did it to wake us up.

This is the icon of Easter: Jesus is waking up all of humanity, leading us out of the prison of illusion and sleep-walking to wakefulness about what is really happening in our world.

A few weeks ago, Historical Jesus scholar, Dominic Crossan, came here to talk about resurrection icons in the eastern church. Crossan made a convincing case that the eastern resurrection icon is an evocative parablefor us and for our time. One of those icons is on the bulletin cover. In the western tradition, resurrection is depicted as Jesus alone floating above the tomb. In the eastern tradition, Jesus is breaking open the prison of death/sleep and yanking all of humanity out. I see it as breaking people out of the prison of illusion.

This past fall I visited Karbala, Iraq for Arbaeen, a yearly visitation to the shrine of Hussain, the prophet Mohammad’s grandson. Hussain is a symbol of resistance to tyranny and oppression. Fifteen million people visited him over a two-week period, walking from Najaf to Karbala, a fifty-mile walk over two and half days. I experienced it also as a movement of awakening. Josh Townsley and I made a little documentary film about it. It is 30 minutes long and I will show it during worship as a sermon next week.

Here is an interesting convergence. In a fluke of the convergence of calendars, today, Easter, also happens to be the birthday of Imam Mahdi, the twelfth imam who is believed to be living, hiding (like the sun behind a cloud), but will appear along with, guess who? Yes, Jesus. Together they will establish justice. They don’t just do it by themselves, for us, but they awaken us to participate in this renewal and make it happen. What a beautiful parable! The central figures of Islam and Christianity inspiring us all together to work for a just, sustainable world, a world my two-year old granddaughter can inhabit. A world for every two-year old on Earth.

(Read a short biography of Imam Mahdi)

What I am trying to say this morning friends is this.

Most of the world is asleep.

However, one by one, we are slowly waking up.

We are waking up to the reality of what the world is and the possibility of what it can be.

Waking is not for the faint of heart and it is not without lament.

Lament is cleansing. Lament means we are human.

Waking is not without opposition.

There are powerful forces working night and day to keep us asleep. Hades the gate-keeper uses every trick he knows to keep us locked up. Ridicule. Name-calling. Smear. Diversion. Relentless propaganda. Censorship. Lies. Wishful thinking.

Empire does not want people to be awake. Empire tries to kill the awakened ones. But it can’t kill all of us. The one executed by empire doesn’t stay dead. That one lives and has come to awaken the rest of us.

So in whatever form awakening comes to you, be courageous. Embrace it. Rise up! Open your eyes. Follow truth wherever it leads. No matter the cost. Don’t be afraid of the gate-keeper. He’s got nothing.


Passion, Protest, Poetry, and Possibility

Palm Sunday Sermon, Passion, Protest, Poetry, and Possibility

Last night I was in Seattle at the Husayniah Conference. This was a conference sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. I was a panelist. We showed the mini-documentary, “For Love of Hussain (a.s.)” about Josh’s and my trip to Iraq for Arbaeen. It was well-received. They were very kind, giving us a standing ovation. Many talked to me about it in person after the showing.

In addition to the film, there was a panel discussion. The topic was “Sacrifice and Giving in Faith Traditions.” On the panel was a Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist, a Muslim Sheikh, a personal development leader, and me, a Christian pastor. We were each asked to spend five minutes on a figure who exemplified sacrifice and giving from our own religious tradition.

I chose Thomas Merton. I have been using reflections from his 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable, for worship during Lent. I talked about Merton, the author of 70 books, countless essays and letters, as an interfaith leader who engaged with the Dalai Lama, and who was a passionate advocate for peace. He was the first American religious leader to speak out forcefully against the Vietnam War. He was a mentor to the Berrigan Brothers who burned draft cards. The FBI had files on the Berrigans and the CIA had a file on Merton, even intercepting his mail.

Merton died on December 10th, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand while at a conference. He was giving a series of lectures. The popular lore that has been repeated again and again by his many biographers was that he died accidentally while coming out of the shower and touching a fan that electrocuted him. I spoke about a recent investigation by Hugh Turley and David Martin as well as the position of Matthew Fox that this accidental death narrative is a fiction. Evidence, for those who care to examine it, shows that his death was not accidental, but a murder set up to look like an accident. The investigators, Turley and Martin, and Matthew Fox are convinced that Merton was murdered by the CIA because of Merton’s popularity as an anti-war leader.

I went on to say that in 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were also assassinated. Those who have courageously and diligently researched their deaths (Lisa Pease in Robert F. Kennedy’s case and William Pepper in Martin Luther King’s case) have shown that those deaths were not by lone gunmen but were the result of forces within our own government. This goes as well for President John F. Kennedy. The consciousness of Americans is awakening to the reality of these murders.

I continued last night by saying that this is the world in which we live. We live in a nation with 800 military bases around the world, that spends a trillion dollars a year on military endeavors even as we are not threatened by any enemy. Those who resisted this military madness, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, end up dead, and the accounts of their deaths are turned into fictions to protect the guilty. And the wars rage on. It is all perfectly normal, isn’t it?

Merton and these others exemplify sacrifice because they gave their lives for peace, martyrs for peace, even as the stories of their deaths do not recognize this sacrifice. I concluded my speech by sharing a reading from Merton’s Raids on the Unspeakable about sanity and insanity. Merton wrote in 1966:

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.

We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.” The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be “sane” in the limited sense that he is not impeded by his disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly “adjusted.” God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons to apprehend their pain as one’s own? …

Those who have invented and developed atomic bombs, thermonuclear bombs, missiles; who have planned the strategy of the next war; who have evaluated the various possibilities of using bacterial and chemical agents: these are not the crazy people, they are the sane people. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can be considered expendable in a nuclear war….on the other hand you will probably find that the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in Time [magazine], a little crazy.

I am beginning to realize that “sanity” is no longer a value or an end in itself. The “sanity” of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane…perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally “sane.”

During the Q & A one person asked our thoughts on the appropriateness of bringing politics into interfaith gatherings. Since it was likely that I was the most overtly “political” of the presenters, I made a response.

That response was basically this. Politics is an artificial category. It is used to wall off a topic of discussion from critique. In reality, there is nothing that exists that is outside the realm of God, however we understand God, and therefore outside of evaluation from reason, morality, intelligence, imagination, and love. In my experience those who don’t want politics with their religion simply have bad politics. They don’t want their politics examined by the light of God.

That is the jist of my portion of the panel discussion. I bring it up here, in part, because I brought it up there. For the past 27 years of my ministry I have been accused of mixing politics with religion and I am happy to accept that accusation. The only thing I would say is that I don’t do it nearly enough. I often lack the courage of my convictions and need the reminder of the martyrs, King, Merton, the Kennedys, others, who were killed for mixing  morality and politics. Our example, Jesus, did it every day.

Palm Sunday is arguably the most political Sunday on the church calendar. Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding publicly into town on a donkey was a counter-demonstration to the Roman parade that was happening that same week at Passover. Passover, the Jewish celebration of a very political act, the escape from oppression under Pharoah, was an intense time in the city. The Roman military was present with their war horses and weapons.

Jesus, on the other hand, if we follow the rest of his story in the gospels, advocated a message and a way of life counter to the way of life that stripped the poor of their livelihood and their dignity. Jesus was on the side of justice. That justice is political justice. Jesus criticized the Jewish institution, the Temple, that had become corrupt by collaborating with Roman oppression. Not unlike the church throughout history that has often sided with authoritarian regimes and became the priests of war rather than prophets of resistance on behalf of the oppressed and the dying.

How has the church done that? By artificially walling off divine critique of the politics of greed and war as something not appropriate for church. If we are going to be a church that has anything to do with Jesus, we will not allow an artificial wall called “politics” prevent the divine light from shining into our darkness.

Jesus sacrificed his life for what he believed. He had the courage of his convictions to demonstrate against the most powerful military in the known world and religious puppets in the Temple. He said, “No way. Not on my watch are you going to get away with trampling the poor without being called out on it.” He had a following. That is why he was arrested, by stealth, in the night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, given a kangaroo court trial and executed quickly. But even that wasn’t the end of him. As we celebrate next week, Easter, the resurrection of the executed that continues in those who bravely mix politics and religion.

Again, today. The military-industrial-financial-intelligence-media complex has a stranglehold on the planet. It makes no difference what political party is elected, the wars continue, the militarism continues, because every congressperson is owned by it. Every congressperson votes for insane military budgets because in their own backyards are jobs created by this military complex. They are worthless. The president is worthless. The media are worthless. It is all passed off upon us as perfectly sane. As Thomas Merton reminded us fifty years ago,

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.”

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have now put the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953 due to the probability of nuclear war and climate catastrophe.

Now is the time to speak up.
Now is the time to awaken.
Now is the time to call out the madness for what it is.
Now is the time to write your poems.
Now is the time to sing your songs.
Now is the time to tell your truth.
Now is the time to get in trouble.
Now is the time to be “inappropriate.”
Now is the time discover the courage of your conviction.
Now is the time to follow Jesus.

The promise is this.

If we fail at this, God will not fail.

As Jesus said, “If the people are quiet, even the stones themselves will shout.”

I hope we won’t wait to speak until there is nothing left on Earth but stones.


The Plot to Attack Iran: A Conversation with Dan Kovalik

How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Iran

On the next Beloved Community (Friday, April 12th – 9 am Pacific), John Shuck speaks with University of Pittsburgh Law Professor, Daniel Kovalik about the war drums beating against Iran. We discuss his myth-dispelling book about Iran, The Plot to Attack Iran: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Iran.

He is also the author of The Plot to Scapegoat Russia: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Russia, and The Plot to Control the World: How the U.S. Spent Billions to Change the Outcome of Elections Around the World.

The three books will be offered as gifts to those who contribute to KBOO during our Spring Fund Drive.

“The world has a lot of questions about the current state of affairs between the United States and Iran…

*How has the US undermined democracy in Iran?
*Is Iran really trying to develop nuclear weapons?
*How has US waged a terror campaign against Iran for years?
*How is it that the US and Israel, rather than Iran, are destabilizing the Middle East?
*How has Iran helped the US in the war on terror?

“Using recently declassified documents and memos, as well as first-hand experience of the country, critically-acclaimed author Dan Kovalik will change the way you think about Iran, and especially what you think of US interference there. Learn how the United States vilifies its enemies, and accuses them of unspeakable horror to mask its own terrible crimes. Not only does the illuminating and important The Plot to Attack Iran delve into the current incendiary situation, but it also predicts what could happen next, and what needs to be done before it is too late.”


Daniel Kovalik is Senior Associate General Counsel of the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO (USW). He has worked for the USW since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1993. While with the USW, he has served as lead counsel on cutting-edge labor law litigation, including the landmark NLRB cases of Lamons Gasket and Specialty Health Care. He has also worked on Alien Tort Claims Act cases against The Coca-Cola Company, Drummond and Occidental Petroleum – cases arising out of egregious human rights abuses in Colombia. The Christian Science Monitor, referring to his work defending Colombian unionists under threat of assassination, recently described Mr. Kovalik as “one of the most prominent defenders of Colombian workers in the United States.” Mr. Kovalik received the David W. Mills Mentoring Fellowship from Stanford University School of Law and was the recipient of the Project Censored Award for his article exposing the unprecedented killing of trade unionists in Colombia. He has written extensively on the issue of international human rights and U.S. foreign policy for the Huffington Post and Counterpunch and has lectured throughout the world on these subjects.

KBOO (Uncut). Includes fund drive pitching.

PODCAST NO Fund drive pitching.

The Beginning Is Now

I don’t post all my sermons here, but the occasional few that I think are worth sharing widely as they connect with other issues of importance that I do share here. This one was preached March 17th. Go here for audio and for texts I reference.

During Lent I am taking the lectionary texts and placing them next to selections from Thomas Merton’s 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable. I don’t know why I am doing that exactly. It is just that Thomas Merton is on my mind. The unspeakable is on my mind. Jesus is on my mind. Hussain is on my mind. Martyrdom is on my mind. And of this weekend Islamophobia and the mass murder of Muslims while praying in their mosque in New Zealand is on my mind.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you murder the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

I would like to say all of this is on my heart as well as my mind, but as Thomas Merton points out there is no room in our hearts, not because our hearts are full but because they are void.

The Pharisees warn Jesus that he had better run. Herod is about to kill him. That isn’t news. Herod already killed John the Baptist. Some people talk too much. John the Baptist was one of those. So is Jesus. Not that anyone listens to either of them. That is not completely true. There are a very few who found both of them intriguing enough to hear.

Jesus responds,

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Look here, today and tomorrow I’ll be driving out demons and healing people, and the third day I’ll be finished. Still, today, and tomorrow and the day after, I have to move on, because it’s impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:31-35

Herod can do whatever he wants, but I will do my work until I am finished, says Jesus. The third day could be as mundane as the day after the day after tomorrow. It also brings to mind the resurrection. A hint, perhaps, nothing more. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. That is where prophets go to die. You tell the truth. You cast out demons. You heal. Then the powers of this world, the devil who tempted Jesus in the Wilderness, who claimed that it all belonged to him, kill you.

Why? Because you are a threat to their power. In the wilderness, the devil offered the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if he would pay him homage. Jesus is not going to be making any deals with the devil, with the powers that be, with the economics of destruction, that house of cards.

Jesus is going to battle the devil. A battle he will lose as all prophets lose. The devil has the machinery: the media, the intelligence, the money, the military, the religion. The only way to defeat that kind of power is to die to it. It is to say this power means nothing.

Jesus had a pure heart. Just like Thomas Merton. Just like Hussain. They don’t care about anything except telling what is true. They give voice to the unspeakable. They tell of the unspeakable evil in high places.

They tell us, these prophets, that we don’t have to live this way. In fact, we cannot live this way much longer. There is a way out of this but it requires letting go of some massive illusions, particularly, the myth of our own innocence.

Let’s talk about Islamophobia.

Islamophobia did not just happen. This unhinged fear and demonization of Muslims. It was engineered. Muslims are the most vilified group in Hollywood. These negative stereotypes have embedded themselves in the consciousness of Hollywood’s target audience, American non-Muslims, mostly white Christians and white atheists. The result? So the American people will not object to endless war against a manufactured enemy. Because endless war is an end in itself. This is the end to which we are headed. Endless war against each other and against life on Earth itself for control of resources.

Islamophobia is the price that Muslims pay for a crime they did not commit. If you would like to know why I care about the truth behind 9/11, and why I am a member of religious leaders for 9/11 truth, it is because we have allowed false witness against Muslims to be spread. The ninth commandment reads: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

There are two ways to bear false witness. Actively bear false witness and passively bear false witness. Both have the same end result. We can actively lie about others or we can passively do nothing while lies are spread. We can actively promote the lie about 9/11 that supposedly Muslim terrorists attacked New York and Washington or we can passively promote the lie by refusing for whatever reasons to learn the truth for ourselves.

Meanwhile, Muslim nation after Muslim nation is destroyed in the Middle East to satiate the war machine that spends a trillion dollars a year. For what?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You murder the prophets and stone those sent you.”

“Washington, Washington. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

Here is the deal. This is what the gospel is about.

They killed Jesus. But that is not the end of his story. He is risen. On the third day he completed his work. The work is a new creation. A new beginning. It is dying to an old way of living and being born again to a new way of living.

It is dying to the destructive way of living and being born to a new constructive way of living.

Merton wrote:

“To leave the city of death and imprisonment is sure not bad news except to those who so identified themselves with their captivity that they can conceive no other reality and no other condition.”

Merton goes on to say that what is needed is grace and courage to see that “The Great Tribulation” is also “The Great Joy” when it is seen as the Victory of Life over Death.

It is a new way of living that we all want. There was no one I met from Iran in my trip this past fall who wants war. None of us wants it. So why do we have it? We don’t want to destroy Earth to dig up petroleum as fast as we can, burn it and trash the place. None of us wants that. So why do we allow those in control to do it?

O dear friends, I don’t know what to tell you. You are nice people. You would do well with a nice minister. Here I am telling you about 9/11 truth and endless war and Islamophobia.

I don’t know why God put me here, if that is even the case.

I have a lot to figure out. Maybe I can’t even do that. It has nothing to do with you.

You know this past year has been life-changing for me.

The Christian atheist minister found God in Iraq. I don’t think God has been more real for me than now. Oddly enough I have more hope than previously about what humanity can become.

I don’t know how this all plays out with you.

There is a lot going on with me.

Right now, this morning, it is a lot of lament.

But tears must always lead ultimately to joy.

In that I put my trust.


Did the CIA Murder Thomas Merton? A Conversation with Hugh Turley

Hugh Turley Returns to Discuss the Death of One of the 20th Century’s Most Prolific and Respected Spiritual Writers 

(This episode would have aired Friday March 8th, 2019 but it was International Women’s Day and all programming that day was hosted by women. The alternative air date for the March 8th show is Monday, March 18th, at 11:00 am Pacific. The Beloved Community will return to its regular time, every second Friday at 9 am on Friday April 12th at 9 a.m.)

During the first few minutes I offer an update on the cancellation of my interview with Kevin Barrett by management and my appeal to that decision, still in progress after a year.

Hugh Turley returns to the Beloved Community to discuss his work uncovering the mystery of Thomas Merton’s death, December 10th, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thomas Merton was an intellectual, a prolific writer, and spiritual leader in the anti-war movement of the 60s. While biographers have all accepted the official story in some incarnation or another, that he was accidentally killed by a fan, Turley and co-author David Martin, in their book, The Martrydom of Thomas Merton, show that this official story cannot possibly be true. 

Now that this book has been released and official organizations connected with Merton are aware of this work, what is surprising is how so many of those who admire Merton care so little about honestly exploring the truth surrounding his death.  

On a special time, Monday, March 18th at 11 am Pacific, John Shuck speaks live with Hugh Turley about the facts around the death of Thomas Merton and the struggles Turley and Martin have had in communicating their findings to the public. 

From the cover:

Seldom can one predict that a book will have an effect on history, but this is such a work. Merton’s many biographers and the American press now say unanimously that he died from accidental electrocution. From a careful examination of the official record, including crime scene photographs that the authors have found that the investigating police in Thailand never saw, and from reading the letters of witnesses, they have discovered that the accidental electrocution conclusion is totally false. The widely repeated story that Merton had taken a shower and was therefore wet when he touched a lethal faulty fan was made up several years after the event and is completely contradicted by the evidence. 
Hugh Turley and David Martin identify four individuals as the primary promoters of the false accidental electrocution narrative. Another person, they show, should have been treated as a murder suspect. The most likely suspect in plotting Merton’s murder, a man who was a much stronger force for peace than most people realize, they identify as the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States government. 
Thomas Merton was the most important Roman Catholic spiritual and anti-warfare-state writer of the 20th century. To date, he has been the subject of 28 biographies and numerous other books. Remarkably, up to now no one has looked critically at the mysterious circumstances surrounding his sudden death in Thailand. From its publication date in the 50th anniversary of his death, into the foreseeable future, this carefully researched work will be the definitive, authoritative book on how Thomas Merton died.

KBOO Live Monday, March 18th 11 am PACIFIC



Loving the Hell out of Us

Here is the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 10th for Evolution Sunday.

“…we can…think of the end of our present life not as the end of our journey with God but simply as the beginning of its next phase. If so, we can conceive that divine grace, working entirely through the attractive power of love, might sanctify us all. There would be no need for the divine violence of casting sinners into hell. God would, instead, love the hell out of us.”
–David Ray Griffin, Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith

Loving the Hell out of Us

I am the product of my parents. My father has a mind for science. My mother had a heart for faith. That isn’t to say that my father doesn’t have a heart nor my mother a mind. It is merely my perception of them to make a story about my life. My parents are far more complicated and interesting than the categories I create for them.

Nevertheless, it is with love and respect that I draw from the two of them an ongoing love for science and for faith, a lovers’ dance, two very different ways of knowing and of loving the world into which we are thrust.

Each day as I break a new personal record of consecutive days alive and breathing, I find myself negotiating my parents’ legacy in my own life. Science and faith. A love for facts and discovery. A desire to follow the will of God.

At times the lovers get snippy with each other, insisting that each’s own way is superior. True enough, one way is better at another in some things. Each way is also blind to its own shadow. Each way can also be blind to outside forces that manipulate each toward more sinister agenda.

Science is almost always used for the material of war.
Faith is almost always used for the emotion of war.

Each glimpses how the other is manipulated but that clarity often vanishes in the mirror.

The challenge to me and to us is how science and faith can contribute to the good. If science and faith are both ways of seeking what is true, is it too much to ask of both disciplines to seek also what is good? One of the historic principles of Presbyterian Church Order emphasizes both truth and goodness. You find this paragraph from the 18th century in our Book of Order:

F-3.0104 Truth and Goodness
That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a [person’s] opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

These old Presbyterians were talking about truth that comes from faith, but that did not exclude truth that comes from reason. Both ways of knowing truth are in order to goodness. Of course, determining what is good as is determining what is true requires work, conversation, public debate, research, failure, humility, perseverance, and the ability and willingness to respond to change with corresponding change of mind and heart.

When I arrived at Southminster four years ago, a frequent question was asked of me: “What is your vision? What do you think Southminster should do?” My response then was that I didn’t know. I am new. We will have to see what Spirit presents to us.

Many times these types of questions are asked in terms of strategy and marketing. How do we brand ourselves and so forth? I am not against strategy, marketing, and branding, I suppose. But it must take a distant second to content. Who are you? What is real? What is God calling us to be and do? Truth and Goodness first. Strategy, Marketing and Branding, second.

I like this quote  [mis] attributed to Charles Darwin, whose birthday, we celebrate on the Sunday closest to his birthday as Evolution Sunday.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

No one likes change, of course. Especially, churches. We all know the old jokes, such as the seven last words of the church:

“We’ve never done it that way before.”

I am going to mention this morning two types of changes that would behoove us to be responsive.

First, some religion. Jesus preaches a sermon. The boys are washing their fishing nets. Jesus tells the boys to drop the nets in the deep water. Simon, who later Jesus calls Peter, the rock upon whom I will build my church, is resistant to this new idea. It sounds like something that has been tried and has failed in the past. Those are the other seven last words of the church:

“We tried it that way once already.”

Simon goes with that one and says to Jesus:

“Master, we’ve been hard at it all night and haven’t caught a thing. But if you insist, I’ll lower the nets.”

Of course, the story concludes with a huge catch of fish and a moral from Jesus:

“Remember this lesson friends, when we go to catch the big fish.”

Here is the question:

“Does Peter, the Rock, represent the church in his resistance to change or in his responsiveness to Jesus?”

I will let that question hang there. You answer it yourself.

One more piece of religion. That is the quote from David Ray Griffin from his book, Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith. The question is how does the world end? Not just the world, the galaxy, the universe, the cosmos? Does it end with divine violence, sending sheep and goats to their separate areas? Or does it end through the lure of love? Griffin says, and I agree with him, that the end is the process. God’s work is not complete by sending sinners to hell. God’s work is complete by loving the hell out of us.

In the end, no matter how many lifetimes it takes,

“All will be well.”

With all of that hope, let’s tackle some change.

The first change is that many churches in America are closing.

A friend sent me this article this morning in Baptist News. The article by Pastor Elizabeth Mangham Lott is entitled, “My seminary has closed. But churches are closing too, and it’s time to face some hard questions.”

This is true for Presbyterians as well as Baptists. Our denomination, or its antecedents in 1965 numbered four million. Today about 1.5 million. I am sure that Craig Butler, Southminster member, and treasurer of our presbytery, would be happy to educate us on trends within our own presbytery.

Rather than blame each other, we can ask some hard questions. How do we respond to this change? The article concludes with excellent advice:

“How will we know which path is ours to take? Well, that’s something I did learn in seminary. We sit in holy quiet together, embracing ancient practices of contemplation and discernment. We follow the threads across ancient texts and look for the ways God has always been finding new and wildly imaginative avenues to know and be known by a people. We foster honest, brave, healthy, truth-telling communities that step even more fully and boldly into their calling as followers on the Way of Jesus. We ask really good questions and listen to each other in hopes of getting to even better ones.”

The second change is a far bigger change. It dwarfs the first change in magnitude almost making the first seem irrelevant. But actually, how we respond to the first change will enable us to be better equipped at responding to this second change.

I have spoken of this second change often and from different angles for over twenty years. I haven’t talked about it every Sunday, but I think you know it. And you mostly don’t like it.

Here it is: Americans make up 5% of the world’s population and consume 25% of the world’s resources. Another way to put it is this: If the rest of the world consumed as much as Americans consumed we would need four planets of resources. We have one planet. This is the case when I first started talking about it 20 years ago. It is an inequity that is unsustainable and can only be sustained temporarily through violence.

This change will likely be good for the rest of the world when America stops consuming a quarter of the world’s resources and instead consumes what is proportional to its population. This change will be uncomfortable for Americans when this standard of living changes.

Whether one thinks that inequity is justifiable or not, inequities always result in change. There is always a re-ordering eventually. Evolution happens when species outstrip their environments or when environments change. Whether we come about this question by studying Peak OilClimate Change, or militarization and its accompanying propaganda, there are hundreds of ways to show that these inequities exist and are not going to last. Those inequities are the inequity of human population vs. planetary limits and the inequity of the elites of the world vs. the rest.

This change can come abruptly or gradually or in a combination. As humans in general and Americans in particular, collectively reach the end of our credit limit, and nothing has been done in the past twenty years that I have been talking about it in regards to changing our course, major changes likely will come sooner than later.

Now remember. It is all good.

Simon Peter, the rock of the church, was in the end, responsive to change and Jesus will love the hell out of us.

If my parents taught me anything it is that life ends. My mother lived to be 91. My father is 100 currently. Even long lives end. Given that something will kill us someday, how do we live now?

Do we live to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for as long as possible? That is one way. But there is another way: the way of Jesus. The way of Mohammad. The way of Moses. The way of Buddha. These spiritual leaders knew that life was bigger than themselves and they were all responsive to change.

How might we be responsive to change? I think the fire drill is a great start about being responsive and prepared.

What about snowstorms? Are we as a church responsive enough to that in regards to care for the building but also care for members?

Let’s go bigger.

You have heard that we are due for an earthquake (New YorkerAtlantic). I have not talked about that at all with the congregation in any organized way. Dick Burnham and I were talking about it the other day. A very small percentage has done any awareness or preparation for this.

For me the physical preparation is important, but more than that, the internal preparation is equally as important as is the social preparation.

Change is coming. It comes in many ways. Practicing responsiveness through education, internal spiritual preparedness, and social connection can put Southminster in a place where it can be a helper rather than irrelevant, or worse, a burden. This goes for the congregation as a whole as well as individuals within it.

This is what I do. I am not some slick marketer who can come in and tell you how to get young people in the church, or sing and dance to soft hits of the 80s. I find most of that stuff to be a bunch of bull. I can however tell you what I think is going on and help open discussions on how we might respond, theologically, ethically, and practically to changes that are coming.

Truth and Goodness.

March 10th after church we start with some conversations about what it means to be the church on Denney and Hall in Beaverton.

You can talk to me over pie for breakfast on Wednesdays at Sharis on Allen and Murray or coffee Tuesday mornings. Or whenever. I will leave you today with Charles Darwin (although likely a misquotation):

It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
Nor the most intelligent,
But the one most responsive to change.