Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Well is Dry

If I'm honest with myself--and with all of you--sometimes, I just don't have it.

Sometimes, I don't have the energy to do my ministry.

Sometimes, I don't have the strength to pick myself up.

Sometimes, I don't have the faith that God will indeed make all things right.

And so sometimes, I just want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers up until I am less battered by the world and everything that is broken with it.

Most of the time--the vast majority of the time, even--I love what I do.  I am paid to study the same Bible stories that fascinated me as a child and to teach them to a loving audience every week.  I still can't believe how good I have it.

But when I look at the world outside of my loving congregation, the congregation I continue to serve out of my own admiration for joy in what I do sometimes dries up faster than a Samaritan woman's well.

First, I read about a fellow pastor who wants gays and lesbians to be rounded up, fenced off, and allowed to die through attrition.

Next came reading about another fellow pastor who suggests that the government should simply get in the business of killing gays and lesbians.

After that came reading about a church in which a little child was given a standing ovation by all of the adults in the audience for singing a song whose refrain was, "ain't no homos gonna make it to heaven." (Watch the video, notice the kid's age and bearing on the stage, and it's clear that he was coached by an adult or adults.)

Then, there was the story of how Cardinal Timothy Dolan, arguably the most prominent American Catholic leader today, authorized payoffs of $20,000 and annual pensions of $15,000 to pedophile priests who would agree to voluntarily leave the priesthood.

And I just want to retort at these stories, "Stuff like this is why we can't have nice things."

Now, I can take a certain amount of bad press for Christianity in any given day.  I might even have made myself numb to it to a certain extent, if only as a defense mechanism so that I can continue to do my work without getting so affected by everything that is happening that I lose my faith.

But this time...when it rains, it pours.

I'm not asking for a pity party here, I'm really not.

But I do want to use this post to disprove the notion that we pastors have an infinite well of faith that we can draw from.

We don't.

And my personal reserves have run dry at the moment.

I'm trying very hard not to replace those empty reserves with anger.  I've been praying constantly to avoid falling into the trap of letting my temper rule me, and of violating Jesus's commands about not judging others.

I know that it would be very easy and very cathartic for me to respond to these stories with the wrath of God's own thunder.

Because even though I do not think that any of these instances should be taken as at all representative of the entire Christian tradition in all of its splendor and diversity, I also know that there are other churches out there like the one of that singing child, churches that are teaching their children nothing but to condemn people who aren't like them.

I want to know how I can work at changing their hearts and minds (and they, no doubt, likely feel the same about me).  I want to know how I can preach justice without dividing the voice of Christianity.

And I want to be able to do my ministry without feeling like I have to turn my blog into a single-issue blog that is devoted to using my moral authority to do damage control every time another pastor says or does something that turns away the many people who are justifiably skeptical of the church today, people who I want to bring the message of the incredible love and good news of Jesus Christ to. I said--I'm really not asking for your pity here.

Only your prayers.

Thanks, y'all.

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Letters from the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column a brief note about Memorial Day.

"School's Out--Here's Some Summer Homework!"

If you are anything like me, summer is a time to try to take a step back, take stock, and smell the proverbial roses. Part of that process for me has always involved reading—I’m a lifelong bookworm—and given the number of teachers, librarians, and other education-related professionals we boast in our congregation, I hope that you may potentially appreciate me plugging the value of reading by offering a brief list of books that I highly recommend right now:

It’s Not All About You: Young Adults Seeking Justice,” edited by Julie Richardson Brown and Courtney Richards, 2012

One of the characteristics I love most about our church is our commitment to mission in the local community, and this newly-released book is a compilation of accounts from many people my age about their own efforts to make the world a better place in their respective communities. Read their stories, be inspired, and hear how our generation talks about outreach and mission!

Blue Like Jazz,” by Donald Miller, 2003

This isn’t a new book by any means, but the movie adaptation of Donald Miller’s compilation of memories and essays was just made into a movie this spring (with the same name), so I plan on revisiting his book soon. His words are insightful, funny, and uplifting all at the same time.

The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock,” by Fred Craddock, 2011

In the world of preaching, Disciples pastor and professor Fred Craddock is a superstar. He has ministered for many years, and his wit and sense of humor makes his preaching very engaging to both hear and read. I saw him preach last year at our General Assembly and loved it!

So, that is what will be on my shelf this summer. What about you?

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric

"The Last Full Measure of Devotion"

Several years ago, I visited for the first time ever the grave of my uncle Albert at my family's plot in a cemetery in Troy, Michigan. He is buried across a small, grassy way from my grandmother and great-grandparents, surrounded by fellow veterans who, like him, were killed in action in World War II. It was a profound moment that is difficult to describe in words, but thankfully, we have a day set aside to give space for such profound emotion and honor on behalf of those who have given what Abraham Lincoln calls "the last full measure of devotion."

This past Monday, we and the nation commemorated another Memorial Day in honor of those veterans who have passed away. Most, if not all, of you have veterans either in your family or your circle of friends, and we count a number of veterans as members of FCC.

To those veterans, and those who have come before us, thank you. ~Pastor Eric

Finally, on a more personal note, it is 364 days until Memorial Day 2013. Please do not let it be 364 days before you thank a veteran for his or her service. So to my late uncle Albert, and my grandpa George, and my aunt Leanne--veterans all--thank you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

This Week's Sermon: "Babel Undone"

Acts 2:1-13

"When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”" (CEB)

Pentecost 2012

While I was in the town of Akko, Israel, in July of 2010 to work on an archaeological excavation, I and my fellow amateur archaeologists stayed at the Israeli Nautical College—sort of their equivalent of Annapolis, but for high school aged cadets as well—next to the Crusader city of Acre. We slept on tiny beds, did battle with mosquitoes the size of my face, and ate the same food at the dining hall day…after day…after day.

And sharing that dining hall with us was a group of young Israeli Sea Scouts. We sat on one side of the dining hall, they sat on the other. But at every meal, we could still hear the prayer they prayed before they ate because, well, they sort of yelled it. In response to what the leader would shout, all the Scouts would yell back, “Yahm! Yahm! Yahm Yahm Yahm!” Being the space cadet American that I am, I thought that they were shouting, “Yum Yum Yum!” before eating…which, I mean, it sounded like a fairly militaristic way to praise your food, but it is something I can get behind—my own preferred pre-meal prayer happens to be “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, Amen.” So, while shouting “Yum Yum Yum” might seem like an odd choice of prayer, far be it for me to question it. But towards the end of the trip, one of the students on the dig with me, who actually knew Hebrew, told me that “yahm” is actually Hebrew for “sing.” So these students were replying to the call to prayer by saying, “Sing, Sing, Sing!”

Sometimes, the way to serve God is as simple as to sing, as to speak, as to testify, but communicating that command to sing, to serve, is anything but simple—and certainly not simple for the ignoramus American student who doesn’t know a lick of Hebrew. I would like to blame my ineptness with foreign communication on the whole Tower of Babel story--we'll get to that in a minute--but as you will soon see, that should no longer be the most convenient excuse!

But the language that God uses to talk to us is also…for lack of a better term, organic, dynamic, growing, and changing. After Noah and the flood, God sees the destruction caused by the floodwaters but declares that never again will Earth be destroyed in such a way. Moses has to talk God out of smiting the Israelites during the Exodus journey in the wilderness. And the miracle of Pentecost, of the speaking of “God’s deeds of power,” undoes another primeval event—the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, to prevent us from building a monument into the heavens, God cast us about with different tongues and dialects, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus Christ, Babel has been undone, we can once again understand each other in the common language of divine love, and the re-emergence of unity in God has triumphed over human-initiated sectarianism. If that is to be drunk on the “new wine,” as the Apostles’ detractors refer to it, then may the intoxicating power of the new wine be enough to continue to overcome the divisions we have built up!

And if you ask why we may praise a potentially changeable deity with the devotion that we do to God in the Scriptures—especially the way that Peter does in his inaugural sermon in Acts 2—as well as in church every Sunday, you may well find yourself on the wrong side of the judgmental glances as people wonder to themselves, “Exactly what is the temperature that this heretic will burn at in hell?”

But such condemnatory questions are largely beside the point. We praise this God that is organic and dynamic because of the gifts that He bestows out of an unknowable love for us. After breaking us apart by giving us separate languages and dialects, God builds us back up because He realizes that He has withheld something from us—the Holy Spirit—and it is given to us because we have finally realized that our first attempt to build a bridge to Heaven—a literal bridge in the tower of Babel—we realized the foolishness of that first attempt. And like all rough drafts, whether of school papers, or construction projects, or, ahem, Sunday morning sermons, we have broken it down, taken it apart, and come back to God with something that we hope and pray is far greater, and in this case, that thing is something to be truly grateful for: the post-Resurrection church.

Yet when we look around the world and see its complete lack of unity—its discord, its strife, its seemingly eternal iniquities in the form of poverty, violence, and inequality, we can lose our gratefulness to God in a big darn hurry. All of the sudden, our dialogue with God becomes, “What have you done for me lately?” We shout out, “You absentee landlord who created earth and sky and sun and moon in six days, who spoke through your prophets and raised your son from the dead, where are you now, when children die by the thousands from malnutrition and preventable disease, or when hardworking adults go years without a decent job?” We become latter-day Doubting Thomases, whose own disbelief occurs when he is not present to receive the Holy Spirit from the Risen Christ. How appropriate a mascot for many of us today—if we worry that we have missed out on the gift of the Holy Spirit, if we are scared deep in our bones, in our souls, that we are not filled with the spirit the way that we were supposed to, then we in turn begin to doubt!

We become Doubting Thomases, we become the naysayers who would stifle the moving, breathing vitality of the Holy Spirit in today’s world. We become the skeptics of a generation that hopes, rather than prays, that tomorrow will be better than today. And the God that many preachers tell us to have faith in, and pray to, is a God that is altogether horrific for us to contemplate, a destructive, apocalyptic deity who eagerly counts down the days until fire and brimstone rain down upon the Earth…and you just know that the Left Coast is going to get hit first! (Well, Seattle and Portland, really, but since we’re sandwiched in between them, we’re pretty much toast as well.)

However, the Pentecost story is, at its core, one of how God has not lost faith in us yet. For, only 52 days after the killing of His Son, God sends to us the Holy Spirit. And within the church, peace is the best means we have, because this post-Pentecost church is one that has to take, as a prerequisite for its existence, a desire for peace and for unity. We praise God for everything we have been given, and it, too, is in language that sounds very similar from church to church—for, I promise you, other churches sing many of the exact same songs that we do, and they even read the exact same Bible that we do! Their praise sounds like our praise, and that is the entire point of the Pentecost story—that the coming of the Holy Spirit can indeed unify our hearts and minds around God no matter our language.

So whether it is with the Hebrew “Yahm,” or “Yah Chai,” or the English “Hallelujah,” we are all speaking this same language of praise. Only this time, instead of speaking the same language so that we may build a tower to the heavens, may we speak the same language to bring the peace of the heavens down to our weary little world. And if our reward for such works of praise comes not in this world, may it come in the next, for it is not merely enough to be taught God’s goodness—we are called to witness it, to proclaim it, to testify to it, and most importantly, to live it.

And so I pray, and I pray, and I pray, that there will be a day when eventually God will look upon the hurt and pain caused in the world, and call out to us, and set bushes on fire, and jump up and down and scream, “Enough! Love! I want love!” And I can hear our excuses now…we might reply, “But we don’t know how.”

And God will simply say to us, “Sing!”

We might say, “That’s impossible,” and God will reply, “Sing!”

And we might say, “We might fail,” but God will keep coming back to us, over and over and over, whispering in our ears, “Sing! Sing! Sing!”

By the grace of God, may it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
May 27, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pizza Funds and Whippersnappers These Days

Pretty regularly (probably once every four or five phone conversations I have with her), my mother will ask me if she can contribute to my congregation's "Pizza Fund," a completely fictitious budget line-item that exists for her as a stand-in for the ministry I have been performing with young adults through my Sunday School class and, most recently, our evening ACTS worship service (first Sunday of every month at 6:00 pm!)

My mom's theory is that if you offer food, young people will come to just about anything.  And speaking as someone who is innately predisposed to consuming vast amounts of free food, I tend to agree, especially since I'm pretty sure food tastes even better when it is free.

But it's also a very simple variable in what has become a complex equation of calculus-esque proportions--how does the church welcome back the young people (Generations X and Y) who have voted with their feet and left the church?

The issue that this question is predicated on is (in my eyes) a lot more simple to answer--why have young people left the church to begin with?  I can say that in my experience, it is because young adults see the church as irrelevant--we either have a rap for being extremely unwelcoming (and yahoos like this guy aren't really helping at the moment), or we have a rap for caring only about propping up the same boring, dreary institution that sings the same boring, dreary hymns on the same boring, dreary pipe organ every single Sunday.

I keep telling people I meet, though, that my congregation does not fall into either camp.  I am constantly amazed and impressed at the dimensions of the hospitality my congregants offer to our visitors, and our worship is becoming more and more dynamic--we almost never sing out of the hymnals anymore (this Sunday will be the first time since Lent that we'll be using a hymnal, as our praise team will be taking a well-deserved holiday weekend off), our praise team itself has been exploring with more folk-oriented arrangements of contemporary music with the addition of a banjo to our regular lineup, and my own preaching takes place not from the pulpit, but in the round, as I walk about with my sermon laid out on my iPad.

Rock and roll with a kick drum and bright lights it ain't, sure.  But that also isn't really us, and truth be told, the stereotype that what young people want is a rock concert of a worship is not completely correct.

I have come to believe that what people my own age are seeking from a church, more than anything else in the world, is a sense of meaning, and this is actually being borne out in our increasing participation other unconventional, but certainly not technology-heavy, worship traditions like the Taize tradition out of continental Europe.

For my part, I spent my four years in college at Lewis & Clark immersed in the Taize tradition through the regular worship services led by Sr. Loretta Schaff, a Franciscan sister who served as one of L&C's chaplains.  Coming to Longview, and at the behest of my congregation, I began work a couple months ago on an unconventional evening service, and I borrowed heavily from the Taize tradition in doing so; I essentially took the contemporary prayer styles I had been exposed to in college and seminary--Taize, Quaker, and emergent--and threw them all into a blender to create a new sort of hybrid worship that also brought in elements of confession, repentance, and forgiveness.  There's no sermon, but there is room for extemporaneous testimony.  There's no Eucharist, but there is a time to gather and take hands together around the Cross.

And when we put it on, for a very small crowd, the first time on Sunday, May 6, I felt what was indeed lacking in other churches I have experienced over the years--I felt the authenticity that comes with the Holy Spirit being present.

It's a pretty powerful thing.

And trust me, it is not as though my generation has turned our backs to it...we just need to know that the church can help us find it once again.

But offering us free pizza sure doesn't hurt, either.

How have you seen--in your church or elsewhere--young people be brought back into the embrace of Jesus Christ?

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The De Facto Associate: A Retrospect One Year Later

(Author's Note: Apologies for my one-week hiatus, and my thanks to all of you for indulging that brief vacation from the world of Christian blogging.  It was a great moment of time away from the everyday demands of ministry, and I am glad to be back. -E.A.)

The last two-thirds of 2011 was an absolute blur for me—I graduated from seminary, was ordained, saw my childhood congregation get ripped apart by a destructive (and likely unnecessary) schism, and I went from being a Bay Area graduate student intending to write a master’s thesis in Biblical Studies at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University to being a full-time solo pastor in semi-rural southern Washington.

But all of those massive life changes began with one other change, and if I was completely honest with myself, it was a change as formative as any of the above—exactly one year ago today, I formally stepped down from my work as the student associate minister at First Christian Church in Concord, California, following two years of ministry in that post.

And I will be honest—I truly doubt that if I began my full-time ministry somewhere as an associate pastor of a larger church (as opposed to my current calling as the solo pastor of a smaller church), that I would be enjoying ministry as much as I am after all of said life changes.

This is not ego talking—just a worry of the reality that a supermajority (between 60-80%, depending on who you ask) of newly-minted pastors leave ministry within five years, and my guess is that many of them are (or were) associates, departing the ministry after a singularly bad experience as an associate pastor.

I know that there are other denominations with a more centralized polity than the Disciples (whose congregations are fully autonomous, as opposed to, say, having a pastor assigned to them by a bishop) have what is called a “curate” associate pastorate in their parishes for newly ordained pastors. A curate pastorate is designed to be filled for only two years—presumably, in those two years you will learn so much that you will outgrow it and need to move elsewhere for your own professional and spiritual growth. For associates who feel called to a church only for a short time because they are being groomed for a future senior pastorate, it’s a pretty good model.

I feel extremely lucky in this regard, as I have come to view my two years of part-time student associate ministry at FCC Concord as a sort of in-seminary curate post. I was at a parish that took immense pride in being a teaching congregation—my senior pastor there, Russ Peterman, had been there for about five years when I was hired, and I was his third student associate—and that pride and identity showed, even in how they referred to me.

Some of my classmates at seminary were referred to as “Ministers-in-Training” by their parishes, which to me sounded extraordinarily patronizing and brought to mind images of a poor student having to go up to the pulpit to preach while wearing water wings over their robes.

My title at FCC, in contrast, was “Student Associate Minister.” It denoted my student status respectfully, without patronizing me, but it also labeled me an actual minister of the church, rather than just one who is training. I have to think that, at least unconsciously, it made me feel more like a full member of that community for the two joyous years I spent with them. At a bare minimum, I know that I carry a fierce loyalty to them that I am not apt to lose anytime soon.

Now, please don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I just liked a place more because they gave me a better title. I’m only saying that, in my case (and my case only), that title was a reflection of the place in their fold that this community had given me.

But unlike other associates—student and ordained alike—I was not simply given the dregs of the job to do. My job description was not “everything that Russ does not want to do,” which was a far more tangible way of demonstrating this faith community's affirmation and acceptance of me. While I did do ministry that was meant to meet the needs of the parish—like starting a youth Sunday School and chaperoning a lock-in or two—I was also given a free rein to poke around in almost every aspect of the church’s life, from finance to mission, and I was never asked to stop using pop culture materials, even television shows like South Park or Family Guy, in my Sunday School classes.

Perhaps most importantly, I was being taught by a senior pastor whose talent was never eclipsed by his ego. I preached, on average, once every six weeks, and attendance would drop only negligibly, if at all, on my Sundays. I was included in long-term worship planning meetings. On the Sunday I was away in Kansas City, awaiting approval for ordination pending graduation by my region’s committee on ordination and standing, Russ began his sermon by talking about me, of all people. And most memorably, I went from being too fearful to even preach one Sunday in the first multi-week sermon series during my tenure (if memory serves, it was six weeks on the Sermon on the Mount) to, in a 90-minute, caffeine-fueled brainstorming session, hashing out the entire Lent 2011 sermon series with Russ, complete with texts, titles, and themes.

In This Odd and Wondrous Calling, the fantastic 2009 book that she co-authored with fellow pastor Rev. Martin Copenhaver, the Rev. Lillian Daniel wrote about her time as an associate minister early in her career, at the same age as me, saying, “The relationship among clergy at the same church is profoundly intimate. When it works, there can develop something close to telepathy.” In those sorts of vision-casting, sermon-planning sessions, there was a hint of a sort of shared vision, I think, between Russ and myself, owing in no small part to his own influence upon me. After all, we each simply saw sides of each other we would have never seen but for both of us serving on the church staff. And because of this, I would echo Rev. Daniel wholeheartedly in one other sentiment--that I firmly believe that associates should feel called based on who their senior pastor will be as much as any other factor, if not more so.

I still think a lot about my time at seminary, of what I learned and wished that I had learned. But I learned the most about how to actually do ministry not from any seminary class, but from my two years at Concord, because there, I had finally caught a glimpse of the minister I could become, and of the minister I am today.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Which I Commit All Manner of Biblical Heresies

Dear readers, while I almost never actively try to solicit comments from y’all, this is one of these rare exceptions. After my past few Bible study sessions with my congregation, I’ve had these questions rolling around in the old noggin and can’t seem to shake them. Let me know if you think I’m on- or off-base here. –E.A.

(Also an aside, this post was inspired by a recent re-read of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s excellent book “The Last Week,” which is a detailed, day-by-day exegesis of the Passion story as told in Mark’s Gospel, as well as by Rachel Held Evans’ memoir “Growing Up in Monkey Town.” All Scripture quotations are from the Common English Bible.)

I’ve touched on aspects of God’s grace (and my relationship with it) in previous entries, but I haven’t actually written much about sacrifice as a component of that grace (even though I preached on sacrifice as a theological concept just a few weeks ago), whether in terms of the sacrifice of Christ himself as a means of grace, or our sacrifices in our good works as a means of demonstrating our justification as a result of that grace-through-Christ’s-atonement.

In a sentence, this is what I've been thinking: that Jesus had to die because He had a human dimension to Him (and we all must die), but He did not have to be executed. If He had to be executed, that makes His sacrifice less than ultimate because it means the Crucifixion was inevitable, which gives us an out—there was nothing we could have done to prevent the Crucifixion, which mitigates the egregiousness of us putting the Messiah to death. And because Christ did not have to die, that means we have inherent worth to God outside of the cross despite our sinfulness—that is, even if the Passion had never happened, we would still have worth and value to God.

Borg and Crossan tackle the first question in their Good Friday exegesis, framing the issue as one of divine necessity or of human inevitability—essentially, did the Crucifixion have to happen because it was the will of God, or did it have to happen because we are sinful?

Borg and Crossan take the latter perspective, and while I don’t agree with everything they say in this book (they are much more interested in the historical Jesus, while I think the theological Jesus is equally important), I do happen to agree with them on this one, though not entirely for the reasons they state. Their exegesis centers around what happens to prophetic teachers when they challenge the sinful status quo, as they refer to the executions of John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and James as well as Jesus Christ as preachers and teachers who were executed for challenging the sins of the status quo in world they inhabited.

But Borg and Crossan gloss over what I think is the crucial aspect of the sacrifice of Good Friday when they write, “Did it have to happen? It might have turned out differently.” That single reality makes all the difference in the world to me—that it did not have to be this way (apologies to Tim Rice’s Jesus that sings, in Jesus Christ Superstar, “everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.” That lyric simply isn’t from the Bible).

Did Jesus have to die because it was God’s plan for Him to die? Yes, because He was made human—“The Word became flesh and made his home among us” (John 1:14). So, yes, Jesus did eventually have to die. But was it God’s will that Jesus die by execution? I’m not so sure. I realize that Jesus prays, “Not what I want, but what you want” to God at Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), but I still struggle with the notion that a God of love, a Father (as Jesus calls him, Abba, or ‘Dad’) would “want” his Son to be executed. It implies something about God that, if I’m completely honest with myself, I’m not quite willing to accept.

So too does the theology of St. Anselm that Crossan and Borg are critiquing in their book.  St. Anselm's argument revolves around the idea that God demands a price or a debt before He will recognize our inherent worth and have a relationship with us. But for me, it makes God seem petty and arbitrary rather than gracious and forgiving.

Instead, assume for the moment that it is God’s will that Jesus live. By going against God’s will, we create the most extreme necessity for God’s grace (certainly more so than Adam and Eve eating a durned apple would have created). We give the cross even MORE meaning when we admit to ourselves that Christ’s execution could have been prevented by us, and that we disobeyed God’s will by putting Jesus to death.

To be sure—this is not me arguing that we are utterly without worth in the eyes of God because of our sinfulness. Rachel Held Evans calls this “pond scum theology” (ie, that we are no better than pond scum to God), and about it, she says, “To believe that people are inherently worthless to God strips the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of all their meaning and power. It makes Jesus look like a fool for dying for us.”

The ONLY way that I can come up with to explain how our sinfulness gives, rather than strips, the Passion its meaning and power is to say that we went against God’s wishes by executing Jesus, and that God loves us and sees our inherent worth anyways.

Which means that it was not God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross. If anything, this underlines the sacrificial nature of the Crucifixion even more—that God, in all His glory and power, subordinated His divine power to our earthly power. It was not merely that Jesus made Himself “obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8), it is that God did as well by standing there, watching us kill His Son. I cannot imagine that God would have allowed Himself to witness this if He didn’t believe in our worth and in His own capacity to redeem us.

And here’s the kicker—we KNOW from Scripture that we do have worth in the eyes of God. God created humanity “in God’s own image” (Genesis 1:26). Jesus came “so that (we) could have life” (John 10:10). God’s love, in Christ, for us is “beyond knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). And, of course, there's the big one—God so loved the world, He gave His only Son (John 3:16). I could go on and on, but hopefully you see my point. We did not need Christ’s death to give us worth before God. We did, and do, need Christ’s death and resurrection as a source of redemption and forgiveness for the sins we have committed and created. But our worth before God was already there, long before Christ ascended to Calvary.

Sola gratia…by grace alone.

By grace alone, indeed.

Yours in Christ,

Monday, May 14, 2012


After sunset, when the lights go on in my apartment complex, I can look from my kitchen table out the window and see all of the lights come on—in the building across the way, around the outdoor pool, on the outdoor staircases leading to the other apartments. Intentionally or not, these lights all look a little different against the dark backdrop of night. Some glow more softly, others have more of a tint to them. They burn brightly regardless.

In our Tuesday Bible study, we have been spending the last few weeks reading through the first letter of John. Like the Gospel itself, 1 John speaks extensively of light, of its power against the darkness, of its power to lead us on the path to God.

To me, the light represents, among many other things, the church. But I’m pretty sure at this point that of all the churches out there, even in all of their wisdom and virtue and grace, few if any burn the way we have been called to, whether because we worry that we are too small and feeble to minister in the ways we want, or because we sometimes abuse the sheer scope and scale of the power inherent in caring for a person’s soul.

So we see another church, another light, doing it differently, doing things in a way we do not like. And we create a new church—a new light, a light that looks a little different from any of the other lights currently burning in the darkness. This is where I think my spiritual lineage still lingers, with the venerable mainline Protestant churches beginning to flicker rather than illuminate when compared to the newer, brighter lights of megachurches.

It’s funny, in a sad clown sort of way. Like, there’s no way on earth I’d join the frequent flier programs of American Airlines or United or Delta or US Airways. I fly Southwest or Alaska whenever I can. But when it comes to brand loyalty to churches, I’m still firmly a legacy flier.

But that doesn’t keep me from wanting my legacy denomination to create out of itself, to paraphrase Revelation, a new thing.

As Paul wrote, when I was a child, I spoke like a child and I thought like a child. But then I became an adult, and I gave up my childish ways.

The Disciples have gone from one stage of life to another, but I realize we still have a rap for not giving up our previous ways of doing church that don’t quite translate to our current context.

Maybe that reality should test my loyalty.

But it doesn’t.

It has, though, made me realize that I am tired of identifying as a “mainline” Christian. Not because of the stigmas of old, or irrelevant, or enfeebled that still often come with that identity. But because the label of “mainline” Christian is incomplete. I’d just as soon be identified by the new life that I see happening in my mainline congregation than by the shallow perception of dying, of light fading into the darkness, that is associated with my mainline Christian tradition. I’d like to feel connected to the newness of church, not just the tradition.

Thing is, I don’t think I quite fit in with any of the other new movements that are happening in American Christianity right now. There’s definite overlap, sure, but it’s like a Venn Diagram—always some unique territory. I’m not entirely emergent, or post-denominational, or post-evangelical, but I am realizing that I am part of something new…

I see new visitors in the pews every week, and I believe that renewal is at hand.

I hear stories around the table of fellowship about the new missions we are supporting, and I witness resurrection at work.

I listen to the music of a praise team that has re-arranged its lineup and repertoire to include the folk influence of a banjo and a tambourine along with our more typical worship instruments of guitar and bass and keyboards, and I hear the promise of rebirth.

And it’s the Easter season—for Pete’s sake, I’ve just spent five weeks preaching about all of these “re-“ things: renewal and resurrection and rebirth.

Look—I know it’s schlocky, maybe cheesy, and more than a little presumptuous, but please indulge me in a moment of rebranding fantasy. It isn’t enough to simply say that I am a mainline Christian. I have REMAINED on the LINE of the Christian journey towards God. I can see the RE-newal of my mainline church all around me, and it still is a MAIN part of my identity.

After all, if you stick the prefix re- in front of almost anything, you lend that term a sense of creation, of promise. Whether it’s recycling old cans, redoing a failing essay, or repairing a well-traveled car, we have never hesitated to use that re- syllable whenever it fit.

Why can’t we do that in describing our church?

Why haven’t we done that in describing our church?

Because…it’s a pretty natural fit.

Long live the ReMainline Church.

Yours in Christ,

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Scripture and Generation Y in the Culture Wars

(Author’s note: Just an FYI—I am taking the next two Sundays off to be with my family for Mother’s Day and my younger sister’s college graduation, so there won’t be any new sermons here until May 27, but I’ll still be posting during the week. –E.A.)

A lot has happened in the last 48 hours on the cultural wedge issue of same-sex equality.  North Carolina voters passed Amendment One (their same-sex marriage ban), and President Obama came out in favor of full same-sex equality.

Now, to begin this post, a disclaimer: Some, perhaps many of you, may disagree with what I am about to say on the subject. I want to borrow, then, for a second, from Dan Kimball when he wrote about his own wrestling with the issue of same-sex equality (albeit to a somewhat different conclusion than me) in his excellent book They Like Jesus, But Not the Church:

“I recognize that by stating my position, I seem to be drawing ugly lines in the Christian world when I wish there didn’t have to be an “us versus them” over this issue. I hope you sense my heart in this, and I hope that I demonstrate compassion and understanding to those who hold a different viewpoint than I do. If you knew me, you would know that I’m only trying my best to base my position on the Scriptures. It’s from my best understanding of the Scriptures that I take the position that I do.”

Additionally, truth be told, I have been holding in this particular blog post for a number of weeks, because Washington state has been wrestling with this issue as well while signatures are gathered for a ballot measure to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage that was passed by our legislature and signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire earlier this year.

While my own views on same-sex equality are well-formed (ie, not evolving, har har har), I realize that I pastor to a congregation that, while theologically rather moderate, is very politically diverse, from hard-right wing Republicans to Prius-driving Democrats. Part of my calling is to offer no favoritism to anyone in my flock on the basis of political ideology.

Yet politics and religion cannot help but clash. (Don’t blame me. Blame all those ancient empires who claimed that their emperor was a deity.) Trying to thread the needle between being prophetic and being gentle has tested all of my creativity and psychic energy. At the same time, I love and cherish Scripture, and have believed in same-sex equality since I was a teenager.

However, my reasons for that belief have shifted over time. At first, I saw it simply through the prism of equality. But in conversations with fellow Christians who were opposed to same-sex marriage, I realized that, sooner or later, I would need to tackle the Scriptural side of the issue.

Now, I recognize what Levitical law says about same-sex intercourse in the context of two men: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman; it is a detestable practice.” (18:22) And,  “If a man has sexual intercourse with a man as he would with a woman, the two of them have done something detestable. They must be executed, their blood is on their own heads.” (20:13) (Both verses are from the Common English Bible translation.)  This is also to say nothing of Paul's own writings on the topic in Romans 1.

I cannot, and will not, dismiss that these verses are in Scripture, which I consider to be the inspired Word of God. However, there are a couple of realities worth noting—

First, this does not mean that the Bible views marriage as between one man and one woman. In fact, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is all about rules for men with more than one wife, and the Biblical heroes Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon all practiced polygamy. Yes, some parts of the Bible do indeed say that it is (1 Corinthians 7 is a great place to start). But, clearly, parts of the Bible also do not, and to argue that the Bible says marriage is only between one man and one woman necessitates some picking and choosing.   And so, after lots of study and prayer, I have come to the conclusion that I honestly do not believe that the Bible is of a uniform opinion of what marriage is.  I think you could maybe make the argument that the Bible may say what marriage isn't, but not necessarily what marriage is.

Second (and on the topic of picking and choosing) I doubt any of us would say that same-sex intercourse should be a capital crime today, even if we do believe that it is wrong or sinful. If we believe that same-sex relations should not be criminalized (and that ship has clearly sailed with the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision from a few years back), then we have already begun to discount Scripture by ignoring the proscribed punishment for a transgression. More to the point, we have already begun to pick and choose within the very verses that condemn same-sex attraction, and are already choosing to discard the portions of those verses that we find distasteful. I feel like I’ve said it a million times on this blog, but it probably bears repeating…all of us pick and choose when it comes to Scripture. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

This leaves me with the question of, why, then, do we pick and choose these precious few verses from Leviticus and Romans? (I’ll dispense with the Sodom and Gomorrah story right now by simply quoting Ezekiel 16:49-50: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me.” The way I understand this passage is that it is a laundry list of sins, and so if same-sex intercourse is indeed what Ezekiel is referring to here by “abominable things,” then it is simply #6 on God’s list in this passage.)

And I’m genuinely wondering why this is, because, to borrow from Rachel Held Evans, I am a member of a generation that is tired of fighting the culture wars. One of the defining characteristics of my generation (Generation Y) is that we were taught to celebrate diversity from an early age, and so we really do try to practice the mentality of live and let live. We were taught that service is more important—witness the record numbers of young adults going into programs like Teach for America. And so for us, the efforts to ban same-sex marriage rather than, say, to further education or alleviate poverty, does violate our collective ethos.

Please understand that by saying this, I am not trying to say that my generation is right and all others are wrong.  But I can say, based on my own individual and anecdotal experience with my peers in my age group here on the West Coast, that the culture wars do alienate a LOT of people my age from the church, which saddens me greatly.  They see our priorities as being misplaced, and...well, they have a point.

About $3.3 million was spent by both sides combined on North Carolina’s Amendment One, which constitutionally bans same-sex marriage and which was passed by voters on Tuesday. Here are some things that the $3.3 million could have paid for instead:

Full funding of UNICEF’s humanitarian education aid in Ethiopia for all of 2012


30 days of emergency food and shelter from the American Red Cross for 7,857 people (at $350 for 25 victims per day)


Providing 2,374,100 beds in international hospitals with Bibles from the Gideons. That’s over 2.3 MILLION patients being provided with God’s Word. (at $1,112 per 800 beds)

I understand and recognize that this is an issue of tradition and of Scriptural interpretation for a lot of people—perhaps including you—but I have to admit that it really hurts me (and, I think, a lot of people my age) that we are devoting so much of our time, money, and energy on campaigns to keep people from getting married when thousands of children die every day from starvation and malnutrition, or when the governments of nations like China and North Korea deny their people access to God’s Word and routinely persecute Christians.

Approve of same-sex marriage, don’t approve of it…you’ll have Scripture to back up your view either way. But in my heart of hearts, I feel like preventing people from getting married is the gnat being strained out while we swallow many, many camels in the form of human suffering and the absence of God’s Word.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letters to the Editor

Today is a first (of sorts) for me...the first time I decided to write a letter to the editor since I was in high school was last week, and today, The Daily News (our local paper) is running it.  You can find both my letter and the letter it is responding to in their entirety (sans individual names) below.

I have one clarification to make--I am identified by occupation in the letter.  This can make it look like I was speaking for my congregation in an official capacity.  I was not, I was speaking only for myself, though I did strive for my thoughts on Christian diversity to be reflective of the Disciples of Christ ourselves.  When I emailed my letter in, I simply signed it "Rev. Eric Atcheson," but below it was all of my occupational contact information that is standard in my email signature, and  the newspaper included part of it.  I apologize.

Yours in Christ,

The letter I was responding to:

Christianity vs. liberalism

Some people have a strange idea that Christians want to force their will upon you. Think again. Who thinks you shouldn't spank kids? Liberals. Who thinks you should be able to spank kids? Christians. Did Christians pass laws forcing you to spank? No. Who forced their will upon all so you can't spank kids? Liberals.

Who doesn't want to use the morning-after pill? Christians. Who tries to force pharmacists with principles to sell the pill? Liberals. Who doesn't want to use contraceptives? Some Christians. Who wants to spend tax money from Christians to purchase these items for some girls? Liberals.

Christians feel if somebody wants contraceptives, give up a couple of visits to Starbucks and purchase their own or go to a free clinic to obtain them. Christians refusing to spend their tax money on something which they believe morally wrong is far from forcing their will upon others.

Christians invite, Liberals demand. If you don't believe me, check out what the Liberals are doing to farm families — pages of new regulations saying what farmers' kids can and can't do.

Read more:

My letter: 

The diverse Christian spectrum

This is in response to a letter of May 2. Or, more specifically, this is in response to the fundamental premise of that letter, which seems to be that Christianity and liberalism are complete opposites.

I cannot imagine how someone could arrive soundly at such an over generalized, "us and them" premise. Not only does scripture speak to issues often associated with "family values" conservatives, like divorce (Matthew 5:31-32) and chastity (1 Corinthians 7:8), but it also speaks to issues often associated with "social justice" liberals, like equality for the poor (Luke 6:20) and protecting the vulnerable (James 1:27).

In other words, there's a reason why Christians come in all political flavors — it is because scripture instructs us on many issues across the spectrum, and it is up to us to determine how to use our faith to inform our votes.

So, when you see the cross I wear around my neck, please do not just assume that I think a particular way about things. Instead, have a cup of coffee with me and hear what I have to say. I would be happy to return the favor.

Rev. Eric Atcheson Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Longview

Read more:

Monday, May 7, 2012

If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher

...and if you can understand my writing, even more power to you. :)

So it turns out that this week, May 7-11, 2012, is National Teacher Appreciation Week.

And, even though I protested, at our final preschool chapel here at church last week, the preschoolers insisted that I was a teacher as well, just like their regular preschool teachers.  It was very sweet.

But really, there is in fact a lot of overlap between what I do and what our public and private schoolteachers do.  There's a reason why many pastors are referred to as teachers.  If I wanted to be really egomaniacal, I could go on a discourse about how Jesus was referred to as "Teacher," but so was Sir Leigh Teabing in the Da Vinci Code, so, you know, it cuts both ways.

As a student, I tended to express my appreciation for my teachers with time-honored behaviors like not paying attention in class, turning in my homework late, and doodling cartoon caricatures of them as '60s-era hippies on the back of said late homework (sorry, Mr. Spurlock.  It was my way of voicing my opposition to the existence of precalculus).

But there is more than a germ of truth to the cliche that it takes a village to raise a child.  And there is no way that you would be able to read the mildly deranged ramblings of a young solo pastor if that pastor didn't take high school English seriously.  So, I want to offer a quick shout out to just a few of the greatest teachers I benefited from during my vaguely meaningful time in America's public school system...

First and foremost to my high school band director, Steve Adams.  Marching band under him gave me not only a sense of purpose, but an irritating case of obsessive compulsiveness.  But band truly was my saving grace in high school.

To my high school speech and debate coaches, Scott Sowers, Jo Ball, and Cathy Wood.  Their guidance, support, and tough love gave me the skills to not only be good at public speaking, but to actually enjoy it, and to turn it into a wonderful scholarship opportunity in college.

To my junior high school gifted education teacher and debate coach, Stan Stern.  Not many teachers would let you get away with designing a video game with your best friend as a part of your individual exploration curriculum; even fewer would encourage that sort of creativity.

To all of my math and science teachers after about, oh, the seventh grade...I'm sorry.  It isn't that my religion was opposed to your fields of study, it's that my brain and work ethic were.

And this is to say nothing of the plethora of religious teachers who I appreciate on a daily basis.  But then the Establishment Clause police would probably come and read me Miranda if I conflated the two ("Eric Atcheson, you have the right to remain religious.  Anything you say can and will be held against you at the Final Judgment.  You have the right to a Messiah.  If you cannot afford a Messiah, then you should probably stop listening to the Prosperity Gospel...")

Teachers rock, y'all.  Let one know how much you appreciate them.

Yours in Christ,

PS: In case you're wondering--these days, the pastor prefers a nice latte, too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

This Week's Sermon: "Rise Up, Lazarus!"

John 11:34-44

34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” 38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.” 40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” (CEB)

 “The Lazarus Mission: In Search of the Meaning of a Miracle,” Week Four

I began this sermon series four weeks ago by invoking the dusty dunes of the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico, and it is there that I want to end this sermon series as well.

When our time constructing houses there was complete, in June of 2010, we held a prayer circle for the families who would be moving into these new, humble, but lovingly created homes. We formed circles, prayed, sang, and gave each family a cross to decorate their new home with before departing.

And after the service at one of the new houses, I slipped away and saw the family next door—also moving into a new house—I saw the young husband and wife, both about my age, sitting on a rock together wrapped up in the fiercest hug I think I have ever seen.

But hearing the steps of my clearly not-very-stealthy-or-ninja-like feet, they broke apart. And as privileged as I felt to see such a display of love and intimacy, I felt even worse for having intruded upon it, for the simple truth that really, I had not earned the right to witness that kind of hope. And in that way, I had become like the crowd gathered at Lazarus’s tomb, who has not earned the right to witness that miracle, to intrude upon a family’s grief and celebration, but who have gathered here anyways. We are all in that crowd now, waiting for our own next miracle.

This Sunday marks the final installment of this sermon series for us that we have been exploring as a celebration of the church season of Easter, as well during as of the earthly season of spring—which means that for both Christians and non-Christians alike, this is a time of growth and renewal and, most importantly, of new life! Having heard almost one month ago the most famous resurrection story the Bible has to offer on Easter Sunday, we have spent the last four weeks going verse-by-verse through the second-most famous resurrection story—the story of the raising of Jesus’s friend Lazarus, a story that is only found in the Gospel of John. It is not the only resurrection miracle that Jesus performs—there is also, in the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the story of Jairus’s daughter being resurrected by Jesus. But the raising of Lazarus is told in such rich and lavish detail that it has come to occupy a unique place in our collective memory as an exceptionally well-known and well-loved story. The first week, to kick off the story, we began with Jesus first hearing that Lazarus has fallen ill—not that Lazarus has died—but that he is sick. The second week, Jesus pronounces Lazarus dead and finally acts—to return to Judea to raise Lazarus, and last week, He arrives and we see the drama begin to unfold with his exchange with Lazarus’s sister Martha. And this is the grand finale, the moment we have all been waiting for, the moment that Lazarus is actually risen from the grave!

I spoke about this phenomenon two weeks earlier in this sermon series, but I really do believe that the character whom we are supposed to identify with as the audience, as people gathered in this crowd, changes as the story progresses. The story begins with Jesus, but in week two’s passage, we are meant to identify with the disciples and with Thomas as they figure out how they’re going to respond to Jesus’ intent to go on what could well be a suicide mission, to return to Judea where He is a wanted man. And in last week’s passage, we are clearly meant to identify with the frustration and faith of Martha. It would be easy to say we are still meant to identify with Martha and her sister Mary even now—in the interim, Mary echoes Martha’s frustration in saying to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” and we can tell that Martha’s faith is still incomplete when she objects to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone at Lazarus’s tomb, saying, “Lord, there will be a stench because he has been dead for four days.” Which only serves to drive the point home—this is not, John is saying to us, the raising of Jairus’s daughter, of a person thought dead but who was actually sleeping, this is a person who is, without a doubt, deader than Lindsay Lohan’s Hollywood career.

And it may not be our instinct to relate to that state of being dead, but we’re meant to. The person who represents us, the audience, in this last part of the story is Lazarus himself. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, is calling to the deadness in our own souls—the absence of life in our own journeys that has been caused by hurt and pain and sin and strife. Amid the death that those things create, Jesus invites us to experience life by simply saying, “Rise up, Lazarus.”

Eugene Lowry, an emeritus professor at Saint Paul School of Theology in my hometown of Kansas City, he calls it the “homiletical plot.” We would think of it in terms of the proverbial curveball—we see an obstacle coming, it looks like a fastball, but then it dips down, and it is up to us to adjust, and then we either swing and miss, or hit a home run. Professor Lowry calls these stages “upsetting the equilibrium,” which would be when Lazarus falls ill, the status quo has been altered. Then comes “analyzing the discrepancy,” which is a way of saying, “What are we going to do?” That took place during week two of the story, when Jesus and the disciples debate returning to Judea. Then there is learning “the clue to resolution,” discovering what it is that will solve the problem—which is us learning from Martha of Jesus’ status as the resurrection and the life. And now is best and greatest step—experiencing the Gospel—experiencing the Resurrection and the Life of Jesus Christ in Lazarus, and, by extension, in each of us as well.

Because when the equilibrium of our own lives is upset—when the delicate balance of health and work and finances and security that we are always carefully adjusting is thrown asunder, we are left asking, just like the disciples, “What are we going to do?” The answer from God is the same—experience the Gospel. Experience the Good News. For, Lazarus experiences the Gospel and is shown the way out of death and into life—to simply rise up, and walk!

A colleague and friend of mine in ministry was diagnosed with a T-1 cancerous carcinoma in his kidney last month. He underwent surgery this week to remove part of the kidney, and the pathology report came back this weekend to say that he is now cancer-free and will recover in 6-8 weeks. Out of death and into life…for Christ says, rise up, Lazarus!

Also just earlier this week, a classmate of mine from seminary was attending the general conference for the United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida. She was struck by a Chevy Silverado pickup truck and rushed to Tampa General Hospital. She made it through with a heavily injured right foot, but without any life-threatening injuries, and after asking, “What am I going to do,” she returned to be at the general conference the next day. Rise up, Lazarus!

Those Sunday evenings I am able to visit the Narcotics Anonymous group that meets in our Upper Room, I see the ritual that they begin every meeting with, of asking those who have been sober for one month, three, six, nine, and then a whole year or more raise their hands to show the program works. I hear their stories, their testimonies, and I think, rise up, Lazarus!

A young family, impoverished and struggling, lives on a dirt floor of a cobbled-together shack. They are contacted by a non-profit charity that brings Christian volunteers from the States to build houses. A house is built. A family is saved. And God says, rise up, Lazarus!

A historic church that has been a pillar of its community for decades upon decades sees its numbers shrink and its ministries lessen. They respond by saying that they know that God is not finished with them yet, and fueled by this faith, they begin building new ministries, and initiating new missions, and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to more people. Their numbers slowly begin to grow again, and God says to this church…to our church, rise up, Lazarus!

And I wish I could tell you that we are given no burden that we cannot bear, but that is not always true, for as it is written in Ecclesiastes, time and chance happens to us all. But where in your life do you need to be risen up, to be resurrected and given new life by God? Because even as the forces of time and chance work against us, God continues to work for us by repeating to us the same mantra that worked a miracle two thousand years ago—“Rise up, Lazarus!”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
May 6, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Letters from the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column

“Tradition for Today” 

When I saw something happening slower than I would have liked it to, I used to describe that thing, whatever it was, as “moving slower than molasses in January.” But since I started seminary, I have begun using the expression “moving at the speed of church” instead!

Congregational churches, especially fully autonomous ones like ours, are deliberative by necessity. We take time, consider options, and proceed forward. That is as it should be. Even so, we have managed to accomplish quite a lot together so far. Consider that in the last eight months, we have begun several new ministries together, including:

-Participating in the Kessler Elementary Backpack Buddies program and provided three completely full grocery carts worth of food for it in a span of under three months

-The monthly Christian Music Jam sessions

-The evening Bible study

-The young adults Sunday School class

-The “Second Sundays” new member’s class

-A new Pastoral Relations Team and a new Personnel Committee

That’s an awful lot for moving at the speed of church!

And there are still more new opportunities on the horizon—Lynn Taylor and I have been collaborating on a new Sunday evening prayer service to take place in the Fellowship Hall beginning May 6. Look for this exciting new service to be making a splash very soon!

But as with every ministry that we do, these new programs emphatically do not mean “out with the old.” They mean that we are discovering new and exciting ways to be church together in the 21st century while also continuing to be inspired by the Christians who have come before us. As The Daily News headline about us in October said, we are about tradition for today. Let that be our vision as we continue to move forward together.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric