Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Israel, Replayed in Memory

With July about to turn into August, it is now two years to the day since I returned from a summer archaeology dig/pilgrimage to Israel in 2010.  Like most things that you recall over a span of years, there are things I scarcely remember as well as things that I remember as vividly as if they happened yesterday.  Yet for obvious reasons, this trip meant an awful lot to me, and what follows are ten very treasured memories which fall into the latter:

Beginning almost every dig workday with a breakfast of coffee and Nutella slathered on bread.

Seeing firsthand that archaeology is not, in fact, performed in a fedora while brandishing a whip, but rather is performed in clothes you prefer to never use again while brandishing buckets of dirt and pickaxes.  The pickaxes at least were really cool.

Uncovering a miniature, almost completely intact, Iron Age jug.

Seeing the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem for the very first time, and the walls of the former Israel-Jordan border just beyond it.

Praying at the Western Wall.  What was I praying for, you ask?  To not inadvertently commit some massive cultural or religious faux pas at that exact moment.  No lie.

My archaeology professor, Aaron, guiding us to this hole in the wall restaurant a stone’s throw from the Western Wall, where I had the very best falafel of my life.

The freaking Dome of the Rock.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a beautiful building before or since, even if I wasn’t allowed to go inside it that day.

Drinking Gold Star beers with my fellow dig workers during the evenings on the beach in Acre.  Yes, Israeli beaches have bars—as in, right there on the sand.  Yes, it was awesome.

Climbing the walls of the old Crusader city of Acre to take photos of its Mediterranean port where the historic Tower of Flies once stood.

Seeing Mass performed in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

As this list would indicate, visiting Israel was such a blessing, and it had a profound impact on me.  There are many aspects of being there that I miss immensely, and I hope to visit again one day.  Being able to put into tangible sights and sounds the places you can otherwise only read about is an experience that cannot be replicated, and I am so grateful and blessed for that.

What travels, events, or memories stand out to you as most profound to your faith, or are the most foundational to your own spirituality?

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Sermon Today, but a Preview of the Upcoming Sermon Series!

After nine Sundays in a row, I'm taking today off from preaching as my friend and colleague over at Community Christian Church, Rev. Phil Rushton, will be taking over at FCC for today as he preaches on Philippians 4:10-20.  Phil is a great guy and an insightful writer; he keeps a blog entitled Intersect over on Wordpress.

In the meanwhile, however, I've been looking towards the future and what is next on our plate at FCC, and so I will share with you what will be in our monthly newsletter that comes out this week--a preview of our August sermon series, "Ego Eimi."  That preview is below.  If you're nearby, I hope to see you for this new series, and if you're far away, I hope you'll enjoy following along with us!

Yours in Christ,

After two months of being eyeballs-deep in the book of Revelation, we’ll switch gears in August to some more familiar fare—we’ll be spending the four Sundays of August exploring the famous “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  We already studied one this year—Jesus’s “I am the Resurrection and the Life” statement in the raising of Lazarus in John 11 back in the spring—and we’ll study the other six this month!  Lastly, a note about the series title: ‘ego eimi’ is Greek for “I am,” which is what John uses to depict Jesus’s immortal words.  I hope and pray that you will find this new four-week sermon series meaningful and uplifting!

I’ll see you Sunday,
Pastor Eric

“Ego Eimi: The “I AM” Discourses of Jesus” Sermon Series

August 5: “I am the Bread of Life,” John 6:35-40
August 12: “I am the Light of the World,” John 8:12-20
August 19: “I am the Gate and the Good Shepherd,” John 10:7-18
August 25: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…and the True Vine,” John 14:6-7, 15:1-11

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mor Luv, Less Pikin' and Choosin'

There really isn't a lot to say that hasn't already been said about the new Christian hot-button that is Chick-fil-A and their executive Dan Cathy's "guilty as charged" perspective on opposing same-sex equality.

Except that, if I'm honest, there are two things weighing pretty heavily on me right now:

First: Yes, lots of pro-equality folks have done a bang-up job at pointing out how Biblical law concerning marriage includes provisions for marrying war captives, slaves, rape victims, and multiple wives.  But you can pin the spirit of that charge to me as well, because I, like just about every Christian I know, am guilty of picking and choosing within Scripture.

However, that does not change the fact that the Bible doesn't actually ban or condemn same-sex marriage.

Scripture does condemn same-sex intercourse (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27).  But not same-sex marriage.

And the thing is...as a pastor who has performed three weddings this year, and will be performing a fourth in a couple of months, I do not, do not, DO NOT see what I do in officiating weddings as endorsing the sexual relations between the two spouses.  To me, that is a reductive view of what can (and should be) a wonderful, amazing institution.  What I do in officiating a wedding is not an endorsement of sex, but an endorsement of love.

Traditionally, there are parts of a wedding ceremony that have had a lot to do with sex--the bride wearing white to symbolize sexual purity, the first kiss as foreshadowing the consummation of the marriage, and the lifting of the veil as the first step in the groom undressing the bride.

But currently, when most couples who get married have taken each other for a test drive, so to speak, much of that symbolism--which revolves around the nature of it being the FIRST sexual encounter, rather than A sexual encounter--isn't as translatable in contemporary spiritual vocabulary.  It would be like holding the entire ceremony in Beowulf-style Middle English.  Many symbols of weddings speak the language of tradition, not modernity.

Which is perfectly, completely fine--I love officiating weddings in part because of the joy that surrounds those rituals.

But the idea of a wedding as a foreshadowing of first sex is...well, obsolete.

The idea of a wedding as a celebration of love, though...that is as strong as ever.

And, as (I would hope) any Christian pastor would tell you, there is a mighty difference between sex and love.

Second: I honestly, truly, do not care if Dan Cathy (who I am sure is a great fellow personally--I'm not saying he or anybody else on the other side of me on this is a bad person), or any Chick-fil-A employee for that matter, donates his own private time and money to campaigns opposed to same-sex marriage.  That is his right as an American citizen, and the only way to ensure that you or I can say and do what we want is to ensure that people who disagree with us can say and do what they want as well.

But if a company--rather than the individuals running it--donates to a campaign you disagree with, then by all means, don't be their customer.  Put a different way: just because Dan Cathy opposes same-sex marriage as a private citizen doesn't mean I personally would boycott Chick-fil-A.  I would be appalled to find that people hold, say, how I vote as a private citizen against me, so I think it is the Christian thing to do to extend that same courtesy to all others.  Boycotting a company because it employs people you disagree with feels rather petty to me.

But when Chick-fil-A itself does make donations totaling in the millions of dollars to those efforts, then I think a boycott remains a legitimate tool.

After all--it was a coalition of mainline churches (including the Disciples of Christ) through our flagship organization, the National Council of Churches, that joined the successful boycott of Taco Bell in 2005 as an effort to improve the compensation and working conditions for Taco Bell's tomato farmers.

And Jesus also instructed people to vote with their wallets--He drove out the moneychangers (an occupation that was rather lucrative due to rules regarding the unacceptability of Roman currency in the temple cult) from the Jerusalem temple, telling people that there were other ways to worship God without turning over their money to a particular industry.

I have no idea how this new skirmish in the culture wars over marriage will end, but I will humbly and gently say this: when it comes to determining what marriage is, remember that it, like just about everything else that is glorious and God-given, is organic and living and dynamic.  Which is as it should be, because with more love (sorry, 'mor luv') comes less pikin', less choosin', and more acceptin'.

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aurora, Louie Gohmert, and the Question of Theodicy: Take Two

(Author’s note: While I tackle the recent Aurora, Colorado mass murder in my most recent Sunday sermon, it was obviously a very quick effort on my part, amplified by the reality that I was busy performing a wedding this weekend.  Please consider this an epilogue to that sermon. –E.A.)

Aurora, Colorado, is, in every sense of the term, close to home for me.  It is a day’s drive from my hometown of Kansas City, I have visited there on a number of occasions, and my uncle, aunt, and two cousins have lived there for many, many years.

I cannot tell you how relieved I felt when, after waking up on Friday morning and seeing the headlines, I went to Facebook and saw that my cousin Jo Beth had posted, and so I knew that my family was safe.

And now, four days later, I have to admit that my relief is giving way once more to skepticism, because I fear that we have begun to treat mass murders like the Aurora shootings, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine High School, the same way that we treat, say, genocide or war crimes—we proffer words of indignation, say that justice will be served, and swear, “Never again,” except we end up doing nothing substantive to prevent future attacks, and then something so very similar happens just a few years later, killing still more people.

Indeed, more than even staving off doing anything to protect the innocent, we become quick to point fingers instead.  Assigning blame becomes more important than learning from the massacre.

Perhaps the most (in)famous instance of this was the late Rev. Jerry Falwell going on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club right after 9/11 to blame the terrorist attacks on feminists, pagans, and the ACLU.  But it is already happening with the Aurora shootings as well.

ABC erroneously reported that the killer, James Holmes, was a tea partier.  The American Association Family’s news director was quoted as blaming the “liberal” media and Hollywood.

But the most painful finger-pointing to see was Representative Louie Gohmert’s semi-coherent proclamation that we have lost God’s protection by “(telling) him we don’t want him around.”

Louie Gohmert is a wingnut, I realize.  He signed Rep. Michele Bachmann’s letter demanding a McCarthy-esque investigation of Muslim infiltration of the federal government.  He has ranted on the House floor about “terror babies,” sans evidence.  I know I’m rising to take a lunatic’s bait.  But this is a lunatic who a lot of people listen to.

I touched on this in my Sunflower entry last week (before I knew I would be spending so much time in the next ten days about why bad things happen to good people) that yes, rejection between us and God must come from us, not from God.

But what Louie Gohmert is suggesting—that God just takes His ball and goes home—is not, I think, an interpretation of God that we should be the business of pushing, not only because of how it assigns blame, but because of what it implies about God.

The prophetic literature of the Old Testament is chock full of poetry about a God who, though spurned by us, remains faithful to protecting us nonetheless (Isaiah 59, Jeremiah 30-31, Zepheniah 3, among others).  Jesus says he has come not for the righteous, but for the sinners (Mark 2), and that He does not judge those who reject Him (John 12).  Paul’s entire conversion is one of redemption after his rejection of the church (Acts 9).

If we choose to not have a relationship with God, that is our choice.  But that doesn’t keep God from still wanting that relationship with us.  That doesn’t keep God from leaving us.  I adamantly believe that God is a deity who loves us so much that He refuses to let us be alone.

To say that God abandons us because we do wrong, or are not always capable of loving Him with our whole selves, says an awful lot about God as a petty, vindictive, emotionally immature Creator who made us and loved us one second, and cast us aside like old playthings the next.

That simply is not the God I see in the Bible, in the church, in the faces of the people who I am called to serve.

And I am forever grateful for that reality.

God always loves YOU.  Never let anyone convince you otherwise.

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This Week's Sermon: "The Simulacrum"

Revelation 22:1-7

22 Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water,[a] shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always.
Then he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.
“Look! I’m coming soon. Favored is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy contained in this scroll.” (CEB)

“The Greatest Movie Never Made: The Book of Revelation,” Week Eight

The last album released by John Lennon before his murder in 1980 contained the song Beautiful Boy, which in turn contains this simple, famous lyric: Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

And this weekend, in Aurora, Colorado, Lord, did life happen.  Life, and death, and pain, and hurt all wrapped into yet another mass murder tragedy that has unfortunately become more and more commonplace.  It may be 13 years since the shootings at Columbine High School, which is located just adjacent to Aurora in Littleton, Colorado, but it is only a year and a half since the Tuscon shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left six people dead, including a nine-year-old girl.

Judy Southard had asked me earlier this week, “Eric, will you be talking about hope at all in your sermon this week?”  And the thing is, I kinda was planning to!  Revelation may be an intense—even scary—story to tell, but at least it has a happy ending!  So I said, sure, Judy, I’m planning to talk about hope.

This is it—we’ve made it!  This is the final Sunday of our marathon eight-week-long sermon series on the book of Revelation.  If you’ve enjoyed it thus far, my apologies for ending it so soon when we really have only but scratched the surface of this book.  But if this hasn’t really been your cup of tea, then you’re welcome!  We’ve covered an awful lot of ground so far, seen all the major sights, talked about all of the most famous characters: the four horsemen, the archangel Michael, the dragon, the beast, the Christ horseman, we even saw the new Jerusalem, but we still have one more fantastic vision to unpack, one more dreaming wish that John has for his audience.  And it’s a doozy, so keep in mind what has been my regular disclaimer this entire series—I can’t promise you answers, I can maybe only promise you some better questions!

Father Albert, a Dominican priest and one of my New Testament professors in seminary, was always repeating to me—those apocalypses, they mirror the creation—the authors are writing the end to be like the beginning.  And so it is here, in Revelation—in John’s vision, in this second verse, is the Tree of Life, the same Tree of Life that is planted at the center of the Garden of Eden in the second chapter of Genesis.  Around it flows the rivers, not the Tigris and the Euphrates of Eden, but the rivers of life that are solely of God’s design, and this time the fruit it bears is fruit we can eat, and not be cast out of Eden.

But as much as John might long for the mythical Eden of Genesis, he knows that it will never truly be re-created, and he acknowledges as much by including the heavenly city in his vision here.  He recognizes that since Eden, humanity has changed, the world has changed, and the kingdom of God, the redemption that awaits us, is not an undoing of time back to Eden.  In between creation and the end is everything we have created, and that, too, has become a part of John’s paradise when he includes the trappings of civilization in this new Eden.

The implication of having to create a new Eden is that we have somehow lost the old one, and I would be forced to concede that reality kicking and screaming.  It is very easy to see the world as not the paradise God intended, not the whimsical garden with a petting zoo of newly-named animals, not the beautiful nature preserve that God sweated over for six days and nights.  It’s easy to see the world that way because in some ways, it’s true.  We have degraded and used up the world, just as we have degraded and used up one another.

But we also continue striving towards being this dynamic, thriving community, never complacent with how the world is, or with how to worship God, but always asking, with each passing moment, “What is God calling us to do today?”  I shared this with my teaching congregation in California, just months before I came here, but just as John realized that God had not called Him to envision a future world like the original Eden, so too does God call us not to escape this world to enter heaven.  It is our calling to improve upon it.  We may never succeed, but the world will have become a better place for our having done so.

We are a church family in the midst of incredible transformation.  We are growing and changing in new and exciting ways that I promise you I didn’t imagine when I arrived.  The new, hip term for what we pastors do now is “vision-casting,” but a lot of what I do is tap dancing instead!  And that’s the way it has been for as long as there has been the church—the church, in spite of itself and its own best efforts, has never been a truly static entity.  It is living and organic and is meant—designed, even—to take its shape around the contours of the world which surrounds it.

The French postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote of something he called the simulacrum—which is the simulation of something for which there is no genuine article, no authentic original.  And that’s what John is imagining here, at the end of Revelation—the simulation of something of which there is no actual original version.  The Garden of Eden in Genesis does not contain any city, and the Jerusalem of David and Solomon, the Jerusalem of the first Jewish temple, did not include Eden.

It is an apt model for the church as well—no church before this one has had to address tragedies like what happened in Aurora, Colorado, or what happened in Tuscon, Arizona, or what happened at Virginia Tech or Columbine High School.  To which you might say, “But pastor, people killing one another is nothing new.”  Yet the way it affects us is new, and does change.  The killing of other people used to be glorified…even in Scripture, that is so.  In Deuteronomy, God, through Moses, commands the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, the Jebusites, and other ethnic groups native to the Holy Land.  It is, in effect, God-sanctioned genocide.

But now…we read about massacres and our reaction is one of hurt and shame and shock, but even numbness.  Because we know too many of these stories.  We know the names of too many of these murderers.  The church has not had to rise to this particular challenge before.  Like many of the other challenges that are part of an ever-changing contemporary landscape—social media, 24-hour news, the phenomenon of “spiritual but not religious…,” we as the church, as the vessel of God’s message of love and grace and mercy, have yet another challenge put in our laps.

How do we, as the current church, explain tragedy?  I cannot ever be so arrogant as to say I have it figured out, but I will say this—when James Holmes stands in judgment before God for what he did, know this: he was not born wanting to do what he did.  To return to the theme of Genesis, of Eden in the midst of John’s city of God, original sin does not rest in the individual--after all, Adam and Eve sinned together.  It rests in all of us.  If James Holmes is indeed guilty of murder, it is because we have helped make him a murderer—people are taught evil and hate, and they can be untaught it too, but the world that we shape, that preys on people with mental illness, that makes it far too easy for deadly weapons to fall into the wrong hands, these are things that we have created.

Which means that the mission of the church that exists today—not the one that existed yesterday, or the year before, or the decade before, is to bring from heaven to earth the mercy of God for the sins that we commit against one another.  Far too often, the church has been complicit in those sins—in wars, slavery, spiritual abuse, and on and on.  We do not have the best track record out there, and people outside the church might say that should disqualify us from acting as a voice of grace in the despair and as a source of light in the darkness, but church, I beg you, I plead with you, do not let that be our way going forward as we make sense of this broken world we inhabit!

John was beaten and broken down when he wrote Revelation over 1,900 years ago, but his hope for God’s arrival survived in his words to this day.  You may feel beaten and broken down, not only after a tragedy such as this, but even just in your day-to-day life as you try to make ends meet, as you try to love your family and friends, as you try, and try, and try, to make your little piece of this world better than it was the day before, but hope, hope itself strives for something we can never attain—immortality.  Expressions of hope in God can last far longer than we can.  The Bible is proof enough of this, but so too are the memories of loved ones that you have lost—they may have died, but their best selves, their greatest qualities are remembered and carried by you.

Let that be the same for the church as well.  For, when the history books are written, what do we want them to say about the church today?  That shrinking in numbers, and in resources, and in morale, we shrunk from our task of proclaiming God’s goodness to a world that still desperately needs that message?  Or that after yet another tragedy, another senseless loss of life, we instead answered the call, that we tenderly crafted out of our own doubts and trepidations a divinely inspired word of grace to our neighbors that they are loved and cherished as God’s children? 

People are searching for hope right now.  And each of you can offer them a way to that hope. 

Of that I have no doubt.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
July 22, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Question of Theodicy

I don't think I've actually talked about this here yet--likely because it has to this point been framed as a legal and political (rather than spiritual) controversy, even though the loss of life is inherently spiritual--but the Trayvon Martin shooting back in February shook me quite badly.  Whatever may have happened in the actual confrontation between Martin and George Zimmerman (and perhaps nobody knows for sure what happened except Zimmerman himself), it felt like a wholly preventable loss of life if Zimmerman had simply obeyed the dispatch officer's instruction to stay where he was, rather than pursue Martin on foot.  For that reason, I was, and am, heartened that our criminal justice system is striving to hold Zimmerman accountable for Martin's death.

But in an interview with Fox News talking head and partisan hack Sean Hannity, Zimmerman says that he feels what happened that night was "all God's plan."  In response to that assertion, Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, replied, "We must worship a different God.  There is no way that my God wanted George Zimmerman to murder my teenage son."

Okay, now it's definitely spiritual.

Honestly, there are a few things that bother me about what Zimmerman is implying--and not just that it was God's plan for an otherwise innocent young man to die violently and prematurely.

It's that I have no idea what God's plan is, or even if there is one.

Theodicy is the seminary term for the question of "why does evil exist?" or "why do bad things happen to good people?"  It literally means "God's justice" ("theo" = Greek for "god," and "dicy" comes from "dike," or "justice), and that dimension of the term has been invoked to justify violent deaths for, well, as long as we have had religion (see also: the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, 9/11, on and on).  It is also used as a tone-deaf means of comforting a bereaved friend or relative ("It was God's will that your loved one passed away..."), which likewise makes me cringe.

It isn't that I don't believe in God's justice, I just don't believe that it occurs in this lifetime, or in this world, so how can I say I know what God's plan is?

Saying something happened because God planned it so brings to bear not a God who created us and redeemed us, but a God who micromanages us and uses us.  That is simply not God as I understand Him to be as revealed by Jesus Christ.

I understand where such a theology comes from, though--in this time and place when we talk about having a "personal" relationship with God and with Jesus Christ, that necessarily implies some micromanaging.

And the other side of the coin of a "personal" relationship with God is in the statement of Tracy Martin--that the two of them must worship different gods.

Because in some ways...we all do.  We all worship different gods.  Through our own individual spiritual and personal experiences, God becomes an idealized version of ourselves, and our worship of God at that point inches closer to idolatry.  I know I'm guilty of it--we all probably are.  It takes profound humility, especially as a pastor, to continually ask yourself, "What if I'm wrong?"  But the Bible is also explicitly clear that humility is a virtue (Luke 18:14, James 4:10, and more), and so I think such humility actually strengthens faith.

That might be what is most hurtful and troubling about George Zimmerman's words--that it isn't simply Zimmerman's belief that God's plan was for Trayvon Martin to be killed that fateful evening, but that he has no humility, no doubt about this divine scheme that I promise you is beyond yours, his, or my understanding.

It is one thing to second-guess God...again, all of us are probably guilty of that.

It is entirely another to do so without any doubt that God approves of you second-guessing Him.

Please continue to pray for wisdom and strength for everyone involved in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Sunflower Question

In preparing for an upcoming sermon series on the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John (coming to a church sanctuary near you this August!), I’ve been doing a lot of extra reading, including a classic of mine from when I studied the Holocaust from the lens of comparative history during my undergrad days that tackles difficult questions of human forgiveness and divine grace.

The late Simon Wiesenthal, a concentration camp survivor and Nazi hunter, wrote a very powerful, incredibly moving account of a young Nazi soldier who lay dying in an infirmary who confessed, in detail, to him the nature of his crimes against Jewish people.  He called that account The Sunflower.

This is from the book’s cover: “While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS.  Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to—and obtain absolution from—a Jew.  Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing.  But even years after the war had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing?  What would you have done in his place?”

As a part of The Sunflower, 53 different people—clergy, theologians, leaders, writers, jurists, activists, and more answer that very question.  I do not pretend to be in the same league as any of them.  But this is my own voice:

The notion of forgiveness in such an extremity as this is intensely personal to me because I am a member of the genocide-induced diaspora of Armenians.  It is also intensely pastoral to me because I serve a God whose grace, mercy, and capacity for forgiveness is beyond yours or my understanding.

In my work, I have people tell me about terrible things that they have done—nothing on the same level as the soldier in Mr. Wiesenthal’s story, but powerful nonetheless.  I listen, I try to help the person process their own thoughts, but I can offer neither forgiveness nor absolution.

I cannot offer absolution because to say that Jesus paid the debt is, I feel like, a bit of a cop-out.  It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Salvation—what I call right relationship with God—is not a one-shot thing, it is something that you choose each and every day.

By participating in crimes against humanity, a person risks forfeiting their own salvation because they have, by their actions, chosen to reject right relationship with God (this does not mean they forfeit their own life--I'm about as anti-capital punishment as one can be).

Such a rejection need not be permanent for anyone, for God is a God of second chances.  And my own theology dictates that the rejection must come from the person, not from God.  But it is not a rejection that can be undone by the words of a pastor like me.  I am a man, a weak man at that, and am incapable of directly mending someone’s relationship with God.

Put differently, by myself, I cannot undo the rejection of God that is inherent in us doing evil to one another.

I can only hope to empower someone to realize that their rejection of right relationship with God is always reversible, and at that point, the choice to forgive and absolve is God’s, not mine.

In that situation, I could not, and would not, absolve the SS soldier.  To offer absolution would be an act of arrogance on my part, an attempt to play God when I am capable of offering only my humanness to this dying man.

I would like to think, though, that I would at least try to offer my humanness and tell him that while I can offer him my Christian, pastoral presence, I cannot offer him cheap grace…but that I also have more faith in God than I do in myself.  

I would like to think that I would tell this man that I do not hate him, and that I will pray for him, but that I cannot absolve him on the behalf of either God or his victims.

I would like to think all of these things, but it is easy to say such things when sitting behind a desk in a comfortable chair.  This sort of grace is messy, and tough, and incredible to imagine.

What would you say if you were in such a dramatic situation?  What does divine forgiveness look like to you?

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

This Week's Sermon: "Thin Places"

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (CEB)

“The Greatest Movie Never Made: The Book of Revelation,” Week Seven

I was raised by a modern family—and I don’t mean the sitcom.  I mean that my parents had—and have—swapped some of the more traditional gender roles in their marriage.  See, because my mom doesn’t cook one bit, my dad does all the grocery shopping and cooking, and whenever he was out of town for business, my sister and I would line up by the car, waiting for my mom to take us out to our favorite diner, lest she try to concoct some culinary abomination in the kitchen. 

And so one time, when my sister and I were both in elementary school, we were acting out too excitedly for getting to go out to eat, and my mom began scolding us as she drove—but she was so focused on scolding us that she missed the turn into the diner parking lot, and instead turned one stoplight too soon—which instead took us onto the interstate that takes you from our Kansas City suburb to St. Louis, but she just continued driving.  And so at an appropriate break in the action, after my mother had finished lecturing us on how some children only got peanut butter and jelly for dinner, my sister pipes up and asks, “Mommy, why are we going to St. Louis?”

The old Christian maxim is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I think more appropriate would be that many of us actually fear that the road to God is filled with wrong turns, and we have instilled in ourselves this fear that it only takes one wrong turn to take us wildly off course—one wrong turn takes you from your familiar hometown to a road leading to a city hours away.  One wrong turn moves you away from God and Jesus and closer towards whatever evil is.  But this implies a distance between us and God that I think has done more harm than good, and deep down, I think John, the author of Revelation, would probably agree. 

Today marks the seventh week of our summer sermon series.  As I’ve said throughout, summer is the season of blockbuster movies about superheroes or thrilling heists or action-packed military exploits, and at first glance, the Bible wouldn’t seem to stack up well to such epic storytelling.  Yet, enter the book of Revelation.  After decades of subjugation by Rome, which included the sacking of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in the year 70 CE, Saint John writes this final letter of the Bible from his lonely exile on the Greek island of Patmos some roughly twenty years later.  His letter is a vivid, harrowing vision of what the future may hold in store for God’s people, and it has often been misinterpreted by Christians since, often in, frankly, wholly incorrect ways.  I can’t promise you the right answers in this sermon series, but I can promise you a lot of interesting questions to debate during our fellowship time after worship is over! 

The first week was an introduction to how we are meant to read Revelation—and that is with the humility and knowledge that we are not John, and cannot understand his mind.  In week two, we began going through the actual vision itself, and we started in a familiar, heartwarming place with Heaven itself.  Then we began to delve into the realm of demons and dragons and wars between Heaven and Hell with the appearances of the iconic four horsemen of the apocalypse and the dragon that is cast out of Heaven by Michael the Archangel.  We tackled perhaps the most famous image in Revelation—the number of the beast—and last week, we saw Christ enter the picture as a new, fifth horseman, and now, after all is said and done, we have finally arrived!

Or, should I say, God has finally arrived.  The most powerful aspect of the vision of the new Jerusalem is that it comes to us—we do not, and perhaps cannot, travel to it, lest we become lost ourselves over the past twenty chapters of violence, fear, and otherworldly war in Revelation.

Because that is usually what we end up doing, right?  When it comes to faith, it’s easy to get lost…and I have to wonder if it is because we’re much better at the short game than the long game—yes, we know what the end goal is, what lies beyond the finish line, but I’m talking about in the moments in between, when something huge might happen in our lives and we fall to our knees and call it a miracle, and then forget all about that feeling just a few days later.

Maybe the most painful consequence of that pattern of spirituality is that it makes us feel as though God is pushed further away—that He is only present in those moments of euphoria when something really does happen, and that He is not present in all the other in-betweens.  In short, that sort of stop-and-go spirituality turns God into a fair-weather fan for us.  And so we keep God at a distance, both literally and metaphorically.

One of the most poignant ways I’ve seen this distance borne out was about ten or twelve years ago, the science fiction author Tim Powers wrote a thriller novel called “Declare,” in which the Heaviside layer, this wispy layer of ionized air some 90 miles above the earth, was the spirit realm.  We had long since given up on the earth as any sort of dwelling place fit for the gods, and no longer were the skies distant enough for gods to dwell, we now had to put them even further away, because we’re down here, and God’s up there, and that’s just the way it is.

Except that it isn’t.  Every once in a while, those two worlds, heaven and earth, collide in the most miraculous of ways, where the veil is lifted from our eyes and we actually do see God in the world.  The Trappist monk Thomas Merton called this the “thin place,” where the boundary between our world and God’s world was at it softest, most permeable, most forgiving.  The famous Bible scholar Marcus Borg simply calls the thin place “a means of grace.” 

As a church, what we feel we are called to do is to search high and low for the thin place, for a way to bring that Heaviside layer where God resides into our sad, battered, used up little world.  And it would be an admirable mission, but for one thing—we often forget to begin that search at the very place where we are instructed to, every Sunday, look and listen for God.

And that’s what the new Jerusalem is supposed to be—it is supposed to be the last tearing of the boundary between Heaven and earth, the last gasp of the air that lives between sky and ground, and the last stand of whatever obstacles lie between us and the God who loves us.

But lest we assume that this entire process takes place only in the future, remember the idea of the thin place…that the bringing of God to earth is something that can be done here, now.  After all—as I said at the beginning, when John wrote Revelation, there literally was no Jerusalem—it had been sacked by the Romans.  Not only does Jerusalem exist today in the literal sense, but its holiness is brought to us, thousands of miles away, whenever we find that we are stumbling about lost, without a spiritual map or compass, and are gently placed back upon safe ground.

For John, Jerusalem was the center of the world.  A new Jerusalem is not simply a new city in which to dwell, or a new idea of Heaven to be imagined.  It is nothing more, and nothing less, than the creation of a brand new moral center to his universe.

And if we feel like we sometimes lose our moral centers, then no wonder we might go through life wondering whether God is absent, or whether God is still working in the world.  It is not that God has left us, it is that we have forgotten for a moment how to see and hear Him.  It is not that we have been banished, it is that we have gotten lost.

Because getting lost implies finding your way once more.  It implies being found at some point down the road.  By these final chapters of Revelation, John has felt lost for far too long.  He knows that he will be found once more, and so he writes to us what he thinks it will look like, the arrival of God and God’s kingdom in his life.

May your own hopes for God’s arrival in your life be as amazing and fantastical and imaginative as it is for John.  May you share with one another what you think that arrival will look like.  And may, in doing so, you create for another person, another child of God, a new thin place in the world, where God is made just a little bit closer, and His love is made just a little more known.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
July 15, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Return of "Hospitality of Orthodoxy": Take Three

(Author's note--Last month, I wrote a two-part series on how I viewed statements of faith and the enforcement of Christian orthodoxy through the lens of church hospitality and openness.  Please consider this an unplanned third installment to complete the trilogy. -E.A.)

Every faith tradition, whether it realizes it or not, is clad in both iron and cushions.

Ironclad belief surrounds the tenets that the faith community is built around--the principles that make that community unique unto itself, the "non-negotiables" of belief, doctrine, and orthodoxy.

But those tenets that are not as foundational to a tradition, those tend to be surrounded by the more forgiving nature of cushioning that allows people to more comfortably adapt themselves to the contours of their particular faith community.

It feels like more and more belief is becoming ironclad, rather than cushioned.

I'm not sure if that is the way it is supposed to be.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Roman Catholic Diocese of  Arlington outside of D.C. is now requiring all Sunday School teachers (who are generally laypeople--ie, not clergy) to sign "fidelity oaths," which are vows of intellectual obedience to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

I've already talked about how my own denomination and practice of Christianity is less hierarchical, so I won't rehash those thoughts just now.  As a Christian cleric, if a church wants its clergy to take vows of obedience, I completely understand, even if I'm not totally on board with it myself.

But I think a serious barrier is crossed when now laypeople are being asked to sign such vows.  Why not demand all laypeople to sign those statements of obedience?  Or at least all laypeople who hold any sort of position in their parishes?  What would such a requirement say about the openness of a parish, especially towards inquisitive and curious souls?

More to the point, the text of the fidelity oath itself (which you can find here) goes beyond signing a creed or a statement of faith (which is exactly that--a statement).  This oath, though it begins with the Nicene Creed, also promises unswerving obedience to any future doctrines the church cooks up, "even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive fact."

Yes, that's a direct quote.  The Diocese of Arlington is asking its lay teachers to obey teachings that may not exist yet and that may come into existence basically by accident.

That isn't a statement of belief, it's a blank check to one's ecclesiastical superiors to take whatever they teach hook, line, and sinker.

Of course the diocese is fully within its rights to ask any of its members to sign it.  But that doesn't mean it is the most hospitable thing to do, and my heart goes out in a big way to all of the teachers affected by it, including those who have already resigned their positions.

I worry what this says about Christianity when so many people my age already believe that we care more about rules than about ministry, or that we care more about doctrine than about Jesus.

And with stories like these, it looks like we really aren't doing a whole lot to prove the doubters wrong.

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Be a Christian? Five Ways the Church Improves My Life

You can leave your preconceptions of this entry's title at the door: this post is not about my own salvation, or going to Heaven, or being saved, or any of the other terms that we Christians tend to use for being in right relationship with God.

Indeed, this is not even really about having faith at all--this is about performing faith.

After all, as James writes, "You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves." (1:22, CEB)

And while I have written an awful lot here about what the church could be doing better, I have also written about what keeps me coming back to church, I haven't done so in any real amount of depth.  Here are five ways the church has improved my life; each one corresponds to one of the 20 entries on the list I link to in this paragraph, so if you want to, click on it to pull up that list and follow along:

1. The church gives me a sense of purpose and meaning

Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 1. When I was baptized, I made a covenant with God to dedicate my life to Him.  I cannot bear to ever break that covenant.

The other four entries on this list all stem from this one.  It has not been--and is not--enough to simply know that I am created in God's image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).  I always felt the need to act upon that knowledge.  Like I said--this entry won't be about knowledge of faith, but the acting of faith.  Knowing is simply not enough, and it never has been.

Which isn't to say I would be a nihilist/cynic/misanthrope/libertarian (kidding on that last one) without the church.  But when it comes to providing opportunities for someone to serve others, the church is still one of the very best at creating such opportunities for putting faith in action.  And we should be--we've had nearly 2,000 years of practice.

2. The church is a unique community centered around selfless praise of the Other

Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 15. I can't imagine a week being complete without being able to take time away to be in worship, whether on Sunday morning, or at Bible study, or in preschool chapel, or in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

I purposely use "the Other" to refer to God in this particular instance because while it is important to recognize God's imprint upon us, I believe it is equally--if not more--important to recognize the external God, because at the point where we see God simply as within ourselves, it becomes much easier to, well, worship ourselves and not God.

Which is the whole point of Christianity's uniqueness--worshiping God as revealed by Jesus Christ.  My senior pastor in Concord, Russ, told me that it is what we can and should do best.  After all, if all someone wants is fellowship, they can join the Elks, or a chess club, or go golfing, take your pick.  If all someone wants is education, they can take a class at the local community college.  If what someone wants is to do service, there's the Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and a legion of other amazing organizations to volunteer for. 

But...if what someone wants or needs is to be in worship--or to do any of the above activities in a worshipful way--then the church is there.  And we are the only ones who are.  At our sacred best, we discourage selfishness in favor of praising both others and THE Other.

3. The church offers an emotional safety net in an era of increasing social isolation

Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 6. The church has always been one of the strongest supports for me in providing fellowship, community, and accountability.  As an introvert, those things don't always come easily for me.  Without church, I would probably be a fairly lonely person.

That may sound like a brutal self-assessment, but it is pretty true--I'm not the most talented person at cultivating and maintaining friendships.  I'm reluctant--if not outright uncomfortable--to be in large social situations, I suck at keeping up with major events in peoples' lives, and I have to remind myself to check on people.

And those are just my innate traits--traits that are exacerbated by a time when everything takes place via text message, or Facebook, or email.  I'm not a curmudgeon demanding to go back to the days of handwritten letters, but like many in my generation, I live alone, and so it means a lot to me that, say, I am invited to my congregants' holiday parties.  Thanks to my church, I have not spent a major holiday alone since moving here.  Even as an introvert, I need that social embracing--it reminds me that I am cared for here.

It may be in my comfort zone to do much of my work from behind my laptop, but it isn't necessarily best for my psyche, it certainly isn't best for my church, and it is thankfully limited by the care that a church  provides not only to its pastor, but hopefully to any and all of its members.

4. The church encourages me to give back

Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 11. I cannot imagine being as heavily invested in making the world a better place if I did not have the church.

I know, I know...the cliche is that we Christians are supposed to be in the world but not of the world, and that this home is temporary and fleeting.

You know what?  Nope.

Yes, James says to remain unstained by the world, but in the exact same verse, he says that true religion "that is pure and faultless before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties." (1:27, CEB)

So I cannot take on face value the idea that God would not want us to continue to improve His creation--Earth.  Indeed, verses in Scripture that command us to serve one another and to aid the poor and sick number in the thousands.

In turn, I am grateful to the church for obeying God's command and giving me many chances to serve in my local community--at the next-door elementary school, for the battered families' shelter, for local community gardens...and to say nothing of the two times I have gone on international mission with the Disciples, to Africa in 2006 and to Mexico in 2010.

Being church means being servants together.  And it's great.

5. The church empowers me to think critically

Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 5. As an ordained pastor, I'm actually paid to study and teach the Bible stories that fascinated me as a child and that inspire me as an adult.  I still can't believe how good I have it.

It always saddens me to hear someone say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!"

Because that doesn't settle it.

I'm as Bible-loving as they come--my seminary friends would rib me for my sola scriptura worldview--but as Galileo Galilei (he of the earth-revolves-around-the-sun fame) wrote, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

So, finally, to that end, I am grateful for a church that has, for my whole life, nurtured my curiosity and my exploration and has provided an outlet for my voice and my writing.  I do not delude myself into thinking that I always have something important to say, but on those occasions that I do, I appreciate the church for equipping me to articulate it.

And those are just five reasons in just one area (the "doing" of faith) of how the church has improved my life.  Which isn't also to say that it also hasn't hindered me at times, either.  But on balance, the church has done great things in my life.

How has the church helped or hindered you in your life?

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, July 8, 2012

This Week's Sermon: "The Fifth Horseman"

Revelation 19:11-16

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider was called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war justly. 12 His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on his head were many royal crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He wore a robe dyed[a]with blood, and his name was called the Word of God. 14 Heaven’s armies, wearing fine linen that was white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword that he will use to strike down the nations. He is the one who will rule them with an iron rod. And he is the one who will trample the winepress of the Almighty God’s passionate anger. 16 He has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: King of kings and Lord of lords. (CEB)

“The Greatest Movie Never Made: The Book of Revelation,” Week Six

The Brooklyn-based journalist could not have felt more out of place—she was sitting in the main sanctuary of a megachurch, trying to take in a particular type of call to worship for this Sunday service.  As she--Lauren Sandler--wrote in her powerful 2006 book entitled Righteous:

“How many of you think we’re living in the last days?” the guest pastor, in a slick suit and expensive shaggy haircut, barks at the 7,500 congregants in the cavernous room.

All present raise their hands.

“That’s right!  You got to be blind not to see we’re living in the last days.” “Amen!”

“How many of you know we’re in a war?”  All present raise their hands again.

“That’s right!  This is not a playground, but a battleground!”

The “amen’s” continued.  In those amen’s is a tough truth about Christianity—our interpretations are so diverse that many times, we are speaking different languages.  And it is so for St. John.

Today marks the sixth week of our summer sermon series.  After all, summer is the season of blockbuster movies about superheroes or thrilling heists or action-packed military exploits, and at first glance, the Bible wouldn’t seem to stack up well to such epic storytelling.  Yet, enter the book of Revelation.  After decades of subjugation by Rome, which included the sacking of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in the year 70 CE, Saint John writes this final letter of the Bible from his lonely exile on the Greek island of Patmos some roughly twenty years later.  His letter is a vivid, harrowing vision of what the future may hold in store for God’s people, and it has often been misinterpreted by Christians since.  I can’t promise you the right answers in this sermon series, but I can promise you a lot of interesting questions to debate during our fellowship time after worship is over! 

The first week was an introduction to how we are meant to read Revelation—and that is with the humility and knowledge that we are not John, and cannot understand his mind.  In week two, we began going through the actual vision itself, and we started in a familiar, heartwarming place with Heaven itself.  Then we began to delve into the realm of demons and dragons and wars between Heaven and Hell with the appearances of the iconic four horsemen of the apocalypse and the dragon that is cast out of Heaven by Michael the Archangel.  Last week, we tackled perhaps the most famous image in Revelation—the number of the beast—and today, we return to the familiar image of the white horseman from the passage of the four horsemen, only this time, its meaning is completely turned upside down with this new, fifth horseman.

If you weren’t here for the sermon on the four horsemen of the apocalypse from Revelation 6, or if you just need a quick refresher, the first of the four horsemen rode a white horse and was named Conquest.  Here is another horseman upon a white horse who is, then, also conquering.
But there are a few differences between the previous horseman and this.  The biggest difference is that the weaponry has become metaphorical—whereas the horsemen of Revelation 6 were armed with actual bow and arrows and swords, this horseman’s sword, John writes, comes from his mouth.  Now, clearly, this horseman is meant to represent Christ Himself, as one of the horseman’s names is the Word of God, which John’s Gospel says was Jesus.  But my guess is that John was not intending to depict Christ as literally coughing up a sword, so the sword here is probably a metaphorical sword.  John is invoking Jesus’ capacities as a prophet in the Israelite prophetic tradition, as someone who would speak truth to power no matter the consequences.

Another difference is that the first horseman with the white steed went by only one name—Conquest.  Here, the rider of this new white horse has no fewer than three names: Faithful and True, the Word of God, and King of Kings/Lord of Lords.  And to boot, John even says in verse 12 that the rider has a name that nobody knows but himself!  This is perhaps the more consequential difference, because John, whether he realizes it or not, is underscoring the multi-dimensionality of goodness, and of God.  If evil is one-dimensional in its goal—destruction—then goodness is infinite in its dimensions of love and compassion and kindness.

But I think we tend to miss that when we read this passage…we read it on the surface level and assume that John is casting Jesus not as the itinerant Messiah we know from the Gospels, this wandering preacher and prophet and healer and teacher and Savior, but as a conquering warrior.  Forget loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, this is in-this-sign-conquer Christianity, and we forget that Christ’s sword in this passage is a metaphorical sword, not a literal sword, and that goodness is not so one-dimensional that it can only come at the edge of a blade.

And we continue in the same mold in many ways in the church today.  The church isn’t capable of waging a war in any literal sense, but that sure doesn’t keep us from using warlike imagery and vocabulary in our churches today.  The story of the call-and-response at the start isn’t isolated—Jon Acuff on his “Stuff Christians Like” blog wrote about how so many churches use war-themed ministries for their men’s groups; he joked that there, men were equipped with the breastplate of faith and the helmet of salvation that Paul writes about in 1 Thessalonians, but also the AK-47 of love, loaded with the bullets of patience.

It hits closer to home, as well.  What is one of the most famous songs in the hymnals sitting in front of you right now?  “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”  As though all of you are soldiers and I am somehow your general.  When I look out at all of you, I don’t see soldiers, or warriors, and when I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see a commanding officer.  I see a pastor with severe nearsightedness and an embarrassing case of vertigo, and I see a church that has, to my knowledge, marched in a straight line only when there was our cookout buffet laid out at the end!

Maybe that means we’re an undisciplined lot, and that’s fair enough.  But I think it also means that we are simply not a church that is called to engage in “spiritual warfare.”  This does not mean, though, that we are not meant to resist evil—only that there are other means available to us which are not dependent on war themes.

Think of the failure rate of America’s most recent wars.  The Vietnam War did not prevent the Communist takeover of the country.  We’re still in Afghanistan, nearly eleven full years after invading after September 11, despite our troops’ valor.  It isn’t just us—Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other for decades with no territorial changes to show for it since 1967.

By the same token, though, non-violent resistance has reaped some pretty significant victories.  It worked for Mahatma Gandhi in India in gaining India’s independence from the British Commonwealth, it worked for the worldwide anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s for South Africa, and closer to home, it worked for the civil rights movement here in America.  And perhaps most importantly, it worked for Jesus Christ, who resisted sin with love.

So when you think of what it looks like to resist wrong, to resist evil, and to do right instead, think of it as spiritual non-violent resistance instead of spiritual warfare.  Think of it as spiritual peacemaking rather than spiritual violence—after all, Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the spiritual warriors.”  He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Because that’s what it’s about in the end, right?  Making peace in a world of pain?  Whatever our innate failings as human beings are, we can be healed of our desire to wage war on one another.  And the ways in which we can will sometimes—oftentimes—surprise us.

Sometime after seeing this church service with a battle cry call to worship, the journalist Lauren Sandler returns to visit an evening Bible study run by that same church.  The Bible study’s leader asks her if she would let the folks in the Bible study lay hands on and pray for her.  She writes:

“Gordon begins to speak.  “Lord, help Lauren to form relationships quickly on her travels so she can deeply understand people in a short span of time.  Help support her objectivity and lack of agenda.” Silence.  Slowly my stiff back begins to soften.

…A melodic female voice joins in.  “Please, God, protect her car.  We pray you keep her as safe as possible inside.  Please make sure she has no tribulations to overcome so she can focus on her work.”  Silence.  My resistance melts away a bit more; all I can hear are their voices, all I can feel is their desire to ease my way.

Another female voice softly fills the room.  “Dear Lord, please, when Lauren sits down to write this book, to write about all of us, please keep the goodness in her heart and the truth in her words.  Let the words come to her easily, Lord, and let them be full of meaning and purpose.”

Each articulation of my particular concerns—each so separate from their own—stokes embers inside my chest, the empathy, wisdom, and foresight of these prayerful men and women filling my eyes with tears.  I finally understand: they want to save me just as I want to save them.”

See what happens when Christians use the language of peace instead of war!  Walls are broken down and love is experienced, reconciliation occurs and, dare I say it, miracles can still happen.  Imagine what the church would look like tomorrow if we all performed such miracles.  

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
July 8, 2012