Thursday, January 30, 2014

YOU Give Them Something To Eat

In my church's Tuesday morning Bible study class (which, by the by, I am so freaking proud of...this past Tuesday, literally every single seat at the (very large) table was taken.  Bible study at this church has been growing so much, it's great to see), we are spending the "year" (September-May, just like school) reading verse-by-verse through the Gospel of Mark.

This past Tuesday, we read in chapter 8 the second account of Jesus feeding a multitude--this time of 4,000 men plus untold numbers of women and  children (the account of the 5,000 is in Mark 6).  Both I and the commentary we use were keen to emphasize the disciples' intransigence in this story--even though they had just seen Jesus perform an identical miracle two chapters ago, they still cannot begin to entertain the possibility that He might do it again when they say "How can anyone get enough food in this wilderness to satisfy these people?" (Mark 8:4, CEB)

You know that Batman-slapping-Robin meme that people use to debunk all the stupid sh*t that everybody says?  You know, this one...yeah, I think that would about fit the bill for how Jesus probably reacted to His disciples' general dumbassery.  In the Mark 6 accounting of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus basically has this reaction the first time around when He tells His disciples--upon them lodging the same objection with Him and wanting the crowds to fend for themselves--"YOU give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37, CEB, emphasis mine)

YOU give them something to eat.

I love it.  It's simple, pointed, and directly addresses the problem at hand: a lack of empathy for the very people the disciples were supposed to be serving.

It is, I have to think, the rebuke Jesus would probably dust off and reuse to tell off the school officials at Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, where 40-some kids were, very publicly, stripped of their school lunches and given a piece of fruit to eat because, officials said, their accounts had a past-due balance.

Now, I'm not a healthcare professional in any way, shape or form, but I am engaged to one, plus, I'm not a complete moron, so even I realize that milk and fruit does not a complete lunch make.  A complete lunch needs vegetables or salad, and hopefully some source of whole-grain carbohydrates.  So let's dispense with the "We don't ever let kids go without food entirely" refrain.  School lunch--or any lunch--should not be simply about making your stomach full, it needs to be about being filled with particular nutrients.

And especially where kids are concerned, that need has to come before financial considerations.  Every time.

Call me a bleeding heart if you want.  Tell me that we have to teach children accountability if you wish.  But know this: when the disciples spoke to Jesus about feeding, cumulatively, 9,000 men (plus, again, untold numbers of women and children), Jesus did not respond with some version of, "Those freeloaders need to learn personal responsibility."

He responded with, "You give them something to eat."

And so to the adults at Uintah Elementary who decided to take away 40-odd kids' lunches (especially to you, anonymous child nutrition manager who I'm pretty sure drinks baby seal tears in their spare time), I say the exact same words that Jesus said to His disciples.

You're concerned that the kids owe your school a few bucks?  Fine.

Then you, personally, give them something to eat.  Something that isn't just an orange.  Something that doesn't humiliate them in front of their friends.  Something that nourishes their growing bodies.

And if you're not willing to do that, then get the hell outta the way.

*mic drop*

Yours in Christ,

Monday, January 27, 2014

Five Reasons Not To Go To Seminary

I know, I know--a blog post from a parish pastor in active service (especially one who loves his job as much as I do) that tells people not to go to seminary?!

Well, not exactly.

I love my work, but I also recognize that it is emphatically *not* for everyone.  Statistics vary, but the consensus seems to be that about half of all newly-minted pastors will no longer be pastors five years from now.  Clearly some of this has to do with how some congregations treat their new pastors, but I have to imagine there is some self-selection (or Spirit-led-selection) that needs to occur on our end as well.  To be brutally honest, while I had lots of exceptionally loving, spiritual, and compassionate classmates at seminary who I thought would make--and have made--great pastors, I also saw some people who made me wonder to myself, "Why are you here?!"  (Although, to be brutally honest once more, I am sure that some folks thought the same about me, too.  Until Nadia Bolz-Weber's stratospheric rise to widespread fame last year--which, by the by, I'm pretty damn sure means a hell of a lot--I can't imagine that the snarky, potty-mouthed crank archetype was quite so fashionable a look for ministers.)

But I digress.  Here are my five reasons for why seminary may not be for someone, and if you are applying to or considering seminary, my hope is that you will take these reasons to heart--not as a means to discourage, but as a means to discern if you love ministry so much and your sense of calling is so strong that being told about these obstacles simply does not matter to you.  And if that is the case, then seminary may in fact be just right for you!

1. Seminaries these days cost a LOT of money. Name-brand seminaries cost even more.  Tuition at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where I almost decided to attend, currently costs nearly $30,000 per three-quarter academic year ($29,190 to be precise). If you cannot get your school, church, family, or a leprechaun’s a pot of gold to float you, you’re taking on over $87,000 (plus interest) in debt...and that's *just* for tuition--we haven't even gotten to books and living expenses yet.  Even at my alma mater, the Pacific School of Religion, tuition for a full-time courseload of an M.Div. student adds up to $18,360 per year.  That is still a lot more than in-state tuition at almost any public university, and the San Francisco Bay Area happens to have one of the highest costs of living anywhere in the country.  I was lucky--between scholarships from my alma mater and my denomination, my tuition and books were paid for.  I should be the rule, though, not be the exception.  And I still graduated with nearly five figures worth of debt in the form of credit cards and a car loan.

2. You don’t learn many practical things in seminary outside of your field education experience. Currently, seminary education teaches you how to think like a minister, but not actually how to do ministry.  Which is fine, but ultimately incomplete when you consider that the M.Div. is a professional, rather than an academic, degree.  And yet to that end, your professors (especially if they themselves were never pastors at one point in their careers) will likely care way more about teaching you about the systematic theology of eggplants during the papacy of Innocent III than teaching you about, say, how to run a churchwide capital campaign. You have to learn that stuff on the job, the hard way, with honestly very little preparation.

3. Once you do get out of seminary, you must be prepared for one of the longest job searches around, even in this torpid economy.  I was lucky--four months after my seminary graduation, I was starting work here at FCC at a job I love.  I have friends and colleagues whom I would consider very qualified for pastoral work who endured a year or more of "search and call" (church-ese for "job search"), and I can say from personal experience how nerve-wracking a process looking for a pastorate really is, because more than almost any other job I can think of, you are being weighed and measured as a person, not just an applicant or a potential employee (which, considering the nature of ministry is how it needs to be, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier).

4. It is very difficult to save up money working in ministry. You may keep doctors’ hours and possess the educational equivalent of that doctor’s healthcare administrator, but you’ll likely start out making less than a public schoolteacher (most of whom are also underpaid as it is, but that's another kettle of fish).  After all the student loan debt you took on (see above), your long job search during which time you still have to eat and pay rent (again, see above) you will likely match with a pastorate that pays you, if you're the median pastor, $44,000 a year.  Many months, it may be all you can do to simply break even, much less to save up any sort of a rainy day fund or nest egg.  In fact, that is precisely what happened to me this month, and in part inspired me to write all of this--after having to sink over $500 into my car for repairs this month, plus my other bills, taxes, tithes, and expenses, I'll have made it to payday (today) with exactly six dollars remaining in my checking account.  Now, to be clear, this is an exceptional circumstance and I have savings I can tap into.  I am that median pastor whose gross income is about $44,000.  Relative to ministry's pay scale, my church pays me extremely fairly, especially considering what brand-new pastors like me are often paid.  But I'm also a middle-class American with a master's degree.  If you value money, please, find different work.

5. Doing ministry is emphatically not a 9-to-5, punch-the-clock type of gig. You work weekends. You work evenings. And you remain on call 24/7, even on your days off.  Not everyone can handle living with that sort of a mentality.  It creates a certain sort of stress that some people are equipped to handle and some people simply are not.  That doesn't make the latter category worse people, it simply means that the types of stress associated with ministry are exacerbated for them, much the same way stresses of other occupations would be exacerbated for someone like me who is not especially well-organized.  It's just who a person is.  There is A LOT about ministry that I have had to grow into simply because of my own emotional and, honestly, spiritual, limitations.  After all, I'm just a person in the end.

What do you think?  Are there other reasons you can think of that I neglected?  Did I go too far in my cautionary exhortations?

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Week's Sermon: "Churches & Courtrooms"

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and managers of God’s secrets. 2 In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful. 3 I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself. 4 I’m not aware of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me innocent, because the Lord is the one who judges me. 5 So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God. (Common English Bible)

“Adventures in Churchland: A Visitor’s Experience of Mainline Worship,” Week One

My hair fell down below my shoulders as my ponytail (yes, I had one during my college years, there is pictorial proof on Facebook) adjusted to how deeply I craned my neck to take in the entirety of what looked, on the outside, like a modern-day fortress…or at least an intimidating military installment, designed to scare away the native people it was conquering.  In the middle of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, this gigantic concrete precipice had been built as a foreboding presence to all who lived, worked, and moved through the Paris of the Plains (yes, we fancied ourselves quite a bit back in Kansas City.  If you had our barbeque, you would, too).

Of course, this building was neither a fortress nor a military barracks.  It was a courthouse.  Built in the wake of 9/11, the federal courthouse for the District of Western Missouri was designed to evoke a forbidding sense of ultimate security and safety.  And in doing so, the sheer heights of its architecture reminded me of yet another family of buildings that we often judge by their height.

Churches.  And that really is not a coincidence.

This is a new sermon series that will take us all the way up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the church season of Lent.  And this is a series about something that may or may not be new in the slightest to us: Sunday worship.  For those of us who were born and raised in the church and have lived in the church our entire lives, worship may be second nature to us by this point: some tunes, some prayers, some preachin’, some bread and juice, and it’s off to Sunday brunch.  But for those of us for whom church is an entirely new experience, this may all come across as one tin-foil hat away from something utterly bizarre to you.  I think I can safely say that after reading Dan Kimball’s 2013 book, “Adventures in Churchland,” in which at one point he conveys, in vivid detail, his initial worship experience at a church that I instantly recognized as a mainline Protestant church—a church like ours with a pastor in robes and an organ in the sanctuary and the serving of communion—none of which are typical trappings in many evangelical churches.  And Dan, having come in off the street, was both bemused and confused by everything this church did as a part of its worship…but we do some of the exact same things, and so it stands to reason that perhaps our worship is confusing for newcomers as well.  So, the point of this sermon series is to not only explain why we worship the way we do, but hopefully to equip you to do the same when other folks ask you why we worship the way we do!  Dan begins his story thusly:

I…had this growing sense that I should find a church to help me in this search, a place where I could ask questions.  There happened to be a church right across the street from my dorm, so once again, out of curiosity, I gave another Christian meeting a try.  This time, my friend Randy came along with me to attend a Sunday service.

As soon as we walked into the church building, I knew that this was going to be very different from my experience with the shiny happy people.  This was truly a church building—it had stained-glass windows, a pulpit, and a number of fancy religious symbols scattered around the room on colored banners.  When we walked into the building, we heard organ music.  I confess, just hearing an organ reminds me of a funeral parlor and puts me in a strange state of mind.  I also noticed that the seating was all pews.  Really, the only place you see pews, outside of a church, is in a courtroom.  So as we walked down the aisle with the organ music playing and found seats in the pews, I was thinking about two things: death and jury duty.

Speaking for myself, I am convinced that those two things are inextricably intertwined, and not as a result of any sort of coincidence.

There is far more than meets the eye to the architecture of a historic church building like ours—a more modern and overwhelmingly generic performance space our sanctuary is emphatically not.  And there are a great number of other structural similarities between our sanctuary and your standard-issue courtroom that you might see in an episode of one of those many Law & Order marathons that you watch on your couch, in pajamas, while consuming an entire bag of PopChips (I am, of course, absolutely not speaking from any sort of personal experience here).

If you recall, in a courtroom, the presiding judge sits on a chair in an elevated platform.  Similarly, traditionally, a preacher stands upon an elevated pulpit to preach…or, alternatively, to pronounce judgment on the hoi polloi.  In a courtroom, specific seats are set aside for the judge’s support staff: clerks, bailiffs, stenographers, and the like.  So too is it the case in many church sanctuaries, where you might see specific chairs or even mini-pews set aside on the elevated chancel area by the pulpit for associate pastors, worship musicians, or the odd court jester.

And so on.  But with our gorgeous stained glass, with our elegant vaulted wooden ceiling, with our beautiful Gothic revival architectural style, it is easy to miss all of those subtle touches that send perhaps a not-so-subtle theological message.  I know that when I visited here as a candidate, my neck hurt by the end of the day because, like with the federal courthouse in Missouri, I spent so much time with it craned upward in my effort to take in all of the visual appeal of our campus!

And even the architectural style is meant to contain both theological and practical messages as well.  Gothic churches like ours are renowned for their height, because during the Middle Ages, churches were often the center of towns and villages, and, if possible, were also set on the most elevated parcel of land.  It is why traditionally churches had steeples—the idea was that at any point in the town, one could look, see the church, and instantly orient themselves relative to it.

Of course, theologically, Gothic churches like ours tried to be as tall as possible because, well, God’s up there, and we’re down here, and isn’t church about being closer to God?  So, why not make churches as tall as can be?  They must not have taught the Tower of Babel story at medieval architecture school.

But that is still something that most churches try to achieve in how they are designed and made and built, even today—a sense of closeness with God.  Because, in the end, God is supposed to make us feel secure.  God is supposed to be our solid foundation, the foundation upon which we can build our faith, which sometimes looks as beautiful and elegant as our church building, but honestly, sometimes just as often it probably looks like a teetering stack of Jenga blocks.

And this is why what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4 is so important (were you wondering when I would *finally* get around to the Scripture?  “All this is great, pastor, but my architecture experience is limited to macaroni and glue in kindergarten, so could you just get on with it…”).

Paul does not fear human judgment, or, as he puts it, being “judged by you or by any human court... (because) it is the Lord who judges me.”  Now, first of all, I have to think that Paul is simply unique in not fearing human judgment, because in my experience, we fear the judgment of our peers all the time, perhaps even more than we fear the judgment of God, which I have to imagine is at least partly why we do some of the destructive things that we do.

Paul had to have known this, because he is emphatic in his exhortation to the church in Corinth to not judge anything until the Lord comes—until the right moment.  As with most things that one person exhorts another to do, this is something that Paul himself struggles with, as many of his letters contain plenty of judging of his opponents.  But it is still reassuring to know that Paul realizes that judgment is the Lord’s purview, and not ours.

It is reassuring precisely because somewhere, deep in the recesses of our brains, we likely know that as well.  As Christians and as a church, we are not supposed to judge with human judgment.  There’s a reason why, despite all the similarities between a traditional church building and a courtroom, we still call our church building a sanctuary: it is supposed to be a safe place, a secure place that anyone can come to and seek out God.  It harkens all the way back to the ancient Israelite tradition of claiming sanctuary: if a person, fleeing from their pursuers, made it to the Jerusalem temple and took hold of the horns of the Ark of the Covenant, it was an unwritten law that they were not to be harmed (of course, it did not always work out this way—Joab, King David’s army commander, was murdered while taking hold of the horns of the Ark by the men of King Solomon, whose ascension to the throne Joab had opposed.  I know what you’re thinking—if only our elections ended this way…).

But a sanctuary literally means a safe place, a secure place, and that is why, despite my embrace of so many things new for the church, I still so tenaciously believe, in an era of Christian “centers” and worship “spaces,” that we hang onto this particular gem of tradition.  You are meant to feel secure here, because while this may look like a courtroom and feel like a courtroom, it is because while it is a courtroom, we are not your judges.  Rather, God is your judge, and I am here to tell you that the first item on God’s docket is grace.  Grace for you, grace for me, grace for all those who choose to reach out and accept it for the divine gift that it is.

And that…that is why we have built church buildings the way we have for so, so long.  Because no human court could possibly begin to dispense the sort of mercy that God offers to each of you.  And so God calls upon us to build for Him His own courtroom…a sanctuary where you are to be welcomed instead of condemned, to be offered grace instead of judgment, and to be given the chance and the tools to become a better person instead of punishment by retribution.  It is not our way…but it is God’s.  And it is enough.  It will always be enough.  

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
January 26, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Sermon Series

It's high past time for me to pivot from depressing posts into some slightly more joyous material, no?

Starting this Sunday, and continuing through March 2nd, I'll be posting my manuscripts here of a six-week sermon series I am doing based on Pastor Dan Kimball's 2013 book, "Adventures in Churchland."  (If Dan's name sounds familiar to you from here, it might be because I did another sermon series on his previous book, "They Like Jesus But Not the Church," in 2012!)

Here's a little preview for the series I penned for our newsletter, plus the schedule for the entire series, so that you can follow along at home if you are so inclined...

Yours in Christ,

Ash Wednesday comes late this year--it doesn't arrive in 2014 until March 5, which means that we have the entirety of February (plus the first Sunday of March) to work on the sermon series that we begin on Sunday, January 26, on Pastor Dan Kimball's book "Adventures in Churchland," and more specifically, on the description of his first visit to worship at a typical mainline Protestant congregation (like us). As someone who describes himself as missing out on a Christian background at that point in his life, Pastor Dan found himself alternatively bemused and confused by much of what happened in that worship. My own belief is that worship ought not to be like that--it ought to be, and in fact must be, readily accessible and understandable to someone who just walks in off the street having never attended church before. And so this sermon series is all about explaining why we do the things we do in worship--so that you might understand something you previously hadn't about your Sunday morning, and so that you might in turn be available to offer help to others wondering how worship here goes. After all, worship of God and Christ is part of what sets us apart--let's own that richly spiritual identity together! 

I'll see you Sunday, 
Pastor Eric

"Adventures in Churchland: A Visitor's Experience of Mainline Worship" 

January 26: "Churches and Courtrooms," 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
February 2: “Worship: The Musical,” Colossians 3:12-17 
February 9: “Breakfast Cereal Decoder Rings,” Numbers 6:1-5 
February 16: “This is So Meta,” Acts 17:16-21 
February 23: “In Vino Veritas,” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
March 2: "Code Red," Acts 14:8-18

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On the Inconsistent Application of a Pro-Life Ethics

About six months ago, I wrote a guest piece at on the Wendy Davis/Texas abortion saga as a personal favor for a good friend whom I have written for on and off for five years now.  It received a fair amount of buzz considering my limited stature as a writer because (I think) it touched a nerve for a lot of people.  It spoke to a reality that often gets unspoken: that progressive Christians--myself included--by and large really do abhor abortion.

But we get treated as though we don't, even sometimes by fellow progressive Christians. (and full disclosure: I unabashedly LOVE Rachel's work, but seriously, the title "Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion" basically implies that we currently don't.  Which in my experience is simply not true.)

I meant every word I wrote in the PoliticalContext piece: I'm someone who honestly probably *should* be pro-life, because of my understanding of Psalm 139, because of my extremely narrow view of what constitutes a "just war," and because of my opposition to capital punishment.   But I remain alienated by the pro-life movement, for the reasons I described in that piece.

And I also definitely meant this:

If you take Scripture—and its commandment for truth-telling—so seriously, then why do you condone your political leaders claiming that they want to shut down womens’ health clinics for the sake of womens’ health, as opposed to the sake of limiting access to abortion?

This was--is--a BFD: states like Texas, Wisconsin, and my home state of Kansas were seeking to shut down women's health clinics because they did not meet an extensive list of criteria, such as physicians holding admitting rights at a hospital and the clinics being licensed by the state as surgical centers.

This was done, we were told, only to protect the health of the woman.

Meanwhile, today, states run by ostensibly Christian governors are rushing to haphazardly execute its prisoners with untested protocols and with improperly manufactured and stored drugs.  The state of Ohio, which had just executed a man with experimental drugs that caused him to continuously convulse and gasp as he died, just this week ordered a clinic to shut down after failing to agree to admitting protocol with a local hospital.

So, if you're keeping score at home--experimenting with drugs to very painfully kill a person: perfectly acceptable.  Having a tried-and-tested protocol for your patients' health when they visit your clinic: not good enough.

This is honestly why the Roman Catholic-originated Consistent Life Ethic makes far, far more sense to me than the politics of most American Christians, because at least it lives up to its billing as consistent: it's anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and anti-euthanasia.

So here's the deal, fellow Christians: if you abhor abortion for the way it ends the life of a human embryo or fetus, but you either don't care or encourage capital punishment for the way it ends the life of a fully-grown human in a similarly medically-induced manner, I genuinely wonder if your actions earn the right to be termed as "pro-life."

I really do.

Because if all life is sacred, the born and the unborn, then so too must we say that all life is sacred, the condemned and the innocent.

Because "all" is one of those words that can't really come with a qualifier.

According to Genesis, *all* of humanity is created in God's image.  Even the murderers.  God even showed mercy to Cain.

Will God show mercy to us now, that we can barely disguise our eagerness to kill our prisoners?

I pray that God will.  But I also pray that God will give us the strength to avoid the temptation of trying to determine whose life is sacred enough to be worth keeping or not.

Because ultimately, that is God's job as our judge.

Let it remain God's job.

Yours in Christ,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Am a Human Being

This is a personal one.  Due to the nature of my mother's work as a specialist criminal defense lawyer, I was raised on a steady diet of real-life courtroom dramas better than anything Law & Order could manufacture.  By the time I could legally drink, I had conversed with convicted murderers and played blackjack with their children (how the criminal justice system affects a criminal's innocent children is an entirely different, but extremely imperative, topic).

And I had also watched a jury listen to competing attorneys ask them to either kill or spare a man's life, which may be legal under American law, but I cannot imagine is legal under the law of a God who says unto Paul, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." (Romans 12:19)

I have seen what I have seen, and I know what I know, and I have long ago come to the conclusion that capital punishment, no matter how we practice it, violates the Christianity-based ethic that all human life belongs to God and thus is sacred.  If life is the ultimate gift of God, then it should not be up to mere mortals to decide when to take that gift away.

(And let me nip this in the bud: I emphatically believe that people should pay for their crimes.  I 100% support life-without-parole sentences for first-degree murder convictions.)

In any case, my religious beliefs are such that I object to capital punishment on those grounds, but I additionally have long harbored objections over how capital punishment is meted out--that it unfairly targets racial minorities, that it costs the state far more money to implement, and that it constitutes, essentially, experimentation on humans every time we come up with a new death penalty protocol.

Witness, then, today's execution of Dennis McGuire, an inmate in Ohio, who, according to news reports, gasped and convulsed for up to ten minutes before dying from an experimental cocktail of lethal drugs.

McGuire's crime could not have been more heinous--he raped, sodomized, and murdered a young, seven-months-pregnant woman named Joy Stewart.  I would have been more than happy to see McGuire live out the rest of his days and ultimately die in prison.

But two profound wrongs do not make a right.  We do not get to torture people as they die.  The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (banning cruel and unusual punishment) should have covered that.

But it hasn't.

And, like I said, it's personal.  My mother is now fighting around the clock to keep a client of her firm's from being executed in similar manner (with a similarly suspect injection protocol) by the state of Missouri.


Enough already.

Because this isn't the first time something like this has happened when we have tried to kill a man.

Far from it.  In reading the account of McGuire's death, I was reminded of this excerpt of the book The Death of Innocents by Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.:

(warning: graphic descriptions ahead)

David Lawson chose to die in the gas chamber.  He said he wanted the people of North Carolina to know they were killing a man.  He tried to have his execution videotaped and broadcast, but state and federal courts denied his request, arguing that he did not have a constitutional right to make his death public.

In a last appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, David Lawson's lawyers requested a stay of execution, arguing that execution by gas was a form of cruel punishment and in violation of the Eighth Amendment, but the Court refused to hear the petition.

On June 15, 1994, David Lawson was killed by the state of North Carolina for the murder of Wayne Shinn, whom he had shot during a burglary in 1980.  It took thirteen minutes for the gas to kill him.

Lawson, wearing only socks and boxer shorts over a diaper, sat in the chair and watched as guards strapped his arms, chest, and legs to the chair and hooked up an electrode over his heart.  Guards then placed a leather mask on his face.  Soon after 2:00 a.m., the cyanide was dropped into the acid and the lethal fumes began to rise.  Lawson, choking and grasping and straining against the straps, took short breaths and cried out, "I am human.  I am a human being."  He pushed up on his feet and kicked his legs.  His hands gripped the ends of the armrests.  Drool and tears slid from under the mask.  A few deep breaths of the gas would have killed him sooner, but David Lawson continued taking short breaths and despite paroxysms of choking cried out until his voice was but a whisper: ""

I pray for the continued healing and closure for murder victims' families everywhere, and alongside those prayers I also pray for the David Lawsons and Dennis McGuires of the world, that their humanity, however wretched, would at long last be recognized by a society that knows it is sinful to kill.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Christians for Biblical Equality Vis-a-Vis Where Gender & Sexual Orientation Intersect

(My apologies for the more sporadic posting as of late here--in  addition to my regular writing schedule at the church, I am also currently working on a paper for submission to a professional organization I belong to, and that has taken up a significant chunk of my writing time this month.  I should be back to blogging on my regular Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday schedule by February.  Thanks for your patience! -E.A.)

I have been sitting on a post of this nature for some time, but I think I'm finally ready to write it.

Let it be said, first of all, that I am 100% on board with equality of gender as it pertains to authority in the church, and I always have been.  I was raised by a female senior pastor, and so even after being introduced to texts like Titus 2 or 1 Timothy 2, I could never for the life of me understand the fuss about the idea that only men could be preachers and teachers.  I adamantly believe that the capacity to teach and prophesy knows no gender boundaries, as evinced by many extraordinarily talented female preachers I have the privilege of being friends with.

And for much the same reason I believe in the cause of equality of sexual orientation, again as it pertains to authority in the church: just as teaching and prophesying knows no bounds on the basis of gender, nor does it on the basis of sexual orientation either...again, as evinced by many extraordinarily talented gay and lesbian preachers I have the privilege of being friends with.

In other words: from my perspective*, the goal of achieving equal Biblical authority on the basis of gender is nearly identical to the goal of achieving equal Biblical authority on the basis of sexual orientation, and even to the goal of achieving equal Biblical privilege as regards same-sex marriage.

(* And this should be said: this perspective is that of a heterosexual man.  The discrimination that occurs in both arenas benefits me at the direct expense of my female, gay, and lesbian colleagues.)

What bothers me, then, is when otherwise pretty terrific organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality are so dedicated to one goal, but not the other.

My concern largely arises from the dissonance between CBE's stated mission and core values and their statement of faith.

To wit, their stated mission of all believers regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class must exercise equal authority is great.  While they are primarily concerned with equality between women and men, they recognize that sexism, racism, and classism all can and do intersect, and that engaging one necessarily means engaging all three.  CBE even doubles down on this goal, adding a specific section beneath their core values addressing injustice, writing (verbatim):

CBE recognizes that injustice is an abuse of power, taking from others what God has given them: their dignity, their freedom, their resources, and even their very lives. CBE also recognizes that prohibiting individuals from exercising their God-given gifts to further his kingdom constitutes injustice in a form that impoverishes the body of Christ and its ministry in the world at large. CBE accepts the call to be part of God’s mission in opposing injustice as required in Scriptures such as Micah 6:8.

Palpably absent, though, from any of this is any mention of sexual orientation...although in their statement of faith, CBE writes: "We believe in the family, celibate singleness, and faithful heterosexual marriage as God's design." (emphasis mine)

What the what.

In other words--interpreting Scripture to include women as full partners in the church (which, again, I completely agree with): okay.  Interpreting Scripture to include lesbian women (or other gay persons) as full partners in the church: not okay.

What I heard from those two different statements was, "It is required by God and by Scripture to oppose injustice.  But we're perfectly fine being unjust to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ by denying them access to marriage."

If you're like me and see the intersectionality of sexism and homophobia in the church as intertwined, I'm not sure how this comes across as anything other than a double standard.

What makes this even more frustrating for me is twofold: one, CBE clearly understands how these things do intersect, since they are committed not just to eradicating gender discrimination in the church but ethnic and class discrimination as well, but they choose not to extend that support to gay and lesbian Christians.  And two, CBE is endorsed by a great many Christian leaders whom I respect and have followed for a long time, folks like Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Tony Campolo.

My hope and prayer is that Christians for Biblical Equality would prayerfully and seriously consider expanding their stated mission to address the inequality suffered by gay and lesbian Christians, and that they would amend their statement of faith to eliminate the sentence about heterosexual marriage.

I'm not a fool--I realize that is probably not going to happen, and certainly not because some self-righteous doofus like me with a blog asked them to after publicly criticizing them on said blog.

But if enough people ask them to...well, who knows what might happen?

I'm just sayin'.

Christians for Biblical Equality has not responded to a request for comment that I sent earlier today.  If that changes, I will be sure to update this post accordingly.  If you would like to contact them yourself, their contact page is here.

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, January 12, 2014

This Week's Sermon: "All Jerusalem"

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”[a] 7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. (Common English Bible)

“All Jerusalem,” Matthew 2:1-12

It was at a Shari’s.  I am convinced that many—not all, but many—higher-plane spiritual experiences take place at a Shari’s.

This one happened to be in Pendleton, Oregon, just off of I-84 in eastern Oregon.  I was driving home to Kansas City from Portland, Oregon, after my junior year of college, and I stopped in Pendleton for gas and lunch.

While at Shari’s, this other fellow who arrived just before me and I are both waiting an interminable time to be seated.  When someone finally came around to seat us (as you can tell, it took a long time because I have since lost all my hair), even though this guy had beaten me to the door and presumably was hungry, he let me take the table.  And I still remember what he said:

“Dude, I just got married!  We’re actually on our way to Seaside for our honeymoon.  So it’s all good.  Seriously, it’s okay, just take the table!”

And he said it with such a wide, clearly giddy grin on his face, that I knew it would be no use trying to out-courtesy him.  This was a guy so in love with the world, so in love with life, so in love with everything because he had just married the one whom he loved the most in the world, in his life, in, well, everything.  There was just no talking him out of it.  So I took the table.

I was touched by the encounter so greatly that I ended up blogging about it that night when I reached my hotel in Tremonton, Utah (look it up in an atlas!).  I wrote about how this is what marriage should look like because, you know, a 21-year-old degenerate knows so, so much about what it means to be married!  But then I talked about what it was like for me, as a traveler.

And I wish I could quote that part to you verbatim, but silly Xanga decided to delete my blog from the internets after I hadn’t updated it in, like, seven years.  But what I can tell you is that I believed then—and I believe now—that part of the ardor of traveling comes from having to expect nothing from the people you may be traveling with, that way they cannot possibly disappoint you.  Of course—and this is especially true with air travel—you still end up being disappointed anyways by a surly seatmate or a screaming child.

It could still be worse, though.  The magi were probably disappointed by an entire city.

 Let’s set the scene here: King Herod has heard of Jesus’ birth from the magi, and he has heard that Jesus is meant to have a title that he thinks belongs to him: the king of the Jews.  And that is enough to send the king into a right tizzy.  And in an absolute monarchy, when the king is unhappy, everybody is unhappy.  So all of Jerusalem is frightened along with King Herod.

But, as New Testament scholar Rudolf Schnakenburg points out, “Not only the king is seized with fear, but Jerusalem itself…(but) None of Jerusalem’s inhabitants bothers to go to nearby Bethlehem; yet Gentiles come from afar...The astrologers are symbols of a journey now being undertaken by the nations, the floods of Gentiles entering the church of Christ.”

Put simply—even though “all Jerusalem” was located very near to Bethlehem and could have gone to see for themselves this newborn Jesus at a much smaller risk to themselves and their safety than the magi, nobody actually bothered to.  Hence the probable disappointment.

And I know that when you are traveling far from home, you don’t really expect the kind of spontaneous hospitality of someone giving up their table to you simply because they can.  None of us would expect that today.  But you can bet your bottom dollar that the magi probably would have.  I’ve made a big deal of it so far in my Christmastime sermons: hospitality in Biblical Israel was an obligation that greatly exceeded our understanding of hospitality today. 

The whole Jesus-washing-His-disciples-feet thing?  That was a gesture of hospitality—a homeowner (or their servant) was expected to do that for a visitor to wash the dirt and dust and grime from their sandaled feet.  But we most certainly do that.  We say, “We do the barefoot thing here, so if could just leave your shoes by the foyer…”

The whole Jesus-being-born-in-a-barn thing?  Like I’ve said the past two weeks, that circumstance was necessitated by a violation of hospitality: Joseph and Mary probably weren’t trying to get a room at the Holiday Inn (could you imagine how awesome Jesus’ miracles would have been if he had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express?!), they were probably trying to score the guest room at the house of one of Joseph’s relatives.  As a consolation prize, they got the garage.

And the whole magi-having-to-leave-Israel-by-a-different-route thing?  Yeah, that doesn’t happen unless the bridge you arrived across was incinerated.  Which it was.  By King Herod, and, by extension, all Jerusalem itself.

So I have come to believe that just as the magi represent, as Schnakenburg says, the journeys of people of all nations, coming to worship Christ the King, so too does Jerusalem represent another journey: the journey of someone in thrall to an oppressive ruler, of someone under the thumb of an abusive spouse or parent, of someone precisely for whom Jesus makes His presence known and available, even if that someone—that is to say, us—does not yet realize it.

Because while it might be easier or more convenient for us to identify with the magi in this story—hey, we too would come from the ends of the earth with lavish gifts to offer baby Jesus!—the truth is, we are probably sometimes closer to being an inhabitant of Jerusalem than we are to being one of the magi.  We still harbor our insecurities and our frailties, we still pay more heed to the leaders of men than to the counsel of God.  And we likely could just as easily miss Jesus’ presence in our lives, even if he were as close to us as Bethlehem was to Jerusalem.

Magi from across the world, with the help of a star, found the Savior with pinpoint accuracy.  May they be the ideal we aspire to.  May they guide us, and all Jerusalem, out of the threats and dangers of this world and into the promise of salvation and security in the next.  And may they represent our willingness to be guided by God, to wherever that may be, whether halfway around the world in Bethlehem, or simply right here in Longview...may God guide you there.

May it be so.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
January 12, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pushing the Fast-Forward Button on Jesus

(Possible Subtitle: Did Teenage Jesus Use Axe Products?)

Today, January 7, marks the start of "Ordinary Time" once more in the church calendar.  The 12 days of the Christmas season are over (though I, like probably many other pastors, will still be preaching on the Epiphany story this Sunday).

And, I imagine, for a lot of us, Jesus is instantly being transformed in our imaginations from a gurgling little baby into a fully-grown Messiah once more.

And why not?  It isn't like the Gospels spends a whole lot of time on the first thirty years of Jesus' earthly life.  We have the account from Luke about the twelve-year-old boy Jesus in the Jerusalem temple.

That's it.


I mean, unless you're going to re-open the canon for the irreverent, hilarious Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, then there isn't a whole lot else out there.

We don't know who Jesus' childhood crush was.

We don't know if He, as any eldest sibling worth a flat dollar did, endlessly tormented His younger brothers with noogies and wedgies.

We don't know if Mary and Joseph ever embarrassed Him by trying to kiss Him goodbye at the bus stop on the way to school.

We don't know anything about how Jesus grew up--at least, anything about Him specifically, as opposed to any other member of the ancient Israelite peasant class.

And that includes not only the silly stuff I list above, but also the more serious, truly amazing stuff.

We don't know what might have made Jesus cry as a child.

We don't know what lullabies Mary might have sung Him to sleep with.

We don't know if He ever had nightmares and woke Mary and Joseph up in the middle of the night with them.

We miss out on that stuff too.

And that's hard for me to do, because even though we say Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine, it sure doesn't feel like that.  I don't know of a human who wasn't profoundly shaped by their childhood, and yet we view Jesus' adulthood and ministry almost in a vacuum, like He came to the world fully formed when we know that wasn't the case.

We reduce our Savior when we do that.  We do Him a disservice by not allowing Him to be who we say He is, and who He was--a human, as well as God's Son.

And sure, maybe it is because a Messiah going through puberty and all that it entails (the sulking, the screaming matches, the body odor and subsequent Axe shower) just isn't as inspiring.  We don't want to think of our Savior the way we think of ourselves (or of ourselves as we once were), because who wants a moody teenager to be the source of their salvation?

But it's the only way we can let Him in.

We have to think of Jesus in the same way as we think of ourselves.  Otherwise, He wasn't fully human to us after all.

Instead, He becomes a sort of divine Ken doll to us, shorn and sanded down of all His rough edges, all of His growing pains, all of His...humanity.  We make Jesus into less than what He was.

Which means that His becoming human did not fully accomplish its purpose--precisely because haven't let His human side in.  We rush right past it in our hurry to go straight from the Bethlehem manger to the Jordan River baptism.  We hit the fast-forward button until we get to the part we know, the part we like.

The part where He saves us all.

But just like the 40 days in the wilderness, just like the journeys to and from Jerusalem, just like the path to Calvary itself, Jesus' life was a journey, an odyssey of time that cannot be fast-forwarded.

So, sometime between now and Lent, when we begin those same 40 penitential days in the wilderness, I would invite you to pray to the growing-up Jesus: the elementary school Jesus, the teenage Jesus, the twentysomething Jesus, as a spiritual exercise in understanding the true depth of our Savior's experience as a flesh-and-blood man.

And may those prayers work new wonders in your lives.

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, January 5, 2014

This Week's Sermon: "Dream Child"

(Apologies for an extra-long holiday hiatus from blogging--I needed to perform a funeral for a former longtime member of the church almost as soon as I got back into town from vacation, and that has consumed much of my time over the past couple of days.  I'm back now, though! -E.A.)

Jeremiah 31:7-14

The Lord proclaims: Sing joyfully for the people of Jacob; shout for the leading nation. Raise your voices with praise and call out: “The Lord has saved his people,[d] the remaining few in Israel!” 8 I’m going to bring them back from the north; I will gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the disabled, expectant mothers and those in labor; a great throng will return here. 9 With tears of joy they will come; while they pray, I will bring them back. I will lead them by quiet streams and on smooth paths so they don’t stumble. I will be Israel’s father, Ephraim will be my oldest child. 10 Listen to the Lord’s word, you nations, and announce it to the distant islands: The one who scattered Israel will gather them and keep them safe, as a shepherd his flock. 11 The Lord will rescue the people of Jacob and deliver them from the power of those stronger than they are. 12 They will come shouting for joy on the hills of Zion, jubilant over the Lord’s gifts: grain, wine, oil, flocks, and herds. Their lives will be like a lush garden; they will grieve no more. 13 Then the young women will dance for joy; the young and old men will join in. I will turn their mourning into laughter and their sadness into joy; I will comfort them. 14 I will lavish the priests with abundance and shower my people with my gifts, declares the Lord. (Common English Bible)

“Dream Child,” Jeremiah 31:7-14

Though many of y’all have met my younger sister Katherine, I haven’t really talked about how she and I started out.  But since I just came back from visiting her and the rents in Kansas City (please, don’t mention the Chiefs!), the whole history of our sibling-hood is fresh in my mind.

She was born right before I turned four, and so, like any child of that age, I was thrilled that my parents were giving me another plaything to goof around with.  I’d arrive home from preschool shouting, “Katherine!  I’m home!” and I would chatter about how when we grew up, we wouldn’t live more than a mile apart from one another.  Needless to say, the novelty wore off fast, and before too long, I was trying to pawn her off on all my friends—“Hey!  You want a new baby sister?  I’ll give you mine for a dollar!”  Unsurprisingly, I found no takers, so I brought my asking price down, and started offering away for free. And when that didn’t work, I started offering to pay my friends to take her off my hands—“Hey!  You want a new baby sister?  I’ll give you a dollar if you take mine!”  I learned a lot from that, not just about being a good older brother, but a lot about capitalism, too…especially concepts like supply and demand.  

See, like a lot of kids, I had this idealized image of what a new sibling would be like—that she would be this plaything that would eventually turn into a partner in crime with whom we might torment our unsuspecting parents into eternity.  Of course, Katherine ended up not being exactly what my four-year-old self expected.  It is an experience we have all had—maybe not with a sibling, but perhaps that dream job you chased for years and years turned out to not be everything it was cracked up to be.  The brand new car you saved and saved for turned out to be a total lemon.  Or…the Messiah that you hoped and hoped would come…well, sometimes you still wonder where the heck He is in all of this poverty and violence and abuse of all kinds in the world.  And if you think you had high hopes for the coming of God, consider the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who proclaimed this lofty poem to a people most in need of hope.

Now, for reasons of hope, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  I just don’t.  Studies suggest the majority of resolutions don’t make it past February.  I tell people that it is because as a Chiefs fan, I already have one endless cycle of failure in my life (see what I did there?), so why add another?  But mostly it is because I’m just cynical enough to see the concept of New Years’ resolutions as a schlocky excuse for my 24-Hour Fitness Center to sell a bunch of new gym memberships. So I haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution since I was a teenager.  But I think if I were to make one again, it would be to believe as Jeremiah does in these passages.  I mean, to believe in God, yes, but to also be rid of all my moments of cynicism and jadedness, to be fully vulnerable to the world and to God…that I would, as Jeremiah writes, “sing out with gladness for Jacob.”  That’s a New Year’s Resolution worth keeping, because there really is no denying that even though we may not have hit the dire straits ancient Israel did when Jeremiah writes—being hauled off to Babylon, living their lives in exile—there are people (maybe even you) who cannot or will not sing, for they are in such dire straits—they were laid off, they lost their income—for even here, in the wealthiest nation of the world, they--we-- are finding, in all its forms, only poverty.

In the idealization of the Nativity scene, it is easy to forget that this is the place into which Jesus is born—first, it’s a stable.  And it’s a stable in Bethlehem, which, compared to the cities of Jerusalem, or Samaria, or Caesarea, was downright Podunk.  And even Jerusalem and Samaria couldn’t hold a candle to the largest cities of the Roman Empire, like Rome and Alexandria.  Usually, we pastors say this because we want to tell you that you can spend a lifetime searching for God at earth’s top, only to find God instead in the deepest of valleys.  But there is another reason—even in this wealthiest of ancient Empires, believe me when I say that there were still loads of people feeling materially and spiritually bankrupt.  I don’t say this to tell you that misery loves company.  I say it because the poverty of a stable in Bethlehem makes it all the more astounding that we find ourselves now awaiting the arrival of the Magi to worship Jesus and to bring Him their lavish and luxurious gifts.

And as far as the gifts of the Magi were concerned—we will talk about them more next week, on Epiphany Sunday itself, but the gold, and the incense, and the myrrh…do you think that maybe the Wise Men weren’t entirely on the same page about who exactly Jesus was?  I mean, the Bible doesn’t really say, but I could see one of them saying, “This Baby Jesus is a king!”  And the next one would say, “You know what?  No, he’s a GOD.”  And then the third guy, who is the punchline because that is always how jokes go, the third guy always supplies the punchline, he’s a total killjoy and brings them back to earth when he says, “Yeah, well, I think he’s just a man…just like us.”  

If the Magi were all only hoping to see what they had expected to see, then they may well have ended up disappointed with the Jesus that did end up doing ministry as our Messiah.  Of course, the Bible doesn’t really say about that, either.  But it is a pretty common feeling—we put blinders on ourselves, and all of the sudden we look through these narrower lenses and if the world does not fulfill our expectations, however justified those expectations might be, we end up crushed.  And sometimes, we try to put those blinders on God as well—we do so when, over and over again, we decide to search for God only at earth’s top.

Carrie Doehring is a professor of pastoral counseling, and she has written about what she calls “dream children.”  If an unborn child dies in utero, she says that the mother is suffering not only from the loss of her own child, but from the loss of her dream child as well, the images and senses and thoughts of what her child-to-be would be like.  And the more vividly this dream child exists, the greater the immediate loss for the mother is as well.  But it isn’t only the mother who can give birth to a dream child—if the father, or the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, the friends, imagined a dream child, then their dream children, too, will be a source of pain and grief and sorrow.

It is all too easy to see Jesus as a dream child—not because He died too soon, although at thirty-something, it often feels as though He did.  No, it is easy to see Him as a dream child because he probably didn’t turn out to be anything like what anyone expected…and if He were in person here today, He would probably be unlike anything we expect now.  The Christian author Anne Lamott came up with this gem—“You know that you have created God in your image when God has the exact same enemies as you.”  The Zealots expected Jesus to hate the Romans as much as they did, but He didn’t.  Paul the Apostle expected Jesus to come back to earth immediately, and He hasn’t.  Under ordinary circumstances, we might call this a disappointment.  And I have to think there are times in our lives when we worry that God hasn’t turned out to be the God we want or the God we expect, and we are disappointed.  But that does not mean that there is no God.

One of my childhood idols was the late actor Christopher Reeve.  Before breaking his C2 vertebrae, Reeve was best known for playing Superman in the movies.  Of course, nobody expects Superman to be a quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair, breathing off of machines and living off of an all-liquid diet.  And Reeve, to his immense credit, saw that what the world needed from him was not the Superman of old, but a man willing to speak compassion on behalf of the disabled.  There was a time when he was asked to speak at one of those gimmicky, vaguely pop-psychology success seminars, and Reeve accepted.  

There, he took the stage and said, “I’ve had to leave the physical world.  By the time I was twenty-four, I was making millions.  I was pretty pleased with myself.  I was selfish and neglected my family.  Since my accident, I’ve been realizing that success means something quite different.  I see people who achieve these conventional goals.  None of it matters.”  The journalist and writer Eric Schlosser, who was there, wrote afterwards, saying:

Everybody in the arena, no matter how eager for promotion, know deep in their hearts that what Reeve has just said is true—too true…Men and women up and down the aisles wipe away tears, touched not only by what this famous man has been through but also by a sudden awareness of something hollow about their own lives, something gnawing and unfulfilled.  

Oh, to search for your God at earth’s top, only to find hollowness instead!

May God come to you in the deepest moments of hollowness, of the gnawing feeling that there is something in your life left unfulfilled and unfinished.  For when God came to earth, it was in the rawest of forms, a little baby boy who had to grow and mature into the finished version of the adult Messiah we read about in the Gospels.  And it is that Messiah who promises all things that the prophet Jeremiah writes of.    That Messiah may not be the Messiah you wanted, or expected, or feel that you deserved, but it is the Messiah that we have all received nevertheless by right of your status as a child of God.  

And if you were to do something as ridiculously optimistic as to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, might I humbly ask that you tack this onto your resolution—to hear what the newborn Messiah is calling you to do this year.  Not what you want Him to call you to do, or wish He were calling you to do, or what He might have been calling you to do in 2013, or 2012, or 2011…what are you being called to do here, now?  Because the future of this baby boy we call Jesus is for Him to be our Messiah, but for the moment, he is still a baby.  And so, for now, may we all be as the Wise Men, as the shepherds, as the ox and lamb who gathered around that manger one night in Bethlehem, all to ask the same question:

“Newborn Christ, here I am.  What is it that you want me to do?”  

May it be so.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
January 5, 2014