Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Letters from the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column

(Plus the June outline for my new sermon series...see the italicized section after my reading list! E.A.)

"The Annual Summer Reading List"

Dear Church,

Every June, in honor of the school year ending all across our community, I use my column here to assign some summer reading for anyone who is interested in some recommendations to peruse during their lazy (or not so lazy!) days of summer. This year, I have three books, all published within the last year by female authors in my generation, that will be front and center on my shelf:

"Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church," by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2015) 

Rachel Held Evans is one of those rare writers whose work actually falls into the "it changed my life" category. Her first book, "Evolving in Monkey Town," about emerging from a very strict Christian background whilst wrestling with all sorts of questions about faith and spirituality, largely resonated with my own personal experience, and this, her latest work, continues in that vein. It springboards off of her migration to worshiping at a mainline Episcopalian church by breaking down her journey according to each of the traditional sacraments of the church: baptism, communion, anointing the sick, and so on, and the sentiment and sheer narrative force of her words is powerful indeed.

"Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity," by Dianna Anderson (Jericho Books, 2015)

There is a strong emphasis in the church on purity, but that tends to translate into an outsized emphasis on sexual purity at the expense of other forms of purity--purity of speech, deeds, even spending habits (do you know where the money you spend on, say, chocolate or clothes goes to?). Dianna Anderson, having grown up, like Rachel Held Evans, in a very strict Christian environment, talks very bravely and personally about how this focus affected her and how it took moving beyond it to develop a genuinely healthy view towards her sexuality after being told all her life how easy it was for one sexual encounter to ruin her completely for life, marriage, and God. Can we start to do better as a church?

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory," by Caitlin Doughty (W.W. Norton & Co., 2014)

Caitlin Doughty doesn't write from an explicitly Christian perspective, but there are references to various spiritualities intertwined throughout her memoir of working in funeral homes in California: about how her relationship with both life and death was formed, and how we in turn can face our own deep-seated fear of death and replace it with a much healthier understanding of what dying today actually entails. For a pastor who has experienced his own fair share of death in our beloved community already this year, this book has become invaluable in helping me process those experiences.

So that's some of what I'll be reading this summer. How about you?

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric

Sunday, May 31 also marks the start of a new sermon series based off the July 2014 book "Whole: A Call to Unity in Our Fragmented World," by Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, the General Minister and President of our Disciples of Christ denomination. Considering that we are just now coming off of the Pentecost narrative about followers from all regions of the Middle East understanding one another perfectly despite their differences in culture and geography, this is, I think, a perfectly timed series. In her book, Pastor Sharon details her vision for adhering to the original "no creed but Christ" mentality of our early founders way back during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century: a belief in unity around the singular notion that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Messiah, and that every doctrine past that is, in the end, commentary on that one reality. It is genius in its simplicity, and it has attracted millions of followers over the past nearly 200 years. For now, though, we'll go through the month of June and the first part of July by talking about Pastor Sharon's vision for a shared table for all of Christ's believers, not simply the ones we like the best or the ones we agree with the most. It's going to be a very fun series to do, and I am excited to be able to share it with you starting on the 31st.  

I'll see you Sunday,
Pastor Eric

“Whole: A Call to Unity in Our Fragmented World”

May 31: “Table,” Matthew 9:9-13
June 7: “Welcome,” Matthew 25:34-40
June 14: “Wholeness,” Matthew 20:29-34
June 21: Guest preacher
June 28: Movement,” Matthew 9:35-38

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