Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Mea Culpa

Over the weekend, Pope Francis had this to say in the wake of not only Pride celebrations everywhere, but also the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that targeted GLBTQ people specifically and claimed the lives of 49 of them:

I think that the Church not only should apologize ... to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons...We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this (treatment of gays), but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize! Forgiveness! Lord, it is a word we forget so often!

As someone who has been preaching intersectionality for years--that what harms you or oppresses you is intertwined with my experience and vice versa--Francis's exhortation was a much-needed message to my ears.

But it is also a challenge. Including to me.

Because I, too, have much to not simply apologize for, but ask forgiveness for.

For Francis isn't simply saying that the institutional church must ask for forgiveness--although it should, and it must--but that the individual Christians which make up the church must ask for forgiveness as well.

There is spiritual value in the catharsis that comes from that.

So, to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I ask forgiveness for using the words like 'faggot,' or 'gay' as an insult, for thinking that sexual abuse could make me gay after I myself was sexually abused, and for not always speaking up when I should.

To my trans brothers and sisters, I ask forgiveness for not even originally understanding your sexual identity needs to begin with, for casually using terms like 'tranny,' and for ignoring how your needs aren't always the same as the needs for the GLB part of GLBTQ.

To women, I ask forgiveness for my objectification, for my inability to understand your experiences for what they are, and as experiences that I myself will not experience.

To children, I ask forgiveness for my lack of patience, my inability to share in your imagination, and for not always knowing how best to help you. The church in particular has been a scary and destructive place for many children and it simply cannot be that way.

In truth, Francis has been killing it over the past couple of weeks on reconciliation, and not only in terms of Christians and GLBTQ people the church has hurt, but also in his recent trip to Armenia, where he used the "G" word--genocide--to characterize the Armenian Holocaust--a characterization that Turkey continues to forcefully deny in the face of near-universal scholarly consensus.

Why does this matter?

Because It is not weakness to apologize, or to ask for forgiveness. Though for me personally, it is still a very difficult thing to do. I can be downright terrible at it, because like most people--and particularly, I think, pastors--I like to be right. I have seen this in myself, and I see it--sometimes very poisonously--in other people of faith. We like to be right.

Turkey wants to be, needs to be right. Its government craves being taken seriously (although, ironically, it has yet to show it deserves such serious consideration with its government's lack of regard for, say, the freedom of the press). And in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport, my heart grieves for the loss of life. But I also worry about Erdogan's government taking this as an opportunity to act in even more of a strongman fashion than it already does, and of taking Turkey down a road it ought not go.

Because trying to double down on what you believe is right doesn't always go as planned. Trust me, I know. I've seen it happen in churches all the time where they simply refuse to try something new because they're so committed to whatever it is they're doing--it could be in worship, or mission, or theology, or any number of areas--that they simply will not stop and reconsider that maybe there are other ways to do things.

Part of it is ego, I am sure. And part of it is pride.

But mostly, it is selfishness. We selfishly want to be right, and to avoid apologizing.

Apologizing and asking for forgiveness means to us on some level that we were not right. So, we try to minimize the number of times we have to, and we try to minimize our own sins, to make them seem as small as we can with whatever justifications and excuses are at hand.

But that simply is not what Jesus asks of us.

It is not what God asks of us.

We must see how our actions and our beliefs affect the lives of others, for good and for bad. Even as--especially as--an Armenian, my family's past as victims of violence intersect now with the life experience of the families who lost loved ones in Istanbul this week.

We lose sight of that reality, and of the harm we do need to seek forgiveness for, at our own peril.

This is my mea culpa.

Longview, Washington
June 27, 2016

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Honoring the Sabbath

My upcoming newsletter column will be an announcement--having already submitted a proposal at my congregation's annual general meeting this past January--of my upcoming sabbatical for the first three months of 2017.

Those columns, though, only have space for a few hundred words, and I chose to dedicate those to outlining for my congregation the process of calling a part-time interim sabbatical pastor to provide worship and administrative leadership in my absence.

But there is a larger discussion to be had here.

Many (perhaps most) churches still do not offer their pastors any sabbatical time, despite the fact that (a) it's Biblical (Leviticus 25:1-7; the people are to refrain from their usual work after six years, the seventh year is meant to be a rest for the land that physically nourishes them, much in the same way a pastor spiritually nourishes a people) and (b) church leadership experts have concluded that a sabbatical is an extremely useful tool in prolonging a pastor's tenure at their congregation rather than adding to the churchwide revolving door of pastorates, which has been at staggering proportions for years, with an estimated 1,500 clergy leaving their ministries every *month.*

I'm lucky--in my search and call papers with the Disciples of Christ denomination, there is a space to put in any request for sabbatical time to churches who might feel led to extend a call to me. Following my denomination's guidelines, I asked for a three-month sabbatical after every five years of service. FCC Longview inserted precisely such a clause into my "letter of call" (church-speak for "my contract").

But there is still education to be done. A sabbatical is emphatically not a vacation--in fact, while on sabbatical, I'll probably be working almost as much as when I'm on the clock now. My sabbatical will be devoted to two main tasks: working on my Doctor of Ministry thesis, and teaching public speaking, advocacy, and debate at a local Christian school. Both are meant to expand skills that I possess but haven't made much use of in parish ministry (academic research and academic teaching).

A sabbatical, rather, is meant to rest those parts of our souls most dedicated to ministry and exercise other parts of us that have atrophied, or to build up new skills elsewhere.

For pastors thinking of asking their congregations for a sabbatical, that is the best piece of advice that I can give: highlight how the sabbatical will grow you as a pastor and as a Christian. If your congregation has never given a sabbatical to a pastor before, they'll understandably want to know how and why your sabbatical won't simply be a three- or four-month vacation ("I work forty hours a week just like the pastor and I don't get to just drop everything for three months!").

It is an even tougher sell if there are people who still hold to that mentality that pastors must only work one day a week (Sundays), because our work during the week is invisible to the vast majority of the congregation. The most time-intensive of my tasks--sermon preparation and composition, Sunday School and Bible study lesson planning, those sorts of things--are all invisible to everyone, and even my visitations are usually either one-on-one or just me with a single family or household.

But it is the variability of those tasks that makes the sabbatical necessary. It is supremely difficult--and frankly, emotionally unhealthy--to go straight from a hospital visit with a dying congregant to a committee meeting, but every pastor I know, myself included, has had to do it at some point. Do that enough times, and it takes its toll on you if you are not careful.

So, the sabbatical really does matter for us pastors. And how we use it matters to both pastors and their congregations alike.

To that end, I wrote a simple, one-page proposal that I gave to everyone in my parish a year before I would begin my sabbatical, outlining what my contract offers, when I would take the sabbatical, how I would use it, what my level of involvement in church and denominational affairs would be, and how the congregation might fill my absence. Even if your congregation gives you (or your pastor) a sabbatical, it is an exercise that is very much worth doing.

In the midst of that, discussing how to pick up the things left behind in my absence has resulted in some amazing discussions. One of the hardest things about a sabbatical, I am told, is making sure roles are clearly defined so that people don't fall through the cracks, and preparing my lay leaders for my absence, far from inciting trepidation or worry, has brought up a belief that this is an opportunity to do ministry rather than to lament (or secretly celebrate!) my absence.

Ideally, every congregation with at least one full-time pastor could offer that pastor a sabbatical. We're a long way from that being the standard, but anecdotally, I can see it happening. More of my own colleagues are taking sabbaticals, hopefully wherever you are, you're seeing pastors there exercising that spiritual discipline as well.

For such an important spiritual discipline it is. It comes from one that made it into the Ten Commandments: honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

It is a great gift to me that I serve a congregation that is doing that. I hope this post will help other pastors and churches do likewise.

Longview, Washington
June 23, 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "The Temple"

1 Kings 6:1-14

In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites left Egypt, in the month of Ziv, the second month, in the fourth year of Solomon’s rule over Israel, he built the Lord’s temple. 2 The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high. 3 The porch in front of the temple’s main hall was thirty feet long. It ran across the whole width of the temple and extended fifteen feet in front of the temple. 4 He made recessed and latticed windows for the temple 5 and built side rooms against the temple walls around both the main hall and the most holy place. 6 The lower walls were seven and a half feet wide. At the second floor the walls were nine feet wide, and at the third floor they were ten and a half feet wide. He made niches around the outside of the temple so the beams wouldn’t be inserted into the temple walls. 7 When the temple was built, they did all the stonecutting at the quarry. No hammers, axes, or any iron tools were heard in the temple during its construction. 8 The door to the stairs was at the south side of the temple. Winding stairs went up to the second floor and from there to the third floor. 9 He completed the temple with a roof of cedar beams and cross-planks. 10 Then he built the side rooms all around the temple. They were seven and a half feet high. He attached them to the temple with cedarwood.

11 The Lord’s word came to Solomon, 12 Regarding this temple that you are building: If you follow my laws, enact my regulations, and keep all my commands faithfully, then I will fulfill for you my promise that I made to your father David. 13 I will live among the Israelites. I won’t abandon my people Israel. 14 So Solomon constructed the temple and completed it. (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel,” Week Four

By this point in time, you have likely heard all sorts of words from all sorts of people about the massacre of 49 souls at Pulse, the GLBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, simply because of who these 49 people were, who God made them, and who they loved.

You’ve probably heard some words from me as well, whether last week, at the beginning of worship, or on my blog, or on my Facebook page.

Today, I want you to hear from one of the people who was killed that night, a young man named, poetically enough, Eddie Justice, who was in one of the bathrooms with the shooter and took a couple of fleeting opportunities to text his mother, Mina, to tell her what was happening.

These are Eddie’s texts, with no editing by me:

Mommy I love you/In club they shooting/Trapp in bathroom/Call police/Im gonna die

His mother Mina texted back:

Calling them now/U still there?/Answer your phone/Call me/Call me

Eddie replied:

Call them mommy/Now/Im still in the bathroom/Hes coming/Im going to die

This cataclysmic realization that their space was no longer a safe space was visited upon both the victims and their families, as their loved ones tried desperately to reach them to no avail, as that sinking realization must’ve set in that they had just lost someone dear to them. From Andy Carvin:

CNN just described something I’ve never thought of: as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still there where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all the deceased (persons) phones ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them.

What I am going to talk about today—what we need to, have to, must talk about today—is the role of a safe space, a sanctuary, for God’s people. And this starts with Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

This is a new sermon series for a new season in the church—spring is moving into summer, and just like a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we’ll once again take on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative will be the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ll get a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem to his eventual downfall. We began by spending two weeks with the story of how Solomon comes by his divinely-bestowed wisdom for which he is eternally famous and then with Solomon applying that wisdom in this well-known story of two mothers, then last week we saw the beginning stages of planning out the Jerusalem temple, and now it finally gets built.

The temple served a similar purpose as our sanctuary, to be God’s house here on earth where God’s people could gather to worship in relative safety, security, and stability. It did that for near 400 years.

Until the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II came to sack Jerusalem in 586 BCE, Solomon’s temple served as a dwelling place for God and a place for God’s people to come and gather at the altar. It had a use, a purpose, a calling, to bring in those faithful pilgrims whose faith dictated that they should find God where God is said to dwell.

Without a temple, though, or far away from the temple, local houses of worship arose; in the Israelite Jewish tradition, we know them as synagogues, and for us, of course, they are churches.

But the part of the church building in which the main event takes place, the worship that sets us apart from any other sort of nonprofit organization or community agency, that takes place in what we call our sanctuary, and this sacred space did not come by that name by accident.

There is a long tradition of claiming safety by entering a sanctuary—safety from people hunting you, safety from the devil, safety from that which in the world would seek to do you harm. That is why sanctuary is not just a place but something that people claim—claiming sanctuary. It is a tradition that stretches at least as far back as the ascension of Solomon himself, when his father David’s army commander Joab claimed sanctuary from Solomon’s own army commander Benaiah by grasping the horns upon the Ark of the Covenant.

Joab’s claim for sanctuary was unsuccessful, though, and Benaiah slew him down right there before the Ark of the Covenant. Not unlike the 49 souls taken down in a hail of gunfire in Orlando.

Because for GLBTQ people, specially set-aside spaces like gay bars, gay nightclubs, and gay community centers were where they could go and know that they would be safe, safe from harassment, safe from bigotry, safe from a world still unprepared to accept them for who they were.

Those places like Pulse are sanctuaries in the truest sense of the term for GLBTQ people. Yet now, after Orlando, many of them are concerned again of what may happen to them, even in a sanctuary.

These places served such a function in large part because churches—with their sanctuaries, their “safe spaces”—had cast out their gay and lesbian population, forced them to rise and confess, to undergo unsound reparative therapy and emotionally scarring exorcisms, to endure scorn and ostracism and banishment, to be told they could not serve in any sort of leadership capacity, to be preached at that they were an abomination to the God who made them…the safe spaces for GLBTQ people were made out of necessity, and that necessity was the harmful and hateful message the church preached at them and is still preaching at them, from Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and the hateful ilk at Westboro Baptist Church all the way down to local congregations everywhere.

Spaces outside of church became the sanctuaries and the temples for GLBTQ people because we in the church would not permit them to make our churches their sanctuaries just as we have.

And when GLBTQ youth are two to four times more likely to be physically assaulted, to be bullied, to become homeless—not by choice but because their parents have disowned them—and to commit suicide, our behavior as a religious people is not taking place in a vacuum. It has had very real, very lethal consequences on a great many people.

And yes, the shooter pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was Muslim, although by many accounts not a very devout one—his ex-wife says he rarely practiced, and his imam said he had never sought any spiritual advice from the imam.

But there is a saying about stones and glass houses that comes to mind. We may not summarily execute GLBTQ people like in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but our treatment of them has for damn sure still caused many of their deaths all the same. And if you think death by gunfire in a nightclub is still somehow better than death by beheading in a public square, see if you can call up one of the parents, or siblings, or significant others of one of the 49 people we lost this weekend at Pulse.

We do not get to push for bathroom laws and adoption bans and marriage bans on GLBTQ people one day and then claim to be their champion the next. That is bearing false witness at its very worst.

Solomon builds his temple, and God says to him, “I will live among the Israelites. I will not abandon my people Israel.” As long as Solomon walks in the ways of God—and even when he stops doing so later in life—God does not abandon God’s people.

Yet this is what the church, for decades, centuries, has said to queer people: because of what you do, you are not walking in the ways of God, and God has abandoned you, and God will punish you. We did not take to heart the lesson of Solomon—and of his father David as well—that God does not abandon God’s people quite so easily as that.

Let me be unequivocal: if you are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender, God loves you exactly as much, in exactly the same way, as God loves me. Period. Full stop. That’s the only way grace works.

So may we make this sanctuary live up to its title and its billing. Only when our welcome is more extravagant even than our Gothic revival architecture will we be living up to what God demands of us and what God demanded of Solomon at the building of the temple in Jerusalem.

A temple…a house for God in which God may dwell among us, as our creator, our rock, and our salvation. For all of us.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 19, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016


Six days ago, as many of us slept, forty-nine people were murdered at the GLBTQ nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, simply because of who they were and who God made them to be.

We have seen this same thing before. One year ago today, nine people sitting in Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were similarly murdered in a hail of bullets simply because of who they were and who God made them to be.

In Orlando, it was GLBTQ men and women, mostly Latino/a. In Charleston, it was African-American men and women.

None of them checked off all of the boxes of the majority image in America: white, heterosexual, and male.

They may have checked off one or two. But not all three.

And this is to say nothing of the fact that white, straight, men can similarly be the victims of horrific mass murders--just look at the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings.

And that's sort of the point. We're all in this together. What affects you also affects me.

Intersectionality has become something of either a buzzword or a dog whistle word, depending on your perspective, but it possesses a far deeper meaning than either of those roles would have it possess.

For too long in our history, we took our quests and movements for equality and divorced them. Some second wave feminists allied with virulent segregationists during the 20th century. Some GLBTQ activists allied with the obscenely anti-woman fundamentalist Mormon churches over sexual behavior laws.

Now, though, they are being pitted against one another, as blatantly and transparently as possible. I see gay and lesbian friends being told, "Islam wants you dead." I see my female friends being told the same thing, or at least that Islam wants them totally oppressed.

We'll set aside for a moment the fact that conservative Christianity is likewise destructive towards women and GLBTQ people--something I pleaded with us to recognize in my blog post about Orlando. As one of my classmates from seminary put it, conservative Christians condemning Islam over GLBTQ issues is like "hearing a fox condemn his twin brother for attacking the chickens. Hate is hate."

Can we stop for a moment and realize that we are being told by others--who have their own sinful, selfish motives and thinking at work--who to hate? These commands to hate are not coming from God, or from our own inner consciences, but from people who are simply doing what they have always done: try to take advantage of others more vulnerable than they.

I'm not interested in accommodating those voices. I'm not interested in giving them credence. They are, I believe, using Scripture for their personal ends and not for God's ends.

If you throw Scripture at me, I will remind you that Jesus says that love of neighbor is one of the two laws that the entirety of Scripture hangs upon.

If you throw Scripture at me, I will remind you that Paul disapproved of ALL sexuality, not merely homosexuality.

If you throw Scripture at me, I will remind you that the Biblical model of marriage includes specific provisions for polygamous marriages.

Just as the abolitionists who would hear Scripture thrown at them about keeping slaves and respond with the Bible's overarching message of justice, love, and liberation.

I have two degrees in this, am in the middle of a third, and have a lifetime of Sunday School under my belt.

I'm done with views of the Bible that cannot see it for what it really says, and (just as crucially) what it has left unsaid.

Because those views are continuing to prevent us from seeing that my fate only matters because yours does as well. The deaths of the people in Pulse matter just as much as the deaths of the people in Mother Emanuel, and if you stay tuned for my sermon this Sunday, I think both peoples were killed in their respective sanctuaries, in places they believed that they could be safe with one another.

But no.

That is no longer the case.

Perhaps it never really was the case.

And if that is so, it is precisely because we have decided that we are not, in fact, in this together.

Yet more than anything else, that is what the Gospel teaches.

The parable of the Good Samaritan. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well. The feeding of the five thousand. Many of the most famous, most beloved stories in Scripture have that moral at their core, that humanity is not, has never been, and never will be an island.

Pushing people so far away that we see only their differences, and pushing them so far down that we only see them as small and minor figures in our worldview, is not of God.

Charleston should have taught us this.

Orlando should have taught us this.

What I worry, then, what I truly fear, is the truly cataclysmic dimensions of the event that it might actually take to teach us this and have it actually stick this time.

That we are together. We always have been.

To believe otherwise, I have come to know, is to succumb to a terrible temptation.

Like Christ in the wilderness, then, we must resist that temptation with the Word of God and a loving heart.

I would like to think that we remain capable of doing so. Together.

Vancouver, Washington
June 17, 2016

Images of Mother Emanuel AME and the memorial to its shooting victims courtesy of Garden and Gun magazine

Monday, June 13, 2016

What Dreams May Come: A Devout Reflection for Orlando

Dreams play such a tremendous role in the Bible. It is a dream that Joseph interprets to Pharaoh which saves the people of Egypt from a seven-year famine. In all likelihood, it is a dream that Isaiah had in the year that King Uzziah died in which he first saw the Lord. And it is a dream that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, receives that pushes him to (a) not divorce Mary for being impregnated out of wedlock, (b) flee to Egypt in order to save Jesus's life during the Massacre of the Innocents, and (c) return home to Israel once Herod is dead.

Early Sunday morning, while most of us slept, rested, and dreamed, fifty souls in Orlando, Florida went to a far more permanent sleep at the hands of yet another domestic terrorist armed with an assault-style rifle.

You already know as much by now, you don't need me to tell you.

No, this is about me needing to tell you.

I have gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender friends who have undergone reparative therapy to try to "pray the gay away." I have GLBTQ friends who have literally tried to exorcise their sexual identity as a demon. I have GLBTQ friends who have been sexually assaulted, been homeless, and attempted suicide.

All they have wanted--all they have ever wanted, and wished for, and dreamed of--is a world that is safe for them to live in as equals, not as inferiors, not as hunted animals, and most certainly not as mass murder victims.

Yesterday, it was bathrooms. The day before that, it was adoption, the day before that, marriage. The day before that, being able to teach in public schools.

Today it is death.

When will it stop?

And more to the point, how will it stop? Will it take exorcising the homophobia and transphobia out of every single heart the way we have tried exorcising homosexuality in the past? Will it take fundamentally changing our understanding of the First Amendment and outlawing hate speech?

I really don't know anymore. But I need to tell you.

As a Christian, life comes first. Life uber alles.

And for far too long, what our GLBTQ brothers and sisters have lived is not life, not the kind of life God wanted for them, and that is *our* fault.

Not just fundamentalist Islam's fault, although certainly it is its fault in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria.

But Fundamentalist Islam didn't cause us to pass bathroom laws.

Fundamentalist Islam didn't make us ban same-sex marriage.

Fundamentalist Islam didn't inspire a few small-minded jerks at school to bully me and pick fights with me when I was a teenager because they thought I was gay.

Nope, Omar Mateen may have pledged himself to the Islamic State, but he was a born-and-raised American citizen.

And when his imam says that Mateen never came to him for spiritual advice (even after reportedly growing more spiritual after a divorce), when his emotionally and physically abused ex-wife says that Mateen was never particularly devout in his faith, and when his father says the tipping point was Mateen witnessing two men kissing, this looks is less a case of straight-up religion and more a case of using religion to justify one's virulent homophobia.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

It should, because that is how homophobic and transphobic preachers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham have made their living for decades.

It is how the homophobic and transphobic politicians like Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee who are today denying the GLBTQ identities of the victims, and denying the homophobic motives of the shooter, have similarly made their livings for decades.

We do not get to suddenly claim to be the champions of this bleeding and hurting community when just yesterday we were doing everything we could to legally oppress them.

That is not Christ-like of us. That is shameful.

What is the root cause of our bigotry? Is it really our Scriptures, or is it our sinful human condition that uses those Scriptures, proof-texted into unrecognizability, as a facade for our own hate?

Us taking those verses out of their original context to justify our own prejudices is never something God wanted for us. If you need proof, look no further than the fellowship of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Women did not consort with men, and Judeans most certainly did not consort with Samaritans, and all of this was taught at the time backed up with Scriptures.

Yet Jesus set those teachings aside, and changed the world for one lonely person as a result.

That person went and told the good news of someone who had cast aside those societal prejudices imposed upon her through religious teaching, and still more came to believe as a result.

No wonder John made sure to include that story, even as the other three Gospels did not.

The Samaritan woman did not die. She exists today.

She is that gay or lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender neighbor of yours, left to cast out for and carry water in the heat of noon in the high desert, away from the help or assistance of their other neighbors.

She poses no threat to you. She never has.

And she dreams of a world in which more people might treat her with the dignity and respect that Jesus did.

Orlando showed once more, in the most brutal way possible, that this world is not that world she dreams of, not by a long shot.

Passing the buck will not do if such a world is ever to come about. We are big on responsibility and accountability but short on it when it comes to ourselves, and when it comes to fostering a world in which homophobia and assault-style rifles are equally easy to acquire, we should hardly act shocked at ourselves for creating such a world.

We knew what we were doing all along.

And that's on us, and us alone.

We need to be able to confess that if we are to be set free of our own blinders, our own ignorances, our own nagging unfounded suspicions of the other.

Once we do, though, the real work can begin again.

For the truth of the Scriptures--those exact same Scriptures that get warped and twisted by fundamentalists of Christian and Islamic stripes alike--is that our sinfulness need not be the final word.

A vision, a dream, for a better, more loving, more living world has already been laid out for us. 

It can play as big or as small a role in your life as you let it.

For the people of God, the Josephs, the Isaiahs, those dreams were a source of hope amid fear, a source of light amid darkness, and most of all, a cause for action rather than for despair.

What dreams may come, then, if only we actually started caring instead of condemning, including instead of inciting, and living instead of dying?

What dreams may come when I fall to sleep in such a world? I pray to one day know.

To my GLBTQ friends--I love you all.

Longview, Washington
June 13, 2016

Rainbow Pulse ribbon image courtesy of Blogspot.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "Given For Water"

1 Kings 5:1-12

Because King Hiram of Tyre was loyal to David throughout his rule, Hiram sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that Solomon had become king after his father. 2 Solomon sent the following message to Hiram: 3 “You know that my father David wasn’t able to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God. This was because of the enemies that fought him on all sides until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. 4 Now the Lord my God has given me peace on every side, without enemies or misfortune. 5 So I’m planning to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God, just as the Lord indicated to my father David, ‘I will give you a son to follow you on your throne. He will build the temple for my name.’ 6 Now give the order and have the cedars of Lebanon cut down for me. My servants will work with your servants. I’ll pay your servants whatever price you set, because you know we have no one here who is skilled in cutting wood like the Sidonians.” 

7 Hiram was thrilled when he heard Solomon’s message. He said, “Today the Lord is blessed because he has given David a wise son who is in charge of this great people.” 8 Hiram sent word back to Solomon: “I have heard your message to me. I will do as you wish with the cedar and pinewood. 9 My servants will bring the wood down the Lebanon Mountains to the sea. I’ll make rafts out of them and float them on the sea to the place you specify. There I’ll dismantle them, and you can carry them away. Now, as for what you must do for me in return, I ask you to provide for my royal house.”

10 So Hiram gave Solomon all the cedar and pinewood that he wanted. 11 In return, Solomon gave an annual gift to Hiram of twenty thousand kors of wheat to eat, and twenty thousand kors of pure oil for his palace use. 12 Now the Lord made Solomon wise, just as he had promised. Solomon and Hiram made a covenant and had peace. (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel” Week Three

It might be the most lopsided trade I’ve ever seen, and yet, it cost neither party in the grand scheme of things a great deal. And that’s saying something.

Diana Hussein, a Dearborn, Michigan communications worker about my age, had, many years ago, named her Twitter account @DietDrDepper, after the pop she happened to be drinking the day she logged onto Twitter for the first time. This was years ago, before Twitter had gotten the audience it has now, but still, it’s surprising that the suits over at Dr. Pepper didn’t snap that screenname up.

Diana kept her carbonation-infused screen name until this past year, when she reachedout to Dr. Pepper because, as a beverage company that sells bottled water under the brand name Deja Blue (get it? Yuk yuk yuk), she thought that they might be in a position to help her beloved neighbor to the north: Flint, Michigan.

So she struck a deal with the Texas-based beverage company: she’d hand over the keys to her Twitter screenname if they’d send Flint some water to help them through the horrific leaded water crisis that was imposed upon them by the leaders of their town and state.

It was a trade in which neither side had to give up much, but that ended up making a big difference for hundreds of people. Diana gave up a Twitter account and just as easily started another. For a conglomerate the size of Dr. Pepper, 40,000 bottles of water was a good deed they could easily afford to do. But for hundreds of people in Flint, those bottles of water meant another day of life.

Rarely, though, are compromises and trades so easily admired. For one to be of any real consequence, both of the sides involved have to give up something of real value, which means that there are those who will miss that which is traded or given away in exchange for something else.

So we instead hype up our end of the deal, to say that the other party is getting more than what they may in fact be getting. You see this phenomenon all the time in sports, where, as Jonathan Rand, a former Kansas City columnist put it, “(There is) the kind of deal you hear fans suggest on call-in shows. They suggest taking three guys who have become expendable and putting them in a sack to obtain a premier player. You chuckle because the suggestion assumes the other team’s front office just fell off a potato truck.”

Put a different way, it’d be if my Kansas City Royals called up your Mariners and offered to trade y’all Drew Butera, Brian Flynn, and Scott Alexander for King Felix. And if you’re hearing that and asking, “Who?” then that demonstrates my point.

Trade—real trade—is sacrificial by definition. And it is a lesson that Solomon has to execute most harshly when it comes to, at long last, building his temple in Jerusalem for God.

This is a new sermon series for a new season in the church—spring is moving into summer, and just like a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we’ll once again take on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative will be the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ll get a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem to his eventual downfall. We began by spending two weeks with the story of how Solomon comes by his divinely-bestowed wisdom for which he is eternally famous and then with Solomon applying that wisdom in this well-known story of two mothers, and today, we move forward to begin the story of how Solomon went about building the Jerusalem Temple.

And really, that building of the temple begins with a truly awful trade to imagine once you really begin contemplating the nuts-and-bolts of it: eventually, in 1 Kings 9, Solomon will hand twenty cities over to King Hiram’s rule, except that those cities are so dilapidated that Hiram objects to being given them saying to Solomon, “Are these towns you’ve given me good for anything?”

The fact that Solomon is giving land for goods puts to lie some of the hyperbolic descriptions of his wealth in the first place, and the apparently shabby state of those lands further puts said hyperbole to the test, but it is the larger issue of exchanging land for goods—as opposed to, say, for peace, which Israel has successfully done in the present day with both Egypt and Jordan—that is troubling.

After all, we’ve done the whole exchange-land-for-goods rigamarole here in the States with the Louisiana Purchase, and it was a precursor to all sorts of violence against the American Indians who inhabited those lands. Who knows what Hiram’s plans were for these twenty cities?

I would like to think that those plans would not be quite so bloodsoaked, because Hiram is described first and foremost as a righteous man, but that is no vaccination against bloodshed—just look at the staggering amounts of violence that Joshua committed to achieve his goals, or Samson.

Here, though, four chapters earlier in 1 Kings 5, Hiram’s price is not quite so steep, though still epic to behold: he asks Solomon to provide for his (Hiram’s) royal court in exchange for the prized cedar and pine wood that will constitute the temple. This ends up being the equivalent of one million gallons of wheat and one million gallons of pure (not watered down, as was sometimes the case) olive oil.

The price of Hiram’s resources and aid is high, but it is a price that Solomon is prepared to pay, and setting aside the more disturbing price of the cities and their inhabitants for a moment, as that is another passage altogether, it begs the question for us: just how much are we willing to trade, to exchange, to give up in our own spiritual life to demonstrate, as Solomon will in the building of the temple, our own devotion and fidelity to God? How much is too much for us to giving up? Or, how little is what we are comfortable with giving up?

Because before you say “Someone as rich as Solomon could have easily paid Hiram’s price,” remember what I just said about the 1 Kings 9 story—that it in all likelihood actually demonstrates that there were very real limits on Solomon’s wealth and splendor. So it really is quite probable that this massive expenditure of wheat and oil is in fact a very real strain on Solomon’s billfold.

Yet he spends it anyways. And not as a fool who spends their bonus responding to an email from a Nigerian prince, for it has been established by now that Solomon’s gray matter was hardly lacking to say the least, but as someone who, at least now (though certainly not later in life) is genuinely concerned for following in God’s footsteps.

We can be as concerned as Solomon is, but often our own sacrifices do not measure up. We are not willing to turn over to God everything in our lives, but rather, only that which we can do without. God demands our whole selves, not scraps from the table, but it is those gamey, unattractive scraps that we may be wont to offer because, well, we won’t miss them.

Think about it: how often do you rush through your prayers, or neglect them altogether? How often have you tried to start a devotional or prayer practice, only to give it up a few weeks in? I’m just as guilty of this behavior as you might well be, and it’s because even giving up that little bit of time to God when we could be doing something else, that takes a surrender of self that can be extremely difficult for our selfish souls.

A compassionate woman gives up something entirely nominal—a Twitter account—and for recompense, asks that a stricken city be given water. Would you have taken payment instead? And would you have used that payment towards something you wanted or needed? That’s the sort of difference we are talking about here.

God wants true surrender of us, not a halfhearted giving up of the fewer, smaller things just so we might hope to retain control over the bigger things, no, if anything, that needs to be reversed. We, in our frail, finite, and sinful shells, probably only should be trusted with the fewer and smaller things, and trust God with those far bigger things.

We are so stingy sometimes with how we give of ourselves. And that simply is not what God’s intent for us to be really is.

So give more of yourselves. And give that extra portion not simply freely, but reluctantly if you must. Resentfully, even, if you need to. At least that way, your sacrifice will be real and authentic.

Because God asks us to give of our whole selves. After all, God did not make us only partially. No, God made us in our totality.

Let us surrender back to God in equal measure.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 12, 2016

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Five Years

Five years ago today, I made vows before God and God's church to undertake the cross and yoke of Jesus Christ as an ordained minister. I received the title Reverend, I knelt, had hands laid upon me and prayers said over me, and I arose in spirit and in truth to proclaim the Word of God.

My Bible professor from college preached a lovely sermon on one of my favorite stories in Scripture: God's response to Moses at the burning bush when Moses protests that he is too shy and slow of speech to be the bearer of God's demands to Pharaoh.

God said to Moses, "Who gave speech to mortals? Who made them deaf, mute, seeing, or blind? Did not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with you and teach you what you are to say."

I needed that rebuke, such as it is, many times over as the months after my ordination passed. I was in a whirlwind search and call process that culminated in my current call at FCC Longview. I withdrew from a post-master's degree program at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University in order to take that call. And all the while, my childhood congregation in which I was both raised and ordained was being torn completely asunder by a personnel dispute that was handled negatively and profoundly harmfully by nearly everybody involved.

In the midst of that crisis, I came in to preach on a Sunday, as the personnel conflict had involved most of the church's pastoral staff and I (and my childhood friend and current ministerial colleague Rev. McKinna Daugherty) could at least provide a message from outside the deep wounds that had already been inflicted.

That was September 11, three months to the day after my ordination.

I have never been back to that congregation. Nor have I really thought much about my ordination since either. My ordination in the name of the Prince of Peace that took place in a community that would be ripped apart by discord only weeks later made me question all sorts of things about the vocation I just made those vows in order to undertake.

So I buried those memories deep down, and drew on only mere pieces, shreds, of them as I grew into the job I have now.

I went from my ordination so happy that I had fulfilled a dream that God had first placed on my heart as a very young child, when I told my aunt on Christmastime that I wanted to be a Biblical prophet when I grew up (I mean, my robes aren't made out of hairshirt or camel fur, but close enough).

But as the weeks and months passed from it, I found myself as Moses, unable to say or speak with any sort of bravery or courage. Seeing my sanctuary, one of only two places outside the home where I felt really accepted as a child (the other was my high school band director's classroom), turn on itself paralyzed me with fear of whether such a thing might ever happen to me or to a church I might serve in the future.

My depression, which had already been in a tailspin for nearly a year, took another dive. I was twenty-five and utterly overwhelmed by the responsibility of the call I had just accepted and the consequences I had just seen, in stark detail, of what could happen even to a church I once thought was healthy.

Five years ago, I had to mature in my outlook towards the church in a big damn hurry. I had to, as Paul said about his own maturity into ministry, grow up and set aside childish things.

So I set about rebuilding the congregation entrusted to my care. And we have done amazing things together.

More than anything else, five years later, that is my message I want to give to all of you: that living out your promise and your devotion to God really can and does result in amazing, kingdom-building, soul-sized works being done in God's name.

Sometimes, on late nights of that kingdom-building, soul-sized work, when I would be sitting at my desk burning the midnight oil, I would reach across to my shelf and, beneath a stack of folders and sheaf of papers, pull out the program from my ordination service. I would read Exodus 4:1-12.  I would remember what my professor and my field education pastor charged me with in their addresses.

And as I turned back to my computer, blank screen still facing me, God upheld God's end of the bargain. God was with me, and God would eventually teach me what to say. Slowly, words would fill the screen. Another lesson, another message, another sermon would take shape.

And it would be both like and unlike whatever I might have expected when I first planned out that sermon and its overarching series.

The Spirit still moved. It still pushed me in unexpected ways and unexpected directions, demanding that I say things I might not have thought I'd say, teach things I had not before fully comprehended, and proclaim a Word that in truth I will never fully understand.

Yet I could still be led by God. For five years ago today, I promised to always allow myself to be led by God first and foremost.

Whatever else has happened and will happen since, I will never regret my having made that promise. After all, I already belonged to God. Promising to serve God's will seemed the very least I could do.

What a life-changing five years it has been.

Vancouver, Washington
June 11, 2016

The accompanying image is of me, fully vested in the alb, stole, and pectoral cross of pastoral ministry, signing my denomination's ministry code of ethics as my mother looks on at my ordination service.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Unseen Ministries

"You have such a lovely church building, how could you possibly not feel God's presence here?"

Well, thank you, but the heating system that should have been replaced decades ago finally bit the dust for good, and it's going to cost us several thousand dollars that we can't afford to replace it. Those several thousand dollars could have gone towards ministry--personnel, mission, programs, you name it--but are being plowed right back into overhead instead.

"Your worship band sounds so amazing, God has really blessed you with them!"

They really are a remarkable group of musicians, especially since they are a 100% all-volunteer group. But do you know just how many hours a week they spend rehearsing and perfecting their repertoire, picking new songs to expand that repertoire, and creating the PowerPoint for each Sunday's worship? And did I mention that they're all volunteers?

"That sermon was just exactly what I needed to hear today, Pastor!"

I'm so very glad that it was. What you don't know is that, while it may be what you needed to hear today, it also didn't get finished today, in my head during my morning commute, because I had one too many fires to put out last week and my regular writing day turned out to be a creative bust because of it. I had just enough time to put a thin coat of polish on it between worship and Sunday School before saying a quick prayer and just getting up there because it was 11:00 and worship had to start.

"That eulogy was just perfect, it sounded like you really knew Mr./Mrs. X, Pastor."

Actually, I barely knew him/her at all. I sat with a grieving, crying family and had to very gently pry out those stories with the spiritual equivalent of a crowbar. It is one of the both best and hardest parts of my job.

"Where were you? Your sign says that your office hours started an hour ago!"

I know, but I just came from the long-term rehab facility to visit someone, or from the local Alzheimer's care center, or from the hospital, and this was when I got here. Or, I have an evening appointment/Bible study class/whatever and I know I'm not going to be home until 8 or 9 at night, and I simply have to pace myself. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

"It must be so exciting to be leading the church into a new time!"

Sometimes it definitely is, when there is that feeling of synergy and koinonia, that all of us are on the same page with the mission and vision of our beloved congregation. Other times, it's like trying to steer an aging Boeing 747 on an agility course every day for years on end.

"What a gift to be given such a rich tradition of Christianity for your generation!"

Sure, if you mean a veritable mountain of deferred maintenance, outdated teaching materials, and paradigms that became obsolete decades ago, then yes, what a gift to be given indeed. But much like the one fruitcake that my grampy says gets passed around every single Christmas without fail, it is a gift that need not be given so, erm, joyfully.

The facade of our genuinely lovely Gothic revival church building, the freshly-pressed sheen of my robes and stoles, the truly joyful music of our worship band...all of these outward appearances are both created by and help mask the unseen ministries that take place within and outside our doors.

Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount to give of ourselves in secret, and then God who sees in secret will reward us. Without trying to sound too selfish (though I fear I am and will anyways), it sometimes is that need to know that God does indeed see the unseen ministries that keeps me--and a great many other pastors--going as we run our little hamster wheels of ministry.

It is hard sometimes, the temptation to be the Pharisee in Jesus's parable in Luke who stands at the very center of the synagogue and loudly thanks God for making him (the Pharisee) just so gosh-darn awesome. I know it is hard because I see it in all sorts of pastors who do this not just in the middle of their churches, but in their books they write, cloaked with trite moralisms and false humility. You can go to pretty much any large gathering of pastors anywhere, and you'll see more than a handful of walking egos among the bunch.

Yet it is the unseen ministries that often both weigh us down and propel us forward, that build the church up as well as keep it standing. They are often the hardest, in part precisely because they are unseen.

As easy as it is to forget about such ministry (out of sight, out of mind and all that), let us resist that temptation.

Let us honor the unseen in our midst.

After all, we follow a God who is, oftentimes, unseen as well. But that does not mean that God is not there.

Quite the contrary.

Longview, Washington
June 9, 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "Love Suffers Long"

1 Kings 3:16-28

16 Sometime later, two prostitutes came and stood before the king. 17 One of them said, “Please, Your Majesty, listen: This woman and I have been living in the same house. I gave birth while she was there. 18 This woman gave birth three days after I did. We stayed together. Apart from the two of us, there was no one else in the house. 19 This woman’s son died one night when she rolled over him. 20 She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I was asleep. She laid him on her chest and laid her dead son on mine. 21 When I got up in the morning to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the daylight, it turned out that it wasn’t my son—not the baby I had birthed.” 22 The other woman said, “No! My son is alive! Your son is the dead one.” But the first woman objected, “No! Your son is dead! My son is alive!” In this way they argued back and forth in front of the king. 23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead.’ The other one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and my son is alive.’ 24 Get me a sword!” They brought a sword to the king. 25 Then the king said, “Cut the living child in two! Give half to one woman and half to the other woman.” 26 Then the woman whose son was still alive said to the king, “Please, Your Majesty, give her the living child; please don’t kill him,” for she had great love for her son. But the other woman said, “If I can’t have him, neither will you. Cut the child in half.” 27 Then the king answered, “Give the first woman the living newborn. Don’t kill him. She is his mother.” 28 All Israel heard about the judgment that the king made. Their respect for the king grew because they saw that God’s wisdom was in him so he could execute justice. (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel,” Week Two

It’s a faith story, a testimony, an autobiography that I have heard many, many times from people in my wife’s generation—Generation X—and my generation, Generation Y, aka the Millennials.

It’s the story of being raised in an overly harsh or outright fundamentalist Christian church and household, and making a break for it as soon as you were an adult because of what the strictures did to you as a child. Fundamentalism can really do a number on a kid, warping their outlook and damaging their faith, and sometimes, it can manifest itself in funny—still sad—but funny ways.

Matthew Paul Turner, a Christian author, wrote about of those developments of his fundamentalist Christian upbringing—as a kid, he became obsessed with the number seven because of how often it is used in Scripture—seven days of creation, seven years that Jacob worked for Leah and then Rachel, seven baths Naaman had to take to be cleansed of leprosy, and so on. Fortunately for Matthew, his father, an uncommonly thoughtful man, intervened, prompting this aside from Turner in his memoir, “Churched:”

“I don’t know, Buck,” he said. “I think you’re taking those stories out of context, and I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t work out for you like it did for the people in the Bible.”

My father was one of the few fundamental Baptists I knew who actually valued context when reading the Bible. Most people took every word to heart. I knew people who, if there was a disagreement, searched for a way to apply King Solomon’s solution when forced to decide which of two mothers a baby belonged to.

“Maybe we should just cut this thing in two,” somebody suggested when two of my friends were arguing about which of them had brought the signed Cal Ripken Jr. baseball card to Sunday school.

However, both of them yelled, “No don’t cut it,” which wasn’t how the Bible story went. But Solomon’s wisdom still proved helpful, since the Sunday school teacher awarded the card to the kid who didn’t use an expletive when yelling.

The gist of Solomon’s wisdom, while maybe not useful for baseball cards, is what’s on tap for today!

This is a new sermon series for a new season in the church—spring is moving into summer, and just like a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we’ll once again take on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative will be the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ll get a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem to his eventual downfall and even more, beginning last week with the story of how Solomon comes by his divinely-bestowed wisdom for which he is eternally famous, and continuing today with Solomon applying that wisdom in this well-known story of two mothers.

And really, it’s a ghastly story, because (a) someone’s infant child has just died, and (b) one of the characters involved wants another infant child to likewise die. Forget everything you’re thinking about how misery loves company, the idea that a mother would want another child dead because hers also had died makes her something of a sociopath.

Which may have been Solomon’s intent all along—not simply to ascertain the biological mother of this child, but the emotional mother, the mother who is best equipped mentally and spiritually to raise this child.

And this, thankfully, is a story that is really about her and her example than about the type of person the other mother must have been to be willing to have an infant killed rather than given to another family.

Because the core of love, and especially love of family and of one’s children, goes to what Paul says first about love in 1 Corinthians 13—“love is patient” is how we typically hear that verse read, but there are two key facets we miss when doing so.

First, Paul isn’t speaking about romantic love, the sort of that is on display and celebrated at, say, a wedding, where you’ve almost certainly heard that passage read (there’s a reason why the movie Wedding Crashers made a joke about it, and if Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are making fun of it, you *know* it’s clich├ęd already).

No, Paul is talking about caritas, the sort of love that is utterly selfless. And that loops right into the second aspect of this text, that it doesn’t always get translated as “patient.” As the King James Version translates the verse, “love suffers long.”

Now, far be it for me to laud the KJV for accuracy in translation, because there are lot of issues with the text simply because, well, in the 1600s people knew far less about the Bible in its original languages than we do today.

But there really is something sublimely appropriate about the extremity and profundity of love’s sheer depth that gets conveyed by saying “love suffers long” rather than simply saying “love is patient.” The latter simply makes it sound like love can stomach a trip to the DMV, whereas the former at least gets at a trip to the DMV on the busiest day of the year and the place is understaffed.

To put a less trivial point on it: this second mother’s love for child is a love that is able to suffer long if that is what it takes for her child to live. She is the mother, Solomon says, and leaves it at that.

How accurate. She is not simply this child’s mother, but also the mother as an archetype, as a virtue, as a testament to parental love. She is the mother who would do anything for her child, even give them up, if need be. She is not just the mother, she is *the* mother, just like God is *the* Creator.

Because her love, like God’s love, can, will, and would suffer long.

Of course, it does not. Solomon rightly awards the child to her.

But I have to think that Solomon’s job would have been much harder if he had been presented with two loving parents disputing over a child, rather than one good parent and one obvious sociopath. I mean, if we’re going to scream, “No, don’t do that!” in response to the cutting up of a baseball card of all things, as Matthew Paul Turner’s story shows, then really, how many of us would go so far as to say yes to the cutting up of the flesh and blood of an actual human child?

To dwell on that question for too long is to, again, make this story about the wrong person. This is a story about love strong enough to suffer, and suffer at great length, and in this story, there is only one person who exhibits such love and only one person who recognizes such love for what it is.

It’s *the* mother. The mother who longs for her child. The mother who we might otherwise judge as a prostitute—it is so easy for us to do. After the death of Harambe, the gorilla in the Cincinnati zoo, at the hands of zoo security when a child fell into his enclosure, it seemed like all of us became armchair parents. It is so easy to judge parents and the job they do, so, so easy.

But we have to remember the depths of the love from which parents live as well, because that is a part of the depths of God’s love for us as God’s children.

I know not the true, full, and total depths of love, largely because I imagine such love, love that suffers long, has no limit, because such love is of God and, as 1 John writes, *is* God. And you or I will never be able to fully grasp the great scope and scale of God’s love.

Which is sort of the point of our faith in the end. We cannot see and understand fully what God sees and understands fully. So we take it on faith in God that God does and acts accordingly.

Even if sometimes, those actions might be contrary to what we want. Especially if those actions might be contrary to what we want.

I have no doubt that Solomon awarding this child to the other mother would have been contrary to every bone in the true mother’s body that made her plead for her child. It would not be what she had wanted.

But the child would have lived.

Such are the ways of God’s love for us, that even if we do not do as we ought, or choose as we ought, that God’s love is so great that God would still want us, need us, demand to us that we live.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 5, 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When You See People, Not Bogeymen, The World Will Change

Something big happened in Germany this week.

Its parliament voted to formally recognize the Armenian Holocaust as a genocide.

Germany, not my native United States, but Germany, who fought alongside the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Allies of World War I, when the Armenian Holocaust was perpetrated. Germany, who has its own monstrous genocide--*the* monstrous genocide of all genocides--in its own history.

But I think that history had a lot to do with today's vote. Germany knows what acknowledgement means and looks like. It has spent decades expressing remorse for the Jewish Holocaust, and a part of genocide's intersectionality is recognizing it when it has happened to other peoples--the Armenians, the Tutsis in Rwanda, the ethnic minorities in Cambodia under Pol Pot, and so on.

It would be tempting for many to heap criticism upon Germany for its vote--the country has a large Turkish minority, for instance, many of whom remain adamantly opposed to any form of recognition of the Armenian Holocaust (opposition that has been expressed in part by Turkey recalling its ambassador to Germany, among other measures). And Turkey is, of course, a key NATO ally for Germany--and the United States for that matter.

Yet it is because of the moral authority--for lack of a better term--of having had to recognize your own genocidal past that I think makes Germany's recognition so unique, so newsworthy, and so meaningful.

This is a country whose one-time chancellor very famously and spontaneously knelt before the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto from the Second World War.

That chancellor, Willy Brandt, was himself an opponent of Nazism; in fact, his name began as a pseudonym he used to protect himself from Nazi agents.

But his opposition to Nazism, for the purposes of expressing the remorse and penance of an entire nation, an entire people, mattered little. He was the chancellor, it was upon him to incarnate that remorse.

Similarly, the German parliament, like any representative governmental body, is precisely that--representative. It was up to them to represent the voice of truth in Germany, and in this vote, they did so.

We so, so revere our individualism here in America, and yet we so easily see an entire people elsewhere as a monolith, a collective, and often a foreboding one at that (just look at the popularity of Donald Trump's incendiary ban-the-Muslim-immigrants proposal).

But within a people, there are persons, not just bogeymen. People with beating hearts and living souls, not simply cardboard cutouts or cartoonish caricatures. It is why Yad Vashem has a list of the Righteous Among the Nations--the Gentiles who are recognized for their selfless and self-sacrificing work in saving Jews during the Jewish Holocaust.

At Bendlerblock, in the heart of Berlin, there is a memorial to the German officers who, though not Righteous Among the Nations, still gave their lives after a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and depose the Nazi government. Translated into English, the memorial reads:

You did not bear the shame
You resisted
You bestowed the eternally vigilant symbol of change
By sacrificing your lives for freedom, justice, and honor

You did not bear the shame.

And yet, they still did feel the shame--one of the civilian members of the plot, Carl Goerdeler, wrote prior to his own execution, "I ask the world to accept our martyrdom as penance for the German people."

We cannot excise the guilt within ourselves for our people, not entirely, no matter how much we try. I may abhor Donald Trump--and I do--but I still feel a profound shame that he is now the presidential nominee of a major party in my country.

And because Germany could not, and did not, try to wipe away their collective guilt over the Jewish Holocaust, even as individual Germans were sometimes heroic in their efforts to save the Jewish people, it adds a layer of meaning for them to say, "We too recognize this as a genocide."

Turkey has not yet taken that step, but someday, they must. Because Armenians...we are not the bogeymen they would make us out to be, then or now.

One of the German politicians who pressed for this recognition of the Armenian Holocaust, Cem Ozdemir, is himself ethnically Turkish. And he made a point of pressing us to remember those among the Turkish people, like those among the German people, who valiantly worked to save the lives of their Armenian neighbors.

The goodness of the individuals, the goodness of an Ozdemir or a Brandt, does not erase the need for recognition. It redoubles it. Because in knowing their stories, and the stories of the Jews or the Armenians who died, who escaped, who were tortured, who were all of them, you see how the world can change, for both ill and for better.

Which direction that change tacks to, believe it or not, remains up to us.

Germany's choice for recognition reminds us of that. They did what was right, not what was easy or convenient.

Imagine what the kingdom might look like tomorrow if that were true of us all.

Let us begin to do so, then, with purpose and with truth.

Vancouver, Washington
June 4, 2016

Image of the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia, courtesy of Flickr