Missives by Pastor Eric
(From the "The VINE" - Church Newsletter)

Colbert Presbyterian Church

4211 E. Colbert Rd.
Colbert, WA 99005

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(Newsletter Mar 2020)

Spring Cleaning
 Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

~Luke 15:8

Karen is getting ready to move. Twenty-five years ago, she built a straw-bale house in the wilds of Montana a good piece outside of Missoula. The house bears absolutely no resemblance to the one a fictitious, foolish pig once hastily constructed with straw which was easily blown down with the huff and the puff of an equally fictitious, ravenous wolf. No, this thing is sturdy, reinforced with wood and steel and concrete at critical points, and it has stood up to a generation of fierce Big Sky winters.
Not only is it sturdy, it’s also cool, as you might fully expect from my artist-sister who designed it. Being off the grid, it has solar panels to charge batteries for lights and to run the pump for the water well. The refrigerator is energized by propane. It’s heated by a wood stove. And it has a composting toilet. But my favorite detail is the mosaic of a mermaid that she inlayed into the bathroom wall with broken bits of tile. In other words, it’s a one-of-a kind house, unique in practically every way.
Her decision to move has required her to get the house ready to sell. Now, my dear sister comes nothing close to being a hoarder. However, after all these years she has accumulated and retained a good number of things she doesn’t really need, and frankly doesn’t want to take with her only to clutter up her next domicile. And so these weeks she has been sorting and organizing, purging and tossing. True to her values, among the items she is hanging on to are her crystals, rocks, fossils, artistic supplies, and music. Other than that, most of the stuff is going to Goodwill, to friends, or to the dump.
It’s an experience that many of us are familiar with: the accumulation of our years corresponds to an accumulation of clutter. We gain weight. We gather stuff. We get heavy with burdens. If we’re not careful, we might even find that the things we own begin to own us. However it happens, the effect is that we become more bogged down, less free, and there is less room for the things that matter most.
More and more people these days are finding that a return to the basics, a lifestyle that favors simplicity, and one that gets us closer to the ground is just what the doctor ordered for the health of our souls. However, it is not an altogether popular trend since it defies the values of our culture among which is to pile up possessions. This, it is clear, is not natural for us, and is, therefore, going to require some intentional discipline. As usual, I take my cue from the scriptures.
Consistently, Jesus described the Kingdom of God in counter cultural, sometimes revolutionary images: Losing is winning. Death is life. Last is first. Little is great. Lost is found. Less is more.
Lent is the re-set button for people whose lives have become crowded, busy, noisy (and whose hasn’t?). It is the spiritual corollary to spring cleaning: an annual invitation to make a clean sweep, to discard the excess baggage, and to allow the simple-holy to move in. As my sister is finding, as she picks up each item in her house, there is a choice to be made: retain or rid. It’s the same with our souls. Before we can fully say Yes to God, there are some things that need to be rejected.
What will you allow the gift of these Lenten days to be? Where will they usher you? How will you purge the superfluous in order to make more space for the divine presence to occupy the altogether unique temple that is you?
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Feb 2020)

 “I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, ’You’re nobody!’ they’re calling you ‘God’s living children.’”

~Romans 9:25-26 The Message

I see you, but mostly I see your “otherness” from the heated leather seats of my car, as I am stopped by your encampment.
I pray for you, I do. I can’t imagine your life. I think of my own bed with all of its ridiculous features, piled high with down pillows and warm blankets, as I look at you curled up on the pavement with all of your worldly possessions. Hoping for a dry spot on a snowy sidewalk.
I see you, but mostly I see your otherness, as I look at the collection of litter that surrounds your world under the bridge. The cardboard signs propped up around you asking for money, or maybe just mercy. For a small measure of hope or perhaps just to survive another day.
I see you, but mostly I see your otherness, as you yell at the world. Sometimes real, often imagined. A mind battling demons I don’t understand. You wave your hands, angrily debating with someone I cannot see. Have I ever felt that angry? I know that I have never felt that alone.
I see you, but mostly I see your otherness, in the mismatched clothes you wear. A sleeping bag around your shoulders instead of a coat. Beat up sneakers that shouldn’t be worn in the snow. Your feet must be wet and cold. That is probably the least of your worries. Socks will eventually dry, lives cannot be fixed so easily.
I see you, and then, I really see you.
You are running across the street, a cigarette in one hand and in the other, a ridiculously large stuffed animal. The kind you’d win at the fair. It’s a dog with matted fur, so I know it is no prize, or at the very least, it isn’t a new prize. And still the way that you hold it, I know that to you, it is special. I wonder who you are giving it to? Do you have a child waiting for a birthday gift? Is someone you love sick? In even worse shape than you? All that I know is that looking at you, seeing you, I know that you love someone and that the yellow matted dog that you are holding with such importance, cost you something. What did you give up for that act of kindness? A hot meal, a slightly better pair of shoes? I know that it wasn’t a hard decision for you. Trading temporary comfort for a gift of love. How do I know this? I remember myself as a young, single mom. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were coming to the Opera House. A live show! There was no doubt that my four-year-old son, who was completely enthralled by Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael, had to be sitting in those seats. And so, I bought those ridiculously over- priced tickets, overdrawing my checking account.  Maybe I postponed paying a bill, or maybe we ate Top Ramen for the week. I know that it wasn’t a “wise decision.” It wasn’t the responsible choice. And yet, we had a magical night together, my Ninja Turtle loving son and myself. The sacrifice was worth the gift of love.
And suddenly, as I see you splashing across the street with your silly dog, I see myself. I see the sameness of us. I see how much we can love one another, even when it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Even if the love feels impractical at times.
Indulgent. I see the sameness in our hearts that want to do a bit better each day. That can easily be discouraged or broken, but that have an endless capacity to heal and find hope. Your otherness has faded as the light turns green and I drive away, heading toward a warm home filled with so much. Remember this, I whisper to myself.
Lesley Groe
Administrative Assistant, Colbert Presbyterian Church

Reflections from the drive home


(Newsletter Jan 2020)

Holy Moments
 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

~Philippians 4:8

“Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet.
So we say, “Oh my God. Thanks.”

~Anne Lamott

2020 has arrived! A shiny new year, a new decade, a new beginning. The possibilities are endless. Maybe this will be the year that I pick up tennis, bake cookies for the mailman, throw a block party, organize my closet. I’m certain that I will complain less and volunteer more. The potential of the year ahead, and my own potential, fills my head with hopeful dreams of all of the ways this new year, and this fifty-five-year-old woman, could shine. And yet, because I have been on this wild and wonderful journey for fifty-five years, I am also aware that in the midst of gifts and possibilities there will also be heartbreak and suffering. We will hold new babies; we will also bury people that we love. We will celebrate new marriages while mourning lost relationships. We live in the fullness of life. Mark Nepo (a poet, philosopher, and cancer survivor) writes, “When I fall down, I try to remember that we can never eliminate obstacles. Like rocks in streams, it’s their presence that makes the river sing. And so, I ask myself: Where can I stop and bow, even briefly, so the song of everything larger can come through me?”

It is through that lens that I look toward the new year. Knowing that there will be struggle, and yet also knowing that in living a life of faith, believing in a redemptive God, in the midst of hardships there will also be beautiful opportunities.

Our pastor and dear friend, Eric, recently introduced me to a collection of liturgies written by Douglas McKelvey, titled, Every Moment Holy. In the forward Andrew Peterson writes, “this book reminds us that there are no unsacred moments; there are only sacred moments and moments we have forgotten are sacred. If that’s true, then it is our duty to reclaim the sacredness of our lives, of life itself. And the first step is to remember-to remember the dream of Eden that shimmers on the edges of things, to remember that the madman on the corner was made in God’s image, to remember that work and play and suffering and celebration are all sentences in a good story being told by God, a story arcing its way to a new creation.” The book itself is filled with liturgies for everything from paying of bills, to the keeping of bees. There is a liturgy for the sound of sirens and the changing of diapers. It is a beautiful reminder that, since God is in all things, all moments are holy moments, and we can therefore give thanks as we recognize God’s love and grace in our lives, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I know the limits of my own humanity however, and I therefore know that I will not truly feel thankful in every moment and every situation in this new year. I’ll grumble and feel disappointed. I’ll wrestle with anger and discouragement. I’m sure I’ll swear at politicians and throw my hands up at this world. My hope is that in the midst of it all, I will be startled by those holy moments. Those moments that I could overlook as mundane but which in fact hold sacred opportunity. That I will be stopped in my tracks with the awareness of all of the ways God intimately knows and loves me and that I will say “Thank you Jesus, thank you.”

With a grateful heart,

Lesley Groe

Administrative Assistant, Colbert Presbyterian Church


(Newsletter Dec 2019)

 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.

Jesus was fond of agrarian images when he spoke about life, faith, and the looming Kingdom of God. And for good reason. To begin with, the agricultural way keeps us grounded, close to the humus of our humanity. It’s a way that requires paying attention to the soil conditions we are given, and then tilling and planting, tending and watering, watching for disease, and pulling weeds. Additionally, much of the process is underground; there are mysteries of life hidden beneath the surface of the earth’s crust; the forces of new life are concealed in quiet and the dark unknown. Moreover, that which emerges from the ground bears no resemblance to that which was planted; you’d never guess that an apple seed, for example, would grow to become a tree, and then to eventually bear something that is both golden and delicious. And finally, it takes time to reach maturity; nothing bears fruit overnight. Farmers are patient people who take in the long view.
The metaphor is chock-full of potency. Little wonder Jesus favored it. From wheat and weeds, sun and rain, planting and harvest, he found the language of agriculture to be an effective communication tool to speak of the vibrant, growing, creative reality of God.
I had a dream recently. It was located in the backyard of my childhood home, the only house I ever lived in until the summer I turned nineteen and went away to school. It’s a house and a neighborhood, I’ve found, that tend to show up in my dreams during the significant developmental stages of my life. Here’s the dream: I’m crouched down in the backyard which, I immediately notice, has been completely turned over with a cultivator of some kind. The large dirt clods are still moist and fresh, with tufts of grass scattered about every which way. In my mind, I am aware that it is a piece of land which now belongs to me, and it is mine to care for. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all, and wonder for a moment if I should hire out the work. Just then, a voice I do not recognize comes to me from behind, saying, “the weeds lie just below the surface, and left to themselves will eventually take over.” And sure enough, as I look more closely between the clods, I can make out the young thistles and dandelions that are already beginning to form in the loosened soil.
I walk to the street at the front of the house in order to find the corner of the property. Once I locate the survey marker I sight down the boundary line, getting a clearer sense of the scope of the work that needs to be done. Then I return to the same spot in the backyard, crouching once again, wondering what to do. Should I purchase sod? Should I just scatter grass seed? And then the thought comes to me: I can plant something completely new here now; it’s mine to do with whatever I choose.
When I awoke I gradually recognized it as a legacy dream. It came to me just hours before I caught a flight to Chicago where I had been invited to speak to a gathering of publishers. Knowing that everyone there would know who I was in relationship to my dad, I was anxious about it, not wanting to bring any disappointment to the family name.
The dream was a timely gift, and it helped to ease my anxiety. It reminded me that, though my life has been disrupted by the deaths of my parents, and it has felt like everything has been turned upside down and “scattered every which way,” I have inherited a portion of fertile land known to me as the pastoral vocation. It’s not an expansive field; it’s actually quite modest, located toward the northern boundary of Spokane County. I was also given to know, through the dream, that I have been given great freedom; while I share the pastoral landscape with him, I don’t wear my dad’s shoes. I can put different seeds in the ground.
Since receiving that dream, I have coincidentally received an unusual number of letters and phone calls from former parishioners at the church I previously served in Tacoma who have reached out to express appreciation for something I did or said that had enduring meaning for them more than two decades later. Most of the people I barely even remember. And the moments they point to—a sermon, a hospital visit, a seemingly off-handed remark—I have no recollection of whatsoever.
It’s a reminder for me to take in the long view, to steadily do the modest bit of work I’ve been given to do in this field known as Colbert, trusting that whatever emerges from the ground will be solely the result of our Master Gardener. “God caused the growth.”
On my early morning walks these days, the question often comes to me from somewhere behind: “What seeds are you going to plant today, Eric?”
I’ve come to recognize it as the voice of my father.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Nov 2019)

Love Your Neighbor
 I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

I crossed the southern border into Mexico last month and I met Jesus. Here was the surprise: He wasn’t anything like I expected. He had brown skin, sad eyes, a lanky build, and he spoke softly a language I didn’t understand. He even pronounced his name differently than I’ve been saying it all my life: “Yesus.”
It’s been said that God created humanity in God’s own image, and ever since that time we’ve been trying to return the favor. I’m sure that’s been true for me. I’ve always imposed images onto Jesus that I’m accustomed to and comfortable with. My thoughtless default is to imagine God as a strong, white male, someone who is well-spoken, confident in his spiritual authority, with an uncanny ability to persuade others. He’s tall, charismatic, gentle, good looking; a real charmer. Someone, in other words, who’s got WOO: The ability to Win Others Over.
But pretty much all of that is just me trying to return the favor.
I’m grateful for an encounter with the living Jesus of today when he was incarnated to me as a Hispanic teenager who, with his mother and younger brother, was waiting for his number to be called during his long pursuit of asylum. He and his family had fled their rural village in central Mexico which had become overrun by gang violence. Neither I nor the dozen pastors I was with that day dared to ask where his father was; we all presumed him to be dead, a victim of violence. Our world is home to so much violence. It may be the singular thing that most defies the values of the coming, peaceable kingdom of God.
Jesus and his fatherless family had joined a caravan of thousands of other souls who were risking their lives in an attempt to save their lives by making the dangerous journey to one of our country’s legal ports of entry. I learned from one of the World Relief staffers with us that day that migrating women typically use some form of birth control as they travel because there is an 80% chance of them being raped somewhere along the way. And then, as if the journey isn’t already harsh enough, people seeking refuge in our country are deterred with a long wait time and the threat of detention. From the moment they knock on the door of our border wall they are made to feel unwanted, even criminal. The message might just as well be displayed with a neon sign: No Vacancy.
A friend recently shared with me that, upon entering New York Harbor on his return trip from a European cruise, a voice came over the public address system quoting the poem inscribed and immortalized on the Statue of Liberty given to us by Emma Lazarus who referred to Lady Liberty as the “Mother of Exiles”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

My friend shared his sense of how wrong those words sounded to his ears given the severe limitations our current administration has placed on the number of people now permitted to settle in the United States. The dissonance between the 1883 poem and our 2019 policy was jolting.
But words don’t necessarily reflect present reality. Sometimes they stand not for how things are but for how things should be. Poetry does this, as do the scriptures: descriptions of a kingdom that is coming, surely enough, while being met by various forms of resistance and outright hostility as it comes. The question for Christians is always, “do I accept the reality of what is, or do I serve the divine vision of what is to be?” According to the Gospel, Jesus did the latter, claiming a prophetic mission for his life by borrowing from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18).

My brief visit to the wall revealed to me a Jesus who rejects the seats of power, privilege, and prestige in order to huddle with the hurting people of this world. This is a savior who locates himself in some of the more out of the way places, a messiah who abides with the most overlooked people. I am persuaded now more than ever that if we want to be close to Jesus, we have to go where he goes, to follow his lead, to allow the gravitational force of grace to place us in the company of those he once affectionately described as “the least of my brothers and sisters,” people who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, or in prison (Mt 25:35-36).
It was a transformative experience for this North American man who lives a privileged existence: I met a disheveled Jesus in the company of the kinds of people he is happy to claim as his brothers and sisters. And although the border wall was being visited by the very Host of heaven, there wasn’t a welcome mat in sight. It’s a sobering reminder for me that there are people who—though separated by thousands of miles—are no less our neighbors, no less our brothers and sisters. And hospitality to such neighbors is perhaps the clearest exhibition of the coming peaceable kingdom of God. That, I believe, is the way it should be. And that, I believe, is the way it one day surely will be. Although I live on this side of the wall, I’d like to be found on that side of history.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Oct 2019)

Woods And Words
 I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.
~Alfred Joyce Kilmer, 1913

I live among trees. Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir are the dominant species punctuating the ten-acre woodlot I share with a good many other of God’s creatures who also call this home. Fundamental to the daily liturgy of my mostly ordinary life is an early morning walk on a trail that meanders through the woods. With the addition of Samson Rainier, our family’s Yellow Lab, the trees are my only company. Canine and conifers alike, they are good companions. I sometimes wonder what stories these towers of timber would tell if they could speak. Surely they would offer tales of severe storms, devastating wildfires, and the orchestral concerts of birdsong intermixed with the cacophony of coyotes. Perhaps the stories would also include the overheard conversations of hunters and farmers, children and lovers, and the native Americans who first inhabited this land. The history of Colbert as told by trees: each growth ring, a chapter in the annals of the natural world.
With the return of cooler weather, I can be found spending more time outdoors gathering firewood. This fall I have been bucking, splitting, and stacking the wood from four standing-dead trees I had taken down. The wood, in its relocation from forest to fireplace, will keep my family warm through another Spokane winter. Despite the convenience of having a furnace, I prefer burning wood as a heat source. There is something primitive and cozy about a fire that keeps me close to the earth, a focal practice that is good for my soul, as the trees are reincarnated from beauty to BTUs.
I also live among words. Many of the spaces I live and work in are full of books, each of them a container full of words. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, words are the life-blood of my vocation and I try to honor them in the various ways I both receive and convey them. Because there are more words in the world than I’ll ever be able to digest, and because there are a lot of words pressed into service for superfluous, even sacrilegious purposes, I have to be choosey when it comes to the words I listen to and the ones I read.
In the last couple of decades we’ve seen an increase in the availability of words appearing on various screens. And while I certainly access my fair share of them from my laptop, I much prefer reading words on the printed page. This is another lovely way forests get repurposed for story-telling, and it has a delightful way of keeping me in the company of the trees from which the paper originated.
Yes, I live among trees. And even when they no longer elevate landscapes, they stand tall on bookshelves, their words taking root in my mind and heart to appear in yet another version of The Story of God.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Sep 2019)

Rio Gracias
 Life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage.
~The Confession of 1967

I don’t remember a time in my life when I have had so much to feel. My weekly emotion-scape seems to access the alpha and the omega spectrum of feelings from desolation to consolation, from annoyance to ebullience. And yet each of the feelings, I have learned, is simply a tributary that trickles me eventually into a vast river name “Gratitude.” It runs deep and wide, floating me into something as vast and holy and good as the kingdom of God itself. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Gratitude is the overarching emotional state of being into which I am being continually ushered. I’m pretty grateful about that, too.
Here is a select short list of some things for which I am especially grateful these days:

As I think about the fall season now pressing gently down upon us, I am grateful for the opportunities we have to deepen relationships with our God and with one another. Sunday mornings in particular are Sabbath gifts: a day each week to suspend the burdens of our toil, to rest, to reflect, to let God be God. Please don’t squander the gift we have been given to worship with complete freedom. There are good, holy reasons this command is among the top ten.
Beginning on September 15 we will resume our educational hour following worship. While children and youth follow age-appropriate curricula, adults are invited to participate in Fellowship Circles or a book study. Sprinkled throughout the fall will be presentations by Jonathan Moo (Climate Change), Christopher Borth (Iraqi Kurdistan), and Brother John (Taize Community) that I think we will all find both interesting and challenging.
Additionally, keep an eye out for coming-soon sign-ups for Dinners for 6, 7, or 8. These are a great way to get to know people over a meal, and they have proven to be really significant in establishing long-term relationships. This year we’ll be encouraging dinner groups to include a missional component as well.
Baptized into a life of blessings, there are innumerable gifts for us to both receive and to convey. Be alert to the gifts flowing your way which give you occasion to say “thanks.” And let the blessings continue to flow as you meander your way through this thirsty land.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Aug 2019)

The Greatest In God’s Kingdom
 Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.
~Matthew 19:14

One of my favorite conversation prompts goes something like this: “Tell me about an adult who was influential to you during your childhood.” The stories I hear typically feature teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, Sunday School teachers, and neighbors. Whatever the role they served they were people who took a personal interest in a child in such a way that the child never forgot.
For me it was Mr. Tibbels, a retired engineer who was an elder in our church. Soft-spoken, crazy-smart, and kind, Mr. Tibbels will forever be the model of a perfect gentleman. After he died I learned what only his wife knew at the time: that he always showed up to worship on Sunday mornings with a sermon in his suit pocket. The reason? He took his responsibility as an elder very seriously; in the event that the preacher couldn’t preach that day, he was prepared to step in.
For reasons I’ll never know Mr. Tibbels took a liking to me and invited me into his world of model trains, music, and ideas. I remember riding my bike, one suburban development away, to his house where he taught me how to play the guitar one summer. I remember how he showed up at our house one day with the trunk of his car full of a variety of carpet squares; he and I spent the rest of the day taping them together to create a funky wall-to-wall carpet in my bedroom.
What I remember most is that he took me seriously, and that he treated me not like a kid but as his friend. This man with a towering intellect and a wide range of sophisticated interests chose to spend time with an awkward, shy child, and in so doing he taught me how to be curious, how to be compassionate, how to grow to become a man of faith. With the rise (or is it the awareness?) of sexual predators, this kind of relationship has necessarily become much less common. Which makes me all the more grateful that my life intersected with the life of a gentle, faithful, trustworthy adult during my childhood. For it was at that intersection, I now realize, that some holy seeds got planted in my heart. Today I have been giving thanks for Mr. Tibbels.
When Jesus faced the challenge of describing the Kingdom of God one day, he pulled a child onto his lap as exhibit A. He went on to hug them, to bless them, and to encourage adults to be more like them. Jesus was and is the world’s biggest child advocate.
At a baptism I helped to celebrate up at Camp Spalding’s Davis Lake recently I was reminded of the responsibility God entrusts to us to participate in the disciple-making process during a child’s faith-formative years. Here’s the question I asked the little congregation gathered around a young adolescent that day:

Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture Braden by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?

That is one of the weighty, consequential questions posed to us, taking a lifetime to fulfill. And so when Brenna Stanfield, our friendly and highly-competent Director of Children’s Ministry contacts you, inviting you into one of the many important roles we have to come alongside the younger disciples among us, I hope you will say yes. These young disciples among us are precious gifts to our community, entrusted to our care for a season. Let us take our vows seriously, by taking them seriously: validating them, loving them, modeling a life of faith, teaching them the way of Jesus. These are seeds that bear good fruit in the Kingdom of God.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jul 2019)

Living The Resurection

“I believe in the resurrection of the body.” This creedal affirmation, a cornerstone of Christian orthodoxy, cleverly couples two central pillars of our faith: incarnation and resurrection. The flesh with which Jesus arrived on Christmas Day did not vanish on Ascension Day; he did not morph from a physical into a spiritual being once he was done with this world. From the beginning the body of Christ has been intimately involved in all the details of God’s creation, God’s revelation, God’s salvation. Even now that body sits at the right hand of the Father reigning, praying, preparing. He’s as physically alive and well today as he was at his Bethlehem nativity.
Since the life of faith is nothing if it is not embodied it must be lived. Lived in the flesh. While the body of Jesus has been, for now, returned to heaven, the Body of Christ remains incarnated through the church. Manifesting the bodily presence of Jesus, the Christian life is pursued in the ordinary details of the here and now grounded in planet earth. The Holy Spirit (which is the spirit of Christ) dwells in the baptized, creating a mysterious convergence of all that is past, present, and future, a reality which gets celebrated in the liturgy of the eucharist: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” For now, he lives in people like you and me. Living the incarnation and living the resurrection are two sides of the same discipleship coin; it is the union of our mortality and our immortality. It leaves nothing out.
Few gifts in my life compare to that of being with my dad during his dying days. On the afternoon when he was first placed under the care of hospice, I summarized for him the reality of his condition by telling him three things:
1. You are deeply loved.
2. We are going to take good care of you.
3. The remainder of your life is likely going to be measured in days and weeks, no longer months and years.
When I asked him how he felt about the prospect of dying, after his customary thoughtful pause, he said, “I feel good about that.” And indeed, he did. His remaining days were accompanied by an uncommon joy as he delighted in the visits with his family and friends, as he enjoyed a last supper of butter pecan ice-cream, and as he interacted with people (angels?) on the other side of the threshold between earth and heaven who were, I am persuaded, preparing to welcome him into paradise. As a result, I do now, more than ever, believe in the resurrection of the body. His death, like his life, was a compelling witness to the resurrection to which he is now a full heir.
While Eugene’s funeral was open to the public, the brief graveside service that followed was an intimate, family-only affair. As we gathered around his casket for our final farewell, and just before offering the “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” commendation, it seemed fitting that Eugene’s voice should be heard one last time. On a grassy hillside in the Conrad Cemetery of Montana, I read these words from his memoir, one of the last books he wrote.
Resurrection does not have to do exclusively with what happens after we are buried or cremated. It does have to do with that, but first of all it has to do with the way we live right now. But as Karl Barth, quoting Nietzsche, pithily reminds us: “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” We practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that relinquishment or renunciation are we able to practice resurrection.
We left the cemetery and joined several hundred friends for a reception nearby. We told stories. We shared food and drink. We straddled the emotional line between crushing grief and grateful wonder. Which is to say, that in the immediate wake of death, we joined Eugene in living the resurrection.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Jun 2019)

“Through the Eyes of a Child”
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
~Romans 1:19-20

“Look mom! God painted a beautiful sunset!”
Hanging out with my grandkids these spring days, I am reminded of the way my boys would look at the world with awe and wonder. No scientific data about light refraction, air particulates, and cloud formations to explain the beauty of the heavens. Rather, they would gaze at the reds, oranges, pinks and purples of the evening sky as if seeing God in his studio, a watercolor palette and fine nylon brushes in his hands, sweeping feathery strokes of color across the giant blue canvas for their enjoyment. And the sound of worshipful gratitude filled their voices as they excitedly proclaimed God’s handiwork.
Hearing the same wonder in our little grandchildren as we play outside, gives me pause to pay closer attention to them and to my surroundings. A bouquet of dandelions, gifted to me in chubby hands, is as lovely as a dozen roses. And a dirt pile in the yard is a wondrous place for exploring. Treasures abound when you see the world through the eyes of a child. What I find truly amazing is the way they exude a natural reverence for creation, as if they somehow know they are standing on holy ground.
This is what the Apostle Paul seems to want to convey in the first part of his letter to the Roman church. And it makes me wonder if he wasn’t given the gift of seeing the world in a childlike way in his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road.  We can almost imagine him pausing as he penned his letter, to observe the rising or setting sun, or the colorful wings of a hummingbird flitting from blossom to blossom in a courtyard garden. He may even have ducked inside for cover as a storm passed over: lightning flashing and thunder roaring.
“God has plainly shown his power and divine nature through the things he has made….  So that they are without excuse…” Rom 1:20. Paul begins sharing the gospel message, by reminding his listeners that God has been revealing himself to humanity through creation since the beginning of time. Sin, however, has distorted our vision, often leaving us blind to the goodness in our created world. As Paul continues his letter, we come to realize it is only through the redeeming love of Christ that we begin to see more clearly, as with the eyes of a child.
Celtic author, Philip John Newell, summarizes it in this way:

Whichever way we turn, O God, there is Your face
in the light of the moon and patterns of stars,
in sacred mountain rifts and ancient groves,
in mighty seas and creatures of the deep.
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is Your face
in the light of eyes we love,
in the salt of tears we have tasted,
in weathered countenances east and west,
in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is Your face,
there is Your face,
among us.

We live in a beautiful part of the world, friends, and as spring presses on into summer I want to encourage you to find opportunities to see the many ways God is revealing himself in this world. You may even want to find a little companion to help you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed. Just remember the words of our Lord, “For it is to such as these (children) that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mk 10:14-15.
Grace and peace,
Leesa Birdsall


(Newsletter May 2019)

Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.
~Augustus M. Toplady

While walking across that expansive impermeability of black known as our church parking lot recently, something green caught my eye. Thinking it was a candy wrapper I stooped to pick it up, only to discover that it was a new shoot from an unidentified plant. Looking more closely, I realized that our parking lot was not as impenetrable as it was when it was first paved nearly twenty years ago. The freeze-thaw patterns of the winter months, along with subtle movements of the earth’s crust, have created cracks in the asphalt. These fissures become home to seeds which are blown there by the wind. Rainwater enters the cracks, the sun adds its warmth, and the miracle of germination occurs. The seeds become plants, establishing roots below, and pushing up with shoots and leaves above. It’s not hard to imagine the parking lot, if left unattended, looking again like the field of weeds it once was before we “developed” it.
Neglect anything built by human hands long enough and Mother Nature will reclaim it as her own. Creation is always trying to exert itself, as evidenced by the old barns I drive past in Montana with failed roofs that have trees growing out of them. There is an inherent tenacity embedded in the natural order propagating and preserving life for each new generation.
In much the same way, God is ever in the process of reclaiming us for himself. The way he does this is pure genius: he plants the seed of Christ inside of us, so that Christ can not only grow within us, but also be manifested through us. Or, seen from a different perspective, it’s our daily decision to abide in Christ, to dwell with him. Paul said it best: “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5).
Whether it’s Christ living in us, or us living in Christ, it’s one of those wonderful two-sided metaphors: on the one hand, the broken places in our lives become the cracks into which the seeds of Christ (Mt 13) are sown, then germinate, take root, flourish, and bear fruit. On the other hand, it is the broken body of Christ, the Rock of our salvation, whose side was split open on the cross, creating the opportunity for God to “ . . . put you in a cleft of the rock” (Ex 33), so that we may be united with God forever.
The human soul is designed with a sort of two-way membrane so that it can both give and take. To wit, the soul receives the Spirit of Christ in order to convey the glory of God. It only takes a small opening to get this new life started within us, for Christ to be lodged deep inside of us. It doesn’t look like much at first, and can sometimes be mistaken for a useless weed. But eventually we grow into the little Christs we were made to be. “And friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! (I Jn 3; MSG).
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Apr 2019)

For everything there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

Dear friends,
Grace and peace to you! Nearly eight and a half years ago, I recall walking into the Genesis Center with the thought, “For such a time as this.” At the time I was coming on staff here at Colbert, in an experimental capacity, as a Commissioned Lay Pastor. Having previously been a member among you, I felt called for “such a time” as God (and you all) needed me here. As many of you know it has been an amazing journey, and I have grown in so many ways because you have offered me this opportunity to serve alongside of you. It has been a gift and a blessing for me, and I pray that I have served you as well as you have supported me in this journey.
When I originally received this call, it was with the understanding of the Presbytery, our Session, and me, that it would be for a season, and not necessarily a permanent position. Therefore, while fully committed to serving our congregation, I have also tried to listen well to the nudges of God’s Spirit. Each time I have been re-commissioned (every three years), I’ve spent time in prayer and discernment with the question in mind, “Is now the time?” At my most recent commissioning last November, I felt confident enough to say yes once again.
Meantime, I have continued to pursue graduate theological education through Portland Seminary. Additionally, I came under care of our Presbytery as an Inquirer for ordination. On top of everything else I have recently become a grandma, and will soon be celebrating the weddings of both of our sons. This has been a rich season of life: full of blessings, full of changes.
Sometime last fall, I began to sense that the Holy Spirit was preparing me for yet another change. After a very vivid dream in December, it became clear to me that in order for this to happen I would need to let go of some things before whatever is next can be revealed. Recognizing that the margins in my life were too crowded to listen well, I chose to take a two-semester leave of absence from seminary. Since then I have realized, with a fair amount of grief, that what is being asked of me is to let go of my position here at Colbert.
Please understand that this decision has not been made lightly, or without great consideration for the season of change we all find ourselves in as a congregation. I fully trust that God’s plan is bigger than ours, and he will continue to faithfully lead this community into the future. I am looking forward to seeing what that will look like, as well as the path he is inviting me to take. Some of this is clearer than other parts. Finishing seminary is definitely a priority. As is spending more quality time with David, and enjoying this new chapter of life as a grandma. Additionally, David and I will probably be making a move to Liberty Lake in order to be nearer to our lake place in Idaho. It is a space we dream will someday become a place of retreat for families in crisis, or pastors in need of a quiet haven to be still and know.
I want to thank you for allowing me to be a pastor in your midst, and for all of your encouragement, support, and prayers. I continue to pray for this beautiful community, and to give thanks to Christ Jesus for the ways you love and serve him and one another so well. As I have tried to do over the last eighteen years with you, please know that I will continue to joyfully and faithfully serve CPC to the best of my abilities until the end of August, at which time I will gratefully receive God’s wisdom and leading for all of us. Until that day my door is open to you. As is my heart.
In Christ’s love,
Leesa Birdsall

(Newsletter Mar 2019)

Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock..
~Isaiah 26:4

Recently, while roaming the hills above St. Gertrude’s, a modest Benedictine monastery overlooking the Camas Prairie, I heard myself saying out loud, for only the trees and the birds to hear, “I’ve never been here before.” It’s true; I had never been to this particular place in Cottonwood, ID. But it was also true that the ��I” that is Eric had never been in this frame of mind, this state of soul. I wasn’t lost and I wasn’t disoriented (nor am I now), but it was new territory nonetheless. I have never lived in a world my dad didn’t occupy. But now I do. I’ve never been here before.
Whoever said “some things never change” was either lying or just dead wrong. Everything and everyone changes. Nothing and no one remain the same. The task of life, it seems to me, is to learn to navigate and to integrate these changes, for they are the raw material for becoming our true, full selves. As the changes pile up, and as we adapt to them and internalize them our souls expand. Our capacity as containers of Life enlarges.
But when the change is big, unsettling, unwelcome, when it causes the ground underfoot to shift, when it’s difficult to discern true North, it is helpful to have points of stability. I call them anchor points; it is, for me, not a nautical term but a mountaineering image. The thing about anchors, whether they are fastened into rock or ice, is that once they are secure (“bomber” in the climbing vernacular), and once you learn to trust them, they give you great freedom to take risks. You can venture out into unknown, even dangerous areas, knowing that the anchor will catch and hold you if you fall. I have a three-point anchor system that holds my life.
Baptism: I have been re-claimed by lethal and life-giving waters. My old self is dead. I am a new creation. Joining me to the Living Waters, I have been given a new name, a new identity, and a new purpose. In baptism I join the priesthood of all believers. I am blessed, and I am a blessing.
Ordination: The church has set me apart as a priest among the priesthood to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament. These are the primary tools of my vocation, chock full of grace and truth. They are the effective, sacred means I have been entrusted with in order to lead a congregation in the way of Jesus.
Marriage: I am living my years joined intimately to one person who both knows me the best and loves me the most. We honor our vows to love and to cherish each other no matter what. We practice daily the mutuality of grace and forgiveness.
This is my sacred trinity of trustworthy anchors.
It’s significant to me that my dad established me in all three of them:
He got me wet in the sacramental waters at my baptism on an Easter Sunday.
He laid hands on me and offered the prayer at my ordination on a Maryland evening.
He oversaw the occasion when Elizabeth and I exchanged our solemn marriage vows on the shore of Flathead Lake.
In each case, he set the anchors, and then gave me the freedom to learn them, to grow into them, and to move out from them. But he didn’t leave me alone to merely figure it out all by myself. He modeled for me the life of discipleship, the pastoral vocation, the mysteries of marriage.
When everything else shifts, changes, or erupts, I am held in this internal monastery of stability and security, anchoring me to that which matters eternally. Here I can rest in peace. And from here I can courageously venture.
Thanks be to God for Eugene H. Peterson, the man who not only got me started, but the one who showed me The Way.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Feb 2019)

Parental Discretion Advised
Q: When is the right time for my child to start taking Communion?

Back in the day, children were routinely baptized as infants and raised in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” At some point during adolescence, they “confirmed” their baptism by publicly professing their faith, after which time they were welcomed as full communicants to the Lord’s Table.
The elders at Colbert—recognizing that faith development does not follow a prescribed pattern or timeline, and not wanting to either unduly hasten or delay the time at which a person participates in Holy Communion—has decided that parents are in the best position to determine when their children are ready to receive the sacrament. The Bible gives only indirect guidance in this matter.
What we see in Jesus is a special (and counter-cultural) affinity for children: welcoming them, blessing them, and issuing strong warnings against any who would cause one of them to stumble (“better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea”). Following his lead, we strive at Colbert to create a safe, welcoming environment for everyone, but especially children, “for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs” (see Luke 17:2 and 18:16).
Just as children have a place around our home dinner tables even though they cannot always enter fully into adult conversation, our children are welcome at the Lord’s Table. In their early years, parents present children for a special blessing, but at some point it is appropriate for them to receive the elements, even if they don’t fully understand what it all means (but then again, who among us fully grasps this mystery?).  Just when that time is will vary from person to person.
One couple I admire decided that when their children were able to articulate their faith to another person who was not a family member they were ready to partake of the sacrament. I like that. However you make the decision, my hope is that it involves a conversation with your child (and preferably not in the moments immediately leading up to Communion!) helping them to understand that this is not a snack break in worship, but that it is a holy occasion when we remember God’s sacrificial love for us in the giving of his Son.
Like so many things, the church has, over time, added layers of rules and restrictions to control how Communion is to be celebrated. But while there have been good reasons for such regulation, it has, in my considered opinion, created the unintended consequence of making God seem even more aloof, distant, and inaccessible to us.
While I like to think that I have a high view of the sacraments, that’s not the same thing as making them hard to access. The invitation to “come to the table” is Jesus saying “come to me.” And that may be the very definition of an open, expansive, and inclusive call to discipleship, one that is within everyone’s reach. Because if there’s one thing that Jesus is afraid of it’s that someone gets left out.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

 P.S. There are few pastoral conversations I enjoy more than those related to the sacraments. If you need a little help talking to your children about this invite me to your house.



(Newsletter Jan 2019)

Beauty In Brokenness
I have become like a broken vessel.
~Psalm 31

We know this: according to Living Systems Theory, every living thing---from simple organisms to complex bodies---will experience trauma. No one gets to live for very long without incurring injury of some kind. Bodies, minds, and spirits alike get distorted from their original, pristine condition due to injurious intrusions. The years of our lives add up, accumulating damage of various kinds. For example:

Simply stated, it is impossible to go through life without being damaged. There isn’t anything or anyone that is able to maintain its original state of goodness and blessing for long.
Additionally, we know that there are one of three possible outcomes to living organisms when they are afflicted.
  1. They may die, and simply cease to exist.
  2. They may become chronically compromised, limping through the remainder of their life.
  3. They may become strengthened precisely at the point of injury.

To some significant degree any one of those outcomes is due to a decision that gets made somewhere along the way. Give up and roll over, and you die. Become bitter, resentful, and play the part of the victim, and you limp. But choose to cooperate with a redemptive outcome, practice forgiveness, and give yourself to the work of healing, and odds are heavily in your favor that you will become a stronger person. You will grow. You will prove Hemingway right: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places” (A Farewell To Arms).
You, as I, have probably known people who represent each of those potential outcomes. Without fail, I find that the most joy-filled, wholehearted people I know have at least one chapter of pain in their history. They suffered greatly. And the suffering enlarged their soul. And because they cooperated with the work of redemption they healed. And in their healing, they were met with a new-found joy. How I want to be that kind of person.
There is an ancient Japanese art form that provides a potent metaphor.  Known as kintsugi, the technique involves filling the cracks of broken pottery with gold. The result is not only the restoration of functionality,
but---more importantly---the creation of beauty. You see, in the absence of damage there can be no art. It is only because of the brokenness that the beauty can be revealed.
While we live in a world that relentlessly inflicts damage, it is also a world that is occupied by a Redeemer. Therefore, we can participate in the making of art and beauty by embracing brokenness.  For those who wait upon the Lord the broken vessels of Psalm 31 give way to the hope of Psalm 147: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
There is no damage that is not redeemable, not when it is subject to the grace of God. Therefore, whatever you encounter in this new year, choose the way of life, the way of joy, offering your brokenness to the way of redemption. Do this, and you will be a living exhibit of the Master Artist, adding to the beauty.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Dec 2018)

Songs In The Key of Life
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. .
~Psalm 40 (MSG)

I recall a season of anguish about ten years ago when my life was harshly disrupted, sending me reeling into a downward spiral of depression and disorientation. From the bottom of a dark pit of despair, I recalled these hope-filled words: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C.S. Lewis). Indeed, whatever hardness of heart or hearing impairment I had previously suffered pretty much went away during that time. With pleasure being a mere memory, the uninvited, unwelcome pain softened my heart and restored my hearing. I was all ears. And although I wouldn’t ever send a cordial invitation to pain to come for another visit, I am grateful for the many ways it eventually ushered me into deeper intimacy with our Lord.

Months later, when hollowness finally gave way to healing, I spent some time reflecting on what I had learned. Mostly, I was pleased to conclude that everything I had believed, taught, and preached about the life of faith was true, and it held up when tested by fire. With this one exception: my understanding of the biblical notion of “abundant life” was based on the false assumption that God’s desire was for me to be happy. What I came to realize is that “abundance” is meant to represent the entire spectrum of the human experience. After all, if Jesus came to bring us the fullness of life, his own life should reflect it. And the life of Jesus ranges from the horrors of the crucifixion to the glories of the resurrection. So why should it be any different for us? Jesus didn’t come to deliver us from our humanity and its accompanying heartaches, but to join us in it all (the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly) and to use it as the raw material to redeem our lives.
Turns out Professor Pain is a really effective teacher.
As was my professor-pastor-father. I learned a lot from him during the fifty-five years we shared life together, a lot of things for which I will always be grateful. What surprised me was what he taught me as he was dying. While his words were expectedly sparse, his joy was uncommonly present. He was calm, peaceful, serene, and “perfectly content.” After a lifetime of being devoted to his Savior, he approached the end of his days fully prepared. He was ready. During his final hours, we watched and listened as he straddled that thin threshold between earth and heaven. It was Elizabeth who had the distinct honor of being with him when she heard him talking to someone on the other side of that threshold: “I’m Eugene,” he said plain as day. “Please take me with you.” Consequently, and now more than ever, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” On the final exam of life, that’s the only thing we need to get right.
In the fresh wake of grief following the death of my beloved dad, and out of my desire to experience abundant life for myself, I embrace this season of lamentation by singing the blues. Requiem is the soundtrack of my heart. I pray in D minor. But one day—I know this to be true—I will learn the latest God-song, and I will sing the Hallelujah chorus once again.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric
P.S. The four songs in Luke’s gospel will be the soundtrack for Advent this year: Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, The Angels’ Song, and Simeon’s Song.



(Newsletter Nov 2018)

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel,
who call you by your name.
 ~Isaiah 45:3

 New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. ~Barbara Brown Taylor

The Gifts We Didn't Ask For

Thanksgiving is coming, and I confess that it is probably the most truthful use of my (stretchy) yoga pants as I anticipate feasting on all of my favorite foods. More importantly, of course, is this day that is set aside for giving thanks.  Whether you are gathered around a table with people that you love (or people that you are trying very hard to love), or whether you find yourself alone (or just feeling lonely), my hope is that you can still center yourself in a place of thanksgiving. I know that for me, as I look back on this last year, it is easy to give thanks. I am one year post breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy. This time last year I couldn’t even lift a turkey to prepare for my family.  It is natural and easy to give thanks now that I am cancer free. It was more challenging when I had eight drains coming out of my body and couldn’t wash my own hair. While I would never call a cancer diagnosis a gift, I was able to claim and name all of the miracles and gifts that were part of that journey, in part because of a message that I had received a few months prior to my diagnosis.
While standing on Princeton’s campus for a writing workshop I heard God say to me quite clearly, “You are right where I want you to be and you are living according to my purpose.” This came at a time in my life where I was facing a lot of loss, including the loss of my “vocational identity” as a stay-at-home mom. Those words were such a beautiful gift of reassurance and love. Little did I know how much I would rely on them two months later when I received my breast cancer diagnosis. You see, while it was easy to enjoy being “right where God wanted me” standing on Princeton’s campus, it was also true that I was right where He wanted me while I was sitting in the waiting room of Cancer Care Northwest. That is to say, I knew that He had gone ahead of me and prepared the way. My condition was not a surprise to Him and in addition, He showed up in such beautiful and intimate ways. I saw Jesus in the faces of my friends as they came to visit me and offer me their love and encouragement. I saw Jesus in the doctors and nurses who attended to my body. I saw Jesus in the wedding vows that Tim and I took twenty-six years ago, being put into practice. There were indeed treasures in the darkness. How humbling it is receive so much love. It is in the midst of such love that new life truly is born. In those dark places on our journeys, those shadowy places where we can so easily feel alone and afraid, God meets us and gives us the promise that we are not alone. He meets us in the stillness of our hearts, and in the busyness of our lives.  He meets us in joy and in sorrow. He calls us by name. We are known and we are loved, in the darkness and the light.
This Thanksgiving I am giving thanks for each of you, for all of the ways that you were the hands and feet of Christ in my life when I needed you most. I am giving thanks for gifts found in the darkness. I pray that you hear God calling you by name and that you are aware of His presence and eternal love for you in the dark as well as the light- filled seasons of your life.
With a grateful heart,
Lesley Groe,
Administrative Assistant, Colbert Presbyterian Church

(Newsletter Oct 2018)

Master Plan
Make known to them the plan of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, and its whole form...
~Ezekiel 43:11

Woody Allen, one of my favorite unauthorized theologians, said if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. Indeed, as I look over the landscape of my life, it's pretty humorous to see where I am now compared to where I thought I would be back in the days when I was naive enough to make long-term plans. If I had been allowed to follow through on my early ideas I would most likely still be making my living somewhere within the noble trade of carpentry. But that's not what I was made for. At least not for very long. God had other plans for me. God's ways.we eventually learn, are often not our ways.

When an architect first helped us imagine how our ten-acre parcel of land might be developed as a gathering place for worship and fellowship and as an outpost for mission we designed it in phases based on what was immediately necessary and what was initially affordable. The first step was to build a sanctuary since everything we do emerges from the primacy of worship. Next, we created educational space for children and youth. Then, because of some generous donations of money, talent, and labor, we built the outdoor timber frame pavilion. Lastly, we constructed a facility for the New Hope Resource Center to meet that ministry's growing needs. If we had been able to do everything at once, we would have missed many of the opportunities that later came along. We really have had to figure it out, one step at a time.

With some frequency these days I find myself strolling the grounds, remembering the afternoon in 1997 when I walked this land for the first time, back when it was just trees and weeds, in an effort to discern if this was where God was calling me. Inevitably my thoughts turn to this congregation's development throughout the last two decades. And it always leaves me feeling humbled when I see the beyond-my -imagination-ways our ministry has developed. It also leaves me feeling profoundly grateful that God refuses to be limited by my paltry plans.

Recently, in response to an informal congregational survey, and a much more careful, prayerful process of discernment, our leaders have determined that it's time to take the next steps toward completing our master plan by undertaking the next phase of construction. In general terms, I expect this new space will function primarily as a fellowship hall, although there will undoubtedly be other uses, only some of which we have so far imagined, but which surely include outreach. A building task force, led by Elder Bob Olson, has been established to lead a process to help realize this next chapter in our life together.

Wherever we end up, ultimately, I take solace in the biblical proverb that "the human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established" (19:21). What we know is that as we make plans for this next phase of our little mission outpost, God will surely re-Master them along the way in accordance with the purposes for which this congregation exists (hint: it's not about us).

Ron Lacey---our first architect---completed his baptism a few years ago, before the master plan he originally conceived for us was fully realized. I imagine him now, with Jesus, overseeing our life together, taking note of our little, short-sighted plans, and having a good laugh.

Grace and peace, 
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Sep 2018)

For Such A Place As This
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
~Psalm 37:4 

Some folks will tell you they were born at the wrong time in history. Occasionally, for example, 1 hear people say that they would have been better suited for the simplicity and hard work of a pioneer lifestyle typical of the nineteenth century westward expansion. Or to live during the Victori­an era, particularly with respect to British art and culture.
Me? Being born and raised during the 1960s worked out just fine. The issue wasn't the time, it was the place. I was born in the wrong geography. Without going into the details, I'll just say that there is almost nothing I miss about my native Maryland. Oh, it was fine, as one of the thirteen original colonies go, but my soul was apparently made for something larger.
I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest at an early age. Spending my summers under the Big Sky of Montana, I learned to climb mountains, fish in alpine lakes, and hunt for huckleberries. When I graduated from high school, Whitworth University was my ticket west, followed by a couple of years working as a carpenter in Spokane.
Later, after wrapping up a three-year exile back to the east coast in order to attend seminary, I found myself in a season of deep discernment: where would this call on my life take me? Where would the divine Voice send me? I recall one particular moment as I was completing my resume. On the standardized forms of that day was a page to identity geographical interests. Each of the fifty states and territories of the U.S. were listed individually, along with other countries where the Presby­terian Church had a missionary presence. And then, at the bottom of the page was a lone box next to which were the ominous words, "consider me for any opportunity in the world." Because I believed then as I do now that my life is not my own, I had no choice but to check that little box with the massive implications. And then, just before I released the manila envelope into the mouth of the mailbox I prayed, "But Lord, you know my heart is in the Pacific Northwest."
In the intervening weeks, after interviewing with pastoral search committees from Florida to California, I was called first to a well-established church in Tacoma, and then---seven years later---to a not-yet-existent-one in Colbert. Looking back on it now I don't know that I would have delighted in this blessed vocation nearly as much had I been located in a much different place. And in this moment, I simply want to marvel out loud with you over the goodness of our God in answering a whispered prayer on a Princeton street corner twenty-eight years ago, by giving a young man one of the deepest desires of his heart: to be transplanted among the Evergreens.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Aug 2018)

Making A List
If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes,
and I will not blot your name out of the book of life.
~Revelation 3:5

I’m a list-maker.
It’s one of the ways I organize my days by writing down the tasks that I want to accomplish. Not having a supervisor, and being self-directed, it’s one of the ways I try to manage the gift of freedom and responsibility that comes with this blessed vocation, by identifying work that I believe is of greatest importance. Along with the vocational freedom associated with this calling comes the ability to squander it, and so my lists keep me on track and accountable so I don’t fritter away my time.
Moreover, I’m finding that my memory is not what it once was, and I’m prone to forget. If I add them to my list as the ideas and plans come to mind, I’m less likely to let things slip by, only to have them jolt me awake in the middle of the night when they inconveniently sneak back into my consciousness.
But (and here��s a confession) perhaps the biggest reason I make up my daily to-do list is that it gives me a sense of accomplishment. When I head home at the end of a day and see all of those beautiful lines crossing off my self-imposed assignments, it gives me a sense of satisfaction, like I did something worthwhile that day. I justified my existence and my salary. And I can go home feeling good about myself. Again, I’m not proud to admit this as it reveals the vestiges of a works righteousness ethic within me that refuses to die.
The week that I spent on the Camino de Santiago in Spain earlier this summer gave me a blessed respite from my addiction to lists. On the Camino there is only one essential task: walk. The only thing to accomplish each day is to get from one town to the next. That’s the sole goal: put one foot in front of the other and repeat this two-step pattern for eighteen miles or so. Don’t return emails or phone calls or library books. Don’t write a sermon. Don’t get a haircut. Just walk. Having that as the one task to accomplish every day was accompanied by a profound sense of spaciousness that allowed me to have what is for me the rare experience of “clearing my mind.” Taking a sabbatical from lists was good for me.
I take some comfort in seeing that God is also a list-maker.
However, God’s lists are not composed of tasks to be done, or reminders due to forgetfulness, or a device for tracking accomplishments in order to feel good about Godself. Rather, God’s lists are comprised of the personal names of his children, recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God, I believe, delights in listing the names of the baptized in his book. And since they are inscribed with indelible ink, he wouldn’t even think about crossing any of them off. Because it’s not a to-do list. It’s a to-die-for list. For God so loves the world.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jul 2018)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor, Leesa Birdsall:

Teach Us to Pray
 I am increasingly convinced that if the Church is to live, and actually be alive, one of the reasons, maybe the most important and maybe even the only reason, will be because we have taken up our place in the line of the generations of the faithful who came before us. It will be because we pray the prayer that Christ himself prayed when he walked among us and now longs to pray through us … It will be because we make sure that the wave of prayer that sustained the Church for all time does not stop when it is our turn to say it each day. It will be because we answer the ancient call to pray without ceasing.

 ~Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer

If you were to scan the big, built-in, hand-crafted, made-with-love-by-my-husband bookcase in my family room, or the cupboards of books in my office/Comfort Room at church, you will notice that there are more than a few titles that contain the word “prayer.”  A Guidebook to Prayer, by Mary Kate Morse.  Prayer, by Richard Foster.  2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell.  Celtic Daily Prayer, first and second editions.  Praying the Psalms, by Walter Brueggemann.  Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, by David Steindl-Rast.  Just to name a few.  And in case you are wondering, yes, I have read them all and probably more. 
            These thoughtful writings have been helpful resources in my studies and have encouraged me in my own prayer life.  Some focus on specific ways of praying, others, as in the first two titles above, cover the wide spectrum of prayer.  I love reading about the different approaches to what I consider the “mysterious communion” with God and how prayer can deepen our relationship with the Lord and each other.  I also appreciate that, just as God’s creation is wholly and beautifully diverse, so are the ways and opportunities we have to commune with our Creator and Redeemer.
            I was struck, however, by the powerfully insightful words of Robert Benson (quoted above), when I read part of his book for my “Prayer” class this spring.  We were studying liturgical and communal prayer during that week, and I remember thinking, “Wow, we could all use this reminder now and again.”
            It brought to mind my retreat in Iona, Scotland, where I entered into the rhythms of the island, joining the folks at Bishop’s House in the chapel each morning and evening for communal prayer.  With voices from all over the world, I prayed the ancient liturgies.  It seemed to unite us, while linking us to the church throughout the ages.  Our collective voices raised together, we not only prayed for ourselves and our loved ones, we prayed for the church universal and we prayed for the world.  There was something powerful in it that remained with me long after my return home, as if somehow I’d become connected to something greater than myself.  And for the year that followed, I committed myself to inviting others to join me in a weekly time of corporate liturgical prayer using the Celtic Daily Prayer Book.  It was a gift.
            I could be wrong, but it seems to me like so many other parts of our culture, prayer has become something personal and private.  We say things like “my prayer life,” or “my prayer time,” if we speak of prayer at all.  When historically the church, along with our Jewish ancestors, saw prayer as a communal thing.  The early church took to heart Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there …” And remember how the disciples entreated Jesus, “Teach us to pray ....” To which, he responded with a prayer that included plural pronouns: “Our Father in heaven … give us today our daily bread …”  Reminding us that we are part of a larger body of believers.
             I’m convinced there is something for us to pay attention to in Benson’s call for our prayer lives.  In a world that is increasingly individualistic, where folks are “looking out for number one,” the church would do well to recover its roots in corporate prayer, coming together as the Body of Christ and attuning our hearts to His will for our lives.  Where once again we ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Not to negate all of the wisdom of the ages of prayer, nor all the books on my shelves with all of their wonderfully diverse teachings, but I wonder if we might just as well simplify it to that one important prayer spoken together.  Maybe, just maybe, the minute during our worship service when we raise our voices in unison to pray, as Jesus taught, is the most powerful minute of our entire week together.  Prayer is part of our DNA at Colbert, and I wonder if we might faithfully consider seeking other opportunities to join our voices, as one body, in prayer.
Grace and peace,
Leesa Birdsall

(Newsletter Jun 2018)

Breathing Lessons
 Then the Lord God . . . breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and the man became a living being.
~Genesis 2
I feel closer to what language can’t reach . . . enter
the breathing that is more than your own.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Every time a nurse gets ready to check my blood pressure I ask for a few moments’ pause in order to first close my eyes, go to my place of serenity, and breathe deeply. It’s a meditative practice I’ve learned that gets the old B.P. at least somewhat close to a normal range and keeps the docs from throwing prescriptions at me. For a guy that usually looks pretty laid back on the outside, I seem to be wired pretty tightly on the inside. And as we all know, mounting pressure on the inside can be dangerous; take a lesson from Kilauea, the active volcano in Hawaii. Everything and everyone needs a pressure-relief valve. Knowing this, the Designer of our lives built one in and named it “Sabbath”---one day each week to take a break from work, to enjoy the gifts of the creation. To catch our breath. Additionally, every once in a while, it’s good to enter an extended Sabbath season.
            Back in the summer of 2006 I took a three-month Sabbatical, following the first eight years of this congregation’s life. Those were exciting days, full of growth, ministry development, and construction projects. They were also exhausting years, and I limped into that Sabbatical barely sucking air. In most ways the time away was good and restorative, and I look back on that summer of rest and exploration and reflection as a gift. But my return to work 100 days later was pretty rocky. In fact, I almost burned up on re-entry. There are probably multiple reasons for that, but one of them, I believe, was the extended time away that disrupted my weekly rhythms of worship-work-play-rest.
            Hoping for a smoother transition I asked our Session if I could spread out my next Sabbatical over three years, one month at a time. They agreed, and this first mini-Sabbatical will be from May 28 to June 25. Here are the highlights: I’ll spend eight days in Spain, walking a stretch of the Camino de Santiago with my dear friend, Michael LeRoy. Later in the month, my daughter Sadie will accompany me for a trip to Princeton where I will give a lecture on Karl Barth that my father wrote but is no longer able to deliver. In between those flying trips will be road trips with Elizabeth to places like Nelson, B.C., Moscow, ID, and Lakeside, MT. In each case “we’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow,��������� taking in beauty and solitude. Hiking on trails. Breathing deeply.
            The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden, they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any further. When asked why, they explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.
            As one who has been entrusted with the care of souls, I appreciate our congregation’s recognition that I also need to take time to pay attention to my own soul, to attend to its needs and to honor the invitations it extends to me. It begins with the breath. Breathe on me breath of God.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter May 2018)

 I shall govern peoples, and nations will be subject to me.
~Wisdom of Solomon 8:14

I’m writing this in my study during a power outage. There was an unhappy car-versus-utility pole meeting early this morning, and I am watching the good folks from Avista doing the repair work across the street from the church. Fortunately, it’s a warm, sunny day, and the battery in my laptop has a good charge, so I can cobble some words together for this monthly missive without any serious discomfort or inconvenience.
    Observation: What’s different from normal is that I’m facing fewer distractions. No electricity means no phones, which also means no internet service, which means no email or World Wide Sink Hole, which means fewer reasons to multi-task and procrastinate. I almost always like it when this happens. Once I finally settle in to this darker, quieter environment I enjoy the slower pace along with my newfound ability to stay focused on one thing at a time.
    For all of the technological gifts and advances that come from modernity—making our work more productive and our lives more efficient—it is accompanied by collateral damage to our souls. And souls require, among other things, solitude and beauty in order to flourish. My favorite nature-theologian, John Muir, famously said that, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
     Observation: Here’s something I’ve grown to notice about myself: I have a built-in anxiety barometer that I have learned to pay attention to. The barometer shows up in the form of a particular song from my childhood. “Gonna jump down, spin around, pick a bale of cotton. Jump down spin around, pick a bale a day. Oh, lordy, pick a bale of cotton. Oh, lordy, pick a bale a day.” Depending on my level of anxiety, the song will repeat in my head, increasing in tempo. Silly, I know. Perhaps even pathological. But it is an accurate barometer to measure my anxiety, and a dependable indicator that my crowded, noisy soul needs to be reclaimed for holiness.
I spent the summer of my twenty-first year logging 40,000 miles behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. During my training I learned that it was equipped with a governor which limited the engine speed, and therefore the ground speed. The governor restricted both the engine’s revolutions per minute, and the bus’s miles per hour. Sometimes this was frustrating, like when I was late for a pick-up, but it prevented me from getting a speeding ticket, and it made for a longer-lasting engine.
    I was familiar with governors because I used to tinker with small engines as a teenager. One spring, when the grass had grown so tall that it was almost impossible to mow, I disabled the governor on a lawn mower, and was immediately impressed by how much more power it had. I was pretty impressed with myself as well, for my ability to get more work out of that little engine. That is, until the piston rod broke and destroyed it.
    Observation: I have a growing pastoral concern that we have adopted lifestyles that exceed the specifications for which we were designed. We squeeze in more work and play by lengthening our days and shortening our nights. We consume stimulants, and we ignore Sabbath. In a variety of ways, we tinker with our God-given governors that keep us from “throwing a rod.” Many a hospital visit I’ve made has revealed to me that we remove these governors to our peril.
    There is a singular Governor for our souls who travels through this world at the modest pace of a pedestrian. (Have you ever noticed that the Gospels never show Jesus moving any faster than a walk?) To walk the Jesus Way means allowing him to govern our ambitions, our schedules, even our speed, taking great care not to outpace him.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Apr 2018)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor, Leesa Birdsall:

Entertaining Angels
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
~Hebrews 13:1-2

Some people have the distinct gift of hospitality. In fact, I reckon without much effort, all of us can think of someone we know who is able to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere wherever they are.  I immediately think my late in-laws, Duwaine and Shirley, who were grape farmers in Prosser.  It never mattered how much work needed to be accomplished, there was always time for coffee and a treat if a neighbor stopped by.  Inevitably, a car would announce itself in billowing dust in the driveway, and within moments, ready conversation would commence, leading immediately to the kitchen table (despite the impatient groans and protests it raised in their children, who often worked alongside them and wanted to get the job done).  People and relationships always came first.
My grandma Gladys was another.  I believe one of the great joys in her life was to have friends and strangers show up at the door, which they frequently did. Immediately, she would leave what she was doing to usher them in, lavishly offering a hot cup of tea and her endless supply of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, along with the gift of her time and listening ear.  My in-laws and my grandparents loved visitors, friend or stranger. I’ve always admired the warmth and welcome they all exuded, and deep inside it is something I’ve longed to emulate.
I will admit, however, that as an introvert living in a suburban neighborhood, I’ve found this to be a little more difficult.  My door does not swing open to just anyone who stops by, and I rarely use my mother in-law’s beloved “cowboy cookie” recipe. But Jesus’ words in Matthew, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…,” give me pause, and challenge me to make this more of a priority in my life.  Especially as I think of the Old Testament ethic, which reminds us to “love the stranger,” for we have all at one time or another been strangers.  Some people have the extraordinary gift of hospitality, but the truth is we are all called to be gracious and hospitable, though it may take some practice.  But if you are like me, you will find that the more hospitality is practiced, the more natural it becomes.
Over the last few months I’ve had the joy of witnessing this congregation practicing hospitality.  A couple of Sundays ago, there were visitors in our midst and I watched as they were warmly greeted and surrounded by a number of you.  On a particularly crowded morning a pair of you found another place to sit, in order that a family might worship together.  Additionally, there have been unexpected offers from folks to step up and be greeters at the front door (one of the easiest, most natural places to practice---I urge you to try it!).  And though it isn’t always convenient or comfortable, many of you have been stretching yourselves by moving to the center of the rows at the beginning of worship, allowing newcomers and late arrivers to readily find a seat.  You also demonstrated great patience during the long, overextended visit of the RVs in the parking lot.  And, finally, I continue to marvel at the gracious tolerance you all have for the noise of children during worship.  These are just a few of many ways hospitality is happening in our midst, and it does my heart good to know that, even in a somewhat introverted church, it is being practiced so beautifully. 
For those of you who are more like me, I would invite you to challenge yourselves a little bit.  If you need help finding a way, you might connect with someone on the Deacon, Outreach, or Fellowship teams.  I believe you won’t be disappointed.  In fact, someday, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you’ve “entertained angels without even knowing it.”
Grace and Peace,
Leesa Birdsall

(Newsletter Mar 2018)

Prophet’s Chambers
I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us
~Psalm 143:6

It started when Elizabeth and I were talking about having space for the three visiting “bigs” to stay in since the three “littles” had taken over their childhood bedrooms. The conversation evolved as we thought about the possibility of our parents eventually coming to live with us for extended periods of time. And it developed further still when we considered how nice it would be to have accommodations for overnight guests. All of that led to having our friend, Jeff Fountain, draw up plans to increase the square footage of our house, an addition now known fondly as The Prophet’s Chambers.

Since the days when an old Shunammite couple decided to add on to their house to accommodate the prophet Elisha whenever he was passing through, people of faith have been creating spaces in their homes in order to welcome guests who need a place to rest. Far better than a hotel, these prophet’s chambers are extensions of households complete with all their domestic charms and idiosyncratic beauty. The semi-permeable membrane known as a door allows for either interpersonal interaction, or privacy and quiet.

I’ve been surprised and pleased at how well-used our prophet’s chambers have already become. All of the bigs have come in for a test run, and a good number of friends, relatives, and relative strangers have given it a whirl as well. Most recently, my parents spent six weeks occupying that space as they are now transitioning into a season of life when they require more assistance in their day-to-day rhythms. It was a holy gift to have them that close for that long.

In the years ahead, I expect that it will be open to missionaries, refugees, and people who need emergency shelter. I also wonder about the unexpected guests we will be privileged to host, simply because the space is available. Whoever shows up, Elizabeth and I have learned to welcome all guests as Christ knowing that some people who have extended hospitality to strangers have ended up entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Feb 2018)

Stretching Exercises
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
~Psalm 143:6

There is something about being stretched to the limits that has a way of increasing one’s capacity. Bend your body toward the floor for a minute every day, and eventually you’ll be touching your toes again. Suffer with chronic pain long enough and your threshold for tolerating the discomfort goes up. Go through a season that is characterized by one challenge after another, stretching you thin---even to the breakpoint---and you may be surprised to find that you can handle much more than you ever believed possible. Stretching increases our capacity---body, mind, and spirit.
And since everything---as I have been working hard to convince you for the last twenty years!---has to do with baptism, you will not be surprised to know that the word “fathom,” usually used to refer to a depth of six feet of water, literally means “a stretch of the arms.” The baptized way of life plunges us into the deep end of the pool of life, immersing us in circumstances where we frequently find ourselves way over our heads, “out of our depth,” as they say. It’s not hard to feel overwhelmed, especially when the waves are crashing overhead. Treading in these waters, however, strengthens us in ways we couldn’t have previously fathomed.
I’ve been feeling stretched in some new ways recently. It can be a bit uncomfortable at times, and is frequently overwhelming; sometimes I wonder if it’s sustainable. However, I’ve been surprised and pleased to discover that, just when I think I’m at my limit, my limitations expand. I call this grace. One of the effects of these stretching days is that my capacity for gratitude has also increased: with few exceptions, I end my days with a word of thanks on my lips. I call this grace as well.
The soul, your soul, is endlessly resilient, and it has great capacity for growth during its earthly pilgrimage. At nearly every twist and turn, every bend and break of life there are plenty of opportunities to exercise our faith. More kinesthetic than sedentary, the life of discipleship keeps us moving. We walk, we lean toward heaven, we follow Jesus. Emerging from the pain of life is the miracle that, with every movement we make, with every stretch of faith, we are exercising the fibers that increase our capacity for joy, fitting us for a life as big as the Kingdom of God.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jan 2018)

Treasures Old And New
Christianity is a progressive enterprise.
Our vastly enlarged perspectives of knowledge should
open up fresh vistas of religious faith.
The Bible . . . may be still pregnant with unsuspected lessons . . .

~Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

I’ve been chewing on that quote for about three years now. It’s still not fully digested in my mind, but it rings true to my (somewhat) sanctified common sense. There was a time, back in some of my early years of discipleship, when I would have been offended by such a suggestion. The bumper sticker for my faith in those days used to read, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” I believed that God’s truth was absolute, static, and non-negotiable. I also believed that I had a pretty good grasp on it. Since that time, I have repented of my arrogance more than once.
            Because as I got older I was exposed to perspectives that pointed out the limitations and biases I carry with me due to being a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, middle-class, North American, straight male. I traveled to other parts of the world, read books, and listened to people who were vastly and wonderfully different than me. Gradually---though sometimes rapidly---I realized that my little perch wasn’t the only perspective from which to see and comprehend the world.
            While studying church history, I came to understand how mainline, orthodox Christianity has, in fact, evolved and progressed, based on new information, and has emerged from careful (not always civil) conversations between people in search of truth. Today I am grateful for the progress that has been made so that the church is no longer condoning things like crusades, indulgences, sexism, misogyny, slavery, and witch hunts. I also wonder what we remain wrong about, in both little and in large ways, because to believe that we have arrived at a point of perfection, with a complete grasp of truth, is the height of arrogance.
            My own journey of becoming has, additionally, been influenced by my observation that the older, wiser people I most admired, were people who were always learning, always open to new ideas, eager to grow in their understanding of the complexities of the world and the mysteries of faith. Because of these people, I resolved to be a life-long learner, by approaching life with curiosity and humility.
            None of this is to say that all new ideas or trends or practices are necessarily good. Far from it. All new notions should be carefully discerned through the lens of church history, under the authority of the holy scriptures, and in the context of the Christian community. I have found that John Wesley’s Quadrilateral made up of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience is a helpful method for progressing toward truth.
            In the newness of a New Year, may we locate our lives in the steadiness of a time-tested and enduring faith that is as solid as the Rock on which it is founded. And may we be open to the ways the Holy Spirit is enlarging our perspective, correcting our false assumptions, and opening us to fresh vistas of divine truth. May we, in other words, live as those scribes Jesus once commended, people who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven, “who are like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Dec 2017)

Slow Motion
(based on some reflections by Joan Chittester)

I think the bears may have it right. There is something about this time of year that invites a counter-cultural plunge into darkness and rest: hibernation. Insofar as I understand the physics of it, time is a constant; it can neither speed up, nor slow down. All that we have control over is the speed with which we move through space and time. In the cadence of life, there are some seasons which demand that we “floor it!” with heightened intensity, and there are other occasions in which to receive the gift of leisurely attentiveness. Advent is the liturgical sign on the highway of discipleship that reads, “Slow Down.”
            Advent---the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious---trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored, or flat-out missed because we were traveling too dad-gummed fast. Advent is about walking slowly, and learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is---whether painful or pleasurable---is a clear indicator that God is at work in us. We are becoming as we go. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well-lived can possibly usher us into joy.
            In the fullness of space and time, we discover that life is not meant to be either rushed or escaped, but to be embraced on its own terms. It is meant to be plumbed to its depths, to be tasted and savored. Life, we eventually come to know, is an exercise in transformation, the mechanics of which take a lifetime of practice, of patience, of slow, slow growth.
            By taking us gently into the depth of what it means to be a human on the way to God---to suffer and to wonder, to know abandonment and betrayal, to believe and to doubt, to love and to lose---Advent breaks us open to the divine presence. It gives us the energy to become the fullness of our very selves, souls lying in wait for God.
            The great gift of an annual season of Advent hibernation is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do. When year after year we hear the same scriptures and the same hymns of longing for the life to come, of which this one is only its shadow, it becomes impossible to ignore the longings of the soul.
            We all want something more.  Advent asks the question: what is it for which you are spending your life?  What is the star you are following now, and where is it leading you?  Is it a place that is really big enough to satiate the longings of your holy, hungry soul? Given our answers, we might all do well to slow down a bit more, lest we miss the Object of our anticipation.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Nov 2017)

Wood and Nails
 O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last,
 through wood and nails, purchased our whole salvation,
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may here be fashioned
 to a truer beauty of your hand.

~From the Iona Abbey

When it comes to making and repairing, God’s preferred means are words. Out of nothing at all, God’s spoken word creates brand new people and things (“Let there be light!”), and then God’s spoken word redeems the people and things which have been deranged by sin and death (“Lazarus, come out!”). Whenever God speaks, something significant is bound to happen. 
            However, in the economy of the Kingdom, words are not the only means available to fix people and things gone bad. God has also seen fit to use material objects as agents of re-creation. When God’s Word---in a magnificent display of self-revelation---became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14; MSG), it took on physical characteristics which happen to look very much like you and me. The coupling of Word and Sacrament is epitomized in the life of Christ, who not only took on the fullness of our humanity, but also the entirety of our physical life, including the stuff of our existence. Consider this:
            When Jesus first entered the world, the container for the Christ-Child was a Bethlehem feed trough. His welcome mat to this world was a manger made of Wood and Nails. 
            As he grew up, Jesus took it from there. Raised as the son of a carpenter, becoming familiar with the tools of that noble trade, becoming fond of the smell of fresh-cut wood, he became skillful with hammer and nails. At the age of thirty-three, when he purchased our salvation on a Calvary cross, his adult body was---as his infant body once was---again, in intimate contact with Wood and Nails.
            In other words, Wood and Nails are the stuff of incarnation, and of crucifixion. They were among the holy materials present and necessary on the occasions of Christ’s birth, and of his death. But that’s not all. Since the Body of Christ continues to live on as the Church, there’s more.
            About fifteen hundred years later, when the church was careening off the twin rails of truth and grace, a young Augustinian monk launched an ecclesiastical revolution when he nailed his now-famous 95 theses to the wooden door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. Wood and nails, you see, are also the stuff of reformation.
            As I survey the buildings that have been constructed on our church site over the last two decades, I am mindful of the many board feet of wood, and the many cases of nails that were used in creating this outpost for the mission of God in North Spokane County. And while our buildings and grounds are beautiful, there are flaws in the actual ministry that we have undertaken together. The imperfections which riddle our work (this will be obvious to anybody) cannot be fixed through wood and nails, but they can, nonetheless, be remedied through the kind of personal humility that is receptive to repentance, and open to change.
            Our Reformation Door, with its wood and nails at the ready, is a standing testimony to these changes that are courting our attention: issues, ideas, and behaviors that need to be subjected to the hand of our Master Carpenter, so that---by embracing Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Reformation---we can be fashioned to a truer beauty.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Oct 2017)

 … the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all your undertakings, and you shall surely celebrate
~Deuteronomy 16:15

As far as destinations go, nobody ever arrives. At least not in this life. Every so-called “arrival” is only a pit stop on the way to our final, mortal day. We live our lives within the sacred container of covenants---baptism and marriage are the big ones---which are fulfilled only upon our eventual demise. Our life of discipleship is finished only in death. The marriage we might share with a partner is not complete until one or the other dies. Until that fateful day, we remain ever on the way; becomers. Everything along the way, no matter how many goals have been attained, are merely milestones, not finish lines.
                However, for churches and its members who are seeking to be semper reformanda---always reforming--- it’s important to stop and celebrate significant milestones. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and retirements are among the significant occasions in our lives worthy of celebration. They are occasions to reflect, to rest, to learn, and then to give some consideration to the next leg of the journey.
            On October 29---Reformation Sunday---Colbert Presbyterian will celebrate its 20th anniversary as a worshipping congregation (we have not missed a single Sunday since the Fall of 1997!). Far from a self-congratulatory pat on the back, this will be an occasion for us to acknowledge the many ways our faithful God has blessed us, and has produced a bumper crop of the fruits of the Spirit. Look for details in the coming weeks, but please mark your calendar now and plan to gather that evening for a time of reflection and celebration as we observe our platinum anniversary.
            Between 5:30 and 7:30 we will gather in the Genesis Center for a “best of potluck” (bring your favorite brag-worthy dish). Ben will lead us in some special music. The Jubilation troupe from Whitworth University will share a specially-choreographed dance. We will hear stories from people whose lives have been touched by Colbert’s ministry over the years. We will receive greetings and blessings from Whitworth, our mother church. And we will thank charter members who planted the seeds for this church. Additionally, we have some gifts to send you home with to help add to the festive atmosphere.
            We haven’t yet arrived, and we still have far to go on our earthly pilgrimage. But we have traveled some considerable time and distance together over the last two decades. Surely, it will be a good time to pull up some chairs, and pull out some memories, and celebrate.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Sep 2017)

Beyond The Numbers
 Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

~The Letter to The Hebrews

Since its unfortunate integration of business models adopted from the corporate world, beginning in the 1950s, the church of North America has been fixated on plans, programs, mission statements, success, growth, and—perhaps most of all—numbers. The three numbers that church leaders pay the most attention to are related to membership, attendance, and revenue: how many people call this their church home? How many people, on average, are showing up for worship? Are we making budget?
Being a child of the 1960s, I readily admit that I pay close attention to such things. And I am sincerely happy to say that our numbers are looking pretty good these days. However, I am convinced that these particular figures are not the most accurate indicators of congregational health, and if we rely only on them we may be lulled into a false sense of well-being. My pastoral instincts lead me to look beyond the numbers in an effort to determine the overall fitness level of the Body of Christ.
The area of our life together that I am most concerned about presently is the quality of our fellowship. While Colbert is, hands-down, the kindest congregation I’ve ever known, I am persuaded that if we are to deepen our discipleship, if we are to mature spiritually, and if we are to be effective agents for the Kingdom of God in this community, we must not neglect gathering together as the people of God. Something about the way we have been designed suggests that the good life is found in community, not in isolation. We are relational by divine design. Relationships, however, do not happen automatically; they require time and intentionality. It’s true for friendship, for marriages, and for Christian fellowship.
This fall, rather than offering an adult Sunday School class, I am encouraging you to participate in a fellowship experiment. Each Sunday, a pair of elders will circle up some chairs and facilitate an hour-long small group conversation (beginning at 9:35) that will include some combination of sharing, scripture reading, reflection, and prayer. We’ll also provide some simple food for you to enjoy. Look for the sign-up sheet in the narthex this month to indicate your interest. But if you don’t sign up, don’t be surprised if you get a personal invitation to participate in one of these fellowship circles.
Time is the great equalizer. Each of us is entrusted with exactly 168 hours a week to manage. As you consider your portfolio of time, I urge that priority be given to setting aside a few hours for Sunday morning worship and fellowship. These relationships are precious, even holy. We need one another in order to bring out the best in each other.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Aug 2017)

The Way Is Made By Walking

Where I live, there is trail that meanders through the woods behind my house. It exists because, over the course of the last twenty years, I have walked the same way, creating a path. Day after day, in season and out, I have spent my mornings following what I have christened the Moose Trail, in honor of an enormous bull I encountered one day, many years ago. Over time, the accumulation of many steps has forged a path in the woods. Walking has created the way.
If you were to catch a peek of me on one of these mornings, it wouldn’t look like much. Just a middle-aged man walking slowly, sipping strong, black coffee, stopping for the occasional grouse that I’ve inadvertently flushed, startling me from my thoughts. Otherwise, I’m in some unimpressive rhythm of seeing what I can see, paying attention to my life, listening for God.
Some people may look at that ritualistic pattern and say, “How boring! Why don’t you try something new? Go off trail! Adventure out! Bushwhack a little, for crying out loud!” But when you don’t have to pay attention to route-finding, when you don’t have to think about where to place your next step, something beautiful happens: when the mind doesn’t have to work so hard, the soul is free to play.
I’ve also noticed that when I neglect my morning liturgy for a period of time, the path---with startling rapidity---becomes overtaken. Weeds and brush move in, obfuscating the path. Upon my eventual return, I have to pay closer attention to where I����m going, where I’m stepping, so that I don’t stumble or lose my way.
This is the genius and the gift of Christian liturgy: the weekly patterns of divine worship establish a path that leads us Godward. We sing our songs, we say our prayers, we attend the scriptures, and we celebrate the sacraments. These patterns, over time, form us more fully as citizens in the Kingdom of God. They establish us in the path of righteousness. They groove us in the way of godliness.
In the way that is known as the Jesus Way, there are spiritual practices that form us for life in the Kingdom of God. The rhythms of worship, involving the week-after-week gathering of the people of God, I am persuaded, are essential for ushering us further down the way known as the Jesus Way. It’s a well-worn path, created by the movements of centuries of pilgrims, leading us into the very presence of the One revealed to us and known to us as The Way, The Truth, The Life.
The Sundays accumulate. They add up. They create grooves in the soul for the Holy Spirit to inhabit. Therefore, let us discipline ourselves to remain steady and steadfast on this pilgrim journey, lest we lose our way.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jul 2017)

Long-Term Investing
 Your kingdom come, your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.

The late Sir John Templeton, arguably one of the most successful financial investors of the 20th century, had a knack for taking to an extreme the adage “buy low, sell high.” Studiously, he chose stocks whose value was tanking with “maximum pessimism”---sometimes even from companies that were in bankruptcy---and then patiently he held on to them long enough for them to recover and flourish. For example, if you were one of the fortunate people to have entrusted $10,000 of your money to him in 1954, you would have become a millionaire twice over by 1992. That’s a very good return on an investment, if you’re able to start early and are willing to wait for thirty-eight years.
            Trust me when I tell you not to take financial advice from me; I don’t know the first thing about it, mostly because I have no interest in it. But I am interested in more fully investing the resources of my life in the Kingdom of God. And John Templeton may have some cross-over advice worth heeding. His strategy, for starters, involved moving to the Bahamas, well away from the freneticism of Wall Street, and the daily ups and downs of the stock market. From the distance of his home in the Bahamas he was able to study trends, monitor markets, and unemotionally make the kinds of decisions that paid off handsomely over time.
            I’m not suggesting that any of us move away. But in an age when our thinking has shrunk to the bit size of a meme, and when our range of vision has been reduced to the short distance to the screen before us, when memory of the past gets swallowed up by the demands of the urgent-now, and when it is, therefore, difficult to keep the big picture in mind, when it is, additionally, easy to get tossed about by the immediacy of every wind of change, we might do well to take a lesson from a man who set his sights high, and who committed himself for the long term.
            Investing our lives in the Kingdom of God, right here on good old planet earth, working for the day, anticipating the day, even groaning for the day when the throne of Christ lands among us, along with the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth, is the chief work of our lives. The diverse investment portfolio of the church represents the many and varied ways each of us contributes our little shares that add up and multiply over time.
            I have enjoyed caring for a few fruit trees up on Greenbluff this spring: pruning, thinning, spraying, mostly. The apples and the cherries are simply loading the branches, promising a bumper crop of fruit later this summer. When those trees were first planted decades ago---long before I showed up---they stuck out of the ground like so many unpromising sticks, and for several years they didn’t produce any fruit at all. But over the years, as they have been tended and managed, they have grown, and blossomed, and now are producing beautiful, delicious, and nutritious fruit.
            After being asked what he would do, if he knew that Jesus would be returning the next day, Martin Luther is reported to have responded by saying, “I would plant an apple tree.”
            I am grateful for the faithful women and men of earlier generations who not only believed in, but who participated in a better, bountiful future, through steady discipline and commitment, even when they did not personally benefit from their investments. Regardless of the age of our bodies, or the year of our Lord, or the season of life, there are people of God who have taken up the fiduciary responsibility of investing for the long-term health and prosperity of the planet, until Kingdom come. These are the saints among us, with a vision that extends through the eons, reminding us that every day is a good day to plant a tree.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jun 2017)


Discerning the Voices
Prepare our hearts, O Lord, to accept your Word. 
Silence in us any voice but your own, that hearing we may also obey your will. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

That prayer, which comes from the old Book of Common Worship, is the prayer that I heard every Sunday for 19 years as I was growing up in my home church in Bel Air, Maryland. Christ Our King Presbyterian, like Colbert Presbyterian, is located on the corner of a busy highway.  The church of my adulthood is at the intersection of Highway 2 and Colbert Rd. The church of my childhood can be found at the corner of Route 1 and Lexington Rd. The obvious things those two churches have in common? They are Presbyterian; the organizing pastors were Petersons; and this prayer: “Prepare our hearts, O Lord, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voice but your own, that hearing we may also obey your will.” Though you might initially assume that it’s a prayer for people suffering from schizophrenia, it’s known as the prayer for illumination, and it was always offered right before the sermon was preached.
            Being a fourth-generation pastor, you could say that serving you as a minister of Word and Sacrament is an indication that I went into the family business. On both sides of my family tree there have been and are pastors and missionaries, in the form of both Pentecostals and Presbyterians who have served from Osaka, Japan to Omak, Washington. But in each case, members of an extended family of men and women who have been called to proclaim the Word of God.
            In ways that I don’t fully understand I represent a continuation of ministry that has been taking place on both sides of my biological and spiritual gene pool for many years. I am the person and the pastor I am today because I am an heir to a rich, spiritual legacy. The gift of that legacy has also been tempered by some unique challenges, particularly as I have struggled to find my own voice rather than simply to mimic the voices I have grown up with and around. I’ve worked hard over the last twenty-seven years to differentiate my own voice from the pastoral voices of my great-grandfather, my grandmother, my three uncles, my two cousins, and my dad. 
            But every Sunday morning there is a moment that represents a continuation of my father’s voice:  this prayer of illumination, offered on behalf of his congregation for twenty-nine consecutive years, a prayer that gradually and quietly worked its way into my imagination, and which has been a consistent part of our liturgy here for the past twenty years.  “Silence in us any voice but your own.” 
            The prayer betrays the assumption that there are many voices that reach our ears.  Some more appealing than others, and often in competition with one another, contradicting each other.  We come to worship week after week seeking God, hungering for a Word from the Lord, while accompanied by the din of other voices telling us who we are, what we should do, what’s really important.  A lot of voices vying for our attention, courting our allegiance, imposing demands.  Lots of voices.  And they threaten, at times, to crowd out the voice of God.  They are sometimes even loud enough to speak over a Word from the Lord.  And so we pray, “silence in us any voice but your own.”
            From the baptismal waters of the Jordan to the arid scabland of the wilderness Jesus heard the same voices we all hear: a Word from heaven; a Word from hell.  The voice of God; the voice of Satan.  A word of pleasure; a word of enticement.  A word to build up; a word to destroy.  And it’s not always easy to tell the difference, especially when the satanic words are dressed in holy clothing, in the very words of scripture.  The voices we hear, the messages we receive, don’t have to sound evil in an obvious kind of way in order to truly be diabolical.  Just as wolves sometimes appear in sheep’s clothing, so too Satan can speak in the voice of an angel.  Which means this life of following Jesus can be a little tricky if we’re not paying attention, if we’re not prayerfully discerning the voices, by foremost becoming familiar with the voice of God.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter May 2017)

Longing For Home
...the shelter, nurture, and spirtual fellowship of the children of God.
~ The Great Ends of the Church

Last month a group of our youth and adults spent Spring Break in Tijuana, Mexico building a house for a family of four. Inside of one week they poured a concrete slab, and built a simple two-room house, including the exterior trim and paint. If you attended Youth Sunday, you heard some of the delightful stories of how that experience transformed our students and leaders. Thanks to all who supported that trip (it was fully-funded), and to the missionaries who heeded the call to go.
Two weeks later, and much closer to home, a similar-sized group of Colbert church members gathered in Deer Park to spend half a day working on a new house through Habitat for Humanity---a global mission we support locally. The philosophy driving Habitat is to build simple, decent, and affordable housing that benefits people for whom home ownership would otherwise be impossible.
Homelessness is a horrible condition in which to exist, making it difficult to survive, let alone thrive. From caves, to huts, from tiny houses to opulent mansions, people have always sought a roof over their heads, a place of solace and security; a place to gather one’s people for food, and conversation; a place to rest one’s head. Place is important. It’s so important, in fact, that included in the six Great Ends of the Church is the shelter of the people of God. Building homes, in other words, is holy work, finding itself among the core activities in the mission of God.
Jesus knew what it was like to be homeless; he was born into it. His first years were spent as a refugee, fleeing for his life. Even as an adult, he described himself as a sojourner: “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
Combining a longing for Home with a carpenter’s imagination, Jesus described his Father’s house as one that has many rooms, an expansive house he was returning to in order to prepare a place for each of us (John 14). And while the description of that heavenly abode is unfathomable to our parochial minds, it’s enough know that Jesus is getting each of our respective rooms ready, knowing that in the Homesick condition of our hearts, we all long for a home that is foundation-secure and eternal.
From Tijuana to Deer Park, and until that gladsome, Homecoming Day, it’s good to know that he’s got us covered, and that, for now, he makes his home with us.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Apr 2017)

Fools For Christ
For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.
~II Corinthians 11:19 (KJV)


When we hear of someone who “doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” we know this to be a person who, in all likelihood, is highly intelligent and competent, but who doesn’t have much patience for people who are not. The phrase originates in one of St. Paul’s more sarcastic moments during his correspondence with the Corinthian congregation in first-century Greece, during a boasting contest, but has since taken on a different meaning in popular parlance. Today, a person who suffers fools gladly is considered virtuous for their humility and forbearance toward someone with less capacity.
            However, it’s one thing to graciously tolerate ignorant or incompetent people. It’s quite another matter to be considered such a person oneself. And yet the apostle suggests that people who live the Gospel Way may be viewed by others as anything from odd to just plain stupid. “We are fools (Greek: morons) for the sake of Christ” (I Cor. 4:10). Why would someone choose that way?
            Peter led the way, and then took it to an extreme. Recall the day when Peter stepped over the gunwales of a boat to take a walk on the water during a fierce storm simply because Jesus told him to. And even though he managed to stay afloat for a few steps before he started sinking, you just know his friends---hanging on for dear life---were confirmed in their belief that the old salt wasn’t the brightest candle in the barn. Who does that? What a fool.
            James and John went that way as well. The two fishermen brothers, mending their nets one day, were called by Jesus to follow him, and they didn’t even hesitate: they left their boat, left their dad, left everything, and followed Jesus for the next three years. I’d pay money to know how Zebedee reacted to their decision as the sight of them faded into the Galilean horizon, but in my imagination, he’s shaking his head sadly, muttering to himself, “And to see now that their mother and I raised a couple of damn fools!”
            Because it’s good news from another world, the Gospel often sounds strange to our ears. Which means that—for people who are committed to speaking the Gospel-Truth---chances are good that they’re going to come off sounding a bit foolish. (“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”) It also means that people who live the Gospel Way are more likely to behave in unusual ways. In the great persecutions that dominated the first two centuries of the Christian era, many believers chose to suffer torture and death rather than recant their faith in Jesus. What morons.
            Jesus has a way of inverting our assumptions so that what we thought was wise and good is actually foolish, and what we deemed to be dumb becomes God’s chosen way for ushering in the Kingdom. Perhaps we would do well to step out of the conventional forms of Christianity that are widely respected in social circles, and do something a little crazy. For some people that might mean changing jobs that results in more meaningful work for less pay. For others, it might mean choosing to be with vulnerable rather than powerful people. Whatever it looks like, it’s a lifestyle not likely to be emulated among Fortune 500 employees. God’s ways are not our ways, and so when we follow God’s ways we run the risk of being ridiculed. “What a clown.”
            Later this month we will, in our various ways, observe the Resurrection of our Lord. Through worship and with feasting, we celebrate Easter as the great punch-line to Good Friday:  
“April Fools’! He’s not dead at all, but alive, and quite well!”
            Lucky for us, Jesus not only suffered the ravages of the cross, but he suffers us as well. That he still---all these years later---does it gladly is a staggering demonstration of divine love.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Mar 2017)

Lenten Leftovers
Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.
~Jesus (John 6:12)

I grew up with a Scotch-Presbyterian mother who threw away very few things. There was a rag bag at the bottom of our basement stairs where old clothes were tossed and made into quilts; we had a compost bin for potato peels and apple cores that eventually made their way into her organic garden; and the kitchen stocked an assortment of Tupperware in which to store all leftovers, from all meals, no matter how small---even something as small as a tablespoon of tomato paste, as I now recall. Without saying a word about it, she taught me both that food was a precious gift, and that frugality was a virtue to be honored and practiced: “waste not, want not.” Food---I grew up learning---is a gift, and should not be squandered or taken for granted. Consequently, to this day, my favorite lunch is last evening’s leftovers.
            In the various versions of the miracle commonly known as The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, some of the details vary. Was it 4,000 or 5,000 people that were fed? Was it five loaves or seven? Two fish or “a few?” It depends on which Gospel you happen to be reading.  However, one of the details that is consistent among all of these reports is that after everyone in the crowd had eaten to their satisfaction there were a lot of “broken pieces” of food, and Jesus directed them to gather up the leftovers. Again, the accounts vary, but there was anywhere between seven and twelve baskets of leftovers that were saved. The story ends there, leaving me to wonder who benefited from the leftovers of that miraculous two-course miracle.
            It causes me to wonder about other kinds of leftovers as well. In a world that is good at hurrying us along to the next big thing, Lent invites us to gather up the fragments of our lives, and to linger over them, attending them, even savoring them. Some such fragments may be a mere wisp of a fond memory, while others may be bitter with unresolved conflict. Either way, they are among the parts of our lives that we benefit from by attending to and then offering up to God who is keen to reclaim our lives by integrating the whole of them into his kingdom. And God, I am persuaded, wastes nothing; everything, rather, is raw material for redemption.
            Recently, as I was listening to someone sharing with me an experience that was accompanied by profound regret, the memory of which she was unable to shrug off, as she was---as we all do---trying to make sense of it and figure out what to do, I said, “Do not waste this pain. Something here is demanding your attention. The pain is not to be avoided, but lived, so that you can be healed. You will outlive this pain, and it will eventually serve to enlarge your soul.” This is the nature of deep, spiritual work: listening to the small, broken fragments of our lives that don’t have a voice of their own. And in listening to the still, small voice of our soul, we hear the voice of God.
            There are a lot of broken pieces that make up our lives, and Jesus wants to make sure that none of them are lost. So gather up the scattered pieces---the ruined dreams, and the hidden memories, the scars that have healed well, along with the wounds which yet bleed---so that nothing is wasted. Lent is a perfect season to gather up the long-neglected leftovers of our lives, to linger over these forgotten fragments, and thereby honor the agenda of our hungry hearts. 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Feb 2017)

Mind The Gap
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand
~Proverbs 8:2

Step on or off the Tube (the mass-transit train) in London, and you will hear a recorded female voice reminding you to “mind the gap.” It is a warning to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform so as not to trip and fall. Ignore the warning, and you’re at risk for physical injury. Watch your step. Pay attention to where you’re going. Mind the gap.
    Nobody knows for sure how the next four years are going to shake down, shape up, and play out, but for me there is enough concern raised by the rhetoric, behavior, and vagueness of our federal government’s new administration to alert us to the probability of significant changes looming on the near horizon. Enough so that I believe it is wise to be prepared. The forthcoming changes to which I refer have to do with a widening gap through which people may be prone to fall.
    Historically, the church has always had, as a core piece of its missional identity, to care for needy people, as indicated by the biblical language of “the poor and the widow.” To neglect this charge is to fail the church’s call to exhibit the kingdom of God.
    Beginning with the proliferation of social welfare programs under Roosevelt’s post-Depression New Deal, the federal government began to assume responsibility for many of its most vulnerable citizens. With the emergence of such things as the Social Security Act, the Department of Social and Health Services, and other programs related to housing and agriculture, millions of people who were devastated by the economic crash had relief provided to them. One of the unintended consequences of that series of programs was that it reduced the burden on the church. Instead of directly helping needy people in their community, churches were able to direct people to a menu of government-sponsored welfare options. That season, when the church had the luxury of simply referring people to government agencies for help, may be coming to a close.
    Fortunately, with the presence and the great community support of the New Hope Resource Center, we are already organized to coordinate services to those who need relief. We are already poised to help. It may not, however, be enough for the times ahead of us.
    Therefore, I urge all of us to be especially alert---vigilant actually---to mind the gaps into which vulnerable people may fall in days to come. Frankly, although I have grave concerns about the future welfare of a good number of disadvantaged people in our communities, I also have great hope. I believe this is an opportunity for the church to show up, stand up, and speak truth to power. It is, in short, an occasion to recover some of the historical beliefs and behaviors that have been the hallmarks of the church of Jesus Christ.
    The Celtic cross perched on the bell tower of Colbert Presbyterian Church is, perhaps, the highest and most prominent of crosses in North Spokane County. I pray it will be a sign of hope, attracting people in need to the light of Christ. In a world filled with fake news and alternate facts, we need people of The Way to take a stand. I pray that the saints of CPC, who live under the sign of the cross, will both mind the gaps, and mend the gaps, by loving the least of our brothers and sisters exceptionally well.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jan 2017)

 We have this treasure in clay jars,
 so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God
 and does not come from us.

 ~2 Corinthians 4:7

An ancient Chinese proverb tells the story of a girl whose morning chore it was to walk to the river and fetch water for her household.  Suspended from a pole across her shoulders were two water pots that supplied her family’s daily needs. One of the pots was perfect, but the other one was cracked, and by the time they made the return trip home each day, the second pot was only half full.
            After some time, the little cracked pot, ashamed that she wasn’t able to function at full capacity, expressed her embarrassment and sense of failure to the girl.  “Why do you keep using me when all I do is leak?” she asked.  “Why don’t you replace me with a new pot?”  Smiling, the girl gently responded, “Have you seen the beautiful flowers that grow along the path between the house and the river?  And have you noticed that they only grow on your side of the path as we walk home together?  That’s because every spring I plant seeds on only your side, knowing that you will water them as we walk home together.  I’ve been picking those flowers for years and filling our home with fragrance and beauty.  I couldn’t do it without you. What you thought was a flaw is actually a gift to us all.”
            In ways that both confound and astound me, God consistently chooses to accomplish divine purposes through the agency of human imperfection. Through the weaknesses and shortcomings of the clay pots---which are our lives---extraordinarily beautiful things emerge.  Following Paul’s 2 Corinthian prompt, it’s the mystery that the treasure of salvation is being held in the container of the earthen vessels of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve---children of the ground. While God could have selected much more dependable, durable vessels---made of stainless steel or titanium, for example---God chooses instead to stick close to the ground.  He chooses us: pottered people, full of faults and blemishes. God accomplishes extraordinary things through quite ordinary, faulty people.
            Jesus himself incarnated this way of life. From the occasion when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, to the gash in his side on the cross, he leaked his life into this world. Jesus poured himself out as a liquid love offering, as do those who have been baptized in his name.
            In a world full of despots who are full of only themselves, I place my trust these days in the crackpots of this world who overflow with the fruits of the Spirit. The treasure of salvation is a gift to receive and hold, but not one to contain and hoard.  It’s only a complete gift when it flows. People of the baptized Way leak life, spilling grace and beauty into an otherwise bland and barren world, such that what at first appears to be an embarrassing design flaw is actually in accordance with divine intent.
            From one crackpot to another, may your New Year be an especially lovely, leaky one.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Dec 2016)

Time in the Womb
Lend me, therefore, O Baptist,
your right hand for the present economy,
even as Mary lent her womb for my birth.

~Pseudo-Gregory Thaumaturgus, (fifth century AD)

It’s no secret that I love children.  At every developmental stage I remain endlessly enthralled and entertained by their innocence, their curiosity, and their ability to always teach and delight. The accompanying antics and unruliness that sometimes interrupt the pleasure they give me are but a small (and sometimes hilarious) price to pay for the gifts they bring.  My life would be immeasurably impoverished without children.
            It’s no mistake that Jesus loved children. There were just a few things that could ignite the indignation of his otherwise peaceful demeanor: not practicing what you preach (hypocrisy), exploiting the house of worship for financial gain, and a refusal to repent.  However, the strongest language of his we have recorded was reserved for those who dared to harm a child: “You would be better off to have a millstone hung around your neck and go straight to the bottom of the sea than to be the cause of a child’s stumbling” (Lk 17).
            And so it’s no surprise that Jesus not only welcomed children into his arms so that he could bless them, but called for the adults around him to also be more like them: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18).  How odd those words must have sounded to those who first heard them! To some of us they still do.  But what at first sounds like going backwards, is actually the holy way forward.
            Christian maturation, or what Paul described as growing up “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4) is not the same thing as getting old.  As our years add up, there are many aspects of our childhood that we grow out of, and rightly so.  However, there are some child-like qualities that, when retained, fit us more fully for the Kingdom of God.  Vulnerability – a distinctively child-like trait – may be chief among them.
            Children believe before they know much of anything.  They believe they are loved, that their needs are worth meeting, and that their parents will attend them, provide for them, and keep them safe.  When those beliefs are met by parental fidelity, the reliance children have on their caregivers creates a profound bond of trust and of love.  Just so, such child-like vulnerability and trusting behavior toward our heavenly Father is the entry point to the Kingdom, as well as the way of deepening intimacy with the Lover of our soul.
            Perhaps this is why Jesus told a fully grown-up man one night that he must be “born anew.” As with anybody who takes his words too literally, Nicodemus missed the meaning of the metaphor, imagining himself crawling back inside his mother’s uterus.  But Jesus made himself clear: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of Water and Spirit” (John 3).  This is how we begin our new life in Christ, and grow to become increasingly like Christ: Wet and Winded.
            Advent annually extends the invitation to return to the womb of rebirth, to renew our spirits, to be born anew.  Unfortunately, our seasonal surroundings, with their increased activities, noise, and lights don’t lend to the quiet, dark, fertile conditions needed for the new-life re-beginnings our souls require, and so it’s important to seek out womb-like environments in which we can gestate and grow.  This is the silent gift and the hidden work of Advent, that we might more fully become who we already are: “. . . children of God.  And that’s only the beginning.  Who knows how we’ll end up!” (I John 3; MSG).
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Nov 2016)

Rivers know this: there is no hurry.
We shall get there some day.

~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The twin enemies of the soul are laziness and busy-ness; succumbing to either is equally deadly.  Locating our lives, instead, in that holy-yet-delicate tension between leisureliness and productivity is one of the great challenges of living a good life.  However, in the push-pull relationship between doing and being, most of us are pushing to move harder, faster, more efficiently, in order to accomplish better and greater things.  Whatever the goal we consider worthy of pursuit, we go after it in a hurry.  And while the culture in which we live tends to reward such efforts and achievements, reinforcing our already too-busy lives, it often takes its toll in damaging ways.  I, therefore, commend to you the virtue of patience.
            Not to be confused with laziness, apathy, or underachievement, patience liberates us from the demands for instant results, and establishes us in the steadfast love of God which is as dependable as the tide.  Through the years, in the ebb and flow of life, whether things are good or bad, there is no need to panic, no reason to worry.  All things, eventually, work together for good. The patient way is God’s way.
            Instead of being defined by daily quotas (how many “to-dos” did you check off your list today?), instead of succumbing to the expectations for quick responses (how many electronic messages did you reply to within a few hours of receiving them?), instead of grabbing our meals on the run, and existing on diets of fast food (when was the last time you made a good, home-cooked meal from scratch as a communal event?), patience takes in the long, slow view.  It’s the perspective of the Kingdom of God in which there are no short-cuts, and detours are simply a part of the journey since, from God’s angle, a thousand years is like a single day (Ps 90). Talk about the patient, long view! 
            Unfortunately, the notion of patience has become so foreign to our lifestyles that its virtue has actually become confused as a vice.  We would do well to recover it for the essential gift that it is. The Church Fathers considered patience to be chief among the qualities that characterized one’s life in Christ. Their ancient wisdom is a reminder that an improved future follows an informed past.
            The first three centuries of the church involved a host of challenges and problems.  There were conflicts, controversies, heresies, and a variety of hostile forces that sought to undermine the faith of the early Christians, sowing discouragement, even threatening the very existence of the fledgling church. And yet, rather than muscling their way through these obstacles, the bishops called people to steadily stay the course.
            From Tertullian, Cyprian, and Lactantius in North Africa, and Justin in Rome, to Clement and Origen in Alexandria these wise Fathers of the church commended patience as the primary character quality that most distinguished Christians in the world.  In Cyprian’s own words, nothing else distinguishes the unjust from the just more than this, that in adversities the unjust man complains and blasphemes because of impatience, while the just man is proved by patience.
            The New Testament -- itself a slowly-gathered compilation of stories and letters -- has frequent references to the importance of living a patient faith.  St. Paul, for example, includes Patience, along with Love, Joy, and Peace in the good company of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5) -- those qualities that are exhibited by people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. And when he seeks to “show us the more excellent way of love” he begins by saying that “love is patient....” (I Cor 13).
            Christians are patient people living in an impatient world, exercising restraint, demonstrating forbearance, practicing tolerance, trusting that the Kingdom of God is among us, and that the promises of God are being fulfilled in God’s sweet time. In our hyper-busy world, this may be the virtue we need most to recover, the one which has the capacity to both slow us down to the speed of God, thereby serving the agenda of our souls, as well as the characteristic that distinguishes the people of God from the rest of the world.  Follow the patient Way.  Practice this Way. It’s the Way of Jesus.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Oct 2016)

Central Hold

Too much from the periphery claims our attention, hijacking our emotional energy.  Tornado-like there is chaos a-swirling throughout the world, with very few places of refuge from which to safely avoid it.  But like tornados there is an eye in the storm which can be found in the center.  An enduring wartime poem of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), has been a trustworthy guide to help usher people back from chaos into order.  In the tumult of this election year, his poem, “The Second Coming,” cannot wait for Advent.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If Yeats was right in suggesting that “the centre cannot hold” perhaps we’re off-center. Historically we know that our human tendency is to move away from God, especially during seasons of stability, comfort, and prosperity.  When life is good it’s easy to forget God. When we have everything we need there is no need to rely on God’s provision.
Occasions of turmoil and unrest, on the other hand, have a way of shaking us loose from complacency and laziness, re-establishing us in our dependence on the providence of God, seeking divine intervention.  Such are the opportunities available to us in these tornado days, to move toward the eye of the storm and find there “a refuge and strength, a present help in trouble.”
So square up your shoulders and move toward the Center, to a Person, who holds all things together, and who is hard at work reconciling the world, infusing it (and us!) with peace.  Let not the tumult of this world’s present condition detour you from your day-to-day pilgrimage on the straight and narrow Way. Rather, get re-centered by clinging tenaciously to Christ, who alone can command that the world’s chaos come to order.
Rest assured, the Center holds.  And he’s holding us.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Sep 2016)

Most middle-class Americans tend to
worship their work, work at their play,
and play at their worship.

~Gordon Dahl, Work, Play, and Worship in a Leisure-Oriented Society

To be alive is to be in a state of constant change. We are ever on the move, sometimes sprinting toward life, other times shuffling toward death.  We can see it at the biological level as our cells come and go, multiplying one moment, sloughing off in another.  Moreover, such change occurs at the level of consciousness where awareness ebbs and flows, as knowledge is gained, and information is forgotten.  To be human is to carry the effects of both life and death in our very bodies. 
To be alive in Christ, similarly, involves such gains and losses, mostly related directly to our baptismal affirmations and renunciations: we turn to Jesus as we simultaneously turn from sin and evil.  We nurture the fruits of the Spirit, as we forsake the works of the flesh.  Over the course of a lifetime, these accompanying choices and lifestyle patterns change us, both for good or for bad.  Which is to say, we can either cooperate with or defy the agenda for holiness.
As a pastor entrusted with the care and the cure of souls I am primarily interested in helping you grow to become “mature, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).  This, I believe, is the high standard by which I will be judged.  However, it is a work that is fraught with many challenges because the culture we live in poses a host of compelling and competing alternatives that are frequently considered to be more attractive. Never before have we had such a flood of choices available to us with respect to how we should direct (not spend; we are trustees of resources, not consumers) our time, our money, our attention, our love.
Far too often, with so many more exciting, head-turning options available, God gets little more than a nod.  The result of giving to God our leftovers, rather than our “first fruits” is shriveling souls, and it’s often too late before we even realize how diminished we’ve become over time.  Lifestyle patterns and practices reflect the values we hold dear; they not only reveal what we love, but they affect the kinds of people we are becoming.  It’s never been more important for us or for our children to be choosey as we are being fit for citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, I solemnly urge you to re-commit yourself to the holy observance of Sabbath-keeping as we enter this new academic year.  Establish yourself in this practice of becoming through weekly worship, and the daily disciplines related to scripture, prayer, and service.  These are the holy patterns which effectively form us in godliness over the course of a lifetime.  It all adds up, so that we can grow to measure up to the full stature of Christ.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Aug 2016)

Editor’s note:  With sincere thanks to Laurie Klein---author of the recently published book, Where the Sky Opens---for guest writing this month’s essay, we commend to you this “Vine by Klein.”

Eavesdropping on Absence
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
~Hebrews 13:5b
...that [you] may know...Christ, in whom are hidden
all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

~Col. 2:2

     Ruins are my weakness. Witnessing the broken remains of life settings unnerves me. Wistful over what has been irreparably lost, I’m also, well, intrigued. Curious. Exploring the remnants of other times and lives personalizes compassion even as it expands belief in God’s timeless presence.
     Recently, I visited the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado. Ingeniously built inside natural alcoves within the cliffs, these sites were inhabited c.550-1300 A.D., then mysteriously abandoned.
     Don’t look down: It’s a 32-foot ladder up to the main floor. Ancestral Pueblo people hand-chiseled toeholds into the cliff, from mesa to canyon floor. Mortared blocks of sandstone resembling loaves of bread still partially enclose their communal storehouses and ancient apartments. Bemused, and slightly chilled that day, I ambled through the shadows. Quietly slipped into rooms formerly enlivened by men and women with shockingly brief life spans (35-40 years)—so arduous was their survival. Metates, or stones for grinding corn, ranged across a flat rock, as if the women had just stepped out (or up) for some sunshine. Hints of once-vibrant community permeated the atmosphere. I filled in the emptiness by conjuring aromas of baking squash and beans, an echo of footsteps. I could almost hear songs and stories shared around fires, as wind honed itself like a blade against the stone.
     I was eavesdropping on absence. Pulling my jacket closer around my body, I made up a homey kind of hope for those intrepid people.
     In the presence of death or unexplained endings we often shiver. I did. Mortality jars us, like missing that last rung on the ladder. Will our life’s work extend beyond our years? Will we be forgotten? As everything crumbled around the Ancestral Puebloans, did they fear their Source had abandoned them? When the worst happens and life falls apart for us, can we really count on God’s presence? Will we feel it?
     In God in the Yard, author L.L. Barkat suggests that when trouble or loss ambushes us and God seems removed (at least three canyons away), the seemingly bottomless emptiness offers a gift. Think of these times, she says, as an encounter with God’s “hiddenness.” The Holy Spirit quietly beckons us toward treasures temporarily veiled. Treasures we otherwise might not seek.
     Absent, or hidden: What a difference each one of those words make.
     We can spin tales that bolster false hopes. Or we can follow the clues, no matter how subtle, that relentlessly point to God’s endless companionship.
     What story do I tell myself when I feel separated from God? Has my dubious behavior (no, let’s call it what it is: sin) muscled between us? Or has grief eroded my trust? Either way, it’s cavernous rubble, white-knuckle, edge-of-the-cliff survival, Not living.
     Friends, God has more for us. And we have His word on this: God abides, tangibly or hidden, speaking or silent.
     Mesa Verde still haunts me. Having wandered those forsaken ruins, I’m freshly awakened to God’s continuing presence as well as His veil. God’s hiddenness.
     Not feeling alone, abandoned, forgotten---this is foundational to our lives, our worship, our work. No matter what our experience or senses convey, we dwell in the shadow of the Most High. The God of cliffs and caves and the longest ladders hovers, closer than breath, more integral to absolutely everything than we can imagine. We are earthen, yes; daily eroding (oh, don’t we know it); yet endlessly, eternally sought and found. This is grace. Pure grace. 
Still climbing,
Laurie Klein



(Newsletter Jul 2016)

Custom Encounters
No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
~Matthew 11:27
I will love them and reveal myself to them.
~John 14:21

“Encounters With Jesus,” our 12-week summer sermon series, considers what happens when people are met by the living Lord; a dozen biographical sermons designed to show us that, while it is our nature to run and hide, it is God’s nature to seek and find.  Consistent among Christian testimony is the claim that once people have been found and friended by God, their lives are set on a new course.  What strikes me about such testimonies -- both historical and contemporary -- is that there is no one-size-fits-all-approach to these encounters.  Rather, God seems to delight in exercising creative freedom to meet people according to their individual personalities, and their unique needs.
What also strikes me is how deeply personal they always are.
Many of us thirst for knowledge, and we want to understand things more fully.  In the realm of discipleship, this sometimes leads to a wealth of information, along with a paucity of piety.  The Christian life is not about knowing the Bible, church history, doctrine or theology.  While those things are all good and important, they are not the main thing.  It’s not so much intellectual information God is interested in, but in the formation of our lives, fitting us as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  In other words, it’s fundamentally about a meaningful, ongoing relationship with God’s Son: the risen Lord, Jesus.  And that relationship is primarily about reconciliation -- restoring to rights all that has gone wrong in our lives and in our world.
As Jesus himself describes it, the Great Judgment, as it will occur at the end of the age, will not be an examination on Bible trivia or the essential tenets of the Reformed faith, or settling the long-standing controversy around the filoque clause of the Nicene Creed (seriously, trust me, you don’t need to worry about it).  It will, rather, be based on the way each of us live both into and out of our relationship with Jesus.  Significantly, as it turns out, we honor our relationship with Jesus through our relationships with others, particularly with those he identifies as “the least of my brothers and sisters”: the hungry and thirsty among us, the sick and the imprisoned, people who are strangers (including those who are simply strange), and those who are too poor to even buy clothes.  The way we relate to people (whether we like them or not), either by caring for them or ignoring them, is a direct reflection on our relationship with Jesus. Ignoring the least, the little, and the lost, is the same as ignoring Jesus, causing him to respond, “I never knew you.”  It’s just that personal for him.
My great hope is that our summer immersion in these biblical stories of people who have had close encounters with Jesus will serve to heighten our sensitivity as well as our expectation, that the One whose nature is self-revealing, is still appearing to his people today.  Sometimes disruptive, sometimes welcomed, Jesus keeps showing up in our world, in our lives, alternately comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.  Whatever else the meeting involves, the one thing that is always true is that the person so encountered is never the same again.  Moreover, amid all the surprises of such custom encounters, the only consistent, predictable pattern is that such holy revelation shows up in the form of Love.
By the way, the series started off with Peter, Paul, and Mary (for no other reason than that it had a nice, folksy ring to it), but it’s not planned out beyond those characters.  If you have a New Testament character you’d like to hear a sermon on in July or August, just let me know.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jun 2016)

All The World’s A Teaching Theater
The heavens are telling the glory of God…

~Psalm 19:1

I’m not sure what triggered it, but just the other day I caught a whiff of a memory from many years ago.  It was, as I recall, the last day of my junior year in high school, just minutes after the dismissal bell emptied the building of its students like a tsunami.  As I was taking my seat on the bus for that blessed last ride home, someone with speakers the size of garbage cans was blaring Alice Cooper’s song, School’s Out For Summer!  It perfectly captured my thoughts and emotions in the moment, and it was the perfect place for an introvert to celebrate the beginning of summer vacation, alone with my backpack, on bus #19.
I readily confess that much of the joy of that moment was the result of not enjoying school very much at all.  I managed to get by fairly well, but I certainly never stood out for my academic prowess, and mostly just trudged dutifully through with only rare moments of delight in learning something new.  Regrettably, it was only some years after graduating from Princeton, after spending twenty academic years in various classrooms, that I came to understand that I don’t learn best the way most teachers teach.  The discovery of my primary learning style was one of the reasons I decided to go back to school yet again, for a terminal degree in semiotics: the study of signs.
When asked recently what the big take away was from the experience in a doctoral program, I summed it up by quoting Leonardo Da Vinci: Study the science of art.  Study the art of science.  Develop your senses.  Especially learn to see.  Realize that everything connects to everything else.  In addition to all that I have learned, the last three years of reading, reflection, research, integration, and writing have been pure delight, completely redeeming the previous decades of drudgery.   Significantly for me, very little time in the last three years was spent in an actual classroom.
Call me a late bloomer, but I’ve finally come to understand that I am a lifelong learner in the enjoyable study of life, and I have never been more excited in the quest for truth, in the discovery of new ideas, and the places my revived curiosity is taking me.  And while I consider books and conversations and lectures to all be invaluable, much of my pleasure is the result of an expanded (and expanding) curriculum, along with more diverse teaching methods.
Jesus spent most of his time outdoors, and he was fond of using a wide variety of flora and fauna (plants and wildlife), mountains and water as metaphors for the Kingdom of God – the kinds of signs and wonders that can easily and unfortunately be missed by people who spend most of their time indoors.  So let’s be sure to get outside as much as possible these days.  Living in the Inland Northwest is, I believe, one of the best classrooms for people who want to keep learning and growing in the way of Christ.  If you want to know the Creator better, study his creation more carefully.  School may be (nearly) out for the summer.  But for disciples of the Master Gardener, class is always in session.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter May 2016)

Prayer 101

I’m stuck in the kindergarten of prayer.  Many times my prayers, if you were to overhear them, sound inarticulate, scattered, incoherent.  They are the blurted-out bletherings of a soul who is frequently caught speechless (which is often a good thing), the clumsy meanderings of my disordered desires. Typically, my private prayers are barely audible, unrehearsed sighs.
            That’s not necessarily an admission of my deficiencies. I learned a lot of things in kindergarten that formed me into the person I am today.  They are things that remain good, and true, and right, and things, therefore, that I need to come back to from time to time.  For example, it was in Mrs. Paige’s class where I first learned the alphabet, where I was taught to share and to take turns, and where I memorized my home address.  I even remember an occasion on the playground where she made me repeat after her as she instructed me in the art of offering a genuine apology to a classmate I had offended.  I don’t recall the offense I committed, but I do remember the apology these many years later. It was all pretty simple, yet enormously important stuff I learned in my kindergarten year from a kind, Black woman with a voice like butter.
            We live our lives out of the foundation of fundamentals.  And whenever our lives become disoriented it is helpful to become reacquainted with the basics in order to be re-established in our identity and purpose.
            Prayer is the foundational language of faith. And prayer, I have learned, is best when it emerges from and is built on a simple foundation.  Following is my understanding of the three most fundamental types of prayer, the basis of a meaningful faith (which leads to meaningful lives), accompanied by some brief reflections that I hope will prompt further consideration.
            Lord, have mercy.
Much of life is out of our control. Even the most self-sufficient people among us experience challenges beyond their capacity to handle.  When the storms of trouble crash in, overwhelming our competencies, we have a choice to either wring our hands in worry, or fold our hands in humility; we can either panic or we can pray.  This is the ancient prayer that first reminds us of our frailty and our mortality, and then locates us in the strength and everlasting nature of our God who is limitless in love, and whose mercy never quits: kyrie eleison.
            Thank you, Jesus.
Gratitude is the hallmark of the Christian life.  In recognition that we live in a world full of gifts, that, indeed, all of life is a gift, we turn to the Source of all good things and sing, “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Like the one among ten lepers who was healed, we take the time to turn back, and say, Thanks!  Recognizing that the goodness of life could be otherwise, we don’t take the gifts for granted, but rather express our gratitude.  It’s difficult to squander gifts, and even harder to succumb to spiritual amnesia when living doxologically.
            Here I am.
Inexplicably, for all the ways God could redeem this old world so much more effectively on his own, he continues to prefer to work through human agency to accomplish his holy purposes.  A meaningful life begins in a posture of readiness, making ourselves available to the God who calls and commissions willing people, as we echo Isaiah: “Here I am, send me.”
            Lord, have mercy.  Thank you, Jesus.  Here I am.  Sometimes we specialize in one of these three prayers during a particular season of life.  Other times we may offer all three of them in a single day.  Either way, practicing these simple prayers over a lifetime is among the formative behaviors which fit us for the Kingdom of God.
            It just now occurs to me that as I write this I am preparing to attend a graduation ceremony at George Fox, a reminder that I may have a doctorate in Semiotics and Future Studies, but when it comes to prayer I am no more sophisticated than a kindergartener.  And that, I believe, is a good thing.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Apr 2016)

Voluntary Simplicity
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
 and all these things will be given to you as well.

~Matthew 6:33

Notwithstanding its many gifts, the North American culture we presently inhabit is mostly a poor classroom environment for instructing us in the Way of Jesus.  Our cultural curriculum champions such things as acquisition and accumulation as primary among the agents in our ongoing pursuit of meaning and happiness.  Unless we occasionally step outside this environmental classroom it is difficult to recognize the holy alternatives to the inferior ways and means of personal growth and formation to which we have become habituated.  Matthew Kelly, in his book, Off Balance, tells a story which provides the kind of cross-cultural experience that broadens our perspective

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. "Not very long," answered the Mexican. "But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. "But, what do you do with the rest of your time?" asked the American. "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican. "Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American. To which the Mexican said, "And after that?" The American replied, "Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting. When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!" The Mexican remarked, "Millions? Really? And after that?" And the excited American said, "After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings relaxing and enjoying your friends."

It’s a perspective that reminds me that what may be an altogether normal lifestyle for me is not the only way to live, and it may not even be the preferable way if my desire is to grow as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. 
These days following Easter invite us to consider the lifestyle adjustments we might need to make in order to more fully embrace and experience the abundance Jesus came to bring us.  Take a moment right now to reflect on how you are spending your life.  What are you working for?  What are you striving after?
Jesus introduces an enduring, corrective word into our materialistic pursuits of happiness by reminding us that things don’t satisfy our deepest hungers, and in order to live an abundant life we actually need a good deal less than what we typically assume.  Simple things are holy, and holy lifestyles are characterized by intentional simplicity. Consider the lilies...
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Mar 2016)

Dual Citizenship
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is there that we are expecting a Savior...
~Philippians 3:20

When John the Baptist first announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and as Jesus went on to confirm that the Kingdom was, indeed, very near, it raised a host of questions for people about where to lodge their loyalty.  However, they weren’t exactly new questions.  Jews at the time were long-accustomed to the tension of living under hostile secular rule (most notably the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman empires), while simultaneously embracing their identity and higher calling as the “priestly kingdom and holy nation” of Israel (Ex 19:6).  This often led, as you can imagine, to an awkward dance of allegiances and responsibilities: is my devotion directed toward the human king or the heavenly one? Daniel, as one notable example, refused to worship king Darius, under penalty of being thrown to the lions.  It’s always been this way for the chosen people of God as they navigate their uneasy relationship between the Kingdom of God and the various kingdoms of this world.  How is one to be “in the world, but not of it?” 
            Some Christians, relying on James’ understanding of true religion as defined by “keeping oneself unstained by the world,” assume a posture of distance, if not outright separation from society.  Famous among these separatist groups are the Puritans and the Amish.
However, when Jesus said that we are Salt and Light, he was calling us to be seasoning for an otherwise bland world, luminaries in an otherwise dark world.  He didn’t come to take us out of the world, but rather invites us to enter into it and engage it as he does: As God sent the Son into the world, so the Son sends us into the world (John 17:18, 20:21).  The tricky part is being in the world in such a way that we do not become like the world.  Instead of conforming to the values of the world our calling is to maintain a holy distinctiveness through a unique lifestyle of service in accordance with the values of the Kingdom of God.  We are sent into the world as little Christs, inviting others to follow him.
            We have a foot in each kingdom, but our weight is decidedly shifted toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the values of these two kingdoms frequently clash, the Church has found it necessary to repeatedly establish its primary allegiance to God’s Kingdom in order to maintain its prophetic voice. This is, by the way, why we don’t display the American flag in our sanctuary.  While we want to be good citizens of our country, obedient to the civil magistrates and involved in civic matters, our primary allegiance is to Christ.  Let there be no confusion or conflation regarding the ultimate object of our fidelity.
            My government-issued passport identifies me as a proud U.S. citizen – an identity I will enjoy for a total of about 90 years if all goes well.  My baptismal certificate identifies me as an adopted child of God, a citizen of the never-ending Kingdom of Heaven. The first I carry with me whenever I travel outside the country.  The latter is my eternal passport, carrying me into eternity. This is the nature of our dual citizenship.  We were born on earth.  We were made for heaven.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Feb 2016)

“...teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
~Jesus (Matthew 28:20)

The Christian faith is a learned faith.  On our own we are incapable of coming to a life of orthodox beliefs and right behaviors associated with the Jesus Way because it is neither a natural nor an innate way.  Simply put, we have to be taught.  We need people to show us The Way.  As lifelong disciples, we rely on teachers of the faith to instruct us, to correct us, and to clarify our thoughts and our actions so that we may grow in godliness.  Without good teachers we are in danger of either being led astray or groping our way alone. We all need therapeutic instruction: words that make us well.
Twenty-five years ago I was ordained as a “teaching elder” in the Presbyterian Church.  Relying primarily on the agents of Word and Sacrament, I have been trying to honor my pastoral vocation for the last quarter of a century in such a way that people in my care are being formed for citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Or in the words of St. Paul, it is a ministry that trains people in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).  I live and work knowing that I will be judged by how faithfully and effectively I have taught people in my little orbit of influence to obey Christ’s commandments.  However, like any teacher, I have maintained my student status all along, recognizing that the lifestyle of discipleship is never fully mastered. 
This month George Fox Evangelical Seminary is conferring to me the terminal degree Doctor of Ministry.  With Latin language origins, the word “doctor” means “to teach.”  Accompanied more by a sense of gift than of accomplishment, the doctoral program I have been immersed in for the last three years has helped to clarify my pastoral identity by strengthening my role as a teacher of both the Word of God, and the Way of God.  I needed that.  Which is why I am so grateful for the gift of this season of intense study.
I wrote a dissertation on baptism, where I worked out and developed many of the things we have been practicing together over the first eighteen years of the life of Colbert Presbyterian Church.  I got reacquainted with many of the Church Fathers who I first fell in love with back at Princeton Theological Seminary, and I gleaned their wisdom.  I traced baptismal illusions in the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and discovered that the scriptures are simply sopped with grace.  I wrestled with the age-old question of the meaning of life, and realized that it has never been satisfactorily answered.  It was a journey that began and ended in the sacred waters of baptism, ever-living, ever life-giving. 
The last three years of study have been a gift, involving lots of learning, a bit of unlearning, lots of reading, lots of writing, and a lot of re-writing.  It has been a journey of Word and Sacrament.  However, it’s a gift that required the personal particularities of this congregational environment to make it meaningful beyond a mere academic exercise.  Without the context of our life together, it would have uncoupled the necessary union of Word and Sacrament – holy words, and sacred lives.  In other words, I could not have done it without you.
Which is why I wanted to share the closing words of the dissertation with you:

Finally, this work is lovingly dedicated to two groups of people; a small one and a large one: my parents who first brought me to the sacramental waters, and the beloved community of Colbert Presbyterian Church who taught me how to swim.

Good teaching leads to good learning.  And good learning results in good living.  I do love the alternating and sometimes simultaneous teacher-student roles we all share together as we journey by stages, learning The Way, living The Way, gradually becoming more and more like Christ.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Jan 2016)

True Choir
I believe in the communion of saints...

On that glad day when our friend Ben Brody joined the staff of Colbert Presbyterian Church to be our Director of Music Ministries, I remember thinking how nice it was going to be to finally have a choir.  Like many of you I grew up in a church that featured organ music accompanying the great hymns of the church, and a choir that sang a weekly anthem.  When Colbert got its start in 1997 some of us had to get used to worship without an organ, and our attempts at developing a choir in subsequent years were spotty.  With Ben on the job, along with his freshly-minted doctorate in choral conducting, I was sure we would develop a choir.  It was not the first (nor the last) time that I’ve been wrong.
What we gradually became convinced of together is the importance of emphasizing congregational singing.  Because we believe the rhythms of liturgy, prayer, and singing to be among the formative practices that significantly shape our identity as the children of God, finding ways to more fully engage people in worship is a priority.  Since our goal is to incarnate the faith in a vibrant, meaningful way, we must involve our minds, bodies, and voices in that life-long journey of becoming like Christ.
The Reformed tradition, with its emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, has always sought to demolish the artificial dividing wall between so-called “priests” and so-called “laity.”  By extension, Reformed people are on guard against such designations as “expert” and “amateur” when it comes to honoring one’s baptism.  When we recite that line of the creed, “I believe in the communion of saints,” we are affirming a faith that is historical, global, and eschatological.  Permit me to add a little flesh to these bones.
Historical: Ours is a faith that goes all the way back to “in the beginning...”  Since that time, the people of God have composed hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs that capture their experience and understanding of living in covenant relationship with God.  With the passing of centuries some of the language can, at times, sound a bit antiquated to our ears (e.g., “Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art”), yet we retain it as a way of honoring our spiritual fathers and mothers, in recognition that faith is an inheritance from one generation to the next.
Global: Because of our proclivity toward parochialism, it is also helpful to be reminded that the way Christianity is practiced varies widely among various cultures.  The Bible wasn’t written in English, and Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near North America.  Singing songs in other languages ushers us into solidarity with Christians from around the world. Celebrating the unity that makes up our “one faith, one Spirit, one baptism, and one Lord” is not dependent on homogeneity (or even similarity) of language, ethnicity, or any number of cultural customs.
Eschatological: The Revelation to St. John, our chief apocalyptic book in the Bible, provides a glimpse into the future.  What was revealed to John, however, was not limited to his vision; he also heard things.  And what he heard was music: elders, creatures, angels together singing a “new song.”  Worship, then, can be thought of as a dress rehearsal, preparing us for that future promise when we join the heavenly chorus.  Indeed, we are singing with them even now.
“Does Colbert have a choir?” someone recently asked me.  Knowing what she meant I said No, although we are planning to assemble a special choir during Lent and Easter this year.  However, I really wanted to say Yes!  While we may not have a chancel choir, the congregation is the True Choir, singing our prayers, participating in a faith that is historical, global and eschatological, raising our voices in solidarity with the eternal congregation known as the communion of saints, bearing witness to the Lordship of Christ, adding to the beauty.
Grace and peace, Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Dec 2015)

Advent Awareness
What good is it that Christ was born [2000] years ago
if he is not born now in your heart?

~Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

The Good News of Jesus points us to the Good Way of Life.  However, it’s essential to notice that the world Jesus invaded was -- much like the world we now inhabit – riddled with a host of powers and principalities which defy goodness.  The world today is punctuated (at times it seems dominated) by an army of offensive enemies to this Way, threatening to sabotage the mission of goodness.  From the days of Herod to the days of ISIS, evil persists in this broken and fearful world left behind for us by Adam and Eve.  Rebellion abounds in the coming Kingdom as sin refuses to let loose its stranglehold on our souls.  What’s a modern day contender of the faith to do?
            Caving in is always an option.  There’s enough anxiety in our lives to crowd out joy.  There’s plenty of confusion, pain, and turmoil in this world to trump the full and abundant life Jesus came to bring us, and it’s not hard to succumb to the dreary conditions we find ourselves in.  Eyeore-like, we give up on hope, and raise the white flag of fatalism.
            There is another way.
            Based on my life-long reading of the scriptures, the best way to live a meaningful present – at whatever developmental stage we find ourselves in – is by keeping a proverbial coin on edge.  On the one side is the past.  It’s the recollection of God’s almighty actions throughout history, as exemplified by biblical accounts of God’s faithfulness, deliverance, and redemption, culminating most magnificently in the incarnation when God became one of us, and moved in among us.  Beginning with Bethlehem, and then ��������� through the Spirit-infused Church – occupying the remaining square inches, the divine presence suffuses the world.   Emmanuel: God-With-Us.
            On the other side of the coin is the future, another event that, while forecast, is a date known only to the Father.  The Bible refers to it as The Day of The Lord.  St. Patrick of Ireland called it The Day of Doom.  Theologians have named it The Return of Christ.  Whatever you call it, it’s Jesus making his return visit to planet earth.  No meek and mild baby-in-a-manger, this advent of the Son involves the consummation of God’s promises: New heaven, New earth; No more tears; No more pain.  With the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God it’ll be time to say “so long” to death.  Forever.
            Until that Day we grope our way toward the Good Life.  In fits and starts, in forward and backward steps, we strain to experience life at its best.  Few, however, are the exemplars of how to do this well.  Mostly, we just need to figure it out on our own, in our own time, our own context.  This is the challenge of being an Advent people: living in the tension of the Now and the Not Yet.
            To live a good and meaningful Now entails both remembering and anticipation.  We recall his past arrival, and we tilt our way toward the future coming of Jesus.  This requires of us being both historians and futurists.  And the balancing act of keeping an eternal coin on edge.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Nov 2015)

Walk The Plank
If we say we that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us. 
If we confess our sins,
he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

~I John 1:8-9

Persuaded that the church of the 21st century will have more in common with the church of the first five centuries than it will with the 20th century, I have been getting reacquainted with the early church Fathers over the last couple of years.  To my great pleasure I have been struck by the way they – to a person – placed a strong emphasis on the importance of baptism, not only the necessity of getting wet, but the importance of living wet.  Baptism marks both the beginning of our life in Christ, and it characterizes our life-long journey of becoming like Christ.  This is our primary identity: children of God, growing up in Christ.  Like children, however, we develop gradually.  Abraham-like, we journey by stages.
It didn’t take the Fathers any longer than it takes us to realize that, while the sacrament of baptism represents the washing away of sin, sin persists among the baptized, nonetheless.  Recognizing the ongoing temptations to sin, as well as the reality of actually sliding (or tumbling, as the case may be) into sin, thereby defying the sacred nature of the New Covenant, these early church pastors found language which was useful in restoring a person who had strayed from their baptismal moorings.  Acknowledging the need for ongoing repentance subsequent to baptism several of them introduced the wonderful notion of the “second plank.” 
Tertullian, Bishop of Carthage, who first coined the phrase, suggested that confession of our sin and repentance from our sin is “a plank for those who have had the misfortune to be shipwrecked.”  In his own words (it needs to be read more than once):

This will draw you forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the port of the divine clemency. Seize the opportunity of unexpected felicity: that you, who sometime were in God’s sight nothing but a drop of a bucket, and dust of the threshing-floor, and a potter's vessel, may thenceforward become that tree which is sown beside the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own time, and shall not see fire, nor axe.  Having found the truth, repent of errors; repent of having loved what God loves not: even we ourselves do not permit our slave-lads not to hate the things which are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary obedience consists in similarity of minds.

The metaphor -- as a sort of makeshift lifeboat in the stormy sea of sin in which a person has been shipwrecked – conjures a compelling image of rescue and forgiveness.  While “walking the plank” is now more commonly associated with death by drowning, Tertullian’s image of the second plank suggests how repentance is the life preserver that restores people who are thrashing about in the waves of sin to the grace of God’s unending mercy.  The wet sacrament, of course, captures beautifully both sides of the baptismal coin: the necessity for the old self to be destroyed in order for a new life to be buoyed in Christ.
In our 21st century climate of positivism, we might do well to recover the early church’s realism that includes an acknowledgement of sin and evil, along with a way to deal with it, by confessing our sins, renouncing evil, and clinging to Christ.  To refuse to offer our prayers of confession to a merciful God is akin to a shipwrecked person not crying out for help when a lifeboat passes by.  We don’t need to be merely improved; we need to be rescued, and repentance is the lifeline, our salvation-plank from death to life.  Walk this way.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Oct 2015)

The Good Life
The joy of the Lord is your strength.
~Nehemiah 8:10

Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to -- a good marriage, are rewarding job, a pleasant vacation.  Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.
~Frederick Buechner

I have a friend who failed hospice.  At the age of 57, after her doctors gave her something short of six months to live, Sandy quit her job, and moved in with her daughter and grandchildren to finish out her days.  To the bewilderment of her doctors she didn’t die.  She was healed.  Without chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or even so much as an aspirin, she was, according to her testimony, cured by the Great Physician.   Since then, a friend of hers has sent her a card on each of her birthdays to celebrate her new life.  The cards commemorate not her actual age, but the years since being given a second chance at life.  The last card she received celebrated her eleventh birthday.
Like a lot of people who have had similar experiences, Sandy sees her close encounter with death as a gift that has more fully ushered her into an abundant way of life, characterized, in my observation, by an indomitably joyful spirit.  You’ll never hear her complain about the weather or about traffic or any of the other things that can cause people to grumble.  She doesn’t have time for such petty complaints; she’s too busy being grateful, living her life fully whether in traffic jams by herself or at Mariner’s games with her family.  Significantly, her life is primarily focused on and defined by people.  It is in relationships, she has found, that she experiences the greatest meaning and the deepest joy.
I sometimes wonder if our culture’s besetting sin of busyness isn’t distracting us from reflecting more carefully on what makes for a meaningful life.  I also wonder if we don’t sometimes prefer it that way.  If, for example, I am able to occupy my time with work, devoting myself to an endless checklist of tasks, I don’t have to attend to the pesky challenges of relational intimacy.  If my calendar crowds out real conversations I may be able to successfully dodge some uncomfortable truths I’d rather avoid.  Perhaps the pursuit of success coupled with a busy lifestyle represent the easier alternatives to the hard work of love.
 When my priorities get skewed and my life feels out of sync with the Spirit, I invariably find a helpful corrective when I consider the simple-yet-profound first question and answer to the Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Glorify God.  St. Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, famously wrote, “the glory of God is man fully alive.”  Where are you, what are you doing, and who are you with when you feel most alive?  Whatever it is, it brings glory to God.  Choose that.
Enjoy God.  Presbyterians are infamously and unfortunately known for their paucity of joy.  We tend to be a serious bunch, and yet Joy is identified not only as one of the fruits of the Spirit, but among the lists of Christian virtues.  Choose that.
What makes us fully alive, and brings us greatest enjoyment varies from one person to another.  Which is to say that the good life does not come in one shape or style that fits all.    Whatever it involves, chances are that life will be good when it is shared with other people.  We were made for this: to be in relationships – with God and with one another – so that God is glorified and we are overjoyed.
That is our chief end.
Let nothing get in the way of that.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Sep 2015)

Leave A Trace
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
~Ephesians 2:10

With my new titanium hip securely fastened to and fully integrated into my skeletal system, I am eagerly looking forward to trail-testing it this month on Mt. Rainier’s well-named Wonderland Trail with my three big kids and my brother, Leif.  If the trip goes according to plan we will use the Frying Pan Creek trailhead to access the wondrous trail, and over three or four days hike our way around the south side of the mountain, traversing Ohanapecosh Park, and ending up at Paradise (the best place to eat a cheeseburger!).  And you can bet that, except for the photographs and eyewitnesses along the way, no one will ever know that we had been there.    
            With the ecological movement of the 1970s, coinciding with my tenure as a Boy Scout, came a phrase that has been drilled into my conscious mind as indelibly as the scriptures I have memorized over the years.  It started out as “Take Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Footprints.”  But in more recent years it has been abbreviated and canonized by both the Sierra Club and some federal agencies into the succinct motto: “Leave No Trace.”  Whether visiting the backcountry or the frontcountry, there should be no physical evidence that you were ever there.  Head for the hills, or enjoy a trail, or camp in an alpine meadow, but do it in a way that nobody following you would notice that you’d been there.  We must all do what we can to preserve what precious little is left of our pristine environment. 
            While this is good advice as we relate to the planet, it does not transfer well to our relationship with the Kingdom of God.  When we pray, “thy Kingdom come,” we are essentially assenting to being agents for that purpose – helping to bring about that reality of which Christ is king.  The clash of values between the kingdom of this world and God’s Kingdom is stark and fierce, and it needs people who can show us how to live according to its code of conduct as citizens of The Way.  Unfortunately, far too many people are remembered for things that have little or no eternal significance.
            I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, but I am trying to live as someone who is prepared to die.  And when that time comes I would like to think that I had something to show for myself, a life well-lived, a gift more generously offered than selfishly squandered, one that, through words and deeds, in fits and starts, pointed to the reality of the in-breaking Kingdom of God, and the indwelling of the Son of God.  Moreover, I sincerely hope that I am eulogized as someone who helped a community of people become more God-attentive.
            When it comes to trails, tread lightly, and leave a faint footprint.  But when it comes to influence, live your life in such a way that it leaves the high impact marks and telltale signs of the Kingdom of God.  Leave a trace of truth.  Leave an indelible legacy of love.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Aug 2015)

Don’t Sweat The Adiaphora
…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

~Ephesians 4

It is becoming increasingly and disturbingly the case that as the Church interacts with and speaks into the broader world it is becoming known and identified more by what it’s against than what it’s for.  The Church has joined the academy in being addicted to dispute, critique, negation, when it should privilege wisdom and wonder.
Taking a stand and standing firm, come hell or high water and irrespective of the damage done to relationships, is seen as virtuous, commendable, courageous.  But when it is accompanied by the price of injuring people in the process it necessarily brings those stances into question.  When following the Jesus Way it’s pretty hard to justify collateral damage for the sake of the Kingdom of God, particularly when the damage hurts the children of God.
I’m not suggesting this is easy.  Maintaining the unity of the Church is enormously complicated because Christianity was birthed in controversy.  Blame it on its founder and Head if you wish; Jesus did much to disrupt the social and political norms of his day, including changing the definition of mother, brother and sister (those that do the will of God).  He didn’t just color outside the lines, he completely rearranged them, breaking Sabbath rules, for example, through the audacious claim that he was its Lord.  After his resurrection this led to all sorts of questions about how the Gospel way of life was to be lived especially as it involved implications for people-groups like Men and Women, Jews and Gentiles, Slaves and Free.  But the questions extended into a variety of ethical areas as the Grace of Christ collided with the Law of Moses.  One of the early controversies that threatened the fellowship in Corinth was over the question of whether a Christian could eat food that had been sacrificed to an idol.  Here’s how St. Paul mediated the topic:

...food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:8–9).

Do you see what he did there?  He did not answer the question in a yes or no way.  He lifted it out of its binary quagmire and redirected their concern from a matter of food, to a matter of fellowship -- something much more precious.  Relationships trump rules.  As Leonard Sweet, my friend and teacher is fond of saying, “You can either be right, or you can be in a relationship.”
Over the years we have gradually and variously expanded these binaries to such categories as Black and White, Gay and Straight, Catholic and Protestant, Dunking or Sprinkling, Physical or Spiritual Presence, to create categories of inclusion and exclusion, right and wrong.   
At some point in the midst of a sea of controversies and disagreements, the Church adopted the notion of adiaphora -- matters over which good, faithful, God-fearing Christians can disagree and still get along, and also remain in God’s good grace.  For example, on which day of the week we are to observe the Sabbath.  Or the place and importance of praying in tongues.  These are among the many non-essential matters of faith.  The holy scriptures insist that in Christ the binaries dissolve into a strange, mish mash unity known as the Church.  There is, and intentionally so, very little about it that is homogeneous.  But those dratted differences are what threaten the peace and unity of the Church, thus the need for a refresher in adiaphora.
It’s high time we reclaim the concept, loosening our grip (or letting go entirely) of the issues that are conflicting and inflicting the Body of Christ for the sake of maintaining the unity of the Spirit, getting along with one another amid our considerable disagreements.  There are a lot of people that we don’t like and with whom we disagree that we are going to spend eternity with because Jesus died for us all, and so we’d better start practicing getting along now.  If it’s not on the key ring of the Kingdom of God it’s probably not worth sweating over.   Getting along with people is more important than defending one’s principles.  After all, Jesus went about breaking a lot of rules in order to fulfill the law of love.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jul 2015)

The Imitation of Christ
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me,
and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.
~Philippians 3:17

I recently sent the following note to my chief hero in the faith:
Fifty-seven years ago you made vows to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  You have, to this day, continually honored those vows in prophetic, creative, and faithful ways.  I salute you on your fidelity to this noble vocation.  Twenty-five years ago I affirmed those same vows.  Everything of any consequence that I know about pastoral work I learned from you.  Thank you!
Beginning at a very early age we are formed by other people.  Studies with infants show how they begin to mirror their mother’s facial expressions long before they can speak their first word.  Watch them as they grow up and you’ll discover that children are unnervingly astute, observing and then imitating the behaviors they are exposed to, both for good and for ill.  As parents we can find ourselves alternately pleased and horrified when we hear our words coming out of our kids’ mouths.
Imitating others doesn’t end when we leave childhood behind either.  We continue to be influenced by the people around us, and we have a strong tendency to adopt some version of their values, idiosyncrasies, and lifestyles as our own.  The notion, for example, that married couples begin to look and act more similarly as the years go by is a real phenomenon, because people in close contact tend to mimic each other’s facial expressions.
Unfortunately, healthy models showing us how to live Christianly are spotty.  Almost every Christian I know has at some point disappointed me.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be imitating people, it just means that we need to choose carefully, looking for those men and women who are living intentionally, sacrificially, courageously, as people of truth and grace, ones who incarnate love and who practice charity.  Integrity, more so than perfection, is the criterion in the selection of such models that mime messiah.
Six hundred years ago Thomas a Kempis wrote a book titled The Imitation of Christ.  It’s become one of the most beloved of devotional classics, second only to the Bible in the number of languages it has been translated into.  Even if you don’t read it for yourself the title alone is instructive.  The goal of the Christian life is to become more and more like Jesus.
Nobody knows how to do this innately.  Our natural instinct is to go the way of Adam, rebelling against God.  Reconditioning our minds and hearts for life in the Kingdom of God requires a mimetic energy influenced by the saints and other heroes of the faith, not exactly mimicking, but emulating, imitating, but not copying.  It’s not about living one’s faith vicariously through another, but modeling a life of discipleship after someone who is mature in Christ and who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit.
I am so grateful to have a hero who has exemplified what it means to be a godly man, a loving and honorable husband, an attentive father, and a faithful pastor.  Happy ordination anniversary, Dad; I still want to be like you when I grow up!  And I’m quite sure that as I do, I’ll become ever more like Christ.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jun 2015)

Angels We Have Heard… and Hijacked
Are not all angels spirits in the divine service,
sent to serve for the sake of those
who are to inherit salvation?
~Hebrews 1:14

Are there angels among us?  If so, where are they, and what in the world are they doing?  Whoever and wherever they are they certainly show up in our language a lot.  For example, people who escape an accident without serious injuries will often credit “an angel watching over me.”  An especially well-behaved child might get referred to as “a perfect angel,” and someone who sings beautifully is said to “have the voice of an angel.”
            A cursory study of art history will reveal that we’ve always been fascinated by angels, especially as they are portrayed in the scriptures.  But in our day the interest has gone viral, and has spilled imaginatively well beyond the borders of the Bible.  Type the word angel into a search engine and you’ll come up with 816 million hits.  As a point of comparison that’s nine times more results than what you’d get if you entered the now trendy word “zombie.”  It appears that angels, for all their shy tendencies, are only growing in popularity.
            The American sociologist Robert Wuthnow, writing in 1998, traces our increasing fascination over the last quarter century:
            Overall, the number of books on angels (according to the Library of Congress) rose from 20 published between 1971 and 1975, to 31 between 1976 and 1980, 34 between 1981 and 1985, 57 between 1986 and 1990, and 110 between 1991 and 1995.  During the last three periods, total sales of books were estimated to exceed five million copies.
            And then there’s the plethora of movies and television shows from Angels in America to Touched by an Angel that have flooded screens both big and small.  It’s little wonder that then First Lady Hillary Clinton declared 1995 the Year of the Angel.
            For all of the interest they get, angels are also victim to both much misinformation and misrepresentation.  Because I believe we are called to be people of the Truth, I get concerned when, at times of death, I hear erroneous comments from survivors about “now having an angel to watch over me.”  But grief is not the time to correct anybody’s unorthodox views on angelology, so I’m doing it now.  While such sentiments may provide comfort or be offered as a source of consolation to grieving people, they are not grounded in any semblance of biblical truth and are, therefore, nothing more than false hope.  Lies really.  Dead children aren’t transformed into angels.  People don’t die and then become our guardian angels.  That’s baloney.
            Rather, angels are spiritual beings created by God for specific purposes, primarily as messengers, but also to provide aid and protection to people in need.  They are real and they are operative in our world functioning as agents of God’s will in a variety of ways.  So don’t be surprised (or afraid) if you meet one.  Practice hospitality to a stranger and you might just find yourself entertaining one (Heb. 13:2).  But please don't ascribe such an identity to mere mortals, no matter how angelic you consider them to be.  At the time of death we don’t become angels; we inherit Resurrection.  And that’s even better.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter May 2015)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor,
Leesa Birdsall:

The Fruitful Struggle
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
 ~Romans 5:3-5

As I visited with my spiritual director, Nancy, last month, I shared with her my current struggle preparing for the inevitability of becoming an “empty nester.”  I talked about my profound grief over the ways I expect life to change, especially when it comes to meal times, holidays and vacations.  I spoke of the ways I am wrestling with my identity, as well as the ways I am imagining the future.  I expressed my worry for the boys, and of course my regrets as a parent.  At the same time I acknowledged the conflicting emotions of joy and pride in the young men they are becoming, as they take all they’ve learned and prepare to launch!  I have loved being a mother and now with two graduating seniors in my house, life is going to change.  Change, whether good or bad, involves loss, and wherever there is loss grief is not far behind.
            Nancy asked me what I am doing to cope in this season.  I told her that I am exercising, weeping at times, and speaking honestly about it with people who are close to me (including the boys).  Then without a bit of condescension she graciously affirmed where I am and what I am doing.  After which, she promptly encouraged me to remain in the struggle.   Which at first seemed totally counterintuitive.  In fact, something in me rather wishes I could heed the “get over it” advice I’ve received from a couple of well-meaning voices.  But “remain in” the struggle? 
            I’ve since come to appreciate Nancy’s wisdom and quiet understanding, for there is important work to be done in the environment of struggle.  I am learning that this could be a formative time in my life, a time when the Lord might be doing some refining work in me.  So the final word that came from our visit was one of hope, as Nancy acknowledged that this is a season to live fully into even as I seek the fruit that is sure to come.
            One thing I know is that seasons of change, grief, and struggle are normative in our lives.  Whether they come to be known as good or bad experiences has a lot to do with how we think about them.  A few of you know that I recently completed a two-year certificate program at Gonzaga University in spiritual direction. Through the years it has become clear to me that life is far more than a solo expedition.  I took the course because in my own walk I have found it helpful to have others journeying along with me, especially during seasons like the one I am currently enduring, and I wanted to be able to offer that to others.  What I have discovered about having another wise person listening with me is that we have a way of incarnating the presence of God to one another. 
            Listening with a companion becomes a gift, as our lives are full of crossroads and seasons of transformation when it’s sometimes difficult to discern the way to go, particularly when we are experiencing a sense of restlessness and searching.  There are moments in our lives when the voice of the Lord may be calling us further still, and it can feel strangely uncomfortable.  But, as difficult as it might be, these times can become invitations to go deeper in our relationships, both with God and with one another (the distinction is not really important; they are equally sacred).  In my experience it helps to have someone come alongside in the struggle, and listen together for the way the Spirit might be at work offering an insight, or a word of correction.  I appreciated how Nancy was able to give that voice to me.
            Richard Rohr speaks of the “crucible life,” in his book Falling Upward and I am reminded that this is our frequent experience.  As the teens in my house like to dramatically say, “the struggle is real.”  And though they may not at this stage of their lives fully comprehend the importance of that struggle, the truth remains that our lives are full of difficulties and seasons that feel challenging.   These periods have the potential to break us or refine us, but there is fruit to be born if we are willing to actively do the work and engage in the struggle.  
            Struggle, grief, and suffering are all part of the crucible life. That’s not to say that peace and joy can’t be found, but there is nothing about the gospel way that points to an easy road.  Rather, we have been called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The good news, however, is that we have been given the assurance of Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit.  And we have been given the gift of one another.  We are not required to walk the road alone.  Therefore these challenging seasons might be the specific places where God is waiting to meet us and transform us, as we abide in the crucible moments – the very seeds of resurrection.  
            Therefore, we trust that there is fruit to be born.  Joy and peace, along with the rest of the fruits of the spirit can be found for, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Grace and peace,
Leesa Birdsall


(Newsletter Apr 2015)

Punched By An Angel
Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
~Genesis 32:25

As many of you well know it was nearly seven years ago (although it seems so much longer) that I entered a season of anguish which, even now that I am better than ever, I am not inclined to minimize.  It was an experience of deep darkness and great sadness of the type that defies description.  But early on the story of Jacob wrestling an angel in the darkness became an important and potent metaphor for me.  I was in the struggle of my life, and Jacob loaned me his fierce determination, a holy refusal to give up.  On borrowed faith I resolved that I would not let go until God blessed me.  I am endlessly grateful for the ways God has done just that, in myriad and beautiful ways (most notably through my marriage to Elizabeth) that even now leaves me amazed by grace, and nearly as speechless as before.
            Inexplicably during that same time I developed a pain in my right hip that I have been trying to both understand and manage off and on ever since, involving a variety of medical interventions and high doses of ibuprofen.  Finally an MRI recently revealed what was really going on.  The diagnosis: “Extensive degenerative maceration and tearing of the acetabular labrum.”  The physician’s assistant who was interpreting it to me said, “Basically, you’re a mess in there.”  The prescription: Total hip arthroplasty.”  I need a hip replacement.
            On April 13th I am scheduled for the surgery that will swap my injured hip with an impressive combination of titanium, ceramic and polyethylene, something --- in the words of my surgeon (words which teeter on the edge of hubris) --- which “will be better than the original parts God gave you.”  Additionally, he tells me that it will involve a six-week recovery period, but that I will be able to resume my workout routine once the stiches are out.  I’m happy about that, as I have a date with my daughter, and we have an appointment to climb Mt. Baker in September --- a hefty and enticing rehab carrot dangling in front of me.
            We accumulate reminders --- some in our bodies, others in our memories --- of struggles that we have endured and survived.  Paul carried around a host of thorn-in-the-flesh reminders of his beatings, floggings and of once being stoned.  Even after his resurrection Jesus retained the scars of his crucifixion; in fact, it appears that they were what caused his disciples in Emmaus to finally recognize him.  And Jacob --- the Contender: his body a repository for the remnants of a grueling midnight wrestling match, a visceral reminder of a dark and blessed night which was evoked with every wincing step for the duration of his 180 years, hobbling around with the aid of a Canaanite cane well into his doddering years, until he was “gathered to his people, old and full of days.”  Trophy-like, his lingering limp was the permanent, physical evidence that he had striven with God and with man and lived to tell the story.
            I am grateful for the technology and medical skill that makes this possible, allowing me to resume a number of activities that have been significantly curtailed in recent years.  I am grateful for good insurance that makes it affordable.  And that gratitude mounts as I am persuaded that it is far quicker and easier to repair an injured hip than it is to heal a broken heart.  And while I will no longer, presumably, walk with a limp, I will forever carry the scar which will keep me in struggling solidarity with Jacob, my brother and patron saint, who got punched by an angel but who didn’t get knocked out.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

P.S. I don’t believe anyone has ever written a poem for me until this month when a dear friend sent me this hope-filled gift:

Done with wrestling
haunting inconsequential
vestiges of the past ---
turn toward Peniel
God is waiting
to strive with you;
do not let go
till you are blessed;
trouble placid
baptismal waters,
then limp away
you are made whole
soon enough!
~Samuel Mahaffy



(Newsletter Mar 2015)

A Broad Place
There is a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea.

~Frederick W. Faber

It’s a moment from my sabbatical summer of 2008 I hope I never forget, and likely won’t given its indelible imprint on my memory.  After spending most of the day hiking a large segment of Mt. Rainier’s well-named Wonderland Trail, and after a particularly demanding stretch, I found myself finally standing on some level ground.  I looked up to behold a most stunning sight: Ohanapecosh Park -- a massive, glacier-carved meadow full of stunning wildflowers at their peak performance contrasted against the bluest sky I have ever seen.  Even if had a friend with me I wouldn’t have said a word in that unsayable moment when all language fails, and only tears are up to the task of glad response. 
But it did bring to mind someone else’s words.  At precisely the center point of the Bible you can find this testimony from the psalmist:

“Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place” (118:5)

Ohanapecosh, in addition to being really fun to say, has been my visual  association with “a broad place” ever since.  While it shows up only a handful of times throughout the scriptures, the phrase is used rather consistently to refer to people’s experience of God ushering them into a place of goodness and blessing, peace and freedom, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  It shows up in blessed relief to times when we might feel restricted, imprisoned, impoverished, oppressed, confined or otherwise limited, even “small.”  Stepping into a broad place startles us with overwhelming gratitude, even prompting the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann to borrow it as the title of his autobiography. 
Paradoxically (which is often the way of orthodoxy), according to Jesus our entrance into the Kingdom of God is through a narrow way.  “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”   But while the way is hard and narrow, it leads us to the expansiveness of the abundant life Jesus came to give us, just like a narrow trail led me to the glory of an alpine meadow.  Not surprisingly, the sacramental environment in which he demonstrated it was at a Table.  The Gospel writers describe the upper room where the last supper was celebrated with the  (Greek) adjective megas -- “large,” suggesting that there is nothing stingy about the joyful feast, and there are no restrictions to the blessings that flow from it.  At this Table there is elbow room for all gathered guests, a spacious place for everyone who wants to “live large” in the wideness of God’s mercy, allowing us, in turn, to be exceedingly gracious in our hospitality toward others.  For in the broad places of God’s mercy we lack not a thing.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Feb 2015)

Time in the Womb
You must be born again (from above).
~Jesus (John 3:7)

Once a month I do this -- develop an agenda outlining the work our Session needs to attend to as they exercise their office as ruling elders.  Their responsibilities include such weighty and consequential things as providing for worship, education and spiritual nurture, directing our missional identity, providing fiduciary oversight to matters of stewardship and finances, and caring for our physical property.  Each month the agenda is formed around those primary responsibilities.  If we neglect any part of the agenda we are prone to imperil the health of our congregation in its holy mission to exhibit the Kingdom of God.
            The easily overlooked, frequently neglected aspect of our persons that makes us uniquely human and gives us the capacity to become increasingly godly is the soul -- the very core of our being touching the depths of our existence.  And the soul -- your soul -- I suggest is not ambivalent.  It has a distinct agenda in service to the life-long process of entering and experiencing more fully the abundance of God’s Life.  But there is no auto-pilot to help us navigate this territory; it requires great diligence on our part.
            As Jesus insisted, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”  This, of course, is the baptismal way inviting us to go deeper into Christ by practicing the behaviors and attitudes that resonate with the patterns of godliness, forming us by stages (much like the development of babies in utero) from within.  Growing up, and growing into the likeness of Christ is a counter-intuitive way that involves descent, surrender, renunciation, and the recovery of childlike wonder, curiosity, and joy.  Unfortunately, precious little about the world we live in shows us how to do this.  We need holy help.
            Beginning with Ash Wednesday (please come!), punctuated by the six Sundays of Lent (please attend!), and including every blessed day in between we will both hear and heed the invitations to honor the agenda of our respective souls.  And while it will vary a bit from person to person, we will benefit by coming under the wisdom of the spiritual masters – the women and men whose voices we can still hear all the way from the pages of scripture to the hermitages of the desert, from the rocking chairs of the saints to the playgrounds of our children.  To be born again is to become like a child all over again. 
            Accompanied by the sign of a dusty cross on your forehead on February 18th I will issue a solemn call for you to re-enter the womb of Life by joining me in observing a Holy Lent through a variety of practices characterized primarily by turning from sin and turning to Christ that are especially becoming to the baptized.  No matter your age or stage in life, time in the womb is time well spent in service to your thirsty soul.  It’s time to get wet again.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jan 2015)

Welcome Back!
Every parting is a form of death,
as every reunion is a type of heaven.

~Tryon Edwards

There is simply no hiding my enthusiasm accompanying this joyous announcement that Janet Neder is returning to CPC as our Director of Children’s Ministry!  You may recall that after serving us in this role for over eight years Janet accepted the invitation to serve St. Luke Lutheran Church down the road as their youth ministry coordinator.  This seemed to make sense to both Janet and to me at the time, mostly for the way we expected it to provide more opportunities for her to worship with her family.  But since the youth ministry position at St. Luke was not the fit we hoped it would be, and since our vacant position has not attracted any strong candidates “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) for her to return. 
In her own words, as she explained this decision to the congregation at St. Luke, “I have a longtime passion for children’s ministry and feel that my gifts (including my education and my experience) are better suited for the position at Colbert.”  She went on to clarify for them that she was not leaving for any negative reasons, but that this decision is the result of her desire to serve the Christ in a way that is most suited to her calling and her gifting.
As she now makes the transition back to CPC Janet reflects:
I knew when I left Colbert that I was leaving something really special, and I couldn't be more grateful for the chance to come back and be a part of what God is doing there.  I'll try my best not to get in the way.  I'll try to prayerfully and humbly steward the gifts I have been given, including what I've learned from my time at St. Luke and including this opportunity to serve alongside you once again.  Thank you for welcoming me back.  I can't wait to get back to work!
Indeed, we’ve all learned some important things about our ministry and ourselves such that Janet will not simply be resuming at the same point where she left, but beginning again at a new place.  This will require some careful conversations to share what we’ve learned so that we can respond to our growing understanding of how the Holy Spirit is leading us to help form children’s lives for the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, there is nothing about this in my mind that seems like a mistake; rather, it’s all gift.  The Session and I believe that this is an altogether providential turn of events for our life and ministry, ushering us into a new beginning of children’s ministry, a focal point of our church that, I hardly need to remind you, requires being always on our toes.
The life of discipleship is like this more often than not, more commonly characterized by circuitous sojourning than straight lines.  And while Jesus is both the beginning and the end, the A and the Z of our lives, our journey with him and toward him generally requires all the other letters in the alphabet along the way as we continually begin again.  Reminding me that while farewells are never final in the Kingdom of God it’s especially sweet when the reunions take place this side of heaven.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric
P.S. I wish to express my profound gratitude to our elder Karen Anders who, along with many others, has been providing exceptional servant leadership to our children’s ministries this fall.  Thank you!


(Newsletter Dec 2014)

Come, thou long-expected Jesus

The Good News story -- the Kingdom of God is at hand! -- must be re-storied in every season and in every person.  As each one of us becomes a fresh incarnation of Jesus, the Church gradually, generationally reaches its full stature.  The second Advent, or the Return of Christ, happens through each of us as we heed the Baptist’s invitation to turn from our sin, and re-turn to our Maker.  Or, said another way, to join Nicodemus in being “born again.”  The advantage of Advent is in its summons to begin again.  If that sounds difficult, you heard right. 
            When you consider the incarnation -- the way that God personally showed up in the world -- we see humility and simplicity and poverty.  So if we understand today’s Church as the present manifestation of the Body of Christ (which, indeed it is) then it must, I’ve become convinced, reflect the way God came to us in Jesus.  Over and against the prevailing view that the Church should offer a compelling demonstration of the power of God, and therefore should use the means and methods that would reflect that might and that effectiveness, God’s way is a lowly way: coming to us in the form of a newborn, blessing meekness, embodying servant-hood, affirming humility.  If we are going to be a people born of Jesus we are going to need to get in touch with our poverty. And rather than operating out of a posture of strength and resources, to work from a position of weakness -- the precise environment in which divine strength is perfected. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Have this same mind in you that was in Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.  He humbled himself to the point of death.”
            I’ll be the first to admit that this may not sound like the American way, and it may not even feel like the natural way.  But it is, nonetheless, the Jesus way.  It is a way that embraces the “now-but-not-yet” ambiguities of Advent, as it holds us in the midst of life’s uncertainties, along with all that remains incomplete, inviting us, Mary-like, to ponder all these things in our hearts.
            The pendulum of Advent typically swings between the celebration of the birth of Jesus (when God became one of us), and the anticipation of Christ’s return in glory.  But those past and future bookends in the salvation story -- both Incarnation and Parousia -- reflect, above all, the gift of divine Presence.  This Advent I hope that we can, while not forgetting the past nor neglecting the future, remain in the present by practicing the Presence.  The return of Christ happens in each one of us as we create hospitable environments for the Spirit of Christ to indwell.  Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to reign in us forever.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Nov 2014)

Identity Crisis
Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. 
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

North Americans suffer from a crisis of identity. I’m not sure this is necessarily something new, but it seems to me that, with an increasingly large and diverse menu of options from which to choose, and a crescendo of voices vying for not only our attention but our allegiance, it’s a tricky thing to figure out our personal ID.  Where are the voices that can be trusted to accurately tell us the truth about ourselves?  Few things are so consequential as this, for when we don’t know who we really are, we will find it impossible to really live.  Our lifestyles, in other words, originate from and emerge out of our understanding of our selves.  There may be no more important question for us to both ask and to answer than the one Bonhoeffer posed in a 1945 poem he wrote from a Nazi prison cell within months of his execution:  Who am I?
            Depending on what we consider to be important, or who’s asking the question of us, we might define ourselves (and by extension what we value) by such things as

            A culture like ours, which spends enormous amounts of money and energy trying to convince us that our value as people is inextricably related to our ability to consume and to produce – and in both cases, the more the better – you can see why I often feel like I’m up against some formidable competition, to the point where – if the “game” is directing the desires of peoples’ hearts – I frequently feel like I’m on the losing team.
            I have become convinced that, with so much at stake (nothing less than our very souls) nothing shy of a sacramental response is what is needed.  Spend much time around the Presbyterian Church in Colbert, and you’re going to notice this emphasis.  So much, in fact, that it led someone recently to ask about it.  I think I recall accurately the exact quote: “Dude, what is your thing with Baptism?  You talk about it so much; what gives?  I don’t get it!”
            Although I’m in the process of writing a doctoral dissertation that hopefully answers that question, my interest is far more than an academic exercise; rather it emerges out of a deep pastoral concern.  My primary vocational responsibility is related to my commitment to be a follower of the Way of Jesus, namely to help you live into your identity as children of God.  But what has the staying power?  What remains relevant and endurable?  The answer is both tried and true, while not the least bit tired.
            In the storied waters of baptism we are given a new identity, assigned a new purpose, animated with a new life.  God is making all things new, and we are participants and players in the redemptive acts of the ever-new creation.  Like nothing else baptism captures (and then captivates us) with the mighty acts of God who brings order out of chaos, washes away sin, delivers people from bondage into freedom, ransoms our lives with the life of his own Son, and fills us with the Holy Spirit so that our lives can spill – cornucopia-like – with the holy virtues of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  “By their fruits you shall know (read identify) them” (Mt 7:16).
            More than anything – and this, I believe, will be among the chief criteria for whether or not I am judged to be a pastoral success – is if you know, in the very deepest parts of your being, that you belong to Christ, and that you have been claimed with the everlasting grace of God.  Far above the cacophony and confusion of all the other voices that are trying to ID you, my greatest desire is that you are able to hear the Voice of the One who desires to be ever more intimately the Lover of your soul, the One who can’t help but smile at the mere thought of you, the One who takes endless pleasure in you, the One who – with the unmatched fierceness of Divine Love – points to you, and says, “Mine!”
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Oct 2014)

For Seasons
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven
~Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m writing this on the first day of Fall.  Known as the autumnal equinox, it is one of two days in the year when the sun shines directly over the equator, making day and night equally balanced to twelve hours each all over the world.  Presumably you’re reading this on a day that is now slightly dominated by night time, as the earth and all of its occupants in the Northern Hemisphere tilt steadily toward Winter. 
            I love living in climes that include four distinct seasons.  I like the regular, rhythmical patterns of the ever-changing seasons, and I like the fact that I pretty much know what to expect from each of them.  Sure there are the occasional freak storms and crazy extreme temperatures; foul weather ebbs and flows like the tides.  Additionally, the darker times of the year can afflict us with some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But mostly each season returns with its own comforting familiarity.  By the way, don’t ask me my preference; my favorite is (most) always the one I’m presently in. 
            Similarly, the Church has predictable rhythms of its own.  Dominated by the periods of  Advent-Christmas, Lent-Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time, the liturgical seasons invite us to attend to the cycles of Life, Death, Resurrection, and Return which are instrumental in forming us for a life in Christ.
            But there are other so-called “seasons” in our life together which, while normal, are neither predictable nor enjoyable.  Presently we in the CPC faith community are living through a season that is largely punctuated by loss.  Not only did we bury three of our members this summer, but we have also said good-bye to a number of people who, for various reasons, have left our church.  It is a season, in other words, that is accompanied by grief, and change, and uncertainty about the future.  The word itself comes from the Old French word, seson, referring to “a time of sowing,” leaving me to wonder what kinds of seeds are being planted among us during this season of our life together.
            As it turns out (we know this from the scriptures, as well as through personal experience) these are times when God has a way of getting our attention, ushering us into places of humility, prayer, and discernment.  They can be helpful as times of clarification, correction, as well as confirmation.   And they are often the environments in which God does some of his very best work in transforming us more fully into the beloved community known as the Church of Jesus Christ.  Even grief can be the seasoning that helps to bring out the “God-flavors of this world” (Mt 5:13, The Message).
            Meteorological seasons are determined by the relationship between the earth and the sun.
            Ecclesiological seasons are determined by the relationship between the Church and the Son.
            The Triune God whom we worship and serve is, alone, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, in and out of whatever season we happen to find ourselves in.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Sep 2014)

Rocky Road
Give yourself to the Church.
You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not.  If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all!  And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it.
Still, imperfect as it is,
it is the dearest place on earth to us...

~Charles H. Spurgeon

Sometimes I feel like a failure.  Sometimes, in fact, I am.  Or perhaps it’s better to say that sometimes I do: I fail.  So far in my doctoral program I have received all “A”s.  But in so many other areas my grades are dismal.  I fail in relationships.  I fail at the art of pastoring.  I’m a failure in the command to love.  I fail at conflict resolution.  Give me a big, fat “F.”  As bad as that can feel, I take great comfort, as I read the scriptures, that I am not alone.  But it’s not just that I’m in good company with losers, it’s more the assurance that failure isn’t final.  It’s not even bad.  Godliness actually makes room for failure. 
In anticipation of this Fall’s sermon series I just finished reading through the sequel to Luke’s Gospel: The Acts of the Apostles.  Covering a period of about 30 years, Acts is a collection of stories describing both the highlights and the low points in the Church’s early, formative history, stories which continue to form the Church of today.  Intermingled in the narrative are glorious moments like the day of Pentecost, along with horrific incidents of persecution, deception, and even much worse.  That Luke has the honesty to include even the scandalous stories is one of the main reasons I believe in the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures.  Acts gives us a theology of failure, showing us how God -- who neither demands nor needs perfection -- accomplishes divine purposes through flawed people like me, and corrupt institutions like the Church. 
For the weeks leading up to Advent I have selected twelve stories in Acts that demonstrate the rocky nature of the Church, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  Each of the texts provides a glimpse into what the Church is about, how it functions, and most importantly how the Spirit acts despite the dysfunctionality within it.  Jesus decided to build his Church on a man he nick-named Rocky, a man who failed in discipleship more than once. 
According to the book of Revelation, the street of heaven is paved with pure gold.  But according to Acts the pathway of the Church on its way to that heavenly destination is a Rocky Road.  We can’t enjoy the former until we have walked the latter.  Imperfect though it surely is, it is God’s chosen route to salvation, failures and all.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Aug 2014)

Ways and Means
Not by might, not by power,
but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.

~Zechariah 4:6

On this anniversary of the beginning of World War I -- the so-called “war to end all wars” -- I think about how far we have not come in participating in the peaceable kingdom.  Not only did the Great War not bring world-wide militarism to an end, the subsequent century has seen more wars, more violence, more geo-political and economic instability than perhaps any time in world history.  It appears that the global “we” keep trying the same thing, the same way, but with bigger, stronger, faster, more advanced instruments of violence.  This, I hasten to add, is not God’s way.  Rather, the Bible (albeit not without its bloody scenes) shows another way.  Consider that…
...the leader of Egypt had a mighty army; the leader of Israel had a speech impediment.
...King Saul had the bling; shepherd David had a sling.
...Rahab had a thread.
...Abraham had a MARP (Mesopotamian Association of Retired Persons) card.
...Hosea had a hooker-wife.
...Samson had a jaw-bone.
...Jacob had a limp.
...Daniel had a dream.
...Isaiah had a vision.
...Jeremiah had an appointment.
...Gideon had a reduced army.
...Elijah had a still, small voice.
...Joshua had a parade.
...Paul had a thorn in the flesh.
...Peter had a shadow.
...John had a pen.
...Jesus had a cross.
...Mary had a song.
I could, of course, go on, but you get the point.  These are typical of God’s ways.  Additionally, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, among the metaphors he chose were such unimpressive things as lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons.  He introduced images of weeds among the wheat, mustard seeds and crop failure.  The kingdom he described was characterized by such things as Lost-ness, Last-ness, Littleness, Hostility, Competition and Non-success.  God, in other words, consistently uses small, simple, easily-overlooked, weak, even offensive, and extraordinarily unexpected things as agents of divine purpose.
Perhaps it is time – past time – to eschew the idols of power and might and to adopt God’s ways as our ways:  through Word, Breath, Spirit.  Let us pray.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jul 2014)

Watch Your Step
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.


Unlike a lot of things, there is one practice that can’t be rushed.  We can live on fast food, work on fast computers, and drive fast cars.  We can communicate with one another instantly, hurry through our chores and even blast through a book by speed-reading.  In fact, we’re getting better at it all the time as we learn more efficient ways of getting from “here” to “there������� (in both the literal and the figurative sense of those words).  We live on a planet that spins at the astonishing speed of 1,000 miles per hour, and at times it seems that we’re doing everything we can to catch up.  But some things can’t, by design, be rushed.
Prayer is the one thing that invites us to slow our hearts and minds and bodies down to a pace that allows us to enter a kind of holy leisure where we can “be still and know God.”  It is one of the few things that refuses to bow to the gods of efficiency, results, or performance.  There is no app for prayer (actually and unfortunately there is; I urge you not to download it).  But there are ways to train us in the art of slow prayer.
Labyrinths are among those ancient-future tools that have helped Christians do just that.  They are the speed bumps of prayer, slowing us down through the circuitry of meandering pathways, leading us – pilgrim-like – on a unique journey to Christ at the center.  Our newly installed labyrinth represents an invitation to decelerate life by taking a slow, prayerful walk, mindful of each and every step, attentive to every breath and nudge of the Spirit.  It’s an invitation to take the long way Home to the One who knows no short-cuts, because while the shortest path between two points is a straight line, the journey of discipleship is a call to go the distance.
Betty Stratton, one of the key founders of this church, laid a foundation of prayer for our corporate life and ministry.  She literally brought us to our knees, calling us to seek God’s direction for our nascent congregation.  The development of our church took longer than anyone expected, and that, it turned out, was a good thing.  I regularly give thanks to God for this godly woman, and her crucial role in the formation of our church.  Because of her influence and enduring legacy, I am pleased to say that we now have the Betty Stratton Prayer Labyrinth.  Pray it well.  Watch your step.  Take it slow.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Jun 2014)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor,Leesa Birdsall

Water and Fire
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.
~Isaiah 43:1-2

The prophet reminds us that the elements of water and fire are both necessary life-giving elements, as well as agents of death and destruction.  However, even when they appear to be most lethal we need not fear for God is with us and is redeeming us.  It is no accident that we see the paradox of these elements throughout Scripture, especially in the accounts of baptism.  Life and death are inextricably intertwined.
            “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom. 6:3-4.]  The Apostle reminds us that in baptism there is death to our old sinful selves, and there is life anew in Christ.  This strange and sacred turning point is contained in the waters of baptism and our calling to “live wet.”  It’s Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rested as tongues of fire on all who were present, and rather than being burned, they were branded with the Holy Spirit, the promise of Christ to be with us.  The community of believers was called to turn from a life of sin to a lifestyle like Jesus, and then sent to share the good news of the Gospel, that through Christ sin and death has lost its power.
            The longer I am a part of this faith community, the more I have come to appreciate the richness of living through the lens of baptism.  Our worship together is a continual reminder of who we are, and to whom we belong.  Quite intentionally in every service we are given reminders of the Triune God, in the baptismal language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; it is repeated a minimum of three times in every service. (I challenge you to listen and discover where.)  Additionally, we are frequently reminded that the baptismal life is one of turning from sin and evil and its power in the world, and turning toward our living, saving Lord.  Finally, though baptism is an individual choice to accept Christ as we die unto ourselves and are clothed anew in Him, it is also a reminder that through the waters of baptism we become part of the body of Christ.  We are called into something greater than ourselves, and we belong to one another.
            The new art installment at the back of the Genesis Center, commissioned by the worship committee and created in collaboration with Kaye Linda Johnson and a couple of other friends of mine, was made in the hope of giving us all a visual reminder of our baptismal identity.  Hopefully, as you have time to consider it you will discover the co-mingling of the baptismal elements, entwined with the wind and fire of the Spirit.  Notice the word “remember,” written in different hands and languages around the perimeter, and know that even as the words contrast the black trim, they call us, even in the darkness, to remember that we are not alone.  The promise of God to Israel is Christ’s promise to us:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. 
            There has been an unexpected blessing for me in creating this painting and having it hanging above the Genesis Center doors.  As I think of us entering that space, I picture our call as a body into worship, as we live together the grace of our baptism.  In the same way, as we exit under that giant drop of water, with the word “remember” in our minds, I pray that we would consider how we are sent to live out the gospel in the world, honoring the holy commission from Jesus himself:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:20.]
In Christ�������s Love,


(Newsletter May 2014)

Getting Along
In necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom;
 in everything compassion.
~Archbishop Marco Antonia de Dominis
De Repubblica (1617)

I have a friend, a computer-tech-guy, who describes his work primarily as that of a troubleshooter.  “I fix problems; that’s my job,” he says with a smile.  Instead of seeing them as interruptions to his work (the way I often do) he sees problems as his bread and butter.  Without problems he’d be without a paycheck.
The problems we face, in whatever form and field they show up, can be viewed as either nuisances or as opportunities. The way we think about them determines how we deal with them.  I’ve been noticing that the problems we face in the Church, often rooted in controversial issues around which we may not all agree (not all of them being particularly unique to the Church environment), are variously responded to in one of three “sandy” ways.
Head in the Sand.  Sometimes the issues that confront us are so uncomfortable or fearful that we wish to avoid them altogether, even outright deny their existence.  This is the ostrich style of leadership that simply wants the world’s difficulties to go away, and by becoming blind, deaf and dumb to them, we hope to make it so.  This strategy works for a short time, but only delays the inevitable outcome, thereby exacerbating it.

Line in the Sand.  A favorite technique for people who like to flex their muscles, this involves making bold proclamations, and taking a firm, confident position.  It’s Martin Luther, before the Imperial Diet of Worms, in 1521 reportedly saying, “…my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.”  That line in the sand is what split the Church.  Draw a line anywhere and it will do that, putting people on either side of an issue, separating people from one another, dividing the Body of Christ, as if it’s not already fractured enough.
Play in the Sand.   This third image portrays an expansive sandbox in which there is plenty of room, for plenty of people, with plenty of similarities and differences (and, of course, it’s those dratted differences that can cause the problems), to play together.  It doesn’t mean that everyone’s doing the same thing or that everyone is best friends with one another.  It doesn’t even require that everybody there is in ideological, theological and political alignment with one another, or that there is homogeneity in race, social status or class.  But it does suggest a container that holds a wildly diverse group of people together, reflecting the endless variety contained in the global, historical, catholic Body of Christ.
As children of father Abraham, we are heirs to God’s promise that his covenant of blessing would be extended to people as numerous as the sands of the world’s beaches (Gn 22:17).  Every person who claims Christ as Lord represents one of those grains of sand.  And while there is room in the sandbox for everyone, it requires extraordinary love, amazing grace, mutual forbearance, seventy-times-seven-forgiveness, holy hospitality, uncommon humility, and endless patience to remain together.  That is why many churches have adopted these words as something of a motto:

In necessary things unity;
in uncertain things freedom;
in everything compassion

Many problems are caused when we confuse these categories, assigning essential status to non-essential matters.  The one thing necessary is Christ, the One who holds all things (and all people) together.  With him as Head of the Church and Lord of the universe, we don’t need to fix all the problems in the world.  We just need to practice getting along with one another, until God finally does.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Apr 2014)

Geography Matters
I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.
I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him
~Abraham Lincoln

In preparation for an upcoming trip to England this summer, I recently checked the expiration date on my passport.  Passports, as you know, identify us as citizens of the U.S.A., and allow us to travel to other parts of the world as temporary guests.  Even though I’ll be touring in London and studying in Cambridge, my citizenship will remain in the United States.  It’s my place.
            When it comes to our local churches there are basically three derivations for the names we give them: Chronological, Theological, or Geographical, e.g., First Presbyterian Church, Grace Presbyterian Church, Colbert Presbyterian Church.  Each of them carries with it a unique emphasis, namely, When, What or Where, and implicitly suggests which of those identifiers is of greatest importance.  To wit, being in order, being orthodox, or being in a place.
            Significantly, of the baker’s dozen of churches named in the New Testament, each of them is identified by the city they were located in.  Within the canon we have letters written to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  If you study these letters carefully, you’ll see that, while there are some common themes among them all, the authors address something unique to each of them, according to the issues they were facing in their place at the time.
            Place is important, because each place is unique.  Life on the summit of Mt. Everest is dramatically different from life along the Dead Sea.  The difference in elevation is 30,406 feet from one extreme to another, but the differences in life and lifestyles from one altitude to the other, as well as everywhere in between on the map is endlessly unique.  Geography matters. 
            Over and against a variety of ultra-spiritual, anti-material forms of Gnosticism, the Gospel insists that it is the particularities of time, place and people that are the context that Christ inhabits day in and day out.  We are met, saved and transformed, in other words, according to our unique zip code.
            Located in a weirdly-shaped geographical area known to the Postal Service as 99005 Colbert Presbyterian is the place to which we are gathered and formed.  But because it’s more than a static point on the map, it’s also the place from which we are sent into the mission of God.  The stability of a parcel of land, in other words, is the anchor point from which we live out the dynamics of a baptized life that sends us “into all the world.”
            I read somewhere that St. Louis of France used to sign his official documents not “King Louis IX,” but “Louis of Poissy.”  He said, “Poissy is the place where I was baptized.  I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned.  It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom.  This last I shall lose at death, but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.”
            Your baptismal identity is what confers upon you your citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven.  It locates you in the vast geography of the Kingdom of God.  As aliens in a strange land it is what assures you of your true and eternal home, your passport, as it were, into heaven.  And while it requires daily renewal through our turning from sin and turning to Christ, it bears no expiration date.  It’s valid until we are, at long last, in a place called Home.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Mar 2014)

Writing The Fifth Gospel
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts,
to be known and read by all ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God ...

~II Corinthians 3:2-3

The story of the Good News of Jesus Christ was first written down by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then handed down to each subsequent generation.  But why not just one, coherent account, instead of the four we’ve been given?  Some argue that each of them brings a unique perspective on Jesus, emphasizing different aspects of his life and ministry that, together, give us a fuller, more accurate view.  While I agree with that position, I would also suggest that another reason might be to show us how four different people understood, described and lived the Good News.  That is to say, it demonstrates that – while there is considerable common ground – there is not a one-size-fits-all style of discipleship.  We wear Christ a bit differently from one another.
            Some people over the years have found the apparent contradictions or inconsistencies in the four accounts to be troubling, calling into question things like the authority, the inspiration and the inerrancy of these supposedly sacred texts.  After all, if it truly is the Word of God, you’d think (so goes the argument) that it would be clear and concise. But if you understand the stories as somewhat personal reflections, revealing the ways each of the four authors understood and experienced the message of salvation, it suggests that, in the ever-creative ways of God, the story gets customized uniquely with each individual who receives it.  In other words, the way to integrate these four, somewhat distinct texts is by internalizing them, indeed to live them.  When the Gospel is thus lived, the ones through whom it is living become the holy agents of evangelism, simultaneously following in the footsteps of apostolic authority, and celebrating the particularities of each new Good News context of its telling.
            Which leads to the proposal for a congregational experiment.  During the weeks of Lent this year the Art Corner of our sanctuary will be designated as a place to display -- in words and images -- the ways you are observing and experiencing Jesus among us, Jesus for us.  Like the original four Gospels it may include your questions, your doubts, your failures, as well as your expressions of faith and praise.  It may describe God’s presence, and it may wonder about God’s silence.  Indeed, if the cross is instructive, it may at times read much more like bad news rather than good.  Whatever it includes, it will be our corporate attempt to bear witness to the Paschal Mystery (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again), while testifying to the reality of the Kingdom of God as it continues to steadily emerge, even as it is being variously received and resisted.
            Yes, the canon of Holy Scripture was officially closed some 1600 years ago.  But the story isn’t finished.  It is being told and lived and re-storied through the likes of people who yet incarnate – in loving deeds and truth-filled words – the presence of Jesus resurrected, alive, and well, reigning and residing among us. 
            So take up a pen, and take up your life, and write the next verse.  And make it Good.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Feb 2014)

Virtual Reality Or Abundant Life?
When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods:
what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?

~Henry David Thoreau

If the Enlightenment is the grandparent of our society, then our parent is the Industrial Revolution.  Today we live with its child – the Technological Revolution, which goes by the nickname, the Information Age.  Impressive are the tools and toys of our age, making our lives easier, making us more successful and far better connected to others than ever before.  With the touch of a button you can warm your house or heat your hamburger.  With the swipe of a screen you can conjure the World Wide Web, and with the swipe of a card you can purchase your groceries.  Technology even allows you to cheat on your spouse without getting caught (yep, there’s an app for that, too), which may represent one of the ways that it has crossed the line from being in service to humanity to being in service to sin.
            I’ve been wondering if these so-called technological “advances” might actually represent a retreat (if not an outright departure) from the magnificent world that God created for us to both care for and to enjoy.  For all of its benefits, one of the things we’re seeing in the geyser of the technological revolution is a precious lack of contemplation.  So stimulated are our minds, so frenetic is the pace of our lives that we are losing the ability to be still, to be quiet, to listen.  Whenever we experience an excitement void we find a way to fill it with something sensational.  And the bar keeps getting raised.
            Take for example the popular online game, World of Warcraft, a virtual reality you can experience as a character, not only participating in a game, but actually helping to craft the story.  It’s exciting, fun, stimulating, and challenging, which is to say it has all of the ingredients we are looking for in life.  Indeed, over 12 million people regularly interact in this world – more than the combined populations of Norway and Nicaragua.  But lest you think this is akin to playing a game of cribbage or chess with a friend after dinner, the average time spent in World of Warcraft is between twenty and thirty hours a week.  In fact, a recent survey revealed that 20 percent of gamers consider this their “true home,����� while Earth is “merely a place to visit from time to time.”  So exponential is this growing trend that it has been described with language of biblical proportions, calling it an “Exodus” from the real world.
            When Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly,” I don��t think this is what he had in mind.  Instead, God’s design for this world involves him being intimately involved in it, with us.  Abundant life is not an escape from this world, it’s a redemption of this world.  Avoiding any part of this world results in our missing the God of this world.  It, moreover, has the consequence of causing us to miss out on the most exciting adventure of being an active participant in the grand and ongoing story of Salvation, one which does not play out on a screen.
            I know the days are short, cold and gray this time of year.  Consequently, we spend more time indoors, we eat more, less nutritious food.  We exercise less, play less, and are more prone to mental doldrums – anything from a mild case of the blues to more serious (and treatable!) forms of depression. 
            This does not represent God’s best for us.  Abundant life is not only a gift that is offered, but a gift that must be chosen.  Stay engaged in the real world, in real relationships, in authentic community.  You might follow Thoreau – who found abundance by living close to the creation – and start with a simple walk in the woods.  Just be alert, for God always abides among that which he has created.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Jan 2014)

We know that all things work together for good
for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
~Romans 8:28

It may be the question that has been asked more than any other one throughout the history of the world: if God really is so good and so powerful why do bad things happen to people -- good and bad alike?  The question has prompted endless theories, none of them, to my way of thinking, providing satisfactory answers. 
            If there was only one thing to be learned from the Incarnation it would be to establish the experience of suffering as normative, both for God and for humanity.  Jesus’ suffering demonstrates that God, rather than eradicating it from the human scene, participates in our suffering, making it meaningful, employing it as a divine agent for godly ends.
            Suffering is the furnace that forges the soul for holiness.  In fact, some people claim that it’s impossible to grow into Christlikeness without the experience of suffering, whether personally or vicariously.  It is the unwelcome yet necessary tool in the workshop of God’s love that re-forms us in the imago Dei.  Asking why suffering exists in this world is like asking why A=Pi r2 or why we have ten fingers (why not twelve?) or why Cottonwood tree leaves give off the most delicious scent in spring.  We may not understand precisely why any of those things exist, but like suffering, they are among the universal laws of the world we live in.
            Which is why people of faith tend to ask the age-old question a little differently, looking for the ways in which God is present in suffering.  St. Paul, although he suffered severe anguish, didn’t even bother to ask the question, turning it instead into a statement of faith, insisting that God works all things together for good, or what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophe: a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending.
            That little prefix eu has the power to turn a word favorably on its ear.  It’s what makes a word good (eulogy), a discovery glad (Eureka!), a feeling glorious (euphoria), a sound pleasing (euphonious), a death merciful (euthanasia), and a place happy (utopia).  It’s what transforms a meal into a sacrament (Eucharist), and what makes the Gospel truly good news (evangelism).  But it doesn’t just change words; it changes stories.  It is the easy-to-miss gift which God brings to the table, to the world, to our lives, so that when all other signs point to failure or tragedy, the Good-Word (Eu-Logos) companions us, causing new life to emerge from otherwise dismal circumstances.
            The Incarnation, far surpassing the cute images of no-crying-he-makes-baby-Jesus, celebrates the unique ways that God continues to do some of his very best work in the darkest, hardest and most painful and bewildering circumstances of our lives.  But there are no shortcuts.  There weren’t for the Son of God, and there aren’t any for the sons and daughters of God either.
            I read a story this morning about a father who took his son to Drew University to register him for college. He said to the Dean of Admissions, “This is a smart kid. Why will it take four years? Can’t you do it in two?” The Dean,  who was a gardener said, “It takes four years to make an educated person. It takes two years to make zucchini. Which do you want?”
            It takes a long time to make a disciple.  It takes a lifetime to complete a baptism.
            Those who do not know the eucatastrophic truth of Romans 8 may have simply not remained in the fertile garden of the crucible long enough to experience it.  Redemption takes time.  And while it may at times appear latent, it is always and everywhere working, never sleeping, effecting goodly outcomes in the very worst of times.  Deeply, covertly, slowly, surely, redemption is making its way.  Wait for it.  Chances are good -- very good -- that your waiting will eventually escort you into the surprise of a happy ending.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Dec 2013)

Come Again?
So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
~Hebrews 9.28

The future, uncertain as it insists on being, is the source of both endless anxiety and boundless curiosity. Most people are fascinated with the future, eager to know what is to come, interested in knowing what awaits them, so they know how to prepare for whatever lies ahead.  This intrigue is what keeps in business those who read palms, those who peer into crystal balls, and those who interpret tarot cards.   Somewhat more legitimately are the people whose jobs it is to pay attention to trends, sometimes forecasting weather using computer models, other times using sophisticated algorithms to anticipate where things are heading, from stock values to consumer spending patterns, to climate change.
            People - prone as they are to paying attention to patterns because of the ways our brains are wired - will actually make up or “see” patterns where none exist.  So greedy are we to anticipate the future that we will, in other words, fabricate predictive patterns even within truly random arenas.  While it appears that this is a survival skill that has evolved in certain species (let’s stick with homo sapiens for now) it can sometimes get us into trouble, as when, for example, we make decisions in the present based on erroneous assumptions about the future.
            Futurists are the people who pay attention to the signs of today which are serving as pointers to help predict the future, in order to help us make appropriate decisions in the present.  Some futurists are more legitimate than others, based largely on the information being used.  Others seem to be based more on myth and fear.  For example, predictions about the world’s end, based on the Mayan calendar, were groundless; we all woke up last December 22 to the realization that we had not been obliterated by a meteor after all. Y2K was a non-event, save for all the food and water that was hoarded in late 1999. 
            Even one of the popes (Sylvester II) tried his hand at divining, saying that the world as we know it would close at the end of the Christian millennium with the return of Jesus on January 1, 1000.  Not to be outdone, Pope Innocent III predicted that the world would end 666 years after the rise of Islam.   Even so great a mind as the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther took a shot at it, but was off by 413 years . . . and counting.  But Harold Camping gets the award for most perseverant prognosticator, making no fewer than five public predictions for the world’s end.  And yet, here we are.  (Although I’ve lost track of where he is).
            God’s promises are typically accompanied by signs; call them Promisigns, if you like.  For Adam the promisign was a tree.  For Noah it was a rainbow.  Moses received the Twin Tablets, Abraham was circumcised, and David got a throne.  In each case, these were the signs that accompanied the promise of God’s covenant.  When God (through an angel) announced the arrival of the savior of the world, the shepherds were assured of the veracity of the promise through this sign: “you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2.12).  Since then, that child grew up and performed a slew of signs and wonders which further verified his messianic identity: healing, feeding, resurrecting, calming, etc.  But the enduring signs he left with us amount to a simple, yet sacred trinity of signs: Water, Bread and Wine.  These are the promisigns of his abiding presence with us, located at a Font and a Table, until he returns on a Cloud, and sits us down to a Feast.
            That “until” can be a tricky place in which to live, this ever-expanding time between the first and the second comings of Christ.  The weeks of Advent teach us how to live in the gap, inviting us to embrace the promisign of the Savior of the world who came, who comes, and who will come again, living in the Now and the Not Yet of God’s presence and God’s promises, leaning into that day when there will be a magnificent marriage of heaven and earth, a united Kingdom of God, the long-awaited Day of the Lord, when Jesus, in all his saving glory, comes again.  Just as he promised.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter Nov 2013)

Te Deum (We praise Thee, O God)
 Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo.
Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. . . .
We are speaking of the grace of God who is God for man,
and of the gratitude of man as his response to this grace. . . .
The two belong together, so that only gratitude can
correspond to grace, and this correspondence cannot fail.

~Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1

The human soul has been masterfully designed with the ability to enlarge endlessly.  With divine brilliance we have been created to grow.  Even when our bodies stop growing somewhere in early adulthood, there is other, less visible, but no less important growth still occurring.  And while it is indeed true that we begin to experience something of a decline in many of our faculties and functions as we tack on birthdays, there is never a shortage of raw material to form us more and more fully in the likeness of Christ. 
            Most people eventually learn the hard way (which is the only way to learn some things) that sometimes it is the hardest, most painful experiences that end up being the greatest gifts in service to the growth of our souls.  While almost always received initially as unwelcome intrusions, these disruptions have a way of teaching and forming us in ways that happy circumstances can’t. St. Paul, no stranger to first-hand pain, the likes of which most of us will never, fortunately have to experience, knew this to be true, writing,

we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
~Romans 5

Endurance.  Character.  Hope.  Love.  Those are hard-earned virtues, and you don’t have to look very hard to see the scars that accompany them.  What suffering people typically learn is that the grace of God gravitates toward pain.  It is where the Christ, himself well-acquainted with grief shows up, complete with his own wounds, his own scars, his own painful memories, and – because he is not just Christ Crucified, but Christ Resurrected – companions us, attends us, heals us by infusing us with his very Self, exchanging the darkness of our lives with his own glorious light.
            God’s grace, moreover, gravitates toward, rather than being repelled by sin.  Recall the story about Simon (Luke 7), acting all self-righteous and indignant when Jesus allowed a sinful woman to carry on in a sloppy, emotional, even sensual display of gratitude.  And Jesus helped him to see that the person who has been forgiven the most, loves more.  Similarly, those who suffer greatly, and whose suffering has been greatly redeemed by the grace of God, are more grateful.
            As we tally-mark our days, adding up the years which culminate in decades, we often experience the aging process as a series of losses, followed by a string of griefs, when the gift it actually affords is more time, more opportunities to receive grace, increasing our capacity to love and to be loved.  If there is but one prayer remaining on our lips when the light goes out of our eyes, when the world decrescendos to a hush, when time is stilled at the end of our days, Thank You will suffice.  With the availability of grace in such abundance even now, it wouldn’t hurt us to practice it right now.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Oct 2013)

Back To School
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
-Proverbs 1:7

I remember well the hot summer day I graduated from seminary. Outwardly, it was a day full of festive celebration, congratulatory hugs, and the predictable Princeton pomp. Most memorable and meaningful for me was that my dear dad was the commencement speaker that year. Less noticeable to anyone else were my secret feelings of relief hiding behind the smiles, because seminary had been a multi-layered struggle for me. If you could have read my mind that graduation day, it would have sounded something like this: "Sure am glad that's over with. I'll never do that again!"

My words, typically, whether spoken, written or imagined, have a way of coming back to visit me, presenting themselves to me for reconsideration, if not ridicule. Such is the case with my inward proclamation about my formal education. While I couldn't have imagined it twenty-three years ago, it now makes perfect sense that I have returned to school for an advanced degree. Here's what I'd like you to know:

As of last month I am a doctoral candidate (D. Min.) at George Fox Seminary in Oregon, although the only time I will actually step foot on the campus is on the day of graduation, hopefully in the spring of 2016, Technology has significantly changed the landscape of education, and most of my work and interaction will be online, including meeting my professor and cohort in a virtual cathedral in which I will appear as an avatar. This, I hasten to add, begins a steep learning curve for someone who managed to get through graduate school the first time without ever touching a computer!

My reason for returning to school mostly involves the desire to spend a concentrated time focused on an area of enduring interest for me. Since helping to organize this congregation sixteen years ago, I have been continually intrigued by the way the sacrament of baptism gives us identity and purpose, as well as the ways it helps me to appreciate the sanctity of each of your lives. The gift of this doctoral program is that it will allow me to more fully research, reflect and write about things that I have mostly been doing on the fly, as our congregation has taken shape over these years of growth and development. The time now seems right to return to the classroom, virtual though it mostly is.

It's still early to know for sure, but I expect the time requirements to be between ten and fifteen hours a week, on average. Much of those hours will be cobbled together here and there throughout the week, but I am protecting half a day each week. On Monday mornings I will be interacting online with my cohort from 6:00-7:00. I will then spend the rest of the morning at the Whitworth library in some combination of research and writing. Sadie (a senior at W.U.) and I will then have a lunch date, after which time I will arrive at the church. I am hoping to be no less available to you than ever before, but I trust you will understand when I am hunkered down in order to meet a deadline. Having Leesa as an additional pastoral presence is a huge gift to all of us.

Presbyterians on the whole, second only to Anglicans, are the most highly educated Christians in today's Church. Our own congregation, as you might well know, has a disproportionate number of advanced degrees within it (masters and beyond), due in large part to our proximity to two universities. We are a thinking, thought-full people.But unlike a lot of people who pursue advanced degrees, my motivation for this program is not to position me for a career move, I am presently doing what I want to be doing - doing, more importantly, what I believe I was made for and what I have been called to.

Rather, the gift of this opportunity is to help formalize what I've been doing by the seat of my pants for the last 16 years with you, integrating much of what you have already taught me about congregational formation. Once received, the diploma will go the way of all my other diplomas, filed somewhere in a drawer that I will be hard-pressed to ever find again. My bap­tismal certificate is the only document I consider worthy of being framed and displayed. As a result, nobody will start calling me "Doctor" just as nobody now calls me "Reverend." The name used when I was claimed in the waters is more than adequate.

With the blessings of my family and of our Session I embrace this season of education with fear-of-the-Lord gratitude. The heart of discipleship is, after all, about being a student, remaining, throughout the duration of our baptism, under the tutelage of the Master of our hearts, our souls, and our minds.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter Sep 2013)

Kingdom Come!
Thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.

What do you look for in a church?  Typical responses from people that I’ve listened to over the years include things like music, preaching, style of worship, the quality of the fellowship, mission involvement, children and youth programs.  The more honest people might include things like the kind of coffee that is served, the architecture of the buildings, driving distance from home, while still others will refer to something less tangible, something more intuitive, perhaps, like the overall feel.  “It just feels right,” some will say.  “I feel at home here.”
            We’ve been well-trained in this kind of approach, conditioned as we are in a free-market society, where we get to choose where we buy our groceries, and who we hire to fix our cars.  If a clerk at Big R is rude to me, I simply drive a few miles more to Home Depot.  If I don’t like the muzak in Target I can at least find something less annoying elsewhere.  This consumer mindset has a way of spilling into other areas of our lives.  It’s little wonder that when looking for a worshipping congregation we will sometimes refer to it as “church shopping.”  It can happen when we move into a new community, and it sometimes happens when we become disgruntled or dissatisfied with something or someone at a previous church.
            Interestingly, the things that we consider important attributes in a church may not always reflect the kinds of things that God cares about.  Almost anybody with some smarts and a little ambition can create an organization by gathering like-minded people together, writing some by-laws, having some fun, doing things they like, avoiding people they don't like, and eschewing discomfort and challenge.  Whatever you call that, you cannot call it a church.
            Christ, who alone is head of the Church, gets to define it and to describe how it looks, what it does and the purpose for which it exists.  The fancy word for this is ecclesiology, referring to the overall nature of the Church.  Foundational to a good ecclesiology is that the church exists as a demonstration of the Kingdom of God, reflecting on earth the reality in heaven.
            Beginning on September 15th we will launch our Fall Sermon Series: Kingdom Come!  Starting with this conviction that the Church is to be an exhibition of the Kingdom of God, we will give consideration to 11 distinctive qualities that exhibit this in-breaking Kingdom.  As we will see, the values of the Church that Jesus envisions is quite distinct from the values that emerge from a consumer mind-set. 
            This is important if we are going to actually and accurately discern the will of God rather than merely perpetuate patterns of personal preference.  We may not always like it.  It may not be comfortable or preferable or even tolerable at times, but if we genuinely wish to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, we must commit ourselves to adhering to its ways.
            Of course our personal preferences are bound to creep in here and there, and from time to time.  Which is why it’s important to have a good ecclesiology, to be reminded of the purposes for which Christ has established his Church in the first place, in order to be a compelling demonstration of the coming Kingdom.
            My hope is that, as we consider each of these aspects of the Kingdom, it will prompt us to evaluate how we are doing in each area, and propel us into deeper, more courageous acts so that, together, we exhibit more clearly the presence of the King who is most certainly among us, in Word and in Truth, and so as to altogether avoid an edentulous ecclesiology.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric
P.S. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but the topics we will be studying until Advent are as follows: Worship, Witness, Stewardship, Celebration, Reconciliation, Fellowship, Justice, Covenant, Simplicity, Hospitality, Persecution.  Don’t just pick your favorites!

(Newsletter Aug 2013)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor,
Leesa Birdsall:

Hospitality to Strangers

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
~Romans 12:9-13

When I was a child, my parents and I were visiting family in Wyoming during the middle of winter.  Though details are fuzzy, I recall being caught in a blizzard out on the road at night.  It became impossible to travel and we were forced to seek shelter.  Unable to get back to where we were staying, we found our way into a town where the only place of refuge was the home of Grandpa Johnson, who was the relative of a relative.  Somehow, in the age before cell phones and GPS units, with my mom’s vague recollection of where he lived we arrived on his doorstep in the middle of the night, basically strangers.  Surprisingly, of all the events of that night and after all of these years, what stands out most in my memory was the man’s hospitality.  He could have turned us away, as I may have, out of fear or suspicion.   Instead, the door was opened and we were ushered into the warmth and light of a small living room, where beds were hastily made up for my family and me. 
            I recall two other times in my life when I was in the vulnerable place of accepting the grace and hospitality of complete strangers.  Both were journeys fraught with disconcerting delays and mishaps, which added to the anxiety of being far from home. The first was a trip to Mexico with my high school Spanish class, where as students we stayed with host families for eight days.  The second was when I travelled with my son, Loren, and two others from our congregation to visit our partner church, St. Andrew’s, in South Africa.  Though excited and apprehensive we were blessed and humbled by the whole-hearted, welcoming embrace of strangers.  Far from home, we were welcomed home.  If you’ve ever been the recipient of such hospitality you will know what I am talking about: it is something truly holy.
            In his epistle to the Romans on genuine love, the Apostle Paul encourages them (and us) to “extend hospitality to strangers.” He has just finished listing a number of different spiritual gifts that we as members of the body of Christ might have.  But, when it comes to hospitality to strangers, he is not speaking of a gift that only a few individuals might possess.  Rather, he is speaking of something which all followers of Christ need to cultivate and practice, for its source is in love.  In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus reminds us that when we extend hospitality to strangers, we are caring for him.  Which is again emphasized in Hebrews 13:1-2: “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
            Hospitality to strangers is not easy, and for a number of reasons it seems to be more challenging in our culture.  Others seem to have a little easier time of it, as the Spanish might say, mi casa es tu casa (my home is your home).  Still, no matter where we are, opening our homes to others takes effort, as the focus is on providing refreshment and comfort to our guests in the form of food, shelter and cleansing.  We want our space to be welcoming and homey.  In Genesis, the whole household of Abraham and Sarah got busy preparing a meal for the strangers in their midst, while Abraham did what he could to make the guests feel welcome.
            Yet as challenging as it might be, hospitality can also be a great mutual gift and blessing.  It is a good discipline in a number of ways, as it enables us to get outside of ourselves and to love another by serving.  It can also be an occasion to share stories, tears and laughter, which ultimately brings the possibility of growth and transformation.  When accompanied by the thought of entertaining angels or caring for Christ himself there is a whole other level to the grace of hospitality.
            As the partnership between St. Andrew’s and Colbert has developed, we have had the unique gift of getting to practice hospitality.  The heart of the partnership has been relationship building, through the sending and receiving of delegations between our communities.  Once again, Colbert has the opportunity to practice hospitality to strangers as we host Pastor Errol Theophilus and his wife, Audrey, September 6th—17th, 2013.  There are a number of different ways for the members of our church to get to know our guests, to offer a cup of cool water, and simply be present to what they have to offer.  It is our turn to bless them by extending hospitality as they have so graciously blessed many of us.
            I would invite you to look at your calendars and prepare ahead of time some space in your hearts and your homes to welcome Errol and Audrey.  Please follow the announcements in the bulletin and look for information in the narthex on how you might participate.  The South Africa Task Force would love to have as many people as possible to take advantage of this occasion. 
In Christ’s love,
Leesa Birdsall

(Newsletter Jul 2013)

The Halo Effect
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
~Jesus (in Matthew 5)

It’s been around for nearly one hundred years, and yet I was just introduced to it recently.  Originally it was a phrase coined to describe how the appearance of a person or an organization biases the value we attribute to it.  For example, studies done in the judicial system environment have found that juries are more likely to return a more favorable verdict to defendants who are attractive.  A person who is well-spoken, well-groomed and good looking is presumed to be more virtuous.  It’s called the Halo Effect.
            Like most language the phrase has evolved over the years, and it now has a broader meaning.  Consider this relatively recent development: in 2010 Partners for Sacred Spaces, along with the University of Pennsylvania, did a study of the economic impact of 12 churches in Philadelphia.  By assessing 50 different factors (things as varied as conducting weddings and funerals, providing education, offering artistic performances, and being involved in suicide prevention (unfortunately, I didn’t see “preaching” on the list, confirming some assumptions that I’m good for nothing!), they determined that those dozen churches contributed $52 million in annual economic value to the city.  (Wow!) Moreover, four out of five people who benefited from these ministries, the study concluded, were unchurched.  In other words, the halo effect radiates well beyond churches into the community.
            It got me thinking about all the ways that our ministry together (that is, the formalized things we do through such organizations as Family Promise, the New Hope Resource Center, The Pet Project, and Habitat for Humanity to name but a few among many) is contributing to the Halo.  Not only do these kinds of ministries ease the burden of our government to serve the common good, but we are in the unique position to care for people in such a way as to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven, both near and far, so that our good deeds are accompanied by the Good News.
            It also made me wonder about some of the more quiet, less obvious ways that each of us contributes to the Halo, in modest yet meaningful ways through such diverse behaviors as compassionate listening, tutoring, delivering a meal, offering a cup of cool water or an encouraging word or the act of forgiveness, serving on a board, taking care of a family, making art and music, standing up to evil or injustice, caring for what God has created.
            I’m not really interested in trying to quantify (let alone try to assign a dollar figure) to the value of practicing our respective baptisms.  But I am keenly interested in helping to create a church that is more diverse and more inclusive so that the halo has an even greater effect in our world, which reminded me of something Pope Francis recently said.  Now bear in mind that the Roman Catholic Church has historically thought of itself as the one, true church.  Anybody who is not Catholic is not in the Kingdom.  But this pope has a much broader, even startling, understanding of the scope of God’s grace.  Check this out:
This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!”  But do good: we will meet one another there.
            Let your light shine before others.  Find something good to do.  I’ll meet you there, along with the risen Christ and an assortment of other ragged, unlikely outsiders who are giving glory to God whether we like it or not, and whether they know it or not.
            Meantime, we continue through the summer months in a posture of holy attentiveness, listening for nudges from the Spirit of God that would help us to answer the open-ended question we are asking: What’s Next?  The answer(s) to that question, of course, have everything to do with glorifying God as we find ways to participate in the Halo Effect of the coming Kingdom.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter Jun 2013)

What’s Next?
...be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God -
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
~Romans 12:2

Discernment, it could be said, is what this church was founded on.  An enormous amount of time was spent in prayer, in listening to scripture, consulting other people, seeking a sense of resonance with the Spirit of God for how to launch a fledgling congregation.
     It took time.  Discernment is one of those things that takes a lot of time, and which refuses to be rushed.  Schedules, therefore, kept getting revised, along with expectations, until the time was right, until there was a clear, consensual sense that we had discerned the will of God.  It is a practice that we have sought to be continually engaged in for the last 16 years.
     Many organizations, churches certainly included, fall into the pits of urgency as they react to crises, feeling the need to act quickly, definitively, confidently.  Sometimes this can’t be avoided; issues come up and they have to be dealt with in a timely way.  But ideally plans and decisions are made in an environment of leisure where there is time and space to linger in prayer, to thoroughly discuss, and to allow inclinations to “season” to confirm that they are “good and acceptable and perfect.”
     It is our good fortune to be presently living in a time of health and stability as a congregation.  While we could just ride and enjoy that wave, the leaders of the church have decided to exploit this time of relative calm as a season of discernment, essentially asking the question, “What’s Next?”  What would God have us do in the years ahead?  Where should we be focusing our attention?  What might we be called to do in the future that we need to prepare for now?  What’s Next?
     I wish to invite you to participate in this discernment process.  One particular piece of it involves what we are calling “Prayer in the Pavilion.”  For each of the summer months we will gather in the pavilion on the third Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. for a time of asking the What’s Next? question, listening carefully, and then sharing the possibilities.
     The result might lead us to develop ecumenical relationships with other churches.  It might cause us to bolster our missional engagement in our community.  It might prompt us to start a new church elsewhere or to simply use the time to clarify our own identity and purpose.  And it may be something that none of us has even yet considered.  Whatever it is, it’s important that we take the time to discern well, and to do it together as we seek to know the will of God for our life together.
     Please put the dates on your calendar, and make every effort to participate.  We don’t even know precisely what those gatherings will look like at this point; but we know that we need to put our minds together, discerning God’s will, so that we can be a living exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric
P.S.:  June 19, July 17 and August 21 are the dates for Prayer in the Pavilion.


(Newsletter May 2013)

Love at Work
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
~I John 3:18

Did you know that there are dozens of ways to say “I love you” to your brothers and sisters in Christ at Colbert Presbyterian Church and beyond? Many of them take little time, and are hands-on, low tech, and very practical.  Consider some of the following ways of saying “I love you” on Sunday mornings and during the week.  Check your bulletin, church directory or our website for information on how to contact the people who are coordinating these ministry opportunities.

● Preparing and serving coffee (Jane Tucker)
● Picking up donuts at the local Yoke’s (Jane Tucker)
● Providing a ride for someone who needs transportation to church (Leesa Birdsall/Deacons)
● Working with babies in the nursery (Cindy Boldrick)
● Working with children during the Children’s Activity Time (CAT) (Janet Neder)
● Teaching Sunday school (ages young—old) (Janet Neder, Barb Murphy)
● Ushering (Nancy Fahlgren)
● Greeting at the front door (Kaye Linda Johnson)
● Counting the tithes and offerings (Cynthia Barfield)
● Reading the call to worship and first lesson (lay reader) (Kaye Linda Johnson)
● Singing or playing with the worship team (Ben Brody)
● Serving communion (Kaye Linda Johnson)
● Bringing flowers for the communion table (Kaye Linda Johnson)
● Making bread for communion (actually more of a Saturday job) (Kaye Linda Johnson)

Other opportunities during the week:
● Participating in the intercessory prayer group (Kay White)
● Serving on a church committee (contact the respective elder)
● Working with teenagers involved in our Youth Group (Karissa Forsyth)
● Weeding a landscaping bed (Tyler Hartanov)
● Making a meal for someone who is ill or bereaved (Leesa Birdsall/Deacons)
● Helping with maintenance of the church facility (Marv Dehle)
● Sorting clothes and other tasks at New Hope (467-2900)
����� Leading a small group (Leesa Birdsall)
● Working in the Garden of Hope (Randy Goss)
● Taking the initiative to start something new (Holy Spirit)
● Joining the prayer chain (Kay Seidel)

As you can see, anyone can say “I love you” on a Sunday morning or during the week, or in the middle of the night.  Think about these and other ways you might want to share your love.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric (with a little help from my friends)

(Newsletter April 2013)

On The Move
The real art of conducting consists in transitions.
~Gustav Mahler

A Church In Mission, like ours, is continually on the move, moving, it is hoped, in response to the prompting movements of the Spirit of God, in the holy ebbs and flows of gathering and scattering: coming together for worship and being sent into a wide variety of ministries throughout the community. Whatever it looks like, missional churches, while frequently stable, are never static and seldom predictable. Congregations like ours, therefore, are constantly in transition.

I have so appreciated the health and stability of our church staff in recent years; they are truly among the finest people I know, and I consider it a daily privilege to work with them. But being missional people themselves, they are on the move as well. This summer we will be saying farewell to our friends Jeff and Karissa Forsyth as Jeff attends school to be trained as a physician assistant. While Karissa has been our much beloved Director of Youth Ministries for over four years now, it has been a marital partnership that Jeff has participated fully in. We will have opportunities closer to the time of their departure to express our appreciation and to bless them as we send them on to this next leg of their journey.

Meantime, steps are in motion to identify Karissa’s successor. Here is how we are hoping the process and timing goes:

● The Session has appointed a committee to conduct a search and to identify the top candidate. That committee is ably chaired by our Elder for Youth Ministries, Lesley Groe, and is additionally served by Luke Parker (a student at Mead High School), Mary Griffith, Bryan Hopp, Alan Hicks (our Personnel Elder) and myself.
● The youth and their parents have given us feedback and ideas with respect to desired qualities in a youth director, and the ways that the youth ministry is meaningful and important to them.
● This ministry opportunity is now (or soon will be) posted on our church website with a designated page describing the job, along with directions for submitting a complete application.
● We are in the process of getting the word out through a variety of avenues, and we invite you to encourage prospective candidates to apply. During the months of April and May we will receive and review applications, and conduct reference checks and interviews. We hope to present a candidate to the Session on June 12 for approval.
● July will be a month of welcome and farewell with both Karissa and her successor overlapping to provide as smooth a transition as possible. Karissa’s last official day is August 1.

This has been and will continue to be a prayer-filled process as we search for just the right person for this essential ministry area, and we believe that God is working through those prayers by giving the committee a sense of unity, and by stirring and preparing prospective applicants. We invite you to participate with us in this process by sharing your input or suggestions by contacting anyone on the search committee, by encouraging an outstanding candidate to apply, and by joining us in prayer for a God-honoring outcome to this seek and find mission as we move together through these months of discernment, surprise, grief and joy.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter March 2013)

View the present through the promise,
Christ will come again.
~Thomas Troeger

We all have our biases and prejudices which reflect our personalities, our preferences, our assumptions and our world views.  For example, that I am a White, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, North American, Male of Scandinavian descent affects my perspective on just about everything, from my understanding of power to my love of potatoes.  My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (INFP) is one way to understand my preferred way of relating to the world and toward people. 

            The so-called “bandwagon effect” is one of the more well-known biases that occur in society, referring to the phenomenon that people do certain things because other people are doing them.  We are – all of us – more biased than we know, sometimes mistaking mere preferences for dogmatic convictions.  Mature and self-aware people, recognizing these biases at work in themselves, seek to intentionally step away from them from time to time, knowing that theirs is not the only way, and often not the best way, to see or understand an issue.

            Because of their prevailing nature, these biases are continually at work, affecting even the way we read the scriptures.  A wealthy American, for example, reads and understands the Bible quite differently from a poor person living in a Guatemalan barrio in the wake of war.  The person who adopts bumper sticker philosophies like, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” assumes that her way is the only way to understand scripture, when, in reality, there is no pure way to read God’s Word; it comes to us through our own biased filters.

            We can also impose a bias on a text.  In biblical studies we call this a hermeneutic – a lens through which the scriptures are read.  In recent years it has been popular to explore hermeneutics of Liberation and Feminism, to name but two among many.  Such lenses can help us to pay attention to issues of human oppression, in order to help us participate more meaningfully in acts of justice.

            Our biases, biblical and otherwise, influence the ways in which we think about and live our lives. They are the source of fundamental personal defaults like Optimism or Pessimism, Hope or Dread, Peace or Anxiety, Courage or Fear, Abundance or Scarcity.  By noticing when our inclinations tip away from what we might call “Kingdom Values” we can make some course corrections to our lives, adjusting our perspective, and adopting a new bias.

            These remaining days of Lent extend just such an invitation for self-reflection and repentance, examining the ways our lives have gotten off the holy track of discipleship, and then doing whatever (yes, what ever!) is necessary to get right.  I have found it helpful, in my own pursuit of holiness, to nurture a hermeneutic of Resurrection.  Such a bias, I am finding, deeply influences all the aspects of the essential me, including such things as attitude, relationships, work and faith that are in need of godly influences in order for me to grow in Christlikeness.

            We live the present complete with all the problems and heartaches that assail us because we live in a fearful and broken world.  We need to learn to deal with that.  But we also lean into the hope of a future where sin is dealt a definitive blow when Christ comes again and presides over the consummation of God’s redemptive promises.  We are, as someone once said, an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

            Apply a Resurrection hermeneutic to your life, living fully in the present through the promise that Christ will come again.  It changes everything.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter February 2013)

A message from our Commissioned Lay Pastor, Leesa Birdsall:

The Lenten Call to Abundant Life

The Lenten season is nearly upon us, a holy time of repentance, self-reflection, prayer and growth. It begins with Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and repentance, where the imposition of ashes reminds us of the words from Genesis 3:19, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It is a day in which we acknowledge that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we remember that we are finite, mortal creatures. For many it is the beginning of forty days of kicking a bad habit, giving up on something like chocolate, or T.V., Facebook, wine, or..., whatever 'idol' has been given too much power in our lives. It is a time to focus on the broken vessels that we are, and reflect on God's grace in sending his Son to save us.

In different seasons of my life I have, like many of you, participated in a number of Lenten exercises, including giving up chocolate (until one year I discovered I no longer craved chocolate), praying, journaling and focusing on Scripture. Many times they were fruitful exercises, yet I recall that during a number of those seasons I would also become distinctly aware of the weight of my sinful nature. Though I was aware of God's grace and the hope of Easter, Lent became a long season of spiritual dryness, and my soul would begin to feel somewhat impoverished.

However, over the years there has been a subtle shift in my focus, and I have come to look forward to the liturgical season of Lent, as it has become a time for deep reflection and a desire to live more fully into the abundant life to which we have been called. I have appreciated the intentionality of this community to communicate that Lent is not merely a season that reminds us of how bad and sinful we are, but rather calls us to focus on the new reality of our lives in Christ. Something reflected in the Apostle Paul's admonishment of the Galatians, to not fall back into the bondage of slavery, but rather to live as the baptized, clothed in Christ, as heirs of his righteousness. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. Yes, our sins were the thorns on Jesus' head, the stripes on his back, and the nails in the cross. Most of us are only too aware of our brokenness. But the reality is, Easter morning followed Good Friday, and because of it we have been given a new life, a new reality. The reality is that we are the beloved children of God. We are no longer under condemnation, but are free to live as the forgiven.

As I reflect on this grace in the coming Lenten season, I am aware that though we are "dust," it does not negate the fact that we are also witnesses, the baptized, the beloved children of God. In pondering this, my thoughts went back to the December 30th worship service, when four brave souls testified to the living presence of God in their lives. As I looked around the room that morning, I was touched by the way so many of you have been a witness to the Gospel, and embodied Christ to me. The "sermon" that morning continued to preach throughout the day, as the benediction urged us to consider, "Where is God in all of this?" And as later, I was privileged to observe a number of you demonstrating love and incarnating the presence of God to one another, and to me.

The loving witness of so many of you on that Sunday makes me want to challenge us to heed the call to abundant life this Lenten season. First, by immersing ourselves in Scripture, being prayerful and open to the Spirit moving in our lives, while turning away from lifestyle choices that hinder us from participating in the life to which we have been called. Then, rather than spending time hanging our heads under the weight of our sin, let us live into our new reality and try to pay attention to the ways in which the Lord is revealing Himself. Let us be alert to the goodness and beauty of His kingdom all around, living more fully into the abundance of God's love. And, let us remember that into the dust of our mortal bodies the Spirit of God has been breathed. We are created in the imago Dei and have been freed to live as His beloved children, loving Him and one another, so that His glory might be revealed like an overflowing fountain in our lives.

Grace and peace,

(Newsletter January 2013)

The Economics of Happiness
 I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering. Kumalo looked at his friend with joy. You are a preacher, he said.
~Alan Paton,
Cry, the Beloved Country

"Have a good one."
"Merry Christmas."
"Happy New Year."

Whether for a single day, a holiday season, or for the next orbit of the earth around our sun, we impart our wishes to one another for happiness. We desire for others what we ourselves long for: to be happy, and to live a good life. This desire, both for ourselves and for others, is reflected in both our political and our theological documents. And while they validate our desire for the good life as something to want, they also indicate that, far from something that simply lands in our laps, it requires a certain amount of effort on our part.

For example, the (United States) Declaration of Independence declares that, among our inalienable rights, are such things as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Similarly, the (Presbyterian) Confession of 1967 says, "life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage" (my emphasis, in both citations, I trust is obvious). But the way that we pursue a good and happy life can vary from person to person, based on what we value and what we believe will actually make us happy.

Money, and the various things and experiences we can exchange it for, are believed by many to be an important source of happiness, and it, therefore, propels people to set financial goals for making, saving and spending it. "In God we trust" is what we inscribe on all of our currency (why not on our checks and our debit and credit cards as well?), and yet it would seem that in our capitalistic economy it is money itself that we are more likely to put our trust in.

The research of recent social psychologists suggests that practicing the art of contentment, and staying connected to nature, and the development of meaningful relationships are some of the common characteristics of so-called "happy" people. But most of us find happiness to be an elusive enterprise, and we experience it in infrequent and fleeting ways.

Happiness is most certainly a biblical concept and it is variously associated with people who have children, who trust in God and follow his ways, who care for the poor and observe justice, and those who are gifted with wisdom. Interestingly, the word shows up in the New Testament only once, when Zacchaeus was happy to welcome Jesus to his home. In fact, he was so happy about it that he gave half of his possessions to the poor.

In reading the Bible, you are six times more likely to come across the word Blessing than the word Happy (in their various forms). They are rather closely related in concept (though not in etymology), in that the experience of being blessed and being happy are similar. The distinction seems to come in the ways that God is able to bless people who are not happy. Consider these examples from the counter-intuitive Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached:

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are those who are persecuted.

To experience blessing even in the midst of suffering. That is something no amount of money can buy and no amount of resolve can attain. That is a gift from God, made possible because of the Incarnate Infant who became the Suffering Servant who became the Liberated Lord of Life. May the Year of our Lord, 2013, for you and for our world, be God-Blessed. And may we, in our holy pursuits, help to make it so.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric



(Newsletter December 2012)

Chew On This
 And she gave birth to her firstborn son
 and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
 and laid him in a manger,
 because there was no place for them in the inn.
 ~Luke 2:7

Advent, as a 4-Sunday season of preparation provides us with a two-pronged emphasis for worship and devotion. It both relives the anticipation of a world eager to welcome Messiah two millennia ago, and it invites us to anticipate his return in glory. The first coming of Christ is an historical fact. The second coming of Christ is an eschatological promise. These are the primary salvation events which bookend our present lives somewhere in between: the Incarnation and the Parousia. Simultaneously, we celebrate the former, and we lean toward the latter, praying, "Thy Kingdom come," all the while living in the overarching reality that God is with us

According to St. Luke, the Gospel storyteller, when the angels visited the shepherds to issue their glorious nocturnal announcement that the Savior had been born they cited two things as signs to look for: The baby would be wrapped in bands of cloth, and he would be found lying in a manger.

That actually strikes me a bit odd, at least when I think of all the other signs that could have accompanied his arrival. After all, the magi had a special star that pointed the way to Jesus. And in adulthood a large number of signs confirmed his identity as the Messiah. He turned water into wine, he calmed a storm, he multiplied loaves of bread, he fished a coin out of a small-mouth bass, he brought dead-man Lazarus back to life, to name but a few of the more impressive ones.

But for the boys and men who were keeping watch of the sheep herds on that pivotal Palestinian night the signs were much more ordinary, everyday, unimpressive: strips of cloth swaddling a baby boy and a manger.
"Manger" derives from the Latin word mandere - "to chew," referring, as you might easily guess, to the trough that holds feed for barnyard animals. And it was, as we correctly grew up being taught, the first bed in which Jesus slept. Far from the mahogany crib that my father lovingly hand-crafted for my children, this thing was crude and dirty, perhaps even a bit slobbery.

This was no mistake. It was not a divine oversight that the infant-king-son-of-God-savior-of-the-world didn't have a reservation at a 5-star hotel. It was intentional. It was a birthing that resonated with the purposes of God who does not remain confined to the lofty places, but stoops, condescends, and enters into lives which retain many rough edges that would, by most estimations of decency, prove hostile to hosting the Holy.

Thankfully, if not miraculously, such conditions do not deter God from either coming, or from staying among us. He is used to roughing it. Manger accommodations will do just fine. In fact, a feed trough may be the most appropriate place to lay the head of the one who claimed to be the Bread of Life, for the world's populace, from the day he was born to the present day, has alternated between either gratefully receiving him, or chewing him up and spitting him out.

Jesus, you see, began his life and ended his life as a homeless man. He's used to discomfort. He's accustomed to bad treatment. He has willingly assumed a nomadic existence, a sojourner with no place to call home.

But (and here is the point of it all): he is still itinerating around this old world, wandering about, seeking hospitable hearts in which to take up residence, searching out some more rough-hewn people in which to dwell, these living mangers which are our lives where we - slobber and all - welcome the Life of God to abide and to reign.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric


(Newsletter November 2012)

Identity and Purpose
 For you are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.


I've been noticing, and have become convicted lately that around certain people my story can sound somewhat clumsy. For example, when meeting someone for the first time they might ask, "So, how many kids do you have?" Beginning with my own hesitation about whether the answer is "three" or "six," and sometimes accompanied by "well, it depends on how you do the math," or "it's a little complicated," my own awkwardness reveals that I have not fully integrated my own messy-marvelous story of redemption.

Similarly, I've noticed that when people ask me what I do for a living my response can vary a bit depending on who I'm talking to. It's simple when speaking to a person of faith, and I answer in a straightforward way: "I'm a pastor." When I gave that response to the woman sitting next to me on a plane last month it was met with instant recognition and enthusiasm, and she immediately started telling me all about herself, assuming that I was interested in her story and that I was a safe person to tell it to, both of which, I'd like to think, were true.

But that's not always the response I get. I recall riding up a chair lift one winter afternoon with a twenty-something-year-old young man. I found out that he was an engineer for the Boeing corporation, and as he explained to me what was involved in his job I had a pretty good sense of what he did in overseeing wing construction. But when he asked me what I did for a living, and I said, "I'm a pastor," he turned to me, lifted up his ski mask so as to give me a clear view of his scrunched-up expression, and asked, "What the hell is that?" He had never heard the word before, and he had no idea what was involved.

To try to explain to him that I am driven by issues of theology, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology and soteriology would have been meaningless. After all, he had never heard such words before and he was getting along just fine, thank you very much. How does one compare the value of such things as preaching, prayer, pastoral care and the sacraments to someone who doesn't even have room for God in his worldview? How do you describe the importance of the Bible (a collection of books that apparently contradicts itself and eludes understanding and is the unending source of debate and controversy) to someone who is accustomed to working with the precision of an installation manual? Why would I identify myself as a leader of a church when the Church has historically made so many mistakes and done so much damage?

What do you do? "I'm on a team that's designing and building the next generation of aircraft that will transport people on non-stop transcontinental flights."

What do you do? "Uh, well, I proclaim Good News and care for people in the name of Jesus, and get babies wet." Can you see why I sometimes question the practical value and importance of my vocation, especially with those who don't share a common faith?

When I asked a non-Christian friend of mine -- a retired electrician -- to help me with a wiring project at my house recently I suggested that we barter a trade. This was his response: "I don't think I need any of the services you provide. I'm already happily married, and I'm not planning to die anytime soon."

Really? Is that all I'm good for? What the hell indeed. To compensate I have developed basic skills in carpentry and plumbing. I know how to cut down a tree and plow snow. I can repair small engines and install irrigation systems.

Still, even though it may not look like much, I have never been more clear that to live my vocational life as a pastor is what I was made for, participating with God in acts of reconciliation, healing, justice. Living the way of grace and truth. Following the rhythms of life and death. Doing the hard work of love.

I'm not ready to completely put away my tools or retire my truck, but I think I shall just stick with what I was called and ordained to do 22 years ago. I'll keep witnessing to, in Word and in Deed, the Good News. I will continue to celebrate the sacramental reality of God-With-Us, as I lift up Bread and Cup, and splash Water on the heads of saints young and old. And I will offer my meager gifts in service to the holy agenda of Redemption, in anticipation of the Day when Jesus will return, setting to rights all that is wrong, creating a new heaven and a new earth. What the hell could be more practical than that?

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

(Newsletter October 2012)

Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of God, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but from complete freedom. The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.
 ~Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

Call me old-fashioned, but there are some things in the Bible that I don't believe we will ever be able to dismiss or relegate to "cultural" or "time-bound" issues the way we have, for example, come (and rightly so, I believe) to new understandings of the Levitical dietary laws or the role of women in leadership. Among the scriptures where there is very little, if any, "wiggle room" is the rock-solid nature of the Ten Commandments. They are just as true, just as timely, and just as necessary in our day as the day Moses brought them down from the smoky summit of Mt. Sinai. And yet in our day some of them are largely ignored and flat-out disobeyed, perhaps none of them more so than the fourth commandment, the one that has the longest commentary of any of the other nine. Here it is in its entirety: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it (Exodus 20:8-11).

Interestingly, the version recorded in Deuteronomy is quite similar, but with this one significant addition: ...Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

The implication is that, while work is inherently good and godly, work can also put us back into bondage if it begins to define and dominate our lives. When that happens we become slaves to work, losing our freedom and robbing ourselves of the abundance and joy that God longs for us to experience. Be clear about this: we do it to ourselves, with no evil "masters" - Egyptian, American, political, corporate or otherwise - to blame.

Still, many of us cling to this almost as a badge of honor, complaining in thinly disguised phrases of self-congratulations (sometimes accompanied by dramatic sighs for added emphasis): "I'm just so busy." Or, "he works so hard." Or, "she hasn't had a day off in weeks."

When I hear such things, I assume that people are confessing their sins to me. Overwork is not virtuous and it's not holy. You might be earning the admiration of other people who have lost their selves as slaves to work, but you're not impressing God. It's sin.

We have simply got to get over the false notion of associating a day of rest with being lazy, or the idea that being non-productive for a day makes us worthless. Rather, a recovery of Sabbath-keeping, Sabbath-remembering practices may be the very antidote to our harried lives which have become distorted by a Protestant work ethic juiced with the steroids of ambition and the drive for success.

The life-long process we are in of becoming godly requires that we think and behave more and more like God. Recover for yourself the Imago Dei by doing what God does. Give it a rest. Live free. God commands it. Your baptism demands it. Your soul needs it.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor Eric Peterson
 Eric Peterson

Previous Missives

Mar 2020
Spring Cleaning

Feb 2020

Jan 2020
Holy Moments

Dec 2019

Nov 2019
Love Your Neighbor

Oct 2019
Woods And Words

Sep 2019
Rio Gracias

Aug 2019
The Greatest In God's Kingdom

Jul 2019
Living The Resurrection

Jun 2019
Through the Eyes of a Child

May 2019

Apr 2019

Mar 2019

Feb 2019
Parental Discretion Advised

Jan 2019
Beauty In Brokenness

Dec 2018
Songs In The Key of Life

Nov 2018
The Gifts We Didn't Ask For

Oct 2018
Master Plan

Sep 2018
For Such A Place As This

Aug 2018
Making A List

Jul 2018
Teach Us to Pray

Jun 2018
Breathing Lessons

May 2018

Apr 2018

Mar 2018
Prophet's Chambers

Feb 2018
Stretching Exercises

Jan 2018
Treasures Old And New

Dec 2017
Slow Motion

Nov 2017
Wood and Nails

Oct 2017

Sep 2017
Beyond The Numbers

Aug 2017
The Way Is Made By Walking

Jul 2017
Long-Term Investing

Jun 2017
Discerning the Voices

May 2017
Longing For Home

Apr 2017
Supper Meeting

Mar 2017
Lenten Leftovers

Feb 2017
Mind the Gap

Jan 2017

Dec 2016
Time in the Womb

Nov 2016

Oct 2016
Central Hold

Sep 2016

Aug 2016
Eavesdropping on Absence

Jul 2016
Custom Encounters

Jun 2016
All The World's A Teaching Theater

May 2016
Prayer 101

Apr 2016
Voluntary Simplicity

Mar 2016
Dual Citizenship

Feb 2016

Jan 2016
True Choir

Dec 2015
Advent Awareness

Nov 2015
Walk The Plank

Oct 2015
The Good Life

Sep 2015
Leave A Trace

Aug 2015
Dont't Sweat The Adiaphora

Jul 2015
The Imitation of Christ

Jun 2015
Angels We Have Heard... and Hijacked

May 2015
The Fruitful Struggle

Apr 2015
Punched By An Angel

Mar 2015
A Broad Place

Feb 2015
Time in the Womb

Jan 2015
Welcome Back!

Dec 2014

Nov 2014
Identity Crisis

Oct 2014
For Seasons

Sep 2014
Rocky Road

Aug 2014
Ways and Means

Jul 2014
Watch Your Step

 Jun 2014
Water and Fire

May 2014
Getting Along

Apr 2014
Geography Matters

Mar 2014
Writing The Fifth Gospel

Feb 2014
Virtual Reality Or Abundant Life?

Jan 2014

Dec 2013
Come Again?

Nov 2013
Te Deum (We praise Thee, O God)

Oct 2013
Back To School

Sep 2013
Kingdom Come!

Aug 2013
Hospitality to Strangers

Jul 2013
The Halo Effect

Jun 2013
What's Next?

May 2013
Love at Work

Apr 2013
On The Move

Mar 2013

Feb 2013
The Lenten Call to Abundant Life

Jan 2013
The Economics of Happiness

Dec 2012
Chew on This

Nov 2012
Identity and Purpose

Oct 2012