Try the Other Side

by Chris Grewe, Savage Memorial Presbyterian Church



“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them,“Children, you have no fish, have you?” They an-swered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.”   John 21: 4-6

God gets our attention at Easter. Whether it is the earthquake in Matthew’s account, or the angel seated on the rolled-away stone, or the joyous fanfare of anthems in our worship services, Easter is a spiritual high. There is the tangible busy-ness of Easter as well, of the family times or spring break or spring break-in of seasonal chores with the changing of the season.

However, afterward, for the disciples and for us, the tendency is to get back to our pre-Easter work. Life goes on. We cannot maintain the emotional high of Easter through the whole year long. Particularly for pastors and church musicians, the relief of after-Easter can be as welcome as the beauty and excitement of Easter itself.

And so it was for the first disciples. Simon Peter, a fisherman by trade, after the Resurrection, went back to what he knew best, fishing. He went with others, the sons of Zebedee, and they got back to work, work they needed to provide a livelihood. Yet there were no fish to be had.

How often do we get back to the work we do, doing what we know best, hoping to provide for our lives, and we get: nothing. With all complications and confusion and competing forces in our world, sometimes we think all we can do is get back to doing what we know best, what we have always

Perhaps we find ourselves lost in all the information overload and
confusion of today’s world. And we think the only course of action is to
go back to what we know.
Jesus had a different direction for his fishing disciples. He recognized
they were coming up empty. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” He
already knew the answer. The old ways are unsatisfying. We feel
empty. Jesus told the disciples, try the other side. Have you found
satisfaction, success, have you achieved that for which you were
aiming? No? Try something different. Peter Gomes says that, for so
many of us, living consists of simply maintaining, because we cannot
imagine doing anything else.
Jesus, on the other side of Easter, is offering us new life, the possibility
of freedom and the abundance of overflowing blessings. Our
transformation may not be instantaneous. It took the first disciples a
long while to become the evangelists, the witnesses, the forebears of
the Church today. Yet we are the heirs of the community of the faithful
that they staked out almost two thousand years ago.
In this new season, try the other side, the side to which Jesus directs
you. Let him fill your net, with life, with such an abundance of joy and
faith and purpose that you may not be able to haul it all in.

Shalom ~ Chris


Now that’s an Easter Sermon

by Bobbi Neason, First Presbyterian Church, Bandon

In the very early years of its history, the Eastern Orthodox Church adopted the custom of using this classic sermon of St. John Chrysostom at the Paschal Vigil service held during the Saturday night before Easter morning.
Chrysostom first proclaimed this sermon as instruction to the new Christian converts who were baptized during that vigil service. The affirmations in this wonderful sermon remain as meaningful today as when John himself first spoke them.

St. John Chrysostom (the name means “golden-mouthed’) was one of the most famous preachers and reformers of the second half of the 4th century. He was a priest in his native city of Antioch, Syria, and later became Patriarch of Constantinople. Beginning in 390, he preached a famous series on the New Testament including 90 sermons on Matthew, 88 on John, and 32 on Romans. His reforms to purify the church brought him banishment. He died at age fifty in the year 407 during a forced march into exile.

Read this short Easter Sermon

Worship, Dec 1996 source.

Connecting with the Crucified Christ

by Sarah Sanderson-Doughty   St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, Portland

Did any of you see Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the Passion of the Christ? I was in my first call when that came out and attended at our town theater with several parishioners. What unfolded on the screen was exceedingly gory, brutal, bloody… some might even say it was gratuitously excessive… My father’s comment about it was, “Well, now I understand why he died so quickly, if he lost that much blood before he ever got on the cross, that would do it.”

Ordinarily crucifixion was a torturously slow way to kill someone; scientist theorize that in some cases people died from thirst or exposure after days of hanging, suffering, a spectacle for all to see. But Jesus died in just a few hours.

While my father may have found something edifying in the Passion film, my mother refused to see it. She has said that she doesn’t need to attend films that visually represent the events of Jesus’ last week because just reading the Gospels, or listening to the Gospels read aloud, shakes her and brings her to tears every time. Did that happen for you today?

Read the Whole Sermon

If you would like to view the whole sermon series you can find them HERE

Good Friday Liturgy

by Beth Neal, Westminster, Portland
Good Friday

There really is nothing good about it.
There is no good in violence, in fear, in injustice, in cruelty.
Yet we call this day ‘good’ because God was there that day;
We call this day ‘good’ because God is here this day.
Knowing that God is with us, let us have courage to hear this terrible story once again.
And let us worship God.


We do not want to drink the cup.
We do not want to bear another’s burden.
For that matter, we do not want to admit our own complicity.
We do not want to confess our wrong.
But still, here we are, fallen people in a fallen world, waiting for so long to be redeemed.
The wait is endless and exhausting. How long, O Lord?
How long, O people? How long will you turn away from me?
How long will we pursue our own delights that come at the expense of others?
How long will you recite my teachings without living them?
How long will we be entertained by violence?
How long will you gorge yourselves while others starve?
How long will we utter a muttered pray that we’re glad that wasn’t us?
How long will you sin, O my people?
How long will you love us, O Lord?

Beth’s Good Friday Page

Not Alone

14 March 2018   by Brian Marsh from Apocalypso Now

alone not alone (day 382)

in the Wilderness
by the isolation
with the Atypical
by the Silence
by the silent
from the desert
of being alone
a ubiquitous unity
are not wandering




by Brian Marsh


to be
talked down
the cliff
and safely
onto the shore

that diving
off the
edge into
the darkest
depths of
frozen fear
is the Way
to uncover
the lovelier sight
the brighter Light
of Beloved Being…


‘apocalypse’…a revealing of something that’s been hidden…a ‘lifting of the veil’ between time and eternity. surprising, transcendent, illuminating.

‘calypso’...a rhythm of Trinidadian/African origin…a magical, multi-cutural music for motivation and movement. syncopated, timely, inspiring.

‘apocalypso now’ is a space to discover and encounter the divine presence in the dance of our days, the extraordinary traces in the ordinary faces and spaces, the ‘sacred’ in the ‘secular’, the magnificent in the mundane…to experience the Spark that lights the stars, the Love that fires the sun, the Hope that ushers the heavens onto this sordid, scummy, and oh so sacred earth… to find encouragement and empowerment for this paradoxical and precious, heart-breaking and risk-taking, bewildering and blessed journey that we call ‘life’.

Stinky Shepherds

by Jeff Binder

Luke 2:1-18

Click here to listen to this sermon (available the following Friday each week)

There is something about the outdoors that invites us to think about the ‘bigger things’ in life. I love to be outside. I love to run. I love to hike. I love to camp. I love to sleep on the ground, to feel the brisk chill of the early morning, to sweat in the summer sun, to get muddy and dirty, and physically worn out; it all makes me so happy! And the thing I love most about the outdoors is that I feel closer to God when I’m outside. There is something to be said for getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily living, getting somewhere a little quieter, where the air is a little sweeter, the skies are a little clearer, and there are less distractions between us and the Divine.

10589422_10152669697307774_465766709_oThere was one experience I want to tell you about. There was this group of 6 teenage Confirmation students (Confirmation is the process of joining the church as a teenager) from a church I worked with back in Virginia. Well anyways, this group was one of the highest energy, talkative groups you could ever come across. The pastor, Chuck, is a friend of mine, and he and I shared a common love for the outdoors. So one day Pastor Chuck called me up, and said, ‘Jeff, I have this idea.’  Now, whenever Chuck would tell me he had an idea, I always had to prepare myself. Chuck is filled with ideas, and each one is usually more outrageous than the next! He said, ‘I’m thinking of taking this group of crazy Confirmation students out for a few days on the Appalachian Trail.’

The idea was pretty straightforward. Take this wily group of teens out into the wilderness, wear them out, and then use the outdoors to teach them about the Christian faith.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the Appalachian Trail, it is one of the oldest and longest wilderness mountain trails in the United States. It covers about 2200 miles, spanning 14 states, from Georgia in the south, all the way to Maine in the north. I know, I know; it’s not the ‘PCT’!

I told Chuck I would like to think about it before committing. It took me about a second to think about it. Over those hot summer days on the trail our group covered many hard miles. We hiked up and down mountains, past venomous snakes, grumpy bears, and even ran into some aggressive yellow jackets. We huddled together through thunderstorms, and shared meals over camp fire. There was some blood, lots of sweat, and plenty of mud and dirt. By the end of the trip our group was exhausted and humbled, and at the same time, uniquely at peace. Yes, the teenagers were still as zany as ever, but we shared in experiences and conversations that may never have happened inside a classroom. We experienced God in the wilderness, and our lives were forever changed because of this experience.


The Bible is filled with similar stories of people experiencing God in the wilderness. Today’s story from Luke, the Christmas story, is no different. Here we have the story of the coming of the King! The Christ Child, the very Son of God, the Messiah! This Jesus will be the one to reveal to the world the very kingdom of God! Jesus the Christ, the King of Glory, is worthy of more riches than we could ever imagine! All the people should bow at his presence, as his kingdom will have no end!


So why, then, did the story of the coming of this king, start with God’s message being shared by angels with a group of lowly, poor, stinky shepherds?

Perhaps this is something for all of us to think about today. God could have acted in ways that many of us like to think is ‘normal’ in this world. God could have introduced Jesus accompanied by riches, an army, and power. He could have been introduced like the pharaohs and emperors of old.

Instead, God chose to reveal God’s very self in the form of an innocent, defenseless child. And God chose to use some of the poorest, lowly, people in the shepherds, to announce Christ’s arrival.


We worship a God who time and time again chooses the unassuming, illogical option to reveal mercy, love, and grace in the world. We worship a God who moves freely in the wilderness to bring about glory to the least expecting. We worship a God who chooses each and every one of us; imperfect, broken, and stinky human beings that we are. God uses each and every one of us to bring the Good News of love and grace to the world!

Tonight, let’s all be shepherds.

Let’s look up to the heavens, and open our eyes to God’s presence being proclaimed by the angels.

Let’s seek out the Christ Child, being born in the simplest of places, lying in a manger, to parents who are people just like you and me.

Let us wonder and ponder these mysteries of the Divine in our hearts.

Let us be the ones to bring this Good News of the birth of our savior, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, to the world.

About that hope thing

by Beth Neel

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Those who dwelled in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us,
Authority rests upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

I was looking at these words earlier this week in preparing for one of the Christmas Eve services, and it stuck with me, the way Handel’s music does, the way a reading you’ve heard for forty-something years does.  I read it after a colleague commented in staff meeting that there seems to be an epidemic of hopelessness right now.  And then Isaiah’s words offered something I couldn’t name.

Today I heard an amazing person who works for the county in the Department of Human Services thank a bunch of us religious people because we offer hope.  She said that without hope, there can never be change.  And I realized that in the many trees of grief and pain and shock and despair, I had forgotten to take a step back and see the whole forest, whose canopy looks a bit like hope.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a story Jim Collins tells in Good to Great, a story about Admiral Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war in Viet Nam for three years and survived.  Collins does better service to the story than this blog, but I wanted to share Stockdale’s words:  “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Hope.  Hope that brutality will not last forever.  Hope that grief will feel more like a dull ache than an icy, rough piercing.  Hope that things will get better, whatever those things might be.  And for me, as a Christian who really does believe all this Jesus stuff, and the miracles, and the promises, hope that God has not abandoned us to our worst selves, that God is moving in the midst of all that seems turbulent and immoral and wrong.

I also have hope in the resurrection but it’s sort of the wrong season for that.

So I’ll be seasonally correct.  I think Christmas is, more than anything else, about hope.  It’s the hope that God is still at work.  It’s the hope that the life of a baby will change the world.  It’s the hope that God makes promises and fulfills them and we are better for that.

So what do I hope for?  That we’ll figure out a way to prevent cancer and treat it more effectively.  That we’ll learn how to be there for each other, and that we’ll get better at all the mental illness stuff.  That we will never forget those who live in poverty, and that we will work tirelessly to make the deep changes necessary for poverty to be alleviated.  That humane and thoughtful people will make the rules, with a real sense of liberty and justice for all.

Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, it’s weird to talk about God and say you believe in Jesus.  The assumption is that you don’t go to church.  But I have this hope, at least for those of us who are hanging in there with church (or temple or mosque) that God will poke us this season, and remind us of the Great Love that is not letting this world go to hell in a handbasket.

Hope makes things bearable and beautiful.

I hope….


The church needs a poetic imagination

By Ken Evers-Hood (Pastor at Tualatin Presbyterian Church) as published in Faith and Leadership


Poet David Whyte teaches “conversational leadership” as a framework that helps organizations bring soul back into the workplace and more effectively navigate change, writes a Presbyterian pastor.

An Irish poet walks into a corporate boardroom …

It sounds like the setup to a bad joke, doesn’t it? And yet poet David Whyte has spent a great deal of his life in boardrooms, consulting with giants like Boeing, Arthur Andersen and NASA. Whyte, an associate fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, has been on a mission to bring back the soul to spaces known more for spreadsheets than sonnets. Whyte’s work isn’t merely about human resources and making people feel more happy and whole in the workplace; he believes an imaginative, relational approach to leadership is crucial for organizations navigating change.

David Whyte   “Corporate America now desperately needs the powers historically associated with the poetic imagination not only to see its way through the present whirligig of change, but also, because poetry asks for accountability to a human community, for rootedness and responsibility even as it changes,” Whyte writes in “The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America.”

All I would change is to add the church to the list of organizations in need of a poetic imagination.

In 2016, I had the privilege of being part of a cohort Whyte leads on what he calls “conversational leadership” through the Invitas Foundation on Washington’s magical Whidbey Island. In one conversation, I told Whyte that I loved poetry but was surprised that companies were so interested in hiring him as a consultant.

In response, he told me that the nature of leadership is seeing things that others aren’t seeing yet, articulating this unseen vision and having the courage to say what is unpopular or frightening — and that’s poetry.

Whyte’s understanding of conversational leadership stems from his relational view of reality. For Whyte, there’s a conversation, or dialectic, between the selves we present and what’s inside us, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and the world. The worst meetings we attend, he will point out, are the meetings where everyone gathers but no one is truly present or says what he or she honestly thinks. We withhold ourselves, with no one actually showing up and engaging with vulnerability or honesty. We aren’t having, in other words, a real conversation. We’re staying safe but accomplishing little in the process.

Whyte identifies seven elements of conversational leadership:

  • stopping the conversation
  • cultivating a friendship with the unknown
  • coming to ground
  • cultivating robust vulnerability
  • artistry
  • making the invitation
  • bringing in the harvest

This framework isn’t about reducing leadership to seven easy, linear steps. Instead, when we find ourselves stuck, these elements serve to stimulate our wonder and curiosity.

Stopping the conversation

When we aren’t satisfied with how things are going in our organizational life, one of the most powerful questions to ask, Whyte says, is, How do we stop having the conversations that have grown tired and are no longer serving us?

Fruitless, complaining conversations distract us from the vital, life-giving conversations that can take us into a new future. But new futures are frightening, wild places, well beyond what we can control, so even though we’re tired of the old conversations, most of us spend a lot of time having them — gleaning the small, self-righteous satisfaction of blaming others behind their backs for their obvious incompetence and safely avoiding the risk of trying anything new.

While these tired, distracting conversations happen everywhere, the church is legendary for replaying them. If I hear one more church whine about not having enough young people … Or if it isn’t the demographics, it’s the number of folks showing up. I remember visiting a friend’s church and having a great experience in worship. But then during coffee hour, one of the regulars kept apologizing and telling me how great they used to be decades ago when they were, if I could believe him, bursting at the seams. I finally had to tell him to stop apologizing, saying that he was beginning to ruin what had been a great morning. I am confident this guy had been having that same, tired conversation for years, with every new person unfortunate enough to pick his table for bad church coffee.

And then there are the conversations we have with ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves about what we’re capable of and what we aren’t. Whatever we tell ourselves repeatedly, no matter how false, begins to feel true over time.

Cultivating a friendship with the unknown

Once we have been brave enough to stop the old, tired conversations we’ve been having, a marvelous, threatening silence opens up. It’s marvelous, because this silence is the place where, as Whyte puts it in a poem titled “Sometimes,” tiny requests come to us, “questions that have no right to go away.” But this silence is at the same time threatening, because it opens us to the unknown, with questions that can “make or unmake a life.”

What we must learn, Whyte says, is to ask “beautiful questions.” Beautiful questions can be vast — questions like, Can I live a courageous life? Whyte’s vision of courage isn’t about heroics but about being present for the life we are leading. Living a courageous life means showing up honestly, knowing that we can, and no doubt will, be hurt many, many times. How many opportunities do we miss because we’re afraid we might not succeed or might be laughed at for trying?

Sometimes when leaders ask beautiful questions, entire communities can be changed for the better. I live in a small suburb outside Portland, Oregon, called Tualatin (pronounced tu-WAH-luh-tin). While parts of Tualatin are thriving, the numbers of people experiencing poverty and food insecurity have been growing at an alarming rate. In a 10-year period, Tualatin went from having 1 in 16 people living below the poverty line to 1 in 8. Members of our community have been trying to help; churches like the one I serve have been instrumental in establishing our local food pantry. But we realize that food pantries are notorious for carrying inexpensive, processed foods that contribute to increasing rates of obesity. Further, helping people, while a good thing, can create a sense of dependence that isn’t positive at all. As the iron law in community organizing goes, never do for others what they can do for themselves.

Aware of all of this, one of our residents, Chad Darby, wanted to be of service, but he didn’t want to just participate in the same old conversation. Darby started by asking himself a beautiful question: Is there a way to feed hungry people healthy food and involve the whole community in the process? As an answer, Darby started Neighbors Nourishing Communities (NNC). NNC began providing volunteer local gardeners with seeds and growing instructions in exchange for 20 percent of their produce for use in the food pantry. Darby involved local homeowners, small businesses and city leaders, whom he asked to set aside city park land where low-income families now grow food. In the past year, 27 home gardeners and 14 low-income gardeners produced more than 2,000 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables for the Tualatin food pantry.

And this all happened because one local community member asked a beautiful question about how to help his neighbors in an innovative way. Of all the questions we can be asking, that is certainly one with “no right to go away.”

Coming to ground

People in ministry are generally hopeful. We’re a resurrection people in the business of impossible possibilities. But just because God is capable of parting rivers and raising the dead doesn’t mean that God will bring about every hope and dream we have for the church. Plans fail. Communities collapse. People die. And there are times, many times, when pastors cannot change these realities.

This is what Whyte refers to as “coming to ground.” In a poem called “Stone,” Whyte speaks of an immovability in a stone that “staunches your need to leave, becomes faithful by going nowhere.” Whyte is encountering the fundamental otherness of the world around him, an irreducible “isness” that he can’t access, alter or rearrange. He can only stand in awe before it. When I was a pastor in Austin, Texas, I heard my colleague Fred Morgan tell a group of seminarians that ministry was about learning how to be impotent. While I watched the men in the room nervously shift in their seats, I sensed that the women were feeling anxious, too. No one likes feeling powerless. What Morgan was telling them was that the most important thing they could ever learn is that our job is to walk with people as they face situations no one can change — the slow-motion train wreck of a divorce, the tragic spiral into addiction, the death of a child. Our job, our calling, is to abide with people facing these immovable, unchanging realities.

Cultivating robust vulnerability

I was once told by someone I greatly respect that I should consider not being quite so vulnerable in the pulpit. He was genuinely concerned for me, saying that down deep, people really want their leaders to appear strong and project a sense of certainty and confidence. Although he didn’t use these exact words, I think he was afraid that my honesty about my many mistakes and foibles could make me appear a bit too human.

I understand the problem with pastors who overshare in the pulpit. Some of our worst moments in church have occurred when a pastor used the power of his position to turn a potentially holy moment into something about him. Talking about ourselves can transfer emotional work to the congregation that is ours alone to process. But pretending to be less vulnerable or less human isn’t the solution. It’s not even a real option.

The fourth foundation of conversational leadership is what Whyte calls cultivating robust vulnerability. He writes in “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”: “Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without …; vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. … The attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others.”

I once heard Garrison Keillor tell pastors they should consider setting down their manuscripts and stepping out from their pulpits. We don’t do this, he said, because we’re afraid we’ll forget something. But, he quipped, we have to ask ourselves how important something really is if we can’t remember to say it. The only thing we really have to offer that’s worth anything, he said, is ourselves. And isn’t this the essence of Christianity, God setting aside what everyone just guessed was the very definition of divinity by assuming frail, vulnerable human flesh?


Artistry points to the irreducibly personal nature of leadership. One of the poems Whyte often recites is Wordsworth’s “There Was a Boy.” In the poem, a boy stands alone in a familiar landscape of hills and trees and glittering lakes. He puts his hands to his mouth and makes owl sounds, hoping to elicit a response, and the entire forest erupts in a “concourse wild of jocund din!” This is that moment, Whyte says, when an artist or a leader discovers her unique voice to which the world responds.

I’ve experienced this most through preaching. Being a dutiful student, I absorbed all the rules and warnings of my Reformed tradition: always start with the text, do careful exegesis before asking questions, and be wary of being personal lest words about me eclipse the one Word of God. While I see the wisdom in these rubrics, I really learned to preach when I encountered Robert Dykstra’s “Discovering a Sermon: Personal Pastoral Preaching,” which encourages the opposite approach. Instead of starting with our exegetical heads, Dykstra says, preachers should begin with our wonder and curiosity. For me, this opened the way to finding my voice and actually preaching.

Making the invitation

Inviting another to have a real conversation may be the most significant of all the elements. This is the moment when, with robust vulnerability, we finally reach out to another. The way we cast these invitations shapes the way they are received. Without reflection, we will often over- or understate our requests, making it difficult for others to accept them. Much of the time at Invitas is spent crafting our various invitations, practicing them with another person or in a group setting, and receiving feedback from others about how they land.

Reaching out to others isn’t done by magic. It takes work, the willingness to hear feedback, and the openness and creativity to try new and ever-different ways to make contact.

Bringing in the harvest

Last fall, I attended the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising, a program of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. I’m not a huge fan of the word “executive”; even less, the word “fundraising.”

When I think fundraising, I think sales, and I didn’t go into ministry to sell people stuff. I don’t sell church. I don’t sell myself. And I certainly don’t sell God or salvation. Before this training, it always seemed to me that the churchy word “stewardship” was just an ecclesial euphemism for sales.

Before the course began, fundraising and poetry seemed miles apart. Fundraising felt like trying to get people to cough up what they didn’t want to give; poetry felt like being thankful, expansive and open to new possibilities. But what I learned is that fundraising, when done faithfully and well, is also primarily about thankfulness, expansiveness and opening to new possibilities. Fundraising, the course taught me, is never about guilt; it’s always about gratitude.

The program required me to develop a project to implement in my congregation. Every month now, I pray for a group of people and write each family a short note letting them know I lifted them up in prayer and explaining my petition. I don’t ask for money or thank them for money. I’m praying and giving thanks for them and their presence in my life, and I have seen an incredible response. Some people write back heartfelt notes, telling me my prayer came at just the right time. Other people I hadn’t seen for a long time have come back to church.

Leadership isn’t about having all the right answers but about showing up in vulnerable ways and having real, courageous conversations. Leadership is knowing, as Whyte says, that one conversation will lead to another. We are never “there.” We never “arrive.” We are, like the first Christians, people of the way.