Pubdate: Sat, 19 Apr 2014
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press
Page: A2


LOS ANGELES (AP) - Social media has been buzzing for weeks with jokes
about how, this year, Easter Sunday shares the calendar with the
pot-lover's highest holiday: April 20, or 420 in stoner lingo.
Pot-smokers have long celebrated on the date by lighting up for
reasons not quite clear.

Yet amid the online cracks about worshipping a "higher" power,
tutorials on how to make a joint shaped like a cross and photos of
Easter baskets piled with pot-filled eggs, a handful of churches
nationwide are using the unfortunate coincidence to make much bigger

In the Highland Park (no kidding) neighborhood of Los Angeles, a
church is using medical marijuana imagery and catchy word play to
attract new worshippers to an Easter sermon series called "Medicated,"
about seeking fulfillment through God, not drugs. And across the
country, in Mississippi, a church is hosting a massive concert to
denounce marijuana legalization with the title "Reverse 420: God Keeps
Me High."

"I was sitting on a plane and I was looking at my calendar, and I
realized that Easter fell on 4/20 and I thought, 'Man, half of my
friends, they're going to be doing something else on 4/20. They're not
going to want to come to church,"' said Pastor Justice Coleman,
founder of Freedom Church in Highland Park.

"So, how could we put together a talk or a program that wouldn't
celebrate smoking weed, but would celebrate the idea that there's so
much more to life," said Coleman, 30. "That's what we're going to be
talking about."

Coleman's mailers and promotional video for the Easter service include
the green cross associated with medical marijuana clinics and a teaser
that recalls Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection: "Celebrate 4/20 with
us because you can't get any higher than risen."

"I think the idea that we supplement our lives with a lot of things, I
think that resonates with a lot of people," he said. "Imagine a life
where you didn't need to do that."

The church events come against the much more irreverent backdrop of
the Internet, where social media has exploded with pictures of bunnies
chomping on marijuana leaves, plastic Easter eggs stuffed with dope
and posts such as "Blaze it and praise it!" One Twitter account
included Photoshopped images of Jesus holding a bong and presiding
over the Last Supper at a table heaped with ridiculous amounts of weed.

In California, many medical marijuana dispensaries have long offered
special promotions to their clients on 4/20 and, this year, they have
added Easter-themed goods, such as plastic eggs stuffed with
pot-infused chocolate truffles.

The significance of the April 20 date is unclear and shrouded in urban
legend. The most common version maintains that 420 was police scanner
code for "smoking in progress" - and stoners who heard it quickly
adopted the number as shorthand for their favorite pastime.

Another story holds that a group of kids from Northern California
would always meet behind a school wall between classes at 4:20 p.m. to
smoke, and the phrase spread.

Scott Chipman, chair for the Southern California chapter of Citizens
Against Legalized Marijuana, said he finds churches who are using the
date as a marketing ploy offensive - but if the events draw even a few
pot users to the pews for the first time, it could have an upside.

"Of course our group would not be supportive of church activities that
would encourage drug use, but I think we need to ask why people use
drugs. What is so bad about people's lives that they feel the need to
escape and numb themselves from life and life's challenges?" asked
Chipman, who regularly attends church. "For many, this seems to be a
spiritual problem."

That's exactly the kind of message Pastor Tonya Ware is trying to get
across at her church in the Jackson, Miss., area. The Church
Triumphant Global, where Ware is executive pastor, is hosting a
massive anti-pot concert and T-shirt giveaway after their traditional
Easter service and leading a "no weed" pledge at 4:20 p.m. - the
precise time when many potheads light up to celebrate.

When the church realized Easter coincided with 4/20, it decided to
embrace the opportunity, Ware said.

"Not only should the church be culturally aware, but the church also
takes full advantage of what is happening in that moment and seizing
that moment. The reason why Jesus was so popular - and he was a
superstar - is because he knew how to take advantage of events that
were already happening," she said.

"He would go where the people were, and Easter Sunday is huge. People
who don't go to church any other time usually go to church on Easter."
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