stone tree memorial

Riverside in Transition: Throwing away and gathering stones


[there is] a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together
–Ecclesiastes 3:5 

Last week I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island in order to retrieve a stone from the First Baptist Church in America, first gathered by Roger Williams in 1638.  We will take this cobblestone–about the size of a baseball—and lodge it into our new building’s date stone.  As far as I’m concerned, this stone is as alien and revelatory as that bit of moon stone lodged into the Space Window at the National Cathedral, except our stone shouts for liberty of conscience and freedom from the tyranny of governments or religions.

Last month my dear friend, Rabbi Zemel, presented me with a stone from the Sea of Galilee, brought back from Israel by the generosity of his daughter’s in-laws.  It is a large stone that resembles in color a piece of toast.  This stone too will be inserted in the new church building at the threshold of our sanctuary, a reminder of the incarnated particularity of the Gospel, fashioned from the yearnings for justice and mercy of a people occupied and oppressed by Rome in the First Century.

We will take some of the existing stone of the current edifice and use it in our new church, thus linking us to the generations who assembled here for worship and for the declaration of those historic Baptist values so valiantly and brilliantly articulated by Roger Williams.  Since Fifth Baptist Church became Riverside Baptist Church in 1967, this church has been a “civil rights” church, a people dedicated to racial reconciliation and justice, gender equality and justice, LGBT equality and justice and the enduring belief that loving God and one’s neighbor is the sum of the Law.  These stones we bring with us will link us to the past and hopefully remind us of who we are to become in the years and even decades ahead.

In a month, we will vacate this building, and beginning October the first Sunday, we will worship at Jefferson Academy Middle School, same hour (10 a.m.) and same corner.  We will leave this building we love and cherish but we will not vacate the principles and values upon which it is founded. We bring these values with us. We carry them into the future.  Deliberately, methodically and with our eyes on the prize, we go forward, throwing away stones only to gather them together  again in an effort to proclaim the love and justice of God in this place.

~See you Sunday


Shame

Mr. Trump: WITHDRAW


The threat, even a veiled threat, promoting the assassination of the opposing candidate in the race for the Presidency disqualifies anyone.  Period.  In a time when gun violence destroys so many families; when our politicians are polarized and incapable of coming together for the good of the nation they are called upon to serve; the vile rhetoric of Mr. Trump suggesting that his opponent might be assassinated as recourse to her appointment of judges to the Supreme Court is an automatic disqualification.  If he will not withdraw then it is simply morally imperative that persons of conscience who value this democracy denounce his veiled threat and demand he withdraw.  We may have just witnessed the nadir of our very uncivil civic discourse in America.  SHAME


Garden of Earthly Delights

Clowns and Antichrists: A plea to evangelicals about their champion, Mr. Trump


“It happened that a fire broke out backstage at a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.”
–      Sören Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. I, p. 30
You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.
I John 2:18

 Far be it for me, a Baptist who does not believe we Baptists are historically Evangelicals, to instruct Evangelicals in our country—and let’s put a finer point on this—White Evangelicals in our country who have embraced Donald Trump as a legitimate Presidential candidate–that they have embraced an antichrist, but you just may want to ponder that. 

That verse from the epistle of John is a fascinating one.  Personally, while I appreciate apocalyptic literature, I don’t try to apply it as a template for history.  I’m not fixated on the “last days,” certainly not like the recently deceased Tim LaHaye who got rich off writing stories and pronouncing the end of the world.  One might have at least expected an apology before his own hour arrived (an hour that arrives for each of us, so I’m not trying to be disrespectful of the deceased) which brings us actually to Donald Trump who has been disrespectful of the deceased; Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, parents of a soldier who gave up his life in service to the United States, have had to endure the cynical and disgusting smear of Mr. Trump.  Oh, I’m quite aware that many in the Evangelical and conservative wing of the country retort with “what has Hillary sacrificed?” but they apparently need reminding that Ms. Clinton has not demanded that Muslims be kept out of the country, monitored and otherwise reduced to second class citizenship because of their religion HENCE (this is a word that pivots on some semblance of a logical mind) a Muslim father standing on the national stage and asking what Mr. Trump has sacrificed demolishes Mr. Trump’s arguments about Muslims in general.

What is it to be an antichrist?  To answer that, you have to ask what it means to be Christ-like.  Here’s a short list:  be compassionate, empathetic, protect the weak and the sick, the orphan and widow, work for peace, honor justice, and otherwise see the Image of God in all persons regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality.  Does that sound like Mr. Trump? Of course not. But here’s the other red flag: an antichrist will march under the name of Christ while destroying the very principles Christ taught.  Cue the story from the Danish theologian, Sören Kierkegaard.

Evangelicals, we are warning you that the theater is on fire, that your champion is an antichrist.  This is the moment you stand up and denounce him as unfit for the high office of President of the United States.  We’re not holding our breaths though.  We expect you to call us clowns and laugh off the warning.  That would be a mistake, not just for you, but for the country, the world and the Church.


retro-radio-with-round-dial-matthew-bamberg

Dial into Silence


Perhaps you are old enough to remember or have simply seen an old radio with a tuning dial.  With deft fingers and patience, one could turn the dial slowly to eventually land on a radio station. With fine-tuning and precision, the noise and static would give way to a clear–if faint–station.

And this is analogous to prayer.  Now I grew up in a noisy church.  The electric organ would vine leaves of notes around prayers. The choir sang. The church, which is to say, the congregants, would exhort with “amen” like a boy throwing a firecracker on the pavement on the Fourth of July.  And the preacher would proclaim for well over thirty minutes and very often forty-five minutes, a sermon that now seems to me in hindsight to have been more stream-of-consciousness than a crafted commentary upon holy writ.  Church was noisy. Silence was not even a word in our theological vocabulary.

We live in a very noisy world. I am sure you have noticed this, especially during these weeks of political conventions that provide a stage for our culture’s anxiety.  The rhetoric, protests, speeches and and speeches and speeches, pelt us with words.  It is little wonder that we feel confused, agitated or simply worn out after listening to even a little bit of all this.  What to do?

Prayer and worship offer us a still point of silence.  You can listen to my sermon, Still Point,  from this past Sunday to ferret out the deeper meanings here. This week, I urge you to patiently tune the dial of your inner life until you find that still point of quiet where you are met by “the peace that passes all understanding.”  Turn off the news for a while.  Barricade yourself against the noise.  Dial into the center where, to borrow from Eliot,

the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

~See you Sunday  where silence and peace meet praise


grieving-angel-statue

Race & Violence in America: A Compilation of Sorrow


How many times must we turn to one another and ask that the violence stop?  Race and violence in America is a problem. That is an understatement.  Gun violence continues to strike at the heart of our nation and yet, the idol worshippers of Moloch insist on feeding our children and their future to the Gun god.  Lay down your sword. Do not give your allegiance or your hearts to those who divide, hate and insist on violence.  There is no way to peace, peace is the way as the Fellowship of Reconciliation chants it.  Below is a compilation of statements made over the last few years that speak to these issues.

Open Letter to White Christians

The Mocking of Christ

Guns + Hatred in America

The Scourge of Gun Violence

Defying Injustice, Speaking Truth

Ferguson

Orlando

Shame on Jerry Falwell

Charleston

Baltimore

McKinney, Texas

Paris

Mourning Brooklyn Police Officers

Mr. Beck & Some Lives Matter

Order the Flags at Half Staff

Refuge in a Profanely Violent World

The State of Race in America


Black-ribbon

The Conscience of the Nation Must Be Roused


Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

~Frederick Douglass, 1852, “July 4th?”

Dallas Police Officers

Michael Krol
Brent Thompson
Patrick Zamarripa

Michael Smith

Lorne Ahrens

Our nation is in the grip of madness, a violence stoked by a variety of groups and individuals from right wing radio talk show hosts to hate groups.  Our Congress refuses to act while the citizens of this country are armed to the teeth.  Legislation is important.  Community policing is important. As, or more important, is a change of heart, what the bible calls repentance.  As we mourn yet more lives taken from their families and friends, we pray that a spiritual awakening ensues and we turn from violence as a solution to our differences and our problems.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.