All posts by pstrbled


Another Bend In The River

Pastor Bledsoe returns to the pulpit this Sunday, March 18. In a sermon entitled, “Another Bend in The River,” he will provide important news on our interim journey that will impact us for the next several months.  You’ll want to be here for this.

Our new church “milestones” are tacking along well.  Our foundation will be completed by end of this month and the steel structure for the church should be up by end of April. We will have a “topping out” celebration on Pentecost Sunday, May 20th, when we will walk over from Jefferson Middle School School the site so we can see the structure and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are being told that sometime in the  first week of November, our new church will be ready to enter. These are milestones, mind you, not guarantees but the construction firm and development team seem confident of these dates.  May God watch over those who work on our site and keep them safe.  May the Lord lead us, the sheep of his pasture, safely home. ~ See you Sunday.


The Falconer Calls

The Gospel is overheard as much as it is directly preached to persons.  Like a beggar who overhears where there is bread, the Gospel is handed out in crust and slices to those who find their way to the servers.  We preach the Gospel, sing the Gospel, proclaim it through prayer and meditate on it like an artist meditates on the painting of another artist, searching for clues— and we do that every Sunday.  But Monday – Saturday, we practice it in a myriad of kindnesses, mercies, affirmations, and sometimes by bold and prophetic action as we stand beside the weak, the marginal, the bullied, the elderly, the young and all who inhabit the continuum of what we call existence. And along that continuum, as its string of “present” episodes become a string of pearls we call a day or a week, people overhear the Gospel.  And there are days, not always, but sometimes there are days when the entire web of existence is a shimmering vibration of light and goodness. To stand in that light!  ah. To resonate so that we vibrate in our own goodness!  wow.  To be part of a community of faith, hope and love!  OMG meets ML&MG (my Lord and my God, the confession of Doubting Thomas).

Now what has any of this to do with anything.  Simply this: when the center holds, the circle of life revolves and holds.  The orbit of our daily existences spins in symmetric harmony.  When the center does not hold or there is no center or someone has replaced the Holy One with an idol like a gun or war or hatred then, well,  as W. B. Yates said it in his fantastic and alarming herald of a poem, The Second Coming, in that first stanza:

 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. 

I ask you, has the blood-dimmed tide been loosed?  Indeed, it is praised by the craven and the posers of patriotism.  Where are the best among us, ready to serve and to stand? Are not the worst full of passionate intensity? We have seen them in the streets of Charlottesville.

There is a center, however. It holds. We gather ‘round it on Sundays at 10 a.m. over at Jefferson Middle School Auditorium (for now).  The Falconer calls.

~See you Sunday


The Beloved Community in a Middle School Auditorium

On Sunday, February 25th, we handed out grants to seven of the ten groups our Endowment Team had chosen in an effort to “bless those who heal the world.”  This year we heard from each of the grantees in what I can only describe as a crescendo of joy and hope.  Each of these recipients represented their organization in splendid fashion. We were moved to tears by their testimony and their work.  It occurred to me as I listened that we were seeing nothing less than an actualization of the Beloved Community in a middle school auditorium.  With squeaky chairs, powerful songs and a modest room with two banners and a table with candles, we were transformed.

I couldn’t help but think as well that we were sitting inside a public school where children are sent every day of the week, Monday through Friday. They arrive to learn, not to shiver in fear for being shot.  We who worship there pray fervently for these children at Jefferson Middle School and of course, in schools throughout our nation.  As a nation, we can do far better than proposing mad “solutions” like arming teachers.  This suggestion made by the President is especially grievous and utterly illogical.  Let us as a church discover ways to bless the school in which we find ourselves.  Of course, we can say that we provided both Jefferson and Amidon with $4,000 grants last year. And that is a way to bless them of course. But above all, let us advocate for their safety and let us vote people into Congress who will stand up to the bloody NRA.  It is past time to get a grip on this and stop allowing one group to pervert the second amendment into a formula for carnage throughout the schools, venues and streets of our country.

Yesterday, we illustrated that people who are very different and do not see eye-to-eye on any number of theological or social matters can reach across that chasm and embrace one another.  Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Agnostic people, working to heal the world, found each other yesterday and in the process of finding one another and embracing, we ourselves were healed and filled with hope. This is how it should be.  Put down your guns.  Put away your sword.  Let us do better.


Riverside Grants For Those Who Heal Our World

Join us this Sunday as we once again distribute grants to those who heal our world!  One year ago on Martin Luther King Sunday, Riverside Baptist Church dispersed $100,000 in nearly 30  small grants to groups who are healing our world. We did this because we believed good stewardship responds to the world out of the storehouse of one’s blessings–we had just secured an endowment that will hopefully protect and serve our church for decades to come. So the first thing we “spent” money on were these grants to support and empower those who heal the world.

One year later, the Endowment Team selected and the church unanimously voted to approve the dispensing of $25,000 in grants to ten institutions that are busy healing our world. Below you will see a list of those recipients.  All we can say is how moved we are by the courage and mercy extended by these institutions and their volunteers! They inspire us to compassion and action on behalf of others.  And I am proud to serve as pastor to a church that wants to share its blessings with those who heal and mend our world. The grantees:

The Arc of Montgomery County
The Arc supports families by providing child care, work skills training, employment, community living services, resources, respite care and advocacy.
Children’s National Medical Center
Provider of pediatric critical care and essential medical services to children, regardless of insurance or ability to pay.
City Gate Ministries
 Their mission in a sentence:  ”To provide quality education for children in Washington DC’s neighborhoods of greatest need.” Besides seeding our money into local Baptist efforts to heal the world, City Gate offers us the chance to supplement programs for children in some of our city’s neediest neighborhoods. 
Commission Baptist Institute
Commission Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, operates a school for 200 children. Liberia is, as you know, one of the poorest countries in Africa with 60-80% living below poverty level.  Commission Baptist Institute needs aid to keep these children in school.
DC Center for the LGBT Community
The DC LGBT Center educates, empowers, celebrates, and connects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

Doctors Without Borders
Provides emergency medical care to patients who are victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural or man-made disasters – worldwide.
The Holocaust Museum
In honor of Rabbi Zemel and Temple Micah and in memory of Otto Feuer.  Otto was a survivor of the camps and his son, Michael, is a member of Temple Micah and has donated to the museum Otto’s pants and shirt from the camp and a jacket he wore.  A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.
House of Ruth
Non-profit community-based organization caring for families, including women and children, victimized by domestic violence.
Safe Shores – The DC Children’s Advocacy Center
Safe Shores provides children with therapy, clothing, meals, books, financial assistance, advocacy and forensic interviews — all free of charge and in a welcoming, child-friendly and safe space.
Syrian-American Medical Society
A non-political, non-profit medical relief organization that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries to alleviate suffering and save lives.  SAMS has supported over 400,000 surgeries during the 6-year conflict in Syria.



The Utter Depravity of the NRA

I’m going to speak in theological categories about one Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the NRA who today said, ““They don’t care about our schoolchildren, they want to make all of us less free.” There may be no more depraved person on the political stage at this moment than this so called chief executive.  Let me dial us into the word “depraved.”

The great Reformed theologian, John Calvin, talks a lot about depravity in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Good liberals do not like to talk about such a term–it signifies something beyond the reach of reason and self-help, self-led enlightenment.  You get an idea of this dilemma watching a series like The Sopranos where a mobster sees a psychotherapist but the therapist cannot penetrate to the problem of Anthony Soprano’s life.  He’s not just depressed.  He is wicked. And it is that latter term that you won’t find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  And the terms wicked and depraved are not part of the NRA’s or President’s vocabulary for solving the gun problem. You see, oddly enough, these men share the liberal predicament and assumptions about the trustworthiness of human beings: they believe you can hand out guns like candy to people because people can be trusted with guns and not just guns, but hideous weapons of war. Wrong.  And they are wrong because of the depravity of human beings. Here is something Calvin says about that:  ”Such is humanity’s depravity, that a person stifles and corrupts [this] knowledge, partly by ignorance, partly by wicked design; and hence does not by means of it either glorify God as one ought, or attain to happiness…”  This depravity leads to the misuse and wicked designs of events like Parkland.

Wayne LaPierre is a depraved spokesperson for a depraved organization that speaks in Orwellian lies about freedom and rights. They do so and insult parents, teachers, students and fellow citizens who are sickened by the carnage they have unleashed on our society.  We must confront this wicked and depraved organization that is on the par of companies that purchased and profited off of slave ships.  We must because what Wayne LaPierre’s depravity blinds him to is, our children deserve to walk into school FREE OF FEAR of being executed.  Sensible gun control right now.  Ban assault weapons.  And by all means stop giving your money to the NRA and stop taking money from the NRA.  They have the blood of children on their hands.


Billy Graham, Richard Nixon

Billy Graham: Red, White and Blue Crusader

The Southern Baptist churches I grew up in loved Billy Graham and I can remember as a young person listening to his “crusades” on television.  His  oratorical power and presence combined with a fervent and warm religiosity appealed to my family, as he appealed to so many.

Now decades later, I see Rev. Graham in a more complicated way.  Perhaps you have heard that phrase, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  This is sometimes taken up as a slogan for pastors, preachers and journalists!  There is something of the truth that resonates in that slogan.  But what I have come to conclude is that—for whatever reasons, be it naïveté or cynical and machiavellian religion—Billy Graham turned that phrase on its head.  He did not comfort the afflicted  in a time of Viet Nam and Civil Rights and Women’s Rights.  He afflicted the afflicted.  He did not afflict the comfortable but was intwined with the State, providing cover and aid to Richard Nixon and even participating in anti-semitic conversation with the President.  And this is, perhaps, the telling point for me as regards this Baptist preacher who called his mass evangelistic rallies “crusades”—insensitive to the historical reality of what a word like “crusade” even conveys, violence in the name of Christ—he was a Baptist in name but historically severed from Baptist proclamations about liberty and its distrust of the State.  When he wrapped the Gospel in the American flag and became a spokesperson for the Empire, he looked less and less like a Baptist and more and more like a sycophant of the State.  He must, however, be given credit for his having denounced the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Years ago I attended a session of the DC Baptist Convention where Anne Graham Lotz spoke as a keynote speaker.  Her sermon bristled with homophobic rhetoric.  Billy’s son, Franklyn, is a darling of the right wing, using his voice to harm the stranger in our midst, lashing out at Muslims and carrying the cross to oppress women and minorities.  Surely these acorns did not fall far from the tree.

Billy Graham was a true believer.  He was a powerful preacher.  He was a crusader wrapped in red, white and blue.  Those who fell sway to him should soberly ponder his legacy as those who were harmed by him continue to feel oppressed by his ministry and those who carry its torch.