All posts by pstrbled

bike_path

Ride a Bike, Worship the Lord

Imagine opening a garage door and seeing a bicycle splayed out on the concrete, its various parts lined up across the floor.  There’s the handle bars over there and there are the tires separated from the rim that is lying beside it and so forth. Then imagine the owner of the bike telling you, this is what it means to have a bike.  What on earth could such a statement be telling us other than the owner of the bike has confused parts with the whole?

We live in this kind of age though where people think that you —YOU— can be explained by reducing you to your various parts or your blood chemistry.  But just as a bike is more than the sum of its parts (so that actually riding a bike and feeling that nearly inexplicable feeling of balancing on two tires and the breeze gliding across your face is the point) so it is with you.  You are more than the sum of your parts.  You are a living soul.

So imagine that garage door opening and then in a kind of backwards-winding of a film, you watch as the parts reattach themselves one by one until, wow, the bike stands before you.  And its standing before you is also a beckoning to you to ride it.

That dear friends is Church on a good day. When the church door opens and we cross over the threshold, we are not reduced to our various and multiples parts. Instead, we are put back together; we are reattached; we are re-membered.  And that experience of song-praise-prayer-proclamation is not so far removed from riding a bike and defying gravity and being engaged with the world around us in a remarkably different perspective than when we are standing on a corner waiting for traffic to stop or sitting in a cubicle answering a phone call.  It is invigorating and we are renewed because the truth is, you really are more than the sum of your parts.  In the midst of the congregation, you have transcended those parts and become part of the whole.  I hope you get on a bike this week.  I hope you’ll put aside the excuses for not attending church and get yourself into the congregation of those who pray, praise and proclaim the Truth of God’s abiding love for us.  ~See you Sunday

What Did You Do In a Time of Cruelty?

beloved_communityWho the heck is running things?  Have you ever asked that? Maybe at the Department of Motor Vehicles?  The doctor’s waiting room?  The grocery checkout?  Our country?

For two weeks I have been “gone” on vacation and I can tell you what I did not do:  never turned on the television; did not read one news article in print or online.  I was in solitude and dialed into contemplative mode.  I highly recommend that you practice a news blackout for at least one day in the week for your own sanity and peace.  It was indeed a restorative time as I did not digest the toxic spew gushing out of the White House and Congress.

We, by which I mean our country, have descended to depths of depravity and cruelty that defy reason.  We are a rich and resourceful country. There is no reason to grant massive transfers of wealth to the richest while denying citizens access to healthcare.  There is no reason to separate children from their parents and imprison them for the crime of fleeing poverty and violence.  No reason other than an intentional cruelty.  There is no way to square what we are seeing with the compassion of Christ and those Christians who have provided cover for this administration’s assault on dignity should stop doing so.  Immediately.

Look, kingdoms rise and fall.  Princes, Kings and Presidents come and go.  We will survive this presidency of petulance and hate but soberly speaking, we will not return immediately to what we were or could have been.  The debacle and sin that is this administration and the Congress will take a generation to undo.  Meanwhile, here is what you can say to those who ask you how you are navigating this treacherous time:  I belong to a community of faith that week in and week out seeks to live as the Beloved Community.  That is worth more than I can put into words.  Doing so ennobles your life, provides you peace and luminously illustrates to the world what the world needs to know—that  we are made in God’s image and we can and are obligated to treat  others as though they carry within them God’s image.

I hope to see you in the Beloved Community on Sunday as Westminster Presbyterian and Riverside Baptist Churches worship together.  11:00. Sunday. At Westminster Presbyterian in SW, DC.  Step out of the madness and into a community of peace, justice and compassion.

The Old Rugged Cross

AC8D8788-9CA2-429C-B01C-F40E325FCF00

 Crux sola nostra theologica est

The cross alone is our theology.   ~Martin Luther 

This Wednesday morning, June 27, early in the morning, a single steel cross was attached to the “bell tower” of our new church.  I am saddened I am out of town and was unable to witness this.  Thanks to Trustees Luke and Karl for being there and recording the event for us.

The great religious traditions crystallize theology and narrative into symbols and very often we can see those symbols and identify immediately whose symbol it is.  There are all kinds of problems with these meta-symbols that sometimes make it difficult for people to appreciate their power and their positive contribution.  Suffice it to say, religious symbols can become polluted.  A modern example of a polluted symbol would be the Nazi emblem or the Marxist hammer and sickle.  Persons with all kinds of terrible agendas have taken religious symbols and hidden their perfidy behind them. Think of the klansman who hides behind a burning cross.  So it is not surprising that some people have argued for giving up these religious symbols, fearing their pollution makes them at the least irrelevant and at worst, irredeemable.

I’m not persuaded.  I do not believe for example, that Americans who believe in freedom and justice should give up the flag to the brassy patriots who preach hatred and are blighted by xenophobia.  Sorry, you do not get to have a monopoly on the flag.  Nor should Christians allow hateful persons to have sole possession of the Cross. You do not get to own  our most cherished symbols.   The Cross is not yours to have.  So why erect a cross on our church? Why is it important?

One of the earliest hymns I can remember learning was The Old Rugged Cross.  In the very first verse, it captures the reason why we place this symbol on our building:

On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross

The emblem of suff’ring and shame

And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain…

The Cross, despite those who used it for vile and violent purposes, does not endorse sacrifice or violence. It is a symbol opposed to these.  We follow a Savior who was innocently slain, who suffered and died and from his suffering and death, we have come to learn that God has and will overcome death and suffering.  It is an emblem of suffering and shame and reminds us that our own redemption was costly.  Words from that cross were uttered that asked forgiveness for those who harmed him; words were spoken from that cross that speak the human condition—why am I forsakenI thirst!  And from that cross the words of faith and the belief in a power greater than all the empires and tyrants of the world was expressed:  into thy hands, I commend my spirit.

I wish I could witness this moment in the life of our new building but pictures will be taken and I’ll see it soon enough. And besides, I’ve been witnessing the power of the Cross my entire life.  The ground is level there.  We are all beggars searching for mercy and grace.  Indeed, the Cross alone is our theology.

Don’t miss worship this Sunday as we gather with Westminster Presbyterian.  There is a sweet spirit in our worship and a remarkable and striking sign of the Beloved Community that can empower you in these dim days of a reckless government. “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light…”

Statue-of-Liberty-crying-628x356

The Church in Shadowland America

End the Cruelty:  National Council of Churches Statement on Separating Children of Immigrant Families.

If you can cast a shadow—be it your hand on the wall of your imprisonment or your body along the sidewalk you navigate—there is light. Shadow is not possible without light.

We are living in dark days, our country unraveled from former notions of democracy and human rights. We separate children from mothers and fathers at the borderlands while our highest officials quote from holy scripture to defend the profane and hideous.  Shadowland and shadows everywhere.

The maelstrom of heated rhetoric,  a firestorm of disunion and civil war, sends sheets of flame across newspaper, social media and congress.  We cannot seem to enter any conversation anywhere—homes, offices, churches—without the pollution of smoked and incendiary speech. Where is peace? Where the words of grace and inclusion?

I sat in a church this last Sunday, Westminster Presbyterian Church in SW DC, along with members of my church, Riverside Baptist Church, and we sang sweet words of sacred timbre; we prayed words in fervent desire for healing and repair of our lives; we read ancient texts devoted to the Holy; listened to a proclaimer of scripture remind us of faithfulness and a heart of obedience; we shared food at table and we embraced one another.  It was a luminous beehive of peace and justice.  We were radiant and because there is Light, we can see light. And yes, there are shadows in this shadowland of what used to be a beacon of freedom and light called America.  Just remember: if you can cast a shadow, there must be light.

I hope to you see you this coming Sunday at Westminster [400 I St.] where two churches dedicated to light and peace and justice meet.  11 a.m. Beloved:   Sing. Pray. Be the beloved community.

grail2

Westminster Presbyterian & Riverside To Share Worship

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. ~John 17:21, the priestly prayer of Christ

This past Sunday, June 10th, was our last worship service at Jefferson Middle School. We are grateful for how wonderful the staff there has been to us and as well, for the hospitality of the DC Public Schools.  When we began looking for an interim worship space two years ago, we were turned away by institutions with whom we have a shared history in this community; declined because they feared opening their doors to a religious community; declined because they feared children in their building; but Jefferson opened its doors to us. Thank you! We wish the school all the best as it renovates its historic space.

In our eighteen months, we have kept together and supported one another.  We gave away $125,000 to about forty groups locally, nationally and internationally who help to heal the world and work for justice.  And needless to say, we have kept caring about each other and our community.  And with joy in our hearts, we watched as the steel frame to our church finally rose out of the ground. We are almost there…but not quite.

Beginning June 17th, our place of worship and our time of worship will change.  We will share not only space but we will share in worship with Westminster Presbyterian Church at 400 I St., SW.  We will worship at 11 a.m. And we will do this until we move into our new church building sometime in early November.  Again, we are grateful for the generosity and hospitality of our friends at Westminster. They didn’t have to open their doors to us but they have and not only opened them, but with a generous spirit have invited us in.  Our choir will continue to rehearse on Thursday evenings 6:30-8:30 but at Westminster (where we will join up with Kevin Twine and singers from Westminster).  The pastors and some interns and associates will rotate preaching duties. We will share communion together.  WOW.  I tried to anticipate as much as I could the various challenges and opportunities we would have but honestly had no idea that perhaps the most significant lesson we would learn in our wilderness interim journey is the ecumenical truth that in Christ, we are one. We are not only going to embrace that intellectually, we are going to experience it.

I urge you to adjust to this new situation and not forsake assembling together.  I urge all of us to joyfully step into this moment and prepare to be strengthened and renewed as we make new friends and deepen friendship with our fellow travelers at Westminster.  ~See You Sunday

woman_prayer_hands

A Golden String: How To Begin A Life Of Spirit

The mystical painter and poet, William Blake,  wrote these words in his poem entitled, “Jerusalem.”

I GIVE you 
the end of a golden string;
  Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
  Built in Jerusalem’s  wall.…

A brief verse, but filled with clues about a life of spirit!  The life of spirit is inaugurated often by someone giving us something.  In this case, Blake is offering a golden string.  Perhaps someone—a professor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist or parent—gave you a question to answer or an answer to question that led you to search.  In my life, my sacred journey began when, as a child just about five years old, my mother told me there is a God.  I remember that.  It planted a seed in my mind and my heart. And I have been winding her golden string handed to me ever since…

The string is golden.  Can you  detect the irony in this?  String is so ordinary, such a mundane and coarse thing.  It is, in a word, cheap.  But Blake is offering a golden string.  Gold is valuable, of course.  What is ordinary or common has, in his poem, taken on enormous value and importance.  This has the aroma of Jesus’ parables.  A man finds a treasure in a field and sells all he owns in order to buy the field.  Leaven is small but it leavens an entire loaf.  A mustard seed of faith can move a mountain.  But too often we judge our spiritual lives by our society’s standards.  Big is better, more is best, the right brand name is preferable and so forth.  This is one reason, I suggest, that people flock to preachers and churches that push those buttons of prosperity and wealth.  But Blake understands in a profound way what the bible knows:  a life of spirit begins when the common or ordinary takes on the gold of a spiritual journey.  The woman at the well offered a cup of water to a man she didn’t know.  He offered her the water of life that would quench her soul.

In Baptist life and thought, faith comes by hearing the Word of God. In other words we are given the Word, twined together like string and dipped into gold.  Wind them into a ball and they “will lead you in at Heaven’s gate.”

Worship is a gate.  It is an opening, a threshold, a passage-way.  From what to what?  From the world of the mundane to the kingdom of the holy.  From the huts of our wilderness wandering into the Temple of Being.  Wind the ball, begin your sacred journey… ~see you this Sunday in what is at the surface level a middle school auditorium but on deeper inspection is a gate, a golden threshold into the life of spirit.