All posts by pstrbled


Countering Some Cultural Assumptions

Some assumptions in our culture:

*what I need must be purchasable.

but what if it is not?  The sages of all the great Wisdom Traditions would say this is an illusion.

*a bad lie got me into this, maybe a good lie can get me out of it.

but what if lying is a labyrinth without exit?  Mark Twain’s insight is worth pondering at such a moment, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.”

*I am and because I am, I am entitled to everything.  

but what if  you are derived, a being dependent upon Another and your spark of life has been given to you?  Provided for you?   Then you are not entitled to everything but everything you have been given is a gift and thus, gratitude—and not entitlement—is the, or should be the, prevailing sentiment by which you live your life.

*Getting even, fighting for every square inch, demanding my place and placement in the order of things is all that matters.

*but what if revenge only perpetuates violence and revenge and demanding one’s place actually undermines one’s placement?  Jesus taught that the first shall be last and the last first, that the humble would be exalted.  What if living that way, the Christ Way, was actually a liberation and a freedom from the gyre of destruction and death?

*There is no God.

if you find yourself lost inside a system of caves and with little light making its way through the shaft through which you crawled, are you sure you shouldn’t call out?  It’s not that you’re wrong to conclude it is dark or that you’re alone in the moment.  It’s not that you are wrong that things look bleak.  But our culture bleats out that there is no God when much of the time what it is really saying is, I cannot believe any longer in the superstition that human beings are gods and that we’re reasonable enough to make things better.  In that sense, I’m an unbeliever.  I do not believe in Human.  There’s just too much empirical evidence to ever embrace that as a reasonable belief.  God IS.  I AM is how God revealed God’s self to Moses at the burning bush. Take that golden thread of your own “I am” and follow it; it will lead you to a gate at Jerusalem’s wall (as the poet William Blake wrote so beautifully).  It makes absolute sense and is a rational act to call out to God.

Out of the depths, I cry unto you O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice! . . .

~Psalm 130

Within the tick tock clockwork of your existence; along the pathways of the labyrinth which is your life; from season to season and moment calling to moment, may you hear if only faintly, the words of the Good Shepherd that you are not alone.

An Archetype of Architecture: Building a church at the Threshold of the DC Wharf


July 8.2017

At this point in time along Maine Avenue, the large blocks of the rebuilding of The Wharf are in place and each building is a self-contained block of stone, brick, masonry and glazing that ripples the landscape along the avenue.  And each block is interwoven with the other, not only in physical ways so that views and rooftop outlooks and lanes of sight are created; so that sidewalks and waterways guide people to places like restaurants and auditoriums; but a synergy has been intentionally designed for the commerce of products and ideas and relationships.  Where does our “little” church on the corner come into play with what appears mammoth in contrast to the structure we are building?  In a sentence: our church is a linchpin at the gateway located at the center of the entire DC Wharf.

That sounds like exaggeration, mere hyperbole, but listen to the Swiss architect, Mario Botta, in an interview where he said, “Yes, the church is the archetype of architecture.”  That is quite a statement!  He amplifies by saying, “When you go into a church, you have to look around. It’s not a theater where you wait for something to happen. When you enter a church, you are already part of what has transpired and will transpire there.  This is extraordinary.”

Botta struggles here to define what it is that is archetypal about church architecture and strips away function in order to get to the ground of sacred space.  He explained, “Where the church is located, the place of the faithful, is much more important than its function… The church preserved sacredness in its very location. This sense of the sacred cannot be found in a bank, a library, or a theater.”  I would quibble with the Swiss architect about function and what happens in a church and even he cannot avoid this by his use of the word, transpire (I think, in other words, that we share more with theater than he might admit).  But I very much believe that what he is getting at is a primal threshold or what historians of religion would call a “liminal” space that bridges the commercial to the communal.  Where is Riverside located within the matrix of The Wharf?

Riverside Baptist Church will stand (as it stood previously) at the corner of the confluence of three roads:  I Street, 7th Street and Maine Avenue.  We anchor an intersection of commerce and community.  We are the sacred threshold at multiple thresholds of a significant development directly across from us, the DC Wharf, where thousands will live, shop, commune and otherwise navigate their lives.

When our carillon rings out on Reformation Sunday 2018 for our first worship service in our new sanctuary, it will ring a sacred presence into the fray and fog of events and time, alerting passersby that a threshold to sacred space lies within walking and hearing distance.  Their gaze will be met by an archetypal architectural expression, carefully undertaken by our architect, Phillip Renfrow, and his team.  There on that corner, a church will be nestled among larger and even grandiose buildings and far from being overshadowed, those buildings—if you have an eye like Mario Botta’s—become a kind of bezel setting for this jewel of a church. Its curved roofline, a wave that gestures toward not just the nearby Tidal Basin but it gestures biblical themes of Flood, Exodus and Baptism.  The perforated metal, waved screen that ebbs across the large curtain glass,  glints light and courses energy both in and through the sanctuary but also outwardly as it joins with stained glass and stone from the previous church structure. Its religious symbology subtle and nuanced, nonetheless it hoists upon that corner a flag of faith, a church devoted to peace and justice, fond of its past but fonder still of its future.
C lick here for a brief video of architectural renderings.



Emotions, Virtues & Spiritual Practice

This coming Sunday, July 9th, I will preach from a book in the Bible I seldom read or preach from:  The Song of Solomon.  If it were treated like other products we consume—like songs or albums from iTunes or movies—it would have an R rating.  It is a beautiful, sensual work in the bible but I digress. I’m going to preach on “The Habitation of Joy.”

The Christian psychologist and professor, Robert C. Roberts, wrote a wonderful book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues.  I highly recommend it for any number of reasons, but primarily for his insights as regards our emotional well-being and how we can activate what are virtues in the New Testament and what we regard as emotions in our modern way of looking at things.  Can you teach yourself or be taught to be joyful? Can you counter despair by commanding hope or gratitude? Roberts thinks so.  He writes, “I hope that through reflecting about what emotions are, how they are formed, and the nature of particular spiritual emotions such as joy, contrition, hope, gratitude, compassion, and peace, we can all become more faithful Christians and better nurturers of those whose lives we influence”  (p. 6).

One significant place where such virtues/emotions can be shaped is worship.  Not only is our entrance into worship a passing through one time (regular, mundane time) into another time (sacred time) but we are also permitting ourselves to be instructed and trained in virtues that establish sound and good character.  All of us know how important “continuing education” is for professionals. We want, for example, our doctors and nurses, our dentists, our lawyers and tax advisors etc. to be up to date on the latest information and to be trained in “best practices.”  This is a given.  Worship on any given Sunday exposes us to information, calls us out of our solitude into communion and community; instructs us on ways to navigate a world that is too often filled with cruelty; provides us a gold standard for human behavior (like justice and compassion); and above all, places us before the Holy One who loves us so we can learn to love ourselves and our world.

Pick up Robert’s book.  If you need some therapeutic intervention in your life, be sure to check out the Pastoral Counseling link under the “Ministries” tab at the top of this page.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Again, I say to you, rejoice!”  If he could instruct us to do that then apparently we have the power within ourselves to activate joy.  In this Orwellian time in which we find ourselves, I think you will agree, that such a power and presence in our lives is something each of us could benefit by. ~See you Sunday


The Monumental Failure of Trumpism

Can we call the President’s behavior and accumulated tweets an “ism” at this point?  Unlike other isms, he lacks any philosophical core.  He is not so much an ideologue as he is a self-centered, unhinged manager who has been promoted to a position absolutely outside of his skill set or intellectual capacity. But this is really not my point.  Whatever we call this, Trumpism or Republican Governance, it is a monumental failure.

This all feels to me like times when I drove around in circles lost. This would have been prior to GPS guidance on my phone but I think you’ll agree, even when you use GPS to guide you somewhere, you still look for landmarks. So in Washington DC, as you can imagine, one of the easiest landmarks to spot is the Washington Monument.  You can pretty much get lost anywhere and from a considerable distance still spot the abolisk rising 555 feet into the air.  If you have a landmark like that, then you can eventually find your way home.

Outside the White House where Mr. Trump resides, stands that monument to our First President.  Not far away are other landmark monuments:  the Lincoln, the Capitol, the eternal flame on President Kennedy’s grave in Arlington.  I note this because on this July 4th,  it is quite apparent to most of us that the country is drifting further and further downstream, unmoored and rapidly removing itself from the founding ideas of our Republic.  We are nearly at a point where none of those monuments is visible to us and most disturbing of all, the current president seems oblivious to them and yet, they are just outside his residence.

On this Independence Day, find a landmark.  Read the Preamble to the Constitution. Read the Bill of Rights. Read Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?”  Or visit one of those monuments. Enter the Lincoln Memorial and read the words inscribed on the temple walls. Any of these and more can guide us back to the vision and dream of America—a vision and dream yet to be fully realized but one that calls to us to do so.

I’m  a Baptist clergyman.  I do not believe in the entanglements of Church and State. I prefer the State to remain out of religious matters and Presidents to stop talking about God and begin living up to their constitutional responsibilities.  As a citizen then, I am noting on July 4, 2017, that we are in danger as a Republic, as the President twitters away the very notion of E Pluribus Unum.   There is no excuse for us to be lost. There are simply too many monuments and monumental moments in our history for us to give up on the dream.  But we’re lost. Instead of driving around in circles, let’s just admit that.    May this Independence Day become a landmark for finding our way back to the cherished dreams of our founding documents.


This Is A Crucifixion

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,

… The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

That is the Prophet Amos (cf., 8:4-14).  As the poor and elderly are being abandoned by this Congress and as Senators and House members, along with a billionaire President, prepare to make a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest citizens via a piece of legislation cynically referred to as a healthcare bill, know this:  The Lord will never forget your deeds.

Interestingly, there need be only two righteous  Republican Senators to stop this assault on the elderly and the poor. Where are they?  We are waiting for you to stand up and be counted for the poor and the elderly.  If you do not, then you will become the soldiers hammering the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus of Nazareth.  This is a crucifixion.


When Your Existence Is Your Crime

Friday, June 16.  Philando Castile’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Minneapolis jury.

Wednesday, June 21.  Sylville Smith’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Milwaukee jury.

Friday, June 23.  Samuel DuBose’s killer is free because a jury in Cincinnati was deadlocked and this for a second time.

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon, PROUD, in honor of PRIDE week and in remembrance of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. In that sermon I quoted from the novel,  Notes From a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin, in which her major character, Lazi, a young gay woman in Taiwan, talks about her life and the life of LGB persons in post-martial Taiwan in the 1980s, saying that she and others like her are confined to the prison of stigma and abuse simply because, “your crime is your existence.”

Philando, a gun owner whom, were he white and shot like he was by a policeman, would have had the NRA howling in protest but of course, because he was Black, the NRA is strangely silent, was guilty of one thing that day that led to his execution. His crime was his existence.

This happens over and over in our country.  If you’re a White Republican congressman who is shot, then a howl goes up but strangely enough, it is not a howl about the proliferation of guns but a howling aimed at demonizing liberals as if the only ones killing in this country of upwards of 30 and 40 thousand handgun deaths annually were committed by ideological leftists.  This would be analogous to blaming liberal waiters for food poisoning diners and then refusing to ever investigate the root cause of the outbreak.  But I digress. You can read my blog post about that here, “Armed and Dangerous.”

Any number of groups of our fellow citizens are threatened daily—women, African Americans, GLBT, Jews, Immigrants of various kinds by a hatred and violence that is simply unacceptable.  We won’t pretend, by the way, that many of these groups aren’t demonized and abused and even killed within their own minority communities.  But here is the terrible fact facing us today:  not only is a withering violence permitted by police (and others) against persons who are deemed by their very existence to be criminal but we have a Congress and a President who perpetuate it and we have, as a people, condoned it.

I’m a clergyperson and am very tempted to say to these perpetrators and their advocates who are now complicit in their heinous crimes that they are going to hell. But that won’t solve the hell we have created right here, right now.  White folks, you got a ton of atoning work to do.  Mr. President, you should grow up and lend your voice to healing our country.   Congress, you are about to commit a crime against millions of Americans, sending them down a river of suffering and loss by opposing their fundamental right to healthcare. And we know you have sold your souls–Democrats and Republicans alike–for NRA money.   Church, fellow citizens, there are better angels calling to our natures and our actions.  We should listen to them.

Black Lives Matter.  Stop Violence Against Women and convict their rapists and murderers.  Love your neighbor, including immigrants.  Stop blaming Jews for the murder of Christ, Roman soldiers in the First Century did that.  LGBT citizens deserve to live fully, freely and protected by the Constitution.  And for once, hold accountable a police officer who carries out what is an extrajudicial execution.