Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ~Hebrews 11:1
Since 2007, I have worked with our church leadership to research the possibility of development for the goal of financially securing our brave church, a unique Baptist Church that speaks boldly about civil rights, justice and equality. After a decade of ups and downs, of intense work and meetings after meetings, we saw this past week the appearance of our work and our dreams. The steel frame is up. The concrete slab is poured. The new church will be water tight in July and we’ll likely enter for our first service in November. Hallelujah!
The view across the street at Maine Ave.
The view across the street at the corner of 7th Street and Maine Ave.
A view of the steel frame from above at the Canopy Hotel.
I stood beneath my neighbor’s beautiful cherry blossom tree as a breeze lilted through its thick thatched petals of pink, dislodging some of them so we were playing a scene from the moment when the Buddha awakened and petals snowed from the sky. You have no doubt your own moments of Spring Awakening as you have navigated down streets with trees blooming in a riot of pink and white and green. Our cars are coated by pollen. When we stop long enough–and sometimes a few seconds is all it takes–within the cycle of renewal and a season of life, we come to our senses and a vivid truth confronts us: none of this had to be; we do not control these seasons tightly winded and released to play their music box songs to us again and again. The fact that the universe renews itself is a fundament fact that we must ponder. Only the most cynical or arrogant among us dismiss this as though it just happens and it is no big deal. Oh, yes, it is. Indeed. That you are part of this is nothing short of a miracle.
Another fact of the universe counters the truth of renewal. Calvin would call it the depravity of human beings. I’ve no issue with his calling it this. But suffice it to say that if renewal is a constant then the human inclination to pollute, ruin and even destroy life is a fundamental fact that must be taken into consideration too. Something went wrong. The Russian poet and Soviet exile, Joseph Brodsky, talked about an “anthropological backslide” having occurred to which he immediately connected the idea of sin. And sin he said is not such a hard word to define. It simply means, he said, that “man is dangerous.” I’m not sure you have noticed but the current President has appointed persons to head departments who actually hate those departments and have been and are dedicated to ruining them. Whether it be the oversight of our environment or the nurturing of diplomacy, the appointees have held these very departments in contempt. We are being treated to a vivid depiction of cynical and Orwellian government.
What to do? let go into the mystery, as Van Morrison sings. Pause and consider the vast sums of order and precision, the fine-tuned universe beyond you and within you. And then get yourself to a sacred space and in gratitude, worship and commune. Get to a place where truth-telling is still considered possible and necessary.
~ See you Sunday
Monday morning, April 23rd, the first steel beam was put into place by a crane on our construction site. By Saturday, much of the steel frame was in place. We thank God for this progress and for the many workers who work tirelessly to construct our church. The picture you see was taken on Saturday morning, just six days into the process.
Another kind of steel caught my eye this week. The steel of character. Let me tell you what I mean and the discovery of it was very exciting and joyful.
On Thursday morning I noticed that Google was honoring a 1948 London Olympian from the Netherlands, Fanny Blankers. And clicking on that link, I noticed a Youtube film of the 1948 Olympics that is an hour in length. I immediately thought of Riverside’s own Olympian, Emma Wright, who had grown up in Mississippi, and found her way onto the first American Olympic Team after WWII. She competed in the broad jump. Emma was a gentle, kind, wonderful Christian woman. And how proud we were and are of her! So I began to watch this film from 1948 in hopes that I might see Emma. Sure enough, the film begins with the processional of the athletes into the Olympic Stadium. Late in the processional came the Americans and soon, walking across the screen, there she was! A young woman, proudly representing her country and her family. You can see her in the photo below where she is second from the right. I have made the photo black and white except for Emma. How amazing to reach back into time and find this. She possessed a character of steel. While she is no longer with us and will not walk into our new building in November, we nonetheless sense her presence and remember her. Tomorrow, Sunday, I will preach on “The Horizon of Expectation.” I’ll talk a little about steel and the future. ~See you Sunday
Processional of American athletes in the 1948 London Olympics.
This past Sunday Westminster Presbyterian Church and Riverside Baptist Church worshipped together and afterward shared in a potluck lunch. We have worshipped together previously–back on Christmas Eve Sunday 2017, we were invited by Westminster to join them since we could not worship at Jefferson Middle School. And I was invited to preach. Then on Maundy Thursday of this year we shared in a service in the evening and again, I was invited to preach. So it was only fair that we invite Westminster into our interim space on a Sunday and their co-pastor, Ruth Hamilton, preached to us.
What a superlative experience! Pastor Ruth’s sermon was brilliant, refreshing and spot on. Perhaps I’m gushing because I had the day off for preaching and could sit and listen but I heard other of our members remarking on how wonderful it was to not only hear Ruth’s sermon, but to worship together with a congregation that shares so many of our values and passion for justice and peace.
Our unity in Christ is a given. We do not create that unity but God has accomplished this already in Christ. It only makes sense then that we move forward in these coming days, weeks and months as people united, on the way to actualizing God’s love in our community, our city and our world. I will be speaking with co-pastors Ruth and Brian in the coming days about how we do that. We will pray and dream about how we worship together and how we share in mission. I invite you to pray and dream with us. Finally, a shout out to our singers, choir and musicians! You made our Sunday very, very special. ~See you Sunday
Sunday, April 22nd, is Earth Day Sunday. Many years ago, we provided an office for Dr. Jim Ball who had begun a venture I thought at the time was a fruitless endeavor, CreationCare. His goal was to confront evangelicals with the truth of climate change and the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the earth. Now, many years later, all I can say is, thank you, Jim! Rolling Stone magazine identified him as a climate change warrior. So Riverside has had a stake in at the very least supporting efforts to educate and advocate for environmental protections. This Sunday will be another opportunity to reflect and take seriously the call to stop polluting the earth.
Joining us will be our friends from Westminster Presbyterian Church. Co-Pastor Ruth Hamilton will be preaching in our service at Jefferson Middle School at 10 a.m. and then we’ll amble together to Westminster for a potluck, shared lunch (bring food to share, please). Could it be that Riverside and Westminster are planting a tree of life in SW on this Earth Day Sunday? I think so. In fact, I would say we are well on the way to doing that, having shared in a Christmas Eve Service just this past December and recently in a Maundy Thursday Worship together. Westminster is so rooted in justice and community service and Ruth and Brian have been devoted servants in their church and our community. It is an honor to receive them into our worship this coming Sunday. I hope you’ll join us to welcome them. And look, what we’re finding as we share is that we inspire each other, enjoy each other and through this fellowship we improve our community. So this coming Sunday, join us for an Earth Day Ecumenical Tree of Life planting!
~See you Sunday
Most folks who own a car, especially a used car or one they’ve driven a while, have come to that moment when a mechanic says “your car needs an alignment.”
I found this short description of alignment from the Bridgestone Tire page: “Alignment refers to an adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension – the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. It is not an adjustment of the tires or wheels themselves. The key to proper alignment is adjusting the angles of the tires which affects how they make contact with the road.”
Now I pastor a church. I don’t manage a garage but I’m grateful for those who do. Because when it comes to driving and maintaining a vehicle, well, I’m usually in over my head. I’m thankful someone has the skills and knowledge to correct whatever it is that makes my car run less efficiently or poorly. So why bring this up?
It’s Spring. You’ve noticed that. The trees are blossoming all around us and we’re pelted by petals and pollinated at the same time. It’s hard to miss the signs of new life around us. So let me ask you how is your alignment? Wobbly? Off kilter? The potholes of journeying through the daily grind have you out of alignment?
Before Spring is past, why not ask yourself how your spiritual life and discipleship are holding out—you wouldn’t hesitate to put on new tread if your tires put you at risk. You’d get that alignment to not only drive more efficiently but to safeguard your investment.
How’s your soul? Try this: find a place that is peaceful in or outside your home and take some deep breaths and close your eyes. Then chant or simply pray the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy): Lord, have mercy. Christ, Have mercy. Ponder who you are and where you are and consider how a simple discipline of meditation in the week and worship on a Sunday might realign your soul and empower you to navigate the roads you travel down each and every day. Maybe I’ll write about a dashboard bobblehead next time.
Grace, Peace, Hope and Love abide in your life this week. If you want to talk about spiritual alignment, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. ~See you Sunday