All posts by pstrbled

shelter_rain

The Rhythm of Spirit, the Practice of Peace

On June 3rd, about 23 of us entered the sacred space of  Bon Secours Retreat Center in Maryland for a one day retreat devoted to the practice of prayer through the Divine Office and the Lectio Divina.  We were dialed into the rhythm and phases of the day and came to understand the vital practice of praying in the morning and evening as markers along the journey. Some of us will pray at noon and others may do so at the other offices of the day. But here’s the thing–we have kindled a practice of peace, turning and redirecting ourselves from the noise and belligerence of the world around us (and obviously by now we know that the media is belligerent or to put it more precisely, it is a platform for the belligerent). Turn away.  Center down. Breathe deeply.  Read a psalm. Pray a psalm.  Chant a psalm.  Practice silence.  There is a rhythm of the Spirit and a practice of peace and how much we need this in our lives!  Otherwise, what?  Otherwise we are tossed by every wave of news and events that erupt in a day, a week, a month.  Aren’t you exhausted by that?  Of course, we all are.  Practice this rhythm of the Spirit. If you want to discuss with me how you can implement this in your life, feel free to email me and set up a time.

Gathering for worship on Sundays is also a significant part of that rhythm of Spirit and practice of peace.  You get to feel a part of the continent, of the whole; you embrace that which is greater than your self but at the same time have your singularity and uniqueness affirmed. By Song and prayer and scripture and proclamation, we are placed at the center of the celebration of our common humanity and shared humanity; we commune with the Holy One; the Good Shepherd leads us to green valleys and still waters.  Why stay away from that? Why not be part of that? Come on.  You will be welcomed here and we need you as much as you need us.  There is a rhythm of Spirit and a Practice of Peace.   ~See you Sunday

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Armed and Dangerous: Liberals, Conservatives and A-politicals

In a blog post on June 26, 2016, I wrote:  Gun violence in America is a scourge.  Had an invader killed as many of our citizens, we would be demanding a declaration of war from our Congress.

On June 12, 2016, after the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando I wrote:  We in the United States are living in a country that is terrorized by its own inhabitants. We are and have been perpetually at war now for more than fifteen years.  We are polluted by violence.

On October 2, 2015, I wrote about the problem of gun violence as a problem with our human nature (not our political label):  For we are a corrupted people whose hearts, like a branch infested by insects, are hollowed out.

Today, June 14, 2017, I say again:  stop gun violence in this country. The shooting of people who differ from us politically, by race, gender or religion, is despicable.

ON this day, when once again an armed individual shot a Congressman, a staff member,  and two Capitol police officers; in San Francisco, where four were killed at a UPS center; and in a year when another 30-40 thousand or so people will be murdered by guns, we say yet again:  we desperately need to regulate guns and ammunition and we need to speak to our culture that is in love with death.  This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It is a human issue.  It is about our civilization.  And it is simply galling that those who have dedicated their lives to making access to weapons available without regulation then feign surprise when shootings occur.

Tomorrow and the day after and the week after, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, liberals, conservatives and a-political individuals will take up arms and kill people.  Don’t be fooled by the likes of Newt Gingrich or Steve King who seek to use these crimes for their own ideological ends. The problem is and has been the easy access to guns and assault weapons.   We have heard it said and rightly so that had it not been for the police detail assigned to Congressman Scalise, things would have been worse.  To those who point that out, let me remind you that for the vast numbers of Americans, we have no guards assigned to protect us.  The Congress, State Congresses and Supreme Court have, along with the profit motive of gun manufacturers and sellers,  filled our streets with weapons.  We are being gunned down every day. Some more than others.  It is far past time for honest appraisals of why this is so.

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Living In A Time Of Locusts And Lies

“Let’s just agree that one symptom of a weak character is a sick passion for making the same mistakes over and over.”

The novelist, Denis Johnson, recently deceased, wrote that remark in collection of essays he published as Seek.  It is a spot-on diagnosis of the President of the United States.

Over and over the President demeans and insults, tweeting like some Magicicada insect.  We are living in a time of locusts and lies.  The President illustrates by these repeated lies and assaults that he is a person of weak character. He is small.  And each day he diminishes himself by increments, tweet by tweet.  I suspect that we’ll awaken one day and he will have disappeared, becoming so small as to be utterly consumed by his anger.  The Christian novelist, Frederick Buechner, defines anger this way:  “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.”

The goal of spirituality or life-in-God is to expand one’s soul.  I wouldn’t spend time writing about such a shrinking grotesque were it not for the fact that what the President says –any President—has actual and direct impacts upon millions of people.  We have a President who spends more time attacking the FBI and its former director than addressing the assault on our elections by the Russians.  His venomous rhetoric has unleashed a hail storm of hatred across the country.  The aim of the spiritual person is to aspire to nobility and merciful grace. As I said, authentic spirituality is an aspiration toward an expansive character.

I hope and wish that the White House and its occupants would discover the prayer of St. Augustine found in his Confessions, Book I:  “Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it.”

I’ll be praying this week, not for impeachment, but for redemption. Expansive spirituality, not belittling diminishment.  ~See you Sunday

 

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Why I March in PRIDE–A Pastor’s Perspective

“Hope will never be silent.”

Harvey Milk

Over my twenty-five year ministry at Riverside, I have marched in at least a dozen PRIDE parades. I cannot march today but tomorrow I will be preaching on the topic, PROUD. I hope you will join us in worship.  What follows is a post I wrote last year.  Happy PRIDE, everyone. ~PSTR

 I have been marching in the PRIDE parade for a while now, since the mid or late 90s. I cannot remember the first march but I do recall that it wasn’t that big. Now the Washington DC Capitol PRIDE march is gigantic.  I don’t march because I’m Gay, I march because justice matters and human rights matter and sexual orientation should not be condemned any more than left-handed freckled people should be condemned.

I march in PRIDE because the Church has not only been silent through the centuries but it has been complicit in the deaths, torture and slow annihilation of GLBT human beings.  I march for the same reason I go to the Holocaust Museum each April and read names during the Days of Remembrance:  because Christians have some great atoning work to do for the sins they’ve committed in the name of the Savior.

Over two decades as a pastor, I’ve talked in my office to persons bearing the crushing weight of their family’s hatred; written letters and emails of support to individuals who desperately longed to serve God in a church that would authentically welcome them; I have buried persons abandoned by their families. I prayed at the Capitol with a colleague when Matthew Shepard was murdered…  I march because these scars do not go away any more than the scars were erased from the crucified Christ.  I march in PRIDE simply to humbly say, “I hear you.”  Not, “I know your pain,”  because I do not.  I can only imagine it. But I hear you and I’m willing to stand by you on a day when you declare to the world that you are not only out but you are, like Walt Whitman, willing to sing a song to yourself, love yourself and celebrate your humanity.

I also march for hope and joy.  I fondly remember when a group of us attended a showing of the film, MILK.  What an exciting moment to be together!  I have performed more “gay marriages” than straight marriages in the last three years.  I do not see LGBT persons threatening the institution of marriage but they are saving it by taking monogamous, loyal love seriously.  I have blessed children adopted by gay couples.  How joyful!  On this Saturday, I’ll be marching in another PRIDE parade. I am proud of you, GLBT brothers and sisters.  I hope for you, pray for you, advocate for and admire you.  I am fortunate to pastor a church that is inclusive.  Maybe some Sunday, you’ll walk into a worship service with us.  We won’t single you out as LGBT. We will simply embrace you as fully human and like all persons, as someone who bears the Image of God.

For the haters, the Christian homophobic self-righteous and those who insist on demonizing others who are different, I adjure you to repent.  Turn around from that hatred.  It only leads to hell.  To the scholars, the scribes who find a way to leverage the bible against the love of Christ, I adjure you, cease from this inhumane scholarship.   These, alas,  will pass away.  But faith, hope and love will abide.      And PRIDE.  ~See you Sunday

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Riverside Baptist Church, DC

The Wharf, A Church, Art and Religion

In a 1950 interview, Henri Matisse claimed that “all art worthy of the name is religious.”  [Judith Dupre, Churches]   I like that statement for its truth and its provocation, since it provokes both artist and religious practitioner.

As I ponder the architectural renderings of our church by our architect, Philip Renfrow, I wonder, can we flip the quote by Matisse and gain any further insights?  Like this, “all religion worthy of the name is artistic.”

What would we be saying by such a statement?  At its most basic and simplest, we would be saying that both art and religion reach for the same invisible horizon and render that invisible horizon by symbolic forms and expression.  It is interesting to hear what Matisse wrote to his friend, a nurse and then nun with whom he stayed in contact, “‘I live with my forces directed towards that same spiritual horizon,’ he wrote. ‘My effort differs from yours only in appearance.’”  [“Station to Station,” The Architectural Review, 2 Nov 2013]

There are remarkable resonances between art and religion, artists and faith practitioners.  Of course, there are great tensions that dwell within the nexus of these two arenas of human expression and interaction, not the least of which is a history of how religion has used art and manipulated artists along with aniconic proscriptions within the great monotheistic traditions to avoid making images of the Holy One.  We can’t explore these resonances and tensions in a blog post but we can tip our hat to them and recognize there are many dynamics involved in something as seemingly straightforward as “building a church.”  By the way, I have had the pleasure of exploring some of these ideas with Ian at Blind Whino where artists and their works inhabit the historic building of what was Friendship Baptist Church.  If there is a place in Southwest that takes us immediately to this epicenter of art and religion, then it is here. That building is literally a canvas for mural artists but one might ponder how that religious canvas and the thresholds that lead upstairs to what was a sanctuary provide a dialogical moment for the artist and faith practitioner as they pursue the invisible horizon of existence and cosmos.

As I survey Maine Avenue at this moment, with the large apartment buildings and hotels being erected just across the street from our corner, I wonder about the relationship artistically to those buildings and our church, soon to be built (God willing) sometime in late 2018.  What will the scale and size of our church say in response to these large structures?  How does the interplay of business, commerce, and spiritual quest play out? Fundamentally, it will be expressed architecturally.  Our church—quite small by comparison to everything around it—will be gesturing in symbols some enduring values of the human spirit.  As Judith Dupre writes in her book, Churches, “A church embodies, in its purest form, the fundamental elements of architecture: light, threshold, and the concept of passage both physical and metaphysical.”

Riverside Baptist Church will be a twinkling word in what is being spoken along Maine Avenue, 7th and I Streets.  We’ll chime our presence into the Wharf and the warp and woof of that interplay between the various aspects of human expression. And if we are at all fortunate, we will discover the deeper bonds of our shared humanity. At the corner gateway of The Wharf along 7th and Maine Ave., there will be a threshold  that crosses into the Sacred and that liminal passage will be artistically rendered by stone, light and artistic renderings carefully expressed.  I can’t wait!  Until then,

~See you on Sunday at the Jefferson Middle School auditorium

magnetic pull

The Magnetic Pull of Hatred and the White House

How many noose incidents have we seen in the last two months?  How many incidents of racist assault and murder?  How many women jeered and made less safe?  From murders to assault and harassment, the uptick in violence and hatred is palpable. Include in this a xenophobia generated at a level perhaps unseen in this country since WWI and then try to keep up with a daily barrage of insult and banter from the twitterverse of the President; add to that hostile decisions aimed at the earth and its climate and one is left with feelings of exhaustion and fear.

When there are are so many separate events, how is a citizen to make sense of it all?  Patterns.  Patterns are those larger rubrics that are comprised of individual actions or particles. So you don’t have to be familiar with each single incident to know that there is a pattern at work.  And we see it vividly with this presidency of hatred.  I don’t know what else to call it–the President had an audience with Pope Francis who appealed to him not to abandon America’s commitment to the earth as articulated in the Paris accord and days later, Mr. Trump abandons the accord.  He has made of our country an outlier of civilization and science.  We are alone, willing to pollute the world and not own what damage we have done to our planet.  Curiously, many in the conservative Christian communities voted for him because of their single-issue obsession with abortion.  They voted to protect the life of the unborn but handed the presidency over to a man who is willing to abandon generations both living and unborn to a dying world, choking to death on pollution.

Think of these events from pollution of the earth and its exploitation to racist and anti-religious hatred as magnetic filings.  You know what happens when metal filings are poured onto a surface. They simply lie there with no pattern.  Place a magnet nearby and the filings move as though energized and they take shape in patterns dictated by that magnet.  The metal filings of hatred are moving and they are lining up and when you watch them, they are moving toward the White House.  The current Congress may not hold President Trump accountable for these hatreds, for hating our NATO allies while fawning over Russia, for its racist and misogynist overtones, but history will clearly show how these patterns of hatred flowed in direct reaction to a White House run by White Nationalist ideology and hatred of science.

But the Christian is called to a greater force than any magnetic pull of a spiteful megalomaniacal ruler and that greater force is Love. So when you step back and look at the larger picture, you will see churches and synagogues and mosques and temples and yes, humanists both religious and atheist, who are doing their dead-level best to treat the earth and one another with love and dignity.  That Love force has a magnetic pull greater than hate.  In these dangerous times, we must believe that and then act with hope and determination.  Nothing less than the fate of our earth and the fates of millions of persons demand this.  ~See you Sunday