Where do you keep your faith? Is it in your heart? Is it in your mind? That is, is faith something you feel or is it an intellectual assent to some list of beliefs?
Or maybe faith is something not kept within any chamber of your life. Perhaps it is more a gift bestowed on you by a power greater than yourself. Or maybe it is something you earn, like a grade in a course or a gold watch for reliable service rendered. Is faith something you have anything to do with? “Have more faith,” someone might say. But if faith is bestowed on me then how can I have more of it? If faith is simply something I earn, a merit badge, then I can see how I might have more faith by earning more merit. Works? Grace? What is this we call faith?
Do those who claim they do not believe thereby assert at one and the same time that they believe in something? They at least believe in the rationality of their statement of unbelief but it seems as arbitrary as anyone’s assertion of faith. I don’t believe sounds a whole lot like I believe in unbelief.
Is faith communal? I can read a novel by myself, a novel populated by characters and configured by plot. Is faith simply individual and narrated by myself? Or am I read into the narrative of faith? Aren’t current pop ideas of individuality simply the most craven renderings of conformity? Look at me! I’m like everyone else tweeting, texting, posting—an instagram moment of individuality conformed to instagrams everywhere. How can I know me if I am a mere island in a chain of islands cut off from any community of self-reflection?
Intelligo me intelligere wrote Augustine. I understand that I understand. What mystery is this but the deepest?
I do not know what your exposure to religion has been, but as I grew up in a naïve fundamentalist setting, my exposure was to religion as answer. We didn’t ask questions. And if we dared to ask we were simply and swiftly pressed back into line and told to accept without question whatever it was that was being asserted by the church. At Riverside, we have tried to nurture a place of quest where we get to ask questions and reflect deeply about who we are. We do not reject answers, of course. That would be naïve or stupid. But neither do we accept answers simply because some authority has said it is so. We will come to an authentic religious life, an authentic personhood, when we dare to ask questions and find a way to live within and through those questions.
Come join us. Bring your life. Bring your heart and your mind. Bring your questions and let’s journey together a while in a communal celebration of lives lived authentically before God and within a world that is more often than not translucent and too often, dark. Or as the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” [1Cor.13:12]
Recently I’ve been reading deeply into Martin Luther’s life, Charlemagne’s history and Reformation history. I teach the introductory course to Church History at Howard University School of Divinity so one might assume this is to be expected of me. Over the last two years I’ve read histories on Pentecostalism, President Garfield, Churchill, the holy war for Constantinople which fell to Islam in 1453, Crusades, histories on Venice and Constantinople, a biography of Zwingli, three volumes on the Civil War by Shelby Foote and as you know I like to visit Civil War battlefields. I’m apparently preoccupied with the past.
This digging into the past is not confined to professors of history. If you go to a therapist, you’re going to spend some time digging into your own personal history. And given today’s technology, many netizens spend a good deal of time googling their friends and their enemies. What does this all mean?
One obvious thing it means is, you and I cannot dig into the future. The future does not exist. As for therapy and personality development, the assumption is that past behavior is a predictor of future behavior. We dig into the past because there is so much of it there to be found and excavated. Individual memory and collective memory is critical for self-awareness and communal awareness. We have carved onto the Lord’s Table, as does nearly every other Baptist church, the words of Christ, REMEMBER ME. I hesitate to reduce this to a bumper sticker but for clarity’s sake, let’s just admit to the wonder that by remembering we are re-membered. We are put together. And if a person doesn’t take the time to connect themselves to the past? Interestingly enough, they are doomed to repeat it and their NOW is endangered. I don’t see how you can live fully in the NOW without reference to the past.
That said, you can’t live in the past. It is one thing to reference it, it is quite another to give up on living right now and hankering after days gone by. Dylan sang it this way, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying. Augustine (see my previous blog on time) knew the present is always leaning to nonexistence. Your NOW is about to become past, so act now. Live right now. Live toward your destiny in Christ.
The signs are all around us with trees turned red, yellow and orange: we have passed a time boundary called a season. Wise is the person who knows what season they live in. Wise are they who know that seasons pass. May Jesus Christ who stepped into our time, dwelt within the tick-tock existence of our mortal lives, grant you everlasting peace. ~Pastor Bledsoe
For those of you who have ever said, “I wish I could turn back time,” here is your chance: this week-end of Sunday November 3rd, we fall back one hour. Be sure to turn you clock back on Saturday evening prior to your departure for church.
What an opportune moment to reflect upon this idea of “time.” How is it that you can turn time back an hour? When you do that, are you actually stopping the earth from spinning or orbiting around the sun? Obviously not. Then is time imaginary? Why do we perceive something called “time?” It must refer to the passing of days which has something to do with the sun “rising” and “setting” and the amount of those days and nights it takes to get around the sun one time in a year. But the day itself? How did we end up splicing it into hours, minutes, seconds? When you set time back by one hour and it, as we have already admitted, does not change anything with regard to how long it takes the earth to spin on its axis or travel in its orbit then what exactly have you changed?
St. Augustine wrote extensively in Book XI of his Confessions about time. Here is what he said at one point, exasperated by the philosophical energy he had spent trying to understand this idea of time:
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not: yet I say boldly that I know, that if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming, a time to come were not; and if nothing were, time present were not. Those two times then, past and to come, how are they, seeing the past now is not, and that to come is not yet? But the present, should it always be present, and never pass into time past, verily it should not be time, but eternity. If time present (if it is to be time) only cometh into existence, because it passeth into time past, how can we say that either this is, whose cause of being is, that it shall not be; so, namely, that we cannot truly say that time is, but because it is tending not to be?”
Does that clear things up? I didn’t think so. Whatever time is, be sure to turn it back an hour before you go to sleep on Saturday. I look forward to seeing you in worship where God, who is not bound by time but has entered it on our behalf through Jesus Christ, meets us in that holy hour.
Sometime around 1989 while I pastored First Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio (a stint that lasted all of three years–my current pastorate is in its 21st year), I preached a sermon that referenced the great windmill tilting hero, Don Quixote. A week later on the next Sunday, I entered the church and was met by a child of about 10 years old. He may have been more like eight. Anyway, his father told me that his son wanted to give me something.
This was out of the ordinary. Usually I would be met with a range of issues from poor heating to someone mad at me for not sending them a birthday card. So to have a child greet me in the morning before anyone else was sweet. It would only get sweeter.
I kneeled down to the young boy’s level and asked him what he had. From behind his back, he brought out a beautiful wooden statue of Don Quixote and he simply told me he wanted me to have it. Like I’ve indicated, I’ve been pastoring and preaching a long time. But his child’s generosity is something I remember to this day. He had overheard the Gospel and out of his own possessions, he brought me a gift. I was so surprised and deeply touched by his kindness to me. I took the statue and looking up at his father a moment, said to the boy, “how about I keep it a week and enjoy it and then return it to you?” I didn’t want to deprive him of that pretty sculpted piece but I also wanted to confirm his Christlike gesture.
I don’t know what you want when you show up in worship. Maybe you’re there to simply have some company. That’s okay. Fellowship and kindred spirit is crucial for a healthy life. Believe it or not, I know there are a few in any given church at any given time who simply show up to gripe and keep the pastor “honest” by rude behavior or comments. But if we’re really looking to be transformed and to see our churches transformed, we will find a way to enter that sacred space each week as this child did. Out of an overflow of a generous heart, he came to church and offered his gift. It is a gift, by the way, that continues to heal me twenty-four years later.
This Sunday, how about meeting me in the sanctuary where, in worship, we pour our gratitude out in order to thank God and bless others?
“Little children, love one another.”
The Book Club invites you to join in a discussion of Pastor Bledsoe’s debut novel, Rooster’s Table, next Sunday, October 27th, following service (about 11:15 a.m.).
You can download a free sample or purchase the book at iBooks for your iPad (the book is not available currently in paperback). Action, dialogue and pace are quick as diverse individuals clash and come together in a diner in a small town in Virginia. As the book jacket states it:
“This is a story about how one evening I set out to burn down the restaurant of a friend of mine for righteous cause, how someone who happened into my life redeemed me and how I was anointed in ashes. Oh, and it’s about the problem of knowledge.”
So says Robert Sherman Walker, the primary character and narrator of a multicultural apocalypse that unveils itself in a final fury of action at a table in a local dive in small town, Virginia. That unveiling is twined around characters like the African-American professor of philosophy, Jasmyn Parker, who happens into Robert’s life and provides a counter point to Hank Williams and Johannes Brahms with Thelonius Monk and Billie Holiday. They in turn are threaded into dualities of North/South, male/female, gay/straight, locals/immigrants, mentally challenged/right minded, and Black/White. Their life world is chimed in religious tones from Baptist to Methodist, Episcopalian and Pentecostal with a strong note of Sikhism. Then at an apocalyptic moment, the multicultural experiment of 1980s America erupts one ordinary Tuesday at a restaurant called Rooster’s.