Category Archives: Featured

By muralist Judy Baca

Overcoming Racists, Nazis and White Supremacy

When faced with a power outage and the storm rages around you and darkness has descended, what do you do?  This question is posed as a way of cutting through the voluminous commentary and our panic about klansmen, nazis and assorted other White Supremacists marching by tiki torch in celebration of the President’s dog whistle to “make America great again.”  I have written many posts critiquing campaigner Trump and now President Trump.  I don’t want to revisit those posts—you can read them on this site.  Instead, I want to go directly to our spiritual and moral center and consider what one or two things we can do as a way of resistance and reacquiring our balance.

So in that storm and in the darkness what do you do?  You find a safe place in your residence and you either light a candle or find a flashlight to break the darkness.  Now, as the hideous faces of Nazi and Klan and White Supremacy have been revealed, it is important to take simple but powerful steps to resist and overcome.  Find a safe place of refuge where those critical and sacred values of human worth and dignity are safeguarded.  Light a candle because even a small wick of light overcomes darkness.

There is a church in SW DC that has for decades now proclaimed justice, equality, dignity, peace and love and in this church people of diversity find a safe place wherein we embrace each other as fully human. We are brave. We speak truth to power. We are compassionate.  In a simple way of saying it, we light a candle and provide a safe place in the darkness and storm of these days.  This is a community of faith, hope and love. I invited you to  be part of that, to be wedded by mutual love and to find strength in one another.

Darkness will not have the last word.  The vile racist and anti-Jewish ideologies of the past that have appeared amongst us in recent days, will not have the final say.  We have overcome before. We will overcome again.  We meet in the auditorium of a middle school but do not be deceived –we are a refuge and place of empowerment. Join us and if you have been part of us, do not give up coming together.

We have a candle. We are a safe place.  We shall overcome.    ~See you Sunday

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Dial It Down

You may have noticed I have been away from the pulpit and from the blog post.  Vacation beckoned me and I responded and how glad I was to break away.  Re-creation is an important theological idea, folks.  It is interconnected with Sabbath rest and biological aspects of renewal we depend upon, like sleep!  I rested a while and frankly, not waking up each day dailed into the Trump Soap Opera was a gift.

Returned now, I am very tempted to speak to the continued shredding of our democratic core values and hopes as a diverse and unified nation.  The failure of diplomatic and mature solutions to Korea, the abysmal silence in the face of White Supremacists in Charlottesville, and the myriad other subjects that occupy us each day now since the inauguration of a White Nationalist to the Presidency of the United States.

But here is what I’d like to say to you as you begin your week:  dial it down. Turn off the news.  See if you can go twelve hours without reading any news or commentary.  In that time, dial into prayer and contemplation, rest and renewal.  Your mind really does not need to access all the information out there.  And I use “information” in its broadest sense.  Don’t tweet for a morning or an afternoon.  When you do this you recognize and honor the truth that Christ holds all things together, not any president.  When you dial it down, you turn off those dripping faucets of anger and resentment.  Take a break. Take a vacation. Take a Sabbath.  The Apostle Paul said it beautifully in his tender letter to the church at Philippi:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” [4:8]  Dial it down and contemplate these things. Start today.

~See you Sunday, Pastor Bledsoe

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The Humanity of LGBT Citizens

Wednesday July 26 was a day of assault on LGBT citizens. First we heard the President of the United States declare via tweet that Transgendered persons could no longer serve in the U.S. military in any capacity.  Then we were alerted to the fact that the Justice Department under the leadership of Mr. Sessions has filed an amicus brief in a  civil rights case, arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect against job bias with reference to sexual orientation.

I pastor a church that is inclusive.  And it is inclusive not by mere rhetoric but we are blessed by LGBT persons in the life of our church at every level, from ushers to Deacons.  The humanity of these individuals is obvious and look, once a person admits that another person is a human being then it becomes virtually impossible to subject the Other to slavery, abuse or disenfranchisement.  I would plead with those in the Evangelical and Catholic communities to confess this:  LGBT citizens are fully human, deserving of the same legal protections any citizen enjoys under our constitution.  Do not lend the name of Christ to bigotry, abuse and disenfranchisement!

Speaking as a citizen, I do not take any comfort or feel any safer because a straight male is in the White House with his finger near the nuclear button.  At the end of the day, it is not his gender that makes us unsafe but it is his impulsive, cruel disposition that does so.  Let me quote Jesus, “snakes and vipers” occupy the White House and the President’s cabinet.  Repent and start living up to the spirit of our country’s sacred documents and ideals.

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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

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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.

 

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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