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Music Notes

Christmas Music: Worship and Adoration

ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH

Christmas Ornament

The Riverside Choir and Musicians present a musical gift of songs, devotedly offered on Sunday, December 15th in our 10 a.m.  worship hour.

 Please join us for this special service and support those who have rehearsed and worked so hard to add their music to the heavenly chorus.

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HOW BEST DO WE CELEBRATE THE LORD’S BIRTH? A Shift in Mission Direction

A SHIFT IN MISSION DIRECTION

Angel 013

Angel 013 (Photo credit: Juliett-Foxtrott)

There is a calm at the center of the consumer storm called Christmas Shopping in our culture and it is to be found here: in authentic worship in the sanctuary within the communal, covenantal bonds of faith. That is the first point I wish to make with you as I explain a shift in our programming for this season. How best do we celebrate the Lord’s birth?

First, we rededicate ourselves to being in the worshipping community and adding our voice, our prayers, our affirmation of one another and our collective affirmation by God through Christ

No doubt you are familiar with the Gospel of Luke’s beautiful rendering of our Lord’s birth wherein Angels sing to shepherds. So one of the opportunities offered you this year within that context of worship is a musical presentation by our choir and musicians on December 15th. They have been hard at work and will re-present the Angel songs of two thousand years ago, calling us to adoration. I hope you will mark this date.

A second way we have celebrated over the years has been through mission action. Mission is a Latin word used to translate the Greek word in the New Testament for ‘sent.’ We are sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world. Thus, we have for well over a decade provided toys and an article of clothing to deserving families. Initially part of the Angel Tree project that provided a gift to a child of an incarcerated parent, this program over the years has morphed into following several families. In some cases these children have grown up now. But overall, I and the Chairperson of Deacons have become concerned that the program has of late perpetuated the consumer side of Christmas by stoking a materialistic view of Christmas and by pushing our congregants into the madness of “Christmas Shopping.” But more importantly in evaluating our efforts, we believe this year our efforts for celebrating the meaning of Christmas would best be accomplished by empowering agencies with whom we are already involved (Martha’s Table and S.O.M.E. So Others Might Eat) that feed the hungry and clothe the poor.

This year we will transition from the “angel tree” shopping-for-a-toy and instead, ask you–each of you–to contribute what you would have spent buying such toys to our Shepherd’s Purse offerings taken on Dec. 1st and 8th. The offering on Dec 1st will be given to Martha’s Table and on the 8th the offering will be given to S.O.M.E.

At a time when food stamps have been cut and the poor are bearing enormous hardships, it simply seems to us that feeding and clothing “the least of these” better fulfills our mission and the spirit of the Christ who, as you know, was born in poverty. Let us rise to this occasion and give generously and mercifully on our communion Sundays in December. ~PSTR

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Helping the Philippines

Typhoon Nida 18 may 2004 0450Z

Super typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippine islands last weekend with devastating force. The Philippine Red Cross estimates that at least 1,200 people were killed by the storm. That number could grow as officials make their way to remote areas made nearly inaccessible by Haiyan.

In response to this disaster, $10,000 in emergency relief funds is being sent from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) and American Baptist Churches, USA,  to help victims of this massive typhoon.

Donations designated to “OGHS Philippines Relief” can be made by visiting www.abc-usa.org and clicking “Give Online” at the top right of the page. In the “Comments” section, type “OGHS Philippines Relief.”

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Faith, Questions, Knowledge

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? 

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry, by Jean-Baptis...

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry, by Jean-Baptiste Théodon (French, 1646–1713). Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 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]

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Preoccupied With The Past?

English: Coat of arms of Franciscan Order in H...

English: Coat of arms of Franciscan Order in Howard University School of Divinity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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Turn Time Back This Week-End

SATURDAY

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.

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