On this Memorial Day week-end I will be thinking of some of my family who proudly served their nation: my father in the Pacific Ocean on a Destroyer in WWII; my uncle in Europe as a paratrooper, jumping into enemy territory; my brother in Vietnam in 1968, trekking through the Mekong Delta. I will expand my prayers and remembrance beyond my family to include fellow citizens whose names are etched in granite along a wall of black granite; those whose names are written nowhere but remembered no less by families who sent them off to defend the freedom of this country they loved; I will pray to God a prayer of thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But I will also remember those who have said no to war; who have practiced with tender conscience a resistance to governments taking their youth and too often frivolously marching them into oblivion; I will remember those who denounced as Communists and driven out of their jobs because they dared to ask hard questions about their government’s commitment to the very ideals it asked its people to die for. And I will pray, as you no doubt will too, that we as a nation will one day arrive at a moment when Memorial Day will be a time of remembrance about wars nearly too distant to recall; when we will pledge ourselves to waging peace with the ferocity that we currently wage war.
May God have mercy on our comrades and fellow citizens who have fallen in defense of our freedoms. May God have mercy on those who presently serve in harm’s way and bring them safely home. May God call us to the citizenship of heaven and may we find that blessed assurance that while we may not live to see the promises of God fulfilled in this life, we will be greeted on the other side of history and mortality and welcomed into the realm of love and light.
Deacon Holley took the microphone to sing O Happy Day Sunday morning at the construction site and let go a torrent of joy. We had just worshipped on Pentecost Sunday, recalling the birth of the Church; were reminded of Jacob’s ladder that connected heaven and earth in a dream so vivid that when he woke up, he anointed the stone he had used for a pillow and named it Bethel, House of God; and then we walked over to the site of our church, presently in steel frame and concrete. It was a glorious moment with clouds finally lifted and the rain parted and stopped. We had the opportunity to sign a steel pillar that HITT had painted white for us and then with markers, scribbled our names on it. O Happy Day indeed!
Our “wilderness wandering” is not quite over, however. After eighteen months worshipping in Jefferson Middle School (that was so gracious to us and provided us not only worship space but choir rehearsal space), we are now headed over to Westminster Presbyterian Church at 4th and I Streets. And how grateful we are that Westminster has opened their doors to us. Our first service there will be Sunday, June 17th. Our worship time will change to 11 a.m. as we both, Riverside and Westminster, try to actualize what our Lord actually prayed we would do: be one. A shared service is a remarkable opportunity to grow as Christians, to deepen our bonds of love, to share in ministry in our community and find ways, long after our interim journey is finished, to continue being an ecumenical fellowship.
As we adjust and overcome the challenges put before us, I would simply remind all of us what the write to the Hebrews urged 2,000 years ago:
11:24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…
~See you Sunday
Once again, sadly, righteously angry, from Feb 14, 2018, this time remembering families and victims at Santa Fe High School.
Ash Wednesday evening and what we now know is that 17 young people have been murdered by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Many more are injured and possibly more will succumb. Politicians who robotically spout their “prayers and thoughts” are with victims hide behind prayer and religion while their hands take money from the NRA. Bloody hands! Bloody politics. Stop praying to end gun violence, Congresspersons. We didn’t send you to Washington to pray nor to instruct we who pray in our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples about prayer. We sent you to legislate and protect your citizens. Stop praying to end gun violence and start legislating sensible gun control laws! We who take religion seriously deny you the use of piety to hide your inept and callous disregard of our children and young people, our fellow citizens.
This past October, I preached a sermon entitled, “We Need To Talk About Gun Violence.” If you search inside this site for “guns,” you will see over a dozen entries devoted to this topic. After years and years of massacres the only conclusion we can rationally make is, our culture is depraved. The level of depravity is stupefying and it permeates every level of our culture. In this season of Lent, let us ponder this reality, seek God’s redemption in our own lives and let us work side by side with those who want to end this scourge of gun violence in our country.
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.