‘Tis The Season


English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

There is a lot of nonsensical chatter amongst Christians (and others who seem obliged to instruct a religion on how they should and should not celebrate their holy day) about Christmas.  It is as though there are five hundred persons in a train terminal having six hundred different conversations. “Keep Christ in Christmas.” “Having a tree is pagan.” “Christmas is just a pagan holiday the Christians took over.”  “Kids should not be told there is a Santa.”  “Pass the eggnog.”

 Okay, I made that last one up but somewhere someone is asking for eggnog. We know this.  Here’s my pastoral suggestion for us as we make our final descent into Bethlehem.  Find a quiet place where you can retreat for as long as it takes you to say a simple prayer.

That is my advice. That’s it? Well, that’s it in a nutshell. Whether you walk into a beautiful church—and in Washington DC, you have a remarkable choice of places to retreat—or simply find a museum and stand before a work of stunning beauty or sit beside a window of light with all the electronics and noise turned off, sip the silence like a goblet of wine and say a prayer. Say a prayer preferably of thanks (no prayers for toys or favors).  You could begin it this way: “The Word became flesh.  Thank you.  Fill me with this mystery, Lord God.”  But really, any simple prayer said in the sanctuary of solitude set aside from the noise and banging pots and pans of a consumer culture hollow but not anywhere near hallowed, might deliver you into a golden moment or hour of bright awareness that God is Love and you are the recipient of a great Love in Christ.

 As for all that other stuff—from chestnuts roasting on an open fire to bells both silver and jingling—hey, I’m all for that. And here is why:  I have been lost without a recognizable marker anywhere that could get me back on the road, headed in the right direction. This season—apart from the mystery of the Word became flesh—is a landmark.  Every year your journey stops by this marker called Christmas. For those who are not religious, it is a winter holiday. Fine by me. Really.  Because the way this works—the way tradition and family and music and art and feast become intertwined—is that our mundane lives poured out over 365 days of routine and habit suddenly find a marker that helps us put so much into perspective.  Like, “I am on a journey.”  “I have been here before and now can find my way.”  Human beings have much to mourn, much to grieve about, and much to repent of. But in this season, we turn our hearts and minds to family, friends, stories and songs, decorations and festive activities in a combined, if not coordinated, effort to celebrate with hope our species:  human beings within whom abide deep reservoirs of altruism and even heroism.  That is worth the trip. And it is a landmark on your journey that can, with God’s grace, send you forth into another year smelling of pine and purpose and sated with eggnog. 

Merry Christmas, everyone.  ~Pastor Bledsoe

Enhanced by Zemanta

Farewell, Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela is among us no more…

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...and yet, his life and his contributions to the world and in particular to the suffering people of South Africa for whom he gave his life, remain with us forever.  In sorrow for his passing, we lift up our hearts in prayer for South Africa.  We also pray for our own comfort, for he changed all of us.  In joy for the life he lived so sacrificially, we lift up our hearts to God and give thanks.

Dr. John N. Jonsson, my supervising professor for the PhD, was a native of South Africa. He fought against apartheid.  I remember him too as I thank God for Mr. Mandela.  John provides this vivid translation of the prophet Micah’s urgent declaration to us (6:8);

So you call yourself a human being, well then you know what God wants you to do–Do what is right. Be kind. Walk humbly with your God.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela embodied the prophet’s urgent call to justice.

Rest in peace, Madiba.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

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]

Enhanced by Zemanta