DEAR WHITE CHRISTIANS OF FLORIDA: An Open Letter


Stained glass window at the 16th Street Baptis...

In the letter below, you will see that I do not address it to “leaders” but to Christians, White Christians in particular. You will also not find the word “condemn” or “condemnation.”  Recently, a popular radio program unfortunately used these words to describe my open letter.  Instead, you will find a passionate plea for White Christians to speak to justice by rescinding the Stand Your Ground Law.  Make no mistake, I’ll condemn ideas and behaviors (like murdering an unarmed teen and passing a law that incentivizes racists to kill young men) but I do not issue blanket condemnations of persons.  Finally, this letter ends with a nod to Karl Barth who knew that our silence in the face evil indicts us.  Not wishing to be complicit with such silence, I wrote the following “open letter.”

~Pastor Michael Bledsoe, February 26.2014

An Open Letter from Pastor Michael Bledsoe,                               Riverside Baptist Church Washington DC

February 16.2014

 Dear White Christians of Florida:

  Far be it that I, a white clergyman who is not a lawyer, instruct you as to the illogical nature of your “stand your ground” license to kill but let us note something that is apparent now after two cases where your predominantly white juries could not agree to convict a man who admitted he killed an unarmed teen-ager:  if you convict a person for attempting to murder ten teens but fail to convict the killer for actually killing a teen, then you have incentivized killing since, not only on the face of it but in actuality, you have told the person we will not convict you for killing a black, unarmed teen-ager but we will imprison you for attempting it.
  The stench from your houses of worship is wafting its way across this country, polluting citizenship, demoralizing parents and families, mocking accountability and blaspheming the Holy God whom you say you love and worship.  If that offends you, try reading Amos.
  Here is my premise and I dare you to prove me wrong:  if white Christians in Florida stood up and cried out for justice, demanding an end to the license-to-kill-stand-your-ground law, it would be rescinded immediately.  Where is your conscience?  Where is the little light you promised to shine for Christ?  You have put it beneath a bushel and suffocated it.  You know as well as anyone that teen-agers should not be killed for playing loud music.  But then, we all know don’t we, that Jordan Davis was not killed for playing loud music. He was killed for being an uppity black kid who dared to smart off to a drunken white man with a concealed weapon’s permit.  Speak up, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of your conscience and because you know in your heart of hearts that had a black man killed your white son playing music in a car with friends, you probably would not have to be demanding he be tried because a mob of white folks would have administered mob justice.  Shame.  Shame. Shame!
  White Christians of Florida, speak up for justice.  Stand up and demand that this license for murder be removed from your books, from your lives. Stop defending it.  It is but a few steps removed from lynching.  And you recall, do you not, that the center of the Gospels is the story of the passion of our Lord who was lynched by Romans who perceived him as a threat?
  I’ll end with a word from the great neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth, a man acquainted with evil in the form of Nazism and who, along with a small group of other ministers, signed the Barmen Declaration, refusing to swear an oath to the Fuhrer.  This is what he said in the 20th century—it is as apt today for your hearing as then:  “The time is not always ripe. It may be past, it may be still to come.  But woe to the church if when the time does come it is silent….”
 Speak up for justice. Rescind Stand Your Ground for the blasphemous sham it is. Do it because were the roles reversed, you would want someone to cry out for your murdered child.
 In the Name of the Murdered and Risen Christ,
 Dr. Michael Bledsoe

Pastor Bledsoe on Amazon

 

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We Tipped. Meet the Alliance.


Remember the post I wrote a few weeks ago about a tipping point? I had asked you to push and tip our attendance to 100.  Easter Sunday we had around 200 in worship.  I think it is more likely 175 but “around 200″ sounds nice.  And it was nice.  Mind you, it was Easter and we had lots of wonderful extended family members here. So I wouldn’t expect us to have nearly 200 in worship each Sunday.  But if all of us tried to be more consistent about worship, I believe we could consistently reach that 100 mark.  Keeping tipping!ark
Ever feel alone, like you were the only person or maybe a handful of persons who believed in justice, equality, peace and the dignity of persons?  Or let’s try this: can you remember trying to make a point about these values and those around you were negative or even insulting but then someone really, really smart and perhaps better at debate spoke up, took your side and then basically deflated the arguments for the status quo of doing nothing?  It is a great feeling to have an ally in the world. Well, this Sunday, I want you to join with me in welcoming some allies who believe in what Riverside believes in; they work for justice nationally and internationally; they speak out for whom we speak.  And yet, our participation with this ally as it stands today is nil.  I want us to rekindle our national association with the Alliance of Baptists.  Take a look at their covenant and mission.  When you do, you’re going to feel less alone in the world.  You’re going to say, hey, we need them and they need us.  Sunday, Leah Grundset Davis will be preaching about the Alliance and how its vision fits into our call to a resurrected life.  We will also hear a few words from the President of the Alliance, Carol Blythe.  I want us to be less alone, more connected, adding our voice to a collective of Baptists who believe in justice, compassion, equality, inclusion and diversity.  Let’s create a wave of energy for justice and peace in our world by joining together with other like-minded Christians. See you in worship this Sunday.
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A Tree Ascended There


Emma Wright's Cherry Tree

A tree ascended there. O pure Transcendence!
~Rainer Maria Rilke

A 1948 Olympian at the London Olympics, a native Mississippian, avid tennis player, devoted Riverside member, Emma Reed Wright was released from her suffering and gave leave of this world April 4th, even as the beautiful cherry tree she planted in our front yard burst into bloom.

I pause to give thanks for her life and service because of all the things we might begin this week talking about, the death of this remarkable, gentle and dignified woman, as the season of Lent and sorrow gives way to Easter, seems so fitting for our church to do. We are those people redeemed by a Risen Savior, who proclaim victory over death.  How inspiring Emma has been to us and to so many and we thank God she receives now the laurel of victory from her Savior.

She adorned our community of faith as her tree adorns our church landscape.  Quiet.  Peaceful. Strong beauty, harmonious and as the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke penned in his opening poem of Songs to Orpheus, Pure Transcendence. These are some words that describe the tree she planted in honor of her sister, Frances, at her passing years ago.  They are words that are apt for Emma as well.

May the Lord comfort her dear sister, Sally and her loving niece, Annie.  May the Spirit of comfort and compassion have mercy on all of us who, in these days clutched between heaven and earth, look to our Redeemer.  You will recall from the Gospel of John that Magdalene confused the Risen Christ with a gardener.  If you can see, you may find Emma conversing with the Christ near those blooms on her cherry tree, in our front yard, on our little corner of Washington, DC.  You are the people of God. May the splendor of Christ’s love and resurrection awaken you ever to God’s love and presence.


Knots


Sasha Kopf's Celtic knot ring

{The following excerpt is taken from the sermon, “Knots, Double Knots And A Cure,” preached by Pastor Bledsoe, July 13, 1997}

Before the advent of Velcro, one of the first things a child would learn to do was tie a knot on their shoes. So here is one of the first points… today:  you got to have knots.  Knots are good things.  They hold shoes onto your feet.  They tie a tent down so the wind won’t send it flying.  A knot on an end of a rope allows you to keep hanging on when you might otherwise slip off.
  I like Velcro though.  Because when it comes to getting double knots out of children’s shoes, I find it nearly impossible.  You know kids—they won’t untie those double knots either. Instead, they will push the heal of their shoe with the other foot and slip the shoe off still tied. So when it is time to put the shoes on you end up –if you’re like me anyway—spending twenty minutes trying to get a double knot untied.  Knots are good but some knots are a real pain.  Which brings us to another point in this sermon:  sometimes we have to get unknotted.
…One of things I want to pass along…is a quote from The Ashley Book of Knots.  Maybe some of the navy personnel in our congregation are familiar with this.  I came upon it as I began reading Annie Proulx’ novel, The Shipping News.   Here is the quote from the Book of Knots:
             In a knot of eight crossings, which is about the average-size knot, there are 256 different ‘over-and-under’ arrangements possible…Make only one change in this ‘over and under’ sequence and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result.
 I had to read that a few times before it sunk in as to why this passage is such a hopeful one.  Did you catch it?  “Make only one change …and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result.”  Keep this in mind as you meditate and think about your lives this week.
… A simple change in sequence might unravel the knot.  Maybe there is one action you can take—not a dozen actions, not five or even two—but one action, one change which can loosen the knot and let you go on to healing and health and a mind centered upon what is good, what is honorable, what is beautiful and noble.
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100: The Tipping Point


Cleaning up the ledge
Perhaps you read or have heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s book and idea called, “The Tipping Point.”  I want to bring it to your attention for one purpose:  to tip our worship community on Sundays over the 100 mark. For a church of about 125 souls, having 70 in worship is not a bad percentage.  But what would happen if we consistently had one hundred in worship?  Our experience singing would improve.  Our giving and sharing of financial burdens would improve.  Our collegiality and sense of being a congregation–improved.  The ability to build off one another’s efforts and extend our influence for the Gospel and Grace of our Lord, expanded.
Here is how Gladwell’s website describes the tipping point:
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.
We experienced such a tipping point recently with my “Open Letter to White Christians in Florida.”  The first day it was posted, we had a little over one thousand views. The next day, five thousand views. By day three, 28,000 views. And now at this moment, 70,000 views.  Thus, a “little” but brave church spoke to an issue of justice to tens of thousands.  Let’s work together toward the tipping point of one hundred in worship, shall we?  Everyone now, Push.  Row.   Tip. Worship!
See you Sunday, because  The People of God gathered in worship is a beautiful and powerful experience.

 

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