Refuge In The Storm

hurricane IreneLike you I have stumbled into a temporary place of refuge at the right moment.  You know, when the heavens opened and it rained like the first day it rained on Noah’s head and he likely said, “What the?”  And then scrambled inside the ark he built.  What a wonderful story of refuge in the storm.  I recall when years ago hurricane Irene rumbled through here and the wind battered our trees and windows and lashed us pretty badly.  I was glad I was in the house and not outside.

There are volumes and volumes of books written on the church and what it is.  Truth is, there are several kinds of churches in the New Testament, all different and interesting in their own right.  I do not believe there is one way of being the Church (though there are some core ingredients common to all churches, like baptism and communion).  I would say this–a church is a refuge or at least, it ought to be. And we try at Riverside to be that kind of place.  Amazingly enough, in a one hour service that includes a praise/song/hymn time, prayers and a sermon, we –or at least most of us– leave energized and renewed. Sometimes, it suffices just to get out of the storm for a while. Turn off the talking heads.  Put down the spin masters in the newspaper or on the tablet.  And practice peace, contemplation and rest in God.  Here’s something from St. Augustine’s Confessions in Book VI:

…I sighed, and You heard me; I wavered, and you guided me; I wandered through the broad way of the world, and You did not forsake me.

Read it again, slowly.  That is a confession of refuge.  I hope you might stumble into our sanctuary this Sunday and pray those words uttered by Augustine in the Fourth Century.  They have echoed through the corridors of time and arrived here in this moment.  Use them.  Come out of the rain and storm.  Peace. The Peace of Christ.  The Peace of Christ abide in you.  ~  See you Sunday.

MLK Sunday: The State of Race in America

Oh, Freedom!

Oh, Freedom!

So among the various stupidities that assault us in any given week at the hands of elected congresspersons was the pronouncement this week  by one Congressman Randy Weber of Texas who denounced the President as worse than Hitler since Hitler at least visited Paris.  Perhaps the scary thing is not that this individual  sits in the Congress but that he was elected by a district of people who actually  thought him fit to represent them.

This came on the heels  of the horrific attacks in Paris by gunmen who thought they would honor The Prophet by killing innocent individuals and the “guilty” ones who dared to caricature a religious figure.  Instead of speaking to religious hatred and fanaticism, Monsieur Weber decided to exploit a tragedy in order to attack his and our President.

The week prior to this it was revealed that the third ranking Representative in the House, GOP whip Steve Scalise, had addressed an international  convention of White Supremacists,  the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a group led by David Duke, a former Klansman.  This group has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Scalise has in response received the full support of the Majority Leader, Mr. Boehner and will not be censured. We are to remain calm and carry on rowing our little boats merrily down the stream. As if…

I do not bring these items up to register a political opinion.  I bring these up to point out the obvious:  racism is alive and reactive in our country.  There really is a need to have a Martin Luther King Sunday and not just because our body politic is such a mephitic cesspool of hatreds and lies. We also need MLK Sunday because so many in our churches across our country are still comfortable with segregation.  You can defend your position on why you worship in a single-race church. I’m sure you must have some good reasons, but I for one am finished with ever worshipping in a church that is composed of one race.  Won’t do it. Ever.  I pastor a “blended” church as a famous pastor sneered at me years ago in a meeting and whose name I won’t mention.  My response?  Damn right, I pastor a blended church.  That, my friend, is called the Gospel.  Look, I don’t know where you’ll be on this Sunday, but I would urge you to come sit in a pew of an interracial, gender inclusive, sexually inclusive, ecumenical, passionate-about-justice Baptist congregation.  It may be as close as you can get this week to the Dreamer and his dream.  See you Sunday. ~Pastor Bledsoe

Church Rise

Church_Rise I snapped this photo one recent Sunday morning about eight o’clock.    The sun was rising and piercing through the blue Alpha-Omega window, its  light burst over pews, dusting them with red, blue, green, amber clots of color.  It’s a lovely and contemplative moment in the sanctuary.  I like getting there before anyone else, the entire silent sanctuary of peace all mine.  I’ll tell you what else I like in this picture even though at first, it seems to be that the pew edge is marred that runs along the right border of the photo. Look closely and I think those are finger and hand prints.  The faithful have been here. They have sung, prayed, cried, laughed and worshipped here.  So even though I had the sanctuary to myself that morning, I was not alone.  There was a Church Rise, a community of faith-hope-love that extends for more than a century in this community of faith but part of the church that extends into the far past, even into that upper room where Jesus told his disciples one last time to love one another.

My question to you is, in this first week of a new year, Why would you not enter such a place of peace and leave your prints, abide in the presence of both God and others who are dedicated to loving others as Christ loved us?  It’s time. Come on.  This Sunday will be another Church Rise.  I hope to see you.  ~Pastor Bledsoe

Humans of The World: Welcome. Stop. Happy New Year.

voyager_gold_recordSomewhere over in academia they are presenting papers and arguing over the meaning of the word “human.”  Designers of computers will argue that computers and other machines are alive.  Ray Kurzweil is yearning for the moment when he finally gets to download his mind onto a floppy disk.  Well, not a floppy disk because as everyone knows, that technology is so over.  But he will get to download it so it can be uploaded again and again, which is oddly reminiscent of Leave It To Beaver reruns.

Several years ago, I visited the website for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and got this update on the Voyager spacecraft, “The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft continue exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. In the 33rd year after their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the Sun than Pluto.”

On the spacecraft is a gold plaque that contains various pieces of information (placed there by the scientist and deceased atheist, Carl Sagan).  Etched upon the plaque is, among other things, a pulsar charter that locates our solar system in the galaxy.  And also depicted are a naked man and woman. The woman has her hands down to her side and the man seems to be standing next to a surfboard. According to Sagan and the committee to contact extraterrestrials, they are waving hello or welcome.

Besides giving away the coordinates to our fragile planet to any enemy in the universe who might wish to visit and destroy us, Carl and company assumed that aliens know the difference between waving hello and gesturing “stop.”   In fact, of course, a human being could not distinguish between those signals by the mere gesture of raising one’s hand, palm outward, unless there were a narrative context by which one could make such a determination. Hence it is quite conceivable that Carl Sagan, scientist and intergalactic communicator, illustrator and part-time mime, has called upon all aliens to stop, take off their clothes and go surfing.  And the cultured despisers of religion accuse the religious of interpretive ambiguity!

In the fourth century the North African bishop Aurelius Augustine wrote something that has traversed space and time to reach us. He wrote, “It is our own selves that we are incapable of comprehending; it is our own selves, who, in our too great height and strength, transcend the humble limits of our own knowledge.”   Every experience, every encounter, is a trip past Pluto.

On to a “new” year then.  Welcome. Stop. And join us in the sanctuary as we consider the message sent by the Holy, Just and Loving God of the cosmos to all humankind.

~ See You Sunday.

Votive CandlesOne more time. One service of worship more.  Another attempt to join our voices to those of angels and martyrs, apostles and the hosts of unnamed millions of Christians who, through two millennia, have rejoiced that a Savior was born in Bethlehem.  Christmas Eve provides us this opportunity.  There will be some songs. There will be prayers, proclamation and communion. And we will light little candles to remind us that even a little light overcomes the darkness.  Enter with us into the sanctuary and allow silence and contemplative peace to flow through you. Forget for an hour all the tinsel and wrapping paper promises of the shopping mad culture around us. Instead, come and worship.  There may be no star over our church Wednesday night at 7pm, but inside, faith and light will join together and make us a people of hope.  ~See you Christmas Eve at 7.      ~Joy to the World~