The News From Ferguson: A Wicked Perversity


Officer Darren Wilson gunned down Michael Brown, age 18, in the street.  Brown had no weapon.  Wilson shot him at least six times, twice in the head.

A predominantly White Grand Jury failed to indict the White officer. This is nothing new in America.  It is a perpetuation of the terrorism rained down on African-Americans since they arrived in this country.  Black citizens have very good reason to fear the officers and courts not only because of that history but because they live terrified every day that their son, or father, or husband, or uncle is going to be the next victim.  Missouri has just vividly illustrated the injustices of the past and reminded us that the majority of White people in our nation simply cannot bring themselves to hold Black life as valuable as their own.

The prosecutor said more than once in his statement to the world that this was a “horrible tragedy.”  He seems content to blame, as the majority of the Grand Jury members did, the victim for having been shot six times.

The refusal to indict is a miserable failure.  Yes, the execution is a horrible tragedy but now, coupled by a reluctance to do what is just and bring to trial the police officer who killed Mr. Brown, it is a damnable indictment upon Missouri and our nation.   Mr. Brown’s parents deserved to know, the Black communities of this country deserved to know (since they have borne this kind of violence and hatred from the inception of this nation), and we should all know why Officer Wilson felt so threatened that he would fire his weapon multiple times into the body of an unarmed Black man.

By the way, ours is a society that has no problem with a White man carrying openly a gun or assault rifle in Target or in crowds or at a Presidential rally, but defends the shooting of a twelve-year-old child of color in Cleveland who  carried and brandished a plastic pellet gun near a rec center, and defends a man who guns down an unarmed eighteen-year-old in the street.  America loves its guns, tolerates them in the hands of White men, but reacts in a killing second when they see a Black person-child-teen-adult with a gun or a fake gun.  God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, they feel threatened if a Black man doesn’t have a gun!   We have not witnessed justice in Missouri.  What we have witnessed is a wicked perversity demonstrated by the show-me-state.

Justice demands acknowledgement of the racist dimensions at work in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Repentance, to use an old biblical term, is needed.  And I say that especially to both the jeering rightwing bigots and the Christians who in their apathetic segregated congregations turn not their cheek, but simply turn indifferently away.  We should know by now what is needed.  Micah the prophet said it.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;

 and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

The refusal to hold accountable a White police officer who killed an unarmed Black man cannot be reconciled to that scripture.  Until a whole bunch of White churches start taking that seriously, they may as well use their bibles for a doorstop at the entrance to hell.  If, however, White Christians saw the face of Christ in their Black brothers and sisters, they would not tolerate this. We might actually make some progress toward justice for all.

Rise up, not to riot and kill and pillage, but to vote, protest, demand and create change, hold persons accountable and create a just society. Yes, we should seek the better angels in all persons, but at the same time call out the devil when he shows up, even with a badge.

I Know A Place In SW DC: Where Would You Go?

chalice_SalvadorIf you found yourself in the midst of a war, where would you go? Would you seek a place of refuge and safety?  We are and have been in the midst of war.

If you awakened one more morning and heard the spin masters and tail-that-wags-the-dog rhetoricians howling as usual, what would you prefer to do? Where might you go for silence? where might you go for truth-telling?

If you peered into the mirror and felt your heart skip a beat with the sudden recognition that you are the problem as America or some other country defines a problem; if you dealt for a moment with the sober recognition that your race, your gender, your sexual orientation were the enemy as defined by money-raising think tanks that can’t think outside a tank or a box, what would you do? Where would you go to be embraced for who you are, celebrated for your singular and gifted life?

If one evening as the shadows lengthened you found yourself rubbing an aching scar, a wounded memory of having been trespassed-against, of being abandoned or unloved, what would you do? Where could you go to find healing, unconditional love, a candle lit against the darkness?

I know a place.  It happens to be a people who gather in a building but the building is beside the point.  Where two or more are gathered in my name, Jesus said, I will be there.  Welcome to peace. Welcome to safety and embrace.  Welcome to Riverside Church.  Don’t be alone.  Don’t carry it all on your shoulders.  Forget the assorted spin masters and pot stirrers that bang their pots and pans up and down the neighborhood, the city, the country.  I know a place that will welcome you and where Christ gathers with us.  See you Sunday.   ~Pastor Bledsoe

Aid For Liberia as it Fights Ebola

American Baptist Churches USA

American Baptist Churches USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Riverside Baptist Church is currently collecting one thousand dollars to send immediately to Commission Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, our sister church whose pastor, Augustine Weah, visited us last year.  Augustine is the brother of our own associate minister, Roland Weah.  As well, the American Baptist Churches USA has already provided 20 thousand dollars in aid to Liberia in an effort to stave off the disease.  You can read more about the One Great Hour of Sharing offering that the ABC, USA collects for such crises as these here.


The Preservationists

Beneath  an underpass, 22nd and 3rd, Brooklyn, september 1, 2014. Picture by Pastor Michael Bledsoe.

Beneath an underpass, 22nd and 3rd, Brooklyn, september 1, 2014. Picture by Pastor Michael Bledsoe.

I am a preservationist. Of sorts. This is true of clergy as a rule since the pastoral care of persons is fundamentally a preservation of souls. That is a very difficult conversation to have in a hedonistic culture that predicates everything it does by a materialist view of the individual and of communities. If one ascribes to such a thorough-going materialism, it is no wonder that one ends up with brutalist notions of preservation of buildings disconnected from living organisms wholly interactive with their environment and one another. Juxtapose a soulful view of human beings and communities with the materialist reductionist vision of some and I believe you can begin to see a thicker interpretation [nod to Clifford Geertz] and an organic, existential recovery of the human. Southwest and indeed any community needs a fully thought-out philosophical discussion about such things as community and the ludic evolution and development of cities. To be propelled along by the unelected and self-anointed arbiters of style serves only the narrowest of visions.

From Jacob’s pillow of stone, that he anointed as Bethel, House of God, to the Hagia Sophia or St. Paul’s London, human beings have marked holy spaces where “heaven and earth” seemed to meet. Preserving a building may indeed be the most prudent action a community may take for its history and life. I do not doubt that for some instances. What I do dismiss is the silliness that every building or every style is somehow equivalent to the Hagia Sophia. And far more critical to a soulful view of community is the preservation of living congregations that continue to dedicate themselves to the humanist and humane preservation of individuals, protecting their dignity and providing a refuge from the storms of life. Riverside has been doing that for over 150 years. In one form or another, we want to continue doing that for decades to come right here in Southwest, in the District of Columbia, in the United States. Our incarnated presence is local, our voice and our vision are global, and we adhere to a robust, soulful view of life. See you Sunday~

Enter the Children

Pastor with Nolan and Hasan

Pastor with Nolan and Hasan

This past Sunday, during the Peace of Christ, a little friend made his way to the front of the church and came up to the platform whereupon I hugged him and told him I had missed him. He’d been away visiting grandparents for the better part of the summer.  He then asked if he could sit with me.  I said yes, but once I preach, you’ll have to go back and sit with your mom.  He returned to explain this to his mother but remained in his pew.  I’m a parent–I’m not sure I’d agree to let my five year old go sit with the preacher until the preacher let me know it was okay.

That made my day though and I’m now thinking, why not allow children to come up and sit with me during the service?  If they memorize a verse of scripture, I’d be happy to give them the opportunity to recite it. It would not be the first time a child has sat with me on the platform.  We have a young person who is now a grown adult who, when her grandmother sang in the choir, wanted to be near her.  She sat with me.

Sunday also saw the appearance of some beautiful children I had not seen in probably a year. They had grown of course and they had to endure my comment after church (a comment I endured and every child has endured from gawking relatives), “You have grown so much!” and “I hardly recognized you.”  Those comments were received in silence much like I received them when I was a boy and heard my grandmother say such things to me.  How is a child to respond?  Children grow.

School is in all around the country.  Children are returning to school. And parents and guardians and uncles and aunts and grandparents are all praying and hoping for  good years for their children.  But look, around the globe, children are suffering enormously from wars and hunger. And if you have read Malala’s book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, then you know too that girls are particularly the object of violence and denied basic human rights all across the world.  When you see a child in your midst, perceive them as an angel of light in your midst.  Bless them.  Do your best by them.  Their smiles and love in response are worth far more than anything you could ever gain in this world.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Do not stop them!  For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

God bless and preserve the children of the world and the child in you.  See you Sunday~


fergusonA town in Missouri will now remain part of our cultural and historical vocabulary; its three syllables sufficient to conjure our spectral, haunted, racist history until the question like teargas chokes us. Why are we still so deeply alienated? The question has several answers but perhaps none as pointed and sharp as this: because a significant number of our fellow citizens prefer hatred and an even larger number retreat behind the fence-line of apathetic cowardice. It takes courage to speak to truth and to our own failures.

Both Black and White lie to themselves. There are two very important dynamics to keep in mind about that particular truth, however. First, each “community” is quite adept at informing the other about their lies. The obverse of that statement is, each community is adept at identifying the lies of the other but resistant to telling the truth on themselves. Hence, a group of people will compare their truths or what is best about themselves with what is worse in the other group. Everyone knows what the end result of that is and it is not civil and critically engaged dialogue. The depravity of human nature is revealed here exactly as people prefer to hate others than engage in any kind of courageous dialogue and critical self-reflection. That is a damnable spot most difficult to cleanse.

The second dynamic about the statement, “Both Black and White lie to themselves” is this: while each group lies to itself, the group that has the most power actually exerts more damage with their lies. When your town is overwhelmingly Black but your police force is inversely and overwhelmingly White then it comes as little surprise that the majority of arrests and the disproportionate violence exerted is against the Black community. That power differential wrecks democracy and justice. And when that power differential appears in the person of a police officer who is White and armed; or it appears in the person of a self-anointed community watch renegade who is armed; or it appears in the person of an inebriated White male who is armed and all three of those individuals confront an unarmed Black teenager then the result can be catastrophic. The lies, the stereotypes and the hatred pull a trigger. Mothers and fathers weep for their dead children while a significant number in the White community offers defense and even praise of murderers.

Is America better than this? Yes, it always has been but those better angels of our citizenship prevail only when people reject cowardice and apathy and demand we do better, live better. It is far past time to stop listening to right wing radio and tv, White Christians, and time to listen to the Christ who knew all to well the power differential of Rome and powerless Galileans. And corporate America is especially culpable here: stop financially supporting these programs of poison and hate. It is way, way past time for politicians to stop taking money from the NRA, that  bloody idol Moloch that pretends it is concerned for sportsmen and the second amendment. The lies of Moloch have led to carnage from one shore to the other in our nation. That money, politician,  is blood money. Your soul is endangered as any recipient of mafia blood money and protection.

Finally, White Christians and Black Christians have remained separated in their pews, not because they have to but because they too often prefer a preacher’s blessing of their ideologies to the more difficult task of telling the truth about how we glorify violence in this country and in both those communities. How shameful.

I hope we might see on our television screens in the coming days White Christians walking in equal number with Black Christians in Ferguson. Not with hands in the air, but hand in hand. White Christians should show up as representatives of that power differential from which they benefit every day, demanding justice and fairness under the law. Black Christians should show up, as they no doubt do in great number already, because their communities are at risk and also to defy those in that same community who would conclude all Whites are evil. We’re in this together, like it or not. Dr. King said it well, “Either we will learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will perish together as fools.” It is time to tell the fools to take their hands off the country in their desperate desire to return us to a backward era of violence, inequality and criminal distrust.