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.


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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How Do I Live A Spiritual Life?

School Children on Field Trip

Remember those name tags that got pinned to your chest when you first showed up in school?  There was a simple reason for that:  we don’t want you lost.

When you head out the door or upon awakening from the murky depths of sleep, put a name tag on and this is what it should say:  Christ Jesus.  Because whether or not you get lost in the world at large or are knocked down by waves of circumstance, you’ll want to remember whose you are and be reassured that in Christ, you can never, ever be lost.

Remember AAA trip ticks?  Okay, if you’re actually too young to remember that then dial up your GPS and remember how you search for a location.  At some point, you ask for “directions to here.”

You need a map or a compass.  True North. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  Scriptures count as a map.  If you’re going out into the desert on your camel, you might want to take a map, a GPS or compass.  Why would you travel without that?  Why would you seek to live a spiritual life and not consult the scriptures?

Remember the school cafeteria? Whether it was elementary school, high school or college, you likely sought out some friends to share your meals with.

Fellowship, collegiality, traveling companions–you need these in order to live a spiritual life. Yes, you can and must make a decision about your soul and religious life by yourself. And yes, you can have a spiritual experience, standing alone on a beach or next to a towering tree in a forest.  But to live a spiritual life, it is crucial to be part of a band of brothers or sisters, a troupe, a group of like-minded and committed persons who, on occasion, can hug you and whom, on occasion, you reach a hand to and pull up.

A name tag, a compass, a fellowship.  That is how you live a spiritual life.  This Sunday, show up. We’ll be waiting and we need you as much as you need us. See you Sunday (by the way, any who would like to meet in the Foster Room at 9 a.m. to discuss this week’s bible blog scriptures, feel free to join me).  ~PSTR


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A Mission And A Mandate


Christ, woodcutter Steffan

Christ, woodcutter Steffan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johannes Baptist Metz writes that becoming a human being is both a mission and a mandate.  We are not given our humanity or our destiny as other animals who simply live out of their “natures.” That’s what dogs do. That’s what cats do.  That’s what a lion does. And then of course the next statement is, that is what humans do.  To which Oscar Wilde responded that if a person says they were just acting like a human being you can pretty much count on their having just behaved as an animal.


Your mission and my mission is to be fully human. We want to live up to and through what is most noble about that.  This is also a mandate, a call and command to us to grow, expand, and reach for what is best in ourselves and others.  This Lenten season offers us a chance to be introspective about how we’re doing with that mandate.  We do so within the Christian religious context of Christ’s forty days temptation in the wilderness. There he struggled with his human poverty and limits, resisted the temptation to be something other than what God had called him to be and stepped into and through his destiny as the Savior of the world. When he finished those temptations, he came out of the wilderness preaching that God’s Kingdom was near.  What about us? What about you?  If you’re going to “give up something for Lent,” then how about this:  give up those less-than-noble calls that would diminish your humanity and dignity, your life in God. And embrace the mission and mandate to be like Christ. If we do that, we might awaken to that kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is very near.


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