Tag Archives: black lives matter

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

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500 years ago,  an Augustinian monk and priest named Martin Luther ignited the Reformation with his 95 theses.  There have been, of course, a lot of events worldwide and locally to ponder this moment.  It really is difficult to exaggerate the importance of that moment in history.  I read a piece somewhere last week that quibbled over whether or not he had actually nailed these to the door at his Wittenberg church.  He could have sung them out the window for all I care.  He stood in front of a moving tank, that is what he did.

He was not the first reformer, of course.  Jan Huss of Prague met a fiery end for his efforts a century before Luther.  And certainly the mendicant orders, such as the one started by a man named Francis, were aimed at reforming the Church.  But Luther succeeded in ways these others had not. There are lots of reasons for that and a simple blog post cannot do such a discussion justice.

I traveled to Wittenberg more than ten years ago.  I ambled through the house run by Martin’s wife, Katharine von Bora; through Melanchton’s garden; and into the Castle Church where I lit a candle.  This  was and is the epicenter of the Reformation and perhaps modernity, if by modernity we mean the assertion of one’s conscience over the demands of the State or ecclesiastical authority.  With his emphasis upon justification by faith over a works theology; with his attack on corrupt popes and councils and in their place “the cradle of Christ,”  the Bible, and his emphasis upon the priesthood of believers, I could not help but be moved by being in that town where the drama of the Reformation unfolded.

There are, of course, unfortunate and terrible things about Luther.  His anti-Jewish rhetoric, his siding with the State against the peasants and his reluctance to forge a way with Zwingli were grave errors.  We should be aware of these shortcomings and as with any person of such a magnitude, be careful of idolizing him.

If you read the Bible in your own language and not Latin; if you believe you should be able to receive both the cup and the bread of the eucharist; if you believe in the priesthood of believers and by all means, if you rely on the grace of God in Christ and not a works theology, then you should celebrate this moment in history.  And if you are not religious but believe in the sanctity of one’s conscience and the critical engagement of one’s intellect with things religious then this moment also offers you something to celebrate.  The fact is, Luther would not have countenanced Baptists and I am a Baptist clergyperson whose movement emerged on the radical edge of the Reformation in the 17th century.  Still, he is the great Reformer and I walk my spiritual journey along his mile markers:

Sola scriptura  By scripture alone

Sola fide  By faith alone

Sola gratia  By grace alone

Sola Christus  Through Christ alone

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone the Glory. 

If you are so inclined, here is a link to the 95 theses of Dr Martin Luther.  And if you are so inclined, worship in our Protestant assembly held in Jefferson Middle School on Sundays at 10 a.m.  We practice a radical table fellowship that invites everyone to the Table of our Lord, denying no one access to his grace. Such worship is a protest and a counter-sign to a culture in love with death, bereft of any reasonable notion of truth.

~See you Sunday

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Athletes, Anthems and Courage

There are not many White parents who, upon finding out that their Johnny or Jane has been unfairly treated or deprived of classroom resources, won’t speak up and ask the teacher or principal to rectify that situation.  I recall doing so myself when my youngest was in about third grade and late in the year she told me she finally had the chance to use the classroom computer.  I was shocked.  So for nearly the entire school year, the boys had used the computers.  No girls.  Did I march into the school and demand justice and equality?  You bet I did.

So why is it so difficult for White folks to understand that when an athlete respectfully takes a knee or bows out of pledging allegiance to the flag or paying homage to the national anthem, s/he is protesting the injustice and inequity of persons who supposedly are promised “liberty and justice for all” but in truth, are too often denied that promise?  That is not only an understandable protest, it is one that actually honors the principles of the flag and is far more patriotic than the hollow entertainment and spectacles that surround the flag at these events.  Consider  God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch–it may not be blasphemous but it’s close.

Christians especially are caught up in this drama when they should know better.  Church History is a complicated and long history but for the sake of this point, let me simplify and say that most scholars would agree that Constantine and his conversion to Christianity is a watershed moment.  So there is Church that is Pre-Constantinian and there is the Church that is Post-Constantinian.  The Pre-Constantinian Church was persecuted and martyred by the Roman Government.  Paul and Peter and the Lord they proclaimed were all killed by the State. And the reason so many Christians were persecuted and killed is that they would not bow to the images of Caesar and the State.  The Post-Constantinian Church eventually became intertwined with imperial power.  And yes, in America, churches will have the flag prominently displayed in their sanctuaries.  Some will pledge allegiance to it on a Sunday. That is a Constantinian Church, jeopardizing the very Gospel it proclaims.

Were a First Century or Second or Third Century Christian to show up by way of a time machine and see athletes refusing to honor the image of the State, they would quickly conclude that these must be Christians about to be fed to the lions in a large stadium.

Well, Pastor, what do you do?  When I am at a stadium and the anthem is sung, I stand and put my hand over my heart.  But I do not pledge allegiance.  My allegiance is to Christ.  I love my country and am grateful for all I have but here’s the deal—I know that my experience as a White male in this country is vastly different from African-Americans, Women, and GLBT persons.  I don’t blame them at all for opting out or taking a knee at the anthem. That in my opinion is remarkably similar to the early Christians and their passion for God.  And were I able, I’d link arms with those who choose to protest because, protest is not only Protest-ant, it is American through and through.  And I recognize this:  while a game, be it football or baseball, allows me to cheer on an athlete, it does not allow me to dictate their conscience.  They agreed to entertain us but they did not agree to prop up our political views or philosophical opinions.   When we can have a conversation about how justice in this country is predetermined and bends for some while oppressing others, then maybe we will have grown up.

So, no, Mr. President, you are wickedly wrong. These athletes are not “sons of bitches.” They are brave. They are true Americans.  You owe them and the country an apology for your vile speech.

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How to Live in the Toxic Atmosphere of Political Strife

I was struck Sunday in our worship service by the power and the simple eloquence of the lectionary reading take from Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 12.  As you embark upon another week and ponder how you’re going to deal with the various catastrophes, hatreds and toxic rhetoric, I urge you to read these words. Print them out and attach them to the refrigerator or  recite them into your life every day this week.  They are words to live by.  They are words that can help us live in the toxic atmosphere of political strife that has permeated our culture.

ROMANS 12:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;do not claim to be wiser than you are. 

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

AMEN.  So be it…in our own lives, in the lives of our leaders and within the sacred bounds of our beloved community.

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Meanwhile Back On Earth

This week many of us were vividly reminded that we are part of a larger universe.  And our solar system is a cul de sac in a very big neighborhood of stars and galaxies.   And we were reminded that  remarkable balances and exchanges are made every day within the concourse and discourse of these very many variables that result somehow in our being sentient beings.  The Eclipse confronted us with these facts about us.  Totality, while not apparent  to everyone who gazed into the heavens, was brief–a brief moment of darkness that allowed brother moon to steal some of the sun king’s glory but even so, blocked by the moon, the sun still wore a diamond crown.

Meanwhile back on earth…  we have been dealing with the eclipse of the presidency and unfortunately, the darkness has only just begun. There is no end in sight as our congress stands by twiddling its thumbs as Rome burns.  One can only hope that the glory of our democracy will withstand this assault on it by an incompetent White Nationalist president.  We should not assume that it will.  And not assuming this brings an urgency to the moment.  Someone or some group of persons who are responsible under the constitution should courageously stand up and confront the eclipse brought about by a lunar-tic disregard for the dignity of that office.

Meanwhile back on earth… hatreds and simmering racist ideologies have boiled over.  This too is an eclipse of our culture.  Taking us back to the dark ages of segregation, unbridled violence, misogyny and White Supremacist delusions, those gathered in Charlottesville and elsewhere are like the proverbial barbarians at the gate.  The time to stand up to this is now, not after the gates have been breached.

Every Sunday, our congregation in SW stands up for peace, love and justice. We worship together not only as a testament of our love for God but of our belief in the enduring dignity of all human beings.  We let our “little light” shine.  We break the darkness, not with a curse, but with light and love.  Join us.  Let’s be the Beloved Community.  ~See you Sunday

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Dial It Down

You may have noticed I have been away from the pulpit and from the blog post.  Vacation beckoned me and I responded and how glad I was to break away.  Re-creation is an important theological idea, folks.  It is interconnected with Sabbath rest and biological aspects of renewal we depend upon, like sleep!  I rested a while and frankly, not waking up each day dailed into the Trump Soap Opera was a gift.

Returned now, I am very tempted to speak to the continued shredding of our democratic core values and hopes as a diverse and unified nation.  The failure of diplomatic and mature solutions to Korea, the abysmal silence in the face of White Supremacists in Charlottesville, and the myriad other subjects that occupy us each day now since the inauguration of a White Nationalist to the Presidency of the United States.

But here is what I’d like to say to you as you begin your week:  dial it down. Turn off the news.  See if you can go twelve hours without reading any news or commentary.  In that time, dial into prayer and contemplation, rest and renewal.  Your mind really does not need to access all the information out there.  And I use “information” in its broadest sense.  Don’t tweet for a morning or an afternoon.  When you do this you recognize and honor the truth that Christ holds all things together, not any president.  When you dial it down, you turn off those dripping faucets of anger and resentment.  Take a break. Take a vacation. Take a Sabbath.  The Apostle Paul said it beautifully in his tender letter to the church at Philippi:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” [4:8]  Dial it down and contemplate these things. Start today.

~See you Sunday, Pastor Bledsoe

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When Your Existence Is Your Crime

Friday, June 16.  Philando Castile’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Minneapolis jury.

Wednesday, June 21.  Sylville Smith’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Milwaukee jury.

Friday, June 23.  Samuel DuBose’s killer is free because a jury in Cincinnati was deadlocked and this for a second time.

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon, PROUD, in honor of PRIDE week and in remembrance of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. In that sermon I quoted from the novel,  Notes From a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin, in which her major character, Lazi, a young gay woman in Taiwan, talks about her life and the life of LGB persons in post-martial Taiwan in the 1980s, saying that she and others like her are confined to the prison of stigma and abuse simply because, “your crime is your existence.”

Philando, a gun owner whom, were he white and shot like he was by a policeman, would have had the NRA howling in protest but of course, because he was Black, the NRA is strangely silent, was guilty of one thing that day that led to his execution. His crime was his existence.

This happens over and over in our country.  If you’re a White Republican congressman who is shot, then a howl goes up but strangely enough, it is not a howl about the proliferation of guns but a howling aimed at demonizing liberals as if the only ones killing in this country of upwards of 30 and 40 thousand handgun deaths annually were committed by ideological leftists.  This would be analogous to blaming liberal waiters for food poisoning diners and then refusing to ever investigate the root cause of the outbreak.  But I digress. You can read my blog post about that here, “Armed and Dangerous.”

Any number of groups of our fellow citizens are threatened daily—women, African Americans, GLBT, Jews, Immigrants of various kinds by a hatred and violence that is simply unacceptable.  We won’t pretend, by the way, that many of these groups aren’t demonized and abused and even killed within their own minority communities.  But here is the terrible fact facing us today:  not only is a withering violence permitted by police (and others) against persons who are deemed by their very existence to be criminal but we have a Congress and a President who perpetuate it and we have, as a people, condoned it.

I’m a clergyperson and am very tempted to say to these perpetrators and their advocates who are now complicit in their heinous crimes that they are going to hell. But that won’t solve the hell we have created right here, right now.  White folks, you got a ton of atoning work to do.  Mr. President, you should grow up and lend your voice to healing our country.   Congress, you are about to commit a crime against millions of Americans, sending them down a river of suffering and loss by opposing their fundamental right to healthcare. And we know you have sold your souls–Democrats and Republicans alike–for NRA money.   Church, fellow citizens, there are better angels calling to our natures and our actions.  We should listen to them.

Black Lives Matter.  Stop Violence Against Women and convict their rapists and murderers.  Love your neighbor, including immigrants.  Stop blaming Jews for the murder of Christ, Roman soldiers in the First Century did that.  LGBT citizens deserve to live fully, freely and protected by the Constitution.  And for once, hold accountable a police officer who carries out what is an extrajudicial execution.