Tag Archives: inclusive baptist church dc

christmas_candles

Opportunities and Questions of Faith

How do I pray?  This question is a recurring one in my dialogue with people.  It is one thing to believe there is a God who is just and concerned about me and the world, it is quite another to figure out how to speak with and hear God. We’re encouraged to “pray without ceasing” but what in the world can that mean for me and my schedule? And more critically, how do I pray for the world much less myself when things seem so out of kilter?  In an effort to help you create a discipline of prayerful contemplation, the Pastor and Deacons have scheduled a Prayer Retreat for all day Saturday, June 3rd at Bon Secouer Retreat Center.  The cost is a mere $25 and includes breakfast and lunch.  Spaces are limited so be sure to sign up on Sunday where fliers will be available with more information.

Why must we suffer?  Right along with the question of prayer, this question is at the top of most people’s list.  Some religious folks simply accept suffering as God’s will. Others question how there could even be a God as long as there is suffering in the world.  Christianity has at the center of its narrative a story about a suffering servant messiah.  First Sunday Bible Study in both May and June will be a read and discussion of the book of Job, led by our Aspirant associate, Tonetta Landis-Aina.  The study takes place after worship on those two Sundays and as well, Tonetta will preach on the book of Job in May.  Mark your calendar, sign up with Tonetta and prepare to have a rich and meaningful study/discussion about a crucial human experience and question, suffering.

Our choir and music team continues to inspire us and we are grateful, particularly for Easter Sunday’s beautiful worship service.  If you have a musical skill, please let Lauren know.  As we proceed into the second year of our interim worship at Jefferson Middle School, we are talking about and working on how we might expand to a second service in our community.  If you are interested in helping us reach out to young adults especially and provide innovative ways both in schedule and mode of worship, please speak with Pastor Bledsoe.

We are a vibrant community. We are dedicated to loving one another and we have a vision that takes us into the future.

~See you Sunday

Augustus_Caesar

FAKE NEWS. SYCOPHANTS. AND THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST.

..for it is the nature of kings that they will hold good men in more suspicion than the bad, and dread the talents of others.’  –Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline

Our President is not a king so one might object that the Roman historian, Sallust’s depiction of kings does not apply.  Our President, however, performs as a king, taking great relish in the issuing of edicts and demanding that his voluminous lies be accorded the appellation of Truth simply because the words are coming out of his mouth.  Despite evidence to the contrary, he will double down and triple down on his lies, as if by merely repeating the words he will magically make it so.  Having addressed the positive in Mr. Trump, let’s ponder the negative for a moment.

In his book, Dynasty:  The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, Tom Holland writes, “Words, under the Caesars, had become slippery, treacherous things.”  And then turning to the Roman historian of that age, Tacitus, describes the moment:  ‘The age was a tainted one, degraded by its sycophancy.’   Tacitus, meet Trump.

This sycophancy—at least it seems to me—is the danger of the moment in which we live.  Sycophants are servile persons who obey and pander to someone important in order to gain an advantage.  What this means is we have a congress that refuses to hold the president accountable because they have an agenda of their own (they would like to be rid once and for all of Medicaid, render the safety net useless, deny medical care to its most needy citizens, the elderly and the poor, and burn billions of dollars building more weapons of mass destruction).  They won’t check the President because for now, they want the President to check the boxes on their legislative agenda.

The banal chant of “fake news” has been taken up by an administration that has attached itself to White Nationalism.  White nationalist apparatchiks [like Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Anton] who fawn over fascists of previous eras have taken up residence in this administration with little objection from the party in control of both the House and Senate.  Sycophancy has tainted our age and our government to a degree previously unthinkable.  Here’s a tip though:  when the alligators on your animal farm assert the swamp should be drained, you should think twice about who is faking whom.

Why would a pastor speak to these political realities? someone might ask.  My response: The Church has since its inception worked out the Good News of Jesus Christ within the matrix of power and politics.  It was Rome that crucified its Savior.  And it was within the Roman history of which Tacitus and Sallust wrote that Christians had to live.   They offered Good News, not fake news. They worshipped one King, the King of the Universe, not the tyrant that occupied the Roman throne at any given time.  As the Gospel of Luke tells us, Jesus was born under the rule of Caesar Augustus.  He was ruthless.  He insisted upon being referred to as Divi Filius, son of a god.  So when Luke tells the Good News of the birth of Jesus and the New Testament declares him to be the Son of God, it is a direct affront and counter to the tyranny of the Roman Caesar-god.  As then, so now.  The Church declares the Good News and thus opposes the fog machine of lies.  Here’s a tip:  when politicians and presidents declare they are being merciful, as Mr. Ryan has claimed about himself, or that they are born again, as the President has said he is, but they attack and assault the weak, the poor, the hungry, the sick, then you can chalk that up to fakery.  The Apostle James was clear enough:  “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress,. . .[James 1:26-27]  May the Good News of Christ dissipate the fog of  fake news of this Orwellian government.  In such a time as this, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. ~See you Sunday

Lost & Found

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This past Sunday, March 5th, upon entering Jefferson Middle School, there was a white-board sign propping open one of the doors that leads to the auditorium.  Written on it in black marker were the words, “Lost & Found” with an arrow pointing to the auditorium which on Sunday serves as our sanctuary for ninety minutes.  Sometimes things come together and make perfect sense.

Every Sunday we sing two verses of Amazing Grace and there is a line in that first verse that reads, “I once was lost, but now I am found/ Was blind, but now I see.”  The truth is, we would be hard pressed to come up with a better sign to signify who has gathered in that auditorium on any given Sunday.

We’re the lost. We’re broken hearted by the violence and confusion that runs rampant through our world.  We’re given up on any number of causes and hamstrung to come up with any fresh ideas about how to heal the world. We are lost in our caregiving of children, of parents, of ourselves. We enter Sunday sometimes with barely enough light to see.

We’re the found.  We come to the church service not because we believe sitting in church makes us Christian.  It no more does that than sitting in a garage makes one a car. We arrive on Sunday lost, that is true, but much of the time we enter joyful for having been found.  We were slogging our way through the world when someone came alongside us and held our hand. We were captured by self-hate when someone reminded us that we were made by a loving God and are configured to love.  We were lost when suddenly, we awakened to the presence of the Good Shepherd. So we show up found. And we didn’t make that happen but, as Annie Dillard writes in her marvelous work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, grace is like a person who holds their cup under a water fall or stream.

We are the lost and found.  We invite you to worship with us and despite all that generates fear in our lives in these precarious moments, discover a great grace and a remarkable love that overcomes the world.  ~See you Sunday

Stage Left, Our Town, Our Church

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All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts, . . .
[As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII]

One can forgive a playwright for casting all of life as a stage.  Indeed, Shakespeare by so doing ended up revealing a psychology of human social interaction that is informative and helpful.  What role did you play today? What lines were you given? What improvisation did you make when interrupted by an audience member or by a misplaced prop? What kind of entrance did you make this morning, grand?  Quiet?

Every Sunday we of  Riverside Baptist Church worship in an auditorium at a local middle school.  It has a stage with a beautiful burgundy curtain. The chairs squeak.  The sound reverberates against hard walls, making the speaking and singing parts at times difficult to hear. But you recall middle school and plays don’t you?  How exciting it was to work for the first time on a theater crew, arranging the moving parts of scenery and stage; how tense for actors to remember their lines and for singers to sing in tune; and how delightful to play one’s role before parents and family and friends.  To say that each Sunday we “play” at church is not flippant, but is as profound as Shakespeare’s keen insight into our daily lives that unfold into Acts, scenes and exits.

Like the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, we begin with the Stage Manager making announcements and orienting people to the surroundings, helping the audience to transition from “audience” to the role of “congregation” and this occurs just after the stage crew has covered a simple plastic table with a cloth, placed  flameless battery-operated candles on it, along with a chalice that was made by a local potter in our last service in the building that used to stand on the corner of 7th & Maine.   As Thorton Wilder has the Stage Manager say, this is Maine Street (our Maine is named after the state) and this is Our Town.  And our “sanctuary” now is a middle school auditorium and the props include school paraphernalia collected in corners, school signs and wide hallways with their shiny floors.  As with any play, whether or not you can see the world through the thinly constructed scenery depends on your own imagination and willingness to look into and through your own life.  Charles Isher, writing for the New York Times wrote about Thornton’s play, “Wilder sought to make sacraments of simple things. In Our Town he cautioned us to recognize that life is both precious and ordinary, and that these two fundamental truths are intimately connected. “

This he could have written about Our Church.  When you drive down Maine Avenue in SW these days, you’re likely to be distracted by cranes, large trucks, unfinished buildings being pieced together and flagmen.  But along that avenue is a rippled roofline of Arena Stage, a beautiful and provocative building that dominates the skyline and by its transparency invites any and everyone in to view a stage, a play, and their life.   But it’s not the only stage in town.  Just down the road in a brick middle school, an audience gathers weekly to learn lines, sing interludes, make gentle entrances  and courageous exits.  Indeed, we “make sacraments of simple things.”  Every week, each Sunday, 10 a.m. just off of Maine.   ~Ladies and Gentlemen, See you Sunday ~

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After The Inauguration and The March: Silence

Wave upon wave of noise and actions have swept over our city and our nation.  By now, many of us are feeling exhausted or depleted.  I would encourage you to consider the power of silence and stillness.  Challenge the assumption in our culture that you must respond, retweet, blog or otherwise contribute to the swollen tributaries of information and disinformation.

How will you and I distinguish between truth or lies, fake news or facts, the guiding and dependable star of our destiny or the temporary flash of famous but disreputable persons?  Silence.  Quiet.  Stillness.  Fill a jar with water and then pour some dirt in it and shake it.  The agitation merely makes it difficult to see. Let that jar sit undisturbed and soon, the sediment settles. So with your heart and mind.

Lao-tzu (chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching) captures the power of emptiness:

 We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

There is the scene in the Gospels of Jesus getting into a boat after days spent with crowds of people who pressed him for healing and for words, for miracles and cures.  He rowed across the lake and then walked to a lonely place to pray…alone.

In these unsettling days, settle.  In these loud days, practice silence.  Find that place of peace and quiet so you can hear your own heart and mind and the still, small voice of God.  Shhhh.  Listen.  The waves retreat.  There is a still point on the horizon.  And believe it or not, one of those quiet places of peace and a refuge can be found every Sunday in a middle school auditorium in SW D.C.  We worship there.  We retreat from the world at large so we may reenter it with truth, mercy and love.    ~See you Sunday