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The Appearance of Our Work and Our Dreams

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,  the conviction of things not seen. ~Hebrews 11:1

Since 2007, I have worked with our church leadership to research the possibility of development for the goal of financially securing our brave church, a unique Baptist Church that speaks boldly about civil rights, justice and equality.  After a decade of ups and downs, of intense work and meetings after meetings, we saw this past week the appearance of our work and our dreams. The steel frame is up. The concrete slab is poured.  The new church will be water tight in July and we’ll likely enter for our first service in November.  Hallelujah!

The view across the street at Maine Ave.

The view across the street at Maine Ave.

The view across the street at the corner of 7th Street and Maine Ave.

The view across the street at the corner of 7th Street and Maine Ave.

A view of the steel frame from above at the Canopy Hotel.

A view of the steel frame from above at the Canopy Hotel.

 

 

Two Kinds of Steel

steel_frame_day6Monday morning, April 23rd, the first steel beam was put into place by a crane on our construction site. By Saturday, much of the steel frame was in place.  We thank God for this progress and for the many workers who work tirelessly to construct our church.  The picture you see was taken on Saturday morning, just six days into the process.

Another kind of steel caught my eye this week.  The steel of character.  Let me tell you what I mean and the discovery of it was very exciting and joyful.

On Thursday morning I noticed that Google was honoring a 1948 London Olympian from the Netherlands, Fanny Blankers.  And clicking on that link, I noticed a Youtube film of the 1948 Olympics that is an hour in length.  I immediately thought of Riverside’s own Olympian, Emma Wright, who had grown up in Mississippi, and found her way onto the first American Olympic Team after WWII. She competed in the broad jump.  Emma was a gentle, kind, wonderful Christian woman.  And how proud we were and are of her!  So I began to watch this film from 1948 in hopes that I might see Emma.  Sure enough, the film begins with the processional of the athletes into the Olympic Stadium.  Late in the processional came the Americans and soon, walking across the screen, there she was!  A young woman, proudly representing her country and her family. You can see her in the photo below where she is second from the right.  I have made the photo black and white except for Emma.  How amazing to reach back into time and find this.  She possessed a character of steel. While she is no longer with us and will not walk into our new building in November, we nonetheless sense her presence and remember her. Tomorrow, Sunday, I will preach on “The Horizon of Expectation.” I’ll talk a little about steel and the future.  ~See you Sunday

Processional of American athletes in the 1948 London Olympics.

Processional of American athletes in the 1948 London Olympics.

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Another Bend In The River

Pastor Bledsoe returns to the pulpit this Sunday, March 18. In a sermon entitled, “Another Bend in The River,” he will provide important news on our interim journey that will impact us for the next several months.  You’ll want to be here for this.

Our new church “milestones” are tacking along well.  Our foundation will be completed by end of this month and the steel structure for the church should be up by end of April. We will have a “topping out” celebration on Pentecost Sunday, May 20th, when we will walk over from Jefferson Middle School School the site so we can see the structure and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are being told that sometime in the  first week of November, our new church will be ready to enter. These are milestones, mind you, not guarantees but the construction firm and development team seem confident of these dates.  May God watch over those who work on our site and keep them safe.  May the Lord lead us, the sheep of his pasture, safely home. ~ See you Sunday.

lannerfalcon

The Falconer Calls

The Gospel is overheard as much as it is directly preached to persons.  Like a beggar who overhears where there is bread, the Gospel is handed out in crust and slices to those who find their way to the servers.  We preach the Gospel, sing the Gospel, proclaim it through prayer and meditate on it like an artist meditates on the painting of another artist, searching for clues— and we do that every Sunday.  But Monday – Saturday, we practice it in a myriad of kindnesses, mercies, affirmations, and sometimes by bold and prophetic action as we stand beside the weak, the marginal, the bullied, the elderly, the young and all who inhabit the continuum of what we call existence. And along that continuum, as its string of “present” episodes become a string of pearls we call a day or a week, people overhear the Gospel.  And there are days, not always, but sometimes there are days when the entire web of existence is a shimmering vibration of light and goodness. To stand in that light!  ah. To resonate so that we vibrate in our own goodness!  wow.  To be part of a community of faith, hope and love!  OMG meets ML&MG (my Lord and my God, the confession of Doubting Thomas).

Now what has any of this to do with anything.  Simply this: when the center holds, the circle of life revolves and holds.  The orbit of our daily existences spins in symmetric harmony.  When the center does not hold or there is no center or someone has replaced the Holy One with an idol like a gun or war or hatred then, well,  as W. B. Yates said it in his fantastic and alarming herald of a poem, The Second Coming, in that first stanza:

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity. 

I ask you, has the blood-dimmed tide been loosed?  Indeed, it is praised by the craven and the posers of patriotism.  Where are the best among us, ready to serve and to stand? Are not the worst full of passionate intensity? We have seen them in the streets of Charlottesville.

There is a center, however. It holds. We gather ‘round it on Sundays at 10 a.m. over at Jefferson Middle School Auditorium (for now).  The Falconer calls.

~See you Sunday

Billy Graham, Richard Nixon

Billy Graham: Red, White and Blue Crusader

The Southern Baptist churches I grew up in loved Billy Graham and I can remember as a young person listening to his “crusades” on television.  His  oratorical power and presence combined with a fervent and warm religiosity appealed to my family, as he appealed to so many.

Now decades later, I see Rev. Graham in a more complicated way.  Perhaps you have heard that phrase, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  This is sometimes taken up as a slogan for pastors, preachers and journalists!  There is something of the truth that resonates in that slogan.  But what I have come to conclude is that—for whatever reasons, be it naïveté or cynical and machiavellian religion—Billy Graham turned that phrase on its head.  He did not comfort the afflicted  in a time of Viet Nam and Civil Rights and Women’s Rights.  He afflicted the afflicted.  He did not afflict the comfortable but was intwined with the State, providing cover and aid to Richard Nixon and even participating in anti-semitic conversation with the President.  And this is, perhaps, the telling point for me as regards this Baptist preacher who called his mass evangelistic rallies “crusades”—insensitive to the historical reality of what a word like “crusade” even conveys, violence in the name of Christ—he was a Baptist in name but historically severed from Baptist proclamations about liberty and its distrust of the State.  When he wrapped the Gospel in the American flag and became a spokesperson for the Empire, he looked less and less like a Baptist and more and more like a sycophant of the State.  He must, however, be given credit for his having denounced the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Years ago I attended a session of the DC Baptist Convention where Anne Graham Lotz spoke as a keynote speaker.  Her sermon bristled with homophobic rhetoric.  Billy’s son, Franklyn, is a darling of the right wing, using his voice to harm the stranger in our midst, lashing out at Muslims and carrying the cross to oppress women and minorities.  Surely these acorns did not fall far from the tree.

Billy Graham was a true believer.  He was a powerful preacher.  He was a crusader wrapped in red, white and blue.  Those who fell sway to him should soberly ponder his legacy as those who were harmed by him continue to feel oppressed by his ministry and those who carry its torch.

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