Tag Archives: interracial baptist church dc

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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.

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Life at Riverside:::Worship as Defiance

Life at Riverside Baptist Church this week includes:

Prayer Retreat   Nearly 30 of us are signed up for a full day retreat at Bon Secouers Conference Center where we will be led in ancient ways of prayer including the Liturgy of the Hours, the Prayer of the Heart, and the Lectio Divina.  A Baptist Church bringing congregants to a Roman Catholic Retreat center and being led by a Sister of the order of Bon Secouers and an Oblate of the order of St. Benedict is a vivid illustration of our church’s commitment to ecumenical cooperation.  We value one another and we benefit by the truths and disciplines of one another.  The goal of our retreat is twofold. First, we want to create a peaceful respite from the noise of the world. Thankfully, Bon Secouers has already accomplished that. Second, we want to begin creating contemplative disciplines that will take that peace with us as we leave and benefit our faith and practice for months and years to come.

Deacon Ordination   One aspect of Baptist polity is its congregational polity. That is, we believe in the autonomy of the local church –we do not believe the gifts of the Gospel and the Church reside only in some ecclesiastical hierarchy.  So we call persons out of the congregation to serve the church. Deacons are those who serve the church by extending pastoral care to the congregation. They oversee its two ordinances, Baptism and Holy Communion.  They provide wise counsel to the pastor. Therefore they are ordained to this office, this function, by the church.  We will ordain two new deacons on Sunday, June 4th, in our morning worship. The rite of “laying on of hands” and praying for their empowerment resides with the church and each individual believer.  A simple ritual, it is nonetheless powerful in its expression of local Baptist autonomy and the priesthood of believers. Finally, we ordain women as deacons (and pastors as far as that goes), believing in the egalitarian nature of the Church.  The Deacon Board is not a boy’s club, at least it should not be.  We also ordain LGBT believers as deacons, again believing there is no discrimination at the welcoming table of Christ.  A radically free and Christ-centric church—this is who we are.

Conclusion to Study of Job  Our seminary intern from Wesley Seminary and Aspirant, Tonetta, will conclude our First Sunday Bible Study series on Job on June 4th, following worship.  Tonetta, formerly an English teacher and in her final year at Wesley, brings literary and theological insights to bear on this study.

Worship is the “work” of the church.  It is the most important thing we do.  Worship is not entertainment though one would be hard pressed to conclude otherwise when looking at the religious landscape in our consumer society.  Worship is crossing a threshold into the presence of the Holy and finding oneself in a communion with other kindred souls.  Worship is also a primal act of defiance against idolatries that currently consume our country’s energy and time—idolatries of celebrity cults of personality that includes the current occupant of the White House; idolatries of political power aimed at hobbling the poor, the disadvantaged, the elderly, women and minorities.  In worship, we may enter as persons sorted out and tagged by the larger culture’s interest, but once we enter this space and sacred time, we are transformed into equals, fellow human beings made in the image of God.  I hope you will worship with us Sunday and resist the forces of darkness. Step into the light and peace of God. ~See You Sunday

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Remembering Who We Are

I’ve been thinking about name tags.  Like when I was five years old and my mother sent me off to school the first day or week.  Was the idea that I might forget my name?  Or was it verification of who I was for the teacher?

Hospitals of course are quite meticulous these days with those wrist bands.  From patients to visitors they want everyone identified.  We get this and it’s not hard to figure out why a name tag or identity badge is important.

It becomes especially important however for persons who no longer have a clear memory.  Anyone who has had a loved one enter some phase of dementia or suffered an accident and is unconscious wants their loved one to be identified and people to know with whom they are working.

So I have a simple suggestion.  In these days of madness when the White House is now tainted by the President of the United States having invited a murderer to visit him, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who delights in extrajudicial executions, let’s wear a name tag so we can remind ourselves who we are. And maybe we should write beneath our names, “I love justice.”  Alas, this may be so much jousting at windmills. But I do know a way to remind ourselves who we are each week and month after month.

Every Sunday in a middle school auditorium, we gather to create the beloved community. Frankly, there may be no greater counter sign to the madness of a world in love with death than to place oneself within the community of those who believe that God expects justice and righteousness and whose dream is to see these flow down like mighty streams. Worship as counter-cultural, non-violent resistance.   I invite you to remember who you are with us as we remember who we are in the presence of God, who loved the world so much… ~See you Sunday

 

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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

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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