Tag Archives: SW DC churches

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Ashes to Ashes: The Season of Lent

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Growing up in a Southern Baptist context, I never heard of Lent. I had no idea the Christian Church had “seasons” or its own calendar.  That was unfortunate.  Discovering this in my college years came as a great surprise and a benefit to me ever since.  For it became apparent to me that my navigation of this world and my life would be –if not easier then–more meaningful simply because I could comprehend my life as developmental, evolutionary which is to say, an unfolding mystery and journey.

The Lenten season begins this Ash Wednesday and marks the formal beginning of the season of Lent and that season is one of reflection, examination of our consciences and souls and repentance. We do this especially as we recall the testing of our Lord in the wilderness, just after his baptism.  I sometimes get myself down to an Episcopalian church to have the sign of the cross made on my forehead with ashes. Baptists do not hand out ashes or participate (as a rule anyway) in this ritual act.  I can tell you from my own experience, it is a powerful moment to have a priest rub those ashes onto your forehead as she says those solemn words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Whether or not you participate in such a rite, the truth of those words should stir us to a season of contemplation and repentance.

Ashes as a sign of sorrow have been with us for a long time.  In the ancient book of Job, we find that the stricken man “sat among the ashes.” This was a sign of grief and sorrow.

Leon Wieseltier in is book,  Kaddish,  wrote in his book about rending one’s clothes as a sign of grief. He pointed out that the mourner who rends thus gestures outwardly what has in fact takenplace inwardly. “This act of violence,” Wieseltier writes, “dignifies the external truth and the internal truth of what has happened.”  So with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads: it is an outward sign of an inner sorrow and grief: for our participation in the ruin of the world, for our grief for life that is short and brief, and a declaration that we will live more faithfully and justly in the days to come.  As the Book of Common Prayer declares:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.  Have mercy on us, Lord.

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Riverside Church Cherry Blossoms

Why I Don’t Go to Church … and why I do

I don’t attend church in order to find God. I attend church because God found me.

I do not enter the church to be entertained. Instead, my hope is that in telling the truth about my life, our world and measuring these beside the great Truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, I will be challenged to live an authentic life.

I don’t attend church to have my political ideas confirmed or the platform of the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian parties stapled into my bible.  I attend in order to hear about God’s rule, sometimes translated as “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t attend church to “sow a seed” in order that I might become “prosperous.”  I worship God who has blessed me already, gifted me with life and is worthy of my praise and thanksgiving.

I do not enter a church to hear a preacher denounce and berate people, spew hatred or pick on persons who are already at risk in our culture at large. I enter the church to hear about faith, hope and love since, as the Apostle Paul wrote, these three endure when everything else passes away.

I do not enter a church to gossip, text, Facebook or check email.  I turn off those devices and turn my back on gossip in order to fellowship, deepen the bonds of love and friendship between myself and God’s people.

I step out of a mad world in love with violence, stoking revenge, fixated on guns and enter the church for peace, peacemaking and justice.

There is a place of peace. Go there. Be found.  Embrace truth. Be filled with joy.  Be girded in faith.  Hold your head up in hope.  The love of Christ sustain you.  ~See you Sunday

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Inoculated Against Fear

We live, as Augustine wrote, in a culture that is in love with death. Endless war. Unceasing, really. And yet, there is no sign that the American people are tired of pouring their wealth into the production of more and more weapons.  Endless violence.  Unceasing, actually.  Every day we have to read headlines (who reads articles in full now unless the acts of violence committed are so heinous and to such an outrageous degree that we’ll actually pause and ponder the magnitude of our gun-fixated culture?) and listen to news about people gunning one another down and children picking up guns and killing siblings and parents accidentally.  And don’t forget suicides.

Last week I trekked to New York to go to the wake and funeral of the radical priest and peacemaker, Father Daniel Berrigan.  I saw him in his shroud of white with red embroidered crosses, a small and nearly weightless man.   He wore simple, black shoes.  He owned little, if anything.  Except this:  his soul.  And as Christ taught, a person could gain all the wealth in the world and lose their own soul.  It is more than fair I would say to conclude that the heir apparent of the Republican Party is a soulless, wealthy man.  Anyway, seeing Father Berrigan reminded me of seeing the sculpture of John Donne in his death shroud there in a corner of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Except I was not looking at stone but a corpse and not merely the corpse of a once great and saintly man but the corpse of the 1960s when people sang songs about peace and wrote that word on large banners. All of that is blowin’ in the wind.

Back to now.  As you likely were, I was appalled by the auctioning of the murder gun of George Zimmerman who killed Treyvon Martin.  Not only appalled by the wickedness like puss oozing from this man, but the complicity of those involved in actually conducting an auction.  Shame, Shame, Shame!

Here’s the point I’m headed toward though.  In the narrative of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we are inoculated against fear, wickedness and death. All of these elements are at play in that narrative.  When we receive this pathogen, as it were, from the narrative of Christ’s life, we are inoculated from these pathogens in our present age.  Let me put it yet another way.  This month we dedicated a child who was adopted by his mothers, we baptized a special needs child dearly loved by his mother and father and we did all of that in a congregation and holy place that is so filled with hope and joy, that we are empowered to return to the world and heal it, repair it, and redeem it.  I’m not sure why folks do not step into a sanctuary of peace.  But some of us do and we invite you to join us.

In the world you have tribulation, Christ said.  But take courage, I have overcome the worldFearless.  Joyful.  ~See you Sunday

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All My Life’s a Circle and the Decemberists

The second day of May and I am on the Silver Line headed to a faculty meeting, listening to “June Hymn” by the Decemberists. That’s a lot of months in one sentence.  But it captures where I’m headed, not to Howard University School of Divinity, but into May, full throttle and “all my life’s a circle” rebounds to me in my little seat as the train operator’s voice crackles over the speaker, unspeakable and unhearable.  If that’s a word.

What is ahead is a dedication of an adopted son, Master Mason, by loving parents on Mother’s Day, the 8th of May. And the following Sunday, the baptism of a dear child, Wyatt Alexander, who has conquered my heart since his birth and whose parents I love dearly for their faith and their devotion to their special needs son. These young people are a gift from God to us. We have the blessed opportunity to receive them into our community and as well, to see them as God’s signs of grace to us.

The perspective of a long-time pastor is one of circles, concentric, widening in ever expansive rings of inclusion and rippled across the lakes of lives and church.  I’m nearing my stop at Van Ness, switched to the Red Line and switched to Macklemore’s newest album, listening to “Need to Know.” He raps, “we are what we run from.”  But at Riverside, we are what we run to. We run to each other and toward God, toward grace and mercy.  I hope you’ll worship with us this Sunday.  After all, “it’s the circle of life, and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love…”  

~See you Sunday

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America and the Specter of Fascism

In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The Communist Manifesto” which began this way, “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter…”

Today, in the United States of America, the ghost of fascism is haunting the country.  It shows up at rallies, froths with fear about the alien, the foreigner, the different.  But unlike the 1848 revolutionary period of which Marx and Engels wrote, there is no holy alliance to exorcise this ghost. Indeed, and sadly, we find an unholy alliance of Evangelicals and ne’er-do-wells hawking a syrupy concoction of patriotism and poison.

I am not a politician. I am not a psychologist. But I am a clergyman and I join with others in denouncing the emaciated spirituality that parades at this moment in our country as Christianity.  Resist this xenophobic fascist movement that spews its hatred against women, minorities, and anyone who appears different to it.  Let your voice be heard.  Christ practiced a radical table fellowship.  He healed the sick. He denounced puppet rulers and megalomaniacal princes of this world.  A specter is haunting America, it is the specter of ghosts we thought we had conquered in World War Two.  Come together.  For justice. For peace. For merciful and kind citizenship.  ~ See you Sunday. ~PSTR

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Communion and Offering Plates

One might easily overlook someone confusing a communion plate for an offering plate if that person has seldom if ever entered a church. Even so, a communion plate as passed along in a Baptist Church or an Evangelical Church (and I do not equate the two denominations as some do) will have bread of some sort in it.  How do you put money into a plate filled with bread?  But as I say, this is easily overlooked when the error is made by someone without experience in such churches. But when you are someone who is running for the presidency of the United States and have loudly claimed the bible is your favorite book, though you cannot seem to recite a verse from it, and you make a point to embrace Christianity and especially Evangelicals in Iowa who are about to caucus, well, that is a different kind of error.  It too is forgivable but it cannot be overlooked.

That is exactly what Evangelicals seem to be doing, however, as they flock –as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has done—to embrace a candidate who claims to be one of them but betrays in quite glaring ways that he is as a matter of fact quite clueless when it comes to their religion.  But elections in our country at this point in time require enormous sums of money, outrageous lies and promises and lots of whining in the face of the most straightforward and obvious questions.    The failure is not just one candidate but the convention of which he is part finds it nearly impossible to counter misogynist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric spewed on a weekly basis by this candidate. The wholesale cowardice is actually frightful.  I won’t blame the media. The media should confess its own complicity. But I will, as a clergyman, say that having religious spokespersons and entire swaths of Christians embracing a megalomaniacal candidate who borrows Christian symbols to promote himself is shameful.  Pope Francis clearly has decided it is time to confront what he believes to be a posturing Christian (denouncing the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States as “unChristian”).

We, the Church, are a table fellowship, a covenant people and we practice—or at least we should—a radical table fellowship that does not discriminate. We take the words in Ephesians from the Apostle to the Gentiles as true:    Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  When a politician arises in the land who promotes hostility, division, rancor, intimidation of women, and xenophobic hatred then it behooves all of us but especially Christians to note the incongruence.  Putting an offering in the communion plate is the least of the problems.