All posts by Michael Bledsoe

What I’m Learning at Westminster Presbyterian Church SW

Riverside Baptist Church @ The Wharf has, since June, been worshipping @ Westminster Presbyterian Church just down the road from our building site.  Since no leading celebrity or leader in either traditions has arrived to pat us on the back for this ecumenical experiment, I want to commend these two congregations and their pastors for the courage it took.  Mind you, not the courage to share a building because that is nothing new or brave. Churches rent space from one another all the time.  But when it came time to make an arrangement where we, Riverside, would worship next (after our interim experience at Jefferson Academy Middle School) and I approached Pastor Ruth of Westminster, we made a decision to share worship together.  THAT is POWERFUL.  And why is that so powerful?  Many reasons but let’s just cut to the quick and hear the prayer of our Lord as rendered by the Gospel of John in chapter 17:

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.”

Many who seek a church do so without flinching in the face of the obvious:  churches are divided. And they are divided not only along cultural, racial and ethnic lines but their pastors and priests will not offer communion to those who are outside their flock or fold.  We may as well have erected barbed wire fences between our various communions. So when I sat in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian on this past Sunday and received communion, I did so with a heart full of gratitude that we—whatever differences we may have—came to the Table of our Lord as ONE.  Do not let this slip past your gaze.  This is a powerful experience.  We could have been worshipping in the basement at a different hour and not shared our worship but we rejected that approach.  We believe in the gift of the unity of Christ. And we have been worshipping for a few months now as though we actually believe in those radiant words found in the Letter to the Ephesians (chapter four):

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Mind you—we must mind this—our unity is not our accomplishment. This is God’s gift to us in Christ.  What Westminster and Riverside have done up to this point is simply to believe in that unity and live up to it and through it.  We have rejected the logic of “if…then” as the scholar of ecumenism, Michael Kinnamon, puts it.  You know, “if certain conditions are met then certain steps can be taken.”  Instead, as Kinnamon prophetically states it,  we embrace the Gospel logic of “because…therefore.” Because God loves us we are free to love our neighbor.  “In the same way,” he writes, “because we are one in Christ, therefore we are freed and empowered to seek common mind on those matters that have kept us apart.” [The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement].  To say we have no need of one another, Kinnamon reminds us, is a sinful denial of this unity that was achieved for us by the costly grace of Jesus Christ.  Westminster Presbyterian, I salute you!  Riverside Baptist, I salute you!  Let us worship together the One God who is above all and through all and in all.  Those who are weary of business as usual, with divisive and provincial notions of church and worship, we invite you to join us on Sunday.  ~See you Sunday as One people

Weary of Punk Prosperity Preachers: a Lament

Weary of punk prosperity preachers selling Jesus like a bar of soap. Tired of White Nationalists in the White House protected and covered by White Republicans who control Congress. Weary of tweets like some kind of nuclear fallout, flakes of asbestos falling from the sky and ash covering everything. Tired of politicians who use the flag and patriotism to stoke xenophobia and racism.  Tired of priests and bishops and cardinals defending “The Church” like they have a monopoly on the eucharist so stop criticizing us for pedophilia and cover-ups.  Really?  This makes Luther and the indulgences scam look mild by comparison.  Weary of honkers honking at intersections like 7th & Maine—sit down, be humble.  Stop honking.  Try a little patience. Get through the crosswalk.  Pretty tired of pints for 7 and 8 dollars and less than stellar meals with prices out of this world. Just sayin’.  How do you have a conference with Chinese visiting scholars about urban identity and not ask them about churches their government knocks down, Muslims they imprison and Tibet they oppress? Hello, my identity is not the property of the State.  Way tired of 45 and the Fake calling everyone else fake.  45, the truth will set you free but you have to go further than Pilate, who asked “what is truth?” and then crucified it. Stone cold stupified how John McCain is considered a loser by much of the Republican Party and the President.  Heroism, like light, has a way of revealing cowardice and cowards.  Weary of how White Christians tolerate and defend the extrajudicial killings of Black Americans.  Its a stony road we trod. We are not the first to walk it.  Grab some courage and resist.

Ready for relief and renewal and reparation and repair of the world. Ready for hope because we see beauty all around us and in the faces of one another.  Ready for joy because the image of God radiated outward to me from the face of a child, the face of an elderly man I met walking on a bike path one morning this week, luminous in the million kindnesses extended to one another in our world though these acts of devotion will not be reported or televised.  Ready to hear the Word of God in cascading streams of mercy and justice after being pelted by the stream of words gushing out of the internet, the television, radio and by persons talking on mobile phones loudly as they shop or sit on a bus or in a train car.  Ready for the still, small voice of God.  Ready for prayers and songs of praise and a proclamation that calls us to something greater than ourselves.  I’m ready for that, aren’t you?  ~See you Sunday

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

“Trump Privately Urges Pastors to Help Him From the Pulpit in Midterms” The following is a repost of a March 18, 2017 post.  It is still–unfortunately for us and our nation–relevant.
..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

Communion at the Wharf

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a concert over at The Anthem on The Wharf. These folks are technically our neighbors now and as you know, Riverside sits at the gateway into the Wharf. The Anthem is just an incredible venue, by the way.

Today (Sunday) I walked down to gaze at our building and then decided to visit the Blue Bottle Cafe. I used the app on my smart phone to unlock an electric scooter and scooted over there.  Had a delicious Macchiato.  Then I got back on the scooter and parked across the street from the church, ended my ride and walked to Westminster for our worship.  I had used a scooter on Saturday to travel from the Wharf Recreation Pier to visit a congregant over near 4th and G Streets.  Awesome way to move about.

The weave of opportunities and travel options, the remarkable array of entertainment options and restaurants and the interweave of individuals making their way to and fro create a synergy and vibrancy to our community.  I use that last word broadly because as a church, we know that the word “community” derives from the word “communion” and I’m not really sure how much communion there is in all of this. It is a powerful mix though.   Potent.  The Anthem provides an ecstatic experience to thousands nearly every night.  People are lined up to enter restaurants and bars.  And thousands more simply want to stroll through this cultural-entertainment-web.  But community? Communion? I’ll just say I’m an agnostic about that at this point.  I’m open though because the other thing I know is this:  when people encounter other people, whether or not they intend to commune or communicate, they inevitably exchange information about themselves to others and often without saying a word.  We are interesting and complex creatures and everything from our facial expressions to the clothes we wear tell the world around us something about us.  And each of us–get this–carries the Image of God.

I write all this to say that I’m processing this information in an effort to understand what the role of our church is and will be on that corner at 7th & Maine Ave.  Materially speaking, it is very clear to me that our architect and the builders have made a wonderful contribution to the aesthetic on that avenue.  That stone wall, the swerve and wave of the roofline, the bell tower/ship stack, the stained glass and pearl white prefab—it is a handsome building that anchors the corner and it is a contribution to the architectural vernacular of SW.  But we are not the Anthem. No way we can compete nor would we try.  We serve coffee but we’re not Blue Bottle.  We’ll have potlucks but we’re not Kith & Ken.  We’re a church. We are communion. And we engage holistically soulful human beings.  And that, beloved, is something not offered across the exchange at any counter at the Wharf or online.  I invite you to ponder with me about these things. In a few months, we will step into a holy space, open its doors to our community, and commune and worship.  And I will catch a scooter for that any day and every time!

Worship As Resistance

Don’t you weary of reading the news every day through its various entertainment platforms?  There are few of us who would keep a window open if a bus was running outside spewing its exhaust or a jackhammer were pounding the concrete 24/7.  That would be a form of torture. My question for so many of us is, why are you subjecting yourself to torture?  Turn OFF the “news.”  Commend 45 to Almighty God, the Just and Holy.

People wonder what they can do. We march, we advocate for policy change, we denounce and post our opinions. And that is good and even needed. But if that is all you do day in and out, don’t be surprised when you’re constantly angry, nauseous, short with those you love and then crash and burn.  Because the spirit needs the Spirit.  My hope is this:  that you will commit 10% of the time you spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the internet period toward worship. Worship as Resistance means you enter a congregation that loves others and is thus involved in creating the Beloved Community. Worship as Resistance means, you get your soul fed.  How many hours do you spend a week posting and reading online? I would say it is  a safe guess that you spend 10 hours.  That means 10% would be 1 hour in worship.  See you in worship tomorrow.  We have singers singing, deacons praying, we’re combined in worship with Westminster Presbyterian and are thus fulfilling the prayer of our Lord to be One, and we are replenishing our souls. Oh, and I’m preaching a cinnamon stick sermon.  ~See you Sunday

You Have a Holy Book? You Have Issues

pier-perspective_1Like a perfumed letter from your mother that you keep in your wallet to remind yourself of her and because reading her words renders a presence of her; or like an old phonograph album, with its scratches and pops, that you play because that recording of that particular song or symphony is your favorite and you can still hear it despite the scratches; so is the bible.  It is not an infallible book dropped from heaven. And those who assert such a thing, name their churches after it, place it as a talisman on their coffee table, come close to bible-olatry.

Many of us are recovering fundamentalists or bible-olaters.  Some are not recovering but repress those attempts made by parents or churches to conform them to cultural norms dipped in the ink of the bible in order to give sacred stamp to what is at best traditional viewpoints and at worse,  oppressive measures to manipulate a person.  Take for example the report in the Washington Blade, “D.C. Church backs ‘shaming’ of LGBT people” of August 10.  Capital View Baptist of Washington DC apparently “adopted a revised church constitution last year that says, ‘shaming and shunning are acceptable Christian responses'” to LGBT folk.

Well, if you have a holy book, you have issues.  And here is the overarching problem:  the Holy is communicated through the lens and pens of human beings and cultures so that the person who reads a holy book must be diligent about sorting through what is culturally and historically confined and whatever Truth is being communicated.  One example is the church who encourages its members in homophobia.  It cannot reject pre-scientific views of human sexuality because it embraces pre-scientific ideas embedded in the text of their holy bible.  Mind you, that church is using electricity, its members make dental appointments instead of calling an exorcist and so on and so forth.   They cherry-pick the scriptures while munching on bacon, a food (pork) described in the bible as an abomination.  Another example is slavery. Another is the role of women.  Another is …

I invite you to identify examples and issues and join with me on Saturday August 25th in a walk & chat along the Wharf at 10:30 a.m.    We’ll meet at the end of the Recreation Pier (I’m calling this event Pier Perspective).  That pier runs perpendicular to Maine Ave. at 7th, SW.  We’ll have a nice time ambling about and talking for about one hour.  And I’ll pass along any insights I might have but especially encourage us to work out a method of interpretation so we can receive the Truth of the bible while not being entangled in views that dehumanize us.  I hope to see you Saturday!  ~PSTR

 

Worship As One this Sunday

August 19th, time to worship! We’ll be at Westminster Presbyterian at 11 a.m.  Riverside singers are singing and playing.  Pastor Bledsoe is not preaching but will be there to greet you.  This is an opportunity to worship as one.  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. That is how the Apostle Paul put it.  Christ prayed that we would be one. So let’s fulfill scripture this morning.  Let’s be one.  One human race. One big love (nod to Patty Griffith who is surely nodding to Holy Scripture).  One People of God. A bunch of Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Pentecostals and others–singing and praying together.  ~See you soon

Retweet/Repreach: “Why I Believe”

If you can retweet tweets you consider valuable then why can’t a pastor re-preach a sermon?  My Easter sermon this year got a lot of hits. It was entitled Why I Believe.  It just might be worth twenty minutes of your time this week. Below is an excerpt but you can of course listen online by clicking on that title which is linked.

Why do I believe in God?  Because I do not believe in Humankind.  You have likely noticed that the militant atheist swears by the power of reason and consigns religious belief to the kindergarten of intellectual development.  I will simply point out what should be obvious to anyone who is awake that intellectual, educated persons who have great powers of reason do terrible things.  Consider the Holocaust.  Consider slavery.  Far be it for me, a simple Baptist pastor who dares to believe in God, that one only need read the headlines for a week to come to an empirical conclusion that human beings are not gods nor does their reason cure their madness for violence.  I do not believe in Humankind.  We are flawed in ways our reason cannot reach.  Just think about the psychiatrist who treated Anthony Soprano.  That was an HBO series about a mob boss who sought treatment for his depression and it was riveting for how his therapist could not reach him because her medical vocabulary did not contain a word like “wicked.” Which quickly brings me to another reason I believe in God and it will sound strange to you but listen carefully and see if I can make sense of it.  I noted that Anthony Soprano was a wicked man.  He was violent to the point of being a monster.  Now of course, the Sopranos was a fictional television series but do I really need to spend time making the case that monstrous human beings prowl our world?
Why do I believe in God? Because I think there is something called evil…

Pier Perspective: Coming Soon w/Pastor Bledsoe

pier-perspective_1Coming soon:  Pier Perspective.  Saturday morning, August 25th at 10:30 at the end of the Recreation Pier on The Wharf.  Pastor B will gather with any who are interested in chatting about the topic, “If You Have A Holy Book, You Have Issues.”  We’ll leisurely walk along the Wharf, stopping occasionally to chat (as we walk, we’ll ponder a question or thought provided by   Pastor and Professor Bledsoe).  Why this topic?  Some of us are recovering fundamentalists and others are damaged or have been assaulted by bible thumpers.  Many of us simply would like to know how we can approach a revered sacred book without compromising our intellects. And there are those who have given up on faith but would like to know how to recover a spiritual life.  No need to rsvp. Just show up with comfortable shoes and an open mind.

 

Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists: Go Home

The neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville a year ago have secured a permit to parade their hatred this week-end in Washington, DC.  What a vivid illustration of the utter moral failure of the Trump White House and administration.  But that aside, what do people of good will do when the haters parade?

Should people counter-protest?  Obviously many will and the exercise of their free speech to denounce haters and hatred is probably a good thing.

Should people fight and attack the haters, neo-Nazis and white supremacists?  As tempting as that may sound to some it is not only self-defeating but actually empowers them.  Nazis and white supremacists were defeated in WWII and of course white supremacy was defeated in the Civil War.  These paraders are the defeated.  It is a sad and pathetic spectacle.

So I am going to do two things.  I’m going to  worship this week-end along with millions of other Americans who will be praying and thanking God for mercy and justice in mosques, synagogues and churches across the United States.  MILLIONS of us who believe in love and justice will worship. The neo-Nazis and white supremacists might have 500 people show up in their parade.  They could have 5,000 and it would come absolutely no where near the number of people who believe in the more noble calling of loving God and neighbor.  I know there are denominations and churches that plan to rally elsewhere in the city and that’s great. But I’m “rallying” by worshipping with the People of God.  That act of devotion dwarfs the pitiable band of haters who will be banging their trash-can-lid shields.

The second thing I’m doing is ignoring this parade of defeated, sad and pathetic haters.  I won’t go near them.  Won’t shout at them or try to have a rational discussion with them.  I certainly won’t be trying to violently attack them.  The ignore button will be on.

The most important thing we can do is vote in November.  Those who have abandoned civility, abandoned their oaths of office to protect and defend the constitution, and betrayed the the sick, the poor, the elderly and the workers of this country need to be voted out of office. So do that this Fall.  Because the ballot is still more powerful than a gun.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists!  Go home.  Go back to your homes and ponder how you chose to walk a path of hatred and by doing so, have diminished yourselves.