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The Horror of Syria

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...
Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tragedies of Syria are multiple:  a gruesome civil war with over one hundred thousand killed, tens of thousands of refugees, shattered cities and towns and shattered psyches of children who will never know what it means to grow up in peace are just some we can name.  Now the world is faced with the morally reprehensible use of toxic gas against civilians, violating not only world covenants like the Geneva Protocol but the most rudimentary principles of just war.

The world finds itself paralyzed at the moment, incapable of arriving at any strategy for disciplining the heinous acts of Assad’s government while holding its nose as it offers support to rebel groups which have been cruel and inhumane in their conduct of war.  Even as the United States considers what, if any, action to take,we should be cognizant of the fact that our paralysis is due in some significant measure to the previous war in Iraq, itself an unjust invasion of a country that did not attack us based upon outright lies and deception.  We were marched into a war and for all intents, duped.  That war led to over four thousand American deaths and as many as 100,000 civilian deaths.  No wonder citizens in this country are wary of President Obama’s plea that we do something to counteract the war crime of gassing one’s populace.

No less a voice of conscience than the current Pope Francis has urged that violence not be the response to Syria.  What to do? While I protested and condemned the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush (I supported with misgivings the attack on al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11), I believe this issue of a nation using chemical weapons transcends the particularity of the Syrian conflict in two ways: first, the use of chemical weapons is universally condemned as a method of warfare and second, the possibility of an expansion of use of chemical and biological weapons in Syria is a concern for the entire world.  I am apprehensive to lend support to President Obama’s request for congressional approval to attack Syria, but I believe the world must needs act not only for Syria but the entire world.  Throughout history, peoples and nations have cried for help and those cries too often fell on deaf ears, the hearers citing all manner of reasons not to become involved.  From the issue of slavery to the holocaust of Jews, from Rwanda to Darfur, the world has often looked on without taking steps to intervene.  In hind sight, centuries or decades later, people shake their heads and wonder why the world did not act.  Failure to bring Assad to justice and exact a price for having used heinous chemical weapons will embolden not only him but many others.  Cautiously, even reluctantly, I am open to the President’s argument. We should be appalled by what has transpired and ask that the UN and leaders around the world act now before there is another ghastly genocide to write along side too many others.

For a counter Christian view, check out the ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas’ piece linked below.  For a brief view of the war and its toll, see the link below on the “agony of Aleppo” but be aware, it is difficult to watch.  With you, I am praying that wise and humane leaders will work hard to bring an end to the conflict in Syria. With you, I lament the horrors there and I remember that in our own New Testament we are told that in Antioch of Syria, we were first called Christians.  May God have mercy on us.  Reasonable people may disagree, of course. But all of us surely are praying for peace.  As the beautiful young boy featured in the video below says, May God comfort the people. Amen, brother.

~ Pastor Michael Bledsoe

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Pastor Publishes Debut Novel: Rooster’s Table

Pastor Bledsoe has self-published his first novel on iBooks for the iPad.

Entitled, Rooster’s Table: A Multi-Cultural Apocalypse, the novel is set in small town Virginia near Washington DC and grapples with our diverse and divided culture. The Book Club is sponsoring a reading of excerpts from the novel on Sunday, September 22nd after worship. The entire community is invited.  A sample of the book and the book itself can be found on iTunes/iBooks.

Rooster's Table: A Novel
Rooster’s Table: A Novel

The opportunity to explore in depth, through the life of characters, subplots, plots and themes is what compelled Bledsoe to write the novel. Having written sermons for decades, he welcomed the chance to get at some of these existential themes sideways, subtly and literarily–avenues not generally available to the homiletician. In Rooster’s Table , Robert Sherman Walker has navigated his way out of grief for the death of his grandmother, Kate Rock Walker, and along the way, he is guided by an unlikely cast of characters that includes not only a beginning professor of philosophy, but whittlers who sit on a corner of a dying, small world, Pentecostals who helped bury his mother and a Sikh neighbor dedicated to peace.  Andrew, a victim of familial violence, orbits the plot like a moon until that fateful day, when the depraved and the heroic face each other.  That unveiling is twined around characters like the African-American professor of philosophy, Jasmyn Parker, who happens into Robert’s life and provides a counter point to Hank Williams and Johannes Brahms with Thelonius Monk and Billie Holiday. They in turn are threaded into dualities of North/South, male/female, gay/straight, locals/immigrants, mentally challenged/right minded, and Black/White.  Their life world is chimed in religious tones from Baptist to Methodist, Episcopalian and Pentecostal with a strong note of Sikhism.  Then at an apocalyptic moment, the multicultural experiment of 1980s America erupts one ordinary Thursday at a restaurant called Rooster’s.

Join us on October 27 after worship (11:15 a.m.) as the Book Club discusses his novel (in the Jerry Davis Library).

Topical Bible Study Begins September 1st

5905656157_c176f34802Bible Study is every Sunday at 9 a.m. in the Foster Room. For over one year now, we have been guided by the lectionary.  September will provide us a break from that routine and we will spend the month studying the topic, Sabbath.

There are several crucial themes and concepts in the scriptures but not too many more important than the Sabbath.  Join us this Sunday and begin the Autumn by embracing fellow students of the scriptures and be engaged in both bible study and Christian fellowship. Your “homework” this week in preparation is to find the first reference to Sabbath in the bible.  Then Sunday we will take some time to speak to this topic.  See you in class!

Music Coordinator Announces New Choir Rehearsal Time

kevin_twine-150x150The choir will not be rehearsing again until Monday, September 9. This fall, we will be rehearsing on Mondays instead of Wednesdays. Rehearsal will begin each night at 7pm and will be held in the sanctuary. After a couple of weeks off, we intend to hit the ground running and start working on Christmas music that should be arriving any day now. Please see Lauren or Kevin if you have any question… and please, join us!    September rehearsal dates: 9/9, 9/16, 9/23, 9/30

Brain Storming Bar-b-q: Events and Outreach

clockSaturday August 31st, 1pm, some of us are gathering to brainstorm about:  *deepening friendship and fellowship *creating gathering opportunities and *reaching out to young adults in our community. Led by Bukola, joined by the pastor, we’ll enjoy eating together and coming up with some ways we can grow our church and ministry.  Please join us if you’re ready to think outside the box and lend your energy to these projects.

Oh, Freedom! The March on Washington 50 Years Later

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our worship service on Sunday, August 25th, celebrated with the thousands who came to Washington DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  And what a great service we had!  Terryn began us with an introit, Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Freedom, and she was later joined by her nephew, Hasaan, as he recited a portion of Dr. King’s I’ve Been to the Moutaintop sermon.  At the offertory we had the joy of watching Jack and Freda’s grandchildren–Dike, Arianna, Amara and Ikenna–recite portions of I Have A Dream followed by their grandfather, Jack, singing one of King’s favorite songs, Precious Lord.

Much could be said about our worship today but none so eloquent as our Music Coordinator, Kevin Twine’s, thoughts which he posted to his Facebook page.  I share his thoughts with you as they sum up not only our day but the spirit and passion of our church:

“I’m so glad that I found Riverside Baptist Church. After years of letting other people decide that I was an abomination and not fit to know my Creator, I found a loving, inclusive, multi-racial home.”

Amen .  Great day!


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Back-To-School Supplies Success

Backpack, check! School supplies, check! Thank you Riverside.
Backpack, check! School supplies, check! Thank you Riverside.

We saw many smiles from children elementary school-bound and high school students as well, as they arrived on Saturday August 24th to receive backpacks filled with school supplies.  Led by In Session, Riverside Baptist Church once again provided these supplies in our annual effort to equip young people in the educational journey.  Special thanks to Margo Baker who spearheaded this effort along with the Chairperson of In Session, Jacquelyn McCullough and all those who helped put the packs together as well as distributing them.

Journey’s End

Basilica Quattro Coronati, Rome
Cloister of the Quattro Coronati, Rome, May 2012

Journey’s end is journey’s beginning.  My month sabbatical completed, I returned home Thursday to begin another journey:  my pastorate with a congregation that is growing, whose distinctive voice on behalf of the marginal is very much needed in a world riven by hatreds and bigotries.

There are so many lessons from a pilgrimage (or travel) that to enumerate them all would be a disservice to them I suppose.  Planning, connections, patience, risk, serendipity, boundaries, hospitality to strangers, openness to the other and God’s universal presence incapable of being grasped by any one geography, ethnicity or religion.  You can tease these lessons out without having stepped foot in another country.  But the physicality, the incarnational quality of actually placing oneself in a context outside of one’s comfort zone or routine is simply invaluable for receiving these lessons.  A pilgrimage is a baptism of sorts where one is immersed within the language, customs, perceptions and beliefs of those who are different.  It is waking up to being the stranger.  The Gospel of John says in the first chapter that Christ appeared to us as a stranger.  Suddenly we can loop such an insight into a theology of journey.  I could go on…

I am grateful for the leadership of our church who advocated my taking a sabbatical after twenty years of service, grateful for a congregation willing to be engaged and to engage the ministry of another servant of God (Michael Kinnamon) and grateful for all who served and kept being the church in this place for this time.  I will enter our sanctuary with joy tomorrow and hope and pray you will join me there, not only for our reunion but for the beginning of a new journey.  Grace & peace,


postscript  The picture in my post is of the cloister of the convent called The Basilica Santi Quattro Coronati.  It is near the Coliseum in Rome.  I had discovered it eight years ago when I traveled to Rome for the first time for my 50th birthday.  I was so pleased to be near it this trip, for my hotel was just down the hill from it.  My first night in Rome, I ambled up the hill and entered the small, ancient sanctuary for Vespers, led by the chants of about a dozen nuns.  My first trip, however, I did not even know there was a cloister available for visiting.  One day I entered its quiet, peaceful square of light and took this picture.

An Ecumenical Journey, Tea in Istanbul

blue-mosque (Photo credit: pagastesi)

Saturday night, 10:30 and I’ve listened to the Adhan, the call to prayer, piped through loud speakers attached to minarets like kudzu. The night is inky, parts blue and black, white bodied gulls fly near and over the dome of the Blue Mosque and my thoughts are beginning to stray toward home where, in one week, I will be standing in a familiar pulpit with a beloved congregation.

A traveler must be careful about drawing conclusions about any place s/he visits since first impressions are often misguided. A city and a people take time to reveal themselves.  That said, there are impressions and they should be freely but carefully offered.  For me, Constantinople is where I wanted to travel–a place no longer in time but whose remnants can be found beneath layers of stone and centuries of art and political life. I have had some success touching Constantinople with the help of good books, the experience of being here on the ground and because Dr. Kinnamon has, while preaching and teaching to you about ecumenical life, gained me an audience with His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  I also have had the pleasure of speaking to a young man who converted to Christianity and has put me in touch with a pastor who has a small house church where on Siunday, I hope to worship.  And I have had many occasions to drink tea with hospitable Turks  who have invited me not only into their shops but briefly into their day and their lives.  I have many more impressions but far too manny for a blog entry!  The love of God and Peace  of Christ unite us,


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From Rome to Constantinople

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weds, May 23

Thursday morning I will awaken at 3 o’clock in order to take a taxi at 4 o’clock in order to catch a plane to Zurich and then switch planes there so I can arrive in Istanbul.  And it is true, I am going to Istanbul but in a deeper sense, I am traveling to Constantinople, the seat of the New Rome, the seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity which has influenced the world more than we in the West realize.  I am excited to see this great city, plundered by Venice, depended upon by Florence for the Renaissance, particularly with regard to classic Greek philosophy and interactive with Latin Christianity but alas, separated.

My time in Rome has been separated by eight years. I first came here when I was fifty.  The truth is, however, this ancient city is layered by history, architecture, theology and social and political life.  Digging into those layers takes time.  I gladly take this metaphor and apply it to my journey since I have been digging into the layers of my self. Of what am I comprised?  How does my present age change my perceptions of the world and my soul?  When I remove the layers, what lies at the core of me? These and many questions are packed with my clothes and books.  I take them to each city and tonight, I will take them one last time into the convent sanctuary of Quattro Coronati for Vespers and as I listen to the sisters in their black habits chant their prayers, as the dusk light of Rome filters into that ancient space and glints off ancient and faded frescoes, I’ll take my questions to God, giving thanks for a soul and a mind endowed with the power to ask, seek, knock …and find.




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