Tag Archives: baptist inclusive churches

The Old Rugged Cross

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 Crux sola nostra theologica est

The cross alone is our theology.   ~Martin Luther 

This Wednesday morning, June 27, early in the morning, a single steel cross was attached to the “bell tower” of our new church.  I am saddened I am out of town and was unable to witness this.  Thanks to Trustees Luke and Karl for being there and recording the event for us.

The great religious traditions crystallize theology and narrative into symbols and very often we can see those symbols and identify immediately whose symbol it is.  There are all kinds of problems with these meta-symbols that sometimes make it difficult for people to appreciate their power and their positive contribution.  Suffice it to say, religious symbols can become polluted.  A modern example of a polluted symbol would be the Nazi emblem or the Marxist hammer and sickle.  Persons with all kinds of terrible agendas have taken religious symbols and hidden their perfidy behind them. Think of the klansman who hides behind a burning cross.  So it is not surprising that some people have argued for giving up these religious symbols, fearing their pollution makes them at the least irrelevant and at worst, irredeemable.

I’m not persuaded.  I do not believe for example, that Americans who believe in freedom and justice should give up the flag to the brassy patriots who preach hatred and are blighted by xenophobia.  Sorry, you do not get to have a monopoly on the flag.  Nor should Christians allow hateful persons to have sole possession of the Cross. You do not get to own  our most cherished symbols.   The Cross is not yours to have.  So why erect a cross on our church? Why is it important?

One of the earliest hymns I can remember learning was The Old Rugged Cross.  In the very first verse, it captures the reason why we place this symbol on our building:

On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross

The emblem of suff’ring and shame

And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain…

The Cross, despite those who used it for vile and violent purposes, does not endorse sacrifice or violence. It is a symbol opposed to these.  We follow a Savior who was innocently slain, who suffered and died and from his suffering and death, we have come to learn that God has and will overcome death and suffering.  It is an emblem of suffering and shame and reminds us that our own redemption was costly.  Words from that cross were uttered that asked forgiveness for those who harmed him; words were spoken from that cross that speak the human condition—why am I forsakenI thirst!  And from that cross the words of faith and the belief in a power greater than all the empires and tyrants of the world was expressed:  into thy hands, I commend my spirit.

I wish I could witness this moment in the life of our new building but pictures will be taken and I’ll see it soon enough. And besides, I’ve been witnessing the power of the Cross my entire life.  The ground is level there.  We are all beggars searching for mercy and grace.  Indeed, the Cross alone is our theology.

Don’t miss worship this Sunday as we gather with Westminster Presbyterian.  There is a sweet spirit in our worship and a remarkable and striking sign of the Beloved Community that can empower you in these dim days of a reckless government. “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light…”

We Are One

This past Sunday Westminster Presbyterian Church and Riverside Baptist Church worshipped together and afterward shared in a potluck lunch.  We have worshipped together previously–back on Christmas Eve Sunday 2017, we were invited by Westminster to join them since we could not worship at Jefferson Middle School. And I was invited to preach. Then on Maundy Thursday of this year we shared in a service in the evening and again, I was invited to preach. So it was only fair that we invite Westminster into our interim space on a Sunday and their co-pastor, Ruth Hamilton, preached to us.

What a superlative experience!  Pastor Ruth’s sermon was brilliant, refreshing and spot on. Perhaps I’m gushing because I had the day off for preaching and could sit and listen but I heard other of our members remarking on how wonderful it was to not only hear Ruth’s sermon, but to worship together with a congregation that shares so many of our values and passion for justice and peace.

Our unity in Christ is a given.  We do not create that unity but God has accomplished this already in Christ.  It only makes sense then that we move forward in these coming days, weeks and months as people united, on the way to actualizing God’s love in our community, our city and our world.  I will be speaking with co-pastors Ruth and Brian in the coming days about how we do that.  We will pray and dream about how we worship together and how we share in mission.  I invite you to pray and dream with us. Finally, a shout out to our singers, choir and musicians! You made our Sunday very, very special.  ~See you Sunday

Earth Day Sunday Ecumenical Tree of Life

Sunday, April 22nd, is Earth Day Sunday.  Many years ago, we provided an office for Dr. Jim Ball who had begun a venture I thought at the time was a fruitless endeavor, CreationCare.  His goal was to confront evangelicals with the truth of climate change and the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the earth.  Now, many years later, all I can say is, thank you, Jim!  Rolling Stone magazine identified him as a climate change warrior. So Riverside has had a stake in at the very least supporting efforts to educate and advocate for environmental protections. This Sunday will be another opportunity to reflect and take seriously the call to stop polluting the earth.

Joining us will be our friends from Westminster Presbyterian Church.  Co-Pastor Ruth Hamilton will be preaching in our service at Jefferson Middle School at 10 a.m. and then we’ll amble together to Westminster for a potluck, shared lunch (bring food to share, please).  Could it be that Riverside and Westminster are planting a tree of life in SW on this Earth Day Sunday?  I think so. In fact, I would say we are well on the way to doing that, having shared in a Christmas Eve Service just this past December and recently in a Maundy Thursday Worship together.  Westminster is so rooted in justice and community service and Ruth and Brian have been devoted servants in their church and our community. It is an honor to receive them into our worship this coming Sunday.  I hope you’ll join us to welcome them. And look, what we’re finding as we share is that we inspire each other, enjoy each other and through this fellowship we improve our community.  So this coming Sunday, join us for an Earth Day Ecumenical Tree of Life planting!

~See you Sunday

Life On The Ark (Church Happenings)

Coming up:

*This Sunday, the Marine Marathon.  Yep, we need to navigate yet another race.  Plan ahead and give yourselves plenty of time to get here.

*Book Club led by Tonetta, after worship at the church office (there is no parking available so plan to walk over)–the club is reading A Nun On The  Bus.

*Servanthood Meeting falls on the fifth Sunday, October 29th, following service.

*Plan now to turn your clocks back one hour on November 4th as you go to bed because Daylight Savings Time ends.

*A Caregiver Support Group is forming and will be led by Howard Divinity intern, Kristy Hunt.  The group will meet on Second Sundays face-to-face in the church office beginning in November and immediately (once an agreed upon time is arrived at) once in the week through an online chat.  If you have ever felt like you needed to just talk and share resources or get some resources for your own care or the care of others, let the pastor or Kristy know so you can be plugged into the support network.

Worship is this Sunday at 10 a.m.  Enter a place of sacred dignity and joy.  An hour of worship is worth a week of pacing the floor or thumbing through the internet.  Be connected to the Holy One.  ~See you Sunday

The Humanity of LGBT Citizens

Wednesday July 26 was a day of assault on LGBT citizens. First we heard the President of the United States declare via tweet that Transgendered persons could no longer serve in the U.S. military in any capacity.  Then we were alerted to the fact that the Justice Department under the leadership of Mr. Sessions has filed an amicus brief in a  civil rights case, arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect against job bias with reference to sexual orientation.

I pastor a church that is inclusive.  And it is inclusive not by mere rhetoric but we are blessed by LGBT persons in the life of our church at every level, from ushers to Deacons.  The humanity of these individuals is obvious and look, once a person admits that another person is a human being then it becomes virtually impossible to subject the Other to slavery, abuse or disenfranchisement.  I would plead with those in the Evangelical and Catholic communities to confess this:  LGBT citizens are fully human, deserving of the same legal protections any citizen enjoys under our constitution.  Do not lend the name of Christ to bigotry, abuse and disenfranchisement!

Speaking as a citizen, I do not take any comfort or feel any safer because a straight male is in the White House with his finger near the nuclear button.  At the end of the day, it is not his gender that makes us unsafe but it is his impulsive, cruel disposition that does so.  Let me quote Jesus, “snakes and vipers” occupy the White House and the President’s cabinet.  Repent and start living up to the spirit of our country’s sacred documents and ideals.

Riverside: Past Riverside: Born Anew

Riverside_FallOur church building at 7th and Maine Ave., a sanctuary that has served us and our community since 1968, will begin to be razed this week.  As one might expect, there are mixed emotions with regard to this moment.

Sadness for seeing it forever gone.  Elation that we have secured our financial future for another generation.  Excitement that we will have a 21st century building (of similar size) built on the same corner.  Grief for giving up the sacred space we have cherished.  To have ambivalent feelings about this is quite human and expected.

We are reminded in such a moment of the impermanence of the world.  Riverside Baptist Church was built after the razing of Fifth Baptist Church in the first urban renewal project in the country here in South West.  Fifth Baptist traversed the 19th and 20th centuries. Riverside will have traversed the 20th and 21st centuries.  Think of that—we have been here longer than most of the community partners who share our quadrant.  Before airplanes flew. Before the atom bomb.  Before the interstate highway system.  Before the microwave and cell phones.  The congregants of these churches have seen Presidents since James Buchanan, fought in and survived wars dating from the Civil War, bore witness to the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement and assorted other human rights actions to include Gay persons, protect the elderly from the scourge of abandonment by securing Social Security,  and including disabled persons in the mainstream of civil discourse and opportunity.  This congregation has lived in a few different “skins” or buildings and now has once again responded to its ecosystem and boldly taken steps to insure that yet another generation can step into a sacred sanctuary of peace.

We say farewell to a building but we take with us our history, our collective memories and our passion for speaking the Gospel with power and truth.  For all those who made this building possible, we are grateful.  Now, as we turn to the future, we say our thanks to those presently who have secured our church for another fifty or one hundred years.  We are still worshipping (at Jefferson Middle School) on Sundays at 10 a.m. This coming Martin Luther King Sunday, we will welcome thirty groups to whom we will gift with a grant of money. Thirty grants totaling 100,000 dollars.  Before we spend a dime of our endowment, before we invest it, we are giving this money to American heroes who heal and repair our world.  I hope to see you Sunday the 15th. It will be a powerful day, celebrating the legacy of Dr. King, empowering those who stand up for the marginal, and vibrantly carrying on the mission and ministry of this church we love.

~See you Sunday

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Seasonal Transformation

Seasonal transformation is all around us.  True, we had snow last week and the temperatures have been below average so many of us are walking around with our heads down as we walk into wind gusts and wind chills that elicit grunts and curses. Where is Spring!? we ask.

Of course, Spring has erupted already. The Forsythia, the leafing out of trees, the buds and flowers that ornament streets we pass through and lanes we walk down, all remind us of this fact. The grass is greener.  The transformation is under way and evolves until one magical moment when sun and warmth coincide with brilliant sky blue and landscapes of trees and flowers and we know… we have passed across the threshold of Winter into Spring.

Little wonder then that this season fills us with hope for the transformation of our own lives.  Now we can take all of this for granted. We can chalk it up to how things “just happen” and pretend the world around us is deaf and dumb. But oh, it is not.  The world is talking to us, it is a dialogical masterpiece threaded with conversation and information that, should we take time to hear, will inform our own lives. The psalmist declared [139:14],

 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works

In this season of transformation may your and my life be transformed.  May the Spirit of change and renewal restore you and make you whole.  This Sunday, let us join together in praise with the entire earth, for “the time of singing has come.”  ~See you Sunday

The Cross Alone

“He was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”   (Isaiah 53: 12)

Crux sola nostra theologica est  

The Cross alone is our salvation.     ~Martin Luther

On this Good Friday, may we find our way through contemplation and prayer to the garden of resurrection and hope.                                      ~ See you Sunday

Rejecting Simplistic Materialism For The Sacred Journey

I am the Road
I am the Road

I’ve been walking daily since about May, trying to be a good scout. Well, I’m no scout but I’m trying to do well by the gift of my life.  And my walks are usually along the bike path near our home in Arlington. As you can imagine, this time of year is quite lovely. This morning (Tuesday the 6th) I was walking at about 7 a.m. To see the light of the sun reflected off a bank of trees in the horizon as I walk along what is a dimly lit and chilly path is quite a spectacle.   We are so removed from nature that just taking a walk near trees and rushing water in a creek, sung to by birds singing and shouting their codes into the bright oblivion of sky and light, this is a tonic for the mind if not the soul.

You know by now of course that  your life is a winding road.  What you may not know or struggle with is an equally important truth: your life is a sacred journey.  In this culture in love with death (a phrase I have taken from the fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Augustine), you must awaken to that truth and do your utmost to resist with your might all those who would steal, diminish or otherwise convince you to give up that truth. Do not be satisfied with a simplistic reduction of your life to the material.  You are not a frog dissected on a table and then discarded.  You are soulful.  You are bearing in your life the image of God.  Walk that road. Indeed, remember that Christ identified himself this way:  I am the road.  Walk it.  ~See you Sunday

Trump Is not the Problem

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I am not suggesting by the title to this brief excursus that Donald Trump is not “a” problem or “has” no problems. That he is and has is more than obvious to anyone with a modicum of good sense, civility and intelligence.  But he is not THE problem in our country at the moment. The problem is the death of civic discourse.  Period.

Blame whomever you want and whom you blame will likely depend upon your political allegiances, but the discourse in the Congress rivals the flame throwing  demagogues of slavery and civil war in the 19th century. This is not just sad and if it were only sad then we could wait for this phase to be finished and move on, but this is dangerous.  This kind of discourse has led to wars, not just in the 19th century in our bloodiest conflict, The Civil War, but most recently in our country’s invasion of a nation (Iraq) that had not attacked us.  A Christian should be able to discern these things, discerning crooked speech (as Proverbs would describe it) and the difference between just wars and unjust wars.

Fan or no fan of John McCain, we know that he was a prisoner of war in a Hanoi prison having his body beaten and his mind robbed of any peace while Donald Trump was very, very, very comfortable and pursuing a hedonistic life style.  Oh, well.  As I said, a Christian should be able to discern crooked speech from just speech.  Psalm 34:13-14, for example:

Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.

and Psalm 37:30:

The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.

We could be here all week proof-texting the scripture and its emphasis upon telling truth, pursuing peace and how the wise, unlike the fools, do this.  We need someone to educate and train us about a civic discourse that listens to others and to contrary opinions in constructive ways and how to engage others with the very dignity we expect and desire for ourselves.

The problem most likely goes deeper than what I’ve stated.  It is not just that we are observing the death of civil discourse, but we are witnessing what happens when people give up on each other because they have given up on any idea that they are soul-ful creatures who are expected to live on a higher plane than brute, Darwinist principles of survival.  Let me end with this strand of verse from Proverbs 16:27:

Scoundrels create trouble;
their words are a destructive blaze.

Avoid scoundrels.  If you see smoke and fire rising out of words of persons who seek nothing less than to be your ruler, your President, then by all means, think again.  With a heart full of gratitude for God’s abiding love and mercy, let our speech adorn our lives with truth, kindness and wisdom.