Tag Archives: black lives matter

The Falconer Calls

The Gospel is overheard as much as it is directly preached to persons.  Like a beggar who overhears where there is bread, the Gospel is handed out in crust and slices to those who find their way to the servers.  We preach the Gospel, sing the Gospel, proclaim it through prayer and meditate on it like an artist meditates on the painting of another artist, searching for clues— and we do that every Sunday.  But Monday – Saturday, we practice it in a myriad of kindnesses, mercies, affirmations, and sometimes by bold and prophetic action as we stand beside the weak, the marginal, the bullied, the elderly, the young and all who inhabit the continuum of what we call existence. And along that continuum, as its string of “present” episodes become a string of pearls we call a day or a week, people overhear the Gospel.  And there are days, not always, but sometimes there are days when the entire web of existence is a shimmering vibration of light and goodness. To stand in that light!  ah. To resonate so that we vibrate in our own goodness!  wow.  To be part of a community of faith, hope and love!  OMG meets ML&MG (my Lord and my God, the confession of Doubting Thomas).

Now what has any of this to do with anything.  Simply this: when the center holds, the circle of life revolves and holds.  The orbit of our daily existences spins in symmetric harmony.  When the center does not hold or there is no center or someone has replaced the Holy One with an idol like a gun or war or hatred then, well,  as W. B. Yates said it in his fantastic and alarming herald of a poem, The Second Coming, in that first stanza:

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity. 

I ask you, has the blood-dimmed tide been loosed?  Indeed, it is praised by the craven and the posers of patriotism.  Where are the best among us, ready to serve and to stand? Are not the worst full of passionate intensity? We have seen them in the streets of Charlottesville.

There is a center, however. It holds. We gather ‘round it on Sundays at 10 a.m. over at Jefferson Middle School Auditorium (for now).  The Falconer calls.

~See you Sunday

The Beloved Community in a Middle School Auditorium

On Sunday, February 25th, we handed out grants to seven of the ten groups our Endowment Team had chosen in an effort to “bless those who heal the world.”  This year we heard from each of the grantees in what I can only describe as a crescendo of joy and hope.  Each of these recipients represented their organization in splendid fashion. We were moved to tears by their testimony and their work.  It occurred to me as I listened that we were seeing nothing less than an actualization of the Beloved Community in a middle school auditorium.  With squeaky chairs, powerful songs and a modest room with two banners and a table with candles, we were transformed.

I couldn’t help but think as well that we were sitting inside a public school where children are sent every day of the week, Monday through Friday. They arrive to learn, not to shiver in fear for being shot.  We who worship there pray fervently for these children at Jefferson Middle School and of course, in schools throughout our nation.  As a nation, we can do far better than proposing mad “solutions” like arming teachers.  This suggestion made by the President is especially grievous and utterly illogical.  Let us as a church discover ways to bless the school in which we find ourselves.  Of course, we can say that we provided both Jefferson and Amidon with $4,000 grants last year. And that is a way to bless them of course. But above all, let us advocate for their safety and let us vote people into Congress who will stand up to the bloody NRA.  It is past time to get a grip on this and stop allowing one group to pervert the second amendment into a formula for carnage throughout the schools, venues and streets of our country.

Yesterday, we illustrated that people who are very different and do not see eye-to-eye on any number of theological or social matters can reach across that chasm and embrace one another.  Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Agnostic people, working to heal the world, found each other yesterday and in the process of finding one another and embracing, we ourselves were healed and filled with hope. This is how it should be.  Put down your guns.  Put away your sword.  Let us do better.

Advent and Christmas at Riverside

Advent and Christmas reminders: 

Please note:  Because DC Public Schools will not open the school for us on a holiday,  New Year’s Eve Sunday service will worship elsewhere.  Where?

Sunday morning New Year’s Eve, 10 a.m., some of us will worship at Christ United Methodist Church (we will not be involved in leading the worship or participating in the worship). 900 4th Street, SW. You may park at Jefferson and walk over to Christ United Methodist.

Please remember our church depends solely on your offerings and since we will miss two Sundays of collection, we encourage you to mail in your offering or use the PayPal button on this site.

The Peace of the angelic presence and announcement to shepherds in the field abide with you throughout this season of hope.  ~See you Sunday

Crossing the Street For Sunday

Everyone has reasons for not going to Sunday service.  You could list five in the time it takes me to finish this sentence.  But allow me a moment to ponder why crossing the street for Sunday is worth your while. And I’ll do this list like Letterman used to read his list, from the tenth to the first.

10.  You won’t have to run through one more spin cycle of news and social media.  This reason alone will warm the cold blood in anyone’s veins.

9.  You have a reason for putting off the laundry.  Don’t worry about what you’ll wear.

8.  You get out of the house and step into another realm entirely.  I’d call it the realm of peace and resistance.

7.  You become part of a worldwide resistance movement to reductionist formulas that oppressively consign you to a label.

6.  You join the ranks of the poets and the prophets.  Who can’t benefit by recitation of such?  Shakespeare himself was weaned on the scriptures with their cadence and vision of common folk confronting the powerful for righteous cause.

5.  Music.   You may not be able to sing but you’ll hear someone sing. And music and singing is a shot of love, infused into your weekly life that too often depletes you.

4.  Friends.  Loneliness has always been and is an epidemic. Getting out of your residence and into the sacred space of Sunday means connecting with others. And these are not bar flies or fly-by-nights. These are people who are looking for that little light in themselves and others.

3.  Rest.  One hour of rest from all the voices in your head and all the tasks on your to-do list. Sabbath rest is deep and rhythmically aligns us with the rhythm of the cosmos and the Holy.

2.  Service.  In a community of faith, opportunities arise to help heal the world.  So not only are you part of a great resistance movement, you are part of healing instead of harming the world.

1.  G-O-D.  I hyphenate here to simply say the word is nearly too holy to be pronounced, not in an effort to spell it. Because it is so overused in our O-M-G culture, it is nearly impossible to understand.  But the word love is also overused.  No reason to give up using it or G-O-D.  Crossing the street for Sunday means risking that you will be found, embraced by the Loving Good Shepherd.

Take that risk. Cross the street.  Drive in, metro in, walk, ride a shuttle.  We’re across the street from The Wharf. We’ve been in DC since 1857. Right now, we are one year out from completing our new church on the corner of 7th and Maine.  You can find us at Jefferson Middle School at 10 a.m.  ~See you Sunday

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Martin_Luther
500 years ago,  an Augustinian monk and priest named Martin Luther ignited the Reformation with his 95 theses.  There have been, of course, a lot of events worldwide and locally to ponder this moment.  It really is difficult to exaggerate the importance of that moment in history.  I read a piece somewhere last week that quibbled over whether or not he had actually nailed these to the door at his Wittenberg church.  He could have sung them out the window for all I care.  He stood in front of a moving tank, that is what he did.

He was not the first reformer, of course.  Jan Huss of Prague met a fiery end for his efforts a century before Luther.  And certainly the mendicant orders, such as the one started by a man named Francis, were aimed at reforming the Church.  But Luther succeeded in ways these others had not. There are lots of reasons for that and a simple blog post cannot do such a discussion justice.

I traveled to Wittenberg more than ten years ago.  I ambled through the house run by Martin’s wife, Katharine von Bora; through Melanchton’s garden; and into the Castle Church where I lit a candle.  This  was and is the epicenter of the Reformation and perhaps modernity, if by modernity we mean the assertion of one’s conscience over the demands of the State or ecclesiastical authority.  With his emphasis upon justification by faith over a works theology; with his attack on corrupt popes and councils and in their place “the cradle of Christ,”  the Bible, and his emphasis upon the priesthood of believers, I could not help but be moved by being in that town where the drama of the Reformation unfolded.

There are, of course, unfortunate and terrible things about Luther.  His anti-Jewish rhetoric, his siding with the State against the peasants and his reluctance to forge a way with Zwingli were grave errors.  We should be aware of these shortcomings and as with any person of such a magnitude, be careful of idolizing him.

If you read the Bible in your own language and not Latin; if you believe you should be able to receive both the cup and the bread of the eucharist; if you believe in the priesthood of believers and by all means, if you rely on the grace of God in Christ and not a works theology, then you should celebrate this moment in history.  And if you are not religious but believe in the sanctity of one’s conscience and the critical engagement of one’s intellect with things religious then this moment also offers you something to celebrate.  The fact is, Luther would not have countenanced Baptists and I am a Baptist clergyperson whose movement emerged on the radical edge of the Reformation in the 17th century.  Still, he is the great Reformer and I walk my spiritual journey along his mile markers:

Sola scriptura  By scripture alone

Sola fide  By faith alone

Sola gratia  By grace alone

Sola Christus  Through Christ alone

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone the Glory. 

If you are so inclined, here is a link to the 95 theses of Dr Martin Luther.  And if you are so inclined, worship in our Protestant assembly held in Jefferson Middle School on Sundays at 10 a.m.  We practice a radical table fellowship that invites everyone to the Table of our Lord, denying no one access to his grace. Such worship is a protest and a counter-sign to a culture in love with death, bereft of any reasonable notion of truth.

~See you Sunday

Athletes, Anthems and Courage

There are not many White parents who, upon finding out that their Johnny or Jane has been unfairly treated or deprived of classroom resources, won’t speak up and ask the teacher or principal to rectify that situation.  I recall doing so myself when my youngest was in about third grade and late in the year she told me she finally had the chance to use the classroom computer.  I was shocked.  So for nearly the entire school year, the boys had used the computers.  No girls.  Did I march into the school and demand justice and equality?  You bet I did.

So why is it so difficult for White folks to understand that when an athlete respectfully takes a knee or bows out of pledging allegiance to the flag or paying homage to the national anthem, s/he is protesting the injustice and inequity of persons who supposedly are promised “liberty and justice for all” but in truth, are too often denied that promise?  That is not only an understandable protest, it is one that actually honors the principles of the flag and is far more patriotic than the hollow entertainment and spectacles that surround the flag at these events.  Consider  God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch–it may not be blasphemous but it’s close.

Christians especially are caught up in this drama when they should know better.  Church History is a complicated and long history but for the sake of this point, let me simplify and say that most scholars would agree that Constantine and his conversion to Christianity is a watershed moment.  So there is Church that is Pre-Constantinian and there is the Church that is Post-Constantinian.  The Pre-Constantinian Church was persecuted and martyred by the Roman Government.  Paul and Peter and the Lord they proclaimed were all killed by the State. And the reason so many Christians were persecuted and killed is that they would not bow to the images of Caesar and the State.  The Post-Constantinian Church eventually became intertwined with imperial power.  And yes, in America, churches will have the flag prominently displayed in their sanctuaries.  Some will pledge allegiance to it on a Sunday. That is a Constantinian Church, jeopardizing the very Gospel it proclaims.

Were a First Century or Second or Third Century Christian to show up by way of a time machine and see athletes refusing to honor the image of the State, they would quickly conclude that these must be Christians about to be fed to the lions in a large stadium.

Well, Pastor, what do you do?  When I am at a stadium and the anthem is sung, I stand and put my hand over my heart.  But I do not pledge allegiance.  My allegiance is to Christ.  I love my country and am grateful for all I have but here’s the deal—I know that my experience as a White male in this country is vastly different from African-Americans, Women, and GLBT persons.  I don’t blame them at all for opting out or taking a knee at the anthem. That in my opinion is remarkably similar to the early Christians and their passion for God.  And were I able, I’d link arms with those who choose to protest because, protest is not only Protest-ant, it is American through and through.  And I recognize this:  while a game, be it football or baseball, allows me to cheer on an athlete, it does not allow me to dictate their conscience.  They agreed to entertain us but they did not agree to prop up our political views or philosophical opinions.   When we can have a conversation about how justice in this country is predetermined and bends for some while oppressing others, then maybe we will have grown up.

So, no, Mr. President, you are wickedly wrong. These athletes are not “sons of bitches.” They are brave. They are true Americans.  You owe them and the country an apology for your vile speech.

How to Live in the Toxic Atmosphere of Political Strife

I was struck Sunday in our worship service by the power and the simple eloquence of the lectionary reading take from Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 12.  As you embark upon another week and ponder how you’re going to deal with the various catastrophes, hatreds and toxic rhetoric, I urge you to read these words. Print them out and attach them to the refrigerator or  recite them into your life every day this week.  They are words to live by.  They are words that can help us live in the toxic atmosphere of political strife that has permeated our culture.

ROMANS 12:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;do not claim to be wiser than you are. 

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

AMEN.  So be it…in our own lives, in the lives of our leaders and within the sacred bounds of our beloved community.

Meanwhile Back On Earth

This week many of us were vividly reminded that we are part of a larger universe.  And our solar system is a cul de sac in a very big neighborhood of stars and galaxies.   And we were reminded that  remarkable balances and exchanges are made every day within the concourse and discourse of these very many variables that result somehow in our being sentient beings.  The Eclipse confronted us with these facts about us.  Totality, while not apparent  to everyone who gazed into the heavens, was brief–a brief moment of darkness that allowed brother moon to steal some of the sun king’s glory but even so, blocked by the moon, the sun still wore a diamond crown.

Meanwhile back on earth…  we have been dealing with the eclipse of the presidency and unfortunately, the darkness has only just begun. There is no end in sight as our congress stands by twiddling its thumbs as Rome burns.  One can only hope that the glory of our democracy will withstand this assault on it by an incompetent White Nationalist president.  We should not assume that it will.  And not assuming this brings an urgency to the moment.  Someone or some group of persons who are responsible under the constitution should courageously stand up and confront the eclipse brought about by a lunar-tic disregard for the dignity of that office.

Meanwhile back on earth… hatreds and simmering racist ideologies have boiled over.  This too is an eclipse of our culture.  Taking us back to the dark ages of segregation, unbridled violence, misogyny and White Supremacist delusions, those gathered in Charlottesville and elsewhere are like the proverbial barbarians at the gate.  The time to stand up to this is now, not after the gates have been breached.

Every Sunday, our congregation in SW stands up for peace, love and justice. We worship together not only as a testament of our love for God but of our belief in the enduring dignity of all human beings.  We let our “little light” shine.  We break the darkness, not with a curse, but with light and love.  Join us.  Let’s be the Beloved Community.  ~See you Sunday

Dial It Down

You may have noticed I have been away from the pulpit and from the blog post.  Vacation beckoned me and I responded and how glad I was to break away.  Re-creation is an important theological idea, folks.  It is interconnected with Sabbath rest and biological aspects of renewal we depend upon, like sleep!  I rested a while and frankly, not waking up each day dailed into the Trump Soap Opera was a gift.

Returned now, I am very tempted to speak to the continued shredding of our democratic core values and hopes as a diverse and unified nation.  The failure of diplomatic and mature solutions to Korea, the abysmal silence in the face of White Supremacists in Charlottesville, and the myriad other subjects that occupy us each day now since the inauguration of a White Nationalist to the Presidency of the United States.

But here is what I’d like to say to you as you begin your week:  dial it down. Turn off the news.  See if you can go twelve hours without reading any news or commentary.  In that time, dial into prayer and contemplation, rest and renewal.  Your mind really does not need to access all the information out there.  And I use “information” in its broadest sense.  Don’t tweet for a morning or an afternoon.  When you do this you recognize and honor the truth that Christ holds all things together, not any president.  When you dial it down, you turn off those dripping faucets of anger and resentment.  Take a break. Take a vacation. Take a Sabbath.  The Apostle Paul said it beautifully in his tender letter to the church at Philippi:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” [4:8]  Dial it down and contemplate these things. Start today.

~See you Sunday, Pastor Bledsoe