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!
August 5th and we enter the “dog days” of summer (hopefully with a break from the rain). Whatever the weather, don’t let it be an excuse for not gathering as the People of God. We are worshipping at 11 a.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 401 I St., SW. Pastor Bledsoe is preaching (All Who Wander Are Not Lost), Jonathan is leading our Gates of Praise, Terryn is singing special music and it is a communion Sunday–given our shared context with Westminster, we are blessed to share across denominational lines in Holy Communion with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters. Above all, in our gathering in Christ’s name, we are assured by Scripture that Christ is with us. That friends is worth missing the talking heads on t.v., the regurgitation of news on news programs and even brunch (though you should get out in plenty of time to eat).
~See you Sunday.
Sunday was a fabulous day with wonderful music, singers and musicians; prayers and scripture; and a sermon about “Table Stories.” In that sermon the following definition of Church was offered: “The church is that group of persons who by gratitude and thanksgiving, offer a banquet in honor of the Christ and invites others to join them there so they can meet him.” And from there I asserted:
“How preposterous then that the church is divided along lines of race and class, gender and orientation. We follow Jesus, who invited everyone to share at table with him and in turn, was willing to enter anyone’s home who invited him. The church ought to be offering a table of welcome and hospitality to all. That is our mission. That is our identity. ”
Aren’t you tired of worshipping in a church that works on cutting people out, kicking folks off the island, putting out torches instead of lighting them? Why would you remain in a church that hates you or, for that matter, hates anyone? Aren’t you tired of not worshipping, of sitting out and avoiding holy spaces because you’re afraid of unholy and mean people? I know a place that practices a radical table fellowship. Christ shows up there. We would love to hear your table story and have you join with us because life is too short not to pray, praise, connect, commune, celebrate, weep together, laugh together, journey together in this sacred journey. ~See you Sunday.
Pope Francis is about to impact the greater Washington DC area like a snow storm or Direcho. People are being encouraged to stay indoors and off of roads. Religious news should be covered by meteorologists at this point.
The man who took on the name of St. Francis as his moniker has been shaking up the Vatican. His humility, his deep and authentic concern for the poor, his articulate defense of the earth and concern for climate change, his commitment to simplicity in his personal life and of course, his devotion to God are compelling qualities and we should take a moment to listen to him and seriously consider what he would say to the Catholic Church in America and Christians in general.
But of course, there is a deep divide between the Pope and his church and Protestants. We are not welcome to eat at the Table of our Lord and that because of theological differences. Those theological differences are complex at times and they have endured over millennia. The same can be said of all the issues Francis has chosen to address. His gift, it seems to me, is his direct and simple devotion to the love of Christ so that, for example, instead of waxing philosophically about the poor, this man invites the poor, the hungry and the prisoner to dinner and he even washes their feet. Such simple acts of devotion have a way of clearing the decks. That is why a simple act of devotion by this pope could have a far-reaching, dare I say, even earth-shattering, effect on Christians globally: when he invites me or any other Protestant to receive the bread and wine of the eucharist instead of singling me out, with my arms crossed to the priest to identify myself as someone worthy of being blessed but unworthy of the Lord’s supper. When he does that, the Church Universal (catholic) will radiate with reconciliation. I pray for Pope Francis’ success and safety. May his visit here leave us better people, more humane and just. And one day, may all of us sit at the table of Christ as authentic brothers and sisters. ~See you Sunday
There was a time, say pre-Reformation when suddenly the printing press began to change how people read and illiteracy, while still quite high, was beginning to sway from the advance of universities and the access to knowledge. In those times people most often read together. They read in collectivity, that is, as a group with someone reading a text to them. Speed forward to the present information age and all of the access via technology that we have and you find that most people read to themselves. Is your identity a collectivity or are you some kind of rugged individual, an island in an archipelago of individuals? It certainly seems the latter best describes the experience of riding on a metro car.
People are squished together on those cars but for the most part, they are individuals either reading alone or plugged into a listening device and listening alone. That is a collectivity. It is not necessarily communion.
Perhaps you have discovered Google’s Art Project. It is a fantastic site that gives you access to museums and their collections from around the world. Here is a link to one of my favorite artists, Albrecht Dürer who lived in the 16th century and his etching, Melencolia. So you can visit a museum alone, by yourself at your computer or mobile device and study paintings and arts of all kinds without ever being in a group. One might ask, is it possible to interpret art apart from a collectivity or communion of persons?
This brings me to church (of course I’m trying to make a point about what we do and who we are on Sunday). If you show up in worship on Sunday then you are at this stage of the world, odd. Instead of reading alone in a cafe or at home, browsing the Sunday paper, you’re sitting in the midst of others who are collectively listening to scripture being read to them and proclaimed to you. Is it possible that you are onto something the rest of our culture is not privy to or ignoring? Indeed, I think you are. Something transformative takes place in the midst of a collection of people, particularly a collectivity that is also a communion. You can read the scriptures alone and privately (and should). But the melding of your life with the lives of others in that sacred moment–that is simply an ancient way of getting at the truth of yourself and the world. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, the scripture says. One hour in the week, week in and week out, shoulder to shoulder with others who are reading, singing, praying and listening at the same time in the same holy space–you don’t have to grasp that so much as allow that to grasp you.
At some point in any given week for the past two years, I’ve parked my electric car in the garage of a shopping center that has free chargers, gone upstairs and parked my, uh, self in a chair and sipped on a chai latte or a coffee with a shot of peppermint, read emails, make phone calls and, like an anthropologist parked behind a shrub, watched the people who enter and leave the Starbucks. Before I make my larger point, I do want to offer one aside about this experience and what I have observed: in our post-modern consumer culture, individuals flock like spoonbills on a river cul-de-sac and while they are together and some are taking in conversation, most are plugged into ear plugs, plugged into phones, plugged into the parallel universe of the internet. I’d call such a gathering a collection but I wouldn’t call it communion. There is something about us and our alienated existences that beckons to us from such a scene. And there is a lesson as regards the communion and communal aspects of Church that compels us to think deeply about human nature and the Gospel.
So one day this past week, while sitting in a corner with what I think I remember to be a “flat white” in one hand and my iPhone opened to a kindle app, reading a book by the philosopher David Bentley Hart (God) in the other, I watched as a little girl, perhaps six years old, stood on a ledge near the door in her pink rain boots. Her mother was sitting at a bar along the glass window keeping watch. The door would open and then this child would give a little wave to the persons who entered and say, “Hi! I’m the greeter.” Singlehandedly this child–and as all children she was a pillar of light–dialed up the happiness quotient in that room. People smiled, people giggled, and some stopped to chat with her.
Last week, I challenged us to calculate our presence. This child did no overt calculation that I could see. She simply was herself, greeting persons with joy. I thank God I was able to witness her radiance sparking across the room of the caffeinated. You have light in you. The scriptures say as much. Got light? As the song says, let it shine. Such presence is nearly incalculable. ~See you Sunday.