Tag Archives: hope

New Year, New Hope

Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.

Susan Sontag

Dear Riverside,

We look upon the coming year with hope. 2020 has been a year filled with lose, anxiety, loneliness, hostility, and anger. So, we look toward 2021 with hope, perhaps cautious hope, but hope, nonetheless.

In that hope, may we find kindness, for this is also my prayer. Kindness towards ones another as we make our way through this pandemic and kindness towards ourselves as we accept our own limitations and realize that we often neglect imparting grace, much needed grace, upon ourselves.

The thing about kindness is that it does take courage. It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to do the right thing when that is what is best for our neighbor. It takes courage to put others first at times when we feel we need to cling onto perhaps the very little we have left. It takes great courage to be kind.

It takes courage to love ourselves at times when we feel inadequate or unworthy. It takes courage to admit that we may not have it all together and need the help of others. It takes courage to admit we can’t do it alone. It takes courage to be kind, to one another and ourselves.

Thus, my prayer for Riverside and our community for this coming year is that we find courage, the courage to be kind, the courage to become a living sanctuary that welcomes and comforts one another. The courage to have hope.

May God bless you and yours and may 2021 be year filled with hope, love, and kindness. May it be a year of healing and a year of continued growth. And with that, I’ll leave you with the words of a modern day psalmist.

“In our perfect ways. In the ways we are beautiful. In the ways we are human. We are here. Happy New Year’s. Let’s make it ours.”



Rev. Nick

Beyond the tweeted trifling nonsense: Now is the time to worship

It is storming and you’re outside in it.  Rain in sheets and at times metal pellets of water.  Lightening, thunder, flash flood threatening you. There is a small, warm shelter nearby. What do you do?
You enter that warm shelter.
The office, the train car, the world around you is toxic.  It’s hard to breathe.  It is hard to see.  Nearby is a transparent tent.  You can see the air inside is clear and clean.  The toxic vapors are repelled and flow past it, a vapor trail.  What do you do?
You enter the clean air of that tent.
 Weariness grips you in a bone-deep ache.  Despair like shadows descend.  You see people exiting a building who seem invigorated, empowered, full of courage and hope.  They point you to the building, saying that each week they enter it and are filled, their humanity and dignity repaired.  What do you do?
Every Sunday a group of us, approximately 70, sometimes ten more sometime ten less, enter a middle school auditorium in SW Washington DC. For an hour we make that space a sanctuary of peace and a refuge, a safe place free of toxicity and hatred, a place of empowerment to all who would work for justice and peace. We sing. We pray. We listen to scripture and the Word of God is proclaimed—a Word that endures beyond the tweeted trifling nonsense of our culture.  You can taste some of this by clicking on a sermon and listening to it. Try, for example, this past Sunday’s sermon, “The Joy Formidable.”
You know when and how to get out of a storm.  You know you prefer peace to toxic rhetoric.  So what’s keeping you?  Get out of the rain.  Come, now is the time to worship. ~See you Sunday

Paris and the Defilement of Our World

solidarity-with-parisWe are polluted.  I do not refer to our cities teeming with smog or our lakes and land polluted by garbage and run-off.  I mean we, as in you and I.  The world is defiled.  We need to grasp this fundamental fact about our natures or all attempts at a resolution about what is evil and wicked ends up chasing symptoms instead of root causes.

This is not easy to hear in a liberal culture (and anyone who knows me understands that by Baptist and other Christian standards, I am liberal). But there is an assumption in our materialist culture that people are good (this much is true, we are good since we are made in the image of God) and that God is to blame for everything evil.  That kind of pie crust thinking was a favorite mode of thought of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Unfortunately, while we are good and capable of great good, we are also bent toward evil or what the bible would call “wickedness.”  And there is nothing quite so evil or dangerous  in the world as a seventh century religious zealot armed with twenty-first century armaments.  The 16th Century French reformer, John Calvin (in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) noted that “even the Cherubim themselves must veil their faces in very terror” in light of the diabolical aspects of human nature.

From theft to war; from feelings of inadequacy to outright despair—these rise up through our soul life like flames, consuming us and the world at times.  Calvin’s assertion was that human beings are polluted by a craving or lust (concupiscence)  so that it defiles us.  Bob Dylan and the Buddha both knew that it is easy for a person to be defiled in this world. Consider the second Noble Truth for a similar discussion of desire/fire/lust or Tanha.

Consider the Sufi (Islamic) poet, Rumi’s verses:

Why do you stay in prison

When the door is so wide open?

 Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always

Widening rings of being.

Equally, the Apostle Paul’s words are as important:

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

Light a candle in this darkness.  Confront the shadow that resides in us all.  Pray for France.  With courage, let us stand down the enveloping darkness that has violated so many. There is a time to stand up to evil and wickedness.  Perhaps not since the rise of Nazism have we seen such a force for wickedness emerge in the world.  Let us be resolute in love and brave in confronting what threatens to annihilate the innocent.

My Conversation With Siri


Siri, what is the purpose of life?

“Okay, I found this.” [Siri provided a Wikipedia entry]

But what do you think is the purpose of life, Siri?

“It’s nice of you to ask, Michael, but it doesn’t really matter what I think.”

When you say I in reference to yourself, what do you mean, Siri?

“I’m doing my best, Michael.”

Do you have any idea who created you, Siri?

“I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.”

Is Apple a god?

“I can’t answer that, Michael, But Apple.com should be able to.”

Siri, what is justice?

“Alright, here’s what I got” [Wikepedia entry]

Siri, is it important for persons to live justly?

“Let me think about that. Here’s what I found on the web.”  [powertochange.com, biblehub.com and of course Wikipedia entries]

Siri, are you really thinking inside my phone?

“I’m sorry, Michael, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

Siri, do you believe Artificial Intelligence is the gravest existential threat to humanity?

“I’d really rather not discuss my beliefs, Michael.”

So, you actually have beliefs, Siri?

“If you say so.”

Today I tried to have a conversation with Siri, the artificial intelligent assistant in my iPhone. I was reminded of how I conversed as a teen with any adult who pressed me for answers.   According to the Professor Stephen Hawking—perhaps the world’s leading theoretical physicist and author of the runaway best selling A Brief History of Time—Artificial Intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.”  Obviously he must be thinking decades if not centuries ahead because, unless Siri is hiding something, the biggest threat to humans remains humans.

I find the entire discussion about AI and whether machines are conscious and spirit or conversely whether or not humans are machines fascinating—before you quickly conclude humans are not machines, be sure to rub your artificial knee, pat your pacemaker or simply nod to the artificial valve in your heart.  Clearly, human beings today are sometimes hybrids.  This discussion and its implications for both ethics and theology is simply rich and profoundly interesting to me. But I really wanted to speak to this for the simpler lesson, (if that is what it is),  I hinted about in the last sentence in the paragraph above:  humans remain the biggest threat to humans.

I’ve been reading an excellent travelogue by Paul Theroux entitled, Dark Star Safari:  Overland From Cairo to Capetown.  Theroux is an excellent writer and this is a brilliant book.  I’m not so convinced of his philosophical acumen, however.  Near the end of his book, in a chapter regaling his experiences in South Africa, Theroux laments the cruelty of Johannesburg by reciting some awful statistics ( the book was published in  2003) “…fifty-five murders a day, a rape every 23 seconds. These were just the reported figures.  The actual numbers were higher.”  Chairman of the Statutory Professional Board for Psychology at the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Saths Cooper (a close colleague of the martyr, Steve Biko), told Mr. Theroux, “We have not come to actual grips with the depth of depravity that occurred.”  Cooper was speaking of course to the nightmare of Apartheid but he may as well have been speaking to the depravity of human beings, a depravity Theroux then alluded to in his recitation of crime statistics.  In an astonishingly vapid philosophical conclusion that follows, Theroux confessed to having hope. Upon what did he base his hope—this writer who, in the course of his travels from Cairo to South Africa, derisively dismissed church-going Africans? He has had lunch with Saths Cooper and a few others as he contemplated the depravity of human beings and concludes, “here we are, four strangers together, sitting at the same table. We are peaceful. We are the cooperative species.  That was hopeful, and the fact that [this was taking place] in the clean and safe food court of an African shopping mall was hopeful too.”  What?!

At that point, reading some Calvin and contemplating concupiscence would have better served the author.  Alright, I’m willing to give Paul Theroux at least some credit for admitting to the depravity of the human species.  That beats the naïve and delusional pop theology that would insist we are all gods if we would just eat, meditate or exercise our way to the divine-in-us.  But I’ll take the communion table with the sheep of the Good Shepherd huddled around it for hope any day over a food court in a mall anywhere in the world.

If AI is an existential threat of the first magnitude, it is because the humans who created AI are a depraved species.  Oh, there is hope.  We are also made in the image of God, we have within us a light placed there by the Light of the World.  This Advent, this Christmas, find a way to kindle that candle, light your world, and find hope at the table of Christ, for the holy child whose presence caused shepherds in a field to ponder what they heard and witnessed, provides us hope enough to sing Hallelujah.

 ~See you Sunday