If you can retweet tweets you consider valuable then why can’t a pastor re-preach a sermon? My Easter sermon this year got a lot of hits. It was entitled Why I Believe. It just might be worth twenty minutes of your time this week. Below is an excerpt but you can of course listen online by clicking on that title which is linked.
You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. ~ Exodus 23:1
When a dignified general joins hands with a malicious liar in a scurrilous attack on a widow of a soldier and the congresswoman who comforted her, then the depths of despair this single act brings to an entire nation is devastatingly profound. We wake up in that moment–if we awaken at all–to just how lost we have become. This president lies incessantly, daily and about the most sacred things. General Kelly has polluted his character by joining hands with a malicious witness. Shame.
After the fall of the Soviet Empire, countries that had been oppressed by the lies and cruelty of that empire began to unearth their archives in an effort to tell the truth about what had happened to them. The Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, kept a watch over its citizens, turning neighbors against neighbors. I recall reading about a couple, Vera and Kanud Volenberger, who had grown up in East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell, Vera became a German congresswoman and was instrumental in getting the archives of the Stasi opened so people could read their files. She read her file and discovered details so intimate, details of her health and her husband’s and her finances, excerpts from letters she had written to her children that she realized the only person who could have possibly known her that well and told the Stasi was her husband. She confronted him and he admitted to having been the informer on her.
Americans are waking up to the truth that our president has pitted American against American. He is the great divider-in-chief, polluting our entire society with lies. The former President of the Czech Republic nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and honored by George W. Bush with the American Presidential Medal of Freedom, Vaclav Havel, referred to the country in which he had grown up as a “morally contaminated society.” This sounds very much like the prophet Isaiah’s confession when he cried out in the temple, confronted by a Holy God who expects truth, “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” America is polluted by the lies of presidents and generals poured from unclean hearts and mouths.
There is another archive. It is the archive of grace and truth. I take this phrase from Dr. James Melvin Washington and his book, Conversations With God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans. He prayed, “Thou who grants clarity, thank you for permitting us to have access to the archives of Thy grace and truth.” We desperately need to break open these archives! Testaments of faith, hope and love; the affirmation that we are made in God’s image; the expectation that God is holy and expects us to be holy and just. The East German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg tells how important the church was to him and others in the midnight of Communist oppression. The church, he explained, was the one place in their society where they could tell the truth about themselves.
In a culture of pollution, let us find our way toward each other and open the archive of grace and truth. Step out of the fuming hatreds of hearts on fire with hatred. Walk into a holy space and time of grace, truth and love. ~See you Sunday
This morning I had the opportunity to amble about The Wharf and as I turned a corner from the waterfront onto the walkway that leads out toward Maine Ave., I saw the future. There in front of me in full frontal view was our construction site with crane. In about a year, the thousands of pedestrians who call The Wharf home, shop its retailers, join with friends for a bite to eat, or show up for a concert will see our church and hear our church (as our Carillon rings out bells and songs). The future just showed up.
I congratulate Monty Hoffman and the entire team there for what has been created. I hope you’ll join us for worship in the auditorium at Jefferson Middle School this Sunday at 10 a.m. and then in the late afternoon at 4pm, walk to the District Pier where I, along with other clergy, will “bless the Wharf.” ~ See You Sunday
In recent days since Hurricane Irma wrecked much of Florida, I have been dealing on a very personal basis with that wreckage for my mother’s home was ruined by the storm. I won’t go into those details but suffice it to say I’m learning some things along the way as I navigate this disaster.
A disaster is always personal even when it is regional One way we naturally gauge disasters like a hurricane is by satellite images and radar or even drones that hover above the landscape and provide us a perspective of the breadth of a disaster. The depth of a disaster, however, lie at the deep level of individual lives. Their narratives are comprised of trauma, harrowing escapes and sometimes unutterable loss.
When the storm dust is in the air, use fog lights. The first time I learned this lesson was as a child in the back seat of a car. My father was driving and we went down a hill and as we did, suddenly a storm of dust out of nowhere filled the air. He turned on his lights so he could be seen (ever see folks ride through rain storms without headlights on? they think they can see, and perhaps they can, but we need to see you!) but my father also pointed out that persons headed our way had their bright lights on which filled the dust with light and blinded everyone. Dim lights or fog lights are the best way to navigate one’s path through. But of course, people turn on their bright lights and with that they turn up their volume, yelling and frantically lashing out in panic. Turn your fog lights on, turn down the volume and find the path out.
We are interdependent and rely on the kindness of strangers. I hope the country can finally come to terms with a covenantal view of human interdependency and be done with the half-truths of libertarian and other conservative ideologies that extol the individual’s liberty at the expense of our biblically mandated obligation to care for one another. The question is not whether or not people “deserve” our help–we all need the help of one another. Living selfishly, as the monk Thomas Merton pointed out, is living at the doorstep of hell. My mother has now made two trips to two different hotels. This morning, as she drank her coffee in the free breakfast area of the hotel, a stranger helped her with getting some hot water and other items. Kindness is a hand that lifts our chin. We are humanized by those kindnesses and when we are the ones offering the kindness then we are also humanized in the process.
Life is a storm. The Buddha’s first noble truth is, life is suffering. Christianity has at its very center the suffering (the Passion) of the Christ. To live is to navigate storms and loss. We all suffer. For me, at this frantic time, I am doing my best to get to Sunday. Why? Because I know when I get to Sunday, I get to peace and communion with others, hymns of joy and prayers of sustenance. I hope you can find an oar and paddle your way over to our safe harbor.
~See you Sunday
Houston We pray for Houston in the aftermath of this terrible storm. The misery index is off the scales. I have reached out to an inclusive Baptist church, Covenant Baptist, in Houston to say we are praying for them and have asked if we might offer them help in some way. They seem safe but once the rains have relented, they may get back to us. Please pray for this sister church.
Meanwhile, I have requested that our Shepherd’s Purse offering this communion Sunday be dedicated to relief efforts in Houston. You (we) may also want to donate through the One Great Hour of Sharing Donations that can be made through the church: either by visiting www.abc-usa.org and clicking “Give Online” at the top right of the page and then in the “Comments” section, type “OGHS-Hurricane Harvey.” Or give and designate through the church and we’ll send a collective donation to the OGHS. By the way, 100% of these offerings go to relief efforts, not a penny is used for administrative purposes. I encourage you to give to the Shepherd’s Purse this Sunday and from there we will send our financial support.
Nashville In a flood we reach out to others and help them. It matters not (or should not) that these Americans reside in a “red” state or a “blue” state—a lesson some Texas representatives and senators might have learned during the disaster of Hurricane Sandy. Be that as it may, “Evangelicals” have convened in Nashville and issued a statement insisting upon the sinfulness of being GLBT. When you look at the signatories of the Nashville Statement, it is overwhelmingly Southern Baptist. It includes persons who have spent a lifetime discriminating and heaping abuse on GLBT persons and look, not only GLBT, but Southern Baptists were formed explicitly to defend slavery (Slave-owning missionaries). They repented of that just a decade or two ago. As well, they continue to treat women as second-class citizens. In 2008 a Professor Ware of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville was cited by Ethics Daily as suggesting that “women wouldn’t have to worry as much about spousal abuse if they were more obedient to their husbands.” I listened to Ware’s sermon from which that summary was made and then wrote him a letter expressing my dismay and calling on him to repent from such hideous commentary. Perhaps the book of Genesis should be off limits to these scholars and pastors! There is a pattern here with the SBC and these Evangelicals. They are uniquely unqualified to speak with moral authority on this issue and given the many issues from climate change to war, poverty, extrajudicial executions of Black citizens and the rise of neo-Nazi and Klan members in their regions, that they would choose to “clarify” continued discrimination of GLBT persons is especially disgusting.
There will be those who issue counter statements of equal or greater length (such as the Denver Statement) but instead of pegging a statement to a city, I’d prefer to quote the Lord himself who denounced such persons when he exclaimed: You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? With that, remove the dust from your shoes and move on. The Evangelicals who signed this statement are nothing new and have nothing to say that will clarify anything. Indeed, their statement will be used to wreck families and abuse children. By the way, one of the signers was the CEO of Lifeway Bible Bookstores. Need I say you should consider never buying another religious item from that store?
So we’ll send money to relief efforts in Houston. We’ll stop giving money to homophobic institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention or Lifeway bible bookstore. We’ll pray for the thousands whose lives have been upended in Houston and we’ll pray for those whose lives have been upended by the Nashville Statement of gnat-slapping evangelicals. And importantly, we will continue to support and celebrate our church which is a haven of peace and justice. Because, you see, in a flood we help everyone and we do not issue condemnations of people whose only crime is their existence. ~See you Sunday
When faced with a power outage and the storm rages around you and darkness has descended, what do you do? This question is posed as a way of cutting through the voluminous commentary and our panic about klansmen, nazis and assorted other White Supremacists marching by tiki torch in celebration of the President’s dog whistle to “make America great again.” I have written many posts critiquing campaigner Trump and now President Trump. I don’t want to revisit those posts—you can read them on this site. Instead, I want to go directly to our spiritual and moral center and consider what one or two things we can do as a way of resistance and reacquiring our balance.
So in that storm and in the darkness what do you do? You find a safe place in your residence and you either light a candle or find a flashlight to break the darkness. Now, as the hideous faces of Nazi and Klan and White Supremacy have been revealed, it is important to take simple but powerful steps to resist and overcome. Find a safe place of refuge where those critical and sacred values of human worth and dignity are safeguarded. Light a candle because even a small wick of light overcomes darkness.
There is a church in SW DC that has for decades now proclaimed justice, equality, dignity, peace and love and in this church people of diversity find a safe place wherein we embrace each other as fully human. We are brave. We speak truth to power. We are compassionate. In a simple way of saying it, we light a candle and provide a safe place in the darkness and storm of these days. This is a community of faith, hope and love. I invited you to be part of that, to be wedded by mutual love and to find strength in one another.
Darkness will not have the last word. The vile racist and anti-Jewish ideologies of the past that have appeared amongst us in recent days, will not have the final say. We have overcome before. We will overcome again. We meet in the auditorium of a middle school but do not be deceived –we are a refuge and place of empowerment. Join us and if you have been part of us, do not give up coming together.
We have a candle. We are a safe place. We shall overcome. ~See you Sunday
“Hope will never be silent.”
― Harvey Milk
Over my twenty-five year ministry at Riverside, I have marched in at least a dozen PRIDE parades. I cannot march today but tomorrow I will be preaching on the topic, PROUD. I hope you will join us in worship. What follows is a post I wrote last year. Happy PRIDE, everyone. ~PSTR
I have been marching in the PRIDE parade for a while now, since the mid or late 90s. I cannot remember the first march but I do recall that it wasn’t that big. Now the Washington DC Capitol PRIDE march is gigantic. I don’t march because I’m Gay, I march because justice matters and human rights matter and sexual orientation should not be condemned any more than left-handed freckled people should be condemned.
I march in PRIDE because the Church has not only been silent through the centuries but it has been complicit in the deaths, torture and slow annihilation of GLBT human beings. I march for the same reason I go to the Holocaust Museum each April and read names during the Days of Remembrance: because Christians have some great atoning work to do for the sins they’ve committed in the name of the Savior.
Over two decades as a pastor, I’ve talked in my office to persons bearing the crushing weight of their family’s hatred; written letters and emails of support to individuals who desperately longed to serve God in a church that would authentically welcome them; I have buried persons abandoned by their families. I prayed at the Capitol with a colleague when Matthew Shepard was murdered… I march because these scars do not go away any more than the scars were erased from the crucified Christ. I march in PRIDE simply to humbly say, “I hear you.” Not, “I know your pain,” because I do not. I can only imagine it. But I hear you and I’m willing to stand by you on a day when you declare to the world that you are not only out but you are, like Walt Whitman, willing to sing a song to yourself, love yourself and celebrate your humanity.
I also march for hope and joy. I fondly remember when a group of us attended a showing of the film, MILK. What an exciting moment to be together! I have performed more “gay marriages” than straight marriages in the last three years. I do not see LGBT persons threatening the institution of marriage but they are saving it by taking monogamous, loyal love seriously. I have blessed children adopted by gay couples. How joyful! On this Saturday, I’ll be marching in another PRIDE parade. I am proud of you, GLBT brothers and sisters. I hope for you, pray for you, advocate for and admire you. I am fortunate to pastor a church that is inclusive. Maybe some Sunday, you’ll walk into a worship service with us. We won’t single you out as LGBT. We will simply embrace you as fully human and like all persons, as someone who bears the Image of God.
For the haters, the Christian homophobic self-righteous and those who insist on demonizing others who are different, I adjure you to repent. Turn around from that hatred. It only leads to hell. To the scholars, the scribes who find a way to leverage the bible against the love of Christ, I adjure you, cease from this inhumane scholarship. These, alas, will pass away. But faith, hope and love will abide. And PRIDE. ~See you Sunday
Life at Riverside Baptist Church this week includes:
Prayer Retreat Nearly 30 of us are signed up for a full day retreat at Bon Secouers Conference Center where we will be led in ancient ways of prayer including the Liturgy of the Hours, the Prayer of the Heart, and the Lectio Divina. A Baptist Church bringing congregants to a Roman Catholic Retreat center and being led by a Sister of the order of Bon Secouers and an Oblate of the order of St. Benedict is a vivid illustration of our church’s commitment to ecumenical cooperation. We value one another and we benefit by the truths and disciplines of one another. The goal of our retreat is twofold. First, we want to create a peaceful respite from the noise of the world. Thankfully, Bon Secouers has already accomplished that. Second, we want to begin creating contemplative disciplines that will take that peace with us as we leave and benefit our faith and practice for months and years to come.
Deacon Ordination One aspect of Baptist polity is its congregational polity. That is, we believe in the autonomy of the local church –we do not believe the gifts of the Gospel and the Church reside only in some ecclesiastical hierarchy. So we call persons out of the congregation to serve the church. Deacons are those who serve the church by extending pastoral care to the congregation. They oversee its two ordinances, Baptism and Holy Communion. They provide wise counsel to the pastor. Therefore they are ordained to this office, this function, by the church. We will ordain two new deacons on Sunday, June 4th, in our morning worship. The rite of “laying on of hands” and praying for their empowerment resides with the church and each individual believer. A simple ritual, it is nonetheless powerful in its expression of local Baptist autonomy and the priesthood of believers. Finally, we ordain women as deacons (and pastors as far as that goes), believing in the egalitarian nature of the Church. The Deacon Board is not a boy’s club, at least it should not be. We also ordain LGBT believers as deacons, again believing there is no discrimination at the welcoming table of Christ. A radically free and Christ-centric church—this is who we are.
Conclusion to Study of Job Our seminary intern from Wesley Seminary and Aspirant, Tonetta, will conclude our First Sunday Bible Study series on Job on June 4th, following worship. Tonetta, formerly an English teacher and in her final year at Wesley, brings literary and theological insights to bear on this study.
Worship is the “work” of the church. It is the most important thing we do. Worship is not entertainment though one would be hard pressed to conclude otherwise when looking at the religious landscape in our consumer society. Worship is crossing a threshold into the presence of the Holy and finding oneself in a communion with other kindred souls. Worship is also a primal act of defiance against idolatries that currently consume our country’s energy and time—idolatries of celebrity cults of personality that includes the current occupant of the White House; idolatries of political power aimed at hobbling the poor, the disadvantaged, the elderly, women and minorities. In worship, we may enter as persons sorted out and tagged by the larger culture’s interest, but once we enter this space and sacred time, we are transformed into equals, fellow human beings made in the image of God. I hope you will worship with us Sunday and resist the forces of darkness. Step into the light and peace of God. ~See You Sunday
Holy Week begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday.
This is how to begin Holy Week: take one step toward Jerusalem, very carefully look for a Galilean whose face is set like flint and who holds in hand a trampled palm frond.
On Monday, be brave and ask him where he is headed.
On Tuesday, offer him your pillow, because for three years, his head has rested on a stone each night.
On Wednesday, do not say a word. Do not try to talk him out of where he is going. Cry for yourself and all that is irretrievably lost in the world. Then smell your favorite perfume or cologne and pretend you have anointed him for his burial even while he was taking bread from a leper’s hand.
On Thursday, drink wine and rejoice in the presence of the Galilean and then look at it and think, this looks like blood. Sing a hymn. Worship with others if you can so you are not alone in the night, as he prays over there in the garden alone.
On Friday. On Friday. On Friday. Hammer a nail into a tree. In the evening of the Sabbath, weep because we killed the Son of God.
Saturday, find some holy place in order to ponder how it is that humans always name holy ground after the most unholy things possible, like battle fields, cemeteries, and a hill of skulls called Calvary.
On Sunday, when the sun dances along the edge of the horizon and birds sing doxologies worthy of Mozart, put on fresh clothes and run to a holy place, so you can hear the news that Magdalene proclaimed first . . . so you can hear the words that Magdalene proclaimed … so you can hear.
Pray this all week long. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
In the Name of Christ let us walk now, bravely, fully, into Holy Week. I will see you on the other side of Friday. Sunday is coming.
This Sunday, February 5th, marks 25 years since Pastor Bledsoe was selected as our pastor. This is a significant milestone in the life of both pastor and church. Join us for worship as the choir and soloists sing, the pastor speaks to the occasion and following the service his new collection of sermons, Safe Harbor, will be available for ten dollars.
Riverside has had long pastorates as a rule, though the minister prior to Pastor Bledsoe was here for about three years. Prior to that, however, Robert Troutman was pastor for fourteen years. The institutional memory, the continuity and care through generations and over the life span of an individual member are all qualities of a “novel pastorate.” Churches sometimes go through a revolving door of staff and when this happens, it can be a test to keep folks together. We are a church obviously that prefers longevity to a revolving door. This does not mean we are not forward-thinking though. After all, we are in the process of building a new church on our corner and steering the congregation to meet the future of new opportunities that await our community as The Wharf comes online. We are a Christ-Centered, Multi-Cultural, Inclusive, and Ecumenical church, rooted in historic Baptist principles of soul freedom and the priesthood of each believer. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate this significant moment in the life of our church.
~See you Sunday (at Jefferson Middle School)