Tag Archives: peace and justice church

Musings on 27 years

For nearly half my life, I have pastored Riverside Baptist Church. For over half my life I have been a pastor. February 1992, I stepped into the pulpit of Riverside for the first time as your pastor. Needless to say, I have a whole lot of stories and have seen a lot. If these were collected–and I wouldn’t because of pastoral confidentiality–I would entitle that collection, “Stories of Faith and Betrayal, Hope and Loss.” That, as they say, is the human predicament. If you’re interested, I published a book about a long pastorate entitled, The Novel Pastorate. You can find it on Amazon.

In 2006, I asked the church to put together a development committee because I could see that our small, progressive Baptist church was threatened by an aging facility and no money in the bank to speak of. We were faced with potentially losing our history which stretched back to 1857. And just as importantly, we were at risk of losing our future. A dozen years later, we are sitting in a beautiful sanctuary full of light, fully accessible and paid for. We have an endowment. I am reminded of the story about Jesus healing the ten lepers and only one of them turning back to him to say thanks. I’ve said it before and I say it again: we should be praising God and thanking God for this remarkable moment in our history, not complaining about some aspect we might individually dislike. Thank you, God–every day, every Sunday and then Monday through Saturday, roll up your sleeves and work on connecting your church to this community.

I also muse about how old I’ve become in the process. This too is simply the human predicament. I’m putting a double exposure picture of me when I graduated from college and a current picture of me, below this blog post. I am an old man now. But as regards the pastorate, age can actually be a benefit since with age comes wisdom. At least we hope so! It is a sad truth that persons age physically but when they’re senior citizens some still operate with the theology of a child. As the Apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 13), when he grew up he put away childish things. So look, it is a wonderful gift to be able to age in place in a church we love. It is a hopeful thing to be allowed to partner with God for the future so others whom we will never know or meet, find their way into this sanctuary of peace.

This Sunday, add your thank you in the midst of the people of God. Add your voice to the choir and sing in praise for how God has led us this far. Stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow congregants and this old pastor to say to the world, we will not be moved. We continue to proclaim the Gospel and work for justice and peace.

Pastor Michael Bledsoe, 1976 graduate of Stetson University, old pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, 2018.

Advent and the task of preaching

Most people these days use the word ‘preach’ in a negative way.  Like “stop preaching at me.”  I’ll use the word ‘proclaim’ on occasion just so we can steer around the negative connotations.  But the reality is, the Gospels all agree when Jesus began his ministry and it wasn’t in the manger–it was after his baptism by John.  Immersed in the Jordan River, he came forth “preaching the good news.”  So a preacher is, or should be, trying to echo that good news of Christ. And you’ll note this by the way–there is Good News before the crucifixion. We have a lot of crucifixion-fixated Christians who fail to recognize that Jesus proclaimed Good News from the very beginning.

So I bring this up to say, I’m preaching on the second Sunday of Advent (Dec. 9)  from a song that Moses sang as one of the last things he ever did, reminding the people who were about to enter the Promised Land without him just how they had managed to journey to that moment in their lives.  Not only is it a challenge to proclaim any time but during Advent, it is a special challenge. I won’t bore you with all the reasons that is true but just one:  it’s a challenge because everyone has heard the story or they think they have heard it.  So why show up in church on a Sunday morning when you could be doing laundry or watching the news cycle which very much resembles the dry cycle as you do your laundry?  Right!  You can show up to get out of that rutted and mundane hamster cycle of existence, sit in a sanctuary of peace and light with others who simply want to daydream about peace and justice or rejoice for what Advent uncovers or are praying, like you and I, for some answers to the riddles we keep in our pockets like old parking meter stubs.

How about this?  You come to worship on Sunday and I’ll do my dead level best to sort through Advent and offer some good news.  Afterward, we’ll all go downstairs for our potluck Koinonia Lunch (a word that means ‘fellowship’). And then we’ll have a short concert on the carillon outside.  It beats the heck out of wet clothes and dried, recycled news.  ~See you Sunday

Maniacal Social Media

One day last week I was backing out of a parking space in a small parking lot, having visited a hardware store for a couple of screws. I was mumbling to myself about something but I cannot recall what I was telling myself. Once backed out, I turned to look out the windshield and saw a guy my age, hobbling out of the pharmacy next to the hardware store. He was holding two bags, one in each hand. And I thought, he’s talking to himself!  Yeah, it was an odd moment but it reminded me of how I experience social media.   I have only been on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for about a month.  These are very chatty places. Alienated places as much or more than “community.”

And profane places and I don’t mean just the absolute disregard for language and using any and every profanity under the sun but I mean how people profane their own lives, the lives of their perceived enemies and their habituated following of celebrities who are profaning each other. No regard at all for their or other’s children stumbling upon their poisoned discourses. No boundaries.  The social platforms designed to communicate are often maniacal arenas.

I invite you to take a break from the shoving matches and the violent language by stepping into worship. A sacred place where we are encouraged to speak in peace, live in peace and honor the Image of God in one another; we pray, sing and are called to higher ground. I am preaching this Sunday on A Meditation On All That Is Good.   No hashtag needed. Just you with others who make a “We,“ called The Beloved Community.  11am at Westminster .  ~See you Sunday

Weary of Punk Prosperity Preachers: a Lament

Weary of punk prosperity preachers selling Jesus like a bar of soap. Tired of White Nationalists in the White House protected and covered by White Republicans who control Congress. Weary of tweets like some kind of nuclear fallout, flakes of asbestos falling from the sky and ash covering everything. Tired of politicians who use the flag and patriotism to stoke xenophobia and racism.  Tired of priests and bishops and cardinals defending “The Church” like they have a monopoly on the eucharist so stop criticizing us for pedophilia and cover-ups.  Really?  This makes Luther and the indulgences scam look mild by comparison.  Weary of honkers honking at intersections like 7th & Maine—sit down, be humble.  Stop honking.  Try a little patience. Get through the crosswalk.  Pretty tired of pints for 7 and 8 dollars and less than stellar meals with prices out of this world. Just sayin’.  How do you have a conference with Chinese visiting scholars about urban identity and not ask them about churches their government knocks down, Muslims they imprison and Tibet they oppress? Hello, my identity is not the property of the State.  Way tired of 45 and the Fake calling everyone else fake.  45, the truth will set you free but you have to go further than Pilate, who asked “what is truth?” and then crucified it. Stone cold stupified how John McCain is considered a loser by much of the Republican Party and the President.  Heroism, like light, has a way of revealing cowardice and cowards.  Weary of how White Christians tolerate and defend the extrajudicial killings of Black Americans.  Its a stony road we trod. We are not the first to walk it.  Grab some courage and resist.

Ready for relief and renewal and reparation and repair of the world. Ready for hope because we see beauty all around us and in the faces of one another.  Ready for joy because the image of God radiated outward to me from the face of a child, the face of an elderly man I met walking on a bike path one morning this week, luminous in the million kindnesses extended to one another in our world though these acts of devotion will not be reported or televised.  Ready to hear the Word of God in cascading streams of mercy and justice after being pelted by the stream of words gushing out of the internet, the television, radio and by persons talking on mobile phones loudly as they shop or sit on a bus or in a train car.  Ready for the still, small voice of God.  Ready for prayers and songs of praise and a proclamation that calls us to something greater than ourselves.  I’m ready for that, aren’t you?  ~See you Sunday

Worship As One this Sunday

August 19th, time to worship! We’ll be at Westminster Presbyterian at 11 a.m.  Riverside singers are singing and playing.  Pastor Bledsoe is not preaching but will be there to greet you.  This is an opportunity to worship as one.  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. That is how the Apostle Paul put it.  Christ prayed that we would be one. So let’s fulfill scripture this morning.  Let’s be one.  One human race. One big love (nod to Patty Griffith who is surely nodding to Holy Scripture).  One People of God. A bunch of Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Pentecostals and others–singing and praying together.  ~See you soon

Retweet/Repreach: “Why I Believe”

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.

Why do I believe in God?  Because I do not believe in Humankind.  You have likely noticed that the militant atheist swears by the power of reason and consigns religious belief to the kindergarten of intellectual development.  I will simply point out what should be obvious to anyone who is awake that intellectual, educated persons who have great powers of reason do terrible things.  Consider the Holocaust.  Consider slavery.  Far be it for me, a simple Baptist pastor who dares to believe in God, that one only need read the headlines for a week to come to an empirical conclusion that human beings are not gods nor does their reason cure their madness for violence.  I do not believe in Humankind.  We are flawed in ways our reason cannot reach.  Just think about the psychiatrist who treated Anthony Soprano.  That was an HBO series about a mob boss who sought treatment for his depression and it was riveting for how his therapist could not reach him because her medical vocabulary did not contain a word like “wicked.” Which quickly brings me to another reason I believe in God and it will sound strange to you but listen carefully and see if I can make sense of it.  I noted that Anthony Soprano was a wicked man.  He was violent to the point of being a monster.  Now of course, the Sopranos was a fictional television series but do I really need to spend time making the case that monstrous human beings prowl our world?
Why do I believe in God? Because I think there is something called evil…

Social Media and who we are

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I am working very hard with our Outreach Coordinator, Jonathan, and our Social Media Coordinator, Anna, in an effort to promote our new church that opens in November.

You will be alerted eventually and likely soon about how to “like”us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We need a push from members and friends to get the word out about our church. So that is coming but I thought I would begin with a “slide” that is emblematic of our identity.  Of course, if you have read many of my blog posts or listened to sermons, you already grasp the message in the slide above.

Please, in these waning summer weeks, do not neglect your church. We need you in worship. We need your financial support.  And we need your passion for a new day on the corner of Maine Avenue & 7th Street, SW, DC.   We have been and remain Riverside Baptist Church but we have also become RIVERSIDE CHURCH @ THE WHARF.  I hope to see you in worship with our friends at Westminster Presbyterian Church this Sunday at 11.  It is a communion Sunday and I’ll be preaching. Terryn is singing and Jonathan is leading our Gates of Praise. Let’s worship! ~PSTR

Ride a Bike, Worship the Lord

Imagine opening a garage door and seeing a bicycle splayed out on the concrete, its various parts lined up across the floor.  There’s the handle bars over there and there are the tires separated from the rim that is lying beside it and so forth. Then imagine the owner of the bike telling you, this is what it means to have a bike.  What on earth could such a statement be telling us other than the owner of the bike has confused parts with the whole?

We live in this kind of age though where people think that you —YOU— can be explained by reducing you to your various parts or your blood chemistry.  But just as a bike is more than the sum of its parts (so that actually riding a bike and feeling that nearly inexplicable feeling of balancing on two tires and the breeze gliding across your face is the point) so it is with you.  You are more than the sum of your parts.  You are a living soul.

So imagine that garage door opening and then in a kind of backwards-winding of a film, you watch as the parts reattach themselves one by one until, wow, the bike stands before you.  And its standing before you is also a beckoning to you to ride it.

That dear friends is Church on a good day. When the church door opens and we cross over the threshold, we are not reduced to our various and multiples parts. Instead, we are put back together; we are reattached; we are re-membered.  And that experience of song-praise-prayer-proclamation is not so far removed from riding a bike and defying gravity and being engaged with the world around us in a remarkably different perspective than when we are standing on a corner waiting for traffic to stop or sitting in a cubicle answering a phone call.  It is invigorating and we are renewed because the truth is, you really are more than the sum of your parts.  In the midst of the congregation, you have transcended those parts and become part of the whole.  I hope you get on a bike this week.  I hope you’ll put aside the excuses for not attending church and get yourself into the congregation of those who pray, praise and proclaim the Truth of God’s abiding love for us.  ~See you Sunday

What Did You Do In a Time of Cruelty?

beloved_communityWho the heck is running things?  Have you ever asked that? Maybe at the Department of Motor Vehicles?  The doctor’s waiting room?  The grocery checkout?  Our country?

For two weeks I have been “gone” on vacation and I can tell you what I did not do:  never turned on the television; did not read one news article in print or online.  I was in solitude and dialed into contemplative mode.  I highly recommend that you practice a news blackout for at least one day in the week for your own sanity and peace.  It was indeed a restorative time as I did not digest the toxic spew gushing out of the White House and Congress.

We, by which I mean our country, have descended to depths of depravity and cruelty that defy reason.  We are a rich and resourceful country. There is no reason to grant massive transfers of wealth to the richest while denying citizens access to healthcare.  There is no reason to separate children from their parents and imprison them for the crime of fleeing poverty and violence.  No reason other than an intentional cruelty.  There is no way to square what we are seeing with the compassion of Christ and those Christians who have provided cover for this administration’s assault on dignity should stop doing so.  Immediately.

Look, kingdoms rise and fall.  Princes, Kings and Presidents come and go.  We will survive this presidency of petulance and hate but soberly speaking, we will not return immediately to what we were or could have been.  The debacle and sin that is this administration and the Congress will take a generation to undo.  Meanwhile, here is what you can say to those who ask you how you are navigating this treacherous time:  I belong to a community of faith that week in and week out seeks to live as the Beloved Community.  That is worth more than I can put into words.  Doing so ennobles your life, provides you peace and luminously illustrates to the world what the world needs to know—that  we are made in God’s image and we can and are obligated to treat  others as though they carry within them God’s image.

I hope to see you in the Beloved Community on Sunday as Westminster Presbyterian and Riverside Baptist Churches worship together.  11:00. Sunday. At Westminster Presbyterian in SW, DC.  Step out of the madness and into a community of peace, justice and compassion.

The Church in Shadowland America

End the Cruelty:  National Council of Churches Statement on Separating Children of Immigrant Families.

If you can cast a shadow—be it your hand on the wall of your imprisonment or your body along the sidewalk you navigate—there is light. Shadow is not possible without light.

We are living in dark days, our country unraveled from former notions of democracy and human rights. We separate children from mothers and fathers at the borderlands while our highest officials quote from holy scripture to defend the profane and hideous.  Shadowland and shadows everywhere.

The maelstrom of heated rhetoric,  a firestorm of disunion and civil war, sends sheets of flame across newspaper, social media and congress.  We cannot seem to enter any conversation anywhere—homes, offices, churches—without the pollution of smoked and incendiary speech. Where is peace? Where the words of grace and inclusion?

I sat in a church this last Sunday, Westminster Presbyterian Church in SW DC, along with members of my church, Riverside Baptist Church, and we sang sweet words of sacred timbre; we prayed words in fervent desire for healing and repair of our lives; we read ancient texts devoted to the Holy; listened to a proclaimer of scripture remind us of faithfulness and a heart of obedience; we shared food at table and we embraced one another.  It was a luminous beehive of peace and justice.  We were radiant and because there is Light, we can see light. And yes, there are shadows in this shadowland of what used to be a beacon of freedom and light called America.  Just remember: if you can cast a shadow, there must be light.

I hope to you see you this coming Sunday at Westminster [400 I St.] where two churches dedicated to light and peace and justice meet.  11 a.m. Beloved:   Sing. Pray. Be the beloved community.