Tag Archives: The Wharf

A Golden String: How To Begin A Life Of Spirit

The mystical painter and poet, William Blake,  wrote these words in his poem entitled, “Jerusalem.”

I GIVE you 
the end of a golden string;
  Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
  Built in Jerusalem’s  wall.…

A brief verse, but filled with clues about a life of spirit!  The life of spirit is inaugurated often by someone giving us something.  In this case, Blake is offering a golden string.  Perhaps someone—a professor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist or parent—gave you a question to answer or an answer to question that led you to search.  In my life, my sacred journey began when, as a child just about five years old, my mother told me there is a God.  I remember that.  It planted a seed in my mind and my heart. And I have been winding her golden string handed to me ever since…

The string is golden.  Can you  detect the irony in this?  String is so ordinary, such a mundane and coarse thing.  It is, in a word, cheap.  But Blake is offering a golden string.  Gold is valuable, of course.  What is ordinary or common has, in his poem, taken on enormous value and importance.  This has the aroma of Jesus’ parables.  A man finds a treasure in a field and sells all he owns in order to buy the field.  Leaven is small but it leavens an entire loaf.  A mustard seed of faith can move a mountain.  But too often we judge our spiritual lives by our society’s standards.  Big is better, more is best, the right brand name is preferable and so forth.  This is one reason, I suggest, that people flock to preachers and churches that push those buttons of prosperity and wealth.  But Blake understands in a profound way what the bible knows:  a life of spirit begins when the common or ordinary takes on the gold of a spiritual journey.  The woman at the well offered a cup of water to a man she didn’t know.  He offered her the water of life that would quench her soul.

In Baptist life and thought, faith comes by hearing the Word of God. In other words we are given the Word, twined together like string and dipped into gold.  Wind them into a ball and they “will lead you in at Heaven’s gate.”

Worship is a gate.  It is an opening, a threshold, a passage-way.  From what to what?  From the world of the mundane to the kingdom of the holy.  From the huts of our wilderness wandering into the Temple of Being.  Wind the ball, begin your sacred journey… ~see you this Sunday in what is at the surface level a middle school auditorium but on deeper inspection is a gate, a golden threshold into the life of spirit.

Patriot Dream

On this Memorial Day week-end I will be thinking of some of my family who proudly served their nation: my father in the Pacific Ocean on a Destroyer in WWII; my uncle in Europe as a paratrooper, jumping into enemy territory; my brother in Vietnam in 1968, trekking through the Mekong Delta. I will expand my prayers and remembrance beyond my family to include fellow citizens whose names are etched in granite along a wall of black granite; those whose names are written nowhere but remembered no less by families who sent them off to defend the freedom of this country they loved; I will pray to God a prayer of thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  But I will also remember those who have said no to war; who have practiced with tender conscience a resistance to governments taking their youth and too often frivolously marching them into oblivion; I will remember those who denounced as Communists and driven out of their jobs because they dared to ask hard questions about their government’s commitment to the very ideals it asked its people to die for.  And I will pray, as you no doubt will too, that we as a nation will one day arrive at a moment when Memorial Day will be a time of remembrance about wars nearly too distant to recall; when we will pledge ourselves to waging peace with the ferocity that we currently wage war.

May God have mercy on our comrades and fellow citizens who have fallen in defense of our freedoms.  May God have mercy on those who presently serve in harm’s way and bring them safely home.  May God call us to the citizenship of heaven and may we find that blessed assurance that while we may not live to see the promises of God fulfilled in this life, we will be greeted on the other side of history and mortality and welcomed into the realm of love and light.

O Happy Day: Topping Out Ceremony and Pentecost

Deacon Holley took the microphone to sing O Happy Day Sunday morning at the construction site and let go a torrent of joy. We had just worshipped on Pentecost Sunday, recalling the birth of the Church; were reminded of Jacob’s ladder that connected heaven and earth in a dream so vivid that when he woke up, he anointed the stone he had used for a pillow and named it Bethel, House of God; and then we walked over to the site of our church, presently in steel frame and concrete. It was a glorious moment with clouds finally lifted and the rain parted and stopped.  We had the opportunity to sign a steel pillar that HITT had painted white for us and then with markers, scribbled our names on it.  O Happy Day indeed!

Our “wilderness wandering” is not quite over, however.  After eighteen months worshipping in Jefferson Middle School (that was so gracious to us and provided us not only worship space but choir rehearsal space), we are now headed over to Westminster Presbyterian Church at 4th and I Streets. And how grateful we are that Westminster has opened their doors to us.  Our first service there will be Sunday, June 17th. Our worship time will change to 11 a.m. as we both, Riverside and Westminster, try to actualize what our Lord actually prayed we would do: be one.  A shared service is a remarkable opportunity to grow as Christians, to deepen our bonds of love, to share in ministry in our community and find ways, long after our interim journey is finished, to continue being an ecumenical fellowship.

As we adjust and overcome the challenges put before us, I would simply remind all of us what the write to the Hebrews urged 2,000 years ago:

11:24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…

~See you Sunday

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The Appearance of Our Work and Our Dreams

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,  the conviction of things not seen. ~Hebrews 11:1

Since 2007, I have worked with our church leadership to research the possibility of development for the goal of financially securing our brave church, a unique Baptist Church that speaks boldly about civil rights, justice and equality.  After a decade of ups and downs, of intense work and meetings after meetings, we saw this past week the appearance of our work and our dreams. The steel frame is up. The concrete slab is poured.  The new church will be water tight in July and we’ll likely enter for our first service in November.  Hallelujah!

The view across the street at Maine Ave.
The view across the street at Maine Ave.
The view across the street at the corner of 7th Street and Maine Ave.
The view across the street at the corner of 7th Street and Maine Ave.
A view of the steel frame from above at the Canopy Hotel.
A view of the steel frame from above at the Canopy Hotel.

 

 

Cherry Blossom Marathon and Sunday Worship

smack-self-in-the-headOnce again the routine of Sunday worship is interfered with by another marathon.  Consult the Cherry Blossom Marathon Map for a quick look at how you may need to revise your trip into church. We anticipate a small impact on us. And for sure, we hope to see you in worship as Pastor Bledsoe preaches, “Here Comes The Dreamer,” a sermon that excavates our church history and its connection with the unfolding events of the assassination of Dr. King.

~See you Sunday

April 4, 1968: Keep Your Eyes On the Prize. Hold On.

This week is a watershed moment in our nation’s history as we ponder the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.  While there are an array of things you can do on Wednesday to honor Dr. King’s legacy and life, I hope you’ll consider going to the nation’s Mall and stand with others who are calling on our nation to End Racism Now, sponsored by the National Council of Churches.

This is also a configurative moment in the life of our church, for Riverside Baptist Church had just completed its building and had set its first worship at 7th & Maine Avenue for Sunday, April 7th, Palm Sunday.  That service was cancelled in lieu of the rioting that broke out in the city, following the Dreamer’s death.  Fifth Baptist Church was reborn,  from a bustling white church of a thousand in 1957, to  a few handfuls of persons that had stayed after the urban “renewal” project in the ’60s; it slowly but surely became a bi-racial church at the behest of Rev. Frank Foster who, after ministering in the streets after those riots while pastor at National Memorial Baptist, came to Riverside.

Now in 2018, extrajudicial executions continue and those who carry them out are not held to account. Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, and very recently in Sacramento, Stephon Clark was shot by police eight times in his back. He was unarmed. He was Black.  As the New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, notes, “These shootings keep happening because, on some level, America finds them acceptable, finds them unfortunate but unavoidable.”

We are a small church. Since 1968, we have moved toward being a church that is bravely actualizing the dream that all of us are equal and can find a way to live together instead of perishing together, as Dr. King would say.  We are vibrantly opposed to the idea that the worship hour must remain the most segregated hour in America. We are passionately engaged in embracing all of God’s children. And we have been marching and calling on our nation to honor Black Lives because they matter as much as other lives.  We obviously have a long way to go.  The world needs a church like ours. We want to live up to that high calling. I hope to see you on the Mall on Wednesday. I will certainly see you at Jefferson Middle School for worship on Sunday.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  Hold on.

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Easter Sunday at Jefferson With Riverside Church

Join us for Easter worship service at 10 a.m. at Jefferson Middle School. The choir will be singing and Pastor Bledsoe will be preaching on the topic, “Why I Believe in God.”

Near the Wharf, we are easily located (see “contact and directions”) and across the street from restaurants and the piers.  Our new church building will be open this November but until then, come back to middle school and join us for a warm service where both heart and mind are engaged and where we speak truth to power for justice.   We are Christ-Centered, Ecumenical, Interracial, Inclusive.

~See you Sunday

The Holy in the Midst of the Profane

 

Jesus is flogged. Sculpture at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona by Michael Bledsoe
Jesus is flogged. Sculpture at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona by Michael Bledsoe

Journeying through Holy Week is also a journey through the profane.  If there is something “holy” then by necessity there is something profane.  Each term is identified by what the other is not.

I encourage you to take those salacious headlines about the profanation of the White House by its current occupant; take the rumors of war and the unyielding refusal of communities to hold accountable those who murder Black citizens (Sacramento and Baton Rouge only the most recent of a too-long list); take the suffering of the poor preyed upon by the hollow policies of politicians who cannot conceive that they might be called to hallow the world instead; take these to Golgotha. And of course, take yourself for all of us participate at some level in the ruin of the world.

We journey to the Holy while in the midst of the profane.  This is a stinging truth that culminates in the lynching of the Christ by Roman soldiers dedicated to the empire.  The consumer world around us spins toward Easter. We on the other hand travel with Jesus, to a solemn last supper, to a hill outside the holy city, Jerusalem, to a borrowed tomb.  Let us cry for our world, for ourselves and then by God’s grace, let us awaken on the third day.

Maundy Thursday Service is at 8pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 400 I Street. We will participate in a service of “stones of remembrance.”  I will be preaching and we will be joined there with Westminster and Christ United Methodist.  Easter Sunday we will worship at Jefferson Middle School at 10 a.m.  May we find our way to the Holy One this Holy Week. ~See you Thursday and Sunday

Another Bend In The River

Pastor Bledsoe returns to the pulpit this Sunday, March 18. In a sermon entitled, “Another Bend in The River,” he will provide important news on our interim journey that will impact us for the next several months.  You’ll want to be here for this.

Our new church “milestones” are tacking along well.  Our foundation will be completed by end of this month and the steel structure for the church should be up by end of April. We will have a “topping out” celebration on Pentecost Sunday, May 20th, when we will walk over from Jefferson Middle School School the site so we can see the structure and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are being told that sometime in the  first week of November, our new church will be ready to enter. These are milestones, mind you, not guarantees but the construction firm and development team seem confident of these dates.  May God watch over those who work on our site and keep them safe.  May the Lord lead us, the sheep of his pasture, safely home. ~ See you Sunday.

Practice & The Spirit

This past week I had more than one conversation with some individuals who were seeking a way to deepen their spiritual lives.  As a pastor, these kinds of conversation are what I and other pastors long for–we want to lead our brothers and sisters to a well where they can drink deeply.  As it turns out–and it always seems to turn out like this in our spiritual journeys–a serendipitous discovery came across my footpath and is often the case in my life, I was guided to this discovery by my wife who was reading the 2018 updated version of What Color Is Your Parachute?   and she offered me a link to a site that the author had mentioned in the book. I went there. I found an ad for another site and it is this site I want to suggest to you as a tool for your daily practice of spirit and spirituality.

The site comes to us via the Jesuits who are trained in the discipline of Ignatius of Loyola.  They have created a marvelous site and a very practical and cool app that you can download called “Pray As You Go.”  If you are trying to find a way to kindle a spark in your faith or simply add sparkle to your walk in God, then go to the site.  You can listen to daily prayers on their web site (you don’t need the app to do that).  I have tried it and find it to be soothing, peaceful, and yet willing to confront questions about our spiritual lives that can get us unglued from the traps of a too-busy culture.

Finally, there is one practice you are urged to make part of your life by the scriptures. It is there from the moments of Creation. It is enshrined at Sinai.  And the Church insists that this practice is the work of the Church:  W O R S H I P.  Standing together as those called out by Christ; embracing one another fully as made in God’s Image; Rejoicing and Praying and Loving; this practice every week lends a rhythm and sense to our scattered activities and infuses us with hope.  Join us Sundays at 10 a.m. where, in the auditorium of Jefferson Academy Middle School, we become the People of God.  Practice makes perfect.  ~See you Sunday