Dear Folks,

Last evening we took a walk with the dogs to Patterson Park, and stumbled upon a re-scheduled concert that had been rained out earlier in the summer.  A five-piece swing band backed up a singer who crooned naughty lyrics from the 1940’s like “You call everyone darling” and “You can have my husband but you better stay away from my man,” while couples twirled and toddlers bounced to the beat.  The crowd was large and diverse and interested in making connections—dance partners changed with every song, children asked if our dogs liked sticks and then brought some to offer them, neighbors we know stopped by to say “Hello,” and strangers introduced themselves.  It felt impromptu and intentional at the same time.

I’ve lived in a number of cities and small towns, but I’ve never known a place like Baltimore.  A free concert in a public setting here feels more like a gift than it does in other places, like a package offered at a surprise party that it would be rude not to open and engage with on the spot.  We had dinner to cook and some phone calls to attend to as we encountered yesterday’s music, but given all the ways that our city is wounded and struggling, we knew we had to stop and sway and say “Thank you.”

That morning my wife and I had run into a young mom who we know a little bit, who worried aloud about something going on with her son.  Sarah offered a similar way that we had stumbled as young parents, and the woman immediately smiled and relaxed.  “I hadn’t wanted to come home to Baltimore after a couple of weeks away,” the woman admitted, “but I think it’s going to be O.K.”  It’s not always easy to live here, we admitted, but it is consistently meaningful.  We need each other.

Zeke Cohen, the City Council representative for my district, wrote an op-ed in July about Baltimore becoming a trauma-responsive city.  He said, “There is a cruelly predictable rhythm to Baltimore’s violence.  After a shooting, local media show up on the scene for a few hours.  Elected officials and police promise to redouble efforts and catch the bad guys.  The school system sends in a couple of counselors.  Eventually, public attention wanes a gunfire erupts somewhere else (and) communities are left to grieve alone.”  Middle class families and neighborhoods have the resources to process the trauma, while poor people are often left to muscle through, and the impact of violence can have devastating effects, especially for children.  Left unaddressed, traumatic events can “lead to increased risk of addiction, incarceration, and other risky behaviors,” Cohen writes.  To respond, Cohen has written legislation that, if passed, would equip city agencies to rewrite policies with an eye toward reducing harm, fund the health department to train frontline staff, and convene a diverse community workgroup to promote healing.

What can you do to help our neighbors and our families and ourselves to be well?  Build relationships.  Listen.  Offer our stories.  Tell the truth.  Discover resources.  Share what we have.  Foster resilience.  Make amends.  Respect our differences.  Love each other.  Stop and hear the music.  Ask someone to dance.

There is a role for each of us to play in Baltimore’s well-being, as individuals and as a community of faith.

Love, David

As many of you know, I am not originally from Baltimore and I almost didn’t apply for the position at Redeemer due to the ‘reputation’ Baltimore had nationally and in my own family. My great-grandmother, my mother’s maternal grandmother, was born in Baltimore and orphaned here when her father, a Baltimore policeman, was beaten to death while on duty. As a youth, she was packed up and sent down the Chesapeake to settle in and work for a doctor in Gloucester, Virginia.

Not only am I glad that I did pursue the position, I am delighted to be at Redeemer. I am also glad that my eyes were opened to the “other” Baltimore. I am thankful to have been able to experience the greatness of this remarkable city as well as its challenges. I now proudly call Baltimore my home and am committed to joining others in working for the betterment of all its people. This is truly a “Don’t judge a book by its cover” story (or by television shows set in it).

This past week has been hard on all of us who love this city and who also recognize its shortcomings. We revel in the beauty, vitality, creativity, and all that makes this a great city, we weep with all who can’t share fully in it, and we strive to change it for the better. We call on all our leaders to join us in building up this and all cities, towns, villages and communities here and around this nation and the world.

I want to share with you a litany from First and Franklin Presbyterian Church, a church which dates from the 1700’s. May it serve as a balm to our aching hearts and a clarion call to strengthen our efforts to build God’s Kingdom here, in Baltimore, and throughout the earth.

~Bert Landman

Leader: O God, you created humankind and imbued us with the desire to live in community. We pray for all cities and towns, tribes and villages, that we may learn to celebrate both our similarities and our differences.  We pray for all leaders that they might strive for justice and dedicate themselves to supporting and improving the lives of all those who have been entrusted into their care. We pray especially for our city of Baltimore.

For a city with filled with spirit, courage and vision in hard times. For the work of her grassroots organizations . . . like CeaseFire, Safe Streets, BUILD and others . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory!

Leader: For the beauty of the Inner Harbor, Druid Hill Park, Gateway Park and Patterson Park. Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory!

Leader: For a city that has a representative who was born a sharecropper’s son.  For Baltimore’s daughters and sons who led in the struggle for civil rights, who fought the good fight, who refused and still refuse to keep silent until all persons are treated fairly and seen as precious in your sight. Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory!

Leader: For her daughters and sons who fought and died for constitutional democracy, and for all who have died  . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory!

Leader: For synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches that work, hope, pray and march together . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory!

Leader: For artists, musicians, dancers, writers and all those who fill this city with color, story, movement, sound and imagination . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory.

Leader: For a city where you can love who you were created to love . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory.

Leader: For small businesses and large, throughout this city, which are committed to improving the fabric of our communities. For their leaders and workers who live here, love here, belong here . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory.

Leader: For the city of Baltimore, that her past glories may be nothing compared to her future glory . . . Let heaven and earth say,

People: To God be the glory.