Dear Folks,

The folks who meet John the Baptist in the wilderness are a courageous, scrappy lot.  They could have stayed home.  They could have shut their ears to his stunning, difficult cries.  They could have circled the wagons against change and his impertinent challenge of the status quo.  But when John says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” instead of ducking, they turn their heads to listen.  I’m not sure who was more surprised!  When John says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” they drop what they are doing and cross the Jordan River to meet him.  When John says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” every person within ear shot says “What then should we do?”  It’s a question that will change their lives, an invitation to rise up from death to life.  Their query “What then should we do” belies their discomfort with the way things are and their consciousness of the need to change.  Crippled by destructive choices and the selfishness that can bring death to any one of us, they long to walk in the light of a new day.

We live again in a dark and dangerous time, and I wonder if we have the consciousness and the courage to kindle some essential light?  Do we still believe that God is bending the universe toward that which is right and good, toward the weak and the wounded and the truly wise?  And what are we willing to give up, to make a way for those who have no way?

Ten years ago I preached at the memorial service for a neighbor who struggled with his own set of demons, including depression, and what I learned from him, I think, can apply to each of us.  In his ups and down, Francis’ life is a parable.  For each of us is transformed through dying and rising, probably many times over a lifetime—little deaths and small resurrections punctuate our days and years, if we have eyes to see them—and surely this was the case with Francis.  This pattern seems to be the only way we really ever grow—death to life, Good Friday to Easter, over and over again.

And “We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast.  Unless we face a major disaster like the death of a friend or spouse or loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go there.”  (Richard Rohr)  So most of us have to be taught the language of the spirit, which is all about descending into the crucible of life’s struggle, where wise ones discover meaning not in answers but in better, more focused questions.  If we will listen, the dark periods of life are good teachers.  And as Francis discovered in his sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful journey, God works in the darkness.  In fact, God works especially there, where we are most lost and alone.  Novelist William Styron writes in his record of depression that the hard won light of wisdom, gift of God, can make even the darkness visible.

What can you do?  Go into the wilderness, your own private darkness of selfishness or greed, of violence or anxiety, of anger or fear.  Take inventory and separate the wheat from the chaff.  And then let the light of Christ burn up everything that’s getting in between you and your changing the world.  Let yourself see what the darkness makes visible, and then make a way for those who have no way.

Love,
David

Stage lights fell on the man behind the podium at The Historic Parkway Theater on North Avenue last Tuesday night.

“My mother died when I was 21-years old,” William Glover Bey confessed in a soft voice to a packed crowd. “She was the only person I trusted in the world. My life spiraled downward from there.”

“Spiraling downward” for William included what has become, painfully, a familiar Baltimore story, including being shot several times, getting involved in the drug scene, and spending years of his life incarcerated.

But William is now a fulltime, well-respected employee at The Johns Hopkins Hospital – his children are in college or college-bound – and minutes after speaking under the Parkway Theater lights, he was asked back on stage to receive a special award. The award was given to him by Terrell Williams and Melvin Wilson, co-directors of Turnaround Tuesday. Turnaround Tuesday is also a Baltimore story — one of redemption, hope and courage — that deserves to be spread broad and wide during this holiday season of light shining through the darkness.

Perhaps some of you have heard this Baltimore story by now? Several years ago, a pastor and a community organizer decided to engage the group of men whom they noticed hanging out, day in and day out, in the alleyway outside the pastor’s office window; the alleyway was strewn with needles, evidence of how many of them were passing their days.

Armed with genuine curiosity (and perhaps a clipboard or two), the pastor and community organizer began talking with the men and listening to them, listening to their stories. “How is it that you are here, doing what you’re doing?” they wondered aloud, together with the men. “What would it take for you not to be here? What is it that you need, to change your status quo?” Some natural leaders in the group were identified, to engage others in this reflective exercise.

Their resounding, collective response? “Give us living-wage jobs, the chance to support ourselves and our families, and we won’t be here in this alleyway, anymore.” “Don’t send us to job training program after job training program after job training program that don’t result in actual jobs; we’ve been there, done that.” “Connect us with employers who are willing to hire us, who don’t automatically equate a history of incarceration with untrustworthiness and unemployability.” “Give us a chance at a meaningful, productive life.

And thus begun the jobs movement of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development) known as Turnaround Tuesday that celebrated its 5 year anniversary with a grand event at The Parkway Theater last Tuesday evening.

To date, since its inception, Turnaround Tuesday has placed 738 Baltimoreans in living-wage jobs with partnering organizations, including The Johns Hopkins University, Medstar Health, and University of Maryland Medical System; employers report a remarkable 80-85% retention rate of Turnaround Tuesday hires. President of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Redonda Miller, on a mini-documentary recently produced by Harvard University Wallace Foundation Fellow and native Baltimorean, Yasmene Mumby, reports that Hopkins’ Turnaround Tuesday employees are hard-working, compassionate and dedicated; they are role models for their fellow co-workers. Promotions at work are not uncommon for Turnaround Tuesday hires.

William, in his speech at The Parkway, gave some insight into why, at least for him.

“It’s my responsibility, to help fix what I was a part of breaking,” his soft voice echoed throughout the theater.

Another Turnaround Tuesday graduate, also a Hopkins employee, appears in Yasmene’s mini-documentary: “I’m making different choices today. I am better than I was yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.”

May it be so, for all of us.

Cristina

Want to visit Turnaround Tuesday? Click HERE to download pamphlet. Visitors to Turnaround Tuesday are welcome every Tuesday morning from 9-11am on the eastside at Zion Baptist Church, 1700 N. Caroline Street, and on the westside from 2-4pm at Macedonia Baptist church, 718 W. Lafayette Avenue.