What are your most memorable experiences, of fire? Are they over campfires, perhaps as a child? Warming yourself by the fireplace in a living room? Or simply sitting by candlelight and staring into the flame?

The year I lived in Israel, a wildfire broke out on the mountain down from the monastery where I was staying. From the windows of the main guest house, you could see the smoke rising. Other volunteers, who were living in small huts between the guest house and where the fire had broken out, became engaged in trying to keep it from spreading. It was a hot, dry summer afternoon.

Eventually the fire was more or less contained, but because of the intense dry heat, other bushes, olive and carob trees, and shrubbery close by continued to smoke. Some would spontaneously burst into flame. We all watched vigilantly for these smaller, spontaneous fiery outbursts and would dash immediately to them, to put them out as quickly as possible; it felt like an eerie, surreal game of whackamole.

Prior to that afternoon, my experience of fire had always been pleasurable, domestic and tame. That day, for the first time, I encountered something entirely different: a living, awesome and awful creature, unpredictable, powerful, and frightening, capable of consuming anything in its path, be it trees, houses, people, and yes, even ancient, hallowed cathedrals.

I later learned from a friend of mine, a wildland firefighter, that fires are also a natural part of many forest ecosystems and can actually serve to renew and invigorate them. She herself had helped with several prescribed fires or “burns” as a way of managing and caring for forests in Colorado. Forests recover from fires through the germination of seeds stored in the forest floor; in fact, some tree species, like certain pines, actually need the high temperature of a fire for their seeds to be freed from the resinous bond that seals them closed.

So fires have both the power to destroy and to help bring forth new life.

This Saturday at the Easter Vigil, our first service of Easter, we will light the Paschal Fire; it is from this fire that our Paschal candle — the big, white, stand-alone candle brought out for every baptism and every funeral or memorial service — will be lit. As we light the Paschal fire, we will pray these words:

“O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light.”

As we pray these words, I will be praying for our brothers and sisters in Paris and Roman Catholics around the world, that the Holy Spirit may inspire them with new life and hope. I will also be praying that each of us, through the celebration of Easter, may find our faith rekindled and reinvigorated, so together we may truly be Christ’s living body, here and now, helping to heal that which is broken in our precious world.

~Cristina

I love good poetry. Not the vapid stuff of greeting cards, but meaty, thoughtful, challenging poetry that pulls me toward new understandings. As a poet friend wrote in one of her hymns, I want poetry to “capsize my mind”, to have my preconceptions, my current ideas, all my interpretations dumped all over the floor. In their place, then, I have room for new ideas, new appreciations, new comprehensions.

I also love good music. Not the insipid jingles of TV commercials, but well-crafted works whose phrases, sometimes jagged, sometimes filled with longing, other times bursting with joy, pull me in new directions. Perhaps this is why I love church music, because much of it is a marriage of profound poetry with deeply moving music. This unique marriage creates an even stronger pull toward new insights. As a recent journal article put it “It is simply that imagery presented in melody, meter and rhyme commits itself to the memory and imagination more readily than prose ever will”.

In the Passion narrative, which we will hear on Good Friday, Jesus says to Pilate “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth”. If ever there was a person who capsized the minds of those he encountered, it was Jesus. He was constantly dumping their preconceptions, their ideas, their interpretations all over the floor and presenting them with new ways of thinking, of acting, of living. He challenged them to open their minds and hearts to Truth.

As we enter this Holiest of weeks, I invite you pay attention to the poetry which is sung in hymns and choral music, to listen to the sometimes jagged, sometimes longing, sometimes exuberant melodies and harmonies, and let them “capsize your mind”. I encourage you to sweep away the clutter that has been dumped-out, and create room for new understanding. As we listen to the stories and the liturgical music of Holy Week, may our minds and hearts be opened to Truth and our lives transformed.

~Bert

Dear Folks,

In an exciting move toward accessibility, the Vestry authorized in February the construction of an elevator which will provide entry to multiple levels of our building.  Located in the vestibule to the right of the stage and the parish hall, the elevator will enable individuals who have trouble navigating stairs to take part in programs in the Women’s Council Room, Baker Room, on the stage and more.  Ironically, houses of worship are exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, but Redeemer leaders felt strongly the moral responsibility to welcome everyone to participate more fully in our ministries.  Here’s how we came to the decision:

In a conversation about stewardship, I introduced the Greek word for household, oikos, which is the root of the words economy, ecology, and ecumenical.  In this context, economics describes the action of arranging and managing what is necessary for the well-being of a system.  Moving beyond numbers, we focused on the people within a system and what they need to function and thrive.  I asked everyone to consider the various households they are part of—home, Redeemer, Baltimore—and to further embrace our ability to respond to the needs of each. “Responsibility,” I suggested, is not a burden, but an opportunity; it literally means “the ability to respond” which invites us to assess our capacities and act for the good of the whole.  I asked us to consider Redeemer as a place of nourishment and healing for parishioners, community partners, and the city we love, and to think especially of folks who struggle for meaning and life-giving community.  Our work, I suggested, is to make the functioning of these households better than we found them.

Clearly our ability to respond to these various “household needs” depends on the health of our finances, and Redeemer is in an extraordinary place, as I write to you.  Our pledge goal for 2019 was $1.375 million, and to date 423 pledges have been received for a total of $1,412,000.  The Heritage Fund, whose income is restricted to the care of buildings and grounds, is valued at $3.381 million.  The endowment, which contributes a 4.7% draw to the operating budget (down from a 5% draw in 2015 and moving to a 4.5% draw by 2021) stands at $6.162 million.  Moreover, attendance has grown steadily in the past four years, even as we have buried a number of our old friends.  The Parish Day School again has waiting lists for many of its classes, and soon I will be able to announce the names of our new clergy associates.  I believe our vitality is a reflection of our commitment to serve.

In a unanimous decision, the Vestry authorized utilizing up to $400,000 from the endowment to build an elevator which can accommodate a person in a wheelchair plus an attendant and a companion.  They endorsed enthusiastically our capacity to respond to this pastoral need of the community.  Yesterday, the Buildings and Grounds committee chose A.R. Marani, Inc. from five bidders, with a base bid of $325,000.  Even with contingencies for unexpected surprises, the total cost will be well under the approved limit.  When word leaked out that we were moving toward building an elevator, a financial gift appeared on my desk, with a note hoping others might also respond.  If making our buildings accessible in this way moves you, too, I would welcome your help.

A poem I discovered this Lent ends this way: Blessed are those who carry, for they shall be lifted.  Thank you for all you do to be the body of Christ in the world.  I am glad to be building the household of God in Baltimore with you.

Love,

David

2016

I noticed her incredible smile my first day of work in 1993.  We were the only two 20-somethings in the small office in Washington DC.   From first glance we couldn’t have been more different – me new to town an over eager political science grad looking to work my way up; her an actor paying the bills by working as a receptionist.  Until that night having beers at Trio it was an office friendship.   She exuded creative energy and I was fascinated by, what seemed to me, her alternative path – a college graduate auditioning in the theater scene with the plan of becoming an equity actor.   She was immensely committed to her craft.

I got swept up in her group of eclectic friends: young actors, directors, stage managers.  We spent free time in various venues, many of which rattled my limited sense of theater.  Seeking art and amusement, she introduced me to places in the city I would have never ventured, cue the room full of naked actors performing five feet from my face.

When she wanted to start a female centered theater company, I availed myself of anything I could do to be involved.   She embodied feminism in art in action.   I reviewed scripts, served on the board, built sets.  We spent long nights in bars and apartments drinking, smoking, and dreaming.   She made me feel cool, edgy, and profound.

Eventually my ambitions took me away from DC.  We kept in touch by email and I followed her choices with awe and wonder.  She pursued her passions in an unencumbered way.   After suffering for years from food sensitivities, she got a graduate degree and started her own nutrition consulting business.  She still acted and when I was pregnant with my first child, I drove from Milwaukee to Green Bay to see her perform for what be my last time seeing her onstage.  Then she was an herbalist and sold her potions – beard oils and body balms – to loyal customers.  She later became a yoga instructor and took up acroyoga.  It seemed so fitting that the pictures I would see made me think she had run away with the circus.  I lived vicariously through her spirit always wondering what was next.

I hadn’t seen her in 10 years when she was murdered by a stranger.   She never showed up to Christmas dinner holding her famous brussels sprouts.   I worried and waited and then the worst was confirmed.  A month later, at yoga for the first time in 15 years, I found myself weeping for her cruel death but also reveling in her good life and the inspiration she left for me to do the things I love.

~Keri Frisch

In the 1980’s and 90’s, Medellin, Colombia, of drug lord Pablo Escobar fame, was known as the most dangerous city in the world; it was not uncommon to see someone running down the street with a police officer’s hat in hand — proof the cop was dead — on his way to retrieve the blood reward money. Today Medellin is a different city, safe to live in, safe to visit. In 2013 it won the Most Innovative City award, beating out cities like Tel Aviv and San Francisco.

The transformation of Medellín has been very much on my mind and heart. As a Baltimorean, I yearn and ache for the healing and transformation of our own city. As we become more deeply engaged in Baltimore and are in relationship with fellow Baltimoreans from other parts of town, what used to be “news” and statistics has become more personal, hitting closer to home. Earlier this week, I learned a member of our BUILD family’s grandson was murdered, shot in the head, in west Baltimore; his name was Markell, and he was 16 years old. I will be attending his wake this Sunday afternoon, after the concert benefitting Turnaround Tuesday, and his funeral on Monday, along with other folks from Redeemer, in support of our BUILD sister. Please pray for her, her name is Dorothy (Dottie).

Hitting midlife has been helpful in refocusing and clarifying priorities. Comfort over fashion, for example; done over perfect, another. I wore socks with a certain pair of shoes to the airport on Monday, en route to a college visit with Grace that, in days gone by, I would never have been caught wearing out in public (Grace concurred they were a huge fashion faux-pas) but guess what? I really didn’t care! Wahoo, I was comfortable!

I figure, if I’m lucky, I have another 30-40’ish years to live as a human being on this planet. It’s important to me to care for my family and friends. It’s important to me to care for my church family. And it’s important to me to care for my Baltimore family, a family that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, thanks to BUILD and our other community partners.

The transformation of Medellín, Colombia was not rocket science, nor was it a miracle: “The local government, along with businesses, community organizations, and universities worked together to fight violence and modernize Medellin … Transportation projects are financed through public-private partnerships; engineering firms have designed public buildings for free; and in 2006, nine of the city’s largest firms funded a science museum.” http://www.occupy.com/article/metamorphosis-medellin-once-most-dangerous-now-most-innovative-city#sthash.5zMyfsqm.mYmyH0AO.dpbs

Please pray for Dottie and for all our Baltimore family. And together, let’s act with God’s grace to heal and transform our own city, our own home, neighborhood by neighborhood, with BUILD and other effective community partners. The “tragedy of Baltimore” as David preached last Sunday will be if we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by the enormity of what needs to be done and succumb to inaction.

God has something else in mind for us.

Cristina

Dear Folks,

I’ve spent the week reading and re-reading an article written by Baltimore resident Alec MacGillis titled “The Tragedy of Baltimore.”  MacGillis has skin in the game.  He’s lived in the city for 11 of the last 18 years.  He and his wife are raising their children here, sending them to public schools.  They are members of a church, volunteer at several organizations, coach little league.  So his frank description of what doesn’t work—the “unvarnished truth” as a member of our Bible study called it—gathers legitimacy in its telling.  His article, which will appear in the NY Times magazine this Sunday, is more a diagnosis than a criticism, although he’s clearly critical of the mismanagement which has characterized Baltimore policing for years.

His goal is not to cast blame, however, nor is he looking for a quick fix or a magic potion.  His work is a sobering, honest inventory of our problems with public safety, from a person who admits the solution will only come from those who are invested in the struggle.  Deep in the article he writes, “Whatever path there was to be found out of the city’s chaos, its residents were going to have to find it themselves.”

MacGillis concludes in this way: “The meeting (with new police commissioner Michael Harrison) was standing room only. ‘We just want to feel safe, period,’ Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, told Harrison. ‘Our people are in fear, and we’re tired.’

An hour into the forum, a neighborhood resident named Renee McCray stepped up to the microphone. She described how bewildering it had been to accompany a friend downtown, near the tourist-friendly Inner Harbor, one night a few months earlier. ‘The lighting was so bright. People had scooters. They had bikes. They had babies in strollers. And I said: ‘What city is this? This is not Baltimore City.’ Because if you go up to Martin Luther King Boulevard’ — the demarcation between downtown and the west side — ‘we’re all bolted in our homes, we’re locked down.’ She paused for a moment to deliver her point. ‘All any of us want is equal protection,’ she said.

It was a striking echo of the language in the Department of Justice report and the activists’ condemnations of the police following (Freddie) Gray’s death. Back then, the claims were of overly aggressive policing; now residents were pleading for police officers to get out of their cars, to earn their pay — to protect them.

You could look at this evolution as demonstrating an irreconcilable conflict, a tension between (residents and authorities) never to be resolved. But the residents streaming into these sessions with Harrison weren’t suggesting that. They were not describing a trade-off between justice and order. They saw them as two parts of a whole and were daring to ask for both.”

I commend “The Tragedy of Baltimore” to you, because we have skin in the game, too.

Most of us are committed individually to “healing the human family” in Baltimore, in the words of our website.  We drink at the nourishing well of Redeemer—we’re fed by liturgy and music, classes and small groups, prayer and silence and fellowship—and we go out from this place to feed others within the circles of our influence of family and work or service.  But the wrenching context of Baltimore, the timing of MacGillis’s article, the growth of Redeemer over the past four years, and our transition now of saying good-bye to Caroline and soon welcoming two new clergy associates, calls us to consider a further step.  How can Redeemer as a whole, with our extraordinary resources of growing membership and all the ways we are invested in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, along with the leverage of the Covenant Fund (currently valued at $1.8 million), address one or more of the root causes of our “tragedy” and make a measurable difference?

I will ask the vestry to begin this process at our meeting next week.  We’ll use our retreat in the early Fall to deepen our discernment as we bring our new clergy on board.  And we’ll gather the parish in small groups between now and then to include the widest possible number of voices.  Out of these discussions will come Redeemer’s mission for the next decade: a renewed commitment to the compassion and justice of Jesus that is fit for our time and context.  If we listen well and respond to the Spirit with courage, we and the city we love will be transformed.

Love, David