Dear Folks,

On Monday I was part of a community discussion of the opioid crisis, presented by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore Commissioner of Health, was the key note speaker, and I joined Howard Reznick of Jewish Community Services and Dr. Steven Sharfstein, former director of Shephard Pratt, on the panel.  My charge was to present what a faithful response to the opioid epidemic in Baltimore might be… for an individual, for a congregation, for the faith community.  Here’s what  I offered to the group of 120, including delegations from three high schools:

Not only should members of the faith community play a role in a health crisis, I would argue that we are particularly called to this ministry.  From Moses with his snake entwined staff, calling the assembly to “look up and be healed,” to Elijah raising the widow’s son, to Jesus’ provocative encounter with an unclean spirit and his distinguishing between the man and the cage which held him, our shared revelation is built on the capacity of community and scripture to make us more whole than we would be, if left to our own devices…  Some of what we know is so foundational that we can forget that it came to us as revelation:

The balanced rhythm of work and rest…The call to eat as families on some regular basis…

The assertion that spiritual well-being has an impact on physical well-being and vice versa…

The 10 Commandments, which do a pretty good job of defining what it is to be a human in right relationship with God, with the neighbor, and within the individual him or herself.  I would argue that this way to be relational on three planes, integrated and grounded on these three dimensions of self and other and God, is an articulation of healthy living, of the wholeness we are created to embody and act out.

So faith communities are in the health business, really, the healing business, because what is our reason for being if not to provide individuals and systems habits of spiritual health and training for it, and at the same time to call those healing people and systems to be about the work of mending/repairing the world?

How do we hear this call and achieve it?

We do this through teaching the scriptures, through dynamic, insightful, provocative Bible study, based on belief that these ancient texts are still and always revelatory.  Because people of faith are particularly called to be both honest and hopeful, combining scripture study with social consciousness can reveal both patterns of failure and success and a way forward.

We do this through curating congregations that are deeply and broadly informed about history and our current challenges, offering and attending lectures, book groups, and classes.  We have so much to learn, and of course no single congregation knows it all, so we can subscribe to the newsletters of other churches/synagogues/mosques, go to each other’s classes, cultivate a congregation that is emboldened by what’s going on around us, not jealous of someone else’s success.

We do this through a practice of corporate prayer, worship with soul-lifting music, and words that offer challenge, inspiration, strength, and solace.  We have so little time that we have to give ourselves some of it regularly to be nourished, to be mended ourselves.

We do this through a robust understanding of pastoral care which includes access to recovery groups, relationship, individual, and grief counseling, information about and referrals to health care professionals.  We do this through understanding addiction as a disease and advocating for access to and delivery of affordable health care.

We do this by talking openly about mental health, normalizing ways we all struggle with wellness, de-stigmatizing mental illness, and training parishioners in Mental Health First Aid.  We do this through increasing our recovery group offerings.  A dozen distinct 12-step groups offer their life-giving work Monday-Friday at Redeemer.  We do this through equipping lay people to offer healing prayers.  We do this through re-doubling our commitment to children and young people, offering them space to discover and celebrate who they are.

We do this by following the Teacher, who healed by bringing the wounded, the weak, and the unwell to the center and by correcting any system of exclusion.

Love, David

This past Tuesday afternoon I met with a former member of Redeemer who raised her family in our church decades ago before moving out of state. She was accompanied by her close friend who is an active member of the parish. The former member had returned to Baltimore Saturday because her 35 year old son had died the night before from an accidental overdose; a story that is all too familiar. This young man had loving parents and a great education. He had a brother and grandmother with whom he was very close. He was kind hearted, hardworking, had many friends, and a great sense of humor. He has left a legacy of pure goodness. But he also was impacted by a challenging disease:  an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He fought hard and often to overcome that illness, finding success at times and relapsing at other times. His mom, even though in the early stages of grieving, wanted his story to be told. She wants his life to have meaning even in his dying. She knows how unproductive it is to keep addiction a ‘secret’ and therefore is anxious to destigmatize the topic by having open and honest conversation. “Please share my story” she pleaded. I promised her I would. I mentioned that our current initiative for mental health includes a workshop that covers substance abuse.

The crisis facing our city (and country) continues to make headlines. I am aware of how naïve I have been personally when it comes to the situation. It was out of that awareness that I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Dope”. It is a series of 5 episodes about the drug emergency enveloping our nation. The 2nd episode is focused only on Baltimore. (I have not watched the other episodes yet.) I highly recommend you watch it. Several weeks ago, I showed it to the Women Who Wonder.  It was ‘hard’ to absorb the grim reality and it was important to absorb the grim reality. Their eyes were opened.

On Monday David will be participating in an Interfaith Institute dialogue sponsored by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Sisterhood. It is entitled: “The Opioid Epidemic: Community Impact and Response.”  The keynote speaker is Dr. Leana Wen, Commissioner of Health in Baltimore. Along with David, Howard Reznick (MSW, LCSW-C) and Rabbi Andrew Busch will be part of the discussion. Unfortunately the deadline for tickets has passed, but we will share our reflections with those who are interested.

Thank you to the Mom who wants her son’s story told. Redeemer wants to continue to provide you with our support, even decades later. And PS: Mom was very vocal about supporting the Kolmac Recovery Program at Shepherd Pratt and the outstanding care her son received there.


Dear Folks,

I discovered Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are in a stack of other stories as a young reader, right before I started first grade.  We were moving from Sewanee, Tennessee to Chattanooga, and in the chaos of packing, I found a quiet corner and got lost in some familiar picture books.  Tucked in the pile was Sendak’s 338 word story, which I didn’t recognize, and whose illustrations I found disturbing and attractive at the same time.  The main character, Max, wore footy pajamas like I did, and he got very mad and sent to his room, which was scary and familiar, too.  The wild things seemed like a secret that was being revealed, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I couldn’t put the book down.

Vance Wilson, longtime headmaster of a boy’s school in Washington, DC, wrote an essay about Max, which he read last night at Redeemer, and old feelings came flooding back.  How do we as teachers and as parents understand this archetypal story?  “How do we walk with our wild things, with their slowly developing prefrontal lobes and their preference for fast cars over faces, with boys who learn in different ways from girls but are who they are?  How do we walk with them so that when given a choice, as Max is, of being king of the wild things or being loved best of all, our sons (and daughters) choose love?”

Simple stuff: Look a child in the eye and call him or her by name.  Give them not a wild day, but a structured day in which wildness is scheduled.  “Call his name each hour.  ‘Solve this problem, Max.  Translate this passage; move your adverb next to the word it modifies, Max.  I appreciate your telling the truth, Max.  Show up on time.  Do not hit in here, Wild Thing; there is plenty of time for rumpuses on the playing field.’  At home Max will explode—slam the door, speak disrespectfully, and beat on a sibling.  Give him some time, some space, but call him out.  ‘Max, set the table.  Let’s see your homework.  Leave your little sister alone…’”

Fill your children’s lives with stories and with rituals.  “’Sit in chapel, Max, listen to the silence, sing, and reflect on what your classmates say.  Sit down to lunch with us…’ Tell him so many family stories and take him to so many family events that he rolls his eyes constantly… In your family stories, forget the morals; tell the stories.”  If the story is worth telling, they will remember it.  Make them feel part of the tribe.”

Finally, model.  Children learn from how we live our lives in front of them.  Try to be empathetic, challenging, fair, positive, strict, and human.

I’ve been struck over the last few weeks how much the people I know are talking about moral action.  “How can I make a difference,” was asked by a young mother returning to the work force, a 90-year-old widow, an investment banker in mid-life, and a counselor who spent 32-years behind bars.  “How can I shape policy or behavior or my own attitude,” asked an old friend.  “How can I wake my children up from feeling entitled to the advantages we’ve worked so hard to provide,” a parent wondered aloud, “and help them discover responsibility, but not overwhelm them?”

Simple stuff: Listen.  Respect differences.  Honor other’s experience and your own.  Give each other space and time, but call a person out if she crosses a line.  Let yourself be criticized.  Look people in the eye and say their name.  Get to know each other.  Learn your family stories, and the stories of some great literature, and the stories of history, and the stories of the Bible.  Forget the morals, just know the stories, and the important parts will stick.  Eat meals together regularly with family or close friends.  Widen your circle of intimacy.  Make sure everyone feels part of the tribe.  Seek to understand more than to be understood.  Learn from your mistakes; everybody makes them.  Don’t deny your wildness, but invite it to serve the common good.  Choose love.

Love, David

Yesterday afternoon a number of us from Redeemer sat in a grand room on the 4th floor of City Hall, yards away from Darryl De Sousa, recently appointed by Mayor Catherine Pugh to serve as our city’s new police commissioner. We were present as part of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development), representing Baltimore’s faith community and various civic organizations in our city.

For several minutes, De Sousa addressed the room and members of City Council in a modest, quiet tone. He shared vignettes from his childhood, including the time he jumped out of a window with a blanket-as-cape around his neck, wanting to save people as Superman. He apologized for the crimes committed by the elite Gun Trace Task Force and vowed to root out corruption in our city’s police department and rebuild trust in communities between residents and police officers. And he listened as the first person who stepped to the podium, to speak on behalf of the public, lambasted him with anger and cynicism, expressing the long-felt pain of so many Baltimoreans whose trust in the police is chronically shattered and who question how an “insider” of a corrupt system can bring about necessary change and reform.

This tirade was followed by the testimony of BUILD, led by our clergy co-chair, the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, Senior Pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue in Bolton Hill. “We as BUILD stand in support of you and want to work with you, because our city needs you to succeed and cannot afford for you to fail.” Registered nurse Antoinette Mugar thanked De Sousa for agreeing to meet with BUILD leaders on March 6, to listen to our priorities and specific recommendations on how to rebuild trust between police and residents, and called for a public forum to be held within 90-days, for De Sousa to report on progress made. When Antoinette invited anyone in the room with BUILD to stand up, an army of us, shy of a hundred, in blue BUILD t-shirts rose out of our seats with conviction and a deep love for our city.

An hour or so later, another army shy of a hundred gathered in our south transept, to hear Heather Mizeur, founder of MizMaryland: Soul Force Politics. “Our spirit empowers us, connects us, and stokes the passions of our hearts. Our political discourse desperately needs the guidance, strength, and clarity of our soul’s force for good in the world. Inner Wisdom + External Actions = Soul Force Politics.” As a Christian who also draws from the wisdom of a variety of faith traditions, she offered: “The radical love [modeled by] Jesus Christ is the medicine needed for these troubled times.”

People of faith, acting out of a deep and abiding love of God-in-humanity; standing up, rising, and acting, to be the change and to bring about the healing so desperately needed in our communities and in our world.

This is what we are about, who we are called to be, and what we are called to do.


Recently Redeemer has launched an initiative for conversation and education surrounding the topic of mental health within our congregation and community. The response has been enthusiastic and widespread. I invited individuals who have a particular interest in the topic to let me know so that I can develop a group email list. So far, over 80 people have responded. (Please email The Rev. Caroline Stewart at should you wish to join.) It is exciting to hear the ideas and needs that are coming forth.

A first step is to offer a Mental Health First Aid Workshop to the congregation. This is an 8 hour course, divided over 2 days, that covers the current state of mental health in our country followed by in depth education about depression, anxiety, psychosis, dementia, eating disorders and substance abuse. The cost is $20 for the textbook. Each workshop will need a minimum of 6 but no more than 12 people. The schedule is as follows:

  1. Tuesday March 6 (10-2) and Wednesday March 7 (10-2).
  2. Friday March 23 (2-6) and Saturday March 24 (10-2)
  3. Friday April 20 (3-7) and Saturday April 21 (10-2)

If you would like to sign up, please email me with the date you prefer.

This past week I ran a pilot workshop and the following participants are willing to speak with you about their experiences: Nancy Bowen, Betsy Willett, Patterson Lacy, Norie Olsen, Susan Alexander, Joanne Tetrault, Ann Gavin, Ruthie Cromwell, and Margaret Thompson. I asked them to give me a summary of their experience. A sampling of their responses follow:

Lots of information…ingesting…sharing with love…focus on wellness…expect the unexpected…the beginning of a journey I will continue learning as much as possible about mental health while using the Mental Health First Aid book as a guide and resource. I plan to listen to those around me more intently and less judgmentally. I am curious to discover where this new path of mental health awareness will lead me.

 It was an eye opening course that gave me an insight into the scope and impact of mental illness.

The course taught / reinforced appropriate methods of interaction with individuals experiencing mental illness in some way. I would encourage everyone to take it. The textbook is a wonderful reference tool. Skills learned are appropriate for interactions with anyone.

Gratitude….for being able to be comfortable with other parishioners about mental illness/health.  As you know for years I have carried the sense of void into our church where we did not talk about parents of children or folks suffering with schizophrenia or other illnesses.  It was lonely.  It was hush, hush.  Going to a N.A.M.I. group was not the same as sharing within the healing context of the church with each other.  N.A.M.I. was helpful for how to deal with specific behaviors.


Heaviness….for those confronting painful issues in their or family life….issues that are/were present but not spoken about. I am pondering ways we can keep connecting/sharing….also strengthening (like naming the demons!) in the context of our “narrative”, as David would say.   And my mind kept thinking about the homeless in the city and their issues, the people all around us with suffering with unspoken issues….We are all alike…we are connected, so we can become more understanding of each person.

I found this workshop to be a valuable vehicle to expand my horizons, shake up some long held beliefs, and to bring forth from me my willingness to explore personal beliefs and experiences as well as to be open to vulnerability to reach out to others.   The sanctity of the small group setting was a gift for learning. 

This class gave me a good and comfortable understanding of the numerous mental health illnesses that affect so many.

It explains ways to reach out to someone who may be suffering and reinforces the words so wisely spoken: “Whatever you do don’t do nothing.”

What the workshop meant was more than I thought it would. I was sure it would heighten my sensitivity to mental health issues and, I hoped, give me some basics on how best to relate to folks with these issues. I was especially interested in Depression because the symptoms of Depression are just about identical to the symptoms of those who are grieving. They are in a state of depression. Also, my mother suffered from depression. That part helped a lot as hoped, but continuing on through the whole galaxy of mental health issues really whetted my appetite to expand my sensitivity and ability to relate to them, as well. I will continue to read and click on other resources. But it turned out to mean something more that I can’t quite articulate yet. I think I was a part of something special, something that could be developed and fine tuned into a service and resource for the parish, and beyond. We were staggered by the scope and range of the problems, the symptoms, the possibilities of wellness.

I think those reflections from those who completed the workshop speak for themselves…..both the value of the experience and the great need. I look forward to continuing the conversation on this important subject. Mental Health at Redeemer: Let’s Talk About It; Let’s Learn About It.”


Dear Folks,

Ancient people put on ashes and sackcloth to accompany their grief.  To honor the loved one and mark the loss, a person smeared a bit of charcoal on his head in the days following a death, and she wore what came to be known as “widow’s weeds” for months or a year.  The ritual of altered dress or behavior marked outwardly an inner journey, setting them apart physically to help the individual and the community navigate what was happening spiritually: from death back to life and the new normal, from brokenness to healing, from disruption to wholeness.

By extension, sackcloth and ashes were used to mark any devastating loss: a flood or famine or being overrun by enemy soldiers, and individuals and communities were admonished to mark repentance in this way, too.  Mourning was honored as an essential rite of passage.  When someone or something, even a way of life, has died, individuals and communities are well-served to acknowledge what needs to be put down, as a way to prepare for what will be picked up, when its time has come.

You also see this invitation to put on a whole new mind in the story of Jonah and the Ninevites, or in the Israelites’ journey away from Pharaoh and toward freedom, or in the inhabitants of Jerusalem pouring out of the city to encounter John the Baptist in the wilderness.  “We want to get right with God, and with our neighbors, and with ourselves,” they said, “so we will lose our bad habits and take on some good ones.”

That is what we are up to throughout the season of Lent, if we are willing to take on the discipline.  We construct a meaningful drama of the wilderness for ourselves—simpler food, distinctive ways to dress, a change in our daily routine, taking on a discipline of study, taking time for silence and prayer and listening to the still small voice that is God, who speaks from the very deepest part of ourselves and through our engagement with others—and in that drama, to act out our portion of repentance.

Yesterday I spent an hour with a group of old and new friends at Blakehurst in an extraordinary conversation.  At one point I asked them if they would go into the wilderness of Lent, like those folks running out to see John the Baptist, to repent.  “Nope,” said one plucky 80-year-old.  “Fair enough,” I said, “so what would motivate you to dig into a “wilderness” practice, to put on “sackcloth and ashes” in order to discover?  What do you want badly enough that you would change your behavior to achieve it?”  Their poignant responses came tumbling out: to experience forgiveness, to be reconciled to my daughter, to mend a broken relationship with an old friend, to love in a bigger way, to feel worthy, to reconnect with my brother, to feel loved again after the death of my spouse, to help my children respect each other.

Amen.  Such honesty is the core of turning from death to life, the necessary step of articulating one’s experience of and participation in brokenness that enables something like resurrection to begin.  Lent is an invitation to wholeness, but we have to walk through the wilderness to get there.

Redeemer is offering a number of opportunities to strengthen your practice: VOICES speaker series and simple supper on Wednesdays, Lent-to-go site visits each week, contemplative prayer, sung compline, all-parish read, Taize.  Choose what makes the most sense for you, and welcome to the journey.

Love, David