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

No one asks questions quite like a child does.  I sometimes think their relentless questioning is one reason why it can be downright scary to volunteer to be a Sunday School leader.  I remind my leaders that they are not required to have all the answers.  It is perfectly okay to say, “That’s a good question.  I don’t know the answer, but I am glad that we are here at church looking for the answer together.”  My leaders have even been reported looking for clergy after church with their students to ask them what they think about a question that came up in class that day.

I keep a book on my desk that I pick up from time to time called “Will Our Children Have Faith?”  Written by Rev. Dr. John H. Westerhoff III, I admit that I was drawn to it by the wonderful questioning title.  Will they have faith?  And equally important to me is what can we do as adults to help them?  According to Westerhoff, “To be Christian is to ask:  What can I bring to another?  Not:  What do I want that person to know or be?  It means being open to learn from another person (even a child) as well as to share one’s understandings and ways.”

This last Sunday because of the special Jazz Mass instead of our usual Sunday morning programming, I led a story time with the children during the readings and sermon.  To help me when I plan these occasional gatherings, I have found good resources that lead me to children’s books that are not necessarily religious or that tell Bible stories but still communicate ideas from the readings for the day.  I have discovered some wonderful books written for children that have unexpectedly helped me to see complex ideas much more clearly.  Preparing for this Transfiguration Sunday when Peter, James and John see Jesus in a way they never have before, I came across “They All Saw a Cat” by Brendan Wenzel.  Wenzel introduces us to a cat and then proceeds to illustrate for the reader how different creatures perceive the cat.  The dog sees a scared cat while the mouse sees a scary cat.  The child sees a soft cat to pet while the fox sees dinner.  The fish sees the cat magnified as it looks up at it through the water while the bird has an overhead view.  The bee, bat and snake with their eyes that work so differently from ours see the cat in a much different way.  And then there is the page that shows the cat as an integration of all the different viewpoints of all these varied creatures.  To really see the cat is to take all the points of view into account.  And of course, the reader is also asked to consider how the cat sees itself when it looks into the water.

From this simple children’s book, I finally understood why I find myself growing so much in my faith since I came to Redeemer.   It is because of all of you.  From the sermons to the offerings from my classmates in Wednesday morning Rector’s Bible Study to the conversations that I have when we stop to chat in the halls to what the children offer up when we are here learning together, those different perspectives come together to help me see.   David said in his sermon last Sunday our lives are transfigured when we rise and die together.  To that I would add and when we ask questions together.   I hope to see you here during this season of Lent.  What a perfect time to be in community and continue, young and old, to work out what it means to be a Christian together.

~Kathy LaPlant

On Tuesday morning, a group of senior BUILD community leaders and clergy spent an hour meeting with Acting Police Commissioner Harrison and Mayor Catherine Pugh. The meeting had been arranged by our mayor and her staff, to follow through on her commitment to BUILD that she would make this meeting happen within a certain period of time of Acting Commissioner Harrison’s arrival in Baltimore. The purpose of the meeting was for BUILD and Acting Commissioner Harrison to begin our public relationship and to see how our visions for building a city that is safe for everyone to work and live in might align.

After the meeting was over, our BUILD team gathered in a conference room at City Hall for a routine evaluation of what had just occurred. The reactions I heard most often voiced around our circle were “hopeful” (some tempered their reaction with “cautiously”) and “optimistic”. Acting Commissioner Harrison, from my own first impression of him up close and in person, spoke with an authenticity and integrity about his commitment to leading the reformation of our city’s police department; his commitment to accountable, constitutional, community policing based on proven best practices from around our country and other countries; and his recognition that in order to succeed at this formidable, gargantuan task, he needs to work alongside BUILD and other key community partners. For a first meeting, it felt like a good new beginning.

Then on Tuesday evening, many of this same group of BUILD leaders and clergy had dinner with Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels at his residence in Nichols House. This social gathering had been scheduled months ago, on the invitation and initiation of President Daniels, to celebrate and recognize BUILD’s partnership with Hopkins to build One Baltimore together, and his own personal belief in and commitment to this partnership.

As it turns out, our gathering was timely; last Friday, a handful of BUILD leaders traveled to Annapolis in support of President Daniels and the proposed Community Safety and Strengthening Act (SB 793/HB 1094) which will create a Johns Hopkins Police Department. BUILD’s official, public support of this proposed act came as a result of difficult and intentional conversations and listening to community leaders who would be directly impacted by this new police entity; and a meeting of BUILD leaders with President Daniels last week, to raise remaining concerns with the proposed act, that President Daniels satisfactorily addressed. “During this present time, while the Baltimore City Police Department is struggling to maintain numbers, root out corruption, and acclimate to shifting leadership, BUILD believes the proposed Johns Hopkins Police Department is a way to bring a new model of policing to Baltimore City, one that is grounded in the idea of accountable policing and that can serve as an example to the rest of the city—perhaps the state and the nation—of what policing should look like.” (For BUILD’s full statement of support, click HERE.)

What was apparent to me throughout the evening was the genuine respect, warmth and camaraderie between President Daniels and BUILD leaders, and our ongoing commitment to working side-by-side to build a city that is safe with living wage jobs, affordable housing and good schools for all our residents.

My takeaway from Tuesday? We all need each other to succeed. We need Acting Police Commissioner Harrison to succeed in his task of leading the reform of our city’s police department, and he needs us and BUILD to succeed. We need President Ron Daniels and Hopkins to succeed in their goal of creating a model police force based on accountable, constitutional, community-based policing as a model for our city’s own police department, and he and Hopkins need us and BUILD to succeed. Together, and with God’s grace, I believe we can and we will.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

My friend Harry just turned 90.  He still goes to work every day, plays contract bridge at the Master level all over the country, and keeps a busy social calendar.  Last week, his nearest and dearest gathered at a resort to celebrate his milestone, but the treat was not in the sand or palm trees.  It was in Harry’s glistening eyes.  His children had reached out to all the people who had every known their dad, and asked them to record a memory of him, or a blessing he brought them, or some challenge they navigated together.  Our careful instructions were to turn our phones sideways, press record, and speak for no more than one minute.  The result was over three hours of heartfelt greetings, which the whole gang watched into the wee hours of the morning.  Harry didn’t fall asleep until 3:00.

You wouldn’t call the preparations easy—the day was weeks in the making—but a son’s tossed off comment anchored everybody’s efforts.  He said in the lead-up, “I don’t want to spend more time planning PopPop’s funeral than we do on this party.”  It struck all of us how often we miss the opportunity to say, “Thank you” and “I love you.”  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear our own eulogies,” my friend remarked, as we debriefed their experience with Harry.

I mentioned that I had conducted two funerals for individuals who were still alive.  Both celebrations involved complicated logistics, including international travel.  Lives were rearranged when it seemed death was imminent, airline tickets purchased, and the services planned.  And then the grandpas rallied!  So once in New Jersey and another time in Delaware, we rolled the unlikely guests of honor to the front of the church, arranged blankets and hearing devices, and conducted their memorial services for them.  There were tears and laughter, and in both cases we agreed how much sense it made to convey appreciation when our loved ones were still in the room.  Both fellows died within the week, so the assembled families got to have closure, as well.

Author Marion Winik writes, “In times of intense grief, I have tried all the usual methods of escape—distraction, compensation, intoxication; therapies and treatments and antidotes for body and soul.  I once had a massage from a woman named Chaka that unleashed a hurricane of tears.  Ultimately, instead of attempting to flee the pain of loss, I decided to spend time with it, to linger, to let these thoughts and feelings bloom inside me into something else.”  Her gift to herself, to us, and to the people she’s lost is The Baltimore Book of the Dead, a collection of essays that capture, in 400 words or less, a loved one’s essence.  “People do not pass away.  They die and then they stay,” Winik quotes as her book begins.

I am inviting the congregation to get their hands on a copy of Winik’s book, at The Ivy Bookstore or the library or online, and to read it with me over Lent.  We’ll discuss it together on Sunday, March 24 after the 10:00 service.  Between now and then, enjoy her collection of characters, and then I invite you to take it a step further.  First, write an essay in Winik’s style about someone who has died, 400 words or less, not mentioning the person by name, instead giving him/her a distinctive title, as she does.  (See “The Camp Director,” “My Advisor,” “The All-American,” “The Southern Gentleman.”)  Write the essay for yourself and your loved one, and bring it on March 24th if you’d like to share it.

Second, I invite you to take a page out of Harry’s family book, and write a short essay about someone you care about who is still living.  Give it an evocative title, as well, which captures the person’s essence.  Then make a date, and over coffee, read your essay to the person you’ve written about.  Why wait to offer your thanks until after he or she has died?

Love, David

What do you do, when the world as you know it ends, in a certain kind of way? A loved one dies. A relationship ends. You get an unwelcome diagnosis. Life as you have grown accustomed to living it suddenly changes, and you find yourself in the wilderness.

I must confess that I find myself deep in the wilderness, these days. My body-mind-soul-spirit are going through changes that no one, no one, warned me about but that, I have learned, most women begin to experience in their forties and sometimes earlier.

Every woman’s experience of this “journey” is unique and different; some last longer than others, some feature different challenges than others and to different extents. My particular version includes navigating through waves of unexpected anxiety that I have never had to navigate before; and enduring seemingly endless waves of prickly-painful-desert-like-heat all over my body, especially throughout the night and early morning, that make sleeping something of blessed memory from a “past life.”

I share this because I have discovered that too many women suffer in silence and isolation through this particular wilderness, and I do not wish to be part of whatever “club” that keeps these kinds of secrets, secret. (Imagine, if the pain of labor and bringing human life into the world were kept “secret” and not ever talked about! How would one ever prepare mentally-physically-emotionally? And enlist the help and support needed?!)

In addition to ice packs within reach at 3am and other women’s stories of their own experience of this formative-transformative time in their lives, what I have found most helpful and life-sustaining in this wilderness time is, simply, love: love-put-into-action. The love and patience of my faithful husband, rubbing my back when he desperately wants to be sleeping, himself. The love and understanding of colleagues, as I light candles and incense in my office to establish a calming, peaceful environment. The love and support of friends, dropping off herbal supplements, sending supportive texts and even gifting me with hand-held fans! Yes, there are doctors and homeopaths and hormone-therapy and countless other “remedies” to try and explore. But when it comes down to it, there is nothing quite as healing as human love and friendship, care and support, from those around you.

So whatever wilderness you may be going through, my “word” of advice today — don’t try and brave the wilderness by yourself. And if you know someone traveling through their own wilderness, as my friend Caroline says, “Whatever you do, don’t do nothin’ !”

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”                     1 Corinthians 13:13

~Cristina