Dear Folks,

Why do we do the things we do?  Every family has traditions for the holidays… You use grandma’s china or a special table cloth, you sit in the dining room for a change instead of crowding into the kitchen, you roast a great big turkey in place of more typical fare, like meatloaf or chicken or pork chops.

Did it ever occur to you to roast a turkey at any time of year other than Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Isn’t that kind of odd?  Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary, “Turkey: A large bird whose flesh, when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.”  My father saw it as some kind of penance for his sins.  He didn’t like turkey very much, so there was always a bit of complaining that circled around our holiday table, especially while he was carving.  “I am only going to eat this, because your momma says it is good for me,” he would say, usually when the white meat began to crumble or a drumstick fell onto the table.

And there are some family traditions whose origin no one seems to remember.  Do you know the story of the “ham bone” or the “first brisket?”  The details change but the scene is always a pair of newlyweds, celebrating their first holiday, and the bride is very anxious to make a delicious meal for her new husband, using an old family recipe.  One version goes like this: A young woman was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner.  As she got everything ready for the big meal, which would be served the next day, she reminded herself to let the turkey finish thawing in the sink overnight.  So she lowered it in, and then carefully placed the dish drainer on top of the bird.  At exactly that moment, her new husband walked into the kitchen and asked, “Why are you putting the dish drainer on the turkey?”

Now a man of some experience with marriage would have had more sense than to ask such a question, especially on Thanksgiving eve, of a young, inexperienced cook who has been on her feet all day.  As soon as he said the words and saw the look on his bride’s face, he wanted to take them back, but he couldn’t.  She answered, “My mom always did that to help the turkey thaw,” and the groom left well enough alone.  The next day the woman’s mother called to see how everything was going.  “Fine, Ma.  I have everything ready to go into the oven.  I even remembered to put the dish drainer over the turkey last night.”  This seemed to confuse her mother a bit.  “What are you talking about?” she asked.  “Oh remember, you always put the dish drainer over the turkey when it is thawing in the sink,” the daughter replied.  “You said it helped.”  There was a pause on the end of the line.  “Yes honey, but we had cats.”  Old habits die hard.  Sometimes families nurture practices whose meaning has been lost or become tenuous.

Why do we do the things we do?  I talked to an old friend late one night on the telephone whose dad was dying several states away.  “It’s been really difficult,” my friend told me, “to see this stoic, old lion subdued by a tumor that we only discovered a month ago.  He was bigger than life in some ways—lost his dad, raised himself, took care of his mother when she needed it.  He was a leader in the community when I was a kid, a hero to my mom and sister.”  What’s hard for you, I asked him.  He paused.  “Last Saturday my dad said that he loved me for the first time.  He said he was proud of me.  It was great to hear, but his words also revealed something I’d longed to know for as long as I can remember.”  Another pause.  “Until last Saturday on the plane ride home, it didn’t occur to me that my dad was longing for something, too.  I don’t think I realized that he probably didn’t get much praise himself as a boy.  I hadn’t thought about why I tell my own children so often that I delight in them.  Maybe hearing ‘I love you’ keeps us from aching so much.”

Why do you do the things you do?  Are you motivated by habit or fear or love?  What do you need to do this Thanksgiving (or any day) to hear what you need to hear, see what it’s time to see, and change what needs to be changed?   A poet named Oriah offers this invitation:

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human…

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
….
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

Love, David

Dear Folks,

Many of us are still reeling from the horror of last weekend, when a man opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, yelling “All Jews must die!” and killing 11 people.  That the victims had entered a sacred space and gathered for Sabbath prayers makes it especially heinous.  “They were vulnerable with their guards down, like us,” a teenager said to me on Sunday.  “Are we safe?” a grandmother I hadn’t met before asked on Monday evening, at an interfaith response to Bernstein’s Mass.  I paused before I answered, trying to hear clearly what lay beneath her words.  “We’re always better off together than we are alone,” I offered, and her face softened.  “That’s why I came,” she said.

The news evokes Charleston prayer meetings, Parkland classrooms, Las Vegas concerts and Sandy Hook, not to mention the sometimes daily violence that poisons our city.  An hour after I ran out of Halloween candy and left my neighbor’s stoop last night, a man was shot and killed 20 blocks north.  With 260 homicides since January, this weekend’s Baltimore Ceasefire comes not a moment too soon. (https://baltimoreceasefire.com)

My wife’s old friend Dorsey, now the Bishop of Pittsburgh, wrote this: “The newscasts, sickeningly, are referring again and again to this horror as a “tragedy.” It is no such thing. A tragedy is inevitable. This was not. It was murder, murder of a particularly vile and poisonous kind. Human beings have moral agency. Someone chose to hate, and chose to kill. And now we are faced with a choice as well— to do nothing, or to reject this hatred in the strongest possible words and actions, and to refute in every way, in every forum, the philosophical foundations of anti-Semitism wherever they have gained a foothold in our churches and our society.”

The staff at Redeemer is assembling words of help and hope that we’ve heard since Saturday, and we will post them on a bulletin board near the front doors at church.  Here’s some of what we’ve gathered:

“In a nation founded on religious freedom, we are shaken to our core each time we see an act of evil carried out against a group of people because of who they are or what they believe.” (Faus, Evins, Meck, and Ballenger, St. Paul’s School)

“It is too easy for us to become immune to the horrific events of mass shootings and hate crimes that flood our airwaves.  But let us not fall prey to that temptation.  Let us hold the depth of this news in our hearts.” (Bishops United Against Gun Violence)

“As parents and educators, we have to find and hang on to the potential for hope, even in the face of pain and despair.  We have to believe that we are raising a generation that will say “enough” to the level of acrimony and violence that have taken hold of so much” of our lives. (Chris Hughes, Garrison Forrest School)

“We are stronger when we connect and learn across our differences, and when we come to recognize that we have an ethical responsibility for ensuring that each and every member of our community feels safe, feels valued, feels known.” (Dan Paradis, Park School)

“I was talking to my nine-year-old daughter while we walked to school about having attended the interfaith vigil… for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue… By the time we got there, the hall and the aisles were full, so we listened on the speakers set up outside.  As my daughter remembered, it was in fact cold and wet.  It had not occurred to us that we would be standing in the rain… Others were wiser than we, and helped shield us (from the weather).  My new favorite image for the Kingdom of God is having one dry and one wet shoulder, which is what happens when more than one person tries to share an umbrella… I come back to that feeling of being cold and wet. And just being together with Muslims and Jews and Christians and atheists and everybody… There was nothing heroic or virtuous about it.  It was just where we needed to be.” (Sarah Irwin, Pittsburgh)

We are called to heal the world, to repair with God’s help the brokenness we encounter around us and inside us, to stand with those who struggle, and to comfort those who weep.  It can feel overwhelming—if you love deeply, you grieve deeply–but our hearts won’t let us ignore it.  We are better off together than we are alone.  I have been asked to give the closing prayer at a Shabbat service of solidarity this Friday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, to which Redeemer is heartily invited.  (https://www.baltimorehebrew.org/praying/services/) Join me if you can.

Love, David

Sometimes, as the saying goes, you really do need to hit rock bottom before you can start climbing … or crawling … your way upwards.

Yesterday at Helping Up Mission in east Baltimore, where hundreds of men fighting homelessness and addiction find hope every day and night of the week, a number of us from Redeemer heard one man’s testimony.

As he tells his story, Matt had given his life to the Air Force — his days and weeks lay ordered and planned before him — until he suffered an accident in which he broke his sternum. His injury made it impossible for him to continue the work he loved with the Air Force, and he found himself without a job, without a career, sinking into desolation and despair, consumed in physical and emotional pain. Alcohol became his one consistent, dependable source of solace and relief; eventually, he found himself consuming 2-3 liters a day, while his body weight dwindled to 117 lbs.

It wasn’t until he found himself living in a shed in the backyard of an acquaintance that something inside of him stirred. He realized, he told us, that he had come to a point in his life where he had burned all his bridges; and that anyone he might have thought of, to call for help, would no longer return his call.

“And I don’t do homelessness well,” he smiled. So after 3 days of shed-living, and having identified Helping Up Mission as the closest shelter to him, he walked the 12 miles from the shed to the Mission’s doors, in the cold and rain.

The first words he heard, upon entering Helping Up, were: “Welcome home.”

“Sure,” he confessed he thought to himself with annoyance and skepticism, back then.

Three months later, Matt is a new man. He has found a community of brothers who understand his pain and what it takes to lift one another up. He is surrounded by a dedicated web of staff and volunteers, supporting him to identify and meet his physical, medical, psychological, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs; he has also been connected with the Veterans’ Administration, to receive benefits and training for a new job in the military that he can, in fact, do. Following the 12 steps of spiritual recovery, he recently reached out to his parents to make amends with them (Step 9); he told us it wasn’t as “dramatic” as he had thought it would be, they simply encouraged him to stay on the current path he is on. He is now working on taking Step 11: to seek through prayer and meditation God’s will and to have the power to carry it out. He seemed to enjoy speaking to us and sharing his story of hope and redemption.

Thanks to Matt and others at Helping Up Mission, our group from Redeemer was reminded yesterday that hope and redemption are indeed ever present and all around us, if we take the time to stop, look and listen.

Cristina

P.S. Helping Up Mission is expanding to also serve women and children. Click here to learn more about their current campaign to make this new vision a reality: https://helpingupmission.org/inspiringhope/

Dear Folks,

When I listen to my running mates who are in their twenties, they tell me the church is irrelevant.  “To tell you the truth,” one friend told me, “I don’t even think about organized religion anymore.  My generation has moved on to other things.”  A neighbor recounted similar thoughts: “When I came to Baltimore three years ago, I went to an event that combined information about community engagement, meeting other young folks, and beer tasting, and that led me to THREAD.  Have you ever heard of that organization,” he asked me.  “I’m not sure religion understands what’s meaningful to people my age,” he continued.  The team captain at Back on My Feet said to me one morning before dawn, as we rounded Mt. Vernon Square, “When I was a teenager, the church missed the boat on human sexuality and gender identity—good friends of mine felt excluded—so I gave up on religion in solidarity with them.”  My whole block near Patterson Park is taking concrete steps toward making Baltimore more inclusive, more vibrant, better at educating its children, and safer for everybody, but only one family calls themselves religious.  “The Christians I grew up with were talkers not doers, and that seemed wrong,” my friend across the street told me last week, “So I’m really interested to know how you and your wife have stayed in the church and kept your integrity.”

I don’t think the young people I’m listening to are unusual.  Their movement away from organized religion is not reactive—it is a thoughtful, considered response to how the tradition inadvertently got stuck propping itself up instead of running to connect with what matters, which sometimes beats most strongly in the hearts of teenagers and young adults.  The movement that crystallized around Jesus 2000 years ago found its energy then in reforming the good but misguided intentions of the power structure, which had lost touch with the living spirit of God on the margins of polite society: with women and the poor, with the sick and the lost, with the stranger and the refugee.  Jesus’s vision was to recreate God’s beloved community, and he did that by reminding the religious community that their work was justice, not piety.  So it seems possible that the palpable rejection of our “old ways” by 15-to-30-year-olds today is in fact a call to discover again what following the living God really means.

The Vestry and I are responding to this call by creating a new Associate for Youth position, an additional full time person to be added to our clergy team.  This exciting vision is to add a young leader who will re-imagine ministry to and for young people, from 6th grade to 30 years.  I have interviewed candidates by phone and in person, and an advisory committee will now consider five individuals and make a recommendation to me.  Each of the applicants is currently employed and is not available until the new year, most likely after Easter.  To create program continuity between Paul Smith’s departure and the new position, parishioner Vivian Campagna will act as interim youth director during the 2018-19 program year.

To afford this bold move, our annual giving will have to increase to meet the need.  As you consider your 2019 pledge to Redeemer, pray about how you can help build the next generation and strengthen the church that will shape our grandchildren.  And next weekend, October 27 and 28, please welcome with me our new stewardship chairs: Carrie Goldrick, Noel and Tom Morelli.  Their vision is to support a relevant, faithful, courageous, church that is building God’s beloved community in Baltimore now.

Love,

David

Last Sunday at the 10 am service and later that afternoon with Evensong we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the building of our main sanctuary. It was a glorious blending of liturgy and music at both services. The purpose was twofold: to look back with gratitude and to look forward to the future.

In preparation for the celebration, I had the opportunity to speak with two current members of the parish whose fathers played significant roles in the decision to proceed with the building. Janet Evans Dunn remembers her father’s influence in both raising the money for the building and as well as being a statesman to bridge the differing opinions about the contemporary design. At the time it was a bit controversial. In addition during this period, Mr. Evans served as Head of the Building Committee. Relie Garland Bolton also remembers her father, Charles Garland, Sr., being in support of the new church. He expressed his progressive outlook saying that the new space was for the young people coming along and that perspective should be the deciding factor in the choice of architecture. Both men, among others, were clear visionaries for the future…and that “future” is now “our reality”.

But now “our reality,” like the congregation 60 years ago, compels us to look forward for our younger generation. That is why earlier this summer, David asked Molly Hathaway and me to coordinate an initiative to invite individuals to remember the Church of the Redeemer in their estate plans. That was the beginning of the Next Generation Campaign, a means to ensure that Redeemer remains vibrant and strong.  We have been so pleased with the response. At this point, 55 individuals (or couples) have indicated that Redeemer is included in their will. In the afterglow of the events of this past weekend, we want to encourage others of you to join us. For your convenience the proper form is here. How wonderful if in the next 60 years, (2078!) there is another celebration that recognizes our collective vision for faithful stewardship of our church!

Should you have any questions, please contact the Rev. Caroline Stewart.