At 7:42am on Tuesday last week, Ben turned 10 years old. At the same moment, I was headed to the airport, to catch a flight to attend the annual shareholders’ meeting of Sturm Ruger, our country’s second largest firearms manufacturing company, as part of a team with BUILD/MetroIAF and the “Do Not Stand Idly By” campaign http://donotstandidlyby.org/ . The meeting was held at the Hassayampa Inn in Prescott, AZ, and our team traveled there to support a resolution sponsored by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, calling on Sturm Ruger to produce a report on the risks and liability associated with its business. The majority of shareholders voted in favor of this resolution https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/business/sturm-ruger-shareholders-activists.html
Making the decision to go was difficult. A couple of weeks ago, when I was struggling with what to do, I told Ben about the meeting, why it was important, and shared my dilemma with him. He is a bright and thoughtful boy, and I wanted to know what he thought.
First, Ben said he needed more time to think about it. An hour later, I checked back in with him. He looked at me seriously, eyebrows furrowed, and said, “Mom, I really think you should go.”
“But why?”I asked. “It means I’d be gone for your birthday!”
“Because it’s a really big problem,” he said, “And if you can do something to help, then you should go.”
A week shy of his 10th birthday, Ben gave voice to a basic, human, moral truth: If there is a problem and it’s within your power to do something to help, then you should.
When it comes to the problem of human life being needlessly wasted, the 16th verse in the 19th chapter of the Book of Leviticus puts it this way : “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened.”
I was grateful to be able to share my story about Ben with the folks at the Hassayampa Inn last week, and grateful that they listened. I am also grateful to my 10-year-old boy for his giant heart and his pure wisdom. (And his birthday party sleepover is tomorrow so I didn’t miss it!)
Often the biggest changes happen in small, incremental steps, when folks step out of their “boxes” and try to see, hear and meet each other, not as “gun safety activists” and “gun manufacturers” but as people. A resolution was passed at a meeting at The Hassayampa Inn last week. But more importantly, perhaps, people on “opposite sides of a fence” took down a piece of that fence long enough to interact with one another as human beings.
How do wars end? Why are some societies capable of peaceful political transitions while others descend into violence? How can violent turf battles between gangs be addressed and resolved? Tim Phillips has traveled the globe with Beyond Conflict, giving voice to courageous individuals who have led their communities from seemingly intractable conflicts through peaceful transitions. From South Africa to Guatemala, Northern Ireland to Israel, Chile to Czechoslovakia, and now in several places in the United States, Phillips has helped leaders sit down with sworn enemies and confront their greatest fears, paving the way for reconciliation and lasting peace.
The work is about finding common ground. Proclaiming a truce is not sufficient, Phillips says, and beating one party into submission is never more than a pyrrhic victory. The hard work of transformative change between adversaries begins when people start to know each other. When one hears familiar pain being spoken from an unlikely source, walls can be torn down.
In 2014, Phillips wrote about the conflict in Syria. “Hearing others share their similar, traumatic experiences is a well-worn approach in many fields, and for good reason: It helps people realize that they are not alone in their suffering and that change is possible, both of which are necessary first steps in order to move forward. Syrians are ensnared in the midst of a vicious, horrific war, but they are not the only ones who have seen their countries reduced to rubble and their loved ones tortured and murdered by hated enemies. While that damage can never be undone, hearing that others have shared that experience, and eventually made peace with enemies, is both deeply powerful and instructive.”
Can we beat our swords into ploughshares? Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post writes, “Some who work with ethnic, racial and religious conflict are pairing with neuroscientists to understand how small advancements in brain research can help explain how we experience emotions like prejudice and disgust and fear. It will be a while before researchers are able to devise many specific strategies for using that knowledge of how the brain works in the peace-building process. But simply teaching people that there is a neurological basis for prejudice has the potential to help them view the deep-seated roots of their conflicts more objectively.” Check out a TedX talk in which Phillips speaks about how our brains can teach our minds to change: https://youtu.be/AfljJGTVcKE .
Tim Phillips will join us at Redeemer next Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. as part of the VOICES speaker series. If you care about moving beyond conflict, between countries, within cities, or around your breakfast table, you won’t want to miss it.
As part of our ongoing health initiative, The Church of the Redeemer is recognizing Mental Health Awareness for the next several weeks. We will be doing this within our worship along with adult forums after church. Specifically, this is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Under Paul Smith’s leadership we will be recognizing this Sunday with some special Sunday School classes for our youth, and a table set up after church with information provided by Children’s Mental Health Matters. The speaker will be Mirian Ofonedu, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW-C, Director of Training, Maryland Center for Developmental Disability Kennedy Krieger Institute. Her topic will be Promoting Positive Mental Health Outcomes for Inner-City Youth: The Value of Home-School-Community Partnerships.
The issue of mental health in children and teens is one that has not gotten much publicity but it should. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (www.nami.org) the following statistics are a snapshot of our current situation:
- 1 in 5 children, ages 13-18, have or will have a serious mental illness.
- 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
- 37% of students with a mental health condition age 14 and older drop out of school.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24.
- 70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness.
This past Monday evening NBC Nightly News had a wonderful piece on this very subject. Of special note is that Michael Phelps is part of this awareness campaign. https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/new-campaign-hopes-to-help-young-people-struggling-with-mental-health-1223541827960?cid=eml_onsite.
The interest in talking about and educating ourselves about mental health remains robust within the parish. I want to acknowledge the following individuals who have completed the Mental Health First Aid Training:
Anna Von Lunz
Group 5 (enrolled May14/15)
Group 6 (enrolled June 1/2)
Please note that the June 1st (2-6pm) and 2nd (10am – 2pm) workshop has only 5 remaining spaces so feel free to email me if you are interested! What has been an unexpected and joyful surprise is that not only are individuals interested but we also have had couples and parents and children signed up. I hope you might want to talk to some of those who have completed the program about their experience. This fall the Mental Health First Aid will be offered to our entire staff and we are in conversation with our community engagement partners to invite their staff and volunteers to participate as well.
Continue to visit the Mental Health Awareness Resource table in our lobby. The articles are for your education and are being refreshed on a regular basis. Remember our tag line is: “Mental Health at Redeemer: Let’s Talk About It, Let’s Learn About It.”
We didn’t plan it this way, but I’m thankful the gospel assigned for the Annual Meeting this morning is the Good Shepherd. It could have been Noah and the Flood. It could have been Jonah and the Whale. It could have been Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I’ve got friends whose annual meeting text is Herodias asking for John the Baptist’s head. There’s a lot to be thankful for. And I’ve been doing some research about shepherds.
As it turns out, a good shepherd does know each member of his flock by name, though he is more likely to call them by distinctive monikers like “Brown Spot” or “Short Ears,” I am told, than he is to call them something like Charlie, or Stewart, or Jane. In Biblical times sheep were raised for wool more than they were slaughtered for food, so knowing them by name was pragmatic. Apparently sheep will stand still to be shorn if you call them something more particular than “Hey, Ewe.” One also protects his investment if he knows his sheep well enough to spot an illness or a limp right away. Sheep are better off if they grow accustomed to his familiar tending, and so is the shepherd.
This shepherd with the inviting voice, who helps his sheep do what they were born to do, reminds me of the unlikely hero of the movie Babe. As you may recall, Babe is a most surprising sheepdog because he is a pig, and he tames a rather fussy flock of sheep. They had been terrorized by a dog who had grown angry and violent, and for their own safety and the good of the farm, Babe wins their trust through his quiet, patient care. He directs them through kindness instead of threats. It’s obviously a fantasy—this exceedingly good shepherd is a bit too nice—“Pardon,” he says to one obstreperous fellow. “If it is all the same to you, could you please not get into trouble anymore? Thanks.” Sometimes a nip on the bottom is a better way to get a sheep (or one of us) moving in the right direction. But the point is well taken: good shepherds know their sheep and what they need, and the wise ones cajole more than they command. I believe Jesus does, too.
Years ago I asked a group of boys at St. Albans to describe God. What does God look like? What does God do? Not much happened, so we got out paper and I asked them to make a list of God’s attributes, sketch a description, or draw a picture. Here’s what they told me: God has long hair and a beard, wears sandals, and throws lightning bolts. They were messing with me, so I asked them what power this image of God had for them, and they looked at me with puzzled faces and silence. So I took a different tack. Write down the questions you have about life, I asked them, questions that bother you and don’t seem to have any easy answers, things you would ask God if you could sit him down in front of you.
Slowly the juices began to flow. Why do bad things happen to people who haven’t done anything wrong, they asked me. Why is there evil in the world? What happens after you die? Does God have a religion? Why does God take away people that you love?
We scribbled it all down on the blackboard, and I told them what lay underneath my question: Your image of God has to do something for you. It has to have power if it is going to make any difference. The changes and chances of life provoke our toughest wondering…Why did my sister die? Why does my brother suffer from mental illness? Do I have a purpose here? Is this all there is? If your image of God means a thing, it has to have currency where its value is most needed.
I asked the teenagers to try on a few images of God for size. What about the Way, the Truth, the Door…Healer, Sustainer, Redeemer …Justice, Mercy, Peace… Father, Mother, Shepherd, King?
Each one is a story we tell about God, of something which is beyond our orderly conceiving–by definition, none of them is complete—but how we talk about God is not an intellectual exercise. The image we construct or intuit gives us what we need to confront the darkness and loss that life hands us and our neighbors. The image we have of God helps us make sense of our strengths and vulnerabilities and figure out how to use them for good. The image we have of God gives us solace and a mission, and people with a mission grow personally even as they transform their city or circumstance. Any change that ever comes begins with a small voice saying, “Yes I can.”
You know how a good shepherd works? He watches, and listens, and offers some guidance. She coaches and corrects and calls out our best selves. He holds and heals and puts his life on the line. She feeds and nurtures and inspires. The good shepherd invites mission in to the deepest part of ourselves and empowers mission out to serve.
This has been a year of mission out/mission in at Redeemer. In music and worship, we added monthly Compline, led by a 14-member Schola, invited Community Engagement Partners as readers in our Lessons and Carols service, worshipped twice with the Helping Up Mission Choir, and welcomed Choir Schools from New Jersey and Connecticut. We heard early music and folk songs in the parish hall. We named Henry Lowe Music Director Emeritus, and travelled last summer to England with 45 children and adults. The Choir School of Baltimore was launched, offering rigorous choral education and performance opportunities to young people who might not otherwise have it. The Friends of Music devoted a portion of concert offerings beyond our walls, strengthening Paul’s Place, Safe Streets, and Hurricane Relief in Puerto Rico, and twice presented parishioners’ art on these walls. Next Sunday we host our first Royal School of Church Musicians Choir Festival, and will offer monthly Evensong next October-May. Thank you Bert, and Robert, musicians, and choirs.
We are broadening the concept of Health and Wellness in the Redeemer Community. Caroline initiated the St. Luke Prayer Ministry, training lay leaders to offer prayers at all three services on the first Sunday of the month—with the goal of expanding the ministry to every Sunday starting in the Fall. The lay-led grief group, Sacred Space for Grace was offered three times, in six-week sessions. Caroline took a course in Mental Health First Aid, and has since trained 51 individuals in the parish and beyond, with additional workshops on the calendar, and created an e-mail group which now numbers 100 people dedicated to mental wellness. In May we will recognize Mental Health every Sunday through adult ed or in the liturgy. In June Redeemer will co-sponsor a screening of the documentary “Living While Dying” followed by a discussion led by the filmmaker. Contemplative prayer takes place two times each week, with workshops throughout the year. Men’s Fellowship, WWW, Tuesday group, knitting, the prayer group, vergers, lectors, LEMS, ushers, and the Rector’s Bible study round out our mission in. Thank you to all the group conveners, to Caroline, and Barb who do so much to make our pastoral fabric strong.
Cristina is completing her second year as Associate for Community Engagement, and the fruit of her leadership is palpable. Redeemer became an official member of BUILD in January, and since then over two dozen parishioners have participated in one or more of the following: issue/action training focused on economic development, youth trauma, equity in mental health, policing and community safety. Cristina sponsored “Lent to Go” introducing parishioners to community partners through site-visits, and she is the glue that connects the weekly volunteers at Govans School, Habitat for Humanity builders on McCabe Avenue, and Paul’s Place hosts, who among other things have made 39 casseroles since last June, not to mention GEDCO Cares food pantry, Good Schools Baltimore, Turnaround Tuesdays, THREAD, the Ark, Asylee Women, 3 buses to the March for our Lives in DC, and 1900 pairs of Boots for Baltimore. Caring for Creation won a grant to study how to make our north parking lot environmentally friendly, hosted a native plant sale, and invites us today on Earth Day to plant a garden on our campus. Thank you Cristina and each of you for saying yes to the invitation to serve.
This year the Parish Day School, led by Mary Knott, enrolled 121 students ages 2 through pre-first, and employed 19 faculty and staff members with an average of 13 years teaching experience. They completed a comprehensive curriculum self-evaluation, creating a guiding document for student growth. Always thrifty, recent updates to the facility include replacing the original classroom cabinetry from 1957. PDS continues to promote an environment that stresses kindness, the value of learning through mistakes, and the important role our children have as unique individuals within a community. Thank you to Mary, PDS faculty, parents, and students.
Children and Youth programs in the parish are growing. Children’s ministries director Kathy LaPlant queried parents last year about our program and schedule, and changes have increased participation. Lesson plans are now coordinated with what parents are hearing in Church, start time is later, and attendance is up 36%. Youth ministries director Paul Smith has added the Redeemer Service Corps, involving our youth and others with opportunities to serve the community. RYG attendance is up in the last two years, with emerging leadership among 7th-9th graders. Maggie Klaes led the cast of Annie, with Govans, PDS, and Sunday School kids filling the floor in 3 performances. And I am happy to announce that Matt Buck, son of the parish, vestry member, and Calvert middle school head will begin as our Acolyte Master this Fall, bringing fresh vision and energy to this important youth ministry. Let’s give thanks for our children and young people and all those who serve them.
The Redeemer VOICES speaker series was newly branded this year, thanks to a strong steering committee, and we’ve added a program this May and June. Highlights include partnerships with the Pratt Library, the BMA, and a consortium of environmental groups. Join us in the coming weeks for, among others, Brit Kirwan, portrait artist Amy Sherald, humorist Christopher Buckley, and columnist David Brooks. I am happy to announce that Molly Hathaway and Caroline Stewart will be coordinating Redeemer’s Ministry of Planned Giving, which we are calling “The Next Generation,” and about which you will receive a letter in the next few weeks. Another announcement is that Ellen Chatard, Director of Program, will be going on sabbatical May 2 through August 6. Ellen will do some travelling and spend restorative time with family, and I’ve instructed her to change her phone number, so that I can’t contact her while she’s away. Thank you to Ellen and all of the program support staff: Darlene, Barb, Mark, Chuan, and Vu.
Easter, Palm Sunday, and Christmas were the biggest in memory, and average Sunday attendance was 418. We have 1000 Facebook members and each week 500 distinct users open our e-redeemer reflection. Outreach giving has doubled, and the creation of the Covenant Fund promises that our ability to serve the poor will deepen and broaden in the coming years. The mission of the Church of the Redeemer is clear: we are bringing hope and healing to Baltimore, serving out, nourishing in, like the Good Shepherd we follow.
So what is your image of God, and what difference does it make for you and the people you encounter? If God is love, then there is no place for hatred. If God is justice, then the poor must be empowered and fed. If God is healing, then there is wholeness possible no matter how broken we may be. If God is life, then death is only a horizon beyond which our eyes cannot yet see. If God is the beloved community, then we are called to build it with neighbors and with partners and with strangers we don’t yet know, across the aisle and across our breakfast tables, throughout the city and right here, right now. Thank you for another great year.
Annual Meeting Address
In early March when a wicked nor’easter blew through town, “Do you have power?” was a common refrain.
Thinking about power is something I find myself doing a lot these days. Perhaps it’s because of the seemingly never-ending examples of abuses of power, rampant in the news. Perhaps because, as a parent and as clergy, knowing how to responsibly and appropriately use the power I have is paramount. Perhaps it’s simply because power, as a theological concept, is interesting, relevant and important to noodle over and wrestle with.
The passage from scripture that first comes to my mind when reflecting on a theology of power grounded in the Christian tradition is from the second chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This idea/concept/image, of the fullness and power of God, the Source of all things seen and unseen, emptying Godself into human form — the limitless, infinite God becoming limited, finite, human — in the service and for the sake of humankind, lies at the heart of traditional Christian theology.
Alongside this central image arise other images of power associated with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit: the power that flows through Jesus to cure the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years (Luke 8:43-48); the power Jesus commands to silence the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25), to restore sight to the blind (Mark 8:22-26, Luke 18:35-43, John 9:1-41), to raise people from the dead (Jairus’ daughter: Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26; Lazarus: John 11:1-44); the power of the Holy Spirit that alights on Jesus’ followers on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), to inspire them to spread the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection; indeed, the very power of God to raise Jesus from the dead and to conquer death for all time.
It feels important to note that in performing healing miracles, Jesus acts in response to requests put forth to him by others, or only after having asked someone, “What is it, that you would like me to do for you?” and listening to the response. In other words, Jesus uses his God-given power to heal in respect of and in accordance with the free will and free choice of a human being; Jesus’ power is relational.
Today’s most popular, contemporary myths and stories centering around power, and the right use vs. the abuse of power, mirror a similar theology of power presented in scripture: power used in the service of and for the benefit of others, to heal, uplift and empower them, in harmony with their own desires, free will, free choices and self-identified needs, is “good”; whereas power used to control, manipulate, harm, take advantage of, abuse or oppress others, against their own free will and self-determination, is “evil”. Darth Vader and the Emperor in Star Wars mythology, and Voldemort in Harry Potter lore, are evil precisely because they view and use power as a tool to dominate and control others for their own self-aggrandizement, against individuals’ free will.
Power that empowers and uplifts others, to be able to “love one’s neighbor as oneself”, is Godly and goodly power; power that is accumulated for the purpose of being shared, given away and multiplied, for the healing of individuals and communities, likewise, is Godly and goodly power. Power that is accumulated, hoarded, and centralized in the service of a select individual or an elite group, at the expense of and against the free will of others, is not of God.
Lately, I have enjoyed learning and thinking about power through a new lens: the lens of community organizing. Thanks to a week-long training last fall co-sponsored by Metro IAF, NEXT Church and Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and the work I’ve been engaged with through BUILD, the Metro IAF affiliate in Baltimore, I have come to understand an additional perspective of power: that power “in the world as it is” (as opposed to the world “as it should be”) = “organized people” and “organized money”; and that the accumulation of power around people’s shared values and common self-interests — “self-interest” having to do with the true “essence” of each human being — and where these interests align, can lead to effective action, moving the “world as it is” bit by bit towards the realization of “the world as it should be.” In my view, this new understanding of power complements and helps to “ground” and “bring down to earth” the theology of power that I understand through the lens of Christian scripture. It provides a practical “how to” approach, to help realize more pockets and places of “heaven on earth” for all of God’s people.