Dear Folks,

This Sunday at 11:30, we hope to have a full parish conversation about whether Redeemer might be the 50th dues-paying member of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development).  BUILD is a broad-based, interfaith, multi-racial organization whose work is to assist people to discover their social, spiritual, and political power.  BUILD’s methodology is to listen to individuals in Baltimore, to hear their problems and hurts, and then to help individual problems be refined to issues that an organized community can act on.

BUILD has been in Baltimore for almost 40 years, and its significant work includes, by decade:

1980’s Working with elected officials BUILD created the College Bound Foundation by leveraging $15 million from the corporate community for college preparatory activities and scholarships. The CollegeBound Foundation has assisted thousands of city public school students and provided millions in scholarship dollars.

Beginning in the 1980’s with its partner Enterprise Homes, BUILD is the largest non-profit developer of lower-income owner-occupied housing in the city. BUILD and Enterprise have helped to develop more than 767 Nehemiah homes, enabling families to create equity, while making their neighborhoods more safe.

1990’s  Since its inception, Child First has grown from seven to 13 schools, providing academic, cultural and recreational enrichment to more than a thousand students each year.

2000’s State Funding for Education: BUILD organized with MD IAF and the Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC) to restore $18 million in state funding for Baltimore schools and $94 million state-wide.

Today Turnaround Tuesdays job training, particularly with returning felons, in partnership with employers such as Johns Hopkins University, Medstar Health, Blueprint Robotics, and TRF Development.

Through BUILD we have a vehicle for being in relationship with people in our city that we might otherwise not know or work with.  Their listening methodology intends to create peers, who may bring very different gifts and experiences to a given issue or moment, but who work together closely enough to form relationships.  These relationships are transformative, as someone else’s struggles become common ground for us, issues we all care about on which to meet and work together.  And relationships are the way of the gospel.  Jesus invites us into such intimacy with each other.

“Who is my neighbor?” asks the lawyer, and Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan, asking his listener to identify with the person who helps the man in the ditch.  Jesus suggests that being involved in each other’s life in this way changes everyone in the transaction.

Concretely, BUILD will train us to listen deeply, focusing problems into issues.  We will be trained to sit at a table with unlikely neighbors and discern what gifts we might bring to bear.  We will ally ourselves with 50 other communities of faith, schools, and civic organizations, most of which are made up primarily of African Americans.  We may be advocating on behalf of poor people or folks who are under-served, working with brothers and sisters to transform our city.  Along with this work, Redeemer will continue to feed people, clothing the children at Govans, tutoring there, building Habitat homes, providing Boots for Baltimore, making lunch and serving it at Paul’s Place.  But BUILD enables us to make change, to get at the root causes of poverty, even as we serve those in need now.

To be clear, if we become full partners with BUILD, we will sometimes be engaged in scrappy work.  The Baltimore that BUILD invites us into relationship with has experienced a fair amount of trauma, which in some cases is on-going, and it will be challenging to let ourselves be touched by such pain, to respond to it by knowing and loving the people  who are in the midst of it, and to help them transform it.  It might be noisy work sometimes.  Like the widow who kept knocking on the judge’s door, we might feel like a nuisance.  But I can promise you that we will always be proud of the actions we take.  And working in partnership with Baltimoreans in this way may just help us discover more fully who we are.

Join us Sunday at 11:30, to learn more, to listen to each other, and see what the future might hold for us.

Love, David

This reflection needs a “prelude” in order to put it in context. Just as our secular calendar is divided into seasons (fall, winter, spring and summer) so too is our church calendar. You are familiar with the more well-known periods such as Advent, Christmas, and Lent that make up the liturgical calendar. But there are others. Currently we are in the season called “Ordinary Time” which began the first Sunday after Pentecost, June 11 and ends November 26.

So with that backdrop, a parishioner came up to me last week and said she has never paid very close attention to Ordinary Time in our church calendar, but this year she is finding that title to be soothingly significant. With floods and fires and political turmoil seemingly marinating every part of our everyday lives, just the idea of “ordinary’ offers a sense of tranquility. She was feeling reassured that in the midst of all the ‘extraordinary’ challenges, the season of Ordinary Time in the church is comforting. As I reflected back on our short conversation, I have come to find equal wellbeing that liturgically we are in ‘ordinary time’; a period that is known and predictable. This is a reminder that occasionally we can ‘hear’ words differently.

This Sunday the Epistle selection is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is one of my favorite verses in the Bible and I think it aligns itself beautifully with the potential consolation that Ordinary Time can offer. Lean into the sample below:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace with be with you.

Paul wrote these words while he was in prison fully expecting to be killed. His immediate reality was one of turmoil and conflict. The culture was described as unjust, dishonorable, impure and shameful. Yet from his prison cell, Paul was able to find a different reality of God’s redemption in the world. He was able to detect hope by training his mind to act with a theological discipline that consequently leads to that peace that ‘passes our understanding. Paul invites them to rejoice in grace and goodness, letting go of fear….and he invites us to do the same.

Ordinary Time, when experienced in this way offers us a gift that is a positive perspective. James Allen in his book, As a Man Thinketh, writes:  “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”  For today, now, I, in this moment, choose to let my thoughts take me to Rejoice in the Lord always….

Amen.

Caroline

Dear Folks,

My family’s move to a row house near Patterson Park is transforming us.  We knew we wanted to own less and spend less, to have a lighter footprint materially so that we could be more agile spiritually.  We looked for and found density, diversity, walkability, public green space, easy access to shuttles. We wanted a place that prioritized being together for cooking and eating over privacy, with bedrooms just big enough for sleeping and storing clothes.  And because we need to, we are spending more time on the street.  The stoop of 109 South Chester is teaching us what being a neighbor means.

Yesterday I removed years of gravel from the stretch of “lawn” between our sidewalk and the street.  Five minutes after I began, the six-year-old from 115 plopped down beside me and asked if she could help.  “I love collecting rocks,” she told me, and then shared her day at school.  “We learned about bones and the soft stuff in your ears and nose.”  When I had trouble with my outdoor spigot, the man in 113 jiggled something in just the right way, so I could water the hard ground.  A dog walker from a block away stopped to thank me for planting grass.  120 said “Amen,” and offered to water our little patch when it’s dry.  126 crossed the street asking for help to get to the airport, flummoxed by his Uber app.  He handed his phone to a mom sitting outside with her son.  “Can you make this thing pick me up tomorrow and take me to Cincinnati?” he asked, laughing at the wonder of technology and frustrated by his ignorance about it.  While one neighbor was setting up his reservation, another snuck inside and returned with plastic glasses and something for everyone to drink.  My daughter got home from school and walked around the corner to babysit for our youngest neighbor, born a bit early, three weeks ago.

It’s not all rosy: Sunday night we gathered at the intersection of Pratt and Chester as firemen put out a motorcycle fire.  Parking is difficult, and we’ve learned the hard way that the street is not safe after 11:00.  Last night my wife attended a community meeting, and the president could barely keep order.  Frustrations big and small overwhelmed the agenda, making conversation all but impossible… litter, zoning conflicts, a playground burned down this summer keep us on our toes…

Yet, we are hopeful about Baltimore.  We’re invested in its promise and its people and its problems.

I thought about all that reading David Brooks’ column this week.  There is so much close to home and far away that can invite despair—violence in Las Vegas, tragedy in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast, murder and racism in Baltimore, struggling schools… Fear encourages us to circle the wagons, dig a moat or erect a wall, disconnect from others and put ourselves first.  The world is too scary to reach out, say the fortress builders.  People disappoint us, so why risk loving across borders of race and class and nationality and religion?

But Brooks calls forth “energy, youthfulness, and labor” to counter this tribalism.  We are made to be good neighbors, I would argue, a people who look hopefully toward a shared future, not resentfully eyeing some receding greatness behind us.  How do we do it?  Stop and talk with someone you’ve seen for years but never spent time with… go to a community meeting, sit by someone you don’t know, and ask how their doing… host a dinner and ask your guests to write to an elected official before dessert… tutor for two semesters… join a stranger who’s picking up trash… make sandwiches with your kids and serve them at Paul’s Place…

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus suggests that being a neighbor is our access to eternity.  Another way to say it is that we don’t live until we love… across the street, on the stoop, in the ditch, within our families, around the world.

Love, David

Do you have a bucket list?

If yes, when did you start it? What’s on it? Has it changed over time?

And if not, have you ever considered coming up with one? Why or why not? What might you put on it, if you were to start one?

A few days ago, several of us stood under the shade of trees by our Redeemer parking lot, with cans of spray paint, large white stencils and five 4′ x 8′ boards at our feet. Our fearless leader: Phyllis Taylor. Our task: To make our very own “Before I Die Wall” for Party in the Park in celebration of Hope, Healing & Heritage this Saturday in Lafayette Square, in collaboration with St. James Episcopal and other nearby churches. 

” ‘Before I Die’ is a global art project that invites people to contemplate death and reflect on their lives. Originally created by the artist Candy Chang on an abandoned house in New Orleans after she lost someone she loved, today there are over 2,000 walls around the world.” http://beforeidie.city/

The responses are as “light” as “Before I Die, I Want to … drop 15 pounds … learn another language … visit Cleveland … ” to as “heavy” as “live a life my grandchildren will never believe … have an honest conversation with my mom … get clean and sober ….” http://beforeidie.city/responses/

The idea behind “Before I Die” is the same inspiration behind “bucket lists”: an invitation to shine a laser-like focus on what’s essential in our lives. Given the precious, limited time we have to live as human beings on our planet earth, how best to spend the time we’ve got?

But what does contemplating our lives and our mortality have to do with hope and healing, you ask? Hope and healing, in our own, individual lives? And hope and healing, collectively, as a city?

Everything.

Cristina

Dear Folks,

Hurricane Maria strengthens again… Mexico searches for earthquake survivors against increasing odds… Crucial American financial institutions hacked… Record flooding in Houston… Five murders in Baltimore this week, 230 for the year… Is it just me, or does it feel like a good time to be reading The Book of Job? Job poses some of the most difficult questions for us: Why do bad things happen to good people?  Is the universe orderly and just?  Is God looking out for humanity?  Does it really matter how we behave?

The Book of Job is really two books: a prose frame story in chapters 1, 2, and 42 and 39 chapters of poetry in between.  Most scholars agree that the framing narrative records an oral folk tale, which had been circulating for centuries and was told in several cultures.  As a sustained protest in poetic form, the middle portion of the book resembles no other text in the Biblical canon.  Theologically, it is a radical challenge to the doctrine of “reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked,” and as such, the unknown author is working alone—“a bold, dissenting thinker, a poet of genius who produced a book of such power that Hebrew readers came to view that they couldn’t do without it.” (Harold Kushner)  Job gives voice to our agony: How can it be that a God who is good has created a world with such pain?

Job deals with the problem of theodicy—the defense of God in view of the existence of evil—so while ordinarily we put human beings on trial as perpetrators of violence, in this case it is God who is on trial.

Russell Baker, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrestles with this idea in his autobiography Growing Up.  As a five-year-old playing with friends in the woods, Baker suddenly learns that his father has died.

“He was 33 years old.  When I came running home, my mother was still not back from Frederick, but the women had descended on our house… and were already busy with the housecleaning and cooking that were Morrisonville’s ritual response to death.  With a thousand tasks to do, they had no time to handle a howling five-year-old.  I was sent to the opposite end of town to Bessie Scott’s house… Poor Bessie Scott.  All afternoon she listened patiently as a saint while I sat in her kitchen and cried myself out.  For the first time I thought seriously about God.  Between sobs I told Bessie that if God could do things like this to people, then God was hateful and I had no more use for Him… After that I never cried again with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone’s God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me deeply in pain.”  (Baker, Growing Up)

Baker lost more than his father that day.  For us in Baltimore and those who struggle hard everywhere, I wonder how to navigate through pain without losing ourselves in the bargain?  How do we not lose hope?  How do we not lose God?  How do we keep on keeping on?

Join me on Thursday evenings at 6:00 or Wednesday mornings at 10:00 for the Rector’s Bible study, especially if you don’t know too much about the scripture, especially if you thought you’d never study the Bible, especially if you gave up on God a long time ago.  Whatever we have lost, God has come looking for us.

Love,

David

“Life only unfolds in moments. The healing power of mindfulness lies in living each of those moments as fully as we can, accepting it as it is as we open to what comes next.” 

-Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

A blessed residual effect from my Sabbatical has been an ongoing awareness of being more attentive to small happenings that cross my life’s threshold. When experienced only as solitary events, they can come and go without much notice but when added together, they become like a string of pearls that hold their own beauty. This past week has provided a cluster of events and interactions that are strong reminders of Holy Ground that is the foundation of this parish. Let me offer a couple of examples.

  • Sunday marked our opening day for the program year. There was a palpable sense of The Holy Spirit moving through the sanctuary as individuals of all ages arrived, excited to begin again. It was particularly moving to see the numbers of children and youth enthusiastically being a part of the day. Following the service the congregation recessed to our front lawn where there was feast of homemade barbecue, and coleslaw made by Troop 35 and then desserts provided by the parish. And a wonderful addition to the festivities was live music.
  • But there were other layers that were part of our opening day. As I greeted a young family with their children, they introduced me to the wife’s in laws. Oh I said cheerfully, ‘where have you come from’? There was a momentarily awkward silence. The grandmother replied with a solemn voice, ‘we have evacuated our home near Tampa due to the hurricane’. My heart sank as the news earlier that morning was not good for Tampa. She added ‘we do not know if we will have a house when we return’. I was struck by the dichotomy of this family’s pain and worry while our parish was in such a festive mood. I asked if I could call her Monday to see what news they might have heard. Thanks be to God, the news on Monday from them was very positive. How full of Grace however that they were able to worship with us in their time of anxiety.
  • During the service, a member of the congregation experienced a medical emergency. Immediately the ushers notified several doctors who were in worship and ultimately 7 physicians and a nurse responded. The individual was taken to the hospital and the good news is that he is now fine. How reassuring that he was attended to so quickly and professionally.
  • Wednesday evening Redeemer was the host for an interdenominational effort to fill 300 bags of necessities to be given out to the homeless. About 120 people from Christian churches, Jewish Synagogues and Mosques gathered in the parish hall. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds worked together on this project. What was thrilling was the planting of relationship within the communities. One Jewish attendee told me that she thinks The Church of the Redeemer is by far the most hospitable church she has ever visited. She has been to a number of our outside speakers in the past. She added, ‘what is different here is that people look at you in the eye.’
  • Saturday our own Joanne Tetrault will be ordained as a priest at the Episcopal Cathedral at 11 am. All are welcome to attend! Needless to say, this is the pinnacle of her journey as she has responded to God’s call on her life.
  • And then this coming Sunday, Bishop Sutton will be with us at all 3 services. During the 10 am service, 12 adults will be presented to him for confirmation, reaffirmation or to be received into the Episcopal Church. This is another ‘outward and visible sign’ of God working within this congregation!

Life at Redeemer has provided such rich moments of Grace….and just in this one week….a realization of: “Life only unfolds in moments. The healing power of mindfulness lies in living each of those moments as fully as we can, accepting it as it is as we open to what comes next.” 

It makes me wonder about what lies ahead for next week!

Caroline